Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 50

< Chapter 49                                                                                                 Epilogue >
Thor is dead, his base is destroyed, and Freya is on the run.


The search crews pulled twenty-three survivors and eighteen bodies from the remains of Thor’s base. Among the survivors was Jade’s former sort-of-boyfriend Forbose. From interviews with the survivors, it’s estimated as many as sixty bodies still lay buried under the mountain.

I couldn’t be there when Forbose and Jade met afterward. According to Jade’s mother, the slap Jade gave the boy is probably still echoing through the mountains. I suspect Forbose preferred the slap to his confrontation with Jade’s father, which boiled down to an ‘if you come near my little girl again you’ll wish you were buried under that mountain’ warning. Chris and the two Vanguard crewmen Forbose was abusing when Chris punched the larger boy visited Forbose last. They never touched him, but Jade told me Forbose was white as a sheet when the trio left him.

It took the Federation less than a day to locate Freya traveling toward the southern city-states. A consulate aircar delivered her to Mordanian authorities a few hours later. Freya wore an expression of utter disbelief when she was dragged into the Mordanian Court. She now has a sparse room in the Mordanian women’s prison, where she awaits a date with the headsman’s axe. Federation officials issued a pro forma protest at this treatment of a Federation citizen. Callan offered to commute the sentence to life in prison if the Federation could provide proof of citizenship. Whoever sent the woman to Aashla scrubbed her background completely, including deletion of her DNA records. Freya refuses to cooperate with the Federation and she can defeat their best interrogation drugs. We still have no idea what her mission really was and Freya is intent on taking that with her to the grave.

A week after the trial, the crew of the Tercel lined up behind the surviving crew from the Vanguard in the palace’s largest audience chamber. King Edwar and Queen Elaina officially presided over the ceremony, but all eyes were on Callan. That’s not a fair assessment of the situation since all eyes were usually on Callan even when she wasn’t dressed and coifed to regal perfection as she was today. But no one doubted this was Callan’s ceremony from beginning to end.

She opened with an impassioned account of what bards were already calling the Weather War, lauding the bravery and dedication of the men standing before her and acknowledging the sacrifices of those who journey home in coffins. Her eyes shining with unshed tears, Callan personally presented the families of those lost with folded Mordanian flags and a Cross of Morda, awarded only to those who gave their lives in the service of their country. Without any memory aid, she referred to family members by name, hugged wives and parents, kissed children, and briefly shared grief with all of them.

She presented the same honors to the families of the Wind Dancer’s three lost crewmen. Flown to Morda by Federation representatives, these poor people were still struggling to come to grips with their losses. At least the families of the naval airmen recognized this day might come. Merchant airmen rarely face such dangers, leaving their families unprepared for tragic news.

With the hardest part of the ceremony out of the way, Callan recognized each of the crewmen standing before her—including the crew of the Wind Dancer—giving special recognition to the marines who tossed Thor overboard and the marine sergeant who tackled her to the ground and shielded her with his body.

When she finished with her presentations to the surviving crewmen, everyone expected Callan to return to the dais and officially end the ceremony. Instead, she called, “Jade Cochran, please step forward.”

The blonde’s eyes widened and her equally surprised mother had to give her a little shove to get her moving toward Callan. The girl stopped in front of the dais and curtsied. “Yes, Your Highness?”

“Jade, you risked and almost lost your life aiding in the rescue of the surviving crew of the Vanguard. In light of the destruction of the mountain base, there can be no doubt that your actions saved their lives and, quite likely, the Prince Consort’s life as well. We all owe you a debt beyond repayment.” A servant presented an open box to Callan. She withdrew an ornate, star-shaped medal dangling from a green and gold ribbon and fastened it around Jade’s neck. “From a grateful country and an equally grateful princess, please accept the Princess’s Star, our highest civilian award for courage and service to the throne.”

Callan kissed the girl on each cheek, lingering to whisper, “David also thanks you for pushing me from the pinnace before you went after him.”

Callan was absolutely right. I don’t know how my actions would have changed had Callan been present, but it’s likely Captain Jorson and the Tercel would have been wrecked in the second windstorm had Callan not been there to describe the weather control device and tell him where to look for it. That, alone, probably saved dozens of lives.

Jade giggled and waited for Callan to dismiss her back to her family. Instead, Callan motioned for the girl to stay where she was.

Callan once again addressed the gathered crowd. “Ensign Christopher Marlow, please step forward.”

Equally as surprised as his new girlfriend, Chris managed a parade ground march to the foot of the dais. He bowed deeply and said, “I am yours to command, Your Highness.”

“Rise, Ensign,” Callan responded formally. “After surviving the crash of the Vanguard and avoiding death or capture by trogs serving our enemy, Ensign Marlow thought only of finding and aiding the Prince Consort and me. He did exactly that, providing invaluable assistance tracking the trogs to the mountain base. It was near that cave entrance that we found ourselves trapped by a large number of trogs, each armed with blaster rifles. Thinking only to protect David and me, Ensign Marlow offered up his own life to keep our presence secret. By the grace of God, the shots fired at him missed. While I mourned him for dead, one of the trogs simply knocked out Ensign Marlow. While his actions to follow were valorous and a credit to him, Ensign Marlow’s ready willingness to sacrifice his own life to protect ours is deserving of special recognition.”

The same servant presented another box to Callan, from which she drew another green and gold ribbon to which an emerald-encrusted gold cross was attached. Chris’s eyes widened at the sight of the medal.

“Could you bend over slightly so I can reach around your neck, Chris?” Callan asked in a low voice.

Chris did as Callan asked and she fastened the ribbon behind his neck. “From a grateful country and an equally grateful royal family, for actions above and beyond the call of duty I award you the Queen’s Cross, the second highest military award for valor our country presents.”

After Callan kissed Chris on both cheeks, Queen Elaina rose and kissed him on the forehead, adding her private thanks for protecting her daughter. Chris bowed low to his queen and princess. Then Callan turned Chris and Jade to face the crowd and linked arms with them.

“Ladies and gentlemen, officers and airmen, in the history of Mordan only our beloved, late Milo earned the Princess’s Star at a younger age than Jade. And no member of the Mordanian Navy has earned the Queen’s Cross at such a young age as Ensign Marlow.” Callan paused to bestow a smile on each of them. “These two are shining examples of the kind of young people our country and our world produce. Look upon them and feel hope, for Aashla’s future rests on shoulders of such bright and brave young men and women.”

Callan stepped back and gently pushed Chris and Jade together. Immediately, the crews of the Vanguard and the Tercel raised their voices, cheering lustily for the blushing teenagers. A second later, the rest of the crowd joined in and the audience chamber rang with applause.

The adventure is over, but there’s still a little of the story yet to tell. Find out the rest in the Epilogue, coming Friday.