1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 97:



            Melissa's heavenward roll of the eyes was all the agreement anyone could want from that quarter. "Are things getting moving yet?" she asked.


            "Soon." Sharon hadn't been the only one to remain awake all night. Adolf had kept watch too, and she'd found him just beginning to rouse his people to get the evacuees marshaled. "We'll be a couple of hours after dawn, I think. We have to get the horses loaded up again, breakfast for everyone, and then hit the road. Normally, that’s an hour, tops, but here…"


            "But everything becomes simple, and the simple becomes difficult," Melissa said. "As an old warmonger once observed. I think it'll be midmorning before we finally get moving, myself."


            "Still plenty of time, though," Sharon said. "The Spanish were in Ostia yesterday afternoon. They simply can't be here before noon."


            Melissa frowned. "I don't want to suggest that they're superhuman or anything, but is there any way they could be here earlier? I think Ruy was assuming that the Spanish commander would rest his troops before marching in to town. What if he doesn't?"


            "I asked him that," Doctor Nichols said. "He thinks that he's better assuming that we're up against someone with some smarts, and that he'll want his troops reasonably fresh today. Plus, if he tries to push them too hard, they'll just refuse to move. It's not quite that following orders is an optional extra for these guys, but it can look that way sometimes. I think I'll take Ruy's judgment on that one."


            "Still, perhaps we could get at least some of our people on the road quickly?" Melissa asked. "I find myself thinking that there are a lot of children coming with us, and giving them as much of a head start as we can might be…" She let the suggestion hang in the air.


            Sharon decided it was a good one. "If we can, Melissa, would you take charge of that convoy? I'll get with Captain Taggart and figure out how best to split the Marines. Having some of us staying until the last minute would be a good idea in any event. There might be people we need to get out who won't be ready to leave until we've got the Spanish breathing down our necks."


            Melissa nodded. "Adolf was in the ballroom a few minutes ago, I'll go and find him and we'll get started. Come on, James, the sooner we start—"


            Doctor Nichols was holding up his hand. "Actually, Melissa, I'll go with the second party. I'd guess that Captain Taggart is going to want to send most of his Marines with the first group, since they'll have the kids with them and move slowest. If we can, we should confine the stay-behind party to people who can handle a gun and move quickly. And if we're just ahead of the real trouble, I think we're going to need more trained medics with us. If Rita goes with you, she'll be enough medic for the advance group, and Tom can boss the Marines if the good Captain stays with us."


            Melissa chuckled. "So long as Tom doesn't get all macho and insist on staying with the rearguard."


            "No, he won’t. Unlike my daughter, who by rights should be going with the lead party, but will insist on standing her post until the last minute. I've got more sense than to persuade her otherwise."


            Sharon snorted. "Enough. Let's get things moving. It'll be dawn in a few minutes."


            They had a convoy of women and children and most of the baggage ready to go within an hour of dawn. The kids were chattering and running about the horses, in some cases still munching on the bread-and-cheese breakfast they had been given. Tom, who in truth had grumbled a little about being sent on, was on foot, having ceded his horse to two pregnant women. "I wish we could get the kids to line up and hold hands," he said, looking about.


            Melissa smiled, gently. "It's not something they learn in grade school here.  Besides, it'll do the Marines good to have kids to herd while we get outside the city. Keep 'em alert." Sharon had seen her eyes constantly flicking back and forth. The motion looked practiced, and Sharon guessed that Melissa had taken enough field trips in her time that keeping track of dozens of rambunctious youngsters at once had become second nature. Rita was in the middle of a small swarm of children—where did they all come from? We didn't have this many last night!—and was comforting a little girl who had already skinned her knee.


            Tom had stationed most of the cavalrymen at the back of the column he had formed up in the street outside the embassy, on the theory that they could watch over the kids and herd them back in to line if they strayed and their mothers didn't notice. Two of them already had kids riding up with them, which Sharon worried about a little if there was any trouble. Having to put a child down gently could slow them down. Still, the defense of the column had been bolstered by including the menfolk of the embassy staff with cudgels, knives and downtime muskets.  They were mostly on foot and would be keeping the kids in line as well. For the time being, though, their attitude seemed to be that if the kids wanted to play, let 'em.


            Tom waved it all aside. "Well, we've got what we've got. Anything else is going to have to come out with the rest of you."


            "Or be burnt," Sharon said, thinking of the large pile of brushwood, broken-up furniture, classified documents and sprinkled gunpowder that was out back of the embassy awaiting a match to send it up. They were still finding things to go on that pile even now. "Whatever happens, we're not staying past noon."


            "See you don't," Tom said, giving Sharon a few watts of his best commanding-officer glare.


            With that, he bellowed the order to move out. The kids, to Sharon's surprise, fell into reasonable order quite quickly, and she guessed they would keep up the quick walking pace for quite a while. They didn't have the automobile to make them prone to get bored with a walk of any great length.