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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 76 - By the Horns[]

Taurian Defense Force Military Reservation (I Corps HQ)
Port Sheridan, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
February 8th, 3026

Ardan sighed. "You don't have to do this, Edward," he spoke softly to the young man walking beside him. "Marshal Calderon can do this just as well as you."

"You are wrong, Ardan," Edward replied in a voice just as soft—but one with a bitter edge.

No, Ardan thought, he doesn't like having to do this either. But he is determined to see it through and once again, he shook his head at the similarity between this young man and the two brothers Davion he had served with over the years.

"I have to be the one who passes the sentence," Edward continued after a moment. "Not because of my rank, but because I am my father's son. And because I am the Heir Designate to Thomas Calderon. If I don't," and he swallowed hard, "then my own people will see it as dereliction of duty. A man cannot lead if he cannot stand by his given word."

"I understand that all too well, Edward. But there are two hundred and seventeen survivors of the final Fusilier assault. You are going to have to sit on that dais, hear each and every one of them plead and beg for their lives, pass the sentence on them, and then watch them hang one by one until they are dead."

Edward's face pinched slightly at that, but he nodded. "Damned if I do and damned if I don't, Arden. Still, we are lucky that it is only two hundred and seventeen that are being put on trial today. We saved the lives of over six thousand by convincing the ones that defected," the largest concentration of those being the former Sixth Fusiliers logistical and support elements that had deserted Michael en masse, "we weren't going to hang them. Michael's dead, his command staff and headquarters are dead, and these two hundred and seventeen sons-of-bitches still attacked into the teeth of our defenses and could not find their death on the field of battle. Well, today, they are going to find that death they sought." Edward paused, and in even a softer voice, he continued. "And may God have mercy on their souls. As well as my own."

More than three thousand officers and men of the former Regimental Combat Team had already been killed on New Vallis. Almost none of the MechWarriors who had followed the Duke had tried to make their way to the surrender point—just a bare dozen, only a single company. Those twelve had been joined by a mere seven lances of tanks and combat vehicles and less than two battalions of infantry. The rest of the Fusiliers combat forces had followed their leaders into the defensive lines and fought like madmen—died like madmen.

Outside of the support elements, no officer survived that ranked higher than a Captain.

Ardan winced at the thought. The Fusiliers had fought bravely and fought well, though the cause—and the man—they fought for had not been worth the price they paid in the end. And the Fusiliers had extracted a toll from the Taurian defenders—and their associated mercenaries, including Ardan's own mercenaries-in-name-only—that was all too painful as well. Tanis Verbet's 1st​ Hyades Light Infantry had suffered the worse with over three-quarters of her 'Mechs destroyed or disabled, although over seventy percent of those "destroyed" units were in good enough condition to be salvaged and returned to service. Eventually returned to service; it would take months to make good all the repairs the battle had created the need for.

All of the defenders had taken some casualties, though it was relatively light compared to those of the 1st​ Hyades and the Sixth Fusiliers. Especially once the Foxhounds and Calderon Red Hand had slammed into the advancing Fusiliers just as Wylie's Coyotes, Colonel Fiona Jamesen, and Erwin Tyrell's Nobles Regiment had smashed into their flanks.

Ardan had feared that not even that would be enough to break the Sixth, but in the end, they did break as 'Mech after 'Mech was shattered and the Fusiliers fighting power continued to shrink and shrink. Well after it had been obvious that the battle was lost, the Fusilier MechWarriors had begun to surrender . . . and Edward had ordered that those surrenders be accepted.

Little had the Fusiliers known it was only to await this tribunal and a noose.

Oh, they had heard the broadcast, the MechWarriors who Michael had trusted as much as he trusted any man. They knew that the Taurians—that Edward—had already told them if they fought and killed Taurians on their own soil, their lives were forfeit. But either they hadn't believed the message or they thought that this young man could be convinced to spare their lives.

Either way, they had been wrong. And the time had come for the survivors to pay the price that the Taurian need for justice demanded. And Ardan shook his head at that thought. Not justice—vengeance. And then he regretted that thought as he glanced at Edward still walking silent beside him. No. Not all of them see this as revenge. Not all of them by far, though he will still go through with it because he has to. If he wants the treaty with the Federated Suns, he has to, and Ardan winced at the thought of the price that had already been paid in blood and lives to give this treaty even the barest chance of success.

Paid for by both sides. By Edward and by Hanse and by Ardan himself with some small part of his soul.

The two men approached the doors leading outside to the parade grounds where the Tribunal would sit and hear the appeals of those appearing before them. Where they sat before the gallows that had been erected over the past week and would stand silent behind the survivors as those few pleaded and begged for mercy that could not be shown to them.

The guards on the doors opened them and Edward drew in a deep breath. And then he took one step forward and Ardan advanced at his side.

Subaltern Jon Kincaide stood and the discussion around the dinner table came to a halt as the officers of the Taurian Defense Force, nobles of the Concordat, and their guests rose as well.

"Ladies, gentlemen," the young man said firmly as the junior officer present at the table today. "The Taurian Concordat!"

He raised his glass in salute and those gathered answered him, "The Taurian Concordat!" And they drank a sip—some a swallow!

"The Protector!"

"The Protector!"

Another sip; another swallow.

"The Defense Force!"

"The Defense Force!"

And again, they drank.

Some began to sit, but Edward remained standing; Ardan looked at him in surprise. Those three toasts were the only ones required by ritual.

"To our absent friends," the young man said softly and raised his own glass again.

"To absent friends," repeated Corey Calderon and Helena Vickers, followed quickly by every other person in the room. They drank a fourth time and all watched Edward as they waited to see if he had any more surprises in store.

Now, Edward sat at the head of the table, followed by Marshal Calderon at the opposite end and then all of the others, and he leaned back in his seat as he appeared to be listening to the conversations around him, but the look in his eyes was haunted and he absently swirled the dark red wine in his glass without taking another sip.

And Helena Vickers, sitting at Edward's right hand—just as Arden sat on his left—frowned. She leaned forward.

"Never an easy thing, my boy, to send men to the gallows—or a firing squad. Lord knows, I've done both and it has never been easy and never failed to turn my stomach as I watched. Even if it was men that deserved it, it is not an easy thing to do. Or at the least, it is not an easy thing for any officer—or Protector—that I want to serve under and or have serve under me," she said in a soft voice.

"You've sent men—men you condemned with your own voice—to their deaths, Fleet Marshal?" Edward asked quietly.

"I have," she answered and she took a sip of wine and gestured towards Edward's own glass. He gave a half-hearted smile and raised it, then took a sip as well. "Better, young man. I've sent enemies of the Concordat to the gallows and the firing squad and I've sent my people before them as well; men and women who betrayed the Concordat or deserted the Defense Force in a time of war. It's never been easy for me. I pray it never becomes easy for you."

She sighed. "And there are many, many more that never committed any crime that I sent to their deaths—with my own voice—because I needed them to fight and die to buy time to save more than I sacrificed. Those deaths weigh more heavy on me than the ones I've had to hang or shoot. And I think that is true of you as well. Absent friends, indeed."

She took another sip, and Edward followed suit.

"I'm glad that I decided to come planet-side today for this . . .," and she grimaced, "occasion. Wasn't sure I wanted to, but I got to meet you, boy. I got to meet you here, in the field, and use the occasion to gauge the quality of your character."

Edward sat down his glass and he looked the old woman directly in her eyes. "And what did you decide about my character, Fleet Marshal?"

"That you are a Calderon, Lord Edward. A true Calderon and one I am willing to follow when the day eventually comes. If I don't die before Thomas passes on, that is," and she laughed. "Of course, I've been called stubborn, so I'll probably live to be two hundred, least a'ways as long as Thomas and you both keep me in my command chair up there." And she pointed up at the ceiling. But Edward knew what she meant.

"So, you are the woman that Thomas appointed to command that battleship in orbit, then?" Arden asked.

Helena Vickers turned to stare deep in Ardan Sortek's eyes and then she nodded. "It is my distinct honor to be the commanding officer of the Taurian Concordat Ship Samantha Calderon. And you are Ardan Sortek—you know when Thomas heard you were here with your . . . mercenaries," and she chuckled, "he nearly had a stroke. Almost sent you into exile, Lord Edward, so I wouldn't make a habit of doing what you did."

"Not planning on it, Fleet Marshal," Edward answered.

"Doubt you planned on doing it at all," Helena replied sharply. "But there is a secret that we higher-ranking officers don't really like spreading around—and the Protector is just about the highest-ranking officer we've got."

Ardan smiled. The woman was certainly charismatic, but there was something about her name that nagged at the back of his mind. "And what exactly is that secret, Fleet Marshal?"

Helena snorted another bark of laughter. "You know the secret I mean, Marshal Sortek—ah, excuse, Colonel Sortek. The secret, Edward, is that the rules of what we are and aren't supposed to do . . . well, sometimes you have to break them to get things done right. You take your command where you know they would never let you, but you do it because it is the right thing to do. You tell your boss NO when everyone else around you is scared shitless because it is the right thing to do. You stand up to your father and your commanders and your people and you say, I will not be moved, because damn it what you want me to do is wrong. Wrong for our people, wrong for the Concordat, wrong for the times."

She paused and she took another sip of wine. "You know exactly what I'm talking about, don't you, Ardan Sortek?"

"I do," he answered softly. "As a soldier you obey orders—until those orders are the wrong orders. And you make a call."

"And you pay the price," Helena added. She looked at Edward. "This time, Lord Edward, Thomas was willing to forgo the price. Next time, he might not. But you knew what might happen to you and you took a stand anyway," she raised her glass and clinked it against Edward's own. "Welcome to the Club. It is a rather exclusive club for there are not many men or women out there who are willing to take action against orders when they should. Too worried about losing their exalted ranks and their damned privileges. Now, we could have won the day without Sortek's Foxhounds or Enzo Wiley's Coyotes, but it would have been bloodier on our side. You knew what you had to do to shore up the defenses of this world and you did it. Knowing full well the consequences that could have fallen upon you."

She paused and raised her glass again. "That is leadership, Lord Edward. That is a man that I, or Raphael Montoya, or Corey Calderon, or . . .," and she smiled over at Ardan, "or even Ardan Sortek would be willing to follow."

And Arden raised his own glass.

"At least until you dismiss him from service and he goes back to New Avalon as a Marshal of the AFFS," and she laughed again.

"Touché, ma'am," Ardan replied with a chuckle of his own.

Edward nodded as he took another sip of his own wine. "Thank you, Fleet Marshal. I needed to hear that."

"I know. I have been there, I have done that. So has Ardan Sortek. And tonight, I am going to break another order and put my own fate in the hands of the Protector," she said with a smile.

"What order are breaking, Fleet Marshal?" asked Ardan Sortek. "You are not going to blast away my Foxhounds from orbit, are you?"

"Nothing like that," she answered. "No. I have a message for your Prince Hanse Davion. You see, when viewed one way, I'm already way past two hundred years in age. I was born in 2529, you see. I'm that Helena Vickers, Marshal Sortek, and in three short years I will celebrate my 600th​ birthday. Must be some sort of record for humanity, right there, eh?"

She laughed and Ardan began to chuckle . . . and then he saw Edward's expression and he stopped. He looked at her eyes and she nodded.

"Thomas didn't find and salvage that ship, did he?" Ardan asked very quietly.

"No. We had a misjump that sent us flying more than five centuries into the future. My crew and I, Raphael Montoya and his Calderon Red Hand as well, we are combat veterans of the almost twenty years of Hell that you people today call the Reunification War."

She paused, and then she nodded at Ardan. "Go ahead. Take a drink, you probably need one."

Ardan raised his glass and took a deep swallow. "Why? Why tell me, for God's sake?" he asked when he had recovered.

"You are a man of honor. I can see that. Edward trusts you, and even though you are a Davion, I think I do as well. So. I want you to tell Hanse Davion himself, that if he decides to try and take Lord Edward here as a hostage or invade the Concordat or seize Saucy Sam, I'll be waiting for him. I'll be coming for him. With a crew that knows that ship inside and out. Not a bunch of spacers impressed into service from any available DropShip and JumpShip and trying to operate systems they don't understand or know how to fix. Not saying he can't kill me and get the job done, but that job just got a Hell of a lot harder. And I want him to know that."

"He's not planning on doing any of that!" Ardan snapped.

"I don't know him. I know you. Now, if he keeps a man like you around him, well, maybe Edward is right and we can trust him. To some degree. Maybe Edward is wrong. I don't know. And you don't know—not deep down when you know that any ruler has to be willing to consider anything to preserve their own realm. Their own people."

Helena took a sip of her wine and she shook her head. "You might think because we limped into orbit that Saucy Sam is on the verge of falling apart. We found the fault yesterday; a fuel pump failed and two of our three main drives couldn't get enough to provide any thrust. A minor problem, already fixed. Just took us a little bit of time to get done. My ship, my crew, they are not a target, Ardan Sortek. If the Protector wanted, I'd load up Edward and the Red Hand and personally escort him all the way to New Avalon."

She sighed. "But that would be seen as provocative . . . which is why I am having this conversation with you right now." She shook her head. "I believe everyone, including your Hanse Davion, should get one warning—just one."

"Don't forget, Fleet Marshal, we learned a long time ago how to kill battleships and cruisers and carriers with just our own aerospace fighters," Ardan said softly.

"Don't I know it, boy. I think this is what they used to call detente? Right? You can kill me and I can kill you, but all either one of us has to do to live is just back away from the edge. If the other one also pulls back from brink, that is." She took the last sip of wine from her glass. "I don't want to go to New Avalon. I don't want to fight Hanse Davion. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of war and could use a vacation—don't think I'm going to get one any time soon, but I'd like to spend about a year on the beach drinking fruity drinks with little paper umbrellas and fucking the brains out of some twenty-year old massage therapist."

Despite himself, Ardan let out a short bark of laughter and Helena nodded.

"And your Hanse Davion doesn't want a war on the Taurian border either, or you wouldn't be out here and we wouldn't be talking. So just tell the damn man my message," she said as she stood. "Lord Edward, you have a good evening. Colonel Sortek."

Edward stood. "Fleet Marshal," he said with a slight bow, and Helena smiled at him.

"You'll do, boy. You'll do fine," she whispered as she patted him on the shoulder and walked from the dining hall.


Edward stopped and turned around. He had been about to call it an evening and retire for the night, but the sound of Corey's voice had stopped him.

"Uncle Corey," he said with a slight bow.

"Leaving us so early?" the old man asked softly.

"Today was not the best of days, Uncle Corey," Edward answered just as softly.

"No, it wasn't. But you did your duty, son, and I am proud of you. Now, I know you want to retire for the night and torture yourself with how you might have been able to do something else instead of what you did," and Corey chuckled sadly, "but before you go, I wanted you to meet some people."

"Of course, Marshal Calderon."

"I understand you are going out to the Detention Facility tomorrow. Inspection tour?"

"I want to see how we are treating the others." Edward finally said.

"Like human beings, son. Like human beings," Corey paused and he waved over at Erwin Tyrell. The New Vallis nobleman began to make his way through the crowd, a young woman following him.

"Seriously," Corey continued, "right now we are still processing them, treating any wounded, debriefing them," and he smiled. "You know, there was one cavalry recon company—the remains of one—that came in and had a horror story to tell us. They ran into a nest of Demon Spiders out there in the Waste and damn near lost half their men to them. Just for trying to stop and refill their water canteens. Turns out Michael never briefed them about the dangers of the Wastes—guess he thought they wouldn't be in it for more than a day and it would be easy to push us aside to get to Port Sheridan."

"Guess he was wrong, Uncle Corey."

"Damn straight, my lad. Ah, Erwin! Subaltern Edward Calderon, you know Colonel the Baron Erwin Tyrell. But have you met his daughter?"

The young woman—Edward guessed she was about his own age—came forward and curtseyed. Edward bowed in reply, and then he took a good look at her.

She was tall—almost taller than him—slender, with lovely honey-brown hair and expressive hazel eyes.

"Subaltern Calderon, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," she said in a soft soprano voice.

"Lord Edward," Erwin Tyrell spoke up, "may I make known to you my daughter, Moira Tyrell."

"My lady," Edward said simply. "The honor is mine."

"Lady Moira is also Doctor Tyrell," added Corey. "She graduated from Santiago Medical on Samantha at damn near the top of her class."

"I am impressed," Edward said as he smiled. "That is one of our most prestigious institutions."

She nodded her head slightly, acknowledging the compliment. "It is my understanding that you are coming to inspect the Detention Facility tomorrow?"

"I am," Edward answered. "But I was not aware that was common knowledge."

"Oh, it's not," she replied with a smile—and Edward froze at the sight of her beaming face. "I am running the medical side of the Facility until we get everyone treated and processed." and her smile faded and she shook her head. "Where they are going after that no one will tell me."

Corey Calderon smiled and he took the young ladies arm. "Perhaps, my dear, you might offer to show the Subaltern here around the Facility tomorrow? You know it better than any other, right?"

"I do. Lord Edward, it would be my pleasure to escort you around the compound, unless you are otherwise engaged?"

Edward started to speak, but suddenly had to swallow and he nodded. "T-that would be fine, my lady," he finally said.

"Eddie, why don't you and Lady Moira—Doctor Tyrell," he quickly corrected and she smiled at him, "go get a fresh drink and leave us old men here to talk. Boring stuff you young folks don't want to hear, you know."

"My lady?" Edward asked, holding out his arm.

Moira smiled and slid her own into his and the two of the them began to walk towards the bar, smiling and talking the entire way.

"My Lord Marshal," Erwin said in an acrid tone, "just what the fuck are you playing at?"

"Well, he's a single boy. She's a single girl. They are both attractive, both young, both smart. Who knows what might happen?"

"I know what could happen, and I really don't want to have to kill Thomas' heir in an Honor Duel. That's my daughter!" he snapped.

"Calm down, Erwin," Corey replied with a laugh. "I've known Eddie his entire life; he won't do anything improper. But I did want him to meet her before he left for New Avalon."

"He might not—but she just might!" Erwin answered and then he sighed. "Why? Why did you want them to meet?"

"What? Is a Calderon not good enough for your daughter, Lord Tyrell?"

"It's not that . . . why tonight? Why before he leaves?"

"He's going to be on New Avalon—a Davion world—for weeks, perhaps months. He might meet some pretty Davion girl. Do you want him bringing home a Davion wife, Erwin?" And Corey smiled as Erwin Tyrell began to sputter. "Or do you want him thinking about that little vixen you raised that probably has him wound around her little finger by now," and Corey looked over towards the bar where the two young people were smiling and chatting and completely ignoring everyone else in the room.

"God," whispered Erwin. "I need a drink."

And Corey Calderon laughed.

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