Mrs Froc said that her Mildred was a lady and that a lady should know her Morporkian and Genuan, not to mention her letters, whatever the new Abominations said. Not even Nuggan himself (and Milly would make the sign whenever she thought this, defiant in her knowledge that ritual would cleanse even repeated sins) could stop Mother when she'd made up her mind, and so Milly read and learned and got her fingers rapped if she didn't. She read history, the Book of Nuggan, Etiquette for Young Ladies, Twurp's Peerage, and even a novel or two, intended for young boys and full of adventures on the sea, and brave heroes in the throes of a wicked revolution.
When she was five, she'd asked for a picture of the Duchess Annagovia in her room, because Father said the Duchess was the sovereign, and holy for her connection with the One God. A sovereign meant someone who everybody had to obey, he explained, and a God was someone even the sovereigns bowed to. The painting her parents bought turned out to be a skilled copy of an unofficial portrait done in the Genuan style, showing a young woman with a proud brow and dark round eyes, wrapped in silk, fur and jewelry. Milly used to stare at the portrait at night, saying her prayers to the sovereign and her God. At daytime, sometimes, she would strike the pose in front of a mirror, smile the faint smile, and then make the sign once more.
Milly grew from a plump child to an unremarkable young girl, much too intense and broad-built for beauty. Since the bond fraud on her 11th year, her parents were of no great consequence, and so she had few suitors. She secretly preferred it that way. She would watch with the other young women as the soldiers marched through the streets in a proud procession, off to the frontlines, all proud red coats and determined, joyful faces, but unlike the other girls, Milly didn't sigh for the love of the handsome young heroes, or the prospect of a gentleman husband; no. Hers were the sighs of envy. The men would fight for the Duchess, for their homeland, perhaps even die. There was no greater joy or honour that Milly could imagine.
By this time her mother was dead, and her father barely a presence, a ghost in his house, muttering in his study, his head addled by too many anxious thoughts. The servants were all gone except for Jemmie, and Jemmie was of her own mind. It was not difficult to slip out and disappear.
Nobody ever did find out what happened to Mildred Froc - some said she ran off with a soldier, others that she had gone mad like her father and been hidden away in the country. People forgot, or eventually assumed her dead. Upon her father's death, the house was sold, and the proceed went to his estranged brother. As for Milly's cousin Matthew, well, his papers checked out. If nobody had ever heard of the Frocs in Sneekz, where he claimed to hail from, then nobody ever did ask, either. He had money and the manners of a gentleman, and a recommendation signed in the shaky hand of his uncle, and that was enough for the academy.
Mildred Froc had played at being the Duchess, memorised each feature in her portrait, read about her life, read her speeches aloud whenever she could find them, in her best approximation how the Duchess might sound. Nothing had prepared her for the powerful voice, first heard in an address to the young men of the academy, before they were sent to their first commands. It had spoken of honour, glory, pride. It had spoken more softly, years later, of rose gardens and appetizers and the music, on the most perfect night in her life.
The year of the Truce, decades later, General Froc was an old man, and an old woman, too. She stood before a group of girls, little more than children, while the walls shook and rubble snowed down upon them from the high roof upon the reports and crew lists, and upon the white heads of her generals. One of the children was older than anyone else in the room.
Froc had never seen any honour in backing down. Honour was in glory, glory in death. Yet she could not deny the eyes looking out at her from a wan young face with all the confidence of her sovereign's spirit. This was her Duchess, the pinnacle of her homeland, as sure as she'd memorised every speck of paint on that long-gone picture. She would lay down anything for her. Life. Arms. Even honour.
She'd been Annagovia's man ever since she was old enough to appreciate a proud royal brow.