Welcome Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Welcome Lords, Ladies and Gentlefolk.

This blog will be devoted to my literary and cosplay interests and stories set in my own alternative historical steampunk background. I hope people enjoy the stories, as much as I enjoy devising and writing them and that it stimulates their own artistic interests, entertains them or if nothing else fires their own imaginations.

A special note to new readers of this blog, the entries "Nation States" are gazetteers of the nations as they exist in the An Age of Steam, Steel and Iron background, each with a few remarks/observations about each nation as they exist within. Any post headed by the title containing the words "Story Snippet" or "Fragments" is a stand alone, snapshot of the background, they will be developed into fuller stories in future, but at present they serve to give the viewer/reader a measure of what this world is like, what is going on in it and who some of the players are. Full stories, will be headed by their title and a roman number, as they will generally be in several parts.

Comments, suggestions or remarks by readers are welcomed.

I would like to thank the following people:

Yaya Han for getting me seriously interested in cosplay at a time when things were looking very glum for me back in 2006 with several extended stays in hospital due to illness, and motivating me to get actively involved.

Ashley Du aka UndeadDu for her unfailing friendship and cheerful support since we first met in 2014 at the Hamilton Comic Con, and for being my Cosplay mentor and advisor.

Sara Marly for her interest in and support for my writings, since we first met in 2016 at the Hamilton Comic Con and incidently helping me make up my mind to finally do this.

Stephen Thomson, my friend, for his advise and assistance with creating and setting up this blog.

Daniel Cote, my friend and co-worker for his advise and friendship over the years.

The People of the The Aegy's Gathering (particularly Jonathan Cresswell-Jones, Scott Washburn and Jenny Dolfen, all of whom I have kept in contact with over the years), who were brought together in friendship by a certain randomness of chance and a common interest in the Honor Harrington books and stayed together despite distance and the strains of life.

The People of the Wesworld Alternative History website, who gave me the opportunity to sharpen my writing and story telling skills while directing the affairs of Lithuania and briefly France during their 1930s timelines.

My parents Mary Ellen and Logan, my siblings Adam and Danika and various friends both online and at work and play for putting up with me, encouraging and supporting me both in the very good times and the very bad times.

I remain as always yours very sincerely, your obedient servant, Matthew Baird aka Sir Leopold Stanley Worthing-Topper

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

An Unexpected Visitor (Part I)

Schloss Eggenberg, City of Graz, Crownland of Styria, the Holy Roman Empire, December 1792.

The Reichsgraf von Finkenstein's great coach rattled towards the Schloss Eggenberg from Graz, the ice covering the cobble stone road crunching under it's well sprung wheels and the steady percussion like drum of it's horse team's hooves. Christoph von Finkenstein sat in his comfortable seat wrapped deeply in his own thoughts quite as thickly as the blankets that enshrouded him to keep out the winter's cold. None of them were particularly cheerful, this year had been a bad one as far as he was concerned and particularly for one sad young girl of whom he was inordinately fond, his niece by his now late younger sister, Sophia. The fact that he had only just managed to talk, his sister Nathalia, Sophia's identical twin, out of accompanying him on this trip, put him in even a fouler mood then he had thought possible. Marie Luise did not need her aunt -- who had the same face and colouring as her dead mother -- going on about her future and the responsibilities attendant to that, when she was grappling with the loss of both her parents, she was having enough problems just taking hold of the reins of her family estates!

Nathalia had for years been pressuring both himself, Sophia and his brother-in-law, Hans Ulrich to arrange a match between Marie Luise and Christoph's eldest son, Karl Alexander. Such a match would strengthen the ties between the Eggenberg and Finkenstein families, and help solve the Eggenberg's desperate need for an heir to see the House of Eggenberg into the next century. It would mean the dynastic possessions, wealth and titles of both families would be combined into a stronger and more prosperous whole and a stronger dynastic succession could be arranged, or at least that was the way Nathalia had worded it whenever she broached the idea to him and Hans Ulrich. Sophia might have half-believed that but neither Christoph nor to a lesser extent Hans Ulrich had been entirely convinced that had been the real reason behind Nathalia's persistent advocacy of the dynastic match.

If Karl Alexander married Marie Luise, he would inherit the title of Princely Count of Gradisca, when Hans Ulrich died, rather then it going back to the Habsburgs. Any son begotten by them would also inherit that title and it's important princely delegate seat in the Holy Roman Empire's Reichsstand and Reichstag (or the Reichsversammlung as it was sometimes called), as well as all the accumulated titles, lands, possessions and businesses owned by both the Eggenbergs and Finkensteins in Inner Austria, Upper Austria, Hungary and Bohemia and Bavaria. Christoph felt that the raise in Nathalia's own personal status this would effect and the fact she had a great deal of influence with and over Marie Luise and Karl Alexander figured rather more prominently with his sister, then strictly dynastic considerations.

Christoph had previously objected to the idea for several reasons, first, Marie Luise and Karl Alexander were first cousins. Thus far both the Eggenbergs and the Finkensteins had avoided the problems of accumulated bad heredity, being fairly judicious in balancing their respective family needs with regards to personal, political, economical and dynastic advantage with their choice of marriages. The Roman Catholic church had a prohibition against families that were too interrelated marrying, a wise one if one thought of the amount inbreeding that sometimes all too often afflicted the oldest royal and aristocratic families. Unfortunately the Roman Catholic church had all too frequently ignored it's own rules when dynastic considerations and the need to maintain their influence with said dynasties came up. He suspected that the Bishop in Graz, Joseph Adam Graf Arco, would do just that, given the circumstances.

More importantly Christoph knew both the principals, and he knew that while a dynastic match between them would work in principal, it would not work in practice, particularly on a personal level. Christoph had rather more experience in the differences between a good marriage and a bad marriage in the personal sense, then he cared to have. His own married life had generally been a happy and harmonious one, for which he was eternally grateful. His own parents marriage had been an extremely unpleasant emotional and personal disaster for all concerned. Neither Karl Alexander or Marie Luise had much in common with each other either in terms of their personalities or their interests or hobbies. Nathalia was of the opinion, when he sarcastically pointed out this snag to her, that a long betrothal period would help smooth out any such trivial personality problems and the marriage could be carried out and consummated when, Marie Luise turned eighteen at the earliest. Christoph did not share that optimistic appraisal of the situation either.

Hans Ulrich's sudden death had thrown a spoke quite literally amidst Nathalia's wheels however. In the first place, the Princely County title entailed back to the Habsburgs as previously agreed in 1647. Any child of Marie Luise's would only inherit her baronial, county, princely and ducal titles as the Princely County of Gradisca seat and dignities connected with it in the Reichstand and Reichstag were denied to her, by Salic and Agnatic inheritance law. Secondly, Marie Luise, was now answerable to herself on who she was or was not to marry, she was most definitely not subject to the decree or whim of her parents, as she was now the sole heiress and Fürstin of Eggenberg. Her regents and trustees could advise her until she reached her legal majority but they would be absolute fools to think they could make her do anything she was not already prepared to consider.

Christoph sighed, the gate of the Eggenberg estate opened by it's automaton attendants as his coach approached. Christoph ordered the coach to halt, and had a brief exchange with the gate warden, Old Deitrich Scheffschik, had been opening and closing these gates for well on forty years. He had served almost three generations of the Eggenberg family, Marie Luise would be his fourth and was damned proud of it. Marie Luise, herself thought of Old Deitrich as a much loved crusty, sometimes stuffy and sometimes mischievous old uncle, well grand uncle in his case, as Scheffschik had to be at least seventy if not older, if he was a day. The two exchanged a few words, Scheffschik was usually guarded and abrupt in speech, especially when dealing with outsiders and doubly so if it concerned young Marie Luise. Christoph knew, that Old Deitrich thought of Marie Luise as a surrogate niece, of which he was particularly fond and cherished as if she was one of his own family.

Scheffschik looked worn, the strain he was under was showing, his long beard and moustache had more white and grey then dark chestnut hairs now while his sharp brown eyes were tired, red rimmed and blood shot. He was beaten down and aggrieved by the unexpected loss of the esteemed, respected, and even loved Hans Ulrich and Sophia von Eggenberg. The terrible silent grief and icy solitude of their only child, Marie Luise, weighed heavily on the staff of the Schloss Eggenberg, human, construct and automaton alike. They wanted desperately to reach out and help her though her sadness and grief, but they did not know how, there was a distance between her and them now, that was not there before and they had not yet quite figured out how to breach it. Marie Luise, was the reigning, Fürstin von Eggenberg now and not the curious, delightful, and sometimes impulsive young tomboy that she had been.

Christoph, nodded goodbye, and thanked Scheffschik for what information he had let slip to him, though nearly clinched teeth, such was his own grief for the family he served. Perhaps I can let a little more light into this darkened house or at least I damn well mean to try, Christoph thought as his driver whipped the team up into a gallop, making for the palace itself.

Reichsgraf Christoph von Finkenstein was always a welcome visitor at the Schloss Eggenberg, as far as the Eggenbergs and their Palace Staff had been concerned but doubly so, today, as it was Marie Luise's twelfth birthday and his arrival caused a stir amoungst the staff when he was announced at the palace's front door. What should have been a festive and pleasant day had been afflicted by the deep gloom that had engulfed the Schloss and the palace's young heiress, following the deaths of her parents, both from lingering illness earlier in the year. Uncle Christoph, ambled into the great study, that had been Hans Ulrich II's, the last male Fürst von Eggenberg of the Graz Line or indeed any other of the cadet Eggenberg Lines. It was now Fürstin Maria Ludovika I's for the rest of her life, and that thought depressed the young girl beyond any words she could put together as she sat reading in the great comfortable, velvet covered armchair her father had installed along with the huge, polished dark wood desk with it's many drawers and cabinets all decorated with ornate gold carvings and etchings. Her mother's own equally magnificent and spacious desk and comfortable chair stood nearby at right angles to her father's, they had worked side by side in the interests and administration of House Eggenberg and it's varied estates and possessions, at her father's insistence, since the day they had married in 1778.

Marie Luise, the moment she saw him bounced out of the arm chair and came running towards her uncle, her green eyes sparkling with delight. To his niece, her Uncle Christoph, had always resembled nothing so much as a vast, hoary old tree stump. Of an cheerful, pleasant disposition, and built like a great barrel, Christoph looked much shorter and stouter and often more ill tempered then he was. He had the same sparkling green eyes that both she and her mother possessed, as well as the same wild blond hair. In Christoph's case it framed his head like a wild lion's mane, with great sideburns and mutton chop side whiskers framing his craggy face, with it's straight cut nose and wide mouth and strong jaw. Marie Luise, had known him all of her short life and simply adored him for his generosity, sense of fun and playful good humour, his unexpected but welcome presence was a tonic to her feelings of dark depression and malaise. Christoph, immediately caught her up in both arms and swung her round and round in a circle about him and then put her into a huge but gentle hug, as he always did when, he came to see his favourite niece. Hugging her uncle tightly back, she whispered into his ear softly.

"Uncle Chris, you have to act with more decorum, I am a great feudal lady now."

Christoph considered her for a long solemn moment. "Yes, Yes you are that now. I wish you were not, and had more time to grow into the role, but life is what happens when one has other plans, and there is nothing to be done about it." Then he grinned, his own green eyes twinkling with merriment before continuing. "But you are still my beloved niece, and I am still your Uncle Chris, and that is not changing!" Both laughed and hugged each other even more tightly. After some moments, he put his niece down, and she ushered him to one of the chairs, in the room set around a low coffee table while calling for her automaton attendant Speisekammer, who appeared immediately when called, with a soft warble from the steam pipes and whistles that allowed him to vocalize. Kammer, as she had always called him, was her personal pantry attendant, and had been assigned to that role, the day she had been born and alongside her mother had prepared all her food and drink and assisted in serving her all her meals. As always Kammer was dressed in long buff coloured waist coat worn over a stiff laced collar and cuffed shirt, black breeches and tall black boots echoing the black, yellow and white in the Eggenberg heraldry. The full Eggenberg coat-of-arms in the form of a decorative badge was pinned to the black stock that covered his mechanical neck.

"Tea or coffee, Uncle?" She asked with a newly accomplished and prim courtesy. Uncle Christoph indicated that coffee would be most welcome, to chase away the winter's cold. Kammer's single eye, or what appeared to be a single eye, guarded by a cage of three dark metal bars, as it dominated virtually the entire front of his tall, barrel shaped copper plated head flashed with a flickering amber light. His warbling voice sounded out phonetically and musically the words.

'Sandwiches or cakes?'

Both, Marie Luise and Uncle Christoph, said "Yes and Yes." at the same time, then looked at each other and suddenly burst out into peals of laughter. The automaton, waggled one of his pale gloved copper fingers at them in a wry gesture of admonishment, although he too was amused and pleased to see his mistress in something like a better mood then the glum or sullen silences that marked her temperament over the previous weeks. With a warble and hiss, and sundry clicks of his gears Kammer withdrew into his pantry domain and began preparing or assembling the requested items.

A Ghost Amid Ghosts (Part II)

Schlossberg Fortress, Graz, Crownland of Styria, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, January 1866.

The Chapel master was a well preserved, fit seventy, having been born in 1796 into an Austro-Slovenian farming and merchant family from Marburg. He had joined the Imperial-Royal Army in 1814 as a common infantryman in Infantry Regiment "Fürstin von Eggenberg" Nr.45, and seen action in the 1813, 1814 and 1815-16 campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars. He had stayed in the army after his initial term of service, largely because he cheerfully admitted, he had nothing better to do and fought in the campaigns in Italy from the 1820s and 1830s on wards, and in the suppression of the Galician Polish Nobles and the Peasants Revolts of 1846. Following service in the suppression of the various Insurrections and revolts of 1848-49, the Chapel master had decided he was done with the life of a soldier. He had resolved to do something more productive or at least peaceful with the remainder of his life, so he retired from the Imperial and Royal Army in 1850 with the rank of major and decided to seek service in the Roman Catholic church as a professed priest. He had been fifty-four at the time, and while it was a surprise decision to his friends and family, it was not an unusual or rash one once they thought about it. He had recently become a widower, after many happy and devoted years of marriage, all of his children had grown up and were well on finding their own ways in the world. An idle, purposeless retirement did not attract or suit him and would put him into an early grave faster then anything else he might have considered.

The Roman Catholic Seminary he had directed to had been a trifle surprised at him arriving on their door step to apply as a novitiate, but he had excelled at his studies and taken service as a parish priest in his native Marburg and in Graz were he had often served or resided during his army career. That had been his clerical career for a some years, before he had found himself, once again drafted into the Imperial and Royal Army, assigned to duty as an army chaplain with the Schlossburg garrison. Last year he had been assigned to take over the Memorial Chapel, after the previous incumbent had died unexpectedly.

He observed the Dean coming towards him as he continued to water the roses and made sure each vase of flowers was presentable. The florists had done an excellent job with them, as they did with all the chapel's floral adornments. The Dean, shook his head and remarked inaudibly but sourly as the Deacon left the presence of the stranger at the chapel entrance in something of a huff, which was not all that unusual for him. The Deacon was a pompous, self-important ass, in the Dean's considered opinion. The Dean had trained many novice priests in his time in the Roman Catholic Church and did not miss much, despite his failing eyesight and partial deafness.

The stranger went to the altar and made their reverences, placing a beautiful bouquet of flowers upon the steps, along with a multitude of bouquets and wreaths laid there by other visitors and knelt and prayed for a few minutes. Then they rose, with the aid of an ivory handled stick and turned to light a votive candle near the altar, he could see that it was a woman, by certain details of her clothing and movements. Neither he nor the Dean could make out her features, as they were shrouded by a scarf and hood, placing her face in darkness, except for the brief flare of light when she struck the candle alight. Her eyes flickered with a strange, luminous and unnatural inner light.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Storm Clouds 1866 (Part IV)

The Hofburg, City of Vienna, Austro-Hungarian Empire, January 1866.

Marie Luise, shifted her stance to one of attention, when a door hissed open behind the throne on it's raised platform. An ornately decorated automaton, emerged. It's armoured body was covered in jet black plating decorated with elaborate gold and silver filigree and etchings and baroque decorations and the full coat of arms of the Imperial and Royal Court. A hiss of surprise slipped from her lips, it was the Grand Marshall of the Mechanicals, Constructs and Automata of the Imperial and Royal Court! This automaton had served the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, for generations being set in place within the court of Charles the Great, known as Charlemagne to later generations. It has watched over many generations of emperors and empresses and their families: the Carolingian, Franconian, Saxon, Salian, Hohenstaufen, the Separate Emperors, Luxemburg, Habsburg , Wittelsbach and Habsburg-Lorraine dynasties, and if any single being could be said to totally and completely embody the grandeur, prestige and living history of the Imperial and Royal Court, the Grand Marshall was it.

Even the human officials carried out it's merest instruction or order with a promptness bordering on sheer terror. Nothing that happened in the Imperial and Royal Court happened without the Grand Marshall, being made aware of it, no action could be taken on anything without it's carefully considered direction. An court official who dared challenge it, was ruthlessly dismissed, disgraced or removed, the Grand Marshall was omniscient, all knowing on all matters of court or ceremonial edict and protocol, and to be obeyed immediately without any question. Despite it's ominous reputation as the "eminence grise" of the Imperial and Royal Court, the Grand Marshall was actually universally esteemed and respected by the majority of the court staff and lower officials, who found the automaton to be courteous, and considered in thought and action. Only the higher human court officials, particularly the more stuffy and officious ones, who thought they were actually in charge, tended to run afoul of him, much to the rest of the court staff's gleeful if carefully concealed amusement.

Marie Luise had heard all this from Archduke Karl and Archduke Johann, over the years of their long friendship, but she always felt just a little off balance, even awed, when meeting the ancient automaton. "He" was in many ways the stuff of legend and the ages, as few living things could be in these times. The Grand Marshall, was eternal, as no mere human was, he would go on forever unless felled by some freak accident or malfunction, like some living avatar, as did his fellow court automatons.

"I bid you welcome to the Imperial and Royal Court, Your Serene Highness." His mechanical constructed voice was surprisingly soft but intensely clear, almost musical in tone. It was recorded that at least one attempt to assassinate an emperor in his present had been thwarted when, the Grand Marshall had screamed at him with such vehemence that the man's eardrums had explosively ruptured, allowing the emperor's attendants to seize the would be assassin.

Marie Luise, bowed deeply in respect. The Grand Marshall's glowing eyes, seemed to twinkle at her from their darkened slots, one of it's gauntlet like hands reached out and touched the ivory handle of her interimstab and spoke.

"There is no need for such ceremony, in private. We are equals here, you and I, Fürstin von Eggenberg. We are both dedicated servants of the Emperor."

Suddenly, the Grand Marshall, straightened and swerved to his right his eyes flashing in response to some internal alarm or message sent to him through the special communications system built into the very walls of the palace, that the automatons used to communicate, a door opened to the side of the audience room adjacent to the throne. Two automatons entered almost as ornately decorated in snarling scarlet, gold and black as the Grand Marshall. They were we part of the Imperial Trabant Guard, the bodyguards of the Imperial family.

A moment later, his Imperial, Royal and Apostolic Majesty Francis Joseph the First, Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, King of Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia and Lodomeria and Illyria, King of Venetia and Lombardia, King of Serbia and of Montenegro; King of Jerusalem etc., Archduke of Austria; Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cracow, Duke of Lorraine, of Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and of Bukovina; Grand Prince of Transylvania; Margrave of Moravia; Duke of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, of Oświęcim, Zator and Ćeszyn, Friuli, Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and Zara (Zadar); Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca; Prince of Trent (Trento) and Brixen; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia and in Istria; Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenberg, etc.; Lord of Trieste, of Cattaro (Kotor), and over the Windic march; Grand Voivode of the Voivodship of Serbia, entered the room alone save for two more of his automaton Trabant Guards.

Marie Luise, came to rigid attention beside the Grand Marshall, both bowed deeply to their master. Franz Josef, accepted their courtesy with quiet deliberation, then gestured for them to rise and join him.

Monday, June 13, 2022

A Changing of the Guard (Part I)

City of Vienna, Austrian Empire, October 1809.

Oberst Freiherr von Bach, looked on with carefully concealed agitation, as the battalions of Line Infantry Regiment Nr.45 assembled in the parade square. He had taken command of the regiment back in 1806, when it's inhabers had in succession been, Feldmarschalleutnant Franz Freiherr von Lattermann and Feldmarschalleutnant Thierry Freiherr de Vaux. Now the regiment had a new inhaber, appointed by the Hofkriegsrat, and Bach was extremely anxious that the regiment, should make a good showing and impress it's new colonel-proprietor with it's professionalism. This inhaber-investiture and inspection, would after all take place under the eyes of the Generalissimus, the Generalfeldmarschall Archduke Karl himself.

Four immaculately dressed and equipped infantry battalions, each of six fusilier companies were drawn up before him in the approved linear order formation, with the Leib-(demi) battalion of two companies of fusiliers and the regimental colour guard and band standing in the center of the line. With them also stood the entire regimental staff and the regimental gun company. The regimental companies of Grenadiers were drawn up on the right flank of the regiment, while the regiment's Freiwillige Jäger and Schützen companies were drawn up on the left. Behind these formations stood the regiment's two Reserve and two Ersatz battalions. Bach felt, despite his sense of apprehension, nothing but pride in his regiment, their wartime service and conduct had always been a credit to them and Bach for one felt fortunate to have command of them. That fact that this investiture would also save the regiment from the oblivion of being prematurely disbanded was another plus as far as he was concerned.

Infantry Regiment Nr.45 had originally called Lower Austrian it's home recruiting ground but over time it had been shifted to Styria. Many of the soldiers currently in regiment were native to the city of Graz or it's adjacent administrative districts, although there were still a great many Lower Austrians within the ranks. Before the Second Treaty of Schönbrunn had been settled it had been decided by the Hofkriegsrat to switch the regiment's recruiting ground to one of the Italian speaking provinces of the empire. The regiment had even received two drafts of Italian recruits from the Austrian Adriatic coastal possessions to make up for war casualties. The preliminaries articles of the treaty had put paid to that however and Regiment Nr.45 had been one of several infantry regiments slated to be disbanded for reasons of national economy. Then there had come an unexpected and very much last minute reprieve.

Von Bach ran his eyes over the serried ranks of his regiment again for the hundredth time looking for faults or imperfections. No, the men and women of the regiment had everything in order and had made a commendable effort to make sure not only their equipment and uniforms were smart and presentable but also their own persons. They looked splendid, von Bach thought approvingly. The only thing that put von Bach's and his regimental field officers teeth on edge was their soldiers headgear, or rather it's lack of uniformity. The fusiliers in the Leib-battalion, 1st and 2nd battalion still wore the 1789 pattern crested helmets, while the 3rd and 4th battalions wore the new 1806 pattern double peaked shakos. The reservists and pensioners of the reserve battalions wore the army's small, round fatigue cap with its double rows of piping and a yellow and black cockade on the front, while the regiment's two depot battalions still wore the pre-1798 Casquet! The grenadiers of course wore their tall and impressive bearskin mitre caps with engraved yellow metal front plates and the Jäger and Schützen had equipped themselves at their own expense with the new Korsehut, that had been prescribed to replace the green crested helmet or casquets for most light infantry units. Well, at least their appearance was uniform by companies and battalion, von Bach thought wryly.

At least the other details of their uniforms and kit conformed to army regulations, although as was usual in any army it had taken months and years to catch up to the authorized decrees, regulations and statutes. All buttons and lace was in yellow or gold as rank required, while the new rank stars with six points, set into the front edges of their collars were in white bone, metal or embroidered celluloid again depending on rank. Regiment Nr.45 had originally had poppy red collars and cuffs with yellow buttons when it had been originally formed but gradually Graf Sonder had from 1770 on wards had issued a series of instructions to harmonize the facing colours to conform to specific branch of service colours within the Holy Roman Empire's multitude of military contingents. These made sense from a standing point of ease of unit identification and economy of materials for uniforms. Many units had been stubborn about adopting the decrees and statutes of course, regimental traditions died hard as always. Graf Sonder had won out over the opposition by sheer persistence and pervasiveness, and had cannily allowed the various units within the Reich-Armee to design their own regimental or battalion badges that reflected their traditions and past unit colours or lace patterns and some variation of the collar facings was still allowed as well to reflect this. Like most Austrian infantry regiments, Regiment Nr.45 had adopted green as their base facing colour for their uniforms collars, cuff and piping.

The clatter of a great many iron shod hoofs on the pavement caused Oberst von Bach to swing around to see, the new arrivals. Archduke Karl, came through the parade ground's ornate stone and iron gates, flanked and trailed by his personal staff of generals, aides-de-camp, adjutants-generals and officer orderlies. Two mounted standard bearers rode close behind him, bearing the Archduke's ornate Generalissimus pattern command flag and his Arch ducal pattern House flag.

The new inhaber to be, the Fürstin von Eggenberg rode on a splendid black charger beside Archduke Karl, as they approached the Oberst at a swift canter. She was accompanied by an aide-de-camp, a standard bearer who carried a carefully sheathed unit standard (their new Leibfahne, which would bear the Eggenberg family's full coat-of-arms, he surmised) and an automaton attendent-postilion. She wore the white coat, with the ornate red and gold collar and cuffs of her newly appointed rank of feldzeugmeister, with her tunic decorated with the medals and decorations of past and present conflicts. Both Archduke Karl and the Fürstin wore the relatively plain but smart grey oberrock coats over their white uniforms. Von Bach, brought himself sternly to task, as they slowed to a stop before him and his deputy officer and his regimental adjutant and his senior Moniteur-Bureau officer. All four regimental officers saluted crisply the man who was their military commander-in-chief and the woman, who was very shortly to be come their honorary commander and colonel-proprietor.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Storm Clouds 1866 (Part III)

The Hofburg, City of Vienna, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Jan 1866.

Marie Luise, stood alone in the audience chamber of the Hofburg, the enormous collection of palace-residences, libraries, treasuries, chapels, theaters, ball rooms, barracks, offices, chanceries, and galleries, riding schools and mews which stood at the center of the city of Vienna, and formed the literal and figurative center of the Imperial and Royal Court. It had stood and grown with the centuries serving as the official capital and administrative center of the Holy Roman Empire, and it's successors the Austria and later Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was the official winter residence and workplace of her sovereign and master, the Kaiser Franz Josef I.

She wore the full dress tunic of a generalfeldmarshall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A long white tunic, trimmed at collar, cuff and lapels with scarlet facings and it's unique wavy patterned and oak leafed gold lace. Her lower torso and upper legs were sheathed in scarlet pants with broad gold zig-zag pattern lace Lampassen. Tall black riding boots, polished to a mirror like finish, covered her lower legs and feet. The Feldbinde -- the gold yellow and black sash -- of an Imperial and Royal officer surrounded her delicate waist.

A decoratively embellished military sword with and ornate semi-basket hilt hung at her left hip, while an interimstab of polished wood with a ivory handle , the everyday version of her more elaborate red velvet covered field marshal's baton, was clasped in her hands. It served as both a symbol of her high office and as a useful walking stick. The gold and black cords of a Habsburg officer's fist strap, used to secure the bearer's weapon to their wrist, were fixed to the base of the Ivory handle. To any onlooker she would have presented a striking figure.

Her tunic bore a colourful array of military orders and decorations from over a dozen countries, not just those of her native Austria-Hungary, for her service had been a long and distinguished one, although not devoid of controversy either in her personal life or her professional one. While Marie Luise, had had many friends, and not a few admirers, she had also acquired in her life, the typical legion of detractors, professional or mortal personal enemies, as well as self-serving hangers-on and sycophants that surrounded anyone who possessed either wealth, substantive political power or success in this life.

The Kaiser, had asked to see her privately through her friend, Baird de Auchmeddan, he wished to discuss the tense relations between Austria and Prussia and get her personal views directly, away from the interference of his various staffs, advisors and cabinets. He also wanted to question her about the possibility of taking a senior if not the most senior military command in the event, that the unstable situation within the German Confederation did actually come to a violent breech.

She had come to Vienna, shortly after receiving her guests in her palace in Graz, to gauge the situation for herself at the political and administrative center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. What she had discovered since arriving and taking part in the social and court life of the capital, had not left her particularly reassured. Marie Luise, chided herself sternly, pessimism was as much a part of Austrian national character as anything else these days.

Marie Luise, stifled the impulse, to tap her stick against the floor. Her other hand was preoccupied, with holding her green feather topped bicorne hat. Patience had never come to her easily at any stage in her long life. She however did not anticipate being kept waiting for long, Franz Josef, was one of the most courteous and punctual of monarchs, an amused smiled touched her lips, and he hated wasting time, even more then she did.

The Interregnum (Part III)

Schloss Eggenberg, City of Graz, Crown land of Styria, Austrian Empire, November 1810.

Marie Luise lay upon a comfortable reclining couch, her baby son wrapped in warm blankets in a crib at her elbow. Sonder sat beside her, while Eisen, kneeling beside the crib, amused the tiny but active occupant, with small but intricate movements of his great metal hands. Sonder regarded her for a long moment, then took a thermometer out of a small liquid filled glass on the table next to him, and put it into her mouth, beneath her tongue to hold it firmly in place while he checked her pulse.

"One, thermometer with just enough mercury on the inside to do it's job, and just enough alcohol on the outside to make it interesting." Sonder said flippantly as he checked her pulse against the seconds clicking by on the hands of his pocket watch. He nodded after a minute, then retrieved the thermometer, her temperature was still a tad high but not abnormal, particularly for a young woman still recovering from her first pregnancy. Her pulse was steady and strong, which reassured him as to her slow but stable recovery. The birth had been an extremely difficult one, and there had been a few moments during the procedure, where he, his assistants and the midwife had all been extremely worried they were going to lose one or both of them.

"The abdominal pains, have subsided, Marie Luise?" Sonder inquired. She nodded, he had warned her firmly and repeatedly not to over exert herself and especially not to go riding on horse back, no matter how well she felt until he judged her fully recovered. Her son had arrived in the world on schedule, he had not been too late nor had he been too early. He had been a good weight without being excessive in that regard and and looked to be thriving. Marie Luise was still acutely worried about him, which did not surprise Sonder, all first time parents (particularly the conscientious and diligent ones), were a just a little anxious when dealing with their first new born.

Marie Luise, had felt a bit trapped by all the attention that had been focused upon her by her own palace staff, her doctors, her friends and the people of Graz during the long months of her pregnancy. She had been bombarded by letters, particularly from Archduke Karl, and from Napoleon I. She had deeply appreciated it, but at times felt more then a bit uncomfortable and even suffocated by it. Sonder had taken her aside, when she had voiced this to him, and pointed out that people were worried about and for her, and that if she was inconsiderate enough to do something outstandingly stupid or worse try and die on them from some avoidable pregnancy related complication, they would all be extremely put out. On top of that Sonder commented with wry exasperation, the Archduke Karl would have his head, and rightly so if anything happened to his adored lady. What Emperor Napoleon would do, was of course another thing entirely, if Sonder somehow managed to lose both her expected child or her.

Since the child's birth, Marie Luise, had existed for nothing else but her son, she attended to him as he required, feed and bathed him and amused or engaged him as took both their fancy. Some of the doctors had demurred at this, it was not seemingly for a woman of her rank and station, that was the duties of wetnurses and nannies after all. Sonder and the midwife, Frau Anje Rieger, had taken Marie Luise's side in the debate however and beaten down the opposition. Frau Rieger had birthed and raised a dozen of her own children, all of whom had reached adulthood and gone one to have their own families, and had midwifed scores more over the years, Sonder was not prepared to accept that she did not know a thing or two about having and rearing children! In fact she had probably forgotten more then most male doctors would every know in their collective lifetimes.

"I understand, Marie Luise, you want your son, to be baptized in the Roman Catholic faith but that you are having some difficulty arranging it?" Sonder remarked casually as he placed his various articles of doctor's paraphernalia back into his black medical bag. Marie Luise looked up from her son, she was gently smiling as Eisen playfully tried to snatch his fingers away from the grasping hands of her son. He had a good grip and fast limbs so as often as not he was able to catch hold of a metal finger tip before it evaded him and hold fast.

"Yes, I have not been able to find a priest in Graz who is willing to do it." Marie Luise, sighed. "I expected there would be some trouble over, my son's illegitimate birth... but..."

"So I was given to understood, from my discussions with some of the city's junior intendants and the Hospital medical director. They informed me of the Bishop's refusal to allow your son's baptism to be done in the city cathedral or to allow it to be conducted by any of the parish or district priests. Not I understand a very popular decision amoung either some of the priests and certainly not amoung the Graz laity. I was given quite bluntly to understand, that the Bishop's standing in the community has fallen considerable as a result. The antics of one of his favourites -- who is not anyone else's favourite -- at the moment, has not helped him much. It seems his personal chaplain -- a Father Tobias Schowe -- made some very insulting and disparaging remarks about you during a religious service commenorating the siege and the city's gallant defenders in Graz's Innere Stadt. He managed to trigger off a full scale riot amoung the attending congregation. Father Schowe is I understand a new comer to Graz and was not even here during the siege, unlike the majority of the people who live here and lived through it. On top of that, he is a very young, extremely narrow minded, pompous, self-righteous, and insufferable bastard."

"Dear God! Was anyone hurt?!" Marie Luise asked in alarm. Eisen, turned from the crib, his eyes blazing with an angry crackling light. If Eisen had a soft spot for anyone in this world, Sonder noted, Marie Luise was that person. Insulting or abusing Marie Luise's name or person in his presence or hearing, was easily the fastest and messiest way anyone who knew Eisen, could think of to commit suicide. He had without any one even asking him to acted as an attendant to Marie Luise with great care, tact and quiet support, acting as a guardian or companion as needed over the long months, as she had struggled through the physical and emotional challenges of her pregnancy. The only time he had left her presence was when he left for a few weeks in January to aide a team of Austrian agents in a secretive and highly successful effort to rescue the Tyrolean rebel leader, Andreas Hofer, from a fortress prison in Mantua.

"Hm? No one of the slightest importance, according to the very outraged city elders I talked to. The Garrison and the City Gendarmes managed to contain things before the rioters got too out of hand. The only injured party was the numbskull priest, Schowe, who was just arrogant and stupid enough to refer to the people of the city's heroine, the 'Lioness of Graz', as a whore and her child as a god forsaken bastard, and think his clerical collar and black robe was going to provide him with the slightest protection. They, the congregation, simply exploded: all of them, man and woman, humble burgher, workman and artisan and gentle born alike, dragged him -- screaming blue murder by the way-- from the pulpit, beat him to a bloody pulp, then dragged him out into the street. Then some enterprising persons who remain unknown brought out the tar and feathers... ."

Marie Luise was absolutely appalled to hear this, although a secret part of her took a certain vindictive satisfaction nevertheless. Sonder shook his head, chucked softly at the remembered conversation with the city elders and city staff, then looked her squarely in the eyes before continuing. Marie Luise, had a lurking suspicion who the persons behind taring and feathering Father Schowe were, the men and officers of Infantry Regiments Nr.27 and Nr,45 were both stationed in Graz, the former had been the regiment that she had first elected to enlist in, back in 1794/95, and the later was the regiment that she was Inhaber to. They had already been involved in several altercations, and even a few duels, with her more vocal detractors in the city.

"Marie Luise, the people of Graz, regard you as one of their own. The von Eggenberg family have been a part of this city for a long time, since 1460 when they first started putting down roots in the area and laid the foundations of this palace. You are the last living representative of that illustrious Dynasty, the Augsburg, Radkersburg and Ehrenhausen lines are extinct, and you are the last of the Graz Line. You did not have to come back in the middle of a war, just to fight for this city, when far more important parts of the country where under threat. You did anyway because, you care about Graz and it's people. That mattered to them even if it mattered to no one else in this world."

Sonder lapsed into silence, and let his words sink into Marie Luise's mind and soul. Sonder was not one for idle or false flattery, he meant what he was saying with absolute honesty and fidelity. Her emotions were a confused torrent of feelings as she grappled with the high regard the people of Graz held f or her. Sonder tilted his masked head to one side and continued as he watched his words sink in.

"As to a baptism, I think I have found a man, who will do it, nor does he care a jot what the bishop will say about it. He is a older brother of one of my fellow Prussian officers. He's of an old Jacobin Austro-Irish family, one of the Wild Geese dispora that ended up in the Silesian duchies. The family has branches in both the Austrian and Prussian provinces of Silesia. Father Noel Bracken is his name, he runs a small foundlings and orphans hospice near Troppau. His is a priest who has lived in the world and knows its joys and cares as much as it's sorrows and regrets, despite which he still maintains a quiet sense of compassion and charity especially for those whom society and the church often deem troublesome or undesirable. Father Bracken regards himself in the business of saving and comforting souls, and damn all who get in his way of doing it!" Sonder laughed. "I have sent him a message via the optical telegraph, explaining your predicament, and asked him to come to Graz at his earliest convenience. He has responded, that 'he would be delighted to be of assistance and will come at once.'

"Have you decide on a name?" Eisen suddenly asked from his place beside Marie Luise. Marie Luise, looked thoughtful for a moment and consulted a note book she had jotted notes down in over her time in Graz.

"Yes, I want him to be christened as Ferdinand Ulrich." Marie Luise, said after a moments reflection, she continued. "To honour both Emperors, Ferdinand II and III, who gave my family it's opportunity to prosper and advance in their service and to honour, the greatest of the Eggenbergs, Hans Ulrich."

"I trust, both Eisen and I are included in the list of godparents?"

"Absolutely, my dear Sonder. Along with Archdukes Karl and Johann."

"Ah, then we are in good company then." Sonder remarked.

The Interregnum (Part II)

Schloss Eggenberg, City of Graz, Crown land of Styria, Austrian Empire, November 1810.

Gustav Johann Vizegraf von Blankenberg, the princess of Eggenberg's chief equerry passed down one of the private walks that lined the grounds of the Schloss Eggenberg. He was a man of moderate height, straight backed and straight limbed and a intensely fit build, as one would expect of man who had been born and raised in the Harz Mountains of Germany and spent his military career on the long and dangerous Austrian Military Frontier before being called to serve in the various coalition wars that dominated the 1790s and 1800s. He possessed a handsome aristocratic face, with clear sparkling grey eyes. His mouse grey hair was worn in the now dated fashion, of a long queue tied up at his neck with a black ribbon, with his hair in two double curls either side of his face, while an equally unfashionable but smartly trimmed goatee marked his chin. His style of dress was an understated but elegant grey coat with green velvet at collar, lapels and cuffs, with a black waistcoat, black pants and tall black ridding boots. He held a black, gold trimmed bicorne in his metal and gloved hands as he walked meditatively along the pathway. A walking stick was tucked absently under one of his arms, and a sword hung purposely from his hip, as he moved. His brisk tread did not conceal to any onlooker that not only was one of his hands an artificial construct but that both his legs were as well.

The district that the palace lay in was a quiet one, covered in heavy forests and surrounded by mountains and high hills dotted with several small peasant hamlets and villages, lordly manors and a bustling, populous market town all belonging to the Eggenberg family. The area's chief economic interests were dominated by agriculture and cultivating wineyards on the local hillsides. The only other industry of note, was the Reininghaus Brewery, which made various liquors, wines, ales and lagers from the products of the local farms and vineyards.

The Eggenbergs had established an elementary school and two high schools to tend to the education of local children, largely at their own expense and founded a pedagogical academy which provided training to teachers, administrators and clerics in the district and it's neighbours . An application had been made by the last three generations of Eggenberg princes for an imperial charter to covert the academy into a university, although nothing had so far come of it. They had also worked diligently to expand and upkeep various roads and bridges in the district with the consequent benefit to local travel and trade. As a rule, the Eggenbergs were well thought of by the people of the area for their good common sense, business savvy and charitable and philanthropic works. Marie Luise, was well neigh loved and respected by the locals of the district and by many of the people of Graz, which made Blankenberg acutely aware, that he would be measured accordingly by the people in area. Not that he did not have certain advantages in being the Fürstin von Eggenberg service, that might not attend another applicant.

Blankenberg had joined the palace staff, shortly after the conclusion of the 1809 War, he had lost a hand in the Seige of Graz and was facing a long recovery (he had already lost both his legs in Austria's previous wars against France and his health was increasingly erratic), without great prospects of active employment. His injuries had caused him to be put on an unpleasantly extended medical leave and he had consequently lost his post as commander of the 18th Grenzers. Fürstin Marie Luise von Eggenberg, whom he had served alongside in the siege, where they had developed a mutual admiration for each others skills and courage, on hearing of his predicament had immediately offered him the the vacant post of chief equerry on her palace staff. Blankenberg had been astonished and delighted at the offer, which effectively made him, the princess's senior aide-de-camp and private secretary, and had accepted it with alacrity.

The Palace staff had greeted him with some reserve at first, though they had quickly warmed to him, once he had commenced his duties with a dedication and integrity that impressed and reassured them. He quickly understood why they had been so reserved at first. The princess had landed in a proverbial if not literal bucket of hot water, when it was realized that she was pregnant out of wedlock. The rumours of who the father was, did absolutely nothing for the princess's reputation and standing with her peers and society in general.

The Imperial Court had all but shunned her, as soon as word of it reached Vienna, her relations with her Herberstein and Schwarzenberg relatives had chilled almost to the point of frigidity. Although from what, Blankenberg, had been able to gather both from the other members of the staff and the princess herself, that was not altogether such a hardship. Both these families had a vested interest in the division of the Eggenberg estates if anything happened to the last living member of the House of Eggenberg. Having first cut her off nearly completely, they suddenly realized that Marie Luise having a child would alter the division of her legacy, as illegitimate or not, a son or daughter would complicate matters. Particularly if she revised her will to leave her various possessions, estates and titles to her child.

At this point, Blankenberg, had noted with some contempt and not a little cynical amusement, something like panic had set in, particularly in Marie Luise's Aunt's family. A lawyer had come several times over the last few months before, the child had been born to harass the princess into keeping the provisions of her legal will and testament as had been previously set up by her late parents. That being her Inner Austrian lands and titles would go to her aunt and the Herbersteins, while her Bohemia lands and titles would go to the Schwarzenbergs. To be fair, the Schwarzenbergs had been more subtle, then either Marie Luise's aunt or Marie Luise's Herberstein relatives. Blankenberg figured for his part, that as they were court favourites of the Kaiser Franz I, they had to follow the official line but needed not go out of their way to blot their copy book with Marie Luise unnecessarily. Their thinking was probably along the lines, of condemn her - Marie Luise -- in public but support her in private, and the duchy of Krumlov, would fall into their hands eventually however the cards were dealt. Personally Blankenberg, thought this was a case of playing both sides against the middle, which was where the Schwarzenbergs, might just wind up -- in the middle -- and they would not enjoy it.

Eisen had, at length, become so irritated with these incessant legal visits -- and the disheartening effect they had on an increasingly pregnant Marie Luise -- that he had eventually put a stop to them, violently. He had grabbed the querulous (the staff and the princess had rapidly come to regard him as impossible, and that was only after the second visit!) lawyer in mid harangue and hurled him bodily the length of the drawing room and out of a second story bay window! Fortunately or unfortunately, he then fallen two stories to land unceremoniously in a passing manure cart that had been making it's way to the palace greenhouses. For the staff and Blankenberg's part, their horrified shock had turned to delight then absolute rapture, when Eisen had bolted out of the room and chased the manure covered and by now panic stricken lawyer the length of the palace grounds and out the gate, threatening to flog him if he ever presented himself there again.

The Graz authorities had refused to arrest Eisen on consequent charges of assault, the gendarmes who had arrived at the palace had only wished to take statements from the staff and the princess and Eisen. Blankenberg had found out on a trip to Graz a few days later, that the lawyer had been told to leave the area -- by both the commander of the city gendarmes and the city garrison commandant -- or they would arrest him on charges of harassment of the princess and disturbing the public peace! While Blankenberg had discovered, that the majority of the city and church officialdom had followed the Imperial Court's line on Fürstin von Eggenberg's unseemingly and scandalous conduct, the majority of the citizens of Graz did not care a jot and, were firmly in her camp.