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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

In the Hall of the Iron King (Part I)

Imperial and Royal Army Special Ordnance Testing Facility No.3, the Crownland of Styria, Austria-Hungary, 1889.

Feldzeugmeister Joseph Ferdinand Baron Alvinzci von Borberek, stood at the edge of the concrete and tarmacked field that lead to the mouth of a cavernous metal and masonry hanger door that emerged from the heavily forested hillside. Clusters of buildings clung to the hillsides or emerged from their sides: they were workshops, bombproofs, blockhouses, barracks, storehouses and the like.  Camouflage netting festooned everything, the whole area quite fairly seethed with soldiers, engineers and technicians. A walking engine, a war machine in the shape of a man -- standing some three stories tall -- moved slowly out through the doorway. The growling thunder of it's engines and impact of it's ponderous footfalls could be heard and felt even at this distance.

This facility had been chosen, the General mused silently to himself, because it had easy railway access to at least three major industrial cities or naval ports and it was close to sources of excellent Styrian iron for construction purposes. It was in an area of the Styrian mountain and hill country which were both abundently forested and relatively uninhabited so there were few prying eyes in the area nor would the sound of the occasional explosion cause undue interest or concern. Lastly the place was sufficiently far enough away from Vienna, that no one could be bothered to come out here to check on them regularly!

He glanced at his watch a second time, he was still expecting three new project team member to arrive today or tomorrow, then the real work could begin to finally this get this project back on track. Alvrinci felt that the arrival of the his own "picked" technical advisor last week had been pivotal in getting things run again as they should have been, in point of fact the way they had been back when this project had first been set up by a small but talented and enterprising work staff formed from a small group of army, naval officers and civilian engineers.

The interference of various ministries and high commands had made a complete mess of the whole thing a couple months back and had probably put the whole program back years. Alvinzci shuddered at the memory when he had read the huge pile of staff briefs about it all, when he had been summoned without warning to the Hofburg in Vienna. The Kaiser Franz Josef, had requested him personally and charged him with sorting the whole thing out and putting a stop to all the nonsense.
Both the Kaiser and the Chief of the k.u.k. Wehrmacht, Friedrich von Beck-Rzikowsky, had made it brutally clear to everyone in Vienna, that he was to have an entirely free hand without undue interference from anyone.

Imperial-Royal Military Prison "Galgenhuegel", City of Prague, the Crownland of Bohemia, Austria-Hungary, 1889.

The Burg Galgenhuegel or Gallows Hill Castle as it was known in Austro-German, was part of the military establishment of Prague, built on the outskirts of the city, it was meant as to act as a sort of military firebreak against attackers. It's name came from the original structure of the castle, a heavy fortified, high walled courtyard and a single massive tower with a derrick crane fixed high up on it's side, which cause the castle to resemble a giant gallows platform when silhouetted against the morning or evening skies. This particular feature of the castle was long gone but the ominious memory of it remained to the Czech and German inhabitants of Prague as part of their collective folk memory.  For centuries it has successfully fulfilled this role, however in the last century it had been slowly converted into a military prison for the k.u.k Heer and k.k. Landwehr regiments stationed in Bohemia. The cells and assorted support facilities for some five hundred inmates had been slowly constructed throughout the towering castle, as well as barracks and guardrooms and offices for the small army of military justice officials, logistical staff and military gendarmes who superintended and guarded them.

The majority of the inmates (a mix of officers, non-commissioned officers and enlisted rankers) at the Galgenhuegel had not  technically committed any crimes as defined by either current civil or military law in Austria-Hungary. They had however transgressed the bounds of what constituted acceptable soldierly behavior and military propriety and the ironclad codes of unwritten behavior within their assigned military units. These infractions required punishment and as the transgressions were often of sufficient celebrity that it would affect the public reputation of the said units, internal administrative punishment was neither adequate nor severe enough for the task. Hence, an appropriate spell in the Galgenhuegel was considered necessary for these offenders.

The conditions in the prison were standard old style Austrian prison fare, that is to say abysmal, the prison discipline was harsh even in a military known for it's severity, creature comforts were nonexistent, the food was the worst anyone had yet experienced and the labour the prisoners were expected to do was deliberately both mind numbingly and crushingly tedious as well as physically backbreaking. Typically sentences for most of the inmates were between four and six months, which was generally more then enough to modify the behaviour of most offenders, as the alternative was another stint or worse an even longer stay! Punishment terms of more then one year's duration were considered unusual although not completely uncommon, and a few inmates over the last century had been assigned stays of between three to five years. The longest on record was a sentence of seven years, although only one inmate had received this term to date and was still within the prison, having only served the first year of it.

The heavy iron door of Cell 122 swung violently open, jarring the sole occupant of the cell out of a desperately fatigued and listless sleep. Bleary eyes, red rimmed and blood shot, tried to focus on the two figures standing in the harsh blaze of light from the stone hallway beyond the spartan cell. One wore the black and white metaled spiked helmeted, silver laced Pike Grey uniform of the k.k. Feldgendarmerie, the other wore the gold lace and insignia marked Pike Grey uniform of the k.u.k. Feldgendarmerie. Both men looked at her sharply, an electric torch blazed to life in the Austrian Territorial Army policeman's hand, the harsh light blazed onto the face of the cell's single occupant, searing her sleep clouded eyes. She half rose from the hard packed matteress on one unsteady tattooed arm, while ineffectually shielding her painfully blurred vision with the other.

"Prisoner 122VQ." The military policeman in gold lace, a feldwebel by his collar's rank insignia, snapped at her. All the prisoners within this fortress-prison in Prague, answered to a number code based on their cell number and their initials but never to their given names. She nodded in response, her first attempt to respond sounded like a raspy croak that did not attain the level of audible much less intelligible. The man nodded in return, then stepping into the cell. He handed her a sealed packet, which she took in both hands as soon as she had swung herself upright in her cot. She broke it open with some anxiety, and was surprised by the contents. They were orders transferring her from Prague and it's military prison and reactivating her k.u.k Heer officer commission. Further the orders stated that she was to be posted to a special testing and trials unit effective immediately.

The prisoner ran one hand through her sleep tussled scarlet hair, she had read the orders three times without realizing it trying to make sense of them. This was not supposed to be happening, she was getting out of this horrible stone and steel box!

Note: (1) k.u.k. Heer, the Imperial and Royal Common Army, the formal instrument of war for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (2) k.k Landwehr, the Imperial-Royal Austrian Territorial Army, the military defense force for the 'German' half of the Empire. (3) k.u. Honved, the Royal Hungarian Territorial Army, the military defense force for the 'Hungarian' half of the Empire. (4) Feldwebel, the Austro-Hungarian rank of sergeant-major. (5) Feldzeugmeister, the Austro-Hungarian rank of Lieutenant-General.

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