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.

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