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

Sunday, October 16, 2022

All Is Fair in Love and War (Part I)

The Hofburg Palace, the City of Vienna, the Austrian Empire, October 1809.
Artwork/Portrait of Marie Luise von Eggenberg by raiinsoaked (DeviantArt)

Feldzeugmeister and Fürstin Marie Luise von Eggenberg, stood talking quietly with two of her fellow Austrian kriegherren, in the great hall, amidst the stifling masses of courtiers, court and governmental officials, diplomats and military officers of both Kaiser Franz I of Austria's and Emperor Napoleon I of France's entourages in addition to various other civilian or political luminaries and persons of importance. Her two conversational companions, being Feldmarschalleutnant Ortwin Freiherr Weiss von Tannhauser and Oberst Gustav Johann Vizegraf von Blankenberg, the commandant of the Graz Garnison Korps, and commandant of the 18th Grenzer Infantry Regiment respectively. both veterans, like her of the battles and Siege of Graz.

The ball, had so far gone off well, they all thought, despite the tension that sizzled barely concealed in the air of the rooms of the great imperial palace, which was hardly surprising given the aftermath of the recently ended Franco-Austrian War. The fourteen course dinner prepared by the kitchens of the Imperial Palace had been excellent, as had the selection of fine wines, spirits, brandies and liqueurs. People were taking a few, leisurely minutes to enjoy good after dinner coffee or a strong alcoholic cordial and fine conversations, while the hall was prepared for the music, dancing and other evening's entertainments that were to follow in another half hour.

Marie Luise had dressed with particular care for this evening's affair. Most people had not been prepared for the sensation she created in her audience, upon being announced when she had joined the gathering in the Hofburg's enormous reception room. One member of Napoleon's entourage had actually dropped a full glass of champagne in stunned surprise. Even the Austrian courtiers and officials were astonished. In the first place, this was the first time in over a decade that she had worn something like a dress or even remotely civilian styled attire, and not appeared as a grim faced, military hellion or martinet or some equally wild, blond haired valkyrie out of legend covered in black powder, smoke, mud and not infrequently either her own or someone else's blood. This evening she was the picture of refined elegance, head turning beauty and understated good style, dressed in the stark white, single breasted general's tunic of the Austrian Imperial-Royal Army.

Her high military collar was decorated with a thick bar of zig-zag lace, set with two glittering six pointed silver stars, the emblems of her rank of feldzeugmeister, overlayed on to the bright red facings of the collar. Her shoulders were decorated with thin, gold lace shoulder cords or straps, the distinctive Austrian Schlinge, which were worn by all Austrian officers of company, regimental and general rank, were themselves decorated with small black and yellow chevrons. The tunic cuffs, shared the same red facings as her collar, while being decorated with two broad bars of gold zig-zag lace and one narrow one, again the traditional Austrian emblem of her specific rank. Her skirt, which was not standard wear with this order of dress, was her own tailor's and seamstress's creation, being the same red as her collar and cuffs, It wrapped around her lower torso and legs, and was clasped shut on the left side by a series of hooks and eyes, concealed by the gold zig-zag lace that ran down the side of the dress and along the hem of the skirt. Highly polished, long black leather boots which covered her feet were visible below the lace covered hem of the dress. Marie Luise's delicate and shapely waist was accentuated by the black and yellow sash of the Habsburg officer corps, the feldbinde.

Her shoulder was decorated with a special pattern aiguillette, marked with an Imperial Austrian crown and crossed marshal's batons, that denoted her appointment as one of the twenty-five General-Adjutants, general rank officers attached to the Military Suite of the Austrian Generalissimus, Archduke Karl. The same emblem also decorated her narrow shoulder straps. The rest of her white tunic was decorated with the numerous military orders and decorations to which her fifteen years of service to the Imperial and Royal House of Austria as a common soldier, non-commissioned and commissioned officer entitled her.

The jewelry she had decided to wear had all been selected from pieces that she had inherited from her mother. Marie Luise's ears were decorated with delicate gold filigreed ear rings, each ending in a single, large, lustrous tear drop shaped pear. She wore a beautiful gold tiara, decorated with the insignia and heraldry of her high social and aristocratic rank, that of the regnant Fürstin von Eggenberg and it's numerous ancillary titles, to hold her beautifully coiffed, braided and carefully dressed golden blonde hair in place, to the left side of which was clipped a curious but stunning piece of family jewelry. Her father Hans Ulrich had evidently paid a small fortune for it (she had never been able to find out who the talented gem smith or jeweler who had created it had been, nor to her surprise did anyone else know and not for want of trying, she had discovered), as a wedding gift to his young wife, Sophia Reichsgrafin von Finkenstein.

Her mother had always worn it for good luck whenever her husband had been away campaigning in the various wars he had been engaged in during the years of their marriage. It was a naturally occurring completely black diamond, beautifully cut and shaped into an oval pattern roughly the size of a small hen's egg, surrounded by a ring of equally brilliant topaz gems, the result resembled an Austrian casquet or shako cockade. Surmounting the gem stone oval were three oak leaves formed from intricate gold work, set with delicate but superb quality green jade stone leaves. A sprig of oak leaves being of course, the traditional military feldzeichen (field-sign) used in the Holy Roman Reich-Armee and it's successor, the Austrian Imperial-Royal Army. Marie Luise had decided to wear it for this evening for several reasons: because it was beautiful, because of it's military connotations and because she felt she needed all the good luck she could muster for what she was contemplating for this evening.

Marie Luise had always been a little self conscious about her figure, or rather her figure as it compared to her stunningly beautiful and buxom mother and her identical sister, her Aunt Nathalia. Her own body had always been fit, and well formed due to an early interest and encouragement in intensive physical exercise and a moderate, balanced diet, something both her parents had insisted upon during her childhood and early teens. While she had obvious inherited her mother's good looks and pretty eyes in full measure, her bosom had to her despair at times, had been off to a slower start, although that had in retrospect turned out to be something of an asset when at age fifteen, she had pretended to be a young boy volunteer, one Johann Schweiger, in order to join Infantry Regiment No.27 back in 1794. It had not been till she was more formally of age in her late teens and early twenties before her curves had really started to catch up with her, and her distinctly feminine charms had really started to bloom, which had made maintaining the fiction that she was a male soldier and officer all but impossible, even if her fellow soldiers and officers had not figured it out already, any way.

As one of her officer tent mate and often military tutor and mentor in Regiment No.27 -- Alfred Lloyd Freiherr Baird von Auchmeddan -- in those days had observed mildly when she had made a few rueful observations about her figure after her feminine status had become public knowledge, "true it, was not yet a bosom to repose upon, but a capital bosom to hang jewels or decorations upon." That particular circumstance no longer applied, as her bosom now cleaved very deeply and very nicely, she thought, though she still was not in either in mother or her aunt's class. That said, though her well cut curves now drew quite as many admiring glances as any other beautiful, well endowed woman in the vast room.

Her mood darkened when she thought about her old comrade, military teacher and sometime social guardian from the 27th, though she strove to hide it from those around her. Alfred Lloyd had been and still was a dear and true friend, luck had not followed him when he had reached general rank about the same time she had. Though truth be said, the stubborn and some would say almost hereditary bad habit of the Bairds de Auchmeddan, regardless of the branch of that very extended family or the country they served, of always being where the fighting was at it's most ferocious and of leading from the front with basket hilted claymore firmly in hand, might have had just as much to do with it.

As a divisional commander in many of the battles of 1809 he had been wounded or injured, until he had been practically shot to pieces at the Battle of Wagram, and had to be strapped into his saddle to even command his division, at the Battle of Znaim. At Znaim, Alfred had helped lead a counter-attack so sudden and violent that the Bavarians and French troops under Marshal Marmont, had nearly been forced to quit the field. Unfortunately, at the height of the action he had had one of his arms nearly ripped off by a cannon ball, and narrowly survived long enough after being captured to be dragged to a french field hospital.

The french doctors and surgeons had somehow managed to save his life, at the cost of amputating what was left of his arm at the shoulder, but it was a matter of much doubtful speculation in the Hofkriegsrat on whether he would recover his health sufficiently to ever rejoin the Austrian Army again, following his parole and release by the French. The last she had heard, Alfred was still resident in a military hospital desperately weak and ill. Marie Luise shook herself and brought herself firmly to task, she could not allow herself to be distracted this evening.

The reigning influences at the Imperial Court in Vienna, were still very much the baroque and rococo styles, although the neo-classical style pioneered in France and elsewhere had begun to make head way amoungst the fashionable set in Vienna. The new school of attire stressed, comfortable and simplified designs based on ancient Greek or Roman clothes, and a more understated and natural appearance with a minimal use of makeup. Marie Luise, had never much been a follower of court fashion, even before she had joined the army, so she was more used to military conventions of style and attire. Consequently, her complexion was shocking to most of the more staid, old fashioned Austrian courtiers, although Marie Luise normally had quite pale peaches and cream skin, her rugged and very outdoors military service had given her a stunningly sun bronzed complexion, which when taken together with her equally striking blond hair and sparkling gem like green eyes combined to devastating effect.

The resultant ensemble, of her uniform, her jewelry and her awards and decorations, and her good looks made clear that she was a military heroine, a woman of some considerable status and means and beyond any doubt, extremely and alarmingly attractive. She immediately had the attention of just about every male and female in the vast ball room. Though if Marie Luise was honest about it, she only really desired the attention of two very special men in the room. The first being the Archduke Karl, whom she craved, loved and adored with every fiber of her being and not incidentally he felt the same way about her. The Second one, being Napoleon Bonaparte, a man who fascinated her, appalled her and enjoyed her most earnest feelings of absolute loathing and hatred in equal measure.

What exactly Emperor Napoleon felt for her was rather more difficult for Marie Luise to fathom. Physical Attraction certainly, lust almost certainly: if his conduct in bed was anything to go by, genuine love and affection quite possibly given the content of some of his rather more intimate letters to her, but that could be equally said about a lot of beautiful and stimulating French, Italian, Polish and German women in various stations of life both in and outside the French Imperial Court who had come into Napoleon's personal orbit. He did after all have several mistresses. And like it or not, as Marie Luise had discovered, Napoleon could be beguilingly charming, subtly persuasive and very very charismatic when he wished to be. Napoleon was her target for this evening and every other day and evening thereafter til she got out of him, whatever she could get for Austria and her home city of Graz.

She had already started the process of her seduction of Emperor Napoleon, while a prisoner of his following the surrender of the trapped garrison within Graz and the Schlossberg fortress, after the Armistice of Znaim. They had spent time in each other's company, shared meals and developed something of a romantic relationship, to the extent of even sharing time in bed several times. She had managed with considerable difficulty to talk him out of simply blasting apart Graz's formidable fortifications with gunpowder and razing the rest of the city to the ground with incendiaries, which had been his first military impulse. She had bought Austrian diplomats time to work out other long term solutions for neutralizing Graz as a seeming military threat to the French military that did not involve destroying the city entirely. The sudden peace between Austria and France, that had shortly followed and Napoleon's temporary residence in Vienna gave her another chance to continue the process, which she was determined to take cost her, what it may. Marie Luise realized that she had bought, Graz a temporary and very fragile reprieve not safety.

The three of them stood somehow apart from those around them, in Marie Luise, her striking beauty was easy enough to account for it to a perhaps or vaguely puzzled onlooker, while Weiss stood a good deal taller then either of his companions, that and the strange gold metal work that covered much of his face and the upper part of his head and ears like a Greek helmet. Two artificial, solidly jet black eyes glittered out of their deep set metal sockets, with silver white iris and pupils. Only his lower lip and jaw with a smart, short cut beard emerged from the lower edge of the mask. The beard which was dark almost black, was ribbed with streaks of white and not a little grey, which indicated there were extensive scars beneath the white hair, some of which showed even upon his lips. Both his hands were mechanical constructions, which emerged from the cuffs of his splendid white uniform, made of gold metal, silver and a strange, black leather like material.

Blankenberg, grey haired and pale faced stood beside the two of them as they amiably and animatedly conversed, his head leaned carefully and thoughtfully to one side, as he listened. One hand rested, his right, neatly behind his back, the other sleeve which was pinned by a short cord to his brown grenz-infanterie regimental tunic front, stood starkly empty, the limb or rather much of what had been left of it recently amputated due to wounds received -- he had lost two left fingers, his left wrist had been all but shot away, and his left fore arm riddled and broken with shrapnel --in the battles for and around Graz. To a veteran soldier their seeming distance from all around them, was easily explained in a way, few civilians could conceptualize, they had been through the fires of war together, the three of them, even if they had not known each other before the siege of Graz, the trials, tribulations and heartaches they had faced both singularly and together had bound them together as few other things could.

Kaiser Franz and Emperor Napoleon stood in the midst of the glittering throng of officials, ministers and marshals as well as the Austrian empress and several of the more senior Habsburg rchdukes and various sundry archduchesses. Napoleon listened to the flow of military and diplomatic discussion around him with studied but only partial attention, with his phenomenal memory and grasp for facts and figures he could remember any part of it he wished, when he needed it. The main focus of his attention was not upon the people immediately aro und him, but the singularly beautiful and lively woman, some distance from him, out of earshot, but still plainly visible in animated discussion with two brother military officers, both of whom he recognized from the surrender of Graz, both had been present and played a part in the incident that occurred when the icily controlled, seriously wounded Fürstin von Eggenberg had violently smashed the hilt of her sword over the head of one of Marshal Berthier's hard drinking, hard riding, hard nosed and insufferable arrogant aides-de-camp, when he had insultingly demanded she surrender her sword to him. Moments later, Marie Luise had abruptly and wordlessly collapsed, the violence of the blow she had struck had reopened her shoulder wounds, causing the injuries to bleed copiously. The grey coat, worn over her white tunic had concealed what had happened until both the tunic and the coat were saturated with blood. Her fingers and palms were found to have been lacerated by the how tightly she had gripped the razor sharp blade, despite the heavy leather gloves she wore.

"You smile, Your Majesty, something strikes you as funny, this evening?" Someone said beside him. Napoleon took a moment to reflect before answering the remark. The person in question just happened to be His Imperial Majesty, Kaiser Franz of Austria, himself.

"No, not funny, strictly speaking, just an interesting memory concerning the differences in French and Austrian ideas of proper surrender ediquette, that I happened to witness in Graz."

Kaiser Franz, followed Napoleon's gaze towards, the Fürstin von Eggenberg who stood to his surprise relatively nearby chatting with two officers, one a general, the other a regimental officer. Franz said nothing, his face a still and expressionless mask, his internal thoughts and emotions were however far less still or subtle. Napoleon said nothing but was not fooled or even amused by Franz's charade of calm. He was well appraised of the details of the often tense and poisonous relationship that existed between Marie Luise and Kaiser Franz by his own military and civil intelligence services and diplomatic officials and from casual remarks that Marie Luise had let drop in conversation, she for one had no reason to hide her real feelings for her Kaiser, nor disguise that he in turn hated her and ludicrously suspected her of harbouring treasonous or seditious designs, though she had been guarded in her words all the same, to protect not so much herself but others: subordinates, friends and extended family. Napoleon could understand that, he had found himself on the wrong side of a revolutionary tribunal more then once, and escaped with just a hairs breath separating him from vindication or disaster, during the Revolutionary Wars!

What Kaiser Franz stupidly missed because he was too narrow-minded and suspicious and too surrounded by people who flattered his every move or exploited his biases for their own ends, to see anything else, was the truth. Marie Luise was exactly what she appeared to be, a good and loyal patriot of the Austrian Empire who gave her all for her emperor, her country and the army she had served in for much of her adult life.

Kaiser Franz, rather depressingly in Napoleon's considered opinion, understood loyalty in only one manner: that was loyalty to him, everyone else including his own family were servants to and for his will, and his will alone; it never occurred to him, that to gain such loyalty and keep it, one had to be tangible as well as intangible in showing loyalty back to others. Out of the corner of his eye, Napoleon noticed a general officer approach the trio and be welcomed warmly and cordially by them. The man, had the look of one of the younger Habsburgs who served in the Austrian Imperial-Royal Army and wore the same uniform and much the same rank insignia as Marie Luise.

Napoleon recalled the name that went with that face, Archduke Johann. Which made him smile still further despite himself, when he saw the painfully flat frown, that the sight of the younger archduke caused to appear on the by now completely frozen face of Kaiser Franz. For Archduke Johann, was the much younger, highly opinionated and well nigh insubordinate and impossible younger brother of Kaiser Franz and incidentally one of Marie Luise's most devoted friends and determined military patrons. Not surprising really for a man who rejoiced in the popular nickname of the "Styrian Prince", the particular province of Austria, where, Marie Luise had been born and raised. A place that both of them had a high regard, even devotion for. That too he well could understand, he had similar feelings for France, and especially his native Corsica.

Napoleon knew it would be the height of rudeness to invite, the Fürstin von Eggenberg, to join them, he did have to be mindful of future diplomatic relations between Austria and France after all, and Kaiser Franz could be one of the most prickly individuals Napoleon had ever met when he felt his Imperial and personal dignity was being affronted. That said, Napoleon also felt no particular desire to pander to Franz's own quite frankly idiotic biases or prejudices when it was of absolutely no political or military use to him. So he excused himself with a parting remark, that he knew would get Franz's back up regardless. It occurred to Napoleon that he might some how be able to perhaps entice Marie Luise into France's Imperial service, given the right circumstances and timing, it was something that suggested itself to him, more then once when he had first met her.

Napoleon frankly admitted to himself that his reasoning was motivated by rather more personal, romantic motives then purely military ones. Put plainly he absolutely adored and ardently desired, Marie Luise. Perhaps, he could interest her in taking command of a corp composed of troops from the Confederation of the Rhine. Or perhaps he might be able to contrive some sort of military diplomatic posting to Paris for her, Kaiser Franz might be convinced or perhaps manipulated to allow it, he thought. It was certainly worth considering he mused thoughtfully.

"It is not often one gets to meet a genuine hero, much less a genuine heroine in person, so if the ladies and gentlemen will excuse me, I am going to take the opportunity to reacquaint myself with Austria's own Pucelle d'Orléans."

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