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








Tuesday, November 8, 2022

A Lonely Traveler (Part I)

Schloss Eggenberg, Graz, the Crownland of Styria, the Austrian Empire, 1810.

The carriage rumbled down the roads towards the estate of the Princes of Eggenberg, the mistress of the palace was coming home after a long absence. Marie Luise, returned to her family seat, not in triumph but in disgrace, for she was now an exile, a pariah within her own country. The sky was dark and brooding, as night covered the land while the road and forests were lashed by a torrential downpour, her mother had once commented that God was in the rain, if that was so, at least he seemed to spare her his tears, as no one else in Vienna seemed so inclined. The Kaiser, the Imperial Court, the Roman Catholic Church and it seemed just about everyone else within the boundaries of the Austrian Empire, had collectively turned their back on her, her prior service, her personal valour and accomplishments seemed to count for nothing.

She touched her stomach, she was at least three months pregnant. It had happened in Paris, while she was attached as a special military advisor to the Austrian Diplomatic Legation. She was thirty years of age, unmarried and carried the unborn child of a man who was neither her husband nor her fiance. He was Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. Napoleon had taken her as one of his mistresses and their dalliance had both personal and political consequences. The uproar that had caused when word reached Vienna had been almost as frightening as it had been swift, almost overnight her high reputation amoung her fellow Austrians had tumbled to ruin and vanished, then news of her pregnancy had followed with the effect of a exploding bombshell.

Marie Luise had found herself ruthlessly castigated, pilloried and calumnied both in public and in private, even before she had returned to Vienna from Paris. She had surprised and baffled many with her icy silence, her refusal to beg for forgiveness or bow to the public scorn and spite that was heaped upon her head. She had made it clear without saying so much as a word, to anyone who challenged her and her conduct, that she was answerable to no one but herself and her own conscience. Without prospects of appointment or preferment within the Imperial Court or the Hofkriegsrat, following her recall from Paris, Marie Luise had decided to retire quietly to her family estates and possessions. Not to rest, await events and recoup, but to hide, there was no gainsaying it. Behind the front of implacable iron she presented to the world she felt desperately alone, inwardly broken and emotionally exhausted. She was not even sure of her welcome in her family's ancestral home, she had been absent for a long time and news of the scandal that ensnared her had reached even to the quiet forests, hills and villages of the district her family had long called home. So she had come back, almost in secret, without pomp or accustomed ceremony.

Marie Luise, felt no resentment for the child she carried, did any child have a say in the matter of it's parents or the timing of it's conception or arrival? Whether it turned out to be a girl or a boy, was a decision very much in God's hands not her's. Part of her wished for it to be a son, for the sake of the House of Eggenberg, which desperately needed an heir, illegitimate or not. Ironically, Napoleon would welcome a male heir too, for an illegitimate son could be legitimized at a later date, his dynasty, the House of Bonaparte, needed as many as it could produce if it was to endure into an uncertain future. He would welcome a son, no matter the circumstances, though she would welcome a daughter just as readily, as she hoped that Napoleon would be less inclined to try and take the child from her. I really need to give some thought as to names in either event, she thought idly although it was by no means assured that either she or the child would survive the pregnancy, much less her giving birth. Her mother had given birth to just two children in her lifetime, herself and a stillborn son who did not live long enough to be even named. Her mother had subsequently died from health complications that had attended that fatal pregnancy. That murderous, tragic double blow, had all but killed her father, as well. Marie Luise, suppressed a shudder of mourning and despair, that threatened to vibrate through her whole frame. She sternly brought herself firmly in hand, with the hard won emotional control and iron discipline of a lifetime of dealing with tragedies and anguish.A set of hurdles to be passed when she came to them and not before, she thought, there was no sense wasting time, thought or nervous energy upon them unnecessarily.

Marie Luise, had never expected recompense or reward for her military or diplomatic services or for the blood and treasure that she had sacrificed or spent, nor would she ever have apologized for using whatever tools came her way to serve her Kaiser and her Fatherland. She had not always been successful, but nor had she entirely failed. She had through trying to win, Napoleon's heart and bend his will, at least saved her home city of Graz from destruction, and the Austrian Empire, still endured rather then being arbitrarily dismembered whatever the current treaties, indemnities, territorial compensations and economies that now shackled it. If public disgrace and ridicule was the price she had to pay, then she would pay it, not happily admittedly but with quiet fortitude and humility. Marie Luise had long ago given up any false pride she might had felt, she had seen too much of the world, to expect it to be fair.

The only regret she had was that this whole miserable affair had probably cost her the one man on this whole planet, who she loved completely and adored with all her heart and given her devotion, that man being the Archduke Karl. More then once the two of them, over the years of their intensely personal and deeply intimate relationship, had discussed a morganatic marriage between the Houses of Habsburg and Eggenberg. Her great enemy, Kaiser Franz I of Austria, would never have permitted it, especially now, the scandal and disgrace that surrounding her was too great, even if the Kaiser had even been prepared to consider such a match. Which he was not, as matters stood. In the past the Kaiser, who had long since realize that she was not his tool to use as he willed, had worked behind the scenes to deny her military appointments, stall her promotions and prevent her service and gallantry being properly awarded. Not, it had to be said with the success he had expected, as Marie Luise had found time and again, to her surprise that she had powerful allies and patrons within the Imperial Court, the Hofkriegsrat and even within the Chanceries of the Great Chivalric and Military Orders of the Empire, who had their own ideas of what was due the heroes and heroines in the service of the House of Austria.

Not for the first time, tears streamed silently down her pale cheeks.

The other occupant of the carriage, watched her from the virtual twilight that enveloped it's interior. Neither had said a word to each other, for much of the journey. Each had been wrapped in their own thoughts. Graf Sonder, shifted his masked head fractionally, even in the darkness he could see the gentle flow of tears that shimmered and dropped from Marie Luise's green eyes. He too had been recalled in some official disfavour from Paris, though to his native Prussia, rather then Austria and so had accompanied her home at her invitation. She needed a friend, if she needed anything at all, at this time and Sonder was happy to offer her whatever emotional or medical support she required.

Sonder reflected carefully for several minutes on Marie Luise's silent agony, then made a decision to act. He carefully withdrew a letter concealed in one of his coat pockets, that he had received from the hands of a special courier at the last village they had stopped at to have the carriage team watered and fed. The rider had evidently been instructed to intercept them short of Graz, and by a mixture of luck, good judgement and fine equestrian skills had caught them short of their final destination. Sonder had recognized the young man immediately but had said nothing aloud and had allowed himself to be taken aside. The courier had in turn said little to him, only that the messages he bore were for Sonder himself, and the Fürstin von Eggenberg. Sonder had agreed to deliver the letter to Marie Luise, at an appropriate moment and to keep it's existence secret from all others, save her. The courier had thanked him, then rode off with all dispatch, to report to his master that his errand had been completed.

Wordlessly he passed both the letter to her, and a fresh silk handkerchief, she looked at Sonder puzzled by the sealed letter but gratefully for the handkerchief. He turned in his seat and set alight one of the interior side lamps, so that she could read the document properly. Marie Luise turned the letter over in one hand, while dabbing at her eyes with the other to clear them of tears. Her face froze, as Sonder watched, as the import of the heavy wax seal on the letter's flap hit her, the co-joined heraldry of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine and the Duchy of Saxe-Teschen. Her hands trembled as they gripped the letter tightly, desperately trying not to sudden crush or tear it, a torrent of tears glittered in her eyes again. Somehow she kept them in check. Sonder withdrew an unfolding letter opener from another of his pockets and wordlessly handed it to her, Sonder had some idea of her letter's contents, if not the exact wording from his own letter.

She slit open the envelope hurriedly and tried to stop her hands from shaking as she read the letter.

Dearest Marie,

I will not trouble you with solicitations of cheap sympathy, trivial social or political advice or other such trite nonsense as you have undoubtedly already received from fair weather friends and fawning sycophants who seek to make capital out of your current distress. They would be as useless as they would unwelcome in the terrible circumstances you have lately had the misfortune to find yourself in.

I only wish to impart two things, as I write this document in some haste to put into the hands of my waiting adjutant. The first and foremost is that I love you, never more so then now. While I disagreed with your decision to effect a romantic liaison with Napoleon Bonaparte, I also understood your reasons and the actions that you took both in Vienna and Paris were taken to benefit Austria. In time and with a pause for serious reflection, I think people will recognize that, not all of them perhaps but enough of them. The second thing, is that whether it seems so or not, you still have genuine friends who have not deserted you in this moment of direst distress, and a great number of them. Many have unfortunately been forced to effect a discrete silence at present, but that is only so they can rally themselves, coordinate and muster whatever supports and weapons they can for the coming fray. The obstacles we face will not stop them or myself from supporting you in any way we can and as importantly working in season and out of season to effect your rehabilitation and it is to be trusted, your vindication in the public's esteem.

Johann, has of course already made it very clear in his usual blunt and impertinent manner I might add, that he will call upon you personally at his first opportunity and has already made his personal and professional support for you crystal clear and as rudely as possible, whenever one of your detractors or enemies is in the vicinity! Franz is of course incandescent with rage, with Johann. Which as you would imagine leaves, Johann totally unmoved. For myself, I am now well past all caring what view my brother takes of the matter or indeed any other at this point. I shall myself do the same, as soon as I can win clear of the ensnaring coils of the Imperial Court and the Hofkriegsrat. If I cannot, I will write to you as often as time and opportunity allows.

My dearest, I wish you god speed, and good luck in this moment of stern trial.

With all my love and adoration.

Karl

Marie Luise felt the hot tears roll down her cheeks, completely unchecked, her emotions a chaotic welter of impulses, half formed thoughts and feelings. She pressed the letter to her mouth, kissing the wax seal ever so gently with trembling lips. Her cheeks flushed red with strong emotion, she found herself struggling to regain her sense of balance or any semblance of composure.

Sonder slipped from his seat opposite to join her on her own seat. Without a word, he put his arms around her and hugged her. Marie Luise felt that Sonder was embracing her for all her friends and supporters. She badly needed it, it meant a great deal to her, to know that she was not completely alone and to have it so forceful put to her.

Her beloved Arch-Karl, as she had half teasingly, half joking called him as a play on both his name and his aristocratic rank when their relationship had first become genuinely intimate, still loved her! That meant everything to her, the world could do to her what it liked and be damned! She had not lost him!

"Come now, child." Sonder said softly as he picked up the discarded handkerchief and worked to dry her tear filled eyes as she started to sob uncontrollably. "You will be at the great hall of your sires, shortly. It will not do, for the regnant Fürstin von Eggenberg to be in such a state when she arrives." He chided her ever so gently. It sounded odd to her to be called a child at her age but then again, Sonder was some three hundred years old, if she remembered correctly so to him, anyone under at least the age of a hundred really was a child as far as he was concerned. Marie Luise startled herself with a soft, slightly hoarse chuckle, and nodded choppily several times in agreement. Holding the letter close to heart, she tried hard to restrain and master her wild, exultant emotions.

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