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

All Is Fair In Love and War (Part II)

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

Archduke Johann, dressed in his own neat and well tailored uniform of an Austrian feldzeugmeister joined, Marie Luise and her coterie, their congenial company appealed to him rather more then the assembly of vapid courtiers and irksome notables who surround virtually every member of the Habsburg family present in the vast room. For their part, Marie Luise, Weiss and Blankenberg were delighted to see him and immediately made him welcome in their informal circle of pleasant, free flowing conversation on a variety of subjects and topics that interested them. It was certainly more interesting then the usual rounds of dull politics, vicious court gossip and petty intrigue, that was all to frequently the norm within the halls of the Hofburg, as far as Johann was concerned.

Johann, who had known, Marie Luise for many years, was struck by how suave and poised she was, especially here in the heart of the Austrian Imperial Court, a place where she had never been either entirely welcome or comfortable, and that was even before she had decided to throw in her lot with his brother Karl (she had also given her heart to Karl, which Johann was alright with, the good lord knew Karl needed it, being something of a loner due to his ill health, his frequent bouts of epilepsy and had largely remained a life-long bachelor. Besides, they made a very touchingly devoted and charming couple as far as Johann was concerned). Actually the more Johann, thought about it, it well past time for Karl and Marie Luise to approach, Franz about arranging a marriage between them, they had been discrete lovers long enough to salute the social conventions! Franz would, Johann was dismally certain, probably flatly refuse permission for a dynastic marriage, as Karl and Marie Luise were of unequal dynastic and aristocratic rank. Still, brother Franz would have been hard pressed to refuse them on purely morganatic grounds, especially with both of them being so popular in the public esteem at present. That, an being the acknowledged and adopted heir of the extremely wealthy and childless Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen, Karl had much more room to negotiate his options of who was suitable as his wife, then most other Habsburgs who were tightly bound by the dictates of the Habsburg family house laws. Certainly some fresh blood in the Habsburg family, would do it no harm, considering it's frankly idiotic fixation on both partners of a Imperial marriage be of the proper dynastic degrees on both sides for at least twenty generations back, especially when most candidates had enough trouble managing eight, which nearly always resulted in various Habsburgs being either imbeciles or epileptics!

Marie Luise's recent promotion to the rank of feldzeugmeister, her appointment to a regimental inhaber-ship and the various military awards she had been granted, had been well merited by her military skill, often stupefying personal valour and ironclad loyalty, to the House of Austria and was long over due in his opinion. It also represented her raising prestige and presence within the Imperial Court, whether brother Franz liked it or not! Marie Luise, seemed to have grown in subtle ways he couldn't explain as he stood happily chatting about music, geology, mathematics and the natural sciences with her and her companions. He supposed her fifteen years of military service and her sometimes unhappy if not tragic life experiences had been akin to the hammering, molding and tempering process that occurred when a sword was steadily fashioned from a simple ingot of metal into a deadly, razor sharp and precise weapon.

It grieved and angered him to see, that she still held herself very still and carefully, to control the pain of her various injuries sustained in the recent war. She had taken a musket ball in her shoulder, a saber cut and a bayonet thrust into her side and had been grievously struck several times in the head and neck by shrapnel throw up by artillery fire during the battles in and around Graz, and especially in defense of it's fortress, the Schlossberg. She would bear these injuries and others she had earned over the years, both physical and emotional to her grave. She held herself very stiffly though with surprising grace, to avoid unnecessary movements of either her shoulder or her arm, and was more apt to pivot on her heel rather, then turn her head to look at someone to avoid moving either her head or her neck unduly.

Marie Luise realized some of what was going on, quietly and unsaid, behind Johann's cool grey blue eyes, and gently touched his arm, giving him a pat of gentle reassurance. Her eyes sparkled with a shared understanding of what he was thinking, a touch of fatalistic soldier's black humour and the hint of one of the saddest of smiles he had ever seen touched her mouth. Johann allowed himself a soft, rueful chuckle at her expression and placed his gloved hand over her's with equal gentleness for a moment. There was, and never would be any self pity in Marie Luise's mental make up, and she had more then fair reason enough to feel a bit put upon in her life. Marie Luise, would soldier on taking the good with the bad, and keep moving forward to whatever end, life finally had in store for her. Little wonder, Johann thought that some of her soldiers, had taken to calling her Marie the Implacable.

An Automaton servant appeared beside them, politely offering either each of them a drink or other such refreshment as took their fancy from the trays and dispensers it carried. Weiss and Johann each selected an light alcoholic beverage, while, Blankenberg and Marie Luise selected a simple fruit punch, given the strong medications they were both on, to assist with healing their injuries and pain management, that was wise of them, Johann noted.

Napoleon as he approached the small group, tried to analysis why he found, the Fürstin Marie Luise von Eggenberg so attractive, even fascinating. The first reason was abundantly obvious to any onlooker, who was not either an eunuch or an imbecile. She was stunningly, dangerously beautiful. Golden blonde hair, delicate aristocratic features, with a surprisingly clean complexion considering her many years service in the Austrian Army. A warm full lipped mouth, and alluring green eyes, which could flash fire when she was angry, sparkle beautifully when she was amused, happy or pleased, or freeze you to the marrow, when they bored into you, if she was displeased or dispassionate. Her smile could light up a room, like a sparkling sunbeam, while her merest frown could cut an onlooker like the blade of a razor sharp knife.

Marie Luise, looked stunning in her uniform and skirt, adorned with both medals, decorations and jewelry which emphasized both the feminine and military aspects of her character. While not a tall person, she always seemed to dominate the people around her, not in a harsh, loud or arrogant way, more she had a subtle way of captivating her audience with both her beauty and her spiritual power. Her physical charms he was already well acquainted with inspiring both adoration and lust in equal measure in him. Marie Luise, possessed an alluring body, intensely fit even muscular from long years of training and a moderate, well balanced diet she had a certain very appealing sleekness of form and figure, while having quite generous curves in all the right places. She carried herself very well, her motions precise, and controlled but unaffected without the jerkiness or affected showiness that long military service sometimes imparted to a person.

Nor was she a loud or intemperate speaker (well not unless she was swearing, in which case she could out do even veteran light cavalrymen or make even hardened teamsters blush! He thought with some wry amusement), quite the contrary, she spoke as a rule, only moderately to very little though her words were always spoken tersely, articulate and clear. She listened, he found a great deal more then most people in positions of authority at least in Napoleon's own experience, and paid close attention to everything going on around her both in what was said and unsaid. She certainly had no patience with false flattery, and rather less for anyone she regarded as a fool.

The second reason was, she was fabulously wealthy, having many diverse and profitable land holdings, businesses and enterprises in several Austrian crown lands and even reaching as far away as Hungary and Bavaria, which gave her an enviable private income. It was rumoured not inaccurately as he had learned that she could recruit, equip and maintain whole armies or at least several large Austrian Frei-Corps and substantial parts of the Austrian and Hungarian feudal levy, the Insurrection, with what was accumulated in her personal privy purse, alone. She came of a family which while of modest but respectable middle-class origins, enjoyed a high social standing, high aristocratic titled rank and not inconsiderable accumulated family prestige. The Eggenbergs had served the Habsburgs loyally and ably for centuries as bankers, coin-minters, soldiers, administrators, councilors and statesmen, with all the accumulated connections and associations in many political, military and economical spheres, that had given them.

Marie Luise, would have in the strictly physical and material sense of the word made any man, lucky enough to win her hand, a very splendid wife. Winning her heart, was a rather more difficult feat for any would be suitor or paramour. That challenge rather enticed and intrigued, Napoleon, rather then putting him off as it might have for so many other men. While Marie Luise, was emotional, impulsive and incautious, she carefully hid this beneath a cool, detached and highly controlled persona. Both these complicated sides of her personality, the fire and the ice, were as much as part of her character as breathing. What she was not in the least, was indecisive or equivocating by nature.

Marie Luise had acquired various nicknames or monikers over the years, the more printable ones were, the Prinzessin Höllenfeuer (Princess Hellfire), as she was known for many years be many of her fellow Austrians. To many Italians in both French and Austrian service, she was Principessa o contessa di ferro (the Princess or Countess of Iron). To his own fellow french men, she was L'ange maléfique (the Evil Angel). During the Siege of Graz, she had been called the Löwin von Graz(the Lioness of Graz) by it's defenders, and the Jeune fille / dame de la colline du château (the Maiden or the Lady of the Castle Hill) by those french troops tasked with trying to take the place.

Napoleon realized he was so drawn to Marie Luise because his own married life was so increasingly strained. Joséphine, his beloved empress, could not through any real fault of her own provide him with the heirs his dynastic ambitions required. The fact one of his longtime mistresses, Eléonore Denuelle de La Plaigne, had given him an illegitimate son, Charles Léon Denuelle de la Plaigne, who he had created the Count Léon in 1806 and his other mistress Countess Marie Walewska (who was here with him in Vienna) was now several months pregnant with his child, had increasingly convinced him that Joséphine was infertile if not actually barren after having already had two children by her previous marriage, his step son Eugene de Beauharnais and step daughter Hortense de Beauharnais.

Napoleon, found himself in the extremely unhappy situation of having to contemplate a divorce from Joséphine for the sake of dynastic considerations and contemplate a second marriage with one of the younger daughters of the more established royal or imperial houses of Europe. His current political preferences and needs were causing him to lean towards the Romanovs of Russia. He needed Russian military, political and economic support and a marriage alliance would help cement that. Tsar Alexander had expressed some guarded interest in the idea, though he had not committed himself especially when Napoleon had broached the idea of him marrying one of Alexander's younger sisters. The Habsburgs presented another potential dynastic possibility, especially Kaiser Franz's young daughter, Marie Louise. Though again there was no firm commitment on either side for such a potential match as he had yet to even broach the delicate subject with Franz or his diplomatic officials.

Marie Luise offered him a potential third marriage option outside the problems of more regular dynastic channels, he suddenly thought. She was of an illustrious family with connections to royalty, specifically the Franconian branch of the Hohenzollerns, the Margraves of Kulmbach, Ansbach and Bayreuth. Further they had held high princely rank in the Holy Roman Empire, as the Princely Counts of Gradisca from 1647 - 1792 and could thus be counted amoung the sovereign houses of Europe. As such she would make a quite suitable Bonaparte dynastic bride, if no other offered and would in his opinion make a splendid empress. His French subjects would probably object to another Austrian consort, the late and unlamented Marie Antoinette came forcefully to mind. Marie Luise however had some counter veiling advantages to offer. Her family while noble and very aristocratic had come originally from respectable Austrian middle-class stock and worked their way up in the world by sustained hard work and application. That would appeal to many of his natural supporters in the French Empire's working and middle-class, she was also entrancingly beautiful, courageous, warm hearted, conscientious in attending to her duties and obligations, she was commendably stylish but not extravagant and lived on her own terms free of any outstanding financial debts or obligations. True, at the age of twenty-nine, some would judge her as rather mature for marriage but in her favour were the facts, that she was fit, healthy and strong and came from a family which was generally prolific in producing offspring.

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