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

Friday, November 25, 2022

All Is Fair In Love and War (Part III)

Artwork/Portrait of Marie Luise von Eggenberg by raiinsoaked (DeviantArt)

The Hofburg Palace, the City of Vienna, the Austrian Empire, October 1809.

As soon as Napoleon left Kaiser Franz and their combined entourages, his massive, imposing automaton-construct, the Mameluke Arion suddenly appeared at his side. The partly mechanical, partly flesh construct was formed in the fashion of a heavily armoured and armed warrior of the Egyptian Mameluke Army standing some six feet tall, with an eclectic mix of Ottoman, Egyptian and Byzantine influences concerning the ornamentation of it's person and the gear it carried. Napoleon had picked Arion up as a most unusual personal memento, during his Egyptian campaigning. A peculiar happenstance, which Napoleon felt that he would never have cause to regret. Arion, who had first been activated as a bodyguard automaton-construct in the dying days of the Roman Empire, and had served the Empire of East Rome, and it's successors the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire, and finally the Egyptian Mamelukes with a quiet competence and uncomplaining diligence. Arion's then current master, a Mameluke general, had been killed in battle by the French in one of the earlier battles of the Napoleon's campaign against the Mamelukes, and Arion, for the first time in his existence, finding himself without purpose or without a designated inheritor for his service, immediately offered his skills and personal allegiance to Napoleon, when he encountered him.

Napoleon for own part, had found Arion, indispensable as an accomplished aide-de-camp or orderly, a discrete confident and as a watchful and completely and professionally paranoid personal guardian and kept him close by both in peace and war ever since. He existed solely to guard Napoleon's person, and serve him in any capacity or task that suited his master. Arion had no agenda, nor did he venture his opinions unnecessarily although if asked a question, he would answer in a manner that was polite, yet forthright and studied. Nor did Arion flatter or shy away from uncomfortable truths when he answered, for he was always pertinent and candid in his words and meaning. Napoleon, for his part found, Arion's company soothing, productive and most reassuring which of course intensely annoyed some members of his personal entourage, his general headquarters and even his own Imperial Guard, who felt slighted by the favour Napoleon showed the strange artificial being. Neither Napoleon, nor Arion cared in the slightest about such petty jealousies. Ironically, the one unit in the Garde Impériale that did not care and in fact welcomed Arion's continued presence, was the 1st Regiment of the Chasseurs à cheval, which formed Napoleon's personal escort and body-guard on and off the battlefield. They took their protective duties as Napoleon's senior corps of elite life-guards very seriously, and were relieved and pleased that Napoleon always had someone beside him that did not tire, did not falter and would never desert him no matter the circumstances.

Marie Luise, heard Arion's distinctive metallic tread with which she was well acquainted from her time as a prisoner of Napoleon's in Graz, behind her and know instantly that Emperor Napoleon, would be with him. Arion always made a point of never being further then arm's length of his master, especially in any sort of crowd.

"Fürstin von Eggenberg." Napoleon said pleasantly, from behind her. Weiss, Blankenberg and Archduke Johann, grouped in a half circle around Marie Luise, turned to gaze at him and his bodyguard, their flow of conversation, slowed to a sudden stop. She turned slowly on her heel only after, Napoleon called her by her title seemingly refusing to acknowledge his presence until he actually spoke. Marie Luise's stance was anything put submissive, she took an unexpected pace forward on one foot, so that her legs were set slightly apart, one before the other rather like the stance one took before taking part in a duel with saber or épée. Her hips were canted slightly back, while her chest she thrust forward ever so slightly but definitely, which caused her uniform to go taunt over her breasts causing their curves to be sharply accented. Her hands, she clasped quietly behind her back, which just served to draw attention to the delicate curve of her waist and hips. Some onlookers would have considered her sudden stance surprisingly passive, others would have called it rather aggressive if they looked at it more closely. What it was, was deliberately provocative. Napoleon's only response was to raise one eyebrow, fractionally in an unspoken form of sardonic inquiry and the ghost of an amused smile briefly touched his lips and his eyes.

Marie Luise, watched his expression, and particularly his eyes silently but carefully, her beautiful blond head cocked just slightly to one side, her expression quizzical as she looked on. Napoleon, surreptitiously looked Marie Luise, up and down, liking what he saw. As always she was beautiful, meeting her again in person Napoleon would actually say she was absolutely enchanting. He admired the careful skill and hard work of her tailors and her maids, they had done her justice. He noted her exquisite, tastefully chosen jewelry, her clever use of understated make-up to enhance her own very natural beauty, her various medals and decorations. Many he had of course seen before but he made careful note of the new additions.

The four so-called 'cannon' crosses, because they were struck from bronze taken from captured french cannon, marked her participation in no less then four of the Wars of the Coalitions: in her case, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th each with an ornate, dated bar which denoted Austria's periods of participation fixed to their triangular folded black-yellow-black vertically stripped ribbons. The Medals for the Defenders of Styria and Lower Austria, and the Styrian and Lower Austrian War Merit Crosses, were also new additions, Both the defender medals, had ribbons in the colours of their respective crown lands, green and white, for Styria, and dark blue and yellow for Lower Austria, the medal itself was decorated with the crown lands particular coat-of-arms and an encircling garland of laurel leaves. The War Merit Crosses, had similar ribbons, but instead of the bronze gilt medallion of the former, they featured a metal cross, enameled black, with the enameled coat-of-arms of their respective crown lands mounted on the center medallion of the cross.

The historic and ancient military or knightly Teutonic Order (founded in 1190, which had both Catholic and Protestant branches), the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (founded in 1099), the Chivalric Order of Saint John of the Hospital at Jerusalem also known as the Johanniter Order or Knights Hospitaller (established also in 1099, and which had Austrian, Bohemian, Brandenburg and Dutch branches) and the Equestrian, Secular and Chapterial Order of Saint Joachim which had been founded in 1755 in the German Duchy of Saxe-Coburg, splendidly decorated her white coat.

As did the medals and decorations of the Electorate of Hessen-Kassel (the Order of Military Merit and the Iron Helm), of the Grand Duchy of Brunswick (the House Order of Henry the Lion, and the Royal Guelphic Order which was shared with the Electorate of Hannover [later part of the Kingdom of Prussia following it's sale by King George III], the Grand Duchy of Brunswick and the Kingdom of Great Britain), the Grand Duchy of Parma (the Sacred Military Constintinian Order of Saint George), the Grand Duchy of Modena (the Order of the Eagle of Este), the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (the Orders of Saint Stephen and of Saint Joseph), the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (the Royal Order of Saint Januarius, the Sacred Military Constintinian Order of Saint George which was shared extremely grudgingly with the Grand Duchy of Parma, Napoleon noted with some amusement, and the Order of Saint Ferdinand and Merit), the Kingdom of Sardinia (the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus) as well as the exiled and now scattered French Royal House of Bourbon (the Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis, and the Order of Military Merit: originally an award solely for foreign protestants serving with the French Royal Army, but later expanded to cover foreign soldiers both Catholic and Protestant fighting alongside the émigré Bourbon pretenders to the throne of France and their exiled aristocratic allies as well as those directly in their service). The sight of these on someone else's person would have ordinarily seriously annoyed him, as they all belonged to ancient dynasties he had displaced or all but destroyed over the years and consequently, they could be counted amoung his bitterest enemies. Instead he recognized them for what they were: the tangible marks of the high regard and military esteem she was held in, and that she was not lacking in influential or important patrons. Not a minor consideration given Marie Luise's own and long uneasy relationship with her own sovereign.

The Austrian Military Order of Maria Theresia, The Royal Hungarian Order of St Stephen and the Imperial Order of Leopold all naturally had pride of place upon her person. As did the Order of the Raven, her family's own princely house order founded in 1647, which she wore as a matter of course. She was after all it's grand mistress and proprietor since her father's death.

Marie Luise also wore the decoration unique to every regiment or independent battalion in the Imperial-Royal Army of Austria. In her case, the unit crosses which were worn directly attached to the coat or tunic like the star of an order, were those of the Line Infantry Regiments, No.27 'Graf Strassoldo' now titled Regiment 'Chastler', Line Infantry Regiment No.4 'Hoch-und-Deutschmeister' in which she held a much prized à la suitecommission, and No.45 'Freiherr De Vaux', now Regiment 'Fürstin von Eggenberg' of which she was now Oberst-Inhaber or colonel-proprietor as the Austrians called it, or Colonel-en-chef (colonel-in-chief) as the French Armée Impériale would term the same special and highly prized appointment.

As a common soldier and non-commissioned officer she had won the Austrian Gold, Silver, Iron and Bronze Decorations of Honour for Bravery. In effect the soldiers equivalent of the Military Order Of Maria Theresia. She also wore the similar Civil Medals of Honour, as well as the Emperor Joseph II military medal which was solely awarded to soldiers regardless of their social status or rank for the highest valour, often being wounded in the process. It could also be awarded to those who had carried out their military duties in a thoroughly competent or exemplary fashion such as company, battalion and regimental commanders, as well as generals commanding brigades, divisions, corps or armies or naval officers commanding individual ships, squadrons or fleets. Marie Luise had unusually won this highly prized though sparingly given award, an unheard of four times, once as a common fusilier, as an non-commissioned officer, and again as a commissioned officer and as a general officer!

"Emperor Napoleon." Marie Luise, mimicked him in tone and brevity of words, before bowing with studied politeness and formality. If she had been wearing one of the low cut civilian dresses now in fashion, the depth of her bow, would have given Napoleon an eye full of Marie Luise's quite comely décolletage. Her tightly buttoned uniform closed up to her neck however prevented that. This not so subtle but teasing hint, actually amused and excited Napoleon. He knew what Marie Luise looked like gloriously naked well enough, and was certainly not adverse to it. In point of fact he hungered for the chance to do so again.

Marie Luise, fluidly made introductions for her party of companions, Napoleon know most of them by name if not by prior acquaintance already, but Marie Luise was careful to follow established custom and protocols for such social events. She would give her own Emperor no unjustified cause for criticism of her conduct, Napoleon noted carefully. Napoleon acknowledged each introduction, in a polite, diplomatic manner even exchanging a friendly, bantering remark with each of them.

Napoleon who had heard parts of their previous exchanges on a wide range of subjects, as he had approached them, immediately reignited the conversation by added some comments on his own experiences in Egypt, on the peculiarities of the region's weather and climate, the interesting topography and particularly of the fascinating new study of Egyptology, the ancient pharaohs, the pyramids and the mix of cultures and religions that had created them which still gripped much of intellectual Europe today despite the fact that the French Egyptian campaign of 1798 had ultimately ended somewhat ingloriously if not disastrously in 1801, with the final retreat of the French forces from the region. They all relaxed a little and soon the conversation resumed it's former animation and interest, as remarks and ideas about that ancient world, it's culture, it's languages, literature and it's marvels of engineering and architecture were freely exchanged.

Archduke Johann, remarked after some several long minutes of pleasant and vigourous discussion that he as one of the hosts of the evening, he should be circulating as it would do someone a positive social if not a physical injury, if his or Emperor Napoleon or the Fürstin von Eggenberg's attention was too long claimed by stimulating conversation, rather then the dull politics and vicious court gossip at the moment currently in vogue. Weiss and Blankenberg immediately took the subtle hint, and also took their leave of Marie Luise and Emperor Napoleon's company, leaving the two of them completely alone for the first time this evening.

Napoleon immediately turned to Marie Luise, once the others were safely out of earshot.

"Could I talk to you Mademoiselle, in private."

Marie Luise, considered him and his question for a moment in silence then nodded coolly but politely, gesturing with her one good hand for Napoleon to accompany her, as she knew the Hofburg and it's intricate and elaborate halls, rooms, galleries and passages, rather better then he did. Arion, regarded both his master, Napoleon and the Fürstin von Eggenberg, intensely with his amber yellow eyes, which glowed deep within the visor sockets of his helmeted head as he fell into step behind them. The Emperor was playing with more then just ordinary fire with this woman, not only could he wind up being rather badly burned physically if not emotionally but the overly confident hunter could quickly turn into the hunted themselves if they were not too careful.

In point of fact, Arion, was actually rather inclined to like Marie Luise, far more then he was with regards some of Napoleon's other choices of mistresses or his choice of wife for that matter. He liked anyone who gave a damn, as a matter of general principal. Arion actually found Marie Luise quite as fascinating as his master, she had deep lights, greys and shadows that few people had ever explored much less discovered. Her remarks about her own long, close friendship with the strange automaton-construct, Eisen from her native Styria had deeply interested him, because the two of them were so alike, although it was clear to Arion, that the mysterious Eisen was actually the older of the two of them. If Napoleon's relationship continued to prosper with Marie Luise, Arion looked forward to finding out a bit more about the Old Eisen and perhaps one day meeting him.

Archduke Johann, walked over to join his brother, Archduke Karl, who stood completely alone and largely out of earshot of anyone in a mercifully quiet corner away from many of the people gathered in the great hall. Karl stood silently wrapped in his own thoughts, seemingly brooding over a drink. Johann had noticed their brother Archduke Ludwig, a serving feldmarschalleutnant as well as their older brother Franz's eyes and ears within the army and the Imperial Court where he was a well established figure and blindly loyal stalwart of Kaiser Franz's, and Karl's chief-of-staff Generalmajor Maximilian Alexander Freiherr von Wimpffen had been in deep and serious conversation with Karl for some minutes, before Johann moved to join him. This probably half explained Karl's current dark mood.

Both of them, followed Napoleon's path alongside Marie Luise to one of the outer galleries of the Hofburg. Karl moodily took a long draught on his nearly full drink, but appeared to neither notice what he was drinking or to enjoy it much in any event. Johann, pursed his lips meditatively, then ventured a remark as they watched the two pass through the archway into the privacy of the gallery, trailed by Napoleon's frightening Mameluke body-guard.

"A florin for your thoughts, Karl?"

Karl, said absolutely nothing, and refused to be drawn into conversation by this opening gambit. So Johann, tried another tack, this one a lot less whimsical and certainly a lot less subtle or polite.

"It is as much your own fault, Karl. If you had done better in the battles of this blasted war, Hell if I had done a bit better in my own battles, Marie Luise would not have to resort to what she is contemplating." Johann's softly spoken words, so only Karl could hear him, had all the subtly of a sharp knife suddenly delivered unexpectedly to the underside of someone's ribs. Marie Luise had not bothered to explain her plans in great detail with Karl and Johann, only that she was going to do something to try and bend Napoleon's will in Austria's favour by any means at her disposal. Both were intelligent enough and worldly enough and knew Marie Luise quite well enough to figure out what she was thinking: without it being openly explained to either of them. Neither of them had liked it, but Marie Luise had not asked them, especially Karl for permission, she had told them solely so if they saw a political or military opening created by her appear either in private or in diplomatic negotiations with Napoleon, they would know to take advantage of it or direct Kaiser Franz's cabinet ministers and secretaries of state to do so.

Karl, snapped his grey eyed gaze upon his impertinent younger brother. The distinct note of reproach, as much as the sharp note of biting sarcasm in his brother Johann's voice had roused him from his own glum thoughts. Not that he entirely disagreed with Johann, if he and the Haupt-armee had done better, things might not have come to their current pass. Hell if he had been able to steer his stubborn, imperious brother Franz and his war hawk ministers -- all of them besotted with Britain's promised financial subsidies and their own delusions of grandeur -- and their sycophantic courtiers clear of even getting involved in another war with France, before Austria was actually ready to even attempt such a thing on it's own much less without the effective support of it's potential allies Prussia and Russia. Or if Franz, the Imperial Court and the Hofkriegsrat had let him concentrate the Haupt-armee in Bohemia as he and his general staff had originally wanted, behind the mountain passes instead of directly on the Danube, he would have been in a position to have quickly smashed the Saxon Army and over run Saxony itself, which would have cleared his northern and then allowed him to go after Bavaria on both sides of the Danube without hindrance. This would have galvanized the Prussian and Russian war hawks and made it possible for both of them to actually move against Poland or alternatively join him in Bohemia, this would have made the independent attacks made by the Kur-Hessian Legion and the Brunswick Corps into Westphalia all the more effective alongside the rebel Prussian cavalry Major Ferdinand von Schill's independent North German rebellion.

Britain's practical military aid, which Franz had had such high and quite unrealistic hopes for, during the war had amounted to little in what had been essentially an European continental conflict. Other then a thoroughly bungled attempt to invade Holland, which had been effectively contained by purely local French or Dutch units without materially effecting the balance of the armies engaged in the main theaters of war in northeastern Italy, southern and eastern Bavaria, Westphalia and in Austria itself.

Karl closed his eyes in pained self-reflection and not a little bitter self-recrimination, at the way things had actually progressed despite his best efforts. There are times he thought, when I should have just handed in my resignation when I had the chance, let the consequences be damned! His strong sense of duty to his country, his dynasty and his army had prevented that of course. They needed him, there was no one else in Austria to take his place, as generalissimus, after all. All three, now needed him now more then ever to help them to recoup, to rebuild and to retrain and save whatever could be saved out of the wreck and smoldering embers of this latest infernal and unsuccessful war with Napoleon Bonaparte. Johann watched the silent play of emotions across, Karl's face, said nothing.

"You are saying I owe, Marie Luise a heart felt apology, when this is over, Johann." Said Karl finally after regarding his brother for some moments in utter silence.

"Yes." Johann, remarked flatly.

"Any suggestions, where I start..." Karl asked with a trace of something like dry humour in his still serious and grieved expression.

"Two dozen red roses, and a box of the most expensive and delicious chocolates you can buy every day, for the rest of her life." Johann said promptly and without ceremony.

"That would not even count as a down payment, Johann." Karl said with a snort of derision.

"True." Johann, said reflectively, then a twinkle of his all too usual mischief sparkled in his own grey eyes. Which immediately put Karl on his guard, as he knew his younger brother, all too well. Johann, was up to something.

"A wedding ring, though would count, Karl." Johann, remarked with studied and remarkable verbal blandness, which did nothing to banish the mischievous devilry that glittered in his grey eyes. Karl who was in the middle of a second long draught from his wine glass, immediately started sputtering, as Johann non sequitur caught Karl completely off guard.

Marie Luise, quickly, lead Napoleon and Arion, to a side gallery which features a deep nook or recess set into a colonnaded wall. Anyone within the nook was not visible to anyone passing through the gallery's passage way. Arion immediately stationed himself in a position that allowed him to guard their privacy, but also to observe and intercept anyone entering or leaving the gallery.

Marie Luise, turned and looked at Napoleon with an expression of inquiry. Napoleon considered for several minutes how to handle what he wanted to say, and the best way to say it. After several moments, Napoleon decided that a certain degree of honesty was his best policy.

"I confess, I wanted your company solely for myself, tonight."

"You would not be the first." Marie Luise, remarked tartly. "Or, the last."

That did not surprise, Napoleon on reflection. It was highly unlikely there was any man or woman for that matter, present in the Hofburg who did not find Marie Luise highly desirable for any number of reasons, at any time.

"I have a proposition I would like to put to you. Several actually, if you would entertain to hear them."

Marie Luise, looked at Napoleon appraisingly for several long moments. Her face was absolutely still, giving nothing away. Napoleon found himself suddenly envying her detached focus and coolness. She would make an very accomplished card player at any high stakes gambling table or diplomat at any critical conference, he thought. Then, she nodded ever so slightly, one hand raised, her fingers extended palm uppermost towards him, as if to say, go on.

Napoleon put his hands behind his back, took a deep breath and collected his thoughts carefully. This was going to require some skill and tact on his part.

"Would you be interested in a command within the Grande Armée? specifically with the troops of the Confederation of the Rhine?" Napoleon finally said without flowery preamble or unnecessary ceremony. Marie Luise, raised one elegant blonde eyebrow at this fractionally, then silently considered the matter.

"A divisional command, drawn from the armies of the smaller German States, I pressume?"

"Yes, the formation would consist of regimental or battalion sized contingents from all the member states of the Confederation."

"A bit complicated to manage within the confines of a single division, even a large one, would you not agree." Marie Luise said after a few moments consideration. A divisional command would have been appropriate to offer her, Marie Luise thought, considering much of her previous military experience was at that level for several years, although her recent promotion to the rank of Feldzeugmeister or what the French called a Général de corps d'armée would normally by right of prestige, protocal and military etiquette require a higher level of assignment. This Marie Luise considered unlikely for a number of reasons.

"Oh, I agree but I was not thinking in terms of you commanding a just a single division, but rather a full corps d'armée of at least three, probably five divisions of infantry and two of cavalry along with the necessary supporting units, staffs and logistical elements."

Napoleon watched with a mixture of pleasure and not a little excitement, as both of Marie Luise's eyebrows shot upwards in response. He could well understand why, given her prior military service, a command suitable for a Général de division would not have been unreasonable thing for him to actually offer her. Particularly as his own generals and even his marshals of the Grande Armée were a prickly, contentious lot and would have been unwilling or reluctant to take orders for an outsider, let alone an Austrian general, even one of her professional accomplishments, battle hardened competence and proven bravery.

The German states of the Confederation of the Rhine, the Grand Duchies of Nassau, Kleve-Berg, Hessen-Darmstadt, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Baden, the Free City states of Bremen, Hamburg, Lübeck and Frankfurt-am-Main, and the Kingdoms of Württemberg, Westphalia, Saxony, and Bavaria however would have no such difficulty, nor would there be a language barrier as German was Marie Luise's native language as it was of the German States and she was just as accomplished in the written and spoken languages of ltalian, Polish and French so adding in contingents for The Grand Duchy of Warsaw, the Kingdoms of Italy and of Naples did not present a problem or units and subordinate officers from France, for that matter. Nor was Marie Luise really a stranger to that level of command, as she had in fact organized and commanded what amounted to an ad hoc corps during the siege of Graz.

"It would be an excellent way of cementing the new alliance and relationship between France and Austria, you would agree?" Napoleon said quietly and with surprising sincerity. Although, Marie Luise did not think that was the reason for offering it, that was uppermost in his mind.

It would, and be an even more excellent way to entangle Austria still further into your own dynastic and military ambitions in the ongoing wars in Portugal and Spain. Marie Luise thought to herself. Still the proposal had merit, and could even be used in Austria's interest as well as France's. If the new relationship was carefully handled it might be used to evade, rewrite or even discard some of the more militarily damaging articles of the Second Treaty of Schönbrunn in Austria's favour. Marie Luise, was fairly certain that Kaiser Franz would refuse such a request by Napoleon to him and the Hofkriegsrat to borrow her services, point blank. She simply was not counted amoung his special favourites or those who at least enjoyed his favour, rather she was counted amoug his most passionately hated enemies. As Marie Luise, had realized her actions both in the past and especially during the Siege of Graz, had especially embarrassed her sovereign, personally or politically. It was highly unlikely she would receive any important military assignments hereafter, even baring another war, of course.

Marie Luise had privately decided after the peace had been signed to retire to her estates and take time to recuperate, devote herself anew to her family's businesses, enterprises and various properties and lands and their inhabitants. The idea of hurling herself into harms way in yet another war, half a continent away for a master and a cause that was not her own and one that she did not in the least sympathize with was distasteful in the extreme.

"His Majesty, would likely refuse such an idea." Marie Luise said aloud. Napoleon nodded he had been thinking much the same thing.

"He, might be persuaded." Napoleon responded cryptically.

"That would be a neat trick if you could pull it off. Habsburgs are not easily persuaded into or out of anything." Marie Luise smile was touched with sardonic humour and just a hint of sarcasm. Marie Luise had made the acquaintance, one rather more intimately then others, of several Habsburgs ranging from the emperor to the various archdukes and archduchesses, and they were all of them: good, bad or indifferent as they might be as human beings, they were to a man or woman willful, imperiously proud and stubborn past the point of mere obstinance!

"Very true." Napoleon observed equally laconically. "Still there is no harm in my asking him, with your permission of course?"

Marie Luise, responded with another silent almost imperceptible nod. Napoleon visibly relaxed a bit, he had obviously been prepared for a blunt refusal on her part. Marie Luise, noted this, then decided to verify, a suspicion that had been long in her mind about Napoleon's intentions towards her.

"If your offer of a military command, fails to get me to Paris and the Tuileries, what then, Your Majesty?" Marie Luise asked quietly, her head tilted slightly sideways, as she looked at him once again with an appraising glance. There was something teasing, even inviting in the tilt of her head and the poise of her attractively full lipped, mouth. Her large, spectacularly jewel like green eyes sparkled alluringly at him

"I would request, that Kaiser Franz send you as a special envoy, to assist in working out the remaining military details of the peace treaty and such other negotiations that might concern both our countries in due course. I do not imagine that he would object to that request quite so strongly, in fact he might, I think welcome it." Napoleon said flatly, almost without thinking or realising what he had just been quietly trapped into saying aloud.

"He, might at that". Marie Luise, said aloud, although what she thought to herself was rather another matter. Karl would object to it, and I even understand why, and his reasons would have nothing to do with Austria losing my military services. Karl, would be desperately worried that he was losing... me.

"So what you really want.... is." Marie Luise, remarked candidly. "Me." She suddenly took a step forward and Napoleon found himself with Marie Luise so close to him, that her breasts brushed the front of his own green, red piped Chasseurs à cheval tunic. Napoleon felt his face uncontrollably heat, with desire for her, she noticed it, just as much as he did. Her pale yellow gloved hands suddenly came up, and clamped firmly around both his face and neck. With a strength that both surprised and alarmed him, she pulled him forward and towards her. Marie Luise's sweet mouth swiftly closed over his.

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