Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 137, Chapter 2355
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Fifty-Five



    11th February 1975

    Montreal, Canada

    It being a late winter afternoon in Canada meant that there was little to do outdoors as was evidenced by the snow that was seen falling outside whenever Marie Alexandra looked out the windows. That didn’t mean that there were not other opportunities for recreation. When Henriette had been told by her mother that she was going out with Marie while she stayed home with Alice. She was to go do something that a young woman would find enjoyable, that was nonnegotiable.

    As it had turned out, Henriette had a few ideas about what they could be doing as they had ventured into the City and in a somewhat ironic twist, Marie found herself swimming in the heated indoor pool in a Women’s Athletic Club which had let them in without raising too much fuss about membership. Henriette had told her that they knew perfectly well who Marie was and that they were hoping for her patronage, which struck her as a bit absurd. Though laying on a lounge chair basking in the warmth when it was freezing cold outside might make it worthwhile. Then the subject of the wedding invitation which Marie had in her bookbag came up.

    “I got that invitation plus airline tickets” Marie said, “When I told the Professors of the classes I am going to miss that week I got the impression that many of them would go with me if they were given the chance.”

    “I would too” Henriette said looking at the elaborate invitation that had arrived at the Blackwood house the week prior. “This just sounds amazing.”

    “Events like this are not nearly as entertaining as you might imagine” Marie replied, “Because this is the wedding with two of Opa’s grandchildren getting married, one to the daughter of the Marshal of Bohemia the entire thing is steeped in politics and posturing. Ina’s marriage to Christian Weise is considered more of a love match, though Manny and Suse have been a couple for a long time. Suse absolutely hates this sort of spectacle which is why they have been putting things off for the last few years.”

    “This Opa, he’s important, right?” Henriette asked.

    “He’s the Prince Elector of Silesia” Marie replied, “Though here in Canada he is known as the Red Barron for his exploits in the First World War. There are many who think that this is going to be his last great hurrah before he retires from public.”

    Henriette looked back at the invitation. “It gives your full name here, Prinzessin Marie Alexandra Kristina von Mischner-Blackwood” She read aloud, “Is that Princess thing for real?”

    “My mother is the Prefect of Berlin” Marie replied, “It is considered a Principality, that makes me a Princess because I am her daughter.”

    “I never thought of that” Henriette said, “Berlin is your biggest city, right?”

    “Largest city, National Capital, City-State, a collection of dozens of municipalities, all of those things” Marie replied, “It has its own Government and an appointed Monarch. Katherine von Mischner, my mother, who has more power within the City than most of the Kings and Queens in the Empire but was named Prefect as a sop to those who would prefer a democratically elected leader.”

    “Wow” Henriette replied, “That is not something I ever heard about in school, they made it sound like your Kaiser is a Dictator or something.”

    Marie wasn’t annoyed that Henriette had said something like that. The impression that many people in Canada had of Germany was left over from the First World War, regrettably that included Marie’s own grandmother.

    “The Emperor was once an Autocrat, but events elsewhere in the world revealed the folly of one man having that much power” Marie said, “Reforms were made and even without that, Friedrich IV grew up with his cousin Jehane Thomas-Romanova as a babysitter when she was hiding from the Bolsheviks. She taught him a thing or two about being gracious to ordinary people.”

    “She’s the girl who everyone thought had been killed with the rest of her family, who the previous Kaiser hid?” Henriette asked, “I thought that her name was Alexandra.”

    How to explain this to Henriette, who had only ever left Montreal a handful of times on family vacations? The Russian Revolution had haunted the German Royal family in the decades between the two World Wars. Even Wilhelm II who was not remembered as being a particularly reasonable man had faced that reality during the March Revolution in 1921 when he had discovered that the Military had been unwilling to crush the revolution, opting for a bizarre workaround instead which then Generalmajor von Wolvogle said was done to preserve the honor of the Heer. He along with all the Officers of the Detachment said that they were going to take piss rather than fire on their own people. He left a Feldwebel in charge, one Walter Horst, who was a close friend of Augustus Lang, who was the leader of the revolution and later the Chancellor of Germany. Historians debated the significance of that single event, how it would shape the Nation in the decades since. All Marie knew was that the discussion in History Class had felt surreal.

    “No matter” Henriette said, “Are you prepared for this? A wedding is a huge deal.”

    “Klaus Voll, who is doing the clothes for the wedding party has my measurements on file” Marie replied, “All I have to do is show up for the final fitting and the rehearsal.”

    As soon as Marie said she knew she had made a mistake. Henriette was a bit self-conscious about how she had gained a great deal of weight when she had been pregnant. Six months later, she was discovering that it was seemingly impossible for her body to go back to how it was before. She just hoped that her friend wouldn’t see that as a personal insult.

    “I’m totally jealous of how you can still do that” Henriette said, “If I tried that getting me into the dress would be like stuffing sausages.”

    “It’s not that bad” Marie replied, and Henriette was happy she said that.
     
    Part 137, Chapter 2356
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Fifty-Six



    21st February 1975

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    With the start of the racing season rapidly approaching, Alida Baruch wasn’t letting little things like cold weather with light drizzle that was threatening to turn to snow get in the way of what she saw as important training. That was why Sophie was out on the practice track on her red “no name” bike. She was soaked to the skin and could feel the grit that the tires were picking up in her clothes. The blue Bianchi would probably better for today with the fenders to keep the spray off the rider, but Alida had taken one look at the basket and rack and had made clear that anything she deemed superfluous had no place here. So, Sophie endured the cold, damp, and mud to maintain her place on the team. Ziska had even suggested that it had become an obsession of hers and had jokingly asked when she was getting her best friend back.

    That had been funny, but there had been a bitter edge to it.

    Perhaps Sophie really was obsessed with cycling, with Sepp out of the picture though it wasn’t as if she had much else to focus on. Even one of her teachers had remarked upon this when she had turned in a paper at the end of the Winter Term about Tessie Reynolds and her record-breaking ride from Brighton to London and back in 1893. Riding that 192 kilometers in 8 hours 30 minutes would still be a difficult time to beat even with a modern bicycle and the far better clothing available these days. Of course, the “practical” clothing that Tessie wore and even her choice of bicycles was considered scandalous for the time. What Sophie typically wore when she was training turned heads in present day Berlin, it would easily have caused the public equivalent a supernova back then.

    During the wedding preparations that were consuming every bit of everyone’s spare time, Klaus Voll had commented that she didn’t have a spare bit of fat on her and that she reminded him of her mother during the bad old days. At first, Sophie had no idea what Voll was talking about. It wasn’t as if Sophie didn’t eat plenty of food, if she ever skipped a meal then she would find herself with Petia after her. The Russian woman took no prisoners when it came to seeing to that those who she saw as under her care took care of themselves whether they liked it or not. And when would he have ever met her mother? Then she realized that he was talking about Kat. There were far worse things than having people think that she was Kat von Mischner’s daughter, that certainly was better than the truth. Just the thought of her actual mother and her new family made Sophie want to wretch. Someone like that didn’t deserve to be happy.

    Out of frustration, Sophie pushed herself harder, flying down the track while gripping the cork tape that covered the handlebars of her bicycle. Looking up, Sophie saw Alida with her stopwatch and whistle on the side of the track. As Sophie flew past her, she heard the whistle blow shrilly and steered off the track.

    “Good job Zoe!” Alida yelled, “Keep it up.”

    Alida seemed happy which was rare with her. Normally, she was dead serious and wanted those she coached to take a similar approach to the sport. Lately though, she was saying that she was enjoying seeing the progress that Sophie, among others were making and there was even talk of having Sophie progress out of the Juniors this spring after her upcoming sixteenth birthday which would make her the youngest of the regular team. Alida had set her sights on the various Road Races coming up during the upcoming season with her team, which Sophie would be just one part of.

    It was also said that Alida had big plans for Montreal next year, where women’s cycling had been introduced as an advent after decades of lobbying the International Olympic Committee. Alida had represented the Netherlands in Tokyo where Women’s Cycling was a Demonstration Sport, she was determined that 1976 was going to be one that everyone remembered.

    As Sophie coasted to a stop, she instantly started to get cold as she leaned her bike against the fence that lined the track. Another girl her age was headed out onto the track, so Alida’s focus was elsewhere. Going to where she had stashed her duffle bag, Sophie pulled the grey insulated coveralls that had been a Christmas gift from Kat on over her cycling attire. It was Sophie’s understanding that Luftwaffe flight crews wore them. The one she was wearing even had the various unit markings along with the Luftwaffe roundel and the Imperial eagle embroidered on it. She had discovered that it was worth its weight in gold during the wintertime. Sophie smiled at her teammates who looked at her with quite a bit of envy as they were shivering in the cold. When Sophie had first worn it couple weeks earlier, Kat had offered similar coveralls to the rest of the team. However, they had rather vocally declined after saying that they found the coveralls to be incredibly ugly. Kat had simply said that the offer would still stand when they changed their minds. If the look on their faces was anything to judge by, Kat was probably right about how things would play out.
     
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    Part 137, Chapter 2357
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Fifty-Seven



    23rd February 1975

    Montreal, Canada

    What had already been a long, difficult month since that invitation had arrived at their house had become an even longer, more difficult weekend. The Sunday Edition of the Gazette had come out and there on the Society Page above the fold was the headline, Prinzessin Marie Alexandra von Mischner-Blackwood zu Berlin on beating the Winter Blues in Montreal. There was a photograph of Marie Alexandra with Henriette Lane at the Montreal Lady’s Athletic Club enjoying the pool facilities. While the one-piece swimsuit that Marie was wearing was downright conservative by the standards of her native Germany, in Canada it was an entirely different story. Sir Malcolm knew instantly that Marie had made herself into the dream girl for many young men who just happened to be flipping through the newspaper. There was also mention of the Mercury Athletic Club where Marie and Henriette had also been seen. The article had spoken at length about Marie applying for membership at those clubs, how she was attending University at McGill. That she was planning on attending the Royal Wedding in Silesia in a few weeks’ time. She also spoke about her wonderful friend Hennie who she had helping get out more over the last few months.

    Malcolm found that the article was typical of the Society Page, a whole lot of fluff and not much of what might be considered serious journalism. What shone through was Marie’s kind nature, generosity, and adventurous spirit. It was obvious to everyone that she was not an athlete, she was the perfect means of showing off the role that those clubs did indeed play, especially during the winter.

    This was enough for Margot to retire to her bedroom and refuse all callers. This was because of the various fights that Margot had gotten into in the past over what she had deemed “Unladylike behavior” by some of the members of those clubs. They had very vocally disagreed with Margot’s assessment of their activities, especially those from the Mercury Club. For Margot, it was bad enough that Marie was so unapologetically German, having her fall into the orbit of those who had worn her scorn as an honor in the past was just too much. While she was not mentioned anywhere in the article, Margot was certain that Hilda Sisson was leading the charge of those who wanted her taken down a peg or two. While Malcolm felt that was a bit much, it was entirely possible after four decades of bad blood between them.

    Of course, while Malcolm understood where Margot was coming from he also wondered if there was a bit more to it than that. He had once joked that one day, a woman younger and prettier than Margot was going to one day take the city by storm and end her reign as the Grand Dame of Montreal. It was the natural order of things that it was their granddaughter who was a lovely young woman who clearly had no intention of that happening.



    Rio Gallegos, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

    Niko was finding that Santa Cruz Province was a lot like Silesia, albeit without his grandfather’s ironfisted rule. What that meant was that many of the decisions which determined how the Province was run were made in closed door meetings by those who regarded themselves as the real masters of this land, elected or otherwise. Oberst von Kropp expected things to go how they had in Brandenburg and was having serious trouble adapting to the very different pace of Patagonian Argentina. There was also the matter of the calendar, which was a serious consideration. While Niko was not Catholic, one of the things that Opa had drilled into his head was an understanding of what he needed to know in order to do business with those who were, especially in a place like this.

    “You are not going to get that meeting this month, Sir” Niko said, “Not before Easter.”

    Oberst von Kropp was not happy with that answer, but he should have understood how they did business in Argentina before he had even gotten on the plane that had brought them to Patagonia months earlier. There had been a meeting of the Provincial Governors, Mayor of Rio Gallegos, and the major landowners during Carnival, von Kropp had not been invited nor had been aware of the not-so-subtle insult that had been directed his way in process. Basically, they considered Oberst von Kropp to be a nonentity. Because the Richthofen family happened to own tens of thousands of hectares throughout Argentina including in the Santa Cruz Province, Niko had been invited to that meeting to act as a proxy of his Grandfather. He had politely declined, not wanting to show up his Commanding Officer. It was better for everyone that von Kropp never learn about that.

    “You are saying that they are not doing business at this time?” von Kropp asked in disbelief.

    “No” Niko replied, “Business in going on just fine, they just do not discuss business during Lent. It is considered impolite.”

    “Is that a joke?” von Kropp asked.

    “No, Sir” Niko replied, “If you could tell me what this was about, then perhaps another informal arrangement might be made.”

    Niko saw that the Oberst was even less happy with that answer. It was like the American idiom he had heard, about how you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
     
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    Part 137, Chapter 2358
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Fifty-Eight



    14th March 1975

    Rio Gallegos, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

    All the effort to avoid showing up his Commanding Officer was all undone in a matter of minutes of the latest orders arrived from the High Command in Wunsdorf. Generalfeldmarschall Manfred Albrecht Kurfürst von Richthofen zu Silesia in his capacity as the former Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe High Command had requested the presence of his grandson, Fahnenjunker Nikolaus Oswald Jacob Louis Prinz von Richthofen zu Breslau. His return was to be done with the full assistance of any Units of Heer, Luftwaffe, and Kaiserliche Marine and with all due dispatch.

    In the last letter, Bas had attempted to warn Niko of what he had been hearing about his grandfather’s plans for the coming months. It seemed that the old buzzard had been busy calling in every marker he had as well as leveraging a lifetime of service to make one last splash. Niko had known his entire life that Opa was incredibly ambitious, wanting to advance the family interests as far as he possibly could during his lifetime. Beyond even being the Elector of Silesia which everyone had thought was as far as he could push things without breaking them. Simply put, Opa dreamed of there being a Kingdom of Silesia and himself as King Manfred, the first of his name. That put the Richthofen family on par with the likes of the House of Wittelsbach or the House of Wettin, second only to the Hohenzollerns.

    The content of those orders suggested that he had pulled it off for real and the announcement of that was going to be a political earthquake. One of the items discussed had been declaring Niko the Prince of Breslau due to him being just after his father in the line of succession. That was exactly how Niko had been identified in the orders. The next question for Niko was why Emperor Friedrich IV would have consented for another piece of Prussia to be carved out into a new Kingdom?

    Even as he thought of the question, he realized that this move would cement the Richthofens to the Hohenzollerns for generations. It was with the same purpose as the efforts to elevate the Schultz family. They had been loyal to Niko’s family since Bas’ grandfather had served with Niko’s in the First World War and that loyalty was being rewarded. The Schultz family would also be forever in debt to them after that.

    It also dovetailed neatly with the upcoming wedding. It was going to be the perfect venue for Opa to make that announcement, while at the same time the fortunes of the Richthofen family were going to be linked by ties of marriage to those of the Mischner, Wolvogle, and Knispel families. Niko had listened to the long running debates about the new Junkers versus the old Junkers. With this single move and eminent elevation, Opa was going to put an end that debate once and for all. Niko remembered that his grandfather was a Hunter by trade if he was said to have one. Niko remembered the countless times Opa had referred to the “Health of the Forest” or the “Health of the Herd” when talking about land and game management. Niko had also heard mention on more than one occasion exactly what Opa’s opinion of the old Junkers was despite the fact that he could be included among their ranks. He said that the day would come when it became clear that they could either adapt to a new reality or else they deserved to go extinct. It seemed that Opa had decided to hasten that day.

    That meant absolutely nothing to Niko who was currently in Rio Gallegos having Oberst von Kropp staring at him with that vein throbbing on his forehead. Perhaps this whole wedding business might not have drawn such a strong reaction if it had not come on the heels of von Kropp figuring out just how little respect the local Grandees had had for him. He had also learned about all the invitations to Government and Social functions Niko had received. He just didn’t want to accept that Niko had done his level best to get the needs of the Regiment met and to guide him on navigating the precarious situation that existed just outside the gates of the Regimental Field Depot. Niko personally thought that von Kropp was a great leader in a crisis, but once the shooting stopped the trouble started. Not only didn’t he understand that above a certain rank politics becomes a major concern, but it seemed like he was deeply suspicious of those who understood how the game was played. On the other hand, Niko had been learning how politics worked at his grandfather’s side since about the time he had first learned to walk.

    “Telegram from you” Oberst von Kropp said, “Care of me it seems.”

    Something about the way he said that suggested that it was something else that the Oberst was unhappy about.

    It wasn’t until Niko read it that he saw the problem. It was from the President of the Republic of Argentina, Raul Martínez. Because El Presidente was traveling to the same wedding that Niko was, he was offering him a seat on the airplane used by the Argentine Head of State. Needless to say, that would be a first-class accommodation.

    Judging by the look on von Kropp’s face, being away from Rio Gallegos for a few days would probably be a good idea.
     
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    Part 137, Chapter 2359
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Fifty-Nine



    19th March 1975

    Breslau, Silesia

    With the wedding preparations in full swing and the rehearsal dinner in only a few hours everyone was in the reception hall for lack of anywhere better to be. Zella found herself sitting with Kiki. Her instructions were not to just keep her friend company, but to keep Kiki from taking on too much. Everyone knew she could be, and acceptance of physical limitations had never been something that Kiki was known for. Her having some sort of accident or causing an incident was the last thing that they needed right now on top of everything else that had been going with this wedding that had become a three-ring circus complete with elephants, lions, tigers, at least one stag, and a bear or two.

    “I wish that people would stop trying to assist me whenever I try to do anything” Kiki said to Zella. She was generally annoyed with the world these days and it had grown worse since word had leaked out that she was expecting a boy. Despite changes in the Law that governed inheritance that permitted daughters to be heirs of their parent’s titles and fortunes, there was still a deep cultural preference for sons to play that role. Kiki said that she was looking at like if it were some sort of sick joke that the world was playing on her.

    “I don’t know about that, there are reasonable limits considering that…” Zella started to reply but was interrupted.

    “No one wants me to do anything, this is incredibly boring” Kiki said, “I have worked as a Surgeon for years, so I know that at events like this there are always Medical Emergencies just waiting to happen.”

    “I don’t know Kiki” Zella said starting to get frustrated after having grown tired of listening to Kiki complain some time ago. Kiki was eight months and change pregnant. Did Zella really need to point out to her what one of the most obvious medical emergencies that might happen was? That there was a reason why no one wanted her doing anything too strenuous and that Kiki was whistling past the graveyard? “Perhaps we can convenience one of the caterers to cut off a finger so that you can be entertained?”

    “Don’t be silly Zella” Kiki said, “That would be a terrible thing to have happen.”

    Speaking of silly, what the Hell was the matter with Kiki? Or Aurora when it came right down to it? Zella thought to herself. A few weeks earlier, Aurora had finally given birth to a baby girl who she had named Gisela after her grandmother. Despite Aurora now having the family that she had dreamed about for years. She had been totally despondent when Zella had visited her the other day. Now today, Zella saw how Kiki, who was normally rather serious when it came to life and death matters, had taken on a frivolous attitude that was completely unlike her.

    Then something across the hall caught Kiki’s attention, something that she found incredibly amusing. “Nina just cannot figure out that it isn’t a game” Kiki said, “I hope she is always that innocent.”

    Like in the past at formal events like this, Kiki’s daughter Nina was always interested in whatever the older children were up to. This time however it had been in the midst of some unfortunate domestic drama. Albrecht and Ilse’s six-year-old daughter had ended up watching a movie that was a bit too much for a girl her age on one of the new entertainment television channels. In this case it was a movie set in Argentina during the Patagonian War and while Ingrid had little understanding of the events which the film had been based on, she understood perfectly well that the grinding campaign depicted was supposedly in the same place where Nikolaus, the big brother she adored was. She had taken about as well as a child her age could be expected to, which meant about as badly as was possible.

    Now Nikolaus was back, having hitched a ride with the President of Argentina of all people and he found that his little sister was clinging to him, apparently to keep him safe. To his credit, Nikolaus was happy to humor his little sister even though he didn’t have the first clue as to what was actually going on. Nina thought that it was just a game until Kat’s daughter, Marie Alexandra, who had arrived from Canada only the day before, began gently trying to encourage Nina to do something else.

    “That is something that has been good about our moving to Bavaria” Kiki said, “Nina finally has friends her own age.”

    “That is actually wonderful” Zella replied. She knew that Kiki had been worried for a long time about how her daughter might end up with the sort of childhood that Kiki had, retreating into books because that was one of the few things that had been allowed. There were considerable differences though. Kiki had been declared an “Enemy of the People” by the Soviet Union the instant she was born. So, the threats had been very real back then. “You had me and Aurora, so you were not entirely alone.”

    “That was after I convinced my mother that I should go to school” Kiki said, “I remember what a troublemaker you were back then. There was that other girl you went to war with, what was her name?”

    “Klara Bohn” Zella replied. Klara had attempted to bully Aurora and Kiki at separate times, Zella had seen to it that she had paid a heavy price in return. “The last I saw of her she had been accepted into University in Strasburg, she said she was trying to get as far from us as she could get.”
     
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    Part 137, Chapter 2360
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Sixty



    19th March 1975

    Breslau, Silesia

    It was important that the rehearsal followed by the rehearsal dinner went off without too much trouble. With a wedding this size and the scale of the double wedding party, difficulties abounded. So, everyone had to know their place, the timing of their entrances, and where they were supposed to go. While this wasn’t a marriage at the level of a true royal wedding, the families involved meant that there was going to be considerable interest even before the announcements that were to take place during the reception had been teased to the press. It meant that everything had to go perfectly on Friday.

    As had been arranged weeks earlier, Niko was to be Gretchen Schultz’s escort as they walked down the aisle just ahead of the flower girls as the youngest members of the wedding party. On Friday afternoon they would be doing this for real, Katherine von Mischner and Klaus Voll had been tapped by both couples as those trusted to make sure that all of this happened. Word was that they also had been asked to rein in some of the worst excesses of Aunt Gerta. Niko had seen some of the entertainment that was in store for them at the reception and had a hard time imagining what it would have looked like if no one had said “No” to Gerta. He had told President Martínez about how he had expected to find Aunt Gerta in a Director’s chair with a bullhorn overseeing this huge “production” of a wedding. Fortunately, that had not happened. What Niko had not heard about was what Gerta thought about how Opa had taken over key portions of the reception to make his announcements with the Emperor himself present so that the whole world would be watching. He didn’t figure that she was thrilled. As Niko reached the front of the aisle he led Gretchen to the dais where a piece of masking tape with their names written on it was stuck to the floor.

    Piers Sjostedt, who had come out of retirement to Officiate the wedding just looked at Niko and nodded. It was the same role he had played when Uncle Hans had married Aunt Helene decades earlier, so he had not minded coming from his home in Flensburg in the least.

    “Nikolaus von Richthofen and Gretchen Schultz have it down” He said over his shoulder to a young woman who was assisting him who marked something down on a clipboard.

    Just then the flower girls came down the aisle at wildly different paces and with so many distractions the result was pure anarchy. There was a dozen of them ranging in ages between four and eleven with Niko’s little sister Ingrid among them along with the daughters of the Emperor and the Imperial Princess Royal. Niko supposed that it was a way of showing the esteem of his family. Presently though, they were buzzing from the effects of too many sweets and had grown bored with the rehearsal. Peter, the Ring Bearer, a little boy who was the nephew of Christian Weise, one of the grooms looked at the girls with undisguised horror as Kat’s mostly adult daughters, Niko’s cousins; Josefine, Tatiana, Marie Alexandra, and Sophie tried in vain to keep them all moving in the same direction. If this happened on Friday they would be in a whole lot of trouble because they were all supposed to be part of the wedding party.

    Niko noticed that Pastor Sjostedt looked amused. He said something to the girl with him in what sounded like French, and she just laughed. He had never seen her before. He could see though that she had short dark hair that was contained under a knit cap and the most amazing grey-blue eyes.

    “Do you know who she is?” Niko asked Gretchen only to get a look in return that suggested that he was pushing his luck.

    “The Pastor’s granddaughter” Gretchen said in a tone that suggested she didn’t like that Niko had even brought that subject up. He had no idea what her deal was. Gretchen had always been around. She was Bas’ little sister and Bas was like a brother to Niko. That made Gretchen just as much Niko’s little sister as Ingrid. Of course, a Lutheran Pastor wasn’t a Catholic Priest, they didn’t take vows of celibacy, so him having a rather attractive granddaughter wasn’t a surprise.

    “Does she have a name?” Niko asked.

    Only to get a withering look from Gretchen in reply.

    That was only a few seconds before the yelling started.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    Practicing the entrance of Suse Rosa and Kurt had been interrupted by an argument that erupted among the Junior Attendants. According to Ilse who had overheard the entire exchange, Gretchen, who’d had a schoolgirl’s crush on Nikolaus for ages had gotten upset when he had expressed an interest in Monique Chanson. Months of feeling neglected and ignored as well as the frustrations of the last few days all came out at once. Nikolaus, being a typical sixteen-year-old of the male variety was completely clueless about what was going on.

    Kat knew that Niko would probably become a fully functional adult about the time he turned thirty-five or so if he followed the pattern set by either the Mischner or Richthofen families. Gretchen would either need to learn how to work around that or else find a different object of her affections. Of course, she had never said anything to Nikolaus which was perfectly in keeping with the chaotic nature of the Schultz family.

    Suse Rosa was understandably upset by what had happened. She was convinced that this whole thing was an unmitigated disaster in the process of happening. Ina wasn’t nearly as upset but had compared the wedding to the actions of a rotary manure spreader. Naturally Kat’s namesake niece who chose to live full time on her grandfather’s rural estate would understand the function and workings of such a device.
     
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    Part 137, Chapter 2361
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Sixty-One



    21st March 1975

    Breslau, Silesia

    It had been a lovely wedding so far. It was a crisp spring afternoon which was perfect as the wedding party made its way through the streets of Breslau. No one was sure how the tradition had reached Germany, but a brass band playing Berliner Jazz was leading the parade. It made an interesting counterpoint to the Martial aspect that was inevitable considering the families involved.

    With the large number of notable people present, it was hardly a surprise that Martin J. Hillenbrand would find himself lost in the shuffle as the Wedding Parade made its way from the Church to the reception hall. As the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, he had a duty to observe everything that was happening so that he could brief the President if called on to do so. There was also the added bonus of his wife being delighted to have been invited to what had become a major social event.

    Now though, it was incredibly awkward in that he found himself in the limousine that was following the one that the German Kaiser was in, one that had prominent members of the German Government riding in it along with a few of their aides. That included the man who he knew was an agent in the pay of the CIA. One slip on his part and an operation that had been years in the planning and execution would be undone in a heartbeat. That entire operation was “Need to know” and Hillenbrand had found out anyway because people liked telling their stories, CIA Officers being no exception. He wasn’t any happier with that knowledge because he understood the implications if the whole thing went south.

    The Parade was moving incredibly slow, only at the pace of the brass band that was marching with the main wedding party. Hillenbrand could see that a young man he recognized as Nikolaus von Richthofen was on a horse that was trotting next to the Kaiser’s limo wearing the red and blue dress uniform of the Cavalry Unit he was a part of. The description of Nikolaus in the files provided by the State Department had made him sound like if he were still a child. The young man he was seeing looked formidable. The State Department had also provided analysis that suggested that Albrecht von Richthofen wasn’t seen as the same force that his father was. Were they not paying attention to the fact that Albrecht was an Admiral in the German Navy who had been a Fighter Pilot and the head of the European Space Agency? Anyone working off that assumption was in for a rude awakening.

    Looking at the weapons that a Cavalry Officer typically carried, and the fact that he was doing that in the presence of the Kaiser suggested that young Nikolaus was also someone who was badly underestimated. Hillenbrand just wished that he were doing it somewhere else and not a few feet from America’s most valuable resource in Germany.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    “I am sure that you will do your best Niko regardless of where your grandfather’s ambitions land you” Freddy said to the boy who was riding his horse next to his car.

    “I know, Sir” Niko replied, though his eyes were watching the rooftops ahead of the parade and scanning the crowds of people who lined the street. “Thank you, Sir.”

    It seemed that Niko was already aware of his grandfather’s plans, how he was about to be named the Prince of Breslau. He had volunteered to join the 1st Guard Uhlans and 2nd Life Hussars today in providing the protection detail for the Emperor. It was the sort of act that drew respect and even if Niko was still considered a half-trained Officer Aspirant, he was taking the job extremely seriously as he moved out of easy talking distance with Freddy.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    Eventually, parade spilled into the public square that was the destination. The guests, many of whom had been transported by a different route ahead of the parade, had mostly acted as spectators as the doors of the reception hall were opened and the two couples who were supposed to be the center of attention were the first to enter. Ina had half-jokingly asked Suse what Karl Marx would have made of all of this. She had just shrugged and said that old conman would have been more interested in where he would be seated during the meal. The fact that seating by social rank, above or below the salt, even the idea that Kings, Dukes, and Counts were still a thing wouldn’t have entered his thinking until after the last drinks were served.

    It was Suse Rosa’s cynicism that was at the forefront of Ina’s mind as she watched the hundreds of guests file into the reception hall. Her cousin Niko had said that the problem in Silesia was the same one that he had encountered in Argentina. There were just too many interests and that without a strong enough leader at the top of it, everyone went about feathering their own nest at everyone else’s expense. This entire wedding had instantly become a display of exactly who was in charge. Suse had known this the entire time and had resisted getting married for a long time. Ina’s big brother Manny, bless him, had understood, and would have eloped with her if she had wanted to, but Suse had understood that her mother and Manny’s grandfather would never allow things to be so simple. Not in a thousand years.

    As the toasts started, there was mention of how Suse and Manny got together originally with her as his math tutor, so there was no question about who the smart one was. That brought laughter, but it was obvious from the fixed smiles that it was probably a misreading of what had actually happened. The talk changed to Christian’s courtship of Ina, how he had often made the long trip from him from Brandenburg to Silesia and had somehow avoided incurring the wrath of Ina’s grandfather.

    Finally, the moment that everyone of the guests had been waiting for. The one that the wedding had been incidental to for far too many of the guests. Ina’s grandfather started to talk, thanking the Emperor for attending such a momentous day and how today marked the beginning of so many things beyond two young couple’s lives together.

    Then Manfred von Richthofen mentioned the Kingdom of Silesia by name. It was the culmination of a lifetime of scheming and ruthless application of power. That drew an immediate response from the room. Even as Ina heard this, the thought occurred to her that her grandfather had conquered a world that was already passing into the history books.
     
    Part 137, Chapter 2362
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Sixty-Two



    21st March 1975

    Breslau, Silesia

    After the toasts and Manfred von Richthofen’s bombastic speech where he basically declared himself the König of Silesia to much applause, everyone had settled in for a meal, followed by cake and light entertainment in the form of dancing as well as a few other amusements.

    It was delightful watching Manfred and Suse Rosa dancing before they were joined by Christian and Katherine, Ina to those close to her. Marcella Böhler-Strobel had seen a lot of weddings during her life, but this one was that of her grandnephew and grandniece. She had to wonder what her husband Klaus would have had to say if he had lived to see this.

    Of course, Klaus had always been close to Hans, so today would have been extra special for that reason. He would have adored Suse Rosa just had he had Kattie, he would have pointed out that Suse was Kattie’s goddaughter, so she was a good one even if he didn’t understand Suse’s mother Gerta most of the time. He would have called Christian a solid man with excellent prospects and that Ina could have done worse. In many ways, Ina was the best parts of Hans and Helene

    She smiled at the memory of the lens through which her late husband had viewed the world through. Then he would have wanted to have talked about fishing or Football. As the other couples took to the dance floor, Marcella saw Nikolaus and Gretchen taking part as planned, but there was still a frostiness between them. Over the course of this wedding, both of them had revealed that they had a long way to go when came to growing up much to the exasperation of the other. Marcella knew that Gretchen had quietly had a crush on Niko for years and that Niko regrettably saw her as like a little sister. When he had shown interest in another young woman and was apparently too thick to see what was going on, she had let him have it. There was some question as to what might happen now that everything was out in the open. There was also Sebastian and Anna, Gretchen’s older brother and sister. They had been paired with another Junior Attendant of the wedding, but there was no personal history or chemistry. Once the celebration began in earnest, it was clear that they were going to swiftly part ways. The second dance included a chance for the respective parents of the brides and grooms to have a moment in the spotlight. It was bewildering for Marcella. Seeing that Generaloberst Kurt Markgraf von Knispel, introduced as the Marshal of Bohemia and the large number of medals that he wore and then when Hans was introduced, he more than matched the Bohemian General.

    Another amusing thing to watch was Josefine and how she had men falling all over themselves to have her as a dance partner. She had been introduced as Suse Rosa’s dear friend and confidant, which was true. Few people seemed to believe that she was a School Teacher who taught University Courses and Continuing Adult Education on the Military Base in Wunsdorf. She also was dismayed by Suse Rosa moving out because they had shared a house in Wunsdorf-Zosen since they had returned from Argentina. It was strange to hear, but Jo had apparently never lived alone and was sort of frightened by the prospect…

    “Tolle Tante?” Marcella heard a child’s voice ask, distracting her from her observations. Looking down, she saw Nina staring up at her. It was no surprise that Kiki had encouraged her to use a term like that in addressing Marcella.

    “What are you doing away from your mother and father?” Marcella asked.

    Nina just shrugged. “They don’t know I’m gone” She replied.

    Looking across the hall, Marcella saw that Kiki and Benjamin were having to take part in the social aspect of the reception. She knew that by her nature Kiki was not normally inclined to interact with people like this, she was already looking exhausted and that would get worse as the evening wore on. It was the perfect setup for Nina to sneak off and Kiki really did need to acknowledge her present condition, she should have been taking things easy. Instead, this was what she was doing.

    “It was rude of you to sneak off like that” Marcella said, “Your parents will be worried…” When they finally notice you’re gone, Marcella didn’t say that aloud for obvious reasons.

    “They are always on about Louis Bernhard” Nina said, with a tone suggesting deep annoyance.

    “Can you tell me who that is?” Marcella asked as she led Nina to the portion of one of the tables where the meal and desert had just concluded. There were a few people still seated there enjoying drinks.

    “Well, Louis is Louis” Nina replied as she climbed onto the chair next to Marcella as if that explained anything. The wait staff was quick to give her a fresh glass of Champagne for Marcella and a glass of sparkling apple juice for Nina. Gerta and Hans were really getting their money’s worth in this event, as over the top and unbelievable as it was.

    “I gathered that much” Marcella said. She remembered the conversations like this with Kattie long ago. Kattie had also made the same assumptions about things she deemed self-explanatory. “Where is this Louis?”

    “Inside Momma” Nina replied, “What he’s doing in there? I don’t know.”

    “So, they have picked a name and Louis Bernhard is going to be your little brother” Marcella said with a smile. That really was a wonderful name, both of the boy’s grandfathers.

    Nina made a face though. “I’d rather have a bicycle” She said.

    It was hardly a surprise that Nina was unaware of how her relationship with her little brother would be one of the most important in her life. If Marcella told her that, Nina would probably think that she was pulling her leg.

    “Is that a fact?” Marcella asked and Nina nodded.

    “I see Zoey riding all the time and that looks fun” Nina said, “She goes real fast.”
     
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    Part 137, Chapter 2363
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Sixty-Three



    23rd March 1975

    Potsdam

    The headquarters of the BII was silent as Sven Werth left to brief the President of the Federal Police Central Office with his deputy Markus Wolf in tow. The longer he worked with Markus, the more he missed Gunther. For years, Gunther had been an affable counterpart to Sven himself. It wasn’t an accident that Sven was occasionally called “The Impaler” behind his back and that the people he interviewed personally during investigations found him off-putting. Markus though had spent years working undercover inside some of the most violent gangs in Germany and it was whispered that he was called “The man without a face” by those members whose organizations he had infiltrated, those that survived the experience anyway.

    It seemed that the BII was getting called to the carpet because the recent riots that had completely engulfed Warsaw and had caused chaos in several cities with a substantial Polish minorities. They were supposed to provide actionable intelligence on domestic threats. What they had not seen coming was how Manfred von Richthofen would run his mouth about how Silesia belonged to his family, now and forever. For those agitating for Greater Poland, that was like fingernails on the chalkboard. They viewed the area once controlled by Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth as belonging to them, the Germans, Ukrainians, Ruthenians, and who knew who else were just interlopers in the way of them getting what they saw as theirs back. The minor detail that they had lost a large degree of their independence and a considerable amount of territory in pursuit of that mad dream seemed to have taught them very little.

    “Do I need to remind you that we are to tell the President no more than he needs to know?” Sven asked as the boarded the elevator that would take them up to the fourteenth floor.

    “What that the Poles looted and burnt down their own city to make a point?” Wolf asked, “Or what impact this could have on the upcoming elections?”

    Sven felt his stomach sour at the thought of that. The Social Democratic Party had been delaying holding elections in the hope that events would change the status quo. That had indeed happened, just not in the way which they might have liked. Sven was very aware of who some of the likely coalition partners in the next Government were going to be having investigated them with good cause in the past. The idea of them being in positions of influence when in Sven’s opinion they belonged in either prison or an insane asylum was a bit galling.

    “I understand that Heinz Kissinger was seen going up there ahead of us” Wolf said, “God only knows what sort of nonsense he is filling the President’s ears with.”

    Sven was annoyed by that piece of information. Kissinger was well known to be a Foreign Policy expert, him trying to burnish his domestic credentials was something of a worrying sign when the presence of his Aide, Friedhelm Busse was factored in. Busse had written several articles in the sort of newspapers that were not considered respectable, the sort where he had suggested that a large fraction of the population of the German Empire had no place in it, oddly that would include the likes of Heinz Kissinger. The logical direction of that sort of thinking was ultimately eliminationist. He had no idea that the BII knew all of this, that he was very much the wolf in sheep’s clothing and was only in the center-right National Liberals to mask his true nature. Busse was a bigot and a brute underneath who would have remained a member of the far-right Nationalist Parties that truly aligned with his thinking if that had been a means to achieve power rather than obscurity.

    As Sven and Wolf left the elevator, they saw Kissinger and Busse walking the other way. Sven was inadvertently connected politically with Katherine von Mischner. She had never forgotten her working-class origin and that was reflected in those she supported for office. That put Sven on the opposite side of the aisle from Heinz Kissinger. Of course, Sven knew in his bones that sooner or later the BII would be investigating a politically and/or ethnically sensitive case involving an assault and/or murder that Busse had committed. It seemed wise to avoid eye contact and avoid a conversation that everyone would swiftly come to regret.

    “I hate politicians” Wolf muttered as they made their way through the offices occupied by the President’s Staff. These were the people whose efforts to turn the blizzard of paperwork that came in from all of the Levels and Divisions of the Federal Police into something coherent. “No matter how things have gone tits up, they will always try to find an angle to swing it to their advantage.”

    “I would be careful” Sven said, “The day will come when you need to mind the politics of a given situation and that attitude will just make things more complicated for everyone.”

    “Is that all?” Wolf asked.

    “That and I will totally kick your butt if you mess up an investigation like that” Sven hat replied.

    Sven suspected that Wolf would have done better in the days when the Emperor was an Autocrat. Niceties such as due process and rule-of-law not really part of the conversation. The thing that didn’t really enter Wolf’s thinking was that at the end of the process they needed to make legal cases that were airtight. Cutting corners was putting a “Kick me!” sigh on your back knowing full well that the Judges were more than happy to give that kicking to you.
     
    Part 137, Chapter 2364
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Sixty-Four



    25th March 1975

    Warsaw, Poland

    How many times had Karol Wojtyla cursed the collective stupidity of people in general. Countless times, he thought to himself as he viewed the destruction of the businesses along Nowy Świat towards Three Crosses Square. They had a plan, one that they only needed to stick to. Instead, they had attacked their own institutions, the businesses in Warsaw, and each other.

    No one knew if Manfred von Richthofen’s words had been intended to incite this sort of reaction? It had struck Karol as the usual sort of posturing that men in positions of power engaged in. And for reasons that might be difficult for those in Warsaw to discern, the Richthofen family was quite popular in Silesia. Yet more proof that Polish opinion was hardly monolithic, regardless of what the Nationalist might have to say on the subject.

    Silesia had only ever been the periphery of what was considered Poland. The population was too mixed up with ethnic Germans and Poles being the largest segments of the population, but substantial numbers of others as well not to mention the thousands of others who fit in somewhere in between. There were rumors about von Richthofen’s youngest granddaughter, that she was a foundling who had been taken in by his son Albrecht and Ilse, Albrecht’s wife. Having seen the girl, Karol figured the odds were extremely high that her background was probably a mixture of Polish and German.

    Which was extremely common in Breslau and Oppeln.

    Karol suspected that the similar situation existed in Galicia-Ruthenia whether the Nationalists wanted to admit it or not. In Poland proper it was easy to rile people up with bellicose language about those others, whoever they were. Elsewhere, you were complaining about people’s neighbors or even members of their family. Karol had read accounts of Ollie Bauer, the Farmer turned General who had fought the much larger Polish Army to a standstill, taking the heavy tractor he owned and ploughing his neighbor’s fields with no regard to what their surname was.

    Karol had not bothered to explain that to the Government here in Warsaw. Instead, he had outlined a plan of just how they were going to get the Germans to withdraw from Poland. Now, that plan had been blown apart by two days of rioting. The only result was burnt out buildings that had been thriving businesses just a few days earlier and the presence of heavily armed Panzer Dragoons standing on the street corners as part of the effort to reimpose order. Oddly, while the Dragoons were mostly Germans, there was a broad spectrum of ethnicities within their ranks. The Heer infamously didn’t discriminate, any warm body was a warm body as far as they were concerned, especially if it played a useful role. Useful that was, until it became a cold body. The most humiliating part was that the City Government had practically been forced to beg the Heer to help restore order after the Polish Army had joined the rioters. If the Heer had not stepped in there was a good chance they would have been lynched by their own people.

    What these stupid so-called leaders here in Warsaw failed to understand was that that the Germans had rules to the game they played. By engaging in guerrilla warfare eventually to the point where the Polish Army was fighting the Heer directly and now this latest round of violence they were playing the game according to those very rules. Until his own people got wise to that, the present Karol was looking at was what the future would look like as well. By the time they were sitting in a command bunker listening to German music blaring from their own radios it was already far too late.



    Near Balderschwang, Bavaria

    Though the calendar might have said it was spring, the storm which had descended on the mountain valley Balderschwang was located in was very much a winter storm. Kiki had received a call from Ben saying that he was stuck up at the observatory because of high winds had closed the cable tram and the access road wasn’t exactly passible either, so he was probably going to be late getting home tonight. Kiki had told him to take his time and to stay safe, that she would have supper with Nina and Fianna. She forgot to mention that they now had Frau Aue as a houseguest. The elderly Midwife said that she felt it in her bones that Kiki’s baby was going to come early and wanted to be nearby just in case.

    Kiki really did hope that Frau Aue was wrong about that. This was going to be her second, so she knew what it was going to be like and was hoping that it would be at the predicted due date in Mid-April. At least not in the midst of a winter storm with Ben stuck up on the mountain.

    Wrapped in a blanket on a sofa in the parlor, Kiki was enjoying the peaceful afternoon as snowflakes fell past the window. Rauchbier had joined her though she couldn’t help but notice that the arthritis that had afflicted him this winter had gotten worse. Having a dog or cat was a lifetime commitment and losing Smoke would probably be as painful as losing Hera had been. It was with considerable regret that the thought occurred to Kiki that he didn’t have many good days left.
     
    Part 137, Chapter 2365
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Sixty-Five



    31st March 1975

    Near Balderschwang, Bavaria

    Upon waking up, Kiki was aware of how much her back ached. As unlikely as it seemed, it had gotten worse, enough to keep her awake until a couple hours earlier. Ben murmured something before rolling over and going back to sleep. It was enough to make Kiki wish that she would just have the baby out of her already, so that her body and life could go back to some semblance of normalcy.

    At the wedding, Kat had remarked that Kiki was lucky for reasons that had to do with her body type. She only looked like she was six months along though she was nearly to term. She didn’t feel lucky with her back keeping her awake. With a sigh of exasperation, Kiki crawled out of bed and padded across the room to find her dressing gown and glasses. The storm a week earlier had been followed by a cold snap, so the floor was cold under her feet as she walked down the stairs.

    The lights were on in the kitchen, which was not much of a surprise. With a household the size of this one there were things needing to be done around the clock. The smell of baking bread and food that was being prepared for breakfast in a couple hours was evidence of that.

    “You should not be out of bed” Frau Aue said as Kiki entered the room.

    “With everyone having jobs to do, asking someone else to fetch me water would have been stupid” Kiki replied, “And what are you doing up?”

    “I find that I need sleep less and less the older I get” Frau Aue said sharply as Kiki removed a glass from one of the cupboards and filled it at the sink. Aue gave her a look when she popped two tablets into her mouth and swallowed them with water. “You are supposed to avoid that sort of thing” Aue said crossly.

    “It’s just aspirin” Kiki replied, “For my back.”

    Aue continued staring at her. She knew that Kiki was a Physician and that the medical bag that Kiki kept in her bedroom closet had medications far stronger than aspirin. That was just one of the things that Aue and Berg had been watching her for.

    These days Kiki had Ermentrud Aue and Nora Berg watching her closely. Both of them had promised Doctor Huber that they would call him if anything happened. Kiki could plainly see the cynical thinking involved in that Huber would need to come all the way from Munich. While she had no doubt about how Aue and Berg had decades of experience, them playing that sort of game was an annoyance that Kiki did not need. That was why she had paid to have Doctor Huber stay in a hotel room in Balderschwang. He was basically getting a free ski vacation out of this, and Kiki considered that a small price to pay to get a little bit of peace in her household.

    “Your back is bothering you?” Aue asked.

    “At least it is not as bad as another migraine headache” Kiki said as she sat down at the kitchen table and tried to get some weight off her lower back and Aue handed her a cup of herbal tea that she said was good for her as she sat down at the table, the tea tasted like it had pine needles in it. That seemed to work as Kiki watched the breakfast preparations. She was aware that she was aware of the role that she played here as the wife of the Graf of Oberallgäu. Even if she did not have other Titles of her own, that alone would merit the Cooks going about their tasks with half an eye on what she was doing. After a bit, they got bored and started ignoring her presence.

    There was a stab of pain in her back, much to Kiki’s annoyance. She was rubbing her lower back until the pain subsided and Aue spoke up again.

    “How long do you suppose it was?” Frau Aue asked, “Since the back pain woke you up?”

    “Half an hour I suppose” Kiki replied, “You have a theory?”

    “I’ve seen this before” Frau Aue said, “We’ll know in another half hour.”

    “There are times when I really wish that you were straight forward as opposed to mentioning things you saw in the past that I have no reference to” Kiki said, annoyed.

    “In your professional capacity, how many times have you wanted to avoid saying something to a patient in case you are getting something wrong?” Frau Aue asked in reply.

    “Point taken” Kiki said, “Still, you have to know how patronizing that can be.”

    “Try working with Physicians who think that they know everything and that you are beneath them” Frau Aue said before sipping her tea.

    “Point taken” Kiki said, annoyed that she needed to repeat it.

    “Unlike most of your colleagues, you have this experience to humble you” Frau Aue said, “My hope is that you do not forget this.”

    “Exactly what is so important about back pain in this case?” Kiki asked, not willing to let this go. “What aren’t you telling me?”

    “You’ll just get excited over what will likely be nothing” Frau Aue said, “Especially when we are in the wait-and-see part.”

    “I never was any good at that” Kiki said, “The waiting. In emergency surgery you want results, the sooner the better.”

    “Things couldn’t be more different in my profession” Frau Aue said, “It is all about waiting to see if anything is going to happen and then waiting some more even if it does.”

    “Sounds infuriating” Kiki replied.

    “It can be, and it is not for the impatient” Frau Aue said, “Mostly it is about keeping everyone calm in the meantime.”
     
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    Part 137, Chapter 2366
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Sixty-Six



    1st April 1975

    Munich, Bavaria

    There were times when Charlotte found that her stepchildren defied belief. Everyone knew that Kristina could be a stubborn uncompromising bitch at the best of times, the last twenty-four hours were the stuff that legends were made of though. There she was getting loaded onto the helicopter that was going to take her to Munich and she was furious with the Midwife who had suspected that she had begun labor and had neglected to tell her. To keep her “From getting excited” apparently.

    Kristina had a few choice words to say about that.

    It seemed that Doctor Huber, the Obstetrician who was part of the team that had been minding Kristina, was friends with the Generalarzt who Commanded the Medical Service in the 7th Military District. That same Generalarzt had sent an FSR team to help out and that had resulted in the helicopter sent to Balderschwang. The FSR was a close-knit outfit, so there had been no shortage of volunteers to come help out with one of their own.

    Charlotte and Louis Ferdinand had rushed from Berlin with Nella and Nan in tow. For once, Louis owning that Fieseler “Kranich” twin turboprop had come in extremely handy, though Charlotte had been surprised that it had been Nan behind the controls for most of the flight. It seemed that Louis had been teaching her to fly the Kranich to the extent that she was putting in hours for a Multiengine Pilot’s Rating as soon as she could legally obtain one. The Kranich itself flew far differently than a normal airplane, practically leaping from the runway and the approach was far steeper with far less roll out. Nan loved it, sitting in the copilot’s seat up front next to Louis while everyone else on board, including Charlotte and Nella, watched with thinly concealed terror.

    As it was it was mostly over before Charlotte and Louis had arrived. Louis Bernhard Galileo Kepler Albrecht von Hirsch had been born shortly after the helicopter had landed on the helipad of the Ludwig Maximilian University Clinic. According to Ben, Louis Bernhard’s name was the result of intense negotiations that had gone on over the prior months. Kristina wanted a name that would reflect both of their families and had reluctantly given Ben permission to have two of his middle names be those of Astronomers. They had also needed to throw a bone to King Albrecht of Bavaria, who had become a patron of Ben’s work in Astronomy. A few hours later, Bernhard and Nadine arrived, and they were just overjoyed that their latest grandchild had Bernhard as a partial namesake. Charlotte couldn’t help but see that Nina had unintentionally been pushed to the margins. She had gone to stay with her Aunt Victoria and Uncle Franz tonight. Though Victoria had said nothing in recent months, she had been hoping that her youngest son would be a girl. That had not been in the cards, spoiling her nieces rotten when they were Munich had been the consolation prize. One that no one seemed to be objecting to.

    Now, it was early Tuesday morning, Kristina was asleep in the hospital bed being kept for observation. Supposedly, they were concerned about her blood pressure being too high even after she had finally given birth, though if Charlotte had to guess it was probably because of Kristina’s reputation of ignoring her own needs. Ben had fallen asleep in the chair next to the bed in the manner of fathers that had probably been happening for as long as husbands were allowed into Maternity Wards. He mentioned something to Charlotte about not missing it this time.

    The security in this wing of the hospital had been particularly heavy, even before the advance teams from the Emperor’s Personal Security had arrived. Word was that Freddy and Suga were coming that afternoon. There were a number of Nurses present who had been ordered to see to it that Kristina, Ben, and Louis Bernhard would get anything they needed over the next few days.

    Louis Bernhard had been placed in a bassinet in the room beside his mother’s bed and Charlotte could see that he was awake, and any second would let whatever displeasure he had be known to everyone in the room. Charlotte had a great deal of experience in this with most of Louis Ferdinand’s adult children having had children of their own. He joked that one day she would be Oma to Nella and Nan’s children, especially since Nella had been a welcome surprise and that welcoming Nan into their family had completed it. She had interjected that would not be before they got through University and married well if she had anything to say about it. She figured that would be exactly how it would play out with Nella. It was a bit more difficult to figure what would happen with Nan though. Nan’s life had not been all roses though, she had had a lot of reasons to fear and despise the legacy of the man who had been her biological father. Charlotte would hardly blame Nan if she decided not to have children of her own.

    “You were about to wake your Momma and Poppa up weren’t you?” Charlotte asked Louis Bernhard as she picked him up which got the attention of the Nurse who had been watching him. Charlotte was on the approved list, but that didn’t stop them from watching her closely as she gently rocked Louis Bernhard back to sleep. As a Social Worker she approved of the measures that were being taken and wished that all new parents could have the resources that Kristina and Ben were getting.

    “I am always afraid I’m going to drop them” Kristina said, meaning that she must have been awake the whole time.

    “That is perfectly normal” Charlotte replied, “Just try not to, ever”

    “I saw how Nina reacted to him” Kristina said, “This is a difficult adjustment for her.”

    “She’ll come to love him, though I imagine they will delight in tormenting each other” Charlotte replied, “Then one day they will stop with that and become friends.”

    “Sounds like me and Lou Junior” Kristian said with a smile.
     
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    Part 137, Chapter 2367
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Sixty-Seven



    11th April 1975

    Mitte, Berlin

    It was Anne’s most sincere hope that her friends would understand her reasons. Suddenly finding herself divorced because her husband had abruptly decided that he no longer wanted the life they’d had and grappling with the resulting writer’s block had left her in a desperate situation. To keep a roof over her head and those of her children, she had little choice but run through the various writings that she had on hand in the hope of finding something that her Agent could interest a publisher in. All of it had been rejected until her Agent had asked about the volumes of her diary that she kept on a shelf in her home office.

    During better times, Anne would have told her Agent that the volumes of her diary were nothing to concern herself with. At that moment though Anne was consumed with her thoughts regarding what was going to happen to Otto and Lina. Before Anne had realized what she was doing she had the first volume open to the pages that had her respective introductions to Katherine von Mischner and Kira Kirillovna Romanova written in great detail.

    Anne’s Agent had been shocked that she had all the volumes of her diary and had never mentioned it. Now weeks later, the manuscript comprised of the first few volumes of her diary that spanned from when she had first started writing and then throughout her teenage years finally coming into the orbit of the “little birds” on the same night she was introduced to the Imperial Court and then until she started attending University. It was on her Agent’s desk and there was a Cashier’s check for far more than Anne would have ever thought to have asked for. It was the answer to all her problems. The trouble was that she felt that she was betraying the confidence of many people who were dear to her. There were all sorts of secrets in Anne’s diaries that the publisher had been dumbfounded had remained unknown. They had mentioned something about how Anne’s observations over several years did more to humanize a number of people in the Imperial Court, especially Katherine von Mischner and Jehane Alexandra Thomas-Romanov than any other works that they could find.

    Did Kat want to be humanized, whatever that meant, in that manner? Anne understood that Kat was a very private woman who didn’t necessarily want people to know the details of her life. Anne’s diary was a peek into the daily life within Kat’s household. Anne remembered too late that her diary included how Kat had volunteered to participate in an experimental therapy to treat the effects of Traumatic Stress, Leni’s suicide attempt, what she had seen of the others personal lives, and so much more. Too late, Anne had realized that the tabloids were going to have a field day when this. Then her thoughts turned to her children, how she had told them that their lives wouldn’t change when their father left. Was she sacrificing lifelong friendships to maintain her credibility as a mother when she had made a promise that she should have known would be impossible to keep? Anne hoped that they would forgive her.



    Tempelhof, Berlin

    A question had entered Sophie’s thinking since she had gotten back from the wedding in Silesia. When was the last time she had ridden a bicycle just for fun? She didn’t like that she drew a blank and set out to do something about it. Collecting Gabby from the S-Bahn station, they had enjoyed lunch before spending the afternoon riding around the neighborhoods of Tempelhof and the Humboldt Campus of the University of Berlin. Sophie had made a point of riding the old step through three-speed bicycle, the same as the ones that Franziska and Gabby had. Eventually they had stopped at the market to get snacks before going to the park to enjoy a nice spring afternoon.

    Sitting on the park benches eating ice cream, Ziska and Gabby were laughing as Sophie told them the story of the Richthofen wedding and how the whole thing had spiraled out of control into this massive production that had included most of the people in Breslau as well as the many notable persons who had gotten an invitation. The thing had been like this huge, out of control circus.

    No one knew where either of the couples had gone on their respective honeymoons. There were rumors that Manny and Suse had gone to Italy to retrace the steps taken by Manny’s parents’ decades earlier. Ina and Christian were said to have gone to Greece to enjoy the beaches, museums, and historical sights. All Sophie knew was that all four of them had seemed like they were happiest when they were boarding the cars that would take them to the airport the morning after the reception.

    There was also Kat leaving for Bavaria the previous week to visit Ben and Kiki, who had just had a baby. That part, Ziska and Gabby had questions about, and Sophie didn’t have answers. They had seen that Princess Kristina had a baby on the news, Sophie and Ziska knew Kiki personally because they had spent a summer at Hohenzollern Castle with her playing host to them. Marie Alexandra had also been there, Sophie remembered that night when they had all been hiding under the covers of Marie’s bed during a lightning storm. It was a bit embarrassing to be reminded that Ziska had not. It had been following year that Ziska had arrived at the castle. It had been Nella and Nan who had shared the room with her that year.
     
    Part 138, Chapter 2368
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Sixty-Eight



    16th April 1975

    Falkensee, Brandenburg

    While she was still attending University Tatiana was expected to spend at least a couple hours each day in the Research and Analysis Section of the European Division on the Falkensee Campus of the BND. She knew that it was a way to keep tabs on her while she was in Berlin. When she had been in Boston she had been transferred to the North American Division. She had only been dimly aware of the mechanics of that switch until she had found herself staring at mass consisting of reems of paper, stacks of books, thousands of reels of tape, both audio and video, and vinyl records. She was supposed to read, watch, or listen to them and then provide a synopsis of everything that she read. When she had asked what all of this was for, Tatiana had been told that they were looking for works which might pose a danger of exposing active BND operations.

    That seemed rather unlikely, anyone who had actually worked in this field knew that James Bond was a fantasy. Actual Intelligence Officers did their best not to draw attention to themselves in the way he did. The Section Head had smiled and handed Tatiana a copy of a novel by a British Author named John le Carré. She had been shocked at how the novel had given vivid and extremely detailed descriptions of the Offices of the Military High Command in Wunsdorf-Zossen and the BND Headquarters in Falkensee. She had realized that she was reading the work of a retired Intelligence Officer and he had been inside those very installations at the risk of his own life. That was a leak they couldn’t control, the domestic equivalent though, that was what they were looking for.

    Today had started off normally until she found a binder full of loose papers in today’s offerings. The title page said that the author was Anne Frank, someone she knew and that seemed like an easy assignment. She had known Anne her whole life as one of her mother’s network of close friends that were practically family and knew that her books were light reading mostly fantasy of a somewhat Feminist bent, so she had taken the binder without a thought. The title, Volume One, The Diary of a Young Girl seemed in keeping with that. It wasn’t until Tatiana started reading that she realized that it was not fiction but the actual diary of Anne herself from when she started writing it after receiving the empty journal as a present on her twelfth birthday. She had included every detail of her life, talking about her parent’s relationship, her older sister, and herself.

    The diary was composed of individual entries that grew longer with time. Finally, there were entries about Anne’s father insisting that she should be introduced to the Imperial Court in December of 1946 after Empress Kira had made clear that religion would not be an issue. Oddly, what she wrote about that event focused more on these strange girls who had crashed the party and were hiding on an upstairs balcony poking fun at the events below. They had been the ones who had given Anne her first sip of Champagne from the bottle they had swiped from the party. They introduced themselves as the Little Birds, namely Kristine, Leni, Tilde, and Judita. Tatiana realized that she knew all of them.

    The following entries were about getting drawn further into the world of the Little Birds as well as meeting their other members, Asia, Ilse, and Gia. Learning all about how they had been recruited to play body doubles for a mysterious Russian Princess who they had never actually met despite actually traveling to Russia with the Empress. Afterwards, they had become a family of sorts, aided by the fact that they all sort of looked alike. Oddly, they had accepted Anne as one of their own despite her being from outside their circle and had introduced her to their spiritual mother, Imperial Archduchess Tatiana of Russia. Tatiana was not expecting that, her mother had never mentioned it to her. There was mention of an American girl who joined them about that time who had come to Berlin as a visiting scholar.

    Then came mention of Anne’s first encounters with Tatiana’s mother, how she had been awed by her presence. There had also been encounters with Helene and Gerta. The descriptions had not quite been in line with Tatiana’s thinking until she realized that it was because those the press dubbed the Three Furies were roughly the same age as she was. They would have been very different back then. There were also those who called themselves the Little Birds. They had essentially been a spy ring that had worked on behalf of the Empress.

    Eventually there had been an incident when Kristine had read portions of Anne’s diary. To balance the scales, Tatiana’s mother had gotten a copy of Kristine’s records and had guided Anne through them. It had apparently been a surprise to Anne when a Psychiatric Profile in those records implied that Kristine was a Lesbian, something that she had needed to reconcile for herself when she realized that Kris had never stopped being her friend despite reading a portion of her diary without permission.

    The entries continued on, and Tatiana continued reading. She was aware that the sounds of the office had grown quiet, and lights were getting turned off. Meaning that it had been hours and everyone else had left. Then she came across and entry about her mother suffering a miscarriage and having one of her dark episodes. That was entirely new information for Tatiana. She knew that her mother had bad days, but this described her locking herself in her room for weeks and refusing to talk to anyone. It also described Tatiana’s mother as uncertain and full of doubts about the future. That was completely unlike who she thought her mother was.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Sixty-Nine



    20th April 1975

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    There had not been a meeting of the entire sisterhood in some time. Having them gathered in the formal dining room of Kat’s house, she could see that all was not well. Anne’s conspicuous absence was notable because it was her diary which had been what had finally gotten all of them together. Kiki, who was also mentioned quite a bit in the diary had not been heard from, but it was Kat’s understanding that she had absolutely nothing to complain about. The diary only went into great detail about how she met the boy who she would eventually marry and her efforts to get into University early. Helene and Gerta, who had been minor players in Anne’s life. They thought they came out rather well. Anne had however, described Kira as something of an ogre who had frozen out Kiki and Gia in her last days out of spite. Despite knowing that it was the truth, it didn’t sit well with Kat that it should become common knowledge.

    Kat had read the various reports filed by analysts within the BND, including one by her own daughter about the publication of Anne’s diaries. The various conclusions were also present from the BND, BII, and the Imperial Court. Not only was there was little present in the diaries that was considered contrary to State interests. It was felt that the content was of deep historical value and that it actually needed to be published. Kat was not expecting that last part.

    The sisterhood was an entirely different matter.

    They were understandably upset, but so far little in the diaries was new. Kris being gay had been known by everyone for ages even at the time which Anne had learned about that. Mercifully, Anne had not picked up on Asia and Gia’s relationship, otherwise Kat feared for Gia’s safety. Instead, Anne had looked at it through the lens of her own experiences assuming that they were inseparable friends. Perhaps it was fortunate that Asia had been involved in several high-profile affairs including the one that had resulted in the birth of her son Heinrich. Kat knew the truth though, all of that had been Asia’s reaction to not being able to be with the love of her life especially after Gia had saved her when no one else had been willing to. There was also what Anne had written about Tilde, their member who had died a decade earlier. She had captured Tilde’s generosity and optimism. Regretfully, Tilde hiding from them that she was dying of Ovarian Cancer had echoes in what had prompted Anne’s actions.

    Like always, the girls had swiftly divided into waring camps. It was in Judita’s nature to resent anything she saw as a trespass, so it was not a surprise for Kat that she was the most outspoken about Anne’s diaries publication being over the line. She said that it was their secrets which were now out there for all to see. Leni on the other hand had felt that Anne should have published her diary years earlier, she had even offered to edit it for her.

    At the moment, Leni and Judita looked like they were about to come to blows. The others fell somewhere in between the two in their opinions and there was a lot of yelling going on. It was enough to make Kat wonder if Marie Alexandra would be interested in having a roommate in Montreal after living with her grandmother for most of the last year. She was about to tell them to be quiet when Judita collapsed.

    They had been through this before, when Judita got stressed the odds of her having a seizure went up. The Epilepsy was just the icing on the cake for a woman whose life had been extremely difficult having lost her entire family in an instant and was nearly killed herself when the building they lived in was leveled by an air raid. Not that Kat excused her behavior, she just understood it.

    “Try to keep her from hitting her head” Kris said as she started pulling the chairs away from where Judita was. Asia had already turned her on her side and had a coat under her head.

    “Don’t” Kat said to Kris stopping her from moving the chairs. “A second medical emergency is not what we need right now.”

    Kris had been left with extremely brittle bones by her parent’s neglect. That had ended her career as a Field Agent and placed limitations on her that she didn’t like. Her moving furniture was asking for broken bone or three.

    “This only lasts a few minutes, normally” Asia said as she tried to keep Judita from thrashing around. Leni just stood there agape. They had been arguing just a few minutes earlier, that now seemed rather trite.

    “This is a problem that all of us have” Kat said, “We don’t ask for help, and we don’t offer it when we see that it is clearly needed.”

    This was greeted with protests as Judita’s convulsions subsided. Kat didn’t want to hear it though.

    “All of us knew what Anne was going through and didn’t lift a finger” Kat said, “So she turned to the one thing that she has always been able to depend on, her writing. Is that the least bit surprising?”

    The answer was an obvious “no” and Kat knew that not one of them was going to be willing to say it.

    “Anne thinks that some of us are going to come after her” Leni said, “What are we supposed to do about that?”

    Kat should have known this day would come. All the cruel pranks and malicious actions that had been taken against those that had angered them over the years had just come back to haunt them, probably not for the last time either. It had been behavior that Kat had encouraged, and Anne had witnessed a great deal of it.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Seventy



    8th May 1975

    Breslau, Silesia

    Despite whatever title she currently had due to her father-in-law’s machinations Ilse was still the Head of the Environmental Sciences at the University of Breslau. Most recently that had involved Manfred the Elder on television and radio giving a heartfelt address about how serving Empire and Silesia had been his proudest accomplishments. Then he said what everyone had been expecting. He said that he was retiring to his estate where he looked forward to spending time with his grandchildren and probably great-grandchildren soon enough. His son Albrecht would be King of Silesia. Two of his grandsons, Manfred the Younger and Nikolaus of Breslau, as well as Dietrich Schultz had important roles to play in the future of the Kingdom. Those four were the people he trusted to build upon his legacy. He’d had his doubts about Nikolaus, but they had been swept aside when Nikolaus had been given a chance to stay home rather than complete his time in Argentina after the Commandant of the Wahlstatt Institute found out about the Oberst commanding the 3rd Hussars. Knowing this Nikolaus had still gotten on the plane that would take him back to Rio Gallegos.

    Ilse had been furious that her son had made such a decision based solely on principle. Manfred the Elder had clearly seen things differently. Not that Ilse had long to stew about the foolhardy choices and reckless action that seemed to run in her husband’s family. She had to contend with suddenly finding herself the Queen of Silesia and all that went along with that. Then Anne Frank had done the unthinkable, she had published her diary and there front and center was Ilse’s story

    Anne had pieced the whole thing together. Abandoned when she was just a few hours old on the Feast Day of Saint Elisabeth of Schönau on the front steps of a Church in Pankow, Berlin. That was why she had been stuck with the insulting name Elisabeth Tritten until she had discovered her paternity when she was fifteen. She had grown up in the system. First in an orphanage affiliated with the Church and later the State School. She had been such a wild feral creature that she had been spared becoming a victim of some of the obvious crimes committed by in positions of authority because she was considered more trouble than she was worth. Still, she had been surrounded by casual brutality and violence. That had persisted until her physical resemblance to Jehane Thomas-Romanova had been noticed by someone from the BND. She had also had her sister enter her life at that time through the discovery that they shared the same rare blood type.

    Anne had written at length on the subject.

    Of course, people had delighted in that story. The orphan, who was secretly a Princess, rising out of the gutter and becoming the Queen of a Kingdom and the mother of the future King. It was like something from a fairytale.

    Ilse hated it.

    None of these people understood how that life had left her with a weakened heart. That she had nearly died trying to bring Nikolaus into the world because of that. Did they understand her childhood? The things she had witnessed? What no child should have to see or do to survive? That was a very dark tale and there was no magic involved.

    Looking at the lock on her office door, Ilse knew they were out there. There were questions. Always with the questions. She really did regret picking the top floor of the Department to locate her office in because that prevented her from sneaking out, but she had liked the view.



    Montreal, Canada

    It was Mother’s day in Canada, and in what Marie figured was a not-so-subtle dig at her grandmother the Lanes had thrown a party for Henriette. After all, Henriette was a mother and Margot Blackwood could go get stuffed for all they cared. Marie had also come and had been shocked by the number of people who had shown up

    These were people who Henriette had gone to school with or had met at Dawson College recently. She had a far easier time making friends than Marie ever did. Marie had been living in Montreal since the prior August and it felt like she only knew the Lane family and her grandparents with Henriette being the only one her own age. When she had arrived in Montreal she had promised herself that it would be different, so far it was more or less the same as it had been at home.

    There was a tub of ice full bottles of Molson and cans of soda pop. Marie didn’t really like the sort of sickly-sweet soda pop that was popular in Canada and how many times had her mother warned her to always keep a clear head? Especially in social situations. So, the Molson was out. She was looking at the cans trying to see if there was anything she would actually want that she didn’t notice that she was being approached.

    “Hennie said that you are the one the one who’s been helping her” A young man around her age said with a smile as he held out his hand as if she were to shake it. “I’m Dave by the way, and old friend of Hennie and like many others here I’m all too familiar with your grandmother.”

    Forgetting her search for a drink, Marie just stared at his outstretched hand. Marie found herself tongue tied the way she always was in these sorts of situations and couldn’t get a word out. Inwardly she was cursing herself for always reacting this way.

    “She also said that you are extremely shy” Dave said, sounding disappointed.
     
    Part 138, Chapter 2371
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-One



    10th May 1975

    Lake Constance, near Lindau, Bavaria

    The tabloid press had started hounding Kiki the instant she arrived home from the hospital with Louis Bernhard. When she had Nina, she had been living in her cottage on the family compound in Plänterwald. Regrettably, the house of the Director of Argelander Observatory wasn’t nearly as inaccessible. It was a fact which a less than scrupulous photographer had taken advantage of to get entirely too close to Kiki and her children. He had been dealt with in a rather harsh manner by the members of Kiki’s security detail and she had found herself pressed into service as a Doctor treating the wounds of a man who she would have beaten to a pulp herself just minutes earlier before he had been slammed to the ground and had his camera smashed to pieces underneath him.

    It was after that when Kiki had moved herself and her small staff to the MS Epione which was anchored in Lake Constance a few hundred meters offshore and out of the main shipping lanes while the security of the house in Balderschwang was being upgraded. The movement of the Motor Barge had a calming effect on Louis, and he found the reflection of sunlight off the water on the ceilings endlessly fascinating. Benjamin drove his car down from Balderschwang every evening and while that wasn’t too far, it felt wrong to her that he should have to commute on account of her situation.

    Fianna had been reading a book to Nina about a family living on a working narrowboat on the British canals in the Nineteenth Century when the narrowboats were still pulled by horses and trains were in the process of changing the economy on the canals forever. Kiki had told her daughter that the Epione didn’t have the space constraints of the tiny cabin in the after section of a narrowboat built to haul cargo, so there was no reason for her little brother to sleep in a kitchen drawer that had been pulled out and wedged open like how was depicted. The book was also in English, and Fianna had been in the process of teaching Nina that language. Kiki remembered that was how she had ended up speaking English with a vaguely Irish accent due to the influence of Fianna who had been a young nanny hired by Kiki’s parents, much to the amusement Kat’s friend Jack Kennedy.

    There was a line of barges loaded with new cars directly from the factory was being towed across the lake towards the Locks at Paradies that were the entrance to the tunnel that would take them below the Rhine falls. It was the same route which the MS Epione had taken to get to Lake Constance a few days earlier. It was a reminder of why the vast project had been undertaken a couple decades earlier. The barges could navigate as far as the piers at Bregenz and Kressbronn am Bodensee with the accompanying rail junctions allowed inexpensive transport of raw materials and the export of finished and agricultural products. Upper Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, Austria, and Switzerland had all benefited from this arrangement.

    Kiki watched as the barges passed. A short time later a second set of barges, it wasn’t as clear what was loaded on these ones, just the big green painted steel “containers” which had recently become all the rage in the shipping industry. Her guest, General Mayer, sat across the table that had been set up on the foredeck of the Epione was not really interested in shipping. As a Luftwaffe Generaloberst and the Marshal of Baden, Egon Mayer had once been the Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe High Command. Like most of the men who had been in that position in the past, he had been most at home in the cockpit of a fighter plane and leading an Airwing. The politics as well as the give and take required to head a service branch had proven foreign and like most of his predecessors, he had not lasted long, jumping at the opportunity to command the combined defenses of the Kingdom he had been born in when it was offered.

    Kiki had agreed to meet with General Mayer over security matters relevant to the Hohenzollern Province, which was small in both area and in population, seventy-eight thousand five hundred and fifty-six people in the last census. Kiki’s efforts had been credited with making it relatively prosperous, but she knew it would be foolish not to understand that had just as much to do with the industry in Baden and Württemberg. Which was why Kiki understood maintaining good relations with her neighbors was critical. The single Infantry Regiment that the Province maintained was also small in the greater scheme of things, but as Kiki had discovered, there was a reason why her ancestors had built the Hohenzollern Castle where it was and while the defenses of the castle itself was long obsolete, the strategic location was just as relevant now as it had been in the Middle Ages.

    “You do understand that I am an Emergency Surgeon on Maternity Leave” Kiki said, as if General Mayer had not noticed Louis Bernhard sleeping in the bassinette next to Kiki’s chair as he tended to do after he had been fed.

    “I understand” Mayer said, “And that makes you perfect.”

    “That is a load of manure if I ever heard one” Kiki replied.

    “In normal times I would agree with you” Mayer said, “But these are not exactly normal times. While invasion by the French, Swiss, or Italians is an unlikely occurrence these day and have been mostly relegated to the past, I have found that rain and fire are our principal adversaries these days. Someone who understands logistics and search & rescue, on top of being a Field Surgeon would have a great deal of credibility.”

    “You forgot the part about maternity leave Kiki said, “I’m not supposed to be doing anything for at least the next eleven months.”

    “The Grand Duke feels that being the mother of two small children might have prepared you for the upcoming meeting of the Principals involved” Mayer said, and Kiki wondered if he was pulling her leg. Then it occurred to her that the Principals he was referring to were included the Monarchs and Elected Officials of Württemberg, Baden, and Bavaria in negotiations over regional crisis planning. If anything, comparing them to poorly behaved children was an insult to poorly behaved children. “The Archduke is quite prepared to be extremely generous if you help with this” Mayer concluded.

    “Just how generous?” Kiki asked in reply, and Mayer gulped. He obviously knew who he was dealing with.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-Two



    12th May 1975

    Montreal, Canada

    Mrs. Lane had insisted that Henriette go with Marie Alexandra and go do something that young people do. Which was strange in the context of where they ended up going. They were the two youngest members of the Lady’s Athletic Club with the average age being a few decades older than them. When the older members found out that Henriette had a little girl they had asked if they might be introduced. Marie had a feeling that if they ever brought Alice, she would swiftly have a whole lot of additional grandmothers. The thought of grandmothers brought to mind several difficult problems that Marie had been dealing with since the Sunday Edition of the Newspaper had been delivered the day before.

    “My grandmother was being totally insufferable yesterday” Marie said as they floated in the warm water of the indoor pool. “More than usual anyway.”

    “I don’t get it” Henriette replied, “She was constantly harping on you for having loose morals, now she’s upset that you didn’t throw yourself at some guy from a rich family?”

    The day before, in the Sunday Edition of the paper, the gossip column in the society page had run with a story about how Marie had snubbed the heir of a radio and newspaper empire. That was not what had happened. Marie had also learned that Dave as he had introduced himself was a playboy and the more Marie learned the less he seemed like someone worth knowing.

    Her grandmother saw things differently.

    “She sees the potential for a high society wedding” Marie replied, “I saw an unsuitable rake who would love me to be another notch on his bedpost, nothing more.”

    “I’ve always heard that David is a real charmer.”

    “His family has money, lots and lots of money” Marie said, “That does most of the work for him.”

    “And you have money of your own” Henriette said with a giggle. “It would have saved me a lot of trouble if I could see through the boys the way you can.”

    It would have been nice if that were true, but Marie knew better.

    “If only I were that astute” Marie said, “The truth is that meeting new people, especially men, fills me with anxiety and I cannot get a word out.”

    Henriette just stared at her with a quizzical look on her face.

    “I am also not a Princess, people only think that because my mother is the Prefect of Berlin, an appointed position which she has at the convenience of the Kaiser” Marie said, “Neither my older brother nor sister are not going to inherit that role, and I will most certainly not either. That is just a silly assumption that people make, and I have tried to correct this more than once. No one listens.”

    Henriette found that incredibly amusing.

    “Did ever occur to you that they want you to be a Princess because you are one of the few genuinely good people in the world?” Henriette asked.

    “That is absurd” Marie replied, “I’ve met Princes and Princesses back home, if many of them weren’t royalty they would probably be running confidence schemes and not feel quite the need to hide their various drug addictions.”

    “How come I never see anything about that in the magazines?” Henriette asked, “Every time I am in the supermarket I see German and English royals, there was also that Italian Prince who got himself killed a few months ago. Death by misadventure.”

    “The actions of the Prince of Estonia or Lichtenstein wouldn’t sell too many magazines in Canada” Marie replied, “Most of the tabloids know what would happen if they got on my mother’s bad side, so they keep their distance most of the time.”

    “Is your mother really that scary?”

    “There have been rumors about what she did to the Soviets before and during the war. Feeding a man to a tiger or cutting off one of a man’s balls so that he would spill his guts to stop her from cutting off the other one. That was nonsense which never actually happened” Marie replied, “However she sat me down when I was old enough and told me every single thing she did in the war. The terrible things she doesn’t want her biographer or even my father to know about.”

    “How bad?” Henriette asked.

    “Like unofficial missions which when she was not supposed to be in the field or as she put it, treasonous street theater in the streets of Saint Petersburg which could get her thrown in prison for the rest of her life.”

    “I wish my father were that open with me” Henriette said.

    “He sells insurance” Marie replied, “I wouldn’t imagine that there is much excitement in that.”

    “You believe that? Henriette asked, “What kind of Insurance Salesman is a close personal friend with Colonel Malcolm Blackwood, Retired, Member of the British Empire and Knight of the Order of the Thistle?”

    “Maybe my grandfather wanted good rates for home and auto?” Marie asked in reply. Even as she said, she knew that Henriette was probably correct. A man like her grandfather had people whose job it was to take care of things like that for him. Which meant that Robert Lane was probably far more than he appeared.

    “If you have trouble meeting new people why did you have no trouble talking to me when you first moved to Montreal?” Henriette asked.

    “I knew you from before” Marie replied.

    “We weren’t exactly friends if I recall correctly.”

    “No one ever said that phobias were logical” Marie said, she hoped that Henriette would leave it at that.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-Three



    16th May 1975

    Tzschocha, Silesia

    The Professor droned on about the German Romantism and the role that it played in eventually uniting of the Empire. The Professor wanted them to learn that it was ultimately a nationalist movement and that there were negative aspects to that on the form of reactionary politics which would culminate in the First World War. Mathilda didn’t really need a lesson in that. She had seen first-hand how her father had been part of a similar movement. The anti-Semitic and anti-Slavic language he had used to excuse everything wrong with his life had grown more apparent to Mathilda in the time which she had been away from him.

    An entire nation expressing views like the ones expressed by her father, Mathilda found the idea to be rather distasteful. Only the Gods knew what sort of Hell on Earth that might turn into. Of course, none of it would ever be the fault of men like that. The First World War had resulted directly in the Federal Constitution of 1922 when the others who had suffered under their leadership had had enough.

    Glancing at the clock, Mathilda wished that the period would come to an end so that she could go outside and enjoy the spring afternoon. The minutes creeped by as the Professor continued with the lecture about life after the French occupation under Napoleon Bonaparte. She wished that they could skip ahead to the Franco-Prussian War or the Spring Revolution of 1921. She had read through the German History textbook months earlier and had been impatiently following along with the rest of the class ever since. The Professor wanted them to not just be able to recite places and dates, but to understand why events happened, what drove people to make the decisions they did. The class might have been interesting if it moved at a less plodding pace.

    The class mercifully ended when everyone was dismissed with the Professor telling them their reading assignments. It was a chapter that Mathilda had read and reread months earlier, so she figured that would save a bit of time. The groans from her classmates suggested that they thought it was this huge ordeal, a few thousand words about poets and composers in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Yes the material was rather dry, but all they had to do was read it. She was reminded of Opa’s comments about how many people stopped learning the instant it was no longer required.

    Leaving the classroom, Mathilda saw Anna Schultz and a pair of her friends walking down the hallway. She had left Mathilda entirely alone this year. Supposedly, she had been read the riot act by her mother and grandmother the prior summer over her slipping grades and bullying of other students. Whatever had been said it had been enough to keep Anna from causing too much trouble for months. Making her way to the Administration Desk, she was surprised by a handful of letters in the box assigned to her. Her last name starting with an “A” meant that it was near the top. She could just reach it, some of the younger or shorter girls needed to use the ladder that was there for exactly that purpose. It was a minor annoyance. She shoved the letters into her bookbag so that she could read them at her own leisure.

    Walking into the hall that was used as a cafeteria by the students and faculty, she was underwhelmed by the smell of bland food. Getting a tray, Mathilda looked at what looked like Potatoes and kale with onions. There was grey sausage included. Out of long habit, she reached for the salt and pepper but had a sinking feeling that it wouldn’t help too much in this case.

    Not in any hurry to eat, Mathilda started going through her letters. The first was from her mother, she was reaching out to learn if she was well and a reminder that her birthday was coming up next month. This wasn’t the first letter which Mathilda’s mother had sent over the last few months, and she had yet to respond being unsure as what exactly to say. She had not seen her mother since shortly after she had snuck into the Barracks of the 1st Foot, an action that had resulted in her being made a Ward of the State, three years earlier. Setting that aside, she saw that there was the weekly letter from Opa. Like the others she had received in the past this one was almost stream of consciousness. The events on the estate, letters from Niko who was in Argentina, something that Ingrid had said, Opa disliking the infirmities that came with age, how the dogs were doing, Ina and Christian’s return after their honeymoon in Greece had ended abruptly…

    “You mind if I sit here Tilda?” A voice asked. Looking up, Mathilda saw that it was Edmée or Eddi as she preferred to be called, was a bespectacled, mousey girl. She had been a frequent target of Anna in years past by being socially awkward and having a French first name. At some point she had decided that they should be friends and Mathilda had never had the heart to chase her off because it was obvious that it was something that Eddi desperately needed.

    “You can if you want” Mathilda replied as she turned her attention back to her meal. Allowing to grow cold would probably not help it any. She saw that Eddi had opened a newspaper and the headline read Greece accused of War Crimes as fighting resumes and that explained why Ina and Christian had needed to return sooner than expected.
     
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    Part 138, Chapter 2374
  • Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-Four



    18th May 1975

    Near Los Grutas, Rio Negro Province, Argentina

    After days in the saddle in the monotonous landscape of the Patagonian Steppe, the Rio Negro with the trees and the meandering river was like a slice of paradise. Juan had been silent all morning as they had drawn closer to what Niko figured was his home.

    “Afraid that your Opa will ask for the horse and pistol back?” Willi asked.

    “No” Juan replied, clearly not interested in saying more.

    The fact that they were riding the patrol this time had everything to do with how Oberst von Kropp had not been happy to see Niko get off the plane. It seemed that von Kropp had figured out the real role that Niko had been playing once he was no longer around to get the Dons to return von Kropp’s phone calls much to his embarrassment. That was why he had arranged for Niko to do every truly crappy job that the Regiment offered. Eventually, someone had figured out that with the Regiment’s area of operation being massive they needed everyone they could get out in the field. That resulted in Niko being sent to the frontier chasing after smugglers and various types of bandits. Because the Patagonian War had concluded just a few years earlier there were still a considerable number of weapons in the hands of people that one wouldn’t expect to find them with. What they lacked was the logistics chain to support those weapons and the expertise to use them effectively.

    That had happened a couple different times with a mortar that none of them knew how to aim and machine gun whose operator had tried to fire the wrong kind of ammunition through it with unexpected results. The gunner had been fortunate to even still be alive as they had taken him into custody, but he was unaware of how stupid he had been. The barrel getting blown apart was better than him getting the bolt or parts of the receiver through his head. Apparently he had been bluffing with the thing for months. Niko figured that it would be a funny story at some point in the future, but now all he remembered was how he had been one of those caught flatfooted as some random outlaw was pointing that 1919 Browning at them.

    Now finally, they were approaching a safe place to rest and wait for further orders. For Niko it was a chance to wrap his head around what he had been doing and what he actually wanted to do with his life. Were the last few weeks a preview of the coming years if he stayed in the 3rd Hussars? And would going to University like his parents clearly wanted really him to be such a bad thing?

    As they approached the walls of the Casa, Niko the gates were open and a half-dozen riders raced out to greet them. They were typical of the Gauchos found in this region. Tough men who lived up to their reputations. He had once joked with Willi about how they had found themselves in a Western, he had learned that he had not understood the half of it.

    “Welcome home brother” One of the Gauchos said as they got close. Niko could see that he was in his mid-twenties with a black moustache and a sly grin. He was addressing Juan and Niko realized that this was Carlos, the older brother who Juan had mentioned a few times whose shadow he was trying to escape. Juan didn’t respond, he just stared at his older brother with a blank look on his face. After a long awkward moment, Carlos gave up.

    “And you must be the German Prince we have been hearing about” Carlos said looking at Niko, “Grandfather is very interested in having a word with you tonight, we’ve been hearing all about how you’ve conducting yourself in Rio Gallegos for the last several months.”

    Before Niko could respond, he turned his horse and galloped back to the Casa. If word of this reached Oberst von Kropp, it would be one more strike against him and the last thing he wanted was to return to Wahlstatt with the Oberst as an enemy. He also saw that Juan was glaring in the direction that his brother had gone. This was more than just a bit of sibling rivalry. His older brother was charismatic and was apparently being groomed to be the eventual successor to their father. Juan on the other hand was being encouraged to make his own way in the world and Niko suspected that was the reason why he seemed to have gone to considerable trouble to get close to him.

    The questions for Niko were why and to what end?

    Niko couldn’t see the angle.

    The scene in the courtyard was one of complete chaos as the Patrol came through the gates. Men and women of all ages, horses, and dogs. The music that was coming through big double doors that were the entrance to the main house suggested that someone had already started the party without them. He knew that the odds were high that this was a test of sorts. Martzel Ibarra was a legend in this region as well as the BND circles back home. He would be watching to see how Niko reacted in an unexpected situation. The other men in Patrol were oblivious to all of this. They just saw an opportunity to spend a night in relative comfort and a fiesta was a bonus. The guarded look on Juan’s face suggested that he was thinking along the same lines as Niko was.

    “Spread the word that I want everyone on their best behavior” Niko said to Willi, “Remember we are guests here.”

    The expression on Willi’s face said that even he knew that order would not be well received. Yet Niko felt that it was necessary.
     
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