Posting this on behalf of USAF713
, in anticipation of Monday, when he can apparently post again. Again note: not mine.
Prologue – The Apple of Discord
5:45 PM, 4 October, 1920
It was a refreshingly cool winter’s evening, Kaiser Wilhelm III thought as he made his way down the halls of the Reichstag building. At the beginning of October, the nights were usually colder—in fact, it likely should have been snowing by that point—but it seemed that luck and God’s fortune were on his side tonight. He adjusted his uniform—medium-dark blue, with large gold bands crisscrossing it and a fuzzy collar that was somewhat irritating, but could not be removed (much to Wilhelms annoyance and dismay), and an Imperial cross in the center of his chest, suspended on a gold rope—ran a hand through his short, combed-back black hair, and then made his way towards the front hall.
As he reached the foyer before the front door, a figure got up from a bench there and walked towards them. Wilhelm got closer and recognized the man, as he knew he would, as Chancellor Maximilian, his primary minister, representative in the Reichstag
, and close friend. Though they did not agree on every issue, they had become reasonably good partners in government, with Maximilian taking on a vaguely mentor-like position after the death of Wilhelm’s father, which Wilhelm appreciated greatly in spite of their political differences.
He wore his own uniform—far plainer than Wilhelm’s, to Wilhelm’s own unvoiced envy, with a plain gray colored officer’s coat, a red arm band on his left arm, two rows of twelve silver buttons, a plain officer’s hat, and an officer’s sword attached to his belt (though only the end of the weapon was visible under his officer’s coat)—and his demeanor was cordial and non-threatening; he was increasingly passive as he aged, Wilhelm had noted, and it saddened him that Maximilian had slowed down so much.
” Maximilian said, tipping his head and hat in greeting and acknowledgement as Wilhelm reached comfortable speaking distance. Wilhelm, in return, extended a hand, which Maximilian grasped and shook once, firmly.
“Are you ready to impress a few French nobles tonight, my friend?
” Wilhelm asked, smiling. They both knew that “a few French nobles” was a severe underestimation of their guests, which—among others—would include Emperor Napoleon VI of the French Empire and his wife, Grand Duchess Tatiana of Russia. Napoleon VI was quite possibly—by the reckoning of Maximilian and Wilhelm’s foreign ministers—the most important person in Europe and, therefore, the civilized world. Who made friends with Napoleon—officially, through trade and military alliance, and unofficially, through backroom diplomacy—could quite conceivably control mainland Europe and, through it and its place as the cradle of human culture and advancement, the entire world.
And at that time, Britain was currently in that position of ally, trade partner, and diplomatic friend of France.
However, the mighty British Empire’s grip on Europe was far
from secure—a sentiment shared with Wilhelm by his staff and the larger population of Germany, France, and Russia. Britain was simply too sure of itself—too headstrong
—to be the regent extraordinaire
of the civilized world. Though her might was immense and her Royal Navy’s reach long, the British Empire overestimated her ability to bully and demean the other Great Powers of Europe and still retain her place on the forefront of the world stage.
Such is why Germany was hosting a ball, in honor of Napoleon VI’s birthday. Wilhelm, though he actually did respect Napoleon to an extent—the man, if nothing else, was astonishingly
charismatic, and well-loved by his people, though his colonial policy left something to be desired—was simply more interested in getting his country into a position where it could undermine British Imperial power, and, eventually, take her place as the leader of Europe and the world.
“Your Highness, you know that I am always ready to entertain French nobles.
” Maximilian responded, his tone obviously sarcastic. Wilhelm chuckled, knowing Maximilian’s dislike for the French nobility. While Napoleon and Tatiana were themselves quite personable, French nobility as a whole tended to be far too entitled and superior, thinking themselves better simply for being French. It was often quite irritating, though Wilhelm had grown somewhat accustomed to it, and they to his lack of tolerance for it.
Wilhelm moved towards the doors, grasping the left handle with one hand. Maximilian joined him, mirroring him with the right door. They shared a single nod, and then they threw the doors open without another word. As soon as they had fully opened, Wilhelm and Maximilian were greeted with a thunderous roar of applause. Wilhelm blinked a little, to clear the glare from sudden exposure to the bright lamps in the Reichstag
front garden, and then he took in the large crowd.
He picked out several of his generals—Hans von Seeckt, Erich von Falkenhayn, Wilhelm Heye, Erich Ludendorff, and his Chief of the German General Staff, Paul von Hindenburg—among the crowd, intermingled with their French counterparts in what was likely a number of serious discussions of military strategy. Hindenburg in particular stood out, partially for his relative girth and partially for his age. The man was 73 and had already retired nearly a decade previously, but Wilhelm had asked him to come back to serve as his Chief of General Staff during the current, critical period of Germany Army reorganization. It had actually surprised him when Hindenburg accepted, but Wilhelm wasn’t one to argue when one of the most experienced generals around came at his behest.
As Wilhelm scanned the crowd, his eye was caught by his wife, Cecilie, motioning for him to come over. At the same time, he saw Napoleon out of the corner of his gaze, waving at him as well. He smiled at Cecilie—though it was not a truly happy expression—and put up a hand to return Napoleon’s wave, while signaling that he would be a moment.
edited 26th Nov '11 11:32:13 AM by alethiophile