THE ALBA CHRONICLES (XI) - ((Private - co-IC with Sneakyflaps))
The Liria palace, in the middle of the capital and home to the Dukes of Alba and their families. The palace was modern, built but 50 years ago in the neoclassical style, the great columns covering the front of the palace, the statues of marble on the roof and ontop of the windows. The Infantado palace did nothing but pale in comparison as Manuel stepped out of the carriage. A servant stepped forward, clothed in fine dress and greeted him “I am here to see your master, Don Esteban, I wish you give him this.” He said as he handed the servant a letter.
The lackey looked at Manuel, smiling in a polite yet icy way. It was a tall and imposing man who wore his livery with a dignity of a prince. Then he studied the coat-of-arms and the seal on the envelope - and his facial expression became a bit more friendly. “I will tell His Excellency.” - the servant said, leaving for one of the many living rooms. The Duke of Alba was sitting there beside a glowing chimney. He was lazily flipping through an old edition of Boccacios Decameron and sipping malvasia from a crystal glass. He caught a cold during this visit to Russia and was now warming his feet, dressed in morocco slippers, near the fire. After reviewing the message, the Minister for Foreign Affairs abruptly ordered “I want to see this caballiero. When the young man entered the room, Don Esteban Fitz-James Stuart smiled affably. “Nice to see you in my house, Don Manuel. How was your trip and how is the health of your noble father?”
“I am happy to be here and thank you for the hospitality, your excellency.” He said rather stiffly, as if rehearsed and not accustomed. “I fear my noble father has gotten increasingly ill over the last few months and has not long for this world. He is busy settling the last of his affairs, as he himself states it.” Manuel spoke with a hint of sadness as he mentioned it but kept his smile as he looked at the head of his house. “I must congratulate you on your position as Minister of Foreign Affairs, I have been told you have worked tirelessly to advance the standing and prestige of his Majesty.”
The Duke of Alba removed a tiger skin covering one of the chairs - and pointed at it, suggesting that Manuel should sit down. “Please be my guest” His bright emotionless eyes were now looking at the newly minted Marquess with curiosity. Then he put the glass aside and pushed a cambric handkerchief into the foliant, using it as a bookmark.”We can only hope that God would heal and strengthen your father” After a moment of silence Don Esteban spoke up again “I thank you - but to serve his King is only a duty of a nobleman. And I must say that when we were young cavaliers like yourself, the Duke of Infantado was an example of everything a true nobleman should be to us. His loyalty and zeal, the honesty of his principles. Even if he was not born a Grandee of Spain, he would have become a great man.” His Excellency looked at the flames dancing in the chimney and then continued “Each man chooses whom to become, young sir. So what do you want from this life?”
Manuel sat down in the chair, trying to relax slightly and unnerve himself. “It's funny, my father always said the opposite, that it is the men around you that decide your destiny, that it is those men that make you renowned and beloved.” Manuel sat for a moment, thinking. “I want peace, pleasure, happiness.” He chuckled slightly. “Sounds a bit boring, I want advancement, science, technology, I want to see Spain prosper, I want wealth and power and to do what is right. I want to see Spain walk out of the dark ditch it finds itself in, to see the wealth I saw in Britain.”
The Duke of Alba laughed, demonstrating his teeth. They were white, well-polished - and sharp. This man was certainly not herbivorous. Leaning towards the marquess, he narrowed his lids and said “Let me tell me one story. When I was a cornet in the Regiemento del Rey, there was a caterer, a Jew called Samuel. And he did as Jews do - tried to sell shit for gold. Among other things, he provided the officers with wines. One of his favourite methods was taking bottles from more expensive drinks and pouring there… more modest beverages. In this way he was sometimes able to sell ordinary Spanish Crianza for Bourgogne. But tell me, would he be able to make the same deals if he poured beer into Bourgogne bottles?” Don Esteban chuckled again and rang a silver bell. The lackey appeared as if out of shadows. “Your patrons are the bottle, but you.. you are the wine. Would you like some, by the way? Then Pedro would bring you a glass” Then his face became serious, as he thought over what the young man has said about his dreams and goals. The Minister crossed his arms on the chest “Prosperity, peace, pleasure - it is funny how often people try to achieve them through pain, war and grief. And…Great Britain? You are not, per chance, a supporter of constitutionalism?” The Duke said it in a casual voice, but something like a glint for a moment appeared in his eyes.
“I would like a glass.” He said with a smile. “I am not a supporter of constitutionalism per se, I support the British people in their choice to be led as such, just as they must accept the choice of the Spanish people to be led by His Majesty. No one wishes for pain, war and grief, but if people are given no other way to express themselves, armed conflict will follow, just as night follows day. I do support the people being heard, in a fair manner as one would hear a man of stature, their concerns must be addressed, they must know that they are not ignored and their plights taken seriously.”
“The majority of people are like children and a child cannot question a parent, dear Don Manuel. And, of course, a caring father should take all measures and guarantee that his infant is fed, is clean and gets proper education. However, an unruly child often wants something that is not good for him, is it not? It may want to eat the sweets all day long until its teeth begin to ache. It may want to smoke a pipe while its lungs are too weak for such an experience. And when the child screams and insists on that - then… then the parent should demand obedience, through both word and rod. And God would punish both a parent who is too cruel and who is too lenient for failing to exercise its duties…” - as the Duke of Alba spoke, the servant brought another glass for Manuel and filled it with red wine. He also put a plate full of different kinds of cheese on a table near the two men. Don Esteban yawned and took a gulp from his own glass. “If we return to less philosophical matters, what kind of path do you see preferable for yourself? A sword, a cassock, a quill of a diplomat, a seal of a magistrate? What sort of education did you receive?”
“All but the cassock, I fear I would soil the robes too quickly.” He said with a chuckle as he drank a bit of the wine. “I was sent to England when I was 12, I was educated there, the sciences, philosophy, mathematics, biology, estate management and so on. I greatly learned about the new innovations to agriculture in England, it was most fascinating. Then about two years ago, I travelled to Germany where I was accepted at the Allgemeine Kriegsschule as an officer in training. But I have never held a commission or position within an actual army. Perhaps a bit of everything, depending on what is needed by His Majesty.”
Don Esteban for a few seconds studied the odd figures and shapes created by the fire in the chimney. As it was devouring the logs, it sometimes formed into odd-looking curves - some like dragons, some like elephants and some like crown. The Duke of Alba shook his head “Impressive, you have learned much. Well, a sword seems to be a first choice for a young man, but.... I should be frank - only one of certain qualities does have what is necessary to walk the road of Mars. A fine soldier lacks sentiments.” Don Esteban grinned and emptied his glass, before once again pouring some wine into it. Then put a bit of Parmesan into his mouth, chewing slowly. “ I know that. I was not a bad soldier… Anyhow, imagine a situation. You, say, command a company. A crowd of rioters is standing near the royal palace. They are disturbing peace, maybe throwing stones at the police, demanding something - perhaps a republic, perhaps bread, perhaps a constitution. And the King - your King! - orders you to lead your company. And disperse the rebellious crowd. And if they would not disperse, if they would try to hold their ground - mow them down by gunshots, if you are infantry, or use the sabres, if you are cavalry. Some of them may be women, some young men like yourself. Some are foolish, some have been deceived. Well, would you then fulfill the order? Would you be able to put your military duty and your oath to the King before anything else? It is something each soldier should ask himself before putting on the epaulets.” The Duke of Alba was now speaking in a quiet, rather monotonous voice. His gaze was unblinking. And then he smiled again “And regarding civilian duties - I must say that my Ministry is currently in need of able and educated noblemen who could represent our Realm aboard, be its face, as to say. Especially in the countries which are not that friendly towards us.”
“It’s an interesting predicament, your excellency.” He said as he pondered. “If his Majesty, and his government needs me to represent him abroad, then I would be honoured.” He said with a nod. “As for your military issue, if they demand food, we must make sure that we have some we can offer, or guarantee to calm the crowd. Now how I would follow on his order depends largely if His Majesty’s life is in danger, if the king is safe, I would set up a defensive line, and wait for the crowd to calm down and disperse in the early hours of the morning. My duty is to defend his Majesty, even against poor judgement, to defend Spain, the Crown and its prestige. A spark started the French Revolution, the Gordon Riots in Britain shamed the Crown, and the king for the actions committed that night, tarnished internationally, it need not take more to start a revolution in Spain.” He said calmly, looking at his cousin.
The Duke of Alba sighed. Despite the controversial topics, he clearly enjoyed talking with the intelligent young man. Which was unusual for such a reserved person. He stood up and walked across the room, considering something. While he did that, he was speaking - though the subject of his musings was clearly different “Sadly enough, the army often has to interfere when the statesmen make mistakes. And then bear the responsibility for such mistakes, for any revolutionary seeks out these who shot first - but not these who caused the situation in which the shots HAD to be fired. Sometimes the conflict could be prevented by handing out bread, sometimes by arresting the ringleaders - and yet it is not done. And then the Army has to intervene. However, it is our duty to serve the King and Fatherland at all costs, even if we risk this our life. It is one ideal I truly believe in, Don Manuel.” Now standing near the table, above which the portrait of His Majesty was hanging, the Minister of Foreign Affairs returned to more earthly matters “Anyhow, as I said, dear cousin, I have a number of vacancies in my department. I know your father would like you to stay at Court for a certain period - but there would always be time for that. And now you have the chance to make a mark immediately, proving yourself worthy in the eyes of the Government and His Catholic Majesty…”
Don Esteban turned about and looked at the portrait, on which the Sovereign was depicted in the general officer uniform. “As you probably have heard, our relationships with France are not the best. We however want peace - and must bring this message to the government in Paris. We believe that it would be of use that our envoys at the court of Citizen King would ensure him and his cabinet that we are firm supporters of a balance within the European Concert and that his kingdom should not see us as enemies. As a sign of our good will, we would seek to talk with the Frenchmen about the deliniation of our borders in North Africa. While seeing Morocco as our area of influence, we would support the French interests in Algeria. We would seek to reach agreement on mutual policing of the borders of our future holdings in these regions and act as partners rather than foes there…” The Duke rested after this long monologue for a minute or so, then cleared his breath and said “Would you be interested in joining our embassy in Paris as First Secretary, assisting our ambassador in conduction of these negotiations?”
Manuel nodded. “I would be honoured, I can tomorrow evening. May I ask who the ambassador I will be serving shall be? And if this mission involves the rumoured love match of the Prince of Asturias and the King of France’s daughter?” Manuel asked curiously, before smirking. “My father still has friends at court, and the court never gets tired of gossip.”
The Duke of Alba, clearly amused, answered the question “And here comes the difficult part, where the diplomatic skill is needed. His Catholic Majesty for certain reasons does not want this matrimony to happen. So we better not touch this… delicate matter. But if the necessity arises and the King gives us his permission - we need to make it clear to the French that it…. would not happen. In the most courteous and disappointed way we can. Sadly enough, our Monarch already has obligations, et cetera, et cetera. Before you leave I would send to you any additional instructions I receive from the King on the matter.” Suddenly remembering about an important report he would need to make to His Majesty tomorrow, the Minister took a quill and wrote a few phrases on a bit of paper lying on the table, as a reminder for himself “Anyhow, you can enjoy the hospitality of my palace until you leave - and when you return with success. If you want anything, feel free to order the servants - and I would dispatch a personal orderly to assist you. And tomorrow, cousin, I would introduce you to a number of important people, connected with the Court, so that you are known”
From the DUKE of ALBA to the DUKE of VALENCIA (Private - Keinwyn)
Most esteemed Don Ajejo,
Indeed, I am happy to report that mission to St. Petersburg was clearly quite successful. Hopefully through both vigorous and careful diplomatic measures we would be able to make
the suggested Royal matrimonies useful both for the Crown and state. I would currently tirelessly work on directing the efforts of the embassies in Wienna, Paris and London so that the directives of the government are achieved.
I would , of course, join the committee mentioned by Your Excellency and hope that my advise would be of worth. As to the dinner, it would be of greatest pleasure to me. I invite you to join me tomorrow in the Liria Palace, so that we could discuss the pending matters, as the Frenchmen say, between pear and cheese
I most respectfully remain,
Brigadier General Don Esteban Alonso Fitz-James Stuart y Silva,
Duke of Alba,
HСMs Secretary for Foreign Affairs
Dear Don Alejandro,
I hope that you are well. Donna Helene wishes to see you very much and apologizes for the fact that could not write lately. I do, however, must be just and note that your good sister is not to blame - we have not been in Madrid later, but visited St. Petersburg on an important mission, and the post is not the best there. Helene did not enjoy the cold, but she was very popular at the Imperial Court, the Emperor himself invited her to a waltz. Now, as I write it, she is looking through all the admirable furs we have bought in the Tsardom. Some of them are a present for you, so it is an additional stimulation for us to meet. We have also received a small pet bear as a present from the brother to the Russian Tsar, Grand Duke Michael Pavlovitch. It now lives in the Liria Palace.
I congratulate you on your successes in London. Englishmen are stubborn people and it is not so easy to break the ice with them. Your good service would be reported to the King - and, in fact, you could report it yourself, since I would ask you to come to Madrid as soon as you can and receive personal instructions from His Majesty. Our Sovereign would like you to conduct certain important negotiations with Queen Victoria, regarding future marital ties between the two dynasties. I would rather not disclose the details in writing.
You may also be interested to hear that a cousin of mine, Don Manuel, Marqués de Algecilla, has joined the diplomatic service, being appointed as the first secretary of the embassy in Paris. We hope you would get acquainted - and hope to see you soon.