- Jan 24, 2012
Chapter 8 A-ii : Tijd voor Avontuur -
Do the Time Warp, Again (???-1477)
Sovereign Floris VI von Hohenzollern, since 5 November 1466
Do the Time Warp, Again (???-1477)
Sovereign Floris VI von Hohenzollern, since 5 November 1466
The first sensation Wilhelm felt upon awakening was that of his body resting on a cold stone floor, while the musty smell of paper, tinged with a hint of burnt flesh, filled his nostrils. Somewhere far in the distance, a dull tone echoed - likely the sound of a spring-driven horologe chiming the hour. Gingerly raising a hand, he swept the paper off his face and was startled by a blinding flash of light - or so it seemed. In truth, it was merely the glare emanating from an ornate candelabrum standing on a flat surface some distance above him.
Wilhelm glanced to his side, and saw an upturned chair and more papers scattered about the floor. As he attempted to prop himself into a sitting position, he noticed that he was wearing casual robes of the type he preferred in the hours before retiring to bed. A candelabrum ... spring-driven clocks ... night-time ... it was at that moment when Wilhelm paid closer attention to the papers which lay about him. They were pages from the end-of-year summary he had commissioned from Marshal of the Mint Joost Schönebeck, dated for the year 1475 ...
The POPs and RGOs of Holland in 1475
Pop's in Argos? What's he buying?
Pop's in Argos? What's he buying?
"... oh Christ, Christ in heaven ... what the heck just happened?"
Wilhelm struggled to his feet. He now knew - he was in the private study which Gertrud von Wettin, Duchess of Thuringia, had allocated to him in the Sovereign's manor in Dresden. And he knew that the Duchess, and Floris, her husband and Wilhelm's twin brother, were living in the same building. Judging from the pieces of evidence scattered about him and his memory of his past actions, it was the January of the Year of our Lord, 1476. In fact, Wilhelm hypothesised, it might even be the first of January itself. Speaking of his memory, he distinctly recalled having been walking through St Stephen's cathedral, in the heart of Vienna ...
"Floris? Louis? What ... where ...!"
As often happens when circumstances contrive to place one in a completely illogical and incomprehensible situation, Wilhelm was lost for words, and though he dared not admit it to himself, driven almost to tears by the sheer madness of it all. Perhaps ... it was all just an incredibly bizarre dream? He had fallen asleep at his desk, and had toppled to the floor. But the events ... the events of the past six months seemed almost too vivid, too emotional to not be real. The rescue at Pfalz, the pursuit across the fields of Baden, the triumphant march into Vienna. It was rather too long to be a dream, wasn't it?
Wilhelm breathed a deep sigh, reached for his coat (still hanging where he had left it, near the door), and yanked open the door of his suite. It was at times like this, when the world was simply too confusing for words, that Wilhelm liked to have a light tipple to ease his mind and permit him to reassess the situation. Perhaps a spot of of the local Thuringian mead, mild and flavoured with hops, would help. Wilhelm headed through the candlelit corridors of the mansion, eventually making his way to the larder, whereupon he drew open the door - and was greeted by a familiar, yet worryingly distorted voice.
"... oh ... hello, Wilhelm. Care for some pear schnapps?"
Wilhelm was startled to see his brother Floris, nominal Sovereign of Holland, attired in only a dressing gown and trousers, bent over a low table in a state of inebriation. Beside him, on the low table, there stood a crystal glass half-filled with a murky, fragrant liquid, and an uncorked bottle containing a similar liquid with several pieces of fruit floating in it. The reek of alcohol filled the larder - and it was of such a strength that Wilhelm felt his moustache twitch in irritation.
"Don't you think you've had a little too much, Floris?" Inspecting the jar of schnapps, Wilhelm did not even need to take a sniff to know that the sheer whiff of pear-scented alcohol was overpowering enough to knock out a Lord or two. "Didn't they teach you in military school - 'Don't drink and drive your enemies before you, and hear the lamentations of their women'."
"Ugh ..." Floris let out a most ungentlemanly belch. "It is the first day of the New Year, and we have just won the fight of our lives to defend Thuringia, so let a man drown himself in his sorrows."
"And what sorrows are these?" Wilhelm took a seat, the fruit-scented smell of alcohol in the air being more than enough for him.
"Speaking of lamentations - the lamentations of women, at that ... my wife kicked me out of our marital bed."
"And why?" Harsh, but then again the Hohenzollern brothers were indeed merely guests in Thuringia.
"Have you ever had that feeling, Wilhelm, when you are sleeping or resting quietly, and you suddenly awake with a start, feeling panicked and disoriented?" Floris explained, as he took another swig from his glass. "Now ... now imagine being in the embrace of your loved one at the very moment that happens."
Wilhelm nodded sagely, though it wasn't that he'd ever been in that situation, having only been with Juliette for several months. Thankfully, that was long enough for him to do his duty to his nation.
"It was the worst time to have fallen asleep. In addition to that, I felt that I had been dreaming ... dreaming for the longest time, in fact. It was a triumphant, yet saddening dream."
"Intriguing ..." Wilhelm's eyes lit up at the mention of the topic. "Tell me more."
"I dreamt ... I dreamt that I had fought a great many battles, and now stood within the walls of Vienna alongside you and King Louis of France. We had routed the Austrian armies, and were now ready to force our peace terms on Sovereign Ferdinand Wenzel von Habsburg. It was a long and bloody war, and I had personally slain a great many men, but we stood triumphant in the end... yes, it was a long and sorrowful dream. Forgive me, brother, for my drunken rambling..."
"A most unlikely coincidence. It's almost as if I've just had the same vision..." said Wilhelm, his brows furrowing as he considered the situation, before his wavering voice grew resolute. "It might just be the alcohol affecting me. But would you be drunk enough, Floris, to believe me if I told you that what you and I have just seen was real? That we were, indeed, in Vienna, on that summer afternoon this year?"
"H ... ha, ha ... Wilhelm," Floris gave a drunken chuckle as he struggled to piece the completely otherworldly hypothesis together in his head. "It is the depths of winter. The men and I have just fought off two entire divisions of Austrian forces. It is but a dream, you see, that we would be able to defeat them so quickly. Yes ... just a dream ..."
"And dreams do come true!" Wilhelm asserted as he rose to his feet. "Do you know what this means, Floris? If my theory is right ... we have seen the future, Floris! We know what's about to happen! Let's use this to our advantage!"
"... eh ... what do you mean?"
"For example, our forces have just fought off two divisions of Austrians, and we know that they are at this moment taking advantage of our lack of pursuit to make a leisurely retreat into the Upper Palatinate. I know, and you know, from this vision, that they have no rearguard or reinforcements en route. If we were to place all our present forces under your command and attempt to intercept them, we could initiate a decisive battle which could well end with the rout of almost two-fifths of their entire standing army!"
"... I do not know why I should believe you. But somehow, that sounds like a brilliant plan."
Floris might have been loaded with far more alcohol than he was used to, in an attempt to kill what he believed was a sorely misguided and mis-timed vision, but the reassurance his brother provided seemed to rekindle the fighting spirit and self-belief within him.
"But what of the troops needed to reinforce the siege at Pfalz? Do you not need a detachment of troops expressly for that purpose?"
"Not any more, brother. You will be able to put the troops to better use than I can. I know that I will not arrive in time ... and that my troops will be saved by a very special young man."
"But I too dreamed that ... surely you mean ..."
"Yes, Floris! We have, through God's grace, seen the future - and maybe even already lived it. We know that the triumphant future of which we both dreamed will not be, but in its place we shall construct one brighter and more glorious!" Wilhelm exclaimed, snatching the glass and bottle of schnapps away from his brother and replacing them in the larder.
"Now, let us build a new destiny! And that means you need to sober up, apologise to your wife and get back into bed for a good night's rest. Tomorrow, we march!"
If you want a picture of a future, imagine a Hollander boot stamping on the Austrians' face. For a really long time.
He who controls the present controls the future, and he who controls the future controls the past. Or something like that. The Hollander army which marched from Thuringia to Pfalz was very different from the one Wilhelm remembered leading - instead of rallying the fittest to make the journey to reinforce the siege while leaving the depleted regiments to recuperate in Dresden, the situation was reversed. Ever calculating, Wilhelm predicted that his brother's army would easily rout the recently-defeated Austrians, while the weakened detachment could make the journey to Pfalz while replenishing their numbers and supplies at their leisure. His master plan would continue to serve Holland well.
Such was his overwhelming pride and confidence in his own judgement that, upon approaching the base camp at Pfalz, Wilhelm was startled to notice the allied forces in perfect battle order, maintaining an impenetrable blockade around the walled city of Heidelberg, instead of the battered but victorious force he had previously envisioned. It was indeed ironic that Wilhelm grew suddenly worried at seeing his troops in excellent condition rather than being ragged and ramshackle, and the boisterous and energetic greetings of his troops as they welcomed the return of their commander did nothing to ease his fears.
"Have there been any French troops in the vicinity recently?" inquired Wilhelm of a junior captain in the besieging squad, no longer really certain of the answer to expect.
"Indeed, my lord," the officer replied. "A small detachment of French troops led by General Jean Villeneuve arrived recently, but they have not actively participated in the siege. We believe that they are here as envoys of their King."
"And no sign of the King himself?" Wilhelm asked, but the soldier shook his head. "Then bring me to them. I am certain that there will be much to discuss."
"General Jean Villeneuve, I presume?" Wilhelm approached the commander's tent, standing prominently in the centre of the surprisingly small French encampment, which was of a size barely large enough to host more than a single regiment of men.
"Monsieur Guillaume of Hollande - at last, you have arrived. Excellent. We need to talk."
The general was an aged but tall man of Wilhelm's height, who wore a breastplate over his military doublet and trousers. He had a commanding presence about him, which was somewhat accentuated by his neatly-groomed moustache, which had turned pure white with age. In many ways, General Villeneuve's appearance reminded Wilhelm of his brother Floris, but his condescending tone very much mirrored Wilhelm's own scornful attitude, a situation exaggerated by his thick French accent,
"General, I am grateful for your presence, but ... to be honest, I had expected you to bring a larger force. And where is His Majesty, King Louis?"
"Ah, yes. You see, Guillaume de Hollande, that is exactly what we need to discuss."
Fetching a handkerchief from his trouser pocket, General Villeneuve turned to the table behind him, and carefully retrieved a small but ornately crafted jewel casket which rested there. Bringing it to face Wilhelm, the General gently opened the lid of the box, revealing its contents.
"You may wish to consider this - and how you might like to take responsibility for it."
"No... it can't be ..."
"His Majesty, King Louis XIII de Valois, is dead. And you are to blame."
"I ... Impossible!" cried Wilhelm, aghast. "How could he have died? T ... this was not supposed to happen! And how could this possibly have been my fault?"
"Do not try to deny your responsibility, Guillaume," General Villeneuve solemnly intoned, a marked contast to Wilhelm's most uncharacteristic outburst of concern for another human being. "If it was not for you, this 'Guerre d'Autriche' would never have happened. La Belle France is a very temperamental and volatile mistress, with peasants, separatists, and heretics seething every month - and you would add pretenders to the throne as well?"
"General Villeneuve, I can't deny that Holland was the instigator of this war. But His Majesty was ..." Wilhelm thhe taought to explain the mysterious 'vision of the future' he and his brother shared, but realised that it was useless attempting to do so to a stranger who did not share his memories, let alone one as resolutely hostile as the General. "... he was aware of the dangers, to be sure. What could have caused him to risk, and lose his life, in such a way?"
"Hah! You may not believe me, for the tale is much like a child's story. But all too appropriate, for His Majesty was but a child. It was the morning of 1er Janvier, I remember well, when the king awoke from his slumber, crying like a man deranged about one Gilly-mon de Hollande and his brother - do not deny that this is you! The aide-de-camp tried to calm him, tried to tell him that it was a bad dream, but he would not listen. He said he had to save the siege at le Palatinat, and ordered me and my fellow generals to summon his personal division to break formation and head north! We had our doubts, as generals always do about such hasty manoeuvres. But who would have thought, Guillaume, who would have though that our army, the flower of France's youth, would be marching to its slaughter!"
Wilhelm considered the situation carefully, trying his utmost to prevent his emotions from interfering. King Louis, now with full 'knowledge' of what lay ahead in the future, decided to march pre-emptively to save Wilhelm's troops, and had encountered the Austrian army in peak condition and with the defender's advantage, instead of ragged, fatigued, and out of formation as they would have been following the confrontation with the allied force entrenched at Pfalz. In his carelessness and overconfidence, thanks to having 'seen the future', the King had been defeated by an enemy force he had woefully underestimated. Wilhelm shuddered ... if he had been in a similar position, he could well have made the same mistake, and paid the price. And his brother Floris, whom he last saw at the garrison at Thuringia ...
"Speechless, Guillaume? It is a sad tale, is it not?" Jean Villeneuve mockingly broke the silence, almost taunting the outwitted strategist. "His Majesty admired you, thought of you as a mentor, as he would say, 'a pretty cool dude'. Haha ... dare I say, maybe even as a father, yes, a father he aspired towards, far more than the one he had never seen. And now you have killed him!"
Wilhelm hung his head in sorrow. In that moment, he felt consumed by an immense wave of regret. The life of a soldier was like the life of a piece of discarded paper upon which a failed strategy or incorrect instruction had been written - crushed and discarded once its misguided purpose had been served. But when that life was one belonging to a very special young man, not even half Wilhelm's age, who had earned a very special place in his heart through his unique, yet brave and selfless actions ... Wilhelm was glad that at that moment, he had averted his eyes.
"I know you weep for his loss, Guillaume. I know it is so, even without seeing it, for you have yet to ask how the battle went. You might like to know that the Austrians were forced to retreat, and disaster for your lowland allies averted, but at terrible cost to us."
"General Villeneuve, how can I ever ..." Wilhelm started to speak, but was cut off by the General, who would have none of it.
"Thanks to you, all of France has descended into tumult, for who could possibly be a legitimate successor to a King of but twenty years of age? I can only be glad that here in the accursed field of a foreign land, I have no need to raise my blade against a fellow countryman, however rebellious he may be. Mark my words, Guillaume - as the highest ranking general still alive in the field, and a member of the King's own privy council, I say these words with the authority of the Field Marshal."
"We cannot dishonour our alliance outright, for your nation remains by treaty the sole friend of France in these dark and unfortunate times. But as Maréchal de camp of France, I hereby decree - the armies of France will no longer aid you in the field against Austria and, for as long as I live, against any foreign foe. The defeat of the remaining forces d'Autriche, and the occupation of their homeland, will be left to Hollande and her puppet states. Guillaume de Hollande, this shall be how you will shoulder responsibility for the disaster which has befallen our nation."
Wilhelm did not raise a word of protest as he was escorted from the premises, for he was too choked up, swallowing his tears - and his pride.
More to come in the next part! Chapter 8 B : Tijd vor Avontuur - A Time of Troubles (1477-1480)