Since I don’t feel like wasting my reject writing projects anymore, I thought people might get a kick out of this. So I have this 70-ish page novella lying around that’s basically the A-Team that I’m not going to continue in this fashion, so I figured I might as well share it over the course of a month or two to generate at least some regular content. So have “fun”.
The Multiverse (Earth 7538) – The Year 1581 A.D.
Deputy Vice Chancellor Hermann Voigt of the United Kingdom of Greater Brandenburg stepped into a stinking wyvern turd. It had just lied there, directly in front of his office. The upper-mid level bureaucrat glared left and right. Men-at-arms, handmaidens, smiths, all seemingly aware of what had just occurred and simultaneously busy looking innocently elsewhere. Voigt sighed, counted silently to fünf, and continued his walk, hastening his pace.
The city of Hamburg had never been intended to be a capital of a kingdom, and it showed these days. As such the fourth most important bureaucrat in the state had to be content with walking to the palace on foot, as the streets were blocked by cavalrymen, wyvern riders trying to pick up fair maidens, and the city watch trying to keep – and failing to – keep order. No way a litter could navigate the streets in the middle of rush hour and so he had to both walk at a brisk pace and stop every few meters to try and get the remnants of wyvern lunch from his best leather boots while not trying to step into any more.
Voigt cursed under his breath even has people made way for him, which was hard in the winding cobbled streets between all the carts and mustering soldiers, but they managed to make it worth. “Make way, make way for the deputy vice chancellor,” some helpful voice screamed in the local dialect that Voigt barely understood in anything but vague meaning. As the streets cleared for him as best as they could he could finally dare to raise his eyes from the filthy streets of hay, stone, and feces, to look up ahead where the main donjon of the new castle stood proud in the distance near the harbor: Lindwurm Keep. It was a magnificent side for all the squalor and grimness of the port town’s city center, a shining beacon for the future yet to come. If it was to come at all. It was why Voigt had no idea why the leadership had called for him at this point. Every moment away from his papers, reports, and charts was a moment the city wasn’t growing, a moment the realm was in danger of running out of money, and other hyperbolic statements he was currently preparing to throw at their lordships’ faces if it was another meeting about the gentry and merchants complaining about the new zoning laws.
The walk to the magnificent Keep took Voigt another twenty minutes in which both his boots had been cleaned by the rough streets, and his temper had cooled once again. As he approached the guards at the main gate, he was glad to see at least some of the troops had been issued with the new flintlock muskets from the Helgoland mission. They stood at attention as he passed, hiding his smile under his broad feathered hat. Last time they had asked for papers as they had not been informed that Voigt had followed the current trend of appearing clean-shaven before court. That had been fun for at least one party involved.
He was quickly ushered in through the gates and up through the several staircases, side doors, hallways, more doors, more staircases, and the grand hall itself, brightly lit at all times, as servants walked around with baby wyverns and candles in one hand and a bucket of sand in the other. What a marvelous modern age it truly was.
The footmen saw Voigt approaching from over a hundred meters away, but waited until the last moments to turn, knock, and then open the doors just as he nose came into reach, shouting: “His lordship, Hermann Freiherr Voigt, Deputy Vice Chancellor to his Majesty Leopold…”
“In, Goddammit, in with him!”
Voigt almost felt sorry for the squeaky footman as he flinched at the words shouted by an angry monarch. It was the lot of footmen everywhere, which is why theirs was one of the better organized unions with amazing health care plans. The Deputy Vice Chancellor quickly wiped the smirk of his face though as he approached the private offices of his monarch. He bowed deep, fished his hat from his brow, and cleared his throat as silently as possible. “Your servant, my liege.”
“Rise, Voigt, come in, grab yourself a drink, we’ve been waiting,” said the stakkato of his boss, Chancellor Otto Fürst Andlau. As Voigt placed his hat back on and tried to disentangle his limbs from the formalities, he glanced at him first. The man had seen better days. Head of government of Brandenburg and Leader of the Liberal Party or not, the man was standing with one foot in the grave. Red-faced, short of breath, a footman and a doctor by his side at all time. He glanced at his king as well. The middle-aged King Leopold I. of House Zollern seemed to fare better than the head of his government, which wasn’t that hard to accomplish come to think of it.
“Thank you, your majesty,” Voigt said, and kissed the offered ring. The king was dressed impeccably, as was usual, but today had chosen the new uniform of the Wyvern Cavalry, a purple and golden tunic with lots of leather to protect the manhood of anyone brave – or stupid – enough to sign up. Voigt reminded himself to up the recruitment fee for that service, given the recent setbacks involving twenty-five men, a mule, and really long hose. “How may I be of service today?”
“We are at a bit of an impasse, you might say,” said the Chancellor jovially before the king could answer himself. Fürst Andlau stuffed his face with more wine from a seemingly endless goblet his footman provided him with. At this point Voigt was unsure who would die first, the Fürst of apoplexy or his personal physician of pure stress. The Fürst continued: “Here, come take a look at this. His Majesty and I have been sitting over it for the better part of the morning.” He waved a paper scroll at him.
Voigt nodded, took two small steps towards the Chancellor, and unrolled the scroll as it was passed to his skinny fingers from the Chancellor’s little sausage fingers. It was even damp with grease. Voigt read it in silence, a great gift in the age when most men still had to move their mouths for the same task, and he was one to show off as often as could be considered decent in polite company. Eventually though, he looked up. “I don’t understand.”
King Leopold was grinding his teeth incessantly even as he flared his nostrils, clearly thinking of what to answer. He walked back and forth through the study, eventually settling on staring out of the open window, looking down below at the harbor with its merchant marine and coastal defense galleons at anchor. Observing military might always seemed to calm the king, even if it wasn’t particularly healthy to the head. “Princess Helene-Sophia has been gone for nearly a fortnight now.”
Voigt raised an eyebrow. “Forgive me, my liege, but could you please say that again, I believe I misheard you.”
The King turned around, trying – and failing – to look dramatic. “My daughter has been gone for a fortnight. This is the letter she left.”
“I saw her just five days ago at the name day feast for Graf what’s-his-name,” Voigt replied, already pondering the possibilities.
“One of the princesses’ ladies in waiting. It’s surprisingly easy to hide one’s identity under all that face paint and chemise,” the King replied, coughed, and quickly added: “Or so I’ve heard.”
Chancellor Andlau quickly took over the conversation again as the King went back to his desk, brooding. “It’s not like it was the first time this happened. The princess has not taken kindly to the current political climate. You know her. She’s spirited for a woman.”
That was putting it mildly. Voigt blamed it all on the influence of the princesses great-aunt-thrice-removed-by-a-distant-cousin Elizabeth, Queen of the Anglians. Red hair in women made them do the most devilish things. “Sadly, I am aware, yes. I take it Philippa went after her?” The Princesses’ handmaiden was one of the best bodyguards the kingdom had.
Andlau grimaced as his face went red. “Of course. Already hours after the Princess left. To no avail,” Andlau replied between coughs. “Philippa went missing soon after the Princess. That was three weeks ago. Then we received this letter by express pigeon this morning.”
Voigt stared at it again. Even though it was written on the tiny scrolls necessitated by pigeon post, it was clearly written in the educated and beautiful penmanship of Princess Helene-Sophia. He cleared his throat as he read out aloud: “Dearest Papa, please do not be worried about reports that may reach you soon and do not worry about Philippa, she is here with me. I am here of my own free will to be with the one I love as dear as you and Mama. There are different forces at play here though. This is bigger than just me or our kingdom. The prophecy lives.” He looked up. “I still don’t understand.”
“We believe we do,” the King said, jumping back into the conversation. He remained seated behind his giant desk, his fingers interlocked, brooding harder. “Sigurd. The ‘Dragonheart’.” It clearly took him considerable effort to even speak those last two words, spitting as much as speaking in the process.
“Oh,” Voigt said, the word escaping his lips quite involuntarily. He looked around for the footman with the wine, quickly gesturing for a fresh goblet. “I see now.”
“Yes,” the chancellor simply stated. He had even stopped coughing and breathing heavily now, so the situation had to be dire enough. “He took her.”
“That whore’s son took her,” the King exclaimed in fury, slamming his hands as hard on his desk as he could.
Voigt tried to remain calm, rereading the note a third and a fourth time. He played out the possibilities in his head. None of them seemed particularly convenient politically or socially. “This isn’t good for the realm.” Nor was it from him personally if something happened to Philippa considering the company she usually kept and how her friends thought of him personally considering events in the recent past.
“This isn’t good for the Queen,” King Leopold grimaced, “neither for me.”
“Of course, forgive me, my liege,” Voigt quickly said with a deep bow, hiding his eye rolling under his falling hair. “What I meant is…”
“The King is aware of what you mean,” Chancellor Anglau said quickly, “it is why we called you. This entire mess happened at the most precarious time. The King and I will have to travel to the Imperial Diet at Münster within the week. Depending on the length and breadth of talks we might be gone for a good three months. There is of course a lot at stake for us, mayhaps even a permanent electorship for our kingdom for Imperial Triumvirate. We need to play a strong hand and there has been talks about Sigurd laying claims on the open electorship.”
“He’s the beggar prince of a dead house,” Voigt offered in return, almost convincing himself of the bold simplification of Imperial German – and these days also Imperial Roman – politics.
“Be that as it may,” the chancellor replied, sidestepping the awkwardness of Sigurd the Dragonheart’s relations to the United Kingdom of Greater Brandenburg. “The princess needs to be returned to us before the end of the Diet. Best she be returned to us there at the spot.”
Voigt looked back forth between his King and his Chancellor. “Leave it to me.”
Chancellor Anglau smiled slightly. “Thank you for offering your services, Voigt, much obliged. With your resources it should be easy to find her.”
Voigt returned the smile. “It will be, chancellor, it will be.”
Returning to his offices as quickly as protocol and traffic allowed, Voigt slammed the door shut and sat down on at his desk overburdened with paper. He was still holding the scroll, the damned message of the damned princess. Princesses were always trouble, be they constitutional monarchies like Greater Brandenburg or not. He unrolled the scroll and read it many more times, sighing each time, throwing his hat into a corner, his acutely ruined boots in another. Once more he sighed, then he cried for a good five minutes.
Eventually though, he stopped, and sat up straight. He rang a bell and immediately one of his scribes came running in. “Yes, milord?”
“Hans, take a note. By carrier pigeon.”
“Standard or express?”
Voigt thought for a half-second. “Express. Obviously in this situation. Good thinking. Begin as followed: From Deputy Vice Chancellor Voight, et cetera, et cetera, to…” He stopped himself to look at his ledger again. According to latest intelligence reports Sigurd had placed his camp somewhere in Westphalia. It was clever enough, one of the least fortified areas of the Empire of the Three Romes, a sort of buffer between Rome and Aachen. His ledger gave him little choice though. Greater Brandenburg was stretched thin these days, especially against an enemy that could take down Philippa Stahlhand.
He fought the instinct to sigh in the presence of one of his underlings but failed. There was no way around it. Baggage or not, with the Princess at stake for the kingdom, the political consequences for the Empire, and for Philippa’s sake, there was only one man he could contact. Voigt hoped that he wouldn’t immediately regret this. Once again he sighed. “Address it to Charles Alberic. He should be somewhere around St. Johann these days. If not include additional postage for the message to be relayed. Message reads: ‘Have assignment for you Alberic. Instructions on second scroll. Assemble your particular unit. Mission at hand. Post scriptum: expensis omnia solvit.” He looked up. “Wait, include ‘assignment concerning Philippa Stahlhand’ and underline the name. Maybe that way he won’t rip the message up.”
The scribe did as was asked and a short scroll was fashioned immediately. Fashioning the second scroll with an encrypted mission briefing would take longer, especially since they would have to hunt down the last encryption key Alberic had received while in Voigt’s employ some ten years ago. But after a while the scribe returned and let Voigt look it over once, then twice, then three times. He sealed it with his ring of office, to be sent off to the postal office.
As the scribe was gone, Voigt went and looked out of his office’s window, pondering the strange new world he was inhabiting, and whether or not it was fair to let those… particular individuals loose on it. Remembering that his state and his career could be in the balance because of it, not to mention his personal interest, he immediately answered yes. He hoped dearly that contacting Alberic wouldn’t wake the demons Voigt had shut away some ten-odd years ago. The world had moved on after all. Who needed Pariah Company?