Chapter 12 : Prussia
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For every country, there are a lucky few, chosen by God, who see their fatherland grow and rise and shine brighter than the sun, eclipsing all others or casting them into shadow so the only light they show is a feeble reflection of what falls onto them. In those moments, their voices make mountains tremble, their feet make the earth rumble deep inside her core, and they are the kings of the world, crowned by the blessing of their birth and ordained by genius.
To live in such an age is something of an honour, a gift – and what should one do with a gift but make all the use of it possible?
Truly, I must admit, Prussia was not my fatherland, not in the way most people think it counts. I was born in Hungary, raised in Württemburg, though my father was Prussian, and my grandfather also; this, of course, you know – or should know, for I told you once upon a time, as you coaxed me to reveal more and more of myself to you with soft-spoken words and a tender curiosity. To them, those proud, particular people, I am something of a bohemian, a stateless wanderer with no real home, no fatherland in the way that they understand it.
There are others, though, who consider things through different lines, down different routes, and to them my blood runs blue – a rich, royal blue, darker than water and sky both – for my mother and my birth are of no consequence.
Prussia’s lost son, and Hungary’s favourite; for a time I was adored by all, the prodigal son both claimed for their own.
I watched as I grew how my fatherland – Germany in total, to my mind, for he was forged in part a decade before I was born, when my father was young – bloomed, remaking himself in steel and iron, strong and swift and utterly relentless. He was quiet, unassuming in truth, steadily gaining bit by bit by bit as around him the other nations, other powers declined: France, Spain, your once all-conquering England, rudderless in this time. Watching and waiting, he learned all he could from history, from the mistakes of those whose walking sticks cracked along the stones in the streets, and slowly positioned himself so that when the time came, when finally he was good enough, powerful enough, he could emerge as the new emperor of Europe.
It is a thrilling story, no? Less beautiful for you, I think, than it is for me, since you were sat over the sea, seeing and predicting, watching and waiting, and knowing, always knowing, that there was nothing you could do to stop it.
Did it hurt, my Albus? Sitting there, powerless and alone? Did you ever long to change nations, to swap English justice and forced, prudish sensibility for German determination, for Prussian ambition and precision?
Did you hear my fatherland scream when you crippled him even as you clapped the irons around my wrists and trampled my people into the ground?
Ah, but I heard it, even if you did not, and the sheer horror of it brought me to my knees, sobs in my throat and my chest on fire. I had failed, I had failed my father, failed my brothers-by-blood, I who could not fail, was never meant to fail, and with my failure came the downfall of my country and suffering, real and fierce, for my people.
Even now, Germany’s heartbeat is still uneven, pausing and halting every now and then, and though he heals, Time is a slow healer, and it will be years before he is whole again, before I do not hear the whimpers at night as he cries, the sound half-lost amidst the wind in the trees, rattling against the metal and stone which surrounds me.
I imagine it, sometimes, this healing: imagine standing, flying like a bird overhead and watching as the fields knit themselves back together, the scars from fires, from ditches and trenches and craters, vanishing as the earth closes up; the lakes refill themselves, waves lapping higher and higher up the shore each year, thicker and clearer as the blood wears thin; the forests dyeing green again, sprouting blossom and fruit and flowers in turn, brighter and sweeter and more beautiful with each year that passes.
I imagine looking out over the fields and the lakes of Prussia, of my father’s land, and seeing him flourish once more, feeling the vertebrae, steel and plated with gold, slot back together with a series of small clicks, the façade beginning to shine again, ambition and strength rising hand in hand, tempered by caution – the caution carried in the scars which shot through to the bone.
When it finishes, when my fatherland rises, tall and proud and glorious once more, I am finally, blissfully content – and then, only then, can I sleep.
4th November, 1912; Basdorf, Brandenburg, Prussian Empire
There was something moving, then, stirring in the depths of people’s souls, in the air and the earth, just as a current is birthed in the deepest part of the lake, spreading upwards and outwards, though we did not know, did not yet understand what form it would take.
I could feel it, though, a sense of anticipation, a kind of humming, vibrating all through your body, as though each minuscule cell began its preparations for the future, and it plucked at things inside me, stirring up curiosity and trepidation and that frisson of chilled excitement only the promise of danger can bring. It clung to my clothes and my fingertips, tangled in my hair, so much so that I wondered almost if it others would smell it on me, if I wore it like perfume pressed deep into my skin.
Truthfully, I do not think any of them noticed, or if they felt it as I did, they thought nothing of it, too engrossed in the science of magic, in the records that fell like leaves in autumn and discoveries drawn out like moths by a light. To them it was a sign of good fortune, a sign of luck and promise; to me it whispered only death, only conflict arising out of too much strength, too much confidence and not enough caution.
(Somewhere, somehow, if you hear this, if ever you hear this, I know you will laugh at me, at the irony this brings – no matter how bittersweet it is – because then I was an unknown Cassandra, scolding Icarus for flying too high too fast, even as I soldered together my own wings down on the ground.
It does not amuse me; even now, pride holds me fast.)
It has been said that politicians measure their lives in wins and losses, in parties and celebrations and the speeches they make, and the ones they do not get to make, or perhaps should have made. To them, to us, years do not exist in the same way to other people – a year begins and ends in the summer, when we test ourselves against each other, and four years is a decade, a lifetime for the unwary.
Not that, for most of the company kept, this was relevant to them: more than half of Europe still slaved under monarchies, ancestral rulers who had their seats, had their powers by virtue of birth only – and what a foolish system it is, in truth, for a child is just as likely to be a weak or a bad king as he is to be good and strong, and tyranny is bred from kindness and fairness and the proper, perfect lineage.
Ah, but tradition must be upheld until it is no longer necessary, until the people themselves wonder why it exists, and then, only then, can it be changed. The trick, of course, is to create the change yourself – switch around the colours in men’s minds, feed the grass on something new until it will eat nothing else, and from your hand only.
Tricks, all tricks, nothing more than that, but oh, the results they can have!
I always remember, Albus, how you told me once that everything was trickery – that at the heart of every sense we owned was a lie, pure and simple, and yet we believed it so completely, certain that it was truth. Touch, you would tell me, is the most difficult to trick but you did it still, with blindfolds and cotton and your hands fluttering over my arms until I shuddered. You showed me books with pictures where lines seemed to bend, though they did not, where colours seemed to darken before my eyes, and where images could be two or three, even four, scenes, depending on who looked at them.
Parlour tricks, of course, but they delighted me, and you always liked delighting me so.
Then, though, you were long gone, confined to your tower in a castle in the northernmost tip of Scotland, lonely and afraid, and I was the conjuror, not you.
For my first trick, there was a man – a king and a duke and a father, but still a man – and he was at a party. We had met before, only formally, but by the end of the evening, he would trust me, he would allow me to advise him, he would, perhaps, follow me.
I can imagine what the history books say about me on this, imagine what they insinuate: compulsion magic, dark and powerful enough to warp a man’s mind entire so that he thinks as you think, so he becomes nothing more than a puppet, a mask for your will and your design, but on this I fear I am dreadfully disappointing. All I used was words; nothing more – so understated, but so much more dangerous than most realise.
It began simply, slowly – a smile, a nod, and a murmured ‘your highness’ and the first step was made, conversation started as soon as he looked at me and enquired for my name, commenting when I gave it that he had heard a great deal about me, a great deal of good, though for whom he was not sure.
A laugh, a witty reply (‘Perhaps nobody’s, perhaps everybody’s – politicians are always ambiguous on that front’), and something, down in his psyche, in the back of his mind, clicked into place.
Contact. Appreciation; a shared joke, shared laughter, and a link was established. Fine and delicate, yes, but still there all the same.
It did not take long – perhaps twenty minutes of light, friendly conversation, all of it perfectly acceptable for the setting – until he suggested we move outside. He was a slave to vice, he informed me, his tone conspiratorial, and in my pocket my hand closed over my own cigarettes even as I followed him outside.
Two matches flared, orange and red and startlingly bright; two plumes of smoke, swift and winding in on themselves even as they faded, stark white; and in the silence shared there was another link, the start of a chain, from him to me.
I shuddered when I took the first drag, though why I could not say now any more than I could have then. The thrill of the hunt, perhaps, or the necessity of narcotics which is always most gripping at the feel of a cigarette in my hand; perhaps both, in the end, were true.
I always have been easily manipulated by desire; passion has ever been my own personal God.
“This age is changing,” he commented, the crown of laurel leaves adorning his head – part of his costume, and appropriately so for Kaiser is Caesar in more than simple linguistics – casting shadows across his face, so that smoke, silvery-grey and ghostly issued from the night. “And it is changing quickly. Too quickly, for some; it is a shame to see so many fall.”
“It is not in the nature of change to be forgiving to those who cannot keep pace,” I replied, the cool marble of the balcony below my elbows a welcome support, welcome reminder that I had to be careful, this had to go perfectly. “So shame is earned by those who fail, and those of us who keep running, cannot stop for the sake of mere sympathy.”
“Quite right,” he agreed, giving me a look which was far more shrewd than I had expected, but I did not flinch from it. My heart belonged to my country, and that was all he would see of me. “We should be grateful that we are ahead of the curve.”
“Of course, your highness,” I demurred, a small smile – polite, but warmer than simple courtesy required – flitting across my face, slow enough that he would catch it, note it, remember it. “It is the job of the strong to be wise with their strength; after all, who knows when it might fail?”
“Sage words,” he said, his voice quiet, not quite able to mask his surprise entirely, and I bristled internally at the idea that he had assumed me to be a fool, feeling the irritation, bitter and strong, surging up into my mouth, pressing against my teeth and tongue and lips, fighting to be let out. “If only others perhaps would learn that lesson.”
His words were harsh, grating on his own tongue, even though the tone was light-hearted, and, like all else he had said, it slipped away into a folder in my mind, a potential diamond for the future.
“I understand you are from Württemburg,” he asked after a minute – though it was not a question in any true sense – regarding me with a studied, practised eye. “Though you do not look it, and you do not sound like it. Your father is not Swabian?”
“No, my father is Prussian,” I dipped my head. “But I lived the first part of my childhood in Hungary, and I was schooled at Durmstrang, so I am a nomad, in many eyes.”
He snorted – inelegant, without reservation, and thus the final link in the chain was added: welded shut around its predecessor, stronger than steel if one knew how to care for it correctly.
“In some eyes, yes, but it has been my experience that ability turns out to be far more precious than where one was raised, or schooled. You seem far more Prussian than many of my own Ministers, as much as they all insist they are the model specimen,” he informed me, something of a smile curling the corner of his mouth even as he stubbed out his cigarette on the balcony. “We will finish this conversation at a later date, Herr Grindelwald. It has been most enjoyable.”
He did not know it yet, he would not know it for a long time, but with that simple invitation he sealed his own future, and the winds of change, howling and screaming, tearing down time with their claws, scratched his name from the roster.
On the chessboard in my house, the edges of the world beginning to stain the purple-pink of crushed flowers outside the window, a white knight fell, and a king took a single step forwards.
“Happy birthday,” Nico murmured to me, while somewhere in the distance a cock began to crow, an arm around my waist even as he kissed up my neck, tracing the faint marks he had made earlier. His voice was thick with sleep, Morpheus’ dust still sticking in his veins and his eyes, making him slow and drowsy, more affectionate than usual.
“You have already wished me that,” I reminded him, the gentle aches in my body and the heat still in the room testament to it.
Against my neck, he smirked, and I knew him well enough now to know he was waking up again, the dust swept out of his system by the memories of an hour or so before, and his hands started to trail lower, confident and sure, his body pressing harder against my back, encouraging and wanting.
“I can wish you again, no?”
“No,” I breathed, my throat closed with something I could not name, something I could not understand in myself. All of a sudden, the room was too small, he was too affectionate, too close, and I needed to get away.
To his credit, he did not say anything, did not even seem perturbed in the slightest, merely shrugged – Gallic, elegant and yet so very expressive even in its nonchalance – and settled back under the sheets, withdrawing from me. He closed his eyes as I rose, pulling on a robe, not bothering with anything more, and slipped from the room, my stomach and my head and my heart in turmoil.
I did not want to think, then, about why I had felt I needed to leave, about what it was which had unsettled me, why affection so freely given had become so hard to bear, and so instead of reading – poetry, prose, academic journals and magazines, books both theoretical and practical – I unlocked the drawer at the bottom of my desk, the study door closed behind me, and pulled out a map, weighing each corner down with a solid, round globe, glass encasing spheres of solid gold.
Otto always did have a habit of buying tasteful, albeit purely decorative, gifts.
Pouring over it, I traced the outline of Switzerland with my eyes, sweeping down and across and around until I returned to my starting place, a thin red band all that separated it on paper from Württemberg and France and Austria and Italy and Liechtenstein, borders created for the purposes of peace, non-existent in the physical world.
There was a truth I had discovered in Switzerland, something no other place could ever have given me and Nico himself would never have seen for what it truly was – you see, the greatest difficulty with uniting a continent, with merging worlds and cultures, is just that: harmonisation.
Merging peoples and ideas and ideals is a grand dream, but to put it into practise? Almost impossible, for differences are always more important to people than similarities.
In Switzerland, though, in that little, mountain-ringed land, they had managed it: had merged Italians and French and Germans, Austrians and Liechtensteiners, and found a way which gave them peace, made them one people and not five, gave them one voice with five tongues, one country with regions and different laws for different peoples but one, whole government.
Federalism, in short, was what they had there, and what I had to create in Germany, for Europe in time.
A simple solution, to a problem which could destroy everything; a rare and genius thing.
Then again, life is full of such things – answers so much easier than the questions they refer to make them seem: utilitarianism as a method of determining right and wrong, benefit and harm; federalisation the response to disagreements between peoples when combining them one by one with others; your favoured love as the fundamental source of natural, raw power, a strength impossible to deny or to destroy, save from within.
(Tell me, Albus, when you speak of love to others, of the power and the nourishment it gives the soul, a weapon and shield beyond anything we mortals could make, do you think of me then? Of the way we shook with it in your bed in Godric’s Hollow, how it crackled, live and nervous, in the air around us when we fought? Or do you think of them, and pretend that you did not once consider me equal to them in your heart?
You do not need to answer; I know whatever you say it will be a lie.)
There was silence in the room, broken by the soft flutter of downy feathers, more fluff than anything else, against body, and then a small, round thing landed in my arms, butting its head against my stomach before looking up at me, chirping in greeting.
Absently, I reached down and patted his head, the soft croon emanating from him unwinding knots in my back I did not know were there, tugging a reluctant smile from me. Cawing once, he was smug – especially smug for a chick – ruffling his half-formed feathers, and beaming up at me, dark eyes proud and gleaming, as if reminding me how futile resistance was, how foolish it was to think I could outwit him, he whose life was measured in ages, not years or decades or even centuries.
You will have seen the connection, no doubt – I wonder if it made you laugh as it did me when I thought of it? – how I named him for a revolution which failed, for a man accused wrongly of incitement, of hatred and attempted violence and a desire to change the ways things were, to shift power from one hand to another.
He had seemed to like it when I told it to him – he had nodded twice, sharply, and sang two bars of Vivaldi’s Gloria – so it stayed. Even I am not so unlearned about creatures as to ignore the will of a phoenix.
Unlike your pretended revolutionary, though, I would succeed, and he, all the colours of the sunset but all the fire of a dragon and the wonder of the mythical, reminded me of that, a literal representation of change, of the axis on which the world spun, of the centre around which ages passed and empires rose and fell. The circle, if you will, of time itself, of ideas and dreams and the wants of the people – ever circular in motion, for solutions have a habit of becoming problems and problems solutions until all the world is upside down, ready to be righted once more.
Ah, and there were so many problems then, problems I did not want to have to address, or even consider then. Your England was always such a thorn for me; every time I shifted I felt it dig a little deeper into my side, even then.
Liberals, you called yourselves then – you and your fellow countrymen – world-leaders and statesmen and benevolent conquerors, with your Empire on which the sun never set. In truth, were you any different from any other nation who saw themselves in a golden light, blessed by this new age and the enlightenment which had come with it?
You believed you were, and perhaps that was enough – you claimed it was for years and years, after all, repeating the same tired lines over and over again until even you must have begun to see the rust coming through.
I do not want power; I have no wish to be remembered, to be great and famed and immortalised. I only want to teach; that is all I am, and nothing more. Here, you said, I am happy.
Could you tell how hollow they sounded, how fake and bitter, or had you said them so often you started to believe your own fictions?
Albus, my Albus, these problems we had were always the sources of the solutions. I wanted to be Alexander, and to gain Persia I needed Hephaestion to cross the river and deliver to me the keys; you wanted immortality, you wanted love and passion and glory, craving them with a desperation you always feared would burst out of the cage you kept it shut up in.
We could have had everything, you and I – impossibility would have been a falsehood for us.
(But, in the end, solutions become problems, do they not, and so the circle continues on, into the next age and beyond.)
A/N: I do not own any references to Alexander the Great, Hephaestion (who did, in the end, cross the river and give Alexander the key to Persia, just saying!), Icarus or Cassandra. Nor do I own any references to theories of nationalism, utilitarianism or federalism. Nor do I own Vivaldi's Gloria, that belongs to Vivaldi.
Nor do I own England's 'pretended revolutionary' (Guy Fawkes), who was in fact a real person who supposedly conspired to blow up Parliament (and James I) but was caught; historians are divided on whether or not they think it was all a ploy to gain the King more popularity by uniting the population against the Spanish Catholic threat rather than against him.
Translations: herr = mister, and Kaiser = King (though it is a Germanisation of the Latin 'Caesar').
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