THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION – snippet 35:
Chapter 15. The Motto
High Street Mansion, Seat of Government for the State of Thuringia-Franconia
Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia
“As long as the Regensburg authorities drop the serious charges,” said Ed Piazza, “we won’t contest the rest. We don’t actually want to let people get the notion that officials of the SoTF can fire a gun anytime and anywhere they please.”
Josua Mai, one of the down-timers who served the SoTF as legal advisers, seemed hesitant. “Ah… Mr. President. I’m afraid that the charge of fishing without license and with equipment not approved by the fisherman’s guild is a serious charge, in Regensburg. The fine is quite heavy.”
“Is there any jail time, too?”
“Not if the fine is paid. Otherwise….” He grimaced.
Ed nodded. “So we’ll pay the fine. It’s not as if we’re actually broke. Not even close, in fact.”
The lawyer looked as if he might argue the matter. Despite his good humor, Ed was not in the mood for legal quibbling. “We’ll pay it,” he said firmly. “Noelle’s gone way past her pay grade plenty of times, what she’s been willing to tackle. The least we can do is return the favor. End of discussion.”
He sat up straight, just to emphasize the point. “Any spin-off problems I need to deal with?”
Mai looked at his notes. “Well, Grantville will need a new garrison commander, but that’s not something you need to deal with, Mr. President.”
“I thought it was decided not to fire Knefler. Not that I’d mind it if he quit. Sure, he screwed up, but you can’t fire officers just for making one mistake.”
“Ah… the problem is of a different nature. It seems that shortly after he returned to Grantville he assaulted Denise Beasley with a quirt. Tried to, at least. According to the report I received from Chief Richards, the girl was actually doing a fair job of defending herself with—ah—” He rummaged in the notes and drew forth another sheet. “Seemingly, every loose object you might find in a roadside tavern, short of a full-size table.”
Ed chuckled. “Boy, can I picture that. Girl’s got a hell of an arm. Star pitcher for the girl’s baseball team until she lost interest.” Then, he scowled ferociously. “But what I want to know is why we didn’t fire Knefler for that.”
The lawyer was still examining the report. “He will be discharged for it, Mr. President. After he gets out of the hospital. His injuries were quite severe. A number of bruises and a split lip inflicted by the girl—Chief Richards says she gave as good as she got—and then…” He cleared his throat. “Well. The father arrived. And was apparently in a very foul temper even before Knefler drew his sword. Tried to draw his sword, rather.”
Both Ed and Carol winced. “Oh, Lord,” she said.
After the lawyer left, Carol Unruh shook her head. “What was Noelle thinking? She’s usually such a responsible person.”
Ed leaned back, clasping his hands behind his head. After the news came of Noelle’s arrest, he finally took the time to visit Denise Beasley and get her version of the whole Noelle vs. Captain Drugeth Affair.
The full, complete, unabridged—nay, annotated and footnoted—Denise Beasley version.
“Domestic violence can be a terrible thing,” he intoned solemnly.
Carol frowned at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know, actually. But it’ll sure be interesting to find out.”
The day after she got back to Grantville, Noelle did get a tattoo. She’d always secretly harbored a desire for one, she just hadn’t see any way she could pull it off. But she figured three days in the squalid jail Regensburg maintained for women—God only knew what the men’s jail was like—gave her the needed credentials.
Denise guided her to the tattoo parlor. Offered tons of advice, too, but Noelle ignored almost all of it.
The design was entirely her own. A death’s head—much more refined than Denise’s, of course; lady-like, topped by a jaunty little feathered cap—with crossed pistols below and the logo above: I Shot The Danube.
The one and only piece of advice she took from Denise concerned the placement of the tattoo.
“Me, I put it on my shoulder, where all the pimply twits in high school could see it. You, on the other hand, got a lot more focused target. So put it way down on your hip, over toward the ass, when nobody will ever see it—”
The grin was as an impudent as ever. “Except.”
“Interesting idea,” said Emperor Ferdinand III. He got up and went to the window in his palace, looking over the gardens. “Yes, I think so.”
“Many suppositions, first,” Janos cautioned.
“Oh, yes. And probably as many problems afterward, assuming it unfolds. But many opportunities also. And you sometimes forget—even you, Janos—who I am.”
The emperor turned away from the window. “Majesty, now, yes. Go back five hundred years and I would have been a mere count in Switzerland or Swabia. Five hundred years before that, who knows? Certainly not a ‘majesty.’ The most ancient figure known in my line is a Carolinian. A nobleman, family tradition insists—but I can’t help think that his cognomen of ‘Guntram the Rich’ casts some doubt on the matter.”
He resumed his seat. “What I am ultimately, Janos, is a Habsburg. Something which I never forget. And what is our unofficial motto?”
Understanding, finally, Janos nodded. “Bella gerunt alii, tu, felix Austria, nubes. ‘Let others wage war; you, happy Austria, marry.’”
“Precisely so. A guiding principle which has stood us in good stead for centuries. So why should we abandon it now?” Ferdinand made a small waving gesture. “At worst, you already have an heir. But I do not think it would come to that. The distinction between noble and morganatic marriages is already fraying. I have no objections to fraying it still more. In fact, I’m inclined in that direction.”
So, that was that. Simply a problem, now.
“It wouldn’t be anything quick, anyway,” Janos mused.
The emperor chuckled again. “Not given the political situation.”
Janos smiled. “I was actually thinking of the lady in question. The last time I saw her, she was shooting at me.”
Ferdinand just gazed at him, looking very placid. He’d gotten the entire story by now.
“Well, not exactly that,” Janos allowed. “Still, it was a dramatic gesture, you have to admit.”
“When are you going to stop—what is that American expression—ah, yes, ‘beating around the bush’—and ask my advice as well as my permission?” The emperor of Austria-Hungary spread his arms. “Here you are, alone, in the very seat of wisdom when it comes to such matters. If it weren’t beneath my dignity, I could double the Habsburg fortune—count the Spanish bullion fleets in it, too—by starting one of those American businesses… what are they called?”
“Yes, that one.”
Janos hesitated. Despite the jocularity, the fact the emperor made the offer meant he took the matter very seriously indeed.
“I would deeply appreciate it, Your Majesty.”
“For this—we’re in private, after all—you’d best call me Ferdinand. Very well, my old friend. Start with a rose.”
“A rose, Janos. Always start with a rose. Then add something with just that perfect personal touch. And keep the accompanying note brief. Very brief. Lest, by your silly long-windedness, you make the recipient feel like someone hunted, instead of a weary traveler seeing an open door, spilling light to invite them in.”