Warnings: enderbends, history references slightly psychotic France, far too OC's of the Caribbean and African variety
Chapter Summary: he French Republic's house is full of Nations from all parts of the world. Despite their differences they manage to cooperate, each one waiting for any chance to escape. And then France himself arrives and all false tranquility is lost.
neutral /’nju:tr(ǝ)l/ -adj. 1 not supporting either of two opposing sides, impartial. 2 belonging to a neutral State etc. (neutral ships). 3 indistinct, vague, indeterminate. 4 (of a gear) in which the engine is disconnected form the driven parts. 5 (of colours) not strong or positive; grey or beige. 6 Chem. neither acid nor alkaline. 7 Electr. neither positive nor negative. 8 Biol. sexually undeveloped; asexual. □ neutrality /-‘trælɪtɪ/ n. [Latin neutralis of neuter gender]
stance /sts:ns, stæns/ n. 1 standpoint; attitude 2 attitude or position of the body, esp. when deliberately adopted 3 a ledge or foothold on which a belay can be secured [Italian/French stanza standing place]
Paris, 5 March 1799
Helvetica smiled absentmindedly and accepted the plate of food that Senegal offered. They were the only two of the household awake at that hour. Senegal had woken early for Salah prayers and Helvetica had been awake for hours, staring into space and feeling out her people back at home.
There had been a few altercations in her lands in the past year, as the French began to demand more supplies and tribute and her people began to really see things as they were: the Helvetic Republic was a country occupied by foreign powers. Uprisings had been swiftly put down and harshly punished.
A bigger fight was in the works. Helvetica could feel it as her leaders, former and current, spoke; as farmers hid weapons and as soldiers put on newly outlawed uniforms. Helvetica would be needed at home soon enough. Already Paris seemed too crowded, too full and unnatural.
Something crunched unexpectedly in her mouth, she started out of her thoughts and looked at the bagel in surprise.
“Peanuts.” Explained Senegal with a shrug, focusing on cutting open a mango as carefully as possible, in order to get as much as possible.
Helvetica continued chewing. One of the many complications a house full of Nations faced was food, and the different tastes each one knew and craved. The lengths some Nations went to in order to get their hands on national dishes were ridiculous. The mango Senegal was splitting in half had cost him far more than Vreni had ever paid for a fruit, even one shipped from across an ocean.
Of course she really did not have any right to judge considering Vreni had accidently discovered that most of the African colonies were lactose intolerant by insisting on cooking cheese-rich dishes and trying to share. And she and the Nine Providences had had a running competition over their budding chocolate industries before the Peasant’s War had meant Emma returned home to support her people.
Emma had returned to France’s town house in quiet shock, half carried by her little brother. Luxemburg’s uprising had gone just as bad as the Flanders’s. It was a sobering reminder that, even if France could not be in many places at once, his armies could.
But we’ll be fighting on my territory. Helvetica thought, adding milk to her coffee. If enough of the cantons join together, and Napoleon himself doesn’t lead the French, we have a chance…
Again she was drawn out of her thoughts, this time by Senegal’s dark face growing unnaturally pale. His Adam’s apple jumped erratically as he swallowed.
“Seckou?” She asked rising to her feet hesitantly. If there was something wrong with his land there wasn’t anything she could do.
An incoherent sentence was chocked out, as Senegal reverted back to one of his own languages. Helvetica frantically compared it to her own language knowledge and came up with nothing. She knew no languages from Africa, save trading slang used by merchants.
Seeing her incomprehension Senegal spoke in French. “France. He comes.” He hurried out of the kitchen. Helvetica followed him, turning her senses towards the irritating pressure in her mind that was France. And yes, there was France’s presence on the outskirts of Paris, months before he was expected back.
Senegal and Helvetica went directly to the living quarters of the house and the wings where the Republics and occupied colonies resided. Without needing to consult each other Helvetica turned down one wing of bedrooms while Senegal continued to the next.
“Wake up!” She called, banging on bedroom doors. “Get up and get dressed! Francis is back!”
Sleepy mutters quickly turned into startled curses as the rest of the French territories grasped what was going on and guilty consciousness seized their hearts. On not hearing a reply, Helvetica opened Guadeloupe’s door and saw her crouched by a dying fire trying to burn letters she probably should not have.
Helvetica backed out of the room “I… didn’t see anything.”
Guadeloupe nodded and turned back to the fire, blowing gently on it.
Discretion assured, Helvetica arrived at her own door and entered, locking it behind her. France had a key to everyone’s door, but locking the door would buy her more time.
Logically she knew she was overreacting. That they had plenty of time before France arrived and it was not as if he would start a room search the minute he walked in. But it was better to be overly cautious than be caught.
Under her washstand, a floor beam she had spent hours carefully loosening, lifted to reveal a pile of letters. Vreni picked them up and held them close. Some of them were from home, from priests and nobles and merchants. She could almost swear they held the smell of clean air and open space, something she could not find in Paris. And some were from England, containing the kind words and inspiring promises. Each set of letters were equally dangerous.
Putting them down she reached into the gap and pulled out a loose brick from the bottom side of the gap, hidden from view and searching fingers unless they knew exactly what to look for. The letters fitted into the second hiding space, the brick went back into its original place and Vreni looked for a decoy to put on top.
Reluctantly she pulled out an old flag she had hidden in the side of her bed. She had been given it by one of her own soldiers, before he had left with the Egypt expedition. It was an old design of the Schwyz battle flag, one of the many flags her people used. It had been comforting to look at and remember past battles she had fought for her freedom and won. France had looked at her as an equal then, a warrior to be trusted, not a territory to be pushed and chivvied into obedience.
With a sigh she folded the fading red linen, the white cross yellow with age. It only just fitted under the floor board.
After that all that was left was to neaten her already immaculately tidy room, put on her dress uniform and go back to the kitchen and clean. Around her other Nations gathered and left in groups, united for once in nerves, be they from anticipation or from dread. The Helvetic Republic felt strangely divorced from the chaos, more concerned with the organizing going on in her mind and far away, in a land she once thought unconquerable.
At midday France’s travel worn carriage arrived at the front gate and a group of weary travelers disembarked; with one annoyingly happy French Republic.
The occupants of France’s house had lined up at the front door, like servants welcoming their master home. Some of the male nations wore uniforms, others defiant French civvies, national pride hinted at with hats and belts and weapons. The other female nations wore their best, brightest dresses. The Helvetic Republic wore the uniform of a Light Cavalry Officer, so perfect and correct it would make any fastidious leader burst with pride. She glanced at Guadeloupe’s bright head scarf, same shade as her dress but still a pointed deviation from French dress. Defiance could come in many forms.
The Nine Providences gave a soft sigh, dressed in her most childish dress. Apparently this was her coping mechanism for dealing with France. France loved little children, in a completely different way to how he loved adults. Hopefully it would stave off the worst of his wrath.
Helvetica thought about sighing herself when she recognized the two females among the group; one dressed as nobility and the other in a Gunner uniform.
Poland’s uniform was a bit travel worn, her czapka decked with revolution rosettes and her boots did not look regulation. But the sight of her smile of confidence and her well-worn lance drove a shard of jealously into Helvetica’s heart. Why hadn’t she been allowed to go to Egypt? Why didn’t she get to fight with her men? Her logical voice pointed out that she did not really want to support France; Egypt was further from home than she had ever been before and she wouldn’t have been paid to fight anyway.
The younger girl’s beautiful green dress and artfully styled auburn hair did nothing to lessen the scowl she wore. Letizia Vargas, granddaughter to the Great Roman Empire, formally the Kingdom of Sicily but recently renamed the Parthenopean Republic was to live with them. Clearly she was not happy about the city of Rome being pried out of her grasping fingers and to be back under occupation.
France walked ahead of the other arrivals, unburdened by luggage. His spoils of war had legs.
"Mes petits.” He greeted, opening his arms to his household, ignoring the fact that some of them were almost as old as him. Only Martinique took the invitation, running into his embrace with a large smile.
Helvetica heard Saint Lucia's sniff of disapproval from further down the line. The touching scene continued as the two gabbled to each other in a Creole dialect she did not understand. Her attention was drawn to one of the newcomers’ tall figure, clay pipe clutched in his ungloved, scarred hands. The Batavian Republic’s shoulders were tense and the Nine Providences clutched at her dress. Luxemburg held onto her arm, one foot scrapping patterns in the dirt. They looked at each other covertly, avoiding each’s direct gaze.
France broke off from his talk with Martinique to look at the rest of his waiting client states. An air of danger, one that had always been there under everything else, grew thicker as liberté blue eyes ran up and down the line, making Helvetica revert to a soldier’s stance of attention.
Still smiling, the French Republic gently guided Martinique back to his place in the line and stood back, standing at his full height. “Some of my loves are missing. I wanted to introduce everyone to their new family members.”
Behind him, Malta’s face didn’t change an iota, while the Parthenopean Republic and the Batavian Republic’s scowls deepened. Poland’s smile remained set on her face, as bright and as false as any grin she had borne since her final partition.
“Where?” Asked France calmly. “Is Seychelles?”
Reunion took a deep breath and spoke up. “She’s with her people. You gave her leave to go…” He trailed off at France’s slim smile.
“And Isle de France?”
“He went to be with his people as well. He had papers.” Reunion defended his neighbour.
No one spoke. No one even breathed. Throughout his queries, France had remained placid, friendly even. No one was fooled by his act. Underneath his happy smile lurked something else, which no one wanted to draw the attention of.
The silence proved too much for one of the younger territories. Saint Martin opened his mouth to speak. Helvetica saw Batavia’s eyes widen in warning, trying to signal to the former Dutch colony not to say anything. And for some inexplicable reason Vreni came to the rescue.
“You know where he is.” She said shortly, meeting France’s gaze for the first time that day. “He’s with his people, at home. Fighting.”
For an instant France’s eyes changed, and Helvetica knew Francis had left entirely and the French Republic was in full control.
“Fighting.” His voice was velvet soft, like the petals of a rose, before its thorns dug into skin. “Rebelling.” Soft like milk laced with poison. Soft like his glove brushing against Vreni’s cheek. “Why would such a good boy rebel, mon trognon?”
“Because his people will it.” Around her she heard the others were edging away slowly, but she could not pull her eyes away from France’s gaze or from his fingers circling her lips.
“Because his people will it.” The French Republic pulled her by the chin, so close she felt his breath on her face. “And what have I been fighting for, if not for the will of the people?”
Abruptly Vreni was pushed back, out of the way as the French Republic reached out and gripped the Nine Providences’ shoulder, pulling her roughly. “I fight wars for your freedom and you turn and spit in my face.” His gloved hands dug into her lightly clothed skin.
Luxemburg gave a cry as Emma used her free arm to shove him away to safety.
“Everything I do is for the good of our people.” Said France, gesturing dramatically to everyone with one hand, still clenching the Nine Providence’s shoulder with the other. “My people spill their blood so we can all be free from tyranny and despots. Yet I am met with betrayal and ungratefulness at every turn. Every turn.” His face took on a mournful façade. Emma’s face was white with pain
Helvetica, still reeling from her brush with danger saw Batavia’s anguished face. We could take him. She thought wildly as Emma began to whimper, trying to talk. If we all attack him at once, here, now, we’d win.
“I can’t understand that rebel tongue of yours” said France sadly as Emma stuttered in Flemish. “I suppose I have no choice.” He raised his free arm, pulled it back to strike.
No one moved. No one but Poland.
“Hey.” She said, putting a hand on France’s raised arm, “I’m hungry and you promised me the best Paris had to offer.” She grinned cheekily. “Remember, Citizen?”
Abruptly Francis was back, all flirty airs as he released the Nine Providences to twine an arm around Poland’s slim hips. Emma fell against the wall clutching her shoulder. “But of course my noble hussar. We will feast as we have not in ages.”
“Not since we left Naples.” Laughed Poland, taking off her czapka and blindly handing it to the nearest Nation, which was Luxemburg, still on the ground where Emma had pushed him. He was too shocked to do anything but accept the hat mutely.
France and Poland walked into the house arm in arm. “You’ll cook for us, won’t you Monaco?” France called carelessly over a shoulder. “Guadeloupe will help, I’m sure.”
The two women reluctantly moved away from the other Nations, obeying the unspoken orders to get to the kitchen and start work. There was silence as they left.
Batavia stirred himself and ran to his sister’s side, collapsing to his knees to fuss uselessly. Luxemburg sat next to him and resumed clutching to the Nine Providence’s skirts, tears falling unheeded from his wide eyes.
Helvetica numbly turned to the rest. The Caribbean and East African territories had moved into a tight huddle for protection and were reluctant to break apart. Senegal stood apart from them all, staring after the couple, eyes hard.
“How can she bare to touch him?” He asked softly. “How can she bare to feel his skin against hers and smile?”
The heat of France’s fingers lingered on her face, unnatural and unwanted. Helvetica swallowed and willed it away.
“She was Poland.” Spoke up the Parthenopean Republic harshly. “And she has nothing left to lose.” Her words finally broke the spell on everyone, and the atmosphere was lighter somehow. They were territories and occupied, but they were not gone, not wiped from the map completely. They were not franticly grasping at straws, clinging to life. Not yet.
Three weeks later the Helvetic Republic woke with a jolt, hand on her knife. Something had been set in motion and she needed to get home, now.
She slipped out of bed and into civilian dress quickly, her bag having been packed for days. She took her hidden letters and contraband flag and left behind the Helvetic uniform. Her bedroom window opened to a sheer drop of three stories, so she scrambled up from the windowsill on to the roof and down the other, less smooth wall. Experienced hands found grips and footrests were easy to use in her boots. She was on the ground next to her dropped bag and down an alley way within half an hour of her waking.
Later a horse trader would be questioned closely about the horse he sold at dawn to a grim faced Swiss. The elderly citizen would tell them that when a Swiss does not argue with you about the first price you offer, you should know to just take the money, give them the horse and stay out of their way. He also said that, as he watched the blond man leave, he seemed almost happy. For a Swiss.
Notes (where to start…)
- Senegal was one of France’s only West Africa colonies at the time and is today 97% Islamic, hence the morning Salah prayers. Peanuts and mangos are commonly eaten there (according to Wikipedia).
- The Nine Providences (Belgium), along with Luxemburg, had a Peasant’s War that went badly but did start the Flemish pride movement. And the Batavia Republic is the Netherlands in case it’s not clear.
- The French Revolution did not just affect Europe. Its ideas of freedom and equality really got the overseas French territories thinking and each one reacted differently. Martinique and others were happy with France because he abolished slavery, Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and other territories were not happy because their slave riots were put down by colonists in spite of the new government's laws. And some, like Seychelles, were making the best of it by playing France off against England while remaining mostly neutral.