Title Neutral Stance
Genre:   Historical Romance
Chapter Summary: The Helvetica Republic chooses survival over pride, and hates everyone for it. Then she gets dragged across Europe for a Treaty she does not really have a say in. But she does get a chance to investigate the situation within the Empire and freak out France.
Just to be a hundred percent clear:
Marijn – is currently the Batavian Republic, will one day be the Netherlands
Letizia – was the Parthenopean Republic, currently is the Kingdom of Naples, will one day be Southern Italy
Feliciano – is currently the Cisapline Republic, will one day be Northern Italy. (the Italian states go through so many name changes it’s not even funny.)
29 November 1800, Swiss-Holy Roman Empire Border
Vreni spent the night in that very spot, deep in thoughts and plans. She had known for a while that she could not continue as she had. Bavaria just made her realise that she had no more time to waste. A decision had to be reached and followed, though, it may lead her down a difficult path and away from her home.
The moon rose higher as time passed on and the wind picked up. A thousand stars looked down on her, a single figure on a lonely landscape far from anything else. Age old trees concealed the Jura Mountains behind them, allowing only the snow caped tips to show. It was a beautiful sight, sure to lift the sprits of anyone; anyone not staving or freezing or exhausted, anyone not fearful of what the next day will bring. Beauty is not enough for a Nation’s land to have, though Vreni had wished it were so countless times.
The facts were these: France was there to stay. No matter what Vreni and her people did, no matter whom they petitioned or what they set fire to, the French were quite comfortable right where they were. In the Helvetic Republic. Using up her resources, pillaging and plundering her people’s scant possessions and trampling upon all of the bright promises they had made to her.
France held every advantage and Helvetica was fast losing the energy to put up a decent fight. Which was not to say her people had any intention of giving in, just that Helvetica could not deny how little of a chance they had at winning. And she could die. That was one thing she had never up till now even considered a possibility. Nations could die, were dying and she could be next if she did not act.
Russia was gone, Lithuania with him. Britain had promised aid but he had many other concerns stealing his time, especially his impending union with Ireland, the one Nation France had failed to ‘liberate.’ Bavaria had been dragged over to France’s side and the rest of the Holy Roman Empire was too conflicted to rely on. Italy was also firmly, if reluctantly, under France’s hold. Austria was… Austria. He had been well meaning at the start of this war, but when the going got tough, the Duchy of Austria got a treaty. It was only a matter of time before he abandoned her as well.
Vreni lifted her head up to the heavens and resisted the urge to scream her frustrations up into her endless sky of stars. She knew what she had to do. Sometimes a Nation had to what they needed done, in order to survive, no matter what their people wanted. Even if the Nations themselves would have really, really rather not.
The Helvetic Republic stood up, willing freezing bones to throw off their stiffness just a little while longer. She would return to camp, give her resignation and return to France’s side of the fight. Her sedate jȁger uniform would once more be exchanged for an ostentatious Helvetic-French one, her chance at freedom exchanged for a chance at survival.
Dawn was on its way, the first hints of light dispelling the stars. The Helvetic Republic left for Zurich and the legislative council that governed her, before the sun had a chance to rise to its full height.
There was no denying it when the Helvetic Republic returned to the French side and joined his army in South Germany, she did harbour a few daydreams of defiant demonstrations and pointed shows of her rebellion. Then she actually came into range of France and his inflated ego. There was no Poland here to redirect his attentions, should the mighty French Republic escape the control on the overbearing, but well meaning Francis. Quietly she slunk into the Swiss Regiment and kept her head down.
She was not bothered by anyone as the months went on and France returned to Paris, leaving his troops squatting on Bavaria’s land, just as other troops still squatted on her own home. Helvetica bit her tongue and obeyed her orders. Her legislative council had been more reasonable than she had pessimistically expected. She was not the only one aware of the capacious situation they were in and how resistance, while invigorating, was not going to do much good. France wanted to know he could trust her, only then would he deem to give her the illusion of freedom.
So Vreni lost herself in the movements of troops, almost able to pretend it was just another mercenary job and that the payment each month was worth it. She stuck with her people and no one outside the regiment worked out who or what she was. A tiny bit of National influence insured that none of the Swiss thought too hard about the fact that she was a woman, and let her be, as her fellow soldiers had done for centuries.
It worked so well that no one saw fit to warn her of the carriage sent to fetch her for Lunéville.
“I’m not wearing it.” Vreni, still in her worn and dirty work uniform, did not look up at the offending dress. She was too busy reading the documents they had brought, relating to the treaty they were heading to. Letizia glared at her unheeded. The Southern Italian Kingdom was dressed, as always, in a flawless outfit that highlighted her features to their best effect. Jewellery hinted wealth Vreni knew for a fact she did not have. The Kingdom of Naples had won back her name but not much else in her own ill fated rebellion.
Next to them, the Batavian Republic continued staring out the window, looking up at the sky and not the moving countryside. Helvetica thought he looked worse than when she had last seen him, but it was hard to tell with all the still healing wounds he had.
“Do you have any idea how much effort I went through getting this made for you?” Scowled Letizia shaking the white dress. “I had to search for ages to find your uniform and get your damn measurements.”
“I left it in the cupboard, how hard could it have been to find?” Muttered Vreni, turning a page. Supposedly this treaty would allow her to draft a new constitution, but she would still need French approval to pass it into law. Damn.
Letizia carried on. “Then I had to find cloth I could afford and that is just impossible in Paris at the moment.” She broke off to look at Vreni suspiciously. “Seychelles had to give me fabric in the end, when I told her who it was for. Said it was a gift. Why would she do such a thing?”
Helvetica blinked, thrown off by the question. She did not think she had even met Seychelles yet, let alone earned a gift of English muslin- … England, it was from England.
“Maybe she plans to hire guards in the future.” Put in the Batavian Republic, still looking out the window, knuckles white on the side of the carriage. “It’s a way to open diplomatic channels.”
Letizia huffed, finally dropping the dress on to the set next to her. “Do I have to remind you that none of us have any diplomatic channels to open, even with this fancy new treaty?”
“Why are you here, Naples?” asked Helvetica sourly. “You aren’t mentioned in the briefing at all.”
“Chigi.” Sniffed Letizia. “But the precious Cisapline Republic is and since dear, darling little Feliciano is far too delicate to actually do anything useful,” for a moment it looked like she as going to spit “I was elected to come in his place.” She resumed scowling.
“Emma dropped a loom on my foot, the last time I tried to sign a treaty for her.” Said Marijn thoughtfully, still looking out the window, eyes focused on the sky.
“Feliciano tried to hug me and tell me what to do when he got the news.” Muttered Letizia, looking at the floor.
In the middle of trying to work out what England’s game in all of this was, Helvetica spared a moment to be thankful she had no relatives to complicate her life even more than it already was.
“So are you going to change now into this now, or when we get there?” Asked Letizia, abruptly changing moods.
“I told you, I’m not wearing it.” Helvetica went back to scrutinising the paperwork, wishing the ride was smoother so she could add notes.
Letizia continued to complain as they made their way to Lunéville. Marijn continued to suppress his travel sickness and plot his own political maneuverings. And Vreni continued to read frantically and wish for a pencil.
9 February 1801, Luneville
The French Republic met his satellite territories with warmth and affection. He was met with synchronised looks that promised a concentrated effort to rip off one of his limbs if he tried anything friendlier than a handshake. It was one thing to be cooperative with France, it was quite another to let your guard down around him.
The Helvetic Republic attempted to ask him about the treaty and how much pull she had over certain issues, but France deflected with concern over her still bedraggled appearance. The dress the Kingdom of Naples had brought had been used to bribe an official on the road several hours earlier, once Letizia had been convinced that it was the dress or her jewellery that would have to go.
In the end Vreni appeared at the treaty meeting in the dress uniform of a French Infantry solider, its original owner being a close enough match to her size. She deserved a higher rank of uniform, but anything was better than a dress that allowed for no weapons or freedom of movement.
The uniform dictated she stand at the meeting, along with Marijn, while Letizia got to sit near a fire, like a delicate lady she was pretending to be. On the Austrian side of the table Hungary gave a quick sheepish smile from behind Bohemia’s chair, while the Czech territory openly rolled her eyes. Austria avoided her gaze and focused on his officials and diplomats.
Their presence was largely for show as none of them had a chance to say anything. They were merely there as symbols of what the humans were agreeing to. The Helvetic Republic held her peace as borders were moved and territories granted and listened hard to anything that could be used to her own advantage.
Nothing of any use ever came up. Peace and understanding was promised by delegates who almost seemed sincere. France gained territory up to the left of the Rhine and his general earnestly agreed to give up any claim to territories on the east bank. Everyone dully agreed that the Batavian, Cisalpine and Helvetic Republics were completely independent and that everyone should respect their freedom. Vreni just managed to stifle her snort of disbelief.
The Italian peninsula was cut up and divided between the two sides equally. Letizia remained suspiciously quiet throughout that part of the meeting. Vreni glanced at her out of the corner of one eye and saw the Kingdom of Naples’ hand entwined with one of her diplomat’s hands. For a moment she thought he was restraining her, then a second glance clarified things. Letizia’s hand was white at the knuckles as she clutched the diplomat’s hand, so tightly gripped there was pain in his eyes. But not as much as Letizia’s hazel eyes held, as she stared down at the table cloth, while others talked over her head and decided her fate.
The Helvetic Republic suppressed her own indignation when Fricktal was given to her. Given. As if she had not offered Austria a fair price for that territory years ago. As if she had not been completely capable of earning her own keep in (almost) perfect harmony before France had shown up. As if a cherry orchard was going to make up for anything she had endured this past year. Vreni made herself listen carefully while the treaty dealt with her, locking away her feelings. They would do nothing to help her.
Marijn was his ever stoic self when his turn came. A part of Vreni wondered if it was even more difficult for the Batavian Republic, who had once had colonies of his own, to weather such indignities. She wondered if his situation made him pause and reflect back to his own actions as a conquering country and see things in a different light. Probably not, she decided. Nations were notoriously lacking in self reflection.
The meeting finally ended after Austria and France graciously put their signatures onto the official documents. The humans left quickly after that, leaving the client Nations to awkwardly mill around while France and Austria exchanged pleasantries.
As nonchalantly as she could manage, Vreni moved towards Hungary. The Magyar Nation looked at her and gave a brittle smile, brown eyes placid. Her mouth opened, undoubtedly to recite some insipid excuse Austria gave her to say, then shut it closed again abruptly. Vreni felt Elezabeth look her over, possibly the first Nation in the room to actually see her as she stood there defeated, in borrowed clothes.
“Swissland.” Elezabeth spoke in her own language with sincerity and Vreni could just understand her. “I am so sorry. For everything. It should not have ended this way.”
For an instant, Vreni felt the horrifying sensation of tears behind her eyes and resisted the overwhelming urge to collapse into Hungary’s arms and weep out all the guilt, shame and fear she felt. She was useless, had failed her people by doing nothing to help them and Nations were dying. Nations were dying and she could be next and she was so scared…
Vreni channelled her anger forcing down her fear and sadness, and stiffly nodded thanks at Hungary’s words. She took a slow deep breath and composed herself once more.
“Where is Holy Rome?” she asked, her voice harsher than she meant to sound. “Isn’t this his land and his treaty to sign?”
Hungary frowned lightly, probably put off by her stiffness. “Bremen is keeping him occupied. Won’t stop threatening war on Hanover.” Her frown deepened. “And we really can’t risk that at the moment, not with so much else going on.”
“Really.” Said Vreni, feeling her heart start to speed up. Bremen was a city state and Bavaria had said they were all dead. Perhaps he had been lying and Holy Rome was fine, that no one was going to die including her. “When did he leave?”
“I don’t know.” Hungary looked over to Austria, still engaged in politicking some way away from them. “I haven’t seen him in two years, he’s been so busy. First Prussia dragged him off, then Saxony and so many others after that.” She bit her lip. “Austria won’t tell me anything, but he was so sickly the last time I saw him. I think Austria is trying to keep him out of the way of any fighting until he gets better.”
A completely plausible theory. Vreni could almost believe it, if she had not spoken to a visibly aged and weakened Bavaria, on a cold night when he had had nothing to gain from lying. “Well I really need to speak with him. Do you a way of contacting him that I can use?”
“No, I don’t, but Austria can- oh dear.” Hungary’s alarmed face made Vreni turn around quickly to find said Nation standing behind her, arms folded and lips pressed in a tight line. Vreni heard Hungary make a muttered excuse and move away from the two, leaving them to their confrontation.
For an instant, the image of a much younger Roderich flashed through Vreni’s mind, arms folded to hide bruises and dirt, lips bitten to suppress sobs. It had been so easy to solve things then, just a bit of food and fussing had set him right and off on another foolish brawl with a neighbour. Vreni had never thought she would have to tilt her chin up, to meet Roderich’s face with a glare of her own.
“And just who do you need to speak with so urgently, Helvetica?” He asked calmly, almost uncaringly.
Vreni waited for the usual surge of anger and envy to hit her and take control of the situation, but nothing happened. Possibly her emotions had been suppressed for so long that they could not respond fast enough, not even at such a perfect target. Thus, she was forced to speak civilly to the Duchy of Austria.
“I want to speak to the Holy Roman Empire.” She said honestly. “I had hoped he would be here as well.”
Roderich brought his long fingers together in an arch, a placid gesture of consideration. “He was unable to attend.”
“Why?” The single word came out softer than she had planned, almost pleading.
“It is none of your concern.” He said stiffly, his figures beginning to tap against each other in an uneven pattern. “You left the Empire of your own accord; his reasons are no longer any business of yours.”
“Left of my own accord.” Vreni said tonelessly, unable to reconcile Austria’s version of events to her own. “That’s a neat way of phasing 200 years of fighting for my freedom.”
Roderich’s fingers continued tapping together irregularly, gloved hands still together in an arch. He said nothing.
“Is Heinrich alright, Austria?” she probed again, uncomfortable but not willing to give up without answers.
“He will be.” Roderich said, then repeated his words slightly softer “He will be alright, one way or another, before too long.” If Vreni had not been looking for it, had not spent a life time in his company, she would have missed the flash of despair on his face. And that was all the answer she needed.
“Please give my best wishes, when next you see him.” Vreni looked down at her hands, clenching them. “I always felt for him, having so many States to keep under control.” Like me, she left unsaid.
“You are nothing like Heinrich, Vreni” he said softly, starting them both by using her personal name.
There was a moment where they stared at each other in synchronized awkwardness, before making muttered excuses and backing away from each other. Vreni found a quiet corner by the door to stand in and did not watch Austria herd his group towards the opposite exit in quick bird like motions.
“Well,” France materialised at her side, eyes serene. “That’s that then. We can leave tomorrow morning.” He seemed to be content and placid, new territory sedating him back into the sane ally Vreni had once known.
“I want to go home.” Vreni half-whined, not fighting off the arm slung around her waist. She felt pangs for familiar scenery and comforting certainty.
“Tch.” France propped his chin on her head and she could almost feel him rolling his eyes. “You always want to go home.” He patted her shoulder.
Vreni bit her lip, feeling tears she had been fighting down for weeks begin to spill onto her cheeks. A sob escaped before she suppressed the rest. It was just the relief of knowing for certain, that Bavaria had been telling her the truth, which had set her off, she told herself harshly.
“Huh?” France moved to look down at her, startled into rare uncertainty. “No, don’t do that mon trognon.” He moved his arm off her completely, and fluttered his hands uncertainty, wanting to comfort her but knowing she did not like physical contact at the best of times.
She went outside, the cold air striking her wet face. Vreni bent over, hands on her chest and breathed deeply through her nose, willing her tears to stop. After a few lungfulls of almost fresh air she was composed.
France waved a laced handkerchief at her, an almost scared look on his face. Vreni wiped her cheeks, looking around to make sure no one else had seen her little breakdown. It had been embarrassing enough with just her overlord seeing.
“We can go back via the St. Bernard Pass.” said Francis quietly, as she stuffed the handkerchief in a pocket. “Marijn travels better by horse than by carriage and Letizia will complain no matter how we go.”
Vreni felt the first smile in ages tug on her face. “That would be nice. Thank-you.”
They bid each other a pleasant evening then went their separate ways, Vreni to her room and Francis to where ever he wanted.
Vreni was about half way to her room with Letizia when the reality of the situation hit her. She had actually thanked her invader for letting her travel through her own land on the way back to virtual imprisonment in Paris.
She sighed deeply. It could not go on like this much longer. Something was going to give, and it may well be her sanity. She knocked her head against a convenient pillar until the shame went away and pain numbed most of her soul.
1. The real reason France and Austria agreed not to have Feliciano around is Holy Rome’s impending death. But deep down both would-be Empires were concerned with the idea of “No money = no Swiss” Switzerland, “War before taxes” Venice and “Merchant Capitalism” Netherlands in carriage together for several hours unsupervised.
2. I could have gotten this all wrong but it looks like that in 1801 Nationalism was not all that strong in Hungary, due to a very small population of Magyers still recovering from Ottoman rule. I feel that Hungary would be really sympathetic to any Nation being carved up and ruled over, and want to help them; but would still be really grateful to Austria for finally getting her away from the Ottoman Empire and not wanting willing to directly challenge him. Give her a few years though…
3. Austria was mentally playing the piano, if the whole finger thing seemed weird. And he basically admitted to Switzerland the Holy Rome is at death’s door due to disjointed states, but that she’ll be fine. He hopes.