Title: Neutral Stance
Chapter Summary: The Helvetic Republic gets the one thing she really wants: to be left completely alone with her people. At least that's what she thinks she's getting. But neither France nor England got to where they are by being nice and Vreni is about to get a participially nasty lesson in strategy.
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 from 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]
May 1802, Paris
“Where is he?” Hissed the Helvetic Republic, storming through France’s sitting room in his summer home. Colonies and Territories had scattered at the sight of her, face distorted with rage, an official document crumpled in one hand. “Where?”
Seychelles gestured to the door that led to the rose garden, brown eyes not looking up from her sewing hook. At this point in the Napoleonic wars it was completely normal for even the most mild mannered of Nations to completely loose their self control whenever new information from their home reached them. Helvetica marched out into the midmorning sunlight without acknowledgement or thanks.
The French Republic sat with his sister, in the middle of a bottle of wine, admiring the beautiful garden around them. At the opposite end of the courtyard, the Batavian Republic looked up from his Bible reading, saw Vreni’s face and snatched up his two colonies. The Cape Colony waved happily from over Marijn’s broad shoulder, apparently glad religious propaganda time was over. Antilles just sighed and flopped over the opposite shoulder, unhappy with the dry heat.
Vreni narrowed her eyes as Marijn carried the children away from her. England had returned those two colonies to Batavia, in the Treaty of Amiens when he and France had finally agreed to peace terms. With England out of the picture, Europe was technically at peace, at the mercy of the French Republic and Napoleon, but at peace.
The Helvetic Republic had been following the orders of her own Council since the Treaty of Luneville, keeping her multiple grievances to herself and hoping France would lighten the burdens his people had piled onto her rapidly exhausting country.
But today she had being given news that had driven all sense of practicality and self preservation from her mind.
Coming up to the seated France, Vreni threw down the declaration onto the table and glared straight into his smiling face. “And just what do you think you’re doing?”
“Sharing a glass of wine with family,” he said gesturing with his glass at Monaco who froze with her glass half way to her lips, guilt plain on her face. “Why don’t you go get a glass for Helvetia, sister?”
No fool, Monaco nodded and left quickly, leaving them alone.
“Helvetic Republic” said France slowly, putting down his glass and gesturing to the vacated seat. “Sit.”
Vreni fought down the urge to obey his request. “I’d rather stand.” She pointed at the document, trying to get back some of her rage. “Explain yourself.”
France quirked an eyebrow at her and delicately picked up the parchment on the table. Slowly he read over it, while Vreni’s common sense screamed at her at the back of her mind.
“It all seems very clear,” said France after a few minutes, looking up at her. “The Rhodanic Republic has been declared independent and your boss wants you to put your seal on it.”
“But Valais is mine,” said Vreni, “It was incorporated into my land when I became a republic. I earned it!”
“But it’s a mess, mon trognon,” said Francis reaching out a hand to her face. Vreni moved out of reach and he drew it back, hurt in his eyes. “It’s so unstable and violent, draining you of strength all the time. I thought it would help you if Valais was taken off your hands.”
Vreni bit down on her next words, closed her eyes and took a deep steadying breath, gathering her courage. All her anger had left her, leaving only determination and slightly trembling legs.
“Francis, you are draining me of strength.” she said softly, forcing herself to look him in the eye. “Your men are violent and unstable, a burden to my people.” A wave of turmoil brushed against her mind, as she reached into her mind to feel her land. “If you really want to help me, if you care at all, you would call back your troops and let me go home to undo the damage.”
There was second of stillness, as something flashed over Francis’s face. Vreni’s body involuntarily tightened, ready for the coming anger and punishment. But instead his face smoothed over and a soft sad smile appeared. “Of course I care for you, Vreni. If nothing else, you must never doubt that.” Again he reached out his hand and this time Vreni let him take her hand. “I have so many other things to take care of, with the new elected and such.” He took her hand to his lips and gently kissed lightly scared knuckles. “Before the month is done, my soldiers will have withdrawn and your land will be your own once more.” He kissed her hand again, thumb rubbing her fingers soothingly. “It will be officially sanctioned by this time tomorrow.”
“I…” Vreni swallowed down the thanks that tried to worm its way out. “That is good news.” She gently pulled her hand away. “May I start packing?”
“If you feel you need to be home, then by all means.” He let go of her tingling hand. “Go before the sun sets again.”
Vreni risked a half smile of gratitude, before leaving the garden, forgetting the document in her haste.
Monaco appeared once she was gone, with no glass in her hands, and sat back in her seat. “Did it go well?” She asked politely.
“Yes,” answered the French Republic absentmindedly, twirling his glass as he watched petals fall from old roses. “Almost too well.” Then he snapped back to his cheerful self and dominated the conversation, talking excessively about how his dear Poland was enjoying the climate in the Caribbean and how Spain had started talking to him again.
June 1802, Zurich
“It’s a trick,” said Helvetica with certainty, watching the last of the French army pack their wagons. They were taking significantly more things than what they had brought, but Vreni could do nothing about their open thievery. Not when France appeared to be giving her exactly what she wanted.
“Sir?” A dutiful secretary of the legislative council stood by her side, looking confused. They had been standing by the window for sometime, taking a break from the pile of paperwork waiting on the Helvetic Republic’s official desk.
“It’s too easy,” she said, gesturing down to a crowd of her people already rolling out beer barrels to celebrate. “France is up to something. I don’t know what, but he is.”
“Perhaps he plans to send more troops to the western colonies,” said the man lightly, in his native Romansh.
“Perhaps,” replied Vreni in French, not bothering to change dialects. Not long after she had left France, the abolition of slavery had been revoked by Napoleon, infuriating every non-European Colony. France would have his hands full for some time, putting down countless rebellions. “We need to act quickly, before France can turn his attention back to us.”
“A meeting of the various resistance groups and cantons is being organised,” agreed the secretary, looking at the list in his hand.
“No, not that. We must look outwards and guard our borders against further intrusions,” said Vreni thoughtfully, glancing back at her desk. There was a substantial pile of official correspondence, from Nations she had not heard from in years. “We must be seen as able to defend our borders.”
“I fear you may not be in possession of all the facts, Herr Swissland,” said the man delicately, not looking up at her startled frown.
“I am the Helvetic Republic,” she said sharply, speaking Romansh. “And I was the Swiss Confederation for centuries before that. I am fully aware of everything that has happened in my land these past years. And what has to be done to prevent it from happening again.”
“Then you will attend the meeting?” Asked the secretary looking suitably chastised.
“My presence will not be required.” She turned back to the window and her people, now opening their barrels of long hidden beer. “There have always been internal disputes, and there always will be discord among the cantons but it is the turmoil on the outskirts that I have to focus on.” She narrowed her eyes speculatively “And how to undo the partitions. A good show of strength should bring them begging to be let back in.”
“No.” Vreni walked back to her desk, looking for a certain stack of letters. “You can go to these canton meetings on your own, since you think them so important.”
“But I really don’t think...” He trailed off, seeing his Nations lack of interest. “Yes, my lord.” He gave a half-hearted bow and left the room.
Vreni ignored him, opening a letter she had carried with her for over a year. She smiled as she read it, partly due to what she read but mostly because she could hear her people starting to sing an old drinking song, already celebrating their freedom.
It was so nice to be home and in control once more.
August 1802, Graubünden outside of Turns
Vreni walked up the trail slowly, savouring the open space and cool air, free from clambering voice demanding she do something about problems that would sort themselves out. Humans. Every time a new batch came into power they acted as if she had not gone through the exact same crises many times before. The only thing she needed in order to recover was time and time could be bought with diplomatic manoeuvring.
Which was why she was headed to a private meeting with a fellow Nation, far from their diplomats and consuls. Vreni couldn’t really remember the last time she had been asked to a social meeting by another Nation, asked in a way that told her she was free to decline. That and curiousity had made her agree to meet with England, on a hilltop facing the Glarus Alps, away from unwanted observers.
When she reached the appointed meeting spot she looked around the empty plateau in surprise. England was usually just as punctual as she was, used to being governed by the ticking of clocks and the changes of tides.
Then she spotted him on the far end of the plateau, using a navel telescope to scan the mountain range. She put down her knapsack and walked towards him. “Generally, when other Nations stare so hard at my mountains, they’re trying to find the best way to get an army over them.” Helvetica said lightly, stopping out of England’s reach. He was quiet close to the edge and she didn’t want to startle him into falling.
“No fear,” said England calmly, not startled at all by her arrival. He turned to smile at her as he folded his eye scope. “I realised back in the middle ages that fighting your people was more trouble than it was worth.” He got to his feet and shook Vreni’s hand warmly. “If a few Swiss famers could give crusaders such a thrashing, what chance did my poor army stand?” He spoke with good humour, the still pink scar on his cheek wrinkling.
Vreni squeezed his hand just as warmly. “I suppose I must admit, I wouldn’t be so comfortable meeting with you if I were not so far from the sea and your navy.”
England smiled at the backhanded complement to his strong navy and sat down on a rock Vreni gestured to. “My men do their duty, just as yours do, I’m sure.”
Vreni just smiled as she recovered her knapsack and sat down as well. Out came a bottle of wine she had been hording for a special occasion and some cheese she had cut before hand. She handed England a wooden cup and filled it with white wine, did the same for herself and settled down to admire the view.
The mountains looked especially beautiful that day, with another Nation to sit next to and ask harmless questions about them. Vreni had always felt deeply towards her mountains. Throughout her history they had alternatively kept her safe and held her back, providing a daunting obstacle to would-be invaders but being almost impossible to grow enough crops to survive on in their soil. They had kept her safe in the past, but they would have kept her poor if she had not ventured beyond them and gained more fertile land.
“So no one has ever climbed that tall one?” Asked Arthur pointing to a peak in the far distance, looming over its neighbours.”
“I don’t think so,” said Vreni shrugging her shoulders. “Why would they? It’s easier to just go around it.”
“Just to see if you could,” he said in a soft voice. “Just to say you did it, that you managed to conquer it.”
“Mountains aren’t people, England,” said Vreni, or Nations she added mentally. “They don’t care what you do. They were here before Rome drew breath and they will stay here no matter what happens to me. They just sometimes happen to be useful.”
“Like the Channel, then?” England said softly. Vreni looked over to him in surprise.
“I know I like to go on about how I rule the waves,” he said gesturing about with his mug. “But I don’t pretend to myself,” he huffed and took a deep swig. “Time after time, the only thing standing between myself and an invasion force was the tide and a favourable wind,” he gave a bitter smile. “I know you can’t conquer Mother Nature, Verne. But it’s nice to pretend sometimes.”
Vreni nibbled on a piece of cheese thoughtfully. This was a bit too philosophical for her liking. She had come to discuses mutual trade, not wax poetic about quirks of geography. Yet it was nice to talk to another like this, someone who knew what it was like to have to put your faith into your very land, not just your people.
“This is very nice wine,” said England finishing off his mug, “Is it available in the black market?”
“It could be, yes,” said Vreni demurely, turning to get another piece of cheese. “It could even, one day, be available in large volumes legally as well.”
“One day. If a certain frog and his short Corsican were to be busy elsewhere?” England smiled as he took a bite of cheese, then frowned as he considered the taste.
Short? “Exactly,” Vreni poured more wine for them both.
England swallowed and reached for more. “But that would violate the terms of both our treaties with him.” He reached up to trace the path of a long healed scar to the ear. “Diplomats put a lot of work into that damned treaty; they will need more incentive than trading benefits before they break it.”
“More incentive?” Asked Vreni, tightening her grip on her mug. “What about the fact that he’s violating the terms of a treaty he forced me to agree to? He said my government would be free to rule themselves, but France blocks any measures I take to try and improve my situation.”
“My people are almost as tired of war as yours undoubtedly are. And the prime minister won’t declare without knowing the people will back him. As heartless as it sounds, mere economy problems won’t endear you to my people. Something more visible has to be done first.”
“Visible,” repeated Vreni through clenched teeth. “Mere economy problems.”
“I don’t mean to insult you or your struggles,” England waved a hand to stem her anger. “I know that all of Europe suffers, you especially. But it will do no one any good if I restart the war half heartedly. All of my people have to be behind any action I take,” he frowned. “Especially now that I have Ireland’s people to support as well.”
Vreni sighed and rubbed her forehead, telling herself that at least England was being honest and straightforward with her. “Do you have any good news for me?”
“Yes.” England perked up. “While I can’t deal with France on the battlefield, it looks like I will be able to deal with you openly, within a month or so. A group of dignitaries are getting ready to leave London and visit your lovely capital. Apparently there’s unrest among the forest provinces?”
“There’s always unrest among the forest cantons,” assured Vreni, going back to her wine. “They’ll settle once it’s made clear I truly am outside of France’s influence and the return of some autonomy.” She shrugged her shoulders. “The Constitution is not going anywhere but it can be adapted to suit us all.”
“That’s the spirit.” England raised his mug in a salute. “You never know what you can get away with, unless you try. Now,” and he sat up a bit straighter, looking worried. “My gossip channels are not what they once were. And I’ve been hearing some uncomfortable rumours about the Germanies. Do you know anything about it?”
Helvetica sighed and nodded her head sadly. She pushed back thoughts of trade and economy for now, and started to tell England how Holy Roman’s suffering was almost at an end.
September 1802, Schwyz
The Helvetic Republic stumbled out of the meeting hall on unsteady legs. Behind her the assembly dissolved further into arguments and chaos, some officials getting up to leave in disgust. The Bern delegation walked past her without any acknowledgement of her, talking together in hushed voices about their planned return to sovereignty.
Had they always treated her that way? She tried to remember, holding on to the wall to keep her steady. No, each canton had ruled themselves differently, stood slightly apart from one another. But they had always banded together in the face of a crisis, had always acknowledged her as their Nation and true representative of their culture. Bern had never outright denied her authority, called her France’s creature, to her face before.
That more than anything else had driven her from the room, too shocked and enraged to even muster a decent punch to the speaker’s nose. France’s creature, as if she could be around him without her skin crawling. As if being with him did not make her heart ache for home. A home he had brought to ruin with soldiers and taxes and forbidden trade.
The Legislative Council had said there was unrest throughout her land, she had felt it as it gained ground, separating into two separate camps of contention. But she never thought it would get to this point, the point of overthrowing her acknowledged government and causing them to flee the capital. France had created the Helvetic Republic but it was the only thing holding the cantons together and keeping France’s armies out. The Legislative Council had been the only thing keeping her going, keeping her country running.
Vreni took a deep breath, steadied herself and walked back into the room, hiding any trace of her shock. She reached her seat just as a speaker recommended going to France for assistance. That set her off completely.
“We do not need his help,” she shouted at him. “I do not need France’s help to manage my own people.” The hall finally fell silent as she said the words she had been holding onto for months and years. “I would rather see myself fall apart completely than invite that monster back onto my land. We will continue with this meeting and we will reach a compromise.” She took her seat and nodded to the leader of the Centralists, asking him to take the floor once more.
The situation could still be salvaged, even without Bern. She just needed to keep her head.
October 1802, Aarburg
It was quiet that afternoon, had been quiet most of the day in fact. The only noise to be heard on the hilltop, apart from the soft sounds of nature, was the metallic ring of Vreni sharping her halberd.
It was one of her older pole arms, though careful maintenance had seen it hold up well to old age. She did have newer, more refined pole arms in her collection: ones with blades that were more elaborate, made with better wood shafts. But it had felt right to take this weapon, the one she had carried with her throughout the 11th century when she barely had a stretch of dirt and a village to call her own.
She knew how to weld the halberd as if it were a part of her, knew its weight and heft and reach like she knew her battle rough hands. Knew how to thrust and cut and block with it like she knew how to speak. She had been fighting before she had more than one language to speak. Been killing before she learnt how to trade. It was a comfort to return to a simpler state of mind.
Satisfied with the sharpness she brought out her old war flag and started to polish the axe blade, making it gleam. Stealth would play no part in the coming battle. If the flag had been a bit smaller, she may even have tied it to the pole, brought a bit of frivolity to the atmosphere. Instead she carefully folded the flag, red over white, and put it in her coat pocket, then settled into complete stillness. Waiting before battle was also something she had been doing for centuries.
It was evening before she spotted Frances bright red and white uniform at the foot of the hill, the sound of him muttering under his breath easily reaching her trained ears.
“There you are,” Francis gasped, leaning on his knees to breathe heavily. “I’ve been climbing for hours, looking for you.” He straightened up and smiled at her triumphantly. “The rebels have been dealt with. It’s safe for you to return home, mon trognon.”
“You planned this,” said Vreni calmly, not moving from her seat. “You planned on the uprising happening.”
“Well I had to, love,” said Francis airily, waving a hand. “It was the only way to be sure we drew out every traitor among your people.” His eyes finally adjusted to the twilight enough to notice the halberd at her side. “I haven’t seen that in a long while. Are you out of bullets again?”
“No.” Vreni stood slowly, moving the staff to hold with both hands. “I just have more experience with blades than guns in this situation.”
“Situation?” France narrowed his eyes, realising her meaning. “Helvetica, put that down before you do something we will both regret.”
“I regret a lot of things I’ve done recently. The most significant being how I went with you without a fight the last time you invaded,” said Vreni evenly, positioning her feet firmly. “I suppose I should be grateful I have a chance to try another course of action.”
“I did not invade you, I liberated you.” France began to reach for his sabre. “And I am getting extremely tired of children not understanding and wilfully disobeying –“
“How can one not understand yet wilfully disobey?” Injected Helvetica cutting off his rant. “For that matter, who did you liberate me from? I had no king, not much in the way of royals. If I did not like how one ruler worked, I just moved onto the next canton and the next ruler.” She turned her blade to face him and readied herself.
“I tire of these questions, Helvetica,” said France a hint of steel in his voice. “It’s making me quite angry.”
Vreni let her mouth stretch into a mockery of a smile. “Good.” She moved, a rush of adrenaline and endorphins driving everything else from her mind. For once, she knew exactly what she was doing.
December 1802, Hague
Cape Colony opened the front door, took one look at the Helvetic Republic’s face and screamed. Both her colonisers came running, which confirmed Vreni’s information that England was using the excuse of shared colonies to stay illegally with the Batavian Republic.
“Verne? What on earth are you doing here?” England pulled her in and shut the door behind her. “How did you even find me? Were you sent?” He ushered her into an empty sitting room, leaving Batavia to try and calm the still screaming Cape.
“I’m sorry about Hope. War broke out in her borders again and she’s on edge. She went after Portugal with a knife last month.” He indicated to an arm chair and Verne collapsed into it thankfully.
“No one knows I’m here” she said, talking as loudly as her bruised throat would allow. “My government is too busy scrambling and sucking up to the First Elected to worry about me.” Gingerly she raised her arm and removed her hat. “Guadeloupe is covering for me with France. As far as anyone knows, I’m still in a coma.” And she felt like she still should be in one. She had travelled by carriage as a civilian, spending most of the journey passed out in pain and exhaustion. “I wanted to show you something.” As briskly as her injuries would allow she removed her coat and shirt. “And you should probably know, my name isn’t really Verne.”
England stared at her torso, eyes flickering between her unhealed wounds and barely covered breasts. His eyebrows moved erratically, as his face changed from surprise to concern and back again. Finally he settled on concern, hissing through clenched teeth at mottled skin and a gun shot wound that had almost popped its stitches on the road.
“I brought some official accounts and reports,” she said trying to keep her voice light as he hissed again. “But do you think this could count as a visible violation of the treaty?”
England reached out a sea roughened hand to gently trace the pattern of a bruise, forming the shape of the butt of a gun. “Yes my dear fellow-… my dear. I think it would.” His eyes were soft even as his other hand clenched into a fist
“Good.” Vreni stopped fighting the waves of exhaustion and pain that pulsed over her. “There’s a file in my coat pocket on the leeeff-“ Fatigue rose up to claim her and she fell back against her chair, the pain of the movement fading out into sweet oblivion.
1. I freely admit I put Cape Colony in this just because I wanted to include my own country. In the early 1800’s she would still be seen as very young, because the Xhosa, Pedi, Zulu and all the other native African groups of Southern Africa were still very much independent, separate and not happy about the fact that space is starting to run out in Southern Africa. The 3rd of 9 Frontier Wars was going on and most Portuguese visitors were slavers. Add to that the fact that that serious conflict between the new English settlers and the more established Boer (Dutch) settlers would soon start, all adds up to a very twitchy Cape Colony.
2. I’ve glossed over the Stecklikrieg civil war but here are the bare facts: France finally withdrew its troops. Most of the central cities and rural areas of Switzerland thought it would be a good idea to go back to being a loosely joined confederation, not a centralised republic. There were also the usual issues of religion, privilege and huge debt. The Helvetic Government tried to fight back and was quickly overthrown by rebels. This happened in the space of a year.
Meanwhile France been watching all this very carefully, blocking other countries attempts to aid Switzerland, especially England. Even when the Swiss ambassador asked for help Napoleon refused, wanting Switzerland to be completely incapable of running itself before stepping in to save the day. Politics at its most cunning.
4. It is possible that France, in his delusions, did really think England would be willing to abide the treaty between them and not declare war the second he gathered enough money and arms. But England always planed to re-enter the war, even if he had to do it all on his own. The black market, which played a huge role in some Countries being able to stay ahead of their war debts, was almost completely under English control.
5. England and Switzerland did share a close bond from the 1800 onwards. The English vehemently objected to France’s treatment of Switzerland and wrote poems and books against it. The English were also the ones to kick start Switzerland’s mountain tourist industry. It was not always the most equal of bonds but both Nations benefited from it.
- Neutral Stance 5