Vreni never did find out how England smuggled her back into Paris. Last she knew she had fallen into the grip of a long overdue coma; far from safety and home, in front of an unofficial ally under no obligation to help her. Yet somehow she arrived back in the bed Guadalupe would swear she never left, wound neatly re-stitched with an embroiderer's skill.
The Helvetic Republic remained in that coma for two months, waking only when her new constitution (imposed by Napoleon) was signed. After a brief but violent fit she lapse back into oblivion for the rest of February, her body forcing her mind to take the rest she needed so desperately.
And in March the Swiss Confederation reawakened slowly, cataloguing what had gone on in her land while she was gone. The Federlists and Unitarians were blessedly silent, as they mulled over the chances Napoleon’s Mediations had imposed on them all. Her Diet was back, with a significant amount of real power for each canon. But a single authority figure remained: the Landammann, instead of the group counsel she was used to.
More importantly, she could feel the familiar sensation of fields being worked, crops being planted and farms busting with energy. If her people were able to keep their farms working, then she would survive for a while longer. Everything else would have to be tolerated.
Vreni gathered her strength and sat up.
February 1804, Paris
The tickets had been left at her bedroom door, along with a obscene amount of travel money. The Swiss Confederation planned to save as much of the money as she could and send it home. There was also a very short note from Francis, simply saying she would have an escort to the French/Bavarian border and would be expected back within a fortnight of the play’s matinee.
Tickets to the new Wilhelm Tell play, by the poet and historian Friedrich Schiller were hard to come by, especially for a Nation in debt. And the fact that his play was based on her own land’s folk hero and how the Swiss Confederation had been originally formed, had meant Vreni had a special interest in its production. Vreni felt a soft flicker of excitement, while packing a small bag for the trip.
The tickets and trip were probably Francis’s attempt at an apology, after keeping his distance from her for almost two years. Her injuries had healed, with a single scar to show for her rebellion: the gunshot wound England had stitched up. Her land has settled into an uneasy peace, completely under French, but allowed to control internal matters themselves.
Vreni had not been able to contact England since he declared war in May, but she had sent a letter to Saint-Domingue during his rebellion in November. She had wished him luck, and mentioned the deep wound her halberd had left in France’s left kidney, if he ever had to deal with France face to face. He had sent her a crate of sugar, when he won his rebellion and renamed himself Ayiti. It was nice to know someone had defeated France, even if it was an island on the other side of the world.
March 1804, Balvaria
The Swiss Confederation’s escort stopped at the border between France and Balvaria and they would wait for her until April. Vreni’s homesickness by this point had grown so familiar to her that risking a side trip to her own lands would be more pain than relief. She did not think she would have the strength to leave under her own power. And she did not want to give Francis an excuse to drag her back again. The memories of their last meeting were blurred by pain and adrenaline, but she did remember the threat being dragged back to Paris by broken legs if she ever did anything so stupid again. A few cuts, bruises and a gunshot were one thing, being crippled was another. And France was very good at making injuries on a Nation last, if he put his mind to it.
It was a disturbing feeling, travelling over land that had no Nation to claim it. The Swiss Confederation travelled through the German States slowly, entering as many different territories as she could along the way to Weimar. And with every state she entered there came the feeling of desolation and abandonment, even as she travelled through prosperous cities. Not one Germanic State came out to greet her, or even chase her off their land.
It made Vreni realise just how few Nations there were left in Europe. When she had been young she couldn’t go through a valley without encountering another Nation. And now, with Spain and Portugal the last of their families, the Scandinavians down to three and the Germanic family shrinking by the month, there were so few free Nations left. Just the four unofficial Empires: France, Austria, Russia and Britain staring each other down over fast decreasing space, everyone else trapped between them.
The Swiss Confederation arrived at the theatre with enough time to choose a place to sit. She scanned the large room, spotted a familiar head of hair in a corner, hesitated for a few minutes, then sighed and walked towards the fellow Nation.
“Beilschmidt,” she greeted him briskly, adjusting her skirts before sitting down. The second hand dress she had bought was decent enough, and fitted her well, but she had forgotten how irritating skirts could be, even the simple style that was in fashion at the moment.
“Zwingli,” he responded in the same cool tone, though his grin was wide and open, “Didn’t think you’d make it to the opening performance.”
“There was no reason for me dally on the journey here.” She said shifting in her seat. She wanted to be able to reach her gun easily, if the meeting took an unpleasant turn. Prussia was always friendly and relaxed, until he wasn’t. His overbearing, boasting manner was almost enough to make one forget that he actually had the power to act on his threats if provoked.
“Not as many offers of beer and a fight as there once was,” Prussia turned to look forward, a spasm of pain passing over his face.
Vreni looked down at her lap, trying to think of something to say. Something that would not compromise herself or bring up the fact that Prussia’s family was dying out. But nothing came to mind. She lapsed into uneasy silence as the seats around them filled and the play finally started. Then her attention was completely taken by the play.
Near the end of the first act Vreni managed to stir herself out of her trance like state. “It didn't happen like that.”
“Huh?” Prussia hummed inquiringly.
“That whole scene, when they made their vow. It didn't happen like that at all.”
“That's what's bothering you? I'm more offended by the weapons they're using. And how the actors hold them.” He gestured at one actor that held a Spanish pike backwards.
“But it matters,” Vreni said, “This is my history they're performing. They should show the real way, the truth of how we won our freedom.”
“This is the real way now.” said Prussia as the curtains began to close, “Can't you feel it? Before this play gets to Paris people will be telling themselves that was the real way you got your name. Four men in a field, deciding they had had enough of Austria and his stupid rules.”
“It was more than four,” protested the Swiss Confederation, “Many more, women and children as well as the men. We planned it weeks in advance, in constant threat of arrest. It would have been nice if there had been a William Tell to lead us. But there wasn't.” she scowled.
“Well now people think there was.” said Prussia flippantly. “And in a few weeks you'll think so too.” He stood up and rolled his shoulders, stretching cold muscles.
“I'm not as weak-willed as some Nations.” Vreni smoothed down her skirt. “I always remember how things really happened, not how my people want to remember their past.”
“But how would you know if you don't...” Prussia waved a hand, dismissing the matter. “I didn't come here to debate. I came to enjoy one night of theatre and drinking before going back to Berlin.” He turned to the crowded bar at the back of the hall. “Do you still drink beer?”
“I still drink anything when someone else pays for it,” Vreni took the offered arm and resolved to try and enjoy the rest of the play. Truth or myth, folktales were as much a part of a Nations strength as military might. In such times beggars could not be choosers.
Later after the second act and several rounds, Vreni finally got up the courage to give her sympathies for Holy Roman Empire's death last year. “He was my brother too, once. I never wished him harm.”
Gilbert was silent, eyes on his drink.
Vreni wondered if the old placate of 'at least his suffering is over' would get her punched. And if she would feel more comfortable with violence than Prussia's unnatural silence.
Quietly he spoke. “When your people made that vow, however it came about: did it kill the others all at once, or slowly over time?”
Vreni shifted uneasily, thinking of the other cantons. “We were never ones for family gatherings. I never met half of them, and the other half cursed me for speaking their own dialects to them,” Cursed her and spat at her, called her a halfbreed and mongrel, unnatural and cursed. She had never let them see how much they hurt her, never let anyone but Roderich see her loneliness.
She jerked her shoulders, “They were already dying out, unifying just speed up the process. I never raised my hand against any of them.” Never raised a hand to help them either, she thought to herself unashamed. None of them would have accepted my help any way.
She met Gilbert's eyes squarely, “There was nothing you could have done to save him.”
Gilbert scowled at her, “There should have been a way.” Hi took a long drink from him mug and sighed deeply. “Have you heard about the new one.”
“There's a new child in Austria's nursery.”
“A Hapsburg cousin or by-blow? I heard he likes to keep a few nearby for emergencies.” Like a sudden flu epidemic or birthing gone wrong, one of his royals dies and Austria has a new one for marriages and alliances before the will could be read.
“No. Not a Hapsburg. Not a mortal either.”
A shot of pure unadulterated fear ran through Vreni's spine. Any ease the alcohol gave her froze away. “Where?” she whispered. Not Lemania or Rhodania, she prayed, Not Vaud or Ticino. Please don't make me plot to kill a child, please don't make me face a baby over ownership of my land. I can't I won't mypeoplearemine butIcan'tkillachild.
"Vienna, strangely enough.” Prussia finished his drink and signalled for two more. “And Roderich hasn't smothered her in her sleep so he must know she's not a threat to him.”
The vice on her heart loosened. “How do you know this?”
"Saxony told me.” Gilbert said airily. “Saw Württemburg go after it with an axe and Roderich snapped his neck."
I taught him how to fight. She thought shakily to herself. Got a haybale and told him which places to hit with his little knife. Did I ever think Roderich would be able to kill a duchy with his bare hands? Did I ever think he would WANT to kill a fellow Nation?
"It's not that impressive. He was dying anyway. But the child must be Germanic, for Württemburg to go after him like that.” His eyes narrowed and his smile sharpened. He might not go after the child with an axe, but Vreni hoped the nameless child stayed safely in their nursery, with Austria and Hungary to defend them. The life expectancy for child Nations was not high.
Vreni swallowed down the last of her drink. She resolved to leave at dawn, circle as much of her border as she could in her time limit. Just the be sure her land was all still hers.