Chapter Four: The Declaration at Brenholt
It is now common knowledge that Queen Corina of Marchenland sent her only daughter, the Crown Princess Elisabeth, as emissary to King Edmund of Enholt to ask for help against an impending war with Margravia. The specifics of that particular mission are now lost to time and war, but Princess Elisabeth traveled in secret, with only her second-in-command and a prototype of the F.A.L.A.D.A. initiative (the predecessor to the clockwork draft-horses of the 21st century) to accompany her.1 Her ill-placed trust in her Wing Commander, Alida Hesse, on this occasion sealed the fate of all 3 kingdoms: Hesse sabotaged the clockwork horse with explosives timed to go off during the welcome dinner at Brenholt, blinding Prince Bennett in the left eye and rendering Princess Elisabeth unconscious for almost three weeks.
King Edmund rightly saw this as an act of war, and declared war on Margravia a day after Hesse confessed to being a Margravian agent under orders to assassinate the royal heir of Enholt, in order to turn the kingdom against Marchenland.2
For 200 years, this has been the accepted story behind the Declaration at Brenholt.
It does not explain why Dominik of Margravia, an otherwise shrewd and able ruler, would provoke a non-combatant who posed little threat on the eve of war. It does not explain why Queen Corina of Marchenland sent her only child and heiress on a treacherous journey across the country and the icy Eisfluss in February in the company of a subordinate of dubious origins. It does not explain Princess Elisabeth’s extended despondency3 after waking from three weeks of coma, especially as the goal of her trip had been accomplished with aplomb.
By curious coincidence, there is another Alida recorded in the annals of the Royal Air Corps - her name is Alida Walter. She is the same age as Hesse, of the same rank, and even served under the same group captain: Princess Elisabeth. After the war began in earnest, Wg Cdr Walter was reassigned to the zeppelin supply lines, an obvious waste of a decorated and talented officer. The only point of contrast is in their deaths: Alida Walter’s death occured at the helm of the second resupply to the Drelstein mountain blockade, when she perished in an attempt to rescue officers and staff from an ignited zeppelin cell.4
Equally curiously, no record of her funeral can be found. In light of her posthumous medal of valour, this fact is especially peculiar. It is also worth noting that her surname, Walter, has the base meaning ‘army leader’.
The inductive leap is simple - from the assembled facts, it is perfectly possible that Alida Walter and Alida Hesse are the same person, recorded twice, with radically different outcomes. Alida Walter is the real Alida; she is the record that speaks truthfully of the sacrifice she made: to be remembered and castigated as a traitor to both queen and service to ensure the survival of her country.
Alida Walter grew up on the southern border of Evelake, eldest in a family of five.5 When her parents died in a fishing accident, she left her siblings with an elderly aunt and joined the Royal Air Corps, then still in its infancy. Her twice-weekly stipend was marked for direct transfer to her aunt.6
Under the encouragement of Artificer Peters, Alida volunteered as one of the first pilots for the newly invented biplane. It was there, in the aviator’s quarters, that she first encountered Princess Elisabeth on a state visit. There are no surviving firsthand accounts of that meeting, but two years later the princess herself joined the same squadron.7
It was this Alida, the constant companion and mentor of ten years, that Queen Corina of Marchenland tasked with safeguarding Princess Elisabeth.
The strongest argument in favour of Alida Hesse’s innocence are two-fold.
- Assuming the goal was to rid King Dominik of Margravia of Princess Elisabeth, the leader of the only military organization present in Marchenland, it would be much simpler to have murdered her during the trip to Brenholt, when Hesse and Elisabeth were alone in the wilderness.
- Assuming the goal was to murder the heir to the Enholt throne with a timed explosion from a prototype clockwork horse made in Marchenland, thereby causing a rift between the two kingdoms, why then did Hesse confess to her crimes in full?
Hesse was under no duress to make moves of any kind while imprisoned by King Edmund of Enholt. In fact, his orders were to ‘detain until further clarification’.8 And yet, on the second night of her imprisonment, after being informed that Princess Elisabeth had little to no chance of waking up from her coma,9 Alida Hesse freely offered her confession:
I, Alida Hesse, citizen of Marchenland, holding the rank of Wing Commander in the Royal Air Corps of the same, do hereby confess to being forsworn to my Queen and Commander. It was my task to place an incendiary device within the F.A.L.A.D.A. prototype, ensuring that the clockwork construct would explode in the presence of Enholt royalty. This was to ensure the death of Prince Bennett of Enholt. I was directed to do so and compensated by order of King Dominik of Margravia, with the understanding that such an act would frame Marchenland for the attempted murder of the Enholt heir and isolate the former in the coming war.10
Alida Hesse was stripped of her rank and executed by public hanging. She left no last words.11 Her body was cremated that same day, and the ashes thrown away.
Coincidentally, a year later, Wg Cdr Walter was buried without a casket by her squadron leaders in her hometown on Evelake. Some anonymous townsfolk ensure, to this day, that amaranth and rosemary grow on her gravesite.12
There are some facts that do not need to be written to be apparent. Alida Hesse was the victim of circumstances which spiralled beyond her control, and she did what she considered necessary to save her country from certain doom by the hands of Margravia’s immense army. From the choice of flowers on her gravesite, she and Princess Elisabeth were also in all likelihood lovers.
After executing the presumed spy, King Edmund of Enholt formally declared war on Margravia. It was the 24th of March, 1799.13
The Enholt ambassador to Marchenland, Baron Wittel, took the opportunity to propose an alliance with the grieving Queen Corina.14 Thus, doubly motivated by near-fatal injury to their heirs, both kingdoms went to war with Margravia.
Chapter Five: Marriage of Prince Bennett and Princess Elisabeth
During preparations for war, Prince Bennett was confined to the Enholt palace for the injury to his left eye. Thus it was that he was the first to visit Princess Elisabeth in the royal guest suite on the day that she awoke from three weeks of unconsciousness.1 Neither party divulged what they had discussed that fateful morning, but the princess’s decline into depression is well-documented.2
Once she had fully recovered, the princess departed with a convoy of army supplies to her post in Angsbury, while the prince took up logistics duty at the war command in Brenholt.3 King Edmund of Enholt was notoriously protective of his son; as the only child of a sickly mother, Prince Bennett had been forbidden from engaging in action at the front lines as Princess Elisabeth did.4
After a second failed attempt to break the blockade in the Drelstein mountains, the Princess Elisabeth consulted with King Edmund’s ambassador, Baron Wittel, and decided to fly north with half her command, to better lend Enholt more aerial support.5 Baron Wittel was to lead the rest of her squadrons in order to break the blockade and attack Margravia’s capital in a pincer move. As declassifed documents now show, he was in fact making his way to the von Drelstein stronghold behind Margravian lines to convince the family patriarch and local commander to throw his support behind the Enholt-Marchenland alliance.6
It is known that the second meeting between the princess and the prince was at the Brenholt war command. In light of the previous revelations, it is now unclear if their façade of a romantic relationship was based on diplomatic pragmatism or, the more traditional belief, true affection.
After one month together at the Enholt capital, Princess Elisabeth and Prince Bennett contracted a formal engagement, as well as the beginnings of a unification treaty that would lay the foundations for combining all three kingdoms into what is now the Wittelsmarch Empire.7
The wedding was, as war weddings go, fairly modest. Princess Elisabeth shocked the more conservative elements of both kingdoms by insisting on her officer’s blues, but otherwise the event was eclipsed by the foundering of Enholt’s 4th Battalion in the Margravian highlands.8 All wedding celebrations were curtailed as both groom and bride rushed away to handle the crisis.
The exploits of Princess Elisabeth’s command in the Royal Air Corps are detailed elsewhere in this book. Though Prince Bennett remained close Brenholt for most of the war, his contributions in coordinating the war effort made him no less indispensible to the fighting than his wife.9
Their only child, Princess Elisabeth II of Enholt-March, later Empress Elisabeth II, was born in the second year of fighting, and immediately given over to a phalanx of royal nannies.10 This pattern of childcare would continue well into their reign, but most historians, especially Kruger, recognize the argument that more pressing concerns existed elsewhere.11
Wartime saw Princess Elisabeth stationed at the front lines, overseeing first the incursions past the Drelstein Mountains, then maintaining a firm hand on morale during the years of stalemate on the plains of Margravia.
For the fall of Margravius, the royal capital and subject of a six-month siege, Prince Bennett joined his wife and Baron Wittel at the gates of the central city. Their conference outside the capital, nicknamed ‘The Marriage Treaty Talks’, stalled the progress of the troops into Margravius proper for days on end. This last struggle for power juxtaposed former ally Baron Wittel against his monarchs, for one controlled the considerable army of the combined kingdoms, and the other wielded legitimate power and controlled the air corps. In the end, the Baron Wittel emerged victor, engaged - then married by proxy - to the nine-year-old imperial heiress Princess Elisabeth II, while remaining the effective general of his standing army.12
This compromise appeared to ring a death knell in the imperial couple’s relationship; after the official coronation and investiture of state, the newly crowned Imperial Majesties parted ways to further cement the far-flung reaches of their new empire: Marchenholt. The Queen was largely abroad in Margravia, and the King ordered affairs of state at home.13
With the death of King Edmund in the spring of the twelveth year of their reign, Empress Elisabeth I of Marchenholt returned to the imperial capital at Brenholt, to better check the rising influence of Prince Consort Wittel, formerly Baron.14 However, their imperial majesties made use of their own suites, and did not appear to share more than the throne. This distant, pragmatic state of affairs continued until their deaths decades later.15