Actions

Work Header

Neutrality

Work Text:

In a few moments, I will don the uniform of Colonel in Chief of the Samavian Light Cavalry. I will stand beside my king, and listen to his declaration of neutrality. The Germans have chosen to aid Italy in their battle for Greece and our beautiful Samavia is on their most likely invasion path. Like Switzerland, our neutrality is an armed one. Unlike Switzerland, we have no useful position or industry to keep other countries from testing our resolve. We have been lucky through one world war and its treaties. It was too much to hope for, even pray for, that we would once again be allowed our hard won peace.

I've tried to tell this story, write it, many times. The first attempts were exercises in Samavian, and those early notes have been preserved for future historians, but, although I've lived in Samavia for nearly thirty years and been a citizen for twenty, I find myself returning to my milk-tongue, English, to pull my thoughts together.

***
Ratcliffe still thought of himself as "The Rat" though neither Marco nor the King would allow him to be called by that demeaning nickname. In the first few months after the coronation and the second, more luxurious, trip across Europe, Ratcliffe had found himself overawed by the state in which he now lived. He and Marco learned Melzarr by heart, both on horseback protected by guards, and alone as street kids, talking to the boys their own age and listening closely.

Every night, they'd sit at the small table in the breakfast room and eat a simple supper of salad, dark bread, simply prepared meats or fish, and fresh fruit with cream or cheese to end it. Lazarus still insisted he serve the master personally, standing behind his chair, but the King had made him understand that Ratcliffe's place in the court would be a different one. The fourth place at the table held maps, paper, pens, and sometimes objects from the day's travels. As they ate, the King would ask them both about what they saw and where they went and what they made of it. He listened closely, as if they weren't boys still shy of thirteen, and made notes while he nodded in acknowledgement.

One evening in late August, the King asked Ratcliffe to stay behind. Marco looked between them before he said, "Of course, father," and bowed to leave the room.

"Thank you, Lazarus; I will ring if I need anything. Come get me at nine, if I haven't finished. I'm to have a meeting with the British Ambassador over chocolate."

"Your majesty," Lazarus said and left the room without turning his back on his sovereign.

"So, Ratcliffe, I have need of your advice."

"Am I being asked to keep this conversation secret from Marco?"

"No. I value your loyalty to him, but I wanted your opinion without his influence."

Ratcliffe drew his brows together and thought hard. "I will do my best, sir."

"Firstly, there's a piece of business to get out of the way. I want you and Marco to make time in your days to learn to shoot pistols and to begin basic training in hand fighting. The swords master will also start lessons with Marco."

"I'm certain I could shoot, sir, but hand fighting?"

The King smiled benignly. "None would expect it of you, and it's better, should a kidnapping attempt be made, that you know how to use your crutches as a weapon without risking harm to yourself or Marco. Once the pistol master says you're good enough, you'll carry it on you at all times. You'll truly be my son's aide-de-camp and body guard."

Ratcliffe straightened with pride in his chair and said, "I will learn quickly. Should I also learn how to use knives?"

"That will be part of your hand combat training."

"Very good, sir."

"Now, for the advice I must ask you. My advisors suggest that Marco be sent back to England for school, Eton or Winchester, before going on to Oxford or Cambridge, perhaps Heidelberg or the Sorbonne, if he'd prefer. I want to know what you think of that. Tell me frankly."

Ratcliffe leaned back in his chair and remembered the two great thoughts the Buddhist had taught the King and which Marco had taught him. He tried to see if the actions would do any man harm, first. Then he examined what their benefit might be and how widely that benefit could spread. Lastly, he considered Marco's preferences.

Finally, he said, "I think it would be a mistake at this moment. When it comes time for preparation for university exams, then send him for a year or two of advanced study in whichever country he wishes to attend university in. But for now, send for tutors." Ratcliffe frowned deeply. "Sir, what schools does the Melzarr have? Or indeed any of the cities of Samavia? How are the ones with talent and ability and ambition trained?"

It was the King's turn to contemplate before speaking. "We have schools, of course. They're mostly organized by the professions. The sons of sailors have a very good school in Lamarria. Most little villages have their dame schools, but there is nothing provided such as you describe. If I bring in tutors for Marco, then the people will see the value of education is in the learning, not the place. Those tutors could be guides for us to put together schools and possibly help train teachers." The King nodded. "Your advice is sound, Ratcliffe. You'll be tutored with Marco, of course."

"No, sir, it's not fit that I…"

"Ratcliffe, my son works hard, even at learning what he needs to know. But a mind is like a knife, it needs to be honed and no knife can hone itself. You are very strong in logic, and that's one of Marco's weaknesses. You'll learn beside him."

Ratcliffe thought to himself, "Yes, I can be stone which will hone him to razor sharpness. I will work hard, so that he has a worthy partner in learning." Aloud, he said, "I will, sir."

The King frowned for a moment. "Is it that you want to return home to England? We should miss you. Samavia should miss one of her Bearers, but you may return if you'd be happier there."

Dismay filled Ratcliffe's young face. "No, sir. Please let me stay and serve the Fedorovitch dynasty to the best of my abilities."

"Of course, you may stay with us. You are one of us." The King glanced at the clock and saw he still had some time left before his meeting with the ambassador. "Now, then, tell me what you think could be done to improve distribution of the food and supplies the great countries of Europe have sent us."

When the King dismissed him a half hour later, he had two pages of notes to take to the next day's cabinet meeting. By running around the city, paying attention, and listening to the people, this boy had identified flaws and come up with simple solutions. Ratcliffe was going to be an excellent Royal Advisor when he came into his own.

***
The first great conflagration which swept Europe had done Samavia no harm. Marco and Ratcliffe both wanted to find ways to fight. Recognizing that Marco could actually slip away and be taken by an Army -- he looked far older than his fourteen years and he already had some training -- the King organized militias for each town and three specialist regiments which would provide training and skills should the Great War spill over their borders.

The war helped Samavia more than the aid the great countries had provided, although Samavia would have been in no position to capitalize on the opportunities had the aid not been distributed for the two years prior to the war.

The wool from their sheep was sent to England and France to be milled and made into uniforms. Many a soldier on the Ypres Salient owed his life to the warmth of Samavian wool. The grapes that weren't made into rich wines for export were dried into raisins and, along with Samavian almonds and walnuts, found their way into the Allied soldiers' rations.

When the war was over, the King sent Marco and Ratcliffe to Cambridge. Ratcliffe took history and politics. Marco specialized in philosophy and law.

They came home to Samavia and roamed the country: on foot and horseback in the mountains and the fields, by train and motor car in the cities. They found towns near their southern border which made exquisite pottery and found ways to promote it among the fashionable people in the world's capitals. Their wines were valued highly, especially the dessert wines, and became another export. Between them, they figured out places where spinning and weaving factories could be built without harming the natural beauty of the countryside and their wool and linen was also highly valued by the couturiers and tailors of Europe.

Their efforts made Marco loved, and helped him with his people when his father died fifteen years after his midnight coronation. When Marco attended his own coronation, it was in a Cathedral which had been rebuilt in splendor. The cheers of his people resounded even more loudly when he married the next year.

Their efforts also allowed them a surplus to store when the Great Depression hit. The exports weren't being purchased by the rest of the world, but the crown bought wool and linen, stored food and distributed it during the hardest times, too. Samavia might be small and rugged, but its people were happy, warm, and well fed which was more than some of the great nations could claim.

Truly, the first twenty-eight years after the Fedorovitch restoration was a golden age of Samavia.

***
I don't know what will happen to Samavia. The King, Marco, and I managed to keep the newly formed Yugoslavia from grabbing us at the end of the first war. Now we wonder whether we will still exist after a new war -- a foreign war uniting the populace rather than a civil war dividing it -- or will one of our greater neighbors subsume us.

I can say that my life was promised to my adopted country when I was just twelve years old. If we're invaded, if I fall in battle, every moment since I took that oath will have been worth the sacrifice. God save my King, Ivor the Second, whom I know as Marco. God save the queen his wife and the young heir apparent. God save Samavia.