Duchess of Zeon
The man who reached the dias was very frail. There was a hushed
silence in the chamber, even from the socialists, as he surmounted
it, that ancient form returning to the building which he had for so
long disdained and now, ultimately, was forced to rely upon. His
face, however, was reanimated with a certain form of vigour which
crossed over the ages and annihilated, for a moment, the painful
frailty of his form. He was wearing his uniform, which he had not
done since he reentered politics at Chancellor Goering's invitation
those years before.
He paused for a moment at the podium and then began to speak, with an intensity that none in the room could recall him as having had in the many years prior, an intensity which recalled his youth and middle-age. The Old Man was alive again, young again, in the brilliance and horror of the hour. The cold weather had bitten into his lungs on the journey over, dressed as he was in clothes that his tailor could not fit onto him quite right anymore, but it did not matter. Nothing mattered except for this single moment.
“You may sit,” Chancellor Goering called out after a moment's silence as Wilhelm stood at the podium. The amassed deputies of the Reichstag and the Bundesrat settled down with a great rustling in the awesome New Baroque chamber of the Reichstag building, called together in special session by Goering after news had reached Germany of the Rape of Rome, as it was already being called. The brutal attack on a city which had been declared open, the terrible slaughter and depravities which were still ongoing. And some other news, which would be soon to be unveiled by the Kaiser.
“Gentlemen of our august deliberative bodies,” Wilhelm began, his voice carrying with a haunting intensity, belying his age now for what would be the last time, the strength of distant days carried forth for when it was most needed.
“Into the midst of the deepest peace,” the Kaiser began, hardly truth, but it did not matter now, “the torch of war has been hurled. A crime unprecedented in its brazenness, horrifying in its cruelty, has been dealt to the heart of Christian civilization. The Dominate of Drakia, presumptious in their strength of arms, landed on the Italian coast at the place called Anzio, and despite determined resistance used their overwhelming strength in numbers to threaten Rome in a single stroke. The Italian government was forced into general flight, and in the interest of preserving the common treasures of Europe and Christendom declared Rome to be an Open City.
“I speak to you with deep shame, as a Christian man and as a European, that we could have nursed such a foul snake upon the breast of the Church and in the blood of our race! But this shame cannot erase the horrible fact. The troops of the Dominate, in direct contravention of the laws of war and of civilization, spitting in the face of their heritage, have commenced the sack of an open city! They have let their slave-troops, their Janissaries—those men named after the foul troops of the Turks whom all of Christendom united against to repulse, when they stood at the gates of Vienna and with their fleet, ready to overcome the whole Mediterranean—engage in wanton rapine and pillage, in the butchery of unarmed civilians such that even Genghis Khan might blush to see their lust for pillage, and hatred for the laws of mankind!
“They have shewn no respect for the customs of which even Oriental nations observed in ancient times, the sancity of neutral citizens and the rights of Ambassadors and Embassies. They struck the representative of this government and carried him off!” The Kaiser declared, the audience captivated, even the socialists who's comrades, after all, were already hotly engaged. The thunderous declaration seemed to strain the old man to the limit, but he was not through. “There are many others under the protection of the laws of embassies; women who have been taken and besoiled by their barbaric captors, men slaughtered helplessly, men of peace and of religion who bore the rights of foreign citizens!
“With fearful speed the conditions have become extremely serious. The greatest tresures of Christendom have been burned, the greatest art and Innovation of our civilization put to the torch and to the sword. Drakian armies swarm past Rome now, destroying and pillaging through thousands of years of European civilization's deepest heritage, through the common treasures and shared memory of every nation of this continent, and those we have spawned beyond it!”
There was a pause there, but before any murmuring could begin the Old Kaiser began to speak once more. “None of this, however, can compare to the crime at the heart of Rome. It is a crime to which not even the Mongols aspired, not the worst and most savage of the barbarians of history. Where once Attila stopped at the gates of Rome by the request of the Pope, Drakia has no restraint! These armies of darkness and savagery, my fellow Germans, have entered the Vatican—a neutral and sovereign country which we have recognized and granted all the rights of any other state!--and have proceeded to sack it! They have made war on the ruler of half of Christendom in their avarice and in their scorn for Christian morality and Christian virtue!
“It has now been confirmed,” Wilhelm continued, abruptly solemn and his voice lowering, as though the intensity of the last sentences was completely physically draining, “that Pope Pius was slaughtered, struck down by these savages, in the Basilica of Saint Peter's. The Swiss Guard, with all the customary virtue and honour of the Swiss nation, fought to the death in his defense, but their sacrifice, though it shall live in the analls of history forever, did not preserve the life of the Pontiff.”
There was a stirring from the South German and Silesian delegates. The Poles, to, elected in the restored Danzig corridor. Their hostility to the cynical trade of their government was erased in a heartbeat. These men rose as one, and slowly the Protestant delegates around them rose as well, looking on in a stunned sort of silence that hung perfectly in the Reichstag. A shock, that as they realized that what had been said must be true, slowly started to turn. It was in those minutes of silence that Wilhelm rested, breathing heavily, pushing himself well beyond what his doctors recommended. And then he began to speak again.
“The German flag has been insulted, and the German Empire”--for there he lapsed into the old modes of speech, forgetting that the Republic, for the moment, still stood--“held up to scorn. This by itself demands an exemplary punishment and revenge. But it does not stand by itself. Indeed, it becomes a crime of near irrelevance to the crime which has been committed by the Dominate; that is a crime against all of civilization and in particular all of Christendom. The worst traits of mankind have been fostered in the Domination. They have scorned our morality and our history, they have scorned their faith, and they have scorned their duty to raise up the races of Africa into civilization.
“We have our duty. It is the duty that we hold as civilized men, as Germans, as Christians, that transcends denomination and politics. I appeal to those who have remained loyal to the dynasty in these trying times and to the socialists who know the sufferings of Russia alike. I appeal to them to be aware of their common heritage and the fact that their ideologies have come from a common source, and share a common morality. This is a time when the bonds of Europe and her interests coincide perfectly.
“We have been called upon, my fellow Germans, to prove ourselves as worthy of the titles which we have claimed across the whole globe, as the purveyors of civilization and of all high ideals. Thus I ask you now to avenge injustice, to not turn away into petty squabble and excuse, but rather keep yourselves focused on a transcendant duty, on the defense of religion and way of life; on the effort of preventing millions of free men from falling into slavery; and on the absolute duty of avenging such a wrong as this, of upholding these basic laws of mankind.
“I ask you, my fellow Germans, to pass by the constitution of our nation, the necessary declaration of war which shall carry us into this conflict full of the fury of our righteous anger, full of the power of certitude which carries with those who fight not merely for the honour of their nation, but for their pride in every value which they hold dear!!”
The Old Kaiser tottered as if barely able to stand so great had been his effort. But his eyes were clear and his ears still functioned, and through them he watched and heard as the Reichstag exploded into a chant. It had started with Goering's men, of course, but spread of its own volition to the rest of the chamber. They were chanting for war, monarchist and socialist, fascist and trade-unionist alike, in a terrible thunder which represented the anger and determination of the German nation. It last for several minutes and only slowed died off; the Kaiser waited through it, drawing his strength once more.
“We must go forth as comrades with the whole of the world which stands together in the common defense of our shared values. This is a fight for the whole German nation; it is also a fight for the whole of the civilized world. Bear in mind that our struggle is not merely over an insult to our nation, however great that was and however just intervention would be for it alone; rather, let us also remember something higher--our religion--and the defense and protection of our Christian brothers overseas, of which many have stood up for their Savior with their life in the testament of martyrdom against their Drakian oppressors!
“Keep that fact well in your minds and hearts; yet remember also our military honour, of those who have fought for this nation before, and will fight for it again, those soldiers who did their utmost to preserve our honour before and now must fight to preserve the honour of Christendom. Let us then make this vote with the old motto of the flag of Brandenburg in the forefront: “'Trust God, defend yourself bravely. In that lies all your honor! For whomever ventures on God with a full heart will never be routed.'”
The chamber erupted again, the explosion of emotion, the raccous cheering mixed with chanting, some of the Catholic deputies weeping, the uproar of all of human emotion at its full sweep as the packed galleries either mimicked it or sat on in awed silence. Through it the Kaiser was silent, gathering himself yet again, and as the emotion faded after many minutes of outpouring, he yet again spoke, quietly at first, his voice filled with emotion:
“I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the expression of your loyalty and your esteem. When it comes to war, all parties cease and we are all brothers—Germans and Christians one and all. One or another party has attacked me in peacetime, they have slandered—and yes, they have held me back from my throne--but now I forgive them wholeheartedly. Since these barbaric snakes have chosen pillage and murder, then we hope and wish that our good German sword will come victorious out of this war!”
At that point the Kaiser drew his sword, a painful, terrible weight for the old man, and somehow managed to hold it high above his head. “The sword is drawn, and with it I can only pray that every German man shall also throw away his scabbard and take up the banner of war—shall prove himself a man, and a christian!”
Yet again the room was filled with the roaring voices of hundreds. The Kaiser felt weak, and tired. He did not want to go on anymore. Slowly lowering the sword, he held it out to Goering, who noticed the gesture and spoke over the surf's roar of the crowd. “Your Majesty?” Those were words that had not been used to Wilhelm in so long, and he was heartened by them.
“I will not live to see this war, Chancellor. Give my sword to my son when he returns from it, and...” The Kaiser's voice faltered. Goering reached out, catching the Kaiser's hand in his own, and thereby holding the sword up. Wilhelm grasped the side of the podium to steady himself in turn. The cheering fell away and slowly the deputies became aware of the drama that was playing out. As the voices drifted away the Kaiser regained his strength, somewhat, and finished the sentence: “Give him my Kingdom, also.”
The Kaiser faltered and collapsed; Goering caught him just in time, one of his hands gripping firmly upon the sword and the other steadying the Kaiser as his doctor, who had been waiting paranoiacally back from the podium, rushed forward along with several other functionaries. Carefully Goering, who felt almost saddened, and almost blessed, by what had happened, let go of the Kaiser for them to take care of, and moved up onto the speaker's dias himself, holding up the Kaiser's sword.
“Let us hold the vote by acclaimation!” He thundered, holding that sword high. “Shall the Kaiser's sword be sheathed!?”
The roar was a resounding No! That echoed through the chamber with the greatest of intensity, the shocked deputies caught up a rollercoaster of emotion.
“IS IT WAR, THEN!?”
And the response was clearly unaminous.
The Kaiser stirred faintly. He was in intense pain from pneumonia and he knew he was going to die. The number of days which had past since the speech had become indistinct, but it did not matter. The sound of military boots on the floor of his bedroom alerted him, vaguely, that it was someone other than the doctors who had been helpless to allow his frail body to recover.
“Your Majesty, it is I, Chancellor Goering,” the voice said softly, and politely.
“Chancellor,” the Kaiser weakly rasped, the simple act of breathing for that word causing incredible and intense pain in his lungs. “What news do you bring me?”
“The nation is at war; all the people are behind the effort,” Goering replied, kneeling by the Kaiser's bedside. “And your son has gone to his post in the Army. He shall carry the honour of the Hohenzollern name for you, Your Majesty, and carry it well as we both know.”
“Yes, yes...” The Kaiser replied ever so weakly; the pain, though, seemed to somewhat fade. “It is well that he goes to fight.”
“There is more, Your Majesty,” Goering continued. “As I promised you for your support in governing those years before, as I promised to restore the Empire... It has been done. There was only the least of resistance, now that the war has started and after your most splendid speech, Your Majesty. I.. I do apologize, that it could not be accomplished sooner. But the Empire shall stand again, with myself as Regent, until your son returns from the front and might be coronated.”
The Kaiser wheezed in with shock and pleasure in the news. He knew, then, that he would die soon. But it did not matter; he had done right by his family and his nation and God would judge him in that light. The blemish on the line of Hohenzollern was wiped away. “I... I know you shall serve my nation and my house in good standing, Prince Goering. My faith has been rewarded and I shall go to God with the comfort of that knowledge.” The pain was white hot, but for those words it did not matter. They were the last words that need be said, after all.
“Rest, Your Majesty,” Goering replied—though he could not help but feeling a welling at that title, within him. “You have served the German people well, and at last God has decided you deserve your reward from your long tribulations.”
Goering's politeness to the dying man was rewarded with a faint nod, the last that the Kaiser could force himself to manage. Then he rose, and made his way slowly from the room to speak to the doctors. The Kaiser died later that night on 20 September 1941, fourteen hundred and ninety years to the day after the Roman Army of Flavius Aetius had turned back Attila at the Battle of Chalons.