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Saturday 16 July 2011

3rd Excerpt from "Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats"

This excerpt takes place immediately after the funeral of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, when Archduke Karl meets with the Czech princes who attended the requiem..

“....Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla…”
“Day of wrath, that dreadful day, the whole world shall lie in ashes…” he whispered, when suddenly the sound of raised voices echoed from the Medieval Gate where three men stood talking loudly.
Striding in their direction, Karl immediately recognised them as the Czech Princes Kinsky, Schwarzenberg and Lobkowitz, who had knelt reverently in the chapel and seemed genuinely saddened by the deaths. Seeing him approach they turned in unison and, though their greeting was polite, there was an obvious hostility etched into their faces.
“Gentlemen, it is a sad day…” Karl began in a conciliatory tone but rather than placating them his words provoked anger.
Prince Kinsky was the first to speak, “A sad day and a thoroughly shameful one!”
“Shameful?” Karl said, uncertain of his meaning.
“Had I not seen this for myself, I would never have believed it.”
“Montenuovo,” Prince Lobkowitz said, “should be publicly humiliated and dismissed at once for such an affront. How dare so vile and insignificant a creature dishonour the Archduke and his wife in this way!”
Though his own feelings were slightly less vehement, Karl immediately warmed to these men who shared his disgust at the treatment of Sophie and Franz Ferdinand.
“It is a great insult to my uncle’s memory…” he began but Prince Kinsky interrupted,
“If I were in the Emperor’s position I would have Montenuovo flogged for this.”
Lobkowitz agreed, “As if it were not enough that they treated Her Highness so atrociously in her lifetime, they now go out of their way to abuse her in death.”
“And as for that excuse for a requiem…” Kinsky said so angrily that he could barely blurt out his words and looked to Schwarzenberg to speak for him.
“Who told the Cardinal to rush through the service and why were there so few mourners? We know that many foreign royalties wished to attend but they were not allowed to do so. King Carol of Roumania was actually turned back at the border!”
Appalled by this information, Karl shook his head, “I had no idea.”
Kinsky, regaining his composure, said, “Even our own people were turned away. Crowds had gathered to file past the coffins. Many had patiently waited in line since dawn, and others had made the effort to travel from different parts of the empire but almost four hours before the service began Montenuovo had the doors locked and refused them entry.”
“It would be understandable,” Schwarzenberg said, “if the public were to be given another opportunity of paying their respects but we have just been told that there will be no formal procession to the station. The bodies are to be shipped away in the night like a pair of executed criminals.”
“At least,” Kinsky said bitterly, “when they reach Artstetten they will be given the honour they deserve. I thank God that the Archduke had the foresight to make provision for himself and Her Highness in Bohemia where they have always been shown the respect and affection that was so sorely denied them in Vienna.”
Karl stared down at the ground and said quietly, “I know it is small consolation but I agree with everything you have said. I was very fond of my uncle and I know that all of this has been conducted in a shameful manner. The Emperor, however, is not to blame. He…”
“The Emperor allowed this to happen,” Kinsky said. “It is common knowledge that he intensely disliked Archduke Franz Ferdinand and I dare say that he is more than relieved by this turn of events.”
“No!” Karl protested loyally. “It’s true that they disagreed about many things but the Emperor is truly horrified and saddened by what has happened.”
Kinsky shook his head scornfully and opened his mouth to say more but Schwarzenberg urgently intervened as though fearful of what his companion had been about to say.
“You must understand, Your Imperial Highness, that the Archduke was the only member of your family who truly understood and respected the Bohemian people. As in so many other parts of this empire, there is a feeling among the Czechs that we are issued with orders from Vienna by people who have no understanding of our culture and our way of life. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was different and, of course, his wife was one of our own people. The Choteks might be sneered at here, but in Bohemia they are a highly respected family.”
Lobkowitz nodded, “Unlike the ministers or even the Emperor – to whom, I assure you, we remain devoted – the Archduke listened to us. We even hoped that when he eventually succeeded to the throne he might restore the Kingdom of Bohemia as an autonomous region within the empire in much the same way as the Kingdom of Bavaria is both autonomous and part of the German Empire.”
Karl nodded thoughtfully and wondered whether it would be imprudent to suggest that, like Uncle Franz, he recognised the need for greater freedom and self-government in the various provinces.
Schwarzenberg, seeming to read his thoughts, said, “Of course, this is not an appropriate time to discuss your future plans but, as you are now heir, perhaps you will consider what we have said and honour the Archduke’s memory by implementing some of his ideas.”
“Uncle Franz had many plans for reform. He was well-travelled and well-read and, though as yet I lack his wisdom and experience, I hope that one day I will be able to combine our great traditions with some of his more progressive ideas.”
“Then I suggest,” said Kinsky, “that you keep your views to yourself until you are in a position to execute them.”
Karl, disturbed by his ominous tone, ran his foot over the cobbles, inadvertently kicking a stone that flew across the courtyard and ricocheted on the opposite wall.
Schwarzenberg moved closer, “The details of exactly what happened in Sarajevo remain unclear. Perhaps you could elucidate?”
Karl opened his hands helplessly, “The killer, Gavrilo Princip, was a nineteen-year-old Bosnian who believed that by assassinating Uncle Franz he would further the cause of a South Slav Kingdom. Princip wasn’t working alone. There were several would-be assassins in the street that day…”
“We have read all of this in the newspapers but it makes so little sense,” Kinsky said impatiently. “Doesn’t it strike you as odd that a group that is allegedly comprised of Serbian officers, ministers and lawyers should choose a set of incompetent kids to carry out such an attack?”
“I suppose,” Karl said, “young men like Princip are malleable. It is easy to train them into believing their actions are justified, and their leaders view them as dispensable.”
Kinsky’s eyes narrowed, “Imagine if we were planning the assassination of someone as important as the heir to an empire. Whom would we choose to carry it out – a tubercular boy who, from all accounts, hadn’t even held a gun until a few months ago, or a skilled marksman with experience of weapons?”
Karl shook his head, “What are you suggesting?”
“Is there any proof that this boy was acting on behalf of the Black Hand?”
“The Emperor has ordered a thorough investigation so we must wait for its findings.”
Kinsky threw back his head, “The investigators will find whatever they are told to find, which undoubtedly means they will implicate the Serbian government in the murders.”
Karl glanced warily across the courtyard.
“You are aware, I suppose,” Shwarzenberg said, lowering his voice to a whisper, “that the Serbian Prime Minister, Pasic, warned our ambassador in Belgrade that a plot was afoot and the Archduke’s life would be in danger if he travelled to Sarajevo?”
Karl, increasingly unnerved, shook his head.
“Pasic had received word that these assassins were planning to disrupt the visit and he gave orders that they were to be arrested at the border.”
“And,” Lobkowitz said, “three days before the Archduke left Vienna, the Serbian envoy gave Bilinski, the Civil Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the same warning but in every case these warning were ignored.”
“Why?” Karl frowned.
“Why indeed?” Kinsky looked up at the sky. “One thing is certain, there are several men within our own empire and even more international intriguers who had far more to gain from His Imperial Highness’ death than the Serbs had. When did the Archduke receive his invitation to Sarajevo?”
Karl shrugged, “I don’t know. A few months ago, I would imagine.”
“Around the time of the Emperor’s illness, perhaps?”
“The thought that the Emperor might die must have triggered a great deal of fear in certain circles. Everyone knew that the Archduke had already prepared lists of the ministers whom he would remove from office; and everyone knew, too, that he had no intention of supporting an invasion of Serbia.”
“There is no proof,” Schwarzenberg said, “that these boys were linked to the Black Hand. Even if they were duped into believing that they were acting on behalf of that group, who is to say that that was actually the case?”
Karl’s stomach churned, “You are saying that his murder was planned by …”
“No,” Schwarzenberg interrupted, “we are accusing no one. We are merely making observations.”
Lobkowitz nodded, “Who knows what goes on in the shady world of spies and agent provocateurs?”
“You must admit,” Kinsky said, looking directly at Karl, “that the timing and manner of His Imperial Highness’s death couldn’t have worked out better for many of those ministers in Vienna if they had planned the whole thing themselves. Now, they can remain secure in their positions of power; and this very public killing has provided them with the perfect excuse they were seeking to invade Serbia.”
Again Karl remembered Franz Ferdinand’s words on the evening of the ball: “…What frightens me, Karl, is the thought that these people would willingly manipulate us into a situation where war becomes inevitable. To all intents and purposes, it will be seen as an imperial war fought by kings but in fact the whole tragedy will have been engineered by ministers and generals who will then use the ensuing chaos to set themselves up in our place.”
“And,” Kinsky said, “they must be rejoicing that they are not only rid of the Archduke, but also his wife whom they all treated so appallingly.”
“Isn’t it strange,” Schwarzenberg nodded, “that Princip was as close to Her Highness as I am to you, yet he claims that he killed her by accident?”
Karl stared at the ground, weighed down by so many conflicting thoughts and emotions that for several minutes he could not speak and when he eventually did so, his voice trembled, “What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing,” Kinsky said. “There is nothing to be done. The investigation will produce its report, and history will record these events accordingly but, with all due respect, Your Imperial Highness, be aware that very few world events are ever quite as simple as they are presented for posterity.”
“Indeed,” said Lobkowitz. “Documents disappear, investigations run into insurmountable obstacles, and the truth is lost in the fairy tales that are told to keep the public happy. It is so often the case that beneath these stories, there are layers upon layers of artifice, and even when we have a glimpse of the truth and the immediate culprits are unmasked, there are many more who lurk in the shadows and whose guilt is never uncovered.”
Karl nodded sadly. Just as the news of the murder had shattered the beauty of a summer afternoon, so, too, had Uncle Franz death wrecked the idyll of the age of innocence.
“Whether or not we will ever know the truth of what happened in Sarajevo, there is something we can do now to honour Uncle Franz and Sophie.”
The three princes looked at him with interest.
“There are still crowds outside who would like to pay their respects as the bodies are taken to the station.”
“Police cordons have been set up to keep the people away.”
“The police will give way to the new heir apparent. Gentlemen, perhaps you will join me in leading the crowds in procession so that we can at least mark the Archduke’s departure from Vienna in a manner that’s honourable and fitting.”

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