By Alex Richards
On the Sea Lion Press Forums, we run a monthly Vignette Challenge. Contributors are invited to write vignettes on a specific theme (changed monthly).
The thirteenth theme was, perhaps inevitably, Luck
When the White Horse Rides Again
Light, glinting and flashing chaotically off angled metal. Flashes of reflected lamplight skating across the walls in kaleidoscopic fashion, glancing across the other items in the darkened study, reflecting off glass and metalwork to create yet further disturbances in the patterns of light.
Georg continued to slowly rotate the twisted metalwork in his hands, this way and that, back and forth, up and down, staring intently at the source of those flashes in meditative fashion. Some might have considered to be a piece of modern art- perhaps by a minor Italian futurist or Cubist- with its twisted angles, hard edges and the dynamism apparent from the longish pole erupting from out of a slightly curved plane, the latter dashed with a few bits of black paint. Others, noting the mix of sturdy construction and shear edges might have assumed it was some sort of apprentice's practice work.
Few would have realised it had once been part of a car.
The nightmares had come less frequently over the years, but it was still rare he went more than a few weeks without his slumber being intruded on by a sudden rush of speed, trees flashing by, loose stones flying from the road. Sometimes he got as far as the spinning and the horrid crunch as the back of the car met unyielding wood before waking up in a cold sweat.
Somehow, miraculously, he'd survived. Walked away even, though not without a limp that he'd never been able to shake. Some would have attributed it to divine intervention, or to their own abilities, or to destiny. In his gut he'd always known that the truth was more prosaic. He'd been lucky. Luckier than anyone perhaps had any right to be. He'd been more careful since, avoided big risks and invested cautiously. He preferred to take the train where possible, cycled short distances and refused, point blank, to ever get on a plane.
And he'd not been behind the wheel of a car for 35 years.
The shrapnel he was holding had been his near constant companion in all that time. A constant reminder of the fragility of life, of the need not to take things for granted. Of the fact that, far too often, luck rather than any measure of personal skill would determine his fate.
In many ways, his luck had held. He'd met his Maud, fallen in love, married and managed to smooth everything out with their respective families with relative ease. The war had seen he and his father end up on opposite sides of that great conflict- a matter of no small personal agony for all involved- but he'd been on home duties for the duration and unlike so many came out of the war with a larger family than he started off with.
Then had come his father's death. He'd always known that his fate would, one day, to become head of the family, carry on the claim to land and title unjustly taken. A daunting task when considering the ever dwindling number of supporters back home who truly believed in the cause rather than just wanting more power for themselves. For a while he'd been concerned that his marriage to Maud, or especially the war which put his homeland and the land he had made his home against eachother, would mean the end of the old dream, but perhaps in the end the fact that his goals were antithetical to the enemy government meant they were judiciously 'overlooked'.
If he'd been exceptionally lucky in the Great War, the next two decades had seen merely the ordinary sort of luck- good and bad- that any family went through. Some investments paid off, some didn't, the household shrank even as his family grew and it was only the new technologies of the modern era that meant they were able to maintain the life they'd become accustomed to. Maud had given him 5 children, and he'd taken great joy in watching them grow and blossom. True young Georg could be too serious, and he had serious doubts that Louise would ever find someone who'd match her exacting standards, but if these were the worst he had to worry about he truly couldn't complain.
And then, just as he'd started to think that the life of a Country Gentleman might not be a fine thing to aspire to rather than simply settle for, that damn Austrian Corporal had taken over in Berlin and his brother's letters started getting increasingly worried. The last one had come at Christmas of 1937. Alix and the children had arrived a couple of months later, just before Austria ceased to exist, and rumours of house arrest had followed. Young George and Ernest went to war, and his nephews had followed in the spring of '41 once it became clear Ernst had been killed.
He'd responded by throwing himself into efforts to organise a resistance in his homeland. It wasn't all that much, and his resources were small, but he still had a few contacts there who were able to pass on information and it was better than sitting around watching his people being bombed by the nation he'd made his home in and doing nothing to shorten their suffering.
And then, at some point in the autumn of '43, it started feeling like he was actually making a difference. The threat that London would respond to the Blitz with blanket area bombing in Germany had receded as the strategic strikes took their hold, and he'd been able to feed information through about where those strikes would be best aimed. He'd acquired more contacts, more sympathetic people, started planning for the inevitable hard campaign that would come when the time came to move from resistance to liberation.
He'd woken up one day in the February of '44 and realised he had an army. True it was a tiny army comprised mostly of socialists and democrats, hardly the sort of loyalists he'd ever expected to have. True also that most of them probably saw him as an ally of convenience, but it was an army nonetheless. And from somewhere half-forgotten the old dream sprang forth once more.
Somehow, his luck had held out. The resistance he'd been building continued building its underground links and contacts, preparing more for the forthcoming coup de grace than with any real hope of liberating anything themselves. George and Ernest had both been injured, though only mildly, and were soon back on the front, and he'd somehow found himself in an army headquarters on German soil. In retrospect, it was obvious they were treating him as a curio, humouring him for long enough to end the war with as few casualties as possible. Still, he'd been able to arrange the surrender of several key cities without a shot being fired, and that was worth anything.
And then, on June 8th 1945 he'd heard word that members of his little army had managed to seize control of Hanover itself. By the end of the next day he was there himself, along with a relief column of American troops. True it probably only made a difference of days for the liberation, but they'd let him enter the capital of his forebears- bruised and scarred as it might have been, as its liberator rather than skulking in after the danger was over. Someone had even managed to find him a flag to drive in under.
Really he could hardly claim to have done anything over the following year- a bit of minor organisational work, some fundraising and donations to start repair works, a few meetings and short conversations with people who actually had the power to do anything. He hadn't even been offered the position of Minister-President under the British occupation- though to see Hanover out from the Prussian jackboot was a joy to see regardless.
And then there'd been the decisions on the post-war settlement. Bavaria had declared independence already, France had annexed the Saar, the very ideaof Germany seemed to be dying. Luck was on his side once more- the right people in the right places wanted to see Germany broken up, the right people in the right places weren't too worried about making sure the news states were republics, and there was a general sense that an air of legitimacy was needed. True the borders would need to be reformed slightly- though Brunswick was as much his inheritance as Hanover and Oldenburg at least was willing to join- but this, he was informed, would be straightforward, Bremen would be the only difficulty.
And then someone had decided that the only way that could actually break up Germany was by a public vote on it.
That had been the hardest part, the moment of truth, the moment where the dream would live or die. And somehow, even with Bremen in the mix as well and the need for their ancient rights to be protected, his run of good fortune had continued.
53% was an awfully small mandate however. A warning to take heed of.
There was a knock on the door to the study. The kaleidoscopic light display ceased. Georg Wilhelm, 4th Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale, soon to become King of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick, Protector and Hereditary Overlord of Bremen, of Oldenburg and of Schaumburg Lippe, paused. His eyes strayed from the shrapnel in his hands, to the newspaper showing the referendum result, to the words of the address he'd spent hours perfecting, and the oath he'd spent almost as long practicing. An oath that he would shortly be taking for real.
He stood up, carefully placed the shrapnel on the desk, collected the notes for his speech, and made for the door.
Luck had given him the throne.
It was going to take skill to keep it.
Alex Richards is the author of Tippecanoe and Wallace Too, published by SLP