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Changing Winds

Serenierre

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The Fortress of Villesen
Private Apartments of the Premier

ELISABETH MARTINIQUE had always known that her son was a sensitive boy. Quite unlike herself, he had gone entirely on his father's side: her first husband. Though, at times, she had to admit it had been difficult to understand him, to appreciate his sensibilities, or to even see eye to eye on some things. She knew, without a shadow of a doubt in her mind, she loved him deeply. He was, and always had been, her one weakness. She could take all sorts of critique directed towards herself. But her dear sweet boy, her Marcel, no, not even a scratch could she tolerate on him.

So, that evening, as she returned from the office, with her mind racing at the recent breakdown in ties with the entire communist world. She was stopped dead in her tracks by the sentence uttered by her son.

"Maman," he said abruptly, on the verge of tears, "I think you should know." He stifled a sob. "I... I... tried to kill myself."

Her world froze in that instant. Elisabeth just stared plainly at her son. For a moment, she did not believe he had said that. She simply stared. Unable to say anything. Unable to even think of anything. It was a shocking thing to hear.

When it registered what he had said, she quickly walked up to her boy. Her six foot giant. Her youngest. Her baby. She rubbed his back and urged him to sit on the sofa. “What are you saying?” she eventually squeaked. “This better not be some cruel idea of a joke.”

"It's not a joke," he said, his speech seemed to be slurred, "I took..." he fainted on her lap.

Elisabeth screamed. "Marcel!" She was frantic. Her eyes suddenly clouded with tears and her heart racing, she screamed out for her security detail, "Henri! Henri! Help! Help! Come in here quick!" Her throat was raw, she screamed as loud as she possibly could. Her boy lay limp in her lap. One of the bodyguards rushed inside. "Call an ambulance!" she screamed at him. She looked down at her son and cried.
 

Serenierre

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Headquarters, Communist Party of Serenierre
Politburo Conference Chamber No. 1

BERNARD LAVOSNIER had known that Hervé Bettancourt, the Commissar for War, was not a man he could trust. Outwardly charming but in truth a living embodiment of treachery - that was his estimation of the man who sat opposite him on the large Politburo table. Obviously, such contempt had to be handled, managed rather, and most importantly hidden. He knew he did not have much to worry about with Marie-Claudette Coussins, the Commissar for Economic Affairs, she was far too much of an accountant to care for the power politics of the inevitable question of succession.

Staunchest of all her allies, Bernard had been most perturbed how Elisabeth had cancelled her meetings that morning. If even he questioned her, what would the other piranhas be thinking? He had to be careful. He had played the game well over the past twelve years, sitting next to Elisabeth as her right hand man. Of-course he had benefited too quite greatly by that association, but now he had to be careful. He had to establish a personality beyond Elisabeth. Otherwise all her enemies would be his.

"Commissars, in the absence of Premier Martinique, I propose we continue with the meeting tomorrow." He said. Quickly the Commissars filed out of the chamber.

"Hervé," Bernard called out to the War Commissar, undoubtedly the most busy with the Rurikgrad issue having blown up over the past week, "Any news of the Field Marshal?"

He arched his brow, he clearly did not want to linger at the Politburo any longer than he possibly had to, "Ah, Field Marshal Mazarin has been off inspecting those northern lines. Half the General Staff is geared up for war and the other half is geared up for a coup," he laughed.

That startled Bernard. The 'C-Word' was not a word to use lightly. "What?"

"Oh, you know, those old school types... Renaudiere's mindset."

Bernard paused. Yes, the Renaudierre faction was uncomfortably friendly with Ivar. If any bloc within the Party could cause trouble it would be them and quite frankly that would needlessly complicate the situation.

He gestured Herve to one of the smoke rooms. "Let's have a quick chat over a cup of coffee." When he sensed reticence on part of the other commissar, "My treat," he quickly added.

As they settled into the leather sofa, which for a change did not squeak, Hervé spoke first: "Any idea why The Boss-" the term they all used for Martinique, "Ducked out? Not really the sort of time to have an absentee premier. What with all of Marxism standing against us."

"I don't know. It must be something especially important. I don't think any one knows. But she is in radio silence."

"Quite odd, indeed."

"So, what is this about a coup?"

"It's nothing serious. I have the D77 boys tailing all the generals, just in case, but I did hear that some Ivar sympathizers were holding some underground meetings at some whore house in Monserans. Three colonels were found there. Obviously, D77 overreacted and shot the buggers. So, the General Staff is up in arms... you know how it is with those hard-asses... everything is about the sanctity of those damned military courts of theirs."

"Why am I just hearing of this?"

"It happened just last night!"

"Does Mazarin know?"

Hervé nodded. "Oui," he twirled his mustache after a sip of coffee, "Though he has assured me that he will handle the disquiet in the General Staff."

"We don't need this sort of controversy right now. I don't know how this Rurikgrad thing will play out so hearing this is not reassuring."

Hervé smiled. "Bernard, just because of three colonels, I don't think our military will collapse."

Bernard smiled.
 

Serenierre

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Infirmary, Order of St. Bernard
Cathedral of the Three Miracles - Villesen

FATHER LEONIDAS XAVIER had taken his vows to be a priest fifty years ago, to the very day. In fact, since then, he had gone on to medical school and emerged a preeminent healer of the body and the soul. Such was the creed of the Order of St. Bernard. Although, he had to admit it was a strange occasion to see the leader of the country sit beside him in the private chapel of the Infirmary. Six bodyguards outside the door blocking entry for anyone else. Inside, just the two of them alone under the overwhelmingly large crucifix and stained glass windows.

He was quiet. She was in prayer, clutching a rosary bead. Her lips were quietly moving.

He looked at the sunlight gleaming into the chapel. The reds and yellows illuminated the wall and the pews where they sat. It was a scene from the Odyssey of St. Bernard. The precise moment when St. Bernard had cast the heretic Cathars fleeing through the performance of his three miracles. It was a masterpiece in Serenien art. Though he had come to his chapel innumerable times, the stained glass work above the altar always left him with a sense of humility and piety.

Lost in thought, he did not notice that the Premier was done with her prayer and seemed to be looking out aimlessly into the space in front of her. Since she had arrived at the Infirmary, with complete secrecy, some fourteen hours ago, Premier Martinique had sat quietly in prayer in the chapel while the doctors worked on her son. In fact, Father Leonidas had come to the chapel only to inform her of the news, though she had requested him to sit with her as she prayed.

That had been an hour ago. Even though she was sitting on that bench like any other concerned mother - any other woman who would have sat there on the bench on any given day - the woman intimidated him. Like most other people, to him, Elisabeth Martinique was a larger than life figure. The only leader in Serenierre's communist history to last as longer than a single term. If she stuck around any longer, she would surpass even Generalissimo Sérazin in tenure. Obviously, if she requested him to wait. He would wait. It was not as if he was a frontline doctor anymore. He was far too old to deal with the rigors of actual treatment. So, he could wait. At that moment, he was to treat Madame Martinique and to tend to her grief if not her sons wounds.

With the scent of incense all around them, the Premier turned around and offered him a sad weak smile. "Is it as I suspect?" she asked, barely able to control the well of tears from bursting out.

"No, Madame Premier. Monsieur Marcel is alive."

All the bottled up stress in her came out in the form of a long sigh and a hoarse, "Rendre grâce à Dieu et St. Bernard."

"Although, Madame, his condition is very delicate. The tonic he took was potent. Had you not been as quick as you were, he would have surely died." She listened quietly, so he continued: "The doctors have moved him to the ICU and he will need to be monitored." As he spoke he noticed the many wrinkles around her eyes. On television, she didn't look to have them. "But I want you to understand that while we have saved his life, I, as a doctor... and a priest... believe his soul and mind need care too."

"Of course." She tapped her fingers on the Bible in her lap. "Father, are the words between us confidential?"

"Oui," he nodded, "Doubly so, as priest and as a doctor, I am bound to confidence."

"My poor boy is just like his father. Though this is not known, my first husband died of a suicide. Of course, it was hidden and suppressed by the family. It's a weakness in the men of that family. They are wonderful. Perhaps a bit too wonderful for this world. Us, Martinique's are different. We are tough as nails. But my boys, they are not."

"All the more reason, Madame for Marcel to be with us for longer than his body needs. It is dangerous to leave the mind untended."

"I'm not against it. You don't need to convince me." She sniffled. "I discovered him you know." There was a pause as she plucked out a few tissues from the box opposite her on the table. "My husband. I hate him for it. But I know my boy is just as much his son as he is mine. If he tried it once, he will try it again."

"Oui, Madame Premier," Father Leonidas offered.

"Father, please don't embarrass me with these worldly titles in this hallowed places. A premier I am not when I when with you. I am merely a mother."

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Salon de Mercury
Fortress of Villesen
A FEW DAYS had passed since the ordeal with Marcel. Elisabeth had returned to her apartments in the Fortress and Marcel was still in the care of the Order of St. Bernard. Though in the time since, she had been inundated by the affairs of state. The proposition of a Gallian League or a Union. The mobilisation of the Kadikistani Western Theatre. The continued existence of a Leninovist Bourgogne. All weighed heavy on her mind.

Through the trials, Elisabeth had called Father Leonidas a number of times. She was certain that he would think of her a mad woman. She was sure that he would wonder how such a nervous wreck of a woman could ever lead the nation. Though, to express her gratitude, she had invited some of the doctors who had treated Marcel and Father Leonidas to the fortress for a dinner. As the dinner had concluded, she had asked the Father to stay back as she had some matters to discuss.

"Father," Elisabeth began, "I am sure you are well aware these are trying times... not just for me but for the nation as well."

"Oui, the godless Ivarite creed has spread to Gallia."

"Quite right." She nodded. "Given that you are... in your words... 'doubly sworn'... I seek to confess."

"Yes, my child. We may have a confessional if you so seek. But is not the Archbishop of Villesen more appropriate for such a matter?"

"The Archbishop is no man of god. He serves himself and is a politician like any other. I hope I do not offend your sensibilities but Father, he is not a man to whom I wish to speak. Nor he I."

He seemed to be taken aback. "I cannot say much other than there must be some misunderstanding. However, only God knows the truth."

She extended her hand. He held it. "Father, you sat beside me in the chapel that day. I felt the very grace of God shine through you. As you comforted a grieving worried mother. Such tenderness. That is surely the sign of God's true people. Though, Father, I have not invited you here for this." She paused. "I am sure you know that the heresies of Ivar cannot be allowed to continue and that the difficult decisions that will need to be made mean that I will be condemning countless mothers to feel the pain that I felt in that moment."

"The thought had certainly crossed my mind."

"What is it that I should do?"

"Do as what St. Bernard would do."
 
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Burgundian-Serenien Border. 28/03/2020 2.12am

The period of Burgundian-Serenien friendship was over, not that it had really lasted very long,The Serenien were always the old enemy. Captain Julian Hollande looked out across the border he and his regiment had been posted there since the Republic joined the pact. Personally he was no great fan of the Republic but he was damned if he was going to let the Sezeranists run Bourgogne.

Julian looked out over the border through his binoculars and for a moment he thought he saw a flicker of movement, like someone from Serenierre trying to cross the border. He looked again but it was gone. Orders from high command were to stay put but Julian knew those slippery Serenien bastards were up to something.

" Now lads don't breath a word of this to anyone but we're going for a little jaunt across the border, the Sezeranists are up to something and I intend to find out".

Julian and his section snaked their way across the border and through a nearby clump of trees, the starless night made travel slow going with every stick and stone potentially giving away their position.

+++++++

Julian now had to face facts they been in Serenierre for hours now and he and his section were completely lost. In his haste he had failed to take any maps detailing the Serenien side of the border. Worse still he had failed to find any evidence of anyone or thing passing through the border and now it was getting closer to dawn and soon the cover of darkness would be gone, if they didn't get back to Bourgogne now they never would.


They were making their way back through the hedgerows when Julian rounded a corner coming face to face with a Serenien patrol in a LAV.

" Fuck".
 

Serenierre

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Burgo-Serenien frontier
VICTOR THIBAUD had joined the Revolutionary Guards straight after completing his secondary schooling. In fact, after turning eighteen, it had been the second thing he had done (the first being registering as a member of the Sérazinist Institute). He was twenty two now and a rising star in the para-military wing of the Communist Party of Serenierre. It had been his honour to have been selected to command the units in Zone A2 for the supply of weaponry, funds, and other items to members of the nascent Catholic and Royalist underground movement simmering in the Burgundian countryside.

He had been on the patrol team that night when his LAV came across a hostile squad from the other side of the Frontier. It had been shocking to find Burgundian units on the Serenien side. Clearly they had taken advantage of the gap left by the Serenien military to allow for the secret supplies to cross over. He positioned his machine gun and fired a warning shot from the main 25mm machine gun. His squad trailing behind in a reconnaissance vehicle had also stepped into action and surrounded the hostile squad from the side.

If the Burgundian squad fought back, they would be mowed down. If they surrendered, they would be detained. Victor waited to see what would transpire.
 
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" Well fuck. looks like you've got us, we'll come quietly" Julian laid down his rifle and gesture for the rest of his men to do the same. " Looks like we're in a real mess here lads".

++++++++

Revolutionary Army of Western Bourgogne HQ. Commune-Nouvelle

" Sir we've lost contact with a section from the 5th Division on the Serenien border, they went quiet early this morning". General Moreau had just left his morning briefing when the adjutant approached him. " hmm send a search party out, its probably nothing though".
 

Serenierre

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Office of the Premier
Salon de Neptune - Fortress of Villesen

"Had such drivel been written in the old days," Elisabeth threw the book in the waste paper basket at the foot of her desk, "We could have had Directive 77 launch the damned writer out of a helicopter, into the cold sea." She was especially upset lately. Ever since her son's very close call with death, her own allies in the Commissariat had been more of a threat to her than any of the other Bloc leaders. They could sense her weakness and she was not at all inclined to let them succeed. They owed their own prominence to her.

She continued: "This limp-wristed professor has been put up to this," she looked at Bernard Lavosnier, her closest ally in the Party, "I will not stand for it and I expect you to get to the bottom of this."

"Of course, Elisabeth."

"From where have Hervé and Athenais become the next voices in my Bloc? This is absolutely unacceptable!" She circled the room, resting her hand on her waist as she looked outside the window. This had been a view she had seen everyday for the past eleven years; and had every intention of standing exactly there for as long as she possibly could. She stayed silent for a moment. Knowing full well that Bernard was sitting behind her, most probably unnerved by his own presence in the silence of her office.

She sighed and turned around. "Of course, I won't unleash D77 on them. So you can wipe that look off your face. I know we aren't in the 1950's anymore. But I expect you to do some digging off your own. Bernard, you know well enough that your political future is linked to me. When I do step down, I will hand it all to you. But can we trust that grubby Herve or that Mademoiselle Sucré Athenais? No! Not at all. It would be the ruin of our eleven years."

"I agree."

"So," she said, leaning forward closer toward her External Relations Commissar, who was still seated, "you understand what must be done?"

Bernard nodded. And Elisabeth simply left it at that.

"Good," she sat back down at her desk and placed her spectacles back on, "What were you telling me about President Hortefeux's selections from Montedoro?"
 
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