Slices of Life in Elben

Discussion in 'The World Stage' started by Elben, Aug 25, 2018.

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  1. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Friedrich had had one of the longest reigns in the history of Elben. Thanks to the luck of his genes, taking care of himself over the years, and modern medicine, no other monarch had reigned as long as he had over the country. Today, like many days this summer, it showed.

    Elben had always been peaceful. Thanks to a shared faith and mostly homogeneous culture, the majority Elbener population had gotten along fine with the various minorities, the Krasnislavians, the Slavonians (along with their Crot and Balt cousins), as well as smaller groups who had resettled from Kadikistan many decades ago. Even the Jews for the most part liked living in Elben. "They don't bother us, so we don't bother them," was the motto in the ghettos that had existed for centuries. Peace had been won thanks to his fathers' success at balancing autonomy of the regions and provinces with the need for centralization to keep things from flying apart. Thankfully, the Church had provided strong glue when needed.

    But all that was changing. Oil prices going up and down, farm reports showing a looming shortage, more and more mouths to feed from CBS and the Free State, all those mouths camped out as summer wore on and winter loomed ahead. And as always, the tides of progressive Europe ate away at the foundations. The young just weren't what they used to be.

    Friedrich pulled on his mustache as he sat slumped in his leather chair in his study. In front of him was the intelligence estimate prepared by G2 of the general staff along with the latest dossier from the foreign ministry on Gunnish intentions. Under those were the farm reports and BSD updates from the "fugee" camps.

    "Father?" Karl looked at his father steadily. He was already in middle age himself, but had a full head of hair and could have almost been a double for the king thirty years ago.

    Friedrich looked at his son pensively and asked, "Are you ready to be king?"

    Karl didn't know how to take this at first, but after a pause played along jokingly, "What kind of talk is that?"

    Friedrich's pensive tone had become dead serious. "Are you?"

    Karl picked up on his father's demeanor and straightened in his chair. "I was born to be king, ready or not."

    The king gave the crown prince a slight nod and then sat back again. "It'll happen soon enough, boy."
     
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  2. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Camp 14 near the Crotobaltislavonian border

    The paramilitary units of the Brotherhood were worn down. They were just managing to keep things together so that basic services such as medical care and food distribution could take place. There were just too many people coming from CBS and something had to give. The director of Camp 14 briefed his senior staff on the plan: with Kadiki troops continuing to push west towards CBS, the flow of refugees from Trivodnia had dropped dramatically and many of the new camps built over there had capacity to spare. Excess CBS refugees were to be relocated by the army. It wasn't much of a solution, but the BSD's and behind it Elben's resources were running low. The move needed to happen before it started getting cold.

    At dawn, a convoy of army trucks pulled into the camp. Refugee families were selected to make the trip and they climbed aboard with what little they still possessed and made themselves comfortable as best they could. The BSD men were polite, but firm, clearly not willing to brook any resistance. Once the trucks were full, they started up their engines and moved out, headed east.

    A little one sitting on a woman's lap softly asked, "Mama, where're we going?"

    "Another camp, dear."

    Next to Mama, her six year old son declared, "I'm hungry!"

    "Hush, child."

    "Mama, is it true they're going to put us in with the Yids?" This from Mama's teen daughter, who still wore her Maiden of Farrago pin with pride.

    "Shush." Inwardly Mama frowned at the thought.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2018
  3. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    The man stepped out the front door of the chalet and promptly lost his lunch. A fellow officer handed him a rag which he used to wipe vomit off from around his mouth.

    Inside, the inspector, wearing a kerchief over his nose and face, crouched down on the floor beside the bloated body. After the perpetrators had finished obliterating the face with gunshots, It had been left to rot in the late summer heat. The only thing that made the carcass recognizable to the eye was clothing that matched with that of the description given by the judge's wife. "He had gone out for a walk with the dogs," she had said. "A blue shirt and trousers." The dogs had not been found.

    Up on the wall over the judge's remains was something written in blood. Slavonian. The inspector made sure the crime scene photographer got some good shots before he retreated outside for a breath of fresh air.

    "We'll need DNA to confirm." The inspector's partner had walked up. Fished out a cigarette and offered it which he accepted gratefully. A flick of his lighter and he lit up, feeling a bit easier with each puff.

    "it's the same message."

    The message above the body matched that at a similar crime scene. It translated as, "GOLD OR LEAD."

    "Nekmet's getting brave."
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2018
  4. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    "Let go, let go!"

    The reply was uttered without feeling. "Shut up, bitch."

    A good, hard slap followed. The girl whimpered and stopped talking. Her abductors had grabbed her near the perimeter. BSD camps were not meant to be prisons. Refugees were expected to want help and go through the procedures needed to receive it. Thus there was little in the way of keeping people in or out and it was easy to smuggle contraband in or human slaves out.

    The men and their cargo headed to an old farmhouse several miles away. The old man who lived there had been murdered and buried in the cellar and now the Nekmet used it as a part of their network of crime in southeast Elben. Night was falling as they arrived. The wood stove in the main room was going and the men already there were sitting around a table playing cards. The men came in and threw down the girl on the floor before going to the stove to warm their hands.

    "Another one."

    "Oh, she's a cutie. Good catch, boys!"

    "Better take her upstairs and break her in before we put her with the others." One of the men at the table, mostly out of money, folded and rose from his seat, volunteering. He grabbed the girl by her hair and dragged her away.

    * * * * *​

    The search had been going on for the better part of an hour. It had been hard to get things rolling with the language barrier. The camps close to Trivodnia did not have the Slavonian translators needed to deal with the influx of "fugees" from those close to CBS. Canvassing the camp was nigh impossible for the same reason with the BSD personnel speaking German, Trivodnians speaking their own tongue, and Slavonians their own.

    Finally someone had found one of the identifiers on the ground, embedded in the mud in the middle of a boot print. The pin of a "Maiden of Farrago."

    Mama wailed and tore at her clothes as a BSD nurse tried to console her. The Trivodnians shrank away as they were given the evil eye by old grannies hissing, "Yids," and solid Slavonian men with dark brows and hard faces.
     
  5. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    In Elbenese Krasnislavia, the ethnic Krasnislavians from Trivodnia who had chosen to flee their portion of the homeland rather than stick around for union with Kadikistan had been welcomed with open arms, bypassing the BSD camps. Those with professions or who were skilled laborers would no doubt eventually get snapped up. But not a few of them, especially the younger men, had brought the problems of their region of Trivodnia with them.

    Along a street in an industrial sector of Krawcow, unskllled laborers loitered in the grey light of morning, waiting for someone to come along to offer a day's wages for mindless drudge work. A few got lucky, but most of them knew the score: the trucks that came only had so many jobs to fill. They would have to make some cash another way. Panhandling and petty crime were both becoming more frequent. Earlier in the summer, visitors from other parts of the homeland had been welcomed with open arms, but already the locals were starting to grumble at these newcomers.

    At the end of the day, a man's takings paid for a needed Blud fix and fifteen minutes in a stall with a glassy-eyed girl. Thugs with tattoos boasting of their criminal exploits watched over the proceedings and kept the line moving.
     
  6. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    The enormous painting loomed overhead, showing St. Michael battling the Dragon with gory detail. It hung over the side altar in a secluded corner of Corpus Christi Cathedral where the king knelt as a priest of the chapter went through a Low Mass, the cleric's whispers mingling with the flicker of the candles to give the tableaux its eerie solemnity this morning. The New Palace's chapel was a fine affair, but the king over the course of his reign had often retreated to the cathedral when he felt a particular need to collect himself, as if the bones of his forefathers sealed in the crypts and under the floors could offer some special wisdom.

    Today, Friedrich mumbled his way through the Rosary in a half-trance. His own prayers for the Mass were offered up for the recent dead. Judges, police officers, refugees. The Nekmet were depraved monsters, of the devil. And it was only getting worse, especially down along the border with CBS' new territory...

    "Sire?"

    "What?" The king came back to himself. It was his bodyguard.

    "Ite, missa est," quoth the guard.

    Friedrich nodded and slowly got up after crossing himself. Time to go to work.
     
  7. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    The conference room in the New Palace was darkened with the lights turned off or dimmed. At the long conference table or along the walls in chairs sat various members of Elben's police, intelligence, and counterintelligence community including the regions' police agencies. At the head of the table sat Crown Prince Karl, who was representing the king. The other end was open: on the wall was a large projection screen.

    At a lecturn on a small dais beside the screen was Police General Georg Schrader, the newly appointed commander of the joint task force created to combat Nekmet infiltration of Elben. In his fifties, Schrader looked every bit police, from his uniform with the Sam Browne belt to his high and tight haircut. His briefing was ongoing.

    "...Here we have our latest addition to the Watch List: one Vadim Kovalenko."

    Kovalenko's photo flashed up on the screen, a handsome man with the usual slav features.

    "Age 42. Six feet tall, 205 pounds, well built. Unlike most of his comrades, he has no, I repeat, no tattoos. We suspect this is due to his efforts to be able to blend in and not attract attention." General Schrader looked up at the photo for a moment before keying the next frame, a list of what was known about Kovalenko.

    "His exact ethnic origin is unknown. Found his way into the Nekmet early. Due to having something of an education, he swiftly rose through the ranks due to his ability to enter polite society. Came into Elben during the Christmas Crisis. At the time of the post-crisis repatriations, Kovalenko applied for permanent asylum on the grounds of having monarchist connections and fearing reprisal upon return to CBS."

    Two new people, a man and a woman, appeared on the screen, their photos above scanned images of their signed affidavits.

    "Kovalenko was sponsored by this couple, Andrey and Maryna Lomakin, known Victoria monarchists, who signed affidavits vouching for Kovalenko. His asylum was granted and he was allowed to stay in Elben. We have since reinterviewed the Lomakins and they have admitted to lying in their statements. According to the Lomakins, Kovalenko approached them, provided exact details about family members still in CBS, and threatened those family members unless the Lomakins provided him cover."

    Next up was a list of ongoing investigations.

    "After gaining his asylum, Kovalenko was able to establish shell company using money from an account in Gunnland. We are currently working with Gunnish banking authorities to trace the money back further. Kovalenko used his company to employ his Nekmet brethren who had either secured some way to remain in Elben or had disappeared from the camps and remained illegally. Once stability returned, they began the importation of blud through the usual international channels."

    Next was an photo of the outside of the infamous Blud House. Various police officers in tactical gear were bringing out weapons and blud for cataloguing.

    "After the Blud House raid, Captain Strasser was able to link the house to Kovalenko's company. According to Strasser's statements to his fellow officers at the time, unknown Nekmet went to great lengths to bribe him. Phone records were able to identify calls to the Strasser home as originating from known associates of Kovalenko. When this failed, they resorted to death threats, which they eventually followed through on..."

    After further elaborating on Kovalenko's activities in Elben, including the successful bribing of a judge in the wake of the Kohl murder (which had thankfully been discovered), Schrader finally declared, "Kovalenko is viewed by the task force as the chief Nekmet boss in Elben and our top priority."
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2018
  8. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Crown Prince Karl shifted in his chair. His father was sick again and the CP was filling in at another briefing. Karl had filled in before, but this recent chain of events that continued to the present day was relatively unprecedented and he was not used to the constant meetings, the sitting in the dark as cigarette smoke wafted up through air, giving the projector light form, the drone of bureaucratese. Karl thought of his father, All these years of doing this, he is a machine.

    "...has taken positions here and here. According to the intelligence provided by our liaisons, G2 estimates that the Whites in the area will reach their objectives by the end of the week." The general staff officer sat down at his place as the giant map of Virumaa on the screen disappeared and the lights came up.

    Another army general began speaking, detailing the current status of Elben's covert efforts to assist the Whites. All efforts were being made to provide sufficient support while eluding any outside observation.

    Karl's mind drifted as the generals and certain other officials engaged in some back and forth. Suddenly he became aware that the topic of discussion had changed.

    "...the end of the war. We have seen little evidence of a draw down on the part of Kadikistan beyond the Salient and up at Rurikgrad. Their current posture could be due to the reported activity of insurgents in their high north."

    "Is there any report of follow through by Eiffelland on its reported suggestion of taking advantage of that for possible destabilization?"

    "Unknown. If Eiffelland or 15AR is working on it, they're keeping it close to the vest."
     
  9. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    The riot started over a scoop of oatmeal.

    A Trivodnian man had been waiting in line for breakfast to be ladled into his bowl when a Slavonian had cut ahead of him with a glare and a grunt of dominance. The Trivodnian man had not backed down and when the Slavonian was about to be served, the Trivodnian had shoved his bowl forward.

    "YID!" the Slavonian had yelled as he threw his bowl aside and shoved the Trivodnian to the ground. With that, it was on. Men and women, some of them high on Blud, others just high on racial and religious hatred, fought it out in the cafeteria tent of the camp. Things quickly turned bloody as knives and forks came into play.

    By the time BSD security was able to break things up, two were dead and dozens were injured. The tent with its food prep equipment was trashed.
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2018
  10. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    The tactical team attacked in the grey light of dawn. Wearing face-covering balaclavas, body armor, and bearing battle rifles, the team stormed the isolated house with practiced movements. These particular Nekmet thugs, pretty far down the food chain, were no match for the team, which was getting better at what it did with each new raid. Brief smiles were seen as there were no casualties on either side.

    The house was vigorously searched for caches of blud, weapons, and other contraband. The cellar door was padlocked. Boltcutters were brought in and the police readied themselves to see what was below. Flashlights barely illuminated the gloom; the windows high on the walls had all been buried and there were no working light bulbs. Passing from the first room to the next, a flashlight sweeped across the floor as a man brought his rifle around and there it was, a pale arm. The light followed the arm up to its parent body, a young girl wearing only a shift. As the light shined in her face, she seemed to wake up. Smiling groggily, she instinctively waved the first cop forward, inviting him. Behind her, more similarly dressed girls, some more sentient than others could be seen. Some of them were too far gone to care, some of them still had enough self-possession to start crying softly.

    "Mother of God..." The lead policeman muttered and turned to look at the man following.
     
  11. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Kovalenko's headquarters was a sprawling country house outside Krawcow that belonged to a Krasnislavian land magnate. Nekmet money bought the land magnate's influence in the regional sejm, bribery at its finest. A side benefit, the house was made available, a residence where Kovalenko could live in the style to which he'd always felt himself entitled. Plenty of room for business and pleasure.

    Today, he sat at the head of a grand table made of ancient wood. All around were walls lined with books, the library of the house. Kovalenko himself was wearing a suit made by his tailor in Engellex. As he looked at his Nekmet underlings up and down the table, the mob boss inwardly sneered at the thugs, noting how out of place they were. A few of them though were dressed classier, their tattoos not so prominent, emulating their boss. The next generation will be mine.

    One of them was telling him about the latest police raid, on a house where some girls were kept. In truth, it was a minor thing, merely some flesh, some guns, some drugs, easily replaced. But Kovalenko found himself angry all the same. Elben was proving a tough nut to crack. He was too used to having his way in CBS. The Slavonians easily fell into line. The Krasnis could be handled with time, but the Germans...

    Answering at last with a feral smile, the boss man said, "We'll do what is necessary to show them the Nekmet way."
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2018
  12. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Stern-looking immigration officials in uniform had replaced the BSD case workers in the camps. The word had come down from Eschenbach: the processing of asylum claims was now a police matter.

    Those who could stay:
    • Monarchists who had Elbenese subjects for sponsors.
    • Other documented political refugees who couldn't go home.
    • Any other family members of Elbenese subjects.

    All other undocumented aliens would be considered illegal and would be deported as soon as possible. Everyone staying and everyone going were now undergoing fingerprinting and photographing. Photos of tattoos were especially emphasized.

    Camp 14 near the Crotobaltislavonian border was indicative of the aftermath of clearing out the "fugees." What had once been a clean, efficient camp had descended into near-anarchy by the end thanks to Nekmet drugs and factional strife over limited food and supplies.

    The aid workers themselves were being treated for everything from lice to post-traumatic stress. Once alone in a safe place, stories were coming out of witnessing and being subject to great depravity. Decontamination was going to prove expensive as the human waste was cleaned up, the drug needles were incinerated.

    Even priests were needed to tackle the shrines to Svete Smrti, a folk Catholic death cult from CBS especially favored by the Nekmet. The shrines, ranging from little paper pictures and a candle up to full skeletons surrounded by offerings, were considered profane and requiring some kind of exorcism.
     
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  13. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    "It's okay, it's good that we are here to help you." Kovalenko's chief bagman spoke from where he stood at the door, a suave looking man in a three piece suit. Behind him in the hallway were two more Nekmet goons in leather jackets and the operator of the brothel, a skinny man with slicked back hair.

    Another man sat on the bed, a threadbare towel wrapped around his waist. Otherwise he was naked. He held his head in his hands, trying to make sense of the black hole that was the night before. "...I don't know what happened. We have done this before. I wouldn't have hurt her, I know it."

    "My boss will take care of everything. You have his assurance. This woman was of no importance. She won't be missed." The bagman glanced behind him to one of the goons, who raised a brow.

    "I remember she was laughing. She was enjoying it. It was just a game." The confused man kept looking at the floor. Behind him, sprawled on the bed, was a young woman, a sheet pulled up between her legs and up over her breasts, barely concealing her nakedness.

    Bagman ignored the man and went on, "Of course, the organization will expect something in return. You understand, of course."
     
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2018
  14. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    He had found them! Or rather his agents had, but who cared? Kovalenko smiled devilishly as one of his lackeys reported. A compromised police officer had offered up the location of a safehouse in the north of Elben where Andrey and Maryna Lomakin were being kept after having told of their lies to keep Kovalenko in the country.

    Elben's police agencies didn't have enough on him to link him directly to any crimes, but they had come around to deport him and now he was on the move; his house and his luxuries were things of the past, for now at least.

    Once the report was finished, Kovalenko looked at his bagman whose three piece suit as well tailored as his boss's. "Dead. Send a message. And as many cops as you can find there."

    "Yes, sir."
    * * * * *​

    In the rush to respond to the attack, secure the house, and set up a crime scene, the extra police car had been missed. Just one more vehicle among others like it along the drive. Finally someone needed to move the car and went to open the door, triggering the device in the trunk...
     
  15. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Karl sat in his study in the Old Palace. In his hands was the morning edition of Elbener Zeitung. The Neubattenberg attack was front page news. Thankfully the blurb was not too informative. The prince folded up the paper and set it down atop the dossier he had already glanced through as part of his morning security briefing. What the press didn't know was that the Lomakins had been brutally killed along with the police officers guarding them. The bomb was making the news, but police were intent on hunting down the leak that had passed along the location of the safehouse.

    The crown prince ignored the other folder on his desk containing the detailed update on his father's health. Instead he got up and went to breakfast.

    "Good morning, my dear, Leo."

    "Sir."

    Mireille smiled wanly, apparently still suffering from morning sickness.

    Karl sat down as things got underway. The newlyweds were looked like they were getting along well, but the senior man knew both of them were chafing a bit under the increased security measures. What a way to start a marriage.
     
  16. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Mama and her little ones sat in a room by themselves. They had been there for hours while Elbenese border officials passed by the open door, some of them occasionally looking in to check out the Slavonian family. One child on one side and one on the other, Mama clutched at them as if they were the only things left to her in the world, something that wasn't far from the truth. Both children now slept with their heads on her lap, but the woman remained awake, a hunted look on her face as she waited to see what was to become of them.

    An officer stopped at the door and waved for Mama to come with him. The woman slowly eased her children aside, leaving them to sleep as she got up and followed obediently. The Elbener led her to a chair beside a desk in the main room where the officers did their paperwork. He sat down and began asking her questions in her own language.

    "Your name?"

    "What is your daughter's name, your older daughter?"

    "Does she have any identifying marks on her?"

    Mama grew pale as she answered, describing the birthmark on her daughter's back. They found her... She's dead.

    "Come with me, please." The officer got up and beckoned for Mama to follow. Down a different hall, they went into a room with a window, a one-way mirror, into the adjoining room. There was her daughter, sitting and talking with a BSD nurse. The girl was pale and gaunt, but alive.

    Alive, Blessed Virgin, she's alive, thank you! Tears rolled down Mama's cheeks and her knees wobbled. The officer instinctively reached out an arm around her waist in case she collapsed. "You found her?"

    The officer merely nodded. Details such as how the girl had been found in a dungeon could wait. "Victims such as your daughter have been granted asylum. Since she is a minor, you and your other children will be allowed to stay as well." He could feel the trembling of the woman's body and he looked down at her tear-swollen eyes. "You're safe."
     
  17. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    "Father, please, why will you not sign it?" Karl stood before his father's desk as he motioned toward the document awaiting the king's signature. It was the follow-up order to the one sentencing Johan Rosencranz to the stake. For many years, such a sentence had been a mere formality, quickly followed up by a commutation to some other form of execution or punishment. But not this time.

    "Propontis has the right of it. We must stand firm against those who would undermine our Faith, our Country, our Way of Life. It is my decision and no other. I alone stand before God for the souls of my people and I will do so soon enough. I will meet Him with a clear conscience."

    The old man looked quite at death's door and the coughing as he finished speaking only added to the effect. He looked up at Leopold in the corner. "What do you have to say for yourself, boy?"

    The young prince lowered his head and remained silent. Of course his father and grandfather had argued before, but never while he was present. It was unnerving to say the least. At last, "Grandfather, think of how this looks. At least commute to some other means of execution--"

    Friedrich picked up the sheaf of messages sent by various countries to Elben. "Should I be concerned about what the likes of Justosia think is barbaric and archaic? Bah!"

    Count von Schlabrendorff finally broke his silence. "Perhaps Braunfels would fit the bill, Sire?"

    "Eh?" The king looked over along with his son and grandson as the count went on.

    "Obviously the castle hasn't been used as such for many years, but its reputation is still intact. Stick Rosencranz in a cell underground, never to see the light of day again." Schlabrendorff gave the king a look, a raised brow, "He can be purified by solitude rather than by fire and best of all, he doesn't become a martyr."

    "Hmmm." Friedrich pondered this as the count's eyes met Karl's.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2018
  18. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Karl's copy of The Bergen Times fell to the desk and the crown prince swore under his breath. Father won't budge now. It was already Tuesday evening. By the same time Friday, Rosencranz would be ashes and Elben would be the weaker for it. There has to be someone he will listen to now... Karl picked up the phone on his desk. His secretary almost immediately answered.

    "Schlabrendorff, if he's not at the New Palace, he should be at the foreign ministry."

    The crown prince hung up and waited for the count to be found to take his call.

    * * * * *​

    After getting off the phone with the crown prince, the count had immediately put through a priority message to the ambassador to Eiffelland. The man had been entertaining guests at his residence in Trier. Excuses were made and his wife was left to manage as the diplomat and his driver headed off for the countryside and Herzogenrode Abbey.
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2018
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  19. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    The call had been arranged by subordinates overnight to take place in the morning. Elben's ambassador to Eiffelland had met with the pope's secretary who had then briefed his master.

    In Eschenbach, the phone rang in the king's study and he picked up...

    * * * * *​

    "Sire?" Count von Schlabrendorff had been ushered into the presence of the king. Prince Karl was already present along with the interior minister and the chancellor. All three men looked relieved. Of course, the count already knew what was happening, having been filled in by other confidential means.

    "I spoke with His Holiness earlier this morning. He, ahem, advised me to strongly consider showing mercy for this Rosencranz fellow. Considering the strong reaction his sentence is generating, it would be better for the Church to at least spare his life. The point has been made, he said." The king cleared his throat, his eyes falling to his desk where the original document commuting the death sentence still waited for a signature.

    "Father..." Crown Prince Karl wanted to say something, but it died on his lips. It was clear the conversation with the pope had taken something out of Friedrich. The king had always been a strong man, more than willing to listen to his advisors, but firm when his mind was made up. He wasn't used to being gainsaid.
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2018
  20. Elben

    Elben Well-Known Member

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    Mireille was touring a museum today. It was a part of her effort to learn more about Elben, its culture, its history, its people. The princess was led by the grey-haired director and escorted by a flock of burly security men. At the moment they were viewing a portrait of a past queen of Elben, a patron of the arts who had supported the founding of the museum and donated many works from the Royal Collection.

    "Highness, you see here the work of Mario Luigi, a Retalian master sponsored by Her Majesty. Notice his use of color and shadow..." The director went on in his explanation as Mireille followed along, looking at the portrait intently. Part of her education in Trier had included art history and she knew of Luigi's work.

    "Quite impressive." Mireille's birth tongue was French, but her German was excellent, though thoroughly Eiffellandian in accent.
     

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