Paris, France (TimeLine B)
“He’s still alive,” Doctor Mimi Rouge said.
Prime Minister Vincent Pelletier looked down at the body, lying on the floor. The form of the late – apparently not so late - Contre-Admiral François Videzun was torn with blood. Part of his head was literally bleeding to death, the entire side of his face torn away. He looked up; no one had moved the other body.
The Emperor, sitting in a wheelchair pushed by a nervous guard, spoke crossly. “How can he be still alive?” He demanded. “He’s been shot in the head.”
“The bullet grazed the side of his skull,” Mimi said. Her voice was…shaken; Pelletier remembered that Videzun had been her commanding officer for a long time. “Head wounds are tricky things; they can be fatal very quickly, and even if they’re not they sometimes leave unpleasant surprises behind.”
Pelletier sighed. The discovery of Crown Prince Louis’s body had ended any hopes of solving the succession problem by ordering him to father an heir. The Legislate was already moving to impeach him; no one had told them of his death yet. Jacqueline Petal’s death only meant that there was no hope of an heir from that part of the family.
He felt sick. Mimi’s description of the wounds on Jacqueline Petal’s body had made the Emperor go very quiet. Jasmine, who’d seen the entire incident, had been sedated; she might well have saved her husband’s life with her screams. Or perhaps not – what sort of life could she have with a man who was mentally damaged?
“Tell me,” he said. “What sort of unpleasant surprises?”
Mimi had been working on Videzun’s wound, having dismissed the option of moving him at once. “It’s impossible to say,” she said. “He may never wake up at all. He may wake up and be perfectly fine. He may wake up as a child, or be emotionally disturbed, or mentally subnormal…there’s no way to tell.”
Pelletier, who rather suspected that Videzun had been emotionally disturbed – by power – anyway, said nothing. The Emperor spoke, in a voice like death. “Do what you can for him,” he ordered. Pelletier shivered; it was the tone used to condemn people to death. “Then have that body” – he waved a hand at Jacqueline Petal’s body – “removed from here and buried.”
Mimi looked up at him. “With what ceremony?” She asked. “She had friends on the ship.”
Most of whom are now below the sea, Pelletier thought grimly. “Whatever you like,” the Emperor said. His tone was still cold, still harsh. “We will place the blame on dissident Prussian factions.”
Pelletier bowed once. The Prussians remained the most restive under French rule, even though emigration to the Congo was a recognised right. They had a habit of trying to assassinate their Viceroy – and other important officials. Given the Crown Prince’s…habits, it would be more important to hide them than keeping the level of threat down. What did it matter if the people thought that the Prussians were better organised than they thought, set against the fear of revealing the Crown Prince’s habits?
“Now, I trust that the Ministers of Marine, Army and Diplomacy are waiting for me,” the Emperor said. He sounded more like his old self. “Wheel me there at once.”
“Yes, sire,” the guard said, and started to push the Emperor out of the door. Pelletier followed them, watching as people bowed to the Emperor as they passed him and his wheelchair. He grinned suddenly; a great many plans would have to be rethought and perhaps shelved indefinitely until the new situation was clarified.
“Admiral Quirion,” the Emperor said. “Report on the naval situation.”
“We are currently preparing a superdreadnaught-led attack on the American fleet,” Admiral Quirion said. Pelletier realised grimly that Admiral Quirion wasn’t keen on the idea. “As we have no carriers left, until the new ones are built, we have decided to wait until the Americans enter easy fighter range of France itself.”
“The bases on the English mainland are coming under attack constantly,” General Roche said. His dour countenance reflected his own concerns. “We can no longer provide the sort of air support that General Leblanc needs. General Leblanc is pulling back into defensive positions now.”
“And sooner or later the interdiction will start taking a toll on our ability to supply General Leblanc,” Admiral Quirion said. “My Emperor…”
The Emperor drew himself up in his chair. “The attack on the British and American ships is to be cancelled,” he ordered. Pelletier sensed more than saw Admiral Quirion’s relief. “Have all of the ships pulled back to their main stations; do not attempt to confront any enemy warship.”
“Yes, sire,” Admiral Quirion said. “Sir, what about resupply?”
“Leave that for the moment,” the Emperor said. “General Roche; contact General Leblanc. His orders are simple; he’s to hold position and seek a lawful ceasefire under the laws of war.” He took a breath. “We are going to end this war, gentlemen.”
Pelletier coughed. “Sire, should we not withdraw the army?”
“It would be dangerous for the men to do that without some British guarantee not to attack them in crossing,” the Emperor said. He scowled. “We may have to surrender the army.”
Pelletier nodded. “I understand,” he said, mentally cursing the Crown Prince. Legally, the British would have little right to execute the entire army, but their homeland had been invaded. What price the laws of war then?
Three hours later, some communications had been established. The diplomats – who could argue without restarting the war – were arguing, allowing Pelletier some time to handle his other obligations as Prime Minister. Noting the Crown Prince’s death was a simple matter, but a lot of people had to be notified, starting with the Legislate. They would have the complex and difficult task of selecting the new Heir – unless the Emperor had more children – and they’d already gone into session.
We might see an answer in a month, he thought, and scribbled a quick note to Count Lavich. He and his new wife were still honeymooning – Pelletier felt a moment of envy – and would presumably not have the slightest idea how things had changed. Lavich, who was in line for further ennoblement, would have to know; the Crown Prince had made some vague promises to him.
“Time for the final duty,” he muttered, and tapped neatly on the door. A weak voice shouted for him to come in, Pelletier opened the door and slipped inside. Princess Jasmine looked up at him from her bed; the medical nurse scowled at him.
“Please could you leave us alone,” Pelletier said. He understood; Jasmine had had a number of shocks recently, and he knew from experience that nurses were very discrete. He placed as much authority as he could into his voice. “Now, thank you.”
The nurse gave him one last unreadable look and departed. Pelletier wondered over to Jasmine’s bed and sat down on the chair next to it. The nurse had clearly been reading to her, something he suspected would have driven her mad. Jasmine looked up at him, her eyes dim.
“Is he going to be alright?” She asked. “What’s going to happen to him?”
Pelletier had his suspicions about Videzun’s role in recent events. Nothing had yet been proven. “We don’t know,” he said. He’d asked the doctor for an update, but she’d been uncertain about Videzun’s chances. He wasn’t sure how much he could tell Jasmine – and then he realised that the truth would be best.
“I don’t know,” he said. “He’s…unwell, Jasmine; his mind may have been damaged permanently.”
“But he’s my husband,” Jasmine wailed. “How can he die?”
“Enough,” Pelletier snapped. “I was wrong; we all were wrong. Listen; marrying you to him was a mistake, one that could have been a lot worse. We…treated you as a thing, as a person who merely held a rank in trust for your husband. We – I – was wrong. You did nothing to deserve it, nothing at all.”
Jasmine seemed about to speak. Pelletier held up a hand to silence her. “It wasn’t your fault that you were expected to grow up so fast, to mature so quickly,” he snapped. “That…he didn’t take advantage of you was sheer luck. You weren’t old enough to even be a formal-wife – and it was our mistake that put you there.
“Listen to me; be what you want to be,” he said, his tone darkening. “God knows; he may die before the day is out. If he doesn’t, you may consider divorcing him.”
Jasmine’s face furrowed. “I thought that was impossible,” she said. “I don’t know…”
“A lot can be done in a time of upheaval,” Pelletier said. “The first Napoleon, the first real Prime Minister, proved that.” He sighed. “Make what choices you want now, young lady; just be yourself.”