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Rafi Hoult

 
Raphael Hoult: The Shadow of Vienna

by Rafi Hoult, posted May 30, 2013

Rafi Hoult (Grade 11) tied  for Second Place  in the Senior's category at Gray Academy for the Fern Shawna Rykiss Award . The following is his winning composition.

Vienna, Austrian Empire,  September 8th, 1812 

 The smoke was rising from within a villa – the blaze was fully under control.

Graf Fabian Jakob Dassanowsky lay back against the stone pillar behind him, and gave a sigh of relief. In his right hand was a quill, and in his left was a book, freshly bound (in England, no less), the gold inlay on its cover making it appear to be far more valuable than it actually was. On the marble floor next to him sat a reservoir in which he kept his ink – a small, glass pot.

Below him was the hubbub of Vienna, people hurrying about their various businesses as the stores began to close down for the night. His feet hung out over the edge of his balcony, through the hole in the railing where some time, decades before, the railing had broken away, letting a man fall to his death upon the hard, unyielding cobblestones below.

The building had sold fairly cheaply after that.

Fabian turned back to look at the bookshelves kept here, in his study, practically bursting at the seams with literature. If the smoke he had spotted while reading his newest novel (“Zastrozzi: A Romance”, by P.B.S.) had indeed been a wildfire, there would have been a chance that his entire works would have gone up in flame.

The works in his library were far ranging, from trashy romance (such as what he was reading right now. Atheistic nonsense! Percy Shelley was far too radical even for his tastes) to novellas such as Undine, and books such as St. Irvyne (also trash by Shelley). Now that he thought about it, he had quite a bit by Shelley, if you can count two gothic novels as being ‘quite a bit’.

The aristocrat put down his writing book, and let out a large yawn. Now that he paid more attention to the sky, he realized that the sky was not quite as blue as it had been before – it was streaked with orange and purple, the sign of the coming dusk. It would soon be dark, and Fabian would have to light candles if he wished to continue reading– something he couldn’t do in his current comfortable abode.
Stretching, the Graf rose and scratched the back of his head. He put the quill in the ink well, picked it up, and turned away from the balcony. He was about to exit the study, when—

“Erlaucht Dassanowsky!”

Turning back to the balcony, Fabian looked down in to the street to see a young man (a boy, really)  standing in the street, staring up at him meekly, as though awaiting a response… which, now that Fabian thought about it, he probably was.

“Yes?” The Graf replied, placing the inkwell on a nearby oaken table. “What do you want?”

“Edler von Webenau would request an audience with you!”

Fabian groaned silently to himself, and then said, “Tell him he may present himself in half an hour’s time.”

The boy nodded, and ran off down the street.

Fabian turned on his heel and strode out of the room, cursing under his breath. It was going to be a long night, full of arguing and hammering out agreements. Law was not one of his strong points, and though his family had prestige, they were not currently in the possession of a lawyer who could reach his abode within three days, let alone half an hour.

“Giorgio!” He roared, storming down the stairs from his study to the living room, where his servant sat on a chair by the blazing hearth, sipping a cup of what appeared to be coffee. The man jumped, and spat out his drink in to the flames, making them sputter indignantly. Coughing, he turned to the Graf and wheezed, “Gesù Maria, my lord! Please, do not frighten me so!“
Italians. Awfully jumpy people.

“Giorgio. Edler von Webenau will be arriving in half an hour. Tell Bartolo to prepare a light meal, and then go upstairs and prepare a suit for me – the Baker City Vest should be nice, as well as the Highland pants. Once you’re done with that, I will require a wine from the cellar – perhaps that Bordeaux from 1793?”

“Quite good, my lord,” said Giorgio miserably. He’d been looking forward to a quiet evening with no interruptions. Those plans were apparently to be shattered by the unfortunate visit of the Edler. He wondered briefly why Fabian was going to all this effort for such a low ranking member of the nobility, then decided it was none of his concern.

“Also, take the… package down to the coal cellar. It wouldn’t do for it to be found. Is that understood?”

“Yes, my lord.”

Fabian nodded, and then sat down in the chair Giorgio had just occupied. The fire was rather low, so he threw a log on the fire. The blaze raged once more, and the Graf relaxed.  His eyes began to sag, and, despite his will, he began to drift off to sleep. His dreams, though vague, involved advancing armies, the blast of artillery, and the repeated bang of a musket. Who, he wondered, was this advancing man, taking over Europe and forcing his will upon the continent?

If he had been awake, of course, he would have known. Austria was on the brink of war.
He was roused by a shaking of his shoulder, and the insistent voice of Giorgio saying, “My lord, wake up – Edler von Webenau will be here shortly. Your clothes are ready, and await you upstairs.”

Groaning, Fabian rose from the chair, and felt his muscles tighten. He’d clearly been asleep for more than fifteen minutes – far longer than he’d intended. As his muscles protested, he walked over to the stairs, and made his way up them. Passing the door to his study, which was right on the landing, he proceeded to the door at the far end of the hall, on the left. As he opened the door, a small chime let out as the small silver rods hanging from the ceiling swayed in the draft let in by the opening entrance.
On the large bed there lay, neatly sorted out, the clothes he planned to wear that evening.

Quickly, he changed in to the articles, and as he finished putting on the vest, Giorgio came in to the room after a curt knock.

“My lord, the Edler is downstairs, in the dining room. He and his small entourage are… rather impatient.”

“Entourage? What sort of entourage?”

“Lawyers, my lord.”

Fabian cursed, and then swept out of the room. The servant followed meekly behind.

The men downstairs were indeed growing impatient, though they hid it well – their faces only betrayed by the slightest twitching of the muscles around their mouths. These men, Fabian thought as he entered, were professionals. He really wasn’t eager to see what points they’d brought forward.

The Edler von Webenau was really not a sight to behold. Though he had once been large and muscular, that muscle had turned to fat as the years progressed. That, coupled with his love of food and drink, had led him to be an incredibly overweight man with just the wisp of a beard coming off the chin of his pudgy face.

“Hello, Florian,” said the Graf coolly, staring at the man in question. “I see you’ve brought some friends.”

The low ranking noble turned red at the casual term, which completely disregarded his rank and stature as an Edler. While not technically carrying a formal form of address, it was typical to address one as
“Gnädiger Herr”; not doing so implied Fabian didn’t think much of his rank.

“Indeed, I have, Erlaucht Dassanowsky. I am also on official business from His Royal Majesty Francis I.”

Fabian lifted an eyebrow incredulously. “From… the Emperor? The Emperor would send messages to me through you?”

“Indeed, my lord.”

Florian leaned back in his chair, staring defiantly at the Graf before him. Despite his low rank in the nobility, he was a military commander in his own right, and so was perfectly entitled to send messages from the emperor regarding the military.

“Why?”

Florian wisely chose to ignore the question, and instead said, “The Emperor wants you to raise 1700 men for the armed forces. He has given you an ultimatum – raise them, or go to prison.”
Fabian raised an eyebrow, incredulously, and said, “First of all, does he really believe I wouldn’t raise the militia if it were in my power? I may be a Graf, Florian, but I’m not in control of my lands. My father is. Until such time as control passes to me, I have no control over the militia. Tell my father to raise it.”

“He refuses. We thought you might be able to… persuade him.”

“We?”

“He,” Florian corrected, a note of aggravation detectable in his voice. “He thought it.”

“Well, you may inform the Emperor that I have lost my father’s ear. He listens to none other than my brother, and though you may be able to convince Sebastian to try, I doubt you’ll succeed. Especially since he’s in Moscow right now.”

“Do you know when he may return?”

“Yes,” Fabian grimaced. “When Napoleon is knocking down the door of Saint Basil’s Cathedral. He’s not coming back, Gnädiger Herr, and while the Emperor is great indeed, he cannot force a man to leave an area not under his jurisdiction. Sebastian is a Moskovitch, and that’s really the end of it.”

“You don’t have the legal jurisdiction to raise the militia?”

Fabian smiled sadly, and murmured, “Not unless I become the Graf of his land as well. I’m sure the Emperor wouldn’t approve of me becoming the Count of two territories, would he? Not that I would want to,” he added as an afterthought.

Edler von Webenau stroked his wisp of a beard thoughtfully, and then said, “Perhaps, if he were depo-”

“No!” cried the Graf, rising to his feet and slamming his hand down on the table. “This discussion will not even go near that possibility! Herr von Webenau, my father is an honourable man, and to have him deposed simply for your military desires would be a slur against my entire family. You, sir, will do no such thing!”

Meekly, Florian retreated into his chair, wondering if there was any way to make himself disappear. Since one was not readily available, he merely murmured meekly, “It was just an idea, Erlaucht Dassanowsky. No need to get mad.”

“Gnädiger Herr, if you threaten my family, there is every reason for me to get angry.”

“Listen here, Erlaucht, I’m sure we can come to some sort of agreement!”

“No,” Fabian said slowly, glaring daggers at him. “No, I don’t think we can.”

“No?”

“No,” Fabian decided. Turning towards the parlour, he called, “Giorgio!” and the thin Italian servant came in to the room.

“Yes, my lord?”

“Giorgio, please escort these men from the premises. I find their presence wearisome.”

Giorgio smiled, and hissed, “It would be my pleasure, my lord.” He then turned to the men, and said, rather unceremoniously, “Well, come along then, piccolo pesce. I think your time here has ended.”
Disgruntled, the men rose, put on their overcoats, and, disgruntled, left the premises. Fabian looked out the window at them, and heard one of the lawyers say angrily, “Gnädiger Herr, why the hell did you bring us? You just totally wasted our evenings.”

Fabian let out a sigh of relief, silently thankful that he commanded more respect among his servants than Florian von Webenau did.

Giorgio came up behind him, and said, “I do not imagine that will be the last you will hear of that man.”

“No,” Fabian mused, “I don’t suppose it will be.”

Then he closed the curtain.

“Giorgio,” he said, turning on his heel, “open the coal cellar.”

The manservant bowed, and swiftly exited the room.  Fabian walked over to a map on the wall where he had marked down the various locations that he had heard reports of the Napoleonic Army’s approach. There was a sound of an opening hatch, and then Giorgio re-entered the room, his face covered in blackish soot. Behind him came a bedraggled man, whose hair was wild and black, and his clothes torn and scruffy. The remains of what must have once been boots of the highest fashion were upon his feet, but their splendour had now grown dull; his toes stuck out of where it had torn open at the front.

“Is he gone?” The man said, his voice raspy.

“Obviously.”  Fabian said shortly, turning away from the man to look back at the map. “You heard what he said, I presume, given the location of the coal cellar relative to the room?”

“Yes.”

“What can you do about it?”

“I love Father greatly, but I can’t do anything. He’s hated me ever since I left. You’re the heir now, Fabian. Not me.”

“Father won’t listen to me either. He thinks I’m working with France.”

“That makes no sense. Why would you side with that rebel?”

“I’m a liberal, he’s… more liberal than the rest of the European leadership. It’s a pretty easy mistake to make.”

“I suppose. I’m going to try and reach him though; he needs to see reason. Maybe he’ll even forgive me, but that’s not a priority. Will you give me a place to stay for the night?”

“Yes, because I’m obviously going to stick my neck out to save you, and then kick you out into the night. That makes a lot of sense, right?”

The man laughed, though the laugh seemed to lack humour, and then seemed to lose his focus. He stared past Fabian into the darkness outside the window, and then spontaneously yawned. Stretching, he said, “Thank you,” and then turned and walked slowly back out of the door. Giorgio followed him, and Fabian couldn’t help feeling a twinge of pity for the man. Once a great man, it pained the Graf to see him brought so low.

He got Giorgio to make him a cup of tea when he came back down from putting the man to bed, and then stared into the fireplace once more, sipping the lukewarm liquid and feeling himself drift in and out of consciousness. When he felt himself beginning to truly pass out, he stood, yawned, and then headed upstairs.

Fabian paused outside of the guest room, and looked in. The man had been cleaned up, and was lying in the bed. A ray of moonlight was falling on the blanket, making a strange pattern upon the fabric. In sleep, the man looked far less tired, and far less stressed. His face had collapsed into relaxed lines, and what seemed to almost be a smile played upon his lips.

“Goodnight, Sebastian,” He murmured.

Then he closed the door, and retired to his chambers; sleep finally beckoned, and it was futile to resist.

 
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