Millie Hedges died on a quiet summer morning in the Hardt, run down on the outskirts of her great-uncle’s estate by a touring car with a broken steering coupling as she strolled along a scenic road under the tall spruce and beech trees. The day before that tragic accident, the customs office in Kanthaven recorded the entry of Arnenweld Leuchtenberg into the Empire from Cadlera and noted that she was travelling with a Terrencian citizen, one Frau Doughman (neé Tosoky). Five days after the accident the Hedges family and their connections, except for two happily honeymooning and carefully not informed couples, reassembled at the Schultvayer estate for Millie’s closed casket funeral. Her mother and sister were distraught.
The day before the funeral, and three and a half weeks after Millicent Hedges’ fate had been decided in a Police Headquarters office in the Terrencian capital, Freiin Arnenweld von und zu Leuchtenberg curtsied carefully to her new liege, and legal guardian, Phillipp Karl, Emperor of Terencia. “Being a Freiin and ‘von und zu’ is far grander than I ever imagined I’d be,” she admitted, adding, “as it pleases your Imperial and Royal Majesty.”
“I am glad that we found you,” he smiled benignly, “because I had feared that with the death of your cousin, the late Freiherr Gustav, we had lost one of the oldest noble lines in the Empire. I am sure that yours will be capable hands on the reins of the Leuchtenberg holdings, despite being raised in a Cadleran Orphans’ School.”
“I’m sure the Alician School at Inchrory would prefer not to be called an Orphans’ School, but of course that is what they are,” Freiin Arnenweld replied, almost primly.
Phillipp Karl nodded approvingly. “They seek more status, of course. Frau Doughman will remain with you, continuing to help you adjust to your new status and to improve your Terrencian. I assure you that she knows her business in this matter and it is my wish that you trust her guidance. The two of you will take this morning’s train to Lisle and then you will go from there to your new home by car. I have had your chauffer instructed to ensure that the mechanical soundness of the vehicle has been double-checked.”
The only reason Freiin Arnenwald didn’t react to that statement was that Phillipp Karl had thrown it into the conversation so smoothly that it had passed before she’d realised exactly what he’d said.
“Thank you,” was all she could manage in reply.
“I may have to be a distant guardian, Freiin Arnenweld, but your safety is still my concern.”
Before either of them could say anything else, a matronly young lady bustled into the room, looking at the paper in her hand, “Dear, have seen the guest list for the diplomatic reception on Thursday?” She looked up and Freiin Arnenweld recognised Phillipp Karl’s wife, Empress Elisabetta. “Oh, I’m sorry, who’s this?”
“Beloved,” Phillipp Karl was very smooth, his ward realised, “I present Freiin Arnenweld von und zu Leuchtenberg, my ward and Freiherr Gustav von und zu Leuchtenberg’s heir. She was raised in Cadlera after her parents died there. Freiin Arnenweld, this is my wife, Elisabetta of Riga.”
Freiin Arnenweld curtsied and murmured, “Imperial and Royal Majesty.”
Elisabetta made a casually gracious gesture with her hand, “Please, as you were, my dear.” She took a second look at the young Freiin and asked, “Oh, I do like what you’ve done with your hair. Is that the new northern Cadleran fashion we’ve been hearing about?” She walked around Arnenweld to get a better look at her layered, two-tone bob.
“Yes, I think so,” answered the centre of her attention nervously. “Of course, I don’t know what your Majesty has been hearing.”
“Oh this is definitely it,” the Empress nodded. “Sometimes you just need to see a good version to get the point of something like this, otherwise,” she shrugged. “If you’re going to your estate,” she looked at her husband, who nodded, “then you’ll be nearest Lisle. A city whose leading notables could do with a little encouragement to leave the 1880s and join the rest of us in this century.” She smiled and added, “I will write to the Herzogin von Andernach-Waldesch and ask her to take you up – I’m sure you’ll have tremendous fun together!”
Much later that afternoon, after a trip in a near-experimental, high speed train that had taken them halfway across Terrencia, Freiin Arnenweld and Frau Doughman were met at the Lisle train station by the Leuchtenberg business manager, Herr Mainzer, and a uniformed man who was introduced as Karl and tugged his forelock at Arnenweld instead of offering to shake her hand. It turned out that Karl was wearing the von und zu Leuchtenberg livery and that he was the driver for a custom built Maybach-Giselle with room for four rear passengers. However, Herr Mainzer handed the two ladies into the car and told Arnenweld that he would attend upon her in a few days’ time, after she had settled in, to go over the estate’s affairs with her.
From the car, Lisle appeared to be a prosperous city with pockets of industrialization near the river. Once the car cleared the city, Arnenweld pulled out her compact so she could check her appearance before meeting her new household. There were, she’d been told, a lot of servants, many of whom had been in service with her late cousin the Freiherr all their working lives. She knew she’d have to look her best for this first meeting.
Her hair was neat, if obviously dyed. Millie Hedges’ perfectly nice brown hair, long enough to be put up in a chignon, had been replaced by an improbably golden bob that had the layered hair ends dyed fire red. As if to emphasis the unnatural colour of her hair, her eyebrows and lashes had been subtly darkened while her eyebrows had been reshaped just enough to be different but still look natural. With the change in clothes that portraying a newly discovered/elevated Baroness entailed on top of all of that, Freiin Arnenweld von und zu Leuchtenberg hardly looked like Millie Hedges at all.
Satisfied that her face was clean and her hair tidy, Arnenweld put her mirror away and began looking at the passing countryside. Almost a quarter of an hour later, just after they’d rounded a bend, she suddenly sat up straighter and asked, “Karl, is that where we’re going?”
“Oh yes, Baroness, that’s the Schloss.” He sounded like he was grinning.
Arnenweld dropped back into Cadleran because she lacked the Terrencian vocabulary and grammar for what she wanted to say. “Frau Doughman, when they said there was a schloss, I assumed it was one of those red or blue brick buildings from the last century and a half that you see built within view of and a short stroll from the original ruins.”
“That’s a very reasonable assumption, dear.” She was looking in the opposite direction.
“This isn’t that sort of schloss.”
Frau Doughman turned her head, surveyed the wall of dressed, grey stone looming above the river and continuing down almost to water level and agreed, “No, it’s not.”
“Are those anti-aircraft batteries on the roof?” Arnenweld wasn’t quite squinting in order to get a good look.
Frau Doughman leaned over so she could see through Arnenweld’s window. “At least three,” she agreed. “One on each tower. Plus further down, below the level of the cliffs, those are naval guns. Between them, those batteries must command this entire stretch of river.”
“Frau Doughman, what have we gotten into?”