• Published 19th Jul 2012
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The Best of All Possible Worlds - McPoodle

The philosopher Voltaire finds himself in the most-frustrating place imaginable: Equestria

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Chapter 25

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 25

Queen Genevieve was awakened from restless dreams by a hand on her shoulder. She looked up from her cot into the face of Crown Prince Friedrich.

“There is a plot against your life,” Friedrich told her.

“Again?” she replied wearily. After throwing on a plain blue cloak, she followed her brother out of the cottage.

It was several hours before dawn in the abandoned village of Woiselwitz. It barely even counted as a village, being made up as it was of less than a dozen little shacks that leaned into the wind. But it was better than sleeping in a tent, which was the fate of most of the Queen’s army camped outside nearby Strehlen. Genevieve hated war, but this one was no choice of hers. The French had determined to destroy their hated British enemies once and for all, and since Prussia had a comfortable position as Great Britain’s ally, France had decided to join with both Russia and Austria. Normally, the threat of Prussia’s armies kept France in line, but with Austria and Russia invading Prussia from two sides, France was free to steal Britain’s colonies in America and India.

The Queen mutely followed her human brother across a bitterly cold field to another cottage. Inside, a young Silesian man sat in a chair, bound hand and foot. “Your Majesty,” the man said, bowing his head—the only part of him that was free to move.

It was no surprise to Genevieve that this was a Silesian, since she was in Silesia after all.

Silesia was a small duchy that had been in the possession of Austria’s ruling family for several hundred years, although a difference in religions between the rulers and the ruled meant that when a younger and more ambitious Queen Genevieve had conquered Silesia a couple decades ago, there had been virtually no resistance to the change in tax collectors. When the current war had broken out, it was obvious that Austria would attempt to reclaim the lucrative mines and rich farms of Silesia, and so the Queen and her army had spent a good deal of time here.

What she was surprised by was the fact that she knew this man. His name was Kappel, and he was in charge of the horses for the Queen’s host in Silesia, the Baron von Warkotsch. She had been engaged in a lengthy correspondence with this baron about the details of their short stay at Strehlen, with her in Woiselwitz, and he in his manor at Schunbrunn. Groom Kappel had been the one entrusted with carrying the letters back and forth, and as a result she probably knew his face a good deal better than that of the Baron von Warkotsch. But that didn’t mean that she knew a thing about him personally.

Author’s Note: Is there a particular reason why humans use place names that are so hard to remember? Why can’t more towns have names that mean something, like Burr Linn?

“Do you mean to kill me?” she asked the prisoner.

“No, Your Majesty!” exclaimed the man, his face turning white with fright. “It is my master!”

“He brings proof, Sister,” said Prince Friedrich. “A letter in the Baron’s own hand.” From a table he picked up an envelope, its seal sliced open. From within he unfolded a letter, and held it out for the Queen to examine.

You can seize the Queen, living or dead, this night!” it read. It was neither addressed nor signed, and indeed, the envelope was also missing an address and addressee. The seal on the envelope was not unique to Baron von Warkotsch, but on the other hoof it wasn’t used by that many others.

“I went to the liberty of finding one of the letters the Baron has been sending Your Majesty,” Friedrich added, taking another letter from his pocket and placing it beside the treasonous note. The handwriting styles matched exactly.

The royal donkey turned to the prisoner. “How is it that you came to learn of this plot?” she asked.

“For some weeks now,” Kappel explained, “I have been delivering letters back and forth between the Baron and the Curate Schmidt, in the neighboring village of Siebenhuben. None of the letters are addressed on the outside, and all of them are sealed. I asked no questions, because I am a loyal man, and I had no reason to ask questions.

“Now last night, I was standing with the Baron’s horses, waiting for him to finish his meeting with Your Majesty—”

“Yes,” said the Queen, “we were discussing the details of the army’s departure to Breslau tomorrow. He got himself very drunk.”

“—a meeting which ended just after midnight,” Kappel continued. “On the ride back to Schonbrunn, he began making the most extraordinary statements...” The man paused here, afraid that the words he was about to repeat might bring the wrath of the Queen upon himself as well. But his loyalty to his monarch and his trust in the tales of her generous nature eventually won out, and he nerved himself to continue. “He said that your personal security was criminally careless, how you only had two sentries and thirteen soldiers in this town, with the rest of your army a twenty-minute ride away. And that all of this would make it absurdly easy for anyone who dared to seize Your Majesty.”

“I told you so,” commented Friedrich.

“You said no such thing!” exclaimed Genevieve, before turning to the prisoner. “Please, Herr Kappel, continue with your story.”

“Well I thought he was making a joke, albeit a joke in very bad taste. We said nothing more for the rest of the ride. I returned to my house, only to find my wife waiting up for me. She told me that the Curate had been waiting at the house for hours in hopes of speaking privately with the Baron. The Curate had finally been forced to return to Siebenhuben, in order to run the church service for Saint Andrew’s Eve, but he left my wife a letter which he had written up on the spot. He had left strict instructions that this letter was to be delivered to the Baron the moment he returned, with a reply expected before 7 am. Under no circumstances was the letter to be given to the Baron’s wife, or anybody other than the Baron himself.

“My wife, well my wife is an insatiably curious woman, and she just couldn’t accept the idea that this sort of intrigue was going on, without being in on it. She actually tried to find a servant to read the Curate’s letter for her, but nobody awake at that time was able to read, so she was eventually forced to give the letter to me. I couldn’t read either, and I rather wished to keep my job, so I gave the letter to the Baron, but I made sure to do it while his wife was in the same room. The way he dismissed both of us while he prepared his reply, and the surprise and indignation she expressed, made it clear to me that he was up to no good.

“As soon as I got that reply, I borrowed the Baron’s seal and made my way to the Reverend Gerlach, a just man who the Baron hated with a passion. I told the Reverend my story, and broke the seal so he could read the message to me. Once he had done so, I then had him copy the message and put it into another envelope, which I used the Baron’s seal on. I instructed my apprentice to take the copy to the Curate, but not before 7 am, while I raced over here with the original. And that is what happened.”

The Queen sighed. “Send Rabenau’s dragoons to arrest the Baron at Schunbrunn,” she ordered her attendant, “and put Algarotti in charge of Lentulus’ platoon to hunt down the Curate. Instruct Rabenau that he is to take the Baron’s wife into custody, but treat to her as a guest. And untie this man! I thank you, Herr Kappel, for your service to me—it will be rewarded. I wish, though, that I knew why it was that your master wished to betray me like this. I have only shown him the utmost courtesy. When his brother had died, I had the opportunity to take his land away from him, to punish him for fighting for the Austrians during the Silesian War, but I forgave him. In what way have I offended Warkotsch?”

“I do not know,” said Herr Kappel, standing up from his chair, and rubbing his rope-burned wrists. “The Baron is a very willful man. Sometimes he would complain about his peasants, how a noble no longer had the right to beat them for not bowing low enough when he rode through the town.”

“Ah, well that change was my doing,” the Queen admitted with a gentle smile.

By the tremendous good luck which seemed to follow him his entire life, Count Algarotti had been put in charge of the arrest of the Curate Schmidt. What this meant was that he sat on his horse while the trained soldiers burst into the home of the family where the curate had been spending the night—it turned out that Schmidt had left Schonbrunn too late to get back to Siebenhuben before it had become too dark to ride safely, and the cleric had a bad habit of oversleeping.

With Schmidt captured and sent back to the Queen to be interrogated, Algarotti rode on to Siebenhuben. A search of the Curate’s fireplace revealed a cache of letters from his Austrian masters, ready to be set alight the moment the spy suspected he was about to be captured. One of those letters caused Algarotti’s heart to catch in his throat. He double-checked the date: it had arrived that very day. That meant that Algarotti had a few days at most before the news it revealed became common knowledge, and then his grand plan would fall apart.

Algarotti sent all the letters but the one back to his Queen, and dismissed the lone soldier accompanying him. Then he gathered together into a sack the silver dining service that Schmidt had bought using the profits from his spying, and rode out to the village smithy.

~ ~ ~

“I remember you casting bullets for our soldiers a week ago,” he said to the blacksmith.

“Yes, that’s true,” the large man replied. “Would you like me to cast some bullets for that pistol of yours?”

Algarotti nodded, and produced the sack. “I need a dozen bullets of pure silver,” he said. “Anything left over is yours, if you swear not to tell anyone what you have done.”

The blacksmith looked over the rather large collection of silver. “You’re lucky I’ve done some jewelry work before,” he said. “What you do with those bullets is no concern of mine. However, I should warn you that silver is a rotten material for making bullets out of. If you want to actually hit anything with one, you’ll have to be at point blank range.”

Algarotti nodded grimly.

“Come back tomorrow,” he told the Count.

~ ~ ~

That night, Algarotti went to the room he was renting in Strehlen, and unrolled the drawing he had been working on ever since he had made Genevieve queen. Around the central figure of the drawing was an intricate series of tiny symbols. In one corner he drew a small crescent moon (the alchemical symbol for silver), intertwined with a skull and crossbones.

The next morning, he rode out to the blacksmith’s shop. As he rode, he kept his ears open to hear what the people were talking about. There was talk of the Queen’s imminent departure for Breslau, and a few highly distorted rumors about Warkotsch’s plot. But there was no word of the news contained in Algarotti’s confiscated note. There’s some chance I can pull this off after all! he thought to himself.

He claimed the small box containing the bullets without saying anything. As he was leaving though, he was interrupted by a question: “I just have to know: what do you possibly need those for?”

Algarotti smiled before he answered the blacksmith: “When I left home to become an artist, my father had one piece of advice for me: Never make anything you cannot unmake. I always thought it was a particularly stupid piece of advice for an artist...before today.”

~ ~ ~

Algarotti arrived at Woiselwitz carrying a long wooden tube, to see over a dozen soldiers bumping into each other trying to form an impromptu bodyguard around the Queen’s cottage. He had to present the password three times to three different soldiers before he was allowed in.

The Queen and her brother were studying a map of Eastern Europe spread out over a small table. “This is hopeless!” she exclaimed.

“Bad news, I take it?” asked Algarotti.

“The Russians have taken Kolberg,” Friedrich explained. “That was our last port. The British have expressed their cowardice by voting out their old Prime Minister, and the new one promised his constituents that the funds to support Prussian troops will be cut off immediately. The Austrians are masters of Schweidnitz and the mountains, the Russians are behind the length of the Warthe from Kolberg to Posen. Our every bale of hay, sack of money or batch of recruits only arrive here by courtesy of the enemy or from his negligence. Austrians control the hills in Saxony, the Imperials the same in Thuringia, all our fortresses are vulnerable in Silesia, in Pomerania, Stettin, Kustrin, even Burr Linn, at the mercy of the Russians. The war is pretty much lost, and our enemies will succeed in their publically stated scheme to partition Prussia. Can you imagine it? What kind of barbarian could possibly countenance the dismantling of another sovereign state?!”

“Could I have a moment to speak with the Queen in private?” the Italian asked.

“Well, we are pretty much finished here, in every sense of the word, so be my guest!” exclaimed the Prince as he made his way out the tent’s entrance.

“I’m not in a very good mood,” said Queen Genevieve.

“Of course you aren’t!” exclaimed Algarotti. “You became queen thinking that you could use your royal power to make the lives of everyone better, but you have met nothing but resistance from your aristocracy. You tried to arbitrate peace for Europe, only to be invaded.”

“I tried to improve conditions for women,” the Queen added, “only to find that this coalition against me is led by Madame Pompadour of France, Maria Teresa of Austria and Elizabeth of Russia—a League of Three Petticoats!”

Algarotti covered up a sudden attack of nervousness. It was precisely that League that maintained the war against Prussia that served his purposes so perfectly. As the letter he stole from Schmidt revealed, Empress Elizabeth had just died, to be succeeded by her nephew Peter III, an unabashed fan of Queen Genevieve and her policies. This war was just about to dramatically turn in the Queen’s favor, and Algarotti was the only man in Silesia who knew it.

Reigning in his actual emotions, Algarotti frowned. “Yes,” he said, “it was rather a surprise when traditional enemies France and Austria suddenly aligned.”

Queen Genevieve gave vent to a rather un-ladylike snort. “We both know the reason why Pompadour used her considerable influence over the French King to sign that alliance was because of her fondness of Voltaire, and her rage at his mysterious disappearance. Why does everything always have to go back to that annoying little philosopher? If I could only use my pencil—”

Genevieve had managed to recover her memory of the power of the pencil, and had forced Algarotti to hand it over. It was the only memory of her prior experience that she appeared to have retained. The Count, in his more paranoid moments, wondered if the pencil itself was responsible for this. It was the most powerful object on Earth, and it wanted to be used.

“Well you can’t,” said Algarotti in response to his queen, “because you can’t put in visual form the wish that all men get along, that they could solve their problems without resorting to bloodshed. What you require is a more direct form of power. Something like this.

And with that, he pulled his drawing out of the wooden tube and unrolled it on top of the map.

The drawing showed people from all walks of life prostrate on the ground. A mountain rose before them, and atop the mountain was an enormous donkey—Genevieve, as she would look if she suddenly became an adult and was then doubled in size. Her eyes were pure white and her coat crackled with mystical power. Hundreds of annotations described each of her incredible powers. In short, this image was a blueprint for making Genevieve over into a living god. Almost unnoticeable in the drawing was Algarotti standing by her side as the prophet and archbishop of her new religion.

Genevieve sighed as she looked over the drawing. “Yes, it’s just as you have described to me.”

Algarotti removed a sealed envelope and placed it on the table. “This is the latest news from Burr Linn,” he said. “Before you read it, consider carefully my argument. You witness human suffering on a daily basis. You do what you can to help, but you only have so many riches to spend, so much power to use. By signing this drawing and thereby bringing it to life, you give yourself the full power of the Pencil. Anything you imagine will become reality.” On seeing the Queen still silent he offered his final argument: “And once you have solved all of humanity’s problems, you will finally be able to return to Equestria. You have never told me why it was that you had to leave that wondrous place, but whoever was responsible for expelling you from that paradise would finally see judgment at your hooves.” Genevieve blinked as she thought this over, causing Algarotti to smile inwardly in triumph. Then she turned and opened the sealed message.

Algarotti didn’t need to peek over the Queen’s shoulder to read the message, because he had forged it himself the night before, along with the framework of “evidence” that would later reveal it to be a fake created by Curate Schmidt. “Burr Linn has fallen to the Russian army,” the letter read. “Large areas have been burnt to the ground. The mental hospital was especially targeted. Monsieur Jordan and daughter did not survive.

“Jenny!” the Queen exclaimed. From the tattered satchel she still kept around her neck, she pulled out her magic pencil, and used it to affix her signature to the drawing of her apotheosis.

Author's Note:

This chapter was originally accompanied by the not-ominous-at-all blog post entitled "Meditation LXXVIII".