"Some men have sufficient strength of mind to change their disposition, or at least to yield to imperative circumstances."
Chapter One: Destiny
Once upon a time in France, there was a revolution. It was very bloody. People ran about in the streets carrying pitchforks, sticks, and other assorted deadly weapons. The great fortress called The Bastille was stormed. At the beginning of the revolution a very clever Frenchman invented a new sort of device for executing people. He called it the Head Cut-Offomizer, but that was declared to be too long a name (even for the French who are the masters of creating unnecessarily long names), so it was decided that the new device would be called the guillotine.
Two men named Danton and Robespierre came to power at the end of the revolution. At first the French people rejoiced. They were rather tired of fighting one another and quickly running out of fortresses to storm. The Bastille was stormed a total of three times, neither of the second two times being as fun as the first, the guards had fled and they had seized all of the good stuff already. The rejoicing was short lived. As it turned out, Danton and Robespierre were completely insane.
One fine morning, Danton paid a call on the inventor of the guillotine; actually he tried to pay a call upon the inventor only to discover that the man had become a victim of his own invention. Finding the inventor's workshop empty, Danton seized the blueprints for the guillotine and commissioned some talented craftsmen to produce a few dozen complete with easily changeable blades, hand-woven head-catching buckets, and adjustable neck-rests.
Robespierre, the craftier and eviler of the two, put the devices to work immediately by rounding up all of the enemies of the state and beheading them. Sadly, Robespierre's definition of "enemies of the state" was rather broad. It included Priests of Pius VII, the poor old king and queen of France, and anyone unlucky enough to have a title of nobility.
"Going to watch the beheadings," became a popular family outing for the French peasants. Tickets were cheap, free actually, since those who could afford tickets were deemed wealthy and therefore enemies of the state. With 10,000 executions a day the field surrounding the guillotine was never empty. Spectators were advised to bring something to sit on. The ground was a tad bloody.
As much as the peasants enjoyed watching the nobility lose their heads, a scary thought occurred to some of the more clever members of the audience. Danton and Robespierre certainly did like cutting off peoples' heads.
"What will happen when there are no more priests and noblemen?" some asked.
"Will they cut off our heads then?" others wondered in reply.
Soon a general feeling of worry spread over the peasants, at least over the peasants that hadn't already been carted off by Danton and Robespierre to supplement the ever-thinning population of noblemen and clergy.
The non-headless peasants didn't have to worry very long. As it turned out, Danton and Robespierre did like cutting heads off a bit too much for their own good. Robespierre had Danton's head cut off. Then someone who didn't like Robespierre very much (no one knows for sure who, since there were quite a lot of people who "didn't like Robespierre very much") fixed it so he ended up under the blade of the guillotine.
At the end of the Reign of Terror, as Danton and Robespierre's brief rule had come to be called, the peasants looked about and realized that they had completely exterminated all of the French noblemen. except for one.
~Versailles, France, 1805~
Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord's eyes snapped open. No one ever bothered to notice the exact color of Talleyrand's eyes. The piercing stare usually stopped people before they ever made it to color. He blinked as they adjusted to the darkness and fixed on the clock resting on the mantelpiece. 4:37.
"What does he want now?" Talleyrand wondered.
By "he," Talleyrand was referring to Napoleon Bonaparte, the very egotistical, very loud, very short emperor of France. The only French nobleman who had managed to keep his head firmly attached to his body slipped into a heavy black brocade dressing gown, grabbed his favorite walking stick (a classy affair of black with silver trim), and fluffed his silvery-curls in front of one of his room's many mirrors. Perfect.
Fouche, the head of Napoleon's secret police, a stocky man with a bulbous nose, leaned back in his chair and puffed on a cigar. He had discovered that it was possible to forego sleep completely with an ample supply of alcohol and tobacco. Fouche leered at Talleyrand as he entered the room. The foreign minister and the chief of police had always held an instinctual dislike for one another.
Talleyrand twirled his stick and brought it down on the polished marble floor with a loud CLACK! There, another successful display of superior eye- hand coordination. That was something that Fouche, slightly tipsy, lacked.
"You yelled for me, sire?"
The emperor of France paced back and forth across the overly-decorated room, one of over 300 overly-decorated rooms in the Palace of Versailles. Looking at it all up close, it was easy to see why the peasants had been so violently annoyed with Louis and Marie to begin with.
Napoleon himself, standing at his full height of what he claimed was 5'3" but what appeared to Talleyrand and Fouche to be more like 5'2", was dressed in an overly embroidered red uniform that blended in nicely with the walls. Fouche pondered for a second whether it was a new idea of the emperor's for confusing would-be assassins. There were plenty of assassins in France. They had been one of the groups of people with the brains to outwit Danton and Robespierre and therefore keep their heads.
The emperor's jacket was unbuttoned, his lace cravat untied, and his crown of golden leaves sitting crooked atop uncombed dark hair. Still, even at 4:37 in the morning, he was full of the never ending Napoleon energy. Napoleon slept a maximum of two hours. per week.
"Of course I yelled for you," Napoleon snapped. "Who else in this country is named Talleyrand?"
"No one," the foreign minister replied coldly. "Danton and Robespierre saw to that."
There was an awkward pause. Despite the fact that no one liked Danton and Robespierre it was still considered anti-Revolution to admit the dislike. There were few things worse than being anti-Revolution, being dead and being locked in torture chamber for example. Interestingly enough, those two conditions could easily result from being anti-Revolution.
"Not that I mind," Talleyrand added, still emotionless. "I doubt Danton and Robespierre disliked my family quite as much as I did."
Emperor Napoleon snatched a half-full, or perhaps half-empty, glass of red wine from a table as he passed by in his pacing.
"Tell me about your family, Talleyrand," Napoleon said, swallowing a large gulp of wine. Not bad, Napoleon thought, finding himself perfectly worthy of the contents of the Bourbon's wine cellar.
"With all due respect, sir," Talleyrand said with a bow. "I hope that at this ungodly hour you have not called for me just to have me talk about my family."
"Why not?" Napoleon remarked with a shrug. "Fouche has already been kind enough to tell me about his."
Talleyrand leaned against the fireplace, shifting his weight to the one foot he hadn't broken when he was four. At least here it was pleasantly warm. For all of its ornamentation and plush furnishings, the Palace of Versailles did have a problem when it came to maintaining a comfortable temperature in the winter. In some of the more unused wings of the palace it was said to snow inside in January.
"Why the sudden interest in my family?" the foreign minister inquired cautiously, hoping that Napoleon wasn't slipping into some sort of Reign-of- Terror phase himself.
"You're my chief advisors," Napoleon replied with a sweeping gesture the encompassed both Talleyrand and Fouche. "You know about me, I should know about you."
Talleyrand thought for another moment. Napoleon tapped his foot against the marble floor impatiently. Even if Napoleon is descending into madness, Talleyrand concluded, he could always take another extended vacation to America, the new nation just across the Atlantic Ocean that was perpetually as anti-Napoleon as he felt at the moment.
"Oh, Talley's being so silent because his parents were aristocrats," Fouche said with a sneer. "Big time aristocrats. Which is why they lost their heads, of course. And let's not forget that they were both members of the court of Louis XV."
On his next pass by the table, Napoleon exchanged his wine glass for a pencil and a pad of paper. He made some notes while continuing to pace. Contrary to his outwardly calm demeanor, Talleyrand's mind was working overtime. It could not be good that Napoleon was inquiring into his ancestry. The fact that the emperor was now writing things down only drove the point further home. Writing things down was effort, and any such display of effort indicated that Napoleon was concocting a new plot of some sort.
"What did you do before you worked for me?" Napoleon asked. "Condensed list, please."
"I was a Priest of Pius for several years."
"Before being excommunicated," Fouche interrupted with a laugh. The fact that he still had the capability of getting into heaven, regardless of how unlikely it was, never ceased to delight the minister of police.
The conversation continued in much the same fashion, Talleyrand giving a former occupation and Fouche providing added insight.
"Before I was your foreign minister, I performed the same services for Danton and Robespierre until they no longer had need of me."
"And issued a warrant for your arrest because they were running out of heads to chop."
"I spent several years in America as a commodities broker and real estate speculator."
"While hiding from the guillotine."
"Returning from America, I was foreign minister for the Directory."
"Until you turned on them."
"Then, of course, your imperial Napoleoness, I came to serve you."
Fouche decided to take a swig of liquor rather than continue with his criticism. When it came to working under Napoleon, Talleyrand had more negative things to say about Fouche than the other way around.
"Enough about your past, Talleyrand," said Napoleon, scribbling down a few last notes before exchanging the notepad once again for the wine glass. "Now, on to why I called you here." He paused and fixed the two politicians with one of his charismatic stares. "Tell me, do you two believe in destiny?"
Talleyrand believed in many things. He believed in himself, in his superior intellect and incredible common sense. He believed that French inheritance laws were unfair. He believed that it was nearly five in the morning and Napoleon was making strange inquiries and raving about destiny. For the most part, he believed that the sky was blue and grass (assuming it wasn't in the immediate vicinity of one of Danton and Robespierre's guillotines) was green. However, having kept his head by virtue of the aforementioned intellect and common sense, not to mention some intricate planning, there was one thing Talleyrand could not believe in, and that was destiny.
Talleyrand was the sort of man who determined his own fate. He chose to say nothing.
Fouche just continued to puff on his cigar.
"Lady Destiny has once again smiled upon Napoleon Bonaparte," the emperor announced, discarding the question that the other two men in the room obviously did not care to answer. "Behold!"
The vertically challenged Corsican stepped forward and indicated a large map, lying on one of the room's larger tables, with one of his short, pudgy, fingers. Fouche and Talleyrand came as close to the map as they could while keeping a respectable distance from one another. The map itself was very old and heavily marked with various bits of writing and diagrams, some of which were Napoleon's; others appeared to be in Latin and other languages besides French. Despite the marks and the fact that it was semi-buried under a neat square formation of toy French soldiers standing over a pile of defeated toy English soldiers, the ministers were still able to recognize it as a map of Egypt.
"Papyrus?" Fouche said quizzically, fingering an exposed corner of the document.
"Yes," Napoleon replied with a beaming smile. "This is a map of Egypt, a very special map. In fact it came from Egypt."
In 1798, Talleyrand had the idea of convincing the Directory to send Napoleon on an expedition to Egypt, the purpose of which was to cut off the British from their most profitable colony, India. The Corsican had gone with thousands of troops as well as historians, writers, artists, and scientists to document the wonders of the ancient land. Sadly, the whole campaign had not gone over too well. Most of the troops died of plague, the French navy was soundly defeat at the Battle of the Nile by Nelson, and the most the historians, writers, artists, and scientists seemed to have come up with were some sketches of men with the heads of jackals and a big black rock with some funny marks on it. Regardless, Napoleon played the part of the conquering hero perfectly upon his return to France. Within the year, he was dictator.
"Did you discover it in some long forgotten tomb of a pharaoh?" Fouche inquired, greatly intrigued.
"No," the emperor replied quickly. "I bought it from a lady wearing a whole lot of purple silk and gold jewelry. The map itself beckoned me to her humble shop, a little stand in the market in Cairo. She claimed it was the original map of Egypt that Caesar Augustus used during the campaign to defeat Antony and Cleopatra. It cost me 10 francs."
Talleyrand bit his bottom lip to prevent himself from laughing. Everyone in the palace remembered, quite vividly, the fate of the last person to laugh at the emperor. "You think this map is actually real? Honestly Napoleon, I have been to many foreign countries in my time, I am foreign minister after all, and I am yet to see one without tourist traps. At least twenty people have offered to sell me a piece of the true cross. None of those are real. I would know. I used to be one of Pius' priests."
"This is real," Napoleon insisted, "I can feel it. Besides, nothing fake would cost a whole 10 francs! Look at all the notes in Latin and tell me this thing isn't real!" He pointed to one of the marks.
"That's Greek," Talleyrand corrected.
"Is this one Latin?" asked Napoleon, pointing to another mark.
Talleyrand drew in closer to the map, looking like a vulture in his heavy black dressing gown. "Yes. Gaius was here."
"Gaius was here?" Napoleon's eyebrows met between his eyes that were blue in all of Davide's paintings, but darker in reality. "Are you sure that's what it says?"
A wide grin spread over Napoleon's round face. "Gentleman, tomorrow I depart for Egypt."
Fouche's jaw dropped. Talleyrand tilted his head slightly to one side.
"Sire, with all due respect, you have already been to Egypt once. It was a complete disaster. We need all the troops we can get to serve in the inevitable conflict with England. We need men to defend the French border. I must advise against what will be a needless sacrifice."
Napoleon held up a hand to silence his chief advisor.
"It's a matter of destiny. Neither of you are destined for greatness, therefore you do not understand the great mystical workings of destiny that govern the actions of men such as myself. Besides, I'm not taking any troops, I'm going alone."
"Alone?" Talleyrand asked, eyes widening, transforming him from a vulture into an owl.
"Yes, alone," Napoleon reaffirmed. "This destiny is calling me, it has called for years. I only had to wait until my power in France was secure. The great star of Napoleon now shines in the skies above Egypt. I must go! To the place were all those who are great are called! As usual, Talleyrand, you are in charge of making sure things run smoothly in my absence " He attempted to pull the map out from under the pile of toy soldiers without disturbing them. The emperor was not entirely successful. He waved the map overhead. "To the city of Alexander!"
Napoleon made his exit with the slam of a door and a shower of toy soldiers, one of which hit Talleyrand in the head with an audible bonk.
"He's gone completely mad," Talleyrand remarked to Fouche as he rubbed his war wound and impaled the lead Englishman that had inflicted it with his stick.
"Perhaps," the police minister shrugged. "Still, this isn't that much more insane than the time he considered invading Russia in the dead of winter, or pursuing that pointless little slave rebellion in Haiti." Fouche took a deep breath. "I need another drink."
While Fouche poured himself another drink, Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of all the French, returned to his bedchamber. He carefully rolled the map and placed it into a waterproof leather map case and set it gently in the trunk he had packed earlier. An incurable soldier, Napoleon traveled light. The trunk was packed only with the necessities, a change of uniform, the dull gray overcoat he was exceptionally fond of, several hats and crowns, pencils and paper, the French/Egyptian dictionary one of the scholars had created during the original Egyptian campaign, and his manservant.
Louis Marcion, Napoleon's long suffering (very long suffering) manservant, had grown accustomed to being regarded as a piece of Napoleon's luggage. His place was wedged between the box of hats and crowns and the beloved gray overcoat.
"So, we're off for Egypt?" Louis inquired, adjusting his position a bit to relieve a crick in his neck while being careful not to wrinkle the spare uniform.
"Yes, Marcion. Once again, I will set foot upon the shores of Egypt!"
Napoleon pulled the heavy curtains back from the windows and the room was flooded with early morning sunlight. Everything in Napoleon's bedroom was short and stocky, reflecting its inhabitant. The chairs were red velvet mushrooms seemingly imported from Wonderland. The bed refused to accommodate the feet of anyone over 5'4". Everything except for the guillotine standing in the corner, the only one that Danton and Robespierre had never got around to using, it was too tall and deadly to be considered in any way reminiscent of Napoleon. Napoleon certainly was not tall.
The emperor stared out of the window. He could almost see Paris, the sun just beginning to peer over Notre Dame, creating sparkly reflections on the Seine. Below on the grounds of Versailles, dozens of servants were at work clearing away the night's snow and the bodies of some assorted peasants who had been unlucky enough to freeze to death. One man was hard at work with a giant ice pick, attempting to de-ice the fountains.
Napoleon smiled. The French empire was great, but, as always, he wanted something more.
Leaving the window, the emperor examined the contents of the trunk one last time. Concluding that he hadn't forgotten anything, he slammed the lid closed over the smiling face of Marcion.
"As always, it is an honor to accompany your majesty on another campaign for the glory of France!" came the muffled voice of the manservant from inside the trunk. Taking another breath of the already stale air, Marcion wondered for the eighty-seventh time if he really meant it.