The news that the Kaiser has been shot and killed by a English Officer was plastered all over the news. Luckily the Germans didn't have a picture and the description of Richard they had given out was generic enough to allow him to go into a village and steal a newspaper and a map of northern Germany from a small store
Obviously the headline was that the Kaiser was dead and that a English Officer was accused. Any hints that the British Government might be involved were as yet missing but he knew it was only a matter of time. They had spent the rest of the night after meeting with crossing as much of a distance as they could, only to hide where they were now as it got light.
He leaned back against a tree and Sibalai knew that it was best not to interrupt him then and there. When he was like this, the Hivaldar knew, he was making plans, and a plan was what they needed. They were, as of two hours ago, ten miles to the west of Wilhelmshaven and hid in a knot of trees between wide, expansive potato fields. The village about two miles away was a risk, but they needed a place where they could hide for at least a day and make plans.
Sibalai knew that his commanding Officer (and his friend) was someone to be reckoned with if he was forced to act with no notice whatever, but if he had an hour to think and sit down they were near unstoppable. This ability had dug the Regiment (and the remnant of his own detachment of the 5th Gurkha Rifles) out of a very deep hole in India and earned him his KCIE.
"Did anyone see you when you..exited our previous lodgings?"
"I do not think so, Major." Sibalai answered, and thought back. "At least not on the street, Sir. There may have been someone in the windows..."
Richard nodded. "Fair enough."
He reached for the rifle and ejected the ammunition clips. He worked the action dry a few times and loaded it again. He grinned, and when he Sibalai saw he grinned as well. Things were about to get.. intense.
"You do have a plan." he said and began to gather the few things they had unpacked.
Richard grinned and shook his head. "I do indeed old friend. We will look up a recent acquaintance of mine."
Knowing that this meant going deeper into Germany he wondered to himself what the Major was thinking about but didn't bother asking. If the Major wanted to tell him, he would on his own time.
As he picked up the bag and stuck his arms through the slings that turned it into a variant of the Army-issue backpack the Major stood, already wearing his own backpack, the rifle already stored between it and his back so that on a cursory glance at a distance it was barely visible.
"We are not heading for the border because by now the Gerries must have staked out all the crossings and anyway, I will be damned if I let this stain sit on my name. Never mind that this might well be very bad for our relations with Germany."
To Sibalai the first part made sense and frankly he didn't care about the latter. He was a soldier down to the bone.
"So where will we go, Major?"
"Hohenberg, Hivaldar." Richard replied. By now he was convinced that the Baroness had been set on him to make him easier to subdue and if anyone had any sort of information on who and what the Cerberus society was it was her.
Richard consulted the map. It was at the wrong scale for overland navigation and barely showed more than the largest and most important towns, cities and transportation lines. Luckily Hohenberg was large and important enough to be shown, thanks to the railway line "It's about a hundred miles to the south-south-east."
That meant they would have to secure some transportation. The only problem was that there were only so many ways to get from A to B and Richard knew that railway stations was the one thing even the most incompetent police force watched when they were hunting someone, never mind that Sibalai would find it impossible to blend in. So unless they came across an automobile there only remained walking and even that they could do only at night.
Sixty miles, marching at night trying to avoid settlements...
He was interrupted by the whistle of steam pipe. Of course! He was tempted to slap himself for being so silly. There was the railway and while stations would be watched, the tracks themselves wouldn't be. The only problem was that last time they had tried this during a sojourn into the Ottoman Empire west of Ankara Richard had almost fallen off the train and died. He was less than eager to try again but there was little point in trying something else, not when tomorrow at the latest the countryside would be swarming with police and maybe even Cavalry.
"Care for a little train journey?"
Sibalai only grimaced but he knew that the Major wouldn't do it if he saw another choice.
They still had to cover almost five miles that night before they reached a spot where the tracks were making a slight curve, forcing the trains to slow down enough to enable anyone to jump on, courtesy of the absolutely flat and featureless ground characteristic for Northern Germany.
That was followed by waiting for almost three hours because what Richard intended to use was at best a feeder line for the main connection between Wilhelmshaven, Bremen and Hamburg. Was to supply the likes of Oldenburg and Hohenberg with what little trade came this way from instead of taking the faster and easer way through either Hamburg or up from the Ruhr Area which was the centre of German industry.
At night especially this meant that there was only little traffic and most of what there was consisted of freight trains.
This suited them just fine and when the 04:00 train from Wilhelmshaven to Oldenburg almost stopped to negotiate the bend enforced by two lakes no member of the crew up forward in the engine's compartment saw that two figures ran out from behind the sparse cover and jumped up on the fourth car from the back.
As the train began moving again Richard and Sibalai both sat down, panting hard from the exertion. They were on the small platform between this car and the next, last one, hidden from easy observation by the bulk of the freight compartment and the small roof that edged forward.
Richard wriggled his arms out of the straps of the backpack and rose to his feet. He turned and stepped over to the last car to inspect it more closely, finding that it wasn't even locked, only held in place with a metal crossbar. He opened it and peeked inside, finding that it was almost completely filled with sacks of...some form of vegetables, though it was still empty enough to comfortably hide two of the King's loyal servants.
He motioned for his friend to come and within minutes both were fast asleep, ignoring all the dangers that would face them. Their treks across the Empire, the Americas and Asia had taught the both of them that building up a reserve of sleep at every opportunity was vital, and for the next several hours they had little else to do anyway.
The map laid out in the pub that acted as the command post showed black pencil marks everywhere around Wilhelmshaven. The effort made by the local police had been honest, but it had been confused and without method.
When that had yielded exactly nothing and it had been discovered that at least one of the fugitives had actually returned to the hotel, broken in through the back door and removed several items from the room, all of that under the eyes of the police. [I]Oberst[/I] Maximilian von Riedmüller, commanding Officer of the 20. Dragonerregiment, the 20th Dragoons, had taken over the mixed force of his own Dragoons, Field Police and the best civilian police. The Crown Pr...the Kaiser himself had commanded him to do it and even though he had hoped not to have to do this sort of work again when he had left the Schutztruppe in German West Africa behind.
This however was an extraordinary incident, worse than the murder of the Governor. Back then he had managed to apprehend the men in question but this was on a scale he hadn't seen before. And with the delay the men were probably already across the border to the Netherlands and on their way back to England.
Von Riedmüller was the stereotype of the Prussian Officer. While he had declined to use his father's monocle due to it being impractical on horseback but other than that the picture was perfect. He was tall and walked perfectly upright under all circumstances. His steel-blue eyes were deeply set in a face that wasn't handsome but rather practical, and his dark brown hair was peppered with grey but with his forty-five years he still had at least a decade left in the service.
He took off his cap and ran a hand through his hair. The area was locked down as securely as he could manage and his men were questioning everyone they could find but so far the only thing the search had yielded aside from the usual unrelated petty crimes was that someone had broken into a shop to steal a newspaper and a map.
Von Riedmüller doubted that it had been the two fugitives, but since a map had been stolen, the register left alone and nothing else was gone...
His train of thought was interrupted by the arrival of a civilian. The man was middle aged and wearing a suit but his bearing said that he was formerly military. When he introduced himself and showed credentials that made him a 'special envoy' of the War Ministry von Riedmüller saw that there was a series of livid burn scars running along the back of his hand, so the man at the very least knew what real pain was. Not that he needed it, the man was instantly recognizable to a great many Germans.
"So what can I do for you, Sir?" von Riedmüller asked, and was surprised when the man chuckled. "This isn't about what you can do for me, this is about what I will do for you, Oberst."
"How come, Sir?"
"Well," the man said and stepped over to the map. Before he moved it he looked at the Colonel and silently asked permission which was granted with a nod. "Well," he repeated, "you see, my...principals have looked into this foul matter too and some of our sources have spotted the perpetrators."
Von Riedmüller's head snapped around fast enough that one might have expected it to keep going.
"Where, if I may ask?" he said, barely keeping his voice level.
"Or rather we know where they are going. Had I reached you earlier you may have caught them before they jumped on that train, but we have strong evidence that they are going here."
He pointed out the spot on the map. Hohenberg, a town with a corresponding Rittergut, a knightly seat that in this case dated...he thought about it, having read about it somewhere...dated back to 1492.
He shock his head. There were more important things to do.
"How have you found this out?"
The Civilian lied to the Colonel's face without even the slightest hint. "We had...some of our own men shall we say, following them, and they hopped on a train south. When it stopped at the next halt they were already gone but we have strong evidence that tells us they are going there."
He said no more, but before von Riedmüller could ask what that proof was, the man from the ministry explained what he had just said. "The English assassin has been seen talking extensively to the Baron and his daughter, and while we do not believe that two upstanding Germans have anything to do with this affair he may seek them out..."
The Colonel did not need to hear more, nor did he really want to, as the Englishman's reputation was none of his concern.
The Civilian pointed at the line Thorngrave and his companion were supposed to have taken and von Riedmüller nodded. It was a minor side track but it went almost directly towards Hohenberg, and he had to admit, going deeper into Germany instead of running hell for leather towards the nearest international border was smart, no one would expect it.
He doubted every word of what the War Office man had said but he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth, what with the Kaiser and the rest of the German Empire watching.
"Well then," von Riedmüller exclaimed and rolled up the map. He yelled for his aide and an automobile to take them to the station. If he hurried he would be able to use the Wilhelmshaven train that came down this way and reach the after the freight train arrived.
The train halted at the station and Colonel von Riedmüller looked out of the window before rising from his seat. The local chief of police, if one could call three constables a police force, was already waiting with one of his men. From the looks of it the other two were guarding the exit on the other side of the station, so at least the man had had the sense to look at the local modes of transportation. If the two of them were really that dangerous as advertised then catching them in a crowd might be the best idea to prevent them from simply shooting the country plods and moving on.
Von Riedmüller had telegraphed ahead and had used his connections with others in the Army to appropriate two squads of Infantry. He would have preferred Cavalry if only because they could move faster on the open ground around here but one could not have everything, especially when the nearest Cavalry Regiment was currently engaged in an exercise and slated for deployment to the German West Indies, and thus not available for any extra duty.
Infantry would have to do.
Richard examined the manor through his Zeiss binoculars. There were no guards nor was there much movement at all. Hardly surprising, everyone hated Monday mornings but went to work all the same. Even so, it was July and not to depth of winter, there should have been more employees moving about, just as they were back home at houses like this.
The manor was larger than his own childhood home but he supposed that the landed Gentry in Germany and Britain alike had been or were somewhat richer than a retired Army Officer who had been very, very lucky in textiles and in The City. The house was of a not particularly outstanding or fresh design, it looked like any number of manors of the type, with white-washed walls, tall, wide windows, a dark grey tiled roof and with expansive, wood and open grass grounds around it. In the distance to the north of the manor Richard could see the stables with half a dozen horses grazing in a fenced in area and two hands attending them.
On the western wall of the manor he could see a more recent addition, a low-slung one-storey building and by the looks of it holding an automobile. Closer to the main road that ran past the grounds in a north-west-south-east direction a track laid out with dark grey pebbles ran off into a clamp of woods and Richard correctly suspected that it was where the groundskeeper was living as there was a spiral of white smoke coming up from behind a group of trees.
Speaking of the grounds keeper, the servants quarters seemed to be in a wing north of the manor, directly connected to the main house. Outside the main ground, on the edge of the stone granite wall that ran around everything he could see telephone and power lines disappearing into the grounds and he presumed that they were running underground to the main building.
Immediately in front of the house the driveway, covered with white pebbles, ran from the gate to a large, round space in front of the entrance, with a bed of flowers in the middle that surrounded an awfully proto-greccan spring that at present was spouting water as if it was going out of fashion.
When they had approached the grounds Richard had at first wanted to wait until it was dark but when neither he nor Sibalai on another tree had seen any sort of security he had changed plans and now they were hidden in a small depression in a clump of trees about half a mile south of the house.
The undergrowth had been heavy and wild, indicating that this area was seldom traversed by human beings and ideally suited for hiding out closer than anyone would expect and in a perfect position to observe what was going on.
Richard glanced at his watch and saw that it was almost seven. Around them dusk was making things harder and harder to see.
"Another hour and then we'll go in."
Sibalai drew his Khukuri and inspected it closely. He was satisfied with the blade and next removed his own Webley. He knew it was loaded but out of habit he always checked and when all the chambers held a round he nodded in satisfaction and placed it not in his back but rather in the small hip holster.
Even as he checked his own weapons Richard couldn't help but chuckle. "Expecting trouble, are we?"
Sibalai grinned and only replied that with their luck and experience it paid to be prepared.
"True enough." Richard said and leaned the rifle against a tree.
Once his watch struck eight they both rose to their feet. It was almost dark now, tough official sunset wouldn't be for almost another two hours. The twilight was severe enough to allow them to dash across the open space without being spotted. As they traipsed their way around the east side of the manor Richard looked into the windows.
One of them was wide open and inside it electric lights were already burning. The window was placed near a set of large french doors made of glass and wrought iron and when he glanced inside he saw that it was a library and reading room. In a Thornet-style rocking chair near the group of sofas on the other end of the room, in front of a fireplace that wasn't in use but seemed to be a central piece of the room he saw the Baroness, engrossed in a book.
He sat back down under the window and went over his options. If she started yelling before he reached her then the game was up, but if she didn't he would not have to break into wherever the Baron was. At the very least she already knew his face and it would save valuable time.
And time was the one thing they didn't have.
He turned and rose, hiding himself on the wall between the window and the doors. Like the window, the door was open, just enough to let a small sliver of light shine onto the pebbles and assorted flower beds. He took off his backpack, placing it and the rifle in his companion's safekeeping. He took in a breath, stepped forward, opened the door and entered the library.
To say that the Baroness was surprised would have been an understatement. She personally hadn't connected the Major with what had happened, at least emotionally, but the way he had disappeared had been strange to say the least and intellectually she knew who the papers and the police blamed. She sprang to her feet and dropped the book she had been reading. She almost stumbled over her own skirts as she made for the door, but was then made to freeze between the Major's voice and the black barrel of his revolver.
"I have no desire to shoot you, Baroness, but I need you to listen to me for a few minutes. After that you can do as you please, though I do hope that you will not konk me over the head with that book of yours."
As he said nothing more the Baroness gathered her wits enough to actually speak.
"And why the hell should I believe you, Major?" she said, almost spitting out the last word, "you shot the Kaiser."
Richard snorted, in a way he had expected this. "I did nothing of the sort, but right now that is beside the point. What I do want from you is for you to summon your father, as we need to speak to him."
She looked at him with disgust and hatred on her face. "So you can shoot him too?"
Instead of answering Richard merely called for Sibalai to join them. When the Baroness saw the tall Ghurka Rifleman she flinched, but instead of making to shoot her, Sibalai merely smiled and bowed slightly. Knowing what his Officer wanted he placed himself at the door, thus cutting off the only route of escape. Satisfied that at least the immediate situation was under control, Richard pushed the hammer forward and holstered his gun.
"No, I will not shoot you nor your father." he said as if no time had elapsed, "as for the Kaiser, it would have been within my means to do it, yes, but when he was shot I was lying in a cellar somewhere counting the stars after being knocked over the head."
It was clear that she didn't believe a word he was saying but she said nothing, and for some reason Richard felt as if he had to explain himself to her.
"Why would I want to do this in the first place?" he asked, "true, the relations between Germany and the Empire could be better but frankly I'm not stark raving bonkers. This might mean war if..."
He trailed off as he suddenly had an epiphany, or at least he believed he did. He knew next to nothing about the Cerberus Society, nor could he prove that it even existed but if anyone wanted to stir up the pot between Britain and Germany then this would be it. By god...
Her voice tore his thoughts away from the dangerous path they had been on and back to the present.
"If you do not listen to me, Baroness."
He could see that his efforts were for naught and the chastised himself for not thinking this through properly.
"But since I cannot convince you," he said, and declined to add 'and you and your father just might have been involved, albeit unwittingly', "I will have no choice but to ask you politely, but at gunpoint, to lead me to wherever your father is at present."
He drew his Webley again and the Baroness saw that he was a desperate man who was willing to do what was needed but disliked that possibility. She also saw in his eyes that he was honest insofar that he did not wish to shoot her, yet because he had been so likeable when they had talked near the review and because some of what he said made at least partial sense she nodded and when his Companion stepped aside, led them through the door.
The hallway that followed was panelled in dark oak, with the usual trappings of wealth and power, while the staircase to the second floor was the same, here at least the panels were not as heavy and dark.
The Baroness halted near a double door and knocked.
In German she spoke.
"Papa, I need to speak to you."
From the inside came a voice that reminded Richard of someone, probably his own father and when the door opened Richard saw a room that could have been transplanted from his own home, except for the cuckoo clock where his father had a grandfather clock that according to rumours had been given to him by Queen Victoria as a personal present.
The centrepiece of the room was a massive desk made out of best German oak, the surface being almost completely hidden under papers, folders, books and assorted writing utensils.
The man sitting in the high-backed chair was of an age similar to Richard's own father, but unlike the General the Baron of Hohenberg had slate-gray hair and piercing, grey-blue eyes.
Clearly Ilsa had inherited her good looks from her mother, Richard mused as he studied the...what was wrong here? Why did the Baron look as if he had been expecting this? His alarm bells rang, but he wasn't really surprised that something was rotten in the state of this office. Which was why he had hidden his knife in his boots and not his belt.
The Baron was wearing an old-fashioned suit and as he rose to raise his hand towards he spoke.
"What is the meaning of this?"
Clearly whoever the Cerberus Society was they had overestimated the Baron's acting skillls, for this was, in spite of assumed differences in inflection, pitch and volume, clearly the Deep Voice.
AN: Not my favourite chapter of all time, but it's a transition. Next we see far more action, promised.
As usual, reviews fuel me.