The Foreign Prince

8284731-sofia-capital-of-bulgaria-on-an-old-torn-map-from-1949-isolated-part-of-the-old-map-series-stock-photo

It was finally his. All of it belonged to him. The country, the throne under his arm, the chandelier, the massive windows, the long room it decorated with outstanding hearth, the table littered with coins, scales, and paper, and even the servant tables lining the walls, all of it. Yet for some reason it wasn’t enough. It may have been because he was still too young, there was so much more to conquer, and it felt like this was the end of the road. Now a Prince of twenty-eight years, he had already dined and feasted with aristocrats, foreign dignitaries, politicians, and members of royalty. This was thanks to his aunt, the Tsaritsa, himself being of Hesse and the House of Battenburg. He had schmoozed them all, being taller than most he was also easy on the eyes, which made things considerably less difficult, even despite the jealousies from other German and Russian royalty. He had stood face to face with some of the most important leaders of the time and yet it was not enough. It didn’t quench his thirst. Although he knew why it wasn’t sufficient, there was not much young Prince Alex could do. His dreams were on the verge of destruction. He didn’t have enough gold, charm, or men of arms to get what he needed now. Over the years his tact had diminished and he inadvertently acquired the enmity of those who had once held him in such high esteem.

He pondered over the thought of what to do next and slowly sipped the first of what he expected to be many drinks that night. Nothing seemed to come to mind, but perhaps there was something he could do to save himself, to save his country, no matter how they felt about him. Looking out the enormous paned windows he saw a beautiful glowing red and violet sky. It was drowning slowly above the misshapen rooftops of desperate little Sofia. He knew that was the direction to Vienna, to Prussia, France and England, to the illustrious halls and remarkable architecture. However, that dream seemed also to be setting like the sun, only this time never to return again, a dark existence awaited him. To his left he saw the darkened rooftops to a dirty town in a fiefdom of his old uncles Empire. A little further on and there was the remaining part of his country, severed in Treaty of Berlin seven years before.

He was at a loss for a course of action. He knew before accepting the throne the insane challenges that lay before him. Not only had the major powers divided the country and put him in charge of what was left but they had also left him with an extremely open and liberal constitution. At first they loved him for it, but soon the peasants and the prince learned their real place in the European theatre. His uncle had been assassinated four years ago and since then he had become less of a prince and more of a servant to Europe’s great empires. He missed his uncle, and even felt a spot of guilt for when he tried to expand his powers in the new constitution, which at hearing this had caused his uncle to weep. However, that stain of guilt might have just been regret. He had visited his uncle the Tsar in Saint Petersburg, the imperial capital of his uncle’s empire. Then he was somebody and a real player in the game. During the Bulgarian campaign against Ottomans they, uncle and nephew, had grown closer together, but that was eight years ago. It was this connection to his uncle that had gotten him the throne. Now all he could think about was how much simpler life was back then in the Russian army. On the battlefield and in war someone scheming your downfall was easily understood, manageable, and expected. In this new political and aristocratic life things were complicated, secrets ruled the day, and conspirers were everywhere. If his own uncle, the Tsar of the Russian Empire could be assassinated, why not himself? Could he be more clever than him? It didn’t seem possible. Alexander had thought about this everyday for four years. This was because his cousin, Alexander III, who ascended the throne after his uncle, was out to control Bulgaria through him or without him, and preferring the later.

220px-alexander_i_of_bulgaria_by_dimitar_karastoyanovIt was however, in many ways Alexander’s own fault. He had made many blunders and with his new enemies. Thinking of this he took yet another sip from his glass but found it empty. He turned and walked to a far corner of the room where a table with several bottles of alcohol stood. He pulled out the stopper and gingerly poured himself his second heavy glass. The servants had already snuck into the room and lit the torches, without him ever really noticing. The light outside had disappeared and darkness silently spread over the sky. It was summer and so the air outside was quite cool and relaxing. He marched in military fashion to the window and opened it to the outside and to Sofia. He gazed out over the houses and exhaled in desperation. Most of the streets were still muddy and difficult to travel through. He stared on with contempt, but it wasn’t for Sofia, nor the people, nor Bulgaria as a whole. He knew this place held such promise, there was so much potential for it. However, he also knew this could not be achieved as long as he was subjected to the rules and rituals of the rest of Europe. Were it not for the Treaty of Berlin his people would be united and content, maybe even happy. Unfortunately it was ripped in two and the more liberal politicians and radicals were doing everything they could to fix this and reunite East Rumelia. He could not simply fulfill their nationalist wishes, or they would all face the wrath of every party that had signed the treaty. He had grown tired of their squabbling and had even suspended the constitution and political parties. To his own dismay the power he had obtained came with a cost. The Russians had only allowed him to do this to strengthen their own influence in the country. Now instead of having to share power with the people he had given it straight to the two Russian generals, Sobolev and Kaulbars. This turned out to be much worse than sharing power with the people and after attempting to send them back to St.Petersburg he ultimately reinstated the constitution. He wouldn’t allow himself to be such a puppet. This allowed him to retain some respect from his people but cost him the blessing of mother Russia. So now he had a choice, spit in the face of the treaty and embrace his peoples wish or do nothing and allow his own people to rise against him and take his throne. Before he could take this thought any further there was a knocking on the door.

He turned towards the door and in walked a woman and one of his servants. Alexander recognized the woman as she had visited him before. She wore normal Bulgarian clothes but to him they seemed more like rags. Yet despite her clothing she was actually quite beautiful and this was certainly advantageous to her profession.

“Sir, she has arrived and has been waiting for you,” the servant said.

He looked at her and then to his glass. He thought it over for a second and came to his conclusion.

“Not tonight,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” he answered, bowed, and began to escort the woman out of the room but she stepped away from the servant and toward the prince.

“Please Prince Alexander, I need the money desperately, without it I don’t know what I will do. Please my Prince, please,” she begged. He glared at her with the same contempt he had for the liberals that were making his life impossible, but then realized she was just a whore and shouldn’t bare the whole punishment.

“Make sure she is paid and leave me in peace,” he ordered with a tone of annoyance.

“Yes sir.” He then took the girl forcefully by the arm and left the room very quickly, forgetting to shut the door on his way out.

Alexander poured himself another drink and sat down, gingerly sipping his glass. The empty room seemed to grow now that he was alone again. His own thoughts began to attack him.  The radicals and the Russians were staged left and right against him and there was no way through their ranks. Though they themselves were at odds they had found a common enemy in the now lonely Prince. He had given them their damn constitution back and they show their gratitude by conspiring with those who were responsible for its loss. He placed the cold bottom of his glass on his forehead, hoping it would relieve some pain, which it briefly did. He turned his aching head toward the window yet again. Faint flickers of light scattered the horizon, creating crooked and fading shadows of the houses and shops on the unkempt streets of Sofia. They were the lights of those wishing to see their country brought back together and all that it entailed. Some merely looked for better and healthier lives for their families and loved ones. Others sought to give Bulgaria meaning and pride, reinforcing a common identity and giving every citizen a voice against those that ruled. Alex knew that he was their enemy, a monarch not to admire and revere but to over throw. He had admitted to himself long ago how vastly different he was from his people, not only concerning language and home, but also in terms of values. He tried to crawl in his mind back to the notion that the people and himself both wanted the same thing, to make Bulgaria a great power. Yet it was all too painfully obvious that he was in the way of making this country great. He was an obstacle for these people trying to come together and make a commendable nation. These liberals would bring Bulgaria and East Rumelia together or die trying. Alexander had guessed already that Karavelov had already sat down, eaten, and had dessert with the Russians. Unification was being pushed all the way from St.Petersburg. The liberals didn’t understand the delicate waltz that was European politics, but Alexander and the Russians did very well. He needed more time, but nationalism was bubbling out of the country, and would soon flow over the border with or without his permission. He could either spit on the Berlin Treaty, angering its powerful signatories and bringing possible destruction or it would be his head on a Bulgarian stake, when he didn’t back their cause. Damn Karavelov, he thought. Why couldn’t he just be patient? Why did he have to join the Russians against him? How did it get to this point?

He then remembered when he first arrived, the flowers in the dirty streets; all of Bulgaria had come to greet their new leader. He could feel the energy behind them, he knew what they wanted, and he wanted it too, but now he was trapped. He remembered the banner that read, “Forward Prince, the People are with you!” He laughed out loud at the mere thought of such a distant memory partially spilling some drink on the wooden floors. Had that time really existed? A breeze rushed through the open window, and the door to the room nudged itself up against the wall. He quickly turned his head to the door, with an expression of wild panic. Nothing was there, just the door to the hallway swinging lightly back and forth. He had imagined in those few seconds that assassins had finally gotten to him, and the liberals and the Russians would have their victory. He then realized he could not live like this anymore, he had to make a choice. He stood up and wandered to one of the open window and closed it. He moved to another window across the room and behind the glass the shape of Sofia lingered on in the night. The city itself was a gesture that pushed him toward unification and into the contempt of Europe. It was too far from the Danube for trade, and it the roads to get their were badly maintained. The city too was fractured with crooked and narrow streets. However, Sofia lay in the east and in the heart of what would one day be the nation of Bulgaria. He knew in the end he should side with his people who were struggling. Struggling, just like him, it was, them against the world. It was then he realized whom he feared more; it was not the nation trying to put itself back together it was the Empires of Europe. It was the world he feared.

He heard the door opening a bit wider, hitting the wall two times, but the he had already closed the open window. Alexander slowly turned his gaze away from Sofia and towards the door. Two men stood in the open door frame. They were both dressed in what seemed to him as peasant clothing, dark pants, shirts that had probably been passed down, covered by even older vests. One of the men held a piece of paper and both stared at him with mixed apprehension. He could see that behind the look of contempt, there was a glimmer of hope.

“Who let you in here? Im not entertaining any guests tonight, I am sorry.” He told them. The men glanced at each other, then back to Alexander. He knew the words were empty, he could tell that these men were here to do something, possibly kill him, but he didn’t know what else to do than remain calm and act like nothing was wrong. Clearly something was wrong though, he knew it, they knew it, and the entire country knew it. They have been screaming for unification, and he has been doing nothing to help them. Now two of them stood in front of him. He did not have much personal contact with these people, yet they were his people. He had ignored their cries for too long and he knew it. No amount of charm would be able to get him out of this situation. He had failed as a leader and now the country would have their say. It was a strange feeling; the monarchy had been handed to him on a silver plate and he ruled this country for years with only his concerns and not theirs, now for the first time he would have to answer to them.

Moments like these are extremely rare. When those in positions of power meet those they control and they are finally forced to respect the seriousness and the responsibility of their seat. The room became a catalyst for change, ruler and ruled now stood face to face. The only question was where would this encounter take the Bulgarian nation?

The man with the paper stepped forward toward Alexander, who reached toward the table to place his glass down. The man stopped a few feet in front of him and handed the paper to him. It read, ‘Freedom or Death. The Secret Executive Committee.’ Alexander stared at the note in his hands. He was saved, they would not kill him, and they were giving him a choice.

“If you do not support our unification, you will be annihilated by the Committee.”

The man said this and turned towards the door. Both men then exited without closing the door. Alexander looked down at the note again and thought he would need to improve his security from now on. He did not think it was time to give the people what they yearned for; he did not think that his time in the great dinning halls of Europe was over. He would continue to bide his time until the decision was made for him by someone else. The Secret Executive Committee had given its message, yet it had not been received. Though they had looked right in the eyes of their sovereign spoke simply and powerfully, it was still not enough. The dance of politicians continued on, and the distance between subjects and sovereigns continued to grow. But for how much longer can this go on?

 

 

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