The Roll of Years
There were one-hundred-and-one cannon shots. Gilbert knew this because just about all of Berlin, those on the frozen streets and those crammed into warmer taverns, began counting along with them, cheering and toasting the new-born prince. Prussia helped, half-drunk even before the last shot had rang out over the city, half-drunk on good, strong beer and the euphoria of his people which was far more potent.
The Kingdom of Prussia which had been a Duchy only eleven years ago, and rising out of a war of decades, was still very fragile. Gilbert, brash and as awesome as he ever was, would never admit it but he could feel exactly how fragile. He felt like thin paper, stretched out as his territories were across Europe from the Baltic Sea to the lands that had been Brandenburg's. Every drink rushed to his head and he could hear his past-self scoffing at how un-awesome he was becoming. But he didn't care. He had a king who had a son who now had a son of his own, three generations of the greatest royal family that Europe would ever see.
He should really have been at the castle, meeting his new prince face-to-face. He was pulling himself to his feet when someone shouted across the tavern's heaving mass that the boy was to be a Friedrich, named for his grandfather. And that deserved another drink at least. And then another, because keeping track of all these Friedrichs was hard. And then Otto, who worked at the palace, came by and said that the Kaiser and the Tsar would be the godparents and Gilbert needed a few more drinks at the thought of dealing with Austria and Russia at the same time.
Someone pushed another glass into his hand and more and more people were celebrating as the news travelled outside of Berlin. In the end it was three days before the nation of Prussia staggered back to the place, reeking to high heaven, to blink blearily at the small, pink, wriggling thing wrapped up tight against the winter cold before finding a handy parlour to collapse in.
"I did not want it, Prusse," Friedrich, Crown Prince in Prussia, rested his head wearily against the stone wall. At least he was Crown Prince for the moment. He was not the only son, just the oldest, and there were rumours that the Soldier-King was speaking to the Reichstag, trying for another execution.
"To be king," Friedrich's blue eyes were dull and surrounded by dark circles. He was considerably less poised without his fancy clothes and without von Katte, "How could I? To become like my father…" he did not even have the energy to spit that word as he usually did, and he trailed off with a sigh.
He certainly woke up in a hurry when Gilbert snarled and stalked towards him,
"Dummkopf!" he nearly hit him, his hand was raised to strike until he saw how the boy's eyes hardened and he lowered it, settling for dragging him up to eye-level by his shirt (no matter how much Prussia hated him he was still only eighteen and eighteen years was nothing), "Who said you had to be like your father?" he shook him, "Be a king. Be a fucking better king than him. Win that way, you stupid, little-" Prussia finished with a snarl and pushed his prince away, and he strode away all vicious red eyes and fangs.
Friedrich had become Fritz, a solemn child with fluffy, yellow hair like a little bird. While he was small Gilbert had very much liked the boy. But then came fancy clothes and hidden books and flute music and the boy barely spoke any Deutsch, chattering away with that sister and mother of his in French and when he had to speak German, to his father and to Prussia, you could see the disdain on his face. So Gilbert took great pleasure in the absolute misery the boy found in his duties, in the endless formations and drilling. When the Soldier King dragged his son away by his hair and burnt his brocade jacket in the fireplace Gilbert certainly wasn't going to step in to save him. But someone had. And that that lead to this moment, to Prussia pressing Friedrich's face against the iron bars of the window of Küstrin's most secure cell with a fist tangled securely in his hair watching the execution of the traitor von Katte.
When von Katte finally appeared, priest at one shoulder, his executioner at the other, Friedrich turned as much as he was able and he whispered to Prussia,
"Prusse, please. Please save him."
And Gilbert, who was loyal to his Soldier-King, who had been the first to volunteer to capture the fleeing prince and who was angry and hurt all at the same time said,
"Why?" and he turned Friedrich, who had been his Fritz before he hated him, back towards the bars, "Wasn't it your idea to go to England?"
The prince began trembling like a bird at that and when von Katte was before the window he shouted down,
"Please forgive me, my dear Katte, in God's name, forgive me."
And the reply floated back,
"There is nothing to forgive, I die for you with joy in my heart."
Prussia had been France's companion, friend and enemy both, long enough to understand a little of his language. He fully expected his traitor-prince to cry at those words but his eyes remained dry.
When the axe fell so did Friedrich, into a dead faint. Gilbert caught him and half-tossed the limp thing onto the bed before returning to the window. Friedrich-Wilhelm, his Soldier-King, nodded up at him before strolling away. They left von Katte's body there for the rest of the day, perhaps in the hope that the prince would see it. But Friedrich did not wake for two days.
Prussia was chosen to stand guard over Küstrin's most secure cell. For those two days, as Gilbert and his traitor-prince had their conversation, the queen begged her husband to spare her oldest son.
Friedrich did not die at Küstrin.
Prussia and his men had stopped briefly at Rheinsburg. They had business elsewhere but even if they didn't their stay probably would have been cut short. Whenever Gilbert and the Crown Prince were in the same room the mood turned icy.
On a stroll through the palace (Prussia was mostly definitely not lost! That only happened to un-awesome nations like Austria.) Prussia came across a study. There was sheet music and a flute weighing them all down, so it belonged to the prince, and the nation was considering hiding them or something when the papers underneath those caught his eye.
Battle plans? Military strategies? He read further. There were names he recognised, men he'd fought with or against or had heard of. He smiled. Now this side of his prince was… interesting.
There was a thaw between nation and prince. Only a slight one. But a thaw nonetheless.
The new king had called Prussia to him as soon as he arrived in Charlottenburg. When the nation found him, Friedrich, King in Prussia and second of that name, was still travel-stained and dusty, tired from the journey from Potsdam but bright eyed, sitting up behind his desk. Prussia bowed then snapped to attention, resplendent in full uniform,
That was part of the ritual. To a nation a king or queen is never Your Majesty, rather they are always 'My King' or 'My Queen' even if they insist on being addressed otherwise they are yours as you are theirs.
Friedrich smiled but did not join in the ritual yet, "I remember what you told me," he rose from his seat and stood before Prussia. He took one gloved hand in his and did something that no king had ever done to him before.
He knelt before him, head bowed over Gilbert's hand,
"Mein Preußen, ich bin der erste Diener meines Staates."
I am the first servant of my state, said his king. It startled Prussia and he didn't know how to reply.
"I was weak, mein Preußen. But no longer," he looks up, face utterly serene, "My purpose is to serve you. I will do so faithfully until God sees fit to end my time on earth. And I will make you strong, the strongest nation in Europe."
There was fire flickering behind those blue eyes. Prussia griped the gloved hand that lay in his,
"Fuck yes, Fritz!" the nation had a wolf's grin on his face as he pulls his king to his feet, "I like the sound of that."
Before the year was out they marched together into Silesia.
Fritz was nervous. He paced about the tent. He wrote a letter to his brother, August Wilhelm. He rolled his flute between his palms, fingering the keys but not playing a note. Prussia watched.
They would meet the Austrians at Mollwitz. They had a few thousand more men and the troops were well exercised but without experience. And Prussia knew that drills and formation do not prepare a man for the mud and blood and noise and chaos. But remembered and used properly they can save a man's life. He clasped Fritz's shoulder,
"Just like we practised, ja?"
"Oui," his king looked green and ill with worry. He'd retreated back to his preferred language too. With shaking hands he sealed his letter, "Prusse, should the battle go against us," he pressed the envelope into Gilbert's hands, "my brother is my heir. There is little love between us but please serve him well."
"No need," Prussia grinned, "You're my king and I'm almost too awesome. How can you lose?" That raised a smile, small and fragile, and a nervous laugh.
When Fritz lead the troops onto the field of battle the next day Prussia rode by his side. His king was still nervous but he did a credible job of hiding it and the troops needed that. It held until the Austrians charged and eighteen-thousand cavalry swept towards the Prussian lines.
Prussia heard nothing over the roar of his bloodlust and his shouted commands to his soldiers, to hold, verdammt, hold,to kneel, aim and finally with a howl to FIRE! This was his world, which had been denied to him for so long. It was chaos, it was madness. It was a shambles and there were calls for a retreat that Gilbert shouted down. At one point Prussians were firing on Prussians. But then there was a glorious, beautiful moment when the infantry, drilled to perfection until it was instinct, swung right spontaneously and fired volley after volley into the Austrians. Schwerin ordered the advance and Prussia was at the head of it, red eyes as bright as blood. It was only after the battle when he stood shuddering in the aftermath that he realised he had no idea where Fritz was.
None of his officers did. There was another panic amongst them, a scramble to hide this fact from the rank-and-file and, more importantly, a race to find the king. Schwerin had sent him off the field, there were rumours he'd been shot or captured by the Austrians. It was not until the next morning that they found him.
"I am sorry, mein Preußen," said the king to his nation, "I should not have fled the field. Even in defeat I should have stayed."
Prussia gawped at him until he burst out laughing, even picking up the taller man to swing him about like a child until Fritz understood that Mollwitz had been a Prussian victory.
"Just like we practised, my king," Prussia was drunk on victory and relief and mad laughter bubbled out of him again so he almost missed Fritz's quieter words,
"I am ashamed."
"Least you were on the battlefield, Fritz. Stay by me and you can't go wrong!"
As he did last year, Fritz took Prussia's hand and bowed over it, going to his knees in the dust, voice full of quiet determination,
"I will never abandon my troops again. I will never abandon you, mein Preußen."
He did not. Through the Silesian wars, the first and the second, Friedrich II never left a battlefield. He was shot at, had horses shot out from under him. And when they came back to Berlin, five years later, the people were chanting Friedrich der Grosse! The king and his nation shared a smile before Prussia joined in the cheers.
Another war and this one larger and seemingly more hopeless than the last. Austria had finally grown a pair and together with Hungary and Maria-Theresa had decided to take back Silesia. Russia was on their side. France and Spain, Prussia's friends and enemies were against him this time. That was the way of things for nations. Prussia had fought with and against just about every one of his neighbours in his various incarnations. If you wanted to live a long life as a nation you learnt not to hold grudges (the only possible exceptions being England and France). Some mortals didn't understand it and Prussia had had bosses who were like that. Fritz understood it.
Case in point, England was on his side this time because no matter the time or place Eyebrows would always be on the opposite side to France. It was a good partnership. No one was better than England on the seas and Prussia's armies were awesome on land. It meant that the two nations rarely met and were often on opposite sides of the globe. Today was one of the rare occasions they were together.
England had brought his brothers too. Gilbert often forgot their names and had mentally labelled them as them as the quiet redhead; the sneaky brunette and the huge, scary redhead. They all shared England's distinctive eyebrows and his temper. He stood with Fritz watching as all three ganged up on their blonde brother and began to drag him towards the fountains.
"Are all nations like this with their siblings?" his king looked up from his papers at England's loud cursing. Prussia's answer was initially drowned out by that noise but Arthur failed to escape his brothers' grasp and he could continue talking,
"I think England and his brothers are special like that," out on the grounds England lashed out at the brunette brother with his foot and caught him on the chin, "though Russia and his sisters…" he shuddered at memories of Belarus. Over by the fountains Arthur's injured brother had reclaimed England's free leg. They were now swinging their brother by his arms and legs, building up speed.
"I would think that sibling relations between your kind, mein Preußen, will always be tumultuous," Fritz' turned to his nation with a serene smile, "After all is this not our third war with Austria?"
"Scheiße, Fritz! Related to Austria? Don't spread that around!" Prussia clutched his chest, frowning as Fritz began to laugh, "Fuck, Fritz. You- You're evil. You're a bad man." From the fountains there was a brief scream of indignation and a loud splash. Three nations of the British Isles scattered as the fourth rose from the water, scarlet with rage.
As the war raged on news came to Fritz of his mother's death. A year later his beloved sister, Wilhelmine, followed.
They fought a bloody and pointless battle at Zorndorf with the Russians. Both sides ran out of gunpowder early on and then it was fought like the old days with swords, nose-to-nose with your opponent, close enough to feel the gore splatter across your face. The Prussian troops began to tire so Fritz himself lead them out with Prussia at his side.
Gilbert found Ivan on the field. The two hacked each other to bloody ruin until they fell to the floor together, face-to-face but unable to fight or move a single finger. Russia was dragged away by some of his troops. Fritz found Prussia, ordering him to be gently lifted, gently or God help him he would see them lashed.
Kunersdorf was almost the end of them both. The army scattered and broke before the combined might of Austria and Russia. During the battle Prussia saw Fritz fall. He darted straight to his king's side.
He'd been shot down off his horse and was coming up bloody. But his king still drew his sword and plunged it the earth.
"Scheiße! You planning to hold them all off by yourself?"
"If I must," Fritz looked across the battle, "I made a promise, mein Preußen. I will not abandon my men."
"We've no men left! Fuck! Just look!" From their position on the top of a small hill they had a splendid view of the carnage. Prussia did not think they would return to Berlin with even a thousand men left.
"I will not abandon the field, Gilbert! Even if I must fall!"
In the end Prussia put Fritz on a horse himself. While they fled he heard Austria's shouts and caught a glimpse of Russia, seeming unaffected by the beating they'd given each other last year, looking up at him with a cold, cold smile.
They returned to Berlin with three thousand men out of the fifty thousand that had left. Fritz sat in meetings with his head in his hands, leaving Gilbert to argue with generals. When he found his king thoughtfully studying his pistol Prussia took it from him, arguing with him, telling him to wait, wait just a little longer. And over the next four days the scattered men returned, individuals merging into small groups into larger ones then forming regiments and companies. Twenty-six thousand men returned to fight for their beloved king. To them he was der alte Fritz and Prussia seized upon this new nickname, using 'Old Fritz' like a badge of honour bestowed upon his king.
Berlin was occupied. As they marched back towards the capital refugees streamed away. They brought word of pillage and violence in the palaces of Charlottenburg and Schoenhausen. Potsdam Castle and Sanssouci were occupied as well but spared violence only because the general there had forbidden such things. Even Prussia was scared to think what Old Fritz would have done to the army that harmed his beloved Sanssouci. The point was moot. When the Austrians and Russians heard the Prussians were returning to Berlin they swiftly left.
"So we are now friends. That is good, da?" Ivan had smiled as he spoke, sweet and innocent, but there was a chill in the room that the fire could not touch and the Prussians noticed it more than the Russian generals. In private Old Fritz told Gilbert,
"We do not have to love him as long as he is on our side."
Russia did not stay friends for long, his Tsar swiftly replaced by an Empress. But by then everyone was tired and used up. Prussia's nose run and his eyes itched in sympathy with his economy. The peace treaty was signed to a copious amount of sneezing and coughing from all nations present.
England had gained huge amounts of territory and at the expense of France as well which made him smug enough for Prussia to want to hurt him, ally or no ally. But Prussia had survived intact and that was good enough for Friedrich the Great and thus good enough for him. Old Fritz really looked the part now. He seemed to have aged two years for every one in this war. But his bright, blue eyes were the same, his mind as sharp as ever and he was still Gilbert's precious king.
Fritz had been 'Old Fritz' for more than twenty years now. He'd been in his forties, nearly fifty, when he'd been given the nickname and to the young soldiers at the time that had been an unimaginable age, too far off to even contemplate. To Prussia fifty years was nothing. And that was the problem. Nations forgot that time affected humans differently. A guard in the palace, troops in a certain regiment, politicians, sooner or later you start mistaking them for their parents, for their grandparents. Favourites would start to die while you remain young and vital and in your prime and that realisation would come crashing down like icy water down your back. A nation could forget about time, or wilfully ignore it, for twenty, thirty, fifty years but would always be confronted with it in the end.
Old Fritz was seventy-four. He'd outlived his siblings and most of his friends. Six years ago, word had come from Austria that Maria-Theresa had died. When he'd heard Old Fritz had sighed and said,
"The world is changing, mein Preußen."
Last year they'd signed a treaty with the United States of America, and the kid had looked so fucking young and not just compared to his precious king but also to battle-scarred Prussia and that was just depressing.
More than ever he was Old Fritz's constant and sole companion. Even in July when he didn't have the energy to hold himself onto his horse and had to double up with Gilbert to get back to Sanssouci. Even when the coughing started, keeping him awake at night, Prussia had been there to hold him up, to play gentle, soothing things on the flute, to reminisce about the past.
In the early hours of one August morning Old Fritz was in his armchair watching his nation play the flute. His breathing became laboured and immediately Prussia rose to hold him up and help him breath. When the fit past his precious king smiled up at him,
"Danke, mein Preußen." Gilbert lowered him back into his armchair where he closed his eyes.
Old Fritz did not open his eyes again.
The realisation hit.
In the next room were the king's physician, three of his generals and Minister von Hertzburg. They came in when they heard the noise, a sobbing, howling scream like that of a wild animal. They found their nation bawling over his dead king.
The news was spread. All agreed the image was beautiful, a nation morning for a fallen monarch. Prussia wept.
Prussia went with his dead king, staring at the body with a stunned look on his face. Friedrich-Wilhelm, King of Prussia, second of that name, found him. His uncle would be interred at Potsdamer Garnison Church. Gilbert said that Old Fritz had wanted to be buried at Sanssouci with his greyhounds and had pointed it out in his Last Will and Testament. Friedrich-Wilhelm II said it was beneath the dignity of a king. Gilbert made his point again in a louder, angrier voice. Friedrich-Wilhelm II said he was King of Prussia now and not his uncle.
Old Fritz' body went to Potsdam and not to Sanssouci.
On a certain day in August, Prussia came to Potsdam to pay his respect to his precious Old Fritz. He brought wine and flowers and a potato.
He did this every year.
In the twentieth century, they moved Old Fritz to the west away from advancing Soviet troops. Prussia would have followed but there was the dissolution and he was no longer Prussia and shouldn't even be alive but he'd survived such things before and now he was East Germany, under Ivan's rule while his brother was West Germany, under the rest of the Allies.
They allowed him to say goodbye to Ludwig. He told him to take care - of himself, of Italy and of their people. Ludwig knew about his brother's visits. He knew that Old Fritz was included in that list.
Gilbert walked head held high, back straight, through the familiar, unchanged corridors of Sanssouci. He was not yet fully recovered from his time with Russia, physically, mentally or economically, but he didn't care.
"They'd lined the streets! Just like the old days, West! I'm telling you there's nothing so awesome as that! And the Bundeswehr as honour guard, that's seriously awesome, though I could have gotten the old uniform out of the attic and then it could definitely be like Old Fritz's day. We could have gotten you one too, though that would have to made 'specially so I don't think it would have been as good as mine."
Throughout his brother's rant Ludwig kept up his serious face, but those who knew him well would say that it had softened just a little.
They came to the door that lead to the court of honour and it was here that Ludwig stopped. Gilbert stopped as well, voice uncharacteristically small and quiet,
"Is… Is he here?"
"Yes, brother," Ludwig pushed open the door and Gilbert stepped in, eyes fixed on what lay there.
He lay in state at the centre. A Prussian flag covered him, pure white cloth with the border and proud eagle a crisp black against it. Gilbert reverently traced the initials on the eagle's breast before kneeling before him. He laid his hands on the coffin's surface. They trembled slightly.
"My king…" his forehead came down to rest between his hands, his voice wavered, "Old Fritz."
He would talk to his king that night. He would tell him all that happened since he'd visited last, the bad times and the recent good ones. Later, under cover of night Old Fritz' body would be laid to rest under the terrace of Sanssouci beside his beloved dogs. But for now, Gilbert, who had been Prussia, who had been the GDR and was now something altogether new, knelt and wept before his precious king.
Prusse/Preußen - Prussia (in French and German respectively)
Dummkopf- stupid head/fool
Ich bin der erste Diener meines Staates - I am the first servant of my state
Friedrich der Grosse - Friedrich the Great
Scheiße - shit
Der alte Fritz - the Old Fritz
Danke - thank you
Friedrich II, Friedrich the Great, Old Fritz
King of Prussia, from 1740 to 1786, he was actually King in Prussia until 1772 when he regained Prussia's lost territory and changed his title. He brought the Enlightenment to Prussia and fought in several wars, all in the name of making Prussia strong. Ironically, he tried to flee Prussia and his father's abuse to Great Britain when he was eighteen and nearly got himself executed. Today he is quite a controversial figure in Germany history, seen as a reminder of a warmongering past and he was also exploited as a symbol of the Nazi regime. Ironically he was quite tolerant of race and religion and there is historical evidence to suggest he was gay (the last words between him and von Katte, for example). His body, along with that of his father, was moved to a mineshaft during both World Wars then kept at Burg Hohenzollern until German reunification when he was reburied at Sanssouci according to his will. Generally he left Prussia in a better state than how he found it. Even today people leave flowers and potatoes on his grave.
The War of Austrian Succession, the Silesian Wars
Silesia was prosperous Austrian province that Friedrich decided Prussia needed. The bold move took Europe by surprise and for the first few month nothing really happened until the battle of Mollwitz. Fritz was quite ashamed of his cowardice at Mollwitz, making up for it in later battles. The second Silesian war was caused by Austria trying and failing to retake Silesia.
The Seven Year War, the French and Indian War, the third Silesian War
This was Prussia's fight for survival and the first global war: Austria, Russia, France, Spain, Sweden, Saxony and their various colonies verses Prussia, Great Britain, some German states and later Portugal. Prussia took some major losses. Had Russia's empress not died and been replaced by a pro-Prussia Tsar (known as the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg) it is likely they would have lost the war. Tsar Peter III was overthrown by Empress Catherine and Russia changed sides again but by that point everyone was pretty much too poor to continue.
The real winner of the Seven Year War was Britain who gained a lot of land, including Canada, at the expense of France. Prussia didn't gain any new land but managed to survive and without losing land, including Silesia.