Author's Note: This ignores some of the continuity of the musical, yet it does follow the continuity of true events in Rudolf's life. Rudolf, at this point, is not under the care of Elisabeth. Following the musical, he is under the control of Sophie. However, here, he is under the control of Major General Leopold Graf Gondrecourt, as ordered by Franz-Joseph (and I suppose Sophie as well). I picture Rudolf as six years old here; I imagine that he was four or five when he first met der Tod.
Author's Note 2: Thank you so much to the awesome Trunk Show, who ought to be an English professor.
Disclaimer: I do not own Elisabeth or any of the characters. Elisabeth belongs to herself, and the others belong to der Tod.
Rudolf rather did not like his father, he decided. It was, after all, his father who had sent for the General to teach him "how to be a proper young man". Sometimes, he wished that he had been born a girl, for his sister Gisela never had to stand at attention outside in the rain and snow while the General sat inside, barking orders from an open window. Gisela was taught to be a proper young lady, which apparently meant sitting in the "correct fashion" and wearing big dresses.
Though Rudolf was not inclined toward such feminine articles, he imagined that even those dresses would be far more comfortable than the starched, itchy uniforms that the General forced him to wear every day.
And he doubted that Gisela had to wake up at five each morning for stretches and a brisk run around the grounds before breakfast. She probably got to sleep until eight, or even perhaps nine. Rudolf's grandmother took care of Gisela, and he imagined that a woman would be easier on a child than the quick-to-anger General Gondrecourt. Rudolf himself had even been under his grandmother's care for a short period of time, until they found the General. He barely remembered that time of his life, as he had been quite young, but he imagined that it had been considerably better than the conditions in which he lived now.
Every morning, he woke up early to do the wishes of the General. Then, he ate a sparse meal, "fit for a military man". Then, he reported to a tutor for education in mathematics, speech making, and the sciences. He rather like the sciences, especially earth sciences, but the General did not permit him to do much more than collect a few rocks on their few excursions. Rudolf hoped to have a large collection of rare stones one day, but somehow he doubted that the General would allow him to ever do so.
After studying under the watchful eye of his tutor, he met with the General for lessons in military tactics. The General would say very little to him during these sessions. Instead, he would simply plunk a book written by some famous man in the military in front of him and order him to read two or three chapters. Then, he would give Rudolf a grueling quiz, practically word-by-word of the text that he had just read. Lunch followed these sessions, but it was scarcely better than breakfast. Then, Rudolf would have a little bit of time to himself, which he often spent holed up in his bedroom organizing the rocks that he had been allowed to take from the seaside or the cliffs. After this little reprieve from the tyranny of the General, Rudolf would be required to engage in physical training, as determined by his cruel captor. Often this would include running for very long distances, regardless of weather. Or, he would sometimes have to complete an obstacle course created by the General. The course would, of course, be designed with an older, stronger, tougher man in mind. Rudolf was only six years old. He wasn't tall enough, his arms weren't long enough; it was very hard for him to pass through the first obstacle, let alone complete the full course.
On occasion, the General would instead take him into the woods near the lodge. He would order Rudolf to parade in the clear meadow, regardless of the weather and the temperature of the day. Sometimes he would tell Rudolf to complete the drills with his eyes closed. And being the obedient child that he was, Rudolf would, of course, blindly march around, certain that he was making a complete fool of himself.
Eventually, however, he would open his eyes. A child can only follow orders for so long before he decides, out of some sort of immature instinct, to break them. And so Rudolf would open his eyes to find that the General had disappeared, and that he was left all alone in the meadow.
Rudolf had a rather good memory, thankfully, and could usually find his way back to the lodge after such an incident. However, the snow or rain often made the task a lot more difficult. He would sometimes find himself walking in everlasting, vicious circles through the white snow upon the ground. And when he returned, the General would continue to bark orders at him, disregarding his wet clothes and frozen fingers.
After the afternoon events, Rudolf would be subjected to supper with the General, in which he was not permitted to speak. He had to use proper table manners, which for a six year old was a rather difficult duty. Following supper, Rudolf would be bathed by one of the maids and then would dress himself in his nightshirt, going to bed promptly at eight o'clock.
And then the cycle would start again at five o'clock in the morning, continuing for what Rudolf imagined would be the rest of his existence upon this Earth.
When Rudolf was four, however, something happened that would forever change his life. Around that time, he had started to wonder who his mother was, and if she even existed. He, being a very young child, once even asked the General who his mother was. The General had merely replied that she was a very important woman, and that whatever Rudolf did, he must not end up at all like her. Rudolf could not imagine what the General could possibly mean by that. After all, he constantly taught him that Rudolf would be an important man one day. If his mother was important, then logically Rudolf ought to do the same. Therefore, why would Rudolf not want to end up like her
Later, Rudolf would learn that his mother was rather too "thoughtful" and "independent" for her duties as Kaiseren, wife, and mother, in that order.
But when Rudolf was four, he often had nightmares. He would cry out for his mother, but of course she would never come. Instead, one dark night, he awoke to find a strange person at his bedside.
This phantom was pale and blond-haired, with blue eyes like the sea. He was tall and thin, yet very strong. His clothes were impeccable and made of the finest fabrics. He was obviously quite rich and famous, for who else would look as he did? Rudolf imagined that he also had quite a few women after him, if he was not already wed. In other words, he was exactly how Rudolf aspired to be when he was older.
The man had come to him out of nowhere. He comforted Rudolf when no one else would, and the singularity of the act made it all the more unusual and special. The man sat with him all night, perched upon the foot of his bed like a gentle bird.
When Rudolf awoke, the man was gone, yet the memory of him remained as clearly as a Classical painting that he had studied. He carried that memory with him, whenever the General terrorized and teased him. He could always, in his mind, return to his bedroom with the ghostly, handsome man that seemed not-quite human.
The man did, though, continue to visit him on the particularly bad nights. He would sit with him, even permitting Rudolf to crawl in to his lap and cry into his shoulder if the night was worse than the others. Sometimes the man would tell him fantastic stories of far-away places like China and Mexico. Sometimes, even, the man would sing little songs to him, and Rudolf would hesitantly join in. He was safe with this man, and they trusted each other.
However, one question constantly plagued Rudolf. He did not know the curious man's name. The man obviously knew his, having called Rudolf by name several times during the times they spent together. Yet, Rudolf did not know his name.
One night, he asked the man this question.
"What is your name?" he had asked, in that small childish voice that every young boy has.
The man had turned slowly away from the window to look at him, a small smile upon his lips. "Why do you wish to know?" he had asked softly.
Rudolf shrugged. "You know mine."
"Indeed, you are correct," the man had replied. "What a dreadful situation this is! I have been quite a terrible guest, have I not?"
Rudolf had given a little laugh. "We don't have to be all proper," he had said. "The General's not here to tell us to shake hands or anything."
The man had grinned widely at him. He then had reached forward, taking Rudolf's small hand in his larger one. "Well, my dear Rudolf, it is quite a pleasure to meet you," he had said in a false, pretentious voice. He seemed to think for a second, his head tilted to the side. "My name is…Walter." He had given a deep, sweeping bow, rising to lay a kiss upon the back of Rudolf's pale hand. Rudolf had laughed, joyful to learn what seemed to be a well-protected secret.
He would continue to whisper his friend's name to himself, even if Walter did not come as he called. It was a way of gaining strength, Rudolf reasoned.
On this night, though, exactly two weeks since Rudolf's sixth birthday, Rudolf was in his bedroom, crying into his pillow. The General had made him march for hours in the burning hot sun, in his tight, heavy uniform. He now had sunburn stretching across his nose and the back of his neck, and it was a pain like none that he had ever felt before. He constantly tried to itch the pain away, but each time either the General or a maid would smack his hand away, which really did little to alleviate his agony. He also felt like he had a fever, which certainly did not help matters.
Suddenly, he felt a hand land upon his shoulder, softly sliding him onto his back. He looked up into the strange blue eyes of his friend.
"Hello, child," Walter murmured. Rudolf did not speak, for fear of bursting into tears again. "Tell me what has made you cry so."
Rudolf rubbed a hand across his wet eyes. "Sunburn," he said. "The General…he made me go into the sun…and march all day…and it hurts!" Walter was very familiar with the General, having heard about him from Rudolf many times already.
"Where is your sunburn?" Walter asked, calmly, as a mother would of her child. Rudolf pointed to his nose, and then to the back of his neck.
"It hurts so much, Walter…" Rudolf complained, but Walter did not seem annoyed, as the maids had been. Walter simply brushed a cold hand across Rudolf's nose, and suddenly, the pain did not seem so bad after all.
"Did you do magic?" Rudolf asked in wonder. He stared, wide-eyed, up at his friend.
Walter laughed. "No, not at all, my child," he said. "I just made you feel as if the pain was gone. Sometimes all one in pain needs is someone who understands, after all. I, too, have felt pain. I understand your pain."
"Turn over, will you, Rudolf?" Walter asked. Rudolf complied, shifting his small body so that he lay on his stomach. He felt Walter's thin, delicate hands moving over his neck, lightly touching the sunburn. "Better?" he asked, and indeed, Rudolf did feel better.
"Thank you," Rudolf murmured into the pillow. Slowly, Walter turned the boy back over, gathering him into his arms. Rudolf buried his head into his friend's velvet jacket, sobbing gently.
"Don't worry, Rudolf," Walter whispered comfortingly into his hair. "It will all be over, sooner than you think. One day, you will join me, and you will no longer have to fear the General and your father."
Rudolf sniffled. "Can I…can I go with you now?" he asked of his friend.
Walter drew back to look him in the eyes. Blue met brown, and Rudolf could not tear his eyes away from those of his friend.
"No, Rudolf," Walter said, laying a hand upon Rudolf's shaking shoulder. "You have some time left before you may join me. After all, how else are you to learn the joys of living?"
"Living has no joys for me," Rudolf said, sounding far older than his years. "Every day, I wake up to the General and fall asleep to him. How am I to know joy?"
"Do you not feel joy when you are with me?" Walter asked kindly, brushing a pale hand through Rudolf's dark hair.
"I do!" Rudolf insisted. "But it is not enough. Other children get to do what they please with their lives. I must 'become a good military man', according to Father and the General! Even my sister gets to do as she pleases!"
"That may be so," Walter replied. "But they do not have me. Child, you are very special. You have seen things that they never will. And one day, you shall know a bliss that they never will. You must be patient, though, for good things come to those who wait." Walter hugged Rudolf close to his body, as if he could transfer some of his will into the boy's body. "We must all wait for the best things."
"What do you wait for?" Rudolf asked, curiously.
"I wait for many things," Walter replied. "But most of all, I wait for you to come with me." He paused, turning his head to the side. "And I wait for my love to return to me. She will, one day. She is very strong-willed, though, and more than a little stubborn."
"But, my dear child, surely you are tired?" Walter asked, abruptly changing the subject. "You must wish to sleep now, am I correct?"
"I guess," Rudolf said. "Will you stay with me a while?" He stretched out beneath Walter's body, looking up at his friend.
"If you so desire." Walter stood, covering Rudolf in the bedclothes. He perched at the end of the bed, looking upon the little prince. "Now, sleep."
And so, as Death commanded, Rudolf slept.