Kell Martin



EMPIRE OF Graves

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INTRODUCTION

This is a fictional story with an unplanned plot.
It is determined by using a grand strategy wargame
and written down as events unfold.

Its aim is to be a solemn and respectful account
of a generation that was destroyed by the First World War.

It begins as the old stories always do;
With the death of Franz Ferdinand,
and the great unraveling.








 

 
 
 
 

 




June 28 - July 7, 1914

The ASSASSINATION OF Archduke FRANZ FERDINAND

"The times change, and we change with them."

- Latin proverb -


A bomb detonates in front of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife

A bomb detonates in front of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife

Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary

Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary

“We have to leave!”

The door flung open and almost hit the cat. Vlad jumped back in terror.

“Pack your bags, brother. We have to leave right now.”

Bete had no later than locked the door to the apartment before he began stuffing their clothes into the suitcase.

Vlad stood there like a fool trying to find the words to say. He was the very opposite of his big brother: Smaller and more innocent. Whenever Bete would pace around in the apartment, every plank would moan in response. Now it sounded as if a deaf choir was conducting its grand symphony.

“What is wrong?” Vlad finally strung together two words.

Bete stopped dead in his track as if suddenly broken out of a trance.

“He is dead.”

“Who?”

“The Archduke.”

Vlad dropped his hat in shock. Had they succeeded? Would they be free now?

“What?”

“They blew up the whole damn car.” Bete’s voice was cracking. It never did. Not even when the hoodlums had robbed them that night in Belgrade. Bete was a locomotive. A pillar. Vlad would follow him to the ends of the earth. 

“The police is rounding up all the suspects.” He said. “It will not be long before they come for us, brother.”

Vlad’s ears now instinctively turned to the sounds in the streets. He noticed Bete hadn’t been the only one causing commotion. The whole neighborhood was in an uproar. Women wailing and children crying, as angry voices echoed throughout the area, no doubt searching for Serbs.

Serbs like them.

“Open up!” a stern authoritarian voice called out, accompanied by a heavy pounding on the door.

“Open up in the name of the law!”

The cat peeled out of the rear window.

Bete grabbed Vlad by the collar.

London, England

London, England

Captain John Robertson looked down—The medal hung heavy on his chest, staining his uniform. South Africa had been nothing but a disaster for him—First he was awarded a bullet through his shoulder, and then cursed with a medal for all his troubles.

Whenever his wife dragged him to parties it would be an embarrassment. He could still hear her friends ask him about it. 

“I thought we lost that battle” one of them once said.

Nothing stings more than the truth. 

He adjusted his collar and looked at the sign.

OFFICES OF THE CHIEF OF THE IMPERIAL GENERAL STAFF.

John swallowed. Few things scared him more than paperwork—Miles and miles of names and numbers, dates and time. Everything had to be connected, checked and rechecked. It was tiring, not to mention tedious work. But yet, here he was, ready to begin his new life as a bench boy for the empire.

“Looks rather frightening, doesn’t it?” An old voice crackled behind him. John turned around.

“Pardon me?”

“Oh, you are very much pardoned, young man.”

Infront of him stood a short, stout Brigadier-General with a large mustache. 

“Brigadier-General, sir,” John immediately jumped into attention.

“I haven’t been a proper General in many years, chap.” He chuckled. “I’m simply Cecil.”

“Yes, Cecil, Sir.”


The office was a mess: In the middle stood Cecil’s desk overfilled with stacks of paper, with a cramped window leading to the neighboring brick building which barely let any air in. On one side stood two bookshelves filled to the brink, and on the last wall hung a large map of Europe.

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“A beauty isn’t she?”

“Who?” John asked, looking around.

“Europe!” General Cecil exclaimed and laid his hands on it, gently patting it as if it was his favorite horse. “The cradle of civilisation!”

“Sir?”

“Cecil.”

“Cecil,” he braced himself, trying not to seem condescending. “I was transferred here to aid you, sir. To organize your papers, relay your messages...”

“Rubbish” Cecil interrupted, and tapped on John’s medal “Such a terrible ordeal.” He squinted up at him. 

John avoided his stare.

“You’re here because I require someone sane.” He pulled away from John to pop his head out into the hallway “Ms. Coward, please be a darling and fetch us some Scotch.”

“Sir... Cecil. If you want someone to talk to...”

“I require a mind that has been there.” Cecil grunted. “A mind that intimately appreciates what happens to all those bloody pins and markers on that map. A mind that can tell me what Tommy is thinking, what the enemy is thinking.”

John was taken aback. The British Government had long tried telling him how the war went, rather than listening to his version of it. He hung his jacket on the coat hanger and grabbed a seat next to the overfilled desk.

“The enemy?”

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“The Austro-Hungarians are tearing through Sarajevo, punishing every Serb they can lay their fingers on.

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Nedeljko Čabrinović may have died in the terrible blast, but they have uncovered a whole network of conspirators who were involved in this whole ordeal. All apparently fighting for independence for the Serbs.

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The funeral for the unfortunate Franz Ferdinand, and his wife took place 2 days ago in Vienna. Austrian Emperor Joseph I was in attendance, as well as other high ranking members of the government.

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This is shaking up to be a bad one, chap. Yesterday, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey received a warning from German ambassador Karl Max of likely war in the Balkans. Despite all this Grey seem rather optimistic.

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He says, if Kaiser Wilhelm II went on his annual cruise to Norway, how bad can it be?
Well I believe it’s as bad as it can get. If Austria-Hungary declare war on Serbia, Russia will declare war on Austria-Hungary, and so on, and so forth.
Look here, chap, I’ll draw you up where the nations stand as of today. Look at that. What a sordid mess.”

John scratched his head.

“So what you are telling me, sir, is that Europe is on the brink of war?”

Ms. Coward entered the office carrying two glasses of scotch. Cecil grabbed one of them and took a generous sip.

“I’m saying the world is.”

North of Munich, Germany

North of Munich, Germany

Erich’s sister jumped into his arms as he came home from school. Her red bow brushing against his chin.

“What did you learn today?” Maria asked.

“That Germany is the greatest nation on earth.” Erich professed proudly.

“Didn’t they teach you that yesterday?”

“Well it was also true yesterday.”

Erich was a young man of 17 and Maria had just reached 10. Together they lived at a farm outside of Wangen with their hardworking parents.
He took her hand and walked up to the house where their mother was busy making tea. 

“How was school, dear?” She asked as Erich walked in the front door.

“Same old.” He smiled, displaying his crooked front tooth. “Where’s father?”

She picked out a few plates from the cupboard. “Oh, he’s out back” Reading about the terrible ordeal in the Balkans, I’m sure. He’ll be with us in a moment.”

Maria made faces. Erich ignored her.

“What are they saying, mother? Will there be a war?”

She put the plates down.

“Now don’t you get any funny ideas, Erich.” She said. “We need you at the farm. Besides, Germany has all the soldiers it can handle.”

“Yes, mother.” Erich answered, dreaming of the dashing German uniform he had seen on the soldiers in Munich.

Father opened the back door.

Maria ran away as he entered the room. Father was a righteous man, but a stern one, and one who could easily scare young boys and girls with his demeanor. It had not been many years since Erich himself had stopped fearing him.

“Cursed Balkans.” He muttered to himself while twirling on his mustache. “Nothing but problems there.”

Mother nodded in agreement.

“We should ride down there and teach them a lesson.” Erich said, trying to impress his father.

“What do you know about that?” Father said. “What does a naive little boy, as yourself, know about war?” 

Erich sat there embarrassed.

The kettle whistled. His mother broke the tension.

“Tea, anyone?”

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July 7 - July 14, 1914

The July crisis

"The mistakes that have been committed in foreign policy are not, as a rule, apparent to the public until a generation afterwards."

- Otto von Bismarck -


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Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia

“You have my word,” Hartwig said. “We knew of no plot to assassinate the Archduke.”

“And the Serbs?” Baron von Gieslingen asked without a moment of pause.

“I’m close friends with the Prime Minister.” Hartwig replied, as he drew another puff from his cigar. “I’ve always urged him to maintain good relations with your country.”

Baron von Gieslingen squinted for a moment.

Nicholas Hartwig had gone to the Austro-Hungarian embassy to smooth things over. War was in the air and diplomats like them would be needed to clean up the mess. Baron von Gieslingen was a general, but also the ambassador to Belgrade. A man of tact and honor.

“And the unfortunate rumor that your embassy held a party in celebration on the evening he died?”

A tiny pearl of sweat appeared on Hartwig forehead.

“A despicable and unfounded rumor.” He said. “Must have been spread by spies.”

Baron von Gieslingen did not seem too satisfied with the answer.

5 years ago, The Russians had sent ambitious Hartwig away. He was deemed too uncontrollable for a minister post, and so they sent him all the way to Serbia.

This had done little to stop the ambitious Hartwig.
He had worked the Balkans like a fiddle. Deals, and threats. Manipulation and information. He believed a strong Russia was a strong Serbia, and with his help the nation now had a web of strong allies. Of course, In the middle of this grand web he had placed himself: Nicholas Hartwig—the Russian ambassador to Serbia.

“Do you believe a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia can be avoided?” Hartwig asked.

“Ah,” Baron von Gieslingen replied. “I’m confident that a… mutually satisfactory solution will be found. One that accommodates both Austria-Hungary’s and Russia’s regional interests.”

“Wladimir,” Hartwig said. “Whatever you boys are planning up there in Vienna. Remember that a cold head and a steady hand will get you further...”

He took one last puff from the cigar and stood up.
The meeting had not gone as he hoped, but at least they were exchanging information, and hopefully preventing matters from blowing out of proportion.

“I understand, Nicholas.” Baron von Gieslingen said. “I’ll see what I can... Are you feeling well?”

Nicolas Hartwig, the ambitious Russian ambassador collapsed in front of Baron Von Gieslingen.
Dead before he even hit the floor.

London, England

London, England

Captain John Robertson looked over at the large map hanging on the wall in the office. Several thick red strings had been connected, going from one pin to another. All over continental Europe.

“It’s all coming down like a house of cards,” General Cecil declared. “Just like we suspected.”

John wondered what his wife would say to this madness.

“Parliament seem more preoccupied with the Irish,” John blurted out.

Cecil cursed.

“The government will be in crisis soon enough, Captain Robertson.” He paced the room like an old lion. “As soon as they wake up, the Irish will be the last of our worries.”

THE QUESTION OF IRELAND:

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“But the parliament has passed the bill to give them home rule.” John said.

“Ah, took them long enough.” Cecil replied. “They’ve been at it for ages. And now, at long last, a war will keep it out of their hands.”

John looked up at the map: A red string tied Belfast to London, and another tied Dublin to Dunkirk.

“What about Sir Asquith? He’s overseeing the whole ordeal.”

“Asquith’s days are numbered.” Cecil exclaimed. “We need a war leader, not a liberal, pussyfooting about.”

“Sir..” John stood up, quite flustered.

“Ah, I didn’t take you as a liberal chap.” Cecil laughed. “All right, all right. Asquith will have his hands full, and we will see to it that he has the best of help.”

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“The Right Honourable H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister of the British Empire. The man that fate has seen fit to led us through this sordid mess.” 

THE BRITISH EMPIRE:

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“He now leads the largest Empire in history, one on which the sun never sets. Countless of colonies and satellites spanning the globe. To patrol it we have the greatest navy in the world, and factories to supply and uphold it all. However, chap, there is an issue: Mobilization. Can we move thousands of men, not to mention hundreds of ships to Europe, where the hammer will fall?”

THE AFTERMATH IN SARAJEVO:

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“The aftermath in Sarajevo has been quite extreme. Anti-Serb demonstrations have become more violent as the locals are hunting for revenge. Only made worse by the fact that police and local authorities in the city are doing nothing to prevent it. Around 1,000 houses, shops, schools and institutions—such as banks, hotels, printing houses, and what have you—owned by Serbs have been razed or pillaged.”

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO SERBIA DIES:

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“On July 10, Nicholas Hartwig, Russian Minister to Serbia, died suddenly while visiting Austrian minister Wladimir Giesl von Gieslingen at the Austrian Legation in Belgrade. It appears he died of a massive heart attack. The Serbian press immediately published several inflammatory articles accusing the Austrians of poisoning Hartwig while he was a guest at their legation.”

“Oh, my,” John gasped. “It really is coming to a boil down there.”

“I’m very much afraid that it is, dear boy.” Cecil sighed. “Let us pray the Austrians aren’t daft enough to pull the trigger.”  

Vienna, Austria-Hungary

Vienna, Austria-Hungary

“If Serbia accepts this ultimatum, they would be mad.” Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Leopold Berchtold declared.

The Imperial Council had gathered again to look over his draft, which were to be presented, first to the Emperor, and with his approval, transmitted to Serbia.

Germany had already given them full support to do what was needed: Strike at the venomous head of the Serbs.

“I take them as quite mad.” Said the Chief of the General Staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf. His thick mustache gave him the appearance of an older Franz Ferdinand. who, coincidentally had pushed for him to be reinstated a few years back.

“They could accept the ultimatum, and then we will look like fools.” He grumbled. Never a man of political zest.

Leopold held his tongue.
As the Foreign Minister, he had focused exclusively on the Balkans, where during the wars he had failed to contain the rising Russian influence and thwart Serbian ambitions for a united Yugoslav state. This had meant diplomatic defeat for Austria-Hungary, but also a reputation of being weak and indecisive for Leopold himself.

“If I may speak.” Hoyos interjected. “If perhaps we add something that undermines their sovereignty.” Hoyos was Leopold’s adviser, and most trusted aide.

“Let us have a say in their military, or better yet, in their justice process.” Hoyos proposed. “That will make it legally impossible for them to accept it.” 

General Conrad von Hötzendorf nodded in agreement.

“Whatever works.” He said. “Gentlemen, mark my words; in 6 weeks, Serbia will fall.”