The Destiny of Rhaetia: Part II.

7 Mar

The Integral Party hall in Chur was an old wooden building with a steep slate roof. It had enjoyed many uses over the years, before falling into the hands of a political organization. A fraternal brotherhood sold it to the present owners, who had remodeled and renovated the aged structure. Cuno Siusi had his private office far in the rear, where he now went to work upon arriving from the south that particular evening. He telefed a series of important supporters and campaign contributors, then perused his correspondence for a short while.

A subordinate from the party’s inner circle knocked at the door, then entered.

“Bad news, sir. It appears that this man Jenatsch is a very perceptive rascal. He figured out that the woman from Bolzano was being tailed.”

“How does anyone know that for sure?” demanded the leader, his dark eyes ablaze with anger.

“He took this professor out from the Valtellina with all her luggage, sir.”

Siusi slowly rose out of his thronelike chair. “Where did they go?” he grumbled.

“To his own flat.”

A sardonic sneer distorted the iron face of the politician. “We are obviously dealing with a most clever operator. It is important that he not be permitted to take charge of the election campaign of Emer Ardez. I do not wish to know too many details concerning how this pest should be eliminated. Only inform me when there is news that this Jenatsch is no longer an active actor on the political stage. Is that clear?”

The underling gulped hard. “Yes sir, I understand.”

With that, he withdrew as if formally dismissed by the would-be Landammann.

Alone again, Siusi mused abstractedly for a time. Then he went back to the messages he had been reading before the interruption.

A pinkish afterglow filled the early morning sky when Garo awoke a little after dawn. It took him several moments to recall the strange events of the previous evening. Now the young woman from the South Tyrol was safely resting down the corridor in the spare bedroom of the apartment.

For a time, Garo lay in bed considering what might be ahead for him and his guest.

Integralist ruthlessness and ferocity had worsened since Siusi had become the party chieftain. That was now certain. Politics in Rhaetia had been rough from its beginning, but an unprecedented nastiness was now evident. War with no quarters given, with no mercy shown, that was what now prevailed. No other conclusion was possible.

Was victory possible for his side if he insisted on following the rules of ordinary, traditional morality? Could integrity win out in such a dirty fight as this?

All of a sudden, Garo heard a knock at the door of the room. He threw on a robe, not certain who it might be.

A fully dressed Maia Lang stood in the corridor.

“Good morning,” she chirped. “I am an early riser, I should have warned you.” A small smile crossed her mouth.

“Come in,” he told her, then yawned. “I’ll fix some breakfast for the two of us.”

Soon the pair were in the apartment kitchen. Maia boiled some water for coffee while Garo was busy scrambling a few eggs.

“How did you sleep in an unfamiliar place?” he inquired.

“Quite well. The bed was soft and comfortable.” A thought came to her, bringing wrinkles to her brow. “Shouldn’t we make a report to the police about what they are doing to us?”

“No,” he answered. “It would be difficult to prove anything substantial. The authorities might see us as politically motivated cranks suffering from paranoia.”

Maia said no more on this subject.

After breakfast, Garo dressed while she cleaned up in the kitchen of his flat. “We can leave for the Ardez lodge at once,” he said to her. “We may be arriving there a little early, but Emer will not mind that, I am certain.”

When both were ready, they walked out to the garage where Garo had parked his autom. The traffic out of Chur proved very light at that hour. Soon they were climbing up a long mountain ridge.

“This will be an all-out campaign on both sides,” noted Garo out of the blue. “Ardez must carry his fight to all parts of our three cantons.”

“It is a good thing that he has acquired mastery of all three languages. I will be able to compose speeches for each separate audience,” opined Maia.

“Consistency of message will be watched carefully by our foes and the mass media,” he declared.

As the autom reached the crest of a ridge, Garo suddenly realized that there was something wrong.

The brakes had become useless in cutting their downhill speed. Rolling faster and faster, the wheels were plainly out of control now.

Without any panic, Garo tried the foot brake three times, but without success at all.

The autom was accelerating, not decelerating.

What could be causing this dangerous malfunction? All at once, the driver realized why the car was out of control. Someone had tampered with the accelerator that fed liquid hydrogen into the engine. This made it impossible to slow down the vehicle using the advanced air brakes.

Maia turned her head toward him, but was too frightened to speak a word.

Thankfully though, there was nothing immediately in front of them on the road. Soon the autom would be on a stretch of level land, but the speed would not be decreasing. Even on the next uphill climb, the hydrogen would continue to rush into the combustion chambers. Garo foresaw an eventual explosion if this wild acceleration was not brought to a quick halt soon.

Finally, the shaken passenger asked the driver a question.

“How are we going to get out of this, Garo?” she pleaded desperately.

Looking into the rearside screen, Jenatsch saw that there was no one behind them. No automs were visible as far back as could be seen, a distance of several hundred meters.

“Brace yourself, Maia. Be sure that your seatbelt has no slack to it. I’m going to throw us into reverse.”

It took only a second to make the switch on the gear box. A simple touch on the reverse button and the autom went into a paroxysm. But the convulsion of the gears was only temporary, for the wheels immediately turned opposite to how they had been spinning.

As the car rushed backwards, the driver began to cut the speed with his left hand, lowering the acceleration.

He began to tap the foot brake to the left of him.

It worked! The vehicle started to slow down. Speed fell rapidly. Finally, Garo was able to bring about a complete stop.

He then turned to Maia, breathing heavily but with relief.

“We are safe now,” he joyfully shouted. “Our enemies have failed to kill us as they planned.”

Garo used his mobile transponder to summon help.

An aide to Emer Ardez arrived to take them to the candidate’s lodge, while a towing truck hauled the damaged autom away for repairs in the city. Soon, the two stunned travelers were resting and recovering in the living room of their leader’s country home. Garo sipped some hot alpine tea, as did Maia in the chair beside him. Both of them stared at Ardez across a low oaken desk from them.

“There is nothing we can do about this,” grumbled Garo with suppressed ire. “We have no way of connecting Cuno Siusi and the Integral Party to this attempted double murder. They are using hired underworld types to accomplish their dirty work. I can see no way of making any accusation stick.”

Emer scratched his chin in frustration. “Perhaps we shall have to turn to bodyguards,” he mused. “I never expected that it would come to this. Politics in Rhaetia has become total warfare.”

Then the campaign manager turned his attention to an immediate concern. “I think that we should get the jump on our foes by starting the campaign at once. There is no need for elaborate media preparation. We just leap onto a helioplane and go out onto the hustings, so to speak. You will meet the people face-to-face and talk to them directly. I can even arrange ferrobus trips through the places on good roads. What do you think of my ideas, sir? An old-fashioned stop-and-go barnstorming campaign through all three provinces is a real possibility. Forget the mass media and the cities. This election will be won or lost in the forgotten by-ways of rural Rhaetia.”

Ardez’s cloudy blue eyes appeared to have sparks deep within them.

“That is a very interesting concept. It intrigues me, Garo.”

The latter turned his head and addressed Maia directly.

“Could you quickly write some short speeches for a lightning tour of, let’s say, the Montfon valley of Vorarlberg? These could be half in German and half in Romansch.”

“I could use both languages in the same appearance,” grinned Ardez. “My appeal would be to both peoples present there that day.”

“Yes,” nodded the speechwriter. “I can begin to compose it at once, right now.”

“I believe that we must strike as soon as possible,” explained Garo. “No delay whatsoever can be permitted.”

The excited candidate looked at his manager with a renewed spirit.

“Tomorrow morning, we start at dawn,” proposed the enthused Garo.

Cuno Siusi paced the floor of his private office, his mind in a spinning whirlpool of anger and concern. He had just received word of the botched attempt to set up an autom accident for the pair who worked on the campaign of Emer Ardez. This business was not at all going the way he had planned and hoped. Things were happening against his aims and interests, so far.

He stopped and looked at a new election poster attached to the wall. His own face was was in the ancient pose of a hero out of Roman history, some noble warrior of centuries ago. Julius Caesar, that was whom he reminded himself of. Not the Caesar of classical sculpture, but the wise general, the savior of ancient Rome. That was the hero he aspired to emulate in the present political situation.

Cuno smiled to himself. He had no Roman nose like that of the ancients. His eyes and hair contained a barbarian blackness. But now he would have the opportunity to prove himself a true Roman Caesar. It was all up to him.

The restoration of Roman historical glory, that was his life’s purpose, his destiny. And supremacy over Rhaetia was meant to be the means to that sublime goal.

It was this Romanism of his that had brought him into the Integralist Party. Their doctrines had as their foundation the indisolvable bonds of Rhaetian Italians and Germans to their ethnic brothers and sisters in the neighboring countries. Only the Romisch-speaking Ladins had forgotten who they actually were. The Germans in Rhaetia would forever be tied and drawn to Austria and Germany, while the Italians of the South Tyrol would always gravitate toward Italy and Rome. That was the central meaning of the integral concept that had first attracted Cuno to the party he was now the supreme leader of.

He knew from the beginning who the mortal enemy of his integralist ideology was. The so-called Rhaeto-Romisch people, the mix-blooded Ladins, were the stumbling block. They were the curse of the frontier zone between Roman and Teutonic Europe. The ancient Celts of Rhaetia had by war been brought into the boundaries of the ancient Augustan Empire. Roman culture and the Latin language had entered the everyday life of this area. But the amalgamation had never been complete. When Swabian and Frankish barbarians invaded from the north, many Rhaetians had succumbed and surrendered to these new conquerors. Traitors to Rome, the half-breeds has assisted in the destruction of the great Roman Empire.

And that old treason to the Eternal City continued to the present day, concluded the politician at the head of the Integralists.

The sound of the door opening shook Siusi out of the eerie reverie he was engaged in. He turned away from the election poster he had been staring at, toward the aide who was entering the room with news to give him.

“Something important, sir,” meekly announced the young follower. “The Nation’s Party has leased a ferrobus that they plan to use in the Montafon Valley of Vorarlberg. They are moving up the beginning of their campaign.”

Cuno moved three steps toward the doorway.

“When does Ardez go into action?” he forcefully demanded.

“As early as tomorrow morning, sir,” replied the other. “Our operatives have found out that a helioplane is to fly him there tonight.”

The candidate’s handsome face became distorted with poisonous malice and hatred.

“Counteraction, that is what we must take,” he slowly drawled. “I will think out a plan in a little while. Come back here with your comrades when I ring the signal for you, my boy.”

The assistant disappeared with rapid steps.

Siusi went back to the poster and stared at the Roman image for a time.

When he had figured out what had to be done next, he went to his desk and summoned his staff to come in and hear what he had to say.

By the time that the campaign group started for the Chur helioport that evening, Maia had finishing writing the speeches that Ardez was to give in the Montafon Valley the next day.

During the autom ride, she sat in the back with the party leader, going over what she had written for him. Garo, beside the driver, took an active part in the consideration of the issues to be covered in these early campaign speeches.

“You have to emphasize the unseen hazards in joining Federal Europe,” noted Maia. “The loss of full economic independence will eventually affect our sovereignty as a national state. Others are going to decide the future of our development. You must hint, without giving names, that Vienna and Rome will have a hand in our internal affairs. Austria, Italy, and Germany can act as magnates that will tear apart our Rhaetian unity and wholeness.”

Emer Ardez gave a confident smile. “I especially like the paragraph where you make a direct comparison to Switzerland and why the Swiss refuse to affiliate with the European Federation. What I say about their situation will be applied by my listeners to Rhaetia immediately. They are going to comprehend my meaning at once. If Federal Europe poses a threat to Switzerland’s existence, the same conditions would apply in our case as well. The common people among my listeners can clearly understand the argument that I intend to make.”

Garo twisted his head around.

“There are two points that are going to be made simultaneously in all these appearances,” explained the campaign manager. “The general public, regardless of nationality, will be alarmed by the peril to Rhaetian autonomy. But the Romanisch-speaking Ladins face an even greater danger, that of ethnic extinction. These people know in their hearts, in their bones, that without a free Rhaetia they are a doomed national group. Their loss would be total and absolute if we should lose.”

“I have to convince them of that without being too specific,” muttered the candidate. “Yes, there will be several different appeals in what I am going to say in the days to come.”

Shortly, their autom arrived at the Chur helioport.

Cuno Siusi marched with gravity into the party conference room.

His top ten assistants were seated at a long, narrow walnut table.

He moved to the ornate chair at the head and slowly took his seat. All at once his voice filled the previously silent room.

“There is a hidden key to winning this election, I have come to believe. The Integral Party has always sought the support of the German-speaking population in all three of the cantons, but never equaled the Nation’s Party in winning their votes. Try as we may, our doctrines have not enjoyed the trust of those electors. And unless that can be achieved, a numerical majority will escape our grasp in this election.”

He halted a moment, looking up and down both sides of the long conference table.

“A special effort must be made in every local community to rally our Germanic citizens to our party banner. I myself intend to make an immediate visit to a local Deutsch festival being held in the Tyrol, at Blixen. It means an overnight trip back south by autom for me, but I can sleep on the road, so to speak.” He all of a sudden flashed a sly smile. “They tell me that a beauty contest is being held, and that I shall be allowed to place the crown on the pretty head of the winner.”

His face swiftly became a poker one. He did not intend to tell this group of comrades about the secret arrangements he had already made with a small squad of underworld thugs. These were men who could carry out a difficult assignment and keep quiet forever. They would never talk, regardless of what was done to them.

“I shall do whatever turns out to be necessary to increase our German support,” he went on. “No effort will be spared by me.”

A surprise assassination, thought Cuno to himself.

As in ancient Rome, blood will be shed in the dark shadows.

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