The Destiny of Rhaetia: Part III.

8 Mar

The sun rose over the Roetikan Alps to the east. The group accompanying Emer Ardez had boarded the long ferrobus at Vaduz. Some were working, others were napping into the late morning hours.

Garo Jenatsch huddled with the speechwriter while the candidate rested by himself across the aisle from them.

“The Vorarlberg is the most Teutonic of the provinces,” he said softly, trying not to disturb their leader. “Romanisch is spoken by only 36% of the population, while 64% use Deutsch in everyday life. It is the opposite of the Grishuns, where only 42% identify themselves as German-speakers. The Romanisch portion of the people has risen to 58% in the present generation.”

“The South Tyrol, with its three ethnic groups, is much more diverse,” remarked Maia. “Do you know the exact distribution there today?”

Garo had to think for a moment.

“The proportion of Ladins and Germans are about even. At the last census, they came out 43% Romanisch and 42% German. In out own time, the Ladin population has pulled a little ahead, due to a higher birth rate in the rural villages. The Italians have fallen to only 15%, yet they hold the balance of power in your province, Maia.”

The latter frowned, but Garo could not see this in the darkened ferrobus sitting in the silent, sleepy Vaduz terminal.

“The situation in the Tyrol has permitted the rise of a demagogue like Cuno Siusi,” muttered Maia under her breath. “He has twisted the Integralist ideology into a caricature of what it originally was. His personal ambition is boundless.”

Garo placed his left hand over her arm that rested on the cloth arm rest between them. “Today, we shall strike a heavy blow against this enemy of ours,” he assured his companion. “The election is going to be won by provincial campaigning in every town, hamlet, and village.”

Vaduz had once been the capital of the tiny principality of Liechtenstein, wedged between Grisons and Vorarlberg. It was now to be the site of Emer Arsez’s first public speech in the latter province. The ferrobus took the candidate and his traveling party to the town square, where over two thousand citizens had gathered to hear him present his views and positions.

A small platform had been set up from which the speaker was to address the crowd. In the bright spring sunlight, Emer climbed up, speaking in a high tone without an amplifier. He began by telling the audience how happy he was to be there in the ancient mountain capital. Then, he went on to his main theme: the present threat to Rhaetian unity and independence.

“Our three nations have maintained their free life through the bonds of mutual solidarity. Otherwise, our three provinces would surely have been divided up among neighboring countries. That did not happen because we stood together and resisted all threats to our autonomous self-determination. It was Rhaetian unity that provided the strength necessary to keep and defend our rights.

“But now we face an unprecedented danger to our free existence. It comes with a beautiful, smiling face , promising the prosperity of trade and industrial investment. Do not be taken in by the painted mask of the deceiver, my fellow citizens. Do not believe the deceitful lies of evil propagandists.

“The European Federation would make us into financial slaves, beholden to the big banks in the major continental centers. Decisions would be made for us from afar. Rhaetia would be nothing more than an economic colony of the dominant powers. I can foresee a picture of outside dictation of our future.

“But an even greater loss results from Federal Europe. What will be the fate of the ties among our three parts? How much cooperation will remain once we have been swallowed up? Other influences will enter from outside, corroding the bonds of brotherhood built up over many generations.

“In the wake of European integration will follow the disintegration of the internal union of Rhaetia. That is the threat we face today, that must be rejected and repulsed at the ballot box.”

Loud cheering echoed through Vaduz Square as Ardez paused to catch his breath. Near the front door of the ferrobus stood the manager and the speechwriter, both of them pleased with the success their leader was having with the Vaduz audience. Cheer followed cheer as the speech went on. Garo and Maia beamed at each other. “He has the crowd in the palm of his hand,” whispered Jenatsch to the latter. “Your words are striking the right chords in the people. I have no doubts about that.”

Smiling broadly, she nodded to her new friend, the campaign manager.

When Emer was finished, the crowd flooded about the platform. Every single man, woman, and child wanted to shake hands with their champion and protector. The small, wiry man had proven himself a charismatic star that morning. There was no question that he would carry Vaduz in the coming election.

Because of the enthusiasm of the audience, the ferrobus had to leave a half hour behind schedule. The party boarded the vehicle in high spirits, heading for the Montfon Valley. Emer Ardez was going to make appearances in Schruns, Tschagguns, Silbertal, and Vandans. Each of these stops promised to be as victorious as Vaduz was.

The square in front of Brixen Cathedral was packed with people eager to find out who was to be the new “Miss Teutsh”. Many had arrived early in order to get as close to the raised stand as possible. Few of the Ladins or Italians who called the town Bressanone were present, since this was an event sponsored by the German brotherhoods, meant to instill a particular ethnic pride in their own group.

Cuno Siusi arrived with a small squad of guards and assistants. He shook hands cordially with each of the dignitaries sitting on the grand platform. Out on the Domplatz, the waiting throng was growing larger and larger by the minute.

The political candidate sat down in the chair reserved for him. Across the expanse of the crowded square, he could make out the Gothic, Romanesque, and Baroque features of the cathedral complex, a reflection of the syncretic history of the town at the confluence of the Rienz and Eisack (Rienza and Isarco) Rivers.

When the time came to begin, the master-of-ceremonies moved to the podium and addressed the crowd over an amplifier. The large, stout worthy was dressed in folk costume from the Sarn Valley. Silk stockings, brightly colored hat plumes, peacock quill embroidery on his coat jacket, and heavy leggings placed him geographically as well as ethnically. He began to speak in a sonorous baritone voice.

“Brothers and sisters,

“We have assembled to announce and crown the new queen for the coming year. In a few minutes, the young maidens will come out on this stage to be presented to you, and then the judges shall tell us their choice. But before that happens, I wish to greet a special guest who has made a considerable effort to be with us today. You surely recognize him up here with the rest of us. Brothers and sisters, let us welcome Mr. Cuno Siusi and ask him to say a few words to us.”

The politician rose to thunderous applause and cheers. Raising both arms high, he turned to his right, then the left. His smile grew ever more radiant. The roar became louder and louder, till he lowered his arms to the side, then stepped forward to the rostrum. For a moment, waiting for quiet to fall, Cuno glanced quickly at the roof of the cathedral opposite the temporary stand. Was his special agent there behind the rampart? he wondered. Confident that everything was in place for what was slated to happen soon, the Integralist candidate began to congratulate the notables on the stage and the common people of the audience.

“Brothers and sisters,” he orated in German.

“I am so happy to be with you today in Blixen for this traditional celebration. It is good to remember the cultural heritages of each of our fraternal peoples. Let us never forget our traditions. There is nothing more precious than historical heritage. I will speak to you only briefly, for this is not an electoral meeting of any sort. My few words here will be directly from my heart.

“First, let me congratulate the German brotherhoods and their many members and supporters. Every one of you should be proud of what has been achieved by your clubs and lodges. Yes, we are all Rhaetians, and believe deeply in our beloved country. Because each of our three peoples are free to build, live, and create its own life. To be itself, and pass on its culture to the next generation. We enjoy all these liberties fully and equally.”

A loud roar of approval arose from the packed square. Cuso, feeling this wave of emotion in his bones and nerves, seemed to be electrified. He appeared to grow larger as he leaned forward. His right hand went straight up, the index finger pointing to the cerulean Tirolese sky.

“Never forget this: each of our ethnic communities is like an integral nation. Whatever our role in Greater Europe may turn out to be, we remain a country that consists of three unique, separate nationalities, each with its own integral character. You know that is the truth just as I do.”

He paused for a second, then shouted out his conclusion with all the strength of his voice.

“Stand tall, stand proudly, stand with ethnic integrity.”

Cuno turned about and returned to his chair. Applause continued until the chairman came to the rostrum, thanked the guest, and then proceeded with the beauty contest to choose “Miss Teutsch”.

The judging of the young women in multicolored bathing suits took less than ten minutes. While a small orchestra played old Tyrolienne folk dance rhythms, each contestant strutted up and down the stage when her turn came. Which one would be the winner? wondered the mesmerized audience. From what area of South Tyrol will she be? Only one individual present had the focus of his mind on another, serious matter. Cuno Siusi was waiting to give a secret cue that promised momentous, spectacular results.

When the last beauty had finished her little parade, the judges huddled together in a back corner of the platform. Their deliberations ended quickly. One of them handed the name of the winner to the chairman, who turned his face to Cuno. “It is time to crown the new queen,” he whispered loudly enough to be heard.

Springing to his feet, the Integralist leader followed him to the rostrum.

“We have a winner, a new annual Miss Teutsch,” roared out the master-of-ceremonies. “It is Miss Regula Ah of Sterzing. Miss Ah, please step forward to receive your crown of glory.”

She was the light-skinned orange blond in a green and purple bikini. The man in folk costume reached into the back of the rostrum and pulled out the polyplastic gilt crown lying there on a shelf. He handed the coronet to Cuno Suisi, smiling with pleasure and satisfaction. “It is your turn now, sir,” he said.

Cuno nodded,then moved behind the young woman, who was facing the happy, cheering crowd. He stood a little to the left of her, so that most people could view what was about to happen next.

“I am placing it on your head,” whispered crowner in a low, confident tone.

He lifted the tiarra over her, then carefully brought it down.

The instant the crown touched her orange blond hair, a sharp report sounded. For a moment, no one understood what it was. Except for Cuno.

Regula Ah suddenly fell back, collapsing into the arms of the political leader.

Cuno struggled to hold the fallen body. The crown fell onto the planking of the platform.

A silence of absolute shock seized hold of the audience.

A second explosion struck, then echoed through the air.

Cuno felt an electrifying pain in his upper torso. Falling to the ground alongside Miss Teutsch, he realized that the deed was done.

Let Emer Ardez beat this, he thought just before losing all consciousness.

When the news arrived, the campaigners were eating in an inn overlooking the Ill River in Tschagguus. The candidate had just finished his speech at Schruna, the market town across on the east side of the valley. Everyone on the ferrobus was tired and hungry. A little rest and repast in Tschagguus would do them all good.

Garo and Maia sat at a long pine table with Emer and four other aides.

All of a sudden, a local supporter rushed into the village inn.

“There has been a shooting in Brixen,” the mountaineer called out. “Siusi is one of the victims. Turn on the videon and you will see for yourselves.”

One of the waiters moved to the side of the room, stepped behind the beer bar, and set going the large viewing screen.

All eyes focused on the newscaster whose face appeared instantly.

“…again, it is reported that Mr. Cuno Siusi is wounded, but not in critical condition. He will remain in the Brixen Hospital for the foreseeable future. The state of his political campaign is in question, for the time being. The Integral Party has not yet made any public statement on the tragic event.

“The family of Miss Regula Ah is in shock over the death of their daughter, the newly selected Miss Teutsch. A police spokesman has told the mass media that the authorities believe that the intended target of the shooter was Mr. Siusi and that the killing of Regula Ah occurred because of inaccuracy in the line of fire.”

As the announcer went on with secondary details, Emer Ardez rose to his feet with solemn deliberation.

“I shall have to suspend my own electioneering until my foe has recovered. There is no way of knowing when that will be. So, the best thing is that all of us return to Chur immediately. We might as well use the ferrobus that is at our disposal.”

The first to speak after the leader was Garo Jenatsch.

“Yes, that is the wisest course under these conditions. The public would consider us insensitive if we continued on the road. But it will be necessary to keep a keen eye on Cuno’s medical condition.”

Emer nodded in agreement. “Yes, on our return to Chur the general strategy we are following must be reassessed and revised. A lot of work can be done to prepare for any contingency or eventuality. We have to be ready for what comes next.”

Maia Lang then asked a question. “It is too bad that the police have not found or identified the assassin. We can only guess who may be behind this, or what the motives were. It sounds so puzzling, so absurd. Who hopes to gain from such a horrible action? And how will the Germans of the South Tyrol react to the death of their festival queen? I can only imagine the outrage in that region.”

“Yes,” agreed the candidate. “This event will have intergroup repercussions that cannot now be predicted.”

“We must contact the party chairman in South Tyrol at once,” recommended Garo. “The situation there may become volatile once this matter sinks in.”

Maia suddenly stood up. “I know many of our people, since that is my home province. Why not send me there to survey the conditions? It would only take a few days. The campaign may now have to be suspended for several weeks.”

For a few moments, Ardez did not reply. “Yes, what you say is reasonable. Events in the Tyrol are becoming pivotal. But I don’t wish you to go alone, Maia.” His whitish blue eyes focused on the campaign manager. “You accompany her, Garo. I think that I can spare you for a couple of weeks. But telef me daily reports on what you learn on your trip.”

Garo glanced at Maia out of the corner of his eye. Then he looked directly at the leader of the Nation’s Party. “Yes sir. One of our locals could lend me an autom to drive south.”

“That is settled, then,” decided Emer. He moved toward the videon screen to watch the latest news reports.

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