In my last post, I revealed several things about the Sisterhood’s most perfidious opponent, that sect of male werewolves known as Apostates. One astute reader observed that amongst the pictures of my enemies recently posted on my Facebook page appears the likeness of Wenzel Anton Graf von Kaunitz, and wondered if he had been an Apostate as well.
Historians of the eighteenth century will know Kaunitz as chancellor to the Austrian Empress Maria Theresia and as the mastermind of the Seven Years’ War, that great conflagration which engulfed Europe and North America from 1756 to 1763. Readers of this blog will already suspect that Kaunitz’s motivations were not entirely political.
I first encountered Graf von Kaunitz almost two years before the war began. Through my activities as “private correspondent” to William Pitt and Frederick the Great, I had been aware of Kaunitz’s political machinations for some time. Through the Sisterhood, I also knew that he was an Apostate. The following excerpt from my memoirs describes our first meeting, at the palace of Prince Esterházy. At the time, my “cover” (as my present-day colleagues at MI6 would call it) was that of a travelling harpsichord virtuoso, a circumstance which provided access to the highest noble houses in Europe, where the topics of conversation were often of interest to my employers in the chanceries of London and Berlin.
* * *
Vienna, November 1754
It was the first autumn soirée held by Prince Esterházy after his return to Vienna from Eisenstadt where I finally met the most influential of the Apostates at the Austrian court, Wenzel Anton Graf von Kaunitz. With his rise from relative obscurity to become Maria Theresia’s ambassador to Versailles in 1750, Kaunitz had first attracted the attention of the Sisterhood. Now that he had been named chief advisor to the Empress, we were observing him very closely, as his efforts to engineer new alliances between the European powers were obviously positioning Austria for a new war with Prussia. What made the matter all the more alarming, however, was that we knew nothing whatsoever about Kaunitz’s origins, and an unknown enemy was a dangerous enemy.
I had just finished playing a new sonata by my young friend Haydn when Graf von Kaunitz entered the salon. He was a small man, impeccably dressed, and he moved with the self-assurance of one who felt himself vastly superior to everyone around him. The assembled lords and ladies all bowed to him, except Prince Esterházy, of course, since his rank was higher. But even the Prince inclined his head slightly, acknowledging the Count’s position of power in the Empire, which in the meantime was second only to Maria Theresia herself.
After he had greeted the Prince, Kaunitz approached me and bowed floridly. Because my own rank exceeded that of everyone else present, the Count was formally obliged to make this obeisance to me. I never insisted on such protocols, however, so I suspected that the Apostate had other motives than the strict observance of courtly etiquette.
“My dear Duchess Llewellyn, how splendid to make your acquaintance finally,” said Kaunitz in a tone which bespoke complete sincerity and thus made me even more suspicious. “Please permit me to say that you are far more intriguing in person than the stories about you have led me to believe. I do regret to have missed your performance, as I have heard that you are a very fine harpsichordist, but surely there will be other occasions.”
This Apostate was like no other I had ever met. There was none of the malevolence exhibited by his fellows; in fact, he appeared to be the perfect gentleman. Even his scent was relatively inoffensive, and his breath lacked the odour of decaying flesh which most Apostates exuded.
“Doubtless you do not remember me,” said Kaunitz politely, “but I would recognise you anywhere, even though your outward appearance has changed somewhat – no doubt the result of transmigration.”
“Are you suggesting that we know each other, Graf von Kaunitz, from some other place or time?”
“Please call me Anton. Yes we have met before, in a manner of speaking. I was Prefect of the Praetorian Guard when your previous incarnation attempted to assassinate the Emperor Nero.”
“I find that very hard to believe, as I would certainly recognise the stench of Tigellinus anywhere, even after several transmigrations.”
“So would I,” said Kaunitz, holding a perfumed handkerchief to his nose. “Tigellinus was an animal, which is why I had him eliminated. You might remember me as Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus, the Second Praetorian Prefect.”
“If I recall my Roman history correctly, Sabinus was a leader in the conspiracy against Nero. He was certainly not one of your kind, but was an honourable man.”
“I like to think that I still am,” replied Kaunitz, “but much has changed since the days of Rome’s greatness. When I first saw you – almost seventeen hundred years ago – I was still human, which is perhaps why you do not recognise me now. It was the summer of the year 66 (according to the Christian calendar), and I had been in the service of Nero for not quite twelve months, initially as Tigellinus’s lieutenant, later as his equal. About his true nature I knew nothing at the time, though I found him every bit as decadent and depraved as Nero himself.
“One day, word came of an assassination attempt against the Emperor. The would-be murderer was one of the Keltoi from Britannia, a priestess, and I was assigned the task of extracting a confession and learning the names of her conspirators. When I entered the prison cell, I was dumbstruck, for I had never before seen a woman so beautiful. I must have fallen in love with you at that very moment, and could not bear the thought of applying the instruments of torture to your delicate skin. You told me that Nero had been responsible for the death of your family, and that you had sworn revenge. From what I had seen of the Emperor’s cruelty, I understood your motives fully – or so I thought. Thus I took pity on you, and promised to aid your escape.”
“So it was you who helped me flee from Nero’s prison?”
“Yes, but only indirectly. You had been bound with chains made from the purest silver – a circumstance which seemed exceedingly strange to me. Your wrists and ankles had been chafed and blackened through contact with the metal, and I could see that you were in considerable pain, so I ordered the guard to unfasten your chains. He refused at first, saying that Tigellinus had expressly forbidden them to be removed under any circumstances. Since I could not guess the real reason for this precaution, I insisted on my authority as Second Prefect that the bonds be loosened. Not long after I had left the prison, an alarm was raised that the assassin had escaped. When I returned to the scene, I discovered that the door to your cell had been torn from its hinges and the guard mutilated beyond recognition.
“After the incident, I made enquiries about you, trying to learn of your fate. Everywhere I encountered only silence, as if you had never existed. The other Praetorians obviously feared for their lives, and it seemed that only a few select members of Nero’s inner circle knew anything about you at all. Determined to discover the truth, I asked Tigellinus directly. His reply was most enigmatic.
“‘Do you really want the truth, Nymphidius?’ he asked me. ‘While some say that truth sets you free, this truth would enslave you forever. But here is the paradox: the slavery of which I speak brings the only true freedom – limitless power. When you are ready to sell your own soul in return for such power, come to me again and I will reveal the truth you seek. If you do come, however, be very certain of what you want, because there will be no turning back.’
“In the following months, I observed Tigellinus and his cronies quite closely and came to see that they clearly did wield the true power in Rome. Nero bore the title of Emperor, to be sure, but he served at their whim. My own origins were quite humble – the son of a gladiator and a slave woman – so for most of my life I had stood in awe of the great men of Rome. Now I was at the verge of becoming a great man myself, and it seemed to me that whatever the price for such power, I would be willing to pay it. After all, I could see no evidence that Tigellinus was a slave to anything except his own passions. So one day I went to him, declaring my readiness to learn his truth.
“Tigellinus took me to Egypt for the Initiation. At the secret Temple of Sutekh, hidden deep in the desert south of Karnak, they made me what I am. At first I was…shocked…because I had not even suspected the true nature of my new-found friends. Nor did I share their taste for the brains of boys. But I did share their taste for power, desiring it perhaps even more than they did themselves. Upon our return to Rome, no-one was more powerful than the Praetorian Prefects Tigellinus and Nymphidius. Of course, our power was based on the formal authority of the Emperor, but when his increasing madness finally made Nero unsuitable to serve even as a figurehead, Tigellinus and I conspired against him. Once Nero had been removed, I in turn conspired against Tigellinus and saw to his own removal.
“Unfortunately, my ambitions caused the others in our circle to become nervous – especially when I contrived to have myself named Emperor – and I was forced (rather cruelly I might add) to see the error of my ways. They packed me off to Asia, where I have spent most of the intervening centuries, successfully increasing my power. My greatest achievement was the unification of the Mongol hordes and our subsequent conquest of China in the thirteenth century. Together with my Asian associates, I managed to create the largest empire the world has ever known, stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and from Siberia to the borders of Siam.”
“You don’t mean to say that you were Kublai Khan?”
“A votre service, Madame,” said Kaunitz with a bow. “But that was a long time ago. Eventually I tired of conducting warfare from the back of a horse, and moved on to Russia, where for a time I was called Ivan the Terrible. Today I prefer to remain in the background, formulating strategies, making plans, giving orders. This is my newest challenge, to consolidate our power in Europe and extend it to North America. You could share this grand design with me, at my side. There is nothing I would desire more.”
“Don’t be absurd,” I replied. “Though I now must acknowledge a debt of gratitude that you once saved my life, we will always remain enemies if you continue to follow the path of the Apostasy. The Sisterhood will thwart your plans at every turn.”
“My dear Andronica, your little ladies’ club has never been able to thwart me. Why should I fear you now?”
“Because I am now president of the club. The claws you will soon feel tightening about your throat will be my own. Be on your guard, Graf von Kaunitz!”
“Oh please do call me Anton. Now if you will excuse me, I have some papers which must be drawn up to be signed tomorrow by Her Imperial Majesty – urgent matters of state. Duty is the corollary of power, you know. Au revoir, Madame.”
Kaunitz bowed gracefully and departed. Our own private war had just begun.
* * *
That Wenzel Anton Graf von Kaunitz and his French allies eventually lost the Seven Years War is generally credited by historians to the military genius of Frederick the Great, the political resolve of William Pitt the Elder, and to dynastic reversals in Russia. What history does not record, however, is that Pitt, Prussia and Catherine the Great all received considerable help from the Sisterhood. Someday I might tell you those stories as well.
P.S. My human friend Brian thinks they should make a movie about my adventures, and says that Tim Roth would be perfect for the role of Kaunitz. What do you think?