Frederica the Great
My forehead throbbed — hard like a heart inflamed with passion — coupled with a pain-inducing force so fierce that I couldn’t help but clench my eyes shut. I laid in that state for what must’ve been an hour, semi-conscious, feeling only the hurt from my head. It was only when I felt the caress of a cool cloth held by a delicate hand that I slowly, furtively, opened my eyes.
I awoke to the girl. The girl who claimed to be Frederick the Great, the enlightened despot and hero of Prussian martial virtues. It was her hand that held the little cloth that had given me what seemed like heaven-sent relief. The light blonde hair and emerald eyes of hers looked even more angelic in what looked like the dim light of a field tent.
“Are you okay?” She asked softly.
“My head…” was all I could manage.
“I’m sorry,” she began, her voice just above a whisper. “I didn’t think Private Stieglitz would knock you out like that.”
“Don’t sweat it, I was probably being an ass.” I offered. I wasn’t much for expressing my feelings — but I took a bit of pride in my poor man’s Woody-Allen routine. It seemed to have actually worked. My bit of self-effacement elicited a smirk from her lips.
“You were, kind of.” She rebuked with a smile and an even softer voice, “But my response was out of line. I want to express my formal apologies to you — on behalf of myself, Frederica, and all the soldiers in the Prussian army.”
There she goes again, claiming to be the King — or Queen, rather — of the Prussians. My head hurt too much to argue.
“No need, I just wanted to set things right — you know.”
“I did not know at the time, and distrusted you. Most would’ve used such a situation to their advantage. You acted most honorably.”
Her praise was making me hot under these sheets. I desperately tried to pour some more linguistic water on my own ego.
“I just did what I could.”
“You did so much more, Mr. Wust.” she said, her eyes retreating from mine, “a soldier in the ninth platoon approached me after the battle with a report — concerning you.”
“Yes Corporal Leuwarden was a witness to the affair, and said you even gave the Field Marshal a sip from your flask to ease him before he passed.”
I couldn’t argue that. I did.
“He was in pain, I did what any good person would do.”
The girl looked away.
“There are few good people in this world, Mr. Wust.” Her eyes returned to mine, “I’m glad that you did what you did. I only wish I could’ve been there to. I am a fault here, and you did your best to correct it — in your own way.”
“Frederica — don’t worry about it.” Her eyes widened after I used her name, but I was too tired to feel much shame about what I’m sure was some sort of formal faux-pas. “I’m sure me dropping in from the present messed things up too. We’re both trying to correct a mistake.”
“Well, the future for you — I suppose?”
“You sound unsure.”
“I am. I suppose this must sound crazy, but in the future that I’m from, the Prussians are led by a man named Frederick — not you, and von Schwerin — he did not pass here, I will just say that. I’m confused with this whole damn thing.”
“So am I. You say it all with precision and conviction, but the words themselves sound as if spoken from a madman.” I couldn't argue with those words.
“True — if only I could prove it.” I mumbled, sitting up and fumbling around in my tracksuit. The tracksuit itself was probably a good start, but I wasn’t about to strip down in front of Frederica to show her the foreign material of its construction. It then occurred to me that, safely tucked behind a zipper pocket was my phone.
“My phone!” — I yelled.
“Your what?” Frederica inquired with what looked like a reflexive recoil.
I pulled out my smartphone and hit the home button. The phone immediately warned me that I was down to 5% battery, its usual state of affairs because I’m the type of person who never charges it until it’s dead. If I was to prove my existence to her, it was through this phone — and it needed to be done quickly.
“Frederica, take a look at this.”
“What, that little box?” She asked inquisitively, scooting over to my side, “—A—Ah! Moving pictures, in that little box?!”
Her reaction to the loading screen of the mobile strategy game Seven Years War’ was actually kind of cute. As the app loaded, she was presented a slideshow of fanciful recreations of great Prussian battles of the period — in addition to scenes of the French colonial phase of the conflict.
On the start screen, a portrait of her real-world — or rather, my world’s contemporary — counterpart, Frederick the Great was prominently featured.
“Ah, it looks like Grandpa!” she exclaimed.
My head starting spinning — so there was a Frederick?
“Wait, what was your grandfather’s name?” I asked abruptly.
“The second?” I asked excitedly.
“The first. My father was Frederick William.”
My hopes for some sort of sense were immediately dashed. This was in fact, the person of Frederick the Great — just, a girl? It ran against all that I understood, but there was a part deep within me that was growing to accept this state of affairs. I just did not know it then.
“I see.” was all I managed. I loaded up the game’s campaign.
“Ah, and there is Silesia!” Frederica noted, quite entertained by the curiosity.
“Right. And here’s Mollwitz. I already won the battle, in the game.”
“In the game?” she asked, struggling on the last word.
“Right. You can play out the battle on your phone and make strategic and tactical level-decisions. Like a miniature version of a real-life war-game, I guess.”
“A wargame in that little box?!” Frederica asked, stunned.
“Sure, let me load it up. Your next major battle will be at Chotusitz, in Bohemia.”
That fact seemed to sit poorly with Frederica.
“Next battle? I intend to make peace with the Austrians after this. This battle was to show their Empress I could defeat her if I so chose. I desire no more bloodshed.”
I could swear that exact line was in the game’s pre-battle cutscene.
“Yeah, I think Frederick does too, but the Empress will break it and attack you.”
“Then your Frederick is a poor diplomat,” she spat, “if he cannot keep other countries to their treaties. No one will attack us with the Prussian army that I have. Peace will reign and I will have Silesia. The Empress, my cousin -- will not attack me. Mark my words.”
Suddenly, a guard poked his head inside the tent.
“My Queen, the general staff wish to convene before dinner.”
“Tell them to wait, as I wish to see more of these moving pictures—“
“My liege, I—“ he replied, obviously uncomfortable.
Belatedly realizing that I was keeping from her duties, I took the opportunity to rescue the poor fellow.
“You should go, Frederica, my battery just died.”
“Battery? As in cannon?” She asked with an increasingly cute expression of query.
“Ah, no — the power source for the moving picture box. I’ll need some way to charge it.”
“What does it need? Gunpowder?” her reply almost made me laugh.
“Think, like, lightning.”
Frederica’s eyes widened.
“It runs on lighting?! From the sky?!”
“We have scientists who do all sorts of experiments with that! We will fix it when we return to Brandenburg, I wish to see the war-game in a box.” she replied determinedly.
“Right, but you should go meet your Marshals, I’m sorry to keep you.”
“I will. Thank you, Mr. Wust.”
Frederica nodded, rose from her seat and made her way to the tent’s flap-exit.
“By the way, Mr. Wust—“
“You’re welcome to join the general staff and I for dinner this evening. I’ll send a guard to fetch you if you’re feeling well enough to walk.”
My stomach growled, warning me not to dispute her hospitality.
“Sure — and you can call me Adrian.” I added with a weak smile “Mr. Wust is my dad’s name.” My last name complex was at it again.
This brought a grin to Frederica’s face.
“I’d say that you could call me Frederica in return, but you already are.”
“A—Ah— I mean—“ I realized immediately that this was quite the mistake among royalty.
“Please do not worry. My first name is for friends. I consider you a new friend.”
“Come to dinner!” She commanded before exiting the finally making her exit.
Her emerald eyes were alight.
I came to dinner.
Held in the largest tent in the Prussian winter camp, it overlooked a great bluff that revealed one of the foremost cities of Silesia — Glogau — below us, and the great medieval castle that stood in the city's shadow was visible in the far distance. It occurred to me before entering that I was truly walking in the 18th century world.
Upon entering the grand field tent, I was further convinced of this point. Lit exclusively by candle, the tent was surrounded by officers, men and women in uniform eating and chatting raucously. It was all a very different picture from the Prussian stoicism I had seen up until this point. Frederica was seated in the center of all this fray, at the head of the great table with her eyes peeled to the door. Noting my entrance, she called out to me from the other side of the hall.
“Adrian! Adrian, come sit here, at my left!” She yelled above the din enthusiastically.
The room immediately drew several decibels quieter, with the occasional drunken whisper seeming to be the only noise that accompanied the chewing of chicken and clanging of wine tumblers. As awkward as it seemed at that moment — I felt somehow prepared for it. I had led an army to victory in the stead of one of the century’s greatest field marshals, and was nursed by the female version of Europe’s most enlightened soldier-king. What did these folks’ opinions matter?
I made my way to Frederica with all of the officers’ eyes upon me, eventually sitting at her left. A servant girl brought me a plate of chicken, potatoes and peas accompanying a pint of tall beer. All of the Prussian officers looked at me expectantly as I grabbed a fork and prepared to dig in.
“Do you know what those are?” Frederica asked me, pointing to the baked potatoes.
“Potatoes, aren’t they?” I answered her, with my eyes lighting up at my answer, and then turning to analyze the reactions of surprise form the officers.
“Ah wow, you know!” She said, with her eyes on the staff.
“Yeah, they’re quite popular in the future.” I explained to them. Frederica then turned back to me with her eyes even more impassioned.
“In Germany?!” She inquired, excitedly.
“All over the world.” I replied.
“Hah! I knew it!” She exclaimed. “See all you men, Adrian comes from the future and says they all eat potatoes!”
A few uncomfortable, patronizing laughs escaped the lips of the young officers, who were immediately set to task by their older superiors. She then turned to me.
“I had the idea of bringing them here. No one on the continent is growing potatoes. Only Ireland and not really how I want to. I love the taste of them, and a botanist has written a great treatise on how nutritious they are. I want the whole army eating them!”
“Have you had them fried?” I asked.
“Fried potatoes?” Her eyes widened even more.
“Yeah, fried in boiling vegetable oil. We call them French Fries.”
“French… Fries, the French eat them?” She asked, stumbling over the term.
“I don’t think they’re actually from France, now that I think of it. Everyone just calls them that in my time. They might have been invented in the Low Countries.”
“When we return to Potsdam you will have them make me fried potatoes — my chefs. They are all French and never told me of such a thing!” She commanded. “Have them make it how you eat them in your time!”
Her reaction was so excited and genuine it elicited in me a laugh and a smile. I had nearly forgotten about my headache.
“I should warn you that they’re very unhealthy.”
“I do not care! They sound delicious!” She really could be insufferably cute when she wanted to. It was almost surprising that she led troops at the head of an army as easily as she raved about potatoes.
“They are, I can’t lie about that, Frederica.”
A gasp came from the crowd at the ease in which I said her name, and the lack of formal appellations attached to it.
Frederica seemed to warn them all with a sharp glare before returning to her meal.
Soon after, everyone returned to eating. Conversation resumed, although my guess was perhaps that all of the blue-coated officers were discussing my very foreign presence. In this sea of wool I was wearing nylon. My exchange with Frederica about fried potatoes. No doubt some of these men and women saw me as a threat. I lowered my head, but not before noticing a woman appear at Frederica’s side shortly after the Queen had cleaned her plate.
“My Queen, many of the officers are expecting the promotions, we have reached that stage of the dinner, after all.”
“Ah, Colonel Zeiten!”
Colonel Zeiten… Zeiten… The name sounded so familiar. I turned to get a better look at the woman. She was a short but imposing figure, Napoleonic would be the anachronistic adjective to use here — wearing a bright red-and white dolman jacket. And then it occurred to me — Zeiten the Hussar! In the game, this fellow would consistently charge into battle well ahead of Frederick and sometimes disrupt entire battle plans with his rashness.
But this officer too — like Frederica in the world, was a girl. And like Frederica, a rather pretty one at that.
She carried herself with a sort of swagger — and was clearly older than Frederica, I’d guess thirty? A year or two younger but she held that sort of experienced-woman look that preyed on men as if they were gazelle and she a lion. Her eyes darted from Frederica to me.
“Can I help you, peasant?” She asked me directly.
“Did you just call me a peasant?” I asked, floored.
“Well, it’s Wutz, isn’t it?” She asked, “It’s not von Wust or anything like that. So in my book, you’re a peasant. Or are you about to pull some Anhalt country manor out of your ass to flatter my Queen with more lies?”
Frederica turned to me expectantly.
“I mean I don’t really know what to say. The immigration authorities dropped the ‘von’ particle from the family name in the 1880s because they didn’t allow noble titles in America. That’s what my grandfather my told me, at least, in his big genealogy project that he embarked on." It was the best reply I had to such an accusation. While I really couldn't care less about that aspect of my origin before, I realized it did carry some significance in this day and age.
“Ah so your bloodline is disgraced, then. Or at least that’s what the ‘time traveler’ wants us to believe. What fancy.” Colonel Zeiten fired back in obvious disgust.
“Hannah!” Frederica spat out. “He is my friend, as you are. I don’t wish to see fighting among friends.”
“Your f-friend?!” Zeiten exclaimed impetuously. “Do you give away that title so easily now — to any street rat that stumbles upon a battlefield?”
“Take your seat at my right, Hannah.” Frederica ordered. The Colonel bowed her head and complied. The other officers, who had grown dead silent as the exchange carried on, looked at their Queen expectantly. She took her fork and tapped her pint glass.
“Um — it’s time we proceeded to the promotions, I think.” She began, shooting a side eye over to Colonel Zeiten. “And with that, I would like to first point out my thanks to you all in yesterday’s battle. I think it will give the Austrians the message they need to make peace and grant us our birthright in Silesia. The exports from their artisans will fill our coffers with taxes, and their farmland our bellies. It was a good thing we did, I think — and it will be remembered fondly by all our loved ones that follow in our stead. It will be theirs to protect, and I believe they will with every drop of their blood!”
A round of applause — a genuine round — emanating from those seated.
“And with that, I would like to first acknowledge the junior officers.” A soldier appeared with several sheets of paper and handed them to Frederica. “I have here a list of promotions to full lieutenancies from the non-commissioned ranks. Please distribute these to the men of your regiments and express my sincere thanks for their performances. We will need more men of great character from the lower ranks to unify this divided land.”
There was that word — unification. As the sheets were distributed, it occurred to me that in all my readings, and my admittedly limited understanding of Frederick II’s motivations — unification of the German polities was not on his agenda. Aggrandizing those territories perhaps, but never an overt statement of unification that just exited this girl’s lips. It was at that moment that it became clear to me that this future might divert from the one that I knew in less superficial ways.
“Next, I would like to applaud Colonel Zeiten in her handling of the grenadier counterattack against the Austrian advance on our right. With that, I would like to express to you that I will be promoting her to General of the Brigade, and commissioning her with the creation and administration of a Hussar brigade recruited from our new Silesian territories for use in upcoming campaigns. We will need more cavalry to dissuade the Austrians in the future.”
A long and through ovation erupted from the officers at the table.
Zeiten took the opportunity for a bow, a long and deep one — first to the assembled officers, and then to the Queen herself.
“Right. So — now I would like to congratulate the hero of yesterday’s engagement, the young man who executed the orders of our fallen Marshal Schwerin to the letter, and now occupies his seat at this dinner.”
My jaw dropped. She sat me in Schwerin’s seat? The commander-in-chief of the entire Prussian army in episodes of Royal absence. I knew now why the officers looked at me with more apprehension than a simple fool claiming to be a time-traveler.
And then, adding to my shock, Frederica took my right hand in hers.
“My new friend, Adrian von Wust, who I award with the recently vacated Schloss Katte in Altmark, has seen to our victory here by faithfully executing the orders of our fallen Field Marshal, von Schwerin, whose comfort, sympathy, and security Adrian gave him in his final moments means the world to me.”
Katte. I feel like I should know that name. But I couldn’t recall its significance after being showered in such praise by a beautiful woman like Frederica. Every man had his weaknesses.
Frederica stole a glance at me before continuing. I wonder if she noticed that I had turned flush-red? I hope not. She continued on as I dipped my head in pious shame.
“With nothing to gain, and much to lose, Adrian relayed orders to junior officers on the ground, and oversaw the battle while attending to the questions of the Marshal’s staff. This to me is the ideal of a Prussian officer — kind, dedicated, selfless, and honest in his action to a fault. And as I counted the Marshal among my friends — let it be known that Frederica rewards those who render kindness to her friends in desperate hours — and by virtue of this does service to the Kingdom. In addition to Schloss Katte, which carries itself a Lieutenancy as any baronial title — I hereby promote Adrian to Lieutenant-Colonel, and commission him as my aide-to-camp at large. I wish that you all accept him into our fraternity regardless of his origin, until such a point where he can safely return to his own era.”
The dining hall was dead silent.
“I command you to clap.” She stated with dead seriousness.
The officers applauded perfunctorily to a man, without question.
She then turned to me and leaned close.
“I would like for us to talk some more, before you return to where you came. I think this is the best way, don’t you think?” Her expression was genuine and joyful. I managed a smile.
“Frederica, thank you.” I said, visibly overcome.
“You’ll stay for awhile, won’t you?” She asked me with a pout, and then a wink.
And that is how Frederica wrapped me around her finger, and how I became her “Friend.”