"In the darkest of times, hope is the gift that you give to yourself."
Sharon Elaine, Margravine of Raubenstadt
The cold Winter wind made the bare limbs of the trees look like waving skeletal hands. "God! There's a depressing thought.", the Markgraaf sighed. The parade ground had been swept of the snow, and the skies had seen fit not to deposit any more upon the ground. The combined music of the Regimental Bands helped banish most of the cold, as the Grand Review got underway. Everyone who had accepted the Markgraaf's Thaler, would march past the stand and look upon the Markgraaf, as he would look upon them. This was the last of the reviews and parades the Markgraaf would attend personally. He had been from one end of the nation to the other; to every city and town. He went to meet the people, hear their concerns, and whip up their enthusiam for his continued rule over them. Today would be the capstone of all those efforts. By the end of today's parade, he would know if his people were ready for whatever lay ahead.
The columns of infantry methodically swung onto the review field. There was something hypnotic about the rythmic marching of the battalions; each man subordinating himself to a greater purpose. Of the Infantry he had no doubts, with the possible exception of Stein's Freicorps of course. "'The Farmer', they call me.", he thought, "Well By Thunder my boys will go into battle with solid shoes, warm uniforms, good muskets, full bellies, and enough supplies to make sure that they stayed that way." He had seen first hand some of the shockingly bad equipment the "Greater Powers" had issued to their armies. Shoes that would fall apart after the shortest of marches. Uniforms and blankets so threadbare, straw could be shot through the material with little or no hinderance. Muskets so rusted and unreliable the barrel would burst if given a full charge of powder, if the lock didn't fall apart first. Rations so bad that even a starving beggar would refuse to eat them.
There had been a pretty lively discussion as to where in the order of the Review the cavalry would parade. General Schwillensaufenstein suggested that they start off first. Brigadier General von Kerns of the Guards, pointed out that the infantry had spent a lot of time polishing their shoes, and that they would spend a lot more time cleaning them up, if the cavalry went first, due to the "hazzards" that would be left behind by the thundering herds. Ever advocating the spirit of compromise, the Markgraaf declared that the infantry would preceed the cavalry, and that the cavalry would preceed the artillery, the engineers, and the supply train; since all those branches had horses of their own and would be used to stepping around any deposits that had been made by any mounted units that had gone before.
Unlike the infantry, the cavalry was a different matter for the Markgraaf. Management of mounted soldiers had never come easy for him. Like all gentlemen he could sit upon a horse and not look like a sack of flour, but he never achieved the natural easy grace that his children all exhibited from an early age. "Cavalry is an expensive, yet fragile branch of the service.", he thought, as the horsemen clattered by. "Horses are so necessary on the battlefield, yet vulnerable to so many diseases and use in service." He had done the best he could for them. Raubenstadt was not Saxony and it's plains. "If they can scout, charge at a canter in the face of the foe, and not go hareing off the battlefield, I can expect no more of them."
The Artillery, the Engineers, the Supply Train, and the Army Staff all passed in review, as the Brigadiers urged their men to cheer. The bands played martial tunes, with lots of trumpet calls and drum flourishes, as the Colors were trooped. Unknown to the soldiers on the field, the most significant event was reached on the reviewing stand. The Markgraaf had his answer. Raubenstadt was ready to follow him to whatever end. For him the parade was over. Ritter Hugo looked very pleased with the result, but of course the old soldier lived for these moments.
As the last of the troops paraded by, going back to their barracks, the Margavine turned to her brother, Ernst, Brigadier of the Gard Brigade, and said, "I'm going to have the Devil's own time trying to keep Wilhelm out of all this." She gestured with her hand in a vague way towards the retreating soldiers. "Now, now, sister dear. The boy is what? Fifteen? Old enough to be an Ensign! He'll want to see some action. They all do at that age. All Blood and Thunder, until they see real blood and see a battle." Seeing that his casual remarks were not having a calming effect upon his sister, he hastened to add, "I'm sure that his father will tuck him away in a Staff position. Close enough to see and hear the action, but far from any danger." "He had better.", she replied, with a look that boded ill for someone, if she did not get her way.
At that moment the Markgraaf hobbled across the review stand. While going to Seckingheim on an inspection, a stag had unexpectedly dashed across the road, startling Vociferous, the Markgraaf's horse. As the horse reared up, a rear hoof slipped in the muddy road, and much to the escort's horror, fell and rolled onto the Markgraaf's left leg. The soft ground prevented any broken bones, but the severe bruising, wrenched knee, and the sprained ankle were enough to keep the Markgraaf off his feet and recuperating for three weeks. At least now, the crutches were a thing of the past, and a cane with the occasional grimmace were the only reminders of the incident. Ritter Hugo saluted as the Markgraaf took the arm of his lady and escorted her to the waiting coach that would take them back to the Palace.
Even though Winter still held the countryside in it's grasp, there were many preparations to be made. The old general went over them in his mind as he and his escort rode back to Headquarters. "Time to send the light cavalry out to the border with Spires, and get the 'Exploring Officers' on their missions.", he thought. He was especially looking forward to briefing Col. von Stein on his crucial part in the Spring Campaign. He hoped that by Summer the Prince-Bishop of Spires would be reduced to the bare necessities that a Man of God required.