Title: Hostage Negotiations (A Place of Greater Safety Remix)
Fandom: Hetalia
Rating: U
Pairings: Background France/Austria, background one-sided Austria/Liechtenstein
Summary: France's latest prisoner of war isn't likely to escape, but the Helvetic Republic has been ordered to guard her, and so he will.
Notes: This story is a remix of [personal profile] sirvalkyrie's Ransom, written for Remix Redux 11. The pairings of the original story aren't really central to the plot of this remix, so even though I have marked them here I regret that those who were hoping for rarepair fic might be disappointed. But the existence of France/Austria and Austria/Liechtenstein (the latter more of a young girl's crush) shaped my original conception of this remix, so I have marked them here accordingly. Historical and other notes are at the end. (Also available at AO3.)

Hostage Negotiations (A Place of Greater Safety Remix)

February 1801

The key grated in the lock, and before Liechtenstein could fully turn around the soldier who had shut her in the cell was already walking away. Her eyes were still struggling to adjust to the dim light, so she took a few tentative steps forward, trying to follow the sound of his footsteps. Within three paces, the fingers of her outstretched hand touched a cold metal bar, and she stopped short.

So it really was a prison. With thick stone walls and iron bars to keep dangerous people inside. But she wasn't dangerous, was she? She hadn't hurt anyone, she hadn't even tried to hit or kick the men who had carried her off. Why would France want to put her in here, as if she were a thief or a....

No. She had been doing something wrong. Even though she'd destroyed the letter, throwing it into the river like her prince's aide-de-camp had told her do if someone tried to take it from her, she had been riding through an area that France controlled, and carrying a secret message to one of France's enemies. And that almost certainly made her a spy.

So maybe she deserved to be in here after all.

It was becoming easier to see in the darkness, but there was little enough around her to look at. Her cell was dank and musty, and smelled of mould and rotting straw and many other unpleasant things. Water was dripping somewhere, and the walls and the stone floor looked damp and thick with grime. Squinting, she saw the faint outline of an open bucket in the far corner, one that she could not bring herself to go near -- she was not so desperate as that, not yet -- but there seemed to be no other place to sit. There were no blankets or mattresses, no place to lie down. The only blessing was that she had a cell all to herself, and hadn't been put in with any other prisoners.

Her legs trembled. Until just a few hours before, she had been sitting in an ox-cart, and before that she had been forced to ride pillion on the horse of the officer who had taken her captive...and before that she could not remember, not through the swoon that had come over her since the soldiers had forced her to dismount. She was still wearing her riding habit, though her cloak and reticule had been taken from her. Her sweet pony, poor little Minna, had been taken as well. There was nothing she could do about it now; she could only pray that Minna wouldn't be treated harshly, wouldn't be made to carry heavy packs or pull carts for the French soldiers.

She couldn't remember the last proper meal she had eaten -- a hunk of old dry bread, no more than a few mouthfuls, had been put into her hands during the ride in the ox-cart -- but she had no appetite for even the thought of the watery gruel that they might possibly feed to prisoners. Fear and worry had tied knots in her stomach. Did Austria know that she had been captured? Would her prince be disappointed in her?

What would happen to her?

* * *

If this was fraternité, then France's definition of the term left quite a lot to be desired.

The Helvetic Republic was not in a position to argue with the terms of his current arrangement. His current bosses relied on French support to stay in power, so much so that he was effectively at France's bidding for whatever use he could make of himself. And when the order came down that he was take charge of the watch over a high-ranking prisoner of war at a formerly Austrian-controlled fortification in some godforsaken corner of the Tyrol, there was no possible question of refusing it.

The Austrian fort, now under French command, had been turned into a staging point for the return of a group of Austrian and Bavarian prisoners. That was the story he had been told, and the Helvetic Republic had acknowledged it without believing a word of it. No one who had fought in other's armies for long as he had ever expected much in the way of mercy from a prisoner exchange; more often than not, the only land that a captured soldier ever returned to was the bottom of a freshly dug grave in his village's churchyard. Even a supposedly high-ranking prisoner might not necessarily be freed if a halfway-plausible excuse could be found to deny him his liberty. So the Helvetic Republic was more than a little surprised when he arrived at the fort to find not only several groups of men awaiting release, but also a single prisoner in a separate cell -- who looked for all the world like a child who ought to be back at home, helping her mother gather eggs or tend the kitchen garden.

In a flash, he understood what high-ranking meant. This was no nobleman taken from the battlefield, kept under lock and key in order to extract a price for his release. At one glance, the Helvetic Republic could tell that she was one of his kind -- but one whom he had never seen before. He could not recall whether he had ever noticed her tagging along with Austria or Bavaria or the Holy Roman Empire or any of that lot, though someone her size could easily have blended into the usual retinue of servants and diplomats and assorted hangers-on that his neighbours always had around them. Some grand duchy or other, then, little more than a name and a castle and Ruthe or two of land to hold her together. And here she was, locked up with the prisoners of war, somehow a prisoner herself.

Being surprised, however, was not part of his orders. If France's latest absurd whim was to hold this small margraviate or whatever she was as a hostage to guarantee Austria's good behaviour, then it was up to the Helvetic Republic to take charge of the watch over her. At least he would not be fooled by her outward appearance into thinking that she was a human child, if she were to beg and plead for her release.

In the dim light, it took him a moment to find the French officer of the watch and present his papers, with a glare that almost dared the man to challenge them. 'France's orders,' he said, letting his Swiss (Helvetian) accent mark his tongue. 'I am to guard her until the Austrians arrive to secure her release.'

The officer peered at the orders, his lips moving slowly as he spelled out the words to himself. 'Very well,' he replied, after what felt like an interminable pause. 'I will show them in when they come for her.'

* * *

Liechtenstein had found a less-damp section of the cell wall to lean against, shivering a little at the coldness of the stone but glad to have something solid at her back. When she heard the sound of feet approaching, she immediately straightened up, and hurried toward the source of the noise until she was almost pressed up against the bars on the other side of the cell. As she held fast to the metal, she managed to hear a phrase that made her heart leap with relief.

' -- until the Austrians arrive.'

The bars blocked most of her view, but she caught sight of the soldier who had originally locked her in the cell, speaking to another, shorter man -- no, not a man! she quickly corrected herself, her heart beating even faster than before -- with fair hair and a uniform she couldn't identify. It wasn't like those of the French soldiers who had captured her, but it wasn't like the ones she had seen in the armies that her prince and Austria commanded, either.

'I will show them in when they come for her,' the French soldier said. Liechtenstein heard a jangling noise that sounded like a ring of keys passing from hand to hand, and then the French soldier was gone from her sight, his footsteps retreating once again. The strange soldier -- like me, oh, he's someone like me!, her instincts sang -- remained behind, but he did not so much as look into the cell. Instead, he turned around so that his back was to her, so that all she could see was the fair hair that tumbled down almost to his shoulders, without even a ribbon to hold it back.

She twisted her hands in her skirts. Her prince's aide-de-camp had warned her not to speak to any of France's soldiers or allies, but she could not keep silent any longer. The French soldiers would not have let him into the fort and given him the keys to her cell unless he was on their side, but he had mentioned Austrians, and he was the only one who seemed to have any idea of what might happen to her next. 'Sir?' she said, as politely as possible. 'Please, sir?'

The strange soldier said nothing for a long moment, so long that Liechtenstein began to wonder whether he had been forbidden to speak to her. But then she heard him let out a huff of breath, and he said, in an icy tone that nearly quelled what little courage she had managed to muster, 'Are you addressing me?'

Liechtenstein bit down on her lip. The only thing that kept her from backing away from the strange soldier was that there was nowhere for her to back away to. The cell was all she had, and she had to know more than the little she had been able to overhear.

'Y...yes, please, sir,' she replied, trying to keep the stammer from her voice. Perhaps the strange soldier hadn't recognised her in the same way that she'd known him. She tried to think of a polite way to ask the question, and the only words that came to mind were the simplest and least helpful ones. 'Are you...are you like me?'

Again, there was a lengthy silence before the strange soldier replied. 'I have a land and a people just as you do, if that is what you mean.'

'Oh!' Even though Liechtenstein had been sure of herself before, it was comforting to hear him say that he knew that she was like him and Austria and France. Even those words made him seem a little less unfriendly. 'Please forgive me -- I don't believe I've ever met you before.'

'You wouldn't have.' His reply was so quiet that she almost didn't hear it. His next words were even quieter still. 'I prefer not to form alliances with others of our kind.'

Liechtenstein frowned. 'But you're with France, aren't you?' she said, and immediately regretted asking such a silly question. There were better questions that she could be asking, and one particularly important one came to mind. 'Would you be so good as to tell me your name?'

The strange soldier let out another huff of breath. 'Recently, I have been known as the Helvetic Republic. As my name might change tomorrow, I see no reason to give another at present.' He paused. 'And as much as anyone can be with France, I suppose am.'

His name didn't sound at all familiar to her, but at least she had something to call him, in her own mind if nothing else. So she gave a small curtsy, just as she would have done if they had met in Austria's nice bright drawing-room instead of a cold stone-walled fort, and tried to put a smile in her voice as she replied. 'I am the Principality of Liechtenstein -- it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Herr Helvetic Republic.'

* * *

So his high-ranking prisoner was a principality. One of the Holy Roman Empire's bought-and-paid-for landholders, no doubt. It was a mystery to him why France and Austria should be dancing this grotesque gavotte over her liberty, but it would not be the first time that the two of them had found a way to amuse themselves at the expense of their less-fortunate neighbours.

He was not about to turn around and look at her. Nor, in the circumstances, would it be truthful to respond that he was also pleased to have made her acquaintance. He settled for grunting the barest minimum of acknowledgement, in hopes that his silence would be enough to still her own tongue.

And for a time, it was. She made no further attempts to continue her line of questioning, and in time he heard her take a few steps back, retreating into the cell. The minutes slipped past, and neither of them spoke. But just as he began to assume that she had found some way to fall asleep, he heard a soft murmur, addressed as much to herself as to him:

'I hope that Austria will come soon.'

'They will both be here soon enough,' he said.

There was a sharp intake of breath, the first sound of something like fright that he had heard from her since she had first addressed him. 'France...France will be here as well?'

'You need not be concerned.' It seemed only proper to inform her as such. 'If Austria is coming to personally secure your release, then you will both have the right of safe conduct to return to your own lines.'

'I was afraid....' Liechten -- rather, the principality's voice quavered before she could fully regain control of it. 'I'd heard frightful things about...about what France's people might do to spies.'

That almost made him turn around. 'You were caught and brought here as a spy?' he said, unable to conceal his disbelief. France had been more paranoid than usual lately, but this young principality hardly seemed the type to spy on a songbird's nest, much less go about skulking behind enemy lines.

'My prince needed someone to carry a message to Austria,' she said. 'It was a letter, a sealed one. I don't know what was in it, but it sounded like something terribly important, and I said that I would deliver it. I thought that no one might notice me, if I went by myself.' A forlorn note crept into her voice. 'But I didn't get very far with it.'

In better days, France would have laughed heartily at such a plain, pathetic story, and would have given this tiny principality a few sugared cakes or candied fruits before gently shooing her home to rejoin her prince. The fact that both he and she were here, guard and prisoner, made the Republic's rallying cries of liberté and egalité ring false and hollow in his own ears. 'That hardly makes you a spy,' the Helvetic Republic said gruffly. 'A messenger, perhaps, whose message was intercepted. If you made no pretence at being anything other than yourself, not even France can fault you for that.'

Liechtenstein did not appear to take his remark for the pittance of comfort he had meant it to convey. 'I suppose it doesn't matter what I really am,' she replied, soft and sad. 'I only wish that I could have been able to help my prince. He lives in Vienna, you see, and he doesn't often spend time -- ' Her voice broke, and for a terrible moment he thought that she would fall to weeping, but she managed to overcome whatever emotion had nearly overwhelmed her. 'He was fighting along with Austria, against France's soldiers, and I wanted to help both of them.'

'When you leave here....' Even as the words left his mouth, the Helvetic Republic realised that he had begun to speak without knowing where his thoughts would go. That wistful, near-worshiping tone she used when speaking of her prince and of Austria made him want to scold her for her naivety, but in his own position it hardly seemed right to do so. For all that he knew of France and Austria, it had not kept him free of their clutches, had it? Nonetheless, he found himself compelled to make the effort. 'I would not put too much faith in Austria. Or in France, for that matter.'

'What do you mean?'

'Neither of them are in their right minds right now.' He owed her nothing but the truth. 'But even when they are, France and Austria are on no one's sides but their own.'

'But Austria's always been so kind to me.' Liechtenstein sounded confused. 'And if you are allied with France -- '

'Austria steals, and France lies.' She was possibly too young to have heard the old proverb, so its warning would mean little to her without further explanation. 'They each have their own methods of getting what they desire. Whatever alliances they might agree to, whatever pledges they might make to each other or to others of our kind, I would no more trust one than I would trust the other. And if you care for your prince as you say that you do, your loyalty to France or Austria or anyone else cannot come at too high a price.' For whatever good it will do for you, he thought to himself, the irony of his own words bitter in the back of his throat. 'You will be free soon -- take this word of caution from one who was the battlefield for their latest quarrel, and is now free only in name.'

If Liechtenstein had intended to reply to his warning, she did not have the opportunity. Faintly at first, but growing louder, came the tread of two pairs of boots on stone. The Helvetic Republic drew himself up to stand at attention, schooling his face into the appropriately blank countenance of a delegated guard on duty. But just before Liechtenstein's erstwhile captor and ransomer appeared, he heard a gentle whisper, pitched for his ears alone.

'Thank you, Herr Helvetic Republic. I hope you'll be free soon, too.'

Liberté, egalité, fraternité. She clearly knew more about all three of them than France and Austria put together. It almost made him wish that he might be able to see her again, to greet her properly someday as a free and independent Swiss Confederation once more.



This story is set shortly before the Treaty of Lunéville in February 1801, which marked the beginning of the end of the second round of the Napoleonic Wars (the War of the Second Coalition).

At the time, the cantons of the old Swiss Confederacy had been invaded and defeated by the French, and republican-inclined Swiss elements had established the short-lived Helvetic Republic as a friendly French client state. Liechtenstein's prince, Johann I, was a participant in the wars on the Austrian side, as Liechtenstein was a part of the greater Holy Roman Empire. The princes of Liechtenstein were effectively absentee rulers in those days, having lived in Vienna since the early 1700s, and the royal family did not actually move to live in the principality until the 1930s -- so Liechtenstein might be forgiven here for wanting to do what she could to help her prince.

The title and subtitle of the story references the status of both Switzerland and Liechtenstein as hostages to French and Austrian interests, and Hilary Mantel's French Revolution historical novel A Place of Greater Safety. Many thanks to [personal profile] sirvalkyrie for offering this fandom and story up for remixing!

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