Summarized & HTML'ized by Mandisa Washington. c. 2000-01, ver. 1.0
Original material by Tomoko Katoh, Hana to Yume Comics, Hakusensha, 1995.
Year 1866, Austria, Ischl
God - In bearing your vengeance, I am but a helpless human. Your child is not worthy enough to be called. - Crown Prince Rudolf, age 9 years
In a grand palace tucked away in the Austrian countryside, three ladies exchange news and gossip on a stormy night. Above their heads, in one of several open galleries, a lonesome little boy wanders with his dog, deep in thought and oblivious to the ladies' chatter. The young boy has much to consider, as he is Lord Rudolf Frantz Karl Josef von Austria. His father is Frantz-Josef, heir to the imperial Hapsburg dynasty of Austria. Shifting political alliances, wars, civil unrest, and the failing leadership of his grand-uncle, Emperor Ferdinand II loom larger in his mind than the purely natural storm raging outside his father's castle.
Year 1867, Hiern, Shutarnberg village
In a tiny Austrian border village, a young boy works alongside a girl and her mother in a simple house. While the children, Alfred and Rosa, mix fun with their work, Rosa's mother speaks with the visiting town priest about young Alfred's future. In the three years since he has lived in that place, he hasn't changed his kind, gentle, open-hearted ways. Despite the loss of his parents, he's thrived under the influence of love and attention. Unfortunately, now that he's 12 years old and without a family, his prospects don't look good.
Alfred overhears part of his caretakers' conversation. After passing along his apologies through Rosa, he goes off alone to think for a bit. In the form of a plea to God, Alfred laments his burdensome status to the good people who have cared for him. He silently prays for God to find a way to make him grown-up quickly, as such heart-breaking worries are too much for any child to bear. Alfred's religious reverie is interrupted by a chilling scream from deeper in the woods.
Moving carefully through the brush towards the unsettling sound, he spots a man with a hunted look in his eyes. The man runs in the direction of the lake bordering the village, away from Alfred and away from the gasping sounds. A final gurgle draws Alfred's attention away from the fleeing man to a horrendous sight. In a clearing, at the base of a tree, a well-dressed man lies bloody and unconscious or dead. Hunched over him is an equally well-dressed boy, apparently placing a gun in the man's limp hand.
The strange boy turns and stands to face Alfred, who makes a very confused witness. Alfred asks the short, pale boy if he is wounded and whether or not the man is dead. Choosing not to answer either question, the blond-haired, frail-seeming boy asks for and receives Alfred's name, without offering his own in return. Alfred is a little shocked at the stranger's unfriendly attitude, but plunges on, seeking information about the probably dead man and the death itself. Unfortunately, the slight boy succumbs to shock and fatigue and collapses into Alfred's arms. Just then, military officers and robust servants come crashing into the clearing, shouting after help for 'young lord Rudolf'.
As the ladies fuss over the boy, the commanding officer sends a man back to fetch a doctor. Turning immediately, the officer bombards Alfred with questions as to the identity and actions of the man lying dead in their midst. Before the startled boy can voice his own ignorance, Rudolf cries out and tells his story. Commanding every ear, Rudolf says, "That man, he suddenly put the gun in his mouth...he's dead, isn't he?"
Rudolf makes a great show of being in pain, favoring his foot and eliciting the overprotection of his servants. Dragging Alfred into the tale, Rudolf calls him familiarly by name, and implies that they had been together during the incident. The CO asks for confirmation of this account from Alfred, but one of the servants interrupts, declaring the futility of seeking detailed accounts after such a horrible shock.
Ignoring the adults' argument, Alfred's concern rests squarely on Rudolf, who looks suddenly very frail and forlorn, consistent with having watched a man die. Even so, just a short while ago the strange boy was so arrogant and commanding. Alfred wonders if the pale boy's tortured face will relax and disappear with the officer's acceptance of his story. Seeming to respond to these unspoken thoughts, Rudolf presses the issue. He continues, "You saw, didn't you Alfred? When that man died...in front of both of us."
As if compelled by those words, in spite of his growing confusion, Alfred assents. On cue, Rudolf finally faints, supported poorly by his maternal servants. Alfred looks up to see Rudolf watching him intently, a satisfied smirk on his face. The odd expression disappears at once as the young lord's limp body is carried away.
Alfred barely has time to consider this incongruity, when his attention is drawn once again to the dead man. The efficient soldiers have come up with an identity for the corpse, Mr. Atolmueller. This seems odd to the CO because of Atolmueller's strong Catholic beliefs. A suicide by pistol, alone in the backwoods, doesn't feel right. The would-be investigators are stuck with Rudolf's account even though it seems suspicious. Listening to this grave talk, Alfred remembers the death of his own parents.
On their deathbed, his mother and father would say, "Alfred, life is a gift given to us by God. Even though we humans take care of it, it is not for us to keep. Very soon, we will be gathered back to God, leaving you alone. Therefore, hold on to this message, no matter what happens. Never let it go."
Back in the village, Alfred is startled from his reverie by Rosa. She states plainly her concerns about the unusual situation and adds that the priest is worried as well. Drifting into his mind again, Alfred ponders the general reaction to the incident at the lake. He thinks that the adults' confusion stems from his silent lie. If he tells the officials what he saw, the matter might be straightened out. However, he has no explanation for his actions. Also, he wants to know the motives of the mysterious Rudolf.
While he hesitates, a commotion outside rouses Alfred. A carriage and escort have come for him, sent by Lord Rudolf. The courtier announces that his highness, Prince Rudolf, has recovered and wishes to meet with young master Alfred Ferrichs. Alfred is left speechless as he realizes that the odd, pale, well-to-do boy of the forest clearing is the imperial crown prince of Austria.
The country palace is huge, and it is surrounded by lush grounds that form a closed-off haven. Albert recalls that the Hapsburgs are famous and powerful throughout Europe. With that in mind, he cannot fathom what possible use he can be to a prince of that House. Lamenting his forward and impolite behavior of their earlier encounter, he is overcome with shame. Resolved to try to recover a little bit of honor, he apologizes profusely as the door is opened onto Rudolf's bedchamber. Alfred's greeting is received with amusement by Alexander, Rudolf's large dog.
From his well-appointed, four-poster bed, Rudolf greets Alfred casually, even pleasantly. Calling his pup, the prince assures Alfred that he feels much better than his earlier appearance indicated. The tremulous voice in pain is unheard as he calmly describes faking the effects of shock and heatstroke for the interrogator in the woods. The cool, casual attitude and intense stares confuse Alfred even more, but he scrapes up the courage to talk about the death at the lake.
Alfred expresses concern for the spiritual health of the dead man. He cannot receive funeral rites in the Catholic church because he supposedly died by his own hand. The honest boy opens up to Rudolf and admits that when his parents died, he too wanted to kill himself. What stopped him was the knowledge that suicide is forbidden by God's law.
Rudolf chuckles at this heartfelt confession, mocking Alfred's strong faith in God. Alfred is shocked at this reaction and wonders at it aloud. Rudolf retorts by pointing out that lying is also forbidden by God. He confronts Alfred, saying, "When that man died, you didn't see anything. Why did you lie about it?" Alfred stumbles over his words, seeking an answer that won't come. His interrogator continues, "What did you see? Where were you watching from?"
Rudolf's demeanor changes completely to match his stern questioning. His amused, secretive smiles give way to cold stares that leave Alfred speechless. Turning to the door, he offers a hasty apology and insists on returning home. Rudolf refuses, prohibiting him from leaving with the lie between them in play. Instead, he announces that Alfred will be coming with him to Vienna.
Back in the village, a sobbing Rosa is being comforted by the priest. He tells her that Alfred has left for the sake of that poor boy. Her sadness is lessened only slightly by his assurance that God will watch over and protect Alfred. The priest urges her to join him in praying for the boy's well-being, but his worried eyes betray his uncertainty.
End Chapter 1 -- Return to Contents
September, 1868, Vienna, Hofsburg Castle
At one of the family castles, Rudolf works in his study with his secretary-tutor. Behind a cherubic face, Rudolf's sharp mind misses nothing as he questions the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of his uncle 9 months ago. Archduke Maximillian, younger brother to Rudolf's father, Frantz-Josef von Austria, was sent to Mexico to become its emperor. Relying on the support of his patron, Emperor Napoleon III of France, Emperor Maximillian was abandoned after only 3 short years. He was captured and executed by Mexican revolutionaries. Rudolf suspects that there was some duplicitous motivation behind the French emperor's ultimately fatal decision, but cannot uncover the truth. He politely but curtly asks his tutor to explain the matter to him.
Alfred is in one of the castle's smaller libraries, helping Brother Meier re-shelve books. The monk is a friendly and talkative man, and is glad for the extra hands and ears Alfred provides. Meier chats about the library and praises Alfred, but the boy is full of humility and awe and cannot appreciate his own contribution. As a reward for his work, Meier offers Alfred free access to the books of the royal library. The only condition is that the boy can't become so engrossed in reading that he neglects his duties in the household. Loudly ecstatic over the new arrangement, Alfred nearly deafens his new mentor before rushing off down the hall. Forgotten in his office, Brother Meier wonders what Lord Rudolf could have been thinking to bring the wide-eyed boy to such a place.
Deliriously excited, Alfred reaches the multi-tiered atrium that forms the center of the Royal Library in Vienna. Mentally, he composes a letter to his friend Rosa back home. [There is a wonderful shot here of Alfred, eyes wide and mouth open, entering the library and realizing that anything there is his for the asking.]
Dear Rosa, It would seem that I came to Vienna only recently, but can it be that as of today it has already been a year? Honestly, when I first arrived here, I couldn't tell left from right. All I wanted to do was cry. But I've been helping Brother Meier, the royal chief librarian. He has said that I can borrow books to read whenever I have free time. Truly Rosa, I am always surprised by this. The world is full of things I know nothing about. Austria has so many different people (lit: races) and nations and languages that I am just discovering. Prince Rudolf is 3 years younger than me, but already he can handle 6 languages!
As Alfred writes this letter in the courtyard, Lady Giselle, Rudolf's older sister by 2 years, comes upon him. Teasing him like a sister, Giselle asks if the letter is for his 'girlfriend' back home.