I was livid at the idea of leaving my assignment for the better part of two weeks, even though the men whom I had left presiding over it were more than capable of doing their jobs. There just seemed no necessary reason why the general staff of the army had to leave their duties in time of war to come together for a meeting, but at the Czars request none could refuse.
Even the manner in which this meeting had been put together was hasty, and impromptu. We met in a cottage near Kiev and had not even a single bottle of alcohol among us. Being one of the younger generals of the army it is always intimidating to see men such as Levin August von Bennigen, or Fyodor Fyodorovich enter the room. I was taught to respect my elders, even if they themselves were no more experienced than I was. The other generals, Peter Bagration, Sergei Kamensky and myself all knew each other well, and stuck by each others sides in moments of peril like this.
Fyodor was perhaps the most proud of us all. Showing up in his glorious outfits, with armed guards in fine dress. He stood out in the room aside from the rest of us, that had gotten very little sleep, and whos clothes were dirty and worn from all the preparations we had been doing. Only two of the men in the room had actually set eyes on the enemy since the start of the war six weeks ago. Peter, unlike the rest of us, was staring at them from across the river Donav, waiting for his reinforcements to arrive before beginning an attack.
Fyodor, had marched on Klausenburg in those first few weeks and taken it with minor blood shed. As for the rest of us, I spent my time surveying the border between our Empire and the Prussians, watching Prussian garrisons make their presence known, in order to deter any offensive action by us. Sergei was in command of a large group of militia, some twenty-two-hundred men, along with two-hundred-horses, and three batteries of guns. He was currently en route to reinforce Bagration in Rumania, for a renewed attack on the Austrian forces in the Balkans. Levin, like me, also spent his days patrolling the Prussian border, we would always prepared should the Prussians decide to cross our borders and escalate the war.
Nevertheless talks began almost instantly whilst we waited patiently for the Czar to arrive.
"Peter, tell us, have the Austrians given you much trouble?" Fyodor would laugh as he stuffed a roll in his face and downed some water. Peter, who had remained very quiet and serious for this entire time, did not find Fyodors condescending comments amusing.
"The Austrians have at least fifteen-thousand men stationed in the Balkans, I am outnumbered almost four to one. With Sergei's assistance, the odds will be improved, but the militia cannot be relied on to hold their ground-" Sergei slammed his fist upon the table toppling his cup of water,
"I'll not have you condescend my militia, I admit, they are not the greatest of soldiers, but they have performed admirably under my command during this long and tiring march that they continue on. When we bolster your garrison of four-thousand, with my twenty-two-hundred Peter, we will be that much stronger." Fyodor interjected,
"Might I suggest gentlemen, that some men of the glorious forth army come to your aid? Within the next week I hope to have complete trust of the conquered peoples of Trannsylvania, who admitedly were not fond of Austrian rule anyways, and will be free to march to your aid." Fyodor continued eating and chuckled,
"Surely your aid would be appreciated...Fyodor" Peter said, clenching his hand in a fist. At an instant the conversation was interrupted as the Czar entered the dwelling. All of us snapped to our feet quickly and greeted him. Two cartographers, and a group of servants cleared away the small meal that had been prepared for us, and laid out a map of Europe across the table. The Czar spoke,
"Gentlemen, tell me of your situations." He sat down and lit a pipe. Peter, the one General in the room who was actually in contact with Austrian forces, spoke first.
"Sir, my forces are out numbered four-to-one on the river Donav, if Austrian forces chose to go on the attack, my four-thousand men could never hope to defend against an endless onslaught of fifteen-thousand, heavily equipped, battle hardened Austrian soldiers with plenty of cavalry and artillery to support them. I would be overrun in a matter of days. While Sergeis militia will aid in my abilities to defend the river Donav, and may even allow us to commence an offensive across and into the Balkans, I fear that the quality of the militia will not aid well to our victory." The Czar remained quiet as the next man stood, it was Sergei.
"My soldiers have been marching non-stop for three weeks now, and in two more we will be in position to aid General Bagration in his defense of Rumania, and hopeful assault on the Balkans. My men are eager to fight." Sergei kept his comments short, and sat back down quietly. Fyodor stood next,
"Glorious Czar, my soldiers remain in complete control of Transylvania, with little resistance from the local population, and there are no Austrian or Prussian soldiers in sight as far as the eye can see. I have secured this territory for the glory of the Empire. However," he chuckled again, "I know that Peter's situation is quite dire, and I have a proposition to perhaps break the Austrians on the front. Here is a road that can lead us south into the Balkans, and with my army I may be able to attack Belgrade from the north. This added pressure on the Austrian flank would disperse their soldiers," chuckling again, "allowing Peter to march across the Donav." Clearly, Fyodor was either jealous of Peters position, or doubting his abilities as a commander. I stood,
"Sir, the Prussians have made their presence well known on the border between our two nations, I fear that the Prussians may be gearing up for war against us. If they attack, I have my division ready to repel any attack, but the subsequent weeks of hostilities could be devastating." Levin was the last to stand, the oldest of the Generals in the room,
"Sir, Lithuania stands ready to follow the Czars instructions." It was a quick, and simple response. Levin was ready to fight, where ever he was needed. Finally the Czar stood again,
Levin August Von Bennigen
"Very well gentlemen. Ivan and Levin, you two shall hold your positions. Peter and Sergei, when you two are united, you shall assault the Austrians from the east, and Fyodor, you when the time is right shall bring your army south and attack the Austrians from the North. In that pincer movement we will crush the Austrian forces in Belgrade. One their army is destroyed, Austria may be more willing to negotiate, and we will take claim over Belgrade to place a buffer between Rumania and Austria."
The night that followed included long discussions about troop numbers, logistics, and political standings. All of us were aware of what a dangerous, thin line we were walking on.