This mannish French WW1 nurse could as well have been Brünnhilde von Tarth.
So far, throughout the summer of 1914, the conflict was nothing but the average Balkan squabble between Austria and Russia. It appeared that it would never cross the limits of this particular kind of regional dispute, which had been a hot potato throughout the history of both empires.
However, we now know that this conflict developed into something far more ominous and violent than a mere Balkan squabble. Something unknown to those who lived outside the Balkans (and within them) in that summer of 1914.
Including those who lived in Lorraine, one of the most peaceful regions (and in a rare moment of peace in its convoluted history), in the summer of 1914, for we shall now return to the Tyrells and their ostentatious lives. For this, we shall leave overrun Serbia and Croatia for the Tyrell lands. Thus, we turn away from all those gunshots and screams of agony, to find ourselves transported to the Tyrells' estate. Do you, readers, hear the sound of dancing? A waltz is playing in there, where the sun has already set and the light of the halls still shines through countless windows. Un-deux-trois, un-deux-trois, un-deux-trois... Do you, readers, hear the sound of dancing? And now, from the fountain or the maze where you stand, pay attention! A beautiful girl comes out on the balcony with her lover. She looks lovely in that teal gown, her chestnut-coloured pompadour crowned with the bonniest bonnet ever seen on a Lorrainian maiden's head. He is tall and dashing, dark of hair and clean shaven, wearing a lieutenant's mess uniform, epaulettes and sword and all, that surely triples his graces. This soirée is held to celebrate their betrothal, it's their engagement ball (a historical event in Lorrainian society), and soon Mademoiselle Tyrell will be a Baratheon... No! Though her mother and grandmother have not done so, she'd rather keep her maiden surname.
The sound of dancing, a beautiful girl coming out on the balcony with her lover, who will soon be her spouse... What is the subject of their conversation?
"How wonderful the stars are," he says to her, "and how wonderful is the power of love!"
"I hope the cloth will be ready for my wedding dress in time," she answers. "I have ordered the satin from Paris this afternoon, and I will embroider it and sew it myself; so I will not be lazy."
"Margot, are you serious... You will make your own wedding gown?"
"As you hear it, René! And also make the white rose and lily wreath, and the matching bouquet, with my very own hands." Now, Margot Tyrell is wistfully leaning against the balcony railing. Her fiancé, standing behind her, chuckles. Lieutenant Baratheon was only accustomed to the von Lännisters' use of private dressmakers... and the Tyrells employ the local tailors and seamstresses, who sew both uniforms and civilian attire, for both officers and privates... So even Margot will make her own wedding gown, wreath, and bouquet? Thus he reasons: this is a clever girl, the cleverest one he ever has met, she will become a lieutenant's wife, and perchance the pay from the State won't suffice to support both of them.
A third person now comes out of the balcony. It's a blond young ensign, a good-looking one, looking at his sister and fiancé as he calls to them:
"Rainer! Margot! Midnight! The cotillion will now begin!" The church bells of Sierck peal distinctly in the distance.
And thus, all three enter the ballroom once more, where Louis XV chairs are arranged in a semicircle, and every girl and lady, from three generations of Tyrells to those who are but mere children, takes up a chair. The great hall blazes with light of chandeliers, reflecting on glittering bayonets and on officers' uniforms, and on their female company's jewelry.
A figure of tall, sturdy physique, not fit for the modest sky-blue dress she is wearing, steps out of the shadows and into the light. She has watched and eavesdropped behind the shut door, surveying the romantic couple on the balcony from behind a mint-green velvet curtain, keeping them still in sight, herself unseen... overhearing a comment about the lovely stars and the wonderful power of love as she restrained all the tears for her love's betrothal to another, envying the one who will hold Rainer's heart in hers: a beautiful girl, a born Tyrell, clever and of wealthier descent than the colonel's daughter. A bride worth such a bridegroom.
Thus, Brünnhilde von Tarth had not partaken in the revels except to watch Rainer Baratheon, who must have invited her for a reason. What if she became an old maid at the end of the day?... For she was still young and her heart was still full of fire.
Still there was a faint glimmer of hope in Brünnhilde's broken heart, and that was the cotillion. Primroses, forget-me-nots, larkspur, violets, pansies... If Rainer only gave her his little bouquet of wildflowers!
One by one, the young officers and the gentlemen picked a cotillion bouquet from the silver dish and presented it to one of their ladies. As the awkward girl had expected, Max Tyrell gave his to his Valérie, and Charles to his Léonnette. Other young officers, fellows like Caron or Cuy, flocked around other maidens on the chairs, Brünnhilde sitting still overlooked, a freak so tall that her gown scarcely reached below her knees, her flaxen hair cut short like a boy's, with a smattering of freckles now that the make-up had come off (she was a flapper a decade ahead of the trend, and you shall see how she changed during and after the war)... No surprise that even the freshly-baked ensigns shunned her. She could hear them chuckle behind her back. There was no fairy godmother to help her. And Rainer... What if Rainer took up his bride to dance, as it has been intended?
To Brünnhilde's surprise, Rainer whispers something in French in Margot's ear. The only words the blonde can understand are "Excusez-moi." "Excuse me"...
And then, quite unexpectedly, the dashing lieutenant walks up to the overlooked, strange girl. His blue eyes meet her blue eyes, the colour of the forget-me-nots in the cotillion bouquet. Rainer Baratheon bends slightly before her, as Brünnhilde's cheeks flush so red that her freckles disappear. Into her finely gloved, though still rough and strong hand, he places his own, softer and less inured. She looks down into the flowers: her favourites, forget-me-nots! Is this a dream? Tonight, Brünnhilde has not drunk that much, and she is wide awake, her pierced heart hitting her sternum like trying to breach it as the lieutenant offers her his right arm and asks her, softly and confidently:
"Voulez-vous danser avec moi?"
As boldly as she can, mustering all the courage she can find, she replies: "Oui."
In the meantime, the Tyrell fiancée is taken out to dance, with a posy of daisies (to fit her name) by the youngest of her brothers. Margot and Laurent would have made a nice couple if no blood-ties bound them.
So Rainer takes Brünnhilde around the waist as he reassures the assembled Lorrainian gentry that he will dance the next waltz with his intended bride. The fair-haired girl doesn't care, as long as she's had but one dance with the one she loves and will never kiss. Perchance the essence of her love lies in that it is impossible to attain, unrequited, mere friendship from his side, yet blood-heating passion from hers. To look at the forbidden fruit from a distance and stay in her place by not even touching it.
At the end of the dance, the lieutenant looks at her wistfully as he bites his lower lip and blows her a kiss.
In between the cotillion and the next number, champagne is corked and served in the Bohemian cups, even to the children, and healths go round in this sparkling nectar to Rainer Baratheon and Marguerite Tyrell. And every costly glass is raised and most of them are drained, and, in the fiancé's system, reason now begins to yield to a quick and cheerful intoxication. Which appears to run in the family, as we have seen with other Baratheons. While Laurent merely drank a quarter of his cup, and so did Margot, the dashing young lieutenant, a second Cassio, drained his own to the dregs. Though it had already begun to warm his heart and reach his head, Rainer was but half or one-third intoxicated: he didn't reel when he took his bride out to waltz, but his thoughts had already been overcome by an excited elation he had felt before.
And Brünnhilde? The blond girl from Rügen had sipped in a good draught of liquid courage, and this time it was Laurent Tyrell who took her out to dance. Shorter and more fragile-looking, the ensign, though he lacked none of Rainer's graces, didn't attract her at all. Yet Laurent was as courteous as could be, not seeing beyond the ruddy blush and coy smile of the awkward maiden. In spite of her physique, she danced light as a sylph, her heavy heart lightened by the draught she had drunk. All had been joy around her ever since twilight fell, and at last, after midnight, she had given in to it. Would Brünnhilde von Tarth dream that night?
And what about Rainer? There he is, waltzing with his beautiful Tyrell bride, kissing her on the cheek while she plays with his raven hair, his strong uniformed arms clasped around her slender waist.
Every now and then, the strange girl looks at them, and her heart skips a beat, laughing and dancing with all the others, though deep inside she is still bleeding. "A lieutenant and a camp follower? Not even in fairytales!" Then, she steels herself and looks at Rainer, Laurent, Rainer, Old Madame Tyrell, Rainer. Then, all the officers follow the leader and take her out to dance: Cuy, Caron, Guillaume Tyrell... And she makes a promise to herself, to the lieutenant bridegroom that is not hers, and to the world around her:
"Though I never will marry Rainer Baratheon, I will protect his life, and even give mine in exchange!"
Little does Hilde know of the future that awaits both of them, and whether she will stay true to her commitment.
That engagement ball night, of whose consequences you will hear after this parenthesis, was the beginning of the end of the life of Rainer Baratheon.