Gustave knew he’d be back. Napoleon wasn’t a guy to just take exile lightly and it was just a matter of time before his triumphant return. Gustave was more than ready to sign up to fight alongside Napoleon again as the former Emperor became Emperor once again.
“Je m’appelle Gustave,” he said as he reported for duty.
“Gustave?” the clerk asked.
“Gustave.” He repeated.
Napoleon needed men to fight for him as he made his way back to the continent from Elba and Gustave was ready to go. He and several of his veteran friends met to talk about it the previous night and many of them were wishy-washy but he had no doubt. Napoleon was going to be able to reassert his former glory in no time.
Gustave had served with Napoleon even before he became Emperor. Napoleon was quite the role model and Gustave learned a ton from him. The first Corsican to graduate from the prestigious military academy in Paris, brilliant strategist, brigadier general at the age of twenty-four…impressive. He’d been on the right side of the royalist revolt and benefitted greatly. The Directory – the third or fourth government to take shape in the late eighteenth century – heaped fame, reward, and patronage all over him. Suckers didn’t even see the takeover coming but Napoleon was their hero. And they needed him. With the ups and downs of French politics – the Convention, Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, and then the Directory – they needed the best and the brightest to lead them.
Gustave had come up in the ranks under Napoleon in Italy during the Revolution. He’d been with Napoleon when he marched into Venice and ended their century of independence. He looted alongside the rest of the troops like the glorious victors they were. The amount of loot Napoleon got from Italy was amazing. Millions and millions worth of financial reserves, jewels, gems, gold, precious works of art – the man was a goddamn hero.
Next up, Napoleon planned to set France up with some choice Indian connections – in the hopes of besting the British, of course. Always gotta go after the British. Gustave was with Napoleon in Egypt when the army discovered the Rosetta Stone. If that was some sort of sign that Napoleon was already a legend, nothing was.
Militarily, not much came out of the campaign in the eastern Mediterranean but Napoleon still managed to come back to France as a hero. He had some major political skills. Within a month of returning to Paris, he’d set himself up as head of the Directory. Then he overthrew the Directory and had a constitution passed that confirmed he’d be France’s Consul. Pretty much code for ‘dictator’.
Gustave watched it all unfold and loved every minute. Napoleon played the people, played the government, played the game so well. As Consul, the ended conflicts with Austria and Italy with treaties that greatly benefitted France, and even managed to negotiate peace with Britain. Peace domestically and abroad led to his declaration as “consul for life” – not even veiled code for ‘dictator’.
From there, it was Emperor. That ceremony had been impressive as hell – he used Charlemagne’s crown and laurel wreaths to evoke Roman and Carolingian glory. Military genius, political acumen, propagandist staging…there was nothing he couldn’t do.
Except go too far. Napoleon could do that. And soon did. Gustave never wavered in his support for Napoleon, but he knew that there were coalitions around the world that were upset with the amount of power he’d acquired. Napoleon handled it all brilliantly – until he tried to invade Russia. Late in the year. That had been one rough winter. Granted, the army had gotten to Moscow but instead of surrendering to Napoleon, the Russians burned the city. That’s hardcore resistance.
It was all downhill from there. Napoleon’s enemies – pretty much every other European country – ganged up on him. They tried to negotiate with the Emperor but they wanted to make France, well, France again. Take away all of the other lands that Napoleon controlled. Unacceptable! More than anything, he didn’t want to give up his title. Unacceptable! Technically, even when he did abdicate and give in he got to keep the title – on Elba. It just didn’t have the same ring to it after he’d been stripped over everything BUT the island of Elba.
During the months Napoleon was on Elba, Gustave waited. And waited. Napoleon was not the kind of man to give in. Well, not after his suicide attempts failed. Maybe that was a sign to him that his work wasn’t done. Then his enemies gathered at Vienna to divide up his lands, to reestablish order on the continent. And Napoleon seized his opportunity. Served them right for being distracted.
Elba, just off the coast of Italy, couldn’t contain Napoleon. The guard ships took their eyes off of the ball and Napoleon landed on the southern coast of France to throngs of supporters. And veterans. Like Gustave.
After Gustave gave his name to the clerk, he prepared to join the troops that were to march to Paris the next day.
“This is happening!” Gustave said when Napoleon’s ever-growing army arrived in France and Napoleon re-took power.
Paris was glorious. Gustave was thrilled to be back. Once Napoleon issued a pardon for all of the royalists that had been against him, it was easy for more and more people to join the Imperial revival. Napoleon put a new constitution into action and mobilized for war. He knew there was no way Europe would let him come back unopposed.
So he decided to strike first.
“Gustave,” the general called out, lining up the French troops for their next move.
“Yes, sir.” He replied.
“We’re going into Belgium,” he ordered after everyone was accounted for and ready to go.
Gustave was on the frontlines during the Waterloo campaign against the Prussian and British troops. Napoleon was there too, somewhere. Gustave and Napoleon celebrated the defeat of the Prussians one day and waited with near Waterloo ready to route the British the next.
“We’re waiting until the ground dries,” the general said.
“Could be worse,” Gustave thought, “at least we’re not in Russia.”
While the French troops waited, the Prussians arrived to reinforce the British. “How did Napoleon not see that coming?” Gustave said to himself as he launched into battle with his French comrades. “What had happened to the great military leader? The strategist-extraordinaire?”
Waterloo was a disaster for Napoleon. And for Gustave. Both men lived, but Gustave was so disappointed. He’d fought so long and so hard for Napoleon, only to be defeated in humiliating fashion. He had nothing to show for his efforts. Napoleon was gone, again. Forced to abdicate, again. Sent into exile…again. This time he was sent to an island way out in the Pacific Ocean, Saint Helena. Gustave decided to wait, again. He wondered how long it would take for Napoleon to escape this time….