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For All Nails 18: A New Light

Belgrade, Kingdom of Croatia, Outer German Empire
4 December 1971

Gavril Ducevic stood before a window, glaring down into the street where a
company of Croatian troops was goose-stepping past.  "Damned Croatian dogs,"
he muttered to his companion.  "No better than the fudge-packing Turks if you
ask me!"

Nikola Jelic, still seated at the chess board, looked at the younger man with
easy contempt.  "Easy enough to curse them from a safe distance.  No danger
that they'll actually hear you from up here."

Ducevic transferred his glare to Jelic.  "I don't hear /you/ speaking up
against them."

Jelic shrugged.  "What would be the point?  The Croats are nothing.  If it
weren't for the Germans, they wouldn't even be here."

Ducevic slammed his fist against the wall, denting the plaster.  "If it
weren't for the rat-bastard Germans, the Turks would never have reconquered
Serbia in the first place! [1] We'd still be free!"

Jelic shook his head.  "We should have had better sense than to ally
ourselves with that fool Fanchon.  And would you mind not beating in the
walls?  My landlady dislikes me enough as it is."

The younger man gestured violently.  "After the Germans took over Bosnia [2],
what choice did we have?  It was Fanchon or nothing.  And it's easy enough to
say he's a fool now, but before the Hundred Day War everyone thought he was
the greatest man in Europe."

"Unfortunately for us," Jelic pointed out, "after the war, everyone knew he
was a fool.  There was nothing to stop the Germans from annexing Bosnia, or
the Turks from conquering us.  And even then, we could have joined the
Confederation ourselves, but King Stupid Bloody Peter wanted to fight the
Turks.  And it's your move."

Ducevic turned back to the window, but the column of troops had passed by.
Sending one last glare at their departing backs, he returned to the table and
took his seat.  Gazing sightlessly at the pieces, his right fist still
clenched, he muttered, "What could Mihajlovic and the others have been
thinking?  Cozying up to the Germans during the Global War, after what they
did to us!"

"Like you said before, what choice did they have?" said Jelic.  "Broz tried
to fight them, and all he got for his troubles was a hangman's noose.  Better
to be treated like an ally than an enemy."

"Some ally," Ducevic scoffed.  "Kow-tow to the Croats all day long, and beg
the Germans for a few bones.  The Bulgarians had the right idea, rise up
against the Turks and declare independence right at the outset.  Now the
Germans treat with them as equals."  At a snort from Jelic, Ducevic amended,
"More equally than the French, at any rate, and a damn sight more equal than
us."  The younger man glanced back at the window for a moment, as if to make
sure that the Croatian troops were still gone.  "Why should the Bulgarians
have their own state, and the Greeks, and even the Albanians, but not us?"

"Because the Croats couldn't bear to be separated from their Serb brothers,
that's why," said Jelic sardonically, "and the Germans chose to indulge
them."

"The Croats must have picked up their ideas about brotherly love from the
Sultans," Ducevic growled.

"I'll admit," said Jelic, "that things could be better, but they could be a
lot worse, too.  Since you brought up the Sultans, I'd like to remind you
that we could still be living under them.  If it hadn't been for the Global
War, we would be, too.  Then you'd be cursing /them/ from a safe distance,
and saying what an awful thing it is to be separated from our Croatian
brothers.  And it's /still/ your move."

Ducevic absently moved a pawn forward, and Jelic took advantage of the
opportunity to fork the younger man's king and one of his rooks.  Looking
annoyed, Ducevic moved his king out of check, and Jelic claimed his prize.

"There's nothing wrong with being separated from our Croatian brothers,"
Ducevic observed, "as long as it's our idea."

"Dream on," said Jelic.  "The Germans seem quite satisfied with the status
quo, and when all is said and done, it's the Germans who decide what will or
will not happen in the Balkans."

Ducevic stared long at the older man before finally saying, "Succinctly put,
and quite true.  Very well, then, we must convince the Germans to grant us
our independence."

A worried expression now crossed Jelic's face.  "And just what is that
supposed to mean?"

"It means that we must show the Germans just how unhappy we are to be under
the Croats," said Ducevic.  "When it becomes clear to them that there can be
no peace in Serbia while the Croats rule us, then they will allow us to be
free."

There was a new light in Ducevic's eyes, and Jelic found himself growing
fearful at the sight of it.

[1] In the Second Serbian War, 8 December 1914 - 17 October 1915.

[2] Three years after the Serbs gained their independence in the First
Serbian War of 1907, they sponsored an unsuccessful uprising in
Bosnia-Herzegovina.  The Germanic Confederation responded by occupying the
region.