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The King's Horrible Bride by Kati Wilde (1)

“Mad Maximilian”

—From the feature article “Mad Maximilian” in VANITY FAIR, May 2018

Nestled between the borders of Switzerland and Austria lies the small Alpine kingdom of Kapria. You probably haven’t heard of it; few people born outside the region know it even exists. Although the Kingdom of Kapria was established in 1465 and its monarchy has long declared that Kapria is a sovereign state, it has not been formally recognized by many other European nations. And although its physical territory is slightly larger in area than the better-known microstate to the north, Liechtenstein, many atlases don’t even draw in the kingdom’s political boundaries. Consult any GPS system while in the kingdom, and it will claim you are still in Switzerland—and a traveler watching through the windows of a train or automobile might not even recognize that they’ve left that country while passing through Kapria’s small capital city or its collection of quaint villages.

Now one man is—quite literally—putting his kingdom on the map.

King Maximilian was only twenty years old when he ascended to Kapria’s troubled throne. Following an unmemorable coronation ceremony (the depleted treasury couldn’t support a lavish affair—not that the kingdom’s debt had ever stopped his father’s extravagant spending), the young king blistered his father’s memory in a rousing speech, seething with rage at how his country had faltered under King Leopold’s corrupt rule, and promising that he would not rest until every Kaprian had a better future in sight.

For a moment, Kapria gained the world’s attention—and Maximilian earned the world’s ridicule, his speech dismissed as the ravings of an immature, naive ruler. After all, an impoverished nation cannot pull itself up by its bootstraps when it is treading on bare feet.

And maybe it never would have, if the billionaire Wilhelm Dietrich hadn’t given Kapria’s new king a pair of golden boots.

Before Wilhelm, the Dietrichs were a noble family of little consequence and only notable for a history of mild eccentricity. The family had been centered in the Kaprian village of Gentian until King Leopold came into power. To escape that king’s tyrannical regime, a young Wilhelm fled with his parents to Switzerland, and over the following decades established himself as a giant of industry and finance.

Then, twelve years ago—whether inspired by Maximilian’s coronation speech or simply just as eccentric as his ancestors—the multi-billionaire transferred nearly the entirety of his assets to the young king, instantly making him the richest man in Europe. With the influx of wealth into his country’s coffers, Maximilian began restoring his kingdom’s infrastructure and implementing new social programs.

He spent Dietrich’s money well. Today Kapria boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the world, even among the refugee population. It has the lowest poverty rate in the world, the lowest incarceration rate, and one of the lowest tax rates.

It also has the highest graduation rate—and a government willing to pay for vocational school or four-year university after graduation—and a robust apprenticeship culture. Citizens enjoy free electricity and internet access, along with free public transportation and healthcare.

But all of these improvements weren’t merely the result of a monetary donation. Because among his other assets, Wilhelm Dietrich gave to Kapria’s king something far more valuable than gold: one of his own inventions, the Vic-10 reactor. The clean, stable, super-efficient reactor uses a saltwater solution as fuel, and is powerful enough that a midsize family car can run for twenty thousand miles on a single gallon of water.

That’s not a typo. Twenty thousand miles. A single gallon of water.

The reactor is already in use in Kapria’s newly built power plant, which supplies the entire kingdom’s electricity at a minuscule cost. A negative cost, in truth, because they sell the excess power to Switzerland, one of the few nations that already recognizes Kapria’s sovereignty.

But the number of nations is set to increase dramatically.

Today, the first time I see King Maximilian in person, I’m crowded together with dozens of journalists. We’re escorted into his throne room, where he’ll sign the trade agreement that will license the reactor technology to countries that have suddenly become very interested in officially recognizing this small kingdom. Publicity photos often show Maximilian in a suit and tie, or with his shirtsleeves rolled up and intently at work. Now he wears a formal uniform reminiscent of military design. His dark hair is cropped close to his scalp, as austere as it was during his service in Kapria’s small militia. He cuts an imposing figure in both height and breadth, but the seething anger of the young king has cooled and sharpened. If he had been more inclined to follow in his father’s hedonistic footsteps, his starkly handsome features would have been the darling of every tabloid and gossip rag, but those publications are more likely to capture the king’s forbidding scowl than catch him in a scandal. Despite the severity of his appearance, he’s not known for harshness or cruelty. Over the course of the past decade he’s built a reputation as a fair and just ruler, and one who is utterly dedicated to the advancement of his kingdom.

In that goal, he has wildly succeeded. Today, few people know Maximilian’s name or Kapria’s location. Tomorrow, he will be known as the monarch who dragged a failing European kingdom into the 21st century…and who might have solved the world’s energy crisis while he did.

The reverent silence that fills his office chambers when Maximilian picks up his gold fountain pen vanishes the moment he begins scrawling his signature across the bottom of the trade agreement. A burst of camera flashes and clicking shutters surround him like a flock of vultures during a lightning storm.

That storm abates as he signs the duplicate documents, then renews as he rises from his desk to shake the hands of foreign politicians and diplomats, all of them beaming with their congratulations and their satisfaction in the agreement.

As Maximilian poses with each foreign dignitary for the cameras, his rare smile appears more often than it usually does—perhaps because their money will soon flood into his kingdom and wash away the remaining stench of his father’s unprincipled reign. For twelve years, from the moment King Leopold dropped dead of an embolism, Maximilian has labored to repair the damage his father had wrought to the country. Twelve years of small, determined steps. But today’s trade agreement signifies a giant leap forward for Kapria, and fulfills a promise he made to his people on the day he ascended to the throne.

So perhaps for the first time in a very long time, King Maximilian has something to smile about.