Es Geloybte Aretz - a Finished Germanwank

29 December 1905, Moscow

The table, massive and gilded in the ornate fashion that dominated much of the Kremlin, easily seated the few men who had been called to the conference. Nicholas II presided, flanked by his confidants Dubrovin and Pobedonostev, whose advancing illness was now clearly visible to all. Pale and shrivelled, the Prokurator stood in almost comical contrast to the round-cheeked, cheery picture of health that Dubrovin was. On the right side of the table, First Minister Goremykin and governor Trepov, who had abandoned his post on the orders of the Czar and become his main adviser on internal affairs, had entrenched themselves behind a row of file binders. On the left, visibly uncomfortable in this company, sat General Sukhomlinov and Admiral Rozhestvensky.

They had been called upon to present their plans.

“Gentlemen,” the Czar began, speaking quietly, but with the kind of conviction he had not had in months, “I have called you here to discuss the feasibility of a war with Germany. You are already aware of that nation's shameful meddling in our internal affairs. The question that remains is not what we ought or must, but what we can do. I am heartened to hear that our position is far less desperate than some have claimed. Prokurator?”

Pobedonostsev smiled coldly and spoke in a thin, reedy voice. “Your Majesty, the main question in such a battle is to know the mettle of your opponent's soul. Emperor Wilhelm was a factor of uncertainty, but we have his measure now. The man is weak. You will have noted his moral depravity, of course - he refuses to marry still, openly cohabiting with a mistress who is a known whore. His court is a refuge of pederasts and effeminates. He is irreligious and morally aimless, and as it seems fitting for a character of his kind, helpless without the advice of associates of superior intellect.”

The two soldiers exchanged a momentary glance. There was one to talk! Pobedonostsev continued, pretending not to notice.

“His domestic policies show that he is weak-willed and ready to compromise to achieve peace and ensure his own wellbeing. Even his domestic enemies have been corrupted into acquiescence with his plans, we must not underestimate his persuasive skills or his political powers. but he has neither the backbone nor the faith to entrust his fate to the judgement of God in battle. That is what we must keep in mind first and foremost.”

Trepov nodded his assent. “If I may, Sire: his foreign policy to date has mostly been concerned with producing compromise, even at the cost of foreshortening his own options. The Congo Conference should tell you everything you need to know. Had he been patient, just a few more years of letting this fester, and then taken a firm line with France, he could have gained a large piece of territory for himself. The British would certainly have supported him. They would have had no other choice. This way, he has gained short-term accolades as a master compromiser and broker of treaties, at the cost of valuable land and giving up future laurels as a conqueror. He likes to be liked too much, Sire.”

Pobedonostsev took up his speech again: “Let us not forget he is a young man still, jealous of his honour and quick to overreact. He is given to panic and instinctively gives in to opponents rather than standing his ground when attacked. Neither does he have the Napoleonic gift for seizing the moment. Had he more fully supported the Japanese, or marched on us this summer, he could have gained large territories, even destroyed much of our army. Instead, he dithered, playing half-heartedly with his secret support and clandestine funding. He lacked the courage to grasp what he saw. That is the way this man operates. He is cautious, accommodating, weak-willed and timid. Faced with humiliation, he will not muster the courage to bear up.”

“Thank you, Prokurator.” Nicholas nodded gratefully. “With this in mind, general, admiral, what is your position on the practical side of things?”

Sukhomlinov cleared his throat. He had been briefed on what was expected, but it was still no easy matter. “Your Majesty,” he began, “you will understand that this is a prospect we have long considered with great apprehension.”

Nicholas waved dismissively. “General, I am sure the Germans are a formidable foe. Yet we cannot allow them to frighten us into inaction by their grand spectacle. What can we do?”

“Our hope must be, Majesty, to have an ally in France. Our intelligence suggests that the Germans in the event of a war will allocate the greater part of their army to the west, standing on the defensive against us in the hope of ensuring victory over France before turning east. This could prove a strategic error of the first order under the right circumstances.” He pointed to a map he had brought. “France has invested heavily in fortifications on its border. Germany must fight its way past this chain or abandon all hope of victory. No other route is open. Britain will never countenance an attack through neutral countries, and Belgium cannot ally with either side in such a struggle. Meanwhile, we would be in a favourable position to attack. Berlin is not far from the border. It has seen enemy troops before.”

“We can be sure of France?” Dubrovin had spoken out of turn. Five pairs of eyes focused on the interloper.

“As sure as you may be in such things.” Goremykin curtly informed him. “It would be madness for France not to join in the battle. Its only hope of recovering Alsace-Lorraine lies in defeating Germany, which it cannot do on its own.”

“Thank you.” Sukhomlinov continued almost seamlessly. “Now, the German army is formidable, as I have said, but not as dangerous an enemy now as you may have been led to believe. Firstly, the quality of its forces has deteriorated. Its cavalry is still excellent, but – Germany is not horse country. their men are no match for ours. And we will be able to deploy vastly more horse than they, with the bulk of their cavalry engaged against France. The infantry has suffered from recent expansions. The regiments have been diluted with newcomers, many of them unwilling and unmilitary, and they lack officers and NCOs to train the men properly. A significant portion of their training cadre is with the Poles right now. Their artillery is focused heavily on sieges and not mobile enough. And their entire military has no experience of battle. They have not fought a real war in near a generation, while our men come seasoned from Manchuria and Turkey. On the defensive, with ample time to prepare and receive the blow, all of this might not matter too greatly. We would still struggle against them. But here, we have been given an advantage.”

“How so?”Nicholas sounded genuinely curious.

”Our forces will already be in the field fighting the Polish rebels. Placing them in position for a sudden hammer blow against the German border should not be too difficult, and will not arouse suspicion.”

Pobedonostsev interrupted him. “General, will they not take precautions against such an eventuality?”

“If I may,” Trepov was not a military man, but he understood such things better than many field officer. “I do not believe they can. Wilhelm does not realise or understand the extent of his power. He is surrounded by a clique of industrialists and merchants whose liberal vision of government has strongly influenced him. Germany can only mobilise its army by drafting reserves of industrial workers. It lacks stockpiles of important raw materials to become war-ready. Doing so would cost it huge amounts of money. that alone would not be the problem. Germany has this money. But the emperor does not dare take it. While he values wealth and quietude over valour, we will be facing Germany unready.”

“Yes!” Nicholas sounded almost enthusiastic. “Politically, this would be what we seek. You understand, gentlemen, we do not want German land or people. What we seek is only what is ours. But to restore the honour and unity of Russia, a victory will be needed. With no territorial concessions required, peace could be made on easy terms. Look at how the Prussians dealt with the Austrians in 1866 – and now they are firm allies.”

Sukhomlinov cautioned. “Your Majesty, the French will ask for Alsace-Lorraine. Surely Germany will not easily give it up.”

Goremykin could not suppress a smile. “For all I know, they may be able to take it. But we will let Paris negotiate for Alsace-Lorraine and make our peace on our terms. Wilhelm will be glad enough to have escaped with his skin intact after the first defeats. And if he wants to go on – well, on the road to St Petersburg lie Poltava and Borodino.”

The general fell silent.

Nicholas turned to Admiral Rozhestvensky. “Well, so much for our chances on land. How do you rate them by sea?”

The admiral bowed his head. “Sire, better than they were. The German fleet is no longer superior to ours in the Baltic, and far inferior to both ours and the French, assuming it came to that. More likely, the French will seek not to provoke Britain and stay their hand, but even then, the Germans will require some units in the North Sea. Our own fleet has improved greatly with the training and experience the crews have gained. They are incomparable to the men who so disappointed us even a year ago.”

“So you would seek a battle to decide the issue?” Sukhomlinov asked.

“Perhaps. However, my subordinate, the very talented Admiral Nebogatov, has been working on a different plan which includes our lessons from the war with Japan. Dearly bought though they were, I believe they will stand us in good stead. And as Your Majesty pointed out, defeat and humiliation through a series of hard blows are what Germany cannot bear. Her coasts are almost inconsequential, but if we defeat her navy, we will bottle it up in port and never need to worry about it again. they cannot replace the losses of capital ships within the time of a war or recall units from elsewhere. There is no elsewhere. The French, meanwhile, may attack their colonies and trade routes safely.”

“You think they will give, then?” Trepov asked.

“I think so.” Rozhestvensky agreed. “Just like the Japanese would have, had the British not interfered. The German navy is a hard but brittle instrument. Its morale is strung to the highest pitch. It has no tradition of victory. Breaking it should be easier by far than the Prussian army.”

“Very well, gentlemen.” The Czar interrupted. “Let us discuss the details some other time. Recall, gentlemen, that I wish this to be an option to use should the need arise. Prepare yourselves in the event I should call on you to take this step, but do not be disappointed if the day never comes. And admiral, I wish to speak to your subordinate Nebogatov. He strikes me as a likely fellow.”

31 December 1905, near Lublin

“Be a damned strange peace if it comes!” Shloimo Ferber ruminated to no one in particular. “Damned strange.”

On the liberated desk in the railway station master's office he was using as his command post, a copy of the Berliner Illustrirte lay open, the leader presenting Russo-Japanese negotiations beginning in Genoa. Not that Italy was a bad place for that kind of thing – it was warm, for one thing, and Ferber would have been glad to be in Genoa right now - but the article also speculated at length about the possible compromises that might end the Polish and Finnish revolts. Michael Hartriegel, the war correspondent who had been buzzing around the Jewish self-defense militia for the last few months, had brought the paper from the city. German, French and British newspapers were much in demand now that they could be had freely, so much so that you could actually make money delivering them, it seemed. With the mail being hit-or-miss, paper sellers were often the only halfway reliable link to the outside world for civilians, too. The army had its own couriers, of course.

“Do you think it's going to happen?”, Hartriegel asked.

“No,” Ferber stated blandly. “But that doesn't mean anything. I didn't think any of this was going to happen, either. I thought I'd be spending this day cramming for exams, scrimping pennies to afford the ticket to New York. So, don't trust my prophetic gifts here.”

Hartriegel smiled sourly. His own predictions had been proven wrong a couple times, too. These were strange days. Lieutenant Colonel Lewin snorted derisively and said in the harsh, Brandenburg German he used whenever he was around officers, “If the Russians have half a brain between them, they'll make peace and only slaughter you the year after.”

The look of dismay on Ferber's face told him that was exactly what he feared, too. “There'd be a treaty, though.” he interjected. “Not all Russians are barbarians.”

“They could have fooled me!” Hartriegel's voice was icy. He had done interviews with the refugees from Odessa, Kiev and many other plasces where the Patriotic Union and its ilk had gone on their rampages. “Even if they make a square deal with Pilsudski, it won't cover you. Look, if one of those noble, humane Russian officers comes to town and meets Brianski, or Kukiel the boy wonder, he'll see a brave patriotic Polish gentleman. He looks at you, he sees an uppity Yid.”

“So we will just have to hope for the Kaiser not to let us down.” Ferber was verbally grasping for straws. Pessimism did not fit in with his character, and the hard-earned, world-weary cynicism that both his senior adviser and the journalist displayed put him ill at ease.

“Salomon.” That was what Lewin always called him when they were alone, “Salomon, you have to understand that the emperor is a real gentleman. A gentleman from a family that was noble before there was such a thing as Prussia. He'll sell your kind down the river just as soon as he sees any advantage in it. Meaning no harm or disrespect, of course, but he will. It's what gentlemen do.”

Lewin may have been brevetted a Lieutenant Colonel in the Polish National Army (his actual rank was Captain – the NA was making enthusiastic use of brevet ranks now that german advisers had drawn Pilsudski's attention to the pension liabilities all those promotions might mean for a future Polish state), but he had retained a hard-bitten NCO's view of the officer caste.

For a long moment, there was silence. “I think the only way out would be – out.” Hartriegel finally said.

“Out?” Ferber was confused.

“Out. If it comes to that, anyway. I don't have to worry too much because I have a German passport. It won't turn cossack sabres, but if I ever get arrested, they'll just deport me. As a journalist, I've committed no crimes. They won't hurt me once I'm out of the country, either. The Russians don't care for Jews, but they don't mind us living elsewhere. At least I hope it'll work out that way.”

Lewin chuckled mirthlessly. “If I ever get caught you can bet your life I'll yowl for the German consul. Won't do me much good, but I would. If they toss me out, at least I'd be safe.”

Shloimo shook his head. “That's all well and good for you, but it won't help me and my men. We're stuck here.”

“The Americans would take you.” Hartriegel pointed out. “even the Germans might allow you to emigrate to Südwest or Togo if you asked. You'd need the money, of course.”

Ferber began making a mental calculation,. The Kocziuszko Brigade had booked half a HAPAG ship solid to come over to Poland. Maybe you could make a similar deal. That would cost less than individual tickets, or at least it should. Fares were sky-.high, of course. Lots of the Jews coming from Russia wanted nothing more than to move on to America. Still, if you could do it...

“I guess we could pool regimental resources.”, he finally said. “Arrange for an escape route. I'll have to talk to a few others, but that may be the best idea. Just in case peace really breaks out.”

Lewin flashed a hard, nasty grin. “If you take your men across the border, I'll happily negotiate with the customs officers for you.” A few thousand bayonets might persuade them to forgo their accustomed thoroughness, at least. Hartriegel looked alarmed. “Please, don't. That's nonsense. Your best bet is to cross as a unit and get yourselves interned by the Germans. The press will make enough of a noise to ensure you won't be sent back to the Russians. Just put the money in an account in Germany so you can withdraw it and book passage, I'm sure the government will be obliged to have this headache removed.”

“So,” Ferber concluded, “our only problem remains finding the money to take three thousand men and their families across to America. That should be easy.”

Three thousand was probably still an overestimation, but the growth rate of the Jewish units was tremendous. Lewin looked up. “It's not that hard.” he said matter-of-factly. “Don't tell me you haven't put aside a little in spoils of war. Everybody does. Organise for its transfer to Germany and put the money into an account. I'm sure Bleichröder or Sal Oppenheim will happily take it. Our real problem is something else.”

They looked at him questioningly.

“It's New Year's Eve and we're still fucking sober. I'll go find us some vodka. Happy fucking 1906, everyone!” He stood and walked out into the freezing dusk past the sentries hunched around a glowing brazier in the station hall. His talents were impressive. Both Hartriegel and Ferber were sure he would be back with the required liquor to ring in the new year with style.

End of First Instalment

Annus Horribilis

04 January 1906, Kronstadt

Lieutenant Commander Pavel Mishny was quickly learning that fate could be cruel to ambitious young naval officers. Barely an hour ago, he had stood on the bridge of his first command, the torpedo boat destroyer Buiny chewing its way through the icy waters of the Baltic to intercept the German smuggling vessel whose coming they had been advised of. Socialists from the port of Hamburg had chartered a steamer to deliver aid to their co-conspirators in St Petersburg, brazenly and openly under the flimsy guise of humanitarianism. The admiral had despatched Buiny to stop this farce, and Mishny has rejoiced at the opportunity. Bitter memories of the arduous journey to their humiliation in Vigo Bay still haunted his sleep. This would be his opportunity to distinguish himself. Steaming as close as he dared in the gusting wind, he had shouted orders to stop in Russian, German and English before ordering a shot across the bow. The Germans had simply steamed on, taking no notice of the warship. Then, fate had intervened in the (sadly unremarkable) shape of poor gunnery, and the 50mm shell that had been meant to stop the SS Hedwig Laeisz instead struck her squarely on the bow. Men came streaming out of the forecastle, rifles ready and pointing angrily at his ship. Mishny was not going to put his crew or his mission at risk and ordered another shot, which his enthusiastic gunners delivered dead center in record time. The flashing cloud of white steam and black smoke that shrouded the ship's bridge told him they had holed the boiler. It was more than he had wanted, but it would do. Still apprehensive, armed with rifles and cutlasses, a boarding party was sent across once the now powerless, smoking hull had lost enough momentum. Mishny himself had crossed on the second boat. The garbled and hectic reports of his sailors sent cold shivers down his spine.

“Nothing yet?”, he asked the luckless ensign who had led the first boarding party.

“Sir, we've searched the forward and aft holds. They're full of grain and meat. Of course we will need to conduct a much more thorough search of the entire ship to be sure. The prisoners haven't been very helpful.”

He pointed at a tight knot of men standing under guard near the companionway. Three burly—looking fellows in oilskins faced the Russians, their eyes burning with hatred. Next to them, four men were seated, nursing wounds. Another three were lying down. Mishny wished he had not looked closely. Scalding steam was an ever-present risk on warships. It was not a pretty way to go.

“Leave them alone for now. Lock them away somewhere. There must be useable cabins somewhere.”

“Yes Sir.” the ensign was happy to be rid of the burden of responsibility. “We'll be done searching the forecastle soon. The damage is not too bad. I'm afraid the officers' cabins are not useable.”

The commander nodded. “All right. You've disarmed them?”

“They weren't armed, Sir. We've found no weapons on them. Except knives, that is.”

The statement hung in the air. Mishny was sure – sure! he had seen the men carrying rifles. A well-aimed salvo could pose a serious risk to the crew on the open deck and unprotected gun of a small vessel like his. They had to have thrown them overboard. There had to be evidence somewhere. Ammunition. Gun racks. Something.

He pulled himself together. “Very well, ensign. I'll return to Buiny and get tugs to salvage the ship. You'll stay aboard with the prize crew and keep her afloat. Continue the search as best you can and secure all evidence. Get the position lights back on. We'll do our best to be back before dusk.”

The ensign saluted. He was facing an unenviable task, Mishny thought, but it was a clean one. Keep the ship afloat and lit, try not to set it aground, or risk death among the drifting Baltic ice. His own was less to his liking. What if the reports had been wrong? He had taken it upon himself to fire on a German-flagged ship in peacetime. They would have his skin at the court-martial if he could not produce the contraband to justify his decision. Perhaps, he thought, it would be best if the Hedwig Laeisz simply disappeared. But in these shallow waters, wrecks could be recovered by divers. And he would not abandon his men on so unworthy an impulse. Lieutenant Commander Pavel Mishny straightened his back and gingerly climbed back into the boat. The dark waters looked appealing for a moment, almost welcoming. Then he recovered his composure and sat down. He would return to his ship, return to Kronstadt and face his admiral. What would come then – who knew?

09 January 1906, Berlin


Remember the Dead! No Rotten Compromises!

... it should come as no surprise to any Social Democrat that, faced with this latest act of cruel tyranny, the imperial government has chosen to equivocate. As the foreign office informs us, there is no reason to believe the victims of the unprovoked attack on the Hedwig Laeisz are being held unlawfully, and consequently there is no call for the embassy to take action on their behalf. They further assure us that, following a proper inquiry by the Russian authorities and their knout-wielding cossack attack dogs, the recovered vessel and its crew will be released provided these authorities find no evidence of wrongdoing. Pending the outcome of this investigation, the cargo of grain, meat and margarine will be held at warehouses in Kronstadt under guard, conveniently within sight of the city's starving population.

We have too long ago accustomed ourselves to the idea that the tyrant of St Petersburg may freely oppress the unfortunate Russian people to the content of his black heart, but any German heart, regardless of political affiliation, must cringe with shame at the thought that German men are treated in this manner. What, we ask ourselves, is the purpose to our great armaments, to our expensive navy and ever-expanding army, if we accept such slights uncomplainingly? If it is an acknowledged fact that a German's passport accords him no protection from the arbitrary blow of cossack sabres and the cruel oppression of the Okhrana, then we might be better off expending our national resources on housing the needy and healing the sick than to maintain an ever-swelling host of armed men whose sole purpose, it seems, is decorative! Token calls for apologies and payment of damages pending a patently biased inquiry's exculpatory findings are a poor fig leaf for a government that is willing to defend the rights of Germans only against those who cannot pose any risk to the vainglorious paper tiger that is our armed forces. Germany, for shame!

(Vorwärts article)

10 January 1906, Washington

“So tell me, Elihu,” President Roosevelt puffed on his cigar, savouring the excellent tobacco. “what has poor Wilhelm gotten himself into? What do you make of the situation in Germany?”

Elihu Root stroked his moustache and looked thoughtful. He was used to being the President's oracle on all aspects of foreign policy, but still occasionally found the way that Roosevelt jumped to moral judgements disconcerting at times. The Berlin affair worried him.

“Well, Sir, you'd have to understand that the reputation the Prussian aristocracy has for probity is not entirely deserved. These people may be more spartan and disciplined than your average New York assemblyman, but their morals are not entirely dissimilar. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that scandal might attach from time to time.”

Roosevelt nodded. His stint as police commissioner had taught him everything he needed to know about the morals of New York's leading lights. Then again, New York City never pretended to be anything but a place where money could play fast and loose with the strictures of morality. Berlin had always struck him as rather more straight-laced than that. “Still, a chancellor... and the emperor must have known.”

This was a ticklish moment. The President had a way of rushing to judgement over people's morals that sometimes interfered with his political acumen. “Not necessarily,” the Secretary of State suggested. “The Germans aren't used to the same kind of free press we have. You also need to keep in mind that they don't have elections to political office. It is quite conceivable that a man like Philipp zu Eulenburg rose to his position solely by virtue of his connections and skill, without anyone ever enquiring into his private life. These things may seem incredible here, but Germany is not a democracy. In fact, I should rather assume the emperor did not know, and promoted his chancellor in ignorance of his severe moral failing. Surely, he would have thought twice about exposing himself to scandal like that.”

Roosevelt nodded again. To Root's relief, he appeared convinced. rumours of Wilhelm's supposed homosexuality and the sodomite cabal that was running Berlin had been flying around government circles for a while now. “So basically, he fell down over his own carelessness in choosing a chancellor.” Roosevelt opined. “I can see that. Wilhelm III is a young man. We tend to forget how young, given the smart policy decisions he makes most of the time.”

“Maybe not entirely. You see, the Germans do not have elections, but they do have a reasonably free press. This is a recent development, of course. Under Bismarck, the papers were thoroughly muzzled and the government paid off editors to print the official line. Today, the German press enjoys a good deal more liberty, and the political leaders are not yet really used to this. You see, if you were to keep a mistress, how would you maintain secrecy in the affair?”

The president scowled. He was a family man and thoroughly disapproved of such things – doubly so since the fate of his brother had impressed the dangers of a loose lifestyle on him. Still, he was willing to entertain the thought for the sake of speculation: “You'd have to keep out of Washington. Most cities, really. And it would probably be best to have some way of explaining things. Maybe she could be employed at the White House? I don't know.”

Root smiled. “You see, I don't think this would be possible. The opposition press would tear you limb from limb if they found out. With luck, you could ride it out like Cleveland, but it would damage you. Wilhelm has been meeting with his mistress quite openly for a year now, everybody knows about it. But you won't read a whisper in the German papers. That's the kind of deference the Berlin government is used to. They are still trying to find their feet, as it were. People did not pay attention to such things in the past.”

“All right. Makes sense.” Roosevelt discarded the butt of his cigar and rose from the armchair he had occupied. His nervous energy often made him pace even when he was entirely calm. “Will it mean the new government is cleaner? Or are they going to fall down again? I find these crises worrisome.”

“It is hardly the same thing it would be here.”, Root pointed out. “With no elections or party machines to worry about, the Kaiser can steer his policy the way he wants it. The risk of him taking a dangerous tack in order to placate domestic opposition is small.”


“Not absent. But I am convinced this affair will not heighten the tensions in Europe. Wilhelm does not want war, he has said it repeatedly and I see no reason to believe he is lying. He averted crisis over the Congo, which could have seen Britain and France at war. I have also lately heard rumours – mind, rumours is all it is -. that Germany will call for a great power conference on the Polish question. He is genuinely a man of peace, though one of the big stick school.”

Roosevelt smiled. He had the feeling he would get along fine with Wilhelm if they ever met. They agreed on so many things – China policy, the duties of colonial powers towards their subjects, the importance of social reform, the need to strive for progress and better the race. Even their lifestyles were not that dissimilar, invigorating, laborious, far more spartan than their position would have permitted. Granted, Wilhelm failed in his personal morals, but he was the child of a European royal family. Keeping a mistress was normal among these people. He also was a touch too intellectual, but that was probably just him being German. You could live with the fact someone was a tyrant as long as he was an enlightened tyrant.

“So no luck for the Japanese?” he asked.

“The Japanese have had all the luck they could get, Sir.” Root had taken a demonstrative interest in the Genoa negotiations to make it clear the United States were, in fact, going to be involved in the future of China. “It looks like they will have a very favourable peace. Korea is basically theirs – they call it an ally, and they may even live up to the promise. But ultimately, the Koreans know that their country exists at the sufferance of Japan now. The Russians are also going to give up their treaties in Manchuria, and their stakes in the railroad company and the Korea company, as part of the indemnities. They are liable to keep Vladivostok after all, the Japanese do not really want it now they have Port Arthur. Most of the dickering seems to be over Sakhalin, and over the exact sums changing hands.”

“I hope it will be enough!”, the President interrupted. “A lot of Americans have invested heavily in Japanese bonds.” Root shrugged. There was only so much you could get from Russia, especially now that the grain exports had fallen short. American farmers were cheering the rebellion, of course. Wheat was a sellers' market this year, and liable to stay that way next. These things mattered, often more than numbers of battleships and regiments.

“At any rate, Berlin is not going to go to war with Russia. Neither with France. They have their own problem there, and it is entirely likely that the election to come will lead to a shift in political direction. If I had to make a guess at the source of instability in Europe this year, it will be Paris, not Berlin. But I suppose they know better than to tempt fate that way.” Germany and Britain were France's traditional enemies, of course, and with Russia in such dire straits they could not even fight a third-rate power like Japan to a draw, fighting even one of the two seemed a losing proposition for the French alone. Not to mention the persistent rumours of Anglo-German agreements that had been concluded against a future war. “We may see another 1848, but hardly another 1870.”

The President sat down again, stretching his legs in a decidedly undignified manner. “What of the next German chancellor? Is he going to play a major role?”

Once again, Root shrugged. He could convey this sense of worldly-wise uncertainty inimitably. “If our surmise is correct, the next chancellor will be drawn from the parties of the centre - the Zentrum, most likely. The Kaiser cannot nominate another candidate without consulting the Reichstag. Technically he could, but it would be politically impossible.”

Roosevelt carefully selected another cigar, nodding to himself. Germany was that kind of place. The Germans were excellent at pretending things were one way, even when they were manifestly another. Their federal states still exchanged ambassadors with foreign powers! And thus, everyone behaved as though the emperor was the shadow of God on earth, despite the fact that his options in reality were severely restricted. Sometimes, the President idly wondered whether living in such an incomprehensibly complicated system was what made Germans so good at physics. Root continued.

“He cannot rely on the parties of the right like Bismarck did. They have just betrayed him, in fact: The reports on Eulenburg came from papers that are usually loyalist to the hilt. His old liberal allies stand with him, of course, but the liberal party has just suffered terribly at the polls. He needs to have support for his policies in the Reichstag, so the most likely move is to draw the Zentrum closer to him. Fortunately, he isn't associated with the anticlerical measures of his great-grandfather.”

“This will not be a problem for his agenda? The Zentrum is ultramontane, isn't it?”

“Not appreciably, really. The great majority of them are Germans first and Catholics second, and they greatly appreciate the opportunity to show their patriotic loyalty, from all I've heard. Their leader, Erzberger, may be his next choice. Or someone close to him. This could bring Germany closer to a real parliamentary system, in the end.”

Roosevelt smiled. With revolution shaking the rusty despotism of Russia, reform in Germany and Italy, good governance coming to the Congo and the Philippines, and his own country finally getting clean as well as democratic government, he enjoyed finding himself on the right side of history.

12 January 1906, Jüterbog

Max Büdinger cursed vitriolically as he felt the vehicle skid sideways under him. He had been insanely proud when he had brought his bright idea to the table: treads. Steam locomobiles used them on occasion, as did heavy earth movers. The design had looked like a perfect match for his needs. Putting a heavy gun and armour on a mobile undercarriage that could move over broken ground and be stable enough to aim and fire its artillery piece simply overtaxed any of the dunlop tyres and spring suspensions they had tried. Treads could take care of the tyre problem, and you could attach suspension springs to them in many more places. they also dealt a lot better with broken ground than wheels did. He had wondered why this had taken him so long on that blissful day when he thought he was ensuring his stellar career with AEG.

The problem was that solutions took time. When they had put tracks from an imported Canadian locomobile on their truck carriage, the prototype had refused to move at more than a crawl. Making them lighter had been half a nightmare. The second design had used the lighter ones and one of the large Daimler engines hooked up to the driving wheels through a differential gear. That turned out to be a good way to strip gears. Design three had twin engines, which were hard to synchronise, but worked reasonably well. To save weight, the engineers had also changed the design of the armour so it only covered the outer shell like a giant beetle's carapace. Büdinger had been concerned that this might expose the treads and their wheels to outside damage, but the real problem turned out to be engine fumes. Accessing the engines had to be done from within, and the hatches were never quite air-tight enough. He was already thinking of a different placement, high up in the rear of the hull rather than bottom front, where a truck had its motor. But right now he was happy enough that the thing would move. For a given value of move.

“Engines halt!” A heavy, metallic rattle and screech told him that the track had come loose. Again. They tended to do that when you did a sharp turn, or accelerated too strongly. At least that was what he assumed. He was not entirely sure they needed any reason. A thrown track had a way of tangling with the roadwheels that could strip your gears to nubs if you were unlucky. This time, though, he was lucky. After twenty freezing, cursing minutes of work the shivering crew was able to return to the suffocating heat of their vehicle. That, Büdinger though, was another reason they needed to have the next type in action by spring. He really did not look forward to driving this thing in summer temperatures.

Roaring and straining, the Geschützkettenwagen II made its way up an incline that overlooked the artillery range. The moment, despite all frustration, was immensely satisfying. A light dusting of snow accentuated the ridges and furrows of the sandy soil. In the middle distance, white-painted targets stood out. Büdinger allowed himself a moment's daydreaming as he worked the turret cranks. His gunner helped. That was one of their success stories: one man alone could bring the gun to bear if he had to, two would make it easy. Of course, the gun itself was nothing to write home about. They had tried to make it work with a 77mm field gun, but there was no way you could fit it into a turret and still have the vehicle be able to move. If you fired it, the chance was good the Wagen would tip over. A 47mm Nordenfeldt was what he had now, though Büdinger wanted a Vickers 1-pounder once he could get the design to work properly. He trained the weapon on the first target, then the second, carefully working the elevation screw and adjusting the sights. If these were enemy infantry units or field guns, they would be having a bad time right now. At least until they managed to shoot back.

The gun stayed silent. Büdinger was a civilian, which meant the army would allow him to play with his toy at their range, but he would need an artilleryman to actually do the shooting. Sergeant Esslinger was drinking coffee back at the barracks today. After a brief moment of contemplating shooting the gun on his own authority, Büdinger resigned, opened the hatch on the turret and looked around. “Go half right and along the ridge. Let's take her home.” he ordered the driver. The familiar groan of the overtaxed engines filled the inside of the vehicle as it accelerated to a walking man's pace with excruciating slowness. That was another thing that would need attention: the Geschützwagen was too damned slow. Making it lighter would cost it the protection it still had and require an even smaller gun. Putting a real gun on it would make it practically immobile. Just another day at the office for an engineer.

16 January 1906, Tblisi

Yosif Dzugashvily closed the book he had been devouring and looked up. Normally, nobody came to the council meeting rooms while the Workers' Council was not in session. You could read in peace, or talk with comrades who didn't feel like staying home. The crash of the door being hastily opened right now, though, did not suggest a roaming youth with a taste for dialectic. Yosif slipped his hand into the pocket of his coat, feeling for the reassuring weight of his revolver. If they were stupid enough to come for him here, he'd give them something to remember him by.

No hobnailed boots raced up the stairs. No cossack squadron rushed the door. It was Sergey Shubin from the Social Revolutionary Combat Organisation, a good man in a firefight, though he was ideologically suspect. The youth looked rattled.

“Yosif!” he greeted his comrade breasthlessly, “You have to spread the word. They've arrested Vorontsov!” Count Ilarion Vorontsov, Viceroy of the Caucasus, prisoner of the Okhrana – it didn't make sense. Yosif shook his head in puzzlement. “Why?” he asked

“For cooperating with traitors. That means us, I guess. The word from the government is that he is going to be charged with treason on personal orders of the emperor.”

Yosif sucked his teeth pensively. That made sense, in a way. Vorontsov had been more cautious and more aware of the difficult nature of his territory than many Russians tended to be. He understood the Caucasus and had decided that, rather than having Circassians, Armenians, Georgians, Ingushetians and Chechnyans murder each other, he'd make a truce with the revolutionaries and keep a lid on things. A lot of Georgian reds had rifles and revolvers thanks to the count, and had helped his troops keep the peace in return. Both sides had agreed not to attack each other until the outcome at the centre became clear. Now, it looked as though that clarity was emerging. Slowly, Yosif rose to his feet.

“I guess that means the truce is off.” Sergey nodded. Dzugashvily headed for the door. He had things to discuss with his friends.

20 January 1906, Berlin

General Baden Powell leaned forward over the table, pushing aside a stack of papers to ensure no ash from his pipe dropped on them. There were some things you did not entrust to telegraphs, or even writing. The general had come to discuss these. Ambassador Sir Frank Lascelles, seated opposite the famous war hero, was busy explaining Berlin. Baden Powell had a standing invitation to court and had visited Wilhelm personally, but he was not here with orders to negotiate anything, His mission was to get a candid evaluation and to brief the ambassador. Scouting for men, General Kitchener had called it.

“I don't think that Wilhelm wants a war with Russia, to tell you the plain truth.” Lascelles said. His conviction seemed absolute. “I must admit I am not really sure why he does not, but he is genuinely desirous of peace.”

Baden Powell was nonplussed. “Why he does not? I should think peace was a laudable goal quite in itself. Even for a Prussian.”

Lascelles shook his head. “That is not what I meant. If you take, as it were, the temperature of public discourse here, you will find Germany has been mentally at war with Russia for years. The conviction throughout the country increasingly is that if war is to come, it will be against the Czar, and since that is a given, the country should prepare for this in the spirit of facing an inevitable fate. It is surprising, even shocking how relatively little France has been featuring in these kinds of debates of late. The French regard Germany in much the same way the Germans view Russia, but as a matter of fact, the Germans have all but come to think of France as an annoyance in their preparations for the conflict in the east. All of which begs the question why Wilhelm has not chosen to take this opportunity. There is no love lost between the two governments or their rulers. Albert was at best tolerant of the Russians. His father hated them. Wilhelm is – it is hard to say what he thinks of Russia, really. He certainly has no high opinion of them. I must admit I have a better grasp of Albert as a man. But what he must know is that the events of the past year provide Germany a unique advantage at a time when its strategic position vis-a-vis Russia is favourable throughout. If one was to venture an attack, now would be the time.”

“And this opinion is shared widely?” Baden Powell asked. “Such calculations do not necessarily lead to identical results on different blotters.”

“It is a common enough sentiment.” Lascelles explained. “If you have the pleasure of meeting General von der Goltz, a measure of tact in the inquiry will soon reveal he is ready to venture this feat of arms. You should meet him, by the by. He is easily the brightest military mind you are going to find in this city, and I do include both Schlieffen and Moltke in that estimate. Gone native to a shocking extent during his time in Turkey, but never let that lead you to underestimate the man. You know the Germans have no cadre of colonial officers, but they do have the group of men who returned from service in Turkey, and in many ways this serves as much as their school in the realities of war. Von der Goltz has brought a bevy of these along on his rise through the ranks. Now, I cannot say with absolute certainty that all general staff officers wish to fight Russia today, but I know for a fact that many do, and would rather now than in ten years, when the growing industrial capacity of the country will make the proposition harder.”

Baden Powell had privately done the same calculations, and he was hardly the only one in London who had. “The emperor is not alone in his desire for peace, though?” he asked. “I can hardly see him defying the will of his country single-handedly.”

“Hardly. I know it goes against the common perception of the Prussian, but most Germans have no particular liking for war. Most anyone, I suppose, but if you speak to people here, they are often surprisingly pacific-minded. This may be down to the influence Albert had on government here. He is very much a status-quo man and believes that Germany is well served with what it has. In many ways, this is a common belief here – that Germany's gains have been honourable, but also that they need to be defended rather than necessarily enlarged. For all their strutting, German soldiers have a rather lesser opinion of their country's military strength than most outsiders do. The cauchemar des coalitions is very real to them. This has helped us secure our own alliance, of course.”

Thoughtfully, Baden Powell knocked the last remnants of ashes from his pipe. “That is all very well, but then why the involvement in Poland? They are involved, I gather. What do they hope to gain by that if not to soften up the opponent for a knockout blow?”

Lascelles stroked his chin. “They are quite heavily involved. More so than the press would know, though no doubt you have your agents in the country. The activities of the Polish charities, the volume of ostensibly private trade and travel, the shortage of NCOs and officers to train recruits all suggest that this rebellion is largely, perhaps entirely the work of Germany. The slant of public opinion alone is enough to prove this. For all their protestations, this is not a country enjoying the same liberties as Britain. Any issue that so commands public opinion is necessarily government policy.” He paused, selecting a cigar from the case on his desk. “What they hope to gain is a rather more puzzling matter. I privately suspect that they have never given much thought to the question. Much like the entirety of German hostility towards Russia, for which there is no objective reason. The German government often exhibits the unfortunate combination of a genius for exploiting tactical opportunities with a regrettable absence of strategic vision. Thus, with the opportunity taken, they are frequently left asking themselves to what purpose they have done so. Much of their colonial possessions was acquired in this fashion. Perhaps there is no greater secret to this than the fact that, having realised they could, the Germans did.”

A brief smile flickered over the general's face. He had seen his share of such stories. They did not often end happily, but occasionally... “If we are in agreement, then, that Germany will not declare war in Russia this year, or most likely in the near term, what of France? The French stand to suffer a valuable ally being much reduced in standing, but we are nonetheless convinced that they will not unilaterally go to war unless provoked severely. If the Poland conference is called, they will, of course, insist on the Russian boundaries staying inviolate. Will Germany react with force?”

“No.” Lascelles's answer was categorical. “It would be entirely out of character for Wilhelm, and also disproportionate to the gains that may be expected. The Poland conference is a piece of foolishness, but it is nothing but that. No secret agenda lies beneath.”

“I see.” Baden Powell seemed to have counted off the points on his mental list. “You will agree that, in view of our own commitments, it is rather important to know as best we can when and how Germany may find herself at war. Please understand that HM government has no intention of shirking its duties, but a war at this juncture would be entirely contrary to our national interest. This must be the guiding principle of our European policy for the immediate future.”

Lascelles nodded. He had been saying as much before. The remodelling of the fleet was still under way, with the lessons of the past war being factored into yet another shift in focus. France's cruisers and long-range torpedo boats were a nightmare to the Admiralty. War with Russia might be more promising, but clearly, it was not to be had on its own. Baden Powell had almost seemed disappointed that Germany was unwilling to go to war on its own accord, given the freedom of action that this would have granted the government.

“What will this mean to our policy, then? Surely, I am not to threaten Wilhelm with a breach of treaty?”

“Certainly not.” Baden Powell seemed almost shocked. “I must, however, ask you in the name of HM government to stress the need not to provoke any French aggression. We do not seek nor wish a war, and would be happy to prevent it should the opportunity of doing so with honour arise.”

“Then, in the event of a French declaration of war we would fight at Germany's side, but...”

“It will be in our interest to prevent such a declaration. In the event of a war between Russia and Germany, we have considered the possibility of non-intervention if the same could be secured from Paris.”

Now it was Lascelles's turn to look shocked. “You think this would be possible?”

“It may be. At any rate, we would strongly stress the interest we have in peace with France. That is the primary direction of our foreign policy at least until we can be more certain of the outcome of a conflict. There are no issues of national interest on our behalf that militate otherwise – the Fashoda and Congo conference have settled these matters to our satisfaction. Please make Wilhelm understand this fact.”

22 January 1906, Paris

Justice to Victory!

Today, justice has taken the field in the courts of Paris to claim victory for the rights of man against tyranny and hubris. At issue are not the authorship of the war letters that have so greatly disturbed the peace and happiness of the French people. For all his protestations, this is clear as sunlight: this villainous and cowardly conspiracy against the life and property of hundreds of thousands sprung from the mind of Paul Deroulede. Nor, despite the claims of innocence, of forgery and betrayal, is it in truth how they came into the possession of this paper. No angel could have spoken clearer truth about their origins than we have, from the day of their first publication. No, the true object of the trial to begin today is to establish and lay out before the people of this republic and the eyes of the world how the current government is endangering the peace of Europe in the fading hope of riding to victory in the coming elections. Liars and tyrants, beware: The patriotic anger of the French people is an unstoppable force! At the end of this long and hard-fought battle, the truth will stand for all to see, and it will be them and their henchmen and followers that will need to fear the blows and bayonets of our great nation.


23 January 1906, Paris

The sunlight reflected on the snow outside bathed the room in brightness. Seated behind his desk, Gabriel Syveton, minister of foreign affairs, smiled ingratiatingly at his visitors. He had found another French tradition worth restoring to its former greatness.

“You understand that this may turn out an excessive liability in so dangerous a situation, of course.”, he explained. “Should the matter not be resolved in our favour – indeed, should it turn out that it adversely affects the person of the Prime Minister – it may be advantageous to consider a repositioning of the Ligue's candidates.”

Jules Guerin, seated to the left of the circle, nodded, quietly contented. He had always disliked Deroulede. The writer and journalist was a powerful man in the Ligue Patriotique's coalition, a voice the antisemitic vote would readily follow. With Deroulede's half-hearted policies and – worse – private admissions of lukewarm emotions on the matter of Jewish influence, he was increasingly becoming critical of the government. He would be worth having on board. Edouard Drumont, Deputy for Algiers, looked more sceptical. He, too, was a veteran anti-Dreyfusard and noted orator, but politically more asture.

“Cavaignac would not have approved.” he pointed out. “The unity of the Ligue and the service of the country always came before personal ambition and ideological squabbling.”Still, he soundced more sceptical thann angry.

“Please, do not misunderstand me, Mr Drumont.” Syveton hastened to allay his worries. “I am not suggesting a coup or, God forbid, a vote of no confidence in the prime minister. I am merely concerned over our electoral prospects. as you said, the future of France must supersede any personal vanities. If Mr Deroulede can emerge from this spectacle with his reputation intact, I will be happy to support him in his second term. If not, though, we must consider how to best serve our country, and I do not think this will be achieved by losing elections out of personal loyalty.”

Drumont nodded cautiously. So did the others. Fully convincing them would be tough, Syveton knew, but he had them hooked.

23 January 1906, Fontainebleau

“I agree, general. It is shameful in the extreme.” Albert Monniot commiserated expertly. The aspiring journalist was good at making people feel he agreed with them. He understood emotions. “Betrayed even by close friends. I can only guess what would happen if this was to create so much ill will that the Radicals do win the election.”

General Jean Roget looked dejected. “Itr is a terrible shame. Poor Paul. He is taking things well, isn't he?”

“Admirably, Sir.” Monniot reported. “He sends his warmest regards. Indeed, his very words to me were of you: 'While there are men like him in France, she cannot fail to prosper. I do not fear for her greatness, but only for her peace'. That is what he said. And he added that peace, to our nation, had often been at time of dissolution and demoralisation.”

Roget nodded thoughtfully. “It's true, young man.” he affirmed. “I do sometimes pity this generation of yours that never saw a battlefield. True, we were very far from the glories of the great Napoleon, but we fought well and manfully, and France today has a world empire that is the fruit of that school's teachings. What will the next decades bring for?”

Monniot raised his glass. “General, I can no more see the future than you, but I, for my part, believe that this generation of mine can and will learn these lessons of virtue and stand up to its enemies, foreign and domestic. While there are honourable men in France, there will be glory to be gained. To the greatest Frenchman, general: to Napoleon, and may his example guide us all.”

Roget smiled and drank.
04 February 1906, Lublin

“I wish I could see Yossel's face now.” Shloimo Ferber exclaimed. “I kept telling him, a Yid can be a general!”

Marek Shulman, another veteran of the Radun defense, smiled and tactfully neglected to mention that he had said it could happen in America. Anyway, Poland was fine with everyone involved. Better than America, in fact. Better to fight defending your homes and families than to go after Red Indians on the great desert, or whatever it was American soldiers did these days. Shulman had brought the message from Warsaw himself. “Well then, Brigadier General Ferber,” he said, “you may have to visit him in uniform in Lodz.”

Ferber turned in front of the mirror once more. The new uniform was impressive, in a slightly idiosyncratic way. That was nothing unusual, of course. The NA had better things to do than standardise the uniform of its officers. While Ferber wore the epaulets and cuffs of a brigadier, he could get away with a multitude of sins otherwise, and many who had made their brief careers in the Polish rising were far worse sinners than he. His coat was plain, double-breasted in the French style, with a peaked cap rather than a kepi that looked incongruously Franco-German. The whole was blue, but so dark as to be almost black, and the gold thread contrasted beautifully. Jodhpurs and knee-high boots completed the appearance of a military man, though everyone knew that brigadier Ferber was not a natural horseman. Or an unnatural one, for that matter. Moving faster than a walk presented him with embarrassing problems, and the few lessons he had had time for only convinced him that equitation was not for him. In time, he would curse his riding boots.

“Maybe I should.”, he chuckled for a moment. Then his face darkened. “What am I to do with Yossel, anyway? It's not fair I should get this promotion. He did more for our unit than I.”

Lewin looked up and gruffly pointed out, “Neither of you should be getting those promotions. Baby colonels were bad enough, but brigadier? Calling that mob of ours a brigade is a poor attempt at Polish humour. Not a chance you're going to turn it down, though, is there?”

Ferber smiled indulgently. He was used to his advisor's roughshod ways. “Think of it this way,” he retorted. “If they can't give it to me, who will they give it to?”

“Put like that, you have a point.” Lewin agreed. “You're not a complete fool like some I've seen.” Coming from him, that was high praise.

The question what to do about Rabinovitz kept worrying Ferber. In the rough-and-ready way of the National Army, his brigadier's commission meant he now had leeway to fill his officer slots by and large as he saw fit. He would certainly be able to give his friend a colonelcy. Would he accept it, though? It might feel like a sop to quiet him, a condescending reward from unearned height. The newly minted general wondered whether there might be a way of giving the men stationed in Lodz a greater degree of independence. The Polish government had commissioned its First Jewish Brigade. Perhaps they could find their way to allowing it an extra regiment? The men were there, Ferber mentally calculated. They had at least two thousand hopefuls awaiting instruction and equipment. Other units were far less discriminating in their intake than the Self-Defense Militia had been. And the First Jewish Brigade would continue to be, Ferber vowed. He wanted his men to fight well and stick together. Each other was all they had.

Outside the headquarters building, his colour guard was exercising unfamiliar evolutions. The new flag was lovely – a red-trimmed white banner with a blue star of David in the middle and the gold-embroidered unit title and number. Shloimo had not been able to resist the temptation to add unofficial battle honours: Radun, Lodz, Lublin. There was room for plenty more. And a side benefit of being a Jewish brigade was that they did not lack for competent tailors and embroiderers. As of yet, they were still using their white-and-blue armbands to identify themselves, but unit insignia were in the pipeline. It was a way of helping out, too. Lots of Jewish families had someone who earned money by sewing or embroidering. Giving them work helped.

08 February 1906, Berlin

“I refuse to believe it is coincidental.” General von der Goltz looked worried and angry. The headlines that blared the accusation through a near-representative selection of the right-wing press had caught everyone off guard: General Hohenau of the Guards Corps a homosexual pervert? Major Count von Lynar his accomplice? It was a frightening thought. Hohenau was an officer's officer, a Prussian officer of the first water, brave, handsome and dashing. He had served with the Guards not least because he was so eminently presentable, of course, a thought that worried EmperorWilhelm in retrospect. The rumours had taken a few days to make their way from fringe papers to the more respectable organs of the mass-circulation broadsheets and journals. Von der Goltz had used this time to make his own investigations and came away with the sobering news that, however vicious and cowardly these accusations might be, they were true. Not only true, but the tip of an iceberg that the press was only beginning to understand.

“Well, yes, but no matter, it is true and there will have to be consequences.” President of police Golz said with the finality of a man dedicated to his duty above all else. He could not be accused of an excess of genius, but he was devoted to making the writ of the law run in Berlin. Given the Berliners and their inclinations, that made him a Sisyphean figure.

Wilhelm, seated at the head of the table in the small Charlottenburg conference room, nodded with quiet resignation. “Of course, Mr Golz. The law must take its course. I would wish, though, that it could be done with less public attention than it has received to date.”

General von der Goltz looked unhappy. “Your Majesty, this is a problematic course. Obviously, the publication of the data was designed to embarrass the government. We are trying to find out where it might have come from. Someone out there has dangerous information and hostile intent. On the immediate matter at issue I would say that they are good officers, and should be kept in the service no matter where they stick their dicks.”

The calculated obscenity elicited a sharp intake of breath from the president of police. “Sir,” he countered, “no matter their military qualities, we have a law in this country. It may be possible, sadly, to ignore generalised suspicion for a long time, but specific individual accusations will have to be followed up. The state attorney's office is in full agreement on the matter.” That may have been an overstatement. Oberstaatsanwalt Isenbiehl was a careerist and would happily bend to the emperor's will on any issue. But absent such obstacles, he, too, was known for correctness.

Von der Goltz was not going to fight a battle over principle here. He shrugged. “I suppose if they got themselves into this situation, they'll have to take the consequences. What worries me is what this will do to the reputation of the Guards Corps. Apparently, they are not alone, for one thing. Who would have known...”

Inspector Tresckow cleared his throat. The police president had brought him along as the officer leading the investigation – unheard of in traditional Berlin., but Wilhelm liked to talk to the people who did the actual work. The inspector was, by all accounts, a competent man. Wilhelm nodded to him. “Inspector, you wish to say something?”

“Majesty,” he began, “I am sorry to say so, but everybody could have known. This was not really a secret. The police of Berlin does not have the resources to prosecute every case of homosexual conduct that comes to its attention, and especially the military can be – less than cooperative in these matters.”

Wilhelm looked shocked.

“Your Majesty,” Tresckow hastened to add, “I am not saying the homosexuals in the military constitute a large number, but the cases attract a higher profile. Soldiers in uniform are objects of desire for many men so inclined. In some cases, they are also involved for the sake of monetary gain.”

It did not seem to improve things. The emperor took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. Then, he turned towards the inspector and tried to smile.

“Inspector, I can assure you all this is news to me, but I will take your word for it. At this juncture, my main concern is my army. Rest assured I will not interfere with justice taking its duly appointed course, but also understand that I will be grateful for a measure of discretion in the scope of your investigation.”

“A letter to Hohenau may be in order.”, von der Goltz pointed out. “He may be foolish enough to fight this thing out in court otherwise. That could do horrendous damage.”

Wilhelm nodded. “Yes, that will do. If he resigns now, he can still leave with some dignity, not to mention a pension. And one other thing.” He turned to the president of police. “I wish to know where these accusations come from. I know there cannot be official charges brought against their originator, but if you are going to investigate this matter, then I wish you to find out.”

President of police Golz straightened in his chair. He would have clicked his heels had he been standing. “Your majesty, you may rely on me. I will assign inspector Tresckow to the matter, and any results will be forwarded to your private office by courier.”

Tresckow looked like Christmas had come early. 'A good man' the president had described him, and nonetheless, used in snooping after sodomites. This kind of assignment must be an improvement, von der Goltz thought. He would not lack for motivation, at least.

12 February 1906, Moscow

Admiral Nebogatov was surprised at the sight of his emperor. Nicholas II seemed diminished, shrunken by the strain of the last year. Times had been hard on everyone, but the contrast to their last encounter still came as a shock. Back then, when Nebogatov had been appointed to command the Kronstadt defenses, the Czar had looked lively and energetic. Now, his face was pale and the body listless. His voice was weighed down with bitterness. The admiral was worried. He hoped it would not show as he entered the room of the war council.

The introductions went quickly. Alongside Nicholas II and his commanding officer Rosjestvensky, Nebogatov was facing Dr Dubrovin, Governor Trepov and Grand Prince Nikolai. He saluted crisply and waited for the questions. Nicholas began: “Admiral, your superior has spoken highly of you. He has praised your tactical abilities and initiative. These are qualities we look for in naval leaders, and I can extend high hopes for the advancement of anyone who has audace and fortune. Today, I want you to tell me how you would go about fighting the German navy, Admiral Nebogatov. I know you are an honest and brave Russian man. Do not be afraid to tell me the truth.”

Nebogatov stiffened. An invitation to be honest rarely was extended in earnest. Still, he decided to venture his opinion. “Your Majesty, I would prefer not to.”, he began. There was a sharp intake of breath. Dr Dubrovin looked up from his papers, ready to skewer him with his looks.

“You would not?” His voice was deceptively mild. Nebogatov wondered whether he had gone too far when Grand Prince Nikolai raised his hand and addressed the councillor: “Dr Dubrovin, please. The courage of Admiral Nebogatov has been proven to the extent it cannot be called into question.”

The rebuke stung. Dubrovin lowered his eyes and pretended to peruse the documents in front of him. If half of what you heard was true, he would be furious. Nebogatov risked a grateful glance at the Grand Prince before continuing his presentation.

“Your Majesty, I do not think it is a secret that the German navy is a dangerous and powerful adversary. It is the nature of naval warfare in this day and age that its success depends on ships that are expensive and difficult to replace if lost. Thus, audacity on land may be forgiven if the risk is to regiments or brigades easily replaced in the coming year, but an admiral must shepherd his vessels carefully, always calculating their danger against the potential gain. It is not an easy position for a man of honour to be placed in. Facing the German navy, the risk of losing the fleet is great, and thus the demand to balance honour and prudence burdensome.”

Nicholas nodded understanding. So far, so good.

“That said, I do believe it is possible to fight the Germans successfully at sea. I have discussed the matter with several talented officers and we have developed ideas in this direction. If you would permit...”

There was a map, of course. There were diagrams detailing fleet strengths. You could never be sure how much information people had. The bare numbers looked encouraging, the opponents roughly equally matched. Nicholas's eyes lit up as he surveyed the sites of future battles unfolding in his mind.

“Tell me, Admiral; what makes the Germans so formidable, in your mind?”he asked.

Nebogatov cleared his throat nervously. “Their training, Sire.” he said. “The ships the Germans deploy against us are good, but I do not think they are greatly superior. Some of our vessels are newer than theirs, and just as our Baltic fleet, their navy contains coastal ironclads that swell their numbers on paper, but cannot stand in the battle line with modern ships. However, I have seen their fleet operate in maneuvers, and what makes them dangerous is the level of their training. Their maneuvering is fast and accurate. German officers are trained to carry out standard tactical evolutions at different positions in battle formation much more thoroughly than us. Granted, they are lesser seamen than the British, but their gunnery is extremely fast and accurate. That is why the risk of massed fleet action against them is too great to contemplate.”

No storm of protest rose. The admiral continued, encouraged by the response.

“As the unfortunate events in the Far East have shown, it is possible for even an inferior fleet to attrite the strength of a superior one. Numerically, the exercise is straightforward. At one point, the size of a fleet will become completely decisive. Until then, large fleet engagements must be avoided and auxiliary weapons and small unit operations be applied to destroy enemy units singly, wherever possible. The Japanese did this very effectively. It is, of course, possible for the enemy to force an engagement by moving the fleet to our shores, but this could take place in our waters and, to a degree, on our terms. The strategy is sound, in any event. This is what I propose.”

He rolled up the map and returned it to its case. “Also, we must consider the nature of our enemy. The Japanese are treacherous, but brave. Defeating them would have required calling their bluff with a combined fleet action forcing losses on them.”

“From which we were prevented!” Nicholas pointed out bitterly. The humiliation of Vigo rankled.

“Indeed, Sire. The Germans, though, are an open and honourable foe, reliant on training and routine to unfold their full potential. Meeting them in open battle plays to their strengths. Even if we suffered comparable losses, the balance would favour them: German shipyards can replace their vessels faster than ours can. But the mental habit of training for designated scenarios is also their greatest weakness. Germans do not react well to the unexpected. The way to victory lies in striking unexpectedly, keeping them off-balance. If we can force them into a defensive stance, we can choose when and where to strike for maximal effect. The blows must be quick, hard, and surprising. The shock and humiliation will do their part in softening up the enemy. If we can achieve this, we will also demonstrate to potential allies the weakness of Germany and draw them into the war on our side.”

Nikolai nodded quietly. “You expect to be joined by the French fleet?”

Nebogatov affirmed: “Yes, Your Highness. I hope it. It will be possible for us to fight such a campaign alone, given audacity and a certain amount of luck, for a time. In the long run, though, a battle will be forced. We may win it – if the campaign is successful, we will win it. But with the French at our side, we can inflict more than moral damage. Their ships would allow a real blockade of Germany's coasts, crippling her trade and striking her port cities, even landing troops.”

“A seaborne invasion?” Trepov seemed genuinely fascinated by the thought. Nebogatov quickly stepped up to disabuse him of the notion. “Excellency, these attacks can be no more than raids. In the long run, though, it will have to be the army that forces a decision. Germany is not vulnerable enough to naval threats, nor can we hope to permanently destroy her capacity to build and man warships. This, Sire, is the option for victory that I can give you. I believe it is possible.”

Nicholas smiled. His expression was almost dreamy. Dubrovin looked wolfish. “I am sorry, Admiral.” the civilian said. “I misjudged you earlier. Please accept my apologies. Now, will you be able to explain to us the plans you and your officers have developed?”

Nebogatov obediently unrolled the second map he had brought.

15 February 1906, Duisburg

The Villa Hügel was designed to impress, and Hershel Kanitzky was willing to be impressed. Of course, he was also shrewd enough not to let himself be manipulated by a crude display of wealth. He had spent enough time in Russia to understand that size and ornateness did not equal any real importance or effectiveness. Still, for all it being vulgar and bombastic, Villa Hügel had a sense of might that was refreshing. It hammered home to you that its owner would not take any disrespect from anyone. It broadcast overbearing pride. And it was owned by a Yid.

Well, not a Yid in the sense Kanitzky had ever thought of using the term. He had considered himself a fairly worldly person, in no way pious or virtuous. Walther Krupp zu Rathenau, though, did not even sound or look Jewish. He did not feel Jewish. If Kanitzky had not known, he would have taken him for any German industrialist. Of course, this was a conspiracy, and conspirators could not well apply the smell test to everyone they cooperated with. Rathenau was a powerful influence in the Jewish movement. His money spoke as eloquently as Herzl's and Nordau's pens. Speaking of which, Kanitzky had bad news.

“Nordau will not come. He has formally declined the invitation to the congress, citing other engagements. Of course, he is needed in Paris for the elections. I am afraid, though, he considers all we are doing a distraction from the true goal.”

Rathenau sighed. He had feared as much. Zionists were admirable men, but they could be rather boneheaded about the realities of the situation. Damn, why was it so hard to get them to devote their energy to doing something for their Jewish brethren here and now instead of waiting for the remote chance to send them to Palestine?

“All right,” Rathenau said. “Have you heard anything from Wolffsohn?”

You could send invitations by post, but there were things that needed to be discussed through trustworthy messengers. Kanitzky may not have been a Zionist, but everyone agreed he was trustworthy.

“He will come, and he is willing to use his influence for our cause. He is wary of it, though. He actually said he didn't want us to be too successful, or the situation might get too good. Funny, the things a firm belief can do to someone's mind.”

Shuffling papers, Rathenau made notes in the folder labeled “Lemberg Conference”. He was not officially inviting, but the funding was his. That had to be worth something.

“All right,” he said. “I know that Otto Warburg is willing to help with humanitarian things. He also agreed to manage the emigration fund. You've heard about that, I assume? The Jewish Militia is sending money to Germany so they can go to America if the Poles sell them down the river. They are remarkable young men, aren't they?”

Kanitzky nodded. “I think I met Brigadier Ferber before the war, actually. Back in Radun, when I was ferrying money and travel papers. They say he was already thinking of a military career back then. He wanted to emigrate to America and go to West Point.”

Rathenau shrugged. “They'll say a lot about people. I doubt he had anything like that in mind. He's pretty good for all that, though.” He absently leafed through the guest list. “Zangwill, Oppenheimer, have we heard anything from Ussishkin?”

Kanitzky's face fell. “I'm sorry, Sir. He was in Berdishev when the Patriotic Union came to the shtetl. Some refugees say they saw the gendarmerie arrest him, but his name doesn't appear on any official court list out of Russia. Alav-ha shalom.”

It needed not mean anything. There were secret tribunals these days, and administrative detention. Still, it was not encouraging. If the Patriotic Union men had gotten their hands on him – if they had figured out who he was, they might have contented themselves with humiliating him. If he was just another Yid, though, they could well simply have killed him, or left him to starve or freeze to death on the road.

“Anyone out there who takes a more – active stance?” Rathenau asked after a second's silence.

“Israel Zangwill came out with the idea that the Jews should rule the pale of settlement when the revolution has succeeded.” Kanitzky answered with a bitter smile.

“We'll put that with the motion to provide wings for pigs.” Still, Rathenau thought. It was a thought worth holding. What should the status of the Jews be after the whole thing ended? What could they ask at the conference? Damn, if the Zionist fools could just once agree to stand up and be counted for something that didn't have anything to do with their precious Judenstaat! Their prestige would have helped. He idly wondered on which side Herzl would have come down.

24 February 1906, Berlin

The knock on the door had come early. It had found Mr Hugenberg awake, in his dressing gown and enjoying breakfast and morning papers. Inspector Tresckow hads not been entirely surprised to see him awake well before dawn, but still regretted not having risen earlier. Rousing someone from bed often had a salutary effect on suspects. No such luck here.

“Mr Hugenberg”, the inspector pointed out again, struggling to remain patient, “the matter is not one of politicised justice or, as you phrase it, a tyrannical inquisition. Foreign Secretary von Bülow has lodged a libel suit against the party or parties that defamed him as a pervert in the papers. The public prosecutor's office has decided that the case merits action, and evidence suggests that the accusations originate with you. I am here to secure the evidence. Now, for the last time, will you cooperate?”

The massive shoulders under the silk dressing gown shook with rage. Tresckow half expected him to go for his throat. In a voice barely contained, Hugenberg answered: “No, inspector. I will not cooperate with this travesty. My manservant has already summoned my attorney, who will inspect your - warrant and decide on appropriate legal action. Until then, you may wait in the kitchen.”

Tresckow snorted. He could admire courage, even in an opponent, and this man had brass in spades. Still, this was not how you treated the Berlin police. Not and get away with it. It was amazing how much confidence the knowledge that His Majesty had your back gave you. The inspector straightened and raised his voice.

“Mr Hugenberg, you are within your right to ask for legal counsel and lodge any complaint you wish. You are not under arrest. But . . . “, this mattered, “you cannot and will not be permitted to delay an official investigation. Take a seat, Sir. My men will search the premises.”

Hugenberg seemed to visibly puff up. His face reddened. “Inspector, this is unheard of. Unheard of! You are treating me like a damned Social Democrat! I must remind you that the freedom of the press still abides in this country.”

Il y a des juges a Berlin, Tresckow mentally added. But they had been appointed by the justice ministry, which made things easier to predict most days. He faced down the livid journalist and explained, now in his best exercise-yard voice: “I will treat you exactly like a Social Democrat because, Mr Hugenberg, that is exactly how you ought to be treated. If it is indeed true that you are the source of these despicable rumours, then you will have to face the consequences of your actions. if not, then you are an innocent man and have nothing to fear. Until then, sit down and let me do my job. Failing which I am obligated to remind you that under article 113 of the Imperial Penal Code you will be liable to be arrested and sentenced to a prison term of up to two years”

It worked. Perhaps it had been the tone of voice. Perhaps Hugenberg actually had believed that the inspector would arrest him. Tresckow had half hoped for the opportunity, but the mighty wordsmith of the nationalist press yielded. Grumbling dire threats of complaints and dismissal from the force, he retreated into an armchair awaiting the arrival of his attorney. The inspector waved to his plainclothes men who swarmed into the apartment, bearing notebooks, sacks and boxes. Tresckow himself idly ambled into the study, his eyes flitting along the bookshelves. Gobineau. Bernhardi. Langbehn. Chamberlain's Foundations of the Nineteenth Century; he had read that himself. Not stupid, just – hysterical. He stepped over to the desk piled high with correspondence. They would have to work their way through these stacks back at the office. Tresckow wondered what had possessed Hugenberg to lean that far out of the window. Accusing officers, even generals, of being homosexuals was one thing (especially, the policeman mentally conceded, if they really were). But an unfounded accusation against a government minister was another. Von Bülow had agreed to press his suit, which had given them the opportunity to put on the thumbscrews. Maybe Hugenberg had felt invulnerable. Maybe his information had simply been bad. Either way, he would be in trouble. He wouldn't be on trial for his life, but the expense and fine could well end up bankrupting him. His name – if he still cared about that – would never recover.

27 February 1906, Berlin

Your Majesty,

I ask your forbearance for my use of this unusual channel of communication, but felt it a matter of urgency to address you on the matter today. were it not for the great weight it carries, both symbolic and political, I should readily have bided my time and awaited Your Majesty's decision, but it is my duty as chancellor to advise and counsel Your Majesty as best I can. I know that there are those in Your Majesty's court and personal entourage who oppose the idea of ministers being questioned by the Reichstag in the most strident of fashions and no doubt for reasons that are honourable and cogent. These men, whatever their intentions, are mistaken in their belief that the Reichstag poses a danger of any kind for the proper conduct of government or the order of society. I must most adamantly insist on my request that Your Majesty assent to the attendance of the cabinet at the coming sessions both as a matter of policy – assurances have been made to members of several parties supporting the chancellorship – and of symbolic force. The men of the Reichstag are loyal Germans, subjects to the emperor and lovers of their country. Where they go wrong, it is because they are misguided, not ill-intentioned or evil. A gesture of trust by Your Majesty would go a long way towards affirming that their love is requited, their parttiotioc efforts appreciated. From the refined heights of grand politics, this matter may indeed seem too trivial to be of much concern in any terms other than those of the safety of state, but the love of your people – the German people, as whose representatives the deputies are elected and seated – thrives on such gestures much as that of a devoted wife towards her husband. Your Majesty must not be seen to fear your people, lest misguided elements take encouragement from such misperceptions, nor to despise them. The truest of loves needs fuel to feed its ardour. Thus I beseech Your Majesty: Show this trust in your people, your loyal Reichstag, and it will be repaid hundredfold! It is not without trepidation I write these sentences for fear of being thought too emotional, too much a throwback to the days of the great Bismarck, with whom no contemporary politician safely stands comparison, but I feel I must also inform Your majesty that the discontent in the coalition that may result from an unfavourable decision may oblige me to resign my office. As an official of Your Majesty's government I do, of course, serve at Your Majesty's pleasure, but as a representative of the German people and a loyal subject it is impossible for me to reconcile my duty to Your Majesty and my obligation to my constituency, should this come to be.

Your Majesty's most obedient servant

Hellmuth von Gerlach, Reichskanzler

29 February 1906, Königshütte

My dear Marie

You have asked me to describe what life is like here. That is not an easy task. You have probably read what the Berlin papers write and know of this or that, and all I can tell you is above all – it is worse than anything you have read. Probably far worse. I know you as a strong woman and you will want to know the exact truth and not be spared on account of your sex, but it is still not easy for me to describe this to you.

Our camp at Königshütte and the other ones we have at Tarnowitz and Reuthen holds, we estimate, 20-30,000 people. Just across the border there is another one in a nearby city that may also hold as many. I cannot give you exact numbers because nobody knows for sure. People come across almost daily, looking for food and shelter, and people also leave, some who found friends or relatives to take them in, some who somehow managed to get passage to the United States or the colonies, or those who just go away. Especially children and young women are also offered positions or passage by white slavers who will unscrupulously sell them on to brothels in Berlin and elsewhere. Again, I only know stories that the refugees tell, but the police arrested a brothelkeeper accompanied by four young Polish girls in Gnesen last week whom he had told would work as housemaids in Hamburg. The girls were 11, 13 and 14. Sometimes, people also just walk away. We have no fences, no way of checking on them. We don't know where they end up, only that the police bring some of them back. With no proper papers or work permits, they can be arrested, but not expelled. If you consider that ours is neither the only camp, nor even the largest, the true horror of the situation strikes you.


The system here is actually very good, all things considered. I know you would wish I could tell you horrible stories of the Church and its minions, but the Catholic charities are extremely helpful and cause us no problems at all. We operate our camp together, separating out anything would be pointless, and we all decided that we would pool our resources. There is little enough of everything. I was quite surprised when Pater Wishnewski agreed to the idea, but he is a very reasonable man and quite impressed with our organisation. Of course he preaches every time he gives out bread or clothes, but come to think of it, so do we. There are some in the camp who will not take anything from us, and some who won't take from the church, so it's a good thing we are both here. The authorities certainly are completely overwhelmed. I don't think I've seen a government agent doing anything useful in weeks. No, that is not really fair: We get paperwork for people crossing the border, and police to keep order in the camps – too few, but at least some. we have five officers for everyone here, and two of them speak Polish. It's funny: without the party organisation, they would stand no chance, and they know it. We have a few strong, disciplined workers here, and they joined our staff. They have armbands that say “Ordner” and officially, they have no power, but it's the closest to a police this camp has. Over at Reuthen it's terrible. They have robberies and rapes all the time. It happens here, too, but not as often, at least. One thing that really comes to mind is that we must organise our efforts. The aid committees are doing sterling work, but we lose so much because we have no central control of our resources and no coordination. There must be something you can do in Berlin.


Can you imagine what a sod house looks like? It is a hole in the ground, about as deep as a man's shoulders, with walls going up a little over head high, and the ceiling made of saplings and branches or old boards, or anything that comes to hand, with earth covering it. If you are lucky, you have an iron stove, but just a primitive chimney dug into the side is already better than many can do. Down in these hovels, you have whole families huddling under too few blankets until the next distribution of bread, or groats, or coal to keep them alive. The luckier ones have sheds or huts made from planks, about what a Silesian farmer would keep his pigs in. We are building those as fast as we can, but there's not enough of anything. You can make five or six sod houses from the timber one hut takes. And we always need more room for improvised hospitals and kitchens, too. The building is mostly done by refugees, we organise it and pay them. This is where the generosity of the people has been wonderful. There is money and food to do that, at least, and things have become much better since we've stopped letting the people fend for themselves.


Most days, we can find the people something to eat. The railways has helped us enormously, with sending trainloads of grain and meat at cut rates. If the farmers around here had any say in the matter, people would still be paying them gold and jewels for mouldy bread and sour milk. The extortion is unbelievable! It still happens, too. Women who need milk for their children, or sick people who need meat or eggs for broth are most at risk. The farmers sell what they have at fantastic prices. Many families have brought some valuables, jewelry or fine clothes, that the cossacks didn't take, but now they must pay these for a litre of milk or a quarter chicken. Some days, when there is not enough to eat for everyone, bread and groats also sell for silver and gold. When the money runs out, the families send their girls to get what they can however they can.


It is interesting how many Jews are becoming a kind of camp aristocracy here. They are educated and literate and speak German, or Yiddish, which will do in a pinch. People trust them to talk to the authorities on their behalf. Some of them do business with the pimps and the farmers, but most are genuinely helpful and they stick together more than the Poles and Russians. The Socialist workers are doing well, too, they are disciplined and cooperate, but we don't have many of them. Most stayed across the border to fight. The Russians have it worst: They were uprooted just like everyone else and often walked all the way across Poland until they found something to eat here. The Poles look down on them, and the Jews often hate and fear them. they have no friends here – there are no Russian or orthodox charities like there are Polish and Catholic and Jewish ones – so we are the only people they have. They are a pitiful band, mostly peasants, and unbelievably poor. I cannot imagine what things must be like in Russia if they chose to come here instead.


Letter by Ludwig Kolaski to Marie Juchacz, later read out at the founding meeting of the workers' charity association Arbeiter-Wohlfahrtsgemeinschaft Solidarität

02 March 1906, Berlin

“So, how much am I actually spending on these things?” Wilhelm laid down the heavy folder with and looked at his private secretary. There was an edge to his voice that made von Ammersleben uncomfortable.

“One and three quarter million Marks, sire.” he answered truthfully. The numbers were all there. Someone with Wilhelm's propensity for sticking his nose into things was bound to take an interest in court accounts sooner or later, and now it had happened. The onlyx thing to do was go along with whatever His Majesty decided.

“For three theatres. I guess it could be worse. People go there, after all. but about the rest of it, where does it all go? We spend more on our court than great-uncle Bertie does on his civil list, what do we get for it?” Wilhelm was amused yet, but it was the kind of grim amusement that could flick into annoyance at a moment's notice.

“Well, Sire,” von Ammersleben was visibly struggling to make a plausible case in this matter. “The Prussian court is more – complex. There is the Office of the Chief Chamberlain and the Ministry of the Royal Family, the Court Chancery and Grand Herald's Office, the Master Hunter's retinue and Marshal's Office and the...”

Wilhelm shook his head in mock despair. “I am paying half of Berlin, am I not?”

“That's not an entirely wrong analysis, actually. Your Majesty, you have to consider that many of the people who work at your court are nobles of the highest rank. If they were not given their positions, they would find it impossible to live a life appropriate to their station. The court in London can rely on its nobility to spend money, but we cannot do so with ours. Not to the same extent, anyway.” Von Ammersleben's voice was smooth. He was telling the truth, too – far too many noble families found it impossible to live well on the incomes their estates generated. Most of them turned to the army or the civil service, but a prestigious and highly lucrative court office was always within his Majesty's gift. Being Master of Ceremonies paid 18,000 Mk annually, which was more than any judge or general could hope to earn.

“It's what the Americans call a racket, really. Who appoints these people?”

“You do, Sire.” The same smooth face. You could do this kind of fencing with the emperor, and get away with it. Albert would have thrown an inkwell by now. Of course, he also knew better than to ask these questions in the first place.

“Dammit, you know what I mean. Who makes the decisions? I don't remember ever being asked who I wanted as my next deputy intendent of rose gardening.”

Von Ammersleben cleared his throat and adjusted his tie. “Sire, the offices of the court are filled by royal appointment on the suggestion of the heads of the respective departments. The paperwork does come across your desk, of course.”

He was right. It did. It had never occurred to Wilhelm to ask whether the number of officers' commissions, civil service appointments, and court positions were in any way balanced or appropriate. Not until recently, anyway. You signed these things and trusted your people to know what they were doing.

“We are going to have to clear out a lot of that clutter. According to this, I have over a hundred hunters. I don't even like to hunt! And I don't think either of these two personal loaders to His Majesty ever loaded any gun for me.”

“They are ready to do so whenever required, Sire.”

“I think a groom of the stable could do that just as well without drawing a salary just in case! Anyway, I will have to speak to Walther about this. I have a few ideas. We can use the money better, I'm sure”
02 March 1906, Berlin

“This is him, Your Majesty.” Inspector Tresckow placed the envelope on the heavy oak desk with a quiet sigh. Wilhelm flashed him a quick smile of gratitude, the rest of his face set stonily.

“He did this on his own?” Albert asked. The Prince had taken a personal interest in the case.

Tresckow answered immediately. “Yes, Your Highness, as far as we can ascertain. An interrogation and a search might yield more, but as far as we can tell the accusations all lead back to the suspect.”

“So, who is he?” Wilhelm asked.

“Count Schulenburg – a son of the von Schulenburg family.”

There was a sharp intake of breath. It was not the kind of thing you expected of old nobility.

“From what we know today, he had a promising career in the diplomatic service ahead of him when he was caught with another man in a bath in Hanover. It was not an Article 175 case, just scandal, but it was enough to ruin him, of course. Ever since, he has been living obscurely. He is known to frequent places that homosexuals meet at and be rather active in their circles, but he never used his name or its potential prominence for any public purpose. The family apparently was rather concerned he might join Hirschfeld's gang or campaign for the abolition of the article.”

“Why now?” Wilhelm asked. “If he wanted prominence, why did he not simply speak out?”

“We don't know Sire. Revenge, perhaps? He lost his position over his perversion while others kept theirs. But we can probably find out if we arrest and question him.” Tresckow seemed almost eager. Prince Albert's eyes glowed. He had liked Philipp zu Eulenburg very much.

“Can we do that?”

“The libel case gives us enough leeway. And we can certainly find witnesses to a violation of Article 175 if we have to. “, Tresckow pointed out.

Albert shot a glance at Wilhelm. The emperor nodded. “Rake him over the coals, inspector.”, he said. “We need to get to the bottom of this story.”

03 March 1906, St Petersburg

The crash and rumble of field guns in the distance sent a shiver down Leo Trotsky's spine. He was going into battle for the first time in his life knowing that he would lose it. The Workers' Council had deliberated long and hard, and in the end had decided that itz would be worth defending the Socialist democratic government of St Petersburg against the encroaching tyrant's forces. The bourgeois Duma disagreed, which surprised nobody, but ultimately also did not matter. The fighters, mutinous soldiers and industrial workers, were all Council men. Of course, Chairman Khrustalyov and his deputy Krasin actually believed they had a chance. Trotsky knew better. St Petersburg would go down in history as a fiery beacon of the people's desire for freedom, an equal to the Paris Commune, but it would go down. All that they could influence was the cost they would exact from the enemy for their city. Trotsky was determined to make it high.

“Leo, you are sure you want to stay?” Krasin looked at him doubtfully. Standing on the platform of the railway carriage that would take them out to Finland, Alexandra Kollontai sized up the young man with admiration. They had decided that the party leadership had to be evacuated to continue the revolutionary struggle, Trotsky was too young to be part of such an august circle automatically, so he had volunteered to direct the defense.

“Someone has to stay and fight.”, he replied. “Otherwise it will all fall apart.”

He was right, of course. St Petersburg was not Paris in 1871. There were plenty of escape routes to the north and east – past Viborg, where they were still allowing trains through, to Helsingfors was where the party vanguard was going. If the fighters couldn't see someone in charge who stayed with them, they might just follow, or dissolve into the city tenements. “And anyway,” he added, smiling wrily, “it's not like I can't make my way out later. I'm not dreaming of a hero's death. this just needs doing.”

Krasin nodded appreciatively. This man would go far if he survived, he was sure of that. Damned if he would have figured the Yids to have so much fighting spirit in them before the war. What a waste it was, too. He doffed his hat in quiet tribute before boarding. Trotsky left the platform, hurrying back to his command post at the general post office. His men kept count of active telegraph lines – the best they could do for a picture of the situation. Zarskoye Selo was out. Kuptchino could still be reached. The troops from Gatchina were in the coastal suburbs. That was where the mutineers from the Wolhynia guards were holding the line, and at last he could be sure they would fight. Two days ago a few of them had tried to surrender. They were letting mutinous units back into service on easy terms in other parts of the country – often, the soldiers were reassigned, but sometimes the unit just got different NCOs. Maybe they had hope for something along those lines. No such luck, though – the army had built a roomy twenty-man gallows in Srednerogatsk, and filled it on the first day. Desertions had slowed to a trickle once word got out, and Trotsky had seen that it would spread. St Petersburg was to be made an example of, that was what the imperial army said. They were already learning how much that would cost them.

05 March 1905, Warsaw

“Electricity,” Felix Dzerzhinsky declaimed, “is a wonderful thing. The very animating spirit of modernity! It lights our homes, it drives trains and heavy engines, it carries our voices across the miles and even through the very air we breathe. And it makes it wondrously easy to come by information, doesn't it, captain?”

He threw the switch. The shriek that Captain Miroslav Shirsky uttered had very little human quality left. As Dzerzhinsky interrupted the current again, his captive struggled weakly against his bonds, sobbing.

“I've told you everything, you damned bastard. Everything! Why don't you at least make an end of it?”

Dzerzhinsky looked down at the face of the traitor with a mixture of pity and contempt. Shirsky was just like you would expect – a man of the upper classes, an aristocratic poseur and weakling. An agent of the National Army Council's new counterintelligence unit had caught him stealing papers at headquarters and reported the fact. Of course, Shirsky had tried to pull rank and acted indignant with a hero's wounded pride. He had been selling documents to an Okhrana agent who posed as a commercial traveller from Thorn. They had checked his confession, of course, and it matched what they knew. The coward had joined the National Army in the days of its glory and had gone angling for an imperial pardon when the outlook became bleaker. Feliks detested this kind of privileged dinner party revolutionary, talking of danger and privation in London hotel rooms or comfortable cells where the only suffering consisted of censored reading matter. Even the Okhrana observed the niceties of rank. They had earned themselves a reputation for genteel, velvet-glove oppression, but there was nothing genteel about the way they dealt with men like Dzerzhinsky. He had learned lessons in his prison years that this pup would never get. The worse for him.

He calmly stepped across the room to tower over Captain Shirsky. “This, Captain, is a reminder of what awaits you if you ever – ever – even think of betraying the revolution again. You may have met a few Okhrana men in your days, but I went through their school, and I have learned. I can find out every secret you try to keep from me, every dark and treasonous thought. If it was up to me, I would squash you like vermin, but Pilsudski is a kind and forgiving, oh so Catholic gentleman. He would grant every soul its opportunity for redemption. Here, captain, is yours.”

He withdrew an envelope from his coat pocket and placed it on the desk in view of his prisoner.

“You will walk out of these doors and not speak a word of what has passed to anyone. Not your messmates, not your commanding general, not your wife, not your mistress. Yes, I know about her. You will meet your Mr Krugmüller again when he comes travelling next, and you will give him these documents. These are our troop dispositions in the area around Lublin and our plans for the defense of the south. You will take his money and hand it over to my representative. Then, you will resume your duties and occasionally deliver documents we will present you with to this business acquaintance of yours. If we find that your actions were to our satisfaction, you will be allowed to retain part of it. If not, you will be brought back right to this room, and you will not leave it again.”

Shirsky nodded, terror in his eyes. Gentlemen like him were often the easiest to take. They spent so much time building up their facade, once you tore it down there was almost nothing there.

“Captain,” Feliks said earnestly while he removed the wires, “one more thing: do not consider disappointing us. You have nothing to look forward to from the Russian army. An imperial pardon is not for sale, and will not be given a double traitor. If they get their hands on you, it is the katorga. If I do...” he paused momentarily. “What I did to you yesterday and today has left no physical marks on you. Imagine for a moment what I could do without being so constrained, captain. And then, make your decision wisely. You may redeem yourself in battle one day. Until then, you may serve us in our game.”

08 March 1906, Potsdam

It is hard not to think back to recent unfortunate events when we report a change in command of the guards corps. Indeed, we cannot but go on the assumption that the appointment of General Friedrich von Bock und Polach as commander, with the simultaneous installation of General Hermann von Vietinghoff at the head of the guards cavalry division, reflect the government's intention to initiate a proper housecleaning. General von Bock und Polach, a soldier of some distinction and close associate of the much-revered late Field Marshal von Waldersee, comes with the reputation of a disciplinarian and proponent of traditional Prussian values. General von Vietinghoff, also a student and friend of the Field Marshal in earlier days, has uncharitably described as being distinguished by nothing so much as his staunch conservatism in all matters military. Yet much as certain circles may find amusement in the insistence on Spartan values that these men may bring from the provinces, it is the considered opinion of your correspondent that the guards can well do with a new broom. More provincial habits of simplicity and devotion to duty, more exercising and study and fewer parades and dances, and perhaps even a touch less of the gaudy should all work wonders for the officers of the guards, and greatly alleviate the lot of the men.

11 March 1906, Vladivostok

The Japanese, as the saying went, were always polite, and doubly so when they were winning. Admiral Vitgeft found a small consolation in that. Though the terms of the treaty would have allowed Admiral Togo to enter the port in force and anchor his warships in the bay, even allow his men to enter the city to verify that the Russian fleet was honouring the promises of its government, he had chosen to stay out at sea, limiting the Japanese presence to a handful of officers. Defeat was defeat, but Vitgeft still appreciated being spared the abject humiliation of having enemy troops in the streets – doubly so since he had a professional estimate of what keeping at sea in this season meant for the Japanese.

The peace treaty had been good for the Japanese. Even after they had agreed to factor the full book value of the Manchurian Railroad Company and Korean Company into the war indemnity, Russia would pay heavily. Giving up Port Arthur also meant the end to any hope of dominating the Western Pacific. Vladivostok was not really suitable. Of course, the treaty also called for the withdrawal of all line-of-battle ships from the port for a period of ten years. To Vitgeft, that stung more than any territorial loss could. It felt like a repeat of the insult the British and French had inflicted after the Crimean war. No matter how much Togo might protect the sensibilities of the Russian navy, they would taste the bitterness of this day for years to come.

“We have sailing orders, Sir.”, Captain Livin reminded him. The man was insufferable. He had come by train from Moscow with sealed orders for the withdrawal of Vitgeft's ships. Through the past two weeks, he had not even let on whether he himself knew what they were, but he certainly relished the authority this arrangement gave him, revealing instructions piecemeal and having senior officers dance to his tune. Vitgeft was sure he would not have full instructions today, either, and he was right. The new papers – sealed, signed and authenticated – led him another part of the way at least. Something was brewing.

“We are taking troops?” he asked, genuinely surprised at the idea. It explained why so much transport capacity had been required, but it did not make sense. Surely, soldiers could walk home even if the railway was patchy.

“Seven thousand men, Sir. Field artillery and machine guns. It is faster than waiting to take them back where they are needed by train.” Livin sounded evasive.

“That's not the real reason, is it?”

“Sir, you know I cannot tell you.”

Vitgeft shrugged. If those were the rules, then those were the rules. The admiral could half imagine what they were going to do anyway. Initially, he had suspected that the returnees were simply supposed to be kept away from the rebellious railroad workers' bad influence. But transport ships with troops and colliers to accompany his cruisers – they had to be designed for a landing. From all you heard, Finland sounded like a likely place. Maybe the men would be needed in Sveaborg, or on the Alands. Still, it was one hell of a way to use them. Yes the Siberian rifles were veteran soldiers, but sending them all the way through the tropics - many of them, having never travelled by sea – Vitgeft could imagine the fetid squalor the troopships would soon descend into. His flagship and his own cruisers would be packed with extra naval personnel, too, but at least these were men who had their sea legs. What an idea! He hoped that whatever the Czar had in mind for the men was worth the trouble.

13 March 1906, St Petersburg

The streets of the city were eerily quiet. Captain Valentin Berezik had often visited St Petersburg during his posting to Schlüsselburg. It had been only a short train ride, and the schedule of a peacetime officer in the army's more popular postings was not very demanding. He had always come away with an impression of crowded, bustling, confused activity, and anthill of a city that did not even seem to go to sleep completely when the last dances ended. Now, you hardly saw a person. Nothing moved. The occasional pedestrian would consciously avert his eyes, affecting the slow, purposeful shuffling walk that signalled they were going about legitimate business, not running away from anyone. Only the pickets posted at crossings and bridges acknowledged his presence, formally saluting him as he led his men into what had still been a battlefield yesterday.

Things were worse in the workers' neighbourhoods. Out in the suburbs, you saw the occasional bit of damage – smashed windows, carts and carriages roughly manhandled off the road – but here, the smoking ruins of barricades had been left uncleared. Entire blocks of flats and factories stared at the men with empty-burned-out windows, the walls pockmarked with bullets and occasionally holed by artillery shells. And almost every intersection sported a gallows. Berezik had heard of the “Crassus order”. Originally, scuttlebutt had it, Dubrovin had advised the Czar to have all rebels taken alive impaled, but Grand prince Nikolai, or someone with a sense of the demands of modernity, anway, had intervened. He approved of making an example of rebels in principle, but the idea of decorating miles and miles of roads with the corpses of captives still felt revolting. He was a soldier, not a hangman! Apparently, others had gone about the task with greater enthusiasm. Berezik could feel the eyes of the men marching in column behind him. Straining his ears, he could make out their muttered comments amid the clatter of hooves and boots on the cobblestones. They did not sound approving.

The Neva bridges were intact – that, at least, had been achieved. Navy vessels had been instrumental in getting the troops across the river at undefended points, circumventing the rebels at the bridgeheads. Cossack cavalry and guards infantry were posted at every one now. In the inner city, some people were out and about – well-dressed folk, mostly, and many sporting the silver badge of the Patriotic Union. Women brought flowers and water to the guards. They did not bring food, there had been little enough of that in the city over the past months. Still, it was nice being appreciated. Or maybe appeased. It could be hard to tell. Finally, they reached the command post set up at the Smolny Institute. Here, he would be assigned duties and billets for his men. Soldiers across the street had turned an enclosed schoolyard into an improvised holding pen, guarding sullen-looking civilians. So, at least not everyone had been hanged out of hand. Maybe these were just suspects, waiting for whatever justice the state of emergency would allot them. Or maybe they were already scheduled for the next trains out to Siberia. It was tolerably warm and not raining, Berezik figured, so they should not be in too great danger for now. He still hoped they would find him and his men indoor accommodation.

13 March 1906, Hamburg

“It was back in 1905, in November.” Lieutenant Rodenson excitedly explained to the great man seated across from him. He knew hew was not supposed to be feeling this way – his family had managed to get him a commission, if only one in the Südwest mounted police, which was not even quite as good as Schutztruppe – but he still could not help being deferential to Max Warburg. The man was a legend far beyond the world of finance. “I was on patrol out in Namaland. We've been having trouble with the Nama forever, and the mounted police and Herero Scouts are always busy, even when the Schutztruppe sits pretty in Swakopmund. That day, I was riding along a stretch of desert to check for traces of raiding expeditions. My boy, Hendrik, and my two Herero guides were with me, but that was all. My horse was starting to favour one hoof, so I signalled a halt and told them to rest in the shade. You get grateful for any kind of shade out there. Namaland must be the worst place on earth for heat. Anyway, I found that a stone had lodged in the hoof, so I removed it and decided to lead my horse for a while. I was just about to throw it away when I took a closer look. It's here.”

The young officer withdrew a small pouch from his tunic pocket and placed two paper wraps on the desk.

“May I?” Warburg unwrapped the stone. It was smallish, unevenly shaped, and dirty white. The banker knew immediately what he was seeing.

“Have you had it appraised, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, Sir. I know it's not quite proper, but my family is in the diamond trade. That's how I knew. A cousin in Antwerp says it's fourteen carat, not flawless, but still quite good. Depending on the skill of the cutter, he could realise anywhere between four and ten thousand pounds in London.”

Warburg sucked his teeth. That kind of money was serious, even for someone like him. For a junior officer in a colonial auxiliary force, it represented a fortune. Rodenson unwrapped the other piece of paper.

“I looked around some more after I had found the first stone. Of course, there were no more like that, but after searching maybe twenty square metres of ground for half an hour, I had this.”

The wrap held seven more small stones, white and bluish.

“I've had these checked, too. They are individually not worth that much, but of better quality than the large one.”

Everybody had been talking about the 'New Rand' for some time now. The German press occasionally got into patriotic fever pitches over the fact that Britain seemed to have grabbed all the good bits of Southern Africa, and some of the more imaginative novelists invented lost cities, fabulous gold treasures and diamond mines in the colonies. Well, this was real, lying right here on Warburg's Hamburg office desk wrapped in dirty bits of newsprint. And to think he had almost cancelled the appointment...

“You did well to come to me, Lieutenant. Very well. Even if the find is limited, we will be able to realise some profit, but from what you've told me I suppose there may be more than just an isolated pocket involved. This will, of course, require capital investment. Don't worry, I can take care of that part. If you allow, I will have my lawyers draw up a preliminary agreement and then we will go about securing a mining concession. The most important part at this point is that you must not discuss this with anyone.”

Rodenson nodded. He had kept his mouth shut so far, though it had been hard on him. Going back for some more diamonds after getting a furlough could have made him wealthy - or dead, given the Nama's proclivities. But waiting for his leave home and contacting the right people would make him seriously rich. He understood the business well enough to know that. It might not help your military career, he thought, but sometimes it was good to have family in the trade.

17 March 1906, Sveaborg

Antti Heikkinen stared incredulously over the seawall. Out in the misty half-distance on the choppy waters of the Gulf of Finland, he could see the Russian fleet pass by, exactly as the papers had announced they would, exactly as nobody had expected. When the Finnish provisional government had received the news that a squadron of cruisers and supply ships would be despatched from Kronstadt to Archangelsk, everyone had naturally assumed that they would be part of the Russian attack on Finland. Living in the perpetual expectation of the other shoe dropping, it had seemed perfectly logical. The army council had decided to try to defend against a naval landing, manning the few working guns left in Sveaborg with everyone who had the slightest idea how to handle them – Swedish volunteers and a handful of German advisers, mainly. Heikkinen himself had not placed too much hope in the stopping power of amateur-crewed antique naval guns to stop a determined landing, but as one of the army council's oldest members, the duty to defend the place devolved on him. It looked like he would not see the fighting qualities of his ragtag force seriously tested today after all.

“Looks like they found something more interesting to do, no?”, Per Skeire remarked. The Swedish navy veteran had turned up under his own power earlier in the year and become an important member of what passed for Heikkinen's staff. His calmness under stress and his methodical way of tackling impossible tasks were quite possibly even more valuable than his experience with sea warfare and big guns.

“What if they turn back?” Heikkinen asked. The men spoke in Swedish – most leaders of the uprising did, largely because all the Finns on the council knew the language at least somewhat, but many of their Swedish comrades did not speak much Finnish at all. Even Colonel Mannerheim held his speeches to the crowd through an interpreter. Once you threw German advisers into the mix, things got even more interesting. Some of them spoke Swedish or Danish, which kind of worked. Some of the better-educated Swedes also spoke, or at least read, German. Still, it was all a bit babylonic, and how it would play out under fire was anyone's guess.

“Too late for that. Unless they really want to screw with our heads. Then they'll come back under cover of darkness. But there is no way they can turn this formation around and head our way now without snarling it up.”

“Are you sure?” Heikkinen tended to be overcautious, an odd trait in a revolutionary, but a useful one.

“Most people don't appreciate how hard it is to maneuver ships in formation. The lead cruisers – I think they're Izumrud and Bayan, by the way – are much faster than that beast steaming behind them. They are not in line astern, and they can't turn in line athwart from each other. Not to mention what trying to do that would do to the transports following them. They aren't warships, no way their crews can do that. And the ships closing the line are also not going to be happy with the loss of speed. The only way they could turn around is by having each ship do a 180° turn in position, and to be honest, I don't even see the Russian battlefleet doing that reliably, let alone these scows. No, they're headed out.”

The Finnish commander pondered that fact. “Where to?”

Skeire shrugged. “Maybe the Alands. I don't think they'll land on the coast directly. I'd hate to tangle up ships that big among the small islands, and there's nothing important up that way. Or maybe the papers actually told the truth and they are headed for Archangelsk.”

“Should we fire on them?”

The Swedish sailor looked at his commander with the quiet, sad realisation of a teacher who had seen too many dunces in his time. “Depends.” he said emotionlessly. “How much do you want to live to see tomorrow?”

19 March 1906, Berlin

A Prelates' War?

If we could call the Sharps breechloader of American fame a “Beecher's Bible”, we should now ask ourselves whether a Mauser rifle should not properly be known as a “Warsaw Catechism”. This, at least, is what the reports we get from loading stations and railyards near the polish border suggests. Newspaper reports of the hardship suffered by poor civilians in the fighting in Poland has always aimed at tugging the heartstrings of the petit bourgeois and prise open his famously tight wallet. None were more active in this, and none more ready to trumpet their munificence to the four winds, than the Catholic church. imagine, then, this reporter's surprise to hear from comrades working the loading docks at Breslau main station, at Reuthen, Thorn and Königshütte what it is they are shipping east: crates of rifles and bullets, military boots and ration tins of bully beef, army coats and fascine knives! What are we to make of this? Well, it should be obvious that the church has no interest in supporting a popular uprising against autocratic rule. But by coopting the revolution of the Polish proletariat, by deceiving the people into thinking this a war of religion, of Catholic against Orthodox, it may hope to restore its former position of power in the new Polish state and subvert its desire for liberty. ...

(Vorwärts article)

“I thought we had kept the church stuff separate?” The voice of Emperor Wilhelm III was heavy with frustration. When General von der Goltz had arrived with the news, he had already had the paper on his desk. The Vorwärts was not his usual reading, but Rathenau occasionally did read it and he had telegraphed from Essen.

The general was visibly trying to contain his anger. “Your Majesty, we did. The mistake is theirs. But I suppose if you are working on the word of a few drunk roustabouts and longshoremen... a Caritas crate loooks very much like one of ours. And we did include rations and boots in the Church deliveries on occasion. They may have given them to the poor, for all we know.”

“And of course, there was nothing we could have done differently.” Wilhelm left the question hanging.

“No, not really. This is the kind of thing that ends careers in my department, but it wasn't a leak or anything. Those Social Democrat hacks are just good at what they do.” Von der Goltz was defensive. His operation had been very professionally run.

Wilhelm sighed and said nothing.

“You can have my resignation, Your Majesty. It goes without saying that I will assume...”

“Don't be bloody silly, von der Goltz!” the emperor snapped. “You know I need you to run things. Nobody else can do it. What I want you to tell me now is, what do we do?”

Von der Goltz rested his hand on the edge of the desk as he explained: “Nothing substantial, at first. We discourage all talk of such things as irresponsible and foolish, of course. There are enough patriots in the mainstream press to heed that kind of hint. If asked, we steadfastly deny that the German government had anything to do with the alleged arms shipments. Of course, we cannot rule out that sympathisers may have privately purchased weapons... they got this one wrong, Sire. That was very lucky. The church will loudly protest – and rightly. The catholic press will run its own campaign. When the storm blows over, nobody will be any wiser, though everyone will have a lower opinion of the other side.”

“What about the Russians?”

The general shrugged. “If they want to declare war, they don't need a reason. It's their funeral. I assume they may call for an official apology. that would be Your Majesty's province.”

Wilhelm massaged his eyes. “All right, we will cross that bridge when we come to it. Now we need to make sure the next shipments are secure. Secure-er. How are we doing that?”

22 March 1906, Berlin

Dr Magnus Hirschfeld. Listed by itself, the name on the court guest list looks innocuous. We know that the Emperor likes to spend what time he can spare in edifying conversation with learned men and pretty ladies. Take some time to learn, though, dear reader, about this man. A Jewish doctor, a specialist, if that is the word, in diseases of the sexual urge, and not least, a man who has in the past defended every imaginable perversion as normal and healthy – that is the company that the Berlin court keeps these days. When to any right-thinking German man, the very thought of turning perverse urges into a science is revolting, the idea which Dr Hirschfeld proposes is doubly distressing: he calls for legalising homosexual acts and indeed, for embracing these deviants into the bosom of society! Just as the good men of Berlin could rejoice in the thought that this cancer would be excised from the guards corps, its metastases are appearing in the highest places. How long, we wonder, will the impressionable mind of a young and by all accounts overeducated monarch be able to withstand the sustained efforts to convince, indeed convert him? And what must we conclude of those whose duties would include protecting him from such pernicious influence?

(article in Die Zukunft)

24 March 1906, East of Chelmno

Feldwebelleutnant Hans Schimanski looked out over the wreckage of what had been a defensive position just a few hours earlier. Damn, damn, DAMN the Polish nobles and their pride! Their advisers had talked to them about Magersfontein and the virtues of defensible positions across routes of advance, and the Russians would need the railway, everyone could see that. The forward units of the National Army had dug in squarely across the line, on a slight hillcrest, not much, but you didn't get real mountains here. It took a liberal application of boot and stick, but they had produced a proper trench system in the gummy mud. Some artillery had helped – German field guns mostly, but also howitzers and even a mortar they had brought out from Warsaw. And it had worked just fine, too. The Russian commander of the cavalry screen had tried to have at them with a direct charge. Surely, even the Russians would have him court-.martialled, assuming he was not among the green-coated bodies that dotted the plain. Then, infantry had come. They had tried use their 77mm guns to shell the Poles into submission. A first assault had shown them how little impact their fire had had. Then, they had moved out to the north to flank the defenders. Textbook stuff – they had designed their position with a refused flank and made for a quick line of retreat along the railway. Schimanski figured they would have held out for at least four more days before the Russians brought in either enough troops or the siege artillery they would need to batter them down.

And then there had been Colonel Pavelczyk. A wonderful man, inspiring, dashing, ferociously patriotic, the very image of a szlachcic. He had decided that his fighting men – cavalry, designated lancers, though they didn't actually carry lances, of course – were needed to counter the flanking movement. Major Erhardt, the most senior German adviser, had ended up leaving in a huff. He had gone so far as to tell each and every one of his colleagues that they were free to emulate his example. Schimanski was not sure whether he should not have. At any rate, the battle had gone exactly as you would have imagined. The Polish lancers advanced on the Russian troops and began exchanging fire. Soon, both sides were pinned down and Pavelczyk had called out reinforcements. The Russians retreated, the Poles followed, and then the Cossack cavalry cut them off and massacred them with their vicious Madsen guns. The entire left wing of their defensive position had evaporated. Troops began streaming back in a state nearing panic. What was left now – after the commanding officer had used particularly trusted men to harshly restore order – would not be enough to do more than delay the inevitable for a day or two. A day would be what the people of Chelmno would need. So, Schimanski and his men were sitting on the rear of a hillside overlooking the railway line and waiting. Their position had been drawn into a circle. While they held it, the Russians could not use the railway to advance on Chelmno. That, Schimanski reflected, was the only advantage of their disposition. The countryside was lousy with franc-tireurs, which made the enemy leery of moving in units smaller than a company. They would have their pitched battle after all.

On the hilltop, the remaining howitzer boomed. A shell burst among the Russian positions below. Some riflemen opened fire, followed by the snarling rat-tat-tat of a Russian machine gun. That was another thing he wished they had. How were you supposed to fight a proper defensive battle without machine guns? He weighed his revolver in his hand thoughtfully. It would not do much good now, though later, in among the trees, it might be useful still. Then he slipped a cartridge out of the loop on his belt and carefully placed it in his breast pocket. He might need that, and it was better to put it aside now. He was a methodical man and did not want to risk expending all his ammunition in the heat of battle tomorrow.

29 March 1906, Warsaw

“If you play by the rules, you lose.” Feliks Dzerzhinsky, snappy in the new uniform as head of the National Security Bureau, put down his teacup with quiet finality and focused his eyes on General Pilsudski's face. “You have another month, maybe six weeks. The muddy season is almost over, and once the ground dries out completely, the Russians will push much harder. They have more men, more artillery and much more cavalry than we do. Just how long do you think you can keep them out of Warsaw?”

Pilsudski spread his hands helplessly. “If we hurt them enough, they will have to negotiate. They aren't doing too well in the south at the moment.”

“For a reason, Josef. I told you about Captain Shirsky and his theft of documents. The Russians ran squarely into prepared defenses, but we cannot afford to play this gamble too often. We put troops into the south that we don't have north now. Where will you magic up the forces to repeat the performance on the road from Brest or Bialystok?”

The general sighed. “I know. We can still hope for the Germans.”

“The Germans!” Dzerzhinsky's voice was almost scornful. “It's either God and his angels descending from the heavens or the Germans coming over the border. They aren't coming, Josef! We have to do this on our own, or we won't do it at all.”

Pilsudski's voice wavered. He had not been having a good week with reports of heavy blows struck in the south and large enemy troop concentrations everywhere. The Russians were pushing them back in the south, forcing them to commit the best troops they had, and that wasn't even where they had their largest forces. Not by far. The armies of the Narev, Niemen and Bug were much larger than that of the Wieprz, and they were finding it impossible to stop it. “If they don't negotiate, we may well be lost anyway. So, what do you suggest?”

Feliks' eyes were flinty. His comrades did not call him a man of steel for nothing. “First, get rid of the idea that your little state here is free Poland. Poland exists in its people. The Russians can march all the way to the border and burn every city and village in their path, but as long as the people fights, they will not rule it. You will have to be prepared to go back underground. The party's combat organisation has to be prepared.”

“We are doing that! Feliks, you know that's all going on. I'm already unhappy with how much money and how many weapons we are channelling that way.” Pilsudski replied.

“Not enough! You have thousands of men, reliable, patriotic, angry men who make second-rate infantry, but first-class assassins. Take away their rifles and give them dynamite and revolvers. Let them stay when the Russians sweep through and raise hell in their rear. They haven't begun to feel the anger of the people, and they will scream when they do!”

Pilsudski was unconvinced. “We would be putting the civilians there at risk. The Russians are cruel, there will be reprisals.”

Dzerzhinsky shook his head. “That is the point, Josef! We need the people to be angry with the Russians. We want them to hate every Russian soldier from the bottom of their hearts. You said it yourself: they are so much more powerful than we are. We can't beat them playing by their rules. Only the mobilisation of every resource will do it. We've even been buying rations for our army in Germany because we were concerned about requisitioning from the hungry peasants. You don't get anywhere by being nice to people!”

“So, what do you want me to do, burn the villages and loot their grain?”

“Yes.” Dzerzhinsky's face was rigid. If you didn't know him, you would have thought him emotionless. “Yes, that is exactly what you must do. Make the Russians advance into a wasteland. Leave them nothing to fight us with. Force them to alienate everyone they meet! We cannot accept fence-sitters any more. If the people are not for us, they are aiding our enemies with their passivity. The good times are over today, Josef. The gloves come off!”

07 April 1906, Potsdam

Out in the gardens, birds were singing. Sunlight flooded through the tall windows, spilling over the broad expanse of the baize table littered with papers and maps. The informal imperial council was in session, and the men were sweating in the unaccustomed warmth of the spring day. Wilhelm tossed his peaked cap onto the table impatiently and plopped down in a chair.

“So, what do we make of this?”, he asked.

General von der Goltz sighed. “Your Majesty, all I can say again is that in order to be safe, not only need we prepare for war, we should consider initiating it. It will inevitably come, and the current situation allows us to engage Russia at an advantage. It is the best thing we could do for the nation.”

Rathenau shook his head sadly. “General,” he replied, “with all due respect, that is close to insane. You would start a European war just because the opportunity to grind down Russia beckons? Consider the consequences, the economic devastation, the loss of credit and international standing! How long can we hold the French off?”

The general was about to reply when Wilhelm raised his hand. “Please,” he said, “I've had enough of this debate. General, I have said it before, I will not sign off on a preemptive attack on Russia. My question is, what is the danger of a war breaking out over the crisis? I need to know how to prepare.”

Admiral von Koester spoke up, with his characteristically calm, precise voice. “Not this year.”

Von der Goltz grunted dismissively. “Koester, the Russian army is concentrated on our border. Their Siberian corps are being moved west. The reserve is at near full mobilisation. You cannot dismiss this because your sense of security dictates you would not attack under these circumstances.”

“I'm sorry, general. It's more than that. First of all, they need their army to subdue their rebels. Their fleet dispositions also militate against it. They have just recalled a number of ships from the Far East, going the long route around the Cape, and despatched three armoured cruisers and two ships of the line to Archangelsk. If they were preparing for war, they would be concentrating their ships in the Baltic to defend the Gulf of Finland. They haven't retaken Sveaborg yet, though they could have. No, they are not prepared and what is more, they are not preparing.”

He paused. Foreign minister von Bülow took the opportunity to speak up. “Bear in mind the Russian government has agreed to participate in the Poland conference. Naturally, they are bringing rather absolute demands to the table, but that is only to be expected. Surely if the idea of negotiating were so distasteful to Nicholas II, he would have refused. He could have at no risk – nobody would have gone to war over the Polish question.”

“At least we should be prepared, Your Majesty.”, von der Goltz interjected. “Mobilise the reserves. Be ready for the event of war. What is the harm?”

Rathenau shook his head. “You mean other than destroying Germany's economy for years to come, I suppose? The general mobilisation is designed as a tool for emergencies. In the war of '71, you could at least be reasonably sure you would be taking people away from their farms, mostly, and farming families can feed themselves. Today – we depend for our economic survival on the products we can export. If we withdraw the labour pool from the industrial areas, the consequences will be dire. The imbalance will drive up wages, leaving us uncompetitive for years to come, Contracts unfilled will mean foreign firms will snap up our markets. I doubt even a real Russian attack could match the damage from an unnecessary mobilisation.”

Von Bülow nodded, adding, “Sire, we must also consider the knock-on effect. A German mobilisation would be seen as threatening. Both the French and the Russians would assume we are preparing an attack and react accordingly. By securing ourselves against the mirage of a Russian steamroller, we might well provoke a French attack for no good reason at all. Their government is already extremely nervous of our intentions.”

Wilhelm rubbed his temples. “All right, so how bad would preparing for war be? What kind of cost are we looking at?”

Rathenau looked down at his papers. “I'm afraid the only honest answer is that nobody really knows. But stockpiling the necessary strategic materials alone might easily cost us two to three hundred million marks, not counting the lost profits from using the shipping. An actual full mobilisation would be horrendously expensive.”

The emperor nodded. “I see. Very well, gentlemen. I will expect everyone to keep a close eye on the Russians and the French, but right now, we will go on the assumption that there will be no war. As Bismarck said, Russian troops tend to march through German newspapers more often than through real border provinces. Now, let us get to the matter of civil service reform.”

10 April 1906, western bank of the Wieprz

General Kondratovich's voice was hoarse from shouting. This was not going the way he had envisioned. Not at all. His knees were still shaking, though he did his best to keep himself under control. To think that it had only been a matter of minutes... the wreckage of the following train lay smoking in the water among the twisted ruin of the bridge. How had the engineers missed the charges? Easy, Kondratovich thought. They hadn't bothered to look. He had learned the hard way, back in Manchuria, that people only did their job properly if you checked on them.

At least the enemy did not seem to be very competent, either. Blowing up the bridge not before, but actually under the advancing troops had been a neat trick, though he doubted that a properly operating army would have fallen for it. If he had managed something like it, he would have had a battery or two and a regiment of infantry in position to drive the bridgehead back into the river. The Poles seemed to have – well, very little. They mostly harrased the Russian troops with long-range rifle fire. Now that the worst of the shock had abated and the puffs of smoke from their dated rifles betrayed their small number, the Russians were rallying. the window of opportunity was closing fast. Kondratovich was determined not to give them the chance.

An officer, a major by his insignia – he still had not managed to learn all the names - came up to report. “Sir, we are recovering survivors from the train. I would like to use some of my men for that duty. The perimeter guard is up and the enemy does not seem to be moving on us. Unfortunately, the guns are still on the opposite bank.”

The general attempted a smile. “Good to hear, Major. How many men have we got?”

“I put the first useful men I could find out on the skirmish line, so there are gaps in the ranks, but we should have three companies ready to move in a matter of minutes. Some men of the engineer battalion are also on this bank, and cossacks. From what I gather, there are two squadrons back from reconnaissance. By the time we're finished clearing the mess, we should have all five companies at reasonable strength, plus the train crew and engineers making up a sixth. And whoever we can rescue from the other train.” The water was cold.

“Go ahead, Major.” the general said. “I want to speak to the commander of the cossacks. And then I need a despatch runner to telegraph headquarters, or else they will have trains piling up from here to Berditchev.”

The officer saluted and left. Kondratovich rested, leaning on the solid iron siding of a railway carriage to order his thoughts. The cossacks were a godsend. He would send them to reconnoiter the enemy's flank. If they were really as weak as they looked, they could attack directly and clear them out. If not, they would still draw fire and attention away from the men organising themselves on the bank. Once he knew more, he would have to decide. A retreat would be hard, but with two companies giving covering fire, it was doable. Men in single file could still cross, if they stepped carefully. And if it was possible, an attack, too.

Major Kantor cursed his luck. First the engineers had blown the bridge too early, then his gunners managed to bungle unloading their two guns so badly they tied up his armoured train for a solid hour, and now he had cossacks on his flank. Fucking cossacks! He was supposed to be driving the Russian advance guard back into the river and set up a defensive position to prevent them from having their engineers rebuild the bridge. Brigadier Ferber's plan was good, but right now, it looked like it had depended on too many things going right.

“How many cossacks, dammit!”, he shouted at hapless Lieutenant Mandelbaum reporting.

“We don't know, Sir. I willl take a patrol out to see. They are firing on us.”

Bullets spanged off the armour plate, punctuating their dialogue. “They are? I hadn't noticed, lieutenant. Yes, by all means find out and then send them my best regards and if they could bloody stop that.”

There was no way the cossacks could do anything substantial with their rifles. But as long as they were there, he could not take it forward and risk being attacked from the rear. Seething with frustration, the major stepped into the forward carriage. The sponson gunners stood up and saluted.

“Don't just stand there, dammit. Get the bastards!”

The Maxim gun opened up. At this range, they would not hit anyone, but at least they would make the cossacks keep their heads down. That made two of them. A gurgling scream outside indicated that one bullet had told on a luckless soldier. Cantor shuddered. Unless he could dislodge the cossacks, he would have to withdraw. And some military genius back at Lublin had decided that he didn't need cavalry when operating on the railway line. He might have to use the guns, lose another hour or so manhandling them into position... still, it was the only option he could see. He waved for his runner to come closer and pass the word not to take the guns forward yet.

Corporal Siletski looked out over the tree trunk that sheltered him from view and – he hoped – Russian bullets to look out over the open ground that separated his position from the Russians. Most of them were still invisible, hidden from view behind the train where they could regroup in safety. There were just enough riflemen out there to keep the National Army from sticking their heads up. Still, occasionally you could catch sight of some men who looked to be officers. The corporal recalled what his captain had told him about the battle of Radun: If they look like they are telling anyone what to do, shoot them first. Next, shoot anyone who looks like they know what they are doing. It sounded like a good idea. Certainly, they would have to do something to keep the Russians from driving them out by sheer force of numbers. Where on earth was Major Kantor with his troops and guns?

Carefully, he took aim over the sights of his Mexican rifle and squeezed the trigger. The shot failed to register. Damned Mondragon guns – they could fire till their barrels melted, but you couldn't hit a barn door once you got past a hundred meters. Giving them to corporals, he felt, was a punishment. He turned and tapped Private Berkovitz. “Swap rifles? I want to try shoot some officers.”, he shouted. Berkovitz smiled grimly and handed him his Mauser. Right. Now down to brass tacks.

The problem with field guns, Major Kantor was coming to learn, was that they took a long time to do anything. He followed the blasts of exploding shrapnel with his field glasses, but every time the gunners managed to straddle what looked like a firing position, the damned cossacks had moved again. The flash of their Madsen machine gun looked almost like a taunt. Three of his artillerymen had already been shot servicing the antiques the Germans had given them. With no shield to protect them and no earthworks to shelter behind, the only defense they could have had was range, and they didn't. A firefight against mounted riflemen at under a thousand meters was a losing proposition.

Despite the chilly wind, Kantor sweated. Guns and the men who knew how to fight them were precious, irreplaceable resources. If he allowed them to be shot for nothing – worse, if the cossacks charged and took them – he would be utterly disgraced. He could not risk it. A quick gesture summoned his dispatch runner.

“Corporal,” he ordered, “move down the railway line to Major Cohen. He is to take C company out of the line and bring them back here to give us covering fire. Then, we will drive away these bastards.”

The runner hesitated. Withdraw troops from the ambush?

“That's an order!” Kantor shouted. The young man saluted and began jogging up the line. At least he had the sense to do so on the side of the embankment away from the enemy.

The drums were beating. A few of the men had fifes, too. General Kondratovich was unsure whether this was a good idea, but he had come to appreciate the morale-boosting power of music in the Siberian campaign, and these were green troops, well-trained, but unbloodied, from the European corps. He was still surprised that the Poles had not come out of the forest. Apparently, they really had as few men as it seemed. In that case, why expose them at all? Well, he was not going to quibble with their willingness to make mistakes.

To barked commands, the surviving soldiers of his companies stood to attention. The ranks were a bit ragged – especially in the formations they had filled up with engineers and railwaymen – but the sight was sufficiently heartening still. With no artillery threatening them, and at the outside of effective rifle range from the enemy, he was not going to forgo the opportunity to get his men into the proper mindset for the fight. No vodka was on hand, otherwise he would have had a ration issued, but he felt sure that some of the men had taken the opportunity to share their personal supply when they divided up the ammunition. He had fumed on learning how many of the troops had not bothered to carry live rounds, as though this had been a peacetime transport. in the end, they had been reduced to passing spare bandoliers from troops on the other bank across the wreckage of the bridge. Again, the enemy had left them undisturbed. It was almost ridiculous. With roughly forty rounds per men, he felt he could run the risk.

Major Andrashko – that, he had learned in the meantime, was his name – had prepared an improvised lectern for him. Flanked by a regimental standard bearer, a bearded giant of a man, he stood to address the men. “Soldiers!” he shouted in his best command voice, “Today, you face the test of battle! The enemy has struck at us cowardly and viciously, but he lacks the strength to defeat us. Over there, in the forest, they are waiting, sniping at us like the curs they are. So we will have to go over there and kick them out!”

A thundering hurrah came in response. The men knew what was expected, but the general thought he could hear real emotion in their voices. A crescendo of drumrolls signalled for quiet. Once more, Kondratovich began to speak.

“It won't be all easy, but I have no doubt of you, men! Give them the bayonet and drive hard! Jews and Poles cannot...” He paled and faltered, his body jerking as though struck by a sudden cramp. Under the eyes of his horrified officers, General Kondratovich crumpled to the ground. A dark red stain slowly spread on the breast of his coat.

“Are you all right, Sir?”, Major Andrashko asked.

“It's nothing.” the general said, forcing himself to smile. “You will be in command now. Go, get them.”

Andrashko drew his saber, signalled to the standard bearer and, striding towards the forest's edge already, shouted at the top of his voice, “Let's get them, men! For the general! Forward!”

Spent cartridges rattled on the floor of the armoured carriage as the machine gun snarled out. Rifle fire crackled outside. Major Kantor knew that he had failed. Yes, he had saved his gunners from cossack sabers – narrowly, but the infantry had been in position to catch the surprise flank attack in time. Yes, the riders had taken terrible casualties. But he now knew he had dithered away the time he would have needed to prepare his advance on the river. A desperate call for reinforcements had reached him – too late. He could spare noone for at least the hour it would take to see the retreating enemy safely out of range and collect the wounded. He would order a retreat, take the men back to the train and back to Lublin, and face the wrath of Ferber. The brigadier would bust him back to private – at least. But there was nothing for it. He would not throw away precious troops to save his honour today.

RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT! The Mexican rifle barked again, smashing into Private Berkovitz's aching shoulder. Its barrel seemed to glow. Berkovitz had been employed in a weaving mill in Lodz before the revolution and knew a bit about what metal could stand. This could not be healthy. he suspected that the accuracy was already extremely poor. Of course, if he lived to bring the battered piece back to Lublin, he would be ecstatic to be chewed out by his sergeant. He was far from sure he would.

The Russians had started out from their position in the shelter of the train like an illustration from the history books he remembered from school. They had even had a flag flying, and officers leading them with swords drawn. First at a walk, then at a run, the men in green coats had covered the distance between them and him in terrifyingly short time, their bayonets gleaming in the sunlight. Berkovitz had never felt as alone as he did in this moment. Even as men and officers fell, the attackers had fanned out into open order and began advancing in leaps, dropping down on their stomachs behind cover as they found it and firing off salvoes to force the defenders to stay low as their comrades advanced. How they shouted! Their hurrahs were even more disconcerting than the occasional bullet whipping past. More than once, he had fought down the impulse to run, and he suspected a few of his comrades had not. Where WERE the damned reinforcements?! Kantor had to be sleeping! They had to hear this racket all the way to Lodz.

In the middle of the fight, with the Russians close in to almost a hundred metres, to where he could hear their shouted commands, curses, and the shrieks of their wounded, something strange happened. Berkovitz was terrified out of his mind, but he was sure he could not be the only one to notice the volume of fire was slackening. It was as though the hundred-headed animal that had gone to ground so close before their painfully few, scattered riflemen was pausing to recapture its breath. He had heard and half-understood shouted orders and a sudden, metallic whistle, and hell opened. The Russians rose and fired one single earth-shaking volley, then, without even waiting to chamber new rounds, broke into a run across the narrow field that separated them. Screams of pain and terror told him that at least some of the bullets had found their mark. Then the riflemen of the National Army opened up, and the green ranks began to thin. Furiously, Berkovitz jammed a new magazine into his rifle and fired another burst. For the first time since the beginning of the assault, he dared to hope that he might survive this. Before his position, a Russian soldier crumpled to the ground, felled perhaps by his bullets, or maybe someone else's, he could not be sure. An infantryman swinging his Nagant rifle like a club burst through the bushes to Berkovitz's left. He swivelled around, levelled his rifle and fired wildly. Then, almost as suddenly as it had begun, the terror was over. Russian soldiers were running, taking cover behind the bushes and mounds they had used in their advance. Some stood dazed, raising their hands over their heads or simply wandering around aimlessly, trailing rifles and bandoliers. Berkovitz turned to speak to Corporal Siletski, but found he could not get a word out. How had his throat become so raw? He did not remember screaming, though he must have. Siletski laughed like a madman and raised his Mauser rifle to shoot at the retreating enemy. Berkovitz pushed down the barrel.

Lieutenant Shosko appeared, shouting orders in a voice that seemed to filter through thick wads of cottonwool. He waved his arms about, pointing backwards until the men understood. Hastily picking up their wounded, the remnants of Berkovitz's company abandoned their skirmish line to entrain for their journey back to Lublin. The private tried to take a count of survivors and found that the losses had been far less bad than he had feared in the chaos of the battle. That was something he remembered his instructors had hammered home: stay calm and keep shooting. Dazed, he silently mouthed to himself: “It actually works.”
13 April 1906, Mahenge

The folding chair creaked protestingly. General Ludendorff's meaty frame was not built for the kind of furniture you transported on the backs of native porters. Of course, General Ludendorff was not built for the tropics, either. Sweat beaded his square forehead and massive neck. His temper seemed to deteriorate with every kilometre that his troops advanced into the Rufiji lowlands.

“How many porters?”, he asked irritably, waving at the estimates that major Johannes had prepared.

“About 1,200, Sir.” the Major was absolutely serious. Ludendorff cursed himself. By now, he really should not have been surprised by anything of this sort any more. He should, in fact, have been able to do the calculations himself. The ability to manage logistics had always been something he prided himself on, but the way that campaigns in Africa were forced to depend on uncountable swarms of native porters for their every step still threw him. It was so insane he had initially thought the locals were pulling his leg: A boy for every Askari, two for every white soldier, porters for the ammunition for every section, porter columns for the food supply, the machine gun, the tents, the field beds, and of course, the damned foul-tasting quinine that everyone was forced to take daily. At least he didn't have to police the men's medication habits. The Schutztruppe knew what depended on it.

“All right.”, he said, sounding more grudging than he had intended. “You know better about this kind of thing.”

Major Johannes saluted and was about to leave when Ludendorff motioned him to sit. “Major,” he asked, straight out, “do you think we are walking into a trap?”

The officer's face betrayed momentary doubt. Johannes was a methodical man and an old Africa hand, not given to hasty conclusions. “No, sir.” he eventually answered. “The rebels are not united. There is no way they can orchestrate something on this scale as a lure to draw us in. Of course there may yet be trouble from supposedly loyal tribes, but that is not the same thing.”

Ludendorff nodded. “Thank you, Major. It goes against the grain of the warfare I have studied to march into enemy country like that. No secured positions, no broad front of advance. It would never do in Europe.”

“Africa is different, Sir.” The major still felt unsure to what degree it was acceptable for him to dispense advice to one of the general staff's demigods. “Colonial warfare is mainly fought against a hostile nature. If the enemy is capable of mounting any kind of real resistance, that is a bonus. You've seen how miserably these niggers fight.”

“Ours certainly!” Ludendorff snorted with derision and jutted his chin in the direction where the ruga-ruga auxiliaries were encamped. “It's almost not worth the supplies we have to carry to feed them.”

“Well, Sir,” the major ventured an opinion, “Governor Solf is a gifted diplomat and masterful administrator, but he does have too high an opinion of the black man's military value.”

Ludendorff nodded, thinking. “Not all blacks, though, Major.” he said, with an almost dreamlike quality to his voice. “When I first saw the Askari in action, I thought I was watching European troops maneuvering. You made remarkable soldiers of them.”

Johannes visibly enjoyed the compliment. “They are wonderful men, Sir. If only they didn't cost so much.” Then he added, “This is part of why our own force is so good at the moment. After the Congo Conference, the British decommissioned three battalions of the King's African Rifles. We picked up a fair number of recruits already trained and drilled.”

The general paused, then nodded approvingly. Not every subordinate would have openly admitted as much. This man had a future.

“Are there more about?”, he asked. “It would certainly be worthwhile recruiting them while they are still at their best. Some may be willing to serve for lower wages, too.”

Johannes furrowed his brow. “I don't think so, Sir. Askari are different. They would rather starve than enlist as ruga-ruga.”

“How about as leaders? Noncommissioned officers in the militia, so to speak? We desperately need someone to kick this rabble into shape.”

17 April 1906, Berlin

“A foundation?” Rathenau asked. “It certainly looks worthwhile, but that much money?”

“A legacy.” Wilhelm had rarely been this excited about a project since he had soured on the Polish revolt. “The Hohenzollernstiftung für Wissenschaft und Technik! Surely, no less money would do? I am concerned it may not be enough, actually.”

“Well,” Rathenau conceded, “you certainly have great plans. But this will make a noticeable dent in your dynastic fortune, won't it?”

The emperor shrugged. “I get a generous civil list, and now that the court expenses are being pruned I can certainly afford it. I mean, Grand-uncle Bertie deeded over his entire fortune to the state. If they can do that in Britain, surely I can part with some of my money for the good of the nation. And it's not like the Landtag would find the funding any other way.”

Rathenau leafed through the plans again. Research facilities, imperial properties turned into universities and institutes, generous salaries, in-house publishing, dedicated periodicals – the works. It would take a big chunk out of the lands and fortune the House of Hohenzollern had acquired through the years, but then, Wilhelm was right – there was so much more than anyone could reasonably make use of.

“As I said, it's impressive.”, he agreed. “I'm just wondering about the scale. It's almost as though you are trying to compete with the established universities here.”

Wilhelm nodded. “Do you know how the French National Institutes work? I want something like them, only bigger and better. I mean, you said it yourself. We need more scientifically educated people.”

“Well, yes.”, Rathenau admitted. “But do you really think it is a good idea to just create a system like this alongside the universities? It’s a recipe for unnecessary duplication of effort, when you look at it.”

A smile played around the thin lips of the monarch. “That's the point, Walther. I want to change things, not make a few people happy. The bureaucrats take forever with everything, if they do it at all. Mostly, they seem to find excuses for why things can't be done.”

Rathenau sat down. He was beginning to despair of his young emperor. “Your Majesty,” he said quietly, “that is their job. They keep the machinery of state running. Now, please do not take this the wrong way, I agree with your plan. It's a great idea. But I don't think it is wise to just ram it down the throat of the Kultusministerium.”

Wilhelm took it well. “So, what do you think should be done?”

“Well, that depends on what you want to do. I don't think anyone will object to the institutes in principle. Research is always a good thing. But the universities will feel they are competing, and the education ministry will want at least oversight. That's not insurmountable, I think. By the way, I think you should name it the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Stiftung. Remember, Wilhelm, there are many who love you, even if they do not care too much about the Hohenzollern dynasty.”

“Why not? But I don't want to wait until the whole machinery of state has ground the plan to dust. That is the point, really. If I do this by the rules, we’d be waiting until 1920 to open the first lab.”

Rathenau gave an unnoticeable shake of the head before answering: “Your Majesty, I suspect they may simply not understand your intention. A new research institution infringes on many fiefdoms in the established universities. Nobody is going to accept it just because. What is the aim?”

Wilhelm was nonplussed. “Science – I guess.” he answered, visibly sorting through his thoughts. Science was a good thing, wasn't it?

“I want science to advance faster. I want my country to lead the world in scientific and technological development. And I want it to be a hospitable place for scientific thought. The benefits of that should be obvious, shouldn't they?”

Rathenau smiled now. “So, more, bigger trains. That's what people think of when you say science. Or maybe better hospitals.”

“No!” the emperor was getting agitated again. “It's not just about trains and ships. Yes, I want more railways. There are still too many towns with no train connection. But I mean, scientific thinking. I want Germany to be a country run along scientific lines! A thoroughly modern society! None of this silly partisan bickering over policy. An end to traditional deadwood.”

Stroking his chin momentarily, Walther Rathenau wondered whether the all-highest ruler by the grace of God appreciated the irony of his words.

“I want to reign over a prosperous and powerful country by its grasp of science. A healthy and mighty people, nurtured on the fruits of mechanised agriculture and improved by the latest findings of eugenic biology. Modern arms to defend her borders, modern methods to govern her, modern planning to manage her economy without waste, and modern schools to educate her children. Electricity in every home. Rivers thronged with steamers and macadamised roads for the motorcar fleets of the future, but above all, the minds to understand the need for all of this. I want my people to be uplifted in their consciousness. Can't you imagine a future where crime and poverty will vanish? Employment for everyone, congenital diseases banished, and the cornucopia of modern technology open to the glorious race that inhabits this fortunate tomorrow? That, Walther, is what science promises us. I want it!”

Rathenau nodded with more sagacity than he felt. Sometimes he wondered whether Wilhelm understood that not everyone shared his dreams in equal measure. Still, it was good. He could feel the power that this vision could exert.

“Your Majesty,” he said calmly. “Why not let people know about that? I am sure you will find them more receptive.”

19 April 1906, Lublin


To the People of Lublin:

Today, the new commander of the Russian Army of the Wieprz has sent a letter to the garrison of Lublin informing us that all men laying down their arms peacefully would be granted reprieve. in the event that the city should be defended, though, he would be unable to answer for the conduct of his troops once inside the defenses.

Lublin will be defended!

To all able-bodied men: Rally to the flag! Weapons and training to defend your city will be available at the nearest National Army post

To all patriotic young women: Support the defenders of your home and hearth! Volunteer today for nursing and supply duty.

This is to notify all civilians that from today, the city is under a state of siege. Food, coal and kerosene will be available only in rationed quantities. All westbound railway traffic is reserved for military purposes only, transporting in supplies and evacuating wounded. Civilians wishing to leave the city are free to do so by road, carrying any non-rationed goods with them. No provision can be made for escort.

General Samsonov has promised Nicholas II to conquer Lublin and all territory to the Austrian border before the month is out. He will find it a hard promise to keep. LUBLIN WILL LIVE OR DIE A FREE POLISH CITY!

Brigadier General S. Ferber, garrison commander

22 April 1906, Paris

“So, they have built this monster?” Deroulede asked the young naval officer who was now uncomfortably settling into the richly upholstered chair opposite the prime ministerial desk.

“Yes, Sir.” Lieutenant Girani affirmed. “We brought pictures over, too.” He laid a thick envelope sealed with ambassadorial tape on the desk.

Deroulede smiled grimly. “Well done, lieutenant. May I ask how they were acquired?”

The officer smiled with barely concealed pride. “It was hardly difficult. The British have a strange relationship with rules and regulations. Initially, we sent one of our trusted civilian employees with a concealed Kodak camera. For the launch, I was there personally, as were two associates. I was even able to hire a waterman to row me close to the dock and then again past the ship. Many people were doing it. It was more like a holiday. Much easier than getting things out of the Krupp works, I am told.”

The Prime Minister spread out the pictures in an untidy arc. The vessel was no doubt impressive: massive barbettes to hold the gigantic turrets, a hull that would dwarf any ship afloat, and enormous screws that seemed to promise limitless reserves of power and speed. It was a truly electrifying sight and would have been uplifting, had she been built in a French yard. Could a French yard have built her? Deroulede was not sure, but he assumed yes. They might yet have to, and sooner than he would have wished.

“All the papers were full of it already.”, he said, a hint of reproach to nobody in particular in his voice. “This 'Dreadnought' vessel, lieutenant. You have seen her. Is she as mighty as some fear?”

Lieutenant Girani shrugged almost imperceptibly. “It is hard to say. These are the earliest stages. She has had no sea trials yet. But from everything I have seen – she does not draw too much water, her engines are powerful, and if the armaments and upperworks weigh in as estimated, she should be a fast and handy ship. I doubt we could harm, her with anything less than a full squadron of battleships.”

Deroulede blanched. He had read this kind of thing in journals, of course, but to have the estimate confirmed by a naval officer from the attache's staff in London was a different matter. Was this to be the end of their grand dreams of a French fleet to challenge Britain's might? A decade's worth of naval armaments turned into so much scrap by a single stroke of technological brilliance? Surely they could not afford to rebuild their entire fleet. Not with the coming confrontation with Germany looming. The voting public would never agree to the taxes this effort would require. They were already less than enthusiastic about the cost of maintaining an army to match Germany's and the new battleship fleet. The Prime Minister quietly shook his head.

“Thank you, lieutenant.”, he said finally. “You have done France a valuable service. Now, return to London and keep a close eye on further developments. Find out anything you can about this 'Dreadnought'.”

There had to be something that could be done. An Achilles' heel, perhaps torpedoes? He had to conference with the admiralty quickly. Damn the British with their sense of timing, launching this beast so close to elections. But maybe at least that could be turned to their advantage.
26 April 1906, Berlin

“Congratulations, August!” Generalleutnant Erich von Falkenhayn smiled broadly. After his own promotion to chief of the army research and development office, he had acutely felt his friend's anxiety over his career stalling. Berlin was a nice place to be garrisoned, but a non-noble like Mackensen would find it hard to get anywhere in the Guards Corps, outside the technical branches, at least.

“Thanks.” The vaunted hussar looked less than thrilled with the news. Falkenhayn had come down to meet him in their favourite restaurant, ready to spring for a celebratory champagne supper, an offer he would not usually have made. For all his noble title, Mackensen's finances were far more ample. The response worried him.

“Anything wrong?”

“N o.” Mackensen answered reluctantly. “Yes. Well, not really, it's just ... deputy corps command. I know I should be happy, and I think I am. But you know what a deputy commander does. In peacetime, it's all paperwork, and when the war starts, I'll be stuck in the rear area running supplies and services. If I had wanted to be a provincial governor, I'd have joined the civil service.”

It was an unreasonable whine, and Mackensen knew it. Still, the general could sympathise. He'd felt much the same way when he had taken his own promotion. The army was mushrooming positions from which any move into active command looked less and less likely. At least, as deputy commander of XVII Corps, Mackensen had a realistic prospect of full command later on and was ready to admit as much when Falkenhayn pointed it out.

“I really don't want to seem ungrateful or anything. God knows there are enough officers with Kriegsakademie diplomas and vons to their name retiring from regimental command. It's half a miracle I got as far as I did. But in wartime, the chance of promotion is much better from a regimental slot. You know I can serve with distinction. I could win my rank on the battlefield.” He gestured to the Iron Cross ribbon on his uniform tunic.

Falkenhayn looked at his friend's face searchingly. “You are pretty certain that war will come. Do you really think His Majesty will see the light and do the right thing?” Falkenhayn had his doubts. From what he heard, the emperor was adamant in the face of all evidence of threats to maintain the peace.

“It's going to happen.” Mackensen picked up his champagne flute and took a sip. He preferred coffee at this time of day, but he knew how to be social. “Look at all the crazy talk coming out of Paris. The French know that if they want to have any chance at beating us, they have to do it soon. And I am absolutely certain the Russians will go along. Nicholas II is going to want revenge for Manchuria and the Polish revolt. His troops are already mobilised, and there is nothing to stop them from marching right across the border once they've crushed the Poles.”

That part, at least, was true. The Russians had taken great care to conceal the degree to which their army was mobilised, but the general staff's estimate was upward of two million men. It had come as a surprise to Falkenhayn, who tended towards a low opinion of Russian leadership, that they had been able to do this without formally declaring a general mobilisation.

“Then at least you'll be close to the action. You'd have your frontline command, wouldn't you?”

Mackensen nodded. XVII Corps was based in West Prussia, close to the Russian border, and was slated for the eastern front if war came. If they stayed at this level of preparedness, though, the Russians might meet them halfway. “I guess so. I'll just have to make the best of it. At least I can keep the troops in a fair state of readiness. A few regiments without half the experienced men detached or on home leave should make a difference.”

Falkenhayn's brow furrowed. He had a high opinion of his friend's intelligence, if not always his emotional stability. If August was that certain war was coming, then maybe he ought to talk to Schlieffen about this again.

29 April 1906, the coastal road west of Viborg

The countryside was dreamlike, Captain Valentin Berezik found. It reminded him of the art lessons his mother had insisted he take as a boy: broad canvases of pastels in a myriad shades of green and yellow, a powder blue sky arching overhead, and everything flecked with millions of tiny spots of vivid colour, swaying in the gentle spring breeze. Even the dust raised by the outriders of the column and the companies ahead did not detract from the glory of it all. Berezik had seen other parts of the Empire that had their own beauty – the harsh peaks of the Caucasus, the infinite plains of Bokhara, the forests surrounding Moscow – but to his mind, nothing compared to the charms of the northern spring.

The captain rode slightly ahead of his company before dismounting to lead his horse for a while. The animal was grateful enough on long overland marches, and Berezik found that it helped his legs accustom themselves to the strain better than staying in the saddle for a solid day. Ahead of the column, a band was playing, and the tramp and rattle of marching men filled the air without the deafening quality that railway noises had. You could even hear the birds in the distance, and the rustle of the wind in the grass. Four days, they had said at the meeting,, before the column would meet the rebels. With the weight of numbers on their side, the field pieces trundling behind the lead regiments, and more following by rail, they should be able to simply march through into Helsingfors. The fighting itself – that could still get rough. Berezik had only entered the city after the battle was over, but he had spoken to enough veterans of the recapture of St Petersburg to know that things would not go easy. It was, he thought, a pity. Helsingfors was a nice place. He hoped the rebels were reasonable people and would surrender before it became too badly damaged.

02 May 1906, Sanssouci

Polizeipräsident Golz was visibly uneasy in the imperial presence. He knew that Wilhelm was not an unreasonable man, and that anyone who had put effort and thought into his job could hope for a degree of understanding for any given mistake – he had told subordinates this more than once – but he really had hoped not to have to test this for himself. A servant showed him into the office, light flooding the room through the tall windows and glinting off the rococo gilding. His majesty spent more and more time out here, away from the court of Berlin. In a way, this was a good thing – he had a way of interfering with things that were working just fine as they were and seemed to still lack any conception of the massive dislocation his dropping by created – but it also meant that any officials visiting him had to step outside their comfort zone and spend valuable time in their coaches.

The emperor waited behind his desk, Hermann Paasche, the Prussian minister of the interior, beside him. A valet stepped forward to deftly offer a seat to the police chief of the metropolis and, his duty done, disappeared from the room. Golz breathed deeply and steeled himself for his dressing-down.

“Your Majesty, I have brought the reports you requested.” He removed a heavy file from his briefcase. “I regret to say that we were unprepared.”

“It appears so, Mr Golz.” Wilhelm commented, sounding more bemused than angry at this point. “What happened?”

“Your Majesty, you will recall that we used to have greater difficulties on past May days.”

Wilhelm nodded. “But we had made an agreement this time.”, he asked. “They had agreed on a route for the demonstrations and the police was instructed not to interfere if they stayed on it. Did the Social Democrats break it?”

May day demonstrations had always been a touchy issue, and the SPD had used them to force the confrontation with the government into the open. Under Bismarck, violent confrontations and mass arrests had been the order of the day, and even with the gradual rapprochement that both Albert and Wilhelm had achieved, standoffs remained tense. Only since 1903 were the demonstrators given official permissions to march by the Berlin police at all – over the vocal objections of its head. Routes were agreed on and by and large kept to, and the marchers could gather at places of secondary importance while they were still kept away from anything that might produce too many reminiscences of 1848. Last year, for the first time, arrests for disorderly conduct and resisting the police had not appreciably risen above the level of any given Sunday. Wilhelm had considered that a personal victory.

“No, Sire.” Golz explained. “But we were prepared for the eventuality. That was the problem. Since we had been ordered not to prepare fopr a wholesale dispersal, the police were positioned along major landmarks and potential deviations along the route. These were mostly in the centre of the city and along roads towards the ... erm ... more respectable quarters. We were unprepared for fighting to break out in Wedding.”

“Wedding?” Minister Paasche interrupted, sounding surprised. That particular neighbourhood had a reputation for being deep red, dyed with the blood of policemen and activists in the Bismarck years. On May Day, the police did not go there by unspoken agreement, and most other days, officers went by twos, and not happily. “How did that happen?”

“Sir, Your Majesty, we are still trying to find out. It looks, from what we've heard from witnesses and reliable sources,” - the police no longer had informers because the SPD was now legal, but they had retained a good number of 'reliable sources' - “two groups of demonstrators came to blows. If our accounts are accurate, the offending group was carrying a large banner calling for world peace and denouncing military spending.”

Wilhelm nodded. He knew those banners, though he had, of course, never seen one in person. Social Democrats could be shrewd on domestic issues and useful allies on things like taxation, infrastructure and education, but they were damnably naïve on matters of foreign policy.

“When they tried to join a group of others, they were shouted at and a number of young men tried to tear down their banner.”

Paasche looked unhappy. “Mr Golz, we had made it clear that we did not want any provocation. Could your men not have prevented this? I assume the police had nothing to do with this, at least.”

Golz shook his head nervously. “No, sir. they were not Völkische. We had kept them away quite effectively. The assailants were Socialists. Witnesses recall them shouting 'Remember the Hedwig Laeisz' and calling the other party 'Russian stooges'.”

Shocked silence spread around the table as the Polizeipräsident paused.

“From this point on,” he continued, “we believe the confrontation spread out irregularly. A gang of Social Democrats remonstrated with Reichstag delegates present to remember their commitment to internationalist pacifism. A group of others circulated a petition calling on them to support a war with Russia. People were shouting at each other, some of the men were fighting, and when fronts formed, they had at each other with bannerpoles and paving stones. The petitioners still managed to collect over one thousand signatures which they presented to August Bebel.”

For a few seconds, only the gentle rustling of the spring breeze through the papers was heard. Then Wilhelm spoke. “Well, I'll be damned. The SPD has developed a war party?”

Golz nodded. “Sire, we were aware of the issue for a while, but nobody had any idea the divide was so – emotional. It looks like the party is in crisis. The Reichstag caucus is reported to be deeply riven over how to react to the incident.”

04 May 1906, Lublin

Brigadier General Ferber was crying and did not care who saw it. Bitter tears drew lighter tracks through his soot-blackened face. In front of him stood men who, by their own will and choice, were going to die. Not might die – they all risked death on a daily basis here, and by now had become used to casually shrugging off the artillery shells that occasionally came crashing down on the city centre. These men had chosen to stay and die. tears still running down his cheeks, Ferber saluted them as they marched off into the battered streets and ruined houses.

They had done it. His ragtag force of Jewish and Polish infantry, mounted guerilleros and city-boy volunteers had held off a Russian corps for almost three weeks. Lublin was an empty shell, burned out, ruined in large parts. The eastbound railway viaducts had been blown, bridges dropped, much of the inner city shelled into rubble by the advancing Russians over the course of the second week. Ferber wondered why they had kept doing that. Ruined houses were no good to an occupying army, but they helped defenders greatly. Maybe the sound of artillery support kept up the morale of the footsoldiers.

In the beginning, for three heady days, Ferber had even thought that they might be able to win. The Russian troops had been tentative, leaderless, clueless. Their first real assault had come over open fields, down the main roads, and died in the withering fire of National Army riflemen and gunners. Next had come probing attacks around the edges. The enemy had soon learned that street fighting was no safe environment for horsemen. Then, the defenders had abandoned the suburbs and dynamited anything they felt the Russians should not have.

The second week had been harder. By then, the Russians sent out infantry probes and also, he suspected, dismounted cavalry with these cursed Madsen machine guns they could carry on their backs. Ferber desperately wanted some of those. They had also started bringing up serious artillery and tried to soften up the defenses. Ferber had reacted by drawing his troops back into the depth of the city and shooting attackers as they advanced. The NA had quickly figured out that they could not hope to maintain a unified command, and had stopped trying. The brigade staff – for want of a more accurate term – mostly busied themselves trying to keep abreast of developments and throwing enough supplies at the defenders. The Russians all too quickly figured out that hand grenades were useful in tight quarters, and unlike the Polish forces, who were improvising with dynamite sticks and bottles filled with gunpowder or kerosene, they had thought to bring real ones. Someone must have brought back that trick from Manchuria, Ferber figured. What they had not expected was that you could use the sewers to stack boxes of explosives underneath their positions. that had worked twice and, as far as anyone knew, had cost them a regimental command post that some arrogant fool had set up in a school building overlooking the neighbourhood. The staff had celebrated with liberated champagne that day. The next, they had found themselves out of dynamite.

After that, it had all been holding actions. On 1 May, Ferber had decided to abandon the city. His cavalry had been busily keeping the railway line open, and even on the last day, supplies were brought in and wounded were taken out. Maybe the Russians really were that dumb, or more likely,. the countryside was teeming with enough franc-tireurs to discourage deep raids. The NA had certainly tried to put a rifle or a revolver in the hands of every Pole with guts and a grievance. Two days later, with his artillery guns ready to entrain and his remaining supplies ready to be burned, he had put the question to his men: who was going to stay behind and delay the Russians? By this point, he had about half his troops left, maybe a third of his original Jewish Brigade. Half of them had volunteered. Now, the last of them, loaded up to capacity with rations, ammunition, and explosives pulled from artillery shells they would no longer be able to fire, were trooping back into the city.

“There go brave men, Lewin.” Ferber said quietly. “There go Maccabees!”

The German adviser nodded quietly. He had little time for heroic grandstanding, but he understood the value of bravery when it counted. At one point, he had even offered to conduct the final defense himself, but Ferber had quickly put the kibosh on the idea. He needed his German.

Straining under the weight of armour plate and troops, bristling with rifles and machine guns, the armoured train pulled away from the platform. The engineers had rigged charges on the switches out of town which they would blow once the last train had passed, which would be soon. They had agreed to wait for ten minutes at the 6 verst mark to pick them up. If they did not make it, they had been given civilian coats, revolvers and gold coin, and were under orders to make their own way to Warsaw. It was the right thing to do, though Lewin had protested at the foolishness of staying in place long enough for the Russians to sight artillery on them. It was the least Ferber could do for them, and also the only thing.

As the city receded, columns of smoke rising from the eastern half, the brigadier looked at his adviser. “We did all we could.” It was a question, though not phrased as one, and Lewin nodded.

“We did. We may have cost the bastards several thousand men, all in all, and four weeks, at least three of which they did not figure they would be spending here. Now they have Lublin, they will regarrison Annopol and Ivangorod. But we did well.”

Ferber nodded. He felt unspeakably tired. Just for a moment, he lowered himself onto a bench that was more or less upholstered with rolled-up greatcoats and shelter halves and closed his eyes against the harsh sunlight. To the accompaniment of the train's rhythmic creak and rattle, he slept.

06 May 1906, Paris

Prime Minister Deroulede was silently staring out of the window of his office. The servants were walking on tiptoe, finding excuses not to approach the great man whenever they could avoid it. As the evening wore on, the duty of bringing in the telegraphic returns from the electoral districts fell to his young adlatus, Albert Monniot. With every message, the mood grew darker. By now, had the prime minister been German, he would have started quietly drinking large quantities of hard liquor. As things stood, Deroulede contented himself with strong coffee and water, silently pursuing his thoughts. The blotter in front of him filled with scribbled notes and sketches, tables of figures and names.

Monniot opened the door quietly, slipping in with a piece of paper. Carefully, he approached the desk, avoiding the distant gaze of the prime minister. He understood the moods of his mentor and knew that he would be addressed when the great man was ready. One did not impose oneself, especially not with news such as this.

“Yes, Albert?” Deroulede turned around the second his assistant had come to a stop opposite the desk.

“The returns from Lyon, Chalons and Oran are in.”, the young man announced in a subdued voice. Deroulede looked at him attentively. “We carried Chalons, and the ligueist candidate in Lyon managed to go through to the second round.” .

Nobody had expected anything else from Chalons, of course. Lyon was good news, but the kind of good news that was extremely rare on this night. Deroulede picked up on what was left unsaid.


“Oran goes to second round.”

Deroulede sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes, almost covering his face in his hands. If the Ligue could not carry Oran, things were more dire than his worst premonitions had suggested. The antisemitic league had dominated politics there since the 1898 riots. Now the city had not returned a majority on the first round of voting, with the Ligue candidate running uncontested from the right – it meant that the Radicals had made huge inroads.

“Are we holding on anywhere?” Deroulede had intended it as an exasperated question, but it came out almost a wail of despair. Monniot bowed down to look at the prime minister with what he hoped fervently was a reassuring steady gaze.

“Sir, most of our constituencies in Brittany, Normandy, Algeria and the Massif Central have not telegraphed in yet. It is only natural that returns from the cities should be coming in faster, and cities always favour the left. The night is not over yet.”

A spark returned to the eyes of the older man. “Yes, indeed. The night is not over yet, my loyal Albert. And the second round returns will favour us in many places. Oran can be held. Beziers and Rheims can be held. We must not give up hope. The country knows who guard and love it.”

“France has always stood behind those who defend her honour.” Monniot stated with less conviction than he had intended.

“Yes, indeed. As she shall. Thank you, Albert. Please, see if you can find more returns, and get a footman.” Deroulede scribbled quickly on a sheet of government stationery. “Have this brought to General Roget. And go to bed when you get tired. You need your sleep. I can stay here by myself very well.”

Monniot took the folded sheet and bowed imperceptibly. “Are you sure, Sir?”

“I won't do any harm to myself, Albert. Your words were wise. Now go, my young friend. And do not let yourself be distracted by that hyena Syveton and his minions.”

08 May 1906, Moscow

Spring sunshine, quiet, and a sense of life almost returning to normalcy. Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolaevich Romanov had taken up the habit of carriage rides through the city and hunting in the nearby woods, often accompanied only by a small group of unobtrusive bodyguards. The streets were quiet, police and army patrols went unmolested and officials could go about their duties without fearing for their lives. Even the northbound trains ran again, regularly, though not for everyone. Still, he was gratified to have Grand Duke Mikhail come down from Gatchina for a visit without having to take detours using sleds or horses. With excellent tea and cakes, quiet privacy and an afternoon set aside for conversation, it was almost like peacetime.

“And how are things up in Petersburg?” Nikolai asked. “Are things getting back to normal?”

Mikhail dabbed crumbs from his chin and nodded. The pastry chefs at court produced far better than anything he might get back with his regiment, even with the more oldfashioned facilities available at the Kremlin. He might be a son of Alexander III, inured to hardship and spartan living, but Mikhail was not averse to good food. He worked it off.

“At Gatchina, it's almost boring.”, he said. “Drill and practice, and troops cycling in and out of Petersburg. The city seems fully under control from everything you hear. I haven't been yet. But Zarskoye Selo is a ruin. It's a real pity. If you come back, you should consider Gatchina palace.”

Nikolai smiled wrily. “It may be a while, anyway.”, he pointed out. “Nicholas said he is thinking about staying in Moscow. at least part of the year, but for now, at least the next few months. The general and naval staff and foreign ministry are already in the process of relocating.”

Unscheduled trains loaded with hastily packed files, engineers working around the clock to build extra telegraph and telephone lines, officials packed like sardines into overpriced, substandard apartments... the Grand Prince sipped his tea in silence. You could not make the Czar understand these things. He was the gossudar. What he willed, was done.

“So you are going to command the war from Moscow? It makes sense, I suppose. It's more central than Petersburg and the majority of troops and supplies will be coming through here.” Mikhail paused. “How are we doing? We only get the newspapers at Gatchina, and you know how it is.” The young man spread his hands in a gesture of quiet resignation. They both knew how it was.

“We are doing very well, actually.”, Nikolai said and picked up a map from the side table. “Here, west of Lublin – you must have read the reports of the fighting - is where we have Kondratovich's corps. Well, it used to be. Poor man. Lublin was the hard kernel of the defense, just as we expected. The rebels don't have the men to build up defenses of the same quality in Ivangorod. Heavens, can you imagine what trouble we would be in if they had taken the defenses undamaged? The city was taken, and we also hold Radom now. Not securely yet, but the risk of counterattack is minimal. Give it another week and we can move towards Kielce and Annopol.” He drew imaginary lines of advance on the paper with his teaspoon, paralleling the Austro-Hungarian border. “By the end of the month, we should have the southern border secured.”

“In time?”

Nikolai pointedly reminded himself that the occasional naivety Mikhail displayed was not the same thing as stupidity. “It will have to do.”, the grand prince replied noncommittally.

“And then we will be off to catch the Germans with our caps, won't we?” They had both seen the drawings before the war: Smiling cossacks capturing monkey-like Japanese with their uniform hats. That had not exactly turned out the way they had planned it. Mikhail's question had a hard edge.

“I won't lie to you, Mikhail.”, Nikolai answered. “It won't be easy. Not at all.”

“What makes you think we will win?”

Grand Prince Nikolai set down his teaspoon and folded his slender hands before focusing intently on the younger man's face and said quietly: “I don't expect we will win the war, Misha. I don't believe we can.”

Mikhail shook his head. “Then why...”

A quick gesture cut him off in midsentence. “Because”, the grand prince said with an edge to his voice, “Nicholas is the czar, and his will is law. Because you could not convince anyone here otherwise, except those who have already resigned to it. And because we need to fight this war even if we lose it.”

Nikolai's voice dropped back into a conversational tone. “You are thinking in terms of foreign policy, of divisions and squadrons and millions of roubles, and from that point of view, the war looks impossible. Perhaps I have a higher opinion of the qualities of our soldiers than you, but even so, I do not think the calculations add up the way Nicholas thinks. But that is not the only consideration here. We may need the war to bring our own country back together, win or lose. The army, Mikhail, is not just the arm of the czar's will, it remains the only institution in Russia today that has both the power and the respect to govern. There are tens of thousands of good men out there, patriots who will readily flock to the colours when the country calls, but who are critical of the government nonetheless. There are hundreds of thousands of young men who will learn again to feel Russian in the army. Fighting against a powerful enemy and inflicting painful blows will regain us respect on the international stage, and more importantly, self-respect. Like in the Crimea, people will thrill to the battles and rally to support the boys at the front. And after the war, the field will be prepared for reforms.”

Mikhail raised his eyebrows. “You think – reforms?”

“Don't deny you know they will be inevitable. I question the wisdom of an unbending stance in the face of the rebels, myself, but what is done is done. No, after the Crimean War, society was ready to change. After this war, it will be once again. The rebellion will be finished, the country roused to its patriotic purpose, and calmer heads may prevail without losing face. Wartime allows for extraordinary measures, Misha, if it is a real war.”

“And Nicholas will...?”

“He must. What is more, he knows it. The old way of running the state does not work any more. Even Dubrovin's vision, frightening though it is, is better. And we will be able to implement the changes quickly then. That is why we must go to war.” Nikolai looked grimly convinced.

Worry tinged Mikhail's voice. “What of the losses?”

The grand prince shrugged. “I don't deny it could well be painful. But in the end, the Germans cannot hurt Russia. Sukhomlinov's plann of a quick war and a white peace is good, as far as it goes, though I doubt we will get away that cheaply. But the pain will be temporary. Even if the Germans take Poland, well, they will not have much joy of it. The Poles are a recalcitrant and bristly people. Beyond that, some pieces of Courland maybe, or Finland, if they truly overreach themselves. They will not have much pleasure of it. And given the experience they have had with Alsace-Lorraine, they may be content with an indemnity in the end. Either way, even taking all the territory they conceivably can hope to hold, Russia will remain whole. Your country is large, Mikhail. Sometimes I am astonished at its size myself. If we lose Poland or Finland or Courland, even Lithuania, it will be skin off the tip of our nose. And it will not be for long, either. A generation or two at most, and Russia will be able to dictate terms to Germany. No, Mikhail, if this is a price we may have to pay, it is one well worth paying. Russia has seen worse and emerged stronger. Do not concern yourself. We must fight well, and the rest will find itself.”
08 May 1906, Altai Mountains

The shutter clicked, and the Brownie camera captured the view of Mongolia's wide steppes for posterity. Ensign Vichovski unfroze his smile and motioned to the Mongol guide to return to column. His servant brought forward his horse, and the young officer lithely mounted and cantered forward to the head of the main column, where Colonel Kornilov led his cossacks down into the plains. The ascent to the Altai passes had been arduous, sometimes through the last remnants of snow and ice, but the troops had bore up well. They were volunteers, all cossacks and enough of them veterans of the Japanese war to provide battle hardening. Sometimes, Vichovski wondered if any of them bought the line about coming to the aid of rightful ruler Bogd Khan against Chinese tyranny, but whatever they thought of the matter, they were willing to fight for their Czar and whip some yellow ass. That was another thing that the veterans were good for – even Vichovski found their accounts of Japanese prowess hard to believe, but at least the men would not walk into the fight expecting easy victories.

Ten days to Kobdo, the Colonel said. Down there, Bogd Khan would be waiting with his Mongol warriors, descendants of the men who had laid waste to Bokhara and Baghdad and watered their horses in the Hwangho and Pearl Rivers. With a little help, leadership by men trained in modern doctrines of cavalry warfare, a couple of mountain guns, and magazine rifles, they should be able to perform creditably enough, it was assumed, and the cossacks understood that kind of fighting. It was more or less what the Germans had done with the Poles, Vichovski thought, and two could play that game. Though with China, you did not have to worry about them hitting back too hard. Even if the Tibetan rebellion that Colonel Druve had dreamed about did not come about, they would probably get to keep Mongolia. At least the worthwhile part.

09 May 1906, Karlsruhe

Hermann Rosen was at peace with himself. Fortunately, he had found early that he was an easy man to please and consequently led a happy life, by and large. Today, he had taken the day off from his pharmacy to visit the Secession exhibit, and even though his uniform jacket felt notably tight in the midsection, he was not going to forgo the opportunity to show off his status as lieutenant of the reserve, Baden foot artillery. For one thing, you could go to exhibits of modern art in uniform these days, even the kind that conventional critics fulminated against.

Of course, not everyone agreed on that. Some of the paintings and statues had caused an eclat at the World Fair two years ago, but they had also drawn great admiration. It helped that the duke of Hesse-Darmstadt was an aficionado. His money had made the show possible, even though it did not open in his capital. That was the artists' fault. Apparently, Karlsruhe had the better atmosphere, and the fine woodwork they exhibited might warp. Or something. Herrmann was happy enough, given he could hardly have afforded the ticket to Darmstadt just to see the exhibition.

The crowds in the main room were getting a bit too thick. Over in the sculpture exhibit, there was more room to actually look at things. And in that crowd over there, that – Rosen was absolutely certain - was the duke of Hesse-Darmstadt himself. He was talking with a blond young man in a fashionable dark suit, a strikingly beautiful woman who looked too old to be his wife, and a bearded man who looked to be the artist. Laeuger, Rosen thought. Quietly stepping to the other side of the exhibit, he kept a respectful distance. Two or three other people were around, but it seemed like they all had proper manners. You did not go disturbing guests of honour. All except one man who seemed to be tailing the group. Rosen thought about telling him to back off for a moment, but he figured that the duke could take care of it himself.

The shouting drew his attention back after mere moments. He had seen his share of altercations at art exhibitions – why people figured art lovers for peaceful was beyond him – but this looked serious. The man he had spotted earlier was assaulting at the blond kid who had come with the duke. Rosen saw the cane come down and hoped for a brief moment that it would miss, but the wood connected with the side of the head. Even across the distance of the room, Rosen could hear the sickening crunch of the impact. The young man crumpled and fell hard, too hard to still be conscious. Cursing under his breath, Rosen drew his officer's sidearm and broke into a run. He despaired of getting there in time.

The lady who had accompanied the duke, dressed in her finery, somehow had managed to step in. She stood over the fallen man, raising her arms over her head as the second blow fell and struck her forearm. With almost clinical detachment, Rosen evaluated the wet cracking noise that told him the ulna was broken. The assailant had to be prodigiously strong to cause that kind of injury with a walking cane. He was screaming unintelligibly in what sounded like French. The lady was shouting for help, and around the room, other visitors turned and froze in shock. The cane came up again. Rosen realised with frightening clarity that it was up to him to stop the madman before he killed his victims. A tall order for a middle-aged pharmacist with his last army reserve exercise almost a year back. Still, there was nothing for it. The Frenchman got in another blow, but by that time Rosen was already upon him. As the cane came down, it struck a glancing blow to the shoulder of the woman, leaving a bloody bruise. With his left arm around the attacker's torso and the blade in his right extended, crashing to the floor, Rosen realised he had no idea how to wrestle. He had had his fencing lessons, but what artilleryman ever really expected to use his sabre? How did you, as they say, overpower your opponent?

He tried to start by grappling and shouting. Both hands closing around the arm that held the cane, he yelled “Hilfe! Polizei!” at the top of his lungs. Whether the man understood him or just was taken by surprise he would never know, but he let go of the stick, dropping it to the stone-tiled floor with a heavy thud. A sharp blow to the shoulder told him that leaving the assailant's other hand free might have been a mistake, so he opened his right hand and tried to punch him in the face, getting distance between them. The sabre caught on his jacket – it was still there. He had slipped his hand through the lanyard without thinking. So all those hours of soul-deadening drill had been good for something! The fist connected in a glancing blow, and as Rosen tried to catch hold of the sword handle again, the other man's elbow took him in the chest, sending him sprawling. He was not a trained fighter, either, but he had aggression and viciousness on his side. Rosen could hear him scrabbling to his feet, trying to pick up his cane again. The sound of slipping and a heavy fall reached his ears, muffled curses before the unintelligible tirade continued. Rosen's head lay heavily on the cold floor, and for one moment he had a clear view of the unconscious young man's face. Could it be? Surely, it was impossible, but the resemblance... his blood running cold, he felt the weight of responsibility increase beyond the bearable as he levered himself to his feet, expecting the impact of that terrifying cane on his head and shoulders any moment. The duke was now standing over the fallen figure, yelling for assistance. As he swivelled about, trying to face his foe with the sabre raised in the 'guard' position that opened you to all kind of nasty trick blows if your enemy knew what he was doing – and why did such cheerful thoughts always come up at those moments – the rescue finally came. A big, bearded man in a cutaway and top hat barrelled into the cane-wielder from the side and both went sprawling to the ground. Before they could separate again, a uniformed gallery guard wrested the cane from his grip and took hold of his wrist with both hands. Shouting and screams were heard outside, and the whistle of a lone policeman. Then, two men in the uniform of the guards grenadiers rushed into the room from the refreshment section, revolvers drawn.

“Don't shoot!”, Duke Ernst Ludwig ordered firmly. “Put those guns away. Arrest him!”

The struggling assailant was pulled to his feet and roughly pushed into a wall, one guardsman pinioning each arm. Potsdam grenadier guards! Then it had to be true. Rosen felt his knees buckle for a brief, elated moment until he remembered how out of place he must now appear, waving about his useless blunt sabre.

“For God's sake, just hold on to him!”, the duke yelled in exasperation. “Somebody get a doctor!”

A doctor - of course, yes. The injured needed attention. Hermann Rosen was just an apothecary, but this was still more of his world than fighting had ever been. Turning around and approaching the kneeling woman, he said: “I am an apothecary. Please, let me look at your injuries. I can help”

Embarrassingly, the lanyard had tangled around his wrist and he found it took an eternity of trying to free up his sabre and sheath it. In the end, he tossed it away in frustration and knelt by the victim. The woman was sobbing quietly, cradling her ruined arm. At least one fracture, he concluded, probably two – the blow to the shoulder had been heavy enough to shatter her clavicle. Had it been to the head, it would have killed her. But she was going to be fine, though it would take a long time to heal. The man, now? His majesty – Rosen tried to push the thought to the back of his head and think of him as 'the patient' – had taken a nasty blow to the head. The right eye was a bloody mess, the socket shattered. He was mercifully unconscious – Rosen checked breathing and pulse: Fine. The neck looked uninjured, too. He breathed a sigh of relief. Unless something went catastrophically wrong – you could never tell, with head injuries – this was not a lethal blow. Rosen forced himself to gingerly feel around the wound. The cranium was intact! He must have turned his head aside at the last moment, catching the blow to the face rather than the braincase. Beaming with relief, the rescuer looked up the duke and announced: “He is alive, your grace.”

A curt nod and grunt was the only response he got as Duke Ernst Ludwig draped his jacket around the sobbing woman. He could have been more careful, Rosen thought. Touching the injured shoulder must have hurt her. Policemen had arrived now, joining the guards in wrestling the attacker out of the room as a crowd of onlookers formed around the doors. The duke craned his neck to look over the shoulders of the guards and shouted out: “Don't hurt him! He must be questioned. And get a damned doctor here, now!”

09 May 1906, Karlsruhe

Doors slammed and footsteps hurried up and down the corridors outside. The clatter of a typewriter in the next room told Kriminaloberkommissar Ernst Frölich that his assistant had begun formalising the depositions already taken. Having someone with a fondness for modern technology around could be useful at times. Telegraph forms were littered across the desk, demanding answers, calling for data with impossible speed and announcing high-ranking officials from Berlin. They were visiting purely out of professional courtesy, of course, the kommissar was assured, the matter was entirely the jurisdiction of the Baden police. Of course there was a difference between a courtesy visit and a courtesy visit .. but at least he could hope that they would be genuinely helpful. The Berlin police was supposed to be good. Frölich could use help at this stage.

“We've got the name confirmed!” Inspektor Villeroy came in without knocking, waving about a sheaf of notepaper. “Jacques Lavassor, French citizen. He was telling the truth.”

Frölich felt a cold sickness spread in the pit of his stomach. French... and not an anarchist, either. This was bad.

“He rented a furnished room in the city.” Villeroy continued. He sat down heavily on one of the wooden office chairs and turned to face his superior. “Registered with the authorities, all aboveboard. When he arrived, five weeks ago, he claimed to be coming from Berlin. We're checking that. And searching the room, of course. So far, we've found nothing out of the ordinary. old train tickets, money, correspondence in French, regular clothes, the usual. Maybe there is something to his story.”

Frölich shook his head angrily. “You don't accidentally club someone nearly to death!”, he dismissed the idea.

“He's only claiming that he didn't plan to do it, remember? Anyway, they're still working him over, so if he's lying, we'll know soon. But it looks likely at first glance. To be honest, I though he was crazy the moment I walked into the interrogation room. First thing he did was cry and apologise, would you believe it?”

The kommissar snorted angrily. Villeroy had a point, he had to concede. Some criminals were like that – snapping with rage one moment, weeping with remorse the next. he had seen cases like it. more than a few who ended up in an asylum rather than a prison. But dammit, that wasn't supposed to happen to crowned heads. If the emperor died, there could be a European war because of some crazy French guy... it did not bear thinking about. “There's no telling,” he said, more harshly that he had intended, “but you're right, we'll see. And we have a lead on the stick.”

He gestured at the side table where the weapon lay, tagged and already photographed. It was a vicious thing, a stout oak cane with a round grip and a steel rod invisibly inserted into the center of the lower section. From the outside, you could not tell it apart from a regular walking stick of the more expensive kind, but it was a killing weapon. Not illegal as such, of course, but if a policeman met you carrying one, Frölich was sure there would be legitimate questions.

“Kriminalobermeister Friedrich found out about them. It's actually got a name - an 'anti-juif'. These things were made by the French arms manufacturer Goyot and sold to members of the ligue antisemitique. A French politician called Guerin was behind that idea, a rabblerouser. They were quite fashionable for a while around 1898, but you don't see them much these days.” Frölich's voice dripped disgust.

“We found some anti-semitic literature in the room.” Villeroy pointed out. “German stuff, too. Christlich-Sozialer Verein and the Baumann crowd. I didn't think it mattered, but this... Maybe we should check out this line of enquiry more closely?”

“Do that, Inspektor.” Frölich instructed. “If you find anyone he had dealings with here, I want you to squeeze them, and hard.”

The inspektor nodded grimly. Rough stuff was not exactly part of regular police work in the criminal investigations branch, but if it needed doing – well what needed doing would be done. The grand duke wanted answers. He was already on the train from Mainau, and would probably be here even before the officials from Berlin. They needed to have something to show by then.

“What about the witnesses?” Villeroy asked, almost an afterthought.

Oberkommissar Frölich looked up in momentary confusion. “Huh? Oh, yes, them. They've given their depositions already, do you still have any questions for them?”

Villeroy shook his head.

“Then send them home. I'm sure Leutnant Rosen will be getting the Pour Le Merite for what he did today.”

Now, Villeroy actually saluted. You could take the officer out of the army...

10 May 1906, Berlin

Morning came early to Berlin in May, and the rising sun found Ambassador Lascelles in the anteroom of the Stadtpalais offices that Prince Albert used in performing the government duties he officially did not have. The meticulously pressed shirtfront and nearly spotless trousers spoke to the skill and resourcefulness of his domestic help, but a way of ironing the signs of sleeplessness out of a face had yet to be invented. When the doors to the outer office opened and Albert came to greet his visitor, Lascelles could see that his night could hardly have been more restful. The prince's eyes were reddened, his trademark moustache unkempt and his uniform crumpled. He was massaging the bridge of his nose in a vain effort to stave off fatigue.

“Sir Frank! It's good to see you.”, he said, extending his hand.

“Your Highness! I could not believe it when I heard. Is the emperor all right?”

Albert sighed heavily and waved him into the inner office. The air was heavy with cigar smoke, and a half-empty cup of coffee remained on the side table by the window where it had been abandoned and overlooked by the valets. With the doors safely shut, the prince explained: “Luckily, and thanks to some very brave people, Wilhelm is alive. The doctors expect him to recover, though they are not sure how long it will take. He is in hospital in Karlsruhe now, and I have been promised notification as soon as he regains consciousness. We hope to transport him back to Berlin within a few days. Fortunately, that at least is not a major concern any more.”

Relief washed over the ambassador. The death of the German emperor at the hands of an assassin... it would have thrown Europe into chaos. That left the other problem, of course. Lascelles nodded. “You have no idea how glad I am to hear that. Of course, the morning papers said it, but you know...”

It stood to reason that the press would not be told the whole truth of the emperor's state of health. The early headlines blaring 'Der Kaiser lebt' were reassuring to the people, but not necessarily a reliable source for diplomatic purposes. Germany needed to know it had a ruler.

“At any rate, Your Highness,” Lascelles straightened visibly as he came to the official part of his visit, “I have received instructions from His Majesty's government. The Imperial government of Germany is to rest assured that, should there be evidence that this heinous crime was instigated or abetted by the French government, Great Britain will abide by the terms of its alliance. Such an attack would be tantamount to a declaration of war.”

There was a moment of silence. Albert looked his friend in the eyes, raised his arm and placed his hand firmly on his shoulder. “Thank you. It is a great relief to know that Germany can trust her friends to stand by her in her hour of calamity. But I think it will not be a disappointment to you to learn there is no indication whatever that Paris had anything to do with it.”

Lascelles briefly closed his eyes and sighed. There might be reprieve yet. And if Prince Albert still had his sense of humour, things could not be quite so bad.

“I had the police telegraph up reports as they wrote them. A ridiculously expensive way of doing it, but sometimes you have to be extravagant. By all we know, the assailant was a French citizen, but has no connection with any government agency. He travelled with his own funds, drawing on accounts with a French bank - we think he was a small rentier with investments. He is cooperating with the police completely...” Albert raised his hands as though to avert a question, “... they did not hurt him. He is talking freely. Apparently he wanted to remonstrate with Wilhelm. The petition office has identified two letters he wrote earlier, and there may be more. When he came face to face, he was overcome with anger and fear. A very high-strung person, and he keep fantasising about Jewish conspiracies and evil influence. I'm inclined to believe he is honest.”

“A political assassination attempt?”, the ambassador asked. “That strikes me as dangerous. Where does the French government stand on these issues?”

Albert shook his head. “To be political, you have to have a mind to think through what you're doing. We are treating it as a likely case of insanity. Of course there will have to be a medical evaluation, but it's the best explanation.”

Lascelles knew better than to ask what he meant by 'best'.

10 May 1906, Paris

“Paul, that is insane!” It took a good deal to make Foreign Minister Syveton lose his poise, but it could be done. Early morning meetings over bad news were quite effective at it. “You can't know what the German government assumes. We haven't yet had any communication from their ambassador. A mobilisation now would escalate the situation beyond repair!”

Prime Minister Paul Deroulede glowered. His mood had not improved much since the elections, and with several of his closest allies off in the provinces to defend their previously safe seats, he was feeling vulnerable. Syveton knew that this made him dangerous.

“Damn it, Gabriel!” Deroulede answered. “The attacker was French, he was shouting ligueist slogans and you know that Berlin is waiting for an excuse to go to war with us now that Russia is weakened. You don't think they will notify us in advance of their intention to thrust the dagger in our vitals, do you?”

General de Pellieux, the new minister of war, shook his head thoughtfully. “Mr Prime Minister, i understand your concern. A German mobilisation would be so fast that we cannot afford to allow them any lead time. However, we have no reason to think that mobilisation orders have been given. Indeed, at such short notice it would be impossible to implement them. Rest assured, we will know once they are given, and will be able to react appropriately. I agree with Minister Syveton, Sir: Mobilising would be unwise in the extreme.”

Edouard Drumont stroked his beard, looking over at the general. “Pellieux, I am not an expert on matters military, so I will defer to your superior knowledge. Why should we not go to war with Germany now? You know we will have to eventually.”

“Drumont, don't be silly.”, Syveton interrupted. “We have Britain breathing down our neck, Russia is likely to weasel out of its treaty obligations after the falling-out we had over the cruiser lease. And our international standing would suffer incalculably if we are seen to be in league with assassins. No, this is not an opportunity, it's an invitation to national suicide!“

General de Pellieux nodded. “I'm afraid so, Sir.” He studiously avoided Deroulede's eye. “The army is in no fit state to face Germany on its own. We relied too much on the Russian alliance and wasted our resources on a fleet of battleships. Give us a year to prepare, or two, to fill up our war stocks and finally pass the three-year conscription, then we will fly our flag over Berlin. Now, I don't see any chance.”

There was a long, awkward silence. Deroulede looked from one man to the other. Cowards, defeatists and traitors, the lot of them, who owed everything they were to him and to Cavaignac. Without the animating spirit of the Ligue, none of them would be ministers. None of them would be part of the longest-lasting government in the pathetic history of this ramshackle Republic. And now, they were putting their small-minded concerns over the honour of the country. The Prime Minister snorted with barely suppressed rage.

“I'm afraid this is it, Prime Minister.” Syveton held his gaze, cold, level eyes. “No preemptive mobilisation. Let us hear what the Germans want.”

“What of your business is it, anyway?”, Deroulede asked pointedly. “I am Prime Minister.”

“Paul, you know that a vote of confidence is always possible.”

Deroulede stared. “You would not...”

Syveton's face told him that he would. The ability to discipline its parliamentary faction, to pass legislation and retain a stable government without any of the regular crises and cabinet reshuffles that had characterised the Republic's style of management, was the pride of the Ligue Patriotique and a great part of its electoral appeal. You did not make empty threats with this. The Prime Minister rose.

“Very well, then. On your heads be it, gentlemen. We will wait to hear what the Germans have to say. Good day!”

A secretary met him on his way out of the door. “Sir,” he spoke up, smoothly recovering from the shock of nearly being barrelled over by his head of government, “the British ambassador requests...”

Deroulede brushed him off. “Talk to Syveton!” he shouted, no longer caring who heard. “He is running our foreign policy now!”

Despite his grave worries, Gabriel Syveton allowed himself a momentary smile.

10 May 1906, Berlin

The carriage came to a clattering halt outside the Königstrasse general staff building. Outside the door, a colonel was already waiting for the arrival of the august visitor. Albert alighted before his footman had folded out the steps, landing on his feet with an undignified grunt, and walked towards the officer greeting him.

“Your Highness,” he welcomed him, clicking his heels and bowing briefly, “thank you for coming. I'm Oberst von Kluck. General von Schlieffen will be very glad to see you.”

Albert smiled. “This must be the first time you were glad to see an admiral coming here, I suppose.” he said, looking down at his crumpled navy uniform. “Well, let's see what I can do for you. Where is he?”

The colonel led him up the main flight of stairs and towards the map room, where two guardsmen stood to attention. Returning their salute perfunctorily, Albert opened the heavy oak door and entered to come face to face with Kronprinz Eitel Friedrich, pacing in front of the map table. The young man was wearing his Guards Uhlans parade uniform, complete with all decorations, and seemed gravely disappointed.

“Uncle!” he called out in surprise, “what brings you here?”

Albert stopped in the door, looking at his nephew critically. “I could ask you the same thing, Fritz.”

Eitel Friedrich seemed momentarily nonplussed. “I am here to do my duty. When I heard that Wilhelm was still unconscious, I had to find out what was going on and what our response to this outrage would be. So, here I am, and General von Schlieffen is keeping me waiting! Would you believe it?”

The prince suppressed a sigh. Damn all impulsive and ambitious young men. He had hoped that the crisis could pass without having to make official arrangements. “Friedrich,” he began calmly, “Schlieffen has work to do. Everybody does. You cannot well expect him to take the time to see a major of the Guards Uhlans about his private concerns.”

“But...” the response sounded in equal measure helpless and angry.

“But nothing, Friedrich.” Albert was visibly trying to contain his emotions. “Your sense of duty does you credit, but your country needs you where you belong today. You've read the papers, I am sure: The emperor lives. He will shortly return to Berlin. Until that time, the cabinet and general staff will continue to do their duty, and so will the guards regiments. I suggest you return to your barracks straightaway to attend to yours.”

Eitel Friedrich's face flushed. For a moment, he seemed on the verge of an angry outburst. Then his shoulders slumped. “You are right, uncle.”, he conceded. “I was concerned, that's all.”

“As I said, your sense of duty does you credit.”, Albert said as they walked out the door. “But you have to understand that the last thing we need is more confusion. The country will call on you when it has need of you, believe me. It always does.”

10 May 1906, Paris

Gabriel Syveton could not believe his ears. There were days when despair and elation were minutes apart. Looking at the message that the ambassador of Baden had just formally delivered, then back at the man across the table, he asked, more to reassure himself he had indeed heard right: “So, the imperial government is requesting our – assistance?”

“Yes, Sir.”, the ambassador nodded stiffly. “The assailant implicated in yesterday's attack is a French citizen, by name of Jacques Lavassor. We have every reason to believe he is insane and thus not legally responsible for his actions, but you surely understand that our police must follow up every lead in the investigation. I am sure your assistance and cooperation will be forthcoming.”

The man sounded unhappy. Syveton felt sure that he himself would have phrased the demand in far more peremptory terms. Still, this was a remarkable development, an olive branch extended at the most unexpected point in time.

“Rest assured we will do everything we can to help you bring this man to justice. And you were saying your request was specifically to interview Mr Jules Guerin? I am sure the Paris police will be able to undertake that task for you. You will understand that when your officers are on French soil, they will need to be accompanied and assisted by local policemen.”

A curt nod signalled assent.

“Then I foresee no difficulty whatsoever. I will inform the minister for the interior and arrange for you to meet the head of the Surete to make further arrangements. I am glad that this unfortunate matter has not imperilled the peaceful coexistence of our nations.”

There were no demands. Syveton felt quite sure the Prussians would not follow this up with any initiative of their own. Sometimes, he thought, the crazy federal structure of Germany was good for something. And this Lavassor had written letters to Guerin! Syveton wondered if he had ever read them and dearly hoped not. Either way, this would be the end of his involvement in the Ligue's political affairs. A small price to pay.

11 May 1906, Karlsruhe

Wilhelm was never quite sure when he had really woken up. He dimly recalled slipping in and out of consciousness for a long while, though he had no way of saying how long and did not recall any details beyond general impressions of voices, motion, and fussing. When he finally returned to something like functioning vision, the world was painfully bright white. Opening his eyes hurt, a dull, throbbing pain that seemed muffled, as though through a layer of cottonwool. A voice reached his ears.

“Your Majesty? Are you awake?”

He tried to turn his head to look at the speaker, but a sharp stab of pain stopped him. His body felt drained, exhausted, as though even lifting a finger would be asking too much of it. A face hovered into view.

“Your Majesty, I am Doctor Weisse, assistant surgeon. How are you feeling?”

Wilhelm tried to open his mouth and felt that his lips and tongue were dry and gooey with slime. A painful round of swallowing later, he found his voice. “So, I'm not in heaven, then?”

“No, Sire. This is St Vincent's Hospital in Karlsruhe. Please, Your Majesty, try to move as little as possible. Professor König and His Grace will be along shortly. Is there anything I can do for you?”

Exploring his lips and teeth with the tip of his tongue, he found no noticeable damage. His right eye hurt and he could not open it. The entire side of the head was muffled and scratchy, and hot. He assumed there were bandages.

“Could I have some water?” he asked. The young doctor quickly conferred with someone outside the door, and footsteps disappeared down the corridor.

“Of course, Sire. A nurse will bring it, I'm sorry not to have thought of it.”

Memories of the attack filtered back. Walking through the exhibition, the statues and the stories that Mr Laeuger had regaled them with. The crazy, shouting assailant, the shockingly heavy blow of the cane, the screams ...

“How is Fanny? Is she all right?”

“Fanny, your Majesty?” Discretion had its disadvantages. The doctor was clueless.

“The lady that was with me. Is she all right? was she hurt?”

“Ah, yes. I'm afraid so, Your Majesty. But she is safe, and we expect her to make a full recovery.”

Wilhelm groaned. Why did he insist on taking her to the stupid exhibit? Why did he have to play his Count of Ravensberg charade? Everybody knew that it fooled noone. He had placed her in danger, and now she had suffered for his boyish antics.

The door opened, and a nurse entered, followed by two men. A cup was placed to his lips, and Wilhelm tasted cool, refreshing water. He drank as deeply as his aching throat allowed and sighed contentedly.

“Your Majesty.” That was a slightly raspy vice with the clipped, nasal tone of North Germany. The speaker had the courtesy to step up to the foot of the bed so that Wilhelm could see him without turning his head. An aged, bearded face showing clear signs of lack of sleep. “I am Professor König from the Charité. I was called here to treat your injuries.”

Wilhelm attempted a smile. “Thank you, Professor. Surely, you can tell me what has actually happened to me? I don't remember much.”

König cleared his throat. “Your Majesty, you were struck with a weighted cane, with intent to kill, and you were very skilled, or lucky, to survive the blow. Several people came to your defense, and Mrs von Reventlow was injured by the assailant before he could be overpowered. Now, your injuries are severe, but not lethal or crippling. We were, however, unable to save your right eye, I regret to say.”

“What happened to her?”

The question obviously surprised the professor. “She has suffered a broken right ulna and clavicle. Both fractures are clean and can be expected to heal completely. Within a few months, she will be suffering no physical impediment of any kind from her injuries.”

“Thank heavens.”, the emperor murmured.

“I am afraid Your Majesty's injuries were more severe in nature. When I arrived, the wound had already been cleaned and bandaged, and I must point out that my colleagues here did everything humanly possible. we were unable to save the eye, but I have set the bone so that the facial structure should heal back into place. Fortunately, the brain was unaffected, aside from a concussion, and we now know that your Majesty is capable of speech, sight and movement. We can expect a full recovery. However, the wound is still at severe risk of infection, and you will have to stay in an antiseptic environment. Transport to the Charite will be arranged as soon as is medically advisable.”

“How soon?” Wilhelm found it increasingly hard to concentrate. it was as though his body was waking up to the pain.

“Probably a week, Your Majesty. Are you in pain?” The professor had noticed Wilhelm's expression changing.

“A little.”

“One moment, please.” Wilhelm could hear him rummaging around. “This will hurt momentarily, but it should bring you relief.”

A jab to his left arm made him wince, then a warm, soothing wave of repose washed over him. The pain ended. His raw emotions lost their sharp edges. Wilhelm allowed himself to sink into the cushions and be swallowed by the welcoming embrace of darkness.

“Doctor Weisse can administer more whenever you require it, Sire. Just ask.”

12 May 1906, Ivangorod

With a quick step, Colonel Andrashko levered himself on to the parapet of the inner fortifications. Taking Ivangorod had cost them good men and precious days, but nowhere near as many of either as they had feared. When the Russian garrison had abandoned the fortress, they had left very little in the way of war stocks and rendered most of the heavy guns unuseble by removing their breech blocks. the rebels had been resourceful enough to foul up their barrels with thermite before leaving, just in case the Russians brought the breech blocks back, but otherwise the fortifications were largely unaffected. A few rearguard actions around the southern outworks had caused momentary jitters, but there were not enough Poles left in the town to mount an effective defense, and Pilsudski lacked the guts to burn it.

The colonel had to admit to himself that the fortress was hardly a great capture. Its defenses were old, too small and too close together to withstand a concerted siege by a modern army. Its field of fire was overgrown – very prettily, resembling parkland in places, but useless for anyone trying to spot approaching enemies. Behind him, he heard the rustle of silk as a group of soldiers raised the flag on the headquarters building. A nice gesture that would no doubt, make for a pretty photograph.

To Andrashko, what mattered far more was the railway lines. From here, they could go west to Radom, north to Warsaw. From here, they could gut the country like a herring. He still wondered why the Poles had not chosen to put more troops into the defense. They had shown in Lublin just how tenaciously they could hold on to territory if they wanted to. Maybe they were saving it for the big defense of Warsaw, but if that was the case, then they were stupid. Romantic, but stupid. The Russian army would oblige them by coming to them for the grand finale. No, now they controlled the railway south, they would march on to Radom and thence to Czenstochow, cutting off the border to Galicia. The carefree attitude of the Austrians towards Polish nationalism had long irked St Petersburg,.and this time they would make sure that none of the rebels would scurry away to hide in Krakow or Premysl. They could clean up Warsaw at their leisure afterwards.
12 May 1906, Berlin

...With his Majesty still hospitalised due to his severe injuries, he has authorised the formation of a state council to temporarily take over the duties that the emperor cannot currently be burdened with. It is chaired by His Highness Albert, and will consist of Chancellor von Gerlach, Foreign Minister von Bülow, Chief of the General Staff Count von Schlieffen and Finance Minister von Siemens. His Highness voiced the confident expectation that the council would not remain in being long.


With the investigation ongoing and cooperation by the French authorities forthcoming, it can now be regarded as certain that the perpetrator still held at Karlsruhe prison acted alone and must be considered mentally disturbed. Police interviews with leading members of the Christlich-Sozialer Verein, who were on friendly terms with him, and of the Ligue Antisemitique, of which he was a member, have shown they were unaware of Mr Lavassor's intentions towards his Majesty.

The head office of the Christlich-Sozialer Verein in Berlin was not available for comment.


It has now been confirmed that the man to whose courageous intervention His Majesty owes his life is Reserveleutnant Rosen of the Baden foot artillery. A native of Karlsruhe of the Mosaic faith, Leutnant Rosen is an apothecary and owner of a pharmacy. He is married, with one son attending the Realgymnasium and a daughter. Leutnant Rosen has so far been unable to accept an invitation to court in Berlin owing to business obligations, but has been called to His Majesty's sickbed to receive his personal thanks. Also injured in the defense of His Majesty's life was a friend of the Duke of Hessen-Darmstadt, Fanny Gräfin zu Reventlow of Berlin-Lichtenfelde. It may be confidently expected that both will receive an appropriate expression of their country's gratitude once his Majesty returns to his government duties.

Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung

15 May 1906, Paris

An early morning; the dawn, barely rising above the roofs of Paris, had only just begun to dissolve the mist that shrouded the Seine. Paul Deroulede found that,, for the first time in days, he was entirely content. The cool morning breeze that caressed his flushed face spoke of new beginnings, the birth of something glorious. He walked the last few hundred meters to the Chateau d'Eau barracks. Exercise was just right for him. He had spent too many dreary days seated behind his desk. Not long now – soon, this duty would be taken from his shoulders and cast upon one more worthy.

The guards at the gate did not challenge him. A quick salute, the door opened and he was led into the courtyard, where men and horses were already engaged in an intricate, seemingly chaotic ballet that would, in remarkably speedy time, see their squadrons mounted and ready. General Roget awaited him.

“Mr Prime Minister, welcome!”, he said, clasping the old man's hand firmly in his. “I must admit, I was unsure whether you would come. Thank you, in the name of France. Thank you!”

Deroulede nodded mildly. “I promised I would come, general. I will keep my word. Are the preparations in place?”

“They are. I expect confirmation momentarily that military governor Florentin has been arrested. Once we have that, we can move out.” The general gestured over the ranks of the Republican guards cavalry now forming. “The streets will be ours, fear not. I have instructed details to take up position at the railway stations to prevent deputies leaving the city. The proclamation is ready, too.”

Deroulede looked admiringly at the stacks of handbills loaded onto carts ready for posting. That would be the duty of the infantry, of course. The horse would be needed to move against the Elysee and the Assembly. By the evening, France would be saved.

15 May 1906, Paris

Instructors could be cruel, but today, Michel Villani thought, they were overdoing it. He was sure it was not yet morning. Certainly not yet six. The frantic ringing of handbells up and down the corridor struck him as a poor idea of a joke. Half-asleep, he fumbled for his watch when the door burst open and light flooded in. An instructor, his uniform jacket half unbuttoned, the hair unkempt, tramped into the dormitory room and blasted the last of the students awake with his whistle.

“Rise! Up, get dressed and down to the courtyard, five minutes to review! draw rifles and live rounds!”

“What?!” Villani was thoroughly unamused. The polytechnique was well known for its robust approach to discipline, but he resented having his chain yanked this way. “The fuck you say? Seeing Germans in your sleep?”

The officer turned in the door and focused on him with cold, flinty eyes. “Orders by telephone: We are to turn out and deploy into Paris. The objective is Place de Republique. Get moving!”

Before Villani could answer, the man had turned on his heel and waking up the next roomful of cadets with his damned whistle. Frantically scrabbling for his trousers and boots, Villani cursed vitriolically. The shit had well and truly hit the fan.

15 May 1906, Paris

Capitaine Rodez felt the weight of history on his shoulders as he walked the platform of the Gare du Nord with his guard detail. Soldiers had taken up position by the entrances, checking the faces and names of travellers against long lists of those to be merely turned away or arrested. There was hardly any traffic this morning, except for the morning trains bringing meat and fish, milk and fruit into the city. The men had instructions not to interfere with any legitimate traffic, but Rodez felt fairly sure that there would not be too many travellers today. A number of pedestrians had already decided to keep their distance on spotting the uniformed men at the doors.

Lieutenant Beaufils came walking up to him, accompanied by a railway official. Another civilian come to complain, Rodez thought. They lived with their noses stuck in the pathetic account books and regulations of their circumscribed lives. None of them had an eye for the sublime, an ear for the call of glory. Beaufils came to attention and saluted.

“Mon capitaine, this is Mr Lassay. He has been apprised of an unscheduled train to arrive on platform 6 and has, laudably, come to inform us.”

Well, that was a smart thing to do for a railwayman. At least he appreciated the realities of the situation. Who knew, there might be real patriotism, involved there, too. A few people had already come up to bring flowers and wine to the soldiers. Rodez smiled and nodded thanks as he walked to the second-class waiting room that held his ready reserve. Ten men fell out smartly and took up position at the exit of the platform just as the train pulled in. Boxcars rattled to a halt, and the captain had to jump sideways to prevent the steam released by the locomotive from drenching his immaculately brushed red trousers. The door of a boxcar opened and man in a colonel's uniform stepped out. Rodez smiled broadly. He had been told to expect supporters to flock to the banner of the new France and his instructions were not to interfere with them. He stood to attention and saluted.

“Welcome to Paris, mon colonel.” he said. “I regret that we have to take some extra precautions, but I am sure you will be able to pass quickly. May I ask your name?” The man's eyes gave him pause. He looked – angry. Positively furious.

“You may, capitaine. I am Colonel Ferdinand Foch, and I am here to arrest you as a traitor to the Republic.”

For a brief moment, Rodez considered cutting him down where he stood. Then movement along the length of the train caught his attention. Infantrymen stepped out from the boxcars. Men whose uniforms were dirty and rumpled from travel. Men who had taken off their packs and retained their rifles, with bayonets fixed and ready. His face fell.

15 May 1906, Paris

The screams of dying horses, Deroulede thought, were the worst thing. He had never thought that they would sound so soulful - so human. In the end, it had taken shockingly little to break the resolve of the men he had so proudly watched riding out of the Chateau d'Eau barracks. Somewhere, someone must have made a mistake, leaked word of their plans. The cadets of the Ecole Polytechnique had met them at the Temple, machine guns emplaced behind overturned tramcars. General Roget had ordered them circumvented, riding at the heads of his already tattered and bloodied force to the Assembly in full career. They were too late. On the steps flew the ensign of the First battalion of the 24th line regiment – they had actually taken the time to bring their damned flag! The salvo that greeted the cavalry told him that their loyalties lay with the Republic. By midday, Roget and his men found themselves holed up at the Celestins, recriminations flying furiously. Had Florentin been arrested, or had the call been a ruse after all? Had the telegraphs been sent out through safe channels? Had someone out there blabbed, or was the leak inside the inner circle? Deroulede began to realise that there was more to planning military operations than he had thought.

A tocsin sounded outside, the most incongruous of sounds in their urban environment, surrounded by the unceasing murmur of hectic voices. Deroulede pushed his way over to the window and spotted the small group of men standing outside. A bugler and a soldier carrying a flag of truce on his rifle accompanied three officers in full uniform. The men inside crowded the tall windows, oblivious to the risk of bullets that had made them avoid any exposure only minutes ago. Deroulede made his way downstairs.

The surrender was quick and unceremonious. General Roget handed over his sabre to General Andre, who introduced himself as acting military governor of Paris, and was led away by two Polytechnique students. The men came out hesitantly, haltingly, to be disarmed and marched off to the Champ de Mars under guard. For an embarrassing moment it became clear that nobody had any plans what to do with the horses of the cavalrymen, but a detail of the municipal police was called to take charge. By 15:00h the streets of Paris were clear and the tram carried its passengers past Temple and the Chateau d'Eau. Unless you were very observant, you would miss the bullet holes and shattered windows along the road.

16 May 1906, Paris


The picture was garish, overdramatised, and for all Georges Clemenceau knew, completely inaccurate. It didn't matter. It wasn't like any journalists had been around to take snapshots of the moment when Deroulede blew his brains out, and the posture, slumped over the desk with the right hand falling open, pistol dropping to the floor, was perfectly composed. Perfect for the front page of L'Aurore.

A knock on the door interrupted his admiration. Jean Bayrou entered, flushed and winded. The young journalist would never forgive himself for his decision to visit friends in the countryside on precisely this day. Well, that was la fortune de la presse for you.

“Georges!”, he shouted, clasping his hand, “I am so glad to see you safe. I feared they might have arrested or killed you.”

Clemenceau smiled at his young protege. “Well, they had me on their list of enemies. But they somehow never got around to it. Perhaps because Colonel Foch brought his regiment into town. Have a seat, have some water. How do you like this week's front page?” He indicated the steel engraving.

“Was that what happened?” Bayrou stared at the collapsed figure with a strange fascination. “It's amazingly good. Almost like Dore. “

“Good art.”, Clemenceau agreed. “Not good accuracy. I was in that room, though after they took out the body. It doesn't look anything like that. But it's damned good art.”

“You were there the whole time, weren't you?” the young man asked. “What actually happened?”

The editor shook his head. “Not the whole time. The office boy roused me around 7 o'clock, after a call was made to the paper from the National Assembly. Someone had received word and wanted to warn me. So of course I went out to see for myself. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, it was already over. I had the chance to interview some people, but no fighting to be seen anywhere. And by the time I had managed to find a cab and get to the Celestines, they were already negotiating their surrender. So I took the opportunity to buy a camera in a nearby shop and took some pictures. I'm particularly proud of the one from over at the Champs de Mars. Look here,” he pulled it out of an envelope, “I was thinking: 'triumph of the modern age'?”

Bayrou looked at the image. It showed dejected Republican Guards cavalrymen seated on the ground, incongruously attired in their shiny cuirasses and plumed helmets, empty sabre sheaths on their belts. To the right, there was a hastily erected fence, just two strands of wire attached to broomsticks that had been driven into the manicured lawn. Behind it, two Polytechnique cadets in their dark coats manned a Hotchkiss machine gun.

“It took me forever to get them to stop smiling.” Clemenceau confided. “I just thought it would look better with a stern and dutiful expression.”

Bayrou nodded awestruck. Then he asked the question that had kept him awake on the train last night. “Just – how did they know? How did the cadets know where to be? Do you have any idea?”

Clemenceau smiled. “All it takes is one idiot. They had a good selection, so we are still not entirely sure who did it, but it seems one of the plotters decided that extra men in the streets wouldn't hurt. The Republican Guards command was on their side, but they figured it might not be enough. So someone telegraphed officers they considered reliable to come and bring troops into the city, and they sent one of those messages to Foch. As far as I can tell they decided that since his brother's a Jesuit, he had to be on their side. You can imagine how he reacted when he got that telegram.”

The young man smiled.

“He immediately turned out his regiment, held one speech, commandeered a train and off he was. Though he wisely took the time to telegraph his commanding general and the military governor, and ordered his adjutant to keep sending out more messages to units around the country. 'The Republic is in danger! A coup d'etat is being plotted in Paris!' Well, not a lot of them came, but enough to make it worthwhile. Governor Florentin had just about enough time to alert the 24th, then the Republican Guards arrested him. Calling the Polytechnique was Foch's idea. And a good one, I must say.”

17 May 1906, Berlin

“Sorry, not a chance.” The tone in Colonel Hantucher's voice was unmistakable: nuisance! Lieutenant Tegtmeyer had to muster his entire supply of courage to try a second approach.

“I can write a memorandum for submission if I cannot speak to the general. But i genuinely believe that this is important.”

It was are to see an officer from naval intelligence find his way to the fiefdom of General von der Goltz, but that did not mean the men of IIIb would welcome him. They had their own beliefs about naval officers, few of them complimentary, and did not take kindly to being disturbed. Especially not in such hectic times. And doubly especially not by obvious amateurs.

“Lieutenant, you may have noticed that we do not keep documents lying around here. I am sorry, but I cannot allow you into the offices, and I cannot have you write down potentially secret information that may fall into the wrong hands. So you will have to find that lost gun of yours on your own.”

Tegtmeyer was getting angry. He felt embarrassed at having forgotten the near-fanatic devotion to secrecy that the army's intelligence unit cultivated, but even more he was furious at being brushed off like this.

“It's four.” he said.

“Four?” Colonel Hantucher was willing to make peace. “Oh, all right. Come over to the visitor's room and you can explain the situation to me. Then I can talk to the general when there is time. Agreed?”

Tegtmeyer nodded and the two walked over to the small, windowless room that was used for meetings with anyone who was not supposed to see what went on inside the department. Once they were seated, the colonel looked expectamtly at the navy man.

“All right.” Tegtmeyer began. “When the Russian evacuated their fortresses, they mostly disabled the artillery by removing their breech blocks. But in some cases, they removed entire guns. Reports from our men indicate that that was what they did at Sveaborg. They left some older ordnance, even some in working order because they took the time and effort to dismantle and ship two 12” and two 10” coast defense guns.”

Hantucher nodded. They had been trying to keep track of the guns from Annopol and Ivangorod as well, it made sense the navy should try the same thing. “And then?”, he asked.

“That's the thing. We don't know. We naturally assumed they would emplace then in Kronstadt, or on Dagö, but they haven't shown up there. Now a report shows that they aren't on Hangö, Ösel or the Narva peninsula, either, and we are running out of places to look. These things are not easy to hide, you see. So we thought it would be best to talk to you and see if IIIb had something.”

The colonel refrained from shaking his head in bemusement. Given how much they cost to build, it was no wonder navy men would shit their pants over anything that could damage their precious ships. “Very well. Thanks for letting us know, anyway. I'll talk to the General and see if we can tell you anything, but I don't have high hopes.”

He rose and saluted. Lieutenant Tegtmeyer left the general staff building a chastened and disappointed man..

18 May 1906, Warsaw

“I fear we are looking defat in the face. I had not thought it would end so quickly.” General Pilsudski's voice trembled. Despair flickered in his eyes. The map on the table told the cheerless story of the past weeks: Russian units in Lublin, Ivangorod, Radom, Kielce, on the Pilica and all along the southern border. Czenstochau was still fighting, but by all accounts the Russians were not really trying there. The railway to Königshütte was in Russian hands, all traffic stopped. The remaining links via Lodz, Kudno and Novogeorgievsk could take up the slack, but the mere fact that it had been so easy was a visceral shock.

“We can go back into the countryside.”, General Kukiel ventured with the innocence of youth. “We fought the Russians before, we can fight them again. While we hold rifles, Poland yet lives!”

Pilsudski smiled. He envied his young comrade his idealism sometimes. “Marian, we can and will, but there aren't enough forests in Poland to hide our army in. We expanded so fast. No, the question is not if we keep fighting – we do. The question is, what do we do to maximise our chances for victory? Not this year, maybe not this generation, but in the end. I wonder whether we should consider getting troops across the border to Germany while we still can. A fighting retreat, guarding our families as they make their way to safety, might be the best way to protect the Polish people now.”

“Well, I said as much. You were far too hasty.” Prince Dmovski, a longtime advocate of a compromise peace, sounded almost smug in his condemnation.

Pilsudski's face reddened. Some of the energy that his comrades knew him for returned to his face. “Well,” he asked sarcastically, “how have the negotiations been going then? Any word on the treaty with the Czar?”

“There might well have been if you hadn't insisted on your provocative offensives, General!” Dmovski invested the title with the greatest disdain he could. “We could have had a peace if only you had allowed me to negotiate reasonable terms!”

A murmur rose. The men around the table might not all be fans of Pilsudski, but they believed in fighting to victory. “What do you want to do?”, Dmovski shouted. “Fight to the last Pole?”

“Actually,” Feliks Dzerzhinsky's quiet, calm voice carried surprisingly well, “we won't have to do that. We will just need to hold out until Germany enters the war.”

General Brianski shook his head. “The Germans aren't coming. We've been over that.”

Dzerzhinsky raised his hand. “They will have to. Russia is going to attack Germany, most likely this year. If we can hold onto territory until then, we have won. We need to defend every inch of land, fight like Ferber and his Jews did in Lublin. That is our only chance.”

Pilsudski looked stunned. “How do you know that?” he asked.

“Yes, do tell us where your crystal ball is.” Dmovski added.

The intelligence chief sighed and took a folder from his briefcase. “In March, the Polish-American relief committee negotiated with the Danish Compagnie Madsen for the purchase of light machine guns. They were told that they could buy as many as they liked, but there were none for immediate delivery. The Russian government had purchased their entire stock – 600 pieces – and ordered 700 more. On 10 April, a consignment of rifles was shipped through Reval from Belgium. Normally, the Russians make their own rifles, but they bought several tens of thousands abroad. There was also a concerted effort to repair and move back west the rolling stock abandoned on the trans-Siberian railway in the Manchurian war. The government's troops and militias confiscated grain and cash as taxes among the peasants in their so-called pacification effort, but they conspicuously refrained from killing former rebels. As a result, Russia's finances are in remarkably good shape. So why did they raise a major loan in Paris in March?”

Dmovski waved dismissively. “Any government needs money.” he said.

“Yes, if they mobilise the better part of three million men, they do.” Dzerzhinsky waved a piece of paper covered in illegible notes in his hand now. “Given the performance of our National army so far, I'm sorry, there is no way they would need more than 300,000 men, the peacetime establishment of first-line troops, to bury us. And with their Patriotic Union thugs acting as militia behind the lines, they would not even have to bother the garrison forces. No, even if you allow for the idea that they had to get their forces back under control, the numbers are excessive. The Russians are going to stamp out our rebellion in passing. They are preparing for a major war, and hoping nobody notices.”

Stunned silence hung over the table for a moment.

“Well,” Brianski noted finally. “It would explain why they've concentrated all their cavalry up north. I always figured that was where the main blow would be struck against Warsaw.”

“Königsberg.” Dzerzhinsky flatly remarked. “You didn't really think the Czar was that awed of your military prowess, did you?”

“Well, I'll be damned... Feliks, that does make sense. And we know that they are pulling their frontline forces out of occupied areas very quickly, too, so it fits the picture. Which means our strategy will be defense. Where we stand, as long as we can. Which leaves the question how long we can hold.”

Most of the men around the table nodded. Perhaps they were not convinced, but they favoured a solution that involved fighting.

Dzerzhinsky shook his head. “We won't hold long if you keep doing things the way we were.”, he said. “We need to be much more forceful in our requisitioning and recruitment. We have to stop the flow of civilians across the frontline. And we will have to think about denying resources to the enemy. I have told you all of this before, gentlemen. Will you be ready to listen now?”

Kukiel almost jumped out of his chair. “Dammit, Dzerzhinsky! I've just about had it with your disgusting ideas. We fight for our people! I refuse to fight against them!”

“Then go off to Siberia and starve, you fool.” Dzerzhinsky had not raised his voice, but he seemed to have hardened it. “Are you all schoolboys dreaming about storybooks? Everybody will fight for his country. It's not hard. Give a man a rifle and off he goes to become a hero. Poland's history is littered with dead heroes. The measure of true patriotism, gentlemen, is not if you will be hero for your country. It is: Will you be a villain for it? The cause of victory may demand you become thieves and robbers, murderers and inquisitors. If you cannot – well, General Kukiel, you may become a tragic hero.”

20 May 1906, Paris

The Parisians, it was said, were as good at celebrations as anyone in the world, and the people of Montmartre the masters among the Parisians. Today, the denizens of the XVIII Arrondissement seemed to be determined to prove their reputation Many had started early, festooning street lights with red, white and blue bunting and paper figures of crowing roosters. Someone was making a tidy bundle selling cheaply made Phrygian caps. By midday, the first crowds had formed, some of them earnestly drinking, most singing and shouting mostly good-natured cheers and political slogans. Shortly before the polling stations closed, the random knots of as yet aimless celebrants coalesced into something like a purposeful activity when a cadet in the uniform of the Ecole Polytechnique was seen walking by Sacre Coeur. Spontaneous cheering stopped the young man in his tracks, and he found himself toasted and lifted up on a cafe table to be admired and treated to food and champagne. Slightly uncertain what was expected of him, he raised the bottle in his hand for a toast to the Republic and led the crowd in a chorus of the Marseillaise. The song would be heard in the streets throughout the night.

By the early evening, the street in front of the offices of L'Aurore was packed solid with thousands of people. An area further down the road had been cleared for dancing, with the music provided by a number of volunteers who had brought instruments. The message from the polling officials came in about 9 p.m., when the first revellers had gone for torches and lanterns. Where the first round had been indecisive – almost a clean three-way split between the Socialists, the Left Radicals and the Ligue – the runoff was a wipeout. “Lamont: 17%, Clemenceau: 81%!”. Word was passed through the crowed as the poll officer pushed his way to the door. The music faded as the crowd took up the rhythmic chant: “Cle-men-ceau! Cle-men-ceau!”

After what seemed like an eternity, the door opened. Later on, people recalled this as a masterful move. Others would have come to a balcony to be celebrated; Clemenceau came out to meet the people, shake their hands and embrace them. A wave of cheering rose to the darkening sky. The deputy-elect found himself unceremoniously hoisted on the shoulders of four brawny men and presented to his electorate. “To the Assembly!” The cry was taken up enthusiastically, and the procession began moving, slowly, but purposefully. Someone struck up the Marseillaise and Clemenceau joined in with abandon. Paris was free. Tonight, France was free. It was headier than champagne and more potent than absinthe.

When they came to the Temple – the route seemed to be chosen by common consent, and the throng of cheering humanity barely diminished a long it – the men carrying their newly elected representative felt their shoulders tapped. Clemenceau dismounted, beckoned quiet as he slowly walked forward to the tramway, a widening circle of onlookers forming around him. He knelt briefly, kissing the cool steel of the rail.

“It was here!”, he addressed the waiting crowd. “Here, where the brave young men from the Polytechnique shed their blood and laid down their lives for the Republic. It was here that the forces of tyranny and obscurantism went down in defeat. Never forget!”

The shouting was fit to shatter whatever glazing had survived the bullets.

27 May 1906, Berlin

“Welcome home. How are you feeling?” The familiar voice called Emperor Wilhelm back from the uneasy half-sleep that had been his default state over the past days. Albert had come to see him! He opened his good eye and gingerly swivelled his head to to see where he was. Gentle hands raised the head end of the bed and propped him up on a cushion so he could face his uncle seated at the foot end.

“Travelling wasn't good for me, I think.”, he answered. “But I am glad to be here. It looked like there was a big to-do when I arrived, too. Not sure, I was pretty beaten up after the train ride.”

A quick nod and understated “Some.” told him what he had suspected. People had lined the streets between the Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten and the hospital, waving flags and cheering. He had tried waving one or twice, but had found it hard to stay focused. He also recalled music.

“Generally, things went well. The Berliners will take any excuse to throw a street festival. Some folk took it badly, though. They went and trashed the offices of the Christlich-Sozialer Verein. There was nothing the police could do.”

Wilhelm attempted a smile. “My heart bleeds for them. Did anything else happen I need to know about?”

Albert arranged the chair into a more comfortable position and stroked his chin. “Well, more of the same, mostly. The Conservatives finally agreed to changing immigration law so that the Polish refugees on the border can be given work permits. Looks like the Junkers are realising they can't expect many migrant labourers for their estates this year. The Russians are stalling about the conference date, but I think August is still possible. The French Assembly elected Clemenceau Prime Minister, you've probably heard of him. A radical democrat and anticlerical. We will hear more of that. Are you all right?”

Wilhelm's head began turning sideways, the eyelid drooping. “I'm all right.” he slurred. “It's the morphine. I needed a lot more today.”

Albert looked at him with concern. “You're not recovering well, are you?”

“The doctor said I'm healing all right, it just hurts incredibly. I should be doing better when the inflammation goes away. Anyway, go on. I'm listening.”

“Nothing much else that is urgent. We think we have a handle on the refugee crisis, though there are more coming across the border again. Voting reform is going to the Herrenhaus after the summer break. That is about it.”

“Thanks.” Wilhelm was sinking back into the cushions now. “How is Fanny doing? They won't let her visit me.”

A princely eyebrow rose. “Really? The Badensians can be awful sticklers for protocol sometimes. I'm sure it can be arranged. She's coming to Berlin tomorrow, with the personal train of the duke of Hessen-Darmstadt. We couldn't have her on yours, obviously.”

The emperor's white, drawn face relaxed into something that looked more like a smile than what he had attempted earlier. He moistened his lips with his tongue before he continued. “I want her to be rewarded for what she did. Publicly.”

For a moment, Albert was taken aback. “Are you sure that is wise?”

“Don't care. I've had to pretend she's nothing to do with me. All the time. Now she should be treated like a stranger would. It's only fair.” Any random person who stepped in between the emperor and his assailant would be an instant celebrity, of course.

“If you say so. What did you have in mind? A medal?”

Wilhelm seemed to strain to collect his thoughts. “Maybe the Verdienstorden? Certainly the Rettungsmedaille.”

“And Leutnant Rosen?”

“Pour le Merite. Nothing less. And if you can think of something else....”

Albert shrugged. “I'll find out if money will be appreciated. Discreetly. And a promotion, I think.”

Wilhelm nodded again. He flinched and swallowed hard, then staid still for a few seconds before stretching out his hand to an electric bell attached to the bedframe. “I'm sorry, uncle. Won't be good for much else today.”

A nurse entered, Doctor Weisse following. The emperor shot him an imploring glance.

“It's all right after a day like this.” the doctor muttered. Quietly, he took a syringe from the bedside table and gave him his injection. Calm spread over Wilhelm's face.

“He will need to rest now, Your Highness.”

26 May 1906, near Borga on the Finnish coast

Mud squelched under Captain Valentin Berezik's boots as he tried to make his way towards the noise of fighting. The last few days had turned the ground around their camp into an enormous puddle of boot-sucking, clingy, gooey mud with hardly a chance to dry. Berezik knew he looked like a tramp, and most of the other ranks were perpetually covered with the reddish-brown muck. He idly wondered if they would have a chance to clean their uniforms before they made it to Helsingfors.

Correction: If they made it to Helsingfors. The idea that this could be in doubt had seemed ridiculous when they marched out of Viborg, banners flying and bands playing. It did not look that outrageous now, after five days of staring at the same set of trenches and brushwood. It still surprised the captain how innocuous the whole thing looked from a distance. He had expected something that dangerous to be more impressive, have brooding walls and rust-streaked black steel cupolas of the kind he had seen at Ivangorod. Instead, he was looking at a few kilometres of mounds of fresh earth, the occasional palisade. A man might jump over it. If he could reach it alive, that is. Hundreds of Russian soldiers had already died trying.

Memories of military school came back to his mind as Berezik gingerly walked to the area of field fortification that his company had been placed in. “Guarding the front” was all fine, but he doubted the Finnish rebels would try to charge them with bayonets. He was beginning to become much more concerned over the layout of the camp. So far, they had bivouacked en route without much care, and he remembered with a guilty conscience finding shelter in farmhouses away from his men. Left to their own devices, the men would pitch tent any old how. It did not matter when you left the next morning, but they had been stuck here for a while now, churning the soil into mud with their boots, and the mud was decidedly beginning to smell.

Sergeant Lentinov met the captain as he climbed down into the improvised trench, saluting and offering a hand. “Any news, Sir?”

“Nothing.” Berezik replied unhappily. “The cavalry will be scouting inland, but it looks like our best chance is to bring up more artillery. We won't try to flank the position again.”

The sergeant nodded. First time had been costly, and while it was obvious that the approach had to work at some point – the defenses did not extend that far inland – it was far from clear how many men they would have to expend to succeed. Lentinov, like many other ranks, did not fancy being expended.

“Well, that will mean another few days. I'll tell the men, and we will try to build more huts to keep out the rain. Where are our ships, anyway? They ought to be plastering the buggers with naval guns, then we could just walk over them.”

Berezik shook his head. he was not privy to the inner workings of the Russian General Staff, but he assumed the answer was quite simple. Perhaps nobody had bothered to telegraph Kronstadt.

03 June 1906, Daressalam

Further, I must protest in the clearest of terms General Ludendorff's misappropriation of funds and misuse of colonial levies. The allocations he is using to pay for unemployed Askari to instruct and drill his native mercenary force were intended, and should rightly be considered reserved, for the support and subsidy of loyal chiefs and their fighting men. By so misappropriating them, General Ludendorff not only wilfully abandons a proven means of policy, he further endangers our good relations with the locals in the interest of a short-sighted military expansion. It has specifically been brought to my attention that native warriors join his auxiliary troops in return for food and plunder, and the distant prospect of becoming a member of the paid core forces. This may produce short-term benefits in the suppression of unrest in the Rufiji basin, but it concerns me greatly what we are to do with this ragtag band of semi-disciplined fighters once peace again prevails. The general himself had happily disavowed all responsibility for this, declaring his own task to be military in nature only, and affects a warlike demeanour not out of place in the members of the late and little lamented Congolese Force Publique.

(letter by Governor Solf)

05 June 1906, Essen

“I am sorry, I don't see that this is possible.” Walther Krupp von Rathenau spread his hands over the papers that covered his desk and looked at Major von Seeckt imploringly. The officer nodded slowly. “It is not a question of money, strictly speaking. It is that we cannot obtain any more ammunition because there is no more to be had. You know that the Gewehr 88 does not take well to the new bullets, and they are all we are producing. All everyone has been producing for the past few years. Literally the only institution that still has a significant stock of ammunition for the Gewehr 88 is the army.”

Von Seeckt made a series of quick notes. “I'm afraid any further surplusing of extant stocks is out of the question.” he said, anticipating Rathenau's request. “We have already given up supplies that were supposed to be retained for use by the Landwehr, and the current situation in Russia is making the General Staff very nervous.”

Rathenau nodded appreciatively. It was rare to find a military officer who could follow his way of thinking. Seeckt seemed to be the type, a man with a head full of numbers, ratios and trends, someone who understood the usefulness of forecasts and plans instinctively. He was selfishly glad that General von der Goltz had picked him to serve on the Polish project, though the damage this could do to the major's future career prospects was considerable. “I was surprised by the estimates of war stocks, too.” he pointed out. “the Poles have been using up bullets much faster than we anticipated.”

Seeckt looked up. A moment of recognition flashed in his eyes: here was someone he could talk to.

“You are right. Our initial estimates were based on experience from previous wars, and we have had to revise them downward quite heavily in the light of recent events. The National Army is using ammunition as though it was horse fodder. Now, we initially thought it would be advisable to instil greater fire discipline, but our instructors corrected that picture very soon. The ammunition expenditure of the NA was found entirely justified. It appears that this is what modern war will increasingly be like.”

A brief flash of panic crossed Rathenau's mind as he considered the capacity of his munitions factories. Did this also apply to artillery shells? There would not be good data, given the antiquated tubes they had given the Poles. But the prospect was daunting. if there were a war – and he was increasingly coming to the conclusion that nothing but a war would sort out the mess that was Russia – the German army would be very short of the things it needed. He made a mental note to address the issue. Then, he turned back to the matter at hand.

“Unfortunately, that does not help us to ease the shortage that is looming for the Poles.”, he said. “I have had suggestions from General von der Goltz's office to equip them entirely with Mondragon rifles chambered for our new bullets.”

Major von Seeckt smiled apologetically. Not everyone in intelligence had a realistic appreciation of supply management, and many requests by advisers on the ground went through IIIb unfiltered.

“If you owned a Gewehr 88, Major, where would you go to buy ammunition?”

The question came out of the blue. Von Seeckt pondered it for a moment. You didn't buy ammunition, it was issued... but of course, Rathenau had a point. There were hunting rifles that chambered military rounds. There had to be – a lot of the theft that went on was for hunting and poaching. Presumably, hunting supply shops would carry legal supplies, too.

“Hunting supplies?”, he ventured. ”I don't think all the hunters that bought rifles chambered for the M88/I threw them away when we introduced the new cartridge.”

Rathenau's face brightened. “Major, that is an excellent thought. I will make enquiries, I am sure there is spare capacity in the market. It may not solve all our problems, but it will do for the moment.”
06 June 1906, Ivangorod

A general's speech was a grand and glorious thing to be included in future history books, and most officers who reached that exalted rank were conscious enough of the importance that they took great pains to compose it. In practice, however, it tended to mean addressing the officers of their command, who would in turn read it to their troops, since it would tax the most leather-lunged of warleaders to speak audibly to several thousand men. General Mishchenko's speeches, though, were usually memorable, and he preferred to have at least some of the men within earshot.

“No more plodding along with the muzhiks!” he shouted as the first sotnyas of the Third and Fourth Orenburg Cossack regiments and I squadron of the Pskov Dragoons. “While the infantry will march along to Warsaw to stamp out the rebellion once and for all, our task is to ensure that the enemy cannot bolt again like they did at Lublin. We will ride, men! Ride like only true cavalry can. And at the end of our ride, we will cut the rails west and the rebels will stew in their own juices!”

Cheers greeted the announcement. Marching with the infantry had been especially hard on the cossacks, and both units had bled in the taking of Lublin, though not as badly as others had.

“Once we have the line, you dragoons will defend it. You will hold it until our troops come marching along the railway west, and stop any rebel scum wanting to escape. And you, cossacks, you will move along the line and render it useless. Flush out the franc-tireurs, burn their supplies, blow up the bridges and dynamite the switches. Teach them what Russian wrath means!”

More cheers now, especially from the sotnyas. They were always keen on being let loose, and the Orenburg had not fought in the Japanese war.

“And the best, the best is this: Your most likely opponent coming up from Lodz – if they have the balls to do that – is the so-called Second Jewish Regiment of the so-called Polish National Army. Keep your sabres sharp, lads!”

Now all men burst out into derisive howls of laughter and a thunderous “Huuraaah!”

07 June 1906, Essen

... I understand and share your concern at the latest word from Berlin. In the current situation, with great decisions on voting rights, budgetary authority, and foreign policy to come and the prospect of an international conference on Poland to further cement the strength of international arbitration of conflicts, the continuing ill health of His Majesty is a serious burden to German policy. Regrettably, I cannot give you much hope of a speedy recovery – quite the contrary. On my last visit, I was shocked at the change in my friend's personality. He continues to suffer great pain from the infected wound, and his physicians administer generous doses of morphine to make this existence bearable. I was able to arrange for readers to attend him, so that he might be read books or newspapers in lucid moments – would you believe that the hospital staff made no such provision? I could not achieve anything on the matter of allowing Gräfin zu Reventlow to visit. She is doing much better now, and walking about, though her arm is still in a cast, of course, and her shoulder still causes her much pain. The doctors insist that a visit would be inadvisable both for the mental balance of their patient and that it would present additional risks of infection – one wonders at the thought processes. Perhaps an acute attack of morals?

At any rate I regret to say that we cannot hold out great hopes of a guiding hand on the steering wheel in the near future. We can look to Prince Albert to provide steady leadership, as indeed he has in the past, but must remain ready to navigate the dangers of Berlin cabals seeking to position themselves to take advantage of this vacuum at the centre of power. The war party especially is gaining strength, and though I have confidence in General Schlieffen's judgement and caution, a number of officers have spoken publicly about the need to expand Germany eastward in a manner that, I believe, would not have been possible were the emperor healthy. This party enjoys support both in the Reichstag and the press, and we must be wary of their intentions. In a recent interview with the Zukunft, General von Hindenburg said that he considered the prospect of French military opposition desirable, since it would allow the German army another opportunity to defeat the ancient enemy and perhaps add yet more ancestral German soil to the Empire. The man has no conception! And yet, people will cheer him....

(letter by Walther Krupp von Rathenau to Albert Ballin)

09 June 1906, Urga

Lieutenant Jiang Jilie stood ramrod-straight, front and center, without a single look over his shoulder. Others might check. He knew his men were perfect, lined up as though with a ruler, arms shouldered, tunics straight and buttons shining. He knew, of course, because he had put a year's worth of drill, teaching and violence into making them that way. His main concern right now was that he might disgrace himself trying to march with the sabre they had given him. He'd been made a lieutenant, and told he might make captain soon, now that the troops were being expanded right and left for the march to Kobdo. That meant he would be given a completely useless bunch of farm boys or smelly Uighurs to turn into soldiers, of course, but he was used to that. It was what he had been doing whenever the powers that be did not send him on some stupid mission to get himself killed.

Now there was the man himself! Yuan Shikai, his white plume nodding with every step his horse took. The general was not usually seen this far away from his centre of power, but today was an exception. This campaign was his masterpiece – his and, to be honest, of the man riding beside him, Captain C. Rutherford Williams. Williams was the brain behind the logistics, just as Yuan was the political genius who had made the Beiyang army into China's most powerful military instrument. Jiang was proud of the achievements he had witnessed and been part of. Entire cities of tents had sprouted from the barren soil of Mongolia, and the depot at Urga was bursting with food and ammunition. Of course, the Japanese agreement to let them use the Manchurian railroad to transport their supplies also played a role – or so he had heard. the battle would certainly have looked differently if they had had to lug every piece of gear across a thousand miles of desert and steppe. They might end up starving and freezing the way the Wuchang troops had crossing the Tibetan plateau. Much better this way. The damned Mongols would be in for a nasty surprise.

10 June 1906, Berlin

“General, if you can find a way to do it, I will happily allow it. I do not see how, though.” Albert sounded worried, but he remained adamant. “We cannot, cannot risk endangering the peace with France, not with the uncertainty surrounding their new government.”

General von Schlieffen nodded, keeping his face as stiffly professional as he could. He understood the idea, but it still went against every military instinct. Russian troops might be fighting insurrection, but they were being mobilised in the process. It was impossible to know how many troops were in the field, how many reservists had been called up, but the general was sure it was enough to be a serious threat.

“Your Highness, what of the other suggestions?”, he asked.

Albert stroked his chin. “You can certainly restrict leave. No problem there. I would not do it outside of Prussia, though, and certainly not in the Rhineland. I cannot stress that enough.”

“What about maneuvers?”

A heavy sigh escaped the prince. “Not immediately. But I will speak to the French ambassador to reassure him. They will be unscheduled, and these days anything will make people nervous. I like the idea, and I think an unscheduled field maneuver in West Prussia and Posen should do.”

Schlieffen's face lit up. That was something, at least.

“General, bear in mind that these exercises will have to be budget-neutral, though.”, Prince Albert added. “We can cut corners in the autumn maneuvers if we must, but I cannot go before the Reichstag with a supplementary budget under these circumstances.”

11 June 1906, Warsaw

... You cannot imagine the desperation and squalor that has met me here. Refugees from all over Poland have streamed to Warsaw in the hope of finding shelter, bread, or at least safety, and are now stranded here. The National Army is refusing to allow trains to leave with evacuees, and while some will risk the roads, rumours about plundering cossacks are rife in the city. Thus, they remain here, packed into every available building, hoping – most likely in vain – that the National Army can defend them. I do not know what advantage the leaders may hope to gain from this horror, but if the city were to be fought over, we can only impotently look on the slaughter that would of necessity ensue. I am now here, and while it is possible that I might still be evacuated against my will, I fully intend to remain at my post distributing what relief we can lay our hands on while I still can. Your objections to my going to Warsaw were indeed well-placed, dear Marie, but at one point you must stand by a decision to do what is right. I can only hope that there will be an opportunity to return safely to Germany at some point.


We read the local papers avidly, and foreign ones religiously, and some shelters post them on the walls as they receive them for everyone to have a chance. The situation looks dire indeed, what with the National Army defending barely thirty kilometres from the city now. We do not know how long they can hold, or what will happen when they must give way, but the people here are grimly determined to sell their lives dearly. Barricades are already being built in the main thoroughfares and trench systems outside the town, in the hope of turning all of Warsaw into a fortress. How much good all of this will do is doubtful, especially since the Russians may opt to starve us out at their leisure much as they did with their own cities in the past winter. Unless the Army has stores of supplies laid away in secret, I cannot see Warsaw withstanding a prolonged siege regardless of how many men defend its walls.


Please prepare, in very short time, to receive more refugees yet. I hear that the issue of work permits has finally eased the pressure on camps on our side of the border, and we can only be grateful for that. But once the city falls, tens of thousands at least will try to make their way west, and we must be ready to shelter and feed them. After the depredations of war and the hopelessness of their last stand, I fear there will not be much strength left in them even to seek work in Germany. ...

Letter by Ludwig Kolaski to Marie Juchacz

11 June 1906, Sveaborg

Well, here they were. Captain Berezik could not say he was surprised. It was the kind of thing you came to expect of the navy. Being in the army instilled a certain amount of cynicism about the competence of general officers and fellow services, of course, but even allowing for the fact that he was bound to be biased, Berezik was convinced this was not exactly a fine showing. After the army had spent weeks spilling sweat and blood in its slog along the coast, with never a ship in sight and the artillerymen dragging their guns through the mud and brush, they would show up the moment the soldiers reached Helsingfors. Under the battlements of the abandoned fortress lay the cruisers Admiral Nakhimov and Dmitri Donskoi, heavy guns trained on the islands of the city.

“Somebody must have told them the coast was clear.”, a soldier muttered bitterly. Indeed, it was, and that had come as a greater surprise to them than anything else. The reports from Poland indicated that fighting their way into cities held by German-backed rebels was a harrowing experience, much worse than the battle they had fought on the coastal road. Berezik had prepared his men accordingly, seeing to it that they got extra ammunition, stuffed their haversacks full of bread and got the opportunity to take communion the day before the attack. And then they met nothing.

Well, not quite nothing. They had encountered a stupid boy with a rifle and hanged him from a telegraph pole. But the city itself was undefended and eerily empty. He presumed that the rebels had all absconded, and that a lot of their supporters had decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Or maybe they were lying in ambush somewhere. he just could not really figure out where. His own company had secured the cathedral and university, which gave him a beautiful view of the bevy of navy officers, splendid in their clean, pressed uniforms, that were now approaching the quay in a steam launch. Bastards! He half wished a platoon of rebels would break out of the shops opposite to rake them with machine gun fire, just to teach them what it felt like. No such luck, though.

“Sir?” It was Sergeant Lentinov. “We've searched the cathedral and the university precinct. Everybody found has been sent off to the main station square. It didn't look like any rebels.”

He was right. The whole damned town didn't look like it had any military-age men left in it. Wherever they were now – Berezik was not overly keen on finding out.

“Thank you, Sergeant.” he said. Then he gestured at the main university building. “Post guards at the entrances. The men can bivouack in there. And if you can locate a kitchen, have them cook up something hot.”

12 June 1906, Skierniwice

War was hell, at times, but as Lieutenant Rasin was finding, it could also be an exhilarating and liberating experience. The rustle of wind in the grass, the smell of horses and of the springtime earth, and a sublime moment when all the discipline, all the arduous drill and labour that made up a junior cavalry officer's lot fell way in the one clear imperative of battle. There was the enemy, here were his men. Sabres drawn, with a cheer on their lips, the first and second sotnyas of the Orenburg cossacks surged forward. A slow train, this one was, they would catch it even if the fools tried to run. But most likely they would not. Once they saw the swirl of horsemen rushing towards them, they would abandon it and try to escape. Or perhaps surrender, a thought that the lieutenant quickly banished to the back of his mind. This was his chance to see real fighting, proper cavalry fighting. He would not see it spoiled by the enemy's cowardice.

The front horsemen switched fluidly from canter to gallop. They last few hundred metres had to be covered quickly, to ensure maximum impact on morale. That, and the sense of power – the rhythm of the horse, almost flying, that passed through the saddle and pulsed through his body. His sabre an extension of his right hand, his body one with the horse, Lieutenant Rasin felt like a young god of war, the gods that the old cossacks must have worshipped before Yaroslav made them all Christians. The bullet that passed through his throat almost did not register. His last thought was for his horse, collapsing under him into a spilled heap, as the railcars exploded in a firework of muzzle flashes. He was dead before he hit the ground.

“Do you think they will be back?” Colonel Rabinovich asked. Occasional cracks of riflery still broke the silence around them as cossack stragglers and those foolhardy enough to try and recover their wounded became targets.

“Certainly. They are Russians. They can't pass over this kind of insult. They will be back.” Lieutenant Colonel Grynszpan had insisted on coming, and on bringing along his men. Rabinovich was still not sure how good an idea that was, but since the lot could handler machine guns and even artillery better than his own riflemen, he had agreed. The leather jacketed Lodz Bundists certainly had something to prove.

“Very well then.” the colonel decided. “Here it is. Dismount and entrench. We will make the Russian bear lose a few teeth. They're not closing this line without a fight.”

13 June 1906, Berlin

It was a smallish book, printed in French, bound in blue cloth and well-thumbed. General von der Goltz had already added his own copious notes to the margins of the pages. Major von Seeckt picked it up from the desk and opened the first page. 'The Principles of Integralism' it read. The frontispiece identified A. Dubrovin as the author and gave St Petersburg as the place of printing.

“It is absolutely fascinating, Major.”, von der Goltz stated authoritatively. “This kind of thing reminds you not to underestimate our enemies. The French and their new artillery doctrine were interesting enough, and now the Russians go and produce something like this.”

“What is it about, Sir?”, von Seeckt replied, thumbing through the pages. Chapter I seemed to mostly deal with patriotism, which was nice, but not exactly surprising.”

Von der Goltz cocked his head. “Read the third chapter.”, he instructed. “It may well be the answer to the problem of modern warfare. Dubrovin – you know who he is?”

The major looked up questioningly.

“A very senior adviser to Czar Nicholas. A civilian, but he has the emperor's ear. Some say he practically runs the government by now. Anyway, this is heady stuff. Basically, he is writing about how to organise a society in such a way that the entirety of the people serve the nation, and the nation ensures the continued survival and greatness of the people. It basically takes the cash nexus out of the war effort.”

Von Seeckt sucked his teeth. “Not just conscription?” he asked, looking to find the right pages. “Ah, here: 'The existence of the individual being made possible only through the existence of his nation, it follows that the superordinate organism must be considered the superior claim. It is, indeed, in the most immediate and personal interest of the individual to ensure the continued existence, vigour and might of his nation not for hope of any personal advancement to be gained thereby, but to ensure the life and happiness of his own issue in a future world. To impress this truth upon the consciousness of everyone must be the supreme duty of all institutions of instruction, and itself the animating principle in any member of the state's body politic.' Well, he's got that part right.”

The general nodded. “Not only right – he's built the organisation that's needed to make it work, that's what he's done. You've heard of the Patriotic Union, haven't you?”

Understanding dawned in Seeckt's eyes. Millions of members, a massive propaganda effort – the Alldeutscher Verband was nothing in comparison, and unlike the Social Democrats, they had the resources of government on its side. If you really could build a state based on these principles... it was a frightening prospect.

“Surely, these men will not make effective soldiers...” the major opined.

“Soldiers are not my concern, Major.”, von der Goltz interrupted. “Russia has more soldiers than she can arm or clothe. But consider what he says about a war economy. A system in which every productive effort becomes patriotic duty. I think it's in chapter five, the nation as a body having gained and secured the property of all its members and being the only security for their continued existence rightly may make claim to every resource within its borders to ensure its continued survival. It's damned inspiring..”

Von Seeckt nodded, already trying to locate the passages in the slim volume he held. What was it the man wrote: “It is imperative to impress upon the psyche of the people that to be a Russian national is an act, not a state. Being Russian can thus be inherited through the fortunate accident of birth, and those whose lot this was must be led to proper gratitude to be born to instruction in the true orthodox faith, in subjection to the all-Russian crown and the culture of its people. But it can also be earned through the conscious embrace of Russian acts, the deliberate effort of the mind and soul to be Russian to which all men of good race may be led...” Well, that hadn't worked all that well, had it? And then this: “As we cannot conceive of the limbs of the body choosing their animating principle from among them, so will the government of a nation that is alive to its national destiny never be abandoned to the fickle dictates of ochlocracy or the humiliation of foreign imposition. Indeed, in a nation that has achieved a true awareness of its nature, it becomes impossible to speak of a difference between the people and government in that the body of the nation brings forth the head that rules it in the same manner that the animating principle of living tissue brings forth the brain that governs the body in its embryonic stage. And as the brain cannot be conceived of separated from the body, so may the governors of the people not be considered in separation, but only in organic connection with the people whose true will the embody.” Hot damn, it was a miracle they allowed that to be printed.

The general gestured at the book. “Major, I need you to study this under two aspects. First, you are to prepare a brief introduction, a condensed version of the theory that I can circulate. Not everyone has the time to do that much reading. Then, I will want an estimate of the effect implementing such a programme would have on Russia's military resources. And don't pull your punches! If they can outlast us, I want to know.”

Seeckt saluted. He could be trusted with that kind of job, von der Goltz thought. A good head on those shoulders, a brain for logistics and planning. But damned, why did fate have to be so cruel? Emperor Wilhelm was exactly the person to appreciate the scope of this work. And Rathenau... the general paused. Then he picked up the second of the volumes his men had acquired and placed it in a heavy manila envelope. Rathenau might have valuable insight on this, too.

15 June 1906, Warsaw

“We're screwed.” Dzerzhinski's face was as impassive as ever, but the tone of voice told General Pilsudski that there was powerful emotion behind the words. The security chief pointed around the map. “You know you can probably hold off the Russians for a few days, a few weeks even, at your fieldworks. They aren't going to get into Warsaw easily. But they're not planning to, I think. At least from what you're saying, they haven't been trying very hard.”

Pilsudski nodded. The Russian assaults on their positions had seemed desultory. They inflicted painful losses, but nothing in comparison to what the army facing them would have been capable of – and had done at Lublin.

“I think they are going for a Parisian solution.”, Dzerzhinski continued, tracing the route from Ivangorod west. “The only other real garrison we have left is Lodz. Everywhere else, real defense is impossible. I suspect that they know.”

“How?” Pilsudski looked worried.

“Intelligence work, reading the papers, doing the maths. International attention is the downside of international sympathy. The Russians can buy the Berliner Illustrierte just as well as we can. Now, assuming they know this they are also aware that there will not be much resistance if the Army of the Narev moves west...”, he drew a rough line along the German border, “to secure the Vistula and Warta. They have been massing their cavalry on the northern front. Of course, most of it is to strike Germany, but if they draw our forces south and east, that will only help them. And they'll have us in the bag.”

The general grunted in assent. He had thought about that himself, of course, but his school friend had a way of drawing a picture with words – especially a frightening one. Two railway lines still connected Warsaw to Germany – those, and the Vistula. They would have to make a greater effort to secure these links. Even if Dzerzhinski was right about the attack on Germany, then Germany would have to get to them somehow. The stopping power of a good defense had been amply demonstrated over the past months, and Pilsudski felt sure the Russians could be just as effective at holding back the kaiser's men while they butchered the rebels at leisure. He mentally traced the advance of the northern Russian army and the layout of his defenses. They would not hold any land north of the Bug, and the line to Soldau was up there. As of now, they were still running trains, but it was a risk every time. The line to Thorn, on the other hand, looked viable.

Dzerzhinski pointed to a junction south of the line, on the route to Lodz. “There”, he said. “Skierniewicze. That's where the Russians are trying to cut our jugular.”

Pilsudski looked at the spot. He had read the bare-bones telegraphic reports from the troops defending it. The Amazing Rabinovicz and his Fighting Jews; it had stopped being a joke long ago. “We'll have to send more troops.” he decided. “At least cavalry, to stop them from being outflanked. And troop trains to patrol the line. We have to hold the rails to Thorn.”

16 June 1906, Charite, Berlin

The office of a hospital doctor, even one as lavishly appointed as that Professor König used, was not well suited to the presence of courtiers. Major von Liebenau of the Guards Uhlans stood sheepishly, holding the sabre of His Highness in his right hand while steadying his own with his left, trying hard not to snag more furniture. Yet notwithstanding the cramped quarters and poor hospitality, the Crown Prince was the soul of courtesy, complimenting the professor on his progress and radiating genuine concern mixed with the palpable relief of knowing his brother in capable hands.

“No, you did absolutely right, Professor König.”, he said. “I am grateful for your good judgement in this matter. My brother is a highly intelligent and sensitive soul, and in his state must be protected from excessive emotional stress. I am sure Mrs von Reventlow will understand. She cannot see him for his own good, after all.”

The professor nodded. Dark rings under his eyes and deep worry lines creasing his forehead betrayed the strain his task was putting him under. The emperor's recovery was slow and fitful, and he spent much of his days in a morphine-induced daze. They had considered reducing his dosage, but the pain that returned proved too much. Before anything could be achieved in this matter, they would have to beat the infection. That was proving much more difficult than anticipated. And the continual disturbances did not help.

“You Highness, you are too kind.”, he answered. “I have to admit I was gravely concerned that i might be overstepping my authority, but...”

Eitel Friedrich raised his hands with a gentle smile. “Professor, there is no limit of authority you could overstep. Today, you are the most important man in Germany. The life of His Majesty is in your hands, and your entire being must be dedicated to preserving it. Please rest assured, should anyone seek to interfere with the discharge of your duties, I will take it greatly amiss.”

The promise hung in the air momentarily. Eitel Friedrich nodded to his adjutant. “In fact, I believe it would be wise to leave a member of the life guard's officer corps in attendance to impress that fact on those who come calling. Could you spare a small room? Only a chair and a desk.”

“Of course.” The professor was overjoyed at the suggestion. Hospital staff were not always best suited to the task of guiding the curious or well-meaning off the premises, and the guards grenadier detail on the ground floor was useless with anyone of higher rank. “I will see to it directly.”

“You understand, professor:” The crown prince looked the physician in the eye, “my brother is more fragile than he himself will admit. A dutiful man in the best tradition of Prussia. I cannot allow him to be worked to death in so vulnerable a state. Please, professor! Help me guard him. Nurse him back to full health. Relieve his pain and let him rest”

Professor König felt a surge of emotion well up. “Your Highness,” he promised, “you may rely on me.”

16 June 1906, Danzig

“You know, if they do charge this to my account I might as well hang myself. Wouldn't be able to afford the bullet.” General August von Mackensen, freshly appointed deputy commander of XVII Corps and already well engaged in the process of kicking certain bureaucratic behinds, did not seem unduly worried. The order from Berlin had clearly stated that the unscheduled summer maneuvers were to be budget neutral, which meant that as far as the government was concerned, anything spent now would have to be saved in autumn. Perhaps they envisioned cutting corners in the Kaisermanöver. The shockingly large bill for calling up reservists by telegram – and issuing rail passes – certainly had not been factored in properly. With General von Braunschweig on an extended journey to the Mediterranean, it landed on Mackensen's desk. But then, everything did. It was what a deputy commander was for.

Major Thomamüller quietly shook his head. The expense was horrendous. Never before in his long service as commissariat officer had he seen anyone spend with such reckless abandon: issues of new equipment, five days' rations, rail passes for the reservists to join their units in their assembly areas, transport for ridiculous amounts of fodder and gear. It was gratifying to the elderly gentleman that it had worked, of course. Not everyone could have pulled it off. But the wastefulness of it all went against his Prussian grain. Now these thousands of men would spend a few days – the orders were still unclear how many – out in the summer meadows playing soldier, and then they would all go home, having lost or broken enough equipment to make him cry, and someone would need to find hundreds of thousands of marks to pay for all of it. What was the point?

“Very well, Major.” Mackensen turned to face his subordinate. He had come to respect his skills in the past week. “I will have to get out there with my men to direct the maneuvers in a few days, and I trust the management of supplies will be in good hands. No scrimping, though. What we need, we need.”

Thomamüller saluted. He'd magic up whatever the general requested somehow. It was what a Corps staff did, after all. In the street opposite the red-brick headquarters building, two officers in white helmets shepherded a bevy of reserve NCOs to the train station. Things were shaping up.

16 June 1906, Pultusk

To General Litvinov, Headquarters of the Army of the Narev

Sir, it is my pleasure to report that the railway line to Thorn is in our hands. Outriders of the Grodno Hussars secured the rails north of Nasielsk against desultory resistance by Polish franc-tireurs. In this context it is incumbent on me to especially draw your attention to the heroism of the late Lieutenant Grishin of that regiment whose gallantry in the attack on a fortified signalling house was instrumental in preventing switches from being dynamited by the retreating enemy. Patrols have been dispatched north, and we have every reason to hope that we will be able to restore telegraphic and railway services along the entire length of the line within days. The l.inkup with the forces securing the Nasielsk staging area is in progress.

By despatch rider

Lt. Colonel Atmatov, Grodno Hussars

17 June 1906, The North Sea, 56°8”N, 2°42”W

The best thing about peacetime patrol was the sense of liberty it created. Of course, Captain John Green was still responsible for the conduct and performance of every man and boy on HMS Essex, but that burden never left his shoulders. And out here, at least he did not have an admiral breathing down his neck every waking moment. He could correct mistakes and drill his men as he saw fit, make things shake themselves into place, and generally run his ship as if it was his ship. That was not a luxury you often enjoyed with Home Fleet.

The other good thing was that you were allowed to indulge your curiosity. Nobody would dress you down for wasting time and fuel or breaking formation if you just went to check out something. Captain Green was a curious man by nature and appreciated the rare opportunity. When columns of smoke on the horizon told him a group of large ships was passing, he had changed course to see what they were up to. Being fairly sure they were not British or German, he had momentarily entertained the thought of intercepting a French invasion fleet. His Marconi gear would allow him to send word home while he valiantly got blown to splinters, of course, but it was nonsense. No French fleet would come down past the Orkneys.

They were close enough to get an identification now, and the captain was drumming his fingers impatiently on the beautifully polished brasswork of the bridge rail. It was going to be a Norwegian fishing fleet or something similarly unexciting and smelly. Even if he had been willing to credit his daydreams with an ounce of probability, the fact that no shells were coming his way made it clear that it could not be a hostile (and badly lost) French force. A whistle indicated that the lookout wanted to speak to him. He put his mouth to the tube.


“Lookout to bridge, Sir. It's a squadron of warships accompanied by fleet supply vessels. Making out colours in this light is impossible, but the configuration of the lead cruiser matches a Russian type.”

Captain Green hesitated for a moment. “Thank you, Ensign.”, he then said. “Keep an eye on them. Call in once you have a clear identification.”

Russian. Well, as far as he knew there were two Russian squadrons at sea. The ships returning from the Pacific station would have needed a miracle to reach here by now, which left the cruisers they had sent to Murmansk. They would be returning home.

“Russians, Sir?” Lieutenant Paige had heard him mutter to himself.

“Indeed, Lieutenant.” the captain confirmed. “Most likely the cruisers returning from Murmansk, which would make this a formidable force: Flag on Admiral General Apraxin, armoured cruisers Izumrud, Bayan, and Bromobey, and protected cruisers Aurora and Almaz.” He had learned the formation by heart. Being captain required having such information at your disposal immediately sometimes.

The lieutenant looked out across the grey waves pensively. “That would explain why they are so slow. The Apraxin is an antique. Do you think we should go in closer to check on them?”

Captain Green shook his head, a touch more violently than he had intended. After what had happened to the French, he was not going near a Russian warship unannounced. The Apraxin might be an antique, but her 28cm main guns could punch through the Essex's armour like paper. A nervous man at the trigger, and all the diplomatic apologies in the world would not give Mrs Green her son back. “No, lieutenant.”, he said. “We've identified them, that should be enough.”

“What are they doing here, Sir?”, Paige asked. It was a good question. Captain Green had been reading reports that a British merchant captain had sent in from Murmansk. Apparently, the cruisers had practiced battle evolutions outside the harbour and trained to run in exact formation at high speed. Meanwhile, the crews of the Apraxin had been roped into setting up and taking down shore defense batteries. According to the report, they had had to re-site them several times. It didn't sound like the way a sensible person would want to do it, but then, Green was pretty sure no sensible person would want to be a Russian sailor to start with.

“Going home to Mother Russia, lieutenant.” he replied after a moment's thought.

“Well,” the young officer replied, “in that case they are off, aren't they? Their current course is taking them into the German Bight.”

Captain Green shrugged. “They're Russians. They'll figure it out and make for Jutland.”

17 June 1906, near Vilna

A bolt, General Brusilov understood from what the railwaymen told him, was required to turn a switch because without it, the lever would not be able to apply and maintain proper pressure. The bolt itself, he figured, could not possibly cost more than a few rubles, and making it was the kind of task a trainee in a machine shop was assigned as a rule. Bolts just like it were probably lying around in storage depots all over the empire. If you believed half of what you heard about Germany – which the general didn't – they used them to stir electric breakfast porridge there. None of which explained to his satisfaction why it seemed to be impossible to find one.

General Brusilov was not, by and large, a violent man, inasmuch as you could be a professional soldier and not be prone to violence. He was intensely patriotic, though, and it filled him with pride to consider he was part of the greatest war machine that his country had ever set in motion. In fact once fully deployed it would be the greatest military force ever used in history. Not the hosts of Xerxes nor Napoleon's grande armee could rival it. Raised and structured from every part of the country, infused with strength from every fibre of the nation's being, it was not so much an extant fact as a process through which the might of Russia was converted into fighting power. While the armies of its vanguard would crash into the foe's unprepared defenses, men and material would still be mobilised and trained in the vast hinterland of the empire, funnelled forward in an intricate dance to replace or buttress the units that had bled and died. An intricate dance of roads and trains, ships, depots and columns that the experts at the general staff had spent months refining to the point of perfection, and that right now, in front of his eyes, was stalling, grinding to a cacophonous halt outside of Vilna because in the greatest army that history had ever seen, in the mightiest empire that God had ever allowed to exist on earth, nobody seemed to be able to repair a two-ruble bolt in a faulty railway switch.

The general had been part of the planning stage, and the atmosphere of the capital's refined military thinking had enveloped him then. His soul had risen at the intricacy of the battle plan, the simplicity of the strategy, the way it was designed to take the enemy by surprise and keep him off balance. The advance on Königsberg that would draw mobilising troops east, the northwards blow that would threaten their rear, perhaps cut them off in East Prussia altogether. The western border was lightly defended, but with the risk of German troops cutting the Russian armies off in Poland gone, they could line up the third blow right into the heart of the enemy, to Silesia and Saxony. Even if they had to withdraw here, though, the humiliation they would inflict in the north would make a good negotiating position. The Germans could either draw on troops from their Western front, opening themselves to a French attack into their industrial centres, or they would have to fight Russia with limited forces and face ever mounting numbers of enemies as wave upon wave of troops was marched to the front to reinforce the victorious troops in their advance. They would lose the war before they could even unfold the power of their intricate, vulnerable military machine. It had all seemed so eminently clear and convincing.

Now, the spectacle of failure unfolded before his inner eye. He could see how it would all come apart. It would not be a failure of nerve or a lack of patriotism. No treason or rank betrayal at the heart of power would lay low Russia, nor would its treasury run dry or its industry fail to produce the materiel it needed. It would be a lack of two-ruble bolts, four-kopek screws and shoelaces a thousand times over. Deep down in the darkest recesses of his heart, in the place where he banished his fear and doubt before putting on his uniform, General Brusilov knew that he and his men were doomed, not because his government was making a great mistake, but because it could not help making a thousand trivial ones. Out on the track, the engines sat puffing idly, engineers stoking boilers to maintain steam and burning coal that was not scheduled to be used up until the next depot. Troops reclined on the sides of the embankment, enjoying the sunshine beside the freight cars and trying to kill time. And the trains were piling up. He could already see battalions of reserve troops far inland seeing their departures rescheduled, failing to meet up with shipments of arms and supplies. Sand would spread through the gears of the mighty machine until it seized up, men failed to arrive at the front, guns stayed in warehouses and unused food rotted by railway sidings while fighting men starved and looted.

The general rubbed his temples to banish the dark thoughts. Somewhere, they had to be able to find a bolt. Or make one. They had to.

17 June 1906, Devil's Island

The prisoner lay motionless on his thin pallet of straw and palm fronds. He had stopped counting the days long ago, and when his failing health had made it impossible to work, the walls of his cramped stone hut had come to define the limits of his world. What had kept him alive for so long was a mystery to himself, and he had hoped for death more than a few times.

Light flooded the gloom as the door was opened. This was not the time for feeding the prisoners, and the deviation from the routine startled the man. Sunken, feverish eyes in a drawn, haggard face stared at the figure stooping to enter the room through the low door. Pressed tropical whites, metal shining on kepi and epaulets, he seemed like a vision from a different world. His face betrayed revulsion at the fetid stench that met him.

“Captain Dreyfus?”

The prisoner had not heard these words in a long time. Years, he was sure. How many he could not currently tell, though in more lucid moments he had a better grasp of time. He nodded, “Yes.” he said tentatively.

The angelic apparition spoke: “I was sent from the Ministry of War to inform you that your case is being placed under review. Your presence will be required in Paris for the process. More importantly, you are to be considered innocent pending the outcome of the review.”

“Paris?” Fever, despair and emaciation had ravaged him mind, but slowly, visibly, the prisoner struggled his way to understanding. “Will you take me there?”

“Yes, Sir.”, the officer nodded. “Please, come along.”

Dreyfus struggled to rise, laboriously swung his feet off the cot and collapsed to his knees helplessly. Tears were running down his cheeks now. The hands of his saviour grasped his shoulders and levered him up, legs dangling almost uselessly. The emaciated frame weighed shockingly little.

“I'll have a uniform brought for you.”, he reassured the sobbing prisoner. “You will be able to return on the next mail steamer. France is waiting for you.”

17 June 1906, Paris

Georges Clemenceau sighed theatrically over his littered desk. Every day of his tenure, he discovered new problems. No, that was actually on the good days. On bad days, the problems found him. Sometimes it looked as though the Ligueists had screwed up every last aspect of government as badly as they possibly could over the past year out of sheer spite. And now it looked like a war was brewing, and everybody was invited.

“No, colonel.”, Clemenceau said, trying to keep his voice level. “I can see the Germans' point, given what we know about the Russian stance. We can assume they know a bit more about the exact dispositions of the Russian forces than we do, too. And I do not believe that we should mobilise our troops at this juncture. As you can see from our reports if you look at the geographic distribution,” which, he refrained from pointing out, the aide had not, “you will see that their maneuvers and mobilisations all concern units far away from our border.”

It was evident that the officer was unhappy. Clemenceau cursed all bone-headed military men and their devotion to honour and insane alliances. Why could they not understand what problems the army would be facing if he tried to march it against Germany now? The risk of drawing Britain into the conflict? The internal divisions that tore apart its very fabric?

“I will schedule a meeting with General Joffre tomorrow morning to discuss the matter further. And I think a frank word with the German ambassador would be called for.” Even when staring out from a tired, deeply lined face, the eyes had lost nothing of their famous fire. “You may leave, colonel.”

18 June 1906 The Kiel Canal near Rendsburg

Karl Willemsen was a good pilot, and the Kiel Canal was his home turf. Even with the dredging work going on, he prided himself on being able to guide a ship through blindfolded. Guiding a smallish old cargo steamer on a bright summer morning should not have been a problem, then, even with the delays added by having two large warships ahead. Of course, the navy never scheduled anything, they just used the canal as they saw fit and let civilian traffic sort itself out. In his case it meant that he got to pass Glückstadt early, but would be stuck in the queue forming behind the big pots as long as it took. Though to be fair, they had it harder than he. Navigating a battleship through the canal was dicey. He had done it (and, unlike some of his comrades in his navy days, had not screwed it up), but he did not relish the thought. One wrong turn of the rudder could have you bouncing off the sides. Grounding a battleship was a good way of blotting your copybook.

SS Donbas was a wheezy old steamer, but she was handy and the crew knew their business. Something about them made him nervous, though. And there was something about the captain... he looked familiar. Willemsen shook his head for the umpteenth time. There was the man, on the bridge the whole time, biting his lip at the word of delays every time the topic was brought up. It was as though he stood to lose money every hour the ship would take longer. When would they reach the Kiel locks? There was no telling, that was when. And why would it matter? This tub could not make it to St Petersburg any faster for it.

Ahead, the Rendsburg railway bridge arced across the canal. Seeing it always filled Willemsen with pride. This was engineering! Signals ahead beckoned to slow down again. The pilot turned to the captain. “I'm sorry, Sir, he said in heavily accented English. “Another delay. We will have to reduce speed.”

The captain nodded curtly and walked over to the engine telegraph and moved the handle to Dead Slow Ahead. If things got sticky, they might have to go backwards, but so far, it looked like they could avoid a collision. Willemsen decided to bring up the question. They would be stuck here for a few more hours, after all. “Captain, you have never served in the Russian navy, have you? It's just I think I remember you.”

The reaction was more hectic than he had expected. “Remember me? How so?”

The pilot decided to be conciliatory. “It's just, I was a helmsman during a fleet visit in Kronstadt in my navy days, and your face seems familiar. Never mind, It's probably nothing.”

“It must be. You are mistaken. Now, how long will it take until we make Kiel?”

Willemsen turned to explain once more that there was no way to tell when the blow caught him in the head. The skull caved in with a sickening crunch. An officer holding a heavy wrench stepped forward. “Sir, “ he said in Russian, “it is time.”

“Did you have to hit him so hard?” the captain asked angrily.

“He would have caused a problem.”, the heavyset man said matter-of-factly. “If we wait much longer, they will stop and intern us. What are your orders, Sir?”

The captain considered, his mind racing through the possibilities frantically. There was no way they could hope to reach the Kiel locks. The Rendsburg bridge might be possible, though. The explosives carried in the holds of the Donbas might be enough to bring her down, and even if not, it would complicate salvage operations. He grimly set his mind to the task.

“Half speed ahead. Helm, be ready to put her squarely across the breadth of the canal. Prepare to open the seacocks.”

The engine thumped to life as SS Donbas accelerated. In his sailor's heart, the captain briefly hoped that the ships ahead would be able to avoid a collision. Cold pragmatic thought dictated they should not. The more wreckage, the better. A siren sounded a warning from the signalling station astern. The Germans would be telegraphing now. Too late.
That was a little cruel, finishing on a cliffhanger.

Very impressive, I enjoyed that very much. A lot of research must have gone into it
That was a little cruel, finishing on a cliffhanger.

Very impressive, I enjoyed that very much. A lot of research must have gone into it

Thank you. There is much more to come - as soon as I have enough time to proofread the stuff. The TL currently goes to the end of 1908.
Thank you. There is much more to come - as soon as I have enough time to proofread the stuff. The TL currently goes to the end of 1908.

In terms of prose, I really have yet to see a better written timeline on AHC. Well done!

I know we played around with maps in the original thread, and some would be nice here, too - but you're not under any obligation to do so, obviously.
18 June 1906, Berlin

Ambassador Count Nikolai Osten-Saken was close to tears with frustration and humiliation. He had considered resigning when the order had come. It was legal to declare war at the last moment before beginning hostilities. He supposed it could even be technically legal to have a messenger with the declaration ride ahead of your army for all he knew. But the idea was repulsive to him. The ambassador's father had served in the Crimean war as a general, a uniformed fighting man who faced his enemy honestly and won a hereditary title of nobility for his courage. If he could see this charade, he would be ashamed of his son and his country. And the worst part was that the complicated ruse that the clever people in St Petersburg had thought up was not even working. Chief Minister Goremykin had assured him that everything would be fine if he simply handed the declaration over to the emperor at 12:00h on this day. Of course, the emperor was shut away in a hospital room, which left the question who exactly was in charge of Germany. Osten-Saken had opted for Prince Albert and found himself stumped. His Highness was not at home, and neither was his personal secretary. The chancellor, likewise, was away – or at least, nobody was willing to say where he could be found. This was hardly unusual and normally was not a problem, but today, it found the elderly ambassador in an undignified hurry, his carriage hurtling along the streets of Berlin to the foreign office.

As the horses came to a clattering halt, the count straightened his jacket and vest with a deep sigh and stepped out with as much dignity as he could muster. The pouch with the fateful message weighed heavily in his hand. Slowly, he walked up to the doors, a porter meeting him halfway. Yes, secretary of state von Bülow could be seen. That, at least. The sense of unwantedness, being sent from door to door like a pedlar, would be with him as long as he lived, but at least he would not be leaving Germany having failed at this last task. He was ushered up to the office, junior officials peering out of their offices to catch a glimpse of the visitor. Time was short, the message already late, and Count Osten-Saken barely had enough time to once more smooth the front of his gold-embroidered lapels before he stepped through the double doors to face Bülow. The glance the German minister gave him was icy.

“Your Excellency,” the count began, “I am charged by His Imperial Majesty Nicholas II of Russia to formally notify the German government that a state of war now exists between the Empire of Russia and the German Empire.” That he had managed to utter the words without hesitating or betraying his exhaustion in the slightest was a testament to his professionalism. Von Bülow's eyes shot venom.

“Your Excellency Ambassador Osten-Saken.”, he replied, his voice barely contained, “I formally take note of this declaration and in turn notify you that your accreditation is hereby revoked. You are to leave Germany within 48 hours or be subject to internment.”

The count nodded. He felt shabby, dirty, to have taken part in so transparent a charade. He bowed his head, slightly, just perceptibly. Osten-Saken had liked Germany despite the growing hostility between the two nations. Leaving his second home would hurt. He was looking for the right words to convey the sense of regret when Bülow continued.

“You may consider yourself fortunate at that. As you no doubt will not need telling, your attack has begun. I have been called to attend a meeting of the regency council. Good day, ambassador, and rest assured the German Empire will not forget what transpired this day.”

18 June 1906, Heligoland

There was little that could beat a naval squadron going into action for sheer spectacle, noise and display. Captain Alexander Kolchak watched from the bridge of Bayan as two torpedo boats nosed their way into the anchorage. The shore was alive with people now, native fishermen come out of their hutches and throngs of holidaymakers who had come to the island on the pretty, white-painted excursion steamers from Hamburg or Cuxhaven. They had certainly chosen a bad day to enjoy the seaside. Landing parties from Izumrud and Apraxin were headed for the main pier, an impressive wooden construction that allowed the tourists to make landfall dry and comfortable, while the guns of the rest of the squadron pointed outwards, scanning the horizon for an avenging fleet out of Wilhelmshaven. They had planned with the assumption of surprise, and it seemed to have worked. If the Germans really took the estimated 36 hours to sortie an adequate number of ships, Kolchak would have won the first round. How foolish a decision not to fortify this Heligoland! In his ridiculous Anglophilia, the German emperor had handed his enemy a dagger pointed straight at the jugular of Germany's seabourne commerce.

The first officer stepped back onto the bridge. Lieutenant Commander Petrov was old for his rank - a highly skilled expert in mine warfare with few connections or influential friends whom Kolchak had selected himself. “Sir,” he reported, “we are ready to go. Section A and B can move out on signal, C is loading. How do we stand on the Southern approaches?”

It would be a bad idea to mine the route they had taken and still depended on before they knew they would not be fighting a sea battle today. Then again, doing so too late would give the Germans a clear route of approach. “I'll signal the admiral.” Kolchak replied. “Have the boats ready to go.”

Flags went up on Bayan, sending the question to the flagship. Admiral Essen would probably take the risk, Kolchak figured, after he was finished with Ensign Hoffmaer. The captain was still fuming. Stupid kids from the academy could do more damage in a minute than experienced gunners in an hour sometimes. What did he have to go and shoot that fisherman for? Yes, he had not answered his hail and headed back to shore. But what was he supposed to do, alert the island's three policemen twenty minutes earlier than they would otherwise find out? Not to mention that the young fellow mangled his German something horrible. Kolchak was half sure he had been assigned to this job because of his supposed linguistic ability, but he certainly would not want to rely on him to communicate with any real German. Especially not one who spoke a dialect as thick and incomprehensible as the Heligoland one. Two people shouting at each other from bobbing boats in what each insisted was German – the scene would be funny if it hadn't been so bloody tragic. Of course the German press would make a big fuss about it.

Kolchak could see the landing party swarming over the jetty and up the stairs to the mainland now. Some of the spectators began running – where to? What was the point? The island was tiny, and in a matter of hours everyone on it would be herded into the village square and locked up. Admiral Essen planned to put them on the tourist steamers and send them off to neutral ports in England or the Netherlands, and Kolchak approved of the idea. You didn't need civilians underfoot for what was coming..

“Lookout reports smoke heading this way, Sir!” The voice of his adjutant brought him back to the task at hand. Was this it? Would the German battleships now rush in and end their well-laid plans in a maelstrom of fire and steel?

“How many ships?”

The question was relayed back and forth. Just like the sailor in the crow's nest to forget the most salient details.

“One, Sir. Looks like a small steamer.”

Kolchak sighed with relief. That would be the daily tourist ship. Well, they would certainly get some sights to see. The young ensign stood quietly for moment, an expectant look on his face.

“What?”, Captain Kolchak asked.

“I was wondering, Sir. What are we supposed to do when warships show up?”

“Depends if they're German, French or English, doesn't it.”, the captain tried to sound flippant. “If it's the French, we open the champagne and hand over the island. With their fleet, they can hold it indefinitely. If it's German, we sink as many as we can. This place is easy to defend and hard to approach if you know what you're doing.”

The ensign's face mirrored a blend of patriotic resolve and fear. At his age, he could not possibly have seen a gun fired in anger. “What if they are English?”

Kolchak shrugged. “Then we die for the Czar like heroes.”

18 June 1906, Potsdam

The courtyard of the guards infantry barracks was not perfect for speechifying. It echoed, and any sound made by the attentive crowd was magnified hundredfold by the walls surrounding it. But today, it would have to do. resplendent in his uhlans uniform and accompanied by his entourage of plumed and armoured officers, Crown Prince Eitel Friedrich addressed the waiting crowd. Guardsmen made up the majority, of course, but General von Bock und Polach, the commander of the Guards Corps, had seen to it that as many officers as possible were there to hear it. Alongside them, there were a scattering of civilians, members of the Reichstag, the Prussian Landtag and Herrenhaus, and journalists from conservative papers. It was what you would call a safe audience, but then, the general was not sure the Crown Prince was ready to face a difficult one. The point, after all, was to boost morale and prepare the country for war. Eitel Friedrich was a wonderful young man, dutiful, but proud and eager to serve the country. He would have ridden off to face Russian guns had it been expected of him. Now, he would become the rallying point for a mighty people's will and wrath. Russia would rue this day for many generations to come.

“Amidst peace, in times of quiet and repose, the treacherous enemy has struck us, secretly and cowardly like an assassin in the night. Did he hope that, bereft of the leadership of our beloved emperor, the German people would succumb to fear and panic? Did he expect us to beg for his mercy? He knew the German spirit little, my loyal men, too little, and well he may have thought of what he would do if he were in this situation.”

Laughter rippled across the crowd. The newspapermen scribbled furiously. One of them was making sketches, capturing the forward thrust of the crown prince's upper body over the balcony rail and the glint of the evening light on his helmet.

“Now we know what treachery hid behind the smiling mask of reasonableness. Russian warships have struck at Heligoland, shooting and shelling helpless women and children. Russian saboteurs have entered the Kiel Canal in disguise to destroy it. Russian cossacks are even now riding across the border to sow terror and death in the helpless countryside of east Prussia. This day has propounded the infamy of Russia's rulers, and the Czar shall forever be remembered by posterity for this betrayal. Our foes have chosen their time and place, and now shall the sword decide what the future holds. I, for one, place my trust in the unbending will and resolve of the German people, in the might of our army and fleet and in the courage and wisdom of our leaders. Surrounded by foes on every side, we shall yet prevail. The Slavic flood shall break upon the rock of this German might!”

Eitel Friedrich paused. Applause came haltingly, the soldiers at first unsure what to do. then a storm of cheers rose to the sky. General Vietinghoff turned to his commander and noted: “He is remarkable. Quite a talent.”

Friedrich von Bock und Polach nodded his assent. “Kingship breeds true.”, he said. “He is a Hohenzollern. That is the blood of knights Teutonic and of fighting margraves. Leading men is his natural avocation.”

He paused momentarily before adding: At least, once in a generation it always does.”

Vietinghoff nodded curtly and faced forward again,. The crown prince gestured for quiet and continued: “And so it falls to us to chastise this betrayal, and chastise it we will. You, my guardsmen, shall be in the van of this avenging furor teutonicus that shall cleanse Asiatic treachery and Gallic cunning from this continent. It is here, as you embark on this great undertaking that I exhort you never to hold back your sword. Let the ancient foe feel what German wrath he has unleashed upon himself! Teach him as your ancestors did at Arausio and Teutoburg, the might of the ire that a virtuous warrior people may rise to. In the days of old, the priests of Wodan consecrated the enemy host to the Walvater by casting a spear over it. Today, we shall likewise consign the hosts of Asia to their obliteration and once more drive east the boundaries of our people, as is our destiny. Let the world learn that those who would attack Germany must perish.”

18 June 1906, Berlin

It was the glasses that gave away the truth. General von Schlieffen was a meticulous man, but the state of his spectacles showed that he had not cleaned them all day. The strain of his duties was getting to him. At the head of the table stood Albert, recalled from his excursion. Admiral von Koester, the chancellor and cabinet had also come. Unrolled before them lay the situation map, covered in red grease pencil marks.

“Where are we, general?” Albert asked. “I assume the picture is bad?”

Schlieffen nodded. A quick gesture took in the border of East Prussia. “Yes, Your Highness.”, he confirmed. “Right now, we have not got confirmation of any great territorial losses. Russian troops have crossed the border in several places and we are getting reports of them moving inland. Right now we are trying to sort out which of these are genuine and which are prompted by panic. I thing we can safely discount the cossack patrol that was reported near Schwerin. But it looks as though we are facing a double thrust: from the north towards Memel and, presumably, onwards down the coast, and east along the axis through Insterburg to Königsberg. It makes sense. The armies would largely avoid the bogs of lake country and could advance quickly. So far, there are no credible reports from the West Prussian border.”

Chancellor von Gerlach scribbled a quick note. “General Schlieffen”, he asked, “how safe are the other borders? Will this be the only attack?”

Schlieffen shook his head slightly. “We don't know, Sir.”, he said. The southern sector of the border is relatively secure. The Russians only have garrison troops and light cavalry in Southern Poland as far as we know, and the Lodz-Warsaw triangle is still held by the rebels. But the Army of the Narev on the West Prussian border is a formidable concentration and we don't know nearly enough about its dispositions. While it sits there, it represents a threat to our flank.”

Albert bit the stem of his pipe hard enough to feel the amber mouthpiece crack. “You are saying we can't safely deploy troops into East Prussia?”

Schlieffen nodded. “We have to be careful of being cut off. This is an especial concern in the early stages of the campaign. We may have to give up East Prussia if things go badly.”

Von Gerlach shook his head violently. “That is unthinkable, general! We will fight for our territory. Germany cannot just give up!”

Albert nodded grimly. “I agree. We have to fight, even if we lose. How bad is the battle going to be?”

General Schlieffen let out a heavy sigh. “Bad, Sire. The Army of the Niemen and the force moving towards Memel – we have no confirmation of its size – are fully mobilised and number at least 120,000 men. We have two corps in the area, partially mobilised, and a few reserves that can be brought up the line in the next few days. We will be fighting a retreat against overwhelming force. I expect us to lose territory – we won't be able to hold Memel or Gumbinnen, or even Insterburg. The task of the forces in the area will be to slow down the enemy's advance enough for the mobilised forces from the interior of the Reich to come to their aid.”

“How long?”

Schlieffen focused on Gerlach's face. “It will be a long week, Sir. The longest week any of us can remember.”

Foreign Secretary von Bülow looked over the map, dismay visible in his face. “We have no news of France. General, do you know anything?”

Schlieffen looked up. “The French army is not mobilised. General von der Goltz assures me that we are certain of this. They are not in any state to attack us now, and we can mobilise faster than they. The danger of attack is small. But of course we must be wary.”

“Secretary von Bülow,” Prince Albert interrupted, “do we have any reason to think the French will attack?”

“No, Your Highness.” Bülow looked defiantly certain. He had gained a reputation as a peacemonger with his staunch and ultimately doomed opposition to a Russian war. Schlieffen, he knew, would love to see him out of office for his miscalculation. Still, he was sure that something could be done here. “If the French were involved in this scheme, they would have made preparations. Even secret ones. We had warning of the Russian moves, it was only their purpose that was unclear. We know the French made no such efforts, and their new government has not made any noises towards war. In fact, war would be contrary to their interest. We can be certain the Russians will be trying to convince them, though.”

“Thank heavens for small mercies.” Albert sighed. “Secretary, your task is to keep the French out of the war. Talk to Ambassador Lascelles. Get in touch with President Clemenceau. Find a way to keep us out of a two-front war.”

Schlieffen's face brightened. If they could safeguard their western border, the calculation changed. The troops designated for the defense of Alsace-Lorraine would be freed up to move east. Things could get very uncomfortable for the Russians very, very quickly then. Only to hold out the first two weeks...

“Admiral,” Prince Albert turned, “What about the North Sea? It seems hardly believable.”

Von Koester shook his head ruefully. “We were completely surprised, Sire. The Russian ships were coming down from Murmansk, nobody thought they were part of an attack. Heligoland is unfortified, of course. We never wanted to provoke Britain. Now the Russians have a naval force there and as far as we can tell are preparing mines to defend their anchorage.”

“To what end?” General von Schlieffen was genuinely puzzled. “Surely they cannot hold out against our fleet?”

“Not in the long run, no. We suspect their objective is to gain a bargaining chip and draw France into the war by offering them a naval toehold off our coast. If the French reinforce Heligoland, we cannot retake it. Our bases are closer, but their superiority in numbers would render that advantage null. They can simply blockade our coast then.”

“And if not,” Albert added, “how soon till we can drive them off? They are holding a knife to the neck of our seabourne trade.”

Von Koester nodded. “With the damage to the canal, we are limited to what ships we currently have in Wilhelmshaven, but the numbers still favour us. The aim is to sortie in 36 hours to deny them the opportunity to construct elaborate defenses. If luck favours us, we will be able to take the island. We should certainly damage their ships enough to cripple their usefulness as a raiding force.”

Albert nodded thoughtfully. Heligoland sat in the Elbe and Weser estuaries like a cork. An enemy fighting force holding it would be able to choke off Germany's trade almost completely.

“What about the Baltic?”

Von Koester looked pained. “Once again, Sire, the sabotage to the canal is hurting us badly. Fortunately, we had just moved Baden and Otto der Große through to Kiel, so we have a total of six battleships there. Still, the numbers favour the Russians. We need to stay on the defensive for now. Our second-line coast defense ships can add their firepower to a defending fleet, and our guns on Fehmarn defend the base. But for now, the Russians can move through the Baltic with impunity. I fear our trade will suffer.”

“How long until the canal is useable again?”, Schlieffen asked.

“We still don't know. The Donbas was carrying a large amount of explosives and timed fuses. The captain apparently tried to warn the recovery crew, but the arresting officers did not allow him to talk to anyone, so we lost a few good men in the blast. The good news is that he failed to reach the bridge. It was damaged, but still stands. The engineers say that repairing the bridge may take months, but if we use steam dredges and dynamite, we should be able to clear the canal in a few weeks. The problem is that we don't know if there are any more surprises waiting amid the wrecks.”

“Why not use the crew to clear them?”, Secretary of Finance von Siemens interjected.

Von Gerlach cleared his throat. “They are currently held as prisoners suspected of a crime. As such, forcing them to do any kind of labour is unlawful.”

“All right,” Prince Albert snarled, “so we clear the canal and retake Heligoland. In the meantime, we should sortie cruisers from Wilhelmshaven to protect our trade.”

Secretary von Bülow interrupted. “Sire, if our cruisers leave port for the Atlantic, the French might interpret that as an aggressive move. We should consider that.”

Albert hesitated for a moment. “All right, some cruisers. We can talk to Paris. And we need to instruct our consuls to order any merchant ships to go through Rotterdam until this is over. The Dutch are likely to help, aren't they?”

“Yes, sire.” Von Bülow nodded, scribbling.

“And we hope that the Russians do not make it to Berlin before we have full mobilisation. That is all, I suppose.”

18 June 1906, Heligoland

Being wet and miserable was what life in the navy prepared you for. Hiding from rifle-toting enemies was not. Still, Franz Schönauer was resolved to make the best of it. When the Russians had landed, he had simply refused to believe what he saw. Schönauer and his comrade Adolf Petersen had been on a private (and illegal) excursion collecting sea bird eggs and when he had called him, the Obermaat had exploded with rage. Unlike Schönauer, who was a Rhinelander, Petersen came from Heligoland. The two had come here on leave to visit his family – Schönauer suspected that he was being set up for something with Adolf's cousin – but right here, patriotic indignation had taken over. The two had capsized their rowboat and weighed it down with stones, hiding at the foot of the cliffs to watch what the invaders were doing. Schönauer had a sketch pad – he always carried something to scribble and draw, and now the younger man's obsession came in handy.

“Good thing you've got the cartography down.” Petersen remarked. The bulky sailor was old-school, a disciplinarian and handy with boats and ropes. He had grown up that way. Schönauer had a thing for pictures and numbers and was helmsman's mate, and on an upward trajectory. He had a head for theory and skill with the pencil. A sketch of Heligoland with the anchorages of the Russian ships, the movements of the minelayers they could see, and the outlines of every vessel was talking shape. Right now, a requisitioned tug was moving the big battleship into the south harbour.

“What are they doing?”, Schönauer muttered. “Stupid Ivans. It's too shallow. They'll run her aground.”

Petersen shrugged wordlessly. His eloquent Frisian silences could be infuriating sometimes. Ultimately, he said: “They want to. Put her on a level piece of ground, open the seacocks. Makes a stable gun platform, you can shoot farther.”

That, Schönauer admitted, made sense. The thought of large-calibre guns on Heligoland was frightening. Yes, technically you could get into the Weser and Elbe without entering the range of a well-placed battery, but you had to know what you were doing. The main channels all led you right through. “Do you think that's what they're doing on the shore?” he asked, pointing to the place where the Russian sailors were frantically levelling a piece of ground, manhandling rails and steel beams to shore from a cargo vessel.

“Could be. It's not where I'd put a battery, but if you're in a hurry, it's better than none. Dragging a big gun to the upland would be a nightmare.”

“Damn.”, Schönauer muttered and started another sketch. “Nothing we can do about it, either.”

Petersen shook his head. “You can go be a hero if you want. I want to be here when we retake the place. I want the Russians off my island!”

The sun was already sinking towards the horizon. Come dark, they could recover their boat and make their way to Neuwerk. The Russian patrols would never catch a Halunder fisherman's boy in these waters. Not in the dark, and not while they were looking for cruisers and torpedo boats. Neuwerk had a lighthouse and a telegraph. From there on, their liberty would be over, of course. The navy would need them. It was a pity, Schönauer reflected. Cousin Nele was cute, and did not seem adverse to the thought of marrying an aspiring first mate.

18 June 1906, outside of Skierniwice

General Mishchenko was livid with rage. Skierniwice was not even the main objective. Its branch line stuck out of the main trunk like a sore thumb, pointing and laughing. He had been standing here for ages, and it was not getting better. He had brought up horse artillery and footsoldiers, but the Poles had sent infantry, field and machine guns. They were good at these holding battles, running away for miles and then suddenly, unexpectedly sinking their claws into the soil and daring you to pry them loose. And even he had to admit grudgingly that they were good at it. The Orenburgers came back with tales of pickets on switches and telegraph posts and armoured trains running the trunk line. They were not just using it, they were securing it. Two or three attacks had gone through, but they had never done enough damage to cripple it for more than half a day, and the cost had always been prohibitive. Meanwhile, he was throwing his men at the defenses and bleeding them white. He had made gains – half a verst, he figured, over the first four days of the battle, before his men had started refusing to charge the enemy. But it never mattered. There was always another trench, another machine gun nest, another building or embankment that they could not get around. It was infuriating.

The message from headquarters was making things worse. An infantry brigade was coming up, with General Skugarevsky to take command of the whole thing. How would that read in the history books: The battle of Skierniwice. Begun by Mishchenko, won by Skugarevsky! Two days to gain victory. Mishchenko was resolved to get there or die trying. His infantry was still relatively unbled. if they could force a breakthrough, the horse would exploit it. Tomorrow, the patrols were scheduled to return to form up their assault column. It was going to be a grand hour: Russian infantry shattering the enemy defenses, cossacks swarming through in loose order to outflank any attempt to form up new defenses, with the dragoons and horse artillery to batter down any stiffer resistance. The general we mildly proud of this plan, in fact. It was the obvious answer, and he wondered why none of the gilded staff boys had ever come up with it.

18 June 1906, country road outside Gumbinnen

The stars glinted down from an almost clear, black sky spanning the wide horizons of the flat, wooded countryside. Shreds of cloud reflected the last rays of the evening sun. The plain was studded with the jewel-like pinpoints of light created by hundreds of bivouac fires. Mikhail Nezkin looked out over the wide expanse of land that spread before him and shuddered in awe. Men, horses and guns, the giant body of the superorganism that they called an army, lay at rest, lined up along the route of their advance in orderly lines. Officers' tents glowed golden with the kerosene lamps inside. The watchfires of the men flickered orange-red. This, he thought, was a new kind of beauty. A harsh, glorious, elevating form of art. It had nothing of the china-doll prettiness too many people associated with the idea of beauty these days. He would have to tell people about it. Sniffing the mild summer evening breeze, he caught the scent of horses, sweat, wool, woodsmoke and tea that the army seemed to carry with it at all times. He pulled out his sketchpad in the vain hope of doing justice to the moment. With hasty scribbles of his trusty HB pencil, he titled his first drawing: The Army of the Niemen in Germany - Advance on Gumbinnen.

19 June 1906, Neuwerk

“You cannot be serious!” Obermaat Adolf Petersen had a remarkable voice, and when he chose to use it to full effect, he usually got his way. Schönauer saw the lighthouse keeper visibly shrink. Still; not this time.

“I'm sorry, Sir. Senate orders. No telegrams of military value over unchecked lines.” He looked genuinely sorry. From the expression on Petersen's face, he was liable to be sorrier still. Sailors with ten years of service under their belt shrank from this man.

“We sailed across from Heligoland in a fucking dinghy, evaded Russian patrols, nearly got blown up by a mine, run over by a freighter and were all but arrested by your policeman friend here because we looked like Russians to him! And you, you officious arsehole will try to stop us from using your telegraph because it might be dangerous? You are out of your mind, aren't you? This needs to get to Wilhelmshaven, today, now! I swear the admiral will have your head for this.”

Behind him, the policeman who had brought them here jerked to his feet, his hand on the hilt of his sabre. A withering glance from Petersen stopped him. The lighthouse keeper looked as though he was about to disappear into the earth, but he stood his ground.

“We have orders. Strange ships were seen in the estuary at night, and we cannot know what cables they have tapped. The Senate of Hamburg has issued instructions that no important information is to go over the lines until we have assured they are safe.”

Orders. The ultimate line of defense for every German official. Schönauer sighed. He saw the rage on his comrade's face evaporate, replaced by resignation. There was no point letting themselves be arrested. “All right, then. How do we get to a safe line?”

With his authority vindicated, the lighthouse keeper was amenable to finding a solution. “There is a boat to Cuxhaven at 11.”, he pointed out. “If a navy ship passes by, we can also flag it down to take you earlier.”

19 June 1906, Memel

Major Vladislav Shtayger had no problem admitting he found Germans confusing sometimes. Being escorted in Memel, the sights were unsurprising. Civilians with packed bags, waiting for trains that might or – more likely – might not come. Fishermen dickering for the most outrageous fee to carry passengers. Sullen, angry stares at his uniform. Riding up to the town hall, he had already felt the thrill of victory. His information proved correct – the city garrison consisted of I Btn of the 41st Infantry Regiment. And, this was where the problems began, its commander, Major Johannes von Rantzow.

Superannuated majors, Shtayger knew from painful experience, were a cantankerous and obstinate lot. As career prospects and hairlines receded, the only comfort many found was in proving their authority by making life difficult for others. Von Rantzow took this art to a new level.

“It's impossible”, he repeated over and over. “I cannot surrender the garrison without proper authority.” No amount of pleading by the mayor and councillors could move him.

What Shtayger was able to discover, in patient questioning rounds and angry exchanges, was that the problem was not one of honour. The German major himself said that a single round of Russian artillery would be enough to satisfy the honour of the flag, since Memel was not defensible. The problem, rather, was that the major was unsure whether he had the authority to abandon his post. Under the law, he would be not only commander of his troops, but also de fact governor of the city once the state of emergency was declared. However, he could not be sure that it had been, since telegraph lines out of Memel had been interrupted. Shtayger was sure that Russian outriders had been enthusiastic in this respect.

Shtayger himself was eager to avoid anything that would prejudice the civilian population against his troops more than necessary. Firefights in the streets were not the way he hoped to start off the occupation. In the end, he had simply agreed to allow the German officer to be taken to their field headquarters to enquire about the state of affairs in Germany. He felt sure that this message would be met with a certain amount of incredulity, but it was better than the prospect of a massacre. Meanwhile, he could sit down with the mayor, an eminently sensible man whose dedication to the safety of his city made him amenable to discussing requests. There would be naval and railway troops stationed here, and army units coming through, though Halfway through the issue of civilian fisheries, the Russian escort returned with a visibly uncomfortable Major von Rantzow.

“Major,” he said, handing over a telegram form, “I can now inform you that, according to the Gesetz über den Belagerungszustand, I am in fact responsible for the government of Memel. In view of the disparity of forces and the considerable risk to civilian lives and property, I am compelled to offer the surrender of the city. May I be permitted to surrender to General Samsonov?”

The mayor sighed with relief. Major Shtayger saw no reason to further humiliate the man. “Of course, Major.”, he offered. “Your men may come with you, fully armed. The general will be happy to accept.”

19 June 1906, Mafia Island

The boat ride to the shore was bumpy, but Captain Livin was determined to ensure that everything was done as he had instructed. All around him, longboats, steam launches and native bumboats ferried troops to shore. Most of the soldiers looked profoundly grateful, though the wildly swaying boats did nothing for their wellbeing. The long journey had tested the limits of their stoicism with heat, seasickness and disease. However uninviting the beaches might be, hot, humid and largely deserted, they were better than the fetid holds of their troopships. He could see soldiers praying, kneeling and kissing the earth, others collapsed onto the white sand oblivious to their surroundings, or dancing wildly. The danger was minimal. Livin was not going to interfere for now. They could impose discipline once everyone was ashore.

As the boat entered the surf, it began pitching wildly. The oarsmen cursed, struggling to keep it level and moving towards the shore. The water, Livin noticed, was crystal clear and warm. Still, this was going to be a hard trial for men without their sea legs. As the prow hit the sand, the captain vaulted over the side into the swirling water, wading ashore without waiting for black porters or sailors to carry him. This was a moment that people would remember. It would not do to appear ridiculous.

On the shore, to the right edge of the landing zone, a solitary white figure stood slumped and dejected, flanked by two armed sailors. Livin shook the water from his trouser legs, thanking fortune he was not wearing army boots, and walked briskly towards the prisoner.

Assessor Weinrich saw the Russian navy officer coming towards him. The bedraggled state of his clothing bore witness to the suddenness with which defeat had overtaken him. Of course Mafia had had news of the Russian declaration of war, but the message had come with the expected exhortation to remain calm, pray for the victory of the imperial arms and otherwise do nothing that might cost anything. Nobody had mentioned the possibility of an invasion. Now, slightly hungover and suffering from the heat of the midday sun, flanked by two enormous bearded guards smelling of sweat, dirt and alcohol, the humiliation was almost too much to bear. He had not even been able to properly surrender Chole harbour, let alone defend it. The Russians had been in the streets before the police garrison was out of bed, and the guns of their fleet had persuaded the few white men in town that resistance was futile.

“Good day, Sir.”, the Russian said in accented French. “Who do I have the honour of addressing?”

Weinrich swallowed hard. His mouth felt dry. “Assessor Weinrich, of the colonial service. There is no military on Mafia.I am the ranking officer.”

Livin nodded. “Then I must request your surrender, Sir. Cooperation with the occupying forces will be required in every respect.”

“I have no choice. You have my surrender. I must insist, though, that your troops respect the persons and property of the white population!”

The Russian seemed taken aback. “We are not barbarians, Mr Weinrich.”, he said curtly. “Follow instructions, and you need not fear for your safety or property. Anyway, you will not need to bear our presence for long.”

The moment he had said it, Livin realised that he should not have. It betrayed plans, and even the obscurest hint at what they intended to do was more than the enemy should have. Still, what could this kid do? He would be in Chole under curfew while the Army of East Africa – what a glorious name for such a bedraggled force - recovered its land legs and the squadron visited Lindi, Tanga and Daressalam. Their numbers alone would ensure their victory. What would come after – well, the French might be interested in the place. Otherwise, they would simply sit tight and await the end of the war. Then they could go home.
19 June 1906, Paris

Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau was not in the habit of commenting on the staffing decisions of other governments. However, the expression “a country for old men” seemed to apply very well to Russia, as he had repeatedly pointed out publicly while in opposition. Ambassador Nelidov was as good an example as was Prokurator Pobedonostsev and First Minister Goremykin. The man was spent. Stooped and distracted, with no strength left in his sinews, it seemed that he was largely kept on as a memento, a souvenir of the happy days of Alexander III for which Czar Nicholas was known to pine. Clemenceau thought it took a special kind of unthinking cruelty to inflict this kind of decay on men who, in their time, had served with distinction.

Today, the ambassador had come with a suggestion of the greatest importance. His eyes were red, lids drooping from the burden of his office. Beside him, holding the dispatch box, stood his new legation secretary, Vladimir Purishkevich. This, the prime minister had been told, was a man to watch. Abrasive and outspoken, he had already caused a stir in the upper echelons of Paris society. His official status was subordinate, but it was an open secret that he read the ambassador's mail and drafted most of his replies. Appointments were scheduled through him. What his true power might be was uncertain, but it had to be considerable. Dubrovin on the Seine, some had called him. It was said that he had spent much time with Deroulede and Syveton, before the elections, and greatly regretted the victory of the radicals. Clemenceau had not met him for any length of time before, but the cold eyes behind the steel-rimmed glasses convinced him that the dislike would be mutual.

Nelidov bowed slightly as the two men shook hands and eased himself into an armchair by the fireplace. Purishkevich helped him along before placing the dispatch box on the table and stepping back to hover behind the chair. Clemenceau preferred to remain standing.

“Your Excellency,” Nelidov began formally. “I have been charged by His Imperial Majesty's government to discuss the question of the coming war with you. Our two great nations have been closely allied in the past, and the primary cause of this alliance has been the challenge posed by the upstart German Empire and its disturbance of the European peace. It is in the spirit of this alliance that His Majesty calls on the French Republic to join the Russian Empire in its present struggle.”

Clemenceau nodded pensively. It was about time someone taught the Germans a lesson. The question was: was this the right time. He was less than certain about that. “Mr Ambassador, I thank you for your candour, and your recognition that it is the spirit of the alliance, not the letter, that calls on the French Republic. You realise, of course, that our understanding only extends to defensive wars. But let us consider the possibilities. You have decided to declare war on Germany without consulting your allies, which is – awkward. I am sure you understand this.”

The ambassador nodded. “A statement of intent would have placed our endeavour in peril, Your Excellency.” That was a nice way of saying the Quay d'Orsay was lousy with German spies. “Further, I do not think you can speak of a war of aggression after the provocation Germany has given.”

“I see your point,” Clemenceau said, stroking his beard. “but your government's continued commitment to a Poland conference – I believe the French delegation was due to depart in three weeks – has placed you in an unfortunate position nonetheless. We must look to our international regard, Sir, more than an empire must.”

Nelidov nodded understandingly. He had thought the secretiveness unfortunate, but then, there were ways to persuade the hesitant. After all, France had interests. “We understand that France has the honour of the nation to consider. Rest assured, had the exigencies of the situation allowed it, Russia, too, would have preferred to act more openly. It was German machinations that bound us to the course we took.”

“Machinations much like the ones that you yourself have suffered so much from.”, Purishkevich added quietly. “The Germans and their international allies have much to answer for.”

Nelidov hushed his secretary. This was not the time. “Consider, though, please, to what degree the interests of your nation may be served by joining us in this fight. Alone, we can but hope to chastise the German emperor. Together, a lasting peace in Europe could be established by ending the disruptive influence of Berlin once and for all. Alsace-Lorraine would return to its rightful status as French, and with it the German fortresses that so grievously threatened your flank. Germany's treasury would repay, with interest, the billions extracted after the last war. Germany's colonies, too, would be ripe for the taking. You have heard, I am certain, from your own administrators in Madagascar and Reunion that we have struck at Ostafrika today. The defenses of the German protectorates in Africa are parlous. Russia has no interest in African territory, as you know, but we have no objections to a French acquisition of these lands.”

“Very generous of you.”, Clemenceau said acidly. “I would ask what London would have to say of such a bargain. Any wholesale conquest of Germany's African territories would be impossible.” Nonetheless – Ostafrika would be a prize worth having. If it could be secured early, the threat of cutting off Britain's new Cape-to-Cairo corridor at its most vulnerable point might force London to the negotiating table. Even if it were given up, anything would be forgiven to the man who brought Alsace-Lorraine home. Clemenceau calculated. “Mobilisation requires time. German troops could well march on our defenses before we are ready. Again, a problem posed by your secretive habits, I am afraid. At any rate, we would have to have assurances that the pressure on Germany's eastern flank will continue to mount. Their army is a formidable threat.”

“Germany, your excellency, is already losing territory. The emperor will find it impossible to write off this loss. Concern for his reputation will force him to throw troops at these lands, which are close to our borders and easily defended. France's army shall not face an overwhelming foe, and once Alsace-Lorraine is liberated, the Rhine forms a natural moat behind which they cannot easily strike at you.”

It was a tempting picture. But like all tempting pictures and grand schemes, it was all too easy to forget who guided the brushstrokes. Clemenceau himself was in the business of painting such canvases and remembered the Panama crisis all too well. “Mr Ambassador,” he stated firmly, “your call for assistance has not gone unheeded. I will confer with my generals and make my decision.”

19 June 1906 Heligoland

The grey, choppy waters of the North Sea were the perfect backdrop to a clash of grey steel monsters. The Russian cruiser squadron stood out from the south harbour, awaiting the arrival of the German fleet whose smoke would have betrayed their approach even if the observation balloon had not been raised. These waters were tight and cramped, with land and sandbanks encroaching from all sides. Very little could be done unobserved.

“Three battleships, five cruisers.”, the balloon observer reported.

Captain Kolchak nodded. This was the Wilhelmshaven squadron, out for blood, and late. Just as the plan said. For once, the enemy was cooperating. Identification was impossible at this range, of course, but it did not matter much. German battleships were fairly similar in terms of performance. Admiral Thomsen, the most likely person in command of the force, was a brave man, though not, as far as Kolchak knew, a reckless one. An expert in torpedo warfare. Not mines, then. That was something.

Slowly, almost majestically the battle unfolded. The German cruisers and torpedo boat screen peeled away from the battleship force to engage the foe. Medium guns flashed to keep the small craft at a distance. Circling and twisting, the Russian vessels tried to get into firing position, but it looked like German anti-torpedo boat drill was good. Then the cruisers engaged, columns of water rising around the vessels on both sides. Bayan in the lead, the Russian squadron steamed ahead for a notional place in front of the German ships. Crossing the T – it was every flag officer's nightmare. Now was the time to hope... no. The German fleet's discipline was too good. The cruisers fell back, letting the battleships come in closer. They knew that their mothers could protect them with mighty blows. No Russian could come close while they stuck together. No cruiser battle today. The torpedo boats melted back towards Heligoland.

Captain Hipper looked over the chart table, then out through the viewport of his battle bridge again. The Blücher, lead ship of the German cruiser line, was steaming a good ten knots below her capacity, and it felt like running with an iron ball tied to his ankle. Admiral Thomsen had advised them that there was an Ushakov-class coast defense ship around. So far, they had only seen cruisers and torpedo boats. Where was the damned thing?

“Report from lookout!”, the speaking tube whistled. An ensign took the message. “Lookout has spotted the Ushakov ship in the south harbour anchorage. It has no steam up.”

That was something. Hipper turned to look once more at the receding shapes of the Russian cruisers. “Signal the Barbarossa: Battleship spotted at anchor, not mobile. Request permission to pursue enemy cruisers.”

The radioman tapped out the message. To Hipper, the minute or so it took to code it seemed like an eternity. Things had been so much simpler in the days of flag and heliograph. Finally, the answer came. The ensign all but tore it out of the radioman's hands and rushed to the bridge. Hipper watched as the Friedrich Barbarossa increased speed, turning slightly to starboard. He knew already what it was going to say. “Permission granted: Blücher, Hardenberg and Roon supported by Lübeck and Rostock to engage cruisers. Good hunting!”

As the thud of the powerful engines speeded up, Hipper felt his pulse quicken. This was what he had trained for all this time. The Russians had turned, firing ineffectually, and were fleeing. Well, they could not hope to outrun his ships. To the east, Thomsen's battleships had moved into range and began dropping their ranging shots.

Captain Kolchak cursed his enforced idleness. All his weapons had already been laid, his plans made, orders issued. There was nothing left for him to do. Even Admiral Essen, his command post ashore from the Apraxin, was more active, signalling to the vessels at sea and directing the fire. The guns stayed silent. Now the German battleships had opened up, their main guns raising columns of water out in the anchorage. The captain was glad they had moved the civilians and their steamers to the northern end of the island. It was not safe – nowhere on Heligoland would be safe today – but at least it was away from where anyone would shoot deliberately.

The Apraxin's first shots went wide. Out at sea, the German line passed and would soon have to turn to keep up their fire. Kolchak hoped that the admiral's gunners had the point right. They had spent hours sighting and tabulating, estimating ranges and elevations out to certain buoys and positions, so they would not have to spend too much time trying to get their bearings. To Kolchak's disappointment, though, they had miscalculated. Columns of greyish-white water rose almost four hundred meters short of the turning point. The second salvo struck home, but by that time the lead ship had turned and was heading back past the anchorage, closer this time. The front turret fired as the ship came out of the turn – were those German gunners automata? Their shells howled over the south harbour and struck, rocking the hull of the Apraxin and shattering its bow deck. If the ship had been afloat, the hit would likely have crippled it.

Now a Russian salvo landed on the second ship in the German line. Orange-red flashes and black smoke engulfed its stern. Would this be the death blow? No, Kolchak concluded, training his telescope on the victim – the Sachsen, he thought. She still had steam, righting herself and following the leader in for a second pass. Her rear turret swivelled into firing position. Smoke poured from portholes, but it looked like contained damage. Christ, let the plan work! If not, these leviathans would pound them into submission before the cruisers could do anything. Concealing the shore battery until the enemy was closer sounded good on paper, but it did not feel so right when those shells were coming down on you.

But now – now – the Germans were where he wanted them. Aside from the fact that where he really wanted them was far away, of course. This was it. His palms sweaty, Kolchak switched his view between the lead and second ship, still trailing smoke. The torpedo boats came around the dune now, attacking the flank of the battleships. In broad daylight, there was little they could do other than distract the officers, but that was the point. Torpedo wakes grew across the grey water as shell impacts blossomed around the small craft. One was hit, limping and burning. If things worked out, it would be a small price to pay. Against his better knowledge, Kolchak tried to spot the shadows of the mines he had laid in the path of the attacking squadron. He knew they were invisible, but right now – right now...

“They are turning tail, Sir!” The report from lookout sounded almost triumphant. Admiral Thomsen felt a momentary rush of elation. For all their vaunted sting, the Russian torpedo boats had proved a broken reed. Another attack driven off with their medium guns, and this time the enemy had lost one. The Russian battleship in the anchorage was getting a heavy pounding – another pass, perhaps, and she would be a wreck. Now not to get too close to the sandbanks.

“Captain”, he called out, “are we bearing too close inshore?”

There never was an answer. Without warning, the blow took him off his feet, tossing his and his bridge staff around like rag dolls. Smoke and water engulfed the ship and the groan of steel taxed beyond endurance mingled with the blast. Dazed and bleeding, his arm throbbing with pain, the admiral struggled to raise himself off the floor, now listing noticeably. A mine! Just like the Japanese had done it to Makarov, dammit! He was determined not to go out that way.

“Helmsman!”, he shouted out, “have we got steerageway?”

“Yes, Sir!” The engines were still thumping up their drumbeat. They had a chance yet!

“To port! Take us away from the shallows!”

“Yes, Sir!” The wheel spun, the ship's list now seeming to right itself as the rudder began to respond. The admiral tasted blood in his mouth and gingerly reached for his left arm. Bellowed orders and reports began to reassert the rule of its antlike crew over the ship. They were going to make it!

Darkness came quickly with the second blast.

“Good God, Sir! She's turned turtle!” Petty Officer Duboy stood by the controls of the electric mines, staring out fixedly over the water. Two had failed – enough had worked. Kolchak's heart raced. This was his victory! The German flagship had taken two hits and was sinking, turning on its side with a hiss and a groan they could hear on the island. The following vessels, number two still trailing wisps of smoke from its stern, pushed past her now, away from the island and on a course for home. The undamaged craft was slowing when, with a roar like the end of the world, the 30cm shore battery opened up. Kolchak said a brief prayer for the rails and rubble the engineers had laid under her. It had not been finished an hour too soon! Nobody had thought they could do it, but they had.

“My God!” The water around the shell impact seemed to be boiling. That was entirely too close! Captain Spee raced to the viewport and checked to see the timing. This shot could not possibly have come from the Apraxin. “Shore guns! They have us straddled!”

It was a complete disaster. Friedrich Barbarossa had sunk within minutes. Sachsen was still burning, and had taken damage from another one of the damned mines the Russians had lying around the island. The Apraxin was still firing, and now, shore guns were joining in. and out to the east, the torpedo boats were still circling, waiting. Admiral Thomsen had recalled the cruisers before his ship went down, and Spee had ordered Bayern to repeat the message by radio every two minutes. With no more thought for victory, extricating themselves from the trap was his main concern now. Slowly, too slowly his vessel was moving backwards, readying the tow that was to take Sachsen out of danger. Her rudder was damaged. Boat crews were aiding the transfer of the ropes while the ship's launches were picking survivors off Friedrich Barbarossa's hull. The sailors had thrown anything that would float over the side when they had passed the settling wreck, and the soot-stained water was still thronged with swimmers. The medium guns still roared, keeping the enemy's boats at a distance, but with the Russian shore guns now coming into action, they would not have the time to rescue everyone. Or even most.

“Cruisers heading our way, Sir!” the lookout reported. “It's Rostock and Lübeck, Hipper's squadron”.

Captain Spee shook his head angrily. ”Signal for them to keep their distance. We can take a few hits if it must be, but they can't. Have them come round south to our flank and keep the torpedo boats away.”

With a smart salute, a petty officer disappeared out of the door.

“Towline number one is secured, Sir. Only a few more minutes now.”

A few more minutes. That was how many shells? How many hits? His ship's armour was thick, and Sachsen had shrugged off a shell aft almost completely. But it just took one unlucky moment. When would the next blow fall?

“Why are we not firing!?” Captain Kolchak's face was flushed with anger and exertion. He had raced down from the plateau, along the beach to the Admiral's station expecting to find it blasted to red ruin by one of those terrifyingly accurate German shells. Instead, the busy calm of any command centre greeted him. A runner passed by headed to the north of the island as he passed through the low door.

“Captain?” Admiral Essen asked, his voice calm. It seemed louder than usual. Everyone down here must be slightly deafened by the gunfire and shell blasts. The anchorage had been turned into a vision of hell over the past 40 minutes. Shredded wood, twisted metal and concrete chunks bore witness to the fury of the German fire. The Apraxin was holed, its bow torn apart and the fore turret a smoking ruin. But the fortune of war had spared the command post and the battery further down the beach looked as new as it had this morning. Spotless. The gunners were lolling beside the heavy underpinnings they had so laboriously piled up through the night, watching the goings-on out at sea.

“Sir! I am glad to see you alive and well, but – why have we ceased fire?”

The Admiral looked at Kolchak coldly. “Captain, there are orders, and when an officer is ordered to do this, he must do as his suzerain demands. That is one thing, and we have heaped a great deal of crime upon our heads this day. But I will not murder helpless victims.”

Captain Kolchak stared out at sea for a moment. “Sir, these are two battleships! My mines are spent, but our guns can destroy them, or at least inflict serious damage. We cannot just let them escape! Sir, you must order...”

Essen raised his hand. “Captain Kolchak, I have given order for one of the confiscated tourist steamers to be sent down to pick up the survivors. We will not fire while we are not fired upon. That is all.”

Without the speed and power thrumming through its sleek body, a warship was a pitiful thing. Headed into a rising swell, Bayern was running quarter speed, Sachsen in helpless tow. On both flanks, Blücher and Hardenberg matched its crawl for protection. Captain Spee was close to tears. Not even two hours. Not even 45 minutes, if you only counted the battleship engagement, and his proud squadron had been destroyed. The Russian commander had studied the lessons of the Manchurian war well. And he? Spee had not been in command, but he was sure he would have made the same mistakes.

A radioman stepped onto the bridge and saluted.

“Yes?” The news of the defeat had, of course, preceded them and Spee expected the worst.

“Sir, a coded message was received while we were engaged. It's from the navy station in Cuxhaven.” The seaman's voice was bitter. “They say to expect mines and shore artillery.”

19 June 1906, Vienna

The Habsburgs knew how to do pomp and circumstance, Major-General Maximilian von Baden thought as he walked down the great corridor of the Hofburg. In Berlin, some assessor or officer with a dispatch case would have met him along the way. Here, it was silent, liveried servants opening doors with quiet, assiduous efficiency. In the year or so after he had replaced Carl von Wedel as ambassador, he had been to a few audiences and court functions, but today's summons was different. Emperor Franz Joseph wanted to impress. Everything about the occasion screamed importance. It was enough to leave a lasting mark even on the scion of a ruling house.

The situation was, of course, unpleasant. The imperial government still had not given its response to the Russian declaration of war on Germany. The emperor had returned from his hunting trip early, and had met the Russian ambassador the same evening. Von Baden had cabled Berlin for instructions and received – nothing. Two pages of nothing, to be sure, but nothing of substance. He would have to wing it.

The emperor waited for his visitor in the office, seated behind a rococo desk. That was something he had in common with Wilhelm, the ambassador thought: they drowned in paperwork. Franz joseph was famous for his regular working habits, though, a man who took regularity to extremes. Wilhelm was – had been? - famously unpredictable in his hours. Von Baden suspected that it was simply a matter of age. Approaching his forties, he understood that younger men felt fewer physical limitations. But he appreciated the Austrian style. As he was ushered in, the emperor rose and came forward to meet him with a quick embrace and handshake. That was unusual. He had been selected partly because he was of a rank to interact freely with Europe's most senior nobility, but it was rarely this free. Symbolic gestures meant something in Vienna. The ambassador took heart.

“Your Excellency,” the emperor addressed him with quiet informality, “I have called you to discuss a matter of the greatest importance.”

“Your Majesty, I appreciate your directness.” the younger man answered.

“Yesterday, I was presented with a diplomatic note from the Russian government. Emperor Nicholas II requested the neutrality of Austria-Hungary in the war he was declaring on Germany. I will spare you the justifications laid out in tedious detail, but in it, he promises me his neutrality in our dispute with Serbia and his acquiescence in a future annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The prospect of good relations he holds out was painted in the most enticing colours.”

Ambassador von Baden felt his heart skip a beat. This was the real thing. Diplomacy of the kind you read about in history books. The thing that had made Talleyrand and Bismarck names to remember. His mouth temporarily dry, he frantically searched for the right words. What do you say in the face of such an admission? What could he reasonably offer that he had any authority to give? The rising panic must have been visible in his eyes. Franz Joseph made a small, soothing gesture with his right hand as he continued.

“I am sure you understand that I will categorically have to reject this offer. Even if I could believe it was made in honest intent, it would not be possible to embrace this stance with honour.”

Von Baden felt overwhelmed by the surge of emotions. History unfolded before his eyes. as a progressive and a German, he had often disagreed thoroughly with the way the Austrians did things, but he had always felt a degree of affection for the empire. Germany's firmest ally, he thought. A friend in need.

“You Majesty, Germany will not forget that she found you at her side in her hour of need!”, he said, looking for better than platitudes and coming up empty.

Franz Joseph waved his words aside. “There are some practical aspects that will have to be considered. The first is the most obvious: my armies are unprepared. The Russians are not. As of today, the mobilisation of the combined forces is at best rudimentary, that of the Landwehr and Honved nonexistent. A declaration of war on Russia, much as it would satisfy the demands of honour, would be unwise.”

It made sense, of course. The ambassador was a military man by training and understood the realities of the situation. Germany's own position was hardly enviable. He nodded. “Naturally, your Majesty. What do you propose?”

“We will begin to mobilise immediately.”, Franz Joseph explained. “The general staff has drawn up plans that should make it possible to deploy our forces as soon as possible. A few days of uncertainty on the part of Nicholas may help us.”

Quick calculations flew through the ambassador's head. As far as he was aware, the Russians had only one army on the border with Austria-Hungary, but of course, one army against only unprepared troops was still going to cause considerable damage. And there was Serbia to consider. The Serbians were just not rational. If this worked...

“Your Majesty, I will immediately inform my government of this development by secure channels.”

“Thank you, ambassador.” The emperor nodded. “In order to coordinate our efforts, and because we may be able to provide mutually beneficial assistance, it is best for our militaries to begin communicating effectively as soon as possible. To that end, my general staff has seconded two men whom I would request you provide passports for and have travel with your courier to berlin. They are Colonel Sembarth of the general staff and Major Redl of military intelligence.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. Their papers will be issued immediately.”
20 June 1906, Paris

“Thank you for coming at such short notice, General Foch.”

The general saluted and took a seat. A summons from the prime minister was something any soldier would obey, but in the days following the Deroulede coup, Foch had developed a bond with Clemenceau that went beyond professional courtesy. The men trusted each other.

“Of course, Mr Prime Minister. I assume you wanted to discuss the German war with me?”

Clemenceau nodded. “What else, general? Yes, of course. You will have heard by now that the Russian government has requested we join them in taking Berlin down a peg. What do you think?”

Foch looked intently out of the window for a second before answering: “They certainly could have chosen a more opportune moment.”

“You disagree with the idea?”

The general shook his head. “Not in principle. But no country should knowingly enter a war that has no realistic chance of achieving its objectives.”

“Which this does not?”, Clemenceau asked. “Come on, I called on you for your opinion.”


“Honestly. Whatever you say stays in this room.”

Foch cleared his throat. “We've spent ten years trying to match Britain and Germany at the same time, and today I can confidently say that we are able to defeat Britain on land and Germany at sea. It pains me to say so, but the money we poured into our beautiful battleships and the conquest of Africa starved us of the divisions we would need to take Metz and Strasbourg. If we were to face the Germans today – we might win, but it will take a miracle. And as a laical Republican, miracles are not my business.”

The prime minister sucked his teeth. He had heard criticism of military policy before, but rarely that harshly and never from men with general's stars, however fresh. “So, you don't give us any chances? The army is not good enough?”

A brief smile flickered over Foch's face before his gloomy stare returned. “What general will ever admit to having enough? No, that is not it. The problem goes deeper. We lack frontline-ready troops, and the means to produce them in enough numbers. The Deroulede government believed in a small, politically reliable army. We lack the siege artillery to break the German fortresses. The funds were put into our navy. We lack the cadre to lead our forces into a modern war. Too many of our officers are superannuated and unreliable. They were promoted for holding the right beliefs, coming from the right families. All of this can be addressed, and it is being addressed, but it takes time.”

Clemenceau nodded. He had feared as much. “You are saying the army's officer corps is unreliable?”, he probed.

“Bonapartists.”, the general listed, his face hard. “Ultramontanists. Boulangists. Too many of those who are not loyal to one or the other pretender fancy themselves as the next emperor of the French. There are many good Republican officers, but too many of them have suffered in their careers and resent others being promoted over them. Among the leadership, the enemies of the Republic are too numerous still. When you go to war – you know what you risk.”

“If France were to be gloriously triumphant, I would risk tyranny...” the prime minister began.

“So would I. But more likely you would condemn her to obscurantism, servitude and defeat. The dice are weighted, Sir. If this had come two years later, with the three-year draft in place and the new artillery, we could chance it. Now, you would be mad to do it.”

He spoke with frightening finality. Clemenceau knew Foch to be a brave man and a fierce patriot. No fault could be found with his motives, and his judgement – it sounded altogether too accurate.

“Even with Russian on our side?” The question sounded almost hesitant.

Foch snorted dismissively. “The Russians are weaker than they themselves know. Their armies are hollow. Yes, they can hurt the Germans badly now, but not badly enough. They cannot drive into the heart of the country. I would be surprised if they got past the first fortresses. Once Wilhelm has mobilised his forces, he will drive them out. There are then no forces of appreciable value left that could stop his charge. Reservists cannot hope to defeat active duty troops. Russia as our ally only means that we will not suffer defeat immediately. We may even capture bits of Alsace-Lorraine. But we could not hope to withstand the counterstrike when it comes. And all of this is assuming that the British would stay out of the battle.”

The British. That was the elephant in the room. Clemenceau found it hard to read their intentions, but they were close to the Germans. If they went to war – their navy was a terrifying enemy.

“We will see about that, general.” he said. “Incidentally, our intelligence service advises us that the Russian government apparently offered Austria-Hungary an annexation of Bosnia and neutrality vis-a-vis Serbia if they stayed out of the war. What would you make of that?”

Foch's answer was slow in coming, but very certain. “They are lying.”

“My very feelings, Sir. The whole raison d'etre of the new Russian state that Nicholas is talking about is their Slavic empire. Which begs the question, what about the offer they made us?”

20 June 1906, Rominten

“Here, take this picture!” Mikhail Nezkin was in his element. The photographer, weighted down with his two Kodaks and followed by a lucky soldier who had drawn the assignment of carrying his gear away from the front, poked around the rooms of the German imperial hunting estate that the Fourth Corps had turned into its field headquarters. The pictures were wonderful: Russian soldiers cooking tea in the marble fireplace. Infantrymen sleeping on a gilt chaiselongue. Cossacks stabling their horses under the wings of the grand staircase. Officers spreading out maps on a billiard table. The caps of the regimental staff hung from trophy antlers. The readers back home would lap it up. Nezkin had an infallible eye for symbolism, and his ability to capture this triumph of Slavic courage over German ingenuity would make his employers at the Russkaya Pravda very happy. He was proud to be furthering the cause of his motherland, and the support that the government and military were now giving the Patriotic Union was gratifying.

In the hallway, he chanced to speak to a young infantry lieutenant who had brought back snapshots from the battle that had seen the Russians overwhelm the defenses of the Angerapp valley. He had seen and photographed it all, the trenches, the dead, the shell holes and the improvised bridge that the Omsk regiment had used to cross the river. Others would report on the battle. Nezkin wanted the pictures. He even offered to develop them. “Dead uhlans.”, he mused. “People back home will pay good money to see that.”

The soldier carrying the camera equipment looked up. “Uhlans, Sir?”, he asked. “I thought they were taking fortifications? Who puts cavalry in the trenches?”

Nezkin shrugged. “Who knows why the Germans do anything. Suppose their infantry couldn't reach the positions fast enough, maybe?”

The soldier grunted noncomittally. As far as he was concerned, anything that killed cavalry was all right. But it spoke of desperation to waste mounted troops like that.

21 June 1906, Berlin

“I still do not think it is entirely proper.”. Schlieffen's resistance was wearing down. General von Bock und Pollach could sense he was breaking.

“Sir, nothing untoward is intended. I assure you, the moment my brother can resume his duties, I will readily step aside. My sole concern is the nation's wellbeing.” Crown Prince Eitel Friedrich's pleading voice radiated honest innocence. The man looked almost fearful, like a lieutenant with his first new idea to present. “I am fully aware of my limitations and will not interfere with the military operations in any way. but please, Sir, consider the need for a leader that people can see!”

“I cannot but agree, General Schlieffen.”, Vietinghoff opined. “For all the talent and skill we have, there is a leadership vacuum. His Majesty is incapacitated by his injuries. When the German people look to their leadership, who shall they see? We must have a man at the head of the OHL in whom the nation can have confidence, and His highness is the obvious choice.”

Schlieffen rubbed his temples. “It is highly irregular. Supreme command is vested in His Majesty the emperor. The OHL answers to him. We cannot really have a vice-emperor, there is no position for that purpose. And anyway, I could not authorise it. It would be dependent on an imperial order.”

Eitel Friedrich sighed. “General, my brother is struggling for his life. I will approach him on the subject, and we will discuss the matter. But I am fearful he may simply not be up to making any such decisions at this time. His nerves are frail. We have not even told him of the declaration of war yet.”

Cold fear grasped at the general staff chief's soul. On the cusp of this moment, Schlieffen came to a decision. Germany could not be allowed to suffer the uncertainties of a government mediated through a sick ruler's doctors, confidants and bodyservants. Hang constitutional uncertainty. Without the emperor, the OHL remained in charge of the Army inspections and Corps commands, and they were in effect running the country anyway. Somebody had to be seen to be in charge.

“Your Highness,” he said, “I will trust your judgement in discussing this matter with your brother. Until such time, you are welcome to join our deliberations. There will be no question of an appointment, of course. No position within my gift would be appropriate for you. The Crown Prince at the OHL will be enough for any current purpose.”

With a look of relief and triumph., General von Bock and Pollach rose to his feet and saluted. “General, Germany owes you a debt of gratitude. From this day on, the people will know their leader, and they will follow him. By the time His Majesty returns to his duties, the situation may well be entirely more positive.”

Schlieffen gave him a withering look. He disliked the ambitious creatures that Count Waldersee's entourage had spawned. The man had had too little appreciation of the proper role of a soldier: to obey silently and excel unassumingly. Loud, flashy and scheming. “We must hope so, Sir.” he said. “For all our sakes, we must.”

21 June 1906, New York


To all German ships:

The Imperial Admiralty advises all German ships or cargo ships of other nations bound for German ports that a state of war exists between the German Empire and the Empire of Russia. Enemy action to disturb trade must be expected. All foreign vessels are advised that Russian vessels are active in the North Sea and Baltic Sea and cautioned against attempting to enter German waters. All German-flagged vessels are instructed to await further instruction in neutral ports. A system of guarded convoys is being set up which will offer the protection of warships to both German and foreign ships bound for German ports. All ships required by necessity or through admiralty orders to proceed to port are ordered to reroute through Rotterdam. All arrangements for berthing and on-carriage of cargo may be made through the German consulate's offices.

By order of the Imperial German government

The German Consulate-General

(handbills posted in New York port)

21 June 1906, Moscow

“I am still unsure, Alexander Ivanovich. Still unsure.”

Nicholas II sat slumped over his desk. The message from his army office had come as a shock: Their agent at the Evidenzbureau had been informed that Emperor Franz Joseph intended to declare war on Russia, but string along the ambassador long enough to allow him to mobilise troops. Getting the news out of Vienna before being posted to Berlin had been hair-raisingly difficult, but the message had come to Moscow and to Nicholas.

“Your Majesty, this kind of deceit and trickery needs to be met with stern punishment.”, Alexander Dubrovin said with the steely finality he was famous for. In a court filled with the unsure and the evasive, his certain conviction was welcome. He sometimes reminded the Czar of Pobedonostsev, and other men he had known in the happier days when Alexander III had ruled Russia with firmness and clarity. Nicholas often prayed for the strength to be the man his father had been.

“Still. The offer I made said clearly that we would allow a week for the decision. And I did not state I would declare war if it was refused. If I attack now, the world will think I was lying.”

Dubrovin made a dismissive gesture. “Emperor Franz Joseph will shout to the world that you were, either way. The Germans will never believe anything but the worst. Why care?”

“What will the world see in Russia?”, the Czar countered. “The Germans are already saying I attacked them deceitfully, declaring war only after the first blows were struck. I cannot go before the world and declare that my secret agents uncovered Austria's decision to attack me. What it will look like is as though I went back on my word.” Nicholas had been serious. He would have allowed Austria to annex Bosnia-Herzegovina.- He would have tolerated their rule over Slavic subjects. He would even have ended his support of Serbia, though the thought of such a betrayal had hurt him deeply. Being taken for a liar was more hurtful yet.

“It is of no great import.” Dubrovin said, soothingly. “Your cause is just. You are not going to war to rob German lands. All you seek is to assert your right to be treated with the respect worthy of a great power and liberate the Slavic peoples from their oppression.”

“Do they believe, Alexander Ivanovich?” It was almost a sigh. “Do they believe, or do they put trust in the lies from Berlin?”

“Your Majesty, Russia is only ever respected, trusted, even loved when she is powerful. When Napoleon's monstrous regiment lay defeated, all of Europe looked up to us as its saviours. Your grandfather made the mistake of taking their love for a genuine sentiment, and what became of it? Russia was sneered at, mocked and humiliated in the hour of her weakness. Be powerful, Your Majesty. Be mighty, and the world will look up to you.” Dubrovin's eyes almost glowed with passion. “Chastise your enemies so the world may see you power and your mercy.”

Nicholas felt the warmth of certainty rise in his soul. Austria's betrayal would be punished. God was with his banners.

22 June 1906, Berlin

“What is this nonsense?” Prince Albert's moustache bristled with anger. “'The Crown Prince in OHL' – Who came up with this?”

General Schlieffen stood to attention, but he returned the furious stare with steely determination. “Sire, it is exactly what it says. His Highness has been called into the deliberations of the OHL. Prussian tradition dictates that the men of the royal family become habituated to command early, and he has volunteered.”

“Been volunteered, more likely, no?” Albert shook his head. “Don't tell me he thought this up himself. I have no problem with him being given a command. You said it yourself, Prussian tradition. But this is extremely irregular.”

“Sire,” Schlieffen tried to smooth ruffled feathers. “I assure you nothing untoward was intended. We have no authority to appoint anyone to army or corps command without His Majesty's signature. As such, His Majesty's health being what it is, it was the only course open to us to provide for the Crown Prince. You yourself have deplored the absence of a visible leader. Here he is, then.”

“Here he is indeed.”, Albert snorted derisively. “Well, general, I must admit that your argument has merit. And I trust you will shepherd the young man properly. I will not have his mistakes kill good men.”

“Yes, Sire. You can trust me on this. The role of His Highness will be strictly to learn, and to inspire. Strategic decisions are beyond his grasp at his age.”

Schlieffen saluted. The confrontation had been less fearsome than he had anticipated. Then again, neither he nor Prince Albert had much energy left after the past few days. They said that the elder Moltke had spent his time reading novels after he had ordered the mobilisation in 1866. No such pleasures for his modern descendants. Lack of sleep and overwork were the daily bread of the Wilhelmstrasse these days, and no doubt it was just as bad at the Admiralty.

22 June 1906, Express Train to Paris

“I thank you for your candour, and your support.”, Foreign Secretary von Bülow said, carefully placing his teacup in the circular support the folding table provided. Sir Horace Rumbold, attache to the British ambassador in Paris and current travelling companion to the German foreign secretary, no doubt carrying instructions of his own to the French capital, nodded his appreciation.

“I do my best, your excellency. You understand, His Majesty's government is horrified at this turn of events and we will offer any support we can. However, as Sir Frank has no doubt already apprised you, a war with France is contrary to our interest and thus something we greatly wish to avoid.”

Von Bülow smiled. This pup actually thought the Germans were making a concession in trying to negotiate an extrication from this disaster. Well, he would certainly not discourage that impression.

“There is one aspect I wish to discuss with you, though, before the negotiations begin.” Sir Horace continued. Bülow looked up. What surprise was he going to spring?

“It concerns the defensive agreement between our governments.”

The German minister nodded. What else would it concern. Would they try to back out of it? That was hardly conceivable. What else, then?

“You have stated that you would consider it helpful if His Majesty's government were to publish the details of this treaty at this point.” the attache continued. Bülow nodded.

“I respectfully disagree, Your Excellency.”

“On what ground?” The question came a little harsher than the foreign secretary had intended.

“Personality, Your Excellency. Prime Minister Clemenceau is a very smart man, and a very proud one. He bears the Russians no love. In fact, he has often bashed the Cavaignac government over their close association with Emperor Nicholas, the red-handed tyrant. From everything our ambassador reports, it is also evident that he does not consider going to war in the interest of his country. If he were confronted with a situation thus changed, though, he might well feel it to be blackmail.” Sir Horace let the sentence hang in the air for a moment.

“I see...”. Von Bülow considered the thought for a moment. The kid made sense.

“Further, if the French public were confronted with the threat they might also interpret it as a hostile gesture. Peace might well be considered incompatible with the honour of France.”

A thoughtful sip of tea from his Sevres cup gave the German the time he needed to reflect. Then he nodded, smiling thinly. “You are correct, Sir Horace.”, he admitted. “I will begin negotiations without any such revelation. But tell me, what is the position of His Majesty's government if it were to be requested at a later date?”

The young diplomat looked pained. “If the imperial German government were to request this disclosure, it would be made.”, he said quietly. “However, I strongly counsel against it while there is a chance to avoid it.”

Von Bülow nodded and picked up his teacup again. The train gently rocked as it passed another bridge on its way through the Rhineland. Soon, Cologne. Then the border. They would be in Paris by nightfall.

22 June 1906, Batemans, Sussex

The picture was an impressive artistic achievement. Of course, Punch often outdid itself on these things at short notice. Here it was, covering the front page of a special edition. In the foreground, a young man – tall and lanky, dressed in a German uniform with the soft-topped peaked cap that identified Wilhelm as much as his uncle's navy cap and beard did him – was reeling back in shock. He held his hands in front of his face, blood seeping out between the fingers hinting at the red ruin they concealed. Before him, an enormous, threatening bear stood on its hind legs, the right paw still extended in the mighty blow it had delivered. In its left, it held an olive branch and a scroll labelled “Poland Conference”. The cossack cap on its head, incongruously perched between the round ears, identified it for the few readers who might not understand the heavy-handed symbolism. Beneath it, the subtitle paid tribute to a poem:

The Truce of the Bear

“Make ye no truce with Adam-Zad, the bear that walks like a man!”

Rudyard Kipling smiled warmly at the compliment. Not everyone remembered his more overtly political work with much fondness, or at all. And Punch, of course, was not just anyone. The image stirred something within him, something primal. It called to his sense of justice. This was not something he could just pass over. He rose from his armchair.

“Carrie!” he called out.

“Yes?” His wife answered, a questioning look on her face.

“Carrie, I am sorry. I must go to Germany. I must write about this war, and to write about it, I must see it. I promise I will be careful.”
23 June 1906, Königsberg

General von Bülow had known on waking up that the news of the morning would be bad. He had not known how bad.

“Gumbinnen?”, he asked, his voice lower than usual.

“Yes, Sir.” The staff lieutenant who was drawing the situation map saluted. The red arrows of encroaching enemy forces were inexorably moving west. Memel was lost, and there were reports of Russian torpedo boats inside the Curonian Spit as far south as Labiau. The Angerapp had been bridged, and Gumbinnen, the hinge of his first line of defense, was lost.

“What about the troops we sent there? Where did they go?” Panic now edged into Bülow's mind.

“Nothing, Sir. We have had reports from individuals – the 8th uhlans went out fighting. There are few survivors expected. The 33rd fusiliers are reported falling back on Insterburg. No words of casualties. We know nothing of the 43rd and 45th infantry.”

“My God.” The general pulled a chair from the map table and sat down heavily. A terrifying realisation dawned on him. He had wasted these troops. Wasted units in a vain attempt to hold territory that could not be held. Berlin had said that new troops would not be coming up for another three days. Three days, four or five, was what he had hoped to keep the enemy on the first line. What was he to do now? How many troops were still in his Korpsbereich?

“General, are you all right?” Colonel Birnbach had stepped into the room. His chief of staff looked tired and haggard. He had worked all night, trying to put together a complete picture of the situation and a roster of available forces.

“Nothing is all right, Birnbach.”, von Bülow snapped. “We must telegraph Berlin that we need additional troops now. Tell them that unless they can send us at least an army corps, I will have to evacuate East Prussia. And begin to make plans for that eventuality immediately. All forces are to be prepared for an orderly withdrawal to the Oberlandkanal.”

Birnbach saluted and stepped out, worry lining his face. This was not what he had hoped to hear.

23 June 1906, Berlin

Hauptmann von Hess was a happy man, inasmuch as his intense workload permitted this. All around him, he could see, hear and feel his country changing around him. Changing for the better, for once! It had taken a terrible blow, but Germany had woken. Older men and women lined the streets as reservists marched past, headed for their barracks or troop trains, cheering with the tense, tearful mixture of patriotism, fear and gratitude that characterised these days. Flowers, chocolates, cigarettes and food parcels changed hands. Thousands of eager youngsters volunteered for service every day, ready to lay down their lives for the fatherland in peril. The streets were quiet, with people going about their business efficiently and calmly, solemnly reading official proclamations and exchanging news. Flags and bunting adorned buildings, and no man in uniform wanted for encouragement, company, tobacco or drink. Even the working class districts were purposefully quiet, with people reporting to their regiments and patriotic slogans appearing on the walls. Here was the spirit of 1806, the old Prussian values that had made the country great. And what was more, Germany had leaders worth following. Von Hess had only read about the speech that his Highness had given, but some of his colleagues had been there. And working at the war ministry, you heard things. Which made this moment doubly delicious.

“I am sorry, Mr Rathenau.”, he said, relishing every second. “Under the circumstances, you will need an appointment to speak with either the secretary of war or the head of the general staff. They are very busy men.”

Walther Krupp von Rathenau looked taken aback. This was not how he was accustomed to be treated. “Captain!” he said, his wounded pride showing, “I am here to discuss munition delivery schedules. This is no trivial or personal matter, and I am convinced it warrants a few minutes of their time, or that of the officers in charge of these things.”

He did not know when to stop, did he? “Sir, I have told you, we are very busy.” Von Hess was willing to let it go at that when Rathenau raised his voice to him.

“Listen, captain, this is not a trivial...” He got no further than this.

“No, Mr Rathenau, you listen to me!” Hauptmann von Hess retained the exercise yard voice he had cultivated as a subaltern, and he could still use it with the best. His moustache bristled as he shouted. “You may think that you own this place, and your money can buy you every honour you choose. Things are changing. You and your kind are no longer welcome here on the old terms. Rest assured, we will be in contact as and when your services are required. Until that time, you will leave, or I will have you arrested!”

Shocked and humiliated, Rathenau turned on his heel and walked away. A door in the hallway opened, and Major von Halbach emerged, attracted by the noise. He walked over to his colleague, watching the departing figure.

“What did the Jew want?”, he asked.

“Sell something, I guess. They all do.”

23 June 1906, Vienna

“Arm ... civilians? Refugees?” General von Friedenthal was incredulous. To hear such a suggestion at all was troubling, but from a German officer it was disconcerting. Did he really have so low an opinion of the Austro-Hungarian military? It rankled.

“General,” Maximilian von Baden explained, “I am not advocating you hand over the defense of your realm to these men. Please understand no adverse comment on your military is intended. What I am pointing out, though, is that this strategy was effective for France in the war of 1870, and that they have made it part of their defense plans. It could play a similar role for you, and under the circumstances, we will need all the help we can get.”

They did indeed. The Russian declaration of war had hit Vienna unexpectedly early, and though they had had two days more to prepare than the Germans, the state of their military was still far from battle-ready. Troops on the border were in the process of assembling, reservists and men on leave reporting for duty, and in barracks throughout the country, uniforms, horses and boots were running short. On arriving at the general staff building, it had seemed to ambassador von Baden that the entire Austro-Hungarian government was holding its collective breath, waiting for the first Russian blow to fall. So far, they had not had reports of any attacks. But of course, the Galician border was long, and many places had no telegraphs. For all they knew, the Army of the Bug could already be on its way to Premysl.

Von Friedenthal nodded. “I see. But still, even if they prove a hindrance to our enemies, they will hardly be able to stop them.”

“They don't need to.” Maximilian von Baden pointed at the map on the wall. “We cannot hope to stop the Russians on the border. That much we agree on, yes? But with armed men in the territory behind them, they will need to divert forces to secure their lines of communication. It will become a headache, and it will provoke retaliation, which will make them unpopular with undecided elements.”

That was a polite way of saying Slavs. The Russians had padded their declaration with references to the Slavic nations cruelly trampled underfoot by the Austrian tyrant. They were obviously hoping to garner sympathies with, if not the Galician Poles, then at least maybe the Czechs, Ruthenians, Slovaks and Slovenes. That was the problem with ruling over other peoples, of course. Then, von Friedenthal made a remark that raised the German ambassador's estimation of him considerably.

“These reprisals do worry me. We would be asking untrained men to risk death not only for themselves, but for their friends and families. It is not an easy choice. The Russians would do terrible things to them.”

Von Baden was too young to have seen the war, but he remembered stories of franc-tireurs getting hanged from trees or shot on sight. Still, military planning required you made sacrifices.

“Most of the men you would be arming are Jews and Poles. Especially those in the refugee camps and temporary homes the synagogue communities have set up. The Russians will do terrible things to them on general principle, I'm afraid. For a Galician Jew, the only real choice right now is to flee or to fight, and your country's interests are better served if he fights.”

23 June 1906, Berlin

Darkness. It was a muffled, cottony darkness with none of the sharp edges that a proper night had. As awareness of his surroundings gradually returned to Wilhelm, he began gingerly taking stock of his world. He could see nothing. It almost did not surprise him, though he only dimply remembered why this might be. But he felt increasingly sharply where he was. The bedlinen was crisp and thankfully dry – he seemed to remember different moments waking – and the air was fresh. He could feel the draught playing over the skin on his face. And there were sounds. Much of it seemed to be very far away, echoing as though from a distance through the window – there was, or had been, a window in the room. The snoring was closer.

Wilhelm habitually tensed as he mentally tallied the parts of his body. His legs, his arms, his torso, neck, lips, nose, lungs - eyes – hair, all there. Carefully, he moved first one hand, then another. That worked. The pain was still with him, but it felt different now. No longer a rumbling presence behind the fuzzy wall of oblivion that the morphine had created, it was more sharply defined, localised. A dull throbbing sensation that he could clearly locate in his one eye. Briefly, he tried to open the eyelid and drew back at the stab of pain that met the attempt. That was not going to work. The other one, though... that was possible. It took concentration to move one lid without the other, but the threat of more pain concentrated the mind wonderfully.

Even with the eye open, the world remained dark. It was a different kind of darkness, though. One that visibly excluded light rather than lacking it. He could see points of it just beyond the barrier of what he assumed must be a bandage. Very carefully, he opened his mouth. The pain did not increase, but the lips felt cracked and the tongue gummy. Now he could hear the snoring very clearly. It was rhythmical and almost melodic. Whoever was in the room with him was fast asleep. Slowly drifting into boredom, Wilhelm counted the snores of his unknown company, mouthing numbers as he went. By the time he had reached two hundred, he was able to enunciate them fairly clearly.

The snoring stopped. In its stead, there was a sudden, awkward clattering and creaking noise, and a flustered voice addressed him. “Your Majesty, you are awake? I am sorry. Please, forgive me, I fell asleep. How are you feeling?”

Wilhelm remembered hearing this voice, but he could not place it. “Who are you?”, he asked.

“Dr Weiße, Your Majesty. Your duty physician. Oh, heavens, I have slept for ... oh, God, Your Majesty, another injection is past due. Are you in much pain?”

The emperor almost felt sorry for the poor man. “It is all right.”, he reassured him, still cautious about smiling. “I think I can do with a lower dosage. I would like to stay awake for a while. And could you remove the bandage from the good eye?”

“Of course, Sire.” A short pause, followed by some cautious fumbling around his face, and light streamed in. Wilhelm could not see very clearly, but he could make out the ceiling light and the shadow of the window. So far, so good.

“Would you like anything?”, the doctor inquired.

Wilhelm paused. The pain was intensifying again, he presumed from using his facial muscles too much. But the sensation of heat he remembered with such terrible clarity was gone. “Some water,” he ordered, “and a little morphine. Not enough to put me to sleep. And I would like someone to read to me. Maybe someone from the corps of pages.”

24 June 1906, Soldau, East Prussia

“No, No, No! General Bülow has lost his marbles! And it would not be the first time, either.” General Mackensen had a temper, and he was not above showing it. Of course, his frustration was acute. He had spent the past days shepherding XVII Corps into position and now they wanted him to pull it out again? Within a day? To move to Königsberg? A joke.

“Sir, the message says that the city would otherwise be lost. Is it really...”

This was not a good time to be interrupting the general. “Lieutenant!”, he hissed at the communications officer, “if Königsberg is that badly off, then the city will be lost before we ever get there. There are compact units ready in the west they could put on a train and have there in a day. My men are spread out and facing the wrong way. It's arrant nonsense.”

Colonel Wittenhusen was walking by now, almost accidentally happening to be present when there was an altercation. he had figured out their accidental commander quite well, and he knew that he sometimes needed shepherding. Not this time, though.

“Colonel Wittenhusen, we have to get the troops moving. The Russians are getting too used to having things their own way. It's time we paid them a surprise visit.” Then he turned to the unhappy lieutenant. With a quick gesture, he crumpled up the telegram and tossed it into the ditch. “I think we can all agree that I unfortunately never received this message. You can go look for me in Eylau, or maybe Strasburg. That is where my headquarters are, aren't they, colonel?”

Wittenhusen knew better than to protest. He saluted and agreed “Yes, Sir.”

“Good.” Mackensen gritted his teeth in theatrical anger at the compounded incompetence he had to deal with so often. “Now let's see if we can find some Russians to happen to.”

24 June 1906, Berlin

Wilhelm had all but despaired of finding anyone to provide the entertainment he craved. The nurse had a terrible voice and no good reading skills. By the evening, he had actually given up and allowed Dr Weiße to give him a stronger injection just to alleviate the boredom. Through much of the morning, he had spent waiting and staring at the sky outside the window. When the door finally opened, his relief was enormous.

In came – Friedrich Maharero. He was certainly not what Wilhelm had expected, given there were plenty younger men in the corps of cadets and pages. Indeed, Friedrich was mostly still a cadet because he was finishing the formal education he would need to be given the lieutenant's commission Wilhelm had slated him for. The idea of sending him was - odd.

“Good morning, Your Majesty.”, he introduced himself. “I was asked to come and read to you, and Secretary von Ammersleben was kind enough to send a parcel of books you are fond of.”

A large bundle wrapped in packing paper and held together by a leather strap thudded to the side table. Wilhelm smiled, winced, and forced his face back into a neutral expression. Good old Ammersleben. He might hate scientific romances, but he could be trusted to provide them for his master.

The superannuated guards officer who had spent his time protecting the emperor from unwanted visitors poked in, followed by Dr Weiße, the rings under his eyes darker than ever. Wilhelm waved them away. “It's all right. Doctor, go get some sleep.”

After the door had closed, he turned to Maharero. “So, what have you got?”

The cadet rummaged through the bundle. “H.G. Wells... my English is not that good. A few travel accounts. Here is a book by Sven Hedin. And some Jules Verne, about an aeroplane, it seems.” His German was harshly accented, but quite melodious in its own way. Wilhelm became curious.

“Cadet Maharero, why did they send you?”

“Sire, I was the only one left. Everyone else was given field commissions or attached to corps staff. Only nobody wanted me on theirs.”

“Corps staff?” Wilhelm wondered, trying hard not to move his face too much. “How long have I been out? Is it time for autumn maneuvers already?”

Friedrich Maharero looked pained. “Your Majesty, I am sorry. I have strict orders not to worry you.”

“Tell me what is up, then. I'll worry myself sick if I don't know.”

Friedrich Maharero carefully laid the books down, pulled the chair up to the bedside and sat. Then, he lowered his head almost level with the emperor's ear and spoke in a low voice: “Well, Your Majesty, it is like this...”

24 June 1906, Berlin

“Count von Ballestrem, I must request you thoroughly consider these requests. It is important that every German in these days is seen to be doing his patriotic duty.”

The president of the Reichstag was still shocked. The letter that Major von Klingenthal had presented to him was – to be honest, not so much unheard-of as Bismarckian in its peremptory tone. He had not though that this kind of thing was still possible.

“I must say I am quite surprised at this, Major. Surely General von Schlieffen do not doubt the patriotism of this house?”

The major made a dismissive gesture. “He has no doubt of yours, Sir. Rest assured of that. However, it would be saying too much if we claimed we trusted all members. You understand who I speak of, naturally.”You had to be careful. Ballestrem, for all his noble ancestry and conservative credentials, was Catholic and enjoyed the support of the Zentrum. This whole Reichstag was a confusing tangle of divided loyalties. “And of course, there will be nothing to do after you pass these laws. At the end of the war, the Reichstag can then reconvene and continue.”

The constitution said that the Reichstag could only be suspended with its own consent if the hiatus was longer than 30 days. Thank God for small mercies, von Ballestrem thought. Otherwise, they would not even have been asked.

“There is no objection to a war budget. The Reichstag will vote you all the funds you need. Bond issues will not be a problem. But I am rather disturbed by the idea of just going home at a time like this. Surely, there will be need for legislative action...”

Von Klingenthal made that throwaway gesture again. “Nothing that an imperial cabinet order could not handle. I am sorry to need to spell this out to you, sir, but not only is there no need for your house in times of war, it is an actual hindrance. We cannot use a debating club in Berlin, certainly not one whose members are covered by legal immunity on any slanderous, treasonous and defeatist talk they may choose to utter. Not you personally, I assure you. But there are factions in the Reichstag whose loyalty is clearly not to the all-highest government.”

With a heavy sigh, the count unfolded the letter again. General von Schlieffen's forceful signature stood out on the paper. “And what does the general expect us to do?”

“Your duty by the country, as he does all Germans.”, the major replied with stern pomposity. “Many members of the house hold reserve commissions, I believe, and as respected members of your communities, the rest of you will find a place to apply your efforts as well. The all-highest government will not be found wanting in gratitude, I may add.”

“And if the vote were not to be carried...” President von Ballestrem's habits of obedience were too well ingrained to ask outright 'what if we refuse?', but the threat implicit in his query was clear. The Reichstag had to vote on the war loans. It had to vote on the indefinite hiatus, too. If enough important people supported it, the motion would be carried even over the objections of Social Democrats and Freisinnige, but still, the question remained.

The major shrugged and looked his host in the eye. “Your Excellency,” he said harshly, “this may not be something you relish hearing, but in this country it is still the law that His Majesty may at any time summon a lieutenant and tell him 'go close the Reichstag', and he will do just that. That, Sir, is the alternative. It will cause us some difficulty, but it will not be anything like a real problem.”

24 June 1906, Berlin Wedding

To the People of Berlin:

The Fatherland is under attack. In this hour, it is the duty of all German men to come to the aid of the Emperor and army in its unified effort to repel enemies without and defeat those within. As part of this war effort and in the interest of public order, unity and good governance, the following ordinances apply for the duration:

- Any gatherings of people for political purposes will require a permit by the municipal authorities. Illicit gatherings shall be dissolved by police and participants subject to charges of treason.

- Any publications in print must be submitted to the military authorities prior to distribution. liaison officers can be made available to newspapers subject to them being available for duty in sufficient numbers. Otherwise, samples must be submitted to Corps Command.

- Any public expressions of disloyalty, dissatisfaction or defeatism shall be considered on an equal footing as an illicit printed material and subject to prosecution for treason.

- Anyone harbouring deserters or men refusing to report to the colours shall be subject to prosecution to the full extent of the law. The military authorities shall conduct sweeps and searches whenever reasonable suspicion exists.

- Employees of all companies and authorities carrying out work critical to the war shall be considered soldiers for the duration of the war. They may not unilaterally dissolve their employment contracts or refuse to work in such capacities and for such hours as the war effort may demand.

- Military units will be made available to ensure compliance with these rules. Their instructions are to be followed at all times.

General von Bock und Pollach

Commander, Corps du Garde

(handbills posted throughout Korpsbereich I)
24 June 1906, Wilhelmshaven

You could practically taste the fug of despondency and incipient panic in the port. Sailors and officers went about their work, but many averted their eyes from each other as they passed. Some of the men had taken to going bareheaded – the names of the ships on their caps having become reason for shame in their eyes. The berth of Friedrich Barbarossa lay painfully empty, and though the cruisers were under steam, the sleek ships seemed strangely hesitant, the vibrant energy that defined them drained.

Prince Albert laid aside the chart on which the staff had entered their best guesses of the mines around Heligoland. It was pretty dispiriting reading. Petersen and Schönauer, the two sailors who had made their way to Neuwerk, had provided them with intelligence of incalculable value, and it was a cruel trick of fate that it had come but hours too late. But the approaches were impossible to navigate for any larger warships, especially with the electrically triggered mines the Russians had laid. The outpost vessels reported that the Russian cruisers stayed close to the island, probably in fear of another attack, but no shipping entered or left the Elbe and Weser anyway. Come time, no doubt they would move out to harras convoys or shell the coast. And of course there was the chance that the French could reinforce their flotilla and dominate the North Sea. Oh, damn.

The door opened, admitting yet another visitor. That army officer with his ideas.

“Welcome,” Albert said, “Lieutenant-Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck, was it?” He always remembered names. Most people did not realise how much hard work it was, but they appreciated the gesture.

The officer saluted. “Your Highness, at your command.”

“And you have a suggestion for cracking Heligoland?”

Lettow-Vorbeck nodded stiffly. “Yes, Your Highness.”

“How? I assume you have looked at the charts.”

“Yes, Your highness. But if I may be so bold as to point out: that is the point. The Russians have invested heavily in keeping our navy from attacking the island. It would seem suicidal to approach it with warships, at least unless you had massive superiority.”

“Which we have not.” Albert sourly remarked.

Lettow-Vorbeck nodded. “But an island is, well, land. I had the opportunity to speak with Schönauer and Petersen this morning, and their observations have confirmed what I suspected. If we land troops on the island, there will be little to stop them from taking it. The Russian ships' crews are not properly trained, and there are no trenches or fortifications worth mentioning.”

“That is all well, Lieutenant-Colonel, but where do you propose to find trained infantry nobody is using right now, and how will you get them to the island?”

“Well, Sire: As to where, that is easy. Right here. The II Seebattallion is in barracks, and I have taken the liberty of running a wargame last night. The officers agree with me that it is possible.”

Albert nodded. That made sense. “You think the battalion will suffice?”

“More than suffice, Your Highness. My men are trained for landing operations and deployment from boats. As to approaching the island, I am still working on the details, but it will have to be by boat. The waters are treacherous, but not dangerous to men familiar with them. Fishermen routinely navigate them in very small craft. From what I have been told, the Russians are on guard against large vessels and maintain a forward screen of torpedo boats, but they have not yet bothered fishing boats out of Britain.”

They wouldn't, of course. Provoking London was unwise.

“Coming from the west,”, Lettow-Vorbeck continued, “would give us the additional advantage that their heavy guns would not carry. The troops would scale the northern point and move south towards their anchorage. Surprise is key, but once we are ashore, they cannot effectively use their weight of numbers, and the island is too small for their cruiser guns to be used.”

Albert pondered. “I do not share your confidence about the ships' guns.” he said, “the usual Russian naval gunnery standards notwithstanding. But if you give me a worked-out proposal, I will certainly consider trying it.”

24 June 1906 Skiernewice

General Brianski was an unhappy man. Having taken command at Skiernewice after Rabinovicz's men had secured a triumphant victory, slaughtering Russian cavalry before their trenches, he was now staring down a much bigger problem. General Skugarevsky had arrived, and had he ever brought a lot of friends. The way the Russians ran things you could never be sure if it really was his entire corps, but even if it was not, it was plenty enough to worry the defenders. Infantry and field artillery, too. And even worse, the Russian army was having random attacks of competence.

In front of his field fortifications, the saps and trenches were growing, slowly but inexorably. Brianski knew that he was left with three options: expand his own works to match, stretching the ranks of defenders until the Russians could punch through at any weak point, staying put while the enemy flanked him, or pulling back. There was nothing as defensible between Skiernewice and the trunk line. And where the FUCK were the Germans!?

Rabinovicz was staring at the map as though he hoped some deep study would grant him a flash of Talmudic insight. The man could fight, but he was creepy. Most of the zhydkis were, really. They fought well, but they didn't exactly fight fair. Sometimes it seemed like half the ideas that worked came from them. Dynamiting bridges from concealed positions, blowing up sewers, sniping officers, machinegunning attackers from trenches, setting fire to supply dumps ... it wasn't how he had imagined war would work.

“It's a damned pity we aren't in one of those future stories of yours, Grynszpan.”, Colonel Rabinovicz remarked. “Then someone would pull a new superweapon out of his sleeve and we could all go home by dinnertime.”

Brianski laughed harshly. “Yah, I'd be all for poisoning the Russians. Anyone got suggestions, other than sneaking in at night to lace their vodka with strychnine?”

Grynszpan cleared his throat. “How about chlorine?”

“How about prussic acid?”, Rabinovicz snapped.

Grynszpan seemed hurt. “Where are you going to get a hundred kilos of prussic acid?”, he retorted.

“Where are you going to get a hundred kilos of chlorine, then?” came the sharp reply. Brianski was slightly surprised the colonel hadn't tried to pull rank yet. Not that it always worked, but in most NA units, senior officers increasingly tried it.

“A hundred kilos wouldn't do it.”, Grynszpan explained. “We'll need a few tonnes.”

Brianski sat up suddenly. “Wait, what? Are you serious? Where would you get a few tonnes of chlorine?”

“Lodz.” The lieutenant colonel shrugged, emphasising the width of his shoulders and the pointed absence of epaulets on his leather jacket. “It's a textile manufacturing hub. I mean, what do you think we used to bleach the linens? Almost every factory got regular deliveries from Germany.”

“Really? Well, that changes things.”, Rabinovicz seemed apologetic. “What would you do with it once we get it?”

25 June 1906, east of Allenburg

Sleep was sweet, but rare. Leutnant Hasendorff sat, half propped up against the back of the rickety chair in the farmhouse his unit had appropriated, listening for the sounds of battle approaching. The Russian cavalry patrols were ranging far into German-held territory now. Nominally German-held, he corrected himself. If half of what you heard was true, there were practically no German units left ahead of him to hold anything. The 44th might well be everything that stood between the cossacks and Königsberg.

The painted door swung open and Captain von Dönhoff entered. He seemed just as tired and tense. He was a fretter – if the regiment was named after your family, you were bound to feel a certain emotional attachment – and the past 48 hours had been hard on him. The lieutenant poured a large mug of coffee. They had quickly discovered that you could not do well in the field without it.

“Just probing attacks.”, the captain said. “They're not here in force yet.” Distant rifle shots and the rattle of defenders' machine guns told a story of probes up and down the line. At some point, they would spot a weak point, and then there would be regiments of them rather than squadrons.

“How long till we get reinforcements? Have you heard anything?”

Captain Dönhoff shook his head. “Nothing official. Troops are on the way, railway lines are badly overtaxed. They say XVII Corps is coming, but I haven't heard any details. Forces from Saxony and Brandenburg are on the trains. They're also shipping some troops in from IX Corps over the Baltic to keep the strain off the railroads.”

Leutnant Hasendorff nodded. If they were here in time...

25 June 1906, Sokal, Galicia

Fifth Corps, Report of Advances:

Pskov Infantry has secured Sokal against light resistance. Enemy units are reported in retreat to the south. Cavalry reconnaissance is ongoing. 80th Infantry is moving towards Brody, reporting no notable resistance.

Casualties: 9 officers, 62 other ranks dead, 6 officers, 139 other ranks wounded

Captured in engagements: 6 officers, 127 other ranks

62 spies and franc-tireurs were captured and executed

Auxiliaries of the 12th foot volunteer druzhina of the Patriotic Union request permission to move against nearby armed camp of Polish rebels and Jews. Given continuing concern over safety of rear-echelon units, please advise whether to permit.

Ruthenian and Czech prisoners are being offered enlistment in Slavic Legion volunteer units. So far, none have agreed.

Corps will encamp for the night by regiments. Advance on Lemberg continues on schedule.

25 June 1906, Berlin

“Your Majesty, it is most unwise!” Dr Weisse radiated concern at the thought. Emperor Wilhelm was trying to stand up, and that negro cadet was helping him! He had come in unasked early in the morning and brought another courtier, Secretary von Ammersleben. Between the two, it was all but impossible to stop them. Even the formidable old colonel who had taken up night duty gave up, muttering vile imprecations about civilians not knowing their place these days.

With a groan, Wilhelm came to his feet, wobbling, but not – quite – falling. Maharero supported his left arm. The emperor stood, hesitantly and visibly in pain. Gingerly, he placed one foot in front of the other, his face screwed up with concentration and incipient pain. He shifted his weight, fell backwards and sank back onto the bed, the cadet gently lowering him to a sitting position. Then, the pain hit him.

“Your Majesty, allow me...” Dr Weisse offered the morphine syringe, and Wilhelm nodded. Relaxation flooded through his body after the injection. He allowed himself to be gently lowered to the bed again, in a half-sitting position. For a long time, nobody said anything. Then, the emperor spoke up.

“It looks like I'll be stuck here for a while, then.”, he said. “Doctor, is there any way you can reduce the dosage further?”

Weisse hesitated. He preferred not to answer that question without conferring with Professor König, but right now, that was impossible. In the end, he tried as best he could. “Your Majesty, this is as low as I dare go. The pain must be quite unpleasant even at rest. Any nervous excitement could be a problem.”

“I need to be able to think. I need people to report to me. Isn't there anything you can do?” Wilhelm almost pleaded.

“The only responsible course of action is rest and relaxation. I am sorry, Your Majesty.”

“How am I supposed to relax? My country is at war and I am told we are losing. I need to be given the news, at least. If nothing else works, I think I can do without morphine for a few hours.”

“There is one thing.”, Weisse conceded. “I hesitate to recommend it – Professor König would certainly not approve – but we could try to use stimulant drugs to counteract the sedating effect of the analgesic.”

Von Ammersleben looked concerned. “Wouldn't that be dangerous?”

“His Majesty's heart is quite strong, and his constitution seems much sounder than I was led to believe.”, Weisse answered. “It is not something I would do for the entire day, but it would certainly be possible for a meeting or two. We can try a solution of cocaine or ephedrine.”

The secretary still seemed unconvinced. Wilhelm, however, eagerly grasped at the opportunity. “Let us try it, doctor.”, he decided. “One application, for now. I need to know what is going on.”

25 June 1906, Rotterdam

In a remarkable display of unanimity, the NVV has announced a suspension of all strikes by dock and railway workers for the duration of the current hostilities between Germany and Russia. The trade union congress affirmed support for the German cause by a large majority of votes in its meeting. This increases the pressure on Her Majesty's government to take a firm position with a view to the current conflict and the requests by the German government for preferential use of the port facilities of Rotterdam, its rail links and Rhine river shipping.

Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant

25 June 1906, Berlin

It was hard enough running a corps. It had proved even harder running a Korpsbereich. The Berliners were a nasty, recalcitrant, ungrateful lot. General von Bock und Pollach often thought he should have stayed in Pomerania. And the problems simply kept piling in.

“Awake, you say?”

Colonel Liebenau nodded. “He is awake, Sir, and receiving visitors. Though the duty physician is trying to limit this, he is acceding to their requests. Apparently, the negro cadet who came to read to him has briefed him on the situation.”

The general shook his head. Why did these things always had to happen at the most inconvenient moments? Briefly, with a shock, he realised that he was about to actually curse his emperor. But of course, His Majesty could not really help it. It was just that his presence was extremely inconvenient: idealistic, untutored in the ways of politics and – well, probably just too young. And what they were doing here was in his interest. He would see that when he grew into his office.

“Colonel,” the general instructed, “I must charge you with an unpleasant, but necessary task. I will come with you to the hospital. A platoon of guards uhlans will accompany us. Your duty will be to ensure that His Majesty is not to be disturbed. His health and quite possibly his survival depend on it.”

Liebenau looked puzzled. “Sir, I cannot refuse an order from my emperor! If he...”

With a quick gesture, General von Bock und Pollach cut him off. “Colonel, the emperor is not himself. He is still suffering from bouts of fever and nervous exhaustion, and the drugs he has been given to combat the pain have affected his brain. All will come right, but it will take time. Professor König has given clear instruction regarding this matter: no disturbances. No form of excitement. Any burden on his Majesty's nervous system could be his undoing.”

The old colonel saluted. “Yes, Sir.”

“And we will have to relieve the duty physician. Weiße, was that his name? He clearly does not understand the seriousness of the situation, endangering the emperor's life like this. I will leave orders for the disposal of that negro cadet.”

25 June 1906, Mars-La-Tour

“You're right, Sir. What the hell are they doing?” Sergeant Grammont handed the binoculars back to the observation post's commander, Lieutenant Develde. They had been sitting on the hillside opposite the border to Lorraine ever since their mobilisation orders had come, mostly watching the Germans watching them. Across the border in Gravelotte and Metz, fortresses had been filling up with men and horses, much as they did on their side. The newspapers kept talking about a war between Russia and Germany, but here, there were no Russians. Behind the lines, journalists were fighting out the question whether France should or should not join in the big finale and finish off Germany once and for all. Grammont had felt more inclined to agree before he ended up sitting in the first line. Everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Now, something seemed to be happening. Gallopers had moved between outposts all morning. Bodies of troops could be observed moving along roads. The position in front of them was empty. The lieutenant had spoken wistfully of having a balloon observer go up – he could see past Vionville all the way to Fort Kronprinz and Metz. Grammont was not so sure. After all, officers did not actually go up in balloons, but sergeants did.

Hoofbeats sounded along the road. The lieutenant looked up, cautiously. A sentry unslung his rifle. Then a messenger appeared around the corner. Damn, they were showing nerves!

“Lieutenant Develde?”, the young man asked.


“Orders from headquarters. All troops are to withdraw from within five kilometres of the border. Your men are to rejoin the regiment at Conflans for final redeployment to a new encampment.”

“Redeployment?” The lieutenant was confused. “What has happened? I thought we would be going forward.”

“There's been an agreement. The Germans are withdrawing, too. We don't want any incidents while the negotiations are going on.”

Grammont sighed. He heartily approved, of course. The only thing worse than dying heroically for your country was dying heroically for some second lieutenant's poor map reading skills. But Conflans was almost ten kilometres from here, and “encampment” did not sound promising. The good thing about the fortified border, after all, was that you had a roof over your head. He longed for his bunk back in Longwy. But of course, that fortress would be evacuated now. His only consolation was that the buggers on the other side would not be doing any better. And if the balloon didn't go up after all, he would get to go home. They would be going to the front.

25 June 1906, Wilhelmshaven

“Another one?” Prince Albert rubbed his temples and grimaced. It was not possible. What was happening to his navy?!

“Yes, Your Highness.”, the adjutant said. What else was he supposed to say? The telegram in hand, he tried his best to explain the events of the past day, squirming under the august glare. “You recall that a part of IX and X Corps was to proceed to Königsberg by ship in order to alleviate the load on the railways. Apparently, the Russian navy was alerted to this early on. It is speculated that civilian observers placed in Denmark were responsible.”

Albert grunted. That made sense. If there was a neutral coast within view of Kronstadt, they would have naval officers vacationing there incognito, too.

“Well, it still indicates that the vessels that intercepted it must already have been at sea. To that degree, it was likely bad luck on our part. And it seems there were problems with coastal observers sending their reports in by telegraph. We're not sure if it was sabotage or just regular damage. But the convoy met a Russian cruiser force just past Bornholm.”

“I can see where this is going.”, Albert groaned. “The convoy was accompanied by coast defense ships only?”

“Siegfried and Hagen, and a number of torpedo boats. Fortunately, the ships were spotted early and the commander of Siegfried gave orders to scatter. In the following engagement, Hagen was destroyed by a torpedo strike. Siegfried survived so badly damaged that she had to be abandoned in sinking condition. We also lost four torpedo boats.”

“And the troopships?”

“Are mostly intact, as far as we can ascertain. One is still missing, we assume it may have been sunk. The others are all accounted for. Three headed for Bornholm and have been interned, the rest are in Greifswald, Swinemünde, Kolberg and Rügenwalde. The troops have been saved and are being prepared for train transport.”

Well, that was not too bad. A convoy battle where the convoy survived had to be considered a victory. “What about the Russians?”, Albert asked.

“They suffered, too. From what we can tell, at least three torpedo boats were sunk, and one cruiser – we think it was Rossiya – had to be towed from the battle.”

The prince nodded. He would have to stay another day, then. Why could nothing ever go right?

25 June 1906, Berlin

I would like to leave you in the conviction that it was the lure of your indescribable beauty that called me, Mrs von Reventlow”, Duke Ernst Ludwig said, “but in fact I came in response to a report by my representative to the Bundesrat.”

Fanny von Reventlow nodded quietly. She had written to the duke in desperation, not really hoping for a response. But now, he had come.

“Your representative ... has looked into the matter? I mean, my access to Wilhelm? Why...”

Ernst Ludwig smiled and put down his glass. “Not really, I'm afraid. He informed me, though, that there were things going on that Wilhelm could not possibly have signed off on. And when I read about your experiences, I decided that this would bear looking into.”

Fanny smiled. She had always understood that being a mistress would entail a fair amount of secrecy and humiliation, but she had never thought that it would be as bad as this. For days, she had been rudely turned away at the hospital, not allowed to see Wilhelm or even leave letters for him. The last guard commander had even threatened her with arrest.

“But what can you do?”, she asked. “I mean, you cannot really just walk in, can you? And if you could, what would you say?”

Ernst Ludwig smiled again, a hint of resolve creeping into his face. “My dear Fanny, you have to understand that I enjoy a number of privileges as a sovereign prince of the Empire. And I fully intend to use them. I am, in effect, an organ of the imperial government, and I do not think that there are any soldiers in Berlin brave enough to argue with me when I go to speak to my liege lord.”

Fanny's hopes rose. Ernst Ludwig's confidence was catching, and he was right, of course – he was a sovereign prince. They could not just brush him off the way they could a disgraced noblewoman.

“Still, there are armed guards.”, she warned.

“I shall simply have to take recourse to Article One of Bismarck's constitution, shan't I?” he pointed out. “You must know it.”

She gave him a quizzical look.

“The iron chancellor invoked it quite frequently.” he explained. “It says 'If you say you can do it and nobody says you can't, then you can'. Now, please get your walking-out clothes. Nothing fancy. We will use the carriage of my diplomatic representative.”
25 June 1906, Berlin

“Your Excellency, we cannot and will not accept it.” Count von Ballestrem made an unlikely Luther figure, but the defiance was real. Flanked as he stood by Bebel, Naumann and that firebrand Erzberger, he displayed more courage than he probably felt.

Chancellor von Gerlach picked up the paper that the visitors had presented. “I must say I am a little surprise at your vehemence.” he pointed out. “War loans and an affirmation of loyalty do not seem so outrageous. And a holiday – we may all need to leave Berlin for a while if things go on as they are. Where did this bill originate, anyway?”

Bebel stepped forward, bristling at the flippancy. “Chancellor, it is not a bill. It is not a bill because, wisely, Count von Ballestrem refused to introduce it, and neither did the Bundesrat. It is, in fact, a peremptory command that the general staff did not even bother to formally submit through one of their lackeys in the Conservative Party!”

“Indeed.”, Erzberger agreed. “Legally speaking, this has no standing at all. It is nothing more than a private letter written by the chief of the general staff to the president of the Reichstag, and in particularly poor style, given how it was delivered by an officer of III Corps Command.”

Chancellor von Gerlach nodded. Looked at from a constitutional perspective, it was questionable. More than questionable, in fact. He would have to discuss this with Schlieffen. It was one thing for the emperor or even the former prince regent making demands of the Reichstag, but quite another for the chief of the general staff.

“Yes, I can see where you are coming from, gentlemen.”, he agreed. “That still leaves us with the question what I am to do in the matter? I serve the civilian government of His Majesty. This request did not originate with me or anyone answering to me. All I can say is that you should treat it according to the law and parliamentary procedure.”

Erzberger seemed taken aback. Of course the chancellor was right: There was nothing he could do. And the usual approach of going to see the emperor was not open at the moment. But then, they had relied on this standby too much, hadn't they? Enjoying the support of the emperor in your reformist zeal was heady, but what were you to do if that support went away? They would have to fall back on the traditions of the Bismarckian age: Parliamentary opposition.

“We cannot possibly reject this.” Count von Ballestrem was the first to state the obvious. They could not. The symbolism of publicly refusing to extend war loans, or even debate whether to pass a resolution of support, was unthinkable. So what were they to do?

“Your Excellency, you are right.”, Naumann said. “This letter has no parliamentary standing. It is of no consequence. Therefore, Count von Ballestrem, it should only be viewed as a suggestion. A petition, if you will. And surely, any member of the Reichstag would be free to enter a bill based on parts of a petition.”

Ballestrem nodded. Procedural issues had been his strong suit, and he remembered some of the momentous rows that the late, great Professor Virchow had had with Bismarck and his Conservative allies. “I cannot do it.”, he said quickly. I was given the letter. If I introduce the motion, it will be a surrender. Neither can anyone from the Zentrum, I'm afraid. And we can hardly trust the DKP to do it.”

Naumann chuckled. “What about having the SPD do it?”

Erzberger smiled. That was a good idea. A resolution of loyalty, followed by a vote for war loans and a greatly expanded military budget, proposed by the SPD and put to the vote first thing. The Conservatives would be fuming. It would be a slap in the face of every military jackass and a clear signal that the Reichstag had no intention of making itself an irrelevancy. And of course, it would open nobody to the charge of being unpatriotic.

“Whoever suggests it is going to get arrested.”, Bebel cautioned.

Von Ballestrem shook his head. “They cannot touch him. Parliamentary immunity. No prosecutions for anything said or voted in the Reichstag – even in wartime.”

Bebel smiled bitterly. “They'll find a way of getting him. They always did for us. But look at the bright side: We are a party with a long tradition of prison terms. I'm sure I can find someone who will take a few months.”

“Take someone from outside of Prussia.”, Erzberger suggested. “The police aren't so bad in South Germany.”

25 June 1906, north of Mlawa, on the Russian-German border

Whistles and bugles, shouting and tramping of hooves. Damn it, Captain Shotilov thought, this was starting earlier than anyone had any business making it. Or his orderly hadn't woken him up in time. In which case he would have his hide. The attack, after all, was today, and it would absolutely not do for an officer of the dragoons to be late for offensive action. Cursing, he swung his legs out of bed and fumbled for his field jacket. That was one advantage of being away from the headquarters at Nasielsk, you did not have to wear the absurdly complicated uniforms that generals insisted on. out here, in the advance guard of the Army of the Narev, they were the business end. Carbines and sabres, not epaulets and buttons were what they cared about. He shouted for his servant, but got no answer. Damn that dogsbody and his drinking.

Once in his jacket, boots and sabre, and fortified by a swig from his hip flask, the captain felt ready to go out. Darkness met him, and chaos seemed to rule in the horse lines. The advance had been scheduled for 4:30 a.m. It could not possibly be that late yet – too dark. He stopped a soldier running past half-dressed. “What is going on, dammit?!”

“Don't know, Sir. I'm looking for my unit.”

Someone was shooting. Shooting! That kind of nonsense had to be stopped. Captain Shotilov knew how much damage a confused mass of soldiery could do to itself, without able leadership. He started running towards the assembly position for his squadron. “The Third, here the Third!” he shouted, looking around to see if he could spot familiar faces. Men were rushing hither and yon, with nothing resembling order. A bugler was blowing assembly, quickly followed by another signalling attack, then retreat. Screams of anger, confusion and pain and the noise of panicked horses filled the darkness. Then, a group of mounted men in good order galloped past. At last, someone was taking charge. He grabbed another soldier, the poor, confused boy holding a carbine and firing into the darkness, and slapped him. “Stop that immediately!”, he shouted. “Where is your unit?”

“Fifth squadron Guards Dragoons, Sir. I don't know, Sir. The advance signal was given. They must be in front.”

The captain fumbled for his watch. Three twenty-five! This had screw-up written all over it. Some clever-dick staff officer must have decided that a night attack would be more effective and had not bothered to disseminate the orders widely enough. Or at all, maybe.

“Come with me!” Shotilov ordered. “We have to get this under control.”

To their right, a horse screamed, its halter trailing, seeming to favour an injured leg. Riding over uneven ground at night would do that, Shotilov thought. He had never liked the modern idea that horses were somehow disposable equipment. If this was one from his squadron, the trooper would pay for his negligence. Two more men fell in with him, then a sergeant who brought his own. The majority of the men seemed to be running either towards the staging area or away from it, and someone was still shooting. “Hurraah!” he heard through the morning mist. Then, to his relief, order emerged. A column of men met him, emerging from the darkness.

“Thank God!”, he greeted their leader. “Captain Shotilov, Third squadron guards Dragoons. What the hell is going on?”

The man looked at him quizically. The epaulets and sabre showed him to be an officer, and his uniform was clearly not cavalry. In the darkness, the captain could make out a single row of buttons and, incongruously perched on his head, a white, somewhat shapeless thing that almost – no, exactly – looked like a pickelhaube.

“Oh, shit.”

25 June 1906, Berlin

As had been happening increasingly frequently, Colonel Liebenau was out of his depth. “Sir, I cannot...”

“It is 'Your Grace', colonel.”, Duke Ernst Ludwig brushed him off with practised arrogance, “and what you can do is irrelevant. I am seeing my emperor.”

“It is not permitted!”

“Colonel, you should make a habit of listening. I did not say that I wish to see my emperor, or that I intend to see him. I said I will see my emperor, and that is that.”

“The guards are ordered to shoot intruders, Sir. Your grace, please!”

Fanny von Reventlow buried her good hand in her purse, clutching her small pearl-handled pistol. If the soldiers started shooting – well, she'd also shoot. Not that she saw the point to it, but she could not bear the thought of just taking this lying down. Two uhlan sentries posted at the ward corridor entrance stepped forward.

“Gentlemen,” Ernst Ludwig said blandly, “you may not recognise me, but I am Ernst Ludwig I, Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt. You and your colonel today have the singular opportunity to go down in history as the men who destroyed Bismarck's legacy. A sovereign prince refused access to his lord and violently assaulted in defiance of his immunity – the empire will not survive the scandal.”

For a tense few seconds, Ernst Ludwig wondered whether the guards had the presence of mind to wrestle him to the ground. The spell held – he brushed past the uhlans, Fanny and his personal physician directly behind him. The colonel followed in their wake.

Wilhelm met them sitting upright, alerted by the commotion. A broad smile lit up his face at the sight of his friend, a tenderer note coming in when Fanny followed. “Ernst Ludwig! Thank God! What brings you here?”

The duke sat on the bedside and shook the emperor's hand: firm, warm, not shivering or feverish. Good. “We were worried about you, Wilhelm.” He made a point of using the first name in front of the colonel. “A lot of people on the outside haven't heard from you.”

Wilhelm shrugged apologetically. “They keep me pretty secluded. Professor König said I had to rest or risk a neurasthenic attack, or a relapse. And my reader, Maharero hasn't come back like he promised.”

“Well, I figured we should take you home to Sanssouci if you're well enough. The doctors can take care of you there just as well, and you could receive visitors and use a telephone. What do you think?”

Wilhelm beamed with happiness. “Are you sure”, he said, doubtingly. “Professor König was quite worried. I've only been able to walk at all for less than a day.”

“You don't walk.”, Ernst Ludwig said. “I've got a carriage waiting. And from the look of it, you are plenty healthy.”

“That's the ephedrine.”, the emperor explained. “Dr Weisse gave me an injection before he left. I still need a lot of morphine, and it makes me damned sleepy.”

The duke furrowed his brow. “Ephedrine and morphine? Are you sure that's a good idea?” he asked.

Wilhelm looked apologetic. “It works.”

“It works marvelously, Wilhelm. I know. But you need to be careful when you use it, or you end up doing damage to yourself. It's worse than absinthe.” Ernst Ludwig smiled a slightly shamefaced smile. Being a minor prince was boring. It did not involve much work, but plenty of opportunities for indulgence, and his bohemian tastes were well known. “We'll stop by a pharmacy on the way.”

Ernst Ludwig stepped aside politely to allow Wilhelm and fanny a few private words while his doctor unpacked the clothes and shoes he had brought. It was a plain Guards uniform, with civilian shoes rather than the high jackboots soldiers normally wore. After a few minutes, they began dressing their ruler and, once that task had been satisfactorily completed, left the room with Wilhelm supporting himself on Ernst Ludwig's elbow. Colonel Liebenau had waited.

“Your Grace, Your Majesty, I am sorry. I have strict orders not to leave His Majesty's side. Professor König was adamant. I cannot...”

The duke interrupted him, returning to his cold, condescending persona: “Very well, colonel. You may accompany us, but hurry: We are taking a carriage, and His Majesty must not be kept standing or walking longer than is absolutely necessary.”

Fifteen minutes later, they were rolling towards Potsdam, Wilhelm carefully wrapped in blankets to protect him from the jolting of the carriage. The uhlan guards were riding alongside – what Colonel Liebenau lacked in assertiveness, he made up in tenacity. The troopers eyed the duke and his comrades warily.

“I don't like this one bit.”, Ernst Ludwig whispered. “And I don't think they're going away.” Wilhelm had tried to talk them out of the idea, but the colonel had insisted, citing his orders. He seemed more comfortable facing down his emperor, armed with the medical authority of Professor König, than he did opposing Duke Ernst Ludwig. Surrounded by their mounted guards, they felt more than a bit like prisoners. Wilhelm looked resentful.

As they turned the corner into the Tiergarten, they met the first obstacle. Troops were lined up along the road, waiting for whatever it was soldiers waited for. Ernst Ludwig leaned out of the window, asking indignantly: “Who are these people?”

Colonel Liebenau leaned over to tell him in a quiet voice: “Your Grace, it's the 76 infantry regiment. Not very patriotic or reliable troops, I'm afraid. Mostly from Hamburg and Altona.”

Wilhelm smiled and levered himself up. For one brief moment, Ernst Ludwig feared he would do something foolish or dangerous, but when their eyes met, he saw the familiar flash of bright intelligence underneath the hectic energy of the drug. Wilhelm was back in emperor mode. He hung out of the carriage window, addressing a sergeant at the head of one of the platoons.

“Well, are you?”

The man spun around angrily. “Are we what?”

Wilhelm smiled, effortlessly thanks to the powerful analgesic effect of the morphine. “Colonel Liebenau has just informed me that you are unpatriotic and not to be trusted. I find that hard to believe, seeing as you are in uniform and on your way to the front.”

With a scowl, the sergeant focused on the colonel whom Wilhelm had identified with a gesture. He was squirming in the saddle.

“All due respect, Sir, but if he weren't an officer he'd be missing some teeth now. Calling us unpatriotic! Is that how we get treated for fighting for our fatherland? It's...” A chorus of shouts from the ranks stopped him as soldiers recognised their emperor. Their marching order vanished in a heartbeat as the men crowded around the carriage, cheering and jostling for a closer look.

“I thought so!” Wilhelm said, his voice now loud enough to carry farther. “I know I can trust my troops. And I am glad to see you here. I am happy and grateful that you have come to the defense of the emperor and fatherland in this dark hour.”

“Grateful” was not a word the troops heard a lot. As the realisation rippled outward, the men cheered again. Now, a colonel pushed his way forward to report. “Your Majesty, the 76 Hanseatic Infantry. We were scheduled to go by train to Königsberg, but there isn't enough rolling stock because it is needed further east. We are to encamp in the Tiergarten for the night.”

Wilhelm shook his head. “Colonel, I am sorry to hear this. But at least allow me to invite your brave boys to Sanssouci. The gardens are no warmer, but there will be food and drink. What do you say?” He had addressed the last words to the soldiers surrounding the carriage, and a resounding cheer rose. As they continued along the way, slowly and cautiously, trying not to jolt too much, the soldiers formed into a marching column. Sanssouci was several hours away, but that didn't matter. The weather was fine, sunset was a long way off, and their emperor had invited them. This would be a story to tell their grandchildren.

Wilhelm fell back into the cushions. “I think we will be all right.”, he said. “The colonel and his uhlans won't bother us now. I'm sorry, Ernst, I will have to ask you to telegraph ahead and arrange for some beer and sausages.”

The duke smiled giddily. Sausages and beer for two thousand men would not be a problem, he decided.

25 June 1906, Berlin, Wilhelmstrasse

“It is still insane, Sir!”, General von der Goltz shouted, his patience wearing thin. “Worse than insane. We have ready troops in Posen and Silesia. Warsaw could be ours in a matter of days! And the entire general staff is looking at Königsberg like a rabbit and a snake and trying to push as many forces as possible along the railway lines there. Dammit, V Corps could have been there yesterday if it had walked!”

General Schlieffen took off his glasses and rubbed his nose. He disliked noisy confrontations, especially with people whose intelligence he respected. And he felt unspeakably tired. “General,” he said flatly, “these ready troops you are talking about are reserve and Landwehr formations. The frontline regiments will have to be held in the event of a war with France. Many have already deployed west in preparation. Will you sacrifice these men against Russian regulars, and leave our borders defenseless?”

Von der Goltz snorted. “In most of Poland, you'd have to look for Russian regulars with a microscope. What do we get all this data for if not to use it? If we cannot deviate from a preset plan for a moment?! Poland is not a threat, it is an opportunity! And you are throwing it away!”

“And on what authority do you propose to order second-line formations into battle, General?” Schlieffen asked. “We have orders. We will receive new ones in time, but until we do...”

“Schlieffen, that is ridiculous!” barked von der Goltz. “You know that the emperor is not able to issue orders. He trusts you to conduct the war as best you know, not hide behind...”

A knock on the door silenced the altercation. Both men turned to face a visibly anxious orderly.

“You know we were not to be disturbed!”, Schlieffen said icily.

“I'm sorry, Sir. An urgent telegram for General von der Goltz.” The sergeant looked as though he was about to melt into his boots for cover. “The emperor requires your presence at Sanssouci.”

25 June 1906, Sanssouci

The famous gardens of Sanssouci had never been designed to provide the wide open space a regimental bivouac required, but after some negotiations with irate gardeners and despairing valets and last-minute adjustments, the 76th made do. The corridors and outer apartments in the wings and outbuildings filled up with bedrolls and sleeping soldiers as the evening progressed, the lawns with watchfires and muted conversation. Beer was served out, sausages and bread delivered, and the kitchen made a heroic effort to provide for everyone. By the main entrance, next to where, at the insistence of a particularly eager sergeant a machine gun had been emplaced, a circle of troops around the fire engaged in lively debate. Ernst Ludwig was walking around the grounds accompanied by Secretary von Ammersleben and one of the groundskeepers, checking the guards. In the inner apartments, Wilhelm was sleeping a fitful, drugged sleep, Fanny von Reventlow watching over him. The wind gently rustled in the trees, birds singing in the gathering dusk.

One of the men from the gate guards detail walked up to the duke, saluted smartly and said: “Sir, I assume you expect cossacks to attack us tonight?”

His unmoved face betrayed just the slightest hint of a sardonic smile. Ernst Ludwig looked at him, wondering whether to use his princely mode or enter into a real discussion. “Well,” - a quick glance at the rank insignia - “corporal, I think you can come to your own conclusions about the risk of that. I would be grateful if you saw fit to follow your orders nonetheless.”

“It's all right, Sir.”, the man shot back. “We don't like reactionaries much, either. That's why I came to speak to you.”

“You what? Corporal, just a moment. What gives you the idea this is political?”

“What gives you the idea it might not be, Sir?” The voice of the soldier carried a challenge. “You're not talking to a bunch of farm kids, you know. We read the papers. And me and the men just agreed that we want to offer to help His Majesty as best we can.”

“Well, thank you, I guess.”, the duke answered. “Corporal – what is your name?”

“Paul Rennecke, Sir. Corporal Paul Rennecke, deputy district secretary of the SPD for Wandsbeck. In case you hadn't noticed, we are having an improvised party committee hearing over there.” He gestured towards the watchfire.

“I see.” Ernst Ludwig was thoughtful. This soldier was more than he had expected for sure. “But what, beyond the obvious, do you think you can do. I don't think we will be attacked, by the way, though if we are, we will have to be lucky to survive.”

Corporal Rennecke smiled impishly. “Well, sir, you seem to know a fair bit about politics, but we have resources of our own, too. I think you may be underestimating how organised we are. See, my father, he's a printer and has been in the party since the days of the Socialist Laws. I could call him at the workshop, and call the party offices in Berlin and Hamburg, too. The Hamburg office can vouch for me in Berlin afterwards, so they can authenticate the call. And that will only be the beginning.”

The duke stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Why would you do that? I mean, I'm an archreactionary monarch, am I not?”

Rennecke laughed. “Nah, Sir. You're all right from what I know. You may think you all look the same to us, but we know what we have in our emperor. Some of the comrades downright love him, to tell the truth. We'll take him over Schlieffen or Bismarck any day. And we are willing to fight for that.”

“What good does it do if you get shot in the streets for unlawful assembly?” Ernst Ludwig asked, still not quite sure what to make of this offer. “It'd just be more pointless bloodshed.”

“They haven't been shooting workers in a good long while.”, Rennecke explained. “And I don't think they'll be shooting Reichstag deputies coming to see the emperor. It's a bluff, and we'll win if we call it. So, deal?”

“Deal.” The duke was still not sure whether the idea was good, or what the price down the road might be, but he was willing to go with the flow of events today. The cheers for Wilhelm had been genuine. If he couldn't trust these men, he could trust nobody. “Come along, then,. Mr Rennecke. We have a telephone you can use.”

25 June 1906, Berlin

God, General von Schlieffen knew in his heart, rewarded those who kept faith through tribulations. Sometimes things became too much even for him, though. With midnight approaching and his apartment cold and unwelcoming, the visit by a panicked General von Bock und Pollach was the last thing he wanted to deal with. His uniform jacket hastily thrown over the shirt, tieless and in slippers, he met the corps commander in the study to hear his lamentations.

“General”, he stopped him after what had seemed like an age, “forgive me, but I am tired and overworked, and most likely ill. I would thus be grateful if you could be concise.”

“Sir, I am concerned over the company that the emperor keeps, and...”

“So are all of us.” The great old man was getting extremely impatient. “But I do not understand how this concern warrants robbing me of my precious sleep. Especially since now that we are at war, the damage these people can do is quite limited. What is your point?”

“My point, Sir, is that he has been accompanied to Sanssouci by very questionable characters. At his precarious state of health and under the influence of the drugs he is having administered, I am worried that their suggestions might endanger the conduct of the war and the unity of the country.” Von Bock und Pollach was becoming desperate. Couldn't the man take a hint? Did you need to spell out everything? Spelling out his half-finished thoughts was an uncomfortable process, especially when they were often quite – unconservative.

“You mean confusion of the chain of command? That is quite out of the question. We are tasked with advising His Majesty and obeying Him. You understand the responsibility this places on our shoulders as the experts, do you not?”

“Sir, I do. But I am trying to make you see how great a danger the country is in from the weakness and inexperience of the emperor, and his poor choice of companions.” The general made his final gambit. “You, too, must recall the miracle of the house of Brandenburg? It was a desperate moment for Prussia, and for Russia as well.”

Schlieffen scratched his moustache. “General, I fail to see what you are talking about. The war we are facing will, if we are at all lucky, not involve a coalition of such might, and any comparison...”

“I am talking of Peter III, Sir. The duty that is placed on the guardians of royal power to act in the interest of the crown, even over that of its wearer. I am convinced that...”

The chief of the general staff paled with sudden understanding. His voice froze. “General von Bock und Pollach,” he said, with contained rage underlying every tone. “Leave this house at once. Return to your quarters and await further instructions. You are relieved of duty as of now.”

26 June 1906, Berlin

The inhabitants of Berlin were treated to a striking spectacle this morning, as Emperor Wilhelm III, after long having been incapacitated by injuries sustained in an assault by an insane anti-semite, returned to the city to take up temporary residence at Charlottenburg. After summoning the commanders of the guards regiments to his convalescent home at Sanssouci, the young ruler took the unusual step of entering the city in a carriage accompanied by men of several regiments currently in transit through the city. The honour thus paid the frontline troops by allowing them the place traditionally reserved for the garde du corps regiments was widely commented on and generally well received. As the imperial carriage moved along the streets, a large number of people gathered in defiance of an earlier proclamation forbidding unscheduled gatherings. The conspicuous number of red flags and political banners in evidence suggests both a return to the irrepressible political attitudes of the Berliners and a heartening devotion of even the left of the political spectrum to the victory of their fatherland in the coming war.

The emperor took the opportunity at several stages to alight from his carriage and address both troops and civilian crowds with warm words of appreciation. After a brief visit to the chancery, he repaired to Charlottenburg to take lunch with leading politicians and military officers. An appearance before the Reichstag scheduled later in the day is expected to provide yet more evidence, if any were needed, of both the indomitable energy of Germany's young ruler and his people's love...

(Chicago Tribune, including numerous photographic reproductions)

26 June 1906, Memel

The humiliation was painful. General Samsonov's brigade had been stuck in Memel, “securing the front” for too long already. He had spent many hours writing dispatches suggesting, then imploring, finally begging to be allowed to advance south in force. There had been no answer for days, and then – then the telegram informed him that the advance from the north on Königsberg would be carried by the Guards Corps. The city was full of plumed and braided officers. The railyards were congested with cars. Mikhail himself was coming to take over command of the offensive, it was said. And Samsonov, the man who had suggested it, was condemned to watch it from the sidelines. His corps, the conquerors of Memel and the first into Germany, would be “taking a well-earned rest while securing the supply lines of the Guards”. It was enough to drive a man to drink. More.

Crumpled on the desk lay the invitation that had reduced the general to his downright maudlin state. Tomorrow, at the town hall in Memel, His Highness Mikhail would be welcoming the gallant officers of the garrison to join him and his staff at a reception. There would be champagne, beautiful ladies (if any could be persuaded to come – Samsonov felt sure there would be), glittering uniforms and many ambitious younger officers with no history of defeat in Manchuria eager to upscale him. And he would have to grit his teeth, smile and bow. With a resigned grunt, the general rang for his orderly. The gala uniform needed cleaning.

26 June 1906, Berlin

The strains of the Dessauer Marsch were drifting through the windows in the distance. That, too, had been a clever compromise. It was not owned by any of the regiments involved, but since it was the emperor's favourite – Ernst Ludwig despaired of his musical taste – it was acceptable to all without loss of face. Wilhelm had ordered the marching bands to stay in front of the Reichstag entertaining the spectators while the troops that had accompanied him rested in squads and platoons, supplied with rations of bread and sausage and – generously, if highly irregularly – with other things by the people of Berlin. Housewives and publicans from all along their route seemed to have taken it as a challenge to demonstrate their loyalty and joy by feeding the troops. police were largely conspicuous by their absence, and the relatively few men of the guards corps stayed well away from the building. A careful observer could have spotted a certain pattern emerging, with the guards getting their food more from the servant girls of the better-off while housewives and factory girls from as far as Wedding came to bring sausages, beer and cakes to the regulars.

Inside, on the gallery, people thronged to see the gaunt, slightly stooped figure standing at the lectern in front of the president's desk. Count von Ballestrem had taken his place to the right of the emperor, standing, as had the heads of the party factions. To his left stood Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig, together with the Grand Duke of Baden and, visibly hastily dressed, Chancellor von Gerlach. Expectant silence rippled out through the audience of representatives, stenographers and spectators.

“Gentlemen,” Wilhelm began, his voice noticeably weakened, but strong enough to carry. “I have come to speak to you today, in this dark hour, as I would to my entire people, whose representatives you are. I must apologise for being brief, as my strength still is not entirely recovered. But speak to you I must. My silence and long absence through the days of my recovery have caused many worries, and today, I wish to lay these, at least, to rest. I am restored, and the exigencies of the situation demand that I place my comfort below the duty I owe the fatherland, just as every German today is asked to do.“

He paused, sipping from a glass of water placed within easy reach. Ernst Ludwig gently touched his shoulder, whispering to slow down. “They can hear you fine, but they can't follow if you talk too quickly.”

“These,” the emperor continued, “are dark times. Amid peace and tranquillity, a ruthless enemy has assaulted us. Hoping to find us weak, and gambling on our confusion, he thrust the treacherous dagger into our back. But he has already failed, gentlemen. I know that the enemy's design has failed as I see you here, as I see my people in the streets and my army on the march. He has failed though he may not yet know it, because he has not reckoned with the sagacity, the courage and the discipline of the German people, and however long and hard the struggle to come may yet be, I know we will not be found wanting in those qualities.”

Deafening cheers erupted through the hall. The emperor wiped his brow and swallowed. Raising his voice enough was visibly straining him. After the noise had died down, he was able to go on.

“We did not seek this war. Heaven is our witness that we neither wished to fight it nor hope to profit from it. Our intentions towards our neighbours are peaceful, and they continue to be so even as our own goodwill is so poorly answered. But in equal measure let the world know: He who attacks us shall perish. As Germany takes to the field, the Czar of Russia must already be troubled by the knowledge that though we were not the first to take up the sword, we shall not be the first to lay it down. In this cause I call on each and every one of you, every German man, to lay aside our differences and come together in patriotic resolve. Today, we are brothers in arms under the same flag. Let there be no faction or divide among us, no disagreement that cannot be resolved as brothers may, in amity and understanding. And let our friends and our enemies know that Germany shall prevail.”

The cheering seemed to take forever now. Ernst Ludwig guided Wilhelm to the president's seat, and while the Reichstag delegates, led by a DKP man with a particularly fine baritone, began singing the national anthem, the emperor collapsed into the chair.

“Nice speech.”, he whispered. “Thanks for helping me with it.”

26 June 1906, near Tarnopol

“Company, Attention!”

The ragged ranks jerked to a semblance of alertness. Feet in felt boots, rags and torn, ragged shoes shuffled into what their owners thought was a parallel line. Hats wobbled perilously. A rifle crashed to the cobblestones, quickly picked up by an apologetically smiling man. Sergeant Moses Zorn groaned. “Oy, gevalt.”

“All right, you schmucks!”, he shouted, reverting to the command voice he had acquired before passing into the reserves and, he found to his satisfaction, never entirely lost in his year of teaching primary school. “You think you're big because we gave you guns. Well, think again! Out there, the Russians also have guns. They know how to use them, too! Not like you! So, let's try this again. Company, Attention!!”

All hats stayed on this time. Nobody dropped his rifle. You had to consider it a victory of sorts, but it was going to be a long day. Zorn wondered if his colleagues in the other refugee camps had it as bad as he. Of course it made sense – any Jew with an ounce of martial spirit had long ago been recruited by the National Army across the border. What he had left to work with – yeshivah bokhers, tailors, klezmorim and pedlars – would maybe make soldiers in time. He had always been surprised how well recruits had turned out when he was in the regular army. But it would take a lot more time than he had. And with an allocation of twenty bullets per man, not much shooting practice was possible, either. He had thought twenty bullets a day for training purposes a bit stingy, and said so to the superannuated lieutenant who ran the improvised landwehr in the refugee camp. The idea that he had actually meant twenty bullets per man, total, ever, still had not completely registered. They would have to hope some friendly regular army units would give them some of theirs.

“To the left, Turn!” Again, nobody confused left and right. Nobody did an about-face. No rifles dropped, though a bayonet clattered to the cobbles. Better – not good, but better. You had to take what you got. Anything was better than nothing when the cossacks came.

26 June 1906, Berlin

General von der Goltz was used to secrecy from his long service with IIIb, but at his age he preferred not to skulk in corners. The hurried ride in an unofficial (but clearly diplomatic) carriage through the twilit streets of Berlin, the back stairs to Charlottenburg and the confusion that had reigned in the general staff all day were enough to put him off his cigars. Rumours had been flying since the morning, with the news of the emperor decamping for Sanssouci and commandeering, it seemed, an entire regiment for his bodyguard. General von Bock und Pollach, enquired about by telephone, was unreachable, his deputy Vietinghoff audibly panicked and his chief of staff more or less taking charge on his own account. And Schlieffen had not reported for duty. It had taken half the morning to find out he was on his way to Sanssouci – whyever – and by the time the full picture had emerged, von der Goltz had thrown a full-size tantrum. He was about ready to personally shoot the Berlin corps commander. The gnawing guilt of not having noticed came later. Now, the valets having shown him to an anteroom outside an office overlooking the inner courtyard, he quietly awaited his master's displeasure.

The conversation carried. Von der Goltz felt half sure it was meant to, but he could not be certain. Straining his ears, he recognised the voice of Alfred von Schlieffen, strained and subdued.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”, he said resignedly. “All I can say is that I acted in good faith.”

“I do not doubt that, General.” Wilhelm sounded tired, slightly slurred. If it was true he had spoken before the Reichstag, he must have strained himself enormously. “Believe me, I am grateful. But there is no other way. I can offer you a front command – I know your value. The Northern Front is yours if you want it. Otherwise, it will need to be retirement for health reasons.”

A shock went through the general's body. Schlieffen was being fired in the middle of a crisis. If Wilhelm was willing to go that far, what would be in store for Bock und Pollach? What for him? He straightened his back, smoothed his moustache and strained to hear again.

“I am sorry to hear this, General. Believe me, I genuinely am. But I suppose it may be for the best. Your health is precious to the country.” So, Schlieffen had opted for retirement. From the heights of the OHL to a mere front command would have been more than his pride could bear. And Alfred had looked sick, some to think of it. An adjutant opened the door. “Sir, the emperor will see you now.”, he announced.

His heart pounding, General von der Goltz stepped into the room. Seated – half reclining in an armchair – Wilhelm awaited. His face was pale, one eye covered by a black patch, the other almost burning in its sunken, hollow socket. He was a changed man, aged a decade.

“General, welcome.”, he said. “Thank you for coming. I assume you have heard?”

“Your Majesty.” Von der Goltz was not going to presume on earlier familiarity. This was not the same man he had taken brandy and smokes with in the days of Videant Consules. “I regret that I have.”

“You disapprove?”

The general spotted two figures in the background: Duke Ernst Ludwig and Secretary von Ammersleben. What was their function? Hell, he could not go much wrong with honesty. What were they going to do, send him packing to Turkey again? “Your Majesty, General von Schlieffen was acting in as good faith as all of us on the general staff. And I do not think you will find a replacement for him easily.”

Wilhelm smiled. “You don't think Moltke is up to it?”, he asked with a hint of a challenge.

“No, Sire. He is excitable and emotional. A bright man, for sure, but not really suited to this position.”

“That is what I thought.”, the emperor stated baldly.”I am sorry to see Schlieffen go, believe me. But under the circumstances, there was no other option. I am sure you understand that consequences had to be seen to be taken.” A brief pause, the single eye focusing. “That is why I called you here.”

Von der Goltz stiffened. This was it.

“You have done an exemplary job at IIIb and in the Third Department, but you cannot stay. I hope you have trained a capable successor?”

“Yes, Sire. It was to be Falkenhayn, but now it is to be Roeder.” The general waited. He knew that Wilhelm enjoyed playing with people on occasion. This was the first time he had felt strong enough to play with his closest military advisor.

“Very good.” Wilhelm said tonelessly. “Tomorrow, you may notify him of his advancement and take up your duties as chief of the general staff.”

The general blinked and stayed silent for a long second. Then he looked his emperor directly in the eye. “Your Majesty?”

Wilhelm shook his head. A glint of his old mischief briefly shone in his eye. “General – Colmar – you are the only man in Berlin who has the qualifications for the job. Even if I wanted to be rid of you, I hardly could. And honestly, I see no reason to. You acted in good faith and no blame attaches.”

“Thank you, Sire.”

“Don't thank me for dropping that job in your lap, general.”, he said. “You will have a hard time. I will trust you to so the right thing, but there is one thing I will require of you.”

Von der Goltz nodded.

“General von Bock und Pollach will keep his command. I cannot spare him, and the guards love him, whyever they do. But the Corps of Guards will deploy to Königsberg immediately. What troops are on their way there now will instead be sent to reinforce XVII Corps in the south. Let the men prove themselves. Some redemption is in order.”

The general smiled viciously. That made sense, in a cruel fashion. He relished the thought of seeing some of those guards officers getting themselves muddy. An encounter with real war could be a sobering experience. Then he checked himself. “What of his Highness, Sire?”, he asked.

“Eitel Friedrich can deploy. I am sure his brother officers will take good care to keep him safe.”

The bitter tone left unspoken words hanging in the air. “Not 2 Samuel 11?”, von der Goltz asked guardedly.

“No.”, Wilhelm said. “I guess I am my brother's keeper after all. He can't be trusted on his own, but he means well.”
27 June 1906, Nasielsk

“What?!” General Litvinov was not used to being told No. Not by subordinates of the technical branches, certainly. “Who is not reporting?”

The lieutenant in charge of the telegraph centre swallowed hard and repeated his report. “We have not had reports from Mlawa since the advance was ordered. No contact with the 45th and Grodno regiments since yesterday. We haven't had the advance report from the Guards Dragoons, either. They were supposed to have crossed the border yesterday. The last message came by galloper to Mlawa yesterday, stating that the advance guard was approaching German soil. Nothing since then”

The general scanned his map. “Damn them! How are you supposed to fight a war this way? Where are my troops? How far are we into Germany?”

Colonel Bashkirov, the chief of staff, stepped forward. “Sir, from every report we have had it seems that our advance is not going as planned. The dragoons were attacked at Mlawa, and there was no report that the 45th advanced at all today. Troops from the Grodno fusiliers and cossack patrols reported meeting resistance in strength near and on the border.”

“'Strong resistance'?” Litvinov snorted. “Russian troops do not stop in the face of 'strong resistance'. This is ridiculous. Who is fighting us? Von Bülow is in Königsberg, the Guards are in Berlin!”

“We believe it is XVII Corps and reserve forces, Sir.”, Bashkirov reported. “General von Braunschweig is on leave, as far as we know. His deputy, Mackensen, is thought to be in command. The son of wealthy parents, rapidly promoted. He has written a history book.”

Litvinov shook his head. A rich bourgeois kid. He would have to kick some people into gear. “Thank you, colonel. I think we need to move headquarters forward. Prepare to entrain for Mlawa. I will direct the battle from there.”

27 June 1906, Berlin

Coffee, Friedrich Stepanki found, should not be left to the ignorant. The stuff they served at the cheaper Berlin cafes was terrible. And he had to put up with it whenever Mr Krugmüller was in town. Krugmüller, they had learned, was more than a travelling salesman for Ivanov Exports. He was the man between the Russian embassy and the man they thought was their Polish star agent, Miroslav Shirsky. At first, Stepanki had wondered whether his boss, Felix Dzerzhinski, was being overly paranoid by having him watched every time he went to Berlin, of course. Just another courier, with their limited manpower, would not be worth expending so much effort on. But once again, the iceman's instincts had been right. Krugmüller continued on his rounds even after the embassy closed. Clearly, he mattered. And today, he had to be up to something. The desultory effort to sell Russian textiles and flax he pretended was his profession would not convince anyone. And sadly, he had an execrable taste in coffee.

Nursing his cup and hiding behind a copy of the Berliner Illustrirte, Stepanki was growing impatient. The man was tucking into a second helping of cake and downing litres of the execrable stuff. Maybe he was leading him on a wild-goose chase? No, finally the door opened and a man walked in, heading straight for Krugmüller's table. The two men did not speak. Krugmüller gulped down the remnants of his coffee, rose and left. The other man walked past, brushed up against his table and picked up his paper. Pretty standard, Stepanki thought, even a little obvious. They couldn't have had much time. But the contact worried him. On an impulse, he decided not to follow Krugmüller. He could always say he'd lost him if questions were asked later. Instead, Stepanki settled down to a brief reading spell until he could tail the stranger out of the cafe.

He was wearing a uniform jacket under his coat. Uniforms as such were hardly remarkable in Berlin right now, but Stepanki had a hard time placing this one. It wasn't German army or navy, he was sure, and it didn't look like any of the public utilities or police units he knew. Too neat for a hotel porter or circus performer. And the man did not bear himself like a servant. He was trying to be inconspicuous, but you could tell an officer on sight if you knew what to look for. Too much self-confidence.

A short ride on a horse omnibus allowed Stepanki to get a frontal view of his target. He was elegant, with a well-groomed moustache, and something about him suggested foreign origin. The style was not Berlin. So it did not come entirely as a surprise when the pursuit ended at the gate of the Austro-Hungarian embassy. Not entirely, but shock enough. Damn. A high-ranking Austrian officer was meeting with a known Russian agent. Dzerzhinski would go ape over this.

27 June 1906, Berlin

“Three numbers.” Walther Krupp von Rathenau said calmly. “Three numbers are all the argument I will give you on why you need to agree to this deal. Or any deal you can get, really.”

Wilhelm nodded thoughtfully. He did not feel sure he was going to be convinced, but Rathenau always had good arguments on his side.

“The first number is: 750,000. That's the number of troops you have sitting in Alsace-Lorraine. Granted, half of them are reservists, but you still need them elsewhere. As long as you haven't made an agreement with France, they have to stay where they are, which means you are fighting the Russians from a position of numerical inferiority, even at full mobilisation, which we won't have for another five days. The second is: four months. That is as long as our stockpile of nitrates is going to last us if our estimates are correct. If we have access to the sea, we can buy as much as we need, but the French fleet can blockade us as tightly as they want.”

The emperor raised his hand. “We have Rotterdam...”

“In the event of a war, Paris will not care a fig for Dutch neutrality. Neither would we. If the French go to war, there will be grass growing in the streets of our port cities. Unless the British save us. And even then, their cruisers and torpedo boats will make merchant shipping a risky undertaking.” Rathenau paused. “The third number is: 4 per cent. Our bonds are trading at under 75 to a hundred. It's the uncertainty premium. We cannot win a war on the plains of Masuren if we lose it on the trading floor of the London stock exchange!”

“We can place our own loans.”, General von der Goltz protested. “The Reichstag just voted a war budget that should carry us over the next few months nicely.”

Rathenau nodded. “The next few months, yes, general. Maybe even until 1907, though I doubt it. You know what modern warfare implies better than I. You have read Moltke's memorandum and Bloch's book. Germany is rich, but hardly that rich. And it is true, we must prepare our economy for war, raise cash, secure production, organise ourselves efficiently. But in the long run, with the amount of foreign goods we need to import to sustain our army, it will not be enough. Copper, nickel, tungsten, oil, nitrates, leather and rubber - we have to have credit, or we will be defeated.”

Wilhelm hung his head, wiping at his covered eye ineffectually. “All right, yes, you are right. That bastard Clemenceau has us over a barrel, doesn't he?”

Von der Goltz grunted viciously. That was the situation in a nutshell: The French government might not have wanted war, but it was ready to exact a high price for peace.

“It's all right.”, the emperor finally said. “I'll instruct secretary von Bülow to agree to all reasonable terms. The people will understand, in the end.”

The general shook his massive head. “Sire, if we negotiate on that basis, we might as well just give them Alsace-Lorraine.”

Wilhelm gave a bitter laugh. “Don't tempt me, general. The place is more trouble than it's worth. Bismarck should never have grabbed it.”

Rathenau looked shocked. The emperor waved away the idea. “No, of course not. Not really. There will have to be a solution after the war, but we cannot cede territory now. Tell it to Bülow: If the French want German land, they can fight for it. At least we'll have lost it fair and square then. But I'm willing to consider other things. That's quite a catalogue the courier has brought.” He gestured at the despatch box on the desk..

Von der Goltz suggested: “We might want to leak this. It will give Clemenceau the right idea, and it doesn't hurt to look resolute. No territorial concessions! Then, whatever we give up will look hard-fought.”

Rathenau shook his head. “Are you sure you don't want to be in politics, general? You'd make a damned fine diplomat.” He turned to Wilhelm. “Your Majesty, what about Moresnet? Would that fall under territorial concessions?”

“Altenburg? No. Most people don't know it exists. If the French want us to give it to the Belgians, I am sure we can find some face-saving way. And the rest – I don't see any big problems. We don't really want Morocco, do we?” The emperor attempted a grin.

“What do the British think?”, Rathenau asked.

“I doubt it's worth a war to them.”

“And the assassin?”, General von der Goltz intervened. “The French government wants Lavassor. I have no idea why, but really – can you accept that?”

Wilhelm swallowed, his face hardening. The man who had tried to kill him had become something of a political issue in the past weeks. The French government had even formally enquired about him, and in Paris it seemed he had something of a fan club. Not a big one, maybe, but a well-connected one. “The judge declared him insane.”, he said. “If I understand correctly, that means he cannot be punished. But he cannot be released on his own recognizance, either, because he is dangerous. I'm sure the foreign office can spin that into a tale of some sort. As long as he stays locked up in an asylum somewhere, the French are welcome to him.”

28 June 1906, off the Isle of Wight

The signal flags rising in the fresh summer breeze flashed the order to the waiting ships. The rows of merchant hulls stretched over the waters south of the Isle of Wight behind the waiting lead cruiser, SMS Hardenberg. Lübeck and Rostock already circled the convoy, chivvying and badgering the vessels to stay in line like mother ducks. Of course, sailing them into Rotterdam was going to be a nightmare. Merchanters were bad at following orders, and doubly so if they were scared. But with two heavy and two light cruisers and a screen of torpedo boats, their chances were good. Captain Hipper looked over to the shoreline, where a colourful crowd of holidaymakers and sightseers had gathered. This was perhaps the most heartening sight of the entire voyage. The seaside seemed to be blooming with flags and bunting, German and British colours all over the place. Even the warships anchored in the Solent had come out, flagged and scrubbed, with yards manned.

“Signal from HMS Swiftsure, Sir!”, the lookout reported. “G-O-T-T-M-I-T-E-U-C-H”

Hipper straightened and saluted. The whistles of his convoy blew the responding chorus to their sailing orders, and the ducklings he was taking charge of began moving east at a painfully slow pace.

(Blücher, Hardenberg, Lübeck, Rostock under Hipper)

28 June 1906, Glogau

“All right, men, let's go through this once more .. shit!” Feldwebel Halltauer stumbled sideways as the railcar passed over a switch. The men of his squad swayed with the motion, crammed as they were shoulder to shoulder. Apprehensive faces watched him. Everybody here was nervous. Reserve regiments were not normally sent to the front.

“Ah, shit.”, he repeated for emphasis as he regained his footing, holding up the quickly printed pamphlet that had been distributed to every officer and NCO. “Now, once we are across the border, we are going into friendly country, right? So, no looting, no breaking stuff, no shooting first. If you see an armed Polack with THAT on his armband - ”, he pointed to the symbols of the National army - “he's a good guy. They are on our side. If I catch anyone shooting Poles, you'll be very sorry.”

The train rattled again. He flipped a page and held up the second collection of obscure heraldry. Why did this have to be so complicated? “These here – they go on armbands, too – are our allies. This is National Army, but from the south, and these ones – they're blue – are Jewish Brigade. I don't want anyone messing with those guys. They're crazy! Have you got that?”

Nods and affirmative grunts. The sergeant was not going to stand on ceremony in the confines of a railcar filled with sweaty men and smelly uniforms. He just hoped that they actually meant it. Troops had a way of sleeping through instruction with their eyes open. And even he was not feeling quite as confident as he should be.

“These guys”, he pointed to the second page, “are Patriotic Union. Armbands and caps. You meet those, you kill them. It is that simple.”

One of the men looked up. “Sergeant, how do we tell from a distance?”

Halltauer snorted. “If they shoot at you, they're the bad guys. And if you shoot at them first, then I'll personally kick your ass all the way to Moscow. Am I clear?”

This was going to be one hell of a war.

28 June 1906, Wargen near Königsberg

The noise of hoofbeats and marching boots roused Friedrich Tann from his fitful sleep. Not that he had had many peaceful nights lately, what with mobilisation that fear of the Russians everywhere, but today, it had to be said, was particularly bad. And someone was banging on his door. Cursing, the amtmann roused himself, put on his slippers and answered the door. A lieutenant stood outside, visibly upset.

“Yes, what is it?” Tann was not inclined to be gracious - not with so junior an officer, anyway. True, his reserve commission was so old he had not even been considered for call-up, but it still said major. Together with his dignity as a representative of the Prussian government, that was more than enough to entitle him to arrogance.

The lieutenant saluted, probably reflexively conditioned to that tone of voice. “Sir, I am instructed to tell you that our troops will be withdrawn behind the fortress line.”

“Withdrawn?” Tann could hardly believe his ears. What inconvenience had they suffered preparing quarters for hundreds of infantrymen in their little suburb. And now – this? It did not bear thinking about.

“Russian cavalry is reported north and west of here.”, the officer explained. “General von Bülow has ordered all forces pulled back to defensible positions. He intends to hold the city.”

The amtmann shook his head, still unsure whether he was dreaming. “Lieutenant, this is – hardly credible. General von Bülow must know that his best chance is to delay the enemy's advance until our reinforcements are here! Is he trying to emulate Napoleon III at Sedan?”

“Sir!”, the lieutenant interjected, “it is not your place, or mine, to criticise the orders we receive from higher authority. We are here to carry them out.” The resigned tone in his voice told Amtmann Tann that his heart was not in it. “Now, will you evacuate with us? We cannot protect you if you choose to remain here.”

Friedrich Tann considered for a moment. More than half the inhabitants had already fled, either west or for the safety of Königsberg. He had his responsibilities to consider, the files – there wasn't much of value in them – and the town cash reserve. There were some two thousands marks in it, fifty in specie. And there were the remaining people. Some of them, true, were irresponsible and bloody-minded. But some were desperate. He knew a couple that stayed because the wife's old father could not move out of his bed. His servant had told him, too, that he would not run away from his land. And they would need someone to stand up for them.

“Lieutenant”, the amtmann said in the most dignified voice his state of undress left him capable of, “if you would be so kind as to wait for a moment, I will place the town's cash funds in your custody. I will expect you to sign a receipt, mind! I'm staying.”

28 June 1906, Sandomir

“Really”, Colonel Andrashko asked, wondering. “Przemysl? I would have thought that was still weeks away.”

“No, Sir.” The young staff major seemed unduly chipper. Something in his demeanour told the colonel he had not been there at Lublin and Ivangorod. He radiated the kind of cheery confidence you got from fighting your wars on a map. “The Army of the Bug has succeeded beyond all expectations. We expect to be investing the fortress a week from now, at most. Outriders have already reported from the outskirts. And your regiment will have the honour of being in the lead of the siege forces.”

Well, what was left of it, Andrashko thought. Still, it was better than the alternative. After their rest in Ivangorod, it had always been clear that they would be sent back to duty. Fighting the Austrians seemed the best option, really. From what you heard, they were falling over their own feet right now. And they would fight fair, which counted for a lot. The Poles – the colonel shuddered at the memories. Fighting Pilsudski's gang, you always had to reserve the last bullet for yourself. Of course, the Germans also fought fair, but by all accounts they fought hard. The press was all full of glorious victories – you could hardly get anything other than the Russkaya Pravda out here, and as far as that rag was concerned, anything the Czar did was a glorious victory – but you heard things. A few days ago, a fellow in logistics had explained that they had to wait for replacements because the railway line to the north was used to ship troops back from the East Prussian front. They had done the maths later that evening, and unless Andrashko was very wrong, the regiments they listed as passing through there were about half establishment strength. His own had not been much more than that by the time they had taken Ivangorod, of course, but that had been after two months of campaigning. Those poor buggers had been brought to that point in ten days.

“Thank you, major.”, he finally said. “I appreciate the confidence in me. Please tell me, though, are we moving through secure territory?”

“As secure as we can make it, Sir.” The major had the decency to blush. “The situation is almost as bad as in Poland. Before they ran away, the Austrian army handed out rifles like candy. Every Jew and Polack in the area seems to be taking potshots at our men. But it's not going to be an issue for long. We have dragoons on the case, and the Patriotic Union is also going to send a volunteer force to secure our rear. They hanged 50 Jews yesterday after someone potted a cossack from their village. There won't be trouble from them again.”

Andrashko remembered the gut-wrenching fear of the moment when Polish partisans had blown the bridge under his troop train. This was not the news he had hoped to hear.

“And of course, we have the Serbs on our side!”, the staff officer continued blithely. “You probably don't know yet – it'll be all over the press tomorrow. Serbia has declared war on Austria-Hungary in support of Russia.”

“Damn.” Andrashko whispered. He bit back a sarcastic remark. Whatever they were drinking in Belgrade, he wanted some.

29 June 1906, Berlin

“Your Majesty, this is the last we received. It is – outrageous.” General von der Goltz's face was almost comically flushed with rage. Wilhelm looked up and asked,, using the quiet, mellow voice he had cultivated now that using his facial muscles hurt: “What is it, general? I heard about Königsberg.”

Von der Goltz slammed the telegram on the table. “This is from General von Bülow. I had given him orders, clear orders to meet the Russian advance in prepared positions and to keep the flank of the city open. He was promised his reinforcements, more than he deserved, the fool. More than he should by rights need, too. And he blew it!”

Still furious, he read out the incriminating document. “'Strong Russian forces active in Samland peninsula. Withdrawing troops to fortress perimeter. Enemy patrols also reported south of the city. railway and telegraph lines endangered. Must have relief force or will be forced to consider surrender.' And then he hints that he would take 'exceptional steps to maintain the honour of the army', the man doesn't know what that even is!”

The emperor looked quizzically. “How did they get to Samland? The last report I had was that they had bypassed Allenburg to the south?”

“These are the Guards Corps. The damned Russians had an attack of Napoleonitis and sent them down through Kurland. And Bülow got rattled badly enough to cede all of Samland to the enemy without even defending it! Sire, the man belongs shot!”

“Maybe,” Wilhelm cautioned. “What about these Russians to the south? That was what he was supposed to prevent, wasn't it?”

“In so many words, yes. I cannot explain what happened to Bülow, but he just destroyed our plan of attack. If he couldn't take the strain, he should have handed over to his deputy.”

The emperor stroked his chin. “I think there may well be a court martial in his future, I'm afraid. Unless he does take the matter out of our hands.”

Von der Goltz impatiently waved away the suggestion “Ein deutscher General erschiesst sich nicht.” He sighed heavily. “But we are screwed., Instead of moving directly to Königsberg, we need to hold the Corps du Garde in a staging area east of Elbing while we secure the lines – if we can. If the Russians aren't asleep, this will be a fighting relief. It will cost us.”