Es Geloybte Aretz - a Finished Germanwank

27 February 1907, Darnica Camp near Kiev

Cossack whips and guards' batons were enough to make some men flinch, but Corporal Bauer was made of sterner stuff. His parish priest hit harder than most Russian soldiers, as he had pointed out to their captors, grinning with bloody lips. Apparently, it had worked. At least it had given his men heart, which was important on the long, cold marches along muddy tracks through the Russian countryside. After their capture, they had been separated from their officers, and the men looked to NCOs for leadership. Bauer, at least, had provided it through the marching and the train rides, and held them together as they were walked through the streets of the city, greater and more impressive than Augsburg and far grander than even Munich. Few of them had seen anything like it.

Of course they weren't being led around town to show them the sights. Bauer had been worried about angry civilians assaulting him and his men at every stop, but so far, he had seen little of it. Most villagers en route had been unimpressed, sometimes curious and annoying, but also ready to help out with food or warmth in return for some of the few material possessions they had been able to retain. The official ration allowance of 25 kopeks per day hardly ever materialised, and but for swapping their buttons, pocket knives and canteens, they would have gone hungry many a day.

The city was different. People in the street gave them hostile stares. Some boys spat or threw snowballs, though the novelty quickly wore off. Once, someone tried to kick out the legs under a German who was having difficulty walking in torn-up boots, but a cossack guard discouraged him with a blow of the riding whip. Say what you wanted about the cossacks, but they were fair-minded bullies who'd just as readily pick on their own people as on the enemy. A prisoner in a hussar's uniform fell back to help the man up, and the guards allowed him. Bauer gave the retreating spectator a baleful stare.

“Fucking civilians.” he said between gritted teeth. All the troubles a soldier could have in this world started with civilians. They might be well-meaning and clueless, or outright greedy, vicious, conniving bastards. Or just taking cheap shots, like this little bully. Altogether, Corporal Bauer would have been happier to share black bread and water with a Russian frontovik than caviar and champagne with fat, oblivious civilians, and most of the men in his squad shared that view. Not that caviar was a likely prospect anytime soon.

At the end of their long, convoluted walk, the men were marched into a vast wooden hall that looked like it had been built to exercise a regiment in. Compared with what they had seen of Russian military organisation, this was very impressive, and it took a few pointed admonitions to stop curious staring. A number of large ovens along the walls radiated heat that was very welcome after the long trudge through the snow, and in two roped-off areas towards the back, some men were already eating. That boded well for the day, at least. In Bauer's experience, the Russians weren't actively bad when they had their shit together. You just couldn't trust them not to forget you.

An officer walked up to the column and ceremoniously received the paperwork from their guards.

“All right.” he mumbled in Russian, flipping through the list, then switched to heavily accented German. “All right. You will now be processed. Stand in line and report as your names are called.” He flipped a page. “There is a man from Thionville here, one Private Berger. Who is he?”

A brief silence followed. Being called by name was disconcerting, But you couldn't well just pretend you didn't exist – even the Russians had that much paperwork in order – so after a few awkward moments, an infantryman shuffled forward.

“You are...?”

“Private Berger from Diedenhofen, Sir.”

“Excellent.” The Russian seemed content with the answer. “And we want Privates Wachmann from Metz and Brückner from Saarguemines. Are there any other men from Alsace-Lorraine here?”

A handful of prisoners from other parts of the column stepped forward hesitantly. It looked like six in all.

“Well, then.” The officer rubbed his hands together briefly and cleared his throat. “All you men who were born in Alsace-Lorraine will be aware you are eligible for French citizenship. If you wish to claim it now, we can make the necessary arrangements to have you repatriated.”

An angry murmur rose from the crowd. The faces of the few men addressed registered surprise, indignation and guarded hope.

“And what...?” one of them asked finally.

“And nothing. The Russian Empire has no quarrel with France. You are considered pressed men in the involuntary service of our enemy, and citizens of the French Republic. You will be repatriated through the consular service as soon as this can be arranged. Until then, you will be our guests. Anyone?”

Agitated whispering filled the air. “You'll never get to go home again!” one of the group hissed at another. In the end, none moved.

“All right,” the lieutenant said patiently, “take your time to consider the question.” He gestured to a soldier who pointed the six men to one side of the hall. At a table there, three more German prisoners were seated drinking tea. After a second's hesitation, they went, followed by angry and envious stares.

“Now to you.” He turned to face Bauer's squad. “You men are Bavarians. You will come to understand, I hope, that we bear the Kingdom of Bavaria no ill will. The tide of history has caused our nations to be at war. Russia has no claims against Bavaria nor any grudges. All Bavarian prisoners of war will be conveyed to camps in European Russia where they will be assigned to agricultural or industrial labour details. After the war, you will all the nearer to your home.”

“After the war, Germany's borders will sure be a lot nearer to us.” one of the prisoners snickered. The officer pretended not to notice.

“As to the Prussian prisoners,” he gestured to another section of the column, “they will be held in camps in Turkestan.” He pointedly ignored the angry outbursts from the crowds and repeated the instructions. “All Bavarians, Badensians, Wurttembergers, Hessians and Mecklenburgers, I don't think we have any of those, will go over to that side of the hall for processing.” He pointed to a corner where benches and tables already held some POWs near two large brick ovens. “All Prussians and Saxons will be processed in the west quarter of the camp, in tents.”

04 March 1907, Nandanga, Mlahi Province, Ostafrika

The sound of individual raindrops pattering on tent roof, the soft, squelching, sucking noises that red earth made when it closed around boots and refused to let go, the pervasive background hiss that filled the misty air when fine rain struck leaves and grass, and the moisture that seeped into every piece of clothing and napery - Major Johannes's world had become defined by water. Water, and madness. Sighing, he looked out again over the camp of what passed for his army – Abteilung Süd, or Abteilung Johannes, as Ludendorff had taken to calling it. The man liked to feed egos. Truth be told, it did not look like much. To the right of his tent, 100 Askari had pitched theirs, They were arranged unobtrusively, but clearly around the two machine guns they carried. Twenty white men, volunteers from the province, with their coloured servants forming a kind of makeshift Boer kommando were encamped on his left, infuriatingly undisiplined, but picturesquely sporting huge beards and heavy large-bore rifles. To their front, the main force of the Abteilung was spread out in what had been a meadow yesterday: hundreds of Hehe and Wakamba warriors, some Wayao, and many individual volunteers from the coastal tribes, including some Arabs. The inland tribes had been drawn mostly by Solf's promise of abolishing corvee labour and chombe tax in return for their services, a move Johannes profoundly disagreed with. The coastal men, though, in many cases burned with a desire to avenge themselves on the Russian occupiers. That, he could relate to. A pity that the Hehe and Wayao were by far the most potent fighting force he had. There was simply no way they could be spared. As it was, the idea was crazy.

Well, here he was, in the middle of the Great Rains, trying to move a small army across the southern uplands without being noticed too soon. There might be a time in this country when strategic mobility was easy to achieve, but this wasn't it. Then, he would somehow contrive to surprise the Russian garrison in Lindi and retake the harbour, from where, situation permitting, he would mount offensive operations north towards Kilwa in support of the main thrust of Ludendorff's own Askari and rugaruga force towards Daressalam. All of which to be achieved, somehow, despite the pitiful state of his troops' discipline and their inferiority in arms and equipment. It was easily enough to make you doubt the existence of a merciful God. Two machine guns and a few hundred modern rifles against – if you could trust their spies – two hundred Siberian rifles and the crews of two torepedo boats, plus the vessels' guns in Lindi harbour. You could only hope they were liberally plied with vodka the day of the attack.

Or otherwise occupied.

Major Johannes began to think of a plan.

06 March 1907, Paris

Many readers have contacted us with the question whether it is prudent to purchase Russian bonds at this time. To this, your correspondent replies that it is not only wise, it is patriotic, an act of virtue as well as of financial wisdom. The latest issue, now open for subscription at the Paris exchange, not only promises a regular 5% yield over ten years, but also provides for an additional 2% p.a. interest to be paid from reparations in the event of a victory. No other national bonds in circulation today can match the profitability of the Russian government's obligations, and subscribers must be aware that in addition to partaking of both the safety of a major European power's credit at high yields, they are doing a service to their country and the world. Their country, for France profits from every blow struck against her enemy. Though the government at this time does not see fit to join in the great struggle against Germany, Russia is fighting it, and with every passing day the balance of power tilts more towards Paris and away from Berlin. Thus even an unfavourable outcome of the conflict will have achieved much for the cause of France in the world. The worlds, for Germany's baleful influence over the ancient heart of European civilisation shall diminish. The threat of Teutonic domination and the concomitant destruction of all human values in the name of might and efficacy shall be broken, and the torch-bearer of true culture replace the firebrand of kultur at the head of the continent and thus, of the world. The ancient foe in Berlin, enemy to the Church and the truth, friend of the Jew and the Atheist, suffers today with every franc that buys Russian munitions, Russian guns and swords for the troops that are still fighting on German soil. Should a patriotic Frenchman buy Russian bonds? Indeed, until the day, perhaps not too far, that he may put his money in war bonds of his own government, he must!

(Libre Parole)

07 March 1907, Berlin

Black as night, hot as hell and bitter as damnation: At least the coffee was still good. Since the start of the war, the pleasures of the Cafe Bauer had been sorely diminished otherwise. The rich confections and creamy cakes that had lately drawn so many ladies were distinctly out of vogue even among those who had the ration coupons required. Champagne, wines and spirits similarly were rising in price and dropping in public regard, both matters of equal concern to the brittle honour and comparatively slender purse of general staff officers. Being seen to indulge in such frivolities was best left to those with little sense of shame and face to lose. But coffee, the real stuff, was still to be had at very reasonable prices, and the rations were generous enough for even the hardiest addicts in uniform. Rumour had it that the emperor himself had seen to this. General von Falkenhayn was, at least, willing to consider the possibility. It certainly did not make any economic sense, but he was grateful for all that. Sighing, he sipped from his cup and turned back to Lieutenant Colonel von Seeckt seated opposite him. The two men had secured a window table overlooking Unter den Linden, still elegant in wartime, if somewhat deserted in the chilly winds of early spring.

“My consolation is that if it does go wrong, at least they cannot put me out to pasture. I'll have to be given some kind of command.”

The two exchanged a thin, cheerless smile. Being stuck in Berlin was an awful fate for ambitious officers on the make. Careers and reputations were made at the front. For all the importance of their work, it was unglamorous.

“Do you think?” Von Seeckt shook his head. “If that works, maybe I can come up with the next grand strategic scheme. I wouldn't say no to a front command.”

“More likely a depot somewhere in the Ruhr, I'm afraid.” Falkenhayn replied. “Or maybe training volunteers. Doesn't appeal, does it? If the offensive fizzles out, that's where I'm headed.”

“It hardly seems fair.” Seeckt remarked. “It's not like von der Goltz won't happily take credit for the Southern Arc. How many hours did it take you to talk him into it?”

Falkenhayn wagged his head. “A fair few. But to be honest, talking him into the siege of Ivangorod was harder. Now that we have control of it, we have to use it, and the best way is to strike south. He's stubborn, but he is a brilliant strategist. In the end, he had to come round. Now it's his plan. Well, unless it goes wrong,. Then it'll have been my idea.”

Sipping his coffee, von Seeckt let the operation unfold in his mind: The thrust down the Vistula toward Lublin, cutting through the Russian defenses into the rear area of the Carpathian front. The pivot east, threatening the entire battlefront hinged on Przemysl and Lemberg, forcing the Russians to defend both sided on longer and more perilous supply lines. Success would put the conquered fortresses into an untenable position, shorten the front by potentially hundreds of kilometres, and free up the four Bavarian corps for operations north, into East Prussia and Eastern Poland. If the Russians did not retreat, they could cut off entire armies in their pocket. As strategy, it was nothing short of brilliant. The kind of thing Schlieffen and Moltke had drawn up. The German armies were weeks away from what might turn out to be the greatest victory in military history, assuming the enemy cooperated.

There was that.

“So, what are you going to do with your black eagle, then, general?” he asked flippantly.

Falkenhayn shrugged. “Goltz will get it. Victory has too many fathers for anyone to remember the old man sitting behind a desk in Lichtenfelde. But maybe I can at least get away from playing with toys.”

09 March 1907, Bialystok

The tiniest green buds on the hazel hedge intimated the promise of spring, warmth and sunshine, of dry earth and green grass. General Alexey Brusilov gently stroked the soft, yielding knots on the branches still grey with winter's touch. In the olden days, long before there had been a Czar or even a Russia, the women of his people had welcomed the return of life by adorning themselves with flowers, dancing in the strengthening sunlight and giving sacrifice to the land. With the sun would come fertility, rebirth, the grain that would feed them over the next long winter. This year, spring would bring battle and death.

Abruptly, the general turned and looked over the broad expanse of the castle yard, now filled to capacity with men exercising their close-order drill. In a few weeks, many of them would be dead. How many, or who, was not his to know. His was to ensure that they did not die in vain, and that he would do. After long negotiations, eternal petitioning and futile attempts to pull strings, the aid and confidence of Grand Prince Nikolai had finally placed him in a command that would allow him to make a real difference. All through the long winter at Gatchina and Moscow, he had felt himself confined, chained to his desk, a pointless oracle to gilded staff peacocks. The orders to repair to Bialystok had come as a liberation. The mission, all the more, was of supreme importance. He had hammered out the strategy in snowbound Moscow with Nikolai and his staff. Now, the time to prove his insight and skill was at hand.

The situation, to him, was crystal clear: The Germans had taken Ivangorod. The only reason they would have expended so much manpower and ammunition to that end was to use it as a springboard against the East Prussian front's hinterland. Grodno and Kovno would now lie open to their attack, a vicious sickle cut that would render the entire southern salient untenable and force the army to evacuate not only Prussia, but even large parts of Lithuania. He had warned tirelessly against this chink in the iron armour of their battlefront and finally, had been listened to. Through January and February, in freezing snow and mud, they had marched regiment after regiment, dragging guns and panye wagons along near-impassable roads, to build up their defensive position. Bialystok might not have been built a fortress, but it had teeth now. Hundreds of thousands of teeth, spread out over a deep network of trenches and outposts waiting for the Germans to crash into them, tangle their advancing spearheads in their labyrinth and break apart into a series of painful, bloody battles. This would be the decisive moment of the spring offensive and might well be the hinge on which the war turned. With the attack blunted and their freshly trained volunteer troops bloodied and demoralised, how would the Germans stand up to the thrust that was to take them from the north, when Grand Duke Mikhail's army moved to the reconquest of Königsberg? Brusilov feared they might acquit themselves all too well, but that was beyond his power to influence. What he needed to do was make it possible for that attack to take place at all, and to that end, he needed to hold Bialystok.

The troops now marching across the narrow bridge filled him with confidence. They were Siberians, battle-hardened against the Japanese and ready to stare down whatever fate would throw at them. Oh, they did not look as pretty as the Preobrazhenskoye or march as smartly as the Patriotic Union. But they fought. He would never know how much it had cost the grand prince to get him this many of these veterans – some of whom recalled him from service at the other end of the Empire – but he understood Moscow well enough to realise the immense debt of gratitude he owed his commander and protector. Fortress artillery and field guns, machine guns and rifles, even the newfangled flame projectors and heavy mortar tubes now coming out of the factories, no matter what it was, they had it. The men were training daily, drilling, marching, practising, readying themselves mentally and physically for the clash with the fearsome German. Brusilov had studied the tactics of his opponent, especially the darling of the English newspapers, Mackensen. A daring commander, no doubt he would seek to exploit the opportunity he had been given. His salient on the Bug river would be the jumping-off point. Like a fellow cavalryman, he would be thinking in terms of space, surprise and speed. Brusilov would need to counter with tenacity, adaptability and strategic depth. This could, in many ways, be the battle of the quintessentially German and the quintessentially Russian, the hard, fast, quickly spent blow against the slow, deliberate, irresistible force. The papers would no doubt love it.

His mind wandering, Brusilov considered the problem of counteroffensive. Would it be possible? He hoped it would. Mackensen's blow would fall somewhere, in unknown force – they still had not figured out the numbers of his army. Once it had ground to a halt, the Russians would need to break his front and push forward in their turn. How? They could not hope to concentrate enough force from their defensive stance. A series of probing attacks, reinforced as they succeeded, sounded like the best solution. Fast, hard and unpredictable. The Germans had a nasty way of getting inside your defensive reach, taking their next step before you could figure out how to counter their last. But if you did not know what you would be doing a week from now, if you rolled with the tide of battle, your army a creature of a hundred heads and independent minds united by purpose alone – then they could not do that.

All of this would be easier if only he had some way of knowing how many troops Mackensen would deploy. The few reports from the salient indicated the Germans were hiding them well. Unites were converging on Ivangorod, but few were visibly headed up the Bug. Soon enough, they would know, but Brusilov hoped it would not be too late for too many of his men.

11 March 1907, Breslau

Colonel Saalfeldt had always expected that his duties would take him to unpleasant places. He had steeled his resolve throughout his career, determined to face enemy fire, disease and privation. The thought of finding himself face to face, indeed making common cause, with moral degenerates, though, had never before featured largely in his imagination. And yet here he was, trying his best to stay businesslike and calm as he shook the hand of this Dr Neisser – at least he was a medical man of sorts, though the whiff of scandal was strong enough to ensure he would never be ennobled or invited to court – and at least smile at that harridan he had brought. A Social Democrat, a Jew, a shameless woman, it was enough to make your stomach turn. Had it not been for the fact that these were the people who had the best understanding of prevention of venereal disease – surely, no proper officer would have dignified them with as much as a nod. The things you faced for the fatherland!

“Thank you for coming, Dr Neisser”, the colonel said, “And you, Mrs Fürth. I appreciate your cooperation. Nonetheless, please understand that this has been brought on by the exigencies of war and cannot mean that I or the government condone your usual activities.”

Henriette Fürth smiled thinly. “I assure you, colonel,” she replied acidly, “that the sentiment is entirely mutual.”

The officer was visibly taken aback. Neisser chuckled. That was a common reaction to his fellow activist on the part of conservative men.

“Madam, how...” He got no further.

“Colonel, I should leave you under no illusion that I approve of anything you do. I know what you think of me and my activities, and in truth I think little more of your profession of human butchery and oppression. You may get your medals for slaying men while I went to prison for trying to save women, and yet you think yourself so much above me. But now your precious soldiers are coming down with venereal disease before they get to do your killing work, you need our expertise. Very well, you shall have it. But not my approval. I am sure we can work on this basis, can we not?”

The doctor's muted laughter accompanied Saalfeldt's sputtering struggle to reply. “I hope you do not mid, colonel. Mrs Fürth is rather aggressive, but she does have a point. Now, as regards our assistance in education for the troops, the German Society for the Prevention of Venereal Disease is at your disposal. As we have discussed, there are extant brochures that can be distributed as they are to military medical staff and common soldiers, or rewritten for field purposes.”

He handed over a thin booklet printed on cheap paper. “Der Schutz der Familie” the title read. “Medical and moral considerations for a healthy family life.” Colonel Saalfeldt shuddered. He had read the filth before. It was a wonder that – woman could bear to look at it without blushing. But them, she had written it! He was not sure it was fit for giving to soldiers, let alone the nubile maidens and young wives it was designed for. But circumstances required quick action.

“I believe this will take rewriting,” he said, “for use by the military. But until then, we will use the material you have. Your pictorial material seems especially suitable.”

Mrs Fürth smiled sweetly. “Thank you colonel. I will be glad to hold speeches in front of the troops as may be required. But I would also ask you not to entirely neglect the education of the female sex.”

“The female sex, Mrs Fürth?” the colonel snapped. “We have no women soldiers.”

“No, Sir., But there are a large number of women factory workers and volunteers, many of whom are inspired by patriotic sentiment and liable to grant a departing soldier more wishes than they would in time of peace.” Henriette Fürth scowled. “Will you risk leaving them ignorant and infectious to satisfy your idea of propriety, colonel?”

“That is beyond my purview.” Saalfeldt replied curtly, taking refuge in the oldest of bureaucratic bastions. “You will have to take it up with the War Economy Committee.”

The glance that Mrs Fürth shot him left no doubt that she would. Dr Neisser leaned forward.

“Well, then. Now that we have solved this matter, there is another consideration. I have been forwarded a new design pf prophylactic developed by one Julius Fromm, a Berlin chemist. I believe it to be far superior in all respects to anything I have previously seen.” He fumbled in his pocket to produce a packet of rolled-up rubber sheaths in foil envelopes. “Of course, there would be the matter of mass production if the army decided to purchase them.”

The colonel almost recoiled. “What is the cost?” he enquired. “And how much better are they?”

“Almost complete safety at very little loss of sensitivity.” Neisser stated authoritatively. “Introducing them universally in military brothels” - another pained expression crossed the colonel's face - “could reduce venereal disease transmission to negligible figures. That is, of course, assuming the men could be persuaded to use them. Currently, the price of a packet of three prophylactics would come to 53 pfennige, but I am certain that this could be reduced if mass production were adopted and supply properly organised. The process is patented, but the manufacturer would make it available to the army at no charge.”

Even perverts, then, had a sense of patriotism. Saalfeldt wondered if that Fromm fellow would get some kind of medal for his sacrifice. The way the world was going, he would not be surprised.

13 March 1907, Langensalza Camp

Frederic Bonvoisin had not had high expectations of German institutional cuisine. Geneva might have been remote from the heartlands of French culinary culture, but it was French enough to imbue a man with an appreciation of good eating. What he had set in front of him now made him doubt not so much its wholesomeness as its fundamental nature as food, in the broadest definition of the term. There was, he felt compelled to admit, meat in it, greyish, fibrous lumps and pieces of gristle and sinew boiled to the slippery, yielding consistency of rotting fruit. Beyond this, the slimy, soupy liquid was a mystery to him.

“What in heaven's name is this?” he exclaimed, more harshly than he had intended.

“Rations, Mr Bonvoisin.” Major Holtke answered curtly. Bonvoisin had come to loathe the man. Fat, heavy-jowled and short-tempered, he seemed to resent the very presence of Red Cross staff in his camp, taking even the mildest criticism as a personal insult. “The prisoners in the camp receive the same rations as rear-echelon troops performing light labour. There is bread, half a loaf per man, and potatoes, meat, vegetables, you see, onions, cabbage and turnips, legumes, here are the peas, fat and oats, these at their own request. Cooked to be safe and easy to eat.”

“In the same pot?” Bonvoisin picked up the bread loaf again. It was dense, heavy and sticky, but did not seem particularly repulsive. People outside the camp ate this kind of bread. He had – regretfully – done so himself at restaurants and hotels on his journey through Germany. “You do contract out for the bread, though, right?”

“Well, yes. We don't have ovens in the camp, so we have to purchase the bread from local bakeries. But we have an otherwise fully equipped kitchen.”

The inspector had feared as much. “Staffed by German guards?”

“Of course.” Holtker puffed. “We could hardly trust the prisoners with knives and cleavers!”

Bonvoision refrained from pointing out that trusting the same men with axes, picks, sledgehammers and saws seemed to bother nobody. He took a moment's pause to regain his composure by jotting down notes in his book, snapped it shut and rose to his feet. There was clearly no call to actually taste the vile slop the camp commander had doled out to his charges.

“Major, I am afraid I will have to make serious representations about the management of your camp to the Committee.” he said.

“Sir, we did point out the difficulties of our situation.” That was Doctor Siebold, the camp physician. He was more apologetic that confrontational, but hardly more pleasant than Holtke. “Obtaining supplies the army can use in the middle of a long war....”

“Doctor, I am sure you have, and I have made full allowance for it. But even if you cannot provide the men with mattresses and cushions, where is the difficulty in supplying them with straw to make paliasses and shoes?” The lack of proper footwear had shocked him especially. Some of the men shared a pair of straw shoes or wooden clogs among five or six. German soldiers were infamous for their habit of stealing boots. “Now, assuming you are willing to make improvements, I would suggest first of all to allow the prisoners themselves to supply their foods and allow them materials to produce such things as cannot be provided for them. I am aware that there are things you cannot help.”

He gestured over the hastily erected lines of barracks, paint already peeling away from the few places where it had been applied and gaps opening in the walls and roofs put together from inadequately seasoned lumber.

“But you need to make greater efforts to address the issues you can. I shudder to think what fate would awaits your charges if large numbers were to be added at one time.”

Major Holtke nodded, with visible hesitation. His grunt of farewell might be interpreted as a polite gesture if you read the slurred syllables benevolently. Doktor Siebold, by contrast, looked worried. Bonvoisin hoped it had helped a little. If the camp really were to receive large contingents of new prisoners, the death toll in disease could well be horrible.

17 March 1907, Mbaha, Ostafrika

...It is a rousing sight, watching the native troops ford the Wami river in full flood. Of course Solf the old Fabius kept nattering at me that only a madman would risk troop movements during the long rains. But every great soldier must have a bit of a madman in him, a fact that too many civilians fail to be alive to. We have made ample use of the preparation time the hesitancy of the enemy has given us, and waiting for the dry season in the safety of Kilimatinde would be criminally stupid. And now I know what manner of men it is I command. The rains and the mud have taken the measure of my troops, and I am well content.

No man who has trained for the mannered ballet of a European war can fully fathom what it is like in its raw state. In the old days, our ancestors captured something of its exhilaration, its fierce power and rejuvenating spirit in the songs that landsknechts went into battle with. I rarely though much of then on garrison duty, but now I begin to fathom their meaning. My men are in all regards landsknechts, as were my great-grandfathers, and they, too, sing with their hearts on their lips and their swords in their hands. It is impossible for a man's heart to be unmoved by the voices that drift up to the grey skies at night, or the chants that accompany them on their interminable roads down to Daressalaam. For all the rugaruga may lack in soldiery, they are fighters, and that, ultimately, is what turns a battle. You need but few brains to lead a great many bodies. Tonight, as I passed by the sentries on my way to my tent, I saw such men stand in the rains, a young Masai warrior and a grizzled Askari sergeant,. One in the fine khakis and tall cap, the other wrapped in his native blanket and cowskin cloak, his rifle studded with silver pins and his assegai shining brightly. Any man in my old regiment would have been griping or bellyaching, but these two, they were smiling. My interpreter told me later they were talking of what they would do with the money they expected to take off dead Russians. That is the quality of men that Frundsberg took across the Alps to Pavia and Rome. They are prickly of their honour and light with their fingers, and woe betide the fool civilian who gainsays their will, but for all that, they will conquer all hell if a man were found to lead them who feared not Lucifer. I shall be that man, providence willing.

That, my dear friend, is ultimately why I chose to leave the majority of our white volunteers with Johannes and Solf. They are good men, no doubt, after the manner of the landsturm, stout of heart and dutiful. They will do Solf a power of good as he defends the railway line. But for the kind of work I am contemplating, you need a different calibre of warrior. As we at home draft the 20-year-old youth, when they still feel the heat of their blood and know in their hearts they are invincible and deathless, so have I in effect called a ver sacrum among the black youth of this country and assembled under my banner all the young men who will more happily carry a gun for a merry season than a hoe for forty cheerless years. And I shall give them good cheer when we storm into Daressalaam, however the Russians may think to stop us. I do not deny that the land is made to suffer for their spiritedness. The askari are champion plunderers, organised and systematic, they can pick a village clean in ten minutes. What they do not take, the rugaruga will, often burdening the impressed porters with it until our next camp. But for all that, I could not trust my life or my victory to the shrinking violets that a harsher school of discipline makes of the black man. This is what they are, and what they are is glorious. The old poets spoke of this when they wrote “Im Land herrscht König Tod”. Very well, then: guard thyself, Russian, the landsknecht cometh! And Heia Safari to the shore!

(Letter by General Ludendorff to General Mackensen)

19 March 1907, Markuszov, on the road to Lublin

It is impossible to describe to the reader who has not seen it unfold with his own eyes the scale upon which the Germans make war. Even those who have witnessed the battles of the recent Russo-Japanese War in their full scope are liable to fail to grasp the full extent of the developments. Your correspondent today is seated beside a road in Poland which he is obliged not to disclose for reasons of secrecy, in the morning mist rising from the muddy soil, watching the entire horizon as far as the eye can see erupt in a semicircle of fire reflected garishly on the low clouds. The thunder of distant artillery merges into the sound of wind, rustling leaves and tramping boots to form an ever-present drone that, while intolerable to the untutored ear, becomes nigh-unnoticeable to the men exposed to it for even a few days. We know not, of course, nor have any way of ascertaining how many guns the German army has deployed on this front, but it is abundantly clear that it is a number beyond anything that has been seen in the history of warfare. There must be many hundred batteries alike to that observed earlier today, with heavy field guns manned by the stolid, bearded artillerymen the German army seems to produce in unlimited number.

Equally unimaginable to the gentle reader accustomed to the historical scope of battlefields confined by the marching range of infantry corps is the range over which the battle is being fought today, a theatre of operations unfolding over distances that no one man can oversee or control. It is testament to the remarkable skill and capacity for planning on the part of the German officer corps that such operations should prove able to be conducted at all, let alone with such success as they evidently are, For the third day now, German columns have been marching south and east, towards the great Russian garrison city of Lublin and onwards to the relief of the Austrian forces engaged hotly in the Carpathian mountains. This morning still, the unnumbered lines of dust-blue warriors are trudging towards the arc of fire that lights up the low-hanging clouds. And most remarkably, perhaps, was the encounter yesterday of your correspondent with a brigade of black-coated fighting men with the armbands of the Polish National Army and the beards and forelocks familiar in men of the Mosaic race. These were the very men of international renown, the fighters of the Jewish Brigade who, as they volubly attested to yours truly, will from this day on nevermore bear the ignominy of tyranny and prejudice, and resolve to do battle and die as men ere they would live as slaves. This morning, a large body of Russian prisoners was marched past towards the west, perhaps – it proved impossible to ascertain – the fruit of this resolution already.

(New York World)

21 March 1907, Berlin, Gewerbeamt

“Well, if you are looking for dragons to slay, this should be right up your alley.” Commissioner Dorn looked his young colleague in the eye across the desk and smiled sourly. “But I assure you that nobody will thank you.”

Referendar Scheibert adjusted his glasses and returned the gaze. He was not going to be intimidated. Junior he might be, but he had an education, not to mention a cause. “It's disgusting, I will stand by that. Our soldiers at the battlefront go hungry so often, and the workers that supply them save the smallest amounts of their meagre pay to purchase bonds or donate to the Kriegerhilfe, and these profiteers and idle rich gorge on finest delicacies in full public view! It must be put a stop to.”

Dorn nodded sagely. He knew how such things went, in the universe of Prussian officialdom. “Write a memorandum.” he suggested. “You are good with words. Someone who can make these decisions might read it.”

The referendar shook his head irritably. “This is not some trivial administrative issue. The fatherland is at stake! How can we expect the families of our warriors to bear such hardship uncomplainingly if we allow fat bellies to consume a month's pay in an evening of unconscionable luxury?” He tapped his cane on the floor to punctuate his sentences. Dorn breathed in slowly. He shared his colleague's indignation, if not his intensity, and felt a measure of admiration for it. Fatherland and sacrifice weren't empty words here: Crippled by a stiff knee from childhood on, Scheibert had poured his heart into serving the state as a civilian. The meagre resources of his family had seen him through a university education in perpetual penury, achieving the highest honours, yet still being passed over for more prestigious appointments in favour of reserve officers and noblemen. Two of his brothers were in the army, his father reactivated on commissariat duty, and Dorn knew that a significant part of his meagre salary went towards the cadet school fees of his youngest brother, much of the rest for war bonds. There was no official more conscientious or more versed in the technicalities of the law than him in Dorn's department – even the Syndikus sometimes asked him for advice on knotty questions, though he was careful to frame it as a test of his knowledge.

“These things don't happen overnight, Scheibert.” Dorn pointed out mildly. “And you need to watch out on whose toes you step. You're not a lifetimer yet.”

“Still, this needs attention.” The referendar leaned forward. “Have you been to the Kempinski lately?”

“On a civil service salary?” It was Dorn's turn to adjust his spectacles. “How do you get in? Oh, no, let me guess: The Jewish girl?”

Scheibert bristled, but the shade of a blush passed over his pale, youthful face. “Sarah is a Lutheran. Her whole family are Christians.”

“And have been for all of six years if I remember correctly.” Dorn smiled, but his eyes were serious. “Damn, Scheibert, you really need to think about whose toes you're stepping on. Do you want to sabotage your career? You'll end up like me.”

“Times are changing, Mr Dorn. Rathenau has even become a minister, and he is a practicing Jew.”

“Rathenau is the emperor's personal friend and has more money than God, man. You're neither. Marrying a Jewess is a good way of staying a lowly scribe all your life, and I don't care how much money her parents have.” Dorn fiddled with his pen as a moment of silence lengthened awkwardly. “You're really going to do this?”

“Yes.” The young man looked defiant now. “I've asked her father. We're getting married as soon as I have my lifetime appointment.”

Dorn shook his head softly. That boy really had grit. It wasn't like Sarah's family had considered him a good catch. Maybe... “Anyways, if you are serious about this, you'll have to get into the details. Everybody can be outraged. Ministers especially. Get into the fine points of rationing fraud. Suggest concrete measures. That gives you a chance of being heard.”

“Why can't we simply ban the import of unnecessary luxuries? German farmers aren't allowed to produce veal or goose liver any more.” Scheibert scratched his nose absent-mindedly. “And we're paying heavy gold for French fripperies. Surely that's a matter for customs.”

“Well, not really.” For all his book learning, Referendar Scheibert could be a bit obtuse when it came to real-life questions. “The treaty with France stipulates no changes to trade relations while the border is demilitarised. Exporters in Paris are making a mint.”

“But that must undercut the limitations on all other imports. What is to stop them from selling us English and Italian goods?” Scheibert was aghast.

“Nothing.” his colleague pointed out with grim humour. “It's what they're doing. English fashion, fine Indian teas, Italian wines, port and sherry, Belgian chocolate, Swiss watches, all courtesy of the Erbfeind. But you should also look into unrationed and off-card goods. Did you know cassonade does not count towards your sugar ration?”

“It doesn't?” Scheibert blinked. He had hardly thought about such details before. Surely sugar was sugar?

“Nope. At the Adlon, they are using it in all their cakes and compotes, so they don't need to charge ration points. And they're refining it in their kitchen, too, which kind of defeats the point I should think. The Hotel Bristol does it differently: they've registered their waiters as independent business operations – every head waiter operating his crew. That gives them extra to use for white flour, sugar and cream. The waiters sell them their extra supplies.”

“That's – criminal!” Scheibert felt guilty. He had handed over his ration book when they had been served the cake, but he had never thought to check what had been taken off. The memory of the exquisite ratafia sponge to celebrate his engagement turned bitter. “Mr. Dorn, I'll need your help with this. You are well versed in such questions, obviously.”

The older man nodded. “But no nonsense putting my name on the memorandum. I like my job here, I'm not going back to the arse end of Silesia for you.”
23 March 1907, Moscow

The hushed silence of scurrying servants and stunned courtiers was broken by the click and jingle of cavalry boots on the polished parquet floor: Grand Prince Nikolai had arrived. Relief washed over Count Fredrikhs as he heard the familiar voice of the only man who could, at times like these, touch the Czar.

“Where is he?”, the grand prince asked without bothering with preliminaries.

“In his apartments, Your Highness.” the minister of the court replied with a quick, elegant bow. “Ever since he heard the news, His Majesty has withdrawn. The Empress Alexandra and Dr Dubrovin are with him.”

Nikolai snorted. Dubrovin! That damned poisoner of words, that carrion-crow of a court parasite latching onto the vulnerabilities of his cousin! How like him it was to be with the Czar in such an hour, to offer his support, ingratiate himself, make himself indispensable. Alexandra would hardly help, either. As far as the grand prince was concerned, the woman was religiously mad. Her conversion to orthodoxy had been ridiculously complete. She had been devoted to Prokurator Pobedonostsev, if anything, even more than her husband, and the news of his death, though hardly unexpected, must have hit her very badly.

“He has ordered a state funeral.” Fredrikhs spoke again. “Three days from now, with full honours and the guards cavalry in attendance. I'm not sure...”

Nikolai did not envy the poor man his duties. Most of the guards cavalry was in East Prussia – the parts of it that still existed, anyway. The garrison in Moscow was sizeable, but not enough for the pomp and circumstance that Nicholas had to be envisioning. Of course Count Fredrikhs wouldn't be telling him that – that happy lot would fall to a senior cavalry officer, and guess who had just happened to walk in? Sometimes, a front command looked downright inviting by comparison to the snake pit the Kremlin was becoming.

The tap nof crutches down the hall signalled the arrival of Grand Prince Sergei, accompanied by two bodyguards. You hardly ever saw him without his twin cossacks, one at each side. Their main function was to prevent him from falling if he tripped up or his legs betrayed him, something that happened increasingly often and elicited outbursts of irrational anger. Nikolai occasionally wondered if Sergei resented him for being whole and athletic. The attack could have struck him just as easily, after all.

“Nikolai.”, he exclaimed. “You've heard, too, no doubt.”

News of Pobedonostsev's death had travelled fast. The court was buzzing with speculation about his successor already, both in the position of Procurator of the Holy Synod and in the Czar's favour.

“I came to see Nicholas.” the grand prince explained himself,. More defensively than he had intended. “The news must have come as a blow.”

The two met, stiffly, at the door of the imperial apartments, plumed guards standing to attention as they passed. Nikolai turned the handle and found it locked. He called out for a servant to open it. The wait lengthened embarrassingly as the soldiers stared fixedly forward. Footsteps behind the door announced someone's arrival.

“His Majesty is seeing nobody.” the voice behind the door announced. “He is in mourning and praying for the soul of his most trusted advisor.”

Sergei looked up in astonishment. “Dubrovin!” he mouthed silently. Nikolai nodded. “This is Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolaevich come to see the Emperor!” he called out at the door, with little hope of getting a response. Imperial authority and all, but this was ridiculous.

“I am sorry, Your Highness,” the answer came, “but the Czar's wishes are clear. He will not be seeing anyone at this time,. I will convey your condolences.”

“Condolences, my ass.” Sergei burst out in a hissing whisper. “He's hiding.” His face was flushed with anger, his knuckles white gripping the carven ivory handles of his crutches.

“I know.” Nikolai shrugged. “And there really isn't anything we can do about it. I'm sure he will see us later.” He hesitated. It had been over a year since he had exchanged more than a few words with Sergei. Maybe this was the opportunity to try and heal their rift? Or at least to clear up where they stood. He cleared his throat.

“Don't you have apartments in this wing?” he asked. “It would be convenient if we could wait there.”

Grand Prince Sergei paused and nodded. “Come along.”, he said. “I'll order us tea. There are a few things I've been meaning to discuss with you.”

24 March 1907, Lodz

“So, you intend to be our Hearst, then?” General Ferber asked the bespectacled young man seated across his desk. He had learned a long time ago not to rely too much on first appearances, but in this case it was almost ridiculously difficult not to.

“Not a Hearst.” Moisei Uritski said. “Maybe your Ullstein. Or maybe more your Hugenberg. I propose you help and coordinate the efforts of Jewish papers, and they can certainly use the help.”

“As, no doubt, can you.” Ferber retorted, pointing at the threadbare coat and scuffed shoes of his petitioner. “You are asking a lot of money for this, and I'm not sure I can give it to you.”

“Not that much. You can probably get it from donors, anyway, you won't need to take it out of your military funds.” Uritski took his glasses off and began polishing the lenses. “Most editors don't ask for much. A few stories from the international press, translated into Yiddish, enough to eat, a few pennies for their reporters. And it will give you a great advantage. Can you imagine what a united Jewish press would have meant during the Garski trial?”

Ferber scratched his chin. That much was true. Poland was still a pretty inchoate place, and most of the time even people who read the foreign press – a luxury at the best of time – had almost no idea what was going on over the next hill. The Army Council sent out communiques, but he knew well enough how those were produced now. A real press – that would be worth having. And the German donors were generous enough.

“I will talk to Rabbi Landauer.” he said., “No promises. But I do think your idea has merit. Draw me up a plan of what you want to do in the next few months, will you?”

Uritski smiled. “No problem, general. You can have it on your desk tomorrow. In the meantime – any chance of getting quarters?”

Ferber hesitated. Living space did not grow on trees in war-scarred Lodz. On the other hand, Uritski did make sense. “All right.” he said, ringing the bell on his desk. An orderly entered the room. “Sergeant, find Mr Uritski a bed somewhere. A room, if you can. He may be staying for some time.”

25 March 1907, Lindi

Lindi harbour

“The health benefits alone will be tremendous.”. Lieutenant Chekov pointed out. “A lot of the men don't react well to tshombe beer. And I have to say, neither do I.”

The officers seated around the table nodded, shuddering at the thought of the rank, sickly-sweet stuff they drank by filtering it through clenched teeth. The consignment of potato spitit that had been intercepted on a dhow coming down the coast was a godsend, and being denominated German, it didn't even need paying for.

“I'm certain the men will appreciate the rations. It's not proper vodka, but certainly better than tshombe.” Lieutenant Commander Frelikh agreed. “And we have how much of the stuff?”

“Twenty tons, give or take.” Chekov reported. ”Some is bottled, but most is in casks. It's all German-made, Woermann goods. We intercepted it on a ship from Zanzibar – the first nigger-crewed keel I've ever seen with proper cargo documents. I guess the Germans will teach a monkey proper paperwork given enough time.”

Frelikh smiled. “We may want to inform Admiral Witgeft of the haul.” he pointed out. “The rest of the fleet is no doubt also interested in getting a proper issue.” He did a quick calculation. A 50-gramme ration for ten thousand men would come to half a ton – poor prospects for thirsty sailors if their catch would be gone in less than a month. “But not immediately.”, he added. “Issue 100 grammes per man today. I hope the stuff is good.”

Chekov nodded. “It's damned good. Labelled 35% by volume, proper.”

“That's pretty weak.” Frelikh ordered “150 grammes then.” He picked up the glass on the table and sipped. It was not bad, if you made allowances for the fact that it was export rotgut intended for sale to savages. Kicked like a mule, too. Lieutenant Commander Frelikh wondered idly how honest Russian manufacturers were with their alcohol contents. 35% vodka certainly did not feel like this at home.

The officers filed out of the low-ceilinged harbourmaster's office. Frelikh waved to his boat crew to take him back to his command. The destroyer Boikiy might be cramped and already unbearably hot, but it was still preferable to the sticky mists on the shore. He would have the sunscreens doused in seawater. Cheering from the improvised barracks told him that word had spread.

“You can tell the men, Bugaiev,” he instructed his coxswain in passing, “there'll be a proper vodka ration today. You can thank the patrol pinnace.”

26 March 1907, Lindi

By the roadway outside the town

“Still nothing?” Major Johannes trained his field glasses on the Russian fieldworks, a guardpost on the dusty road leading away into the woods that now concealed his advance guard.

“Nothing.” Sergeant Abderrahman confirmed. “A few lights, but no activity. They haven't noticed.” The white teeth of his feral smile gleamed in the night.

“All right. We begin attacking on the prearranged signal. Keep the damned rugaruga under control until then!” The major checked his watch for the umpteenth time, wishing there was a way to tell the time that did not involve pulling it from his breast pocket and dangling it in front of a hooded lantern. Everybody should be in place by now. Patience. And pray nobody pulled anything stupid. Ten minutes – he would allow Abderrahman that much to get back to his command. Pacing, he checked again that No 1 machine gun was as ready as it had been fifteen minutes ago. One of the farmers looked up and attempted a salute, his enormous rifle sticking up into the air at a ridiculous angle. He put the major in mind of the huntsman from the Struwwelpeter stories.

“Time.” A quick gesture to his German NCO, and the lantern was quickly unhooded for a rapid succession of blinking signals. Still nothing. Right now, out there, rugaruga would be creeping through the brush, closing in on the guardpost. Minutes crept by with agonising slowness.

Guardpost on the coastal road

Sergeant Garyshkin was not an unreasonable martinet. He certainly was not going to begrudge his men their recreation. But what he found inside the machine gun emplacement was too much. His boot connected harshly with the leg of a sleeping soldier.

“Get the fuck up, you idiot!” he shouted. “What do you think you are doing?”

Two riflemen, stripped to their undershirts, were seated at a table playing cards. Neither of them were placed to overlook the road. “Fucking get your guns, dammit!”

Grumbling, they obeyed, their movements slow and awkward. It had to be the vodka. They weren't used to it any more. Garyshkin could feel the lightness in his own head.

“Remember what happened at Kilimatinde? Damn you, there could be some nigger warrior sitting out right there in the bush waiting to cut your fucking dicks off! What'll you do then?”

The sergeant unhooked a kerosene lamp and pointed outside to illustrate his claim – and froze face to face with a Wayao warrior. The shock paralysed both for an instant, but military-honed reflexes won out. Garyshkin's rifle barked as the rugaruga was still raising his. The man fell, a gaping hole in his chest. “SHIT!”

The guards stared, open-mouthed. The sudden muzzle flash illuminated several more men rising from the grass or hunched along the road. Men with clubs, spears and rifles. The sergeant screamed at them to man the machine gun, frantically working the lever of his Nagant . Gunfire flashed in the dark, capturing almost photographic still frames of a shifting scene filled with more and more black bodies.

The machine gun sputtered to life, the assailants hitting the dirt. Garyshkin grunted – there was hope. Fumbling, he reloaded and fixed his bayonet. Things might well get ugly before enough reinforcements came up. He stared out into the gathering morning light, seeking out targets. A man with a shield, standing up. Bang! Gone. He trained left and right, trying to spot the next enemy. Another spearman, frighteningly close, firing a Mauser rifle with one hand. Bang! Missed – the man was cut down by a machine gun burst before the sergeant could fire again. Then, the forest's edge erupted in hundreds of points of light. It took Garyshkin a moment to realise he was looking at rifle fire. He never saw the war club that caught him from behind as the rugaruga swarmed the defenses, tangling with the riflemen now running up.

On board destroyer Boikiy

In the dark armpit of a tropical night, Lieutenant Commander Frelikh had on occasion dreamed nightmares like this. Dragged from his cot, eyes sticky and bleary from his fitful sleep, head throbbing with drink, he found himself taking the bridge in his shirt and underpants, trying to make sense of the chaos unfolding around him. Gunfire from the shore had roused the watch, and Ensign Chekov had taken the ship inshore to support the defenders once a messenger had brought the news of the German assault. The blast from the bow gun sounded ridiculously inadequate, but the shells still had sent men tumbling right and left when the enemy had reached the beach. At least they had hoped they were enemy troops.

Then, the boats started swarming. The gunners were still targeting the dark silhouettes of riflemen ducking behind windows and flat roofs peppering them with bullets when the first pirogues moved in on them. Frelikh had barely noticed them in time, screaming at the sailors to fire at them. He felt the engine come to life slowly – far too slowly – the steam gradually rising. Why had he ordered the fires banked!? The discomfort of the heat was nothing compared to the mortal danger he had placed everyone in. Rifles cracked, a machine gun chattered. Three sailors fell from the stern deck, Frelikh tried to spot the gun position on the shore. The customs house! He frantically pointed it out to the gun crew, two shells going wide, the third striking home. The roof fell in.

“How soon until we have full power?” he shouted down the speaking tubes. “Give me speed!”

He had to outrun the boats. Once the boat had power, he could run rings around them, ram them, plough them under. Sitting in the middle of the harbour picking them off one by one wouldn't work. They had to only get lucky once. Panicked screams and cries of agony showed him – too late – that they had been lucky. Enemy warriors had boarded Boikiy over the fantail, swarming out spearing and shooting sailors. Frelikh grabbed Chekov and pointed him there. The young man waved to a knot of sailors and moved forward to repel the enemy, a revolver in one hand, a wrench in the other. It looked like something out of the age of piracy. Fascinated by the spectacle astern, Frelikh briefly stood motionless. Men were screaming, stabbing, shooting and dying,. Sailors emerged from hatchways, gunning down attackers, and the boarders fired their rifles down every hatch and porthole they could find. It was a hopeless undertaking. The Russians' superior fire discipline and weight of numbers told, and the last of the African went overboard, clutching a deadly wound to his stomach. Frelikh took a close look at the jabbering, near-naked figures armed with spears, shields and old rifles. He resolved he would rather die than fall into the hands of these cannibals.

“How much longer till we have power?” he yelled. No answer. He looked back: black smoke was pouring from aft portholes. Something had caught fire in the fight! “Damage control!” he shouted, coughing. “Firefighters aft!” The gun crew was still firing, blindly now, he was almost sure. Bullets spanged off the ship's hull. The helmsman had slumped over the wheel, a jagged red hole open in his side. Frelikh levered the body away from the spokes, grasped the helm and yanked the handle of the engine order telegraph to full ahead. The screw still turned sluggishly, but she was answering the rudder. Head for the high seas. Get away from the shore. If she could just keep going for a few more minutes, they would be safe!

Lindi harbourmaster's office

Major Johannes' eyes, burning from cordite smoke and dust, still had light spots dancing in front of them as he tried to focus on the spot in the harbour where the Russian ship had been. Debris was bobbing on the roiling waters now, the bow of the ship quickly disappearing. The explosion was still echoing over the city, now a bacchanal of riotous looting and celebration.

“Why didn't they strike?” the major said to nobody in particular. The second Russian ship was now standing out to sea, waiting outside of gun range. A steam pinnace approached the port.

“Sir!” Lieutenant von Johns pointed out, “they are moving within range. We can hit them.”

Major Johannes, still trying to focus, raised his field glasses. “No.” he said curtly. “They are picking up survivors. Let them.”

Closer inshore, a handful of rugaruga had secured one of the few pirogues not capsized by the force of the blast and were paddling out, spears ready, to hunt Russian swimmers. Johannes retched.

“Sergeant Abderrahman!” he ordered.

“Sir?” The huge askari appeared at his side almost immediately.

“Take your men and kick the damned rugaruga back into shape. I won't have this kind of behaviour.”

Abderrahman saluted and trotted away, bellowing orders in Swahili. Major Johannes walked over to where Russian shells had pulverised the mud brick wall, killing two riflemen who had sheltered behind it. A bottle rolled in front of his feet, empty, the label saying “Kartoffelbranntwein, 35% vol”. He kicked it away. The props had served their purpose. He would need to remember to have the askari secure the cases, if they were still in one piece.

28 March 1907, Kronstadt

With too much labour and too little rations on short, cold days, many of the men on Kronstadt naval base regularly sought refuge in drink and the fleeting companionship that it provided. Novikov-Priboy rarely had, and since his return from German captivity, he had all but sworn off drink, hard though this often proved to be. Dialectical philosophy provided cold comfort in his tiny, draughty room, and he dared not write, let alone agitate, while he was on a shore posting than he had been on a ship. The Patriotic Union were thicker on the ground in positions where they did not get shot at. So instead, he sullenly trudged home through ill-lit streets in the grey, bent-backed throng of the day shift vacating the shipyard halls and offices. Shivering in the icy wind, the guards stood huddled by the gates as they rushed by, and it was by random chance that Novikov-Priboy caught a glimpse of the face of one of the loading workers. A shiver ran down his back, and quite against his habit, he followed the man and his companions into a cellar tavern, squeezing himself onto a creaking bench between the drinkers huddled together for warmth and comfort and they determinedly medicated their freezing, aching bodies and numbed minds with alcohol. His heart was beating furiously as he strategically maneuvered himself closer. Finally, he assembled his courage and nudged his neighbour's elbow. Their eyes met.

“Trotski?” he whispered.

The stare of a hunted animal met him. “Shhht.” the other hissed harshly, drained his glass and waved for another for himself and his newfound acquaintance. He muttered something about brothers in law and enquired about the health of Novikov's uncle, finally staggering to his feet and steering him outside the door. Safely in the melting sludge and mud of an alley, he grasped him by the shoulder and whispered urgently:

“Are you insane? You can't use that name. Anybody could be listening!”

Novikov was crestfallen. So much for the conspiratorial skills of the party's combat wing. Blabbing out like a damned schoolboy...

“I'm sorry. I just … I'd never have been able to find you again.”

“Have you considered that could be the fucking point?! Found is the last thing I want to be.” Trotski's wiry frame shivered involuntarily at the thought of what would await him. Most of the revolutionaries had spent time in St Peter and Paul or the barracks, even years in Siberia. But that had been before the war. Things had changed. Not a lot of people that the police took away came back these days, and you couldn't trust the ones that did.

“All right.” he then relented. “If you have a place we can go to unobserved, we can talk. But after that, you don't know me.”

Novikov-Prioboy led his friend to the backyard house where he had been assigned a third-floor room as petty officers' quarters. The government did not have enough room in the barracks, especially now that so many sailors were ashore fitting out the new torpedo boats and submersibles that the Admiralty hoped to use defending the Gulf against the German fleet. If you were one of the unlucky ones, it meant long walks and cold nights in poorly heated rooms. Of course, if you were a subversive conspirator, it was better than the alternative. As they climbed the narrow stairs, Trotski asked anxiously:

“Alexei, what if the landlady spots us?”

“A navy petty officer taking a pretty young worker home for the night? What do you think she'll think?” Novikov retorted. He unlocked the door, struck a match to light the kerosene lamp by the table and began struggling to light a fire in the iron stove.

“I shouldn't be bothering.” he muttered apologetically. “The room doesn't heat up properly until the morning hours.”

Trotski shrugged. “You're living pretty well compared.” he pointed out, sitting down at the narrow table.

With the remnants of today's Russkaya Pravda coming alight, Novikov joined his friend , and they talked. It was, to the surprise of both, an immense relief, as though they had reached a cool spring in the desert. Party cell structure and secrecy were second nature to the few survivors of the revolution these days, but neither had quite realised how badly they missed the conversations to be had with intelligent, like-minded people. Trotski recalled a joke that some combat wing party members gave themselves up just so they could talk to their interrogators. Maybe not entirely a joke.

“So, from your observations in captivity, you would say the Germans are taking an opposite approach to what Russia is doing?” Trotski said. It was not really a question. “The Czarist government has attempted to head off the proletarian revolution by aligning itself with the peasants whose underdeveloped class consciousness makes them vulnerable to legitimist propaganda. I suppose that makes sense. But the Kaiser...”

“Wait, the Czar making common cause with the peasants? How do you figure that?” Novikov-Priboy was genuinely confused.

“Open your eyes, Alexey.” The younger man snorted angrily. “Look at the prices in the markets. Look at the way the Patriotic Union courts the newcomer workers. They have country boys with cowshit between their toes giving orders to machinists with twelve years' work experience because they are 'of good character'. If you take someone who has only known blows and disdain his whole life and tell him he is the salt of the earth, that the fate of the nation rests on his shoulders, then he will follow you to the gates of hell. I would never have figured the regime was that smart, but they did it. They're paying village families a stipend for absent conscripts – no such luck for factory workers, of course – and allow the villages to squeeze the cities on the market. Or did you think that was just inflation?”

Novikov shook his head. “I noticed the prices. Of course I'm still doing all right.” As a petty officer, his pay was acceptable, and he was fed and quartered at the navy's expense. The civilian workers in the shipyards grumbled a lot about rents, prices and the need for silver. “The government pays its requisitions in paper, no recourse there,” he said, “but if you want something at the market, you'd better have real coin. I guess the government could do something about that if they wanted to, you're right.”

“See, that's how the peasantry gets its little reward for holding up the massive privileges of the ruling class.” Trotski shook his head. “I wish I could do something about it. I'd write an article, a book, the Condition of the Working Classes in Wartime Russia. But I can't even risk owning so much as a notebook.”

“We need to get you out.”

The abrupt change of subject caught Trotski by surprise. “Out? I'm safest in Petersburg. Nobody looks for a specific man among tens of thousands of munitions workers.”

Novikov shook his head. “No, I mean out of Russia. You have to go into exile, write, tell the world what is happening. Nobody understands the Integralists like you do.”

Trotski weighed the idea. “Too risky.” he said. “You can't have anything to do with it, either. You're quarantined, remember? I shouldn't even have gone with you.”

The sailor nodded gravely. “Sorry about that. But think about it. Really, think of going. You can do much more abroad than you can here.”

29 March 1907, Lublin

Scalding, watery tea, tasteless soup and stringy meat – how Lieutenant Shternmiler missed them! The thought had never crossed his mind that there was anything about the lifestyle he had enjoyed over the winter would be worth waxing nostalgic about, but the increasingly distant memory of regular warm meals and sleeping in beds painted his recollections in rosier tints with every passing hour. Not to mention – he noticed an orderly dropping a stack of files by the gate and sidling out – people used to do as they were told.

“You there! Soldier! Stop!” he shouted, stepping over to the visibly terrified young man.

“Sir!” He stood ramrod-straight and saluted. At least he had that much sense.

“Where do you think you're going?”

The man's hands were shaking visibly despite his effort to keep them still. “I... there are... fetching firewood, Sir.”

“Those files you dropped will answer the purpose quite admirably.” Shternmiler pointed out. “Pick them up, throw them on the fire, and then go back into the building and fetch more.”

The man stood at attention, helpless.


Another man of his staff came out of the doorway carrying an armful of maps as the spell broke. The thwarted deserter rushed in, and Shternmiler continued to dedicate himself to his task of sifting through the voluminous amount of paperwork the Army Intelligence headquarters had produced over their stay in Lublin. Sadly. Most of it would have to be destroyed.

“The maps go onto the pyre,” he ordered, indicating the improvised brick enclosure they had built in what must have once been a schoolyard. Flames were already rising towards the grey skies, carrying ash and sparks upwards. Another fire would hardly arouse suspicion by itself, not with the state the city was in. And at least they had something to warm themselves by. The lieutenant grabbed a despatch box from the arms of a passing soldier and gestured for him to throw the remainder of the papers into the flames. With a practiced flick of his thumb, he opened the clasp and looked inside. It held accounts and lists of expenditures, together with printing plates for German occupation moneys. He slid the heavy steel plates out of the box and tossed the rest of the contents into the fire. These might come in handy again. Pensively, he picked up the pair of saddlebags resting on the trestle table by the entrance and weighed them in his hands. They did not seem too heavy. He slipped in the plates and nodded to himself.

A filing cabinet came sailing out of the second-floor window above, crashing down onto the cobblestones with shocking force. Papers fluttered about. He picked up a few, tossed them onto the fire and then watched as two orderlies rushed forward to transfer the drawers into the flames whole. The empty shell of the cabinet broke the fall of the next. Commendable initiative! He had half given up the hope anyone in his command was capable of independent thought, but apparently all it took was the right kind of pressure to produce ideas. Like a German army corps on the doorstep. That was bound to exercise the imagination.

As he stood listening intently to the boom and howl of artillery that had become the orchestral backdrop to their lives, he spotted a group of greenjackets making their way up the street to the rear. To his surprise, they were led by Sergeant Skiarin of the guard detail. He was marching at the head of a small column of men, all armed with rifles and truncheons, with as best an imitation of military discipline as they could muster. Shternmiler rushed out to confront him,. The alcohol on the sergeant's breath was noticeable from two steps distance.

“Sergeant! Why aren't you and your men at your post?”

Skiarin blinked and stared at the officer vacuously for a moment, then saluted. “Going to headquarters for orders, Sir.” he said, his voice slightly slurred.

“You have orders to guard the prisoners, sergeant!”

“Due respect, Sir, I've orders to ensure they don't escape and join the enemy. They won't. So I and my men are off to headquarters to get new orders.” He positioned himself with his legs apart, defying his superior to say otherwise. Shternmiler paused briefly, looking over the guards. Most of them looked as though they had drunk more than their regular vodka ration today, whatever else they had done. The lieutenant preferred not to think of it in any great depth.

“Very well, then, sergeant. I will take your word. “ Shternmiler held the man's stare. “Your new orders are to go forward to the regimental command post by the Grodzka gate and report for duty.”

“Says who?”

Shternmiler noticed the men bunching into an anxious knot. Two of them stepped forward to side with their sergeant, hesitantly. In one smooth movement, the lieutenant whipped out his service revolver and levelled it at their leader's head.

“Say I, sergeant. You will kindly note the epaulets.” A voice at the back of his mind suggested to Shternmiler that he could have found a more auspicious occasion to show off his new rank for the first time. “And if you do not obey immediately, I will blow your brains out, sergeant. Do you understand me?”

Skiarin grumbled unintelligibly, his hand moving slowly towards his rifle's carrying strap.

“Do not even think of it, sergeant!” Shternmiler's voice sharpened, cold and brittle now. “You'll hang if you so much as raise your hand to an officer.”

Footsteps behind him told the lieutenant that two of his orderlies were coming out to his assistance. If it really came to head, that would just be two more corpses. Headquarters staff did not carry guns on duty. But the moral support was welcome. He had faced down enough anarchist thugs to know that nerve and will counted for more than brawn in such situations. After the briefest moment of hesitation, the sergeant's shoulders fell. He turned, failing to salute, and gestured to his men, shouting “You heard the orders! Off to the command post!” They fell in, shuffling and hesitant, but resigned to their fate.

“That was a narrow scrape, Sir.” Corporal Arbatov remarked. The orderly had come up to his commander's support, unarmed.

Shternmiler shrugged. “Not really. That sergeant was a weak man, all bluster and cowardice. He would not have dared anything except in desperate straits.”

The two men headed back into the schoolyard when the pitch of passing shellfire rose. The corporal placed a heavy hand on the lieutenant's shoulder and pushed him to the cobblestones, muttering an apology. An explosion further down the street shook the building, rattling the few remaining windows, and peppered the area with falling debris.

“10-cm, howitzer.” Arbatov diagnosed. “We see too damned many of those infernal things. Are you all right, Sir?”

Shternmiler rose to his feet and picked up his revolver. German field howitzers had a worryingly short range. If enemy gunners had set up shop this close, it was definitely time to go.

“Thank you, corporal.” he said. “I'll make one more round of the offices to check we haven't left anything behind that needs destroying. If you would order the men to pour the remaining kerosene into the fire now.” He paused, snapping open the cylinder of his sidearm and smiling. “And then bring me out my travel bag and some ammunition. We may be cutting it too fine already.”

30 March 1907, Moscow

Admiral Yevgeniy Ivanovich Alexeyev was not used to tropical seas. Even planning for operations in such climes felt like a challenge. He pitied his subordinate Vitgeft, stuck off the coast of Ostafrika. Still, if his plan worked out, there was hope to salvage much of the damage the French had done to them through their cowardice.

“Sailing ships?” the Czar asked, charting the course of the vessels on the map with his finger.

“Yes, your Majesty.” Alexeyev replied. “Chartered from A.D. Bordes & fils. The problem we were facing was to transport a sufficient quantity of coal, avoiding the Sunda Straits and the range of the Dutch East Indies fleet. That forces us to pass south of Australia. Using steamships would mean consuming too much of the cargo.”

“I will trust your judgement on the speed.” remarked Great Admiral Alexey Alexandrovich Romanov, a rare visitor to strategic counsels these days, though still commander in chief of the Russian navy. “There is, I hope, still enough coal for an escort on the final run?”

“Yes, your Highness.” Alexeyev nodded and traced a path through the Indian Ocean to Reunion. “Once the colliers reach Reunion, they cable our resident in Lourenco Marques and we will despatch Pallada, Novik and Bogatyr. The cruisers have sufficient coal and will be able to fight off any force the Dutch can muster in these waters. After the ships are escorted to the anchorage, the battleships can recoal and the entire fleet sail for the Mediterranean. There, we can recoal conventionally from French ships and make for Arkhangelsk. The Austrians are unlikely to dare interfere with them.”

“Not Vladivostok?” Admiral Romanov was still adamant in his criticism.

“Your Highness, it was decided that the provocation of the Japanese would be inadvisable under the circumstances.” Alexeyev pointed out. Czar Nicholas nodded, silencing his uncle's protest. “The fleet will be of limited use there, but the presence of additional cruisers in the Atlantic should give the enemy pause. And we will have preserved the nucleus of a battlefleet for the future.”

A tale of heroism, daring and ingenuity to tell for a navy with precious few of them to its name: If Alexeyev pulled it off, history might forgive him for the Vigo debacle. Of course it all still depended on their ability to coordinate the chess pieces.

“The ships are safe at their anchorage?” the Czar asked quietly.

“All reports we have suggests so, Your Majesty.” Alexeyev reassured him. “Admiral Vitgeft still has control of Daressalam and Kilwa, the enemy lacks coastal artillery and cannot send capital ships into the region. The Dutch cruisers are hovering at the extreme end of their coaling range, a nuisance, nothing more. Which leaves the question of strategic choices on land.”

Nicholas nodded gravely. “We are in agreement that the army forces cannot be evacuated with the fleet, admiral?” he asked.

“Yes, your Majesty. The coal carried in the resupply ships will suffice for the battleships and cruisers, but we can spare none for transports. There is not enough room aboard for all the troops, and withdrawing some would serve no purpose.” Admiral Alexeyev did not say as much, but ten thousand men were an inconsequential number to the Russian imperial army, doubly so when many of them were no doubt unfit for duty from sickness. Unlike a warship, it was a small loss to suffer.

“Six weeks until the colliers arrive?”

“Up to two months, perhaps. It is harder to say, with sailing vessels.” Admiral Romanov sounded gruff, still smarting from having lost the debate over the fleet's destination. “All that remains to be done is hold out.”

The Czar scratched his chin. “I have spoken on this matter with my military advisers, and they are of the opinion that inaction in such circumstances is an unwise course. Our troops still outnumber the enemy and command superior weaponry. I am considering using the time we have at our disposal to have them go out, find, confront and destroy Ludendorff's army. This would at the very least allow them to hold on to their current gains until the end of the war, and give us something to bring to the negotiating table.”

Alexeyev frowned, almost unnoticeably. “How many naval troops would be used in the action? If we deplete the ships of trained men....”

“I was assured only a few gun crews, which would be taken primarily from the torpedo boats and fleet tenders. The fighting strength of the battlefleet would be unaffected.”

Such as it was, the admiral added mentally. Sitting idle in the tropical heat could not have done men or materiel much good. “I was apprised of alternative plans advanced by Dr Dubrovin? A political scheme to arm native auxiliaries and incite them to overthrow German rule....”

The Czar's glance, having rested on the map., shot up with alarming speed. His cheeks were flushed as he rebuked Alexeyev. “I greatly value Dr Dubrovin's counsel, but there are matters of which he has no understanding! Arming the natives is out of the question. Admiral, it must be understood as the primary rule of warfare in Africa that white men are never to incite native resistance against their fellow Europeans. We may lose this fight, and so be it, we have fought it well. But I will not place on my conscience the guilt of having abandoned white women and children to the horrible fate that would await them at the hands of armed savages.”

He exhaled heavily, then composed himself before he continued. “The fleet is to assemble in Daressalam. The army forces will sally from there to bring the Germans to battle. Failing this, we shall wait for the colliers.”

30 March 1907, outside Lublin

The girl looked terrible. Even men who had fought through the dark days of Skiernewice found themselves reduced to tears. Colonel Rabinovich himself was pale and silent, in hushed conversation with Rabbi Kessler, the brigade's chaplain. The headquarters’ new charge sat huddled in a mountain or woollen blankets in a corner of the farmhouse that the command had made its temporary home, cradling a cup of tea in her bony hands.

“In cellars?”, the rabbi asked incredulously. He had not been privy to the interview himself. “Just because they were Jewish?”

“Strictly, no.” Rabinovich said bitterly. “They locked them up because they were suspect. They kept them because they were Jewish. They never released Jews, or people with German names.”

They had the Russian bureaucracy to thank for that, if you could trust the papers the advancing troops had taken from the dungeons of the Okhrana. Most people the authorities had taken into custody were put on eastbound trains, but you could not transfer Jews out of the Pale. At a loss what else to do, they had simply locked them away.

“She said they were glad to have cossacks guard them. They merely...” Rabinovich fumbled for words, “... merely took advantage of their captives. There were other places guarded by Union auxiliaries who apparently enjoyed tormenting people.”

Rabbi Kessler rubbed his temples. Sighing, he looked over at the figure swaddled in blankets, anxious soldiers hovering protectively over her. “She can hardly be ten. Is that how she survived?”

“She's thirteen, by her own words. Her mother was able to procure food for her and her brother. That's why she was still able to walk. Most of the other prisoners suffered worse.” The colonel swallowed and paused to take a draught from his hip flask. “For the last two weeks, they had no rations. And yesterday, the guards were withdrawn. They … threw hand grenades into the cellars before leaving. I don't think we were supposed to find anyone alive.”

“How many are alive?” the rabbi finally asked, fearing the answer. Rabinovich gestured to Captain Kantor who had led the assault party that had taken the prison complex.

“Twenty-two.” the officer reported, his face set in a forced mask of distanced professionalism. “Most of them are very weak, some have bad injuries. We haven't finished counting the bodies, but it's more than a hundred. And there are probably more such places in the city”

The colonel buried his face in his hands, stifling a sob.

“What am I to do, Sir?” Rabbi Kessler asked hesitantly after a long pause. “Why did you call me?”

Rabinovich shrugged helplessly. “I don't rightly know, rebbe. I just figured this would call for a man of God. A prayer. When you have a problem you don't know what to do with, in my family you call the rebbe. And would you … would you take care of the girl? Maybe find her a home. She has nobody left. And I don't know what to do.”

Kessler laid a hand on his shoulder. His touch was light, the gesture almost unthinking as his eyes stared emptily into the middle distance. The silence was only punctuated by the distant noise of battle. Lieutenant Colonel Cohen finally cleared his throat.

“Rebbe?” he asked quietly. The rabbi still stood motionless, his lips moving as if in prayer. He was reciting Hebrew.

“Shout,”, he whispered, “for the LORD hath given you the city. And the city shall be kherem, and all that are therein, to the LORD.”

“Sir?” Cohen reached out as though to grab him by the shoulder, but Rabinovich waved him away.

“There.” he said to his puzzled subordinate. “You have your orders. Go and smite Amalek.”

Cohen saluted and left.

01 April 1907, Berlin

Her Imperial and Royal Highness the Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria arrived in Berlin earlier today. Welcomed by His Imperial and Royal Highness Prince Albert and a military escort at the Anhalter Bahnhof, the Archduchess and her retinue were greeted by jubilant throngs along their passage to the Stadtpalais in open carriages, escorted by guards cavalry.

Observers remarked particularly the highly fashionable dress in evidence among many ladies of the retinue, a strong contrast with this year's Berlin vogue, though Her Highness herself wore a subdued, simple dress and straw hat of Austrian manufacture. She was met at the Stadtpalais by His Majesty the Emperor, whose health did not allow him to be present at the railway station, and took up residence in the palace where she will stay in royal apartments until the wedding.

(Berliner Abendzeitung)

03 April 1907, Insterburg, East Prussia

“We all rise early these days, in the trenches, though it is not for any perceived virtue in the act itself. Rather, it has become the custom of the realm to bid the enemy good morning with shells of the heaviest calibre on hand, a gesture made to the best effect at a time when the other side is still abed, or ideally just rising. A gunner with a proper 'feel' for these things can cut the time very finely, hoping to catch the enemy out just loading their own guns for their first salvo, albeit at the risk of being himself thus caught, and thus do the men on each side of the front engage in this game of mental cut-and-thrust played for the highest of stakes with many tonnes of high explosive.

The man who leads this game in our section of the battle is the very image of German solidity and competence, a sergeant of nine years' service whose enormous red beard and pugnacious nose seem a gesture of defiance at a world of enemies. Despite the chill of spring, his men work stripped to the waist, feeding their mighty 21-cm mortars the enormous shells that have made the German army so formidable in the field. Every morning, along a line a hundred miles in length, innumerable cannon light up the sky, drowning out the first rays of the sun with their flashes. A thunderous roar rippling across the land greets the day, and continues, intermittently, throughout the day until it dies down with the setting of the sun.

One would think that nothing could well survive the kind of pounding that a hundred heavy guns delivered, but the ingenuity of human myrmidons under these circumstances never fails to astound. The battle lines have moved little in the past weeks, allowing the Germans to make themselves quite snugly at home in a network of tunnels and bunkers buried thirty feet or more underground. These are not the dank rabbit holes an ignorant observer might imagine, but skilfully and artistically shored up, with wainscoting made from the boards of old ammunition crates and chimneys assembled from shell casings. This, too, should not surprise anyone who knows the practical ingenuity of the German soldier, and his....”

The crescendo of riflery rose in the distance, distracting Kipling from his writing. He looked up. The market square lay almost empty, as it tended to in frontline cities abandoned by large parts of the civilian population. The runners and telegraphists moving in and out of the town hall seemed to be taking on a greater urgency, though. A cloud seemed to be rising from the east.

Kipling absently sharpened his pencil, trying to pick up his train of thought, when a young soldier came trotting up to him. “You are an English correspondent of war, yes?” he asked, his accent atrocious.

“Indeed, I am.” Kipling replied, adding “Yes.” on noticing the poor man's puzzlement. Germans seemed to have a hard time with circumlocutions.

“You must abandon the town. The trains leave still until the afternoon, so you must be quick.”

“Leave?” The writer looked down on his notepad unhappily. He had hoped to spend a few days composing his jottings and sketches from the front into coherent narratives and telegraph them home. There was only so much good writing you could do in railway carriages. “What is the occasion?” Again, confused, inquisitive eyes. “What has happened?”

“The Russians have exploded a mine under the trenches. They are coming.”

Kipling looked east again, listening to the distant sounds of rifles and machine guns, and momentarily regretted he had not been present to see this happening. The power of modern warfare to shape the land, bend the very earth to its will with shocking violence, was something that never failed to astound him. He recalled the map on which the fighting took place. If the Russians managed to break through, they could threaten the German supply lines along the coast and even trap the Guards and III Corps – Heeresgruppe Kronprinz – in Samland. Time to catch a train.

04 April 1907, Berlin

“We can't take all the reinforcements away from the southern arc!” von Seeckt protested.

“We'll have to, for now.” Field Marshal von der Goltz had a sour look on his face as he studied the maps. Everything had been going so well... It should have made him apprehensive. War wasn't supposed to be easy. “If the Russians can consolidate their breakthrough, they'll move west along the Pregel and cut off our troops in Samland. We'd have to withdraw to Königsberg, or behind.”

“We are winning in the south. If we stop now, we will lose momentum and the enemy will dig in. Don't throw away this chance.” The lieutenant colonel's voice was pleading.

The old man shrugged and adjusted his spectacles. “There are constraints we labour under that are not strictly military. Not all victories are equal, and at this point it will not be acceptable for us to yield a metre of German soil without fighting to the utmost of our abilities.”

“But – Königsberg is an empty shell. All of East Prussia is devoid of value.” Von Seeckt shook his head It just made no sense. The towns and villages of Natangen and Samland were empty, plundered and burned, the railroads torn up, the crops unsown. Königsberg had stood weeks of fighting, shells tearing great holes into the fabric of the city, and the navy's bombardment of Russian installations in Memel must by now have reduced the town to a paste spread thinly across the landscape. Nothing of immediate value was left in the area, and no Russian assault would stand a realistic chance to advance beyond the second line of German railheads, from where a steady stream of troops from the western border could detrain at a week's notice. But vox populi demanded they throw away their chance to strike a mortal blow at the heart of the foe and defend the burned-over soil of Prussia. It was enough to reduce a man to tears.

“I know, lieutenant-colonel. You don't need to tell me.” The field marshal sucked on his pipe, realised it had cone cold and resignedly laid it aside again. “But we must. Let us hope that the breach is contained quickly and we won't have to draw too many forces north. In the meantime, the Austrians can show what they can do. Keeping Ivan running should not be beyond the capacities of Hötzendorf.”
07 April 1907, Berlin

Saigon. Singapore. Shanghai. Adelaide. Hobart. Auckland. Rangoon. Batavia. Join the navy and see the world. The world's shipping news, at least, Lieutenant Tegtmeyer thought bitterly as he tried to wipe the newsprint off his hands. He had to admit to himself that this was not what he had imagined when joining the service, or when he had volunteered for naval intelligence. His father spent most of his time sitting at a desk reading papers, and the young officer had never wanted to have his life go in this direction. But it seemed he had the gift for it. At least his superiors thought so. And with so many men now busy on the Baltic operations, that left so much more work for him to do on other things.

The Russian government had chartered French cargo ships. So much, so bad. The question, of course, was what they wanted to do with them. It was not normally necessary to do that – neutral shippers were happy to service Vladivostok and Odessa, the former safe under the guard of its cruiser squadron, the latter guarded by the demilitarised Straits. The last time they had done this had been to supply their ill-fated fleet expedition to Japan with coal. Something like that, then, would be expected. But what?

Three more red crosses went onto the sheet of parchment paper overlying his map. S.S. Marthe was registered leaving Yokohama three weeks ago. S.S. Antonin and Valparaiso had sailed from Surabaya to points east. S.S. Almendral was reported passing Palau headed south. None of the chartered ships were anywhere near Arkhangelsk – or even the Atlantic – which meant they could not mean to support Kolchak's squadron. Instead, everything was massing in the east. Admiral Rust had suggested that the plan might be to sortie the Vladivostok squadron against Qingdao or the Dutch East Indies, worrying prospects both. The Dutch held ships in readiness to join the German cruiser squadron in the Yellow Sea if the enemy appeared and jointly defeat them. But it didn't quite sit right. The Russians had colliers in Vladivostok. Their own shipping didn't venture out much. They didn't need chartered keels to reach Qingdao. And if they were going for the East Indies, shouldn't they be turning up in Indochina's ports? According to the shipping news, they hadn't. Instead, some of them had called in Brisbane. It made sense if they were headed for – New Caledonia, of all places. That put them well outside the operational range of the Vladivostok squadron. The position would be all right for a mid-Pacific meeting, but what would be the point of that? Dutch Guyana was at the other end of the continent. They could hardly be outfitting the ships as auxiliary cruisers, could they?

He rubbed his temples. This had to make sense somehow. Were they trying to supply weapons to an uprising in the East Indies? But what French shipping line would agree to that? Certainly not Combes. Far too respectable. So, carrying supplies – but where? What could be so important to take to Vladivostok? Nothing came to mind. Ostafrika was out, of course. They would never make it past the Dutch patrols in the Indies. An attack on German colonies in the Solomons or New Guinea? They would need cruiser escort, and no ships were coming down from Vladivostok. He couldn't make heads or tails of it. Angrily, he tossed his head and pushed his finger into the itchy collar of his uniform jacket. Whenever they got around to promoting him, he'd buy one of better quality,. Spanish wool, or maybe Australian. He still marvelled at the fact that it could be worthwhile sending wool halfway around the globe across the Indian Ocean... across the Indian Ocean.

His finger traced the path from Adelaide to the East coast of Africa. Long, but not particularly dangerous. The P&O Branch line did it routinely. Sailing ships would take long, though, and there was no good reason to incur such a delay. Any rational person would use steamers over such distances, unless... recoaling was a problem. Not many cargo steamers had the legs to go the distance. If they were concerned about recoaling en route, using sailing ships made sense. Tegtmeyer rose and walked over to the office of Commander Steinhauer. The 'old man' at their unofficial headquarters looked at him sourly.

“What is it?”

“Sir, I think I know where the cargo ships the Russians have chartered are going.”

“Are you sure?”

“As sure as we get to be, Sir. It makes sense. Let me explain.”

Steinhauer nodded silently through the exposition. Eventually, he scratched his beard. “It does make sense. If the Russian ships sortie from Ostafrika, they could threaten the East Indies, cause some real trouble to us.”

Tegtmeyer looked confused. “Sortie? You think the vessels are colliers?”

“What else?” Steinhauer said impatiently. “Only reason to use sailing ships is not to eat into the cargo over long journeys. The problem is, we can't really do anything about it. The Dutch cruisers can barely make Ostafrika. They haven't the legs to go for southern latitudes. And we can't get our ships there fast enough – aside from the fact that we lost our coaling stations in Daressalam.”

The lieutenant nodded thoughtfully. “At least we should keep an eye out.”

“That goes without saying.” his superior confirmed. “How?”

“We could charter civilian vessels ourselves. They would have to be inducted as auxiliaries, but that should be doable.” Tegtmeyer suggested. “If the ship has wireless, it could even report the sightings to consulates. And to the Dutch.”

Steinhauer grimaced. He didn't like to entrust such tasks to civilians, but unless he could magic one of his officers to Lüderitz or Capetown, he would have to. “I'll talk to the admiralty.” he said. “Good work, Tegtmeyer. You'll have your rank if we catch them, for sure.”

08 April 1907, near Sambor, Galicia

Private Hitler was weary. Bone tired. His feet did not really hurt any more, not specifically or consciously, but he remained aware of the general sore tenderness that told him they would hurt once the fug of exhaustion lifted. Was this how infantry always felt? He was trying to trot along the line of the railway siding, but it was more of a hurried shuffle at this point. Once he got into his blankets tonight, he would need a generous dose of slivovitz to anaesthesise his legs.

“What is it?” Colonel von Matyszak was leaning out of the window of his compartment. He was the kind of good officer who would stick with his men rather than travel in dedicated trains that had cots and dining cars. But he was still not above sending his batman running a few kilometres to find out the source of a delay. Hitler saluted.

“Cavalry's detraining ahead, Sir. The NCO in charge said that he couldn't say how long he'd be taking exactly. Sorry, Sir,”

Matyszak nodded, smiling. “Is that what he said, then?”

“Literally, he said 'piss off', Sir.”

“That's what I thought.” The colonel checked his watch. “How many trains still to go?”

“Five, Sir. I don't know if the infantry in the next trains is also supposed to alight.”

“Very well. At least two hours, then – you can tell Sergeants Hurvinek and Messner to allow the men to stretch their legs until 4 o'clock.” The window slid shut again, encasing the commander in his bubble of comfort. Wearily, Private Hitler continued the trudge along the length of the train to the boxcars that held his comrades. To think they were supposed to be on R&R! After months on the Serbian front, their division had been pulled back to rest and recuperate, only to get orders to hurry north to the Galician front the next day. Couldn't the brass hats make up their minds?

He opened the sliding door, climbing in before he reported. “Cavalry's detraining ahead. Colonel says we have until four to get out of the cars if we want.” A murmur of assent greeted this announcement as the men rose to their feet stiff-kneed and awkwardly.

“You coming?” Sergeant Messner gestured to Hitler settling into a corner.

“No, Sarge. I've been on my feet enough over the last few days.”

“Suit yourself. I want to see the cavalry boys.” The sergeant grinned. “Looks like they're finally earning that extra pay for real.”

If you could trust the army papers, cavalry was moving rapidly into Russian-held territory, recapturing villages and towns right and left. That had been the idea, of course: horses to move fast, footsloggers to slug hard. Hitler agreed it was time for them to hold up their end. Still, he valued his sleep over a bit of entertainment. With a deep sigh, he unscrewed the top of his hip flask and took a deep draught. There was room to stretch out his legs all the way on the straw. Two hours of bliss until the others came back. It was as close to perfect as things got in this war.

09 April 1907, Flensburg

“Wahrschau!” The loading harness swayed as the longshoremen struggled to control the thrashing, screaming horse. Karl Tönnies threw the Dutch NCO standing by the hold a questioning glance. The man caught his eye and waved on encouragingly. Tönnies shouted encouragement to his gang and swayed the crane inboard, the animal's shrieks of panic ringing in his ear. They sounded terribly human. How could cavalrymen stand it? As the cradle disappeared into the maw of the ship – past a brief, hair-raising second when it looked as though the hooves would gain purchase on the deck, launching the creature from its sling to wreak havoc – the soldiers belowdecks took control of the ropes securing their charge and calmed it down surprisingly quickly. The NCO, satisfied that the risk had passed, signalled to lower it to the deck, unbuckled the straps and waved, smiling, to raise the crane again. Tönnies grinned and put his back into the crank. He preferred loading sacks or crates, or just about anything that wouldn't try to kill itself by jumping overboard.

“Good going, Karl?” Peter Hinrichs showed up, accompanied by another of the Dutchmen that had overrun their sleepy little port.

“It's all right, boss.” Tönnies said, “but I'd just as soon not have anything to do with horses.”

“Just three hundred more now.” the loadmaster grinned. “Then you can relax stowing munition crates.”

Tönnies grimaced. “Why the hurry?”

Hinrichs and the Dutchmen exchanged a maddeningly knowing look. Damn, they had to be pretending! No way would Peter be in on the admiralty's plans.

“None of our concern, Karl.” he finally said. “Be content to know that we're making sure some Russian somewhere is going to have a real Scheisstag soon.”

11 April 1907, Gulf of Finland

Bridge of Navarin

The Germans were here! Admiral Ukhtomski gripped the rail of the bridge with white knuckles. This was the day that everyone in the navy had prepared for with dread and trepidation, an apocalyptic vision, awaited like the Last Judgement with equal measures of despair and longing. Tonight, he knew, they would most likely be dead. The empire would not tolerate and could not bear news of another admiral striking his flag before a victorious enemy. The best they could hope for was to go out in a blaze of glory, a final cataclysmic battle in which they would strike the enemy a mighty enough blow to make him hesitate before a seabourne attack on their coast.

The mighty hull shuddered as the engines poured every ounce of power into the twin propellers. Signal flags rose as the battleline turned due west by northwest. Ahead of them, a screen of destroyers was speeding ahead, scattering the German torpedo boats that had scouted into the gulf. An ineffectual flank guard. Ukhtomski scanned the grease pencil mark on his chart table: The German battlefleet, reported understrength, but at six capital ships still twice their number, was stretched out along a wide arc headed for the southern tip of Finland. To their west, a vast armada of merchant steamers was making its painfully slow way north, no doubt an invasion force headed perhaps for Hangö, or even Helsingfors. Ahead, and if heaven was merciful already too far ahead to do good, the heavy cruiser squadron was already heading for their destination, to secure anchorages and soften up defenses. He kept his own heavy cruisers close by his side. Today, any ship that could stand in the battleline was going out. Even the creaking, limping Apraxin class coastal defense ships were on their way out of Baltischport to join them.

Heavenly mercy, the admiral knew, was his hope on this day. Not for victory – that was out of the question – or even for his survival. He had taken communion and confessed, advising his men to do the same. No, if God was with their arms today, their sacrifice would be meaningful. Their battle line would engage the Germans long and hard enough to allow the light cruisers and destroyers to go in among the transports. For all the pride he felt in huis big shjps, Ukhtomski knew that they were not the equals of their enemy's, not in number, and neither ship for ship or gun for gun. But the Germans had nothing to counter their sleek sharklike destroyers. Their light cruisers were underweight, their torpedo boats undergunned. If the wolves got in among the sheep, their 10-cm guns could do terrible execution. The danger might once more be turned from Russia's shores, for long – surely, assembling a force like this would take months. The war might be over before the Germans could do it again. The admiral changed his grip on the rail, murmured a prayer, and raised his binoculars. Columns of black smoke rose into the sky. He could already make out the silhouettes of the battleships. Not long until they were within range.

Flag bridge of SMS Bayern

Admiral Ingenohl forced himself to walk calmly, three measured steps, a carefully executed turn, and three steps back, hands clasped behind his back. People were watching. He could feel the weight of expectation on his shoulders. If his plans unfolded as they should, today would add to his repute. If not, he would need to hope for the mercy of Prince Albert to keep his command. But the opportunity had been too tempting. To the east, the Russian battlefleet was emerging from the Gulf, heading straight for his own battleships, just as he had hoped. Any minute now, they would be passing the red line his signal officer had drawn on the map. Any minute now, he would learn if the German fleet had what it took to beat the Russians at their own game. He watched the scout vessels scatter in leaderless flight, back to the protection of the German fleet, Russian destroyers in hot pursuit. The enemy was coming, full speed ahead. The destroyers passed the line without incident. Ingenohl could not stop himself from counting seconds under his breath. Not now … not now … soon …

Bridge of Knyaz Suvorov

A fleet in battle order was something strange – like a steel blade hardened to the finest sharpness a smith was capable of producing. Undeformable. Irresistible, Brittle. Captain Bir felt his world dissolve around him as the sound of the explosion washed over him. He still could not believe what he was seeing. A bare half kilometre ahead, if that, the flagship Navarin had stopped head in the water, lifted up as though by a giant hammer blow that raised a column of white water engulfing her forequarters. Sheets of water and debris – wood, steel, pieces of what had been men – rained down in a widening circle. A tug on his sleeve reminded Bir that he had been staring.

“Mines ahead! Sir, shall I give order to change course?”

Good, brave Commander Yung, He could be trusted to do the right thing. Bir rubbed his temples, still trying to make sense of what had happened. “Change course. Yes, yes do that. Avoid collision.”

On the lower decks, men were jostling along the rails trying to catch a glimpse of the unfolding horror. Wild speculation flew. Mines. That was a new one, Bir thought idly. And the Germans had done it cleverly. Both their own scout ships and the Russian destroyer screen had passed over them without incident, which meant they had laid them at a depth only threatening capital ships. The old coast defense ships might well pass unscathed, actually, which would make an unpleasant surprise to the Germans. Though that would depend on the new orders. What were the new orders? Felkerzam on the cruiser squadron would be in command. It did not look like any signals would go up on Navarin again. She was already settling at the bow.

First, he mused, the mines. Maybe they should order a sweep? It would not take too long. What were the cruisers doing? The captain raised his telescope, trying to make out signals or any activities on Rossiya. Nothing. To port, they were now passing the stricken Navarin, smoke pouring out from a gaping hole in the fore deck.

“Signal from Rossiya!” the lookout reported. “Battlefleet stand to and lower boats to rescue survivors.”

Captain Bir nodded to Commander Yung. “Reduce speed, take us alongside Navarin.”

The first officer demurred. “Sir, that will take us back into the minefield.”

Of course. The captain felt a cold shiver run up his spine, They were in the minefield! Anywhere around them, death might be lurking in the cold, dark water. “Reduce speed!” he repeated helplessly. “All engines stop!” Turning to his first officer, he explained. “We will lower boats to sweep mines before....”

The explosion cut him off in mid-sentence.

Flag bridge of SMS Bayern

The denouement, when it came, had been almost anticlimactic. Certainly it was not the kind of action that earned anyone medals and preferment. After the mines had gone off, the big guns had lobbed a few desultory shells at the Russian fleet, milling in confusion just at the edge of their range. Then, the torpedo boats had engaged enemy destroyers in a brief, inconclusive clash that produced casualties on both sides before they parted again, each returning to the protection of its battle line. Finally, the enemy had retreated, a cruiser limping home, one of the battleships being towed. Ingenohl could not bring himself to go belowdecks. His eyes were glued to the scene: Destroyers and tenders were still picking up survivors from the wreck of the flagship that had now settled, its stern still showing, listing hard to port. The entire action had lasted less than an hour, and not a single shell had struck his battlefleet. In a way, it was much more impressive than what they had achieved at Rügen. But of course, nobody would see it like that.

Finally, the admiral lowered his binoculars and turned away, sighing. “Signal to fleet: Make half speed for the Alands.” he ordered. They had a job to do.

11 April 1907, west of Morogoro

Afternoon had passed and evening was coming, the sun setting with the remarkable speed of an almost momentary tropical dusk – opal and ash of roses, cinnamon, umber, and dun. It was over. Colonel Dyuzhev settled into his camp stool and stretched his aching, cramping legs. An orderly was bandaging his hand.- He had not even noticed the powder burns until a few minutes ago. The flask in his uninjured hand weighed lightly, and he drank in sips. They would bring up more from the rear tomorrow morning. Champagne, if it could be managed. The occasion called for it.

Out in the gathering darkness, soldiers were finishing off enemy wounded and collecting their weapons. For once, the things they told you at briefings were worth paying attention to. When attacked by Africans, dig in and rely on superior firepower. There had been a few hair-raising moments, but in the end, the German auxiliaries had failed to break into the Russian positions. Black bodies falling to machine gun fire like corn before the scythe, they had attempted four desperate assaults before giving up. The vaunted Askari had never even approached, contenting themselves with covering their mauled comrades' retreat with accurate, but desultory riflery.

“We've got quite a haul, Sir!” Captain Patyukov reported enthusiastically, staggering under a load of native weaponry. He dumped the armful on the ground at a respectful distance from his commander's feet. “Some of these should be donated to the ethnological museum in St Petersburg.”

Dyuzhev looked more closely. The heap consisted mostly of hardwood knobkerries and spears, the shafts decorated with copper and silver bands. Two cowhide shields, one marked with bulletholes, had tumbled over to the side. Between them lay several Arab sabres and three vicious-looking panga knives, a German service revolver and a silver-plated musket. Museum pieces indeed. Well, so much for Ludendorff's vaunted fucking landsknechte. Writing today's after-action report would be a pleasure.

14 April 1907, Mogilev Hospital

In truth, modern technology was an amazing thing. Valentina Grishina had always known, instinctively, with the kind of innate certainty that divided good housewives from bad, that cleanliness mattered. In the way of village girls everywhere, she had been brought up to the tasks of the household early, and she had taken pride in sweeping out the floor, brushing down the stove and keeping her dress neat. But whatever she had known in her short and unhappy childhood paled to insignificance before the things she saw – and did – in Mogilev military hospital. Soap and sand she knew, but here she was introduced to the near miraculous powers of chlorine bleach, carbolic acid, steam sterilisation and the machines that were used to apply them. She was even trusted with using them. If her uncle had had his letters, she would have felt like writing him that poor, dumb little Valentina Grishina who he thought good for nothing, was running steam sterilisers, pressurised digesters and power mangles! She was inordinately proud of her achievements, including, not least, that she now could write that letter.

Of course, Valentina was not a nurse. It took more than the two months she had been at the hospital – more than the half year she had been in Mogilev – to achieve that coveted status. You had to have training. You had to have your letters and maths, and a grounding in medicine. And you had to have manners, it seemed. At least all the nurses in this place were city-bred girls who knew how to curtsey, eat with a dessert fork, and play the piano. If the word had meant anything to her, she would have called them bourgeois. For the likes of her, work at the hospital began as a lowly trainee assistant nurse. But she could aspire now. Perhaps it really was solely down to the war. They needed hands everywhere now. Wounded men came back from the front as fast as the trains could carry them. Every city in the empire seemed to have grown a hospital complex, simple, wooden buildings placed in parks or meadows and too few nurses, drafted in from civilian hospitals or volunteered from good families. Running these places, Valentina had found, was mostly down to knowing what you were doing, and putting your back into it. Dainty manners and fine words had little to do with it, however much the nurses might look down on the country girls they worked with. Valentina had noticed that she already understood part of her work as well as they, if not better. With effort and a little luck, she would be wearing the nurses' folded chaplet instead of her simple headscarf soon enough. There was little anyone could teach a peasant girl about working hard, and people had always said that she was smart. The difference was they said it approvingly here.

Learning, of course, required enormous effort. The days did not let up much. Unlike many of the city girls, she did not think of scrubbing bedpans and boiling linen as some kind of grand sacrifice of pride for the motherland. It was work that needed doing, and in her world, necessary work never demeaned anyone. But it was still hard labour. Peasant girls might be better prepared for the rigours of nursing, but even they needed sleep. Most days, there was no more than an hour for real study. Sometimes, there wasn't even that. Today was such a day. Valentina downed her last cup of tea – stronger and sweeter than she was used to – and headed for her bed, an iron cot in the dormitory #12. The door had a little icon of St Michael over it, partly as a gesture of piety and partly to aid those not able to read numbers. Smiling at the realisation she no longer needed it, Valentina untied her white apron and carefully folded it away. There really was no point, since it would go into tomorrow's laundry, but she liked to cultivate modern habits of hygiene and discipline. Ever since first learning of bacteria, she really appreciated the strict cleanliness that governed her new home. She slipped out of her jacket and skirt, hanging them up in the required style, and walked behind a screen to put on her nightshirt. The clothes were simple, but they were clean, solid, and modern, a world away from her old homespun peasant dress. Every time she saw herself in the mirror, crisp in green and white, the polished brass insignia shining in the gaslight, celluloid buttons softly gleaming, she felt proud of the new Valentina Grishina that looked back at her. This was a woman who was going places. A woman who knew things. A woman who could write and reckon, read thermometers and use scales. A valuable woman.

Stretching her aching limbs, she walked back to her bed, stopping by the narrow bookshelf. Reading had not been encouraged at home. The Union, though, believed in books. They provided reading matter at every institution they ran, gave out papers and cheap books to soldiers for free and sold them to civilians at very low cost. They even permitted their staff rations of candles as part of their maintenance so they could read at night. That was another thing that made Valentina intensely grateful. Lingering for a moment over week-old copies of the Russkaya Pravda and the Grazhdanin, she finally reached for a thin, paperbound book that she had already read more than once. Its cover said in big red letters: History of Russia, by Fyodor Baraban. She found it hard to believe that this was his real name, but it conjured up the excitement and passion of his writing very well. Realising how rich and ancient the history of her country was had been a revelation to Valentina, as it had to more than a few of her colleagues. Of course you had an idea of history – you would have heard of the Creation and of Jesus Christ, of Czar Ivan and Rasin and Pugachov and all the other stories that people sang songs about. But putting it all into a context made the disjointed pieces more powerful, more memorable. They made sense now. They made her proud. With an involuntary sigh, she finally settled into a comfortable position, the weight off her swollen feet, her aching limbs at rest, adjusted her candleholder and began reading silently.

“The Time of Troubles”

“After the death of Ivan Grozny, dark times came to Russia. ...”

15 April 1907, Berlin

Ever since the war, they had been holding no cabinet meetings regularly. It was one of the quirks of the Bismarckian constitution that the chancellor did not really have ministers, just secretaries of state, and that they did not constitute a cabinet. Their assembled company had no greater significance, legally, than any ten or twelve elderly men sitting around a table. Prince Albert had begun calling these “noncabinet meeting', and though they were technically not necessary, had held them frequently. By now, it was up to twice a week, and if anyone had hoped for their workload to reduce with the declaration of the state of siege, they had been sorely disappointed. Chancellor von Gerlach looked at the faces around the table: tired, lined, greying. Their shoulders were stooped, their suits rumpled. War was not healthy for ministers.

“I genuinely don't know how long we can go on.” Finance Minister von Siemens was saying, his voice tired. “But even now, the only thing that is keeping us afloat is that we can pay interest on domestic debt in paper. If you had asked me before the war whether anyone would buy bonds of a country as badly indebted as Germany is now, I'd have laughed you out of the room.”

Walther Krupp von Rathenau, the newly minted minister for the war economy, nodded gravely. They had been able to place the latest issues in London at surprisingly good rates, considering. He felt sure that the offensive in southern Poland had saved them at least two full percentage points. “What about the American issue?” he asked, already half sure he would hear no words of comfort.

“About the same. Our issuers said they might generate more interest in dollar-denominated securities, but....” Siemens shrugged. It did not need spelling out that this was out of the question. There was a name for countries that did not issue debt in their own currency. Rathenau swallowed.

“Companies are already selling patents and subsidiaries to pay for imports. If we can't secure enough foreign currency, we will need to allow them specie.” It was vexing to a captain of industry to feel so helpless in the face of so obvious a crisis. “We cannot keep selling off our assets indefinitely.”

The chancellor shook his head. “Not with the state of our gold reserves. We are already importing goods on a barter basis where we can. We're on the second round of 'Gold gab ich für Eisen', and there are only so many wedding bands around. Rathenau, we need to win this war, and quickly!”

The war economy minister gritted his teeth. Why did everyone tell him that? Did they think he was unaware of the facts? “What about Russian debt?” he asked, exasperated. “Why are they still selling bonds?”

Siemens shrugged. “Russia is a very big country, and investors trust the Czar to squeeze the money out somehow. And remember, they are paying five per cent against our three-and-three-quarters, even with a lot of French rentiers sympathetic to their cause. Institutional investors are getting out of Russian paper, I have on good authority.”

“At any rate,” Foreign Minister von Bülow interjected, “a lot of our bond buyers are relying on us to squeeze reparations out after victory, so you could say we are also selling Russian bonds, in a way.”

Rathenau smiled sourly. Now to justify the confidence of English investors, too... no pressure at all.

“The problem,” he pointed out, “is that we cannot be sure we will be able to win this war quickly. You may have noticed it's already taken twice as long as we thought it could.”

The chancellor frowned. “Surely, there must be a way of using that military power we have....”

What did the fool think they were doing? Rathenau mildly shook his head. Not everybody was privy to the staff meetings. “By all reasonable accounts, the Russians are beaten. They have lost their battlefleet, half of Poland is ours, their southern offensive is coming apart at the seams, and now we've landed in Finland. The rational thing to do is sue for peace and salvage what they can. But the Russian government is not rational.”

Chancellor von Gerlach looked troubled. It was not the kind of thing you wanted to hear when every second speech in the Reichstag referenced the coming peace, the great victory that was now just weeks away. They had their victories – Mlawa, Königsberg, Ivangorod, Rügen, Kilwa, Lublin and Hangö – but none had been the long-expected decisive one.

“From every account we have, the Russian army is preparing for a long defensive fight. They are still raising recruits, building defenses, laying down coastal warships and trying for diversions on secondary fronts. It is not going to win them the war, it's likely to mean the peace will be so much harsher. But I fear they have discovered our own Achilles' heel: that we cannot indefinitely continue the war. If the Russians are determined to fight on as long as one man stands, we will have to make titanic efforts to destroy their power. We may have to physically take Moscow before they give up. Chancellor, we have too long imagined ourselves Bismarck in 1866. The truth is, ours is the unenviable position of Lincoln in 1862. And we will need all the help we can get.”

“I can't offer you much hope there.” Bülow said resignedly. “Once we have victory assured, a number of governments have indicated sub rosa they would be happy to join in. But it is too early now. They are terrified of what the Russians might do to them if they win.”

“Sweden?” Gerlach asked hopefully.

“Likely. But not quite yet.” Von Bülow actually smiled briefly. “We have been in intense diplomatic contact over our operations off their coast, naturally, and the response has been encouraging. But the king is most concerned over the northern border and must have assurances that we will stay in the war until the end. Much the same, I believe, is true of Bulgaria, which will most readily join at our side as soon as the most pressing need ceases.” The foreign minister cleared his throat. “Naturally, all of this is entirely confidential. Now, our best prospect for immediate co-belligerency, I fear, is China. I realise this is a disappointment.”

Von Gerlach nodded sourly., “What do they want in return?”

“Nothing. They would not mind subsidies, weapons and advisors, but mainly, the imperial court is eager to let the Russians know their designs on Mongolia, Turkestan and Tibet are unwelcome. They can naturally only hope to do that while the bulk of Russian forces is otherwise engaged. We expect a formal declaration of war to follow the first material victory against the rebels.”

He shuffled his papers. “The Ottomans, on the other hand, sadly are entirely unwilling to commit themselves at this point.” Long faces greeted this announcement. An Ottoman alliance could strangle Russian commerce and draw significant resources away from the front to the Caucasus. “They are daily expecting an Italian invasion in the Cyrenaica, and since we are bound not to assist them in that eventuality...”

He left the sentence unfinished. Of course the sultan had every reason to be upset over this little piece of underhanded treachery. An Italo-Ottoman war at this point would be a distraction, but the French would very likely helpfully neutralise the Aegean with their naval presence and ensure no interruptions to commerce. Which left them with nothing, except bad blood between two allies. Rathenau sighed deeply.

“But we are making progress with the Darlehenskassen, I take it?”

It was Siemens' turn to look pained. “I still think this is a reckless undertaking and entirely irresponsible, but, yes. Cooperative banks have joined the system and are issuing their own paper in return for bond deposits. I am telling you this will end in tears.”

“Maybe.” von Gerlach said, weaving dismissively. “But if it does, we will have to do our share of crying. It needs doing. And the government must stand behind these instruments. You have instructed the authorities accordingly, I assume?”

Siemens nodded. “Kassenscheine will be accepted in payment of all taxes and dues. At least inasmuch as I can enforce that. I've heard that the Bavarians may only accept their own issue.”

Rathenau groaned and scribbled a note. Someone needed a talking-to.

“And taxes.” Siemens continued. “The receipts of the new income tax are heartening, but I'm afraid we will not be able to get the Conservatives or the National Liberals to vote for another round of direct taxes. Half the DKP is in rebellion, apparently.”

That meant indirect taxes. A fight with the Social Democrats. Oh, joy. Chancellor von Gerlach adjusted his spectacles and once more considered the possibility of resignation.

16 April 1907, Mariehamn, Aland Islands

Submarine Osetr

Lieutenant Borisov squinted through the fogged periscope. Right ahead, and now within torpedo range, the grey bulk of a German cruiser blocked his view of the shore, making a perfect target. About time something went right. The innards of his submersible torpedo boat Osetr was chilly and damp, with condensation running down the walls in rivulets, shorting out electric circuits on occasion. The engines had conked out a few times on the way here – they had been supposed to arrive the day before – and only the sterling quality of his crew had made it possible to complete the trip at all. Grumbling, he peered through the foggy lens again, trying to jiggle loose the rangefinder. It was one thing to build an experimental design to identify flaws, but people had had over two years now to remedy them and precious little had been done. Osetr was a sound boat – she had taken them past the German patrols unnoticed – but she had her weaknesses.

“Torpedoes ready?” he asked.

“Ready, Sir!”

Sighing, the lieutenant decided that he would have to guesstimate. The ship was easily within range. Of course, torpedoes were tricky things. Even if you adjusted the trim and rudder just right, the slightest problem could make them go awry. Judging by the movements of people on the deck – 800 metres. He dared not go in closer while the bay was teeming with supply ships, lighters, fishing smacks and navy cutters. It would have to do.

“One and two, ready!” The sailors took up position by the tubes. “One and two, fire!”

The boat shuddered as the projectiles left their tubes. In the bow, the chief petty officer was already ordering his men about heaving another torpedo into loading position.

“Rudder hard to starboard, ahead one third.” Borisov ordered. The quiet hum of electric engines still vaguely unnerved him. He was used to machines providing a heartbeat to everything on the ship. Cautiously, he raised the periscope again to see where his fish were going, looked around and sighed in frustration. With the enviable precision of Russian engineering, the tracks were gently curving to starboard. They were on course to miss the cruiser by a good one hundred metres astern!

“Reload forward tubes!” the lieutenant ordered. “All engines back! Hard to starboard!”

There might still be time to get a shot in from the stern tube.

SMS Moltke

Kapitän Schmidt looked out over the busy harbour, still amazed how smoothly everything was running. They had brought in specialists, bargemen from Hamburg to handle the unloading of supplies and boat crews to ferry them over to the Dutch in the landing area near Hangö. The locals were pitching in, too, though that was not from patriotic fervour. He had found the local people dispassionate, almost apathetic, but he couldn't blame them. It might be their Finnish fatherland they were liberating here, but these were not really Finns, and it was certainly their houses they were stomping flat in the process. Mariehamn's postcard prettiness had suffered from a few battleship shells before the small Russian garrison had surrendered, and with the harbour now crowded with shipping, the fishing boats were bottled up, even if they had been willing to let any local vessel sail. Handling freight for the Germans was the only way to earn a living now.

Clasping his hands behind his back, he was just about to return to the shelter of the bridge when the lookout's call alerted him.

“Torpedo wakes!”

Torpedoes? How? They had patrols out and it was unlikely that a Russian boat could have slipped past them. Those damned destroyers could sink one of their own torpedo boats, but a fight would surely have been noticed. Straining to see, he scanned the grey, choppy waters until he spotted the twin wakes, passing by the torpedo nets and curving gently past the stern of his ship straight for the row of ammunition transports! How could the bastards have known that!? A 37mm anti-torpedo gun opened up, but Captain Schmidt knew it was a vain hope. The chance of a shell passing through the water to hit one of the torpedoes was infinitesimally small. “Brace!” he ordered.

Submarine Osetr

Still struggling with his rangefinder, Lieutenant Borisov tried to get an adequate estimate of the cruiser's distance and next move – the ship was surely under steam? Behind him, the helmsman was wrestling the boat into firing position. The flash caught him by surprise, almost blinding him for the briefest of moments. It did not look like a torpedo strike had been described to him. Swivelling the periscope to port, he saw an enormous, rolling column of fire rise skyward. What the hell had happened? That was an explosion, wasn't it?

A fraction of a second too late did he remember what he had been taught about pressure waves and tugged frantically on the periscope. The boat was slammed sideways as though kicked by a giant keen on football and he could hear the anguished shriek of metal twisted apart. A rush of cold water came down the periscope tube as the crew tumbled to port. With a bright fireworks display of popping fuses, the electrics shorted out and darkness fell. He never saw the majestic mushroom of smoke that rose from the ashes of Mariehamn.

18 April 1907, Washington DC

Many men were able to look combative, but few could visibly rise to a challenge the way Theodore Roosevelt could. Secretary of Commerce Metcalf was invariably impressed by the raw energy the president could exude if he felt he was under attack.

“The Pacific Sea Lanes note.” Roosevelt said with a dangerously calm. “That is the purpose of your visit, isn't it, ambassador von Bernstorff?”

His guest nodded. “It is. I must say it was rather a surprise.” It had been to anyone. The US government had, formally and officially, called on all belligerent parties to refrain from warlike actions in the Pacific ocean, respect the freedom of international sea lanes, and not stop or search neutral ships.

“And you wish to lodge a formal protest?”

Bernstorff smiled disarmingly. “No, Mr President, I was rather hoping for a clarifying convertsation. To understand each other's motivations and needs, if you will.”

The presidential moustache unbristled. “You do? Well, them, ambassador, take a seat and let's talk. Lemonade?”

A liveried servant poured two tall glasses. Ambassador von Bernstorff settled into one of the heavy armchairs and gratefully accepted the refreshment before beginning. “Mr President, I must say we were all rather surprised by your call for effectively a neutralisation of the entire Pacific ocean. Of course His Majesty's government appreciates that you are concerned over warlike action near your coast, but in view of the limited forces all parties have in the ocean, it seems something of an excessive reaction. I was wondering at which point you would consider essential interests to be at stake.”

“You mean how serious are we about this?” Roosevelt paused. “Not extremely. You understand that this is in part a matter of economic interest, I hope. Our country trades extensively in the Pacific ocean and has territorial interest in the region. Any fighting taking place there could threaten the safety of our trade, and that is something we are unwilling to tolerate. We cannot have American ships stopped and searched on the high seas by warships of a foreign power. The public would not accept it.”

The ambassador nodded. It made sense. America had a proprietary view of the Pacific, but not the naval assets to enforce it fully. Making their wishes known clearly in advance would reduce the chance of precipitating a crisis and embarrassing everybody. “I understand. Rest assured nothing of the sort has been considered. However, considering that there remains a Russian naval presence, I assume that if the imperial navy were to engage and sink a Russian warship...”

“...we would take the news with equanimity.” Roosevelt completed the sentence. “In fact, if you managed a close blockade of Vladivostok, we should not be overly concerned. But we cannot have an extended guerre de course in these waters.”

“I understand entirely.” von Bernstorff assured him. “The information will be conveyed to the Admiralty as soon as possible.”

“Ambassador,” the president said after sipping on his glass, “I assume I may trust in your discretion when I tell you this: The Pacific Lanes note was occasioned not least as part of a quid pro quo with the Russian government.”

Von Bernstorff's eyebrows rose. “”The Russian government? Of course you may rely on me, Mr President.”

“I thought as much. Well, you are aware, I am sure, that American charitable organisations are involved in a number of relief efforts in Russia, including, I should point out, the efforts of our consul Mr Andersen in Tula on behalf of German and Austrian prisoners of war.”

The ambassador nodded. “Indeed, Mr President, this has not gone unnoticed. The royal Prussian government is about to offer Mr Andersen the Kronenorden.”

Roosevelt flashed a smile. “I'm afraid he may decline. Mr Andersen is a Boston Republican. At any rate the gesture is much appreciated. Now, it was suggested by the Russian government that such relief efforts would be able to receive considerably more favourable treatment and support from the government's organs if we were prepared to give greater consideration to the shared interests of our two nations. I am sure you understand that we were willing to place the interest of common humanity ahead of any concern for partiality here, especially since the commercial interest in Washington had already been pushing for this move.”

Bernstorff looked grave. “Thank you for your honesty, Mr President. Needless to say this matter will be held in strict confidence. The world is grateful to your country for the generosity with which Americans go abroad to relieve suffering wherever it occurs, and especially the German government for your support to the relief efforts we have had to abandon due to the war.”

It was mostly American organisations now that shipped Jewish refugees out of Russia and housed them in the ever-growing tent cities in the Ottoman Empire. Americans fed civilians in Poland and Austria, prisoners of war and displaced persons in Russia, and Romanians and Serbs left destitute by the war. For a private endeavour, the financial and logistical effort was considerable.

“There is one more thing...” Roosevelt added, his face growing sterner again. “The secretary of war has brought this to my attention: It is entirely unacceptable for the German government to attempt to recruit US soldiers for its army. I expect that this will not happen again.”

Berstorff looked puzzled. “Recruit American soldiers? I am sorry, I am at a loss how this could have happened.”

“I am not entirely conversant with the details myself, but it seems that artillery muleteers were approached in Michigan with offers to join the German army in a civilian capacity. I can have the files brought if you wish...”

Recognition dawned. “That will not be necessary, Mr President. I am sorry. The government's agents were under orders to recruit civilian muleteers as well as purchase mules, but they proved in very short supply. I believe they must have given in to the counsel of desperation. It is, of course, entirely unacceptable and will not recur.”

“I see.” the president's eyes narrowed with amused interest. “Why would you seek to recruit muleskinners in Chicago?”

“I believe it is to do with tactical mobility. We are introducing mules to mortar and machine gun units, with good success, but – we do not use mules or donkeys much. Germany is horse country. So the government instructed its agents to recruit muleteers to supervise their handling and instruct troops.”

That made sense. A mule could go wherever an infantryman could, and it would carry a lot of ammunition. The French used them in their flying columns, after all.

“Yes, I understand that.” Roosevelt pointed out, “But why would you look for them in Chicago? You will find good muleskinners in the south and west, not the northeast. That's horse country, too.”

Bernstorff seemed to blush slightly. “We were under the impression that we were approaching the western population.” he admitted. It was a big country. You could be forgiven for not quite understanding where the west began. “But I am assured that our new recruitment efforts are more likely to succeed, and will not cause offense. Our agent in Chicago is advertising in a paper with extensive circulation in the south. The Chicago Defender. We hope to gain more numerous respondents from there.”

Roosevelt hid his smile behind a hand stroking his moustache. “The Chicago Defender you say?” he remarked. “Well, I wish you good luck. I will certainly not interfere with your government's purchases of mules or hiring of civilian volunteers, wherever in this country you may get them.”
Rentamt Quittainen, East Prussia, 19 April 1907

A jolting cart was not the most comfortable way to travel, but all things considered, it could have been a lot worse. In fact, until a week ago it had been. Corporal Kaulis had only too vivid memories of the horrible winter, the draughty, overcrowded barracks, the exquisite pain in your toes when your comrades had stolen your straw shoes and you stood barefoot in the snow, the way the Germans smiled when they made you queue for your rations outside, the awful slop they fed you and the unremitting nastiness that the nationalist prisoners visited on you for refusing to toe their line. Or, in his case, for existing. Out of the camp, things could only get better. On the whole, it looked like it would.

They had come to a stop outside a surprisingly utilitarian brick building. Korporal Lautenschläger got off the driver's seat and walked over to meet the woman who came out to greet him. Kaulis was not sure he had ever seen the petty tyrant quite so deferential. He strained to listen.

“Of course, Frau Gräfin. Five prisoners of war for labour, and the commander has even found one who understands a bit of German.”

The woman – countess, going by what Lautenschläger was saying – smiled gratefully. “Thank you, corporal. You have no idea how much the war has devastated the countryside. Getting workers is all but impossible these days. Do come in, and introduce your charges to the Großknecht.

The corporal bowed with that curious abrupt motion from the waist that German soldiers did, and turned around to fetch them. “Enough lazing about, Ivan!” he yelled, swishing his stick around in expansive gestures. “Off the cart now. Over there, move it. Davai, davai, rabotten!”

These words – combined with a choice of epithets – represented the total of the man's Russian vocabulary. Sometimes, you could get away with feigning incomprehension. But there was the stick to consider – Lautenschläger did like to use that stick. The prisoners scrambled off the cart, grabbing their meagre bundles, and lined up. Yanking off his cap, Kaulis stood to attention. He looked over at the woman who would take charge of their lives from now on and was surprised to see her face register distaste.

“There is no need for this, corporal.” she said cooly. “Who are these men?”

“Three Russians, ma'am.” Lautenschläger reported, sounding like a cattle salesman. “Good workers, docile, but stupid. You need to watch them all the time. That fellow with the black cap is a Tartar. He doesn't talk. This here fellow,” he grabbed Kaulis by the arm, “is from Lithuania and talks a bit of German. Say something, Ivan!”

Kaulis bristled, but swallowed his bile. “Guten Tag, Frau Gräfin.” he said in his best pronunciation. He was used to it. Guten Tag, Herr Pastor, Guten Tag, Herr Lehrer, Guten Tag, Herr Schutzmann... all Lithuanians knew that song. They usually didn't get a smile. A man who looked to be in his sixties, dressed in a blue cotton smock and brown jacket, came over to them now. Most likely the großknecht they had been talking about. He looked like you would imagine a farmhand, gnarly fingers and bushy beard.

“These are the Russians, Boleslav.” the countess said. The man grunted something and nodded approvingly before touching his cap and heading into the house.

“Well, thank you, corporal. Would you care for a bite to eat before you return to your duties? You can bring the men into the kitchen, I'm sure they're hungry, too.”

Lautenschläger demurred. “There's no need to waste good food on 'em, Frau Gräfin.”

The countess looked at him icily. “Corporal, I am sure you have your military ways of doing things, but on this estate everyone who works in our fields eats from our kitchen. Now if you would.”

The smell of cooked potatoes, onions, meat and cabbage met them as they entered the building through the narrow side door. There was real bread, lard, and generous slices of ham on the table. The großknecht Boleslav was already tucking into a large sandwich. Yes, it did look like things would get better. Corporal Kaulis figured he would get along nicely here.

Southeast of Reunion, S.S. Kiautschou, 20 April 1907

First Officer Hans Auer surreptitiously tried to brush a smear of coal dust off his white trousers as he walked down the officers' quarters corridor. You could not have the men see him improperly dressed – certainly not now. If uniform discipline gave under trying circumstances, it would be impossible to restore it once S.S. Kiautschou carried passengers again. If it ever did – the experience of being dropped off in Aden with vouchers for P&O services and an apology from the imperial government might well discourage future ticket purchases, no matter the state of cleanliness on board. At present, that left much to be desired.

The beautiful carpet of the ladies' salon had suffered especially. At least their new commanding officer had refrained from stuffing the first and second class accommodation full of coal the way he had the steerage cabins and hold. But even so, people had to manhandle all that stuff, and those people wore shoes, and those shoes dragged dirt and dust. Everywhere. And of course – Auer shuddered – the walls in first class simply had to be white. What had happened to his ship was a violation - almost a rape. Kiautschou was a liner, a floating palace with the grace and strength of a racehorse and the elegance and refinement of a grand hotel. War being war, he would not have objected to using her as an auxiliary cruiser, but to simply stuff her full of coal to feed Dutch cruisers was – horrendous. You might as well use a thoroughbred in a donkey cart.

In truth, Auer had never appreciated just how thoroughly civilian he was until he encountered navy life for real. Or at least, this part of it: he was fairly sure that things were done differently in Ingenohl's battlefleet. But they had been sent a superannuated reserve lieutenant-commander who had come in on a dhow from Somaliland, his sole recommendation for command being his local availability, his commission reactivated telegraphically after six years as a coffee merchant. The captain – the real captain, not this old navy fossil – was reduced to the function of mediating between the new commander, the ship, and the HAPAG. Word from the home office was that they were concerned over what status the ship now had – the navy was clear on the fact that she could not be considered an auxiliary cruiser, but their new orders were to patrol an area of ocean looking out for sailing ships. French sailing ships. Nobody knew what to do once they found them, except to wireless the news for telegraphic transfer. Auer found this enormously infuriating. He had no problem expecting a man to do impeccable service with limited tools, but you had to tell him what the point was!

Stepping onto the bridge, First Officer Auer felt himself entering his domain. Doubts and uncertainties diminished as he surveyed the familiar, comforting instruments of his profession. Third Officer van Bargen saluted and reported: “Afternoon watch completed, no incident.- Sighted two sailing craft, native dhows, and smoke from one ship, not identified, due northeast. Probably a freighter bound for Capetown. All entered in the log.”

“Thanks.” Auer looked his colleague up and down. The white uniform was slightly rumpled and a few telltale grey smudges betrayed their losing battle against the coal dust, but he was still very presentable. HAPAG men, both of them. “I relieve you.”

Quietly, the first officer settled into his familiar position, halfway between the back wall of the bridge and the compass, and looked out over the glittering expanse of sea. A long evening's work awaited.

21 April 1907, Lublin

“Come on in, Oberst Rabinowitz.” General von Kähnen's office, set up in a school building the Russians had been using for staff duties, was not per se a welcoming place, and few officers looked forward to being called there. Yossel Rabinovicz – Josef Rabinowitz to its occupant – was no exception. He saluted stiffly. “Sir!”

“Take a seat.” The general smiled broadly. “I don't think I've expressed my appreciation of your brigade's performance in the taking of Lublin sufficiently yet. You will be gratified to hear that it was mentioned in despatches several times. Something to drink?”

He poured two glasses of cognac which was inappropriate, given the time of day, but welcome. Rabinovicz did not relax. Nobody was ever called to the general for praise.

“Thank you, Sir.” he said warily. “I'm very proud of my men.”

“Their conduct has certainly not gone unnoticed. Did you know that you are under sentence of death now?” Von Kähnen picked up a binder of newspaper clippings. “As of the day before yesterday, as a matter of fact. The Czar seems to have taken a personal dislike.”

He handed over the clipping, and Rabinovicz read. Russian was unfamiliar after almost two years of only Yiddish, Polish and German, but he quickly ot used to it again. 'Barbarous slaughter of prisoners', it said. 'Savage murderers', 'no quarter', 'ritual butcher knives of the Jewish killers red with Russian blood'. The colonel shook his head in bemusement. “Sentenced in absentia by a military tribunal.” he muttered. “I don't think this changes anything material. The Russians would have killed me anyway if they got their hands on me.”

“True enough.” the general nodded, returning the clipping to the file. He adjusted his pince-nez and looked searchingly at Rabinovicz's face. “Still, those were your orders, were they not?”

“Yes, Sir. After what my men saw when we entered the city...”

A quick gesture stopped him. “Colonel, I have read your report. I understand the righteous ire of patriotic hearts and in all honesty, if they had done that to Germans I'm not sure anyone of the garrison would be alive now. But this is a matter of honour. The reputation of German arms is at stake. The Russians are claiming that you pronounced a solemn curse offering your prisoners as human sacrifices.”

Rabinovicz swallowed hard. This was the kind of nonsense you'd expect from people who thought matzos were made with the blood of Christian boys, of course. But if you looked at it from the right angle... “Our rabbi spoke the kherem, Sir.”

“The kherem?”

“An ancient tradition of Jewish warfare. It's in the Book of Joshua...” Rabinovicz explained. The general blanched.

“Surely not to the letter?” he remarked.

“Of course not, Sir. No enemy civilians were harmed.” Rabinovicz neglected to point out that practically none had been found. He was not sure how well his troops would have distinguished between a Russian soldier and a Russian janitor.

“Well. What is done is done, colonel, and I think it may not be for the worst if your men gain a reputation of this kind. You have an uphill struggle in that regard. I didn't believe you'd be worth having when I heard you'd be with my division, myself.”

Unsure how to react, Rabinovicz gently bowed his head and smiled. It seemed to do the trick.

“But I must insist that the enemy never again be given such an opportunity for propaganda. I need to be able to confirm to Berlin that no troops under my command were given orders to kill prisoners. Is that clear?” Von Kähnen's voice had a sharp edge.

“Sir – I believe so. But you know how the war has been....”

The general interrupted again. “Colonel, if I ever ask you this question again, I need you to be able to say sincerely that your men were not ordered to refuse quarter. I'm sure you do understand.”

“Yes, Sir.” Rabinovicz confirmed. “No such orders will be given in future.”

“Excellent, colonel.“

22 April 1907, Mehlauken Field Headquarters

“He is the most dangerous kind of man – an officer with an idea.” Major Eitel Friedrich von Hohenzollern said, loudly enough to be heard over the map table. A dutiful chorus of guffaws rose. Lieutenant-General von Eichhorn shot him a stern warning glance.

“I do not see what is so funny about that, your highness.” he pronounced coldly. “I should be grateful if my staff produced more useful ideas for certain. And I should be most grateful to you if you saw fit to attend to your duties and leave me to discuss matters with Major Bruchmüller!”

The latter stood still, dumbfounded by the words of the crown prince and the general's response in equal measure. Eichhorn gestured to a chair, clearly liberated from a cafe, the straw seat torn in several places, but still functional. The retreating Russians had left them little enough of anything in working condition.

“Thank you, general.” the major said. “I am grateful for the opportunity. You have read my proposal?”

“I have.” Eichhorn nodded. “It sounds like a most perilous plan. However, after what we have seen on the front, I am hard-pressed for any alternative. The preponderance of the defense is overwhelming.”

He gestured towards the map with its grease pencil lines of advance and retreat, square kilometres exchanged for blood at an ever depreciating return. The Russian advance on Insterburg showed as a red bubble with smudged contours, German blue closing the gap and containing the bulge. The front in the north had come to a grinding halt in the face of swampy terrain north of their current position, with no triumphs to be had since the fall of Labiau – a mined harbour and a flattened town at a price of probably a hundred thousand German men since the end of winter. The enemy still held almost all of Littauen province, entrenched behind moors, rivers and – most gallingly - their own defensive works fallen in the first chaotic weeks of the war. It was enough to reduce greater men to tears.

“If you can hold down the defenders with your artillery well enough, I think an attack should be possible. An attack across the Inster towards Gumbinnen would take us into the back of the Angerapp lines. Going through those would be a nightmare.” The general scratched his chin. “But it will take time to train and coordinate, won't it? How much do you estimate?”

Bruchmüller nervously twisted his fashionable pencil moustache. “The artillery should be ready enough.” he said, “though I would want to go through two or three wargames with the officers. And we will need a few cloudless days to take balloon photographs.”

“How about using the zeppelin?” suggested Lieutenant Colonel Stephani. “It worked well in Samland.”

Eichhorn nodded. “Good point. We will get zeppelin flights. Now, the infantry. How do you envision their approach?”

“Well,” The major hesitated, “we will need to brief the officers and NCOs on the time schedule. I don't think any field telephones would stand up to the rigour of artillery fire. But the fire schedules must be strictly committed to memory. No written document is to leave headquarters. The troops will then advance as ordered, following right behind the advancing fire. They will need hand grenades and Madsen guns to deal with Russians barricaded in bunkers, I think, but the lines should be empty after bombardment. As little visible preparation as possible is certainly desirable.” The enemy might lack in coordination, discipline and technology, but they had a frustratingly efficient intelligence network.

“Good thing you're not planning your bit of target practice on the cavalry, at least.” Major von Hohenzollern quipped. “I'd rather not get blown to bits because someone confused a number.”

Bruchmüller stiffened. “Your Highness, I would have absolutely no hesitation in putting myself into this position. Standing 50 metres beside an artillery target is what we do regularly on the range. If requested, I will assume command of a forward unit.”

Eichhorn's face reddened. “That will be enough, your highness.” he barked. “And also from you, Major. We both know leading infantry is a young man's game. You will be needed at headquarters. Let's give this a try.”

24 April 1907, Sanssouci

“All right, I give up.” Emperor Wilhelm sighed theatrically. “But dammit, I still think it's a horrible idea.”

Prince Albert stroked his goatee, smiling behind his hand. “You have talked to the doctors, too. Do you really want to risk your health and leave us all to be governed by Eitel Friedrich? You're getting married next week, and you'll need your strength if we're to have an heir.” He paused, rifling through the papers. “And anyway, it's a nice honeymoon trip. I wouldn't mind going.”

“Why don't you, then?” his majesty asked sourly.

“Someone's got to mind the shop. And with the Dutch doing whatever the hell they want up in Finland, I might as well stay in Berlin and dedicate myself to things I can be useful with.” He screwed up his face. The Mariehamn disaster still was a sore point. Yes, the fleet had been incredibly unlucky, but losing your general and staff, almost your entire artillery park, two months' worth of ammunition and half the horses in one fell swoop was not something you could live down easily. The only consolation was that the battlefleet had been away at the time, shelling Hangö. Now, the much reduced operation was in the hands of the Dutch expeditionary corps on the mainland, and they were using their naval support to pick up towns along the west coast instead of making for Helsingfors. Albert did not like to talk about it much.

“Promise to keep me informed, though!” Wilhelm demanded. “I can't spend my entire time with my wife.”

“Wilhelm, say her name.” Ernst Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt looked at his friend with concern. “You will be spending the rest of your life with Elisabeth, and she has given up a lot for you. Please, respect her enough for that.”

The emperor sighed deeply, more resigned sadness than anger. “I did not ask her to give up anything. Really, I should have stuck with Fanny. This is – I'm not even sure I can talk to her.”

“Well, that's for you to find out. Most people are different in private.” the duke said, “But you are under no obligation to be happy. If you prefer, you can tear yourself apart inside. I'd just advise you to have a go at happiness with Elisabeth, because this is all you're going to get.”

Another groan. “You're one to lecture me on that.” Wilhelm complained. “You're not being asked to abandon the woman who saved your life!”

“You're not asked to abandon Fanny, Wilhelm.” Ernst Ludwig explained, patiently, but with an edge of aggravation to his voice. “Whatever arrangement you find will have to be made after the wedding. Surely you can't blame her for leaving town for that. But if I were you, I would try for married bliss. It beats the alternative, I'm told.”

Albert, himself a happily married man, nodded assent. “It's the best thing you can do. I didn't have much choice in the matter, either, but it worked out. And Elisabeth – you could do worse. She's smart, pretty as a picture, and not a simpering girl, either.”

A tear was surreptitiously wiped from the corner of the emperor's good eye. “I know. I know, it's my duty, I'm doing what I have to. I don't have to be ecstatic about it.” He snorted angrily. “And three months of travel in the wilderness while Germany is fighting a war. You'll have won it by the time I'm back!”

Albert grimaced. It was hardly likely. “You could hardly go to the Riviera, you know.” That much was true. France was not safe for any Hohenzollern. Neither could you entirely trust the Russian secret police not to try any unwise plans – not with their new Integralist masters running things in Moscow. Most of Europe was off-limits, and Scandinavia was too close to the fighting front to constitute a holiday. “Britain is a wonderful country in spring. And we will be able to spare you the cruiser escort to go to the United States afterwards.”

The emperor looked glum. Well, that at least. He had insisted on seeing America if he was to travel abroad, and his fiancee had demurred, perhaps secretly glad to escape the strictures of protocol for the fabled opulence of New York City and the magnificent untamed nature of the transcontinental railroad. And of course, the English-speaking nations by and large loved plucky little Germany fighting the tyrant ogre of St Petersburg now. They would have a warm welcome. Perhaps even sell some bonds.

25 April 1907, Moscow

“I am sure you will appreciate that this is a most awkward situation,” the naval attache said. On the table in front of him lay papers from Le Havre, discussing the predicament of A D Bordes & fils shippers. “Tomorrow, or the day after, this will make the Paris papers. Then our government will be forced to react formally.”

Admiral Alexeyev flashed the young man a pained smile. “Captain, I am sure you understand that I am bound by His Majesty's decision in these matters. I know it is irregular, but the decision to refuse payment was made at the highest level. The conduct of the captains of Bordes & fils was greatly unsatisfactory, after all.”

“I understand that a shipment of coal went undelivered, which I realise may be a grave embarrassment, but you must appreciate the contract was negotiated through the good offices of our Ministry of the Navy. We stand to be embarrassed by a refusal to honour the obligations of imperial Russia.” The attache looked Alexeyev firmly in the eye. “Combes is not an insignificant firm, and the economic situation in France is less stable than we would like. A bankruptcy would cause political difficulty.”

Alexeyev sipped his tea and brushed invisible crumbs off his ornate uniform. “His Majesty is adamant on this point, I regret to say. The ships chartered to deliver a cargo of coal refused to honour their obligation, scattering at shadows and never even bothering to report their whereabouts to the recipients in the region. The offense such behaviour has caused a nation heroically fighting for its very survival is understandable.”

“France is at peace, Sir.” The younger man bristled at the suggestion. “The vessels you chartered were civilian, and by the account of the captain of the Antonin they were accosted by a German warship. They cannot be expected to run such risks on a charter, admiral. Your government assured that it would see to their safety.”

“Come, now, captain.” Alexeyev said patronisingly. “The S.S. Kiautschou is a civilian liner. Even the German government itself has confirmed that it was not serving as an auxiliary cruiser and carried no weapons at the time of the encounter. Bordes' captain lost their nerves and abandoned their mission. They cannot expect to receive pay for this.”

The French attache cleared his throat. “That may be left for future enquiries to decide, Sir. We understand that HNLMS Friesland was also loitering in the area. At any rate, the entire point of my asking to discuss this with you is to head off any confrontation that may be damaging to both our nations' interests. You must understand that if payment is withheld, the matter will be brought before a French court.”

“Surely, the friendship of our two nations...”

“That is not how it works in France, Admiral. I have a grounding in Admiralty law, as no doubt do you, and precedent suggests that warlike action invariably is regarded as force majeure. The embarrassment of such a trial and its inevitable outcome would be painful for you as it would for us. Consider the damage it may do to your standing among the investors who hold Russian bonds and the manufacturers who provide credit for arms purchases.”

Alexeyev glowered. “Are you – threatening me, Capitaine Lefevre?” he said harshly.

“No, Sir. Nothing could be further from my intention. I am trying to resolve a potential problem before it surfaces. But please understand our position...”

The admiral rose. “Capitaine, I have said before that His Majesty's decision has been made. As far as I am concerned, and as far as Russia is concerned, that is the final word in this matter. I am sorry if I have wasted your time. Good day.”

25 April 1907, Rubeho Pass, Ostafrika

Colonel Dyuzhev stared in incomprehension at the shuffling, sullen creatures on morning parade. These were the men he had led to victory just a few short weeks ago? These were the men who had followed him through steaming heat and pouring rain, into the mountains south of the railway line where Ludendorff the hyena had fled with the bleeding shreds of his army? Hollow-eyed, scared, jumping at shadows, they were on the verge of mutiny now. Before them, the pass road rose, defended by an invisible, entrenched enemy. Around them, the hills teemed with riflemen. They had suffered many days of sniping, hit-and-run attacks and ambushes. Food was running out as they advanced through a landscape of burned-out., looted villages, and Dyuzhev's increasingly urgent calls for resupply went unanswered, the couriers disappearing into the tall grass never to be seen again. Patrolmen sometimes did show up again, their bodies spread out by the roadside for display. He had had the entire force parade past them at the beginning to fire their lust for revenge. By now, he just hoped to find no more of those. For a while, he had sent mounted patrols ahead to clear these gruesome displays off the road, but they had ended up joining them as often as not.

At the other end of the valley, the remnants of the porters' camp still signalled their utter abandonment to a hostile country. For many days before, the soldiers had looked at them with rising suspicion. Dyuzhev had tried to keep them from taking in locals, but it had simply proved impossible, and the homeless women and children of the burned-over countryside swelled their ranks. Some Russian soldiers, too, had availed themselves of the opportunity the company of starving, desperate women offered, but this ended after a few of them had ended up with their throats cut. And by now, they had no more rations to share anyway. Without a supply column coming up from the railhead in Mpapua, they would start dying in a week. Dyuzhev was unsure he could keep his forces together on a march back through this rain-sodden wasteland. Already half of them were feverish. But the road ahead was blocked. Up in the hills sat the Germans, no longer running now. They had their artillery with them, an apparently inexhaustible supply of shells, and machine guns emplaced in commanding positions. Their men knew the lie of the land while Dyuzhev could hardly dare send patrols of less than a platoon if he wanted to see them again. His only choice – all his officers agreed – was to attack and break the opposing enemy. The numbers still favoured them. But today, the colonel doubted he could make his men fight that battle. He looked up once more at the pass road. A solitary German flag waved in the distance, defying them to come. Today, they might have to.

26 April 1907, Ugogi, Ostafrika

To the Great General Staff Office, Berlin

It is my pleasure to present my congratulations upon His All-Highest Majesty's wedding and, by way of a present, two thousand prisoners of the Russian Expeditionary Force including Colonel Dyuzhev, senior surviving army officer in the colony. His Majesty's Oberkommand Ostafrika Abteilung Ludendorff will proceed on Mpuapua and Daressalam at best speed from this point onwards.

Brigadier General Ludendorff

28 April 1907, Berlin

The celebrations, of course, are far from over, but I have taken refuge in my room at the Kaiserhof for a short while in order to write you what has been going on. You will recall how I told you of the swirl of madness that engulfed all of society after the arrival of the bride, when the city seemed to dissolve into a succession of ball, reception and diner invitations, and even if I had accepted half of them I should have been busy for an eternity. Everybody who is anybody is here, today, quartered where they can with friends, for hotel rooms are not to be had for any sum in the world. But they have come, largely, unto a very dreary scene. Berlin is seeming poorer by the day, its fabled opulence retreating into memory with every passing snip of the ration coupon scissors. It may surprise you to hear this, but the Germans are a people of remarkable thoroughness, and they do issue those coupon books for visitors even if you but intend to stay for a few days. Mine, of course, is extensive, I intend to remain her for quite a while and enjoy the excitement of seeing a country at war, perhaps use the opportunity to visit my son in Königsberg. But you will have one even if you stay for only a day or two, and there is no shop or restaurant that will sell you anything without it, barring at exorbitant prices and for sterling.

The balls here, I must admit, are the most boring affairs you could imagine now. The ladies of Berlin have gained a little in attraction now that the fashion dictates simplicity, and the brief return of the Königin-Luise-Kleid, but they hardly compare to London or even Paris. I am, of course, biased in that these cuts flatter a younger figure, but the poor slips of girls one still sees in them are hardly to be envied. Even if they had the finest ball gowns to be had from Paris, they would still lack the most basic amenities of society. If I had had my coming-out with a buffet of pilchards, chicken and ham, I should almost certainly have resolved to enter a nunnery! And there is above all, of course, a pronounced lack of dancers. The handsome young officers who so greatly add to the attraction of the city are, of course, all at the front to earn their decorations. Some have come back for the occasion, but I am saddened to say that the heroes I have met were all quite poor dancers – a lieutenant-colonel of artillery with the black eagle, of undistinguished footwork and limited conversational skill, a cavalry lieutenant who was handsome enough, but thick as a plank, and poor soulful Commander Berenstein with the pour le merite. He would have made a fine dancer, and more, perhaps, if he had not been missing his leg. That is the selection on display these days – the callow, the superannuated, and the damaged.

Of course I had promised to tell you all about the wedding itself, or as much as I may, for you may well imagine a woman of my humble standing would find it impossible to obtain entry to the church itself. Especially since Emperor Wilhelm so rudely decided to have the ceremony at the Garnisonkirche. It is understandable, what with the cathedral being renovated and all, but it was still exceeding inconvenient for the many who would not be admitted. That church is so small anyone under a sovereign duke would have to stay out of doors. So all I have seen were the parade, a handsome couple in an open carriage, and of course the second grand ball (no invitations to the first for me, naturally, again, without at least a coronet you could hardly hope to pass the threshold there). But I am certain the papers at home will carry the same photographs as the Ullstein press does here. The emperor loves to be photographed, even if, I am certain you will agree, he does look a trifle silly in a cuirass and helmet. Poor boy, he lacks the figure for it. He is far more handsome in his general staff tunic. I did tell you that I spoke to him on another occasion, did I not? Not this visit, of course, he hardly makes time for visitors of any kind. But I remember the occasion well. He is a nice man, though so thoroughly unromantic as only a German may be.

I have to say that my concerns over the fate of the empress Elisabeth have not been alleviated after hearing what is being spoken at court. It is to be hoped that the ladies-in-waiting she has brought over will provide her with the friendship and sympathy she needs among so many Prussians waiting for her to make her first misstep. Her new husband will hardly be any help, I fear, in any matter of importance. Hopefully, some good older friend has also spoken to her of the facts of marriage, because the health of the emperor may still not permit him to take the initiative, even if his schedule will. They are going on an extensive honeymoon, and it remains for her new subjects to pray for the poor empress facing so drab and cheerless a life. Some have said that peace will bring back all joy and pleasures lost, but I doubt it. The habit of parsimony, the thoroughly grey modernism has so much become ingrained here that any return to old Prussianism – for all its faults, a picturesque enough thing – seems all but impossible. I fear if you wish to visit Germany, your hope must remain with the courts of the second states, Munich and Dresden, where people still understand how to live.


And just as I am about to post this letter after so short a night of sleep, the bells of the city again are pealing in celebration: Przemysl has fallen! Berlin has had so many days of joy of late, it is hard to see where they take the energy still to make merry, but they do, and strangers are embracing in the streets. A paper boy outside is crying out that Finland and Przemysl make two fitting wedding presents for the bride and groom, and I heartily agree. The entire world by now must be sick of the Russian and desire his speedy defeat to return to peace!

(letter by Jennie Cornwallis-West)

29 April 1907, London

HM Government advises all belligerent parties that British waters in the Indian Ocean are to be considered closed to their warships. All warships flying the flags of belligerent countries will be turned back. Any attempt to force entry into British waters or ports will be considered an act of aggression.

30 April 1907, Lodz

“General Ferber”, Moisei Uritzki pointed out quietly, “I am surprised to hear this. A vote throughout the army?”

“Damn goyishe foolishness.” the general said curtly. “That was all Dmovski's idea.”

The newspaperman's eyes widened. “Seriously?”

“Yes. We need a delegation to discuss the future of Poland, and the Germans want to start setting upo a state soon. But I was for handling it through the Army Council. We trusted Pilsudski. The conservatives, though, they were all going on about how the people had to be asked and stuff. They figure a lot of good Catholics in the Red regiments will vote for Dmovski if their priests tell them. So, we'll be having a vote. And the Germans are going along with it, it's liable to work. They're even providing the papers.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Meshuggeh, I tell you. Transporting ballot papers to all units at the front.”

“Maybe,” Uritzki said cautiously, “but certainly – interesting. It'll strengthen your position.”

Ferber looked up. “My position? How's that?”

”General, the Jewish Brigade – and we really need to start calling it a Jewish Division now – numbers at least a quarter of all effectives in the National Army. Not counting franc tireurs,. But franc tireurs don't vote. That is a serious voting bloc.”

Ferber shrugged. “They'll all vote for Pilsudski. Everyone with half a heart will. It's a foregone conclusion.”

“I don't think so.” Uritzki cocked his head and looked at the general. “The men love Pilsudski, but they feel Jewish first, Polish second. Often quite a distant second, especially after the Garski fiasco. Keep in mind they're all reading the Yiddish papers, too. If we tell them to vote for you, they will.”

“Me?” Ferber was genuinely shocked. “I can't. I'm not even … I'm needed in command. Someone's got to keep this outfit running.”

“Just an example.” Uritzki rubbed his hands. “But say they vote for – Rabinovicz's too scary, Garski's too provocative, Grynszpan's an apikoyres, Lewin's German – say they vote for Landauer.”

“The rebbe?”

“Why not? The whites are putting forward Archbishop Popiel as a serious candidate. Anyway, suppose they vote for him,. He'd be a serious voice at the table for the Jewish cause.” Uritzki saw doubt in Ferber's eyes. “The Germans are going to be quite willing to go along with this, no worries there. They are impressed with your units' performance, you know.”

“But what about Pilsudski?” General Ferber interjected rather sheepishly. “I can't just – it wouldn't be right to - “

“Run against him? You wouldn't. You're just one of the names, and he's going to come out ahead any way you slice it anyway. But think about it!”

Ferber scratched his chin. He would have to talk to Rebbe Landauer about this idea. It sounded crazy, but Uritzki was usually smart enough. Still, if they were going to do this, it would need to be quick. The vote was in June and the conference would start in September. Maybe with a Jewish representative. It wasn't like he hadn't been dreaming of things like this, but he couldn't quite reconcile his mind to the idea that they were actually happening. At that rate, he'd be parting the Mediterranean with his sabre to lead the people to the Promised Land by 1910.
01 May 1907, southeast of Zanzibar, Indian Ocean

'Battle Stations' was one of those phrases you felt easier saying when you did not think through their meaning. A battle station was where you went and stayed, waiting for the shells and splinters, the fire or water to find you while you carried out your assigned duty. HNLMS Friesland had been in action several times in the course of her career, but up to now, these engagements had been limited to coastal bombardments and landings of Marines. She had been built with that in mind, and approaching a more powerful enemy was not a comfortable position, even knowing that they were under no obligation to fight. In the long months of shadowing the Russian fleet in its anchorages at Mafia and Daressalam, they had never come close enough to merit clearing for action. But now, Vitgeft had come out in force. The towering bulk of his battleships – the flag on looming Peresvyet, the lower silhouette of Poltava following behind, and they could see this through their telescope by now - was screened off by four cruisers, making a slow progress south and out into the ocean. AS yet, they were out of effective gun range, though if they had really wanted to, they could have tried ranging shots at the smaller Dutch vessel. Captain Koster was fully aware of the danger, but determined to shadow the fleet closely. They were running at very low power, most likely to preserve coal. No tenders and only two torpedo boats followed them. If he were to lose them and there really were colliers hiding out somewhere at sea, they could wreak havoc unchecked., He tried not to imagine what Peresvyet's guns could do to the anchorage at Batavia, should she ever get there.

“What do you think they are up to, Sir?” Ensign Dekkers asked quietly. The captain approvingly noticed his hands clasped tightly behind his back. If you held them there, you could squeeze as hard as you wanted with nobody to spot your nervousness. It was more becoming of naval officers than the fidgeting with telescopes, dividers and grease pencils that he had seen the Germans do. More British, too. He wondered what Admiral Vitgeft was doing right now. Did he spare a thought to his dogged little pursuer?

“I'm not sure.” the captain admitted. “If they are aiming to meet tenders, they are liable to scatter sometime soon. In that case we will have to try hanging on to the flagship and telegraphing our position while we can.” He did not add that in this case they were likely to have to tangle with one or more of the Russian cruisers, outgunned and outranged. “If the Germans really drove away all of their colliers, they are probably heading south to intern themselves with the Portuguese.”

Dekkers blinked. “Why the Portuguese?”

“The British won't allow them in Zanzibar”, Koster explained. “The government issued a communique: all belligerent ships are banned from British waters.”

The ensign thought about that. The British could not possibly have anything capable of stopping this naval might in Zanzibar. But if you had the Royal Navy, you didn't really need the force on hand. The knowledge you had it somewhere was enough. Vitgeft would have been insane to try forcing his way north. The fact he had left port at all suggested the Germans were pushing them hard on land. And of course his coal supply had to be very low. The ships were running on quarter steam at best. They might end up burning mess tables and floorboards before they reached Lourenco Marques. If they did. What would they do if they ran out? Would Vitgeft transfer coal to the cruisers and scuttle his flagship? Or do it the other way around? What could he do, other than sit there waiting for anyone to tow him away?

A torpedo boat was approaching, moving at what seemed remarkable speed compared to the lumbering force. Dekkers picked up a telescope to take a closer look. A wireless signaller stepped onto the bridge, saluting. “Captain, a signal for us from Peresvyet. They sent in the clear, in French. Admiral Vitgeft wishes to avoid bloodshed and discuss terms of surrender.”

Captain Koster bristled. “That is out of the question! We can easily outrun his force, even if he outguns us. The Dutch navy does not yield to superior numbers without a fight!”

Dekkers swallowed drily. What now? Helm orders, a mad dash out of range?

“I'm sorry, Sir, I believe you misunderstand.” The signaller looked worried. “Admiral Vitgeft intends to surrender his fleet to you. Do you accept?”

Koster nodded wordlessly.
03 May 1907, Paris

“It never rains but it pours, doesn't it?” Georges Clemenceau rubbed his temples. Foreign Minister Pichon smiled apologetically.

“I suppose it was to be expected. We underestimated the strength of the Ottomans as much as the Italians did. But what are we to do?”

He nudged the Italian ambassador's note with his finger, setting it fluttering. The brief text was best described as a brazen attempt at blackmail: support us, or we will ruin your foreign policy. It was not phrased in these terms – indeed, it was to all appearances as humble a supplication as you found in the intercourse of European nations – but that was what it amounted to. The Italian government, bogged down with its efforts to conquer the Cyrenaica, announced its willingness to expand the theatre of war to naval operations against the Ottoman coast, approaching Greece as a potential cobelligerent. Of course the Greeks would be more than happy to pick off a few islands, knowing that they would enjoy the Italian's reinsurance against intervention. Assuming they would – which was not at all a given. The agreement did not cover anything beyond the Italian seizure of Libya. What if the deal was off...? And even if it was not, the sultan could hardly stand idly by and do nothing while Italian ships bombarded his coast. He would send out his navy, close the straits and choke off the Russians' lifeline. And with French investment in Russian debt, French interest in limiting German gains and lengthening the war, French dependence on weakening Germany's economy – they could not let this happen.

The Italians had them over a barrel. And they could not even be nasty about it, given how they wanted Rome in a formal alliance. The price of that was Libya. And wasn't it just Clemenceau's luck he got to spend French capital and influence to secure it!

“First, we request the Italians to refrain. Then, we neutralise the straits. French ships will be stationed off the Dardanelles to protect the safety of merchant shipping in this time of international tension. I will speak to the British ambassador personally to ensure there are no misunderstandings.” Clemenceau wiped his forehead with his silk handkerchief, sighing heavily.

“He will not take that well.” Pichon protested.

“He will have to. But you can also assure him we will put every pressure on the Sublime Porte to cede Libya peacefully.” The prime minister gritted his teeth. “This is going to cost us. You have carte blanche – give them assurances, subsidies, bribes, loans, what it takes. Threaten war if they don't go along. I'll trust you to negotiate well.”

Pichon nodded. “I think if I take a forceful enough line, the sultan will cave relatively cheaply.” he assured Clemenceau.

“Good. But you must impress it on the Italian ambassador that we are utterly serious about the neutralisation of the Straits. If Italian warships show up, we will have to engage and destroy them. The credibility of French power requires it.”

04 May 1907, Moscow

“It is an utter disaster.” Prince Sviatopolk-Mirski gently set down his crystal goblet, white wine glowing golden in the light of the candles reflected by the damask tablecloth. “I simply no longer know how to put this any other way.”

Grand Prince Nikolai held his gaze, noticing the nervous darting of this guest's eyes. It was a familiar sight these days, the furtive sideways glance as you said things that would offend the patriotic spirit. He sighed inwardly. If a man like Mirski had to worry, then who did not?

“I agree, excellency..” he said. “And the facts are more worrying even than the press account suggests.”

Sviatopolk-Mirski looked at him quizzically. “How could it be worse? An admiral disobeying direct imperial orders?”

“Following these orders was impossible.” Nikolai said curtly. He was not technically in the naval chain of command, but being the uncle of the Czar made people answer your questions. He made a point of being well informed. “You must realise that the original plan was to intern the ships with a neutral power. Admiral Alexeyev had instructed them to go to Zanzibar, but the British stopped that. The new order was to head for Mozambique. That was when Alexeyev was countermanded and Vitgeft received instructions to seek battle with any enemy ships he could find – already at sea, and with practically no coal.”

“How?” The diplomat's eyes lit up with surprise. According to the press, Vitgeft had disobeyed orders to engage the enemy by instead striking his flag in fear.

“Apparently, Dr Dubrovin had developed the idea that the coal supply of a captured enemy ship could be distributed among the cruisers that could then hunt down colliers.” The grand prince snorted dismissively. “Impossible, as I understand it. But the orders were given, and posted throughout the fleet. Remember, the men had been told they were headed for internment, now they heard they were going into battle. Sick lists were already huge, morale was low, and according to what the Dutch are saying, the officers effectively no longer had control of their crews. Vitgeft felt he could not take the ships back, given the fate of the sailors in Lindi, so he handed them over to the Dutch to save his men's lives. The Admiralty is to receive his papers under cartel, so we will no doubt learn about his side of the story.”

“He will have a lot of explaining to do.” Mirski remarked.

“No need.” Nikolai said bitterly. “He's dead. Shot himself after he had ordered the surrender of his fleet. Suicide is becoming something of an occupational hazard for our admirals, I should say.”

The prince shuddered, realising the enormity of what had happened. No wonder the government was pushing a different story. What kind of message would it send to their army, desperately trying to stop the advancing Germans and Austrians in Poland and Galicia, if they learned that navy men had simply refused to fight? What if this happened in encircled Lemberg? What if it happened in Riga, in Viborg or Moscow?

“I am sure you understand why we have not been told.” Nikolai pointed out superfluously. “But you were speaking of Galicia. I assure you I share your concern over the role of the Patriotic Union, that much we can agree with.”

Mirski stroked his greying beard. “I am very unhappy with the degree to which we have to rely on their organisation for so many things. They run most of our hospitals, they feed our troops when the supply breaks down and send their own units to support them. I've heard that a lot of their druzhinas by now are better trained than regular reserve troops. We rely on them for bond drives and labour organisation. You hardly see a factory owner and war ministry contractor without the PU lapel pin. Even the Okhrana depends on them now. It is frightening,”

The grand prince nodded, sipping his Rhenish. “Indeed. To consider that we must worry where these men's loyalties may lie if it ever came to a head concerns me.”

'If it came to a head'. Their eyes met, and the two men shared a brief mental image of Dubrovin, ensconced in the imperial apartments, his spartan folding cot within shouting distance of his czar. How much power did this man actually wield already? How many of the green tentacles that the Russian war effort was now shot through with ended with him? He had too many enemies to sleep soundly in Moscow. Back in old St Petersburg, he might already have fallen victim to court intrigue, but the nobility were out of their depth in the new Kremlin-centred world.

“But bear in mind, the PU troops are also the most loyal there are. I have never yet heard of their units mutinying.” Nikolai looked out of the window at the sun-drenched garden, thinking back to the terrifying days of 1905, when the army and empire had begun to dissolve under their feet. Dubrovin and his men had saved them then. How much ingratitude to consider him an enemy now! “Any hope we have of victory lies with them, I fear. Only they will make the sacrifices and display the hardness required to wear down the enemy.”

“Victory?” Mirski asked inadvertently, checked himself and apologised.

“Victory. Of sorts.” Nikolai waved the objections aside and took a deeper drink of the wine. “Any outcome that will not be an entire humiliation,. After what we have done, we cannot be defeated. The consequences of being at Germany's mercy do not bear thinking about.”

06 May 1907, Bialystok

“It's here!” Colonel Repin beamed with relief as he handed the telegram to his commanding officer. They had pressed for permission to attack for many a week, and finally, Moscow had relented. The text was as brief as it was noncommittal:

To: General Brusilov, Army of the Bug

Request to conduct offensive operations approved. Direction towards XVII Corps, Bug Salient. All operations to be conducted with due caution and not endanger cohesion of defensive front. Be advised it may not be possible to support breakthroughs immediately due to superior needs of other fronts. Expenditure of munitions is to be limited to regular quantities allotted.

Toujours l'audace

Sukhomlinov, Chief General Headquarters

The general sighed gently. These were indeed unimpeachable orders, radiating the wisdom that general headquarters dispensed to the army. If only they could limit their unconscionable expenditure of ammunition to the regular allowance when pursuing the offensive with all due caution and irresistible elan, the German defeat would be a matter of weeks. But at least they had the permission from on high to do what they were paid to do. For the past few weeks, the collective leadership seemed to have become so mesmerised by the threat of more German attacks that they would not allow any offensive operations. For all the effort to eschew responsibility for a possible failure, they were willing to let others run that risk now. Brusilov snorted derisively. And all it had taken was losing practically all of Galicia.

“It's going to be a challenge.” Repin said. “Without extra artillery ammunition, we'll be hard pressed to find enough for even one bombardment. But I suppose they need all of it down south.”

“We'll have to do without bombardments, then.” Brusilov replied. “I've been doubting their efficacy for a while anyway. Let the infantry gop in under cover of darkness, and bring along their guns where they can.” They had been trying that kind of thing a few times, with promising results. If you attacked a position from three or four directions simultaneously instead of telegraphing your intention by a concerted shelling days in advance, you had a good chance that one prong would penetrate. That was the one you reinforced. The artillery were, of course, horrified at the thought of dragging their field guns forward through the mud of trenches and craters, but their colleagues handling the heavy mortars and gigropirs had far less of a problem with that. And if everything worked out as it was supposed to, there would be roads for the horse guns to use on the other side.

“Even so, it's not going to take us far. At least we have enough bullets.” Repin had fought hard to secure their store of rifle ammunition and defend it against the depredations of the Army of the Niemen's supply officers, secure in the knowledge that they were commanded by Grand Duke Mikhail Romanov. Without occasional appeals to Grand Prince Nikolai, he knew, things would have gone differently. Having a protector in the capital mattered. And even so, they would be lucky to issue every man a full bandolier. If you could trust rumour, new units down in Wolhynia were sharing a rifle between two men now. The survivor got to keep it. Colonel Repin was truly grateful for his general's good connections to the high and mighty.

“Victory will do wonders for the men's morale.” General Brusilov pointed out quietly. “Sitting around here so long has been bad for them.”

“I don't think they'll need much encouragement to get to grips with the Germans.” Repin pointed to a page of the field paper printed by the Patriotic Union for the northern front. “Not with stories like these.”

The general picked up the paper. Plastered across its front page was a photograph, apparently made with one of those portable American cameras that every officer seemed to carry. Its resolution was poor, the image grainy, but what it showed could not be in doubt: a man, naked except for his military jacket, was hanging from of a barn door, his arms spread out, crucified to the wood with heavy iron spikes. The face was almost invisible, obscured by the unruly mop of hair that betrayed him for a Union man – regular army soldiers would not get away with such extravagance. The editor or censor had mercifully cropped the image so as to hint at more than reveal the bloody horror of his groin. If you read the story carefully, you could figure out that this had, in fact, been done by Austrian franc-tireurs in Galicia, but they knew not many would. It was the work of the enemy, that would be enough for most of them. Brusilov himself was undecided whether publicising such events was a good idea. Discipline was often tenuous enough, and even without such prompting, many of his men were quite sufficiently terrified of the Germans. He felt sure that a few miles of advance, seeing enemy trenches taken and prisoners brought in, would do more to stiffen their sinews than any amount of atrocity stories.

“Disgusting.” he remarked. “What kind of people would do such a thing?”

08 May 1907, London

“A for-real diplomatic crisis.” Emperor Wilhelm sighed, cradling his forehead in his right. He had adopted the gesture in lieu of rubbing his temples while the inflammation made this painful, and it had stuck. “And they just had to have it now.”

Ambassador Paul Metternich nodded gravely. He had been called to attend his emperor at his temporary residence in London's Savoy Hotel and brought along capacious files on the negotiations that were devouring his time and effort. “It certainly came at an inopportune time, Your Majesty.” he agreed.

“Well, I suppose it had to happen after we sold out the sultan.” the emperor said bitterly. He raised his hand to head off protest. “No, ambassador, I realise there was no other choice. I authorised the treaty myself. But we all knew there would be a price. It could have fallen due at a better time is all I am saying.” He paused and shifted in his heavy armchair, impatiently brushing at his cuff to remove an imaginary piece of lint. London had freed him from the punishing schedule and comparatively spartan lifestyle of the Berlin court, but Society came with its own demands, even of a ruling monarch. Wilhelm was unused to sartorial extravagance and spent most of his time at home in regimental undress. The exquisite suits he wore now still made him self-conscious.

“How do you read the British stance on the issue?” he finally asked.

“It's hard to say, Your Majesty.” Metternich began. “There is no real interest of theirs immediately at stake. I believe they are mainly using the opportunity to demonstrate their power in the Mediterranean and take the French down a peg. Certainly I cannot detect any great appetite for war here.”

Wilhelm gave a sigh of relief. Thank heavens for small mercies. A Franco-British war would have meant war with France, and if the French army had marched east – well, von der Goltz was confident they would be able to stop them on the Rhine, but it would have required denuding the Russian front of troops and jeopardising the outcome of that war. And of course, British bond buyers would be far less profligate with their own country clamouring for cash. It was a nightmarish scenario that the German government was willing to go to great lengths in preventing.

“So it will be possible to settle the matter?” he asked. “What will it take of us, in your estimation?”

Metternich cleared his throat nervously. “It's not a given, Sire.” he cautioned. “In truth, there is not a lot we can do. We would be countering the Russian embassy, but the impression I get is that they do not know what they want to do at all, really. Half the time the ambassador is sounding conciliatory notes, and then he is going full-throated for battle. Of course objectively, a war cannot be in their interest even if it frees them from their immediate worries. A closure of the Straits would strangle them.”

Privately, Wilhelm was less certain on that count. He had read parts of the Principles of Integralism and been filled in by Groener and Rathenau. Even without the French-sold supplies, Russia had been building up an impressive productive capacity and was not running short of cash the way he was. They might not have the artillery tubes or naval might to sustain an assault, but they had ample supplies of riflemen with an infuriating propensity to sell their hides dearly. It would take more than this to knock out the Russian bear. “I can see that.” he said, forcing a smile. “But looking at the resolution of the immediate question. What kind of agreement do you envision?”

“It's not a question that the Ottomans will lose the Cyrenaica.” Metternich said matter-of-factly. “The main issue is the duration of the conflict. I believe the British are more interested in prolonging it than in preventing an Italian conquest. There is nothing to be gained from a continuing Ottoman presence on their flank, and the Italians are not the worst of neighbours. Certainly preferable to the French. But they will not countenance a French naval presence off the Straits, far less in them. That will be the main bone of contention. I think they will come to some agreement neutralising the waters, and then the Turks will agree to a face-saving treaty selling Libya after a decent interval. It is the only thing they can do. Even the Italian navy can easily enough blockade the Syrte against them.”

With the peace party in the ascendant at the Sublime Porte, there seemed to be little enough reason to expect anything else, at any rate. Wilhelm sipped lemonade from a heavy crystal glass and stared out of the window into the sunlit street for a moment. The noise of urban traffic rose up to the balcony, wagons, cabs, omnibuses, automobiles and tramcars. It was hard to imagine this hive of activity, this enormous metropolis ever dedicating its apparently limitless wealth and power to the defeat of an equal enemy. What would the world look like if Britain went to war? It had taken two decades and untold amounts of blood and treasure to defeat Napoleon. With today's technology, the cost did not bear thinking about.

“Sound and fury, then? All for show?”

“Not necessarily.” the ambassador pointed out. “The French government is certainly provoking the British with its Mediterranean plans. If they really succeed at prising Italy out of the alliance...”

“At this point, we should take that as a given.” the emperor said resignedly.

“With Italy in the French camp, the British will have to cultivate either Greece or the Ottomans. I am betting on the Ottomans. But they will not risk war over the Syrte. It is too inconsequential.” Metternich adjusted his glasses. “I hope.”

A knock on the door interrupted them. Secretary von Ammersleben entered, accompanied by one of the Viennese ladies-in-waiting, a charming girl dressed now in the latest fashionable riding gown. “Your Majesty, the empress has asked me to convey her request to be joined for a ride before tonight's concert.”

Wilhelm set down the glass harder than he had intended. Damn Elisabeth and hger interminable pleasures. All those people to meet! Still, it was a duty, just like his. Smiling sourly, he nodded. “I will be in the foyer presently. Riding clothes will be needed, I suppose?”

Von Ammersleben nodded calmly. “The valet has prepared everything, Your Majesty.”

“All right then. Please inform General Emmich there will be no briefing. I suppose we might as well do some shopping.”

The secretary smiled with relief. “I will have a carriage ready at your command, Sire.” he said. “Perhaps a visit to the Natural History Museum? It is within easy reach from Hyde Park.”

Wilhelm's face brightened. “Capital idea! Pack my camera.”

11 May 1907, Tokay Military Hospital

The eyes would be with him as long as he lived, Szandor Ferenczi was certain. Medical detachment could insulate you effectively from the sense of disgust and terror that assailed the uninitiated in this world. Blood, pus, shit and gangrene were things that you bore with professional equanimity. Horrible mutilations were simply a fact of life, no different from the pedestrians who fell under streetcars or the workers who had their limbs caught in machinery in peacetime. But peace had nothing comparable to the men that Dr Ferenczi was treating here: men whom war had turned into soulless, witless automata, robbed of control over their own bodies, of their speech, their rationality, or their very identity. Men who compulsively repeated the same pointless exercises, who sat listlessly in their chairs, incapable of even the most basic functions, or were mortally terrified of the most trivial things.

“Any change?”

Dr Hollos sadly shook his head. “Nothing.” he admitted tiredly. “No memories. He still argues that he is due back home for leave. No memory of anything that happened.”

Their latest patient, Lieutenant Czermak, had been brought in from the Carpathian front by military police. He had simply stopped acknowledging the existence of the war, insisting that he was due leave and would go home to his parents in Lemberg. Only his rank had saved him from the firing squad. Isolated in a tiny cell of the hospital, he refused to wear any kind of shoes, kept his uniform immaculate and politely insisted on being allowed to go home. The only reaction they had ever had out of him was when Hollos had mentioned the battle of Sarnok: He had hotly denied any such thing had occurred before breaking down in tears. That was when his eyes had taken on that look – that stare so many other of their patients had all day. Ferenczi still found it impossible to adequately describe, though he would never forget it. To see it in the innocent, angelically beautiful face of their patient was heartbreaking. He nodded to his colleague. “All right then. You should get to bed, Istvan. I'll leave soon, too.”

With another heavy sigh, he made a note in the patient file and turned back to his desk. A thin manuscript lay ready for despatch to Zurich for publication. With nimble fingers, Ferenczi made a few quick additions before sealing the whole inside a heavy manila envelope. His eyes scanned the title. “On the Traumatic Aetiology of Neuroses. A Contribution to the Study of Mental Diseases based on Case Studies from the Neurological Wing of Tokay Military Hospital”.

Freud would savage him. But Freud had not seen what he had seen. Freud was wrong.

10 May 1907, Lemberg

The fall of a fortress city looked nicer in the papers. They never told you how much it stank. Walking over rubble was awkward. Embarrassed soldiers ended up in hospital with broken ankles and knees even after the surrender. And by the time the train units got into their quarters, the frontline units had picked the place clean of anything worth looting. Private Hitler was deeply resentful of the status these men flaunted with their Russian fur caps, felt-lined bots, cossack whips and sabres. For a cartographer, the only way to acquire these things was to buy them, and even if he had had the money, the humiliation would have been unbearable. His resentment was compounded when he and his comrades found themselves unceremoniously dumped from the premises of the Lemberger Togblat by Sergeant Moses Zorn and his landwehr levy. The building had been previously occupied by the printing presses of the Russian army newspaper, which meant it had the comforts deskworkers were accustomed to. The headquarters staff had requisitioned it, of course, but in the chaos of the occupation, who cared about such things? In the end, they had had inkwells, hectographs and No 2 pencils. Zorn's Jewish volunteers had had bayonets and revolvers. The headquarters troops slept on the crowded floor of a railfreight warehouse now.

“Fucking Yids.” the private murmured as he drew his blanket around himself, stating against all evidence “I'm not scared of 'em.”

“You should be.”

The young soldier looked up. Leaning half against the wall, wrapped in his army blanket and a Russian issue cavalry cloak, a small, rotund man watched him intently. A camera bag identified him as a reporter, probably one of the military journalists that accompanied victorious armies to document their triumphs suitably edited for home consumption.

“What?” Hitler asked gruffly.

“I said you should be scared of the Jews.” camera guy repeated. “You were turned out of the Togblat by Zorn's guys, too, right? He's someone to be scared of all right. I interviewed him a few days ago. Man, has he got stories to tell!”

“I don't doubt that.” the private said, his tone mocking. “They're a race of storytellers.”

The reporter looked at him crossly. “I was there, kid. I spent two weeks in the field, three days with Zorn's boys. He spent all of last year out there fighting Russians. The whole winter, too. Let me tell you, anyone who lives through that is a man you should be afraid of. Have you heard the story about Major Shilipov?”

Drawn in by the promise of entertaining tales, the young man was inclined to shelve his anger for the moment. “No, I haven't. Was it in the press?”

The reporter shook his head vigorously. “That story? Hell, no. It was all over the Galician front, though. Shilipov was one of the nastiest pieces of work you could ever hope to meet. He wasn't really an officer, just a greenjacket, but a high-ranking one. His boys were just as into looting and torching as any of them, but his specialty was rape. Said it was in the Talmud Jews wouldn't marry a girl that wasn't a virgin, so there was a handy way of reducing the growth of their population. Not that they needed the excuse.”

Hitler shuddered. You heard stories in the war, of course. But after what he'd seen in Serbia and later in Galicia, he could imagine this happening. “What's that got to do with....”

“Zorn? Heh, I'm getting there. 'Der Zorn Gottes' his men call him. Caught up with Shilipov on the advance, took him prisoner. He was so disgustingly drunk he didn't recognise what had happened until the next morning.” The fat man adjusted his glasses and lit a papirossa with quick, practised movements.

“Well, they were quartered in a little village that had had a Jewish quarter before the war, and they had a few days to decide what to do with him. Zorn thought he'd figure out how long it took a man to bleed out if you cut his balls off.”

“Serves the pig right.” another soldier mumbled.

“Now, here's the thing: Zorn didn't go and castrate Shilipov. No, he experimented on his other prisoners first to see how to make it last. In the end, they nailed the major to the stable gate and cut him. Here.” He pulled a photo from his notebook. “They made a lot of these. Circulated them among the soldiers. It's highly against regulations to own one, of course.”

Private Hitler swallowed drily. The picture made his skin crawl and his balls shrivel up. He nodded at the man's camera. “Did you...?”

“Yes.” He paused. “I also made the reproductions. Now you know why you should be scared of Zorn and his boys. Be glad he just kicked you out.”
11 May 1907, The Bug front

“Damned smoke.” Gunner Friedrich Hartz coughed and squinted to see into the murk ahead of the trenches. Greyish-white clouds of smoke were billowing up from a stretch of burning vegetation about half a kilometre away. With the sun and warmth, the brush and trees were only too easy to set on fire now.

“Think the Russians are up to something?” his loader Franz Bietig asked nervously.

“Sure. Why else would they want the smoke? They don't want us to see what they're doing.” Gunner Hartz coughed, spat and looked at the younger man's face. Nervous. He'd need cheering up,. He rapped his knuckles against the cooling jacket of their Maxim machine gun. “Don't worry, Franz. If they come at us, they'll catch hell.”

In the copse of trees to the left of their firing positions, cavalry horses were neighing nervously. The detail of hussars was really designed more as despatch riders than for any fighting role, stretched out thin as they were. It made for a nicer war, not being shot at regularly, but it left you feeling horribly exposed as soon as something happened. Anything would do, really. Even as bit of smoke. What the hell were the Russians doing?

“Shit! Bombs!” Stupidly, Hartz looked up. Above the roiling smoke clouds, a strange, impossibly big object was rising into the sky. Tumbling, it reached the apex of its arc before lazily returning to the earth – straight into their trench. A huge explosion tore through the treeline, tossing earth and branches for hundreds of metres. The gunner cursed and instinctively yanked back the trigger of his weapon, spraying bullets into the murky distance as more bombs tumbled out of the sky. Answering shots rang out now – the bastards were coming!

12 May 1907, XVII Korps Headquarters

“No news?” Mackensen asked impatiently, scribbling notes on a map.

“Nothing.” Colonel Thomamüller reported in a lugubrious voice. That made twelve outposts and two regimental headquarters they had not been able to reach. Of course you expected that kind of thing. Nobody had the time or money to lay telegraph cable everywhere. Messengers got lost, wires got cut and some signallers simply forgot to report – though usually only once. But the scale and suddenness made it clear something was wrong. They had had reports of probing attacks and artillery fire, demands for reinforcements, and they knew that the Landwehr Infantry Regt. No 124 was still holding off a Russian assault across the Bug.

It didn't make sense. If the Russians wanted to cross the Bug – and why there? - they would simply have thrown enough forces at the problem to do so. The central front was badly thinned out, with regiments holding territory that would be defended by divisions and corps up north. That's why they had Mackensen's big cavalry concentration north of Siedlce, after all: to plug the gaps. But the Russians were not pouring through a hole in the front at all. They were nibbling at it all over the place.

The general drew another set of lines on the map and grunted. “Bastard.” he muttered to himself.

“Sir?” The barely hidden indignation was palpable.

“Not you, Thomamüller. That Russian commander, Brusilov, the intelligence say it is. Damned clever bastard.” He picked up a sheet of foolscap and started making notes. “Remember when I told you about getting inside the Russians' arc of defense?”

The chief of staff nodded. “Attack faster than the enemy can react by going inside the arc of his sword point.” he said. The analogy did not work well for him – unlike his general, he had never been an enthusiastic fencer. “But he can't do that to us. The Russians are too slow.”

“Indeed.” Mackensen shook his head almost admiringly. “Instead, he is making a virtue of necessity. He cannot make a big assault without our reconnaissance picking it up, so instead, he is making a lot of small ones to confuse us. He's got the troops to spare. If we don't know where the blow will fall, our superior speed won't help us counter it.”

Another look at the map. The northward curve of the river, the railway bridges they had fought so hard for, and the broad, rolling plains that stretched all the way to the Russian fortresses at Bialystok and Brest-Litovsk. The bridges were heavily defended, and had remained unmolested so far. Was it a diversion?

“I think they may be trying for the railway line south of the river.” Thomamüller opined. “If they can force a crossing, cavalry could move west to interdict.”

“Good point,” Mackensen said pensively, “but then, why bother attacking in the west? That's where they don't want our concentration. I don't like this at all. The only thing to do now is move the reserves closer to the front along the railway line and stand ready.”

14 May 1907, Moscow

The heavy, gilt-gingerbread doors closed in perfect silence, swinging on their well-oiled hinges as the last servant left the room. They had finally gotten the organisation of the Kremlin to work, Grand Prince Sergei thought. No more embarrassing delays and confused servants milling about in the wrong place. Finally, also, some privacy. It still felt awkward that he needed it. Being a conspirator sat ill with the czar's uncle.

“You have spoken to His Majesty?” he finally asked in a more hushed tone than he had intended.

“I have.” Grand Prince Nikolai nodded cautiously. “It is amazing how reasonable our nephew can be with Dubrovin away.” He raised a glass of port, smiling with relief. “To peace.”

“To peace.” Sergei replied, sipping the fine wine the Kremlin's cellars provided.

“If Dubrovin stays away long enough.” Nikolai looked concerned again,. You hardly ever saw him happy these days. Of course, he was a soldier, and where the interior situation had broadly improved, the military one had gone from bad to worse. It stood to reason.

“Don't worry.” Sergei reassured him. “He will be away at least two weeks. Delays will be seen to. Now all we must do is hope your favourite general provides us with a victory. Without at least some gains, we cannot sue for peace and keep our face.”

Nikolai looked over to his desk, map cases and despatch boxes now neatly stacked. The plans he had discussed with Brusilov and Sukhomlinov were in the locked drawer at the top, together with the ones he had so far discussed only with Sergei and the Czar. “Brusilov will deliver. The Germans are weak on the Bug front, and he is an excellent tactician. If we can humiliate the Germans' star Mackensen, that should be enough. And Nicholas has agreed to sign off on the peace proposal.”

It had taken a good deal of browbeating. Truth be told, it was only possible at all because the Czarina was away holidaying, and Dubrovin called to a conference in St Petersburg. But he had the signature, locked away in his top drawer.

“The Germans will accept, surely.” Sergei said, trying to sound more confident than he felt. “It would give them all of Poland.”

“They will have to.” Nikolai lit his cigar. “They have been talking about Poland all this time, and in this crisis, with France breathing down their neck and London screaming for peace, they have to. Remember, the emperor is away. He will have the proposal presented to him by flunkeys, but the real decision is going to happen in Berlin. And Albert is a conservative. He will not risk continuing the confrontation with increased risk of French involvement, and he cannot defend to his parliament expending further lives and treasure.”

Sergei groaned as he leant into the armchair, his shattered spine sending flashes of pain up his back. He cautiously lit his pipe. “Your word in God's ear, Nikolai.”

14 May 1907, Daressalam

...It remains to summarise my great appreciation of the courage, the skill and hardiness of my troops, regulars and volunteers, white and native, through the past months of hardship and suffering. The sacrifices they made in the great battles and a myriad of small encounters, eye to eye and blade to blade with the enemy, proved German might in Africa in a supreme trial of fire. Their discipline stands in marked contrast to the conduct of enemy soldiers who time and again subverted the intent of their commanders to force a surrender of positions and vessels still defensible. The thought of a German battlefleet at anchor under Russian guns as the Russian is today at Kilwa under ours, I venture to say, is inconceivable.


With the fall of Daressalam after a desperate, hopeless defense, the world has received proof, had any been needed, that Germany is by rights among the great powers ruling native peoples. Her administrative ability, her leadership and her military skill in using the martial vigour of her subject peoples have now been demonstrated to any doubters. The task of managing and feeding the thousands of prisoners now in our hands will present further difficulty, but with the reopening of the sea lanes and supplies becoming available from India, this is certain to be overcome. An increase in the international credit of the government of Deutsch-Ostafrika to that end, though, is vital in order to prevent the necessity of distributing prisoners of war within the country, with all attendant problems to security and logistics.

Message by General Ludendorff to Berlin

17 May 1907, over the Angerapp front

Airship LZ 5(B)

Leutnant Wehner had to admit that the engines sounded much better. High above the enemy's positions, the new airship LZ5 (B) was slanting sideways into a gentle spring breeze, purring like a kitten. If kittens had the volume of locomobiles, that is. Forward in the command seat, Hauptmann Lau was handling the rudders, gently nudging the huge vessel east over the Russian artillery concentration they were going to photograph. Wehner swivelled his camera and adjusted the lens, trying to focus on the area just under the horizon. It was safer that way. Rifles and machine guns could touch them from the ground, but the chance of them doing any damage was minimal. A direct-fire artillery shell, on the other hand, would secure their widows a generous military pension. If you could, you stayed away from the big guns. Russian artillerymen were damned inventive and skilful for the vodka-sodden savages their front papers painted them as.

The camera snapped, a smooth, mechanical click indicating a successful, very brief exposure. These things mattered. You didn't want to risk your life and come back with blurry, grainy pictures. Carefully winding the film forward, he sought out the next angle when he noticed Lau shouting and pointing.

“Otto!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “Look!”

The lieutenant stood and pulled his field glasses to his eyes. Visibility was perfect, the sky a cupola of blue feathered with white clouds as far as the eye could see, and over there was – what? Trenches, a road, a column of infantry standing, maybe to gawk at the airship hovering in the sky, taunting and untouchable, And that – thing. At first he thought it was a motorcar, but it was moving the wrong way. Fast, straight, and with no account of the terrain. He tried to focus on the strange object and struggled to hold it in his sight until … there it was.

“Aeroplane.” he said, stunned. “It's a Russian aeroplane.”

Lau shuddered. It figured the Russians wouldn't be able to manage airships. Aeroplanes had a way of killing aviators a lot more often, and a lot more thoroughly. But it looked as though they were willing to have their men take that risk. “Poor bugger. I'd hate to have to go up in a crate like that.”

“I think it's headed for us.”

Hauptmann Lau's jaw dropped. Yes, of course the damned thing was headed for them. It was cruising at a height of maybe two hundred metres, a little lower than the LZ 5, but its little propeller was chewing away at the air, closing the distance. He tried to remember what he knew about aeroplanes. They crashed a lot. They had powerful engines, rigid wings, and compact frames. Did they carry any kind of weapons? He doubted that they could, tiny as they were. But might they ram an airship with their wings or propellers? Their own skin was fragile, to save weight where they could.

“We have to stop it!” Lau said. “Otto, do you have your sidearm?”

Wehner raised his hands helplessly. The last thing you would do when you went up in an airship was strap a heavy, awkward chunk of metal to your leg. Who would ever have thought you would need one, anyway? Then, he remembered. “There's a carbine in the rear gondola!” he said. “In the cable locker! I'll go get it. Keep the trim!”

Lau raced back to his station as Wehner waved at the trimsman in the rear gondola, signalling him that he was coming over. The man stared uncomprehendingly as he stepped out onto the narrow walkway connecting the gondolas, but he reacted quickly, cranking forward the trim weight.

Zhukovski Z4

What was he supposed to do now? Lieutenant Pavel Argeyev stared in rapt fascination at the enormous hull of the German airship that was quickly filling his field of vision. He had no instructions for such an eventuality, of course. Nobody had expected anything like it. Orders, inasmuch as such a thing existed, were mostly limited to flying over a certain part of the front, take photographs, and come back in one piece. You did not meet anyone up there. Except he just had. With quivering fingers, he reduced speed as he felt the airframe beginning to shake itself apart. The monster dominated the sky, ensconced high above him, invulnerable. What if they shot at him? Did airships mount guns? Well, even if not, what if they simply started dropping rocks? A single stone could tear through his wing fabric, break his struts, or shatter his propeller, sending him plunging to his fiery death. Evading their shots was impossible. Back at Gatchina aerodrome, they had drilled handling ad nauseam: slow, soft banking, no sharp turns. You risked losing lift, or breaking off bits. Shaking his head in desperation, Lt. Argeyev fumbled for his revolver. If he was going to go down, at least he would go down fighting. Hanging on to his control stick with his left, he took aim at best he could and fired the first shot.

Airship LZ 5 (B)

“He's still coming!” Leutnant Wehner had reached the aft gondola and grabbed the carbine from the locker. The bastard had to have some plan. Right now, he was bound to pull up and ram his razor-sharp propeller into their vulnerable underside, tearing away their gasbags, ripping through their trim ropes and leaving them plummeting to their deaths hundreds of metres below. Desperately, he raised the gun to his shoulder, aimed, and pulled the trigger.


'All firearms carried on balloons are to be secured in an unloaded state and loaded on commencement of the mission'. Fuck regulations! Nobody bothered to load and unload. Cursing, Wehner dropped to the floor and ripped off his gloves, fumbling to open the ammunition box he pulled from the locker.

“He's shooting at us!” Trimsman Hardt bellowed, unnecessarily. Of course the Russian would be shooting at them. If they were really lucky, he'd be shooting flares to set their gasbags alight, and wasn't that a cheerful thought! Wehner popped up, aimed carefully, and started shooting.

Zhukovski Z4

Muzzle flashes! Argeyev felt a cold shiver run down his spine,. The Germans had a gun in the rear gondola. He could clearly see the flashes. And despite the size difference, he was sure this was an unequal contest. The airship had to be a stable gun platform, and they had both hands to aim without having to keep a temperamental airframe under control. He raised the revolver higher and squeezed off the final two rounds. What now? Carefully, he wedged the barrel between his legs, trying to pry open the loading gate. How the hell was that supposed to work? A sudden sideways gust made this aircraft keel over, and the lieutenant felt his heart skip a beat as he grabbed hold of the stick and wrestled it back into its straight path. The revolver dropped heavily to the bottom of the cockpit and, sliding sideways, dropped out of sight.

Cold sweat running into his eyes under the wind goggles, Pavel Argeyev took firm hold of the stick and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. He cautiously banked his aircraft into a wide circle, losing altitude over the no-man's land. If they kept missing, he might make it back, though felt fairly sure he would need to land in a field somewhere. A sudden drop like that tended to break important stuff.

Airship LZ 5 (B)

“He's coming back!” Wehner was struggling to push his third magazine into the carbine, watching the birdlike shape below bank into a turn that would take him back into attack position. In the forward gondola, Lau was shouting.

“Drop ballast!”


“Drop your ballast! Aeroplanes can't fly high!”

Of course! Why hadn’t he thought of that? Wehner and Hardt started loosening the sandbags secured to the gondola as Lau did the same forward. Tiny figures below started scurrying to safety, expecting he knew not what to be dropping onto their heads. Slowly, then more speedily, the bulk of the airship rose into the sky, creaking and groaning. Lau scaled back the engines almost to idle and let the vessel find its own altitude. Underneath them, quickly disappearing, the frustrated Russian bird of prey was completing its circle. Could it still reach them? Wehner wasn't sure. They had to be 500 metres up now, which was a lot higher than they were supposed to be. Gingerly, he stepped out into the walkway to join Lau in the forward gondola again.

“That was something!” the captain said, grinning boyishly. Wehner felt obliged to return the grin.

“We may just have made history, you know?” he said. “I don't think there have been any aerial battles before.”

Lau shrugged. Maybe not, actually. But it hadn't been much of a battle. He strained to hear the creak and moan of the frame over the rush of the wind and the roar of the engines. They had to have dropped at least a hundred kilos of ballast, maybe more. Technically, an airship could fly this high, but he had never actually done it. Any moment now, he expected the spars to give, but they held. Well, if they could do that, they could probably safely drop anything weighing a hundred kilos. Like an inspecting general, he thought wickedly. Or some high explosive. With this ship, it might actually work.

18 May 1907, field encampment southeast of Lublin

Fresh, real, oven-baked bread, soup with enough sausage in it to make you think of outings in the forest in peacetime, and the gentle sunshine on the now dried-out, green earth, grass and trees rustling in the wind – it was enough to make you forget the carnage that was happening not two days' march away. Feldwebel Halltauer sat cross-legged on a bench, carefully threading a darning needle. Fixing your own socks came cheaper than buying replacements from your meagre pay. And anyway, where would you get new socks in this wasteland? It was one of the things you couldn't just take off a Russian prisoner, too. There were a lot of them around now, and the Germans were more than happy to relieve them of boots (much more comfortable than their own), cigarettes (vile), and money (rarely worthwhile). But they tended to wear footwraps, which Halltauer and his Saxon comrades couldn't get used to. Still, darning socks in the sunshine was not the worst way to spend the morning. Halltauer could recall plenty worse.

“Sarge?” That was Korporal Bach, lounging under a tree. If you didn't rate a bench, you had to make do.

“What's up, Bach?” Halltauer asked magnanimously.

“Is Michelsteiner a Jew?”


“Private Michelsteiner, got the Iron Cross Second Class. You remember him?”

“Sure. What about him?” Halltauer scratched his head. Michelsteiner was a good guy, had a thinking head on his shoulders and always pulled his weight. Less deserving people had gotten bigger gongs.

“Well, is he Jewish? Do you know?” Bach looked up, his folded newspaper resting on his knees.

“Not sure.” Halltauer said, confused. “Why do you want to know?”

The corporal waved his newspaper. “They're doing a survey.” he answered. “I figured I'd help.”

Halltauer rose, grunting, and walked over. The paper looked fairly new, a rarity at the front. Bach was the reading kind, though. He always had some magazines at mail call. The feldwebel picked it up and unfolded the page. 'Der Jüdische Soldat' the headline said. Shaking his head, he scanned the text. “The question of whether the courage and fortitude that heredity has granted the Jewish element in our Empire's army suffices to make them valuable warriors has not been sufficiently answered ... With military authorities unable to spare the resources to gather the required data on the performance of its troops of Mosaic faith … a call goes out to concerned patriots to answer this survey so as to allow our paper to establish whether the Jewish soldier is indeed a worthy comrade...what kind of shit is that, Bach?”

The tone in his superior's voice alerted the corporal to his peril. He jumped to his feet. “It's a survey, Herr Feldwebel.” he explained. “A new sociological technique to gather data on questions that we could otherwise not answer.”

“I don't know what kind of questions they want to answer, Bach, but if I'm any kind of judge, this stinks. You don't go around asking a soldier if his comrades are pulling their weight. Not in public, not like that.” Angrily, Halltauer flipped through the pages until he got to the front. The Neue Illustrirte Zeitung. Well, that figured. Ever since the Hugenberg trust had launched that paper, it had been trouble with it sensationalised reporting about Polish atrocities and noisy anti-Socialism. Halltauer was a good Catholic and had no time for Reds, but he knew some men in his unit who were in the party, and they were solid. This kind of thing was a peacetime worry. It had no place at the front.

“Bach, did you answer this thing?” he finally asked.

“No, sergeant. I was putting together some data, but...”

“Toss it. I'm going to talk to the major about this. We can't have shit like that coming between comrades. You hear, Bach? Anyone asks you if the Jews, the Reds, the Catholics or the butterfly collectors are pulling their weight, you say every soldier in our company does, cause if they don't, I'll make the water in their arses boil. And that is all there is to that question. Got that?” The sergeant was gratified to see the terror in the man's eyes as he instinctively stood to attention.

“Zu Befehl, Herr Feldwebel!”

He acknowledged the gesture with a curt nod and stomped away to disturb the major in his tent. He didn't like to do it, but they couldn't be having with this kind of shit. It was bad for morale. You didn't want to have your men thinking about the religion of the guy that gave them covering fire.

London, 20 May 1907

“It is the counsel of despair.” Albert said gruffly. He might technically be the head of the German government while his nephew was away on his honeymoon, but there were things you had to discuss with the reigning emperor. A Russian peace proposal was one of those.

“It's everything we hoped for before the war, though.” Wilhelm said pensively. “An independent Poland, putting a buffer between us and the Czar., The convention with France thoroughly soured. I am sure Clemenceau will rue every franc spent on this misadventure propping up Nicholas' war.”

That was what the British said, too. Officially, the Court of St James had no opinion on the matter, but it was made known in influential circles that enough was enough. The world was heartily sick of balancing on the edge of the abyss, biting their knuckles at every new development that threatened to expand the terrible European conflagration into a universal war. Weren't two million young men enough of a sacrifice to Mars?

“Before the war, I would have been glad of this.” Albert explained, his voice heavy. “Even six months ago, I would have welcomed the offer. But now, it is too late. Nicholas is not offering anything that is still within his gift; we already own Poland. The message does not even mention Finland or Courland, or Bessarabia, which surely the poor Romanians should have for their suffering. If we accept this, we are effectively letting his attack go unpunished.”

Wilhelm nodded, scratching his chin. He had not consciously experienced the days immediately after the declaration of war, the panic, the terror of invasion, and the fierce thirst for revenge.

“More importantly,” the prince continued, “we cannot afford it. The offer makes no provision for reparations or territorial gains. Poland would not be German, the Czar wants to salvage his pride on that point. It will be an independent kingdom under international guarantee. We have mortgaged the future of our nation in war bonds, and our creditors will have blood if we cannot repay them, Wilhelm. At the very least, we will have to reduce our naval establishment. It could take many years before the Mark will be a trusted currency again. Look at the example of America – and they had a continent of untapped resources to repay their war loans. We have only our own country, and the knowledge of the world that we settled for a cheap win and nothing gained.” He sighed heavily. “I wish to God it were different,. But we cannot make peace like this, not any more. If Germany is to live, we must extract our pound of flesh.”

“No more Bismarckian gestures, eh?” The emperor nodded tiredly. “All right. And now we only need to win – how well are we doing at that?”

Albert smiled a half-smile, as though he was cautiously allowing a sense of contentment back into himself, still expecting it to hurt. “Not too shabbily. The Austrians have run out of steam, but they are across the Dniestr everywhere, and across the Russian border in Wolhynia north of Lemberg. Our own offensive is still going, too. Forward elements have crossed the Bug and are headed for Rovno. The Russian counterattack on Nasielsk has already been blunted, and we are preparing a new offensive in East Prussia.” He looked almost smug now. “And the Chinese are doing very well against the Mongols. Now that the Japanese are lending them their hunghutze warriors, the troops of Bogd Khan have been hit badly. We expect a formal declaration of war soon.”

Wilhelm attempted a smile himself. “Excellent, uncle. All right. I agree with you, though I wish it was otherwise. There will be no reaction to the Russian proposal. We can do that, right?”

Albert nodded. “It was an informal missive sent through the offices of the Danish ambassador. No official acknowledgement is required.”

“That is it, then. If fate has decreed that the war must go on, let us take it to its proper conclusion. I will have Russia howl!”
Wolhynia, east of the Bug, 21 May 1907

Sticks were an underrated amenity, Feldwebel Friedrich Zehlmann thought. He had taken up the habit of cutting a handy length of wood at the first opportunity and using it as a walking stick on their marches. It could help you negotiate puddles and mudholes. At night, it was nice to have a tent pole handy instead of sleeping wrapped up in your greatcoat. And if you wedged it underneath your pack just so, you could take the weight off your shoulders during a marching break without taking it off or lying down. After a day like this had been, he could not always trust himself to get up again if he did that. And days like this had been piling up lately. When the Russians were running, you tried to catch them, and when you caught them, you tried to make them run. It didn't leave much time for luxuries like sleep, food, or rest. But you could do it if you concentrated on the important things. Like breathing – in through the nose, out through the mouth, in nose, out mouth, in, out, in, out. Zehlmann felt the breath rattle in his throat and fought down the urge to cough. If he coughed, he wasn't sure he'd stay upright, or keep himself from puking. A fair number of soldiers along the ragged column had already given up that battle for lost, but as an NCO, he had his dignity to consider.

“Bivouac!” The call passed along the lines like a knife cutting the strings or a row of puppets. Men who had resisted the temptation to sit dropped to the ground where they stood, wriggling out of their packs and taking deep draughts from their canteens. Zehlmann sighed and walked over to the head of the column, gingerly stepping on his sore feet and praying for this order not to be some kind of misunderstanding. Hauptmann von Thaden dismounted and came to meet him.

“Bivouac for the night, Zehlmann.” he said tiredly. “Probably tomorrow, too. They are passing a fresh division through us. How's the company?”

“In decent shape, Herr Hauptmann, all things considered.” he reported. “We're missing six stragglers – Koch, Mullhauer and Frisch, Mistbeck and two from Leuel's platoon, I haven't had his report yet. Borowsky, Vogel and Wunder are footsick and with the ambulance. Seven men are invalided out with the shits: Karolat, Baier, Wertmann, Sieboth... I think it was...”.

“You can give me the list later.” the captain waved him off. He looked worried. That made a loss of ten men, more if any of the stragglers had had to be picked up by the ambulancemen, on a day their company had had no contact with the enemy. They'd be lucky if half of them came back this week. “How bad is the sickness?”

“Bad, Sir.” Zehlmann shook his head slightly. “About a quarter of the men already have the runs, often bloody. We don't send them, off unless they can't march any more.”

The captain nodded, his mouth tense. “All right. Let's hope a day's rest cures some of them. Pitch tents and boil water. Cavalry screen says the woods are safe, and it's not our turn to man forward defenses. Just men for regular picket duty. And dig some holes for the Madsen gunners in case we need fallback positions.”

The sergeant saluted. “Will do, Sir. What about rations?”

A shrug answered him eloquently. “Maybe supply will catch up with us tomorrow. Iron rations until then.”

“Sir, we've been on iron rations for four days. There's nothing left.” Zehlmann protested. That was not entirely true. No infantryman worth his salt ate three days' rations in four, not unless he could practically see the commissariat wagons roll into camp. But it wasn't a lot. Certainly not enough to stretch to supper and breakfast.

“We'll have to make do, Zehlmann.” was the reply. Von Thaden might be lord absolute of his company, but he had precious little influence over the big scheme of things. “You can send out men to requisition if you want, but I suspect the cavalry have already picked the area clean.”

With a tired salute, the officer moved his horse to a walk, heading for the colonel's staff. Very well, they would have to make do. Zehlmann felt his stomach rumble in protest, and an unpleasant liquid feeling rise in his gut. So much for winning.

Briansk, 22 May 1907

“They are WHERE!?” It was uncommon for General Mackensen to explode quite so violently. He practically catapulted his massive body from the chair, dropping his pipe to the desk. The glass he had held shattered on the fine parquet floor of the dance hall the headquarters staff were occupying in their advance.

“Ostrov, Sir.” Captain Schultz replied, blanching. “We've had a report from a despatch rider. Looks like the Russian army is headed straight west. As far as we know, Ostrov has already been surrendered. They're certainly not defensible.”

No wonder they had met so little resistance on their counterattack. Mackensen angrily crumpled up the telegraph form and stared at the map pinned to the buffet table. From Briansk to Ostrov was two days' riding, three is you took the guns. By the time he was there, of course, the Russians could well already be elsewhere. He had misjudged Brusilov, left his flank wide open in the expectation of striking right at the enemy's centre of gravity. Brusilov had no centre of gravity! His army was behaving almost like a liquid. Where would it seep in? Southwest to Novogeorgievsk? Impossible. The Vistula was too well defended. Strike west for Pultusk? That was a distinct possibility. Or directly south for Nur and the Bug bridges? That seemed most logical. Getting there would take two days, of course, but he could move along his own supply lines and pick up forces he had left to guard his flanks. But of course so far the enemy was defying logic.

“Thomamüller!” the general bellowed.

“Yes, Sir?” His faithful chief of staff showed up with commendable dispatch, most likely already expecting to be called on.

“How many days' rations have we got on hand? I mean right here.”

“Ten days' worth for the men, Sir. Seven days' fodder.” He looked worried. “We can requisition more from the city, if we need it.”

A quick mental calculation developed: if Brusilov had managed his attack by dispersing his forces over a broad front and reinforcing the successful thrust, he had to be spread thin,. They didn't have reliable figures, of course, but you had a feel for the logistical capacities of the Russian army. They could only move so many men across so much territory in a given number of days. And that meant that with the greatest forces concentrated in Ostrov, there had to be a tail moving along the road to Bialystok and reinforcements trekking along east-west axes as best they could to join the breakthrough. The countryside would be teeming with small units, but the only real concentration would be along the axis of advance. There could be no more than one such force, otherwise the second one would have struck. And with the reinforcements he had called for now positioned south... he would have to hope the Poles and Landwehr regiments were worth their salt. Running after Brusilov would only detach him from his supply lines and put him on the back foot. But with all the Russians making for the Bug, there couldn't be a whole lot of them left in Bialystok.

“Good, good. Yes, do that. Distribute double iron rations to all troops. The cavalry move today, just about as soon as you can get them mounted. Infantry and artillery follow as soon as the roads allow, you can make a proper marching plan. Load all the food you find on any wagon you can scrape up and follow. We'll need to go with a short-handed flanking screen, I'll be needing every horseman I can get in the van. But you can throw out infantry patrols. The Poles are good at that.” Mackensen stroked his bristling moustache calculatingly. “Only thing we can do now. Right, then. Get my Russian boots, we can make Bialystok in two days. Let's pay Brusilov a surprise visit!”

Kiel, 24 May 1907

“Three this week?” Commander von Levetzow looked up from the chart table.

“Five. Torpedo boats out of Riga got two more tonight, the reports are just in.” Lieutenant Walther was still scribbling notes. He had the numbers at his fingertips without even stopping to look up from his papers. Von Levetzow sighed.

“Which ones this time?” he asked.

Walther still did not consult his papers. “S.S. Valparaiso and Marie Laeisz. Flour, meat, fodder and rifles for the Finnish volunteers.”

Damn! How was the navy supposed to supply a growing operation across the Baltic if the Russians kept sinking their freighters? They were getting too good at this to chalk it up to luck.

“Was it the submersible ones?” Russian submersible torpedo boats were a bane on shipping. They had never again been as lucky as at Mariehamn, but their ability to lurk unseen and attack from ambush made them terrifying enough even if they only scored the occasional freighter. Serving officers were becoming almost paranoid about them. But of course, the regular kind could be nasty. And if they could do such damage now, when the days were light and the sea smooth, what would it be like when they tried to ferry their supplies through the long, dark autumn?

“Not as far as we know.” The lieutenant shook his head gently. “We just don't have enough escorts. Even with the new torpedo boat destroyers coming off the yards, the Russians can still run us ragged. We need to start putting guns on the merchantmen.”

Levetzow considered the idea: sleepy, frightened merchant seamen wrestling with a 3-inch gun in the freezing sleet of a Baltic night... He snorted dismissively. “Not unless we can spare the gunners, too.”

“Why couldn't we?” Walther asked. “It's not like the Russians are going to meet us in another great sea battle.”

The kid had a point. Von Levetzow had to forcibly remind himself to concede it. He had suffered enough from conceited superiors during his own subaltern years. “True, we might for all that. But I still think we can do better. Mine their ports, or run a close blockade. If we had the cruisers for it.”

Both men refrained from noting that the cruisers so direly missed were escorting the emperor's ship on his honeymoon tour of Britain and America. It would have been improper to even suggest as much.

“Well, what we can and probably should do is write a memorandum on the problem. Because the only other option I can see if build transports faster than they can sink them, and I don't think we can do that.”

“Not without reducing our output of destroyers.” Walther replied. Damn, did he have every single statistic on call? “Until then, we should consider improved reconnaissance. If enemy boats can be spotted before they attack, the ships can call an escort to fight them off. At least, if they're not submerged.”

The commander nodded again. Nobody really knew what to do about the submerged ones, except be glad the Russians had so few.

Soltau, 24 May 1907

It was hard to get used to the stench. Dr Wohl was a sensitive man, and his posting to a POW camp was a cross he bore with difficulty. Over the past months, he had been able to make some improvements, but lately it felt like trying to row up a waterfall. Hardly had Oberst Heilwig finally allowed him additional barracks, and a new flood of prisoners washed into camp, often with little more than a day's warning. Properly insulated, safely sited Latrine trenches, dug by sullen prisoners under the eyes of resentful guards, proved unequal to the needs of the camp's population. Cooks, still bristling at his constant intrusion into their work habits, his insistence on cleanliness and thoroughly cooking all rations, were reduced to boiling soup in laundry kettles over open fires. And of course those kettles were not being used to do laundry now. He had recruited prisoners to run the bathhouse day and night, but the colonel would not allow the men razors except under close guard. New arrivals often still sported weeks' worth of hair and beard, not an unbecoming style in them, he had to admit, but hygienically a disaster. And the state of his sick wards . . . best not to think about it too much.

Walking up the creaking wooden steps, he entered his ward. The original hut – by now, the rows of cots had spread out to occupy almost an entire row of barracks, with healthy prisoners displaced into tents and temporary lean-tos – was draughty and, despite all their efforts, lousy. The thin partition of canvas and wooden frames separating the infectious and surgical cases owed more to magical thinking than proven practice. There they lay higgledy-piggledy, often two and three to a bed, men with broken bones in plaster, bullet and shrapnel wounds, fresh amputations, some of them infected from days spent jolting about in cattle cars. One soldier had suffered severe lacerations in a scuffle with the barbers trying to shave his head and beard – a Kalmyk, he had later learned, who spoke very little Russian. Heaven only knew what he had thought would be done to him. It was a constant struggle to force new arrivals into the delousing baths. Some fought tooth and nail to keep their clothes and effects, and truth be told they had a point,. Things did go missing in disinfection, and the staff just tipped the lot onto a big table leaving the prisoners to scrabble for theirs. He had tried to introduce a labelling system, but it just took too much time.

Someone groaned on the other side of the screen. That would be one of the fever cases, most of them having come in with the last two transports. Colonel Heilwig had said to expect another shipment later today, which was going to complicate matters further. To put things mildly. Wohl ignored the noise and entered the makeshift laboratory that the military authorities had finally seen fit to give him. As he opened the door, his assistant Dr Iffland stood and saluted. Wohl waved him away tiredly. He did not feel like playing soldier today.

“Anything from our samples?” he asked.

Iffland wordlessly pointed to the microscope. Wohl sat down, detached his spectacles, leaving them to dangle from one ear, and adjusted the optics. The Widal test was a tricky thing to interpret. Even after years in the office of public hygiene, you found cases that left you uncertain. Not this one. The doctor sat up and crossed himself.

“Typhoid.” he said tonelessly. It was not that it came unexpected. Still, the confirmation hit him like a fist to the stomach. “God help us all.”

Warkau, East Prussia 26 May 1907

The crash and roar finally abated, as it always did. In the light of the swaying kerosene lamp, the shadows of the men crowded into the bunker danced madly on the walls. A few pieces of loose earth sifted through the rafters to settle on the sergeant's shoulders as he barked out his order. “Grisha, go up and check!”

Of course, Grigoriy Boyko thought as he set off up the narrow tunnel and stair. Being at the bottom of the military pecking order – a private, a conscript, a recent replacement, a Ukrainian – made this just part of his life. Grisha, shine my boots. Grisha, fetch the rations. Grisha, wash the dishes. Grisha, go up to see if the Germans are finished with us for today. It was not that Private Boyko resented having to do it per se; someone needed to do it. It was dangerous, but so was everything else. It was the way he was invariably the one who caught this duty that rankled. Maybe it would end once they had another batch of green replacements. Then again, it might not. These guys could well be Russians, and that kind of thing mattered more and more these days. Learning to speak proper Russian looked increasingly like a smart move. Grigoriy idly wondered if he should make the effort once he was demobilised. He could certainly pass for a proper Russian. Of course, he used to think he was a proper Russian. But who ever said life was fair.

Turning around the final twist in the corridor, he stopped dead in his tracks. Over the distant rumble of shells, he could hear voices outside! Sergeant Lygin prided himself on running a tight unit. His men were always out first after a barrage. If they had been beaten to it this time, there'd be hell to pay! As Boyko quickened his step, something came sailing in through the brightly lit square of the entrance and clattered heavily down the stairs. Boyko reflexivlely dived forward and hit the muddy bottom of the trench a split second before the blast ripped through the tunnel. What the hell was going on? Raising himself onto his elbows, he crept forward, pulled himself up onto a firing step and unslung his rifle. With his eyes still adjusting painfully to the sunlight, he strained to listen with ears ringing. There was still gunfire – shells coming down on their rear trenches and artillery emplacements. Their own guns seemed to have gone silent. There were rifle shots and the voices he had heard before.

“Scheiße, Da sind welche drin!”

“Willi, bring den Kleif her!”

Germans! The bastards must have crept up on them while their artillery was still plastering the Russian trenches. Talk about balls! So what was he supposed to do now? The rifle in his hands felt pitifully inadequate to his suddenly lonely task. A blue-clad figure rose in front of the tunnel entrance, and another grenade flew in. Boyko could hear shouting from the bunker. Poor buggers, coming out just in time to catch the second blast. To the left, rifle fire sounded. Maybe someone else had made it out in better shape? Grisha Boyko gripped his rifle harder, worked the bolt, and started running. A startled German coming over the parapet stared at him with open mouth. Neither man fired, both too shocked at the encounter. By the time he realised what had happened, Boyko had already turned the next corner and threw himself into the firestep. Two enemy soldiers came jogging up to the entrance of the next bunker, one of them pointing a kind of – tube. The jet of flame that engulfed the defenders came as a complete shock to Boyko, who had never seem a gigropir in action. His heart beating in his throat, he levelled his Nagant at the carrier of this murderous weapon and fired. Almost instantly, the German was enveloped in a sheet of liquid fire, shrieking with horror. Boyko shouted hoarsely, chambering a second round, when he noticed movement behind him. Before he could spin around, the bullet caught him in the shoulder. His weapon pulled from his grasp, he was tossed to the ground, trampled, and left. The Germans advanced out of the trench, their voices disappearing into the distance. With the smell of cordite, gasoline and roast pork mingling in his nostrils, his shoulder throbbing with pain, Grisha Boyko forced himself to roll onto his side, sobbing. Die he might, but he recoiled at the thought of drowning in the mud. Above him, the sun stood high in a feathery blue sky that German shells still arced across, howling and tearing,. He passed out.

Forward Headquarters Groß-Jägersdorf, East Prussia, 26 May 1907

Hauptmann Frank Jaskowitz was deeply impressed. He had rarely seen support troops go about their business with such alacrity, such drive and – amusement, it seemed. Feldwebel Mahler explained, a suppressed grin playing around his mouth. “Most of us speak Russian, at least a bit. It really helps. Gärtner's picking up traffic again, Sir. Would you like to see?”

They stepped over to the wireless receiver where a thick-set, sandy-haired young man was furiously scribbling down letters. The captain looked at the note pad with interest.

“Is it unciphered?” he asked surprised.

“The Russians often transmit in the clear.” Mahler said. “It's part of what makes this job so rewarding.”

The telegraphist took off his headphones and turned around. “No return address, but from the fist I'd say it's 28th division headquarters. Their wirelessman hammers the transmitter like he's playing Wagner on an old piano.”

“What does it say?” Jaskowitz asked. He spoke no Russian, an omission he was determined to rectify as soon as time allowed a harried staff officer.

“Same they all do, pretty much.” Gärtner shrugged. “'Help, Germans everywhere!' It's nice to hear, but it doesn't tell us anything we didn't know.”

The sergeant intervened. “At this stage, it's much more important for us to actively interfere with the enemy's signals. If you allow me, please step over here.” He pointed to the transmitter. “Gärtner, it's time for message #3.”

The telegraphist abandoned his post at the receiver, immediately being relieved by another of the youthful-looking soldiers that populated the post, and sat down at the key. “Who shall I be today? First Army HQ?” He disconnected the key and tapped out a few short bursts of code to get a feel for the style he was imitating. First Army had one distinctive hand, hectic and slight. Private Gärtner could convincingly sound like any number of people over the airwaves – the slow, clumsy tap of the Uralski regiment's radioman, the pianists' strokes of 28th division, the measured click associated with II Corps, and almost any other 'hand' you cared to name. It was an amazing and rare gift.

“What is he broadcasting?” the captain asked curiously.

“We have pre-cleared message from army staff. This one reads 'All units attention: Codebook 1907 C has been compromised. The code is not to be used. Await replacements.'” Mahler smiled viciously.

“We've cracked their code?” Jaskowitz asked, eyebrows rising.

“Not that I'm aware of. They change codebooks too often for that to be worth much, I'm afraid. If IIIb can read their coded messages, nobody's told me.” the sergeant pointed out. “But this will keep them guessing. After the last codebook switchover, a lot of units transmitted in the clear for over a week. Looks like the officers responsible felt getting the hang of the new system was too much work.” He grinned. “They have pretty good cryptography, but their signal discipline is piss-poor, pardon my French.”

Hauptmann Jaskowitz began feeling awed. The things you could do with technology... “Why didn't we think of this earlier?” he murmured half to himself.

“We couldn't, Sir.” Gärtner had overheard him. “It wasn't until the winter that the Russians equipped all their regiments with powerful wireless stations. Last year, they had some at corps level, that was about it.”

“And now we can simply send them orders?”

“Not really, Sir. Operational orders won't work.” Mahler returned to the conversation. ”Too risky. We think they're using specific code phrases to authenticate them. They'd figure out what we're doing in no time. But we can use general instructions and all-points bulletins to maximise confusion. Later today, we're to send out two exhortations supposed to come from II Corps that any officer allowing guns or horses to be captured will be liable for punishment. That should motivate them to withdraw artillery and cavalry from the frontline. And Insterburg II will send out a bulletin demanding all traffic until the distribution of the new codebook is complete to be in the clear. You'd be surprised how well that works.”

The captain nodded, now thoroughly gobsmacked. Wireless telegraphy was simply amazing. “And you came up with all of this?” he asked.

“Well, not exactly. Not alone, at least. When I first started messing with the enemy, some busybody overheard me transmitting in Russian and they nearly stood me up against the wall as a spy. But my lieutenant caught on, and now we're running our first concerted operation across all of Heeresgruppe Kronprinz.” Mahler seemed to be struck with a sudden attack of modesty.

“Why exactly aren't you an officer?” Jaskowitz asked. He felt sure he knew the answer.

“My father's a postman, Sir.”

“I've got a reply, sergeant!” one of the listeners interrupted their conversation. “117th Yaroslavski requesting confirmation of the order not to use codebooks. Not in code.”

Mahler pulled a pencil stub from his pocket as he raced over to the transmitter. “All right.” he said, snatching the scribbled message from his subordinate. “Send back this....”
Bialystok, 27 May 1907

The spartan simplicity of the commander's quarters surprised General Mackensen. He had expected senior Russian officers to live better than this. Of course, it was his now, and he would make a point of using it, but it did bring back memories of military school. This Brusilov fellow was certainly not excessive in his habits. With his travel luggage out of town, there was practically nothing left except the most basic necessities. Then again, he might simply not have trusted the motley assortment of garrison troops and Union volunteers he had left behind. They had run at the first assault, making the capture of the city far cheaper than expected. Of course, Mackensen thought to himself, hussars in the night would do that. At times, his troops even scared him. A knock on the door drew his attention.


“Sorry to disturb you, Sir.” It was Lieutenant Rapp, temporarily promoted to personal secretary. “It's Colonel Grynszpan. He wants his men taken off guard duty for some kind of church service.”

Mackensen looked confused. Church service? What on earth was that about? “Send him in.”

Grynszpan followed hot on Rapp's heels, looking as unmilitary as ever in his leather jacket and jodhpurs. His salute was passable, if perfunctory by German standards. “Sir?”

“Lieutenant Rapp says you wish me to give your men liberty for a church service?”

“Yes, general.” the Bundist officer said. “I want to take them to the synagogue, clean it out and have a prayer service. And if possible, we'd like to ask your field rabbi, Dr. Mandelkow, to officiate.”

“I thought you were a Socialist? Not much time for the opiate of the people, I'd figure.” Mackensen remarked casually, but stopped short when he saw Gryszpasn's face. His mouth was smiling, but his eyes were cold and his jaw set in fierce determination.

“In peacetime you'd be right, general. You wouldn't catch me dead in shul. Maybe reform temple on Yom Kippur,” he quipped, “if you'd get me drunk enough. But it's different here. The Russians used the main synagogue as a stable and stored army supplies in Nomer Tamid. I want to show my men, and the world, that we're taking it back.” He paused, taking a deep breath. “Do you realise, general, that there were 40,000 Jews living in the town before the war? We haven't met a single one. I don't know what happened to them, but I won't simply shrug and pass it over. The Russians need to understand that we aren't going to take it lying down.”

Mackensen shivered. He had not realised that. Grynszpan's intensity looked more understandable when you looked at it that way. What would he be doing if he learned that tens of thousands of German civilians had simply disappeared? He recalled that there were, in fact, a lot of Germans living in Russia. How were they faring? It was a disturbing thought.

“All right, colonel.” he said finally. “Your men are on 24 hours liberty. I'll see if I can give you more tomorrow. It doesn't look like Brusilov will be bothering us for the next three or four days, but if he does, we'll need you. Whatever equipment you may need to fix up your synagogue must take second place to the sappers building defenses, but I'll see what can be done. Help yourself to the Russian stores, certainly. But be ready for action if anything happens!”

“Thank you, general.” It sounded honest. “We're always ready.”

That, too, sounded credible. Grynszpan and his gang might not look much like soldiers, but Mackensen had learned that men who chafed at formal discipline often were good in a fight. And fight they did. If they'd been Germans, he'd have showered them with iron crosses. But of course, if they'd been German, they'd have spent half the war in the lockup for their various infractions.

“Rapp!” the general ordered after Grynszpan had left. “Tell Mandelkow he's to attend to the needs of Grynszpan's men. And find that reporter from Berlin who came along. He'll want to see that.”

Berlin, 28 May 1907

“This is insane.” Doktor Walther Krupp zu Rathenau, minister of munitions, entitled to immediate access to His Majesty, and candidate for the order of the black eagle, did not meet questionable people in places of ill repute. Even if these places were quite expensive and well-appointed. But there were occasions when you broke the rules, and the message that Hershel Kanitzky had brought across from Britain was sufficiently important.

“That's what he said. Mind, this does not come from the ambassador. Every Russian embassy these days has a senior attache or something that was hand-picked by Dubrovin. In Washington, that's Brezhov. It was his idea: If the Jewish charities don't pay up, they'll stop Jews from coming to Turkey.” Kanitzky shrugged. “Its certainly in character from what we hear. Lots of shaking down of Jews going on in Russia.”

“Fair enough. And the Rothschilds can't...”

“No.” Kanitzky interrupted. “I'm sorry. Not on their own. This does not only take money, you understand. It is a matter of expertise in international trade and transport. Payment is asked in kind. And the charities lack these resources.”

Rathenau sighed. The list was quite detailed and exhaustive for oral instructions: Chilean saltpetre, nitric acid, leather, cotton fabric, sheet metal, copper, nickel, tungsten, rubber, and a host of other things required to supply a modern army, for delivery in San Francisco, Portland and Vancouver. The things that Russia paid a fortune for in neutral countries. Apparently, the Patriotic Union had discovered something other than money they could exchange for it. “Dammit, Kanitzky! I'm a criminal for simply looking at this, you know that, right?”

Kanitzky shrugged. He had long been used to breaking the law, often for far lower stakes and at much greater personal risk. What was the point to going all weak-kneed about spending some more money if it meant getting out tens of thousands of Jews caught in Russia? “It's what they're asking. And as far as I know, you are the only one who can provide what is needed to ensure the ports stay open. We've made promises to that effect, otherwise they'd already have closed Odessa. And I'm sure you can use your connections. If you get the shipping through Ballin...”

“Impossible!” Rathenau protested. “Albert would never condone such a thing. Neither should I! They're fighting against my country, Kanitzky. This stuff is used to kill Germans!”

“It's also used to save Jews. But I can go back and tell Frankfurter and Nordau that you're not...”

“Oh, shit. Don't do that.” Rathenau scribbled a quick note. “You do realise I can't just get dollars like that, do you? Here's authorisation to liquidate assets that I hold in the United States. It should cover a fair amount. Talk to my representative in New York about the details.”

Kanitzky nodded. “Thank you. I knew we could count on you.”

“And take those damned paper with you. If the emperor ever finds out I did this, I'll be lucky to spend the rest of my life in prison. No reports back, no talking about this, is that clear? Take the money and spend it. You don't talk to me, you never heard of me! Now get out!”

River Pregel, east of Insterburg, 30 May 1907

You could still hear the thunder of artillery in the distance. The wrath of god was being visited on some unfortunate Russians courtesy of Krupp works. At night, you could see flashes under the horizon. Rittmeister Karl von Böckmann was glad he had escaped the hell of the battlefront,. Even after infantry assault troops had cleared out the Russian defenders, moving a regiment of cavalry through the cratered moonscape left behind by the heavy guns was challenge enough. He would not easily forget the things that they had seen sticking out of the churned mud. Nobody in his outfit would ever look down his nose at footsloggers again.

Across the river, a narrow, silvery ribbon in the morning sun at this point, forward elements had set up a perimeter. No bridge, of course. Uhlans worth their pay did not need a bridge. Mounted, by section, they swam across, each man leading a sumter horse across through the cold, rushing river. It could almost have been a scene from maneuvers, so peaceful and orderly did it appear, except for the fact that the troopers carried neither lance nor guidon, most of them had lost or left behind their czapkas, and their pretty uniform jackets had been exchanged for muddy bluish-grey tunics. The rittmeister was still not quite sure how he felt about this. It was undoubtedly practical – there could be absolutely no question that lances were useless against a determined infantry defense. But it made his men look like ostlers or gypsy horse traders more than soldiers. Junior officers, on the other hand, had taken to the look enthusiastically. Looking worn, irregular, even dirty and dangerous was the fashionable thing nowadays. The men had a word for it: Frontschwein. Everybody wanted to be one, or at least look like one. Soon, they would all legitimately earn that distinction.

Up to now, his regiment had been held in readiness behind the front for most of the war – ever since the terrible day in the first battle of Königsberg when they had all learned how not to fight a cavalry action. But now that a vast hole gaped in the enemy front, they would finally have the opportunity to do what they alone knew how to do best. Across the Pregel, east of the Angerapp, open lands beckoned. The Russian defenders were lined up along the river south, in the old German defenses they had overrun last summer. It seemed like a decade ago now, at least. In front, they were a monster bristling with machine guns and bayonets. In the rear – a soft, vulnerable creature wide open to the swift sting of a determined, mobile foe. Uhlans' work. Less than an hour now and he himself would guide his horse across the stream. Then, the rearguard would cross, the regiment split up, and they would all fan out into the enemy's rear to cross sabres with the cossack. Von Böckmann looked absently into the middle distance. He felt no fear now, just a curiously detached interest. Would it be a good hunt? The 8th hussars were already across and hasd sent back encouraging despatches from a captured Russian wireless station. He idly wondered how the Czar felt about his old regiment now. The troops had certainly viewed the fact their unit was named after Nicholas II as some cosmic irony.

London, 31 May 1907

The music was exquisite, as it had always been, but ultimately, like a succession of meals consisting of the finest Paris confectioners' art, it left you yearning for more substantial fare. Wilhelm carefully settled himself into an armchair provided and guarded by the considerate hostess of the evening. Dance he might again – for the first time in over a year, and even worse than he had before his injury – but he still did not enjoy himself at such occasions. Not that he failed to appreciate the charms of his dance partners. Surrounded by a tragic legend and the rumour of rakish, womanising ways, he attracted enough attention from both the right kind of girl and entirely the wrong kind of lady, and under different circumstances might have taken fuller advantage of it. But even if his health had allowed him to undertake such adventures with greater surety of the outcome, he felt that it would have been inappropriate. After all, his wife – it was still hard to think in these terms – his wife could not fail to notice, and would surely disapprove. And in truth, he would hardly find a prettier, livelier partner than the archduchess. There she was, cheeks flushed with excitement, thronged by admiring gentlemen and a gaggle of giggling young ladies. London was perfect for her, its grandeur, its unabashed love of comfort and luxury, its fascinatingly mature entertainments enjoyed in such un-Parisian propriety. And of course, the sheer wealth of it all. Elisabeth loved Society, the opera, the theatre. Her English was improving by the minute. And for all the strictures of a full calendar, he himself found the city greatly to his liking, too. The museums, the shops, the universities, factories, and the stimulating company of learned men all made him feel more at home than he usually did anywhere but in Sanssouci. And London reciprocated his affection. People still turned up at receptions waving little German flags. Speakers waxed lyrical about ties of race and culture, about ancient alliances and the battle to defend civilisation. Being German, these days, had cachet. A few younger officers even approached him and his entourage about the possibility of temporarily serving with the Prussian army, though most gave up on hearing what would be expected of them.

Looking down at his dance card, Wilhelm noted with relief that he had had the good sense to leave the next two slots unfilled. He needed the break. A commotion at the other end of the room drew his eye. There stood secretary von Ammersleben, prim and properly dressed as always, his despatch case under his army, in animated conversation with the hostess. Next to him a young lieutenant, a man the emperor recalled having seen on the embassy staff. A brief, awkward rustle of papers and a few whispered instructions later, the band turned to the assembled guests and struck up the Dessauer Marsch, a piece particularly poorly suited to strings. The duchess hosting the ball, a formidable lady in her incalculably expensive robe and diamond tiara, stepped out onto the dance floor as the last notes died away and declared to the company: “Esteemed guests, I apologise for this interruption, but it is my particular pleasure to announce to you all these news just come from the Continent: The king of Serbia has tendered his unconditional surrender to the allied Austrian and German troops. Gentlemen!”

On cue, a guards officer – what was his name? Wilhelm recalled being introduced to him – stepped forward and commanded: “Three cheers for the victorious allies!”

The room erupted. All present German officers found themselves backslapped and mobbed. Glasses were charged to drink to victorious peace. It was, altogether, a pleasing conclusion to a lovely day, though the story left Wilhelm wondering. According to what von Ammersleben had been telegraphed from Berlin, the Austro-Hungarian army had dragged King Peter out of a cave, hiding like a brigand. His unconditional surrender was no more than the recognition of the fact that he no longer had any kind of control over his quondam kingdom. But it was still an unusual thing. That was how Americans made war. What on earth were they supposed to do with the kingdom of Serbia they now owned? The Austrians couldn't annex it, not unless they wanted to rule over a perpetual revolution. Would they dig up some forgotten scion of the Obrenovic family? Would they hang Peter? Could you hang a king? Exile him to London, maybe? That would certainly make for an awkward meeting in the street. All this ridiculous obstinacy just had made everybody's life so much more complicated. If the Serbians had acknowledged they were beaten half a year ago, they would have had a peace treaty by now, some territorial concessions, and an end to the bloodshed. And the Russians looked to be just as bad. It just didn't make sense.

Saloniki, 02 June 1907

“They're here to protect us.” The young bookseller all but spat out the words. He had climbed the hills to a vantage point from where he and his friend could see the distant shapes of warships on the horizon, neatly separate, a British squadron, and a French.

“Indeed.” The young officer at his side shook his head sadly. “It will be a dark day for all Turks when the French and the British can agree on how to carve up the empire. I sometimes half wish back the Russian bear. Their fear that the Czar would grab the Straits at least kept them from our throat.”

“I read they're half ready to sink each other, if anything should go badly.” his friend said. “The French are frightened that the Russian supply lines will be cut, and the English are mortally afraid the French might seize the Straits.”

“Absolutely.” With a heavy thumb, the military man dropped onto a tuft of grass and pulled out his field glasses. “And both are happy to ensure the Italians get to gobble up Tripolitania and Cyrenaica without our navy being able to do anything. Not that it could do much otherwise. But at least we'd go down fighting.”

“To what end, though? The sultan will just sign away the land one day, after the proper niceties have been observed. Why have our ships sunk to put off the day?”

“I don't know.” The field glasses scanned the horizon. Yes, that one, that had to be it. The fabled HMS Dreadnought! The British certainly were taking this crisis seriously. If only they could be trusted! What allies they would make. “But if we win too often, the Italian might just as well bring in the Greeks and promise them a chunk of Thrace. Then we can have our battles right here, too.”

“You're a barrel of laughs today, Mustafa.” the bookseller complained. “Don't you ever talk about nice things?”

02 June 1907, Berlin

“There is no reason to assume it is anything but genuine. I'm sorry.”

Marie Juchacz stared at the paper in front of her. Half the staff of the Parteihochschule, the administration and the wartime assistance committees had crowded into the canteen to see the news. Already, voices were raised, quarrelling in the background. There on the table, with the rest of the international press talking of warships off the Dardanelles, German soldiers over the Angerapp, and Mackensen besieged in Bialystok, stood the unoffending, soft-spoken print of Politiken, by overnight mail from Copenhagen: The Czar's Peace Offer. Obtained by a journalist from the foreign office, a peace proposal rejected by the German government. Marie did not have any Danish, but what she could not figure out, others could explain. It had everything: Retreat to pre-war borders, freedom for Poland, immediate repatriation of prisoners, guarantees of safety for Poland and Romania, even a non-interference clause regarding Serbia. Here was everything they had fought for, safety, peace, freedom, and the emperor had turned it down.

“What do the Danish comrades say?” she finally asked, still hoping that this could turn out a mistake, some kind of diplomatic maneuver.

Rosa Luxemburg sighed. “They think it's genuine. At least, as far as they know it comes from the foreign office. Really, no other explanation makes sense.” Her voice was trembling with suppressed rage. Marie could understand: Her lover, Konstantin Zetkin, was serving on the East Prussian front, in the big offensive. For all she knew, he could already be dead. Marie herself had no relatives directly in harm's way. But of course, everyone had friends at the front. And even those who did not were suffering long hours, high taxes, rationing and shortage.

“There must be a reason.” she whispered, refusing to believe. “We must get a translation from someone who speaks Danish.”

“They are working on it.” Heinrich Schulz interrupted. He looked dishevelled, his glasses askew. Many people had come down to the canteen in an unseemly hurry, and more were still arriving. “The original is in French, anyway. We should be able to get it soon enough, and then there will be hell to pay in the Reichstag. Bernstein's already said it's a farce, of course.”

“Does Bernstein have a son in the army?” Rosa Luxemburg asked sharply.

“A nephew, I think.” Schulz interjected unwisely.”

“All the worse! A hypocrite I can understand, but what kind of man will sacrifice his flesh and blood for the profits of Krupp and Stinnes?” Her fist crashing down on the table, Rosa Luxemburg's voice rose to a shout. “The emperor has betrayed us. This is a needless war!”

“What does Bebel say?” Marie asked, helplessly. “What are we to do about this? If we vote against the war loans...”

“We'll all go to prison. Remember what the army wanted to do when Wilhelm was sick!” Schulz pointed out anxiously.

“The time for timidity is long past, Schmidt!” Another man shouted across the room. “We should never have trusted the emperor, or his capitalist friends. The oppressor will remain the oppressor, it's the law of history! Only Revolution can change this!”

“Shut up!” Schulz bellowed back. “Revolution in wartime, and do you think the cossacks will join us in celebrations, yes? This is crazy talk. Wait for what Bebel says!”

“Bebel said nothing.” Rosa Luxemburg said, icy finality in her voice. “He read the article and went up to his office. No word since. It's high time we understood that Socialists need no emperor of their own!”

Marie Juchacz looked back at the paper, crumpled from too many hands reading and rereading. She felt lost. Helping the widows and orphans, nursing the injured and feeding the indigent had been her life's calling in the party. She had been successful beyond anything she had dared imagine. But if she was doing all this in the cause of a war fought no longer for freedom and safety, but for territorial gain and economic profit, where did it leave her standing?

04 June 1907, Bialystok

Mackensen was a bastard, but for all that, a magnificent one. General Brusilov took the time to study the defenses of the city through his binoculars, looking down from the hill that shielded his camp from enemy artillery. Though it looked, from what he could tell, as though that had been an unnecessary precaution. The Germans had not brought many big guns. Surely, they could not have, given the speed of their strike. Which meant that, for all the transient satisfaction they might derive from holding his army headquarters, they were unlikely to offer much resistance to a sustained siege. All this would now take was drawing together the units that he had spread out along the south, and maybe a few up from the east Prussian front. It looked doable.

To the east of the city, Russian gunners began to throw shells at the defenders. Cavalrymen and horse gunners, mostly, if their intelligence could be trusted. Sinking their claws into a piece of ground and holding out against anything a powerful enemy could throw at them was not in their nature. Well, let 'Mad Mackensen' wriggle out of this one. Brusilov smiled grimly.

05 June 1907, Vienna

The strains of high office could be considerable. Ambassador Maximilian von Baden knew as much from experience. Nonetheless, meeting the ageing emperor invariably produced a shock. Franz Josef's face was ashen, with the yellow cast that paper acquired after prolonged exposure to smoke. His cheeks hung like empty sacks, his eyes almost vacant. It was a miracle the man found the strength for his formal duties. Hours at his desk – his famously regular work habits – were killing him by inches. By his side, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, increasingly indispensable as the emperor's right hand, stood holding his papers. The two men's cordial reconciliation had been remarkable. Today, they had yet another reason to celebrate. On the desk lay the formal capitulation of the Montenegrin armed forces, and the government's request to initiate peace negotiations.

“I fail to see what can be negotiated.” Franz Josef said, his voice reedy. “They are defeated. All we need to do is impose our terms.”

Franz Ferdinand looked grave. “We should consider carefully how far to go. Outright annexation would be – fraught.”

“Indeed.” the ambassador agreed. “It is the opinion of my government that in this case, generous terms are indicated.”

The emperor cleared his throat. “Why?” he asked bluntly. “Why should we be obligated to the Montenegrins in any way?”

Prince Maximilian stroked his beard. “Sire, the first consideration, of course, is the impression this will make on Czar Nicholas. At some point, we must enter into peace negotiations with Russia, and it would be easier on all of us if he were to enter them in the expectation of finding us forgiving.”

“Which we would not be.” Franz Ferdinand interjected. The ambassador smiled knowingly.

“However, we also must look to the opinion of the civilised world.” He counted the points on his fingers. “Firstly, Montenegro never posed a real threat. Its army did not even cross the border more than symbolically. Even if you concede that it bound some of our troops in guarding the frontiers, an occupation or territorial cessions would seem unwarranted to an outside observer. Turning farce into tragedy at this stage would be unwise.”

The emperor nodded, blinking away a tear. “Still,” he said, “the safety of our southern borders must be thought of. I would leave my successors a poor legacy.”

“Indeed, your Majesty. That is the second point: The true threat to Austria-Hungary is not Montenegro. It is Serbia. It is Serbia that entered the war aggressively, Serbia that tied up several corps for a year, Serbia that killed and wounded your soldiers. Let them suffer.” Maximilian looked stern. “Let Montenegro off the hook. By all means make them pay an indemnity, make them part of a customs union. But make a peace that leaves them honour. Speak of their bravery, the misguided loyalty, the admirable restraint. Bury the dead of both sides – few enough there must be – with respect and talk of their courageous sacrifice. Embrace them as bold foes.” He adjusted his spectacles and leaned forward closer to the emperor's ear. “And while the world speaks of our kindness, emasculate Serbia.”

07 June 1907, Warsaw

“You will have to tell the Germans it's not possible.” Feliks Dzerzhinski shrugged coldly. “I don't have enough men to secure supply lines better than I already do, and I cannot pull anyone from their current duties. They are going to have to find their own guards.”

“Why?” General Pilsudski was incredulous. “You said yourself that guarding our supply lines was the most important thing the NSB could do for the war effort,. Where are all those men you trained? What are they doing?“

Dzerzhinski sighed. “There are more immediate problems than a few cossacks burning railcars, Josef. And yes, if I told you, you wouldn't believe me. So I won't.”


The spymaster raised his hand in a calming gesture. “Josef, I've told you a great deal of things that you did not believe. In doing so, I endangered operations and people. You may not believe it, but I do care about my people, They do a dangerous and thankless job, and there is little I can do for them. But the least I can do is not endanger them needlessly. So no, I am not telling you any details. I cannot spare the men.”

“I could order you.” Pilsudski ventured. It was an empty gesture. He knew as well as everyone else on the Army Council that his authority as head of the Polish National Army was based on little more than common consent. His subordinates ran their units like fiefdoms, their operational orders came through German headquarters more often than not, and German quartermasters looked to their supplies and pay. Personal authority only got you so far, no matter how much of it you had. If Pilsudski actually called on the men of the Army to follow him, they probably would. At least most of them. But the National Security Bureau were a different breed. He wasn't sure their fanatical loyalty to 'the Boss' could ever be broken. Dzerzhinski held his gaze. The general sighed and shrugged.

“You could, and I would do the right thing, and we would both come out looking bad.” he said. “Come on, Josef. You know we depend on each other. If it looks like I've lost your support, I'll be vulnerable to the reactionaries. And if you lose me, you'll be blind and deaf. And mute, for all the good your official pronunciamentos would do you.”

That much, Pilsudski reluctantly admitted to himself, was also true. Without the regular reports from the NSB agents attached to each unit and garrison, he might know next to nothing about the state of his troops.

“And anyway, it's probably a good thing.” Dzerzhinski smiled his nasty, knowing smile. “The Germans are becoming too used to our support. We're getting too good. If the Kommandantur calls for a thousand Polish workers to fix a railway line, they appear. If the demand a regiment of infantry, it is sent. Time to let them find out that we have our limits.”

“What good will that do?” the general asked irritably.

“They will value us all the more.” Dzerzhinski took off his glasses and rubbed the lenses with a handkerchief. His lopsided face seemed almost foxlike. “We'll be looking at all kinds of fights soon enough, It helps for the Germans to understand they may want to give us something in return for our loyalty. Don't ever forget, Josef, that they do not really like us.”

It seemed difficult to remember at times. The Polish National Army had gained the respect of German officers, gruiding at first, but unstinting soon enough. You could easily enough overlook that most of these men abhorred the very notion of armed revolution at home and would happily put a Socialist rebel in front of a firing squad under different circumstances. But of course the Whites wouldn't. Surely they were already making their own advances to the Kommandantur and to Berlin. It was high time they had their vote. “You're right, Feliks.” he said. “But I still don't get what you're using all your men for. You could at least put up some extra security.”

Once again, Feliks gave him his studied, cold, pensive look. “No.” he said. “Not really.” Then he abruptly changed the subject. “Here is something you ought to think about.” he said, placing two small medals on the table in front of Pilsudski. The general picked them up. They were small, unassuming things, dangling from white and blue ribbons. Each had a star of David at its centre and bore a legend in Hebrew letters. “What does it say?”

“'For Bravery'. The Jews had them made in London. Ferber is giving them out to his men now.”

Pilsudski nodded approvingly. “Good for them. I wish I could do the same thing.”

Dzerzhinski's sour look stopped him. “Yes, Josef. I wish you could, too. Because you really have to. Otherwise, every dinky little commander is going to start making his own.”

08 June 1907, Eydtkuhnen border crossing, East Prussia

Feldwebelleutnant Koch did not take kindly to having his precious rest disturbed, and neither, as far as he could divine from the expressions on their faces, did the men of his company. Lined up in as nice an approximation of 'parade rest' as they could muster in their grimy field service order, bearded faces looking up at the steps of the burned-out town hall, they looked tired. Tired like men who had passed through irked and angry all the way to a level of exhaustion that left them only two possible responses to an annoyance: silent forbearance, or lethal violence. He had made sure their weapons were unloaded when not on frontline duty, but if they really felt like causing trouble, that would not make a difference. Aside from the captured Russian revolvers, pistols and hand grenades many of them had in their coat pockets, there would be bullets somewhere. He'd be forced to chew out any man he found with a magazine hidden away, but he's have been much harder on anyone he found without one. This wasn't autumn maneuvers. Cossacks had a way of showing up where you didn't expect them.

The town hall was festooned with bunting in patriotic red, white and black. Several regimental flags were flying, and a band was going through the Fehrbelliner Marsch. He could imagine what the musicians felt like. It looked, by all accounts, as though some bigwig felt like having a ceremony. Because soldiers on two or three days of front leave really had nothing they liked better than standing to attention watching people congratulate each other. Koch might be an officer now – just about, though he would forever be the most junior man in his regimental mess. That didn't change the fact he felt like a soldier. He'd been an NCO for too long not to. And yes, indeed, no less august a personage than the crown prince, Eitel Friedrich, graced them with their presence. He looked incongruously young in his cavalry major's uniform. The music stopped, and he began addressing the assembled men. Koch strained to hear, trying to anticipate his men's reactions. He worried they might well decide to boo, hiss or otherwise interrupt if they disagreed. There were very few administrative punishments that deterred a proper frontschwein from speaking his mind. But the prince was mercifully brief.

“After these long struggles to liberate the fatherland, you have succeeded. And when you now take up your sword to march across the border into the enemy's land, then, German soldier, remember: From here on, it is revenge! Teach the foe that no foreign boot treads German soil unpunished!”

Damn it, the men even cheered that.

10 June 1907, Berlin

“Let me get this straight.” Prince Albert focused on colonel Roeder's glasses, speaking with menacing calm. “You are saying that despite the navy winning a crushing victory, despite the Russian army being on the run, despite our expenditure of billions of marks on new arms and equipment, despite raising almost the entire reserves and over a million volunteers, you cannot – CAN NOT – win this war? Is that your position?”

Roeder did not intimidate easily. Still, there was an edge of fear to his voice as he replied: “Yes, sire.”

Field Marshal von der Goltz interceded in his subordinate's behalf: “Your highness, please allow us to explain. This is not as nuts as it sounds.”

Gratefully, Roeder cleared his throat and pointed to the map on the wall. “You see, the problem is not that we cannot beat the Russian armies. We can. They are, to all intents and purposes, broken. But if you would – here is the territory we took in the spring Dniestr offensive. I am sure you will agree that this was a great victory. And yet, if you look at the map you will see that we would need to take three times as much territory – through hostile land and with much worse supply lines – to take our troops to Moscow. Even Kiev would require doubling our success. Of course, in an ideal world this would not be a problem. We should be able to supply and execute two major offensives every year. But realistically, you will understand that this is simply not feasible. We cannot raise the troops or pay the weapons for this war to last two more years.”

Albert coughed. “I remember people saying we could not finance one year of this war. You are a supply expert, aren't you, colonel?”

Roeder nodded. “Yes, Sire. Railway department. You are right, of course, nobody expected it would be possible to last even one year. But the costs have already been considerable. The Russians must be suffering much as we do – our intelligence reports indicate that shortages are hurting every aspect of their economy – but they have much greater access to domestic raw materials and, if you forgive my saying so, they are a lot hardier than Germans. A Russian peasant will uncomplainingly bear hardship that would see a German despair or revolt. But more importantly, they can afford to lose in a way we cannot. Russia can do as she did with Napoleon and Charles XII – trade space for time. Gaining that space would be militarily impressive, but it would gain us little. The land is not very productive, and the enemy will destroy anything of value. Managing the supply lines will draw troops and materiel away from the front. The cost of supplying a fighting front that far away from railheads and factories is hugely greater than it currently is.”

The men looked sombre. It was just as Falkenhayn had said at the outset of the war: you cannot attrite the Russians. They could keep beating the enemy at increasing cost, but how long would they be able to find the men and money for it? Albert was not willing to bet it would be long enough.

“What is your alternative, colonel?”

Roeder hesitated for a brief moment before he jumped in. “We must aim to destroy the enemy's ability to continue the war. Russia does not much depend on territory to sustain her war effort. What she does depend on is international credit, on supplies brought in from abroad, on the docility of her people and the deference of her imperial subjects. If we can attack her there, we will be able to end this war sooner and more effectively than by a conquering march on St. Petersburg.”

In the following silence, Albert could just hear Field Marshal von der Goltz grumble something that sounded like “...too clever by half.”

“Please, elucidate. How would we do this?” Albert encouraged the colonel, still sceptical, but irked by the casual dismissal. Roeder looked up to him gratefully before getting back to the map.

“First, international credit. Too many people still buy Russian bonds or grant credit to Russian firms. It would be wise for us to continue reminding the world that these are not safe. It may not do too much good to do officially, of course. But there are contacts to influential people that could be useful.” He stopped. Von der Goltz nodded.

“Then there is the question of foreign supplies. Russia still depends on outside suppliers for much of her war stocks, though not to the same extent as Germany. Ideally, it should be possible to close off these supplies entirely, since they are carried through a small number of ports, but we are, of course, all aware that is not feasible.” Roeder's hand hovered over the Bosporus for a brief moment, then flicked along the length of the map to land on the Pacific coast. “I am no expert on naval matters. A blockade of Vladivostok...”

Albert shook his head. “Even with China in the wear – which at this point is basically a formality – it's not feasible. The Russians have about equal naval strength in these waters, sop a close blockade is impossible. Japan is not going to go to a second round so soon. And the United States have made it very clear they are opposed to a naval war in their back yard. We need their raw materials and bond buyers.” He pensively chewed on his pipe. “Maybe once the Dutch have finished refitting the Russian ships they took off Ostafrika. But even then, it's a great risk. We may well be luckier convincing the Turks to join the war, ultimately.”

Roeder looked up in surprise. An Ottoman declaration of war would change the entire equation. So far, it had proved elusive. The sultan was unwilling to commit himself to a risky venture that would alienate France and might leave his southern flank open to opportunistic attack. “In that case, China would be practically immaterial, Your Highness.” he conceded.

“Indeed. Sadly, that case does not yet obtain.” Albert sighed. “Continue, colonel.”

“Very well. There will be some things that can be done - limited cruiser warfare perhaps, and propaganda. Now that the enemy is vacating Romania, we might even see about sending small warships out into the Black Sea. It is still dominated by the Russian fleet, of course, but a determined cruiser captain might make a mark even with just a gunboat.” Roeder raised his finger again, swinging forward to the Caucasus where it came to rest heavily. “Then there is the issue of subject peoples. I am certain that a determined effort among the locals will produce considerable trouble for Russia. Enough people in the Caucasus and Central Asia are disaffected as it is – especially the Muslim population. The exigencies of the war and the new Integralist government have not made these things better.”

Von der Goltz smiled wolfishly. “That should light a fire under the Russians' arses for sure.” he commented.

“Nicholas just posted his uncle there, didn't he?” Albert asked. Roeder nodded.

“Yes, Sire. Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolaevich has been appointed commander of the Caucasus district and charged with recruiting native horse. Probably something to do with the peace initiative.”

Giving the former supreme commander of the Russian armies a bloody nose was an enticing prospect for the field marshal. Still, he kept professional silence as Roeder continued. “We have hopes that a nationalist faction may be won over to our side among Lithuanians, Latvians and Ruthenians, as well.” he said. “The Poles, Germans and Jews we can probably take for granted – any that are still around, that is.“ The Russians seemed to have been thorough in removing potential supporters from the land the Germans conquered these days. Of course, they usually removed anything worth having, so maybe the people simply left once their homes were torched and their cattle driven off. Who knew that kind of thing.

“We have been working on this, though.” Albert interjected. “Where do we stand?”

“Reasonably all right.” Roeder said equivocally. “We probably shouldn't expect enthusiastic support before we actually control an area. But people are liable to come over to us once we do. That raises the question how many conquests we envision....”

Von der Goltz snorted. “Certainly Livonia and Courland. We've already got the troops in position. Finland should become easier, too. Beyond that – we were hoping the Russians would come to the table at some point. But we should keep going if they don't.”

Roeder nodded. “And the question of strategy, of course. I think it is indicated to shift our strategic stance along the central and southern fronts, way from a focus on conquest towards a premium on causing casualties. We have already shown that the Russians are rarely capable of threatening a well-designed defense. With the troops dug in, we can reduce our own losses and invite the enemy to expend themselves against the defensive works. The Ehrlich institute is also developing some experimental weapons for that purpose...”

“Poison gas?!” Von der Goltz hissed. “I thought our studies had shown that was ineffective?”

“Chlorine was, Sir. But the institute has been working on alternatives. Our primary problem is that these weapons are difficult to control and protect against. But these seem to be solvable.”

“Which leaves the fact that these things are illegal!” Albert pointed out sharply. “Colonel, I have no objection to us making preparations in this field, but Germany will not be the first to unleash this abomination on the world.”

The field marshal kept his mouth shut, but the irritation in his eyes was eloquent.

“That leaves the issue of supporting internal dissent in Russia.” Roeder said hesitantly.

“Socialists?” The disgust in von der Goltz's voice was cutting.

“Yes, Sir. We have made a number of contacts with individuals who have contacts to Russian underground leaders. A revolution is not likely at this point, despite what some of these people may tell us, but with the corrosive effects of more defeats, greater losses – who knows what may develop? I certainly advocate keeping them happy with the occasional shipment of money and arms. The cost is trivial.”

Albert forestalled the field marshal's angry reaction with a nod and a bitter smile. “Sure. What could possibly go wrong with a plan like that?”

11 June 1907, Esbo, Finland

Another dinky little hamlet. Ever since they had set foot on the shore, Captain Doorn's men had been moving from one of these places to the next, and they all seemed depressingly alike. Tiny wooden houses, often quite neat and colourful, but stuffy and cramped, clustered around rickety little churches and maybe a post office or police station, if that. The country was picturesque enough, in a Nils-Holgersson kind of way, with its tall birches and rolling hills, a thousand shades of pale green and the occasional jagged rock. But there was no proper geography to it. Doorn was an orderly man who believed in having proper borders and landscape features. Finland, to him, was just one lake after another, populated by sullen, taciturn natives, ravenous mosquitoes and skinny goats. Esbo might be close to Helsingfors – the map said as much – but you wouldn't know from looking at it. His company had set up an improvised camp around the church, brewed up coffee, and stretched out on the ground in the gentle sunshine that lasted almost all night in this season. That was another thing that annoyed Doorn: the place didn't even have proper day and night!

All around, scattered through what passed for streets and fields here, lay the improvised bivouacs of the National Volunteers. Many of them were still dressed in whatever mufti they had brought from Sweden, with little more than blue armbands or bandannas to proclaim their loyalty to General Mannerheim's optimistically proclaimed Finnish state. They certainly did not inspire much confidence, though the Dutch Mariniers had found it useful to have people who knew the countryside on more than one occasion. The Germans, of course, were hopeless at that. Doorn wondered whether they taught anything other than the straight route from A to B at the Kriegsschule. They got results, but it all lacked – finesse? Cunning? They depended so much on overawing the enemy with their guns and weight of numbers. Doorn's men were used to fighting against the odds. Their habits were just not the same.

A commotion drew the captain's attention, reluctantly, from his paperbound novel. Three of his men were dragging two of the Finnish volunteers across the square, followed by a shouting civilian and a growing clump of bystanders, largely silent, but certainly not dispassionate. There was no limit to the nastiness this place would inflict on its conquerors. Captain Doorn buttoned up on his uniform tunic, waved to his translator and stepped forward to confront whatever fate had chosen to throw at him.

The civilian did much of the talking. He seemed shaken, his face swollen, one eye blackened and a crust of partially dried blood on his lip and nose. Behind him, largely hidden, stood a woman with her arm around the shoulders of a crying girl. Nielsen, the translator, looked unhappy. “I'm sorry, Sir. His Finnish is quite bad, and he doesn't speak Swedish. Apparently, he is complaining that National Volunteers broke into his home and took liberties with his daughter – it is unclear how far they went.”

The accuser spoke up again, more heatedly, now pointing at two of the riflemen. One of them began shouting at him in the incomprehensible gibberish that passed for a language among these people, but switched to Swedish a few seconds later. Nielsen explained: “He says the house that they broke into rightfully belongs to this man's cousin, who is now serving with Mannerheim's Volunteers, and was confiscated and auctioned off by the Russian authorities after his escape to Sweden.”

He turned to the civilian and began talking to him in Finnish, slowly, eliciting a stifled sob and tearful pleading. Doorn could imagine what was being said before he got the translation. “Sir, he says he sank all his savings into the farm. He bought it legally, and he has the papers.”

The civilian held up a sheaf of documents bearing the imperial Russian eagle. One of the volunteers stepped forward, tore them from his grasp and deliberately dropped them into a puddle. Another altercation ensued, ending only when the captain exasperatedly shouted for quiet. Two Mariniers came to attention, rifles in hand.

“Right. I'm, not really very interested in the ins and outs of this case. I've just spent two weeks marching and fighting around these damned lakes, and lawyering is not what I do for a living. So, Nielsen, tell the volunteers that anybody who molests the womenfolk will be very sorry indeed.”

The translation took a few seconds. There was no appreciable reaction, though that might have had to do with the presence of, by now, some thirty Marines around the market square. Mannerheim's thugs might have an elevated opinion of their prowess, but they had developed a healthy respect for real military professionalism.

“Now, inform the complainant that I am not authorised to adjudicate any claims of restitution of property. The occupying powers are very clear on the issue that the Finnish people are free to settle their own disputes without interference. He must bring a petition to the Committee of National Rebirth to be decided by the Finnish national authorities.”

Again, rendering this in Finnish created an awkward delay. The riflemen grinned. Shock registered on the blanching face of the villager. His wife began sobbing quietly.

“Right., Now, give me a piece of stationery. I want you to write a safe conduct in Swedish, Finnish and Russian. I'll sign it, and then you can tell them to get out while they can.” A helpless shrug accompanied the captain's words. “And tell the volunteers to disperse. Nothing to see here.”

14 June 1907, Mitau, Kurland

Professor Karl Seitzen did not take the news that a visitor was awaiting with too much good grace. Heading the city's German-language Gymnasium was a demanding task, especially under current conditions. Many parents found in increasingly difficult to pay their fees, with trade cut off, taxes rising and grain exports all but dead. Half the faculty was in uniform, as was almost the entire non-teaching staff. Fortunately, he had reached an accommodation with a few of the mothers who now kept the school clean and running in return for waiving their sons' fees. Exams were a mess, with half the graduating class volunteering for the colours, many to officer training. A veteran of the resistance against Russification from his youth, the professor could appreciate the irony in that. For all their big talk of Russian identity and the Slavic race, the combination of accelerated careers in the Patriotic Union for opportunistic Russians and the attrition of junior officers in the trenches had opened up possibilities for his pupils that were unthinkable even a few years ago. Graduates of his school – common-born sons of merchants, lawyers, pastors, even artisans – had secured battlefield promotion to captain, major, even lieutenant-colonel. Of course, many others had placed their names on the improvised wooden memorial plaque they had hung up in the main staircase. After the war, when funds allowed, they would have one made of bronze. He might need to ask for donations, though – it would have to be a large one.

Tired from a long day trying to impose order on chaos, Seitzen was now ushered into the living room of his house where, instead of a pipe and brandy, a stranger was waiting. The calling card identified him as Tomas Söderberg, a Swedish commercial traveller selling laboratory equipment. It made absolutely no sense. With navigation across the Baltic stopped, he had to have come through Finland by rail – a very uncomfortable journey to sell things that surely nobody here had the money to afford at the moment. Not to mention that coming to Russia was risky. Rumour of an imminent Swedish entry into the war were flying everywhere, and anyone found on this side of the border would immediately be interned. The professor confronted his unexpected guest with according caution,. Söderberg was young, surely no more than thirty, with a fashionable moustache, macassared hair, and a cheap business suit After a thankfully brief exchange of cold pleasantries, he got down to business.

“I am, it may surprise you, here as a representative of the German government – albeit, naturally, an unofficial one.”

The professor harrumphed. “A spy, you mean?” he growled.

“An agent, in preparation of the imminent arrival of the German army. As a noted proponent of German rights and prominent figure in the community, this matter surely cannot leave you cold? You have had your own run-ins with the Russian government over the years, after all.”

He paused. The professor stroked his broad beard and regarded him coldly. The man was thinking! Considering. Hopefully, the agent went on: “In the situation as governors of a conquered territory, we will need reliable allies to base ourselves on something other than bayonets. Of course, the Germans of the Baltic provinces can only hope to gain from this, and I hope that you will continue to have the best interests of your people at heart and assist us in helping them through the transition.”

Söderberg hesitated for a moment, unsure which course to take. Then, he flashed his best travelling-salesman smile and explained: “Your standing in the city would qualify you for a position of authority, and of course if you were to run any personal risks on behalf of the imperial government, we would be happy to see to an appropriate reimbursement. If there are...”

Professor Seitzen imperiously raised his hand to silence him. He slowly rose to his feet, cleared his throat, and spoke in the voice of command that could silence a classroom full of upper firstmen: “Mr Söderberg – if we are to continue with the fiction that this is your name – Mr Söderberg, I regret that you have come to my house. Nothing good crossed my threshold today. My answer to you is no, as clearly and unmistakably as I can say it. I do not know what manner of men you seek as allies if you offer money for them to betray their emperor. I am no such man, and you will find few enough of them among my compatriots. There have been Germans in Kurland, Mr Söderberg, well before there were kings in Prussia or even margraves of Brandenburg, and there will continue to be Germans here long after the Hohenzollern dynasty has become a chapter in our history books. A people does not last for centuries by betraying its loyalties.”

He brought down his hand on the table, his voice rising on the last words. Then, he walked to the door, turned once more and continued, in a calmer tone: “You are a very lucky man today. I have neither a manservant to carry messages, nor a telephone. Mr Söderberg, I will now retire to bed, and you will leave my house. Tomorrow morning, before the first lesson, I shall call on the commandant of the gendarmerie to inform him of your visit. Good evening.”
14 June 1907, London

Much is spoken these days of the valour, the perseverance and the chivalry of the German soldier. In this week's edition, we are starting a series of articles that will introduce you to the German army and navy. Today, we begin with a look at the organisation of the German infantry regiment.

As in any European army today, the infantry forms the backbone of the fighting strength. The Germans particularly are of the opinion that it is the foot more than horse or gunners that win the day in battle. In Germany, the only thing that is thought more glorious than to be a general of the infantry is to be an officer on the general staff, that great school of strategists that operates as the brain of the country's fighting strength.

The basic unit of the infantry is the regular line regiment, of which the German emperor now has 342. The peacetime strength of the army was composed of 217, to which more were added of volunteer boys and young men streaming to the colours after the Russian attack. In addition, there are also reserve regiments of infantry whose men are recalled to the colours from civilian life. The younger, more energetic class of reservist is called into reserve regiments of infantry that are in all respects equal to the regular ones, and are sent to fight in the forefront of battle. Men whose first induction lies five or more years back are called only into the Landwehr, the second line of reserves that are used mainly to guard rearward lines and secure conquered land. The Landwehr have their own regiments, which shall be looked at in a later edition.

A German infantry regiment numbers 2,275 officers and men, divided into three battalions of four companies each, one machine-gun company and one mortar company. It is commanded by a colonel, whom they call an Oberst, and who has a staff of his deputy, a lieutenant-colonel, in German an Oberstleutnant, three majors, in German a Major, and a personal adjutant. In addition, there is a regimental physician and two assistant physicians, a veterinarian, and the civilian paymaster. The regimental staff does the whole of planning tactics and supplies, keeps the lists and ensures that the men receive their pay, their rations and their equipment. They are assisted by a group of trained soldiers who maintain their maps and files and four despatch riders seconded from the cavalry. The regiment's music are used as ambulancemen and stretcher-bearers when in battle. Since the beginning of the war, each regiment has also had a field wireless station attached to its staff. Its complement of twelve telegraphists is selected for intelligence and alacrity, each man trained in coding and decoding messages and repairing the equipment. They all carry hand grenades to destroy codes and machinery if overtaken by the enemy. In addition, they serve as the telegraph and telephone staff when the unit has access to a regular line.

Each battallion is commanded by a major who has his own staff of officers and assistants to maintain its affairs in order. Battallions have neither wireless stations nor despatch riders, but a number of young, brave and alert men are selected as runners to carry orders and despatches. These often distinguish themselves by their courage and resourcefulness, and the proportion of medals that has been bestowed on them is proportionately high.

The special companies of the regiment, each commanded by a captain, called in German a head-man or Hauptmann, are rarely used as units, but their men usually divided up among the battalions to be used as their commanders order. The machine-gun company fields twelve Maxim guns, each one drawn by two horses and crewed by a gunner, an assistant gunner, and four loaders. Each section of two machine guns is commanded by a lieutenant and accompanied by an ammunition cart and a supply cart. In some regiments used in Poland today, machine guns have been experimentally removed from their wheeled carriages and instead loaded on mules imported from the United States which are handled by negro drovers. Normally, each battalion is given four machine guns for its support which the major commanding it may use as he chooses. The same is true of the mortar company which fields twelve of the newly made 3-inch Nogi mortars firing light shells at a high angle. Each two mortars are carried on a two-horse wagon with their ammunition, and crewed by three soldiers. Each mortar section of four tubes is commanded by a lieutenant. The use of the mortar sections is at the discretion of the colonel, and they are often used in support of the part of a regiment advancing or in the most exposed position. These weapons, though still very new, have already given a good account of themselves, and the German government has introduced them throughout its line regiments at considerable expense.

The regular battalions are divided into companies of 254 men, each commanded by a Hauptmann and his deputy, a lieutenant. Company command offers young officers ample opportunity to distinguish themselves by valour and resourcefulness hand-to-hand with the enemy. In each company, there are three Pelotons, commanded by a lieutenant or a senior noncommissioned Feldwebel. Each Peloton consists of four Zug of 20 men each, each commanded either by a Feldwebel or vice-Feldwebel. I each Peloton, there are two men armed with as light Madsen machine-gun, another weapon that the German army has found to be greatly useful.

German infantrymen are armed alike, though the army did in the past distinguish between light infantry and siege infantry. What remains of this tradition is that the men of the centre battalion of each regiment are often given a greater proportion of heavy weapons, sapper bayonets, and the new fire projectors known by the men as Kleifs. These are gas-pressurised pneumatic tanks that can be carried on one man's back and, on discharge, will project a stream of flaming petrol over a considerable distance. Despite their tremendous effect, they are not generally well liked. Where the regiment was equipped with light 2-inch Nogi mortars, these are also usually distributed among the men of the centre battalion's first company.

A regular infantryman is armed with the Mauser-98 rifle, a nine-pound, bolt-action magazine rifle holding five bullets, and a nineteen-inch bayonet. They are given an unlimited amount of ammunition for their rifles, in bandoliers and canvas carrying pouches they sling around their necks like scarves, and are trained for a highly accurate aimed fire. Many of the men also carry hand grenades or additional magazines for the Madsen light machine-guns. In addition to these arms, each man carries a marching pack with underwear, a spare pair of boots, iron rations for two days, and cleaning and sewing kit. The greatcoat, a tent half, and a cookpot are attached to the pack, and many men also carry a short, foldable entrenching spade which they purchase privately. Altogether, they are often burdened with up to seventy pounds.

15 June 1907, Berlin

Colonel Seeckt's face was grey as he emerged from his meeting with Field Marshal von der Goltz. Leutnant von Gerschau managed a correct attention and salute, but the shock must have registered. Seeckt shot him an angry glance.

“Sir?” the adjutant asked, his eyes almost pleading. “What news can we send General Mackensen?”

The colonel looked away momentarily. “Send word Eichhorn cannot spare the men or supplies for a relief. He must look to Heeresgruppe Warschau for that and hold out while he can.”

“But, colonel!” the young officer objected, “Bialystok will be lost! They are running out of food and ammunition! We must...”

Seeckt turned. “Lieutenant, I would prefer you did not tell me what I must unless you are prepared to tell me how I can!” He was silent for a moment. “Mackensen brought this on himself.” he then continued in a quieter voice. “We cannot jeopardise the success of another offensive by drawing off troops to deal with a distraction. There will be a relief column from the south. It is all we can do.”

Leutnant von Gerschau fought an impulse to shake his head. On the general staff, you could voice criticism of your superiors, but there were limits. And he understood why the decision had been made. Still, the thought of Mackensen's men caught in the ruins of Bialystok, hungry, dirty and running out of bullets, kept rising up in his mind accusingly. Heeresgruppe Warschau – there was a joke if he knew one. A motley collection of Landwehr, Polish 'National Army' and a leavening of German volunteer regiments assigned to holding the line against practically no serious Russian pushback while the real fighting happened north and south of them. How on earth were they supposed to mount a relief against Brusilov? He had the only intact Russian army in the field, and the first-line troops that had been meant to stop him were caught in Bialystok like rats in a trap.

“What if he has to surrender?” he finally said.

The colonel frowned. “If he has to surrender, he will have to do that. Nobody will think worse of the old man.” He wondered idly how the Russians would treat their famous prisoner. Mackensen had a special place in the affections of the German people. Maybe it was unwise not to relieve him as fast as possible. But plans were plans. You couldn't let yourself be distracted by individuals. “Prepare the message. He must hold out until relief comes from the south or resistance becomes untenable.”

16 June 1907, Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool

Luxury, Max Weber found, was relative. He had been surprised to find that the emperor himself did not live in anything like the style that he himself was accustomed to. Of course, his family had left him an enormous fortune, but then, Wilhelm's had left him the Hohenzollern estate. The emperor preferred to spend his money on research institutes and scholarships for gifted engineers, it seemed, something that Weber himself could only approve of. But there were things that no amount of money would buy you, and some quiet on a day like this was one of them. His Majesty had invited the professor to an informal supper. With the dining room full of wealthy gawkers and the street outside the hotel crowded with people trying to catch a glimpse of the Kaiser, the calm of the second floor, unobtrusively guarded by police detectives and remarkably athletic valets with military haircuts was an oasis. Conversation with the emperor, too, was less burdensome that it was with many of the powerful. Wilhelm genuinely wanted to learn things. Professor Weber wondered if this would go away with age or if he really was a rare specimen of intelligent monarch.

“So you're saying we're doing it all wrong?” he asked between two mouthfuls of grouse. The English understood good food, and they were untrammelled by the austere cant of wartime Germany in their enjoyment.

Weber laid down his knife, swallowed, and smiled placatingly. “I did not say that, Your Majesty. I was pointing out, however, that ultimately, any government must base itself on a foundation of legitimacy. You cannot put a secret policeman behind every citizen.”

Wilhelm smiled in his strange, lopsided way. “I don't have those anymore. The Poles do, though.” he pointed out helpfully.

“Yes.” Weber agreed. “That is another matter of concern to me: The Poles seem to be so much better at this. If half of what I hear of the NSB is true, no modern government can afford to be without an equivalent in the future. But getting back to where we were, a proper government can only function if it can instil the habit of obedience. You cannot rule a people by the bayonet, because you cannot trust them to obey once your back is turned. In the Poles, these habits are all but gone. Their experience of a century of Russian rule means they think of government as an annoyance, something to be avoided wherever possible.”

“Doesn't everyone?” The emperor sipped his wine and looked at his guest sourly. “It's not like we're having it easy with our Catholics and Socialists and Junkers.”

“I'm afraid you are underestimating the scale of the problem.” Weber explained. “In Germany, the habit of obedience is intact. People may dislike the tax authorities, but they pay taxes. They may resent the police, but they obey them. It is rare for anyone in Poland to obey a command unless they are forced. I am in correspondence with two of my colleagues, and the reports they give me are quite disheartening.” He cleared his throat. “Well, for a given value of correspondence. There is no mail service to speak of.”

“That is all very well, but how would you propose to change that? You said we can't have a policeman behind everyone. Anyway, they ought to be grateful enough.”

The professor steepled his fingers. “Gratitude is a short-lived emotion. A few months can turn welcome liberators into hated occupiers, especially as memories of the past fade. No, as far as I know there are only three ways a government can be accepted as legitimate, and if you hope to create one in Poland on your terms, these you must choose from.”

He speared a morsel from his plate and continued. “First, you may govern from legitimacy of tradition. Government can be accepted simply because iut has always been there. The problem with that is, obviously, that for the last one hundred years, Poland has been ruled from St Petersburg, and they aren't fond of that.” A quick, precise move transported food to mouth, forcing a pause,. The emperor said nothing.

“The second option is rule by charisma. A ruler – and this is invariably a great man – can become accepted through the force of personality others see in him. Alexander, Caesar, Ivan the Terrible and Napoleon ruled this way. The problem with this...”

Wilhelm seemed apprehensive. Did he expect to be told he lacked charisma? The emperor seemed sensitive to criticism, for all the grace he tried to take it with.

“The problem with that is that the Poles already have a great man. If you want to set up government through a charismatic ruler, your man is Pilsudski. And I cannot imagine he would take kindly to being made a puppet, even if he allowed it in the first place. Bear in mind, he went over the border with a hundred men to make war on the Russian Empire. With a hundred thousand, he might well chance taking on you.”

The emperor shook his head irritably. “Certainly not. We would walk all over them in a week.”

“And then you would be stuck with the same problem as before, except that you'd now fairly have earned their hatred.” Weber pointed out. “If you did that, you might as well give back the country to the Russians. At least they understand how to rule by the whip. Germans, in my experience, are very poor at it.”

“How so?” The surprise was genuine. “I surely keep hearing enough about how we cruelly oppress the Alsatians and Danes. Not to mention our poor Catholics.”

Weber laughed. “Most Germans wouldn't understand who is ruling them if I tried to explain. Tyranny exists, no doubt, but it is the iron fist of their own soul that forces them into compliance with your imperial dictates. No, Your Majesty, Germany is a country that subjugates itself. It merely uses its government to tell it what to do. Bismarck himself remarked that every German thought it his God-given right to hate the government, but he also understood that they longed to be led.” He raised his glass again, sipping the fine red that the Adelphi's cellar prided itself on. “Mind, the Alsatians have legitimate complaint, left without a proper government as they have been. That is a greater cruelty to a German than any other people on earth.”

Wilhelm took note. “Something you would say we need to change?” he asked. He had spoken about this with Albert before. Nobody was quite happy with the status quo, but it was the genius of Bismarck that had forged it, so you questioned it at your peril.

“Of course.” the professor said. “Everyone needs a proper government. Even the Poles, unless you would see them sink into anarchy.”

“Since you're saying I can basically give it to the Czar or Pilsudski, I'm not sure whether that's not the best option.”

Weber raised his hand. “I'm not saying that at all. There is always the third option. Government may become legitimate in the absence of tradition or charisma simply by doing its job well enough. People are willing to tolerate obedience to a government that rules them well. Your Majesty may not be able to give the Poles a crown of a thousand years or a historic ruler on a white horse, but if you can give them a postal service, a police and a proper tax office, much can be forgiven.”

Wilhelm looked up, interest lighting up his eyes. “I can see how that might work.” he said. “But the cost … I'm not sure it's feasible.”

“Well, you would not have to actually expand the German system to Poland. That would certainly be unaffordable. But when you look at the parlous state of government since the revolution – or truth be told, before – even small improvements will make a big difference. That is the advantage of conquering a country as poorly run as Russia. Do you realise that the Czar had as many policemen for his entire realm as the English have to guard London?”

“You cannot be serious!” Like everyone else, Wilhelm had grown up with dark tales of the omniscient Okhrana and its fiendish agents.

“Oh, I am.” Weber speared another Stilton croquette. “The Polish government itself will be your best ally in this quest. If you can give the country a corset that holds it together, it may never miss its spine.”

17 June 1907, Jüterbog

Paul Hofmann had expected service under the emperor's colours to be less humdrum than it was. He did not wear the uniform, that much was true, but the way he saw it, they had an even more tedious time of it. At least as a civilian adviser, he did not have to spend time shining his boots and polishing his buttons. But life at the artillery proving ground in Jüterbog still involved very little of the excitement he had hoped for when he had written up his suggestion to Falkenhayn's people. It had more in common with the life he had left behind as a research assistant than it had with anything he had imagined. The main difference, as far as he could tell, was that he was now living in a draughty, pokey little garret instead of a five-room apartment and drew half the pay he used to.

Nor, he had learned, was he the only one who had had bright ideas about using gas on the Russians. They had a little cottage industry of inventors going on in that line. Sorting out what worked, or how it could be made to, proved harder than dreaming up a new wonder weapon. His colleague Mr Barmer was less frustrated, but of course he was an engineer, so repetitive, mindless work suited him better than a university-educated medical man. Hofmann rose to his feet, steadying himself on the desk, and walked across the office they shared. He still walked gingerly, the skin over his burns tight and tender, but he refused to countenance using a cane. Canes were for cripples.

“How did the last batch perform?”

Bauer shrugged. “No better than the last, no worse. I wouldn't trust them to protect me against anything at truly lethal concentrations.” The engineer dug through the papers in front of him. “Hood number 7 works all right, as long as you don't move too much, but one of the windows cracked during the life test.”

Hofmann took a sharp breath. “Chlorethyl?” he asked.

“Ethyl bromacetate.” Bauer said with a shrug. “You wouldn't test a new hood against your stuff. But Zehlmann still walked away with his eyes swollen shut. We really need to find something better than celluloid. Maybe if we tried a single pane of hardened glass...”

That was Bauer's hobby horse – designing a safety hood that would protect the soldiers reliably against any gas they tried. Hofmann waved it away. “You know the army wouldn't countenance the weight and cost. Remember colonel Kraspe: 'It needs to pack flat!' What about permeability?”

“Still a problem. Numbers 10 and 11 stand up all right to chlorine, chloroethyl and bromacetate. But nothing we have so far will stop phosgene.” That wasn't much. A cotton pad soaked in soda solution would stop chlorine, after all, and the quantities you'd need for it to be effective in the first place meant they would almost certainly never use it. Phosgene, on the other hand, was a good bet, if they could find a way of protecting their own troops. Cheaper than chloroethyl, even Hofmann had to admit, and less likely to linger. Early tests with his compound had left patches on the range where they still couldn't go without rubber thigh boots.

“A pity prussic acid worked so poorly in dispersal. We can protect reasonably well against that.” Hofmann sighed. “We had best keep trying.”

Bauer nodded agreement hesitantly. He was not quite as sanguine about the ability of hood #7 to guard against hydrogen cyanide. “Maybe we should try something else.” he said. “Something like a diving helmet, maybe?”

19 June 1907, Berlin

Little red dots moving across the chart table. It was more of a display piece than a truly useful bit of furniture, but Albert liked the sense of control he got from taking in the disposition of the entire fleet across the globe from a single colourful surface. And with the rapid disappearance of the black pieces that had crowded so many seas in the past year, it also made much more satisfying viewing. There was the big cluster up in the Baltic, half the battlefleet guarding transports and shelling ports. The stack that marked Kiel and a second, smaller one in Wilhelmshaven, the cruiser squadron in Tsingtao and its Dutch allies in Batavia, and of course the ship they had put in Daressalam now. Out in the Atlantic they had SMS Hamburg, together with the Utrecht, patrolling the shipping lanes, and a lone dot in the Irish sea indicating SMS Hardenberg escorting Wilhelm's cruise on the Columbia across to New York. Up north, behind the hook of Kola peninsula, lay the watch off Arkhangelsk. It was, altogether, a comforting picture. And as he had often in happier, carefree navy times, Prince Albert began wondering what he had overlooked to be feeling this calm.

An orderly stepped into the room, pale and frazzled. He had the sinking feeling that he would soon enough know what would be ruining his day today.

“Sire!” the young man reported, breathlessly. He must have run all the way from the telegraph room. Navy officers did not run.

“What is it?”

“Kolchak is out!”

The room froze. Fourteen pairs of eyes turned to the chart, mentally developing the same set of lines and circles across its broad blue expanse: cruisers out of Arkhangelsk, an expanding wedge of possibilities, colliers coming out of Norwegian or American ports to extend the range, with only two weak, single ships in the entire wide space of the Atlantic to contest their way. And out in the Irish Sea, heading outward into the Atlantic, the emperor. How old was the last position setting? The SS Columbia was a fast ship, she could already be farther out than the chart showed. Of course, an urgent wireless message could recall her to the safety of British waters immediately – within twelve hours, at most. But German emperors didn't run!

“How?” Albert asked curtly.

“A ruse, apparently.” the aide explained, handing over the message. “Von Pohl's cruiser squadron followed a decoy that slipped port at night. They are in pursuit of Kolchak now, but he has gained almost a day's head start, and they are running low on coal.”

Albert shook his head. “What a waste of talent to have this man in the Russian navy.” he grunted. “Well, Admiral Diederichs, what do we do?”

“Stop him!” the admiral said, calculating courses and travel times in his head as he spoke. “Intercept and sink.”

“That's not going to work.” Albert pointed out. “Kolchak has Izumrud and Gromobey. They are faster than the blockading squadron, outgun the light cruisers that could catch them, and he must have his bunkers full to the brim.” Von Pohl's squadron was close to being relieved. SMS Hardenberg had been meant to go there after New York. Well, now Kolchak had been polite enough to come to her instead.

“Recall the Columbia, and assemble a battleship escort, then.” Diederichs suggested. Albert shook his head and bit down on his pipe.

“Emperors don't run.” he said. “We'll need to find escorts that can catch up. What's in Wilhelmshaven?”

A lieutenant stepped over to the listings and read out: “Light cruisers Danzig, Cormoran and Condor, armoured cruiser Dessauer - laid up for repairs – battleship Otto der Große – also laid up. Danzig and Cormoran are at sea readiness. The Dutch also reported that Gelderland is seaworthy again. She could join us from Rotterdam.”

Albert nodded. It was not everything he would have wished for, but it made a respectable enough armada. “Order the ships to join SMS Hardenberg as soon as feasible. We'll ask the Dutch to provide what help they can, too. If Kolchak wants to go for the Columbia, he'll have a fight on his hands.”

“I doubt that he will.” Captain Schmidt pointed out. “His two are the only Russian cruisers currently at liberty in the Atlantic. He's not going to jeopardise those assets for a publicity stunt. But to be on the safe side, how about asking the Americans to provide some extra cover?”

“Americans?” Albert scratched his chin.

“Not as a belligerent act, just to welcome a visitor of state. They've built a fair number of battleships and cruisers lately, and he is on an official visit to their country, so they should be glad enough to show them off. President Roosevelt is quite a navy buff.”

“Good thinking.” Prince Albert was chewing on his pipe again. “Will they be coming out of Virginia?”

“Out of Hampton Roads, yes.” Schmidt pointed to the map. “If they are up to their usual standards, they should be at sea in a day or two. It would probably be safest if Columbia took a more southerly course. She'd be in New York a day or two late, but it would shave a day's sailing off the US welcome committee's journey and put sea room between her and Kolchak.”

“Let's do that.” Albert ordered. “Admiral, send instructions to Wilhelmshaven for the cruisers to rendezvous with SS Columbia. Apprise her captain of the plans and instruct him to slow down and head south. I'll get over to Wilhelmstraße to talk to the Dutch and the Americans.”

20 June 1907, Mogilev

Valentina Grishina recalled the harsh, mechanical click of the words as Inspector Todorov, speaking before them at morning assembly, had pronounced them: “Von nun an gilt es Rache!” The front page of the Grazhdanin featured a drawing of Prince Eitel Friedrich looming menacingly over the serried ranks of Russia's soldiers defending their people. The flickering gaslight in the nursing staff's tearoom made it seem even more frightening. For a long time, nobody said anything.

“Do you think they will teach us to use rifles?”

Valentina snorted derisively. That was just like Yuliya – naïve, silly, emotional. She had not known the word 'bourgeois' before she had come to Mogilev. Some of the girls in the Union nursing school used it. Now, she was quite certain that it described people like Yuliya very well. They might have their letters and numbers, but their heads were stuffed with all kinds of impractical nonsense and they only ever thought of themselves.

“Don't be silly.” she chided her colleague. “They will never make it here. The front is far away. Our soldiers will stop them.” Her voice sounded less certain than she would have liked.

“What if they do? What will they do to us?” Yuliya insisted.

“What do you think?” Valentina snapped. What did soldiers bent on vengeance usually do to young women? She checked herself, remembering that some of the student nurses from the better sort of family had a very limited understanding of the facts of life. Maybe Yuliya really had no idea. “We will defend ourselves. Just like Nurse Raisa did.”

There had been a long, rousing story in the paper by Vasily Nemirovich, a war correspondent. It featured a nurse who had chosen to stay with the wounded, defending their position to the end. Finally, the heroic young woman had begged a soldier to shoot her rather than be taken alive by the enemy. They would not even need to do that. The hospital had plenty of chloroform and opium.

“It's not like it matters what this monster says.” Irina interjected. Valentina was grateful she would do this. Almost 30, and from a teacher's family, Irina could be trusted to be level-headed and patient. “Prince Mikhail will stop him soon enough. His army in Courland is still intact.”

Valentina had read that in the papers, too. The very fact that she had, in fact, read it in the papers still filled her with awe. Newspapers used to be things that happened to others, but now she was able to read, she could not get enough. Nurse Petrovna had allowed her to borrow some medical manuals – the real ones, not the smudged leaflets on thin paper that the trainees and stretcher bearers were normally given. But being able to read was not always reassuring. There had been the reports of Jewish franc-tireurs slaughtering Russians in Lublin – that had even made it into their morning meeting speeches. The Russkaya Pravda had also written that the German army had killed every last Hottentot to take their diamonds. It was a disconcerting thought. Of course the Hottentots were negroes, so that was different. But how much of a difference did a Prussian soldier really see between a Russian and an African? Even if they did, how well would they control their Polish and Jewish attack dogs?

“You're right, of course.” she agreed. “All the more reason we have to do all we can. The army needs every last man.”

21 June 1907, Bialystok

You could get attuned to the sound of artillery shells, Chaim Weysbrod found. It would have shocked his civilian self how blasé he had become about the sound of gunfire. His ears told him more accurately than he ever thought possible whether a shot was headed his way or elsewhere. Of course, he told himself, there wasn't very much you could do once you'd figured out a shell was coming for you. Hitting the ground or diving behind cover helped sometimes. They had built wonderfully complex trenches around Bialystok to protect themselves. But the casualties flooding their hospital bore witness to the fact that it didn't always work. And then there were still snipers to worry about, and firethrowers, and those godawful Russian ashcan tossers that could land two hundred pounds of high explosive on you without you ever hearing it coming. He'd written to his father that he felt like a fugitive from the law of averages. The letter was still at the Corps post office, of course. How could they have got it out? And who took a fucking post office to war with them? Germans, that's who. Meshuggeh, the lot of them...

Wedged into a corner of his bunker, he crumbled a piece of hard bread into his coffee. They didn't eat as well as they used to these days. No more meat, except for wounded, unless the Russian gunners bagged a horse near your position. No more sugar for the coffee, either, and the coffee itself was awful even by German standards. For frontline duty, it was bread, porridge, cabbage soup and a but of bacon. Not a whole lot of cabbage, either.

“I wonder what the Russians are short of.” Chaim said idly. “Must be something, otherwise they'd have overrun us by now.”

“Balls, maybe?” Emil Kantorovicz suggested. “They tried, remember?” He gestured in the direction of the enemy trenchline. The buzzing of the flies was drowned out by another salvo of artillery. Chaim raised his head.

“Close.” he said.

The shells came down maybe three hundred metres to their left, and two hundred short. He nodded appreciatively.

“Why don't the Germans take out that fucking battery already!” Corporal Kreisky shouted.

“With what?” Kantorovicz replied. “We're all out of shells. Grynszpan says they have enough to beat off one more assault, maybe two. After that, it's just us.”

Chaim groaned. They had been promised relief, but that was before a lucky hit had taken out their wireless station. Mackensen was still sending out volunteers with messages, but they never heard anything back. “Russian POW camps are supposed to be nasty.” he said without thinking.

“Oh, you won't have to worry about that.” Kantorovicz answered. “I don't think they'll bother taking us prisoner. The Germans maybe.”

“Just like in the Buffalo Bill novels, no?” Kreisky added, poking his American comrade in the ribs. “We keep one bullet for ourselves. That's how you guys do it!”

Weysbrot shrugged. He'd grown up in Brooklyn without ever meeting an Indian. “Dunno.” he said. “I'd rather use them on Ivan.”

No more artillery fire sounded. The buzzing of the flies resumed over the no-man's land. Maybe the Russians didn't feel like attacking them after all. He was all for that.

24 June 1907, Berlin

SMS Hardenberg to Fleet HQ Wilhelmshaven for submission to Inspector General of the Navy: His Majesty requests flight on ship's observation balloon. Given safety considerations, captain wishes to submit for approval.

Inspector General of the Navy to SMS Hardenberg: Permission granted, all due precautions to be taken.

SMS Hardenberg to Inspector General of the Navy: Now Her Majesty also requests flight on observation balloon. Please advise.

Inspector General of the Navy to SMS Hardenberg: Due to sensitive nature of the request, the matter is referred to all-highest decision by supreme commander of German naval forces.

Albert chuckled. He could sympathiser with the quandary the crew of Hardenberg found themselves in. But a young man had to be allowed some dangerous things, and raising an observation balloon was downright tame. He had himself gone up in untethered balloons, airships, and in one case an aeroplane (though that was not an experience he felt like repeating). Smiling, he jotted down an addition to the message on the telegraph form:

Be advised that HM the Guangxu Emperor has declared war on Russia today. Any Chinese vessels encountered are to be considered allies.

Puffing his favourite pipe, he handed the sheet over to the naval orderly waiting for his reply. Today was a good day. He hadn't had too many of those lately.

25 June 1907, Atlantic Ocean

Admiral Evans looked out over the broad expanse of the sea, hoping his men would not embarrass him today. Meeting his line on a parallel course were SMS Hardenberg, SMS Danzig, SMS Cormoran, HNLMS Gelderland, and SS Columbia, the packet steamer that did duty as imperial yacht whenever the Kaiser went abroad. In terms of pure pageantry, this was no contest: The German ships, all of them small, were painted a dark, dirty grey and streaked with soot. Even the Columbia, normally a HAPAG steamer, looked at best sombre. The US Navy ships in peacetime livery, by contrast, were positively dazzling, white hulls and upperworks shiny with brass and flags flying. The men had spent every free moment painting and polishing after a late-evening telegram from Washington sent them on this unexpected journey to welcome in a visitor of state. Steaming in line astern were USS Virginia, USS Vermont, USS Maine, USS Kansas, USS Connecticut and USS Rhode Island. A their south, a squadron of destroyers held station downwind. It was, all told, as proud moment for the newly built American battlefleet, the first opportunity to show off their full might to a foreign power. Two days' steaming inshore, the second squadron followed, ready to accompany the emperor in to New York. And all they had to do was turn their line around – just like Admiral Tryon back in '93.

“Ready on your command, Sir.”, Captain Schroeder announced.

“Hoist signal, captain.” Evans clasped his hands tightly behind his back. Up went the flags, and the entire line repeated and acknowledged in minutes. Up came the second signal, and the bulk of the Virginia ponderously turned to port. The admiral bit his lip. Five minutes should see his entire fleet steaming on a reverse course, within hailing distance of the German line. He could feel the eyes on him. On those dirty grey ships were men who had fought in the only great general fleet action of their age, men who had defeated a real battlefleet in toe-to-toe gunnery. No mistake could be tolerated.

He was not sure he had breathed when the dance of leviathans ended. No ship had smashed into another. They were still steaming in a respectable line, with no great gaps between them. It had worked.

“Signal on SMS Columbia, Sir!” the lookout read out. “The emperor extends a dinner invitation to the admiral and his staff.” He paused briefly as more flags rose. “They are glad to see us.”
Paris, 27 June 1907

“Tea!”, Prime Minister Clemenceau ordered. “Make it strong.” A liveried servant disappeared from his office, and he fell into an armchair, rubbing his temples and sighing in frustration.

“Was it that bad?” Pichon asked. The foreign minister had come in anticipation of a stormy meeting, and it seemed his instincts had been right. The Russian ambassador had brought bad news – again. Clemenceau snorted derisively.

“Nelidov is an idiot. My God, the man talks as though he can make demands! As though Russia were the arbiter of the eastern world! I'm telling you, Pichon, we should never have tied our fortunes to that monstrosity. France will drown, shackled to a corpse!” He sighed again, pressing down hard on the bridge of his nose, and took a long, calming breath. “And we need to resolve the Turkish crisis. Today, if we can. I fear the situation is escaping our control.”

Pichon nodded quietly. “Certainly, we had not anticipated developments like these.” he agreed, pointedly not remarking on his superior's habit of coming up with plans that were too clever for his own good. Prising Italy from the Triple Alliance with the bribe of Libya while pacifying the sultan with promises of money and keeping the English reassured by allowing them East Africa, all the while keeping Russia and Germany bleeding each other white! Why not juggle scimitars on a unicycle? Now Rome was making noises about an attack into Albania, and the Greek army was parading on the frontier of Thrace, facing off the Ottoman troops at Saloniki. Even Bulgaria was beginning to sound interested. The last thing anyone wanted was for the Empire to be divided up today.

“That creature of his, that attache Purishkevich, even tried to blackmail me.” the prime minister said. “Well, all but. He was talking forever about the impact of an Italian-Greek Ottoman war on the financial markets, what it would mean for French investors if Italian war debt crowded out Russian.”

Pichon stroked his beard. “What would it mean?”

“Disaster.” Clemenceau waved expansively. “He's right about that,. Unfortunately. We are far too heavily invested in Russian bonds. At this point, I am less concerned about a Russian defeat than about the prospect of a default. This administration cannot survive another Panama!”

Pichon nodded and cleared his throat, tactfully neglecting to mention the role that Clemenceau had played in that crisis. It was true, though. If the Radical government fell, their entire project – the future of France herself – would be in peril. The servant entered, bringing tea on a silver tray. Behind him followed General Foch, splendidly attired in the uniform of the general staff.

“Ferdinand!” the old statesman greeted him, “I am glad you could come. Pichon, I have invited General Foch to provide us with his analysis of the situation in the Balkans.”

The foreign minister rose to shake his hand and the three settled into the chairs next to the courtyard window. They did not speak until the doors had closed again.

“So, general,” Pichon began, “what is your estimation of the Italian position?”

Foch withdrew a map from his briefcase and unfolded it on the low table between them. “Unenviable, I would say, but far from hopeless.” He pointed to the North African coast. “They have effectively won the war, though it took them long enough. The Senussi are still in control of some parts of the interior, but the Ottomans cannot supply them. Any resistance will wither on the vine once the land is transferred. They are not doing as well in Tripolitania, but that will be equally immaterial. Their problem...” His finger moved across the sea, towards the Adriatic coast. “ that they cannot force the Ottomans to cede Libya without putting the thumbscrews on the Sultan directly. There has been talk of an invasion into Albania, which is – let us say ill-considered.”

“Why would you say that?” Pichon interjected. “If they can take enough territory...”

“Minister, we have seen what a determined resistance can do in such terrain last year. The Austrians outclassed the Italian army in any regard you care to name, and they took nine months to conquer all of Serbia. With landlines, against an opponent unable to supply himself. I fear the Italians will find their assault costly and embarrassing. Not to mention it will force a reaction from the Austrians. They cannot permit that kind of meddling in their back yard.”

“So, an end to the Triple Alliance?” Clemenceau asked eagerly.

“That's dead, anyway.” Pichon interrupted him. “But the damage to the Italians' reputation would be – considerable. The Austrians could even take territory from them if it came to a war. They would have to intervene. The possible outcomes are an embarrassing climbdown, or a military defeat. So soon after Adua – unthinkable.” They would have to save Rome from the consequences of its bravery.

“The other option,” Foch continued, “... is a coordinated attack. The Greeks are gearing up for it to an extent, though I doubt they are really serious. If they invaded Thrace, the Italians could support them over the sea. A successful advance towards the Straits would, of course, mean its closure.”

“Which is unacceptable!” Clemenceau stressed. Russia's war effort depended on this lifeline. If their newfound allies cut it, they would have done uncountable damage to France's interest.

“I am not convinced that would necessarily be the outcome, though.” the general pointed out. “We underestimate the Turkish army, I fear. They have had nearly as long as we have to recover from their defeats, and they have pursued a consistent policy of modernisation.” The added stress on 'they' was just barely perceptible. “ The current chief of the German general staff served with them in the past, as did several of their field commanders – Eichhorn, the Jew von Sanders, and even Pollach. The sultan has pulled together considerable defensive forces at Saloniki. If the Greeks assume they can just walk in – they may get a nasty surprise.”

“So altogether, we need to resolve the matter without bloodshed.” Clemenceau concluded. “Both so that our allies may be saved from themselves and our enemies frustrated. Pichon?”

The foreign minister patted his briefcase. “I am confident it will be possible. The sultan does not trust his army to withstand an attack, and neither does he trust the English fully to defend him. If we offer him a sufficiently large sum in compensation, he will be amenable to a peaceful solution. A sum that the Italians would, of course, ultimately be responsible for paying.”

“...and that would be raised on the Paris stock exchange.” Clemenceau smacked his lips. “That will make a nice slap in the face for that clown Purishkevich. Not to mention it will decrease the likelihood of another bank crash.”

Foch smiled painfully. He did not understand money and preferred not to talk about such matters. It felt distasteful to him to mix war and profit. Pichon, on the other hand, seemed eager for the solution. “The English,” he added, “are unlikely to interfere. They are reconciled to the Italians getting Libya. And after the last years, they have few enough friends in the world – except for Germany and Japan. There is little they can do to stop Italy from joining our side. And we can keep bleeding the Germans.”

Foch's eyes lit up. That would be a proposition worth supporting.

“How long can it go on?” Clemenceau asked him. “The Germans are going to win, aren't they?”

“Almost certainly, Mr Prime Minister.” he replied. “They have broken through the Russian defenses at several points. If Nicholas were wise, he would make peace while he can. Well, if he was wise, he wouldn’t have started this war, at least not without making sure of his allies first. But I am fairly sure Russia will not sue for peace on terms the Germans can accept, which means another round of fighting. It could take another year, maybe more.”

“A year?” Pichon asked, “Are you sure?”

Foch shook his head. “Who is sure of anything these days? I would not have believed a year ago that anyone could sustain the efforts that both sides have made. By the best of our estimates, the Germans have lost a million men and spent maybe 50 or 60 billion marks. Nobody thought they could have done this and kept fighting. The Russians – it is anyone's guess, I suppose. They don't keep records the way the Germans do. I would estimate they had three million killed or taken prisoner by now.” He shuddered. “But they have reserves of manpower. Their Grand Prince Nikolai is raising recruits in the Islamic provinces. The Germans, too, have more men, but they are dependent on a training schedule that provides them with troops at set intervals. They had a large number of volunteers join the spring offensive. The next big group will come in later autumn. If they make another big push – and I am confident they will – that would mean territorial gains in Russia proper. But it won't be enough to decide the issue.”

The prime minister ran a quick mental calculation, One million men – out of thirty million, say twenty million capable of bearing arms at all. The Germans did not utilise their manpower to the same degree as the French, so it would be disproportionately the young, trained, martial ones. Expanding the war by another year – another million – would give them parity for a generation at least. Liberating France from the nightmare of the Teuton horde was worth the risk of losing money. It was worth putting up with the likes of Nelidov and his creature. History would deify him for this alone!

“Do it, Pichon.” Clemenceau ordered. “Make a deal happen, and quickly. France can find the money to fund Italian bonds and Russian ones. It will buy us freedom – a generation's time to build our civilisation across the globe! To make a republic worthy of the name of French.”

27 June 1907, outside Bialystok

“Suvalki?” General Brusilov asked.

“I'm afraid so.” Colonel Repin reported, drawing another red line on the map. “It looks like the entire front just – evaporated. Good heavens, if the Germans are past Suvalki now, they can barely have slowed down since the crossed the Angerapp. What do we do?” Images of enemy troops bearing down on them, from the north started appearing in his mind's eye. There was a relief column assembled south of the Bug. If they linked up to their east... If they cut them off... A siege within a siege – it was not funny at all.

“Any news of the relief column?”

“Nothing yet.” Repin checked his notes and drew two more marks on the map. “Of course we don't really have a lot of patrols down there. But even if we've missed them crossing, they can't be past the first screen. Two days' march from there to here for trained cavalry, so Polish bandits will take at least four.” He paused, but the general said nothing. “We can still take Bialystok.”

Brusilov sighed. “I'm afraid not, colonel.” He pointed at the tide of red creeping east on the map's northern half. “The men have taken very bad casualties in the first assaults. You know we cannot look forward to any reinforcements – Stavka is throwing everything they have at the Prussian advance. Fearing that they may be cut off from the north, knowing they cannot keep the city even if they take it – I would not even trust greenjackets with that much offensive spirit.”

“That is – unthinkable!” Repin bristled. “A mutiny would be a disaster.”

Brusilov nodded. “In the Russian army, Colonel Repin, an officer's word is as good as God's. Your every order is obeyed. That is why you must learn never to give an order that will not be.” He shook his head as is to dislodge a piece of drifting dust and put on his peaked cap. “This round goes to the Madman. Inform the regimental officers that we are leaving tomorrow. The immediate objective is Grodno. I will send word to Stavka our troops are available to stabilise the front on the Niemen.”

28 June 1907, Moscow

It did not happen too often that someone passed a file to Grand Prince Sergey Romanov that he was not supposed to read. For one thing, there weren't a lot of those. He was responsible for policing, managing, and mobilising the entirety of the Russian Empire, and privy to most military information as well, though that was beginning to change now that Nikolai had got himself packed off to Vladikavkas. And for another, there was so much he had to read... Rising from his half-reclining office chair, Sergey braced for the pain. He had gained weight since his the bullet of an overzealous policeman had crippled him, and his heavy frame moved with difficulty even where his muscles allowed. With a groan, he pulled himself upright and rested his elbow on the desk. He had things to organise.

Before him lay a folder of correspondence regarding the quartering of General Grand Duke Mikhail Romanov in proper style. With the German breakthrough, the East Prussian front was considered too dangerous a posting for a member of the imperial house, apparently, and unified command – more than nominal now – would pass to General Nikolai Yanushkevich. Sergey knew little of the man except that Nikolai loathed him, but the Czar found him congenial. Whether either said anything about his ability to stem the tide of the advancing enemy was a different question. His close connection with the Patriotic Union marked him as an opportunist, but men of no family had to be opportunistic to amount to anything in a world brimming with underemployed junior officers. He decided not to hold it against him. And Mikhail would be assigned quarters in the Kremlin. If he did not like it, he could get himself posted elsewhere. They still had not appointed anyone to command the war against the Chinese. That might suit him – he liked riding and hunting, and they weren't likely to put up much of a fight.

The other issue – that was much more frightening. Gingerly, his lower back aching, Sergey picked up the file that had strayed into his 'in' pile and pressed the electric bell on his desk.

“Send in Colonel Krassilnikov.” he ordered. Immediately, the commander of the Okhrana's foreign operations entered, bowed, and stood to attention. Sergey could see him self-consciously check the energy of his steps. People did that around him – to curry favour, or because his sight made them stop take the use of their legs for granted? He was still not sure.

“Colonel, I have just read the most fascinating report on two of our agents in New York.” he said, smiling coldly. “In fact, I was not aware we had agents in New York, but I suppose we must. It says they are willing to undertake offensive operations against enemies of the Empire. Written by one Pavel Akakievich Bromov. What can you tell me of the man?”

Kassilnikov's face lit up. “He is a volunteer, Your Highness. A union man, seconded to our staff to help us with the additional workload. Very bright young man.”

The grand prince nodded. They had these people everywhere – ambitious, patriotic men working for government departments or charities helping the war effort. The Patriotic Union paid them, so they were neither a burden to the state nor a problem for later promotion and pension claims. And some of them were very good. “He outlines an interesting operation here. An attack on German dignitaries visiting the United States to forestall a potential alliance threatening our Pacific provinces. I take it this is not actually slated for execution...”

The colonel stiffened. “Your Highness, it is a theoretical exercise, but we are absolutely certain that it can be carried out. Our operatives have already been consulted and the only thing required will be a message to that effect. There is the additional advantage – I think on the third page...” he leaned forward to point it out, “... that the men will not need to be supplied with weapons. Guns are easy to come by in America.”

“And you were going to inform the foreign minister and the Czar to that effect?” Sergey asked pointedly.

“Of course, Your Highness.” Kassilnikov looked uncomfortable. “Such an operation would require their assent. Is there a problem?”

Sergey carefully folded up the file and placed it in the colonel's hand. The document did not mention names, but nobody could be in any doubt what German dignitaries would visit the United States in the near future. “You might say so.” he said, carefully containing his voice. “Indeed, there is. But we will resolve it. First, colonel, you will personally burn this file, and if any copies exist, you will burn them as well. You will then forget that it has ever existed. If anyone else knows of it, then so will they. And then, I expect you to find me any similar plans that exist, all of your files, and bring them here so that I can read them before I have them burned.”

“Your Highness...” the officer looked crestfallen. “Offensive operations in foreign countries were authorised in 1905. We have orders to consider...”

Grand Prince Sergey exploded. “You have orders to kill anarchists and traitors, Kassilnikov, not to destroy Russia's diplomatic standing. Not to fucking lose us the war! What are you and your department drinking that anyone ever thought this was a good idea? Am I the only one ion this government with a fucking brain? Get out of my office, put a stop to this nonsense now! And get this, this bright young man of yours, get him transferred to the Polish front somewhere. Go!”

His hand landed heavily in the bell that summoned his attendant.

“And if you want to play a game of assassins, make yourself useful and get Mannerheim. Or that Swiss fellow, Ulyanov. Dammit, colonel, we are not murderers! From now on, if I hear as much as a whisper of such plans, I will have your head. Is that understood?”

The servant opened the door.

“Colonel Kassilnikov is leaving.” the grand prince said, his face still flushed. “I will be needing some cold water and the evening papers.”

29 June 1907, New York

The waterfront of Lower Manhattan was crowded, more so than usually. Many of the people had been waiting since the morning, braving heat and humidity to welcome the convoy coming in now. Slowly, steaming at a leisurely pace, the Columbia led the line of German ships, followed by her guard of four cruisers. The American battleships kept to seaward, careful not to block the view of the spectators. Lanterns and improvised flagpoles were festooned with black, white and red bunting, and bands played German tunes. Pedlars hawked souvenir plates with fanciful portraits of the German emperor – many of them, Amshel Weysbrot noted, with two perfectly good eyes, doubtlessly copied from some older picture. He had come down to the shore against his usual habits, partly from curiosity to see a real-life emperor, however briefly, and partly because he still half blamed this man for luring his son across the sea. Germans had never featured largely in the old tailor's life. He had met some on his passage, and some were among his customers, but he had never really cared very much one way or the other. It was just another country he had left behind, not with the bitter memories of Russia, just some shadowy realm he had passed through on his way. Now, reaching out across the Atlantic, this spectre had taken his oldest, and he was not sure whether he was still Zydki enough to mourn or already American enough to feel proud. Certainly his Chaim was proud of his martial exploits, and from his letters, he had reason to be. Amshel just hoped that the Germans would take good enough care of him.

The Columbia docked further up the Hudson, closer to the Waldorf=Astoria, where the crowds were thickest. Weysbrot was unwilling to push in closer. There were the usual gawkers who would come whenever there was a spectacle, people who were there solely to say that they had been, but also genuine well-wishers, German-Americans, many of whom had travelled from upstate or farther afield to welcome Kaiser Wilhelm. A lot of Poles, too, were there, cheering and waving their own red-and-white flags. Amshel was not sure what to think of this. He had decided early on that the only flag he would fly, if he ever did, would be the Stars and Stripes. But down here in Battery Park, there were also German, Polish and Dutch flags, and even the odd blue ones with the star of David on them. For all he knew, there were quite enough Poles who hated everything German, but today, that seemed forgotten.

With a sad smile, Amshel Weysbrot made his way back to his shop. Perhaps it had been wrong to come. It only left him more confused. He was ready enough to hope for a better future for his people, but that did not make it easier to cheer an invading army marching through the towns and villages he had grown up in. Still, he admitted to himself, there was something to be said for the lesser evil. Turning to take one last look at the warships now anchored in the stream, he pressed his thumb in the manner he had seen Germans do. “Good luck, Kaiser.” he whispered, “bring me back Chaim when you've won.”

01 July 1907, Constantinople

“Next!” Serko Ordzhonikidze's voice was tired. When he had come to Constantinople, he had not expected to stay long. Like many of the men at the heart of the Socialist Party, he had certainly never expected to be left to his own devices to earn a living. Cut off from the network of supporters that would welcome a comrade in Vienna, Geneva or Paris, stuck in Turkey with no travel papers and an Okhrana warrant out on him, he had found it hard to convince anyone to take him across the border. Too many exiled Russian Socialists out there in Europe, he supposed. A glut of product put out by the Czarist system's internal contradictions. True enough, he had no immediate need. A doctor would not starve. Purely objectively, the practice he had built up over the past few months even afforded him a materially better life than what he had had during his time in the Combat Organisation underground. But it was still a pitiful existence, the life of a poor white man in the orient, treating the agues and chancres of Levantine carpet merchants and Turkish scribes.

The man who entered his surgery clearly was neither. Startled, Ordzhonikidze sat up.

“Guten Abend.” his mystery patient said, removing his hat. His German was meticulous.

“Good evening, Sir.” the doctor said, mustering his limited knowledge of the language. “How can I help you? I should point out that I will require cash payment in advance.”

The man looked at him with piercing blue eyes behind small, steel-rimmed glasses. It was a disconcerting look, curious, alert, and used to command. “I am sure you must, Doctor Ordzhonikidze.” he said in a calm, quiet voice close to a whisper. He switched to Russian, which he spoke with a heavy accent. “Your reputation suggests that you are the man who can help me, and I am willing to pay you well.”

The doctor leaned forward, trying to inconspicuously open the desk drawer that held his revolver. Who was this man? There were Okhrana men in Stambul, certainly. “And you are...”

“You may call me Paul Clavus.” the visitor said. “And you need not be afraid for your safety, doctor. I represent a belligerent government with a vital interest in weakening the Russian Empire. Your knowledge of the Caucasus, your contacts, and your personal courage have convinced me that you will be a valuable ally in this undertaking. I will not lie to you, it will be dangerous. Are you interested?”

“Of course.” Ordzhonikidze had said it before thinking about it. Of course he wanted to fight the Czar. He wanted revenge. He wanted to topple the imperial government. But what kind of offer could this man make? He hedged. “That is, you understand, as long as it does not prejudice my political stance. You understand, I and my associates are ...”

“Socialists.” Clavus interrupted him. “I know. It is of no account to us one way or the other. If you are able and willing to help us defeat Russia, we are willing and able to supply you with weapons, money, and travel papers. What you do once you have liberated your countries is up to you.”

Ordzhonikidze's head spun. Was this it? The escape from his miserable existence, the chance to amount to something? The opportunity to carry forward the revolution on German bayonets? “That is a generous offer. You will forgive me for being doubtful, though, Mr Clavus.”

“Of course.” the stranger said. “I would expect nothing else from a man of your experience. Now, I would ask you to contact the Social Democratic Party in Berlin to verify it.” He rose. “I will visit you again one week from now, Dr Ordzhonikidze. If you would be kind enough to inform your associate Mr Dzugiazhvili, I believe this young man would be a great asset. Until then, good day.”

03 July 1907, Berlin

The door was too small to easily allow the visitor to pass. Major von Thaden had to hold his helmet in his right hand while he maneuvered his sabre with his left, ensuring – barely – that he would not end his visit with an undignified landing in the puddle that surrounded the threshold. He was badly rattled.

“Well, Major.” his guide said, stepping deftly around the muck and pointing the way out of the backyard to the main street. “These are the people that some would call greedy. Do you now understand better why they object to wage freezes?”

“Mrs Juchacz.” Marie noted with approval that von Thaden always used the formal address. Some officers were less polite than that. “Mrs Juchacz, I admit I am shocked. The state of these accommodations … in the middle of Berlin, no less. These are workers' homes?”

She nodded. “Workers and workers' families we support. The Wohlfahrtsverein is especially invested in helping women whose husbands and adult sons are in the war, obviously. These women frequently do vital work for less pay than the men they replace. And factory owners often fire them at short notice when contracts run out.”

“Fire them?” The major looked surprised. “The manufacturers claim they need every hand they can get.”

“They do, in the broad sense.” Marie Juchacz explained. “But the war economy board has finally cut into their profit margins, and that means they try to save money where they can. Not paying a worker, even for the three or four days between one contract and the next, is a saving. It's not unknown for factories to lay off half the staff one week and rehire them the next. There is nothing these people can do, other than suffer it. Of course it is different in homes where the men are still around – skilled munitions workers earn more money now, and with the shortage, nobody is willing to let them go. But even they are finding it hard to feed their families.”

She pointed to the small three-storey house they had just left, leaning against the back wall of the courtyard, overshadowed almost entirely by the taller building facing the road. “A place like this – one bedroom, one kitchen, one toilet for all tenants – could be rented by a skilled workman before the war. Rents are higher now, of course – so many more workers in war industries, you see? Anyway, it could house a family – husband, wife, three or four children. If the money runs low, though, they'll be taking in lodgers. It's getting harder to afford the food, too.”

“But the rationing!” von Thaden objected. “Everyone should be getting the same.”

“Major,” Marie Juchacz pointed out, “please do not take this as an indelicate question, but when did you last go shopping?”

The officer did not answer.

“Ration cards don't help if you can't afford the food. Prices are going up every month. Many merchants know that the Korpsbereich authorities set some standard above which they intervene – in Berlin I believe it's ten per cent – and adjust just barely below it. Quality has gone down in many shops, too. Wages have never kept pace, except for very urgently needed professions.” She shook her head gently. “I know the press likes to talk about the money master machinists get at AEG, but most working people aren't machinists. If you freeze their wages, you freeze their children come winter. It's already hard telling people why they cannot afford to heat their washing water when we export coal.”

“We have to export coal to fund our war production!” Major von Thaden sounded almost hurt. “To complain about that is short-sighted!”

“Maybe. But it does not come easy to see the wealthy homes' chimneys smoking day and night, It's not the rations that are the problem, major., And it is not lack of patriotic spirit, either.”

“Do you think so?” he replied. “I hear that this East Prussian book is selling much better in working-class neighbourhoods.”

Marie sighed. It was all she could do not to roll her eyes in derision. That book – 'Letters from East Prussia', by a schoolteacher, no less. The national press was screaming outrage and shouting treason. And any idiot with a pickelhaube would mention it without fail whenever the patriotism of the working class or the Social Democrats was brought up. “Major,” she said, “Mr Lamszus is a Hamburg schoolteacher and not a member of my party. I cannot tell him what to write, but I will ask you this: You have been to the front. Is he lying? Are his descriptions not accurate?”

Von Thaden was taken aback. “I haven't read the book, Mrs Juchacz.” he protested. “I can't say.”

“Well, and I have not been to the war, so neither can I. People worry about their menfolk, Major. If a book comes out purporting to tell them what is happening to them, they will read it. I hope you will not hold it against them. It is their husbands and sons fighting for our country, after all.”

The major nodded. “You have a point, Mrs Juchacz. Perhaps it is wrong to be so silent on military matters. I always assumed the soldiers could fill in their relatives when they go on home leave.”

He paused for a moment. Had his wife asked him about the fighting? It occurred to him that she had. He'd told her – what? 'You just have to bear it', or words to that effect. He could not recall speaking about these things to anyone. How do you describe the sound a machine gun bullet makes when it passes through the neck of your horse? The nauseous sense of impending doom when you lie under the thrashing beast, your broken leg twisted this way and that, while enemy infantry moves closer? Did they feel the same way? He had not thought about it like this.

“I suppose you are right, actually.” He forced himself to admit, surprised how easily the words came. They headed out through the carriage gate into the main street, the major now leading. “Thank you, Mrs Juchacz. This has been enlightening.”

03 July 1907, Viborg

“Stupid.” General Alekseyev, commander of the Northern Front, muttered as he pored over the map. It was quite out of character for the Germans to be careless, wasn't it? And yet they were. They had landed on the Alands and gone on to Nystad, putting ashore their Finnish brigands and Dutch mercenaries. The defenders had spread out to counter them, all along the coast and into the interior, and had fought a set of hard battles, losing Nikolaistad, Karleby, and Tammersfors. And then the enemy had stopped. Simply stopped. They could have pushed north, taken over the country all the way to the Swedish border. They could have gone east, fighting their way in among the lakes and destroying his forces piecemeal. But instead, they seemed to be concentrating for a big push to Helsingfors. Maybe it was what the traitor Mannerheim asked them to do. Maybe it was what their navy demanded. What it did was put them within reach of Alekseyev's main force, and with their back to the wall.


His chief of staff, Colonel Bonch-Bruyevich, stood to attention.

“We will change our tactical dispositions up north. The Germans have neglected to send forces up there, and no longer pose a threat on that front. Have the troops move south and prepare to attack the German flank when they go along the southern coast.” The general pointed to the railway line east of Abo. “If we can cut them off here, they are lost.”
03 July 1907, Kiel

“You are quite lucky, Mr London.” the host said in heavily accented English. “The most of the big ships are away at sea. But just when you come to Kiel, they are taking out a Russian ship for trials. Very lucky.”

Jack London looked out over the bay, the great canal lock to his left, the city stretching along the shore to the right, enclosing the huge expanse of the navy shipyard. For all the time he had spent at sea, he had never been this close to a real, modern battleship. The Germans had captured Retvizan at Bornholm last year, and had repaired and refitted her in the docks at Kiel. She was not the newest kind – not one of the famed all-big-gun vessels that were building in Britain, France, and at home now. But she was as modern, and as impressive, as most of the vessels the US Navy had. She was, he had learned from his host, American-built. The man ran a small boarding house, spoke English, and had a nephew working in the navy yard. Sometimes, a correspondent needed such luck.

“She's not flying an ensign.” London remarked. “And there don't seem to be a lot of people on her, either.”

“It's enough people.” The German stroked his beard and took another look through his brass telescope. “You don't see that many people on a battleship. They're belowdecks.”

London nodded, feeling vaguely ashamed - Of course you wouldn't see as many men as on a sailing ship. That was the point, wasn't it? Stupid. He masked his incipient blush by nodding and taking out his own spyglass.

“But she's not flying the flag, you have right. She isn't a navy ship yet. They haven't got her a navy crew on her, either.” The host was feeling loquacious again. “Peter told me, they have a reserve lieutenant running her trials. And civilian sailors manning her, no more than fifty. He says they had to hire them from Sweden.”


“It's what Peter said. They had to find a translator when they showed some of them the shell lifts. He speaks a little Swedish, so they took him. The Russians left in all the English signs, so it was not that bad, but they painted them over in Swedish for their shakedown crew.” The reporter listened carefully. “And when they came back, he had them bring liquor for us back. That is how I met them.”

“You have met them?”

The publican nodded again, grinning mischievously. “Well, Mr London. You know our rationing system. And sailors like to drink. We have many foreigners coming here, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and they become angry when we cannot them serve liquor. But it is banned to make liquor from German grain or potatoes. So I make an arrangement with these sailors, they pay for their board and food, and other things I exchange, with liquor, and I sell it. They were there and here a few times and every time they brought the bottles. Don't be shocked, everyone does it.”

“I'm not, Mr Burmester.” London said, chuckling. San Francisco's port was half a world away, but their ways weren't so different. He was still surprised to learn with what gusto the average German circumvented the efforts of the state to regulate his life. He had expected them to be different. “It's a good arrangement.”

“Well, so now they are taking her out to try her engines and all the things they fixed,. Peter said she was in a terrible way, a big turret all torn up, and holes everywhere. Maybe she will join the fleet soon.”

They looked out over the calm waters at the enormous vessel slowly pushing out through towards Laboe. London noted her sides were painted in a darker, more bluish shade of grey than he had seen on the German bird cruisers that occasionally passed through accompanying convoys. Maybe the navy hadn't decided yet if they really wanted her. The Germans didn't seem to be big on capital ships any more. He'd have to talk it over with some more knowledgeable friends.

4 July 1907, Washington DC

The smell of the fireworks drifting down the lawn into the colonnades of the Executive Mansion put Roosevelt in mind of a battlefield. It was extraneous to the peaceful, joyous scene of well-dressed, well-fed gentlemen that he was hosting today. Like most such events, it bored him. Escaping from the stifling heat of candlelit rooms with the end of the formal dinner, the president made his way out into the thick, smoky summer air of the garden. After a minute, Vice President Fairbanks joined him. They had things to discuss.

“So” he asked, puffing on his cigar, “what did you think of the kaiser?”

“A promising young man.”, the president said, looking out over the lawn. “Quite remarkable. Though I'd say he doesn't get out as much as he ought to. He's pale, and a bit on the weak side.”

“Well, he was injured quite badly.” Fairbanks objected.

Roosevelt grunted noncommittally. “I guess so. Still, he could be getting more exercise. Lazing about like that is not going to do him any favours. Mind, he's smart and strong-willed. Maybe he'll snap out of it yet.”

The vice president nodded, dropping the subject. “What about his political views, though?”

Roosevelt mildly shook his head. “Charles, you need to stop thinking about work every moment of the day.” he chuckled. “I saw him for maybe an hour, in an unofficial capacity. Do you honestly think we talked politics? Much more important to get the measure of the man than the content of his diplomatic writs, surely.”

“Fair enough.” The cigar burned down, Fairbanks ground the stub underfoot. “So what did you talk about?”

“He talked mostly about America, actually.” The president sounded amused. “Quite impressed, he was. Sometimes he sounded right like a schoolboy. I suppose the skyscrapers of New York left a mark on him. He was also talking about that Hollerith fellow. Seriously, would you imagine? He comes down to Washington for a one-day visit, and he calls on the White House and the Tabulating Machine company! That's Kaiser Wilhelm for you. He loves everything shiny and modern. Gave the man a medal, I heard. Hollerith almost burst with pride.”

Fairbanks stroked his moustache. “Not what you'd expect from a European monarch, is he?”

“Nope. The Society hostesses of New York are in despair over his erratic habits, and of course they can't well tell him what to do. Lovely story, he was two hours late for dinner the first day because he demanded a tour of Grand Central Station. I think he'd do fine in this country, actually. A bit effeminate, coddled, but folk like that can still thrive back east. He knows his stuff, you know. Real engineering, I mean. Not just dreaming about miracle machines. He has a good grounding in science. A pity he doesn't believe in the human factor.”

“It is. And what does he say about the war?”

“He seems unconcerned. As he should be.” Roosevelt took a few steps out onto the lawn and stretched. “The Germans have already won, really. It's just a question of how much they can extract from the Russians at this point. They'll need their pound of flesh, too, with all the money they've spent. I'm getting the figures tomorrow. Don't suppose we could try to broker a peace, do you?”

“Like the Italians did for the Japs? We might. It sounds like a good idea, though the big industrialists will howl.” Fairbanks shrugged. American trusts were earning good money selling war material to both sides. As far as they were concerned, the war might as well go on another few years, though they hollered for the navy every time a Russian or German cruiser so much as came near the ports they delivered to.

“Let's keep it in mind. That fellow is going to shock a few people, you know. He was talking to me about the American volunteers he picked up for his army, Negro muleskinners, they hired them right off the farms and sent them off to Germany with shiploads of American mules. I figured he'd go on complaining, but he was full of praise for them. Wanted to know how we managed the negro population so well.” He laughed. “Wants to meet Mr Washington, too. That should ruffle a few feathers.”

The reverberations from Roosevelt's own meeting with Booker T. Washington had not quite died down yet. If a foreign head of state was to meet the leader of the race... the Southern press would have conniptions.

“Anyways, we should keep him happy easily enough. He's a good man. Sees a great future for his country, once Russia is defeated, a country for all Germans, run along modern lines. I've said it before, Charles, we can both learn a lot from each other. The way they manage their civil service, for example. I'll be quite embarrassed to show him ours, to tell you the truth.”

Fairbanks drew his jacket more tightly around his shoulders. The evening cool was finally setting in. “Do you think he can do it?”

“If anyone can, yes.” The president sounded quite convinced. “He understands machines. I wish he understood men better, but you know, in a German that is probably less of a fault than it would be in an American. And he has a will to be reckoned with. The best kind of support you can hope for, too. Had a confidential report from Admiral Evans yesterday, about the state of his navy ships. He was at sea escorted by a couple of second-line cruisers. Evans says they're top-notch, the officers very well trained, the men eager and disciplined. He'd hate to fight them.”

“Fight them?” The vice president was startled. “Why on earth?”

Roosevelt shrugged. “We had better be ready in case. I'm sure the Russians had no proper plans for fighting the Japs, and see where it got them. Germany is about the only real friend Britain has left, and things haven't exactly been peachy of late. If London keeps boosting the Japs, or interferes in the Caribbean... it'd be stupid, but stupid wars have been fought before. Just because everybody loves the Germans now that they're standing up to the tyrant Czar doesn't mean they'll love them tomorrow the Manila squadron has to fight their cruisers in Tsingtao.”

“God help us if we have to.” Fairbanks muttered.

“God help them, too, Charles.” Roosevelt said. “Don't worry too much. We won't let that happen. Let's go in. My cigar is all used up, and I could use some more to drink.”

06 July 1907, Vladikavkas

“These recruitment figures are – difficult, Your Highness.” General Nazarbekian looked nervous. He had reason to be, of course. That a man of his distinction should be relegated to a rear echelon command was shocking enough, with so many slots at the front becoming vacant as disgraced commanders were cashiered. Now no less an august personage that Grand Prince Nikolai had descended from the heavenly realm of Moscow to tell him his business. You could see why he would doubt his Czar trusted him. An irritating and pointless foolishness, in the grand prince's own view. The man was Armenian, which was practically as good as Russian, and his career was a tale of heroism and selfless service.

“General, please.” he said, with a calming gesture. “You can speak freely. I know they are unprecedented, but these are unprecedented times. You consider them unreasonable?”

“Regrettably, yes. Your Highness, I fear the resentment that drafting so large a number of young men is liable to generate would necessitate military deployments offsetting their value to the war effort entirely. Doubly so since...” he flipped through his orders, “... the quota is so high for cavalrymen from the tribes. These people are notoriously restive.”

Nikolai nodded, pensively stroking his beard. “I understand, general. And I do share your concern. But in Russia proper, the quota of men under the colours is already several times higher than the contribution we are asking. These are dark and trying times. The Emperor must ask all his subjects to make sacrifices for the good of all.”

What could you say to that? General Nazarbekian wondered how to diplomatically express that Russians, being colonial masters, surely were rightly asked to bear the greater part of the military effort. The British in India, the French in Africa knew that part of being sahib was bearing arms in defense of your conquered peoples. Asking them to carry an equal burden was not safe. How could you make a man like Nikolai understand this, though? He had never known what it was like to be a non-Russian. In the circles he moved, ethnicity or religion genuinely did not matter. For all he knew, the Empire was one great loyal mir. After a second’s silence, he settled for a resigned. “Of course, Sir.”

He took a cheroot from the case on his desk to gain time, muster his courage, before he continued: “But I fear the reaction will be hostile. We risk losing more than we gain if we recruit these troops. Doubly so if we draw on them for Europe. The Transcaspian recruitment, I have read, is proceeding well now that the men are told they will move against China. Your average Georgian or Chechen might be moved to march against Persia easily, perhaps against China. Germany, though, they know little enough about, and what they know, they fear.”

To his surprise, the grand prince only smiled gently. “You are right, to an extent. I myself shared such concerns two years ago – were you in Petersburg then? No, you could not have been. Japanese captivity, I recall. Things were quite as desperate, and I beseeched the Emperor, at one point on my knees, general, to give in to the reasonable demands of the rebellious people. His Majesty, of course, remained unbowed in the middle of the storm. I did it for the best of reasons, general, understand this. I thought I was struggling to save the empire. But I was wrong, the Emperor was right. The empire did not need saving from its people, it needed saving from its weakness. I am glad today, for all the blood that has been shed, that I did not prevail. Who knows where giving in to such threats would have ended? No, general, the empire depends on its might to rule. It will not do to diminish its authority by negotiating with its subjects. I know this now – and now so do you, General Nazarbekov.”

Nazarbekian waited for the axe to fall. Relegation to some Siberian district, transfer to the katorga guard, cashiering... nothing. Had he really avoided disgrace? That, at least, was more than he had hoped for. “Yes, Your Highness.” he said. “Of course. I will see to the orders being sent out.”

06 July 1907, Munich

Useful Hints

With the individual rations of fats, sugar, coffee, tea, chocolate, eggs and meat again reduced in August, September and October, housewives should remember the following useful hints for making more of less:

- If you have a meat grinder in your kitchen, you need not put yourself at the mercy of untrustworthy butchers. Ground meat can be made into all kinds of delicious and nourishing dishes to which grated bread, mashed potato, or vegetables may be added to increase their volume without detracting from their flavour.

- Saccharine may be used in place of sugar or honey to sweeten hot beverages and most baked goods. Using saccharine to replace sugar in jams and jellies will require the addition of a quantity of syrup or artificial honey of no sugar at all is used. It is generally safer to reduce the quantity of sugar to one third that of fruit and add saccharine to taste. Saccharine produced by Bayer is available ration-free in powder or tablet form.

- Coffee surrogate products such as that provided by L.O. Bleibtreu GmbH or O.E. Weber GmbH may be purchased at considerably lower price than genuine bean coffee and free of ration points. Mixed coffee blends incorporating surrogate products may be had at reduced ration points (half or three quarters) from reputable retailers for special occasions.

- The company A.H. Kulmer & Söhne offers a German Tea blend that is made entirely from domestically grown herbs, soothing to the stomach, invigorating to the nervous system, and comparable in flavour to the finest Ceylon teas. It may be purchased free of ration points.

- Dr Oetker AG now offers a baking chocolate substitute that is based on the finest of surrogate products with a guaranteed 30% cocoa content. It may also be used to produce drinking chocolate by melting in hot milk or water with or without milk powder.

- If eggs are short, an equal quantity of milk mixed with a teaspoonful of starch for each egg and boiled before adding to the dough can replace half of the quantity required in cakes if sufficient Dr Oetker American-style baking powder is added.

- Our reader Mrs. Hochschildt of Schwabing writes that she has had excellent results substituting hardened vegetable fats for butter and lard in making jugged meats and sausage.

07 July 1907, Salonika

Having some busybody banging on the door at ungodly hours was the fate of junior officers the world over, Major Mustafa Kemal supposed. He laid aside the books, checking the alarm clock on his nightstand – past midnight, dammit! - and opened. A dishevelled Lieutenant Fuat stood outside.

“At this hour? You'd better have a good reason for this, Ali!” Kemal complained. He said it half jokingly, but there was an edge to his voice.

Ali Fuat struggled for breath. He must have come running. Finally, he gasped out: “They've arrested ... Talat Pasha! … The sultan … is going to … sign the peace.”

Major Kemal's jaw dropped. The keychain he had been holding clattered to the ground. “What?!”

“The telegram just came, Mustafa. It's the only explanation. The police in Stambul are arresting people right and left. They picked up Talat at a reception and took him to jail. Anyone who is associated with the Committee or the German embassy is being locked up. They wouldn't do that unless the sultan was planning to sign away Libya. He's afraid of the protest it could bring.”

The major shook his head angrily. “And rightly so. Come on, Ali. News is going to spread quickly. We need to turn out a guard before the whole place erupts.” He struggled into his uniform jacket, shouting for his servant. Moments later, a sleepy young soldier helped him into his boots and handed him his sabre.

“You had better take your revolver, too.” Lieutenant Fuat suggested. “Things could get dicey.”

Kemal nodded and slid the holster onto his belt. The troops concentrated in Salonika now were a volatile blend, many of the officer corps staunch members of the war party. A good number of the men were eager to have at the Greeks and Italians, and news that they had marched halfway across the empire just to be sent home now would rankle even for those who were not involved in politics. Their commander, Hilmi Pasha, had found it hard enough to keep them peaceable at the best of times. With that kind of provocation, things might well boil over. Not to mention being under arms also provided a modicum of protection from arrest once the imperial orders reached them. The sultan did not usually handle sensitive issues like this by telegram, but in a day or two, his messenger might come with arrest warrants and death sentences. Perhaps not Hilmi Pasha, whom the troops loved and who was impeccably loyal, but certainly the committee men on his staff. Enver, Fuat, and Kemal, too. What would they do if it came to that? Kemal wondered if he would have to use his gun. He felt sure that the army in Salonika would rally around their officers if push came to shove. Beyond that, there was no telling. Could they hope to prevail? Could they do anything to push the government one way or the other? He felt sick as he stepped out onto the balcony and rushed down the stairs to rouse a company of infantry.

08 July 1907, near Trakehnen, East Prussia

Dear George,

Forgive me my tardiness in replying to your latest letter, but events have kept me rather busier than I expected to be. If I ever doubted the wisdom of my choice to enlist with the German muleteer corps, I have now largely given up these thoughts for this is a strenuous life that suits a young man admirably, and I would not miss the acquaintance of my comrades or the shared experiences that bind us together for anything in the world. You expressed concern that we would be placed in danger here, and I must tell you that it is true we are. However, it is by our choice, and we share the perils of our white comrades honestly. I originally believed, I must admit, that our position as civilians meant that we would receive inferior emoluments or treatment from the authorities, but I find it is quite the opposite. The Germans are scrupulously fair in assigning us quarters and supplies, and we stand in receipt of a far more generous stipend than their own troops. It is, in fact, the case that we are here in many ways privileged – a strange state of affairs to the American negro. And we are by now mostly men of color in the corps. Precious few of the white men who came to serve the Kaiser have chosen to stay on after they saw what company they would be expected to keep. More have come, but with word of the nature of our unit spreading at home, they appear to be increasingly black volunteers only. In my section, we have had nine boys come in from Alabama and Georgia who have no letters and whose patois is so unintelligible I must interpret for them and the German officers who work with us.

And the Germans, you asked? Well, they are a strange race, no doubt. The officers and men we meet almost all speak English, though it is often of a strangely Shakespearean variety that may be beyond the comprehension of nine out of ten people you might meet in Cincinnati. The officers are distant, much as you would expect, and we have little enough to do with them. The men, on the other hand, are often very interested to hear of America and very friendly. It is disconcerting to many of us to be on such intimate terms with white men who feel no reserve at all in speaking to a negro, in sharing our quarters and rations, and cultivating our friendship. For strange though it seems, the German soldier has few reservations against our race. It was a sergeant – a feldwebel, they name them - who explained to me that they had never seen Americans before, so they were curious, but supposed us as civilised as any man they would expect to meet along the Mississippi, this being the sole American river he was able to name. He proceeded to ask me whether I had ever met Red Indians in war, and was intrigued to learn of my Indian parentage, for the Germans have a high regard for the Indian and consider him of martial race. It may be to this accident of birth as much as to my scholarly achievements I owe my comfortable position managing our depot. As regards your worry of my limited acquaintance with the ways of mules and donkeys, I can assure you that this is no grave matter. The extent of ignorance regarding these noble beasts in this country is breathtaking, and even a man of such limited accomplishments as I may by rights be considered an expert.

Today, we are sitting around a campfire in the yard of an old, burned-out stable that we have reconquered from the Russian and that the retreating enemy has attempted to render entirely useless. The few remaining rooms offer quarter only for our mules, but in weather as fine as we have, I am unconcerned about the prospect of living under canvas. The Germans are generous hosts, providing us with a nourishing, if rather monotonous, diet of desiccated pea soup, bacon, and copious quantities of beer. Many men are drawn to our company by the music. Lewis, a young man from Virginia of whom I must write you more, has liberated a Russian trumpet and proven himself quite adept at its use, and two others have brought banjos, an instrument entirely unknown in this country. A German soldier's accordion that we were able to borrow complements them nicely. Our singing is always attended well by the soldiers.

I heard yesterday the most remarkable pun a German sergeant made about our unit, too: He called us Kaiserneger, the emperor's negroes. This is, of course, a play on the name of the Kaiserjäger, an Austrian regiment, and he found it immensely funny. I thing we may adopt it, some of my comrades have already used it. He also told me that the German army has a negro commissioned officer, an African prince from the desert. I must admit my curiosity is piqued – who would have expected it? It is not that the Germans are without fault in how they treat other races, but their relationship with the negro is a curious one, free from the hatred and disdain that meets our race in America, and primarily characterised by curiosity, and a strange set of misconceptions over what country we hail from. I have on more than one occasion had to suffer little children asking to touch my skin and explain that I have never scalped or eaten anyone, nor do I intend to. Though it appears the Russians are under that impression, judging by the terror some prisoners evinced when confronted by us.

As to the matter of fighting, yes, we do an amount of that, though it is not officially in our contract. Our mules are used to carry machine guns and an ingenious kind of small mortar to the front where they may be needed, and since it is not difficult to handle these weapons, most of the men in my unit have become quite proficient in their use. I am, in fact, convinced that the mortar could be improved by integrating a graduated scale of its elevation into the joint between its tube and bipod, and will attempt to build one such. But that is neither here nor there. I myself, as I have written, am by now mostly concerned with administrative matters, but many of the men relish the opportunity of joining their German comrades in battle and gladly man the tubes or guns when invited to. About three quarters of us are now armed, in contravention of German law, it should be said, but they happily turn a blind eye. I myself am certain I look quite piratical with a rifle slung over my shoulder and a yataghan stuck into my belt. As I promised, I will mail you one as soon as I can find another. German infantry take these off captive cossacks, and they make admirable souvenirs.

Letter by Garrett E. Morgan, volunteer civilian mule companies, to George Jackson, attorney-at-law, Cincinnati, subsequently published in the Boston Guardian

08 July 1907, Constantinople

As Turkish prisons went, this one was downright comfortable. The cells were clean, bright and airy, and each prisoner had one for himself. Still, Secretary Hollerbach felt uneasy entering the block. He was, after all, here to see a secret agent of his government imprisoned by the Ottomans and render – as the euphemism went – consular assistance. Clavus stood as he stepped into the cell, smiling thinly at the sight of the junior diplomat. He could sense that the young man had little experience in his line of work and was feeling apprehensive. The agent did not look imposing at all – middling height, a round, friendly face and dark hair, dressed in the nondescript cheap suit of a commercial traveller. He shook hands briefly, with the quick bow and click of the heels that betrayed a military background of some sort.

“So, how can I help.” Hollerbach asked. “Why did they arrest you, first of all?”

“Procuring the services of a catamite.” Clavus grinned. It was an absurd charge, technically illegal, but so normal as to escape notice. “Mind, I didn't. But that doesn't really matter. I suppose it won't come to a trial anyway.”

“Not if we can help it.“ Hollerbach affirmed. “I can't guarantee you won't be expelled, though. Is there anything I can do for you in the meantime?”

“Yes. I have an appointment with Dr Ordzhonikidze in Eminönü this afternoon. If you could go and tell him that the operation is delayed, but not cancelled, and I still have his fees. That will be all.”

10 July 1907, Berlin

The Deutsche Buddhistiche Gesellschaft invites the public to a

Free Lecture

by K. Seidenstücker on the topic of:

Lamaism as the Enemy of True Buddhism

The great political and cultural struggles of our days have brought to our attention many facts and even more half-truths about the religion of the Mongolian rebels led by the arch-bonze Agvan Dorzhiev. This has resulted in confusion about the nature of Buddhism and its role on the world stage. In this acclaimed free public lecture accompanied by picture slides, Dr Seidenstücker will introduce the audience to the nature of Lamaism. This degenerate form of folk-Buddhism has long been a great obstacle to both the spiritual and economic development of the Himalayan region. It has established a form of government in its realm as priest-ridden and slavish as the worst excesses of the mediaeval period have not produced. Its priesthood, the lamas, are not only stifling all initiative among the peoples they hold under their thumb, they have perverted the teachings of the Buddha into a creed that allows, even requires them to lead a dissolute and voluptuary life, lording it over their lay peasantry to whom they deny knowledge of the scriptures and from whom they extort the choicest of foods, the finest of clothes and the most beautiful of their sons and daughters. The contrast to the service of monks in countries where the teachings of the Buddha are received in their pure form and studied by the laity could not be greater.

Due to the disturbing nature of some of the images, underage guests will not be admitted.

12 July 1907, Kalish

Father Simon Kostka was still unaccustomed to the finer points of his new task, but he found it suited his proclivities. He had spent many years ministering to the poor and desperate, vainly combating the spread of Socialist beliefs in the bitter years of Russian rule. Today, he would be able to strike a harder blow against the idols of the left than he had managed in all his thankless toil before. It was dangerous, of course – he knew as much. The thought did not bother him unduly. Dying for the faith, if it were to come to that, would crown his life in a way no ecclesiastical career in the order or the curia could, and he had no illusions about the probability of that. Men of his background and education did not become bishops.

The delivery he was to take today – a consignment, according to the freight papers and transport permit, of medical literature for the education of Polish housewives in modern hygiene – had the power to change the fate of the nation. That much had been explained to him. He did not need to know more, his superior had said. The less he knew, the less he could reveal under duress. Forcing his hands not to tremble, he knocked on the warehouse door and waited. A short, wiry-looking young man opened. To Kostka – a tall and athletic man despite many years of too little exercise – he appeared a pathetic figure, thin, bespectacled, and bent. But of course most healthy, strong young men were in the army or the civilian work corps.

“I am here to pick up a consignment of booklets for the Redemptorist Order in Warsaw.” he explained, pulling out the sheaf of paperwork.

“Of course, reverend father.” The little fellow beamed at him and gestured to enter. “I will have the things ready in no time. Please, be seated. Can I offer you tea?”

Gratified at the welcome, Kostka settled into the rickety chair by the side table and nodded graciously. Some people still knew proper Polish hospitality. The clerk poured him a mug of steaming hot tea from the pot on the cast-iron oven and shuffled away to the storeroom. His slow steps melted away into the distance, then returned at the same measured pace, and Kostka sipped, listening contentedly. There was the soft murmur of the evening wind, the creak of floorboards, and a muffled groaning noise that struck him as out of place. He looked up – too late.

Agent Shtern still could not believe how easy this turned out to be in the end. When the NSB had been contacted by the SPD with the strange story some printer had brought in, Dzerzhinski had not believed they could do much more than run interference with the plans of their enemy. Someone, it seemed, had ordered a set of ballot papers from a printer in Leipzig – papers that matched those for the upcoming Army Council election exactly, right down to the serial numbers that Dzerzhinski had insisted the originals would bear. Shtern's investigation had quickly run dry: the mystery client had paid cash, left no name, and arranged for the goods to be picked up in Kalish against bearer consignment notes. But now that Warsaw had decided this warranted an extensive operation, they had been able to work out more details. The addressee was a Catholic school foundation, the terrified clerk had informed them. The customs declaration said 'schoolbooks'. And now, instead of some hired wagoner or duped shipping agent, they had a real-life Redemptorist priest sitting in the office, evidently pleased with himself. A goddamned priest caught red-handed with fake ballots. Balls-of-steel would be beside himself with joy. He might even smile.

Shuffling into the room past the bound, prone figure of the shipping company's clerk and security man, Shtern straightened his back and quickened his step. Behind him, two more agents entered, taking position to the right and left of the door, revolvers drawn.

“I'm afraid there is a problem with your consignment, reverend father.” Shtern sneered. “I am sure you will have no objection to discussing the matter with us at headquarters.”

The priest tried to run. A lot of people did. It didn't make any sense, of course. No senior NSB man would confront a traitor like him without backup, and the only other way out was the side door he had come through. Of course it was guarded. Agent Kalinski took him down before he even reached it, twisting his arms behind his back and fastening handcuffs. Shtern considered knocking out the prisoner, but decided against taking the risk. They had to get him to talk.

“Gag him.” he ordered. “We're taking him to Warsaw.” He pointed to the large packing crate that stood ready and open in the middle of the warehouse.

13 July 1907, Paris

“This is a problem to what extent?” Georges Clemenceau tried to sound dismissive, but uncertainty crept in regardless. He hated being interrupted by the Quai d'Orsay people with telegrams from foreign parts. They never brought good news at odd hours.

“Mr Prime Minister, we are not sure yet.” Maurice Bompard laid out the telegraph forms on the table between them. “Ambassador Constans has not been too clear on what has transpired. It is certainly cause for concern.”

Clemenceau made a rude noise. “Everything is cause for concern, Bompard. What I want to know is who is in charge in Constantinople now, and what that means for us? Is there going to be a war, yes or no? That is what we have experts for, isn't it?”

“Well, - yes.” Bompard dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief. The evening was still unpleasantly hot and stuffy, and he had been called from an ample dinner by a runner from the ministry. “As to who is in control, I think that is unequivocal. The troops from Salonika have taken over the palace and are distributed around the city. There was no violence, if we can trust the early reports. They simply walked in and – dictated their terms, I suppose. The sultan is still on the throne, but I would not be surprised to see him abdicate soon. He has already published a decree announcing he has replaced his entire government.”

“I see.” So, the Ottomans had pulled off something like what the Ligueists had tried. “What kind of people are the new ministers?”

“Our kind of people, unfortunately.” Bompard explained. “As far as we know, it is a genuine tragedy that history has placed us on opposite sides of the current conflict. They seem to be reformists, truly committed to restoring elective government and modern law against the autocracy of the sultan.” He leafed through the forms. “The new grand vizier – well, he calls himself prime minister in the proclamation – is Enver Pasha, a military officer. And most of the other posts also are held by soldiers, men of whom Constans knows little or nothing. Very young, most of them, though it seems they dragged out one of the old guard for postmaster.”

The prime minister stroked his beard. “Men, perhaps, of whom we will yet hear much. At some point, Bonaparte was a young unknown, too. But are they our foes? Must we strike at them before they threaten our interests? That is what I must know.”

“I suppose not, all told. They represent the war party, it is true. But the peace is signed. Italy has Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, and nothing the Ottoman government could do will change that. From what Constans writes, it appears as though they are mostly focused on internal matters. A messenger from Enver Pasha assure the ambassadors of the great powers that no change was intended in their relations with the Ottoman Empire, and no threat at all implied to the safety of their citizens. A smart move, too, considering what the English did to Arabi.” Bompard adjusted his glasses and sighed. “No, as far as I can see, the new Ottoman government is no threat to French interests. If things get out of hand, we can always set the Greeks upon them. They're eager enough.”

Clemenceau considered the possibilities. With French backing, the Greeks would certainly be willing to carve out a few islands, and the Italians had been ready enough to go into Albania before Ambassador Constans had applied the thumbscrews to extort the peace from Abdulhamid. The Turks would think twice before upsetting that applecart. They might have to lean on the Greeks not to push their luck, if anything, but the British would be on board with that. Fretting like old wives over the Straits and their precious canal! Altogether, still a good outcome.

“All right, Bompard. Thank you. This will indeed not unduly concern us. Tomorrow, I will stand before the French people to tell them that I have signed an alliance with victorious Italy. A distraction would be – unfortunate.” He straightened his shoulders. It was no bad record for his tenure, certainly more than the Ligueists had given the country in theirs: Morocco, a treaty with Italy, defusing the risk of being attacked in their southern flank in the event of war with Britain and Germany, and, of course, liberty. Liberty from obscurantism, tyranny and ultramontane plotting. Ungrateful though they might be, the common people would appreciate this, too, in time. No, he could face the next elections with equanimity. Unthinkingly, he began humming '... tremblez ennemis de la France, rois ivres de sang et d'orgueil. Le Peuple souverain s'avance, tyrans descendez au cercueil. La République nous appelle, sachons vaincre ou sachons périr, un Français doit vivre pour elle, pour elle un Français doit mourir.' They'd be playing that song tomorrow. He wanted to see the look on the faces of the Ligueist deputies. Very much so.
14 July 1907, Hamburg

Wilhelm Lamszus had not expected a large audience, and the hostile looks frightened him more than he had thought. He'd known that his book would not be greeted with applause, but the hatred that he had met with, even from many Social Democrats he had known as pacifist internationalists before the war, had surprised him. Many had come to hear his verdict and sentence – party functionaries in their shabby-respectable jackets, petit bourgeois in their Sunday best, journalists, officers, some soldiers on leave, even. Few looked at him with anything other than contempt. He steeled himself.

On the bench, the judges adjusted their papers and unhurriedly settled into their chairs. Consummate bourgeois civil servants they were, smug, satisfied and sticklers for every rule ever invented. He felt his lawyer tug at his sleeve moments before the room was bid silence and had just enough time to sit straight and freeze his face in the same emotionless rictus that he had shown his drill sergeant. The prosecutor smiled.

“Wilhelm Lamszus”, the presiding judge intoned, “you stand accused of lese-majeste, of high treason, insulting the institutions of the German Empire, libelling the persons of several officers in the army, and of theft of military property to the value of three marks.” He cleared his throat. It was hot and dusty in here. “On the count of lese-majeste, this court finds you not guilty.”

His lawyer nodded gratefully. They had expected as much. Without instructions from the court, it was almost impossible to get a conviction – practically unheard of to prosecute, in fact. He had not even mentioned the emperor in his book, anyway.

“We have seen no evidence that the – book in question in any way makes reference to the all-highest person or calls into question the imperial government. On the count of high treason, this court finds you not guilty.”

The prosecutor's face fell.

“We have seen no evidence that anything contained in the book in question constitutes a military secret. Neither has the prosecution convinced this court that the book in itself constitutes an appeal to the troops to resist lawful authority or to desert their duty. However despicable the opinions contained in it, they are not, in themselves, treasonous.”

They had done it! Il'y a des juges a Berlin (or Hambourg) after all. With treason defeated, the remaining counts were comparatively harmless. The judge continued:

“On the count of insulting the institutions of the Empire, this court finds you guilty. The book in question clearly constitutes a libellous insult on the army and the officer corps. On the count of libelling the persons of two officers, this court finds you guilty.”

He nodded to two uniformed men seated with the prosecutor.

“On the count of theft of military property, this court finds you guilty. You are hereby sentenced to sixteen months in prison and a fine of two hundred marks. This sentence is prejudicial on your position as a teacher with the City of Hamburg.”

Prison! Lamszus looked at his defense attorney who returned his gaze with a pained expression. The usual sentence for political crimes was Festungshaft, honourable and non-prejudicial. But they had got him with the charge of theft. Using paper from the regimental offices for his manuscript. He would lose his job. Well, he had expected as much. They would also dishonourably discharge him from the army, of course – he could hardly wait for that. And his commanding officers would try to get civil damages for libel, no doubt. Was it worth it? Somebody had to tell the truth. And he knew that many people read his 'Letters from East Prussia'. On balance, yes. At least he could look himself in the eye.

17 July 1907, Moscow

“Welcome back, general. Good to see you again.” Count Witte smiled broadly and gestured in the direction of the new epaulets that graced Major-General Denikin's slightly worn uniform coat. “Romania has been good to you, I hear.”

Denikin sat, gingerly keeping the weight off his right leg, and smiled sourly. Altogether, though, Witte was right. He had come away with several months of battle experience, a promotion that had put a star on his shoulder, and a wound that would heal completely in another month or two. Not a lot of the men in his regiment had been nearly as lucky. About a third of them, by his last reckoning, would never come back at all.

“Good to see you, too, count.” he replied after he had settled himself into a position of least discomfort. “I hope you have been well?”

Witte shrugged eloquently. They had taken away his office and civil service rank, leaving him a privatier. His foundation dedicated to helping wounded soldiers was reduced to funneling money to the Patriotic Union's proprietary system of hospitals. He was not doing poorly as such. Wealth and nobility did much to insulate a man from the true vicissitudes of life, but there was little enough for him to do, except haunt the salons and cafes of the city and have witty conversations. Keeping a diary, entertaining officers, foreign diplomats and courtiers was a poor substitute for being part of the machinery of government. In more than one way, their fortunes had reversed since their last meeting. Now, Denikin was the active part while Witte was consigned to waiting, perhaps for the rest of his life. Of course, he could always say an unwise thing and enjoy a long holiday to the Caucasus or Transbaikalia immediately. “I've been getting more exercise.” he replied. “The forests around Moscow are beautiful for rides in this weather. Would you care to join me some day? With your injury, I may even have a chance at keeping up.”

Denikin nodded assent. ”Happily” he agreed. “Time in barracks just eats away at a man's spirit. Nothing to do except parade, read and have meals. By the by, what would you recommend here? I've mostly been eating with the men at the barracks lately.”

“I've noticed more officers doing that.” Witte said. “The war is bringing out the esprit de corps, I suppose. Well, if you have the ration cards, this place does excellent noix de veau. Otherwise, chicken is ration-free, and they make it very well with potato ribbons and field peas. And afterwards – I'm sorry, did I say anything funny?”

Denikin chuckled as he shook his head. 'Esprit de corps' indeed. “Oh, not particularly. Just – well, it isn't as though we want to eat with the men. Most of us are more than glad to cadge an invitation to a nice place like this. But pay goes nowhere near as far as it did before the war. Getting free food is worth something, even if it's army rations.”

“That bad?” Witte was surprised. Certainly, times were leaner, household budgets no longer stretched as far as they had, but the idea that officers could not afford to dine properly was shocking.

“We get paid in paper.” Denikin explained. “It's still better for us than the civil service, of course. A uniform means you get preferential service in a lot of places. But the market sellers want coin. They'll only take paper at a steep markup. Better to keep it for buying the things you must have, and a new uniform eats a big hole into a man's budget. Even on a general's pay.” He shrugged. “I know ensigns and secretaries who would starve if it wasn't for their government ration.”

The count sat silent for a moment. Wasn't that what the ration book system had been supposed to prevent? Now that he was thinking about it, he recalled enough instances where his cook had told him this or that thing was not to be had when he scolded her for not using up the coupons. What was the point to having ration books if you couldn't get the foodstuffs? And more frighteningly, what was the point to having a paper currency if nobody wanted it? He briefly envisioned city markets bare of supplies, people desperately carrying their last scraps of silver to pay farmers for turnips and potatoes. His bankers always gave him specie on demand, but apparently, that was not what most people experienced. A steep and permanent fall of the paper ruble would ruin tens of thousands of people. He shook his head irritably and forced his smile back on.

“Well, then, general, let this be my treat. You will always be a welcome dinner guest to me while you are in Moscow.”

18 July 1907, west of Suvalki

Nagata Tetsuzan was gaining a new appreciation of the way the Germans made war. So far, he had mostly watched two huge armies fighting an almost static match over a narrow expanse of ground. His hosts had shown off their logistical skills there, building and repairing railway lines as they advanced and operating war as the closest possible approximation of a train schedule. All of this had enormously impressed him, but he had to admit to himself that none of it had matched the visceral quality of riding a clanking steel beast while wearing something that came perilously close to a bad caricature of a samurai helmet. His host, an engineer named Büdinger who apparently held a reserve commission as a captain for building the gun wagons, showed them off with unalloyed glee.

“We can manage eight kilometres an hour over open ground now. And assuming you wanted to turn rapidly...” He engaged a lever that abruptly slowed one of the tracks almost to a stop. Almost immediately, the vehicle slewed into a 90° turn, ending only when Büdinger reengaged the track's drivewheels. The screech and clatter of metal was ear-splitting.

“You don't want to do that too often.” He admitted sheepishly. “They occasionally still throw tracks.”

As though to emphasise his words, the machine started to develop a regular clank that moved the driver to shut off both engines. Nagata climbed out of the G-Wagen, still admiring the heavy armour that encased its massive body. If you could use something like this on the plains of Manchuria... something that didn't break down every two hours and didn't drink up a barrel of gasoline a day, preferably. But then, the first steam warships had not been terribly impressive, either, and look at the modern battleship!

“You have had success using them?” he asked once again, trying to get Büdinger to admit details.

“We've used them in the breakthrough south of the Angerapp line.” he said evasively. “You can drive them right across trenches, and neither rifles nor machine guns can hurt them. Unfortunately, the drivetrain is still vulnerable to mechanical failure … stones get in, and we haven't yet solved that problem fully. So the penetrations we managed were not as deep as we had hoped. But the impact on morale was tremendous.”

Nagata nodded. If he had a steel colossus like that bearing down on him, he would it hard to stand and fight. Still, the story was disappointing. He took off the helmet he had been given and balanced in in his right hand. It looked like a flattened, broadened pickelhaube with the spike removed, though it was made of fairly thick steel and a good bit heavier than the traditional leather headgear. “And these helmets are part of the equipment for the G-Wagen crews?”

“Only for the commander.” Büdinger climbed onto one track and banged the top of the turret. “We've figured out that you cannot navigate the machine effectively with all the windows closed, so the commander has to be able to look out of the turret cupola. That is what the top hatch is for. The gunner and driver are both protected by the armour. We don't have them made specially, by the way. They are slated for issue to heavy infantrymen throughout the army. Pionierhelm 07, they're called.”

“It still sounds like a dangerous proposition. Surely, the enemy will try to target the commanders.” Captain Nagata pensively weighed the steel cap in his hand. It looked immensely silly. But if it could keep a soldier alive... he doubted it would stop a bullet.

“Yes, they probably will. Though we are still surprised how badly they're doing defending against armoured lorries. There, they could shoot out the tyres, but it almost never seems to happen.”

“Armoured lorries.” Nagata cocked his head. This Büdinger was full of surprises, and often the most interesting things were the things he did not want to talk about. “I think I have already seen one before. It is interesting that they seem to perform well, isn't it?”

Büdinger was visibly uncomfortable again. “As long as they have roads, they're doing fairly well. We used them in the advance on Suvalki, and apparently the Poles are deploying them in the south, too. But they're not really able to navigate battlefield terrain. Doing all right in cities, certainly, for covering the advance of infantry, and for scouting. They're only armed with machine guns, though, so they can't threaten a G-Wagen.”

“Very few things could, if I see correctly.“ Nagata could thing of several approaches, but he did not want to upset this odd genius.

“Field guns can.” he said. “Nothing smaller than that, reliably. Our latest model is mounting a Vickers 2-pounder cannon that could do it. The Russians also used buried explosive charges – like mines at sea. And hand grenades can damage the tracks.”

“What about gigropir firethrowers?”

Büdinger shrugged. “We've never had that happen. I suppose it would do a number on the crew if it got close enough. The gunner would never permit it, though.”

“How about a bottle?” the driver asked, looking up at them. His hands were smeared with grease and dirt from trying to fix the track, but he sounded confident, in the way German soldiers did when they came up with ideas. That was one thing Nagata found enormously impressive: people actually listened to suggestions from underlings here.

“A bottle?” Büdinger looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“I just thought you wouldn't really need a full-sized firethrower. You could just throw a bottle of gasoline at the Wagen and set it alight.” He pointed at the engine block sticking out to the rear of the turret. “The tank will go up immediately.”

Büdinger waved his away. “Nah. You'd have to run right up with matches and set fire to the wagen. I don't see the Russians having the guts for that. But I'll keep it in mind for the armoured lorries. On open cargo beds, it could be a real problem.”

19 July 1907, Warsaw

The cellars under the old convent school were chilly even at the height of summer. In the old days, they had been used to store wine and food, and occasionally even locking up offending students. Today, their soundproof depth helped the NSB keep the prying public out of their affairs. Nobody came down here for refreshment any more, no matter how hot and stuffy the upper floors. The very whitewashed walls and heavy oak doors exuded despair and terror. Felix Dzerzhinski entered the west corridor, electric lights guiding his way. The guards saluted, not bothering to rise from their desks. The NSB did not go for military protocol. Its men fought as much with their lists and files as with guns, and the papers on their narrow, tiny desks were potent armament.

“Good of you to come, Comrade Director.” Agent Shtern greeted him. His assistant rose from the chair, closing a heavy file on the table before him.

Dzerzhinski acknowledged him with a quick nod. “You have everything you need?” he asked.

“Yes.” Shtern nodded, his face lined deeply with tiredness. “I am convinced Kostka is a minor conspirator. He doesn't know any more than he claims. However, we know who sent him, and who ordered the goods. The money came from the Mutuum Bank, a German consortium, but the orders were given by the Redemptorist general for Poland.”

That meant the archbishop. At this level, nothing like that happened without the knowledge of the episcopal office. Dzerzhinski clenched his fist and sighted involuntarily.

“Well done, Comrade Shtern. I will have a look at the file and see if anything else can be gleaned from it. Come to my office tomorrow, ten o'clock, to discuss our countermeasures.” The director motioned to the assistant to hand ofer the papers and turned to leave.

“Kostka?” Shtern asked

“Will no longer be required.”

Shtern nodded and unholstered his revolver. He remembered that the priest had talked of martyrdom towards the beginning of the interrogation. When he still had defiance left in him, before they had started taking the file to his teeth. Well, he'd get that wish.

20 July 1907, Berlin

“Well, we don't know what on earth we are doing, so you could say there is a problem.” Marshal von der Goltz pointed out.

Chancellor von Gerlach looked almost alarmed. The deep lines and sunken cheeks showed that the war had taken a bad toll on him. “What do you mean? We are finally winning!”

“True enough.” von der Goltz admitted. “But we still aren't sure why. That is what worries me. We have actions, but no theory to guide them. Basically, in the big scheme of things we are bashing away at the enemy in the hope of finding a weak spot before our hammers break. That's barely a step up from gambling.”

Albert winced. “Still, marshal, I must say I prefer it to last autumn, when we had a theory and it didn't work.”

The field marshal stroked his moustache. “Point taken. But it still annoys me. We should be able to understand what's happening better than we do. Falkenhayn has provided us with a lot of useful tools, but he still can't predict which ones will be. Things like the Nogi mortars that cost trivial amounts and have a huge effect, and then you have those G-Wagen that burn money and do nothing. We're also going for another revision of the infantry drillbook. But look at how it went in East Prussia: Some places Eichhorn's rolling barrage shattered the Russian front, in others the enemy rallied and it was a bloodbath for our side. And we don't understand why. Maybe it was just morale. Maybe it was the way the bunkers were built. It's giving me a lot more sleepless nights than the Russians are, to be frank.”

Von Gerlach nodded. By now, they could always beat the Russians, but they could not keep paying for that ability indefinitely. If they wasted their resources doing pointless things... “We have had the suggestion of pursuing a strategy of targeting Russia's warmaking capacities.” he said. “Would that help preserve our strength?”

Albert shook his head. “I fear not. It's a good strategy, true, but we need victories to demonstrate to our people, and the enemy, and the world, that we can win the war. That's why we'll be staying on the offensive. That much has been decided. The question is still how. You know my proposal, I'd like to hear why it's bad now.”

“Well,” von der Goltz scratched his chin. “It really isn't. I'm not sure whether Faslkenhayxn's approach could get us more for the investment. But if we manage a breakthrough to the Gulf of Finland that should get people's attention. But we'll still have to find the materiel.”

Rathenau sighed theatrically. “You'll get your shells and bullets. Right now, we can maintain the level of production we have as long as the raw materials are available. And once the navy manages to sink Kolchak, that should not be a short-term problem.” He did not expand on the next London bond issue. The anxiety on the finance minister's face had been painfully obvious during their last meeting. Von Siemens was sitting quietly, looking unhappy. Those percentage points were eating Germany's future. Already, even the most optimistic predictions expected thirty years of payments.

“Then we will schedule the next offensive against the Baltic provinces.” Albert said. “General Eichhorn's forces will be reinforced for a thrust through Kovno to Vilna, then cut off the Russian forces in Kurland, and the navy will land troops on Dagö and Ösel. By then, we should have Helsingfors and Sveaborg in the bag, too. If we can grab Riga before winter, the world will take notice.”

“Will this need all-highest approval?” the chancellor asked.

Albert shrugged. “I suppose it may. His Majesty is in Chicago, visiting Dewey's laboratory school and dining with the Board of Trade, if I recall correctly. Our consulate should be able to handle a coded telegram. He travels with a military telegraphist to decipher it and encrypt his response.”

25 July 1907, Tornea, Finnish Lapland

Stern duty had held a greater appeal to Lieutenant-Colonel Brede in the days before he had tasted small-town garrison life. Even in times of war, the pace of life – of existence – in a place like Tornea did not change much. For a brief, hectic period there had been reinforcements, troops scrambling to emplace field guns facing the port and fortifying the waterfront, before it had become clear that the Germans and Dutch would not land here. But of course – and that, too, was as fact of life for garrison officers – that had meant being pushed aside, meant bossy, arrogant officers closer to the centre of power taking over the show. Now General Alekseyev had withdrawn most of those troops south again, to catch the Germans in the flank and squeeze their supply lines. Brede had been left behind, with a choice selection of men that no better-connected, more Russian or more noble officer wanted. Of course, half the number would have been adequate to the duties the garrison had. There was not as much freight coming across the bridge to Haparanda these days, though the number of trains was still higher than in peacetime. Shipping had practically stopped – what sane captain would risk the German warships cruising the Baltic these days? So the men not engaged in checking papers or supplementing their pay with some kind of craft were mostly posted along the coastal roads to alert him if any of the Dutch Mariniers showed up.

For the lieutenant colonel, it meant a lot of paperwork and occasional rides to check the guardposts. That part of his duties was enjoyable, and he preferred not to leave it to his subordinates – extremely superannuated company-grade officers of no particular ambition or distinction. He relished the scent and sound of the broad expanse of forest, so much like his native Estonia and yet so alien, the strange tongue of the locals Lapps and their quaint customs. Especially in the bright light of the midsummer sun that, at this time of the year, still barely set, it was as close to paradise as anywhere with so many mosquitoes could be. Smoking his pipe and pleasantly tired after his day's outing, Brede was heading through the main gate to headquarters when his clerk met him in the street, rushing headlong out of the building. A sentry stopped him. Good – that kind of behaviour was unbecoming. But so was the guard's hat! Brede squinted in the low, golden light to catch a clearer view of a cap with the brim upturned, a bit like a bush hat, when a man in an officer's uniform stepped in front of his horse and beckoned him to stop.

A Swedish officer's uniform.

Accompanied by Swedish soldiers.

Lieutenant Colonel Brede swallowed hard. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked, half knowing the answer. Another military intelligence screwup. They had been told the border was secure.

“Good evening, colonel.” the officer said, firmly taking hold of the bridle as he spoke in formal Swedish. “My name is Captain Fredriksson, of the Swedish army. I believe you may not yet have been apprised that a state of war exists between the Kingdom of Sweden and the Russian Empire. The courier sent to inform you was stopped by our cavalry along the coastal route. The town is under our control.”

Brede's shoulders slumped. For a brief moment he had envisioned drawing his revolver and shooting his way out of the trap, but what would the point be? There were guards posted in the barracks and no doubt elsewhere in town. No Russian troops were to be seen anywhere. With a heavy sigh, he dismounted and offered his sabre. Looking over his shoulder, he could see a train heading east across the bridge, another following. Swedish regiments pouring into northern Finland – the province almost denuded of troops in Alekseyev's grand pincer south. Damn all generals!
27 July 1907, Cruiser Izumrud off the coast of Kabinda

Captain Kolchak looked across the glittering surface of the ocean at the sleek, white hull of the SS Alexandra Woermann and wondered why guerre de course was so complicated. He had taken two cruisers, Izumrud and Gromobey, all the way to the African coast, playing a game of hopscotch with Brazilian-flagged colliers and dodging anything that looked like a warship. There might be German vessels about – nobody could tell him for sure. And now that he had reached his hunting ground off the shipping lines to South America and Südwest and nabbed a prize on the first day, the headaches just kept coming. What was he to do with the passengers? Had he caught a cargo ship, he would simply have put the crew into lifeboats or taken them prisoner. But you couldn't put women and children into a boat off the African coast. In the end, they had decided to take the prize in close to the mouth of the Congo and flag down a passing neutral steamer to transfer the civilians. It was not optimal, but he figured the wirelessmen on the German liner had already betrayed his whereabouts anyway. He'd have to swing west and see if he could catch German steamers coming from Argentina or Brazil.

From the northeast, Gromobey was escorting in a Belgian tramp steamer. The captain had agreed to take his captives to Port Banana, where they would be the problem of the French colonial authorities. The prize crew could open the sea cocks, and he wouldn't even need to waste shells. But sitting out here made him nervous. Kolchak had internalised the lesson of fighting in the North Sea campaign – keep moving. If you stayed put for long enough, the enemy would be able to muster superior force against you. He lifted his spyglass again and idly followed the path of a gig returning from the Alexandra Woermann. Russian sailors in tropical whites manned its oars. Someone was coming over. Adjusting magnification, he could make out Lieutenant Kotenkov, the prize commander. This had to be important.

Kotenkov came aboard hurriedly, clutching a bundle of papers, his face radiating excitement. Kolchak immediately took him to the captain's cabin and closed the door.

“Sir”, the young officer reported, “I'm sorry to have left my command, but I did not want to risk signalling this.”

“A problem?” the captain asked.

“No, Sir., It's – you would not believe what that ship is carrying.” He opened the pages of the cargo manifest and pointed to the entry. Kolchak took a few moments to decipher the German.

“Carried on behalf of Deutsch-Südwest Mineralgesellschaft mbH – diamonds?” He looked up. “You have checked this?”

Kotenkov nodded. “An agent of the company is travelling on board, Sir. There are three steel boxes in a locked first-class cabin. According to his papers, almost a million pounds Sterling worth of raw diamonds. He has one set of keys with him, which he surrendered on .. encouragement. But there is a second lock to which he has no key. I'm sure he's telling the truth.”

A million pounds Sterling! A fortune in precious stones, lying around for the taking! Kolchak dimly remembered stories of Francis Drake and Charles Bellamy, takers of treasure ships in the heydays of piracy. These days, it seemed, were not all over yet.

“Ready the launch, Kotenkov. Select reliable men, and have the boxes transferred to Izumrud. I'm sure our artificers can deal with a couple of locks.” He paused, considering the implications. On a ship as crowded as Izumrud, there were no secrets. Only rumours. “Have them brought into the wardroom and opened there. And be sure to order the wirelessmen to be present. We'll spread word that they contain codebooks.”

30 July 1907, Warsaw

Jacob Ganetsky, the Army Council's Commissioner for War Production, was an intense man. It was more than just the fire of youth that confronted Adolf von Elm across the heavy oak desk in the requisitioned tax office that now served as the nerve centre of the Polish economy. It was, the quiet politician nervously realised, the passion of a true zealot.

“Yes, we have had setbacks. But look at the outcome! Poland has built and repaired more railway track in this war than Germany! You can't argue that this does not matter.” Ganetsky adjusted his spectacles. His eyes glowed with fervour. “And what is more, comrade, we have rebuilt our entire society.”

Von Elm blinked. Though a Social Democrat, he was increasingly unsure whether being called 'comrade' by this man was something he should feel proud of. No doubt Ganetsky was courageous and intelligent. He was an able organiser with a head for economics. But it was easier to admire the leadership of the Polish party from afar. Up close, he was more than a little terrifying.

“You know that for a generation, we looked to Germany enviously, watching you build up Socialist structure. But the war has changed everything. In Poland today, we are already closer to the Communist ideal than any other country on earth. Private ownership of the means of production has become irrelevant. Money has become a formality. What society requires, she commands, and the labour and resources are all used to the public defense.” Ganetsky smiled gently. “And one day soon, we will be able to use them, for the public good instead.”

A derisive snort from the older German stopped him short.

“You disagree?”

Von Elm nodded, slowly taking his pipe from his lips before answering. “I'm afraid so. I am concerned that you are being naïve, comrade. Money a formality? If that is true, then why does your commissariat channel all payment in German currency through its coffers? Why will you not condone the idea of specie in circulation?”

“You took gold out of circulation in Germany!” Ganetsky objected. “It's simply a wartime measure.”

“So is everything else you describe. Think on it: In a city under siege, you may command anything for the defense. But once the enemy is beaten off, do you really think you can continue to do so?” The German politician's hand landed heavily on the desk. “Polish money will be even more worthless than it is now. What will you do, force acceptance at gunpoint? Stop people from selling their labour and product abroad? No, what you are describing is a state of siege.”

“Even so,” Gantesky replied, “we are creating something worth preserving. A new order to society. Come time, we may fully understand the theoretical import of this wartime communism. I do not purport to be a great thinker. But you cannot deny its power. Germany could double its output, at least, overnight, by adopting half the measures we have!”

“Maybe.” von Elm conceded cautiously. “I doubt we could, though. Aside from the fact that Germans would no doubt object to being conscripted for corvee labour, we don't have your safety valve.”

“Safety valve?”

The German smiled thinly. “I think half the agricultural labourers in Germany today are Polish. I don't know if anyone knows exact numbers, but you have an awful lot of people across the border, and they don't see the money they send their families as a formality.”

“Irrelevant.” The young commissioner took off his glasses and shook his head. “We would be better off if we had their labour to our ends. You have seen our factories! Our country was devastated by war, and yet we are already making rifles, munition, uniforms, trains, even guns for our own forces! Imagine what we could do with everyone pulling their weight.”

An affirmative nod met that statement. The Polish war production was indeed impressive. The workers of Warsaw, Lodz and Lublin had rebuilt their factories at amazing speed. German machinery allowed them to already carry the full manufacturing capacity for the Gewehr 88, for one thing. But it was still a matter of cold, hard economics: Anything the Poles produced they did not need to import. And the whole thing was a house of cards. The only reason it worked was that the Germans paid what they received from the Poles in Mark, but accepted Polish bonds in return for the materiel they provided. Even the work gangs on the railway lines ate German rations. The next harvest might change that – if the War Production Commissariat could squeeze enough out of the landowners. Which was, at best, an uncertain proposition. Von Elm forced himself to smile:

“Nobody seeks to deny your achievements, comrade. But you must remember that your situation will be changing after the war. You are deceiving yourself if you think the property-owning classes will simply accept you reducing their titles to empty paper. They will take the means of production back! If you are not prepared for that, you will be left with nothing.”

“Take them back?” Ganetsky snorted dismissively. “I don't think so. Where will they take the resolve? We'll meet their title deeds with bayonets. What human will may do, we have done. They cannot match us.”

The German sighed. “Yes, I've heard of your penal labour units. Don't think I approve. If you want my advice, what you need to do is prepare for the postwar period with the interest of the working classes in mind. You can ensure proper political and social rights on the strength of your contribution. Stop dreaming of your military communism. This is not the Völkerwanderung.”

Ganetsky rose and fixed him with his eyes. “After these sacrifices? No, comrade. That is not enough. You may be content with that in Germany, but we cannot accept returning to table scraps. Not after what we have done! Not after the blood we have shed.”

Von Elm held his gaze. He did not intimidate easily, for all his gentle demeanour. “I wish you good luck, comrade.” he said. “I truly do. But I think you presume too much on the political credentials of your leadership. Pilsudski is not like your friends in Zurich. He is a patriot first, Socialist second. Guard against a knife in the back.”

03 August 1907, Danzig

Click – tap – creak. Click – tap – creak. Click – tap – creak. Korvettenkapitän Berenstein gritted his teeth against the pain with every step. It was not the fierce, tearing kind he had suffered in the early days every time he had tried to move. By now, it had faded to a dull, throbbing ache that briefly flared up whenever he put his weight on the wooden leg to move his good foot. The sensation confined his mind into its sphere, a tight ball of corrosive suffering and anger, concentrating on the bitterness of his humiliation. What had he spent the past fifteen years striving for, suffering every indignity, always excelling his comrades, shrugging off every suggestion that 'a man like you' would be happier as a quartermaster, engineer or supply officer? Why had he sacrificed his chance at a family, a stable home life, modest wealth, for a career in the fighting navy, just to be left ashore again? He knew he would never serve on shipboard again. His injuries were too severe, his balance inadequate. A few months in charge of a torpedo boat, that would be the record of his active command. The medals they had hung on him made poor consolation on days like this. Walking, he decided, was not good for his mental balance.

Grunting with effort and pain, he made his way up the stairs to the quay, rejecting the help of the sailor who carried his briefcase. There, moored by the refuelling tanks they had installed just two years ago, lay his charge. Not his command, but at least his responsibility. The ship that was to become father to a generation of new vessels: SMS Hecht. Or TBZ 1 – that was another problem they were having. People at Admiralty could not decide whether these things should count as proper ships, with names, or just bigger torpedo boats, with numbers. Berenstein had always held the opinion that they deserved names. After his own service in torpedo boats, he could appreciate the difference the extra size and power made. In a T-class boat, you were always at the mercy of the elements. Whitecaps would drench you, you could hear the water rushing by the hull, and even a tramp steamer was a looming menace. The new TBZ, even the first one that Vulcan had cobbled together from the navy's wish list in late 1906, you had the sense of travelling in what amounted to a home. The walls would still not protect you from anything bigger than a rifle round, but they had a reassuring solidity. The hull raised you above the water, keeping you dry on most duties. And there were four 10-cm guns to give pause to even the biggest of Russian destroyers. If he still had his leg, Berenstein would have had a reasonable stab at commanding one. Instead, he was managing its shakedown and applying the lessons to later models in the series. At least they hadn't simply put him behind a desk, like they had von Bargen. You just had to make the best of the opportunities you got.

His welcome was impeccable – salutes and pipes, obsequious junior officers and an eager captain. His status as a war hero bought him this much, at least. They went through the obvious first: The ship's four turbines were a maintenance hog – the next ones would have larger twin arrays – the gun behind the bridge could not be brought to bear far enough forward – whoever had put it there needed his head examined anyway – and the ship was too unstable at full speed to make a good gun platform. They were working on that, back at Blohm & Voss, they said, with roll stabilisers and ultimately, a boxier hull. Nobody was unhappy with the weapons, though there had been the odd detail to address. They would alter the bridge layout and add side covers to the gun shields on this visit. And then, there was the reason he had really come out:

“Those are it?” Berenstein asked, pointing to the welded metal racks over the aft deck.

“Yes.” the captain confirmed. “I had them made while we were in port in Mariehamn. But we need to come up with something better.”

Berenstein looked at the frames. If he could trust the after-action reports he'd read, they were used to roll 10-cm shells fitted with timed fuses over the side of the ship. The margin for error in that game was not huge.

“It looks like the explosion is pretty close to the hull.” he remarked.

“Well, yes. We try not to use them when we're running less than ten knots. The problem is that we can't use the gun at short ranges, and we can't shoot into the water with our MGs.” The captain paused. “It's already better than we had. When we bagged the Russian Holland submersible, two gunner's mates heaved them over the side by hand.”

Berenstein shuddered. “With timed fuses? That doesn't sound like the Admiralty would recommend it.” He tried not to imagine an inattentive sailor dropping one of the shells, fuse ticking merrily away, on the deck, or down a hatch.

“Yah, it was pretty hair-raising, Sir.” the first officer pointed out. “But we could see no other solution. Ever since we've been escorting the supply convoys to Finland, the Russian torpedo boats have been keeping their distance during the day. Except for the submersibles. The Holland-made boats even sank two of our ships in broad daylight. We tried ramming them, but that didn't work. One of our T-class boats found a mine that way. Then, a sailor suggested hand grenades. The trouble is, we couldn't get any. They're not approved for ship requisitions. So our armourer rigged some of our own shells with timers.”

He pointed to the side of the upperworks, where a broken piece of metal with cyrillic lettering had been hung. “It worked. We made three passes over where we thought the submersible had to be and dropped fourteen shells in the water. The Russians tried to run, but we could see their wake and they were losing oil, so we ran them down. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay around to recover any more of the wreck. None of the crew came out.”

Berenstein nodded appreciatively. “Congratulations, captain. I'm sure you're all in for medals and promotion. Now, what I am thinking is whether this can't be turned into a more reliable weapon. Something like a dynamite gun, maybe? A Nogi mortar for naval use, if you will. But I would prefer to discuss that sitting down, if you don't mind.”

04 August 1907, St Louis

… It is my pleasure to report that His Majesty's progress continues to be most satisfying. Dr Weisse reports that the inflammation has almost entirely subsided, and there is now no expectation of it recurring. The Emperor's natural vigour and curiosity, too, is reasserting itself. Often enough, I regret to write, in breaches of protocol and entirely inappropriate explorations of laboratory schools, factories and technical installations. It was thus that Menlo Park, Niagara and Detroit have already been added to the itinerary, and it is now being considered to call on Mr Washington in Tuskeegee, where he keeps a school for negroes. The All-Highest interest in the progress of that race is considerable, both with a view to colonial policy and out of genuine kindness he feels for such unfortunate creatures. This is one concern he shares with Her Majesty, though I must regrettably state that the pair are still distant, often keeping separate schedules.

The relationship between His Majesty and President Roosevelt is a kind and warm one, cemented now by a personal invitation by the President to accompany him on an expedition to his estate in Dakota. It has been pointed out, couched in medical terms, that His Majesty cannot by any means participate in strenuous physical activity, but the itinerary has been altered to reflect that fact, and we expect the meeting to be a success all around. There is now the distinct possibility of bringing back a 'Grisly Bear' fur to adorn the walls of Rominterheide. An invitation to President Roosevelt to hunt in the imperial estates has also been extended, though this will have to wait until the end of his term of office. Though nobody in his right mind will stay in Washington in the summer, it is considered impossible for a sitting president to leave the country for any greater length of time.


We may, then, look forward with hope to the return of his Majesty reinvigorated and ready to take the reins of the state, and must make preparations accordingly, particularly with a view to softening the impact of the changes He will no doubt wish to make under the impression of his experiences here, both positive and negative.

(Letter by secretary von Ammersleben)

06 August 1907, Goluchow, Posen



They have taken the coin from your pocket and given you worthless paper!

They are taking bread from the mouth of Polish children and mothers!

They are taking the land from the husbandman!

They are stealing the fruit of your labour to feed their godless horde!

Our country will fall into a worse oppression and degradation that ever under the Russian yoke if we do not stand up as one, for God, for Church, and for Poland! We repudiate the lies of Socialism and the threat of red terror! Raise the Banner of Mary Mother of God, and stand against those who would bind you with iron chains and cast you in darkness.

Do you know who your “liberators” are? Do you know who it is that seeks your trust? Polish Patriots, do not fall for the lies of Jews and Freemasons! Do not give your vote to the Heretic, the Socialist and the Jew! Remember:

Ganetsky, the architect of your privation, is a JEW! His true name is Fürstenberg!

Dzerzhinski, the mastermind of your oppression, is a JEW! His real name is Braunstein!

Garski, the butcher, and Ferber, his protector, are JEWS!

Rathenau, Rothschild and Schiff, the men who would cast Poland into debt bondage, are JEWS!

Men of Poland, guard the blood of your children, the virtue of your women and the wealth of your country! Stand behind the Church and your ancestral heritage against godless terror and Jewish slavery! For honest labour, strong families, and a land for the Polish people, Polish culture and true religion, on 21 August



Adam Prince Czartoryski folded the paper and smiled. He had never believed in diplomatic language. This was just what the situation called for. The illustrations were visceral stuff, too: starving children, begging mothers, leering rabbis and knife-wielding anarchists. A pity they could not attack Pilsudski directly. The man was just too popular. Still, he felt sure that this would work., Catholic Poles would come to understand what kind of people were dominating the Army Council, and they would kick them out. If not with the ballot, then, come the day of reckoning, with the bayonet. Someone just had to tell them the truth – or at least, as much truth asd they could be trusted with.

“Will these be difficult to get across the border, Father?” the prince asked.

Father Leczinski nodded. “Nothing is easy these days. The snares of the enemy lie thick. But we are certain that it can be done. We are very grateful for your support in this matter, and a little risk is nothing compared to the good these leaflets do.”

“More wine?” The prince range for a servant. “I assume you must keep the details secret, of course. But one day, I hope to meet and thank the brave men who carry out that dangerous task.”

“Of course, your Excellency.” The priest nodded gently. “No more wine for me, thank you. No doubt you will have the opportunity to meet many of the patriots on whose courage our task next God depends.- Many are in holy orders. Even the papal nuncio carried some documents in his luggage. No NSB agents would dare search that.”

“The nuncio himself?” Czartoryski 's eyes widened. Leczinski nodded. He felt sure that the man would not have minded doing that small service had they told him what they had packed.

“Indeed. The support and encouragement we are receiving from the Holy See is a great aid to us, as is your and our associates' funding. It is thus we have been able to make many waverers and compromisers see the light.” He held up his nearly empty glass and drained the last bit. “Excellent wine. French?”

“Alsatian.” The prince blushed. “The exigencies of wartime. In happier days, Father, you may be assured I would serve only the best to a man of the cloth. But the war is putting a great strain on landowners. Would you believe half my estates are worked by Russian mushiks? POWs are the only labour that won't run away to the factory.”

“Please, do not apologise. It is an excellent wine, and can well be forgiven having the wrong passport. I must be going, your Excellency. Let us hope that we will meet in happier circumstances once this affair has run its course.”

09 August 1907, Dvinsk

Since you have asked me to give you a candid evaluation of the fighting strength of both parties, inasmuch as I can speak to the German side, I shall so attempt. Firstly, to the Russians. I have now spent six months as an observer among their armies, and I believe I have seen enough to give you a good appreciation. Their cavalry is, and despite the losses of a year of war doubtlessly remains, the finest in the world bar none. Well-mounted and trained in the ways of horsemanship from an early age, a cossack or Kalmyk is by far superior to his enemy in fieldcraft, endurance, stealth, and speed. After a long period of static frontlines during which neither side was abler to effectively use horse, the recent months have seen a surge in cavalry operations, raids, counter-raids and probing attacks in depth, in which the Russian army has more than held its own. It is especially the ability to field large mounted columns that can overwhelm even sizeable infantry garrisons that has enabled them to slow and halt the German advance again and again. By contrast, German uhlans and hussars, though equally brave and resolute men, depend to a far greater extent on supplies of fodder and food, and their numbers are too small to attempt more than a few large penetrations. They are also increasingly poorly mounted, often on imported horses from America with poor training and no battle seasoning.

In infantry, the Russian forces, too, have the advantage, though it is not as great or as reliable. The Russian by constitution makes a fine soldier, lacking of all martial qualities only the ready intelligence that especially characterises the French fighting man. Russian troops are stolid and dependable, resolute in advancing, able to endure great privation unflinchingly, and capable of incredible physical exertions. I have myself seen men march fifty or more kilometres in a day, fall into hedges and ditches to sleep, and return to the advance or assault with redoubled the next morning having eaten barely a handful of toasted grains or hard black bread. There is no grumbling or malingering in this force: What their officers ask the frontovik to bear, he will bear or die trying. The men take land in an irresistible rush of bayonet and sabre, and relinquish it grudgingly, defending every metre.

The German force opposing them, by contrast, is of a far inferior quality. Bereft of their cadre of fully trained first-line troops, many of their regiments are little better than militia, composed of reservists and poorly trained volunteers. Their discipline and high level of education can make up for this weakness in defense, where they rely on the use of heavy weapons and elaborate fortifications, but it tells on the attack. Half a year defending has sapped their elan and destroyed the offensive spirit. German infantry is cautious in advancing. Rarely deploying its full strength to break the enemy, its leaders are content to probe and jab, looking for weak spots to exploit and quickly give up in the face of determined resistance. The men depend heavily on an uninterrupted supply of equipment and food, and are unwilling to forgo the comforts of camp. Without their heavy weapons and machine guns, they are all but helpless. The Russians, on the other hand, though commanding superior and larger mortars and firethrowers, use them only at neuralgic points, otherwise depending on the offensive spirit and impetus of the infantry to blunt and repel incursions.

While there is, on the whole, little to fear from German infantry, the same is not true of their artillery. Russian gunners often boasted of their prowess and massed firepower, but experience has shown their army to be wanting on both counts. Hard pressed to replace the mid-calibre tubes lost, the divisional batteries increasingly rely on the mortars and rocket projectors that Russian engineers have been developing over the past year to a high standard. The largest are capable of firing several hundred kilos of explosive over distances of many hundred metres, and may be carried into action by teams of foot gunners. Yet even those are often in too short supply. The Germans, by contrast, rarely want for heavy guns that can fire over many kilometres, increasingly safe from the counterbattery fire that depleted Russian batteries may still muster. German artillery fire has been likened, even by experienced officers and veterans of Mukden and Kharbin, to the fist of God. The accuracy and speed of their gunners is so far beyond what the Russians can muster that the contest is not only unequal, but increasingly takes place on a different plane.

It is this mismatch that has produced the static nature of this war: A Russian force well suited to the attack, but incapable of sustaining its impetus due to its poor supply system and limited industrial capacity, facing a German army that has the industrial power and a superior defensive capability, but is timid on the offensive and slow to exploit its victories. The victor in the contest is still uncertain; Yet I do not consider it unreasonable to suppose that Russia's superior will may wear down the German spirit and force an exit from the war by the simply remedy of outlasting its credit. No industrial society can hope to bear the expense and bloodletting of war on this scale for long. Russia's agricultural society is far easier able to provide a surplus of warriors than the teeming cities of Germany.

Letter by Lt Col Charles Mangin, military observer, to General Foch

12 August 1907, Moscow

“Ah, no, my dear friend.” Czar Nicholas raised his hand to bid silence. “I understand why you are concerned, but you see, I cannot do otherwise. The troops must see me take the field, at least in spirit to share the rigours of their life. It would not do for me to stay here in Moscow while the army is asked to fight through this desperate battle.”

“Your Majesty!” Dr Dubrovin protested weakly. “Consider the importance of your presence here for political reasons. We can hardly ask foreign ambassadors to come to Minsk to meet you in your field headquarters?”

The Czar waved off the objection. “We have discussed this. There is still a government in Moscow, after all. Sukhomlinov can discuss all military matters, and Goremykin is still in charge of foreign policy. And of course, my dear wife will always represent the imperial government at court and stand in my stead if this were needed. There is no pressing need for me to be here. Doubly so once our plans come to fruition. I must lead my armies myself.”

“Then, please, at least allow me to accompany you, Your Majesty!” Dubrovin pleaded. “There are many who would seek to insinuate themselves into your good graces who do not have Russia's best interests at heart. I can counsel you.”

“Your advice will be more necessary here, Doctor.” The emperor pointed to the maps on the desk. “After all, you are the architect of our scheme as much as I am. Goremykin will need you at his side when he negotiates with the French and the English. And my wife, she will need your medical advice looking after poor Alexei. You know that she fears for his life. No, Doctor. Your affection does you credit, but you are needed. Your duty shall be here, as mine shall be at the front.”

With a quiet finality that came hard to this changeable man, the czar brought down the flat of his hand on the green leather of his writing desk and nodded slowly. “And of course I trust you to get France to aid us. I must be sure of this.”

“Do not worry, Your Majesty.” Dubrovin promised, looking disappointed, but obsequiously eager to please. “The only thing holding the French government back is their fear of England. Once we have promised London that they may have all of Persia, they will hold their peace, and France can help us take down the Germans. It is in their interest, too., The English fear a strong Germany. And the French cannot afford our defeat.”

“Oh, yes.” Nicholas said,. “The money. I still cannot believe that. But you understand their politics better than I do, I suppose.”

Dubrovin nodded reassuringly. “It is quite certain. You must understand that a republic cannot be governed as an empire is. They do not have the concern for the long term we do, nor the sense of honour that a ruling family must bring into politics. No French prime minister needs leave his nation's escutcheon to a son. They depends on the fickle will of the people, and must serve it or lose their office. Clemenceau especially – his career has been tainted by his conduct in the Panama affair. He cannot afford to have a banking crisis. If need be, we must put it to him this way. He will relent. What has he to lose?”

Nicholas scratched his beard and nodded. “I trust you, doctor. Work me this miracle. And then, you wished me to talk to Grand Prince Sergei!”

“Yes, please. If you would, before you leave. It is imperative that we meet our enemy's treachery with force. The grand prince is so – oldfashioned in these matters. The honour of a nation cannot forbid it to fight for its survival.”

The czar clenched his fist. It still went against his grain, but Dubrovin was right. German money and German weapons had fuelled rebellion in Finland and Poland, German agents were smuggling arms and funds to Socialist rabblerousers in the motherland itself, and if the reports from Nikolai's command could be trusted, there had been some strange comings and goings at the Turkish border, too. Bombs and assassins had slain governors and generals, officers, soldiers and civilians alike, without distinction or mercy. If there was anything the Okhrana could do to discourage this – idf need be by giving the Germans a taste of their own medicine – then he could not let his honour stand in the way.

“Very well, doctor. Let us go together and see him. My valet will pack my uniform, and tonight, I shall be off to Stavka. There is time enough for this yet.”

14 August 1907, Berlin

The heat and humidity felt oppressive even in the relatively generous space the builders had allowed for the washing facilities, but Marie Juchacz did not mind. She had been to plenty of worse places, places where women slaved away in lightless, airless cellars, choking on woodsmoke and banging their heady on low ceiling beams. This, by contrast, was almost relaxing. And it was, altogether, a thing of beauty. The row of washing kettles, orderly against the back wall, the heavy roller mangle, and on the opposite side of the building, the kitchen with its masonry ranges and cooking chests, its massive oven and scrubbed, gleaming cream tiles: This was the future, and it worked!

“Over here, comrade,” Mrs Burmester,the head of the women's cooperative, pointed out, “we also have some space for a vegetable garden. It's too late in the year for much of a harvest, of course. But the children can play in it.”

“Oh, yes.!” Marie remarked. “You said they were being watched collectively, too. Do you have a room for that as well?”

“Unfortunately, no. The few of us who do not work take turns having them in our apartments. We pay them for every day of child care. In summer, they can be in the backyards, of course, but in winter, it's going to be crowded.”

It was ingenious, and amazing. Naturally, they had the best basis you could imagine, in a collectively owned apartment block built by and for the working classes. But it had still taken the exigencies of wartime to liberate woman from the chains of domestic labour. Too many of her sisters were still asked to labour ten, twelve or more hours a day in the armaments industry, then return home to the chores of cooking, cleaning and mending. Not to mention bringing up their children, with husbands and fathers away at the front or worse, wounded or dead. Here, the solution had been found: The households of the apartment block had converted half their laundry house into a kitchen and took turns cooking meals from their combined rations. Women who did not work somewhere could earn a little money cooking, doing laundry, and minding children for the majority that now did, and the arrangement also improved efficiency and made better use of their resources. “Naturally”, Marie had said when she had seen their account books. Organised, planned cooperative production always yielded economies of scale. Fuel consumption was down dramatically – though it would go up in winter when individual apartments needed heating – and the food stretched farther. And now the party had pushed through that collective kitchens would be treated like restaurants or works canteens, with extra ration cards and wholesale shopping privileges, this would get even better.

Mrs Burmester pointed to a little sandbox in the corner of the back yard. “We put this together with some leftover lumber. The younger children play there. In time, we hope to plant trees and build some benches, but – the house is just three years old.” She cleared her throat. “And I wanted to thank you, in the name of all of us. We would never have been able to do this without the help of the Party. Never!”

Impulsively, she hugged her visitor, Marie was momentarily nonplussed, but ended up returning the gesture. Ms Burmester was strong, with the ropy muscles of a washerwoman, and it was unusual for her voice to tremble quite so.

“It is all right.” Marie Juchacz said when they separated. “We did not do so much. All the money, all the labour, was yours. You paid back your loan ahead of schedule, even. And now that this exists, we can build more like it,. Will you help us with this?”

“Help you?” Mrs Burmester sounded puzzled.

“Yes, help us. We will write about this in our paper. Maybe you could show around visitors, or sometimes come to other groups who are setting up similar facilities to advise them? The party school can teach them accounting and writing applications, but you have real experience now.”

Mrs Burmester nodded quietly. She seemed unused to the idea that people would want to hear from her. “I suppose I could, if you think it will help.” she said, visibly uncomfortable.

Marie Juchacz grasped her hand and shook it. “Thank you, comrade. Your experience is very valuable to us. This, after all, is what the party is for. You and I, and all of us together, can truly improve the lot of the working class.”

Mrs Burmester shook her hand firmly. “Thank you.” she said. “I will do everything I can.”

Marie Juchacz smiled. This was what she did – what made her feel useful, real, human. She was finally in a position to help people like these – like she had been herself, she remembered. What would she have given for facilities like these back then! She had spoken a big truth, she found, to her surprise: That was what the party was for. Back at the Parteihochschule, in the seminars and reading circles and in the interminable slanging matches with Luxemburg and Ebert, Rosenfeld and that insufferably arrogant Bernstein, and that bloodthirsty Thälmann, you could easily lose sight of what mattered. This was what the party was about: making life better. Giving people the power to shape their own destiny. She blinked momentarily. “Yes.” she said. “We all must. Thank you. Thank you and all your comrades. When this war is over, we shall have a country worth having fought for!”

15 August 1907, Vladikavkas

“A problem?” Grand Prince Nikolai asked. “What exactly is 'a problem', General Nazarbekov?”

Foma Nazarbekian stood to attention, swallowing hard. He had come to appreciate his new commander's fair-mindedness, but the grand prince could be unforgiving of mistakes, and this doubtlessly qualified. “Sir, there was a mutinous incident in a regiment of Azeri levies. The men barricaded themselves in their barracks and refused orders to march to the railhead. It has been resolved by now.”

Nikolai's brow furrowed. “Resolved? How exactly?”

“The men surrendered after reinforcements from Russian regiments were called in. Three ringleaders were executed and seven men who were involved in beating an NCO sent off to penal units. The rest are confined to barracks until they will be taken to the Bessarabian front.” Nazarbekian licked his lips nervously. “The problem seems to have started during the seasoning phase.”

“The seasoning phase?” Nikolai asked. “Please explain, general!”

“Well, Sir, it's customary for new regiments to have men with battle experience assigned after basic training, as a leavening, and to give those men leadership positions. When we have ethnic levies, we try to match the men we send in to the troops so they can talk to each other without difficulty. But the men sent in apparently frightened the recruits. There was one NCO in particular who drilled them very hard.”

“They objected to rigorous training?” The grand prince sounded angry.

The general shook his head. “Not as far as I know, Sir. From the reports I have, the problem was – well, Serzhant Kabirev had served on the Prussian front. He took a paternal interest in the men and tried to prepare them very well. A witness said he was – eager to replicate the experience of fighting in the trenches, gave vivid descriptions of artillery and machine gun fire. He struck men who were not fast enough taking cover with his cane. His accounts of fighting were unsettling, and many of the younger, impressionable men were affected.” He paused. “I cannot see any way that the sergeant can be blamed. He meant well.”

“Well meant is often the opposite of well done, general.” Nikolai remarked acidly. “Still, you are right. I am glad this matter could be resolved quickly. Have Kabirev reassigned in some non-training capacity.” He sucked on his pipe for a few seconds, looking out of the window over the sun-drenched hills. “We may have to reconsider our policy of 'salting' green units, general.” he finally said. “It may have unfortunate effects if the men are already unwilling. And they do seem to be.”

“Indeed, Sir.” Nazarbekian took the next sheet from his manila binder. “Desertion rates remain high both on collection and during training. Colonel Melgunov lost over half of a troop of Kazakh recruits on the way to Batumi. This is our greatest concern currently. People harbour deserters. Our recruiters often find it impossible to keep hold of the men presented by local authorities. Especially with the mountain tribes.”

Nikolai snorted. “That figures. These people are just waiting for the opportunity to cut our throats. Of course they'd rather stay here and fight us than go and do their duty.” He pulled out a sheet of paper and began writing.

“General, we need to find a policy to deal with these desertions. If we don't, we will never be able to meet our recruitment quotas. I want to see sanctions applied to village headmen and tribal leaders if their people run.” He paused. “Fines, and substitute drafts, of course. If you have to, draft their own sons. And if that does not work, remind them there is always the English solution.”

“The English solution?” General Nazarbekian was visibly nervous.

“These are very traditional people, general. They are happy to go off into the hills to fight as long as they have powder and shot. So we must remind them how the English dealt with the Boers in the last war.” The grand prince stabbed the pen down on the paper. The nib bent with an audible click, leaving black splodges. “Concentration camps! A Muslim patriarch's pride is his ability to guard his women. They must know we can take that away. If they do not send us the recruits we are due, they will suffer for it.”

The general sucked his teeth. “Are you sure that is wise, Sir? These people are prickly.”

“Oh, dammit, Nazarbekov, I do not propose we should actually collect whole camps full of Azeri women.” Nikolai replied exasperatedly. “But the time for half measures is well past. We will meet our quotas, and we will be sending fit fighting men to the front. And these savages must know that we will do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes, general! Teach them that!”
16 August 1907, Warsaw

Another day, another stack of envelopes. Prince Dmovski sat in silence as he perused the messages that had come in from all over the world. Colourful stamps and elaborate patterns of postmarks, there was Chicago, here one from Berlin, two from New York – the Polish committee – and several more from Germany, which he had not expected. One postmarked from Goluchow, probably that Czartorysky once again soliciting his support. Since the uprising, many Poles on the Prussian side of the border had remembered old friendships – or imagined them. And there was the usual mix of French postmarks: Paris, not that many at the height of summer, St Tropez, Nice, Vichy, Toulouse. His great and valiant allies in the provisional government, still sitting impotently in Paris, still pretending they had any say in matters of the Polish state while the government stopped them from so much as sending money, let alone material aid. Some, he had to admit, had come, knowing full well that they would not be allowed back into France. He had used his connections to find them commissions in the National Army. The ones that remained were of two kinds: French – you had to call them this now - who remembered their Polish ancestry and wrote fond letters of support, and craven exiles who would come hoping for seats at the feast once the battle was won. He could have been with them. He would have been welcome in London, in Berlin, in Paris, even, the toast of New York and Chicago. But there were things that the honour of the family name did not permit. Roman Dmovski would remain in Warsaw while he lived.

His stay, he had to admit, was more comfortable than he would have expected. After leaving the Army Council, he had felt sure he would be arrested, perhaps exiled or even shot. Instead, after a few nervous weeks, he had found that nothing of the kind had happened. They even left him his position as head of the National League and the quarters, rations and staff that went with it. It was not as luxurious a life as his family's wealth and network of supporters could have afforded him, but better than what most had. And then, he had been forgotten. Not by everyone, of course. Not by his friends, not by the world. But events in Poland had passed him by. The kommandantur and the Army Council did not speak to him. Some of the officers on the Council still called occasionally, but they rarely consulted with him on politics. Foreign supporters wrote him gushing letters and sent money for the work of the League, but it did not amount to much. He did not blame them. What could he offer to do? Write pamphlets, hold lectures? Donors wanted their money to go towards rifles, guns and sabres, to defend Polish freedom from the Russian ogre, not to be lost in the details of some political squabble. What was left to him was writing, and hoping for a day when the pen was once more mightier than the sword.

A commotion in the hall made him pause. Footsteps, hard and purposeful, and the nervous taps of a secretary no doubt trying to interpose himself without much luck, when a familiar voice sounded through the door. “Don't worry. I'll let myself in.” The double door to the study opened, and Josef Pilsudski strode in, dressed as ever in his riding boots and officer's tunic, the foursquare uniform cap that distinguished the National army perched precariously on his head, his coat flying. Dmovski rose reflexively, staring at the unannounced visitor coming to a halt a mere metre from his desk. Two secretaries followed, unsure how to react, worry registering on their faces. Dmovski waved them away. “Close the door.” he ordered. “I'll not be seeing anyone.”

The latch clicked shut as footsteps retreated down the hall. No doubt there would be someone at the door, waiting to see what would happen. What would happen?

“Good morning, Roman. Or must I say 'Prince Dmovski' now?” Pilsudski broke the silence.

Dmovski held his gaze. “Good morning, Josef. What brings you here, all alone? Aren't you afraid you might get stabbed or poisoned without some secret policemen to guard you?”

“Oh, come off it.” Pilsudski replied. “Whatever your politics, I know you're not a fool. That's why I'm here today.”

“Because I won't murder you?”

“Because,” Pilsudski said, his annoyance showing, “I know that you can be reasoned with. Whatever your politics, you love Poland as I do. That is why I came. We need to discuss politics. May I sit?”

Dmovski's eyes widened. That had taken him off guard. “Please. Be my guest.” he said, the reflexes of his social class taking over. “Something to drink?”

Pilsudski shrugged out of his uniform coat, draped it over the back of the heavy oak chair and lowered himself into the creaking upholstery. “No, thank you.” he said. “I am here to negotiate a peace. I need my wits about me.”

“A peace?” Dmovski frowned as he sat down in his own chair, “What do you mean?”

“I mean this.” From the general's hands, a crumpled stack of leaflets fell onto the table. Dmovski picked up the top one and scanned the ungainly print, screaming in blocky letters: 'The Red Peril!' 'Beware the Jew!' the next one read, with a crude – though expensively lithographed – cartoon of Poland crucified by leering rabbis with blood dripping from the curved knives stuck in their belts. The others were not much better: Pictures of a young mother vainly struggling to defend the child ripped from her arms – 'Jewish Debt Servitude!' it proclaimed, the bloody knife in the captor's hands leaving little doubt as to the ultimate fate of the innocent babe – of Christ weeping for a Poland half in chains, of dastardly anarchist assassins robbing helpless victims and barefoot peasant women drawing the plough while drunk savages with cloth caps and rifles led away the horse.

Dmovski bristled. “Josef, you know that I have nothing to do with this – filth. You know! Do not dare accuse me!”

“Yes, I know.” Pilsudski cleared his throat. “I know that this does not come from the National league, and that you have no hand in its distribution. What I came here to talk to you about is stopping it. It's tearing our country apart.”

Dmovski felt embarrassed. There were time he, too, had felt the burning passion and hatred these pamphleteers proclaimed, helpless in the face of red revolution overtaking his country. But these were allies he did not wish to be associated with. That Pilsudski would throw them in his face hurt. “THAT is tearing our country apart?” he retorted, more sharply than he had intended. “What about the confiscations, the forced labour, the atheist sermons? What about the secret policemen grabbing people in broad daylight? Do they serve to keep Poland happy?”

Pilsudski drew breath to fire back. Dmovski could see his mentally marshal the counteraccusations, eyebrows furrowed, moustache bristling. Then, he stopped. His shoulders dropped. He exhaled heavily.

“You're right.” he said, grudgingly. “You were right, Roman. There, I've said it. You were right. We've both got allies that we could well do without.”

“You...” Dmovski struggled for words. “I can't … I never thought I'd hear you say that, Josef. Truly. What brought about that change of heart?”

Pilsudski hesitated. In truth, he had been brought another pile of the reactionary propaganda, more reports yet of fights in the street, priests and monks preaching fire and brimstone, mobs beating party organisers or Jews – these days more likely Jews, given party organisers tended to carry revolvers. When he had called for a carriage, he had intended to confront Dmovski. He had most of all wanted someone to shout at. But his ardour had cooled on the sunlit streets. He might not be quite forty yet, but among the Army Council, that made him an elder. A wise man. If he flew off the handle like this...

“The situation has changed, Roman. A year ago, we were fighting for our lives. There was no time to think of the future and no price too high to pay for a free Poland. We have that now. There is no way the Germans will still lose the war. But you see yourself what it has brought us: The scars of war will take a generation to heal. And factions are trying to use the pain to impose their will on the country.” He swallowed. “I'll admit that the party was not innocent of that. I promoted some men because I knew they could be trusted, not because they were competent or kind. But dammit, your men left me hanging! What was I supposed to do?”

“Maybe listen? Josef, you may not want to hear it, but however loathsome these pamphlets are, there is truth there. You don't have to like it, but you could have given it some thought.” Dmovski shrugged.

“We aren't getting pack Posen or Silesia, Roman.” Pilsudski replied sharply. “I'm sick and tired of being hit over the head with that nonsense. It's not happening. And if you think your Slavic friends are going to help us gain them...”

“Josef, stop it!” Dmovski shouted. More quietly, he continued. “You know I have no truck with the Russians. Not since the greenjackets are calling the shots. It is horrible what's happened to the country.” He turned to pour himself a glass of water from the carafe by his desk, offering one to Pilsudski, who declined. “But for all that, I refuse to be the Germans' lapdog. I won't stop reminding them we are making a concession here.”

“I don't think they care, one way or the other.” Pilsudski pointed out. “Not that they need to.” The word 'lapdog' stung. “Now, can we stop insulting each other? I came to offer you my hand. We need every patriot in the new Poland. That is what I've always said – a country with a place for everyone who loves it.” He caught Dmovski's eyes and anticipated his retort. “Yes, even Jews and Socialists. Hell, even Russians, if they really want to stay. And It will need the help of everyone who loves Poland more than his faction. Do you?”

The question hung in the air for a moment. Dmovski held Pilsudski's gaze, calculating. This could not be a trap. Pilsudski had no need to entrap him. If he wanted to be rid of him, he could be with a stroke of the pen, a phone call to his creature Dzerzhinski. The offer had to be honest. And if it was, then he could not in good conscience refuse him.

“Yes.” he answered. “Yes, I am. Of course I am. What of you? Will you give up your red revolution to build a country with a future?”

Pilsudski nodded. “A free Poland.” he said. “A country that can accommodate all its people. Not some prison run for the benefit of the rich. But a free country, yes, I will.” He stuck out his hand. Dmovski took it.

“Now, the first thing I want to talk to you about is building this country. I don't know if you have heard of the Germans' proposals: They want us to set up schools. Exhibits, museums, books about Poland. There is money for that. And I would appreciate your help with it, yours and the League's.”

Dmovski sucked his teeth. “You aren't worried we'll steal your precious followers?” he said.

“Better you than the ultramontanes.” he said bluntly. “You know the party doesn't have much in the way of scholars and writers. You know that kind of people. And we need them now. We have to build Poland on more than an army organisation.” He pulled a sheet of paper from his breast pocket and unrolled it. The thin slip was filled with tightly written German in a businesslike hand. “We will need schools and universities, books and newspapers. We will need everything that makes a real nation. And for that, we will need everyone who wants to make that nation. If you can stand with me, others will.”

17 August 1907, Berlin

“This is very interesting material, Herr Hauptmann.” Hugenberg said as he thumbed through the file. “How did you come by it, if I may ask?”

Captain Walter Nicolai frowned. “You understand, Mr Hugenerg,” he pointed out, “that I am running considerable risks providing these to you at all. I would rather not discuss details. I can tell you that I am currently on duty at the general staff's war economy department. Some things – drew my attention.”

“Of course, of course.” Hugenberg soothed him. He was used to the rituals of deference soldiers expected, even if they were, in fact, selling government secrets to the press, and there was no point alienating a useful man. Nicolai was useful. If his instincts were to be trusted, Nicolai could prove very useful indeed. “I would never expect you to endanger yourself over such matters. I was merely expressing my interest. These documents are quite explosive, I must say.”

They were. By official permit, granted by no less august a person that Walther Krupp von Rathenau, a shipment of diamonds – diamonds! - was sent from Südwest to London for sale by the Mineralgesellschaft. How such a thing could be permitted in wartime was hard enough to understand. Where the stones had come from – that would need answering. A quick study of the commercial registry Nikolai had already made identified the culprit: Deutsch-Südwest Mineralgesellschaft mbH, registered in Hamburg, stated purpose being the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources in Südwest. The list of owners had several names stand out: Warburg, Ballin, Bleichröder. Well-connected names. Rodenson, whoever that was. And Jews, obviously. Which would at least answer the question why Rathenau would have given that permission, wouldn't it?

“When I first found them, I thought of drawing my superiors' attention to the matter, but I quickly learned that they had no interest in these things. I fear corruption has spread its tentacles far inside the government.” The captain scratched his moustache. “That was when I thought you would be able to help.”

“Help?” Hugenberg asked, interested. “How do you mean?”

“Draw public attention to this. Root out the criminals behind this and expose them.” Nicolai drew a deep breath. “I have little hope from our government. His Majesty is far away, and surrounded by his cabal of doctors and financiers. Rathenau rules in Berlin. Field Marshal von der Goltz has no interest in economic matters. But the German people is being defrauded here. Something must be done.”

Hugenberg nodded. “I agree, and something will be done. We will have to do some more research, look into the business of the Mineralgesellschaft, and Rathenau's overseas investments, too. It will take time. But rest assured, we will expose this crime, asnd God willing bring down the whole rotten edifice of finance Jewry with it.”

Nicolai smiled grimly. “I am glad to be able to do my part in this, Mr Hugenberg. And if you allow me to say so, I am happy that it has given me the opportunity to meet you.”

“I am flattered, Captain. Surely, a man of your rank and accomplishments must look down on a humble newspaperman like me.” He offered a cigar, then took one himself and lit both. After a few moments of contented puffing, Hugenberg spooke again. “Now, as to the matter of your remuneration...”

Nicolai raised his hand. “Please, Mr Hugenberg. I have done no more than my duty by my country. In similar circumstances, I may turn to you again. But I will not hear of money.”

The Cuban cigar almost dropped in Hugenberg's lap.

20 August 1907, South Atlantic

Cruiser Izumrud

The column of black smoke on the horizon astern had refused to budge, despite the fact that they were now running at a good speed. Captain Kolchak trained his telescope on their distant pursuer for the sixth time this hour, knowing he still could not see anything, hoping he might, trying to break the tense standoff. A few hours ago, the mystery of who was following them had resolved itself in the most infuriating manner – the bastard was sending out wireless. Between coded messages that might or might not mean anything, he had been broadcasting the same text, English and French, in the clear every hour all morning: 'This is HNLMS Noord-Brabant. We are in pursuit of Russian cruiser Izumrud. All neutral traffic stay clear!' followed by their current position and course. Kolchak had to admit that was damnably clever. The last thing he wanted was for his position to be known. Even if the Noord-Brabant now turned away and left, she would have scared away every German and Dutch prize in the vicinity, not to mention drawing the German Atlantic squadron. Hardenberg and Dessauer were out there somewhere, looking for him.

“Anything?” he shouted at Lieutenant Kotenkov. That was not entirely fair – he was a good officer and doing his best – but everybody was tense. Kotenkov looked up from the chart table.

“Something at least, Sir.” he reported. Kolchak stepped over to see what he had.

“We have a reasonably good position on Hardenberg – reported at Duala the day before yesterday, at most one day out, and probably headed south. Dessauer was reported in the Caribbean, after a stop on Curacao. She could be in our path if we keep going northerly. Gromobey is south. She asks if she is supposed to come to our assistance, but it would take two days at least.” He dotted several more pencil marks across the watery expanse of the Atlantic. “A British warship is probably loitering about here. And our colliers are south of the Bight, near the Congo mouth. It might be wise to reschedule our rendezvous.”

Kolchak smiled sourly. The Congo mouth had looked like a good choice given French authorities were always happy to look the other way if a Russian vessel needed a quiet inlet somewhere. But since they had put ashore their prisoners there, everyone was bound to be alert, and there was a lot of ship traffic. And the British – they told the Germans everything they saw, just like the French did for the Russians. He had to avoid their coasts as far as he possibly could.

“I don't think that's feasible any more, lieutenant.” he said. “The question is how to best react to the situation. The way I see it – do you agree? - we have two options. The Noord-Brabant is between us and our colliers. Going north is too dangerous, we don't know where Dessauer is. We can outrun the Dutch, but it would cost us a lot of coal. Afterwards, we would need to trust we meet nobody else before we make the Congo. So, either we run, loop south at night, and head for the colliers and Gromobey. If we're lucky, we'll lose the Noord-Brabant and pass the Englishman unrecognised. Or we turn and fight. A Holland-class ship is not too much for us to take.”

Kotenkov hesitated. “She has bigger guns than us.” he pointed out.

“We're faster.” Kolchak brushed him aside. “We can dictate the terms of the encounter. And the Germans will draw their cruisers together afterwards, for fear of losing one. It'll give us an extra advantage.”

“Very well.” the lieutenant replied. What else were you supposed to say? If his captain's luck held, they'd be victorious by the end of the day. If not – they could still get away, transfer their men and shells to Gromobey and be interned somewhere.

“Helm, ready to reverse course!” he ordered. “Engine all ahead full! Clear for action!”

HNLMS Noord-Brabant

“He's coming for us.” Ensign Helfrich reported.

“I thought he might.” Captain Beursmann said flatly. “Time to see how good our training was.”

It would be a hard day. Despite her heavy main guns, the Noord-Brabant was the slower and weaker ship. “Let's hope the torpedoes are as good as we were promised.”

Bridge of Izumrud

“Close to engage with main guns, but stay out of torpedo range!” Kolchak repeated his orders. It was becoming his mantra: Superior speed and luck. The first columns of white water the Noord-Brabant's heavy guns had raised aft had rattled everyone. Now their own response was thundering out, spirits were lifting. “All we need is one good hit. Once they're crippled, we can sail away.”

Noord-Brabant now opened up with her own 12-cm guns, shells screaming overhead and splashing into the sea well past Izumrud. Kolchak stepped up to the bridge railing and stared out over the intervening sea, focusing on the enemy ship shrouded in smoke and muzzle flashes. He felt the vibrations of the ship's engine through the soles of his feet and jerked with every recoil as though he had fired the gun with his own hands. This was life! This was what he had trained for. With a rending crash, the first enemy shell found its target, ripping apart the forward capstan housing.

“Any hits yet?” he asked testily.

“None observed, Sir.” the lookout reported.

He would have to go in closer. At this range it was mostly down to luck, but good gunnery made a difference to the odds. Gripping the rail painfully tightly, he followed their cautious, probing approach, dancing back as the enemy advanced, following as she retreated, always keeping their distance. A topmast was carried away – did you still say that on a modern ship? - with the lookout. By now, he could see hits on Noord-Brabant with his own bridge telescope, though. Smoke was pouring from the stern that did not look like it came from an engine. She had not tried to make any advance, either. A few more good shots and they had her!

Bridge of Noord-Brabant

The deck was a shambles. Men had been cut down at their guns, leaving nothing but bloody smears on the deck. The upperworks were torn, scarred and twisted. Captain Beursman himself was bleeding, tossed about like a rag doll by the blast of a particularly galling hit that had taken out one of their 12-cm guns.

“The fire is under control!” Lieutenant Nyman reported, coming up through the hatch into the darkness of the ship's armoured battlebridge. “At least while we can keep the pumps going. But it will take some time to put out.”

Beursman nodded. His head hurt, and he had trouble focusing through the tiny viewing slits. Kolchak had been in control from the very start, darting in and out of range, zig-zagging away from their main guns and goading them into pointless advances. Izumrud was still firing from all her guns, raining death all around them. Her shells had not pierced the armoured deck, though. That, at least, was true: they had protection from the worst. But then, so must the enemy. And there was no way they could close into torpedo range.

“Helm!”, Beursman ordered, his voice quavering, “Take us on a steady course to the south of Izumrud. Try to keep the ship as stable as possible. Lieutenant, I want the big guns to score. I'll give you a steady platform, even if it costs us every scrap of metal above deck, but I want a hit on her!”

Bridge of Izumrud

“We've got them!” Kolchak stood rooted to the spot, clinging to the rail of the bridge, his eyes fixed on the enemy ship. It was almost like one of those paintings of naval war they hung in galleries in Saint Petersburg, Lieutenant Kotenkov thought. The sidings of the bridge, the windows, even the deck were shattered and pockmarked with splinters, but the captain stood, impervious to fear, even while the helmsman was curt down at his post. If you could switch of the part of your brain that suggested this was crazy dangerous, it was an inspiring sight. Some of the gun crews had spontaneously cheered him.

The Dutch cruiser had stopped zig-zagging, now running on a straight course at slower speed. Smoke was still billowing from its stern. Kotenkov had been about to suggest making for the African coast – the stricken ship would never be able to follow. But Kolchak's command cut short his planning.

“One more pass, lieutenant. We'll take her down for good.”

“Sir,” Kotenkov cautioned. “she's finished. At her current speed, the Noord-Brabant has no chance of pursuing us. There is no need to endanger our ship like this.”

“Bah!” the captain shook his head as though to dislodge an annoying fly. “Lieutenant, we need to establish the price of any enemy ship tangling with us, or we'll never be rid of the pest. Set her ablaze, or put a torpedo into her! Sink Noord-Brabant, and nobody else will dare come close for months. Full speed ahead!”

Up ahead, the muzzle flashes of Noord-Brabant's main guns lit up the gathering dusk. Kotenkov pondered the idea. Perhaps the captain was right after all. Izumrud had suffered heavily in the firefight, though no shells had penetrated her main armour. She might not be able to repair herself without the services of a proper dockyard, which they would not find here. Sinking an enemy ship might be the best service she could do Gromobey, after all.

Bridge of Noord-Brabant

Captain Beursman was a wreck, as battered and bloodied as his ship. He clung to the handrail of the battlebridge, a red rivulet running from his nose, his uniform stained with blood and vomit. Ensign Helfrich was horrified at the sight. Battle had robbed the man of his dignity, made him into a pitiful figure. And yet, swaying, struggling to focus his eyes, the captain refused to be carried below.

“Izumrud is coming closer again!” the lookout reported.

The enemy closed with terrifying speed, its hull shrouded in smoke and fire. All her guns still worked. This, Helfrich though, would be the decisive blow. They could not stand another exchange of fire. He turned and stared in shock at the ragged, hoarse laugh that Captain Beursman gave.

“Yes!” he said. “Do you see, ensign? He makes a stable target now!”

Deck of Izumrud

“Torpedo wake!” The shout from the lookout perched unsteadily on the stump of the main mast roused the bridge. Gunner Ergart looked up to see his captain, gesturing, ordering, fighting the ship. A column of white water rose ahead, the heavy shell of the Noord-Brabant's main gun missing narrowly. Too narrowly for Ergart's liking. He had served in battleships and knew what a difference weight of shot could make. The torpedo passed to starboard, missing by a comfortable margin. The Dutchman was now presenting its side, having just shot off the midship torpedo tube. He could use both his big guns, which meant...

Ergart turned too late. The blast took him off his feet. A rush of flame shot from the hole in the deck where a second ago, his comrades had stood. The ship keeled over with a groan of tortured metal and shearing rivets. Dizzy, spitting blood and fragments of teeth, the gunner struggled to his feet as he felt the deck right itself and looked up to the bridge. Captain Kolchak was gone. As if on cue, Izumrud's guns fell silent. Men shouted, pointing at the empty space where their Poliyarni had stood. A lieutenant hurried by, shouting orders that Ergart could not hear. Damage control. Of course. Sailors headed aft, towards the red column of flame rising from the wound in their ship. On the bridge, Kotenkov was giving orders. Ergart could not understand, but the could feel the hull of Izumrud list as the ship turned. They were running. The gunner felt enormous relief. His battle was over.

Bridge of Noord-Brabant

Lieutenant Boost had collapsed onto the folding chair he had had the sailors bring onto the bridge. His jacket unbuttoned, tropical whites spattered with blood and smeared with soot, he looked like a casualty of war as much as the ship did. The soft Atlantic wind blew over the bridge crew, unhindered by windows, upperworks or roof. He looked up as Ensign Helfrich came up the companionway.

“News of the captain?” he asked.

“Yes, Sir. The doctors says he has a bad concussion, but the skull is undamaged. He expects a full recovery in a few days.” The young man looked around uncertainly. “Petty Officer Horsthuis reports that the fire aft is all out. Engines are ready to go to full power again. Do we pursue?”

The first officer stood, his knees feeling slightly wobbly. “Pursue what, ensign?” he asked. “Look around and tell me if you can see the Izumrud.”

Helfrich hesitated. They had lost their searchlights in the battle – not that they would have helped all that much, either. “I meant – stay on course.” he said. “We should be able to spot her in the morning.”

“I doubt it.” Boost looked to where the chart table had been, but checked himself. Most of the bridge furniture was gone, and he did not feel like a climb down to the battlebridge in order to demonstrate his orders. “The reason Kolchak attacked us rather than outrun us must be because he wanted to get where we were in his way – east. If we continue on a westerly course, we'll lose her for sure. That's why we're heading southeast. If Izumrud is still on course to her destination, that is our best chance. And if not – I don't know how badly she took the last round. They put out the fire pretty quickly once night fell, but she might not be in any state to fight.”

He gestured at the chair and made his way down to the deck. “The Russians had the bad manners to burn out my cabin.” he announced, “but I'm sure I can find somewhere to rest for a few hours. Ensign, you have the bridge. Try not to run her aground.”

Bridge of Izumrud

“Crippled?” Lieutenant Kotenkov was stunned.

“I'm afraid so, Sir.” the engineer reported. “They opened up two of our boilers with their big shell. Split them like gutting herring. The fire did a lot of damage to the engine room, too. We could only keep the aft engines running by flooding some compartments.”

The good news just kept coming! He had not expected his first command to be a bed of roses, but a leaking, crippled hulk in the middle of the South Atlantic? Fate had a nasty sense of humour sometimes. “How much power have we got left?”

“I wouldn't want to guess too high, Sir. I suppose we can run her at eight knots without things shaking themselves apart, for now. With more repairs, I'll be able to give you more. But we need to get the forward boilers back into business if we want to survive another day like this.” He hesitated. “And of course, there is the matter of coal.”

“We'll recoal once we reach the Congo!” Kotenkov said flatly. “It may take us a bit longer, but we'll make it.”

“I'm afraid it's not that easy, Sir. When we flooded the forward engine spaces, that included several bunkers. And – not all of the fuel is salvageable.”

The first officer took a deep breath. It was all he could do to keep himself from crying. “How much do we have left?”

“I don't know exactly, Sir. But it looks like we may have lost half of our stores. Under different circumstances, I'd not be worried, but we may not have time to salvage the stuff if we're still being


Kotenkov stared into the darkness. He could feel his fingernails digging into his palm. What would Kolchak do? What would the captain say to any of his decisions once he recovered? If he recovered. The doctor was still working on him. The Noord-Brabant had to still be after them, out there to the east, trying to cut off their path to the African coast. It's what he would do. There was no way the ship could survive another encounter. In the end, only the coming of darkness had saved them this time. If the Dutchmen had known how badly they had hurt them...

“All right, lieutenant.” he said, “give me what power you can when you can. Ensign Chekhov, what about the damage to the upperworks?”

The young man stepped forward. “We've lost all the boats, two anchors … one gun is out of action, probably for good, two are damaged. We'll have those back. The stacks are pretty badly mauled, but we can patch up the lower part fairly quickly. I've had the men rig a lookout for the morning. And there was a shell that hit the wardroom. I'm afraid....”


“Sir, one of the strongboxes with German codebooks was breached. I had the repair crew in there, and they picked up – stones. I ordered them to return what they had taken once I'd seen it, but I'm not sure if it was everything. And some of the contents spilled. There may be some in other parts of the ship – the deck was breached in two places.” The young man looked mortified. “I'm sorry, Sir. I didn't know. Nobody did.”

Kotenkov groaned. Diamonds circulating in the lower decks? By the morning, the entire crew would have heard the story. In the chaos of post-battle repairs, a search would be pointless. Why him!?

“It's all right, Chekhov. It wasn't your fault. Have armed guards posted outside the wardroom and the officers' cabins. And on the bridge.” He turned to the helmsman. “Course southwest by west. We're making for Recife. At least the captain can have a proper hospital there.”

21 August 1907, Lodz

“God smiles when an evil plan comes apart.” Rabbi Landauer said, steepling his fingers over the tea cup to catch the rising steam. He felt cold a lot of the time these days.

General Ferber wore a broad grin as he skimmed the telegrams from Warsaw. The new Army Council would be an interesting place. “Dmovski really killed the ultramontanes, didn't he?”

The numbers spoke for themselves. Since the conservative faction had insisted on a complex voting system based on party lists, the faces of famous people had covered the walls of army barracks and garrison towns. Ferber had heard from more than one German officer that the whole plan was crazy. You couldn't allow serving soldiers to vote! Of course, in Poland they did it the wrong way around and had only serving soldiers vote, but then, they didn't have the registers and voting lists. It was lucky they had a reasonable handle on who was a soldier and with what unit by now. And, to compound the difficulty, they had then decided that, instead of having each unit send a representative, as they had done in the rough-and-ready days of the rebellion, they would elect lists of party candidates on an individual vote basis. It was complicated, it was fiddly, and it was the kind of thing you would do if you had a minority of votes in many places. The story went that Archbishop Popiel had personally intervened to have the system instated.

And now, it had bitten his henchmen right where it hurt. The biggest share of the vote, of course, went to the Social Democratic Party of Poland. It had Pilsudski, so that made sense. The next largest share – went to the Jewish League.

“A triumph of diplomacy.” Moisei Uritski said, smiling. As it had been: If they had not been able to get the Bund on board, had allowed the feud between the religious and the Socialist wings to smoulder on, had not been able to convince Pilsudski they were no threat to the Polish project … but they had done all of that. And now, their thoroughness in registering their men, their united press, and the military successes of the past year had combined to deliver a sizeable chunk of seats on the Council. The question remained what they would do with them.

“We'll have to tread carefully.” Landauer pointed out. “There's still a lot more goyim out there than Jews. And this is not going to last beyond the next elections.”

Uritski shrugged. “That's an eternity.” He chuckled. “And the ultras can't do much about it until then.”

The conservative side had indeed lost quite spectacularly. Part of it was that they had not been able to unite under a powerful leader. Dmovski had spent much of the election in semi-retirement, only emerging to feud with the ultramontanes. Archbishop Popiel had given their party his blessing, but he could not well lend his face to their efforts. And Radziwill and Czartoryski had both opted to stay in Germany, sniping at each other. Their handful of generals had been unwilling to allow anyone to come to the fore, and anyway, nobody could rival the military star of Pilsudski and Brianski. And that was that.

“They will then.” Landauer cautioned. “Don't forget, the army is not the nation. The church has much greater hold in the villages, and we are not a third of the people. They will be back. Let us not provoke them too much.”

“Fair enough.” Uritski replied, “but I don't see how we can avoid it. For them, a Jew breathing is a provocation.”

Landauer shook his head. “I did say 'too much'. We can and will have security. Rights, Protection of the law. Pilsudski agrees with us on this. But I will not have any triumphalism. On the Council, we are Polish Jews, in that order.”

A knock on the door cut short Uritski's reply. A telegraphist entered, saluting. “Rebbe,” he announced shyly, “an invitation has come for you. General Pilsudski wishes to meet you in Warsaw.”

23 August 1907, Constantinople

The quay at Eminönü was baking in the midday sun, doing its best to validate any prejudice a Western visitor might have about lazy Orientals. Stevedores in their baggy trousers and stained shirts were lounging in the shade, picturesque and legitimately tired. In the full glare of the sun, four men stood by the gangway of a small steamship that had just finished loading.

“Dr Ordzhonikidze,” Friedrich Schrader said, tipping his hat. “I wish you good luck in your endeavour. The best wishes of the party and the Socialist International travel with you today.” The philologist mopped beads of sweat from his forehead and forced himself to smile through his visible discomfort. The younger men stood the heat much better.

“Thank you, Sir. May I say comrade?” Ordzhonikidze said, neatly sidestepping the question of their respective academic titles.

Clavus glowered at him. “In view of the company you keep, I should advise against it.” he said pointedly. “The colonel most likely takes a dim view of subversives.”

Colonel Mustafa Kemal gave a pained smile. He was here in a private capacity, his newly purchased linen suit fooling exactly nobody. “Please, Mr Clavus. I am a hospitable person and friend to all who are willing to honestly help my country. But I am not here in any military capacity, and would like you to remember this.”

The secret agent nodded with a thin smile. Balancing the sensibilities and egos of these people was a task in itself. Schrader, the public intellectual with his deep sense of pathos, needed careful encouragement and shielding. Ordzhonikidze took no encouragement whatsoever. As far as Clavus could tell, the man was a pathological liar and inveterate adventurer, as incapable of sitting still as he was of conceiving a diplomatic solution to any given problem. If he could trust his reports, his friend Dzugashvili was even worse. And Kemal, the young idealistic patriot, had to be constantly reassured that this kind of skulduggery was, in fact, the honourable thing to do. He did not mind playing at secret agents, as long as he could convince himself he was not, in fact, a bad man. “Of course, Mr Kemal.” he said. “I am most grateful for your intervention on behalf of His Majesty's government, and you have every right to expect us to respect your confidentiality.”

Colonel Mustafa Kemal nodded in quiet satisfaction. As a junior member of the new ruling clique – the patriots who had saved the state in its deepest humiliation - he was still unsure how far exactly they should go. Not everyone agreed that they should join the war against Russia. Of course the opportunity to reclaim ancient Ottoman lands in the Caucasus was attractive, but the risk was considerable. The army's moderately encouraging performance against the Italian expeditionary force did not translate readily into the same against a Russian steamroller bearing down on Erzerum, after all. But he had managed, at least, to talk them into looking the other way on German activities, even quietly support them. Come time, they might prove useful allies, even – dare one hope – faithful. Until then, the load of rifles, dynamite, printing supplies and army blankets they were sending on their way today would play havoc with the Russians in the Caucasus. Personally, he would have preferred the stuff to go to Turkmen, Kazakh, Chechen and Azeri rebels rather than the Georgians and Armenians that made up the majority of Ordzhonikidze's organisation. But these things could change, come time. Until then, you had to put up with dubious characters like this Clavus person who thought he was being clever with his false name. At least, Schrader had the spine to work under his real name. He also spoke a selection of languages that might make him a great asset in the future. As far as Kemal could tell, he had no official function in the German organisation here. Perhaps he might be interested in working with their own? He would need to talk to Talat.

24 August 1907, Recife

The Brazilian customs boat shone white on the glittering blue expanse of the sea. The city of Recife stretched along the green shoreline, its beautiful buildings clearly visible through the bridge telescope already. Pleasure boats were heading out from port to see the strange visitor that had come to their port. Lieutenant Kotenkov looked up at the flag, lazily flapping in the breeze from the stump of the mast the battle had left them with. Once again, obsessively, he leafed through the log and reports he had been given: coal for another day's steaming. Four boilers out of commission. 30 severely injured men in need of a shore hospital to survive. The captain in a drugged haze, feverish, the chief engineer dead, the ship's doctor running low on supplies and sleep.

What would the captain have done? Would Kolchak approve when he heard of his choice?

He shook his head, defeated. “Ensign Chekhov.” he ordered: “Prepare to put her into port. Signal the customs boat we require a pilot and wish to discuss the internment of our vessel and crew under neutral auspices until the hostilities end.”

Izumrud turned in a long, leisurely arc, black smoke roiling across her deck from the stumps of her funnels. The Brazilian launch danced across the waves to meet her. For the men aboard, the war was over. Kotenkov watched sailors staring and pointing along the rails. They seemed engrossed, relieved - happy.

25 August 1907, Dresden

Germans in the East


Among the German populations in Eastern Europe, the Eastern Jews are the most numerous as well as the oldest. Unlike the Wolgadeutsche or Siebenbürgener, their presence goes back to a tragic act of expulsion. As a result, they are comparable in both their religiosity and their strong attachment to archaic custom and language more to the Hutterer or Pennsylvania Deutsche in America than to the other German peoples of Eastern Europe. The expulsion of many valuable Germans of the Mosaic faith through many centuries is one of the great tragedies of medieval intolerance.

Though the Eastern Jew appears more alien to our eyes than the Baltic or Volga German, his racial stock is likely preserved in a purer state and his attachment to the fatherland more secure. As victims of persecution over many generations, they have little love for their neighbours and look to the German Empire as its liberator. The strength of his German roots is demonstrated amply by the fact that in spite of centuries of poverty and oppression, the Eastern Jew proudly retains his archaic dialect of German, refusing to assimilate into the Slavic surroundings. The powers that ruled over his people proved unable to destroy this fierce attachment over many years, and when we meet him today, we stand face to face with our own history.


The Yiddish dialect still betrays its origins in the Western parts of the Empire, and the Eastern Jews equally retains many of the qualities of its people. Quick-witted and deep-thinking, good at business and appreciative of the fine things in life, they are renowned for their high level of education, their commercial acumen, cultural achievements and linguistic skill. Many centuries under the heel of foreign lords have dampened the martial spirit of the German race, but have never succeeded in snuffing it out. He does not share the love of war and brawl that characterises the finer warrior strains of north and east Germany. Slow to anger and prone to laughter, the Eastern Jew is not easily roused, but once provoked, will defend himself and his people with a grim and solemn determination that strikes terror into any enemy's heart.


The Yiddish dialect is customarily written in Hebrew characters, which makes it illegible to most Germans, but it is easily intelligible when spoken. Eastern Jews themselves equally easily understand German, and many of them are capable of reading and even writing it readily. This makes them extremely useful as interpreters, guides, and for transmitting technical instruction to locals. Their business sense and far-reaching family ties also render them useful in supplying armies and supporting the administration of conquered territory. It is the responsibility of the German soldier to welcome them as members, though distant, of the great German family and respect their customs and religion.

The Eastern Jew lives in tightly-knit communities organised around a prayer house or Shul. They are headed by their rabbi, who is traditionally the religious leader, teacher, and civil judge among them. Learned in Hebrew and Mosaic law, these men must be treated with respect at all times and should be considered the equivalent of civic officials. The East Jewish family is always headed by a patriarch under whose tutelage all women, younger men and servants live in a shared household. As is their custom, women are not encouraged to speak with strangers and often keep to the house. This must be respected. Soldiers should not enter an Eastern Jew's house uninvited or speak to womenfolk or children without having first asked the permission of their male guardian. Equal respect is due their religious customs, quaint though they may seem to us.


The Eastern Jew is a friend of the German Empire and must be treated as such.

(from: Völker Osteuropas: Eine völker- und rassenkundliche Handreichung für den deutschen Soldaten, Dresden 1907)

25 August 1907, Upper Yenisei south of Krasnoyarsk

“I take it back, Ondrei.” Private Vaclav Ripka grumbled. “It's a good thing we're here. Else, how would we have this wonderful feast to share and these glorious garments!” He tugged at the sleeve of his heavy woollen greatcoat where the seam had given for the third and probably final time.

“Oh, shut up.” Corporal Ondrei Vocasek said. “If you want to rot in a POW camp, feel free. At least we're fighting for our country.” Listlessly stirring the bowl of thin kasha that constituted dinner today, he turned to stay out of the window along the length of the river dotted with barges.

“Oh yes, how could I forget.” Ripka did not intend to let go today. “The glorious realm of Transbaikalia! It fills me with patriotic pride to think of it.” He picked up his rifle and gave a mocking salute. You had to be careful with the Nagants the Russians had given them. Touch one carelessly, and you'd get splinters.

Vocasek grunted an obscene reply. He was not going to admit it out loud, but Vaclav was right. The Russians had screwed them. Back in the prison camp, it had sounded tempting: freedom, service with the Russian army to liberate the Czech people from Austrian oppression, food, pay, and the chance to carry a rifle again. Only, they weren't going to liberate Prague anytime soon. Guarding supply lines to what was grandly termed the 'Chinese front' was as far as the Czar was going to trust his Slavic brothers, it seemed.

“At least we're eating. And if you don't like it, you can run away again.” he conceded after a lengthy pause.

“Run? No, thanks.” Ripka shuddered. “In case you've forgotten: Your genius idea to volunteer means we're no longer POWs now, we're soldiers. That means if I run, I'm a deserter. You know what the Russkis do to deserters?”

The corporal grimaced, trying to dislodge a piece of bran from between his teeth. “Can't be worse than what the Chinese'll do to you if you make it to them.”

“I dunno.” Ripka was positively shining with optimism today. “I heard some bright spark decided that hanging wasn't a properly Slavic punishment. He wants to bring back impaling instead. How'd you like that?”

“Oh, shut up. They wouldn't dare do that. The Germans'd hang the lot of them after the war.” He picked up his canteen to get the aftertaste out of his mouth. It was probably just that the cooks burned the kasha again today. “Maybe to their own guys, but not to us.”

A deep sigh met this announcement. “Ondrei, you idiot: We are their guys now. They can do anything they want with us. The only thing we'll get if we go back home is a firing squad.” He paused, scratching his chin. “All right, maybe a cigarette. If we're lucky.”

The corporal didn't answer. He went back to staring out of the window of his guardpost, idly counting the barges making their way upriver. They were loaded with troops and supplies, though nobody was allowed to know where exactly they were headed. Rumour had it Duke Mikhail would come to command them and march on Peking. What he knew for certain was that precious few of the troops headed that way were Russians. He'd picked up enough of the language to recognise it, and when he drew stevedore duty at the pier, he had the chance to talk to them. He'd met the odd Russian to be sure, as well as Czechs, Slovaks and Ruthenians, Serbs and Croats. But more and more of them were complete strangers, dark-skinned, slant-eyed or thickly bearded, speaking alien languages and often wearing strange costumes. He turned back to Ripka to change the topic, but the private had his nose in a book again. He envied him the ability to drift out of his reality like this.
26 August 1907, Kiel

The turrets of old Beowulf and Heimdall looked enormous from the outside, but they were quite cramped once you stepped into the interior. Fritz Bauer pulled in his head as he walked through the cavernous darkness. He had banged his head too often not to take that precaution.

“How are the drills going, Lieutenant?” he asked.

Leutnant Liebherr gave a crooked smile. “Fair enough, I suppose.” he said. “It's difficult to maintain that level of caution over a longer period of time. Most practice runs had something go wrong.”

Bauer frowned. If their plan to deliver gas through saturation shelling were to work, the last thing they needed was the stuff escaping in the confines of a battleship. He could almost see the horror unfolding before his eyes.

“Well, I suppose we have something to help.” he said. “Krupp works has sent up a set of shells filled with ethyl bromacetate. You can use them in a practice shooting. The men will notice if the gas escapes.”

The lieutenant nodded, going through the numbers in his head. They would be able to do at least one more practice run. The men had been briefed about the use of gas shells, though they had not yet handled real ones. An opportunity to not start out with the poisonous stuff would be welcome. “Will it cause damage?” he asked.

Bauer bit his lip. “It's not totally harmless. If some idiot manages to break a shell inside a turret, someone could go temporarily blind. But generally, it won't do more than make people cough and cry.”

“That's all right then.” Liebherr said. Sailors learned a lot of things the hard way. There was no reason this should be the exception. “As long as we don't get them exposed to your S 1410.”

Bauer shuddered. “No, you really don't want to do that.” Liebherr had read the briefing papers, of course, but he had no real conception of the stuff. Almost nobody had. If you hadn't seen what Stoff 1410 did to people, it was hard to imagine. He felt sorry for the Russians.

27 August 1907, Moscow

The terrible blow of the sword came as a shock even if you knew to expect it. Czar Ivan Grozniy, having deplored the weakness of his only son in moving words and tearfully invoked his duty, never allowed the audience a moment to shift away from the maudlin piety of the moment: Swivelling from the hip, the jewelled sabre flashing in a wide arc under that artful stage lighting, he cut down the callow youth where he stood, hands still raised in silent appeal to his father's mercy. The orchestral score rose to a thundering crescendo of kettle drum and brass. A collective gasp rose from the cavernous stalls of the Bolshoi theatre. Rimsky-Korsakov had outdone himself. Too many critics had dismissed his style as sickly sweet, too suited to peacetime and the pleasurable life of the old world, effete, intellectual, romantic. His 'Bells of Novgorod' had brilliantly refuted these accusations. Here was an artist for the new times, a man who understood both the depth of feeling, the brotherly love and motherly kindness that had held together Old Russia, and the stern resolve and unrelenting devotion to duty that defended it. Or so the Grazhdanin's editorial had claimed. Grand Prince Sergey found it uninspiring. Of course, not many things inspired him these days, at least not long enough to take his mind of the unrelenting pain and humiliation of his crippled state.

Next to him, sunk into the plush seating of the private box they had come to share, Prince Sviatopolk-Mirski set down his glasses. He had accosted the grand prince in the foyer and, after a brief exchange of pleasantries, had extended the invitation to share his seats. Sergey did not believe in coincidences. He had accepted, happy to largely ignore the history that unfolded on stage in favour of a frank exchange on more recent events. Sviatopolk-Mirski had concerns to share.

“As I was saying,” he continued after the interruption, “I am not sure what concerns me more; the fact that the foreign ministry was never consulted about the plan or the expectation that it should succeed.”

“You do not think it will?” Sergey asked, carefully. He had had his own doubts, but he wanted to hear what the former foreign minister thought.

Sviatopolk-Mirski was visibly uncomfortable. “Strictly between us,” he reiterated for what must have been the twentieth time this evening, “I do not think there is a chance. We' have to accept that the British government will be willing to stab its ally in the back for short-term gain. That much is certainly reasonable to suppose. But we would also need to accept they can do this with no regard fore public opinion.” He paused, studying the handsome, unmoving face of his interlocutor. Sergey merely nodded. “England is not like Russia. The government depends on its parliamentary majority, and the voters would not accept it.”

“Would not?” Sergey blinked. “The public has a short memory, surely. Easy gains to assuage them....”

Sviatopolk-Mirski shook his head. “I regret to say that public opinion is quite decided. The English love their boy Kaiser and his heroic uncle. Ingenohl is the toast of London. And Russia, I am sorry to say, holds a reputation much akin to that of Turkey during the Bulgarian Atrocities. They will not countenance betraying their hero for what must, after all, look like paltry gains compared to their great empire.”

The grand prince sighed. Public opinion, press, propaganda... it was all so infuriating. He remembered the Bulgarian stories, and privately, he felt disgusted by the whole episode. Russia needed no pretext to take what was rightfully her sphere of interest. But when you were dealing with the Western powers, you had to take such things into account.

“And the French?” he asked. Personally, he had not shared the confidence with which Sukhomlinov assumed that Paris could be shifted.

“Perhaps.” The prince dabbed a few beads of perspiration from his forehead. “Perhaps. In this case, I fear the reverse. Public opinion would certainly support war against Germany. But the government, I think, is averse.”

“It has been suggested that Clemenceau may be - coerced.”

“I am sorry, Your Highness, but to my mind that is the greatest foolishness of the whole.” Sviatopolk-Mirsky looked out toward the stage again, where a chorus of heroic opritchniki bore away the dead body of a foolish prince. “An offer of gain, a suggestion of historic victory might do well with this man. He has an inflated opinion of himself, and badly wants a legacy. Taking on the Pope may not be enough for him. But to think of blackmailing him? I dread the prospect.”

Sergey nodded gravely. Of course, everybody in the Kremlin agreed that the scheme Dubrovin had hatched was a masterstroke of diplomacy. Any less than that risked the displeasure of the Czar. But to hear an experienced politician dismiss it out of hand still came as a shock. He wanted to say something, but found himself at a loss for words. The curtain came down on the final scene of the second act.

“Your Highness, may I suggest some champagne?”! Sviatopolk-Mirski said without taking his gaze away from the orchestra. “The theatre offers excellent vintages, served at the seats. Well-chilled.”

28 August 1907, SMS Hardenberg southwest of Port Banana

Captain Haun stared angrily at the black smudge retreating on the distant horizon. The Russians were running! Of course it was to be expected,. He would not go so far as to say it was what he would have done, but it was what he would have ordered in their strategic situation. And yet, it rankled. Doubly so because, all told, they were not, properly speaking, running from him. When the lookout had spotted Gromobey in the early light of the morning, the cruisers had run on converging courses, both readying for battle. It was only after the distant smoke to the west had been identified as the approaching Noord-Brabant that the captain of the enemy ship had thought better of his endeavour and turned south, running at full speed. Since neither opponent had her speed, that put paid to the 'Battle of the Congo' he had already entered into the scrapbook.

“Wonder where she's off to.” he said sourly, walking over to the chart table. All over the ship, sailors were crowding rails and portholes, staring at the receding smoke in the blue immensity of the ocean. Technically still at general quarters, their tense anticipation had given way to an atmosphere of jubilant relief as they watched the enemy disappear. Even his officers, Haun found, affected an unearned air of victory.

“Due south is nothing much.” Lieutenant Schultess pointed out unhelpfully. “She can't have much coal left.”

By all accounts, Izumrud had made Recife with little more than a day's usable fuel in her bunkers. The run she had made would have exhausted Gromobey's supply a lot faster than leisurely steaming. And there were no coaling opportunities to the south – at least, none that Haun was aware of. He looked over the chart of Africa.

“I don't think she's got enough left to give us the run-around. Southbound, there's probably enough to get to the Cape, no more.” He pondered the prospect for a moment. “Internment in Loanda is bound to be more comfortable than with the English.” he said. “But if he's got any of Kolchak's fire in him, he won't pass up the opportunity to shell Swakopmund and Lüderitz one more time.”

He gestured to Schultess, noting that the lieutenant's collar was loose. “Lieutenant, two wireless signals in code: To Naval Station Südwest, expect Gromobey to pass on southerly course. Probable shelling or raiding. And to Noord-Brabant: The fame of the Dutch navy precedes Kolchak's conqueror. Gromobey has fled. Suggest proceed to Luanda for repairs and revictualling.”

“Yes, Sir. Anything else?”

“Stand down, secure guns. And straighten your tie, lieutenant. That is all.”

29 August 1907, Berlin

The crash of a door suddenly flung open, sheets of paper fluttering through the office and a barely suppressed profanity as scalding coffee splashed over the front of an immaculate blue staff uniform tunic – Colonel Seeckt jumped from his seat, confronting the audacious intruder, and found himself face to face with General von Falkenhayn.

“I figured you'd still be here.” the general said as though that served for an explanation.

“Erich, what on earth...” Seeckt took a second to process the event. Then, he saluted. Falkenhayn grabbed him by the arm.

“Hans, how much do you want out of here?”

Seeckt's face registered incomprehension. Damned, but it was late. Outside the windows, streetlights shone, which meant it was at least – what, ten? “What do you mean?” he asked.

“Out! Field command! Get away from our desks and see some real fighting. Are you game?” The general seemed almost boyish in his enthusiasm.

“Field what? Erich .. I mean, Sir....”

“Erich is fine, Hans. This is a personal question for you. So, yes or no?”

Seeckt tore his sleeve from Falkenhayn's grasp. “Yes or no to what?” he asked exasperated.

The general shook his head as though to clear his thoughts. “Eichhorn is out of command. Something with the stomach or – I don't know. Von der Goltz has appointed me to take over the East Prussian front. I'll need a chief of staff, so he said I can pick one.”

Thunderstruck, Colonel Seeckt held on to the edge of his desk. “Really?”

“Really.” Falkenhayn nodded firmly. “But we have to hurry. The field marshal is apt to change his mind when he hears I want you. And we have to be in Königsberg tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow?” Logistics mattered. Seeckt considered briefly: He could telephone his housekeeper to put together a suitcase with uniforms and underwear. His adjutant would come anyway, so he could bring his library and office equipment. The horse would have to stay in Berlin, but the army could certainly provide in that field.

“The night train is at half past ten.” Falkenhayn insisted. “They'll wait for us, but we have to hurry!”

As Seeckt rushed out of the office, he began scribbling a quick note to his second-in-command – his likely successor now, he figured. Shrugging into his coat on the steps of the Wilhelmstraße staff building, he finally collected his thoughts enough to ask: “If we have to be there tomorrow, something big is happening. Isn't it?”

“You bet!” Falkenhayn said. “A weekend to remember, Hans. God willing, the Russians will remember it for a long time.”

31 August 1907, Bay of Riga

SMS Mecklenburg, off Ösel

Dew collected on the railings and turrets, dripping down from masts and rigging. In the pre-dawn haze, the bulk of the great battleship seemed to float on a pool of grey mist. Steam cutters peeled off from the fleet, heading inshore to deploy their minesweeping gear.

“Godspeed.” Captain Spee whispered. They were the last thing that could go wrong. If they missed too many newly laid mines, especially those the scout boats had failed to spot... He looked back over his shoulder towards the armada stretching back into the night. Hundreds of ships – battleships and cruisers, coast defense vessels, torpedo boats, freighters, barges and tugs. The might of the German navy was waiting to fall on Ösel and Dagö today. If everything went according to plan, Riga would soon be theirs, and then the entire Baltic coast. If not – each ship carried hundreds of men,. Packed into most of them like so many sardines into a tin. The thought of an explosion between those decks did not bear thinking about.

Hapsal, Gulf of Riga

The sound of shelling had drifted across the sea from the islands since the early morning. Doctor Soltikov knew that it was just a matter of time until the German fleet got around to dealing with his corner of the battlefield. Soldiers were moving into Hapsal along the railway, reinforcements from the outlying guardposts to be ferried across to Woerms and Dagö, where the enemy had landed. A telegram from Baltischport indicated the trickle would soon be a flood as more men entrained. To the west, smoke and flashes indicated the position of the German battlefleet. The bulk of Dagö shielded the silhouettes from view, but the hospital staff felt certain enough they were not missing anything much. A smaller detachment had come around – where were the ships out of Baltischport and Riga that were supposed to stop that kind of thing? - and started shelling the piers. Lieutenant Shirmakher, precariously balanced on his crutches, had identified them as Siegfried-class coastal defense ships. Soltikov supposed a navy man had to care about such details. The poor kid was in tears at the thought of missing the battle, having managed to mash his foot when a sailor dropped a crate of tinned meat on it. He didn't even have a particularly good view of it. The doctor's pity was fairly limited. He'd walk again, and likely go home, which was more than could be said for a lot of people out there.

An ambulance came up the road, followed by a gaggle of stretcher-bearers. You just couldn't get them to understand that there was no need to accompany the wounded. They were better off rescuing more. But so far the shelling seemed to have done limited damage. The first casualties he left for the orderlies to deal with, sewing up lacerations and bandaging cuts from flying splinters. A fracture took a little more work and would see its lucky recipient going to the hospital in Riga. Then, Sergeant Gitis called out to him. “We've got a burn case, Sir!”

He hurried over. The soldier lay silently, struggling to breathe. He was unconscious, or so doped up as to make no difference, which was a mercy. His neck and torso was covered in any yellow blisters. “Steam flash?” Gitis asked.

Doctor Soltikov shrugged. “Perhaps. Who was the idiot that dressed him in that jacket!?” He pulled a scalpel from his pocket and cut away the uniform blouse, exposing more red, weeping skin. “Water over here!” he shouted. “Gauze and disinfectant!” Silently, doggedly he struggled to wash out the terrible wounds, knowing that it was most likely in vain. The poor kid had to be inordinately lucky to survive this. He'd contract some infection on the way to the main hospital, even if the shock did not kill him after all. He could already hear the breath rasping and growing shallower. Smoke inhalation, of course.

“Doctor Soltikov!” That was Sverdlov, bloody useless drunk most of the time. Why else would a kid from a good family choose to be an army doctor?


“More burns, Sir!” he said, running up to his commanding officer. “And … there's something funny about them, Sir.”

“Funny?” Soltikov was in no mood to banter. “What the hell do you mean?”

He stared in horror at a row of stretchers and men dumped in the dirt, their faces swollen and blistered, coughing, gasping for air, skin covered in angry blisters. Sverdlov was right. There was no sign of fire. No charred clothes, no blackened flesh or singed hair.

“Merciful heavens!” Doctor Soltikov crossed himself. His mind raced. “It has got to be some kind of – acid burn.” he guessed. Could that be true? Had the Germans invented a way of spraying acid mist at them? Shirmakher had said the shell impacts sounded wrong. Something like that had to be the explanation. That, or they had invented a cold fire that consumed its victims alive. Either way, they could fight it.,

“Sergeant Gitis!” he shouted. “Rig a hose! We need plenty of water to cool and clean out the wounds. Cut off the clothes, and wash out every injury thoroughly! Doctor Sverdlov, we have to disinfect the casualties. Organise the stretcher bearers and tell them to sluice everybody coming in with these burns with plenty of cold water. See they aren't afraid to use a lot. And give them morphine, for God's sake!” He squeezed his hand hard enough to hurt to stop it from shaking. What kind of horror was this?

An orderly stood up from a patient, walking over to him as though in as daze. Soltikov swallowed. The man wordlessly held up his hand, tears streaming down his face, terror in his eyes. A row of red, weeping blisters had risen along his palm.

Bridge of SMS Beowulf

Steaming south into the widening expanse of the Gulf of Riga, the ageing vessel struggled against wind and current. A sinking sun in the west cast long shadows, the low light scattered and attenuated by the clouds of dust and smoke that marked the passing of the great flotilla and the battle still raging on Dagö and Ösel. Doctor Hofmann looked in fascination as flashes of light announced another salve, the howl and crash of the enormous shells clearly audible at their position. He felt awed.

“Objectives achieved.” Captain Maass remarked. “So far, it was remarkably easy. Doctor, that weapon of yours seems to have worked.”

Hofmann smiled, daydreaming of honours and rank. They had to give him something for this. “What do we do now, captain?” he finally asked.

“Our orders are to pass Sworbe peninsula and use our remaining shells on the battery there.” he answered. “After that, we will head into Tagga Bay and await orders.” Raising his binoculars, he swept the surface of the water for the dreaded wake of a periscope. Fear of the Holland boats had become second nature to German sailors in the Baltic. “But I don't expect we'll be doing much more today. It's no more than three hours of sunlight left.”

Doctor Hofmann looked over to Sworbe peninsula. The Russian guns were still firing intermittently, despite the pounding the fleet was giving them. He wondered if it was wise to go close after all. S 1410 was not an offensive weapon. It dispersed slowly and could needed minutes, sometimes hours to take full effect. If the Russian gunners had enough time to aim at them...

The blow took him off his feet. Tumbling into the signaller and helmsman, he collapsed into a confused heap of struggling limbs against the starboard rail as the ship was bodily lifted out of the water, then crashed back down, the metal groaning as if in pain. Blinking, with ringing ears and a dull ache in his left shoulder, Hofmann rose to his feet. He clung to the rail as the ship righted itself and stared uncomprehendingly at the jagged fragments of steel and wood that protruded from the deck forward of the bridge. Smoke was pouring from a hole in the side of the ship,. A cacophony of sirens, shouts and bells accompanied the men rushing to staunch the flames.

“What was that?” he asked helplessly, grasping Captain Maass by the shoulder. Around him,, officers were glued to speaking tubes, shouting orders and relaying reports. Maass brushed him away.

“A Russian mine!” he finally said. “Looks like our scouts missed that one.”

The doctor shuddered. “How bad is it?”

Captain Maass ignored him for the time being. “Ready the motor launches to look for mines!” he ordered. “Give us one-quarter speed at my order.”

Doctor Hofmann spoke again. “Captain, please! I need to know what damage the ship has taken.”

“Doctor, can't you see I am trying to do my job here?! Later!”

“No, captain.” Hofmann insisted. “Later may well be too late for all of us.” He felt a fierce, constricting pain in his legs where the newly grown skin still was tender, tight and raw. “When I nearly lost my legs, I was working with a hundred millilitres of S 1410. You have almost two tonnes still in your forward magazines! I need to know!”

Captain Maass stared at him, terrible recognition dawning. “The forward cartridge magazine was flooded. We're taking water, and several bulkheads are ruptured. There's fire in the crew quarters, but we'll have it under control soon. The ship has power. But if you say... the shells were damaged?”

“They must have been.” Hofmann conceded. “We have to evacuate.”

The captain looked at the firehoses now snaking their way past the forward turret. His ship was still afloat! Still fighting! Engines running, hull intact, he was driven off by an unseen enemy... But there was no arguing with expertise. Just as he would expect Dr Hofmann to defer to him in matters of seamanship, he knew to listen to the man's input when it came to his gas weapon.

“Lieutenant!” he ordered. “Signal our escorts to pick up the crew. All hands to lifeboats!” The Gulf of Riga was shallow. Opening the seacocks would be almost a pointless gesture. Still, what honour required would be done. Beowulf would not be towed into an enemy harbour. “Have the engine crew prepare to scuttle the ship.”

Hofmann interrupted: “There'll be no need. Any Russian sailors trying to recover her will be in for a nasty surprise.”

“Will they? I don't propose to lure them into a death trap, doctor,. No more than my own men. Now, once we've gotten the last out of the forward quarters...”

“You can't go there!” Doctor Hofmann blanched at the thought.


“Sir, everybody in that part is dying or already dead. If they were killed in the explosion, it was a mercy. You can't do anything for them.” He stared imploringly at the captain. “You must get off the ship while there is still time!”

Maass nodded curtly. “I see.” He gestured to a sailor manning the helm. “Petty Officer Nydahl!”

The man saluted smartly.

“Escort Doctor Hofmann to the lifeboats and see him safely off the ship. You may accompany him until you are picked up by another vessel. I will see to recovering the wounded.”

“You can't” Hofmann was almost frantic now. “You can't order men into that!”

The captain shrugged into his watchcoat. “I am not, doctor.” he said coldly. “I am leading them into that – whatever 'that' is.” Turning on his heel, he shouted for an orderly “Burmester! I want a call for volunteers to recover wounded! We may not come back.”

01 September 1907, Army of the Niemen Headquarters, Dvinsk

“Surrendered?” General Yanushkevich blanched. “Riga?”

“Yes, Sir.” The telegraphist looked ready to melt into the crevices between the floorboards with terror. “The garrison commander writes he chose to prevent unnecessary bloodshed and civilian casualties. The Germans deployed some kind of – miracle weapon.”

“Miracle weapon?” The general snorted derisively. “Scared of a shelling, more like! Port Arthur stood it for weeks! I'll have that bastard's head!”

He picked up the telegrams and scanned them again. Cold, liquid fire that melted the skin off people's bodies … what nonsense! And they had sent trainloads of wounded from Moon and Worms Island to Riga where their arrival had hurt morale – of course. Damned garrison troops! When German battleships had cruised into the Gulf the next day, the surrender had been all but inevitable. Yanushkevich groaned at the thought. He had been half prepared to concede the city after he heard of the landings, but he had been planning to sell it more dearly than this. And now his commanders were jumping at shadows and surrendering to smoke and mirrors.

“Get Colonel Lukomsky!” he shouted.

His chief of staff entered the room almost immediately. He must have heard things through the headquarters grapevine – or the thin partition wall, maybe. “Sir?”

“You're and engineer, colonel.” the general said. “What do you make of this cock-and-bull story from Riga?”

Lukomsky bit his lower lip. “It could be true, Sir. Everybody's been talking about gas weapons lately. Nobody's been able to get them to work yet, but it's not technically impossible.” He paused. “In this case, I think the blow to morale was far greater than the actual damage.”

“You can say that again.” Yanushkevich grunted. “Well, now that the horse has bolted, what do we do? There's no way the Germans can hold Riga, is there?”

“Not unless their acid gas is more powerful than it seems, no. A force supplied over sea is always inferior to one supplied over land. They must know this.” The colonel started absently toying with his collar button. “Do you suppose they ever planned to take the city?”

“No.” the general replied. “I think they wanted to take the islands, close the Gulf, and prepare the ground for a land assault. And I'm going to take it away from them again.” He rose from his desk and shoved a pile of papers off the theatre situation map. “Now that we know what they want, we can deny it. Rearward area troops in the Kovno-Vilna area are hours away from the main trunk railway.” He drew an expansive arc northwestward. “Together with our headquarters cavalry reserve, they'll be able to eject the enemy from Riga easily and build up the defenses in Lithuania.”

Both men knew that a large-scale breakthrough into Courland would not be realistically stoppable. But the depth of territory worked in their favour. There would be many opportunities to stop the Germans between the current frontline and the Gulf of Riga. And once winter came, those garrisons on the islands would be isolated and vulnerable.

“Two divisions should be available immediately.” Lukomsky said. “Plus the headquarters cavalry reserve. We've ensured first-class remounts, so they won't need to tie up railway capacity. We can entrain their guns before the troops from Kovno ship through... a week, maybe.” He nodded. “And then we'll funnel additional forces into the defensive works.”
03 September 1907, Manhattan

Vasili Ivankov was a hero. He had always known this much about himself. Courage, aggression and prowess put him ahead of other men his age, and his willpower and intuitive understanding of reality gave him an edge even over those with more education. Not that he lacked in that department; as a commercial clerk, he was not just literate and numerate, but positively enjoyed reading. But for all the satisfaction his professional life gave him, his true calling was the patriotic service to his country. Not in uniform, of course. His talents lay in a different direction. He had been recruited personally by the Okhrana chief for the United States and spent many months putting together reports on the subversion and conspiracies that American Germans and Jews so delighted in. At the same time, he had increasingly immersed himself in the darker side of the city, organising theft, arson and sabotage against German war supplies and occasionally going toe-to-toe with their catspaws in dark alleys. It was an exhilarating, manly existence. Yet nothing had compared to the glorious moment when he had learned of plans to target more senior German agents and officials.

And then, there had been waiting. The humdrum work in his office and the pinprick efforts in the dark had seemed all the more unsatisfying. Finally, after he had read the terrifying accounts of the German gas weapons used at Riga, he had found himself overwhelmed by indignation. After all, the murderer of these innocents, the arch-poisoner or Europe, would be embarking in New York, and an accurate hunting rifle was easy enough to come by. Ivankov had savings. He decided to avenge the death and disfigurement suffered by the victims of German poison. And thus, he had come to the East Side to find himself a firing position. And now he was – where?

It was dark, stuffy, and smelly. Dank. And his hands were tied. He did not feel as scared as he thought he should, Ivankov realised groggily. What had happened? Slowly, he prised apart his sticky, heavy eyelids and began to look around. There wasn't much to see: a table, shelves along a wall, crates of fruit, hurdles of root vegetables. An electric bulb dangled from a hook in the ceiling. Someone was moving in front of the plank door.

“Tate, de Russ is avake!” he heard.

Heavy steps on a creaky stair announced the arrival of his captors. Two bearded men entered the cellar, looked him over, and nodded. One sat down heavily at the table. The other took up position by the door.

“Good morning, Mr Ivankov.” the seated man said in heavily accented Russian. “I am glad we were able to intercept you.”

The Russian grunted. “Intercept what? You're a zhyd, aren't you? Bought by the Germans?”

The man by the door started towards Ivankov, but a gesture by his seated companion halted him in his tracks. “Later.” he said imperiously. “Now, Mr Ivankov, you do me an injustice. I am in business entirely for myself. But I have loyalties. My associate here, Mr Toblinsky, for example, has a nephew in Gryszpan's regiment for whose safe return he is very anxious.”

He cleared his throat. “Needless to say we take an unkind view of your activities. Very unkind.”

“Fuck you, zhyd.” Ivankov mumbled.

“I think I will pass, Mr Ivankov. But you will tell us about your associates, and who came up with this cockamamie idea of yours. We are most anxious to learn who has been causing us such trouble.” He rose and turned leave.

“You're not getting anything from me!” It was a poor retort, Ivankov knew. His captor shook his head and sighed.

“We will. Soon enough, too. You know how often the police comes to the Lower East Side, Mr Ivankov. You know how soundproof the cellars are. We will.” He turned to face his prisoner again. “If you are cooperative, I might even be willing to see you off with a one-way ticket to – shall we say, St Louis? Otherwise – what's another goy pulled from the East River, eh?”

He left, closing the door behind him. Toblinsky stepped forward, smiling. Ivankov felt wet warmth spreading over the front of his trousers.

04 September 1907, Thorn

Beer was a soldier's friend. Sergeant Rochow set down his heavy stoneware jug and leaned against the rough panelling of the mess hall's wall. Along the rows of tables, pressed close to each other, sat his boys. His men, they were now. After going through the last six months with them, he could not help feel attached. Every last one of them had volunteered, straight out of school or university, or from a protected civilian position. And in the face of their instructors, they had persevered to the end, getting their uniform and badges as full soldiers of His Majesty the King of Prussia. Tomorrow, the trains would take them out,. You could not begrudge them an evening's celebration, even one where the strictures of the service were – traditionally – loosened.

“To the sergeant!” one of them toasted. A chorus of boos and catcalls rose. Rochow nodded and raised his mug again. That was Krampe, the handsome boy from Stettin. Everybody liked him. The sergeant had beaten his face bloody in the field because he'd just refused to keep his damned head down! A natural leader, otherwise. He was conducting a rousing sing-along now:

Wohlauf, Kameraden, aufs Pferd, aufs Pferd,

In das Feld, in die Freiheit gezogen!

Im Felde, da ist der Mann noch was wert,

Da wird das Herz noch gewogen!

Sergeant Rochow felt his throat constrict. Damn, how dare they! He had seen what they were heading for. He remembered the taste of muddy, rotting water and the sweet stench of death that rose from shell-churned soil. He knew what a shrapnel splinter would do to a man's face. Half a year in the advance through East Prussia, half a year of doing his duty by his comrades, until they were all gone. Had he ever been this stupid? He could not remember. But he had done everything to beat his lessons into their heads: to keep their heads down. Never to underestimate their enemy. To keep silent. To fight dirty. He'd broken teeth and fingers and reduced them to tears and helpless rage. He'd done everything short of killing them to prepare them. And now they were singing.

Des Lebens Ängste, er wirft sie weg,
hat nicht mehr zu fürchten, zu sorgen,
er reitet dem Schicksal entgegen keck,
trifft's heut nicht, trifft es doch morgen.
Und trifft es morgen, so laßt uns heut'
noch schlürfen die Neige der köstlichen Zeit !

Stumbling, Sergeant Rochow rose to his feet. The beer must have gotten to him faster than he thought. They weren't allowed any in barracks, normally. Perhaps he'd lost the habit. Fumbling the door handle, he made his way to his office in undignified hast, dabbing at his eyes. How could they be so stupid? Reinfeldt was singing, dumb little Reinfeldt who thought shooting at targets made you a fighting man. Red-faced little Güldenstern, drunk after a half litre of beer, who had run away when he'd come at him with a spade. Mackowiack, too, who always said he only cared about drinking and girls. Rochow sat down heavily and unlocked the bottom drawer of his desk. The bottle was still there. Nobody would dare take it. Of course it was some nasty potato rotgut, but today, he'd need it. He decided to sleep on the cot in his office. There was no point doing anything else, and they wouldn't get a new intake for a week or two. With quivering hands, he pulled out the cork, tried to pour himself a glass and decided to take a swig directly instead. It was nastier than he remembered, but that was war for you. Making good schnaps was illegal now, so people made bad. He looked out over the yard to the lighted windows of the mess hall from which the song still drifted into the night.

Drum, frisch Kameraden, den Rappen gezäumt,
die Brust im Gefechte gelüftet !
Die Jugend brauset, das Leben schäumt,
frisch auf, eh' der Geist noch verdüftet !
Und setzet ihr nicht das Leben ein,
nie wird das Leben gewonnen sein.

Sergeant Rochow cried.

06 September 1907, Königsberg

“Those zeppelin airships are a godsend, Sir!” Colonel Seeckt said. Relief spread over his face, lighting up the eyes and tightening the sagging cheeks. Lack of sleep would do that to a man, General von Falkenhayn knew. He wondered what he looked like himself. But very soon now, there would be time. He was sure of it.

The pictures on the chart table showed what they had never really dared hope they would see. The fields outside Grodno's fortifications, bare, stubbly earth scarred by footpaths and disused latrine trenches and marked with rows and rows of yellowed squares that showed where thousands of tents had stood. The Russians had actually done it. They had withdrawn their troops from the southern section of the Baltic front – no doubt to eject Prince Albert's men from their toehold in Riga. Falkenhayn could see General Yanushkevich's point. The Germans had control of the Baltic, and their landings in the Alands and then on Dagö and Ösel had no doubt frightened the Russian staff. And if you went by the assumption that taking Riga had been their objective, it stood to reason you would weant to stop the land assault that would reinforce the capture. But it was still wrong. If Yanushkevich had simply waited for winter, his troops would be able to walk over to Dagö and Ösel. Riga would wither on the vine, then. Maybe he simply had not adjusted to the scale on which they were fighting battles these days. Falkenhayn knew he still found it hard enough, and they had been training for it for decades now.

“They really did it, didn't they?” he remarked.

“Looks like it, Sir.” Seeckt pushed the photographs to one side and pointed to the map. “The objective remains?”

The general shook his head. “Grodno first. Then we bypass Kovno. The Poles can secure the rail lines to Bialystok. The advance goes along the rails to Vilna, and on to Dvinsk.”

Seeckt sucked his teeth. That was their best-case scenario. Of course, they had assembled troops and expertise equal to it, but so far, the war had always demonstrated that ambitious moves were doomed to humiliating failure. All except one – the Galician spring offensive had worked out. And that – everybody in Berlin knew that it had really been Falkenhayn's plan. The colonel looked up at his general. The old man looked terrible, his hair lank and unkempt, deep rings under his eyes and sagging cheeks. Everybody was living on coffee and tobacco here. Still, if he had pulled that off... the Russians had to be in a bad state. The move was audacious and dizzying. If they could make the Dvina before the mud season, they had Riga. Kovno was an afterthought,. The entire Russian force in the Baltics would be lost. And then they could roll up everything to Reval and Narva at leisure before winter. The Russians had to talk peace with two German armies on the doorstep of St Petersburg.

“Grodno – Vilna – Dvinsk.” he confirmed. “I'll draft the orders.” God, but he needed sleep!

07 September 1907, New York

It is with regret that the American Relief Committee for Poland announces His Majesty Emperor William III has been requested to abstain from attending tomorrow's reception at the Astoria Hotel. While His Majesty's presence would have made a most welcome end to his stay in the United States, the controversy over the use of poisonous gases by German troops has reached a point sufficient to consider it undesirable for the continued smooth working of the Committee. We are reliably informed His Majesty will attend a theatre performance instead.

08 September 1907, Berlin

“So you are the brains behind this report?” Minister Walther Krupp von Rathenau said, adjusting his spectacles. He looked at the man standing in front of his desk: Dressed in a workaday, but good-quality suit, Inspektor Scheibert looked smaller than he was. His quiet, gentle voice and slightly stooped posture, leaning on his cane, made him seem fragile despite his youth.

“Yes, Sir.” He looked up behind his horn-rimmed glasses. The expression in his eyes was a surprise to Rathenau. Here was a man who believed in something. Not many junior civil servants would have held his gaze like that.

“Quite good.” the minister finally conceded. “Quite impressive.” He picked up the heavy volume of some 300 pages minutely detailing the failings and abuses of the rationing system. “There is enough material in here to keep my people busy for a year, at least.”

Scheibert stood silently. He smiled, though. A man who liked praise, but controlled enough not to gush in response.

“The part about the inter-regional arbitrage... you estimate some 50 million marks in profit. That would be an enormously lucrative crime.” Rathenau paused.

“Most people do not see it as a crime.” Scheibert pointed out. “The fact that prices for many items can legally differ between states, districts and Korpsbereiche merely creates the incentive to transport them across those lines. We have had reports of police confiscating hundreds of kilos of butter, meat and sausage on a single train. If anything, the estimate is too low.”

So he could talk after all! Perhaps he just preferred to speak of things he understood. Rathenau could sympathise. “I'll happily believe that, inspector.” he said. “And the whole matter of off-ration goods – well, we have been addressing that for a while now. You have been remarkably thorough.”

“Thank you, Sir.” That was heartfelt, Well, what civil servant would not like to be complimented on his thoroughness?

“But there is something I am missing in your report.” Rathenau continued. “Solutions. You've done an excellent job detailing the problem, but what would you say we can do about it?”

Scheibert blinked. “Do about it?” He was visibly surprised to be asked. “Well, I suppose the obvious solutions are impossible, no? We cannot limit imports from France.”

“Quite so.” Rathenau said sourly. French exporters were still making a mint, despite the fact that the German authorities were limiting the access their customers had to hard currency. Smuggling had become something of a cottage industry on the border, too. It was galling enough they had to export trainloads of coal and dyes to pay for the import of iron ore. To see the money frittered away on frivolities... apparently, a lot of people were willing to spend ridiculous amounts of money to be able to enjoy coffee, champagne and brandy.

“And I assume there is little we can do to stem the rise of prices while the ministry feels it is necessary to let merchants use Sparkassenscheine in transactions.” Scheibert added cautiously. That was another thing. Germany was inundated with bank obligations that were backed by war bonds. People used them much like money – pretty much exactly like money, in fact. It meant that whatever amount of cash was sucked out of circulation was replaced by paper. And with the way the state spent, that meant that an ever increasing amount of paper was chasing diminishing goods. Rathenau merely nodded.

“Wage controls have failed.” Scheibert said. “I do not think we can restore them without risking serious repercussions.”

There had already been strikes. The press was nearly unanimous in condemning this lack of patriotic spirit, but the workers almost always had their demands met. There was not enough police left to stop them, for one thing. The fact that industrial workers were the majority of able-bodied men left in most cities was the elephant in the room in every wage negotiation today. Oh, they were patriotic enough, but if they should feel like seizing factories and evicting bosses, all there would be to stop them were superannuated beat cops and reedy clerks.

“That means price controls are going to be nearly pointless.” the inspector stated with quiet finality. “As long as the workingman has his wages, he will spend them on what he needs, and while the demand outstrips supply, prices will rise.”

Rathenau nodded. He had thought as much. “If prices were to rise freely, though... what are we to do about the soldiers? What of the civil service?”

“I don't know, Sir.” Scheibert answered. “I suppose one could try to reduce excess purchasing power through back-loaded purchases. Or limit the circulation of Kassenscheine....”

“That is out of the question, I'm afraid.” the minister pointed out. Scheibert smiled sourly. Of course it was. Why make it easy?

“Certainly, inefficiencies and imbalances can be reduced. Rationing on a Korpsbereich basis and maximum prices set by districts and states are unwieldy. When the deputy commander in Breslau put chicken on the rationing list, upwards of a quarter million birds from Saxony and Brandenburg disappeared almost overnight.” The inspector pushed his glasses up the nose. “Foxes and stoats, apparently.”

“I see.” Rathenau steepled his fingers. “Yes, we have been trying to make something like this happen. But taking the generals out of the equation might not work in itself. The state governments are too bent on protecting the interest of their farmers, I fear. At any rate, I must say I am pleasantly surprised. That idea of siphoning off purchasing power – what were you thinking of?”

“I'm not sure.” Scheibert replied, slightly taken aback. “With the middle classes, your typical means would be shares, bonds, and real estate. And services that could be provided without expensive raw materials. How that would translate to the needs of the working class - a relaxation of the distillery controls, perhaps... or ...” he blushed. It was not hard to guess what labour-intensive service he imagined industrial workers might be willing to consume in quantity.

“The alcohol idea is good.” Rathenau conceded. They had been thinking of relaxing the liquor ban at least for potatoes. People were infuriatingly willing to spend heavily on imported grain rather than eat the damned things anyway. “The Social Democrats have suggested saving schemes for the collective purchases of real estate and housing projects. For completion after the war, naturally.”

Scheibert nodded. That would work. He hadn't thought the working class would be that provident.

“But while we are on the topic of future plans – what are yours? I take it you are newly wed?” Rathenau smiled again. He liked to surprise people.

“Yes, sir. Yes, I am. I've received my provisional appointment and – seeing that I am unfit for the military, I was looking to have a career in the civil service. The Gewerbeamt.” Scheibert blushed.

“Your wife is Jewish-born, isn't she? That might be a problem there.”

Scheibert did not answer. Of course it would be. But to tell the truth, the far bigger problem would come when the troops came home. No matter how good you were, promoting an unbloodied cripple over someone who could wear the Iron Cross to work was unthinkable.

“I was just thinking that you might be interested in accepting a position with the war economy ministry. Temporary, of course. But it would require promotion by a pay grade.” Rathenau stood and extended his hand. “What do you say, inspector? We can use men of your qualities. Before the year is out, we'll upend the country's economy, and we want the pieces to fall into the right place”

Scheibert hesitated. “Sir, I'm not sure that would be possible. My appointment won't permanent until three years from now. I'm not entitled to a promotion before...”

The minister waved away his objections. “Oh, don't be silly, inspector. This is war. We're making officers of common feldwebel and turning 20-year-old boys into company commanders. I can certainly put you into the right slot. And you're wasted in the Gewerbeamt!”

09 September 1907, Recife

“You wanted to see me?” The harbourmaster pointed to the empty chair at the table. Inspector Santos closed the door carefully before he came to sit down.

“Yes, Sir.” the customs officer said. “I'm afraid there is a problem.” He looked around. “Can we speak freely?”

“Of course.” The harbourmaster straightened his shirt front and leaned forward. “What is it?”

“We caught three men off Izumrud today trying to pawn valuables.” Santos said. “This.”

He placed a small twist of grubby newsprint on the table, carefully pushing aside the bone china coffee cup before unrolling it. Three small, pale translucent stones emerged. A sharp intake of breath showed that they had been recognised for what they were.

“Are they genuine?”

“I've had them appraised by a jeweller, and he says yes.” Santos mopped his brow with a handkerchief. “Worse, the sailors we picked up had no idea of the value they were carrying around. They approached a pawnbroker first, who turned them away because he feared the stones were too hot. Then, they tried to sell them to an English merchant ship's officer who spoke a bit of Russian. I cannot be sure who else they spoke to about it before we arrested them, but...”

“...half the town knows Russians with diamonds are walking the streets.” The harbourmaster sighed, levering himself out of his chair, What a way to ruin a perfectly satisfactory day! “Do not return the prisoners to the ship until I've spoken to their first officer. We must know where they got the stones!”

“We already do, Sir.” Inspector Santos gave his superior a dark look. “They were taken off a German steamer off the African coast. And they say at least thirty of forty men have some – many of them more than this. They are kept with the ship's papers. We haven't searched them, of course – interned officers' property. But perhaps we should...”

“We should nothing, inspector. Nothing that tells anyone that there might be truth to this, at least until I've cabled the president! We'll need to strengthen the guard, and pick reliable men! God, are we SURE that everyone is still on the ship?!”

Santos opened his mouth, hesitated, and realised he was not. “I'll order a count, Sir.”

“Do that. And find some pretext to keep the three under lock and key! The last thing I want is to lose the internees!”
10 September 1907, west of Grodno

They called it stage fright. Korporal Hans Kolle had supposed it was going to go away over time, but it never did. Standing in the mud of the forward trenches, crammed in with hundreds of his comrades, he fought to keep his hands from shaking. Clods of earth dislodged from the walls and fell on the feet of the waiting men as the artillery barrage shook the ground. The pre-dawn sky was lit up brightly by the flashes of heavy shells exploding. Kolle had heard that newcomers sometimes ran away or wet themselves when they first experienced this. He could only imagine what it was like to be at the receiving end. The Russians had artillery, but nothing like this.


The order rippled down the trenches as officers checked their watches. Kolle looked around, gratified to see nobody of his Korporalschaft was asleep. Some of the men fumbled momentarily with their magazines, their tired minds not yet up to the tasks of managing their rifle's mechanism. Some poor bastard dropped his. Fortunately, one of Landahl's, not his. He'd get an earful about this if he made it back. After a minute or so – at least, that was what it felt like – the commotion subsided and the troops again stood silent, waiting. The first units to go over were always experienced men, and they knew better than to waste energy fidgeting or annoying their comrades with talk. The Korporal tried to think back at his first time over the top. They'd tried to sing, he thought. Or had that been the second time? Well, they wouldn't be doing any of that today.


Fumbling and clattering again, jogging their neighbours' elbows, pulling the ungainly rubberised canvas hoods out of their packs and strapping them to their heads. Pichler was trying to put his pickelhaube on over it, the idiot. Kolle reached out, leaning over past two other men, to yank him on the arm.

“Stop that!”

He got an uncomprehending look. With all the noise and the thick filters, it must be hard to understand him. The Korporal stepped into the trench, squared his shoulders, pointed at the helmet and then at the ground. Pichler was saying something, but the muffled words were lost in the roar of artillery and the clangour of equipment. He dropped the pickelhaube. Good! Turning back, Kolle noticed that the tiny cellophane viewports in his mask had shifted. Oh, great! That was not supposed to happen if you put it on properly, of course. That's what the people from the toy factory in Jüterbog had said anyway. Cursing under his breath, he slung his rifle and adjusted the straps holding the hood in place. Breathing was difficult. He could already feel sweat running down his scalp and blinked away the first beads running into his eyes. So they were supposed to run with this? A quick pull on the bottom edge admitted some welcome fresh air. Just remember not to do that in the zone, he told himself. At the briefing, they had been told the gas they were using today was not lethal. Not like the stuff they had fired at Riga. But who was going to run those risks? He'd spent hours drilling his men: Keep the masks on! Do not break the cellophane panes! If you breathe the gas, take cover and wait for the effects to subside! Do not panic, run, or scream! Panicking, running and screaming sounded like an increasingly attractive option now. The pulse beat in his ears louder than he was used to – that had to be the mask. Behind them, the field guns were opening up, their crash and howl seeming almost puny compared to the bowel-churning blasts of noise the big howitzers sent through air and earth.

Bicycle bells sounded. For a brief, disoriented moment, the men stared at each other uncomprehendingly. Then Kolle remembered. You couldn't use whistles with your masks on. Short ladders spaced a few metres apart admitted the men to the killing zone. The Korporal was the first one up. As he passed Feldwebelleutnant Koch with his bell, it was all he could do not to laugh out loud. Then his head, shoulders, torso went over the parapet and he saw the enemy for the first time. As if on cue, flares lit up the scene in a ghostly white light. Shell bursts marked the first line of enemy defenses, not the angry orange flashes throwing up fountains of dirt and water, but white, gentle puffs that emerged with a distant popping noise. Further on, in the middle distance, the foot artillery was still making geography. Kolle rose to his feet and moved sideways, looking out for cover. He waved at his men to follow, rifle held low, stepping rapidly across the churned ground ahead of them. So far, the enemy positions were quiet. Of course that would be how he'd do it. Let the bastards come out in force, then rake them with machine guns. Bent almost double, his heart racing he closed on his destination.

Two hundred meters left.

What looked like a muzzle flash showed over a mound of earth. Several men hit the ground and started returning fire. Screaming with rage, unheard in the din, the Korporal ran over to kick them, waving them forward. A single rifleman was no reason to stop an assault.

One hundred and fifty metres.

Several of them were down, tangled in wire, caught in brushwood, or stumbling in shell holes. One was wounded, screaming in pain. His breath rasping, Kolle urged his troops forward. Onward. If they were to make it, it had to be now. Sweat was running down his face, burning in his eyes. Another Russian was shooting at them now. Still no machine guns! Still no machine guns. They could do this.

One hundred metres, and the first machine gunner opened up far to their left. Irregular, ragged bursts blasted out into the no man's land. He’d be in trouble if his sergeant heard that, Kolle thought, gritting his teeth. He expected the impact of the bullet any second. Gasping for air, he hurried on.

Fifty metres. He could see a Russian now, an individual soldier sticking his head over the parapet of his trench, levering himself up. Rifle fire exploded from the German assault troops. The poor sod was bodily lifted up and thrown back. More shooting now – or maybe you could just hear it more clearly with the field guns lifting their barrage. Kolle saw soldiers dropping to return fire again. He could not dare move sideways now, so instead, he rose to his full height and bellowed an incoherent war cry, waving his men forward. It seemed to work – they were following. The fire from the Russian side was still desultory. Ten more steps, maybe, and then up, over, and down. The shock of landing took the Korporal off his feet for a moment. His knees buckled under him, and he landed in the muddy bottom of the trench. His arm connected with something soft. Panicked, he scrambled to his feet trying to turn around his rifle that had caught its butt against the embankment. Another German came over, saw the Russian, swivelled down his rifle and fired. Then more men rushed over. Kolle looked around. They were in a slit trench, shallow and muddy. The bombardment had torn huge holes into its sides already, and one of the saps leading back had collapsed. Against the lip of the crater, he could see a mass of Russian infantry. Men huddling in helpless terror.

“Surrender!” he shouted. Damn, what was that in Russian? A German stepped forward, bayonet levelled, to motion the Russians out of the way. The men cringed, retreating instinctively before the blade. Kolle squinted to look more closely. Their faces were wet with tears running copiously from eyes swollen shut. Coughing and gasping for air with red, raw mouths, they had to be deaf from the shelling, blind from their tears and disoriented in the sudden light, like bugs scrabbling in terror under a rotten log suddenly lifted up. Suddenly, the sweaty, itchy mask felt welcome. He reached out and grabbed a man by the shoulder. “Guard them!” Then, to the others, he repeated the expansive sweep of the left arm: “Forward!”

Ahead of them, more of the white puffs blanketed the field in a silvery mist shining in the magnesium glare. The thunder and roar of heavy shellfire churned the mud further back. All around him, he could see men rising, moving, ducking, weaving, running, bayonets gleaming, rifles flashing. That was not how it went! He had been in assaults. These men were dead. All of them. You jumped down into enemy trenches and raced forward, hoping your best that you didn't run into a flamethrowerman or a mine. You crept forward on your belly, clinging to cover for dear life until someone silenced the machine guns. You didn't just get up and walk. Except that they did. More and more men were doing it. It was almost like they had expected it to go on the day he still sometimes dreamed of, in the armpit of the night. More Russians turned up, gasping, weeping, coughing, curled up in their rifle pits or desperately scrabbling away from the invisible enemy. Soldiers shot them in passing. A few considerate souls took away their rifles and tried to herd them into undamaged sections of trench.

“We have them!” Kolle shouted. He had not imagined it would go like that. Those stupid miracle weapons never worked! Forwards they rushed, past bunkers at whose exits terrified prisoners huddled, collapsed hopelessly. He passed an officer's bunker, its occupant collapsed into a firing step, blood seeping from a bayonet wound in his chest. Soldiers met them, hands raised in supplication, shouting 'Kamerad' between racking coughs. The red flash of an artillery shell brought him up short. Had they advanced this far? The barrage was scheduled to move a quarter kilometres every half hour. How long had it been? Korporal Kolle turned around to bark an order at his men when he felt a stinging pain assault his eyes. The mask! Panically, he tugged at the neck strap that had slipped. Tears were streaming down his cheeks uncontrollably, and fire ran down his throat.

Someone was looking down at him. Down? He must have fallen. It was Pichler. Gasping, Kolle forced his head close to his ear. “Go on!” he ordered. Then he collapsed, retching. “GO!”

Pichler went on. More men streamed by. Floundering blindly, the Korporal staggered into a shell hole. He fumbled for the canteen at his belt. The gas was not lethal. They had said it was not lethal. It would NOT kill him! He needed to wash out his eyes and everything would be fine. He was not going to die today.

11 September 1907, Vichy

The letter had come with the morning mail and Dr Max Nordau had not given it much attention. He was, after all, enjoying a well-deserved holiday. Still, it was unusual enough to receive anything from Poland – a country that the officious postal clerk had taken the time to remind his secretary did not exist. Any return mail had to be addressed to Russia. Reading it had taken only a few seconds, but, the doctor decided, changed his life. He rang for his secretary.

“Levy,” he informed the young man, “I regret to say we will not be going back to Paris anytime soon. I have been offered a position.” He smiled inscrutably.

“A position, Sir?” It sounded like a ridiculous proposition. Why would Dr Nordau give up a thriving, fashionable practice to take up as a hospital doctor somewhere? “A professorship, you mean?”

“Ah, not quite. A post as personal secretary.”

The puzzled look on young Levy Rosenthal's face struck Nordau as immensely funny. He strove manfully to suppress a chuckle, stroking his heavy beard. “Personal secretary to Rabbi Landauer, the head of the Jewish delegation on the Polish National Army Council, for the duration of the Poland conference in Baden-Baden, to be exact.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “You will have to come along. I don't actually know how all that paperwork is done, you see?”

“Erm, yes, sir.” Rosenthal finally managed to say. “It's just – it comes as a bit of a surprise. You never wanted to go into politics, I mean.”

Nordau paced his hotel room, gesticulating expansively. “Politics? Levy, I'm not going into politics. I'm making history! Agreed, in a very minor capacity. The men who made this history truly are Rabinovitz and Ferber, Landauer and Grynszpan, and all their Maccabees. But after I've spent a decade telling young Jews to lay aside their pride and serve the greater cause, I can't well say I was too important a man to accept to do my share, can I?”

He pulled a handful of books from the shelf by the sofa and stuffed them into a leather bag. “WE will not need to take much in the way of necessities. Baden-Baden is fairly civilised, I'm sure the war has not made too much of a dent. But books. Oh, and Levy, you must let Landauer know that I accept. A telegram would be best.”

“Sir.” The secretary hated to stop a moment of infectious enthusiasm. “I do not believe the French postal service sends telegrams to occupied Poland. It would be – awkward.

“You're right.” Nordau stopped and scratched his beard. “A letter would be a problem as well. Perhaps I could send one from Germany. This one...”, he consulted the postmark, “...took almost three weeks. That's too long! The conference starts in October. Not much of a postal service in Poland, is there.” He smacked his palm with his fist. “I know! I'll go myself. Levy, get down to the train station and buy two tickets to Warsaw, first class. On the first available train!”

“I'm not sure that will be possible, either.” Even for the few trains the Germans permitted free travel on, tickets would not be sold in France.

“Berlin, then! We can take the train from there. Go! The earliest connection you can get! I shall be packing.”

12 September 1907, Mohrungen

Market day was always special. Every now and then, Petras Kaulis had the chance to go with Boleslav, the grossknecht, or with Agathe, the cook. It was always a long journey to Mohrungen, by cart or by train, and it involved a lot of fetching and carrying, but it broke the routine of life on the estate and provided the opportunity to earn a little spare cash. As a prisoner of war, Petras technically was entitled to pay, but the magic of German accounting meant that clothes and food always ate up whatever he should be given. Not that he minded. Being assigned to work on the estate of the Dönhoff family had proved a lucky break. It got him out of the camp ahead of the typhoid outbreak, and his knowledge of German meant that he was effectively the boss of his little work gang, relaying instructions to the fellow POWs. Work was hard, but they were all farm boys. Farming was hard work anywhere. And between the work, he had enough time to do a little woodcarving. People would buy decorative spoons and scabbards.

The presence of the looming neogothic brick building by the side of the rails reminded him that Mohrungen also was where they had the Außenstelle. He and his comrades reported here monthly to receive any mail (none so far) and be given health checks. It was a chilling reminder of his precarious staus. If the Dönhoffs ever felt like swapping him for another Russian, they could do it here with no fuss at all. They had already turned in Grigoriy for stealing alcohol. He was back in the Stammlager now as far as Petras knew.

“Petras, go and do your paperwork!” Boleslav said, thrusting a sheaf of loosely bound booklets into his hands. The grossknecht was carrying two large baskets and headed to the grocers. If he beat the worst queue, he'd have time for a leisurely drink before going home. Sighing inwardly, the POW headed for the office, doing his best to get himself into the hard shell of his military persona, Korporal Kaulis, impervious to insult and humiliation. It was a good thing the Czar's army taught you these skills. You needed them dealing with German bureaucrats. Waiting at the desk – what if there were no other men here, a mere Russian was no reason for the official to interrupt his coffee break. Submitting the books, having them stamped (he collected the stamps for his fellows, too) and signed off, signing for their notional pay, being treated to a few barked questions about their health – the procedure was almost comforting in its drab regularity. Then, a familiar voice interrupted.


He turned. A slender young man in a German uniform stood leaning against the doorframe. Tall, lean and artfully dishevelled, he made a powerful contrast to the jowly, puffing Landwehr sergeant running the Außenstelle. Kaulis looked at him, wondering.

“Petras Kaulis?” the soldier asked again. Something about his face looked familiar. A memory of years past, a voice that belonged to the schoolyard and the village square...

“Vitalius Razma!” Kaulis said. Could it be? “Vitalius?! How... Did you join the German army?”

His friend's handshake was firm, assertive. Vitalius had always been the confident one, handsome and cocksure. Petras almost laughed out loud at the joy of seeing a familiar face. He checked himself at the last minute, turning to see what the sergeant might say, but Vitalius forestalled any trouble, discreetly moving his collar buttons into view.

“It's all right, sergeant.” he said, “He'll be with me.”

Before any more words could be exchanged, he bundled Petras out of the office and towards one of the benches in the shade of the marketplace trees. Dazed, he sat down.

“Petras, I had no idea! You're on work detail?”

“Have been for quite a while now. Captured on the Niemen front. What about you? How'd you...”

“Masuren.” Razma answered. “Cut off and surrendered last autumn. But listen, you can get out of here if you want. Do you know?”

He looked at Kaulis. For a wretched captive, he did not seem to be doing too badly. The clothes he had were too big, visibly used, but sturdy and servicable. He was wearing leather shoes and a proper jacket, and his face showed no sign of hunger. “They treating you all right?”

“Can't compain.” Kaulis said. “I'm not eating roast chicken every day, but it's better than the camps. I eat better than I did at home, to be honest. What about you? How on earth did you get into uniform?”

Razma smiled, trying to conceal his obvious pride. “The Germans are recruiting a Lithuanian Legion. We're supposed to be the core of a national army after the war. We're getting our own country.”

Kaulis met this with a skeptical look. “You believe them?”

“I didn't at first.” Razma conceded. “I only joined to get out of the Stammlager. It's horrible there. You were already out when the typhoid came, weren't you?”

Kaulis nodded.

“Well, that happened around the time the Germans brought in all the prisoners from Ivangorod. Every hut was full to bursting, and the guards just gave up trying to control things. Damned greenjackets started beating up anyone they disliked. Then they started their recruiting drive. If you're Polish, Lithuanian, Estonian, Latvian, Finnish, Lapp or Ruthenian, you can join their legions. A lot of people enlisted just to get out. Some Russians, too.” He shuddered at the recollection. Some Russian prisoners had tried to pass themselves off as Ruthenians and Lithuanians. For all he knew, they might have family that way. It wasn't like it had mattered until a few years ago. But the Germans had decided they didn't qualify and put them back in the Stalag. That night, the Patriotic Union had taken their revenge on the traitors. It was brilliantly evil – the threat of return to the general population was all it took to keep the legions in line. “They made me a Vizefeldwebel! And honestly, I think they really mean it about independence. Look at what deal the Poles got.”

It certainly sounded convincing. Petras Kaulis did not do much reading, and most of the literature he got his hands on under the circumstances was not exactly political, but he had read some old papers. Russia was screwed, he was sure of that. And independent countries sounded like a good move. Lithuania would forever fear the Russians and thank the Germans. “So why are you here?” he finally asked. “Shouldn't you be fighting?”

“I'm recruiting.” Razma pointed to the gilt portepee and shiny brass buttons on his uniform coat. “A lot of Lithuanian prisoners are in the Außenlager around here. Not going to the front until later this year, early next if you start your training now.” He paused, uncertainly. “You interested?”

Petras weighed the options. “Don't get me wrong.” he started hesitantly. “It's not that I don't want an independent country. But I've had my fill of war.” He blushed. “I'll help you build the country after the war. But I can't go back to that now. I've got a good thing. It's not heaven, but I eat well and they treat me like a human. Nobody's shooting at me or beating me or stealing my stuff.”

“I understand.” Razma patted him on the arm. “It's all right. Truth be told, I'm not sure I'd have joined up if I had had a cushy billet like that.” He smiled. “But if you ever change you mind, you need to ask for Feldwebel Razma. Now, do you still have time for some beer? My treat.”

13 September 1907, Paris

“I must again point out,” Legation Secretary Purishkevich repeated testily, “that the matter at hand is of sufficient gravity to warrant an interview with the prime minister.”

The foreign minister sighed. “Monsieur Purishkevich.” he said patiently, the strain in his voice evident. “You will understand, I am sure, that in matters diplomatic, we must and shall observe proper protocol. The prime minister may see the Russian ambassador at any time, but a legation secretary cannot be extended this courtesy without drawing attention.”

“But Ambassador Nelidov is...”

“...indisposed. I realise that the situation is unfortunate, but you will be able to make an appointment. We do not limit access to the powerful the way the court of the Czar does.” Foreign Minister Pichon said acidly. He resented having to deal with Purishkevich at all. The man had no concept of diplomacy or subtlety. Nelidov might fall asleep halfway through any negotiation, but at least he was old school.

“I have been waiting to be seen for almost two weeks!” Raising his voice. You never raised your voice at the Quai d'Orsay. The moment you did, you lost the round.

“The affairs of state make great demands of the prime minister.” Pichon calmly replied, his face unreadable. “I am certain he will see you as soon as time allows.” It was true that Clemenceau had been busy ever since his return from taking the waters at Vichy. Why did prime ministers always do that? It made them seem old and decrepit. But of course, the struggles of navigating the ship of state aged a man quickly. The struggles with the ultramontanes alone...

Purishkevich bristled. “Surely the dispatch I submitted is of great importance...”

“...would be of great importance if it were accompanied by assurances of substance.” Pichon parried. He was losing patience with this clown. “We have no way of ascertaining whether Britain will be willing to enter into the proposed neutrality in a war against Germany. And if you forgive for being frank: I greatly doubt they will. Certainly after the defeats Russian arms have suffered lately.”

“This irrational fear of a toothless lion...” Purishkevich waved dismissively. “It would be over before the British could mobilise more men than the gendarmerie could arrest on the beaches! What will history say of France? Hiding behind her borders, letting the opportunity pass by, her finances shattered...”

Pichon looked up sharply. “Monsieur secretary, you shall refrain from uttering threats!”

A snort met this admonition. Purishkevich had lost. “Monsieur Pichon, this is no threat, merely a statement of fact. It would be irresponsible for the imperial government to pay out large sums of money to foreign creditors if the exigencies of war forced it to muster all resources for the defense of the realm.” He attempted a smile, triumphant and vindictive.

Pichon struggled to control himself, and barely succeeded. “These bonds were purchased in good faith...”

“...and issued on the assumption they were purchased by firm allies. Firm allies, Mr Minister!”

“I see.” Pichon sighed. “Monsieur Purishkevich, I believe you have made your position sufficiently clear. Let me do the same for mine: France will do what the honour of the nation demands and her interests dictate. Her sons will fight and die for the flag, in their millions if need be. But France will never serve the interests of another, and she will doubly never yield to blackmail! Please instruct Ambassador Nelidov accordingly and inform him that the prime minister expects his official communique at his earliest convenience.”

He rang. A servant entered the office. “Monsieur Purishkevich is leaving. Please see him out.”

14 September 1907, Warsaw

Agent Lech Szimanski was a patient man. In the NSB, he was somewhat untypical in this, as in other things. For all the trappings of intellectual acumen the service liked to surround itself with, not many of its men had the education or brainpower to actually live up to the image. Szimanski did. He had studied philosophy and history before joining the party and still spent as much time poking holes into its theory as he did doing his job. And he got results in both.

Today, he had spent a few hours having a chat with his latest project, a Redemptorist the NSB had picked up carrying undocumented specie. It was not something they usually bothered with, but Szimanski had a hunch there was more to this than black marketeering. A crude man like Unszlicht or Murkovski would have thrown the poor man into some rathole and beaten him until he confessed to something, but Szimanski knew that approach did not work in cases like this. Hot interrogations had their place, to be sure. If you wanted to know a specific piece of information and you were sure your target had it, it could be the fastest way, assuming you could check for lying. They'd been burned a couple of times that way. But if you wanted to explore what someone knew, unravel a network, then you had to be patient. The old Okhrana had known this, and Szimanski was surprised how nostalgic many in the party could now feel for the pre-1905 days when arrest had meant long conversations with understanding officers and restful nights in comfortable cells. If you got yourself picked up today, you had a very different experience to look forward to. Apparently, people on both sides of the front made the same mistake, assuming that putting a lot of energy into an interrogation would yield more results. Dzerzhinski was a great man, everybody in the Bureau would swear to that, but his idea that you unravelled a conspiracy by getting the mastermind into a cell and introducing him to telephone wires was laughable. You never got the mastermind. Instead, you pieced disjointed bits of information together until you came by a pattern. Then you nabbed someone and talked to them until they gave you the clues to get to the next step. Getting physical didn't help if you didn't know what you were looking for. Sure, you put people in cold cells, had their guards yell at them or occasionally get rough. But you yourself had to be gentle, approachable, reasonable. It was amazing what people would be happy to discuss with you that way.

“Anything?” Agent Shtern was waiting in the south stairwell. Only staff used that. Prisoners were brought up through the other one, with smaller windows facing the courtyard. Little things like that mattered.

“He told some interesting stories.” Szimanski reported. “I'm not entirely sure what to make of all of it, but there's one thing I can tell you: We need to take a close look at Adam Prince Czartorysky. The German line. He's hip deep in this thing.”

“He's some kind of politician, isn't he?” Shtern asked.

“A Reichstag delegate.” Didn't anyone do his bloody homework here? “Never set foot inside Free Poland as far as we know, though he corresponds with a couple of people here. Dmovski, for one thing.” A chilling thought occurred to Szimanski. “Touching him would be madness now.”

To his enormous relief, Shtern nodded. “True. There's nothing we can do right now except watch.” He flipped open his cigarette box and offered a smoke to Szimanski. “Well done. Oh, and I've been meaning to tell you you're likely to have a few more people to work on soon.”

He struck a match and lit Szimanski's papirosa, then his own. “The Redemptorist order is due some attention.”

15 September 1907, London

Mystery Diamonds of Recife!

Our correspondent has been able to ascertain that a large quantity of uncut diamonds are carried on board the Russian cruiser Izumrud currently interned in the port of Recife, Brazil, after sustaining severe damage in a battle with the Dutch cruiser Noord-Brabant. The Brazilian authorities are unwilling to make any statement regarding the precise amount of diamonds, their origin, or their ownership, but in a meeting with our correspondent, a Russian sailor of the cruiser's gun crew stated that several strongboxes full of diamonds had been taken off a German liner captured earlier. Their origin beyond this point remains a mystery. Dare we speculate that they were found in the interior of German South-West Africa? And if so, where is that diamond mine located? It would be unwise to presume too much on the strength of a short conversation, but it should not be considered beyond the realm of the possible that the mineral wealth of the African continent has once again yielded up a source of riches to the enterprising white race? …

(News of the World)
16 September 1907, east of Ulyassutai, Mongolia

Even torn and tattered, boots were better than no boots. Lieutenant Vichosky was learning daily how valuable even the most basic pieces of equipment could be, and that some men would kill for them. They had executed a Mongol auxiliary who had killed a cossack for a pair of boots and a coat yesterday. The military code of justice stipulated hanging, but that would have required a gallows, a tree, or anything taller than a man in this horribly empty land. Vichovsky had contemplated shooting, but decided to conserve ammunition and not scare away game. One of the men's comrades had strangled him instead, his reward for the grim task an extra ration of sugar. Whether that made him morally better than the delinquent, Vichovski was not sure. The dead man's boots had gone to a cossack whose own had disintegrated.

The problem was, he reasoned, that cossack boots were not really designed for marching. If you could call it marching. Shuffling, maybe. Moving on foot in any way, really. Vichovski was sure that infantry boots would have held up better. They were certainly not supposed to be doing so much of it. But then, they were not supposed to be doing a lot of the things they were doing these days. If things had gone the way they should have, they'd be in Urga now. That had been the plan: The main force to meet the Chinese assault outside Ulyassutai and the flying column of cossacks and Mongols to cut into their rear, destroy their supply depots and cut off their retreat. It had worked before, and Vichovski had never doubted that he would do as well as his predecessor, now promoted to major and returned to Semipalatinsk to train troops for the thrust into China. Except the Chinese had not come. For weeks they had waited, and when the columns had finally been spotted, their advance into the enemy's rear had been held up by the damned hunghutze. In retrospect, the lieutenant thought, that might have been the point where he had gone wrong. He had looped north, moved in an ambitious arc through the foothills of the Changai to get at the enemy's supply lines. Everybody had agreed it was the right thing, of course. Bogd Khan's Mongols viewed Chinese on horseback as an aberration, an offense against the natural order. It was impossible that they would move very far from the infantry camp. Surely, they were simply here because the railway from Manchuria delivered them north.

The first doubts had begun to creep in when they kept encountering patrols. Still, he had refused to be intimidated, his allies counselling him on the best routes for raiding the water holes and river crossings that had to be enemy supply dumps. The first dawn assault, much like the one that had carried Ulyassutai, took them straight into the teeth of an entrenched machine gun. That they had beaten it was cold consolation when, after barely a few minutes of plunder, a returning force of hunghutze drove them off. The slaughter that the Chinese infantry had inflicted on men and horses was too much for the exercise to bear repeating. It had only got worse when the caravan of supplies Bogd Khan had promised them failed to appear. Perhaps remonstrating with the Mongol chiefs had been a mistake. After all, they could not more affect the actions of their lord than he could those of the Czar. When they had made off a few weeks later, leaving them with precious few horses and little in the way of food, that question had loomed large. By now, it was so much water under the bridge.

Two men to a horse was no way to face the steppes of Mongolia. It was the best they could do, in the end – Vishkovsky had ordered it. The French did it in the Atlas Mountains, too, one man mounted, the other leading the animal, marching at a footsoldier's pace, but keeping at it day and night, often with almost no sleep except what you could snatch in the saddle. If it worked for them, it should work for him. The first time they reached a waterhole, they had still tried to mount a cavalry charge against the Chinese troops that held it, but their heart hadn't been in it. The Mongols ran at the first 'tock-tock-tock' of the Maxim gun, and the cossacks refused to advance further without knowing what they were facing. The second and third time, they had exchanged shots with the guards. Later, they had avoided any enemy presence, rationing their food as best they could and filling their stomachs with the flesh of horses as they died. Water had thankfully been fairly plentiful in the rainy season, though this was ending now and the nights were already bitter. Their approach towards Ulyassutai was slowing to a crawl as hunger and exhaustion took their toll. Vichkovski himself, his boots coming apart, the rifle sling cutting into his shoulder, had thrown away almost the entire stock of worldly possessions weighing him down. The sole exception was the box of films and his beloved Brownie, carried in a saddlebag. He shared his horse – a trusty, hardy cossack brown – with Sergeant Valernikov and was leading it by the bridle, shuffling forward on aching, bleeding feet while the sergeant was snoring in the saddle, when one of the men forward in their sorry little column spotted riders in the distance. Cursing his tiredness, Vichkovski tried to catch a glimpse of the retreating silhouettes and cursed Bogd Khan's treacherous savages for taking his telescope when they had run.

“If they are herders, we can buy food from them.” he opined more cheerfully than he felt. They had not seen any herdsmen for many weeks. No doubt they had fled the war, as any sensible person would, and avoided any larger body of men. His column was armed well, even by local standards, but they were starving. Trusting the loyalty of the Mongol populace to their purported Great Khan had not worked out all that well before.

“The lama says he shall request them to provide.” his interpreter chimed in. Vichkovski rolled his eyes. Of course he would! The fat bugger had done nothing for the entire journey but collect the charitable donations of the Mongol fighters' rations, stuffing himself with butter and tsampa.

“Tell him to wait. If they come back, he may approach them first, but not farther than a hundred paces away from the column!” A quick exchange of Mongolian followed, and the monk seemed angry. Maybe he had hoped to desert them? But where to?

“We might as well rest and see if anyone is coming back.” the lieutenant ordered. “Distribute rations.”

They did not, at least for the next two hours or so. Vichkovski's watch had broken sometime along the road and he was reduced to guessing. After a welcome break and some hot tea and tsampa, they remounted and resumed their painful crawl towards friendly territory. Cresting one hill, then another, another … he felt fairly sure that Ulyassutai lay that way and hoped they would reach it before they all died. Nobody had stayed behind today. That was worth a lot – some days, men simply refused to stand up again. They usually left them behind with a blanket and a single bullet, in case they needed it.

The men awaiting them behind the crest of the next hill appeared as though out of a shadow. Had he been that groggy? Mounted on scruffy little ponies and wrapped in heavy coats, they looked little different from the natives, but Vichkovski saw several of his Mongols recoil. One of them came forward, a small, wiry, hard-faced fellow carrying a rifle across his saddle. He said a few words in a language Vichovski did not recognise. The lieutenant waved his interpreter forward. Before he could reach him, the stranger continued in halting English.

“I am to parlay with you. Captain Li Yanda of the Imperial Chinese Army.”

The realisation hit Vichkovski like a bucket of cold water. If the Chinese were here, then there would be no help for them until Kobdo or the Altai. Where could he turn? Could he hope to fight? The men had ammunition, but they were practically dropping from exhaustion and starvation. He felt his throat constrict. This would be the end of his career.

“Captain, I am Lieutenant Vichkovski, Russian Army. What propose you?”

The Chinese frowned, no doubt finding it as hard to understand Vichkovski's accent as the other way around. “I will discuss you surrender. Troops ahead, in Ulyassutai, in passes, on river. You fight now, you die.”

The interpreter came up, gave a disconcertingly deep bow and spoke a few words in Chinese. Captain Li spoke, no doubt repeating the things he had said before, and the interpreter explained in Russian: “He says there Chinese soldiers ahead, one battalion, and cavalry. They kill us all if we fight, but if we surrender, he spares your troops.”

The lieutenant's head swirled. Bile rose in his throat, his empty stomach roiling. What options did he have? “Tell him I will surrender, but honour must be satisfied. Shots must be fired.”

The Chinese officer listened to the interpreter's words impassively. Then, with lightning quickness, he raised his rifle to the shoulder and fired. Vichkovski turned in shock and saw the lama drop to his knees, an expression of surprise on his face. Then, he slumped forward.

“He asks: Is this enough?” the interpreted translated the exasperated exclamation that followed. Men in the column were unslinging their rifles. The riders accompanying Captain Li had already raised theirs. Numbed, Vichkovski waved to his men to lower their weapons.

“Yes!” he said. “Yes, it is. He is right. We have no alternative but to surrender. Tell him we will lay down our arms if he spares my men and takes us to shelter.”

“He accepts.” was the answer after another flurry of Chinese. “Your troops will be taken to Ulyassutai and then to Urga.”

Vichkovski dropped his rifle, the weight coming off his shoulder with enormous relief. Along the column, men were doing the same. Chinese appeared over the crest of the hill to disarm them and take charge of their horses. After a few moments of milling about, Captain Li barked an order. Vichkovski looked at his interpreter.

“He orders his men to take the Russians prisoner and to kill the Mongols.” the man translated, terror registering in his eyes.

“That was not what he promised!” Vichkovski shook his fist at the Chinese officer. “This was not what I agreed to!”

Captain Li spoke sharply. The interpreter cast down his eyes. “He says he promised to spare your soldiers. The others are rebels and will be punished.”

Vichkovski collapsed, sobbing. He did not even react when the Chinese took his interpreter away towards the neat stack of heads they had begun building in the valley.

18 September 1907, Minsk

General Ivanov sat in silence at the head of the table, brooding over the great map that showed Stavka the scope of the disaster. The telegram from Dvinsk had been read and re-read, interpreted and disassembled, discussed and disputed. The crumpled form still lay on the table, begging an answer. General Yanushkevich's suggestions were as sweeping as they were terrifying in their implications: Withdraw troops behind Lake Peipus, leaving behind only enough forces in the Baltic Provinces to manage a fighting retreat. Create a deep line of fortified positions that could be defended against even heavy assault. Hold back the German advance long enough for winter to stop it before it entered Russia proper or threatened St Petersburg, and inflict the maximum of casualties possible. It was a masterful plan in its way, Ivanov had to admit, but it also was an admission of utter defeat. Yanushkevich was ceding the entirety of the Baltic to the enemy. The man admitted it readily enough – he explicitly stated the responsibility was his and, by the sound of it, intended to command the fighting retreat. Given the response his message had had here, German captivity would almost certainly be preferable to the reception he would be given in Moscow.

“Well, gentlemen?” Ivanov asked, looking around the table. Outrage was well and good, but if anyone had any actual suggestions, now would be the time to phrase them. To his horror, the head of the Patriotic Union's auxiliary regiments cleared his throat. Ivanov heartily detested Trishatny, a jumped-up amateur who thought some skill at oratory and managing shouting clubs translated into military genius, but the man provided him with troops that were badly needed, and the Czar was only too ready to listen to him.

“Your Majesty, general, gentlemen,” he began, rising and bowing in the direction of the Czar, seated at the centre of the table listening intently, as was his wont. “I am no expert on commissariat matters, so I must of necessity defer to the wisdom of the assembled luminaries in this room.” 'Commissariat matters' – there was poisoned praise. Reducing the military experience of the high command to counting herring tins and boots! “I do, however, fear that we are granting too much importance to this side of the equation as General Yanushkevich describes the situation. Far be it from me to criticise the general's expertise, of course, but he is an engineer by training, and we all know that this schools a man in thinking unsentimentally.”

To his horror, Ivanov saw the Czar nod slowly. The PU had little regard for engineers or technicians. In some quarters, they were even suspected quite openly of sympathising with the Germans.

“Such thinking disregards the spiritual aspects of this struggle.” Trishatny continued. “From a historical perspective, that error is unforgiveable. Even if we knew that the cold mathematics of bureaucracy forced us to retreat, the martial spirit of the nation would never allow it! What a blow to morale would it represent for Russians to die running?”

“That is all very well,” interjected Colonel Totleben. A courageous stance, even for a man of his connections. “But we must consider alternative courses of action. The question is not what we should avoid doing, but what we realistically can and should do!”

Trishatny shook his head irritably and straightened his collar. “Fight, of course!” he said, perhaps more fiercely than he intended to. How far could he presume on the support that Nicholas had promised after he had paraded fifty thousand men in green jackets across Moscow? Perhaps they would find out today.

“If General Yanushkevich finds it beyond his capabilities to defend what it was his charge to hold, we should send a man whose spirit allows. In war, victory is won by resolve and morale, not by ditches and ration tins. Defend for as long as possible, I say, and ensure that no dagger is plunged into our backs while we defend. That is what history requires we do. We know that the Germans cannot sustain this war any longer, so our duty is to show the resolve that will make them despair, not to yield useful territory to embolden them.”

Nicholas II turned sideways to hold a whispered conversation with young Brasol, the PU leader's aide de camp. The Czar had taken a liking to the charismatic, well-spoken young man and even took advice from him that he might have taken amiss from more experienced and skilful officials. But what good advice could a law student turned operetta soldier give?

“What do you envision, general?” The Czar asked, using the formal title that Trishatny insisted he was entitled to.

“A cleaning, Your Majesty.” With a sweeping gesture across the arc of cities and fortresses to be defended, Trishatny explained. “Yanushkevich foolishly withdrew troops from the south to defend Riga. They are now stuck along the railway lines, too far from any front to be immediately useful. They can, however, be used to prepare the ground ahead of a German attack. Build fortifications, prepare bridges and railway lines for demolition, scorch the earth, and cleanse the land of those who would welcome the invader. The trains that bring in supplies to support them can be used to carry out all useful supplies and the treacherous elements. I am sure the Admiralty can find better use for the gunboats Yanushkevich wanted to station on Lake Peipus.”

“What treacherous elements were you thinking of?” Totleben asked again. The colonel had made it his business to heckle ideas, but Ivanov wondered if he understood on what thin ice he was skating in this company.

“Germans.” That was Boris Brasol, daring the man to object. “Poles, Jews, Swedes, Lithuanians.”

The Czar raised his hand, bidding silence. “General Trishatny, General Ivanov, I understand your concern over internal security, but I cannot countenance this. My Germans have always been most loyal. The people of Reval funded the purchase of a Holland boat for our navy this year, despite the surtaxes and general recession.” He nodded gently at Colonel Totleben.

Trishatny quickly recovered. “Your Majesty, we are not talking of removing the entire population, of course. However, there are enough men known to be disloyal. The political police has long been more thorough than aggressive. Removing these to safety in the interior of Russia – not even Siberia, just some safe holding facilities for the duration – will not offend against Your Majesty's humanity. And I believe that General Yanushkevich has been quite thorough with regard to Jewish and Polish elements already.”

How clever of them: Let the young firebrand step out of line and make Trishatny look reasonable, What kind of a plan was that? Ivanov shuddered at the thought of criss-crossing the country with trenches. How would they resupply these scattered units? How achieve the concentration of force needed in the face of the German assault? To his mounting horror, he saw the Czar nod assent. Nicholas rarely interfered in military matters, but when he did, what could he say against it?

“Your Majesty?”

“I believe we have heard reason speak today, General Ivanov.” the Czar pointed out. “We must relay the orders to General Yanushkevich quickly, and tell him to prepare his defenses. And we must find a replacement for him, come time.”

20 September 1907, Hamburg

The weather was less than cooperative. Prince Albert had been keeping a wary eye on the low-hanging clouds all morning, but in the end, what rain fell was mercifully brief and did nothing to discourage the jubilant crowd. They had come in their tens of thousands all along the shores of the Elbe to welcome their emperor home. Patriotic bunting was in shorter supply than it had been on previous occasions, there were fewer flags flying and the people, on the whole, seemed less prosperous. You saw a lot more mended clothes in the crowds, less of the latest fashions and far fewer gaudy uniforms. Fewer young men, too. But the enthusiasm seemed undiminished. You could track the progress of the imperial convoy upriver from Schulau by the cheers rippling up the banks as the heavy cruisers escorting the great white HAPAG ship made their stately progress. When the gangway was finally lowered on Landungsbrücken, a universal party seemed to be in progress. Sailors from USS Brooklyn, sent along on a courtesy visit, mingled with the happy crowd, visibly welcoming the opportunity. Albert wondered how many of them would return aboard lighter by a considerable amount of scarce hard currency.

When the emperor finally appeared, the prince regent breathed a sigh of relief. For all the reports of his progress, he had harboured his doubts. Wilhelm looked the very image of health, standing straight in his plain blue regimentals and the soft flat cap he insisted on wearing to formal occasions. His eyepatch was still there, but it no longer seemed out of place or even indicated any form of weakness. In fact, it gave him a vaguely piratical air as he walked down the steps and across to the railway station where his uncle awaited him. The Empress came by his side, he was glad to see. Not that they were holding hands, but there was at least no indication they actively disliked each other. Countess von Reventlow had stayed in Berlin, he had on good authority from the political police. Had she done otherwise, he would not have been above arranging for ticket contingents to be sold out.

Albert burned with the desire to talk, get together with his nephew, tell him everything that had passed him by. Now, though, with the eyes of the country upon them, ceremony was required. A line of guards grenadiers stood to attention, presenting their burnished rifles and shining bayonets. Unless he was much mistaken, they had been using the same mirror-polished blades on more hazardous duties a bare two weeks ago. Germany did not have soldiers to waste on ceremonial functions any longer. Slowly, he stepped forward to shake Wilhelm's hand and unfolded a telegram form to present the scoop of the day:

“Your Majesty, Lieutenant General von Falkenhayn sends the following words: On the joyous occasion of His All-Highest Majesty's return to the fatherland, the Heeresgruppe Baltikum has the honour to announce the surrender of Vilna to the Guards Cavalry Rifle Division. May the victorious advance of German arms into Russian lands with the aid of God long continue.”

23 September 1907, Pinsk

Lieutenant Neridov was not yet much accustomed to the ins and outs of corps staff work. That fact alone explained how he found himself sharing a table with a visibly superannuated junior officer whose regimental markings he did not recognise. He recognised that you could not necessarily hold his lack of rank against him – after all, the exigencies of the service left many good men condemned to permanent lieutenancy unless they resigned their commissions. But it left him feeling uncertain how to begin a conversation. What were the niceties that governed the situation? The man seemed uninterested in talking, at any rate. Finally, having finished his tea and fretted about the proprieties for a few awkward minutes, Neridov pointed to the leaflet that his comrade appeared to have been reading. He had seen it this morning: A rousing call to avenge the horror that the Germans had inflicted on Russia's armies with their cowardly gas attacks.

“It is enough to make your blood boil, isn't it?” he began timidly.

“Hm?” The other man looked up. He had to be even older than Neridov had first thought – maybe forty. His long, haggard face bore all the signs of too much office work, the eyes behind steel-rimmed spectacles sunk deeply into their sockets. He grimaced. “It is indeed, lieutenant. I wonder if the authors are secretly working for the Kaiser.”

Neridov was taken aback. “Excuse me? I don't understand, erm....”

“Lieutenant Shternmiler.” The officer rose briefly to introduce himself. “You may be the only man in the room who is not senior to me, in fact. Your commission cannot be that old....” The army had only two fates for lieutenants in the frontline service: up or out. If you lived half a year, promotion was a certainty. More likely, you'd be dead or wounded by then.

“Neridov.” the young man introduced himself. “June 1907.”

“Mine's from January. Well, don't let that discomfit you.” he said. “You'll be senior in no time.”

Neridov was still confused. “What do you mean, the author working for the Germans?” he asked. “He excuses nothing.”

That much was certainly true. The pamphlet was graphic, with photos of casualties from the Riga landings and descriptions of what German gas shells had done to them. Indignation at this tactic entirely contrary to the usage of war and in fact illegal screamed from every paragraph. 'Cowards', 'poisoners' and 'murderers' were the friendlier terms used. Shternmiler shrugged.

“Why should it?” he picked up the offending piece. “Look, lieutenant, you're from a military family, aren't you?”

“Yes. Four generations back, in fact.” he confirmed proudly.

“In that case, you are not likely to understand how the common soldier approaches war. Me, I'm an intelligence officer. Understanding these things is my job. And let me tell you, the last thing you should tell a grunt is that he will die.” Shternmiler took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “These men are willing to accept the fact that they may die. It is an act of supreme courage for a conscript. After all, unlike you, they never enjoyed the privileges of belonging to the martial classes.”

Deftly, he unfolded the paper and pointed to a long paragraph dotted with bolded words that accompanied the photo of a gas-burned face. “Whoever wrote this is telling the men that they have to take revenge for the slaughter of their comrades. Not prisoners. Not women and children. Armed men like themselves. And it goes on to inform them that their enemy has an invisible weapon that will burn their faces off.”

Neridov blinked. He recalled the cold knot of fear that reading the story had formed in his stomach. Back then, he had quickly suppressed this stirring of cowardice and steeled his resolve. But would the men?

“You might as well cut the crap and tell them to desert.” A quick flick of the wrist propelled the pamphlet across the room into the wastebasket. Neridov thought that this Shternmiler had to be a terrific shot with the pistol. “And that is the kind of encouragement we keep getting from the Patriotic Union's leading lights.”

“What would you have us say, then?” Neridov felt challenged – after all, he had swallowed the line – but also legitimately curious. “We must keep fighting or we are lost.”

Shternmiler sighed. He was tired of people questioning his patriotism, tired of people confusing intelligence and timidity. “Of course, lieutenant. Do not think that I take the situation lightly. But Russia has fought and stood desperate battles before. The Troubles? Nevsky's victory on the frozen lake? Napoleon went as far as Moscow before he was turned back, and two years later cossacks were tethering their horses on the Champs Elysees! But what do they tell us about? Poison gas attacks! Bah!”

“Lieutenant Shternmiler, I am sorry, but surely we have to tell our men. They must defend themselves, must they not?”

The older man gave him a long, sad look. “Lieutenant Neridov,” he finally said, “I fear you misunderstand the purpose of these – screeds. Preparedness is, of course, essential, and I am sure you have studied the relevant literature in the copious free time your staff appointment affords you.”

“I … was unaware of this – crisis.”

“Of course you were. Cannot blame you. Anyway, the proper precautions are, apparently, to wear a rubberised mask and waterproof clothing. And good rubber boots, of course. The Germans make it simpler on themselves and avoid the areas they shelled with their face-eating gas.” His voice was bitter, tired and slurred. “If you should find yourself under gas attack, the thing to do, then, is to find that kind of gear for yourself and your men, put it on quickly, and not take it off again. At least for several days, if I understand the circular from Stavka correctly. You see the problems with that, I assume?”

Neridov nodded silently and swallowed hard. Finding rubberised clothing for himself might be possible – at least, his family could perhaps buy something on the civilian market and mail it to him. But where the army should find enough to equip a hundred men – let along the hundreds of thousands along the entire central front – was beyond him. They had trouble enough giving them all boots and rifles.

“Well,” Shternmiler closed, “as a resourceful young officer, I am certain you will resolve the matter to the satisfaction of the men under your command before you discuss the subject with them. Now if you will excuse me, I must attend to the rest of my duties. And forgive me if I have offended your patriotic sensibilities. I've been working for twelve hours straight, and that will leave me irritable.”

24 September 1907, London

With the surrender of Tiraspol, Romanian and Austrian troops have now secured all strategic Dniestr crossings, effectively shielding both countries from another Russian winter offensive. The latest reverse for Russian arms not only yielded up twenty thousand men and near eighty artillery pieces of varying types to the advancing allies, but also puts the city of Odessa within reach of their advancing armies. Your correspondent must wonder how much longer the defenders of the Russian Empire can continue under such blows, and whether the good services of General Janvier, so effective in the last campaign, will aid them enough to stem the Germanic tide.

(Daily Telegraph)

29 September 1907, Mogilev

The little girl was in a terrible state. The skin on her legs was raw from constant irritation and cold, and large patches had come away when Valentina had washed her. Her eyes were glazed over, and she barely resisted being moved and turned around like a doll. Valentina Grishina was not sure if she would survive the week. The worst part was that she knew exactly what would save the child: She'd need a bed, clean clothes, properly boiled food, and a few days being fed milk and kasha. She was not going to get any of these. The Union hospital in Mogilev was overflowing already. Valentina recalled her own arrival, what a clean bed in a guarded dormitory, hot tea and a bath had meant to a desperate, lost peasant girl. It remained their task to provide these, but the flood of refugees clogging every road east made it nearly impossible. Every day, hundreds of carts came trundling in, village panye wagons pulled by scruffy ponies and oxen, but also modern, well-kept ones that must have belonged to landowners or cityfolk. Each one was piled high with the belongings of a family, whatever private little treasures they were hoping to bring with them to safety: pots, samovars, iron bedsteads and feather blankets, modern stoves and bundles of napery, the tools of some trade or the icons of the family home. Many more came on foot, pulling handcarts or carrying their baggage, women bent under the load of their worldly possessions that often amounted to little more than a change of clothes, a few blankets and a pitiful amount of cash. Some had walked hundreds of miles, often on bare and bleeding feet, in the hope of finding someplace they could stay, away from the terror of the front and the avenging Germans.

The Patriotic Union made provision as best they could. They had cleared out schools, dance halls and theatres to make room for temporary sleeping arrangements. Some had beds, often made crudely from green lumber. Others at least had a dry, clean place on the floor. The soup kitchens worked around the clock to provide hot food, though thin kasha and watery soup were often the best they could do. All the ration points in the world could not buy what was not there, and the farmers increasingly did not bring their meat, cheese or eggs to market. Valentina had heard stories about villagers refusing to let refugees use their wells, selling them water by the bottle instead. The people of Mogilev had their own grievances with the peasantry, and some took the opportunity for petty revenge when they charged these unfortunates ridiculous sums for anything they might need. It was heartbreaking.

At the hospital, the entire staff was working in a state of permanent near-exhaustion. Valentina, though technically only a nurses' assistant, had charge of a receiving unit that dealt with the workaday miseries of the road. Doctor Suskin appreciated her quick mind and steady nerves, so while he handled the medically demanding cases, she cleaned, bandaged and sutured wounds, dosed fevers and fluxes, and gave sage advice about rest, warmth, meat broth and milk porridge that sounded more like black mockery every day. They had no beds to spare. Every room in their hospital was filled to bursting with wounded soldiers. So far, they had been spared the horror of gas burns – you heard about these things, but Mogilev never received wounded from the Baltic provinces. But what conventional weapons could do to a man was awful enough. Valentina had never thought that a day would come when she would think of a man who had lost a leg or a hand as 'lucky'. But compared to what could happen, they were. A man with a wooden leg could still do useful work. He could hold a job, love a wife, father children and drink with his friends of an evening. Some men in the hospital at Mogilev would never do more than desperately struggle to articulate the most basic of wishes through the ruin that had been their faces. They were kept in separate wards and only the strong nurses were allowed to see them. Some nights, Valentina cursed herself for being strong.

“Here.” she said to the anxious mother. “It's nothing but a simple flux. Put talcum powder on the irritated skin and clean her up thoroughly every time! You must give her plenty of fluids, boiled water or milk, and porridge. All she eats or drinks must be boiled. And if you can, keep her in bed for a few days.”

The woman nodded. She looked to be fifty, though Valentina expected she was no more than thirty years old. Hunger and sleeplessness had marked her face, and the suspicion in his eyes spoke of the perils of the open road. Even with greenjackets guarding the refugees, the dangers they faced were many. Her husband was probably with the military. Valentina hoped she'd kept the home copy of his paybook. That way, she would be entitled to the monthly stipend families were paid by the government, and preferential admission to refugee housing. People stole these books, like they stole anything. With such papers, a woman might take on a new identity far from home, and nobody the wiser. Valentina wanted to say more, but the queue was already moving forward.


30 September 1907, near Wolmar, Russian Livonia

The pain of betrayal was almost physical. The events of the last two weeks had left Katharina Gismar scarred. More sad than angry, she kept telling herself, though with each passing mile she felt less sure whether that was true or just owed to the values her educated bourgeois family had instilled in their dutiful daughter. She still remembered the patriotic rush that war had produced, the sense of stern duty that had infused the men in her family as the regiments marched out and the posters went up. Her brother had gone, posted with the telegraphic troops for his skill at mathematics. So had young men from just about every family she knew. The daughters had made gifts for the soldiers, sewing shirts and blouses, rolling bandages and lately, the newfangled cotton-stuffed winter jackets that replaced heavy broadcloth. And her father had run the bond drive, dances, concerts and lectures at the school hall. Everybody had felt part of the great effort, then. The gymnasium in Wenden still had had the banner proclaiming 'Baltendeutsche Treue – Fest wie Erz' when the Okhrana had taken away her father. They had been quite polite – one of the officers had been in his class, after all – and said little beyond that they were taking him to a temporary camp in Pskov. That day, they had seen off almost the entire remaining faculty of the gymnasium, their mayor, pastor, and several businesspeople from her parish at the train station. They were not being arrested, everyone had made clear. Her father had even been allowed the time to pack two suitcases and given a seat in a second-class carriage. But they were gone. When the order to evacuate had come less than a week later, what were they supposed to do? She had protested ineffectually. Her father could have forestalled it, she felt sure. He could have spoken to the garrison commander or the governor. Her brother would have talked to his commander. Who could she talk to? The pastor's daughter and the doctor's wife, for all the good that did.

In the end, they had reconciled themselves to their fate. Doctor Mahler had left behind a carriage that his wife was happy to share, both for her company and the fact that the Gismar family had a manservant and two guns. It was not that they feared the authorities, but women travelling the countryside needed to be careful. Of course under normal circumstances they would have used the railway, but tickets were no longer for sale, and there were no ferries out of the ports the Czar still controlled. She could hardly have gone to Riga and ask the Germans for passage – at the time, they had thought of that as a joke. By now, she no longer felt sure whether it would not have been the wiser course of action. The wheels of their carriage ground their slow progress along the dusty, rutted road, the horses exhausted and hungry. The oats they had taken along were running out. So was the food. Neither could be had in the villages. Yanushkevich's cavalry had stripped them bare rushing for Riga. Soon, they might have to swap their docile gelding for a farm pony that could live on forage – if anyone would give them one. It seemed as though half the world was on the road eastward.

What had hurt them most, though, was the way Hans had left. No, he wanted to be called Janis now. The first night on the road, when the women were trying to get comfortable in the carriage, he had simply announced he was not going to stay. No amount of pleading, reminding him of years of loyal service and fond memories of her childhood would sway him. His country needed him, he'd said. They'd always been good to him, which was why he'd leave them everything except the hunting rifle and the good overcoat. Then he'd shouldered his bundle, dangled a second pair of shoes from his gun and walked off into the forest. Katharina had no idea what he was doing now, or what he was hoping to achieve. Sometimes she hoped a cossack patrol would pick him up and hang him from the nearest tree, but she still found it hard to wish ill on the man. And the cossack patrols were worrying her much more now than they had. In the cities, soldiers had always been well-behaved and safe. You felt protected in their company, even if they got rowdy. In the countryside, the rules were different. It was not something she had ever considered, but she could feel it with every encounter. Other evacuees told her of rumours that soldiers would rob travellers, or worse. So far they had always managed to find others to travel with, but if their horse really wore out, they might have to walk. Walking was dangerous. A soldier would instinctively respect someone on horseback or in a carriage. Officers talked to such people as equals. Travellers on foot, though, were beneath notice for the officer class. No, they had to find a horse, even if it cost them all they had. Katharina felt the seam of her overcoat, touching the heavy stiffness of the gold roubles she had sewn into it. She also carried her jewelry in a small pouch under her blouse, and her father's papers and bonds in a briefcase. It did nothing to reassure her. If anything, it made her feel terribly vulnerable. Shivering, she pulled up the old shotgun across her lap and flicked the reins.
02 October 1907, Lodz

The front of a modern war was an unsettling thing to see. It bore little resemblance to the battles even of ten years ago, or the fighting that Lieutenant McArthur had seen in the Philippines. He had been most surprised by the change in the German troops. Like every professional soldier, he had studied the army that had knocked Austria flat in six weeks and humiliated France. He remembered the strict discipline, the unrelenting, technical routines and the infamously niggardly cut of tunics that made thin men look like schoolboys and corpulent ones like blood sausages. He had not seen one of those since leaving Berlin on an eastbound train. The men he had met at the front – and that in itself was a new concept, a front that, instead of being a mobile, flexible fighting edge, comprised miles of depth across half a continent – universally wore baggy trousers and jackets in the muddy greyish-blue that the German army had converted to. Hardly anyone still had a pickelhaube, either, that slightly ridiculous symbol of Prussian drill and showmanship. Headwear was varied and motley – heavy pionierhelme with brims extending down the neck, lighter sturmhauben of grey-painted steel that recalled the shape of the peacetime leather helms, captured Russian fur caps, civilian knitted hats, but most commonly the soft flat cloth cap that even Emperor Wilhelm III himself wore most days. Motley and colourful, there was nothing purposeless about these men. A friend had written Douglas's father that '...they lounge with greater attentiveness than many a US soldier stands on parade.” and he had found it true. Their seemingly random assemblages of equipment proved entirely purposeful, some men electing to carry spare magazines in cloth bandoliers, others hand grenades, additional rounds for the Madsen gun, but also savage-looking clubs, sharpened spades, huge knives and axes. Their Polish auxiliaries looked largely the same, except for their foursquare caps made from the same fabric as the uniform jackets and the red-and-white armbands. After the litany of complaints about these troops – their lack of discipline, their unsanitary habits, their drunkenness – he had heard from German officers, McArthur had expected much worse than he had seen. And now, on the final stop of his tour, he found himself genuinely surprised. The Jewish Division were entirely unlike what he had expected, and their garrison commander, Colonel Rabinovitz, proved a most entertaining conversationalist, albeit filtered through an interpreter.

“We have found it necessary,” the colonel explained, walking across the gravelled exercise yard of the old Russian barracks the Maccabees had taken over, “to alter training methods to fit our needs. German manuals are excellent in their way, but the Germans enjoyed a great luxury in their choice of men. We do not.”

McArthur blinked. “Luxury? What do you mean?”

He could almost make out what the interpreter said in Yiddish, after so many months of exposure to German. Not quite, but almost. Then, the translated answer came. “The German army draws on a reservoir of hundreds of thousands, and most years they could afford to be selective. The population is highly educated – perhaps more than in any other country. And they have a tradition of discipline and martial pride. In many ways, they come to the army already soldiers.”

McArthur thought of his own men. Physically, they were mostly impressive specimens. The recruiters could be selective. The discipline and education – he had never thought to complain. But of course, the American army was small. The German army had impressed him enormously, and from he had been told, many of its leadership considered it debased, worn out by a year of fighting. That was almost terrifying.

“We take all recruits that can hold a rifle.” Rabinovitz continued. “Like you did in the Civil War, I suppose. No German recruiter would look at them.”

He gestured at a group of men in threadbare coats and ragged trousers shuffling around the yard uncertainly as an NCO barked at them. Starvation-thin and pale, they certainly did not look promising.

“Musicians, students, tailors and shop boys! We're not turning anyone away. Some, we can only put in the commissariat, but most will make soldiers in the end. Not the way the Germans make them, though.”

He pointed at the suffering of the latest intake. “This is the first thing they do. They learn to work together. And they build up strength. Many times, this is the first proper three meals a day they get. After that, they must study.” Rabinovitz pointed over to the windows of the barracks' west wing. “That is the one thing we can trust them to do, think. We want them to learn to use their weapons and their heads. Everybody leaves here knowing what the rifle can do, even if he can't make it do it. And the training they do at that time is easy. We had to kick out our German instructors, they couldn't get used to it. We only ask things of our recruits that they can do.”

“Why that?” The American did not support going easy on recruits. Certainly, the enemy would not.

“They need to understand they can do this.” The colonel explained. “As an American, you can become a soldier and think back to Yorktown and Gettysburg. A Frenchman can remember Austerlitz and Wagram. The last battle my people won before this war was at Shechem, and not a lot of people even know who John Hyrcanus was. If we train them to lose, they will.”

That made sense. If you weren't careful, the same could happen to black troops, McArthur had heard. His father had commanded negroes who fought valiantly, but it took a good officer. Not all races were instinctively martial. Rabinovitz, though, struck him as a man who could make Chinamen fight, and fight hard. “What comes next, though? How do you test their mettle?”

“We send them to the field.” the colonel said flatly. “They stay here ten weeks, now – it used to be six – and then they go out into a quiet sector of the front to do some real duty. They mix with real troops, and every section gets a veteran NCO to command it. Some can't stand it, but most can adapt. Afterwards, we take them back here – you'll see these troops later – to give them extra training. Some don't need it. You'd be surprised how unlikely men can become natural fighters given the chance.”

03 October 1907, Vilna

General Falkenhayn stared at the map, the smears and squiggles of grease pencil almost obscuring the markings on the paper by now. It was the most frustrating experience he had ever faced in command. Russian forces were all over Livonia, that much he knew. But pinning down where was proving almost impossible. Normally, reconnaissance would yield data that, over a few hours or days, would produce an image you could work from. Now, six days’ worth of data provided nothing firm. It was almost as though Yanushkevich had distributed his army across the province with a watering can. And it was taking a nasty toll: bridges blown, telegraph wires cut, outposts overrun, patrols slaughtered. They had pushed their troops forward to Novoalexandrovsk, but there was no sign of troops massing to repel the attack. Instead, it seemed as though every village and town was defended by forces that were inadequate to the purpose, but determined to exact a toll in blood.

“I don't think we can make Narva if we try to secure the entire hinterland.” the general said. “Yanushkevich's damned cavalry is all over it.”

Colonel von Seeckt scratched his chin. “Don't think we can, no.” he confirmed. “We should be able to starve them out. They can't really have much in the way of supplies. If we thrust for Lake Peipus...”

“That would take all winter, though.” Falkenhayn shook his head. “We need to make a point. We have to take the provinces away from the Russians quickly and finally. I think we should use the legions. I agree they are poorly trained, but the situation does not really call for much training.”

Seeckt cocked his head. In principle, that was true. You looked for anyone speaking Russian, you shot them. There wasn't much to it. But the Baltic Legions were not just poorly trained, they were untried. He would have much preferred to use them away from the front. “Will they be up to it?”

“What if they aren't” Falkenhayn sighed. “We'll just be in the same situation as before. Might as well try it. How are we set up for trains?”

“The line through Grodno is pretty much up to capacity.” the colonel reported. “And the troops are in readiness in East Prussia. We could try move them along the railway to Kovno and march them past the fortress.” The garrison there was holding out, and while German cavalry had secured the railway, they had no way of investing it properly. That was one more junction they did not control.

“What about sending them inland through Mitau?” Falkenhayn asked. “It looks like there are no other troop concentrations anywhere.”

“They are untried!” Seeckt cautioned.

“The Poles surprised us nicely.” Falkenhayn's voice took on a hard edge. He had made up his mind to gamble. “Entrain as many as we can for Mitau. And try to get into the rear of the defenses on the East Prussian frontier. There can't be many troops left in them. If we can grab Libau.... “

“A fortress.” Seeckt pointed out.

“A rabbit warren.” the general retorted. “I'm awaiting confirmation from Berlin by the hour that we can get 1410-gas for the field artillery. That should take care of that problem. Now let's get those troops into Livonia!”

05 October 1907, Berlin

“I'm not voting to prolong the slaughter again!” With a crash, Wilhelm Dittmann brought the cup down on the table. Heads turned in his direction.

“Bravo!” a supporting voice sounded across the room. “Hear, hear!”

“Wilhelm, you'd better think before you open your trap again!” Gustav Noske's face was flushed and he was actually walking across the tearoom of the Parteischule to Dittmann's table. “You'd better think and learn before you talk that kind of shit again!”

“What?” the Lepizig representative snorted. “Are you telling me you'll mortgage the future of the working class for the Junkers' dream of a German Baltic? We have our victory. Let's end it!”

Noske took a deep breath. “All right, genius. Tell me how! How do we end it and not destroy our economy? How do we end it when the Russians are still fighting us? What do you think they'll do to the Balts and Poles if we go home?”

A steady hand fell on his shoulder. “Gustav, stop it. There's no point for us to fight over these things. Everybody's entitled to their own opinion.”

“Oh, are we?” Karl Liebknecht threw Bernstein a withering glare. “How generous! And what should we do with that opinion, your grace? Anything but say it out loud, I suppose?”

“Well, do you want hyperinflation....” Noske began.

“Inflation is coming anyway!” Liebknecht shouted. “Do you think the ruling class will allow the workers to keep their wage gains? You know their plans, you've seen the article in the Kreuz-Zeitung! This is no longer about defending the country. It's about a blatant expansionist course, the subjugation of the Baltic peoples under Junker rule. How are you going to defend that?”

Bernstein sighed. Of course everybody had read the article. It did not help that no less a luminary than General von Bernhardi had co-authored it. The picture it drew of the future was nightmarish: a permanent German domination over newly conquered provinces, their Slavic population forced under the yoke of aristocratic landowners. It would not only perpetuate the despotism that everybody in the room had voted to go to war against, it would forever cement the voting power of the conservative agrarian interest. Not to mention ensure the next revenge war just as soon as Russia was back on its feet.

“I'm not defending it. It's criminal, and arrant nonsense! But you can't go voting against continuing the war just because someone writes an editorial you disagree. What is your vision of peace?”

“My vision of peace is now!” Rosa Luxemburg interrupted. “And if you gentlemen have forgotten, that is a vision shared by millions of proletarians at the front and their wives and mothers at home!”

“There!” Dittmann said. “Couldn't have put it better. You may think you are owed respect by the likes of us, but you just wait till the voting starts! Bebel said every man is to vote his conscience, and we will.”

“For Christ's sake, now?” Noske groaned. “Wilhelm, you'll destroy us. The völkische are building up a real party operation, and you want to alienate every patriotic voter?”

Liebknecht banged on the table. “Fuck your tactics! Fuck your politicking! People are dying! It needs stopped.”

Bernstein shook his head. “Use your head, Wilhelm. Think! It's an old Social Democratic tradition. If you can't do that, maybe you are in the wrong party.”

Liebknecht glared at him. “Maybe I am.”

06 October 1907, north of Idensalmi, Finland

Sergeant Pärsson hated Russians dutifully, the way a loyal soldier was expected to bear malice to his king's enemies, but he loathed mosquitoes with a deep and abiding, cold passion. His men seemed to bear this plague with great equanimity, smearing themselves liberally with petroleum jelly or bacon grease, but he was still new to the Norrland dragoons and found the sensation it created on the skin deeply unpleasant. Not to mention that it did not prevent the damned things from slipping into your collar and cuffs, or swarming you when you dropped your trousers. It was enough to put a man off Lappland for life. Of course, his farrier sergeant had assured him cheerfully, they would soon enough be rid of that particular problem. No mosquito would survive the winter up here. Other than reindeer and trees, very little survived the winter up here. The man seemed to be positively looking forward to it.

Soon, Captain Hagberg did not tire of reminding them, they would be able to cut off the Russian railhead at Idensalmi the way they had done to Kajana. Then, the enemy would be unable to stop them from taking all of Kola Peninsula and be locked into a tiny triangle of land between Kuopio, Viborg and Lake Ladoga. Why anyone would want to take even a bit of Kola Peninsula escaped Pärsson. But of course he was from Skane and only a sergeant.

“Near here, brave Swedish soldiers won the victory of Virta Bridge!” the captain had said. Nobody had brought up the question why the place was no longer Swedish if it had been such a great victory. Not that it mattered. They were here, the Russians didn't want them here, something had to give. Pärsson was ready enough to do his duty. The sooner they cut the rails, the sooner the garrison would be forced to surrender. Maybe they could even spend the winter in real houses. He had never faced a true northern winter, and he did not look forward to the prospect. It was already getting dark earlier every evening. Soon enough, the sun show for only a few hours a day. They'd better be finished with Idensalmi by then. Winter quarters under canvas sounded singularly unappealing.

07 October 1907, Baden-Baden

“This is an … insult. Unacceptable!” General Pilsudski was struggling for words.

“For what it's worth, I entirely agree.” Roman Dmovski, the high representative of the Polish provisional government, had sunk into the deep armchair by the fireplace as though deflated. Even his carefully maintained whiskers seemed to sag. “What are we going to do about it?”

Standing behind the heavy oak table, the German foreign minister Bernhard von Bülow said nothing. His eyes intently focused on Pilsudski's face, he frowned. He had not expected the reaction to be so forceful.

“Do!” Pilsudski snorted. “What can we do? Roman, Poland will never forgive us if we sign that. History will not!”

Von Bülow felt the momentary storm pass. He smiled placatingly. “Sir, I believe Poland will have more than enough reason to honour your memory for all eternity if you give her back an existence as a nation. As to these,” he pointed to the documents spread out before him, “I regret to say that they are not negotiable. In no aspect, and under no circumstances. Germany has sacrificed too much blood and treasure to accept any less.”

Pilsudski looked at him. He recognised the tone of voice. The man was serious. Bülow had a reputation as flexible, and a good negotiator. It was hard to believe he would threaten his credibility by appearing inflexible on any point he was prepared to concede, no matter what for. They'd have to take it or – what? Call the Germans' bluff? Dare them to swallow up Poland and deal with the ensuing rebellion? The problem with that was that he was not at all convinced Emperor Wilhelm would not do exactly that. Dzerzhinski assured him that Berlin had no plans to do anything like this, but that didn't mean they couldn't do it. He had no illusions about the threat his National Army posed to the Empire's forces. Heeresgruppe Warschau could mop them up over the winter and resume its eastward advance come spring. Or they could pick someone else to negotiate with. Archbishop Popiel was famously accommodating in matters of policy. The general crushed the stub of his cheeroot on the mantelpiece and sighed heavily. “Yes, dammit. Yes. I know. You'll get you signature. I hope you know what you are doing, though. Poland will not be happy with this!”

“I believe you are mistaken there.” Bülow pointed out. “Poland will get used to the new facts quite easily. You realise we have no intention of encroaching on her freedom.”

“Except for installing a German king, you mean?” Pilsudski said acidly.

“A king approved by the Emperor, yes. You cannot deny us that much. Other than that, you will not be denied say in the matter. We have no intention of imposing an unpopular choice, quite the contrary. And if you so choose, there is nothing to stop you from instituting the tradition of elective monarchy.” Von Bülow shrugged. “I would not recommend it, but you can.”

Dmovski smiled sourly. “And bathe the nation in vitriol every twenty years? I'll take a German dynasty over that!” He turned to face Bülow squarely: “You realise that this is not going to stop the people of Poland from following their leaders, don't you?”

“We have no intention to stop anyone from doing that.” the German reassured him. “You are, after all, our trusted allies. No, what we are hoping to provide is a centre of gravity, a stabiliser to keep the ship of state on an even keel in times when charismatic leadership is lacking. By all means, nobody in Berlin will object if you make General Pilsudski your commander in chief and prime minister.” He stepped over to the fireplace and relit his pipe. “But one day, Pilsudski will retire. Or die. That day, Poland will have a king, and be glad of it.”

Pilsudski nodded grudgingly. “The rest is not much better. A currency pegged to the paper mark … “

“Until such time as Germany returns to the gold standard.” von Bülow pointed out. “Surely, you can see your way to sharing the economic burdens of the war to that degree. And bear in mind, it will also enable you to purchase German products at predictable prices.”

“A captive market, you mean?”

“Nobody is preventing you from earning gold by exporting to third countries.”, the minister said curtly. “And spending it on any purchases you see fit. Though until German-held bonds have been repaid, we will require a degree of oversight over the kingdom's finances.”

Dmovski scowled. “I'm half surprised you're not calling for a tribute in youths and maidens.”

“They do.” Pilsudski pointed out. “It's article five, freedom of movement for labour to and from Germany to be granted, contingent on the agreement of the German states! What more could a modern Minotaur want?”

Von Bülow merely acknowledged the remark with a slight shrug.

“Poland will gladly pay any economic price for her liberty.” Dmovski ventured, changing the subject. “The passage about acknowledging as inviolable forever Prussia's borders could cause us political harm, though.” Pilsudski stared at him uncomprehendingly.

“You can hardly object to a statement of fact?” Bülow asked pointedly.

“Well, precisely.” Dmovski said flatly. “There is no imaginable situation in which any claim could be advanced. But there are many in Poland who will consider acknowledging this in public nothing less than treason. If we are seen to abnegate our nation's bonds with millions of our brothers....”

“Oh, but you must do nothing of the sort.” the minister interrupted him. “Germany makes no claim on the souls or hearts of your countrymen. By all means, extend them the protection of your state. Nobody will stop you from issuing them Polish passports. Territory now – that is not negotiable. Any Pole who wishes to move to Poland will be free to do so. Any who do not want to go that far can gladly live in Germany as a foreign resident.”

Pilsudski stroked his moustache. That was clever. “And our eastern borders...”

“... will be determined at the time we conclude our peace with the Russian Empire.” Bülow completed the tentative sentence. “It would not do at this point to be too ambitious nor too timid.”

Getting the lost lands back would make a nice consolation for acknowledging that Posen and Silesia were gone for good. Dmovski nodded. He could see making that argument in public. The economic stipulations stuck in his craw right enough – becoming part of the German customs union would hurt the industrialists, and denominating bonds issued prior to the signing of the treaties in gold meant the young state would bear a staggering debt. But these could be borne. They had to be seen to emerge with their honour intact, a free country. The more he thought about it, the more he felt that it could be done.

“I think we can work on this basis.” he said.

08 October 1907, New York

Be advised recent failure of New York City bond issue puts successful issuance of German debt in question at this point. Capital markets currently unsteady. Intend to confer with J P Morgan on his return to New York. Possible necessity to reduce volume of current offering to 20 million.

(telegram by Jacob Schiff to Minister of Munitions Krupp von Rathenau)

10 October 1907, Mitau

“That's where it was.” Feldwebel Dierig pointed to a gentle slope south of the railway lines. Concrete fortifications and gun emplacements were visible among clumps of shrubbery and tall grass. Someone had helpfully put up signs along a wide perimeter that sported death's heads. 'Achtung Gas!' they read.

Major Dahn sniffed. Everybody did that. Of course you couldn't smell the gas now. If you could, you'd be too close. Still, his nose wrinkled. “Is that...?”

“Stoff 1410? Nah. That's the Russians in the bunkers.” Dierig explained.

“Russian … corpses?” the major seemed shocked. Didn't staff officers learn how things worked at the front?

“I suppose so, Sir.” Dierig shrugged. “If there were any left alive, they'll be dead by now. That was what we didn't think of, clearing out the place.”

Major Dahn recovered commendably quickly from his surprise. He'd make a good chess player, Dierig thought. Of course, he had to. They didn't let you on the staff otherwise. “Surely civilian work gangs or POWs could be found?” he suggested.

The sergeant suppressed a sigh. Artillery NCOs had to deal with idiots who outranked them a lot. You got practice. And truth be told, Dahn was far from the worst.

“Sir, Stoff 1410 is a persistent agent. We use it for area denial. In heavy concentrations, it can take weeks to clear. Some of the railheads near Riga still aren't safe. After we shelled the southern bastions of Mitau, we knew we wouldn't be able to occupy them, but that wasn't the point. The fortress had to be reduced quickly. Putting it under gas worked like a charm, actually. The garrison was on the verge of mutiny, and when the commander surrendered, he refused to return to the city. We hadn't even had to damage the rail installations, though a couple of greenjackets dynamited a bridge and set fire to a couple coal depots.” He paused, wiping his brow. It was still quite warm for the time of year, though he'd heard winter, when it came, would be nasty.

“A success, then?” Dahn noted. “It sounds like an eminently clever use of the weapon.”

“It was, Sir.” Dierig agreed, pushing back his flat cap. “But we never thought about the problem with the dead. Normally, after a battle you can recover and bury them. But you can't go near the area we gassed. We tried, but even with the new masks it's not safe. One false move and you get burned. You can't send anyone in there, least of all POWs.”

Nobody could spare masks for POWs, obviously. Dierig was among the few lucky enough to have received the Gasschutzmaske 2. Unlike the baggy monstrosity with the fragile cellophane eyeslits that the frontline troops used, this was made of heavy rubber, with safety glass windows and a solid filter. Rumour had it that an American muleteer had invented it. Certainly, it worked a lot better than anything that had come out of Jüterbog.

“I see.” The major stopped pensively, pulled a notebook from his pocket and started scribbling for a minute. Then, he turned to Dierig again. „What do you think could be done about it?”

Now it was the sergeant's turn to show surprise. General staff officers didn't normally bother to ask the opinion of mere NCOs. The war was changing some things. “Well, Sir, it's not so much a problem on flat land. The rain washes it off after a while, unless you overdo it. But in tunnels and bunkers, the gas clings on for – I don't know how long. Nobody knows. Could be this part of Mitau is unfit for human use forever. Course that doesn't help much, given it's bunkers we want to clear out. I suppose you could flood the system after.” He paused and shook his head. “But the work that would take... Stoff 1410 just isn't very good for this kind of thing. I'd prefer something else.”

Dahn nodded. “What?”

Dierig scratched his head. “I'm not a chemist, I just did three days training at Jüterbog. But I suppose … tear gas might work well. As long as they don't figure out it's not going to kill them. Or phosgene. Once we figure out a reliable protection against phosgene, we're set.”

Major Dahn nodded. That was what it all eventually boiled down to. It wasn't enough to be able to gas the enemy, you had to protect your own troops. The masks they had did all right for chloroethyl sulfide, and the trick with 1410 was simply never to go near it. It didn't drift very far, that was a decided advantage. If the new mask could really protect a man from the more lethal stuff, there was nothing to stop them from going through Russian defenses like a hot knife through butter. The enemy could barely manage to find bullets for his conscripts, let alone gas masks. If that negro had cracked their problem, he deserved a medal, no matter what jungle village he'd come from.

12 October 1907, New York

“So you're saying another tens of millions of dollars will be needed?” Abigail Greene Rockefeller sounded unconcerned, businesslike. Of course it was her business to open the wallets of New York's upper crust. Still, there was an edge to her voice. Was it disappointment?

“I regret to say so, Ma'am.” Robert Opansky confirmed. “The harvest was better than the last, but it does not come close to meeting demand. Poland is facing a hungry winter, and a starving spring.”

“You still have reason to give us hope this will change?” she asked. “The American Relief Committee for Poland had high hopes when you first approached us.”

Opansky lowered his gaze. “We were overly optimistic, I regret to say.” he admitted. “The exigencies of war, the paucity of transportation, shortage of cash and the destruction of productive capacities all conspire to thwart our best efforts. Poland is not a hopeless country, but a deeply wounded one.”

Lounging on her chaiselongue, you could have mistaken the her for an indolent fool, but he knew he was facing the uncrowned queen of New York Society. Where Mrs Rockefeller went, money followed. Where she refused to go, it dried up. A single evening's entertainment, a reception or dance, could mean thousands of children living through the winter, bread for labourers, clothes for widows and orphans to ward of the freezing winter. But she would have assurances that the clothes and food would be well used.

“Paucity of transportation, you say?” she enquired. “How do you distribute your aid?”

“As best we can, Ma'am”, Opansky admitted. “I have just returned from a visit to Poland, and I can attest to the fact that not everything is as we wish it were. Our choice of partners is limited to, if I dare say, the incompetent, the corrupt, and the self-serving.”

Abigail Rockefeller nodded. “Do elaborate, please.”

The man opposite her was becoming visibly nervous. “If you forgive my saying so, Ma'am, the organisation with the best system to distribute relief, the Church, is unfortunately at the same time the most blatantly self-serving. The parishes and organisations charged with helping the poor and suffering use it to buy influence, to proselytise and reward their allies. The German charities used them before the war, so they are, to an extent, what you might call the 'only game in town'. But I am still reticent to work with them where it can be avoided. You can usually trust an individual to distribute food and clothes well, but we have lost entire consignments at the hands of religious orders and bishoprics.”

“And the army?” she continued.

“What we refer to as the Polish National Army is still more properly called an assembly of militias. Some of them valiant and doughty, no doubt, but almost feudal in their command structure. Soldiers are always hungry and their commander – greedy. It is unwise to rely on them where it can be avoided. We hire our own wherever we can, but that brings its own problems. In Poland, to be blunt, money is of limited value. You must be able to feed and protect your people, not just pay them.”

“I thought the Germans protected Poland?” The question sounded almost touchingly naïve, but Opansky recalled she had never been outside the protected world of the wealthy.

“The Germans guard Poland's borders. Inside the country – there is something like a German military police in the cities. There are the National Army units. That's it. And their allegiances can be – complicated. I'm not complaining about the Germans. They are allowing us the use of railway lines they need for their own military supplies, even to the point of limiting their operations at times. But there aren't enough of them on the ground. We must negotiate our protection with local units, and it is often difficult.”

“Is there nobody who is not corrupt?”

“Well, there is the NSB. They are completely incorruptible. But they are also … working with them has its own difficulties. The head, one Dzerzhinski, is a raging Socialist. They keep order, after a fashion – without them, the country would be unmanageable. But they rule with an iron fist. His men call him … man of steel.” The agent sighed. “And then there's the Jews. They're easy to work with, but clannish. But if you want to use dollars in Poland, you go through them. It's the only banking system there is.”

“And you mean to use them because you … want to purchase more grain locally?”

“Yes. Buying is not the problem. You can get anything for dollars or Sterling. It won't be enough, but the farmers, especially the big landowners, have stores they're holding on to for when market conditions are right. Or until the NSB finds them.” Opansky remembered what that could look like. He'd spent too many days haggling with fat pans about the price for the bread to feed their neighbours' starving children. But he'd also seen what Dzerzhinski's boys did to hoarders. “It will free up local reserves, stimulate demand, and create local business transporting and storing it. And it will free up railway capacity we will need badly come winter.”

“Courland?” Mrs Rockefeller asked.

He nodded. No matter what kind of state Poland was in, it would be heaven compared to the Baltic duchies. Here, the retreating Russians had torched everything they hadn't been able to carry off. What grain remained had either rotted in the fields or been looted by passing troops. Hundreds of thousands of people were homeless, wandering, already starving. Even with the ports of Riga and Libau open, it would be an almost impossible task – and the ice could come early in the Baltic.

“We won't have the time to design any system, there.” he said. “For the first few months, just shipping in the food and handing it out must be enough. The Germans said they would cooperate fully, but there is a limit to what they can do. Their 'national governments', though... I hope they'll turn out better than the Poles.”

“We must all hope they do.” Abigail Rockefeller said. “But you are right, We must find you the money.”

13 October 1907, Libau

The German army, it was stated with considerable pride, had been able to draft into uniform a number of medical men unequalled in the history of humanity to preserve the health of its millions of soldiers. Doktor Gadebusch had his private doubts whether the abstract pride in this enormous logistical achievement was shared by every one of these thousands. He certainly did not feel part of a grand historic moment. At times a man could comfort himself with the thought that being a small part of a great thing still was a worthy thing to do, no matter how humble the task. But the work could get to you. True, he had joined in the standard jokes about the happy lot of gynaecologists back at Heidelberg – had that only been so few short years ago? - but if he never got to see another woman's pudenda, that would do just fine. The report files for the week lay neatly stacked in front of him, names, numbers, diagnoses. Some connected to faces: the girl from Libau who had lost her home and all her kin, the young war widow with two small children, the German-speaking housemaid who always managed to make officers be extra generous. Most did not. They were anonymous numbers, statistics linked to houses, petri dishes, digital inspection findings.

Humani nil a me alienum puto, the engraving on his watch said. It had been a gift from his uncle on graduating, a fine sentiment for a medical man. Sometimes, the words helped lift his spirits, but more often, they left a bitter taste in his mouth. So many thousand Fromm's prophylactics, so many hundred doses of Ehrlich-Hata 606, so many disinfectant washes... What did you do in the war, daddy? Well, son, I commanded a bunch of brothels in Lithuania. What was the collective term for brothels, anyway? A fleet? A squadron? A platoon?

A knock on the door roused him from his daydreaming. Of course – with him being the senior officer present, the assumption that he was in command came naturally. The army could not afford to waste a real officer on such duties, but a sanitation officer – a doctor with a reserve commission – would do. Most rankers wouldn't care much about the difference, though he felt they never gave him quite the deference they would have accorded someone from the combat branches. A sergeant of infantry stepped in. Gadebusch knew him – one of the door managers in the other ranks' establishment. A pasty, bloated man unfit for any kind of duty except sitting down. What kind of war stories would he have to tell his kids?

“Trouble at the house, sir.” he said, saluting.


“Of course, Sir.”

The Wallensteiner were one of those problems nobody expected to happen. With the OHL keen to reward courage, assault troops on leave were given special tickets that entitled them to jump all kinds of queues. Most of the men accepted it, but it could cause the wrong kind of friction in places. Some wag at the general staff had commented the idea with a Schiller quote - “Im Sturm erringt er den Minnesold” - and the Wallensteiner had been born. Of course the troops loved it. Most of them, anyway. Gadebusch assumed that quartermasters' men were not terribly keen on a piece of paper that was generally seen as a tacit license to kick over the traces. He rose and buttoned his coat. The sergeant would be useless.

“I'll go, sergeant. Find me the nearest combat officer you can – major or upwards, if possible – and bring him along.”

“No problem, Sir.” the NCO said. “I'll go over to Nr. 6.”

Nr 6 – the officers' establishment. Nicer, cleaner, 10 marks a go. He'd find someone. Whether that someone would be happy to be disturbed was another matter, but Gadebusch was past caring. He'd need the authority to back him up.

14 October 1907, Baden-Baden

“It does not matter how great you create her on the map. A Poland reduced to an assemblage of individuals and territories – a Poland cut from the religious roots of her people – will wither and die!” Dmovski's fist struck the green baize of the tabletop harder than he had perhaps intended. Rabbi Landauer's teacup wobbled briefly, and the old man's hand steadied it with quiet precision.

“They are not everybody's roots, your grace.” Professor Narutovicz pointed out. Pilsudski had nominated him as much for his diplomatic style as the fact that he cut a flattering figure in a tailcoat – something you could not say of Landauer or of the general himself, who preferred to wear his military tunic. At this table, he played the voice of reason more often than not.

Landauer smiled bitterly. “I do not see any future for my people in a Poland dominated by the Catholic Church.” he said quietly. “We have tried this in the past, and it has never resulted in anything but tears. I cannot assent to your proposal, your grace.”

Dmovski snorted angrily. As he was about to retort, Foreign Minister von Bülow raised his hand. Quiet immediately descended. “Far as it is from the Imperial Government to interfere in the internal affairs of our allies,” he began. The hint of a bitter smile played over Dmovski's face. Dr Nordau dabbed his lips with a handkerchief.

“...I must agree. There is a significant population of Germans in the territories claimed by the Polish government, and most of them are not Catholic. We must have assurances of their good treatment and religious liberty.”

“Of course you shall have them.” Dmovski said assiduously. “The church has no intention...”

“Thanks, we have had plenty of those assurances in the past.” Dr Nordau interrupted. He fixed his eyes on Dmovski's.

“The law will specify....”

“Laws can be rewritten. We should prefer a more concrete form of protection, and for my part, I will not agree to a single Jew laying down his arms until we have them.” he completed his challenge.

“We cannot have another religion dictate...”

“Neither can we, your grace.” Landauer mildly pointed out. “Neither can we. No more. We shall be equals in our Poland, or enemies of yours.”

“We are not in principle opposed to establishing religion, where this will not prejudice our safety.” Nordau added. “But Poland must be a home to all in it. Not just those who happen to be of Catholic faith and Polish tongue.”

“We can hardly establish all religions, can we.” Narutovicz sighed.

“Indeed. What of the secular state? Must we be governed by meddling clergy forever?” Karol Irzykovski spoke up.

“I regret to say that yes, it appears so.” Narutovicz silenced him. We discussed the matter in Army Council and agreed it is a concession we may have to make. If we can ever agree on a solution to this gordian knot.”

Von Bülow rubbed his temples. Damn, this was supposed to be easy! They weren't exactly falling over their own feet to defer to German diktat, but that was to be expected. If only they could figure out what they wanted...

“Your Excellency?”

Bülow turned to his young Referent. The bugger was too clever by half! Why had he allowed the Zentrum people to talk him into taking him on? “Yes, Mr Adenauer?”

“I believe I may have a suggestion to resolve the issue. ...”

16 October 1907, Narva

General Ivanov had not come to the field headquarters with high expectations. Still, when he came face to face with the luckless Yanushkevich, he was shocked. His thick, wavy hair was lustreless and grey at the temples, the eyes sunken and reddened, the fleshy face sagging and pale. Ivanov was looking at a man destroyed so thoroughly that whatever fate awaited him in Minsk was all but irrelevant. It would be half a miracle if he lived out the year.

“I am sent to relieve you of your command...” he said, hesitating to inflict more pain.

Yanushkevich nodded. “Of course you are.” he said, his voice brittle. “I wish I could hand over the army of the Niemen to you in a better state.”

“... and to place you under arrest.” Ivanov completed the sentence, “His Majesty the Czar will see you tried for dereliction of duty. I am sorry.”

Yanushkevich shrugged. “I expected as much.” he said tonelessly. “Well, I should pack my suitcases, then. You will want to settle into your new command. I wish you joy of it.”

Ivanov held out his hand. “Sir!” he said, stopping Yanuishkevich in his tracks. “I am sorry. This is not just a figure of speech,. I really am. You are being served unjustly. As a soldier...”

“As a soldier, we both must obey our orders, general.” Yanushkevich said. “I understand. Thank you, General Ivanov. I have done the best I could, little enough though it was.” He gestured for his chief of staff “Colonel Lukomsky!”


“Please be so kind and describe the situation to General Ivanov. He will be relieving me.”

The younger man stepped up smartly, though his face betrayed sleepless worry. His uniform showed he was an engineer by training. Ivanov wondered if he would survive the fall of his commander. “You are Colonel Lukomsky?” he asked redundantly.

“I am, Sir. If you would step over here....” he led the way to the map table.

“First, I need to find out the state of the forces under my command.” Ivanov began.

Lukomsky blinked. “I can't tell you about that, Sir.”

“You can't... what?” The general stood in shock. “What do you mean? I need a list of the troops under my command and their battle readiness.”

“I don't know that, Sir.” Lukomsky repeated, defiantly now. “I do not know what troops you have under your command. Nobody does. Nor where they are. Nor in what state of battle-readiness, if they still exist!” He gestured over the map, a sweep of the hand taking in the land from the coast at Libau all the way to Lake Peipus. “As far as we can tell, they may still be where we left them, when we were ordered to defend the country in place. Or maybe not. You may have more luck finding out.”

“But surely...” Ivanov blinked. “The garrisons must be reporting. You have telegraph cables, wireless...”

Lukomsky laughed bitterly. “I would be surprised if there is a verst of telegraph cable left in all of the Baltic provinces. Not since the damned franc-tireurs found pliers. We haven't had westbound telegrams get through for weeks now. The country is lousy with armed gangs. They cut the cables, chop down poles, dynamite stations and shoot repair crews. No, I regret to say we cannot rely on that channel. And the wireless – oh, the wireless. Yes, we are getting reports every day. But if you can tell me who is sending them, you are a wiser man than me.,”

“Who is sending them?”

“Yes, general. I am told you can tell from the manner of tapping code who is behind the machine, but the Germans are getting very good at copying ours. And they must have gotten hold of code books by now. Certainly we have lost entire regiments to fake messages.”

“So you must send couriers!” Ivanov felt sweat running down the nape of his neck. “Gallopers with sealed orders.”

“We did.” the colonel raised his hand once again, then dropped it limply. “Hundreds of horsemen. Never heard from them again., Some couriers got through to us, too. Their messages were old, of course. Just a few days ago we received a call for relief from the commander at Mitau.” He smiled bitterly. “The method leaves much to be desired in terms of timeliness. Anyway, general...”

His hand drew a line along the Narva river. “This is where I have troops I can tell you about. Four divisions of infantry, half a one of cavalry, and the lifeguards horse, or what's left of it. West of the line, you may well have another three hundred thousand. Or nobody left alive, for all we can tell. The Germans are at Dorpat, we know that from their newspapers. You may want to read those, by the way. We get a telegraphic digest from Copenhagen. At least the Germans have some idea where their troops are.”

Ivanov sat down harder than he had intended. “I see.” he said finally. “And the men at my immediate disposal – how are they?”

“Rested, reasonably. As fully equipped as we could make them. I regret to say, Sir, that we assembled them in our rearward area in defiance of orders. They have been preparing defenses along the Narva and Lake Peipus.”

As, he needed not add, General Yanushkevich had originally intended for his entire army to do. The army that had now, as far as he could tell, vanished into thin air. Hundreds of thousands of men, horses, guns, rifles, all simply gone. 'Unaccounted for' as the phrase went. He had, of course, heard that fighting in the Baltic provinces was confused, but he had had a different idea of what that meant. “Yes.” he acknowledged dazed. “I suppose that was wise.”

“I take full responsibility for this insubordination, Sir.” Lukomsky could not resist rubbing it in. “If you wish to relieve me of my position, I will accompany General Yanushkevich to Moscow.”

“No!” Ivanov said emphatically. This man, for all his prickliness, knew his stuff. He needed him here. “No. Certainly not. We will need your expertise here. Now, the defenses. Are they ready? I suppose it would be wise to draw on reinforcements from St Petersburg?”

The colonel nodded. “Four divisions isn't a lot for the line we are trying to hold. Certainly if the Germans use gas against us again. We will need more guns, more men, more machine guns. Can you get those?”

Ivanov pondered the question. There certainly were troops in the St Petersburg military district. The city itself had a large garrison. Surely some of them could be spared... He'd need to call on the right people. If only that idiot Trishatny had not insisted on forbidding retreat. Maybe he would be willing to spare some of his greenjackets for this? Fat chance! “I should be able to get some,. Anything else?”

“Pray for snow. Sir.”