Part #235: Subterfuge
The country’s official name is:
KINGDOM OF THE REUNITED NETHERLANDS (KONINKRIJK DER HERENIGDE NEDERLANDEN
), much more often called BELGIUM or KINGDOM OF BELGIUM ( KONINKRIJK BELGIË
The people are known as:
, but this is almost never rendered into English as ‘NETHERLANDERS’; in English they are almost always called BELGIANS (BELGEN
Capital and largest city:
Brussels (0.7 million)
A black diamond bearing the gold lion rampant of Flanders, outlined in white with orange and blue triangles at the corners (evoking the former republican Dutch flag).
13 million (excluding colonies).
: Ranked between 8th and 10th place depending on who one asks.
Form of government:
A form of federal constitutional monarchy. The combined States-General in Brussels is, since the reforms of 1884, elected by a relatively broad suffrage (approximately 90% of men and 35% of women are eligible to vote, although the requirements for standing for election are more stringent). The monarchy however retains considerable power by playing off the States-General against the more conservative and insular States-Provincial, which possess substantial power. The States-Provincial in the Low Countries proper are ancient, while since the Unification War the remaining Rhineland territories have been divided into further States-Provincial, often with dubious historical precedents cited. The Government is formally headed by the hereditary Stadtholder drawn from the House of Orange inherited from the now-vanished Dutch Republic, but in practice this role more functions as a regent or stand-in for the monarch and one of the King’s Ministers functions as unofficial prime minister in the States-General. The King’s voice in the States-General is the usually dominant “Belgian Party” (or Crown Loyalists) while parties openly advocating republicanism or the separation of the former Dutch or German territories are officially banned, meaning there are a lot of independents. The main opposition party is the United Radical Bloc, which draws from all the communities of Belgium but seeks reform and more power for the people.
Belgian foreign relations have been in a quandary for the four decades since the Unification War and the collapse of the Isolationsgebiet. This is because both France and Germany are seen as foes who took (de jure) Belgian land in living memory under bitter circumstances so alliance with one against the other would be politically difficult. Belgium has therefore been drawn to aloof neutrality in Europe, a focus on colonial affairs, and international trade (including training reformed armies in independent states which have resisted colonialism, such as Persia).
The Belgian army is not the largest in the world but is considered capable and well equipped. The Belgian navy was built up over the years due to (largely fruitless) attempts to regain control over the exilic Dutch republics in Guyana, the Cape and the East Indies/Nieuw Holland, though those states’ membership of the Hermandad has made this even less feasible.
Current head of state:
King Maximilian IV (since 1883) (House of Wittelsbach)
Current head of government:
Formally Stadtholder William IX, in practice Foreign Minister Burggraaf Lodewijk de Spoelberch.
– Taken from APPENDIX: GUIDE TO THE WORLD’S NATIONS AT THE EVE OF THE PANDORIC WAR, OCTOBER 1896, from
The World At War: From The Pages of The Discerner VOLUME I: THE GATHERING STORM (1981)
From: The World At War: From The Pages of The Discerner VOLUME II: RETURN ENGAGEMENT (1983):
HIMS Constitution, South-east of the Îles Téméraire [OTL Pitcairn Islands]
April 3rd 1897
With a gentleness that seemed utterly alien when juxtaposed with the stern warrior of hours before, Admiral Owen Hughes reached out with two fingers and carefully closed Captain George Steuart Potter’s eyes. The Maryland man seemed almost peaceful in death, at least so long as one did not peep below the canvas wrapping him from the chest down: even on modern lionhearts that carried no sailing rig even for auxiliary power, canvas remained on board for this grim purpose. Potter had been almost cut in half by a piece of shrapnel, treacherously torn from the Constitution
’s own deck railing by enemy fire. A much smaller fragment, either from the same hit or a different one, had scored a line across Hughes’ temple. An inch difference and he would be lying beside Potter. As it was, he had barely noticed the wound at the time, impatiently brushing aside the blood dripping into his eyes. With ill-disguised annoyance he had allowed the surgeon’s mate to clean the wound out with iodine and wrap a bandage around his head. He probably looked like one of those savage Yapontsi bandits from the illustrated bloodies.
If he stopped to look at himself in a mirror. But even if there was time for such an indulgence, he wouldn’t be able to meet his own eyes.
Lieutenant Gardner hurried up to his side and gave a perfunctory salute. “Fire in section 4A is out, Admiral,” he said, his face blackened with soot but split by a relieved grin. “We got it before it could reach the magazine.”
“Excellent work,” Hughes forced himself to say. He could hardly say anything else to these brave men who risked their lives to save his ship, no matter how numb he felt. “The new damage control team system works then, you would say?”
Gardner, an Englishman, smiled wryly. “Aye-aye sir, amazingly enough, the American Admiralty had an idea that wasn’t—ahem—to the standard of their usual fayre.”
Hughes managed to respond with a supercilious smirk, thought it felt a little hollow. “Wonders will never cease. Your men are all awarded a three-day pass next time we’re in a friendly port.”
“Thank you, sir!” Gardner saluted again and left.
Hughes’ artificial smile drooped. The next time the Constitution
would reach a friendly port would likely be a lot sooner than Hughes had hoped before the battle. And it had been a battle—not the sort of one-sided ambush (a turkey shoot, as the Americans called it) that he had expected, and that his honour had treacherously felt guilty about. How naïve.
Gardner’s mention of the American Admiralty made Hughes think of his time as a cadet, when he had studied past battles. Trafalgar in particular had always stood out to him. A British defeat, a heinous defeat that had resulted in the court-martial of Admiral Keppel. But a tactical
defeat, the only sort that the newspapers and the court of public opinion cared about. Strategically
, Trafalgar had still helped defeat France and Spain in the Second Platinean War because of the number of transports Keppel had sank. What had really mattered to the outcome of that war was not how many warships were lost but how capable of moving troops across the Atlantic those nations had been.
Trafalgar was over a century ago now, of course, and ships and logistics had changed beyond all recognition: hell, the very nation that Britain’s intervention in the war had helped birth was now their greatest foe—or the greatest foe of the Americans, which these days annoyingly amounted to the same thing. Regardless, the comparison stuck with Hughes as he looked again at the silent form of Captain Potter, asleep till the Last Trump. “But this time they were Keppel,” he muttered.
The Meridian ships—alright, the Hermandad ships if you wanted to be pedantic—had all been sunk. But it had been a grievous battle and there had been terrible losses on the Anglo-American side. At first there had been promising signs, with the Meridians losing one of their sub-lionhearts to what looked like indecisive and panicked captainship. But then their other sub-lionheart had seized the opportunity and bored in on the Anglo-American lines.
It was true that lionhearts had truly changed warfare. The Meridian sub-lionheart had been unable to truly penetrate the Constitution
’s armour with its main armament, her losses—like Potter—due to unfortunate fragments of outer deck accoutrements being blasted free, and the fire Gardner had mentioned being caused by an internal engine failure under stress rather than enemy fire. But the Meridians’ charge had thrown the plan into disarray because of how unexpected and relatively organised it had been. The result was that, even though the Anglo-Americans had held a decisive advantage of numbers and ship quality that had eventually told, it had been too late to stop the Meridians selecting a target they could do real damage to.
Hughes turned and winced. The black smoke drifting from her engines was now dying off as those same engines slowly sank beneath the waves with the rest of HMS President
’s stern. Chunks of armour had been blasted away from the sub-lionheart’s flanks, with real penetration by Meridian guns backed up by steelteeth from the dentists. The President
had done well to survive as long as she had given the degree of concentrated fire that had been directed at her. At least she had remained afloat long enough for most of her surviving crew to be evacuated. The lifeboats were pulling away from the sinking wreck before the vortex could claim them.
The Admiral prided himself on not underestimating his opponents—or so he had thought. Now, with hindsight, he saw his mistake. The Meridian Armada did have an undeniable habit of some practices considered ungentlemanly or skirting close to the boundaries of the laws of war, most obviously their tendency to use false-flag operations or be ambiguous whether a ship belonged to the UPSA proper or a Hermandad client state or a corporation. Propaganda, he realised, had seized upon that real fact and exaggerated it to imply Meridians were always dishonourable in war, and therefore cowardly bullies who would flee if faced with a superior force.
That had been a wrong impression, it was clear. They had fought like madman. No, madman did not stop to think and prioritise a realistic target like the President
. They had fought like men
Two quiet orderlies arrived to take Potter’s body below where it would eventually be consigned to the waves. Who would conduct the funeral with Potter himself dead? Would Hughes have to do it? He would have to check the regulations: not a chapter he had ever wanted to face.
Pushing the thought aside, Hughes forced himself to watch as the President
’s lifeboats were taken on board HHMS Lug Lamfáda
and HVMS Caracas
. Those two dentists ought to be able to take the crew between them, though it would be cramped. The Franklin
’s unusual design and aquaform ignition risks meant that she could not safely close to take on lifeboats herself.
That reasoning was entirely logical, Hughes thought uneasily. To anyone who understood the Franklin
. And the Constitution
herself was still being checked out to make sure the fire risks had been entirely dealt with, and couldn’t afford to have dazed sailors cramming her corridors.
Yes, for the people back home to misunderstand this as American ships deliberately refusing to rescue British sailors, well, that would be as absurd as thinking that Admiral Keppel had been a cowardly failure at Trafalgar…
From: The World At War: From The Pages of The Discerner VOLUME III: IN THE BALANCE (1984):
Oorlamstad, Cape Republic [OTL: Kimberley, South Africa]
April 17th 1897
“Oh, Hendrik, you are so brave!” Eva said in her charming rustic accent as she threw her arms about him, her blue eyes shining. Her hands dived into his uniform jacket and darted across his body, tracing the slowly healing scar that described an arc across his ribs. “It was so close!”
“It was,” Captain Hendrik Cuypers said. He frowned pensively for a moment. “It was a lot closer for a lot of my men. A lot of my friends. Not all of us are coming back to their wives and girlfriends.”
Eva made sympathetic noises, though Hendrik might have seen something in her eyes that looked almost irked. But then, perhaps that was just selfishness that her boyfriend was thinking about something other than her
. She was lovely, but the same rustic background, the same narrow horizons that made her innocent and think the world of Hendrik also meant she had no conception of how great and terrible the war had become.
So Hendrik smiled and forced down the memories that were written in blood. They would return at night when he closed his eyes. “But I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t want to spoil our time together.” He glanced up at the steam train as it slowly chugged out of the station, leaving a few other injured men behind. Several looked far worse off than Hendrik; he should count his blessings. “Let’s go.”
Eva smiled ravishingly and clung closely to him as they walked away from the station. By the standards of those who had known the town in peacetime, Oorlamstad felt dead and deserted right now—which meant that by the standards of almost anyone else, it was still
a crowded maelstrom of madcap chaos. Only a few years ago, this had been a little settlement that took its name from the Oorlam, one of the many mestizo
peoples descended from early Boertrekkers intermarrying with natives. It had been on the map only because it was fairly close to the inland border with Anglo-American Natal and might be significant in the event of a war such as this.
But then the diamonds had been found. If the eyes of the world had focused on the Cape some years before that when the goldrush—that two-edged sword that had touched California, Antipodea and so many other places—had happened, it was as nothing compared to the upturning of the global jewellery market that the diamond discoveries in the Oranje River had created. And, despite the best efforts of smugglers and bandits who were entirely independent
and not at all
backed by the Belgian and Anglo-American governments, all the biggest diamond mines were in Cape Dutch territory. The Anglo-Americans in Natal had to content themselves with poisoning themselves to death extracting gold with borussic acid. All that wealth belonged to the Cape Dutch.
Well, not so much the ordinary Cape Dutch people, whether Boertrekker or native. More a few rich men in Oranjestad [Port Elizabeth], where Hendrik had grown up, and a lot more Meridians. But that was life.
Now, despite the relatively subdued pace of wartime life, the great and ramshackle city still felt like it had a throbbing heart. Houses were thrown up almost as fast as the similarly temporary constructions from a few years before crumbled down. Fortunes were won and lost in gambling houses, a form of economic balancing that ensured that few of the ordinary miners who did manage to make it out with spectacular mineral wealth ended up keeping it for long. Zaal
saloons extracted what remained in return for wine, women and song. The Stock Exchange and the great telegraph centre—which despite its newness sported a handful of Optel towers in order to communicate with villages which could not yet protect Lectel lines—looked after the real money, tying Oorlamstad to the heart of the Republic in distant Oranjestad. Amid it all, preachers from a half-dozen denominations heckled the rat race, from traditional Calvinists to local syncretists to even Freedom Theologians imported from Guinea. Furthermore, there were plenty of workers who had been drawn here from all over the world, and some of them had brought their faith with them. On his last date with Eva—which seemed centuries ago now—Hendrik had even spotted a Russian Orthodox priest, seeming surprised at his friendly reception from Meridians and Cape Dutch due to his country’s declaration of war on the ENA. It was bizarre to think of this war stretching around the world as it did.
No, he had told himself he wouldn’t dwell on that. He smiled as Eva brought him to one of the less hectic parts of the city, a park that essentially blended into the veldt as the city had not yet expanded enough to enclose it. It was a weird mixture of urban and rural; at one end mestizo
servants walked the pampered dogs of Oorlamstad’s wealthy few, while at the other end a confused springbok wandered past, a scene that could have come from some hunter’s kaleidolith.
Hendrik managed a smile and found a bench that at this hour fortunately had not been claimed by one of the human wrecks wandering out of a casino without the shirt off his back. Eva cuddled herself close to him, her hands demurely pressing her simple cotton dress down. It was one of countless garments manufactured in the Meridian factories in New Granada and Guyana from raw Carolinian cotton, then distributed around the world. Although there had been some attempts to dent the Hermandad cotton monopoly, notably by the Turks’ plantation programme in Egypt and by the Feng government in China, for now that ubiquity remained.
Eva’s dress might be simple and cheap, but damn, it looked good on her. It wasn’t just lust, either, he told himself. Being with her made it easy to push away the thoughts of the battlefield. There was something about her…
Impulsively, he kissed her. She squeaked in outrage, her rural Calvinist sensibilities provoked, but her hand batting his advances away had a decisively playful air to it. “Not here, schat!
Perhaps later,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows in an adorably incompetent attempt at seductiveness. She was just too innocent. Yes, that was it. That was why she made the images of men dying in trenches fade away. He smiled.
The day passed in a whirlwind, a neat inversion of bitter days he had spent lugging his rifle and bayonet back and forth across the front line only to collapse, exhausted, into a dreamless sleep at the end of the day. This time things were different. It was as though he dreamed all those dreams he had missed out on at once. He took Eva out to dinner, a difficult proposition when prices were through the roof and food was rationed. He managed to make it romantic anyway, choosing a little Corean restaurant unknown to high society but which made truly glorious meals from ingredients no-one on the city council had thought to ration. Eva made a face at some of it and muttered prejudiced comments about Coreans born of her sheltered upbringing, but it didn’t stop her enthusiastically cleaning her plate once she had tasted it. From another woman that might look unladylike, Hendrik thought, but from her it only seemed natural, earthly, real
After the restaurant came the play, not at the big theatre attended by the wealthy but at a small, adventurous playhouse where the players had come all the way from the lost homeland to perform one of Corneliszoon’s new modern, vanguardist pieces set in the decadent present. Of course, it felt immediately dated with the war having broken out, but it was still very well done and darkly funny. Eva seemed a little intimidated by the some of the more daring concepts expressed in the play, but Corneliszoon also had a wicked, unexpectedly vulgar sense of humour and she laughed along with the rest of the audience. More importantly, the dark theatre, with everyone’s vision stolen by the electride lamps lighting the stage, meant that she could hold hands with him. And, after a while, allow his hands to get a little more adventurous…
Now they were in a hotel room, sharing a glass of wine and laughing about their day. Eva was flushed but happy, the wine loosening her tongue enough to make her chat about the smalltime gossip of Oorlamstad society. Hendrik couldn’t help himself smiling. Somehow, in this war that had set the whole world alight, here, not fifty miles behind the front line, one girl had banished it from her life.
And, for a while at least, perhaps from his too.
Maybe for more than a while.
He took something from his pocket. He didn’t mention where he had got it from. That officer from the Second Natalese Fusiliers wouldn’t be needing his finger anymore where he had gone. “Eva,” he said quietly, “I saw this matched your eyes…and I know, well, around here diamonds are just boring, so…”
She saw the sapphire ring, her eyes—indeed, they matched its colour—widening. “Oh, Hendrik, it is beautiful!” She set it against her finger for a second, looking at it, then froze as realisation caught up. “You mean…”
“Yes, Eva,” he said, going down on one knee.
Fort Saltykov [OTL: Fort Elisabeth], Kauai, Kingdom of Gavaji
April 17th 1897
Wehihimana ducked as a Russian bullet sped through the space his head had occupied a moment ago. A feral grin split his face. These Russians showed spirit! Mumbling a prayer of thanks to any of the gods he believed in who might be watching, the great warlord scrambled to his feet and took cover anew.
“They fight on, then,” observed Kikawe, one of Wehihimana’s lieutenants. He was prone to stating the obvious like that. But that same slow solidity of thought made him a reliable and steadfast ally.
“They fight,” Wehihimana echoed. Despite being pocked by a number of Mauré bulletholes, the white-blue-red tricolour of the Russian Empire still flew over Fort Saltykov. The fort dated from the early days of Russian influence in Gavaji and was composed of the star-shaped earthworks that had been the cutting edge in Europe a century or two ago. Modern weapons would have made short work of it, but Wehihimana was limited in what he could deploy. And here on the island of Kauai, he had been unable to use infiltrators to bring down the forts from within, choosing to focus his efforts on the more modern forts on Oakhu. That island, the most important of the Gavajski Isles, was now firmly under his control, the Gavajski King Kalaninui having fled eastwards to Molokai.
Subduing the King would be an important part of cementing Wehihimana’s rule here, of course, but he had decided to prioritise destroying the remaining Russian power centres first. And it had gone well, until the RLPC man in command of this fort had decided to embrace the spirit of his company’s legendary founding father Benyovsky and fight like a demon. Mauré bodies lying on the fields about the star fort betrayed the last attempt to take the fort, by escalade. Too many bodies. Wehihimana had precious few warriors as it was; he could not afford to waste them.
He thought frantically for a moment, then frowned. “Is not Iorangi with us? Iorangi, who as a youth worked in the mines below the surface of the Great Sunset Land?” So was the literal translation of the Mauré name for Antipodea, or often more specifically Pérousie. The name Pérousie was of perpetual confusion to Mauré, who had long ago given the name ‘Land of La Pérouse’ to France itself.
Iorangi hurried up. He was a little older than Wehihimana, weathered and scarred. The fact that his tattoos went around the scars, rather than being interrupted by them, betrayed the fact that they had come later. He had been born into near-slavery to kidnapped Mauré parents in some forgotten corner of the great sandy continent, forced to work in the gold mines. Only skill and luck and providence had allowed him to escape with a gold nugget that paid his passage back to his parents’ ancestral land. “Kia ora
, Warlord. What do you want from me?”
Wehihimana nodded. Iorangi was direct and blunt like that, a legacy of not having learned the Mauré rules of society until he was a grown man. Some would take offence, but Wehihimana found it refreshing. “You have experience with mining. A Batavian once told me a story of a battle in Europe, where a tunnel was dug beneath the enemy wall and bombs were set below it, bringing the wall down. Can you…?”
Iorangi nodded enthusiastically. “I can, Warlord, I can! Providing we have sufficient powder, of course.”
“We have plenty of powder,” Kikawe said ruefully, “but precious few balls to fire with it.” The Russians at the arsenal in Zhemchuzhnaya Gavan had had the presence of mind to tip many of their useless cannonballs into the lagoon of the temporarily landlocked harbour before they could be captured. Even the famed pearl divers of Gavaji would take time to retrieve those
“Excellent,” Wehihimana said, sizing up the pitted but still defiant walls of the nearest bastion star-point. “It will take a little while, but soon this island will be ours. And then the last RLPC force of any size is in Yapon. Kalaninui will have no more powerful friends left to fall back on.”
The three Mauré shared a malicious grin. The moment was immediately spoilt when a young locally-recruited messenger hurried up. His expression of awe at Wehihimana did not prevent him carrying out his duty. “Uh, honoured warlord, the Russian prisoners of war over in Kapaa are complaining that one of the toilets in their camp is broken…”
Wehihamana took a moment to bury his face in his hand. His father had beaten into him the importance of respecting the laws of war when it came to prisoners, especially when dealing with European foes. Treating Russian prisoners with anything other than the most delicate of care right now might turn other European powers against his new Gavajski state at the eventual peace settlement.
But that didn’t mean he had to like it.
Oorlamstad, Cape Republic [OTL: Kimberley, South Africa]
April 17th 1897
Eva Boets watched Hendrik Cuypers as he slept. Her expression was neutral. For a moment she glanced at the wine glasses and then at her purse. There were three pills in there. Should she have used one of the others?
No, let him sleep a deep and dreamless sleep. That was enough. She took out a letter and left it with him. She had written it before meeting him at the station. That had been maybe a step too far, she had thought, but in the end his itinerary had been predictable, proposal and all. She would not be doing her job if she could not predict him, of course. Predict that he would be so receptive to the cute young girl from the sticks of the veldt, innocent and vulnerable, who would be so overcome at the glow of a sapphire ring that she would forget her strict childhood Calvinism, strip off her cheap cotton dress and share his bed then and there.
She quietly closed the hotel door behind her, then crossed the corridor, took out a key from her purse and entered the opposite room. Again, maybe a little too arrogant of her, but that came from the same part of her character that made her so effective; she had learned to indulge it occasionally.
This hotel room was slightly more luxurious than the one Cuypers could afford, more of a small suite. It had a connecting door to an adjacent room, presently closed. Beyond that, there was little sign of any inhabitance besides some clothes in the wardrobe.
Eva locked the other door behind her and then spent a careful hour transforming her appearance with supplies both from her bag and the chest-of-drawers in the room. A steam hair iron removed her ringlets and made her blonde hair straight and glossy; after it had dried, she styled it in a fashionable Parisian lift. Gone was the simple, basic foundation of the poor farm girl, replaced by expensive cosmetics that set off dramatic sweeps of eyeshadow and ruby-red lipstick. The cotton dress was folded neatly into a bag; she would burn it later. She replaced it with a Chinese-style silk keipo from the wardrobe, a daring scarlet to match her lips. The combination would immediately mark her out as the cutting edge of Cape Republic society, most likely the glamorous wife of an Orangestad businessman here visiting his diamond interests.
Eva lit a cigarette and inserted it into her cigarette holder. She sat in a chair and crossed her legs, feeling a small movement as she did. Hopefully the womb veil would remain in place; the last thing she wanted was to get pregnant with Cuypers’ child.
She blew out a small cloud of smoke. “Enter.”
The connecting door opened to reveal a broad-shouldered man with a prominent black moustache. He spoke Dutch with a noticeable accent: “So you have the information, yes?”
Eva studied her fingernails for a moment. They would have to change as well, when she had time. “Yes.”
He leered at her. “Talks in his sleep, does he?”
She set down the cigarette holder, almost absently, and took a small Danubian-made pistol out of her pocket, playing with its safety lock as though distracted. “I think that is my business, is it not?”
“Yes, yes, of course, yes,” the moustachioed man said hastily. “But where? Where is this big buildup aimed at? Where will they strike next?”
Eva studied him for a moment through the dissipating wisps of smoke. The taste of good Virginian tobacco filled her lungs. There were
advantages to working with the people this man represented. But they were so naïve. Men didn’t blurt out military secrets in the heat of the moment in bed. They mentioned them casually over dinner while trying to impress you. To be fair, Cuypers had not been like most. He didn’t want to think about the front line, she had realised. She had really had to tease it out of him, force him to confront it.
Probably a coward, then.
She took another drag on her cigarette holder. “The buildup is aimed at Narragansett.”
Moustache frowned. “But that makes no sense! How could they even approach there? Unless—” he paused.
Eva laughed harshly, gesturing at him with her cigarette holder, leaving a trail of smoke as though tracing paths of armies across the veldt. “Unless they gain support and access from the Matetwa Empire. Which is precisely what the Hermandad is currently attempting to do. I think you Hanoverians need to get some better spies.”
“We have seen no sign of—I haven’t been told tha—we shall see,” Moustache said, ruffled. “Very well. Your payment can be collected from Box 165 at the railway station from noon tomorrow.” He turned abruptly and left through the connecting door, his eyes distant.
Eva smiled to herself, stubbing out the cigarette with one hand as she absently used the other to free the heel of one of her fashionable French shoes from the keipo. In his own way, Moustache was no different from Cuypers. His eyes followed her just as much, for a start, and from what she had heard of his competent espionage activities in the Republic, his behaviour when she was in the room implied he was hamstrung by distraction. Hell, maybe he
fantasised about bedding her, too.
She chuckled for a moment at that thought. They all had the wrong idea about her. Moustache was barely less deceived than Cuypers had been about her nature. Maybe he even thought she did this because she was attracted to him
. None of them stopped to think about who else might benefit from a defeat of the Cape Republic. None considered who her true master might be.
As she did every night, she took a picture from her purse. It was a battered little asimcon in a frame. There was nothing unique about it, quite the opposite: identical ones hung in the corridors of public buildings all over the Kingdom of Belgium. But nonetheless it depicted the only man Eva had ever loved and would ever love.
She remembered as if it were yesterday, though it was many years ago: she was naturally baby-faced unless she hid it with makeup, and though Hendrik had thought she was sixteen, in reality she had almost a decade on that and was in fact older than he was. She had been only eight years old when he had come to rescue her from the orphanage. Incognito, of course. He had been following around his agents as they carried out the plan that his aunt, the great Cytherean Duchess of Brabant, had devised. The Cytherean debate across the nations had exposed the fact that much of society needed to be persuaded that women could be anything other than delicate, innocent flowers; but while that misconception remained so prevalent, why not exploit it? Why not recruit girls at a young age and train them in service to the Crown, where they could unleash their skills at the most unexpected moments?
Some of the Duchess’ Girls had become assassins, or infiltrators who had married into wealthy society in other countries and lived double lives. Eva was glad that was not her destiny. Seducing men like Cuypers, who would doubtless be killed next week on the battlefield as he moped over her letter about her fictitious brother coming to take her away—that was one thing, but keeping it up for years and years, bearing another man’s child? No, she couldn’t do that.
He loved her, she knew. But though he had only been a young man when they had first met, she had been a child. He loved her with fatherly love, as an adopted daughter. She did not see it that way. There were not so many years between them. One day, she would
make him see that.
Her eyes burning with adoring fanaticism, her hands clutching the asimcon with longing intensity, Eva gazed into the eyes of King Maximilian IV of Belgium.
Ultima, Georgia Province, Kingdom of Carolina
April 27th 1897
William V Daniel, King of Carolina, sat quietly in the corner as the argument raged. It felt like he had spent most of his career—spent most of his forty-one years of life
—doing just this, so if anything he ought to have plenty of experience at it.
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his new grey uniform still not quite fitted correctly. It was a sign of the desperation of the times when even the King’s tailor had apparently been drafted. William’s excessive collection of arbitrary medals was heavy, pulling down the right of his uniform and making him feel unbalanced.
The King shivered. The home of Carolina’s monarchy was officially known as the Marble Palace, after the marble produced in the north of Georgia which formed its impressive Neo-classical structure; old-fashioned by European standards, but very fitting for Carolina’s desire to look back to a vanished golden age, one which some would say had never existed. Regardless, popularly the palace was instead invariably known as the Ice Palace. This was not simply because the translucent marble slightly resembled ice, but also because William’s father King Henry X Frederick, born in Europe, had had the place stuffed with iceboxes and cooling fans. Those fans were worked by steam mechanisms now the Negroes who had once manned them were instead working behind desks, but nonetheless they served to cool the palace considerably in Ultima’s sweltering summer heat. William himself, who had never known any other clime, actually found it rather too cool, especially now in spring. The fact that his father’s designs remained nonetheless rather betrayed how much—or how little—power William truly had as King.
He had been ignoring the argument, but now (with a barely-suppressed sigh) he allowed himself to listen in. “Another defeat at Yankee hands!” Governor Darius Wragg exclaimed. “First you fail to protect Savannah, then you fail to protect Cuba, and now this!”
General Lorenzo Almada, the Meridian military resident—a polite term for ‘occupier’—in Carolina, dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand. “Cuba has shown its true colours now and joined the enemy,” he said, as though that would still have happened if the Hermandad had won the battle outside Guantánamo Bay. “They do not deserve our protection. And you are foolish if you compare that battle to this. The Americans and English kept some of their ships afloat, yes, but too few! They hoped to attack us directly, but instead they limp into Drakesland ports with their tails between their legs, soon to cower beneath the Russian advance!”
“Ah yes, the famous Russian advance,” Wragg muttered. Strictly speaking, the office of Governor was still democratically elected, now every eight years, but in practice it was effectively a hereditary possession of the Wragg family who had slapped their name across Carolina and beyond (literally, in the case of Wragg Province in the west). “I will trust in your information from the other side of this continent, out of date though it must doubtless be—but what of the Imperial
advance closer to home? Shall we see Charleston besieged once again, as in the days of our fathers and grandfathers?”
Imperial, William thought. It was peculiar how Carolinians danced around terminology when it came to the ENA. If they weren’t Yankees (with or without a certain adjective in front) they were Imperials. But never Americans. Though Carolina had claimed its own identity for what felt like a century, Carolinians had always hesitated to define themselves as not
American. It was similar to the rhetoric, backed by constitutional fudge, that Carolina had not truly seceded from the Empire; it was the Empire that had moved away from its true heritage and the principles of its founding fathers and old Emperor Frederick the First, while only Carolina had remained loyal. Though William was aware that men like George Washington and Ben Franklin had owned slaves at some point, he had always found the argument rather unconvincing.
And wasn’t that the greatest irony of all—a King who did not believe in his own legitimacy. He was William V Daniel, as his father had been Henry X Frederick, because their regnal numbers were counted from past Anglo-American monarchs. William had always felt nervous about their immediate precedessors of those names, respectively: Henry IX had died in a French phlogisticateur, while William IV had been gunned down on the bridge of his flagship on Frederick I’s orders (or so most historians now conceded, though the American founding myths put it a little more delicately than that). Those were not happy acts to follow.
“The Imperial advance is resisted,” Almada said coldly, “but it would be resisted much more effectively if your men held fast when called upon!”
Wragg’s eyes flashed with anger. “Do you accuse the men of Carolina of cowardice, General?” he muttered in dangerous tones.
The fourth man in the room raised a hand. “Peace, both of you,” said Speaker Thomas McCain. Incredibly, he was obeyed. McCain arguably had the most precarious position of any of them, backed up not by hereditary claim or military power but solely by democratic mandate. Elections to the General Assembly were relatively free and fair: they could afford to be, when actual power was so rarely wielded by the Carolinian government itself.
Nonetheless, the slender McCain had a different kind of power, a different kind of strength. Charisma, the same charisma that made him a great orator, drew the attention and respect even of men like Wragg and Almada. It was what had propelled him to the Speakership despite being the leader of the Reform Whigs, formerly only a small faction within the formally one-party Assembly. In practice, the Whig factions functioned as parties did in other countries.
In those other countries, William reflected sadly, McCain would probably have gone on to do great things, to change the world. What a pity for him that he had had the misfortune to be born in this joke of a country, founded on defence of a vile practice rendered obsolete barely a decade later regardless, stripped and humiliated by its supposed friends. William’s father had spent most of his life trying to become King in Prussia, and after giving up any chance of a crown in his middle years had ended up with this one. As far as William was concerned, Henry Frederick would have done better to stay as a private citizen in Virginia. Maybe then he, William, could have grown up to have a life worth living, instead of this straitjacketed existence.
He shook his head. No point feeling sorry for himself, not when men were dying on the battlefield in his name. He listened again. McCain was pouring oil on troubled waters as usual, praising the men and requesting more Meridian support for industry to help resupply them. It was all to the good, and McCain’s rhetoric—evoking both the Great American War and the Second Platinean War to stir the hearts of both Wragg and Almada against the Imperials—was excellent as always. By the end of the meeting, it was as though the disagreement over Admiral Hughes’ allegedly Pyrrhic victory had never happened. The Government was once again united against the Imperial hordes now covering most of South Province.
Wragg and Almada left early, talking animatedly but constructively. McCain paused as he went, looking back. “If you’ll forgive me, Your Majesty, you haven’t said a great deal,” he pointed out.
“There did not seem a great deal to say,” William said dryly. “I do thank you for your intervention, sir. It is words such as yours which will see us through this war.”
McCain shook his head. “Words can only do so much,” he said. “It shall be the deeds of brave men that win this war. Not for truth or for justice or out of any intrinsic cause—if you will forgive me—but men fighting for a future for their families, for their children. That is what we must always hold in our minds when we face the scale of our challenge. Thank you.” He stepped out.
William managed a small smile. Even in a situation like that, McCain couldn’t get himself out of the mode of an inspiring speech. But perhaps it had been deliberate; had the orator peered over his spectacles at the King as he had spoken the words ‘our
Did he suspect? No, William thought. He simply saw what everyone saw: that the King of Carolina had no stomach for this war.
That same King went to his desk and worked for some time. He seemed to sign a lot of personal condolences lately. And those were only for aristocratic officers who fell in the line of duty, and important Meridian commanders; he could only imagine how many form letters were sent to the families of fallen common soldiers and Negro auxiliaries.
There was only so much of this he could taken, even if it numbed him after a while. It was with relief that after an hour he heard a soft, rich voice behind him speak a certain word: “Addab.”
It was a nonsense word. But it sounded vaguely Biblical; in this country, so fond of the more obscure Old Testament names for both whites and blacks, it did not stand out to any eavesdropper.
William kept writing, though his attention was no longer on his work. Without turning around, he spoke a nonsense sentence of his own. “I neab nabbers.”
Steps echoed on the marble floor, then muffled as the walker stepped onto the fine rug William’s father had had imported from Persia. “Your Majesty.” The voice was softer.
William still did not look up. He didn’t need to. One curious thing about Carolina was that even as the societal position of Negroes had been radically transformed, they were still treated as being as anonymous and interchangeable by white society as they had when they had once been slaves. But for different reasons. Regardless, it meant that security was unlikely to spot a black man who did not belong to the palace staff, providing he had the right uniform and knew the work schedules.
This man, William knew from a previous contact, was in fact technically British, having been born to the small black community in London which had had an on-and-off existence for a century, constantly in close contact and exchange with Freedonia in Guinea. One would never have guessed his origins, though, for he could emulate the drawl of a Carolinian-born Negro perfectly. “We have considered your proposal,” he said softly.
William kept his pen scratching even though he was now just writing squiggles of gibberish. Just in case anyone’s ears pricked up at the sound falling silent. He would have to redo this letter. “And what do your masters say?”
He winced at his unconscious use of the word, aware of the very different connotation it would have to a Negro, but the voice seemed unruffled. “They are interested, shall we say. They are willing to provide protection and evacuation, if necessary, for you and your family.”
The King still did not turn, but he shook his head vigorously nonetheless. “No. That is not what this is about. I am not betraying these people. I care for them. I want them to have peace. Not the Meridian yoke. Not to see their land turned into a battlefield. Just peace.”
Silence for a moment. “You do care for them,” the black man said, and for the first time an emotion entered his usual deep, monotone voice. Surprise. “Frankly, Your Majesty…why?
William stared directly ahead at a portrait of his father hanging over a fireplace. “Honestly, sir? I don’t know. Perhaps just because someone has to.”
He did not hear the retreating footsteps until the man had reached the end of the rug. He never did find out what he looked like.
 Referring to the hachimaki
headband, which in OTL modern Western culture is most often associated with Japanese kamikaze pilots from WW2, but is in fact is worn in a wide variety of contexts in Japanese society.
 The use of the Spanish term mestizo
for mixed-race reflects both the world role of the UPSA and in particular its influence in the Cape Republic.
 This refers to the MacArthur-Forrest process of gold extraction using cyanide—AKA prussic acid or in TTL ‘borussic acid’ after the Latin form, as it was first discovered as the gas given off from heating the pigment Prussian Blue. The OTL process was only discovered in 1887, but the TTL equivalent was invented (by a Californian named Ruggs) a decade earlier. The reason for this is that the process is ultimately derived from the observation by Carl Wilhelm Scheele that gold dissolves in aqueous cyanide, and the Linnaean controversy in TTL meant Scheele’s works were more closely and widely read in TTL, slightly accelerating the further work based on his.
 Equivalent to a photochrom chromolithograph from OTL, a way of producing colourised photos popular at this time.
 This description reflects the fact that, unlike OTL, India has not (yet) become a major cotton exporter due to the divisions, chaos and lawlessness unleashed by the Great Jihad followed by the disjointed and divided state of the region.
 OTL Margate, South Africa; named in TTL for the town in Rhode Island (itself named for a native tribe).
 Unlike OTL Belgium, in which the revived title of Duke/Duchess of Brabant is used for the heir apparent to the throne, in TTL Belgium it is given to the eldest younger brother of the King (the Duchess of Brabant mentioned here holds the title through her marriage to him).