"What is it that it is?" Really? In the five years I lived in OTL Montreal, I never heard any Francophones translate "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" into English that literally. Although maybe TTL Mount-Royal had less examples of good English around them than OTL Quebec (since everyone was forced to learn English much earlier before English-language media was widespread). Although maybe the in-TL author is writing a really bad stereotype of Cubwickwa rather than accuratr Cubwickwa because the dialect has mostly disappeared by TTL's 1984....??
Yeah, it seems the TTL author is exaggerating the Frenchness of Mount Royal.
 
Yeah, it seems the TTL author is exaggerating the Frenchness of Mount Royal.
My complaint wasn't really about exaggeration, but that some of the French-ness felt artificial. Some things like using "Johnbaptist" as a first name and "icy" for "here" seemed spot-on for a culture of assimilated Quebecois. And there are some literal French-to-English translations which make it into OTL Montreal English (like "close the lights" instead of "turn off the lights"). But, I doubt that very many Francophones even bother parsing the literal meaning of "Qu'est-ce que c'est" when translating it into English. At least I know that, when I learned French, I learned "Qu'est-ce que c'est" as a single phrase in itself, and only figured out 10 years later what the individual words meant - I feel that the same is likely true for Francophones learning English (although, Francophones of this board, please correct me if I am wrong).

So, my feeling is not necessarily that the depiction of Mount-Royal is "more French" than the reality, but that the depiction is somehow artificial and is written by someone who is trying to write in a dialect which they have never heard (I mean, obviously Thande has never heard the Cubwickwa dialect because it doesn't exist OTL - but attributing this mistake to Thande would break my suspension of disbelief). To me the literal translation of "Qu'est-ce que c'est" feels like a mistake than only someone who learned a second language as an adult (either an Anglophone who learned French as an adult or a Francophone who learned English as an adult) would make, and hence would be unlikely to naturally appear in a dialect which would be learned in childhood.

Now that I'm thinking of it, I'm wondering if TTL Mount-Royal has actually tried to re-Frenchify their language in the 20th century as a Diversitarian project. This literal translation of "Qu'est-ce que c'est" feels exactly like something that would appear in an artificially (re-)constructed dialect. Then the in-TL author is actually writing anachronistically in a dialect which wouldn't exist yet at the time of the Pandoric War.

This last paragraph was totally ninja-ed!
 
Ah! So while *Canada is pretty much anglicized, the locals speak a Anglo-French pidgin called "Cubwickwa". I'm only surprised it's lasted so long in Mount Royal, since OTL Montreal always had a sizable English minority since the Conquest and was bigger than Quebec. I'd have imagined the remaining pidgin and Gallic cultural vestiges to be in Wolfeston/*Quebec City and Mount Royal becoming a northern New York in terms of anglicizing (IE, completely). I suppose maybe it's actually like New Netherland Dutch language and culture surviving in the river valley (Hudson/St. Lawrence) than the port (New Amsterdam/Quebec). EDIT: AND OF COURSE I miss out on the fascinating argument above! I agree, the Mount Royalers are probably trying to re-Gallicize some aspects of their tongue after so long just speaking English.

Maubela, eh? Looks like Carolina's finally gone.

I can only nominally root for the Empire in that Superian-Russian scheme.... :p
 

Thande

Donor
My complaint wasn't really about exaggeration, but that some of the French-ness felt artificial. Some things like using "Johnbaptist" as a first name and "icy" for "here" seemed spot-on for a culture of assimilated Quebecois. And there are some literal French-to-English translations which make it into OTL Montreal English (like "close the lights" instead of "turn off the lights"). But, I doubt that very many Francophones even bother parsing the literal meaning of "Qu'est-ce que c'est" when translating it into English. At least I know that, when I learned French, I learned "Qu'est-ce que c'est" as a single phrase in itself, and only figured out 10 years later what the individual words meant - I feel that the same is likely true for Francophones learning English (although, Francophones of this board, please correct me if I am wrong).

So, my feeling is not necessarily that the depiction of Mount-Royal is "more French" than the reality, but that the depiction is somehow artificial and is written by someone who is trying to write in a dialect which they have never heard (I mean, obviously Thande has never heard the Cubwickwa dialect because it doesn't exist OTL - but attributing this mistake to Thande would break my suspension of disbelief). To me the literal translation of "Qu'est-ce que c'est" feels like a mistake than only someone who learned a second language as an adult (either an Anglophone who learned French as an adult or a Francophone who learned English as an adult) would make, and hence would be unlikely to naturally appear in a dialect which would be learned in childhood.

Now that I'm thinking of it, I'm wondering if TTL Mount-Royal has actually tried to re-Frenchify their language in the 20th century as a Diversitarian project. This literal translation of "Qu'est-ce que c'est" feels exactly like something that would appear in an artificially (re-)constructed dialect. Then the in-TL author is actually writing anachronistically in a dialect which wouldn't exist yet at the time of the Pandoric War.

This last paragraph was totally ninja-ed!
Yeah, I was deliberately exaggerating it because of the 'author gets it wrong' thing mentioned above - I wasn't specifically thinking of them exaggerating it for Diversitarian purposes, but that makes sense too. "What is it that it is" was a reference to a British cartoon which represents French for a non-French-speaking audience by having French characters speak in English but with that sort of odd literal grammar and a French accent.


Anyway, I'm offline now for a while, so a Merry Christmas to all my readers and I will see you with more content in the new year.
 
[12] Another bit of authorial cuteness, as France would indeed be popularly dubbed ‘the French Vulture’ after the war for, but it is very unlikely the name had already been coined at this point.
So the French are going to swoop in at the end of the war and just fuck shit up for everybody who's in their way and get away with booty, I guess. How long is the war supposed to be, do we know that?
 

Thande

Donor
Part #240: Sidelines

The country’s official name is: KINGDOM OF COREA (formally Kingdom of Great Joseon, Corean Dai Joseon Guk)
The people are known as: COREANS.
Capital and largest city: Hanseong, also called Seoul (0.8 million)
Flag: Until the 1870s Corea had no flag but its royal standard, a red flag with a central ‘taegeuk’ symbol of blue and white interlocking circles and surrounded by the eight trigrams of the Pal Gwae (both Taoist symbols) in yellow. In 1875 a separate national flag was added, with a white field, a three-colour red-blue-yellow taegeuk (with the colours said to stand for heaven, earth and the people) and the eight Pal Gwae trigrams in black.
Population: 27 million.
Land area: 36,000 lcf.
Economic ranking: Ranked third in the Orient behind Feng China and Siam; its global position is more difficult to define.
Form of government: Formerly an absolute monarchy, there have been significant constitutional reforms following political movements and minor rebellions in the nineteenth century.[1] The King retains a supreme veto power, but significant authority has been invested in the Jungchuwon legislature, partly elected under a restrictive franchise. The Jungchuwon must approve the King’s choice of ministers for the Uijeongbu or Cabinet, consisting of the three High State Councillors plus the ministers of the Six Ministries.[2]
Foreign relations: Since emerging from orthodox Confucian isolation at the end of the eighteenth century, Corea’s foreign relations have been dominated by attempting to play off more powerful neighbours against one another; partly through considerable good fortune in said neighbours’ difficulties and divisions, this has been largely successful. A century after the end of isolation, Corea’s political scene is dominated by the question of which foreign policy tack to take, with the three main factions in the Jungchuwon being informally known as the Russian Party, the (Feng) Chinese Party and the French Party.[3] Corea has also extended its own influence beyond its borders (slightly reduced from their height in the immediate aftermath of the Three Emperors’ War by successful Manchu rebellions and the creation of the Liaodong Republic). Corea now runs parts of the former Japanese Isles as a colony and exerts some influence on the Liaodong Republic and Beiqing China, albeit as a secondary force behind Russia in the second case.
Military: Corea modernised its military with Russian advisors in the nineteenth century and has since kept up with western innovations on a slight delay behind Feng China and Siam, although this also means Corea has avoided some of the teething troubles of new technology and learned from others’ mistakes. For example, the ironsharks she deployed for the first time in the 1890s were much more reliable than the first Chinese and Siamese models.
Current head of state: King Geongjong (since 1885)
Current head of government: Shared between the three High State Councillors, although westerners often act as though the Councillor responsible for foreign affairs is the effective prime minister—which given the importance of western opinion, can sometimes mean that he is.

– 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 III: IN THE BALANCE (1984):

Mouth of Lake Maracaibo, Kingdom of Venezuela
November 2nd 1897


Captain Joseph Frederickson winced as a terrific explosion beat against the side of HVMS Camoys. Moments later, the small armourclad was rocked as the corresponding shockwave belatedly coursed through the waters. Little of this could be seen due to the same cover of darkness the ship was using to hide herself from the foe, but Frederickson knew in his heart what had happened. The New Granadines and their Meridian masters had finally managed to break through the modernised defences protecting Fort Nigale, and a lucky shell had penetrated to the magazine within. The fort had just exploded, taking with it the last brave Venezuelan defenders of Lake Maracaibo and the heart of the kingdom’s economic ties to America. With Caracas already occupied by the Guyanese for the last two months, it could only be a matter of time before Venezuela collapsed altogether. Now only the town of Valencia and its surrounding hinterland was still under King Albert’s control.

And King Albert clearly knew it. A figure concealed by thick oilskins, who must have been sweating uncontrollably in the humid heat of this land even in November, came beside him at the rail. “Was that Fort Nigale?” the figure asked in a voice that sounded suspiciously high-pitched.

Frederickson nodded grimly, then remembered that the other could not see his face. “Aye, I think so, Your Royal Highness.” He sighed. “You know, I was here that day twenty years ago, just a young midshipman then, back when the New Granadines and Meridians thought they could bully their way into tipping your father off his throne then.”

Princess Daniele of Venezuela nodded. A cracking flash of light briefly illuminated her face, showing her distinctive mestizo features: her father, an exilic Irishman, had married the daughter of one of the local criollo revolutionary leaders. Poor Queen Maria was in the grave these last five years; she had died far too young, but at least (Frederickson reflected) she had missed the world turning into this charnel house. “That was when they were hit by a Boulin shell from the fort, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Frederickson said, slightly surprised the Princess was aware of such details, but then she had always vociferously devoured any source of learning so long as he had known her. “The torchies were angry we’d shown we could blow them up, and we were angry that some bureaucrat had sent such a powerful weapon out here to…” he diplomatically rephrased before he could describe Venezuela as a backwater, “to here before it had been tested. So everyone just went away and forgot about it.”

“Though not about the weapon,” Daniele shivered, despite the heat. “Now we all fling hundreds of them at each other. The world has gone mad.”

Frederickson nodded urgently at that. “No argument from me, ma’am. They say we’ve finally taken all of Carolina, at least.”

“Just as the Meridians are about to take all of Venezuela,” Daniele said sharply. “I do not appreciate those headlines we hear on the few Lectel cables the Cubans didn’t cut, all your newspapers crowing about inevitable victory. I do not see it from here.”

Frederickson winced. “I know, ma’am. I don’t think they forget you, but, well, Carolina has been a dagger aimed at our heart for too long.”

“I am sure the Meridians see Venezuela the same way,” Daniele said patriotically. “And Papa will stand for as long as he can to keep it one.” She put her head in her hands. “He will not flee, though we have begged him to. I thought of three ships sailing out at Christmas, like the song. Instead he just sends us away and goes to his doom. It is so…”

Water beat against the side of the Camoys, subtly shifting from fresh to salt water as they traversed the passage into the Gulf of Venezuela. Perhaps that helped hide the princess’ tears as Frederickson held her, awkwardly wondering if he was committing lèse-majesté, deciding that he had better things to worry about with Meridian shells still exploding all around them.

Another crackling blast of light illuminated them and he tensed. Not a Meridian shell, but the Catatumbo Lightning that raged above Lake Maracaibo—and nowhere else—for most of the year, which scientists still struggled to explain. It could not hurt them directly, but it could illuminate them for any passing Meridian dentist or lineship whose captain wished to take a potshot at them.

But if such ships were there, the Camoys avoided them all. Perhaps it was luck, or Providence, Frederickson thought as Daniele mumbled an apology and wiped her eyes fruitlessly amid the splashes of the restless waters of the passage. Or perhaps the Meridians really did have bigger things to worry about…

*

Juckenburg, Batavian Republic/Confederation of Cygnia, Empire of North America (CONTESTED)[4]
November 8th 1897

“This next one looks like a wrong ’un to me, sir,” Corporal Bentinck said confidently, his standard green uniform standing out a tad against the local scrubland. Another Batavian shell with a terrific but distant bang on the horizon, where the trenches had by now been pushed out to. The enemy were few now that their Meridian puppetmasters had largely been navally pushed out of the Nusantara and they were struggling for resupply, but they grimly fought on nonetheless. The Cygnian military authorities refusing to consider a more appropriate uniform colour—tan was, of course, the enemy’s choice—doubtless helped those few Batavians make every bullet count as they faced the armies of Emperor-King George.

Lieutenant Malcolm Sinclair, his eyes tired both in fatigue from his work and the glaring sun of the southern summer, glanced boredly at Bentinck’s latest interned civilian. What had been intended as a supercilious, lackadaisical half-glance, however, immediately turned into a double-take with comically bulging eyes. “Wha—awhere did ye find this man, Corporal?”

“’Oled up in the Lectel office wiv ’is canvas,” Bentinck said loftily. “Prob’ly ’idin’ some cunningly concealed message off of the wires on it in hinvisible hink. Just look at the blighter, bent as a nine-dix bill.” He threateningly poked his sheathed bayonet into the small of the man’s back, unable to see him roll his eyes in a long-suffering manner beneath his beret as he did so.

Sinclair sighed with a sound like a bullet-pocked brimstonised rubber tyre letting out its air. “Ye bluddy fool, Bentinck, this is Claus Jensen, the Jutish chap who does the sloshy pictures.”

The artist perked up at his name being mentioned and seemed about to speak, but Bentinck interrupted him. “Aw, come on, sir, you know that’s just ’is helaborate cover hidentity. I read it in a book once, all these top spies, you know, they—”

“Spare me your choices o’ reading matter,” Sinclair winced, picturing a bookshelf groaning under the weight of a hundred cheap bloodies. “If a cove wants tae go undercover, he’s no’ going to pick one of the maist famous faces on th’ terraqueous globe, is he?”

I never see’d him,” Bentinck said sulkily.

“Maist famous tae civilised men,” Sinclair amended. “Mah apologies, Herr Jensen. For th’ record may I ask whit you were doing here in th’ middle of a wee war zone?”

Jensen frowned at that. “You must…forgives me,” he said slowly. “I thought I spoke…a little of English, but please that I must be wrong.”

Sinclair laughed at that. “Ach, that’s magic, bideway. Naw, if ye learned th’ good King’s English, ye’ll nivver have a muckle o’ luck with the guid talk o’ Noo Kent.” He inclined his head. “And as fer Corporal Bentinck, they say th’ jury is still oot on whither the noises he makes count as language at all.”

“Aw, sarg – I mean, Lieutenant,” Bentinck moaned.

The reminder of the recent battlefield promotion and its circumstances sobered Sinclair. He forced himself to speak in American parade-ground English to the baffled artist and repeated his question. “Ah,” Jensen said in belated understanding. He mobbed his tanned brow with its bleached, thinning hair, for all that he was only in his early forties. “I have been study the pearl divers for of a work in oils I am consider. I admittance that I have not been, you say, following the progress of this, of this war.”

“I am more willing to believe that of you than of most people,” Sinclair commented wryly. “I read about your The Woman Who Wept, how you crossed half of Europe and dodged the Bundeskaiser’s goons to find the perfect model.”

“’Ere, them’s our loyal allies you’re talkin’ about there,” Bentinck protested.

“These stories, they are often exaggerated,” Jensen said dismissively. “My work, it is only as good as the next piece.”

Sinclair nodded. “I know you artists have to think that way. Well, all right. Sign form 2B and I’ll release you, though I widnae—wouldn’t recommend trying to cross back into Batavian territory.”

“It matters not to me who rules the town so long as I can paint its divers,” Jensen said.

“’Ear that, sir, ’e’s a ruddy Black Sanchezista,” Bentinck said, waving his rifle again. “Or ’e’s plannin’ to betray our brave German allies.”

Sinclair sighed. “Corporal—”

“Or, or, or,” Bentinck said, warming to his theme, “’e’s mixed up in that froggie revolt on the Île du Dufresne out east, the convicts, you know?”

Now Sinclair gave him a warning look. “That’s classified information, Corporal! Not in front of—”

But it was too late. Despite the encrypted nature of Bentinck’s dialogue, Jensen had heard. “A rebellion? In Dufresnie? I heard rumours, but…”

“See, told you,” Bentinck said triumphantly. “’E’s in league wiv Maurice de Chardeaux ’is very self, ’e’s running guns to the Républicains, I bet you.”

Sinclair buried his face in his hands. “That’s enough, Corporal!”

“Maurice de Chardeaux? The exiled nobleman?” Jensen asked. “A rebellion, a republican rebellion, on French soil, on that desolate island with its wolves and beasts…” A light had come into his eyes. “I must see it! I must paint it!”

“Don’t be a fool, Herr Jensen,” Sinclair said uselessly. “You know it’ll get stamped oot soon anyway. The French are neutral in the war, they can throw everything at that noble idiot and his doomed supporters, and jings, as though a French government would allow one of its colonies tae become a breakaway republic after whit happened to Nouvelle-Orléans!”

“Oh, of course it’s doomed,” Jensen said absently, only half his attention on Sinclair. “That’s what makes it so romantic.” His hands moved as though by themselves, extracting a folded piece of paper from his pocket, crumpling it up and tossing it aside. “Now this will be a remarkable piece…”

After he had gone, Sinclair retrieved the ball of paper and flattened it out, staring in distress at a preliminary pencil sketch of two pearl divers beneath the waves. Despite the rough working form of the image, it still showed all the spark, the skill he knew from following Jensen’s artistic career. Now, this would never be a painting. And it was his fault.

His, and… “Ye bluddy fool, Bentinck,” he muttered.

Unabashed, the corporal peered over his shoulder. The sun was setting now and barely enough light penetrated the tent’s canvas roof to see. “’Ere, I reckergnise that look. So ’e was that painter ’oo does all the blurry wimmin in the nudd with yella faces an’ red eyes?”

Sinclair winced. “That is one way tae describe Herr Jensen’s work, Bentinck.”

“Never come no good o’ that sort of thing,” Bentinck said piously.”I saw one once, must’a been one of ’is. Blue bloke with a blue guitar on a blue street. Dead silly, that.” He counted on his fingers, a tad erratically. “Why was the bloke blue? Blokes aren’t blue. Why was the guitar blue? Guitars aren’t blue. Why was everything blue? Everything isn’t blue!”

Sinclair’s reply was drowned out by another distant barrage by the retreating Batavians. This was probably just as well.

*

Near Biscay, Province of East Florida, Kingdom of Carolina/Empire of North America (CONTESTED)[5]
November 14th 1897


Cyrus Wragg panted as he scrambled through yet another swamp, by now careless of the green mud staining his trousers to the knee, his fashionable frilly cuffs long since torn to shreds by branches. So long as the next log did not turn out to be an alligator that would tear him to shreds, he did not care. His monocle had plopped into a greasy pool three miles back, but it had always been an affectation anyway; he could see perfectly well.

Right now, he rather wished he couldn’t see the situation either he or his country were in. He, the wealthy young second son of a second son of Belteshazzar Wragg, who had lived his life being able to ignore the weighty responsibilities his family had acquired in favour of indolent living, now reduced to fleeing through the muddy underbelly of the kingdom like some runaway slave of his grandfather’s time. His country, always failing to live up to the vision that Andrew Eveleigh had envisaged for the whole slaveholding south of the old Empire, a remnant of a remnant even at its foundation, now reduced to pathetic scraps that the damnyankees hadn’t quite got around to clearing up yet.

Like this one. Despite the Imperial supremacy in home waters following the Battle of Port Royal Sound, the Imperials still didn’t have enough ships to quite police all the coastline as their troops mopped up the interior, and so occasional boats were still getting into and out of Carolina through minor ports like Biscay. For now, at least until Emperor George got far enough down his list of people he didn’t like in order to find someone to be military governor of the town, Hermandad ships still sailing to and from there. Plenty of unscrupulous Guayanese or New Granadine or even Cuban captains would gleefully accept valuable heirlooms from Carolinian refugee families, in return for a dubious promise to get them through the still-erratic Imperial blockade.

Like the one Cyrus had done a deal with. Half his mother’s emerald necklace as a deposit, the other half to come when he was picked up…it was a bad deal, but then if Cyrus had been good at judging these things, daddy dear and Uncle Darius wouldn’t have had to bail him out repeatedly after his escapades at the gambling tables of Cometa. Well, he didn’t have to worry about their opinions now. Mother, father, Darius, Shadrach, they were all gone.

One of East Florida’s interminable but intermittent rainstorms briefly beat down on the plants around him and made complex patterns of circles on the surface of the swampy pools. That explained, of course, why his eyes were wet.

They were gone. The royal family was gone, too. While Cyrus had still been able to go into towns to read newspapers, he had seen that everyone from the Imperials to the Meridians to the French to the Russians claimed to have at least one member in custody, which probably meant they were all dead so anyone could claim anything. He tried to amuse himself by wondering just how outrageous such claims had gotten since he had last looked at a paper: did the penguins of Australia claim to have the Carolinian Crown Prince in their possession? Ultratellurians from the Moon?

It wasn’t working.

The royal family was gone. The Wraggs were gone. The Meridians had withdrawn. All the pillars that had supported Carolina had fallen, and the country with it. The last Cyrus had heard, even Tom McCain had defected to the Imperials and was now helping them administer the so-called Provisional Government based out of Charleston. Maybe that was just Imperial propaganda. Even if it wasn’t, Cyrus couldn’t quite make himself hate McCain for it. One could not be a traitor to a country that no longer existed.

He was so consumed in his gloom that he almost missed it. This little inlet of the coast, barely deserving the title of harbour, looked much the same as the last two dozen he’d stumbled past in despair. But there it was! Two coastal plain willows with their branches tied into distinctive hoops, and between them a struggling bald cyrpress with a blaze on its trunk!

He had found it!

If his life had been a storybook—no, if his life had been a storybook, the reader would have given up several pages ago in depression, he thought grimly. But regardless, if things had been neat, the Guatamalan captain and his boat would already be here. No such luck.

Cyrus wondered if he should make a signal fire as the sun faded below the horizon, then managed a sardonic laugh as he realised that nothing on this sodden coast would burn anyway. A profound metaphor for my country, he thought bitterly. Debating matters of great consequence that we cannot do anything about in any case. Maybe the Imperials would make good on some of the propaganda claims and actually reabsorb Carolina as a core confederation. But Cyrus suspected that all that would happen is that the Cotton Kingdom would swap one colonial master for another.

An ‘ahoy!’ startled him from his reverie. There was the ship, a single electride lamp with a slit in it scanning the coastline, the pilot clearly cautious about the treacherous strands. “Ahoy there!” he managed in return, his voice ragged from lack of use. “Ahoy! It’s me!”

“Password!” the other voice commanded. “Or we shoot on sight!”

Cyrus wracked his memory—what the hell had the man asked for? Oh yes. His voice dripping with bitter irony, he pronounced: “True to thy heart I ever shall be!”

“Correct!” The Guatemalans had already been lowering a rowing boat. After a few tense moments, its two rowers mastered the eddying currents about the strand and managed to make it ashore. “Get in!”

Cyrus didn’t need telling twice. Despite the East Florida heat—even in winter—he shivered in the bows of the boat as the two burly brown oarsmen did their work, their muscles bulging. The ship extinguished its electride lamp, but not before Cyrus caught a glimpse of the distinctive quetzal flag of Guatemala at its mast. Surprising that disreputable-looking captain wasn’t using a false flag, but maybe the other believable options were even worse…

A rope was dropped to the boat; clearly they were anxious to get Cyrus on board even before the oarsmen. Under other circumstances he might have wondered about that, but now he just held onto that rope like a lifelife, clambering up the starboard side of the ship and leaving transient smears of swamp mud as he went. More muscular sailors hauled him over the side almost before he could take in what he saw, then shoved him roughly to the deck.

Cyrus had been half expecting this, a show of strength from the captain before he demanded the other half of the emeralds. He looked up to see—not that weaselly face he had seen in the bar last week, but a man with pale skin, reddish hair and a thin smile.

That in itself was perhaps not too unusual for a racially mixed country like Guatemala, and perhaps he might simply have come in the other captain’s place due to a deal, but Cyrus still blurted out: “Who the hell are you?”

“Greetings to you as well, Mr. Wragg,” said the captain in a nasal Michigan accent. “I’m afraid I have to alter the terms of the deal you made with my associate. But I’m sure you will find the Empire of North America’s hospitality very accommodating.” He leaned closer. “We are particularly interested in your ideas for reconstructing Carolina following the late unpleasantness.”

Wragg hung his head. And he had thought today could not get any worse.

Even now, as Carolina died around him, he could not escape her.

*

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, Beiqing China
November 20th 1897


The imposing bulk of Daqingmen, the Great Qing Gate, dominated the impressive, well-kept expanse that was Tiananmen Square. The Gate was flanked by two tremendous lion statues, evocative of the strength and majesty of what lay within. For the Great Qing Gate separated the Imperial City from the outer city of Beijing, the Northern Capital, and beneath its bulky arches no commoner was suffered to pass. Beyond the Gate lay yet more barriers before the sanctum sanctorum: firstly the Duanmen or Upright Gate, and then finally the Wumen, the Meridian Gate, beyond which lay the Forbidden City itself, the domain of the Son of Heaven.

All the gates carried a great weight of history, yet they were not crumbling ruins, but were so well-maintained that they might have been completed yesterday. The image projected was one of virility and strength, supporting the reality of the barriers that kept the Emperor shrouded in mystery and majesty, cut off from his subjects, on a higher plane.

Scratch the surface, though, and a very different impression was found. Those lion statues were a recent addition, and suspiciously European-influenced in style. The red and violet colours that, together with gold leaf, gave a dramatic and eye-catching glory to the gates and the palaces beyond, were brighter than any in the Yongzheng Emperor’s day, the product of chemical labs in a continent that great man had given little thought to if he had known of its existence at all. Most obviously, the careful protocols behind the segregation of the classes were made a mockery by those who moved through the crowds as easily as the ghosts which past generations had thought of them as. But this was not intangibility, but arrogance. Russian officers in green, often sporting ostentatious medals; RLPC militia in greyer, rougher versions of the same uniforms, drawn from a bewilderingly diverse collection of nations from Yakuts to Lakota, from Afabaskhans to Ushunavans.[6] Among them a few Coreans walked with equal pride and arrogance, for all that their own kingdom often ended up playing second fiddle to the Russian Empire, but those Coreans could at least comfort themselves with the fact that at least they were in the orchestra. At least they weren’t Beiqing Chinese.

Even now, of course, it was still forbidden on pain of death, or more usually exile to Menggu, to actually write the character 北, bei as part of the realm’s title. The great Quanyu Emperor was not merely prince of the northern house, but ruler of the whole of the Middle Kingdom! It mattered not if usurpers and rebels had taken longer than it had been hoped to put down. It had taken decades for the Kingdom of Wei to subdue the southerners of Wu and then Shu Han, to name only the most famous of many cases of such division being ended and righteous unity restored under the north. Was not the Pole Star of the heavens itself places in a celestial version of the Purple Forbidden Enclosure which lay behind the Meridian Gate? Though barbarians might now speak of constellations in the south, which neither their ancestors nor those of the Chinese had known, that knowledge had not been suppressed by even the most conservative governors and viceroys: for that learning had also revealed that there was no southern Pole Star, no equal counterpart to vie for supremacy with the seat of the true Emperor. The lesson, reflected in history, was obvious.

Of course, one might well point out that while the centre of gravity in Chinese history had indeed usually tended back to the north, it had not necessarily done so in a manner in which the Quanyu Emperor would approve of. The Forbidden City itself had been built by the Yongle Emperor almost five centuries ago because he had decided to move the seat of the Ming dynasty from Jiangning [Nanjing] to Beijing: power had moved back to the north, but under a dynasty that had formerly been based in the south. And Yongle had designed the Forbidden City as a copy of his palaces in Jiangning. The supremacy of the north was not so clear as it seemed.

Such dangerous philosophy might occupy the minds of bright young men in opium dens or fight clubs, but for the great masses of the people, the point was irrelevant: Quanyu did not even rule the north, after all, not truly. He claimed to have chosen his imperial name to mean ‘Jade Realm’ with all its connotations of purity and righteousness, but anyone knew their way around a calligraphy brush knew perfectly well that the characters making up his name could also be interpreted as Whole Realm. Not a proud boast, but a defensive bleat. The great-grandson of the Chongqian Emperor might commission great works of art portraying him as a powerful monarch, but every beggar on the streets knew him to exist at the sufferance of the Eluosi, the Russians.

Such as this one.

Volek Zhutenkov paused in his patrol of the walls to gaze down in disgust at the old man, who gave him a smile that made him look simple-minded. Volek was half certain the man was laughing at him. “You again? Be off, grandfather, before I make you.”

The old man just smiled again. Volek’s partner in this RLPC patrol, Adolfas Wang, hurried up behind him as Volek threateningly put his hand on his rifle stock. “Now be careful, Volek,” he warned.

Volek turned away from the old man for a moment and gave his comrade a withering look. “Afraid he’s going to beat me up? I know of the stories the peasants tell of the ancient masters of their weaponless fighting arts, but somehow I doubt this fellow is one of then.”

Adolfas shook his head, sparing a look for the old man. He was sat behind a large tablet carved with beautifully executed characters, and his otherwise well-worn and faded clothes were topped by a yellow scarf marked with elaborate taijitu diagrams.[7] “No, Volek, he will not kill you, but the people might. He is a holy man. Why else did you think they let him get so close to the Gate?”

“Like a penitent monk or a hermit?” Volek asked, then nodded. This was something he could understand. “Oh, all right then. You can stay, grandfather,” he said, roughly patting the old man’s head. “Even if your religion is a load of bunk, but you can’t understand me anyway.”

Adolfas muttered an apology to the unruffled-looking holy man as he followed Volek. “Really, one day you will get yourself killed with that attitude.”

Volek laughed. “You say that when we’re stuck here and all those boys are dying in Poland or Hungary or wherever?” He pointed first one direction, then the opposite: almost unconsciously, he did correctly choose west and east rather than random directions—either the soldier’s eye for the sun, or perhaps taking cues from Beijing’s walls and gates. “Or over in America for that matter. Come on, Adolfas, the last place anybody’s going to be massacred is Tiananmen Square.”

Behind the two departing soldiers, the old hermit turned aside, not showing any of the emotion within. It was not rage he felt, though, but fear and a bit of frustration. Those two RLPC idiots had almost ruined it all. But not quite. The party would be leaving soon, he thought; though no accurate Western clocks were displayed in the square, decades of life in Beijing allowed him to judge time quite well by the position of the sun in the sky in relation to distinctive buildings.

He had barely confronted the thought when a group of Imperial officials in their gorgeous uniforms came through the Daqingmen. The designs were far less practical than those used by the southern rebels, trying more desperately to cling onto old traditions. Indeed, some of them travelled back in time before even the Qing themselves, going back to the oversized animal patch designs that had been used under the Ming. The decorative, impractical uniforms spoke of both a desire for legitimacy and, more importantly, a system in which those officials would seldom have to leave their palaces and offices to confront the outside world; even the realm of commoners, never mind beyond the borders rather theoretically ruled by Quanyu.

The officials kept their faces impassive and their pace constant, but a practiced eye could see the concern in them, especially the younger and more junior men towards the back of the party. They were clearly itching to discuss what had just happened on the other side of the Gate, but they kept their discipline—just. Most interesting, the old man thought.

He pushed his great tablet aside for a moment and raised his begging bowl. “Most honourable servants of the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, may a humble follower of the Way trouble you for the necessities of the world?”

“Not today, venerable one,” said one of the more senior officials, an oversized crane embroidered on his chest patch. He turned aside without a further glance.

A younger man, though, a goose upon his chest, paused and bent to the man. “Perhaps we need all the help we can get with heaven,” he muttered to his colleagues, passing some banknotes to the beggar. “Take this, venerable one, and may you reach further enlightenment.”

The old man called out thanks as the officials retreated and kept a gratified smile on his face, though inwardly he was seething at the youth’s stupidity. Couldn’t he at least have used a more appropriately Taoist sentiment? The youth today. But then that had probably been a complaint in Laozi’s time as well.

The man kept begging for a few more minutes so as not to arouse suspicion, then gathered up his things and left, dragging the tablet behind him on a litter. Concealed in a slot in its back were the banknotes the young official had given him. A logical hiding place for a legitimate beggar, of course, for if a bandit could not find the slot, he would scarcely try to drag away the whole tablet. It also worked rather well for what the old man was.

Getting through the aristocratic mansions on Wangfujing Street was not a pleasant experience—several of the buildings had been purchased by wealthy RLPC magnates in recent years from increasingly penniless aristocrats who had backed the wrong horse in political struggles. Nonetheless, the man made it through without being challenged, and finally reached a humbler district where, with a sigh, he dragged the tablet into a narrow passageway between two houses and extracted his takings. One of the banknotes, emblazoned not only with beautiful calligraphy but also a profile of the Emperor—an imported idea, perhaps—seemed thicker than the other two. The man tucked the other two away, folded this one between his fingers and let himself into one of the houses through a back way.

His contact was waiting there, his hair and eyebrows a different colour to the last time they had met, but the old man still recognised him: he had known enough Europeans over the years to know what to look for in a face. “You have it?” the contact asked in accented Chinese, trying to suppress his eagerness.

“I have it,” the old man agreed. “Do you intend to keep up your part of the bargain?”

The barbarian showed his teeth. “If you have the message, I would be a fool to shoot the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

“I am not familiar with that proverb,” the old man said. “Perhaps you refer to he who saves the green mountain need never worry for firewood to burn. Regardless, let us see your money.”

The European grimaced and dropped a few more banknotes on the cracked lacquer of the battered old table. “As we agreed.”

The old man perused the notes, then nodded. He was tempted to bargain, but some of these barbarians in their odd ways took that as a personal insult. Besides, their thin trust would benefit from not attempting to alter the deal further. “Very well.” He took out the suspiciously thick banknote, carefully slit it open with a fingernail and peeled it open, revealing it to be two banknotes surreptitiously glued together with a small note inside. The marks on the note were neither Chinese nor any barbarian language the old man recognised, but some sort of invented code. He passed the note over without looking at it in detail.

The barbarian nodded his thanks, briefly glancing at the note himself. He double-taked at the cryptogram. His lips moved and his eyes bulged. Then he folded it and stashed it in his pocket, giving the old man a shaken look. “Thank you, sir,” he said. “If this is true, it is grim news, but my country shall be grateful to you for it.”

The old man waved that way. “I care not for your country. I only wish I still had one to serve as you do.”

They parted ways, but not for the last time.

*

The New Tower of London, County Corporate of London, Kingdom of the Britons
December 25th 1897


With a clean, deliberate stroke of the rusted nail he had hammered straight with the heel of his shoe, Joe marked off another day on the blackened stone of his cell’s wall. It was not the first cell he had occupied in his career of three decades, and as always when he added to his tally, he was reminded of how different this one was. He had been locked up in France, Belgium, Germany, and for the most part those had been old prisons, where he couldn’t have tallied up the days like this purely because there was no room left on the walls amidst centuries of scratched graffiti. Maybe the Old Tower had been like this before it had been destroyed by Modigliani. A funny thought.

Joe counted the days in their tally groups of five, as though he didn’t have the number memorised already. Sixty-seven days. It couldn’t be long before they decided to put him on trial, for all that due process seemed to have gone out of the window since the world went mad. A high-profile trial of someone like him could be a good way of drawing public attention away from reversals elsewhere. The fact that they seemed to be saving him regardless implied perhaps that the Hanoverian Dominions were winning the war. He should ask to talk to his lawyer again…

Another scraping sound, a much louder one than the one he could make with the nail (which he hastily hid). A door was opening, a little way away, though not too far. Joe overheard footsteps on stone and indistinct conversation, and then the bolts were being shot back on the armoured door that opened into his own cell’s corridor. He repositioned himself on his cot, affecting an air of disinterest while actually, of course, being frantically curious about this. There was not a lot for a man to entertain himself with in The Blandy.

That was what he and his fellow criminals mostly called the New Tower, and it had even caught on among the mugs and the busies; he thought it came from Blandford’s End, after the stupid fool had fallen off the tower at the end of the Last Lot in Joe’s grandfather’s time. But you couldn’t go around using a three-syllable name all the time, so it had got cut down to The Blandy.

The last bolt was shot back and the door creaked open. The first man through was clearly a soldier or guard, though even in the dim, hissing gaslight his uniform was clearly different to those Joe was familiar with. The guards who manned the New Tower were from the regular army, not the Landborne Marines, though they often wore old-style red uniforms rather than the modern green ones.[8] This uniform was certainly modern, but subtly different in cut, and most obviously it was neither red nor green but a deep greyish violet. The man wore a peaked cap of the same colour and there was a pistol on his hip. A Gendarmery? Joe thought in surprise; he had seen such things in continental Europe, but never Great Britain. Isn’t that against the Constitution?

As if the designer of the uniform had foreseen Llewelyn Thomas turning in his grave, he had defensively emblazoned it with as many Asterisks of Liberty symbols as he could get away with, white on purple, purple on white. Not just the armbands that some of the trade unions and old veterans’ societies still sported, but on the hat, the belt, in decorative patterns across the shoulders outlined in gold leaf…there was something deliciously ironic about a Populist symbol slathered in gold.

Before Joe could react further, the guard spared a practiced glance for the corridor and then stepped aside. Behind him were three more guards flanking a figure dressed in a civilian suit. His violet tie bore a white Asterisk rather less crassly and excessively executed than those covering the guards’ uniforms. For a moment, Joe stared into the calm eyes in the moustachioed face, and a sense of recognition nagged at him. But a man did not last long in the criminal underworld if he failed to recognise someone just because they had grown some facial hair to disguise themselves. “It – it’s you!” he blurted out before he could think. “The Lord Deputy!”

“Shaddup!” the lead guard said, threateningly drawing his pistol and rattling it against the bars of Joe’s cell. “Ah, sorry, Yer Royal ’Ighness, we’ve got a live one ’ere.”

“So I see, Briggs,” said Prince Frederick Augustine, Duke of York. His eyes rested on Joe for a moment. “This one interests me. Leave us.”

Briggs gave the Duke a sceptical look, which Joe had expected, yet the look was subtly different to what he had pictured in his head, and he could not quite put his finger on why. “All right, five minutes,” Briggs said reluctantly. Again, the words and the tone were predictable and yet not quite right…

After the guards left, the Duke walked up to the bars and peered at Joe. “So you are the master forger,” he said. It wasn’t a question.

Joe raised a hand in a self-deprecating manner. “I try, Y’r Royal Highness. In my line of work a master is only recognised by reputation; there aren’t apprenticeships or university degrees in this.”

“Judging by some of the notions coming out of the Board of Education, it can only be a matter of time,” Frederick said dryly. “Nonetheless, a man like yourself could make yourself useful in any number of, ah, legitimate occupations. The Mint, for example. You know that once upon a time it was actually based here?”

“In the Old Tower, yeah, I know. Sir,” he added as an afterthought. Some of the blokes he knew would laugh at him for showing even token respect to the Duke, but Joe did have a grudging regard for him. He remembered when Frederick had resigned over the Lionheart affair a few years back in protest of the way his brother the Emperor had treated Britain. He had come back as Regent, or Lord Deputy as most now called it, eventually, but it had still meant something. Frederick loved Britain as surely as George, it seemed, did not.

“And an occupation like that has never tempted you?” Frederick enquired.

“At times,” Joe said. “Usually times like these. But an engraver on the right side of the law, he doesn’t get to travel the world, he doesn’t get to gamble at the Grand Casino in Guntoor with money he made off of fake Persian bills of sale in Kalat, he doesn’t get chased into the African interior and hide out at the Wild Lakes when the dice don’t go his way in Zanzibar…”

“From what I am told, an accurate if limited rendering of your curriculum vitae,” Frederick commented. “Though you did not comment on the…versatility of your talents. Not merely written documents and paper money, but you indulge in metalwork as well, I understand.”

“I dabble,” Joe said self-deprecatingly.

“I wonder that you have not forged yourself a key and made your escape, in fact,” Frederick said, raising an eyebrow. When he did that, he looked like the pictures of his father Henry X that Joe remembered seeing in his youth.

Joe laughed at the latest comment. “I’m not sure if I should admit it to you, sir, but yeah, if I had the right materials I could make myself a key. But so what? Opening this door doesn’t get me much closer to the outside world. There’s still a lot of guards in the way.”

“You plan beyond the immediate challenge,” Frederick agreed. “A vital skill.” He contemplated his fingernails for a moment. “Your surname is Kerr, I believe?”

“Yeah. Joseph Kerr. Want to guess what all the boys called me?”

“I presume they asked you for a joke,” Frederick said cautiously.

“They did. And in truth I’m not good at jokes. Not that it stopped them. Funnyman, they called me. Always thinkin’ they were the first one to say it.” Joe glanced at the Duke’s fixed expression. “I ain’t a violent man, sir, but I will confess I may have glassed one gentleman who pushed it beyond the boundaries of good taste.”

“We all must have our standards,” Frederick said faintly. After a moment his eyes refocused and he looked at Joe with resolve. “Very well, Mr Kerr. I think I may have need of you. I will need a list of all the items you would require to forge that key, and you should presume that you will be making more than one. Quite possibly considerably more.”

Joe raised his eyebrow. “You want me to come out of here and work for you?” he said dubiously. “No—then you wouldn’t ask for the materials. You want me to stay here and do it! In exchange for a promise about letting me off scot-free, I assume,” he added suspiciously.

“Something like that,” Frederick said cryptically. “This will be a way to get you out of here, certainly.”

“And you won’t find I’m too useful to get rid of?” Joe asked cynically.

“You have my word,” Frederick said simply.

And, oddly, that was enough. Joe listed the items quickly, conscious that Briggs’ five minutes was ticking away quickly, and Frederick scribbled it with a pencil on a scrap of paper in some sort of shorthand code. “That should be possible,” Frederick muttered. Very well, Mr Kerr.” He extended a hand through the bars.

Surprised, Joe gripped it and would not let go. “Just remember, Your Royal Highness,” he hissed. “I trust your honour, but I’ve been in these situations before. It’s easy to make promises to a man in bondage when you have freedom, and somehow they don’t seem to hold as much weight when it comes to keep them. Remember that when your guards take you back to your palace.”

Frederick’s response surprised Joe so much he let go of the hand. He laughed. He laughed and laughed, a harsh, sardonic laugh. “Despite yourself, Mr Kerr, you’ve made a funny joke after all,” the Duke said, coughing. “You think those guards are there to protect me?”

Joe opened his mouth to ask what he meant, but then the door was opening and Briggs and the others were coming back. “Merry Christmas, Mr – er – Karr, wasn’t it?” Frederick said, his voice full of the absent-minded arrogance of the aristocrat who has already dismissed the last peasant from his thoughts and moved on to other things.

“Merry Christmas, sir,” Joe muttered, his mind awhirl.

Quite apart from anything else, he had never quite thought to use his day tally to work out the calendar date.

What had been happening out there…?

*
From: The World At War: From The Pages of The Discerner VOLUME IV: ROAD TO RUIN (1986): [9]

Henei, Dongjing Province, Feng China
May 6th 1898


Charles Grey opened his eyes.

What he felt made him want to close them again and slip away from this world. His mouth tasted like something had died in it, his eyes were two red-hot ball bearings in sandy hollows, there was a persistent, numbing ache throughout his body but especially in his head.

What had…? Wei, shot, poor bugger, and th—

“Thnnngh,” he managed, his tongue swollen in his mouth, and he raised a hand. Or tried to; suddenly his muscles felt limp and weak, and his arm might have been made of lead. After a couple of attempts he managed to shakily raise it until he could see it in his limited field of blurred vision. As he had thought—his arm was beanpole-skinny, as though he had been stricken with a wasting disease. Or…

A blurry nurse glanced his way and double-taked at him with a little shriek. “He is awake!” she cried in Yunnan-accented Chinese, then dashed off to find a doctor.

The next half-hour felt to Charles as though the hospital staff were trying to determine if it was possible to drown a man without actually holding his head underwater. Liquids dominated his life for this brief period, be it the gallons of green tea they made him drink, the sponge bath they subjected him to or the wet flannel on his face. At the end of it, though, his vision had focused, he had a clean gown, and he felt perhaps twenty-five percent human. He even managed to sit up, his chest as emaciated beneath that gown as his arms.

He managed this just in time to promptly be knocked back flat again when Cheung Amoy appeared at the door to the ward, screamed and launched herself across it with the speed and accuracy of a steerable-launched rocket bomb. Charles found himself staring at the ceiling, half-stunned, the breath knocked out of him, as her unbound silky black hair drowned his face and she sobbed hot tears into his shrunken shoulder. “CAAJISI!” she cried, prompting looks from some of the hospital staff. “CAAJISI, they said you wouldn’t come back to me, that you would be wandering the skies alone forever, but I knew you would fight, I knew you would come back, I knew…”

Amoy was diplomatically pulled back just before Charles could pass out. “Yes, well done, Miss Cheung, we got him back just in time for you to kill him,” a man in military uniform said sardonically. For a moment, Charles thought it was Major Wei and his memory had been faulty, but then realised that this was not Wei Chenlong but his younger brother Wei Bai. He had met him a few times, though he had not known him as well as the Major. The younger Wei was wearing what looked to be a captain’s uniform, although Charles’ vision was still not quite up to resolving the animal engraved on his button of rank. He met Charles’ eyes. “Good to have you back, Colonel,” he said, showing relief in his own eyes. “Miss Cheung has barely left your side in the last six months.”

Charles’ eyes bulged. “Six months?!

Amoy gave Wei a look. “I was going to break it to him gently!” She turned to Charles, her eyes getting big and solemn. “Yes, xingan, the doctors say you were in a coma from the day you were…” she sniffed with emotion, “…shot, until today.”

Charles shuddered. “I remember. But six months…” He shook his head. “I was going to ask how the war’s going, but dammit, I don’t care, so long as I’m alive and you’re here with me.” He attempted to put his weakened arm around her and, quickly sensing his mood, she leaned in as though he was pulling her to him.

“You are alive, yes,” Wei Bai said carefully, his eyes taut.

Charles shook his head again, then winced at a headache. “I’m sorry, Captain, that was careless of me. I was going to give you my condolences for the death of your brother. He died a hero, and I wish he could be here today.”

Wei nodded, bowing slightly. “That is good to hear you say. At least his loss, and your wound, was not in vein. You do not know where we are, of course.”

Charles raised an eyebrow. “Where? Hanoi, maybe?”

“Nearly, baobao,” Amoy said, cuddling close to him, her usual keipu replaced with a businesslike mannish shirt and a knee-length skirt that would rouse quite a few angry letter-writers back in Hanjing. “But the Son of Heaven has decreed it shall now be known as Henei, capital of Dongjing Province.”

Charles turned and stared at her for entirely different reasons than the ones he felt in his heart. “Dongj – you mean Tonkin? The Emperor’s annexed Tonkin?”

Wei smiled. “The Siamese sued for peace. We have Tonkin, Luang Prabang and Vientiane all annexed to the Empire now.”

Charles attempted to make an impressed whistle; the noise that his out-of-practice tongue produced just made Amoy giggle and kiss his cheek. “Well. As you say, we lost so many, but at least we can say we came out of it with that. So China’s at peace now?”

Wei exchanged a worried look with Amoy. “Not…quite, Colonel,” he said carefully. “Not long after the Siamese made peace, the northern usurpers decided to join the war.”

The Lieutenant Colonel blinked. The ‘northern usurpers’ were the Beiqing, of course—Feng historiography always emphasised the southern dynasty as a continuation of the old Ming, and portrayed the Qing and Beiqing as just a bunch of upstart nomads who imperfectly aped civilisation but ruined everything they touched. “They attacked us?” he asked.

“No, it was just that the Russians wanted their help in their invasion of America,” Wei said. “They were already using their factories, of course, but they needed to be able to use northern troops openly against our American allies. The Americans have been pushing the Russians back in Superia since Carolina fell and it freed up some of their soldiers. Or so I hear,” he added innocently. Charles recalled that unlike his brother, Captain Wei served in Feng China’s military intelligence service.

“But we got involved anyway?” Charles asked. By this point, he barely noticed that he tended to think of Feng China as ‘we’.

Amoy brushed hair out of her eyes. “I heard they wanted it to be a – how do you say – a fait accompli, like, they wanted us to stay neutral against them, and if they mobilised first and manned their defensive forts without warning then we wouldn’t have gone after them? I think?” she looked askance at Wei.

Wei nodded. “Well remembered, Miss Cheung. Yes, that is what the usurpers wanted, but fortunately, our…sympathisers let us know of the plan before it began. Our soldiers were already mobilising as theirs did, and the Imperial Council has cut a deal with President Burwell. In return for invading the usurpers while they are still caught offguard—something which we would have wished to do in any case—the Americans will support us on recovering certain possessions elsewhere.” Wei’s implacable visage cracked for a moment with a smile.

Charles frowned. “Wait, President Burwell? Lewis Burwell VII? The Continental Secretary? The Virginian?”

“Successfully conquering Carolina was not sufficient to save President Jamison’s career after the loss of Venezuela and when Russian troops were on the streets of Les Grandes Fourches,” Wei said. “Only an advance party of scouts, and only for a day or two before they were chased off, but a newspaperman with his asimconist were on hand to immortalise it. As your James Watt said, a lie can run around the world before the truth can get its boots on.”

“You can say that again,” Charles said. He let out a breath. “So out of the frying pan, into the fire, eh? Will the Emperor be sending me to the north now, once I’m back in fettle?”

“Don’t—talk—such—rubbish!” Amoy said, punctuating her words by punching the pillow next to his head, anger in her eyes. “The Army abandoned you, Charles! It’s only thanks to Captain Wei’s influence that you weren’t left for dead!”

“I do not wish to speak ill of such things,” Wei said uncomfortably, “but Colonel Grey, it is my considered opinion that you have carried out your duty to the Son of Heaven in full, and no man could ask for more. I do not think you need alert the Army to the fact that you have returned to us. What is that proverb of yours? Let sleeping dogs lie.”

Charles nodded. “All right. Hopefully the war will be over before I’m back on my feet anyway?”

“Don’t say that!” Amoy said. “Caajisi, I am going to feed you up until you are as fat as a steerable and then you are going to train until you are back the way you were! You are not going to fight for the Son of Heaven, but you are going somewhere else!”

Charles frowned. “I am?”

“Yes!” Amoy smiled, glee in her eyes. “I just heard yesterday from the Captain. When you are well enough, we are going to Belgium!”

“…Belgium?” Charles frowned, thinking desperately back to discern if Amy had ever mentioned a desire to visit that kingdom.

“Yes, silly!” Amoy ruffled his blond hair. “Your King needs you! And when you have served him, we will have your swimming pool back!”

Even after she explained, Charles still wasn’t a hundred percent sure he wasn’t still stuck in the coma. He changed his mind, however, when she kissed him. That had to be real, at least.









[1] But much less the case compared to OTL’s more substantial upheavals of the Donghak Peasant Revolution (called by different names in OTL North and South Korea). This is because (way back in part #47) eighteenth-century Korea embraced the Neo-Confucian Silhak Movement’s reforms and this helped set back the tide of corruption in the government, which in turn meant there was more public confidence that reforms could be made from within without open revolt. It also doesn’t hurt that Corea is in a stronger position with respect to national pride due to the hand she took in China’s civil wars and Japan’s collapse.

[2] This represents some ancient Joseon terms for organs of government being invested with new meanings as a result of reforms; both these names originally referred to different types of privy councils, and the Uijeongbu was originally just the three High State Councillors who liaised between the King and the separate Six Ministries. Something similar happened in OTL after the Gabo Reforms, but those also involved changing to Seven Ministries on the Japanese model, which would obviously not happen in TTL!

[3] Similar to nineteenth-century Greece in OTL, which had the English Party, French Party and Russian Party.

[4] This is roughly in the area of OTL Broome, Western Australia, and similarly was founded in the 1880s as a port to support the pearling industry. It is named after the native people whose name in OTL is variously spelled ‘Djugun’, ‘Jukun’ and ‘Tjunung’.

[5] OTL Miami, although at this point it’s only a medium-sized town, and is only that big because TTL’s late 19th century saw similar cold winters to OTL which destroyed the citrus crop farther north in some years.

[6] Afabaskhans (also called Dyeneyy in TTL) and Ushunavans are, respectively, Russified names for the Athabascan (or Dené) people in western North America, and Okinawans (Uchinaa in the Okinawan tongue).

[7] Better known in the West in OTL as ‘the yin-yang symbol’.

[8] The Yeomen Warders were another ‘anachronism’ abolished by Llewelyn Thomas’ Populist government. This is not mentioned in the narrative as it would not be natural for Joe’s internal monologue to bring up what is seen as an obscure Tudor institution that hung around longer than people think.

[9] (Sgt Mumby’s note) Unfortunately the first one-third or so of Volume IV of The Discerner collection is missing; judging by the looseness of the cover, one or more of the leaves dropped out from the rather subpar glue of the binding.
 
Ooh loads to process there. So Carolina is exchanged for Venezuela, and with the remainders of the Carolinan aristocracy corralled into running the place, Venezuela has a Queen over the water and the Meridians are being pushed out of Asia allowing the Feng to push back Siam.

And the Duke of York needs a metalworker-forger? I wonder if a mysterious rediscovery of some thought-to-be-lost jewels has occurred.
 
C H I N A W I L L G R O W L A R G E R

Do I detect hints of Discworld in that update? The Russians forgot Rule #1, clearly. :biggrin:

I wonder if his Royal Highness needs new stamps designed? ;)
 
Excellent update, as always!

My Nipponophilia (don't kill me!) every once in a while makes me a bit annoyed by how you more or less made the Russians bulldoze all over Japan and basically erase all of their history from any written record or human memory. Hence why I like being reminded of how other nations that basically had that treatment happen to them in OTL actually survive here. Corea is doing far better at this point than its OTL counterpart! Certainly a Japanese invasion and annexation has been averted, and it looks like they're going to develop into a pretty well-functioning country come the 20th century!

[Cut to the Meridian Societists dropping carytic threshold bombs all over the Corean peninsula]

Also, should add that I became a bit curious as to what the attires of a Qing official was after reading this, and googled it. It would appear that the oversized animal patches continued even during that era, up to and including the crane patch:



 
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“He will not flee, though we have begged him to. I thought of three ships sailing out at Christmas, like the song. Instead he just sends us away and goes to his doom. It is so…”
Well well. A reference to the old Tollkühn (however you spell it) writing? :D

His country, always failing to live up to the vision that Andrew Eveleigh had envisaged for the whole slaveholding south of the old Empire, a remnant of a remnant even at its foundation, now reduced to pathetic scraps that the damnyankees hadn’t quite got around to clearing up yet.
And Carolina all conquered! Well, 'bout damn time. It's a bit of a fitting end to a kingdom that couldn't play nice with the other confederations or treat its own people decently, by which I mean slaves. So losing slavery in but a dozen years and becoming that Meridian puppet... hmph. Hopefully if they stay in the Empire they sober up and become much more empathetic to their own citizens and others. I did remember that the Carolinians wanted all of the old official Confederation of Carolina in their borders as well - oh irony.

"The Americans have been pushing the Russians back in Superia since Carolina fell and it freed up some of their soldiers. Or so I hear,”
Well, perhaps a status-quo up there at least will be doable.
 
From the hints thus far, I'd guess that there's a lot of discontent in Britain about being the cringingly subservient pet dog of the Empire of North America, and the Duke of York is being watched by the emperor's men because he isn't considered politically reliable in that. But it might just be that he has ended up on the wrong side of some purely internal political struggle.
 
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