The Dead Skunk

Winter Games (7)
  • The Class of 1825: Ten Years Later

    Lawrence Agar-Ellis turned 10 on February 15 in London. His family has already known tragedy—his father died last year, not long after being named Baron Dover and given a position in Grey’s government. Technically, this makes him Lord Dover, but he doesn’t insist on the title—his friends would laugh at him if he did.
    “You won’t hear from me again until I have quashed this damned mutiny or died in the attempt.” — Col. Agar-Ellis

    Thomas Wiliam Eustace turned 10 on March 24 in Malta. He serves aboard the old 74-gun HMS Warspite, a capable and promising midshipman.
    “Is Corsica giving birth to another catastrophe?” — Captain Eustace

    A girl called “Meadowlark” turned 10 years old October 4 on Hurricane Plantation near Coffeesburg, but she’s the only one there who knows it. Hurricane is run by a man named Joseph Emory Davis, who has some interesting ideas. He’s trying to turn his 300 or so slaves into a functioning community—not just appointing some of them as overseers in the field, but letting them run their own court system and their own commissary. There are one or two that he’d let negotiate cotton sales[1] if he didn’t have his much-younger brother, Jefferson, on hand to do that for him. (He was planning to give Jeff some land nearby to start a plantation of his own[2], but Jeff refused, saying that he didn’t wish to be tied down anywhere when, based on his correspondence with certain friends, “greater opportunities will soon appear.”)

    Anyway, Davis thinks his methods will make his slaves more productive in the long run, and so far the results are proving him right. It hasn’t crossed his mind that at some point they might start to wonder what they need him or his brother for.

    The good news for “Meadowlark” is that this system actually has a use for literate slaves, so nobody’s angry that she can read. She’s been assigned to the big house. She’s a half-white and rather pretty girl bright enough to learn the finer points of housework, so the Davis brothers treat her with some favor, and she’s still just barely too young for them to have any sexual interest in her. If she had no memory of freedom or the name “Dawn Gilpin,” she would probably be happy.
    “Today we rejoice in our victory, but tomorrow we resume our vigilance. Serpents breed.” — Dawn Gilpin March
    [1] He did actually do this IOTL.
    [2] As he did IOTL
    Quids Pro Quo? (1)
  • March 6, 1836

    The sound that woke Edgar Allen Poe up was the sweetest sound he’d ever heard.

    It was the sound of two babies crying.

    And then came the sound of dear Virginia waking and nursing them, which was even better. She sounded like she was getting her strength back.

    He looked down at his desk. Last night, after his wife and the newborns had gone to sleep, he’d done what he always did when his emotions were too much for him—written a poem. This one was called “Breath.”

    Some of what he’d been trying to capture was in the structure of the poem itself. Each stanza was one line longer than the last, drawing out the sentences in a way that would make it hard to read aloud. But each stanza ended with four syllables. I hear your breath. Another breath. A rasping breath. A shallow breath. Your precious breath. For one more breath. And the final line, written when things were starting to look up—Beloved wife. In the wastebasket were a few pages of crossed-out lines, which Poe had rejected once he realized that the two words that could not be in the poem—because they were at the heart of the fear and hope that the poem expressed—were the words that rhymed with breath and wife.[1]

    And there was another piece of paper, which had the names of the two babies and the day and hour of their birth. The midwife had already left. Luckily, it sounded like Henry was awake.

    Edgar found him and handed him the paper. “Once you’re dressed, will you take this to church for their records?”[2]

    Henry looked at the paper. “Dolores Rachel Poe? Deirdre Niobe Poe? Edgar, those names… even for you…”

    “They were born weeping.”

    “Not to make light of it, but I’m given to understand that’s common.”

    “I feared she was dying. She was in terrible pain.” Which neither I nor the midwife could do anything about. Because we can have no opiates nor liquor of any kind in this house. Because of you, dear brother. Edgar struggled to keep his expression neutral. And in truth, because of me. The same blood flows through both our veins—may not the same weakness?

    “Well, I’ll take care of it this morning.”

    “Thank you.”

    Back in the bedroom, Edgar fed Virginia hasty pudding, a spoonful at a time, while she held Dolores and Deirdre in place and let them suckle. The boiled milk in the pudding had to be doing her some good as she gave milk of her own.

    This was a new world to him. His poems had always been his children—or so he’d thought. Now, he was looking at two actual, flesh-and-blood children. It wasn’t just that they were already more precious to him than any poem of his had ever been, though they were. He’d written every line of “Breath,” and knew why every word was where he had put it. But those babies… he could see they were hungry because they were nursing with great enthusiasm, and he could imagine that they were having trouble getting used to the bright, cold immensity of the world outside Virginia’s womb. Beyond that, the thoughts in those little heads were a mystery to him.

    This much I know—they’re hungry. And as they grow, so shall their needs. Can I support a wife and two babies on the strength of my poetry?

    No. I must needs find some more steady form of employment. Journalism perhaps. I’ve tried other things, but all my skill is in words.

    [1] Credit where credit is due—this is a writing tip I learned from Orson Scott Card, who learned it from a teacher of his named Francois Camoin.
    [2] At this point, births are still mostly registered by churches rather than the government.
    Quids Pro Quo? (2)
  • Let me know if I made any mistakes in this one. I'm literally not a rocket scientist.

    May 11, 1836
    Bolivar Heights, Virginia

    Harpers Ferry lay on the blunt peninsula between the Shenandoah and the Potomac. The town of Bolivar was immediately adjacent, on the Shenandoah. The long, wooded ridge west of the two towns was Bolivar Heights.

    Joseph Henry and John H. Hall stood on the summit of Bolivar Heights, looking west across the valley to the next ridge. Henry was trying to aim at something on the near slope of that ridge.

    The target was, literally, the broad side of a barn—an unused barn on abandoned farmland—but it was a full kilometer away, give or take a few meters. He was sure the rocket could hit the thing, provided he aimed it right.

    Henry had been interested in science since he was sixteen. After Bloody May he’d decided to go into rocketry, hoping to create a weapon that could let the United States hold off its former ruler. Ten years after that, he’d met Walter Hunt, who was a regular fountain of ideas. Between the two of them, they’d developed the weapon he was showing off today—a round-headed cylinder of black iron, 58 centimeters long, with three curved nozzles at the end, resting on an iron tripod.[1] Demonstrating the Henry-Hunt rocket to John Hancock Hall, superintendent of the Harpers Ferry Armory, was the culmination of his life’s work, and he really didn’t want to make a botch of it.

    Just to make a proper controlled experiment of this, he’d already fired two of the latest model of Congreve rockets at the barn. They’d flown maybe a little further, maybe a little straighter, than the rockets the British had used in the last war, but neither of them had come anywhere near the target.

    But then, Henry wasn’t here to prove that Congreves were unreliable at any range. Everyone already knew that. He was here to prove that his and Walter’s weapon was reliable. And even if it flew perfectly straight, at this range one degree of error in aiming would put it more than 17 meters off target—an equation he’d grown all too familiar with back in Albany. The barn was not that big. And just to keep things interesting, there was a light wind coming from the southwest.

    Well, you’re as certain as you’re going to be. Might as well fire it off. Henry took out his tinderbox and the lighting rod.

    Hall raised his hand. “Allow me,” he said, and took a small, sealed metal box out of this pocket. The word ALLUMETTES was stamped on the lid. He took out a small wooden stick, coated with something at one end, then carefully sealed the box. Then he took out a small file and quickly scraped the coated end of the stick against the rough part. It lit with a tiny, brilliant flame and a sudden smell of sulfur. Henry had heard of these new French matches, but never seen one used yet.

    Hall lit the fuse. They both stepped back.

    The rocket took off, its exhaust forming a brief screwlike pattern in the air as it spun in flight. It exploded within a few meters of the right distance, a little higher than he’d intended. The fireball just barely scorched the upper corner of the south side of the barn.

    Henry shut his eyes. Failure. “I aimed too high,” he said. “And I think I overcompensated for the wind.”

    “Don’t trouble yourself over it,” said Hall. “You’ve shown that if nothing else, this weapon is superior to the Congreve. And it’s your own patent—yours and Mr. Hunt’s, I should say?”


    “I imagine a larger rocket would do more damage.”

    “We are working on larger models,” said Henry, “but the 10-kilo model can be easily carried by a man on foot and fired from anywhere—even places where field artillery would be impractical. And while a larger rocket would expand the area of effect, it would only do so only by the cube root of the weight of explosive.

    “The bad news is that as of now, there is one factory in Albany producing these rockets. The worse news is that the very first time we deploy these rockets against the British, some pieces of them will survive and end up in their hands. Those pieces will be enough to allow the enemy to duplicate this weapon. I doubt it will be more than a year before rockets like this are being used against our men. And Britain has more factories capable of this sort of fine work than we do.”

    “So in the event of war, the Henry-Hunt rocket will give us a temporary advantage—and the more of them we have, the greater the advantage.”

    Henry nodded.

    “Unless of course there are so many of these rockets around that the British get hold of one before the war even begins.”

    Henry bit his lip. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

    Hall took another look through his spyglass. “Looks… not too bad.”

    Henry looked through his own. Half the side of the barn was peppered with holes from canister and smoldering spots where bits of powder had landed on it.

    “Any man standing there would be dead or dying,” said Hall. “But of course, if all we wanted was to slay men, we have firearms for that. The War Department and the Navy want a weapon that destroys ships.”

    “No need to tell me about that,” said Henry. “I’m from New York State. Auckland has the St. Lawrence doing patrols again on Lake Ontario. That can’t be a good sign.”

    Hall nodded. HMS St. Lawrence was a ship that had been cheated by history. It was a first-rate with 112 guns, it had been built in ten months, and in 1815 it had arrived at Sackett’s Harbor one day too late to participate in the battle. Then in 1817, the Navy had launched the 87-gun USS Great Chazy River, which—combined with the Natchez’ 87 guns—meant that the St. Lawrence itself was outgunned. Since then, all these ships had been laid up, too expensive to operate in peacetime… until this year.

    “That’s one reason we’re trying to build a larger rocket,” Henry continued.

    Hall nodded. “Mr. Henry, let me honest. You’ve walked into a rather… fraught situation here. Last year, a young fellow named Samuel Colt showed his plans for a new revolver to Goov—you know Goov Brown?”[2]

    “Only by correspondence. A man of some enthusiasm.”

    “You could say that. And he’s Secretary Benton’s right-hand man. Since then, Sam Colt’s taken over half the factory. It’s become something of a sore point—he thinks we should be making more revolvers, I think we should be making more rifles, and right now nobody thinks we’re making enough of either. We can’t possibly divide our facilities a third way.”

    “Is there any possibility of expansion?”

    “I wish there were. So does Sam. And so does Goov—if he had his way, Harpers Ferry and Bolivar together would be bigger than Pittsburgh. The Staircase[3] has power to spare, but Congress doesn’t have money to spare. We’re able to operate because there’s a market for rifles and revolvers even in peacetime, but…”

    “But these rockets are weapons of war. Not much use to a deerhunter.”

    Hall nodded. “If you can find a civilian application for them, God grant you success.” He sighed. “It’s not hopeless. Goov says the Dutch are arming clients in Africa and rebels in the Philippines, and the Army’s making some money selling them muskets. Perhaps next year we’ll be able to afford a workshop for you.” He looked at the target again through his spyglass. “Scorched, but that’s all. I hoped it might catch fire, but…”

    “I’m not sure I aimed properly.”

    “Even if you had, a ship-of-the-line’s hull is much stronger than any barn.” Hall looked thoughtful for a moment. “Tell me something—is there a reason the head must be filled with gunpowder?”

    [1] This weapon is almost identical to a Hale rocket. If you’re wondering what William Hale is up to ITTL, at the moment he, Michael Faraday, and Charles Wheatstone are in Hannover, taking part in the cutting-edge research in electromagnetics and electrical applications.
    [2] Gouverneur How Brown, oldest son of Gen. Jacob Jennings Brown, who IOTL drowned in an ice-skating accident in December of 1816 at age 12.
    [3] The Shenandoah rapids near Harpers Ferry and Bolivar. Hall uses the water power to drive some of his machines.
    Quids Pro Quo? (3)
  • June 1, 1836
    New Orleans

    Hamilton Fish supposed it was one of the advantages of such a tiny nation—and one where everything of any importance happened within a single city— that a new president could be inaugurated so soon after the election. This Andre Roman was now standing on the first balcony over the entrance to the Hôtel de Gouvernement, preparing to speak. Fish and the rest of the ambassadors were in the lobby behind, where they could hear but not be seen.

    A little over three years had passed since he’d replaced Edward Douglass White, Sr., as U.S. ambassador to Louisiana. He still couldn’t help thinking of this snuffbox-sized “republic” as a farce—three members of the Cabinet, including the Minister of War, were British officials. Yet Louisianans themselves didn’t see it that way. As far as they were concerned, this election was real and consequential, and the Radicals had won.

    On the subject of radicals, Fish was standing between Charles Jeanne and Francesco Saverio Labriola, who were, respectively, the French and Italian ambassadors to Louisiana. Both of them, he knew, were grimly amused at the Radical Party calling itself “Radical.” They finally came up with a position on slavery — “let us make the slaves more comfortable” was how Jeanne had put it yesterday. The ambassadors of Tehuantepec and Gran Colombia were nearby. Meetings like this were a chance for allies to exchange information, assuming any of them had been given any.

    Across the lobby, Fish spotted UK ambassador to Louisiana George H. Rose and the ambassador from Hanover, whose name he couldn’t recall. The Spanish and Dutch ambassadors were in opposite corners, studiously ignoring each other.

    Although Fish had only learned Parisian French, he was more or less able to follow Roman’s speech. The surprising thing was how little he said about slavery. He made passing mention of his plans to step up enforcement of the Black Codes, promising that “we remember the horrors brought to light not ten minutes’ walk from this place[1], and we vow never to permit such things again.”

    About half the speech was about the problems in agriculture. Fish had grown up in New York City, and was no expert on this subject, but it sounded as though the Louisianans had reached the limits of how much land they could grow cotton and sugar on, and were now trying to figure out how to make the most of the land they had, which apparently would mean leaving some of the land fallow or growing other things on it to restore its fertility. Our planters have the same problem, don’t they? Unless they can expand further… He’d thought of the Radicals as the urban party, so it surprised him to hear so much talk of rural concerns. But then, while New Orleans was a very respectable city by North American standards, it wasn’t big enough to win an election all by itself, so the Radicals couldn’t just be the party of the city.[2]

    A few people back home had noticed the Radical victory. Some of them were Dead Roses who’d written to him, asking if the new government would be any more inclined to reconciliation with the U.S. (He’d had to tell them no.) Then there was his fellow New Yorker William H. Seward, party whip for the Populists in the House of Representatives. Fish wondered if he was looking for ideas. And by all accounts, the Berrien-Daggett[3] and Morton-Rankin[4] tickets were campaigning vigorously across the country, reaching out to people from all walks of life in much the same way the Radicals had done here.

    No one expected the Radicals to win, but it happened. And last year in London, the Whigs did so badly that Grey had to step aside for Brougham. And the Quids nearly won the House two years ago. Does Sergeant understand the seriousness of the situation?

    In the summer of 1836, with Britain’s economy still mired in the Hiemal Period, there were two great celebrations in London that changed not only British culture, but the culture of much of the world. The first of these was the June 30 celebration decreed by Parliament at the request of Queen Charlotte, to note the completion of the emancipation process and the final end of slavery in the British Empire. This was the first Emancipation Day, which the queen described as “a day of rejoicing in freedom, and praise to God for leading our nation on the path of wisdom and compassion.” Although the Jamaican assemblyman Robert Osborn, in London at the time, famously dismissed the festivities as “an extravaganza of white self-congratulation,” Emancipation Day became a major national holiday throughout the British West Indies, and (back in London) a day that would soon be co-opted by Chartists[5] and other radicals for the purpose of advocating other great reforms.
    The second was the August 8 wedding of Leopold Prince of Wales to Princess Julia of Denmark. In the same way that the weddings of Napoleon II and Achille I cemented the white and gold wedding dress in the culture of France, Italy and the United States, the traditional British wedding dress—red or burgundy (madder red for preference) with white trim—has its origins in the August wedding of Prince Leopold and Princess Julia. Ironically enough, the dress was based on the national colors of Denmark…
    P.G. Sherman, A Cultural History of Early Charlottean Britain

    August 1, 1836
    The Thames

    The breeze over the river had finally picked up, blowing the smoke from the engine away from the steamboat. The greatest city in the world was up ahead. Christian wished he could take some pleasure in the sight. (The smell was another matter. With London the greatest city in the world, this stretch of the Thames was perforce the greatest sewer. No one could be expected to take pleasure in that.)

    “Magnificent, isn’t it?” said Julia Louisa in Danish.

    Christian shook his head. He accepted that Britain was stronger, but to stand around admiring that strength was too much.

    “What’s wrong with you, Kris? I’m eighteen years old and I’m about to get married and spend the rest of my life in a foreign country, and you’re the one who’s upset.”

    “I don’t want to talk about it.”

    “Kris, please. We’ve had this whole trip. The wedding is a week from today. Please tell me you’re not still angry.”

    “Juli, think. Would it really be better—“

    “In English, please.” She switched to the other language more easily than he ever could.


    “The servants are listening. If you’re going to raise your voice, the least you could do is let them know it’s…”

    “Would - it - better - if - I - don’t - care?” He was fairly sure he had butchered his English there, but… well, that was the point. He didn’t like English. Juli looked like she was fighting the urge to correct him.

    Let me try that again. “If I say — ‘Denmark is weak. Other countries do what they like with us. Og hvad så? I don’t care. I am still a prince. I will be king one day. There are still people I command. My life is good.’ If I say this… would it be better?”

    “Well, Father…” She shook her head, as if thinking better of finishing that sentence. “It does not help to be unhappy over what you can’t change. Denmark is weak. Next to Britain, next to France, we will always be weak. This marriage makes us safer.”

    “Easy for you. You’re a woman. You’re…” She gave him That Look while he searched his memory for the right English word. “People allow you to be weak. They don’t… judge you if you’re weak.”

    “They judge all women for being weak.”

    This isn’t fair, he thought. How am I supposed to win this argument if we hold it in a language I barely know?

    “Maybe not all women,” Julie continued. “No one thinks Charlotte is weak. But, Kris, Prussia took more from us than Britain ever did—”

    “Jeg ved! Slesvig, Holsten… I know.” He couldn’t exactly forget. They were still known to the world as Prince Christian and Princess Julia of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Beck, even though Prussia had taken all four of those places in the last war, still held them and showed no sign of willingness to return them. In contrast, Britain had only stolen ships—ships that would be obsolete by now anyway.

    “It didn’t stop you from going to school there.”

    “Yes. I study there. I make friends there. But always thinking a little, ‘remember what they took from you, remember what they took from you.’”

    “I’m sorry to hear that.”

    “I go to school in Prussia. But I come back to Denmark. You… you said yourself—this is marriage. This is your whole life. Princess Consort of the United Kingdom. Queen one day.” He dropped back into Danish. “I’ll behave myself for the wedding. I won’t say a word against Prince Leopold, or Britain, or the alliance. But I will never stop looking for a chance to regain what we lost.”

    [1] The crowd is in what IOTL would be Jackson Square. The LaLaurie mansion is less than half a mile away.
    [2] Fish doesn’t know this, but Roman spent his formative years on a sugarcane plantation.
    [3] David Daggett, a Connecticut lawyer and politician who has joined the Tertium Quids out of a desire to screw over black people as thoroughly as possible, and who John M. Berrien chose as his running mate in the hopes of getting more northern support.
    [4] Marcus Morton, a former Massachusetts governor, running on a Populist/Liberation unity ticket with John Rankin.
    [5] As IOTL, the People’s Charter hasn’t been written yet, but again as IOTL, Radicals are not satisfied with the reforms that have taken place—some of which, like the Poor Law, are making things worse.
    Quids Pro Quo? (4) New
  • Thank you for the answer. Fascinating to see how this strange state is developing as its own nation and how it affects its neighbors in the States.

    How do the Free states regard it these days? Or New Spain for that matter?

    Is there a drive to further assert independence from the British Empire or is there a pervasive feeling that what they have got is the best they can get for the foreseeable future?

    Do they have an official policy regarding slaves that escape from the USA and end up in the Republic; or vice versa?
    Abolitionists in the Free states are really unimpressed with British abolitionists for not trying to abolish slavery in Louisiana. Their attitude is, "Stop pretending that's an independent nation and just tell them what to do." New Spain is fairly cordial toward Louisiana, and since they're not formally independent themselves they have no room to talk about Louisiana's situation, but they aren't so cordial as to return runaway slaves. Hacking their way into the Selva Conchate to catch people who don't want to be caught is not something they'd do even for a friend. One or two slaves from Louisiana have stowed away on boats and managed to go undiscovered until they reach the free states and help from abolitionists, but for the most part, Louisiana and the U.S. return each others' runaway slaves. That's why escapees from Louisiana usually don't go due north, but west and northwest into the toughest forest north of the tropics.

    There are Louisianans who seek to assert independence from Britain, but more in the sense of cultural independence. There's still that sense of being caught between the Yankee devil and the master of the deep blue sea.

    And now…

    September 26, 1836

    Spain’s ambassador to the Court of St. James was Francisco Javier de Istúriz y Montero. Palmerston suspected the man could easily perform the duties of a higher office, and knew it, but he was a little too liberal in his politics to be trusted by the king of Spain.

    “The fighting at sea has been inconclusive,” said the ambassador. “In January we won a victory in Iligan Bay, but we could not follow it up because we were too busy putting paid to the garays[1] that came to prey on wounded ships from both sides. And that has been the story of the war—our navies must form such large convoys for fear of each other that neither side can fight piracy… which according to the Dutch was the point of the war in the first place.

    “When we last heard from Luzon, we held the city of Manila itself, the peninsula of Bataan to the west, and the whole Bicol Peninsula here in the southeast. The rest of the island was… contested. On Mindanao, the Dutch had taken Zamboanga—here in the west—and Sultan Iskander of Maguindanao[2], here, had betrayed us and allied with the Dutch.” Odds were, the ambassador was trying to cultivate a reputation for honesty here, since everything he was saying could be confirmed by the Foreign Office.

    “Did the sultan offer any reason for this betrayal?”

    “He said it was ‘in solidarity with the faithful of Morocco.’ I doubt he cares very much about the faithful on the other side of the world. More likely Amsterdam offered him a better deal.”

    Or a more convincing threat, thought Palmerston. It seemed likely to him that the Dutch were going to win this war, simply because they were slightly less strapped for cash than the Spaniards. Their only problem had been a shortage of manpower, and they’d solved that by recruiting mercenaries from West Africa.[3] And this Iskander would not want his sultanate to go the way of Sulu if Spain could not offer protection.

    “I realize, Minister, that it is a matter of some indifference to you who controls Mindanao. But consider that if, God forbid, this so-called ‘Republic of Luzon’ were to make good its independence, it might become a haven for pirates. French commerce, your own opium trade—they’d have their choice of targets. It might even become a French ally… or at least another welcome port for them.”

    Palmerston gave a little nod that was carefully calibrated to convey understanding of the point without any implicit promise. The great goal of British policy in Europe was to allow no one power, and especially not France, to dominate the continent. By rights, that should also have been the goal of Spain and the Netherlands, both of which (unlike Britain) had to fear invasion and occupation by France, having suffered it in the last war. And yet they were at war with each other over territory neither of them fully controlled.

    No matter. We can still repair the situation… just so long as nothing else goes wrong.

    A popular witticism among historians, applied to the Russian invasion of eastern Thrace in 1836, is that it represented “a failure of intelligence in both senses of the term.” It was, but not the way most people think. The Tsar had spies among the Greek and Slavic population of Bosnia-Rumelia, which kept him appraised of both military activity and the general mood of the population—or at least the Orthodox parts of it. They knew that Sultan Husein had seized the country by sneak attack and could appeal to no authority beyond his own loyal soldiers. They knew he had built modern fortifications outside Constantinople, to prevent anyone from doing to him what he had done to the Ottomans. They also knew that as of early 1836, he had not once left the city since capturing it. It must have seemed a reasonable inference that, holding such a strong position in a potentially rebellious country, he dared not set foot outside it lest some ambitious subordinate take control of it behind his back.

    Thus, with a single blow—the amphibious landing of an army of 30,000 under the command of General Valerian Madatov on the eastern coast of Thrace—Russia could bisect the peninsula on which Constantinople stood and cut Husein off from the rest of Bosnia-Rumelia. Even if Serbia was too preoccupied by civil war to invade, Greece surely would, and Greeks and Slavs throughout the little empire would rise against it. Russia would support these rebels with arms and soldiers.

    Britain would oppose this, of course, as would France and Italy. Any prolonged war would surely drag them in, eager to prevent Russia from becoming a naval force in the Mediterranean. That was why the plan was to invade in September. Over the course of the next few months, the Lodos winds would complicate efforts to sail large ships up the narrow, bending throat of the Dardanelles. France and Italy had many ships that could furl their sails and steam through, but the Tsar did not believe the British would allow them to take point in such an important naval mission. This would delay any naval intervention in the Black Sea until spring.

    And by then, it would be too late. The “Gradascevician Empire” would have gone the way of its glorious predecessor, its authority collapsed and incapable of being restored. The only way for authority to emerge again would be in a form pleasing to the Tsar, who explained his ideas for such a form in conversations with his foreign minister. Bulgaria would be a kingdom under some Russian prince (perhaps Madatov himself), providing Russia with a landward link to the expanded and grateful nations of Serbia and Greece. Constantinople and the peninsula of Gallipoli would be Russian-ruled exclaves, giving them access to the Mediterranean. As for the Powers, what could they do in the face of this fait accompli but shake their fists eastward in impotent fury?

    That was the plan. And while there was an intelligence failure involved, it was not a failure of either information or military acumen; it was a structural failure. The information gathered by the Tsar’s spies passed through the Foreign Office in Moscow, where it was brought to the attention of the Tsar, who in turn shared it with the army. Given that there were few railroads and no telegraphs in this part of the world, this meant that the army would be acting on information that was months out of date. Even as Madatov was preparing to land at Karaburun, the Tsar was receiving the news that would throw all his plans into derangement.

    Sultan Husein was not in Constantinople. He had left the city in early August with his family, his harem, and the bulk of his army, and was currently in the mountain town of Dereköy. Although his loyalists still held the capital, the truth was that the Queen of Cities was under the occupation of a far more merciless enemy than Madatov—cholera. Husein was able to quickly rally his forces and pin Madatov against the Constantinople defenses.

    Despite this, Madatov succeeded in his planned mission of occupying a stretch of the peninsula from Karaburun to Büyükçekmece[4] on the Sea of Marmara. But he could not take the city, and now he was surrounded by Husein’s forces on both sides. His own health was failing, although it is unclear whether this was the result of cholera or a pre-existing illness. By spring, the Russian field force would need a new commander,[5] and (in the manner of most pre-modern armies) would be losing more soldiers to disease than to enemy fire.

    To make matters worse, those same Lodos winds got an early start this year. The landing was planned for September 27, but poor wind conditions delayed it for a day, allowing Bosnia-Rumelia’s Black Sea fleet (such as it was) to escape and launch irregular attacks on the ships Russia sent to supply their forces.

    Meanwhile, this unprovoked attack on what was technically an independent state was having the expected effect in the diplomatic world. Egypt was first, of course, but France, Italy, and the United Kingdom had all independently declared war on Russia before the year was out. What was intended as a lightning-fast decapitation was already on its way to becoming the largest European conflict since the Second Thirty Years’ War…

    Robert W. Derek, Great Blunders of World History

    [1] Locally-built Filipino warships, often used by pirates.
    [2] A small sultanate on the west coast of Mindanao.
    [3] The Dutch did this IOTL as well.
    [4] Turkish names should be considered as transliterated from TTL’s romanization system, which I haven’t invented. The same goes for names in Pinyin.
    [5] IOTL, Madatov died of lung disease in 1829.