Prologue, part 1: The world begins to change
3 March 1821, the island of Jamaica
Rodolfo di Farnese -- formerly Emperor Julius II of the Empire of Italy -- carefully studied the map on the wall of his office.
Once, that all had been his. Most of the world, at least the parts worth having, had belonged to the Empire of Italy. Technically, they still did, although his son, Ferdinand I, was now Emperor. Still, it could have been worse. The island of Jamaica was a fairly recent addition to the Empire, but already one of the most popular retirement spots. His house was naturally the largest, but he lived in the same neighborhood with several Senators and a few Generals. They mostly made good company, so he didn't mind. With Alexander O'Connor's steamships traveling regularly to Rome, he had the luxury of returning home when he felt like it. He didn't do it often, because he knew he would have been tempted to interfere. Ferdinand knew what he was doing -- most of the time -- and when he didn't, he had excellent advisors to help him. Bartolomeo de Ruyter was still Marshal of the Empire, and given the late Maxwell O'Connor's position on his young protege, Rodolfo knew the legions were in good hands.
The Chancellor, on the other hand, was in a very different position. Marcus Porcius Cato Decimus -- often referred to as Decimus to avoid any confusion -- had actually been born in New Italy. Decimus was from Pomo, near the Pacific Ocean. He held the distinction of being one of the first children born there, shortly after the colony's founding in 1784. Just under forty now, Decimus was named Chancellor in 1815, after a succession of other Chancellors had failed. The reason for Decimus' success was more playing politics than pure talent. He did his best to kiss up to the Emperor, and so kept his job. In reality, it was his subordinates that did most of the work.
Other cabinet posts had slowly faded away. Only Chancellor and Foreign Minister were still always filled. Alexander was now the Minister of Industry, an important post in the modern Empire. It meant government funding for his work in making Italy into the world's premier industrial power. But at least he, and Chancellor Decimus, were nobles, the sons of important men. The Empire didn't really have nobility any longer, apart from the Senate. To get into the Senate, you had to be born into it, or achieve the rank of General and fill an open spot. The Senate handled domestic policy, with the approval of the Emperor. The Empire was divided up into provinciae, with each state being composed of regiones. The Empire had once been divided into only a few large provinciae, but recent Senate reforms made each provincia smaller and more manageable. Each provincia had a Proconsul, appointed by the Senate. The Proconsul chose his Governors. But underneath the governor, something interesting happened -- all government officials were elected by Assemblies of all adult males, given a certain amount pf property. It was a good system. The most important posts were filled by the most pedigreed men, while parochial concerns were handled by those closest to those concerns.
But the Foreign Minister... the Foreign Minister was entirely different. He called himself "Valerian." He had no surname, he had no family, and nobody even knew which part of the Empire he had come from. He had a foreign accent when he spoke Latin, but nobody was quite sure where he was from. Valerian answered to no other name and politely refused all others inquiries. He was about 25 years of age and held arguably the second most important cabinet position. Rodolfo was confused, to say the least. He'd asked his son why he'd appointed such an unknown, but all Ferdinand would do was smile and shake his head.
His reveries were interrupted by a knock on the door. "Come in!"
In stepped Kathleen O'Connor, sister to the Minister of Industry and the daughter of the Marshal that had placed Rodolfo on the throne. Rodolfo chuckled. "Working on another book already? That biography of your father was wonderful!"
Kathleen grimaced. "I can't say I cared much for the Emperor's changes to it."
Rodolfo's chuckle died. "I don't either. I know he's a new Emperor and my own abdication was very abrupt, but I don't like how defensive he is about his position. An Emperor needs to command respect, not order it. I've never approved of censorship in any form."
The historian nodded. "Emperor Julius --"
"Kathleen, you are a family friend. Please call me Rodolfo."
Kathleen blushed, but agreed to his request. "Rodolfo, I think popular opinion of the Emperor would improve if you would speak in public about your abdication."
Rodolfo sighed, rose from his chair, and walked to the balcony of his modest but luxurious home. "I don't doubt you're right, Kathleen. However, I have to think about my family."
The historian brushed back some of her graying hair. "What is there to think about? Your son is mostly doing a fine job, and the Prince of Constantinople is approaching manhood rapidly."
Thinking about his grandson made the former Emperor smile. "Cosimo is quite the troublemaker, even at 9. Reminds me of my son at that age."
Kathleen smiled wanly. "You didn't answer my question."
"No, I didn't." Rodolfo paused to gather his thoughts. "You never answer my first question. Are you writing a new book?"
"Fair is fair. Yes, I am. The University of Rome has asked me to write a series of books on the Emperors of Italy. You are the only living Emperor, apart from your son, and so I want to take the opportunity to interview you about your decisions."
Rodolfo nodded. "And my decision to abdicate in favor of Ferdinand was probably my most momentous decision, right?" After Kathleen agreed, he continued. "Will you give me your word that you will not publish a word of this until I am gone?" Kathleen struggled for a moment, weighing the decision in her mind, but nodded again, chewing on her lip. "Then I will tell you the truth.
"I am not the only living ex-Emperor."
Kathleen was startled. "I don't understand."
"Who was Emperor before me?"
"Your father, Marius I."
Rodolfo snorted. "No, try again."
Kathleen blinked a few times. "John IV?"
"Yes. My dear older brother may only have been Emperor for a year, but he was still Emperor."
"I thought he was dead!"
"Your father and I agreed to declare him that, but in reality, when he fled to the New World, we never heard from him again. My own sources tell me John is very much alive and, in fact, has children."
Kathleen searched her memory and snapped her fingers. "So Valerian is--"
Rodolfo interrupted her with an angry wave. "No, not Valerian. I don't know who he is any more than you, but he is no di Farnese. I do know his sons are all younger than Ferdinand, which is why I abdicated."
"To prevent his claim from being challenged later?"
"Exactly. Even more importantly, to keep John from challenging my claim to the throne. I found out around 1819 that he was still alive when I met one of his sons, oddly enough. He was vacationing here under the name 'Marco di Farnese.' I went to see him, and sure enough, he was a dead ringer for John. I don't think he knew who I was -- few people out here do -- but I knew who he was. I hired some private detectives, and they found my brother hiding in the southern half of North America."
Kathleen put her pencil down slowly. "So if something happened to Ferdinand, John's sons could legally contest the throne? They are older than Cosimo?"
"Yes. Therein lies the problem. My brother may be a coward, but my nephews are not. I have at least three -- Marco, Giuseppe, and Mario -- and may have more. If John formally abdicated, even if we kept it secret, Cosimo's inheritance would be safe. That's why I'm here, near the provincia of Florida. I abdicated so that I can devote my time to figuring out my brother's plans. He thinks he's covered his tracks, so I have to play it coy."
"Why not warn Ferdinand?"
"Waste of time. Ferdinand has a good heart, but he's never been very subtle. He'd probably declare war or something, and that would start a civil war."
"So what do we do?"
Rodolfo laughed. "It's 'we' now, is it? You have a good question, in any case. If I could find out what John is up to, I might be able to use my own talents to stop his little scheme. Trouble is, I can't get too close."
"I could go see him."
Rodolfo considered the offer carefully. "He knows who you are, and might be willing to grant you the interview. On the other hand, he also knows that my son keeps a very close eye on what you write. No, we can't risk it."
"What about Max?"
"Your brother? Now there's an idea. He's always tinkering with some new invention, and I'm sure Ferdinand would give him a grant to study something in Florida. Can he be trusted?"
Kathleen belted out a laugh of her own. "To remember when dinner is? No, never. But to be loyal to his Emperor? He's my father's son."
"Then it's settled. You go back to Rome and ask your brother as discretely as you can. We'll get to the bottom of this one way or another!"
As the two said their goodbyes, nobody noticed that one of the servants was clutching their fists in anger. The servant slipped out during the night; Rodolfo never noticed she was gone.
He would later wish he had.
15 April 1822, Palazzo di Farnese, Rome
Kathleen was growing frustrated with waiting. A woman nearly fifty should probably be more patient, she thought to herself, but sitting outside the Foreign Minister's office was driving her insane. She did spend a few moments with her nephew, Benjamin, Alexander's oldest son. Benjamin was a clerk in the Foreign Ministry at only 18. He inherited his father's smarts, it seemed.
After two hours, right as Kathleen picked up notes and thought to leave, the door opened. Out stepped the so-called Man of Mystery, Valerian.
"Forgive me, Ms. O'Connor. I know I am late for our meeting, but you have my full attention now. Please, come in."
As they entered his office, she studied the Foreign Minister. A string bean of a man, he was completely nondescript in every way. She also noticed his odd accent, but couldn't place it any more than most Italians. If she hoped to gain more information about her host in the office, she would be sorely disappointed, as the walls were entirely blank apart from a portrait of Ferdinand I.
"How may I help you?"
Kathleen took out her notes. "You know about the problems in Florida?"
Valerian tried to continue to look charming, but his expression was cracking. "I can't imagine I know what you're talking about."
Kathleen rolled her eyes. "Come now, lad! You don't consider a threat to the Emperor serious enough to take note?"
Valerian was fuming, maintaining his temper only by the barest of threads. "I am Foreign Minister, Ms. O'Connor. Please refer to me by my title. And yes, I would consider a threat serious. I do not consider some doddering old man pretending to be John IV a serious threat!"
Kathleen's eyes widened. "Julius II himself confirmed it!"
"I have respect for the former Emperor, but Rodolfo di Farnese is only one person, and he is none too young himself these days."
"This is absurd. He is stirring up trouble right under your noses, and yet you do nothing?"
Valerian's new smile had nothing to do with actual happiness. "You know, Ms. O'Connor, I find it curious that you come to me. Why not go to the Senate? Surely your brother would support an investigation. He is a Senator, after all. Or maybe you could talk to the Emperor directly? He's always taken an interest in your family."
Kathleen gritted her teeth. "You know damned well why I can't go to them. My brother couldn't find John in Florida and the Emperor is much too aggressive to handle this. It needs a delicate touch."
Valerian's wolfish grin grew. "So you need something from me. I, as it happens, could use something from you."
"What on earth could you want that I would give?"
"I will support your investigation, throw the full weight of my office behind it. I'll also get the Chancellor involved; Decimus may be a sycophant, but he's always been one for intrigue. He has a surprising network of agents for somebody so... ahem... thick headed. de Neuchâtel was a genius at that, and Decimus knows how to keep a good thing going. All I ask in return is a favor in the future."
Kathleen's eyes narrowed. "What sort of favor?"
"I am no pervert, Ms. O'Connor, if that is what you're implying. What I want is your political support in a matter that may come up soon. Your family name is a very powerful one, and you are seen as incorruptible."
"Of course not."
Kathleen was still suspicious, but shook Valerian's hand. "We have a deal."
"Excellent. I will go speak to Decimus shortly. We shall find John IV if it kills us."
10 October 1824, somewhere in North America
John IV frowned. Once the most powerful man in the most powerful Empire the world had ever known, he had to sleep in a new bed every night. The Chancellor's agents, driven in part by the Foreign Minster Valerian's will, hounded him every day. He'd twice narrowly avoided capture; in the second arrest attempt, his second son, Giuseppe, was killed by an overzealous agent. That bought him a little time, but not much.
He looked at the two men in the room with him. Dmitrii IX, a distant cousin and Tsar of the Russian Empire, dominated the room with his enormous size and powerful frame. It was said that he had torn apart a Siberian tiger with his bare hands; John believed it. The formal alliance Russia and Italy once enjoyed had since dissolved, but not entirely amicably. Dmitrii had wanted to marry his daughter to Prince Cosimo, but Ferdinand had refused, as Cosimo was 12 and the Tsar's daughter 25. Even betrothal was out of the question for Ferdinand, who dearly loved his son and insisted he would never marry for reasons of state. Dmitrii was insulted and let the alliance lapse when it was up for renewal.
The other man was a King, but looked like a mere child compared to the Tsar. Fergus, King of Scotland, hated the Empire of Italy with a burning passion. Time and time again, every time Scotland had entered a war, Italy had intervened, routed the Scottish armies with aplomb, and then signed a simple white peace at the earliest opportunity. That drove the King to distraction. Italy was strangling Scotland as surely as if she had annexed the country directly. She had no room to expand in the Old World or the New.
John IV drained his glass of wine, clapped his hands with a loud smack, and addressed his guests. "Gentlemen, we have a problem. A problem that could easily be rectified. All three of us want the same thing: the humiliation of my nephew, Ferdinand I."
Fergus slammed his fist on the table in agreement, while Dmitrii raised an eyebrow and said nothing. John nodded and continued. "If we want to change the world, to adjust to the way we want it, we have only one option. War."
The King of Scotland visibly blanched. "John, with all due respect, I have no desire to be beaten yet again by the Empire of Italy. The army in England is just too strong."
John smiled without humor. "That's why we're not attacking Britannia, or even the Empire itself."
The Tsar laughed. "How do you expect to win a war you will not fight?"
"It all centers around the United States. Their President has claimed significant portions of the Empire's Atlantic colonies for years now. He's even tried to stir up a couple of rebellions, but with no success. That is where we come in. Fergus, you have a strong colonial presence in North America and southern Africa. If your armies strike there, coupled with a large scale American rebellion, Ferdinand will either be forced to relinquish the colonies or fight to keep them. I know Ferdinand; he is headstrong and will never turn down a fight."
The Tsar nodded his approval. "A wise plan. Where do I fit in?"
"If he does commit significant troops, as I think he will, all you need to do is move your armies a little closer to your border with the Empire."
The Tsar frowned mightily. "I have no intention of shedding Russian blood for your petty ambitions."
"And you won't have to. The mere presence of your army will shock some of our more easily frightened Senators into demanding either a quick end to war with Scotland or, even better, a declaration of war on your country. War and peace is the Emperor's decision, of course, but he won't pick a fight with Russia without a lot of convincing. Even if neither of those two possibilities occur, Ferdinand will be forced to keep some of the best legions at home, which should make your job easier, Dmitrii."
"And what do you do, John? Where is your risk?"
John IV smiled nastily. "I have the hardest part of all. While the two of you keep Ferdinand occupied, I will secretly land in Sicily with a small, but loyal, army. The governor of Syracuse regio is an old friend. I will slip across the straits into Italy proper and, hopefully, take Rome. Of course, if that fails -- and it well might -- I have other plans as well."
"So you wish to become Emperor again?"
"Only to solidify the claims of my sons. Ferdinand is a big, dumb, lout, and Cosimo will no doubt emulate his father."
Fergus looked shocked. "You would risk civil war over a grudge? I know you were excluded from the succession, but you kind of deserved it."
Dmitrii raised a hand. "Let us not insult our host, Fergus. His plan appears to be solid. You get the extra land you've always wanted, I'll recover some prestige, and John IV gets the throne. What's more, I'm sure John would also grant other concessions when he has achieved his goals?"
John nodded affirmatively. "Of course."
"I think I can support this. The President will go for your plan? He is the most important cog, I think, in your clockwork machinations. He is the one with the clearest motive for gain. Fergus will ally with the USA, as will I, which will provide our own justification for any interference."
"He will, or he should, anyway.
He's my son."
Feels good to finish the first update! I anticipate three parts to the prologue -- two after this -- and then we'll begin actual gameplay. All of this is currently in my head, so screenshots will be a bit scarce for now. I hope this doesn't frighten anyone away
Let me know what you think; I've tried to make everything from NRI clear, but if you have questions, please let me know.