Prologue, part 3: Coming of age
1 June 1827, Infirmary of the Palazzo di Farnese, Rome
The doctor looked carefully at his patient. He was asleep now, but getting him to sleep had been very, very difficult. His wounds were healing, but it still seemed like there was something missing. He just didn't seem like the same man any more. A light knock on the door -- the patient had his own private room -- announced the arrival of Kathleen O'Connor. Kathleen was rapidly becoming the most powerful person in the Empire with no official title, which was exactly the way she preferred it. The Irishwoman still thought of herself as a scholar that happened to be in the right (or perhaps wrong) place at the right time. My brother is more important to this Empire than I am, yet I get all the attention, Kathleen thought.
The doctor smiled; even at the age of 54, she had that effect on men. "Ms. O'Connor, are you here to see the patient?"
"I am, Doctor. How is he doing?"
"As well as could be expected." The physician sighed. "There's still a general malaise. It's not entirely uncommon in amputees, but it's worrisome that although he's physically much better, he's mentally still very, very sick."
Kathleen's shoulders drooped just a bit in resignation. "Is there anything we could do?"
"For anybody else, I'd say a few weeks of rest would be sufficient."
"Of course, we don't exactly have a few weeks, and execution by his uncle would hardly be an improvement over his present condition."
"Agreed. Would you like to visit with him for a moment?"
Kathleen nodded and approached the bed. Ferdinand I, the Emperor of Italy, was once among the most powerful men in the Empire. Now, he looked as pitiful as a newborn kitten. His once proud face was contorted in pain as he slept. She gently brushed his hair, then addressed the doctor. "Could he address a crowd right now?"
The doctor shook his head slightly. "I would have to advise against it. Even in a wheelchair, he's so weak right now that even the slightest stress might kill him."
Kathleen was growing frustrated. "We don't have much choice. John the Pretender isn't in Europe, we think, at the moment, but if he does return, he'll have an even bigger army with him."
"Can't the Chancellor speak?"
"That's what Decimus has been doing; it's not enough. The people are anxious to see their Emperor again."
As Kathleen and the doctor argued, a weak voice emanated from the bed. "I may be hurt, but I'm not dead, Doctor." Ferdinand could barely sit up, but he did after a great deal of effort. "Kathleen, a pleasure to see you as always. If my people need me, then I shall answer the call." When the doctor tried to stop him, Ferdinand brushed him away. "Kathleen, if you will conduct me to my chambers, I will be happy to speak with our people."
As Ferdinand approached the balcony, he could clearly hear a very anxious mob muttering and shouting. John's troops had been waiting outside the ancient limits of the city of Rome, the pomerium, ever since Ferdinand's wounding. Kathleen looked with concern at the Emperor. "Emperor, why aren't they advancing?"
The Emperor laughed for a moment before choking. "My dear woman, that is because they have no orders. John has put too much power in his own hands. I could have sworn he'd at least have Mario act as a lieutenant of sorts, but he's insisted on concentrating all of his authority in his own hands. That means if John is elsewhere, as we think he is, they have nothing to do. Soldiers don't function well without orders; John would have known that if he weren't such a coward."
With a little support from a pair of crutches, Ferdinand stood and looked over the balcony. The crowd immediately fell silent.
"Citizens of the Empire. I know you are scared and I do not blame you. A lot of scary things have happened in the past few days. 10 legions of some of the finest men ever to put on a uniform is worth worrying over, and that's a fact. I know rumors have been going around that my injuries are mortal; I can assure you all that they are not. I lost a leg, but I did not lose my heart or my passion for seeing that this Empire succeeds. I have full confidence in Marshal de Ruyter, General Contadino, and Admiral di Medici. As bad as things look, we are actually in a comfortable position, citizens. The enemy has no navy; we do. The enemy has no leadership; we do. The legions cannot live on dirt and rocks; the good people of our Empire will not feed them. Rome, on the other hand, can survive indefinitely via the sea. We will triumph, I can assure you of that. Please, return to your homes and continue your daily business. We must never show weakness to traitors; they will pounce. We must not let them pounce!
Glory to the Empire!"
The returning shout was certainly not deafening, but it was present, and for the moment, that was good enough. "Kathleen, my dear, would you send for Foreign Minister Valerian?"
Kathleen bowed and went to get the Foreign Minister. She was uncomfortable dealing with Valerian, and his mannerisms and general appearance still caused her no end of dread, but he was unflinchingly loyal. When she returned with him, he immediately asked after the Emperor's health before asking what was needed of him.
"Valerian, what is the situation overseas?"
"Sire, the war between Mexico and the UPCA is in a stalemate. South America has changed drastically as well; the King of Savoy was overthrown by a group of rebels. Setting up a very limited republic, they have called themselves the Union of Zanzibar. Following the Zanzibar example, the people of Swahili have renamed themselves the Congo Free State in east Africa."
Ferdinand paused to think. "Would either of these nations make effective allies?"
"Zanzibar considers itself Italian, despite the name, so there is some cultural connection between our two nations. I'm not as sure about the Congo Free State. However, there is one unique opportunity; Austria has declared independence from Scotland."
"Yet we hold Vienna?"
"Do not worry; they control a sizable portion of the extreme south of the American continent. However, they hate the Scottish even more than we do, and they have agreed to assist us in our war overseas."
"Excellent. What of the Russians?"
Valerian frowned. "The Tsar offers his condolences and moral support, as usual, but nothing more substantive. We have nothing he wants, and the Tsar is not a man to be overly burdened by sentimentality."
Ferdinand grinned weakly. "Nor am I. Any other allies?"
"No, Emperor. We are alone, apart from Austria and Zanzibar."
"Very well. I need a few days to get a grip on the situation. Would you be so kind as to dismiss the crowd and help me retire?"
Valerian nodded. "I would be honored, Emperor."
5 June 1827, unknown location, near Edinburgh, Scotland
John IV seethed. The Tsar was purposefully keeping him waiting longer and longer. King Fergus was napping on his throne. The Pretender envied his Scottish counterpart (as he thought of the King of Scotland).
Things were not going as well as he had hoped. John's son Marco was doing a fine job in the USA consolidating his gains, but the elder Farnese had little luck in Italy. He'd planned on stirring a rising in Gaul or Hispania, but they were strangely silent. Worse still, he'd heard from his agents that some of the legions that defected were considering returning to the Empire. One of Ferdinand's savvier moves was to guarantee an amnesty for all enlisted men that surrendered their arms and returned to their homes, an offer that was becoming increasingly popular. The officers were given no such deal, and they remained loyal, but only to the extent that the alternative was almost certainly execution. The Senators that had deserted were even less reliable; many had hoped for greater autonomy or more lands in exchange for their cooperation, but John intended no such deal. John wanted the Empire intact. For all of his warmongering, what John wanted was what Ferdinand wanted; a strong, powerful Empire to dominate the world as it always had. All John really needed was a simple change in leadership.
As he considered his next move, Dmitrii IX finally arrived. "I am so sorry, gentlemen, for my late arrival. You will excuse me, I hope."
John bowed and elbowed Fergus in the ribs, which woke him up. "It is no trouble, Dmitrii. What news do you bring?"
Dmitrii paused to stare intently at his fingernails for a moment, then continued. "I have slowly moved my soldiers closer to the Italian border, as you asked. I am confident that Prince Carlo will not move to join his father in Rome."
John nodded curtly. "And what of more active involvement?"
Dmitrii scolded John, as if talking to a child. "John, I will never risk Russian blood on your political moves. You know this. I would take it as a personal courtesy if the subject were not brought up again."
"As you wish. Fergus?"
The King of Scotland had no better news. "We've got the colonies we wanted, but Austria's rebellion is frustrating. We had counted on Austrian beef to feed us should the Empire of Italy embargo or blockade us; that now seems unlikely. John, Dmitrii, I'm not sure how much longer I can keep up this charade. For all of your actions, all it would take is two or three legions invading Scotland and I'd have to surrender. I've already begun ordering my spies to stand down; you have about three months of activity before I have to cancel all operations. If de Neuchâtel were still alive, we'd already be in hot water."
John tried to hide his frustration, but did not entirely succeed. "I really am trying to understand your situation Fergus, but what makes you think that Ferdinand would let you keep your colonies?"
Fergus grinned but without actual joy. "Why, because his insolent uncle is more of a threat than I am, John." The Tsar chuckled softly while John's face grew more and more red.
"Damn it! Must I do this alone?"
Dmitrii stopped laughing, and for the first time looked genuinely annoyed. "John, do not play the martyr. You promised us a quick war. You have not delivered. Your soldiers had a supreme opportunity to seize Rome a few days ago, yet they have hardly moved."
"I cannot be in two places at once!"
"That is your problem, not ours."
John lost his temper. He grabbed his plate and threw it as hard as he could at the wall. "You are cowards, both of you!" It was exactly the wrong thing to say. Fergus's own temper was legendary and the two nearly came to blows. But what was much worse was that Dmitrii simply turned and left without so much as a goodbye.
John's color went from very red to very white. He had just made an enemy of the one man he could not make an enemy of.
5 January 1829, Foreign Minister's office, Rome
Valerian enjoyed talking to Marshal de Ruyter when he could; the Marshal was a very talented officer, but more than that completely genuine. He never tried to hide how he felt, which was a pleasant change of pace for somebody used to dealing with double talk, if not outright lies, on a daily basis.
"Bartolomeo, have your men made much progress?"
The Marshal sighed. "No, Valerian. We've been unable to locate John or the rogue legions. They've simply vanished."
For all intents and purposes, they had. Rather than risk an all-out assault, John took his men north of the Alps into what was formerly Switzerland; some Swiss guides were happy to help his now ragtag army hide for the winter. The rumors were that John was gathering a large mercenary force and, in a few months, would make one final push for the city of Rome.
Valerian, rather than get upset, simply nodded, acknowledging the difficulty of finding them. "Are the Russians still demonstrating at the border?"
"They are; I can't really ask for any reinforcements at this point. We have a large Empire, Foreign Minister, and we really have no spare troops."
"I understand. Perhaps our luck will turn soon."
A knock on the door startled both men. Benjamin O'Connor entered. "Sirs, there's a man to see the Foreign Minister. Claims he is the Emperor's cousin."
Valerian and Bartolomeo exchanged looks as the man in question stepped into the room. He was tall and good looking, with a very expensive and nicely tailored suit. "Gentlemen, forgive my unannounced visit. I am the President of the United States."
Valerian raised an eyebrow; Bartolomeo actually swore and lunged at him. Without Valerian restraining him, the President might have been killed on the spot. Valerian gestured to Benjamin, who escorted the Marshal out. He motioned towards a seat for the President. "What can I do for you, Marco?"
Marco di Farnese coughed. "It's Marcel, Foreign Minister. My people predominantly speak French, as I'm sure you're aware."
"Forgive me. I know how important appearances are. I repeat my question, Marcel."
The President, after asking for permission, took a pipe out of his jacket. "Foreign Minister, I regret the unfortunate hostilities that have come between our two countries. Ferdinand is my cousin, and although he does not remember much of me, I was very close to him when I was a child."
"The Emperor regrets them as well, Mr. President." Valerian's face said even less than his mouth did.
"Is it not possible to come to an understanding?"
"Understandings are always possible, Mr. President. It is the nature of the understanding that may elude us."
Valerian's lackadaisical attitude always seemed to get under people's skin, and the President proved no more immune to it than most people. "Foreign Minister, I am proposing a peace treaty to you, today."
"On what terms?"
"We keep what we've taken."
Valerian cocked his head to show he was listening, but nothing more came out of the President's mouth. He thinks he can outlast me? He doesn't know me very well, the Foreign Minister muttered to himself. "In exchange for what, Mr. President? A simple cessation of hostilities?"
Valerian chuckled coldly. "May I make an observation, Mr. President?" Smugly, Marcel di Farnese nodded. "Very well. Do you know how many legions there are in the Imperial army?"
"Around 30 that are loyal."
"Correct. Do you know how many are defending Rome right now?"
"Correct again. Do you know how many it would take to wipe your pitiful army off the face of the Earth, if the Emperor put his mind to it?"
The smug look vanished from the President's face. "You guys have too much land to patrol; what if you sent some men across the Atlantic and there was a rebellion?"
Valerian's smile was positively evil. "Why, we'd be much more willing to negotiate with rebels than fools, Mr. President." As the President sputtered, Valerian lifted his hand. "I have a counter offer. Would you like to hear it?" The President glared, but nodded. "We will give you your ill-gotten gains, and renounce our own claims to your land. In exchange, you will convince your neighbors to settle down and play nice as well."
"They won't listen to me."
"Don't lie to a liar, Marcel. I know exactly who is calling the shots with your little rebellion. Which leads me to my second demand. You, and your colleagues, will deny sanctuary to John the Pretender. We will surrender all of our colonies in North and South America, as well as Africa, if you do this."
The President still was wincing from the mental pain that Valerian had inflicted, but after a moment's thought, he realized what a deal was being offered to him. He would look like a hero to every nation in the New World and Africa, buy credibility with the Empire of Italy, and expand his own country's land considerably. He tried one last tactic. "What of the Caribbean, Pacific, and India?"
Valerian stared for a split second -- enough to make the President sweat -- and then continued. "The Indian colonies will be returned to the government currently occupying India -- I believe Mewar. The Caribbean and Pacific will remain ours."
The President, with a sigh of visible relief, nodded firmly. "As soon as the paperwork is done, I will be happy to si--"
"Already done, sir. And the Emperor has already signed it; he knew that you would accept, since you are a reasonable man."
There was nothing left to do but sign, and that was what the President did. Now, for the first time, Valerian's grin showed genuine warmth. "A pleasure doing business, Mr. President. Have a safe journey home."
As the President left, the Foreign Minister gathered his things and walked to the Palace.
"Emperor, I got him to sign the treaty."
The Emperor laughed. "I knew you would, Valerian. Where are the maps you commissioned, that show Africa and the Americas after the transfer?"
The Emperor groaned, but from pain, not disappointment. "I knew it was a risk, but you did very well. Do you think he'll honor his agreement with us over John?"
Valerian paused for a moment. "In theory? Of course. But in reality, I think he'll probably stall for a few months before booting him out."
The Emperor nodded. "Thank you, Valerian. For everything."
"You're welcome, sire."
25 May 1831, outskirts of Rome
John the Pretender had finally run out of options. His ungrateful son closed him out of the New World. Fergus and Dmitrii had betrayed him, both crying to Ferdinand that John was behind everything and that they would close their borders as well. With his source of funds running dry, his mercenaries were getting testy and his Swiss hosts were politely but firmly insisting that he leave. They were, after all, a legal part of the Empire of Italy. Few of the legionaries remained; many of the officers that had stayed loyal were now in the Union of Zanzibar with the tacit knowledge of Emperor Ferdinand I. It was just him, a few thousand increasingly bored mercenaries, and his third son, Mario.
"Mario, prepare the troops."
As John watched the mercenaries pick up their equipment and prepare to finally assault the city, John sat down with his head in his hands. "How did it come to this, Mario? Why have our people forsaken us?"
"They are fools, father. Once we have taken their city, they will be falling all over themselves to join our cause."
John smiled fondly at his son. "Mario, you are the one true ally I've had. Thank you."
With the mercenary army ready, eager for plunder and loot, John ordered the assault. As his troops poured into the city, they were expected to encounter fierce resistance. Instead, they encountered...
Nothing. Nothing at all. The streets were deserted, even the Imperial palace looked dark. He knew there were people in the city; he could hear them in their homes. But where were the legions? Where were the soldiers? John gave the mercenaries leave to do what they would and marched with a hand-picked group to the palace. They broke down the door and found the Emperor sitting up in his bed, reading one of Kathleen O'Connor's histories.
"Uncle, it is kind of you to come. You are expected."
John sputtered. "You expected me, you insolent whelp?! That's the best you can do? I have won, Ferdinand. Surrender or die!"
Ferdinand laughed. "Have you, John? Have you really won?"
John was angry but puzzled at the same time. "Of course I have! Here you are, alone and undefended."
"Yes, you've got me there."
"My men are looting your precious city!"
"So why are you not quivering in fear?"
Ferdinand's expression changed from amusement to hard stone. "Because you'll run, you coward, the way you always have."
John scoffed. "Why on Earth would I run?" At that very moment, trumpet blasts sounded from the east. And these were not far off blasts, but much, much closer. "Who in God's name is that?"
A new voice replied from the antechamber. "Those would be the rest of my men, grand uncle." The voice belonged to Prince Carlo di Farnese of Constantinople.
John looked about wildly, but in his haste, he'd missed that the guards had already arrested his men. His son was the only one truly resisting; he broke free of his guard's grasp only to be shot dead trying to escape. John screamed. He stared at his nephew with bloody rage in his eyes. "You murderous bastard! You killed my boy!" Before John could be restrained, he grabbed his pistol and shot Ferdinand right between the eyes, then leaped out the window trying to escape; he didn't make it, as Carlo's own pistol barked a thunderous vengeance.
The civil war was over, but at a terrible, terrible cost. The Emperor was dead.
1 December 1835, Rome
Emperor Charles I had been Emperor for over four years. His coronation was muted, as it was also a funeral for his father. But while Charles grieved for his father, he knew that he had more work to do. His nation needed to heal, and he intended on doing exactly that.
Charles scanned through the documents that were prepared for him. His eyes first fell on the composition of the new Senate. There were now 200 men in the Senate, fitting for the new, smaller provinciae in the Empire.
There were four main factions in the Senate. The Protectores were the party of Chancellor Decimus. They sought greater control over the nation's burgeoning industry. There were currently only six factories in the Empire, most concentrated in Sicily, but there were surely going to be more soon.
The Militares were the other main conservative faction. Their leader was Publius Tullius Cicero. Cicero argued more than anything for a strong army, even if that meant giving more control to the capitalists of the Empire in the construction of new factories. According to the census, there were 131 brigades in the Imperial legions, but the population could only currently sponsor 44. The Militares hoped for drastic increases in military spending in the first Imperial budget.
The Provincares wanted greater autonomy for the provinciae, as their titles suggested. They also favored a drastic reduction in the size of the military; led by Minister of Science Alexander O'Connor, they proposed improving the already powerful technological edge that the Empire enjoyed. Apart from the Minister, however, many of the faction members were much more elitist, and argued that the real strength of the Empire was in art and culture; an unpopular view among most of the more important people in the Empire.
The final faction was technically illegal; that it didn't make it any less of a threat. The Republicares wanted the maximum freedom for all Imperial citizens, although they did share the concern of the Militares and Protectores regarding the weakened state of the legions. They also shared an important goal with the Provincares; they sought a greater degree of trade, even with those countries that could potentially be a threat in the future.
For now, the Emperor intended on letting Chancellor Decimus run the day-to-day operations of the Empire. He knew that, if he or his successors chose a new party to govern the Empire, they would have to choose a new Chancellor as well. It was one of Ferdinand's final decrees.
The last documents that Emperor Charles examined concerned the Imperial Census taken in January 1835 and the global population figures that his advisors had estimated.
Charles took a deep breath before he walked out on the balcony. He'd given speeches before, but this would be the biggest that he'd ever delivered. When he and his father had worked out their plan for trapping John the Pretender, Ferdinand had forced his son to promise this last speech once the Empire was somewhat stable. Charles had put it off, but could put it off no longer. He'd announced it well in advance, and knew there would be a massive crowd. Ostensibly, it was to commemorate his father's statue, just outside the palace. But it was for something much more important.
"Citizens of the Empire, we have lived through many trials and tribulations. We have lost many of our colonies in the New World. Foreign governments near and far mistrust us. And yet, we persevere. 1834 was one of the worst harvests in recent memory. And yet, we persevere. Zanzibar, once our loyal friend, has left our sphere of influence to become a Great Power themselves. Austria has decided that old rivalries are more important than new friendships, and they too have abandoned us. And yet, we persevere.
"My father, more than any other quality, taught me determination. We, citizens of the Empire, have been more determined, more steadfast, than anybody save God himself could fairly ask. I promise you, my friends, the coming days shall be better. We shall have what we deserve, what my father always intended for us. The freedom to play our part in world affairs with confidence. To make sure that every man, woman, and child in our Empire has enough to eat, to drink, and a place to live. That our already magnificent universities shall prosper, and that new ones shall be constructed. We shall learn technologies that other nations will fear and respect. Again, this is what we deserve. But it is not for Italians. It is not for the Empire of Italy."
At this last statement, the mood, which had been very positive and upbeat, threatened to crash very abruptly. Before any trouble could really brew, however, the Emperor raised both of his hands.
"I say to you, good people, it is not for Italians to have these things. Because WE ARE NOT ITALIANS. No! Brothers and sisters, it is time we acknowledge what we have kept hidden for too long. It is time the rest of the world recognizes exactly who we are and what we are about. We are not a 'mere geographical expression', as the Austrian hack Metternich might have you believe. We are Rome reborn! WE ARE ROMANS! I say to you, not glory to the Empire of Italy, but something more profound, and more powerful.
GLORY TO THE NOVUM ROMANUM IMPERIUM! THE NEW ROMAN EMPIRE!"
At that exact moment, a massive new map of the holdings of the Empire unfurled, a much smaller copy of which had hung on Charles' wall for two years now.
As Charles listened to the sudden silence, he worried that everything had been for nothing. That he had failed his father. When the crowd erupted into ecstatic cheers, he couldn't help but smile and join in. The chant was infectious:
Roma! Roma! Roma!
I have to tell you, speaking for myself, it looks mighty good seeing those letters spread across that map
Here's a couple of world maps for you fine folks to peruse.
Now, believe it or not, I have to actually play! I anticipate each update being roughly five years, but if something really massive happens, I'll have no choice but to break it into multiple parts. Expect the first proper update sometime this weekend.