Igniting the Balkans & A Crown of Thorns by Jack Heart & Orage
A chapter from the Century of the Magicians, this is how it really happened, minus the academic bullshit...
Count Alexander Izvolsky breathed a sigh of relief as the hundred- and twenty-two-meter Standart eased around the Isle of Wright, putting it to port and ducking out of the southwesterly winds churning the channel and consequently his stomach. The Russian imperial yacht, unrivaled in the world for its lavishness, was flanked by two brand new British built Russian dreadnoughts. On shore two hundred of England’s finest detectives had been deployed throughout Newport and Portsmouth to beat and intimidate any Englishman who might take exception to a tyrant like Czar Nikolas II stepping foot on English soil. Even so the Czar who had lived in the shadow of assassination all his life had no intention of going ashore. He had come to review the legendary fleet of his new ally; King Edward VII. A hundred and fifty-three warships had been assembled off Spithead, the citadel of British naval dominance for centuries. They passed by for review in parallel lines in the most stunning display of naval power the world had yet witnessed. Richard Haldane now 1st Viscount Haldane and Secretary of State for War had modernized Britain’s already invincible naval juggernaut. The update had been paid for at the expense of Britain’s poor while Herbert Asquith now the 1st Earl of Oxford and Britain’s Prime Minister feigned concern for their plight. The British Empire had spared no expense and the Czar, in Izvolsky’s estimate an idiot in a sailors suit, was duly impressed. But more importantly Izvolsky was impressed. All that remained now was to ignite war between the now solidified Russo-Franco-British alliance and the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. British sea power would deliver Constantinople to Russia, and she would have her long dreamed of warm water seaport. On land the mighty armies of France and Russia, whose combined force amounted to some two and half million men to Germanys three quarters of a million, would take care of the rest. A bright red landing craft approached the stern of the Standart. Izvolsky who had been standing stoically on the bow made his way aft as Sir Edward Grey, knighted and now the British Foreign Secretary, boarded. With him was Arthur Nicolson, 1st Baron Carnock, the British ambassador to Russia.
The two men approached the Czar who was flanked by his royale guards, all of them wearing ridiculous nineteenth century sailor costumes. The Czar was of course an Admiral. They bowed in that fashion peculiar to the British aristocracy, calculatingly nonchalant, making it clear they were dispensing an unnecessary formality. Grey whose name said everything one needed to know about him spoke first in English, Baron Carnock translated, “obviously Edward could not be here. In spite of our best efforts through the press there are still Anglo Saxons whose loyalties lay with Saxons. It’s unavoidable of course and the Russian fleet opening fire at British fishermen on the Dogger Bank five years ago has hardly been forgotten. Your Okhrana, murdering the opposition and banishing them to Siberia does not help either. The English people are touchy about civil rights. They’ve been fighting over them for five hundred years, much good as its done them. Luckily they are currently happy to delude themselves with parliamentary government. The House of Windsor and the Round Table make all the real decisions. I am authorized to speak for both of them here. Edward wish’s that you acknowledge the agreements we came to last year at Revel and absolve yourself of any verbal agreements you may have made through the Björkö Treaty with your cousin Kaiser Wilhelm following your defeat in the Tsushima Strait. It was we who made the warships that the Japanese routed you with and for now on we will make yours too. You are bound to the French by the Franco-Russian Alliance, and you are bound to England through the royal bloodline. Together our three great nations must crush this German pestilence while it is still in its infancy.”