“Sir, we have the weather gauge. Shall I order the attack?”

Admiral Strauß lowered his glass, worrying the brass and leather as he did so. He said nothing to his second, who was waiting patiently.

Strauß was only there by dint of his family’s connections and several close relatives in or married to those at court. No one had expected a naval war to break out, so his utter inability to sail and the queasy seasickness that had bent him over the rail after every meal…well, they had seemed less glaring.

But then Admiral Leipnitz had been killed when his squadron had been ambushed and destroyed, and Admiral Hummel had died in an accident shortly after his squadron had routed enemies trying to enforce a blockade. That only left Grand Admiral Wettin and Strauß himself, and Wettin was 88 years old, blind as a bat, deaf as a post, and so riddled with gout he couldn’t walk.

Even so, Wettin had been carried aboard the flagship SMS Drache on a bier at Strauß‘s request. He had only been hauled off after a breathless courier had arrived one hour before the fleet made sail, bearing a message from the Chancellor himself. Many passages had been underlined in red that had faded to rust, giving Strauß the uneasy feeling that Chancellor Schroeder-Mayer had augmented the missive with his own blood.

“Sir…?” Admiral Strauß‘s second, Ignaz Ender, had been hastily promoted after the previous aide-de-camp had been partially swept off the deck by a cannonade. If the boy had any fear after learning that his predecessor had been buried at sea in two distinct stages, he wasn’t showing it.

Strauß could feel every pore on his body prickling with sweat. The upcoming battle, coming after a decisive defeat and a decisive victory, would decide the war at sea. Every last available ship was under his command, and if the fleet suffered a defeat or even a stalemate, there would be no one else to blame.

“Eternal glory if we win…eternal damnation if we lose…” Strauß muttered.

Ender looked at him. “Sir?” he said. “I didn’t quite catch that.”

Strauß clutched at the butt of his holstered flintlock with one hand and the heavy cutlass—too ornate and poorly bedded to ever split a real skull—with the other. It was simply too much.

He unholstered his pistol and pulled the trigger with his thumb.

Ignatz Ender, shocked, stood agape a moment. Then he pointed to the enemy fleet, scrambling to form battle lines. “Treachery!” he cried. “They’ve shot the admiral from their rigging! His final order was to attack…all ships carry it out!”

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