What do many words using Y and W instead of proper vowels have in common? They’re Welsh, of course. Wales was systematically looted of its vowels after its conquest to feed the English hunger for unnecessary vowelery after the French fashion. That’s right, the “u” in “colour” doesn’t just make its natural pronunciation “coh-lure,” it’s also a blood vowel stolen from a people so vowel-poor that they had to scrape by with Y and W.

Yes, the vowel-mines of Wales were long the envy of English monarchs, as England itself exhausted its own vowel reserves during the ongoing and debilitating Shouting Wars against France. The Welsh at first were able to simply sell their vowels to an England anxious to be able to match French words like “eau” or “nouveau.” English looting and purchase of vowels was so prevalent that even the last leader of Wales, Llywelyn, was forced to make do with a single vowel in his name while his English conqueror, Edward, has two.

England is not alone in the exploitative harvesting of vowels. French and Italian vowels mines, long the most productive in the world, had all but run out by the 1700s, forcing them to look elsewhere. For a time the French were able to import vowels taken from North America by force or trade, but with the cession of their vowel-rich territory of Quebec, they were forced to look elsewhere. That somewhere was Poland, which was rich in vowel mines but had been undergoing a language crisis since looting the Ottoman camp at the Siege of Vienna, as Ottoman Turkish was at the time written without vowels altogether.

As a result, Poland was partitioned, with the lion’s share of the territory going to the Russian Empire. With no need for Poland’s Latin vowels, having their own Cyrillic vowel mines deep in the Urals, the Russians instead exploited Polish vowels for export, selling them to the French and Italians. Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia to guarantee his vowel supply, as he needed eight vowels to say his own name alone, and a steady supply of Polish blood vowels were guaranteed in the later French-Russian alliance. All the while, Poland was so looted of vowels that they had to make do with words like “wszystko” and “cześć.” The downtrodden Polish made creative use of diacritics to make up for their looted syllabary, but their vowel mines were ultimately entirely depleted.

Of course, Americans are not blameless. The constant insertion of British-style blood vowels into words to make them seem sophisticated is a constant bane, and many of the blood vowels so used now come from Africa, where once vowel-rich places like Ouagadougou are now exploited for foreign sale by warlords.

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“He’s gone quiet,” said Santino Zambrano, one of the condottieri mercenaries of the Rings of Gold company.

“I’ll get him going again,” replied his captain, Giustino Valenti. Rising, he clipped on his cuirass and drew his sword, pounding the pommel on the wooden door. “Hey! You in there! We didn’t do through all the trouble of capturing you so you could sleep! You’re to build us weapons and make a chart of Venice’s naval defenses!”

No response.

Zambrano’s face glistened with sweat. “What if we killed him, or he killed himself? He knows the Medicis and the King of France! Do yuo have any idea what they’d do to us if we not only kidnapped but killed the great Leonardo da Vinci?”

“Quiet, quiet,” snapped Valenti. “Do you want the boss to hear you blubbering like that? We condottieri of the Rings of Gold company are made of sterner stuff. He’s probably just playing dead.”

The mercenary opened the door and advanced into the darkened room, rapier and mein gauche drawn. Zambrano followed with just his boot dagger.

“Where are you, you stinking old sodomite?” barked Valenti. The room was dark; the prisoner had extinguished all lights and only a thin sliver filtered in from the arrow slit in the wall.

“Look at this,” said Zambrano. He had taken up a handful of Leonardo’s papers with the intention of stuffing them down his cuirass and selling them. “These look like gloves and body armor, not cannons and ballista like the boss told him to design for us.”

“Put that down! Do you want to-” Valenti was cut off by movement in the corner of his eye. Something flashed across Zambrano’s field of vision, and he saw his captain stumble backwards, gurgling and clawing at a crossbow bolt in his neck. A figure moved in the shadows, much larger than a man, and moved about with a sudden belching of smoke and fire.

Zambrano fled the room, pursued by whatever he had roused, screaming an alarm. The remaining Rings of Gold mercenaries, save for their absent leader, sprang into action. A phalanx of pikemen surrounded the makeshift prison’s only exit, while arquebusiers backed them up with loaded guns.

Leonardo’s war machine tore through them in seconds.

Emerging into the full sunshine, Zambrano could see that the captive had fashioned himself a suit of armor from the cannon components, somehow using the power of a small stove on his back to allow his frail frame to move the hundredweight of brass and iron and steel. A blade at the end of one arm sliced the pikes to matchwood, while a projector on the other belched Greek fire, breaking the men’s ranks as they died in flaming agony. The arquebusiers, out of range, replied with a volley, but their lead shot clinked harmlessly off Leonardo’s armor. In response, the inventor pulled a lever and a rack of vertically-mounted miniature magazine-fed crossbows appeared over his shoulders; the gunmen fell before Zambrano even heard the twang of the strings.

Cowering, Zambrano threw down his weapons and raised his hands. Leonardo’s war machine approached him and one of the metal gauntlets seized the front of the mercenary’s armor, hauling him bodily off his feet.

“What…what are you?” sputtered the condottieri.

Leonardo’s eyes glistened from behind an armor-plated mask. “I am Renaissance Man,” he growled.

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The attack against the Ismentro, an insignificant tributary in the sub-Alpine highlands, came on the heels of fifteen failed attacks before it. The Austrians had long suspected their erstwhile ally of treachery, and had carefully laid in their defenses and improved them based on their German allies’ combat experience. The Italian regiments waded into slaughter, armed with Carcano bolt-action carbines against heavy machine guns.

The Sixteenth Battle of the Ismentro appeared to be more of the same; Italian officers and enlisted men had observed the Austrians constructing improved fortifications through their field glasses. Thus, when the order went out to advance, it was disobeyed by nine out of the ten formations in the line.

General Codarna was livid when he received the news, and could barely be persuaded from ordering every last surviving man on the line to be shot. He settled for decimation instead: the old Roman practice of forcing the men to draw lots in groups of ten, with the winners beating the loser to death. It had served him well, or so he thought, on the Isonzo.

Word of the events reached the Austrians, who were preparing a general offensive for later in the year. As a result, their attack in the Ismentro sector fell squarely on the decimated troops.

“Right, right. Ennelle Luca, queen of the Italian screen. I used to have a poster of her on my wall.”

“You were quite the cineaste as a child.”

“Who said anything about being a child? This was in grad school. I took a course in Italian film, and the prof was a devotee of Antonio Tenaglia. He was always tearing down Fellini and building up Tenaglia and we impressionable students lapped it all up.”

“So here we have the address of Ennelle Luca, nee Maria Zoccarato, star of the last six films her lover Tenaglia made before he died, and a virtual recluse ever since. What are we going to do with it?”

You see, Britain and France both claim the totality of the area, and further claims had been advanced by Germany, Italy, and other countries late to the colonization game. King Xmube, you see, was no fool; he negotiated the treaty in front of representatives of every interested nation, declining to reveal his choice until the end. Furthermore, he added that it was to be renegotiated every year before agreeing to sign.

Xmube had the treaty text translated by a missionary, and signed the mineral rights in the Mdogo Triangle to Britain, the seaport and trade rights to the French, and the protectorate status jointly to the Germans and Italians. It was a morass, a mess, and Xmube took great delight in the confusion it caused.

Eventually, of course, the Europeans colluded with one another to settle their affairs and put Xmube out of the picture courtesy of an ambitious nephew. But his legacy was such fierce wrangling over such a tiny area that even today no one is sure who owns the Triangle and Xmube’s people live much as they always have–for now.

“T. T. Viol,” Max read. “1780.”

“Sounds like an Italian name or something,” Carlson said. “You sure the parchment’s authentic to the Revolutionary War?”

“Near as I can tell,” Max said. “I’d have to cut it up to be sure.”

“Can you make out anything else?”

Max squinted and moved the paper around more under the ultraviolet light. “There’s a list of some kind. I see the phrase ‘port of’ here, and I think this is ‘rope’ or ‘barrel.'”

“Ship’s manifest,” Carlson said. “Signed by the captain or quartermaster.”

“Could be,” Max allowed, “but if what Nesbith told you was true, that trunk has been in her family for generations. And I’m sure you know that in 1780 this was all wilderness, with no port for a hundred miles in any direction!”