Federico Morosini (presiding judge): Please state for the record your name and rank.
Abramo Aiello (accused): My name is Abramo Aiello; my permanent rank is Grand Captain. Until last week I was additionally commissioned Ammiraglio dell’Este, commanding the naval forces of the City east of Suez.
Federico: Thank you. Trial counsel may now question the accused.
Girolamo Ziani (trial counsel): What was the position and condition of the fleet under your command, our power and our pride, on the twenty-first of June, 1602?
Abramo: We were then in Basra harbour, refitting after the battle in the Straits of Hormuz. Our strength was thirty-five ships of the line, with supporting elements. We –
Girolamo: Hold. Give the details of the supporting elements.
Abramo: We had twenty frigates, and the supply ships; and enough assorted merchantmen to carry –
Girolamo: I meant their complements. How many men and guns?
Abramo: Something over twenty thousand men, all told. The exact number would vary from day to day. Two thousand, one hundred, and thirty-six guns, not counting the swivels and mankillers – only the serpentines and bigger.
Girolamo: Thank you. And for each gun the State may have paid, let us say, a thousand ducats?
Abramo: Roughly, yes. Taking one with another.
Girolamo: To which we may add so many thousand square yards of sailcloth, at perhaps a ducat the ten square yards; rope and rigging, a ducat for a hundred yards, the timber alone in the hulls –
Federico: I think all here understand that fleets are expensive, counselor. Please come to your point.
Girolamo: Yes, Your Honour. I would like the witness to state for the record the position and condition of this same fleet a week later, on the twenty-eighth of June.
Abramo (looks pained): We were then in port in Basra harbour, refitting. We had eight ships of the line. Eight frigates. Supporting elements in proportion.
Girolamo: And the condition of these few ships?
Abramo: It was… not good.
Girolamo: Would “shot to pieces” be an adequate description?
Abramo: It is not without merit.
Girolamo: Thank you. And this transition, from two thousand guns in fifty-five well-found hulls, to… (consults notes) five hundred guns, not all adequately manned, in sixteen hulls; costing the Serene Republic something on the order of twenty million ducats to replace, not to mention the loss of twelve thousand valuable sailors… this occurred under your command?
Abramo: That is true.
Girolamo: Thank you. Your Honour, the prosecution rests.
Federico: Very well. Defense counsel?
Salomone Aiello (counsel for the defence): Thank you, Your Honour. I would like to point out that, although the prosecution has done a salutary job of establishing the physical facts of the case, which were all known to us and indeed to the whole city, since that’s why we’re here in the first place – they have done nothing towards demonstrating negligence, malice, or cowardice, one of which is required for a conviction.
Girolamo: Your Honour, in this case, I think the physical facts alone suffice to demonstrate active treason, which I notice my learned colleague does not mention as one of the causes to convict; what exactly, besides treason, is supposed to cause such a disastrous loss? Mere negligence would not do it; for my part I absolve the accused entirely of that. On the contrary I believe he has done an excellent and painstaking job for his paymasters; I only wish those paymasters were the Senate and People of the Serene Republic.
Salomone: Indeed, that is what this court is convened to find out. (To the accused) Please describe the events of Signore Ziani’s famous ‘transition’. What exactly happened out there?
Abramo: We sailed… (clears throat) We sailed from Basra on the twenty-second, with the morning tide. We had easterly winds; our mission was to find and destroy the Indian squadron blockading the Strait, and then to maintain our own blockade of Muscat. On the third day we encountered – our scouts reported sails ahead, at least a hundred. We knew the Indians couldn’t be present in such strength; they didn’t have such strength… according to the reports.
Salomone: So what did you do?
Abramo: We beat to battle stations, of course; reports have been known to be incorrect. Then the lookouts reported the ships flew the White Ensign.
Salomone: An allied flag, co-belligerents in the Red Sea War.
Salomone: Were you aware, at that time, that England was also at war with the Republic, in the Aleppo Conflict?
Abramo: Yes, we knew. Everyone knew that was pro forma! Of course we had to ‘defend’ our ally; of course we weren’t going to actually fight England.
Salomone: Move that the accused’s words be stricken from the record.
Federico: So ordered. Please confine yourself to answering the questions as asked, and not speculating on the foreign policy of the Republic.
Abramo: Yes, Your Honour. We, ah – did not expect to fight. All things considered in their fullness.
Salomone: Yet you remained at battle stations?
Abramo: Certainly. Why not? It was good training for the crews.
Salomone: What happened then?
Abramo (animatedly): The damn Englishmen shot at us! That admiral, a Shrewsbury – everyone knows there’s madness in the family that runs along with their genius. He’s a mad dog; or he’d been out in the tropical sun too long. He gave us full broadsides! No warning shots, no parley. He meant to have a fight. Against the fleet of an ally, in waters we were both defending against the Indians!
Salomone: But you fought them.
Abramo: Well, they had fired on ships of the Serene Republic; what were we going to do, strike our flags? Anyway, what we were chiefly fighting for was a way out of there and back into a fortified harbour. We were too badly outnumbered to win.
Salomone: And you escaped with sixteen ships; the rest sunk or taken.
Abramo: Yes. And I defy any man here to have done better.
Salomone: Thank you. (To the court) The learned counsel for the trial has kindly dismissed negligence; I think, also, we may discard cowardice and malice. As for treason, our esteemed English allies have disavowed the actions of their admiral, and sent us compensation to the tune of – odd coincidence, this – twenty million ducats, to replace our lost timbers and guns and sailcloth. If this action was part of some diabolical plan, it is a very long con indeed; if it is a plot it would almost have to span centuries. Your Honour, the defense rests.
Abramo Aiello was acquitted of all charges, but never served again in any capacity. He spent the rest of his life drinking his Grand Captain’s half-pay; and when that ran out, cadging drinks in exchange for stories of fighting the Royal Navy in the Strait of Hormuz. By his death in 1632 he was something of an institution in his favourite bar in Santa Croce, although his stories had become increasingly incoherent, with frequent references to “the One behind it all” and claims that “I know what mad dog was in charge that day, don’t I just? But will they listen to me, oh no they won’t.”
Muscat changed hands twice during the Red Sea War; the second time was a shattering defeat for Venice’s armies, sending broken regiments marching for cover behind the fortresses of Damascus and Al Karak.
The Venetian fleet was rebuilt with English money. But it was never the same again.
I write somewhat hurriedly to meet the deadline of “post before the session starts”; my free time has been a little limited this week, with the birth of the Prince of Men – my second child, the first being the Crown Princess of Men. (He is not, however, “an heir at last”, since my laws are set to Cognatic Gavelkind.) So I will just quickly note that I got into a war with the Indian powers, again; this time together with Egypt (quite unplanned; we were scheming to kill Indians when they very kindly declared war on Egypt and split their armies in two), Japan (subbed by Clone, and the instigator of the anti-Indian plot) and England (who dislikes anyone other than himself building navies). In spite of this seemingly overwhelming superiority, it did not go well. The Indian armies are large and have a brutal 120% discipline, and in Arabia were also operating on interior lines – every time I attacked Muscat they would shift north from their siege lines in Egyptian Aden and beat me back; every time Egypt tried to take advantage they would go right back south and beat him up. You’d think that, with England on-side, it would be relatively easy to acquire and retain naval superiority; instead, the fleet he sent to the Indian Ocean ended up sinking most of mine, because he was simultaneously at war with my ally Persia over Aleppo. (England was a bit annoyed that Persia ended the massive war of last week in a wimpy concession of two provinces; it looked pretty winnable to me, too, and England likes his wars.) Yes, it was my fault for completely forgetting the pro-forma war. No, I’m not going to take the blame when there are all these handy Shrewsburys with the hereditary mad genius around that it can conveniently fall on.
Eurasia, 1604. Note the new colonial nation of Venetian Australia.