The Wetland Way is a story that has been “brewing” for a long time, going back to the mid-1970’s. In the early part of this millennium I published it using its original Latinate title Paludavia, or Swamp Road. I thought I had laid the story to rest; however, I found myself drawn back to it, so much that I ended up with three sequels.
It was in 2006, however, that I tackled a “prequel” to it: The Ten Weeks. That turned out to be a rewarding, if somewhat painful, adventure. Once again I thought to myself, “I’m done with this.”
But the years have passed and the kinds of things that both of these works describe have not only been matched but exceeded. It’s time to look at this again, and thus we have The Wetland Way.
The action of the story takes place on “the Island,” a subtropical “paradise” divided up among several nations. “Paradise” is a word used for such places only by outsiders; those who live or have lived in a climate such as this understand that things there can be anything but “paradisaical.” Such is certainly the case here; our story begins at the end of a long war, and war continues on its pages. How one views the outcome depends, as King Leslie of Aloxa observed, “on who wins, and what your opinion is of the result.”
Since we have a “prequel” in hand, it makes sense to start by bridging the time between it and the present work, a span of time from 1971 to 1995.
The Ten Weeks ended with the death of Lucian Gerland, Verecunda’s hotel and property magnate, and the chief rival to Allan Kendall, Verecunda’s president. Kendall wasted no time accelerating the progress of his socialistic agenda. He used a combination of the tax code and the probate system to nationalise Gerland’s holdings, sometimes bagging assets outside of Verecunda. He also got control of holdings other than Gerland’s, includes those of Verecunda’s “first families” that had opposed both him and Gerland.
By the mid-1970’s, the political transformation was complete. It was impossible for anyone to elected to any kind of office without being “prequalified,” which inevitably meant being on the left. Appointed offices and civil service were done pretty much the same way; even voters were put through this process. In 1972 Uranus was formally integrated into Verecunda and lost whatever meaningful autonomy it had before. Point Collina followed suit two years later.
The biggest change, however, took place with Collina. One of the biggest opposition groups to the new regime was the military; since Verecunda had no tradition of military rule, it was slow to come around to trying to change things. But a group of ex-Army officers who had moved to Collina decided to put together a plot to overthrow the Verecundan government. When the plot came out in 1978, the government moved swiftly; arresting and executing officers in the army that might be disloyal, they promoted new ones and immediately invaded and annexed Collina. Collinans never accepted Verecundan rule; their guerrilla movement, with Aloxan and other help, came to control most the countryside by the early 1990’s.
The government realised that it would have to take a more proactive stand on security. The municipal and regional police forces (along with the rest of the population) were disarmed, and the Inland Police was established. The army was severely scaled back.
The government’s religious policies were of a piece with its others. The Ministry of Culture, in coordination with other groups, drove churches that did not agree with the government’s policies underground and severely regulated the rest. Even with Bishop Santini’s efforts, neither he nor the Roman Catholic Church survived the government’s assaults. The dissident charismatic priest James Avalon fled the country in 1975. He and parts of his community and student group moved to Alemara and with the latter he founded the Avalon Retreat. The religious vacuum was filled by New Age beliefs and practices, but organisationally the most successful group was the Druids, under the leadership of Seamus Gallen. They added yet another influence group to Verecundan politics. Counterbalancing them was the Ministry of Education, which was aggressively secularist.
By this time the Ministry of the Environment had become an important enforcer of the new social and economic order in Verecunda. This created yet another power centre in the country; although the various groups, such as the IP’s, the MoE, the Committee for Personal Liberty (CPL,) and other agencies of the government were all ideologically in unity, their bureaucratic instincts for infighting resulted in a state of perpetual grid lock, which served Kendall’s purpose well.
The darkest spot of the story—for Kendall and his wife at least—was the death of his daughter Denise. The autocrat of the head table in the school cafeteria died when her car went over the rail of the Dahlia Bridge and plunged into the bay in 1973. Denise’s political skills, evident even in secondary school, made her a potential successor to her father. Her death left a vacuum, but it was twenty years before that became an issue.
The rest of the Island didn’t stand still during these years. Alemara also experienced steady growth and prosperity under their system. With Verecunda’s new policies, it became an increasingly important commercial centre, helped by the arrival of Verecundan exiles with business acumen and capital. They also became a rival of Verecunda’s as well, a fact that became more evident with events to the east.
Vidamera had the advantage of being in the Island’s effective geographic centre, and next door to Alemara. King Claude, however, never took full advantage of this, partially because he feared the creation of rivals to his rule. Years before he had created the first landed peerage. The long-term effect of this was to create a system of “warlords” in the country. As long as a strong monarch was on the throne, the system worked reasonably well, but with Claude’s death in 1975 things began to go awry. He outlived his son, so his grandson Paul became king. His attempts to establish control over the peers resulted in his assassination in 1979. Having died without child, his brother Francis became king. Irresponsible and even weaker than Paul, Francis had one thing going for him: the fear of the peers of the changes in Verecunda. He formed a Privy Council and this worked for a while, but the volatile situation on both ends of the country made things difficult, and Vidamera operated as several countries rather than one.
King Adam of Serelia didn’t have to deal with warlords, but the three remaining families and the chartered cities of Fort Albert, Drago and Cresca made governing his isolated realm complicated. In 1973 Elton Amherst, the last surviving signatory of Serelia’s founding charter, died, leaving his estate to his only son Thomas. With four legitimate children, Thomas was a potentially strong opponent, but the people who did the most damage to the country came from another source altogether.
Both Kings Albert and Adam were concerned about the autonomy of the chartered cities. In 1962, Adam’s father made one of his trusted army generals, Nathan Winley, Duke of Barlin, a small fishing camp in the centre of the towns, so it was a good place to keep an eye on them. Many in the other families, especially the Amhersts and the Serlins, objected to the creation of a landed peerage; their objections proved to be well founded.
Adam was unhappy with his father’s action but could find no way to undo it, at least not immediately. Winley for his part turned the arrangement on its head by allying himself with the chartered cities, currying favour with the Dentons, and managing to further split the Serlins into pro- and anti-Winley camps. Adam attempted to bring the Serlins to heel but this only unified the family against him.
With this failure, Adam then decided to take on the chartered cities directly, especially the town now known as Fort Albert and its citrus groves. He began putting pressure on these communities to give up their charter rights. They in turn took fright and started to discuss with each other how to deal with this encroachment. They realised that not only economic freedom was at stake; political and religious liberty would also go as well if the king got his way.
In 1980 Henry succeeded his father as Duke of Barlin. Henry continued his father’s policies and went further by allowing non-Church of Serelia churches to be formed in his realm. This enraged the Bishop and Primate, Weston Collingswood, but since Winley’s charter allowed it he was forced to let it pass. One such church was the church plant founded by Terry Marlowe, who had recently become a Pentecostal. She married Max Serlin, the head of Henry’s militia.
Serlin, along with other leading citizens such as Karl Ballman of Drago, approached the Duke about helping them counterbalance Adam through a united front. The Duke’s response came as a shock: he would be glad to help if they, along with all of the chartered cities, would declare their independence and recognise him as King of Drahla, an old Beran name for the region.
Serlin and his allies quickly and secretly put together the alliance. Drahla declared independence in 1987. The civil war went back and forth; Max Serlin was killed in a raid on the Amherst Estate in 1989. Ronald and Edward Amherst retaliated in a campaign and were killed the following year. The cease-fire was signed in 1992 after Prince George’s abortive campaign, capture and release. The war drew in other powers on the Island; for the Drahlans, the Alemarans and eastern Vidamerans. The Verecundans supported the Serelians, albeit in an erratic and inconsistent way.
Lacking many resources and even a decent port, Claudia remained the Island’s poorest and most backward nation. Mahlon II succeeded his father in 1973, maintaining the strict Masonic hegemony that had characterised Beran. But Claudia remained a good country to leave.
Aloxa’s King Leslie was an energetic ruler who continued his ancestors’ policies. His main challenge was to deal with the backwash of Verecunda’s problems, some of which was positive (increased tourism) and some negative (Verecunda’s shaky economy.) Because of racial attitudes and the memory of the bloody slave revolt against Beran, Aloxa’s relationship with the East Island was minimal but experienced some broadening in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The one country whose political shift might have made a major difference was Verecunda; however, Kendall opted to go along with his people’s deep seated racial prejudices to advance his own social and economic agenda. The Aloxans were aware of this and the resentment between the two countries only grew with time.
But changes were afoot in Verecunda. In 1993, four days after his inauguration to a seventh terms as President of the Republic, Allan Kendall was assassinated while on a visit to Uranus. His killer was never found. His Vice-President Lillith Connolly, herself a Uranan, became President. The Drahlan war raised the whole question of Verecunda’s relationship with the rest of the Island. Kendall, consistent with a half century of his country’s foreign policy, was an isolationist, preferring a “hands-off” approach to the rest of the Island. Connolly, seeing an opportunity to expand Verecunda’s influence and benefit from that expansion, empowered Richard Marlowe, Terry’s brother and the most persistent advocate for supporting Serelia in the war, to seek new opportunities for Verecunda with its Island neighbours.
Some Notes about Piers and Wharves
You’ll notice that much of the narrative finds the characters on the water. Some of the marine terminology may be strange at first. Probably the strangest concerns the docking facilities mentioned. An easy diagram to explain those comes from U.S. Military Handbook 1025/1, shown below. The book was published the year before the action of the book. The water side is where the ship outlines are.
Special note to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings fans: the title as shown in the military document itself is Piers and Wharfs, although the plural wharves is frequently used in the text. This has a parallel with J.R.R. Tolkien’s use of the plural dwarves for the singular dwarf, even though most dictionaries tell us that dwarfs is correct. Shortly after his return from service in World War I, Tolkien worked as an editor for the Oxford English Dictionary. When confronted with the fact that the plural he used was contrary to the Oxford English Dictionary, he shot back, “I wrote the Oxford English Dictionary.”