“You cannot possibly expect us to give up territory for such a small sum,” Gavrilović scoffed.
The Italian side of the table began loudly grumbling, but fortunately 0sc4r’s whistle was still ringing in their ears, which kept them from breaking into a new shouting match. The Italians, having laid out their proposal, wanted Istria for a start, the coast of Dalmatia, and the islands in between. In exchange, they were prepared to offer an amount of money that Issac had almost actually gasped at. He knew that matters of state involved the movement of millions of pounds, naturally, but it is one thing to be aware of the fact, and quite another to be in the room whilst it was being spent. He wasn’t entirely sure where the pound was in relation to the mark these days, but he thought the figure was somewhere around 15 million pounds. This seemed like quite a lot to Issac, and the Italians clearly thought so too.
“I hardly think 25 million goldmarks is a small sum,” said the Italian foreign minister, a man named Ricci who looked like a bank clerk, “Especially for so little territory.”
“The Sultan regards all his holdings as precious to his empire,” Gavrilović said frowning, “You might as well name a price for one of his own children.”
“I wonder how the people of Istria would respond to being referred to as the Sultan’s ‘children,’” Ricci said, hardly making the tactful effort to disguise his sarcasm. Gavrilović chose to ignore it.
“We are prepared to offer a deal where Italian ships may conduct business freely, without taxation, at a sizable number of ports in Istria and Dalmatia. It should allow your people access to that which they desire while keeping the border unchanged and uncomplicated.”
“You’re changing the subject,” Ricci snapped, “Trade is well and good, but it is the view of His Majesty’s government, and mine personally, that these people are Italians! We cannot abide seeing their land occupied and the their citizen’s mistreated.”
“Mistreated? What are you implying?” It was the Turkish side of the table on the verge of shouting now.
“Imply? Nothing,” Ricci snapped his fingers. An aid brought him a folder of papers, and Ricci made a grand gesture of opening it and flipping through the pages. “We have reports of the widespread seizure of property, the burning of pro-Italian publications, and the assault and jailing of those advocating Italian sovereignty.”
“You cannot dress up police actions against terrorists as oppression of an Italian state that does not exist.”
“So you do not deny these accusations?”
“I refuse to dignify them with a response.”
This went back and forth for some time. Ricci would focus on Janissary atrocities, Gavrilović would deflect to talk about trade concessions. Issac was reminded of the worst of the his college’s debates he’d ever attended. Meetings nominally about one thing, but all parties clearly there with very different things they intended to discuss. Though at university, the worst case scenario was bruised egos and six months of departmental drama at most (Save the case of Professor Bullsworth and his etheric field calculations, which was still a point of heated discussion around Cambridge some five years on). Here though…nations hung in the balance.
This can’t be how it works, Issac thought, bitter men in back rooms, having two different arguments. Is this how wars start?
“Gentlemen, please,” Issac said standing. He took a moment to compose his own answer, which he noticed added a small, but nicely dramatic, pause between when the room went silent and he started speaking. Whether this was because of his alleged position as an emissary of the Kaiser, or another dividend paid towards the threat of 0sc4r’s whistle was anyone’s guess , “Let’s try to be civil. We are after all, here to defuse the situation. Now; Minister Gavrilović, our Italian friends have offered 25 million German goldmarks for the territory. Is the problem the price or the territory?”
“Both,” Gavrilović said, nodding to Mr. Ricci, “The territory is too vast, and the price is too low.”
“How much territory is acceptable then?” Issac leaned over the table, bracing himself lightly against its surface with extended fingers.
Gavrilović thought for a moment, “Istria, for 40 million goldmarks.”
“That is half the territory for almost double the price. Unacceptable.” Ricci shouted.
“Gentlemen, please!” Issac bellowed. That’s a start, we can negotiate from there, Issac thought, before remembering that he was here to prevent consensus, not create it. “It has been a trying morning. Shall we take a brief recess?”