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Literature / The Dead Skunk

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“Think of me as you please. My chief purpose is to prevent needless bloodshed.”
Claiborne shook his head. “I think you mean what you say,” he said, “but I wonder what you would have done differently if it had been your chief purpose to start a war.”
To this, Keane had no answer.

Early in the morning on December 23, 1814, a British invasion force landed in the Louisiana bayou. When they were eight miles downriver from the city of New Orleans, they stopped. The next day, Andrew Jackson attacked… and the rest is history.


In the world of The Dead Skunk (written by Lycaon pictus, a.k.a. lockswriter), they go eight miles further and take the city. When Andrew Jackson tries to burn it down, the New Orleanians turn on him.

A day later, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Treaty of Ghent is signed. The British are supposed to be leaving, but now New Orleans doesn’t want them to go.

Just in case the war is about to start up again, British Prime Minister Lord Liverpool orders the Duke of Wellington and his army to America. The last of them takes ship on the very day Napoleon escapes from Elba.

And then things get complicated…

Can be found here or here. Not to be confused with Troper Dead Skunk.


This timeline provides examples of:

  • Adipose Rex: The Prince Regent, later King George IV.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: José de San Martín and Bernardo O’Higgins making their final stand at Chacabuco.
  • Batman Gambit: The "Great Scheme" of Fouché and Talleyrand.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: The Battle of Nancy. More than half a million men spread over a ten-mile-wide battlefield spend three weeks doing their level best to kill each other. In this world, the most reliable combat veterans are called “Nancy boys.”
  • Black Shirt: The fédérés in France. Played with in that most of them are not members of the French ruling party, the Liberals, but a (usually) allied party, the Jacobins.
    "Never outsource your brownshirts, people."
  • Cardboard Prison: Elba, of course. As one character puts it, the Sixth Coalition “put the most dangerous man alive in a ‘prison’ with no bars, no locks and no guards but one Scotsman with no official sanction and a bad war wound!”
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  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Subverted in the case of Talleyrand. Although he appears to have a bad case of it, everything he does is intended to strengthen France — especially turning the Coalition members against each other.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: "Death in the mirror," used by Morriset in Naples on his worst enemies. Imagine being hanged. Now imagine being hanged in such a way that you slowly choke to death instead of having your neck snapped. Now imagine there's a mirror hanging right in front of you, so you can watch yourself asphyxiate. You can't move your head enough to turn away. You can't even shut your eyes for the pressure behind them. All you can do is keep staring yourself in the face until everything goes black.
  • Culture Chop Suey: Justified in the case of British Florida, home to many ethnic groups, including (but not limited to) Creeks, Seminoles, Hindus, Bengalis, Javanese, Balinese, Cantonese, Jews, Haitians, Provençales and escaped slaves.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Merrymeeting Bay. Wellington defeats the Massachusetts militia in fifteen minutes. 42 British and Canadians are killed or wounded… and 1,128 Americans.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Princess Charlotte Augusta, daughter of George IV and his "extremely estranged" wife, is getting a little tired of people sympathizing with her on account of her father’s public misbehavior. (And considering that in our history she died in childbirth in 1817, she's actually doing pretty well.)
  • Eyepatch of Power: William Henry Harrison gets one after losing an eye in battle.
  • Facial Horror: James Thomas Morriset, whose facial bones were shattered during a battle in Spain "and had healed… wrong."
  • Feed the Mole: Played for laughs. Honoré de Balzac and friends have a lot of fun doing this to Browne (see below). As an In-Joke, they pretend to be sailors on board the "Lion de la Mer." Talleyrand also does this, with much more serious intent.
  • For Want of a Skunk: The timeline begins (and gets its name) when the British army landing in the bayou, commanded by Major General John Keane, is temporarily held up by an irate skunk. An owl swoops down on the skunk out of nowhere and kills it before it can spray. This gives Keane ideas…
  • Gambit Pileup: The King, the Queen, the Tories, the Radicals and the French turn the Caroline affair into one of these.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: In-universe - after the use of Yeomanry regiments to suppress Queenist and radical assemblies (starting with a considerably less bloody version of the Peterloo Massacre), the meaning of the term "yeoman" evolved from "an independent farmer" to something far more negative.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Lampshaded in the case of Sir Thomas Henry Browne delivering his report to the D’Issy Commission.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Col. Morriset, the carbonari are here to see you. They've brought some rope. And a mirror.
  • The House of Hanover: Their family drama becomes a major story arc.
  • If I Can't Have You...: When Jackson finds himself about to lose New Orleans, he tries to burn it down to deny it to the British. This is what turns the Louisianans against the United States.
  • I Lied: How the Americans interpret Lord Liverpool's actions after the capture of New Orleans.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Italy suffers from the misfortune of going through invasion and civil war during 1816 — the "Year Without a Summer." War plus bad harvests equals famine, and where you get famine…
  • Innocuously Important Episode: Sir Thomas Henry Browne’s arrival in Paris, and his meeting with Jeannot and St.-Leger, turns out to be the beginning of the Caroline Affair/”Great Scheme” story arc.
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople): Thanks to the slightly different military fortunes of the French, Antwerp, Brussels and Mainz are increasingly refered to as Anvers, Bruxelles and Mayence.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Blücher at the Battle of Velaine.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: A low-tech example. During one battle, Wellington has 5,000 Congreve rockets launched at oncoming cavalry in the space of three seconds (possibly to get rid of them quickly, as they weren’t his favorite weapon).
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The “Sword of Nemesis,” a.k.a. Lord Byron.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: “It” being the Treaty of Ghent.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Princess Caroline of Brunswick (later Queen Caroline) treats her servants well, which makes her household staff harder to infiltrate. But not impossible.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Velaine Richardson, a cookbook author who cheerfully provides a recipe for a tasty Italian holiday pork dish called “austriaco” apparently without even knowing what the word means, let alone that the dish was invented to commemorate an incident of mass cannibalism.
  • The Nondescript: "Gaetan Jeannot," one of the few non-Historical Domain Characters, described as being "as undistinguished from his fellows as a cobblestone in the street."
  • Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: Officially, the Coalition armies in the war against Napoleon are commanded by Louis XVIII, who is nowhere near the battlefield. In fact, they’re commanded by three generals who meet once a day and who serve two different heads of state with opposing long-term objectives. This works about as well as you’d expect.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: When the Duke of Wellington, loyal servant of the Crown, proposes a plan to force George IV to vacate the throne, you know he’s desperate for a way to prevent civil war.
  • Overt Operative: Sir Thomas Henry Browne — or, as the French call him, “M. Browne, l’espion anglais.” Luckily for him, nobody knows who he’s spying for or why. Or so he thinks.
  • Rasputinian Death: It takes a lot of stabbing and shooting to kill Andrew Jackson.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The most unbelievable details in The Dead Skunk are usually the ones taken from the history we know.
    • A British officer failing to withdraw from enemy territory after the signing of a peace treaty? Well, there was Castine, Maine.
    • A U.S. state governor in time of war preparing to make a separate peace with the enemy and cede U.S. territory? This really happened. In our history. And he wasn’t punished.
    • James Thomas Morriset was a real person who suffered that injury and lived.
    • The Prince Regent really did write a letter to a friend in which he complained about finding "marks of filth in both the fore and hind part" of his wife on their wedding night.
    • Lampshaded in a footnote to a passage describing de Francia's strange regime in Paraguay.
    "I include details like this to make my own ideas seem plausible by comparison."
  • Red Baron: "The Sword of Nemesis", a mysterious but audacious Greek leader fighting against the Ottoman Empire.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Caleb Strong… although his actions only make things worse.
  • Rousing Speech: John Quincy Adams gives one at Gadsby’s Tavern that secures his nomination for the presidency.
  • Royal Brat: George IV. Physically he’s in his late fifties, but emotionally he’s a badly behaved child.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: Some of Morriset's soldiers in Naples inflict this on local women. It doesn't end well.
  • Shout-Out: There are several, some louder than others.
  • Snow Means Death: The Battle of Natchez begins just as the snow starts to fall.
  • Tempting Fate: Henry Brougham, of all people, succumbs to the urge.
    "To be honest, I'm not quite sure," he said, "but one thing I am sure of. After that performance, anything M. St-Leger has to say will surely be an anticlimax."
    For the rest of his life, whenever Henry Brougham showed signs of smugness or intellectual arrogance in front of his wife, she would remind him he had said that.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Morriset in Naples.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Queen Caroline Up to Eleven.
  • Wham Line: “Bonaparte is dead.”
  • Who Watches the Watchmen?: Two examples.
    • The French government reins in Joseph Fouché and his secret police — not because they love freedom, but because they don't trust him.
    • During the Caroline affair, Lord Liverpool starts bringing troops into London to keep the “Queenites” under control… only to find out a lot of the soldiers and officers are Queenites themselves.
  • Xanatos Gambit: How Henry Brougham plans to resolve the Caroline affair. Either King George gives up trying to get a divorce, or he is forced to abdicate in favor of his daughter, or a civil war begins that Brougham is pretty sure his side will win.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Both John Coffee at Natchez and Wellington at Nancy plan their battles this way, thinking of more than one contingency in advance while being ready to make new changes to their plans at a moment’s notice.
  • 0% Approval Rating: Ferdinand VII of Spain and George IV of the United Kingdom come about as close to this as a king can realistically get. Even their political allies see them as The Millstone and hold them in contempt.

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