Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Hednitz, the Second!

The shockingly rapid advance of the Nabstrian march columns causes consternation in General Herz van Rentall's headquarters. Indeed, if the atmosphere there were a piece of music then it would no doubt be entitled "Vulgarian Fugue in (What the) F Major." Rentall's second-in-command, Captain of Infantry Duke Walter von Neucheim bounces up and down in his saddle: 'It's all over! It's all over! We'll never win! We'll never win!'
'Hush now, shir,' says the Dutchman Rentall. 'Dare ish always optionsh.'
The field of Hednitz is rather deeper than many of the battlefields of the Wars of the Gelderland Succession. So deep, in fact, that the usual Nabstrian trick of advancing in column and then changing into line on the same turn cannot work; the infantry must stay in column in order to close the distance quickly. Whilst von Stumpe has been careful to keep his vulnerable columns out of range of a cavalry charge, the Vulgarian horse could still advance into close range of the columns, thus making it impossible for the Nabstrian infantry to keep moving in their current formation.

After some consideration, however, Rentall finally decides that he will not order his cavalry forwards. (Below) Releived, the Nabstrian infantry suddenly halt and change into line. There is some cursing from the Nabstrian NCOs and cries of 'That way, that way, you fools!' and 'Left! Left! It's written on your boot!' But still, to the discomfort of the watching Vulgarians, the Nabstrians soon present a line of gleaming bayonets to the waiting Vulgarian cavalry and infantry.


In the Vulgarian headquarters, there is some disagreement over what to do next.
'We're doomed! It's finished! Retreat! Flee!' is Duke Neicheim's considered advice to General Rentall.
'Gottle a geer! Gottle a geer!' adds Baron Tostov, solicitously.
'This is going to be a beautiful battle. We're going to make Vulgaria great again!' adds Ranald Drumpf, Principal Councillor to Prince Dimitri.
Rentall scowls, 'I thought dat I directed you to quit dish army,' he says. Drumpf arrived yesterday carrying instructions from the Prince. However, since the instructions seemed to focus mainly on the ways in which Dimitri was going to remove all of Rentall's clothes and cover him with kisses, it seemed likely that there had been a mix up and that the wrong instructions had been sent to the army. At least, Rentall hoped so. He was nevertheless philosophical: however perturbed he was at the thought of having Prince Dimitri 'nibbling his little toes' it was likely as nothing to the feelings of Dimitri's mistress, who would now be digesting her orders to attack the Nabstrian army forthwith.
Rentall gestures to his guards. 'Remove dish man!'
Drumpf shakes his fist, 'I am a personal friend of the Prince! I'll not leave! Why must I leave?'
'Becaush you are an unpleasant purveyor of liesh and untruthsh,' says Rentall, 'And also becaush your hair disturbsh me.'
Drumpf pats his hair and tickles its ears. 'There's nothing wrong with my hair. And I've done nothing that would disturb anyone!'
'Pah!' replies the general. 'What about de young women? Without any clothes on!'
'It's not true,' shouts Drumpf, 'fake nudes!'
'And de unpleasantness with de amphibians?' asks Rentall.
'Also not true,' says Drumpf, 'fake newts!'


(Above) As the Nabstrian infantry bear down upon the Vulgarian lines, Rentall finally discards the idea of a cavalry assault upon the infantry to his front, and instructs his horse to withdraw. The consequence, however, is that the Nabstrians continue to hold the initiative. As the cavalry withdraw, Stumpe's foot advance again, beginning to turn the flanks of the Vulgarian infantry and placing the Osterburg Cuirassiers within range of Nabstrian musketry (below).


On the Vulgarian right, however, so little is happening that one might mistake it for a Mittelheim artillery barrage. Rentall's irregulars are still in the woods, the infantry well camouflaged by the foliage. Colonel Kurtz peers into the distance with his telescope.
'Can you see anything sir?' asks Captain Kleinvarken.
'Oh, yes, captain: one thing looms large in my sight, blocking out almost everything else!'
'Foliage, sir?' answers the captain, 'A tree? Or perhaps you mean a rosy future?'
'I mean horror, Kleinvarken' says Kurtz morosely, 'pure, bowel whisking horror.'
'Yes, well I suspected that we might get there at some stage,' says Kleinvarken, 'But surely sir there are many reasons to be cheerful. There is no sign yet that we will be ordered to advance. Indeed, we are on the defence, so perhaps our role will be to leap on the enemy flanks as they advance past our position. And there are so many other advantages to our current situation,' he adds brightly. 'We're in the trees. But it's not Surinam. I mean, unlike 'Nam, it's pleasantly cool. There's lovely shade. And no cannibals. That surely has to count for something.'
'The horror is metaphysical, Kleinvarken.'
'Metaphysical horror?'
'A horror of being, of knowing, the whole ineffable strain of existing in, crikey - look at the hooters on her.'
'I think, sir, that that is a pair of squirrels on a tree.'
'Bah,' says Kurt. 'The horror ... but, what's that?'
'More horror, sir? Or trees. Or a kind of metaphysical tree horror?'
'No, no' replies Kurtz, 'There's a fellow in a wicker carriage. He seems to be heading in this direction clutching what looks to be a set of orders ....'

'A lovely carriage, Saxe; but who exactly is
driving it?'
'I said, Saxe' says Stumpe banging himself over the head with his telescope. 'I said not to give our orders to the Vulgarians. I told you to take my orders to von Pfanenstiel and that if it looked even remotely like the Vulgarians might capture them that you should in extremis eat the orders; whereas you ...'
'Gave the orders to the Vulgarians and then had something to eat with them,' admits the Marshal.
'In God's name, why did you not just do as I told you?' asks Stumpe incredulously.
'Well,' says Saxe, who has the good grace to look sheepish, 'I thought that you were being ironic.'
'Ironic?' says Stumpe, 'Ironic? No, when I say something like "I asked General Rentall for some help and he procured a lard wit like you:" that would be ironic. Just as if I said to you "Well done, Saxe, you've really helped" that would be sarcastic. Just as if I said "Oooh, Saxe - look!'
Saxe looks. Stumpe punches him hard in the face. ' ... that would be useful stress relief. Now bugger off! The enemy now has excellent military intelligence on our plans - they know of my capability for combined movement; and they know that there's something out there that's not marked on their maps.'

At Rentall's headquarters there is uproar. (Below) The Nabstrian infantry continue to move around the flanks of the Vulgarian infantry; and musketry fire scythes down the Osterburg Cuirassiers. It has become clear that there just seems to be too much to do at once. 'Cobblersh!' says Rentall. 'My army is in too many piecesh: wid my infantry split by my artillery into two positionsh, and wid my cavalry ash a third element, I have too many thingsh to do and not enough time to do dem.'


'My lord! My lord!' a Vulgarian irregular breathlessly interrupts Rentall's cogitation. 'A message from Colonel Kurtz sir! Here is a set of the Nabstrian orders!'
'Hurrah!' says Neucheim, 'But where did they come from!'
'A Nabstrian general gave them to us, sir, as well as some interesting recommendations for local taverns and bawdy houses.'
Neucheim examines the orders. As he reads, he frowns. 'My lord, what a fortuitous piece of military intelligence! This is the enemy plan! It would seem that the Nabstrians intend some 'combined movement.' Oh, and there is also something out there that isn't on our maps. But the latter, of course, goes without saying.'
'Really?' says Rentall, thoughtfully. 'Well, well, well. Becaush shome "combined movement" would seem to be de answer to our immediate problem. Excellent, let us shteal our adversary's idea! Gentlemen, wid dis combined movement I plan to counter-attack de exposed flank of de Nabstrian advance! Prepare de troops: we begin de assault in five minutes!'
To loud 'hurrahs!' and the obligatory 'gottle a geer!' the battle enters its next stage: a stage in which the metaphysical horror is not at all ironic ...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Hednitz!

Wherein the army of the Burgravate of Nabstria under 'General Hieronymous von Rumpfler' encounters the army of the Voivodate of Vulgaria, commanded by General Hertz van Rentall 

Captain Hugo von Stumpe mops his perspiring brow and surveys the field of battle. Dressed in Rumpfler's clothes, Stumpe also tries in his bearing to evince all of the General's most obvious mannerisms: his calmness; his experienced professionalism; his dislike of French cheeses; and his consuming lust for Nora Hindquarters - not an easy trick when one is just holding a telescope. Stumpe feels peculiarly alone. To avoid having the General's deception rumbled, Stumpe has banished the usual Nabstrian staff officers back to the headquarters tent, citing his desire to avoid them becoming casualties in the ensuing battle. The staff officers protest heavily in the usual Nabstrian fashion at being robbed of the chance to test their manhood in the heat of enemy fire, making such comments as: 'Thank goodness!', 'Suits me', and 'Wake me when it's all over.' Stumpe turns the telescope around and looks through the bigger end: but even with the Vulgarians now much further away he still feels uncertain.
'Well,' says Stumpe to the figure in the wicker carriage next to him, 'any way one looks at it, those Vulgarians don't seem to me to be an army on the brink of collapse.'
Next to him, Marshal Horace de Saxe brushes crumbs from the blanket that covers his legs and nods sagely.
'Well, my good fellow: I warned you,' he says to the "general."
Stumpe frowns. 'No you didn't, my good Saxe.'
Saxe shakes his head, 'I distinctly remember that as soon I arrived here I made the comment "those Vulgarians don't seem to me to be an army on the brink of collapse,"'
'No you didn't, my good Saxe,' replies Stumpe. 'What you said was "I'm hungry, get me some pie" and then "I'm not wearing any britches under this blanket - put your hand under and see."'
Stumpe returns to his survey of the Vulgarian lines.

(Right, bottom) The Vulgarian army seems to be well deployed and ready for battle. In the centre, and making use of Hednitz hill, the Vulgarian commander, General Herz van Rentall, has placed his artillery, under the command of Cameron von Muller. To the left of the hill are positioned three of the five Vulgarian infantry regiments; to the right are the remaining two regiments, including the Vulgarian foot guard. All three of the Vulgarian regular cavalry regiments are deployed on the extreme left of the line, two up and one behind in reserve. On the extreme right, in the woods, are the four irregular regiments, two of foot and two of horse.

In the woods themselves, the Vulgarian irregulars wait patiently. The Dutch mercenaries, Captain Kleinvarken and Colonel Kurtz, expect action soon and try to fortify the spirits of their troops.
'Steady, men,' cries Kleinvarken. 'Our adversaries are mere Nabstrians and should hold no terror for you. Do not fear death!'
'Indeed!' cries Kurtz, brushing aside Kleinvarken who seems to be making a respectful attempt, befitting a subordinate officer, to cover the Colonel's mouth. 'You should not fear death. There is no point. After all, life has no intrinsic meaning; no real value. Your lives - all our lives - have no significance or purpose in the great scheme of the universe. Life is just pain, and cruelty, and one's wife running off with a short Spaniard ...'
'Colonel, sir!' interjects Kleinvarken. 'I think that you should stop.'
'But I hadn't got to the really uplifting bits ...'
'Too much of a good thing, sir,' says Kleinvarken. 'You have the men dangerously fired up,' he continues, using his kerchief to mop the tears of a nearby soldier.
The noises now emanating from the Nabstrian camp indicate that the forces of the Burgravate are deploying for action!

(Left) Following the scheme of battle communicated to him the previous evening by General von Rumpfler, Stumpe places his entire regular infantry force into march columns on the right of his line. The Nabstrian plan is as obvious as a Mittelheim pun and only slightly less related to genitals. As Stumpe understands it, Rumpfler's plan of battle is to throw forward his infantry as fast as possible. Utilising the advantages of cadenced drill, the Nabstrian foot will then form line and advance quickly against the Vulgarian left. The troops should then be able to crush the Vulgarian regular horse with musketry and then, wheeling to the left, roll up the Vulgarian troops before the right wing of their army has a chance to intervene. Stumpe, however, is worried.
'The general's plan is a good one; but these Vulgarians look as if they have plenty of fight in them. Damn those Bachscuttel knaves - I sense that they have duped us!'
De Saxe stares down intently into his wicker carriage. Stumpe looks at him unhappily.
'Cease you navel gazing, sir! We are running out of time. Also, having seen the state of your navel, I cannot see that gazing at it will help us. Is there nothing in your accumulated military wisdom that might give us a further edge over our foes?'
The Marshal holds up a well-thumbed volume. 'I have here a copy of my famous tome Mes Gueules de Bois - "My Hangovers." It is full of military insight drawn from my own experiences in the field.'
Stumpe reaches forwards and, before de Saxe can stop him, the captain has pinched the book and begins leafing through it.
'Excellent', says the captain. 'Let's look for "strategems" in the index. Let's see - "str," "stra" - oh: here we go. Let me see: "straddling," "straighteners," "straight jacket," "stranded," "strangulation," "strapless," - "strapless?"
De Saxe shrugs - 'when in Rome.'

(Right) Meanwhile, to the left of the Nabstrian line, and chafing at the bit (or possibly it is just a bit of chafing), the Nabstrian cavalry are restless for a fight. The von Pfanenstiel hussars face their first action, and their Inhaber is hungry for glory! The Nabstrian artillery and two regiments of light troops hold the centre in case of a precipitous advance by the Vulgarian irregulars. Behind them, Stumpe continues his search for inspiration.
'Well,' he says to de Saxe, looking at the Marshal's memoirs, 'what about references to tactics? Here we go,' he says leafing further through the index. '"Tackle (see also Wedding)," "Tactless (see also Visit to French King)." De Saxe, exactly what sort of useful experience do you have that qualifies you as a military advisor?"
The Marshal looks aggrieved. 'Captain, I am well versed in the arts of superior military mental activity.'
Stumpe grimaces, 'I have a suspicion, sir, that much of your military activity could be labelled superiorly "mental." I mean, are there any references in your memoirs even to "war?" Indeed look,' he points at the index - "Wack," "Waddle," "Waffle (see also Waddle)," "Waggle (see also Wench)," "Wail (see also Wench, Prison, and Bribe)," "Waistline," "Walrus (see also Waffle and Waistline)," "Wantoness," "Warrant (see also Wantoness, Wench, France, Prison, Bribe and Flee)." Dammit, this is pointless.' Stumpe throws de Saxe's memoirs back into the wicker carriage.
De Saxe looks picqued, 'There is some very salient advice about elephants,' he says sniffily.


Stumpe shakes his head. 'Zounds, let's just get on with this and hope for the best.' As the rank-and-file of his army look on, "General von Rumpfler" signals for attention, and then gestures forwards with his hand. (Above) The Nabstrian musicians strike up a lively version of the traditional folk song 'I've Never Had My Hands on a Country Slice I Didn't Like' and the infantry columns advance forwards towards the Vulgarian line ....


Monday, 13 March 2017

The Eve of Battle!

'Stop wriggling, Stumpe: it's almost on.' General Hieronymous von Rumpfler, commander of the Nabstrian army finishes with the wig and then steps back and admires his handiwork. Captain Hugo von Stumpe, Rumpfler's aid-de-campe stands uncomfortably, dressed in one of the general's wigs and his second best uniform.
'Marvellous!' says Rumpfler. 'You could be my double!'
'But I don't understand, sir,' says Stumpe, 'why it is that you cannot command this army in the coming fray. Why must you quit the army on the eve of battle? And why must I wear one of your uniforms?'
'Captain, I have told you: I have urgent business elsewhere with the lovely Miss Nora Hindquarters. You will have to command in my place and pretend that you are me. But you should not fear - the coming battle will hardly be a battle at all. The Bachscuttlers have crushed the Vulgarian army already. Finishing them off will be as easy as stealing leech fricassee from a baby. And if there is any army suitable for an act of theft from a small infant, then it is my army.'
Stumpe pulls miserably at the throat of his coat. 'It doesn't fit very well.'
'Nonsense!' replies Rumpfler, 'It fits pefectly. Except that I should imagine that my britches are somewhat roomier around the crotch than you are used to. Now ... I explained my plan to you yesterday evening: you can remember the key details?'
'I think so, General, although I am very tired - I didn't manage to sleep much.' Poor Stumpe had spent the night tossing and turning; the former, in particular, had interrupted his rest.
Rumpfler chuckles. 'Those poor Palatinate fools. Imagine telling us that the Vulgarians were a shattered ruin and then warning us not to steal their glory.'

'But are you sure, my general, that the Vulgarians are really in such a poor state? Their picket line was sufficient yesterday to drive off our vanguard cavalry.'
Rumpfler now starts stuffing items into a moderately sized wicker hamper. 'Of course I'm sure, Stumpe. Calm yourself - the omens are excellent.'
'
Officer: 'Column of fours! Advance upon the
enemy pickets!'
Dragoon: 'Charge! Charge! For God and Nabstria!'
Another Dragoon: 'Am I the only one who thinks
that those Vulgarians look surprisingly
white and fluffy?'
'Well, sir, there was the black cat that crossed our army on the advance.'
'A single black cat, Stumpe.'
'Yes, but it was being carried by that old crone, who cackled madly, drew her finger across her throat, and told us that we were all going to die.'
'A single old women Stumpe.'
'Well, there were her two friends as well, sir. And the cauldron. And that stuff about curses, woods coming to Dunsinane, and prominent facial warts. And then they told us that we were all going to die.'
'Bored Vulgarian housefraus, Stumpe, with nothing better to do.'
'But it was during an unseasonable storm, if you recall sir; with the comet; and the two headed cow that laughed at us and told us that our operational planning process was fatally flawed.'
'That, Stumpe,' admits Rumpfler with a nod, 'was quite surprising.'
'You don't often see a two headed cow that talks,' replies Stumpe adjusting the crotch of the britches which is uncomfortably tight.
'No,' says Rumpfler, 'I mean that we haven't really got a formal process for the design of our campaigns. I just get a map and a quill, and ... improvise by drawing some arrows.'

Rumpfler curses and begins searching for something.
'God's wounds, Stumpe, you have to hold the fort while I'm away. I simply must see Miss Hindquarters. It may be my only chance before the campaign season begins in earnest. I must see her! Stumpe, you cannot know the urgent kiss of the burning flames of love.'
Stumpe shrugs. 'I don't know about that, sir. My wife did once set fire to me.'

Officer: 'Retreat! We are over-matched!'
Dragoon: 'Flee! Flee!'
Another Dragoon: 'They're everywhere! Game over, man!
Game over!'
Rumpfler continues his inexpert packing of the hamper. He has dismissed his valet and is as used to organising such things himself as he is to hunting truffles with a harpoon.
'Dammit, Stumpe, where's my best cutlery?'
'There sir.'
'Oh yes. I hope Nora appreciates this. Dammit, where's the fork?'
'I don't know, sir.'
'She'll need a fork'
Stumpe chokes. 'It would be impolitic of me to comment.'
'A fork, man: a fork. To eat with!'
'Oh, oh,' says Stumpe nodding.
Rumpfler gesticulates. 'What is she supposed to do - suck?'
'Again,' says Stumpe in a neutral tone, 'It would be impolitic of me ...'
'By all that is holy - where is it?'
'Baaaa! Oink!'
Stumpe closes his eyes and makes an effort to appear matter-of-fact. 'Sir, I understand that your business with Frau Hindquarters is important, but is it necessarily more important than the battle that we will be fighting on the morrow?'
Rumpfler straightens. 'Dammit Stumpe - tomorrow will be a small thing. The Bachscuttlers have crushed the Vulgarians. What remains huddled around those campfires that we see in the distance must be a broken remnant of their forces.' He allows himself a grim smile.
'In any case,' says the general. 'I have procured for you the help of one of the foremost military minds in Mittelheim.'
Stumpe looks confused. 'Why would I need a cow, sir?'
'No, no, Stumpe. I have engaged the services of Marshal Horace de Saxe - writer of the such famous top shelf military doctrine manuals as 'Manoeuvre Your Way to Fitness.'
'Horace de Saxe?' asks Stumpe.
'The very same,' replies the general.
'But,' says Stumpe, 'I really think that a cow would be more useful.'
'Bah!' says Rumpfler. 'Sit down,' he says, pushing Stumpe into the chair, 'and cease your bickering. It is decided.'
Stumpe whimpers.
'Pipe down, Stumpe' scoffs Rumpfler. 'Oh, my lovely Nora. The long miles between us. Stumpe, you cannot know the meaning of real pain.'
'I ... beg to... differ, sir. I think that I have found that fork.'

Friday, 24 February 2017

Is it really that cunning?

The weather-beaten Agorn nods. He is now sitting in a chair, smoking a long pipe. His legs stretch out in front of him. He wears high boots of supple leather that fit badly, but are much worn and now caked in mud. He wears a travel-stained cloak of heavy dark green cloth drawn close about him. And in spite of the heat of the room he wears a hood that overshadows his face. But the gleam of his eye can be seen.
'Yes, my lords,' says Herr Agorn, slowly, 'I am the true air to the throne of Vulgaria. I, and not that cheating toad, Dimitri.'
'You see,' says Voeltickler, 'I have found a pretender to the Vulgarian throne!'
'But what's the point of that?' says Prince Rupprecht. The prince is idly checkmating the supine form of baron Steinhagen with his croquet mallet. 'What's the point in having someone pretending to be the Voivode of Vulgaria? I could do that.'
'Indeed,' says Voeltickler, 'And a splendid job that you would make of it, my lord. But by "Pretender" I mean that he is a rival claimant to the throne.'
Agorn, animated now, stands. 'Yes! Long years have I spent striding about the country on my long shanks, and for this reason I have acquired the name 'Rambler' as well as quite a few nasty blisters. And long have I waited to reclaim my throne!'
'How long?' says the Prince.
'Well, quite a long time. I have lived an age, Prince Rupprecht. I am older than I look.'
'How old?'
'Guess, my lord.'
'Er, 23.'
'I am 184, your highness.'
'No you're not.'
'No,' admits Rambler. 'I'm not. I'm 36. But I have done and seen things beyond the ken of ordinary man: I have wrestled dark forces; I have slain hundreds of foes; I have travelled through all the wide lands of this world!'
'No, you haven't,' admonishes Rupprecht.
'No,' admits Rambler, 'I haven't. But still, 'Terror' is my middle name; 'Hardship' my last; to my friends I am known as 'the hero captain'; to my enemies I am 'Death!'
'What's wrong with just 'Michael?'' asks Rupprecht, 'Or Rupprecht.''
Fluck scowls. 'And you're certain that you are the rightful heir to the Voivodate of Vulgaria?'
Agorn nods. 'Oh yes, my lord. For it was foretold upon my birth. There was a prophecy:

All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost
But some don't want to be bothered
and others they cannot be tossed'

'It's rather ... elliptical in its meaning isn't it?' says Fluck. 'I'm just saying: it is quite ambiguous.'
'Nonsense,' says Voeltickler. 'It seems perfectly well to indicate to me that Agorn is the real heir to the Voivodate of Vulgaria. And in any case, look at him: he has all of the qualities. He can whistle. He's certainly a few stollen short of a Christmas. And he has the chin.'
'He has a chin,' says Fluck. 'It's really not such a conclusive piece of evidence.'
Agorn takes something from his cloak. 'And I have also this picture of my father.'
Voeltickler points triumphantly at it. 'He certainly looks like his grandsire of old.'
'Are we sure of its authenticity?' asks Fluck.
'Oh yes.'
'It's just,' continues Fluck, 'that it does look a little bit like someone has scribbled a moustache and a pair of reading glasses on the face of ...'
'No, no, no,' says Voeltickler, snatching it away. 'I can vouch for him.'

A servant knocks with trepidation and then pokes his head around the door to the chamber. 'My lord Chamberlain,' he says. 'What about the other eight visitors in the waiting room?'
'Eight?' asks Rupprecht.
'My companions,' says Agorn.
'Where are they from?' asks Rupprecht. The servant shakes his head. 'I'm not entirely sure, my lord, for they are a strange company. Four of them are very small, have no shoes and their feet smell terrible.'
'They sound English to me, ' says Fluck.
'One has a long beard, my lord' says the servant. 'He looks a bit like a druid.'
'Welsh, then.'
'No my lord,' says Agorn, 'These are my sworn companions, who have accompanied me on this quest. For it is said that this is will be my final battle and I shall come into my own.'
'Your own what?' asks Fluck.
'That bit,' says Agorn, 'is rather ambiguous. But my hope is that it will include money and wine. And possibly some battenburg. For behold!', says the weathered fellow, taking his sword from its sheath: 'here is the sword that was broken and has been forged anew!' He makes a few experimental swipes with it as Rupprecht and his councillors take a step or two back.
Rupprecht peers at it. 'Hmmm. It's just, my fine fellow, that it still seems to be, you know ... broken.' He points to the space where the top half of the sabre should be.
'I'd have that seen by the doctor, my lord'
Agorn sighs. 'I broke it again,' he admits ruefully. 'I got it stuck in a door.'
Fluck shakes his head. 'So this is "The Sword that was Broken and was Reforged but got Broken Again." It doesn't really have much of a ring to it.'
'Ring,' mumbles Agorn, 'rings, rings, bloody rings. All the way across the low countries and the states of Germany with those knumbskulls blithering on about rings! And fiery cracks. Well, they should have done as I advised and seen a doctor.'
'Burning is a bad sign,' concurs Fluck. 'Questing must be hard work when it hurts to sit down.'

'What should I do about the eight guests,' repeats the servant nervously. 'I could have them executed, sir. Or offer them some coffee? Or a combination of the two?'
'Are they your friends?' Rupprecht asks Agorn.
Herr Agorn thinks for a moment. 'Not really.'
'Excellent,' replies Rupprecht, and then says to the servant 'have them executed.'
'Yes sir.'
'Wait! On the other hand,' says Rupprecht, 'find out if any of them like chess.'

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

I have a cunning plan!

'Ah,' says Prince Rupprecht of Saukopf-Bachscuttel happily, 'someone new! I should wager he has yet to see my ...'
'I'm sure that Herr Agorn is not the sort of fellow who would want to see your ...' begins Leopold Von Fecklenburg, Rupprecht's Grand Chamberlain.
'Nonsense,' says the Prince getting up and hurrying over to the weather-beaten Agorn. 'Of course he is. Herr Agorn, I want your opinion on my Steffi.'
'Um?' says Agorn, looking alarmed, and shuffling slowly back towards the doorway. 'My Prince, I didn't realise that it was one of those sorts of get-togethers.'
Rupprecht wrinkles his brow: 'Why not? Everyone here has seen my Steffi.'
Count Geyr von Voeltickler, Minister for Finance and Other Tedious Things, nods resignedly. 'It's true. But don't worry Agorn - the Prince will not force you to hold it.'
'Gark?' says Agorn, beginning to hyper-ventilate.
'Fie and tush, man,' says the Prince, 'it's just a picture.'
'A picture?' says Agorn 'Um, no sir, not to be impolite but I still feel that that is pushing the boundaries on a first meeting: I'd still rather not if it's all the same to you ...'. Agorn, however, is trapped. The Prince whips out a small picture from the pocket of his waist coat.
'See, Agorn, what a corker, eh! My lovely Steffi; my new mistress!' The Prince points to the picture of a comely milk-maid frolicking with a little pig. 'But no touching, now' says the Prince.
Agorn stops shuffling and says with relief 'Mistress? Well, thank goodness. Yes, your lordliness - she is indeed lovely. What soft skin; what limpid eyes; what a springy little tail.'
'Not the pig, you fool!' huffs Rupprecht. Then he looks more closely at the picture, 'Still - now you mention it .... '

Steffi: "Makin' Bacon"
'My lord,' says Voeltickler. 'I think that we are losing the purpose of this meeting. I have brought Herr Agorn here because of the services he can render us in our current wars.'
Rupprecht sighs, 'She is such a beauty. Voeltickler, I intend to marry her.'
Freiherr Maximillian von Fluck, Minister of Sausages, coughs loudly, 'But, ah, Your Highness, you're already married.'
'But I'm not married.'
'You are married to Princess Caroline.'
'When did that happen?'
'Several years ago - at the Cathedral. There was a large if unenthusiastic crowd.'
'Oh,' says Rupprecht, 'I wondered why the Princess looked so miserable. Ah well. Just a mistress then.'
'Quite so, sir,' says Fluck.
Rupprecht frowns. 'And you're quite sure that the Princess is still alive? I'm not a widower?'
'No, sir,' says Voeltickler, 'Princess Caroline was at breakfast with you.'
Rupprecht nods ruefully, 'Ah yes,' he says.
'And,' continues Voeltickler, 'she was here some twenty minutes ago when she turned down your offer of a game of chess.'
Rupprecht takes one last look at the picture and then sits himself down. 'Very well then Voeltickler. What is this all about? Sit! Sit!' He gestures to the assembled personages.

Voeltickler begins. 'Let me introduce you to my grand plan, my Prince: "Operation Mince Pie."'
'"Mince Pie?,"' queries Rupprecht.
'My lord?' says Voeltickler.
'Well,' says Rupprecht, 'shouldn't our war plans sound more ... manly and ... frightening. You know - "Operation Hammer;" "Operation Hot Tweezers;" or "Operation Tax Self-Assessment."'
'Yes, yes,' says Fluck. 'Our prince is right. It should be "Operation Lemon Drizzle."'
'How is "Lemon Drizzle" frightening?' asks Voeltickler. 'Has any man here experienced trepidation on account of a lemon drizzle?'
'What about "Operation Country Slice,"' says Fecklenburg.
"Country slice" just sounds rude,' replies Fluck.
'How can "country slice" sound rude,' asks Fecklenburg incredulously. 'Now "muffin:" that's rude.'
'Look,' says Voeltickler wearily. 'Look. Let's just agree to disagree on this issue, so that I can explain Operation ... "Cake to be Determined."'
Those assembled nod, although in baron Steinhagen's case this is also accompanied by a snore and a certain quantity of dribble.
Voeltickler continues. 'My lord, the key element of this plan is a joint attack by ourselves and the Kingdom of Gelderland. First, we will strike across the River Strudel to seize one of the  key artillery forts just south of Fort Pippin. This will cut the fort off from any army of relief. In parallel, we will launch a swift assault on the fort itself. We will overwhelm Fenwick's defences before they have a chance to respond!'
'Hurrah!' shouts Rupprecht. 'But, won't the Nabstrians block this plan? Do they not themselves covet northern Fenwick?'
'You naughty little minx'

Voeltickler continues. 'Indeed, my lord. So before all of this we must first entangle the Nabstrians in Vulgaria. To do this, we need to convince them to send their army into the Voivodate.'
'Hmmm,' says Rupprecht. 'And how shall we achieve this?'
'Well, sir,' replies Voeltickler, 'we're going to lie.'
The Prince claps delightedly, 'Yes! Oh yes! We could, um .... we could tell them that their shoe buckles are undone and then push them when they bend over to check!'
Voeltickler tilts his head, 'Well, yes sir: but I was looking at something a little more ambitious.'
Rupprecht nods agreeably, 'We could hit them with a chair when they bend over?'
Voeltickler continues, 'Yes, my Prince - another excellent suggestion. However, my feeling is that we need something bigger; but also plausible, to allay any Nabstrian suspicions.'
'Why would they be suspicious?' asks Rupprecht.
'Hmmm,' says Fecklenburg, 'I think that we need to see this from the Nabstrian point of view: we need to put ourselves in their position.'
'Really?' asks Prince Rupprecht, uncertainly. The Prince, it is fair to say, is not well equipped in the empathy department. For him, "walking a mile in another man's shoes" just means that, at the end of the process when he has inevitably decided that he does not really like the other fellow, he is a mile away from the man and also has his shoes.
Voeltickler continues 'We have been at war with Nabstria in the past and they must surely suspect anything that we tell them to do. But they might be less careful regarding things that we tell them not to do. So, we will tell them that the Vulgarian army has indeed been crushed, but that our army is in the midst of a logistic crisis and is perilously low on muffins. We will tell the Nabstrians that they must not, absolutely not, steal our glory by moving into Vulgaria and sweeping up the broken remains of the enemy army.'
'Clever, clever!' says Fecklenburg admiringly.
Voeltickler nods. 'They won't be able to help themselves. Their army will barrel into Vulgaria; it will suffer a calamitous defeat; and we will raise an insurrection behind their lines in Vulgaria that will crush both Vulgaria and the remains of the Nabstrians in one blow!'
'An insurrection?' asks Fluck.
'Yes, my good Freiherr,' says Voeltickler, pointing at Agorn. 'Let me introduce the instrument of our revenge!'

Monday, 13 February 2017

Check!

'I said my lord, "the campaign against Vulgaria isn't going as well as we anticipated."' Count Geyr von Voeltickler, the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel's Minister for Finance and Other Tedious Things, gesticulates at the map laid out on the table in the middle of the chamber. Prince Rupprecht of Saukopf-Bachscuttel snorts dismissively. Here in Pfeildorf, the brightest minds are busy strategising, ruminating on the outcomes of the battle of Leipflute and the consequences for the war.
'Snap!' says Prince Rupprecht, reaching over the chessboard and then moving his knight straight forwards and removing three of  Baron Steinhagen's pawns as well as a small but valuable diamond brooch attached to the baron's waistcoat.
'A brilliant move, your highness,' says the baron.
Count Voeltickeler says firmly 'Will you not come to the table my, lord, so that we can discuss important matters of strategy and policy?'
Rupprecht sticks his tongue out and blows a raspberry.
'But this is all so unnecessary,' says the Prince,  'I've already mentioned many times that there must be better ways of governing my state; ways that could improve the quality of government whilst at the same time reducing the amount of effort that I have to expend on it.'
'Chess in Bachscuttel: not for the faint-hearted ....'
'Your suicide might be one option, sir' murmurs Freiherr Maximillian von Fluck, Minister of Sausages.
'What?' says Rupprecht, producing another rook from his sleeve and slipping it onto the board.
'Bravo, sir,' says Steinhagen, 'another masterful move.'
'We must soon decide, sir' says the Freiherr more loudly. 'We must decide what General Barry-Eylund's army will do next.'
Rupprecht shakes his head. 'But why must I decide?' he says, taking up a croquet mallet and hitting Steinhagen around the head with it. 'Check!' says the Prince. The baron does not reply; understandably, since he is now slumped unconscious on the floor.
Prince Rupprecht begins removing the baron's splendidly embroidered boots, holding them up to his own feet. 'Well, Fluck. I was just reading the Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men by Jean Jacques Rousseau.'
'Really sir?' replies Fluck, with a note of surprise of the same order as if, for example, a pig had expressed in rhyming verse a preference for  Italian over French opera.
Rupprecht nods: 'It was disappointing  - the early material on the 'state of nature' led me to expect more nakedness than the book actually contained. But it returned me to my thinking about the need to introduce more democracy into the Palatinate's government.'
The assembled councillors choke as if an opera-loving pig had kicked them in their gentleman's parts and stolen their wallets.
'Democracy, my prince?'
'Well yes,' nods Rupprecht. 'It occurred to me that more plural forms of government would have a number of key advantages, not least relieving me of the need to waste my time with all the stuff I have to do before lunch. You know,  the sitting and listening and deciding and stamping things.
'You meaning ruling, sir?' says Leopold Von Fecklenburg, the Grand Chamberlain.
'Yes,' says Rupprecht, 'that.'

'Perhaps, my lord, 'says Voeltickler placatingly, 'perhaps we could come back later to your insightful thoughts on the reform of government and now focus instead on the use of our army after the battle of Leipflute.'
'But it was a brilliant victory,' replies the Prince. 'I remember distinctly in Graf Barry-Eylund's dispatch reading the phrase "brilliant victory." And also the words "steaming loins."'
The assembled councillors look at one another alarmed.
'Oh no,' says Rupprecht, ' my mistake: the phrase "steaming loins" was in something else I was reading. But anyway, the battle at Leipflute was certainly described by Barry-Eylund as a great success.'
Voeltickler nods. 'My lord the Vulgarian army by all accounts is a strange force,  It is very small, and what with their system of depot battalions and their Garde du Corps, their army is depressingly resilient. Ironically, given Vulgarian folklore's focus on the undead, their military forces seem to be the army that cannot die. Every time it gets beaten it seems just to come back a little bit better than before.'
'It is not enough to kill them: one must also push them over,' quips Chamberlain Fecklenburg.
'No,' says Voeltickler, 'that's the Russians. With the Vulgarians, they say " It is not enough to kill them; one must also stuff their mouths with garlic; decapitate them; stake them; and then burn the body; but watch out for the weak sequels."
'Well,' replies Rupprecht, 'I told the Nabstrian ambassador that the Vulgarians had been utterly crushed and that all that was left was to administer the coup-de-grace.'
Freiherr von Fluck frowns 'What did he say, sir?'
The Prince shrugs 'Nothing immediately: it turns out that the ambassador speaks French rather less well than he speaks dolphin.'
'That must be inconvenient for an ambassador,' says Fluck.
Rupprecht shakes his head 'Not really - he's never been that interested in fish.'
'No, I mean French. He doesn't speak French,' replies Fluck. 'He wasn't clear what a coup-de-grace was.'
Rupprecht chortles in agreement 'What a fool. Has he never cut the grass before?'

' ... but it's a lot safer than Bachscuttel
billiards.'
Voeltickler hurrumphs. 'My lord; gentlemen. My point is that if we continue to push forwards into Vulgaria, we are likely to become sucked into an extended campaign there. We therefore will miss opportunities to focus our energies on the our real enemies.'
Rupprecht flicks both of Steinhagen's ears and then pulls off the baron's wig. 'Check!' he declares and then pauses, turning to Voeltickler. 'But,' he begins cautiously, 'but ... we are at war with Vulgaria, Rotenburg, and Imperial Fenwick. Aren't they our enemies? Or are they just bad friends?'
The Freiherr nods. 'Voeltickler is right, my lord. Here in Bachscuttel, it is an eternal principle of our foreign policy that we hate everyone. Allies are just enemies that exploit our good nature, sponging from us and cramping our style with their bonhomie and their ententes cordiale.'
Rupprecht frowns. 'Bah! More dolphin talk. So what course of action do you propose then, Minister Voeltickler?'
'Well, sir,' says Voeltickler, 'there's someone that I'd like you to meet.' He gestures to the two liveried servants who stand by the door. 'Open!' says Voeltickler. 'My lord, late of northern Vulgaria, meet Herr Michael Agorn!'
'Excellent!' says the Prince. He hefts the mallet again and approaches the supine form of Baron Steinhagen. 'Gentlemen - some room please: I see that the baron's bishop is now vulnerable!'


Thursday, 19 January 2017

Pippin Fort!

Between the frontiers of Imperial Fenwick and the capital of Pogelswood stands Pippin Fort, the chief walled stronghold of Emperor George's dimunitive state. In the official histories of the Empire, the fort is said to be named after King Pippin, the great Frankish king of old, warrior bastion of Christendom and father of Charlemagne. Local stories argue that the fort actually was named after Herr Pippin, an unpleasant local farmer. The fortress apparently was founded after his wife, Clothilde, tiring of Pippin's drinking and womanising, and his belief that the word 'scone' should be pronounced as 'skon,' locked him out of his house and told him that he was never ever setting foot back in it again. Clothilde was a determined and inventive woman, and handier than most at taking routine household items and turning them into durable defensive earthworks.

Pippin fort: excellent modern fortfications, but the
 local schools are nothing to write home about.
Whilst most wives would perhaps have confined themselves to changing the locks, Clothilde went that bit further and constructed a moat, drawbridge and a remarkably complete set of curtain walls, all in a matching colour that she termed 'hint of wicker.' If some thought that the later addition of corner bastions, murder holes and an inner redoubt was overdoing things, those that knew Herr Pippin pointed out that he was a very tedious man and had very bad breath.

Since those times, the fortress has grown in size and importance. Now, it is not just a fortification, but also an administrative centre. In particular, the fort contains the buildings of Fenwick's Ministry for Fruit, Vegetables and Public Morals. As both of the regular readers of this modest publication are no doubt aware, the inhabitants of Fenwick have a tedious and exhausting sensitivity to double entendre. Whilst in most other countries of Europe the functions of government revolve around such routine imperatives as defence, justice, and the exploitation of the poor, in Fenwick it would be accurate to say that most of the organs of government are dedicated to eliminating the ordinary folk of Fenwick's contact with words of a double meaning. It would be accurate to say this, but impossible in Fenwick actually to say it because 'organ' would certainly be one of those words that no self-respecting Fenwickian could encounter without 'Fnarring' themselves into a sweaty stupor. Historical experience has demonstrated that many of the worst offenders in relation to double entendre are words associated with lewdly shaped fruit and vegetables. This is something of a problem for a mainly agricultural economy heavily reliant on the production of melons. The Ministry of Fruit, Vegetable, and Public Morals has thus grown into perhaps the most important institution in Fenwick's governmental structures. It concerns itself principally with censoring printed publications and removing words likely to cause a breach of the peace.  For this reason such words as XXXX, XXX,  or XXXXX cannot be read in the Empire. Fenwickian law also reflects this proscription. Whilst those laws relating to commerce have already been commented upon in previous editions of this journal, there are many other activities that the Fenwickian love of double entendre makes impossible. In Fenwick, for example, one could never rub a XXXX in public; or XXXX one's XXXXXXX in a tavern or other public place. On the other hand, it is allowable to XXXX a XXX, but strictly only in the privacy of one's own home.

Pippin Fort also contains a large barracks complex. Given Fenwick's tedious sensitivity to double entendre, it is just about possible to use the word 'drill' in front of Fenwickian soldiers, but ordering them to 'take hold of your weapon', 'grasp your barrel firmly' or 'give it a good poke with your ramrod' will likely achieve nothing but creating a heap of hooting soldiers who might take days to recover from their paroxysm of fnarring. Fenwick's drill instructors have been forced to adopt a more visual approach to their programmes. Instead of shouting orders they must instead show the troops what they should be doing. Imperial drill is thus punctuated with cries of 'Do this!', 'Now, do that!' and 'Hold that position, and move your upper body to here!' It was one Corporal Ernst Zumber who thought of adding in some musical accompaniement to these exertions, and now the Zumber Routine is widely used by those noble ladies of Mittelheim who seek to improve their cardio-vascular health and hone their ability to shift promptly from march column into line formation. Whatever the problems in instructing the troops, it cannot be denied that the outcome has been splendid. The Fenwickian infantry have a fearsome reputation on the battlefield and are known widely as the 'Spartans of Mittelheim'

'It just came off in my hand.'
Whilst Fenwick's splendid victory over the forces of Nabstria at the recent battle of Leipflute has seen off any immediate test of Pippin Fort's defences, Captain-Governor Schroedinger-Skatt has ordered that the walls be strengthened and the fortress put into the best possible condition to resist an enemy attack. For this reason he has employed at the fort another mercenary engineer of Scottish-French extraction: Major Gordon Sanitaire. Sanitaire's key problem is a fairly obvious one. (Above) Called officially 'The Great Emperor's Bastion' and locally 'The Great Knackered Bastion', one of the key elements of the fort is in a considerable state of disrepair. As we consider the bastion in more detail, dear reader, it is possible to espy now the figure of a workman upon the bastion. A second figure, which must be Major Sanitaire himself, is approaching, clutching a great quantity of maps, diagrams, and scrolls.

'Morning, sir,' says the workman, 'and who might I have the honour of addressing, your worshipfulness?'
'Holding a tool, sir? Not in Fenwick.'
'Well, my lad, I am Major Gordon Sanitaire.'
'I am Franz, sir,' says the workman. 'If you don't mind me saying so sir; I don't think that you're from around here.'
'Nay laddie, 'replies the major, 'I travelled with my companion engineer all the way from England, via Scotland, although my grandfather was French.'
'From England, sir? That's a long journey. I hope, sir, that it was not too trying?'
Sanitaire grimaces. 'Aye, my fine fellow: it was fair awful - we were attacked in Paris by a gang of mime artists and had unspeakable things inflicted on us. But enough of this idle chatter. Yev had a wee look at the damage here - what's yer thoughts on how much it'll cost to fix?'
Franz sucks his teeth. 'Well sir, to tell the truth - that's a big old hole. And I'm quite busy.'
Sanitaire narrows his eyes: 'How much?'
Franz sucks his teeth even harder. He then purses his lips and blows out his cheeks. 'Well, sir, you see it would be straightforward; but you can see here in the masonry the tell-tale signs of woodworm.'
'Wood worm?' replies the major 'In masonry? What kind of wood worm lives in masonry?'
'The sort, sir, that are double hard bastards. I might need some armour sir; and a few of me larger lads to help.'
'Well, how much laddie?'
'Twenty thousand shillings, sir.'
'How much? I cannae pay twenty thousand shillings!'
'Okay, sir. Forty shillings and a pork pie.'
'What?'
'Alright, forget the pork pie.'
Sanitaire looks unhappy. 'Are ye really the only man available?'
Franz chuckles. 'You'll find precious few of us that are licensed to work with implements.'
'Licensed?'
'Yes, sir. You can't go around Fenwick just using words like 'tool' willy-nilly. You can't even use words like 'willy-nilly' willy-nilly. They strung one of me mates up just last week for asking to buy a couple of ... of farming implements.'
'Rakes?' guesses the major.
'No, sir, for the earth; you know,' Franz mimes.
'Oh ...,' says Sanitaire, 'hoes.'
'So I have a licence for moderate insinuation: nothing too strong, though.' says Franz.
'Really?'
'Oh yes, sir. I can work with tools. And courgettes. And I can XXX a XXXX, as long as I does it very quietly.'
'Well, my fine fellow. I have fifty shiny shillings here if ye can fix this bastion in two days. I have a strange feeling laddie that we might be needing it ...'