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 ...'

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Crossings of the Strudel!

Shocked by the ease with which the Nabstrian army had penetrated Imperial Fenwick's northern frontier (and also by the salaciously indiscriminate use of the word 'penetrate'), Emperor George orders his borders to be strengthened. To the north, the Duchy of Bahnsee-Kassel is now occupied by Nabstria. This frontier is covered by the citadel of Pippin Fort.To the north east only the river Strudel provides a barrier against further incursions by the forces of the Spasmodic Sanction. Keen to prevent another invasion, the Emperor appoints Colonel Victor von Shroedinger-Skatt as Captain-Governor of Pippin Fort and its locale with responsibility for staving off any more attacks. Assessing the situation, the captain concludes that a new set of static defences are required to cover likely enemy invasion routes. Each of the three possible crossing points into Fenwick across the River Strudel (two fords and a bridge) must be covered by artillery forts. Schroedinger employs the services of the Scottish-French engineer, Major Dougal Entendre. Under Major Entendre, earth forts take shape at each of these key points. The bastions are each named after one of Schroedinger-Skatts' mistresses, and are called respectively: Gertrude, Gertrude, and Gertrude (the captain isn't very successful with women).

'Goodness - look what I've sneezed into my kerchief.'
(Left) Major Entendre has been visiting the sites of the new fortifications. Though his creations are intended only to be earthworks, still he thinks that they can be made strong enough to resist a significant enemy attack. Especially since, on the evidence of the battle at Wimintzhauer, Nabstrian attacks seem in the assault to have all the vigour of a slightly annoyed newt with a lettuce and very low self-esteem. Pondering his designs, Entendre's concentration is broken by the arrival of Captain-Governor Schroedinger-Skatt.
'Dammit, Herr Scot,' says the captain, scowling, 'These works need to be completed by nightfall!'
Entendre protests, 'The wheelbarrows cannae take it, captain!'
'What?' says Schroedinger, mystified by the major's accent, 'Speak in German!'
'Der wheelbarrows cannae take it, captain!' ennunciates Entendre.
'That is not my concern' says the Captain-Governor. 'You have made little or no progress since last I rode here!'
'But,' says Entendre mystified, 'Yon laddies just telt me that the first bastion is complete!' With a hasty salute he rushes up the hill to where construction is under way ....

'What', says Entendre to the assembled workmen, 'is this?'
'It's a bastion, sir,' says one of them cheerily, 'and done to your exact specifications.'
'Men, we need to talk about that concept that some call "scale"'
(Right) The engineer stares at the works. 'This is it. This is what you laddies call a bastion. What, do ye hope to trip the enemy? I'm just asking because, yer know, I thought that bastions existed to provide comprehensive protection to defending infantry and artillery. What is this wall designed to protect? Do ye know something that I don't? Does our army have very delicate ankles? Or is this just here as a parking rack for the cannons?'
One of men waves a scrap of paper. 'But sir - we have followed your instructions to the letter!'
Entendre nods slowly. 'So, to be clear then, my fine loon: yer saying that this is a twenty foot high wall with six foot stakes on the outside?'
'Twenty foot?' says one of the workmen, looking first a little confused, and then evincing the gradual increase in worry that might come from putting one's hand in one's britches in search of a kerchief and pulling out instead something black, iron and round, with the words 'bomb - on no account take out of pocket' etched on the side.
'Oh aye,' says the engineer. 'I'm just asking because, unless we've all grown substantially taller in the last few hours I can't help noticing that I can see considerably more of the world through the wall of this twenty foot high bastion that I had originally anticipated.'
'Twenty foot?' says a workman.
Entendre nods 'Ye keep saying that, and yet, surprisingly, the bastion doesn't get any higher. Ye see here on the plan? That little stroke there denotes a foot?'
'Well,' say the workmen to one another, 'there's a thing. Well, well, well, well, well. Well.'

'So,' says Entendre slowly to the workmen, reading the blank looks on their faces 'ye dinna actually know the difference between feet and inches.'
The nearest fellow shrugs, shamefacedly. 'I tried to tell you sir, but you ordered me not to.'
'What?' says Entendre, confused.
'Well. I came over and asked what the symbol meant and you told me "Don't tell me that you don't know what that means?", so ... I didn't.'
The major holds his head in his hands. 'Feet are much bigger, ye bonehead, something yill soon begin to appreciate when I shove my foot a good number of inches up yer fundament!'
The major sits on the grass and groans. 'This is just marvellous. Bloody marvellous. When yon Nabstrians arrive the only hope we'll have is that they think that this fort is just very, very far away.'
The workmen nod. 'Weeeeeeeell, well, well. A foot. So, not really an inch then?'
The major shakes his head 'No, not rilly. It's supposed to be twenty feet high. It's about two feet.'
'But it's well made, sir. Twenty feet, sir, or two feet - what's the difference?'
Entendre snorts 'I think you'll discover some of the subtle differences, laddie, when I take a twenty foot pole and shove it right up your ...
'Well now, sir,' interjects one of the men quickly, 'couldn't we just give the illusion of much larger defences? I could rustle up a few of the local children to garrison it.' He looks at the defences. 'Small ones. Or dwarves.'
The others nod vigorously, 'Oooh yes, dwarves. Really short ones to make the bastion look even bigger.'
Entendre sighs. 'Rilly. Short. Dwarves.'
'Yes sir.'
'That's all yev got,' says the Scot.
The men nod, 'They could, you know, hunch a bit.'
'Aye,' says Entendre with false enthusiasm, 'and while we're at it, why don't I order a good number of them to be garrisoned up yer ar..'

'Major?' enquires Schroedinger, riding up. The Captain-Governor stares at the bastion as the men salute. 'Major, there's still something not quite right about this bastion.' He notices now that Entendre is sitting disconsolately on the grass. 'Herr Scot - are you altogether alright?'
Entendre stands. 'Captain, I am a graduate with honours of the great French engineering school, the L'Ecole Royale du Genie de Mezieres. I have years of experience. And yet, thanks to these pancake heads, here I stand with a bastion that couldn't look less like a bastion if we tied balloons to it and hung up a sign saying "This is not a bastion." And in order to remedy the situation I must rely on the efforts of a workforce whose keen suggestion for an innovative fix is Rilly. Short. Dwarves.'
'It might succeed in lulling the enemy into a false sense of security,' says one of the men. 'You know - lure them up the hill.'
Entendre nods. 'Lure them up. Well, yes, if any of their army are small children on ponies then I'm sure that the lure of the Vauban showjumping course that yev all created for them might be indescribably tempting. Why don't we just go the whole hog and add a cake stall? There's a reason why Vauban didnae build walls two feet high and that's because in the great game of war, walls two feet high are about as much use in a fight as a... a... garrison of rilly short dwarves.'

Schroedinger cuts short the Scot's lamentations. 'What else will you need to complete this bastion by this evening?'
Entendre sighs. 'Och well, sir. More men and tools. And ..., ' he says eyeing the assembled workmen pointedly, 'some lard, a lantern, and the wriggliest dwarf that can be found.'
'A dwarf?' asks the captain. 'Does he need a beard?'
'No, no,' says Entendre, staring at the workmen. 'It's rilly not essential.'
The workmen begin to look uncomfortable. 'Men,' says the captain, 'you look unsettled.'
The men look at Entendre. One pipes up 'Because most of what this man says seems to involve things being put up our ar ..'
'You must finish here before night,' interjects the captain. He wheels his horse. 'I ride now to inspect the walls of Fort Pippin!'


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Meanwhile, in Nabstria!

The Pfanenstiel Hussars

Years have now passed in Mittelheim since the Cod War of 1757.  The inhabitants of Nabstria are now, alas, all too accustomed to the alarums and excursions of war.   Yet the cost in both blood and treasure, squeezed out of the long suffering peasantry, has not had its just recompense in the enlargement and enrichment of the Burggraviate.  Indeed, the people of Nabstria have suffered a long series of disappointments in the wars that have raged across Mittelheim.  Victories have been few, defeats many.  The famous victory of Nottelbad in June 1757 now seems a faded, almost ancient, memory.  That glorious victory against the hated Rotenburgers led to the temporary recovery of Nottelbad, with its rococo duck pond celebrated in Nabstrian memory, song, story and poem.  Yet that golden-age was short-lived even by Nabstrian standards.  Soon, the tides of war had turned against Nabstria and Nottelbad fell into Fenwickian hands.  Even worse, Nottelbad was then traded like a trinket as, at the Peace of Zachsen, it became the Gelderland client state of the Duchy of Bahnsee-Kassell. Long has Nottelbad had to suffer under the harsh yoke of foreign rule and its recovery now seems impossible.  Like a young Nabstrian plough boy with a face full of pimples sighing over a woodcut of the beautiful Nora Hindquarters, it remains an unattainable dream.

The Famed Nottelbad duck pond, now smarting under the Fenwickian heel…
Yet, if one frequents the taverns and inns of Nabstria, one may well happen to meet a veteran or two of the Burggrave’s wars, sitting by the fire in a threadbare uniform and perhaps missing a limb or two.  They, when people will listen, will tell the story of the great victory of Nottelbad over the hated Rotenburgers.  Of how General von Rumpfler, in his prime, came up with a battle plan so cunning that it actually worked.  How Michael von Pfanenstiel led the noble cavalry of Nabstria on a desperate career around the Rotenburg lines.  They will tell of Paul, Duke of Clarkeshire in the days when he still wore a silly hat, acting as a rallying point for the whole army.  And of how the incompetent Rotenberg buffoons were discomfited, disorganised and soundly beaten.  Those veterans, now aged and shrunken by wounds, poverty and disappointment, will raise themselves up, and with shining eyes, tell of Michael von Pfanenstiel, his inspiration, his leadership and his heroic death on the battlefield.

Nabstrian veterans remembering past glories…

But those days are surely gone and all that remains to remind the people of Nabstria of such glories are some faded woodcuts of Nottelbad as it used to be, when its Nabstrian ducks could swim freely in Nabstrian water and spread their wings under a Nabstrian sky.

Yet there is one for whom the Battle of Nottelbad remains a very real, living memory.  Lord Michael Hieronymus Wilhelm-Franz Igor Rudolph Edelina von Pfanenstiel remembers only too well when what remained of his father was brought home in a small but beautifully carved snuffbox.  He remembers the comfort of knowing his father died in the moment of victory and the horror and despair he felt when Nottelbad later fell to the enemy.

Michael von Pfanenstiel junior.

            Now come of age, Michael von Pfanenstiel is animated by a single thought: to honour his father’s memory and seek vengeance for his death.  While his mother encouraged him to take the normal path of a young Mittleheim noble and gain knowledge, experience, culture, and a nasty case of the pox by going on the Grand Tour, the young Michael would hear none of it.  He had one desire: to raise a regiment of hussars and take the field against Nabstria’s oppressors.

What Michael von Pfanenstiel should have been doing…

Von Pfanenstiel paid for recruiting posters to be placed all over Nabstria:


Perhaps not surprisingly, the men of Nabstria did not respond in an overly enthusiastic manner: too many men have now joined the army and not returned.  Yet, with the addition of most of the von Pfanenstiel estate workers who were ‘encouraged’ to join, the help of the old Nabstrian recruiting trick of a dress, a sergeant, and a bottle of beer, not to mention a few authentic Hungarians who got lost on their way to Saxony, the ranks of the regiment were quickly filled.
 And so, after spending much of his inheritance and the wealth of his estate on raising and equipping his regiment, von Pfanenstiel’s Hussars are now ready to take the field.  Yet these hussars are not gaily dressed in the bright, vivid colours of a run-of-the-mill hussar regiment.  No, these are ‘The Death’s Head Hussars’ garbed in sombre black to remind every man in the ranks of von Pfanenstiel and his death at Nottelbad.

The ‘Black’ Hussars of Nabstria
There is another person in Nabstria who has long remembered von Pfanenstiel’s sacrifice at Nottelbad.  The von Pfanenstiel family, with its large and productive estates has long been connected with the Burggrave and he is only too pleased to grant the young Michael the honour of parading his regiment before him.

The newly raised regiment parading before their Buggrave

Under the walls of Falkensteinburg, young Michael von Pfanenstiel parades his new regiment under the admiring eyes of Burggrave Falco.
‘Well done men!  Three Cheers for our Burggrave!  Hurrah!
Death to the enemies of Nabstria!
Death to the hated Rotenburgers!
Death!  Death! Death!’

…Shouts von Pfanenstiel.  The Burggrave is certainly pleased to have the reinforcement of a dashing regiment of Hussars but young Michael’s enthusiasm begins to grate.
‘Err, Michael, my dear young fellow, do you think you could shout a little quieter?  You might wake the Burggravina…’





Monday, 19 December 2016

Leipflute, the Final!


Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All on the Plains of Leipflute
Rode the twelve hundred.
“Forward, across the stream!
Charge for the flank!” he said.
Across the Plains of Leipflute
Rode the twelve hundred.

















II
Their enemy was undismayed
“Marvellous! The fools have strayed!”
Barry-Eylund thought he knew
"Rentall has blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the Stream of Death
Ride the twelve hundred.
The mad bastards."



III
Woods to right of them,
Table-edge to left of them,
Two streams in front of them
They panicked and chundered;
But 'Find the Way' twice they played
Across the stream twice they wade
And upon the enemy flank
Were the gallant twelve hundred.

IV
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All on the Plains of Leipflute
Rode the twelve hundred
'Look, there's an open flank!'
Forward, their rear to spank!'
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Flowed the twelve hundred.

















V
Foot to right of them,
Table-edge to the left of them,
Horse to the front of them,
Forward they thundered;
"Dammit their reserves are here
And line the stream, we're done I fear!"
Into the charge they went
The trembling twelve hundred



VI
Flashed all their buttocks bare,
Flashed in this sad affair
All turned to runners there,
Retreating in chaos, while
All the world wondered.
Wreathed in the musket smoke
Right in the stream they broke;
Vulgarian horsemen
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they fell back, but not
Not the twelve hundred.

VII
Boos to right of them,
Jeers to left of them,
Enemy behind them
While Rentall wondered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They hadn't fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of twelve hundred.
Which was about 1,198 of them.

VIII
When can their glory fade?
'About now' their general said
All Vulgaria wondered
What difference it made
How they had badly strayed
Ignoble twelve hundred!


'Well, dish ish very dishappointing,' says Rentall ruefully, watching as Tripodi's cavalry fall back from the left flank. As the Vulgarian horse retreat, there is more bad news as the Lord Grand Prior's Regiment breaks under enemy artillery fire. General van Rentall though is an experienced soldier and refuses to panic. The Bachscuttelers are badly positioned for a meaningful counter-attack, and conditions are propitious for a measured withdrawal from the battle. Rentall's system of depot battalions will easily make good the losses in his army, and some of his infantry seem to have learned quite a lot just by watching the fighting. One fly in the ointment is that Giovanni di Tripodi decides that a command position in the Vulgarian army is less rewarding than he had hoped; and so he quits, citing irreconcilable differences with everyone in the Voivodate's military.
Rentall rides to his infantry as the retreat is sounded: he shouts encouragingly -  'Fear not, my brave men: for in dis firsht battle you have acquitted yourshelves well!'
The troops look initially confused, some saying: 'There has certainly been a battle; but no one has fitted any shelves.'
Luckily, Baron Tostov comes to the rescue, and as the Bachscuttlers watch the Vulgarian army march from Leipflute they can hear them shouting a defiant 'Gottle of geer! Gottle of geer!'


Monday, 12 December 2016

Leipflute, the Second!

'We're being overwhelmed!' cries Captain von Schnitzelhund of the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel's von Schnitzelhund irregulars. 'They're everywhere, my lord Barry-Eylund: on our flanks; to our rear!'
General Barry-Eylund stares across the battlefield towards the Vulgarian forces and waves dismissively at the captain. 'Von Schnitzelhund, your struggles in the woods against the squirrels are the least of our worries.'
The captain, agitated, persists: 'But, sir, we need reinforcements - we cannot otherwise continue to hold the wood!'
General Barry-Eylund points to the left: 'Go back to your troops, captain, and obey your orders: remember - death before dishonour!'
Von Schntizelhund's shoulders sag: 'Yes sir. Death. Dishonour.' He trudges westwards back to the woods and the garrison of two irregular regiments.
Major Bohner watches him disappear. 'Shall I prepare to reinforce the woods, sir?'
'Dammit no!' replies the general. 'I shall reinforce that wing only under very specific conditions.'
Bohner nods. 'These being, my lord?'
'Well,' replies Barry-Eylund, 'the first requirement would be a heavy frost in Hell.'
'Ah. I see sir,' says the major.
'Indeed, Bohner. Let me be quite specific. I care not if my light troops are overwhelmed. I care not, frankly, if they are overwhelmed; shot; cut heavily with the sabres of some very angry and inventive hussars; and then captured by some squirrels who get medieval on their nuts.'
'Yes, sir; I see sir.'
'Bohner, there are two reasons for my lack of concern. First, any attack on those light troops by the enemy would likely have as its purpose the drawing out of my reserves. The enemy regular cavalry are on the other flank and it is that flank upon which the main enemy strike is likely to fall. Second, and here I must confess to a measure of unprofessionalism, I just don't like them.'
Bohner nods slowly. 'I see sir. They are indeed difficult to love, it is true.'
'Bohner, I've had attacks of piles that I'd miss less than those irregulars.'
'Well, general, I'm sure they'd be buoyed up by the confidence that you have in them.'
Barry-Eylund shakes his head. 'Three campaigns I've dragged those floppy ne'er do wells around. And thus far their main successes have comprised the vigorous rummaging in ladies undergarments.'
The major nods. 'They are indeed, my lord, the very embodiment of Bachscuttel military heroism.'
Suddenly, drums and trumpets sound in the Vulgarian lines. Movement commences amongst the Vulgarian irregulars.
Barry-Eylund scans the distance with his telescope.
'Here they come,' murmurs Bohner ...


(Above) Eschewing a frontal advance by his regular infantry, the Vulgarian commander, General Herz van Rentall, determines instead upon a thrust to his right by his combined force of irregular foot and horse with the aim of clearing the woods of Bachscuttel's irregulars. Van Rentall himself advances with his light troops to ensure that they remain in fullest command. The Vulgarian light troops are commanded by two more Dutch mercenaries: a Captain Kleinvarken; and a Colonel Kurtz. Both Kleinvarken and Kurtz are very experienced officers having fought for many years in the jungles of Surinam. Leading repeated expeditions into the dark hinterlands of 'Nam, both have been involved in brutal fighting against the Marrons - cunning tribes composed of escaped slaves. Kurtz, however, has suffered particularly. Having got lost on one expedition somewhere in the heart of darkness, Kurtz was found later in the deep jungle having lost his troops, his hair, and his britches; and having acquired instead tattoos, nihilistic philosophy, and a tribe who worshipped him as a God. Kleinvarken was impressed, since Kurtz had only been missing for twenty minutes.

The Vulgarian irregular infantry advance directly upon the woods.Van Rentall, however, orders Kleinvarken to instruct Kurtz to swing the hussars to the right of the woods and to bring them thence upon the flank of the nearest Bachscuttel unit. The captain rides reluctantly towards Kurtz. There are two things in his military life that make Kleinvarken afraid: and both are Colonel Kurtz. One side of the colonel is deeply melancholic; prone to dark, blood-soaked introspection. The other side is much less jolly and manifests when he gets a bit depressed. When this side looks into the abyss; the abyss makes feeble excuses and shuffles off terrified. Indeed, there was something about Colonel Kurtz that disturbed even his Vulgarian soldiers: his grim silence, perhaps; the thousand yard stare; his habit of getting wildly drunk, and very naked, and of bashing his head against the side of buildings, and howling 'Death! Death! Death is coming for us all!' Ironically, this last comment was slightly less true for Kurtz than for others. Death, who had almost met Kurtz several times in Surinam, had become rather unnerved by the gloomy Dutchman and therefore turned out to be much less willing than he ought to have been actually to gather him in. This might have explained Kurtz's survival in face of some very close calls: of the seventeen musket armed Marrons who, when firing at him all simultaneously missed and instead shot one another; of the hatchet blow to Kurtz's face that bounced off one of his gold teeth; and the grand piano that fell on him from a considerable height just as he fell into a hole that was half an inch higher than he was tall.

Kleinvarken reaches the colonel. Kurtz turns slowly and says 'The horror! The horror!'
The captain grimaces - the colonel's mood doesn't seem especially sunny. 'Just to check colonel; is that horror, or Horace?'
'Horror,' replies Kurtz.
'Righto sir. But sir,' says Kleinvarken  trying to re-direct the colonel from his dark place,  'In addition, there are also butterflies, sir, and lovely blue skies.' He waves expansively towards the woods.
'Butterflies,' mutters Kurtz. 'Blue skies ...'
'Yes, yes,' says Kleinvarken encouragingly.
' ... and horror', murmurs Kurtz.

(Below) Van Rentall's plan seems to work. In the woods, Captain von Schnitzelhund directs the Palatinate's irregulars towards the enemy to their front. Suddenly, however, he hears a strange drumming sound. Horses! Curses! The captain now realises suddenly that the wily Vulgarians have flanked his troops.


Schnitzelhund climbs quickly onto a tree stump. Above the sound of musketry, he bellows 'This is your captain speaking! You are about to experience a certain amount of turbulence occasioned by the arrival on our flank of an enemy cavalry charge. Please adopt the brace position. If we need to move towards the exits from this wood, then do so in an orderly fashion, first removing any sharp objects from your body, such as enemy sabres or bayonets!' Suddenly, there is a wild crashing sound and gutteral Vulgarian war shouts - the Bachscuttlers are engulfed by the charging hussars! Despite Barry-Eylund's  fears, however, the Bachscuttel irregulars put up quite a fight. The hussars swirl around the woods doing great execution, but Schnitzelhund holds on, and the hussars withdraw to regroup. To the front, the Vulgarian troops are driven back!

(Below) As van Rentall concentrates on the fight in the woods, Barry-Eylund uses the efforts freed up by not giving a hoot about his irregulars to bombard the Vulgarian line. Despite its usual lamentable accuracy, over time one at least of the Vulgarian infantry regiments is left in considerable disorder.


(Above, at the bottom) As the Vulgarians make slow ground in the woods, Barry-Eylund finally is forced to pay attention to events there. He wheels his leftmost regiment to cover his flank. Smug bastard that he is, the general has made a teeny miscalculation, because the flank of this regiment is exposed now to enfilade fire from the Vulgarian artillery. As the fight in the wood pauses, van Rentall orders his artillery to exploit this mistake. The regiment takes some nasty hits before, cursing his weak grasp of geometry, Barry-Eylund is forced to retire the regiment slightly so that it is no longer exposed. This fiddling about over, the Vulgarian assault on the woods is renewed!


In the midst of the fighting in the woods, Kurtz stares around at the death and blood being ladled out by the continuing combat. He turns to the captain:  'I have seen horrors that you have not seen. Kleinvarken.'
'That's true sir; but then I did spend most of the first two years in Surinam with my eyes closed.'
Kurtz nods. 'That does explain why your shooting was quite random. And there was such a lot of it. The locals were wild.'
'Wild, sir?' replies Kleinvarken, 'they were bloody livid, what with us burning their villages and all.'

(Below) Finally, another charge by the Vulgarian hussars breaks one unit of the Bachscuttel irregulars. Van Rentall begins to marshal his light horsemen to exploit the gap in Barry-Eylund's flank. Barry-Eylund, however, has already realised the threat. Recognising that it is best not to have two regiments of enemy hussars buggering about in his rear areas, he orders one of his cavalry regiments from column into line and then seals the gap. However, having paid less attention than he might at the commencement of the battle to the positioning of his cavalry, the task of sealing this flank falls to his elite cuirassiers, troops that could probably find better employment: such as, say, if the enemy were just about to embark upon a major cavalry assault upon the other wing ....


With one regiment of Bachscuttel irregulars still in the woods, and with no prospect now of a breakthrough on this flank, Rentall quits the irregulars and rides post-haste to the other wing of his army. 'Now, Tripodi!' he shouts 'Charge with our cavalry! Crush da enemy!'

As the fighting on this part of the battlefield peters out, Colonel Kurtz turns to Kleinvarken again. 'I have seen horrors.'
'This is bad,' thinks the captain - Kurtz is heading again to his dark place.
'Well, yes sir; but there is some splendid scenery. And some lovely sunsets.'
'Yes, Kleinvarken: sunsets; and scenery; but also horrors. I've seen horrors .... horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer.'
'Well, sir,' the captain replies, 'I don't think I used the word "murderer" sir: I think that I just pointed out that you might be a bit of a "glass half empty" fellow, sir.'
Kurtz continues: 'You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that ...'
'Well,' says Kleinvarken. 'I think I used the word "rest" rather than "kill" but ...'
'But you have no right to judge me. It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means.'
'Words? No sir: but you did do those mimes, sir; they were quite, er, graphic.'
'Horror, Kleinvarken ... Horror has a face...'
'And some appendages, sir, if I remember your mime: that fall off a lot.'
'And you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends.'
'But sir, wouldn't you just rather let them be friends with someone else, sir? Or perhaps only be the sorts of friends that you see on birthdays or at Christmas?'
Kurtz shakes his head. 'You have to have men who are moral ... and at the same time who are able to utilise their primordial instincts to kill without feeling ... with passion ... without judgement. Without judgement! Because it's judgement that defeats us!'
'Troops without judgement, sir?' Kleinvarken watches the von Schnitzelhund irregulars as they rout away rapidly. 'Well, Bachscuttel seems to have plenty of those.'

On the other flank, trumpets can be heard blowing. Four regiments of Vulgarian cavalry began to canter forwards. Through his telescope, Barry-Eylund sees the movement of the enemy horse and snorts loudly:
'Pah! There's no possible way that they can get themselves over that stream and onto our flank!'