Baron Woffeltop has pushed Choldwig hard for this meeting, if 'pushed hard' is the right phrase for a series of gentle suggestions in which the harshest words include 'if it would please you, my lord'. Choldwig III is a man whose ambitions are as vast as his loincloth is skimpy, and one has to handle him with care (or not at all, if he has been oiled). The landgrave takes his prerogatives seriously, being a firm believer in the old adage that 'power corrupts, and absolute power is great fun.' But for Woffeltop and his compatriots it is clear that Rotenburg has a moment of opportunity, and Choldwig must be encouraged to realise this. Latest reports indicate that the army of the Margravate of Badwurst-Wurstburp has been terribly defeated by Rotenburg's Vulgarian allies. They have retreated, and are now in eastern Gelderland licking their wounds (an activity which seems, even by the standards of the time, rather unhygienic.) Rotenburg must make the most of this opportunity and attack the weakened Wurstburpers forthwith! But only Choldwig can order this.
'An evening at the opera, my lord?' asks Woffeltop, trying to move things along.
'Ah yes', replies Choldwig. 'I'm going out this evening with Lady Eugenie'.
'Lady Eugenie?' asks Count von Haut.
'Yes, yes: I asked her out again.'
'I thought that she refused, my lord.'
'That was last week. She called me a pimply bone-headed buttock.'
'Didn't she also kick you heartily in your, ah, ... that it to say ... in your illustrious crotch?'
'Yes, she gave me quite a punt,' admits Choldwig.
'So, she changed her mind yesterday and agreed to accompany you?'
'No, no. She called me a buttock-headed bony pimple and then punched me vigorously in my crown jewels.'
'Well,' says Woffeltop, 'I'd count that as progress.'
'I hope so, I hope so,' replies Choldwig. 'I don't think my heart can take any more rejection. Or my gonads, for that matter.'
'Excellent!' says Choldwig finally, admiring himself. He has spent quite some time preparing for the evening, a process that has required more than the usual quantity of dabbing, primping, preening, painting, gluing, hammering, and sawing. The tailor begins to clean a selection of shoes.
'So', says Choldwig finally. 'These matters of state ...'
'Indeed', says Poppenzeitz. 'We believe that recent events have created an opportunity for our forces in this war.' A clicking sound emanates from under the Graf's wig. Thanks to a terrible accident resulting from a poorly conceived practical joke that comprised a loaded cannon and the line 'this cannon barrel is really big: why don't you stick your head down it and look', Poppenzeitz was once the recipient of a terrible head wound. Graf Theodor's life was saved only by the efforts of the famous engineer Wolfgang von Kempelen, the world's foremost expert in cutting-edge clockwork technology. Much of what is now under the Graf's rather extensive wig is now machine. The upsides of this include a remarkable capacity for logical analysis, and great powers of concentration; the downsides include a constant and rather disquieting whirring sound that emanates from under his wig and also the fact that, since he has a clockwork brain, Graf Theodor is rather easy to wind up.
'The Wurstburpers have been badly defeated', continues Graf Theodor. 'They are vulnerable to an attack from our army if you are willing, my lord, to order it forth.'
'Badly defeated, you say?' says Choldwig, admiring the selection of shoes.
'Oh yes, sir', says Woffeltop. 'The Wurstburp army has really been given a most vigorous whacking.'
Choldwig considers this. 'Hmmm. But I was under the impression that our troops were in a poor way after our defeat at the hands of the poltroons of Nabstria.'
'Yes, my lord,' replies Woffeltop. 'But the Wursburpers are in an even worst state than we are. Besides which, our forces have been augmented. We have only recently acquired a goodly quantity of chasseurs britanniques.'
'Excellent,' says Choldwig. 'I'm really quite peckish.'
'No, sir, no: that would be chicken chasseur. This is different. We have managed to recruit a new regiment comprised of English prisoners of war.'
'Are we at war with England?' says the landgrave, looking confused.
'No,' admits Woffeltop. 'We aren't - but they still keep surrendering to us anyway. They tend to be quite drunk. And rather inexperienced at the moment.'
Choldwig nods. 'I understand. So - when can I eat them?'
'No, my lord,' replies Woffeltop patiently. 'The chasseurs are part of your new regiment: the Legion Britannique; whereas chicken chasseur is a recipe. I can see how the confusion could arise: one comprises of wine-marinated chickens, and the other is a delicious stew.
|Rotenburg conscripts: cheaper than manure and just as likely |
to end up fertilising the ground.
Woffeltop paces the room. 'This new regiment, my lord, has been raised by one of your most loyal admirers, the Lady Allison.'
'The Lady Allison?' asks Choldwig with interest. 'Does she like opera?'
'I cannot say, my lord.'
'How hard can she kick?'
'Again, my lord, I cannot say. But what I can say is that now is the time for action! Order forwards your army! Let us fall upon the sheep of Wurstburp like a great quantity of something that sheep don't like! The day will be ours! The fortunes of this war will be reversed! The victory will be all yours, my lord! A victory that will make you universally admired! A victory, my lord, that will render you irresistible to anyone in a petticoat!'
'Well hurrah to that!' cries Choldwig, leaping up. 'Yes, let us strike now! To the colours! Rouse the men! Onwards to victory!' He quaffs from a nearby cup. 'Gah!' he cries, wincing. 'Blkah! Hnnurh!' His body crumples. 'Blee! Blee! Flaargh!' He keels over.
'My lord! My lord!' cry his assembled advisors.
'I'm alright, I'm alright!' says Choldwig, pulling himself to his feet. 'That leech brandy,' he says looking at the cup. 'It's certainly improving.'
Woffeltop nods. 'That was shoe polish, my lord.'