Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Dash and Flab!

As several groups of Burberry pirates skirmish with Baron Hunchmausen's main line of troops, others turn their attention to their next target: 'a barn, the burning of'. Sadly for the barn, these fellows turn out to have a not inconsiderable skill in starting fires, having spent quite a lot time on their forays ashore practising upon those who showed a reluctance to 'turn Turk'. (Below) Before one can say 'Recant infidel, or it's curtains for you: curtains that we shall roll around you and set on fire', the pirate lads have soon got a cheery blaze underway.

On the other side of the field of battle, near the bridge, the musketry duel between the Rotenburg light troops and their Burberry adversaries descends into a desultory exchange of long-range fire, with no great advantage to either side. As casualties mount, the light troops' conversation turns to topics of a reflective and philosophical nature.
'What about Captain Kidd? He must surely have been a terrifying paragon of pirateness', says one.
'What's frightening about a pirate who's a toddler? How small would his wooden leg have to be?', replies another.
'His name was "Kidd": I don't think that he was actually a child. I don't think that he was all "yo-ho-ho and bottle of warm milk". In any case, even if he were - do you have a toddler?'
'No. I have not yet been blessed with legitimate progeny'.
'Then believe me when I say that a toddler, pirate or otherwise, is a terrifying experience - sleeplessness; poverty; projectile explosions of bodily matter from both ends. If one of them had indeed put on a hat and eye-patch, and commenced to sail the Seven Seas, I for one would move very far inland'.

The main battlefield clash continues to develop. Sniping from the the cover of the hedgerows, the Burberry fire begins to take a toll upon their adversaries. Gaps appear in the baron's infantry line, and the Rotenburg troops are forced to retire a short distance in order to rally and re-group. (Below) Hunchmausen takes the opportunity to push his third company into the fray, adding it to the left of his formation.

(Above) More volleys are exchanged. Alas, the skirmishing pirates are able to derive considerable protection from their dispersed formation and their ability to utilise both the vagaries of the terrain and of Hunchmausen himself. 
Emir Rhoddri Pasha nods with satisfaction as the combat begins to turn his way. Binky, his monkey, begins to chatter vigorously and to hop up and down. He seems to be pointing. Rhoddri considers this, and then turns to his second in command, Kuchuk Huseyin.
'Hmm - I think I'm beginning to get the hang of Binky's speech. I suspect now that he is advising us to maintain the initiative by pushing forward our reserves against the enemy's centre of gravity'.
'No, my lord', replies Huseyin, 'I think that this time he just wants a banana'.

(Below) The Rotenburg centre company, having lost half its number, and having accumulated considerable shock and disruption, retires. This breaks the line, and the Rotenberg musketeers must now fight as three separate clumps; a "clump" being an arrangement not actually found in Mittelheim drill-books but to which their soldiery have a curious affinity. 

(Below) The baron tries vainly to rally his men, but to no avail. He has with him only a single lieutenant to help in his efforts to restore order.
'Dammit, sir!' cries the baron to the subaltern, 'my staff is far too small!'
The lieutenant nods. 'I had heard as much, my lord: but I'm not sure that such revelations are strictly relevant in this moment of crisis'.
What?' cries Hunchmausen, momentarily confused. 'Oh, damn your eyes, sir - I do not mean my staff; I mean my staff!' He gestures at the subaltern. 'Anyway' he adds later in a moment of fluster, 'what have you heard about my ... staff'.
'Oooh ... nothing , sir. Nothing of any importance. Nothing provable, or that involved a reliable sense of scale. After all, the phrase "piddlingly small" is such a vague term'.
More enemy fire is laid against the left-most Rotenburg company. The effect is telling. Like seeing Landgrave Choldwig without his clothes on, it's not the physical damage which is so bad, but rather the resultant psychological blow, reflected in shock, disorder, and disorientation. The Rotenburg battle line can take no more.

With much wailing, many desperate cries, and also some enthusiastic cheers, the Rotenburg troops fall back from the field of battle. (Above, right) Three local peasants look on from a point near the crossroads. They regard the fleeing soldiers with equanimity. They don't seem as terrified of the approaching pirates as perhaps the landgrave of Rotenburg might hope loyal subjects should be. Their lack of fear is further indicated by the small valise and other luggage that they seem to have with them, and their cries to the pirates of 'Cooeee! Over her! We're over here!'

As he watches the frenetic dash from the field by his Rotenburg adversaries, emir Rhoddri grunts with satisfaction. 'Excellent, Huseyin, my superbly organised subordinate. Victory is hours! We can sweep up our plunder at our leisure, and still have time for a leisurely dinner'. The emir looks down at his waist and then frowns. 'But do you think I'm putting on weight?'
Huseyin, avoiding Binky's rhubarb, considers this question. 'Only in a good way, my lord', he replies after a moment.  'You aren't so much getting fatter as simply becoming more noticeably successful'.
Rhoddri nods. 'Excellent, excellent. I'm a bit peckish - break out the cakes, and bring me another large slice of success!'

As events on the coast of Rotenburg begin to resolve themselves, we must now turn, dear reader, to weighty considerations relating to major field battles. On this subject, the armies of Wurstburp and Fenwick are about to provide us with yet another lesson in the considerable difference between military theory and military practice ....

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Crash and Stab!

(Below) Burberry pirates man-handle the fluffy goats and, in a few moments, the livestock are robustly whisked off. This is, uncharacteristically, not quite as rude as it might sound, and simply involves the men leading their four-legged charges to the rear of the field. Soon Kucuk Huseyin is able to tick off the first item on his plundering shopping list. 

(Below) The baron has ordered his infantry into line. Not for the first time, though, Hunchmausen struggles to fit everything in. There is not space for his whole line to deploy, so only two companies can make up the firing line. The third company begins a wider movement around the flank.
'Excellent!' exclaims the baron out loud, 'confronting enemy irregular skirmishers in cover with a close line of my own troops in the open: I can't see any problem with that approach at all. We shall soon crash through their line, and then, perhaps set about them with the stab of bayonet!'
'There are, sir, some issues that do leap to my mind', says one of his officers. 'I look at our situation and words such as "Braddock" and "Monongahela" spring to the fore'.
'"Haddock"? "Prolonged Inhaler"? What the devil sort of advice is that?' retorts the baron angrily.
'No, my lord', replies the officer hastily, 'I was merely drawing the sorts of parallels that a casual observer might also draw, between our own situation and that that led to the crushing defeat inflicted by some very angry locals a few years ago upon an English general named Braddock, at a place named Monongahela in North America. It is that that leapt to my mind, and makes me wonder: is there perhaps an alternative plan that might make our troops less vulnerable?'
'Certainly not"' says Hunchmausen. 'Stop your mental leaps, young sir. Take your imagination, give it a soothing beverage, and send it straight to bed. We shall fight this battle in the proper way: lines; geometry; the mindless performance of drill. This is the eighteenth century, sir - not the Dark Ages'.

The baron pauses, before continuing, cautiously: 'I'm right in my history, though, aren't I - this isn't the Dark Ages?'
The officer raises one eyebrow. 'No sir - at least, not in the proper sense. The Dark Ages would be that period of the early middle ages; we, on the other hand, live the period of the Enlightenment'.
The baron nods. 'Excellent!'
'Although', continues the officer, 'I can''t help feeling that Mittelheim, if it isn't strictly in the Dark Ages, is certainly somewhere quite shady; and also, that if this is the Enlightenment, then in Rotenburg someone has probably drawn some very heavy curtains'.

(Below) In the meantime, the Rotenburg light troops off-road and head briskly towards the bridge over the River Zwei. But there is now something of a race on: in the distance, we can see more pirates heading towards this flank of the battle. This being Mittelheim, though, it's not a very good or exciting race. It's certainly not analogous to any remotely engrossing horse race; instead, one should perhaps imagine the competitive struggle for ground exhibited by elderly, arthritic hedgehogs, half-blind and fully off their heads on egg nog.

The Rotenburg light troops spot their advancing pirate adversaries!
'Pirates', cries one, 'I can see pirates!'
'Oooh!' says a second, 'Perhaps it would be correct to add an "ahoy" - you know, to get the right atmosphere'.
'Pirates ahoy!' says the first, delightedly. 'I must say - they don't look very dangerous'.
The second considers this. 'They must surely be quite dangerous. Pirates have a reputation. I mean - Blackbeard, he was reputedly quite tough'.
'What's frightening about having a black beard? Was it terrifyingly curly? Perhaps it looked like something frightening - like a dire-wolf; or a hamster'.
'Hmmm, I think that his black beard was just an obvious identifying feature - to distinguish himself from other terrifying pirates who - you know, didn't have a beard that was black. I'm sure that he actually did a lot things that were frightening - er, plundering, killing, cutting off limbs, not using cutlery, that sort of thing'.
'He doesn't sound so bad. Now, Daniel Montbars - there was a fellow: "Montbars the Exterminator" he was called'.
'Perhaps it was ironic'.
'Yes - you know, like "Little John", who was actually very big. Perhaps Montbars the Exterminator was actually an excessively jovial pacifist. Who collected soft toys'.
'I'm not convinced. By all accounts he tortured one Spanish prisoner by gutting him, tying one end of his intestines to a log, and then forcing him to dance'.
'So he liked dancing?'
'He forced the man to dance by beating him on his arse with a burning log'.
'Well, you have to admire the man's motivational skills'.

(Above) The light troops line the wall adjacent to the merchant's house. But the position is an awkward one for delivering fire against the advancing enemy pirates. Whilst the Rotenburg troops have the benefit of cover, their adversaries are largely obscured by a small orchard. To the left, and just out of shot of this woodcut, another group of pirates is firing at longer range against the light troops. Thanks to the angles, they are able to mass more fire against the Rotenburgers than the Rotenburgers effectively can reply with. Of course, there are quite a lot of other things that Rotenburg troops cannot effectively reply to: questions about who their fathers are, for example; or any tricky questions that require working with numbers higher than the count of their fingers. But still: as long as the baron's line of regulars can quickly dispatch their skirmishing adversaries, things should be fine. Oh dear ...

Monday, 28 January 2019

Splash and Nab!

Emir Rhoddri's attack now begins to develop a little more momentum. The lead group of pirates has resolved the tangled metaphysical problem of how one might as a pirate cross a stream. Concluding that, though they don't have a vessel, there must be other ways of crossing bodies of water, the pirates first attempt to shape a boat from leaves and twigs. This effort might be judged as not wholly successful; if, of course, we define 'not wholly successful' as something that is situated between 'not at all successful' and 'not successful at all'. Finally, though, they conclude that it might be possible to cross by the expedient of jumping; and, having splashed across it, begin to look forward to nabbing the sheep in the distance (below).

The emir meanwhile is dealing with other tricky difficulties.
'You can't have the trumpet, Binky', he says, scolding his monkey. 'Bad Binky!'
Binky eeks repeatedly.
The emir signs in exasperation. 'Because you keep sticking it into my ear, you little rascal!'
Binky eeks again.
'No, you can't the kittens either'. More furious eeking from Binky.
'Because you keep sticking them into my ear as well. You can keep the rhubarb - what harm can you do with that?'

On the road from the interior of Rotenburg, Baron Hunchmausen's troops finally begin to arrive. The poor march discipline of his troops is one reason for his tardy arrival. The other, however, are the numbers of civilians packing the roads: whole families and their possessions, fleeing the ravages of the Rotenburg government, hoping to surrender to the Burberry pirates and be taken to a life of relative indolence as a slave.
The baron surveys the field. In the distance can be espied garishly caparisoned vagabonds that must surely be the enemy!
Hunchmausen's mood is surprisingly jovial, given the frustrations of his recent march.
'Prepare the men, captain. I feel splendid; fated; dark witches have promised me a favourable future!'
The captain looks surprised. 'That sounds a bit ominous, sir. Aren't dark witches associated with evil: you know, black magic; the devil; poorly fitting shoes; under-cooked sausages, and such like?'
'Well, yes, usually that is so, captain. But these seemed a better quality of evil witch; and surprisingly empathetic for dark crones of satan. I have been promised that fortune will make me duke of Nussholz and Pomme-lesia'.
'Nussholz and Pomm-lesia?' replies the captain.
'So, you've heard of it?'
'Well yes - its ...'.
'Ah. And am I right in surmising that it is a nice place?'
'"Nice" -  well that depends upon what sort of things that you like, sir. Do you like bucolic countryside, warm sunshine, happy peasants?;
'Yes, indeed'.
'Well, sir, then don't go to Nussholz and Pomme-lesia. There are circles of Hell with a more relaxing ambience. My cousin says that it is a squalid flop-heap, peopled with the by-products of a crossing between toads and black puddings.'
'So', says the baron, refusing to be downhearted, 'it's a bit of a fixer-upper. I like a challenge. Which leads me to the battle in hand, of course. First, I must defeat the enemy!'

(Above) Restoring some semblance of order, the three companies of musketeers he deploys into an open column; although, given their very loose comprehension of drill, almost any formation adopted by his men was likely to look a lot like an open column. The baron determines that he will send these troops directly forwards down the road, column formations benefiting from road-bound movement. His light troops will also advance, before peeling off and crossing the Zwei at the bridge. After softening up his ill-disciplined adversaries with some stern volleys of musket-fire, he then intends to break the enemy with the sort of vigorous and decisive action that will see the enemy off - once he thinks of something.

(Above) Five of the eight groups of pirates are committed to crossing the Zwei. Emir Rhoddri hopes that his men, some of whom are skirmishers, will be able to take cover behind the hedge and the barn, and snipe at the enemy regulars.
'Binky, get the rhubarb out of my nose', says Emir Rhoddri, contemplating the evolving situation. Binky hops up and down on the emir's shoulder, chattering loudly.
Kuchuk Huseyin seems to listen carefully. 'But my lord - I think that Binky might have a point: I think that he is saying that we need to send the remainder of our force across to the other flank and cut off the approach from the bridge. We must sustain the initiative; succeed in getting inside our enemy's decision-cycle; triumph in the contest of relative OODA loops'.
'Is he really saying that?' asks Rhoddri, looking sceptically at his second in command. 'I mean to say - OODA loops?'
'A cycle of observing, orienting, deciding, and then acting, your lava-cakeness', replies Huseyin.
'Yes', says the emir, 'Yes. I think that my scepticism wasn't the result of not knowing what an OODA loop is, but rather that you think that my monkey is talking about one. How could that be?'
'There are some surprisingly accessible sources of schooling available in Algiers, my lord - and very reasonably priced'.
'Yes, Huseyin, my loquacious right-hand man. I think the point I'm trying to make is that I'm not sceptical about whether Binky can afford an education; rather, I am drawing attention to the fact that most might think that a rigorous regime of mathematics, history, geography, and philosophy might be wasted upon him because he is, in fact, a monkey'.
'But I've found that he has a refreshingly inquisitive mind, my lord'.
'You wouldn't think that it was so refreshing, Huseyin, if it was your nose he was trying to stick fruit up'. The emir frowns. 'And in any case, how is it that you know what he's saying? When did you learn to speak monkey?'
Huseyin looks defensive. 'I man should always have a hobby', he replies.

(Below) Meanwhile, the lead group of pirates approach the first of their chosen targets. These lads, it's fair to say, are rather inexperienced in life, being mainly goatherds from the Atlas mountains and street urchins of Salle and Tunis. Since joining the crew, of course, they have seen many things on their travels: things of wonder - the pillars of Hercules; the vast oceans of the Atlantic; the glacial volcano peaks of Iceland; the frost-rimed cleavages of the women of northern England; and they have also experienced many terrible things: thirst, hunger; the storms of the North Sea; English food; German comic opera. But they still remain at heart simple lads. Thanks to this inexperience, many still have only a hazy idea of what a 'sheep' might be. Being not entirely clear, they head for the nearest possible target - a flock of surprisingly woolly goats.

(Above, at the top) As the pirates hop over the hedge into the fields, and approach their nervous looking objectives, in the distance, serried ranks of grey-clad troops come into view. Finally, the Rotenburg infantry begin to move into a position to interrupt affairs.
'Form line! Form line!' cries the baron ...

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Smash and Grab!

In the environs of the crossings of the river Zwei, three groups of strangely attired visitors burst out of the local forest, and can be seen hurrying forwards (below). In the midst, we can see Emir Rhoddri Pasha, which means that these disreputable rogues must be none other than pirates from the Burberry Coast! The emir turns to his second-in-command, Kujuk Huseyin. 'Now then, Huseyin. Where the devil are the rest of our lads?'
Huseyin gestures behind. 'They are following closely, my lord, and should appear in our vicinity at some strangely random point in time determined by the characteristics of the scenario upon which we are about to embark, dread lord'.
'Excellent!' replies the emir. 'Excellent! So, what might be our objectives? It is probably wise for us to attach some purpose or other to this funsome frolic'.
'My thoughts exactly, lord. I've taken the liberty, your Welshcakeness, of drawing up a list of things that we should pinch from the locals'.
'A list of objectives?' asks Rhoddri pasha. 'I'm not sure I approve: as pirates, should we be constrained by the tight corset of lists? Shouldn't we instead let ourselves roam free in the, ah, negligee of free choice? Fewer defined objectives, and more, oooh, parrots, plunder, and, er ... rhubarb'.
'Rhubarb is exactly the problem, my lord', replies Huseyin. 'In our last application of such a philosophy to an exercise in plunder, we scored much less in terms of gold, jewels, and slaves that we should have'.
'What did we get?' asks the emir.
'Well, dread lord, rhubarb, obviously; ladies clothing, mainly in larger sizes; a garlic press; two kittens; and a trumpet'.
'Disappointing' admits the emir.
'Especially for the men, my lord. Who knew that kittens couldn't play trumpets? So, I have this time written down a list of objectives. The more we obtain, the more successful we will have been.'

'Excellent', replies Rhoddri. 'So what's on our shopping list then, Huseyin, my fine and forward thinking subordinate?'
Huseyin reads from a scrap of parchment. 'Some sheep'.
'Excellent, Huseyin'.
'A barn, the burning of'.
'Some haystacks.'
'Do we need needles?'
'Ha, ha, sir - very good. No: two haystacks, the burning of'.
'Some barrels'.
'Oh yes'.
'Some more barrels, from a different place'.
'I like it'.
'And some locals'.
'Oooh, lovely'.
'That's it sir. The more we get, the more successful we can account ourselves. I presume that the enemy, should they deign to turn up, will have purpose to drive us off, but won't know exactly what our intentions are'.
'Excellent. But ... couldn't we add a small drum as well?'
'A drum?'
'Perhaps the kittens would like that better'.

As the pirates continue to drift into the vicinity, it is as well, dear reader, to check the rate of deployment of Baron Hunchmausen's defending troops. The baron, of course, is comporting himself with his usual efficiency (below), and it is fair to say that his zone of deployment is not overcrowded with Rotenburg soldiers. As more of the emir's maritime marauders appear, the Rotenberg troops  continue to remain conspicuous by their poorly dice-rolled absence.

(Below, at the top). More pirates have arrived, and we can also see the full, luxurious sweep of the river Zwei, the woodcut of which perhaps doesn't do it full justice; the river being more of slow flowing ribbon of glittering green-blue, than craply cut felt that won't lie properly. From this vista we can seen the bridge over the river Zwei. We can also see, in the top right, a small field full of sheep (for the stealing of); a small barn (for the burning of); and some haystacks (likewise, destined for kindling). The area as a whole sports several small areas of vegetation, and some strangely flat-topped protuberances, as do the two local peasants that can just be made out at the crossroads on the right. Near the bridge is a pile of barrels (for the stealing of). More are stored in the building nearby.

The emir halts, suddenly, and looks amongst his men. Binky, his pet monkey, is hitting him slowly but determinedly over the head with what looks a lot like a stick of rhubarb.
'Stop it, Binky. I thought, Huseyin, that you were deploying some cavalry.'
Huseyin nods. 'I thought so, your barabrithness. But it turned out, after some experimentation, that horses seemed to be tricky to control, sir; so our cavalry has dispensed with them'.
The emir frowns. 'Aren't horses generally considered integral to the concept of cavalry?'
Huseyin shrugs. 'I like to think that we have dispensed with the worst aspects of cavalry, such as the unreliability of horses, whilst still keeping some of the best elements - the restless energy; initiative; and manure'.
'I have told our men to run faster'.
Rhoddri considers this, and then seems about to say something. Then, clearly thinking better of it, he simply says, 'Let's just see how that works out then, shall we. Now, let us about it: it is time to smash the enemy, and grab some loot!'

(Above, left) The early stages of the operation don't quite go to plan. One unit of the pirates tries to cross the stream, but just cannot seem to get a hang of the moving and crossing thing. Time passes, as the pirates seem unable to overcome the challenge of this modest aquatic barrier.
'What is going on?' asks the emir angrily.
'They're multi-tasking', says Huseyin gloomily.
'Pfft', says Rhoddri. 'If by multi-tasking, you mean doing several things badly at the same time, then I would agree.
Binky begins to 'eek' excitedly, He points to several groups of the pirates, and then seems to mime them running towards the barn and the small enclosure full of sheep.
Hueyin peers forward interestedly. 'It would seem, dread lord, that Binky might be trying to lay out a plan of attack for us'.
'Nonsense', says the emir. 'He just wants another go of the trumpet. Still ... it's not a bad idea. Make it so!'
Binky let's out an 'eek!' and bangs the emir on the head enthusiastically with his fruity drum stick.*

The Rotenburg response is certainly very relaxed (above). In fact, the dice and card gods relentlessly twist Muchhausen's tactical testicles, frustrating his attempts to deploy his men. The Rotenburg deployment area could be described as 'spartan' except that, at this stage, even some semi-naked greek hoplites from an earlier age would be an improvement. Still, the good about luck is that it tends to even out in the long run. Right?

* Which, just to be clear, is the rhubarb.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Hunchmausen's Column!

We are standing, dear readers, beside a fine cobbled road, somewhere near the coast of Rotenburg. Two locals are deep in conversation. Their talk has ranged across the wide panoply of topics usual for locals in this part of Mittelheim: current affairs (who in the village currently is trying to tumble with Anya the barmaid); politics (who in the village has fallen out over the affections of Anya the barmaid); economics (apparently, in relation to Anya the barmaid, one rarely gets so many of them to the pound); science (if there were really such a thing as gravity, how does one explain the shape of Anya the barmaid's cleavage?); and philosophy (if there were no one else there in the forest with Anya the barmaid, could her cleavage really then be said to exist?) These weighty ruminations are interrupted by the sound of an approaching horde. The smell suggests some herd of beasts; the shouted orders suggests perhaps soldiers of some description; the shambling of the feet suggests an afternoon walk by a crowd of local alcoholics with only the very haziest conception of the relationship between right and left.

(Below) In a few moments the conundrum is resolved - this is a clearly a column of soldiers! Sadly, the cheering of the Rotenburg locals turns to boos when they realise that this is not a force of Burberry pirates come to liberate them by taking them into slavery, but a unit of landgravial troops that has come to try and restore the normal order of things.

As the Rotenburg force comes closer, a casual observer who was less wise to the ways of Mittelheim might be tricked by the uniforms into thinking that this was a formation of professional soldiers from the Age of Reason. Those in the know, of course, would understand that the words 'professional' and 'soldier' in Mittelheim are an oxymoron; though this wouldn't help most Mittleheimers who would no doubt think that an 'oxymoron' was simply a cow with numeracy problems. One might more accurately describe these troops as unprofessional soldiers from the Age of Reason; but this might, as others could fairly say, be deeply offensive to those European troops of the Seven Years War that were merely unprofessional. A separate scale of measurement would probably be required for the accurate assessment of these Rotenburg musketeers: a scale in which such descriptors as 'unprofessional' would simply be taken as read (though not by the soldiers themselves who, of course, can't read); and in which the  metrics would instead run at one end from such words as 'shambolic', 'bandy-legged', and 'priapic' for the better quality of men, through to words such as such as 'floppy', 'sticky' and 'necrotic' at the other. As to being from the Age of Reason, anyone with the smallest knowledge of the states of Mittelheim could say with some certainty that, if Reason had ever reached the frontiers of this region, then he or she would certainly have been stopped at the border and prevented from entering, on the grounds that they were bringing into Mittelheim qualities largely irrelevant to the normal functioning of things here.

(Above) At the head of the column of troops is our friend, Baron Hieronymous Karl Friedrich von Munchhausen. The baron is in Mittelheim incognito, and is hiding his identity by passing himself of as Baron Hunchmausen. Like any self-respecting military gentleman of the time, the baron has changed sides and is now in command of a force of Rotenberg troops destined for the coast to do battle with heathen pirates. He leads a weak battalion of three companies of militia, and a company of jager.  In theory, this should certainly be an adequate force for the task at hand. However, the baron has, over the past few days, had the opportunity to weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of his men, and the results weigh quite heavily towards the latter. The baron has concluded that what he has been given aren't so much the scrapings from the bottom of the barrel. Rather, the metaphorical barrel has been turned over, and a considerable quantity of scraping has been done from the bottom of the bottom of the barrel. His troops are gurning loons: feral creatures; not intelligent in the normal sense, but equipped with the sort of low cunning exhibited by very short rats. Feeling at some risk from his own men, who might conceivably pillage and ravage the baron if he mistakenly dropped some honey on himself, Hunchmausen is now sure that, mercifully, action against the pirate enemy seems imminent ....

Monday, 24 December 2018

Happy Christmas!

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse'

In Mittelheim, of course, this isn't strictly true. Generally, any self-respecting mouse keen on enjoying this season of good cheer and goodwill to all, packs up his cheese and leaves Mittelheim entirely, heading for places where the locals are friendlier - which, of course, is anywhere else. Not that a Mittelheim Christmas is entirely lacking in Yuletide japery. In the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel, the well-to-do are busy smearing lard over their Christmas monkeys, a strange festive ritual usually accompanied by strong alcoholic beverages, some of which are drunk and the rest of which are poured over the proliferation of bites that inevitably result. Poorer folk cannot, of course, afford the luxury of their own monkey, an exotic and expensive import at the best of times, and must instead make do with small dogs or the youngest of their children. For Prince Rupprecht, Christmas is his favourite time: a time when he can legitimately enjoy pigs in blankets - indeed, he never tires of snuggling down for the night with his porcine obsessions. In the Landgravate of Hesse-Rotenburg-Schillingsfurst, the gentlefolk prepare the largest of their jellied seagulls. These are dressed lavishly with tinsel and assortments of gaudy accoutrements, before, to much acclaim, being paraded into dining rooms with a musical accompaniment. Then, the head of the household usually makes a traditional 'address to the seagull' entitled "Tis the Season to be Jelly": this address has a range of local variations, but generally the gist of it is 'Dammit, I'm not eating this - bring out the ham'. In the Empire of Grand Fenwick, Christmas day is the scene normally of an extensive repast - except for the dessert, of which there is only ever one: it being legally impossible in the empire's markets, irrespective of the numbers being fed, to get one's hands on a lovely pair of  puddings.

Wurstburp carol rioting: 'Good kindlings we bring,
To you and your King'
In the Burgravate of Nabstria, on the other hand, Christmas is a more complex time. Most there are Catholic, and so spend the period of Advent preparing themselves, attending sacraments and then going to Holy Mass. Then, they get massively hammered on leech brandy and punch one another. Some, however, are rumoured to worship older, darker beings: the Ancient Ones, or Elder Gods. In practice, their Christmas is much like that of Catholics but replaces the turkey as the centre-piece of the Christmas feast with an octopus, which they think better creates for Christmas Day a suitable theme of 'tentacled horror' .

Vulgaria: The True Spirit of Christmas
In the Margravate of Badwurst-Wurstburp. Christmas is invariably a lively event. Locals engage in the traditional pastime of carol rioting, an activity of the same ilk as carol singing, but with a bit less singing and a bit more lighting of fires in other people's houses. In contrast to this jolly festival of frivolity, Christmas in the Jacobite households of the margravate is rather less exuberant; not surprising, since the only real concession made to Christmas by the dour Episcopalians is to add holly to their porridge. For those less enamoured with this most wonderful time of year, Vulgaria is by far the best bet. There, in drafty mountainside castles, emaciated, ancient lords lie in their cellars, thirsting for life: or at least, a bit more life than comprises the average Christmas eve in Vulgaria.

We hope here that your Christmas jollity is more ordered than that of Mittelheim; and that, in a world that seems increasingly to be going mad, your gods (tentacled or otherwise) keep you and yours safe in the coming year.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Dark Side of the Loon!

Wilhelm, the Baron Woffeltop, Choldwig III's shrewd Austrian-born diplomat coughs politely.
In front of him, the landgrave of Hesse-Rotenburg-Schillingsfurst looks up miserably from his seat. Woffeltop is taken aback by the look of unhappiness upon his master's visage.
'My lord - what could be wrong? Have we not found ourselves in an era of unprecedented success, what with our victory at Jangthof and the seizure of the Bachscuttel lickspittle herr Agorn? What could possibly dampen your spirits at so happy a time?'
'I'm suffering', says the landgrave sadly, 'from a reptile dysfunction'.
'Oh', says the baron, looking rather embarrassed. 'Oh'. Woffeltop pauses a moment and then continues delicately, 'Doesn't this sort of thing happen to every man, once in a while? Perhaps if we were to procure you the services of one of those ... especially qualified ladies from Plump Street: I understand that they are very broad-minded ...'
'No, no, no', says the landgrave crossly. 'A reptile dysfunction. My terrapins ... they aren't working'. Choldwig points to the wriggling sack upon which he sits. 'I've put Agorn into this sack with my horde of voracious terrapins. But he seems as yet entirely uninjured'.
'Aren't we supposed to be handing him over to the Vulgarian ambassador?' asks Woffeltop.
'Oh yes', says the landgrave. 'But I wanted first to extract some useful information from this traitorous dog!'
The sack begins to wriggle even harder.
'Oh yes', gloats Choldwig, 'the truth hurts doesn't it, you villain!'
'No', replies Agorn's muffled voice. 'The fact that you’re sitting on my head is what hurts. Let me go!'
'Are you sure that your amphibian friends aren't working?' asks the baron. 'Agorn really doesn't smell very good. I think I smell the odour of success!'

'No', replies the landgrave. 'That is probably in actuality my feet'. Choldwig looks down at his unbooted feet and wiggles his toes in his stockings. The smell that emanates from them might make one unused to the landgrave's rather low standards of bodily hygiene believe that his appendages were in the process of rotting off.
Choldwig sniffs guardedly. 'They are quite ... savoury, I must confess'.
'Biscuits are savoury, my lord,' replies the baron. 'Your feet, I fear, seem to have developed a whiff that would defy normal methods of categorisation. One could, perhaps, class them as "cheesy" except that I suspect that the smell drifting from your feet might actually induce even a stilton to dry heave'.
'Should I wash them, do you think?' asks Choldwig.
'Burning them might be better', reflects Woffeltop seriously.
'Well, this is a problem', says the landgrave. 'For tonight I am going to the opera with the lady Theresa-Anna.'
'What of the lady Eugenie, my lord?
'Too powerful a right hook, Woffeltop. My testicles just couldn't take any more. So, what am I to do? The lovely Theresa-Anna is unlikely to want to get terribly close to me with my feet in this state'.
'But you're going to the opera, my lord. It shouldn't be a problem'.
The landgrave sighs. '"Going to the opera" is a euphemism, Woffeltop. For my activities with the ladies'.
'Oh,' says the baron. 'What sorts of activities?'
'Well, as it turns out, mainly actually going to the opera; but my chances of getting anything else smelling like this are lower than a badger's belly button'.
'Quite so, my lord. In the interim, whilst we consider this knotty issue of state, we might also consider the missive that arrived this morning. The one relating to the most concerning events along the coast'.
'Bah!' says Choldwig. 'Very well'. He stands and then kicks the sack back towards his terrapin pool.

Woffeltop gestures to the urgent message sent from the coast regarding the activities of the Burberry pirates. 'See, my lord', says Woffeltop, pointing to the letter.
Choldwig peers down and begins to read out loud. '"The suffering of your people is really very great, dear landgrave. The enemy has applied its terrible depredations not just to our villages but has also taken an especial delight in attacking the symbols of our Christian faith. The local Priory has been attacked, all the inhabitants slaughtered, and the buildings then decorated in a terrible hint of wicker." Hint of wicker? How unspeakably banal, the cads'.
'No sire -  that's a 'V.' It's hint of vicar. And what they did to the bishop, sir, is unspeakable, even if the Bishop was able to speak about it; which he isn't, on account of the heathens cutting off his tongue and sticking it up his ...'
'Oh', grimaces the landgrave. 'How very unpleasant. But still, at least 'vicar' is an artistic statement: unlike wicker - that's not even a colour, it's a stain.'
The baron nods placatingly. 'Yes sir, but artistic merit or not, we can't have these fellows slaughtering every peasant and religious representative in the vicinity and then spreading their innards over local landmarks.  People will begin to ask questions, sir: like "what is the point of paying taxes to a landgrave if he cannot defend us"; or "representative government - wouldn't more transparent and accountable forms of governance increase the chance of us receiving a measure of protection from plunder and murder?"'

'Colonel von Schillingspferde: despite his stature, he has a surprisingly small column'.

'Accountable?' says Choldwig worriedly. 'Transparent?' He gulps. 'Well, we must deal with these pirate interlopers quickly and decisively!'
'I have taken the liberty, my landgrave, of already ordering a number of columns of troops to converge upon the affected areas. Colonel von Schillingspferde commands one; colonel von Hunchmausen is another'.
'Von Hunchmausen?' enquires Choldwig. 'That name sounds vaguely familiar'.
'A soldier of fortune, my lord', replies Woffeltop. 'He has changed sides'.
'Excellent', says the landgrave nodding. 'Just the sort of fellow we need. I trust that our success against these vile pirates is guaranteed?'
'Absolutely', replies Woffeltop. 'Or, at least within the usual margin of error', he adds.