Saturday, 16 June 2018

Wallenover, the Fifth!

Overcoming his interest in finely-made crockery, General Rentall orders his two reserve regiments out of march column and into line. This is in the very nick of time because the attacking Wurstburp troops have moved around the Vulgarian flank. Luckily, thanks to their command and control difficulties, this flanking force consists of only two regiments; but unless it is countered, the grey-coated Vulgarians of Count Barlow's Regiment are in danger of being charged from the rear.

(Below, right) The Liebgarde Feratu-Osterberg (in red) move up to engage the Margravial flanking force. Volleys are exchanged. The guard exhibit the familiar attributes that mark them out as elite troops in Mittelheim: that is, they are still here, and they are mainly awake. Barlow's Regiment, in grey, display remarkable sang froid, standing unmoved as directly behind them the two regiments of Wurstburp musketeers with a shout charge with the bayonet. The earl of Bragge encourages his men in their assault upon the Vulgarian foot guards. 'For God and our margrave!' he shouts loudly. 'Badwurst-Wurstburp forever - or at least for some considerable period of time henceforth!' he roars.

Through his telescope, Wurstburp's commander, general Unpronunski, looks on in concern.
'Our troops are in some disorder!' he says. 'We have taken too much of their musketry!'
Prince Karl scoffs. 'Fie and tush!' he cries. 'Tush and fie!' he continues. 'And also fie and fie, and tush and tush!' he adds for completeness. 'Though our troops indeed have been in better condition, so has the enemy guard regiment - it is badly weakened  - see the ragged state of their lines! Moreover, we outnumber them two to one; and we are skilled with the bayonet; and we have the benefits of the leadership of the earl of Bragge himself. I sense something big appearing soon, and I don't mean my morning motion.'

(Below) Bragge's troops storm forwards in an attempt to get, not just medieval on the Vulgarians, but also somewhat into the early renaissance as well.
 'Hold the line! Hold the Line!' shouts Rentall. The officers of the guard regiment respond, shrugging of the effects of the terrible disorder afflicting the unit with the same insouciance that they might shrug off calls for greater social justice. As hand-to-hand combat is joined, the Vulgarian foot guards fight like their lives depend upon it: which, of course, it rather does.
'Gah!' shouts Pronunski. 'The enemy regiment seems to be ignoring the terrible disorder that it is in!'
Prince Karl taps his nose knowingly. 'That may be, general: but we have another card up our sleeve.'
'Do we?' the general asks. 'Because I'm not sure that keeping cards up our sleeves is strictly allowed ....'
'No, my lord. Not literally. I mean that we have the advantage of our soldiers' religious convictions. See, over there!' he points.

(Above, left) Reflecting the importance of this attack, the earl of Bragge is allocated the efforts of one of the margravate's clerics to inspire the troops. To this purpose the cleric delivers a homily to the Wurstburp musketeers that focuses on the core Christian values of  peace, charity, and helping one's neighbours: unless, as in the case of the Vulgarians, one is at war with them; in which case it is not just permissible, but actually practically a commandment, to peel their faces off with a blunt knife, nail their tongues to their foreheads, and then piddle on their eye balls (though it is worth noting here that there is some disagreement in Wurstburpian religious doctrine regarding the order in which these activities should be conducted).

As the cleric really begins to warm to his theme and moves onto an explanation of what Jesus would do if he were subject to Vulgarian musketry, two dark figures stand nearby in conversation.
'What's it like, you know, on the Other Side?' asks Cheese as Death pauses in his efforts.
Death contemplates this question for a moment. 'Have you ever been to Llandudno?'
'Well then, it's difficult to describe.'
Cheese nods. 'Very well. But did you get a sense of who was ... in charge, as it were?'
'It's difficult to say,' replies Death. 'I remember that there was a monkey - he was throwing bananas at me and laughing.'
'So, the Hindus were right,' says Cheese.
'Who can say,' replies Death. 'It was a very long time ago.'

Despite the best efforts of the cleric, the Wurstburpian attack falters. (Below) 'No! No! No!' shouts Bragge furiously, as well as using some other words that would not require any expertise in Fenwickian double entendre to interpret. In between casting aspersions on the legitimacy of his own troops, and making other comments highly suggestive of his view that the Vulgarian guards were the sort of fellows who misused goats in inventive ways known only to the very loneliest of herders, the earl makes frenetic, but ultimately abortive, attempts to prevent his troops from falling back.
In the margravial headquarters, general Unproununski gapes. 'God's toenails!' he blasphemes.
'Quite so!' agrees Prince Karl. 'We are defeated!'
'Those poor goats,' says the general sadly.
Bragge's troops fall back.

Despite his success, however, Rentall is far from calm. (Above, at the top) The entire remaining Vulgarian infantry, all four regiments, are now crammed awkwardly into a tiny space. In consequence only two are actually facing the enemy. The Grand Prior's Regiment, having moved up to right and rear of the footguards are in a position to do nothing other than launch a bayonet charge on their fellow Vulgarians in Barlow's Regiment, in grey (though it would no doubt be a successful one given their beautiful position for a flank attack). Barlow's men, of course, now cannot move forwards or backwards because they are wedged in tighter than a hippo in a pair of giraffe size-medium britches.
'We must attack at once! We must make both the time and the space to re-order our lines!' Rentall says excitedly to Neucheim. 'Now is our opportunity! The enemy columns are in disorder! Sound the charge!'

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Wallenover, the Fourth!

In the Margravial headquarters, there is now a certain amount of excitement.
'That's it! That's it!' cries General Unpronunski, looking through his telescope at the unfolding events. (Below, to the left). Three regiments of Wursburpian foot, formed into mass and crying 'a la bayonette' hurl themselves into a single unit of Vulgarian troops in a pile-on so massive that its like hasn't been seen since King Wilhelm of Gelderland last tried under his own steam to climb onto a chaise-longue. To the Vulgarian rear, a unit is wheeled left, and begins to march smartly towards the exposed flank of the Margravial formation to meet the threat posed by the Vulgarians of Count Orlok's Regiment.

(Below) Outnumbered three to one, the Vulgarian troops' chances of victory are smaller than the Russian commitment to the rule of law. Though the Vulgarian musketeers are supported by a battery of artillery positioned behind gabions, their opponents are too numerous, too well drilled in the art of the bayonet charge, and they are, besides, led by a fine officer in the form of Jonathan, the Earl of Bragge. There is the briefest of melees and then, for the Vulgarian troops, it's not just curtains, but a whole matching ensemble of soft furnishings. With cries of 'Flee!', 'Save yourselves!', and 'I never touched your ox!' those Vulgarian musketeers that aren't dead, quit the field in rout.

Through the savage fighting in this part of the line, two figures go strangely unnoticed. 
'So,' says Death carefully. 'I think that it's important for me to reiterate that we only take the souls of those who are actually dead.' He looks at Cheese, who stands amidst a pile of Vulgarian corpses. Cheese leans heavily on his scythe, panting.
'We don't,' Death continues, 'take them because they are, to quote you earlier "a lard-arse who's soon going to croak anyway." Nor do we take people because "they have amusingly shaped heads," "annoying croaky voices," or because,' he looks hard at Cheese, 'they are conveniently closer than the fellow that we are supposed to take.'
'I think I'm improving though,' wheezes Cheese cheerily. 'I took out that last fellow with a swing that I might go so far as to characterise as "graceful"'.
'Graceful - yes; accurate - less so. You missed his heart,' says Death. 'You've got to get them in the heart or you don't catch the soul.'
'Didn't I get him in the heart?' asks Cheese.
'No,' replies Death. 'You caught his nose. What you've done is to send his nose into the Other Place.  The rest of him is still here.' Death points to a nearby Vulgarian musketeer crawling over the corpses of his comrades.
'I can see the light!' says the musketeer in wonder, one finger stuck up his nostril. 'I can see the light! Can anyone else see the light!' The soldier pauses. 'It's a lot smaller than I imagined. Less bright. And it seems to have some kind of warning ...'
'I'll finish him,' says Cheese, hefting his scythe. 'Don't worry.'
'Should I go to the light?' the musketeer says out loud. 'or should I be moving away from it? Is the light a bad thing?'
'Only the dead,' says Death admonishingly to Cheese. 'And also, we don't take squirrels either.'

The seesaw that it the battle of Wallenover continues to tip in the favour of Wurstburp, dumping the Vulgarians unceremoniously from their seats and then catching them painfully upon the chin as they try to get up. (Below) To the right of Wurstburp bayonet attack, Unpronunski has another success. Now, only a single regiment of Vulgarian mounted irregulars remains - the other, finally, is despatched by Wurstburpian musketry (though it turns out, however, that everyone in the Voidvodate's army hated them, so there is no real effect on morale). 

(Above, top) With the Vulgarian flank sagging as badly as King Augustus the Fat of Saxony's britches after a heavy night on the cake, the Earl of Bragge moves to exploit the situation. He orders one of his regiments forwards into the swamp, putting the unit in an excellent position to swing left and reinforce the Wurstburp push to roll up the Vulgarian defence. One consequence of this, however, is that the Wurstburpian line is now split into three parts - the unit that is in the marsh, and then two equal groups of four units on either side. But this couldn't possibly be relevant for the future, could it?

In some recompense, however, Orlok's Regiment continues to do sterling work for Rentall's cause. (Above, top) Behind one of his batteries, the Vulgarian notable Cameron von Muller looks on as Count Orlok's Regiment pours more fire into the exposed flank of a Wurstburpian column.

(Below, top left) Regiment Orlok's volley scythes down the Margravial troops and the latter are broken. But Rentall's position remains precarious. (Below, top right) In the vicinity of a dangling pink appendage that we must hope, dear reader, is a finger, the Vulgarian infantry struggle to reorientate to meet the threatened Wurstburp flanking movement. With the Voivodate's troops now separated into two groups, general Rentall now faces a difficult choice: should he wheel backwards the grey-coated troops of his centre unit so that they face the enemy columns of attack; or should he bring up his reserve units, currently deployed in march column; or should he quit the military profession and become, as his mother had hoped, a modestly successful producer of artisan teacups?

'Itsh a difficult choish,' says Rentall, ignoring the sturm und drang around him. 'Duke Neucheim, shir: let me have your advishe.'
Neucheim's brows furrow beneath his tricorne. 'I think that we should consult Baron Tostov.'
'But,' says Rentall, 'I shushpect dat I know what da good duke ish going to shay ...'.
'Gottle a geer!' says baron Tostov.
'The baron's views, I think are coloured by his relative military inexperience,' explains Neucheim.
'Yesh,' says Rentall. 'And also da fact dat he ish made of wood.'
'Dammit, sir,' cries Neucheim. 'You cannot insult the baron so! Though he is made of wood, does he not feel hurt like any real officer?'
'No,' Rentall says. 'He doeshn't. Alsho, your lipsh move, my good duke, when da baron speaks.'
'I thought, general, that we had agreed not to ...'
'And in adishion, he hash wheelsh.'
Neucheim falls into sullen silence.
'Shtill,' says the general, resolutely. 'Dish dishcushion hash been very valuable. I have deshided what it ish dat I think will be our most advantageous coursh  of action ...'

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Wallenover, the Third!

'Ish it shupposed to bend like dat?' asks General Hertz van Rentall to the colonel of the Vulgarian Regiment Blasco.
The colonel looks startled, and then looks down guiltily. 'I've never had any complaints,' he replies ruefully. 'I walked into a rake and I ...'
'No, no!' replies the general. 'I mean our line! Why ish our line bent like dat? Why ish your regiment showing itsh flank to da enemy, mashking our guns, and generally shtinking up our position like a dead fish in an orangery?'
'Oh ... oh,' says the colonel. 'I don't know. I got confused. Suddenly confused. And now my regiment is finished ... finished. Doomed! The enemy will fall upon us, and there is nothing to be done about it! Nothing! Doom! Gloom! We are in for a mightily weighty shoeing at the hands of the villainous Wurstburpians! We can do nothing but bless the souls of our lads, pray to God for their immortal souls, and then shovel up their remains.'
Rentall nods. 'Or', he suggests, 'we could jusht order dem back into line. And not do any volley fire.'
The colonel considers this. 'Yes, I suppose we could do that also.'

(Above, at the top) With quick orders from general Rentall, Regiment Blasco simply wheels back into line and the sudden crisis is over. Indeed, since the Regiment Blasco is still within the requisite supporting distance of the remainder of the Vulgarian battle line, Rentall is able also to give other orders to this force. It's time to give the Wurstburpians a taste of their own medicine. And since their medicine, in common with the rest of Mittelheim, consists generally either of various forms of leeches, or amputations with blunt household tools, its unlikely to be pleasant for them.

(Below, at the bottom) Rentall orders the Liebgarde Feratu-Osterberg and the Grand Prior's Regiment into march column: these he intends to shift across to his other flank. (Below, middle) But the shrewd Dutchman also  senses an opportunity. The Wurstburpians themselves have an exposed flank. He orders Count Orlok's Regiment to wheel left. Though the regiment might face a tough fight against the sheep to their front, once they have overcome this four-legged forlorn hope, they will able to threaten the advancing enemy attack columns.

A little way off, two figures, dressed in black, are in an argument. 'Where's your knife?' asks Death in a bemused fashion. 'I lent you one of my knives - where is it?'
Cheese glowers. 'Why can't I have a scythe? Please let me have a scythe. Pleeeeeeeeeeese. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please.'
Death shakes his head, an act which makes his jaw wobble slightly alarmingly. 'Look. We've been through this. A scythe is a dangerous weapon. I can't give one to an inexperienced apprentice. You need some practice with something smaller. You need to pass some courses. Get some certificates.'
'Please, please, please, please, please,' says Cheese falling to his knees and clasping his hands together in supplication. 'It's why I signed up. You have the largest weapon amongst all of the reapers of souls. Not even War has a bigger chopper than you.'
Death pauses. 'What has Lady Luck been saying?'
'Please, please, please, please, please. I'll be careful,' promises Cheese. 'I'll look after it myself - clean it and so on.'
Death is silent for a moment, and then sighs despairingly. 'Fine. Fine. But if you lop something off from yourself by accident, don't come running to me. Of course, if it's a leg that you lop off, you certainly won't be able to come running to me. But if that's the case, don't even bother to hop, crawl, or otherwise perambulate in my direction either.'
'Thank you! Thank you!' says Cheese excitedly. 'You won't be disappointed!' He pauses. 'Actually, previous experience suggests that you might well be slightly disappointed. And also perhaps a bit disgusted. You might, for example, throw up a little bit in your mouth.'
'Go!' says Death holding up a hand. 'Just go and do as I've shown you, apprentice!'

At the Vulgarian headquarters, Rentall is busy issuing orders. Volleys have been exchanged between the main bodies of the respective armies. But now is the time for the Voivodate to seize the initiative. Pointing towards Count Orlok's Regiment, the general declares boldly: 'I intend dat we should launch an immediate bayonet charge with Orlok's troops. It will terrify da enemy.' Rentall looks at the assembled officers. Their faces evince a lack of enthusiasm not seen since Attila the Hun was invited to a workshop on inclusivity and diversity.
'Hmmm - you sheem unconvinshed.' says Rentall.
Cameron von Muller nods. 'I've seen our bayonet charges. They're rubbish.'
The general looks a little hurt. 'Really? But da fierce onshet of cold shteel ....'
'... like being poked gently by a very elderly, and especially infirm, relative,' finishes Muller.

Rentall snorts. 'Dish ish no time for faint heartsh! Forward to victory!'
With a gesture, the orders are given! (Above) With a loud 'hurrah!' Orlok's troops charge!
'No - this is terrible!' wails Muller.
'It's a disaster! We'll fail!' cries Duke von Neucheim.
'I have a good feeling about dis!' says Rentall.
The target of the assault is a regiment of Wurstburp mercenaries. Taken in the flank, things don't look good for them. Moreover Count Orlok's Regiment is composed of elite musketeers. But the Margravial troops have the benefit of their faith: surely the mere metal of the Vulgarian bayonets is no match for the righteousness of the Wurstburpian cause! To the rear, a Wurstburp cleric inspires the troops.
'Fear nothing, my brave fellows!' he cries. 'Fear not the evil ox coveters! Let them not look upon your oxes and say such things as "I really covet that"! Believe in God, and your faith will protect your oxes, and probably also all other similar domestic beasts of burden!' 
There is a brief and savage fight.

(Above) But the Vulgarians are too strong! The Margravate's mercenaries are routed, and the Vulgarians are now on the flanks of their enemies.

Across the field, General Unpronunski surveys these dispiriting events through his telescope.
Prince Karl turns to the general. 'We must break the enemy before they can roll up our line! Order a general advance across the whole of our force!'
Unpronunski nods. 'I have carefully considered the situation, Prince Karl, and I have decided to order a general advance across the whole of our force!'
Cheering breaks out up and down the Wurstburp line as their massed columns storm forwards with the bayonet ....

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Wallenover, the Second!

With loud 'huzzahs!' the soldiers of Badwurst-Wurtburp march purposefully forwards. The Margarvate's musketeers advance with all of the vigour and confidence that comes from never having been in a battle before. As the distance closes between the battle lines of the two armies, the artillery of both sides each provide the traditional Mittelheim supporting fire: which is to say, a small one, upon which they make themselves hot beverages to while away the time spent watching the fight between the infantry. The Margravate's cavalry provide protection to the left of Unpronunski's line. Left to their own devices to decide how best this should be done, the cavalry apply a doctrinal approach based upon the principle of not moving or doing anything at all.

(Above) The notables Jonathan, Earl of Bragge and Boris Katsonov are committed to the command of front-line units. With the help of these experienced professionals, the Wurstburp line advances quickly, all gleaming bayonets and marvellously executed drill. With its units formed into mass, the Margravate's army has concentrated a considerable proportion of its combat power against the weakly held Vulgarian positions to their front, some of which seem to be defended only by sheep. Amidst the dense units of infantry, Wurstburpian clerics are hard at work, stirring the troops' martial ardour with inspiring declamations based upon all of the usual themes most prominent in religious doctrine: heaven for the faithful; hell-fire for the enemy; damnation for those who covet their neighbour's oxes. The clerics succeed in working themselves into quite a lather. In Wurstburp, Catholicism has been given quite a local make-over, the church there having  removed some of the most robust and logical doctrinal elements of the Catholic faith (fish on Fridays and the kissing of Bishops' rings) and replacing them with additional helpings of intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and, reflecting the impact of Jacobite immigration, porridge.

The Wurstburp line halts when it reaches within musket range of the Vulgarian irregular cavalry positioned in the marsh. General Unpronunski, seeing this through his telescope, orders Prince Karl forward.
'Go hence, Prince Karl - lead our troops from the front! Push the enemy from the difficult ground and sweep leftwards to roll up the enemy line!'
Prince Karl chews his lip for a moment, considering his reply.
'Well general,' says Karl. 'I could give you my diplomatic answer to that order; or I could give you my undiplomatic answer.'
Unpronunski thinks about this. He is an old gentlemen, who prefers to maintain where possible a civilised atmosphere in his headquarters. 'I should say that I would prefer your diplomatic answer.'
The prince nods. 'Then I must say in answer to your request, general "Bog off, you haddock-faced squirrel tickler."'
The general looks shocked. 'So you're not going to lift a finger to help our forces?'
'Au contraire, general. I am going to lift this finger,' says Prince Karl, raising the middle digit of his right hand and extending it towards Unpronunski. 'Which I think should communicate fairly clearly my feelings about my likely involvement in this enterprise. What you are asking is really quite dangerous to my person.'
'Hmmm,' replies Unpronunski. 'I feel that I have to say, Prince Karl, that, inexperienced though I am in the ways of war, I believe that it is normal presumption in military organisations that, as you are under my command, you in fact are compelled to obey my orders.'
'Sadly, general, since I am of the house of Porckenstauffen, your authority over me is weaker than a haggis helmet.'
There is a pause. The general sighs dejectedly.
'Is my face really reminiscent of a haddock?'
The prince considers this carefully for a moment. 'There is certainly a ... piscine quality to it. Or perhaps something dolphinish. And crab-like. I think that it is your wobbly lips.'
'Oh,' says the general sadly. 'And the squirrel tickling?'
'I made that up,' admits Karl. 'But it certainly sounds like the sort of morally questionable activity that might be engaged in by fish-faced people.'

'Dish dushent look good,' says General Hertz van Rentall to no one in particular. At the Vulgarian headquarters, it is clear that the Voivodate's army is in some difficulties. After only a short period of time, the main Wurstburpian infantry line is within range of the Vulgarian irregular cavalry in the marsh. Though the initial enemy volleys largely are ineffective, the irregulars cannot reply and are no match for the musketeers in a frontal attack. It is a mark of Vulgaria's lack of options that (below, top right), Ranald Drumpf, Principal Councillor and, at the moment commander of the Vulgarian troops, is forced to order his artillery to open fire.

'Councillor Drumpf!' calls von Neucheim. 'What is our plan!'
Drumpf brushes crumbs from his waistcoat and then, rather theatrically, he flourishes a large sheet of paper in front of the rest of the officers.
'Behold!' he says.
There is a moment of silence. In the background, the sound of fighting continues.
General Rentall raises an eyebrow. 'Itsh, ah ... itsh a piesh of paper.'
'It contains my plan!'
Rentall raises the eyebrow a little higher. 'Itsh, ah ... itsh a blank piesh of paper.'
'Precisely!' says Drumpf, waving his little hands. 'I refuse to conform to predictable military thinking! We must be agile! We must be adaptable! This is a beautiful moment - really beautiful. In having no plan, we also have every plan!'
'I don't understand' says von Neucheim.
'Gottle a geer,' adds Baron Tostov.
'I'm pushing forward the frontiers of military thinking,' replies Drumpf.
'Hmm,' says von Neucheim. 'I can only assume then that those frontiers are quite close, because I don't think that this plan is going to get us very far.'
'No, no, I can assure you that it is a splendid plan!' retorts Drumpf.
At that moment, a breathless courier arrives, ending the disagreement. 'My lords! Disastrous confusion in our ranks!'

(Above) And indeed, it would seem that conditions for the Vulgarians have further worsened! Whether through bad luck, fate, the friction of war, or congenital idiocy, the left flank Vulgarian battalion wheels rightwards and advances against the Wurstburp line! In doing so, it masks the supporting artillery and exposes its flank to flanking fire and an enemy charge.
'Dammit! Dammit!' Ignoring Drumpf, a cursing van Rentall spurs his horse towards the emerging crisis.
Drumpf looks confused and non-plussed. 'Is this bad? Is something bad happening?' He turns to Cameron von Muller. 'Von Muller - what do you think?'
'Well,' replies Muller. 'The word, "cack" seems to be jigging around at the front of my mind, shouting "Pick me! Pick me!" I should say that we are in a spot of bother.'
Drumpf bridles. 'What about my battle plan?'
'You don't have a battle plan,' says Neucheim. 'You just have a sheet of paper and some honking sounds.'
Drumpf listens for the moment to the rising tide of battle. The he says decisively: 'I have an idea. I'll be back in a minute. Victory is assured.'
'Excellent,' replies Muller.
'That's splendid,' says Neucheim.
Muller and Neucheim wait for a while.
'He's not coming back is he,' says Muller.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Wallenover, the First!

Wherein the army of the Margarvate of Wurstburp under the command of General Bazyli Antonin Unpronunski encounters the army of the Voivodate of Vulgaria commanded by General Hertz van Rentall.

'Stop that!' says Death wearily. He is leaning against a tall tree. The morning is fine: or as fine as mornings ever are in Vulgaria; which is to say less fine than mornings in any other part of the world, but somewhat more fine than being stabbed in the tongue by a toasting fork. The tree stands in the vicinity of a small hamlet named Wallenover, by Mittelheim standards a pleasant little place with less of the more obvious signs of depression, decrepitude and expansive outdoor sewerage than one is likely to find in these parts.
'Stop. That.' repeats Death. He waggles a bony finger at a small companion who stands nearby.
'But I need a wee,' says the little fellow.
'Well, have a wee then,' says Death.
'Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!' says his companion running around in circles, 'Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!'
'Just kill me now,' whispers Death. This is, naturally, a pointless entreaty. Notwithstanding the practical difficulties one would encounter in topping oneself with a two handed long-handle scythe, Death is of course immortal.

Death is regretting his newly acquired apprentice. Having spent some time musing on the question of whether or not Mittelheim really was, in the collecting of the souls of those passed, worthy of the attention of Death himself, the Grim Reaper* concluded that perhaps the way forward was to delegate a little more to others. With War, Pestilence, and Famine all otherwise engaged, Death had tried to engage the services of some of the other, lesser, harbingers of human expiration. But Dropsy and Consumption weren't interested in stepping up. Boredom, who must surely have been the cause of the passing of many souls in Mittelheim, didn't even bother to reply to his letter. Neither did Revenge, Passion, Ladders, or Seafood. In fact, Death was left with a short-list of precisely one: Cheese.

'I was thinking as we arrived here,' says Death, watching as Cheese, having tired himself out, slows to a stop. 'How exactly do people die by cheese?'
'You might be surprised,' replies Cheese in his strange voice: part churned milk, part crisp biscuit.
'Yes,' says Death, 'I suspect strongly that I might.'
'Well, one can die from eating too much cheese - cheese gluttons were a good part of my work. Then there were those runny French cheeses - they could be dangerous to the inexperienced. Then there are those killed whilst eating cheese. Careless carriage drivers, bayoneted soldiers and the like.'
Death nods slowly, his vertebrae clicking. 'But, to be picky, you weren't actually responsible directly for their deaths.'
'Granted,' replies Cheese, 'cheeses aren't as dangerous as, say, war or disease. But I always thought that a carelessly consumed blue cheese could still be surprisingly perilous. Anyway, because of my low numbers there seemed to be some move to force me take on more work and do natural disasters as well. But, well - floods, droughts, and cheese: it's not a natural portfolio. So I thought that it was time to move on.'
'Quite so,' says Death. He takes a few steps to his left, ensuring that he is not downwind of Cheese. His new apprentice has a very strange smell, mitigated somewhat only in the presence of celery and grapes.
Behind the two figures, drums suddenly roll, and thousands of voices begin to shout.
'Well', says Death picking up his scythe. 'Pay attention - I think that things are about to begin.'

In front of Death, two armies are drawn up on the plains in front of Wallenover. On one side stands the army of  the Margravate of Wurstburp; on the other the forces of the Voivodate of Vulgaria. The clash of light forces at Donaukerbad had seen the Vulgarians gain the upper hand in the kleine Krieg. But the imminent battle between the main forces of both sides had been interrupted by winter. Now, with a new campaigning season in the offing, the main armies of both sides are once again active.

On the left of the field stands the forces of Wurstburp (right). The Margravate's army is commanded by General Bazyli Antonin Unpronunski. Unpronunski is of Polish extraction; although which Pole he was extracted from isn't in actuality as clear as his birth certificate might imply. He is aided by the soldiers of fortune Jonathan, Earl of Bragge and Boris Katsonov. The Margravate's army is rather traditional in its approach to warfare and utilises Mass and a la Bayonette. Their strong Catholic faith means that the troops are accompanied by Clerics. This is the first time in living memory that the Margrave's army has ever taken the field of battle, and so there is a measure of uncertainty in the Wurstburp headquarters as to what one should do in these sorts of situations.

'What about the enemy?' asks Prince Karl von Porckenstauffen. Porckenstauffen has been attached to Unpronunski's headquarters and is positioned with the general, Bragge and Katsonov behind the main infantry line. Officially, the Prince is here to obtain suitable military experience through contributing usefully in a vital but yet-to-be-determined battlefield role. In reality, the Margrave hopes that Karl will obtain a suitable enemy cannonball-type experience through any usefully vital yet-to-be-determined part of his body. Karl is the Margave's nephew, and, as the Margrave has yet to produce any male issue, also his heir. This fact the Margrave is not altogether happy about. His nephew's side of the family has a somewhat disreputable lineage. One part can be traced back to a best-left-forgotten Bishop of Trier who evidently viewed his vows of chastity as more of an aspiration than as strictly enforced prohibition. The other side of the family can trace its way back to one of the Dukes of Atholl in the far lands of Scotland. In the 1660s, the Duke had made the acquaintance of a local cake maker's daughter by the name of Flora Spreadswell. After one creamy encounter too many, the local lass found herself with child, a condition that, if it was surprising to the Duke was even more so to his wife. Flora was whisked off to Europe to a place where no one would find her; or, if they did find her, a place where the roads were too poorly maintained to be able to get her out again. This, of course, was Mittelheim. Eventually, Flora travelled to Wurstburp plying her baking trade; there she met and married a member of the local nobility, a man attracted to the flame-red of her hair and the impressive rise of her buns. Indeed, in the wake of  the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, a good number of Prince Charles' adherents also fled Scotland and settled in Mittelheim, particularly in the northern region of Wurstburp. With little more than a decade having passed, northern Wurstburp still has a decidedly Scottish feel to it reflected not least in the inhabitant's excessive fondness for whisky, deep-fried food, and a strange concoction created by adding metal filings to beer, a drink known locally as 'iron brew.'

Prince Karl repeats his question. 'What about the enemy army?'
General Unpronunski looks non-plussed. 'What enemy army?'
'That enemy army,' replies Karl, pointing at the Vulgarian force across the plain.
The general looks suddenly startled. 'The enemy! What in god's name are they doing here?'
'It's a battle,' says the prince. 'They are here to fight us: who did you think that they were?'
The general looks worried. 'Spectators. Or actors. Must we fight them?'
Unpronunski is a soldier from a different age. The middle ages, probably. These modern times have left him behind. he was happier in the days before the Enlightenment. Happy days; certain days; days when men were still men; women were still women; and ducks were still a form of waterfowl from the Anatidae family.
The general purses his lips. 'It's just that, well - I'm not altogether certain what it is that one should do in these circumstances.'
'I thought that you were an experienced officer of engineers?' asks Karl, pointedly.
'No,' says the general. 'I just said to the Margrave that I was good at bridge.'
The Earl of Bragge interjects. 'Sirs, I suggest that we make best use of the natural skills of our soldiery. Form the infantry into columns of mass. Advance rapidly against the enemy. Give them bayonets.'
Prince Karl nods in agreement. He is, it must be said, hardly a handsome fellow: bulging eyes; bulbous lips; and a pair of front teeth so protuberant that he is commonly known as "Bunnie Prince Karlie". 'I agree. We should form the men up immediately. We must not hand the Vulgarians the initiative. Those wily Vulgarians are always planning, always stratagising.'

In the Vulgarian headquarters, General Hertz van Rentall looks on, whilst Duke Walter von Neucheim plans and stratagises. 
'Waaaaaaaaaah! We're all going to die!' cries the Duke.
'For wunsch, my duke,' replies the general, 'you might not be sho wrong.'
They look at a nearby hill. Ranald Drumpf stands upon it. He is looking through a telescope. He might be there for some time. At least as long, for example, as it takes him to realise that he needs to remove the instrument from its case. Drumpf's arrival has done nothing for the morale of Rentall's headquarters staff; even the ever-optimistic Baron Tostov could emit only a sour 'gottle a geer.' Matters have been made immediately worse as it turns out that the Voivode's Principal Councillor carries orders putting him in charge of the army.
Cameron von Muller, Rentall's artillery commander, tries to raise the morale of the assembled officers.
'It might not be so bad,' he says. 'I think that Drumpf has grown as a man over the last few months.'
Neicheim snorts. 'He's got fatter - it's not the same thing.'
'But I saw him crying when that old soldier was run over by the artillery limber,' says Muller.
'He cried because he was laughing so much,' says the duke.
'Are you sure?'
Neucheim nods. 'I'm not sure that giggling, pointing, and saying "Ha, Ha" is a normal sign of emotional trauma.
Rentall can wait no longer. While he waits for Drumpf to return, the general orders the army into a semblance of battle order.

(Above) His right is held by all three regiments of cavalry, hidden from enemy artillery fire by a hill. The nearby wood is secured by both of Rentall's units of irregular infantry. In the centre, the infantry is deployed in line, four regiments up and one behind in reserve, bolstered by emplaced artillery. The left is anchored on a marsh. The marsh itself contains two regiments of irregular cavalry.

After a while, Drumpf returns. Rentall waits, with growing ire, as the Principal Councillor orders set in front of him a hearty second breakfast. Finally, the general can take no more.
'Herr Prinshipal Counshillor. We need to know your plansh!'
Drumpf nods. 'Well, I've been giving this some careful thought.'
'Exshellent' says the general.
'I think I'm going to eat the bacon first, and then the sausage.'
(Below) 'No, shir! I mean plans for da coming battle. See, shir - da enemy are deployed for a mashive and shushtained ashault upon our left!'

'A what?' asks Drumpf, bewildered.
'A mashive and shushtained ashault.'
'No,' says Drumpf. 'You're going to have to say something with less "S"s in it.'
'Dimwit!' cries Rentall, furiously.
'Yes,' says Drumpf. 'Like that. But not as rude. I am the Voivode's Principal Councillor. You will treat me with respect Rentall, damn your eyes! More of this lip and I'll have you declared persona non gratin.'
'You mean persona non grata,' suggests Muller. 'Non gratin would not be a significant penalty.'
'Well,' says Drumpf huffily. 'I rather think that that depends upon how much he likes cheese, wouldn't you say?'

Further debate, however, is ended - suddenly, from across the plain, the troops of Wurstburp let out a great roar. In perfect order, the dense battalion columns begin to swing forwards, bayonets fixed and clerics at the ready.
'Gentlemen,' says Rentall, his eyes flashing. 'It has begun. To your posts!'

* A name that Death has never really liked - it has a rather bleak and sombre feel to it. In general, Death much prefers to be referred to by more traditional forms of address: Osiris, or Hades, or Roger.

Sunday, 29 April 2018


Four days have passed since the successful Imperial defence of the outer bastion of Fort Pippin. Finally, two evenings ago, this outer work necessarily was abandoned by its garrison after the arrival of a Nabstrian siege train, with its selection of impressively large mortars. Still, the failure of the forces of the Spasmodic Sanction on the first night to storm  the bastion has lengthened the siege by days, increasing the chances of the arrival of a relief force. The investing army must now work much faster to dig its parallels and approach trenches.

On the battlements of Fort Pippin, Captain-Governor Schroedinger-Skatt surveys the growing web of enemy entrenchments in front of the Imperial positions. Major Gordon Sanitaire, an engineer in the employ of Imperial Fenwick, is with him. They survey the siege works completed by the enemy during the night.
'The enemy are improving.' says the governor.
'Aye, indeed, my lord, they are,' says Sanitaire. 'They seem tae have stopped making yon little castles of sand wie the small flags sticking out them.'
'I did wonder they got the sea shells from,' nods Schroedinger. 'And their artillery redoubts?'
'Facing towards us this time. They even seem finally tae be getting the hang of right angles. Our defensive fire last night was only able tae inflict limited casualties.'
The governor points. 'What's that tall thing over there on the left?'
'Och, sir, that wud be the head of a mine.'
'Should we not be taking counter measures?' asks Schroedinger. 'Is this not the time to be digging a counter-mine?'
'Och, no need , sir. The mine shaft broke surface yesterday.'
'Short of our defences?'
'Aye, sir. Under a tavern aboot a quarter o' a mile behind their lines.'
'The locals must have been surprised,' says the governor.
'Aye, sir,' says the major. 'And angry. When the enemy engineer detonated the mine, apparently the blast made all of the ale frothy. And, of course, it killed everybody.'

The two men turn to face one another. The engineer purses his lips with concern. 'How stands the supply situation, my lord? With the arrival lately of that supply column, I cannae think but that we're well provisioned?'
'Indeed, my good major. In terms of ammunition and powder, we are plentifully supplied. But in relation to our provender there are some worrying shortages.'
'But,' says Sanitaire, 'There seems tae be no shortage of food!'
The governor nods. 'No shortage of bread, mutton, or wine, yes. But,' he shakes his head. 'What about the condiments? At full ration we have only a few days supply of mustard, and not much more in the way of gherkins or pickled leeches. And napkins,' he shakes his head sadly, 'I just don't see how they can be made to last.'
Sanitaire grimaces. 'And food wi' out mustard and napkins ...' his brow furrows sorrowfully. 'Barbarism.'
The governor nods in agreement. 'Indeed, yes major. One minute it's doing without mustard and napkins, and the next ...'
'Chaos,' says the major. 'Ruin. Anarchy. We might be forced tae ration out the condiments equally; and that can only lead tae ...'
'Democracy,' agrees Schroedinger. 'Or at the very least some form of dangerously representative government.'
'Hoots, noots, and porridge oots!' blasphemes the major. 'But, is it nae said that nae enemy has taken Fort Pippin while there were men left tae defend it?'
'No it isn't,' says the governor. 'It fell a few years ago when the garrison was driven out by some nuns who had been hammering the communion wine. And then a time before that, the garrison quit the fortress when night fell because they were scared of the dark. Both of those instances were better, though, than the time the garrison musketeers routed when, after inadvertently watching a troupe of mime artists, they thought that they had all gone deaf.'
'Well, my lord,' says the major. 'Then we must hope to be rescued sooner rather than later.' He scans the horizon. 'Where is our relief force?'

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Well Fort Of(f)!

In the darkness, the confused fight begins to reach its messy climax. Or it would do, if such words as 'climax' could legally be used in Imperial Fenwick, which they can't. So, dear reader, we must confine ourselves to noting that the armed disputation over this outer bastion has reached a stage of concerted activity  noticeably higher according to commonly held military criteria than that which pertained to the period preceding it. Captain Andreas Dreihumpe returns to his central position on top of the fortifications. To his right, the enemy Pandurs leap up their ladders and engage the Fenwickian garrison troops. The night air is filled with the sound of musket shots, the clash of metal, and then the fierce cries, shouts, strange gurglings, farmyard honks, and kitten-like mewling that signal a bout of Mittelheim hand-to-hand (or in this case 'hand-to-wobbly ladder') combat.

The fight that takes place is rather closer in outcome than a casual spectator might suppose, given that the Pandurs are attacking in single file, up ladders, and against an enemy in elevated hard cover. The irregulars manage to demonstrate a tenacity and vigour rarely seen in Mittleheim outside of local pie eating contests. The Pandurs nevertheless are thrown back in a confusion as severe as if they had been subjected to a surprise test on 'capitals of the world' (above). The Pandurs blame the new-fangled modern technology that comprise their ladders, which they claim haven't worked as they should. Having then refused Colonel Rheinfunkt's helpful advice that in order to restore function to their elongated equipment they should try  'pushing them on and then pushing them off again', the Pandurs confine their attack on the bastion to taking pot shots with their muskets. Since the irregulars are about as accurate as an English referendum forecast, the Imperial garrison are  able easily to hold them off.

Colonel Rheinfunkt now has only one opportunity for success left. Blundering forwards into the dark, he joins his last column of troops - three companies of musketeers. He orders the troops to change formation into open column, and then hurries them on in a desperate attempt to reach the unprotected rear of the fort (right). Nearby sheep shuffle nervously away. Though they can't see the Gelderland musketeers, the animals have a beast's sensitivity to the presence of danger and poorly executed drill.

Rheinfunkt's manoeuvre is soon spotted, even in this gloomy night. As Dreihumpe rushes to the rear of the bastion, an excited artilleryman hops up and down, babbling.
'They're to our rear, sir! Our gun has no arc of fire! We'll have to turn the bastion around!'
Dreihumpe rubs his chin slowly. 'Hmm. The enemy will be to our rear in a few moments. I'm just wondering - will turning around the bastion take more time than that?' he asks.
'I'm certain of it, sir. The time taken to disassemble this fort and then reassemble it facing in the other direction would be ... considerable. I think.'
'So,' says the captain drily. 'Five minutes; ten, perhaps.'
The artilleryman nods vigorously. 'Or maybe an hour, at least!'
Dreihumpe nods. 'Depending, presumably, upon whether we also need to move the skittle alley and the tavern.'
'We might be able to do without those sir. It's possible', the soldier says worriedly. 'If we had to and all.'
'Yes, yes', says Dreihumpe, nodding solicitously. 'But, well, here's a thought - as a desperate alternative, we could, though it's obviously a long shot, just turn the cannon around and then fire it.'
The artilleryman pauses. 'Well. Yes, sir. That's possible. I suppose.'
'Indeed', nods the captain. 'And the irony would be that, for a long shot, the target would actually be at short range. Within grapeshot, I should think. Now obviously, I can't order you to turn around the cannon, but I think that, if you don't, your chances of remaining in the Imperial army, or indeed this bastion, are likely to be slimmer than a French book on chastity.'

The artilleryman nods. In a trice, the cannon is turned and trained on the approaching enemy. Sadly for Colonel Rheinfunkt, it turns out that this column, like the other, is just within visibility of the bastion and so, indeed is in range. There is a thunderous explosion, and grape shot flies into the Gelderland musketeers. It is too much for them (left). One company is driven off, and the two others dissolve into stationary confusion, too disordered to continue. Gnashing his teeth, the colonel realises that his attack is at an end. He quickly orders the withdrawal to be sounded and his troops, with much relief, quit the field. With the Fenwickian bastion now as safe as a robustly constructed cabinet with a fancy three point lock designed for the purpose of storing money, Fort Pippin is surely in a much improved position to survive the looming Gelderland siege. 

In the darkness, Governor Schroednger-Skatt grimaces: he can hear from the direction of the bastion the cheering of Fenwickian troops, a sound that can only signal that they have surrendered. Soon, however, remarkable news arrives - a victory! The outer positions have been defended successfully!
With relief, Schroedinger turns to a portly matron next to him. She sports some crude armour, a pair of pistols, and an expression that manages to blend fear, confusion, and a certain amount of reluctant determination.
The governor pats her arm. 'It's fine Sally, you won't be needed after all.'