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.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

The Bridge Over the River Zwei!

Whilst the forces of Vulgaria and Bachscuttel clash upon the sea, the coastal areas of Rotenburg have been subjected to their own peculiar form of unpleasantness -  the depredations of a squadron of the expensively caparisoned Burberry pirates. With the attentions of most of Mittelheim being on the movements of major armies (in which their movements, given their limited diets, can often be a terrifying encounter for those along their lines of march, especially for those without shoes), these cut-throat infidel raiders thus far have largely been ignored. The lack of organised resistance to the foreign pirates can be explained by the fact that it was presumed that the foreign interlopers, on account of their rudeness, pointless bellicosity and unwillingness to speak the local language, were probably just English tourists who would soon get bored and head to Spain. Unmolested by Rotenburg regular troops, the corsairs have spent their time doing what they do best: upsetting the local peasantry by rummaging through their things and then carrying them off to their ships in preparation for a life of slavery in the hot and hellish climes of North Africa. Given conditions in Mittelheim, of course, the latter tends to be less of a problem for the peasants than the former: the pirate enclaves of the Burberry Coast having much stricter regulations than Mittelheim on the size of objects used for the infliction of beatings, and also being home to a better class of flea.

But this restful period of pillage and debauchery seems unlikely to last. Though the routinely decrepit state of the Rotenburg economy makes it quite difficult to determine the difference between periods of boom and those of depression, the activities of the pirates have created signs clear even to local administrative officials that all is not well. Tax revenues are down; decapitations are up; and vigorous protests over the lack of safety in pubic places have been launched by local rats. Rumours also have emerged that some peasants have actually been applying to the pirates to be carried off, and that others have been "turning Turk": embracing Islam, for the purposes, no doubt, of having Fridays off and not having to shave. It seems unlikely that Rotenburg can continue to ignore this deteriorating situation.

'Do a trick, my furry friend,
 and I'll give you a banana.'
'I'm not in the mood, Binkey.'
Emir Rhoddri Pasha, captain of the pirates, stands in Rotenburg upon the banks of the River Zwei. Binkey, his pet monkey, chatters happily. As noted in an earlier account the emir is a one-time Welsh nationalist from Borth in mid-Wales who has turned Turk and led his forces here from the baking shores of North Africa in search of fame and fortune. The emir sniffs the water suspiciously. For most of its length, the Zwei flows in ways reminiscent of Landgrave Choldwig making use of his chamber pot: a long though intermittent stream punctuated by strange noises. It also smells quite similar. Near the sea, however, the river flows wider and more quickly, possibly because, like many things, it hurries to quit Mittelheim as quickly as possible. The local villagers are fisherman, if fishermen is the right word for those whose main occupation is collecting from the sides of the Zwei fish so depressed that they throw themselves onto the banks in the hope of ending it all. But there are no fishermen now in the vicinity of this part of the Landgravate.

The emir turns to his second-in-command, Kujuk Huseyin. 'Where are the locals, Huseyin? Where have they gone?'
'Dread lord', replies Huseyin. 'They have fled because of the rumour of battle. It is said that a force of infidel troops are being mustered for the purposes of driving us from the coast'.
The emir sighs. 'Would it be so bad to be driven from this coast? Although I suppose it's certainly better here than Iceland, I'll grant you'.
'At least here they leave their sharks buried', agrees Huseyin.
'And it's better also than Grimsby'.
'Ashesses and dusts, my precious', comments Huseyin.
'But I miss home - the heat; the exotic food; the mysterious and romantic history ...'
'Wales?' asks his second-in-command, impressed.
'No, North Africa; I mean in North Africa. And the women ... the luscious dancing girls!'
'Oh yes, dread lord', nods Huseyin enthusiastically. 'North African dancing girls - they're so more-ish'.
'When are these troops supposed to arrive?'
'Our scouts, dread lord, have reported that they will arrive in a day or so. Perhaps we should begin to prepare ourselves. There is a small village to the south of here that commands the bridge across this river. It might make a clever place at which to confront our enemies.'
The emir wrinkles his nose in distaste. 'Do we need to be clever? Why do we need to be clever? The enemy are nothing more than bum-faced infidel weasels'.
'But weasels can be wily creatures I've been told, my lord - tricksy, and with a nasty bite'.
'Not when their faces are bums they aren't. No room for mouths. Or noses'.
'How then do they smell, dread lord?'
'Probably badly - they have a bum instead of a face, remember'. The emir sighs. 'Very well. Gather in the men. Prepare them for a march southwards. I suppose a proper fight might do them good. We've fought nothing thus far but the elderly and some chickens'.
'They weren't always easy fights, though, my lord. Some of those chickens were tough.'
The emir nods. 'Yes they were - and the language! You don't expect that from poultry.'

Orders are shouted, and there are the sounds of running feet and hooves as the pirates begin to assemble.
'Hooves?' asks Emir Rhoddri. 'How is it that we have cavalry?'
'We have captured some horses, my lord', replies Huseyin, 'and mounted some of our men upon them. You should command them personally, emir - they can be your bodyguard'.
'But none of the men can ride'.
Huseyin shrugs. 'How difficult can it be?'
The emir raises an eyebrow. 'No, no - I think on balance that you should command them. I look forward to seeing your contribution to the coming fight ...'

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Rum, Botany, and the Lash!

The Shrimp's crew pile onto the Maverick, and a vicious fight ensues: pistols are discharged; lunges made with cutlasses; wooden legs are torn off and shoved  painfully into places where they can't reasonably be made to fit. Truthfully though, for all its violence this is not a combat likely to be much remembered in song or legend - there is rather too much eye-gouging and hair pulling for it to be classified strictly as an heroic encounter. Any budding minstrel or wandering musician is likely to have ready access to tales embodying a range of much more heroic activities than this melee: an encounter with some fractious ducks, for example; or a difficult conversation with a combative purveyor of pies. (Below) Slowly, though, the Bachscuttel sailors gain the advantage, the commitment of the Maverick's crew undermined by their growing casualties, and the loud weeping from their captain behind his locked door. 

The 'No Quarter' flag upon the Centennial Sparrow flaps vigorously in the wind, imbuing the untrousered caricature of the pirate upon it with an alarming energy in his interaction with the socket of the skull. True to the spirit of this signal, the Bachscuttlers demonstrate more even than the usual lack of empathy for enemy wounded and prisoners. Some are killed out of hand. Others are thrown overboard having been first weighted with cannon balls, large pies, and any kittens that can be found to hand. 

(Below) Soon the Maverick's crew are completely subdued. Wugposch addresses his men triumphantly.
'A splendid victory, men! A splendid and, given my low expectations regarding your competence, rather surprising success! If I had known that you weren't quite as bad as I expected, I would have confided more trust in you! Well done!' 
'A moving speech sir', replies his first mate, drying his eyes with his neckerchief.  'If a trifle insulting'.

'Now, bring me the enemy captain!' cries Wugposch happily.
'Well, sir - there isn't one', replies the first mate. 'He's quite adamant that he isn't here'.
Wugposch narrows his eyes. 'So, he is here, then'.
The first mate shakes his head, 'But he says he isn't.
'Is it not possible that he's lying?' asks the captain.
'It would be a crap lie, though' says the mate.
'He's a pirate' says Wugposch drily.
Physical attempts to winkle Miguel out from his cabin fail. However, he is finally tempted out by the news that he has won a parrot in a competition. Which, if there were one for gullible pirate captains, he certainly would have done.
'I was expecting someone taller', says Wugposch, as Miguel is tied up and forced to walk the plank. This isn't as dangerous as it might be in the Caribbean, since the inexperienced sailors of the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel have yet to realise that the plank should be balanced over the side of the ship. After Miguel has fallen off the plank a couple of times onto the deck, Wugposch gets bored, and orders a prize crew left upon the Maverick as he returns to his own ship.
'Hurrah!' says Wugposch. 'What a splendid victory. Nothing at all could possibly interrupt my positive feeling about the signal success that we have achieved in this mighty maritime melee!' .
His first mate winces. 'There is, sir, one fly in our ointment; one grain of grit in our oyster; one catholic bishop in our Orangeman parade.
'What could this be?' says the captain sourly. 'Who would ruin the fruits of our fabulous floating fisticuffs?'

'Help!' cries Admiral Doenutz plaintively, 'Help!' (Below) On the deck of the Sausage, it is evident that the fight has not gone so well here for Bachscuttel as it has on the Maverick. The bodies of the admiral's sailors lie strewn across the deck, along with quantities of blood, gore, and mashed banana; the last the result of a futile effort by Clive to intervene in events.

(Below) Upon the rear deck of the Sausage, only the admiral and his first mate remain. They confront a horde of leering, vicious Vulgarian pirates, whose faces gurn like especially uncomely bulldogs licking thistles.
The admiral sighs. He understands that fate has marked this point in time; that destiny demands that he fight the enemy captain in hand to hand combat in a disputation unto death. Doenutz breathes deeply to calm himself for the coming exertions, before addressing his companion. 'Well, my fellow, this is a terrible situation. But in situations like this, men of quality must make the final sacrifice without complaint'.
'Yes, sir'.
'Bring me my sword'.
'Here it is sir: the sword of your father and your grandfather before him; carried by them with honour in a hundred duels'.
'Marvellous', says Doenutz, bracing himself.  'Now you take it and go and fight the enemy while I jump over the side'. Doenutz jumps.
As the admiral begins a weak breast stroke towards the shore, the fight for the Sausage ends swiftly. The first mate is barely able to cry out 'but this isn't my swor ...' before he is brutally cut down.
The ship, and so also Herr Agorn the pretend pretender, are in Vulgarian hands!

(Below) A prize crew is left upon the Sausage. Sails are quickly raised, and the two sloops begin to head for the Rotenburg coast.
'Aaaar, sir!', cries Hohenlohe's quartermaster, herr Crispin Drei, 'but we be leaving the Maverick behind sir! Miguel will be captured!'
'Yes, it's a terrible shame', says Hohenlohe smiling broadly, 'a terrible, terrible shame', he repeats, breaking out into a jig.

As the Maverick and Shrimp begin to disappear into the horizon, Hohenlohe orders rum all round and then commands that Agorn be found and bound.
The first mate, Lars Yerda, shrugs. 'Find him I cannot' he says in his execrable German. 'Hid in the hold somewhere he is; a shrub he is pretending to be'.
'You can't find him?' asks the captain, much displeased. 'He's pretending to be a shrub. In a ship's hold. It's not ...', the captain searches for a parallel, 'hot air balloon science'.
'Good with plants I'm not', says Yerda defensively. 'That shrubs don't grow in ships' holds, how was I expected to guess?'
'Aaaar, he might be pretending to be Lonicera nitida', says Drei helpfully.  '"Baggesen's Gold" - that's a shrub that be liking some shade'.
'But he is not Baggesen's Gold' says the captain.
'Or Prunus Laurocerasus - "Otto Luyken"', adds Drei, 'they like shade too'.
'Drei', says Hohenlohe firmly, 'Agorn's relative proclivity for shade may be a matter of debate: what is not such a matter, however, is that he is not in fact a shrub: he is a sad, middle-aged fantasist. On that basis, a key clue that might help you to see through his attempt to pretend to be a shrub is that he is not, in fact, a shrub. Now find him, lash him to any conveniently heavy object, and let us be on our way!'
Suitably alerted, Hohenlohe's crew quickly find Agorn, and before one can say "Ooooh, that's a bit tight", the pretender to the pretender of the Vulgarian throne is securely strapped to a barrel.

(Above) 'Now, straight on!', says Hohnelohe, pointing. 'Straight on! Back to port, and back to glory!'
'What about the wounded, sir - aaar, they be in a pickle!'
'Diced and sliced they are!' adds Yerda. 'Or they be. Or whatever.'
Hohenlohe looks troubled. 'You've pickled the wounded?'
'Aaaar, no cap'n. I means we've a fair few of the lads who're a bit poorly'. He points to body lying slumped. 'Like this fellow - a nasty wound, what with it bleeding and all'.
Hohenlohe seems unmoved. 'Just amputate and then cauterise the stump'.
'Aaaar, but it's his head'.
'I'm not saying he won't suffer some complications, Drei'.
'Without his head, sir?'
'But you know, they can carve some marvellous prosthetics these days from new materials - balsa, for example'.
'But sir, isn't having a wooden head likely to be ... I be searching for the right word ...'
'No, cap'n ... "terminal"; "terminal" be the word I'm looking for'.
'Look, Drei, with the right care I don't see that he won't be able to live a rewarding and fruitful pirate life, given some substantial help for the rest of his days'.
'Substantial help for the rest of his days?' asks the quartermaster.
'Yes'. Hohenlohe then stops and considers this for a moment. 'Fair enough. You, sailor. Help this wounded man to get up'.
'Yes sir'.
'And then push him over the side', adds the captain.
Drei seems about to say something.
The captain raises a quizzical, and yet still vaguely threatening eyebrow. 'Any additional medical advice, herr Drei?' he asks.
The quartermaster shrugs and then points to some floats. 'Aaaar, sir - I recommend he takes two of these immediately and then comes back tomorrow if things haven't improved'.
'Excellent advice, I'm sure', nods Hohenlohe, approvingly. 'Now - full sails, mister Drei: herr Agorn has a date in Rotenburg with destiny: or rather, with a pool of hungry terrapins!'

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Hoist the Rogered Jolly!

'Do the men seem invigorated by my message?' asks Captain Hans Hohenlohe.
'Aaaar! It be difficult to tell, sir', replies his quartermaster herr Crispin Drei. 'Pirates be known for many things - heavy drinking; excessive violence; fondness for pets; and a commendable openness to amputees, sir. But they be not so well known for their vocabulary'.
'Well, what sorts of words aren't they familiar with?' asks Hohenlohe.
'Well, "vocabulary" be one, sir; aaaar! And "pecuniary" - that probably be another. Most I suspects thinks it might be a drink. Others, I thinks they hopes it be a monkey'.
'They'd like a modest monkey as a reward?'
'Nothing so tricky, sir, as a monkey with ideas above its station'.
'Yes', nods Hohenlohe thoughtfully, 'I suppose so. In truth, I was surprised to find that we had a flag for the word "pecuniary". Indeed, there seemed to a whole set of flags covering some words that one wouldn't normally expect in maritime communications'.
'Aaar, sir. Such as?'
'Well, "strobate", was one. And I felt that "transmogrify" was another interesting inclusion'. Hohenlohe looks at the rather large pile of neatly folded signal flags that rest in baskets on the deck. 'It would seem that the previous crew certainly were rather better educated than our fellows; and also' he says, looking at the crisp piles, 'rather more enthusiastic about ironing. Now', he says more determinedly, 'let's catch hold of that pretender fellow'.

Wisely dispensing with the notion of relying upon firepower, Hohenlohe directs his vessel to close with the enemy flagship. (Above, left) As his ship passes near the bow of the enemy, Hohenlohe commands his crew to grapple the Sausage.  Drei looks at the first mate, Lars Yerda; Yerda looks back.
'Aaaar, sir - there be no time for that really, I'm thinking'.
'A time and a place there is' adds Yerda in agreement.
'Use the grapples on the enemy ship!' shouts Hohenlohe urgently.
Drei and Yerda nod enthusiastically. 'A better use of our time that is' says the latter, and gives the order.
(Below) Success! The two ships are locked together.

(Above) Hohenlohe gestures forwards. 'At them men! Take the ship! Board them! Rest assured that I shall be supporting you from a command position best situated to give me a full overview of the fight; which, sadly, means that I must stay somewhat to the rear'.
Herr Drei hefts a cudgel and sucks his teeth. There's a shout from the crew and they then begin to hop over the bow and into the enemy vessel.
'It be tricky, sir', says Drei. 'There be quite a few of the enemy over there'.
'Well', says Hohenlohe, 'I always feel that it's good to stretch oneself'.
'Unless yer be on a rack,'says Drei reflectively, 'being tortured'.
The captain nods, watching his men pile across. 'Yes, yes - good point. Although I expect under those conditions that someone would do it for you'.
Gunfire erupts on the deck of the enemy ship, and the sounds emerge of cutlasses clashing.
'Excellent!' cries Hohenlohe 'Fly the flag for no quarter, mister Drei!'

(Above) With a display of "alacrity", "puissance", and "ardour" not seen since the sailors last glanced at a dictionary, the crew of the Centennial Sparrow fights its way onto the main deck of the Sausage.

(Below) On the rear deck, the Bachscuttel commander, Admiral Doenutz, looks up to see a black and white flag being unfurled on the main mast of Hohenlohe's ship.
'It's a skull and cross-bones!' cries out his wheelman.
'No, no: it's certainly a skull, granted', replies the admiral peering up into the enemy shrouds. 'But it seems to have a small caricature of a pirate fellow next to it. He's got his trousers down, and he seems to be thrusting something into the left eye socket of the ... Well, I find that simply disrespectful!'

(Above, right) To the stern (or whatever the back end bit is known as) of the Sausage, the Maverick can be seen sailing straight towards the Bachscuttel flag ship. On the Shrimp, however, the captain has other ideas.

The captain of the Shrimp is one Luther von Wugposch. Wugposch, accompanied by his pet monkey, Clive, were early volunteers for the navy of the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel. The personnel shortages experienced by the navy had led at that time to a short-lived experiment in which the Bachscuttel admiralty permitted monkeys (of a good character) to serve aboard ship. In some respects this had worked out very well, since it turned out that their biting, incessant chatter, and penchant for relieving themselves in public places made them quite reserved by pirate standards. It also helped, of course, that monkeys would work, quite literally, for peanuts. In the longer term, however, things worked out less well, since there arose amongst the human crew a considerable ill-feeling towards their better behaved primate ship mates. A mutiny occurred prompted by resentment of the fact that, being fed fresh fruit regularly and having their own cages, the monkeys lived in much better conditions. Also, they tended to be promoted faster. Now, only Clive remains upon the Shrimp.

Seeing the Maverick heading straight for the Sausage, Wugposch piles on the sail and orders his vessel to interpose itself. As he stands upon the deck, he searches for his first mate and fails to find him.
'Where's the first mate?' he asks a sailor.
'He's eating fruit in Clive's cage', is the reply.
Wugposch frowns. 'So where's my monkey?'
The ship suddenly lurches drunkenly accompanied by some excited 'eeek! eeeks!'.
It collides with the Maverick (above)
Bachscuttel grapples soon secure the two ships together.

From the stern of the Sausage, Doenutz shouts to Wugposch.
'Save my ship! Order your men to board the enemy!'
Wugposch nods. 'That shouldn't be difficult, sir', he shouts back, 'our men really have very little in the way of interesting conversation, unless one has a special interest in weevils or rum; or weevils in rum. Or parrots'.
'Board', shouts Doenutz over the combat, '"board" - not "bored"'.
(Above) Wugposch barks out his orders: 'Get the men up: cutlasses ready! Board the enemy ship! Let's take the fight to them!''

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Seaway to the Danger Zone!

'Vulgaria Expects Every Man To Do His Duty', says the Maverick's first mate slowly, 'Or I Shall Inflict a Modest Pecuniary Penalty'.
Pedro Miguel, captain of the ship, hawks loudly and spits over the side of the vessel. 'Does it now, and will he', he says, clearly unimpressed. He follows with a range of comments in his native Spanish; since these comments include wide-ranging references to clowns, the nether portions of horses, and activities pursuant to the production of children, they are probably not as supportive as Miguel's commander, captain Hans Hohenlohe, might have liked.
Miguel was not Hohenlohe's first choice as officer for the Maverick, and their relationship is frosty enough for those in their vicinity to benefit from some warm outer garments. But there was, in Bestwestung, no other sufficiently qualified seafarers at the the time of Hohenlohe's necessary departure except a small colony of grey seals; and the seals smelt even more badly of fish.

(Above) Suitably stimulated by Hohenlohe's message, Miguel orders the Maverick to turn. Certain that Herr Michael Agorn, the pretender to the pretender of the Vulgarian throne, is probably on the larger of the enemy vessels, he determines that he will close with the stern of the Bachscuttel sloop, the Sausage

Miguel began his career in the Spanish navy, and he seemed set for great things. Thanks to his possession of some compromising woodcuts of one of his superiors, he was able to enter the elite naval academy for Spanish officers, known as the canon superior or 'top cannon' school. But Miguel's fall from grace was rapid. There, he began a torrid affair with one Carlotta Madera Negra, a woman who claimed to be a highly paid civilian contractor but turned out just to be a well-paid washer-woman. Against the orders of his commanding officer, Miguel continued the affair, unable to resist her intelligence, physical flexibility and remarkably reasonable rates. Further difficulties followed as Miguel's brash self-confidence and inability to follow rules led to further run-ins with authority. Caught drunk and unclothed at the commandant's ball, Miguel then fell into a quantity of raw vegetables and dips - this full frontal crudites led to a brief suspension. Eventually, it became clear that Miguel was writing banker's drafts that his body couldn't cash; in fact, that no one could cash, because they were fraudulently obtained. This, and a terrible accident involving a goose, led to his suspension from the 'top cannon' academy. 

Later reinstated, Miguel's journey to the ports of Mittelheim began when, on the occasion of his officer sea examination, his crew, tired of obeying the orders of a cadet for whom the word 'personal growth' clearly meant just getting a larger wart, abandoned him on the desolation of Les Islas de Muertas, 'The Island of Death'.* Managing to escape his enforced isolation by eating the local cannibals, he was also helped, no doubt, by the cannibals' god, Chupachup, who liked a good bit of irony as much as the next deity. Since then, Miguel has managed to work his way to the only place where familiarity with the sea is, for a captain, merely a 'nice to have': Mittelheim.

(Above, top) The Sausage and the Centennial Sparrow begin to close with one another. (Above, bottom) As the Maverick begins to manoeuvre towards the stern of the Sausage, the other enemy ship, the Shrimp, runs out its guns in preparation to fire.

'Men', says Miguel loudly. 'Men, I have full confidence in your abilities in the coming battle. Indeed, such is my confidence in you, that I shall retire below. Do not disturb me unless the situation really merits it'. He pauses. 'And by "really merits it" I think that I mean that you should really be in need of my help. So, considering the range of possible scenarios, I'm thinking that "really merits it" might include circumstances not less than heavy damage to the ship; or a sustained enemy attempt to board us'. The captain starts to head below. Before he reaches the doorway, he pauses and turns.
'To be honest, lads, you should probably only come and get me for activities that really require the presence of the captain, such as surrendering this ship'.
(Below) As he finishes, the Shrimp fires both guns of its broadside at the Maverick.

The crew duck and then look up as both cannonballs whistle over the Maverick. When they look back, the captain has already gone. The door slams, and there can then be heard the sound of heavy furniture being dragged against it. Inspired by Miguel's leadership, the crew of the Maverick ignore the enemy fire and continue towards the Sausage ...

* Soon after naming this island, the Spanish discovered nearby an island that was even more unpleasant, which then had to be called 'The Island of More Death than the Island of Death'. A third, discovered later, wasn't quite as bad as the other two, and so was called 'The Island of Less Death than the Island of Death, but Watch out for the Snakes'. All of which illustrates the knotty problems caused by naming an island too soon. 

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Battenburg Down the Hatches!

Captain Hans Hohenlohe looks over the decks of the Centennial Sparrow. The ship is in chaos - the crew lie exhausted or injured; small conflagrations burn perilously upon the deck; rigging, yards, and other maritime paraphernalia lie strewn everywhere.
'That', says Hohenlohe to first mate, Lars Yerda, 'is the last fire drill that I think we'll ever be trying. What a farce!'
Yerda nods in agreement. 'With us the farce is'.

The Centennial Sparrow is bearing down on two enemy ships, the latter having picked up Herr Michael Agorn, pretender to the Vulgarian throne. This is the fourth ship to bear the proud name of Centennial Sparrow. The third, a fine sloop, alas had to be abandoned, when, after its tiller broke, it lost a game of chicken with a lighthouse. That the lighthouse was on land, of course, certainly didn't help matters. Though the sloop was a fast vessel with sleek lines, its sailing qualities were compromised somewhat by the colossal rocks embedded in its hull, and its rapid switch, thereafter, into a one-use-only submersible. Surviving the wreck through the expedient of abandoning ship an hour or so before the crash, Hohenlohe and his crew made their way back to Bestwestung, and purchased another vessel. Receiving more money from his Vulgarian sponsors, Hohenlohe was able to recruit a second ship, the Maverick (of which more next time). These new ships have proven to be effective. Making good time, both ships made their way to Rotenburg; embarked the required troops; dropped them off on the coast of Bachscuttel; and since then have been waiting off shore to re-embark the Rotenburg expeditionary force and their expected captive, or to deal with any Bachscuttel interlopers.

'Enemy ships in sight!' comes the shout from above.
'Not unexpected', comments Hohenlohe, 'given that they are right in front of us'. Rousing the crew, he makes his way to the front of the Centennial Sparrow (below).

'Prepare the ship for action!' shouts the captain to his quartermaster Crispin Drei.
'Aaaar, sir. Any particular sort of action?' enquires Drei. 'Should I tell the men to dress for dinner, sir, or might there be some form of dancing?'
'Those are enemy warships, mister Drei, and I hardly think that we shall drive them off with the vigour of our jigs'.
'Aaaar, aye aye sir!', replies Drei. He turns to the crew. 'Mister Skorbutthunde, drop the top sail ... No! No! The top sail! ... The top sail is the sail at the top! Those are your trousers!'
'Why hasn't he got any trousers on?' enquires Hohenlohe to the quartermaster. 'I don't like the cut of his jib'.
'Aaaar, it be his jib that's the problem, sir. I think we be seeing altogether too much of it!'
As his crew scurry across the deck of his ship, like chickens that, just prior to losing their heads, were also forced into sets of roller skates, Hohenlohe can't help feeling that his men seem to lack some of the enthusiasm necessary for the coming fight.
'The men seem strangely mutinous, mister Drei' says Hohenlohe. 'The fire drill was lamentable. An actual drill would have done less damage to the ship. Are they still annoyed by that thing about the grog?'
'Aaaar, it don't play well, sir', replies Drei.
'Look, I've been over this already many times. I ordered Yerda to procure six barrels of grog. I cannot be held responsible if he cannot read properly. I cannot conceive of how he mistook the first 'g' for an 'f'.'
'Bollocksed it up, I did', admits Yerda sheepishly.
'Aaaar, sir, I ain't blaming you - but a mug of amphibians just don't refresh a man like rum. And then there was that thing with the provender, sir'.
'You mean the Battenburg - who doesn't like Battenburg?'
'Aaaar, sir - but salted Battenburg?'
'Yes, but now it will last on a long voyage'.
'Aye sir, it will: because no one will eat it. Even the weevils won't touch it - and they like marmite'.
Hohenlohe nods. 'Well, here's a thing, then: I shall improve the men's morale with a moving pre-battle signal. Drei, take this down ...'

(Above) Action is imminent as the two fleets manoeuvre. (Above, top) The Centennial Sparrow heels to port (or whatever direction right might be when one is floating about on water); behind, the Maverick starts to turn as well. (Above, bottom) Fresh from the Bachscuttel coast sail the two vessels of the Palatinate's navy. In theory, Prince Rupprecht fields the most powerful maritime forces in Mittelheim, thanks to the launch of the twenty gun Princess Caroline. However, as has been noted in a previous account, this ship has yet to receive a trained crew. Instead, Prince Rupprecht must rely on two smaller vessels hastily procured from local merchants: a sloop, the Sausage, and a bark, the Shrimp.

(Below) The sloop Sausage fires all three guns of its mighty broadside. Sadly, however, as with its land-based counterparts, it seems that maritime artillery too is concerned mainly with making smoke and a loud noise, and only secondarily with inflicting physical damage upon the enemy. On the Centennial Sparrow the only impact of the attack is to cure one of Hohenlohe's sailors of his hiccups.

On the Centennial Sparrow. mister Drei reads Hohenlohe's planned signal and nods.
'Aaaar, sir! I be very moved. "Vulgaria Expects That Every Man Will Do" - fine sentiments indeed, sir. I just wonders if the end part might be changed a little'.
Hohenlohe narrows his eyes.
'Aaaar, sir. I just wonders if "His Duty" might be a better ending than "His Trousers Up'.
'Do you not think, Drei, that firmly secured britches are an important health and safety concern,especially in battle?' Hohenlohe then sighs. 'Very well - "Duty" it is - make the necessary changes to the signal. But I shall hold you personally responsible for every trouser-related accident on this ship'.
'Aaaar, sir: but since I be on the subject: I also wonders about the second part'.
'You mean the "Or I Shall Have You All Hanged Liked Dogs" part?' replies the captain.
'Yes, sir' says Drei, 'that part'.
'Well, mister Drei: what do you suggest?'
'Aaaar, sir: something less ... confrontational. Something more ... supportive. Empowering, dare I say it!'
Hohenlohe pauses to consider this. The enemy flagship looms through the smoke.
'Very well' he says finally, and orders set the requisite signal flags.

On the Maverick, the first mate reads out the message slowly ...