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 Small 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 ...

Monday, 29 October 2018

Chaptliptz, the Final!

Major Nicklaus-Maria von Richter-Mortis of the Rotenburg army gestures to the company of regular troops in front of him.
'Fix bayonets!' he orders.
There is a rippling clatter as the steel accouterments are appended to the ends of muskets, along with several exclamations of 'Ow!', 'Ooh, that stings!', and 'What's a bayonet?'
'Men!' shouts Richter-Mortis. 'Men (though I use the term rather loosely and in that general sense that would encompass all in humanity not explicitly dressed in skirts, and also some of the more intelligent of the great apes)! There is the hill upon which stands our objective! There at the foot of it are those enemy who would stand in the way of our glory!'
The men peer at the hill.
'Sir, I can't see our objective', says one firmly. 'I can't see that fellow anywhere'.
'Look', replies the major, waving his sword, 'you'll just have to trust me. He's up there in the largest of the bushes. Just head in the direction of the least convincing-sounding bird'.
'But if he's hiding, sir, how will we find him?' says another musketeer.
'It's not that large a hill top', says Richter-Mortis with exasperation. 'It really isn't. Just search the bushes until you find a bird that's about five feet seven inches tall and wears a wig and a pair of boots. It's not that challenging - you won't need to look hard and I guarantee there will be no need for a line-up of suspects'.

(Above) Seemingly satisfied, with a whoop one of the Rotenburg platoons charges forwards. Outnumbered, and roughly handled in all the wrong places, the defenders are driven backwards to the foot of the hill (below) The Bachscuttelers do not rout, however, and the attacking troops are now locked in combat. There is a cacophony of urgent shouts and despairing screams; bayonets flash; and the fight descends into a free-for-all redolent with all of the usual themes associated with war in Mittelheim: violence; tragedy; painful self-inflicted wounds; the particular persecution of any who seem different (smaller, for example; or foreign; or who seem better at using cutlery); a preference for attacking the already wounded; and a morally questionable use of sausages.

(Above) The second platoon of Bachscuttel musketeers can lend no aid. To their front (though out of shot of this wood cut), the remaining two platoons of Rotenburg regulars prepare themselves to attack.
Richter-Mortis stands ready to order them to advance. The courier is with him again, having brought more unsurprising news regarding the performance of the remains of the major's force of jagers.
'All dead, you say?' says the major.
'No, sir; not all' replies the messenger. 'Some are merely badly wounded; and many others have simply run off. Others, it seems are cowering in a small copse to the south and are awaiting the arrival of a sedan chair that will allow them to flee the battlefield in more comfort'.
Richter-Mortis expectorates a stream of curses that even a Fenwickian could not mistake for mere double-entendre - these are ripe, full-frontal, metal-bar-to-the-shinbone sorts of oaths, fully indicating that the major is firmly of the opinion that the jager are a gaggle of miserable individuals with a lower than usual chance of having an identifiable father; but who also have a higher than one might expect likelihood of engaging in unusual, and physically as well as morally risky, physical activities with livestock. 

(Below, at the bottom) Major Richer-Mortis gives the orders and, in an effort to break the enemy, the two Rotenburg platoons charge the remaining unengaged unit of Bachscuttel musketeers. The initial charge causes casualties, but doesn't break the defending troops.

(Above, at the top) Worse for the landgravate, the first Rotenburg platoon, temporarily successful, has no time to recover before it is charged by two platoons of Bachscuttelers: one of regulars and the other of irregulars. In the ensuing hand-to-hand combat, several of the Rotenburg troops are killed or wounded. (Below) The battle reaches what in Grand Fenwick couldn't be called its climax. The two Rotenburg platoons overrun their adversaries and then hurl themselves into the remaining fight in order to save their comrades!

(Above) As the melee continues, the platoon of Bachscuttel grenadiers fixes bayonets and prepares to charge.
'Hold, men!' urges Richter-Mortis
Having regained his vantage point upon the hill, Colonel Nockenshoppes prepares to order the grenadiers into the fray.
'Our men will never hold!' pipes up Herr Agorn from behind his bush.
Nockenshoppes seems more optimistic. 'Sometimes people can surprise you', he replies.
'Well yes', says Agorn, reflectively. 'I suppose they can. For example, they can hide in cupboards and then jump out into the room when you don't expect it'.
'No', replies the colonel. 'I mean that they do things that are unexpected'.
Agorn nods. 'Yes, like being married to the woman you're in bed with when they jump out of the cupboard'.
The colonel pulls a face and then turns to the officer commanding the grenadiers.
'Herr lieutenant, are your men up to this?'
'Yes sir; they know their onions'.
'Good, because this needs to be an effective assault'.
'No, sir - I mean that they know about onions. Mostly, they're farmers'.
Nockenshoppes gestures to the melee at the bottom of the hill. 'I am sure, my fellow, that it will be fine: after all, you have grenades'.
'You'd think so, wouldn't you?' answers the officer miserably before giving the order to advance.

(Above) The grenadiers charge into the combat. Though the Rotenburgers still have the numbers, their troops are heavily fatigued.
'They’re throwing cakes at us', they shout. 'The currants hurt!'
'They might have marzipan!' shout others. 'Spare us! Flee! Flee! Call some sedan chairs!'
After the shortest of resistance, the Rotenburgers break and quit the field!
At the same time, to the north sails appear upon the horizon - the navy is here!
'Hurrah!' shouts Nockenshoppes. 'Herr Agorn, the navy is here! We can cease this military pantomime - with our maritime forces present, we shall see some proper discipline, professionalism, and amusingly bandy lower limbs!'
'Hang on', says Agorn, reaching for his telescope (something else that probably couldn't done in Grand Fenwick). 'There are other sails behind them! Enemy ships in sight!'

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Chaptliptz, the Third!

'Damn you!' cries Herr Michael Agorn, Pretender to the Pretender of the throne of Vulgaria. 'Back! Back I say!' he discharges both of his pistols at point blank range. Dropping one, he reaches for his sword, only then to remember that the mighty heirloom of his house, "The Sword That Was Broken and Was Reforged But Then Got Broken Again", he has left at home somewhere under his bed. With a terrible cry he begins to pound his attacker with the butt of the other pistol.
'Begone!' cries Agorn, wielding his pistol. 'Begone! *thump* you shall *thump* never thwart *squeltch* my destiny *squeltch*!'
'He's dead', says Colonel Amadeus von Goethe-Nockenshoppes, commander of the detachment of Bachscuttel troops protecting Agron. 'He's really very dead indeed. That', he continues sadly, 'is a very dead sheep'.
 'He had a nasty look in his eye!' growls Agorn. 'I haven't walked hundreds of leagues through the wild and dangerous lands of the world to be laid low so near to my destiny!'
'You haven't walked hundreds of leagues through the wild and dangerous lands of the world at all', says Nockenshoppes. 'We did three miles. And you were in a coach. And in all honesty, Bachscuttel is not really a place that one would describe as "wild and dangerous"; except, perhaps, when there are shortages of leech brandy. Also', he adds, pointing at Agorn's expired assailant, 'I think he just wanted you to pet him'.
Agorn shakes his head. 'You didn't see the little fellow look at me. He could have had my arm off'.
Nockenshoppes tilts his dead, dubiously. 'If, my lord, he had teeth, and was carniverous. Or he had a saw, a measure of determination,  and opposable thumbs'.
Agorn gestures dismissively. 'Bah! Sheep!' he says, 'They're all a bit "meh"'.

Below the hill, the battle rather has begun to heat up. A platoon of Rotenburg jager have moved through the sheep-filled field. The latter have not made the mistake of exhibiting any undue friendliness towards the human interlopers. (Above) a platoon of Bachscuttel regulars fire a heavy volley of musketry against this threat, producing quite a remarkable amount of smoke. To their right Rotenburg musketeers are advancing boldly forwards, threatening the Bachscuttel defensive line.

'Our line is under pressure', says Nockenshoppes to Agorn over the sound of battle. 'Will you not come down the hill - I remember you noting during our journey here that you have "a fell hand and a deadly eye" in combat. We could certainly do with the help'.
Agorn considers this for a moment, then nods and reloads his pistols. 'No, I don't think so'.
'But', says the colonel taken aback, 'if you do not help then your reputation will be in tatters. Surely you will be known as naught but a coward and a poltroon of the very worst kind. Folk will shun you; or laugh at you; or, when you attempt to sit in taverns, pull your chair out quickly from under you'.
'I believe I'll survive', says Agorn. 'Which is more than can be said for what might happen if I go down this hill'.
'But', continues Nockenshoppes, 'without your good name or your honour, how will you rally the folk of Vulgaria to your cause?'
'Pah!' replies Agorn. 'This is political power we're talking about here. And Vulgaria. Honour, bravery, good names - such things matter less in Vulgaria then one's capacity to do amusing impressions of foreigners, and being able to play the national anthem by breaking wind'.
'These are low standards', says the colonel, unimpressed.
'You say that', admonishes Agorn, 'but have you ever tried playing music from your bottom? It takes quite a lot of practice and many changes of britches'.

'But the men need help!' says the colonel gesturing at the Rotenburg attack below, which seems to be gaining momentum. (Above) The Bachscuttel volley has had no effect on the jager.  'Lead them!' continues the colonel. 'Inspire them! They need to believe in something bigger!'
'What about Princess Caroline of Bachscuttel's backside?' suggests Agorn.
Nockenshoppes scowls. 'No, something massive, beyond even human reckoning!'
'Hmmm', says Agorn, 'I can't help thinking that that's still Princess Caroline', he says, shaking his head. 'I fear, my good colonel, that I have little to offer in that department. Though my lineage was great, my family were poor as church mice that had invested with unwise enthusiasm in South Sea related stocks. Not for me the haughty lessons of kingship that would prepare me to lead! My childhood was a strange affair: an uncommon blend of treachery, violence, bloodshed, dwarves, and gratuitous nudity'.
The colonel nods, impressed. 'That does indeed sound like quite a difficult childhood'.
'The dwarves were very nice', replies Agorn. 'Though I wouldn't recommend the combination of nudity and bloodshed'.
Nockenshoppes nods sagely. 'Though I suppose that it would cut down on the washing'.
'I suppose', replies Agorn.

Agorn stares down at the battle below. 'What are our chances, colonel? Are we on track to win?'
'More or less', says Nockenshoppes.  'Though I should admit, in the name of full transparency, that things probably err more towards the latter than the former'.
'So are we mainly likely to win, or do we just have some chance of success?'
'Well, "some" - more or less?'
'Tending towards "more"?
'Well, "less" I suppose'.
'So you mean "some" as in?'
'"None", truthfully', admits the colonel.
Agorn exhales. He is silent for a moment before announcing wearily, 'Very well, colonel. I shall give a speech to the men'.

Moments later, he is at the bottom of the hill. Above the sounds of fighting, his voice booms out.
'Sons of Bachscuttel! Of the Palatinate! My brothers! Or at least some relative of a nature sufficiently close that I might send you birthday greetings or a hearty missive at Christmas! I see in yours eyes the same fear that would make me mess my britches. A day may come when your courage fails; when we forsake our friends, and report them to the secret police for some unspecified but unpleasant indiscretion that we knew about but held back revealing in case some day it might prove useful; but it is not this day! An hour of angry sheep and somewhat bent swords when the age of Mittelheim comes crashing down; but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of Bachscuttel!'

'Hurrah!' shout the troops. (Above) Suitably inspired, Bachscuttel Croats fire an effective volley against the Rotenburg jager, driving them from the nearby field.
'Attack!' cries Agorn. 'Charge!' he shouts and breaks into a run.
Sadly, much of the impact of his speech dissipates as the troops watch Agorn sprint back up the hill. The rest of the impact disappears as they see him search for the largest shrubbery on the crown of the hill, and then crouch behind it, making noises like a small nesting bird.

(Above) Through the really quite extraordinary amounts of smoke that seems to have been generated by this battle, Colonel Nockenshoppes can see the advance of the Rotenburg regulars. Though, in relation to the soldierly principles of fire and movement, Rotenburg troops normally tend to focus on the latter (in general comprising by them of a range of vigorous movements both away from the enemy and in their own britches) these troops seem actually to be generating some meaningful forward momentum. The regulars of both sides begin to square up, bayonets fixed: an assault is in the offing and not the usual kind practised by the Rotenburgers in local taverns: this one threatens more in the way of bayonets and desperate hand-to-hand combat, and less in the way of kicking people in their potatoes and then stealing their drinks. Probably.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Chaptliptz, the Second!

As Herr Agorn stands ruminating upon Chaptliptz hill, the Rotenburg attack gets quickly underway, their commander, Major Nicklaus-Maria von Richter-Mortis, cognisant of the threat of the imminent arrival of a Bachscuttel naval force intent upon whisking Agorn from the coast here and depositing him in Vulgaria. To the south the three platoons of Rotenburg jager begin to move forwards. One platoon stays in reserve. A second moves left, intending to cross a small sheep-filled field and lay fire upon the Bachscuttel regulars. The third platoon, however, moves right. As a manoeuvre, this is something that might be termed 'optimistic'; or perhaps 'unrealistic'; or even by some as 'bull-wrestlingly mad'. Their adversaries (below) consist of two Bachscuttel platoons, including one of grenadiers. The jagers, however, seem optimistic. And who, indeed, would question them? Or rather, who could be bothered to question them, given the very small chance of getting  an answer that is even remotely intelligible?

In European armies at this time, jager tend to be comprised of irregulars made up of those already skilled in the use of muskets - gamekeepers, for example, or very angry wives. In Rotenburg, different standards are applied; and by 'different', of course, we mean standards that are much, much lower; standards that, if they were indeed standard, would indicate a level of attainment so low, that even those lizards mocked by their fellow reptiles for being a bit of a short-arse would have difficulty in squeezing themselves under them. In the case of these Rotenburg jager, the appellation 'irregular' actually would best be used to describe the frequency with which they turned up to train. Moreover, recognising the general level of popularity of Landgrave Choldwig in his kingdom, a level that our vertically-challenged lizard would in all honesty be able to step over with some ease, it has been deemed better in Rotenburg to ensure that firearms are kept out of the hands of anyone not in uniform and paid directly by Choldwig. As a result, in Rotenburg, the choice of men who are the finest shots is limited to a selection of billiard players. (Below) The jager advance forwards with the stealth of an obese giraffe in some form of tap-dancing footwear that has also, just that moment, discovered that it is on fire.

Alerted to the advance of the jager by the jager's advance in broad daylight across open ground, the grenadiers begin the combat by hurling their grenades. The effects of this are a little disappointing, a fact that causes some consternation in their ranks.
'Nothing!' says a lieutenant. 'And I hit one of those scoundrels right on the head!'
'I'm unsurprised', says a private. 'It was always unclear to me how it was that throwing cakes at the enemy would produce explosions'.
'They're not cakes - they're grenades!' replies the officer.
'No, no, sir - I'm strongly of the opinion that they're cakes', replies his compatriot.
'They're not cakes - they're dangerous pieces of cutting-edge military firepower'.
'I can see the currants'.
'No you can't see ... oh, actually you're right  But isn't this some canister balls?'
'Dried cherries'.
'Why are we throwing cakes?' asks the officer.
'I thought perhaps it's because we didn't like them - that they might have had marzipan in them'.
The officer collars his sergeant.
'Sergeant, I told you to get the necessaries from the armoury!'
The sergeant looks suddenly worried. 'Oh, armoury; I could have sworn that you said bakery'.
'Why would I order you to go to the bakery?'
'It did seem odd. But anyway, since I'd got the cakes, I told the cook that he may as well go to the armoury because we'd probably also need some grenades'.
The officer growls. 'So we've got the cakes and the cook's got ...'
'... the grenades' admits the sergeant. 'Yes, on reflection I can see how that might seem to be a bad idea'.
'We're in a life-and-death struggle armed with a selection of pastries, sergeant' says the officer slowly. 'and the cook has a box of grenades in a kitchen full of open fires; no I can't see a problem there'.
'It'll certainly add a frisson at dinner', admits the sergeant.

(Above) Switching from grenades to their muskets, the grenadiers fire a well-aimed volley at the enemy jager. (Below) The accurate fire scythes down half of the jagers' number. The Rotnburg attack is halted in its tracks. Not even in the toughest tavern dives of Alexandopolis had the billiard players suffered such casualties. Their counter-fire is wildly inaccurate and has no effect - no amount of trying to bounce one in off the cushion, or ricocheting one musket ball off of another seems to have an effect. 'Ooooh, that's a bad miss' comments their commander ruefully.

Richter-Mortis doesn't take the news of this early set-back very well.
'The first attack by the jager has failed, sir' reports a messenger. 'There's blood and dried fruit everywhere'.
'Pah!,' replies Richter-Mortis dismissively. 'You reach too early and too definitive a conclusion. As any experienced officer knows, it is inherently difficult in war to determine the conditions for success or failure: because over what time scale should one choose to measure the outcome? Or, to what extent are these conditions merely matters of perception? And by what metrics should one measure the outcomes of battle?'
'Well, sir', interrupts the messenger, 'in my time spent perceiving the jager, I think the key metric that might be of relevance is that they are all dead. Secondary benchmarks to measure the outcome of our attack could be that the enemy seem to be laughing a great deal, and also that they seem to be frisking the corpses of our troops and removing any objects of value'.
Richter-Mortis pauses. 'Hmmm ... Well ... Indeed.' He nods slowly. 'I think, then, that on the basis of your report I am willing to accept that we have certainly sustained a setback, but in relation to the longer-term circumstances ...'
'Sir, the longer term circumstances of those jager', interrupts the messenger again, 'is that they will no doubt end up in an unmarked grave without their boots and gold teeth. Later, one could probably say with some certainty that they will spend much of their time being mulched down by worms. By any metrics that one cares to choose, that would count as a bad day for them'.
'Bah!' replies the colonel. 'Fine. In the light of this ... incident'.
'Massacre' says the messenger.
'Reversal', says the major.
Size twenty shoe-ing'.
'Sir, I would say that our troops have been "creamed" but that would be too narrow a selection of dairy products to reflect the quite gigantic spankage that has been unloaded on that platoon of light troops'.
'"Mishap". I am willing to admit to there having been quite a mishap on that flank. But still, the day is young. Order forwards the remainder of out troops!'

(Above, left) The second platoon of jager push forwards into the field of sheep.
(Above, top) the company of Rotenburg regulars also begin to push forwards.
Richter-Mortis sends the messenger off with one final comment: 'Do not concede defeat too soon', says the major, 'for is it not said that "The art of victory is learned in defeat"?'.
'Then', adds the courier under his breathe, 'I can only conclude that we must have a truly enormous success in the offing, because we seem to be getting a very extensive learning'.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Chaptliptz, the First!

Darkness lies over the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel. Along the coast, a thin mist hangs in the blackness, lending to everything a soft ethereal glow. In front of us, a small peasant house stands silent. The occupant, a peasant farmer named Horst Hedlessmann, opens the door cautiously. A brooding dread has been forming in his heart all day, interrupting his rest; a dark foreboding; a dire trepidation that could only signal the return of his wife, Agatha, from her regular visit to her mothers. As he looks out into the night, shadows move in the blackness, and the garden gate seems to open of its own accord. Terror washes over him. Standing at the threshold of the hovel trembling, Horst quails and hurriedly shuts the door, locking it. There is the soft sound of feet moving stealthily. Inky shadows swarm forwards towards the little house. For a moment they wait under the eaves: there is a moment of silence; then the crowing of a cock indicates dawn. Suddenly, there is a rasp of drawn weapons and a heavy strike against the door.
'Open in the name of Rotenburg!' cries a voice.
'Er ... there's no one here', replies Horst tremulously, 'no one at all. Except a cat. Er ... meow!' he adds.
Horst can hear muffled voices on the other side of the door.
'Well, sir', says one, 'this house is empty. There's only a cat - and she won't be able to tell us the whereabouts of Herr Agorn'.
'Why not?' replies another voice, clearly that of an officer. 'I mean it's not often one finds a cat that can talk'.
There is a pause. The first voice then says 'I see your point, sir'.
Sudden blows rain upon the door and it gives way. Figures rush swiftly in, flooding the house. But it is already empty. Cold air drifts through the open shutters of the rear window. Out in the night a horn begins to blow, and a voice shouts out the traditional alarm of Bachscuttel: 'Run! The enemy are here! They'll kill us all! Flee! Hide! Piddle your britches!'
Inside the house, the Rotenburg commander kicks a chair in disgust. 'Dammit!' he says, 'where else could that blasted pretender be?'
'Well, sir', replies his sergeant. 'There's another small bay a little way on, apparently. The beach isn't as nice, by all accounts, but he might be there'.
'Fine! Fine!' says the officer, who goes by the name of Major Nicklaus-Maria von Richter-Mortis. 'Order the men to form up! March! March! We must have that damnable Agorn fellow in our clutches before the local militia gets itself organised!'

The sun rises over the horizon, bathing the coast of Saukopf-Bachscuttel in morning light. Most would agree that this is a bad thing. There are few places in Bachscuttel that can't improved in their looks by a bit more darkness, and perhaps also by closing one's eyes and slipping a bag over one's head. Generally, dawn in a place like Mittelheim is rather like opening the curtain's of one's bedroom after a heavy night of frolicking whilst one's parents are away: the feelings of apprehension that the scene revealed might be every bit as bad as one feared the night before when one spotted various guests spilling red wine on the carpets, vomiting in the cupboards, or setting fire to the servants; worry at who might be responsible for tidying things up; relief when one remembers that it's the servants; concern at how many of the servants might have survived the evening's immolation; weary lassitude and the strong feeling that conditions might be improved if one just skipped the coming day and moved straight on to going back to bed.

(Above) One fellow, though, who seems not be suffering from this bleak pessimism is Herr Michael Agorn, pretender to the Vulgarian throne, and latest pawn in the dirty years war. Agorn has shed his worn clothing and is now dressed as befits a man whose claim to fame is that he is more of pretender than the man currently pretending to be the Voivode of Vulgaria. In addition to an ensemble of white silk and a gold-laced tricorne, Agorn has dispensed with his sword, "The Sword That Was Broken and Was Reforged But Then Got Broken Again", and replaced it with a brace of pistols, on the basis that ancient heirlooms, honour, and ancient prophecy were all very well, but nothing says "get dead" like shooting someone in the face.

(Above) Agorn stands upon a small hill above a little bay. This part of Bachscuttel lies to the east of the small fishing port of Chaptliptz. By fishing village, of course, one means that the men occasionally go to sea, mostly in the hope of being carried off by pirates. Usually disappointed by this, they then have to stop off in the local market in order to buy fish in order not to make their wives suspicious. Surrounding the position is a company of the palatinate's troops, led by Colonel Amadeus von Goethe-Nockenshoppes. Dragged from the warm clutches of his winsome Kurlandian mistress, Lady Claudia Pantzov, Nockenshoppes is under strict orders to wait here for the arrival of a force of ships that will take Agorn by sea and river to Vulgaria.

Nockenshoppes will not be unhappy to see the back of Agorn. In the march to this secret rendezvous with the fleet, Agorn had argued that his long years in the wilderness had given him a range of skills that would help the troops along the way. Claiming to have 'some skill at hunting and foraging for food', Agorn had insisted that the column could dispense with supply wagons. Though Nockenshoppes was willing to accept that Bachscuttel was not, perhaps, the easiest place in which to live off the land, he was still of the impression that the activities of hunting and trapping connoted the provision of provender rather more tasty than the plates of leaves and dung beetles that Agorn provided. It also turned out that Agorn was rather unwilling himself to eat the supplies that he was providing, some of his 'hunting expeditions' comprising of excursions to local taverns in which the 'terrible privations' that he described suffering mainly comprised of him skipping the cheese course. After spending even this short time with Agorn, Nockeshoppes could well understand why it was that the Vulgarian pretender needed protection, his list of enemies, Nockenshoppes guessed, probably exhibiting a remarkably high degree of similarity to the list of people that had ever met him.

Nockenshoppes mood is not improved one whit by a sudden commotion that indicates the arrival of a dishevelled peasant. This fellow has disturbing but utterly predictable news: a band of Rotenburg troops, somehow deposited onto the coast of Bachscuttel, is on its way! (Above, top right) As the light improves, the enemy become apparent: three platoons of Rotenburg infantry. Clearly this is a mission of some import for the landgravate of Rotenburg, for the shambling, ragged formations, and the bovine, blank-faced apathy of the musketeers indicates something of an elite force by the landgravate's usual standards. Nockenshoppe grabs the peasant.
'Go at once to Chaplitz and rouse the militia. Only energy, rapidity, and celerity will suffice: go now, and waste no time!'
'Yes, sir - celery, sir: you can rely on me, sir'.
The fellow heads off at a run.
Nockenshoppe watches him for a minute. 'Hmmm', he says to a subaltern. 'Isn't Chaplitz the other way?'
'Yes, sir'.
'What's that way, then?'
'A tavern'.
'So we're going to be waiting for a while for those reinforcements aren't we?'
'Yes sir'.
'About the time the tavern closes tonight'.
'Yes sir. Perhaps a little after if he stops for a pie'.

The situation is worse than the colonel supposes. From the south arrive three more platoons of Rotenburgers. These aren't even regulars: they are light troops, and as desperate a band of thugs, cut-throats, and goat-fondlers as ever pulled on a uniform and tried to pass themselves off as fit for duty.
Nockenshoppe curses - where is the fleet? Ordering his troops to prepare themselves, he declares that they must defend the hill with their lives. 
'Sir, the enemy are approaching for their first attack!' cries the subaltern.
'The men seem quite cheerful, under the circumstances', notes the colonel.
'Yes, sir, but I think most of them misheard you. I suspect that they are over-estimating their own chances of surviving this battle because they think that they will be defending the hill with their wives'.
'Their wives might well make better soldiers', comments the colonel, 'They've certainly got more impressive facial hair. Steady men', admonishes Nockenshoppes, 'prepare to fire on my command .....'

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Fifteen Men in a Dead Man's Vest!

Captain Hans Hohenlohe whoops with delight as he stands upon the after-deck of the newly re-christened sloop the Centennial Sparrow. (Below) Salt spray blows across his face and the wind whistles through his wig. The maritime vicissitudes of the last few days have been forgotten in the excitement of a voyage in a marvellously uncrowded ship that goes decisively forwards in the water and not downwards in ways that make his toes all wrinkled. The voyage thus far has been relatively uneventful, the encounters including only a fishing vessel and a small basket of very sea-sick rats.

Quartermaster Crispin Drei joins Hohenlohe and first mate Lars Yerda on the after-deck. 'You called for me, sir. Aaaar!' he says above the sound of the wind. 
'Indeed! Indeed!' says Hohenlohe. 'It is time herr gentlemen to reveal to you our mission!' Yerda and Drei lean in.
'It would seem, apparently, that the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel intends to destabilise Vulgaria. They have their hands on a Vulgarian pretender!'
'A pretender?' asks Drei quizzically. 'Why on earth would they be needing a mime artist?'
'No', interjects Yerda, 'a pretender to the throne he is'.
Drei frowns. 'Oh. Aaaaar! But don't the prince of Vulgaria already be a pretender? Dimitri, he seems certainly only to pretend to be a decent ruler'.
'That is as may be, mister Drei', replies the captain, 'but we are tasked with interfering with this Bachscuttel plan. The Bachscuttelers have the pretender  in a small bay on their coast. He will soon be taken by sea, and then the river Strudel, to Vulgaria itself. We are to sail to Rotenburg; pick up landgravial troops awaiting there; and then land them  near to where the pretender is being held. Once these troops have seized the fellow, we shall sail him off to a future comprising of imprisonment, poor cuisine, and an unwelcome introduction to metal implements that are sharp, hot, heavy, or some uncomfortable combination of the three!'

'Aaaar!', replies Drei reflectively, 'but should we be doing that cap'n? I mean to say, sir, Dimitri - he ain't a good ruler. I'd like to think that a ruler had the best interests of his people at heart. It be important to do what's right'.
Hohenlohe raises his eyebrows. 'Do what's ...? But you're a pirate! Scourge of the seas!  Blood, plunder, "yo-ho-ho and a bottle of some readily available alcoholic beverage!"'
Drei shrugs. 'Well, in my time as a vicar ...'
'You were a vicar before you joined the ship?' asks Hohenlohe incredulously.
'Worked in a church you did?' adds Yerda questioningly.
'But', adds the captain, 'you don't seem very, you know ... religious'.
'Well cap'n - I wasn't a very good vicar. I couldn't get the hang of the tricky bits'.
'The tricky bits?'
'Aaaar, yes. You know: being meek; turning the other cheek, especially to meek people; helping others; believing in God'.
'So ... so ... what did you spend your time doing?'
'Aaaar, well: you know, the other things that priests be doing'.
'Eating and drinking, sir; sleeping, of course. Collecting tithes. Inappropriate touching; more drinking. Sermons, hypocrisy, that sort of thing. But mainly drinking. Or at least, that's what I mainly remembers doing. Aaaar!'
'Yes, but the touching - it was all taken out of context, sir. And I like to think that some of it rubbed off.'
'What, when you were touching?'
'No, sir. I means the general vicar atmosphere of being supposed to be doing good things and wanting life to be, well nice. For poor people, sir. And, er, the meek. And samaritans. The good ones. Aaaar!'
'No! No! No!' replies Hohenlohe adamantly. 'We complete our mission. Damn it, Drei - you're a pirate now and not a vicar: a life of carefree violence and alcoholism, unfettered by such petty concerns as laws and morals'.
'There be more overlap with a vicar's life than yer might think, cap'n. Aaaar!'
Bemused, Hohenlohe orders the crew to set a course for Rotenburg!

'Good progress, we're making, captain', says Yerda later, as Hohenlohe scans the coast.
'Yes indeed', he replies. But the captain's concentration is broken by a terrible cacophonous noise emanating from the ship: a sound that seems to comprise of a blend simultaneously of a tedious drone, the sound made by nails being drawn down some form of chalkboard, an ex-wife or elderly relative asking loudly and repeatedly for some form of extended financial support, and a group of parrots singing their favourite selection of Welsh folk songs.
'Mister Drei', shouts Hohenlohe. 'Mister Drei, what in the name of Beelzebub is that terrible noise!'
Drei returns to the after-deck. 'The men be amusing themselves with a song, sir. Aaaar!'
Yerda nods in agreement. 'Singing sea shities they are'.
'Shanties, mister Yerda', corrects Drei. 'They be sea shanties'.
Hohenlohe grimaces. 'No, I think mister Yerda has it right'.
'15 men on a dead man's chest', says Drei. 'It be traditional'.
'Is it traditional to sing it so badly?' asks Hohenohe morosely. 'And anyway, it seems an odd song'.
'Why be that, sir?'
'Well, it seems quite specific. Why 15? I mean, I think having about three men on my chest would probably kill me. The other 12 seems quite unnecessary.
'Perhaps, they just all be needing a hug, sir. Aaaar! Pirating can be quite stressful. Or, perhaps it's not "on his chest". Perhaps it's "in a dead man's vest"'. 
'"15 men in a dead man's vest"? That doesn't seem practical. It would be too crowded, surely'.
Drei contemplates this. 'Perhaps, sir, they wears it one after another?'

(Below) 'Bring her about, mister Yerda!' shouts Hohenlohe as dusk begins to arrive.
'Sir, aye, aye!' says the first mate.

As the Centennial Sparrow wears, the captain and quartermaster look down at the plates of food that both hold, carefully trying to avoid spilling the contents as the deck shifts beneath them. They both stare at their dinner. The cook has tried some innovative approaches to cooking the salt pork.
'You haven't eaten your supper, sir. Aaaar!' says Drei.
Hohenlohe pulls a face. 'In truth mister Drei, I cannot. It's awful. I love a good weevil as much as the next man, but the cook's ruined them too. Look at them'.
'What be those weevils doing, sir?'
Hohenlohe peers at his plate. 'I think, Drei, that they're trying to surrender. It's no surprise to me that the cook also doubles as the carpenter. This doesn't taste very nice at all'.
'Arrr! No, sir, but the pork does have a lovely set of dovetail joints'.
'We should just throw it overboard: perhaps the dolphins would like it'.
'No, sir - I be thinking that the pork ain't even good enough for them. In fact, you might say that it's just "not fit for porpoise"'.
Hohenlohe looks at Drei. Drie shrugs and mimes a small drum roll.

Suddenly, from above comes a loud cry of 'Ship ho!'
Hohenlohe quickly has his spyglass to his eye, searching the horizon.
Behind them there is a curse and then a terrible splintering sound. Looking around, Yerda seems to have in his hands a length of broken wood that looks depressingly like the tiller.
'Just came off in my hands, it did' cries Yerda.
'No tiller! We can't turn!' cries Drei. 'We be fine, though', he says, recovering his equilibrium. 'I'll have the men do some repairs. That ship'll be able to turn and avoid us!'
Hohenlohe turns wearily. 'I think, gentlemen, that that ship is going to cause us more trouble than you think'.
'Aaaar! Why sir - has the other ship got a pirate flag on it?'
'No Drei, the other "ship" has a lighthouse on it'.
There is a moment of silence.
'Shafted we are', says Yerda.