Friday, 21 December 2012


The Battle of Heyenkarbz, July 1756

Wherein the army of the Landgravate of Hesse-Rotenburg under Furst Augustus Saxe-Peste encounters the army of the Empire of Grand Fenwick commanded by Marshal Ignacio Grace a Dieu Cavandish

     The village of Heyenkarbz, half a mile south of the Rotenburg capital, Alexandopolis: the Seven Beers War reaches its final climactic encounter. After three victories, the Mockers' star is in the ascendent - the Transylvanian pretender to the throne of Gelderland, Count Vlad Drakul, is already reputedly measuring the Gelderland palace for new blackout curtains and an extension to the graveyard. Rotenburg now stands alone: after two sharp defeats, their Nabstrian allies have fallen back in disorder on their capital Falkensteinburg. The Rods' candidate for the throne, Juan Cornetto, now mopes disconsolately in the Rotenburg capital, praying for a miracle and also a meal that, for once, doesn't include pickled leeches.

     Luckily for Choldwig, the Landgrave of Hesse-Rotenburg, the Mockers' plan for a two-pronged Bachscuttel/Fenwick assault on Rotenburg has come to nothing. The Bachscuttel commissariat has collapsed, leaving their army stranded in the Nabstrian town of Wunderdorf. Completely out of scones, and having emptied the surrounding countryside of waffles, stollen, and all available morning goods, the Bachscuttel army now barely survives on salads and a foul local concoction known as muesli. Rubbing their swollen tummies and scratching their hessian underbritches, the Palatinate's army is in no condition for campaigning. Undeterred, the Imperial army under Marshal Cavandish has marched northeastwards across Gelderland, intent on invading Rotenburg and ending the war. Having crossed the border two days ago, the Imperial army is barely hours from the capital. There is nothing for it: Furst Augustus concentrates the Rotenburg army in a blocking position, and leads his forces onto the attack to save his Landgrave, his country, and his honour. On a bright summer's morning, the two armies array themselves for manly combat.

     Ordinarily preferring to command from the comfort of his bed, Marshal Cavandish is fully awake, an unwelcome and unnerving condition for him, caused by the capture, at the battle of Furkohl, of General Tonifruttipandi's entire stock of cappucinos. Surveying the Imperial army, Cavandish tries to devise a plan that can be communicated to his adjutant through the medium of mime: for the Marshal has long ago realised that the Fenwickian love of double entendre has rendered pointless any attempt to conduct a conventional orders group. In the past, the Marshal's attempts to issue verbal orders have rarely got beyond the opening comment 'Adjutant, will you hold my baton, please' before the Imperial officers are reduced to a hopeless scrum of snickering 'fnars'. (Below, right) Through crude gestures, not all of them related to orders, the Marshal succeeds in deploying his troops into two lines. The open terrain allows him to concentrate his cavalry on his right; his infantry is positioned astride the Heyenkarbz road; his artillery is deployed into two batteries to give maximum fields of fire.

     (Above) To the rousing beat of regimental drums and flutes, the Rotenburg army leaves its encampment and readies itself for battle. Deploying his cavalry in front of Heyenkarbz on his left, Furst Augustus concentrates his infantry and artillery to his right. Two units of mercenary irregulars are deployed into the woods that connect his infantry and cavalry: there, they can cover the centre and menace any woodland creatures of moderate size or smaller. The globular Furst Augustus has a cunning plan: well-equipped with some wiley stratagems, he believes that he is in a position to advance upon the Imperial line, steal the first volley and augment it with some deadly fire: combined with the Landgravial army's capability for lethal volleys, this will surely carry the day. 'What can go wrong?' he coos to the handsome tavern wench with whom he has spent the night frolicking, a maid by the name of Tabitha Fenwick-Spye. 'What indeed', says Tabitha, twirling her moustache and rummaging through the Furst's pockets.

     (Below) 'Forward!' orders the Furst; 'forward to glory; also, where are my trousers?' Orders pass down the line; the drums beat; the flutes shriek; harness jingles; and the Rotenburg line advances. Marshal Cavandish rides up and down the Imperial lines: at the sight of him the troops roar 'Fenwick forever!,' 'Death to Rotenburg!,' and 'Who is that fellow on the horse?'

     (Above) As the Rotenburg troops advance, the Imperial artillery, professionals all, pour fire into the outside of the Rotenburg line, forcing it to halt momentarily to dress ranks in order to fill the bloody holes. Losing himself in the moment, Cavandish howls 'That's it, men: give them a taste of ball!', a comment which has the predictable effect of replacing the volleys of cannon fire with a fusillade of 'fnars!'. The Rotenburg line begins its advance again:  'Death or glory!' shout the Rotenburg troops, 'but preferably the latter!'

     (Below) As the Rotenburg line reaches musket range, a strange and momentary silence descends on the field as the two forces poise to fire. 'Messieurs les Rotenburgers, tirez les premiers' offers an Imperial officer. The Rotenburgers peer suspiciously: 'What's he say?'; 'I Don't know - is he asking the way to the beach?'; 'Fire you fools,' orders Furst Augustus, 'Fire first,dammit, fire! Fire!'. It is clear, however, that something has gone terribly wrong. A colossal intelligence failure seems to have given Cavandish the Furst's plan and Augustus has somehow lost the vital initiative that he had hoped to have in the crucial opening volley. As rolling fire begins to commence down the Rotenburg line, the Furst wails: 'How! How has this happened?', whilst Tabitha, wearing a new pair of trousers, shuffles off slowly, staring upwards and whistling tunelessly.

     (Above) But the Rotenburg goose is not cooked yet. The opening Imperial volley is a dismal expectoration of smoke and random musical noise: indeed, only the Imperial artillery inflicts any casualties. The Rotenburg troops now reply with a well aimed salvo, staggering the Imperial line, and an extended firefight begins: each side pouring volley after volley into the other; as casualties mount, only the presence of the respective commanders succeeds in keeping the troops on the field. 'To me, men' shouts Furst Augustus, 'For our Landgrave's sake! For our country's sake! For God's sake, where are my trousers?'.

     (Below) However, as the terrible musket duel prolongs, the Imperial troops begin to improve the accuracy of their fire. Under the weight of deadly volleys, the Rotenburg infantry battalion on the Furst's extreme rightwing breaks and runs. Busying himself with inspiring his troops, Furst Augustus cannot spare the time to put his troops into an extended line, making it more difficult for him to bring his numbers to bear.

(Below) Marshal Cavandish seizes the moment: 'Grenadiers forward! Charge!' he orders, and the Imperial infantry advances against the Rotenburg troops.'For the King!' shouts Furst Augustus, as his troops cross bayonets with the Imperial troops.

     (Below)  In the vicious melee that ensues, two more Rotenburg battlions are broken on the right of their front line: but two Imperial battalions are driven back through their own lines, disintegrating in the process. Again, the attack dissolves into an extended musketry duel.

     (Below) The battered troops on both sides take heavy casualites. Exhausted, four more battalions on each side break.

     Cavandish, though still has his Grenadiers in reserve and orders them up. Faced by a three to two advantage in numbers, the exhausted Rotenburg infantry cannot take any more and they flee. (Below) Having exhausted his stock of infantry, the Furst looks back at his remaining troops, searching for options. In the woods, the irregulars studiously avoid making eye contact with Augustus and instead busy themselves frisking a middle-aged squirrel. Then, to wild cheers from the two irregular battalions, Furst Augustus orders forward his cavalry in a final death or glory charge.

     (Below) Checking their dressing, and some also their life insurance, all four Rotenburg cavalry regiments bear down on the Imperial line. Cavandish sees the threat: with both armies perilously close to breaking, the Rotenburg cavalry aims to pin the Imperial cavalry to the front, whilst hussars ride down Cavandish's guns and then sweep onto the right flank of his remaining infantry. With loud cheers, the Rotenburg cavalry put their stirrups in and crash into the defending Imperials.

     (Below, centre) With anguished cries, the Imperial artillery are sabred to a man! Luckily for Cavandish, no one in the Imperial army sees to care very much: 'I never liked them,' comments one cavalryman. In the cavalry melee, charge and counter-charge commence, before, finally, one of the Rotenburg regiments breaks: with it, the whole army gives up in despair and begins to quit the field. Victory for Grand Fenwick!

     The road to Alexandopolis is open; the war, surely, is now over. On the battlefield, Marshal Cavandish surveys the happy faces of his troops. For a moment, he feels almost well-disposed to his battered soldiery, a feeling that soon disappears when he realises he must now find some way of communicating to them the need to pursue the Rotenburg irregulars, but without using the words 'ride,' 'rear,' or 'wood.' In Alexandopolis, Landgrave Choldwig takes the news of the defeat comparatively well: refusing, on account of his previous good service to Rotenburg, to have Furst Augustus hung and drawn, the Landgrave merely signs an order to have him quartered. Meanwhile, putting on a false moustache, of which there seem to be an inordinate number in Rotenburg, the pretender Juan Cornetto slips out of the Landgrave's palace and searches for the next cart to Turin.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


The Battle of Wunderdorf, June 1756

Wherein the army of the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel, led by General Graff von Barry-Eylund encounters the army of the Burgravate of Nabstria, commanded by General Tonyfruttipandi.

     As summer arrives, the Seven Beers War continues to rage. Rallying the Nabstrian army after its setback against Grand Fenwick, General Tonyfruttipandi leads his forces to meet an invasion by Bachscuttel. The Nabstrian commander is happy to be on campaign: rumours have told him that in Falkensteinburg, the Nabstrian captial, his secret past has been discovered. It transpires that the man known as General Lord Tonyfruttipandi, graduate of the Scholae Militaris and soldier of fortune, is actually Meester Luigi Tuttifrutticandi, a wandering sous-chef.  Recognising that only a victory can save him from some hot poker-related Burgravial displeasure, the General marches swiftly eastwards to confront the forces of General Barry-Eylund. Outscouted again, the army of Bachscuttel finds itself with the burden of attack. The objective: the hamlet of Wunderdorf, four miles inside Nabstria and the perfect base from which the Palatinate's troops can pillage anything that isn't nailed down; and then, after a rest, steal the stuff that is nailed down too.
     (Above) Anchoring his left on Wunderdorf, the wily Tonyfruttipandi deploys his infantry into two lines. Thanks to its rough handling in May by Fenwick, the Nabstrian army now has three battalions of conscript infantry. These are placed in the front. To the rear are the Garde du Corps (green flag) and the trained troops. A battalion of irregulars holds the hamlet: another holds itself ready on the right to move forward into woods and from there threaten the flank of the enemy advance. The cavalry are divided between the two flanks. With his guns in the centre, Barry-Eylund responds to the Nabstrian deployment by placing six battalions of infantry in line on his left. On the right, four cavalry regiments and two battalions of irregulars are deployed. Four infantry battalions are placed in reserve columns. Exhausted by his exertions, Barry-Eylund has some hot milk and a nap.
     With loud cheers from both sides, the battle commences. On the right of the Bachscuttel line, the cavalry, commanded by Alain, Comte de Finay, advance against the Nabstrians, supported by the two irregular battalions. (Below)

     Soon, the pressure on the Nabstrian left begins to mount, as the combination of the irregulars and cavalry begin to  push back the Nabtrian forces. Inexplicably to Tonyfruttipandi, and with some ungentlemanly snickering from his adversaries, his hussar regiment rides into the nearby marsh rendering them as much use as a cat-flap in an elephant house. It is a moment of mounting military crisis, and Tonyfruttipandi, General and some-time chef, does what he always does when facing a complex battlefield problem: he asks himself 'What would Delia do?' The answer is obvious. The pressure on his left is temporarily relieved when the Bachscuttel horse are forced to a peremptory halt by an unexplained marsh: 'That's not on the map!' claims the Comte de Finay sniffily. In the centre, the Nabstrian commander throws his entire infantry force forward in a bold counterattack - with loud 'huzzahs' (and some weeping from the ranks of the conscripts), the drums roll, and the Nabstrian battalions march steadily forwards (below) 'God and Nabstria!' troops cry; 'Charge! Charge!' shout others; 'I resign! Help! Help!' murmur the front ranks.

     (Above) Barry-Eylund snores loudly, turns in his bed and says 'No more turnips mother: the squirrels have eaten my nuts.' This his adjutant interprets as an urgent order to send forward the four reserve battalions currently behind the guns: they will form line to the left, placing themselves in a position to enfilade the open flank of the advancing Nabstrians. As their enemies advance, the Bachscuttel battalions prepare to fire, recognising that in an extended musketry duel the lethal Nabstrian volleys are likely to tell. (Below) However, the ensuing fight is disastrous for the Nabstrian infantry and their position collapses quicker than one of Tonyfruttipandi's souffles.

    As volleys roar along the line, two Nabstrian conscript battalions are soon put to flight. Worse, the Bachscuttel reserve battlions deploy into line and then push against the open flank of the Nabstrian infantry, bayoneting the wounded and any Nabstrians that seem quite small. With thoughts of hot pokers looming large in his mind, Tonyfruttipandi orders up the elite von Gank Horse for a desperate charge: if they can just break through the Bachscuttel reserves .....

(Above) Alas, it is all to no avail. Turning to face the elite Nabstrian cavalry, the Bachscuttel infantry succeed in driving them off. Amidst the swirling smoke of the main infantry firefight, the last of the Nabstrian conscript battalions is broken; and then the Burgravial Garde du Corps; and then another of the three remaining infantry battalions, along with Sir Theodore Creasey. The battle is lost for Nabstria! As the Burgravate's remaining forces stream from the battlefield, Tonyfruttipandi rides his horse disconsolately back towards Falkensteinburg, his experience an object lesson in the fact that an ability to create mouthwatering frangipans is no substitute for military competence, no matter how light the pastry.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


The Battle of Furkohl, May 1756

Wherein, the army of Nabstria under General Tonyfruttipandi encounters the Imperial Fenwick army, led by Marshal Cavandish.

     Just as Rotenburg’s forces begin their advance into Bachscuttel, the army of the Burgravate of Nabstria launches a parallel offensive into the Empire of Fenwick, hoping to overwhelm the Imperial forces before they have time to concentrate. Unluckily for the Nabstrian commander, Lord Tonyfruttipandi, Fenwick is so small that merely by exiting their beds, the Imperial army becomes massed for action. Predictably, the Imperial Army is outscouted and is forced onto the defensive.

     (Above) The Imperial commander, Marshal Cavandish, seeks to defend the key objective, the hamlet of Furkohl, by digging his troops in behind a handy stream; he hopes that his massed artillery will break up any Nabstrian attack. The wiley Lord Tonyfruttipandi makes the most of the passive Imperial defence by deploying almost the whole of his infantry into march columns on the left of his line: these will launch a rapid assault against the Imperial right wing; his cavalry is deployed behind a hill, out of the reach of the Imperial artillery but still able to threaten the Imperial left.

     The battle opens predictably enough: the Nabstrian forces begin their flank march - three battalions of light troops and six of regulars begin their move under Fruttipandi’s watchful eye. Meanwhile, (above) the Imperial artillery begins to bombard the single Nabstrian regular regiment protecting the centre of the Nabstrian line, while the rest of the Imperial army has elevenses. It transpires that this regiment are merely conscripts, and they begin to suffer from the surprisingly accurate cannon fire. For Marshal Cavandish, the battle seems to be going, very well: but then, he is still having a nap. In the meantime (to the right of the picture) Nabstrian irregulars have begun to push through the woods covering the Imperial right wing. This could be tricky - the Imperial troops covering this flank are regulars, but they are deployed in the woods, which makes it difficult for them to manoeuvre and means they will also have to conquer their fear of squirrels.

The main Nabstrian attack force follows behind the irregulars (above) accompanied by General Tonyfruttipandi. The General, still smarting from the appearance of the stream in front of the Imperial lines, spends some of his time encouraging his troops, and the rest muttering about the ‘slimey Bachscuttel rulesmeister and his fricking water-feature.’

     Somewhat surprisingly, it quickly becomes evident that the Nabstrian irregulars are taking a caning: lethal volleys from the Imperial regular infantry decimate two regiments of the Nabstrian light troops. Shocked, but pleased, Marshal Cavandish snores loudly. Since the volleys between the Nabstrian irregulars and the Imperial troops have done nothing except crucify the irregulars and hide the squirrels in smoke, General Fruttipandi orders his regulars through the woods and into a firing line (below).

     Nabstrian line infantry take up positions to either flank of the remaining light troops, whilst the Nabstrian Burgravial Garde du Corps regiment begins to push forwards (green flag). The situation becomes gradually more urgent for the Imperials: it is clear that the Nabstrians are angling for a charge against the Imperial artillery. Exchanges of musketry roll along the firing line on both sides. Casualties mount, and on the extreme right of the Imperial line, one regiment is almost at breaking point (yellow flag). Needs must, and Imperial flunkeys wheel Marshal Cavandish’s bed amongst his troops, reassuring them that, whilst the Marshal still slumbers, his adjutant is in command and so victory is still possible.

     Indeed, it becomes clear that an unfortunate dynamic is working against General Fruttipandi. Whilst he must expend his energies in pushing his troops forward, Marshal Cavandish need only hold his ground and rally. In this way, the vicious exchanges of lethal volleys begin to weigh more heavily upon the Nabstrian troops. Soon, the first Nabstrian regular regiment breaks: it occupies the position in front of the Imperial guns. By breaking, it does, however clear the way for the Nabstrian Garde du Corps, and General Fruttipandi hurls them forwards (below). One battery is overrun, but the effect of the stream and the Gabions protecting the guns is too much and the elite Nabstrians are driven back.

 Worse, the lethal musket duel has reached a decisive point. More rallying by Cavandish’s comatose body have held the Imperial troops on the field, but with one last roar of small-arms, two more Nabstrian regiments are overwhelmed (below).

As the smoke clears, the Nabstrians can be seen withdrawing. Hurrah for Marshal Cavandish! Grand Fenwick for ever! General Fruttipandi is the last Nabstrian to leave the field. With a last single-finger salute to the Imperials, he rides off sadly.


The Battle of Lowenfaht, May 1756

Wherein, the army of Saukopf-Bachscuttel under General Graff von Barry-Eylund encounters the Hesse-Rotenburg Grand Army, led by Furst Augustus Saxe-Peste.

     The Seven Beers War begins! Furst Augustus attempts to seize the initiative with a daring thrust across Rotenburg’s western border into the Palatinate of Saukopf! After 20 minutes and four hundred yards, the Rotenburg army reaches the limit of its logistic lines of supply and halts at the Saukopf border town of Lowenfaht: here it hopes to rest and find the means to replenish its exhausted stocks of scones. Their disappointment at finding nothing but weevilly stollen is compounded by the arrival on the horizon of what is either the army of Saukopf-Bachscuttel, or a travelling circus (though if it is the latter, then it is acknowledged to be a very good one, with plenty of midgets, bearded ladies and so forth). The wind changes direction, bringing the unmistakable odour of the forces of Saukopf: wearily, and without the benefit of their afternoon tea, the Rotenburg forces form line of battle. Augustus arrays his troops in a strong defensive position: Lowenfaht is garrisoned and anchors the Rotenburg right wing; the small village of Furtpilau on their left is also garrisoned; the bulk of the remaining infantry is arrayed between them. The cavalry is deployed equally between the two wings, whilst both artillery batteries are hastily put into prepared positions supporting Lowenfaht.

     Meanwhile, the army of Saukopf-Bachscuttel begins its own deployment. General Barry-Eylund has already decided that he will attack the Rotenburg army without further ado. His own troops are in poor condition and morale is low: the lamentable state of the Saukopf commissariat has led his troops to be equipped with the very hairiest of hessian britches, but no undergarments; the Palatinate’s stockpile of the latter is held at Lowenfaht. Now suffering from terrible chafing, the Saukopf army must take back its underpants or die trying. Barry-Eylund hopes to flank the Rotenburg artillery, pin the enemy cavalry behind it, and then roll up the Rotenburg line from left to right, For this desperate enterprise Barry-Eylund masses 6 battalions on his left, headed by both Saukopf Guard units. All four regiments of Saukopf cavalry are arrayed in the centre in column, awaiting developments. Two units of infantry are in column, ready to to be deployed against the Rotenburg centre. The rest of the army, four regiments of light troops, one of conscripts and three artillery batteries, hold the centre and right of the line (below).

     With a limp ‘Huzzah!’, the Saukopf drums beat, the bayonets glitter in the afternoon sun, and the left wing regiments mince forward as fast as their chafed legs will allow. (Below)

     The minutes pass, and the Saukopf regiments march resolutely forward. The two regiments in column (red and yellow flags) begin their movement into the centre in preparation for their deployment into line. Suddenly, to loud cheers from the Rotenburg troops, both Rotenburg batteries open up, first with ball, and then canister. Nevertheless, despite some losses, the Saukopf assault column tramps inexorably forwards. Soon, the lead elements approach Lowenfaht: here, Barry-Eylund intends that they should wheel right and flank the artillery. (Below)

     Sadly, all does not go to plan - as the Milchfrau Liebgarde (white flag) approach Lowenfaht, the Rotenburg garrison begin a barrage of taunts and stale stollen more galling to the guard even than their hessian britches. With a roar, the guard charge Lowenfaht. After a predictable shoeing, the Liebgarde spend the rest of the battle halted in front of Lowenfaht engaged in an unprofitable musket duel.

     Nevertheless, the Saukopf attack begins to have an effect. (Below) Wheeling right, the Hoffmeister-Bayer Grenadiers (red flag) seal off the flank of the Liebgarde (white flag) from the Rotenburg cavalry. Two fierce cavalry charges are driven off by the Hoffmeister regiment. The second line of the attack column (orange and light blue flags) cut down the Rotenburg artillery with some surprisingly accurate musketry.

     Across the line, volleys are exchanged and casualties mount; the garrison of Lowenfaht, in particular, do great execution, testing the bovine endurance of the Saukopf guard regiments. Twice, Barry-Eylund himself is forced to rally the line and restore order. Augustus begins to try and move regiments across the stream from his left wing to strengthen his line. In the centre, the Saukopf artillery continue having a lovely snooze.

     Gradually, however, the Rotenburg position begins to unravel. (Above) Augustus pushes forward his centre to bring the Saukopf march columns under fire; Rotenburg musketry drives them off (yellow and red flags). But in doing so, some Rotenburg troops expose their flank to the Saukopf centre, whilst others are left struggling in the stream. Barry-Eylund orders his cavalry into position for a grand charge.

Huzzah! (Above) Forward go two regiments of Saukopf horse! After a brief clash of arms, one Rotenburg regiment breaks and, with night approaching, Augustus grudgingly concedes the day, beginning a well-handled withdrawal back across the border. Without pausing even to put on their new underwear, the Saukopf troops flop down exhausted. A victory of sorts for Saukopf, but a far from convincing one.

Monday, 19 November 2012


     And so it came to pass that the heavy hand of war fell upon Mittelheim. Hesse-Rotenburg was the first to declare its allegiance, siding with ‘the Rods’ in defence of the claims of Duke Juan Cornetto. Nabstria too, joined the Cornetto cause. Set against them were the states of Saukopf-Bachscuttel, who mobilised in support of Lord Drakul and his ‘Mockers’ party; and the Empire of Grand Fenwick, who also mobilised in the cause of the Transylvanian. Meanwhile, the other states of Mittelheim look on from the sidelines, claiming that their invitations to the fight must have got lost in the post.

     There is much at stake. Each of the pretenders to the throne of Gelderland have promised their supporters lands and wealth. There is, moreover, a religious dimension to this conflict. Cornetto and his ‘Rods’ are Catholic (though there are rumours that Nabstria might also worship other, darker, gods), whilst the Mockers are adherents to the Protestant faith: or at least, the fun bits that involve lighting Catholics. With an enthusiasm stoked mainly by fine wine and crude ignorance, the armies of the Seven Beers War quickly come to blows ...........


     It is May 1756. Somewhere in central Europe (to the right of Prussia, perhaps; to the east of Austria; a bit up and then a lot down from Sweden) lies the region known as Mittelheim. Few maps mention it, except perhaps to append the note 'Here be manure'. Little has been written about it (still less, if on excludes the graffiti on the walls of Prussian water closets). Yet here it is: Mittelheim - once part of the Merovingian kingdom; then exchanged with the Barbarossas for a horse and two casks of leech brandy. Somehow, over the centuries that followed, Mittelheim slipped out of the direct control of the European great houses and established itself as a small independent kingdom; too poor to loot, and so muddy that it seemed too much effort to invade. Since then, the Mittelheim kingdom has fractured into  a plethora of smaller political entities - Burgravates, Landgravates, Palatinates, Electorates and sundry combinations, all created by local lords keen on trying to improve their image in Europe more widely by removing the word 'Mittelheim' from their title. Perhaps the nearest Mittelheim has come to impinging upon the major powers of Europe was when the Prussian King, Frederick I, strayed close to the Mittelheim border and exclaimed: 'What in God's name is that awful smell?'

     Yet, Mittelheim’s peace is now in the balance. Over the long centuries, Mittelheim developed (if the word ‘develop’ could ever be properly applied to a place where the chief institute for the study of science is the Naffdorf Academy of Alchemie and Whytchcrafte) a form of regional power-balancing, in which order was maintained by the Kingdom of Gelderland. Gelderland is the leviathan of Mittleheim: the Goliath to the Davids of the surrounding petty powers. Of course, by comparison with Europe generally, this is rather like describing Gelderland as a big pile of manure surrounded by some rather smaller piles of manure. Nevertheless, it is Gelderland that has, over the years, prevented from tearing one another to pieces the clutch of chinless in-breds that constitute the ruling houses of the surrounding petty states.

      Now, all this threatens to crumble. The King of Gelderland, Karl-Rudolph III, of the House of Neissup-Clapphandze, lies on his deathbed. Having put rather too much effort into eating pies and rather too little into producing legitimate issue, Karl-Rudolph is, as a result, a corpulent salad-dodger with no direct heir. The final nail in the King’s especially reinforced coffin has come as a result of an extensive drinking binge: having been called by the Duke of Styria ‘a thigh-slapping shandy boy,’ Karl-Rudolph sought to prove his manliness by quaffing seven tankards of Heldenbrau Grossenbier, a brew with the consistency of mercury and about the same health benefits. With the King only hours from meeting his maker, the process has begun that will ignite what has already become known as The Seven Beers War. Gelderland now stands on the brink of a succession crisis. On the one hand lie those who support the claims of Karl-Rudolph’s second cousin, once removed, the Italian aristocrat Juan Cornetto (‘the Just’); on the other, lies those who favour the rights of Karl-Rudolph’s Transylvanian uncle Drakul the Impaler (‘a lovely man once you get to known him’).

     Now, the states of Mittelheim are dividing into two camps: since Juan has threatened to treat his enemies ‘with a rod of iron,’ his supporters are known as the Rods; Drakul’s supporters are known, because of the Transylvanian’s sarcastic sense of humour, as ‘the Mockers.’ Now, as Rods face Mockers, the houses of Mittelheim are preparing themselves for war: prayers are being uttered; supplies are being marshalled; weapons prepared; troops are finding their trousers and searching under their beds for their other sock. Soon, no doubt, Death himself will be striding the lands of Mittelheim with his scythe, saying: ‘Crikey, look at all that mud; and what is that awful smell?’