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?’