Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Crisis!



     October 1757. Two months have past since the Peace of Minde. For the desperate people of Gelderland, this period has been, like the love-life of Landgrave Choldwig of Rotenburg, a disappointing accumulation of unfulfilled expectations interspersed by periods of actual bodily pain. After the depredations of the Cod War, two priorities have loomed large for Gelderland: restoring the finances of a Kingdom drained by heavy subsidies to its recent allies; and alleviating the crushing poverty of the ordinary folk, ruined by the pillaging of Mittelheim's armies. The new King of Gelderland, Wilhelm I, has proved to be a brutal, boorish pig of a man who couldn't reliably distinguish his globular belly from his gargantuan backside if the latter weren't handily labelled as such in large gothic lettering. Despite self evidently being over-qualified to rule in Gelderland, Wilhelm has provided little succour to his people. Indeed, for Wilhelm, the Enlightenment was something that happened to the rest of Europe whilst he was passed out in a puddle of wine and his own dribble. Ignorant in matters of finance, the new King believes that 'quantitative easing' comprises undoing his breeches after a heavy dinner; that 'fiscal rectitude' is simply a strange disease of the bottom; and that 'poor relief' simply describes a bad trip to a Gelderland knocking shop.
     
     Unwisely, Wilhelm has been making enemies at every turn. Some of these are external. Whilst Wilhelm owes his elevation to the machinations of Emperor George of Grand Fenwick, Wilhelm has done little to enact in Gelderland George's raft of Fenwick-inspired legislation. Thus, Wilhelm has ignored the Emperor's call to ban suggestive foodstuffs: cucumbers, obviously; large carrots; medium sized carrots if they are in close proximity to a pair of radishes; also artichokes, which sound rude; and turnips, which don't seem rude until you sit on one. But the new King has also quickly created internal enemies as well. The main reason for this are the activities of Wilhem's drinking partner and confidante, the Spanish rake Adolpho Don Pajero de Penguino. With his lewd and foreign ways, Don Penguino has outraged rapidly the sensibilities of the Gelderland court. Dismissing stately Gelderland sock operas as a tedious and backward form of entertainment, Don Penguino instead favours music comprising bass clarinets and kettledrums. This 'drum and bass' music has been accompanied by raucous Spanish-style evening gatherings, populated by glassy-eyed inebriates and known, apparently, as  'El Cid' house parties.
 
An El Cid House Party: 'You're twisting my melon, Sir!'

     Don Penguino's musical tastes would be more acceptable if his influence over the King were more productive in the realms of statecraft. This, however, is not the case and the Spaniard's interventions have more often led Wilhelm to focus his energies on activities that are more gland strategy than grand strategy. Rumour is, shall we say, rampant, that the Spaniard's welcome is not the only thing that he is wearing out. Don Penguino's relentless attempts to seduce the flower of Gelderland's noble matrons are becoming the stuff of Mittleheim legend. The Don's priapic probing has reached epidemic proportions. Aflame with upper-crust lust, the libidinous lord is rumoured to have importuned the wife of almost every notable at the Gelderland court. Penguino's inability to keep his chorizo in his breeches is not surprising, given that he bothers so rarely to wear any.

     Elsewhere in Gelderland, events have also taken a turn for the worse. Once allies, the relationship between Grand Fenwick and Bachscuttel has plummeted lower than Prince Rupprechts chin. Following bitter mutual recriminations concerning their defeat in the Cod War, the two states are now locked into an escalating dispute the subject of which is the small number of Bachscuttel merchants that live in Pogelswood, the capital of Fenwick. Emperor George has accused the merchants (a) of selling melons in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace, and (b) of bathing only on Saint's days which, given that both of the merchants are aethists, means that they tend to honk louder than a Nottelbad mallard. This dispute has led to appalling incidences of ethnic cleansing in which the two merchants have been forcibly washed by irate locals.

     Farther afield trouble is also brewing. On the southern fringes of Gelderland lie the lands of the Sanjak of Zenta. If the Ottoman Empire could be construed as Mittelheim's Great Satan, then Zenta is the most pointy-hatted of its little wizards. The southern reaches of Gelderland have suffered historically from unrelenting Zentan raids that seek constantly to carry off the most robust women and attractive horses. Now, spies have reported military activity at the Zentan town of Dojay. It would seem that under the supervison of foreign mercenaries, some of whom seem to hail from the Landgravate of Rotenburg, the Zentans have been expanding their military capabilities, especially in relation to their artillery. Rumours have emerged of the casting of a Zentan 'Super-Gonne'; and of the existence of so-called 'Wagons Most Destructive' (or 'WMD'). Collecting their evidence together into a report, the so-called 'Dojay Dossier', the information has been passed on to King Wilhelm and his advisors, where it now props up the larger of Wilhelm's commodes.

Test-firing of a Zentan Mortar: Captain-General Taras Bulbous
wisely increases his distance 

     Much of this intelligence has been gleaned through the efforts of the English soldier-adventurer Sir Lawrence Bartlett Shrubbsucke, an English eccentric who has spent many years living in the Dojay region amongst the local Giezza tribesmen. Shrubbsucke's sojourn in Zenta has not been an easy one. Zenta can be described as stable only in the sense that it has a lot of horses in it - it is a dangerous place marked by feud and counter-feud amongst the various clans and tribes.

      In fact, Europe knows more about the Dojay Giezzas than of almost any of the Zentan tribes. Motivated by a desire to reconnect with nature by living amongst the simple, noble primitives of far-off lands, Shrubbsucke spent many years living with the Giezzas, learning their language and customs. In truth, events did not transpire in quite the way that Shrubbsucke hoped for. Published in 1749, his memoirs began as a meditation on moral regeneration through a reconnection with nature, a state reflected in his book's opening chapter entitled 'Epicurian Simplicity and the Nomad Way.'

A 'Wagon Most Destructive.' A devil to reverse,  but excellent
hay efficiency on an urban cycle.

     Later, Shrubbesucke's journal took a rather different turn as evidenced by the titles of Chapter Two ('Blimey, It's So Cold and Windy'); Chapter Three ('Lordy, They never wash. Ever.')' and Chapter Four ('The Night They Stole My Pantaloons. Again.') Published in London under the title of The Seven Pillocks of Wisdom, Shrubbesucke's book contained extensive appendices cataloguing the types of flies that had bitten him, and an addendum entitled 'My Strange Stools' which, sadly as it transpired for his shocked readership, wasn't at all about furniture.


The Zentan Super-Gonne: 'Never mind the quality, feel the width.'
      Unsurprisingly, in Mittelheim optimism is now in short supply, and faith in a lasting peace drops faster than Prince Rupprecht's britches at a visit to Frau Blauschafft's 'House for Rescued Ladies'. Once again, states that were recent allies find themselves at loggerheads; and those that were at loggerheads wonder what a loggerhead is, and whether it is quite as naughty as it sounds. Only cunning diplomatic activity on the part of King Wilhelm can rescue the situation: but those who believe Wilhelm capable of such an intervention are, like Wilhelm's baths, few and far between.

     Meanwhile, in a small forest clearing, Famine takes a practice swing or two with a scythe. Death, it would seem, has gone missing after a nasty break-up with Lady Luck. The former's attempts to drink himself insensate proved fruitless, rendering him both penniless and stood in a very large pool of wine. Temporarily replacing his compatriot, Famine packs a map of Mittleheim, the scythe, and a very large packed lunch: there's dirty work afoot.




Monday, 28 October 2013

Zenta!




     Framed by the Carpathian and Procksi rivers, the Sanjak of Zenta is the forward outpost of Ottoman power in Mittelheim. Once owned by the Kingdom of Hungary, the former Principality of Zenta was lost to Christendom in 1526 as a consequence of the climactic battle of Mohacs. It cannot be said that the Hungarians were sad to lose Zenta: on the few occasions that Royal officials dared to enter the place, they rarely escaped without losing the hub-caps from their coaches, or without having their sojourns lengthened interminably by delays at every road junction caused by local Zentans making vaguely threatening offers to wash the faces of their horses.

     If the Hungarians were sceptical of Zenta, then the Zentans returned the favour. As a frontier principality, Zenta had long been unaccustomed to those attributes of the Westphalian state system that civilized Europeans took for granted: a functioning civil service, for example; bathing; and the wearing of underpants. Indeed, this resistance to centralised authority has become, like the dirt that covers must of the inhabitants, very deeply ingrained. Accounts even of the battle of Mohacs note that, whilst the Zentan Prince, Igor III, had enthusiastically greeted King Louis II of Hungary on the morning of the battle, Igor's gracious speech to the King had been rather ruined by his pinning surruptitiously to the back of the King's doublet a sign enscribed 'Kick Me.' This, of course, the Turks did. Though most accounts of Mohacs from the period make no mention of any Zentan contribution to the battle, the Zentans claim to have been present at Mohacs in an 'auxiliary role', a role that was later discovered to have comprised the selling of light refreshments. Being forced subsequently to admit that they had sold lollies to the parched Ottoman infantry, the Zentans have always maintained that, reflecting the Ottomans' status as a hated enemy of Christendom and violators of the fair city of Constantinople, they had charged them a substantial mark-up and fiddled their change.

     The ruler of Zenta is Hospodar Kasimir XIV: 'Overlord of the North, the Shadow of God, God's Umbrella and Also Possibly His Hat.' A venal, corpulent psychopath, Kasimir is otherwise a very likable fellow with what is widely believed to be a very jolly sense of humour. If not every prisoner appreciates his combination of whoopee cushions and vigorous dental torture, then Kasimir's Court is still nevertheless regarded by Mittelheim nobility as one of the more entertaining places to visit. Many worthwhile evenings have been spent by sundry ambassadors and plenipotentiaries watching Kasimir at work with enemy prisoners: indeed, few monarchs are ever likely to be as happy as Kasimir is to spend an evening quite literally banging square pegs into round holes.

     Hospodar Kasimir's positon is not an easy one. Zenta comprises a patchwork of petty tribes, baronies and local warlords. To the west are the Carpathian Marches, a silent land of lonely mountains and mournful wind, the latter the product of the lamentably poor diet of the inhabitants. To the east are the grim and freezing wastelands of Gulbaria. The folk that live there are forced to use furs to cover their modesty. Sadly, as the only furry animals in this wilderness are dwarf forest mice, much of their modesty remains open to the elements and swinging in plain view. 'Never drop anything shiny in their company', remarked the French soldier of fortune Armand Gateaux, 'or do anything else that might encourage them to bend over.' In the southern reaches of the Sanjak live the fierce Borat tribesmen that form much of the irregular strength of the Zentan army. The Borat are famed for having a culture that lacks any concept of irony or sarcasm. The fightening consequences of visiting a tribe that literally take everything literally became evident, sadly too late, for the Scottish adventurer Hamish, Laird McCrevis, just after his comment 'No sense of irony or sarcasm? Well, bugger me sidways'.

     The main Zentan town of note is Nehrenvhar: here Hospodar Kasimir has his seat, as well as a chaise longue and also a small Louis XII occasional table. A dangerous place, legend has it that the walls around the city are far more for keeping the local inhabitants in than for keeping enemies out. Slavery provides some of the city's revenues, but in Nehrenvhar every vice is practiced, including thievery, murder, and folk dancing; and, since the locals practice, they are very good at them. Other Zentan places of note include Kayk, a picturesque border town on the River Procksi, opposite the Mittelheim city of Munchausen-by-Procksi; Dojay, populated by the mercurial Giezza tribesmen; and the southern fastness of Montepithon which guards the main route south to the Danube River and Belgrade. Lumberjacks are numerous in that area.

     The Zentan army is led by the fearsome Kurlandian mercenary Captain-General, Taras Bulbous. The Zentan army is known for the quantity of its manpower. This despite the periodic Ottoman devshirme levies that take young boys for service in the Imperial janissaries. In actuality, the strength of the Zentan army derives in part because the Hospodar has not always sent the best of his potential manpower to the Turkish army. Indeed, the Turkish name for the Sanjak of Zenta translates roughly as 'the land of the short, ginger, left-handers.'

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Peace!


And so the Cod War comes to end. Having lost all of their battles, the Palatinate of Saukopf Bachscuttel folds faster than an origami Grand Master. The Burgraviate of Nabstria holds out longer, but the combined threat of the Rotenburg and Imperial armies finally forces Burgrave Falco to sue for peace.

The army of Grand Fenwick, known now as the 'Spartans of Mittelheim', remain undefeated. On the foundations of this military victory, Emperor George's troops occupy Grosschnitzelring and install a new King, George's second cousin,twice removed, Wilhelm Penwick-Fuppet. In Gelderland, celebrations break out. Garlic is on the menu again; mirrors are re-installed in the palace; and virgins are free once again to wander the corridors of the palace with only the usual feelings of mild anxiety. The ex-King Vlad is nowhere to be found.

In the small Gelderland village of Minde, the representatives of the various protagonists meet to thrash out a peace settlement, or, in some cases, just to thrash out. Baron Woffeltop and Prince Franz serve the interests of Rotenburg and Grand Fenwick respectively. Reinhardt the Bishop of Munschrugge attends in the name of Nabstria. Saukopf-Bachscuttel relies once again on the scholar-pig farmer, Baron Albrecht Steinhagen. Few are happy to meet in Minde. The local landowner, Duke Otto von Track-Minde is well known for his avarice. Charging exhorbitant prices to the representatives of the various protagonists, the Duke becomes quickly known as 'Grand Theft Otto'. Over preliminary beverages of port and absinthe, the peace negotiations begin, but the portents are gloomy.

The representatives from Nabstria and Bachscuttel can barely stand to be in the same room together; in truth, given the port and absinthes, they can barely stand at all. In Bachscuttel, Graf Barry-Eylund publicly has blamed the Nabstrians for their alliance's defeat in the recent war. Lambasting Nabstrian strategy, the Graf argues, on the record, that the Nabstrian approach 'lacked the necessary sophistication and sensitivity to the inevitable frictions of war', and off the record that it 'sucked dead donkeys.' In turn Nabstrian sources have placed the Graf at the centre of the lamentable performance of Bachscuttel's army. Focusing on the rumours of the Graf's supposed indiscretions with an English actress named Henrietta Mellons, Nabstrian sources claim that at critical moments at the war Barry-Eylund was not, as he claimed, hard at it at the front, but was instead round the back, getting a little bit on the side.

For Bachscuttel, the peace negotiations turn out badly. The plenipotentiary from Bachscuttel, Baron Albrecht Steinhagen, has struggled to compose a meaningful strategy for the peace negotiations. Cognisant of previous criticisms that, in focusing on the acquisition of pigs, Saukopf-Bachsuttel pursued goals that were too narrow, the Baron has now relented and has extended the Palatinate's goals to include the pursuit of pigs and also any pork-related products. Baron Woffeltop makes claim to the border village of Lowenfaht. Baron Steinhagen's opposition to the claim is bought off partly by Woffeltop's moving speech on the beauty of peace and the value of Mittelheim brotherhood; and partly by promising Steinhagen two dozen pork chops and a wagon-load of chipolatas. Woffeltop's pleasure at having concluded such an advantageous peace settlement is tempered by the stress at having to deal with Steinhagen, a man that he later describes as a 'window-licking loon' with 'independently targetable eyeballs'.

Nabstria fairs little better than Saukopf Bachscuttel. Bishop Munschrugge makes a valiant attempt to bargain a return of the village of Nottelbad, with its famous rococo duckpond. But the threat of a resumption of war forces Burgrave Falco formally to relinquish the place. Emperor George immediately begins to secure Fenwickian control of the village by encouraging the migration into it of Pogelswood Marsh Warblers. Soon, flocks of oppressed Nabstrian Mallards are scuttling across the border seeking sanctuary in the Burgraviate.

And so the Peace of Minde is finally concluded. Waving his chipolatas at anyone that will still make eye-contact with him, Baron Steinhagen declares the peace agreement a triumph for Bachscuttel interests. In truth, the peace settlement is a glorious moment for Rotenburg and Grand Fenwick. With effective control over the Gelderland throne, Emperor George contemplates an extensive programme of legislative reform that will rid Mittleheim of poverty, ignorance, and rudely shaped vegetables. His ally, Landgrave Choldwig, looks forward to another wave of Alexander-inspired development for Rotenburg, placing a large order for extra-virgin olive oil, and another order for some oiled extra-large virgins.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Maushorgen!

Wherein the army of the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel commanded by General Graf von Barry-Eylund encounters the forces of the Landgravate of Hesse-Rotenburg under the command of Furst Augustus Saxe-Peste.

     The final day of August. A gentle breeze blows across the idyllic countryside of Rotenburg, bringing with it the unmistakable aroma of dung and absinthe that portends the close proximity of Mittelheim armies. The Rotenburg village of Maushorgen is a hive of activity: to the frantic rythmn of regimental drums, Rotenburg soldiery form line of battle. To the south, across green fields, Furst Augustus Saxe-Peste can see through his spy-glass the assembled forces of Saukopf-Bachscuttel. As busy as a swarm of bees (assuming that the bees were a bit lazy and very hung over) the army of Graf Redmond von Barry-Eylund assembles itself for a singular contestation of martial aptitude; or, failing that, a battle.

(Below, the picture looks south) Behold, the urban sprawl that is Maushorgen! It is the north of the town that constitutes the key objective for the coming battle, for it contains a barn central to the functioning of the Rotenburg economy. In that building is stored three barrels of a secret seasoning vital to the flavouring of the Landgravate's dried leeches. Augustus, in truth, has stopped eating dried leeches on the basis that the barn, refered to on military maps as 'a primary military objective', is known to the locals as 'the water closet' and they seem much less keen than most Rotenburgers on leech fricasee. Still, strange after-taste or no, the barn must be defended. Having out-scouted the Bachscuttel forces, Augustus, the 'Safety Furst', has decided to remain on the defensive: since three of his infantry regiments consist of untrained conscripts he wishes to avoid putting them through any complex evolutions such as conducting a march attack, doing up their shoelaces, or going to the privy on their own.


(Above) Furst Augustus weighs his options. The barn is key and must be held, so the Landgravial Guard is deployed into it, ready to go into garrison as soon as the battle commences. Keen to give himself some offensive options, the Furst places three of his four cavalry on his right. Two regiments, both elite, are placed in march column formation: they stand ready to surge across the river and lay about the Bachscuttel troops with the sword. On his left, he places both artillery batteries, supported by one regiment. In the centre, four regiments are positioned: two in line, ready to move forward and line the wall, and two in march column as his reserve.

     For Barry-Eylund, the circumstances of battle seem propitious. Unlike its head of state, the Palatinate's army is well-balanced. Consisting entirely of properly disciplined troops, the Graf fancies his chances against the lumpen manure-flingers that comprise much of the Rotenburg army. The only fly in the Graf's ointment has been the unannounced arrival at his headquarters of his mother, the Dowager Duchess Hilda von Rinkelstockinge. Having already wasted much of the early morning convincing his mother that, yes, he is wearing a vest, and that, yes, he won't get into any carriages with strange men, the Graf has now been handed another pressure: the battle must be over before the Duchess calls the Graf in for his dinner.

(Below) The Graf orders his men into their battle lines. With virtually his entire army placed into march column, Barry-Eylund intends to concentrate his advance on his left wing: he hopes to cross the stream (top left), push back the Rotenburg cavalry and then concentrate as much fire as he can muster against the vital barn. If he can rustle up three or four regiments worth of continuous fire against the barn, then surely the garrison will be doomed.


(Below) Advance! With a loud 'Huzzah!'the Palatinate's march columns begin to deploy to the left. Eschewing the normal march practices of European armies, the Bachsuttle forces adopt a 'brigade conga,' the various columns following one another in a bewildering jig towards the bridge that crosses the stream on the Rotenburg right.


(Below) The first encounter! Before one can say 'lunatic cavalry charge across the stream', the action commences! Shaking out into line, Barry-Eylund's infantry advances towards the Rotenburg right and threatens the bridge. Jonathan, Earle of Bragge commands the elite Rotenburg cavalry on this wing: seeing the advancing Bachscuttel infantry, Bragge, feeling lucky, or possibly just stoned, orders his cavalry forward. In a fight as glorious as it is short, the horsemen are destroyed. Bragge, shot through the head as his horse plunges into the water, changes from notable to floatable, and his corpse drifts slowly down-stream.

'Hands up who thinks that this was a bad idea.'

(Below) Driving Augustus' cavalry before them, the Palatinate's infantry pushes forward. They begin to deploy to bring more fire to bear on the Rotenburg regiment covering the gap between the stream and the barn. Meanwhile (below top), the Rotenburg Landgravial Guard have been ordered to secure the barn itself. Composed of the blue-blooded scions of the noble houses of Hesse-Rotenburg, the Guard is as familar with securing a barn as it is with doing its own ironing. After a brief discussion, the troops decide to lock the barn and hide the key under the door mat: a rather longer discussion ensues as they then debate whether (a) to loophole the walls and stockpile ammunition and powder, or (b) to break out some scones and fill the afternoon with a few games of charades. Their eventual choice, it transpires, has two syllables and is not a book.


(Below) Barry-Eylund smiles grimly as his soldiers grind forwards. A series of infantry volleys and desperate cavalry charges results in the rout of the two remaining Rotenburg cavalry regiments on Augustus' right wing. Moreover, confusion over orders sends forward the Rotenburg regiment supporting the barn: raked by flanking fire it disintegrates. Augustus orders up his two reserve regiments (in march column) hoping to seal off the flank. Augustus is fearful: his reserve infantry is not of the best quality. Having cleared the jails and flophouses of Rotenburg in a desperate search for anything tall enough to sew into a uniform, what these troops know about soldiering could be written in capital letters on a very small envelope. Twice. Almost certainly, badgers would be more competent at drill, and undoubtedly better looking. (Below, right) Having cleared away the Landgravial Guard's supporting troops, the Graf begins to move up his firing line for the decisive musket duel against the garrison of the barn.



(Below, top) The Palatinate musketeers begin to target the barn with volley after volley of small-arms fire: thunderous roars belch from the infantry line; smoke billows across the battlefield. It then begins to occur to Barry-Eylund that there is a flaw in his plan - ensconced in the village, the Rotenburg Landgravial Guard are wedged in tighter than Landgrave Choldwig's loincloth. The Bachscuttel volleys are not without some effect: several garden gnomes have their rods shot off, and the barn is rendered into what a future purveyor of domestic dwellings might term 'a bit of a fixer upper'. But the only real crisis suffered by the garrison is an emerging shortage of clotted cream for their afternoon tea. A strange portent of gloom begins to steal over Graf Barry-Eylund; a feeling he has not experienced since April when he accidently sat on a rake.


(Above, foreground) The day wears on. As the Bachscuttel volleys fly uselessly into the barn, three Palatinate regiments, led by a unit of mercenaries (in blue) and deployed into brigade column, begin to push against the two Rotenburg reserve regiments protecting Augustus' rear. In what could be described as a 'clash of the Titans', (but only if the Titans in question were small, heavily asthmatic and frankly a bit rubbish at fighting) the mercenaries depatch the first of the Rotenburg units only to fall, in turn, to volleys from Augustus' remaining reserve regiment.

(Below) The battle reaches its critical point! The sun is beginning to set. From the stench that it beginning to assail the Graf's nostrils it is apparent that his dinner is likely soon to be ready. Both sides bring up reinforcements. Augustus orders his last cavalry regiment to move from the left wing and line the stream, supporting the single regiment that blocks the Bachscuttel advance. Barry-Eylund realises now that only boredom, or their death from old age, are ever likely to induce the Landgravial Guard to quit the barn: he gives up his attack on it and orders two regiments from his centre to cross the stream, creating a gigantic battering ram of flesh and steel. 'Advance! Advance!' cries Barry Eylund 'Rogues! Do you want to live forever! And more particularly, do you want hot tweezers applied to your dangly bits?'



(Above) 'Huzzah!' cry the Bachscuttel troops; 'Forward!' cry the officers; 'Eeeek!' cries Barry-Eylund, as confusion in their orders leads the third rank of the Bachscuttel column to advance through their own lines! Disorder abounds! The column's advance collapses in a cacophony of  'Get of my foot', 'Stop elbowing me' and 'Is this the way to the bar?'

(Below) Rotenburg volleys scythe down the Graf's air-headed infantryman. Two regiments are cut to pieces! The lengthening shadows and dismal cooking smells emanating from Duchess Rinkelstockinge's camp indicate that darkness has almost arrived. Only one last drama remains to be played out.





(Below) Confusion strikes Colonel Igor von Rustipumpe, the Inhaber of the remaining Rotenburg cavalry regiment, the 2nd Honevell Horse! Invigorated by his late afternoon libation of tea and mercury, von Rustipumpe orders a charge over the stream, through his own infantry and into the Milchfrau Lieb Garde; the latter stand behind a palisade of bristling steel bayonets, mouthing the words 'come and get it'. 'They'll never expect it', von Rustipumpe cackles madly. Deaf to the entreaties of his second-in-command that the enemy 'will never expect it' only because the charge is 'an act of pure squirrel-licking insanity', the Inhaber orders his men forward ...



The ensuing fight could be described as 'titanic' only in the sense that, after a slight bump against their adversaries, the cavalry sink without a trace. But it's not enough to save Barry-Eylund: as the sun begins to slip finally below the horizon, the morale of Augustus' army remains, like Landgrave Chlodwig himself, badly bent and yet still enough spirit remains to keep the troops on the battlefield.

(Below, right) 'Curses! Curses!' wails Barry-Eylund in mournful isolation. Struggling to see in the gathering gloom, the Graf reaches behind, calling for a spyglass. But now nothing is going right. 'Sir', squeaks his aide, 'that's not my telescope your holding'.


     Not only has the sun now set, but the Dowager Duchess calls loudly for Barry-Eylund, informing him that it's time to come in for his tea. Despite his protestations that he 'just needs to stay out for five more minutes', he is yanked from his headquarters by his ear. It is a disastrous result: the battle is lost; the war is lost; Maushorgen remains in Rotenburg hands; and it's sprouts for dinner.



Thursday, 20 June 2013

Badschwerin!

Wherein the army of the Burgraviate of Nabstria commanded by General Hieronymous von Rumpfler encounters the army of the Empire of Grand Fenwick under the command of Marshal Ignacio Grace-a-Dieu Cavandish.

     Late August, and the weather has turned unseasonally chilly. Shivering in the morning breeze, the Imperial army rouses itself from its bivouac near the village of Badschwerin and prepares once again to take the field. Their foes are the forces of Nabstria, commanded by General von Rumpfler. After their victory at Nottelbad, there is a spring in the Nabstrian step, and not all of it is down to captured stocks of leech brandy. Hoping to take the Imperial army by surprise, the Nabstrian army has forced marched into Gelderland by little-known forest tracks. The Nabstrians clear the line of Schoppenmoll ridge and force the Imperial army back to a new position at the hamlet of Badschwerin.

     But neither army is now in a good condition. The wily von Rumpfler has arranged for the surreptitious delivery to Fenwickian lines of items designed to strike directly at his enemy's Achilles heel: their tiresome attraction to double entendre. Von Rumpfler's subterfuge works with deadly and immediate effect: just the labels on the crate of Kurlandian codpieces ("The Imperator Codpiece - Twelve Inches of Imperial Purple") induces appalling attrition in the Fenwickian lines, as troops 'fnar' themselves into exhaustion. Many more Imperials expire completely at the sight of the box containing the large pair of melons; indeed, for some, even the word 'box' is too much. Once the chaos ceases, it is apparent that a full third of each of the Imperial units has been rendered hors de combat. Then a few more expire because the term 'hors' sounds rude too.

     Luckily for Marshal Cavandish things are no better in the Nabstrian camp. The Nabstrian army is suffering terrible logistic difficulties. The standard Nabstrian military pasties have all gone, thanks almost entirely to the greedy efforts of the Nabstrian Quartermaster, and gargantuan lard-bucket, Colonel Findus; a man who has, quite literally, eaten all the pies. Breaking out the stocks of Rotenburg comestibles captured after the battle of Nottelbad, it transpires that what were thought to be choice dried leeches are actually ready-to-eat slugs. The famished Nabstrian soldiery fill their tummies anyway, gulping down the unsavoury invertebrates by the handful. The effects are predictable, and a wave of illness strikes the Nabstrian army. Not only does von Rumpler have to cope with losing a third of his men; he must also watch in horror at the consequences of troops afflicted simultaneously by dystentery and violent hiccups.


     (Above) Cavandish manages to stay awake long enough to deploy his force. Careful to avoid any further entendre escapades, through the medium of mime he manages to anchor his left on the village of Badschwerin, which he occupies with two regiments of irregulars. His trained infantry he deploys in a single line, interspersed with his artillery. One cavalry regiment, conscripts, are on his left; his two trained cavalry regiments are on the right. Three regiments, all elite, are held in reserve march columns.



     (Above) Meanwhile, von Rumpfler assesses the situation and concludes that he will try for an all-out assault on his right flank (the Imperial left). All of his infantry are deployed into march columns: four regiments of cavalry will screen the advancing infantry from attack by the Imperial cavalry.

     (Below) The Nabstrian cavalry moves up quickly. Cavandish refuses his flank, and he then commits his reserve infantry (in white) to seal the remaining gap. His rightwing cavalry, though, are now outside of the main infantry line and outnumbered two to one. Led by Paul, Duke of Clarkeshire (below, right), the Nabstrian horse bear down on the Imperial cavalry. Clarkeshire's silly little hat inspires his troops magnificently: only a man with no fear would wear such a thing in public; a man who tweaks the nose of Terror and who blows raspberries in the face of Death.


     Realising that this situation requires all of his powers of concentration, Cavandish orders his aide-de-camp, Captain Nitzwitz, to strike him if he looks like nodding off. Eight minutes later, and reeling with concussion, the Marshal slides majestically from his horse onto the grass and assumes his normal supine battlefield position. Embarrassed, the Imperial headquarters pretend not to notice and deliver their reports to Cavandish's horse, Keith. Keith, at least, seems steely eyed and resolute; if his handwriting is less legible than his master's, his planning is certainly no worse.

     (Below) Charge! Three Nabstrian regiments (on the right) assault the Imperial cavalry. Death, wiping Clarkeshire's phlegm from his face, takes up a position behind the Fenwickian cavalry and sets to work. Putting their stirrups in, the Nabstrians defeat the Imperial horse, who fall back. Things look bleak for the Imperial cavalry, but in a splendid, and rather unexpected, demonstration of precision drill, the Imperial cavalry then about-turn and conduct a passage of the lines through their own infantry. Now the Nabstrian horse face a stern line of glinting steel.


     As seems usual at this point in a Mittelheim battle, a damaging bout of confusion afflicts one of the cavalry regiments. Surveying the forest of Imperial bayonets pointed in his direction, the commander of the elite Von Gank Horse mutters to his Lieutenant that 'attacking now would be bonkers'. Drowned by the din of battle, what the Lieutenant hears is the order to 'attack now with the bongos'. (Below) And so, the Von Gank horse charge forward in a hitherto-never-before-tried attempt to beat down an infantry line through the medium of experimental kettle-drumming.


     Unimpressed by this musical tomfoolery, the Imperials give the cavalry a well-deserved beating and the latter are now left isolated in front of the muskets of elite imperial infantry. (Below) Von Rumpfler considers his options: recalling the brave exploits of his mounted arm at the battle of Nottelbad, the General commits the remainder of his cavalry to a series of tremendous charges led by the Duke of Clarkeshire. Savage fighting ensues: but despite the ardour of Clarkeshire's assault, volley after volley of Imperial fire rakes the Nabstrian troops and the 'charges' dwindle into little more than shambolic military mincing.

'To me, men!', cries Clarkeshire, 'Hold you courage! Respect the power of my hat! Victory will be ours! See how the limp Fenwickians cower before us, mewling like children! Forward, and victory is assured!'

'Can it be so, sir?' cry his men.


'No, not really', says Clarkeshire, 'we're monumentally shafted'.

The Imperial infantry hold fast, and their volleys succeed in cutting the cavalry to pieces. Nabstrian casualties begin to tail off only because Death slips a disc and has to have a rest. Witnessing the terrible slaughter, the morale of the Nabstrian infantry dips lower than a pigmy limbo-dancer.

     (Below) Only a single Nabstrian cavalry regiment remains; then that, too, quits the field, intimidated by a small group of rabbits looking for trouble. Von Rumpler considers withdrawing. but he is made of sterner stuff: he is no namby-pamby, damp-eyed, nappy-wearing Bachscuttel guardsman. He commits his infantry to a decisive assault. Using their cadence step, the Nabstrian infantry hurry forward, and begin to form a firing line. The Imperial infantry cannot count, but Cavandish's aide-de-camp can and things now look hairier than a Fenwickian milkmaid: von Rumpfler will be able to bring six regiments to bear against only four Imperial units.


     (Below) Forming line, the Nabstrian soldiery advance into musket range. What follows is the most lamentable display of martial ineptitude since King Harold announced at the battle of Hastings: 'Oooh, they've fired some arrows; let me have a look.' Volleys are stolen; fire is made deadly; tactics; stratagems; clever wheezes; impish japes; they are all used with abandon by both sides but to no real effect. Worse volley fire may well have been seen, but not by reliable witnesses. So like a farce is the exchange of musketry that it might just as well have some musical accompaniement and an interval for the imbibing of light refreshments. Death looks on in bemusement: finding his missing disc, he pops it back in again and then nips off for a cup of tea. In the end, however, even Mittelheim military incompetence cannot escape the power of the law of averages: with groans, many of surprise, soldiers on both sides begin to fall to volley fire.


     (Above, right) For a brief moment, the Imperial line trembles. On the Nabstrian right, musketry crashes into the nearest Imperial battery, crewed, thanks to personnel shortages, by some dodgy Zentan sock merchants. One of the elite Imperial infantry at the far end of the line (white flag) also teeters on the brink of fleeing: an event that would expose the Imperial cavalry behind and unlock the whole Fenwickian position. With the Nabstrians piling pressure on Keith the horse, and Keith piling manure on the comatose form of Marshal Cavandish, could it be that Grand Fenwick is slipping inexorably into the jaws of defeat?

     Alas for Rumpfler: there is no decisive breakthrough, and the jaws of defeat cough the Fenwickians up again. The Zentan artillery crew are cut down, but no one liked them anyway; Fenwickian morale is barely affected. And the Imperial infantry quickly rallies. Death, meanwhile, regrets his cup of tea; it quite literally goes straight through him. Stepping out of the puddle, he hurries back into the fighting.

                             

     The effect of the Nabstrian firing tails off, interfered with by some thick smoke. Then a crashing Imperial volley finally breaks one of the Nabstrian elite regiments (above, left). The hole is then filled by Nabstrian reserves, but by ordering this von Rumpfler is unable to rally his other troops. Another Imperial volley thunders out, and one more Nabstrian regiment collapses. The Nabstrian army's morale finally cracks. 'Woe!', cry the Nabstrian soldiers, 'Flee! Depart! Run away! Peg it!'.


     (Above) Heroically holding his army together, von Rumpfler marches his infantry off the field, screening his retreat with his irregulars.Von Rumpfler curses violently: his brief dalliance with the aggressive use of cavalry has been a chastening experience. Amongst his troops, the General's love of intemperate cavalry charges has now earned him the name 'Marshal Neigh' . Meanwhile, Nitzwitz gives his commanding officer some more hay, and arranges for Cavandish to be extricated from the manure duvet under which he rests serenely. Hurrah for Cavandish and Emperor George! Another victory for the immortals of Grand Fenwick!







Thursday, 23 May 2013

Schoppenmoll!

Wherein the army of the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel under the command of General Graf von Barry-Eylund encounters the army of the Empire of Grand Fenwick, commanded by Marshal Ignacio Grace-a-Dieu Cavandish
    
     'War', the famous dead Prussian, Carl von Clausewitz, commented, 'is nothing more than a continuation of policy with the addition of other means'. In Mittelheim, naturally, the 'other means' are rather varied: very small amounts of strategy; rather larger quantities of Bockfast wine; a significant dash of guesswork; some sock puppetry, of course; and long breaks in order to consume helpings of leech scones. In truth, if Clausewitz had lived in Mittelheim, he would probably have replaced the word 'policy' with the word 'insanity'. Indeed, as the Cod War enters its third month, there is little that might be termed 'policy' guiding the development of the war; the armies of the belligerents sweep randomly across Gelderland, as Voltaire would later comment: 'like ships of state sailed by Meerkats on crack.'

     With the defeat of Rotenburg's forces at Nottelbad, the fortunes of the Rotenburg-Grand Fenwick alliance hang lower than Landgravate Chlodwig's navel. Now, in August, the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel seeks to compound the alliance's woes by making a move against the Empire of Grand Fenwick. Advancing swiftly, the Palatinate's army is finally blocked by the Imperial forces at Schoppenmoll ridge. After camping opposite one another overnight, a bright, hot summer morning sees the two armies take up positions against one another.

     Having run out of cappucinos, Marshal Cavandish, Captain-General of the Imperial Army, has now, according to his aide-de-camp Fabius Nitzwitz, retired to his tent to contemplate deeply on the requirements of the coming battle. The veracity of Nitwitz's comment is thrown into doubt by the fact that (a) Cavandish first ordered his servant to procure him 'a lovely pint of super-strength ovaltine', and that (b) the Marshal was last heard saying 'Right, Nitzwitz, I'm off to my bed for a sleep so deep that my name might change to Rip van Cavandish'. Hoping to fool the men, Nitzwitz dons one of Cavandish's uniforms and mounts his horse: but, fit, alert, heroic and intelligent-looking, Nitzwitz was never likely to be a dead-ringer for the Marshal. Still, Nitzwitz acquits himself well at the opening stage of the battle; a minor hiccup when Nitzwitz instructs his troops to 'give the Backscuttel dogs a damn good licking' provokes only intermittent 'fnars' and, with the measured tramp of feet and bright melody of flutes, the Imperial army arrays itself for battle.

     With his key objective being to defend Schoppenmoll Hill (top right, covered in trees), Cavandish places four of his infantry regiments along the line of the woods, along with three batteries and a cavalry regiment. On his left, he places one battery, four infantry regiments, and two of cavalry. He maintains a single regiment in reserve.


     (Below, bottom) From the left hand side of Schoppenmoll Hill, Cavandish looks out at the Bachscuttel army. Barry-Eylund has concentrated his force for an attack on the left hand wing of the Imperial forces. All four Bachscuttel cavalry regiments are placed for an advance on the extreme left (top left, in march column) under the command of Alain, Comte de Finay. Finay loves to march about as much as Prince Rupprecht loves pigs (i.e. a lot) so the Graf hopes to manouvre this flanking force with the minimum of orders. Two regiments of irregulars are next to them; then all three batteries of Barry-Eylund's artillery; and finally nine regiments of infantry, seven of which are in march column. The Bachscuttel plan is clear: a rapid assault on the Imperial left; then victory; medals; scones. Almost everything is set for battle, except perhaps, the presence of Death, who has overselpt. Lady Luck has made it; though it soon becomes clear that she seems to have taken out some kind of restraining order against the Palatinate. With a signal from Graf Barry-Eylund, a loud 'huzzah!' breaks the morning silence, and the battle commences!


     (Below) From Cavandish's position, the Bachscuttel infantry can be seen massing beyond the intervening hill. The steady tramp of feet and slow beating of drums rolls across the battlefield; menacing, except for the occasional cry from the Bachscuttel battle lines of  'It's my turn on the drum! I want a go! Me! Me!'


     (Below, top left) It all seems to be going so well for Graf von Barry-Eylund. His infantry begin to form a line in the shelter of the hill. The first attack echelon will be formed from a regiment of mercenaries and the two regiments of peerless Bachscuttel guards: the Hoffmeister-Beyer Grenadiers (white flag) and the Milchfrau Lieb-Garde (red flag). The elite of Prince Rupprecht's army, the guard regiments tower over the ordinary Bachscuttel soldiery at an imposing 5' 6". Chosen for their fighting prowess rather than their intellect, surely nothing, except perhaps a tricky crossword puzzle, can stop them. (Below, bottom) At the same time, the Bachscuttel cavalry regiments move to flank the Imperial line. Two regiments of Imperial horse manoeuvre to block their advance including the elite Lifeguard Chevaux-Legers (in blue, behind the marsh).


     (Above) Sadly for General Barry-Eylund, it is plainer than Prince Rupprecht's wife that this battle will not be an easy one. Facing off the Imperial cavalry, the Comte de Finay orders the Chevauxleger von Blitzenstollen (in grey) to form the left of the first cavalry line and the Kurassier von Fleigerweiner (in white), to the right. The Comte wishes the cavalry to remain in position for now. However, Lady Luck coughs a furball into the Comte's lap and confusion reigns. The Chevauxleger are commanded by the most energetic and vigorous of the Bachscuttel officers: 92 year old Hermann, the Baron von Ducktrump. Having been manhandled from his bathchair to his horse, the nanogenarian perches precariously on his saddle, alternately asking his second-in-command 'what are our orders' and 'where am I'? A messenger arrives from the Comte de Finay with vital instructions: ''Hold your positon. Fix the enemy cavalry. On no account engage in a witless charge across the marsh into the elite enemy cavalry beyond' says the courier.

'Eh' says von Ducktrump, fiddling with his hearing trumpet, 'Engage in a witless charge across the marsh into the elite enemy cavalry beyond?'

'Righto Sir', says Ducktrumps subaltern, the 11 year old Ensign, Graf Sigmar von Nippeltassel, 'Forward, men! Engage in a witless charge across the marsh into the elite enemy cavalry beyond!'

(Below) With a loud 'Huzzah!' the Chevauxleger gallop forwards towards the Imperial Life Guard, splashing through the marsh, scattering toads and rare lesser-crested newts: the latter, being exceedingly rare, are only slightly less endangered  a species than competent Mittelheim officers.


     (Above) The elite Life Guard (in blue, on the right) watch the approach of the Bachscuttel horse. Checking his calendar to see if it might be Christmas and noting, surprisingly, that it isn't, the commanding officer orders the regiment to prepare for battle. Not wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth, particualry one ridden so badly by Bachscuttel cavalrymen, the Life Guard draw sabres and absorb the Palatinate charge. The result is predictable: the Chevauxleger are thrashed and driven back into the marsh, their charge doing less damage to the Life Guard than it does to the local fauna: one toad is left with a limp and two newts with mild depression. The Chevauxleger are left isolated in the watery obstacle, with von Ducktrump floating disconsolately in his bath chair. (Above, top) Hoping for better luck in the centre, the Bachsuttel infantry form line and begin to advance against the Fenwickian centre.

     (Below) Sadly, in the centre, Barry-Eylund's plan begins to come unstuck. The front lines come into musketry range and, thanks to thick smoke and other sundry events, the Fenwickian battle line begins to sag under the potent Palatinate firepower. But Cavandish snores loudly, and his muttered cry of 'More custard, Frau Hog, all over my toes' seems to do the trick; inspired, bemused, or possibly just frightened, the Imperial infantry line rallies magnificantly. Meanwhile, (in the woods, in white) an Imperial infantry regiment uses a local scout to wheel through the woods into a flanking position. Graf von Barry-Eylund is forced to turn one of his regiments (in blue) to meet it. With his plans to win the early firefight in tatters, and fearing the long-term effects of Imperial lethal volleys, Barry-Eylund hurls forward his guards! 'Forward, faithful soldiers!' cries the Graf, 'Forward to glory and a moderate pecuniary reward at an unspecified later date!'

                                 

     (Below) Himmel! In a result limper than Prince Rupprecht's wedding night, the guard are caned! In counterattacks, the Milchgrau Lieb Garde dissolve in the face of musket fire; and a charge on the Hoffmeister Beyer Grenadiers results in its collapse, though it does take its adversary with it. Barry-Eylund manages to rally his remaining forces and form a new fighting line, but the vigour has been lost from the Palatinate's attack; the steam has been sucked from its kettle; the lead has been lost from its pencil; anyway, you get the idea. (Below right) In a small mercy, a Fenwickian bayonet charge is fought off, leaving the attacking Imperial regiment at the bottom of the hill. Even so, Barry-Eylund's assault has ground to a halt.


     (Above, left) With musket fire now directed onto the flank of the Life Guard cavalry, Cavandish's aide-de-camp orders them forward into the marsh, intent on escaping the flanking fire and also finishing off the Chevauxlegers to their front. After a tough fight, the newts are driven off, and the Bachscuttel cavalry, having been badly bullied by some toads, disappears in a sad expectoration of watery gurgles. The Imperial cavalry though, are now in trouble, sinking slowly into the marsh, kept afloat only by the air pockets between the ears of their oficers.

     (Below) But Lady Luck, no doubt feeling a little guilty, now throws the Palatinate a bone of moderate size!With the centre in stalemate, a final flourish of musketry into the marsh from the flank sinks the elite Imperial Life Guard cavalry, opening the way for the Palatinate's hussars to advance through the marsh and onto the flanks of the Fenwickian infantry. Moreover, von Nitzwitz has shouted himself hoarse and is entirely unable to issue any more orders. But, is it too late in the day?


     (Below) Yes, of course it is. Night falls and with the chances of a victory receding more severely than Prince Rupprecht's chin, Graf von Barry-Eylund orders the withdrawal of the Palatinate's army. The Graf must now savour the bitter sting of defeat, the vile gall of failure, the foul taste of the grisly wibbly bits of ignominious thingyness.


     The Imperial army breaks into spontaneous cheers! Hurrah for Cavandish! Another victory for Grand Fenwick, which now has the only unbeaten army in Mittelheim. For the Palatinate, this has been a rueful experience. A rigorous investigation and reform programme is instituted immediately, and concludes that what is required is more musketry drill and fewer cream teas. Moreover, in a shocking development, the Hoffmeister-Bayer Grenadier's are disbanded as punishment for their lamentable peformance. A new guard regiment will be raised from the districts of Feyer and Tchoklet: the Tchoklet-Feyer Garde! As the last scraps of light fade, the two armies march from the battlefield. There is a moment of silence, and then a sucking, popping sound: a skinny fellow in a black cloak appears swinging a scythe experimentally: 'Ta-daa,' says Death, 'Oh, did I miss anything?'



Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Nottelbad!


Wherein the army of the Landgravate of Rotenburg under Furst Augustus Saxe-Peste encounters the army of the Burgravate of Nabstria under General Gerhard von Rumpfler.

     It is June 1757. Furst Augustus Saxe-Peste still retains command of the Rotenburg army: having been sentenced by Chlodwig to being quartered (the Landgrave cancelling the hanging and drawing because of the Furst's previous good service), Augustus luckily encounters an executioner that is better with his axe than he is with his fractions - in consequence Augustus escapes with a nothing more than a rather severe haircut. Eager, as it were, to strike the 'furst' blow, Augustus moves the Rotenburg army by forced marches through Gelderland and occupies the environs of the village of Nottelbad. Keen to reclaim his lost southern marchland, Burgrave Falco orders the Nabstrian army to retake the village and its marvellous rococo duck pond. The Nabstrian army has a new commander: General von Rumpfler, employed because of his experience in the First Silesian War and because he absolutely cannot cook. Von Rumpfler brings with him attributes entriely new to the Nabstrian pursuit of war: thoughtfulness; enterprise; vigour; a map.

     (Below, top) Von Rumpler wins the first victory and out-scouts the Rotenburg army: he chooses to go onto the defence. Anchoring his left on a marsh, which he occupies with his light troops, von Rumpler deploys his infantry in a double line. His cavalry is massed on his right wing and deployed in march columns: von Rumpler has a plan for his cavalry so cunning that it probably has a doctorate from the Naffdorff Academy of Alchemie and Wytchcraft.


     (Above) With the wind whistling through his shorn hair, though mercifully not (since he has procured another pair of trousers) through his legs, Augustus places his artillery on his extreme left and his cavalry on the right. The Furst concentrates his entire infantry force of nine regiments into a three line formation: this battering ram of flesh and steel he plans to throw against the Nabstrian line in a bid to overwhelm von Rumpfler's army.

     (Below, top) And so the Nabstrian plan is revealed! Von Rumpler is able to elicit from his horsed arm previously unheard of exploits: forward movement; a gallop; a useful contribution to the battle plan. Under the command of both Michael von Pfanenstiel and Paul, Duke of Clarkeshire, the Nabstrian cavalry speeds forward, intending to pass the Rotenburg left flank.


     (Above, left) In the meantime, on the Nabstrian left, the Rotenburg cavalry, containing the flower of the Landgravate's nobility, surges forwards with brave cries: 'Charge! Charge! Death to Nabstria! Higher taxes for poor people!' After 500 yards, weary and saddlesore, they dismount for a cup of the new-fangled coffee and nibble from some baked leeches: they spend the remainder of the battle watching the exploits of their infantry and complaining about their manners.

     (Below) In a frankly never before seen bout of frenetic cavalry aggression, the Nabstrian horse flanks the Rotenburg infantry and artillery: von Gank's Horse (in white) form line and advance menacingly, whilst the remaining cavalry push past Nottelbad and threaten to sweep around to the rear of the Rotenburg assault column. Stunned at seeing cavalry simultaneously sitting on their horses and moving, the Furst is forced to begin swinging elements of his infantry to his left in order to cover his flank. The Nabstrian attack begins to falter ...


     (Below) Huzzah! With swords glittering the elite of the Nabstrian cavalry thunder down upon the artillery. The gunners pause, musing 'Can anybody hear that drumming sound?' - then, von Gank's Horse roar; swords glint redly; gunners scream and gurgle; and before one can say 'Ooh, that smarts' a battery of Rotenburg artillery are reduced to a bloody heap. Paul, Duke of Clarkeshire (in red) laughs roundly at the discomfort of the Rotenburg gunners; which he shouldn't, given the silly little flag that he has sticking out his hat.


     (Below, to the right) ) the crisis approaches! Defying all of the rules of war, Pfanenstiel leads his hussars in march column right around to the rear of the Rotenburg army, causing chaos - Rotenburg units are ordered to about-turn to meet the new threat. Satisfaction on the part of the hussars at a job well done is short-lived as the consequences of their intrepid ride become clear. Two Rotenburg units level their muskets at the march column. The infantry commence volley fire! Sadly for the Notable commanding the hussars, one of the Nabstrian musket balls has his name on it: and, as his name is Lord Michael Heironymous Wilhelm-Franz Igor Rudolph Susan von Pfanenstiel, it is quite a large musket ball. Von Pfanenstiel's remains are packed into his ivory snuffbox for posting back to his widow, and, as the smoke from the Rotenburg volley slowly clears, the hussars are now nothing more than heap of bleeding, though still stylishly attired, corpses.


     (Above, left) Perhaps the most critical effect of the death ride of von Pfanenstiel's hussars has been to reduce the Rotenburg infantry assault to a single line of troops. As the infantry come within range of one another, a sanguinary contest is inevitable given that both armies fire with lethal volleys. Along the lines, thunderous volleys crash forth. Having favoured Nabstria, winsome Lady Luck, tipsy, no doubt, on plum brandy, decides now to favour Rotenburg. Bringing up the second of his elite regiments (above, in white, about to join the line), Augustus musters a full line of four regiments and he orders his infantry to commence firing by battalions: they deliver a stunning volley that brings the Nabstrian front-line regiments perilously close to rout. From a distance, von Rumpler tries to rally his infantry: 'Steady men! There stands Paul, Duke of Clarkshire, like a stonewall, but in a silly hat'. His troops are unimpressed, and the Nabstrian line begins to waver.

     (Below, centre) Lady Luck, moving on to the brandy and babychams, smooches Augustus wetly once again: the Nabstrian Hussaren von Sock (in grey) have advanced too precipitously and stand ready to take the volleys from two Rotenburg regiments: to their flank, the Rotenburg artillery help the hussars to their five-a-day with another serving of grape. Before one can say 'Cut to pieces by deadly Rotenburg fire' the hussars are cut to pieces by deadly Rotenburg fire, and suddenly Furst Augustus seems to have the upper hand!


     (Above, foreground) Luckily for von Rumpler, Lady Luck vomits in the Rotenburger kettle: a dismal Rotenburg volley fails to break the wavering Nabstrians, and the Nabstrian infantry, their morale improved, no doubt, by the suffering of the cavalry, deliver a shocking round of platoon fire against the Rotenburger firing-line: one of Augustus' elite regiments breaks: now his front line has a gap! Augustus wails, gnashes his teeth, and searches in vain for some hair to pull out: with the wide gap between his troops he knows that his cannot rally his whole line with a single order!

     (Below) With the cohesion of the Rotenburg front line broken, Augustus chooses to rally his remaining elite regiment (in white): 'Soldiers!', he cries, 'remember your honour! Remember your country! Remember who owns the thumbscrews!' His elite troops quickly dress their ranks. But, as the Nabstrians commence firing again, one of the other remaining Rotenburg front-line units breaks under the galling Nabstrian volleys: the Rotenburg firing line now musters only two regiments whilst the Nabstrians still have four.


     (Below) Seeing his chance, von Rumpfler sends his whole line on to the attack: two Nabstrian regiments surge forward into each of the remaining Rotenburg units. Bayonets are thrust; bodies are pierced; britches are soiled; and finally, despite heroic efforts, both of the Rotenburg regiments are destroyed! To compound matters, Augustus has spent so much of the battle riding hither and thither, and shouting orders from long distances, that he is now utterly exhausted and must rest before he can issue any more orders.

                                  

     (Below) Sensing that the battle has turned decisively against him, and judging that Lady Luck, having undoubtedly passed out on the sofa, is unlikely to intervene again, Augustus realises that his chances of success are, unlike the Furst himself, rather slim. Outnumbered nearly two to one in infantry, the Rotenburg general signals a withdrawal.  Helped by the exhausted state of the Nabstrian horse, he begins to extricate his army.


     (Above, left) The five remaining Rotenburg infantry regiments (in red) withdraw from the field. The Rotenburg cavalry (above, right) pack away their coffee and nibbles, tutting at the exploits of their Nabstrian counter-parts who seem to have forgotten that, as a cavalryman, it is not the winning or losing that matters but, rather, how stylish one looks in the execution: claiming a fashion victory, they file slowly from the field.

     A victory for Nabstria! Wishing to reward his army for their exertions, von Rumpfler orders his commissariat to prepare a grand feast for the troops. Eyeing the heaps of broken Nabstrian horse-flesh, the Nabstrian quartermaster, Colonel Findus, breaks out his famous recipe for beef bolognaise.  Von Rumpfler, meanwhile, acknowledges the adulation of his troops. Nottelbad is once again Nabstrian: hurrah for Rumpy! Long live Burgrave Falco!

     Death, meanwhile, takes a short break from his work and tries to coax a tearful Lady Luck out of the water closet, where she has locked herself.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

War!

    
     Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold: and in Rotenburg usually with a side-helping of leech fricasee. Brooding darkly, Landgrave Choldwig of Hesse-Rotenburg plots revenge against King Vlad. The punitive reparations imposed by the Peace of Kayck have ruined the Landgrave's grandiose plans for a new age of Alexandrian splendour. To cap it all, stepping carelessly backwards in the harbour a sailor has knocked over the 'Great Lighthouse of Alexandopolis (Not to Scale)'. And the marble-lined Acropolis Potting Shed leaks when it rains heavily. Utilising the services of Rotenburg's well-oiled Secret Police machinery (though in Rotenburg many things are well-oiled, not least the Landgrave's midriff), contact is made with elements in Vlad's own Royal Guard, disgruntled, it transpires, that they now seem only to do night shifts. Plans are laid to smuggle into the palace quantities of garlic baguettes, of which Vlad is reputed to have a fatal aversion, hidden inside crates of Vlad the Impaler and Swiss Musical codpieces. Still blaming Nabstria for their defeat in the Seven Beers War, Choldwig also establishes secret communications with Nabstria's adversary, Grand Fenwick. Once Vlad is laid low, Rotenburg and Imperial troops will march on Gross Schnitzelring and establish once again a Mittelheimer monarch in Gelderland. Smiling grimly, Choldwig ruminates on the ills done to his Landgravate and looks forward to a time of change. Revenge!

     'Revenge!' cries Burgrave Falco of Nabstria. In Nabstria, the mood has become increasingly febrile. Members of the party known as the Enten Gesellschaft have taken to wearing stuffed ducks as headgear and shouting 'Liberate the water-fowl of Nottelbad!': they receive a major boost when Burgrave Falco is seen at the theatre wearing a stuffed mallard as head-wear. His wife, the Burgravina, has also done the same (or possibly grown  a mutton-chop beard - it seems impolite to ask). Unreconciled to the loss of Nottelbad and its handsome duck pond, Falco comes to the conclusion that war must be contemplated if Grand Fenwick refuses to give it back. Seeking desperately to rehabilitate himself, Bishop Munschrugge consults the most able of Nabstria's legal profession, and declares to his Burgrave that he has 'a cast-iron legal and moral case for the renunciation of the Peace of Kayck': to whit 'I had my fingers crossed.' Upon this sound legal premise, Nabstria plans for war. Falco is clear, however: Nabstria must not be seen to be the aggressor - some way must be found of provoking Grand Fenwick.

     'Revenge!' cries Emperor George of Grand Fenwick. For the fatal wounding of Baron Stensch, King Vlad has ordered that Joachim, heir to the throne of Grand Fenwick, should be arrested 'and then damn well hung'. This edict is met with a refusal from Emperor George and the comment from Joachim that this would be an entirely redundant activity since, as his codpiece surely indicated, he was 'already hung damn well'; Joachim then reportedly made a lewd gesture to the Gelderland ambassador and invited King Vlad to take a most unlikely anatomical excursion with a soup spoon. Announcing  'no compromise and no un-'cod'-itional surrender' to Vlad's unreasonable demands, Emperor George imposes a ban on the import of codpieces, and defenestrates the Gelderland ambassador. In the town of Fenwick, incensed mobs roam the streets searching for Gelderland citizens: however, both have already slipped away, and when the crowd happen upon a vegetable stall with a vaguely suggestive parsnip, thoughts of violence are quickly lost in an evening of traditional Fenwickian 'fnars.'

     'Pigs!' cries Prince-Palatine Rupprecht of Saukopf-Bachscuttel: 'I love them', he declares; 'and I want more'. Having gauged correctly the rather limited nature of Bachscuttel's foreign policy objectives, Bishop Munschrugge is able to secure a secret alliance with the Palatinate at the cost of  forty Nabstrian Old Grunters, peerless porcine breeding-stock, and a large collection of antique pork scratchings, reputedly belonging to Pope Gregory the IX and taken on Crusade against the Saracens: being both holy and pig-related, Rupprecht has the latter placed with reverence in his private chapel.

     'War!' shouts King Vlad. The Rotenburg-Fenwickian plan goes terribly awry. As bad luck would have it, the crates of codpieces arrive at Vlad's palace at the same time as emissaries from the Duchy of Kurland. Unable to resist the temptation of the archaic groinal protruberances, the emissaries help themselves. Sadly more familiar with medieval fashion than with fancy French bakery products, the Kurlanders wear the baguettes as well. In the chaos that follows, Vlad loyalists are able to knock the baguettes into the moat using the butts of their pistols and, once their eyes have stopped watering, the Kurlanders are able to explain the source of their ill-chosen sartorial accoutrements. A search of the crates provides conclusive evidence of the provenance of the plot:  a receipt signed by the Rotenburg treasury; a voucher made out to Choldwig for a third off his next purchase; and  a small greetings card made out to Vlad from Emperor George of Fenwick saying 'Die, you bastard'.
    
     In Gross Schnitzelring, King Vlad has had enough: dismissing Choldwig's protestations of innocence as an 'infamous concotion of lies, calumny, slander, untruths, half-truths, semi-truths, and mostly-porkies', Vlad declares: 'Who will rid me of this turbulent Landgrave?'; and then, in case no one has heard, he has this published in seventeen different Mittelheim newspapers. Declaring himself to be 'the most loyal of the King's allies,' Burgrave Falco declares war upon Rotenburg! Amidst riotous scenes of enthusiasm in the village green, the Empire of Grand Fenwick asserts its support for Rotenburg and declares war against Nabstria! Nabstria activates its alliance with Bachscuttel, which declares war on both Fenwick and Rotenburg in the name of the King!

     Having completed his limbering up routine in Bohemia, Death takes a practice swing or two. The armies of Mittelheim are again on the march! The Cod War has begun!











Saturday, 19 January 2013

Crisis!


     A year has passed. How shall we measure the achievements of King Vlad's rule? In Mittelheim, half the peasantry are starving; the region's chief scientific innovation over the last 12 months has been the invention of the Steinhagen Patent Pig Polisher; the main cultural achievement has comprised the publication of four books, two of which consist entirely of pictures (one being an 'artistic' pamphlet of somewhat specialist taste produced for the Landgrave of Rotenburg). And yet, despite this golden age in Mittelheim, all is not well.

     For the last six months, there has been rising opposition to Vlad's transparent preference for all things Transylvanian at the expense of good, decent Mittleheim trappings. Not for Vlad, hearty Mittleheim fare such as pickled leechkraut or boiled pig's knees; not for him dapper Mittelheim elegance embodied by Nabstrian stoat-skin breeches, or wigs of quality Rotenburg nasal tuft; absent from his court are the usual staples of the Gelderland monarchy such as stately Mittelheim sock music, weekly cow rubbing and a monthly bath, whether needed or not. Instead, Vlad has surrounded himself with Transylvanian lackeys who have brought with them Transylvanian culture and Transylvanian mores.  Some continue to defend the new king, arguing that he lacks the advantage of skilled advisors: most of his intimate circle of Mittelheimers have disappeared - the last, Graff Wernar von Wormer, Royal Treasurer, recently resigned, describing himself as 'drained.' But many other Mittelheimers long for the good old days of King Karl-Rudolph III: when it was possible to beat a poor person to within an inch of their life and then sue them for the damage that they had done to one's cane; when the word 'tax', like the words 'cabbage' and 'thank you', was something uttered only by uncouth common folk; and where a man could ask the monarch whether or not he would like a steak without being suddenly being subject to a tirade of abuse, quickly followed by exile.

     These dark mutterings have been compounded by another emerging crisis: the influx into Fenwick of a veritable tidal wave of Herzo-Carpathian codpieces. With the removal of Nabstrian import duties, Fenwick has now become the key transit point for the shipment of codpieces into Fenwick's northern neighbour, Nabstria. Given that the Fenwickian love of double-entendre meant that the Empire barely coped with the arrival from France of the baguette, the effect on the Fenwickians of Herzo-Carpathia's antiquated sartorial accoutrements has been little short of catastrophic. Normal political and economic intercourse has ceased: and most of the other sort, as well. The Empire is in crisis: the mere sight of a crate of Swiss Musical Codpieces or 'Mister Stay-Puffed' horse-hair codpiece plumpers is enough to reduce the locals to gargling, despairing 'fnars'.

     Events have been brought to a head, as it were, by a terrible accident involving the Emperor's son Joachim. Whilst most sensible Mittleheimers view codpieces for what they are: a medieval fashion faux pas long deposited, quite sensibly, into the chamberpot of inelegance, Joachim, being young and foolish, has taken to sporting one, mainly as a method of terrifying the local clergy. However, disaster struck on the occasion of an imperial ball. Whilst possession of the vigour of youth may well be, under ordinary circumstances, something of an advantage, it is less so when one is in a crowded ballroom wearing a choice 'Vlad the Impaler' style codpiece: under such conditions, being 'young and thrusting' can be a dangerous, if not life-threatening, condition and so it proved to be. Baron Stensch, a noted Gelderland noble, was stabbed inadvertantly by Joachim after the latter slipped on a carelessly discarded eclair. In Gelderland, Stench's family are calling for Joachim to be tried and hung; in Fenwick, the Emperor has put himself at the head of an anti-codpiece movement known as the 'Real Men Wear Stockings' party. Tensions between Gelderland and Fenwick continue to rise.

     All of this has taken place against the backdrop of continued military spending by the various states of Mittelheim. Inexperienced conscripts have been diligently trained into the lumpen human automata required for modern warfare; armories have been re-stocked; magazines reconstituted. In Nabstria, the discovery that General Tonifruttipandi is not, in fact, a Great Captain has prompted the Landgrave to recruit two more infantry regiments to bolster his army. Sceptics have questioned the wisdom of arming these new troops, however, on the basis that it will simply impede their ability to sprint rearwards at the first sign of trouble. In Bachscuttel, the Palatinate has begun laying in stocks of salted scones to feed its troops in any future campaign. Having triumphed in the Seven Beers War, the commander of the Bachscuttel army, General Graff von Barry-Eylund, has declared the performance of the Palatinate's army to have been a vindication of his policy of promoting officers only when they reach a certain weight.

     Cognisant of these worrying developments, Death sharpens the larger of his scythes and makes arrangements for Famine to look after his cat.