Saturday, 19 January 2013
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.