Tuesday, 19 November 2013


     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.


  1. A tremendous enjoyment to read, as usual!

    1. Thanks abdul! It's always nice to get some feedback.