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.
Tuesday, 15 January 2013
And so, the din of war subsides: the cannons fall silent; the rolling of drums ceases; the womanly screaming of Nabstrian and Rotenburg soldiery fades into the distance. Death, laying aside his scythe, pauses to inhale an imaginary lungful of peaceful Mittelheim air, before gagging on it. With the final victory of the Mockers' party at the battle of Heyenkarbz, Juan Cornetto's bid for the Gelderland throne is at an end. Amid extraordinary displays of Gelderland pomp that consume nearly seven sacks of tinsel, Vlad Drakul enters the Gelderland capital, Gross Schnitzelring, where he is crowned as King Vlad I. Vlad immediately sacks the palace's French Chef because he 'likes not garlic' and orders an expansion of the royal cellars for 'er, you know, storage.'
Meanwhile, on neutral ground, outside of the Zentan border town of Kayck, plenipotentiaries from the respective belligerents meet to negotiate a measured and lasting peace settlement. Their Zentan hosts lay out in the lush meadowlands surrounding Kayck a new village of silken tents and log cabins, all provided with the best comforts that the Sanjak can provide. The ensuing days of negotiation prove to be an epic adventure in labyrinthine skullduggery and political machination. Representing the Burgravate of Nabstria is His Excellency Reinhardt the Bishop of Munschrugge; Rotenburg relies for the defence of its interests on the shrewd Austrian, Wilhelm the Baron Woffeltop. Representing the Empire of Fenwick is the Emperor's younger brother, Franz; Saukopf-Bachscuttel places its trust in the scholar-pig farmer, Baron Albrecht Steinhagen. The negotiations are not easy. Steinhagen, in particular is a difficult fellow: describing him in his dispatches home, the British observer Sir Malileu Fitzbuttress asked his superiors to 'imagine an idiot-savant who, sadly, is just an idiot.' Bachscuttel, it would seem, has foreign policy objectives that do not extend much beyond the acquistion of pigs, an objective which renders redundant some of the subtler schemes for Mittelheim power-balancing pursued by the other diplomats. In the end, a settlement is acheived mainly by ignoring Bachscuttel, Steinhagen instead spending his time measuring local pigs and sketching out plans for the sty of his dreams.
After three days, the Peace of Kayck is signed. The Empire of Grand Fenwick takes the Nabstrian border village of Nottelbad, a place long-coveted by the Emperor on account of its strategic positon and marvellous duck pond. Ruprecht, the Prince-Palatine of Bachscuttel, is made Bishop of Schrote, the previous incumbent having disappeared mysteriously after being invited by King Vlad 'for dinner'. Despite the best efforts of Bishop Munschrugge and Baron Woffeltop, reparations set at some 100,000 marks are extracted from both Nabstria and Rotenburg. Levies of such magnitude quickly have serious repercussions: in Rotenburg, for example, Choldwig's plan to grace Alexandopolis with a marvellous copy of far-off Athens' Parthenon must be down-scaled to neo-classical renderings of a small gazebo and potting shed. Duties are also placed on Rotenburg false moustache and leech exports, whilst Nabstria is required to remove its punitive tarriffs on the import of Herzo-Carpathian codpieces. The Bachscuttel army withdraws from Nabstria with a spring in its step: having survived for some weeks on fiberous local muesli, even the conscripts are now remarkably regular. In Rotenburg, the Imperial army receives commemorative victory leeches before heading for Fenwick and home.
Finally, as the plenipotentiaries leave Kayck, the Zentans can only look on in a mixture of bemusement and horror at the consequences of the Mittelheimers presence: not a maid's backside has gone unpinched; not a bottle of wine remains unopened; not a bathrobe, coffee pot or small package of complimentary biscuits remains in their tents. Pockets bulging with individually packaged soaps, the plenipotentiaries leave the Sanjak like a horde of steppe nomads, many dressed in Zentan bath caps and slippers, and carrying packages that look suspiciously like they contain the breech-presses provided by their thoughtful hosts. Nevertheless, even as the rest of Europe continues to tear itself apart, in Mittleheim, surely, a new golden age of peace has commenced.