Tuesday, 23 December 2014

There's dirty work afoot!


     And so, dear reader, we find ourselves mid-morning on a lovely summer's day, somewhere in the Kingdom of Gelderland. It is a bucolic scene: lush greenery; the gentle swaying of trees; the twitter of birds; all interrupted only by the irate chattering of a squirrel whose other half has been caught hiding his nuts where he shouldn't. But hang on, what's this? Our reverie is interrupted by the jingling of harness and the creaking of wheels.


(Right) It's a coach! But not any old coach. It's clear from the asthmatic wheezing of the horses that the carriage is heavily burdened, either by an emergency army-sized delivery of lard, or by that globulous wobble-bottom King Wilhelm of Gelderland. Sadly for the locals, the livery on the coach indicates that it is the latter. The King has been hastening eastwards, his passing churning the roads, and quite a few stomachs as well. Few things there are at the moment that can induce Wilhelm to leave the safety of Grosschnitzelring: pies, obviously; rumpy-pumpy; rumpy-pumpy with pies. True to form, Wilhelm is on a promise. Tired of the attentions of his current mistress, the tedious Irish actress Anne O'Dyne, the King has been contacted by the luscious, lewdsome Nora Hindquarters, until lately the paramour of Hieronymous von Rumpfler, commander of the Nabstrian army. Having labelled von Rumpfler dismissively as 'the mole' because of his rather random attempts at blind nocturnal tunnelling, Nora has invited the King to a secret assignation in an inn close to the frontier. After laying mammoth siege to his commode, the King has rushed as fast as he can westwards, bringing with him a small guard of Gelderland troops and a large quantity of 'Mister Stay-Puffed' under-britch plumpers.

(Left) But hang on: what's this! Amidst the greenery, the gentle countryside sounds are interrupted by the soft rattle of military equipment, alongside some suppressed giggles, and a whispered 'Let's do him now!' I spy some Nabstrian scouts!

Stung by defeats at Zorninhaf and Grosse Varnische, and with a military crisis emerging as obviously as King Wilhelm's belly button in a pair of under-britches, Burgrave Falco of Nabstria has hatched a plot to win the war by less direct means: for Miss Hindquarters is a double-agent; the meeting is a trap; and the whole enterprise is a nefarious plot that has as its objective the kidnapping of King Wilhelm! Stoked by enthusiastic hope and the reading of too many romantic novels, the early plans envisage replacing the King with a pliant body-double who can then be instructed to announce an end to the war. This plan is quickly dropped when it becomes obvious that it will take too long to find a talking walrus. Now, the objective is simply to abduct the King, and force him, on pain of death, to order an end to hostilities. What could possibly go wrong?

     






Monday, 17 November 2014

A Grand Review!

An Account by Sir Malileu Fitzbuttress, being His Brittanic Majesty's military representative to the Nabstrian Court.

'There was much excitement and anticipation in Falkensteinstadt when it was announced that the Burggrave had graciously decided to hold a Grand Review.  It was well known that his leading four regiments had just been outfitted in fresh new uniforms of a particularly fine cut.  The Burggrave has been pleased to award the contract for the new  uniforms to the famous  firm of Minden (proprietor Mr Jim Purky and lately Mr Frank Hammond) while the expert finishing touches to the uniforms were provided by Mr H. Jenkins Esq.  The Burggrave has been immensely - and rightly - pleased with the new turnout of his soldiers.  On one occasion, while taking a turn with the Burggrave in the picturesque gardens of Falkeinsteinburg, I made so bold as to suggest that a Grand Review would serve a double purpose by enabling him to put his soldiers through their paces and thus test the rapidity of their drill movements, while also enabling the Burggrave to display his troops in their fine new uniforms to the admiring public of Nabstria.  He at once seized upon the idea and insisted that the Review take place at the earliest opportunity.



The ancient stones of Falkeinstein Castle provided the perfect backdrop for the Grand Review.  Here we see the Burggrave in front of his men with General von Rumpfler and Paul, Duke of Clarkeshire looking on.























The day of the Grand Review dawned clear and fine.  The weather of Mittelheim is notoriously unpredictable and it would have been unfortunate if the soldiers fine new uniforms had been exposed to a downpour - an all too common occurrence in Falkensteinburg.  However, the weather remained clement and the arrangements passed off without a hitch.



The new Nabstrian standards, recently blessed by Bishop Munschrugge, looked very well on parade.

The four regiments marched onto the commodious parade ground, which lies hard by the romantic and gothick stones of Castle Falkenstein, in perfect order with their standards uncased.  Every soldier on parade was smartly turned out and performed every movement flawlessly.  The regiments made a fine military spectacle in front of their admiring Burggrave.  General von Rumpfler and Paul, Duke of Clarkeshire accompanied the Burggrave as he reviewed each regiment in turn.  All was to his satisfaction.  People from every rank, station and condition of Nabstria were present and the effect on the multitudes present was inspiring.  Their enthusiasm was demonstrated by their tumultuous cheers for the Burggrave and his brave men.  It would also appear that the crowds provided ready business for many street traders who moved their operations from Falkensteinstadt for the day.  I have heard that, by the end of the day, there was not a single crispy fried leech to be found and that the stock of ornamental souvenir cod-pieces specially produced for the day had sold out.



The Nabstrian General Staff, resplendent in their red trousers (an unfortunate French affectation), took a full part in organising the parade


While there have been some rumours of a certain weariness towards the constant wars of Mittelheim amongst the Nabstrian population of late, the Grand Review has done much to re-invigorate the martial spirit of the Burggraviate.  I have also heard that the army has recently tapped new sources of impressed foreigners through a clever ruse involving a haystack, a bottle of beer and a drill sergeant dressed as a maiden.  While this has brought in many fresh recruits, it is very unpopular with the drill sergeants who have to shave off their fine moustachios.  Nonetheless, the numbers of new recruits are such that the ranks of the army should be filled for some time and while the methods of the Nabstrian drill masters may be brutal, the Grand Review proved that they are fully effective.'







Thursday, 30 October 2014

Nurkibahoo!

Lurking suspiciously near the headwaters of the Timpopo river, Nurkibahoo is a land of dark and fearsome reputation. If the tribes of the Leech Coast dare to mention the word ‘Nurkibahoo’ it is only in terrified whispers accompanied by vigorous, and not always successful, attempts to avoid soiling themselves. Once, so legend has it, Nurkibahoo was an earthly paradise, home to the Great Mountain Gods and an assortment of lesser deities that did their cleaning and looked after the garden. But these gods long ago disappeared and what crept into the void to replace them were, so stories tell, malignant spirits of terrible evil: fell creatures that would make even the Nazgul shift nervously. The archaeological evidence does not fully support this story: ancient inscriptions tell of the presence in early Nurkibahoo of a proto-Egyptian civilisation known as the Clunj. The Clunj seem to have adopted Egyptian tomb building techniques but their civilisation appears to have ended after rampant speculation led to the collapse of the world’s first pyramid selling scheme. Now, Nurkibahoo is the land that the land that time forgot has forgotten. Tales abound of a wilderness filled with strange ruins and impenetrable jungles; of dismal swamps and noisome smells. English explorers reputedly reached a small part of it in 1678 and established a small settlement named New Grimsby. But even if this were true, nothing more since has been heard from them. Either they died of disease, probably through the filthy conditions; or were reduced to cannibalism, probably through boredom.

Mussihonki!

This mountainous province provides the watery source of the Dongo river. Populated by the surprisingly numerous Wattamassa tribe, Mussihonki is a site of restless, fiery, geological activity much of which seems to take pace in the loincloth of the local potentate Chief Harharbonk, the so-called ‘Lord Goat with a Thousand Young.’ Embarrassed Christian missionaries have sought to curb the Chief’s extravagant, and rather public, humping by introducing him to the usual array of European prophylactics such as jigsaws, sock puppetry, and monogamy. Sadly, however, a fertile combination of long drinking sessions and short attention span have rendered Chief Harharbonk largely immune to these efforts, though he has managed to develop some unexpected uses for the sock.

Dangla!

These lands encompass the heartlands of the Handzande tribes of the southern Leech Coast. The principal settlement of the Chiefdom of Handzande is known as Umflopi, and comprises an extensive settlement of Handzande huts, paddocks, and storerooms surrounded by a stockade. Rather like the Handzande Chief, M’Wahaha, Umflopi varies in size depending upon the season. In summer, in particular, Handzande tribesmen flock to Umflopi in preparation for annual expeditions against their neighbours. At this time, important tribal celebrations take place. First to occur is the ‘Roger the Small Boy’ festival: named after an incident in which one of Handzande tribes rescued a small European boy, named Roger, whose explorer parents had been eaten by hippos, this is a charming cornucopia of dance and frolicsome behaviour. It is followed soon after by the ‘Roger the Cow’ festival in which Handzande warriors get it on with their livestock.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Ahoy, and such like!

     Though bounded to the north by the Baltic Sea, it would not be inaccurate to describe the states of Mittelheim traditionally as continental powers. Taking for granted the trading incomes derived from the sales of slaves, wine, leeches and nasal hair, the states of Mittelheim have rarely been encouraged to see the sea as a medium for conflict. True, there were some isolated coastal slave raids in the 17th century by the North African based but London clothed privateers known as the Burberry pirates. Moreover, during the War of Otto's Kneecap in the 1720s, Nabstria had used two impressed merchantmen to deliver an amphibious assault upon the coastal villages of Bachscuttel. In fact, as it transpired, neither of the merchantmen were really that impressed: the troops that were landed being about as well disciplined as a ship-full of Siamese cats (and rather less house-trained), they rampaged across the beach fronts for twenty minutes or so, frightening children and setting fire to some Protestants before being dealt with brutally by a local band of wandering taxidermists. But the possibilities inherent in maritime power, its poise, mobility, access, versatility, flexibility, indeed its strategic leverage as a whole, had not in general been appreciated by those responsible for the formulation of state strategy in Mittelheim .

     But this has now begun to change in a decisive way. As the states of Mittelheim continue to contest upon land the question of the succession to the throne of Gelderland, in the capital of Bachscuttel Prince Rupprecht's advisers have begun to devise a new stratagem to enhance the Palatinate's capabilities: sea power! Under the auspices of Rupprecht's new Grand Chamberlain, Leopold Von Fecklenburg, Bachscuttel has begun the first steps towards a new grand strategy designed to control the sea-lanes between Mittelheim, New Mittelheim, and the Leech Coast. Two lines of development are now reportedly underway! Unable entirely to rid Prince Rupprecht of the malign, bone-headed influence of Baron Albrecht Von Steinhagen, pig-fancier and royal advisor, the first involves investigation into whether pigs can be made to float, and, if so, what kind of ordnance they can be equipped with for the purposes of maritime combat. Thus far, the answer to the first question seems to be 'not through any morally acceptable method', and to the second 'some form of modified cutlery'. The second line of development is the decision to procure in the boatyard of Bestwestung the building of a dedicated vessel of war, designed in secret by the British naval architect Sir Hubert Lyme-Pickle.

     The building of the warship commences to the sound of such sawing of wood and banging of nails that it might be mistaken for surgery on Prince Rupprecht's head. Needless to say, the news of the ship's construction cannot be kept secret: Bachscuttel security leaks like Landgrave Choldwig's loincloth after a heavy night of frolics. Even as the land campaign continues, the news that Bachscuttel is now striving to become the dominant sea power in Mittelheim creates consternation in its neighbours and mild amusement amongst foreign ambassadors. For some states in Mittelheim, the news is worrying, but there is little directly that they can do to respond. For example, the Fenwickian capacity to generate maritime power is inhibited a tad by their lack of a coastline and also by their inability to say the words 'poop deck' without a catatonic attack of 'Fnars!' But others, notably both Nabstria and Rotenburg, do have the geography to contest Bachscuttel's ambitious bid for power.

     In Falkensteinburg, Burgrave Falco calls an emergency meeting of his Inner Council. With possession of a warship, Bachscuttel will be able to utilise all the benefits of contingent maritime operations: this cannot be allowed to pass! The meeting is conducted in a gloomy ante-chamber in Falkensteinburg castle. Chief among those pressing for the Burgrave to procure vessels of war is the Second Chancellor, Heinrich, Graf Deckscluder who moots the possibility of a new round of tax increases to fund some nautical enterprises. Afraid for the welfare of Nabstria's citizenry, Bishop Munschrugge chastises the Graf citing the Good Lord's warnings against sin:
'My Lord, think of your people: is this desire for a ship a reflection of wise statecraft or is it merely envy'
'Envy, Munschrugge?'
'Indeed my Lord: a great sin - for did not the Good Lord admonish us against coveting our neighbour's oxes?'
'But I don't want their oxes - I want a ship.'
'I think, my Lord, that the oxes are probably metaphorical.'
'I don't care where they come from: I don't want them.'
And so the debate continues. Munschrugge leads those opposed to the expense of a navy; the Graf continues to advocate the instrumental advantages of seapower. Who will win out?

     In Rotenburg, the situation is more complex. Since the Landgravate is allied to Bachscuttel, there is surely no immediate reason why cash-strapped Choldwig should need to procure his own maritime capabilities. But the Landgrave's honour is piqued: had not Alexander been master both on land and sea? Levying new taxes, Choldwig commands  Ludovico Angelmiccolo, an Italian maestro at the working of wood, to build him a ship! The conversation in Choldwig's palace is not an easy one for the Italian:
'Behold, Herr Ludovico, ' cries Choldwig, 'You have built many things of wood for me; now build me a ship!
'Ah, mainly furniture, my Lord: it's mainly furniture that I build for you. I made you a lovely wardrobe'
'And now I need a ship!' Not an ugly ship ruined by gun ports and covered with fiddly sails but a sleek, dare I say, Alexandrian, warship: a wooden shark to prowl the Baltic!
'It'll be quite a small shark, my Lord: that wardrobe was six feet'.
'Think bigger! The ship should remind all onlookers of me: it should be powerful, majestic and have an enormous ram at the front.'
'I'm thinking, my Lord, of that lovely chaise-longue that I designed for you: wouldn't you just rather I made you one of those?'
'Make me a ship, Ludovico, or I'll have so many holes drilled into your thingie that you'll be able to play it like a flute. Improvise!
Ludovico gulps, and bows: 'Your will be done, my Lord. A ship it will be. I suppose I could put some nice handles on it.'

Six feet of potent maritime power projection
And so, in Mittelheim, the Wars of the Gelderland Succession roll up their metaphorical britches and dip their toes in the complexities of maritime combat. In a place where even having a bath can be a complex and traumatic experience, the militaries of the respective belligerents are likely to take to this new medium of warfare like a duck to trampolining.


Saturday, 23 August 2014

Grosse Varnische!

     A seagull cries mournfully in the air; a salt-tanged breeze drifts gently across the open grassland. Around the village of Grosse Varnische, hundreds of small bodies, wrapped pathetically in over-large uniforms lie huddled around smoking campfires. Furst Augustus Saxe-Peste, Knight Commander of the Rotenburg Order of the Golden Fleas, General-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Landgravate of Hesse-Rotenburg-Schillingsfurst shifts uncomfortably in his saddle and ponders sadly on the assembled troops in front of him.

     The past few days have been very, very trying. After extricating the remains of his forces from the carnage at Chestwig, the Furst has had to resort to extraordinary measures to bring his army back up to strength. Having already lost so many men to the bratwurst machine that is Rotenburg war craft, the Landgravate has long ago emptied the farms and even prisons of its able-bodied men to provide the manpower for its regiments. Only the youngest potential recruits are left. Now, seven of his nine regiments have been filled with the sweepings from the worst nurseries and naughty-steps of Rotenburg. Most seem capable of nothing more than sucking their thumbs; the remainder would probably join them if only they could find their thumbs in their ludicrously voluminous coats. Moreover, his army is mutinous. Whilst his two regular regiments spend their time preparing themselves for the next battle, the new troops have distinguished themselves by their stubborn refusal either to drill properly or to eat their greens. The conscripts are also very tired, having refused to go to bed early; and with the lack of any bedrooms to send them to, the Furst has few means of imposing discipline on them, it being a accepted, even in Rotenburg, that to tie infants to a cannon wheel and flog them to death is probably in most circumstances morally wrong and at the very least bad parenting.
   
     To compound matters, the general military situation is an urgent one. After their minor reverse at Zorninhaf, the Imperial Army of Grand Fenwick has recovered quickly and forced march towards Alexandopolis, hoping, no doubt, to occupy the Landgravate's capital before the Furst can raise a new army. The Furst has made the decision to retreat towards the coast, a decision informed by two assumptions: first, it might draw the Imperials away from the Rotenburg capital. Second, since the Furst's infantry now has an average age of about eleven, the prospect of a trip to the beach, with a paddle and some ice cream, seems like a useful way to prop up the troops' morale.

     Even worse, his headquarters is now host to the Landgrave himself. Mercifully, Landgrave Choldwig has put on a uniform, having learnt from his last chafe-ridden trip to the seaside that loin clothes, olive oil, and vigorous exercise don't mix well with sand. In part Choldwig has arrived to boost the morale of his weary and frightened troops; in part, it is also a chance for him to see if the Imperial troops, the 'Spartans of Mittelheim' are as toned and oiled as their ancient name-sakes. For the most part, Choldwig confines his contribution to the Furst's orders group to complaints about the confining nature of his undergarments and a number of excited 'Arroos!'

     And so, like a Mittelheim Pied Piper, Saxe-Peste has led his army of children towards Grosse Varnische, a small village a mile or so from the Baltic coast. The only positive development has been the presence in the village of a passing Zentan circus which, with the promise of gold and an opportunity later to spank his conscripts, he is able to press into service as mercenaries. Whilst the bearded ladies seem a little rusty in the handling of their weapons, the midgets do look like a tough lot.



     (Above) The Imperial Fenwickian army arrives on the battlefield. Sitting manfully astride his horse, Keith, Marshal Cavandish assesses the situation. Having caught up on his sleep during the battle of Zorninhaf, the Marshal is curiously perky. Around him, his headquarters staff laugh and joke: tales of the slaughter of the Rotenburg forces at Chestwig leave the Imperials in no doubt that this is likely hardly to be a battle at all. Cavandish calls for his telescope: 'Let's take a look at this army of children', quips the Marshal, raising his spy glass, 'by looking through the round window'. There is movement in the Rotenburg ranks: it looks like Furst Augustus intends to attack! Cavandish arrays his troops in a strong defensive position centred on the key ground: a small hill that covers his line of retreat. With his front split by a small watercourse, known locally as the Appisch, he deploys his four batteries of skilled artillery adjacent to it, supported by all but one of his infantry battalions. (Above, top) On his left, he deploys a single unit of infantry conscripts on the hill behind the marsh; his three cavalry regiments he places in line covering the rest of his left wing.



     (Above) Furst Augustus cannot guess for certain what the likely outcome of this battle will be, but, like King Richard III, he has a good hunch. Recognising that the odds are against him, Augustus stakes his chances of victory on a high risk gambit. He masses his entire force on his right wing. To the front, he places his cavalry, his intention being to overwhelm the Imperial horse with a brisk cavalry charge, and then swing left to take the enemy guns and infantry from the flank. But it's all or nothing - the left of his infantry line, including the Zentan mercenaries (in blue, red flag), are in range of the Imperial artillery: four batteries with Artillery Academy training are likely to do great execution, especially if they hit conscripts.

     Seeing the Rotenburg troops deploy, the Imperial morale is raised further: surely the Rotenburg cavalry attack is doomed? Cavandish has a supply of stirrups that his cavalry can throw against the enemy, and there is some bad terrain out there that is certainly not on any map. Captain Nitzwitz, the Marshal's aide-de-campe, laughs loudly:
'A single roar from my pet lion will see those rascals off', he comments
Cavandish looks round slowly, 'Your lion, Nitzwitz?'
'Yes my lord', he replies jingling a lead that he holds in his hand, and pointing to his pet.
Cavandish's brow creases: 'Captain, I'm not sure that that's a lion. I think it's a ..ur .. someone help me here...'
Baumgartner, his orderly, chips in: 'I think it's a stoat, Nitzwitz. If it's a lion, it's a very small one.'
'Christ in a sedan chair', growls Nitzwitz. 'I've been fleeced'. Mumbling something, he picks up a chicken and runs back towards the baggage train.
Cavandish looks at his orderly: 'What did he say?'
Baumgartner shrugs: 'I think my Lord, that he also wants his money back on his elephant.'

     (Below) With a loud shout of 'huzzah!' from his regular troops, and a cry of 'where?' from his conscript hussars, Augustus orders forward his entire cavalry force in a hell-for-leather charge on the Imperial Fenwick left. His troops head forward, following their officers more from a sense of curiosity than from any real belief that success will follow.



    
     (Above) But fate has better things in store for the Rotenburg horse. Through his telescope, Cavandish can see the unfolding drama on his left: with rising consternation, the Marshal realises that things are not going to plan. The sudden appearance of an unmapped marsh slows down the yelling Rotenburg cavalry not at all, and they 'find their way' across without disorder. Worse for the Imperials, their firm belief that they would have a hefty set of stirrups to throw into the impending melee turns out to be a mistaken one - instead, some crafty espionage has delivered said stirrups into the hands of their adversaries! Could the Rotenburg cavalry succeed? Could the Furst win his rapid victory?


     (Above) Augustus' need for a rapid victory to his front is reinforced by the unfolding events elsewhere. With thunderous roars, the Academy-trained Imperial artillery opens fire upon the static Rotenburg infantry. Pausing only to snicker at Cavandish's compliment that they are 'bouncing their balls most effectively', the Imperial artillery fires another volley and the Rotenburg left takes a thrashing. First in line are the Zentans: their commander sees the Imperial guns trained on his troops and gulps - the first thing that goes through his mind is how accurate the enemy fire seems; the second thing that goes through his mind is a 12lb cannon ball. Behind him, the bearded ladies get rather more trimmed off the top than they expect and the mercenary battalion collapses quickly. Then a second unit, this time of conscripts, are crushed by the weight of Imperial cannon-fire. Behind them, there is consternation and tears as the raw Rotenburg infantry realises what's in store for them if the Furst's plan goes awry.



     The clash of cavalry! Furst Augustus cheers as his troops fight magnificently! In truth, the combat is already stacked in the Rotenburg favour: two units of the Fenwickian horsemen are raw, much like their backsides, and they are outnumbered and out-stirrupped. Worse, having looked at the map, the Fenwickian cavalry have realised the name of the watercourse to their right. Any way they slice it, 'Appisch Stream' or the 'Stream of Appisch' sounds very, very rude, and the bulk of the cavalry 'Fnar' their way into disorder. (Above) One Fenwickian regiment routs on contact. As the process of charge and counter-charge continues, one further Imperial and two Rotenburg regiments are rendered hors de combat, though none of them are quite clear what thet means. (Below) Despite heroic resistance, the last exhausted Fenwickian cavalry unit succumbs to an attack from both front and flank.



     Could this be the breakthrough that Augustus needs? (Above, top) The Imperial flank consists now of a single regiment of conscripts perched on the hill. But all is not at is is seems. (Below) In the interim, Cavandish has redeployed his artillery to cover his flank. Though Augustus begins to order his infantry up to support his cavalry (below, top right) they have a long way to march.



This is a critical moment. Furst Augustus pauses to the accept the advice offered by Landgrave Choldwig. Contemplating the situation for a moment he then makes his decision: the Imperial flank, with its stream and guns, is too strong. Politely rejecting the Landgrave's plan on the basis that logistic difficulties had left him without the olive oil necessary to lubricate his musketeers, the Furst the now stakes everything on a reorientation of his line of attack. (Below, top) Using oblique manoeuvres, his infantry swings around and, buoyed by their ignorance of war and the prospect of jelly for tea, the Rotenburg line toddles forward towards the Imperial line. 


     (Above, bottom) Cavandish smiles grimly and accepts the challenge. With regular troops, lethal volleys, and a predominantly conscript enemy, he fancies his chances in a clash of infantry lines. He orders his troops to swing out into a battle line to meet the advancing Rotenburg troops. The whole axis of the battle has turned ninety degrees! Cavandish's manoeuvres, though, are subject to some sudden confusion, and there is an almost religious aspect to the deployment of the Imperial troops, as they proceed, like the Good Lord Himself, to move in mysterious ways. Furst Augustus surveys the Imperial line as it moves rather randomly into battle order. His assessment is interrupted by the sight of a small fellow sprinting across the front of their lines: a corpulent chap dressed in an overlarge black robe trailing a scythe that wobbles dangerously. The fellow appears to be saying 'Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!'. The Furst turns to his orderly. Captain Sebastian Wankrat.
'Wankrat, is that fellow being chased by a small lion?'
'No, my Lord: I think that's a weasel or something.'


     (Below) And so the battle lines meet at last in a clash of flame and steel! To the right is arrayed the Rotenburg front line, four regiments strong. Augustus has his single elite regiment (top, two flags), and regular regiment (middle), with the remainder of his infantry being only conscripts. Four Imperial regiments oppose them. The Furst recognises that this is the decisive moment, and despite much wailing and holding of breath from his conscripts, he refuses to let them halt for some hot milk and a nap.


     Crikey! Muskets roar; orders and screams ring out; smoke rolls heavily across the battle-lines. (Below) As the latter clears, it is evident that the Imperials have come off worse, with one of their units routing under the heavy Rotenburg fire. Cavandish sighs heavily. 'Nitzwitz,' he says, turning to his newly returned aide,'we're going to need a bigger stoat.'


     And so it continues. It becomes evident that, with both sides armed with lethal volleys, the fact that the Rotenburgers are mainly conscripts makes little difference in a fire-fight. Indeed, lacking any experience of combat, the Rotenburg conscripts bring an unusual enthusiasm to the duel of musketry. As they fire-and-load, fire-and-load, most appear now to be having a splendid time: actual war seems much more fun than playing at it: there's no soppy girls, and when you shoot someone, they have to stay dead. Moreover, having now four regiments in their front line against only three Imperials, the weight of Rotenburg fire continues to tell. As the fighting continues, the battle slips quickly and surprisingly from the Imperial grasp.

     Cavandish is desperate: enemy fire has destroyed both the trumpets and drums at his headquarters leaving him unable to exert control over the fighting.
'Nitzwitz,we are at a decisive moment: is there no instrument left through which I can communicate my orders to the troops?'
'I think, my Lord, that there is a horn somewhere. I'll ask.'
And so, before Cavanadish can stop him, disaster strikes the Imperial Fenwickian army as Nitzwitz shouts out loudly through the din of battle to the assembled Fenwickian troops, asking them whether any of them have the horn. Holding his head in his hands, Cavandish watches the disintegration of his troops, his musketeers 'Fnar'-ing and 'Snurk'-ing their way into helpless heaps. He cannot even bring himself to stop Nitzwitz when the captain announces that, although no one apparently has the horn, he vaguely remembers that there might be a clarinet lying around, possibly purple in colour, and that he would be willing to blow it if the Marshal thought that that would help. Slowly, Cavandish dismounts from Keith and walks to his tent.
'I'm off to bed now, 'he says wearily,' wake me up in September.'


     (Above, right) And so, as the casualties mount, it is the Imperials who come off worst: two more of their units rout, leaving Fenwick with a front line of only a single regiment, though they do manage to destroy the Furst's only elite regiment. (Below left) With the morale of both sides low, Nitzwitz orders the Imperial troops forward into a desperate bayonet charge: 'For the King!' cry his troops; 'Grenadiers forward!' cries Furst Augustus.


     (Below) But the Imperial assault proves to be so limp that it might not look out of place nestled in Prince Rupprecht of Bachscuttel's underwear.The Imperial bayonet charge is driven back, and the Fenwickians are now heavily disordered and left vulnerable to Rotenburg musketry, some of which enfilades them.



(Below) And so, with a last Rotenburg volley, most of the remaining Imperial troops rout. The Imperial army can take no more, its morale cracks and the remainder flee. To compound matters, Cavandish later takes ill, the result apparently of an infected stoat bite. Captain Nitzwitz too is wounded, the consequence of being badly pecked by an elephant.



     It is, by any standards, a famous victory for Rotenburg. Furst Augustus has triumphed against long odds. True, it has been a costly victory: he has lost two cavalry regiments, and three Rotenburg infantry regiments, including both of his remaining regular battalions. But the Imperials have had all three of their cavalry units destroyed, along with seven out of their nine infantry regiments. Hurrah for Furst Augustus! God save Hesse-Rotenburg!











Friday, 22 August 2014

Zorninhaf!

     My Dear General von Rumpfler,

     It grieves me to pen this missive but fear I must report the strange defeat of the Grand Fenwickian Army at the battle of Zorninhaf by the forces of Bachscuttel. If this news pains you, alas, I suffer yet more for by an accident of fate I became the main architect of Fenwick’s reverse.

     As you know, I have been sent to Nabstria as the military representative of his Britannic Majesty, and I have gained much from witnessing the Nabstrian Army in the field and from our many conversations on the recurring wars of Mittelheim. The Army of Grand Fenwick has gained such a fine reputation through unbroken success on the battlefield that I became anxious to witness these modern Spartans on their manoeuvres if not in action. After an interview with the Burggrave, he graciously consented that I should join the Army of Grand Fenwick for a period and send reports on their performance to him and my illustrious monarch. This being agreed, I journeyed to Grand Fenwick and made my way, with some difficulty due to the recalcitrant nature of the Fenwickian peasantry and a particularly unpleasant episode in a roadside inn, to join Marshal Cavandish and his army on the very frontier of Fenwick, it being at least 3 miles from Camberwick Green.

     Much to my disappointment, I was unable to meet with Marshal Cavandish or his staff on my arrival. Indeed, the only member of Cavandish’s staff I could find was a young Ensign by the name of Baumgartner who informed me that Cavandish and his entire staff were indisposed as they were currently partaking of a three day ‘sleepenfest’ as an important part of staff training. It would appear that the privileges of the Fenwick army staff are considerable, jealously guarded and comprise mainly of the right to sleep whenever and wherever they choose - even while on campaign. However, the junior officers impressed me greatly and they seemed to be young men of enterprise, boldness and considerable determination as they are kept in constant activity and exertion performing the duties consequent with keeping an army in the field. However, all of them admitted that they covet the white silk tasselled nightcap which is the revered mark of a member of the Grand Fenwick army staff and which enables its wearer to dispense with exertion and fatigue and enjoy the drowsy somnolence of a good night’s sleep, a mid-morning nap, an afternoon doze and an evening slumber.

     Imagine my consternation then, when one of the army’s advanced scouts rode in on lathered horses with news of an advance by the Bachscuttel army. It soon became clear, after the scout had recovered his breath and drained two flagons of ale, that the Bachscuttel army had stolen a march and was approaching our location directly. I immediately impressed upon Baumgartner the seriousness of the situation and the necessity of waking Field Marshal Cavandish. Thrice I shouted ‘Wake the Field Marshal!’ and thrice he flushed and hotly refused. He subsequently informed me, after my passions had subsided and I had narrowly forborn to have him horse-whipped, that Cavandish had made it plain that any officer of junior rank which interrupted the ‘sleepenfest’ would be summarily dismissed the service. In despair, I called out, ‘What is to be done?’ and Baumgartner helpfully suggested that, as I was the senior officer present, and a respected member of the Nabstrian Court, Fenwick’s main ally, it was my duty to assume command of the Fenwickian Army in this moment of crisis. Reluctantly, I understood that his proposal was the only possible option in the circumstances.

     Nonetheless, I laboured under severe disadvantages. I knew neither the officers or the men of the army and the available ground for deployment was far more rustic, rugged and broken up by woods and hills than I would have liked. Two small rustic settlements from which arose a frightful miasma of agricultural ordure and two small but closely forested woods made a proper and formal deployment in accordance with your own admirable principles impossible.

The rugged and rustic terrain of Zorninhaf
     I gave a brief but impassioned speech to all those in earshot, in which I exhorted them to fight for their Empire, their homes, the honour of their arms, their wives, their sweethearts etc etc. It seems to have done the trick as a weak but audible cheer went through the ranks. Baumgartner complimented me on my speech, even though he later admitted that my use of the Nabstrian dialect (I have learned the Germanic tongue to a tolerable level since joining your staff) had probably made it unintelligible to the illiterate pressed peasantry which made up the majority of the Fenwickian soldiery. He also assured me that the army was not used to hearing inspiring speeches such as the one I gave since Cavandish and his staff were invariably engaged in a serious bout of napping before any engagement. I despatched Baumgartner with written orders to each cavalry and infantry colonel giving their dispositions for the coming fight. I had determined on a simple yet I hoped effective deployment. Placing the famed Fenwickian artillery in the centre of the position, I posted the infantry in two wings on either side of the guns. I garrisoned the left-most hamlet with an infantry battalion, and posted a regiment of hussars behind it in reserve. On the right flank, I posted the two regiments of well mounted Fenwickian horse. Although the deployment was considerably broken up and constrained by woods, trees etc, etc, and the garrison of Zorinhaf constantly troubled by clouds of flies from the piles of ordure, I nonetheless believed that the army would give a good account of itself and that the gunners of the army would be engaged in constant labour firing at numerous Bachscuttel targets as they advanced towards us.

The deployment of the Army of the Empire of Grand Fenwick. The cunning deployment of the Bachscuttel Army can be seen in the far left of the print.

     Alas! I had not realised that the scout which had rushed into my erstwhile headquarters was the only Fenwickian scout on duty that day. The rest of them had been given dispensation to join the sleepenfest which meant that I gained no further intelligence on the onward march or deployment of the Bachscuttel forces. Our foes were deployed in a grand column to outflank and fall upon the right flank of the Fenwick army and thus avoid the deadly fire of the well trained and ruthless Fenwick gunners. When I espied this looming threat, I realised that the day was likely to be hard fought. Nonetheless, I believed that the Fenwickian horse would be able to impose sufficient delay to enable an orderly re-deployment of the army. I had also heard that the Bachscuttel forces had a reputation for sluggish manoeuvres on the field, being trained neither in cadence nor oblique manoeuvre.

The formidable array of the Bachscuttel Army
     However, although the Bachscuttel advance could not be considered a fine example of drill as there were numerous instances of poor marching, their array managed to push forward more rapidly than I had estimated.

Fenwick’s brave cavalry in its attempts to hold off the Bachscuttel horse.
     In the circumstances, I could only order the two regiments of horse posted on the right flank to make repeated charges. Unfortunately, they made little headway, particularly when the left-most regiment found its uniforms splattered by manure from the nearby village. This so discomfited the troopers that they became engaged in attempting to clean their uniforms and so were cut down almost unresisting by Bachscuttel hussars. Fenwick’s horse were undoubtedly brave and did not deserve to meet such a fate but their charges were only partially successful and did not stop the relentless if untidy march of the Bachscuttel infantry.

No British or indeed Nabstrian drill sergeant would ever sanction such a clumsy manoeuvre on a battlefield…
     Alas! Too late did I realise that the left wing of the Fenwickian army needed to wheel across to occupy the centre and bring the Bachscuttel column under fire but the movement could not be completed in time before the Bachscuttel infantry hit the right wing of the Fenwick infantry…

The sadly ill-timed wheel of the left flank of the Fenwickian army.
     This misfortune condemned the hapless infantry regiments on the right flank of the Fenwick line to suffer the massed volleys of the now reorganised Bachscuttel forces. With Fenwick’s cavalry chased from the field, and the right wing of the Fenwick infantry wilting under the volleys of the more numerous and vigorous Bachscuttel forces, I ordered an early withdrawal from the field, with the retreat of the body of the army being guarded by the single regiment of hussars left to us. I despatched young Baumgartner to negotiate an honourable withdrawal from the field. To my surprise, General Barry-Eylund, the Bachscuttel general, was gracious enough to grant this request, and the surviving elements of the army were able to retreat unscathed. The Fenwickian army withdrew from the field of battle chastened, humbled but in good order and in surprisingly good heart.

The brief but fierce firefight which collapsed the right wing of the Fenwickian army

     My thoughts were understandably black as the army marched back towards Camberwick Green but I must say my mood was lifted by the irrepressible spirit of the young Baumgartner who pointed out that, although the two regiments of horse and a couple of foot regiments would need to be reconstituted, the bulk of the army was safe and in good order. He assured me that the fate of the cavalry had brought amusement rather than despair to the army as all of the infantry, officers and men included, believed that the cavalry had airs above their station and swanked about like peacocks on parade. “That dose of cow**** and those Bachscuttel sabres have brought them down a peg or two, I’ll be bound”, he remarked rather scornfully. Much to my surprise, a gunner officer approached me on the retreat and thanked me for my deployment of the guns. He pointed out cheerfully that his men had not fired a shot during the entire battle which pleased all of the gunners greatly – there would be no laborious cleaning, or tedious form-filling for fresh ammunition stocks after this battle. Indeed, he pronounced that the gunners would be raising a subscription to provide me with some memento of my time in command. I dimly perceived that some jest must be at the root of his comments but young Baumgartner insisted that the gunner officer was in earnest.

     However, it was Baumgartner’s comments during the retreat that puzzled me the most. He snapped his fingers at the whole of the Bachscuttel army and claimed that he had entirely bamboozled General Barry-Eylund in their interview after the battle. He remarked that he made sure to cry liberally in the presence of Barry-Eylund and that his blubbering had caused the soft-hearted old fool to grant us the honours of war rather than destroying the army where it stood. At this he gave out a long and braying laugh which I found most trying. I must say that I found his attitude rather shocking and wondered whether such duplicity was common in Grand Fenwick but I was also most relieved that the army had been saved from disaster. Indeed, Baumgartner confided that there was general approbation for my command of the army throughout the officers and men, although he also gave me to understand that this was primarily due to the fact that I had remained awake during the entire action which was a rare occurrence for Marshal Cavandish and his staff.

     Unfortunately, it appears that the sleepenfest of Fenwick’s general staff has been extended, there being no immediate threat of another engagement and I have still not managed to secure an interview with Marshal Cavandish. I have seen that the army is well quartered and I propose to return to Nabstria forthwith or even sooner to ensure that I am not placed in inadvertent command of another army on another field. I had most sincerely hoped to bring you news of a Fenwick victory and it pains me particularly to have to tell you of a defeat. However, the Fenwick army survives and I sincerely hope that it can be captained by a man of energy and decision. In this respect, my dear General Rumpfler, I can only own that I have failed you, although

     I remain your most loyal and obedient servant,
     Malileu Fitzbuttress

Loofah!

     The remains of a grand indigenous Muslim Empire that once stretched to the Niger Delta, the Loofah Caliphate is now a modest African princedom that clings precariously to the shores of Lake Chav. Standing at the crossroads of ancient caravan routes, the Caliphate’s principal settlement, the town of Rubadub, is a key hub of commerce for the Leech Coast. Mentioned in ancient Egyptian scrolls of the Middle Kingdom, the place was known in the age of the Pharoahs as Merenptah, a name comprising the Egyptian hieroglyphs for a fly, a chamberpot, the rear end of a goat, and something that is a long way away. These days, Rubadub is the meeting point for caravans that have travelled from the mysterious interior of Africa. The Loofah Caliphate reached the apogee of its power in the 17th Century under Sultan Pongo XII, who defeated the armies of Sokoto and Bornu. However, a series of terrible civil wars led the Caliphate to fragment.

     The rump of the Caliphate has been ruled for the past 20 years by Sultan Benj-i Bair III. Described according to his formal titles as ‘Sultan, Caliph, Overlord, and Master of All That He Can See’, the Sultan is so gargantuan of girth that the last of his titles necessarily limits his sovereignty over those portions of the caliphate that are below his belly button. For this reason the space around the Sultan's feet is regarded as place of traditional, if rather sweaty sanctuary for fleeing criminals. Indeed, having seen little of his nether regions for a decade or so, the Sultan reputedly commanded his master architects to create a replica of his posterior so that he could watch people kissing it. Putting the mental back into the word 'monumental', the Sultan spent 5 years and used 10,000 slaves constructing from mud bricks a passable facsimile of his own Royal fundament, an edifice that was 200 feet high and complete in every detail, down even to some of the stray criminals that tended to get sat on accidentally at public ceremonies.

 

Khazibar!

     Spread majestically across the western shores of Lake Khazi, the city of Khazibar is the largest city on the Leech Coast. It is an African metropolis of high, bone-white walls and houses, fragrant with the smell of lemon groves, exotic spices, and local armpits. The city is the capital of the sultanate of Khazibar, founded in 1653 by the Zanzibari prince Mehgoat I. The sultanate extends some ten miles to the south and includes a key hub for the export of coffee and chocolate, the port of Mochadishu. Traditionally, Khazibar’s wealth has been built upon slavery, and slaving expeditions once regularly traversed the Leech Coast in search if victims. More recently, the exploits of Mittelheim slaving companies have undercut the Khazibaris and times are now, unlike the Sultan himself, rather lean.

     The current Sultan is named Bahsheep II. He is an indolent, venal ruler whose love of gold combined with his straightened financial circumstances has resulted in an ever more oppressive and inventive system of taxation. One of the main groups to suffer have been the large flocks of goats that form a staple source of income for the poorer folk in Khazibar. Sultan Bahsheep has moved from taxing farmers according to the number of goats that they own, to a system that taxes according to the number of goats’ legs. As a result, the ever tax efficient Khazibaris have taken steps that have resulted in poorer-than-expected tax returns for the Sultan and a goat population that tends to wander only in circles. Britain maintains a consul in Khazibar, His Excellency Sir Marmaduke Drye-Humping, a sensitive fellow with a great love for animals and port. Some of His Excellency's time is taken up by attempts to curb the influence of the French; much of the rest is spent running the Drye-Humping Home for Injured Goats. Gelderland also maintains a plenipotentiary, but he spends much of his time being ignored by Sultan Bahsheep and being given wedgies by his bored and boisterous European colleagues.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Rubtummis!


Rubtummis is a land of low hills and scrub nestled between the Dongo and Timpopo rivers. The province is the western-most of the lands settled by the Bejam tribe. The Bejam arrived in Rubtummis in the early 18th century: the previous occupants, the M’Bop, had been attracted to the province by the mineral hot springs that exist in the south of the country. Luxuriating in the cleansing effervescence of the springs, the M’Bop were unique amongst the tribes of the Leech Coast in having invented bath-bombs before the spear and shield: the former proved to be rather inferior substitutes for latter when the Bejam arrived and stole their land. Amongst other things, the Bejam tribe are famed for the ludicrous styling of their hair. By coating their locks in a thick paste made from hippo dung and cocoa beans and then brushing it upwards, the Bejam give their locks a shocking, scarified and twisted look that has led to their being termed by European observers as the ‘curly wurlies’. The Bejam are led by the wily fox, Osman Donni, who, luckily for the Bejam, is actually a man, not a fox, and so he can read a map and rarely feels compelled to sift through bins.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Arfanarf!

Half desert, half scrub, and wholly unpleasant, the Arfanarf Desert is a wasteland in the extreme northeast of the Leech Coast. The desert is inhabited by a tribe known as the Doowadidi: a bitter collectivity of nomads who have an abundance of only three things: sand, shrubs, and resentment. The second of these has become central to Doowadiddi society. Too poor to afford camels, but too proud to dispense with the principle of raiding that is the foundation of warrior-societies in surrounding provinces, the Doowadiddi have been forced to substitute camels with shrubs to produce what is surely one of the saddest ‘rite of passage’ rituals in tribal history: ‘shrub rustling.’ Since shrubs neither move very fast; nor do they tend to have much of a bite; nor, since their milk yield is generally poor, does any other tribe actually want them, the rustling of shrubs itself tends to be substantially less dangerous to the tribesmen than their preparatory warm-up routine. Noted French ethnographer Oscar Foxtrotte noted that as ethnographic spectacle shrub rustling was ‘a bit dull to watch; pretty merde, really’.

Snuffle!

Lying along the northern banks of the Dongo River, Snuffle was once the site of the vibrant African city of Thriddle, the Pearl of the Great Grasslands. The city thrived on the receipts of trade caravans travelling overland from Loofah and along the great green river to Kassarol. This golden age ended in pre-history – legends tell of the rise of an evil group of dark witch doctors, who called themselves Ikono M’ists, and the rapid collapse thereafter of civilization in Snuffle. The Ikono M’ists advised the Kingdom to adopt mud as its official currency, and for this reason Snuffle quickly became locked into cycles of rampant inflation (during the rainy season) and deep economic stagnation (when the weather was nice). It was during one of the latter that the Ikono M’ists opened the irrigation canals in an attempt at what they termed ‘quantitative easing,’ and washed much of the city away. Most of what was left of the wealth of Thriddle was then appropriated by the Ikono M’ists as something that they called ‘Abonus.’

Monday, 9 June 2014

Yarq!

     The wide grasslands of Yarq are the home to a tribe known as the Hee Hee. The Hee Hee have lived in these lands longer than recorded history, although, since the Hee Hee cannot write, that may not actually be very long. As seems to be so often the case on the Leech Coast, the tribe’s name is not an entirely accurate one and the Hee Hee in fact are famed for their lack of humour. Indeed, at least one chief banned the use of doors to remove a dangerous temptation towards ‘knock knock’ jokes. This poorly judged decision resulted in an orgy of theft as the enterprising Hee Hee set about pinching everything from their neighbours that wasn’t nailed down. This was quite a lot, since, in addition to failing to invent writing, the Hee Hee also hadn’t invented hammers. Or Nails. Given that the Hee Hee were thus both very angry and very humourless, it was an unpleasant twist of fate for those concerned that the first white men to encounter the Hee Hee consisted of an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsmen – having barely introduced themselves, the trio the experienced their very own punchline when they were beaten to death.

Absinthia!

     The legendary mountains of Absinthia were famous in medieval times as the rumoured site of a fabled lost Christian Kingdom. The ruler of these legendary lands was said to be King John, known, because of his refusal to take a bath, as Fester John. Even the monks in faraway Lindisfarne had heard of ‘Ye Kingdome of Festor Jonne;’ an entry in their ‘Faire and Compleate Historie of Englande with Ye Smalle Appendix Covering Eventes in Wayles and Thee Reste of Thee Worlde,’ noted that Festor John’s Kingdom was ‘riche with gold and turnips.’ Discovering the text in the archives of Lampeter St Bunce University, the noted academic Sir Hugo Frottage in 1746 led an expedition to Absinthia on the basis that, whilst he could take or leave turnips, he really liked gold. Frottage was more than a little disappointed to find that the lax academic standards at Lindisfarne, especially in footnoting and proofreading, had led them to render as ‘gold and’ what should have been rendered as ‘golden.’ In consequence, the plunder obtained by Frottage’s expedition had a rather lower ratio of hard cash to root vegetables than he had anticipated. Frottage’s disappointment was as nothing compared with that of the Absinthians: as is so often the case with indigenous populations, the arrival of Europeans brought immense upheavals. In particular, the value of the turnip-based Absinthian currency was destroyed by the introduction by Frottage of carrots and parsnips. The principle town in eastern Absinthia is the walled mountain fastness of Gabba-Gabba.

Monday, 2 June 2014

The Leech Coast!


      As the war that would later be known as the Seven Years War becomes an increasingly global struggle, spanning Europe, the Americas, India, Africa, and the Far East, so the Wars of the Gelderland Succession have begun also to expand geographically. In addition to American settlements in New Mittelheim, the belligerents in the Wars of the Gelderland Succession control small enclaves on the West African Coast. Somewhere to the south of the French colony of Senegal, between the Gold Coast and the Ivory Coast, lie the Mittelheim trading settlements of the Leech Coast.

     Mittelheim’s links to the Leech Coast go back to the 1720s and the exploits of a small and bedraggled band of ship-wrecked travellers. These fellows not only discovered the Leech Coast, but were single-handedly responsible for introducing to the local population a range of the key benefits of European culture, including Christian religious practice; wigs; and chamber pots. This strange tale began in 1719, with the then King of Gelderland, Ludwig III. Tired of being left off the guest lists of Europe’s most fashionable royal get-togethers, Ludwig decided it was time to extend to Europe at large the benefits of Mittelheim culture. To this end, the King assembled a touring troupe of Gelderland’s very best cultural emissaries, including Herr Hans Pantzpuller, poet and badger wrestler; Reverend Hans Leiderhosen, scientist and inventor of the famous Leiderhosen mechanical tricorne; Hans von Frischnetz-Stockinge, playwright and alchemist; and the octogenarian Baron Hans von Sockelkock, composer, and semi-professional groper. Sockelkock, the octopus-handed coffin-dodger, was appointed the leader.

     As might be supposed with anything devised in Mittelheim, this plan ran about a well as a wheeled turbot. Crossing central Europe, the group met, amongst other European luminaries, Johan Sebastian Bach. It was at this time that Bach penned what would later be known as the ‘Well Tempered Clavier’, a collection of fugues and preludes, widely considered to be one of the most influential pieces of Western classical music. In fact, it was composed by Bach in order to drown out the noise of Baron von Sockelkock’s triangle concertos’s, being named originally ‘Sod off back to Mittelheim, Mister Wobblebottom’. Arriving in England in 1720, the troupe encountered the English writer Jonathan Swift. Sadly, Swift was so bored by his time with them that he tried to end it all with a normally lethal dose of opiates and super-strength stilton: recovering later, he recorded his strange cheese dreams in his work Gulliver’s Travels. Also in England, the group encountered Edmond Halley: Halley was appointed Royal Astronomer in that year, his sudden interest in gazing at the stars motivated by a desire to find a place where no one from Mittelheim could find him. In France, things were even worse. Voltaire noted that von Frischnetz-Stockinge performed ‘acts of true theatrical alchemy: transforming at will inestimable theatrical gold into leaden horse flop.’ The Mittelheim trip culminated in a trip to Versailles to the Court of Louis XV. In the wake of Pantzpuller’s moving poem ‘Crikey, What’s This I’ve Found in my Britches’, the Mittelheimers were tried in France for crimes against the Performing Arts and sentenced to a slow and musical death. Escaping their captors, the Mittelheimers fled by ship hoping to return to England.

     Sadly for the troupe, terrible storms arose in the Channel, battering the ship for weeks. Occasionally, there was a break in the weather, upon which the stark desolation of the local coastlines and the savagery of the inhabitants reassured them that they were probably approaching Grimsby. It was not to be, however. Contrary winds had pushed them far to the west and south. Lady Luck, tired, clearly of Pantzpuller’s attempts to rhyme ‘orange’ and ‘door hinge’ had had enough and one night the ship struck a rock and sank. In Gelderland, nothing was heard from the vessel after its exit from France, and it was assumed that the ship had gone down with all Hans.

     A decade later, French merchant ships brought amazing news: the Mittelheimers had not only survived the ship wreck, but had survivied contact with the indigenous inhabitants, a circumstance that seemed almost miraculous given the war-like temperament and perpetual hunger of the local tribesmen. Lacking weapons, common sense, and their pantaloons, and without even a cinematic montage with which to prepare a defence, there seemed little that the four could do to prevent themselves from becoming a selection of delicious cold cuts. But having rescued his harpsichord from the wreckage of the ship, Sockelkock subjected the assembled locals to the prelude from his concerto ‘Straight outta Gelderland’, entitled ‘F*ck tha Night Watch.’ Terrified by the violent assault of sound, the natives concluded, given the god-awful noise, that Sockelkock must be some kind of deity: possibly powerful and certainly very deaf. Moreover they also concluded that, even if he wasn’t the God Snafu, Bad Spanker of the World, there was at least a chance that, by prostrating themselves before him, they might convince him to stop whatever it was that he was doing with his plinky plonky devil-box. Having saved themselves, the four Gelderlanders determined to stay in Africa, motivated by God, duty, and the spectacular nakedness of the local womenfolk.

     By degrees, interest grew in the trading possibilities of this slice of the African coast. Small landings showed a coastline of fetid swamps, scorching savannahs and gloomy, humid jungles, riddled with malaria and a hundred other terrible diseases; in short, a paradise compared with Mittelheim. Eager to stake a Mittelheim claim to these territories, the King of Gelderland financed a military expedition to stamp his authority over the area. Military control was wrested from a few sleepy Portuguese forts. The garrison of one was overwhelmed when he was in the privy; the two year siege of another ended when the Gelderland troops discovered that the gate was unlocked. Reports that wended their way back to Mittelheim were encouraging. Strange, and not at all rude-looking fruits, animal skins and precious stones were all to be had. Moreover the local tribe were described by the Gelderland military commander as ‘very tall, and not unattractive’, a tribe that the Mittelheimers called the Waffa and that their Portuguese captive called ‘some Giraffes’.

     Though still tiny, the trading settlements of what became known as the Leech Coast have become increasingly profitable enterprises thanks to their involvement in one aspect of commerce in particular: slavery. First to see the opportunities afforded by this mode of trade was a Rotenburg merchant, an Irish √©migr√© by the name of Mister Ryan Hare, Esquire. Promised ‘a short and relaxing break in the sun’, bewildered Mittelheim peasantry were packed like sardines in vile conditions and then transported from ports in Rotenburg and Bestwestung by Ryan Hare’s vessels to the slaving entrepot’s of the Leech Coast. Now, many merchants are involved in the Leech Coast triangle trade: African hippo knees to New Mittelheim, where they are sold to pay for local loin cloths; loincloths to England, where they are bartered as napkins in exchange for false moustache’s; false moustache’s to Mittelheim, where they are used as part of the disguises to lure unwary peasant’s aboard ship; and sea-sick peasants thence to the Leech Coast. There the sad fellows are sold to local Arab traders, though only after having been given a very vigorous scrubbing. Then, it is off to labour in the salt mines of Bumsak or the crocodile pits of Belliboob, or to be touched inappropriately in the harems of Khazibar. Little is heard of most of them again, especially since surprisingly few try to escape back to their homeland. The back-breaking toil, appalling exploitation, poor food, and beatings at the hands of criminally insane overlords make Mittelheim an unappealing destination. In the Leech Coast, it is so hot that even psychopathic slave-lords have to take the afternoons off.

     Now, as the War of the Spanish Suck Session expands faster than King Wilhelm’s waistline, Prince-Rupprecht of Saukopf-Bachscuttel and Landgrave Choldwig of Hesse-Rotenburg plot to seize the Leech Coast for themselves ...









Sunday, 23 March 2014

Chestwig

     It is fair to say that Mittleheim has added little of significance to European military history. A clash was recorded with raiding Mongols in 1420 - but what Mittelheim chroniclers described as 'a vicious struggle against appalling odds' was described by a foreign observer as 'a bit of a rum do one Tuesday morning.' Amidst cries of 'Leave it Wilhelm, he's not worth it', local Gelderland militia retreated quickly. The Mongols eventually retired, but were reportedly so appalled by the conditions in Mittelheim that they tidied up before they went, and left some money and also a bar of soap. Then, of course, there was Mittelheim's participation in the Great Northern War: a four-year campaign in alliance with Russia, most of it spent trying to assemble some captured Swedish furniture. But all of this changed at the village of Chestwig. In a battle that would make the later clash at Zorndorf between Prussia and Russia look like a pillow fight in a nunnery for especially soft girls, the forces of Nabstria and Rotenburg set to and tore the bloody guts out of one another.....

     May 1758. The first blow is struck in the War of the Spanish Suck Session. Furst Augustus Saxe-Peste leads the Rotenburg army in a rapid march towards the Gelderland capital city, Gross Schnitzelring. Approaching the village of Chestwig, however, his path is blocked by the Nabstrian army under General Gerhard von Rumpfler. The Nabstrians are clearly up for it and the Furst recognizes that battle is in the offing.  
   


Elite Nabstrian scouts confer: 'No, that's left.'
       Furst Augustus has the initiative, the Nabstrians having been thoroughly out-scouted. The Nabstrian commander, General von Rumpfler, sighs wearily, as his scouts report finding some trees, a big badger, and a large army in Nabstrian uniforms. Furst Augustus takes advantage of the Nabstrian passivity and elects to attack, making use of a newly arrived unit of mercenaries. Through his spy-glass, the Furst surveys the Nabstrian deployment.

     (Below, from the top) General von Rumpfler has covered the open ground on his left flank with all three regiments of his cavalry. His mounted arm is commanded by Paul, Duke of Clarkeshire. In the woods, where hopefully no one will find them, are his two regiments of light troops. In his centre, he places both batteries of his artillery and a regular regiment in line: a second regiment, in column, is placed in reserve.


The Nabstrian deployment

     (Above) But it is on his right that von Rumpfler places the weight of his forces. In Chestwig itself he deploys one of his elite regiments (in white, Infantry Regiment No.5). His six other infantry regiments are deployed around the village: three in line and three in column. The latter includes the Burgavial Garde du Corps (in white, green facings) Once the Rotenburger's are committed to the attack, Von Rumpfler hopes to use those three columns to advance to the right, from behind the village, and then envelop the flank of the Rotenburg forces. 


The Rotenburg deployment

      (Above) Furst Augustus deploys his troops for his attack. His extreme right comprises all four of his cavalry regiments. His centre comprises seven infantry regiments, deployed in two lines. In reserve, the Furst deploys the Landgravial Lifeguard (white flag). The Lifeguard comprises an elite body of men: vigorous; clean-limbed; a body of troops so brave that they know no fear; in truth, so badly educated that they know almost nothing at all. The Inhaber, Graf Peiper, has lavished funds upon the regiment: resplendent in mitred helmets and outsized iron Kurlandian codpieces, the troops appear giants in every department. On Augustus' left, facing the village of Chestwig, he places both batteries of his artillery, supported by his mercenaries (in blue).   


'It's the boots isn't it: is blue too much?'
       (Right) As an added incentive to seize Chestwig, the Furst spies through his telescope the winsome form of General von Rumpfler's, er, neice, a delightful seamstress by the name of Nora Hindquarters. Spending the morning of the battle in the bathtub, the poor lamb is subjected by the Nabstrian staff officers to tiresome and predictable 'Where's the soap?' jokes; they receive in return a stern invitation to 'sud off'. Also present is Von Rumpler's aide-de-campe, Hugo von Stumpe, sporting a new uniform in a lovely lemon, which, coincidentally, is a handy point of comparison for his intellect. The aide-de-campe's garish attire has led his sniggering comrades to note that, clearly, some aides are camper than others. 

     Morale in the Rotenburg army is less high than one might think, given its stout performance in the late Cod War. The source of difficulties are emerging concerns regarding the mental condition of Furst Augustus. Though exhibiting no obvious physical signs of cognitive distemper, the Furst's slow waltz to loondom seems manifest in his initial plan of battle; a plan which accords a decisive role to his artillery. The Furst intends for his cannons to shoot the Nabstrians out of Chestwig, following on with a massive infantry assault. There are mutterings in the camp that the Furst's crazed notion that his artillery might contribute meaningfully to the outcome of the battle can be attributed quite clearly to a bad case of 'little imps in the head'. Eschewing the recommendation from a physician that he should be hit over the head with a shovel to let all of the little goblins out, the Furst finally agrees to take a couple of leeches every four hours. Otherwise undeterred, Furst Augustus gives the signal for his artillery to open fire on Chestwig: the battle has commenced!

     With a sound more akin to a rattling cough than a roar of cannon fire, the bombardment commences. It becomes clear, however, that the notion that the Nabstrians can be shot out of Chestwig is about the weakest plan since King Priam's comment at the seige of Troy: 'A giant wooden horse, you say? Seems reasonable, let's wheel it in.' As the Rotenburg gunners leaf in bemused fashion through worryingly pristine instruction manuals, their fire expends itself harmlessly against the walls of the village. Matters get even worse. (Below) Recognizing that his initial plan is less likely to work than a member of the French nobility, Furst Augustus changes to Plan B: the infantry assault. Like Landgrave Choldwig's nocturnal fumblings, however, this enterprise finishes before it even starts. Von Rumpfler orders his artillery to open fire on the advancing enemy infantry. Inconceivably, the Nabstrian artillery is deadly accurate: in a few short volleys, one of the Rotenburg infantry regiments disintegrates under artillery-fire and the advance grinds to an uncertain halt.


       Discarding Plan B as a sad bag of spanners, Furst Augustus switches now to Plan C: a cavalry attack against the Nabstrian left. With four cavalry regiments against three, the Rotenburg cavalry thunder forwards, waving their stirrups about in a menacing fashion (below).
   

     Full of confidence, the Rotenburg chivalry surges forwards. But, if Plan B sucked, it would appear that Plan C both sucks and blows. As is usual at this point, one of the Rotenburg cavalry regiments becomes confused and, peeling off from the assault, trots towards the woods, keen, no doubt, to take in the local flora and fauna. With the numbers evened out for the crucial cavalry clash, the odds, too, are levelled when it transpires that the Nabstrian horseman also have some impressive stirrups that they can throw into the fray. Paul, Duke of Clarkeshire, commands the Nabstrian horse. Eschewing his silly little hat and garish hussar uniform, he has dressed for the occasion in finest buff moleskin. All agree that he looks splendid except, perhaps, the moles. His presence instils new confidence in his nearby cavalry.

     (Below) After repeated charges, accompanied in each instance by desperate sword-play, the fight is close but the Rotenburg horse is finally driven back, one regiment fleeing the field. With his cavalry weakened and vulnerable, Furst Augustus fears that it will require only a counter-charge by the Nabstrians to drive his cavalry from the field completely. What now? Only Plan D will suffice: a return to the infantry assault in the centre. The Rotenburg foot look at one another nervously. Twenty minutes into the battle and already on Plan D, the troops are worried: there are only another 22 letters in the alphabet.



     (Below) Forward! Forward! With a flourish of drums, the Rotenburg infantry trudge towards the Nabstrian line. Having lost already one of his infantry regiments, and with his cavalry terribly weakened, the Furst's plan can surely have no reasonable chance of success. Matters aren't helped by the fact that the mercenaries on Augustus' left are isolated and cannot joint the advance. Von Rumpfler licks his lips and orders his reserve columns forward into a position to the right of Chestwig, where they form line. The script is written; the play already practiced: the Rotenburg advance will stall, stymied by the stream and the lethal volleys of the Nabstrian foot; then the Nabstrian right wing, led by the Burgrave's guards will fall upon the exposed flank of the Rotenburg position.


     Luckily for Furst Augustus, his troops are as literate as a dyslexic hedgehog with an eye-patch; and appreciate a good play about as much as they like having a bath. Unable to read the script, and extending an impudent digit to the play, the Rotenburg soldiery hold their nerve. Approaching within musket range, rolling volleys commence from each side. Now deployed in the second line, the Landgravial Lifeguard (white flag) continues to inspire the surrounding regiments. Their sedate cadenced step is maintained even under heavy fire, the result partly of intense training and partly the chafing caused by their iron-bound cods.

     It is clear that the stout Rotenburg infantry intend to write their own script for this battle; or, at least, to colour in the margins somewhat in crayon. The Nabstrians buckle first! Their initial fire inflicts minimal casualties, and the Rotenburg return volleys decimate one of the Nabstrian regiments, which quits the field! (Below) Von Rumpfler is forced to summon a fresh regiment to plug the line (centre, blue and yellow flag). Still, this is surely only a temporary success. (Below, left) The wiley Von Rumpler himself comes forwards and orders the Burgravial guard to wheel to its left, ready to unleash deadly enfilading fire against the Rotenburg lines.



     Soon, the Rotenburgers find that they are having their flanks lapped: a not unusual circumstance for Landgrave Choldwig, but rather less appreciated by his weary soldiery. 'Fire!' cries Von Rumpler, and an elite volley crashes into the flank of the nearest Rotenburg regiment, (Below) The Rotenburg regiment collapses, its troops cut to pieces! Furst Augustus has now lost one cavalry and two infantry regiments whilst the Nabstrians have lost only one.


     And yet, and yet ....(Above, at the top) Some subtle signs of a change of fortune are present. Having marched to within range of the Nabstrian artillery, the Rotenburg musketeers scythe down the Nabstrian gunners with deadly salvoes. (Above, to the right, in blue) And finally the mercenaries have been marched into the fray. The situation is fraught for the Rotenburg infantry assault, but all is not yet lost. The troops draw strength from the steadiness of the Landgravial Lifeguard (white flag, top). The Lifeguard, it seems, cannot feel fear; indeed, thanks to their outsized codpieces, they now cannot feel their legs either.



     (Above) O Fortuna! How suddenly the situation changes! Superlative musketry from the Furst's troops tumble down the Nabstrian troops like ninepins. To Von Rumpfler's chagrin, the Burgravial guard in front of Chestwig breaks and runs, closely followed by one of the regiments between Chestwig and the stream. (Below, at the top) Now the Nabstrians are on the ropes. In the crucial position immediately in front of Chestwig they have two units, whilst Rotenburg has four. Both of the formmer are widely separated and have suffered losses.

A Rotenburg victory?
     (Above, at the bottom) Moreover, whilst Augustus continues to press the matter around Chestwig, Von Rumpfler cannot exploit his advantage over the Rotenburg cavalry. The Rotenburg right and Nabstrian left must instead to engage one another in a psychological war of words. Baiting one another, the cavalry throw out sarcasm, complex allegory, classically-themed puns, and poetic non-seqiteurs; the Nabstrian irregulars add some knob-jokes.

     Heavy firing continues along the line of battle. Behind the Nabstrian ranks, the young Von Stumpe hears a hollow 'Ftoom' sound to his left. Turning, he is confronted by a small, corpulent fellow dressed in a very ill-fitting black cloak. In one hand the strange apparition clutches an enormous pie; in the other a large scythe wobbles alarmingly in his inexpert hands. 'How's it going' asks Famine, now munching on a fruit flan.' Death, blood, pain, horror' wails Von Stumpe, despairingly.' That's the spirit' says Famine encouragingly, the words now formed around a door-step of a sandwich. A Rotenburg volley thunders out somewhere to the front: nearby, a soldier has his brains messily blown out. With a frightened moan, Von Stumpe vomits hugely. As he recovers, he catches Famine looking speculatively at the pile of chuck; 'You going to finish that?' says Famine cheerily.

     (Below) 'Fursty' for glory, Augustus goes for the coup-de-grace: the Landgravial Guard and Infantry Regiment No.2 are hurled against Nabstrian IR No.2 (Below, blue and yellow flag).



Fortune, they say, favours the brave, and the glittering Rotenburg bayonets soon seem to have the better of their Nabstrian opponents. The Nabstrian regiment breaks under the Rotenburg pressure. Now, the battle seems to have turned decisively against Von Rumpfler's troops: four Nabstrian infantry regiments have been lost, all in the critical position around Chestwig. But the two victorious Rotenburg regiments are now weakened by their exertions, and they take fire from the village of Chestwig, and from the remaining Nabstrian reserve regiment.


     (Above) With gurgling screams, the Rotenburg IR No.2 expires in a bloody heap. There is now a gaping hole in the centre. To compound matters the Rotenburg mercenaries are swept away by fire from Nabstrian IR No.7 (yellow flag, bottom right). Augustus has lost four infantry regiments and one of cavalry: peering over the heaps of corpses, the Furst begins to worry that his army's morale might be affected a tad. Nevertheless, the Nabstrian army has also been shredded: half their infantry is either dead, or frantically wetting its pantaloons in the rear. (Below) With his lines ruptured, Von Rumpler is reduced to giving orders to his units individually. In the centre, he forms his two infantry units into a single line. On his right, he orders up his remaining reserve unit, IR No.6 (below, extreme left, light blue flag). The destruction of the mercenaries allows him to wheel IR No.7 (foreground) to bear down on the left flank of the remainder of the Rotenburg line.


     Slowly, the tide turns. (Below, top) In the centre, volleys from the two Nabstrian regiments cause another Rotenburg unit to flee. Moreover, as musketry continues to be exchanged, Von Rumpfler slowly begins to flank the remaining Nabstrian forces.

     (Right, middle) And so, we reach the climactic act of the battle of Chestwig. Nabstrian IR No. 6 (light blue flag) pours lethal volleys into the Landgravial Lifeguard from the front. IR No. 7 does the same from the flank. The Landgravial Guard are men of steel. Facing two units, one of which enfilades them, they fight like men. Proper men. These are no floppy Bachscuttel musketeers that run at the sudden appearance of tough-looking rabbits. Amidst the desperate screams of the wounded and the dull ping of musket balls off armoured groins, they let fly a defiant salvo at the regiment to their front. But IR No.6 survives, and the Nabstrian flanking fire finally destroys the guards entirely. With that, the Rotenburg army can take more and its morale breaks.

     The field is choked with dead. Eleven infantry regiments have been lost: seven from Rotenburg, four from Nabstria. Further, Nabstria has lost all of its artillery, whilst Rotenburg has lost one of its cavalry regiments. The remains of the Rotenburg forces retire, the cavalry covering their retreat with a couple of witty literary allusions. The Nabstrian forces fall back to their encampment exhausted. The next morning, Furst Augustus is able to return to the battlefield. Scaring off some Nabstrian irregulars that are looting the local livestock and molesting the wounded, he rides sadly over to the remains of his Guards. They lie in thick lines of corpses, codpieces gleaming in the bright morning sunlight. Little does the Furst know that this place will become something of a place of pilgrimage: that strangers will come from far and wide to see the place that marks the final stand of the Landgravial Garde; that many a visitor will be taken in hand by one of the local village-folk and told: 'Come with me, Sir - I'll show you the field where the iron crotches grow.'

     Despite his victory, Von Rumpfler cannot be pleased. The costs have been high: half his infantry is lost, the morale of his army has come within a hair's breadth of breaking, and Nora has been so long in the bath that she is as wrinkled now as his actual wife. As the General looks disconsolately at his casualty lists, a messenger arrives at his tent: urgent dispatches, from Sir Malilieu Fitzbuttress! Another battle has been fought! The armies of Bachscuttel and Grand Fenwick have clashed on the field of Zorninhaf. Slowly, Von Rumpfler opens the letter ....