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 émigré 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 ...

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