Bishop Munschrugge drops the despatches from General Von Rumpfler. His head sinks and he begins gently to knock it against the table-top.
'Bugger' *thunk*, 'bugger' *thunk*, 'bugger' *thunk*, 'bugger' *thunk*, 'sod it' *thunk*, 'bugger' *thunk*.
'Is it good news?' Graf Deckscluder asks hopefully.
The Bishop raises his head, his wig now perched precariously askew.
'No, my good Graf, it is not. Von Rumpfler's army has been defeated and is now retreating back towards Falkensteinburg. Moreover ...', the Bishop waggles his finger at Graf Decksluder, interrupting the Graf's attempt to speak, ' ... I do not think that any exercise of maritime power in the littoral environment is likely to reverse the outcome.'
The Graf closes his mouth, and sits back disappointed.
|The Nabstrian cabinet receives reports that|
King Wilhelm is unhappy
'Dammit! We cannot have another defeat: we must win the battle of the narratives; we must triumph in the influence campaign! We must ensure that all of Europe believes that we have won a great victory!'
Munschrugge shakes his head vigorously, his wig twirling: 'Good Treasurer - our army is retreating.'
Frerkingheil looks triumphant: 'Only in a geographical sense, my lord.'
'Is there any other sense?'
'Metaphysically, my lord, I think that we could say that the good general von Rumpfler is advancing towards Falkensteinburg. And the dogs of Saukopf are falling back from their capital city of Pfeildorf.'
Munchrugge seems unconvinced, but Frerkingheil continues:
'This defeat is, I should say, a blessing in disguise.'
Munschrugge sighs: 'Hmm, well, if so, I have to say, it's a very good disguise because I can't see how this helps us at all.'
'We can spin this into a victory!' says the Treasurer.
'Spin it?' says Munschrugge wearily, 'It'll require more than spin: it'll need cartwheels, handstands and a very special kind of trampolining if we are to sell our current predicament as a success. The Burgrave really isn't going to be very happy.'
Frerkingheil nods excitedly. 'It provides an opportunity to test some alternative instruments of statecraft. I've already been doing some preliminary work in the realms of propaganda. Count: let them into our plan.'
The aged Count Leopold von Beckwurz, Minister for Treacle and Public Education,* stands unsteadily.
'Gentlemen. We need time to re-organise our army; time to train them; time to equip them with new muskets and uniforms. Time also, perhaps, for a new approach to this war. To gain that time we must exploit the power of the printed word! Behold, the first step in our new literary offensive!'
'I have a bad feeling about this,' mutters Graf Decksluder, doodling a three-deck ship of the line with his quill, and writing the words 'all mine' underneath.
With a flourish, Count Beckwurz produces from his coat a slim volume.
'Here, honoured gentlemen, is the first weapon in our new offensive against the Wilhelmites: a set of verses parodying the limp-witted Prince of Saukopf-Bachscuttel.
Munschrugge seems to perk up at this. 'Yes, that just might have some impact if it were written by a skilled, witty, and highly intelligent word-smith.'
'Er', says Count Beckwurz.
Munschrugge's eyes narrows: 'So, you engaged the services of Voltaire, yes?'
'I extended to him an invitation', replies von Beckwurz.
'He extended to me a finger'.
'And then you obtained the services of, say, Jean Jacques Rousseau?'
'So basically, you haven't got a skilled writer.'
'No, not really'.
'So, in fact, you probably just asked someone that you knew.'
'In fact, you probably wrote it yourself, didn't you.'
Munschrugge takes a deep breathe 'Fine, marvellous; let's take a look at it: get copies for everyone.'
The script is distributed. Munchrugge reads it resignedly. His compatriots also look at it, most moving their fingers slowly along each line, silently mouthing the words.
Graf Decksluder is the first to speak.
'Well, ah, it's very moving, but I can't help thinking that we need something with a little more emphasis on creating a narrative structure to this war in which our Burgravate embodies strong moral qualities, whereas our enemies are portrayed as ethically compromised; and also at the same time, rather less use of bottom jokes.'
Count Beckwurz bridles: 'Well, what changes do you suggest?'
'Well, it's just ... well, here, you see', the Graf points to the third line', perhaps a better tone would be created by the use of the word 'blunder' rather than 'chunder'. Or here, perhaps 'tardy' rather than 'lardy'. And I must insist that we find some more appropriate words that rhyme with 'luck' and 'anchor'.
Munschrugge steps in: 'So, what - you intend to distribute this throughout the Burgravate?'
'Indeed, good Bishop,' replies Count Beckwurz enthusiastically, 'it will be read from one side of Mittelheim to another.'
Munschrugge makes a face: 'It will be read. Really? Tell me: what is the literacy rate amongst the peasantry?'
'Not high,' chips in the Graf.
'But our treacle stocks have never been higher', interrupts von Frerkingheil defensively.
'So', says Bishop Munschrugge, 'What would an average peasant do with a volume such as this?'
'Light a fire', laughs another counsellor.
'So actually,' says Munchrugge, 'what we'll be distributing are ...'
'Firelighters', admits Count Beckwurz.
'Precisely,' says the Bishop: 'Any other ideas for this new enterprise?'
|A peasant poetry reading gets out of hand|
The Count explains: 'It is a picture of donkey, which is labelled 'Prince Rupprecht': the message is that Prince Rupprecht is a donkey'.
'Yes: a subtly subversive image,' says Munschrugge.
There is another silence.
'Hmmmm,' says Graf Decksluder, 'this donkey doesn't look right. I thought donkey's looked like horses. This one looks odd.'
'Yes' says Baron Friedrich, Minister for Corsets and Public Transport, 'it hasn't got any udders.'
|Nabstrian peasants celebrate wildly after news of|
von Rumpfler's latest victory
Freidrich looks perplexed - 'Then what is it that my wife has been milking?'
Decksluder chokes on a gulp of wine, and there is an embarrassed silence.
'Well', pipes up another councillor, 'it's got a bushy tail, and large ears. Actually, this donkey looks a bit like, you know, a dog or something.'
Graf Decksluder nods: 'Actually, I think this is a picture of a fox.'
Munchsrugge, sighs: 'So, what this woodcut actually says is that Prince Rupprecht of Saukopf-Bachscuttel is a fox. We are implying, therefore, either that (a) he is wily and cunning, or that (b) he is a saucy minx that we should like to take out for some dancing and a light supper.'
'They do say he has nice ankles', says Friedrich.
Graf Decksluder winces, and tunelessly whistles a sea shanty to fill the icy silence that follows.
Bishop Munschrugge stands slowly. 'Gentlemen, I fear that your influence campaigns and Siber attacks will not have the decisive effects now required. I have decided on a plan of action to recommend to the Burgrave: this is what we're going to do ....'
* This post in the Burgrave's government combines two purviews; responsibility for managing the Burgravate's treacle supplies, and the education of the poor. The budget for the former is considerably larger than for the latter.