Saturday, 28 March 2015


Meanwhile, many miles from the Nabstrian council chamber, the Burgravate's army continues its withdrawal after the battle of Hansel and Gretel. General von Rumpfler is standing with one of his staff officers, a Major Seewurd, upon a low hill, watching his troops trudge disconsolately past. For the moment, however, the retreat has halted: elements of the supply train have become entangled with a troop of cavalry and a portion of the officers' baggage, causing a chaotic melange of leech biscuits, cavalrymen and ladies undergarments. Attempting to restore order to this unedifying scene is a tiny, stooped fellow in an ill-fitting uniform: the commander of the baggage train, a certain Captain Schmeckohl, a slimy creature, as dark as darkness. Schmeckohl seems rather to have lost his cool, and now appears to be trying to strangle one of the horses with his tiny hands. 'Curses', cries Schmeckohl, 'Baggage! We hates it! We hates it forever!' The horse seems unperturbed; unsurprising, since being strangled by the little supply officer is about as dangerous as wearing a slightly tight cravat.

'Really', says von Rumpfler, 'is that the best baggage officer that we could find?'
Seewurd shrugs, a complex movement communicating simultaneously the meanings 'yes'; 'please don't have me beaten'; and 'this coat is a little bit small for me'.
Down below, Schmeckohl is suddenly wracked by a terrible cough: 'Gollum! Gollum!' he expectorates.
A quizzical look appears on the General's face.
'He's Captain Schmeckohl, sir' says Seewurd. After giving the General the few sketchy details that he has on the Captain's background, the Major adds: 'and he has a very strange cough.'
Down below, the little Captain is wracked once again.
'Game Pie! Giraffe!' coughs the little baggage officer: 'Golfballs! Game over!' he continues.
'He's an odd chap' ventures the Major. 'Hey, Schmeckohl' he shouts down to the Captain, 'Did you hear about the fellow that was crushed to death by a pile of books?'
Schmeckohl looks up momentarily.
'He only had his shelf to blame!'
Schmeckohl gives the staff officer the benefit of one of his digits. 'He really doesn't seem to like riddles, does he' says von Rumpfler wearily.
'Glutinous! Gazpacho!' coughs Schmeckohl.

The General and the Major turn to other business. Seewurd produces the latest report on the army's withdrawal, and proceeds to inform von Rumpler of the latest developments on his army's retreat. But von Rumpfler is clearly tired; as Seewurd drones on, with his tales of the march rates, logistics and intelligence, the General's thoughts drift inexorably towards his paramour, Nora Hindquarters: her marvelous eyes, her splendid shoulders, and her pair of ...
'Remarkable hillocks, sir'
'What's that, Major?' says a startled von Rumpfler.
'Any attempt to move north eastwards is hemmed in by some tricky high ground, Sir.'
'Oh yes, quite, quite, Seewurd: carry on.'
Seewurd returns to his report and von Rumpler returns to contemplating the memories of his mistress: her trim waist; her milk-white thighs; the fragrant lure of her...
'Tangled expanse of heathland'.
'What?', says von Rumpfler.
'There's little forage to be had, sir; what with the moors and such.'
'Oh yes', says the General. The Major continues; ration strengths, scouting reports. Von Rumpfler closes his eyes, squeezing out the mundanity of his army life, the banality of it all; taking himself back to the early days in Falkensteinburg - the carefree days in the early stages of his relationship with Nora; the eager, fleeting moments, when he could throw her to the bed, urgent in his desire to place his tongue upon her...
'Weevils, sir'.
'Christ, what?'
'The biscuit is riddled with them, and the men will soon be on half rations.'
'Terrible, I'm sure' says the General, 'Hmm - but did you mention that the scouts have returned? What reports do they have of the enemy's pursuit?' Von Rumpfler listens carefully. His army is fragile, and the last thing that he needs now is a close pursuit by troops from the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel.
Seewurd nods: 'The scouts have returned. They report a serious tussle with some of the Palatinate's dragoons, but there seems to be no sign of the rest of the enemy's army.'
'And the casualties?' says the General.
'None killed, sir, but two did have their lunch money stolen and another apparently was captured temporarily and subjected to some eye-watering wedgies.'
'Will he survive?' asks the General solicitously.
Seewurd shrugs. 'It's touch and go, my Lord: it depends whether the physician can extract the poor fellows britches from his nether regions or whether he might, instead, have to have his buttocks amputated.'
Von Rumpfler nods: 'Ah, the perils of war in Mittelheim', he adds. 'But did the scouts provide any useful information? How large is the pursuing army?
'Countless, Sir.'
'Hmmm' says the General, 'That's not reassuring.'
'No sir: although given the poor grasp of numeracy in our army, that could mean anything upwards of three.'
Von Rumpfler nods, looking back down at the baggage train.
'Gabardine! Gadgeteer!' coughs Schmeckohl, restoring some kind of order to the wagons.

The General sighs, struck by a new and pleasant memory: a marvelous morning, entering Nora's bedchambers unexpectedly to find her bent over, and he suddenly seized with the urgent desire to get his hands all over her...
'Embarrassingly large trouser-tent'.
'What?' says von Rumpfler.
'It's frightening the men, sir,' says Seewurd, pointedly looking  upwards and waving generally in the direction of the General's crotch.
'Eh? Oh'. Von Rumpfler gives up his reverie. Only duty , it would seem, is to be his mistress for the rest of this campaign: and he doesn't like the size of her ankles.
Below, the baggage difficulties seem to have been resolved. Sitting on the lead wagon is Captain Schmeckohl: as it finally sets off, bouncing alarmingly along the muddy track, the little Captain begins to howl.
'Why is he so unhappy, says von Rumpfler, 'Didn't you say that the Captain was rich?'
'No, my General, 'says Seewurd: 'I said that he had piles. It's quite different.'
As the wagons judder across the rutted pathway that passes for a Gelderland road, Seewurd winces at the cries from Captain Schmeckohl: 'Ow! My ring! My ring!'
'Bah!' says von Rumpfler, 'there's no need for him to be so precious'.

Monday, 9 March 2015


.... we're going to have afternoon tea'.
The mood in the council chamber lightens immediately, the assembled councillors agreeing amongst themselves that there is no knotty problem of strategy, no fundamental misalignment in the means, ways, ends relationship, no disharmony between tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war, that cannot be made better by a scone and a cup of tea. As a bell is rung to summon the afternoon's refreshment, Bishop Munschrugge addresses the council expansively:
'What we face, gentlemen, is a difficult problem of strategy. We have King Wilhelm; but now we don't really want him because it would seem that our adversaries are fighting this war slightly better without him. But we can't just give him back, because that would make us look weak. So what do we do? We face, good Sirs, a strategic Gordian Knot.'
'Gordon who?' says the aged Count Beckwurz, Minister for Treacle and Public Education.
'Gordian knot', says von Wornitzdaun.
'He's not what?' says the Count.
Groans and hoots ensue, until someone loudly shouts 'Treacle leakage!', causing the aged Minister to hurry from the room to deal with this presumed crisis.
The Chamberlain arrives, organising the servants as they provide the assembled councillors with high tea: toast, biscuits, and ...
'What's this', says Munschrugge: 'Where are the scones?'
'Well my lord', says the Chamberlain apologetically, 'It seems we have a shortage of scones; so I took the liberty of replacing them with ...'
'Brussels sprouts. Why am I looking at Brussels sprouts', says Munschrugge.
'It's King Wilhelm, my lord', says the Chamberlain. There is a groan from around the table.
'Out with it: what has that Dark Lord of Lard done now?'
'Well, my lord, it seems that he has been whiling away his hours of captivity by engaging in eating games with his guards.'
'His guards?'
'They get bored, sir. Guarding his door seems so pointless because he's too porky to get through it. To open a means of egress large enough from him to escape through would require the use of a substantial piece of siege artillery; and the guards are confident that they could hear the squeaking of the cannon's wheels from some distance away. And if Wilhelm could make a sprint for it, he would be able to escape the pursuit only with a seven month head-start and a system of winches and pulleys that would be very, very difficult to sneak into the prison in a pie.'
'And so his guards saw little harm in humouring him when he desired to engage in a traditional Gelderland eating competition.'
'And it's a competition with scones?' says Munschrugge.
Yes sir - the Game of Scones. You win or you barf, apparently.
'And the prize?
'More scones.'
'I see. Chamberlain...'
'Yes, My Lord?'
'Leave this room and go to the guardhouse. Tell the guards to arrest you and have you executed.'
'Chamberlain?', says Munschrugge, as the Chamberlain walks dejectedly towards the door.
'Yes, my Lord?', says the Chamberlain, turning hopefully.
'Get us some more jam, first.'

Finally, to the late afternoon sounds of birds, distant harpsichord music, and a small firing squad, Bishop Munschrugge outlines his plan: 'Our witless opposition will presume that the campaign season has now ended. But we will surprise them. What we will do is to send messages post-haste to our allies in Grand Fenwick. As soon as our army has recovered, we will order von Rumpfler to march and join up with our allies: this combined force will march rapidly upon Grosschnitzelring, crushing our divided opposition on the way. In the meantime, Colonel Zeigler and a small force of troops will wheel King Wilhelm back to Grosschnitzelring, and, using Ms Hindquarters' information, they will break the King back into the capital city, wedging him into a convenient doorway. Our army will advance upon the capital and lay siege; but with King Wilhelm back in command, Grosschnitzelring should be easier to get into than a butter covered midget. We'll have complete victory and be back in Falkensteinburg in time for tea and scones. Or at least', says Munschrugge, eyeing his plate dubiously, 'tea and a more acceptable scone substitute.'

After a moments silence, the council room erupts into a round of applause.
Von Frerkingheil hops up and down excitedly: 'This is going to be brilliant! Nothing at at all, ever, could possibly go wrong with this plan, my Lord.'
Graf Decksluder groans: 'You had to say it, didn't you Frerkingheil; you just had to go and say it.'