Closer, the two are easily recognised - on the left is Captain Hugo von Stumpe, aide-de-campe to General von Rumpfler. Von Stumpe has put aside his lemon-coloured uniform of hussars and is now in altogether more pragmatic attire. His companion is Captain Fabius Nitzwitz, of the staff of the army of Grand Fenwick. The former has produced a map, and the two are gesticulating at one another.
'Please don't say it', says Nitzwitz.
'Bell End' says Stumpe.
'You said it'.
'What's wrong with that?'
'Look', says Nitzwitz, shaking his head sadly, 'no Fenwickian army can be ordered to march to the village of B .. that place.'
'But why not'?
|'Who's this on the far left? Red and yellow uniforms - perfect camouflage,|
as long as one is in a red and yellow forest.'
'Well, you seem fine,' says Stumpe.
'I was raised in Prussia,' replies Nitzwitz,'and so have no sense of humour.'
'But what's wrong with B ..., with the village associated with the terminal point of a church-tower related percussion instrument?', asks von Stumpe in an exasperated fashion. 'I'm sure it's a lovely place, in which the roads end, possibly near a bell-shaped hill.'
Nitzwitz looks truculent.
Stumpe sighs. 'As you will, Nitzwitz. But we require a conjunction of roads so that we can concentrate our armies. And then parallel roads so that our armies don't interfere with one another on the march.'
Nitzwitz blanches. 'And you can't say that either.'
'Interfere with one another.'
'Bah! This is ridiculous,' says Stumpe, 'we won't interfere with one another if we both go to Bell End'
'Now you're just trying to wind me up,' says Nitzwitz.
There is an awkward silence.
Von Stumpe stares at the map. 'This complicates things enormously. We Nabstrians are already marching on short rations. The stores of dried leeches have been eaten by mice.'
'What are your troops eating now?', asks Nitzwitz.
'The mice. But they are running low'
'Oh' says Nitzwitz. 'Perhaps you could find a way to 'eek' them out.'
Von Stumpe gives Nitzwitz a hard look.
'Sorry, says Nitzwitz, 'I was just trying to lighten the mood with a rodent-related pun.'
A few moments pass. Suddenly von Stumpe points decisively at the map. 'Here!', he says, 'this might just suffice! This place. Across the River Strudel, and just inside Gelderland And it doesn't contain the words 'end' or 'bell' so there should be no problem.'
'Excellent', says Nitzwitz, looking relieved, 'I'm sure that sounds fine - where is it?'
A little way down the lane creeps an irregular scout from the army of Saukopf-Bachscuttel. He has followed with interest the conversation between the two staff officers and looks forward to a warm welcome back at Graf Barry-Eylund's headquarters. He is forced to duck down as the sound of running foot steps thunders past. 'Ow, ow!' shouts von Stumpe, cloak flapping behind him, pursued by a red-faced and evidently apoplectic von Nitzwitz, who seems to be assaulting the Nabstrian violently with his tricorne. The irregular winces as he watches - its a big tricorne, and most of it no longer seems visible. Then, almost pausing to reflect on the perilous and ephemeral nature of political alliances rooted in the frailties of the human condition, but instead becoming mesmerised by the shiny buttons on his own uniform, he slinks away.