Thursday, 4 June 2015


Two staff officers stand in a small lane on the Nabstrian side of the River Strudel. One, wrapped in a cloak against the autumn chill, has come from the headquarters of General Hieronymous von Rumpfler, commander of the Nabstrian army. The other has arrived post haste from the bedside of Marshal Cavandish, generalissimo of the Empire of Grand Fenwick. They are in animated conversation. Let us linger a little, and eavesdrop upon their conversation ...

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.
'Look, von Nitzwitz,', says von Stumpe, 'this is a practical requirement. General von Rumpfler is marching quickly towards your troops. We must choose a suitable spot for our two armies to join with one another - a place with sufficient water, supplies and fodder for our troops. All I said was that, looking at the map, it would seem to make good sense for us to march to the Fenwickian border village of ...'.
'No' says Nitzwitz determinedly.
'We can't go there.'
'But', says Stumpe, 'it is placed perfectly. I've read my Vegetius. And they do say that professionals talk about logistics whilst amateurs talk about .. you know, um ... hop-scotch. Probably. We need to meet in the village of ...'
'No.' says Nitzwitz, 'We can't. No one in Fenwick lives there. No one goes there.'
Stumpe shakes his head. 'I don't see why: it's splendidly placed. You see, look. It's perfect: the river; the village; meadows; there is nowhere else that suits as well. Military necessity requires that we conjoin our forces in the village of ...'
'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.'
Nitzwitz hops form one foot to the other and begins to raise his voice. 'For the same reason that Grand Fenwick's drill manuals contain no order to 'take hold of your ramrod', or why no Fenwickian could ever 'hold a lovely pear', or be in the same room as an actress talking to a bishop. These things cannot be done in Fenwick. The fatal Fenwickian love of double-entendre makes reference to such things impossible; or at least, very dangerous.'
'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?'
'Bad Minge'.

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.

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