'Operation Probable Death?' says Zeigler, an eyebrow raised higher than a gymnastic caterpillar.
Stumpe nods. 'I wanted a code-name that was dramatic but that was also broadly accurate. I thought that "Operation Certain Death" might be bad for morale.'
'You can't include the word "death" in the code-name,' says the Colonel: 'think of something more optimistic; something that will buoy up the spirits of the troops.'
Stumpe reflects for a moment. 'Fair enough, Colonel: "Operation Possible Survival," it is.'
Zeigler casts a look at King Wilhelm, strapped, for his journey to Grosschnitzelring, onto a specially strengthened wheelbarrow.
'If you want accuracy', says Zeigler, 'then "Operation Certain Hernia" would seem a reasonable one. Look at him. He's like a middle-aged walrus that's really let himself go.'
Stumpe continues. 'I've taken the liberty of picking the best fellows available for your mission. Now bear in mind', and here his voice becomes to Zeigler suspiciously placatory, 'that with the need to bring our musketeer regiments up to strength, the pool of available manpower for your mission was not as large as it might otherwise have been.'
'How big was the pool?' asks Zeigler.
Stumpe shrugs. 'Well, I say pool; it was more of a ... puddle, really.' He shouts out an order, and Zeigler's intrepid troops shuffle forwards. Zeigler groans inwardly: these are 'rank and file' only in the sense that they 'file in, smelling rank.'
Also, to man, they are dressed in women's clothes.
At this, Zeigler nods approvingly: 'Excellent idea, men - on a secret mission like this, we need to disguise ourselves.'
The troops look confused: 'What secret mission? Are we going somewhere?'
The Colonel looks despairingly at Stumpe. 'How am I to complete this mission with such a force? You may as well have recruited for me a flock of sheep.'
At this, there is some grumbling from the front rank of troops, and then some 'baas' from the second. 'When I said "puddle of manpower,"' says the Captain. 'it was really more of a ... small spillage. Anyway, I have to be off: you should say a few appropriate words to, you know, enthuse them for the mission.'
'A few appropriate words?' whispers Zeigler to Stumpe incredulously. 'Well, yes: how about "sodding hell, we're all going to die."'
Zeigler closes his eyes, slows his breathing and takes himself to his happy place - a place, unsurprisingly, that is far, far away from Mittelheim.
Zeigler sighs wearily and then turns to his troops.
'Time for the men to tool up, Sergeant', he says.
'Righto sir, I'll sort it out'
|Mopping his brow, a soldier propels Wilhelm slowly back|
Stumpe then addresses Zeigler's men. 'This is it, my brave fellows - it is time now to do or die in the name of our Burgrave. God save Nabstria!'
Amidst answering rousing cries of 'God save the Burgrave!', 'Death before dishonour!' and 'Oooh, my corset's killing me', Stumpe rides off to rejoin Rumpfler's army.
Zeigler busies himself awhile with the last preparations for his mission, and then, at midnight, the small force assembles for the march on the Gelderland capital.
'Everything ready sergeant?'
'Yes sir, all done.'
Zeigler pauses as if he has just had a thought.
'When I said that the men should tool up ... they've got muskets, pistols and swords, yes? Not screwdrivers or, um, lathes and stuff.'
There is an awkward pause: 'Sir ... I'll be back in a minute'.
Zeigler nods wearily. 'Of course, sergeant; of course.'