Friday, 30 October 2015


Colonel Zeigler and his intrepid force of troops approach the capital in the bright sun of the early morning. The Colonel is not pleased: his plan to attack at dawn has foundered on the inability of his scouts to agree on the relative importance on the Gross Schnitzelring clock tower of the big hand and the little hand. Still, with the sun up, it gives everyone, including any Gelderland guards, the opportunity to admire the uniforms, of a stylish jager fashion, acquired by Zeigler en route. Right about now, a unit of Gelderland jager some ten miles to the west will be waking up in an inn to find that their uniforms seem now to include rather more in the way of petticoats than is normal and also are substantially roomier around the chest. The Colonel has managed to acquire, not just a marvelous new uniform, but also a rakish eye-patch.
'It looks a bit nautical, sir,' says his Sergeant. 'A bit, you know, pirate-ish.'
'Really?' says the Colonel, warming to his new accoutrement. 'Well, then, I shall wear it - I like the buccaneer look.'
'I think it's a mistake, sir,' says the sergeant, 'begging your pardon.'
'A mistake, eh?' says Zeigler. 'Well, you know what they say, sergeant: to err is human, but to 'aaarh!' is pirate.'

In addition to the uniforms, Zeigler has managed to impose a semblance of discipline on his force, as the plethora of black eyes can testify. All told, the Colonel's force looks rather more military, and certainly much more imposing, than it did when it commenced its journey. The Colonel has also received welcome reinforcements: two companies of musketeers, and  two squadrons of dismounted cavalry.
Zeigler eyes the cavalry suspiciously: 'Where are their horses, sergeant?'
'They ate them, sir.'
'Zounds! Is our supply situation so perilous?'
'No sir, they, um, just ate them.'

Zeigler divides up his force. The Jager and one company of musketeers heads for the walls, in search of the secret postern gate revealed in Miss Nora Hindquarters' intelligence. The Colonel, though, is also keen to destroy the bridge leading to Gross Schnitzelring, in order to make it impossible to wheel Wilhelm back over the stream should any of the Gelderlanders have the strength to unwedge King Wilhelm and the mind to 'unfind' him. Zeigler details the cavalry, the other company of musketeers, and a large barrel of gunpowder for this task, all under the command of Captain Stefan von Kobblers. As Kobblers' force heads off to the south, Zeigler turns his attention to the question of the postern gate. The small door itself isn't difficult to find, but the Colonel is worried - password protected defences: whatever might that mean?

With some trepidation Zeigler approaches the small portal. The door seems very, very robust. The men look on expectantly, and Zeigler suddenly realises that he has no idea at all how it is that he is going to get through. The moments pass. It all starts to get very, very embarrassing. Suddenly, a small sentry door at head height whips open, revealing the grim visage of a thickly mustachioed guard of the garrison regiment.
'Halt - what's the password!', the Gelderland sentry barks.
Zeigler shrugs despondently, nonplussed - 'Dammit, how should I know?'
'Well, then,' says the guard. 'You can't come in.'
'But,' says Zeigler, 'we really need to come in. I'd enter through the main gate, but I'd be embarrassed to be seen marching in public with this lot.'
The guard looks at the gaggle of jager behind Zeigler. 'Fair enough,' he says. 'But I still can't let you in. You might be a Trojan.'
'I'm not a Trojan,' says Zeigler, 'I'm German.'
'It's a classical allusion, sir' says the sergeant. 'Secret infiltrator, like the Trojan horse of the Iliad.'
'I haven't got a horse either,' says Zeigler.
The sentry pauses. 'Well, in that case, I need your security question.'
'Eh' says Zeigler. 'What's the security question?'
'Well,' says the sentinel, 'I ask you what your mother's maiden name is, and then, if you get it right, I can give you a copy of the password.'
Zeigler looks nonplussed, and then shrugs.
'Er, okay.'
'So, Herr Colonel, 'what's your mother's maiden name?'
'Ur, well, it's Hofstedter.'
The sentry nods. 'Is that right?'
'Um. Yes?' Zeigler says hopefully.
'Promise?' says the guard.
'Um. Yes?' says Zeigler.
'Marvelous' says the sentry, passing Zeigler a small envelope. 'The password is written on that. Or, if you like, you could re-set it by choosing another.'
'You know,' says Zeigler to the guard, as he opens the door, 'wouldn't a sturdy padlock be more secure? Isn't all this talk talk rather ... insecure?'
'Oh no, no, no,' says the guard. 'This is the future, believe me. Safe as houses. Although my predecessor was hacked.'
'Yes - cavalry sabre: his head came right off.'
Zeigler's force heads into a dark corridor leading through the fortress walls.
The Colonel turns to the sentry. 'There's just one more thing.'
'What's that?' says the sentry.
'This,' says Zeigler. There is a hollow 'bonk' sound as the last jager hits the sentry over the head with his horn.
'I'll bet that hurt', says the Colonel to the jager. 'Next time use your instrument.'

Friday, 23 October 2015

Gross Schnitzelring!

And so, gentle reader, we find ourselves contemplating the Mittelheim metropolis that is Gross Schnitzelring, capital of the Kingdom of Gelderland. 

It would only partially be accurate to say that the city was founded in 843AD; for the word 'founded' implies some deliberate act. It would perhaps be more true to say that the city 'happened to occur' on that date as a result of the Bishop of Prick's wheeled commode having got stuck at the muddy crossroads that marked the centre of what would become the city. It then just seemed too much effort to continue the journey, not least because his destination was Rotenburg. Over the years, the settlement expanded until in 1503 it was declared by King Oskar II the capital of the Kingdom of Gelderland. Oskar, it is fair to say, did not do this with much enthusiasm: Gross Schnitzelring did not have much to recommend itself except that everywhere else was slightly worse: slightly damper; slightly muddier; smelling slightly more of boiled cabbage and leeches. None of the Kings of Gelderland had been keen on the place, generally with good reason. Still, it was Oskar who made Gross Schnitzelring the capital, and it was Oskar who first ordered the building of walls to surround the city, though this was less to defend the town than it was to keep the mud in.

Over the years, in an attempt to improve the general ambiance of the city, the Kings of Gelderland had made strenuous efforts to encourage various marauders and ravening hordes to sack the place, but to no avail. In 1597, King Herman 'the horse buttocked' went so far as to make use of his recently acquired printing press to send  formal invitations to every pirate, sell-sword, mercenary, and ego-maniacal monarch in Europe, inviting them to his capital for a 'wine, gunpowder and matches' party. The response was disappointing, though that was not so surprising given that Herman's lamentable spelling had led him to offer an opportunity for 'days of drinck and fisting'.

Khan Chaka of the Mongols, known widely as Khan Chaka 'the bastard son of a thousand maniacs' stopped briefly at Gross Schnitzelring on his grand reconnaissance into Europe as part of his search for a defensible frontier, more slaves to crucify and some more kittens to glue together. But he left quickly suffering from mild depression. Gross Schnitzelring was then occupied by Gustavus Adolphus' Swedes during the 30 Years War, but after a few days in the city they just could not get into the mood for fire, bloodshed, and pillage. After stealing some spoons, just to show that they could, they contented themselves with constructing some furniture and enacting some new by-laws creating a more socially just society.

One could pen many poems or write many songs in praise of the wonderful charms of the Gelderland capital. But, if one did, one would clearly be drunk, or have never been there, or perhaps been in the process of being threatened with a very large cudgel. Possibly the only reference to the place in wider European culture is Handel's little known ditty, 'Maybe it's Because I'm in Gelderland / That I love London so'. Herr Hans Pantzpuller, Mittelheim's famous poet and badger wrestler, wrote perhaps the only specific piece on Gross Schnitzelring, shortly before the voyage that would lead him to the Leech Coast. An autobiographical work, his poem 'I'm Not Going Back There, You Can't Bloody Make Me' was a long poem, of which only the first two verses survive:

'Gross Schnitzelring! My little Sack!
Has shrivelled, for I am ordered back!
From Paris, post haste to you, alack!
The thought has made my wurst go slack!

Gross Schnitzelring! Please find a quack!
With poisons many, who has the knack!
To kill me now, before I pack!
Wild horses could not drag me back!

The War of the Spanish Suck Session has ravaged Mittelheim, but Gross Schnitzelring has remained largely untouched. Death has stalked the land like a large stork, which, given his age, has played merry hell with his joints. War, Famine and Pestilence have blighted the lives of everyone from prince to pauper; except when the blighting has had to stop because War and Pestilence have been arguing with Famine over who has eaten all of the biscuits. In general though, the populace are in an optimistic mood, thanks to the continued absence of King Wilhelm from the tiller of government. Actually, it's not just the tiller that has been free of wobble-bottoms: Wilhelm seems to have jumped the whole of the metaphorical ship of state.

The King's Royal Chamberlain, Graf Petr Peiper-Pickderpeck, lord of  Pickelpeipers, has been promising publicly to do his best to make Wilhelm once again the hub of government. In reality, however,  the Chamberlain, like the King himself after a hard night on the figs, has really been going through the motions. The story that the King was merely stuck in a doorway had begun to wear, ironically considering the state of the King, rather thin. Graf Petr has now put about the notion that the King managed to free himself, but was then abducted by Nabstrian agents. The palace has issued descriptions of the abductors: 'four men' with 'heads and noses', that were reported 'to be wearing clothes, possibly including britches'. One of the felons was reported to be 'possibly Italian, Russian, or ginger, with a moustache or belly-button.' The local garrison has carried out pain-staking searches of taverns, bakeries, ladies boudoirs, and exporters of lard and walruses but nothing has been found. There has also been an extensive campaign of posters. The walls in Gross Schnitzelring are plastered with missives bearing the words 'Wanted - but only if you have time,' and 'Have You Seen This Man - if so, tell the authorities (but, you know, there's no rush, it you have something else urgent to do),' and 'Reward! But it's probably not as big as you think'.

Absent King Wilhelm, Don Penguino has become the power behind the throne. However, Wilhelm's throne is actually very large with plenty of space for others behind it as well. In consequence, Don Penguino has usually had to share the back of the chair with the Chamberlain, Lord Petr, and also the Minister for War and Strudels, Count Matthias von Sachsenblaus. The three have divided up the rule of the kingdom. All matters relating to internal affairs are dealt with by the Chamberlain; all those relating to war, foreign affairs, and pastry products are the remit of Sachsenblaus; and any issues best handled through the medium of a comedic Spanish accent go to Don Penguino. Naturally, Don Penguino is by far the busiest of the triumvirate.

The three have taken as read the ability of the capital's defences to ward off an enemy attack. In this, they are perhaps a little over-confident. The garrison consists of a company of jager, who, their poor standard of drill meaning that they are widely recognised as being unable to find their own backsides with both hands and a lantern, spend most evenings with lanterns telling one another worriedly, 'My arse! It's been stolen!' The jager are supplemented by a company from the Gelderland garrison regiment. Since the Gelderland regular army is less likely to see military action than a collection of pacifist toddlers, the garrison regiment can be reliably assessed as being about as war-like as a kindergarten for piglets during their afternoon nap.

There has been some investment in the physical defences around the capital. Gross Schnitzelring is protected by a modern system of walls, bastions, and ravelins. There is no glacis, though, because the King could see no use in surrounding the walls with French ice creams. Citizens have no doubt been comforted by the sight of so many cannon peeking menacingly from the battlements. However, the effectiveness of these pieces is questionable. Gelderland was intent on acquiring, in the fashion of King Frederick II, a selection of 24 pounder 'brummers'. However, entirely predictable bureaucratic confusion led the garrison artillery to procure some 240 pound 'brummies' instead. The appearance of four cart-loads of folk from the midlands of England was compounded by the fact that even those Gelderlanders who spoke English couldn't really understand anything that the brummies said. The new arrivals having been sent off profitably to the Leech Coast, the capital is protected now by some antiquated ships guns that lack crews.

Still - why would the peaceful folk of Gross Schnitzelring need defensive artillery? The sun is shining, the mud is less sticky than usual, and the typhus has carried off fewer than one might expect at this time of year. But the gentle reverie of the locals is about to be cruelly, and somewhat incompetently, broken, as, across the fields, we espy a body of what could only very loosely be described as soldiers (or indeed, men) pushing a very, very heavy wheelbarrow ....