Toplitz-Hande was no fool. He recognised that a career in the Gelderland army was unlikely to produce the same chances of mortal combat as, say, the army of Prussia. But then again, what one lost in glory, one gained in keeping body parts in the right place and in opportunities to survive to draw one's pension. The captain, though, had always believed that a man of his own calibre would certainly find rapid promotion, at least to Colonel, and probably to General. However, as it transpired in the army of Gelderland, opportunities for 'rapid advancement' seemed to comprise almost exclusively of running quickly to places where the enemy weren't. In the end, Toplitz-Hande volunteered to command a company of common Croat mercenaries. This was not because he actually admired or liked his grubby charges: as a Hapsburg-chinned hoorah. the captain had about as much sensitivity to the rights of the common man as Ivan the Terrible's slightly grumpier brother. No, it seemed merely that participation in Kleine Krieg offered some opportunities at least to 'smell the gunpowder'.
As he pulls the rumpled civilian out of grabbing distance from his kleptomaniac soldiery, captain Toplitz-Hande reflects that Croats were, in the end, a poor career choice. His war, thus far, has involved many smells, none of gunpowder, and most relating to the poor hygiene of his mercenary rank-and-file. His force is supposed to be guarding the roads, but instead they fleece the locals, and what they do with the sheep is best not mentioned. If the mercenaries have any positive qualities, reflects the captain, then they lost them a long time ago, along with their soap. To be fair, the Croats have been equally disappointed with Mittelheim. The squalid conditions in which locals live makes looting a depressing activity. Sometimes when they encounter local villages they can rustle up the enthusiasm to loot and pillage; but often they just do the ironing and leave.
Today, his troops have been in a better mood. Indeed, Toplitz-Hande has only just managed to get them out of a nearby house. They have spent just short of an hour smashing the furniture, burning the roof and relieving themselves on the floor. As the troops leave, the locals peer into their dwelling. Over the whooping of his men the captain can just hear the civilians saying to one another 'Crikey, I think they've tidied up'.
Now, however, the Captain is eager. Something is happening - and if it's not grapeshot that he whiffs, then it's not at least the armpits of his troops. There are local rumours of the passage of a strange military cavalcade pushing an abnormal load. Though he normally tries to stay as far away from strange military passages as he can, these rumours seem to be portents of potential action. There are strange descriptions of the passing of teasingly bearded womenfolk in fancy dress, all of which sounds suspiciously like the movement of a unit of Nabstrian troops. The captain's suspicions have been raised further now that his scouts have encountered a trail of half eaten pie crusts and the very, very deep marks left by a weightily laden wheelbarrow. And now, there is a witness to these intriguing events!
A sergeant steps forward, civilian in tow.
'We have a witness, sir, who says he has information that may be useful to us'.
The sergeant pushes forward a small, wigged, reptilian looking fellow who looks like a toad with a toupe.
Toplitz-Hande's eyes narrow. He crosses his arms. 'Give us your information, strange fellow. There is talk of the passage here of an odd creature on a wheelbarrow. What do you have to say?'
The little fellow bows, but then says slyly 'I saw it all, sir. But it'll cost you'.
The captain scowls. 'I'm not paying you a fortune for information that will probably be as weak as handshake from a Spanish hairdresser'.
'No, no, sir', says the little fellow, bowing again, 'I'm sure what I want is affordable - a mere trifle, in fact'.
'Well, what is it?' says the captain impatiently.
'Um, I just said - I want a trifle'.
Toplitz-Hande then shakes his head incredulously. 'I am a Captain of a mercenary frei-battalion. I'm not in the habit of perambulating around the countryside with a fruit and custard based dessert on the off-chance that some witless wigged amphibian can waste my time. If you don't tell us what I need to know, I shall have you shot'.
The fellow looks worried, and licks his lips.
'I said trifle, sir, but of course I'm willing to accept any dinner-related desserts'.
Toplitz-Hande gesticulates. 'Where would I get such things? Do these britches look like they contain any delicious looking tea-time treats?'
The little civilian seems about to say something like 'Perhaps a tiny sponge finger' but then seems to think better of it and says instead 'I don't think that's for me to say, my Lord. Perhaps just some fruit cake?'
'Is there anything around here that looks remotely like a fruit cake?' says the captain.
The toad-like local puffs his cheeks and looks at the Croats, one of whom is vigorously kissing what looks like a small dressing table.
The civilian shrugs and says. 'It would be impolite to say. Perhaps a small sum of money, instead?'
Toplitz-Hande produces a pistol, which he points lazily at the local.
'On the other hand', says the civilian quickly, 'I always like to help local law enforcement. So, what I saw was a red-faced fellow, wheezing and panting. And he was pushing a wheelbarrow which seemed to have a giant walrus on it'.
'A walrus', says Toplitz-Hande, musing. 'Was there anything strange about it?'
'Well, sir, it was a giant walrus on a wheelbarrow'.
'I mean, were there any distinguishing features that you could identify?'
'Apart from the fact that there was a wheelbarrow with a walrus on it?'
'Look, matey', says the captain, 'don't get clever with me. Answer my questions or I'll find some fruit-cake and I'll have my men stuff it up you so hard you'll be sneezing raisins for a week'.
The civilian raises his hands apologetically. 'Well, sir, I suppose if you got some more walruses I could, you know, do a line up or something'.
'Bah. There must be some other detail that you remember'. The pistol settles at a point somewhere between the civilian's eyes.
'Well. Um. Well. Actually, I think the walrus was wearing a crown'.
'By the Virgin Mary's amply dimpled buttocks!' shouts Toplitz-Hande. 'It's King Wilhelm!'
The civilian is sent packing.
'There's something strange happening here, sergeant. I wonder what's afoot?'
'This' says his sergeant helpfully, pointing at one of his feet.
The captain rolls his eyes. 'No, sergeant, it's a rhetorical question'.
'Crikey, sir!', says the sergeant looking around him in alarm, 'then where's my foot gone?'
The captain sighs. 'Look sergeant, fall the men in. Light equipment only. The Nabstrians have the King, and they're wheeling him to Gross Schnitzelring. We must relieve the capital! I feel a Knighthood coming on!'
In a few moments, Toplitz-Hande's relief column heads off rapidly down the road. At the back, one Croat seems to be hauling a small dressing table. Some way behind, an irate local fellow can be heard shouting 'Oi, give me back my wife!'