Monday, 30 November 2015

Toplitz-Hande's Relief!

'Stop that, men!' shouts Captain Adolphus von Toplitz-Hande. The captain lays about his troops with the flat of his sword, driving them off from a harassed looking local. Breathing heavily, Toplitz-Hande stands in the middle of the main road to Gross Schnitzelring. Before him, a colourfully accoutered company of Croat light troops begins to form itself into a semblance of a line. Looking at them, the captain can't help but feel that somewhere along the way, his life took a wrong turn, apparently down a lane marked 'Disappointing military pantomime'.

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!'

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Follow that sedan chair!

In the mean time, gentle reader, we turn our attention to the other portion of Zeigler's command: Captain Stefan von Kobblers' force, comprising of a company of regulars and two squadrons of dismounted cavalry. Kobblers quickly sends the company of musketeers forwards to establish a perimeter. Now, though, he must consider how it is that he will get the large barrel of gunpowder to the all-important bridge. It looks very, very heavy.

Kobblers is considering the problem, in the company of sergeant Steiner, when his contemplation is broken by the approaching sounds of feet, accompanied by heavy wheezing.
'Hang on', says Kobblers, 'is that a sedan chair? I know! We could hire them to take the gunpowder to the bridge'.
'They'll never accept a barrel of gunpowder as a fare', says Steiner dubiously.
'Hmmm, true', says the captain. He pauses for a moment. 'But I have an idea ...'

The sedan chair suddenly encounters an aristocratic captain of infantry, who waves imperiously.
'Halt!' says the captain. Gratefully, the two men drop their burden, none too carefully, and then stagger around slightly randomly, muttering to themselves "Breathe! Breathe!"'
'I wish to hire you', says the captain.
The sedan chair runners nod cheerfully.
'That's fine, sir. Step this way, sir. Just a couple of questions, though, for your own safety.'
'Questions?' says Steiner narrowing his eyes.

One of the footmen runs to the side of the sedan chair and opens the door, quickly brushing down the cushions inside. He peers in, tuts, and then begins to dab a little as well.

'Are you sure that you packed your own luggage, sir?'
'What?' says Kobblers.
'And that you're not carrying any sharp objects?'
'I have my sword', says Kobblers, suspiciously.
'Oh yes, sir, obviously sir', says the footman. 'And pistols I see. But I mean, sir, that you're not carrying anything really dangerous - like scissors, or tweezers; or small quantities of liquid'.
'No, no', says the captain. 'Just my ... wife'.
'Your wife?'
'Yes, yes: here she is'.
'Ah'. The two runners look at Kobblers' wife, and then at one another.
'Is there a problem?' says Kobblers.
'Well, sir, it's just that your wife ... looks a little bit like a barrel, with a dress stretched around it and a wig plopped on top'.
'Are you saying my wife is fat?'
'Oh no, no, no, no, no, sir. I suppose what I'm trying to say, sir, isn't that your wife looks as wide as a barrel - that would be very rude; rather, I think I'm trying to say that she might actually be a barrel'.
'I'd think I'd notice if my wife were a wooden container', says Kobblers tartly.
'Well, sir, you wouldn't be the first man whose wife had turned out to be to be a piece of furniture'.
'Wouldn't I?'
'Oh no. There was Ludwig, who lived near me. He was with his other half for ten years. She was insatiable; endless capacity'.
'Yes, but it turned out she was a commode. And then there was Frau Kettle'.
'Frau Kettle?'
'Yes', nods the runner, 'who turned out actually to be a kettle'.
'Oh yes, says the other runner, 'and don't forget Frau Bucket - who, ironically, wasn't a bucket, but turned out to be a door. And lovely Frau Gertrude'.
'Oooh yes', says the other. 'Lovely Frau Gertrude - marvelous legs'.
'Mmmm', says his comrade. 'Four of them; and a lovely lacquer inlay, the little minx'.
'What sort of place is this?' asks Kobblers, appalled.
'Well, sir, around here the winters are long, the nights are dark, and the standards are low'.

Money is exchanged, and with the usual round of 'left hand down a bit, right hand up', the captain's "wife" is eased into the sedan chair.
Captain Kobblers addresses the two footmen directly. 'Look, I just want you to take my wife to that bridge over there. And don't, for God's sake, drop her into the water'.
'No worries sir', one footman says to Kobbers. 'Though if we did', he sniggers, 'I suspect that she might float better than you think'.
Sergeant Steiner eyes the captain and then steps forward awkwardly. 'One thing about the captain's wife - she, er, she loves to smoke'.
Kobblers nods equally awkwardly and then says, rather too loudly, 'I'm just going to light this cigarillo for her'. He leans forwards and lights a small taper protruding from under the wig.
The footmen nod. 'Certainly sir, but ... why is everyone shuffling backwards?'
'Well, we're, um, in a rush', says Kobblers stepping rearwards quickly, and appearing to cover his face with his arms. 'Now - off you go'.
'Hang on, sir. We have to go through the safety briefing for passengers - emergency exits, that sort of th...'
Kobblers cuts them off brusquely. 'Listen, if my wife doesn't get to that bridge in twenty minutes, she won't be pleased'.
'Bit of a temper, then, sir?'
'You've no idea', says the captain, breaking into a sprint. 'Explosive'.

'Phew', says Kobblers, watching the sedan chair disappear into the distance. 'Off they go. Splendid'. The captain catches a strange look on Steiner's face.
'Sergeant, are you alright?'
'Yes sir, its just ... my wife'.
'What about her?'
'Well, it just occurred to me that she has a lid'.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

In a postern, far, far away ...

In the postern tunnel through the walls of Gross Schnitzelring, Zeigler's intrepid force continues its journey. After a little way, they encounter another small door; this one, presumably, leading out of the wall and into the town itself.
Rapping briskly upon the door, a small hatch opens, revealing the thin face of a member of the Gelderland garrison regiment.
'Who are you? State your business! And don't tell me that you're Gelderland jager seeking an alternative way into the town, because I'm on the look out for interlopers that might have stolen some uniforms as a way of gaining secret access to the capital'.
'Hmmm', says Zeigler. 'You're a bit brighter than the other guard'. The Colonel makes a strange gesture in front of the guard's face.
'These are not the interlopers you're looking for'.
'What?' says the guard.
'Nothing', says Zeigler. 'I just thought that it was worth a try'.
Zeigler thinks quickly. 'Um, actually, I'm taking my sisters here to see the mechanism that works the town clock. I told them it's really big and has clockwork, um, stuff in it and they don't believe me'.
The guard squints into the gloom beyond the Colonel. 'Blimey, your sisters are ugly. They've got beards. I can see the marks the barge poles have made on them'.
'Ah, well, they're members of a Zentan travelling circus. So they don't shave much'.
'Hmm, sounds plausible', says the guard. 'But I'm going to need the password if you're to gain access'.
'Dammit', says Zeigler. 'Well, ah, how about my date of birth?'
'What's that?'
'30, 10, 1720'.
'Nope. Wrong. And if you get it wrong three times then I'm going to lock you out'.
'Blinking flip. Okay, well, how about ...... "1, 2, 3, 4"'.
The guard chuckles. 'Clever, clever; I can see that you've done this before, sir. But no, that's not it. Last guess'.
'Ah, well ... then ... what have I got in my pocket?'
'You what?' says the sentry.
'Nothing', says Zeigler. 'I just thought that that might be worth a try as well'.
The seconds pass. Despite the cold, sweat breaks out on Zeigler's brow.
'Got to hurry you , sir'. Zeigler sees the guard move to close the hatch.
Suddenly Zeigler snaps his fingers. 'I know ... how about "password"'.
'Bah and fiddlesticks', says the sentry, and unlocks the door.
As the doors open, the Colonel leaps through, a blow from the hilt of his sword sending the guard spinning.
'You ... lied' says the guard, falling to the floor.
Zeigler shrugs. 'It's what I do'.