Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Meanwhile, in Nabstria!

The Pfanenstiel Hussars

Years have now passed in Mittelheim since the Cod War of 1757.  The inhabitants of Nabstria are now, alas, all too accustomed to the alarums and excursions of war.   Yet the cost in both blood and treasure, squeezed out of the long suffering peasantry, has not had its just recompense in the enlargement and enrichment of the Burggraviate.  Indeed, the people of Nabstria have suffered a long series of disappointments in the wars that have raged across Mittelheim.  Victories have been few, defeats many.  The famous victory of Nottelbad in June 1757 now seems a faded, almost ancient, memory.  That glorious victory against the hated Rotenburgers led to the temporary recovery of Nottelbad, with its rococo duck pond celebrated in Nabstrian memory, song, story and poem.  Yet that golden-age was short-lived even by Nabstrian standards.  Soon, the tides of war had turned against Nabstria and Nottelbad fell into Fenwickian hands.  Even worse, Nottelbad was then traded like a trinket as, at the Peace of Zachsen, it became the Gelderland client state of the Duchy of Bahnsee-Kassell. Long has Nottelbad had to suffer under the harsh yoke of foreign rule and its recovery now seems impossible.  Like a young Nabstrian plough boy with a face full of pimples sighing over a woodcut of the beautiful Nora Hindquarters, it remains an unattainable dream.

The Famed Nottelbad duck pond, now smarting under the Fenwickian heel…
Yet, if one frequents the taverns and inns of Nabstria, one may well happen to meet a veteran or two of the Burggrave’s wars, sitting by the fire in a threadbare uniform and perhaps missing a limb or two.  They, when people will listen, will tell the story of the great victory of Nottelbad over the hated Rotenburgers.  Of how General von Rumpfler, in his prime, came up with a battle plan so cunning that it actually worked.  How Michael von Pfanenstiel led the noble cavalry of Nabstria on a desperate career around the Rotenburg lines.  They will tell of Paul, Duke of Clarkeshire in the days when he still wore a silly hat, acting as a rallying point for the whole army.  And of how the incompetent Rotenberg buffoons were discomfited, disorganised and soundly beaten.  Those veterans, now aged and shrunken by wounds, poverty and disappointment, will raise themselves up, and with shining eyes, tell of Michael von Pfanenstiel, his inspiration, his leadership and his heroic death on the battlefield.

Nabstrian veterans remembering past glories…

But those days are surely gone and all that remains to remind the people of Nabstria of such glories are some faded woodcuts of Nottelbad as it used to be, when its Nabstrian ducks could swim freely in Nabstrian water and spread their wings under a Nabstrian sky.

Yet there is one for whom the Battle of Nottelbad remains a very real, living memory.  Lord Michael Hieronymus Wilhelm-Franz Igor Rudolph Edelina von Pfanenstiel remembers only too well when what remained of his father was brought home in a small but beautifully carved snuffbox.  He remembers the comfort of knowing his father died in the moment of victory and the horror and despair he felt when Nottelbad later fell to the enemy.

Michael von Pfanenstiel junior.

            Now come of age, Michael von Pfanenstiel is animated by a single thought: to honour his father’s memory and seek vengeance for his death.  While his mother encouraged him to take the normal path of a young Mittleheim noble and gain knowledge, experience, culture, and a nasty case of the pox by going on the Grand Tour, the young Michael would hear none of it.  He had one desire: to raise a regiment of hussars and take the field against Nabstria’s oppressors.

What Michael von Pfanenstiel should have been doing…

Von Pfanenstiel paid for recruiting posters to be placed all over Nabstria:

Perhaps not surprisingly, the men of Nabstria did not respond in an overly enthusiastic manner: too many men have now joined the army and not returned.  Yet, with the addition of most of the von Pfanenstiel estate workers who were ‘encouraged’ to join, the help of the old Nabstrian recruiting trick of a dress, a sergeant, and a bottle of beer, not to mention a few authentic Hungarians who got lost on their way to Saxony, the ranks of the regiment were quickly filled.
 And so, after spending much of his inheritance and the wealth of his estate on raising and equipping his regiment, von Pfanenstiel’s Hussars are now ready to take the field.  Yet these hussars are not gaily dressed in the bright, vivid colours of a run-of-the-mill hussar regiment.  No, these are ‘The Death’s Head Hussars’ garbed in sombre black to remind every man in the ranks of von Pfanenstiel and his death at Nottelbad.

The ‘Black’ Hussars of Nabstria
There is another person in Nabstria who has long remembered von Pfanenstiel’s sacrifice at Nottelbad.  The von Pfanenstiel family, with its large and productive estates has long been connected with the Burggrave and he is only too pleased to grant the young Michael the honour of parading his regiment before him.

The newly raised regiment parading before their Buggrave

Under the walls of Falkensteinburg, young Michael von Pfanenstiel parades his new regiment under the admiring eyes of Burggrave Falco.
‘Well done men!  Three Cheers for our Burggrave!  Hurrah!
Death to the enemies of Nabstria!
Death to the hated Rotenburgers!
Death!  Death! Death!’

…Shouts von Pfanenstiel.  The Burggrave is certainly pleased to have the reinforcement of a dashing regiment of Hussars but young Michael’s enthusiasm begins to grate.
‘Err, Michael, my dear young fellow, do you think you could shout a little quieter?  You might wake the Burggravina…’

Monday, 19 December 2016

Leipflute, the Final!

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All on the Plains of Leipflute
Rode the twelve hundred.
“Forward, across the stream!
Charge for the flank!” he said.
Across the Plains of Leipflute
Rode the twelve hundred.

Their enemy was undismayed
“Marvellous! The fools have strayed!”
Barry-Eylund thought he knew
"Rentall has blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the Stream of Death
Ride the twelve hundred.
The mad bastards."

Woods to right of them,
Table-edge to left of them,
Two streams in front of them
They panicked and chundered;
But 'Find the Way' twice they played
Across the stream twice they wade
And upon the enemy flank
Were the gallant twelve hundred.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All on the Plains of Leipflute
Rode the twelve hundred
'Look, there's an open flank!'
Forward, their rear to spank!'
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Flowed the twelve hundred.

Foot to right of them,
Table-edge to the left of them,
Horse to the front of them,
Forward they thundered;
"Dammit their reserves are here
And line the stream, we're done I fear!"
Into the charge they went
The trembling twelve hundred

Flashed all their buttocks bare,
Flashed in this sad affair
All turned to runners there,
Retreating in chaos, while
All the world wondered.
Wreathed in the musket smoke
Right in the stream they broke;
Vulgarian horsemen
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they fell back, but not
Not the twelve hundred.

Boos to right of them,
Jeers to left of them,
Enemy behind them
While Rentall wondered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They hadn't fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of twelve hundred.
Which was about 1,198 of them.

When can their glory fade?
'About now' their general said
All Vulgaria wondered
What difference it made
How they had badly strayed
Ignoble twelve hundred!

'Well, dish ish very dishappointing,' says Rentall ruefully, watching as Tripodi's cavalry fall back from the left flank. As the Vulgarian horse retreat, there is more bad news as the Lord Grand Prior's Regiment breaks under enemy artillery fire. General van Rentall though is an experienced soldier and refuses to panic. The Bachscuttelers are badly positioned for a meaningful counter-attack, and conditions are propitious for a measured withdrawal from the battle. Rentall's system of depot battalions will easily make good the losses in his army, and some of his infantry seem to have learned quite a lot just by watching the fighting. One fly in the ointment is that Giovanni di Tripodi decides that a command position in the Vulgarian army is less rewarding than he had hoped; and so he quits, citing irreconcilable differences with everyone in the Voivodate's military.
Rentall rides to his infantry as the retreat is sounded: he shouts encouragingly -  'Fear not, my brave men: for in dis firsht battle you have acquitted yourshelves well!'
The troops look initially confused, some saying: 'There has certainly been a battle; but no one has fitted any shelves.'
Luckily, Baron Tostov comes to the rescue, and as the Bachscuttlers watch the Vulgarian army march from Leipflute they can hear them shouting a defiant 'Gottle of geer! Gottle of geer!'

Monday, 12 December 2016

Leipflute, the Second!

'We're being overwhelmed!' cries Captain von Schnitzelhund of the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel's von Schnitzelhund irregulars. 'They're everywhere, my lord Barry-Eylund: on our flanks; to our rear!'
General Barry-Eylund stares across the battlefield towards the Vulgarian forces and waves dismissively at the captain. 'Von Schnitzelhund, your struggles in the woods against the squirrels are the least of our worries.'
The captain, agitated, persists: 'But, sir, we need reinforcements - we cannot otherwise continue to hold the wood!'
General Barry-Eylund points to the left: 'Go back to your troops, captain, and obey your orders: remember - death before dishonour!'
Von Schntizelhund's shoulders sag: 'Yes sir. Death. Dishonour.' He trudges westwards back to the woods and the garrison of two irregular regiments.
Major Bohner watches him disappear. 'Shall I prepare to reinforce the woods, sir?'
'Dammit no!' replies the general. 'I shall reinforce that wing only under very specific conditions.'
Bohner nods. 'These being, my lord?'
'Well,' replies Barry-Eylund, 'the first requirement would be a heavy frost in Hell.'
'Ah. I see sir,' says the major.
'Indeed, Bohner. Let me be quite specific. I care not if my light troops are overwhelmed. I care not, frankly, if they are overwhelmed; shot; cut heavily with the sabres of some very angry and inventive hussars; and then captured by some squirrels who get medieval on their nuts.'
'Yes, sir; I see sir.'
'Bohner, there are two reasons for my lack of concern. First, any attack on those light troops by the enemy would likely have as its purpose the drawing out of my reserves. The enemy regular cavalry are on the other flank and it is that flank upon which the main enemy strike is likely to fall. Second, and here I must confess to a measure of unprofessionalism, I just don't like them.'
Bohner nods slowly. 'I see sir. They are indeed difficult to love, it is true.'
'Bohner, I've had attacks of piles that I'd miss less than those irregulars.'
'Well, general, I'm sure they'd be buoyed up by the confidence that you have in them.'
Barry-Eylund shakes his head. 'Three campaigns I've dragged those floppy ne'er do wells around. And thus far their main successes have comprised the vigorous rummaging in ladies undergarments.'
The major nods. 'They are indeed, my lord, the very embodiment of Bachscuttel military heroism.'
Suddenly, drums and trumpets sound in the Vulgarian lines. Movement commences amongst the Vulgarian irregulars.
Barry-Eylund scans the distance with his telescope.
'Here they come,' murmurs Bohner ...

(Above) Eschewing a frontal advance by his regular infantry, the Vulgarian commander, General Herz van Rentall, determines instead upon a thrust to his right by his combined force of irregular foot and horse with the aim of clearing the woods of Bachscuttel's irregulars. Van Rentall himself advances with his light troops to ensure that they remain in fullest command. The Vulgarian light troops are commanded by two more Dutch mercenaries: a Captain Kleinvarken; and a Colonel Kurtz. Both Kleinvarken and Kurtz are very experienced officers having fought for many years in the jungles of Surinam. Leading repeated expeditions into the dark hinterlands of 'Nam, both have been involved in brutal fighting against the Marrons - cunning tribes composed of escaped slaves. Kurtz, however, has suffered particularly. Having got lost on one expedition somewhere in the heart of darkness, Kurtz was found later in the deep jungle having lost his troops, his hair, and his britches; and having acquired instead tattoos, nihilistic philosophy, and a tribe who worshipped him as a God. Kleinvarken was impressed, since Kurtz had only been missing for twenty minutes.

The Vulgarian irregular infantry advance directly upon the woods.Van Rentall, however, orders Kleinvarken to instruct Kurtz to swing the hussars to the right of the woods and to bring them thence upon the flank of the nearest Bachscuttel unit. The captain rides reluctantly towards Kurtz. There are two things in his military life that make Kleinvarken afraid: and both are Colonel Kurtz. One side of the colonel is deeply melancholic; prone to dark, blood-soaked introspection. The other side is much less jolly and manifests when he gets a bit depressed. When this side looks into the abyss; the abyss makes feeble excuses and shuffles off terrified. Indeed, there was something about Colonel Kurtz that disturbed even his Vulgarian soldiers: his grim silence, perhaps; the thousand yard stare; his habit of getting wildly drunk, and very naked, and of bashing his head against the side of buildings, and howling 'Death! Death! Death is coming for us all!' Ironically, this last comment was slightly less true for Kurtz than for others. Death, who had almost met Kurtz several times in Surinam, had become rather unnerved by the gloomy Dutchman and therefore turned out to be much less willing than he ought to have been actually to gather him in. This might have explained Kurtz's survival in face of some very close calls: of the seventeen musket armed Marrons who, when firing at him all simultaneously missed and instead shot one another; of the hatchet blow to Kurtz's face that bounced off one of his gold teeth; and the grand piano that fell on him from a considerable height just as he fell into a hole that was half an inch higher than he was tall.

Kleinvarken reaches the colonel. Kurtz turns slowly and says 'The horror! The horror!'
The captain grimaces - the colonel's mood doesn't seem especially sunny. 'Just to check colonel; is that horror, or Horace?'
'Horror,' replies Kurtz.
'Righto sir. But sir,' says Kleinvarken  trying to re-direct the colonel from his dark place,  'In addition, there are also butterflies, sir, and lovely blue skies.' He waves expansively towards the woods.
'Butterflies,' mutters Kurtz. 'Blue skies ...'
'Yes, yes,' says Kleinvarken encouragingly.
' ... and horror', murmurs Kurtz.

(Below) Van Rentall's plan seems to work. In the woods, Captain von Schnitzelhund directs the Palatinate's irregulars towards the enemy to their front. Suddenly, however, he hears a strange drumming sound. Horses! Curses! The captain now realises suddenly that the wily Vulgarians have flanked his troops.

Schnitzelhund climbs quickly onto a tree stump. Above the sound of musketry, he bellows 'This is your captain speaking! You are about to experience a certain amount of turbulence occasioned by the arrival on our flank of an enemy cavalry charge. Please adopt the brace position. If we need to move towards the exits from this wood, then do so in an orderly fashion, first removing any sharp objects from your body, such as enemy sabres or bayonets!' Suddenly, there is a wild crashing sound and gutteral Vulgarian war shouts - the Bachscuttlers are engulfed by the charging hussars! Despite Barry-Eylund's  fears, however, the Bachscuttel irregulars put up quite a fight. The hussars swirl around the woods doing great execution, but Schnitzelhund holds on, and the hussars withdraw to regroup. To the front, the Vulgarian troops are driven back!

(Below) As van Rentall concentrates on the fight in the woods, Barry-Eylund uses the efforts freed up by not giving a hoot about his irregulars to bombard the Vulgarian line. Despite its usual lamentable accuracy, over time one at least of the Vulgarian infantry regiments is left in considerable disorder.

(Above, at the bottom) As the Vulgarians make slow ground in the woods, Barry-Eylund finally is forced to pay attention to events there. He wheels his leftmost regiment to cover his flank. Smug bastard that he is, the general has made a teeny miscalculation, because the flank of this regiment is exposed now to enfilade fire from the Vulgarian artillery. As the fight in the wood pauses, van Rentall orders his artillery to exploit this mistake. The regiment takes some nasty hits before, cursing his weak grasp of geometry, Barry-Eylund is forced to retire the regiment slightly so that it is no longer exposed. This fiddling about over, the Vulgarian assault on the woods is renewed!

In the midst of the fighting in the woods, Kurtz stares around at the death and blood being ladled out by the continuing combat. He turns to the captain:  'I have seen horrors that you have not seen. Kleinvarken.'
'That's true sir; but then I did spend most of the first two years in Surinam with my eyes closed.'
Kurtz nods. 'That does explain why your shooting was quite random. And there was such a lot of it. The locals were wild.'
'Wild, sir?' replies Kleinvarken, 'they were bloody livid, what with us burning their villages and all.'

(Below) Finally, another charge by the Vulgarian hussars breaks one unit of the Bachscuttel irregulars. Van Rentall begins to marshal his light horsemen to exploit the gap in Barry-Eylund's flank. Barry-Eylund, however, has already realised the threat. Recognising that it is best not to have two regiments of enemy hussars buggering about in his rear areas, he orders one of his cavalry regiments from column into line and then seals the gap. However, having paid less attention than he might at the commencement of the battle to the positioning of his cavalry, the task of sealing this flank falls to his elite cuirassiers, troops that could probably find better employment: such as, say, if the enemy were just about to embark upon a major cavalry assault upon the other wing ....

With one regiment of Bachscuttel irregulars still in the woods, and with no prospect now of a breakthrough on this flank, Rentall quits the irregulars and rides post-haste to the other wing of his army. 'Now, Tripodi!' he shouts 'Charge with our cavalry! Crush da enemy!'

As the fighting on this part of the battlefield peters out, Colonel Kurtz turns to Kleinvarken again. 'I have seen horrors.'
'This is bad,' thinks the captain - Kurtz is heading again to his dark place.
'Well, yes sir; but there is some splendid scenery. And some lovely sunsets.'
'Yes, Kleinvarken: sunsets; and scenery; but also horrors. I've seen horrors .... horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer.'
'Well, sir,' the captain replies, 'I don't think I used the word "murderer" sir: I think that I just pointed out that you might be a bit of a "glass half empty" fellow, sir.'
Kurtz continues: 'You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that ...'
'Well,' says Kleinvarken. 'I think I used the word "rest" rather than "kill" but ...'
'But you have no right to judge me. It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means.'
'Words? No sir: but you did do those mimes, sir; they were quite, er, graphic.'
'Horror, Kleinvarken ... Horror has a face...'
'And some appendages, sir, if I remember your mime: that fall off a lot.'
'And you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends.'
'But sir, wouldn't you just rather let them be friends with someone else, sir? Or perhaps only be the sorts of friends that you see on birthdays or at Christmas?'
Kurtz shakes his head. 'You have to have men who are moral ... and at the same time who are able to utilise their primordial instincts to kill without feeling ... with passion ... without judgement. Without judgement! Because it's judgement that defeats us!'
'Troops without judgement, sir?' Kleinvarken watches the von Schnitzelhund irregulars as they rout away rapidly. 'Well, Bachscuttel seems to have plenty of those.'

On the other flank, trumpets can be heard blowing. Four regiments of Vulgarian cavalry began to canter forwards. Through his telescope, Barry-Eylund sees the movement of the enemy horse and snorts loudly:
'Pah! There's no possible way that they can get themselves over that stream and onto our flank!'

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


Death sits on a small hillock, watching the armies of Vulgaria and Bachscuttel as they deploy. His mood is good - this battle will take place on one of the few flat areas in this dark and treacherous country, and Death generally is an unenthusiastic hill walker. His ability to bend time means that technically he can without moving be everywhere at every instant. In consequence, however, his cardio-vascular fitness probably isn't what it ought to be. And also, of course, he has no lungs.

Fighting the Vulgarians upon the plains of Leipflute is not general Barry-Eylund's first choice. His first choice, of course, would have been to have been back in the tender embraces of his winsome mistress, the English actress Henrietta Mellons. But since Leipflute is at least very, very far away from his wife, it is a reasonable second, even if the word 'plain' is a constant reminder of her. Still, having out-scouted his Vulgarian opponent, Barry-Eylund has set about choosing the best place for a fight. The best place to fight Vulgarians usually would be a tavern, once the Vulgarians have drunk themselves to sleep on their national drink, pish. But this is impractical given the numbers involved. Though the battle has occurred upon a plain, Barry-Eylund had been in command of an army long enough that he is well able to marshal random vegetation to his cause. (Below, to the right) In general terms, the Bachscuttel army is positioned so that its right is covered by the loop of a small stream. To the left there is a wood, which Barry-Eylund occupies with his two regiments of irregular infantry. To the front of the Palatinate's position is another small wood and a marsh that hopefully will serve to break up any assaulting Vulgarian battle line.

(Above, left) General Hertz van Rentall has deployed the Vulgarian army across a wider front. In the centre, his infantry is arrayed in a single line, interspersed in the middle by his three batteries of artillery. On his left flank he places all four regiments of his regular cavalry. On his right (at the bottom of the picture) he places his uncouth Vulgarian irregulars: two regiments of hussars and two of infantry. Having only just begun the process of establishing a national Vulgarian army again, much of Rentall's army is made up currently of mercenaries from various parts of Europe (mostly the rude parts). The native Vulgarian contingent is limited at this stage to two regiments of infantry and Eugene's own mounted Garde du Corps, Colonel von Ruthven's Osterberg Cuirassiers. Rentall does at least have the support of two European military notables. The Vulgarian artillery is commanded by one Cameron von Muller, an exiled Scottish catholic ennobled in Munster. Von Muller was wooed into Vulgarian service by the prospects of adventure and the surprisingly comprehensive medical plan. His sojourn with the new Vulgarian army has not been an entirely happy one. The logistic support for his artillery train is poor; and no one seems to take as seriously as they should his health and safety briefings: cannons are dangerous things, you know; and they could have your eye out or injure a small child. Also in Vulgarian service is the Florentine mercenary Giovanni di Tripodi. Tripodi hates horses; and also saddles, riding, cavalrymen, and sugar lumps. Indeed, as a cavalry commander, Tripodi would be about as useful as a device for inflating sheep. Naturally, therefore, he commands the Vulgarian cavalry. Of rather less help is one Baron Tostov. Tostov is a well-connected nobleman who fancies himself as a general officer. He has accompanied the Vulgarian army, and is now amusing himself by riding across the front of the Vulgarian troops making mocking references to their adversaries. Rentall would send him home, for Tostov is a loose cannon (of which there are otherwise very few in the Vulgarian forces, thanks to von Muller's efficient grasp of health and safety considerations). However, in addition to his royal connections, Tostov is wildly popular with the Vulgarian rank-and-file. The baron seems to embody all the qualities that Vulgarian peasants prize - impetuosity; rudeness; and an ability to play the national anthem by breaking wind.

(Below) Rentall has contemplated long and hard the strengths and weaknesses of his forces. His infantry has at its core a regiment of Foot Garde du Corps. Splendidly drilled, loyal, fragrant; these troops of course, aren't Vulgarian. The remainder of his infantry are a mixed bag; if, that is, one's bag was mixed full of really quite disappointing things. Having witnessed them during their training at Schloss Feratu, Rentall can vouch for the reliability of his infantry force: no force in Mittleheim is reliably as bad. By the application of some drill and a much larger quantity of beatings, the Vulgarian infantry has been pushed into a battle line. Cognisant of their skills, Rentall has for the coming battle allocated his infantry the key role of catching cannonballs until they are dead. The only movements in this line are likely to take place in the infantry's own britches. Instead, van Rentall plans first to advance his irregulars, using them to draw out the Bachscuttel reserves. Then, on his left the regular cavalry will advance and attack the other flank of Barry-Eylund's forces.

Through his telescope, Van Rentall contemplates the dispositions of his Bachscuttel adversary. The Bachscuttel deployment has brought forth from their antagonists the usual round of tutts, catcalls, salty oaths, and even saltier hand gestures. Not for nothing has Barry-Eylund become known widely as 'The Turtle King' and 'The Mole of Mittelheim.' (Below) Confident in the relative quality of his infantry, Barry-Eylund deploys four infantry regiments forward, supported by his artillery. On either side of the road stand the guard regiments (the Milchfrau Lieb Garde are in red), each flanked by an elite quality regiment. Realising that the Vulgarians likely will try and use their advantages in cavalry to flank his positions, the general places on each side a regiment in a reverse oblique, ready to turn as required. Trying to maximise his flexibility, the general then places in column his remaining two regiments of infantry and all three of his cavalry units. With his right covered by the stream, he has covered his left by placing his two units of light troops in the woods.

Barry-Eylund is looking through his telescope. 'Who in God's name is that loony; and what is he up to?' he murmurs. The general focuses in on the distant figure of Baron Tostov.
'What's that fellow doing, sir?' asks Major Bohner, his aide, squinting.
Barry-Eylund focuses his telescope. 'Well, Bohner, he seems to be addressing the Vulgarian army; no ... he's turned and is now making some rude gestures at us ... oh, no hang on; he's now fiddling with his britches, and he's now got something in his hand; let me see, it's ....' the general suddenly snaps his telescope shut.
'It's what, my lord?' asks Bohner.
The general sighs. 'Never mind, major; but let me put it this way - he's unlikely to be able to reach us with it from over there.'
Suddenly, billowing white smoke erupts from the Vulgarian line, followed by the whistling of cannon balls: the game is afoot!

(Right) Continuing a surprising trend in recent battles in Mittelheim, the fight begins in earnest with, of all things, an artillery bombardment by the Vulgarians of the Bachscuttel line. Under the skilled eye of Captain of Artillery von Muller, the cannonade causes some concern in the Milchfrau Lieb Garde. As the Vulgarian cannons belch fire, Tostov rides along the front of the Vulagrian host.
'Yaaaaaaaah! Yaaaaaaah!' he shouts in defiance of the enemy army assembled across the plain. At one end he turns, waving his sword frantically. The Vulgarian troops roar with approval. 'Yaaaaaaaah! Yaaaaaaaaah!' shouts Tostov, heaping upon Barry-Eylund's army imprecations of an inventively risque nature. Riding back to the middle of the army and pausing in front of the cannons, the Baron stands in the saddle and bellows to the troops assembled in front of him:
'Forth and fear no darkness!' shouts Tostov. 'Arise, arise soldiers of Vulgaria. Spears shall be shaken! Shields shall be splintered! Other things shall be wiggled at the enemy in a manner likely to cause them consternation! A sword day! A red day! A Wednesday! Ere the sun rises! Ride now! Ride! Ride to ruin and the world's ending! Death! Death! Drink! Girls! Feck!'
Again the cannons thunder. At this point, is becomes clear, as Tostov doubtless would have known if he had attended one of Muller's health and safety briefings, that standing in front of three batteries of artillery when they fire is strictly for those who believe themselves to be very lucky or very, very thin. Tostov, alas, is neither. The baron disappears in the great billowing smoke. The Vulgarian army's cheering suddenly ends. There is a moment of quiet. The smoke dissipates slowly, revealing the remains of four horses hooves on the grass. Death peers down at Tostov's remains. Contemplating the odds and ends in front of him he places his scythe carefully to one side. He then rummages in his pockets for a moment before pulling out a small spoon.

Rentall's second-in-command, Captain of Infantry Duke Walter von Neucheim, looks at the general.
Rentall says something in Dutch which Neucheim can't understand but which, given the look on the general's face, is probably not something that he would have said in front of his mother. Rentall then shakes his head.
Before them, the Vulgarian ranks clearly are dismayed by the death of their hero!
Rentall curses again: 'Now da tulipsh have really hit da wafflesh. Da morale of our troopsh ish dented already!'
Duke Neucheim pauses for a moment and then says determinedly: 'General - I have a plan.'
Rentall frowns: 'Ish it a good plan? 
The Duke looks like he wants to lie, but then shrugs resignedly: 'No my lord, not really.'
'Becaush if itsh not a good plan...,' continues Rentall.
Neucheim points. 'My lord, look at our infantry - they are already beaten.'
Rentall looks across his battle line. It is true. With the death of their hero Tostov, the Vulgarian infantry's morale has drooped lower than Princess Caroline of Bachscuttel's bust after she has been cut out of her corset.
Rentall thinks for a moment and then nods. 'Neucheim, do what you can.' 
Accompanied by some staff officers, the Duke rides to Tostov's remains. He looks down from his horse and then mops his brow with his kerchief. 'Captain,' he says.
'Yes sir?' replies a subaltern.
'We're going to need some boxes,' says the Duke.
'Yes sir.'
'And a shovel,' says Neucheim.
'Right sir.'
'And ...,' says the Duke, peering a little closer at the ground, 'another shovel.'
'Right sir.'

In the meantime, the Vulgarian artillery continues to fire. For the Milchfrau Lieb Garde, the cannonade proves to be a rather stern education: certainly an education more rigorous than the university learning possessed notionally by many of the regiment's officers. A little Latin and Greek, leavened with a rather broader selection from the under-graduate smorgasbord of lie-ins, wine, late night essay writing, kicking the poverty-stricken, and libidinous contortions with ladies paid by the quarter hour may qualify one for a plum job in the army of Bachscuttel, but it is not especially relevant to surviving an artillery bombardment. Casualties quickly begin to mount. Troops begin to shed their limbs; lips begin to wobble; chins begin to drop and then fall off as the heads that they are attached to are re-positioned elsewhere on the battlefield by the passage of artillery balls. Whilst cursing sergeants with hard use of swords and spontoons force shut the gaps in the line, several officers begin to remember urgent appointments elsewhere. Many begin to remember that, whilst fleeing battle might subject them to lifetime of ridicule, shame and dishonour, so does a commission in one of the armies of Mittelheim, so it might be possible to live with it. To their right, however, the Tchokolet-Feyer Garde seem immune to the maelstrom. Ignoring the storm of shot, they remain in perfect order, ramrod straight; held there by their discipline and also, of course, the ramrods shoved up their backs. As Barry-Eylund tries frantically to rally his sagging line, this would, of course, be the opportune moment for a Vulgarian assault.

Giovanni di Tripodi gallops up to Rentall. 'My lord, when will our flanking forces be sent forwards?'
Rentall sighs. 'We have a problem with da Baron.' He points towards Duke Neucheim.
Neucheim is addressing the Vulgarian infantry.
'Men - your brave Baron has been sorely wounded!'
'He was blown apart by our own cannon fire!' wails a soldier.
'He was indeed quite shaken up by his injury,' shouts the Duke.
'He was blown into a thousand pieces by the near simultaneous impact of seven twelve-pound cannon balls!' shouts another musketeer.
The Duke nods, 'It is true, men, that the Baron has been made somewhat deficient in limbs and other sundry appendages - but he is even now being treated and will return soon to battle - do not fear!'
'Somewhat deficient?' shouts a musketeer with a better vocabulary than most. 'Somewhat deficient? Our poor baron is like a porky human billiard cue!'
'How is he being treated?' shouts another soldier suspiciously. 'How will you get his legs and things back on?'
'Well,' says the Duke, for a moment non-plussed. 'I expect ... I expect that the doctor will use bandages ...and ...leeches, probably lots of leeches.'
'Leeches?' the soldiers murmur, impressed. 'Well, if they're using leeches there just might be chance! Hurrah!'

Neucheim has Tostov's remains whisked off to his tent for some first aid. As the Vulgarian infantry watch on in morose silence, a line of skilled professionals are called into the tent to deal with the Baron's wounds: a physician; a barber; a tailor; a blacksmith; and then a small detachment of pioneers. Above the noise of the cannonade, the sounds emanate from the tent of hammering and sawing, interspersed by such medical jargon as: 'you pull it out straight and I'll give it a good hammering;' and 'Dammit, where's the pickaxe?'
Rentall hurrumphs disagreeably. Time is passing and he has yet to be able to put into action the next key part of his plan.
Finally, as von Muller's cannonade halts, Neucheim leads out into the morning sunshine the newly recovered Baron Tostov.
Rentall blanches. 'Watsh dis? Da men will never believe dat dis is da Baron!'
Neucheim looks at his handiwork. 'I think we've done a fair job - like El Cid of old, the Baron will live again in the minds of our soldiers and lead them to a crushing victory!'
'But, but,' splutters Rentall. 'Hish head - da Baron's head: it wash shertainly not made of wood; nor did it have da word "flour" written on itsh shide!'

'This might sting a little.'

'We had to work with what we had,' says Neucheim.
'And look,' moans van Rentall, 'one of hish fingersh have fallen off!'
'Not a finger, my lord,' says the Duke discretely pocketing the fallen digit. 'A sausage.'
'He's made of food?' asks Tripodi.
The Duke nods: 'I think you'll be very surprised with what we've managed to do with the aubergines.'
Rentall points at the Baron's feet - 'And da wheelsh?'
The Duke nods: 'We had to make some pragmatic decisions. I think the new Baron looks rather healthier than the original. And he's certainly a better conversationalist.'
'He shpeaks?' asks Rentall.
'Ask him something,' replies the Duke.
Tripodi chips in. 'Baron Tostov - how then do you suggest that we employ our forces to clear the enemy irregulars from the wood to our right?
A voice, entirely unstrangely reminiscent of what Duke Neucheim's voice would sound like if he were a fourth rate Grimsby ventriloquist pipes up in reply: 'A gottle of geer!'
Rentall slumps in his saddle, head in hands as Neucheim wheels Baron Tostov off to the assembled Vulgarian army.
'They'll never fall for it.' says Tripodi, shaking his head sadly. 'The troops will never fall for it. Only a moron would fall for it. No, I am incorrect! A mere moron would see right through it! Only a moron who had quaffed four strong gallons of absinthe and who had, as a consequence, gone completely blind and so mad that he had come to think that he was middle-aged penguin from Liepzig; and who then had gone to what he thought was a barber but had actually turned out to be a physician; and who then, by a freak misunderstanding, instead of having 'a little taken off the top' was trepanned a dozen times; and who was then beaten repeatedly about the head with a moderately sized haddock wrapped around a two-handed mallet - only that sort of moron would fall for it!' 
'Hurrah!' roar the Vulgarian soldiery, their morale returning. 'Our Baron is alive! Three cheers for Tostov! Death to Bachscuttel! Advance! Advance!'
'A gottle of geer!' shouts the Baron in encouragement, 'A gottle of geer!'
Rentall shrugs phlegmatically. 'Shurprishing, yesh: but it will do. Lord Tripodi, order forwardsh our firsht asshault!'

As the Vulgarian right wing begins to swing into action, a tall fellow in a black cloak is crouching over the place where Tostov expired so dramatically. Death snorts with annoyance and moves some more pieces around on the grass. It had started well in the corners, but now there seem to be some pieces missing.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Boss, the Plain!

Meanwhile, the forces of Bachscuttel march, stride, walk, limp and wade into Vulgaria.  The initial sense of elation felt by the common soldiery at having left the confines and the aroma of Bachscuttel and Gelderland begins to fade. First comes the unwelcome encounter with the River Strudel: splashing from their boats the soldiers look around around suspiciously, wary in case of the unwelcome arrival of some soap. Now, marching across the river plain, the men realise just how big is the sky in this foreign, foreboding land.  The unending treeless plains, extending for almost two miles, begin to exert their magnetic hold over the limited imaginations of the Bachscuttel army. They seem to be marching, like the proud phalangites of ancient Alexander, to the ends of the known world, which for most of the Bachscuttel army began around two hundred yards from their local tavern. Proud infantrymen, for the first time in their lives, begin to regret their career choice: perhaps having a horse to ride and a silly hat to wear wouldn’t be so stupid after all…

         As the Bachscuttel army toils across open, empty plains, Voivode Dimitri of Vulgaria calls a council of war.  It has to be said that it is not so much a council of war as a conversation of war, the meeting consisting solely of the Voivode and his wily Dutch commander, Hertz van Rentall.  The Dutchman has a rugged and ruddy visage, some say from an over-fondness for jenever, and he has served in almost every army across Europe.  He even once reached the lofty rank of major in Spanish service before having to flee the country due to a misunderstanding in a tavern about a pair of jugs.  Yet still his wanderings across the continent have given him experience, an eye for ground, and occasional painful discharges other than his military ones.
A View Over The Planes of Vulgaria
The Voivode and van Rentall contemplate the current state of the Vulgarian army.  The forces have indeed been hastily cobbled together.  Were the forces a shoe, it would be lacking a sole, a tongue and perhaps a couple of eyelets. Its main strength lies in cavalry – ideal for galloping across the open lands near the river. There is the Garde du Corps of von Ruthven's Osterberg Cuirassiers, and three stout and well-trained regiments of regular cavalry. As a living embodiment of Vulgaria’s continuing feudalism, the force also contains two bodies of irregular cavalry.  Yet while the Vulgarians are strong in the arme blanche, their force of four ill-trained infantry regiments, and one more of Foot Guards, can be no match for the formidable Bachscuttel Guards Regiments.  Not only that, but the Vulgarian infantry cut an ill figure: they are still armed, equipped and uniformed with the accouterments of a past age.  The Vulgarians had salvaged much from the armies of the Great Northern War a generation ago and have kept to those ancient fashions – hardly suitable for modern campaigning. 
Nonetheless, the fiery young Prince Dimitri is confident, ‘Ah, van Rentall!   We shall attack the filthy Bachscuttels on our beloved plains of Vulgaria!  On our wide open flats, their doom shall be struck!  They can have no answer to our well-mounted cavalry and the fierce feudal loyalty of our men!  We can ride only to Victory!  Onwards!’  Even van Rentall, the wily old soldier is caught up in this enthusiasm as he knows that if the Bachscuttel force can be halted , the two to one Vulgarian advantage in cavalry might enable them to encircle and then destroy their foe!

And so, as the two armies march across the plains, ever in search of the other, it comes to pass that one day scouts from both forces eventually spot each other.  Yet as the armies come inexorably closer to one another, it is Graf Barry-Eyland's skill and experience as a ‘Great Captain’ which begins to tell…  Even with a far greater preponderance of cavalry, in the cat and mouse game of manoeuvring which follows, the Vulgarians are unable to prevent Barry-Eyland from seizing the initiative and immediately throwing his army onto the defensive.
Using all of his guile, Barry-Eyland finds and exploits the only terrain features for miles.  He sees a small wood and an insignificant stream close by and immediately sees his chance.  He calls his aides together and declares his intentions: ‘Aha!  I’ve been waiting for a stream and a wood to appear somewhere as we crossed these barren, featureless plains!  Now you will see how a General of Bachscuttel can defend a position!  Deploy our force with our right flank on that loop in the stream over there and put the irregulars into the wood to protect the left flank.  Then we can form up between those obstacles and form an impenetrable defence!’
'But, Sir,' cry his aides, 'we are in the midst of an unending plain; a plain so open I have never seen the like before.  Even if we do form up, won’t the Vulgarian cavalry simply slip round our flanks and endanger our rear?  Could we not manoeuvre, just for a change?  Could we not use these plains to our advantage?  Could we not order our stout infantry – the best in all Mittelheim - to advance and punch a hole straight through the scanty Vulgarian lines?  Could we not win … a great victory?'
But Barry-Eylund is adamant:
‘I won’t hear of it!  I didn’t build this army up man by man just to throw it all away in a reckless attack!  No, we must sit behind this stream and dig like men!  Where are those gabions?  We need more gabions in front of the guns….’
‘But sir, there isn’t a stick of willow within two hundred miles of here and the gunners are finding it difficult to fashion gabions out of grass and this light friable soil….’
‘Do you think I care!  Make more gabions!  We can’t even think of manoeuvring our guns – the enemy is bound to come straight towards us!  Our defence must be impenetrable!’

Thursday, 17 November 2016


And so, the Dirty Ears War continues. The Vulgarians, having thrown off their shackles, and quite a lot of their clothes, have been liberated from the tyranny of Roldovan rule. Thanks, however, to the dictates of the ancient alliance commitment that is the Spasmodic Sanction, Vulgaria now faces an array of some of the most potent military powers this side of Lower Lichtenstein. For various reasons, all of which relate to their own skins and the saving of them, the Vulgarians have received the support of the Empire of Grand Fenwick and the Landgravate of Hesse-Rotenburg-Schillingsfurst. It is at about this time in the war that Voivode Prince Dimitri of Vulgaria is the recipient of a bit of bad news ...

'Invasion?  Invasion!' cries Prince Dimitri Eugen von Feratu und Osterberg slapping the table with his hand and causing all those assembled in his council chamber to start suddenly. There is a moment of silence before the Prince barks out: 'Keep going, I'm a little tight in my shoulders.'
The assembled courtiers look on sullenly as, behind the throne, the Prince's new Principal Councillor helps him relax with a vigorous massage.
The new Principal Councillor is one Ranald Drumpf - one time under-jailer in the dungeons of Schloss Feratu, and now, due to a shared delight in playing painful practical jokes on ordinary folk, the best of friends with the new Voivode.
Drumpf is perhaps the power behind the throne - literally so, as Drumpf, standing on a stool behind the throne, kneads powerfully the Prince's shoulders.
'Ooooh, yes: just like that,' says Prince Dimitri. 'Now,' he says, 'in this time of war it is doubly important that we should, in addition to giving close scrutiny to issues of war, consider also the welfare of the ordinary folk of my realm.'
'Really, my lord?' asks Count Armin von Loon, the Voivode’s rather nervous Majordomo.
'No, of course not,' admonishes the Prince. 'Now find that court midget - I want to hit him with my hat.'

 All is not well in Schloss Feratu. Whilst the military mobilisation of the Voivodate has been progressing well in the capable hands of Colonel (now promoted General) Herz van Rentall, Vulgaria's new ruler continues to confront some tricky problems of strategy and policy.
'Von Loon - I can't do my britches up. I just find can't the buttons. This just won't do!'
Von Loon bows solicitously. 'My lord, I think you have them the wrong way up - I think that your legs go through the big hole at the top.'
The Prince throws up his hands in exasperation. 'This is ridiculous: I am having a royal trouser crisis, and no one seems to be paying enough attention! What's the matter with you all!'
'Well, sir', says General van Rentall, 'der is da matter of da Bachshcuttel infasion.'
'Invasion? Invasion!' says the Prince, slapping the table once again.
'Indeed, sir,' says Loon, 'a messenger reported that the Bachscuttel Army has already crossed the border and has formally invaded the sacred soil of Vulgaria.’
Drumpf whispers something to Dimitri, who then says: ‘What do you mean, “The Bachscuttel Army has already crossed the border and has formally invaded the sacred soil of Vulgaria!”’
Lord Konstantin von Kutchenzink, Keeper of the Privy Privy, shrugs: 'I suppose, my lord, that it might indicate that an army, probably from Bachscuttel, has formally invaded the sacred soil of Vulgaria by crossing the border.'
'How do we know?' cries the Prince, 'What is the source of this intelligence?'
'It's the hat isn't it - is it too much?'
Loon hesitates before answering:  ‘Erm…well your Excellency, your Voivodeness. The news is from a border guard. Very observant; very keen on using his initiative. I’m afraid this border guard has been quite explicit.   He saw the Bachscuttel army in full array cross the River Strudel yesterday morning and he has ridden all day and night to tell the news to you directly, as you ordered.'
'I did?' replies Dimitri, 'Well, excellent, have the man rewarded. Observant men with initiative are useful, they are ...,' Drumpf whispers something in his ears, 'dangerous and should be executed immediately.'
‘Your Excellency,' protests von Loon, 'that would be a tad unfair!’
Dimitri nods - 'You are right, my dear Loon,' says the Prince: 'have him beheaded instead. You heard me!  Have that incredibly loyal, energetic and patriotic border guard executed immediately. Displays of initiative? How long do you think I shall keep my throne if I allow people to exercise initiative?'
‘But your Excellency, haven’t you heard the phrase, ‘Don’t kill the messenger’?  Von Loon says, hopefully.
‘Of course I have, von Loon, and it’s nonsensical.' Drumpf whispers again in the Prince's ear. Dimitri then continues, 'He must die; for not only must we keep the news of this unwarranted invasion secret – we don’t want to start a panic, now do we? – but we must keep our response and our preparations, secret from any Bachscuttel spies, now mustn’t we?  They mustn’t know that we know!  Now execute the man before I change my mind and burden our faithful executioner with your demise as well!’
And so another loyal, yet nameless, servant of Vulgaria meets his end.
Kutchenzink steps forward. 'So, and just to clarify this my Prince, our policy is that anyone who knows about this war must be put to death.'
Drumpf whispers something into Dimitri's ear.
'Yes, von Loon' nods Dimitri, 'that is our policy.'
Kutchenzink nods, and then calls a messenger. After reassuring him that he will not be shot, he sends him to instruct the Royal Executioner to prepare for quite a lot of overtime.

Drumpf whispers in Dimitri's ear again. The Prince stands and begins haranguing his court.
Anyway, ' says the Prince, 'The unwanted arrival of the army of Bachscuttel into our country merely reinforces again the fact that immigrants are the key problem!'
Kutchenzink frowns - 'But, my lord, technically, aren't you are an immigrant to this country?'
'Yes,' replies Dimitri, 'but I mean, you know, other immigrants. Coming here, stealing our stuff ... cleaning up ... when we don't want them to.'
Drumpf leans forward and mumbles something to Voivode Dimitri.
Von Loon looks at Drumpf: 'Is that a wig he's wearing?' he says to Kuchenzink.
Lord Kuchenzink stares at Drumpf: 'It must be a wig.'
'Are you sure,' says Loon, 'it looks like a cat.'
Kuchenzink shakes his head. 'No, no: I'm sure he is a little rough around the edges, but not so strange that he would wear a feline on his head.'
Drumpf continues his whispering into the Voivode's ear. 'We need a wall,' says Prince Dimitri. 'Oh, yes, and it's going to be beautiful. A great big wall. And we're going to make the Palatinate pay for it.' Behind him, Drumpf reaches up, and feeds a pilchard to his wig, which starts purring.
Von Loon looks at Kuchenzink and raises an eyebrow.
Kutchenzink raises his voice: 'But these plans are silly, my lord - they are just the utterings of that bone-headed badger Drumpf!'
'Now, now,' says Dimitri, 'don't shoot the massager.'
Suddenly, ceremonial trumpets emit a noise reminiscent of sad, wailing flatulence - the midget has arrived.
'Excellent!' says Prince Dimitri, getting his tricorne ready. 'Watch and learn, everybody - this is the very cutting edge of Enlightment kingship.'
As the little midget  trots forwards between the assembled courtiers, von Loon says to him in a low voice: 'Do us all a favour, my fine lad - let him win this time.'

Monday, 31 October 2016


As the citizens of Mittelheim endure once again the dire vicissitudes of war, a fearful new threat is about to hove into view.

From their moorings in the pirate towns of North Africa comes a squadron of the feared pirates of the Burberry Coast. Their leader is the famed corsair  Amir Rhodri Pasha; known to some because of his constant alertness as 'Amir Kat;' and to others, because of his almost magical ability to survive injury, as 'Amir Fleshwound.' This Burberry Amir actually began his life as one Rhodri Barrabrith of Borth in Wales. After years spent in New Mittelheim fashioning the Welsh colony of Nova Cambria, Barrabrith was unlucky enough to be aboard a small merchant vessel, the Felinfoel, when it was captured by a Burberry vessel off Madeira two years ago .

Barrabrith was nervous, having heard tales of the application by the pirates of the most innovative forms of torture in order to encourage their captives to 'turn Turk' and renounce their faith. Barrabrith held out perfectly well whilst he was asleep, but then gave in when his captors woke him and gave him a particularly threatening: 'Good morning, fellow -  would you like some breakfast?' Keen to impress his new captors, Barrabrith also briefly embraced Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism just so that he could renounce them as well and become Muslim more often. Being then a free man, Barrabrith volunteered to crew one of the many pirate ships, attracted by a life that offered freedom, adventure, and a legitimate opportunity to drink his own urine. Now in command of his own small squadron of ships, the Welsh Amir has led them northwards on a voyage of fighting, plunder, and lavish facial hair with the aim of sacking 'the Constantinople of the North,' the English town of Grimsby.

Sadly for Amir Rhodri, the voyage thus far has produced slim pickings. They landed for a short while in Iceland, but were driven off in some disorder by the local cuisine. One key lesson for the inexperienced pirates seemed to that the phrase 'it's an acquired taste' should actually be taken as some kind of death threat. To be fair, as the Amir himself accepted, if one found a shark lying around on a beach then one would probably bury it. But what seemed less explicable was why one would dig up again later and try and eat it. Perhaps the locals hated their noses, Amir Rodri had mused. Or perhaps it might have been a desire to try and end it all, perhaps as a result of depression occasioned by the grim, dark, freezing environment in which the local population existed. But then again, if ghastly surroundings led one to eat decomposing aquatic predators, they'd be gobbling sharks down by the shovel-full in Grimsby. Indeed, Grimsby itself they didn't bother landing at. A quick look through his telescope told the Amir that it had probably already been sacked, burnt, ploughed with salt, burnt, and then piddled on. Whatever remained was a gloomy, benighted land suitable for living in only if one could build oneself some kind of black tower, command evil minions, and manufacture magical jewelry.

Finally, after a voyage duller than a Trappist singalong, fate has brought the Burberry pirates to the coasts of Mittelheim. Amir Rhodri stands on the upper deck of his  vessel. With the prospect of land-fall and some proper raiding, his spirits are restored. He turns to his second-in-command, Kujuk Huseyin:
'Rejoice, Huseyin! For here we are, prowling this freezing ocean for  infidels like a pair of sharks!'
Huseyin nods miserably. 'There aren't really any dangerous sharks in the Baltic, Dread Lord.'
'Really?' says the Amir. 'Well, then we are a pair of dangerous whales, waiting to tear apart any infidel prey that dares to cross our path!'
'Hmm, no, my Lord,' replies Huseyin, 'the whales in this sea don't really have any teeth.'
The Amir frowns. 'Well how do they eat things, then?'
Huseyin shrugs. 'I think that they sort of ... suck things in. They have huge mouths.'
'They suck things to death?' says the Amir, eyeing the surrounding water with trepidation. 'Harsh.'

'Land ho!' comes a voice from the front of the ship.
Excitedly, the Amir squints through the murky gloom of the morning towards a smear of land on the horizon.
Huseyin consults a chart. 'Mittelheim, my Lord. Notionally, these lands are said to be at war.'
'Notionally?' asks the Amir.
'Yes Dread Lord - apparently they are either at war, or the lands have been overrun by some particularly unconvincing travelling circuses.'
Amir Rhodri frowns: 'How will we know?'
'If it's war then the costumes will be sillier. Apparently we are now approaching the coast of a place called "Rotenburg".'
'How bad is it'?
'Apparently, my Lord, it's an acquired taste.'
The Amir sighs. 'So it's really that bad, then.'

Friday, 14 October 2016

Wimintzhauer, the Final!

Accompanied by Captain von Stumpe (who, as usual, is camouflaged in his hussar uniform of inconspicuous bright yellow and blue), Burgrave Falco and General von Rumpfler advance towards the fighting (below). By placing himself between his infantry and cavalry, Rumpfler eases his command and control problems a tad. However, a significant difficulty with his sequential parallel plan begins to emerge. With his musketeers engaged in a punishing exchange of fire with their Imperial adversaries, they soon seem to need rallying. However, Rumpfler quickly determines that if he rallies his infantry, he cannot order forwards, or rally, his cavalry, the latter of course being crucial to his intent to turn the Fenwickian flank. Thrust painfully upon the horns of this dilemma, the general wiggles ineffectually for a while before concluding that, with losses in his infantry mounting faster than King Wilhelm in a two-for-one bordello, rallying the foot must take priority.

The general rides to his infantry. Ignoring the nearby regiment of red-coated Nabstrian mercenaries, whose painful death, of course, would for Nabstria merely constitute prudent long-term financial planning, Rumpfler seeks to inspire his musketeers with another of his famous speeches. Above the crash of gunfire and the roar of soldiers' voices, he shouts: 'Men! Rally to your colours! Reform your ranks! Some scoundrels have said that the Nabstrian army is the least successful army in Mittelheim, with a poor record in both attack and defence. I say to those scoundrels: statistically, this is probably correct. But the key point, men, is - it has never been my fault!' Rumpfler's troops seem surprisingly uninspired by these words. As the infantry duel continues, the Nabstrian infantry line begins to buckle as catastrophically as  Princess Caroline of Bachscuttel's corset after a heavy sneeze. Nevertheless, despite the problems faced by his infantry, Rumpfler decides to take a risk and refocus his energies on his cavalry attack.

Ceasing to rally his infantry, Rumpfler once again orders forward his right wing cavalry  in an attempt to break the Fenwickian flank. 'Forward again?' asks the Comte de Finay. The messenger nods gravely - 'General von Rumpfler says that we must make a point to the enemy.'
'Hmmm,' says the Comte, 'Is the point that we're idiots?' With a sigh, he orders the trumpets to sound the charge. Given the  importance of the ensuing encounter for the outcome of the battle, it is worth quoting, for accuracy's sake, the account of the combat contained within the Nabstrian Official History:

'And so, the trumpets sounded the charge and the great mass of Nabstrian horse thundered forwards. And lo! leading them was Alain, Comte de Finay: great was his wrath and he had a fell hand and doom was written upon his brow. And his adjutant cried: 'My Lord, why have you got "doom" written upon your brow?' And the Comte replied, 'For I am wrath.' And his adjutant replied, 'Then, my lord, I should advise writing "wrath" upon your brow because "doom" has two 'o's; and what you have written upon your brow means something rather different.' And the Comte was doubly wrathful, and invited his adjutant to take an unlikely anatomical excursion with a spoon; and he ordered the horsemen of Nabstria once more unto the attack.'

'And so, the horsemen of both sides fell upon one another again. And there was a great shout; and the men of Nabstria set about those of Fenwick, and their eyes were fierce and their swords sharp and their riding predictably mediocre. And there was a great shivering of swords upon swords; and dire blows were struck; and painful wedgies administered. (Below) But the Nabstrian host was well nigh overrun; and they were sorely bested and were driven back; many flying, and some going hither and thither; and others whither and zither.'

'But the Comte rallied them with brave words and loud threats of sharp implements applied to wrinckly sacks; and the Nabstrian horsemen gathered about again; and seeing the enemy banner ahead with few men about it and being filled with dudgeon and having their blood pressure raised dangerously, they drew once again their swords and it was like glittering of stars; and their shouts were like the bleating of many very annoyed sheep. Then, the Comte de Finay's anger burned hot again and he was filled with red wrath and he cried aloud 'Verily, I am really wrathful; let us fall upon these  fellows and give them a smiting'. And his men cried 'A smiting! Yeah, verily, foresooth and whatever! Let us give it to them!' And they came against the horsemen of Fenwick with a great press of men. Great was the clash, and loud the moaning about it really hurting, but more skilled and bitter were the Nabstrians and they clove through the Fenwickians like King Wilhelm en route to a free buffet. (Below) And the Comte broke through the press and threw down the enemy chieftain who cried 'Ow! Ow! Stop smiting me, sir!'and he hewed the enemy banner-bearer and seized their standard and all that was left of the enemy company turned and fled.'

'But lo, suddenly the sky dimmed and the dark turned about and it looked like it might rain; and the Nabstrian cavalrymen, worried about their wigs going frizzy, fell back. But the second body of Fenwick's horsemen, fearing not the darkness, were emboldened. And, unusually for this battle, receiving an order from headquarters, they swept forward against their enemy. And there was a great smiting and soiling of undergarments and falling off of horses; and no quarter was asked or given because neither side was good with fractions. And the Nabstrians, being sorely knackered by their previous fight, were dismayed at the ferocity of the enemy's onset and they were greatly afraid and so also greatly worked over; and they did a runner. And the Comte cried aloud: 'For Christ's sake, not again! Come back you lazy bastards!' But it was to no avail. And General Rumpfler, hearing of these events, was not rightly pleased and uttered very many naughty words.'

With the defeat of his cavalry assault, Rumpfler's attack is over. Having risked all on the cavalry breakthrough, his infantry have not had the benefit of his rallying efforts. The Nabstrian line is raked by musketry and pulverised by cannon, tearing off legs, knees, and feet reducing both the morale and the average height of the infantry. Rumpfler's vain attempt, too late, to rally his infantry raises neither their spirits nor their stature. (Above) The entire Nabstrian front line is broken by Imperial fire. (Below) Burgrave Falco surveys the shattered remains of the Nabstrian army.
'Well,' he says to Rumpfler, 'That fell apart quickly. My dear general, I think, once we have returned to the capital, that we should have a conversation.'
Rumpfler nods wearily. Whatever is in store for him, it is a fair guess that it is unlikely to be a promotion and a commemorative tankard.

Meanwhile, aside from the single 'charge' order issued to the cavalry, the Imperial headquarters has remained royally inactive. The Fenwickian staff indeed has been rendered insensible once again thanks to the wearing Fenwickian sensitivity to double entendre. Nitzwitz, intending to point out that the small copse that divides the Fenwickian line might provide the perfect avenue for a counter-attack on the exposed Nabstrian left has tried to outline this to his compatriots. Sadly, the Captain, who really should have known better, got no further than commenting that: 'Since the wood is already in our hands' before the Fenwickian staff have 'fnarred' themselves into a swoon.
As the fighting dies down, Marshal Cavandish passes wind loudly and wakes himself with a start.
'Grenadiers forward!', he blurts out in a daze: 'Rabbit onesies on!' His eyes snap into focus, aware now of the stares of his staff officers.
'Excellent,' he says, 'My plan has been a famous success.' He turns to his horse, Keith. 'Now what was it?'

Monday, 3 October 2016

Wimintzhauer, the Second!

General Rumpfler looks out across the battlefield. He turns to his aide-de-camp, Captain Hugo von Stumpe. 'Von Stumpe,' says the general, twirling his moustache, 'you know what it's like to have that satisfying feeling that comes from inflicting on the enemies of Nabstria an absolutely crushing defeat; the joy of seeing a well-executed plan grind one's opponent into the dust?'
'Yes, sir?', replies von Stumpe.
'Well', says Rumpfler, 'I don't.'
From his vantage point Rumpfler surveys the field of combat. It is choked with dead, most of which, sadly, seem to be in the familiar blue uniform of the Nabstrian army. The dead are food now for the carrion birds that cluster thickly across the open meadow. Some birds nip suspiciously at the corpses, most gagging at the revolting taste of Mittelheimer; others circle the field warily, searching in vain for some kind of condiment that will render palatable the dead Nabstrians.
'How could we have failed,' wails Rumpfler,' for my plan was perfect!'
To understand this turn of events, dear reader, we must make our way back to a point in time some two hours before.....

(Below) From the Imperial positions, the Nabstrian foot seem a reassuringly long distance away. Cavandish's aide, Captain Fabius Nitwitz, brushes crumbs from the marshal's chest and then brings around Cavandish's horse, Keith. By the time Nitzwitz has the stirrups adjusted, the good marshal has slumped forward and is now engaged in very close examination of the bottom of his pie dish. Soft snores emerge gently from between the chicken and ham. The Fenwickian staff contemplate waking Cavandish but then, after a whispered debate, conclude that not being given any orders hasn't, in previous battles, seemed to be an insuperable burden for the army. Besides, if there are any really knotty problems relating to doctrine or military strategy, they always have Keith. Nitwitz raises his telescope - in the distance, the Nabstrians seem to be up to something.

'Splendid!' says Rumpfler, 'My plan unfolds with rigorous precision.' The general points to his right, drawing Burgrave Falco's attention to the advance of the Nabstrian cavalry.
'See, my lord, how perfect is the formation of your horse; how impetuous their desire to fall upon their enemies.'
'Indeed, yes, dear general,' replies the Burgrave. 'But isn't it usual to have riders upon the horses?'
Rumpfler nods. 'They'll catch up soon,' he says, pointing to the sweating, ragged mass of cavalrymen running behind. Alain, Comte de Finay, the Nabstrian cavalry commander, is with them, although his forward progress seems to be impeded somewhat by one of his dragoons, who seems to have placed one of Finay's booted feet further than might be strictly comfortable up his posterior. 'Onwards, you sluggards!' cries the Count, 'Charge! Charge!'

A series of loud booms rings out from the Imperial lines: the well-trained Fenwickian cannoneers bring their pieces into play, directing their fire upon the vulnerable columns of Nabstrian infantry. The Burgrave grimaces as nearby musketeers are disarticulated by the enemy artillery. The Burgrave leafs through the pages of Fun Szu's Art of War: but there is nothing in it that can prepare him for the sight of an infantryman losing a head-butting contest against a 12 pound cannon ball. Nor do the military philosopher's crude potato prints seem especially relevant to the problems of mounting a combined arms assault on a prepared enemy position.
Rumpfler considers the situation in front of him and then suddenly gives the order for his infantry to advance.
The Burgrave frowns slightly. 'I don't want to seem pedantic, my dear Rumpfler, but isn't the point of a sequential attack that one act should follow another?'
The general considers this for a moment. 'Well, indeed sire, in a purely temporal sense that could be said indeed  to be the case. But, famously as with Pope Clement when he was discovered bound with leather thongs, in a small wine barrel, with three young novitiates, flexibility can often be a requirement for success. I'm sure that my parallel advance will be quite as effective.'
The Nabstrian march columns are ordered forwards: there is something about their advance that indicates that this is not a popular order - something about the the reluctant, shambling gait of the troops; something about the miserable hunch of their shoulders; something about the voices crying out 'Lord no! We're all going to dieeeeeeeee!'

On his hill, Nitzwitz and the other staff officers contemplate the Nabstrian advance. One minute the Nabstrians are very, very far away, but then, behold (below, at the top) through the combination of march column and cadenced step, Rumpfler's infantry are suddenly in front of the Imperial positions!
'He is throwing his infantry into the teeth of our muskets and canister,' says Nitzwitz to his brother officers, 'what can we conclude from this?'
'That he hates his infantrymen?' suggests one.
'Should we issue an order?' says another. 'Wouldn't that be the sort of thing that we should do?'
'I don't know,' says Nitzwitz. 'Has anyone got some parchment and a quill?'

As the Imperial headquarters debates the merits or not of issuing orders and, if they should, whether Keith the horse should be included in the decision, Rumpfler continues his attack. The Nabstrian infantry are well deployed and present a menacing appearance with their fine drill and splendid uniforms. (Below) With his infantry deployed just outside of canister and musketry range, the general now orders his cavalry forwards, stirrups in.

Unsportingly, it transpires that the Imperial horse also have their fair share of stirrups. There is a fierce melee, with much hacking, slashing, and unnecessary use of fruity language. The Comte de Finay, having extracted his boot from the dragoon, urges his troops to greater efforts. Sadly for the Nabstrians, however, the Imperial cavalry are in fine form; in part, no doubt, because, having received no orders thus far in the battle, they are in the happy situation of having no idea at all about what's going on. Unburdened by the pressures of such things as an objective or higher direction, the Imperial cavalry drive the Nabstrians back (below). Moreover, in being driven back, Finay's men are also subject to the musketry of a small portion of some nearby Imperial foot.

Contemplating the situation, Rumpfler makes the decision to send his infantry forwards into musketry range (below). Though the cavalry has not yet succeeded in turning the Imperial flank, still, the pressure applied by the Nabstrian infantry will surely create command dilemmas that will place Marshal Cavandish under an unbearable moral and psychological burden. The Imperial commander inevitably should crack under this pressure and then, unmanned, must surely be expected to flee the battle, wailing in lamentation and making noises like a little pig.

Behind the Imperial lines, Cavandish's pie-face snoring has escalated, though this is less due to the pressure of command and more to his involuntary snorting of a piece of leek.
Nabstrian drums can be heard sounding the advance all along the line.
'What should we do?' asks Nitzwitz worriedly, his voice raised above the din of battle.
'We should definitely take counter-action,' replies a brother officer.
'Oh yes, ' says another, 'I'm all for countering whatever's going on.'
'So, we should issue an order?' asks Nitzwitz.
'Whoa, hold on there!' say several staff officers in unison. 'Let's think this through. An order could get us into trouble.'
The others nod vigorously.
'Well,' says another, 'we could seize the initiative; increase the tempo and momentum of our operations; and then defeat our enemies in the decisive non-material aspects of this battle.'
'Yes! Yes!' clap the officers.
'Or, we could ask the horse.'
'Get some paper!' cries Nitzwitz.

(Below) And so, the Nabstrian infantry advance into musket range. An enormous musketry duel commences with volleys rolling up and down the lines. Cavandish's forces, however, have the advantage of supporting canister fire. With the artillery being the only Imperial units so far to receive an order, the Fenwickians have taken perhaps the most relaxed approach to command and control yet seen on the battlefields of Mittelheim.
With cries of 'Fill the gaps!', 'Hold the line!,' and 'Look, for God's sake, someone must have a quill!' volleys of deadly musketry are exchanged.

'Is that supposed to happen?' says Burgrave Falco, viewing the smoke-wreathed firing lines from the Nabstrian positions.
Rumpfler chews his lip. 'Well, my Burgrave. it is fair to say that the first portion of this battle didn't go quite to plan; and also that this second portion has gone equally not to plan.'
'I sense a "but" general?' asks Falco.
'No, not really,' says Rumpfler. 'Still, the fight isn't over yet. Come, my Burgrave, let the two of us go forwards! Let us inspire our troops for one last effort!'
And with that, the two spur their horses towards the enemy for the final climactic events of the battle ....