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…’