Sunday, 21 February 2016


It is Christmas, 1758. Over Alexandopolis, seagulls squawk nervously as they swoop to pick up detritus from several days of riotous roistering, trying as they do to avoid the traps that will comprise the first steps in their transformation into the famous Rotenburg delicacy of jellied seagulls. In the harbour, slave ships owned by the company of Ryan Hare, bound for the Leech Coast, wait to take on board another sad cargo of human-kind, ready to transport them to a life of backbreaking toil, disease, and inappropriate groping from sweating overseers. Naturally, the ships are over-subscribed by Gelederland peasantry, with many of those on the waiting list turning up to see if they can get on the ships anyway and get out of Mittelheim. Nearby, warehouses are packed with bales of nasal hair, waiting to be exported to Grimsby. Many ships lie at anchor in the process of disgorging their cargoes of whale blubber, mousetraps, and false moustaches.

Family fun in Alexandopolis
Remaining on the theme of 'disgorging their cargo' many Rotenburg citizens lie supine around the streets, still inebriated from the wild celebrations that accompanied the announcement of the signing of the peace treaty that will surely end the War of the Spanish Suck Session. It was a roister as only Rotenburg could entertain: tinsel and baubles by the sack-load; leeches and whale blubber for all. The Landgrave ordered the distribution of huge quantities of Rotenburg's famous Bockfast wine. Aged for several hours in barrels used to store salted leeches, the wine is usually best not left in cellars too long or it eats its way through the stonework. A great vintage, the wine was described as being 'not unlike the Landgrave himself: having the taste of dog hairs sucked from an old blanket but finishing with plenty of cheeky fruit'.

In his sea front palace, the Landgrave looks out of a window, taking in the view. Below, just near the harbour walls, he is able to survey his new ship of war, the Alexander the Great. Ludovico Angelmiccolo, one time wood-worker and now Rotenburg's chief naval architect has managed, indeed, to deliver a vessel to Choldwig's exacting specifications. An innovative blend of Galleass and fruitwood sidetable, the vessel features a ram, sixteen guns, and an extendable middle should more people need to be accommodated. The Landgrave has a good view of the ship; or at least the two feet of mast that pokes up above the waves. All agree that the ship is best admired at low tide, when more of it is visible. At this time, Angelmiccolo rests in the dungeons of Alexandoplis, ruing the fact that, in asking himself 'How could a ship not be improved by the addition in its sides of some lovely large drawers?' he had treated it as a rhetorical question. Still, the Landgrave is in a surprisingly cheery mood. 'Go through the details again' he demands of his assembled councillors. Wilhelm, the Baron Woffeltop, Choldwig's shrewd Foreign Minister, bows low.
'I cannot take any credit, my Landgrave, for the peace treaty; for all the real negotiation was done by your admirable ambassador to Gelderland, His Excellency Ambassador Karlheinz von Wrincklesack'.

Von Wrincklesack also bows low. This is quite a spectacle since the ambassador is extraordinarily tall. Already unusual for his great height, Wrincklesack had the misfortune to serve for a time as ambassador to Zenta. Though normally an entertaining tour for a diplomat, it turned out that Hospodar Kasimir XIV ('Overlord of the North, the Shadow of God, God's Umbrella and Also Possibly His Hat') had been wrestling at the time with anger management issues. During a debate on whether it was possible to tickle a man to death, Wrincklesack had made the error of contradicting Kasimir and arguing that such an idea was 'pure madness'.

This was an unfortunate comment. Kasimir had always been sensitive to the charge that he might be a few etchings short of an art exhibition because of the widely held rumours that the Hospodar's ancestors had all eventually lost their marbles. Of course, in Zenta madness is not always easy to spot. Given the lamentable personal qualities of most of the Zentan nobility, being stark raving mad has often been construed there simply as being a valuable exercise in left field thinking. Kasimir's father Mircea II, for example, had often expressed a desire to marry a horse; but this was regarded for a while merely as an example of his thinking creatively outside of the box. It was only when he ate the box, and then not only married a horse but produced three legitimate issue and then divorced it in favour of a medium-sized shrubbery that the nobility concluded that enough was enough. Even then, there was sympathy in many quarters for his plight, with many agreeing that the horse was 'a sly manipulative minx intent on social climbing'. Kasimir's grandfather wasn't much better. One summer, he attempted to acquire the power of flight by smearing himself in lard and then sticking butterflies to his body. One winter he ordered all of his subjects on pain of death to create throughout the land a huge quantity of ice sculptures, and then passed an edict renaming Zenta the 'Wholly Snowman Empire'. Still, for his temerity Wrincklesack was put on the rack for several days. Luckily, the diplomat not only survived, but gained about a foot in height. Wrincklesack was surprisingly philosophical about the experience, commenting merely: 'that which does not kill us makes us longer'.

Wrincklesack proceeds to recount to Choldwig the details of the peace negotiations. Meeting in the Gelderland village of Zachsen, the talks were concluded with surprising celerity. There was of course a full and frank exchange of views, by which one means of course, that the Wilhelmites were frank and their adversaries were just full of themselves. Punitive reparations were to be expected and so these were agreed readily, if not enthusiastically, by the Nabstrian and Fenwickian representatives, Bishop Munschrugge and Prince Franz. In fact, the main sticking point was the insistence by Baron Albrecht von Steinhagen, pig-fancier and Bachscuttel plenipotentiary, that because they had been so very, very naughty, there could be no peace until both the Emperor George and Burgrave Falco had admitted, in public, that they 'smelt of wee' and that they had then to appear in public in ladies undergarments and 'give one another a good kiss, with tongues and that'. Steinhagen seemed especially adamant about the last part. Luckily, Steinhagen's presence at the conference ended after the first day - having inadvertently witnessed King Wilhelm eating a bacon sandwich, the revolting noises and terrible sights were such a terrible example of man's inhumanity to ham that Steinhagen was forced to take to his bed. With this nonsense out of the way, progress could then be made. The eventual settlement was for both the defeated powers as like sipping from a poisoned chalice, or at least one filled with Rotenburg Bockfast. With the lovely town of Nottelbad, with its delightful rococo duckpond, currently in the possession of Fenwick, but originally owned by Nabstria, the Wilhelmites insisted on  a new territorial settlement. At the conference were Wilhelm's nephew, Duke Reinhold Hesse-Penwick-Fuppet, and Choldwig's niece, Lady Ulrike von Rotenburg-Bahnsee-Lippe. To the horror of the Nabstrian and Imperial plenipotenciaries they were forced to accede to the creation of a new independent Duchy, formed from the territory of Nottelbad, to be ruled through the union of Duke Rheinhold and Lady Ulrike. This new state, the Duchy of Bahnsee-Kassell, clearly will be closely aligned to Gelderland.

The Landgrave slaps his thigh in delight, and then winces. Choldwig is in some pain, due to an earlier accident. Intent on further emulation of Alexander's opulent extravagance, Choldwig had attempted to create a lake of crocodiles near which he could deliver long monologues about his plans to take over the world, before throwing into it spies, adventurers, heroes and such like. Sadly, Rotenburg's limited resources required that the lake be replaced by a pool and the crocodiles by terrapins. The latter could still be nasty creatures as Choldwig discovered when he inadvertently dropped a small piece of meat down his front and prompted a terrapin feeding frenzy in his loin cloth.
'So, my good councillors, where does that leave us?' asks Choldwig.

Baron Lothar von Prohlaps, Minister for Alexandrification finishes his perusal of the huge painting that hangs above the fireplace. It is a portrait of the Landgrave recently painted by the legendary Hans Tindbein. Tinbein is much in demand by the nobility of Mittelheim for his skill in using varieties of shade to cover his subjects' worst physical features. Naturally, this means that Choldwig's portrait consists mainly of black paint. 'Well', says Prohlaps, 'That would depend upon our financial siuation'.
Count Lenz von Haut, Minister for War, Alcohol, Sharp Instruments and Children's Welfare, nods vigorously. 'I will require a substantial increase in my budget if I am to achieve our plans. As it is, our technical advisers in the Zentan village of Narverhon have succeeded in casting for the Sanjak a new breed of super artillery. Once they have been tested, we will move the guns in secret across Gelderland, bringing them back to Rotenburg, probably through an overly elaborate plan comprising of false uniforms, hay carts, forged papers, a montage, some men dressed as women, and some dramatic incidental music'.
'Excellent', says the Landgrave. 'I presume with the arrival of the Nabstrian and Fenwickian war indemnity payments that our coffers will soon be as swollen as my loin cloth?'
Graf Theodor von Poppenzeitz, Minister of Finance, nods thoughtfully, keeping his eyes well away from Choldwig's loin cloth.

Poppenzeitz is a dapper fellow in his early fifties. His costume is dominated, however, by an exceedingly tall wig. Having in his youth fallen for the old 'this cannon barrel is really big: why don't you stick your head down it and look' joke, the Baron suffered some considerable head trauma and spent several months at death's door. Fortuitously, Death was out (or possibly just hiding behind his chaise longue, in order to avoid a tedious dinner invitation from War and Pestilence). Luckily for Poppenzeitz, his father was able to engage the services of a young fellow named Wolfgang von Kempelen. Kempelen had been engaged in cutting edge clockwork experimentation that would produce eventually a mechanical Turk that could play chess. His main line of experimentation, of course, had actually been to create a woman that Kempelen had hoped would, ironically given its clockwork manufacture, help him 'unwind'. Still, Kempelen's work in translating some of the chess contraption's components into a functioning mind for Poppenzeitz has given the latter a fine, if very logical, intellect although he often experiences problems around bishops.
'Let me think', says the Finance Minister.
There's a slight whirring and clicking sound from underneath his wig.
'Yes', says Poppenzeitz, 'our financial prospects are excellent, my Landgrave. We have the funds now for an expansion in our army, a ship that stays above the waterline, the construction of fortifications, and for a number of the new Alexandrification projects'.
Count von Haut looks suspiciously at Poppenzeitz. He is not the only man to have heard rumours that the notion of there being some kind of clockwork mechanism inside his wig is merely a cunning ruse to disguise the fact that actually inside it there is a rabbit working the controls.
Choldwig beams. 'Excellent - I predict that 1759 will be a year of glory for our country! God Save Rotenburg! God save me!'
The assembled Ministers applaud dutifully, all strenuously trying to avoid noticing the small terrapin whose head suddenly appears from Choldwig's waistband.

Gelderland citizens celebrate Wilhelm's return
In Gelderland, in the meantime, it has finally sunk in that Wilhelm once again is King. Business confidence wilts, except in sectors related to pies and plus-sized britches. Major producers of salads and books without pictures in begin to contemplate relocation. The populace of Gross Schnizelring celebrate by rioting vigorously for three days, before playfully calling for the King to be beheaded, and then replaced with 'some other bloke, a republic, or even a goat'. Gelderland troops gently restore order to this jolly fun by bayoneting many of the rioters and then shooting some of their mums.

And so, peace reigns once again in Mittelheim! Not for the first time, Mittelheim has looked into the abyss; and the abyss has looked backed and said 'Bugger off! You're not coming in here!' Thanks to the Peace of Zachsen, there will never, ever be any wars in Mittelheim ever again. Ever.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Toplitz-Hande's shandy!

.... Toplitz-Hande had forgotten, of course, that the phrase 'too successful' could never be used in relation to the troops of Gelderland. (Below) The martial display that follows could be characterised as a pantomime; except that a pantomime would almost certainly have involved a better display of aggression, precision and military co-ordination. The fighting is about as well handled as King Wilhelm's copy of 'Der bumper booke of salads'. After a few rounds of slashing and hacking, punctuated by cries of 'Aaaargh!', 'Ow, that really stings!' and 'Dammit, I'm on your side!', a single Nabstrian soldier remains forlornly alive. Crouching, the poor fellow glances forwards and backwards - Rheinfunkt, in red behind the stream, is much further away from the Nabstrian than the Nabstrian is to the edge of the battlefield! Perhaps if his luck holds out, the retreating soldier might just make it ...

(Above, right) Toplitz-Hande stands in the nearby wood. He looks at Rheinfunkt, waiting for the latter to spring into action. However, the Gelderland garrison troops seem in no great hurry to activate themselves. Instead, Rheinfunkt and Lackwitz seem deep in conversation.

'So you're a philosopher, eh?' says the Colonel to the Captain. 'Actually, I'm quite a fan of philosophy'. The Colonel points to his wig. 'Few things expand the mind quite as much as a musket ball through the temple. Take that Immanuel Kant, for instance'.
'Immanuel who?', says Lackwitz.
Lackwitz blanches. 'Look, I was only asking'.
'No', says Rheinfunkt. 'Kant. Immanuel'.
'You need a manual?' says Lackwitz, incredulously. 'In my day it was all trial and error. And then prison, of course'.
Rheinfunkt, exploiting the privileges of rank, flicks Lackwitz on the nose. 'No, no! The philosopher Imanuel Kant! I met him at Konigsberg University in the 1740s. He was working on what became Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces. Of course, then it was a work in progress'.
'Very interesting', says Lackwitz, clearly entirely uninterested, and holds his nose gingerly.
'Yes' says the Colonel. 'Although then the book was a rollicking, steamy novel about forbidden love in a pottery works, tentatively entitled Fifty Shades of Clay. But he quickly found out he could have much more fun, and make much more money, through seat of the pants philosophy. Dangerous stuff. The girls couldn't get enough of it'.
Lackwitz begins to show some interest. 'Really? What kind of stuff?'
'Dangerous stuff. Top shelf ethics. German dungeon astronomy. Special imported Dutch hard mathematics. And then there was the stuff about democracy'.
'Democracy?' says Lackwitz, appalled.
'Yes', says Rheinfunkt, shaking his head in disgust. 'Dirty, filthy democracy-related stuff. Women with men; men with women; women with women; men with men - all free, all living in a more plural and equitable society. It was enough to make your stomach turn. And then he got animals involved as well'.
'Animals?' says Lackwitz, revolted.
'Oh, yes', says the Colonel. 'All shared equally among the men and women to enable them to farm in a manner that would produce a secure surplus: a surplus that that could be used to help the less well-off'.
Lackwitz is reduced almost to dry heaving. 'And ... he got away with it?'
'He was clever - selling the stuff through back-street shops. Still, he also had some marvelous ideas', says Rheinfunkt. 'Epistemology'.
'He did what?' replies Lackwitz.
Rheinfunkt sighs. 'Epistemology'.
'He did it where?' says Lackwitz, looking even more confused.

Luckily for Lackwitz, his nose is spared another good flicking as Rheinfunkt notices suddenly the ever more exaggerated gesticulations on the part of Toplitz-Hande, who seems to be pointing towards the enemy and shouting, a variety of colourful metaphors indicating that he feels that Rheinfunkt should now do something to contribute towards the defeat of the enemy. Suddenly noticing the single Nabstrian left alive, Rheinfunkt now rallies his men for the final attack!
'Charge men! Charge! Charge!' He vigorously waves his sword, in the process knocking his wig slightly askew. 'Forward! Though death may await us! Though we might be hideously mutilated! Though we might be scorched and maimed beyond the recognition of our own mother!'
'Charge! Kill!' his men scream.
'Er, am I the only one here who's rather more conflicted about this attack', says Lackwitz, eyeing the remaining Nabstrian who, though crouching, still seems rather too tall for Lackwitz's liking.
Before the poor Nabstrian has a chance to move again, Rheinfunkt is able to leap the stream, his wig falling off in the process; he then races forwards and lays about the poor soldier with the butt of his pistol. With a final cry of 'Hurrah!' the regular is beaten down and taken prisoner by the Colonel!

A victory for Gelderland and the Wilhelmites! Loud cheers erupt from the remaining Royal troops. As the soldiers of Gelderland slap their thighs and prepare to celebrate with halves of shandy, Colonel Zeigler can only look on through his telescope cursing: pipped at the post!

With the minor defeat at Gross Schnitzelring compounded by the trouncing at the battle of Heisenleman, the War of the Spanish Suck Session comes to a painful close for Nabstria and Grand Fenwick. All is gloom and doom. The two defeated powers can only hope that political negotiation can deliver a merciful peace. In Rotenburg and Saukopf-Bachscuttel, on the other hand, the populace go wild with excitement: bells are rung, along with a few Nabstrian necks; songs are sung; children dance in the street; and a variety of inappropriate activity is conducted with vegetables. With war now over, and with Wilhelm once again ensconced on the throne of Gelderland, a new Golden Age can begin: prosperity beckons; trade will flourish; a number of painful skin diseases will probably be cured through inventive use of leeches; and a new recipe for Battenburg cake is likely to be found.

God save King Wilhelm! Peace for all! The Wars of the Gelderland Succession are over! Probably.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Flee faster!

As he sees the Nabstrians fleeing ahead of him, Colonel von Rheinfunkt curses.
'Curses!' he says. 'They're getting away - and my unsatisfied personal objectives will cost us this victory! If only I could have concentrated on more constructive personal development goals, such as dealing with my repressed anger towards my parents, instead of this focused desire to capture an enemy prisoner!'
'Aha!' says Captain Lackwitz, who, with the retreat of the enemy seems now to have popped up again.
The Colonel turns, startled. 'What have you been doing, Captain?'
'Um.' says Lackwitz. 'Centre of gravity analysis'.
Rheinfunkt looks suspiciously at the mud plastered over the front of the Captain's uniform. 'You look like you've been hiding under a hay wagon'.
'Physically, yes. But intellectually, I have been pondering both upon the enemy's critical requirements and their critical capabilities in order better to determine where we might concentrate our efforts'.
'And the answer?', says the Colonel.
'Two objectives. Luckily, both are contained in our opponent's scrotum'.
Rheinfunkt snorts, 'Bah! We'll never get our hands on our opponent's wrinkled retainers - see, they are getting away!'
Lackwitz strikes a pose. 'My marvelous work on military philosophy is clear that now is the time for the genius of the general to be applied - Colonel, use your coup d'oeil.'
'My coo deel?' says Rheinfunkt, bemused. 'Is this some foolish French frippery?'
'No', says Lackwitz. 'Coup d'oeil - your all-seeing eye.'
'Cup doil?' says Rheinfunkt, shaking his said. 'I don't think any of us is saying "aye"'.
'It's priceless military wisdom', says Lackwitz, exasperated.
'It's bloody nonsense!', says the Colonel. 'No one understands what you're saying'.
'That's the point', replies Lackwitz, sullenly. 'If anyone could understand it, it wouldn't be a work of genius'.
Luckily for Rheinfunkt, Toplitz-Hande's Croats intervene.

(Above, left) The Croats reach the Nabstrian regulars before they can escape the battlefield. In the fight, two of the latter are killed, and the remaining three are driven back towards the capital. The Croats, keen not to attack the Nabstrians again, in case they fail to leave one alive to be captured, then withdraw back to the edge of the battlefield. (Above, right) Behind the stream, Rheinfunkt (in red) and the garrison company stand ready to pounce on their enemy, like foxes on chickens.

As it turns out, however, the Gelderlanders, if they are indeed foxes, seem to be quite badly motivated ones, and the chickens animated by a quite extraordinary attachment to life. As the Nabstrian chickens hover behind the stream, ripe for the plucking, Rheinfunkt and his troops are inconveniently inactive.
'Strike now!' says Lackwitz, animatedly.

On a hill some way to the west, Colonel Zeigler tracks the unfolding combat through his telescope. His men, now well away from Gross Schnitzelring, look at one another in alarm as the Colonel shouts in frustration: 'By the Virgin Mary's slightly asymmetrical plumpies, just die you Nabstrian dogs!', he howls, as Rheinfunkt's troops line the stream. 'Don't let him take you prisoner! Kill them! Or kill one another!' (Above) As if reading his mind, the remaining Nabstrians cease their attempts to flee and hurl themselves at the enemy. At this point, it occurs to both of the Gelderland commanders that if the Croats are too successful, there will be no one left to take prisoner and the Nabstrians will avoid defeat. Toplitz-Hande's closes his eyes as a desperate combat take place ....