Sunday, 21 February 2016

Peace!

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.



2 comments:

  1. Peace? Permanent, everlasting peace? Is such a state of perfection possible - particularly in Gelderland? Nonetheless, sir, I must congratulate you on your account of the peace negotiations - never have I read such a roccoco confection of misadventure, mistakes and misanthropy. News of this everlasting peace has plunged Nabstria into gloom: the permanent loss of Nottelbad is too much to bear. Still, what cannot be changed must be endured...I must look to my own employment for if this peace is truly permanent, I am sure to be recalled to England and suffer the indignity of half-pay and reduction to my peace-time rank of Ensign. Oh woe is me!

    ReplyDelete
  2. It may be, Sir, that you should not move too swiftly to embark for home. This caution is recommended anyway, in case one should inadvertently board the wrong ship and end up as a slave in the Leech Coast or, worse, stranded in Grimsby. But dallying a little longer in Mittelheim is also recommended since, on the evidence of past peace settlements, it may be that avenues for re-employment might present themselves rather more swiftly than one might suppose.

    ReplyDelete