It is January, 1759. We focus our attention, dear reader, on a small corner of the Duchy of Mornig-Hesse-Brocken, a state that comprises the western borderland of that part of Europe known as Mittelheim. In front of us is a brook that babbles as loudly as Prince Rupprecht of Bachscuttel after an evening of philosophy and absinthe. A strong bridge of stone crosses the water-course, carrying the main road from the Duchy into the Empire of Grand Fenwick. There comes now the clippety clop of horses' hooves, and the creaking of a carriage - but who is in it?
Crikey! The wicker coach seems to contain no less a person than one Horace de Saxe. As any educated fellow knows, Horace is another of the many illegitimate sons of Augustus II the Strong, former Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Born in 1698 and thus two years younger than his more famous sibling, Maurice, Horace's life, thus far has tracked a less glorious trajectory. His father left his mother, the Polish Countess, Anna-Maria Brzeczyszczykiewicz, after the very briefest of relationships, some say because he couldn't pronounce her surname, and others because of disagreements over whether their progeny's name should be pronounced 'Horris' or 'Horreeesss'.
Sadly, the family's store of military competence seems to have been concentrated entirely in Horace's elder brother. Whilst Maurice captured Brussels in 1746, Horace, commanding a cavalry regiment, succeeded in capturing nothing more dangerous than carrots, cabbages, and some beetroots, though the latter were deemed intimidatingly large. A year later at Bergen-Op-Zoom, having volunteered for the forlorn hope, Horace was noted for screaming like a girl - it then being discovered that it was indeed a girl making the sounds and that Horace had bribed her to dress in his uniform and pretend to be him. The real Horace was later found in a local inn dressed as a pantomime cow, and the appalling activities with his udders were hushed up by his family. He was at least with his brother at the latter's crowning victory at Fontenoy, though he spent most of it badgering Maurice for a go in his carriage and pressuring him to lend him the money to buy an ice cream. One thing that Horace does have in common with his late brother are a range of debilitating health problems. Having only just recovered from what physicians diagnosed as a serious case of bloaty head, Horace is now afflicted with dropsy, flopsy, mopsy, and probably also bobtail, Horace must now himself make use of Maurice's famous carriage to get around.
Horace has spent many years attempting to acquire a military position in one of the armies of Europe, without much luck. However, conditions now seem more propitious. With the posthumous publication in 1757 of Maurice's Mes Reveries, the name of 'de Saxe' is once again on the lips of all educated folk. Attempting to leverage this moment, Horace has published his own masterpiece. Entitled Mes Gueules de Bois ('My Hangovers') there are some obvious differences: Horace, for example, tends to focus less on military matters and more on incidents in which he is found in public places inebriated and without his britches; or where he is at some glittering gala event and has spectacularly blown his croissants. But there are also some major philosophical disagreements: Maurice for example argued in Mes Reveries that war was subject to no immutable principles, whereas his brother has written that success in war can be reduced to three key maxims: never invade Russia; never fight a land war in Asia; and the side with the elephants usually loses. Horace also has rather more to say than his brother about how to escape tricky social situations in which one is inadvertently caught pretending to be a cow.
Keen to try his luck where fewer people are likely to know him personally, Horace has traveled to Mittelheim to seek his fortune, confident that military incompetence, lack of moral courage, and chronic indecision make him more than suitable to command an army in the Wars of the Gelderland Succession. Of course, he is almost certainly out of luck, because, dear reader, as we know, Mittelheim is at peace, and this golden age is so strongly embedded that only a lardy hundredweight turnip head, with a bottom like a pair of hot air balloons and a first name that rhymed with 'Pilhelm' could throw it all away. Oh, hang on ...