|Schloss Feratu - far away, or just very small?|
Somewhere, deep in the bowels of the Schloss, creeps a party of heavily armed soldiers, stalking menacingly through the labyrinthine dungeons. At their head is Prince Dimitri Eugen von Feratu und Osterberg, only recently returned in secret from his family’s exile, and intent on wresting control of Vulgaria from Roldovan rule. Dimitri is the last remaining Vulgarian heir to the throne of the Voivodate on the basis that, being twelfth cousin, nine times removed to someone who might have been the illegitimate son of the last Voivode, he is, as the chroniclers of the Vulgarian ruling line would have it, 'near as damn it certainly a probably strong candidate for the job'. Prince Dmitri certainly exhibits all of the key traits of the Feratu und Osterberg family. These include the famous 'Feratu chin', which consists of a chin; the equally famous 'Osterberg moustache', which looks remarkably like a hairy caterpillar has got lost on Dmitri's face and wandered down to his top lip for a drink; an ability to whistle through his teeth; and probolems with his spelling. Prince Dimitri has spent most of his life in Holland and Germany, though having concentrated most during his sojourn there on the bits that involved dark beer, tulips and waffles, it hasn't really helped him thus far as much as he had hoped in the tricky pursuit of winning back his throne.
Dimitri has spent long years waiting for this moment. In his darkest periods, which included three months in the dockland taverns of Hamburg working as a spittoon, he dreamed of returning to his ancestral homeland. Even now, amidst the black danger of this most desperate of enterprises, he can remember the tales told at his mother's knee of the glorious exploits of the old Voivode's of Vulgaria: of wars fought against small adversaries, preferably that were slightly deaf, safely tied up, and that had thought that you were their friend; of drawing up hugely ambitious plans for progressive social reform, and then burning them in front of the poorest peasant that could be found; of never having to get up early in the morning (or, indeed, at all); of always having large quantities of other people's money to spend wantonly on luxuries like diamonds, cake, and jellied seagulls; of being able to grope other people when one liked without having to pretend it was accidental or without them being related. And, if he had managed to avoid being poked in the eye by one his mother's boney kneecaps, Dimitri liked to believe that he was the man who could restore the Voivodate to the Feratu und Osterberg family.
And so, it was quite a relief to encounter one day a fellow in a black hooded cloak, with a large bag of money and a plan (fully footnoted and indexed) who asked Dimitri if he would like to be the man who could restore the Voivodate to the Feratu und Osterberg family. A wiser man might, perhaps, have asked this mysterious stranger some penetrating questions; where did he he come from, for example? Whose interests did he serve? And why had he chosen Dimitri over the range of other possible flora and fauna that might have an equally strong claim to the throne? But Dimitri was desperate and also, of course, a moron. So, confining his questions to 'Will their be waffles?' and 'Where do I sign?', he began an adventure that would bring him here, to the gloomy halls of Schloss Feratu.
Thus far, at least, the plan has gone better than expected - by which we mean that it hasn't immediately failed. Having survived a dangerous climb up the mountains, the expedition suffered a slightly worrying amount of buggering about as the company waited for a special kind of moonlight to fall upon the mountain-side in order to show them the requisite hole for the enormously ancient key that they carried. But, as Dimitri's brother, Lucas, pointed out, it was likely that, two and half thousand feet up the side of a mountain it was more than possible that the requisite entrance was the small door in front them marked 'Dungeons - Absolutely No Admittance'. And so, Dimitri's desperate blow for a free Vulgaria (and more time in bed) began. The plan is simple, because otherwise he wouldn't remember it. Dimitris's intrepid band plans to make its way through the dungeons and up to the outer gate, which they will storm and open. Some distance below, hiding in a thickly wooded valley, rests a squadron of mercenary cavalry led by the Dutch soldier of fortune Colonel Herz van Rentall. Once the outer gate is open, the cavalry will ride up, whilst Dmitri's force takes the inner gate as well.Then, the combined force will storm the rest of the Schloss, taking prisoner the Bishop of Prick. This will no doubt spark a Vulgarian revolt, or at least the hiding by wary peasants in bedroom furniture of a suitable size, which, given that the Roldovan regular army is weaker than a Prussian joke about melons, should create the conditions sufficient to re-take the whole of the remainder of the Voivodate. Onwards and upwards!
Meanwhile, in the highest tower, the current Bishop of Prick is deep in conversation with his chief lieutenant, both ignorant of the events unfolding deep beneath them. The Bishop is the son of the Count of Roldova and ruling Baron of Herzo-Carpathia, Vlad IX. Searching for a suitable name for his son some twenty two years before, Vlad took the view that the name should mean something profound. And so, noticing the proliferation of firs around the castle, upright, dignified, and able to weather the worst of storms, Vlad named his son after the Rumanian name for a fir tree: Brad. Over the years, of course, Vlad's strange pride in his son gave way to more normal feelings of bewilderment, disappointment, and a measure of alienation. His son seemed unresponsive to Vlad's attempts to interest him in the basic principles of effective governance, such as the burning of history books and the manipulation of complex tax laws. Instead, Brad spent too much of his time hanging around with his friends in graveyards or playing lead harpsichord in a band. Brad's university years were equally unproductive. Expelled from Wittenberg for consorting with ladies of dubious moral virtue, Brad complained that, whilst he had certainly partaken, he had never, ever inhaled. For this reason, whilst Vlad IX's son is known officially as Prince Bishop Brad von Schnail und Planck, he is more widely known amongst the local population as 'Brad the Inhaler'. When the time finally came to obtain gainful employment for his son, Vlad concluded that, since Prince Brad was a lazy womaniser who couldn't reliably identify what hard work looked like if it put on his nightgown and got into bed with him, the only possible choice was the church.
Conversing with Brad is the dark figure of Graf Feodor von Schwarzenegger-Heilbebach. Graf Feodor wheezes hoarsely as he delivers his report.
'I return *wheeze* from our master *wheeze* the Emperor', says Graf Feodor.
'Excellent', nods Bishop Brad. 'And what says Holy Roman Emperor Francis I about my plans?'
'Well *wheeze* he said a great deal *wheeze* ...'
'Are you ...well, my dear Graf?'
'It's *wheeze* the stairs. Just give me a *wheeze* minute'.
Bishop Brad waits politely, watching as his minion Igor capers around the chamber.
'So yes', says the Graf eventually. 'He said a great deal about his wife, who just keeps nagging him about the Prussians. But, my dear Bishop, he also seemed very interested in furthering your ...'
At that moment, from somewhere down below, comes the wailing sound of a terrible, terrible scream ...
* It's not much of a dare, though, given that they have wings. Challenging them to impersonate a seagull on the docks of Rotenburg without getting themselves jellied - that would be a proper dare.