Friday, 15 July 2016


In the chancery of Pogelswood, capital of Imperial Fenwick, all is not well. Herzog Franz, Emperor George's brother and his key advisor, is berating his Chief Secretary, Herr Helmut Shotoff.
'Where's the draft of my novel?' says Franz.
'Novel, my lord?' replies Shotoff solicitously.
'Yes, my novel. It's an entirely fictitious account of a Fenwickian plan, acting in concert with the Landgravate of Rotenburg, to find the surviving heir to the Voivodate of Vulgaria, provide him with men and money, break him into the dungeons of Schloss Feratu, take prisoner the Bishop of Prick and then raise the country in revolt.'
Shotoff emits a strange gargling sound. 'Um. Did it have a black cover?'
'Why yes, and I put it here, just beside my out-tray.'
'My Lord, is that the tray marked "for immediate action upon pain of death?"'
'Yes, Shotoff, that's the one and I ... are you alright, you seem to have gone a little pale.'
'My lord, there's been a terrible misunder...'
'... It's just that I'd like to consider a few changes for another edition.'
'My Lord, I ...'
'I'm having second thoughts about the elephant.'
'Eleph ...'
'And I think, on reflection, that  a rescue party to Schloss Feratu should plausibly have more firearms, and less celery.'
'My Lord, I think that I need to lie down.'
'Well, fine Shotoff: you have my permission to withdraw and, ... oh I see, lie down right here. Well, that's not entirely usual and I ...'
'My Lord,' says a voice emanating from floor level, 'I have something to say of which, I hope, you might see the funny side; indeed, I'm sure that we'll all, at some juncture in the future, probably hoot with laughter when we remember what happened. It's like this. I thought that your novel was in fact a carefully crafted plan. So I had it executed.'
Herzog Franz also pales. 'So, my novel implicating Fenwick and Rotenburg in a plot to raise a revolt in Vulgaria is now a work of non-fiction?'
'Broadly, yes, my lord. Still...,' and here Shotoff seems to brighten, 'no one knows that we are responsible. I was very careful to ...'
Franz pales. 'Shotoff, I'm just going to lie down next to you.'
There are a few moments of silence.
The Chief Secretary pipes up: 'We'll just blame it all on Bachscuttel, my Lord. No one will know that it was Fenwick. Prince Rupprecht is such a numbskull ...'
'Yes Shotoff: except that I've had it published'.
'Published, my Lord?'
'Yes, Shotoff. Our involvement in this revolt is now explained in great detail in all good bookshops across Mittelheim.'
'Published?' repeats Shotoff, in the same tone that one might utter the phrase 'I have discovered an adder in my under-britches.'
'Indeed,' groans Franz. 'It's also available in hardback.'
 'It's not impossible that the plan will never come to fruition,' says the secretary.
'Actually,' says Franz, brightening again, 'that's true - after all, it is Vulgaria.'
Suddenly, there is the sound of approaching footsteps. A courier bursts in.
'Urgent news, my lords,' he gasps panting, 'a mysterious power has found the surviving heir to the Voivodate of Vulgaria, provided him with men and money, broken him into the dungeons of Schloss Feratu, taken prisoner the Bishop of Prick and then raised the country in revolt!'
Franz sighs gently. 'Well, that's knackered it.'

In Nabstria, Burgrave Falco sits in Faltaire's latest invention - the 'horseless carriage.'
'Behold, my Burgrave!,' crows the philosopher-scientist Faltaire, 'this is the future of transportation!'
Burgrave Falco nods thoughtfully. 'Indeed, Faltaire, my good and learned fellow. Marvellous. It's just that, and I don't want to undermine your excellent work, we've been in the carriage for half an hour and we seem to be in the same place that we started.'
The Carriageless Horse: 'It'll never catch on.'
Faltaire nods in agreement. 'Indeed, my Burgrave. One unfortunate side-effect of a carriage without horses is that it doesn't move. But I like to think of it as a work in progress.'
Falco nods amicably. 'As with your homeopathic gunpowder, Faltaire?'
Falco stares out of the window for a while. Though the horseless carriage is less exciting than he had hoped, the meeting with Faltaire has enabled him to turn down Bishop Munschrugge's invitation to an organ recital. Munschrugge's lamentable musical skills are notoriously bad, and not even the fun of watching the Fenwickian ambassador trying to say 'organ' with a straight face can compensate.
Suddenly, though, the Burgave sees a strange sight: it is the Bishop himself, sprinting as fast as his tubby frame will allow. Munschrugge approaches the carriage.
'My dear Burgrave! High drama! Strange events! The  ungovernable machinations of  fate! Emperor George of Fenwick has precipitated a revolt in Vulgaria! Rotenburg also is implicated!'
The Burgrave shakes his head incredulously. 'Madness! To throw away peace! Upon what intelligence is this news based? Is it credible?'
Munshcrugge nods vigorously and flourishes a heavy looking book. 'See here, my lord: Emperor George has had his secret plan published!'
'Yes, my Burgrave.'
'Isn't that a bit, well, unwise?' asks the Burgrave.
The Bishop nods. 'It's certainly unconventional,' he replies. 'But it is marvellously bound,' he says approvingly, running his hands over the spine. 'And this one seems to be signed.'
'Are we sure of the details, Munschrugge?'
'Oh yes, my lord - there is an excellent index. See here under 'T' for 'treachery'; 'F' for Fenwick'; 'N' for 'nefarious plans': it's all here in black and white - except for the colour plates, that is.'
Burgrave Falco jumps to his feet. 'My dear Bishop, we must contact our plenipotentiary in Gelderland at once! And send messages immediately to Bachscuttel - with Rotenburg implicated, we should begin to consider our options.'

In Pfeildorf, Prince Rupprecht heads a meeting of his privy council. He looks bored.
Freiherr Maximillian von Fluck, Minister of Sausages, shifts uncomfortably. 'Is it necessary, my Prince, to hold your council meetings in your privy?'
'I like to multi-task', says Rupprecht, resplendent upon his golden 'throne'. 'Any way, I only agreed to hold this meeting because I thought we were discussing a treat. Where's my cake?'
The councillors avert their eyes as Prince Rupprecht noisily multi-tasks.
Count Geyr von Voeltickler, Minister for Finance and Other Tedious Things interjects. 'My Lord, we are discussing a treaty: in this case, the Spasmodic Sanction and the implications for it of the latest events in Vulgaria. The cake, alas, must wait.'
'Bah!', says the Prince.
Rupprecht's recent lack of enthusiasm for matters of state is notable even by his own lax standards. The origin of this has been a rather surprising enthusiasm on the part of the Prince for literature. In the past, most of Rupprecht's reading was confined to pig reports, accounts of the torture of miscreants, or, at moments when he was feeling especially creative, accounts of the torture of miscreants by pigs. But lately the Prince has a shown a real enthusiasm for actual books. As it turns out, in need of money early on in his career, the English writer Jonathan Swift had written under the pen-name Sven von Hassel potboiling accounts of Lilliput's wars on its eastern frontier against its mortal enemy Blefescu. Thus, Swifts 1726 work Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships actually was preceded by a range of other less well known works, including: Lilliputian Eastern Front Death Bastard BattalionBloody Road to Blefescu Terror Prison Camp; and Lilliputian Hell Legion of the Damned Beast Regiment Without Any Trousers On.
 'The Gonad Gantry:' Another Lilliputian War Crime.
'Sven von Hassel's' claims actually to have performed heroic exploits in the Lilliputian army were widely ridiculed, not least because, since the Lilliputians were one twelfth human size, his lavish claims of victories both at arm wrestling and in the boudoir seemed to be unremarkable in the first case, and anatomically icky in the second. The Prince, however, has currently run out of 'Hassel's' works. In the lacuna between finishing his last book and the arrival of Brobdingnag Slaughter Laundry of  the Horror Assault Virgins, there seems nothing better to do than attend to some matters of state.
'Gelderland is in a state of great alarm' says Voeltickler. 'Vlad may or may not invoke the Spasmodic Sanction and call on Gelderland to restore his authority in Vulgaria. In such a case, we surely will be called upon to provide troops'.
'We must mobilise at once!' shouts von Fluck.
'Excellent!', shouts Rupprecht. 'Will that mean cake!'

And so, the winds of war waft noxiously through the lands of Mittleheim. But peace, surely, is still possible if there is sufficient will and enough battenberg...

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Margravate of Badwurst-Wurstburp

The Margravate of Badwurst-Wurstburp was, in times of old, an eastern province of the Kingdom of Gelderland. Long years ago, however, the margravate obtained its independence through a process that history might label 'secession' but that events might more accurately characterise as 'going bad and then dropping off'.

The current ruler of the margravate is Kasper Johan von Porckenstauffen. The Porckenstuffens hailed originally from the small village of Krackling, where they were in times long past impoverished members of the landed gentry. Being 179th in line to the throne of Badwurst-Wurstburp, Kasper-Johan's ancestor, Gottlieb-Franz von Porckenstauffen, had fully expected to live out his life in the usual manner of the Mittelheim aristocracy: long periods of sleep, interrupted occasionally by trips to church and the commode (though the last could often be omitted by multi-tasking one of the former); a moderate amount of peasant flogging (on condition that they were safely tied up); combined with the occasional persecution of religious minorities (if the weather was good and there was sufficient kindling easily to hand). Gottlieb-Franz owed his ascension to the throne to his failure to attend Margrave Victor Adolphus' coronation. It turned out that the answer to the feeble state of the celebratory bonfire probably shouldn't have been a barrel of gunpowder. The terrible accident that resulted catapulted the Porckenstauffens to the throne because it catapulted their relatives all over the ornamental gardens.

The margravate's position at the eastern geographical extremity of Mittelheim has ensured that it often has been able to avoid being drawn into the petty squabbles and the "yes you did, no I didn'ts" that together comprise in Mittelheim the exercise of diplomacy and statecraft. However, this geography has placed the frontiers of the margravate next to those of Kurland and Zenta. Against the latter, the River Procksi provides a modicum of protection, ensuring that what Zentan raiding parties can steal is limited to those things that can be eaten or that float well. To the north, however, the frontier with Kurland consists of plains as wide as King Wilhelm of Gelderland's nightgown and just as open at the front. Southern Kurland is peopled by the unruly Cassock tribesmen. The Cassocks, they say, are born on their horses; they live their lives on their horses; and they die in the same place. In consequence, the Cassocks hate horses and spend much of their time raiding northern Badwurst in search of wheelbarrows, sedan chairs, or any other mode of transport the using of which doesn't give one terrible sores in excruciating places, or bite when its in a bad mood.

The capital of the Badwurst is the town of Munchausen. Lying on the river Procksi, the town is known formally as Munchausen-By-Procksi. Munchausen draws its wealth through reaping the fruits of the river. On good days this can be fish, but on others it is often strange, bobbly, squidgy things that can be found floating around in its fetid brown waters. Badwurst also has a long-standing textiles industry. This is based in the village of Burstwart. Burstwart produces a unique cloth of hessian, nasal hair, and ginger beard stubble. Most of it is exported to Kurland as punishment for their pervasive border raiding. In the margravate only the poorest wear it, which explains the healthy trade conducted in soothing ointments. The village of Flem comprises one of the artistic hubs of Mittelheim, and is especially known for its schools of painting. In Flem, sensitive, passionate pieces of creative genius are produced for use as fuel by the locals.

However, perhaps the most famous place in the margravate is the town of Shovelin. Shovelin was the original source of the famous story of the pied piper, which was appropriated later by the Saxon town of Hamelin. As told in Hamelin, the legends concerned a famous piper (known as the 'pied' piper for his parti-coloured clothing) who ended a plague of rats by means of a tune on his magical flute. The townfolk having refused to pay the piper, the fellow engaged in the morally questionable activity of luring off the local children, having groomed them with his musical skills. As everyone in Shovelin knows, the Mittelheim reality was even less edifying. In 1348, Shovelin was afflicted by a plague of rats, the rodents having congregated there in preparation for a mass demonstration to complain about the squalid conditions in the town. An itinerant English musician promised to rid the town of rats using the power of his magical flute. The mayor was unimpressed, arguing that 'the notion that a man can do such a thing in this day and age is a bloody fairytale'; but the local burghers were desperate, and the musician persuasive. Spending most of his time drinking, the piper became known as the 'Pie-Eyed Piper of Shovelin'. Finally forced by threats of legal action to take practical steps against the rats, the piper staggered around the town, his main impact being to un-nerve local matrons. It became quickly evident that 'playing his magic flute' actually seemed to be an English euphemism for staggering around the marketplace drunk with his hose down, waggling in plain sight an instrument of an entirely different kind. The English reprobate was finally dealt with by a gang of rats, known as the 'Squeaky Blinders', who were later given the freedom of the town by relieved townsfolk.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

These Aren't the Secret Assailants You're Looking For!

In the doorway stands a liveried servant, dressed in a cloak. He is perched on a box and holds a giant stuffed bat which he seems to be on the verge of mounting on something above the doorway.
'Er....', he says. 'What's going on?'

'Uh', says Hohenlohe, taking the initiative, ' Uh, everything's under control. Situation normal.'
The servant gets down from the box. 'What happened?', he says suspiciously, peering into the gloom.
'Uh, my pantaloons', says Hohenlohe. 'We had a slight ... we had a slight pantaloon malfunction but, uh, everything's perfectly alright now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. Um, how are you?'
The servant drops the bat. 'I'm going to call some guards up'.
'Uh, uh, no. The pantaloons are leaking now - give us a few minutes to sort it out. Large leak, very dangerous'.
'Who is this!', barks the servant, 'identify yourselves!'
'Uh ...' stutters Hohenlohe.
Dimitri looms out of darkness, and whacks the servant over the head with the butt of his pistol. The fellow falls to the floor, his eyes almost as startled as those of the bat.
Hohenlohe looks disappointed - 'It was a really interesting conversation - I thought he was good company.'
'Really?' says Dimitri icily. 'This is a palace revolution, which I think could be taken to imply the need for a modicum of celerity in our activity'.
'Celery?' murmur the dragoons behind. This is bad - if vegetables are essential to the success of the operation, then they are woefully unprepared, having only pistols, sabres and carbines.

Schloss Feratu: It's usually better to stand
Meanwhile, high up in the tower, Bishop Brad is dealing with his own concerns.
'So you're telling me', he says to Graf Feodor, 'that there is currently no garrison here?'
'Well' the Graf wheezes, the stress setting off his asthma, 'there didn't seem much *wheeze* for them to do, so I sent them off to take a look at the *wheeze* small ship that was found abandoned a few miles further down in the valley'.
'I don't care, Feodor! Find some troops! Call out the goblin guard! Release the flying monkeys! Whatever it takes, get down there and deal with this situation!'
'At *wheeze* once, my lord', says the Graf.
Graf Feodor exists the chamber. A moment or two later, Bishop Brad hears the Graf trying to have the alarm bell sounded.
'No', shouts the Graf, 'that bell, you fool!'
A familiar dinging sound peals out.
'No, no, that's the dinner bell! Ring the alarm bell! Alarm! Bell!'
A strange sound follows.
'No! No!' shouts the Graf, 'That's a pair of maracas. For the love of God, let me do it!'
As the alarm bell finally sounds, Brad contemplates the door for a moment before saying out loud 'I think that I'm going to need a plan B'.

Brad walks slowly to the window. From somewhere down below come shouts, loud bangs, and running footsteps that head back and forth.
The lamplight picks out Prince Brad's strangely sallow skin and his pronounced teeth.
'Igor, bring me some wine', he says to the hunch-backed minion that came with the title of Bishop.
'Yesh mashter', replies the little fellow. Stepping over the supine form of a buxom local peasant girl, he pours wine into a goblet and then capers towards the window.
'Mashter, thish ish the finesht we have'.
Brad takes the proffered goblet, and then says 'You know, Igor, Feodor's gone - you can stop that now'.
Igor nods before unfolding himself to his full six feet five. 'Excellent, master', he says removing his false hunch. 'My back was killing me'.
'And you, Wanda', Brad says to the busty peasant girl on the floor.
'Yes your excellency', she says, getting up and removing the turnips from the front of her bodice.
'Hmmm', says Brad admiringly, 'that's a lovely pair of vegetables'.
In the valley below, wolves begin to howl mournfully.
'Ah', says Brad approvingly, 'Listen to the children of the night - how sweetly they sing'.
'I don't know, sir', says Igor, 'I can't hear for the terrible wailing of those mangy wolves. And anyway, isn't it a bit late for children to be out?'
Brad listens to the wolves for a few moments before finishing the wine in one decisive gulp.
'Dammit, I'm the Bishop of Prick and the ruler of Vulgaria. I must not be captured by these vagabonds. It behooves me to protect the dignity of the Rolodvan aristocracy and the Catholic church. Igor, take off your trousers ...'

In the hall below, Dimitri's force has stormed the gate, opening the way for the arrival of the forces of colonel Hertz van Rentall. Combined, the force now stands in front of the inner doorway. Lucas steps forward in front of the assembled troops, rummaging in his pocket for another key. Before he can open it, the door swings slowly open with an ominous moan.
'Stop that noise', says Dimitri to Lucas.
'Sorry', says Lucas.
Graf Feodor stands there, blocking the way. In his black attire he looks imposing, intimidating, and also a little out of breath.
'You cannot pass *wheeze*', he says. 'For I am Graf Feodor,  right hand of Bishop *wheeze* Brad, ruler of Vul ...' He pauses, squinting at Lucas, and then steps forward uncertainly.
'You ...' he says, softly.
'Er, me?', says Lucas.
'Can it be so?' says the Graf.
'I don't know if it can be so', says Lucas, 'because I don't know what it's supposed to be'.
Dimitri and his troops seem non-plussed by this odd turn of events.
'Cut him down, Lucas', says Dimitri.
'Lucas?', says Feodor, weighing the name. 'Well, Lucas, you must know who I am'.

'Er, no, no: I really don't'.
'I am Graf Feodor: I am your father'.
'No. No, I really don't think ...'
'Search your feelings, Lucas - for you know it to be true'.
'No, no, I was born in ...', says Lucas
'1736', says Feodor.
'1728', replies, Lucas.
'In Heidelburg ...', says the Graf.
'In Paris'.
'To a mother named Esmerelda who was a fish seller?'
'To a mother named Louisa who was an actress'.
'And ... a mysterious ... tall, dark,... German father?'
'To a short Vulgarian father named Mihail'.
There is a silence.
'Actually', says Feodor, 'Now I look at you more closely, *wheeze* I think that I might be mistaken. Which means that I can *wheeze* lop something off you - your hand, probably'. He then pauses, registering for the first time the crowd of mercenary dragoons, their weapons pointed at him.

'But first', says the Graf, 'Oooh, what's that' he then interjects loudly, pointing behind Dimitri's party. Startled, Dimitri's band looks back - when they turn around again, all they can see are the heels of Graf Feodor's boots as he sprints away.
 'The castle is ours', shouts Dimitri: 'Now let us crown our glory and capture the Bishop!' With a cheer, the dragoons surge forwards, heading for Prince Brad's chambers. 

'Ah, the music of the children of the night -
they sing "Flee! Run for your life"!
Brad is quickly subdued. His chamber is otherwise empty except for a flat-chested peasant girl and an open window from which protrudes a long line of curtains and bed clothes that have been tied together. The girl explains that she has been airing the linen. Soon the whole castle is firmly secured. In the courtyard, Dimitri gives an exultant speech to his troops.
'The Schloss is taken, and with it the capital, Urbanspraul! Vulgaria will rise up! Liberation is at hand! But now is not the time for revenge - now is the time to restore to these ancient lands a regime of justice, liberty, and the rule of law!'
'Really?' asks Lucas.
'No - of course not. Bring in the prisoners and break out the mangle! It's time to celebrate!'
As Dimitri begins to get medieval on the small group of captured Roldovans, Lucas eyes Prince Brad disapprovingly.
'You know', says Lucas disappointedly, 'I think I was expecting someone taller'. He regards critically the short, hunched-backed capering form of the Bishop . 'And also', he adds, 'that he would be a bit less ...well, buxom'.
Far below, in the frigid night air, a dark form scrambles, cursing, on the steep rocks. Almost stumbling over what seems to be a pirate hat and the crumpled remains of some kind of chainmail women's undergarments, the real Prince Brad slinks off into the dark ...

Soon, panic spreads through Vulgaria! In Roldova, Vlad IX issues orders for his troops to resist Dimitri's forces to the last man, and then hurriedly quits Herzo-Carpathia entirely, his carriage taking himself and his immediately family to Gross Schnitzelring. And so dear reader, thunder clouds gather upon the horizon of Mittelheim's golden age of peace. Still, the troubles in Herzo-Carpathia surely are nothing that that even a small band of sane and sensible diplomats could not resolve amicably, given the moderate application of some intelligence, empathy, compromise and forethought. Oh dear.