Sunday, 21 August 2016


The Royal Palace in Gross Schnitzelring. It has the same smell as all the palaces in Mittelheim: the odour of power; of arrogance; and of people for whom the prospect of a bath appears on the horizon about as regularly as a delivery of salad to northern Scotland. Graf Petr Peiper-Pickderpeck, Lord of Pickelpeipers, King Wilhelm's Royal Chamberlain moves to rap on the door to the King's chambers; he then winces and halts himself. From somewhere beyond the door a voice is raised in incandescent anger.
'Infamy! Treason! Insurrection!' the voice cries.
The Graf turns to his companion, Count Matthias von Sachsenblaus, Wilhelm's Minister for War and Strudels. 'So, my dear Count, it would appear finally that the King has  read my report concerning the Vulgarian revolt.'
Count Matthias shakes his cherubic head.
'No, no, my dear Graf - the chef, unwisely, has tried to give the King some vegetables for his luncheon.'
Graf Peiper makes a silent 'oh' and nods resignedly.
'Abomination! Expectoration! Evisceration!' howls the King's muffled voice.
Count Matthias sighs. 'We're going to have to find another cook for the King. Alas, the current one has been struck dead by a glass of port.'
The Graf frowns. 'But a glass of port can't kill one.'
'It can,' replies the Count, 'if it's on a table thrown by the King.'

The Graf's shoulders hunch miserably: until the Vulgarian fiasco, it had all been going so well. Perhaps not excellently, but certainly better than expected. The King's enforced sojourn in the dungeons of Nabstria had given Wilhelm the time to reflect on what he really wanted in life: and what he really wanted, apparently, was a lot more pudding. It turned out that Wilhelm's pavlovian response to desserts made from meringue and cream meant that the mere promise of them could induce the King to agree to almost anything: so much so that Wilhelm had become known in some quarters as 'Wilhelm the Concurrer.' Life was sweet; the King malleable; the government ran efficiently; or at least, without more than the usual whiff of loondom. But now, here was the Vulgarian crisis, stinking things up like a Herzo-Carpathian codpiece after a forced march in summer.

Don Penguino contemplates the best point in a conversation to
reveal casually that his britches have no seat in them.
Waiting before the doorway, Graf Petr and Count Matthias talk through Gelderland's options and the possible responses to the prospect of Baron Vlad's activation of the Spasmodic Sanction.
'Can't we just refuse to honour the agreement?' asks the Count.
'What!' scoffs Petr. 'Impugn our honour? Hide behind the chaise-longue and pretend when Vlad comes knocking that we're not in? Or bump into him and tell him that my favourite hunting dog ate our copy of the document? Ridiculous!'
'Why?' asks the Count.
'Because I've already tried those things and they haven't worked. Our only hope is that there are no further dramas. We don't want a war with Fenwick, Rotenburg and the Vulgarian rebels. A few days of peace and quiet is what's required. Then, Vlad will realise that Herzo-Carpathia is something that he's best rid of anyway. We need to calm Vlad down; get him to realise that calling on us to honour the Spasmodic Sanction and restore him to the Herzo-Carpathian throne is a bad idea. Actually, we could offer him a bit of Badwurst-Wurstburp: the weather's better and the venereal diseases there less itchy.'
'Where?' asks Matthias, curiously.
'The Margravate of Badwurst-Wurstburp,' replies the Graf. ' It's,' he waves generally eastwards, 'somewhere in that direction. We'll just annex a  bit of it and in return give the Wurstburpers something that they need. Pantaloons. An alphabet. While we're sorting that out, we'll give Vlad a magnificent stay here.'
Matthias nods, thoughtfully. 'Perhaps you could entertain him, Graf Peiper? How do you relax?'
The Graf looks suddenly shifty. 'Oh, you know. This and that.'
'Perhaps you could take Vlad along; ingratiate yourself and help shape his thinking along our lines?' asks Matthias.
Graf Peiper Relaxes: Milk; Bubbles; and
a Midget with a Silly Hat.
The Graf shuffles a little. 'I don't think ... I don't think there would be ... sufficient hats. No, we'll have to think of something else. He must have expressed an interest in something,' he pauses, and then adds quickly, 'that isn't illegal.' He purses his lips. 'I mean, that isn't wholly illegal.' His lips move from a purse to a moderately sized gentleman's money bag. 'I mean, that wouldn't leave any strong evidence behind.'
Matthias nods, 'Well, he has expressed a considerable interest in seeing our glittering balls.'
One of the Graf's eyebrows arches with alarm.
'I mean,' replies the Count quickly, 'state banquets; dancing, that sort of thing.'
Graf Petr nods, 'Ah - excellent,' he says with no small measure of obvious relief.
The Count frowns. 'At least, I think that's what he meant.'
'Well, let's deliberate upon the issues,' replies the Graf. 'Where is Count Vlad now?'
'He is in council. His daughter, Elizabeta, I think is taking a bath in the north wing.'
'Hmmm', nods Graf Peiper. 'Is there any reason to discuss these issues with Don Penguino?'
'No, no', replies the Count vigorously, 'This is one issue of policy that cannot be improved through the application of a comedic Spanish accent. Where is the old rogue anyway - safely out of the way?'
'Oh yes, oh yes,' nods the Graf enthusiastically. 'Actually, I saw him only a few moments ago. He was carrying a towel and some soap and was walking towards the north ...'
The two look at one another for a second, just long enough to emit silent screams and then the muffled ravings of the king are drowned out by the sound of two pairs of shoes pounding the marbled passageways.

'Don't get into the bath!', the two shout, bursting into Princess Elizabeta's chamber. They halt, brought to an immediate stop by the scene in front of them. The Princess' chamber is well appointed. There is a large, unlit fireplace to the right. In front, there is a commodious, though presently empty, bath tub.
The Princess herself stands by the fireplace. She is young, dark-haired and with a physique solid enough to substitute respectably for an artillery bastion of the Vauban style. Though wrapped demurely in a curtain, she is covered from head to foot in soot.
Two men stand in front of her. One, with sword drawn, is Brad, Bishop of Prick, her brother and until recently overlord of Vulgaria. The other, grinning with a mixture of optimism and low cunning reminiscent of a weasel that has worked out how to operate door knobs and firearms, is Don Pajero de Penguino, Wilhelm's rakish confidant.

Graf Petr sizes up the situation immediately: it is crisis of a very large size; a crisis with a ballroom, two residential wings, an ornamental garden and extensive park lands to the rear.
'Bishop Brad', says the Graf, placatingly, 'I'm sure that whatever has happened here has a perfectly innocent explanation; an explanation that will allow us all to leave the room in perfect equanimity and that would any avoid need for emotional outbursts that might result, say, in the activation of any alliance commitments that might be on our minds.'
Bishop Brad scoffs. 'Sir, I shall tell you what has transpired here and you will see for yourself the terrible dishonour that this Gelderland official has visited upon my family.'
'My dear brother,' interjects Elizabeta, 'this is all just a terrible misunderstanding ...'
'Fiddlesticks!' replies Bishop Brad. 'Securely locked in her room and about to take a bath, this Spanish reprobate tried to enter the chamber, first by the door and then by climbing the ivy outside the window. Once in the room, he surprised my sister, causing her to try and hide in the fireplace!'
'Odd, but true,' adds his sister.
'I, passing this room, heard her strange cries, of alarm no doubt. I then entered the room to find my sister clothed only in this curtain and Don Penguino clothed in that self-satisfied smile! He has terrorised my sister!'
'Weeeeell ...,' begins Princess Elizabeta.
'With unwanted attentions!' continues Brad.
'Weeeeell ....,' continues Princess Elizabeta.
Bishop Brad waggles his sword close to Don Pengino's cheerful visage. 'Poltroon!'
'Que?', replies Penguino.
'Poltroon!' repeats Brad, his voice raised even higher.
Penguino's brow furrows and he starts to flap his elbows.
'No!' shouts Brad, 'not poultry - poltroon! I am not accusing you of being a chicken. Chicken,' he repeats in response to the blank look on Pengin's face. 'C-H-I-K-E-N.'
'You've missed out a "C"', interjects count Matthias.
'Not helping!' hisses Graf Petr.
Penguino extends his neck and bends over.
'No! No! No!', cries Brad, 'Not an ostrich either! Or,' he says, as Penguino begins to honk loudly, 'a duck. Look, I'm trying to insult you, you fool!'
Penguino crouches, smiling, and then neighs loudly.
'No! Fool! Not foal! Look, by The Virgin Mary's commodious undergarments, perhaps you'll understand this!' Brad slaps him across the face with his gloves. Penguino springs back surprised, and then beams widely.
Bishop Brad is taken aback and looks towards the Graf. 'Um, does he like that?'
'Well', explains Graf Petr reasonably, 'he is Spanish. Look, perhaps I should translate in order to avoid misunderstandings.' He switches to Spanish and says to Don Penguino: 'My good sir. Please, for the love that you bear our monarch, pretend that you cannot speak German. Just let me "translate" some suitably unctuous apologies and we still might escape from this predicament!'
Don Penguino considers this for a moment, then grins and nods.
Bathing in Mittelheim: Always More
Complicated Than One Might Think.

'Ha!' says Penguino in Spanish, 'It seems obvious to me, you molester of goats on alternate Sundays, that your father was some kind of small rodent, a hamster, perhaps; and that your mother smelt of some kind of soft fruit or berry found on bushes in moderate climes - elderberries, possibly.'
The Graf nods sagely and then turns to Bishop Brad. 'Don Penguino apologises and says that he meant no harm.'
'He doesn't look very contrite' replies Brad.
Both watch as Penguino points to in the direction of Elizabeta and then begins to thrust his hips back and forth.
'Ah', says Graf Petr, 'well, he's Spanish, and this is an altogether traditional Spanish greeting to a respected acquaintance.'
Penguino seems now to be be moving his hands up and down as if holding, say, two large melons whilst winking suggestively in the Princess' direction.
'Don Penguino is making an important moral point,' says the Graf.
Penguino begins to pace up and down in front of the Brad, ignoring the Bishop's sword. 'You Germans!' says the Don, angrily. 'With your arrogance, and your terrible food; and your long sausages that compensate for short sausages in other departments! I am a Spaniard! Spain! It was we who first threw back the forces of Islam in the time of the Reconquista! It was Spain that has built a world empire upon which the sun never sets! Spain whose King Carlos I straddled Europe like a giant Hapsburg colossus! It was our tercios that terrified the armies of Europe for more than a century!'
The Graf nods. 'So, Bishop Brad, the Don extends his abject apologies and now needs to leave this chamber urgently - it appears,' the Graf's eyes become slits, ' because he has an appointment somewhere very far away from here, probably involving an oceanic voyage.'
'So, he is really very apologetic and admits he is a dishonourable, damnable swine that smells of garlic and soot?' asks Brad, his sword wavering.
The Don shakes his head vigorously and says 'No, no, no, no, no.'
'Oh yes, yes' says the Graf, 'He is really very, very sorry.'
Bishop Brad stops suddenly. 'Hang on - why does he smell of soot?'
'Weeeeell ...', begins the Princess.
'And why is it,' asks the Bishop, peering more closely at Don Penguino's face, 'that his ears are sooty?'
The Don smiles and shrugs. Graf Petr and Count Matthias look at one another despairingly.
Brad peers even closer at the Don. 'And why is your tongue all black?'
The Graf gives up. 'Everybody run!', he  shouts, pulling the Don from the room. Behind he can hear Bishop Brad working himself up into a rage that threatens to burst him at the seams. News of the scandal soon reaches Vlad.

And so, thanks again to Don Penguino, circumstances have again conspired against peace. Vlad, furious with Gelderland, insists on invoking the articles of the Spasmodic Sanction: Gelderland is called upon to crush the Vulgarian rebels and their allies and to restore Vlad to the Barony of Herzo-Carpathia. Gelderland orders its army to mobilise. This is a rather extended process, requiring, among other things, waiting for most of the soldiers' voices to break and for them to begin to grow body hair. In the interim, King Wilhelm calls on Bachscuttel, Nabstria and, with the lavish application of shiny objects, the Margravate of Badwurst-Wurstburp, to support Gelderland. At his call, the Spasmodic Army, as it quickly becomes known, prepares for operations to crush Vulgaria. Realising that if Vulgaria falls, they will be next, Imperial Fenwick and Rotenburg sign the Vulgarian Convention, committing themselves to support Vulgaria in its war.

And so, the Perpetual peace comes to an end. The red hand of battle has again raised itself in anger! The conflict which becomes known, because of Don Penguino's sooty-lobed indiscretion, as the Dirty Ears War, is the largest yet in Mittelheim. Who will triumph? War to the death is the cry! No peace without pain!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016


It is morning. Bright sunlight streams through the leaded windows of the council chamber in the palace of Pogelswood. Emperor George XIII of Imperial Fenwick sits at the head of his assembled advisers. Herzog Franz, his brother, sits on his right hand.
'Get off my hand,' says Emperor George.
'Sorry, George,' says Franz.
'Sorry, Your Imperial Highness,' says Emperor George.
'Um', says Franz, 'I thought that you were the Emperor.'
The Emperor rolls his eyes. 'And I thought that you were my wily adviser. If ever we were in need of some wily-ness, I should say that it was now.'
'Is that a canoe in your britches, or are you just
pleased to see me?'
'It's a canoe.'
Towards the back of the chamber comes a faint clanging sound as Duke Joachim, the emperor's son, leans back and crosses his legs. Poking visibly above the tabletop is the Duke's latest codpiece creation from Herzo-Carpathia: the 'Spanish Inquisition'. Although in general, of course, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, in this case it is really rather hard to miss, consisting as it does of elongated polished silver-work topped with a miniature pope. Whilst the phrase 'my loins are on fire' might normally be considered a boudoir-related euphemism, with Joachim's codpiece it is, in fact, a statement of the literal truth, given that the Inquisition model also features a marvelous rendition in fully working miniature of a heretic being consigned at the stake to the fiery flames of Hell.

The assembled advisers try their best to ignore Joachim's embarrassing accouterment, but this is difficult to do: it seems to follow the eyes around the room.
'This is a disaster!', says Freiherr Gunther von Goebelgass, Minister for Fruit, Vegetables, and Public Morality. 'We are staring, your Imperial Highness, at the possibility of an apocalyptic war in which all of Mittelheim will be arrayed against us!'
A derisive snort emanates from Johan von Schmeligbad, Minister of Toast, Breakfast-Related Bakery Products and War. 'It's hardly an apocalypse, Goebelgass - stop exaggerating.'
'If it is not an apocalypse, Schmeligbad,' replies Goebelgass, 'then it will be something very like it!'
'Hmmm,' says Herzog Franz, 'an approxalypse, perhaps?'
Emperor George thumps the table. 'Cease this bickering! We must have a plan! Herzog Franz, tell us of your communications with Rotenburg. Are they likely to forgive us for implicating them in the Vulgarian revolt?'
Franz sighs. 'My intelligence suggests that Landrave Choldwig isn't very happy.'
'How unhappy?' asks Goebelgass. 'Are we still not popular, then?'
Franz nods. 'Remember when Bishop Frottage decided to lighten the mood at the concave to elect Pope Clement XIII by turning up in a comedy Martin Luther costume?'
'Well, that.'
The Emperor holds his head in his hands.
Schmeligbad then says 'Fear not, your Highness. I have a plan.'
Emperor George gestures for the Minister to continue.
'It is like this, my lord. We must prepare immediately for war and a rapid rapier-like thrust against Nabstria. Nabstria undoubtedly will use this present crisis to mobilise King Wilhelm's support for an attack on us. They still blame us, no doubt, for the failures of the last war. We must strike them now while they are still vulnerable!'
'Vulnerable?' says the Emperor.
'Indeed', replies Schmeligbad, 'the Nabstrian flirtation with model soldiers has provoked further divisions within the Burgraviate's military. Ceaseless arguments over the rules have utterly undermined the credibility of General von Rumpfler. He is widely cursed now as a rules-meistering cheat with a strangely flexible concept of an inch. He is now known to his officers as "Benda".'
'Benda?' asks the Emperor.
'After Franz Benda,' interjects the Herzog, 'the great German fiddler.'
'We'll need Rotenburg to join us,' continues Schmeligbad. 'We must strike first and win the war before our adversaries have time to mobilise!'
The Emperor nods. 'Hmmmm, this plan carries with it great risks - will Landgrave Choldwig agree to join us?'
Schmeligbad nods. 'Oh, I think so, my Lord - I have taken some steps to encourage them ....'

In Alexandopolis, Landgrave Choldwig stares down at his terrapin pool.
Baron Woffeltop is hard at work questioning a spy.
'Auric von Blonde,' the Baron says, 'You are here to be tortured at the behest of our glorious Landgrave Choldwig. You are a spy, and you will tell us who it is that you are working for.'
There is the sound of bubbles escaping.
'This really isn't working,' says Choldwig, looking down into the pool. Originally, of course, the pool was supposed to be much larger and also to contain within it crocodiles - very angry, very hungry crocodiles: or at a pinch some kind of giant snapping turtles - ravening turtles, preferably; but Choldwig would have accepted some that were just quite cross.

A Crocodile Pit: 'When you absolutely, positively got to kill
every Mittelheimer in the room, accept no substitutes.'
But budgetary constraints had forced some disappointing modifications. In the pool lies the rather sodden body of a heavy-set fellow of middle age. The fellow is slightly too large for the pool and his shoed feet stick out above the water.
'I'm not enjoying this,' says the fellow, his head propped up on the other side of the pool. 'This isn't very nice'.

Woffeltop pokes him with a stick.
'Do you expect me to talk?' says Blonde.
'No, Mister Blonde,' says Woffeltop 'I expect you to die! There's nothing that you can talk to me about that I don't already know.'
'Then why are you doing this? This is inhuman: my fingers are all wrinkled.'
Woffeltop flourishes a piece of paper. 'Intelligence sent to us by our allies indicates that you, Herr Blonde, are a Nabstrian spy intent on assassinating Landgrave Choldwig.'
'Poltroon!', shouts the Landgrave; 'Craven! Dastard! Villain!'  he continues; 'Teapot! Table! Lamp stand!,' he finishes, after exhausting his rather limited vocabulary. With a violent movement he places a terrapin under Blonde's nose. 'Take that!' cries Choldwig. The terrapin looks lost, and then falls off as Blonde sneezes.
'I haven't done anything!' cries the captive. 'I just came here to buy a wagon load of jellied seagulls.'
Woffeltop chuckles. 'A good try, Herr Blonde. But our intelligence was very specific.' He reads from the paper. 'Be on the look out for a Nabstrian spy. He is a man and he is quite tall. He will be wearing a wig. When asked, he will deny being a Nabstrian spy.'
'But ... but ...that could be anybody!' says Blonde.
'Au contraire, Herr Blonde,' replies Woffeltop, 'We have questioned more than forty individuals and you are the first to deny being a spy.'

Woffeltop and Landgrave Choldwig step away from the pool.
'Are we sure that he is a spy?' asks Choldwig. 'He doesn't seem very ... competent.'
Woffeltop shrugs. 'That much might be true - he's possibly an idiot, and certainly from Mittelheim.'
'And the Fenwickian plan - will it work?'
'I cannot rightly say, my lord.'
'Hmm, well can you wrongly say it?' asks Choldwig.
Woffeltop purses his lips. 'It all comes down to Baron Vlad of Herzo-Carpathia. If he can be prevailed upon by Gelderland not to invoke the Spasmodic Sanction, then there will be no need for Gelderland to mobilise. Given time, everyone will forget Herzog Franz's ludicrous book and its fanciful claims about our role in the Vulgarian uprising.'
'Hmmm', says the Landgrave. 'I need to speak to the Gelderland ambassador.'
'My Lord, shall I call you your carriage?'
'No - you can call me "your highness" like you usually do.'

And so, it seems that peace in Mittelheim depends now upon Gelderland diplomacy and the extent to which Baron Vlad can be mollified. This leads us, dear reader, to Gross Schnitzelring, where the question on everyone's lips is 'can the peace be maintained and a disastrous diplomatic cake and arse party be avoided?;'a question soon followed by a second thought - 'Hmmm, where is Don Pajero de Penguino?'