Monday, 31 October 2016


As the citizens of Mittelheim endure once again the dire vicissitudes of war, a fearful new threat is about to hove into view.

From their moorings in the pirate towns of North Africa comes a squadron of the feared pirates of the Burberry Coast. Their leader is the famed corsair  Amir Rhodri Pasha; known to some because of his constant alertness as 'Amir Kat;' and to others, because of his almost magical ability to survive injury, as 'Amir Fleshwound.' This Burberry Amir actually began his life as one Rhodri Barrabrith of Borth in Wales. After years spent in New Mittelheim fashioning the Welsh colony of Nova Cambria, Barrabrith was unlucky enough to be aboard a small merchant vessel, the Felinfoel, when it was captured by a Burberry vessel off Madeira two years ago .

Barrabrith was nervous, having heard tales of the application by the pirates of the most innovative forms of torture in order to encourage their captives to 'turn Turk' and renounce their faith. Barrabrith held out perfectly well whilst he was asleep, but then gave in when his captors woke him and gave him a particularly threatening: 'Good morning, fellow -  would you like some breakfast?' Keen to impress his new captors, Barrabrith also briefly embraced Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism just so that he could renounce them as well and become Muslim more often. Being then a free man, Barrabrith volunteered to crew one of the many pirate ships, attracted by a life that offered freedom, adventure, and a legitimate opportunity to drink his own urine. Now in command of his own small squadron of ships, the Welsh Amir has led them northwards on a voyage of fighting, plunder, and lavish facial hair with the aim of sacking 'the Constantinople of the North,' the English town of Grimsby.

Sadly for Amir Rhodri, the voyage thus far has produced slim pickings. They landed for a short while in Iceland, but were driven off in some disorder by the local cuisine. One key lesson for the inexperienced pirates seemed to that the phrase 'it's an acquired taste' should actually be taken as some kind of death threat. To be fair, as the Amir himself accepted, if one found a shark lying around on a beach then one would probably bury it. But what seemed less explicable was why one would dig up again later and try and eat it. Perhaps the locals hated their noses, Amir Rodri had mused. Or perhaps it might have been a desire to try and end it all, perhaps as a result of depression occasioned by the grim, dark, freezing environment in which the local population existed. But then again, if ghastly surroundings led one to eat decomposing aquatic predators, they'd be gobbling sharks down by the shovel-full in Grimsby. Indeed, Grimsby itself they didn't bother landing at. A quick look through his telescope told the Amir that it had probably already been sacked, burnt, ploughed with salt, burnt, and then piddled on. Whatever remained was a gloomy, benighted land suitable for living in only if one could build oneself some kind of black tower, command evil minions, and manufacture magical jewelry.

Finally, after a voyage duller than a Trappist singalong, fate has brought the Burberry pirates to the coasts of Mittelheim. Amir Rhodri stands on the upper deck of his  vessel. With the prospect of land-fall and some proper raiding, his spirits are restored. He turns to his second-in-command, Kujuk Huseyin:
'Rejoice, Huseyin! For here we are, prowling this freezing ocean for  infidels like a pair of sharks!'
Huseyin nods miserably. 'There aren't really any dangerous sharks in the Baltic, Dread Lord.'
'Really?' says the Amir. 'Well, then we are a pair of dangerous whales, waiting to tear apart any infidel prey that dares to cross our path!'
'Hmm, no, my Lord,' replies Huseyin, 'the whales in this sea don't really have any teeth.'
The Amir frowns. 'Well how do they eat things, then?'
Huseyin shrugs. 'I think that they sort of ... suck things in. They have huge mouths.'
'They suck things to death?' says the Amir, eyeing the surrounding water with trepidation. 'Harsh.'

'Land ho!' comes a voice from the front of the ship.
Excitedly, the Amir squints through the murky gloom of the morning towards a smear of land on the horizon.
Huseyin consults a chart. 'Mittelheim, my Lord. Notionally, these lands are said to be at war.'
'Notionally?' asks the Amir.
'Yes Dread Lord - apparently they are either at war, or the lands have been overrun by some particularly unconvincing travelling circuses.'
Amir Rhodri frowns: 'How will we know?'
'If it's war then the costumes will be sillier. Apparently we are now approaching the coast of a place called "Rotenburg".'
'How bad is it'?
'Apparently, my Lord, it's an acquired taste.'
The Amir sighs. 'So it's really that bad, then.'

Friday, 14 October 2016

Wimintzhauer, the Final!

Accompanied by Captain von Stumpe (who, as usual, is camouflaged in his hussar uniform of inconspicuous bright yellow and blue), Burgrave Falco and General von Rumpfler advance towards the fighting (below). By placing himself between his infantry and cavalry, Rumpfler eases his command and control problems a tad. However, a significant difficulty with his sequential parallel plan begins to emerge. With his musketeers engaged in a punishing exchange of fire with their Imperial adversaries, they soon seem to need rallying. However, Rumpfler quickly determines that if he rallies his infantry, he cannot order forwards, or rally, his cavalry, the latter of course being crucial to his intent to turn the Fenwickian flank. Thrust painfully upon the horns of this dilemma, the general wiggles ineffectually for a while before concluding that, with losses in his infantry mounting faster than King Wilhelm in a two-for-one bordello, rallying the foot must take priority.

The general rides to his infantry. Ignoring the nearby regiment of red-coated Nabstrian mercenaries, whose painful death, of course, would for Nabstria merely constitute prudent long-term financial planning, Rumpfler seeks to inspire his musketeers with another of his famous speeches. Above the crash of gunfire and the roar of soldiers' voices, he shouts: 'Men! Rally to your colours! Reform your ranks! Some scoundrels have said that the Nabstrian army is the least successful army in Mittelheim, with a poor record in both attack and defence. I say to those scoundrels: statistically, this is probably correct. But the key point, men, is - it has never been my fault!' Rumpfler's troops seem surprisingly uninspired by these words. As the infantry duel continues, the Nabstrian infantry line begins to buckle as catastrophically as  Princess Caroline of Bachscuttel's corset after a heavy sneeze. Nevertheless, despite the problems faced by his infantry, Rumpfler decides to take a risk and refocus his energies on his cavalry attack.

Ceasing to rally his infantry, Rumpfler once again orders forward his right wing cavalry  in an attempt to break the Fenwickian flank. 'Forward again?' asks the Comte de Finay. The messenger nods gravely - 'General von Rumpfler says that we must make a point to the enemy.'
'Hmmm,' says the Comte, 'Is the point that we're idiots?' With a sigh, he orders the trumpets to sound the charge. Given the  importance of the ensuing encounter for the outcome of the battle, it is worth quoting, for accuracy's sake, the account of the combat contained within the Nabstrian Official History:

'And so, the trumpets sounded the charge and the great mass of Nabstrian horse thundered forwards. And lo! leading them was Alain, Comte de Finay: great was his wrath and he had a fell hand and doom was written upon his brow. And his adjutant cried: 'My Lord, why have you got "doom" written upon your brow?' And the Comte replied, 'For I am wrath.' And his adjutant replied, 'Then, my lord, I should advise writing "wrath" upon your brow because "doom" has two 'o's; and what you have written upon your brow means something rather different.' And the Comte was doubly wrathful, and invited his adjutant to take an unlikely anatomical excursion with a spoon; and he ordered the horsemen of Nabstria once more unto the attack.'

'And so, the horsemen of both sides fell upon one another again. And there was a great shout; and the men of Nabstria set about those of Fenwick, and their eyes were fierce and their swords sharp and their riding predictably mediocre. And there was a great shivering of swords upon swords; and dire blows were struck; and painful wedgies administered. (Below) But the Nabstrian host was well nigh overrun; and they were sorely bested and were driven back; many flying, and some going hither and thither; and others whither and zither.'

'But the Comte rallied them with brave words and loud threats of sharp implements applied to wrinckly sacks; and the Nabstrian horsemen gathered about again; and seeing the enemy banner ahead with few men about it and being filled with dudgeon and having their blood pressure raised dangerously, they drew once again their swords and it was like glittering of stars; and their shouts were like the bleating of many very annoyed sheep. Then, the Comte de Finay's anger burned hot again and he was filled with red wrath and he cried aloud 'Verily, I am really wrathful; let us fall upon these  fellows and give them a smiting'. And his men cried 'A smiting! Yeah, verily, foresooth and whatever! Let us give it to them!' And they came against the horsemen of Fenwick with a great press of men. Great was the clash, and loud the moaning about it really hurting, but more skilled and bitter were the Nabstrians and they clove through the Fenwickians like King Wilhelm en route to a free buffet. (Below) And the Comte broke through the press and threw down the enemy chieftain who cried 'Ow! Ow! Stop smiting me, sir!'and he hewed the enemy banner-bearer and seized their standard and all that was left of the enemy company turned and fled.'

'But lo, suddenly the sky dimmed and the dark turned about and it looked like it might rain; and the Nabstrian cavalrymen, worried about their wigs going frizzy, fell back. But the second body of Fenwick's horsemen, fearing not the darkness, were emboldened. And, unusually for this battle, receiving an order from headquarters, they swept forward against their enemy. And there was a great smiting and soiling of undergarments and falling off of horses; and no quarter was asked or given because neither side was good with fractions. And the Nabstrians, being sorely knackered by their previous fight, were dismayed at the ferocity of the enemy's onset and they were greatly afraid and so also greatly worked over; and they did a runner. And the Comte cried aloud: 'For Christ's sake, not again! Come back you lazy bastards!' But it was to no avail. And General Rumpfler, hearing of these events, was not rightly pleased and uttered very many naughty words.'

With the defeat of his cavalry assault, Rumpfler's attack is over. Having risked all on the cavalry breakthrough, his infantry have not had the benefit of his rallying efforts. The Nabstrian line is raked by musketry and pulverised by cannon, tearing off legs, knees, and feet reducing both the morale and the average height of the infantry. Rumpfler's vain attempt, too late, to rally his infantry raises neither their spirits nor their stature. (Above) The entire Nabstrian front line is broken by Imperial fire. (Below) Burgrave Falco surveys the shattered remains of the Nabstrian army.
'Well,' he says to Rumpfler, 'That fell apart quickly. My dear general, I think, once we have returned to the capital, that we should have a conversation.'
Rumpfler nods wearily. Whatever is in store for him, it is a fair guess that it is unlikely to be a promotion and a commemorative tankard.

Meanwhile, aside from the single 'charge' order issued to the cavalry, the Imperial headquarters has remained royally inactive. The Fenwickian staff indeed has been rendered insensible once again thanks to the wearing Fenwickian sensitivity to double entendre. Nitzwitz, intending to point out that the small copse that divides the Fenwickian line might provide the perfect avenue for a counter-attack on the exposed Nabstrian left has tried to outline this to his compatriots. Sadly, the Captain, who really should have known better, got no further than commenting that: 'Since the wood is already in our hands' before the Fenwickian staff have 'fnarred' themselves into a swoon.
As the fighting dies down, Marshal Cavandish passes wind loudly and wakes himself with a start.
'Grenadiers forward!', he blurts out in a daze: 'Rabbit onesies on!' His eyes snap into focus, aware now of the stares of his staff officers.
'Excellent,' he says, 'My plan has been a famous success.' He turns to his horse, Keith. 'Now what was it?'

Monday, 3 October 2016

Wimintzhauer, the Second!

General Rumpfler looks out across the battlefield. He turns to his aide-de-camp, Captain Hugo von Stumpe. 'Von Stumpe,' says the general, twirling his moustache, 'you know what it's like to have that satisfying feeling that comes from inflicting on the enemies of Nabstria an absolutely crushing defeat; the joy of seeing a well-executed plan grind one's opponent into the dust?'
'Yes, sir?', replies von Stumpe.
'Well', says Rumpfler, 'I don't.'
From his vantage point Rumpfler surveys the field of combat. It is choked with dead, most of which, sadly, seem to be in the familiar blue uniform of the Nabstrian army. The dead are food now for the carrion birds that cluster thickly across the open meadow. Some birds nip suspiciously at the corpses, most gagging at the revolting taste of Mittelheimer; others circle the field warily, searching in vain for some kind of condiment that will render palatable the dead Nabstrians.
'How could we have failed,' wails Rumpfler,' for my plan was perfect!'
To understand this turn of events, dear reader, we must make our way back to a point in time some two hours before.....

(Below) From the Imperial positions, the Nabstrian foot seem a reassuringly long distance away. Cavandish's aide, Captain Fabius Nitwitz, brushes crumbs from the marshal's chest and then brings around Cavandish's horse, Keith. By the time Nitzwitz has the stirrups adjusted, the good marshal has slumped forward and is now engaged in very close examination of the bottom of his pie dish. Soft snores emerge gently from between the chicken and ham. The Fenwickian staff contemplate waking Cavandish but then, after a whispered debate, conclude that not being given any orders hasn't, in previous battles, seemed to be an insuperable burden for the army. Besides, if there are any really knotty problems relating to doctrine or military strategy, they always have Keith. Nitwitz raises his telescope - in the distance, the Nabstrians seem to be up to something.

'Splendid!' says Rumpfler, 'My plan unfolds with rigorous precision.' The general points to his right, drawing Burgrave Falco's attention to the advance of the Nabstrian cavalry.
'See, my lord, how perfect is the formation of your horse; how impetuous their desire to fall upon their enemies.'
'Indeed, yes, dear general,' replies the Burgrave. 'But isn't it usual to have riders upon the horses?'
Rumpfler nods. 'They'll catch up soon,' he says, pointing to the sweating, ragged mass of cavalrymen running behind. Alain, Comte de Finay, the Nabstrian cavalry commander, is with them, although his forward progress seems to be impeded somewhat by one of his dragoons, who seems to have placed one of Finay's booted feet further than might be strictly comfortable up his posterior. 'Onwards, you sluggards!' cries the Count, 'Charge! Charge!'

A series of loud booms rings out from the Imperial lines: the well-trained Fenwickian cannoneers bring their pieces into play, directing their fire upon the vulnerable columns of Nabstrian infantry. The Burgrave grimaces as nearby musketeers are disarticulated by the enemy artillery. The Burgrave leafs through the pages of Fun Szu's Art of War: but there is nothing in it that can prepare him for the sight of an infantryman losing a head-butting contest against a 12 pound cannon ball. Nor do the military philosopher's crude potato prints seem especially relevant to the problems of mounting a combined arms assault on a prepared enemy position.
Rumpfler considers the situation in front of him and then suddenly gives the order for his infantry to advance.
The Burgrave frowns slightly. 'I don't want to seem pedantic, my dear Rumpfler, but isn't the point of a sequential attack that one act should follow another?'
The general considers this for a moment. 'Well, indeed sire, in a purely temporal sense that could be said indeed  to be the case. But, famously as with Pope Clement when he was discovered bound with leather thongs, in a small wine barrel, with three young novitiates, flexibility can often be a requirement for success. I'm sure that my parallel advance will be quite as effective.'
The Nabstrian march columns are ordered forwards: there is something about their advance that indicates that this is not a popular order - something about the the reluctant, shambling gait of the troops; something about the miserable hunch of their shoulders; something about the voices crying out 'Lord no! We're all going to dieeeeeeeee!'

On his hill, Nitzwitz and the other staff officers contemplate the Nabstrian advance. One minute the Nabstrians are very, very far away, but then, behold (below, at the top) through the combination of march column and cadenced step, Rumpfler's infantry are suddenly in front of the Imperial positions!
'He is throwing his infantry into the teeth of our muskets and canister,' says Nitzwitz to his brother officers, 'what can we conclude from this?'
'That he hates his infantrymen?' suggests one.
'Should we issue an order?' says another. 'Wouldn't that be the sort of thing that we should do?'
'I don't know,' says Nitzwitz. 'Has anyone got some parchment and a quill?'

As the Imperial headquarters debates the merits or not of issuing orders and, if they should, whether Keith the horse should be included in the decision, Rumpfler continues his attack. The Nabstrian infantry are well deployed and present a menacing appearance with their fine drill and splendid uniforms. (Below) With his infantry deployed just outside of canister and musketry range, the general now orders his cavalry forwards, stirrups in.

Unsportingly, it transpires that the Imperial horse also have their fair share of stirrups. There is a fierce melee, with much hacking, slashing, and unnecessary use of fruity language. The Comte de Finay, having extracted his boot from the dragoon, urges his troops to greater efforts. Sadly for the Nabstrians, however, the Imperial cavalry are in fine form; in part, no doubt, because, having received no orders thus far in the battle, they are in the happy situation of having no idea at all about what's going on. Unburdened by the pressures of such things as an objective or higher direction, the Imperial cavalry drive the Nabstrians back (below). Moreover, in being driven back, Finay's men are also subject to the musketry of a small portion of some nearby Imperial foot.

Contemplating the situation, Rumpfler makes the decision to send his infantry forwards into musketry range (below). Though the cavalry has not yet succeeded in turning the Imperial flank, still, the pressure applied by the Nabstrian infantry will surely create command dilemmas that will place Marshal Cavandish under an unbearable moral and psychological burden. The Imperial commander inevitably should crack under this pressure and then, unmanned, must surely be expected to flee the battle, wailing in lamentation and making noises like a little pig.

Behind the Imperial lines, Cavandish's pie-face snoring has escalated, though this is less due to the pressure of command and more to his involuntary snorting of a piece of leek.
Nabstrian drums can be heard sounding the advance all along the line.
'What should we do?' asks Nitzwitz worriedly, his voice raised above the din of battle.
'We should definitely take counter-action,' replies a brother officer.
'Oh yes, ' says another, 'I'm all for countering whatever's going on.'
'So, we should issue an order?' asks Nitzwitz.
'Whoa, hold on there!' say several staff officers in unison. 'Let's think this through. An order could get us into trouble.'
The others nod vigorously.
'Well,' says another, 'we could seize the initiative; increase the tempo and momentum of our operations; and then defeat our enemies in the decisive non-material aspects of this battle.'
'Yes! Yes!' clap the officers.
'Or, we could ask the horse.'
'Get some paper!' cries Nitzwitz.

(Below) And so, the Nabstrian infantry advance into musket range. An enormous musketry duel commences with volleys rolling up and down the lines. Cavandish's forces, however, have the advantage of supporting canister fire. With the artillery being the only Imperial units so far to receive an order, the Fenwickians have taken perhaps the most relaxed approach to command and control yet seen on the battlefields of Mittelheim.
With cries of 'Fill the gaps!', 'Hold the line!,' and 'Look, for God's sake, someone must have a quill!' volleys of deadly musketry are exchanged.

'Is that supposed to happen?' says Burgrave Falco, viewing the smoke-wreathed firing lines from the Nabstrian positions.
Rumpfler chews his lip. 'Well, my Burgrave. it is fair to say that the first portion of this battle didn't go quite to plan; and also that this second portion has gone equally not to plan.'
'I sense a "but" general?' asks Falco.
'No, not really,' says Rumpfler. 'Still, the fight isn't over yet. Come, my Burgrave, let the two of us go forwards! Let us inspire our troops for one last effort!'
And with that, the two spur their horses towards the enemy for the final climactic events of the battle ....