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 ....