Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Meanwhile, in Nabstria!

The Pfanenstiel Hussars

Years have now passed in Mittelheim since the Cod War of 1757.  The inhabitants of Nabstria are now, alas, all too accustomed to the alarums and excursions of war.   Yet the cost in both blood and treasure, squeezed out of the long suffering peasantry, has not had its just recompense in the enlargement and enrichment of the Burggraviate.  Indeed, the people of Nabstria have suffered a long series of disappointments in the wars that have raged across Mittelheim.  Victories have been few, defeats many.  The famous victory of Nottelbad in June 1757 now seems a faded, almost ancient, memory.  That glorious victory against the hated Rotenburgers led to the temporary recovery of Nottelbad, with its rococo duck pond celebrated in Nabstrian memory, song, story and poem.  Yet that golden-age was short-lived even by Nabstrian standards.  Soon, the tides of war had turned against Nabstria and Nottelbad fell into Fenwickian hands.  Even worse, Nottelbad was then traded like a trinket as, at the Peace of Zachsen, it became the Gelderland client state of the Duchy of Bahnsee-Kassell. Long has Nottelbad had to suffer under the harsh yoke of foreign rule and its recovery now seems impossible.  Like a young Nabstrian plough boy with a face full of pimples sighing over a woodcut of the beautiful Nora Hindquarters, it remains an unattainable dream.

The Famed Nottelbad duck pond, now smarting under the Fenwickian heel…
Yet, if one frequents the taverns and inns of Nabstria, one may well happen to meet a veteran or two of the Burggrave’s wars, sitting by the fire in a threadbare uniform and perhaps missing a limb or two.  They, when people will listen, will tell the story of the great victory of Nottelbad over the hated Rotenburgers.  Of how General von Rumpfler, in his prime, came up with a battle plan so cunning that it actually worked.  How Michael von Pfanenstiel led the noble cavalry of Nabstria on a desperate career around the Rotenburg lines.  They will tell of Paul, Duke of Clarkeshire in the days when he still wore a silly hat, acting as a rallying point for the whole army.  And of how the incompetent Rotenberg buffoons were discomfited, disorganised and soundly beaten.  Those veterans, now aged and shrunken by wounds, poverty and disappointment, will raise themselves up, and with shining eyes, tell of Michael von Pfanenstiel, his inspiration, his leadership and his heroic death on the battlefield.

Nabstrian veterans remembering past glories…

But those days are surely gone and all that remains to remind the people of Nabstria of such glories are some faded woodcuts of Nottelbad as it used to be, when its Nabstrian ducks could swim freely in Nabstrian water and spread their wings under a Nabstrian sky.

Yet there is one for whom the Battle of Nottelbad remains a very real, living memory.  Lord Michael Hieronymus Wilhelm-Franz Igor Rudolph Edelina von Pfanenstiel remembers only too well when what remained of his father was brought home in a small but beautifully carved snuffbox.  He remembers the comfort of knowing his father died in the moment of victory and the horror and despair he felt when Nottelbad later fell to the enemy.

Michael von Pfanenstiel junior.

            Now come of age, Michael von Pfanenstiel is animated by a single thought: to honour his father’s memory and seek vengeance for his death.  While his mother encouraged him to take the normal path of a young Mittleheim noble and gain knowledge, experience, culture, and a nasty case of the pox by going on the Grand Tour, the young Michael would hear none of it.  He had one desire: to raise a regiment of hussars and take the field against Nabstria’s oppressors.

What Michael von Pfanenstiel should have been doing…

Von Pfanenstiel paid for recruiting posters to be placed all over Nabstria:

Perhaps not surprisingly, the men of Nabstria did not respond in an overly enthusiastic manner: too many men have now joined the army and not returned.  Yet, with the addition of most of the von Pfanenstiel estate workers who were ‘encouraged’ to join, the help of the old Nabstrian recruiting trick of a dress, a sergeant, and a bottle of beer, not to mention a few authentic Hungarians who got lost on their way to Saxony, the ranks of the regiment were quickly filled.
 And so, after spending much of his inheritance and the wealth of his estate on raising and equipping his regiment, von Pfanenstiel’s Hussars are now ready to take the field.  Yet these hussars are not gaily dressed in the bright, vivid colours of a run-of-the-mill hussar regiment.  No, these are ‘The Death’s Head Hussars’ garbed in sombre black to remind every man in the ranks of von Pfanenstiel and his death at Nottelbad.

The ‘Black’ Hussars of Nabstria
There is another person in Nabstria who has long remembered von Pfanenstiel’s sacrifice at Nottelbad.  The von Pfanenstiel family, with its large and productive estates has long been connected with the Burggrave and he is only too pleased to grant the young Michael the honour of parading his regiment before him.

The newly raised regiment parading before their Buggrave

Under the walls of Falkensteinburg, young Michael von Pfanenstiel parades his new regiment under the admiring eyes of Burggrave Falco.
‘Well done men!  Three Cheers for our Burggrave!  Hurrah!
Death to the enemies of Nabstria!
Death to the hated Rotenburgers!
Death!  Death! Death!’

…Shouts von Pfanenstiel.  The Burggrave is certainly pleased to have the reinforcement of a dashing regiment of Hussars but young Michael’s enthusiasm begins to grate.
‘Err, Michael, my dear young fellow, do you think you could shout a little quieter?  You might wake the Burggravina…’

Monday, 19 December 2016

Leipflute, the Final!

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All on the Plains of Leipflute
Rode the twelve hundred.
“Forward, across the stream!
Charge for the flank!” he said.
Across the Plains of Leipflute
Rode the twelve hundred.

Their enemy was undismayed
“Marvellous! The fools have strayed!”
Barry-Eylund thought he knew
"Rentall has blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the Stream of Death
Ride the twelve hundred.
The mad bastards."

Woods to right of them,
Table-edge to left of them,
Two streams in front of them
They panicked and chundered;
But 'Find the Way' twice they played
Across the stream twice they wade
And upon the enemy flank
Were the gallant twelve hundred.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All on the Plains of Leipflute
Rode the twelve hundred
'Look, there's an open flank!'
Forward, their rear to spank!'
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Flowed the twelve hundred.

Foot to right of them,
Table-edge to the left of them,
Horse to the front of them,
Forward they thundered;
"Dammit their reserves are here
And line the stream, we're done I fear!"
Into the charge they went
The trembling twelve hundred

Flashed all their buttocks bare,
Flashed in this sad affair
All turned to runners there,
Retreating in chaos, while
All the world wondered.
Wreathed in the musket smoke
Right in the stream they broke;
Vulgarian horsemen
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they fell back, but not
Not the twelve hundred.

Boos to right of them,
Jeers to left of them,
Enemy behind them
While Rentall wondered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They hadn't fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of twelve hundred.
Which was about 1,198 of them.

When can their glory fade?
'About now' their general said
All Vulgaria wondered
What difference it made
How they had badly strayed
Ignoble twelve hundred!

'Well, dish ish very dishappointing,' says Rentall ruefully, watching as Tripodi's cavalry fall back from the left flank. As the Vulgarian horse retreat, there is more bad news as the Lord Grand Prior's Regiment breaks under enemy artillery fire. General van Rentall though is an experienced soldier and refuses to panic. The Bachscuttelers are badly positioned for a meaningful counter-attack, and conditions are propitious for a measured withdrawal from the battle. Rentall's system of depot battalions will easily make good the losses in his army, and some of his infantry seem to have learned quite a lot just by watching the fighting. One fly in the ointment is that Giovanni di Tripodi decides that a command position in the Vulgarian army is less rewarding than he had hoped; and so he quits, citing irreconcilable differences with everyone in the Voivodate's military.
Rentall rides to his infantry as the retreat is sounded: he shouts encouragingly -  'Fear not, my brave men: for in dis firsht battle you have acquitted yourshelves well!'
The troops look initially confused, some saying: 'There has certainly been a battle; but no one has fitted any shelves.'
Luckily, Baron Tostov comes to the rescue, and as the Bachscuttlers watch the Vulgarian army march from Leipflute they can hear them shouting a defiant 'Gottle of geer! Gottle of geer!'

Monday, 12 December 2016

Leipflute, the Second!

'We're being overwhelmed!' cries Captain von Schnitzelhund of the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel's von Schnitzelhund irregulars. 'They're everywhere, my lord Barry-Eylund: on our flanks; to our rear!'
General Barry-Eylund stares across the battlefield towards the Vulgarian forces and waves dismissively at the captain. 'Von Schnitzelhund, your struggles in the woods against the squirrels are the least of our worries.'
The captain, agitated, persists: 'But, sir, we need reinforcements - we cannot otherwise continue to hold the wood!'
General Barry-Eylund points to the left: 'Go back to your troops, captain, and obey your orders: remember - death before dishonour!'
Von Schntizelhund's shoulders sag: 'Yes sir. Death. Dishonour.' He trudges westwards back to the woods and the garrison of two irregular regiments.
Major Bohner watches him disappear. 'Shall I prepare to reinforce the woods, sir?'
'Dammit no!' replies the general. 'I shall reinforce that wing only under very specific conditions.'
Bohner nods. 'These being, my lord?'
'Well,' replies Barry-Eylund, 'the first requirement would be a heavy frost in Hell.'
'Ah. I see sir,' says the major.
'Indeed, Bohner. Let me be quite specific. I care not if my light troops are overwhelmed. I care not, frankly, if they are overwhelmed; shot; cut heavily with the sabres of some very angry and inventive hussars; and then captured by some squirrels who get medieval on their nuts.'
'Yes, sir; I see sir.'
'Bohner, there are two reasons for my lack of concern. First, any attack on those light troops by the enemy would likely have as its purpose the drawing out of my reserves. The enemy regular cavalry are on the other flank and it is that flank upon which the main enemy strike is likely to fall. Second, and here I must confess to a measure of unprofessionalism, I just don't like them.'
Bohner nods slowly. 'I see sir. They are indeed difficult to love, it is true.'
'Bohner, I've had attacks of piles that I'd miss less than those irregulars.'
'Well, general, I'm sure they'd be buoyed up by the confidence that you have in them.'
Barry-Eylund shakes his head. 'Three campaigns I've dragged those floppy ne'er do wells around. And thus far their main successes have comprised the vigorous rummaging in ladies undergarments.'
The major nods. 'They are indeed, my lord, the very embodiment of Bachscuttel military heroism.'
Suddenly, drums and trumpets sound in the Vulgarian lines. Movement commences amongst the Vulgarian irregulars.
Barry-Eylund scans the distance with his telescope.
'Here they come,' murmurs Bohner ...

(Above) Eschewing a frontal advance by his regular infantry, the Vulgarian commander, General Herz van Rentall, determines instead upon a thrust to his right by his combined force of irregular foot and horse with the aim of clearing the woods of Bachscuttel's irregulars. Van Rentall himself advances with his light troops to ensure that they remain in fullest command. The Vulgarian light troops are commanded by two more Dutch mercenaries: a Captain Kleinvarken; and a Colonel Kurtz. Both Kleinvarken and Kurtz are very experienced officers having fought for many years in the jungles of Surinam. Leading repeated expeditions into the dark hinterlands of 'Nam, both have been involved in brutal fighting against the Marrons - cunning tribes composed of escaped slaves. Kurtz, however, has suffered particularly. Having got lost on one expedition somewhere in the heart of darkness, Kurtz was found later in the deep jungle having lost his troops, his hair, and his britches; and having acquired instead tattoos, nihilistic philosophy, and a tribe who worshipped him as a God. Kleinvarken was impressed, since Kurtz had only been missing for twenty minutes.

The Vulgarian irregular infantry advance directly upon the woods.Van Rentall, however, orders Kleinvarken to instruct Kurtz to swing the hussars to the right of the woods and to bring them thence upon the flank of the nearest Bachscuttel unit. The captain rides reluctantly towards Kurtz. There are two things in his military life that make Kleinvarken afraid: and both are Colonel Kurtz. One side of the colonel is deeply melancholic; prone to dark, blood-soaked introspection. The other side is much less jolly and manifests when he gets a bit depressed. When this side looks into the abyss; the abyss makes feeble excuses and shuffles off terrified. Indeed, there was something about Colonel Kurtz that disturbed even his Vulgarian soldiers: his grim silence, perhaps; the thousand yard stare; his habit of getting wildly drunk, and very naked, and of bashing his head against the side of buildings, and howling 'Death! Death! Death is coming for us all!' Ironically, this last comment was slightly less true for Kurtz than for others. Death, who had almost met Kurtz several times in Surinam, had become rather unnerved by the gloomy Dutchman and therefore turned out to be much less willing than he ought to have been actually to gather him in. This might have explained Kurtz's survival in face of some very close calls: of the seventeen musket armed Marrons who, when firing at him all simultaneously missed and instead shot one another; of the hatchet blow to Kurtz's face that bounced off one of his gold teeth; and the grand piano that fell on him from a considerable height just as he fell into a hole that was half an inch higher than he was tall.

Kleinvarken reaches the colonel. Kurtz turns slowly and says 'The horror! The horror!'
The captain grimaces - the colonel's mood doesn't seem especially sunny. 'Just to check colonel; is that horror, or Horace?'
'Horror,' replies Kurtz.
'Righto sir. But sir,' says Kleinvarken  trying to re-direct the colonel from his dark place,  'In addition, there are also butterflies, sir, and lovely blue skies.' He waves expansively towards the woods.
'Butterflies,' mutters Kurtz. 'Blue skies ...'
'Yes, yes,' says Kleinvarken encouragingly.
' ... and horror', murmurs Kurtz.

(Below) Van Rentall's plan seems to work. In the woods, Captain von Schnitzelhund directs the Palatinate's irregulars towards the enemy to their front. Suddenly, however, he hears a strange drumming sound. Horses! Curses! The captain now realises suddenly that the wily Vulgarians have flanked his troops.

Schnitzelhund climbs quickly onto a tree stump. Above the sound of musketry, he bellows 'This is your captain speaking! You are about to experience a certain amount of turbulence occasioned by the arrival on our flank of an enemy cavalry charge. Please adopt the brace position. If we need to move towards the exits from this wood, then do so in an orderly fashion, first removing any sharp objects from your body, such as enemy sabres or bayonets!' Suddenly, there is a wild crashing sound and gutteral Vulgarian war shouts - the Bachscuttlers are engulfed by the charging hussars! Despite Barry-Eylund's  fears, however, the Bachscuttel irregulars put up quite a fight. The hussars swirl around the woods doing great execution, but Schnitzelhund holds on, and the hussars withdraw to regroup. To the front, the Vulgarian troops are driven back!

(Below) As van Rentall concentrates on the fight in the woods, Barry-Eylund uses the efforts freed up by not giving a hoot about his irregulars to bombard the Vulgarian line. Despite its usual lamentable accuracy, over time one at least of the Vulgarian infantry regiments is left in considerable disorder.

(Above, at the bottom) As the Vulgarians make slow ground in the woods, Barry-Eylund finally is forced to pay attention to events there. He wheels his leftmost regiment to cover his flank. Smug bastard that he is, the general has made a teeny miscalculation, because the flank of this regiment is exposed now to enfilade fire from the Vulgarian artillery. As the fight in the wood pauses, van Rentall orders his artillery to exploit this mistake. The regiment takes some nasty hits before, cursing his weak grasp of geometry, Barry-Eylund is forced to retire the regiment slightly so that it is no longer exposed. This fiddling about over, the Vulgarian assault on the woods is renewed!

In the midst of the fighting in the woods, Kurtz stares around at the death and blood being ladled out by the continuing combat. He turns to the captain:  'I have seen horrors that you have not seen. Kleinvarken.'
'That's true sir; but then I did spend most of the first two years in Surinam with my eyes closed.'
Kurtz nods. 'That does explain why your shooting was quite random. And there was such a lot of it. The locals were wild.'
'Wild, sir?' replies Kleinvarken, 'they were bloody livid, what with us burning their villages and all.'

(Below) Finally, another charge by the Vulgarian hussars breaks one unit of the Bachscuttel irregulars. Van Rentall begins to marshal his light horsemen to exploit the gap in Barry-Eylund's flank. Barry-Eylund, however, has already realised the threat. Recognising that it is best not to have two regiments of enemy hussars buggering about in his rear areas, he orders one of his cavalry regiments from column into line and then seals the gap. However, having paid less attention than he might at the commencement of the battle to the positioning of his cavalry, the task of sealing this flank falls to his elite cuirassiers, troops that could probably find better employment: such as, say, if the enemy were just about to embark upon a major cavalry assault upon the other wing ....

With one regiment of Bachscuttel irregulars still in the woods, and with no prospect now of a breakthrough on this flank, Rentall quits the irregulars and rides post-haste to the other wing of his army. 'Now, Tripodi!' he shouts 'Charge with our cavalry! Crush da enemy!'

As the fighting on this part of the battlefield peters out, Colonel Kurtz turns to Kleinvarken again. 'I have seen horrors.'
'This is bad,' thinks the captain - Kurtz is heading again to his dark place.
'Well, yes sir; but there is some splendid scenery. And some lovely sunsets.'
'Yes, Kleinvarken: sunsets; and scenery; but also horrors. I've seen horrors .... horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer.'
'Well, sir,' the captain replies, 'I don't think I used the word "murderer" sir: I think that I just pointed out that you might be a bit of a "glass half empty" fellow, sir.'
Kurtz continues: 'You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that ...'
'Well,' says Kleinvarken. 'I think I used the word "rest" rather than "kill" but ...'
'But you have no right to judge me. It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means.'
'Words? No sir: but you did do those mimes, sir; they were quite, er, graphic.'
'Horror, Kleinvarken ... Horror has a face...'
'And some appendages, sir, if I remember your mime: that fall off a lot.'
'And you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends.'
'But sir, wouldn't you just rather let them be friends with someone else, sir? Or perhaps only be the sorts of friends that you see on birthdays or at Christmas?'
Kurtz shakes his head. 'You have to have men who are moral ... and at the same time who are able to utilise their primordial instincts to kill without feeling ... with passion ... without judgement. Without judgement! Because it's judgement that defeats us!'
'Troops without judgement, sir?' Kleinvarken watches the von Schnitzelhund irregulars as they rout away rapidly. 'Well, Bachscuttel seems to have plenty of those.'

On the other flank, trumpets can be heard blowing. Four regiments of Vulgarian cavalry began to canter forwards. Through his telescope, Barry-Eylund sees the movement of the enemy horse and snorts loudly:
'Pah! There's no possible way that they can get themselves over that stream and onto our flank!'