Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Faltaire’s New Project!

Faltaire, the French philosopher, has not been idle in the absence of the Burggrave and the Nabstrian Army.  Indeed, his thoughts have turned from natural philosophy to those of martial theory.  Keeping up a lively correspondence with the Burggrave even while he was on campaign, Faltaire’s new conception is almost complete.  As the Burggrave goes for a rather disconsolate stroll in the grounds of Falkensteinburg, Faltaire manages to catch up with him…

‘Ah!  My dear Burggrave!  It is indeed a plaisir to see you again, brought home safe from the rigours of campaign.’
‘And it is good to see you, Mr Faltaire, although I fear that we meet again in less than ideal circumstances’.
‘Why so, Burggrave?’
‘Have you not read my correspondence with you, sir?
‘Why, of course, your Excellency’
‘Well then, you know that Nabstria is finally at peace once more but smarting under the most damnable terms.  We have lost Nottelbad, it would seem permanently, and the merchants of Falkensteinstadt are most unhappy about the new trade terms with Saukopf-Bachscuttel.  I went onto the last campaign with a real sense of hope that the Nabstrian Army would be able to defeat those scoundrels and return home with glory’.
‘Ah, yes, Burggrave, the fortunes of war have not been kind….but it is of this that I wish to speak to you, your Excellency’.
‘Oh, what?  You did mention some new plan for training the officers of the Nabstrian Army that might well lead to victory – has it resulted in anything?’
‘Indeed, Burggrave!  I have created for you and your officers the most excellent method of practicing the evolutions and tactiques of war.  With this method of ‘playing’ at war all of your officers will be well skilled and versed in the many different situations which may arise while on campaign without having to leave Falkensteinburg!’
‘But, Faltaire, how is this possible?’
‘Follow me, my dear Burggrave…’

Faltaire leads the Burggrave to another part of the grounds where his new ‘soldiers’ can be revealed…
‘But what are these, Faltaire?  How can these toy soldiers possibly help my officers?’
‘Well, Burggrave, these are but a small part of the plan.  I enlisted the aid of the guild of woodcarvers – all sadly out of employ due to the war - to fashion an ‘army’ of these soldiers so that you may engage in a game of war – a kriegspiel, if you will.  I have formulated rules for the conduct of these games which closely approximates the real performance of troops and the nature of the events in battle.  I have named them ‘Maurice’ in honour of the great French captain of war and I think you will find them both amusing and useful…’
The Burggrave and Faltaire walk further to witness the full scale of the French philosopher’s project.

 ‘Why, these are two miniature armies, complete in every detail!’ exclaims the Burggrave…
‘Indeed, your excellency.  I chose Nabstrian blue for one of the forces and Rotenburg red for the other.  With these forces, your officers may practice all of the formations and evolutions that they may require on campaign, while not over-exerting themselves when they should be resting.  The woodcarvers have done an excellent job have they not, Burggrave?’
‘Ah, yes, you are quite right, your Excellency.  I have taken the liberty of engaging additional labour for the gardeners of Falkensteinburg.  They will undertake to fashion miniature hills, ditches, watercourses and whatever obstacles your Excellency desires in order to replicate the chosen battlefield.  With the addition of small charges of gunpowder, your field of honour in miniature should be uncommonly imbued with realism…

The Burggrave and Faltaire are joined by General von Rumpfler…
‘What the devil is all of this, Faltaire, have you lost your wits?’ shouts the General.  Before the rather startled Faltaire can answer, the men are joined by the Burggravina and the lovely Miss Hindquarters.

 ‘What tomfoolery is this, sir?’ asks the Burggravina.
‘Well, my dear, this is a new project by Mr Faltaire designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Nabstrian Army.
‘To do what?  Another excuse for you to play at soldiers instead of attending to the other pressing matters of state, I’ll be bound!  Do you realise that I have had to economise my budget for pastries again this month?  It is simply not to be borne…anyway, what was the cost of all these playthings?
‘Well, madam, it was most reasonable, considering the amount of work provided to impecunious woodcarvers’, declared Faltaire.
‘How much?’, persisted the Burggravina.
‘When you consider the increased efficiency of the Nabstrian Army, is twelve thousand guilders too much?’

‘Ahem, perhaps you had better go inside, my dear’, volunteers the Burggrave…
‘Indeed I will, sir.  I have never heard of such pointless extravagance!  And when I think the money could have been spent on dresses and entertainments…’ sobs the Burggravina

As the ladies return to the castle, Faltaire manages to explain his scheme to von Rumpfler. 
‘Do you know, I think this might be the answer we’ve been looking for, Burggrave?  Hmm, we’ll need to depict some Jagers as well, tho…’ the gruff General muses…

Sunday, 27 March 2016

The Voivodate of Vulgaria

'If glory comes after death,
then I'm in no hurry'
For countless millennia (which in Mittelheim, of course, means 'one') the Southern Plain of Mittelheim has witnessed the migrations of many peoples: Slavs, Goths, Vandals, Goths (who were slow learners), Huns, and  even some rather lost Mongols who had taken a wrong turn at Kiev. And so, nestled or, perhaps more accurately, huddled against the wall of the Trans-Carpathian mountains, the Voivodate of Vulgaria has become something of a melting pot. Bohemians, Germans and more recently even Huguenot French, have found themselves sharing with the indigenous Vulgars its rolling plains, thick forests and stark mountains. The Vulgars claim to be the descendants of ancient Moravian stock overlain (repeatedly, usually when they were inebriated) by remnants of the Hunnic hordes who poured across the Plain over a millennia ago. All agree that the Huns had by far the best sense of humour, especially as compared with the dour French Huguenots whose idea of a good time seems to comprise of a morning of austere church-going and an afternoon spent correcting the pronunciation of any locals who have the temerity to try and communicate with them in their native language.

With only the Trans-Carpathians as a firm border, the Vulgars have found themselves subjects of various of Mittelheim's nations over the last thousand years. Most recently, Vulgaria has chafed as the eastern half of the somewhat nebulous Barony of Herzo-Carpathia for whose rulers the Voivode has traditionally provided a cavalry force and bulwark against the ravening, slobbering, gibbering, wibbling hordes of the Sanjak of Zenta. The traditional seat of the Voivodes of Vulgaria is the forbidding fortress of Schloss Feratu which clings perilously to a spur of the Trans-Carpathians overlooking the nation's largest town of √úrbanspraul. There have historically been short periods of Vulgarian independence but these have tended to be of relatively short duration and have ended in internecine strife, usually involving claims about goats, suet puddings or somebody's grandmother. 

Traditionally, the Voidodes of Vulgaria have been drawn from the family of Feratu-Osterburg. The coat of arms of the Voivodate combines the double headed eagle of the house of Feratu with the white cross emblem of the Osterbergs. The addition of the dragon and red cross motif represents the original Voivode's membership of the Sacred Order of the Dragon, a noble society of Christian heroes created by the Holy Roman Emperor as a bastion against the Turks. It is whispered, however, that this membership actually was a bureaucratic error since the Voivode had really tried to join the Order of the Dagon, a rather different organisation which featured more in the way of tentacles and slaughtered virgins than than the Order of the Dragon and which also had a much more interesting Christmas party.

The last wholly native Voivode of Vulgaria died, along with most of his family, some fifty years ago of a nasty tummy upset whilst dining with the then Baron of Herzo-Carpathia, and Count of Roldova, Alexandru I. The Vulgarians foolishly had believed an explanation from a local French Huguenot that the fact that the Baron was known as 'Alexandru the Poisoner' was probably simply a corruption, no doubt begun by the silly eeenglish, of the French word 'poissonnier'. Quite why Alexandru would have liked to sell fish was probably one of the early questions that the Vulgarians should have asked themselves; probably accompanied soon after by the question of why the Baron kept breaking out into insane giggles every time the Vulgarians said 'Yum, yum - this food is delicious'; and then not long after by asking also whether Alexandru's comment that 'he was trying to lose a pound or two after Christmas' seemed really to be such a plausible explanation for his failure to eat or drink anything during the banquets. Of the remaining Vulgarian members of the House of Feratu-√Ėsterburg, two died soon afterward in bizarre gardening mishaps, one being impaled by a wheelbarrow, and the other shooting himself through his ears with a leek.

Given the nature of the local weather and the skill levels of the Vulgarian peasantry, the Voivodate's most prolific output is mud. Occasional sunny days, and the efforts of Huguenot emigres, also manage to produce some grain and a curious and powerful local spirit called Pish. But the real wealth in Vulgaria comes from artisan production of codpieces. Though long out of fashion in the civilised countries of western Europe, there is still quite a market amongst the savages of Kurland for these dangerous sartorial embellishments. The town of Clunj is justly famous throughout Herzo-Carpathia, and for several hundred yards beyond, for the quality and innovation that goes into its codsmanship. In Clunj can be found the creators of such monsters as the Imperial Purple, the Swiss Musical Codpiece, the Visored Helmet, and the High Executioner. 

Levels of contentment amongst the Vulgarian peasantry have never been terribly high. The Vulgarian language, a dialect of Transylvanian, has 22 words to describe various stages of black depression; 14 different words for mud; 17 words describing different possible ways of being bitten by a suspected member of the unliving; and 34 different words to describe the feeling of being invaded by foreigners, having one's village burnt, and then discovering, just after you've put it on, that a dog has done its business in your shoe. But there is only one Vulgarian word for happiness; though this is the same word also used to describe the feeling that happens when someone else puts on one of your shoes and then finds out that a dog has done its business in it. In recent years, however, Vulgarian unhappiness has reached a nadir. In dark corners, when none can hear them, peasants whisper such things as 'Who put the candle out?'; and then 'Why am I whispering? There's no one around that can hear me'. Then, generally, their wives will say 'Don't think I can't see and hear you in that dark corner: get outside, you lazy good-for-nothing: mud doesn't just make itself'. And then, the peasant might say 'Actually, I think that it probably does'. But then, sometimes, peasants might also go on to talk of the golden years of the Feratu-Osterburgs; an independent Vulgaria, where there was mud for all and as much Pish as one could wish to drink. But this is just wishful thinking - for surely, all of the Feratu-Osterburg's are dead, aren't they?

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The County of Roldova

The County of Roldova comprises the western half of the Barony of Herzo-Carpathia. Unlike the Sanjak of Zenta, Roldova was never more than temporarily occupied by the forces of the Sublime Porte. Saving his forces from the slaughter at Mohacs in 1526 by virtue of not actually turning up, the Roldovan Count Istvan II 'The Navigator' claimed to have taken a wrong turn in Hungary. The confusion then caused to the Roldovan march by the army's attempts at a variety of multi-point turns, combined with the time taken to get so many of them freed from local prisons, led the Roldovans to arrive five years late for the battle, though fortuitously just in time to greet the Ottoman Sultan on his tour to extract tribute from his newly conquered vassals. Carrying a substantial treasure to contribute to the Christian cause of ridding the lands of the hateful Turks, it seemed a shame for it to go to waste; so the Roldovans handed it over to the Sultan with the stern warning that 'if the Turks returned next year, they would hand over some more'. So, for a period of five years, the Roldovan-Ottoman war settled into a comfortable routine. In summer, just after the harvest, the Roldovan army would flock to the banners of the Count. Having mobilised, they would then march to the frontier. Upon encountering the relevant Ottoman border post, they would launch a barrage of foul language against the occupants; they would then hand over their treasure, sign the relevant piece of paper, and receive a receipt. Returning, they would then burn down some Vulgarian villages, and steal away some of their less combative looking women folk.

Eventually, having grown tired of accepting Roldovan treasure that seemed mainly to consist of tinsel, shiny buttons, and dubious publications featuring ladies undergarments, the Ottoman army invaded the County. It was then that they discovered that they had, indeed, been receiving the very best that Roldova had to offer. Ottoman veterans of the Roldovan campaign would later admit that being garrisoned there was about as much fun as being custard pied in the face whilst having one's wedding tackle shut repeatedly in a door. Trapped there by their pride and the glutinous local mud (as well, of course, as the door), the Ottomans tried to make the best of things. But it was a disappointing occupation: the only thing that the Roldovans hated more than bathing was a foreign interloper attempting to establish a more effective system of government. Roldovan histories tell of a long period of guerrilla warfare against the Ottomans, led by the hero General Stefan Bakyadi. This was a trying time for the Turks. Unsuspecting guards might have their ears flicked; isolated border outposts would hear loud knocks on their doors -  but when they answered, no one would be there; their pantaloons would be stolen from washing lines; and, though they couldn't be certain, it seemed likely that someone was piddling in their bath houses. Eventually Bakyadi, inevitably, was betrayed by his own side and spent the remainder of his life in Istanbul (this was annoying for the Sultan, who tried on many occasions to send him back). Bakyadi's supporters claimed that Count Istvan had grown jealous of the General's growing popularity. Others, however, argued that Bakyadi's removal was a godsend, since the General seemed to have become confused over the difference between 'an effective campaign of irregular warfare' and 'a sustained campaign of titting about'. Eventually, though, the Ottomans grew tired of having to brave the cold Roldovan winters in their underpants; and of taking their baths in water that smelt suspiciously of asparagus. The Sultan's Pashas having concluded that fighting the Roldovans was expensive and ignoble, the army of the Porte withdrew to Zenta where more manly fights could be had, even against children.

The current Count of Roldova is Vlad IX; also known as Vlad 'Cagul' (this being a waterproof cape peculiar to the region, and an epithet applied to Vlad because, despite rumours of a variety of unpleasant crimes against humanity committed by the fellow, the charges always seem to roll off); and also Vlad 'Tipecs' (the latter applied because of his predilection for re-writing history). In keeping with the dictates of the Spasmodic Sanction, he is also Baron of Herzo-Carpathia, a political entity that brings together Roldova and the Voivodate of Vulgaria. Vlad is wildly unpopular in Roldova. Even in a land like the County of Roldova where most take the view that the law, like a good Pirate code, is actually 'more a set of guidelines', Vlad is exceptional in his willful efforts to, as it is known in Roldovan legal-speak, 'make stuff up'. Taxes on haircuts, knees, and elderly relatives are among the saner of his most recent laws. Of course, these initiatives have not induced the ever-thrifty Roldovans to part with more of their cash; instead, they seem to have led to the sudden creation of abandoned piles of long-haired grandparents, many with their legs inexpertly sawn off. Though less popular in Roldova than a French kissing plague-carrier, this makes Vlad very popular indeed compared with how he is viewed in Vulgaria. Vulgarians blame the Roldovan Counts for the murder of their ruling house, the Feratu-Osterburgs, on the basis that (a) the Roldovan Counts benefited most from the act; (b) the Feratu-Osterbergs all died whilst feasting in Roldova, and that (c) on their death, the Roldovan Count sent out a missive that began: 'Splendid - my evil plan has triumphed'. There are rumours, however, that not all of the Vulgarian ruling family might have perished.

Roldova is, like most of Mittelheim, primarily a land of agriculture. Still, the Herzo-Carpathian economy has a well developed cottage industry based on the production of cod-pieces. But most of this is carried out in Vulgaria. In Roldova, only the village of Suck is fully integrated into cod-piece production, mainly producing the mounting pieces for the Vlad the Impaler models. Elsewhere, Roldovan industry is more diverse. In Brasdov, many are employed in the production of false hunches to service the numbers of those who try to gain employment with local nobles as evil minions. Hakdov is well known for its turnips, often used by local women as 'cleavage augmentation' in an effort to gain employment in castles as 'abducted busty peasant daughters'. Shamefully, the County is also well known for its lively trade in body parts. Isolation, the plethora of abandoned strongholds, and the high incidence of lightning laden storms, has made Roldova something of a haven for deranged European scientists keen on pushing the frontiers of experimentation into revivification and the opportunities to become the new Prometheus.

The most notable of these is the Austrian-born emigre Baron Victor von Spanckentheim. Spanckentheim was the first scientist in Mittleheim to discover that certain kinds of eels could be induced to discharge a form of novel energy, an energy which he labelled 'Eel-Lecktricity'. As a child Spanckentheim was discovered by his parents in the bath, indulging once too often with his menagerie of eels in what he called his 'fuzzy tingly time' . Taking rather too literally the words of his irate mother that he should 'go out and make some new friends', Spanckentheim has made it his life's work to challenge God (and also annoy his parents) by taking sundry collections of fingers, knees, a head or two and some random wobbly bits, and creating from them new forms of life. Resident at Castle Spanckentheim, a modest two up-two down in Mausenburg, just next to the Turkish Pantaloons tavern, the Baron is rumoured to one of the many that makes use of the opportunities in Roldova to procure fresh raw materials. The centre for this trade is the village of Fritzwurst (twinned with Karlsbad).Travellers there are often warned not to leave any of their limbs unattended, and, before sleeping at night in unknown inns, to check their beds for unwanted leather straps, metal frames, saws, hammers, minions, connections to roof-mounted lightning conductors and so forth.

Still, such things as intense animosities, deeply entrenched historical divisions, poor practices in governance, and crudely amputated body parts have never previously been an obstacle to peace in Mittelheim. And so, surely, no sane commentator on political events could expect anything other than that the current period of peace should persist. For ages and ages. Possibly even a bit longer, perhaps.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Barony of Herzo-Carpathia

'Herzo-Carpathia: land of dark forests, dread mountains and black, unfathomable lakes. Still the home of magic and devilry'. Thus run the opening sentences of the publication Invest in Herzo-Carpathia - Your Gateway to the Balkans (Quill and Scimitar, 1752). The Barony of Herzo-Carpathia comprises of two formerly separate political entities. One is the Voivodate of Vulgaria; the other the County of Roldova. According to the irregularly enforced political agreement known as the Spasmodic Sanction, the occupant of the Baronetcy of Herzo-Carpathia alternates between the Count of Roldova and the Bishop of Prick. The agreement was signed after the sudden death of the majority of Vulgaria's native ruling family after attending a Roldovan cheese and wine party. The current Baron is Vlad IX of Roldova. The Spasmodic Sanction was in 1692 guaranteed by the Kingdom of Gelderland which felt that it was useful in propaganda terms to have a state in Mittelheim that was likely to be even more dysfunctional than it was.

Historically, there have been strong links between Herzo-Carpathia and Transylvania. It was to Herzo-Carpathia that many of the Transylvanian nobility fled after their lands were occupied by the Turks. The Herzo-Carpathian barons had as their stronghold a mountain fastness known because of the fierceness of their resistance to invaders as the Kaninchenschanze, or 'Rabbit's Lair'. It was there even, that the famous Prince of Wallachia, Vlad III, known later as Dracul, stayed briefly in 1470. Upset by the small-minded meanness of the locals and their enthusiasm for watching little people hurt one another, the Prince soon quit the Barony for his home country, finding Wallachia, a backward, mean-spirited land of badly dressed psychopaths, a refreshingly open and forward-looking society compared with Herzo-Carpathia. Historians note that it was probably during his stay in Herzo-Carpathia that Vlad ceased to be known as 'Vlad the Kind and Sensitive', and developed instead an interest in shoving large bits of wood into places that he probably shouldn't.

Though Zenta may have fallen under the sway of the hated Turks, the Barony of Herzo-Carpathia has continued to resist their depredations. At least, that is their claim, though in reality it is not certain that any there actually could define the meaning of the word 'depredations' even if they were being heavily predated upon. Still, after the collapse of the the Christian cause in the wake of the battle of Mohacs it is true that the population of the Barony refused fully to accept the Ottomans even after the arrival of the vanguard of the latter's army. It is not impossible that this resistance was the cause of the eventual Turkish withdrawal, although Ottoman sources tend to attach more significance to the bad weather, worse roads, poor food, cold, boredom and the fact that the next destination on from Herzo-Carpathia was the Kingdom of Gelderland.

The Austrian traveler Florian Bauke described the Barony as the 'the tenth circle of Hell: the circle of mud' - in it, he argued that malefactors were punished by being trapped there as endless days of dreary rain made it impossible for their coaches to leave. Miscreants were instead subjected to weeks holed up in inns that could be distinguished from the water closets only because the former had doors on them. In these hostelries, weary travelers were subjected to interminable renditions of dark Herzo-Carpathian folks tales that seemed almost exclusively to involve castles, full moons, local womenfolk with inappropriately low cut blouses, and undead nobles thirsting for blood after centuries of hanging around in poorly ventilated cellars. In fairness, not all travelers have been so unkind. The Welsh nationalist Rhoddri Barrabrith, fleeing from English oppression in Borth, remarked that the Barony had 'more going on in it than Carmarthen'. It is certainly fair to say that the locals are rather suspicious and superstitious. To smooth relations in encounters with villagers, newly arrived travelers are therefore likely to find it useful to drop into conversation such comments as : 'Garlic? Why, I can't get enough of it myself'; or, 'Hunchbacked minions? No thanks! They're taking honest work from local people'; or even, 'Stitching together body parts and bringing them back to life through the medium of lightning? Personally, I'm not in favour of it'. All things considered, it is also probably better to avoid saying such things as 'Dammit, something must have bitten me last night'; or, 'Yes, it had me in stitches'; or, 'Igor, release the werewolves'.

However, from a geo-strategic perspective at least, the Barony could be said to have some positive features. One is its political and economic stability. The Barony's negligible economic development over the years has eliminated the problems caused by 'boom and bust' economics by settling long-term on the latter. The advantages of a sub-subsistence economy include that the lack of any noticeable financial investment in it has made the Barony strongly resistant to wider economic shocks, since serious downturns in the regional economy still constitute booms by Herzo-Carpathian standards. Relentless, grinding poverty has also made the population too tired to engage in sedition and revolt, both activities that require much more spare time than the average Herzo-Carpathian peasant can divert from the task of masticating their own shoes (an activity expressly forbidden in Grand Fenwick).

The Barony also has by regional standards strong healthcare and education policies. Healthcare is free at the point of delivery because, given the plethora of miasmic swamps and choked watercourses that permeate the state, leeches can be picked up for free almost everywhere. Much emphasis is also placed in the Barony upon preventative medicine, reflected in the fact that, cognisant of the great dangers posed by contact with impure water, the population has the lowest bathing rates in Europe. Other indices also show the barony holding up well: under five mortality rates are slightly better than Grimsby, hovering around the 30 Year War mark, and there are relatively low rates of cannibalism. Moreover, the education system in the Barony is fully up to 18th century standards, the peasantry's worldview being well informed by hearsay, rumour, dislike of foreigners, fear of black cats, antipathy towards especially warty old women (particularly those that cackle a lot), and a morbid suspicion of cleanliness.

Indeed, many might actively be attracted by the Barony's busy cultural life. For those interested in whittling wood and starting fires, evenings in the Barony can be especially frenetic, particularly if these practical skills are accompanied by a parallel interest in religious genocide, the poking of sharp stakes through the tender bits of captured Ottomans, or the immolation of any well-endowed woman unlucky enough to acquire a love-bite. Also in Herzo-Carpathia can be found the fascinating Museum of Hunches, sited in the town of Brasdov; the University of Mausenburg, which runs fully accredited courses in Latin, Witchfinding and Cruelty to Toads; and the Weeping Bishop of Flopdov - an actual Bishop, in the town of Flopdov, who was reduced to tears after the locals burnt down his mother on account of her having 'a cleavage likely to attract the undead'. Visitors might also enjoy trips to view such traditional Herzo-Carpathian activities as dwarf-stretching; tossing the Frenchman (not recommended family viewing); and 'Kicking the Bishop', in which a Bishop is kicked for being 'a cry baby who can't take a joke'.

In this haven of southern stability, there could certainly be no expectation that anything would happen here that might disturb the new golden age of Mittelheim peace. Not at all. Never. That's a fact.