Friday, 29 April 2016

New Mittelheim!

New Mittelheim comprises those lands carved out (though one might more properly use the term 'thieved while no one was looking') of the vast expanse of North America. The tale of the Mittelheim colonisation of these lands is a long and difficult one. Heroism; enterprise; loyalty in adversity; bitter struggles against superior odds; long wars against against a savage, immoral, uncivilised enemy - all of these things could characterise native attempts to hold off the forces of Mittelheim. By degrees, however, the local tribes were either pushed back through force of arms, or co-opted through alliance and then slaughtered during the celebrations. Four small colonies now cling precariously to the coast: New Pfeildorf, owned by the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel; Falconia, named in honour of Burgrave Falco of Nabstria; Fort Pippin, outpost of the Empire of Grand Fenwick; and finally, New Athens, not unnaturally ruled by Choldwig, Landgrave of Hesse-Rotenburg (though in actuality Rotenburg rule in New Mittelheim does involve a plethora of unnatural acts).

The colonies of New Mittelheim were first established in 1732, a few months after the creation of the British colony of Georgia. These two events were linked by more than chance. Present at the former were two citizens of the Landgravate of Rotenburg, Andreas von Baerbaum and Maximillian Karl Schnoekuhn. Both had fled from Mittelheim two years earlier having been convicted of defrauding the Rotenburg state of thousands of schillings worth of duties on imported nasal hair. Disguising themselves as a pair of Rotenburgers who had defrauded the Landgravate of thousands of schillings worth of duties on imported nasal hair, both managed to take ship at Muntersheim to the British colony of Virginia. As it turned out, however, Virginia did not suit either of the Mittelheimers: the winters were too cold; the atmosphere too English; the application of the law too stringent; and the local women too alert to attract either of them to make it their permanent residence.

In 1731, a solution seemed to present itself. A royal charter was signed for the creation, further to the south, of a new English colony, to be named Georgia. This new colony was to provide, so it was said, a haven for debtors, prospective settlers to be given  remission of debt and a small plot of land to farm. Amongst the first to sign up for this new opportunity, Baerbaum and Schnoekuhn were soon on their way to Savannah. Sadly, they soon found that they did not fit in there especially well: alcohol was banned, as was slavery, which removed both of their main forms of entertainment; also frowned upon, apparently, were dropping one's britches in front of old ladies, vomiting in churches, and propositioning geese, which removed most of their hobbies as well. Having terrified one old lady too many, the pair were forced to take ship post-haste to avoid what, if they were lucky, would just be a lynching but which, if the whole truth got out, might also turn into a more detailed physical examination with something hot and sharp.

The pair had intended to head for Florida, because, being a Spanish territory, almost any indecency there was tolerated, as long as it was accompanied by tapas. Their voyage, however, was insupportable, and, tired of being bullied by ships' rats, Baerbaum and Schnoekuhn demanded to be put ashore. The unpromising coast upon which they arrived, somewhere to the south of Georgia and to the north of Florida, proved to be the gateway to new land of opportunity. The pair soon made contact with the local natives and, pestilent, cannibalistic, ungodly, unwashed savages though the Rotenbergers were, Baerbaum and Schnoekuhn nevertheless were welcomed. Baerbaum, indeed, soon married the chief's daughter, Pokemontas. Of course, this friendliness on the part of the Native Americans was on their part a terrible, terrible mistake. Whilst early English settlers in America had devastated their local adversaries through the underhand stratagem of passing to them diseased blankets, the appalling consequences of this were as nothing compared to the arrival in this place of the two Rotenbergers. Like most Mittelheimers, Baerbaum and Schnoekuhn stayed moderately healthy only because the parasites and diseases that permeated their pasty, wrinkled bodies tended to be so virulent that they killed one another before they killed their hosts. Lacking such defences, the natives soon succumbed: chief Dances-With-Wolves-Badly-Because-They-Bite quickly became chief Runs-Like-a-River and then chief Croaked-in-the-Night. Before long, the coastal area was uninhabited except for the Mittelheimers. Tiring of their own company after twenty minutes or so, and sensing an opportunity for reward, the two sent messages describing their good fortune back to Mittelheim, via a passing merchant vessel. Soon, ships from all across Mittelheim were arriving, and the various petty states began to stake their claims to this land.

New Mittelheim is now a crucial trading hub, comprising a key link in the Mittelheim Atlantic triangle trade: peasant slaves from Mittelheim to the Leechcoast; gems, leaves, and, especially, hippo knees to New Mittelheim; these are then exchanged for local loin cloths, which are shipped to England for use as napkins, where they are exchanged for false moustaches; false moustaches to Mittelheim, where they are used as part of the disguises to lure unwary peasants onto ships bound for the Leech Coast.

Imperial Fenwick's colony is probably the least developed. Unable without rupturing themselves even to say the phrase 'penetrate the interior', the Fenwickians have only small holdings limited to a coastal enclave, though even the phrase 'small holdings' sounds saucy, if not downright rude. Fort Pippin lies at the centre of their territories. It is here that duties are collected on the sale of local loin cloths. The Mittelheim enthusiasm for these garments has been a puzzling, though generally welcome, phenomenon for native traders, who now happily exchange their garments for trade goods and a period of relaxing nakedness. Rotenburg's colony has its capital at New Athens. In addition to loin cloths, Rotenburg merchants are also keen on beaver, a focus that is, of course, impossible for anyone from Grand Fenwick.

Both Imperial Fenwick and Rotenburg have suffered heavily from the depredations of the Wappesdoo tribe. Attacks from this tribe have increased in potency because of the activities of unscrupulous merchants that have sold to the locals muskets and Leech brandy. Whilst few have a problem with the sale of the brandy, it being useful to keep the indigenous tribes wildly hammered on the near lethal Mittelheim speciality, the spread of muskets has increased significantly the potency of Wappesdoo warbands under their chief, Chain-That-Looks-Like-Gold. Attempts to ban the sale of firearms to the tribes have been blocked by local merchants on the basis that it is human nature, not firearms, that is the source of the problem: as one merchant put it: 'Guns don't kill people, Wappesdoo'.

Further to the north lie the colonies belonging to Nabstria and Saukopf-Bachscuttel, these being, respectively, Falconia and New Pfeildorf. In Falconia, the main native threat comes from the fierce Mohair tribe under their chief, Touches Beaver. Mohair war parties regularly cross the Sippinpissi river to spread in Falconia death, destruction and some surprisingly severe haircuts.  New Pfeildorf, too, suffers periodically from Mohair expeditions, but the main challenge to Saukopf's settlements comes from the impact of a European colony, the colony of Nova Cambria. Founded by the English in 1726 as the colony of Nova Anglia, the settlement was soon abandoned, the British worn down by the the hostility of the local Washango tribe and their unwillingness to dress properly for dinner. In 1748, the colony was resurrected as a short-lived actors' collective, the Colony of Free Expression, by the overly romantic, and underly successful, writer of musical theatre, Benjamin Biffle. Biffle and his entourage were fleeing persecution in England after a run of bad critical reviews of his London play, The Wrong Pantaloons, a play so poor that it had earned Biffle the label 'The Abominable Showman'. The collective disintegrated when it became clear to most that they were, in fact, in the wilds of America and not, as Biffle had promised, Dundee.

Nevertheless, thanks to Biffle, the local Washango acquired far more exposure to musical theatre than is strictly safe for a developing people. Washango warfare became  an interminable affair, featuring musical accompaniment, uncomfortable seating, at least four separate acts, and an interval that involved licking small, cold snacks from a stick. On the brink of self-destruction by the early 1750s, the colony was rescued by an influx of Welsh nationalists under the leadership of Rhodri Barrabrith. Barrabrith resurrected the colony as a centre of Welsh culture, the settlement being appropriately barren. Barrabrith disappeared under mysterious circumstances two years ago. Renamed Nova Cambria, the colony has remained in Welsh hands thanks to their determination and the fact that no one in England knows that they own it. Though there is no direct conflict between Nova Cambria and New Pfeildorf, the former's attempts to spread the benefits of Welsh culture to the indigenous tribes has caused significant migration of the Washango into the north of Saukopf's territory, the tribes being terrified by the Welsh beards and the length of their vowels.

Still, despite these difficulties, the colonies of New Mittleheim are looking forward to a continuation of what already is being called 'The Perpetual Peace'. Without the prospect of internecine warfare, the  colonies of Mittleheim are in an excellent position to do God's work in these new lands: tilling the lands; sowing fields; spreading the Lord's name; and getting the hang of some really tricky acts of genocide against the locals.

Hurray for Peace! Three cheers for Mittelheim!

Sunday, 17 April 2016


It is January, 1759. We focus our attention, dear reader, on a small corner of the Duchy of Mornig-Hesse-Brocken, a state that comprises the western borderland of that part of Europe known as Mittelheim. In front of us is a brook that babbles as loudly as Prince Rupprecht of Bachscuttel after an evening of philosophy and absinthe. A strong bridge of stone crosses the water-course, carrying the main road from the Duchy into the Empire of Grand Fenwick. There comes now the clippety clop of horses' hooves, and the creaking of a carriage - but who is in it?

Crikey! The wicker coach seems to contain no less a person than one Horace de Saxe. As any educated fellow knows, Horace is another of the many illegitimate sons of Augustus II the Strong, former Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Born in 1698 and thus two years younger than his more famous sibling, Maurice, Horace's life, thus far has tracked a less glorious trajectory. His father left his mother, the Polish Countess,  Anna-Maria Brzeczyszczykiewicz, after the very briefest of relationships, some say because he couldn't pronounce her surname, and others because of disagreements over whether their progeny's name should be pronounced 'Horris' or 'Horreeesss'.

Sadly, the family's store of military competence seems to have been concentrated entirely in Horace's elder brother. Whilst Maurice captured Brussels in 1746, Horace, commanding a cavalry regiment, succeeded in capturing nothing more dangerous than carrots, cabbages, and some beetroots, though the latter were deemed intimidatingly large. A year later at Bergen-Op-Zoom, having volunteered for the forlorn hope, Horace was noted for screaming like a girl - it then being discovered that it was indeed a girl making the sounds and that Horace had bribed her to dress in his uniform and pretend to be him. The real Horace was later found in a local inn dressed as a pantomime cow, and the appalling activities with his udders were hushed up by his family. He was at least with his brother at the latter's crowning victory at Fontenoy, though he spent most of it badgering Maurice for a go in his carriage and pressuring him to lend him the money to buy an ice cream. One thing that Horace does have in common with his late brother are a range of debilitating health problems. Having only just recovered from what physicians diagnosed as a serious case of bloaty head, Horace is now afflicted with dropsy, flopsy, mopsy, and probably also bobtail, Horace must now himself make use of Maurice's famous carriage to get around.

Horace has spent many years attempting to acquire a military position in one of the armies of Europe, without much luck. However, conditions now seem more propitious. With the posthumous publication in 1757 of Maurice's Mes Reveries, the name of 'de Saxe' is once again on the lips of all educated folk. Attempting to leverage this moment, Horace has published his own masterpiece. Entitled Mes Gueules de Bois ('My Hangovers') there are some obvious differences: Horace, for example, tends to focus less on military matters and more on incidents in which he is found in public places inebriated and without his britches; or where he is at some glittering gala event and has spectacularly blown his croissants. But there are also some major philosophical disagreements: Maurice for example argued in Mes Reveries that war was subject to no immutable principles, whereas his brother has written that success in war can be reduced to three key maxims: never invade Russia; never fight a land war in Asia; and the side with the elephants usually loses. Horace also has rather more to say than his brother about how to escape tricky social situations in which one is inadvertently caught pretending to be a cow.

Keen to try his luck where fewer people are likely to know him personally, Horace has traveled to Mittelheim to seek his fortune, confident that military incompetence, lack of moral courage, and chronic indecision make him more than suitable to command an army in the Wars of the Gelderland Succession. Of course, he is almost certainly out of luck, because, dear reader, as we know, Mittelheim is at peace, and this golden age is so strongly embedded that only a lardy hundredweight turnip head, with a bottom like a pair of hot air balloons and a first name that rhymed with 'Pilhelm' could throw it all away. Oh, hang on ...

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

They Cost How Much?

From the allegorical series 'A Toy Soldierist's Progress'
by Wilhelm Huegartt
Plate One: The Invitation
'A Few Toy Soldiers - Where's The Harm?'
'The Nabstrian officers are playing with what?' asks Landgrave Choldwig incredulously.
Count Lenz von Haut, Minister for War, Alcohol, Sharp Instruments and Children's Welfare shrugs. 'It is so my lord. Our spy indicates that the Nabstrian army are manoeuvering finely crafted military miniatures around the grounds of Burgrave Falco's palace'.
'Finely crafted military miniatures?' asks the Landgrave, still struggling to keep the disbelief from his voice.
Count von Haut continues: 'Indeed so, my lord. What others might term "toy soldiers". They are used for some form of game of war'.
Choldwig stands by his terrapin pool, peering in. 'But why would they do that? Is there nothing else to do in Nabstria? Have they run out of wine; opera; hunting; amusingly shaped vegetables?'
'I cannot say, my lord', says the Count. 'But all of the Nabstrian officers are at it'.

Plate Two: The Disputation
'Husband! Cease Your Tedious Toy-related
Tomfoolery! My Anger Is Such That My 
Plumpies Have Popped Out' 
Choldwig suddenly brightens: 'Perhaps it attracts women?', he says hopefully.
Count von Haut nods vigorously. 'I should think so, my lord. For this reason, I too have recently acquired a small collection of these miniatures'.
From behind the Count, Baron Woffeltop, Choldwig's skilled diplomat and favoured advisor suddenly emits a sharp expectoration that might be a cough but that also might contain the word "loser"'
The Count ignores Woffeltop. 'I can assure your lordship that these figurines are, indeed, like catnip to the ladies of the court'.
'Are you sure that it isn't actually cats that you are attracting, sir?' Woffeltop snorts dismissively. 'Have you tried balls of wool?'
The Count continues regardless. 'Members of the fair sex I should think would be moved to swoon through the excitement caused by extended tales of blended versus layered painting schemes for these miniatures, or a long discourse on the relative merits of competing regimens for basing them'.
'Swoon?' cries the Baron. '"Sleep", more likely. In their baskets, probably'.
The Count's ire is now raised. 'Damn your eyes, Woffeltop. The current King Frederick of Prussia has an extensive collection of such miniatures in lead. Self-evidently, then, this pursuit must be of a manly character'.
Woffeltop nods. 'Indeed, indeed. Of course, he was seven years old when he was given them. And', he moves on delicately, 'it is fair to say that attracting women is not at the top of his agenda.'
The Count shrugs. 'Perhaps he prefers opera'.
'Yes', says Woffeltop carefully. 'Opera'.

Plate Three: The Reclamation
'Blinking Flip Woman! Stop Hiding
My Stuff!'

The Landgrave ceases contemplation of his terrapins and begins instead to pace slowly, ruminating. 'Gentlemen, should we procure some of these "finely crafted military miniatures"?'
Woffeltop shakes his head vigorously before Haut can intervene. 'I advise not my lord, on the basis first of cost and, second, the divisive nature of these games of war'.
The Landgrave furrows his brow. 'But how much can these these figurines cost? They must be very small'.
'The problem, my lord', says Woffeltop, 'Is that the feeble Nabstrians seem to have monopolised the limited skills available for the production of such things. The good Count has explored alternative sources, and there appears at the moment to be only a single enterprise capable of fulfilling a sufficient order. It is a small manufacturing concern in Roldova known as "The Workshop of Games". The Count has procured an estimate of the costs.' He flourishes a page in front of Landgrave Choldwig.
Choldwig peers at the list for a moment before suddenly recoiling: 'How much?'
Woffeltop looks at the parchment and then pulls out another. 'Apologies, my lord. That list is out of date. They tend to increase their prices weekly. Here, my lord', he passes the new list for Choldwig's perusal.
'HOW MUCH?' chokes the Landgrave, flopping back into a chair for support.
Count von Haut interjects quickly. 'Indeed they are expensive, my lord: but they allow one to play one's miniature wars in a grim world of dark adventure'.
'They live in Roldova' says Choldwig in exasperation, 'how much more "dark adventure" do they need?'

There is silence for a moment before Choldwig then says 'And these games of war - are they improving the quality of the Nabstrian officers?'
Woffeltop shakes his head, looking pleased. 'At the moment, probably not. I mentioned, my lord, that the miniature military activities have proved to be divisive. Our spy has informed us that the intended exercises have ground to a halt because of serious disagreements between some of the participants. Two officers have already been killed in duels'.
Plate Four: The Temptation
'I Shouldn't, But They're So Perfectly Sculpted'

'Indeed, my lord. One point of contention is that some officers believe that the miniatures are the wrong size'.
'Really? How big are they?'
'Well, sir, the officers are divided into the "one thirders" who believe that the current size of two feet for each figurine allows for the perfect balance between detail and practicality. But others, the "one quarterers" argue that miniatures that are only one and a half feet high are far preferable, allowing greater numbers of such tiny soldiers to be used, thus giving a more accurate sense of the mass involved in modern linear battles'.
'And then' continues the Baron, 'there are more serious cleavages'. Choldwig brightens visibly at the mention of cleavages.
'More savage even than the dispute in Sweden between "Caps" and "Hats" is that in the Nabstrian officer corps between "Ancients" and "Ultras"', says Woffeltop. 'The "Ancients" who argue that the miniature military contests should focus on the wars of Greece and Rome; and the "Ultras" who argue instead that they should focus on ultra modern conflicts of the latest character featuring socket bayonets and cadenced step'.

Plate Five: The Ruination
'"It's Them Or Me", She Said.
"I'll Miss You", I Said'

'This all sounds very unpleasant', says Choldwig.
'Quite so, my lord', says Woffeltop. 'Our spy reports that one Nabstrian officer, finding himself one miniature short, was caught using a substitute. A pepper pot, I believe'.
'And they killed him?', says the Landgrave cheerfully.
'No, no, my lord - they took the pepper pot and they put it, as our spy recounts, "where the sun does not shine'".
'They put it in England?'
Woffeltop pauses. 'Well, my lord, that's certainly one possibility'.
'Well', says the Landgrave, 'I see no need to waste my money on such frippery. War is out of fashion now. Mark my words, Woffeltop - in Mittelheim, peace is here to stay, or I'm not the perfect Alexandrian paradigm for a potent prince'.
Woffeltop seems about to say something, but then clearly changes his mind and merely bows.
'Quite so, my lord'.