'Where's the draft of my novel?' says Franz.
'Novel, my lord?' replies Shotoff solicitously.
'Yes, my novel. It's an entirely fictitious account of a Fenwickian plan, acting in concert with the Landgravate of Rotenburg, to find the surviving heir to the Voivodate of Vulgaria, provide him with men and money, break him into the dungeons of Schloss Feratu, take prisoner the Bishop of Prick and then raise the country in revolt.'
Shotoff emits a strange gargling sound. 'Um. Did it have a black cover?'
'Why yes, and I put it here, just beside my out-tray.'
'My Lord, is that the tray marked "for immediate action upon pain of death?"'
'Yes, Shotoff, that's the one and I ... are you alright, you seem to have gone a little pale.'
'My lord, there's been a terrible misunder...'
'... It's just that I'd like to consider a few changes for another edition.'
'My Lord, I ...'
'I'm having second thoughts about the elephant.'
'And I think, on reflection, that a rescue party to Schloss Feratu should plausibly have more firearms, and less celery.'
'My Lord, I think that I need to lie down.'
'Well, fine Shotoff: you have my permission to withdraw and, ... oh I see, lie down right here. Well, that's not entirely usual and I ...'
'My Lord,' says a voice emanating from floor level, 'I have something to say of which, I hope, you might see the funny side; indeed, I'm sure that we'll all, at some juncture in the future, probably hoot with laughter when we remember what happened. It's like this. I thought that your novel was in fact a carefully crafted plan. So I had it executed.'
Herzog Franz also pales. 'So, my novel implicating Fenwick and Rotenburg in a plot to raise a revolt in Vulgaria is now a work of non-fiction?'
'Broadly, yes, my lord. Still...,' and here Shotoff seems to brighten, 'no one knows that we are responsible. I was very careful to ...'
Franz pales. 'Shotoff, I'm just going to lie down next to you.'
There are a few moments of silence.
The Chief Secretary pipes up: 'We'll just blame it all on Bachscuttel, my Lord. No one will know that it was Fenwick. Prince Rupprecht is such a numbskull ...'
'Yes Shotoff: except that I've had it published'.
'Published, my Lord?'
'Yes, Shotoff. Our involvement in this revolt is now explained in great detail in all good bookshops across Mittelheim.'
'Published?' repeats Shotoff, in the same tone that one might utter the phrase 'I have discovered an adder in my under-britches.'
'Indeed,' groans Franz. 'It's also available in hardback.'
'It's not impossible that the plan will never come to fruition,' says the secretary.
'Actually,' says Franz, brightening again, 'that's true - after all, it is Vulgaria.'
Suddenly, there is the sound of approaching footsteps. A courier bursts in.
'Urgent news, my lords,' he gasps panting, 'a mysterious power has found the surviving heir to the Voivodate of Vulgaria, provided him with men and money, broken him into the dungeons of Schloss Feratu, taken prisoner the Bishop of Prick and then raised the country in revolt!'
Franz sighs gently. 'Well, that's knackered it.'
In Nabstria, Burgrave Falco sits in Faltaire's latest invention - the 'horseless carriage.'
'Behold, my Burgrave!,' crows the philosopher-scientist Faltaire, 'this is the future of transportation!'
Burgrave Falco nods thoughtfully. 'Indeed, Faltaire, my good and learned fellow. Marvellous. It's just that, and I don't want to undermine your excellent work, we've been in the carriage for half an hour and we seem to be in the same place that we started.'
|The Carriageless Horse: 'It'll never catch on.'|
Falco nods amicably. 'As with your homeopathic gunpowder, Faltaire?'
Falco stares out of the window for a while. Though the horseless carriage is less exciting than he had hoped, the meeting with Faltaire has enabled him to turn down Bishop Munschrugge's invitation to an organ recital. Munschrugge's lamentable musical skills are notoriously bad, and not even the fun of watching the Fenwickian ambassador trying to say 'organ' with a straight face can compensate.
Suddenly, though, the Burgave sees a strange sight: it is the Bishop himself, sprinting as fast as his tubby frame will allow. Munschrugge approaches the carriage.
'My dear Burgrave! High drama! Strange events! The ungovernable machinations of fate! Emperor George of Fenwick has precipitated a revolt in Vulgaria! Rotenburg also is implicated!'
The Burgrave shakes his head incredulously. 'Madness! To throw away peace! Upon what intelligence is this news based? Is it credible?'
Munshcrugge nods vigorously and flourishes a heavy looking book. 'See here, my lord: Emperor George has had his secret plan published!'
'Yes, my Burgrave.'
'Isn't that a bit, well, unwise?' asks the Burgrave.
The Bishop nods. 'It's certainly unconventional,' he replies. 'But it is marvellously bound,' he says approvingly, running his hands over the spine. 'And this one seems to be signed.'
'Are we sure of the details, Munschrugge?'
'Oh yes, my lord - there is an excellent index. See here under 'T' for 'treachery'; 'F' for Fenwick'; 'N' for 'nefarious plans': it's all here in black and white - except for the colour plates, that is.'Burgrave Falco jumps to his feet. 'My dear Bishop, we must contact our plenipotentiary in Gelderland at once! And send messages immediately to Bachscuttel - with Rotenburg implicated, we should begin to consider our options.'
In Pfeildorf, Prince Rupprecht heads a meeting of his privy council. He looks bored.
Freiherr Maximillian von Fluck, Minister of Sausages, shifts uncomfortably. 'Is it necessary, my Prince, to hold your council meetings in your privy?'
'I like to multi-task', says Rupprecht, resplendent upon his golden 'throne'. 'Any way, I only agreed to hold this meeting because I thought we were discussing a treat. Where's my cake?'
The councillors avert their eyes as Prince Rupprecht noisily multi-tasks.
Count Geyr von Voeltickler, Minister for Finance and Other Tedious Things interjects. 'My Lord, we are discussing a treaty: in this case, the Spasmodic Sanction and the implications for it of the latest events in Vulgaria. The cake, alas, must wait.'
'Bah!', says the Prince.
Rupprecht's recent lack of enthusiasm for matters of state is notable even by his own lax standards. The origin of this has been a rather surprising enthusiasm on the part of the Prince for literature. In the past, most of Rupprecht's reading was confined to pig reports, accounts of the torture of miscreants, or, at moments when he was feeling especially creative, accounts of the torture of miscreants by pigs. But lately the Prince has a shown a real enthusiasm for actual books. As it turns out, in need of money early on in his career, the English writer Jonathan Swift had written under the pen-name Sven von Hassel potboiling accounts of Lilliput's wars on its eastern frontier against its mortal enemy Blefescu. Thus, Swifts 1726 work Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships actually was preceded by a range of other less well known works, including: Lilliputian Eastern Front Death Bastard Battalion; Bloody Road to Blefescu Terror Prison Camp; and Lilliputian Hell Legion of the Damned Beast Regiment Without Any Trousers On.
|'The Gonad Gantry:' Another Lilliputian War Crime.|
'Gelderland is in a state of great alarm' says Voeltickler. 'Vlad may or may not invoke the Spasmodic Sanction and call on Gelderland to restore his authority in Vulgaria. In such a case, we surely will be called upon to provide troops'.
'We must mobilise at once!' shouts von Fluck.
'Excellent!', shouts Rupprecht. 'Will that mean cake!'
And so, the winds of war waft noxiously through the lands of Mittleheim. But peace, surely, is still possible if there is sufficient will and enough battenberg...