Sunday, 30 April 2017

Fort Gertrude, the First!

Resplendent with its new and somewhat larger artillery piece, Fort Gertrude stands on the banks of the River Strudel covering one of the key crossing points from the Kingdom of Gelderland into Imperial Fenwick. The peace and tranquility that reigns here on this already warm morning, however, is about to be rudely interrupted. Advancing upon the ford from the direction of Gelderland comes a large column of Gelderland and Bachscuttel troops led by Colonel Ernst Leopold von Rheinfunkt.

The combined assault consists of a seven company attack directly across the river with the intent of storming the fort before the garrison are fully alert. A second force of similar size under Colonel Adolphus von Toplitz-Hande has crossed the river by boat above the ford and is now marching to flank the defensive position and seize the crossroads behind the fort. Since, when it comes to their orders, the Gelderland conception of 'operational security' is simply to make sure that the envelope has been stuck down properly, the movements of this second force have been discerned by other local Fenwickian troops who are now hurrying to the aid of the fort's garrison. Who will arrive first?

(Below) Inside of the fort, elements of the garrison are being reviewed by their commander, Captain Stefan Andreas von Dreihumpe. The artillery crew are limbering up, threatening one another with large bratwursts.  The fort is undermanned, though the number of real men in any force of troops from Mittelheim is generally lower than their numerical strength. Dreihumpe's situation is not helped by the fact that his two companies of regular troops are bivouacked in a nearby village and not in the fort itself. A company of reserve infantry make up the immediate infantry force for the defence of the earthworks. Imperial Fenwick is a very small state, and thus the bulk of the available manpower, as well as a selection of the tougher infants and more biddable badgers, have been drafted into the field army. In consequence, Fenwick's reserve troops are composed of exactly the sort of individuals that one might expect: the weak; the unhinged; malingerers; criminals;* artists;** and those too slow or, in some cases too dead, to escape the recruiting parties.

Colonel Rheinfunkt surveys the fort from across the river, his troops screened from view by some trees. The colonel readjusts gingerly his wig, which seems to be strongly attached to his tricorne hat. Rheinfunkt suffered a nasty head wound at the Battle of Wobbling Dog Inn. This wound was, in a quite literal sense, for Rheinfunkt a mind-expanding experience, the musket ball passing through his head and costing him quite a lot of those bits of his body that protruded above his neck. The colonel however has been surprisingly phlegmatic about the incident which is useful, given the amount of phlegm his face now produces. Rheinfunkt turns to his second in command, Colonel Amadeus von Goethe-Nockenshoppes. Goethe-Nockenshoppes is an officer in the army of the Palatinate of Saukopf Bachscuttel. Rheinfunkt has seniority here because Gelderland has provided the bulk of the troops for this operation. The Palatinate's contribution consists of Goethe-Nockenshoppes newly re-equipped frei-battalion of three musketeer and one grenadier companies.
Rheinfunkt  issues his orders quickly. One advantage of his head wound is that he rarely suffers from indecision, there being little enough left between what in probability are his ears to consider even one idea at a time.
'We will form our troops into closed column. And then we will hurl them against the nearest gun bastion over there!'
Goethe-Nockenshoppes sucks his teeth. 'Actually, sir - that sounds quite dangerous - the ford is covered directly by that artillery piece.'
'Yes ... yes, you're right,' replies the Gelderlander. 'I suppose what you mean is that it would be far better to attack the gun bastion with our grenadiers whilst splitting the other six companies into two equal columns, using them to attack two further points down the enemy fortifications - thus, we might stretch the enemy defences and break their lines more easily! Excellent!'
Thank you, sir,' says Goethe-Nockenshoppes, 'Although all I actually meant was that it sounded dangerous and so we should send the men first and then we should follow up much later at a safe distance to the rear.'
'That's a given, colonel,' replies Rheinfunkt. 'That's a given.'

(Above) In closed column, six companies of Gelderland musketeers and one of Palatinate grenadiers hurry across the ford. The grenadiers head the column since they are specially drilled for missions that require a greater than usual kicking of the testicles of danger. The grenadiers are chosen from only the tallest men with the most experience; and also those that are most gullible and that don't speak German, which gives them a useful haziness regarding the actual dangers of the operations upon which they are being sent.

Like a French farce, the Fenwickian defence of the fort itself falls into three acts, though the former no doubt would display more military competence, less ladies' clothing, and more imaginative nibbles in the intermissions.

Act I

The Fenwickian sentries raise the alarm, since not even in the Imperial army can the arrival of seven companies of mystery infantry all shouting 'Death to Fenwick! Charge! Charge!' be regarded as unsuspicious. The bulk of the garrison is barracked in the nearby village. As the trumpets sound, their Lieutenant urges the troops quickly to man the fort.

(Above) 'Forward!' shouts the officer, 'Man the fort!'
'Man, that is a fort,' agree the troops. 'It's so big and brown.'
'Follow me!' he replies. 'Death before dishonour! Follow me!'
'Death before dishonour? Hmmm ... are there other options?' asks one of the men dubiously, 'Coffee before a return to barracks? A brisk walk before a tasty lunch?'
'Look death or dishonour obviously aren't the only options,' points out the Lieutenant reasonably. 'I think what I'm trying to indicate is that, as the enemy seem to have arrived in force; and we are enrolled in the Imperial army; and we are tasked with defending the fort in front of us; that we should consider it a strong possibility that our duty is to prevent the enemy from taking the fort rather than just buggering off.'
'Fair enough,' reply the men. 'But "death before dishonour" rather ladles it on a little thick, don't you think?'
'Forward!' replies the officer. 'We are almost certainly contractually required to employ our weapons for the purpose of the defending the fort! Follow me!'
Despite the Lieutenant's best efforts, however, and despite the fact that their accommodation is, rather like their commanding officer, old, worn out and leaking in improbable places, the troops seem surprisingly reluctant to exit the houses. Their painfully slow perambulation across the battlefield begins to have dangerous consequences as the Gelderland assault column splashes across the ford ...

* Except unlicensed sellers of fruit and vegetables: according to laws promulgated by Fenwick's Ministry of Fruit, Vegetables, and Public Morality, such miscreants generally have their carrots twisted and/or their plums squashed.

** Except mime artists: even in Fenwick, with its perennial shortage of manpower, such charlatans are shot; though, in a welcome attempt to be humane to the mime artists, the sentence is carried out as quietly as possible.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Fort Gertrude!

The Imperial engineer, Major Dougal Entendre, stands in one of the gun positions of the newly constructed Fort Gertrude. With him is the commander of the fort, Captain Stefan Andreas von Dreihumpe.
'Try again, laddie. Look carefully, captain,' Entendre is saying to Dreihumpe, 'and tell me what is wrong with this gun.'
Captain Dreihumpe peers intently at the  gun for a long time, his face working itself back and forth like King Wilhelm's belly at a royal dance. 'Is the gun ... the wrong colour?'
'Nae captain,' says Entendre, slowly. 'The problem I think that we face here is that yon cannon in front of us is only this high,' he says placing his hand at the level of the barrel. 'Whereas the embrasure for the gun is this high,' he says placing his hand rather higher. 'And that means that ...?'
'It's well protectetd from enemy fire?' says the captain hopefully.
'Yes,' says the engineer patiently. 'Yes it is. But don't you think laddie that it's also likely to reduce the range of the cannon somewhat?'
'Oh. Oh yes,' says the captain, nodding. 'It is likely to cut it a tad.'
'Yes,' says the engineer. 'And by a tad, I think that we could guess reliably that its range would be reduced from, say, around 800 yards with round shot, to about,' he measures with his fingers, 'six inches.'
Dreihumpe contemplates the situation glumly. 'Now I think about it,' he says, 'I can see that that might prove to be challenging for the gunners. If they tried to fire a round of canister they might do themselves a bit of a mischief.'
The engineer nods. 'Aye, if by "a mischief" ye mean that they might blow their own limbs off then I think yev diagnosed the problem correctly.'

'So what might be the solution,' continues the engineer slowly as if to a small and, characteristically for Mittelheim also very inebriated, child. 'If this gun is too small for the embrasure then we could do what?'
'We could ... we could ...,' replies the captain, searching Entendre's face for some small hint to the answer, 'we could ... lower the height of the bastion?'
'Aye,' says Entendre, 'but that might take a great deal of time and effort, as well as wearing out my patience, breaking my temper, and requiring ye to take a great deal of time convalescing from the pistol shot to yer head.'
'Pistol shot to my head?'
'Aye, yes - to be more specific: my pistol shot to yer head.'
'So, if we don't lower the height of the bastion, then we could ...?'
The captain pauses for a moment, thinking very hard indeed - suddenly, he brightens. 'We could get a bigger gun!'
Entendre smiles broadly and also discretely returns his pistol to its holster. 'Excellent idea, captain. Give the orders!'
A larger gun is duly installed. This, as it turns out, is fortuitous because for the Fenwickian garrison the next day turns out to be dry, sunny, with a good chance of some intermittent Gelderland assault columns ...

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Hednitz, the Final!

'So, by a plan, my lord,' says Duke Neucheim to General van Rentall, 'you mean simply allowing our two remaining infantry regiments to continue advancing forwards?'
General Herz van Rentall nods, peering into the swirling smoke below the hill from which the sound of battle emanates. 'Yes, Duke, dat's about it. De Nabtrian's will never expect it. No one ever regretsh shticking to the plan and pushing on - maintenance of da aim is key in war.'
'Hmmm,' my lord,' says the duke. 'That might not always be true. Flexibility also can be a virtue. I mean, Prince Paris, for example, on his trip back to Troy with Helen: imagine if he'd just thought: "You know what, on reflection she's not all that - I'm just going to drop her off in Greece and head to Ephesus for a few beers instead." Or the great Julius Caesar: imagine if he'd said on the morning of the Ides of March: "Bugger the forum - I'm just going to have a lie in." What I'm trying to say, sir, is that perhaps now might be the time to reconsider our involvement in this battle and embrace instead the gentle art of the tactical withdrawal.'
Rentall gestures into the valley below. 'Too late, my good duke. 'Shee, our next attack hash already commenced!'

(Right) Supported by the Liebgarde Feratu-Osterburg, Count Barlow's regiment fire a volley and then storm forwards! The regiment launch a vigorous Vulgarian bayonet charge, which is like an ordinary bayonet charge but with a lot more biting. Their target being yet another regiment of raw troops, the Nabstrian regiment collapses - this wasn't what they signed up for: route marches, yes; cadenced drill; occasional cruelty to rodents, but not the sudden violent assault of these be-wigged Vulgarian loonies. As Stumpe stares down onto the battlefield he begins to notice with horror a terrible development. Though words such as "sensitive," "caring," and "emotionally delicate" usually never appear in the same sentence as the words "Nabstrian troops" (actually, they rarely even feature in the same book), it seems that Stumpe's army is taking each of today's battle losses very hard indeed. Stumpe suffers the yawning realisation that, though his losses still are less than those of his Vulgarian adversary, the morale of his army is now little better.
Stumpe looks at his infantry line. 'Our men seem to be losing their enthusiasm for the fight,' he says, watching as a number of the troops drop their britches, pull their underbreeks over their heads, and in the hope of being sent to the rear on account of incipient madness, begin to hop around like frogs and "baah" like sheep.

As the Vulgarians drive forwards, Stumpe faces a dilemma: should he stay with his infantry, perhaps rallying them; or should he ride pell-mell to his cavalry and bring them forwards in preparation for an impetuous charge against the Vulgarian rear? Stumpe thinks for a moment - what would General von Rumpfler do? Stumpe considers the answer but then rejects it - he cannot afford the time to moon over Frau Hindquarters and in this crisis it would be best if he kept his britches on. Finally he decides.
'Saxe,' he says, interrupting the marshal, 'stop fiddling under that blanket and hold the fort: I ride now to call von Pfanenstiel hence!'
'Call him hence?' replies de Saxe, 'I think that you should call him 'Pfanenstiel" or he might not understand.'

(Left, at the top) Finally, the Nabstrian cavalry begins to move forwards. Von Pfanenstiel is relieved. As it turns out, battle is not what his father's tales had led him to expect. There is a lot less charging; or fighting; or, to be frank, proximity to the enemy. His troops have spent much of the fight amusing themselves by watching the lamentable Nabstrian light troops accidentally shooting one another. Now, with orders to join the fray, the Nabstrian horsemen charge forwards. This is more like it! Advancing towards the enemy with drawn swords! Riding down one's own line of light troops! Hurrah! Hurrah!

(Left, at the bottom) In front of Marshal Horace de Saxe, however, the Vulgarian counter-attack begins to build even more momentum. Like a military juggernaut, though with longer wigs and more frilly lace than juggernauts one might usually encounter, both Count Barlow's regiment and the Osterburg-Feratu Liebgarde hurl themselves into the Nabstrian line! Though one of the defenders again is composed of raw troops, the Vulgarian Lieb-garde must face elite adversaries.

A vicious hand-to-hand encounter ensues, but (right) before Saxe even has a chance to take his hands out from under his blanket, the two Nabstrian regiments break!
From across the battlefield, Stumpe through his telescope sees the appalling result of this fight and howls. 'Are our troops really so terrible?' he asks.
'Only in a literal sense,' replies von Pfanenstiel.

The Nabstrian situation is now equally as perilous as that of their adversaries. Both sides' morale is now so low that the loss of a single additional unit will likely decide the battle. In front of each of the Vulgarian regiments is a raw Nabstrian infantry unit, ripe for the biting. But the Vulgarians themselves are heavily disordered and thus vulnerable. The battle hangs in the balance. If the two Vulgarian units are granted a little time to rally themselves then they will be able to resume their advance. Desperately, the Nabstrians lower their muskets and fire a volley at the Vulgarian Liebgarde: the muskets blast and smoke spews forth wreathing the battle field with smoke...

... and as it clears, all that remains are corpses and abandoned muskets and wigs: the Vulgarians have been broken!

(Below) Having finally run of morale (and also pretty much of live troops), Rentall signals reluctantly for his army to retreat. A victory for Nabstria! Hurrah for "General von Rumpfler!" But there are far fewer Nabstrian troops at their bivouac fires that evening: half the infantry has been lost and six of the regiments in the Nabstrian army must now be reconstituted with conscripts.

Still, it is nevertheless a Nabstrian victory. But a Nabstrian victory that means that the Burgraviate's army is in Vulgaria and not in the vicinity of the Empire of Fenwick. This fact becomes important, dear reader, as the next part of Saukopf-Bachscuttel's nefarious plan begins to unfold along the banks of the the River Strudel!

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Hednitz, the Third!

Caught by the rapid advance of the Nabstrian army, the situation for the Vulgarians looks dark. Dark, of course, is a relative concept. The Vulgarian general Herz van Rentall's position is certainly not as dark as a priest's socks, for example.* However, it is certainly sufficiently gloomy that it could be described as "tenebrous;" except that if one did describe it thus, everyone in Rentall's headquarters would nod sagely and say "indeed; yes; quite so; I was about to make the very same comment myself" whilst also being entirely unsure about whether that meant things were very dark, or quite undark, or French. So, whilst the exact darkness of the Vulgarian position might actually lie at some point between "caliginous" and "crepuscular," most of Rentall's staff officers would probably just characterise the Vulgarian position in terms similar to that of Rentall's General of Infantry, Duke Walter Neucheim:
'We're screwed like Archimedes!' shouts the Duke wildly, above the sound of musketry.
Rentall points calmly at his advancing troops. 'Wait,' he says, 'It ish too early to panic, my good duke - let ush shee what now transhpires .'

(Above) The two generals eye each other from their respective hills. The Vulgarian infantry utilise combined movement to bring together their two infantry forces into a single line. This seems to have an immediate invigorating effect upon the Vulgarian fighting spirit. The left-most Nabstrian infantry regiment is composed of raw recruits and is already in some disorder. In front of them, the Vulgarian Regiment Blasco level their muskets and fire a tremendous volley. (Below) The Nabstrian regiment collapses so spectacularly that many in the adjacent units are injured by fragments. All that remains are corpses, abandoned muskets, and some extensive staining that will be very difficult to get out of the grass.

The Nabstrians strike back quickly, however. Flanking the Vulgarian left, a series of heavy volleys pours into the defending troops. The Osterburg Cuirassiers, hit in the rear, are utterly destroyed. The two left-most Vulgarian regiments, Count Orlok's and the Grand Prior's, are also driven from the field.
'Exshellent,' says Rentall, surveying the situation.
'Excellent?' asks Neucheim incredulously. 'Our army is being crushed by these effective if predictable Nabstrian tactics. We must surely retire and save the army!'
Rentall shrugs. 'But none of da troopsh dat we have losht seem to have been very popular,' he replies. 'And our morale ish shtill quite good. Alsho, all da losses can be made good by our depots. I would prefer to shee dis ash an opportunity: we have shlimmed down our forces, making dem more lean and efficient.'
Neucheim grimaces. 'Well, general, if by "lean and efficient" you mean "dead" then I can say wholeheartedly that our army is becoming one of the most economical forces in Mittelheim.'

(Below) The Vulgarian left has been shattered utterly. Yet (below, at the top) the three remaining Vulgarian infantry regiments continue their assault! The Regiment Blasco launches an attack on the raw troops of Nabstrian Infanterie Regiment No.3. Terrified by the relentless advance of the Vulgarian enemy, and unsettled by the sharpness of their archaic pikes and the luxuriance of their wigs, the conscripts shrink back. After a short and unsuccessful attempt to coax their testicles back out of their bodies, the Nabstrians break and flee.

From his vantage point close by, Stumpe sees an opportunity. Though the Regiment Blasco has succeeded in driving Infanterie Regiment No. 3 from the field, it is obvious that the Vulgarian regiment is in perilous disorder: their ranks are ragged; cohesion has been lost; and some of the men are already packing for the journey home. 
'See, Saxe!' says Stumpe, pointing, 'Now is our opportunity to crush this unwelcome Vulgarian show of spirit!'
'Yes, yes, my good capt ... I mean general,' agrees de Saxe vigorously. 'Now is the time to commit the elephants.'
Stumpe pauses. 'Or alternatively,' he says, 'we might order forward Infanterie Regiment No. 6. Though they too are raw troops, the Vulgarians cannot take any more disorder. Victory is guaranteed!'
'Yes, yes!' nods Saxe in complete agreement, 'very wise. Save the elephants for later.'
Saxe sends a courier immediately to the Sixth Infantry ordering an immediate charge!

In the chaos of battle, the Inhaber of Infanterie Regiment No. 6, Colonel Josef Karl von Hanua-Brancau peers wildly at the scrap of paper with his orders on it. 'God's toenails,' he curses, passing the sheet to his aide-de-campe, 'what on earth does that say?'
'Tsk, tsk - it's difficult to say, sir' replies the officer, 'The general should really practice his script. Is that an "n" or an "r:"?'
Hanua-Brancau curses again, 'So are we being ordered to charge or to change? Are we to crush the Vulgarians to our front or dress for dinner?'
'Perhaps, sir, the safest thing would be to do both?'
'Good thinking, my fine fellow - issue the orders to the men!'

(Above) 'Um,' says de Saxe, 'Why is that regiment getting undressed?'
Saxe face palms himself. 'What? What? Still ...' he says looking at the developing attack, 'see how the freshness of their new undergarments has inspired them! See how they hurl themselves at the foe! See how the Vulgarians push some of the smaller of their number onto the bayonets of our troops and then run off! Hurrah! Hurrah! Victory! Victory! 

(Above) The battle seems now effectively to be over. Only two Vulgarian infantry regiments remain and two of cavalry. The latter, however, are deployed in a fashion known as 'The Brave Sir Robin' i.e. they are facing away from the enemy, primed for a really quite rapid bout of buggering off and running away. At this point, the Nabstrians have lost only two regiments of infantry, whilst Vulgaria has lost three regiments of infantry and one of cavalry.
In the Vulgarian headquarters, Duke Neucheim assesses the situation with hs characterisitc sang froid. 'General, could I be the first to say "Aaaah! We're all going to die! Retreat! Flee! Surrender! Collaborate!"' 
Rentall regards the battlefield with equanimity. 'Never fear, Neucheim,' he says, 'I've been in tighter spotsh dan dis. Actually, I've been in tighter tightsh. I have a plan ...'

* Which, as we know Dougal, are actually black, whereas everything else that is nominally black is just very, very, very dark blue.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Hednitz, the Second!

The shockingly rapid advance of the Nabstrian march columns causes consternation in General Herz van Rentall's headquarters. Indeed, if the atmosphere there were a piece of music then it would no doubt be entitled "Vulgarian Fugue in (What the) F Major." Rentall's second-in-command, Captain of Infantry Duke Walter von Neucheim bounces up and down in his saddle: 'It's all over! It's all over! We'll never win! We'll never win!'
'Hush now, shir,' says the Dutchman Rentall. 'Dare ish always optionsh.'
The field of Hednitz is rather deeper than many of the battlefields of the Wars of the Gelderland Succession. So deep, in fact, that the usual Nabstrian trick of advancing in column and then changing into line on the same turn cannot work; the infantry must stay in column in order to close the distance quickly. Whilst von Stumpe has been careful to keep his vulnerable columns out of range of a cavalry charge, the Vulgarian horse could still advance into close range of the columns, thus making it impossible for the Nabstrian infantry to keep moving in their current formation.

After some consideration, however, Rentall finally decides that he will not order his cavalry forwards. (Below) Releived, the Nabstrian infantry suddenly halt and change into line. There is some cursing from the Nabstrian NCOs and cries of 'That way, that way, you fools!' and 'Left! Left! It's written on your boot!' But still, to the discomfort of the watching Vulgarians, the Nabstrians soon present a line of gleaming bayonets to the waiting Vulgarian cavalry and infantry.

In the Vulgarian headquarters, there is some disagreement over what to do next.
'We're doomed! It's finished! Retreat! Flee!' is Duke Neicheim's considered advice to General Rentall.
'Gottle a geer! Gottle a geer!' adds Baron Tostov, solicitously.
'This is going to be a beautiful battle. We're going to make Vulgaria great again!' adds Ranald Drumpf, Principal Councillor to Prince Dimitri.
Rentall scowls, 'I thought dat I directed you to quit dish army,' he says. Drumpf arrived yesterday carrying instructions from the Prince. However, since the instructions seemed to focus mainly on the ways in which Dimitri was going to remove all of Rentall's clothes and cover him with kisses, it seemed likely that there had been a mix up and that the wrong instructions had been sent to the army. At least, Rentall hoped so. He was nevertheless philosophical: however perturbed he was at the thought of having Prince Dimitri 'nibbling his little toes' it was likely as nothing to the feelings of Dimitri's mistress, who would now be digesting her orders to attack the Nabstrian army forthwith.
Rentall gestures to his guards. 'Remove dish man!'
Drumpf shakes his fist, 'I am a personal friend of the Prince! I'll not leave! Why must I leave?'
'Becaush you are an unpleasant purveyor of liesh and untruthsh,' says Rentall, 'And also becaush your hair disturbsh me.'
Drumpf pats his hair and tickles its ears. 'There's nothing wrong with my hair. And I've done nothing that would disturb anyone!'
'Pah!' replies the general. 'What about de young women? Without any clothes on!'
'It's not true,' shouts Drumpf, 'fake nudes!'
'And de unpleasantness with de amphibians?' asks Rentall.
'Also not true,' says Drumpf, 'fake newts!'

(Above) As the Nabstrian infantry bear down upon the Vulgarian lines, Rentall finally discards the idea of a cavalry assault upon the infantry to his front, and instructs his horse to withdraw. The consequence, however, is that the Nabstrians continue to hold the initiative. As the cavalry withdraw, Stumpe's foot advance again, beginning to turn the flanks of the Vulgarian infantry and placing the Osterburg Cuirassiers within range of Nabstrian musketry (below).

On the Vulgarian right, however, so little is happening that one might mistake it for a Mittelheim artillery barrage. Rentall's irregulars are still in the woods, the infantry well camouflaged by the foliage. Colonel Kurtz peers into the distance with his telescope.
'Can you see anything sir?' asks Captain Kleinvarken.
'Oh, yes, captain: one thing looms large in my sight, blocking out almost everything else!'
'Foliage, sir?' answers the captain, 'A tree? Or perhaps you mean a rosy future?'
'I mean horror, Kleinvarken' says Kurtz morosely, 'pure, bowel whisking horror.'
'Yes, well I suspected that we might get there at some stage,' says Kleinvarken, 'But surely sir there are many reasons to be cheerful. There is no sign yet that we will be ordered to advance. Indeed, we are on the defence, so perhaps our role will be to leap on the enemy flanks as they advance past our position. And there are so many other advantages to our current situation,' he adds brightly. 'We're in the trees. But it's not Surinam. I mean, unlike 'Nam, it's pleasantly cool. There's lovely shade. And no cannibals. That surely has to count for something.'
'The horror is metaphysical, Kleinvarken.'
'Metaphysical horror?'
'A horror of being, of knowing, the whole ineffable strain of existing in, crikey - look at the hooters on her.'
'I think, sir, that that is a pair of squirrels on a tree.'
'Bah,' says Kurt. 'The horror ... but, what's that?'
'More horror, sir? Or trees. Or a kind of metaphysical tree horror?'
'No, no' replies Kurtz, 'There's a fellow in a wicker carriage. He seems to be heading in this direction clutching what looks to be a set of orders ....'

'A lovely carriage, Saxe; but who exactly is
driving it?'
'I said, Saxe' says Stumpe banging himself over the head with his telescope. 'I said not to give our orders to the Vulgarians. I told you to take my orders to von Pfanenstiel and that if it looked even remotely like the Vulgarians might capture them that you should in extremis eat the orders; whereas you ...'
'Gave the orders to the Vulgarians and then had something to eat with them,' admits the Marshal.
'In God's name, why did you not just do as I told you?' asks Stumpe incredulously.
'Well,' says Saxe, who has the good grace to look sheepish, 'I thought that you were being ironic.'
'Ironic?' says Stumpe, 'Ironic? No, when I say something like "I asked General Rentall for some help and he procured a lard wit like you:" that would be ironic. Just as if I said to you "Well done, Saxe, you've really helped" that would be sarcastic. Just as if I said "Oooh, Saxe - look!'
Saxe looks. Stumpe punches him hard in the face. ' ... that would be useful stress relief. Now bugger off! The enemy now has excellent military intelligence on our plans - they know of my capability for combined movement; and they know that there's something out there that's not marked on their maps.'

At Rentall's headquarters there is uproar. (Below) The Nabstrian infantry continue to move around the flanks of the Vulgarian infantry; and musketry fire scythes down the Osterburg Cuirassiers. It has become clear that there just seems to be too much to do at once. 'Cobblersh!' says Rentall. 'My army is in too many piecesh: wid my infantry split by my artillery into two positionsh, and wid my cavalry ash a third element, I have too many thingsh to do and not enough time to do dem.'

'My lord! My lord!' a Vulgarian irregular breathlessly interrupts Rentall's cogitation. 'A message from Colonel Kurtz sir! Here is a set of the Nabstrian orders!'
'Hurrah!' says Neucheim, 'But where did they come from!'
'A Nabstrian general gave them to us, sir, as well as some interesting recommendations for local taverns and bawdy houses.'
Neucheim examines the orders. As he reads, he frowns. 'My lord, what a fortuitous piece of military intelligence! This is the enemy plan! It would seem that the Nabstrians intend some 'combined movement.' Oh, and there is also something out there that isn't on our maps. But the latter, of course, goes without saying.'
'Really?' says Rentall, thoughtfully. 'Well, well, well. Becaush shome "combined movement" would seem to be de answer to our immediate problem. Excellent, let us shteal our adversary's idea! Gentlemen, wid dis combined movement I plan to counter-attack de exposed flank of de Nabstrian advance! Prepare de troops: we begin de assault in five minutes!'
To loud 'hurrahs!' and the obligatory 'gottle a geer!' the battle enters its next stage: a stage in which the metaphysical horror is not at all ironic ...

Sunday, 19 March 2017


Wherein the army of the Burgravate of Nabstria under 'General Hieronymous von Rumpfler' encounters the army of the Voivodate of Vulgaria, commanded by General Hertz van Rentall 

Captain Hugo von Stumpe mops his perspiring brow and surveys the field of battle. Dressed in Rumpfler's clothes, Stumpe also tries in his bearing to evince all of the General's most obvious mannerisms: his calmness; his experienced professionalism; his dislike of French cheeses; and his consuming lust for Nora Hindquarters - not an easy trick when one is just holding a telescope. Stumpe feels peculiarly alone. To avoid having the General's deception rumbled, Stumpe has banished the usual Nabstrian staff officers back to the headquarters tent, citing his desire to avoid them becoming casualties in the ensuing battle. The staff officers protest heavily in the usual Nabstrian fashion at being robbed of the chance to test their manhood in the heat of enemy fire, making such comments as: 'Thank goodness!', 'Suits me', and 'Wake me when it's all over.' Stumpe turns the telescope around and looks through the bigger end: but even with the Vulgarians now much further away he still feels uncertain.
'Well,' says Stumpe to the figure in the wicker carriage next to him, 'any way one looks at it, those Vulgarians don't seem to me to be an army on the brink of collapse.'
Next to him, Marshal Horace de Saxe brushes crumbs from the blanket that covers his legs and nods sagely.
'Well, my good fellow: I warned you,' he says to the "general."
Stumpe frowns. 'No you didn't, my good Saxe.'
Saxe shakes his head, 'I distinctly remember that as soon I arrived here I made the comment "those Vulgarians don't seem to me to be an army on the brink of collapse,"'
'No you didn't, my good Saxe,' replies Stumpe. 'What you said was "I'm hungry, get me some pie" and then "I'm not wearing any britches under this blanket - put your hand under and see."'
Stumpe returns to his survey of the Vulgarian lines.

(Right, bottom) The Vulgarian army seems to be well deployed and ready for battle. In the centre, and making use of Hednitz hill, the Vulgarian commander, General Herz van Rentall, has placed his artillery, under the command of Cameron von Muller. To the left of the hill are positioned three of the five Vulgarian infantry regiments; to the right are the remaining two regiments, including the Vulgarian foot guard. All three of the Vulgarian regular cavalry regiments are deployed on the extreme left of the line, two up and one behind in reserve. On the extreme right, in the woods, are the four irregular regiments, two of foot and two of horse.

In the woods themselves, the Vulgarian irregulars wait patiently. The Dutch mercenaries, Captain Kleinvarken and Colonel Kurtz, expect action soon and try to fortify the spirits of their troops.
'Steady, men,' cries Kleinvarken. 'Our adversaries are mere Nabstrians and should hold no terror for you. Do not fear death!'
'Indeed!' cries Kurtz, brushing aside Kleinvarken who seems to be making a respectful attempt, befitting a subordinate officer, to cover the Colonel's mouth. 'You should not fear death. There is no point. After all, life has no intrinsic meaning; no real value. Your lives - all our lives - have no significance or purpose in the great scheme of the universe. Life is just pain, and cruelty, and one's wife running off with a short Spaniard ...'
'Colonel, sir!' interjects Kleinvarken. 'I think that you should stop.'
'But I hadn't got to the really uplifting bits ...'
'Too much of a good thing, sir,' says Kleinvarken. 'You have the men dangerously fired up,' he continues, using his kerchief to mop the tears of a nearby soldier.
The noises now emanating from the Nabstrian camp indicate that the forces of the Burgravate are deploying for action!

(Left) Following the scheme of battle communicated to him the previous evening by General von Rumpfler, Stumpe places his entire regular infantry force into march columns on the right of his line. The Nabstrian plan is as obvious as a Mittelheim pun and only slightly less related to genitals. As Stumpe understands it, Rumpfler's plan of battle is to throw forward his infantry as fast as possible. Utilising the advantages of cadenced drill, the Nabstrian foot will then form line and advance quickly against the Vulgarian left. The troops should then be able to crush the Vulgarian regular horse with musketry and then, wheeling to the left, roll up the Vulgarian troops before the right wing of their army has a chance to intervene. Stumpe, however, is worried.
'The general's plan is a good one; but these Vulgarians look as if they have plenty of fight in them. Damn those Bachscuttel knaves - I sense that they have duped us!'
De Saxe stares down intently into his wicker carriage. Stumpe looks at him unhappily.
'Cease you navel gazing, sir! We are running out of time. Also, having seen the state of your navel, I cannot see that gazing at it will help us. Is there nothing in your accumulated military wisdom that might give us a further edge over our foes?'
The Marshal holds up a well-thumbed volume. 'I have here a copy of my famous tome Mes Gueules de Bois - "My Hangovers." It is full of military insight drawn from my own experiences in the field.'
Stumpe reaches forwards and, before de Saxe can stop him, the captain has pinched the book and begins leafing through it.
'Excellent', says the captain. 'Let's look for "strategems" in the index. Let's see - "str," "stra" - oh: here we go. Let me see: "straddling," "straighteners," "straight jacket," "stranded," "strangulation," "strapless," - "strapless?"
De Saxe shrugs - 'when in Rome.'

(Right) Meanwhile, to the left of the Nabstrian line, and chafing at the bit (or possibly it is just a bit of chafing), the Nabstrian cavalry are restless for a fight. The von Pfanenstiel hussars face their first action, and their Inhaber is hungry for glory! The Nabstrian artillery and two regiments of light troops hold the centre in case of a precipitous advance by the Vulgarian irregulars. Behind them, Stumpe continues his search for inspiration.
'Well,' he says to de Saxe, looking at the Marshal's memoirs, 'what about references to tactics? Here we go,' he says leafing further through the index. '"Tackle (see also Wedding)," "Tactless (see also Visit to French King)." De Saxe, exactly what sort of useful experience do you have that qualifies you as a military advisor?"
The Marshal looks aggrieved. 'Captain, I am well versed in the arts of superior military mental activity.'
Stumpe grimaces, 'I have a suspicion, sir, that much of your military activity could be labelled superiorly "mental." I mean, are there any references in your memoirs even to "war?" Indeed look,' he points at the index - "Wack," "Waddle," "Waffle (see also Waddle)," "Waggle (see also Wench)," "Wail (see also Wench, Prison, and Bribe)," "Waistline," "Walrus (see also Waffle and Waistline)," "Wantoness," "Warrant (see also Wantoness, Wench, France, Prison, Bribe and Flee)." Dammit, this is pointless.' Stumpe throws de Saxe's memoirs back into the wicker carriage.
De Saxe looks picqued, 'There is some very salient advice about elephants,' he says sniffily.

Stumpe shakes his head. 'Zounds, let's just get on with this and hope for the best.' As the rank-and-file of his army look on, "General von Rumpfler" signals for attention, and then gestures forwards with his hand. (Above) The Nabstrian musicians strike up a lively version of the traditional folk song 'I've Never Had My Hands on a Country Slice I Didn't Like' and the infantry columns advance forwards towards the Vulgarian line ....

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Eve of Battle!

'Stop wriggling, Stumpe: it's almost on.' General Hieronymous von Rumpfler, commander of the Nabstrian army finishes with the wig and then steps back and admires his handiwork. Captain Hugo von Stumpe, Rumpfler's aid-de-campe stands uncomfortably, dressed in one of the general's wigs and his second best uniform.
'Marvellous!' says Rumpfler. 'You could be my double!'
'But I don't understand, sir,' says Stumpe, 'why it is that you cannot command this army in the coming fray. Why must you quit the army on the eve of battle? And why must I wear one of your uniforms?'
'Captain, I have told you: I have urgent business elsewhere with the lovely Miss Nora Hindquarters. You will have to command in my place and pretend that you are me. But you should not fear - the coming battle will hardly be a battle at all. The Bachscuttlers have crushed the Vulgarian army already. Finishing them off will be as easy as stealing leech fricassee from a baby. And if there is any army suitable for an act of theft from a small infant, then it is my army.'
Stumpe pulls miserably at the throat of his coat. 'It doesn't fit very well.'
'Nonsense!' replies Rumpfler, 'It fits pefectly. Except that I should imagine that my britches are somewhat roomier around the crotch than you are used to. Now ... I explained my plan to you yesterday evening: you can remember the key details?'
'I think so, General, although I am very tired - I didn't manage to sleep much.' Poor Stumpe had spent the night tossing and turning; the former, in particular, had interrupted his rest.
Rumpfler chuckles. 'Those poor Palatinate fools. Imagine telling us that the Vulgarians were a shattered ruin and then warning us not to steal their glory.'

'But are you sure, my general, that the Vulgarians are really in such a poor state? Their picket line was sufficient yesterday to drive off our vanguard cavalry.'
Rumpfler now starts stuffing items into a moderately sized wicker hamper. 'Of course I'm sure, Stumpe. Calm yourself - the omens are excellent.'
Officer: 'Column of fours! Advance upon the
enemy pickets!'
Dragoon: 'Charge! Charge! For God and Nabstria!'
Another Dragoon: 'Am I the only one who thinks
that those Vulgarians look surprisingly
white and fluffy?'
'Well, sir, there was the black cat that crossed our army on the advance.'
'A single black cat, Stumpe.'
'Yes, but it was being carried by that old crone, who cackled madly, drew her finger across her throat, and told us that we were all going to die.'
'A single old women Stumpe.'
'Well, there were her two friends as well, sir. And the cauldron. And that stuff about curses, woods coming to Dunsinane, and prominent facial warts. And then they told us that we were all going to die.'
'Bored Vulgarian housefraus, Stumpe, with nothing better to do.'
'But it was during an unseasonable storm, if you recall sir; with the comet; and the two headed cow that laughed at us and told us that our operational planning process was fatally flawed.'
'That, Stumpe,' admits Rumpfler with a nod, 'was quite surprising.'
'You don't often see a two headed cow that talks,' replies Stumpe adjusting the crotch of the britches which is uncomfortably tight.
'No,' says Rumpfler, 'I mean that we haven't really got a formal process for the design of our campaigns. I just get a map and a quill, and ... improvise by drawing some arrows.'

Rumpfler curses and begins searching for something.
'God's wounds, Stumpe, you have to hold the fort while I'm away. I simply must see Miss Hindquarters. It may be my only chance before the campaign season begins in earnest. I must see her! Stumpe, you cannot know the urgent kiss of the burning flames of love.'
Stumpe shrugs. 'I don't know about that, sir. My wife did once set fire to me.'

Officer: 'Retreat! We are over-matched!'
Dragoon: 'Flee! Flee!'
Another Dragoon: 'They're everywhere! Game over, man!
Game over!'
Rumpfler continues his inexpert packing of the hamper. He has dismissed his valet and is as used to organising such things himself as he is to hunting truffles with a harpoon.
'Dammit, Stumpe, where's my best cutlery?'
'There sir.'
'Oh yes. I hope Nora appreciates this. Dammit, where's the fork?'
'I don't know, sir.'
'She'll need a fork'
Stumpe chokes. 'It would be impolitic of me to comment.'
'A fork, man: a fork. To eat with!'
'Oh, oh,' says Stumpe nodding.
Rumpfler gesticulates. 'What is she supposed to do - suck?'
'Again,' says Stumpe in a neutral tone, 'It would be impolitic of me ...'
'By all that is holy - where is it?'
'Baaaa! Oink!'
Stumpe closes his eyes and makes an effort to appear matter-of-fact. 'Sir, I understand that your business with Frau Hindquarters is important, but is it necessarily more important than the battle that we will be fighting on the morrow?'
Rumpfler straightens. 'Dammit Stumpe - tomorrow will be a small thing. The Bachscuttlers have crushed the Vulgarians. What remains huddled around those campfires that we see in the distance must be a broken remnant of their forces.' He allows himself a grim smile.
'In any case,' says the general. 'I have procured for you the help of one of the foremost military minds in Mittelheim.'
Stumpe looks confused. 'Why would I need a cow, sir?'
'No, no, Stumpe. I have engaged the services of Marshal Horace de Saxe - writer of the such famous top shelf military doctrine manuals as 'Manoeuvre Your Way to Fitness.'
'Horace de Saxe?' asks Stumpe.
'The very same,' replies the general.
'But,' says Stumpe, 'I really think that a cow would be more useful.'
'Bah!' says Rumpfler. 'Sit down,' he says, pushing Stumpe into the chair, 'and cease your bickering. It is decided.'
Stumpe whimpers.
'Pipe down, Stumpe' scoffs Rumpfler. 'Oh, my lovely Nora. The long miles between us. Stumpe, you cannot know the meaning of real pain.'
'I ... beg to... differ, sir. I think that I have found that fork.'

Friday, 24 February 2017

Is it really that cunning?

The weather-beaten Agorn nods. He is now sitting in a chair, smoking a long pipe. His legs stretch out in front of him. He wears high boots of supple leather that fit badly, but are much worn and now caked in mud. He wears a travel-stained cloak of heavy dark green cloth drawn close about him. And in spite of the heat of the room he wears a hood that overshadows his face. But the gleam of his eye can be seen.
'Yes, my lords,' says Herr Agorn, slowly, 'I am the true air to the throne of Vulgaria. I, and not that cheating toad, Dimitri.'
'You see,' says Voeltickler, 'I have found a pretender to the Vulgarian throne!'
'But what's the point of that?' says Prince Rupprecht. The prince is idly checkmating the supine form of baron Steinhagen with his croquet mallet. 'What's the point in having someone pretending to be the Voivode of Vulgaria? I could do that.'
'Indeed,' says Voeltickler, 'And a splendid job that you would make of it, my lord. But by "Pretender" I mean that he is a rival claimant to the throne.'
Agorn, animated now, stands. 'Yes! Long years have I spent striding about the country on my long shanks, and for this reason I have acquired the name 'Rambler' as well as quite a few nasty blisters. And long have I waited to reclaim my throne!'
'How long?' says the Prince.
'Well, quite a long time. I have lived an age, Prince Rupprecht. I am older than I look.'
'How old?'
'Guess, my lord.'
'Er, 23.'
'I am 184, your highness.'
'No you're not.'
'No,' admits Rambler. 'I'm not. I'm 36. But I have done and seen things beyond the ken of ordinary man: I have wrestled dark forces; I have slain hundreds of foes; I have travelled through all the wide lands of this world!'
'No, you haven't,' admonishes Rupprecht.
'No,' admits Rambler, 'I haven't. But still, 'Terror' is my middle name; 'Hardship' my last; to my friends I am known as 'the hero captain'; to my enemies I am 'Death!'
'What's wrong with just 'Michael?'' asks Rupprecht, 'Or Rupprecht.''
Fluck scowls. 'And you're certain that you are the rightful heir to the Voivodate of Vulgaria?'
Agorn nods. 'Oh yes, my lord. For it was foretold upon my birth. There was a prophecy:

All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost
But some don't want to be bothered
and others they cannot be tossed'

'It's rather ... elliptical in its meaning isn't it?' says Fluck. 'I'm just saying: it is quite ambiguous.'
'Nonsense,' says Voeltickler. 'It seems perfectly well to indicate to me that Agorn is the real heir to the Voivodate of Vulgaria. And in any case, look at him: he has all of the qualities. He can whistle. He's certainly a few stollen short of a Christmas. And he has the chin.'
'He has a chin,' says Fluck. 'It's really not such a conclusive piece of evidence.'
Agorn takes something from his cloak. 'And I have also this picture of my father.'
Voeltickler points triumphantly at it. 'He certainly looks like his grandsire of old.'
'Are we sure of its authenticity?' asks Fluck.
'Oh yes.'
'It's just,' continues Fluck, 'that it does look a little bit like someone has scribbled a moustache and a pair of reading glasses on the face of ...'
'No, no, no,' says Voeltickler, snatching it away. 'I can vouch for him.'

A servant knocks with trepidation and then pokes his head around the door to the chamber. 'My lord Chamberlain,' he says. 'What about the other eight visitors in the waiting room?'
'Eight?' asks Rupprecht.
'My companions,' says Agorn.
'Where are they from?' asks Rupprecht. The servant shakes his head. 'I'm not entirely sure, my lord, for they are a strange company. Four of them are very small, have no shoes and their feet smell terrible.'
'They sound English to me, ' says Fluck.
'One has a long beard, my lord' says the servant. 'He looks a bit like a druid.'
'Welsh, then.'
'No my lord,' says Agorn, 'These are my sworn companions, who have accompanied me on this quest. For it is said that this is will be my final battle and I shall come into my own.'
'Your own what?' asks Fluck.
'That bit,' says Agorn, 'is rather ambiguous. But my hope is that it will include money and wine. And possibly some battenburg. For behold!', says the weathered fellow, taking his sword from its sheath: 'here is the sword that was broken and has been forged anew!' He makes a few experimental swipes with it as Rupprecht and his councillors take a step or two back.
Rupprecht peers at it. 'Hmmm. It's just, my fine fellow, that it still seems to be, you know ... broken.' He points to the space where the top half of the sabre should be.
'I'd have that seen by the doctor, my lord'
Agorn sighs. 'I broke it again,' he admits ruefully. 'I got it stuck in a door.'
Fluck shakes his head. 'So this is "The Sword that was Broken and was Reforged but got Broken Again." It doesn't really have much of a ring to it.'
'Ring,' mumbles Agorn, 'rings, rings, bloody rings. All the way across the low countries and the states of Germany with those knumbskulls blithering on about rings! And fiery cracks. Well, they should have done as I advised and seen a doctor.'
'Burning is a bad sign,' concurs Fluck. 'Questing must be hard work when it hurts to sit down.'

'What should I do about the eight guests,' repeats the servant nervously. 'I could have them executed, sir. Or offer them some coffee? Or a combination of the two?'
'Are they your friends?' Rupprecht asks Agorn.
Herr Agorn thinks for a moment. 'Not really.'
'Excellent,' replies Rupprecht, and then says to the servant 'have them executed.'
'Yes sir.'
'Wait! On the other hand,' says Rupprecht, 'find out if any of them like chess.'

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

I have a cunning plan!

'Ah,' says Prince Rupprecht of Saukopf-Bachscuttel happily, 'someone new! I should wager he has yet to see my ...'
'I'm sure that Herr Agorn is not the sort of fellow who would want to see your ...' begins Leopold Von Fecklenburg, Rupprecht's Grand Chamberlain.
'Nonsense,' says the Prince getting up and hurrying over to the weather-beaten Agorn. 'Of course he is. Herr Agorn, I want your opinion on my Steffi.'
'Um?' says Agorn, looking alarmed, and shuffling slowly back towards the doorway. 'My Prince, I didn't realise that it was one of those sorts of get-togethers.'
Rupprecht wrinkles his brow: 'Why not? Everyone here has seen my Steffi.'
Count Geyr von Voeltickler, Minister for Finance and Other Tedious Things, nods resignedly. 'It's true. But don't worry Agorn - the Prince will not force you to hold it.'
'Gark?' says Agorn, beginning to hyper-ventilate.
'Fie and tush, man,' says the Prince, 'it's just a picture.'
'A picture?' says Agorn 'Um, no sir, not to be impolite but I still feel that that is pushing the boundaries on a first meeting: I'd still rather not if it's all the same to you ...'. Agorn, however, is trapped. The Prince whips out a small picture from the pocket of his waist coat.
'See, Agorn, what a corker, eh! My lovely Steffi; my new mistress!' The Prince points to the picture of a comely milk-maid frolicking with a little pig. 'But no touching, now' says the Prince.
Agorn stops shuffling and says with relief 'Mistress? Well, thank goodness. Yes, your lordliness - she is indeed lovely. What soft skin; what limpid eyes; what a springy little tail.'
'Not the pig, you fool!' huffs Rupprecht. Then he looks more closely at the picture, 'Still - now you mention it .... '

Steffi: "Makin' Bacon"
'My lord,' says Voeltickler. 'I think that we are losing the purpose of this meeting. I have brought Herr Agorn here because of the services he can render us in our current wars.'
Rupprecht sighs, 'She is such a beauty. Voeltickler, I intend to marry her.'
Freiherr Maximillian von Fluck, Minister of Sausages, coughs loudly, 'But, ah, Your Highness, you're already married.'
'But I'm not married.'
'You are married to Princess Caroline.'
'When did that happen?'
'Several years ago - at the Cathedral. There was a large if unenthusiastic crowd.'
'Oh,' says Rupprecht, 'I wondered why the Princess looked so miserable. Ah well. Just a mistress then.'
'Quite so, sir,' says Fluck.
Rupprecht frowns. 'And you're quite sure that the Princess is still alive? I'm not a widower?'
'No, sir,' says Voeltickler, 'Princess Caroline was at breakfast with you.'
Rupprecht nods ruefully, 'Ah yes,' he says.
'And,' continues Voeltickler, 'she was here some twenty minutes ago when she turned down your offer of a game of chess.'
Rupprecht takes one last look at the picture and then sits himself down. 'Very well then Voeltickler. What is this all about? Sit! Sit!' He gestures to the assembled personages.

Voeltickler begins. 'Let me introduce you to my grand plan, my Prince: "Operation Mince Pie."'
'"Mince Pie?,"' queries Rupprecht.
'My lord?' says Voeltickler.
'Well,' says Rupprecht, 'shouldn't our war plans sound more ... manly and ... frightening. You know - "Operation Hammer;" "Operation Hot Tweezers;" or "Operation Tax Self-Assessment."'
'Yes, yes,' says Fluck. 'Our prince is right. It should be "Operation Lemon Drizzle."'
'How is "Lemon Drizzle" frightening?' asks Voeltickler. 'Has any man here experienced trepidation on account of a lemon drizzle?'
'What about "Operation Country Slice,"' says Fecklenburg.
"Country slice" just sounds rude,' replies Fluck.
'How can "country slice" sound rude,' asks Fecklenburg incredulously. 'Now "muffin:" that's rude.'
'Look,' says Voeltickler wearily. 'Look. Let's just agree to disagree on this issue, so that I can explain Operation ... "Cake to be Determined."'
Those assembled nod, although in baron Steinhagen's case this is also accompanied by a snore and a certain quantity of dribble.
Voeltickler continues. 'My lord, the key element of this plan is a joint attack by ourselves and the Kingdom of Gelderland. First, we will strike across the River Strudel to seize one of the  key artillery forts just south of Fort Pippin. This will cut the fort off from any army of relief. In parallel, we will launch a swift assault on the fort itself. We will overwhelm Fenwick's defences before they have a chance to respond!'
'Hurrah!' shouts Rupprecht. 'But, won't the Nabstrians block this plan? Do they not themselves covet northern Fenwick?'
'You naughty little minx'

Voeltickler continues. 'Indeed, my lord. So before all of this we must first entangle the Nabstrians in Vulgaria. To do this, we need to convince them to send their army into the Voivodate.'
'Hmmm,' says Rupprecht. 'And how shall we achieve this?'
'Well, sir,' replies Voeltickler, 'we're going to lie.'
The Prince claps delightedly, 'Yes! Oh yes! We could, um .... we could tell them that their shoe buckles are undone and then push them when they bend over to check!'
Voeltickler tilts his head, 'Well, yes sir: but I was looking at something a little more ambitious.'
Rupprecht nods agreeably, 'We could hit them with a chair when they bend over?'
Voeltickler continues, 'Yes, my Prince - another excellent suggestion. However, my feeling is that we need something bigger; but also plausible, to allay any Nabstrian suspicions.'
'Why would they be suspicious?' asks Rupprecht.
'Hmmm,' says Fecklenburg, 'I think that we need to see this from the Nabstrian point of view: we need to put ourselves in their position.'
'Really?' asks Prince Rupprecht, uncertainly. The Prince, it is fair to say, is not well equipped in the empathy department. For him, "walking a mile in another man's shoes" just means that, at the end of the process when he has inevitably decided that he does not really like the other fellow, he is a mile away from the man and also has his shoes.
Voeltickler continues 'We have been at war with Nabstria in the past and they must surely suspect anything that we tell them to do. But they might be less careful regarding things that we tell them not to do. So, we will tell them that the Vulgarian army has indeed been crushed, but that our army is in the midst of a logistic crisis and is perilously low on muffins. We will tell the Nabstrians that they must not, absolutely not, steal our glory by moving into Vulgaria and sweeping up the broken remains of the enemy army.'
'Clever, clever!' says Fecklenburg admiringly.
Voeltickler nods. 'They won't be able to help themselves. Their army will barrel into Vulgaria; it will suffer a calamitous defeat; and we will raise an insurrection behind their lines in Vulgaria that will crush both Vulgaria and the remains of the Nabstrians in one blow!'
'An insurrection?' asks Fluck.
'Yes, my good Freiherr,' says Voeltickler, pointing at Agorn. 'Let me introduce the instrument of our revenge!'

Monday, 13 February 2017


'I said my lord, "the campaign against Vulgaria isn't going as well as we anticipated."' Count Geyr von Voeltickler, the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel's Minister for Finance and Other Tedious Things, gesticulates at the map laid out on the table in the middle of the chamber. Prince Rupprecht of Saukopf-Bachscuttel snorts dismissively. Here in Pfeildorf, the brightest minds are busy strategising, ruminating on the outcomes of the battle of Leipflute and the consequences for the war.
'Snap!' says Prince Rupprecht, reaching over the chessboard and then moving his knight straight forwards and removing three of  Baron Steinhagen's pawns as well as a small but valuable diamond brooch attached to the baron's waistcoat.
'A brilliant move, your highness,' says the baron.
Count Voeltickeler says firmly 'Will you not come to the table my, lord, so that we can discuss important matters of strategy and policy?'
Rupprecht sticks his tongue out and blows a raspberry.
'But this is all so unnecessary,' says the Prince,  'I've already mentioned many times that there must be better ways of governing my state; ways that could improve the quality of government whilst at the same time reducing the amount of effort that I have to expend on it.'
'Chess in Bachscuttel: not for the faint-hearted ....'
'Your suicide might be one option, sir' murmurs Freiherr Maximillian von Fluck, Minister of Sausages.
'What?' says Rupprecht, producing another rook from his sleeve and slipping it onto the board.
'Bravo, sir,' says Steinhagen, 'another masterful move.'
'We must soon decide, sir' says the Freiherr more loudly. 'We must decide what General Barry-Eylund's army will do next.'
Rupprecht shakes his head. 'But why must I decide?' he says, taking up a croquet mallet and hitting Steinhagen around the head with it. 'Check!' says the Prince. The baron does not reply; understandably, since he is now slumped unconscious on the floor.
Prince Rupprecht begins removing the baron's splendidly embroidered boots, holding them up to his own feet. 'Well, Fluck. I was just reading the Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men by Jean Jacques Rousseau.'
'Really sir?' replies Fluck, with a note of surprise of the same order as if, for example, a pig had expressed in rhyming verse a preference for  Italian over French opera.
Rupprecht nods: 'It was disappointing  - the early material on the 'state of nature' led me to expect more nakedness than the book actually contained. But it returned me to my thinking about the need to introduce more democracy into the Palatinate's government.'
The assembled councillors choke as if an opera-loving pig had kicked them in their gentleman's parts and stolen their wallets.
'Democracy, my prince?'
'Well yes,' nods Rupprecht. 'It occurred to me that more plural forms of government would have a number of key advantages, not least relieving me of the need to waste my time with all the stuff I have to do before lunch. You know,  the sitting and listening and deciding and stamping things.
'You meaning ruling, sir?' says Leopold Von Fecklenburg, the Grand Chamberlain.
'Yes,' says Rupprecht, 'that.'

'Perhaps, my lord, 'says Voeltickler placatingly, 'perhaps we could come back later to your insightful thoughts on the reform of government and now focus instead on the use of our army after the battle of Leipflute.'
'But it was a brilliant victory,' replies the Prince. 'I remember distinctly in Graf Barry-Eylund's dispatch reading the phrase "brilliant victory." And also the words "steaming loins."'
The assembled councillors look at one another alarmed.
'Oh no,' says Rupprecht, ' my mistake: the phrase "steaming loins" was in something else I was reading. But anyway, the battle at Leipflute was certainly described by Barry-Eylund as a great success.'
Voeltickler nods. 'My lord the Vulgarian army by all accounts is a strange force,  It is very small, and what with their system of depot battalions and their Garde du Corps, their army is depressingly resilient. Ironically, given Vulgarian folklore's focus on the undead, their military forces seem to be the army that cannot die. Every time it gets beaten it seems just to come back a little bit better than before.'
'It is not enough to kill them: one must also push them over,' quips Chamberlain Fecklenburg.
'No,' says Voeltickler, 'that's the Russians. With the Vulgarians, they say " It is not enough to kill them; one must also stuff their mouths with garlic; decapitate them; stake them; and then burn the body; but watch out for the weak sequels."
'Well,' replies Rupprecht, 'I told the Nabstrian ambassador that the Vulgarians had been utterly crushed and that all that was left was to administer the coup-de-grace.'
Freiherr von Fluck frowns 'What did he say, sir?'
The Prince shrugs 'Nothing immediately: it turns out that the ambassador speaks French rather less well than he speaks dolphin.'
'That must be inconvenient for an ambassador,' says Fluck.
Rupprecht shakes his head 'Not really - he's never been that interested in fish.'
'No, I mean French. He doesn't speak French,' replies Fluck. 'He wasn't clear what a coup-de-grace was.'
Rupprecht chortles in agreement 'What a fool. Has he never cut the grass before?'

' ... but it's a lot safer than Bachscuttel
Voeltickler hurrumphs. 'My lord; gentlemen. My point is that if we continue to push forwards into Vulgaria, we are likely to become sucked into an extended campaign there. We therefore will miss opportunities to focus our energies on the our real enemies.'
Rupprecht flicks both of Steinhagen's ears and then pulls off the baron's wig. 'Check!' he declares and then pauses, turning to Voeltickler. 'But,' he begins cautiously, 'but ... we are at war with Vulgaria, Rotenburg, and Imperial Fenwick. Aren't they our enemies? Or are they just bad friends?'
The Freiherr nods. 'Voeltickler is right, my lord. Here in Bachscuttel, it is an eternal principle of our foreign policy that we hate everyone. Allies are just enemies that exploit our good nature, sponging from us and cramping our style with their bonhomie and their ententes cordiale.'
Rupprecht frowns. 'Bah! More dolphin talk. So what course of action do you propose then, Minister Voeltickler?'
'Well, sir,' says Voeltickler, 'there's someone that I'd like you to meet.' He gestures to the two liveried servants who stand by the door. 'Open!' says Voeltickler. 'My lord, late of northern Vulgaria, meet Herr Michael Agorn!'
'Excellent!' says the Prince. He hefts the mallet again and approaches the supine form of Baron Steinhagen. 'Gentlemen - some room please: I see that the baron's bishop is now vulnerable!'

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Pippin Fort!

Between the frontiers of Imperial Fenwick and the capital of Pogelswood stands Pippin Fort, the chief walled stronghold of Emperor George's dimunitive state. In the official histories of the Empire, the fort is said to be named after King Pippin, the great Frankish king of old, warrior bastion of Christendom and father of Charlemagne. Local stories argue that the fort actually was named after Herr Pippin, an unpleasant local farmer. The fortress apparently was founded after his wife, Clothilde, tiring of Pippin's drinking and womanising, and his belief that the word 'scone' should be pronounced as 'skon,' locked him out of his house and told him that he was never ever setting foot back in it again. Clothilde was a determined and inventive woman, and handier than most at taking routine household items and turning them into durable defensive earthworks.

Pippin fort: excellent modern fortfications, but the
 local schools are nothing to write home about.
Whilst most wives would perhaps have confined themselves to changing the locks, Clothilde went that bit further and constructed a moat, drawbridge and a remarkably complete set of curtain walls, all in a matching colour that she termed 'hint of wicker.' If some thought that the later addition of corner bastions, murder holes and an inner redoubt was overdoing things, those that knew Herr Pippin pointed out that he was a very tedious man and had very bad breath.

Since those times, the fortress has grown in size and importance. Now, it is not just a fortification, but also an administrative centre. In particular, the fort contains the buildings of Fenwick's Ministry for Fruit, Vegetables and Public Morals. As both of the regular readers of this modest publication are no doubt aware, the inhabitants of Fenwick have a tedious and exhausting sensitivity to double entendre. Whilst in most other countries of Europe the functions of government revolve around such routine imperatives as defence, justice, and the exploitation of the poor, in Fenwick it would be accurate to say that most of the organs of government are dedicated to eliminating the ordinary folk of Fenwick's contact with words of a double meaning. It would be accurate to say this, but impossible in Fenwick actually to say it because 'organ' would certainly be one of those words that no self-respecting Fenwickian could encounter without 'Fnarring' themselves into a sweaty stupor. Historical experience has demonstrated that many of the worst offenders in relation to double entendre are words associated with lewdly shaped fruit and vegetables. This is something of a problem for a mainly agricultural economy heavily reliant on the production of melons. The Ministry of Fruit, Vegetable, and Public Morals has thus grown into perhaps the most important institution in Fenwick's governmental structures. It concerns itself principally with censoring printed publications and removing words likely to cause a breach of the peace.  For this reason such words as XXXX, XXX,  or XXXXX cannot be read in the Empire. Fenwickian law also reflects this proscription. Whilst those laws relating to commerce have already been commented upon in previous editions of this journal, there are many other activities that the Fenwickian love of double entendre makes impossible. In Fenwick, for example, one could never rub a XXXX in public; or XXXX one's XXXXXXX in a tavern or other public place. On the other hand, it is allowable to XXXX a XXX, but strictly only in the privacy of one's own home.

Pippin Fort also contains a large barracks complex. Given Fenwick's tedious sensitivity to double entendre, it is just about possible to use the word 'drill' in front of Fenwickian soldiers, but ordering them to 'take hold of your weapon', 'grasp your barrel firmly' or 'give it a good poke with your ramrod' will likely achieve nothing but creating a heap of hooting soldiers who might take days to recover from their paroxysm of fnarring. Fenwick's drill instructors have been forced to adopt a more visual approach to their programmes. Instead of shouting orders they must instead show the troops what they should be doing. Imperial drill is thus punctuated with cries of 'Do this!', 'Now, do that!' and 'Hold that position, and move your upper body to here!' It was one Corporal Ernst Zumber who thought of adding in some musical accompaniement to these exertions, and now the Zumber Routine is widely used by those noble ladies of Mittelheim who seek to improve their cardio-vascular health and hone their ability to shift promptly from march column into line formation. Whatever the problems in instructing the troops, it cannot be denied that the outcome has been splendid. The Fenwickian infantry have a fearsome reputation on the battlefield and are known widely as the 'Spartans of Mittelheim'

'It just came off in my hand.'
Whilst Fenwick's splendid victory over the forces of Nabstria at the recent battle of Leipflute has seen off any immediate test of Pippin Fort's defences, Captain-Governor Schroedinger-Skatt has ordered that the walls be strengthened and the fortress put into the best possible condition to resist an enemy attack. For this reason he has employed at the fort another mercenary engineer of Scottish-French extraction: Major Gordon Sanitaire. Sanitaire's key problem is a fairly obvious one. (Above) Called officially 'The Great Emperor's Bastion' and locally 'The Great Knackered Bastion', one of the key elements of the fort is in a considerable state of disrepair. As we consider the bastion in more detail, dear reader, it is possible to espy now the figure of a workman upon the bastion. A second figure, which must be Major Sanitaire himself, is approaching, clutching a great quantity of maps, diagrams, and scrolls.

'Morning, sir,' says the workman, 'and who might I have the honour of addressing, your worshipfulness?'
'Holding a tool, sir? Not in Fenwick.'
'Well, my lad, I am Major Gordon Sanitaire.'
'I am Franz, sir,' says the workman. 'If you don't mind me saying so sir; I don't think that you're from around here.'
'Nay laddie, 'replies the major, 'I travelled with my companion engineer all the way from England, via Scotland, although my grandfather was French.'
'From England, sir? That's a long journey. I hope, sir, that it was not too trying?'
Sanitaire grimaces. 'Aye, my fine fellow: it was fair awful - we were attacked in Paris by a gang of mime artists and had unspeakable things inflicted on us. But enough of this idle chatter. Yev had a wee look at the damage here - what's yer thoughts on how much it'll cost to fix?'
Franz sucks his teeth. 'Well sir, to tell the truth - that's a big old hole. And I'm quite busy.'
Sanitaire narrows his eyes: 'How much?'
Franz sucks his teeth even harder. He then purses his lips and blows out his cheeks. 'Well, sir, you see it would be straightforward; but you can see here in the masonry the tell-tale signs of woodworm.'
'Wood worm?' replies the major 'In masonry? What kind of wood worm lives in masonry?'
'The sort, sir, that are double hard bastards. I might need some armour sir; and a few of me larger lads to help.'
'Well, how much laddie?'
'Twenty thousand shillings, sir.'
'How much? I cannae pay twenty thousand shillings!'
'Okay, sir. Forty shillings and a pork pie.'
'Alright, forget the pork pie.'
Sanitaire looks unhappy. 'Are ye really the only man available?'
Franz chuckles. 'You'll find precious few of us that are licensed to work with implements.'
'Yes, sir. You can't go around Fenwick just using words like 'tool' willy-nilly. You can't even use words like 'willy-nilly' willy-nilly. They strung one of me mates up just last week for asking to buy a couple of ... of farming implements.'
'Rakes?' guesses the major.
'No, sir, for the earth; you know,' Franz mimes.
'Oh ...,' says Sanitaire, 'hoes.'
'So I have a licence for moderate insinuation: nothing too strong, though.' says Franz.
'Oh yes, sir. I can work with tools. And courgettes. And I can XXX a XXXX, as long as I does it very quietly.'
'Well, my fine fellow. I have fifty shiny shillings here if ye can fix this bastion in two days. I have a strange feeling laddie that we might be needing it ...'

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Crossings of the Strudel!

Shocked by the ease with which the Nabstrian army had penetrated Imperial Fenwick's northern frontier (and also by the salaciously indiscriminate use of the word 'penetrate'), Emperor George orders his borders to be strengthened. To the north, the Duchy of Bahnsee-Kassel is now occupied by Nabstria. This frontier is covered by the citadel of Pippin Fort.To the north east only the river Strudel provides a barrier against further incursions by the forces of the Spasmodic Sanction. Keen to prevent another invasion, the Emperor appoints Colonel Victor von Shroedinger-Skatt as Captain-Governor of Pippin Fort and its locale with responsibility for staving off any more attacks. Assessing the situation, the captain concludes that a new set of static defences are required to cover likely enemy invasion routes. Each of the three possible crossing points into Fenwick across the River Strudel (two fords and a bridge) must be covered by artillery forts. Schroedinger employs the services of the Scottish-French engineer, Major Dougal Entendre. Under Major Entendre, earth forts take shape at each of these key points. The bastions are each named after one of Schroedinger-Skatts' mistresses, and are called respectively: Gertrude, Gertrude, and Gertrude (the captain isn't very successful with women).

'Goodness - look what I've sneezed into my kerchief.'
(Left) Major Entendre has been visiting the sites of the new fortifications. Though his creations are intended only to be earthworks, still he thinks that they can be made strong enough to resist a significant enemy attack. Especially since, on the evidence of the battle at Wimintzhauer, Nabstrian attacks seem in the assault to have all the vigour of a slightly annoyed newt with a lettuce and very low self-esteem. Pondering his designs, Entendre's concentration is broken by the arrival of Captain-Governor Schroedinger-Skatt.
'Dammit, Herr Scot,' says the captain, scowling, 'These works need to be completed by nightfall!'
Entendre protests, 'The wheelbarrows cannae take it, captain!'
'What?' says Schroedinger, mystified by the major's accent, 'Speak in German!'
'Der wheelbarrows cannae take it, captain!' ennunciates Entendre.
'That is not my concern' says the Captain-Governor. 'You have made little or no progress since last I rode here!'
'But,' says Entendre mystified, 'Yon laddies just telt me that the first bastion is complete!' With a hasty salute he rushes up the hill to where construction is under way ....

'What', says Entendre to the assembled workmen, 'is this?'
'It's a bastion, sir,' says one of them cheerily, 'and done to your exact specifications.'
'Men, we need to talk about that concept that some call "scale"'
(Right) The engineer stares at the works. 'This is it. This is what you laddies call a bastion. What, do ye hope to trip the enemy? I'm just asking because, yer know, I thought that bastions existed to provide comprehensive protection to defending infantry and artillery. What is this wall designed to protect? Do ye know something that I don't? Does our army have very delicate ankles? Or is this just here as a parking rack for the cannons?'
One of men waves a scrap of paper. 'But sir - we have followed your instructions to the letter!'
Entendre nods slowly. 'So, to be clear then, my fine loon: yer saying that this is a twenty foot high wall with six foot stakes on the outside?'
'Twenty foot?' says one of the workmen, looking first a little confused, and then evincing the gradual increase in worry that might come from putting one's hand in one's britches in search of a kerchief and pulling out instead something black, iron and round, with the words 'bomb - on no account take out of pocket' etched on the side.
'Oh aye,' says the engineer. 'I'm just asking because, unless we've all grown substantially taller in the last few hours I can't help noticing that I can see considerably more of the world through the wall of this twenty foot high bastion that I had originally anticipated.'
'Twenty foot?' says a workman.
Entendre nods 'Ye keep saying that, and yet, surprisingly, the bastion doesn't get any higher. Ye see here on the plan? That little stroke there denotes a foot?'
'Well,' say the workmen to one another, 'there's a thing. Well, well, well, well, well. Well.'

'So,' says Entendre slowly to the workmen, reading the blank looks on their faces 'ye dinna actually know the difference between feet and inches.'
The nearest fellow shrugs, shamefacedly. 'I tried to tell you sir, but you ordered me not to.'
'What?' says Entendre, confused.
'Well. I came over and asked what the symbol meant and you told me "Don't tell me that you don't know what that means?", so ... I didn't.'
The major holds his head in his hands. 'Feet are much bigger, ye bonehead, something yill soon begin to appreciate when I shove my foot a good number of inches up yer fundament!'
The major sits on the grass and groans. 'This is just marvellous. Bloody marvellous. When yon Nabstrians arrive the only hope we'll have is that they think that this fort is just very, very far away.'
The workmen nod. 'Weeeeeeeell, well, well. A foot. So, not really an inch then?'
The major shakes his head 'No, not rilly. It's supposed to be twenty feet high. It's about two feet.'
'But it's well made, sir. Twenty feet, sir, or two feet - what's the difference?'
Entendre snorts 'I think you'll discover some of the subtle differences, laddie, when I take a twenty foot pole and shove it right up your ...
'Well now, sir,' interjects one of the men quickly, 'couldn't we just give the illusion of much larger defences? I could rustle up a few of the local children to garrison it.' He looks at the defences. 'Small ones. Or dwarves.'
The others nod vigorously, 'Oooh yes, dwarves. Really short ones to make the bastion look even bigger.'
Entendre sighs. 'Rilly. Short. Dwarves.'
'Yes sir.'
'That's all yev got,' says the Scot.
The men nod, 'They could, you know, hunch a bit.'
'Aye,' says Entendre with false enthusiasm, 'and while we're at it, why don't I order a good number of them to be garrisoned up yer ar..'

'Major?' enquires Schroedinger, riding up. The Captain-Governor stares at the bastion as the men salute. 'Major, there's still something not quite right about this bastion.' He notices now that Entendre is sitting disconsolately on the grass. 'Herr Scot - are you altogether alright?'
Entendre stands. 'Captain, I am a graduate with honours of the great French engineering school, the L'Ecole Royale du Genie de Mezieres. I have years of experience. And yet, thanks to these pancake heads, here I stand with a bastion that couldn't look less like a bastion if we tied balloons to it and hung up a sign saying "This is not a bastion." And in order to remedy the situation I must rely on the efforts of a workforce whose keen suggestion for an innovative fix is Rilly. Short. Dwarves.'
'It might succeed in lulling the enemy into a false sense of security,' says one of the men. 'You know - lure them up the hill.'
Entendre nods. 'Lure them up. Well, yes, if any of their army are small children on ponies then I'm sure that the lure of the Vauban showjumping course that yev all created for them might be indescribably tempting. Why don't we just go the whole hog and add a cake stall? There's a reason why Vauban didnae build walls two feet high and that's because in the great game of war, walls two feet high are about as much use in a fight as a... a... garrison of rilly short dwarves.'

Schroedinger cuts short the Scot's lamentations. 'What else will you need to complete this bastion by this evening?'
Entendre sighs. 'Och well, sir. More men and tools. And ..., ' he says eyeing the assembled workmen pointedly, 'some lard, a lantern, and the wriggliest dwarf that can be found.'
'A dwarf?' asks the captain. 'Does he need a beard?'
'No, no,' says Entendre, staring at the workmen. 'It's rilly not essential.'
The workmen begin to look uncomfortable. 'Men,' says the captain, 'you look unsettled.'
The men look at Entendre. One pipes up 'Because most of what this man says seems to involve things being put up our ar ..'
'You must finish here before night,' interjects the captain. He wheels his horse. 'I ride now to inspect the walls of Fort Pippin!'