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!'

1 comment:

  1. Issues of scale have become a major problem in Nabstria with the advent of the 'wargame' as a method of training its officer corps. I do indeed sympathise with his hapless engineer officer even tho I hope his scheme of defence fails utterly...