'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 ....'|
'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|
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!'