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.'


  1. A Vulgarian pretender? This is serious - particularly when he has one more follower than Bonnie Prince Charlie had when he landed in Scotland....while the Burggrave may approve of such skullduggery if it leads to a successful campaign, I, as His Majesty's representative, cannot possibly condone the sponsoring of a 'pretender' in any guise...

  2. Oh ho, my fine fellow! And a very selective memory that you have indeed! For are there not rumours that some of the Jacobites themselves fled to Mittelheim, bought off with English gold! And some, indeed to northern Nabstria. And that one at least of their leaders was of Mittelheim ancestry. Even now, some tell of the exploits of Prince Karl: known, because of his very prominent front teeth, as 'Bunnie' Prince Karlie. In many taverns in the north of Mittelheim one might find a sad broken down soldier, wrapped in fading tartan and idly spooning a thin dinner of porridge; singing laments about his time in the old country - the freezing cold rain; the wind whistling around the lower extremities; the deep-fried thingies for dinner. And then, after a dram or two, the old soldier's fighting spirit is rekindled and, standing tall and proud, he might shout out defiantly: 'I'm not going back to that place: you can't bloody make me.'

  3. Fie! Sir, I say fie! I should have realised that a Zentan would not understand my reference to the 'Seven Men of Moidart' - the seven desperate rebels who landed with Charles Stuart. As to your accusations about Jacobites being bribed with money from His Majesty's government, that is a vile calumny and I demand that you retract the statement or suffer the consequences! However, I shall make investigations about Jacobite infiltration into Mittelheim - that is serious indeed!