Friday, 26 March 2021

The Grand Duchy of Kurland!


Positioned on the northeast fringes of Mittelheim, the Grand Duchy of Kurland has been at various times occupied by Balts, Lithanians, Poles, Prussians, Swedes and a quantity of indeterminate folk who, by their beards could have been Livonians but by their dancing might have been Spanish. The original Grand Duchy emerged in the fourteenth century as a commandery of the Teutonic Knights. A series of revolts caused by heavy taxation and the German sense of humour led to a brief period of independence. Tiring of taking their own responsibility for effective governance, the Duchy passed into the hands of the Kingdom of Lithuania, and then, in the 16th century into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. A series of revolts followed, caused by heavy taxation and the Polish sense of humour. By the seventeenth century, the Kurlanders had remembered why they didn't like taking responsibility for their own governance, which seemed to involve having to enforce a range of inconvenient restrictions related to such unwlecome initiatives as law, order, and consequent constraints on one's ability to punch whomever one wanted. Vain attempts by the Swedes and Prussians to introduce aspects of modern governence were stymied by more Kurlandian rebellions, an activity which the locals had really begun rather to enjoy. Occupation by the Russians finally gave the Kurlandians more of what they seemed to want from a government: strong alchohol; fur hats; and interesting uses for beetroot. Even the Russian religion seemed preferable, seventeenth century Catholicism and Protestantism being regarded by most Kurlandians as having dangerously restrictive views on the treatment of social inferiors as property. 

The Duchy is a wide land of sparsely inhabited forests and steppes. As any traveller could attest, Kurland has something for everyone: freezing snow and fog for those who like heat; scorching heat and dust for those who are asthmatic or sweat too much; mud and heavy rain, for those that think that they might enjoy some outside travel. For those that like woodlands, Kurlandian has the most foresty of forests - the sort that minors on pleasant glades and restful dells, and that majors instead on impenetrable foliage, surprise bogs, and wildly angry bears. For those that like grasslands, the steppes are more like stumbles, the lack of trees only helping to give the bears a longer run-up. Indeed, as any traveller would finally acknowledge, a visit to Kurland with its wide steppes and dark rolling forests gives one a marvellous uplifting feeling: upon leaving.

The capital of the Duchy is the town of Furbuhlkov. Notable buildings include the Mauseleum of Lyenin, an ancient Kurlandian philosopher. Lyenin was, on his death, preserved for posterity by the very latest of Kurlandian preservation techniques. Sadly, the ice cubes quickly melted away, and the ideologue now, like his political views, stinks and is full of holes. Visitors to the Duchy might also like to visit Lead Square - so-named gruesomely because it is the site of executions by firing squad. It is also often the site of a children's puppetry fair; sometimes, just to lighten the mood, the Kurlandians combine the two. Saint Boris' Cathedral may also be worth a look. It is famous for its onion-shaped domes, a result of the architect leaving some of his shopping lying on the plans. If the onions ended up on the domes, one can only imagine the difficulties caused by the aubergine that obscured the nave, and the carrots that were taken to be schematics for the plumbing. 

Other places of note in the Duchy include Pstov, the main port; Biskov, famous for its bakery products; Bogorovsk, one of the main industrial hubs; and Vodozyno, the site of Kurland's only university.

One can understand much about the Duchy from its national motto - 'Our Refuge is in Punishment'. That cannon feature prominently on the coat of arms is no accident. This is because they are a central feature, indeed perhaps the only feature, of the Kurlandian system of justice. The Duchy's legal framework consists of a rather thin pamphlet, most of which involves diagrams of the best ways in which suspects can be strapped to, and/or fired out of, artillery pieces. Despite this, the local Kurlandians generally are outgoing, jolly, and surprisingly philosophical given that most are serfs, and thus have the same sorts of political rights as borsht soup.  Their positive disposition is due possibly to their faith in God, but also to the large quantities of alchohol that they consume.  Sometimes this is vodka, but the Kurlandians are famous for turning their hand to distilling mostly anything: turnips; bread; beetroots; shoes; rats; or visitors of an appropriate size. When visiting Kurlandians, it is thus always useful to make sure, either that one has an appropriate present of vodka, or that one is large enough that one cannot easily be fermented.

The Kurlandians share their Duchy with a variety of other ethnic groups. The most significant are the cassock tribesmen - these are just like the cossacks, but without the discipline or table manners. The small Bishopric of Berndt-Lippe also sits within the frontiers of Kurland, and is predominantly German in character: a circumstance that explains the quality of their bakery products and the regularity of the coach services. 

The current ruler of Kurland is the young Grand Duchess Catherine. She ascended to the ducal seat upon the death of her husband, Oleg, only a few months previously, in circumstances that were suspicious: if, that is, having him strangled in public at a court breakfast still fits the definition of the word 'suspicious'. By all accounts the new ruler is an ambitious moderniser, hungry for glory and a better quality of palace bathroom. Her efforts, however, have already generated resistance from Kurlandian traditionalists, who take the view that 'modernisation', like fornication, is an unholy act best carried out by other people, and in the dark.

Shockingly for these traditionalists, the Kurlandian army is to be commanded by the Grand Duchess Catherine herself. Known for their bovine qualities of endurance, the Kurlandian troops are always ready to 'Rally to the Colours' and are noted for their 'Steady Lads' approach on the defence. Faithful to the church, the Kurlandians are also accompanied by Orthodox 'Clerics'.

The army comprises of the following units:

Severodvinsky Guard Infantry Regiment (Trained):
Oktyabrsky Infantry Regiment (Trained):
Makhachkalay Infantry Regiment (Trained):
Nalchiki Infantry Regiment (Trained):
Cherkessky Infantry Regiment (Trained):
Sudzhensky Infantry Regiment (Conscript):
Osinniki Infantry Regiment (Conscript):

Nicolayevsk Horse Grenadiers (Trained):
Berndt-Lippe Carabiniers (Trained):
Kropotkin Dragoons (Conscript):

Yeysk Sotnia of Irregular Cavalry:
Noginsk Sotnia of Irregular Cavalry:
Kulabaki Sotnia of Irregular Cavalry:

The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Batteries of the Ducal Artillery Regiment 

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Omen Pigeon!

On the southern border of Schrote, Baron Hunchmausen is encamped with a force of Gelderland troops. His task is two-fold. First, he is here on hand in case any unforeseen circumstances arise relating to the Emperor's coronation. Second, his force is waiting to rendezvous with a party of Vulgarians, who are escorting the pretender, Herr Michael Agorn, from the dungeons of Rotenburg to the dungeons of Vulgaria. It is not an accommodation upgrade. To facilitate the latter, Hunchmausen is accompanied by a Vulgarian liaison officer.

“Remind me, why are we doing this again, Shir…Tzir…Cer…”
“Czernázmije, Herr Baron”
“Erm yes, of course, of course Schur…”
“Czernázmije, General Hünchmausen”
“Yes! Yes! I know! I know! I’m not an imbecile..”
A slight cough from the Vulgarian attaché might, to an unsympathetic observer, have indicated his disagreement.
“…it’s this umm, you know, this umm, thingy…” von Hünchmausen trails off.
“Herr Baron?”
“Well? Why have I got to do this?”
“You mean, inspect the troops, Herr Baron?”
“Yes, that!”
“Surely even in Gelderland it is usually expected of a commander, General? You know, to see that the men are in good fighting order, looking after their equipment and most importantly that your stirring words will raise their morale Herr Baron?”
“Oh well, if you insist.”

A few minutes later sees Hünchmausen mounted and beginning to make his way down the line of the Ostmarck Regiment, pausing to speak to various soldiers.
“Ostmarck eh?”
“Well in my experience there’s only two sorts from Ostmarck, steers and ... larger steers; which one are you son?” The soldier looks uncomfortable. “I’ve got my eye on you my lad!”
The Baron moves on. The next soldier looks even more uncomfortable. “Why are these men so fat? Why have I got a fat army? You there, chubby! Pull your stomach in! And you there, yes you! Chin up fatty! Chins up! Yes, both of them!”
“It’s, well it’s glandular sir!” exclaims the reddening soldier.
“Bandy words and legs with me will you! You swine! Sergeant Major, arrest this man and have him keelhauled!”
The Sergeant Major steps forward after receiving a pitying look from Czernázmije who is watching the farcical spectacle from a safe position behind Hünchmausen. He opens his mouth, looks about to say something but noticing the vigorous head shaking of the lean Vulgarian, promptly closes his mouth and prepares to march the now sobbing private away. 
“It’s not my fault Sarn’t Major, honest, I’ve always been big boned! My mum always said I…”

The by now empurpled Baron, looking like an advertisement for apoplexy, is about to scream his displeasure when the tableau freezes as a huge white and grey gobbet of avian effluvia splatters, dolloping its way down from his shoulder across the crimson magnificence of his uniform. The parade holds its collective breath as a circling pigeon not content with one outrage on Hünchmausen’s dignity has the effrontery to land cooing on the Baron’s ornate, imposing but frankly preposterous headgear. Oh, Horror! Before the Sergeant Major can stop him the “big boned” private exclaims the ancient Gelderland proverb: 
“If a pigeon with you shares his muck, All the day you’ll have good luck!” 
For, Gelderland being Gelderland, the unexpected receipt of absolutely *anything* free of charge is regarded as the most auspicious of omens and now the men of the Ostmarck Regiment can only stand awestruck before their General: clearly, truly the anointed of Heaven, destined to lead them to greatness and victory! And a substantial cleaning bill.

"Excellent!", says the baron. "I think I've really got the hang of this".
"The pigeon, Herr Baron", says Czernázmije. "It is carrying a message!"

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Friar When Ready!

'Right', says Bishop Baldwin, 'let's get things straight'.
The bishop and his two minions stand on the threshold of Schrote cathedral. In front of them is a scene of chaos. Local townsfolk run hither and thither, torn between the fear that unknown enemy raiders might burn the town down, and the hope that unknown enemy raiders might burn the town down. Gelderland guardsmen run around in panic; which is to say, as progeny of the landed nobility, they are running around looking for social inferiors to panic on their behalf.

The bishop points to the distant sky. Black smoke arises from the west, a sure sign that portions of Schrote have been looted and pillaged by enemy interlopers; or that locals have tried baking some pies; or that enemy interlopers, more creative than your average looters and pillagers, have instead tried to bake some pies.
'Things aren't going well' continues the bishop. 'The Bachscuttlers and Nabstrians should already be here; and yet they still seem to be somewhere around Hanau-Brancau, burning local houses'.
'They might be making pies', suggests Friar Knowledge.
'No sane raiding force is going to stop and make pies', says the bishop. He pauses briefly to think. 'Which, yes, to be fair means that the Bachscuttlers could theoretically indeed be making pies. But whatever; one of you two needs to get themselves ready to hunt down the emperor and send his whereabouts to the Bachscuttel raiders'.

'Because', continues Baldwin, 'If the raiding force don't get emperor George, then I'm going to be up to my ears in Jesuit Inquisitors'.
Friar Conviction nods sympathetically. 'Holiness, That's surely more spanish than any sane man can take'.
'Oh, the Spanish Inquisition doesn't speak spanish'.
'They don't speak spanish, Holiness? Then how do they question suspects?'
'Oh, they don't question suspects - that slows the process down. They don't need to question "suspects", because they don't have "suspects" either: there's just "the condemned'"'.
'That seems unfair', says Friar Conviction.
'Yes, but it is very efficient, and it cuts down on the paperwork: except, of course, the paper that they use for kindling. There's lots of that'.

Your Holiness!', says Friar Knowledge, 'I am ready! I shall track down the emperor!'
'A kind offer, but no: you cannot be trusted: I have already seen your negligence, Friar Knowledge!'
'But I don't own any ladies' undergarments!' replies the fiar, rather too quickly. 'I mean, Your Holiness, I wouldn't know what a lady wears under her outer things. Not at all. No. Never'.
'Negligence, friar', says the bishop raising an eyebrow, 'not negligee'.
'Although', says Friar Conviction, who is clearly in a philosophical mood, 'hypothetically, it would surely be possible to be negligent with a negligee'.
'Indeed', replies Baldwin, looking pointedly at Friar Knowldege. 'One could, for example, leave it lying around in the cathedral library. Hypothetically. But anyway. You, Friar Conviction, must use your intuition and wiles - and by that I mean your big hammer - to get the information that I need! So go! And quickly - the commander of the guard company has already sent a messenger pigeon calling for Gelderland reinforcements!'
'What will happen when the bird gets there?'
'Well, if we're lucky, the Gelderland recipients will just eat it. But things are looking tricky: if the Nabstrians and Bachscuttlers don't get a move on soon, then things for us here are going to get stickier than a bear in a hot honey bath!'
'That's quite sticky', acknowledges Friar Knowledge ruefully.

Friday, 5 March 2021

Friar in the Hole!

'Fine', says Bishop Baldwin looking around at the small hallway that they are now standing in. 'Where is he?'
'No, Your Holiness' replies Friar Conviction, 'he's not here - I just thought that it would be more expedient to move somewhere more secluded'.
'Secluded?' asks the bishop. 'Friar, we are literally ten feet from where we were fifteen seconds ago. There isn't even a door. I'll wager that, whatever the definition is of the word "secluded", this, where we are right now, would be the antonym'.
'Holiness, no, I think that this is the hallway'.
'Yes, friar, I ...', the bishop sighs wearily. 'Look, let us leave issues pertaining to the differences between architecture and a thesaurus, and focus on the matter in hand. Now, yes or no - and bear in mind the consequences of the wrong answer - have you sent Emperor George off in secret to be hidden?'
'Excllent - that, I would say, is the right answer. So, where is he being hidden? I need to send a missive to Bachscuttel so that they can pick him up'.
'Well I don't know, my lord - you said to keep it secret'.
The bishop's face turns a shade that matches quite nicely his vestments, and contorts into the sort of shape that it would normally make if, say, hit repeatedly with a medium-sized Thuringian sausage.

'Secret from the enemy - not from us! Why would you want to keep it secret from us! Why?'
'Well, you know, to avoid temptation: as good Christians we should do that. We might have been tempted'.
'Tempted to do what? Covet his ox?'
'I don't know, Your Holiness - you seemed quite clear on the need for secrecy, so I though it best to send the peasants off and let them decide where to hide him'.
'You let them decide?'
'Yes - I told them to use their initiative'. The friar begins to sense that there might be opening up in front of him quite a deep metaphorical hole.
'You told Mittelheim peasants to use their initiative?'
'Yes', says the friar, beginning to feel a large metaphorical hand guiding him enegetically to the edge of the hole. 'Yes, I did'.
'Their initiative?' repeats the Bishop. 'They are Mittelheim peasants - they don't have any initiative!' They have fleas, they have smells, but absolutely no initiative!'
'But what do they do, then, Holiness, when they aren't being told exactly what to do?' The friar can feel the metaphorical hand tying his boots together, and limbering up for a really good shove.
'They don't have any initiative! They just have base desires! They eat; they sleep; they bonk; and they go to the privy! Mostly in that order! There's no telling where on the list they've got to with the emperor!'
The friar waits in embarrassed silence. Finally, the bishop speaks.
'Right - go and get Friar Knowledge and I'll meet you outside. I'll have to send a message right now - the invasion force is going to have to search every cottage, hamlet, village, barrel, and substantial pocket in Schrote in order to track the emperor down!'

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Friar Alarm!

Back inside the cathedral, the bishop finds Friar Knowledge in conversation with Friar Conviction. In a fiery mood, Baldwin rounds on the former.
'What did I tell you - no talking to anyone unless I'm also present!'
'I felt sorry for the captain', says Friar Knowledge, sadly. 'He looked so distraught. I wondered if I could help him'.
'Well of course you could help him - you're the one that drugged the emperor! But I think that we could all agree that it would probably improve the chances of the success of our plan to hide the emperor, if you didn't tell his guards that we were the ones who abducted him!'
The two friars nod - to be fair, the bishop has a point.
'Anyway', continues Baldwin, 'did it all go to plan? When you slipped the medication into his mulled wine, did he succumb quickly?'

'How strong was the sleeping draught?' asks Friar Knowledge, fiddling with the pages of his book of records.
'Why do you ask', replies the bishop suspiciously. 'You did give him the right amount? That flask had a pint of super-strong sleeping draught, and I said, quite specifically, that you shouldn't give him very much.'
Friar Knowledge holds his thumb and fore-finger just apart, indicating a tiny amount.
'Excellent ...' says the bishop with relief.
'Yes', replies the friar, 'there was that much left'.
'Jumping Jesus', blasphemes the bishop. 'What have you done?'
'Will he sleep in late?' asks Friar Conviction in alarm.
'Late! late!' cries the bishop. 'He'll wake up in the nineteenth century!' You gave him a dose that would be dangerous for an insomniac rhinoceros!'
'What's a rhinoceros?' asks Friar Conviction.
'Well', replies Baldwin, tweaking painfully the friar's nose, 'a key part of a definition would that it is a creature that shouldn't on any account be given a probably lethal dose of sleeping potion'. The bishop rubs his eyes wearily. 'Right, very well. It's done. So, Friar Knowledge, you need to stay out of trouble - go to the library and reorganise the books on heresy according to size'.
'Size of book or size of heresy, Your Holiness?'
'Both - now go. And so, Brother Conviction, we turn to the next question - where have you hidden the emperor?'
'Well, come this way, Your Holiness ...'

Sunday, 28 February 2021

No Smoke Without Friar!

'And you're sure, good friar, that you haven't seen the Emperor anywhere?' These words are being uttered by a worried looking guard captain. With him is a platoon of equally concerned looking soldiers. The captain stands on the threshold of the main entrance to Schrote cathedral. In front of him is Friar Knowledge, Bishop Baldwin's record keeper.
'No, captain. I can say, categorically, that I have never seen Emperor George. Ever' says Friar Knowledge emphatically. 'Ever, ever'.
'But you were seen with him last night', replies the officer.
'No', says the Friar, 'you are mistaken - that was probably someone else'.
'Another Emperor George?' says the captain, suspiciously.

'What Friar Knowledge means to say', says Bishop Baldwin, arriving hurriedly through the main cathedral door, 'is that he did indeed see the Emperor yesterday evening, but that it was around seven, and His Imperial Highness said that he was going for a long walk'.
'Oh yes', says the friar, nodding vigorously, 'yes. That was absolutely the gist of what I was getting at'.
The captain looks at the Friar, frowning. 'Getting at when you said that you had absolutely never seen him?'
The friar nods. 'Oh yes - I think that that was clear'.
'Yes but ...' starts the soldier.

'No, no - Friar Knowledge has urgent things to do - those protestant kneecaps won't just beat themselves, you know. Off you go, brother, and I shall myself answer the captain's questions'.
The friar exits, leaving the captain with the Bishop. 'So', says Baldwin conversationally, 'you've lost the Emperor then?'
'He's gone! Disappeared!' gulps the officer. 
Baldwin nods slowly. 'Well, that's got to be worrying for an officer of the Imperial Guard. I mean, Imperial Guarding 101 would certainly focus on the importance when guarding an emperor that he shouldn't be allowed to disappear mysteriously. I should think that one of the first items on an imperial guard's performance review would be the extent to which mysterious disappearings of tthe emperor had or hadn't been allowed to happen'.
The captain nods vigorously. 'It is most alarming!'
The bishop shrugs. 'Well, he went for a long walk: and Schrote is very small - he could literally be anywhere. Have you tried Denmark?'
The captain mops his brow. 'It is even worse then you think, good bishop! See - on the horizon! Smoke rises from the border - there's dirty work afoot! The colonel has sent messages calling for reinforcements!'
'Well', says the bishop placatingly, 'I'm sure that things will turn out fine in the end'.
'I just can't help thinking', continues the captain, 'that the Emperor's disappearance might be linked to the problems at the border - perhaps the Emperor has been abducted, and the smoke that we can see is caused by a force of enemy marauders come to carry him off!'
'Fie and tush', says the bishop. 'That is very unlikely - it would be a terrible plan!'
'Yes, yes!' says the captain, consoling himself. 'Yes! Only morons would think that such an enterprise could succeed!'
The bishop sighs. 'My thoughts exactly - anyway, off you go: I've got lots to do. If the Emperor doesn't make his coronation, I suppose the orchestra will still want paying; and I'll have to work out what to do with the all of those sausage rolls'.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Chastise the Cleric!

The following day, Fecklenburg and the prince are again in the vicinity of Schrote. Fecklenburg points. 'Well, sire, it is time. See, our troops are beginning their march to the frontier'.
'Hmmm. Is there anyone in command?' asks Rupprecht slowly. 'I think that there should be someone in command. Probably. It's usual'.
'Indeed sire - the Nabstrian officer of jager, a Colonel Zeigler, will command the combined force'.
Rupprecht scowls. 'But that means that Nabstria will take most of the glory!'
'But also, my lord, if it goes wrong, most of the blame'.
'Ah, yes - sometimes I remember why I have you as my chancellor'.
'You are too kind, my prince'.
'Probably. Anyway, shouldn't I meet this Zeigler - shake his hand perhaps?'  
'Shake his hand? No sir - he’s a light infantry officer: you can’t be sure where it’s been. More to the point, you are, of course, supposed to be completely in the dark regarding this enterprise. So it is best if we limit your contact with the advancing troops'.

'But you've dragged me out here on another damnably cold morning, Fecklenburg. I think that I should go and see the troops once they're in position. So that they could give me a loud "huzzah!". It would inspire them, perhaps? Maybe I could give them a speech?'
Fecklenburg pauses before continuing carefully.
'Talk to the troops, sir? Are you sure? And by that I mean really, really sure?'
Rupprecht nods. 'Yes: I think that it would be a wise move'.
'Define "wise", sir. Are you using it in the meaning of "sagacious", "sapient", or "perspicacious"?'
'I don't know: am I?'
'Because it sounds to me that by the word "wise", you actually mean "injudicious" or "imprudent". Which I think that learned men would define as being "unwise"'.
'So you think that I shouldn't do it?'
'Sir, you are my prince, and a lowly man such as I would not deign to instruct you. So I should say that you should certainly do it: but that by "it", I mean that you should definitely not talk to them'.
Rupprecht tries to work this through, but then gives up. 'We should definitely give Emperor George a good shouting at once we catch him', he says instead.

'When we receive him, we shall certainly do that, my lord'
'Unless, of course, Fecklenburg, he has an accident', says the prince, wiggling his fingers in the air.
'I think that those are asterisks, sir' replies the chamberlain. 'But anyway - soon, no doubt, we shall receive a message from the bishop indicating where the supine emperor has been sequestered, and then we shall have him'.
'We've put him in some soup?' says Rupprecht, seemingly both intrigued and impressed. 'The bishop certainly has style, I'll give him that'. The prince pauses, and then continues. 'And there's no way that the bishop could mess things up?'
'Oh no', replies Fecklenburg. 'No - his task is perfectly simple: only an idiot could make a mistake. No - I'm certain that, for once, we will avoid making an extended stay booking at the Hotel Cockup'.