Friday, March 7, 2008

On The Edge Of The Verge Of The Cusp Of The Tipping Point

"No one is totally useless. They can always serve as 'The Bad Example'."

General Ritter Hugo von Schwillensaufenstein

Otto Weisenheimer, the Chancellor of Raubenstadt, looked down at the piece of paper in his hand. As he had foreseen the Prince-Bishop had refused to return the disputed territories. There would be no further negotiations on the matter. A declaration of war would be the next step. He didn't know if he was happy or sad. Happy because he had served his lord well, or sad because of the loss of life that was bound to happen as a result of his actions. He went to see the Markgraaf.

He found him closeted with the General and a fellow he did not know. "Come in Otto. We were just about to send for you anyway!. This is Herr von Mack. He's an old friend of the von Kerns. The Margravine trusts him completly. We suspect that Stagonian provocateurs were involved in my "accident" back in January. Von Mack is going to try and get us some proof that "King" Maurice was involved. He may need some assistance from yourself or your office to help flush them out. Good luck with your fishing Herr von Mack." Von Mack bowed and left the room. Otto had a vision of von Mack following his trail, and involuntarily shuddered at the thought.

"Tell me Otto, what do you know of the vile Stagonian?", the Markgraaf asked. "Vile is indeed the word, my Lord." the Chancellor responded. "There was never much love lost between Raubenstadt and Stagonia. A distant cousin of your father's was killed in one of Maurice's convoluted plots, before he declared himself to be King. Your father blamed Maurice and severed all political relations with the Stagonian." "How many Stagonian barges have had trouble on the river recently?" "Seven, my Lord. They were carrying mundane cargo for the most part, but we did find uniforms on board all of them that do not match any worn by the Stagonian Army. Further inquiries provided matches for the Duchy of Stollen, Hesse-Homberg,
Frankzonia, and some postage stamp sized place down South called, 'The Pressipality'. We can only assume that these are all some part of another of his insane plots."

"Do you think my 'accident', might be Maurice's way of protesting the loss of so many barges?" the Markgraaf asked. "It's very hard to tell what the madman is thinking at any time my Lord, but I have another, more pressing matter. The Prince-Bishop has refused." He handed the message to the Markgraaf. The general said, "Our army is ready. Everything is in place. We can begin operations immediately."

"Not yet General. Not yet." The Markgraaf turned back to his Chancellor. "Otto, send the declaration of war to the Prince-Bishop. General, operations will begin twenty-four hours later. Gentlemen I will not keep you from your duties any further." Otto returned to the Chancellory to put the finishing touches on the declaration. The general returned to his headquarters.

As he rode back, the angrier he got. By the time he had returned, he had worked himself up into a towering rage. The Markgraaf endangered by unseen agents of Stagonia?! The General's aides stood silently by while the old soldier swore for twenty minutes, in a variety of languages, using colorful anatomical impossibilites, and never once repeated himself, while slowly turning an interesting shade of purple. "...unnatural spawn resulting from relations with a Cod Fish! He's worse than that fellow who thinks he's a Lobster. By the Powers! If I thought "Graf" Maurice had a speck of honor left, I'd call him out for pistols at dawn! I'd shoot out his left eye, and he'd spend the rest of the day looking up at the sky out of the right one and seeing nothing!" No one in the Headquarters Tent doubted him. The General's vision was still excellent and his duelling pistols had been fitted out with hair triggers. Schwillensaufenstein was no stranger to the Field of Honor and was still alive to tell the tale. Not everyone he had confronted could say the same.

"Double all the guards at once. Nobody gets in or out without a signed pass from me. Heaven have mercy on anyone who let them get so close, for I shall have none!" Each sentence was punctuated by a large beefy fist pounding the table. "If they are still hanging around to see how successful they were, or to try again, there is a small chance that we might catch them. If any suspects are captured alive, tell Cyril the Blade to fire up the coals, I may have some business for him. A 'St. Petersburg Special With A Ginger Beer Twist' ought to do the trick. Beer....Somebody bring me a beer! Swearing is thirsty work." It was at this moment of monumental bad timing that Heinz von Stein, Colonel of the Truerpfalz Freicorps entered the tent, came to attention, and said, "You wanted to see me, Sir? If this is an inconvienent time, I could come back later."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Busy, busy, busy days for Raubenstadt

"Your average citizen of Raubenstadt is a little bit above average."

Otto von Weisenheimer

It had been a very busy time for the Chancellor. The Markgraaf had directed him to strengthen the nation's alliances, tend to the daily routine of government, and ....oh yes! come up with a plausable excuse to declare war on the Prince-Bishop of Spires. The first two fell within his normal duties. It was the third mission that made for long days and restless nights. Oddly enough the solution presented itself after a couple of late nights stareing at a large map that Otto had nailed to the wall. (Otto hated maps. He felt that they gave the observer a false Godlike sense of scale. A sweeping journey to the farthest reaches of the back of beyond, could be easily achieved; when the reality was even the shortest of expeditions could be fraught with dangers and hardships.)

Like most political problems of the present, the cause lay in the past. When Raubenstadt came to be, George Frederick, the first Markgraaf, could only consolidate so much of the Kurpfalz. The more distant territories from Heidlebeerenburg had been absorbed by the neighboring states. Among those states was the Bishopry of Spires. Otto was convinced that whenever the Markgraaf desired, a missive (or better yet, a Messenger - no paper trail) could be sent that would demand the return of the splintered provinces that had fallen into his sphere of influence. Of course the Prince-Bishop would refuse and the Markgraaf could declare war whenever he pleased. All together Otto counted ten territories that once belonged to the Kurpfalz that the Markgraaf could use as a fig leaf for a "justified war". If the cause was in the past and the problem in the present, the resolution was in the future....the very near future. It was time to set the machinery in motion.

It had been a very busy time for Ritter Hugo. There was the coming campaign to plan, the reports to send and to receive, troop movements, and the other thousand and one things to do before the first weapon was fired. The regiments that had been selected for special tasks had been rehearsing them. It was a toss up as to who was the busiest. The Engineers had been corderoying the roads to the border, strengthening bridges over the streams and rivers for the artillery and wagons, and last but not least, digging fieldworks along the fords of the Kretch River. The General was concerned that the sounds of axes hewing trees and shovels scrapping against the cold earth could be heard for miles, but it was a risk he had to take.

The Supply Train had been convoying supplies for the campaign to the advanced depots, and bringing back enough food and materials so that, if necessary, Heidlebeerenburg could withstand a seige. Even the Bargemen on the Rubberneckar had inspected their vessels, and had been busy making any repairs. The Cavalry had been taking turns escorting the supply trains and patrolling the borders. The Spires military had made no scouting efforts, so far, but the constantly roving patrols gave the junior officers a chance to exercise their men and mounts before the main effort.

That left the "Exploring Officers" and their reports. Ritter Hugo had trusted this delicate task to mostly the Artillery and the most experienced Light Cavalry Officers. They were now just returning from their missions, or couriers from the ones sent deeper into Spires. Things were looking up. Even as busy as they had been, the General's aides had remarked upon the deep sense of satisfaction when the General was overheard murmuring to himself, "Heinz, Heinz, should have left my spoons alone!"

The sense of urgency did not stop at the Chancellor's or General's either. The Markgraaf himself was wishing that there were more hours in the day. There was so much to do in so little time. Something was bound to be overlooked or slip. Slip....The memory of Vociferous rolling onto him flashed through his mind. Thank God it was only a wrenched knee from that damned deerstag.
Stag...Stagonia. Maurice of Stagonia. A ruler so twisted he didn't need two mirrors to see his back. Could agents of Vile Stagonia have been behind the "accident" on the road? He didn't recall seeing any suspicious characters lurking about, but between the pain of his knee, concern for his horse, and the panicked reaction of the escort, he didn't have the best view of the circumstances.

"Bueller!", the Markgraaf shouted for his Personal Secretary. "Buellllller! Ah! There you are Ferris. For a moment there I thought it was your day off. Would you be so kind as to inform the Markgravine that I'm going to need her connection to von Mack the Knife? Thank you Ferris."

It was little known in Raubenstadt that the Markgraaf's in-laws, the von Kerns' had developed a network of horsetraders (horsethieves), wholesale businessmen (Innkeepers who's merchandise "just fell off the wagon".), and itinerate wanderers (Tinkers and Gypsies). The reason it was so little known, was the fact it was a closely guarded State Secret. His father, John Henry the Second Markgraaf, had always warned him about having any dealings with Stagonia. So... It would be best to approach this with an organization that had plenty of cut-outs. Yesss...Mack the Knife would do nicely.

The Markgraaf sighed. I must remember to have a word with Otto and Hugo about our internal security.

Meanwhile on the Spires bank of the Kretch River, a hussar of the Prince-Bishop wades out into the shallows, while the Sergeant and the rest of the patrol reined in their horses. "Hey Sarge! Look at this!", the soggy soldier splashed back to the shore, clutching a branch of wood in one hand. "Feldman!", the sergeant said in an annoyed voice. "Are you bucking for corporal? Schmit get a fire going before the damn fool freezes." The private showed the noncom the larger end of the branch. "Sarge.....this was sawn off!", he whispered urgently. "What does it mean?"