Friday, July 10, 2009

An Evening Ball OOM!

As usual, the Frankszonian cooks perform prodigies, and the salivating scents slide on the smoke throughout the gathering party. As the luminaries begin to drift back, the ladies in fine, voluminous gowns and jewels, the men in silken sashes and golden piping and epaulettes around their frothy lace, the party is enlivened by the gaiety arising between the young foreign cavalry troopers and the Frankfurter girls.
There is a brief pause for the proper welcoming speeches, introductions, and of course (this is Frankszonia after all) rounds of spontaneous toasts. As Moosart gets his little orchestra set up in a pavilion (there had been a delay while a troop of pioneers checked the structure for soundness least that’s what the musicians were told), the Hurtshog clambers up on a table (not actually an act of spirit induced spontaneity, the table had been carefully chosen to bear his weight and known clumsiness) to hail the crowd.
“We aren’t going to have the normal fireworks show,” he begins, and the crowd boos. The Hurtshog persists however,” we WILL have fireworks.”
“The normal fireworks show is a prolonged concert of explosions and colors,” Stanken explains. “Tonight, with Moosart’s guidance, we will be firing off our displays in small batches at times chosen to enhance the orchestra’s performance.
“Tonight,” he concludes, weaving alarmingly above the edge of the china, “we will dance to light and thunder!” He then clambers down to the cheers of the crowd with the aid of several soldiers.
Indeed, there are quite a few soldiers on the parade grounds tonight. In their parade uniforms and brightly polished bayonets, they are formed into squares which mark out distinct activity areas ... the refreshments, the tables, the dancing floor, the side lines, and so forth have distinct groups of troops who pace back and forth but otherwise seem to ignore the party altogether. This of course, is a challenge to some of the younger maidens, but their attempts to distract these men is usually met by a polite but firm unteroffizer who guides them away to some other attraction, like a foreign and tipsy trooper.
The young gentlemen of the party sigh in despair as a few of them have the chance to dance with the grand ladies. The Princess Alisonia, of course, has a nice coterie of local noblemen, while Lady Masquerade seems surrounded by people whose acquaintance she’d made on her last trip. Lady Pettygree quite entrances the grounds when the orchestra plays a Scottish air and some officers of the Black Skirts dance an Highland jig with her. The visitors are treated to a local folk dance ... a sort of reel in which the chain of dancing couples have to pass through the arched arms of the leading couples ... who deliberately place themselves at an angle to the former arch so that instead a straight troop through and around, the dance weaves through the grounds (Okay, made that up, but my “German” relatives were sober, Protestant Hoosiers from the time of the American Revolution: folks who didn’t dance at all ... sigh).
Every time that a dance called for jump, or sudden stop, or other movement, there would be a swoosh of scintillating rockets. When the dances ended, bright, silvery green fountains would spray up around the crowd. When the orchestra was set for the next piece, mortars would lob great, loud, brilliant silver bombs into the sky.
“More wine kegs?” Ritter Andrew asks v.Mack, after one extremely loud shot They kept close to Duchess Lynda ... who was being entertained by a Frankszonian general who had met her previously.
“Yes,” v. Mack answered. “The fountains as well. They’re quite bright aren’t they?”
Even as Andrew is responding, there is another loud explosion beyond the grounds, and a bright flash through the trees. The orchestra is thrown a little off as the explosion seems badly timed, but continues playing and the laughing crowd continues to dance and to imbibe. V.Mack and Ritter Andrew, however, join the sudden rush of officers towards that explosion while a company or two of soldiers quickly drop to a ready stance facing in other directions.
Alarm begins to spread through the crowd as an alarm bell sounds and cavalry bugles sound. A smattering of musket shots and shouts breaks out and dies down. Gallian and Frankszonian officers circulate through the crowd assuring them that all is okay and to resume the party. The nervous crowd, unfortunately, is not calmed when people realize that the notable visitors and the Hurtshog and his Princess have suddenly vanished. Indeed, they are all going quickly to the Bastille, surrounded by Col. Enigma’s personal squadron of troopers and the Frankszonian jaegers.
Arriving at the Bastille, they find a large hole blasted in the side of the building, exposing several cells. There bodies in and around the building, and Gallian soldiers with still smoking muskets carefully checking each one. One body suddenly rises and attacks! A Gallian officer and his sergeant dash upon it and chop it to pieces with their swords.
“Hold!” cries Reich Duke Wilhelm. “Try to take them alive!”
“Too late, sire,” the officer responds. “Some of these guys were dead before they got here.”

** (Note to my readers: I never watch zombie movies, so I am unfamiliar with the concepts larded onto the zombie from Hollywood ... for that and other good plot reasons, I’m sticking to the poor unfortunates produced by Voo Doo, etc.) **

“What do you mean?” Major DeBauchery demands.
“We’ve got a couple of the better specimens bound over there, sir,” the captain replies.
He leads them to a group of soldiers who are restraining several men who lurch about awkwardly.
“A little too much spiritual reinforcement, eh?” the Hurtshog laughs.
“No, my lord,” the captain responds. “I saw this sort of thing in the West Indies, sir. The poor person is poisoned and falls into a coma. The locals bury him, but the villain digs him up and revives him with the antidote. How much damage is done depends how much poison the victim has received and how soon the antidote is administered.”
“What horrible poison do they use?” Princess Alisonia inquires.
“Some sort of fish oil, your Highness ...”
The rest of the answer is lost as the entire party gasps. All have ingested considerable portions of fish: fried, grilled, battered, spiced, and marienated. The Anglericans having risen to the challenge of the moment.
“How quickly does the poison act?” the Hurtshog asks urgently.
“Fairly quickly, sir.” the captain responds.
“I’d say that if you walked over here from the dance grounds, you’re safe.” Princess Stuftliana adds. “My own people are aware of this poison.”
“We also took precautions,” Baddmann assures the group. “We made sure no chef even considered anything suspicious. No eels boiled in brew!” he directs to Lady Pettygree. “We did intercept a shipment of dried fish from upriver which were supposedly from Weiner.”
“Upriver? As Stagonia is upriver?” Stanken Fhartz presses. “I think that you ought to reconsider your connection with Stagonia, My Lords.” He urges the Gallians.
“Actually,” Gen. Broglie answers, “this poison might more closely implicate Roquefort. We all know he’d like to replace Prince de Charade and l'Duc de Formidable with his own creatures. Seems like he thinks you’re vulnerable, Bstille. Be on your guard.”
“On my guard?” Bastille responds angrily. “Around here, I hardly dare to sleep!”
“Ja,” Baddmann whispers to v. Mack, “but our Mariah says he snores like a dragon.”
“She keeps notes, I presume,” v. Mack quietly responds.
“Hardly, the poor strumpet is totally illiterate,” Baddmann assures him, though v. Mack blatantly disregards the comment.

“Gentlemen,” Gen. Broglie, “we need to focus on other matters now. Capitan, whom did they rescue?”
“They tried to get out all of today’s prisoners, sir,” the officer responds, “but only one got away alive. I think it was that Hans Rottenbrat.”
“You still have the others in custody then,” Bastille said, feeling momentarily relieved.
“Sorry, m’Lord,” the captain answered. “We had to transfer custody to lower authorities if you know what I mean.”
“You killed them?”
“I don’t think so, sir. They seem to have either been killed in the explosion or by these rather inept rescuers.”
“Right,” the Hurtshog speaks loudly. “King Basil, your Majesty? Your Highness, Duke Wilhelm? “ He pauses, “Princess and Lady Pettygree, it would probably save time if you would join us and the Gallian generals in a private conference.”
The rest of the party draws back at the implicit command. L’Comte Bastille and Gen. Broglie seem inclined to argue, but the Hurtshog politely gestures for them to wait a moment.
“It’s as we feared,” he continues. “There’s been a collusion among our enemies. This is a plot much more ingenious and deeply developed than Roquefort has ever managed. Further, it is beyond the skill of the new Stagonian vileness.”
“It also, fortunately,” Bastille interrupts, “lacks the precision and professionalism of M’Lady.”
“That’s one relief!” Cherish Masquerade laughs. The Hurtshog grimaces at her uninvited presence but decides to ignore the issue as pointless. “I had wondered why the old Lady didn’t warn us about tonight.”
“Especially,” Lady Pettygree adds, “when Col. Enigma tells me we were saved by her this afternoon!”
“It’s an oblique attack,” Gen. Broglie decides. He explains to the younger people, “Germania has this tactic of marching off to one wing or another and sending the whole army after the lead battalions. That way they hope to overwhelm their foes at the point of contact, and even though the lead battalions may be totally wasted, the rest of the force will be in a position to attack.”
“Baddmann,” the Hurtshog calls, “I want a report from the officers in the city immediately. Any thing out of place, ANYTHING you understand?”
“Yes, Sire!” Baddmann calls and dashes off into the dark.
“Where are your reaction battalions?” the Hurtshog demands of Gen. Broglie.
“Between here and Bischoff, your Highness,” the Gen. responds. The Gallians are irritated at the bumbling Hurtshog suddenly assuming command, but in the presence of all these minor German royals, they have to act respectful. “We can have them here in half an hour or less.”
“Start them marching,” the Hurtshog responded, “but we won’t be here.”
“Pardon?” Bastille asks.
“Enigma!” the Hurtshog shouts, “Now!”
Col. Enigma whistles and one of his men begins to blow “Assemble” on a horn.
Stuftliana displays her pistol and calls out, “Ladies, present arms!”
Her example is quickly mimicked by rest of the party, but the Hurtshog advises the men to rely on swords in case more of the zombies appear. Indeed, a few do, but are ridden down by the thunderous appearance of the rest of Enigma’s regiment and the Hurtshog’s Sage Guard Cuirassiers. The party’s cavalry escort also comes tumbling through the dark to find their horses ready on leads by the other cavalry men.
“Your Majesties, Lords, and Ladies,” the Hurtshog laughs as he helps Stuftliana mount, “I think it’s time we dodged out of Hell. Lead on, Enigma!”
The force crashes into the night. Occasionally, someone takes a hopeless shot in the dark before being ridden down. Some small bands of shambling zombies are quickly butchered. Riding like a storm, they soon arrive at a small palace which was a refurbished castle. The Black Kilts are already in full possession of the place, as the horses crowd into the grounds.
“Your majesties, and all,” Stuftliana says as they gather, “this may not be as fancy nor as convenient as the palaces and embassies, but it is nice. We apologize for the necessary crowding, but until Gen. Broglie knows that the enemy is fully cleared away, we felt it better to not be where they expected.” She turns to Broglie, “What happens to your oblique attack, if, after the assault is made, you find your enemy is not where you thought it was, but was entrenched against you.?”
Gen. Broglie laughs loudly. “Observe, Comte,” he tells Bastille, “turbulent Frankszonia lets us live again.” Bastille, smiles wanly in response.
As the party moves inside, l’ Comte d’Beauphaup greets them. “I have taken the liberty, your majesties and gentles, of obtaining some BOTTLES of Chevert to settle your nerves.”
The party applauds him, and he begins to unseal the bottles. Suddenly, v. Mack grabs Beauphaup’s hands and snatches the bottle away. In the shocked silence that follows, he grimly displays that a tiny hole had pierced the seal! After careful examination, they find two more bottles similarly marked.
“Tonight,” the Hurtshog sighs, “I’m afraid we’ll need to employ the old stand by of tasters. Alas, Comte,” he turns to Beauphaup, “that clearly is your station as well tonight.”
The ever urbane diplomat nods and, opening an untampered bottle, pours himself a glass.

In spite of the terrors of the night, no further alarms excite them. The tampered bottles are removed to be tested on condemnd prisoners. I am sorry to not have written a tense night of worrying and lovemaking, but my real Princess needs me tonight and so this adventure draws to a close.
Some loose ends ...
It is decided to publicly blame “fugitive brigands from St. Maurice” and offer a joint operation with the Kingdom of St. Maurice to restore law and order in the FrankWald.
I had thought of sending the party back by river boat, but unfortunately my time is burnt up for writing this (sigh) ... plenty of gambling and necking to be done ...
And the tiny prick of fear at the end ... was m’Lady involved after all?
While rumors swirl around Frankfurter, the official word is that the visit was exciting and new bonds of friendship (and commercial opportunity) have been formed.

Hope you enjoyed this, the chair at my confuser is most uncomfortable!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Quiet Fry Up, just a little fishy?

(Apologies for any misspellings of character names here ... a little discomfort healthwise, nothing serious, but I don’t feel like making all the corrections for my bad typing tonight) :_(

After some heated discussions, mostly involving who would be safest where, the whole party removes to the Redan Bastille (a reinforcement of the Frankfurter defenses obtained as a sop to local feelings during the construction of the nearby Gallian prison, both outside the main walls). Not only did all concede that it would be easier to intercept any attacks there, but also there were several crack units already deployed there in preparation for a grand review.
Gen. Broglie was puzzled, however, that the Sage Guard from Frankszonia would not be in the review. Not only was it a Guard unit, and thus usually a part of any formal visit, but also it contained some of the best drilled professionals in the area. Gen. Oscar Meyer grinned wryly and responded, “this week, a lot of the men in the Sage Guard Uniform are better drilled for hunting than for a parade.” The comment confirmed the suspicions that the military members of the party had already entertained about their local honor guard. The presence of squadrons of their own escort was comforting.
In spite of the terror of the previous hour, the Frankfurters cheerfully lined the streets and cheered from their decorated houses as the party paraded through the town under the brightly dyed fabric arches. Cuirassiers following the party scattered silver pennies among the crowd, and a large beer wagon stopped at each corner to hand out a keg. In the side streets, outdoor grills filled the air with enticing smells, promising a flavorful evening to partying throng.
“They seem awful cheerful,” young King Basil commented.
“I’ll drink to that!” The Hurtshog, who was riding with the other sovereigns, responded. “We take celebration as a serious commitment here.”
“So we’ve heard,” laughs Duke Wilhelm. “I wonder how the vivandiers are making out?”
“Fairly often, I hope,” Princes Stuftliana giggles.
“I’m sure,” Princess Alisona said with mock primness, “that their contributions to the general festivities are widely appreciated!”

When the party arrives at the redan and takes its place in a pavilion placed on the works, the Hurtshog convenes a quick council. “We have things to consider together,” he comments to his guests, and carefully chooses a spot downwind.
“Your security,” Col. Enigma complained, “seems rather like a sieve. I’d hoped for better after last time!”
“We don’t have the resources of Gallia,” Gen. Meyer snapped. “But we have more than our share of enemies who specialize in secret agents.”
“Gentlemen,” Gen. Broglie intervenes, “there is too much here to indulge ourselves. What information do we have?”
“First of all,” Gen. Meyer responds, “those guns at the Cathedral were northern made.”
“Northern?” Ritter Andrew asks. “I thought they would be Stagonian and from the southern forests!”
“We must consider,” Herr Kunnegunde (Frankszonian Chief Watchman), “that the guns were left behind. They may be a deliberate decoy.”
“But,” the Hurtshog continues, “there is also strong evidence of collusion among our many enemies. We’ve been on alert ever since we found out that Lady Pettygree was coming.”
“I’m hardly an enemy,” Diana protests.
“Indeed not, my Lady,” the Hurtshog responds. “Indeed, we have one regiment that would rather be here to defend you than our southern woods! However, is it not true that when you come this far into Germania, there is a Germanian agent of incredible skill who seems drawn to oppose you? After all, Comte Bastille, we have still received no word on what that little affair near here a couple of days ago was all about!”
Bastille and Broglie look at each other but say nothing.
“Right,” the Hurtshog continues, “and what information did your mother send you, Ritter Andrew?”
“She warns of ambushes, possible sabotage of the powder supplies, and the usual Stagonian poisonous wine.” The young man answered.
“Aha!” Kunegunde exclaimed, “We thought that was Roquefort again!”
“You knew about sabotaged powder and poison?” Bastille demanded indignantly.
“No, M’sr l’Intendant,” Kunegunde answered, “but you must ask the Hurtshog.”
As the group’s attention returns to the portly notable, he calls, “Baddmann! Bring in a keg.”
“So we can drink to it?” Gen. Broglie asked sardonically.
A well suited, middle aged man whom they had seen dancing with each of the ladies on the previous evening enters with another gentleman carrying a small wine barrel. A quick glance passes between Ritter Andrew and the second gentleman as the pair very carefully set the keg on a table.
“I’ve heard of your reverence for wines, your Highness,” King Basil comments, “but this is a tad extreme isn’t it?”
“Gen. v. Pilsner?” Gen. Meyer bows slightly, “if you would be so good as to step to the table to witness, please? Meanwhile, could the rest of you please step into the embrasures to enjoy the bands and the drills out in the drill field for a moment?”
The ladies and their men exchange worried glances ... what new fright is Frankfurter going to reveal? Lady Pettygree, however, pulls loose from Catherine’s worried grasp and steps forward with Cherish Masquerade. “We should probably also observe, General,” Diana insists.
Col, Enigma quickly offers to take her place, but she firmly places her hand on his chest and steps forward. Meanwhile, a double file of large grenadiers forms a solid wall between King Basil and Duke Wilhelm and the military clustered around the table. Baddmann and v. Mack are carefully and slowly working the top off of the keg.
“You will observe,” the Hurtshog begins, “that the keg bears the markings of the Chevert Estate and Vinyards.”
“But! ...” both Broglie and Bastille begin.
The Hurtshog stops them with a sharply upraised hand. “We know,” he nods his head. “Chevert is never shipped in barrels, the estate is very and properly proud of its glass works and its bottling process. An alert shipper brought this to our attention.”
“So that’s why you’ve been burgling the wine stores!” Bastille exclaims. “What is the poison?”
“You’ll be pleased to know, m’lord Comte,” Hzg. Fahrtz replied, “there’s not one drop of poison in the barrel.” He grimaces, “indeed, there’s not one drop of anything in the barrel.”
The collective puzzlement of the party is caught as Baddmann carefully lifts out a small spoonful of black and silvery powder. He flicks the powder onto the floor where it snaps, sparks, and smokes brightly!
“Mon Dieu!” Broglie exclaims. “We could all have small kegs in our quarters!”
“Which is why,” the Hurtshog answered grimly, “why we’ve planned for the fireworks and ball to be an affair in the park. I trust my Grenz and my Jaegers to catch assassins before they get too close out there.”
“May our own light infantry join yours, your Highness?” Gen. Broglie is polite enough to ask.
“We’d appreciate it, but be sure that the sergeants and officers know each and every face.”
“Of course!”
“And, your Majesty and your Highness,” the Duke turns to his guests, “if your escorts could also attend, with swords and whatever, I believe that my Chamberlain, l’Comte Beauphaup has managed to locate enough young ladies to partner them ... it will be a wonderful ball, hosted by the Guilds in your honor, Duchess Lynda. Unfortunately, there will be no masques or costumed waiters.”
“We must be honest with you,” Gen Meyer interjects. “We do expect some more ... ah ... interesting intrusions. But we are quite confident that they will be resolved as thoroughly as the affair Pettygree recently, no?”
The party smile rather nervously, and the ladies press their gentlemen with worried looks. At this, Princess Stuftliana, who had been acting as if a star struck girl to this point, stepped forward. “Dears, your presence would be very, very helpful,” she pleaded. “Besides, the Frankszonian people really have looked forward to seeing you at the ball. We have a wonderful seamstress here, and her girls can create and equip wonderful gowns with interesting features ... like this!” She suddenly displays an expensive pistol, seemingly from thin air. As the group’s collective shock settles, Stuftliana continues, “Alisonia, Diana, no whimpering. I’ve seen the reports on how well you handle pistols. I suspect that the vivandiers are no less qualified also. They are from Monte Cristo after all.” She grinned mischievously, “come, come, girls. Isn’t it time we demonstrated why we demand so much from our guys?” She looked out at the field where a Frankszonian militia unit and some Gallian musketeers were performing an “X” march through drill to the music of drums, trumpets, bugles, and a lot of tubas. “Let’s see if we can bore them as much as they do us!” Stuftliana concludes, laughing.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Morning's Entertainment

Imagine Johannes surprise when Erwin says in response to his question, "I brought four of my 'fancy' pistols. Would you care for a pair? And when did you ever know me to have an unloaded one about?!" Baddmann gave an approving grunt as the two double barreled pistols disappeared under his cloak.
Mack continued, "I learned this trick when I was in Canada. Buck and ball with a large charge of powder is the key. Makes a hell of a loud noise, you can hit almost everyone in a small room with at least a pellet or two, the cloud of smoke comes in handy if you have to retreat, and by the third shot most crowds have found better places to be, leaving one shot in reserve. Tonight, my friend, I am loaded for bear. Although I'll settle for stag!"
“More like a filthy old goat, I’m afraid,” Johannes responded. “We suspect that Roquefort and M’Lady are involved too.”
“No wonder every time I look around, I see an alert soldier of some type!” Erwin responded. “Looks like you’re going to try to swat flies with cannon balls!”
“That’s the general idea,” Johannes responded. “Hesse Cassel armies are too close to overlook the chance that either the guilds or the Resistance will make a serious effort ... and with all these agents in town, it’s likely that some of them are suggesting it.”
Even though, Johannes sounded like he was just grousing, v.Mack’s watchfulness had been suddenly amplified by what he’d heard. His eyes were moving from one deep shadow in the night bound street when he chanced on a face moving through a light, “Rottenbrat!” he hissed to Baddmann and quickly gestured at an otherwise nondescript laborer still putting up bunting.
In moments, their two horses were at the foot of the man’s ladder and four pistols were held close to some very sensitive areas. “Okay, Hans,” Baddmann growled, “come down very slowly and lean on the wall.
“Private!” he gestured to a nearby soldier, “call for the sergeant of the guard.”
As the soldiers clustered around him and thoroughly searched him, Hans Rottenbrat protested his innocence and productivity. V. Mack had already climbed the ladder for himself, however, and found a smelly, black rag in the folds of the bunting lying under a glass ball.
“So, Stagonia plans on Frankszonia having a hot time tomorrow?” he challenges the now silent and surly agent.
“Ver*%&#!!” Baddmann exclaims. “We’ve got miles of very expensive and brightly died cloth hanging on every house! It will all have to be checked tonight!”
“No need,” Rottenbrat asserts, “I just had time to put up one.”

After the prisoner is removed and handed over to the Gallians for deposit in the Bastille, Johannes and v. Mack hasten to the palace to spread the alarm. As. V. Mack delivers the letter to Andrew, Herr Kunegunde orders the town criers out while the tour party is still happily entertained inside the palace grounds. Several more incendiary devices are found in a couple of hours, and the city returns to its uneasy slumber.

In spite of Frankfurter’s fears, the night passed peacefully. The gathering at the palace, aided by the glittering presence of Princess Alisonia, Lady Pettygree, and Lady Masquerade is a social triumph. Princess Stuftliana choose the auspicious moment to make her reentry into the social whirl, looking exotically lovely in a simple gown from Frau Ewewarp. In recognition of the exhaustion of the day’s travel, the party breaks up at midnight.
In the hazy morning, Duchess Lynda and her ladies are awakened by sweet flute music being played by a quartet in the courtyard of the Beerstein embassy. After a breakfast featuring a selection of Frankszonia’s sausages, the ladies are especially delighted by the tour of the porcelain industry. Excellent Delft ware and brightly painted ceramics are displayed for their pleasure. They each get to select a set of some design that they personally find pleasing. After a short coffee with the other high level guests of the Duchy, they get a brief tour of the sausage factory. L’Comte Beauphaup apologizes for the shortness of the tour, but the factory in full production is hot, smelly, and very noisy.
To compensate for the chaotic racket of the sausage factory, the party is led to view the Frankfurter cathedral and the materials used in the coronation and annointing of the Holy Roman Emperor. While they tour the building, choirs take turns singing various hymns and historic songs from the choir stalls.
As they wander through the dusky corners of the Gothic edifice, a gentleman passes Lady Pettygree and whispers, “God save King Charles. Watch the wine.” Before she or Cherish can respond, the man is lost in the shadows. They step behind a pillar to discuss the incident with Catherine when an old woman brushes by who says, “Why do you tempt fate? Germania, though it gives you admirers also gives you deadly greetings. Look high and low!” Then, as a puff of incense causes the ladies to blink and sneeze, the old woman also is gone from sight.
Now thoroughly alarmed, the ladies seek out Col. Enigma who has so often protected them in the past. The whole party, however, is led out to the square, where in one corner a luncheon pavilion has been erected. There, brass bands of school children serenade them, one group presenting “The Tuba Sonnata”. The luncheon is lively ... exquistely grilled fish, bratwurst, and other items blend with the best beverages, laughter and chatter as the ladies and lords flirt and the children from the bands march by, red faced with pride.
Suddenly, the happy noise is shattered by the loud staccato of musket fire! As bullets smash into the crystal and china on the tables by Pettygree and Duke Wilhelm, the ever present guards spot the smoke from the roof of the Cathedral. Gallian and Frankszonian troops return fire, though the professional ear of the officers in the party notice that some of the Frankszonian “Guards” are equipped with rifles. Other soldiers dash into the building to try to catch these dastardly assasins.
The party members begin to scatter as the ladies scream and the men curse, but Col. Enigma catches a glimpse of an old lady beckoning by the Rectory. With loud commands he manages to herd the notables into the house and to get soldiers stationed at some of the windows. Ritter von Meltzer and Ambassador Sgnori Vittorio Moretti demand why they’ve been brought into this building with its large windows when the already garrisoned inn on the square had been closer. Even as the normally imperturbable colonel hunts for a good excuse, a loud, bright explosion tears out of the inn’s basement.
“I knew it!” Enigma exclaims and dashes off to find Lady Pettygree.
For about an half hour, the square is filled with competing troops ... cavalrymen from the Grand Tour, Frankszonian guards, and Gallian Grenadiers. As the confusion and furor die down, and as the smoke from the badly damaged inn settles, the Archbishop reports that the assassins seem to have escaped! “There are just too many hidden passages and acloves in the cathedral,” he explains. “Given the all the confusion outside, if the evil men had the foresight to dress in uniforms, they probably had an easy time making their withdrawal. We did, at least, find the three weapons they were using.”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Grand Tour cont. : The Night Before

“Oh, Wilhelm,” Lady Louise sighed as they step out together onto the terrace from the noisy ballroom, “these Frankfurters are fun, but their food seems all charred!”
“It’s their obsession with grilling and frying, I suppose,” he answered. “Still, you need that kind of fortification for what they call an evening’s light dancing!”
Lady Louise laughs, as there is a moment’s pause in the music and some polite applause. “They do take their drinking seriously though,” she giggles, “don’t they?”
“I understand it’s something to do with local religious traditions,” Prinz Wilhem grins. “I’d never heard an argument as whether beer or wine was more sacred before either.”
The couple falls silent as they notice a sudden mass movement on the grounds below them. The guard, in his parade uniform is joined by about a dozen others and a sergeant. From the glances the men cast up, the couple perceives that the soldiers are obviously concerned about them. “Excuse us, sir,” Lady Louise calls down, “but did we cause you trouble?”
“Of course not,” a gruff but educated voice answered from behind them. Turning quickly, they find Major Ricewits of the Ducal Staff smiling at them. “It’s just that we don’t want a repeat of the last time,” he chuckles.
“Last time?” Prinz Wilhem asks.
“Shootings, though that’s already happened, duels, poison, and God knows what.”
“In the Palace?” Lady Louise gasps.
“No, it was a mansion out in the suburbs,” the Major responds genially. “It got badly shot up in last year’s battles, I’m afraid or we’d be there again ... better perimeter and all.”
“And .... what WAS this ‘last time’?” the Prinz insists.
“Well, a big ball for the Ladies Pettygree and Masquerade who’d come to celebrate the official Christening of the Urpprinz.’ Ricewits pauses a moment before continuing, “When you’re beautiful, talented, and have the ears of some of the major potentates, it seems that trouble can’t be far behind. We’ve got quite a load of royalty and nobility here, and frankly our local politics aren ‘t as healthy as anyone of us would like.”
“What’s up?”
“Well, it’s a little confusing. First of all, we’re occupied by major force we can’t hope to challenge directly, but which the people really don’t like. Our rulers are supposedly Catholic and the people devoutly Lutheran. Meanwhile the Syndics and Jews flourish under this Hurtshog and every outlying little town thinks we’re out to gobble them up. Added to that we do have some serious and perverted enemies. All that can be predicted about them is that they will try to make trouble too.” The major sighs, “Tonight, all is still calm. We hope to provide you a day or two more fun than ... ah .... interesting and exciting,” The major laughs a little and strolls away into the shadows.
Louise turns to Wilhelm with a worried, perhaps a little frightened gasp. “Andrew noticed some things on the way into town as well, darling,” he responds seriously. “We’ve got our own guard up too. It’s a byword that l’Comte Bastille is driven paranoid by the Frankfurters, but he’s still healthy and prosperous, so will we be.”

In the darkness, at the Saxenhausen Gate (Saxenhausen is Frankfurt’s fortified bridgehead across the Main), the guards challenge a tired rider on an exhausted horse. The rider notices that the guards are all Frankszonian and makes a professional note of the fact. “I’ve an urgent, personal message for the Ritter von Meltzer,” the rider declares. “He’s with the Grand Tour party of Reich Duke Wilhelm and King Basil.”
“Very well,” the young Lieutenant answers. “Dismount and lead your horse in through the sally port. We’ll water you both while we check your story.”
“My documents from the Margrafin von Raubenstadt,” Erwin von Mack proffers some papers to the men as he passes through the gate.
Inside the gatehouse, some men see to his horse and a private brings v. Mack a large stein of quality larger. Mack drinks the beer slowly as his professional eyes note the positions of the guards ... and a preloaded battery of small guns inside the gate. “What’s the threat?” he asks an off duty sergeant who is smoking a rather long pipe inside the room.
“Officially,” the sergeant grins, “we’re at war with the Kingdom of St. Maurice. Unofficially, the Gallian Gen. Broglie has threatened to impress every man who stand up, see lighting, and hear thunder if we fire another musket at each other.”
Mack laughs, but notices how one squad keeps behind and covers the forward squad and that there were gunners standing alert near the guns. *Nice excuse,* he thinks, *I wonder if the Hurtshog has heard the same rumors that we have?*
“Irwin! Good God!” a loud voice breaks into his reverie. “It’s been ages! I haven’t you since that affair at Weisbaden seen!”
“That can only be Baddmann!” v. Mack laughs in response. “What game are you playing today? Not another woodcarver, I hope?”
“Ah no. You see before you the dissipated gentleman who enjoys nothing more than a nice dance, and a nice dance afterwards too,” Johannes grins. He gives a card to the lieutenant, who quickly salutes and brings v. Mack’s horse to the door. “Come,” Johannes continues. “Your young Margraf is the lights fantastic with some northern fraulein dancing. I will you straight to him take.”
The pair ride through the normally dark streets, but which tonight are lit for party goerers enjoying the festivities. “All right, Mack,” Baddmann says as they cross the bridge, “what’s up?”
“In a word, Stagonia.”
“Any details? We’d spotted some of their stooges nearby.”
“My Lady’s letter is sealed, I’m afraid, and probably coded for the young man alone.”
“Naturally ... and what does she say?”
“More than one plot is afoot. There’s been signs of things concerning wine, fireworks, and sharpshooters.”
“No kidnapping? Stagonia always loved to kidnap children at loose in the world.”
“She didn’t mention that, but I’d rather suppose it’s possible.”
“No known connection then ...” Baddmann falls silent, leaving v. Mack puzzled as to the meaning of his comment. Then Baddmann asks after they pass the guards on the Frankfurter side of the Main, “You’ve that fancy pistol with you? If it’s not ready, we’d better stop while you load.”

The King is Coming, The King is Coming!

The ladies gather chattering in Capitaine Malecki's residence. After their adventure and the excitement, the conversation is perhaps a little louder than usual. Even the fine vintages, including some fine old bottles of Chevert don’t seem to calm them. Some of the local battalion’s musicians gather outside to play a few pieces ... and to practice their regimental music. In all the noise, the clatter of hooves from a hard ridden horse and the challenges of the sentries are almost missed. Col. Enigma, who had been inside the house with the Princess Allisonia, however, has learned to always be on his guard when the Lady Pettygree is in the area.
Quickly pulling a pistol from his waistcoat, he steps beside a window and looks out past the drapes.
“Something’s happening,” Diana warns her friends, and in a moment, the cheerful party falls silent and alert ... a surprising number of other pistols appear from the voluminous folds of the ladies’ riding gear. The sound of the guards snapping to attention, and the command “Present ... Harms!” from outside, however, reassure them. Thus, when the door is opened, the young rider is not shocked by the sight of an unseemly number of gun barrels pointed at him. Rather, he minces inside in his silken brocade uniform, fluttering more lace than a rose bush has blooms. He pouts in attempt to appear serious, and bows to the assembled party.
“M’Lords and M’Ladies” (except it should be in stilted school French) the youngster proclaims, “I have the honor a message for Her Highness, the Princess Alisonia, and the Ladies Pettygree and Masquerade to be carrying.”
Even as the Princess begins a gracious reply, Lady Pettygree asks, “From whom does this missive come?”
“It is an urgent note from my Lord, L’Comte de Beauphaup, m’Lady.”
“The old fart’s private diplomat,” the captain declares. “What’s up, lad?”
“If my Ladies will read this missive,” the youngster responds, “I’m sure all will be made clear.”
Lady Cherish Masquerade quickly accepts the proffered envelope, breaks the seal and unfolds the stiff parchment. “Diana,” she exclaims, “King Basil could be here any moment!”

In Frankfurter, adjutants and notables are scurrying about in haste. L’Comte Bastille is interrupted in his interrogation of the new prisoners by an harried looking aide. The would be assassins are hurriedly stripped and locked away while the Gallians send their own swarms of messengers into the countryside and to the nearby encampment. Cloth merchants are raided for bolts of cloth to be used as bunting which swarms of apprentices and mechanics quickly nail over the main intersections.
At the palace, Moosart scrambles to get his little orchestra together while the Hurtshog consults with his diplomatic advisors and the StadtRadt leaders. “Can we put together a quick agenda?” is the question on everybody’s mind.
The consensus is that the presence of the lovely and widely admired foreigner noblewomen is a real boon, even if their presence was part of another nefarious plot by the occupying forces of Gallia. If they will participate, a reception and informal fete would give the city a night to spruce up. In the morning, a quick formal inspection of some show troops followed by the mandatory tours of the excellent ceramic works (and a good source of exquisite gifts for all the visitors) and the famous sausage works, followed by a tuba concert. Then a real ball to the music of Moosart’s musicians.
The guild syndics, of course, hope to corral the various diplomats with the party and obtain good contracts for the long lasting Frankfurter field sausages, artillery from the foundry shared with Offenbach, and similar condiments. Their primary anxiety is that the Hurtshog is going to try to intervene to make these contracts very favorable for the young King Basil, as his opposition to the Turkish hordes may open up new products for pork based products.

As the afternoon wears on, the convoy of the Grand Tour is delayed by numerous check points. The closeness of major armies for Gallia and Hesse Seewald involves numerous little challenges for the diplomats riding with the party. Finally, a couple of chivalrous generals from the opposing sides generate special passes and each contributes a ceremonial escort ... a fact grimly noted by some nondescript shepherds as the party passes through one of the many woods near Frankfurt.
As the now enlarged party exits the hills overlooking the fortress town and its surrounding encampments, two squadrons of cavalry approach. The first to arrive is a somewhat dusty but otherwise impecable Col. Enigma and a troop of hussars. With a lovely caracole, he brings his troop into the double file reception lines along the road. Riding up to the royal coach, he makes is bow and politely welcomes King Basil and Reich Duke William on behalf of l’Comte Bastille, Intendant of Frankfurter, and General Broglie of the nearby Gallian army.
While the hussars, whose escorting troops seem to gravitate towards the vivandiers from Monte Cristo, squeeze in beside the considerable force already present, a glittering troop of Frankfurter Guard Cuirassiers arrives at a more sedate pace. General Hottatrot rides forward to deliver a somewhat florid greeting, but winks at the ladies as he delivers it. Ritter von Meltzer, in command of the convoy’s escorting cavalry, however, notes that a considerable number of dragoons had peeled away from the Cuirassiers during their approach march and seemed to be carefully searching the fields and copses off the road.
“Is there some problem?” he inquires of General Hottatrot ... indicating one of these hunting parties.
“Rumors, my man, rumors only,” the genial general responds. “Just taking precautions against any eventuality ... we are rather close to some angry folks here!” he laughs.
*Ja,* King Basil thinks, *rumors, Das is richtig ... und rumors in Morea wenn Ich comt also*

Saturday, July 4, 2009

the Tour gets busy!

From the Margraf von Raubenstadt (one of Nebulous Neighbors) comes this lovely bit!

Von Mack Rides Again
Erwin Von Mack, Chief (and Only) Intelligence Agent for the Markgraaf of Raubenstadt, found himself late at night on the road to nearby Frankfort Am Main, with a message from the Margrafin to her second son, the Ritter Andrew Von Meltzer, who was currently accompanying the Grand Tour of the Reich Duke Wilhelm Von Beerstein. She had received vague warnings from her sources in Stagonia, that there was a foul plot underway in Frankzonia involving the Grand Tour and the Frankfurter Herzog, but no further specific details as to who, how, and when were forthcoming.

Von Mack thought that if the Stagonians had grown so bold as to antagonize the Frankfurters, they were due for a rude awakening. Could this new agressive stance be the influence of the Duchess of Sachen-Vindow? If so, she did not know the Frankfurters as well as she thought. Bitterly gained personal experience had taught Von Mack that underneath the bland and somewhat bumbling facade Stanken showed the world, there lurked a mind that could have taught Machavelli a thing or two about ruling. He mentally winced at the memories, and wondered what it would be like to be on the same side for a change.

Sachen-Vindow. Sachen-Vindow. His failure at that damnable Inn, "The Crooked Kobold", had haunted Von Mack for months now, and if events had just gone a little different, he probably wouldn't have found himself on the road to Frankfort Am Main at such an ungodly hour, with a full moon lighting his way along the well known track. The grim setting did nothing to improve his mood. Von Mack was determined that this time there would be no failures.

Justice and Death, personally delivered in the form of Erwin Von Mack, were coming closer to Frankfort with every plodding hoofbeat of his horse....

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Spiritual Mess ... uh ... Messenger

(An Announcement after a Meeting With Spirits in the Frankfurter Cathedral)

Most Reverend Addled von Gutgulp, Patriarch of the Later-In-The-Day Saints (an unique rye, uh, Rite in the Catholic Shursh), has ashsigned Rt. Rev. Mousewitz as a plenty ... uh ... plainly ... uh ... represhentative of Frankshzonia to the Bishopric of Uber Gruntshuffen on behash uf der Hurtshog Fhartz von Frankfurter to dishcush problemsh of mushial (Hic!) intrestsh.


Vee'll trink zu zhat ....
Deo Grashiash