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!


Fitz-Badger said...

Yes, I enjoyed it! Lots of excitement and characterization! Well done!

Stagonian Jeff said...

"Curses! Foiled again."

-- from certain Stagonian nobility

Capt Bill said...

For masterfully saving the Grand Tour retinue, Rich Duke Wilhelm has invested the Frankfurter into the Military Order of the Golden Crown, Beerstein's highest award. No one will ever forget the great hospitality and high adventure enjoyed in Frankzonia.

Martin said...

Well done Arthur! Nothing like a ripping yarn told well. Thanks for letting me insert von Mack into the mix.

A J said...

An excellent tale! Zombies! Is there no depth to which vile Stagonia will not stoop?