Schloss Neuhaus

Schloss Neuhaus
Seat of the Margrave

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Set a thief...

"Good evening. Herr Artrecht."

"Herr Flick! What the devil do you wa... er, how may I help you?"

"I would be grateful, Herr Artrecht, for the opportunity of a few private words".

"Yes, yes, but not here... let me think... ah, yes, go to the booth at the far end of the room. It is somewhat isolated and quite dark."

"Dear me, Herr Artrecht, you almost persuade me that you are ashamed of my company!"

"Well, yes... er, no... I mean... What I mean is, that I have a certain standing in my community, and it will do me no good in those circles for me to be seen talking to you. And, I might add, if you need any information from me, then if I were seen to be talking to you, I may not in the future be in any position to give you any information."

"And why would that be, Herr Artrecht?"

"Because, Herr Flick, I would be dead!"

"Yes, I can see that such an occurrence could quite inconvenience you. But, I have to ask myself, would not society, as a whole, be better off?"

"Ah, you are pleased to jest, Herr Flick."

"Jest? I? What in the world persuades you that I jest?"

"Please, Herr Flick, that is not funny!"

"Precisely. Now, where is this booth? I will await you there, but please note, that apart from my famous lack of humour, I am also notorious for my limited patience!"

"Of course, Herr Flick."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"Now, Herr Artrecht, to business, if you please. You are aware that I am fully cogniscent of your multifarious and nefarious interests, are you not?"

"Yes, Herr Flick, I am most uncomfortably aware of your interest in my poor doings."

"Then Herr Artrecht, you will not be surprised that I am aware that you control a group of urchins whom you employ for cutting the luggage straps on moving coaches, what activity I believe is termed 'the rattling lay', as well as being acquainted with a number of enterprising gentlemen who ride the 'high toby'. I am persuaded that you will not attempt to deny these connections; that would be most unwise in you, such a denial would serve merely to exhaust my patience. And, Herr Artrecht, rest assured that I have, up until now, been very patient with you."

"No, Herr Flick, it would be pointless for me to deny any such connection. If such a denial was true, you would merely disbelieve it; if it was false, then I am sure that you would find some way to make my existence even more miserable than it presently is".

"Good. You begin to talk like a man of sense. Now, Herr Artrecht, having disposed of any untoward obstacles in the way of our present business, let me tell you what I need. I am interested in those of your acquaintance who do business with coaches. I am particularly interested in one singular vehicle. It is a large, black, undecorated four-wheeled vehicle, generally drawn by a team, and is, on occasion, escorted by up to six outriders. The driver may, and its chief occupant, does speak with a foreign accent. I am singularly interested in the identity of the occupant, and of the vehicle's location. If I am correct - how else - I am engaged in a search for at least eight men and ten horses. It is possible that they are all foreigners. I suggest that some discreet enquiries, not only amongst those gentlemen and urchins to whom I have previously referred, but also amongst the world of horses and their attendants as well as those purveying temporary lodgings, may bear fruit. Do you understand me, Herr Artrecht?"

"Yes, Herr Flick, I understand."

"Good. Now, if any should enquire as to the nature of my business here tonight, you may inform them that I visited you to discuss the delivery of some of your singular brandy to the Schloss. You may, in fact, deliver two casks to me there. And because I am of a not unfeeling nature, you may take this purse as payment for the brandy... and as a token of my goodwill. Good night, Herr Artrecht."

Monday, 26 May 2008


"Come in, Herr Flick, and pray be seated".

"Thank you, Your Highness. I know how busy you are, but I rather supposed that you might be interested to hear of any progress pertaining to my current investigations?"

"Just so, Herr Flick."

"Your Highness, in the wake of the attack at Feldhausen, we have suffered two further set-backs. Primus, the outbreak of poisoning, and secundus, the devastating loss of the Britannic powder ship. It is, of course, entirely conceivable that these two latter incidents are purely infortuitous, but my enquiries to date suggest that this is not in fact the case."

"What do your enquiries suggest, Flick?"

"The evidence which I have so far accumulated, rather points to the activities of an individual, or group of individuals, who do not have the best interests of Ober Nord Wesfalen at heart".

"I see... and the nature of your evidence is what, precisely?"

"As far as the poisoning is concerned, Your Highness, I have, with the utmost care, checked the records of the military granaries - which I am surprised to see are remarkably complete: Your Highness has some very dedicated servants in that organisation. The records detail in full the receipt of each consignment of flour, the date, the origin and the mill where it was ground. Armed with this information, I was enabled to interview grain merchants and millers. All but one of them, state that nothing out of the ordinary occurred in the way of transport, collection and milling of the grain in the days prior to the outbreak of the poisoning. The one miller, who remarked a difference to the ordinary, commented that he was surprised to see an officer of the Line Regiments in charge of the flour convoy. Closer questioning of the miller, one Dieter Baumuller, revealed that the officer commanding the convoy, four days prior to the start of the outbreak wore the uniform of Infanterie Regiment Nummer 2 - I need hardly remind Your Highness that the second regiment is garrisoned at Wilhelmsburg, and therefore the employment of one of that regiment's officers on such a duty in Schloss Neuhaus would be most singular. Further, on approaching the Colonel of Infanterie Regiment Nummer 2, he assured me that no officer had been detached from the regiment on the day in question for that or any other duty. Examination of the Regiment's duty rolls for the day, reveal that two officers were absent from duty. One officer was on authorised leave to attend to family matters in Grundshafen, the other was reported sick. The ailing officer was indeed, at that time, confined to his quarters, suffering from a tertian ague - his presence in his quarters is attested by his man-servant and the Regimental Chirugeon. Similarly, the presence of the officer in Grundshafen is confirmed by his family's man of business, and the Magistrate of that town.

"I begin to see why your suspicions have been aroused, Herr Flick, but surely, compelling although your tale might be, it is, of itself, hardly sufficient evidence of wrong-doing. Might not, the worthy Baumuller be mistaken?"

"Your Highness, I beg pardon, but I would not have subjected myself to the rigours of a journey at this season as far as Grundshafen and Wilhelmsburg had I not been persuaded of the certainty of the miller's evidence and of his probity. He was questioned most intensely over a period of time, yet not once did he waver from his story. Indeed, under the prompting of several skilfully composed questions, he was able to shed further light on the matter. He says... ah, yes, 'I was surprised by the silence of the soldiers driving the wagons.' It seems that there is a tradition amongst the millers, that in return for military assistance in loading the wagons, the millers offer the soldiers, ah, liquid refreshment as... payment for their services. In this instance, the soldiers not only refused their customary beverage, but also declined assistance from the miller's employees, and were unusually silent as they worked. Your Highness, must I am persuaded, be compelled to agree that such an attitude amongst soldiers is highly unusual, to say the very least".

"Quite so, Flick. Pray continue, your tale begins to interest me vastly."

"The miller was quite distressed to think that he may have been a party, unwitting as he may be, to the cause of the illness that struck us all down, and was quite pitiful in his agitation when he heard that Your Highness, and indeed Her Highness, had been afflicted. He is convinced that the symptoms which affected those unfortunate enough to succumb to the ailment had their origins in what he was pleased to call 'rye rot', which I understand is a folk-name for a form of disease which attacks the plant of that name. Your Highness' army is issued wheat bread, and consequently it should not have been affected by diseased rye, unless such had been added as an admixture to the wheat flour. I have spoken to Herr Professor Waskorowicz at the university, an acknowledged authority on agriculture, and he agrees with Baumuller's diagnosis of the ailment as having originated in what he is pleased to call 'contaminated rye'. Given those circumstances, Your Highness, I am persuaded that the flour from which the army and Schloss bread was baked, had deliberately been poisoned."

"Yes, on the basis of the evidence which you so far collected, that certainly sounds to have been the case. But I want the identity of this mystery officer revealed."

"Just so, Your Highness, I questioned the miller, most closely, in an effort to uncover this gentleman's identity. However, under the most vigorous prompting, Herr Baumuller could only say that the officer was of middle height and build, with unpowdered brown hair, and spoke with a slight accent. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the miller has never travelled more than three leagues from his birthplace, he was unable to be more specific on the question of the accent. And the physical description could fit any one of a thousand of Your Highness' subjects."

"Flick, you have done well, thus far. But I want more. I want this... scoundrel found, and I want him hanging on a gibbet. Find him Flick, find him."

"Oh, I will, Your Highness, I will. However, if Your Highness will permit, I would like to, briefly, advert your attention to the matter of the Britannic ship."

"By all means, Flick. I have written to the Court of St James, stating the loss of the vessel, and have received a very frosty reply. It seems that the Throne of Britannia holds us responsible for the loss of the vessel and of life. Britannia is not only disinclined to assist us further, but also expresses a desire for indemnity."

"Which I take it Your Higness is not inclined to pay?"

"It is not a matter of inclination, Flick - it is a matter of ability! You must be aware, as Head of the Sekretariat, that the purchase of arms, equipment, clothing and necessaries for an expanding army has resulted in our coffers being practically empty!"

"Indeed, Your Highness, I am fully cogniscent of the parlous state of the treasury. And - if I may be so bold - I have one or two suggestions that might ease the situation, albeit if only to a degree."

"Have ye, Flick, have ye? I shall certainly entertain any measures that might increase revenue, and shall consider, most carefully, any steps that you might propose. But for the nonce, shall we not rather return to the matter in hand?"

"Indeed, Your Highness. I am persuaded that I have no need to inform Your Highness, that myself and my associates, have exercised no small degree of diligence in investigating the explosion on board the Britannic ship. It appears that she approached the harbour at about nine of the clock on the evening prior to the detonation, took a pilot on board and made her way into the outer basin, well clear, I might add, of the water front. The pilot having conducted the ship to this safe anchorage was discharged and returned to his home. Fortunately the pilot's residence, although near the inner basin, was shielded from the blast by a large warehouse. As a result, although badly shaken and frightened the pilot survived the devastation and I was able to question him. He is adamant that the ship did indeed lie to an anchor in the outer basin, and is at a loss to understand why it was, in his words, 'warped alongside the quay'. Such a move is contrary to all prudence, contrary to the harbour master's orders and further it seems to have been redundant; a flotilla of small vessels, called, I understand, hoys, were under notice to unload the ship the following morning. However that might be, witnesses were located who have given testimony that at about eleven of the clock, the Britannic ships hoisted her boats into the water, and was then towed to a position next to the wharf. These witnesses are, I am afraid, of the rougher sort of sea-going fellows, and on appearance seem not to be entirely trustorthy, however I am assured by others that on this occasion they speak the unvarnished truth. Two of these witnesses also claim that a person, seemingly an officer, arrived at the dockside and engaged the service of a boatman to take him out to the powder ship. It was shortly after this officer's return to the shore that the ship was towed into the inner basin. Investigations are, of course, underway, in order to ascertain this person's identity. Unfortunately, it also appears that the boatman whose services were bespoken was one of the fatalities incurred as a result of the explosion. However, enquiries amongst the harbour and town watch have ascertained that at approximately half-past eleven of the clock that a 'gentleman' departed from the harbour gates in a coach drawn by a team, and escorted by six mounted outriders. Shortly thereafter, a coach and six outriders left the town by the Sudtor. There is little doubt in my mind, Your Highness, that we seek but one individual who was, at the very least, involved in both incidents - and may also be involved in the attack at Feldhausen. The scanty description we have of this person, including the reference to a foreign accent, tallies rather precisely with the information supplied by the Burgermesiter and the Gasthof Inhaber at the latter location".

"Very well, Herr Flick. I am persuaded that you are in the right. But as I have twice now said, I want him found!"

"Indeed, Your Highness. If I may be permitted to make an observation, to find one man in all of Ober Nord Westfalen is fraught with difficulties. However, to find a group of men, with or without foreign accents, a coach and at least ten horses poses far less of a problem. I am persuaded that the enquiries still in train by myself, and by von Smallhausen and his associates shall, in the not too distant future, provide us with further clues as to the identity and wherabouts of this miscreant."

"Very well then, Flick. Make it so".

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Once, twice, three times...


"Me, Herr Flick?"

"Yes, you! How many other Erichs are in the room?"

"N-none, Herr Flick, but you called me by my first name! I wasn't expecting it."

"Did I? How remiss of me! If it makes you feel better then: von Smallhausen!"

"Yes, Herr Flick?"

"Order a carriage and team. not a pair mark you, but a team. I - we leave for Friedereichshafen within the hour!"

"What has chanced to occur, Herr Flick?"

"Ah you have not heard! Good. This means two things, von Smallhausen. First, that the news has not yet become widespread. And second, that you still need to hone your investigative skills! I am about to give you a practical lesson in how to achieve such an event."

"What is it, Herr Flick?"

"It seems, von Smallhausen, that the Britannic powder ship has exploded at the dockside at Friederichshafen, not only destroying herself, but apparently also a goodly portion of the docks also."

"She was loaded with gunpowder, Herr Flick."

"Yes, I know this."

"Do not ships loaded with gunpowder, from time to time, explode?"

"It has not been unheard of, von Smallhausen."

"So, Herr Flick, if this is a hazard of the explosives trade, why are we concerning ourselves with it?"

"Think for a moment, von Smallhausen. Ever since Der Oldenburger Beobachter published news of His Highness' intention to support the Emperor in his dispute with the Bourbons, we, that is Ober Nord Westfalen, has suffered a string of setbacks. First there was the attack on the arsenal at Feldhausen, then the poisoning of the bread, and now this. A wise man once said, that once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times it is enemy action. I was unsure if the poisoned bread was an accident of nature, or a deliberate attempt at hindering our preparations for war. Given this exploding ship, I am now convinced that the poisoning was also an attack. Ergo there is an enemy agent, or even agents, at work in Ober Nord Westfalen - and we, von Smallhausen must find and eradicate him... or them!""

Remember, remember...

"Flick! I must see His Highness - at once!"

"Herr General, His Highness is otherwise engaged for the nonce."

"In the name of Christ, Flick! D'ye think I would present myself here in all my dirt if it wasn't a matter of the utmost urgency!"

"It is true, Herr General, that you present an aspect somewhat removed from your normal immaculate appearance. However, I am extremely reluctant to disturb His Highness when he has left specific instructions that he wishes for a period when he is to remain undisturbed. Do I have your word that your business is so pressing that he needs must see you now? Or, is it perhaps, a matter with which I can deal?"

"Flick, I swear upon the bones of my mother that it is imperative that I see His Highness without delay!"

"This matter is not, I take it, of a nature that you would wish to broach with me, in order that I may alert His Highness to its substance?"

"No, Flick, it is not! What I have to say must be directly to His Highness, and to no other."

"Very well, Herr General, pray be so indulgent as to attend here for a short while. I shall ascertain whether his Highness is disposed to derange himself."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Your Highness, my most profound apologies for disturbing you, but Herr General von Willich says that he must be granted an audience immediately. He declines to open whatever matter is preoccupying him to any other person than yourself. If I may make so free as to comment, he does appear rather agitated, his manner is somewhat abrupt, and indeed, he is not so punctilious in his appearance as is his wont, thus arguing a degree of urgency that precludes the normal courtesies."

"Oh Gods, Flick! What now? I suppose I had better see him and discover what has upset his normal equilibrium."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Good morning, General. Pray, what is this matter that is so urgent that I needs must be disturbed incontinent?"

"Your Highness! Er... Herr Flick?"

"Herr Flick stays, General. I suspect that whatever it is that you wish to impart, that I shall need to pass the matter to Herr Flick, in any event."

"Very Well, Your Highness, as Your Highness wishes, of course. It is bad news, Your Highness, concerning the Britannic Ship."

"What about her, has she sunk, is she missing?"

"No, Your Highness, she docked last night at Friederichshafen, safely enough. But there has been an accident... We do not yet know what has chanced to occur, but she exploded at her moorings, just over three hours ago!"

"She did what?!"

"She exploded, Your Highness. The troops were about to unload her and... she blew up... she just blew up..."

"God in heaven! How bad is it General?"

"Very bad, Your Highness. The ship is gone, with all her crew, and about two hundred of Your Highness' soldiers. The docks at Friederichshafen are badly damaged, there is much destruction of waterfront buildings, and an unknown number of dead and injured."

"Christ on the Cross! How, Herr General, how did this happen?"

"We don't know, Your Highness. All troops were wearing felt slippers. All pipes and tinder boxes had been taken from them. The sledges had wooden runners. The ship was fitted as a munitions carrier, all metal work was brass or bronze - no iron. It should not have happened, it could not have happened! But... it did... I am sorry Your Highness..."

"Yes, Herr General, yes... I must think..."

"If Your Highness permits? I must get back to Friederichshafen... there is so much to be done... I must..."

"Yes, yes, of course General. I shall follow as soon as may be. Please, go."

Saturday, 10 May 2008

There's Something Rotten...

"Good morning, Herr Flick... No, please don't get up. I merely wanted to ask you if you had made any progress on the matter of the recent illness?"

"Once again, Your Highness, you seem to be reading my mind. I was in the middle of composing my report for you."

"As to the reading of minds, Flick, it seems to me that more frequently the boot is on the other foot. But, to business, what, if anything have you discovered?"

"Your Highness, I have had von Smallhausen and a small team of... investigators, make... er, ... investigations. It would seem from their surprisingly diligent inquiries, that if a poison was administered, either infortuitously, or indeed by intent, that it was administered through the medium of the bread consumed by the afflicted. I have here, reports from all von Smallhausen's... associates, who have carried out a comprehensive survey of what was eaten and by whom, and the only factor in common seems to be the bread issued on the day prior to the outbreak."

"Well, Flick, that would account for the ravages of the disease throughout the army, but how would you, or rather, how would the spread of disease through our towns and villages be explained?"

"Your Highness, other than miasmic contamination through affected air, or perhaps the clandestine sale of munition bread to the burghers, I am indeed at a loss for alternatives. I, however, favour the former over the latter. Your Highness is, no doubt, aware that some of our burghers exist in somewhat squalid conditions, with too many bodies under one roof?"

"Yes, yes, Flick, I am aware. It is a subject which Her Highness and myself mean to address as soon as we have the leisure to do so."

"Ah, an interesting concept, Your Highness. may I take the liberty of asking how you intend to remedy the situation?"

"We had rather thought to tear down some of the older, less prepossessing quarters of our cities and rebuilding on a more rational basis."

"Ah, slum clearance. But how, Your Highness, will you prevent re-building on contaminated ground?"

"Once the buildings are destroyed, then the rubble will be burned."

"Ah, I see, hygienic slum clearance!"

"Flick! Do you dare to mock me?"

"Of course not, Your Highness. On the contrary, I am full of admiration for your far-sighted plans for urban renewal. Furthermore, Your Highness, your plans touch, albeit tangentially on our present problem."

"How so, Flick?"

"Your Highness, the wheat from which the army's bread is ultimately derived, is, for the most part grown here in Ober Nord Westfalen. It is milled here, and the resulting flour is bought by your army agents and distributed to the various regiments. It is then baked in regimental bakeries prior to consumption by the soldiers. If there had been a blight of some sort that affected the wholesomeness, is that a word?, of the grain, then I, for one, would have expected a much higher incidence of that most uncomfortable digestive upset. As it happened, there was no such widespread outbreak, entire Kreise, particularly in rural districts, were completely unaffected. This circumstance leads me to conclude that whatever happened to affect the quality of the grain must have occurred in either the milling or storage. Our granaries are well designed, stoutly built and most carefully guarded. Therefore I believe that it is the mills that must attract our attention. Mills, and their yards and storage barns take up a great deal of space within the polity. Most, it is true, were built outside our towns' walls, but they were built during the previous age, and our towns have increased in size, to an extent where they now surround the older mill buildings. Given the insalubrious conditions of the fauberges, it would not surprise me in the least to find that one or more mills have succumbed to contamination. I have requested the Commissary-General provide me with details of all grain purchases in the weeks preceding the outbreak , o include details of from which mills the flour was purchased. He assures me that I shall have the information within the next se'ennight; once I have this information, I have the highest expectation of being able to identify where and when contaminated flour made its way into our commissariat system."

"And if you are wrong, Flick? What then? I have not forgotten that you suggested hat this outbreak was no accident?"

"Neither, Your Highness, had I. To a certain degree, I could almost wish it were some fell plot, it would make less work for myself, and von Smallhausen, than ploughing through what i suspect will turn out to be rather less than complete records. However, I feel that we must eliminate the improbable before turning to alternatives."

"The improbable, Flick?"

"Just so, Your Highness. I still have a feeling, too powerful to ignore, that the poisoning was no accident."

"Very well, Flick. Keep me informed, if you please. No... stay seated."

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Himmelstoss and the Order of the Boot

"Good afternoon, gentlemen. My apologies for dragging you away from your duties at a time, I am persuaded, that you have much to occupy your attention. The sad fact of the matter is that the source of the leak of our intentions has been discovered, and I have asked the two of you to attend me here in order that we may resolve this matter with the least possible disruption to our preparations for war."

"Of course, Highborn, we are, as always, at your disposal, but how we may be of assistance in a case of espionage eludes me."

"Thank you, Herr General. Now, much as it distresses me, I am forced to confess that the source of the leak is Oberst Himmelstoss."

"That buffoon!"

"Siegfried, a semblance of calm if you please. I know you despise Himmelstoss, and to a certain extent, I too hold him in some disregard. Having said thus, I am compelled to admit that the man has talents. Your pardon, Your Highness, we interrupt you."

"No, Herr General, this is why I requested your presence. I know Himmelstoss only through the meetings of the Military Council. He has appeared to me neither in the character of a buffoon, nor yet in the character of a genius. Yes, he has betrayed his trust, but in mitigation of this fact, it must be stated that he did not broadcast his news like seed upon the wind, but rather, in a letter to his wife, requesting that she make some domestic provision for his absence, he gave the reason for his absence that we were to go to war. Unfortunately, his wife, when she received the letter, was enduring a visit from her cousin, a citizen of Hannunter. Frau Himmelstoss, I am given to understand, is a bigger fool than her husband, and disclosed the import of the letter through a series of tearful exclamations. It would appear further, that the cousin, on her return to Hannunter immediately sought out the proprietor of Der Beobachter, with whom she is acquainted, and lost no time in imparting her chance-gathered news. So, gentlemen, it appear we are dealing with the consequences of an unfortunate chain of circumstances, rather than with a cunning plot! What I need from you, both, is advice: How do I make my displeasure known, without adversely affecting the army? I might add, that I have already received one recommendation, not from the army, I assure you, that I should cashier Himmelstoss without any further delay."

"You ask our advice, Highborn? Very well, I agree - get rid of the idiot!"

"A moment, if you please, Siegfried. For my part, I am not persuaded that cashiering is even part of the answer. And neither, I suspect, is Your Highness?"

"No, General, I am not so persuaded. I fear if Himmelstoss is sacked, and the reason for his sacking becomes known, as I am persuaded it will - no matter how far under the rose we try to keep it - then I feel sure that the morale of at least his Regiment will suffer. We must, also, take into consideration the damage that a disgruntled Himmelstoss could do our cause. By the very nature of his present employment, he is privy to many of our plans, and with all his faults he is a gifted administrator, well able to extrapolate our general readiness, from the condition of his own Regiment."

"A good point, Highborn. He is an able administrator, but I confess that I have always mistrusted his conduct, if he should ever take command in the field. Karl, perhaps, you have some, er... constructive thoughts?"

"Yes, I do. Your Highness, it is necessary that Himmelstoss be left in no doubt that he is to be punished for his appalling indiscretion, but he must also be kept where his actions may be easily observed. Is there not some suitable position in which he can be employed, yet at the same time be kept under watch?"

"Ha! Let him be Your Highness' Wagon Master General!"

"General von Farnim, I believe you have just struck upon the solution in which we stand so sorely in need!"

"But... but... but Highborn, I... I was jesting!"

"Yes, I rather thought that you were. But, d'ye know? It might, just might, be the very thing. A sideways promotion!"

"True, Your Highness, true, but...!"

"But what, General von Willich?"

"If Your Highness were to remove Himmelstoss from the command of his regiment and make him a... a..."

"Commissariat, Herr General?"

"Just so, Your Highness... a commissarit. He would have reason to feel aggrieved. It would also have a most singular appearance in the eyes of the army in general, and his own regiment in particular."

"But what, General, if the move were to be accompanied by a promotion?"

"Promotion!? Highborn - No!"

"Your Highness...! Outrageous! You cannot have considered..."

"Gentlemen. You forget yourselves! I command here! And if I say Himmelstoss is to be promoted; then promoted he will be! But, gentlemen, rest assured; I do understand your outrage. Himmelstoss will be promoted to the rank of Brevet General Der Brigade and appointed as Wagon Master General of the new Transport Korps. He will receive no addition to his current pay, neither will he be credited with any seniority for a period of at least five years. Indeed, I am persuaded for the moment that it is extremely unlikely that Herr General Himmelstoss will ever be substantiated in his new rank. I shall make quite clear to Himmelstoss the reasons for his unexpected advancement, and what shall be expected of him in the future. Let us make use of what little talents the man possess while we have need of them!"

"As Your Highness desires, it shall be done."

"Jawohl, Highborn!"

"Thank you gentlemen. I fully realise that there are other, more deserving candidates for promotion, who may feel slighted on being passed over. However, I am persuaded that they would wish for command of a regiment rather than a wagon train! To this end, please prepare for me, General von Willich, a list of those Oberstleutnants on the active list, who are fit for promotion in command of Infanterie Regiment Nr 1."

"Of course, Your Highness. By tomorrow noon?"

"Yes, Thank you gentlemen. You have my leave to depart."

Monday, 5 May 2008

What's the matter with Franz Himmelstoss?

"Well, this is a pretty kettle of fish, Flick!"

"Indeed, Your Highness."

"That's not very helpful, you know, Flick."

"Indeed, no, Your Highness. But if I may make so bold, it is Your Highness that wears the crown, ergo, it is for Your Highness to make the decisions."

"H'mm... and I suppose you think that being the case leaves you with clean hands?"

"Just so, Your Highness."

"D'ye know, Flick, at times you can be distinctly unpleasant."

"Once again, Your Highness, I am compelled to agree with Your Highness' reasoning."

"And, Flick, just how, may I ask did this letter come into your possession?"

"Is Your Highness, absolutely sure that Your Highness really desires to know this?"

"On reflection, Flick, probably not!"

"Very wise, Your Highness."

"Oh, wisdom has nothing to do with it, Flick. Merely a desire to... keep my hands clean, as it were."

"Touche! Your Highness. I am pleased to be the recipient of Your Highness' wit."

"Sarcasm, Flick?"

"Not at all Your Highness, I am, at the moment, totally sincere, for once."

"H'mm, yes, very well. But what the Deuce am I going to do about Himmelstoss?"

"If Your Highness, will permit...?"

"Go on on, man, go on. Spit it out!"

"If it were my decision, Your Highness, I would have him cashiered on the spot."

"A trifle drastic, perhaps, Flick?"

"No, Your Highness, if I may be so bold. The man is a fool. He could do no better, than to blurt our state secrets to his fat wife, who, if the truth be told, is a bigger fool than the man himself. That such an indiscretion could be perpetrated by one, who, may I remind Your Highness, commands a quarter of your force of Foot, speaks ill for the future, when, it may chance to occur that Himmelstoss may be compelled to make a decision that could affect not only the lives of those unfortunates who find themselves under his so-called leadership, but also affect the security and the future of Your Highness' realm and, er... family."

"There is much in what you say, Flick, but how the dev... how the deuce can I cashier the man on the eve of war? His regiment, which as you remind me, comprises a quarter of our Infantry, would be disrupted, and the news that he has betrayed his trust in such a foolish manner would damage the morale of the entire army... And what the devil do you mean by 'and, er... family'?"

"I crave Your Highness' pardon, if I have taken a liberty, but it has not escaped the attention of her servants, that Her Highness has, of late, been quite unwell, particularly in the mornings. Such news is bound to come, one might say almost inevitably, to my ears There is, however, Your Highness, absolutely no need for concern over further indiscretions; I have spoken to the women concerned, and made it tolerably clear to them, that if any whisper of an indisposition affecting her Highness should become common gossip, then I would be, er... vexed? Yes, vexed is, I believe, the word I used."

"H'mm... may be so, Flick, but I can assure you that where you might be vexed, I would be outraged, and her Highness, positively incandescent."

"If Your Highness will allow me, may I suggest that to the staff below stairs, my vexation is rather likely to cause more... more... concern, than Their Highness' anger."

"Are the Schloss staff really that terrified of you, Flick?"

"But of course, Your Highness. How else, when I have been to such pains to inculcate just that superstition amongst them?"

"Superstition, Flick? I thought you were an entirley rational being."

"Indeed, Your Highness, I rather pride myself that I am; however, being of a rational nature, I am fully persuaded that the common mass of humanity is not so, therefore I am prepared, quite rationally, to let their sometimes over-active imaginations dwell on the consequences of my vexation. Your Highness has, if I may make so bold, something of a reputation as an enlightened and intrinsically benevolent being. I, on the other hand, I am unburdened of such an opprobrious label."

"One day, Flick, you will go too far and then we shall see just how benevolent I am!"

"Just so, Your Highness."

"Flick! You are impossible! Perhaps you had better leave me for the time being. I must consider, carefully, what action to take over Himmelstoss."