Monday, August 9, 2010


"I am very pleased to be able to meet with you, seƱor," de Cerveza said to the official of the Monte-Cristan Academie des Sciences. "His Majesty the High King will be equally grateful, should your Academie be able to shed some light on the debasement of our coinage."

The scientist nodded graciously, if a little shyly. "Mmmm, that is -- kind of you, Don Rafael-Vidkun," he said. "Thus far, we have been able to confirm that the metal in the coinage was not in fact zinc, or tin, as, aahh, first thought, but was, in fact, a rather, ahh, unusual metal called aluminium.

"As to who was responsible, or why they might have taken the action he, she, it, or they took, we, ahh, are unable to ascertain. Those considerations are, ahh, quite outside our area of expertise, as I'm certain the Don will understand," the scientist said with a lopsided smile and apologetic shrug. "Human motivation and behavior is something we of the Academie prefer to leave to diplomats...and the clergy, of course.

"Of course, if the source ever is discovered, the Academie would be very interested in that information."

Don Rafael-Vidkun nodded and smiled. "I read the confidential summary memorandum the Academie so thoughtfully provided," he said. "It seems this...aluminium of yours offers a number of potential metallurgical advantages, although the difficulty of obtaining and working it makes large-scale commercial use uneconomical at this time."

de Cerveza gathered papers into a leather portfolio. "I thank you once more, for my own account as well as on behalf of His Majesty the High King," he said to the scientist. Bowing, both took their leave.

Returning to the well-appointed inn in which he had taken rooms, de Cerveza found Havelocke the Henrovian taking his ease in the sitting room of their suite. "Were you able to learn anything among your contacts here about who might have been responsible for the debasement of the currency, my Colonel?"

Havelocke smiled. "Alas, it is Major now, don Rafael," he said. "I found no new information, but it is widely suspected that some odd metal was used, rather than the usual zinc or tin."

de Cerveza nodded, pouring wine from a crystal carafe. "The Academie confirmed it," he said. "They gave me a memorandum to read about this...aluminium of theirs. Official ministries being what they are, and judging by the look in the eye of the man with whom I just spoke, I should say that this wonder-metal has even more remarkable properties than they are letting on."

Havelocke nodded assent. "Seems a safe assumption, right enough," he said. Then, as if remembering something he'd forgotten, he spoke again. "Oh, I spoke with a man today who is somewhat acquainted with your man Schwinglein, and seems to get news from him now and again. He could not -- or did not, at any rate -- offer a reason, but the word from Nuevo Narviki is that everything is at sixes and sevens for some reason."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Two weeks earlier (continued)

A murmur of confusion, punctuated in one or two places by surprise and consternation, swept the chamber.

"But what means this 'devolucion,' Majesty?" asked Don Adolfo-Miguel de Soto, Minister of the Ports and Customs.

Joern Carlos smiled slightly, and by way of explanation, said, "The redoubtable and honorable Thanes of the Moerish Dominions and of the Cota Basquard have on more than one occasion offered to 'go it alone,' as it is said, out of pique over an inadequate heorthwerod gift. What we propose to to let them."

The High King motioned the sudden uproar to silence. "Gentlemen, please. Your concern is understandable, but consider: What we gain in revenue from the Khalifa's domains is minuscule, I believe" -- here he looked at Don Alejandro, who nodded assent -- "compared to what we spend keeping them quiet and pointed in more or less the same direction as the rest of La Union Real.

"Likewise, our frontier with los Basquardos is one long -- to say nothing of mountainous -- smuggler's playground. What the Treasury spends each year attempting to keep the level of smuggling below the level of 'gross embarrassment to the Crown' is not remotely offset by the customs duties from the ports in Cota Basquard.

"But what of the army?" someone -- the High King couldn't tell whom, in the crowded chamber and general hubbub -- asked. "What about the continuing threat of...." Here the speaker trailed off, but more than one pair of eyes slid to the direction of Llano del Caballero, the Plain of the Plain Thanes, the border hills, and beyond those -- mighty Gallia.

The High King nodded. "In years past, it has been the policy of this House to seek to become a Great Power through acquisition of territory. However, it is our belief that that game is just about played out, and that the returns no longer justify the blood and treasure we must spend to achieve them.

"Conversely, we learn that the colony at Endopotamia is beginning to show real signs of economic vitality" -- another confirming nod from de Plimoto-Volare -- "and the treasury not being bottomless despite the best efforts of the good Don Alejandro, it is now our settled view that what we spend buying off the Khalifa and the Thane of the Cota Basquard every year would be better spent building a merchant marine, along with a navy to protect it. We should also be able to increase the proficiency of the regular army.

"In addition, we see opportunities for increased trade at reduced cost with the lands we send their way.

"Finally," he added with a wry smile after a pause, "it has entered our mind that the legitimacy of the Crown should rest on a firmer foundation than 'take our word for it, we are the anointed of the Almighty.' The Britannian, Locke, has written much -- and well -- on this subject; we have had occasion to have some of his work translated into Scandalusian lately."

The High King rose from his place at the head of the table. "Gentlemen, we realize that we have given you much to consider, and with little warning. We will convene again in a few days, to hear your views -- but we must be candid: our mind is set upon this course. In the meantime, Hasta la vista."

The assembled ministers and clerks bowed and backed through the double doors of the chamber as the High King watched. Once safely out of view, they turned and headed in various directions, many in search of pen, ink, and paper.

One or two ran.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Two Weeks Earlier

"And now, your Majesty, we come to the matter of the annual heorthwerod gifts," said Don Alejandro, Count de la Plimoto-Volare, Chancellor of the Exchequer to High King Joern Carlos XI. Though Don Alejandro to all appearances was as composed as ever, the High King knew him well enough to detect a minute hesitation in his voice and a certain wariness in his eyes. He cocked his head and offered his longtime servant a subdued smile of wry affection.

"We take it that some of our stalwart Thanes of La Union Real wish for larger gifts this coming year, Don Alejandro?"

Don Alejandro nodded. "Yes, Your Majesty."

"Very well. Don Alejandro," said the High King with a sigh. "Who wants what?"

"Well, Your Majesty...the Khalifa is requesting an amount that would nearly double last year's gift."

The High King quirked a corner of his mouth. "The Khalifa, peace be upon him, has made a great show in recent months of communicating with great ostentation with fellow believers over the seas. It is as if he wishes to send us some sort of message, is it not?"

The assembled ministers of the High King's Council -- Scandalusians and Cuatrofenians to a man -- murmured assent.

"Leave aside for the moment our inclinations in the matter, Don Alejandro. What are the odds we could actually give him what he asks?"

"None at all, Your Majesty, at least not without incurring ruinous tax increases in Scandalusia and Cuatrofenia, and increasing import duties at the ports in both the Moerish Dominions and the Cota Basquard."

"In which case the Moers and los Basquardos would simply indulge their penchant for smuggling to an even greater degree than they already do," mused the High King. "One cannot entirely blame them, we suppose, but it is ridiculously hard to protect our smugglers from pirates and thieves without revenue."

"We are still attempting to determine the extent to which the coinage has been debased," Don Alejandro added. "We think we have been able to contain the worst of the damage, but we have not been able to ascertain who is behind it. It is rumored that the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition will offer the Crown its services in the matter," he added.

The High King's face clouded. "We are not over fond of the Holy Inquisition," he said, "but we are even less fond of whomever it is that is responsible for the debasement of the coinage. We would almost suspect the involvement of agents of the Khalifa...or of his foreign associates, but we are well aware that there is no evidence of that."

Joern Carlos paused. "What are the other requests, Don Alejandro?"

"The Thane of the Cota Basquard has requested an increase of thirty percent." At an inquiring look from the High King, Don Alejandro shook his head slightly -- no, we can't afford that either. "The Thane of Cuatrofenia," he went on, "has indicated he will be more than satisfied with the same gift as last year, under the current pressing circumstances. None of the Thanes Minor have asked for increases in heorthwerod gifts," he added.

Well, may Heaven bless Duke Miguel and the Thanes Minor, at any rate.... The High King steepled his fingers and mused for some moments. At last he spoke again. "I have been reading of late, of a word much in use in Britannia. We are not experts in the Britannian tongue, but it would render in Scandalusian, I believe, more or less as 'devolucion.'"

To be continued....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Around la Union Real

Don Diego-Halfdane de la Chevrolet-Vega scanned the astounding document again, hoping against hope that he had somehow managed to read it entirely wrong. Finally he dropped it on the desk as if it were a live serpent, and turned an imploring glance to the rather nondescript individual who had delivered it. "Schwinglein, are you absolutely certain of this letter?"

"Of course, I was not there myself, my lord," replied Schwinglein in a calm voice, "but he who gave it me certainly was. Also, when I left Nuevo Narvik three days ago, the Ministry of the Interior was boiling like an overturned beehive."

Don Diego-Halfdane tapped the mahogany desk, gazing out the window over the beloved hills of his home in northeast Cuatrofenia, near the Gallian frontier. How much longer, he mused, would those hills repose in peace?

"Once again we are in your debt, Schwinglein," he said at length. "You had better rest today and then return to the capital with all speed. I suspect it would be best for you to be near His Majesty the High King in the days to come. I myself will set out for Nuevo Narvik the day after tomorrow; I fear it will take that long to put my affairs here in order."

Don Diego-Halfdane was a nobleman and a diplomat, not a merchant, but he knew how to read an account ledger. On those narrow terms, the contents of the letter made a certain sense, but from every other frame of reference he knew of, it reeked of madness.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Miles to Go Before We Sleep

At a gentle pressure on the reins from the coachman, the horses pulling the four-in-hand slowed from a languid trot to an even more languid walk.

Sensing the change in pace, Don Rafael-Vidkun de Cerveza leaned over and drew back the door-curtain. "What the devil could be the matter this time -- another bridge washed out, roadway flooded, highwaymen, trolls, what?" he said.

Havelocke, who had been dozing in a corner of the opposite bench, arms folded, came awake on the instant and straightened in the seat.

A young officer of the carriage's escort, a cornet of the blanco horse regiment Norte del Alasqua, reined up next to the carriage as it bumped along and saluted the dim face in the window. "Forgive my intrusion, excellency, but we are less than a mile from the frontier at San Bruno. I thought it would be your wish to know."

de Cerveza, pique forgotten or abandoned, nodded in businesslike acknowledgement. "Very good, cornet. Please return to your station," he said, nodding again as the officer saluted and spurred away.

"Madre de Dios," de Cerveza said, "I feared we'd never get here." Havelocke's only reply was a smile that could have meant anything.

Friday, July 10, 2009

El Ejercito Magnifico, Regimental Guide (5)

Today's subject is Regimiento linea de Principe Corona, occasionally styled HRH Own Foot in English. The Crown Prince, when there is one, is the colonel-proprietor of this regiment. It is considered in foreign circles to be something of a "barracks show-horse" regiment, because it always shows up well in the annual maneuvers, yet is rarely (like the Guardia Real) hazarded in the field.

The black facings and lace worn by the regiment are a recent development, introduced by HRH Joern Carlos three years ago, when he took formal proprietorship at the age of sixteen.

Both the Leibfahne and Regimentsfahne are shown.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Now It Can Be Told: The Crown Prince's Ride (part the second)

The tent flap opened, and an aide-de-camp ducked through. "Begging Your Royal Highness's leave to report!" he said. "The Regimiento Ligera de Borrachin and one regiment of the Arnauts have formed line opposite each other on the parade ground! At least some of the soldiers appear to be in arms!"

Joern Carlos swore under his breath. Rising to his feet, he drained the glass, tossed it aside uncaring, took up his uniform coat and swordbelt in one hand, and with the other seized the aide by a lapel. "Summon Capitan Cebolla and a troop of lanceros, you horse's ass...and get out of my tent!" He shoved the luckless aide back through the flap, sending him reeling into the dusk of the courtyard. The aide picked himself up, bowed hastily, and fled in the direction of the lancers' encampment as Joern Carlos buckled on his sword and donned the coat of Regimiento Principe Corona. "I want my horse here in thirty seconds," he bellowed, "and I'll gut the wretch who dares to bring it in thirty-one!"

In rather less than thirty seconds, he was swinging into the saddle. As he rode through the gate, he looked over his shoulder and saw Capitan Cebolla and perhaps a dozen lanceros a hundred or so paces behind, with more strung out in a ragged file receding into the distance and gathering night. "Follow me!" the Crown Prince called, and spurred his mount to a gallop, heading for the parade ground.

"What in the name of Lost Ulfda is the meaning of this madness?" demanded a hatless Colonel Don Miguel de Cartulina, proprietor of Regimiento Ligera de Borrachin. The object of the inquiry, a young fire-eater of a junior officer by the name of Teniente Cristobal Comedor de Fuego, looked coolly over his shoulder as he attempted to dress the ranks of the regiment as they jeered insults across the field at the Moers and were jeered in return. "There is no need for you to witness this, Don Miguel," said the lieutenant. "We have borne the insults of those enemies of the Faith long enough. Now the brigands have taken unconscionable liberties among the camp followers, and killed a soldier of the regiment who dared object. Two others are wounded; one will not likely live the night.

"They must be taught a lesson in manners, and it were better if the Colonel were to absent himself."

Don Miguel clapped a hand to his sword hilt. "Fool! Provocation or no, do you think to start a civil war all by yourself?" He turned to the line of soldiers. "Men of de Borrachin! I order you to stand down at once and return to your encampment! Obey now and I promise you will receive no punishment!" Well, you won't all be executed, he thought.

A hand on his sword arm. Don Miguel turned to find Teniente Comedor de Fuego and another junior officer he did not recognize in the twilight, the latter with drawn sword and pistol in hand. "I am most dreadfully sorry, Don Miguel," said Comedor de Fuego, "but I must ask you to depart. How you choose to do so is your choice."

Don Miguel spluttered, face purpling, but before he could speak, another commotion drew the attention of those nearby. A small party of horsemen clattered onto the parade ground between the gathering lines. The lead horseman spurred toward the colors of de Borrachin and reined up.

"Give me that, you worthless get of a whore!" shrieked the horseman, and Don Miguel knew the voice. His Royal Highness! Oh, that will cast oil upon the waters. Greek fire, more likely! If I am very very fortunate, the Almighty will strike me with lightning now, that I may not see what is about to unfold.

Seizing the Regimentsfahne from a stunned color sergeant, Joern Carlos wheeled his horse and, followed by Capitan Cebolla of the lanceros, spurred toward the outlandish (to the eyes of the Scandalusians) color party of the Arnauts. As he approached within twenty paces of the Arnauts, he tossed the regimental colors, pole vertical, behind him. Cebolla alertly plucked the Regimentsfahne from the air, and the Crown Prince seized the gonfalon-like banner of the Arnauts before any of the Moers could mount an effective protest.

Signaling Cebolla to follow, he wheeled again and rode up the lines to the end, where he turned and rode all the way back down. Three times he did this: then, returning to the center of the lines, fifty or so paces from either, he reined up his sweating, trembling horse and dismounted.

Joern Carlos accepted the Regimentsfahne of de Borrachin from Capitan Cebolla, drove the butt-spikes of each of the banners into the turf so that they stood unsupported, and drew his sword.

"Now!" he shouted, turning to face each of the lines in succession, "if you miserable catamites wish to see a man's blood, perhaps among you there are those with the courage to try to see mine! Eh? Kill me, if any of you have anything between your legs!

"Well? Come on! Go ahead! What are you waiting for? Deliver us all to the Gallians, to salve your pitiful pride, pride you have not begun to earn!"

As he harangued the opposing troops, he could see non-comissioned officers ranging up and down the lines, apparently exhorting the soldiers to stand down. In the deepening twilight it was hard to be certain, but he thought he might have seen an Arnaut start to level a musket, only to be clubbed to the ground by the man next to him.

Presently, both lines fell silent and still. After a moment, Don Miguel crossed the field, and an officer of the Arnauts did likewise. "Your Royal Highness," the latter said, bowing, "I am Tariq el Fadil, second in command of this regiment. The senior officer cannot be found, and I fear the worst. I regret that I was unable to prevent my men from acting as they have done." The darkly handsome, purple-coated, red-trousered officer faced the Crown Prince with steady gaze and composed features -- if not without fear, certainly with equanimity.

The Crown Prince mastered himself with an effort he made as extravagant as he could manage. Nodding curtly to the Arnaut officer, he turned slightly to take in both el Fadil and Don Miguel with a scowl. "This intolerable breach of discipline..." he began through gritted teeth and then favored both with another effort at self-mastery "...I am prepared to overlook, to the extent practicable, given unfamiliarity of each with the customs of the other, along with the unseasonable heat.

"Some gesture I must make owing to any killed or wounded in this affair -- it might be easier, el Fadil, were your commanding officer never to be found; we must take notice of a murder, but we may shrug at a mystery -- but I think it better not to inflame passions among our peoples in this delicate time.

"Here is my will in this matter," Joern Carlos said, raising and harshening his voice to be heard up and down the lines. "Your regiments will return to their respective camps and stack arms -- and colors -- along the road. These will be collected by Infanteria de Principe Corona and the Lanceros de Cuatrofenia. The regiments will participate in the remainder of the exercise without arms or colors, these to be returned at the conclusion of the season, provided there are no further incidents of any kind.

"You two" -- he gesticulated at Don Miguel and el Fadil -- "I shall hold personally responsible for the conduct of your commands. Fail me, and I'll have your guts for garters and your skulls for spittoons! You are dismissed!" Without another word or a backward look, he sheathed his sword, stalked to his horse, swung into the saddle, and rode off at a canter. Behind him, the lines began to break up, as non-commissioned officers took their troops in hand.

A performance worthy of the Henrovian stage, Joern Carlos thought. Again. What we do for those in our care....

Though he did not permit himself to sag in the saddle, he lowered his chin a little, and his scowl deepened.

(Editor's note: I had to make some changes to be consistent with prior accounts. Also, I wonder if I'm not getting a little too ambitious.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Now It Can Be Told: The Crown Prince's Ride

Blast, thought Crown Prince Joern Carlos as he, unable to sleep in the unseasonable heat, stewed in his tent. The fall maneuvers were decidedly less crisp than the previous year's, the weather was oppressively warm and muggy for the place (Llano del Caballero, the Plain of the Plain Thanes) and time (late winter), and the two regiments of Moerish Arnauts accompanying the Corps of Observation were maddeningly enigmatic.

The officers and men were plainly brave as individuals, and they appeared to have more in the way of expert marksman than anyone had a right to expect, but they knew nothing of the discipline of the line, of the cadenced step to the drum, or to the measured volleys that ensured a battalion always had some firepower in reserve against the sudden appearance of a previously unmarked or concealed foe. Instead, these Arnauts almost reveled in their individual prowess. Worse, some of the officers, particularly the younger ones, were almost openly insolent toward what they called the soldiers of the Franj. This boded ill, if the Crown Prince were any judge, for the future tranquility of La Union Real.

For his own account, Joern Carlos would have been just as pleased to send the Moerish Dominions on their own way, could he be assured that they would not turn immediately to expansionist Mohammedan powers, or anyone else who might wish Casa de Yayubetja ill. All too well he knew he would find no such assurance this side of the gates of Heaven.

Fond as he was (despite the whispers of which he was well aware) of his father the High King, the Crown Prince thought his father entirely too sanguine about the prospects for continued peace in La Union Real. A large and powerful Gallia, restive Moers, and the other intrigues that always swarmed like lice across the continent made the position of La Union Real precarious. Large enough to draw suspicious, covetous, fearful, and/or unfriendly eyes from a number of quarters, yet not large enough to be able to bid defiance to all foes without powerful and reliable friends, Casa de Yayubetja stood poised on the razor's edge, Joern Carlos thought. The Crown Prince had no desire to be the man who reigned over the dissolution of his country.

So he sat in shirt sleeves in the dimly lit tent, and sweated, and stewed, and drank claret, lamenting that he had not even a detachment of his all-female household guard, the Guard Gretadiers, to cavort with. Or was it disport? He had always had trouble untangling the troublesome English verbs. He had left his guard-cum-seraglio back in Nuevo Narviki, thinking it best to cultivate a serious, sober, professional mien at this season's maneuvers. Stupid. At the very next opportunity, he mused, he would invite two Gretadiers to his tent, cavort with one, disport with the other, and see which seemed more appropriate. Stupid polyglot tongue, English, he thought, taking another swallow of claret. The Gretadiers were not the only (heh) "monstrous regiment," as the saying went, in Europa, he knew, but the custom in other lands was that to admit only maidens to the ranks. Where was the sport in that?

The Crown Prince's increasingly morose reverie was suddenly interrupted by hoofbeats and a flurry of excited voices outside the tent.

To be continued....

Thursday, February 26, 2009

El Ejercito Magnifico, Regimental Guide (4)

Today we turn our attention to the pride of the Amarillo, the Guardia Real. Originally the regiment was three battalions strong; more recently it has been reorganized, the grenadiers of the original battalions being converged to form a fourth battalion, the Granadaros Real.

The regiment's battle record is curiously cursory, due in part (it is said) to the extraordinary expense of its uniforms. The proprietor of the regiment is traditionally the High King himself, and the expenses of the regiment are drawn from the household budget.
Both the Leibfahne (in this case, the royal
banner of Casa de Yayubetja) and the Regimentsfahne of the First Battalion are included.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Report from the exercises

Details are as yet sketchy, but a despatch from the training grounds of El Ejercito Magnifico suggests that a serious internal incident was narrowly averted. Apparently, a running dispute between officers of the Regimento-Ligera de Borrachin and one of the two regiments of Arnauts of the Moerish Dominions participating in maneuvers with El Ejercito Magnifico nearly came to blows. It is said that violence was averted by the personal intervention of the Crown Prince himself, although it is not yet known what HRH Joern Carlos actually did.

More details will be related as they become available. As of this writing, the implications for internal relations between the Moerish Dominions and the Union Real are unknown, but potentially serious.