The late winter sun shone feebly over the mist-shrouded city of Novi Byelgorod. The palace parade ground echoed to the tramp of boots and the shouts of drill sergeants.
Grand Prince Dmitry IV Dmitrovich of Velikye Byelgorodniya , dressed in the green-and-white uniform of a Colonel of Grenadiers, sat atop a splendid grey stallion which only served to accentuate his lack of stature, rather than augment his dignity as the ruler of a mighty state.
The contrast was made all the more glaring by the presence of Count Pavel Romanovich Peripatenko, the Prince's trusted companion and adviser. Peripatenko, an imposing man in his middle years, sat his horse like an officer of Cuirassiers, though it had been many a year since he had last served in the regiments. The Count was a man of his hands, still able to outshoot, outride, and outfight most younger men, and his gift for languages and ability to navigate the shoals of diplomacy had been instrumental in establishing many a useful alliance.
The Prince had singled him out more than a decade previously, and had let it be known that he was "to serve and advise his ruler, and act as Ambassador-at-Large of the Court of Velikye Byelgorodniya." The Count agreed to serve as commanded, though he had decided a short while thereafter to add the personal commitment, "and gently persuade our wise and beloved Prince of the consequences of his less practicable notions, for the good of the Realm, of course."
One of the more practicable notions the Prince had decided upon was the creation of a regiment of Grenadiers, and after six years in his service, the 1st Novi Byelgorod Grenadiers were shaping up nicely. The Count thought that this could only be a good thing, in light of the Nizhny Bublik Incident; the ruler of Saxe-Coburn und Buchholz was already massing troops in the disputed province, and Velikye Byelgoroniya needed well-drilled and well-equipped troops if the interlopers were to be sent packing.
The Prince gazed upon the regiment with undisguised pride,"What do you think of the new uniforms, Pavel Romanovich? Just arrived yesterday - the Grand Princess thinks they're rather spiffing!" The Prince was something of a magpie when it came to bright shiny things, and braid and buttons were no exception. This lot had them by the bucketload. The Count made a note to stop by the Quartermaster-General's office that afternoon to make sure there was still enough in the budget to cover shot and powder...
"Indeed, Sire," the Count agreed, "though that's a lot of officers for a grenadier regiment - is this just part of a larger Grenadier Brigade? A parade of their cadets and ensigns perhaps?"
"What?" The Prince was momentarily baffled. "No, that's the whole Regiment. What do you mean, 'a lot of officers'?" He began to point out individuals. "Those are private soldiers, those are their sergeants, there are the ensigns, and there are the officers..." The sentence trailed off as he saw that something was amiss.
"Hmmph." Pavel Romanovich was about to speak his mind. He always does that, thought the Prince, just before he delivers bad news...
"I think, Sire, that the Quartermaster-General may have supplied the wrong uniforms. They're ALL dressed as officers. I thought that was an awful lot of gold braid." The Count's face showed momentary alarm, as though an awful prospect had just crossed his mind. He set his jaw, and turned to his sovereign. "Sire, when the contract was signed for delivery of the uniforms, did Your Highness happen to catch the name of the supplier...?"
The Prince stared straight ahead, his breath clouding in the crisp air. "Erm... something like... Grubowitz and Sons...?"
The Count had to draw on all his reserves of diplomatic tact and self-control not to bellow a curse. The Grubers! Another branch of the same accursed family who had made their name as the worst cartographers, composers, engineers, architects and painters in Europe! And this time in tailoring? Rumour even spoke of a French branch of the family involved in the catering trade, Groubeur, but as no reports of mass poisonings had reached the Count's sources as yet, he had dismissed it as fiction. In the meantime though, he had to salvage something from this situation...
He straightened in the saddle and favoured his Prince with a smile.
"No matter, Sire; in fact, I was just thinking how very splendid they look. So splendid, in fact, that I cannot but concur with Your Highness' decision to make an anniversary gift of this fine Regiment to your beloved wife, our Most Serene Grand Princess, who will no doubt be overjoyed to serve as their Colonel-in-Chief!" Overjoyed at being put in ceremonial command of a regiment of well-built fellows all over six feet tall, the baggage, but let's be polite....
The Prince seized this conversational lifeline with all the gratitude of a drowning man. "Yes! Truly, Pavel Romanovich, her Highness will love having a regiment of her own! And of course, the Grand Princess' Own 1st Novi Byelgorod Grenadiers will have to be especially splendid!"
"Brilliant, Sire. And now, I must beg Your Highness' leave, as I will have to visit the Quartermaster to organise a uniform for the new Colonel-in-Chief." The Prince nodded, smiling with relief, as the Count saluted, took his leave and rode from the parade ground. He checked his pocket watch as he passed through the gate. Yes, he thought, enough time to horsewhip that idiot of a Quartermaster and still be home for tea...
It wasn't going to be such a bad day after all.