Sunday, October 23, 2016

Subterfuges, Ruses de Guerre, and Other Falsehoods

It was another glorious morning in Novi Byelgorod, as the Grand Prince Dmitry IV embarked upon his third panic attack of the day. Pyotr Afanasyovich Bibliotekhsky, the Court Librarian, was following the Prince up and down the salon with bundles of maps, attempting to calm the situation. As the scholar was himself of a particularly nervous disposition, this wasn't helping.

The Grand Princess Olga sipped her tea and watched the pair with ill-disguised impatience. This was not how a Grand Prince was meant to behave. 

She had done her dynastic duty to her Prince and husband by producing an heir, a spare, and a daughter who might one day prove marriageable to a suitable ruler. She was determined not to risk her life (or her figure) with any more childbearing, and had made it firmly understood that she preferred to maintain a separate household in the East Wing of the sprawling Palace. 

Ordinarily, she left ruling to the ostensible rulers and declined to interfere in affairs of state, but matters were getting out of hand. She lifted a perfect hand to beckon a servant, and whispered to the footman from behind her fan. He nodded and left the room.

The Grand Prince was now in full flight.

"The Herzog's letter tells us that they're NOT in Nizhny Bublik! What on earth is going on? Am I plunging the nation into war for no reason? Am I making a ghastly mistake? Or am I imagining all this?"

"Sire, I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation..." Bibliotekhsky offered lamely. "Perhaps the Herzog has gone mad? There have been rumours of a strain of insanity in his family..."

Minister for State Security
Baron _____ _____of _____
The footman reappeared; "The Minister for State Security, Baron _____ _____of _____", he announced, effortlessly pronouncing a succession of blanks.

A tapestry at the opposite end of the room was flipped aside by the opening of a hidden oaken panel. The man who stepped into the room was dressed in the manner of a nobleman, but entirely in grey, without any of the colour which might otherwise be expected in a court functionary. His garments served only to accentuate his utter lack of distinguishing features.

Princess Olga, completely unfazed by the unorthodox arrival, raised her voice to greet the spymaster.

"Ah, Baron ____, so good of you to take time from your busy schedule to not join us!" Bilbliotekhsky dropped his maps in consternation and immediately fell to his hands and knees to retrieve them.

Prince Dmitry  spun about to peer up at the stranger who had materialised behind him. "Who the Devil are you?"

The Baron nodded in token of a bow. "Your Majesty, I am pleased to act in the capacity of head of your intelligence apparatus," he said in even tones. "However, Sire, I must stipulate that any attempt to confirm my position or role within the organisation, or even my identity, will be met with the most stringent denials. To put it simply, I'm not here, I'm not speaking to you now, and I don't actually exist in any official sense."

Dmitry's brow furrowed as he tried to take this in. At least he's stopped gibbering like an idiot, thought the Princess. She stood and glided over to her husband, deftly navigating a path around the crawling Librarian.

"Husband, Baron ____ is here to clarify the current situation in Nizhny Bublik. He has access to sources of information which are completely trustworthy. He will be able to shed light on the somewhat... odd response to Your ultimatum."

____ smiled a barely perceptible smile, acknowledging the Princess' confidence in his organisation. "Your Majesty is most perceptive. Sire, this is what is known in intelligence circles as 'disinformation'. Falsehood promulgated as fact, to promote the interests of the perpetrator. A ruse de guerre, if you will. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Saxe-Coburnskis are telling whoppers to throw you off balance. Though I dare say that this is obvious to Your Majesty...?"

"So... the Saxe-Coburnskis have invaded Nizhny Bublik? I'm not imagining things?"

"Yes, Your Majesty, they have, and no, Your Majesty, you're not. Though it is said that their forces have been invited by their puppet Markgraf to 'protect Saxe-Coburn und Buchholz's commercial interests' quote unquote."

Dmitry's breathing had returned to something approaching normal. "That's more... disinformation?"

"Precisely, Your Majesty!"

"Oh. Good. Thank you for clearing that up."

"Then I shall return to the Bureau and prepare further initiatives to confound the evil machinations of the Saxe-Coburnskis. With your permission, Your Majesties...?" The Baron strode across the room to a bookcase, pushing it aside and vanishing into the corridor thus revealed. It swung shut behind him with a click.

"Thank God, Your Majesty!" quavered Bibliotekhsky from his position on the carpet. "It is most fortunate that we can rely on the talents of Baron ____!"

The Princess' face was a picture of bland innocence. "Baron who? I'm sure I don't know who you might mean,"she said, turning her gaze upon the Prince.

He looked back at her and the kopeck dropped. "Yes, Bibliotekhsky, who is this 'baron' person of whom you speak? There's nobody here save the three of us!"

Meanwhile, inside the war room...

"I told you it wouldn't work Hugo!" growls Herzog Mikhail, referring to the misinformation campaign regarding the presence of Saxe-Coburn und Bucholz troops in the disputed province of Oberer Süßen Bagel. "They might be cabbage-headed but they CAN use their eyes and ears sir."

"Yes sire, it appears you were correct after all." replied Generaloberst Hugo von Guus-Steppe. At the sight of a arched regal brow he quickly amends "I mean OF COURSE you were right sire, I simply meant it was worth a try..." [ahem!]

Both legible and accurate... Clearly not a Gruber original map!
"Hmmmm..." mutters Herzog Mikhail returning to the map table, apparently already distracted from what could have been an embarrassing contretemps, for Generaloberst Hugo at least. 'There's nothing for it then, we'll have to move in. Now where's the damned map?" he demands.

"This is it, the one with the beetroot for a compass rose and place names written upside down." answers the general.

"What? This thing? I thought it was a drop-sheet left behind by the painters! No wonder we're at war Hugo. Our disinformation plan is a shambles and our cartographer-in-chief draws with less skill than a... umm... no, wait, it will come to me... umm... Blast! You know what I mean. He CAN'T draw and he has no sense of direction for goodness sake!"

"We'll just have to make the best of it sire. After all, if we keep advancing North we'll eventually meet the enemy. Given the amount of vegetable matter they consume we'll have a good two or three days warning before contact. Our only problem will be the men keeping their own food down with the smell..."

"Very well then. Who have you put in charge by the way? Someone competent I hope!" says Herzog Mikhail in response.

"Absolutely sire. I've selected Generalleutnant Karl Vorwarts-mein-Kinder. Everyone else is on leave unfortunately." replies Generaloberst Hugo.

"But he's 102 years old and blind! He can't read anything at all, let alone a map!" cries the Herzog.

"Exactly my point sire..."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

War Declared!

This morning a courier arrived at the ducal palace of Saxe-Coburn und Bucholz, bearing a a list of demands from the cabbage-loving upstart "Grand Prince" Dmitry IV Dmitrovich of Velikye Byelgorodniya.

The demands:
  1. All forces of the Duchy of Saxe-Coburn und Buchholz to quit the province of Nizhny Bublik forthwith.
  2. Markgraf Boris Ivanovich to be handed over to the Velikye Byelgorodniyan ambassadors to stand trial on charges of treason.
  3. Herzog Mikhail to make recompense and pay reparations to the Grand Prince to the amount of 100,000 gold crowns.
  4. All border posts to be restored and repainted in the appropriate colours.
  5. All sable hats to be rounded up and handed over for destruction in a ceremonial bonfire.
These shameful accusations cannot stand. In response, Herzog Mikhail Johann von Hollerenschaut IV has the following to say:
  1. At present there are no forces of Saxe-Coburn und Bucholz within the borders of Nizhny Bublik. How can something be withdrawn which is not in place? Clearly Dmitry IV has mistaken his own troops for those of Saxe-Coburn und Bucholz. Perhaps a visit to Gruber's Opticians (not by appointment) is in order?
  2. Markgraf Boris Ivanovich is clearly a Velikye Byelgorodniyan plant. With such a Slavic name how could he possibly be in any way related to Saxe-Coburn und Bucholz? Dmitry IV may do with him as he wishes.
  3. Herzog Mikhail will make no recompense for actions he did not undertake. Regardless, Saxe-Coburn und Bucholz does not use the debased "crown" as it's unit of currency, preferring a much more sensible monetary system.
  4. Saxe-Coburn und Bucholz is in no way responsible for the border posts of Velikye Byelgorodniya and will not enter into negotiations or accede to demands to provide trade labour for their maintenance.
  5. You can stick your sable hats where the sun doesn't shine!
In light of the above and as a consequence of the aggressive posture of Dmitry IV a state of  war now exists between Velikye Byelgorodniya and Saxe-Coburn und Bucholz. My God have mercy on our souls.

Friday, October 21, 2016

An Ultimatum

The winds of war are blowing! Or maybe that's just the cabbage.

In the teahouses of the capital, the citizens talk of nothing else.

An ultimatum is being delivered to Herzog Mikhail of Saxe-Coburn und Buchholz containing the following demands;

  1. All forces of the Duchy of Saxe-Coburn und Buchholz to quit the province of Nizhny Bublik forthwith.
  2. Markgraf Boris Ivanovich to be handed over to the Velikye Byelgorodniyan ambassadors to stand trial on charges of treason.
  3. Herzog Mikhail to make recompense and pay reparations to the Grand Prince to the amount of 100,000 gold crowns.
  4. All border posts to be restored and repainted in the appropriate colours.
  5. All sable hats to be rounded up and handed over for destruction in a ceremonial bonfire.

Failure to comply with these conditions will result in a state of war between the Grand Principality of Velikye Byelgorodniya and the Duchy of Saxe-Coburn und Buchholz.

The enemy has been warned!

Now, if only the generals can decided where to strike the first blow...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tensions mount at the border!

The sound of boot heel echoes heavily in the halls of the Ducal residence, followed by an insistent pounding at the door to the conference room. Irritated by the interruption to his morning routine Herzog Mikhail looks up, a frown slowly growing on his aristocratic forehead.

"What is it now?" he demands of Generaloberst Hugo von Guus-Steppe.

"A message sire. From the border sire." replies the General. "You remember we sent scouts to confirm early reports of enemy forces concentrating just across the border in Velikye Byelgorodniyan territory?"

"Ah, yes of course. Well, don't just stand there man, send him in!"

"At once sire." mutters the General, already turning to the guard and clicking his fingers to indicate the door be opened and the courier admitted.

Feldwebel Ulfric Gruber of the Korps von Führern enters, crosses the room and snaps to attention, carefully looking into the empty space between the room's two occupants.

"Oh. It's you..." growls Herzog Mikhail. "Where's your idiot uncle Franz Gruber then? I'm sure you were sent out together."

"Ah, well, yes we were sire." stammers Feldwebel Gruber. "That is, mostly sire. When I could keep him in sight sire. He was right behind me a few minutes ago. I think he turned left at the kitchens. He insists there's a shortcut to here from there. Sire."
Velikye Byelgorodniyan scouts at the border

"Excellent! Some good news then!" replies Herzog Mikhail rubbing his hands gleefully and grinning like a man who's just found out the Beetroot Surprise he had for breakfast actually contained beetroot. "We won't be seeing him for a couple of weeks at the very least. Now we can get on with things knowing if we do go to war it will be against the right people and at the right place and time!"

Generaloberst von Guus-Steppe descends into a fit of coughing before gathering himself and demanding "Well, out with it man! What's your report?"

Conscious he's onto a good thing and not likely to get a dressing down after all Feldwebel Gruber pours out his report in a breathless rush. "Sir! I have to report our information is correct sir. Velikye Byelgorodniyan forces are massing just North of Bystro at Glob. It appears they intend to cross into Nizhny Bublik very soon now sir. At least that's what it looks like sir. That's all sir!"

"Well done Gruber." replies the General. "You may go now. Don't bother looking for your uncle. That's an order by the way. Do NOT look for him. Is that clear?"

"Yes sir!" confirms Feldwebel Gruber. "Crystal clear sir!". That said he spins on his heel and exits as fast as possible, hardly able to believe his luck.

A heavy silence falls as both men contemplate the news. "I told you Hugo, did I not? They can't be trusted. Cursed vegetable obsessed northerners, you just CAN'T trust them!"

"Yes, sire, you did say that as I recall. Several times in fact. Just this morning." replies von Guus-Steppe. "What would you like to do now sire? Send an envoy? Open negotiations? Something else?"

"Negotiations be damned Hugo. Summon the General Staff. It appears we're going to war at last..."

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Regimental Colour and Uniform of the Kholodniyy Borscht Infantry Regiment

The city of Kholodniyy Borscht in the province of Krashdipezantsk presents its own infantry regiment for review.

Known in the province as 'The Unbeetables', the regiment has been raised by the merchants and beet farmers of the city.

The regimental colours display The Beet Rampant in gold, with the Velikye Byelgorodniyan crown above, and the Cyrillic initials of the city to either side.

The regimental colours are echoed in the soldiers' uniforms, which are dyed using pigments derived from the finest beets. The coat buttons are emblazoned with The Beet Rampant.

The regimental quick march is The Beet of a Different Drummer, while the slow march is an arrangement of the popular folk song, The Beet My Heart Missed.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Regimental Colour and Uniform of the Kapusta Zemlya Infantry Regiment

From the province of Kapusta Zemlya, the fertile heartland of Velikye Byelgorodniya, comes the infantry regiment of the same name.

Variously known as 'The Cabbage Eaters', 'The Trumpeters', or 'The Old Combustibles', the regiment takes pride of place at the green, leafy heart of the Byelgorodniyan military system.

The regimental colours display The Rose of Byelgorodnyia (known to less poetic souls as 'the cabbage') in gold, with the Velikye Byelgorodniyan crown above, and the Cyrillic initials of the province to either side.

The regimental colours are echoed in the soldiers' uniforms. Although not visible in the picture, the coat buttons are emblazoned with the heraldic cabbage.

The regimental march is The Wind That Shakes The Cabbage, a mournful ditty for trumpet, pipes, and surprised horse.