Monday, 21 April 2014

Liaisons amoureux et curieux

The now-quiet town of Lehmangraz.

“You’re the second invalid I’ve had to tend this month.” Ursula poured two glasses of white wine and handed one to Horatio.

He grinned and shifted his arm in the fresh sling she’d tied. “Who was the other lucky fellow?”

She sipped and eyed him. “Who says it was a man?”

“Oh, just a guess.”

“Well, it’s a lucky one. It was Konrad. He’s on the mend.”

“I’m glad. Nice fellow.”

Ursula snuggled up alongside him on the bed. From here she had a good view out the bay window. As commander of the gunboat flotilla Horatio had a choice room overlooking the naval yard and the river beyond. Parties of sailors, marines and yard workers moved here and there, clearing up the worst damage suffered in the raid. A miasma of wet burnt wood hung over all. She noticed the marines seemed to move with almost manic energy, as if eager to make up in some way for their deficiency in the recent fighting.

Horatio must have guessed her thoughts. “To be fair they couldn’t help it, my love. They were pressed into action half-trained and the enemy took them by surprise to boot. I think they’ll shape up given time and patience.”

“They should have enough of both. The army of Dunkeldorf-Pfühl took a beating, and Randstadt is under siege. I can’t see an occasion arising where the marines will be needed before the end of the war.”

“I wouldn’t speak too soon, dearest. The light infantry raid caught us all on the hop.”

Ursula set her glass aside and twisted around to press closer against his side. She gazed into his eyes and stroked his cheek. “But their mission ultimately failed – thanks to you.”

He gave a soft chuckle. “Oh, I’m quite the hero.” Draining his glass he put it on the bedside table and took her in his arms. “I missed you!”

“And I you.” They kissed, and she stroked his wounded arm. “Will you need to wear this for much longer?”

“Only a week, according to our surgeon. The rascal also wanted to bleed me, but I told him I’d already shed enough blood for the cause.”

She lowered her voice to a sultry tone. “It won’t... hinder you at all?”

His smile widened to a grin. “Not in the least...”

Matters had just become interesting when the sound of pounding feet on the staircase interrupted their idyll. Moments later somebody knocked on the door with a rapid tattoo. “Urgent dispatch from General Rauppen-Schlepper, sir!”

“Can’t it wait?” Horatio called peevishly.

“The courier needs a reply, sir.” The man sounded contrite. Ursula sensed he knew he intruded upon his commander at a delicate moment.

Horatio groaned. “Sorry, my love. I’ll have to take this.”

Ursula dived under the bedclothes. “Schieße! What timing!”

Horatio rolled off the bed, donned his dressing gown and answered the summons. He glanced at the message the man handed him. “I’ll be down directly.”

“Sir!” Footsteps clumped away. Horatio closed the door and returned to the bed. “It’s from the general, all right. It seems one Lieutenant Mary Amadeus has come up with a scheme to shorten the siege of Randstadt and we’re required to render assistance.”

“Mary A!” Ursula sat up and took the message from him. She scanned it. “Old Rauppen-Schlepper doesn’t say what scheme she has in mind of course, but knowing her it’ll be a corker! Ah..!” She read the remainder of the script. “He wants you to lose not a moment in setting out.”

“Such is the life of a naval officer.” He eyed her, his expression one of mixed lust and frustration. Eventually he groaned. “The General summons, and so I must obey. When we set sail, will you come with me?”

“Of course!” She pulled his head down and kissed him soundly. “From what I saw of her the Styx II has a nicely-appointed cabin. Once we’re under weigh, we can resume where we left off...”
* * * *
Paul Ehrgeiziger entered the inn, located on a busy road not far from the border with Hetzenberg. It was an establishment he’d frequented before on clandestine missions, and the innkeeper knew him. The woman nodded as Paul ordered an ale. She served him and leaned close to whisper as she slid his change across the damp surface of the bar counter. “The gentleman awaits you in the usual room, sir.”

Paul thanked her and made his way at a casual pace through to the rear of the near-empty saloon and up the stairs. They opened onto a passage off which were several guest rooms. Paul knocked on the third door and entered without waiting for an invitation. The man sitting by the window stood and bowed as Paul closed and bolted the door. “It’s good to see you, Paul. After what happened earlier this year, I feared all was up with you. Your message came as a great relief.”

Paul returned the bow. “It’s good to see you too, Artur. You look well.”
“As well as can be expected.” Artur sat. A portly fellow, the warmth of the day brought perspiration to his lofty brow, and he mopped it with a large lace handkerchief.

“Thank you for responding to my note. Others might not have welcomed my approach, given the circumstances of my... ah, departure from the Margrave’s service.”

“Oh, my dear fellow, to your ear alone can I sympathize! Our new lord and master – and possible patricide – is a sad burden for our poor state to bear. He has us running ragged in an attempt to find ways of winning this war. The army is licking its wounds and is unable to raise the siege of Randstadt. The Margrave won’t be told to cut his losses.” Artur grimaced. “The near-success of the raid on Lehmangraz filled him with new hope, more’s the pity.”

“I see.” Paul doffed his hat and sat down. “He’s not beyond resorting to skulduggery...”

Artur pursed his lips and frowned. “He’s not – but I have the feeling you refer to a particular incidence of skulduggery.”

Paul put on a bland smile. “You know me too well, old fellow.” He leaned closer. “It has been brought to my attention that someone is trying to stir dissent in the upper reaches of the Hetzenberg court.”

Artur nodded. A knowing glint appeared in his eye. “Ah, that. To be fair, that particular piece of business originated with the Dowager. She hired Bartolomeo Gundaker.”

Paul leaned back in his chair. “You surprise me!”

Artur chuckled. “Why so? You know the old woman. She’s as devious as a boatload of monkeys!”

“She has her own agenda, to be sure,” Paul murmured, thinking over his past experience with the Dowager. He produced the letter given him by Ursula. “Pray examine this.”

Artur donned a pair of pince-nez, took the letter and scanned it. After a few moments he looked up. “It’s plain Professor Knappenburger’s letter dashes any hope of this young woman marrying into the nobility.”

“So it would appear.”

“You suspect this to be a forgery?”

“It has been proven to be so.”

“Then yes, this is Gundaker’s work, I’m sure. It’s all of a piece with his methods.” Artur handed back the letter. “You have a sentimental attachment to this Mary Amadeus?”

Paul hesitated. “Rather, I have a sentimental attachment to her friend, and wish to return a favor.”

Artur nodded and tapped the side of his nose. “Say no more.” He mopped his brow again. “Curse this heat! Well, I would advise you discover the late Professor’s real reasoning on the subject. Any halfway competent authority on law would be of help.” He pointed to the letter. “That is merely a delaying tactic on the Dowager’s part.”

“So I surmised.” Paul folded the letter and put it back in his pocket. “But to what end?”

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

My my, time flies...

Yes, it's been a few months since I posted here. Jean-Louis of Monte Cristo pointed this out recently on the Emperor vs. Elector blog. In my defense I have been busy with my professional writing career, with two manuscripts underway and a newly published novel. Even so I think a review of events in the world of Hetzenberg wouldn't go amiss...

The Hetzenberg siege of the Dunkeldorf-Pfühlian town of Randstadt continues, with artillery Lieutenant Mary Amadeus serving in the lines. Mary feels miserable as the Grand Duke has forbidden his son Philip to marry her. Her friend Grafin Ursula has decided to take a hand in affairs, and to this end has contacted a former enemy secret agent, Paul Ehrgeiziger, to enlist his aid. Ehrgeiziger feels something is amiss in the death of the legal advisor who discounted the idea of Mary and Philip marrying. He suspects also the legal letter written explaining the ban on marriage is a forgery, and promises to make inquiries into the matter.

An audacious raid on the Hetzenberg gunboat base almost succeeds in destroying the flotilla. Ursula’s beau, the dashing Horatio Horngebläse defeats the raiders and saves the two existing gunboats Acheron, Cocytus and the newly completed Styx II, although he is wounded in the action.

Mary is contacted by an old friend who once lived in Randstadt. He tells her of a series of caves running throughout the plateau on which the town stands – one of which leads under the walls. Seeing an opportunity Mary takes him to see General Rauppen-Schlepper...

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Reviewing the lines

What with one thing and another I'd quite forgotten just how much I had in the way of painted figures for both the Grand Duchy of Hetzenberg and the Margravate of Dunkeldorf-Pfuhl. The sum total leads me to see I require just one more infantry regiment to complete the Hetzenberg army, two cavalry regiments and an artillery battery to finish the forces of the Margrave.

I'm not going to finish the two armies overnight. Had I opted for 10mm as I first inclined I'd have finished them long ago. There are also more than enough things I need to spend money on in real life. However, the end is reachable, and one of these days I will field the armies in deadly rivalry across the wargames table. Until then - and possibly after - the adventures of Mary Amadeus and Ursula will continue!


Thursday, 1 August 2013

Resale value of Imagination armies?

That's the question occupying my mind at the moment. Many a gamer has gone down the route of purchasing figures and painting them up according to his own imaginary army's system. But, can they be sold on? 

The reason why I ask is I'm considering downscaling the Hetzenberg and Margravate armies to 10mm, using the excellent Pendraken and Old Glory figures. Back in the day when the Grand Duchy of Hetzenberg was a gleam in my eye, 10mm was one option to follow, but I decided my aging eyesight wasn't up to the task of painting them. Now I have some decent reading glasses, the option is back on the gaming table. 25/28mm, although lovely to paint and handle, is just too expensive for me. There are also storage issues to contend with. So, I'm considering selling my current collection and using the funds to buy new 10mm. Any thoughts and comments welcome.
* * *    
Now my life has settled down, and if the computer performance permits, Mary Amadeus et al should make a reappearance fairly soon. Watch this space...

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Tribute

It's been a long, long time since anything was posted here. The reason is my wife and I have been caring for her mother during a year-long battle with cancer. My other blog was easy to keep updated. Gaming took my mind off things. Writing fiction is a full-time task, so I'm afraid it had to lapse. 

Ann is a fan of the Chronicles and looked forward to the new adventures of Ursula and Mary Amadeus. A lovely lady, very active as a volunteer in her community and various charities, she stayed upbeat and positive all through her illness.

Now I'm afraid her long struggle is coming to a close. Her family is with her now. Thoughts and prayers, please, for Ann.

When I'm able to do so, I shall continue with the Chronicles. Mary Amadeus shall return. 

Regrettably, Ann died yesterday evening. She's at peace now. Thank you for your kind thoughts and prayers.  

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Stylish Blogger Award

Well! As the late, great Frankie Howerd used to say "I'm flabbergasted! My flabber has never been so gasted!"

Jiminho of Syldavia has nominated The Hetzenberg Chronicles for the Stylish Blogger Award. It's quite an honor, and I'm pleased my work has gained recognition. I'm busy with real life stuff for a while, but more episodes of the Chronicles will be written soon.

In the meantime, as part of the Award, I have to relate seven things folks don't know about me. Hmm, what to say..?

1/. My first wargames figures were Airfix, both 1/72nd and 1/32nd.

2/. I got badly sunburned tracking unit positions all over the battlefield of Québec one day in May in 1987. The things we suffer for our hobby...

3/. Both times I was in Paris (France) I got run over by cyclists, the second time in the doorway to a store.

4/. I had a spooky encounter in a passageway near the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.

5/. I had an extremely spooky encounter in a chateau near Budapest.

6/. I'm descended from 18th century pottery maestro Josiah Wedgewood.

7/. Mary Amadeus exists - in the guise of a computer tutor I once had some years back. Ursula exists - in the guise of a re-enactor. 'Nuf said. ;)

So, to my nominations. First up is Adventures in Lead by that gifted gamer, "Furt." IMHO, his Indostan blog is a masterpiece of all a gaming blog should be. 

Second up - and not gaming-related - Confessions of a Blonde Writer, by my better half. A witty and informative blog on the life, times, trials and tribulations of an author!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

In the siege lines, Randstadt

‘Sister? Sister!’

Mary Amadeus paused in her work and looked around. Nobody in the siege lines had ever called her by her old title. A man stood hesitating at the entrance to the gun park, a smile on his face as he looked at her. He held his hat in both hands and made a presentable figure in well-made traveling clothes.

‘Do I know you?’ she asked, walking over and then stopped in surprise. ‘Bruno!’

The former misérable broke into a grin as she recognized him. ‘I look rather different these days, sister!’

‘I should say you do!’ Mary said, walking over to shake hands. ‘But then, so do I. How are you?’

‘Well settled-in, thanks,’ he replied. ‘The archbishop gave me a place as a general handyman on one of his estates and my wife works in the scullery. It pays a decent wage and we’re treated well.’

‘I’m very glad to hear it.’

Bruno bobbed his head. ‘It’s all thanks to you and Grafin Ursula.’

‘It’s the least we could do. I trust your family is well?’

‘All well.’ Bruno ducked quickly as the main siege battery let fly a deafening salvo. Mary hid a smile. She had long grown accustomed to the noise, albeit a trifle deaf. Bruno looked keenly at the distant shape of Randstadt’s ramparts. Dust from pulverized stone hung in the air as the salvo struck home. ‘I never thought I’d get so close to my old home again,’ he said. ‘Our hut used to be just over there.’

‘Any regrets?’ Mary asked.

He scowled and shook his head. ‘No. It was a horrible life.’ Glaring at the town he went on, ‘you can burn it all to the ground as far as I’m concerned!’

‘I don’t think we’ll go that far,’ she said, taking his arm. ‘Come to my quarters and take a sup of wine.’

She led him to her tent. Her servant had turned back the fly to allow the interior to air in the warm April day, and bedding hung over a line nearby. The woman hurried to fetch a bottle of wine and goblets as Mary invited Bruno to sit with her at the camp table set up outside. ‘Not that I’m displeased to see you, old friend,’ she said as the servant poured the wine, ‘but I’m curious as to why you’re here.’

Bruno waited until the servant went about other business before leaning close. ‘We’ve all been reading about the siege and battles and so on,’ he said. ‘Last week I remembered something which might be useful. My wife and I talked it over and decided you should be told. ‘

‘You came instead of sending a letter?’ Mary asked. ‘It’s a long way from the archbishop’s estates.’
Bruno looked around. The camp bustled with activity but none paid them any attention. ‘We thought it too sensitive,’ he said, leaning close.

‘Now I’m really curious!’ Mary exclaimed. ‘What have you to share?’

Bruno gestured toward the distant gun line. ‘There’s a way into the town from outside. A way few know of.’ He leaned closer. ‘A secret way.’

‘A secret way.’ Mary gazed at him thoughtfully. ‘Do you mean a secret passage?’

‘Not a man-made one, sister.’ Bruno sat back. ‘They’re more in the nature of caves under the town. They run back from the river bluffs.’

‘Interesting,’ she murmured. ‘How do you know of them?’

Bruno sipped his wine. ‘Two years ago I worked on the docks. A pal of mine fell into the river and got swept away. He couldn’t swim. I can only dog paddle a bit but I grabbed a keg and jumped in after him. I soon caught him but we were carried downstream about a quarter mile beyond the walls. Somehow I managed to push against the flow and guide us to the bank. It’s rocky there, with plenty of hand and footholds. I got us ashore and made sure my pal was safe, then looked around.’
     ‘There’s an overhang. I couldn’t see any way up from the river, but I could see a small cave opening screened by bushes a few feet above where we perched. I doubt it can be seen at all from the river unless a boat gets up close to the bank. My pal seemed half-dead and wasn’t able to move with the fright he’d gotten, so I climbed up and took a closer look at the cave.’ He shrugged and looked grim for a moment. ‘There seemed no hurry to send a boat after us from the docks. After all, we were just a couple of laborers.’
     ‘The opening was big enough for me to wriggle through and so I did. After a few yards I found a place big enough to stand in.’ He struck the ground with his boot heel. ‘There’s a whole series of tunnels and caves under this soil.’

Mary felt her pulse quicken as possibilities flowed through her mind. ‘You explored them?’

‘I explored a few later. Not at that time. My pal needed help and I wanted to be with him when the rescue boat arrived and took us back to town. I told no one but my wife of my find. It took a few days but I went back in secret with rope and a lantern. Those caves run for quite a way. One heads toward the town and under the walls.’

‘You know this for sure?’

‘Yes.’ Bruno grinned, his teeth brown and jagged. ‘I found a disused well shaft sunk into a small water-filled cave. It took some doing but I climbed up to the top. It’s covered with planks and rubble, but I saw enough through the gaps to make out a familiar neighborhood.’

Mary thought for a moment then stood. ‘Bruno, you need to come with me. The general should hear this!’