The ground is white with fresh snow east of the sun and west of the moon in the Grand Duchy of Stollen. Billowing, silvery drifts are piled throughout the country. The rivers and lakes are frozen solid. The woods are still but for the distant jingle of sleigh bells in the bracing air. The sky is slate grey, and heavy coal smoke hangs over the villages and towns. It is almost Christmas here in the far-off Grand Duchy of Stollen, somewhere to the northeast of Frederick’s Prussia.
Citizens bustle to and fro through snow-covered streets in the small capital city of Krankenstadt, running last minute errands before the Christmas festival begins in earnest. The red brick North German Gothic storefronts feature special Christmas items and treats, and the happy faces of children peek in through the frosty windows at the cheerful seasonal displays. Street vendors peddle their wares in the town square, shouting loudly above the din of shoppers, their voices forming puffs of steam in the wintry air.
In the streets leading from the busy riverfront to the city center, the colorful, gabled merchants’ houses are warmly lighted by candles in each window as year-end business is concluded in the ground floor offices. Music and song emanate from the Lutheran and Catholic cathedrals on the town square as their choirs rehearse one final time for their respective Christmas services. The notes and tones coalesce, spiraling up above the old city as organists and choirs rehearse their respective parts for the coming celebration. And in the side streets, local coffee houses and taverns provide a welcome respite from the biting Baltic cold along with hot beverages to warm the palettes of many a weary patron.
Meanwhile, the Grand Duke Irwin-Amadeus II and his trusty manservant Hives have taken leave of Krankenstadt Palace, after all, for an unexpected week of Christmas cheer and making merry at Aunt Irmgard's country home. The threatened engagement to the Lady Leonora Christina von Grandin has not transpired. It seems the young lady was so taken with the suave dancing and refined social skills of the Prince von Boffke, that she and her parents sent their regrets via a member of the Grand Duke's household staff early this morning and left for von Boffke's residence a short time later.
"Ah, the fickle attentions of young women and social climbing parents, eh Hives?" the Grand Duke observed a short while later, "I thought I'd melt away while cavorting like a fool in that lobster costume though," he continued. "Now, let's see about joining Aunt Irmgard as we planned originally. Have you seen my warm wig?"
And so, as the carriage into which Irwin-Amadeus II and Hives have nestled rolls away from the palace entrance, the fresh snow squeaks and crunches beneath its wheels. They pass a detachment of soldiers from the Leib (Grand Duchess of Sonja's Own) Grenadiers shortly, led by the renowned Oberfeldwebel Klatschen, who, recognizing the grand ducal coach, shouts to his men to form up and give a salute to their monarch. And in the spirit of the season, the gruff, battle-hardened NCO throws caution and protocol to the chilled wind, wishing his Grand Duke the compliments of the season and "Frohe Weinachten!" in a loud voice, hardened by much tabletop campaigning during the last few years. The Grand Duke Irwin-Amadeus II nods and waves cheerfully, returning the wish through a coach window, bidding the marching infantry well.
Wherever in the world you might find yourself this Christmastime, as you drop by the Grand Duchy of Stollen for a cup of warm holiday cheer during the next several days or so, the "real" Irwin-Amadeus II, the fetching Grand Duchess Sonja, and young Paul I bid you warm season's greetings. We would like to wish each and every one of you, as well as your near and dear ones, a safe, happy, and joyous holiday season. May you discover oodles of Stadden, Willie, Spencer Smith, and Holger Eriksson or RSM figures in your stocking and perhaps a recent Charles Grant-Phil Olley book title or two beneath your tree on Christmas Morning. Merry Christmas from the Grand Duchy of Stollen!