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, his trusty manservant Hives, and the palace staff are busy preparing for the arrival of the Grand Duke's three aunts - Aunt Agatha, Aunt Irmgard, and Aunt Waltraud -- who have been invited to spend the Christmas period at Krankenstadt Palace, thus making the holidays somewhat easier on Irwin-Amadeus II. The Grand Duke is, in addition, hosting a Grand Ball at the palace on Christmas Eve, and the guestlist reads like a veritable who's who of Krankenstadt society, including Bishop Sievert Tiburtius, the Prince von Boffke and his wife Lady Leonora Christina (nee von Grandin), the Prussian ambassador to Stollen Herr Heinz von dem Salat, Katrina-Bettina von Heffelfinger, and a host of others. In light of the coming Christmas festival, along with related celebrations and guests, the palace has been a hive of activity for the last few days. There is, however, still some last minute business to attend to in the city center this afernoon, calling for the combined attentions of the Grand Duke and his man Hives, who have bundled up accordingly for their journey out into the dome of cold and light snow falling once again over the capital. And their outting might very well also include a bite of lunch and a warm seasonal drink, courtesy of the Grand Duke at his club, the Brummen und Summen.
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 soon pass a detachment of recruits to the newest regiment of the Army of Stollen, the scarlet-coated 6th (Luebecker Musketeers) Infantry, led by the fabled Oberfeldwebel Klatschen of the Leib (Grand Duchess Sonja's Own) Grenadiers, who, recognizing the grand ducal coach, shouts to the men in his charge 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 troops 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 book or two beneath your tree on Christmas Morning. Merry Christmas from the Grand Duchy of Stollen!