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, sometime during the latter third of the 18th century.
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 their departure midday. The Grand Duke and Hives are joining his aunts Hiltrud, Irmgard, and Waltraud, who, unbeknownst to to him, have decided that the time has come for an end to all of this shilly-shallying. Irwin-Amadeus II must settle down and marry!
Apropos their collective aims, the three formidable ladies are hosting a large Christmas Eve ball in their nephew's honor at Aunt Hiltrud's country home. Besides a host of suitable young women, the guestlist reads like a veritable who's who of
Krankenstadt society, including that inveterate gambler and cardsharp Bishop Sievert Tiburtius, the Prince von
Boffke and his wife the Lady Leonora Christina (nee von Grandin), the
Prussian ambassador to Stollen Herr Heinz von dem Salat, gossip and society columnist Katrina-Bettina
von Heffelfinger, and many others. Poor Irwin-Amadeuss! What comedic, madcap, and unanticipated misadventures await?
Just before midday, 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 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. The unwitting Grand Duke 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, Minden, Fife & Drum, or RSM95 figures in your stocking Christmas Morning, and perhaps a recent Charles
Grant title or two beneath your tree. Or maybe a bundle of Battlegames back issues, or the latest Wargamer's Annual? Regardless of material items, though, may your Christmas Day and the days following be filled with peace, joy, family, friends, and holiday cheer. Merry
Christmas from the Grand Duchy of Stollen!