23 December 2013
It is almost Christmas in the Grand Duchy of Stollen. . .
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 of Krankenstadt bustle to and fro through snow-covered streets in the small capital city of the Grand Duchy, 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 English 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 yet again 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 as well as General Leger de Maine, General von Tschatschke, and many others. Poor Irwin-Amadeus! 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 and befuddled Grand Duke nods and waves cheerfully, returning the wish through a coach window, bidding the marching troops well as the carriage pulls through the gate and out of the courtyard on it's journey to Aunt Hiltrud's.
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. And maybe the latest issue of Miniature Wargames, or perhaps the latest Wargamer's Annual? Regardless of material items, though, may your Christmas and the days following be filled with peace, joy, family, friends, and holiday cheer. Merry Christmas from the Grand Duchy of Stollen!