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 once more, after failing yet again to procure an understanding with a young woman of suitable marrying age and family 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 once more 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 guest list reads like a veritable who's who of Krankenstadt society, including that inveterate gambler and cardsharp Bishop Sivert Tiburtius, the Prince von Boffke and his wife the Lady Leonora Christina (nee von Grandin), the terminally hungry Prussian ambassador to Stollen Herr Heinz von dem Salat, inveterate gossip and society columnist Katrina-Bettina von Heffelfinger.
Other guests on the list of people joining the aunts for the Christmas festival include the crafty General Leger de Maine, the overly accessorized General von Tschatschke, General von Bauchschmerzen and his hot leaky water bottle as well as the ponderous English ambassador to Stollen, one Lord Huffington-Blather. Poor Irwin-Amadeus II! Without doubt, a madcap ballroom farce is sure to unfold before Christmas Day and continue through New Year's Eve.
Just before midday, the ornate coach into which Irwin-Amadeus II and Hives have at last nestled beneath bearskin blankets rolls away from the palace entrance on its way to Aunt Hiltrud's house. The fresh snow squeaks and crunches beneath the coach wheels as the team of six horses drawing it trots across the courtyard toward the gate. The Grand Duke's coach next passes a detachment of the the blue and yellow uniformed Corps of Pontoniers, led by the fabled Oberfeldwebel Klatschen of the Leib (Grand Duchess Sonja's Own) Grenadiers. The grizzled old NCO spies 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 Klatschen throws caution and protocol to the chilled wind, wishing his Grand Duke the compliments of the season and "Frohe Weihnachten!" 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.
Returning to the present, 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 Master Paul 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 your preferred brand of figures in your stocking Christmas Morning, and perhaps a recent Charles Grant title or two beneath your tree. Or maybe the latest issue of Miniature Wargames? Or perhaps the 2016 Wargamer's Annual?
Material items notwithstanding, may your Christmas Day and the week following be filled with peace, joy, family, friends, and holiday cheer. May the spirit of the season fill your hearts and lives in the coming year. Merry Christmas from the Grand Duchy of Stollen!