Saturday 22 September 2018


Colonel Cranium looked around the table at his captains. They were all tough, hardened mercenaries. To a man, they were afraid of nothing and no-one. Used to the realities and scarcities of battle and campaign. All of them are veterans of a thousand sieges and skirmishes.

Captain Amnesia was reading a paper. Cranium stared at him. This was unusual. His command notes were often returned, unread by his subordinates.

‘What is it, Amnesia?’

‘It is a letter from a Polish captain.’ There was a stir around the table. ‘No, my friends, it is not treason. He writes to tell me that he is enjoying my Burgundy.’

‘Your what?’ Cranium was surprised. Amnesia was definitely a beer man, in his book.

‘My Burgundy. I was having some shipped in especially for my birthday.’

‘On the convoy?’

‘Of course. I have not resorted to clandestine activities.’ Cranium glanced around. A number of captains were looking innocent, a sure sign that some of them were importing delicacies illicitly.

‘All right, now listen. The Poles captured the convoy, and we have to live with that.’

‘We have heard them partying from the walls.’

‘Well, I suppose Amnesia’s Burgundy was a decent vintage.’

A chuckle went around the table. ‘I was planning to share it with my band of brothers, of course,’ Amnesia said.

‘I doubt it was the only decent drink that was captured that day.’ Cranium frowned. ‘Brothers in arms,’ he said, ‘we do have a problem as the result of the failure of the convoy to get here.’

‘We are not starving, colonel.’

‘True and we are not going to. But unless we do something then all we are going to have left to drink for Christmas is vodka.’

‘Polish or Russian vodka?’

‘Polish, made by Russians.’

‘That stuff gives you a terrible hangover.’

‘We must do something!’ A murmur of agreement circulated.

‘I have done some thinking and a little planning, and I think we can launch an attack on the Polish main camp. At least we could recapture our supplies. At best we might drive the Poles off.’

‘What is the plan, Colonel?’

‘Well, as you know we have four gates – Omsk, Tomsk, Tobermory and Great Uncle Bulgaria. The Polish camp is opposite the latter. If we can form up on the flat land under the walls from midnight, then we can fall on at first light and catch the Poles when they are in their cups.’

‘In our cups, you mean.’

‘They will have guards.’

‘Of course. But the cavalry will exit by Tobermory and Tomsk and come around the flanks, while the infantry goes directly via Bulgaria. That should drive the guards in and cause enough chaos for us to push the Poles back.’

‘Chaos for whom, colonel? Us or them?’

‘I do understand the risks, Migraine, but we are not attacking at night.’

‘But it is a bit risky.’ Migraine was always the one searching for problems.

‘Of course, but warfare is like that. And consider the opportunities. We only have to recapture our drink. Plus, and I know this will go no further: our current employers will pay a bounty to us if we drive the Poles off. If not, and we put on a good show, then there are possibilities of negotiating a new contract with a different employer.’

‘The Poles?’

‘I am afraid that the information is subject to the usual confidentiality clauses. The raid will occur in two days; please be ready to move your troops into place from midnight. I will circulate the details later today.’ Cranium paused. ‘Do I have your agreement?’

‘We only have two squadrons of cavalry, colonel. Will the garrison Boyars be involved? I mean, I think they quite like their own vodka.’

‘I think that most of them will be happy to join in. Firstly, they had their own supplies on the convoy. Secondly, I believe that at least one secret recipe for flavoured vodka was on the convoy, and so there are commercial secrets at risk as well.’

‘Flavoured vodka? I thought most of its charm was that it was pretty flavourless.’

‘Well, you will have heard of the flavoured gin bars springing up around the world. I suppose it was too much to expect that vodka wouldn’t follow.’

‘Disgusting stuff flavoured gin.’

‘Do you prefer unflavoured gin, Captain Trepan?’

‘Give me a decent glass of wine any day.’

‘If we recapture my Burgundy, I’ll give you a bottle.’

‘Generous of you, Amnesia.’

‘Gentlemen.’ Cranium held his hand up. ‘We are in danger of drifting from the point. The Boyars will supply two squadrons of cavalry; they will exit from Tomsk. Ours will leave via Omsk. The infantry will go out through Great Uncle Bulgaria. There will be four companies of shot, four of pike. The outer earthworks will have two more shot companies to provide cover for any retreat, but they will not move forward, so don’t treat them as your reserve.’ Cranium paused. ‘Any questions?’

‘How do we get the men to bring the booze back here and not drink it there?’

Cranium grinned. ‘Tell them that the Hussars will get them if they pause.’

There was general laughter. ‘They were too stoned to move last time out,’ Amnesia chuckled. ‘Even though the convoy was wide open.’

‘It can be hard sitting on a horse with a hangover,’ Captain Poise put in.

‘Maybe it was the horses that had overindulged.’

Cranium joined in the laughter. ‘Nevertheless,’ he added, when a degree of order had been restored, ‘we cannot assume that they won’t intervene this time.’

‘If I had known we had to do this, I would have added a case of flavoured Hock to my order.’

‘Hock? Why?’

‘It would be vile and disable any Pole that drank it!’

‘Why bother with flavoured Hock? Just give them bottles of Liebfraumilch.’

‘Well, maybe, but it would need to be alcoholic, you know.’

‘Not necessarily. I mean food poisoning can disable the best men. I’m sure drink poisoning would do the same.’

Cranium decided it was time to wrap up. ‘Until the day after tomorrow, gentlemen.’ He bowed and left the room. He needed a drink.

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