The Emerald Musketeers

The Emerald Musketeers

Thursday, 8 August 2019

INTERLUDE

Sorry its been a while since last posting here. I`ve been up to my ears with work and other projects, and am still hellishly tied up for a while yet. The next article and battle report are written (did them a month ago) but as the AAR itself has over 100 photos in it and having very slow internet speed at the best of times, I just can`t find the time at the moment to post it up for general perusal.

Bear with me, I will get to it in time :-)

A sample photo from the game
 

Steve

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

"A Near Rum Run Thing" (Zulu Wars Part 7)

 
Setting the Scene: "A Near Rum Run Thing"
 

It is Yuletide Eve in a quaint little town just outside the suburbs of London.... actually, it is Yuletide everywhere else as well; but this story concentrates upon the nocturnal activities of our main heroes and protagonists, and takes place in the centre of Portestone's frost covered, cobble-stoned high street.

The Cast:

                     Major General Sir Wellyn Shaftesbury:
Hero of the Age, adored by the people, hounded by the press, loved by the Queen, envied by other men, and chastised by his nanny... has heard through the military grape vine (i.e. his regiment of 11th Hussars stationed near Hyde Park Barracks) that Portestone has a rather delightful bawdy house (Pippa's Place) situated within the enclosed grounds of a rather grand converted Abbot's tower and ancient monastery abode.

Taking his old faithful Irish blood hound Seamus O' Toole with him to secure them both lodgings within the finest suite of rooms the establishment has to offer, Wellyn is looking forward to a pleasant Yuletide long weekend away from the rigours of military duty, and the fearful nagging tongue of his family nemesis - the nanny.

It is late evening, and the first stars can all ready be seen twinkling through the fuzzy blue black mantle of dusk; and Wellyn has a mind to engage the rather pretty buck he spied walking the frosty streets a few hours ago as they entered town. Wellyn decides to bring Seamus along, so he can point the girl out, and have his servant approach her with a proposal for some light evening refreshment and a spot of gaslight tiffin.

Wellyn and Seamus are just leaving the courtyard gates of their esteemed residence, and are preparing for a casual walk through the
streets in search of their prize, when the action kicks off.

Jack The Stripper: Just happens to be sojourning in Portestone this Yuletide; and even as Wellyn and O' Toole are wending their merry way through the streets in search of Trudy, Jack is all ready ahead of them, and is himself preparing to 'entertain' the young woman.

As everyone knows, Jack has a liking for ladies of the night, and his criminal indecency has made him a high priority on the Most Wanted list of the London Boroughs busy constabulary.

Jack has an unfortunate lewd bent: he likes to get as close as he can to these unfortunate fallen women, whip out his concealed tool.. his brush... and with lightning speed, he will paint a nude fresco of his victim for the world to witness his passion.

No one is safe from Jack's perverted hand. Especially now his pleasures have started to expand, and occasionally includes the odd non prostitute or two. Unfortunately for Jack, the French government recently caught up with this notorious criminal while he sojourned in France on his annual hols with Auntie Betsie, and in return for their silence regarding his true identity, the French Secret Service have coerced Jack to perform certain... erm... favours for them from time to time, and as occasion demands.

Jack is so highly strung right now, he can hardly contain his ardour... and earlier this evening, before he could help himself, he created a small pornographic masterpiece on the dark wall, half way down a narrow back alley somewhere in Portestone's less well to do East End.

     Suggestive French Lady on Feminine Penny Farthing:
Ohh-la-la Lily Le Fête is a French Spy who poses a deep threat to the safety of Britain's Green and Pleasant Land (well, it will be green again once the snow goes away). Her mission to subvert the course of Paxian justice leads her to don many strange and exotic disguises in the line of her own nefarious duties. Just recently, Lily discovered Sir Wellyn Shaftesbury's holiday whereabouts, and disguised as a loose bawdy house girl, she hopes to get Wellyn into a few compromising positions so she can sell her story to the press.


 The headline is all ready etched in her mind:

"Sir Wellyn  Shaftesbury, most trusted agent of her Royal Majesty, supreme hero of the nation, caught with his trousers down whilst in the clutches of a common harlot." If her contact Mr. X (aka Jack the Stripper) can be trusted to do his stuff; the mission is as good as in the bag.
 

Local Portestone Constables, Nob Chase & Morley Piecroft:
This duo make a fortunate discovery, when Charlie Dicks the local rogue and general bad boy, hoping for a substantial reward, reveals to the local bobbies that Jack the Stripper is, in fact, in town. When Police Sergeant Chase ask him how he could possibly know something Scotland Yard themselves  hadn`t even ascertained. Dick replies that he has just seen (what can only be described as) one of Jack's paintings recently scribed onto a wall of one of the streets down by the riverside – and the paint is still wet.
 
 Juger Fuhrer, Ludwig Von Lieberwits & his Prussian Gyro-Pilots: Meanwhile, Prussian intelligence has also accurately determined that Sir Wellyn Shaftesbury is on a Yuletide holiday in the quiet and secluded town of Portestone, and has decided to seize this opportunity to capture the foremost soldier in the Paxian Empire, and hold him for ransom. An airship "Das Whirly-Birden" captained by Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän (or "Danube steamship company captain," for short) is carrying a Hunting Squadron of Prussian flyers on a mission to locate and kidnap their target as quickly and as quietly as they can.

Even as Nob Chase and Morley Piecroft are creeping along the hedgerows seeking to arrest Jack the Stripper ~ a section of Prussian Ship's Marines are moving panther like through the trees, attempting to approach Pippa's Place undetected by the sleeping inhabitants of the lazy backwater town. Once the Marines have located the building with the red gaslights shining from the bedroom windows, they are to strike a flare into the air, which will be the signal for the Juger Fuhrer and his elite gyro-pilots to descend upon the building and overpower Sir Wellyn Shaftesbury... all secondary targets have a rescinded priority rating.

Sgt. Major Bedrock: and a company of raw recruits from the 1st Regiment of the Royal Lifeguards just happen, as luck would have
it, to be temporarily billeted in a small army camp just outside Portestone. Sergeant Major Bedrock himself is personally leading a platoon of miscreants who have unfortunately found themselves on a charge for insubordination and drunken misbehaviour. Night manoeuvres and urban Wargames through the icy streets and back alleys of Portestone on Yuletide Eve is a punishment the Sergeant Major believes will teach the men under his command a serious lesson in military protocol. Little do they know there are Prussian Marines approaching them from the wooded hills to the rear of their present position.
 
 
First Turn:


"So, where exactly do you think the lady is going to be at this time of the evening, Major General, sir?"

Seamus O' Toole enquires in his pronounced Irish Munster County accent.

"Tis fierce cold out here, and t'would freeze the knobbly bits off a brass monkey... if you'll forgive d' military expression, sir."
 
 
Wellyn simply takes a deep swallow from the brandy glass he'd swiped on his way out of Pippa's luxurious pleasure house, and doesn't answer immediately. Strange that he should be so enchanted.... captivated, even... by the wisp of a thing he'd spotted earlier as he'd entered the town. Young, with long raven locks, and wearing enough cotton and silk lingerie to keep even the most extreme fetishist content with his miserable lot in life.

'Right now I could be inside a nice warm lounge, roasting my toes in front of the inglenook fireplace and toasting crumpets over the flames.' Wellyn chastises himself:

'But instead, here I am chasing a common street hooker half way across town, and why..... for half an hour’s hanky-panky and possibly a dose of speckled willie to boot?'

But inside, Wellyn all ready knows the answer to his rhetorical, self posed question. The filly in question is a devilish rum beauty, and well worth the discomfort of listening to Seamus Furtive O' Toole complaining about his chilblains for a little bit longer!

"Steady on there, old boy." Wellyn slurs slightly, as the noxious toxins from the alcohol, which is coursing through his veins, reaches his head and collides with adverse effects due to the cold air being inhaled into his lungs.

For a few moments Wellyn feels rather giddy, and contemplates turning round and simply walking back into the building they have just vacated. But sheer tenacity and a driving urge to quench his enormous appetite drives him onwards.

"Besides, she really is a rare beauty, and once I'm finished with her, you can have your fill... on the house, courtesy of yours truly."



Wellyn does a little jig on the pavement, and finishes his routine with a courtly bow.... spilling brandy into the snow, losing balance and nearly falling flat on his rump in the process.

"Ssssssssh!" Seamus cocks his head on one side for a moment and listens into the fast approaching gloom of night.

"Wha... whazzat?" Wellyn slurs slightly.

"Hark a minute Mr. Shaftesbury, sir. I think I can hear something."


Seamus looks round at his master, and places a finger to his lips to emphasize his point.

"Whazzzat! I don't hear a bloody thing, old boy."


For a full half a minute, Seamus stands stock still and opens his ears. Wellyn merely hums an out of tune cadence from some Music Hall song.... burps twice, and farts loudly.

Suddenly looking as furtive as a fox on full alert, Seamus enquires:


 "Mr. Shaftesbury, sir.... do you hear an engine high above us. You know, up in the sky?"

But the off duty drunken Major General has all ready staggered away down the street in a zig-zag line, singing snatches of:

What are we going to do with Uncle Arthur?
     A blinking stallion, is Uncle Arthur
         When he goes a-strolling in the park,
             Watch your step, girls, especially after dark.
                   Any old skirt's a flirt to Uncle Arthur,

He's over eighty, but how he can run!
      'Give us a kiss, my dear,' he'd say
            And tickle you up the boom-di-ay,
                  And say it was just an 'armless bit of fun.


A bit further down the road, and Wellyn suddenly quickens his pace and calls cheerily over to his companion, who is still looking up into the sky and doing an almost crab like walk in the process:

"I say, Seamus, there she is... what a bit of good fortune * hic*"
Wellyn increases speed and walks up the main street towards the town centre where he has spotted the girl of his dreams leaning against a lamp post.

A fine ice mist and the insufficient gas lighting makes it hard for Wellyn to make out any details at first. But as he gets closer, he notices the street walker is not alone.

"What rotten luck, she's all ready got a punter."
Through the fog, Wellyn spies a gentleman in a top hat and long dark coat talking to the girl from the relative seclusion of a small dark alleyway.
 
 
But suddenly, several things begin to happen all at once. From further up the cobbled high street, Wellyn notices a pair of police officers striding towards the town centre from the opposite direction. One of them points towards the girl leaning against the lamp, and blows a whistle.

Simultaneously, obliquely to the right of the police officers, but also approaching from the opposite direction from Wellyn: the darndest thing catches the Major General's attention, and for a moment he thinks he is seeing things. But when he wipes his sleeve against his eyes and looks again, the image is still there! Coming down the middle of the road, legs wide apart to allow the pedals to work themselves in their downhill descent, a rather pretty, foreign looking woman dressed in a revealing set of white cotton undergarment comes careening down the hill on a penny farthing, waving a yellow handkerchief in the general direction of the prostitute and would be punter... as though to warn them off.
 
 
At the same time, in the distance, the muffled sound of rifle fire can be heard echoing through the night. Wellyn's senses suddenly wind into overdrive. He may be drunk, he may be a bit of a rotten fop, but he hasn't stayed alive all this time, and against all the odds by being stupid. The Major General knows the sound of Prussian rifles being discharged any time of the day or night.


                                                    ***

"Put your Back into it, you 'orrible little man, you."

"But Seargent Major, it's cold and I can't get my fingers to work properly."

"Would you like me to fetch you a hot water bottle, sonny?"



"Oh wow, would you Sergeant Major?"

Sergeant Major Bedrock walks stiffly over to the sorry looking line of would be soldiers, and shakes his head with silent exasperation. He stops when he reaches the place in the line where Private Pyke is shivering uncontrollably in the chill winter air.


"Listen here you pathetic little maggot, when I tell you to lock and load your bundle, I MEAN LOCK AND LOAD YOUR BLOODY BUNDLE, DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR PRIVATE PYKE?"


"Yes Sergeant Major."

"Are you looking at me when I speak to you, private?"

"No Sergeant Major."



"WHY AREN'T YOU LOOKING AT ME WHEN I SPEAK TO YOU PRIVATE!?"

Several gun shots ring out from somewhere behind the platoon of recruits, and suddenly the air is alive with bullets and smoke. Private Pyke slumps to the ground in a dead faint... in utter terror. Fear has chased his bowels to the finish line and won by a knock out finale.
 
 
{He will wake up some time later... after the main action is concluded, and he will recall little of his inexperience; but will relate to his mates in the barracks how he grappled a hulking brute of an enemy, and carried his wounded Sergeant Major safely from the field... after all, tall tales are the life blood of the army, and promotes personal ambition and boosts morale – which is why most officers turn a blind eye to it.}

The ragged line of Paxian Lifeguards turn left and right like headless chickens trying to locate the enemy. Only the Sergeant Major keeps his head, and tries to rally his men into the proper semblance of a fighting formation.

Placing his swagger stick firmly under his right armpit, he straightens up to his full height, and like a kettle building slowly into a full blown boiling whistle, he yells:

"HOLD YOUR POSITION AND RALLY ROUND ME, YOU HORRIBLE LITTLE MEN!"

In a voice which brooches no argument, he stands as immovable as a rock. Private Pyke's first action, witnessed through closed eyelids as he faints away in fright... a Prussian bullet whizzes past his head and it’s time to say night night for a while.



Rule Mechanics: The Prussians win the initiative for the first turn by throwing a 6 on the die. The Paxian forces and allies roll a decent 4, but still lose the opening round, and get to move after the enemy.

Jack the Stripper attempts to roll a 1 or 2 on a six sided die, but fails. He does not get to fresco a painted lady this turn of the game. Meanwhile, the French spy on the penny farthing has spotted the two police officers creeping up on Jack, and tries to use her special attraction skill to warn him of the impending danger. She fails to make the required number, and continues riding down the hill towards the centre of town.

Wellyn and Seamus approach the town centre and spot Trudy, the prostitute being chatted up by Jack, and hurry towards them in the hope of getting in first. Seamus 'highly tuned senses are working overtime.... something doesn’t seem right to him.

Meanwhile, the Prussian Marines coming out of the woods above the bawdy house have run right into the rear of a small platoon of Paxian Lifeguards out on night manoeuvres.

Naturally, they panic slightly; wrongly assuming the game is up and their mission is known to the enemy. But they are elite troops, and are determined to continue with their objective. They come charging down the hill firing their weapons as they go - intent on sweeping the Paxian riflemen nonchalantly aside as they rush towards their goal.


A single red coated enemy drops to the ground and is out of the action. But a stout hearted NCO is trying desperately to rally the surprised and disorganized Lifeguard, and the Prussian Marines believe they may be up against stiff resistance.



Second Turn:

Sergeant Major Bedrock watches his platoon come apart, and frowns in dismay. He sees red jackets flowing away into the gloom, and more than a few of them are lying on the ground and not moving. A few of the braver soldiers rally round him at his call, and shakily form a thin red line with the NCO in the centre. Bedrock breathes a silent prayer of gratitude, and thanks Pax for the training his men have received upon the rifle ranges. The Prussian Marines flowing towards them out of the gloom meet a small welcome committee of dedicated rifle fire, and the enemy pop apart before his eyes as the first volley smashes into them at close range.

In absolute confusion... and perhaps because their plight is now desperate, one of the Prussian Marines cracks off a flare which will
call the gyro-pilots into the fray.

Meanwhile, Lily Le Fête the French Spy finally manages to alert Jack of the danger he is in - just as the two police officers appear round the corner of a low wall and charge headlong towards him with truncheons and handcuffs at the ready... blowing whistles as they come until their puffed out cheeks go red with the effort.

"Vere did sey come from, ze mission viil fail if ve can't kwickly locate ze Major Geneval." Obergefreiter Klaus screams to his superior over the gunfire."

"Ve viil charge zem – NOW!" Feldwebel Himmelshmitt replies calmly over the din.

Amongst their ranks, a solitary flare shoots into the air and lights the sky overhead with an eerie green glow.

"Who did zat.... who DID zat?" The Feldwebel demands, tearing his helmet off his head and throwing it to the ground in rage.

                                                                ***

"I think maybe, Mr Shaftesbury, sir... we should be heading someplace away from here." Seamus' bloodhound nose is now positively twitching with full alert and fear for their safety.

But Sir Wellyn had all ready sobered up considerably, the second he had heard the Prussian Mauser rifle fire ... followed by the sound of British Whisky Henry's being fired in a ragged volley.

"I think.... yes. Maybe we should not return to our lodgings tonight?" Wellyn muses and looks sharply to his faithful companion for his thoughts.

"My thinking entirely, Sir." Seamus nods his head furiously, his dishevelled locks of red hair look like an angry wave breaking upon a stubborn furrow of wrinkled brow and stoic concentration. "and if I'm not much mistaken, Sir, those things floating down out of the sky over yonder, aren't a flock of belated migrating ducks!" He points a shaking finger towards a florescent green skyline, where a group of figures are descending out of a cigar shaped machine as large as small dark cloud.

A hail of bullets ping and ding all around the valiant Lifeguard standing firmly around their Sergeant Major; many of them wishing they had chosen the cowards route and were now routing the field with their less steadfast comrades. But heroism is no one’s friend, and several brave soldiers fall to the ground in less fortunate circumstances than the snoozing Private Pyke.

Sergeant Major Bedrock keels over and falls flat on his back when a lone Prussian bullet plucks the helmet clean off his head. The armoured hat has saved his life: but when he wakes up, he will have no memory of this day's events due to a severe concussion caused by the blow from the enemy shell. It is precisely at this moment that Private Pyke recovers from his faint... quickly assesses the situation, and decides discretion is the better part of valour.

As he crawls away into the dimpsy grey mantle of dusk, he hears a groan from his prone Sergeant Major. Blood is coming from a deep scrape along the side of his helmetless head, and a nasty bruise is rapidly forming over his right ear. Private Pyke does the only thing his training and instinct tells him to do. He takes hold of both feet, and drags his Sergeant Major to safety.

A few seconds afterwards, an entire squadron of Prussian Gyro-Pilots descend from the sky and check the entire scene with a fine tooth comb... by which time, Private Pyke and Sergeant Major Bedrock are safely away and vanished into the night.
 
 
The Juger Fuhrer, Ludwig Von Lieberwits has his men sweep the battlefield with effortless efficiency. When Ludwig is confident his path is clear of any immediate danger, he shines a helmeted gas light onto a small detailed map of the surrounding lands.

After a few minutes while he takes time to orientate the position of his squadron with pin point accuracy; he snaps the light off, rolls the map away and hands it to his semaphore and signal man.

"Very goot!"

He utters confidently to those nearest to him."Ze flare has been lit too soon... but no matter. Ve will march double time tovards our objective, and complete the mission viz in the next five minutes.... move out!"
 

Third Turn:

Lily Le Fête allows the hill's momentum to carry her away to safety upon her gaily painted penny farthing. Behind her the policemen’s whistles and cries to "Stop, in the name of the law!" Can be heard echoing off the buildings in her wake. She has escaped unscathed.... uncompromised. Now it is time to abort the mission and report to headquarters via her nearest safe contact.

She only hopes Jack also managed to escape through the alleyways of Portestone. Those two buffoons following don't look terribly fit, and Miss Le Fête is fairly confident Jack can give them the slip. It would be a shame to lose such a valuable ally. But if it came to the worst... what did he know about her – nothing! He hadn't even gotten a decent look at her as she cycled past him at top speed just now... and fortunately, all former communication had been via messages, and good old Jack had never actually seen her face before tonight. But Hmmmmm! How had the mission ended up being so badly compromised? Lily would get to the bottom of this mystery... Lily always got to the bottom of things.

Fourth Turn:

When Ludwig Von Lieberwits bursts into the supposed target area of Major General Sir Wellyn Shaftesbury three minutes later... amidst tear gas and concussion grenades; the screams and cries of the party girls are drowned only by the sounds of multiple shards of breaking glass and splintering portals as the gentlemen clientele try hurriedly
to climb to safety out of the windows and back doors.
 
 
But it soon becomes apparent to the Prussian Hunt Leader that their bird has most emphatically flown the coup.

Two minutes later, after having ordered his men to search every nook and cranny within the premises... both he and his entire squadron vacate the scene as quickly and as efficiently as they first entered.

The sounds of a large mechanical contraption drifting away into the night is like the soft gossamer thread of a grasshopper's wings floating away on the cold winter wind.
 
 
(This game was played using a modified version of the TAIO rules... called  "Cogs, Wheels, Clockwork & Steam".)
 
 
Steve

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Around The Corner

Its been a hectic month here, sadly allowing very little time for the hobby :-(

However *da daaaa* big drum roll the next battle report is already written up (a steampunk Pax game), and I merely have to find time now to post it all up so it can be seen by all.

AND

In addition, there is currently a (second) game set up, and the miniatures are all just waiting patiently for me to fight it out on the table top using my tried and tested old faithful "Funny Little Wars" rules set.



Meanwhile, the photos above and below are snippets living proof of `the shape of things to come` ^^

See you soon,

Steve :-))



Saturday, 1 June 2019

A Brief Interlude

It's been a while since I last attended to my blogs...and there are a 
few good and solid reasons. First of all, life in general has gotten in the way lately and kept me away from the table with ferocious and steadfast determination. But that`s not it. Secondly, I have been going through a bit of a reality spree lately, as other non gamey things have just seemed more immediate and somehow more accessible (like Mr Mole and his "spring cleaning"), but that`s not it. No, mostly I have been going through hobby burn out... but that`s not exactly it either. It`s more like I have been going through hobby re-evaluation this last month and more. You know, that thing that happens when nothing you do quite seems to `fit` you, and you flounder about trying to find some purpose as you listlessly meander about: desperately trying to adhere to a flag that you can run up the pole and salute. For me the burn out has been so complete it`s actually been making me avoid getting stuck in with my usual ardour, routine and passion.

Time (soon) to pull out my 1775 collection and get to grips with Colonial Gothic in all its ghoulish glory.
 

Don`t get me wrong, I`ve still been thinking, eating, breathing
hobby thoughts with as much enthusiasm as ever. It`s simply that
nothing seemed to be making me comfortable in the directions I was moving towards and needed a realignment. So what do I do when I get in this frame of mind?


Yep, I hit the books, read history, watch documentaries, re-watch old episodes of Dice, Camera, Action! And even a bit of D&D fantasy, like Chris Perkin`s mammoth You Tube endeavours into Ravenloft, Tomb of Elemental Evil, Dragon Heist and Mad Mage.
 
Maybe get out my (still sealed) Perry Miniatures American Civil War stuff and finally make a start on painting them and getting them to the front line?
The good thing there is that my 18th century Native American Woodland Indians will double up nicely for that too.

yeah, it would be really good to get the fort Hils (wife) made me into my games at last.
Rogers rangers... ideal for a bit of French Indian War. Hmmm, the mind starts to careen with fresh ideas.
... and perhaps it`s time for a bit of "Sharpe" as well.
 
"If I should be for a soldier again
The Devil will be my sergeant.
 
Poor old soldier, poor old soldier,
If I should be for a soldier again,
the Devil will be my sergeant."
 
Shock horror I mentioned gasp fantasy gaming!!!  Actually I play both historical (and Imagi-Nation) and fantasy/sci-fi.  At one time
 I combined blogging space with both sides of the coin on a single
 site, but I found the two shades of the hobby simply didn`t mix
too well. One minute I`d be talking about Vampires and Ghouls, Zombie incursions and Alien encounters on derelict space ships; and the next I`d be discussing the intricacies of logistics for a British expeditionary force entering the Peking legations, or journeying up the Nile and into the Congo delta with a fleet of tramp steamers: or discoursing over the skill required to maintain and crew a 17th century siege mortar (at one stage there were only two men alive in England with the skill to do it). So I started two blogs. This one for historical stuff and then I re-opened The Game Cupboard for all our fantasy type games...
 
https://blogspotrpg.blogspot.com/     <-- check it out sometime if you fancy a bit of fantasy gaming.
 
 It worked a charm, but is sometimes hard to run both at the same time. But I`m lucky. I have good old wifey (luckily also a passionate gamer) and a few good friends to help out if even in need. Course, there`s Tar` too, our faithful family retainer and all round cool woman.
Can`t beat a good ol` game of Dungeons and Dragons from time to time, for a nice change of pace.
.... or a game of Zombicide Black Plague.
.....I also enjoy Chibi/Anime fantasy gaming (always a big favourite with the girls). I have a good thousand of these little beauties... and really must get them out more often.
 

But yeah, when I retreat from the hobby for a while (we all do that from time to time as gamer`s block sets in), I tend to sit and study.

That study might be to keep the old mind active and read up on my favourite periods of history, or could quite as equally be to hit the books and read up on the Dungeon Masters Guide, Players

Handbook, and the Monster Manual. End of the day, the result is always the same. A sojourn away from the table and from painting, always leaves me feeling refreshed and rearing to get back into things. But this time round, there has been a profound inner change. None of it bad, and all of it good. I`ve simply honed my focus, narrowed down the important stuff (separated the wheat for the chaff) and thrown away the crap! (being mindful at the same time not to throw away the proverbial babies with the dishwater).

 


..... but getting that fort into my games really is starting to appeal to my sensibilities big time. I must, I really must.

 


So once I can find a suitable place to stop, I will take a break from Zulus, and concentrate on a few other aspects of the hobby for a while. The Zulu campaign will continue, but it will be like the end of series one, and like those TV shows we all love, the voice over at the end might sound something like ".. and watch out for series two, which will continue here on the BBC.. in March 2020."
For now, bear with me. I have the next three parts of the
campaign worked out, half written up, played out and photographed. I just need to get everything into readable shape and post it all over the coming weeks.
 
 
 
As I always say. Happy times ahead.

 

The faithful hounds! Never far from my feet.
 
 

 




 

 

Monday, 13 May 2019

Sir Wellyn Shaftesbury and the Hardlove Brainifyer (Part 6)


The Hardlove Brainifyer:
 
being part the 6th, of the continuing treatise on Zulu Wars.

 
Meanwhile, back in London:
 
 
Wellyn Shaftesbury stands almost to attention in the pristine gloss polished reception room where shadows dread to lurk amongst the shine and fine veneer. A veritable army of servants are lingering (no doubt), poised with mop and broom, feather duster… spick and span; ready to do battle with any hateful dust or dowdy speck filled corner. Yet, in truth, no grime would dare display an inkling towards such mutiny, nor with intrepid distain impose so rudely upon the order created by the cleaning staff of No. 1 Ruttingham Palace… and within these hallowed halls, nothing unclean would intrude upon the offend eye of any Royal personage.
 
When I say that Wellyn stands almost to attention, I do not mean to imply he displays a mean or rebellious disposition; rather… his `spirit` remains aloft, like a builder`s scaffold around a frame of some endangered and infirm construct. Willpower alone keeps Wellyn standing upright, but his brain would have him sit… or lie…… or fall; so better to comfort to his present disposition.
 
Yet the half full brandy glass in his hand remains as steady as a trapeze artist’s pole – despite the alcohol soaked spirit which swims foggily (for it`s life) to remain focused and alert; and the only sign of Wellyn`s inebriated senses is the slight slouch in his composure, and the almost indiscernible swaying of his torso, like a tree bending… slow motion in the breeze.
 
But when a butler steps forward, respectfully, to retrieve the culprit and offending receptacle from the honoured guest; Wellyn Shaftesbury mistakes the offer as an invitation to re-charge his glass and politely mumbles his ascent through the thick recesses of his prolific sculpted moustache.
 
Wellyn Shaftesbury: tall and proud, partly blind in one eye, prone to flatulence and burping after every meal (a sign of respect in many countries, they say). A retired Major General, a tired psudo narcoleptic… frayed and frazzled from too many years of provocative clashes with dissident Nanarchists, sundry enemies of the British Empire… natives, and the dratted Pygmies of the Lost World. Well! at least that`s how he appears to many. He is, naturally, also a spy and a master of disguises!
 
He stands now, confused and slightly unsure of himself; and this manifests in the unwise course of action and unsafe haven he currently entertains… found at the bottom of his cups.
 
The question that keeps cropping up in his mind, like an unwelcome belch in a lady’s boudoir, is “why”…. why has Her Majesty summoned him to the Palace in the middle of the night?
 
Outside, the winter rains pour down it`s precipitous contents upon a watery multitude like a legion of tearful maidens; and Jack Frost sits poised to transmute the insubstantial volume into a gossamer blanket… a rink of ghostly hue, to hinder… slip and slide… foiling the meanderings of gentle folk as they go about their immutable destinies, and the humdrum routine of daily life.
 
Inside Her Majesty’s reception chamber, the coal flames flickering from the decorative inglenook are a sure sign of the Queen`s dominance...  a reminder that the fires of industry still burn brightly within the mighty Empire, and with a passionate heat.

 

 
Suddenly, a crystal tear forms upon the annealed brandy glass held firmly within Wellyn`s left hand. Refracted light from the overhead gaslight chandelier hits it with shadowless efficiency, and for a moment, this miniature furnace flashes like an orbicular sun… a sign from above, a reminder for the retired Major General that where Her Majesty governs - there is still order and structure in the world.
 
 

All at once his resolve is fastened, and his spirit is re-kindled by the passion of his conviction. The demon drink is chased away, and his clouded mind becomes a firm vessel for his more worthy thoughts.

 
It is precisely at this moment that the vast doors at the end of the long reception hall swing open, and an impressive image of silk and satin floats into the room like a mighty galleon at full sail.
 
Major General Wellyn Shaftesbury uncoils like a stiff spring… to his full five foot eleven inches, and clicks his spurs together in smart salute to her most Royal Majesty.
 
Somewhere, a young trumpeter, no doubt eager for promotional prospects, raises his musical instrument to his lips and sounds a fanfare blast which would have woken the dead, had any shades been present. But the trooper (seeing the chill and withering look of disdain on the Queen`s scarlet visage) suddenly lets the golden brass implement fall from his mouth… leaving an echoing cadence of notes to float away through the myriad of Palace corridors and halls.
 
“We are NOT amused”
 
Her Majesty sounds her objection like a judge’s verdict, and the foolish young trooper is ushered out of her presence by his colleagues… whilest his head still remains firmly attached to his shoulders.
 
 “Your Majesty” the Major General bows low so that a few of the topmost strands of his greying hair sweeps the (all ready) polished floor.
 
“Ah, my dear General” the Queen extends a hand for him to brush with his soldierly lips. “So good of you to come… and at such short notice.” Wellyn wonders momentarily what happens to a subject who refuses a summons issued by the ruler of an empire; but the rhetorical thought vanishes from his mind a few seconds later, and is replaced by a generous smile of affection for his beloved Vickie.
 
“Have you been waiting long?” The Royal Queen enquires, thoughtfully.
 
Wellyn allows his eyes to wander to the huge steam clock hanging from the wall, and nonchalantly notices the long hour hand has completed a full circle since his arrival at the Palace.
 
“Not long at all your Grace” the retired Major General replies smoothly, with an equally generous lie.
 
“You are probably wondering why I called you here at such an uncharitable hour.”
 
Wellyn waits in patient silence, allowing the polite smile to play further across his lips. Reaching behind him, he manages (smoothly and discretely) to secrete the remainder of his brandy into a large exotic looking pot plant.
 
“Well, um anyway… the short of it is, the Prussians are up to something again, and I want to know what it is.”
 
The Queen pauses and looks sourly into the Major General`s face, then continues:
 
“My informants, erm... inform me that Professor Hardlove has been spied working round the clock in his infernal workshops… and that the recipients of this latest invention are the devilish outlawed House of Battenberg, no less.”
 
Wellyn Shaftesbury coughs in a non committal manner and interjects: “But Your Majesty, after the unfortunate incident with the Kreigshosen Clockwork War Pants, surely  Hardlove wouldn’t dare be so blatantly obvious in his defiance against Your Highness?”
 
“Well, that`s what I want you to find out General.” The Queen sniffs, peevishly.
 
“But I`m retired.” The slightest trace of a whine is audible. 
 
“Then I suggest you un-retire yourself… and do it promptly, there`s a good fellow.”
 
“But…...”
 
“No buts… no time for it”
 
Wellyn simply lets a long sigh escape from behind his moustache.
 
“Yes, Your Majesty.” He mutters resignedly.
  
And thus, the matter is sealed… stamped… and finite, by the Queen`s will in the matter.. not to mention the fear of a stamped foot churlishly floored from an over-vexed girl. You don`t want to be in the immediate vicinity of the Sovereign Lady when her heavy heel comes down… 
 
… and Major General Wellyn Shaftesbury is powerless to do anything other than comply with her whimsical desires.

 
The following few seconds of silence is a clear indication that his audience with the young Queen, brief though it was, is now over; and bowing respectfully in the manner of  gentlemanly virtue, Wellyn retires from the chamber, and traces his way along the passages towards the outer courtyard where his horseless carriage awaits. The Palace guard escort Wellyn off the premises in a flanking chaperone.
 
Once outside, under the flickering gas street lamps, but out of easy earshot, the newly re-instated Major General utters a passionate exclamation accompanied by two small words… to noone in particular:
 
“Oh bugger it.”
 
Then he steps boldly aboard his vehicle!
 
 
***          ***          ***          )o(          ***          ***          ***
 
 The clockwork carriage whirls along the narrow cobbled streets, like an alabaster dynamo. Intricate cogs and wheels buzz and spin, propelling the elegant device along the road in defiance and seeming mockery of nature`s law.
 
Other even more outlandish modes of transport pass the Major General by, moving in the opposite direction. Ordinarily, Wellyn would be taking great interest in the latest scientifically advanced inventions of fellow dignitaries as they rode the roads of Olde London Towne. But now, Wellyn is lost in thought, and ponders the portent of all that has recently transpired in the Palace.
 
Professor Von Hardlove`s workshops would not be hard to find… even his most secret laboratory lairs. It was always possible to buy information from lowly minions. The promise of hard cash was a decisive incentive in these seedy matters; and the spy network of Her Royal Highness was second to none in the affairs of military espionage and nefarious foreign dealings.
 
Besides, men like Von Hardlove made enemies thick and fast…. it was the nature of  greedy, narrow minded and small despots to double cross and swindle their way to the top. Bribing lesser-lings to reveal master plots and plans was a profitable business in this game.

But if Her Highness required him once again to take up his former position as an agent for Foreign Military Affairs… this could only mean one thing; the Queen expected this to lead to war. What did she know? What did she guess at that she wasn`t telling him?
 
This whole affair was very obviously much deeper than it at first appeared.
 
Act 2
 
 It is an hour later, and still the rain lashes down upon the cobbled streets, and a fine mist rises from the ground like hot steam from a stray dog`s urine. The hired horseless carriage sits soaking wet in the garage, and everything is quiet and still within the private abode of one newly re-appointed and foremost officer of the Queen`s most impeccable and gallant military gentlemen of the realm.
 
Wellyn Shaftesbury allows the ruggedly suave composure, which usually sits under his boot-polish dyed raven locks, to melt from his face; replacing it with the rather shrewd, effortless composure of a mentally bifurcating buffoon… or in plain Paxian, a bit of an amiable cad.
 
Wellyn doesn`t like being put upon, and he feels like he has just been utterly out-foxed by Her Royal Highness. With his well honed survival instincts on full alert, the Major General wonders whether the Queen has perhaps pegged him as a charlatan and a coward… admittedly a dash handsome one, mind you.  Maybe this is her revenge for all the years of (mis-appropriated) favours he had acquired (some might even say swindled) from people, all in the good name of Queen Vick.. God bless `er. 
 
A man is apt to make many enemies when he climbs over so many lesser personage`s shoulders to reach the top rung of the ladder, but Wellyn has always been careful to cover his tracks where ever possible. When you are the Queen`s `adorable pet` it is usually best to cover every conceivable angle. After all, the higher one rises, the further one has to fall should anything potentiallythough unlikely ever go wrong.
 
After a while, worrying about shadows, back-stabbers, and metaphorically armed assassins issuing law suits like dipping ichor blades, Wellyn calms down enough to glean an insight into the truth of the matter. No! This wasn`t someone trying to pull him down by toadying to the Queen behind his back. There wasn`t anyone sitting in the wings waiting to chop him down to size the second he fell to their clamouring guillotine grasp. This was merely Her Highness having one of her capricious moments. She wanted her most gallant gentleman (ho, ho) back in the stirrups, and was no doubt intending to send him gallivanting half way around the world, chasing as many trumped up charges of National Security as she deemed necessary… simply so that once again she could see her romantic favourite wearing those tight leather Hussar trousers with the dashing red stripe stitched alluringly down the side of each leg.
 
All this sits well in Wellyn`s thoughts. He understands equations like this. Besides, it is inconceivable to his vain and shallow mind, that anyone would find him anything other than the very model of a modern Major General.
 
Dash and penash attach themselves to Wellyn like a well conceived second skin. A man in vogue, and utterly with the times; Shaftesbury is adored by women, emulated by men, and chastised by his Nanny… but that`s another story, best served cold in another slice of this embroiled pie of life.
 
Suffice to say. Wellyn Shaftesbury is most certainly a Man for All Seasons.
 
As Wellyn Shaftesbury sits within his luxury apartment flat, knocking back the fine claret and smoking a long hand rolled cigar, there is a furtive knock at the window.
 
A pair of furtive eyes and an unshaven male head is peering through the glass pane with a “is it safe or should I run” look etched plainly across a rough sculptured, Romanesque face.
 
A gangly… furtive looking individual with a tattered bowler hat (a much prized possession – shamelessly stolen from the wardrobe of Thomas Coke, the 2nd Earl of Leicester in 1850) starts to climb in the window.
 
Wellyn, un-alarmed and unperturbed in the least, merely slurs: “Why don`t you use the door like everybody else”.

 
This half rhetorical statement is met by a lyrical chime of words, sounding like a stream bubbling over washed pebbles: “Ah now, Mr Shaftesbury, sir, you know how much I hate using doors when der`s a perfectly good window open and yielding, so to speak.
 
“Come in Seamus”.
 
“Err…. I`m all ready am, sir”. The scruffy fellow drops furtively onto Wellyn`s apartment floor.
 
“Seamus by name, Shameless by nature, hey, mi old Irish Wolf Hound you”. Wellyn`s slurring has now turned into a half abrasive drunken tone.
 
“Ah, well, see… if yer gonna be like dat Mr Shaftesbury, sir, I`m tinking as maybe I`d better come back in the morning, when yer not quite so much in yer cups, so to speak”.
 
Seamus begins to climb back out the window.
 
Wellyn waves a hand in a placatory manner towards the roguish Munster man. “For God’s sake Shameless, shut up and sit down … pour yourself a drink if you want one man, and then tell me what you`ve got for me, for heaven`s sake… and stop dripping water all over the carpet?”
 
Seamus O` Toole: furtive as a ferret… master thief extraordinaire, full time gambler (prone to losing) part time vagrant, part time spy, dandy with the ladies (when he bothers to take a bath), and former road gang convict. Found and rescued by Shaftesbury, then set to work as his personal eyes and ears in various nefarious deeds and lesser crimes. Formerly a Cork/Kerry borderman from a tiny backwater town of Bally Vourney. Middle child in a sibling hatch of 14 children, Seamus ran away from his home and his country…. left his honour on the mantelpiece alongside an insulting note to his heavy handed father, had fled the pigs, the potato blight, the famine, the Anglo Irish Landlords… and had crossed the seas into `Blighty` with nothing more than the shirt upon his back and the quick wits he carried with him in his flexible brackish brain.
 
When describing Seamus, a single word will usually suffice… furtive. If the word furtive doesn`t crop up in any sentence containing this rough, roguish miscreant; indeed, you must be talking about some other person all together.

 
Climbing back into the room, Seamus furtively pours himself a large measure of whisky from an opened bottle of Bourbon sitting behind the rest of the alcoholic concoctions, and drinks deeply from the highball glass. The Irishman’s hand shakes slightly with an uncontrollable life of its own, and his eyes dart furtively about the room, seeking out unknown shadows and hidden dangers at every twist and turn. This is normal for Seamus… a born coward and preserver of life – namely his own. But Wellyn knows the man well enough to sense something is bothering him even more than usual, because he is acting extremely neurotically and even more nervously than usual.
 
“You`re acting like a lover with a guilty conscience tonight, what`s the matter with you man”? Wallyn enquires, smoulderingly.
 
Seamus licks his lips, and furtively places his back to the wall, then looks furtively out the window and into the shadows below. When he is satisfied there is noone prowling about, he seems to relax slightly… but not much.
 
“Well?  Impatiently, Wellyn raps his fingers on the side of his comfy arm chair.
 
Wellyn knows it must be something to do with the job he had set Seamus to perform just after he had concluded his conversation at the Palace. The Major General had sent an on-side Bow Street Runner to root out O` Toole from his usual watering hole down by the riverside, to hand him a letter containing a set of hurriedly written instructions. This letter included orders to seek the present whereabouts of Hauftmann Lulatsch, and Hauftmann Schraat; known part time accomplices of Professor Lucifer Von Hardlove. Wellyn knew that if these two were anywhere in London at the moment, Seamus` bloodhound nose would seek them out.
 
Welyn`s logic was, that if these incompetent swines could be located and questioned, the actual whereabouts of Hardlove might soon be forthcoming – with a bit of gentle persuasion. This would save Wellyn a trip to Hertfordshire and the Spectral Aviation Services... or the SAS as they liked to be known. If he could locate Hardlove himself, without the aid of the Ghost Squadrons, his reputation would gain a new glossy feather in his proverbial cap.
 
“Well, Seamus”? Wellyn is sobering up quickly now his instinctive survival traits are kicking into full fighting mode.
 
Seamus licks his lips: “Well, you see sir, tis like dis. I did exactly what you asked, the second I got that there letter you had yer runner find me with. So Seamus, my lad, I  says to mi self.. where are ya likely to find dose two Prussian windbags at dis time in d morning? And then I remembered they had a liking for d tracks.”
 
“Tracks”? Wellyn interjects.
 
“Not the gee-gees sir, and not the raptors, oh no. These two birds have a liking fer the dogs, so they do. So twasn`t too much of a shake of the old lamb`s tail to locate the more nocturnal betting den`s in operation at d moment, on the more shadier side of town. Sure enough, I found the pair of them there, boozing and carousing the live long night through.”
 
Seamus takes another big swig of his drink, then continues.
 
“And that`s when I noticed the two of them had muscle with them, sir. And not the ordinary commonal garden, thick headed bruiser types, oh no. These were more in line with the `hello sonny, how would you like to take a nice long walk off an exceedingly short pier ` type, if yer follow mi meaning, sir.
 
Ah but, by then, twas too late. The bouncers had spotted my interest in the Prussian pair… and dat’s when I decided to play follow mi leader through the streets and alleys, until I finally felt sure I`d given them d slip.”
 
Wellyn sat bolt upright in his seat: “Good God Seamus, you didn`t lead them here did you”? The Major General automatically reaches for a pistol he keeps hidden in a drawer beside the desk.
 
“By the grace of Gad, no sir. I`m almost positive I gave the fellows de` slip.”
 
Wellyn gives Seamus one long searching look before sighing and reaching for a few choice belongings, which he stuffs in his (all ready made up) emergency bag, kept ready... discretely... and within easy reach.
 
“Aaawwww yer not giving up yer nice lovely pad on my account are yer”? Seamus looks generally distressed.
 
“Hmmmm, rents due anyway.” Wellyn looks wistfully at his recently acquired Webster`s Catalogue collection of drinks, plus portable clockwork cabinet and built in shaker-maker. But when he sees the dint he has made in the contents of several of the (still to pay for) bottles, he decides returning it as `unused` might not be such a bright idea.

 
“Yer`ll be wanting to use the front door then”. Seamus conceals a smile behind a small cough.
 
Hmmmm, is it a long way down that drainpipe”? Wellyn enquires, looking out the window at the alleyway below.
 
 
******
 
Outside: in the rain… heavily cloaked and observing from the deepest darkest shadows, eyes are watching the odd couple (plus a small suitcase) puff and pant their way down a rickety old drainpipe at the side of a large building; “Mrs Miggills Luxury Bath & Boarding House” according to the sign located at the front of the premises. A rather large, Prussian chest swells with even more bloated pride than usual.

“Aahh, now vee haf sem”.

A smug voiced shadow whispers to his smaller bloated companion.
 
 
 
******          ******        )o(        ******         ******

 

Act 3
 
It doesn`t take Wellyn and his furtive Irish companion long to clamber out of the first floor window of “Mrs Miggills Luxury Bath& Boarding House”, scramble puffing and panting down the creaky old drainpipe… then land with a “splosh” in a deep puddle in the alley at the bottom of their semi-precarious descent.
 
 “Oh Bugger it” The Major General declares.
 
 “What`s the matter, sir? Did ye forget something back in the room”?
 
Wellyn pats his thighs and feels up and down his legs with both hands: “Daaagh! I hope I didn`t get splash marks on these pants; they`d be devilish awkward to clean at this short notice.”
 
While the upset officer checks himself over to ensure his `Dash` factor is still in place. O` Toole looks furtively up and down the alleyway to make sure their exit from the building has not been noticed by any nocturnal passers by. Content that they have not been detected, the Irish rogue looks round furtively to see whether his friend… who is still muttering to himself… is ready?
 
“Where to now, boss”?

 
Seamus has learned by now that the magnificently versatile Major General rarely goes anywhere, or does anything, without an arsenal of ideas and back up plans firmly lodged in his wheel and cog churning head.
 
Once Wellyn has taken a few steps out of the gloomy alley, walks under a gas lit streetlamp and checks his be-smudged and muddy lower britches; he is reasonably satisfied the marks will wash out.

 
“Looks okay from here, sir” O Toole remarks, looking across the street towards the riverside walk, and their obvious route.
 
“Hmmm, yes…… We were lucky   It wont stain, I don`t think”. Wellyn scrutinizes himself one last time.
 
Finally he allows his mind to wander to their current predicament. Wellyn muses to himself: `So, Hauftmann Lulatsch, and Hauftmann Schraat have some company do they… and pretty classy muscle at that, it would seem by all accounts, judging from Seamus` story.
 
… and when they cottoned on to the fact that Seamus had pegged their number, they led him a merry chase, right through the streets; hmmmm, very bold, very daring.`

 
Wellyn allows his eyes to rest on his old Irish bloodhound for a second. The thought occurs to him that had the pursuers caught the Irishman, Seamus might now be wearing a concrete overcoat at the bottom of the Thames.
 
 He keeps this thought out of his face, and lights a cigarette, with hardly a trace of nervousness or shaking hand.
 
`So what have those two Prussian rogues gotten themselves into this time, I wonder?`
 
Wellyn sucks on his filterless Woolbrine.
 
“Come on Seamus, we`d better head for the nearest Constabulary building”. Wellyn quickens his pace and pulls his elegant though sadly insufficient jacket closer around his shoulders.
 
Wellyn`s mind works overtime: `If Hauftmann Lulatsch and Schraat are working for Hardlove… actually  within the inner city of London itself, and if they have hired muscle protecting their interests (or does the muscle have its own vested interest in this pair of bunko artist… hmmm), the likelihood is that Professor Lucifer Hardlove… or Von Hardlove as he likes to be known of late…. is in league with Prince Vlaad: the only man fiendish enough to concoct such a devilish plan right under the nose of the Queen…and  assuming Her Majesty’s current information concerning Lucifer`s involvement with the outlawed Battenberg family is correct; then when all things are considered and carefully weighted…. the more probable it becomes that Wellyn`s worst fears have good cause to surface.`
 
Wellyn pulls deeply on his cigarette before allowing his mind to focus and finalize on the conclusion of his thoughts.
 
`So, our old friend Vlaad the Impersonator is lurking somewhere in London’s deepest and seediest shadows…. Oh bugger it`.
 
Vlaad: an outlawed bastard son of the Royal Battenberg line. Buys himself a cheap Princedom in some backwater of the Transvestual Mountains. Manages to get himself bitten in the neck by an infectious carnivorous bat, which gives him a blood infection and send`s him completely insane… and in a wave of delusional grandeur, suddenly believe himself destined to become the star of stage and dance.
 
In a macabre parody of good taste, caught up on a false wave of shallow emotion brought on by the bright neon lights of show business; the mad Prince moves to London, leases a large warehouse on the waterfronts of the East End, and begins to put on terrible, seditious plays and pantomimes from his new Playhouse on the banks of Holly Dock.
 
When “The Merry Lovers of Princess - sounds a bit like Vick-tor-i-er, “Edward the Turd”, and “Three Orgies, and a Funeral” are aired (to mention  just a few of the satirical parodies from Vlaad`s billing)… the crowds` attendance heralds an unprecedented showbiz success, the likes of which has never before happened in British entertainment history.
 
Wellyn stifles a smile, suddenly remembering a few lines from the script of a particularly scandalous play:

 

A Newly Wedded & Bedded Princess Queen on her Wedding Night.
 
“I say, Albert ”

 
 

“Yes, my love”

 
 

“What we just did…. um… was that what the common people call fucking?”
  


“Yes, my love”
  
(Queen pauses, and ponders for a second before continuing).

 
 


“Well, they must stop that, at once…. It`s far too good for the likes of them”.
 
All this had happened a few years ago, and of course, at the time, the young blushing and then `innocent` Princess (ho ho) found herself with no choice but to put a stop to all that nonsense… before every commoner, peer, and noble of the realm saw the morale damaging shows of Prince Vlaad… in which he often used to make personal appearances, and do highly life like impersonations of various important personalities within the Royal Household.
 
Naturally, when popularity strikes the gifted, or those who are fated, or the downright unlucky; there is usually a more shady element involved.
 
Well…. there was a more shadowy element to Vlaad by the time Wellyn Shaftesbury had finished framing him… and with enough convincing evidence to bring about an immediate charge of High Treason to both Crown and State.
 
When The Princesses Own Guard marched to Holly Dock and discovered a full case of Professor Lucifer Hardlove`s Kreigshosen Clockwork War pants complete with Prussian insignia in the cellars under the Play House, Vlaad was discredited, and had been forced to flee the country to escape the executioner’s block.
 
Yet, somehow, the Prince had discovered Wellyn was behind the set up, and for some reason…. the Transvestual Prince has never quite forgiven Wellyn for his part in the act. People can be so odd!
 
In fact, one of Wellyn Shaftesbury`s pet unsolved mystery cases has always been: “How the bloody hell did that Mad Posturing Catamite find out that I had a hand in his downfall?”
 
 So, Wellyn`s plan is fairly straight forward.
 
Head for the nearest Police Station… flash his credentials… don a new disguise… set Seamus to walk the streets as a decoy look alike … and meanwhile, bugger off safely in the opposite direction when noone was looking.
 
As plans go, this was not one of his better constructions. But time being an issue, Wellyn found he was being forced to ad-lib on his feet. When one is being pursued by a mad man who is equally likely to come at you dressed as a large bat as he is to impersonate a servant of the Royal household; one has to put some considerable distance between oneself and the enemy.
 
…. Kipling`s Land should be far enough. Wellyn concludes. He can explain his reasoning to the Queen at some later date. But for now his personal safety is, as always, the paramount concern.
 
****
Several hours later:
 
 
The first light of a new day starts to trickle through the grey blanket of night, like a whispered promise of things to come.
 
Away in the distance on the eastern horizon, the God of Artists paints a few preliminary sketches, in which he uses colours from a pallet of gold; various hues of purple, blues and a deep sombre violet.
 
Overhead, a few early bird seagulls herald in the dawn with a discordant cadence of calls and cries, and the scent of the Thames sits heavy in the lungs of venturous boatmen, preparing for their early morning graft; stepping lively upon bobbing barge and floating craft, all with caligrophied signs depicting various waterborne trade and sundry commerce.
 
A pallid morning; bereft of emotion; dour and lank. Heaven`s precipitations having washed away the brighter colours and left a listless slate of stillness and sour seaweed air.
 
Two odd looking men… one small, one large… smelling of last night’s fish and chips, sit on an old crooked bench and watch Wellyn Shaftsbury obliquely as he leans over a railing on the far riverward side of the harbour.
 
The small one turns to the other and says: “Dumcoff! I knew vee should haf bought a flask of somethink hot to dvink . Vuy must you always not listen to me Lulatsch?”
 
“Because, Schraat…vee did not know Shaftesbury vas going to stand outside in se vain all night long and do nothink other that pissh ofer the vails at the seagullz”.
 
Lulatsch… the tall one… exclaims in annoyance.
 
“But he haz been standing there for hourz. Vat iz he doing?”
 
 Schraat whines.
 
 “Besides, Vuy must ve alvays speak in Engleeesh; it`s not even as though ve`re any gooot ut it?”
 
Lulatsch sighs resignedly, and as though he is talking to a small child, he explains:
 
“Because, Schraat… ve`d be very poor spiez if vee talked in our native Prussian tongue, idiot”.
 
This seems to satisfy the curious and disgruntled Schraat for a while, and they sit in silence for a while, watching the figure of Wellyn Shaftsbury as he leans over the metal water guard and looks out over the wide river.
 
After a while, Schraat sniffs peevishly, and says: “Well, I don`t even think it looks much like him.”
 
 
 Vell, who do you think it is then…. General Kitchener?”
 
 “He`s not the vight shape, for vone thing.” Schraat continues.
 
 Lulatsch screws up his eyes for a long moment and stares through his cracked monocle at the man they have been ordered to tail. Certainly, their quarry is wearing a military uniform…. that of a cavalry hussar. The boots are polished, the sword pommel glints in its shiny scabbard, the figure is sporting a long greased moustache, which he keeps bending back into shape with his fingers.
 
Admittedly, the man seems to have a bit of a slovenly stoop to the shoulders, and keeps looking over his shoulder in a furtive sort of way… and his uniform is sort of reminiscent of a pantomime costume.
 
But no! Impossible. They followed this man out of the Baker Street Constabulary Barracks (just as that old woman with the overly large knockers was leaving by the side gate) and had followed him here… and he hadn`t left their sight… not even once!
 
After a few more agonizing minutes of silence, Schraat clears his throat and asks:
 
“You don`t suppose it`s possible ve could huf been following the vong man, do you?”
 
The sudden look of utter disgust of Lulatsch`s face would have made quite a comical picture… especially if Jack the Stripper had been there to paint it.
 
 ****          ****           ****





Act 4
 
Several hours earlier, in the wee hours of the morning:
 
 Seamus O` Toole walked away from Barker Street, dressed in a rather shabby costume vaguely resembling a military officer’s uniform… no doubt left in the store room of the Constabulary by some recently arrested drunken Hotel Porter, who had probably spent the night in a cell while he dried out from his over-indulgence, and had forgotten to pick his clothes up on the way out (?). He strode away at a brisk pace and made his way by a somewhat meandering course to a dockside somewhere near Poodle’s Gate, where he proceeded to load and smoke his pipe - several times. He threw handfuls of small stones into the river to keep himself from freezing to death in the chill, foggy night air; and whittled away the hours by drinking occasionally from a small, but newly filled hip flask which had accidentally fallen into his pocket as he exited Wellyn`s apartment window. The highlight of his nocturnal adventures was the occasional high rise `piddle` over the side of the dock and into the murky depth of the Thames below. For some reason, Seamus found this amusing.
 
Meanwhile, Wellyn Shaftesbury… who had dipped into the same store room within the Constabulary building, had produced an old Washer Women`s dress and apron, stuffed wrapped up toilet paper into the bra cups; placed an old mop head over his actual lush and curly locks, then applied liberal quantities of lipstick and make up to his unshaven face* … he walked away in the opposite direction and vanished into the foggy night.
 
* Why a washer Women`s outfit was sitting in the store room is a complete mystery. As for the lipstick and make up…. well, it`s a well known fact that Bobbies like to look good when they patrol the streets, especially at night.
 
After signing autographs for several of the police men present at the station, Wellyn had made his way, in due course, down to the docks where he set to work looking for the fledgling Grey Star Line Shipping Office, and still posing as a Washer Woman, he/she had secured a luxurious cabin aboard “The Blue Beyond” for one Major General Wellyn Shaftsbury. The old woman had insisted on taking a look at the quarters aboard the air ship for herself, and furthermore, she was quite affronted at the notion of having to pay a deposit upfront and refused to part with a single farthing.
 
In a squeaky high pitch voice, she had chastised the salesman at the office with a bombardment of insults:
 
“Listen Sonny: I`m securing this ticket on behalf of one of the most important and noble gentleman this country has ever had the honour to own in it`s service; if this isn`t enough to satisfy you of my….um…his… credentials, then what may I ask, counts for anything at all in this dreadfully negative day and age?”
 
Somewhat overwhelmed, at a loss for words, and not knowing quite what else to do, the ticket salesman had issued Wellyn with a first class ticket to Angel Port in the Far Eastern Provinces of Kipling`s Land.
 
Once stowed safely within the private berth, Wellyn had proceeded to strip out of the borrowed disguise, and adorned himself in his favourite number one dress uniform, which had been secreted neatly in a corner of the trusty old travel bag he had carried with him out of his apartment flat.
 
Checking himself in the large boudoir mirror, he looked momentarily horrified when he noticed his bedraggled and somewhat dishevelled appearance. 
 
He washed… took a sharp razor and proceeded to scrape the evening shadow off his chin. Afterwards, he splashed expensive (free – complements of the ship) aftershave all over his face, perused the dinner menu… and almost as an afterthought, sent word for the ship’s Purser to purchase for him a wardrobe of suitable wearing apparel and foot wear from his favourite Safari clothes shop: “Man With D&A”.
 
Several hours later about the same time it started to dawn on Lulatsch and Schraat that they had been trailing the wrong man; Wellyn felt the first rumblings of the steam engines kicked into life, and he knew the crew of “The Blue Beyond” were stoking the fires… which would heat the boilers… which would turn the propellers… which would soon be propelling the craft gracefully through the air.
 
Wellyn emerged from his cabin, fully kitted out in a dashing and enormously expensive top hat, tie and tails (a bill for said items was folded neatly and placed discretely within a breast pocket), and proceeded in a leisurely way towards the dining room to indulge in morning refreshments… and perhaps a small tipple to start the day rolling with a smile.
 
Word that Sir Wellyn Shaftsbury was aboard the vessel had all ready reached the ears of many of the social elite, and a number of these passengers were fortunate enough to be honoured by his presence in the Refreshments Lounge; where he recounted several of his past adventures and personal anecdotes to an overjoyed audience. In times to come, gentlemen would boast how they had dined with Wellyn Shaftsbury. Woman would account to other swooning females how he had bowed low and kissed the backs of their hands with his soft brandy scented lips. Boys would grow to become men who were driven and enthused to do great deeds; inspired by words of wisdom imparted to them by the cleverest man in all the Pax Limpopo Empire.
 
****
 
Several hours later, as the sun is rising in the early morning sky:
 
 Professor Lucifer Von Hardlove sits strapped into the seat of his mechanical steam driven chair… and sulks.
 
He hates leaving England, especially the East End of London where his greatest and most loyal servants and secret laboratory warehouses are situated; and he particularly loathes returning to his draughty old castle home in the Drakonfels. His ally, General Blakis White, is an obnoxious megalomaniac who seems bent on ruling this tiny State in the Badlands, and is overbearingly ambitious in pursuing his ends. However, despite the tiresome prospect of soon having to deal with Blakis`s maniac obsessions, Lucifer knows the importance of having such a dangerously useful tool on his side.
 
Besides, living anywhere other than Prussia is a certified bonus, even if that country`s government does fund the money for many of his more nefarious military experiments and inventions.
 
Never the less, Lucifer detests returning to his home. To him, the people of Drakon  are a dour, colourless, un-intellectual breed; slow witted and slow paced. The place itself always seems to rain which plays merry hells with Lucifer`s rheumatoid arthritis; and the strong winds which blow down from the snow capped mountains seems to drive the piercing chill into every nook and cranny of the land.
 
 However, his work in London is done, and to sojourn needlessly any longer would be to invite trouble and danger to himself. It`s not exactly as though a man with a missing right arm, possessing no lower torso what so ever below the groin, and strapped into an unpredictable moving chair could blend in easily with the crowd. The word “Darlek” comes to mind; but that’s an invention Professor Von Hardlove hasn`t quite perfected, and so the word isn`t in general circulation – yet.
 
The Professor reaches down with his left arm… detaches a small shovel from the fixture on the side of the chair… swivels in his seat… reaches slightly lower to a small coal hatch in the base of the contraption… digs deep, and comes up with a tiny shovel bucket full of Poliash fuel… which he loads into the small furnace at the back of the chair. When this awkward operation is successfully performed, he flicks his machine chair into gear, and lurches forward on his spring loaded wooden wheels... hissing and spitting steam as he goes. A Drakonfels servant opens the cabin door for his master, and The Professor trundles off along the corridor towards the large bulkhead door at the end of the companion way. Another servant opens the portal which leads to the First Class Upper Passenger Deck, and Professor Hardlove manoeuvres his chair out into the bracing fresh air, ten hundred feet somewhere above the British coastline. “The Blue Beyond” really is a magnificent piece of technology, and the Professor makes a mental note to steal the plans one day, and build a fleet of these devices to add to his growing arsenal of War Machines and Weapons of Mass Destruction.
 
The mechanical chair coughs and splutters for a few moments, and jerks like a crazy horse as a large piece of coal ignites and dissipates a blast of energy to the furnace engine. But The Professor is used to the chair`s little ways and merely endures the discomfort until the engine settles down again.
 
The Drakenfels servants, seeing their master is fine and in complete control of the situation, close the outer companionway door and retire into their cabins, leaving the chair bound invalid alone to his customary self imposed solitude and personal space.
 
The First Class Upper Deck of “The Blue Beyond” is almost entirely deserted: which in this instance is fairly fortunate, because the skittering, temperamental machine skids careering about the windswept deck as it`s driver tries to regain control of the erratic steering brought about by the sudden unexpected burst of steam driven power.
 
When the chair finally alights at the deck rail, it nearly but not quite bumps into the one single passenger who is at the time also standing on the passenger area of the First Class Upper Deck!
 
A tall, rakishly good looking man with striking features… dark curly locks of hair…wearing a spotless… dashingly spiffing suit of clothes… turns round slowly and stares straight into the eyes of Professor Lucifer Von Hardlove.
 
The brandy glass held daintily between the middle and index fingers of this handsome gentleman`s left hand, twitches involuntarily, and the cut crystal glass slips from his grasp and falls shattering to the ground with a light tinkling noise.
 
The wind muffles the breaking glass like a ship`s horn sounding off in a bank of thick pea soup fog… and no one in the cabins adjoining the deck even hears a sound.
 
But the Professor is still struggling with the controls of his chair, and recognition doesn`t seem to register in his pre-occupied brain for a precious few seconds. Looking down at the gears and pulleys in front of him, he continues to wrestle with the strange vehicle for a few more moments….. before he suddenly freezes… like a child playing `musical statues` when the gramophone stops playing! Slowly he lifts his balding head and stares unbelievingly into the flustered face of Major General Sir Wellyn Shaftsbury... his single most detested enemy.
 
Time seems to stand still and the distance between the two of them becomes like a million miles of void expanse filled with thick porridge and clotted cream; which is to say, Lucifer and Wellyn`s limbs seem to be acting as though they are surrounded by an impending layer of immobility, and neither of them seems capable of springing into responsive action… and for another half a second laboured time ticks by in slow motion - bordering on tedium.
 
Von Hardlove`s long Fu Manchu style moustache twitches with revulsion. His face turns slowly red, and the pressure building inside him could have boiled a small kettle - and warmed the cups too.
 
Shaking with barely suppressed fury, Lucifer finally manages to spurt out a word:  
 
“You”
 
Time snaps! Slow motion catches up with its rear end, and several things suddenly happen all at once.
 
A door at the far end of the deck companion way bursts open and an excited child, free of his mother`s clutches for a few precious seconds, rushes happily onto the Passenger Viewing Area to get his first impressive glimpse of the world witnessed at an altitude of one thousand feet.
 
Simultaneously, from the near side portal, one of Von Hardlove`s bulky Drakenfels bruisers opens the door, carrying a silver tray and a glass of Schnapps…. while the helmsman of the “The Blue Beyond” chooses precisely this moment to sound the immense sky horn and lets off some of the ship`s excess steam.
 
Most of Wellyn`s words are lost among the cacophony of sound, and only: “Oh Bugger It” and “ What the f*@~#” is decipherable; and only by an astute person able to have read his lips could have made anything out…. had one even been present to do so.
 
The Drakenfels servant spots the danger in an instant, but fails to notice the big heavy looking mooring chain in front of his feet, and even as he reaches inside his pocket for a small Luger pistol he has secreted within, he trips clumsily over the iron ring and crumples ungainly to the deck… cracking his head and knocking himself senseless in the process.
 
Wellyn is suddenly propelled into motion and reaches hurriedly inside his jacket for a weapon, but Lucifer Von Hardlove responds slightly more quickly and places his hand upon a button situated among the knobs on the chair`s control panel. Presumably this will activate some fiendishly devilish device, designed to prod, squeeze or generally decapitate the Major General…. But just as the mad Professor is about to initiate his plan to snuff the life force from his foe, the small child darts to the deck rail directly between the two combatants. Lucifer freezes, unsure how to proceed for a second.
 
Vile and dangerous as he is; even this traitor to the Crown will stop one step short of deliberately hurting a child.
 
“Mummy, mummy, come look at the view.” The boy calls over to his parent, who is even now entering the passenger area. When she sees the scene unfolding in front of her, she offers up a little scream of anguish.
 
“Johnny! Johnny come back here at once.” Her voice shakes slightly as her eyes dart hastily from Lucifer in his chair, to Wellyn looking resplendent in his suit.
 
“But Mother, I can see the whole world from here.”
 
“Be that as it may, Johnny. Come here NOW!” There is always something in the tone of voice of The Guild of Parents when they are being deadly serious; and Johnny must be sensing this now, because he turns away from his position looking over the side of the ship, and moves over to his Mum.
 
“Awwwww Mum, why ca…….” but that`s as far as he gets, because the woman bundles her precious son up into her arms with a single fluid motion; driven on by the extreme stamina borne from maternal and feminine instinct which has now kicked in with a vengeance. She scuttles back out of the door through which little Johnny had entered… child in her grasp… and they both vanish from this story as suddenly as they had arrived!
 
But when the commotion sound and action have played out… The Professor still has his hand poised over the button on his machine… and Wellyn has whipped out an elegant weapon and is standing face to face with the Professor… with a duelling pistol pointed squarely at Lucifer`s head.
 
“Aaaaah very good Mr. Shaftesbury, I see you, too, are armed.” Professor Von Hardlove has regained his composure now, and seems inclined to banter with his victim… for a while at least. This will buy him a few moments until more henchmen arrive; and perhaps because all notorious villains simply can not help enjoying the sounds of their own voices when they sense the end is very near.
 
“Wouldn`t like to disappoint you, Lucifer.” Wellyn also buys for time, and tries really hard not to show his legs feel like jelly and his heart is pounding loudly in his chest… he recalls something he learned long ago about looking a dangerous animal right in the eye, and not showing it you are afraid… survival instincts… like an Impervious suit`s armour, surfacing to protect Wellyn from harm.
 
The Professor chuckles sarcastically. “Oh you always disappoint me, Shaftesbury. Why? Because basically you are facing a superior intellect, and your posturing and posing is, to me, like so much Swiss cheese.”
 
“Swiss cheese?” Wellyn fails to comprehend.
 
“Yes! Full of holes, and leaves a bad smell in the air.” The Professor wrinkles his nose with exaggerated bad acting.
 
“Ahh, I see. As eloquently spoken as ever, Herr Professor.” Wellyn continues, buying for time, thinking ten to the dozen on his feet, and wishing he had six legs and could evacuate the scene as fast as his bowels felt capable of doing.
 
`oh bugger, I`m going to die here, if I don`t think fast.` his mind races with a hundred half imagined terrible deaths. But he keeps his voice level, and pulls the mad invalid`s attention away from pressing that wicked looking skull`s head lever resting underneath his gnarled and crooked fingers. He barely dares to wonder what might happen if that button is pressed.
 
“How did you find me, anyway. My man must have led your boys in completely the wrong direction... and away from me?”
 
Despite his predicament, Wellyn finds his curiosity is peeked… and the fact he is holding a pistol pointed at The Professor encourages him considerably…
 
… `did I actually load the bloody thing this morning?` 
 
This new thought surfaces… as welcome as a Mother in Law knocking on the bedroom door a few seconds before sitting down to `Tiffin.`
 
“aaaah Shaftesbury, you under estimate me and my resources.” Lucifer is enjoying his importance.
 
“When your man left the Police Constabulary dressed in that ridiculous facsimile of yourself, I had Hauftmann Lulatsch and Hauftmann Schraat follow him to make sure he could do no further mischief.
 
I had my personal servants watch for you at the Constabulary. Hmmmm but no one left the building except a few mascara painted Police Officers and a local Washer Woman. So I figured you must have used underground passages my men did not know about.”
 
Wellyn smiles inwardly to himself at the thought that his devilishly clever disguise had worked so well.
 
“So, in truth, we lost you for a while, but I knew if we were patient, we would discover you again sometime soon. My spies are everywhere… everywhere.”
 
The Professor leans back slightly in his chair: “But who would have believed that our meeting again would be so soon.” He allows a nasty smile to play across his lips.
 
“It was most unfortunate that… Seamus… I think you call him… discovered my dealings with those two idiots, Lulatsch and Schraat, just as I was about to conclude my dealings in London’s seedy underbelly.”
 
“What were you doing there anyway?” Wellyn enquires, his curiosity peeked again.
 
“Aaaaah, Can you imagine the chaos, the confusion I can cause if I control all of the gambling hot spots along the East End of London…. imagine the anarchy I might cause if I have the hardcore criminal elite in my pocket.”
 
The Professor chuckles evilly, almost to himself as he runs over his plots and plans.  If he had two hands, he would no doubt be rubbing them together in glee.
 
“All ready, I have some of my machines… my weapons, and my armoured suits deposited and hidden away safely in the bowls of my newly purchased property acquisitions.”
 
Wellyn retorts: “But the Crime Lords wouldn’t stand for an outsider muscling in on their patch… not by the likes of you at any rate” Disgust at such a heinous plot against the people of London is evident in Wellyn’s voice.
 
“Aaaah, but you’d be amazed what you can get people to do….with the right persuasion, of course. My new Mind Altering Machine... the Mind Boggling, Steam-Driven Brainifyer... can make anyone I hook up to the device do e-x-a-c-t-l-y what I want them to. It`s a bit like turning strawberries to puree, hahaha.”
 
“You`ll never get away with this, Lucifer!” Wellyn is shocked by the boldness of the wicked plan.
 
"What better way to create a power base… here in the very streets of London… and right under the very nose of your beloved Queen Vick and the Princess Angelica… may the devils rot them and take their souls.”
 
“Vlaad will stop you…. he`s not after world domination, he just wants a stage to air his twisted perversions to the public.” Despite his natural cowardice, Wellyn is quite incensed by the depth of Lucifer`s evil machinations.
 
“Aaaaah so you have made the connection between myself and Prince Vlaad. Good, very good. You surprise me Mr. Shaftesbury, I thought you dull, but perhaps you do have a spark of insight after all…. Yes, Vlaad. He has many uses… most of them to my advantage. His ability to blend into the deepest night. The mad gleam in his eyes… terrifies most people you know. His mastermind perfection for detail…. and his rich abundance of money… can you imagine how enjoyable it was breaking his mind to my will once I used the Brainifyer on him a few times.
 
I think you will find that Prince Vlaad is now as malleable to my will as a new born puppy. What a perfect King Pin he will make here in the city – when I am not directly controlling things myself, of course.”
 
Suddenly it all becomes blindingly clear to Wellyn. Seamus` account of Lulatsch and Schraat, and the hired muscle they seemed to have working for them and protecting them. Of course, the two buffoons had been captured by Von Hardlove, and their minds what there was of them have now become completely mushed by Hardlove`s contraption. They might not have a lot in the way of little grey cells… but their knowledge of the underworld and their list of contacts, naturally, makes them invaluable to Von Hardlove`s devious schemes.
 
“Good God, man, you`ll topple the world over the precipice and into Hell itself. You must be MAD.” Wellyn`s face is full of barely contained horror and revulsion.
 
“But, Mr. Shaftesbury.” The Professor continues in a low voice. “I am mad.”
 
The Drakenfels servant who had earlier knocked himself cold, starts to wake up… with a low groan.
 
About the same time, footsteps and loud voices can be heard ascending from the flight deck below. Obviously the woman who had earlier saved her little Johnny from a fate worse than death, has raised the alarm, and now ship`s marines were coming to deal with the matter personally.
 
The Professor takes his eyes off Wellyn for the briefest of seconds and looks towards the incumbent servant and at the companion way door. But it is the cue Wellyn is waiting for. Propelling himself athletically onto the deck railing, he vaults onto and over the other side, and lands on…….. nothing! Wellyn has misjudged the jump, and where he thinks he is landing on a ship`s life boat, there is in fact only open sky, and suddenly he is falling… falling. Out and away from the ship and gathering momentum… fast!
 
A thin wail breaks from his mouth, and then turns into an unmanly scream of sheer and utter terror.
 
Behind him, a voice cries on the wind: “Another time Mr Shaftesburyyyyyyyyyyyy.”
 
Clutching at a loose rope dangling from the side of the hull, Wellyn momentarily slows his descent… and nearly manages to stop. But the rope is attached to a pile of life jackets and other cloth wrapped contraptions, and the rope gives, and suddenly Wellyn and a pile of sundry items are falling… down… down… and The Blue Beyond is gone… and Wellyn is racing towards the ground at a frightening rate of knots.
 
Wellyn desperately clutches and clambers at the life jackets and various parcels which have fallen away with him. He makes a futile attempt at securing purchase on something solid and stable, and scrambled on top of a loose pile of falling debris.
 
The freezing, biting wind that howls about his face…. tears the wrappings from one tied parcel, and the cloth whips away and is gone; leaving Wellyn staring uncomprehendingly at a strange bundle of white silk and fine wires.
 
A name tag on the side of a strap says: “The Poppins Safety Umbrella.” Without thinking clearly why, Wellyn pulls a wire where a sign in big letters says; “Pull Here To Open.”
 
Suddenly, the ground stops shooting towards Wellyn, and he finds himself floating in the sky, and descending towards the ground at a much gentler and all together more leisurely pace. Way above in the sky The Blue Beyond has vanished among the clouds, doubtless continuing on its way to its numerous passenger stops. Below… the ground is approaching fast.
 
Comprehension dawns on Wellyn like the morning Sun illuminating the ground in its orbicular course; and vaguely he recalls reading in The Strand that the more deluxe of the Royale Air Ships were soon to be equipped with Eden Hardlove`s new improved Sky Floating Life Jackets.
 
Taking a firm grip on the Umbrella handles, Wellyn prepares to meet the ground. But the jolt is fairly gentle, and the Major General alights with barely a hair out of place. Fine silk and various wires drop to the ground all around him; but the bulk of the Safety Umbrella covers him like a boudoir blanket.
 
Sudden enthusiasm gives boost to his thoughts, and he knows he must reach the Queen and the Princess quickly if he is to thwart Lucifer Hardlove`s evil schemes. Wellyn is also keen to reap the rewards of his heroism and to bask in the adulation of his latest exploits.
 
`Oh, how the people will love me for this.` Wellyn praises himself.
 
He looks around to glean some insight as to his whereabouts. He has landed on a grassy knoll to the side of a well maintained Macadam road.
 
As luck would have it, there is an old rusty sign at the side of the road with two directions engraved upon it.
 
One direction says: “Crome 14 Miles”. The other says: “Bolt 5 miles.”
 
Wellyn smiles broadly to himself as familiarity of his surroundings fills his consciousness. As fortune would have it, this is the happy hunting ground of his youth… many years ago when he was merely a junior officer in the Hunworth Dragoons.
 
“What a fine turn of events.” He says to himself as he rubs his hands together in glee, and trudges off along the road.


end of part 6
 
 
© Stephen Gilbert