It was time for the military review and formal investiture. Alois thought that, looking over the order of service, that Gumbolls must have gone mad. It was less an investiture than a form of bladder torture, whereby the congregation and guests, highest and lowest, would be expected to ‘hold it in’ for several hours. The actual formalities would be conducted by Brothers Himmelstoss and Richardt, both of whom at least had vague religious duties (as opposed to commercial or political ones) and upon his robing he would be expected to give a resounding sermon to set the tone of his suzerainty. This had been thoughtfully written for him by Gumbolls.
Standing somewhat sidelong and talking at something above Alois’ left ear, Gumbolls had explained that the delicate balancing act in the Abbey, between the Abbey and the Stadt, and between the Prince-Abbot and his Patrimony, and between the Patrimony and its larger neighbours and the Imperial Diet and the Emperor himself meant that things had to be handled ‘with delicacy’. Alois had been somewhat surprised that the permanently swaying Gumbolls could even spell the word, but as Gumbolls reeled off the political ramifications of whatever he said, why and to whom Alois began to get a mild headache. Innocently Alois suggested to Gumbolls that what was more important was the Abbey’s relationship to God rather than all this rather grubby secular business. This did not earn Alois the expected explosion but rather a didactic lecture from Gumbolls who had clearly come to the conclusion that Alois was even thicker than he remembered.
After half an hour of Gumbolls’ beery breath wafting over him Alois weakly agreed to deliver the sermon as written and set himself the task of learning it by rote. He had only managed a few lines when the Graf von Limburg was announced, or rather barged in as the novice stumbled through his name.
|Graf von Limburg|
‘Right, your Grace...’ said von Limburg, in a voice that clearly had developed a sense of purpose over the years ‘you understand that, at your investiture you will be reviewing the troops of the Patrimony?’
‘I believe so’ replied Alois with a high pitched irritability. ‘What of it?’
‘Well, your Grace, I am Colonel-in-Chief of your regiments and I am keen to ensure that there are no errors’ von Limburg said, insinuating most clearly that Alois was certain to commit numerous military crimes as he was simply a bumbling civilian.
Alois chuckled ‘But my dear Graf, this is not the Imperial Army, this is a small police force, a Gendarmerie at most whose duties are...’
The Graf exploded like a gigantic belch, his face going a shade of purple that Alois would have been certain never existed in nature.
‘YOUR GRACE!’ roared von Limburg gently, ‘You must not speak like this. Our army may be small but the units are models or professionalism with the highest standards of drill, the very best equipment, the most professional officers the...’
|Abbots Lifeguard on dismounted duty|
Alois held up his hand, soothingly. ‘Yes, my dear Graf, yes...’ he said placatingly, ‘but tell me, when was the last time we actually went to war?’
The Graf stopped, hush descended. His left foot started twisting as if he was stubbing out a burning ember on the floor, which he was staring at intently.
‘Yes..?’ prompted Alois when it became clear that von Limburg was not going to answer easily.
‘Er...well, about 27 years ago, your Grace, as part of our contribution to the Imperial Army’
‘Indeed’ said Alois, smiling faintly. ‘And how many of our people were killed or maimed in that conflict?’
‘One’ von Limburg muttered eventually.
‘One’ Alois repeated. ‘Killed or wounded? Was it bullet or bayonet?’
‘Neither, your Grace,’ von Limburg replied miserably, ‘A shaving accident. You see we only marched as far as Bingen and then we got told to go home, because the Emperor didn’t need us and we were only asked along by mistake...’ the explanation became increasingly hurried.
‘So, what you are telling me in fact,' Alois applied his words with the delicacy of a watchmakers tool, ‘that in a generation we went to war once, which was the result of a clerical error and lasted a day? With one wounded man through a blunt razor?’
‘No sir, two days...one to Bingen and one back’ von Limburg replied smartly. He was clearly determined to wring as much out of the adventure as possible.
‘Turning to the present,’ Alois continued, ‘you mentioned Regiments, plural. I was under the impression there was only my Lifeguard.’
‘Oh no your Grace, you have two. Your Lifeguard under Hauptman Lachen and your own regiment of foot, commanded by myself.’
|Abbot's Regiment of Foot|
‘And how large is this force?’ Alois asked, intrigued.
‘Well...,’ said von Limburg evaisively, ‘the Lifeguard has about sixty men, on a good day, and nearly two dozen horses when they are not needed for ploughing and such. Their job is to see to your day to day security, collect taxes, man the border patrols, carry messages and chase deserters. Your foot regiment can turn out nearly five hundred men, assuming they are not needed for the harvest that is, or when the breweries ship out their stock. We also have a cannon!’
‘Really?’ Alois looked bored. ‘And what am I to do with such a mighty legion?’
‘You never know, your Grace, when a letter may arrive from the Emperor. He is in a struggle with the Elector and, well, it could be anytime.’
‘Hmm...I remain unconvinced’ Alois sniffed.
|The Imperial messenger|
There was a hubbub at the door as the novice was heard arguing with a stentorian voice at the door.
‘Whoever it is, Georg, show them in!’ Alois shouted. Anything to give Limburg the hint that his audience was over. But Limburg stood there, awestruck, as through the doorway marched a mud spattered cavalry officer. No chocolate soldier this, thought Alois, feeling somewhat intimidated as the heavy cavalry boots hammered smartly across the wooden floor. Bowing stiffly the officer silently presented Alois with a sealed despatch, sidling close von Limburg noticed it bore the Emperor’s own seal.
‘Well?’ hissed Limburg, ‘Aren’t you going to open it?’
The colour had drained from Alois’ face, and his trembling hands fiddled with the seal until he prised it open. The Imperial officer looked on intently, Limburg hungrily. Alois read the message, then again, before limply passing it to Limburg and collapsing back on his throne. Limburg’s hungry eyes devoured the despatch and he smiled triumphantly. His time had come.