Thursday, 31 March 2011

Out at night

Sparrow was worried. The last coded message asked for information on the Duke’s Will, in particular who would inherit the title. The palace was chaotic, with the Duke’s illness, no one seemed to be capable of making a decision and the servants were exhausted by the constant flow of visitors arriving to check on the Duke’s health. Guards now seemed to be posted everywhere only letting those they recognised to pass freely though the palace and watching almost every room. There was no longer any way of slipping around the building at night and entering rooms by picking locks. Therefore Sparrow decided to check another possible source of information.

Although the curfew bell had sounded, there were still quite a number of people on the streets, reflecting quite how strictly the curfew was really observed. Sparrow had slipped out of the palace by a ground floor window and was now heading towards Doctor Tölpel’s house.

A ground floor window was easily opened with a slim knife blade. The window was blocked by some heavy drapes, but they could be pushed away and Sparrow entered the house. This was the dinning room, so Sparrow exited the room into the main corridor. After trying several doors the dispensary was found. Slipping inside there was little light, but Sparrow had come prepared with a candle and tinder box so quickly there was enough illumination to investigate. Sparrow was amazed by the vast array of labelled bottles, but the desk was where any evidence could be found. After several false starts, a book revealed the details of various medicines the Doctor had provided to his clients. Flicking quickly through the pages Sparrow found the entry for the Duke. Taking a scrap of paper Sparrow copied the instructions.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A fleeting visit

The Baron’s carriage drew up outside the Stadthaus in Stonew. The Baron would have preferred to have ridden, but the carriage allowed him time to study various papers while he was travelling and the Freistadt couldn’t be run just from his office. The door was promptly opened as he walked up the stairs and he was shown into Major Von Barner’s study, a fine room with a view over the Rhine. The Major was standing in anticipation.

“Please sit Major, this is purely a passing visit, and I’d like to pass on a bit of gossip”

“Really Sir, it must be more than that”

“Well it could be, you should be the judge. It was heard indirectly, but by reputable sources that the Duke of Pommaine has changed his Will. Unfortunately there is no other information on what might have happened”

“Interesting. I have also been investigating deeper into the affairs of the Ducal family. It appears that the Duke’s son Johann, Count Vladislav, and his current wife were all at Berbersdorf in Saxony nine years ago at the time of the scandalous surrender to the Austrians”

“You mean when Count Nauendorf surprised the Prussians a second time and took them all prisoner?”

“Yes, the Duke of Courland, who was in charge of the Prussian garrison, was later executed for the crime leaving his family destitute”

“and his daughter became the Duke of Pommaine’s wife, Intriguing”

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Servants Hall

The servant’s quarters were rife with rumours; Sparrow struggled with the problem of sorting out the truth from wild allegations and speculation. Certainly the duchess seemed to be influenced by Count Vladislav, but the wilder rumours alleged that the Duke was being poisoned, Konrad was the Count’s son not the Duke’s and that the army was preparing for war. It was a matter of synthesis gathering all the stories and then trying to establish the facts behind them. The Count had certainly “seduced” several of the chambermaids, but there was no direct evidence that the Duchess was or had been romantically involved with him. Poisoning of the Duke was more serious, but without interrogating the doctor little evidence was to be found. As for the army, there was evidence from various orders, dispatches and muster reports to show that the Duchy was being gradually put on a war footing.

So nothing definitive to send back in the next report, but perhaps they might have other information that would make more sense of the rumours.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Dark goings-on?

The teenager ducked back, but not quick enough. “I saw you!, get over here you idle wretch” shouted the housekeeper. The girl emerged sheepishly round the corner “Now take this warming pan straight up to the Duke’s chambers” she was commanded. Grabbing the handle she started to leave, but not swift enough to avoid a cuff.

Ascending the servant’s stairs she emerged on a long corridor, where a grenadier stood guard next to the Duke’s chamber. Thrusting the warming pan forward she approached the sentry, who seeing her approach held up his had to signify that she should stop and then knocked on the door. Moments later another grenadier opened the door from inside and seeing the pan, gestured for the servant to enter.

There was hardly any light in the room as the drapes were almost shut and the atmosphere was suffocatingly hot and stuffy. The Duke was propped up in bed and looked close to death. His physician Doctor Tölpel was present along with the Duchess.

The doctor looked up and told her to wrap the warming pan and place it under the covers next to the Duke. “We need to sweat the sickness out of him” he explained.

Stepping back the girl waited, seeing her still present the Duchess screamed “what are you still doing here?”

Curtseying she asked “Was there anything else ma’am”

“Yes, get rid of that” pointing at a full chamber pot.The girl left the chamber breathing a sigh of relief.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

It’s in the family

As the General marched off, Von Barner pondered over his remarks. Yes, it must have something to do with the Duke of Pommaine’s family; hopefully that was the clue to the activities in Pommaine. The two oldest sons had been sent off to serve in the Prussian and Austrian armies as part of the Dukes policy of keeping a foot in both camps. Johan, the oldest had joined the Prussians and as a chip off the old block had become involved in various non- military enterprises. He, luckily? had been killed in action at Berbersdorf just after his deals involving the loss of a supply train had come to light. Karl, the next oldest, was a complete contrast and served with distinction and became a clear favourite of the Prince De Ligne and was currently in command of his regiment of Walloon Dragoons. Then there was Augustus, cast very much in the same mould as Johan, as the third son, he had been packed off to the church and had risen rapidly. He always seemed to be in the right place, especially when more senior clergy had apparently strayed from the path of righteousness and was now a Papal Nuncio, with aims to become a cardinal.

The two daughters had been a disappointment to the Duke, being quite plain and with not much inheritance they had only married minor nobles.

Then there was the Duke’s youngest Konrad, the only child of his second marriage to Maria of Courland, he was only eight and very little was known about his character, except that his mother spoiled him.

No it was unlikely that anything was happening in the short term within the family, Augustus was off sorting out the church in Ireland and with the possibility of a Cardinal’s hat he wouldn’t be interested in Pommaine. Karl was well established in the Austrian army and his succession looked secure.

No, this must be some left over from a deal set up by Johan; he would need to investigate further in that direction.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Head of Intelligence

After the General and Major left the room, the General turned to the Major and asked how he was getting on in the job?

“Well it’s quite a change of style from regular soldiering, even compared to the Klein Kreig. But we have a lot of good agents out in the field and luckily they don’t need too much supervision, which means I can concentrate on analysing their reports and combining it with information from our traders and diplomats.”

“Excellent, and the family?”

“Good and not so good, Bettina my oldest has just dismissed our housekeeper, without consulting me I should add. She says she is perfectly capable of taking on the role and I believe she’ll be fine. However Ilse youngest is a complete tom-boy always up to something. I don’t know where she is half the time.”

“and Sergeant Schmidt who you took with you?”

“Oh Hans has been invaluable, trouble is my daughters dominate him, and Ilse in particular has persuaded him to teach her all the skills of a hunter.

“Well I’m sure it will all turn out well and that you won’t regret leaving the military life”

With that the General turned and headed for the Army Head Quarters leaving Von Barner puzzling over their discussion.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Intelligence report

On receiving the latest intelligence report from Pommaine, Major Von Barner requested an immediate audience with Baron Wilhelm and General Wurst. After handing them copies and giving them sufficient time to adsorb the contents, he asked for their views.

The Baron opened “It’s quite interesting that they use the term defensive alliance and that the Duke has committed his heirs and their representatives.”

“It’s the composition of the Alsatian forces that is also of interest, there is double the amount of cavalry being supplied compared to infantry, and therefore compensates for the severe losses in that arm that Pommaine suffered in the Seven Years War. It means that they would be capable of putting an army into the field.” stated the General

“You see the dilemma gentlemen” said Von Barner “We don’t know what event is intended to be covered by this secret treaty, but from other sources I know that the Alsatians can’t afford to maintain their army at its current strength for very long, so whatever is planned it must be likely to occur within the next year or more likely 6 months”

“I also see that the Alsatians in return get immediate access to Bruckewasser for their Rhine river traffic, do you think they have any plans afoot downstream? asked the Baron.

“Nothing has been reported by our agents, but I have alerted them to the possibility”

“This agent, Sparrow, seems a pretty resourceful chap, he seems to have access to some useful information, long may it continue, if possible pass on our thanks”

“Yes Baron”

“and obviously we need to keep this knowledge confidential, thank you gentlemen”

Friday, 11 March 2011


Sparrow softly cursed, it was so easy in practice, but picking a lock in near total darkness while listening out for sentries was proving impossible.

That evening the celebrations between the Pommainers and Alsatians had dragged on into the small hours and all the waiting staff were exhausted by the time the last revellers had staggered off to their beds. Sparrow had waited till all was quiet before sneaking down to the room where the secret treaty had been signed.

It had not been at all clear what was being negotiated and there had been too many guards around the conference room to prevent any chance of overhearing what was being discussed. It was taking quite a chance to break into the room in the hope that something useful could be found.

A thump and a cough in a nearby bedroom set Sparrow’s nerves jangling, but then reassured by the sound of a chamber pot being filled. Once all seemed calm again , the task was renewed and as if my magic the pick-locks engaged and the lock turned.

On entering the moonlit room, it was even more of a relief to see that a copy of the agreement was still lying on the table where it was signed. Presumably the Alsatians had taken their copy away and this was the Pommaine copy. Sparrow took the document to the window to study it's contents and commit as much as possible to memory.

Hmm, seemed mischief was certainly afoot!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Another problem?

Baron Wilhelm paced the floor of his office, he hadn't been in office long but the news from south of the border was disturbing. During his meeting this morning with General Wurst and the new head of intelligence Major Von Barner, the Major had revealed yet more news from Staunwitz. His agent Sparrow had just reported that the Lieb Regiment had been replaced by the mercenary Schwartzgarde.

Something is going on, but what? The Duke is old, and his latest wife Maria is rumoured to be infatuated with the commander of the mercenaries Count Vladislav.

Certainly Pommaine had been significantly increasing their forces, but there was no sign of belligerence towards any of it's neighbours yet!