Thursday, 7 March 2013

"Go tell the Fezians"....Game Number 33, Part 1

The Rusland invasion of Fezia in 1900 was in actual fact little more than a large scale raid. No territory was ceded and whilst the damage to the local Fezian economy (wholesale burning of the Pomegranate crop and driving off of much in the way of livestock) was considerable the hardy Fezian peasantry swiftly recovered - aided by various government subsidies and 'considerations' from local businesses - most of whom were of foreign extraction in any event. The matter would have gone largely unnoticed on the global stage as this type  of affair was a routine occurrence along the border but for the heroic Fezian resistance to the invaders at the village of Firmopoly.

The life-blood of Firmopoly - the Pomegranate

The village had been there for centuries and was relatively prosperous in Fezian terms. The reason for its modest wealth was the simple fact that it controlled the famous Wooden Door road; the only route through which the local farmers could safely transport the all important Pomegranate crop to the coast.  The road was named after the two timber doors that controlled both the entrance and the exit to the village via the road. Originally the points of access to the stretch of the road that lay within the village walls were to have been fitted with strong iron gates but sadly the governor had overindulged his rather expansive mistress with the funds for the project and so insufficient remained to complete the works as planned. Instead a pair of rather flimsy and lightweight wooden doors were mounted instead. The locals, with their collective tongues firmly in their cheeks christened the thoroughfare the Wooden Doors road and so the name stuck. Not long afterwards the Governor met with the Sultan's displeasure (rumours abounded of bow strings or the old 'sack thrown in the Bosporus at the dead of night' routine - either way he was never seen again) for his obvious embezzlement of government funds and was hastily removed from office. The wooden doors were never replaced though. With the village seemingly a secure and safe haven for all manner of farming business it was not long before a roaring trade in Hammams, coffee shops, locally produced Firmopoly Fezzes and stabling for sheep, camels, goats and wandering Mullahs grew up, despite the walls of the town being slowly demolished over time as the locals made use of the masonry for houses, animal pens or the occasional stoning. The locals reasoned that as the wooden doors would not stop a strong wind, let alone an attacking army, it made little sense having the walls, so, piece by piece, they were reduced. The infamous doors went as well, rumoured to have been used as firewood by gangs of local brigands.

A typical Fezian gang of Brigands - the infamous Bashi-Bazouks

At the present time the walls have all but vanished and the only stretch that is still visible (and this was only due to the fact that the masonry used along this section was of very poor quality - the money for their construction was beginning to run low at that point) runs parallel to the road itself. For a long period of Firmopoly's history this section of the wall was used for public executions but is no longer used as such as it was deemed unsafe (?) by the Sultan's Health and Safety Officials. Once the walls were closed down enterprising Fezians have taken to giving guided tours of them by camel - complete with sherbet and complementary camel kebab (a local delicacy) - to any passing tourists for the inevitable 'consideration'. The guides take an almost ghoulish delight in describing just whom was executed where along the walls, ending with the tale of Ibrahim the Unlucky - who was executed by impaling for stealing the Imams favourite sheep but then cleared on appeal by his family....

A lithograph of Pasha Ali

At the time of the Rusland invasion a new governor had recently been appointed and had immediately began to bring the place into some kind of order - both from a law and order perspective and, more importantly, a military one. Pasha Ali the Unprincipled was a thoroughly odious individual, much given to gluttony and drunken debauches to the continual horror and righteous indignation of the local clerics. He was a short, rather fat individual with a greasy black beard and a swarthy complexion to match. He was always sweating profusely and so used copious amounts of lemon cologne in order to ensure he was suitably fragrant when  he was, ahem, entertaining guests. Despite having the look of an all in wrestler gone to seed he was no mean commander and although his endless requisitions were the subject of many mutterings in the Hammam, the locals knew that once they had 'broken him in' to the local way of life things would be soon be back to normal. It was always the way when a new man appeared to take charge and was keen to make a name for himself. As the local Fezians would have undoubtedly observed, he merely needed an old head on his young shoulders to be at one with the local way of doing things. The reality was that as long as Ali was given due 'consideration' for his efforts he could be tolerated as merely objectionable rather than downright disgusting.

Aside from taxing everything in sight Ali also organised the defences for his command. Initially this was merely to find work for local ne'er do wells but the reality was he depended on giving out selected defence contracts for the sole purpose of obtaining additional 'considerations' from the local construction industry.

The Rusland inavsion though, was to be Pasha Ali's finest hour - at least he hoped it would as he had made a mint from the locals and had just received news that the Sultan's auditors were en route to check the books so anything positive to report and preferably legal would be most welcome. Ali could only hope that Rusland would come first. He was not to be disappointed.

Due to the rather relaxed border policing of the region it was very common to find people on the wrong side of the border for a variety of reasons; some legitimate, many less so. Theft and sheep rustling was a common, almost everyday way of life on the border and as long as no one side had the better of this rather relaxed arrangement the status quo was happily maintained. This was about to change though when a local Fezian brigand, Mehmet the Outrageous decided that he was going to go into the people rustling trade rather than with sheep. Especially young men, for sale to various harems across the empire. The lot of these captives would probably seem to be a good one given that most harems contained more women than any man could reasonably keep, ahem, entertained; the truth though was very different. They were worked to death and although showered with expensive gifts and clothes were expected to be available at a moments notice to serve and please their feminine masters. They were slaves in all but name.

Mehmet the Outrageous at rest in Cairo

Mehmet the Outrageous used to be one of those slaves but was able to save up sufficient money to be able to buy his freedom - at least that was his story, the truth though, was that the master of the house in question grew tired of his harem continually going on about how good he was and so kicked him out - after a due 'consideration' naturally.

After several successful slave gathering expeditions Mehmet decided to move on and duly did so but the Rusland government angrily demanded that Fezia surrender this rogue into their custody for a fair trial (and inevitable execution of course). Fezia refused point blank stating that as he was technically an outlaw and had yet to be apprehended by them how could they be expected to surrender him? Fezian policing was not of the highest order and so the likelihood of Mehmet ever being found was extremely remote. Mehmet was blissfully unaware of this international furore as he was on a recreational tour of the fleshpots of Cairo at the time. He will appear on the stage of Fezian affairs again; you can be sure of that point.

Feeling slighted by Fezian indifference Rusland resolved that her traditional enemy would be made to pay for her insults. The only problem was that the Czar could really not afford a full scale war. It was decided then, to invade Fezian territory, destroy what property could be reached, ransack a few villages and drive off some flocks and herds. The nearest town in reach was the small village of Firmopoly.

Firmopoly itself sat at the end of valley with hills and pine forests all around. The Wooden Door road skirted the western side of town with the remains of the wall running alongside it and set back from this is the start of the hilly and wooded wilderness. There are a few goat tracks known to the locals but to outsiders the whole region is a dark and forbidding place. Any attack against the village would have to come straight down the main road. Pasha Ali had gotten wind of the Rusland intention to invade from a passing traveller and so had immediately notified the Sultan's advisors. He knew full well that it would be an age before help reached him so resolved to make sure that the place was as secure as possible - not for any great love of the villagers, rather because he still had yet to collect the Pomegranate tax (or rather his 'consideration' due from the same) due in the next few weeks.

The village of Firmopoly viewed from the south and showing Pasha Ali's initial dispositions. Note the trenches to the north and the remains of the wall alongside the road. The original 'Wooden Doors' were located at either end of the remaining wall. Just out of the picture to the south was the smalle trench containing a single battalion of infantry. The artilley is on the hill and the machine guns are in the northermost building in the centre. Pasha Ali's command post was at the foot of the hill in the village centre.

To defend Firmopoly Ali could call upon four battalions of infantry, a regiment of cavalry, a battery for field artillery and a machine gun company. The village was fairly well protected as parts of the old wall still remained although these were in very poor repair so he set about entrenching where he could - mainly to the north of he village covering the open ground and also to the south. The detachment in the Southern entrenchment was deployed for use as a rearguard in the event of anything untoward happening. It was also Ali's insurance policy as these troops were deemed to be his bodyguard. He deployed his artillery on the small hill in the middle of the village so that it had a good field of fire and the machine guns with an infantry battalion in some of the outer buildings. The cavalry was in reserve and two battalions of infantry were in the Northern trenches; one battalion in the Southern.

Count Hugo Pullitov - from a portrait painted when the General was 76 years of age

The Rusland invasion force under the command of Count Hugo Pullitov consisted of eight battalions of infantry, two regiments of Cossacks and two batteries of artillery. Count Pullitov was the complete opposite to look at compared to Pasha Ali. He was tall and slim and invariably impeccably attired. His men lionised him and thus far his career had been one of continual success. He was confident and determined that this latest mission would follow a similar path. His orders were simple but, as Pullitov was an ambitious man, he wanted to achieve something really worthwhile in order to hasten his promotion and reassignment back to civilisation rather than being stuck on the border. He had managed to capture a disaffected Fezian shepherd who had revealed (for the inevitable, yes, you've guessed it - 'consideration') that a little used pathway led through the hills and woods to the west of the village, more or less to the back door of Firmopoly itself. This was all the encouragement Pullitov needed. If he could capture the village rather than just laying waste to the region then surely his talents would be recognised and a promotion sure to follow? His mind was made up and so he split his force into two parts. His own command would undertake the flanking mission and consisted of three infantry battalions, a regiment of Cossacks and a battery of field guns. The main force attacking down the Wooden Door road comprised five battalions of infantry, a Cossack regiment and a battery of artillery. Their role was to engage the Fezian to the North of the village and hopefully to draw in any reserves. Whilst that was going on he would sneak in via the back way and the village would fall (and with no little irony) like a ripe Pomegranate into his hands.

The flanking force under the direct command of Count Pullitov to the south of the village

The Rusland main body approaching from the North

It was early morning on May 25th, 1890 and Pasha Ali was taking breakfast with an old drinking crony, Count Ivor Abigabelli - the Italian naval attache, notorious rake and bon vivant; when a travel stained and weary Bashi Bazouk strode into the governor's chambers. "They are coming, the Ruslanders are coming!"

Pasha Ali looked up from his plate of Baklava, crumbs clinging to his beard, and reached for his mint tea. The air was pregnant with anticipation. Not a sound was heard, only the laboured wheezing of the Bashi Bazouk and the slup of mint tea. Ali gestured to the duty officer. "Stand the men to and tell them to breakfast well, for tonight we dine in hell! " Abigabelli summoned his personal assistant and dictated a telegram on Ali's behalf (by this time Ali was making sure he breakfasted well and so reached for his second plate of Baklavas). It was difficult to think of the right words so he settled for something suitably heroic and with the sentiment that would echo down through the ages (or at least until the evening papers came out).

"Go tell the Fezians, he who passes by,
Obedient to Pasha Ali, here we lie!"

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