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Summer 1736

Dear Dear One!

I write to you from the heat of battle – one I will not likely survive.

The Turks’ incursion on our garrison began in the dead of night. Our scouts silent, our sentries silenced by marksmen, we were taken by surprise, gravely unprepared for the ensuing bloodbath.

It has been ten straight hours of fighting. Nothing at this point is what it seems. Man and beast have turned into a single heaving mass; the hills have disintegrated into muddy slides, with not a single blade of grass left, just the bloodthirsty sword blades of unhinged, desperate men. Horses are victims and villains both: pierced readily with spears in order to unseat their riders, then trampling their own downed masters in incriminating panic.

Trapped in the overrun trenches breathing fire and death, just yesterday’s brave warriors are today’s bleating, shrieking sheep, begging for mercy and relief from this infernal bloodletting.

The dust of these tan hills, now auburn with our blood, hangs as a cloud above the battlefield, occluding light and blotting out the sun. Whatever we turn our eyes to is a nebulous sight, as unclear and indistinct as are our chances of surviving.

Five times in as many months we have pushed back these fiends from Asia Minor, and fifty times they have come back, swarming our positions in wave after impetuous wave of rat-like ferocity, their bugle boys eking frightening, strident battle calls from what appear to be brass-plated human hearts. These recalcitrant savages refuse to take a hint, attacking again and again, willing to give their lives – their only possessions in this world, and even those they hardly own – for the Sultan’s slightest whim.

How many times our side has plotted to depose the Sultan! How many spies posing as diplomats and merchants have we sent to the Ottoman court, meant to stir up rebellion and overthrow the despot, instead ending up as an ingredient in the Sultan’s soup.

Of course, we know what he’s after. In his towering cupidity, the Sultan is seeing nothing but gold ducats in his swine-slit eyes – why else would he invade a stretch of Lower Prussia known chiefly for its barren fields and dying villages?! Where’s the chance for profit, you would ask. Ah, but there is one resource Liebefrauland is known for above all in the Teutonic lands – and that is its fair maidens. Of course, I hardly need tell you this, my little Liebefraulandmädchen.

Fearing for the safety of your native province’s most precious resource, The High Command sent Your Humble Servant, along with a detachment of specially trained soldiers to secure the deliverance of all the fair maidens in this province from the pilaf-stained clutches of the Sultan.

Of course, some generals demurred at my being chosen. I was a man of strange tastes and leanings, they said, too eclectic in my choice of personal staff. True, my valet is a one-eyed, hunchbacked dwarf and my arms bearer is a yearling bear, but I am an egalitarian at heart, and I say every specimen of every species deserves an equal opportunity to serve in the army and uphold the spirit of bold adventure, while rescuing maidens from defilement no less. Besides, each of my little helpers has the strength of a dozen men. As for me, although somewhat maniacally fastidious on the twin points of boots always shining and firearms always working, I’m a congenial employer, pleasant and friendly, an occasional satirical remark notwithstanding.

In the end, the military bigwigs’ influence and grumbling militated against my being given full freedom to execute my plan. They made me check in with headquarters daily – an egregious outrage! Of course, now that all lines of communication are destroyed, I have complete theoretical freedom to do everything that in practice I cannot do. Oh, facetious fate – ever laughing, seldom spreading joy! The company of men I was originally given was down to a platoon this morning and, my manservant informs me, is now a mere squad – and not a firing one at that, since we are fresh out of ammunition. The aggregate impression from the many sources of bad news is that we’ll be cut down in hand-to-hand combat quite soon.

“I write to you from the heat of battle – one I will not likely survive.”
Illustration by Aleks Zelenina

The generals – oh, they take their vicarious pleasure in our fighting for their cause! They lie in the tents while we die in the trenches. They scrutinize maps and pore over dispatches while we agonize in pain and pour our hearts out in last letters to loved ones. Death is endemic to the battlefield – it comes with the territory; this much I know. That is precisely why I write this to you.

Mulier est malleus per quem Deus et mollit et malleat universum mundum, the ancients used to say. Woman is the hammer with which God softens and shapes the world. As I am about to face death, I know for sure that it is you who shaped my world, who softened my rough edges – you who made me a better man. I am a man of strict codes and firm convictions, but if you are doing the shaping, then consider me malleable. You engendered my highest motives, inspired my best actions, gave rise to my greatest successes. Everything of importance in my life, darling, I did for you. You, my love, are my reason for living and, the way this battle is going, for dying as well.

In the scope of Creation, man’s time on Earth is but a flit of a firefly’s bottom – a momentary flash in the Universe’s pan, a sudden bit of light in a vast, enveloping darkness; an evanescent scent of roses cutting through the stench of nothingness and death.

Half-naked fakirs in India might drone on on the importance of leaving worldly pleasures behind. Saffron-and-burgundy-robed monks in Tibet will talk of casting off the bonds of attachment. Black-frocked ‘men of God’ may carry on about the need to shield the immortal soul from all temptation. Wooly-haired philosophers will suggest coolly contemplating the world via the mind, leaving no room for the intelligence of the heart. Let them. True as their creeds might be, my love for you alone is the lodestar of my life’s journey, my singularly awesome inspiration, the why and wherefore of the grand adventure that has been my time on this lovely blue sphere that is our home.

Farewell, my lovely. You set my heart asmile. I shall love you always.

Yours for ever,

Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Baron Münchausen

P.S. I beg of you, I order you, I enjoin you: Be happy!