DOS FLEDENS, Freedonia. Vergloz Deprens is a father of two young children, but they won’t see him this morning when they wake up. “He is called away, middle of night,” says Olglz, his 32-year-old wife. “Must be something important, that is usually when he is coming home.”
The emergency that Deprens responded to was an outbreak of hostilities between two neighboring countries, his homeland of Freedonia and Ruritania, which until recently had vented its national spleen on another neighbor, the Grand Duchy of Graustark. “You know how it is,” said Ruritania’s Foreign Minister Zbiegnew Holstrkch. “You get tired of arguing with your wife, so you go to your girlfriend’s house and argue with her. It was time for a change.”
Freedonia and Ruritania are the world’s two most heavily-armed fictional nations, although both are listed as “sub-atomic” powers by the United Nations. “In Ruritania, everything is settled by the sword,” says military historian Anthony Fleming-Pfeiffer, editor of Jane’s Battleships of the 19th Century. “In Freedonia, they use a long pole with a mud dauber’s nest attached to one end.”
Ruritanian freedom fighters (not shown actual size)
While relations between the two nations have historically been peaceful if not friendly, tensions have risen in recent years as sales of The Prisoner of Zenda, the 1894 Anthony Hope novel that serves as Ruritania’s Declaration of Independence, have fallen while Hail Freedonia!, a 99 cent “e-book” have taken off. “It is a matter of national pride to them, that is all they have,” says Zlotnirk Vberlisch, owner of a bookstore here. “Us? We couldn’t give a krapnikz,” he adds, using a vulgar epithet for “goat dropping.”
For Olglz Deprens the looming threat of war between the two non-aligned nations couldn’t have come at a worse time. “His children need him, but more important I need him,” she says in a plaintive voice over a lump in her throat. “So your love for him is strong?” this reporter asks her in the hope of eliciting a tender response that could serve as the “lede” to a sentimental story about hopes and dreams crushed beneath the jackboot of armed conflict and man’s inhumanity to man.
“No, the nanny goat is about to deliver, someone must milk the cows.”