Monday, 25 August 2008

On the Brink of War

Historically, the lake known as the Sea of Ippocriz, marks the tripartite boundary of Mendelstadt, Pelarcona and Hamartia. Mapping water is an uncertain art, so none of the three domains has ever worried too much about precise boundaries.

Until now.

For nearly ten years the seasonal rains on Mount Weisskopf and the surrounding hills whose streams feed the Sea of Ippocriz, amongst many other lakes, have increased. Each year the lake has grown, shrinking the edges of all three territories. Whatever the borders used to be, they have changed.

Now, Mendelstadt has always maintained that the northern border of Hamartia is the southern edge of the Sea of Ippocriz. Hamartia has never disputed this. But the small Hamartian hilltop village of Brink, previously on that lakeside edge, has now become an island surrounded by the encroaching waters.

The Landgraf of Mendelstadt, with precedent behind him, rightly maintains that Brink has seceded to his domain, for it is now north of the southern edge of the lake. However, the mendacious Hamartians maintain the island settlement of Brink as an exclave of their lands. In fact, the more extreme amongst the court of the Duke of Hamartia claim that the Landgraf has somehow himself effected the expansion in the nature of the Ippocriz Sea.

This has been an area of diplomatic debate since the waters began to rise. But this weekend matters came to a head, as the Ducal standard of Hamartia was raised upon the island. So you may know it in the event of future sightings, here it is:

The central image is the knotted vine of Hamartia, for viniculture is a major part of their economy, and the vine knot represents the complexity of their governance. Though Harmatians themselves are said to be generally easy going fellows. Hence it is collquially remarked that a Hamartian, whenever asked to make a decision, always respond with "Vy not?"

Overnight, it seems, the island of Brink has been fortified by a garrison of the Regiment Rubenstein, known colloquially as "the Robins". I have managed to obtain views of them recently parading their new uniforms.

You will see that only the ducal colour is present. I take this to mean that an inhaber for the regiment is yet to be appointed. My understanding is that these fellows have all been provided by that recruiter of ambiguous repute, Herr Minden. I'm not sure the Landgraf will be pleased to learn that his enemies are being supplied by those he thought his allies. However, Herr Minden has promised Mendlestadt some notable upstanding figures in the not too distant future, so it would perhaps be precipitous of me to impugn his honour just yet.

I suspect the Landgraf had early knowledge of this coup. He may even have engineered it. Hence his earlier allusion to Hamartian troops embracing his grand endeavour. For this occupation by Hamartian aggressors has given the Landgrad all he needs by way of excuse to mobilise his still developing army, and throw them the meat of an easy victory.

In my view, this move is too early. One should never move soldiers precipitously. They don't respond well. And, as you know, Mendelstadt's forces are yet in their nascence. The artillery is as yet more of an intent than an achievement, manned more by beggars and scoundrels than trained artillerists. And not one regiment, whether of foot or horse, is fully recruited or equipped.

As far as I can see, at the very best all we can proceed with against Brink will be two under-strength battalions and a depleted battery, supported perhaps by one squadron of dragoons. And can we be certain of our opposition? We know that the Robins are at full strength, recently equipped and armed, so they may be tough opponents. What we do not know is whether they have any other forces in support. We have heard much of the pernicious jaegers of Hamartia, for example, well known for banditry in all the surrounding regions, and there may also be militia within the settlement of Brink itself.

And what about fortifications? We have no knowledge of the protection of that settlement at all.

Is this a wise venture, I ask myself? Will the Landgraf's grand ambition stumble at the first footing?

I have a bad feeling about this..............

Friday, 15 August 2008

Worrying News from over the Border

Today a messenger arrived in Schloss Mordenleif craving immediate audience with the Landgraf. Fortunately I was already in attendance upon him (receiving dictation on the trials of his early childhood), so was privy to the confidences conveyed from no lesser place than the Protectorate of Pelarcona itself.

It seems the Lady Protector of Pelarcona, Alyssa Omandra, has somehow learned of the arming of Mendelstadt, and she, having (in the Landgraf's rather ill-judged words) "no more sense than a sponge bedpost" feels our natural desire for modern forces somehow threatens her state. In response, she has appointed one Lord Trovius (it is a sad affectation of Pelarcona to adopt nomenclature from alien states erroneously admired) to strengthen her own armed forces.

Trovius is unknown here in Mendelstadt. However, our brave intelligencer was happily able to appropriate a recent portrait. It is said that the nobility of Pelarcona are so rich they spend most of their waking lives commissioning paintings, posing for them or, poor souls, dabbling in the visual arts themselves. This means, of course, that one purloined painting is unlikely to be missed, whilst there is every chance that future intelligence can be gathered through a careful sifting of discarded sketches.

As you can see, Lord Trovius seems a rather pumped up and overfed fellow. He is spoken of as "belonging to the Front Rank", but this might mean he is no more than available for ready cash.

His first step, it appears, has been to modernise the artillery of the Pelarcona Guard. And, of course, pleased as Punchinello with his successful commissioning of that force, he had to authorise a sketch of his new toys at play. No doubt he believes them to be of the Front Rank, too.

But this is a worrying development, for, if we are to enter a race of arms, Mendelstadt lags sorely behind in the development of the Mistress of the Battlefield, the artillery. We may, it seems, have to resort to remounting cannon from naval carriages of the Fleet as a stop gap, and no Admiral is going to be pleased by that news.

At least this unlooked for information pressed the Landgraf to confirm the structure of the army he wishes to see immediately effected. It will consist of three infantry brigades (one Guard, one Line, one Militia) and two cavalry (one Guard and one Line) with a company of Jaeger, and Artillery company and a further company of Pioneers.

This, it was pointed out, would not of itself be a force sufficient to accomplish the Landgraf's ambitions, especially as recruitment proceeds with less alacrity than ideally would be desired.

At this, the Landgraf raised a hooked finger to tap his nose, down which he squinted and chuckled.

"I have every reason," he said, spitting a peach pit to the floor, "to believe that our armies will soon be augmented, for those dear neighbours of ours, Hamartia, will soon commit their forces to the Mendelstadtian cause."

This remark was received with silence universally across the court of Schloss Mordenleif (and not merely because it had been preceded by a seven course dinner). I may be a naive and ill-informed Englishman, but even I know that the Duchy of Hamartia would never voluntarily submit to the will of the its greater neighbour. Had the Landgraf just declared war? Or is something more subtle afoot?

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Placing Mendelstadt on the map

Confessedly, I had no clear idea of the place I was coming to when I accepted the Landgraf's commission. Several tours in the company of Herr Vlashbacj, the archivist, have only served to confuse me further. However, happily, as I was exploring the wine cellars of Schloss Mordenleif, in search of medicinal compensation for a surfeit of brattwurst, I came across this pictoral illumination.

Now, I cannot vouchsafe its accuracy, but I can assert it nevertheless to be rather more accurate than any sketch I might myself make of my own understanding. For example, until this happy discovery, I firmly believed there were no lakes in central Europe of any significance. Yet now I find there are veritable seas to be explored, which certainly excites my aspirations. I understand better now why the Langraf saw my naval credentials as so pertinent to his needs.

You will see that only the broad brushstrokes of topography have been essayed by this anonymous cartographer. I will make it one of my (very many) undertakings to locate and name the various places of note within this noble state, and its more lowly neighbours, and, as I discover them, such other features of note that I feel may interest my dear reader.

It is immediately apparent, of course, that Mendelstadt is less well favoured than its larger and more rural southern neighbour. I note also the yellow lines demarking the supposed boundaries of those two lesser duchies, Harmatia and Levander. These, I suspect, may bear some scrutiny when, as I expect he eventually will, the Landgraf finally confides to me his strategic intent.

Friday, 1 August 2008

History and Geography of Mendelstadt

I have made the acquaintance of one Herr Vlashbacj, archivist and cartographer to the Landgraf. A peculiar gentleman, of Eastern European provenance, if I do not mistake, and not the most organised of historians. He led the way through the cellars of Schloss Mordenleif, wading through piles of damp volumes and rotting leather scroll-tubes, occasionally alerting me to points he thoought of interest as we came across them. Occasionally he would proffer a sudden insight, brilliant in its illumination of the past, and then, it seemed, instantly forget it.

It was no mean feat, therefore, but I fancy, as a man of more than adequate intelligence, I have assembled as clear an account of Mendelstadt's history as any of our contemporaries might reasonably hope to achieve. I offer here a brief outline for your edification.

You will be aware, of course, that Mendelstadt is situated in that precarious hinterland between the great states of Prussia and Austria, at various times in its history jostling against Bohemia, Saxony, Silesia and Bavaria as these, and many lesser states, pursued their variously perceived destinies. In this unfortunate area of geographical discomfort, Mendelstadt has been at least been protected somewhat by its topography, for its mountains, lakes and swamps have both disinclined potential invaders to make that critical step and dissuaded them from a long stay should they once commit that first error of tresspass.

Nevertheless, the unlooked for aggression of its neighbours, and particularly that of the affluent state of Pelarcona to the south, has meant that the borders of Mendelstadt have frequently been infringed as its more violent neighbours flex their fists in each others' directions. No love is lost between Mendelstadt and Prussia, nor Austria, for that matter.

But Pelarcona remains the historic enemy. Mendelstadt, its sheperds struggling upon the mountain sides, its fishermen eking a living in the unforgiving lakes, its miners risking all deep within the iron bowels of the hills, its artisans weaving or grinding a living in the small towns, perched on those few precarious strips of habitable land, have looked with envy on the rich, fertile and aggressively pacifist nation to the south, in their luxurious cities and easy wealth. In particular, Pelarcona's habitual friendship to the hated ogre Austria, allowing the white coated- foe unfettered passage on many occasions, has been the source of many a justified clash across the borders.

Hence the adoption of the phoenix as Mendelstadt's national emblem, and its motto "Resurgere per ignis", which I render as "to rise again through fire." Herr Vlashbacj declares that his landgraf has this written upon his heart by the quills of history and has seen that the only rational means to secure the future of Mendelstadt is to overcome through might of arms its mischeivous neighbours.

The many great lakes of Mendelstadt have given it, rather surprisingly for a land-bound state, a robust naval history. With rivers that debouch into the north-flowing Elbe and the south-flowing Danube, it is the Landgraf's ambition to link these several waterways through a grand canal, and thereby strategically facilitate and control the movement of both merchant and military vessels between the Seas of the Adriatic and the North .

You may think this ambition unlikely, but I am not so sure. Certainly, were Mendelstadt to secure this objective, and protect its interests northward through Prussia and southward through Pelarcona and Austria, it would at a stroke achieve a status in Europe surely of significance as great as those maritime giants, France, Spain and England. And this is merely the foundation of the Landgraf's desires.

I wonder now concerning the Landgraf's true motive in appointing me his biographer. He must surely be aware of my early history as Ensign and Junior Post-Captain within the various fleets despatched to the Indies, the Colonies and, indeed, patrolling His Majesty's coasts. Has my patron been entirely honest with me? I may need to enquire a little circumspectly amongst those of my acquaintance. At the very least, if my vast naval expertise is to be called upon, necessarily I must consider the adequacy of my retainer.