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.