The early spring sunlight slanted into the Committee Room of the Novi Byelgorod Academy, illuminating the massive oak table which occupied the centre of the chamber. Three men stood about the table, staring fixedly at the mass of charts spread across its green leather surface.
The small sad-eyed man in the dark green coat threw down the magnifying glass in exasperation, sending a cloud of dust motes dancing. He looked back and forth between the two other men, his frown giving him the semblance of an angry spaniel.
"Really, Peripatenko, are you absolutely sure? We would surely have long since heard of the existence of not one, but two foreign principalities in our own region, would we not?"
The larger of his two companions, still dressed in travel-stained clothes and riding boots, nodded tersely.
"Highness, I am certain. Lindt und Lindor and Gross Wurttemstein are completely real. I've crossed their borders, I've seen their cities, I've eaten their bloody food. I can't understand why none of the Academy's maps show them!" His gaze skewered the thin, bespectacled man across the table, fixing him with an interrogatory glare. "Perhaps the learned Pyotr Afanasyovich can shed some light upon this geographical anomaly...?"
"Erm... most irregular..." began the elderly scholar. His pale hands fluttered between the buttons of his worn coat and the curls of his unfashionably long periwig as his eyes darted over the maps spread out before him. "Erm. The political situation in Europe is very fluid at present, Your Highness... in the chaos and hurly-burly of war, some of the smaller states may have gone unnoticed..."
"Unnoticed? UNNOTICED??" spluttered the Prince. "We've just discovered two entirely new states on our doorstep, TWO, and astoundingly, not one of our maps shows either one of them?" He scuttled around the table and stared up into the face of the unfortunate Academician. "What of your other maps, Bibliotekhsky? Do WE actually exist or is my entire realm a bloody misprint?"
"Highness, I abase myself before you! I beg forgiveness," stuttered the scholar. "I was given to understand that the maps were of the highest quality! Look at the subtlety of the shading, the clarity of the etching, the signature of the cartographer in flowing cursive script..." Bibliotekhsky leaned over the table, fumbled for the glass and handed it to the diminutive monarch. "It's in Latin, of course, Sire... 'Franciscus Gruberius scripsit'..."
"WHAT?!" Pavel Romanovich strode around the table and stared down at the cartographer's signature. He extended a hand. "If I may, Sire...? The glass?" The Prince handed over the magnifier. Peripatenko leafed through the maps, muttering under his breath.
"Hmmmph. And this one... and another... Hmmph." He rose to his full imposing height. "Sire, it would appear that the estimable Count Bibliotekhsky has, in his enthusiasm for pretty etchings, failed to realise that the author of these maps is none other than the infamous Franz Gruber."
The Prince's face turned white.
"No... surely not..?"
"I'm afraid so, Sire. Look here, there's a figure of an American Indian at the bottom near Nizhny Bublik, he always puts a couple of them in, God alone knows why... And may I respectfully suggest that I be allowed to take a couple of surveyors out into the field post-haste to ensure that our borders are mapped correctly...?"
"...Yes... by all means." The Prince straightened, resolution returning to his face. "And take Pyotr Afanasyovich with you. You've been indoors too long, Bibliotekhsky, some fresh air will do you good. Pavel Romanovich, see that Bibliotekhsky is suitably outfitted for the journey. And Bibliotekhsky...?"
The scholar's face was a study in terror. "Sire..?"
"GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!!!"
|A minor, yet crucial detail...|