The Summer Heroes
The period following imperial withdrawal from eastern Orem and the subsequent Anarchy of the Islands was not kind to Ystria. The Empire Tax— levied by the Ystrian monarchy on the major merchant houses to pay for Ystria’s annual tribute to Soren— was repealed by Dandolo XIX almost immediately, as the extent of the collapse of political stability in eastern Orem became known. The stoppage of this yearly westward flow of capital was unbalanced by the concurrent—and swift—decline in the trade routes to the west and east, and Ystria’s position as a gateway between Orem and Penwith was diminished considerably.
The gradual stabilization of the Penwithan islands— and the attendant economic revitalization of the principal cities therein— have benefited the Ystrian economy tremendously, though it has lagged behind Brightwater’s for about a hundred years. The economic shifts following imperial evacuation and collapse were felt more deeply in Ystria than in some other cities, as Ystria’s economy was far more dependent on finished goods and products and tourism than others.
The steep decline in certain industries— like the production of silk, lace, tapestries, and paint— has been largely reversed because of two primary factors: First, the aforementioned stabilization of the Penwithan political situation, and second, the establishment of the so-called “Empire Route”. The Empire Route is a lengthy trade route between Ystria and Soren that consists of travel up the Nicephori River and then westward over land all the way to the Imperial capital. Empire Route caravans are usually very large and tremendously well-armed, as the trade route itself is fairly dangerous until the borders of the Empire are reached. Because of the size of these caravans and the very long distance of the journey, the caravans themselves are frequently financed by a combination of merchant houses, noble families, and the Ystrian monarchy, and it is not uncommon for these to be augmented by investments from interests in Brightwater.
These Empire Caravans are frequently successful: The imperial capital is not the glittering city it once was, but demand for Brightwater silver goods remains steady, and demand for silk (over which Ystria maintains a total monopoly) and other Ystrian textile products is extremely high. Despite the general danger of the route, the Caravans are usually so well-armed that they do not make tempting targets for orcs and other monstrous creatures (who usually have no use for silk or lace products anyway). The profit margins generated by Empire Caravans can be enormous, and this makes the endeavor a tempting possibility for merchants or other adventurous types to whom the idea of making enough money in one round-trip to retire for life is appealing. These caravans are usually less official, less well-planned, and less well-armed, and consequently are preyed upon from time to time. Nevertheless, the Empire Caravans have proven to be good— albeit somewhat irregular— economic stimulants for the communities living along the Route.
Ystria is currently ruled by King Dandolo XXIV, and the Lido dynasty remains firmly in control of the monarchy, as much because of political maneuvering as the sheer inertia of history and tradition. House Lido is fond of boasting of its 1400-year reign, and the House never seems to lack for heirs due to the frequently-polyamorous nature of royal relationships. (Squabbles over the inheritance of the monarchy are relatively rare, due to the institution of the incredibly complex and comprehensive Inheritance Edicts of the Lido Palace issued in 315 BR by the monarchy to avoid division and strife within the royal family, and so to avoid the possibility of a total imperial takeover because of an internecine dynastic struggle.)
Relatively recent history (namely, the economic decline caused by the Imperial withdrawal and Anarchy of the Islands) has cemented in House Lido and the other nobles and merchant houses of Ystria a firm commitment to peace and political stability (which may also help explain House Lido’s resilience). It is said (cynically, by some) that the unofficial motto of Ystria is now “Peace is Profitable”, and it is rumored that the Ystrian monarchy maintains connections to and agents within polities like the Brightwater Kingdom, the Republic of the North, and even as far afield as Darrova, to influence policy and public opinion and steer them away from potential military conflict. The recent rise in piracy has also seen a nearly-unprecedented willingness by the Ystrians towards naval cooperation with Brighwater and Saltstone to end this threat.