Excerpt from 'Understanding The Empire', a classroom textbook published by the Educational Authority of Iberica and Armorica, Year of the Brass Rooster, 7th Era of Grand Catai
The nine viceroyalties vary wildly in terms of internal organisation, however the purpose of each administration is identical: to meet the requirements placed upon them by the Imperial Authority.
Here in Iberia and Armorica, for example, a system of syndicalist land ownership and responsibility has long held sway.
Each community, large or small, has their tracts of land on which they tend their vineyards, cattle ranches or fruit and vegetable farms. Upon reaching the age of 18, whether of peasant or magistocrat stock, each individual of the community owes their mandatory labour hours, in order to make up the quota decided upon by the vice-regent.
In return for our beef, wine, fruit and vegetables, the communities of Iberia and Armorica recieve machinery and furniture from Germania, coal, timber and steel from New Rus, rice, pork and lamb from the Indus Kush and various metals, coconuts and garments from the isles of Indochina.
To those vice-regencies largely barren of resources fall large military requirements. For instance the Viceroyalty of Araby, a vast expanse of desert for the most part, provides fully 40% of the manpower requirement of the Imperial Legions. In exchange for the protection of its troops, reckoned the best and hardiest in the empire, Araby recieves in turn the food, clothing and fuel that we and others produce.
In this manner then, we, the emperor's children, work together as brothers and sisters and thus we all enjoy peace, comfort and security as the fruits of our collective labour.
It is, as all sane persons agree, a just and sensible arrangement.
Set atop a hill overlooking Port Blair, the gleaming domes of Raj Niwas nestled at the edge of a forest of gurjan and mahua; a single white orchid overtopping a large and verdant growth. Four wings in grand colonial style enclosed a central courtyard dominated by a tower whose dome formed two interpenetrating conch-shells, their twin points thrusting high into the sky. Within this oddly-shaped assemblage was housed the viceroy’s offices and workrooms as well as the main guard barracks.
The mundane and magical nerve-centre of Indochina, Rudolf reflected as Sassani pointed it out from an observation tower high in the forest. It was from here that the police force recieved its mandate, the markets of Jakarta were regulated and quotas set for the copper-mines of Mindanao. From here, every detail of life in Indochina could be directed according to the viceroy's slightest whim.
Rudolf couldn’t believe it. Here was the kind of power and prestige he'd craved, here were opportunities undreamt of in even his wildest fantasies.
And now, here he was at last, so close to the levers of power he could almost hear them working.
And yet, for of all the little words, smiles and gestures through which Sassani showed his favour, Rudolf could not shake a certain feeling of oppression. He carried the Geas now. He felt the weight of it upon his soul, sullying his being.
What was it Sassani wanted from him? Why had Von Bek tried to kill him?
The viceroy’s smile revealed nothing. He moved easily from topic to topic: now speaking of the history of the palace, now explaining some work he was having done to the outer gardens. He spoke with a playful and conspiratorial air of his many duties and the peculiarities and petty vanities of the Indochinese magistocracy. He spoke of everything, while saying nothing. And always with that knowing, gently mocking smile.
Now they were walking back through the forest together, broad beamed mahua trees looming on either side of the path, the viceroy chatting idly, an escort of armed guards at their backs.
What did it all mean?
“Well, I'm afraid this is where I must leave you.” Sassani said quietly, drawing up a few paces away from the guards when they reached the inner courtyard. “I have a lot of work to catch up on, so we shan’t be seeing much of each other in the next few days. I shall invite you to dine with me when I get a free evening. In the meanwhile, my lictor, Anastasia Romanov, will call on you tomorrow to instruct you in your duties. Rest and make yourself at ease, if you can. I know today has been difficult for you.” He added in lower tones, a tender look in his eyes. “But please be assured, you are perfectly safe here, my boy. Now. Sunil here will show you to your apartments.”
The viceroy offered a delicate hand. After a moment’s hesitation, Rudolf bent forwards to kiss the ruby ring that gleamed there.
“My Lord,” he said.
His mouth twitching cryptically, the viceroy disappeared into his offices, leaving Rudolf to follow the majordomo into the house. Rudolf saw and heard little of what he was told, reflecting bitterly on the significance of that extended hand.
Dazed and not knowing what to do, he spent the rest of the day in exploration of the grounds. Raj Niwas was a place of sublime elegance. Its numerous dining rooms and parlours overlooked lawns upon which peacocks preened and strutted.
Finding himself distracted at every turn, Rudolf continually returned to the apartment set aside for him. But this too, with its marble floors, silk hangings and curtained mezzanine irritated him with its implications. Unable to think clearly and yet unable to cease his reflections, he wandered amongst the hedge mazes and quietly tinkling fountains of the gardens, blind to everything. Finally, after a solitary dinner, he threw himself onto the enormous four-poster bed.
All night long he tossed and turned. In his dreams he was reliving that night again, crouching with his father in the barn behind the house while rain coursed from darkened skies. He was shivering and crying, a warm hand clamped against his mouth.
Hush now, Roo. Be brave. Don’t let the bad women hear us…
Lightning flashed and he saw the gleam of metal in the doorway, the hunched outline of a Valkyrie, scenting hungrily for her quarry.
The dream changed; now the yard beyond was filled with endless rows of grey figures, thin and broken. A register was being taken there, the camp commandant’s attentions fixed on the gap in the ranks.
Valentine! Where’s Valentine?
No! He couldn’t face it. He was tired and broken. Leave the hard work to those who were used to it.
Just let me sleep! Leave me alone! It’s not real, it’s just a dream…
But something held him, and he lay paralysed as a noose tightened around his neck.
The figure dangled, dancing and cavorting madly on the gallows. But it was not him. He stood below now, watching as his father writhed and danced.
Ah, peace! Peace little Rudolf! A voice whispered behind him. Dear one, let me soothe you. I’ll make it all better, I promise. Be a good boy, now… Thin hands upon his shoulders, an iron grip. The tender voice, those mocking eyes, forcing him down…
He woke, struggling against sheets which knotted about his limbs, suddenly and horribly aware that he was not alone.
She sat erect in the centre of the room, her eyes lidded in an attitude of meditation, hair gleaming like polished gold in the light that streamed through the window coverings.
The residue of a spell effect hung heavy on the air.
He bolted upright with a choked cry, drawing the sheets over his bare chest.
Her eyelids drooped to reveal irises of palest blue and she examined him with amused interest. There was a fierce intensity to those eyes and he found himself unable to move, feeling naked and vulnerable before their gaze.
It was the gaze of a predator considering its prey.
Rudolf struggled into a more dignified pose, his cheeks burning.
“How dare you enter my chambers!” He barked. “Who the hell are you?”
For her own part, Sister Anastasia was unmoved. Valentine was much as the viceroy had told her. She said nothing, but only smiled thinly as she continued to examine his aura.
The Auric Examiner laid it all out for her to see: Fears and neuroses hidden beneath a veneer of ego. Moral flexibility and a chameleonic talent for deception. A hidden desire for love and acceptance. And churning beneath it all, a consuming lust for power. A man. A magistocrat. Foolish and disposable.
She straighted herself with a smile.
“Good morning, Valentine. I am Sister Anastasia Romanov, a Valkyrie and lictor to Lord Sassani. You are to be my charge during your time here at Raj Niwas.”
Rudolf jerked as though stung by a wasp. A Valkyrie? What in seven hells was a Sister of Luna doing in the household of an imperial viceroy? His eyes swept the dark blue fatigues she wore with horrible comprehension.
He sat up abruptly.
“Good morning, Sister.” He managed with a weak smile. “Sorry about that little outburst. Not used to being woken like this you understand… Still. I look forward to working with you.”
“Working for me.” She corrected. “You will forgive the intrusion, I'm sure. The Auric Examinor is most effective during those moments between sleep and wakefulness and I always like to be sure of those under my command. In any case, you wouldn’t wish to oversleep on your first day.” She smiled at his discomfort then rose briskly. “Now. Starting today you will attend PT with the guard force every morning at 7am in the inner courtyard. I understand you are not long discharged from the legions, so I'm sure you will keep up with them. You will then take breakfast in the scullery before reporting to my office at 9am sharp. I'm in the basement of the conch, second door on the left. I’ll answer any questions you may have then.” She rose and moved to the door before pausing to look back at him. “You’ll find some old fatigues and boots and things in the closet. There should be something to fit you- there’s a copy of Havelock’s Resizing Charm in the library if not.”
Smiling ironically, she slipped from the room.
Rudolf waited a full minute before allowing himself to fly into a rage. The fatigues were discovered and hurled across the room, the closet turned upside down. Several minutes passed in this manner. Finally, coming to his senses, he stuffed himself into an ill-fitting set of fatigues and went nervously down to the central courtyard.
He presented a desultory sight to the troops waiting there with his half-mast trousers and clownishly oversized boots and they did not hesitate to show their mirth. The sergeant in charge was equally unimpressed.
“What's this? Valentine isn’t it? Late and improperly dressed! Fifty press-ups in front of the squad. Go!”
Rudolf drew himself up with as much dignity as he could muster.
“I am a magistocrat of Grand Catai, guardsman, and a former officer of the Imperial Legions. You will show the proper respect for my rank or suffer the consequences. I shan’t be performing any punishments for you today. Now kindly get on with it.”
The sergeant glanced about for a moment then leaned forwards conspiratorially.
“We’re all aware that you’re a gentleman and a magistocrat, Sir, but I’m afraid this isn’t the legion. You’re with my squad for PT today and Sister Romanov says you’re to be treated no different to anyone else.” He straightened up with a satisfied nod then, grabbing Rudolf by the collar, yanked the novice’s face down close to his own.
“YOU’LL DO EXACTLY AS I TELL YOU, WHEN I TELL YOU TO DO IT! I WANT PRESS-UPS AND I WANT THEM NOW! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?” He roared.
Rudolf stared at the sergeant, his mouth working in horrified outrage.
The blow caught him just below the solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him. He crumpled, but the sergeant held him firmly.
“DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!?” He screamed again, spittle spraying in Rudolf’s face.
“Yes-” Rudolf gasped.
“IT’S ‘YES, SERGEANT’, YOU SNIVELLING FUCK!”
This couldn’t be happening. The sergeant grinned, his face becoming suddenly handsome.
“Better! Now get down and start pushing them out before I break your teeth, you worthless piece of shit!”
Trembling, Rudolf threw himself down and managed a few feeble press-ups, the pounding of his heart in his ears drowning out the laughter of the guards.
The rest of the morning proved equally unpleasant.