gestaltist wrote:If I may ask for a story, I would like to hear one about politics and intrigue at the Emperial Court.
Politics? Well, I can tell a little bit about how politics gets done. Leastways under certain circumstances...
You see, in Auntimoany, the imperial dignity is inherited via election (and a process of education, interviews and an apprenticeship). The Commission of Heaven is granted and conferred initially by the Ministry of Kingmaking, but is confirmed and periodically assessed by Parliament. The Kingmakers determine which of the several imperial candidates will be best suited for the job and ultimately decide who the one will be. Parliament's confirmation, at this point, is pro forma, but there have been instances where Emperors have had their Commission yanked out from under the feet of their thrones, often with humorous consequences.
For example, there was the time of Waldalf Weakchin (r.1834-1842). A promising youth by all accounts and did well on his civil service exams and performed quite adequately during his apprenticeship to old Grimwald "Iron Fist" the Merrymaker (r. 1799-1834). Having tried, rather unsuccessfully, to suppress Parliament -- indeed a hard thing to do in modern Auntimoany! -- in order to satisfy his own crapulence and megalomania, Waldalf did the next best thing. Which was to get a war going. Warmongering is ever the happy domain of the weak ruler, and in Auntimoany during war time, the usually somewhat figure-headish office of Emperor girds its loins and straps on its ancient sword and obtains all kinds of emergency powers. These powers Waldalf immediately used to circumvent Parliament entirely and he set himself up as quite the dictator: he had enough high ministers of government in his coat pocket (several of them Cupboard Ministers to boot, including the key position of First Magister
) that he felt very secure in his games.
Lavish living, fast women (and faster horses), and all the heady power of an absolute monarch came to him and went right to his head. Eventually, as the war wound down, and there simply being no excuse to continue with it, he simply refused to relinquish his temporary war powers and continued his game of dictator for life. He came to enjoy money and all things money could, at the time, buy and to that end imposed taxes and onerous regulation on the people, and when they couldn't cough up any more, he began embezzling from the treasury and simply took to stealing whatever he wanted. It became apparent that young Waldalf was a Very Bad King Indeed
and that something ought to be done.
Parliament tried to enact legislation to curb his abuses -- but without the Emperor's seal, such bills are meaningless. And anyway, when they became bothersome enough he simply dissolved Parliament and called upon his First Magister to form a new government, preferably something of a rubber-stamp parliament. This, of course, was never done, leaving Waldalf in complete and total control of the empire. Parliamentarians tried to meet anyway, and were barred by his soldiers from entering the Statehouse, so they did the next best thing and simply went off and met in a pub. (Which, if truth be told, is really not a whole different than meeting in the Statehouse. It's not like they don't nice conference rooms with drinks cabinets, game rooms, shooting galleries and the like!) It became a hobby of his to mess with the courts and to take personal command of the Armies. These he stationed around various parts of the country, as if daring the opposition to stand against him. Things came to a head when ordinary folks, crippled and bankrupted by his taxation, marched on Auntimoany to express their opinions of his behavior and they were met and mown down by his armies and all their townships and their lords' properties confiscated.
This was all clearly too much and the remaining Parliamentarians decided, over a pint or three, that Waldalf had clearly lost not only his mind, but also his Commission. So, in the case of Waldalf Weakchin, the loss of the Commission of Heaven came very late one night in the form of seven black clad and hooded figures, who had managed to gain entrance to the Palas and stood ranged round his bed. When he awoke, startled by the sudden shuffling of feet so close to his bed, the last thing Waldalf heard was the Kingmakers' Men explaining what happens when an Emperor loses the Commission of Heaven. They then proceeded to make good on their explanations by bludgeoning the nasty sod to death with bronze monkey fists. His bloodied & broken body they threw from the window at dawn, and another gang of Kingmakers' Men promptly hacked off his head and lifted it up on a stake, bowing before an appreciative crowd of local bystanders, who immediately began to cheer the death of a tyrant. By mid-morning, the Ministry of Kingmaking had chosen the successor and by lunchtime news began to spread that Blaowe Hamund had received the Commission of Heaven, taking the regnal name Blaowulf Seawanderer.
And that's politics in a nutshell! And all's well that ends well.
I guess by way of explanation, I should describe the government of the Empire a bit. It has been described, and somewhat truthfully, as a parliamentary monarchy -- so, something like the Dutch or the British systems. But in actuality, it is, at all levels, more of a scholarly bureaucracy, and thus perhaps more similar to the late imperial Chinese system. The office of emperor has simply evolved over the centuries from sword wielding tyrant-king to chief bureaucrat; and in the process has lost most of his actual powers. In the US, government powers are divided into executive, legislative and judicial. In Auntimoany, the divide is between law-making and law-enforcement, so the executive and legislative are placed opposite the judicial, and neither really has any actual control over the other, which I guess is a sort of anti-checks-and-balances.
The emperor reigns over the empire as a whole, and certainly has a number of terribly important duties. The great political philosopher, Wil Bagshote, once destilled the role of the monarchy in modern Auntimoany down to the following: "Our monarch thus embodies the dignified
part of Government, rather than the efficient
part." By the "efficient" part, he meant the actual machinery of government, which of course is the bureaucracy itself. This is composed chiefly of the Magistracy
. These are at least twenty four and possibly as many as thirty six ministers who hold very high offices like the Lord Admiral of the Navies and Marines
, the Lord Keeper of the Seals and Signs
, the Chancellor of the Exchequer
and the Chancellor of the Emperor's Justice
Of all these high and mighty magisters, the top seven of them form a subset of the Magistracy known as the Cupboar
d. A curious term indeed, it stems from the early 19th century when the then Magister for Civil Service remarked that of all the various magisters, chancellors and lords of this or that, the seven First Ministers to the Emperor form a sort of "government in a cupboard", a miniature council fully capable of performing all the most essential acts of Government. The Cupboard is therefore a sort of "government within the government". The Cupboard Ministers are thus the most powerful offices in all the country: they hold the purse strings, run the Parliament, govern the military and oversee the activities of government at home and abroad (i.e., in the overseas territories). Some of the lower ranking magisters, like the Lord Bishop of Pylycundas
, are really something more like space-fillers.
Each of these chief Magisterial Offices heads an arm of the government that comprises a vast network of lower ranking offices at the provincial and local levels. At these lower levels, this is where the great laws and ordinances of the empire get locally interpreted and enforced. If you want to set yourself up as a doctor of physic in a nice seaside town, you need to pay a visit to the local House of Imperial Officials
, where you'll meet the most dreaded figure in any place within All That Is -- worse than an army of demons from beyond the Voids! -- the minor bureaucrat
! This is the person that can make your life on easy street, or else make your life so miserable you might actually contemplate murder. This is the one you'll present your credentials to, pay your fees to and is the one who will pass you along the chain to the appropriate Office. She can help you navigate the byzantine corridors of power, or, if she feels like it, can leave you midway to sink into the depths... But once there, you'll obtain your license, all properly embossed, stamped, signed and sealed by no fewer than seven witnesses to the fact, and then -- on to the blissful freedom of charging poor folks a daler for the priviledge of being told they will feel better after drinking a dose of your patented goo! And of course, that freedom is all illusionary, because now they know where you live and what you're up to, and soon enough that other dreaded functionary, the Taxman, will come making a friendly social call to your premises...
On the other side of government is the Law Courts. Although the Emperor is viewed as the fount of all justice, it is uncommon for the Emperor to intervene in any particular legal case. By in large, the exacting of justice is accomplished by the Courts of the Emperor's Justice, various bodies that act as interpreters of law, arbitrators of disputes and executors of the law in particular instance. There are four basic levels of law courts: the Constabulary Courts, the Quarter Courts of the Emperor's Justice, the Court of Lesser Sessions and the Court of Greater Sessions.
The lowest court is really a very rough-and-tumble affair. It involves petty cases of a local nature, be they for minor theft, tying one's horse to someone else's private house, public intoxication or cheating at cards or dominoes. Such cases are both heard and punished in the offices of the local constabulary. The theory of justice in these petty courts is essentially that the constable (or his deputy) saw you do it or has sworn statements of reliable persons who say you did it, therefore you did it, and it falls to the same constable to punish. Most punishments for such petty cases involve fines -- a monetary amount paid in restitution to the aggrieved party (and a small fee going into the local treasury). Constabulary justice is carried out when is where is.
Next up the ladder are the Quarter Courts. These are movable courts, whose judges follow a circuit from place to place during the year where they will hear initial pleas. If the case warrants trial, then these judges will hear cases when they convene during the Quarter Feasts (i.e., four times a year) in one of the chief seats of government in a locality. More serious cases are heard by the Quarter Courts which consist of a bench of three justices of the peace sitting with a small jury of six. This Court sits during a space of time around the Quarter Feasts and hears any and all cases of a criminal or civil nature that does not involve the penalties of deportation, death, hard labor or life imprisonment.
The Quarter Courts meet in any convenient hall in the seat of local government. If such a location has a permanent court house, then the Quarter Court will convene there. The theory of justice in these cases is more complex, involving as it does the acceptance and evaluation of evidence, properly sworn testimonies and the intervention of lawyers.
The higher courts, the Courts of Lesser and Greater Sessions simply hear cases of greater prominence, greater magnitude and almost always are capital or corporal in nature -- they hear murder cases, treason cases, grand embezzlement cases, anything very serious. Greater Sessions deals mostly with capital cases, while Lesser Sessions deals with lesser cases where punishment is labor or imprisonment. It is at these lofty levels where you really get a sense of the grandeur of Justice. Down in the Quarter Courts, it's three people tired after a long fortnight of travel, having sat on their robes and wigs, trying to make the stage coach seat a little more comfortable, and by now are quite irritable, sitting upon a raised dais made from old fruit and veg boxes borrowed from the local grocer. But up here in Greater Sessions, you get actual permanent court rooms, officers of the court, proper lawyers, and a grand jury!
What are the high courts like? Well, perhaps we could hear a word about the courts -- after all, you don't get the priviledge of being judicially walled up or swing from a bronze chain unless first you come before the Emperor's justice! Generally speaking, the court is a place both terrifying and full of splendour. Captial cases are always public affairs and are always heard in the grandest of the city's court rooms. In modern Auntimoany, the court room looks something like a church inside: lots of wood panelling and wood benches for the audience to sit on. There's usually a gallery or two some twenty feet above the main floor, kind of like what you see in the House of Opera -- and indeed, the two also share this in common: drama!
Allegories of Justice and Mercy figure prominently in the room's decor, even if actual Justice and Mercy only rarely make an appearance in the room. Towards the centre of the space is a railing that separates the audience from the place where the action happens. In a slightly lower level is a curved dais where the panels of Prosecutors and Advocates argue the case. Another level below them is a round cage-like structure where the condemned is stationed. Along a raised dais beyond this area sit the King's Learned Men, the Grand Jury, comprised of usually 12 doctors and philosophers who argue the merits of the case as laid out by the Advocate and the Prosecutor, and who "read" the attitude and expressions of the condemned and comment on his guilt or innocence based on his actions, his appearance, his dress, his race, species or gender. High above this tableau and behind an ornate wooden desk sit the panel of three or seven judges. Somber of face and saying nothing during the trial, the chief, who sits in the middle, only strikes an ancient stone martell upon the thick wood of the desk. This signals the start of the trial, and later will signal the end. The space itself is generally quite dark: the prisoner can be seen quite clearly, as light pipes throw a harsh illumination upon his cage; the lawyers are also pretty well lit, though not so brightly. The King's Men sit in semidarkness and the judges can not be discerned at all, unless one of them leans forward and some part of his face catches the light.
During the trial, the bailiff will enter the chamber and bang his cudgel on the floor thrice and call the place into order. The panel of judges, all wearing scarlet red robes and pointed hats, process in from the back, and enter a small doorway near the front where they go up to the bench. Then come the King's Men, all wearing the various colours and robes that denote their speciality or school of philosophy. Then the Advocate and the Prosecutor, wearing black robes and tall horsehair wigs and long white collars. Usually, a single side drum taps a constant beat while all these folks enter. Once all the court are arrayed and settled, a pair of kettle drums strikes up a dirgeful tattoo. Then the condemned arrives to the jeers and hard crust throwing of the crowd. Led by two bailiffs, he is taken down into the cage and secured there. The first bailiff bangs his cudgel on the floor again and the clark reads out the charges and name of the condemned: "Hear all Men and Daine present! Stands accused in these Halls of Justice of capital murther, the heinous and brutal slaying of Widdow Middlewhite, formerly of Stonecutters Row and now awaiting justice in the City Morgue, her killer Wandulf the Butcherman, a blaowman of the same Stonecutters Row. Harken now and know that Justice shall fall upon the rightly accused!"
The usual order of business, once the martell is struck, is for the Prosecutor and Advocate to state their cases, and each gets the right to pose Questions of the condemned criminal. Since Justice is a priviledge that many can not quite afford, the Advocate usually doesn't know a whole lot about the case and will try to sway the judges with flowery rhetoric and Questions that try to put the condemned person in as a good light as he may. The crowd, always looking for a good time at the expence of the man in the cage, rarely falls for it and continues by heckling the poor Advocate. They often cheer when the Prosecutor asks some cutting Question like "Soe, sir crippleshanks, what proof can thee offer their Honoures that you wasn't the one what done in poor Widdow Middlewhite?" The crowd all laugh, because they know the poor bastard in the cage has no more hope than a light frost in Hell's garden of being able to offer any kind of proof that the judges would accept in his defence. They also like the running commentary and cutting wit provided by the King's Men who also have no actual knowledge of the case, but feel quite free to comment on the condemned man's obvious mental, moral, physical or attitudinal deficits. If he is a Daine, it goes all the worse for them -- their innate honesty and fundamental ignorance of human injustice always get the crowd howling.
Needless to say, if you haven't hired a good lawyer and if you haven't brought in your proof and thus can't prove your innocence, you have little hope of winning the trial. The only hope is throw yourself on the mercy of the Court, and as you can imagine, there is precious little of that to be meted out. If you're a member of a certain number of social classes, it's guilty unless proven innocent. Even if you're wealthy, there's no guarantee, but there is a greater likelihood that the trial will be fairer and such often result in a lighter punishment, such as exile, or if circumstances warrant, complete exoneration. Tis usually the gibbet or the medical college for the loser of a capital case. Or both, in their proper order, depending on whether there is a vivisection on the schedule or a plain lich dissection.
All that remains, really, once the arguments are concluded is for the panel of judges to retire and deliberate on the Penitent's fate. This he will know even before the chief judge speaks -- when the judges return from chambers, all wearing bronze masks now to symbolise impartiality, and the chief puts on his red cap, a low cylindrical affair with a slightly poufy octagonal bit on top, the poor man in the cage just knows what will happen next, and judging by the muted gasps and murmurs of satisfaction from the audience, they all know too. The stone martel will again bang hollowly on the ancient wood of the rostrum and the chief judge will speak the only words the Penitent shall have heard from the bench during the whole trial: "Wandalf the Butcherman of Stonecutters Row! Know now that Justice is being done upon your body for the crime of murther, for the Law mandates it, Justice requires it and our dread Sovereign accedes to it. Hear now o Man and cower before your fate, for the Law commands me hand down to you the Dread Sentence: that you be henceforth braced and banded, be transported from this place to that place where your life shall be made forfeit. It is the sentence of his majesty's Justice that you be taken ..." (Here, the poor sod down in the cage, and most of the folks in the audience too, are probably imagining a good old fashioned hanging! But then those words most awful to hear are pronounced! "... to the Halls of Amouraz ..." (Now for certain escape a few gasps of horror and surprise from the audience at the hearing of the name of that dreadful place, and as often as not, the knees of even the hardest criminal will buckle just a bit!) "... in the walls of which shall you be immured, where you shall hear naught but your own pitiful moan and where you shall see naught but the darkness engulfing you and where you shall wait until the Lord of Hunger consume your body and at last your mouldering litch shall fall to the floor and your rotting bones shall lie in the dust of it til the end of all worlds." Three bangs of the stone martel signify the end of sentencing, the judges all depart the bench, accompanied by the stunned silence of the audience, who now can not even muster their accustomed glee by throwing their remaining crusts at the condemned, and the bailiffs whisk away the Penitent to await his fate. However, those three terrible bangs of the martel don't signify the end of proceedings -- but rather a simple change of scene, for the theater that is Law and drama that is Justice is just setting the scene for Act II ...
The term immurement can refer to either a form of punishment, a form of voluntary encellment or even the practice of burying the dead in niches. Built in 1299 at Auntimoany and expanded in 1484, the Halls of Amouraz are a place of punishment where "penitents" are immured in small cells. Some cells are sealed entirely, and serve the double purpose of tomb. Others admit some amount of light and breeze. A fountain of running water is provided and little else. Food is specifically not provided by the prison, though some shrines and churches take it upon themselves to bring bread or cheer to the condemned, thus inadvertently prolonging the torture of the punishment which largely consists of wasting away until death by hunger takes the prisoner.
It is generally thought that the Halls were named for an early king of Auntimoany, but in reality, the word is derived from the Rumnian term immourezar or walling a person up into an inescapable cell.
Most cells are cramped, allowing for no more than enough room to lie down. Some prisoners, generally those of noble birth or wealth, are afforded slightly more commodious accommodations. Their cells might be eight foot by four and contain a chair and small table and perhaps a cot with blankets.
Having been sentenced, our Wandalf the Butcherman will be removed from the harsh splendour of the court room by the bailiffs and brought down into the gaol to his holding cell. It there he will wait some time until his final arrangement are seen to by the constables. Here, he'll get only two simple meals a day and will live only with the fading hope that his last plea to the Emperor's Mercy
will be heard with favour. The Emperor, of course, is the fount of all justice
and also the court of final appeal. He can overturn the higher court's verdict, mitigate punishment or even exonerate. Wanhope indeed! For few criminals warrant mitigation or exoneration, and quite a few probably merit a harsher punishment yet (which the Emperor also has the right to inflict).
Wandalf will know whether the Emperor has granted him clemency one morning when the gruel and bread trolley comes trundling along and passes his cell by. No food means it will soon be Amouraz for him, and no more hope of mercy! Three days he will have only water during the day and two pints of cider in the evening. If he wishes, a monk or a priest will come to help ease him along the way -- just as they would before a hanging or any other kind of judicial slaying. On the third day, Wandalf will visit a barber who will shear off his hair and shave his face; he'll be taken up to the dock where a waggon will transport him to the Hall. It is red with black wheels and is drawn by an ox painted red. His clothes are taken from him and his leg irons are pinned to the floor of the waggon. Everyone he passes by will know what terrible fate awaits him! Some, out of force of habit, will throw something nasty, or perhaps hard at him. Some may hurl insults. Most, interestingly, only look on in pity, wondering what foul and terrible crime this man could have committed to be riding the Red Waggon! All along the way, a single kettledrum sings out its dirgeful tattoo and soon enough the Red Waggon and its trail of curious onlookers arrive at a beautiful park.
They don't enter the park by the main gate -- that's where folks might go for an afternoon picnic or to go for a stroll among the arbors and formal gardens. Here at this little back gate, approached through a narrow alley behind the University, a secluded trail winds through denser stands of an ancient wood, and opens out into a courtyard of a huge brick and stone edifice. From a distance, it looks quite lovely, with ornate brickwork and tall gabled rooves -- but but once you look closely, you will notice that the windows are all bricked over! There's not an opening anywhere in any exterior wall, apart from a huge iron door set into the stonework within the courtyard. Here, Wandalf may turn to take a last look through the Gate of Death at the trees beyond and weep! For now, the drum stops its constant beat, the constables unpin the Penitent from his seat and drag him through the iron door beyond, into gloom and darkness and muffled moaning. Once beyond the offices of the Constable of Amouraz, the hallways are dimly lit by torches. Every few feet Wandalf will see what looks like a bricked up doorway. Soon, he will come up to a gang of practical masons -- no fancy aprons and handshakes here! It's all trowels and stout bricks and the sad scraping sound of mortar being mixed. His manacles removed, Wandalf is shoved into the cell; his wrists will now be bound by a rope that is drawn through two curious in the wall a little way from the door. Here he must stand, tightly bound to the wall, until the masons finish with their work.
They talk about this and that -- one's off for a week holiday up in Angera, he'll be travelling by the caravan train! -- another couple make plans to take their luncheon over at Aunti Lam's, and don't they do a real fine seventy two hour oliphant barbecue over at Auntie Lam's! I'll just bet the poor beastie was hankering to get turned into a seventy two hour barbecue by Auntie Lam! -- but no one talks to Wandalf at all! A half an hour of this passes and, all too soon, their voices are cut off and the last wan light of the torch fades as the last brick slides into place at the top of the arched doorway. The last thing Wandalf hears from the outside world is the mason tapping the brick into place with the handle of his trowel -- tap! tap!
By now, the cement used to hold the bricks is pretty well hard, especially lower down. The constables will place a temporary wooden brace over the fresh brickwork, though, just in case Wandalf tries to break through. Once that's done, the constable that had been holding that strange rope real tight will now let it go -- this will free Wandalf's hands. The rope will snake its way out of the wall and the masons will plug up the two holes, cutting Wandalf's little world off from the outside forever...