The Lich King asked me an important question earlier today.
Yes, truly. I rather foolishly decided to attempt to wear a certain ring, judging that better me than someone else. In the end, perhaps I was right. I seem to have emerged mostly unscathed and un-ringed. (How on earth was Cannis simply able to remove it?)
Neverthleless he asked me: why should it matter who in particular is emperor? Is not the empire its people?
The answer struck me immediately as “no”, although I was at something of a loss to defend it. I answered that my loyalty is given to The Emperor, but the Lich-King’s question was a fair one. There have been other Emperors before the man we have now, and there will be others subsequently. If another man were Emperor, I would serve him as willingly and completely as I do this one. So to what, then, is my loyalty given?
The notion that The Empire is its people belies itself the moment you start to examine the notion. Let us start with the obvious: there is nothing special about we the inhabitants of the empire. The people are simply people, the same as in other times and places, and nothing more. Nothing less, either: people are quite remarkable. But there is nothing inherently different between a work-gang of farmers and a pack of bandits. They eat and drink, they bleed, they have hopes and virtues and vices. It’s possible for a sailor to be punctual, diligent, and obedient and yet crew a pirate ship.
The difference between bandits and farmers is law. Framers obey the law because they are confident that the law – the emperor – protects them. That is, the substance of empire is its laws, its governance, its traditions. Why do people obey the law? Well, for some it is purely a pragmatic affair. But hopefully, most people obey the law because it is right that they do so.
In a word: the substance of empire is its legitimacy. A nebulous idea, to be sure. And so the need for strong symbols – flags and parades, a crown and a man to wear it. To give one’s loyalty to those symbols is not in itself wrong, even if that loyalty might be understood more deeply.
Nevertheless, we are in danger of a solipsism here, that the empire is legitimate because it is legitimate. As the Lich King points out – if he were Emperor, I would serve him. He may be right about that, but it does not follow from that that I should therefore support his efforts to overturn the current Emperor. To put it another way – it may not matter all that much who the emperor is, but it matters a great deal how he came to become the emperor.
If I travelled to another part of the world, with different laws and a different emperor, should I be obliged to follow the laws there?
I say yes. No – I say maybe. Laws can be unjust and oppressive. If the laws in this hypothetical kingdom were worth honouring, then they would be substantially the same as the laws here. They would outlaw murder and theft and sedition, they would oblige the strong to protect the weak, they would make it possible for a common man to pursue a trade and raise a family in security.
Perhaps I have just changed my mind. No – perhaps I have found a way out of the quandry of legitimacy. The emperor and his laws are right because they do right for the people that they are protected by. So it does come back to the people, but not in the manner the Lich King argues.
What a load of nonsense I have written! Necromancy disgusts me – I shall not serve a fleshless head under any circumstances, it’s as simple as that. Likewise, I shall not forswear my oaths – how could I have forgotten? I will oppose the Lich King, all who serve him, and any other enemy of the Dragon Empire to the limit of my power to do so, now and always.