Not exactly Cinderella

7 June, 2017

“Captain Mallard! What a delight to see you here! I hardly hoped you would come, so pleased you could make it.”

But let’s rewind a few hours.


The Dairy King had been something of a shock for poor James. I mean – one hears of that kind of thing. But being thrown into the thick of it with Uncle Ben – the Black Duck of the family – took a little coping with. James had managed to foist him off onto Tarry, and had also managed to find a relatively quiet and up-market casino. The word being “relatively”. Decent gin in the martinis, and the hookers were almost fully clothed – although the practised eye might have noticed the lack of fussy buttons, catches, and laces on the dresses.

The Dairy King hosts a non-stop Mardi-Gras with laser lighting and pumping EDM. Andrew described various milk and dairy-product-related shenanigans which … you had to be there.

The Diary King is a big, proud, magic and steam-powered vessel, and utterly unsinkable.

As for the hookers … I assure you that the main thing a hooker looks for in a working dress is something easy to get out of. Bra, but no panties.

James decided that grandfather Lancet had put him here for some reason or other, and that he probably ought to make some sort of a showing. A little drinking, a little gambling (he even won – a pleasant surprise), and someone still with all her teeth to take back to the cabin for some afternoon delight.

James isn’t me. James is from good family, is a junior officer in the Imperial Army, and has a Charisma of 16 – which easily puts him in the top 10% of attractive people. He’s tall, slim, good-looking, clear headed and clean shaven, and has no difficulty in social situations. Sure, sometimes that makes role-playing him difficult. I have to guess what his life would be like, lucky bastard.

After they were done, the girl left, and Uncle Benjamin stepped in – hearty, backslapping, and more than a little drunk. Let’s say “moderately”.

“James! James! Trust you to find the good ones, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I see.”
“Uncle. Our credit is good?”
“Of course! Of course! Porsche is one of the good ones, lad – smart and discrete. She works for the Dairy King, you know. Now, if you can take a little advice from your uncle, then take this to heart: never fuck the same girl twice in a row. Not until you are married.” Benjamin Lancet’s face flickered for a moment – the bluff, red-faced, careless sot replaced by that of a shrewd and serious man who had seen a little of the world, a genuinely concerned relative. James answered with a look and a small nod, and the mask slipped back in place.

I got the impression that Benjamin is actually a Lancet and kinda sorta got some sort of Mallard family title as part of the same deal in which Ducalis married Frances. The Mallards are book-smart wizards and courtiers – politically savvy public servants. The Lancets are shrewd bankers and businessmen. I am informed that Uncle Ben is the “Black Duck” of the family. I suspect that someone is a Game of Thrones fan.

“Well! We should invite your friends aboard! All Griffinsheart’s merry heroes together again. It’d be a shame to break up the group.”

And so they wrote a note inviting the party to travel westward on the Dairy King. The “King” would embark midday tomorrow. Eight berths were booked. Left unsaid was that at least one of those berths would be unoccupied, Cannis Lashley having perished in the defense of Santa Cora. Benjamin watched, a little bemused as James summoned sprites to make copies of the notes and Arcane Marked each one.

Out of game – eight berths because Dref has a new character. In game, however … how did whoever booked this know we needed eight? They would have to have done it before Cannis died. Oh – of course. I think this was all set up by granddad Lancet.

In the end, James decided that for his one night remaining in Santa Cora he should accept at least one of the dozens of invitations he had been sent. “A ball? You are going to a ball?”, asked uncle Benjamin. “Well, somebody should”, replied James, “and nobody else really can. Nacelle, perhaps, but she may make certain people uncomfortable and that’s not really the point of the evening. Mal is dwarvish nobility, which really wouldn’t do at all right at present.”

Nacelle is a female drow paladin of the Great Gold Wyrm. She has a strength of 16 and is not to be trifled with. What can I say? Peeps be raycis.

James had sorted through the various invitations he had been given. One or two caught his eye, and one of those was being held tonight. Isabella, the Countess Lorraine, was holding a charity ball in aid of the displaced and homeless of Santa Cora. Countess Isabella packed rather more clout than one might suppose. The count was also a colonel commanding the Regiment Lorraine, one of the older and better-respected units, and the countess herself was quite the society matron. That she was here in Santa Cora at all was interesting in itself. There would most certainly be news from the west.

Attending a ball is actually a rather expensive business. One is expected to arrive and to dress in style. James would be attending in his dress reds, of course, and the whole point of a uniform is that it be uniform. But details matter. James flew about the city. A little help from Uncle Ben and a visit to the Mallard unit turned up a family brooch to be pinned to a sash – the three mallards, of course – a tastefully expensive swordbelt, and James outright rented a jeweled dagger for the evening. For his sword, however, James decided that his plain working shortsword would perhaps send the right message. Likewise, rather than arrive in a carriage he would arrive on horseback – a splendid glossy-coated chestnut courser borrowed from the Mallard unit. With some misgiving, his cloak and wand remained behind. Last but by no means least, he organized an eyepatch to conceal his necromantic stone eye. Then, with his dress uniform crisp and immaculate, his boots polished to a mirror shine, and with invitation in pocket, and he was ready.

He arrived and made his way along the receiving line. “How d’you do”, “Enchanted”, as appropriate. He was relived to see that his rig had hit the right notes. In particular, his was not the only uniform in attendance, and he not the only one who had brought his working sword along. A plain sword, he guessed, would be something of a badge of honour for the next few months.

And finally, the countess herself. A brightly intelligent midddle-aged woman. James felt instantly at home.

“I could hardly miss the entire season”, he replied, “and such a good cause.” The countess smiled and nodded, and James moved on. He had reluctantly financed the evening from the Lancet treasury via his magic pouch, but that was small beer compared to what faced him now. Oh – did you think that these things were free? Before James was the guest book, and against each name was an amount in support of the Countess’ charity. James wrote his family name “Mallard”, and a number that made him wince a little. Not extravagant by any means, quite correct really, and father would understand. But still.

That done with, he made his way into the ball.

This charity ball will raise – in our money – hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. It’s a major city, after all, and there are quite a few very wealthy people knocking about. Charity and noblesse oblige is how the nobility tax themselves. A million bucks isn’t actually a lot of money these days … but it isn’t nothing.

Peeps, I am going to stop this here, because I have Dwarven Forge castle pieces that need painting, and really I just wanted to talk about the idea of attending a ball.

James got a little intel: seems the Emperor himself has sailed with the fleet. Maybe we will have some sort of party meeting next week on the Dairy King. I don’t know what else may have happened at the ball. Some dancing, some canapes, perhaps some brandy and cigars and good advice later on. James is a little young to hang out with the true veterans, but “hero of Santa Cora” and all that. Perhaps there will be retcon 🙂 . Presumably James scored various other info as well, but that’s all part of maintaining his “Minor Nobility” background.

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The intrigues of wizards

11 May, 2017

Days of travel, south along the Owl barrens. And Griffinshart’s merry heroes faced days more, north again to Santa Cora. They had retrieved the Spear of Hoar, an artifact of unthinkable power, and a trove of other items besides. It had been four days, and was liable to be a few more days yet before they returned to the city. James had not bonded with the strange wand yet, and the foreboding-looking book remained tightly shut. No time – they travelled hard, with all possible haste.

James had written to his grandfather, the patriarch of house Lancet, via his secret message pouch. The messages were carried via the Low Way. A mostly secure method of secret communication. That day, the pouch had alerted James that he has received – something. At camp, James found some privacy and performed the ritual that unsealed it. Within was a tightly folded letter on onionskin paper.

I have received your message. I have not received the mineral sample. The transport we use is not entirely reliable. If you are correct about the nature of the sample, then it is likely that some property of the stone itself may have come into play. It might be best not to entrust objects that are likely to have odd properties to this communications channel in future.

On to the substance of your message:

Thank you for keeping us informed. Without your messages, disaster would have been certain and swift. With them, disaster is – I am afraid to say – still a strong possibility. But now there is some hope.

Many are unconvinced that matters are as grim as the information from you and a few others indicates. They prefer to whistle past the graveyard, I fear. The great defenses of the Empire have suffered a critical blow, and they insist that it is merely temporary. We entirely lose contact with an important city, and they claim it is merely a few raiding orcs.

Not everyone is a fool. But it takes time to mobilize a military which in the south has for centuries faced very little action, and against the objections of a small but important cadre of idiots.

What I am trying, rather poorly, to say is that help is on the way, but it may not arrive in time or be enough to win the day. You will not have the armies of the Empire, I fear, but only that of a faction within it.

Neither can I help you with information on the item you carry. Its history is somewhat obscure, and there is really no way to divine fact from fancy among the legends.

Thus, my reply is really no reply at all. I wish that I had better news for you. Nevertheless, you and your people must assay this. Be resolute. All who are within beck of the city must come to its defense, you not least. Plan as best you can, then act. For both of your families, and for The Empire.

Regards,

No salutation, no signature, and all the details carefully worded around. “Mineral sample”. “An important city” – quite the understatement.

And there it was. No guarantee of the Imperial Cavalry, no long-forgotten ritual to unlock the power of the spear, nothing. And yet, grandfather was right: James and his companions were scarcely alone. The city was defended by – well – an entire city. All they could ever have hoped for, even with the Spear of Hoar, was perhaps to tip the balance.

“Be resolute. Plan and act.” And if you cannot plan, then act as best you may. Very well. The patterns in James’ cloak shifted slightly as its magics echoed and amplified his resolve.

But the pouch was not empty. Within, the dragonstone fragment that James had sent two days earlier. He drew it out. It was cracked now, the cracks catching the fading light. Cracks forming patterns, structure that James recognised – wards, glyphs. He tossed it away from him and began to prepare for defense.

But the stone did not explode, or summon a foe. Instead, it spoke – its message broken and disjointed, it’s voice the voice of Edmund the Marked:

Beware … lies of Aeg Ils … false mission … seeks the great … the Grimoire of Nod, the Book of Cain … do not …

As soon as the message was spoken, the dragonstone crumbled to dust.

The “Grimoire of Nod”, whoever that might have been; the “Book of Cain”, a name James did recognise – the first and progenitor of the vampires, greatest of the undead; and no doubt the volume was also known as “The Book of Vile Darkness” and sundry other epithets.

It didn’t take a lot of guessing, really. According to Edmund, the necromancer had sent them off on a false mission, and had hoped to find something else. James was not inclined to credit Edmund’s words, but it was likely that they had indeed found this book and that it was currently sitting in James’ backpack.

Maybe Aeg had played them false – no, the Spear certainly seemed to be real. Maybe Aeg was playing both sides. Maybe Edmund was merely guessing, or had information about the book, and was attempting to pin it on Aeg. No, not terribly likely. One might reasonably suppose that “The Book of Cain” was exactly the kind of thing that a man looking to usurp the Lich King might think could come in handy. Then again, who knew what Edmund’s plans were? Or maybe the book wasn’t really … no, James could eliminate that one. Whatever the book was, along with the Spear it seemed pretty damned real.

The pestilent question was: what to do about it?

Obviously: nothing. Nothing yet. All who stand within beck of Santa Cora must do their duty. There would be battle. After that?

And who was Nod?

As we learn in Genesis 1-4, the Elohim – the gods – created the earth and the races of men, each “in his own image and likeness”. This explains why there are different races that look different. Brown people are brown for exactly the same reason that any child looks like its father – because that’s where they came from, that’s their origin. Remember that this was all written by people who hadn’t discovered cells, yet.

Anyway. One of the gods, named Jehovah, planted a garden and put some people in it. Blah blah blah and then Cain killed his brother Abel so Jehovah banished him. Cain travelled to “the land of Nod”, who obviously was the local god of the tribe who lived over at the other end of the valley. Cain got married there and no doubt lived happily ever after.


The Spear of Hoar

12 April, 2017

A good session. I think I got back in touch with what James is about, the whole leadership thing. Which is to say, I think James got back in touch with what he is about. We had to run from the bad thing through some collapsing tunnels (using the Paizo chase cards) and Andy wanted to know what James was doing. My/James’ response was “All I care about is my men”. Sexist and speciesist, and most of all: classist, but that’s the fantasy military for you. He took a round to get command points rather than running, and he use those command points to grant a couple of re-rolls. It put him behind everyone else running out, and that was fine.

This letter is being sent to granddad Lancet via super secret family message pouch.


In hopes this finds you well, I write now that we have a few moments of peace.

It has been an eventful day.

We seem to have recovered the Spear of Hoar. Or if not that, some other spear that seems to be a powerful religious artifact of some kind.

Our researches in Santa Cora narrowed down the probable locations in the Owl Barrens to two. We arrived at a mine at James provides the location here, as nearly as possible from which dragon-stone had been found in the past, and were informed by a local resident (a mad old hermit, but cheerful) that it was inhabited by a dragon.

We entered the mine and dealt with the dragon and a few of its offspring. One was gravely wounded (we took a wing off) and bargained with us for its life, offering to lead us further into the mine where the spear was located. Surprisingly, it (I have it’s name written down somewhere – Z-something – Zika?) was true to its word, and led us to the entrance of a chamber. We kept to our bargain and permitted it to leave and make its own way out. This may one day prove to be a mistake, but it is what it is. I would give long odds on a one-winged dragonling surviving the wilds.

The path to this other chamber led through a chasm in which there were pillars of what appeared to be dragon-stone. Several tons of it each. These pillars bore masks of (God starting with a G). We attempted to retrieve one of these masks, but it did not go well.


The chamber itself had an inhabitant and what appeared to be a library of ancient books. All I can say is that the woman looked human, although obviously could not have been. She indicated the spear – which was lying in a reliquary of some sort – and invited/permitted us to take it.

I should mention at this point that three of our company are of a divine bent.

  • Nacelle, a paladin of the Great Gold Wyrm. Our current mission to retreive this spear is mostly hers. Or so we belived.
  • Elsbeth, a sorcerer. She appaers to be some sort of devotee – perhaps a lapsed prestess? – of the god Hoar. This mission appears to be some sort of personal quest for her.
  • Cannis Lashley, a and bard and I believe priest, although I am not sure of whom. Cannis is a fragment of the god of song, but I don’t belive anyone knows that in-character. He appears to be an assimar and has several times exhibited odd abilities.

Backtracking a little – we passed at one point a statue of Hoar, or rather, a statue of Elsbeth slaying Hoar with a dagger. The woman was clearly Elsbeth. Even more startlingly, Toasten – who wields odd magics seemingly connected to the manipulation of time – claimed to have made the sculpture “in the future”. None of us quite knows what to make of this, least of all Eslbeth herself.

So, back to the chamber. The spear was in two pieces – the head separated from the shaft. Nacelle attempted to retrieved the spear from its reliquary, but was not able to. Cannis, however, was able to do so. The spear rejoined accompanied by rather a great deal of lightning, which appears to be one of Hoar’s manifestations.

At which point, the inhabitant of the chamber exclaimed “At last! We can feed!” and attacked along with several shadows. The spear at this point appeared to be possessing (as near as I can make out) Cannis, which problem Nacelle dealt with by rebreaking the spear.

After dealing with the hag and her shades, I had a look at the bookshelves. he library was fake – almost all the books were blank or had pages filled with random gibberish. One, however, was not. It appears to be some sort of necromantic grimoire, and I have taken possession of it.

The way behind us had collapsed by this stage, but one of us detected a breeze coming from further below. Lacking other options, we proceeded even further down.


Below was a cavern containing massive pile of bones of various races and pillars of dragonstone. In the center was a giant skull ringed by four extremely large pillars containing a bier on which rested an elven woman.

We looted the bones – a little unwise, perhaps, but we recovered a few magical items.

I investigated the more natural dragonstone columns and chipped of a sample, which I have enclosed. Our – I suppose “expedition leaders” woke and spoke to the elven woman, and then a great many things happened in rather quick succession. Some sort of spirit – very great, filling the whole cavern – appeared and someone at some point stabbed the Elven woman in the chest with the spear of Hoar I think. As I mentioned: rather a lot going on at the time. We located an exit and ran for it. I gather that the woman and the spirit were some sort of ill-starred couple. One hopes that we have sent her on to a better place.


I am not entirely sure how we made it out, considering the depth to which we had descended and the fact that the caverns were collapsing around us as we ran. However, everybody appears to be here and mostly in one piece. I have a rather interesting grimoire which appears to be sealed, a rather interesting wand which I hve not investigated yet, but much more importantly we have the Spear of Hoar. It all went rather well, all things considered.

Perhaps of interest to House Lancet, however, is several tons of dragonstone laying in the caverns beneath the location I have mentioned. Of course, the war makes retrieving this a trifle problematic, but it is that nature of wars to not last forever. Perhaps the spirit we ran from now inhabits the place, making retrieving the stone impossible. Then again, perhaps with his ancient lover or whatever finally well and truly dead, he has moved on. Quite a bit of the cavern did collapse, but this is not to say that it cannot be mined out. And it’s possible that the dragonstone itself has been damaged by today’s various spiritual and physical cataclysms.

It’s not a certain thing, is what I am getting at. But the rewards could be great.

As for us, we have the Spear of Hoar – in two pieces, granted – but it’s not clear to me what exactly we intend to do with it. I imagine that in the right hands it could spit an orc like nobody’ business, but at present we are trying to deal with half a continent of them.

That is: I find I must trouble you for advice, once again. Has anyone any idea how such a thing might be best used? Any old prophecies, that sort of thing?

In hopes that this message finds you swiftly,
Faithfully,

JM


You know, James is being pushed in a dark direction at the moment

  1. Big Book ‘o Badness
  2. Shadowy wand of Shadows
  3. Turns out the necromancer was the good guy all along

But at the end of session, James faced that big thing alone and popped it with the only thing he had – a Magic Missile carrying a bonus 10 points of holy damage. It called him “star mage”. In 13th Age, holy damage comes from the overworld, from the stars.

I’m not 100% clear on how James got out. Maybe he’ll go to the dark side, maybe he’ll find a way to integrate the two. But I’m a little more hopeful for him now that he has rediscovered his moral center. It lies on the “soldier/commander” side of his character sheet.


I have been putting this off

6 April, 2017

A message, sent by secret magic message pouch.

I have been putting off writing this for days, but we have a quiet moment and I can shirk my duty no longer.

I am to blame for the recent collapse of the protective wards around Santa Cora, and I suspect elsewhere as well.

As I have mentioned previously, I was gifted with a certain cloak by Edmund the Marked, granting me some access to the magics of the nodes of The Empire. By this means I reactivated the node at Ebony Watch, and the node on the dwarven ruins beneath Chancer’s Hope, which protected the city from the orc and giant incursion from the south.

At Santa Cora, I gained access to the Astronomer’s Tower, a structure which had been sealed for centuries. At its top was a node (connected to air magics, as it happened, not that it matters now). With Edmund present, I accessed the node. As I was doing so, Edmund gained control of the magics from me and cancelled them. This act appeared to not only shut down the node atop the tower, but also the one in the Santa Cora cathedral. I do not know how far the damage may have gone.

His stated reasons for doing so were preposterous lies. I do not know who he is working for and I will not credit anything he might say. Acts speak louder.

Edmund must be brought to justice and made to pay for his treachery. But I would not that the family name be associated with this. Let the histories not say that one of our family was responsible for the fall of Santa Cora. James is careful to not mention the family name – this communication channel is not entirely secure.

As for me, I travel with my companions now joined by one Nacelle, a paladin of the Great Gold Wyrm. Perhaps she will choose her friends more wisely than I. We travel south to the Owl Barrens in search of the Spear of Hoar, god of just retribution.

I still wear the cloak. Pride, perhaps. The Empire might be better served by my sword at Santa Cora – perhaps I could do for a couple of orcs, at least, before falling. But I shall at least see where this paladin leads us, and attempt to keep you informed.

Mother – I doubt I shall be returning home.


Summary for Maddie

6 April, 2017

Just a summary of my character’s story for a player who has returned to the game recently.

James’ story arc has been a classic greek tragedy – a rise and rise and rise and then bought low in one catastrophic stroke bought about by his own hubris.

We have a couple of mysterious wizards knocking about the world: Edmund the Marked, ex Council of Four, and Aeg Ilsa, Necromancer.

Edmund helped out the party on a couple of occasions and gave James a cloak. The cloak had a connection to the magical “nodes” of the empire – defenses set up ages ago to protect the empire from … stuff. Giants. Orcs. Probably elves and dwarves, too. The cloak also has a quirk, that whoever wears it becomes (fantically?) dedicated to the empire.

At Ebony Watch, James managed to re-ignite one of these ancient nodes. A pretty major deal. Later, in Chancer’s Hope he managed to re-ignite a second one. This one was a bit unusual in that it was in dwarven ruins underground and may have been property of the dwarf king, kinda sorta. Compounding this is that there is political tension between the dwarves and the empire at the moment. Mal Shieldglider was implicated in this, and has been exiled.

While reigniting the node, Aeg asked James if awakening the node was really such a good idea. It seemed to James that it totally was, because the city was being attacked by the orc horde. And indeed, the node once activated put this defense around the city. James got the idea that reigniting the empire nodes was basically the right thing to do.

In Santa Cora, it turned out that there were two nodes – one in the cathedral, and one in the astronomers tower, which no-one had entered for centuries. Edmund was present as James reactivated that node, a bit of a pinnacle moment. But as James did so, Edmund seized control of the magic and through this connection with this activated node brought down the entire freaking network. The immediate effect of this was that all of the storms that this node had been protecting Santa Cora from (this node was why Santa Cora always had nice weather) hit the city all at once. But the wider effect of the entire network going down is obviously more dire. Especially with an orc and giant army attacking from the south.

Edmund’s rationale was that life would be better if common people would rise up and be heroic, rather than relying on the empire or on heroes. I can’t work out if he’s a commie and wants the proletariat to rise up; or if he’s a libertarian and wants to reduce the state to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub.

Turns out Aeg was the good guy all along. There were clues all along, of course, but James’ distaste of necromancy and his getting all wrapped up in this wonderful cloak he received and the power it gave made him ignore them.

James at the moment is at the “Luke, I am your father and Yoda has been lying to you all along” stage of his character arc. He’s extremely bummed out, which perhaps is why he’s stepped back from trying to tell people what to do and handed off the job to this paladin of the GGW that’s recently joined the party.

Luke somehow managed to stay good. Don’t know about James. He has just gotten this big book ‘o bad necromancy, and it has turned out that he was wrong about at least one necromancer all along. Maybe its time to find out if the dark side has the power to save the empire. Because at the end of the day, a soldier knows that the only way to deal with an army of orcs and giants inevitably involves killing a whole bunch of them.


Alarum!

16 December, 2016

Mother and Grandfather,

I write to you of a most urgent matter, as it appears that Santa Cora has been blockaded – I am told that there is no way to get a message out of the city. I hope that the way by which I send this message may yet be open.

Edmund of the Council of Four informs us that a massive orc army is some few days away. It seems that our little company for the past few weeks has unknowingly has traveled scant days ahead of it.

To out best information, the orc incursion is based at Proudfort. The army approaching Santa Cora appears to comprise at this point, James puts in the details that he got from Edmund and the commander about the composition of the army – numbers, naval, siege..

Although this information was initially not strongly credited, I was able to confirm to the city commander that Chancer’s Hope was indeed assaulted by a large orc naval fleet and land army, backed by giants. (Reassuring that the names “Mallard” and “Griffinsheart” carry at least some weight). The city now prepares for battle and siege, but I fear that Santa Cora is woefully unsuited to such, having always relied on its magics.

The magics of the city appear to be – well – not working properly, and it’s impossible to be more precise than that at this stage. I fear that the Lich King may be involved in all this, as there have been liches in the city and other phenomena relating to the undead.

It is something of a puzzle to me as to how this very considerable army – if these orcs come from their usual lands to the northwest – was moved to Proudfort. The logistics are challenging. The only feasible route, I suspect, would be along the behemoth path, to the ruins around the Grey Towers, down the coast and through the Koru Straits. This means that Drakenhall must also be involved – Drakenhall controls the straits, and in any case orcs simply don’t have ships as a rule.

Thus the most terrible enemies of the empire – the orcs, the dragons, and the undead – would seem to be in some sort of alliance, one of at least several years standing, which is now moving into open action.

James debated mentioning the very secret fact that the city has a second node, and that it is deactivated, and that activating it would worsen relations with the dwarves and elves. It seems that the nodes used to be more active in the past, and played a role in the old wars.

He is not mentioning it because it’s a military secret, and because it doesn’t directly relate to what the recipients of this letter need to know. If he included it, then grandad Lancet and Ducalis could not show this letter to anyone else, which is something they might need to do.

Irrespective of my speculations about history, obviously major action cannot be taken on my word alone. However, I hope that if indeed no communications are getting into or out of Santa Cora, at least someone has noticed and wondered why that might be the case. The situation is extremely grave.

Oh, mother – in happier news, it appears I am now a Captain.


On Empire

12 December, 2016

This is not a letter to anyone in particular. Maybe James just writes things down to organise his thoughts

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?

Although, obviously, the possibility of having an empress doesn’t cross his mind. Can I just say, at this point, that Her Maj Elizabeth the Second by Grace of God Queen of Australia does a wonderful job, God blessah?

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.