Trope-a-Day: Deadly Decadent Court

Deadly Decadent Court: Half true.  The Court of Courts and its lesser cousins certainly qualify as decadent, inasmuch as (a) those actually involved in the business of government at that level are very generously remunerated in order to (i) remove some of the incentive problems, and (ii) keep up the sort of appearances that make them look like the sort of people you ought to follow, and (b) the Privy Council and other courtiers, even many if by no means all of the entrenotres, tend to be drawn from the Names, Numbers, and Novas, which is to say, the core lineages, plutocrats, and innovative geniuses.  Which is further to say, the most outrageously wealthy segment of an already outrageously wealthy society – and one which never evolved most of our quaint hedonism-is-bad memes.

Not very deadly, though.  That went out when the runér replaced the korásan, whose costly political intriguing and tendency to consider sabotaging and assassinating each other in the course of zero- or negative-sum games thoroughly discredited this sort of thing, so while ambition continues and The Game has been reinvented, most of the competition these days revolves around outdoing each other at deeds which, if not always useful, are at the least not harmful, and flaunting the size of one’s (artistic/scientific/commercial/other) clientele.

The Drowning of the People

“No, we’re not a democracy, or so they say.  They, of course, ignore that the Senate’s Chamber of the People is randomly selected from all our citizen-shareholders, and also ignore planets like Viëlle, that uses the totality of the population as its planetary Assembly, or Meryn, where ever-changing proxies, rather than one-time votes, determine whose policies hold sway.  There’s only around 38 billion people on them, after all.  But they don’t have the final word, so they’re not sovereign enough, or not representative democracies, and so they don’t count.”

“But we were – well, the lands that later became the Empire were – almost a democracy once.  How long?  About seven hours.  That’s how long it took us to decide we didn’t like the idea.”

“Tell y’all the story?  Well, gather round.  Now, once upon a time, a few millennia ago, in the region that is now called the Old Empires but was then the Old Kingdoms, there were the korásan.  And the korásan were a warrior aristocracy, and ruled by the sword, and in exchange for their services in keeping off bandits and wild beasts and their fellow korásan who took it into their heads to expand their domains, they felt themselves entitled to certain traditional perquisites of the people with the biggest swords around when other folk have none.  Which contrary to the madder stories people allege to be alleged were not blood sacrifice and baby-eating and demanding people’s fairest wives and daughters for their beds, but rather such things as taxation – without asking if it pleased people to pay it, first, more to the point – and demanding labor for their initiatives and men for their wars, and that people should bow before their gods, and putting their eyes and hands into people’s homes and lives and insisting that their ways to live were the right ways to live and all should abide them, or else.”

“The years passed, and the people of the Old Kingdoms grumbled and groaned under the demands of the korásan, and all the while, hid wealth and food and swords in secret against a later day when they would need them no longer.  And when that day came as a new year dawned in the coldest part of the cycle, whether by chance or by hidden messengers, the people rose up together, and there was blood and smoke and clash of arms from Icemark to Crescenthold and Iselené to Eävalle as the korásan found out that ruling by the sword isn’t nearly as practical when the ruled also have swords, and a general distaste for the way you’ve been going about it.  And as, over that year, the korásan fell, leaders emerged among those who cast them down, and some thoughts turned to how things should be in the future, when it came to protection from bandits and wild beasts and strangers from beyond the Old Kingdoms who might have similar notions.”

“The last korásan to fall were those in Leirin, in the Crescent, for the Crescent is a cold and bitter land of mountains, with cities carved into cliffs and bounded by wild rivers, and filled with natural fortifications that could only be reduced slowly, and with the greatest effort; and so when the last one fell, at Leiri itself, the City of Mists, a great discussion was called there among the leaders of this revolution, to determine how things should now be.”

“And so this was held in the old thronehall at Leiri, and from the midmorn hour – for there were stragglers – those who had come with the leaders sat around in drinking-halls throughout the city, supping hot mead and speculating on the outcome of the discussions.  And others, who had led in one place or another but had not been invited to this grand discussion sat and drank with us, but with more brooding than excitement.”

“And at dusk, the bells summoned them to the square before the thronehall, and those leaders came out and explained to the gathered people their grand plan, that now instead of self-named korásan they should compete for the people’s favor, and they should choose from them the best to lead, and they would sit in the places of the korásan and protect them from the bandits and the wild beasts and ambitious foreigners.”

“And the crowd murmured at this, but it didn’t sound too unreasonable.”

“Then they continued, and explained that they would have to have just a few of the perquisites of the old korásan – not all, no, and certainly not the ones that had been found the most burdensome in the past, but that they couldn’t protect – that there was no way people could be protected – without just a little taxation, and some conscription, and a few other things, but nothing like the bad old days.  And, of course, if their efforts were too much to bear, the people could replace them, at the appointed time, and let someone else sit in their place.”

“And that was when my great-great-grandfather, who was Muireth Andracanth-ith-Cyranth Múrchárn, Nighthunter – and was thereafter Muireth Andracanth-ith-Cyranth Velkorálakhass, Slayer of the Manyfold Tyrant – stood up from the crowd, and in a great voice declared that he’d spent the last year killing damned tyrants until the rivers ran with blood, and that he was damned a dozen times over if he was going to come back and do it again.”

“Adding to the crowd, while their speaker – whose name is lost to memory – was still framing his reply, that being able to choose his master didn’t make a slave free, that having taken up the sword and overthrown the korásan that they could bloody well do the same to any bandits or beasts or invaders who came along, and finally, by way of a final point, that they clearly weren’t done yet and some last tyrants needed to die, here and now.”

“The crowd rose up, followed him, and they grabbed everyone who’d come up with this grand plan, and flung them all in the river.  And that was the end of the one and only eldraeic experiment with representative democracy, seven hours after they first started talking.”

“Later?  There was no later.  This was the Falthrang, in the middle of deep winter.  They probably all froze to death before they had a chance to drown.”

“Well, that, and the Leirfalls are 400 feet high and just downstream.”