Ruler of the Known WorldRagarian gazed down from the balcony of his apartments at the heavy rolling ocean far below and considered the future that this day's events had created for him. There was a warm wind from the west this evening that moved the folds of his ankle length robes and carried the perfume of the ocean to him, as he enjoyed being alone for the first time in weeks. He had enjoyed the sunset as he always did during the last few weeks of the summer, for this was the time of the year when that great red ball sinking into the ocean seemed at it's most majestic. It did however remind him that the year had already turned and a few months from now this balcony would be swept with ice gray winds that would chill his bony frame, turning his ears red, bringing water to his eyes and dewdrops to the end of his nose. Across the copper and gold slated expanse of dark ocean the sun was setting behind the island of Mardis which seemed to lay tonight on the water like a gigantic sleeping sea monster, it's hills and mountains silhouetted against the feathery banks of crimson-stained golden clouds climbing into the heavens behind it. Only a few twinkling lights showed that the island of Mardis was inhabited and they were almost too far away to be seen through the liquid vision of an aging human being. His myopia made what would otherwise have been brilliant pinpricks of brilliance into geometric flowers of light, proving nevertheless that he was not alone in the world.
On his balcony set high on the palace walls overlooking the ocean, he was standing at the eastern-most tip of the peninsula upon which the City of Ka was built, thereby making all the other buildings in the religious and secular capital of Khanlar invisible behind him, just as the crowds of people who had attended his anointing this morning were now for the most part invisible as individuals in his memory. Slowly the light of the sun disappeared and the white moonlight from that immense stone in the sky was all that was left to light the world, while thousands of stars one by one shone forth their message of existence from the dark sky above him.
Ragarian was in his fifty seventh
year but he looked younger when one ignored the heavy creases that short sighted
vision had permanently etched into his forehead directly above a heavy nose,
created by constant and now habitual squinting. He was thin to the point
of being gaunt. What flesh he had was muscle and his skin was stretched
across it as tight as the leather on a ceremonial drum. He was beginning
to go stoop shouldered, which he had reasoned to himself would not be
unattractive in a man who carried the responsibility of the world upon his
shoulders but it would be several years before he would need to worry about it.
His hands were large and long, his fingers strong yet bony and lately he had
experienced a few twinges of pain in those knobs he had been given as knuckles,
no doubt announcing the potential of arthritis later in life. The veins on
his hands laced across the back of them looking for all the world as if some
needle-woman had sewn thick blue thread just under the skin to enhance the
pattern created by the age spots daubing his chalky skin with small brown
circular patches. He was of course, clean shaven like all Priests, having
no hair anywhere on his skull save for his eyelashes and heavy eyebrows which
were even now almost black in coloring and only speckled with white. The
few remaining hairs that still graced his head he had shaved away every morning
for many years now and as he had grayed even the tell-tale shadow of his former
dark coloring no longer showed. His body however showed very little
evidence of his advancing age and absolutely no sign of the good living that had
been available these many years since he had joined the rank of Priest in the
Great Temple of Ka.
Ragarian chuckled to himself, remembering how he had thanked the Gods often that he was
less interested in food than any of his predecessors. In fact he found the
lust for fine dining his immediate predecessors had exhibited to be obscene.
He lived in a culture where priests were known for being well fed, if not fat.
Ragarian still remembered his early teachers having criticized him as a novice
for being bony, explaining that the people trusted the rounded well-being of
their Priests and Teachers, a reasoning that he had never understood since the
majority of the population came nearer to starvation than salvation every winter
He smiled to himself, watching a flight of night birds seemingly swim across the face of the moon above him as he remembered all of the people who had assisted him to his present position of absolute power. Some had done so unwittingly, while others had been purchased for payment of no more than vague promises and yet others who had obstructed his advance had paid dearly long after they had forgotten slighting him and therefore suffered usually without ever knowing the reason why. With a soft understanding word here and little praise where others forgot, there, he had become known by all as a caring, if overly intense, person. His morals were held up by many as being something good to emulate, his research activities and studies were regarded as being those of a dedicated scholar and over the years his opinion had gained the respect of many powerful allies.
Ragarian knew instinctively that his successes were almost without exception the result of his careful and analytical observation, which had been invariably followed by decisive and calculated actions. He had during his life so far, been able to cultivate the ability to appear understanding without actually ever getting involved in the petty politics of the Court and it's fawning, ambitious or antagonistic power merchants. He had been able to operate in the corridors of power as a moderator of other's debates and the arbitrator in the quarrels and disagreements of his peers and superiors. Ragarian had learned early that everywhere in any administration there were gatekeepers who demanded bribes or promises of future favors, or merely the grateful thanks from a junior who knew his place and he had always been openly grateful for any assistance anyone gave to the aspiring upward moving young priest he had once been.
He had used his talents well over the years and he felt
no guilt whatsoever for how he had used people, for in his own mind he was
convinced that he alone had the ultimate right to the power he now owned and, in
his own way, Ragarian had always tried to help those who had assisted him to
climb the steep and slippery path to greatness. However it was a greatness
he had convinced himself from the beginning that he deserved as a right.
His burning idealism he had managed to conceal without much trouble, for he knew
most of the people he dealt with lacked the knowledge or understanding to even
begin to understand just how inferior they were to what he held to be important
in people. In truth he could honestly say that he really had no enemies to
talk of as a result of his slow progress through the ranks of the church
hierarchy to the ultimate position of Priest of Priests which he now held.
It seemed to him this evening as he watched the night above him claim it's kingdom
across the face of the earth, that his position was one that had been obtained
without any real challenge from his colleagues and that he had risen through the
ranks without fanfare, on what had seemed both to him and those around him to be
a pre-destined path ultimately allowing him to put on the Golden Robe of the
High Priest of Khanlar. Ragarian was only harsh to those beneath him in
the hierarchy and then only when they could scarce do anything but accept that
they had in fact erred in some manner or action. To everyone however he
was polite, for his manner was controlled and quiet to the point of well managed
perfection. His arrogance was so strong that few people realized it even
existed, for he treated everyone as if they were children, some he even treated
as one would treat a silly puppy and they all accepted it as the harmless
eccentric behavior of a truly well educated and dedicated Holy Man.
The ceremony that had used up most of the day just ending kept running through his
head, as if he were caught up in a tangle of the threads of time. He heard
again and again the words of those that had placed the golden torque about his
neck. One sentence kept jumping to the front of his mind, the simple words
has inherited the Peace".
That was what the Anointing Priest had stated during his opening address to the
gathered heads of the Church hierarchy who had filled the Great Hall that
morning. Those words had been greeted with an almost involuntary sigh of
relief from his audience and it had quietly built like a wall of defense that
had shocked Ragarian. It was as if somehow the security the statement had
brought was born of the insecurity and self-denied fear of those gathered to
hear it, they were so desperate to hear it said that they need not worry, they
willingly threw away their fear at the first chance to do so.
The present woes of the country had to be overcome before that society rose up
and blamed the Church leaders for the pain and suffering presently known by
almost everyone throughout the land. Priest of Priests Akarian III had begun the war against the Asigan States, or the
Brotherhood as they had called themselves, over five years past in a ridiculous
attempt to cover his own administrative weaknesses. It had been an act of
the Gods themselves that the fat old fool had suffered a heart attack at the
dining table a few weeks into the Rebellion, otherwise the outcome might have
been very different. The Council of Wardens had then elected and anointed
Zagorian IV within a matter of days, obviously choosing the old man because he
would allow them to direct the War any way they saw fit, while he pursued his
passion for easy living, good food and young women.
More important to the Church was that it had lost much of it's reputation for infallibility during the War and whereas when Ragarian had been a boy there had been few who questioned anything the Church had proclaimed, there were many today who considered the Church and it's leaders fallible and in private there were many who had already decided that their leaders were in fact incompetent. The Council of Wardens as individuals had suffered much attack from within the Church itself during the years which had followed the war and there were many of it's members over the period who had been sacrificed to allow the body as a unit to retain power. It also seemed that since the War fanatics had been able to find an easier path to power than they had even during the war itself. The paradox no one seemed able to explain, or solve, was that the quality of life was actually dropping continuously year after year even though the war had been won. Everywhere it seemed that things were getting worse rather than better and this knowledge had infected every level of government with what amounted to a disease of hopelessness.
At the end of his five
year reign Zagorian IV had become no more than a figure-head and had more often
than not exhibited advanced senility, sometimes even falling asleep during State
occasions by the end of it.
Fourteen otherwise healthy men had needed to have heart attacks, suffer accidents or die quietly in their sleep to allow Ragarian to move his own forces into positions of power over the last three years. A week ago the two men who had arranged the deaths of so many others had themselves suffered the ultimate sacrifice when they had fallen from the city wall onto the rocks at the foot of the cliffs hundreds of feet below. Marazar, Ragarian's oldest and most loyal supporter, had taken the precaution of forcing both men to drink liberal amounts of liquor before he had unceremoniously thrown both of them from the wall, so their deaths had gone with no more than a three line entry in the Watch Record the next morning.
Tonight however as he watched the sunset Ragarian was realizing something that he had not expected during the decades of work and dedication to achieve position. Ragarian was still Ragarian. He had been forced, for the good of the Church, the country and it's people, to do things and commit deeds that were outside of his everyday character many times since the war had begun. Yet after these acts of necessity had he not returned to being the fair and just person he had always tried to be? It was not his fault, he argued with himself, that the Gods had placed him in the position they had chosen for him during these troubled times. Tomorrow morning he would wake up to wield more power than any person in the World, he would be the ultimate judge of all men, women and children who lived, worked and died in Khanlar. His every decision from this day forth would be Absolute. Yet Ragarian knew something tonight that he had not known when the sun had risen this morning. He might now be the Priest of Priests to everyone else but to himself he was still Ragarian!
The High Priest was accepted by his
followers, which in theory meant everyone in the world, as being Infallible.
That was the foundation upon which the Church was built and that infallibility
was confirmed when the High Priest was anointed by the Church to be it's
spiritual and temporal leader, as Ragarian had been this very day. He had,
according to the rites, been sacrificed to the Gods during the ceremony
and became both living and dead in the one body during his Anointing.
As with all leaders of the Church before him,
Ragarian had sacrificed his blood to the Gods when the leeches had been put on
his chest at the beginning of the three hour ceremony and he had watched as the
bloated creatures had been removed and burnt in the Holy Fire at it's end.
Ragarian had hardly felt the two great slimy things as they fed on his blood,
one affixed to either side of his chest. The real shock to Ragarian had
come while he had watched the two black slugs frizzle on the coals of the Holy
Fire, for he had truly expected the Gods to speak to him, as the Holy Book had
promised they would. . . but they had not!
It was obvious to Ragarian that no one who had spent a lifetime achieving the
ultimate position of power would risk anything by lying in answer to the very
question which gave them control over all men. However, it had still
surprised Ragarian, for deep down inside he had truly expected to talk to the
Gods and a lifetime of conviction was hard to overcome while standing before
that crowd of powerful clerics, most of whom also probably believed in the
scripture they had adhered to all their lives. His answer did not bring
forth thunderbolts from the heavens, but instead brought forth thunderous
applause from those gathered before him on earth and even a few tears from the
older priests in the crowd.
There was a God of course,
perhaps even many gods as the Holy Books taught, Ragarian knew that to be a fact
that none could ever deny, for there were too many wonderful things in this
world for there not to be at least one Supreme Being to have created them.
Yet one thing was sure to him this evening and that was that God, or the family
of Gods if one truly believed the literal teachings of the Church, did not
accept him as their equal, no matter what wonderful words and incantations were
made in the ceremony which climaxed in the anointing of a Priest of Priests.
After a while of brooding silence Ragarian spoke to the empty sea and the endless sky
above him: "So we are wrong are we, great Gods of men? We burn our sacrifices, incant our
confessions and beg assistance and You are not even listening to us. Or if
You are listening You choose not to answer. Perhaps You have forgotten
that You created us, or perhaps our actions and dreams are just meaningless
striving that You watch with amusement, the way a child watches the antics of an
insect before he crushes it under his foot and moves on to another game, without
any guilt or shame for the murder he has just carelessly committed.
Perhaps You are all dead Gods of my fathers, or perhaps You just gave up and
went away to create a better world, disgusted by what we have done to Your
creation here. You allowed me to live when I lied and used Your names
without respect or truth and there were no thunder bolts during the farce we
acted out for You this morning."
He realized that what had happened this day had changed him far more than any
whispered instructions in his mind from the Great Ones. In fact it was in
a way far more threatening, for Ragarian felt as if he himself was being judged,
as if his every action was being recorded and his fate would be decided by what
he did from this moment on. The Gods had allowed him complete power over
the lives of all men without comment or guidance to help him. Perhaps it
was he, Ragarian, that was being tried and tested. Perhaps the ceremony
had convinced the people, whereas the Gods would wait until he had proved
himself. He realized then that he had almost convinced himself that the
Gods would talk with him only when he had proved to them that he was worthy!
* * * * * * *
* * * * * * *
The sun rose the next morning, as it had risen every morning back to the very first day of Creation, but this morning Ragarian the High Priest of Khanlar was not able to force his mouth to produce the sounds that created the words which composed the Prayer of Thankfulness. Instead he stayed in his bed and looked out of the open doors that led onto the balcony, thankful that some servant or another had had the sense to open them. Beside his bed sat a silver tray with a jug of watered wine and a bowl of fruit on it. He sat up and took the prepared cup of wine and sipped at it, as he tried to analyze for himself exactly what the dreams of the previous unsettled night should have meant to him. He remembered well the realities upon which his nightmares had been based but he finally dismissed the unconscious ravings of his sleeping brain to be no more than just that.
The Gods had still not talked with him. No dreams had brought him visions of
greatness. Sipping the wine and watching the sea gulls soaring and diving
outside, accompanied by the muted sounds of an oceanic orchestra below, Ragarian
remembered everything that had brought him to this point in his life. His
bed this morning was without doubt the largest in the land and the sheets and
drapes around it were the finest materials that had been woven in all time.
He was the Priest of Priests, the Prince of Princes was he not and as such he
saw no wrong in living in a style greater than that of any of the scions of
Khanlar's Great Royal Houses. Yet how different was this bed from the one
he had occupied when he had first entered the Church almost fifty years ago.
Ragarian wondered often if his parents looked down on him from wherever the Gods kept
their souls, despising him for the life of ease he now lived. Ragarian had
also discovered by careful search and inquiry that he had had three brothers,
two of whom were half brothers from his mother and the thatcher she had married
when his father had died. He also learned that both had died in the Army
of the Church during the Rebellion, whereas his only true brother still lived
and was a half-wit who earned his bread working in a stable in their home city
of Tarbor. Ragarian had met the man three times, without disclosing their
relationship and had placed both reward and the threat of dire repayment for
failure upon a local priest to make sure nothing bad ever happened to the
half-wit. There had also been five sisters, two of whom he had never met because their father
had arrived on the scene after his own father's death and he felt no bond with
them at all, even though they had, like him, been delivered from his mother's
womb. His own sisters he had valiantly sought, for they were all younger
than he and he had felt an overpowering responsibility for them since he had
discovered their existence. One had died shortly after he had left home
and another had died in childbirth only two days before Ragarian had found out
where she lived and seven days before he had arrived to take a look at her.
The last of his sisters had been a quiet girl, who it was said had been very
pretty as a child and who had been lucky to have been married off to some
cabinet maker at the age of thirteen, however she was to die before she was
forty in a stupid accident during the war. She had been caught wearing a
cloak that had belonged to a soldier of the Brotherhood to keep out the winter
cold and had been hanged before the local priest in whose unknown care Ragarian
had placed her could communicate with his employer. Ragarian had seen to
it that that priest had suffered an accident soon afterwards which had sent him
straight after her, but even that revenge had not soothed Ragarian's loss.
He had made a special journey to see her only surviving daughter a few months
after the war, a small minded woman who had been married to a herdsman in Tarbor.
He had taken water at their holding without disclosing to them who he was, but
then the Course of History had claimed all of his time and he had not seen her
Growing up as a Novice in the Church had been harder, Ragarian was willing to swear,
than service in the ranks of the Military. The circumcision they had
performed upon him had not healed as it had been supposed to and it had been
more painful than anything he had ever imagined for many months. He could
now judge as the medical man he was, that the doctor who had performed it
had probably been drunk, for he had botched the job and Ragarian still carried
the scars as proof of the matter. Then there was the constant labor,
organized worship and incanted education, which generations of teachers had
determined were necessary to prepare him for the Priesthood.
Ragarian, who was not noted up to that time for his
consideration of others, had made a point of changing many of the terrors of
being a young child in the service of the Church as he had gained power through
the years. In his early forties one of the stepping stones to his present
position had been to assume the mantle of Grand Master of Novices and Ragarian
had used that position to change much of the dogma which had earlier in his own
life robbed him of any happiness as a child. He had re-written the
Gathering Laws, so that now almost all of the boys brought into Church service
were orphans, or were donated to the Church by their parents, for a not
inconsiderable sum in the eyes of those poverty stricken families who most often
gave up their sons under the program. He had also insisted that on
Herthesday each week, all young men in the service of the Church under the age
of fourteen, were to have no less than four hours during the day to devote
to activities of their own choosing and although some chose to read or sleep,
most could be found in games of roust-ball, or similar youthful pastimes they
organized amongst themselves.
It had not been so when Ragarian had been young. Always tired and hungry his
life and that of his contemporaries, had been committed for every waking hour to
either slave labor or religious observance. Just before the first hour
after midnight everyday, he would return to the cot he had left an hour before
for the Midnight Worship, crawling in and sleeping under the thin blanket he
kept and washed every week until he was admitted into the ranks of the
Probationers at the age of fourteen. Five hours later he would be
awakened and sent to the kitchen where he worked to help prepare the breakfast
for hundreds, along with dozens of his tiny fellows. In winter the stone
floored kitchen was like an ice box when he arrived before daylight to remove
the ashes from the previous night and then light the stoves for the day's
activities. While he was doing this others were washing the floors,
peeling vegetables or scraping the ovens clean. Then they would leave the
kitchen, chanting hymns as they proceeded to the courtyard where everyone
gathered to welcome the Sun and chant the Prayer of Thankfulness and then,
usually trying hard to stay awake to escape a whipping, they would have to stand
and listen to the sermon of one of the Priests in charge of their lives.
An hour later they would return to the kitchen, but only to serve everyone else
a hot breakfast, before they could feast themselves on the cold left-overs.
When he had come out of that prison he was whimpering that Herthe had come in
his dreams and told him to serve Ragarian, for one day Ragarian would be the
Priest of Priests. How everyone had laughed at Marazar's claim, until
Ragarian had stood forth and defended his friend, saying that he too had had
dreams telling him to command and provide for Marazar until the Gods called him
to them. Luckily for the both of them some old Priest had prophesied years
before that on that day something that would lead to great changes within the
Church would occur and Ragarian had inadvertently found himself respected from
that day forth and stranger still, he had discovered soon afterwards that he was
even openly feared by some. It was only days after that incident that his
friend was reduced the Priesthood and placed in slavery to Ragarian and
strangely that happened on the very day that Ragarian himself moved out of the
children's quarters and became a Practitioner.
Even as he dressed in his new robes on this the first day of his rule as Priest of
Priests Ragarian could not stop the whole history of his life playing itself out
within his head. It was as if he was putting it all into storage, before
he assumed the frightening power he now had as the Head Priest to every person
in Khanlar. In all of it he felt vaguely content. The Rebellion had
finally been crushed by the superior numbers of the Church Army and the Church
was stronger and more powerful now than it had ever been in recorded history, a
history that was already being rewritten to play down the losses, both military
and material that they had suffered during the long years of that terrible civil
Few people in Khanlar understood just how numerous were the administrative problems
in various parts of country, or just how badly the Rebellion had affected the
Economy of Khanlar. Ragarian knew exactly how bad things were, yet even he
had been surprised by what he had learned in the last few weeks, and he now knew
far more than had been understood immediately after the War. Ragarian, due
to his position, had always had better knowledge than most on just how badly the
nations had suffered, due to the inadequacy of the leaders of the Church over
the last few decades and sometimes he wished he had wielded enough power back
when the Asigan miracle had taken place to have guided the Church into first
sharing it and then of course eventually controlling it.
The War had been over for far too long however to be able to blame it for every
problem the country was now facing and Ragarian already had learned that many of
the woes facing Khanlar today were a legacy as much in the heart and mind as in
the body proper. There had always been cripples and there had always been
poverty, but nowadays the percentages were far too high to overcome them without
some drastic changes in the way men thought and approached social
problems. It was either a matter of getting rid of the parasites on an
already depleted system or of finding a way to make the parasites become
creators of wealth and advance in their own right.
In Ragarian's mind the act of balance was of the utmost importance in these matters
and he was already considering as many alternatives as his fertile brain could
juggle at the same time, analyzing one after another for potential problems and
solutions. He had considered some rather bizarre alternatives along the
way. He had even gone so far as to consider rounding up all the cripples
and halfwits left by the War and taking them into the forests and wastelands of
the conquered Nations where they could be put to work clearing new farmlands.
He had added up the potential of supplying them with only half of the necessary
food required to keep them alive and making them forage for their own food until
the worst of them slowly died off, leaving only the productive needing to be fed
and converting the fallen into a natural fertilizer for the new fields of wheat
and vegetable farms. He still played with that one occasionally, for it
was truly logical. It would reduce the number of parasites in the society,
remove the weaker genes from the basic breeding stock of the Nations and provide
an enhanced standard of living for those who survived.
Ragarian had already, as Master of Rehabilitation of Heretics, his last post before
beginning his claim to the throne of Priest of Priests, reduced the survivors of
the Brotherhood to the virtual status of domesticated animals. This had at
first seemed a logical pursuit also, for it took hundreds of hungry mouths out
of prison camps and put them to work as slaves that needed little or nothing,
yet produced extra for the Exchequer every month. It had had two rather
unsettling side effects however that had not seemed too important when he had
first instituted it. Firstly it had led to those who had survived the war
on the losing side seeing that there was no future they could look forward to
besides being worked to death. For that reason more and more of them had
escaped to form what were now quite embarrassingly large bands of desperate
outlaws, whose depth of hatred and knowledge of the true state of affairs, gave
them no reason but to plan for a life of continuous attack on the very system he
had hoped to effectively remove them from. The second
oversight had been to not consider what an influx of almost free labor would do
in areas where loyal citizens found it hard to find sufficient paying employment
to support their families. In fact what had at first seemed a solution to
a problem had created two more troublesome and far harder to combat problems
that he would have to solve in the very near future. There were also the
Guardians on Lunza to deal with sooner or later. . . but all in all
Ragarian felt he would soon have everything under control and the way he wanted
it to be.
Controlled Anarchy was what he called it. As it was it only took a few weeks for
Ragarian to realize that he was underestimating the problem and that he was in
fact ruling within a semi-organized state of anarchy. His experiences in
government were soon to convince him that there were already enough laws to run
the nations efficiently, if only they could be enforced to the full letter of
their intent. The problem was that they were not being enforced in most
cases and even when they were used much depended upon those who were
interpreting them. The more Ragarian investigated the problem, the more
apparent it became to him that corruption, careless bungling and ineffective
management seemed the normal method of administration in Khanlar and it was
preventing effective control in almost every situation he investigated.
The War, like all
wars, had of course led to shortages of everything necessary to any form of
normal life in Khanlar and the shortages had led to crime and favoritism by
those in control. Many, if not all families had lost loved ones and
as living conditions worsened their patience with the authorities was obviously
wearing thin. Lust for gold had replaced morality in most households and
food for the table had become far more important than honoring any Gods or
Church requests these days.
During the War the Church had mistakenly urged it's followers on with promises far
beyond their capability to supply when it was over. Instead of roast beef
and wine sauce as had been promised, most people feasted on gruel. In poor
areas pet dogs disappeared from the streets and when it was available even dog
meat was too expensive for most of the poor, many of whom either saw no meat at
all, or were reduced to eating vermin in some cases. Instead of milk and
honey it was short weight bread and water. Cloth had risen in cost a
hundred times in a matter of three years and the supply of all raw materials was
getting shorter all the time. In many Nations people sold sheep for meat
these days, rather than go on feeding the animals long enough to harvest their
wool. Yet, as always, those in power, or who had friends in power, managed
to prosper and they dressed and lived with what seemed to be the sole aim of
exploiting and exhibiting their wealth at the expense of others.
Many of the tools of peace had been converted into tools of war and now there were
few craftsmen available to forge a plow from a handful of swords, even if they
had been able to wrest them from the fists of those who held them in these
troublesome times. Breeding stock had all but vanished, eaten by their
hungry owners, confiscated by soldiers or run off by starving outlaws. A
secondary problem caused by the decimation of the herds of cattle and swine,
numerous horses and the great flocks of sheep that had once grazed the pastures
of Khanlar, was the reduction of fertilizer to replenish the fields. The
production per acre of cultivated land had been steadily declining ever since
the first few months of the war and today Khanlar's fields were producing half
of what they had produced a decade before. The will of the farmers had
also been sapped by the fact that any crop they planted and tended, might well
be cause enough for outlaws, even their neighbors, to descend upon them and rob
them of their harvest. The lack of a balanced diet, amounting to
starvation in some areas, had also reduced the population's resistance to
disease and since the war a series of epidemics and at least three outbreaks of
plague had further complicated the recovery.
Perhaps the greatest problem facing Ragarian, as he donned the golden robes of the
Priest of Priests, was the absolute power held by the Army, which had become
almost a separate nation within Khanlar due to the War and although it's
officers were ostensibly Churchmen, it's leaders openly vied for position and
power with the Wardens of the Church Council. Some of them were little
better in the eyes of the populace than the outlaws they were ostensibly
supposed to control.
The first three months of Ragarian's reign as Priest of Priests saw Khanlar reduced
to a state of fear that surpassed even that which had existed during the War.
Three of his generals were arrested and replaced within a matter of weeks of his
taking office and the Officer Corps saw almost half of it's members retired,
transferred or confined awaiting investigation, as the Priest of Priests placed
his own men in positions of power to protect his rule. The best of the
troops were isolated and brought together to form an elite Palace Guard, picked
from heroes and outstanding officers and men to act as a buffer between Ragarian
and any future possible disloyalty from the main army. A third of those in
uniform were discharged, leaving a completely new army power structure three
months after the purge began. At the same time new rules and regulations
went out to every corner of the land giving authority to his Bishops to stamp
out corruption and the responsibility to take the blame should it continue.
Several Bishops and many priests and clerks, also found themselves retired to a
lower standard of living than they had previously enjoyed, finding themselves
removed to desolate monasteries in the most remote and inhospitable places, far
from the corridors of power.
Ragarian was everywhere at once during that time, or so it seemed, his gaunt frame
striding into office and temple, guard post and administration hall, always
followed by a detachment of his purple cloaked Palace Guard, stamping his
dictatorial demands into every aspect of government from the national level
right down to the affairs of the smallest hamlets. Curfews were imposed,
men were marched off in chains for the slightest offense against the new order
and his iron fist seemed poised to slam down on any chosen cog in the massive
machinery of Church Government at any moment.
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