|Source: Wikimedia Commons|
“I shall bow before him on bended knee,
My fealty to give as long as I live,
Or ’till reign ends, as the gods may decree.”
The crowd finished singing the Hymn of Fealty, and the king screeched with hysterical joy, clapping his hands with delight at the thought of this entire assembly singing in his honour. King Samuel of Tix’chan had been crowned ruler of Trinist only a week ago, and still drew great pleasure from hearing vast auditoriums of people singing his honour. Throwing his head back on the ancient throne of the Tix’chan family, built from the bones of an ancient creature dug from the mountains centuries ago, Samuel laughed at the vaulted ceiling.
Suddenly, his throat snapped closed and he glared at an elderly, venerable steel merchantess in the front row.
“You, Burnt One!” he screamed insanely, “your voice trailed off before the end of the hymn: are you trying to insult me?”
The crowd murmured in nervous horror as the king pronounced this racial slur; the hoary woman’s back snapped straight and her tanned skin flushed even darker with the embarrassment of the king’s unwarranted attack. Open discrimination against minorities had been outlawed over the reign of Queen Alexia centuries ago, and the thinking of the times was that all creatures were born equal in the eyes of the gods.
Samuel simpered on the throne; his eyes cleared momentarily and he became vaguely aware that he had transgressed a social more and that the consequences of harming such a powerful woman as Dame Gracet could be terrible. However, the mist descended over his eyes again and the king lost all reason. Straightening the crown on his head, Samuel pointed his sceptre at Gracet and shouted:
“Guards! Put this woman in irons; she is to be held in the dungeons, until a trial for the crime of treason can be arranged.”
The guards, in the red and black livery of the Tix’chan house, moved forward hesitantly; Dame Gracet had been a stalwart of the royal court since the conferral of her damehood a decade ago, and there wasn’t a soul in the palace that wasn’t fond of her, her gentle manner or her intelligent advice.
Gracet, however, dealt graciously with the issue: stepping forward, she held out her wrists willingly. The guards, thankful, put the irons around her wrists and led her away. The crowd began to whisper as Dame Gracet made her exit: the monarchs of Trinist were granted a highly limited suite of powers by virtue of a codified constitution; their powers were mainly ceremonial, and they ruled by popular consent. Their reach certainly did not encompass arresting members of society, or accusing private citizens of a crime.
However, these revolutionary changes had occurred a mere one hundred years previously and, as such, there were many in the realm—the current monarch included—who were fighting for the restoration of an absolute monarchy, with full executive powers conferred by divine mandate. To compound problems, King Samuel (nicknamed Samuel the Insane by the more brash members of the court) was of questionable mental capacity, and was unlikely to be able to navigate the choppy waters of Trinistian political life without causing outright civil strife and overseeing a fresh outbreak of violence between the royalist and constitutionalist factions.
The constitutional monarchy, being so freshly formed in the landmark referendum a century ago, was still in a fledgling state. The exact legal state of the monarch and the extent of his or her executive powers were still nebulous, and factions on both sides were competing to have the legal form of the ruler solidified or debased, according to their views.
King Samuel’s move, in the context of such a tumultuous state, would be viewed as a direct attack on the legislature, and an indication that he, as head of state, had designs to reinstate an absolute monarchical regime. Of course, Samuel had no such intentions—his fevered brain was barely capable of thinking past the next meal—but there were enough paranoid observers on both sides of the debate to guarantee that this latest development would spark controversy. Furthermore, without the calming influence of the rational Dame Gracet, those sparks could quickly turn into flames.
A hush descended over the auditorium as Samuel sat back on his throne; he was shivering with the exertion, and tears were leaking down his face as the confusion of the day’s events overwhelmed him. Brother Arxan, advisor to the throne, stepped forward; taking Samuel’s hand in his, he whispered soothingly in his ear and convinced him to put an end to the audience. Samuel, at first suspicious of this man approaching his throne, gradually recognised Arxan through the mist and nodded meekly at his suggestions. Rising from the throne, he placed his crown jewels in the hands of the keeper and exited the stage.
The noblemen and –women, as well as various other members of the court, began to exit, talking among themselves. Groups began to form as members of the opposing factions met up in the aisles and whispered amongst themselves, plotting their next move.
Alongside the division of the crowd into royalist and constitutional factions, another group was also forming: nobles of various racial minorities congregated in a corner and spoke in hushed tones; the king’s racial slur—forgotten in the midst of Samuel’s transgression of his powers—had sparked off worries which had been niggling for some time at their minds. Although the popular opinion of the time was for equality among all people, a racist countermovement had taken root in the upper echelons of the Trinistian nobility; among these families, who had ruled in Trinist since time immemorial, the opinion was growing that all of Trinist’s woes could be traced directly back to Queen Alexia’s seminal ruling. This movement held as a core belief that the gods were punishing Trinist for allowing racial minorities to corrupt the bloodline of the nobility, and that the only path to the restitution of Trinist’s previous good fortunes was through the cleansing of the houses—through whatever means necessary.