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Opulence and Exiguity

Posted: Tue Jun 11, 2019 4:41 am
by Zuk
The Kastroudeos, Irae

When she woke, she did not see the servants who held the fans blowing cool air upon her face. She hardly registered that they brought her her finest silk robes, or set out a grand breakfast at her gilded, marble dining table. She accepted the cool Axackal breeze coursing between the silk-draped colonnades, which kept the country temperate under the baking Sun. She helped herself to what foods she wanted, what clothes suited her, and what pleasures brought her joy in the moment, and then left. Her servants ate what was left before cleaning.

Alessandra's husband was long dead, a Kentarch in the Stratos, he had been descended from a long line of military men. She'd inherited his wealth upon his death, as well as an equal share of her parents' personal wealths. Her mother had herself been a great heiress, as was her mother before her. They were the Fair Ladies of Aramis, renowned for their beauty and affectations beyond reproach, and their suitors were always innumerable. Now, she had reached an age where the men and women of the court alike ignored her unless they wanted money from her, and she was content. Her own daughter was now the target of that love and adoration, and would one day inherit great wealth herself. If she had learned the family trade properly, her husband would find himself choking to death quite suddenly one day over his breakfast, preferably before he could impregnate her, and thus his wealth would become hers as well.

Here in the Kastroudeos, as a guest at the court of the illustrious Antarteran Emperor Anaksarxos II, Alessandra was close to the seat of Sukarian power. She was of an age with the emperor, and joined him in his bedchambers occasionally, but he otherwise paid little heed to her advises or requests, and she knew that if she too overtly exerted her influence upon him he might have her eyes gouged or worse. The true breadth of her influence was felt among the court nobles, the easily bribed ministers and Logothetes, the Despots whose wives and daughters saw her as a sort of role model for the trajectory of their own journeys to prominence. What she wanted she could have, to an extent, and little could be done to stop her. If someone wronged her, she had men to take care of that. If someone cheated her, they would find their wares and livelihood destroyed by thugs in the night. If someone betrayed her daughter, she would give them to the Mandators, and they would suffer a horrifying death beneath the Kastrou Mandatoria, never to be heard from again.

She spent her days arranging for imported finery from every corner of the globe; be it Questers, Taihei Tengoku, Praetonia, or Prekovy, nothing was beyond her reach, and nothing was too expensive to be at her doorstep a few days later. She went to extravagant lunches and dinner parties with other wealthy heiresses and aristocrats. She knew Polydeuces of Thenos, the wealthy hotel magnate who had helped transform Sukaria into a vacation destination for the world's wealthy and thus became its wealthiest man (but far from its wealthiest individual). She knew Kritodemos Monopthalmus, the Crown Prince and future emperor, who had his one eye firmly upon her daughter (if only as a concubine). Far too risky for our kind, she understood, but tempting nonetheless.

An endless procession of Gerontes, Logothetes, Domestics, magistrates and minsters, each with an entourage of followers and hangers-on, wielded power both real and imagined in the empire, and their titles and duties took on both sacred and social importance. They were, however, expensive even for the highest of nobles. Alessandra ultimately maintained her grip on power through her donations to these powerful men and women, who required a near constant supply of goats and bulls to sacrifice to the gods, as part of their highly ritualistic imperial duties. These she provided to them from her vast inherited lands in Thallax, much of which was set to revert to the state upon her death. In exchange, she could meet with who she wanted, and demand nearly anything of them, a power she and her daughter abused frequently. Thus was life for a wealthy heiress at court.

Re: Opulence and Exiguity

Posted: Tue Jun 11, 2019 7:05 pm
by Zuk
Descordinopolis, Kamferia Exarchate

Everyone assured him that he had earned his place, but Erixandros was not so sure. His wife Miranda, and his daughter Maria, helped him put on his himation, a traditional Sukarian garment with a fringe of gold geometric spirals. Miranda placed an olive wreath upon his head, and told him how handsome he looked. When he looked himself over in the mirror, he felt it did not look right on him. "You're sure?" he said, "I look so young. The old men will find me laughable. It will be obvious I've never worn a proper himation."

"You're a soldier," she said, kissing him, "you're not meant to have worn one. Trust me. Doesn't your father look nice, Maria?"

His little daughter only smiled shyly and nodded. He scooped her up and hugged her, saying, "Well, you're the ultimate authority here, aren't you? Will you watch your father at the Apella today?"

"Yes," she said.

They stepped out of their traditional Antarteran-style villa and into the midday Sun, looking over their tract of land. Descordinopolis was situated along the river-border with Gzhelkastan, at the far-flung frontier of the empire. Local Ulans came each day to pick their crops for them, at ridiculously low prices, and today they were busy gathering baskets of olives from their rows of trees. Erixandros nodded to his steward, a Maranese man named Akhmenotet. "I'll hold down the fort for you, Kyrios," he said with a bow. Erixandros felt happy in knowing he could entrust his land to Akh. So far, nothing had gone missing. How unlike a provincial, so far...

The citizens who made up the Apella of Descordinopolis traveled from their farms and parceled lands to gather each day at the Pnyx just outside the city, where a quorum was 6,000. Today, Erixandros was among them for the first time. He was unsure what that meant - different people told him different things. Some said there was a lengthy initiation ritual, others that the Apella would sacrifice a provincial to the gods. Erixandros' parents had not been citizens themselves, so he had never been to an Apella in person, not really, only seen the gathering crowds and heard the context-free legal speak from the orators. All non-citizens had a warped idea of what was done there. Some said you would never make it in the Apella without being a great speaker of Sukarian or Ostic, others said your ideas would be tested vigorously by the other great minds of the gathering.

When Erixandros pulled up in his truck with his wife and daughter, and parked off the side of the road on a flat dirt lot, he saw the other citizens gathering, all dressed in fine himations, chitons, and dresses. They seemed discontent.

Contrary to his fears, the others paid little attention to him, and mostly seemed anxious to move on with their day. Gathering quorum took longer than expected, "just as expected," said one attendee dryly. The Boule, the Council of 500, compensated them for their lost time in drachmae and compensation votes (which many counted on when helping make quorum), but the Boule itself was undermanned until late in the morning. To start things off, Erixandros and several others were introduced as new Perioikoi, having just completed their service in the Stratos. "Not just new Akritai, these boys, but conscientious citizens of the municipality," announced the Epistates, the day's mayor, "Believe me, the Archons take note."

After that, it was a seemingly never-ending blur of votes on everything from new Archons, to new members of the Boule, to the new Epistates, to what punishments to enforce on local criminals of the citizen class (most of which were brutal reprisal punishments). There were also numerous outstanding issues, such as Ulannic raiders which had crossed the river and attacked a local village. "The Akritai is looking for volunteers to come and reconstruct some border fortifications," the new Epistates rattled on, "if volunteers do not step forward, they will be found."

If nothing else, it became clear that the Apella was primarily something to keep the older Peroikoi busy in their twilight years. Almost no one but the Proedroi, the executive council of the Boule, was given time to speak, with everyone else being relegated to voting with raised hands, which were then counted very loosely at a glance by some of the legal Archons. By the time all the proceedings were over, Erixandros' nervousness and excitement had given way just as everyone else's had to impatience. When all was said and done, the Apella scattered quickly, sending pickup trucks in every direction. Not even the Boule stayed to ask questions, leaving that exclusively to that day's Epistates, who would surely be tired of his job soon anyway, as it was his duty to select which criminal cases would be received by the Apella the following day.

Erixandros and his wife and daughter rather enjoyed the rest of their day, enjoying a nice lunch at a streetside cafe. "It isn't an exciting duty, but you are keeping the province running," said Miranda, reassuring him when he expressed his concern that the Apella was a drag. It was, she told him, an honor that he would covet if he were presently picking bundles of olives on their farm. The thought disgusted him to his Antarteran core. His gratitude that he was not an Ulan prompted a family visit to the local Pantheon, where he gave his thanks to the gods for his life. Today, feeling generous, Erixandros paid to have a goat sacrificed to Sukaros. Its carcass was donated to the local poor. After that, Erixandros felt content in all ways that he was a dutiful, godly citizens of the empire.

Re: Opulence and Exiguity

Posted: Wed Jun 12, 2019 5:55 am
by Zuk
Thenos, Ilia Despotate

"Here is that ice water, just as you ordered," Vigilos said, handing the glass down to the bikini-clad Prekovar before him. She was shaded by the beach umbrella staked in the sand beside her. Next, he handed her her drink, which she smiled while taking. "That will be four nummi," he said, "if it please."

She laughed, saying something unintelligible in Prekovar, and handed him a five nummus note. When he dug for her change, she stopped him, saying something else he did not understand. She planted a wet kiss on his cheek, and let him keep the change as a tip. He couldn't help but smile as he walked away. These drunk Wallaseans, he thought, they spend money as if they've a terminal disease. Vigilos hated his job, but it was easy, and it paid the bills, and sometimes there were other perks. His wife certainly couldn't pass for a Prekovar dancer.

The resort was huge, and the beaches forever crowded. The white sand, the blue sea, the clear skies and marble cliffs made Sukaria seem a paradise, or at least they had before Polydeuces wrapped his tentacles around that great natural inheritance of theirs. There had been a time, not that long ago, when foreigners largely avoided Sukaria, unless they had some strange interest in subjecting themselves to the human safari in Crataea's interior. Now, that had all changed. Polydeuces of Thenos, they called him, was the richest man in Sukaria, and now owned a string of resorts throughout Ilia which entertained millions of visitors a year. They said that he spent most of his days at the court of the emperor, serving as Domestic of Coin on the emperor's small council. He'd been seen gallivanting with noble ladies, and his penchant for partying was renowned. He even had his pick of the heiresses these days, or so they said. I hope they poison him, Vigilos thought, looking over the drunken Wallaseans and Arterans that surrounded him, the crumpled beer cans half-buried, the beer pong tables carved out of the sand, all these stupid, laughing young people. It made his skin crawl, but business was booming. Where once the empire was struggling to find ways to sustain its revenue intake, it was now willingly prostituting their natural resources to the world, and reaping the benefits.

He didn't go home until he was on his tenth hour fetching drinks, snacks, sunglasses, and whatever else for lazy tourists, and it had really started getting under his skin. His supervisor Manuelos kept reminding him, "You have to make the money you can while its here." He wasn't wrong. He and his wife had been struggling to pay the bills lately, and they wanted to start a family. He needed the money, and he couldn't let his resentment show on his face. He had to smile through the grating interactions, until it was over.

When he went home late at night, his wife was asleep. He rarely saw her anymore, save for the mornings, or when she came to visit him while he worked. She was otherwise waiting to become a mother, patiently, and he had failed her in that so far. Solemnly, he knelt before a shrine to his ancestral spirits and prayed. He prayed that they might bless him, and forgive the dishonor he brought upon them. I am no warrior, its clear, but perhaps my sons will be. He hoped it was enough, but knew that it was not. His ancestors would frown upon his decisions, as he was sure they frowned upon the empire in these dark times, when foreigners threw their trash upon their sacred beaches, and their descendants led the lives of weaklings. Only to his ancestral shrine did he express this shame. When he was done, he stood, thanked them for bearing his burden with him, and left them. Tomorrow, he would start again, early.

Re: Opulence and Exiguity

Posted: Wed Jun 12, 2019 8:04 pm
by Zuk
Subatusa, Ubaidia Exarchate

It was almost dusk, and the orange glow of evening was casting down on the streets of the Vile City. Night would mean even more danger, but Enki had nowhere to go, not really. He wasn't welcome anywhere, and he had his little brother, Nur. If they could find one of their older siblings, maybe things would be better, but they'd lost them, and that had been years ago. How many years? he wondered. He looked down at the cuts on his fingers and frowned. He and Nur were seated on the same rubble pile as always, the place that had been their family home, back when his father Enkudu was still the street butcher.

But, then the Antarterans came. Not the regular Antarterans, the other ones, from across Elam. I hate Elam, Enki thought. "Come, Nur," Enki said finally, standing up. Nur took his hand. "They aren't coming back today, either."

The only place they could sleep was under the old Temple of Ka'al, with some of the other vagrants, but they both hated it there. Strangers were always getting too close, and the other children sometimes disappeared. Not to mention, getting there involved being patted down by Evzones. Today, the checkpoint was manned by three Elamic soldiers and an Antarteran officer, who barely paid them any mind. "They're street rats," was all he said, "let them through."

That night, there was shooting in the distance. It was hard for anyone to sleep. Some of the other children were crying. Some of the men stayed up and passed a bottle of sour wine back and forth, laughing every time there were more gunshots. "Its the skinners," one of the older men, a man named Ashmadu kept saying, "they'll drive the occupiers back, by all the gods of Crataea."

The skinners were fighting for freedom, some of the men said, that's why they skinned the Antarterans alive and draped them over what was left of the statuary. It was a blood-sacrifice to Ka'al and the other gods, the kind that might reverse their fortunes at last. The drunken rambling was overheard by the men at the checkpoint, who came over and beat Ashmadu and his companions senseless. They were gone in the morning. Enki and Nur woke early, and passed through the checkpoint on their way to the marketplace. "We help weave baskets for the madam Silili," Enki explained to the Antarteran officer, who let them pass again.

The skinners were impaled on stakes outside the market, blood soaking their loinclothes. Their heads had been removed and burned in a pile, in insult to Ubaidian tradition. "Why did they do that?" asked Nur.

"Without their heads, they cannot rest in the afterlife," said Enki, "they will wonder aimlessly for eternity."

Madam Silili was kind enough to let them help her weave, and compensated them with food and sometimes nummi, but otherwise demanded that they remain unseen and unheard. If she overheard them joking around while she sold her goods, she would come behind her stall and thrash them both. Then, they wouldn't be allowed back around for weeks, and Enki would have to go back to stealing. He hated stealing, and it would take even longer to save up enough nummi to buy Nur some sandals. As was, his feet were growing thick with callouses, and constantly scabbing over. When Madam Silili closed up her stall at midday, in preparation for the arrival of a thunderstorm, she paid them both two nummi. "For being quiet, productive boys," she said, smiling. They danced and celebrated afterward.

On the walk home, they were all smiles. The streets of Subatusa were strewn with rubble and lined with abandoned shops, but others remained operating as usual. The city was far from depopulated, but most now left to work on local farms for Antarteran settlers. During the day, there was mostly just women, soldiers, and vagrants like Enki and Nur, wondering around with nothing to do, with empty bellies screaming for relief. As the afternoon came around once more, the boys took their seats in the rubble that was once their home. "When Yasmah and Shullat come back, do you think they will be impressed by my weaving?" Nur asked, idly balancing on an outcropping of stone. "I think so," said Enki with an eager nod, "I would be."