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Tagmatium Rules

In from the Cold

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Spring was finally coming to Gournaion, the capital of the island of Efmoseia and the nation of the Hexanesa. It had been a hard winter across all of northern Europa and even the western countries of Machina @Haruspex and Tagmatium had suffered in the coldest weather in decades. Despite being the two most functional nations in either the Occident or Burania, many of their citizens had died in the cold weather and parts of them had been cut off due to the deep snow and blizzards. In the band of six islands that marked the division of the Thalassa ton Kataigidon (Sea of Storms) and the waters of inner Europa, the weather had been especially hard because the islands had very little resources of their own to call upon. Some of the small fishing villages and semi-permanent logging camps that made up the settlements on the exposed northern coasts of the islands had to be completely abandoned. Vessels and aircraft from the Stolos, the militarised coast guard, were now going out to assess the damage to the settlements and to see if the inhabitants could return. The weather had been a shock after the warm temperatures of the summer and very few people had been prepared for anything other than the usual winter weather, although that was always quite harsh. The economic damage would have to be counted before the country could move forward. The long cold winter had delayed the planting of crops and prevented fishing for weeks when the fleets should have been out laying pots for crab or trawling for Adlantic salmon. Whilst the people of the Six Islands were unlikely to starve over the coming months, the finances of the country and its inhabitants would suffer. The last decade hadn't been kind to the Hexanesa and it seemed like the start of the new one wasn't going to be great, either.

Those were the thoughts going through the head of a warmly wrapped little old lady as she sat at a cafe table and took sips of a cup of tea whilst looking out over the harbour of Gournaion. The cafe had cast iron furniture arrayed around tables and segregated from the street by low planters with hardy plants, although most of them had died over the winter. A heavyset stheneloser dog lay curled at her feet, its thick black and white fur proof against the cold of the northern islands. There were still boats in the harbour, although most of them were out to sea, trying to catch up with the season's fishing. She had just come from a morning service at the Panagia Theotokos, the cathedral of the Hexanesa. A savoury pastry lay untouched on a plate in front of her. Several newspapers were spread across the table, some from the Hexanesa, some from Tagmatium and even one from @Orioni. It was the old lady's habit to look through the headlines in the morning after church before she pottered back to her house. The headlines, at least of the Tagmatine ones, were mainly about the Megas Agios Basileia's involvement in Ceris – two carrier groups and a corps were now in action there, with suggestions that more might follow on. She shook her head. It was unlikely that “Arhomaneia” was involving itself there for the benefit of the Cerisers, although no one could deny that the Sentists were a plague that wouldn't go away of its own accord. The Orinese paper was at least more hopeful, although it focussed on the ongoing EOS mission in the Bainbridge Islands.

The papers were full of just more examples of the powers of the wurld bullying the smaller nations. Although the Orinese were much less... conservative, blunt and chauvinistic than the Tagmatines, they were perhaps a bit more hypocritical. They tended to frame all of their actions as good for the people they were subjecting them to, even if it was entirely against their will. The intervention in the Bainbridge Islands had been going on much longer than any operation the Tagmatine armed forces had undertaken in decades. Under the aegis of EOS, the Orinese were bringing peace and stability to the south of Europa, whether it was wanted or not. After a moment looking out to sea again, she broke off a corner of the pastry and crumbled it up further. She then tossed the crumbs to a wagtail that was scavenging around the tables of the cafe but keeping a wary distance from the stheneloser. Another joined it and the two birds bickered for a moment amongst the table legs before seemingly deciding that the amount of crumbs was enough for the pair of them. She watched the small birds briefly before sighing to herself and pouring more tea from the pot into her cup.

A passerby called a greeting and waved at the old lady. The wagtails, always timid, scattered and chittered their outrage at being forced away from their crumbs. The stheneloser raised its heavy head and watched the passerby and the old lady's reaction to them, its eyes darting between the two. When she waved back, it put its muzzle back on its paws, content that there was no threat there and closed its eyes. She reached down and scratched it behind its ears and broke off another bit of the pastry. The dog put its head up again and gave a begging look. The old lady smiled at the big dog and gave it the rest of the pastry, saving a corner for herself. It chewed messily for a moment and nosed up the crumbs that it had dropped. She ate the corner she had broken off and sipped the cup of tea.

Of course, to the locals it wasn't just an old woman – it was Evangela Leotykhidissa, the Megas Kritissa, the Great Judge, of the Kritakrateia of the Hexanesa. A small bodyguard called the Skouterioi lurked nearby, attempting to make themselves unobtrusive but also trying to be a visible barrier between her and any possible threat. Unlike the bodyguards of the islands' western neighbour, they weren't in ostentatious armour and robes but coats and suits. It was clear that they were still bodyguards, as the tailoring of their suits couldn't quite hide the presence of holstered pistols. The Skouterioi had always made it clear that they weren't happy with the fact their head of government was content to sit in public and let the islanders greet her as they walked by. Although the islands weren't rich, they were strategic. The Arhomaiki Noimosyni Dykton was an ever-present threat, as were the secret services of the Exkousiokrateia or the Volskoi. Any of them might try to engineer a takeover of the islands or assassinate the Megas Kritissa. They would likely then try to take advantage of either the islands' position or the possibility of mineral or oil wealth possessed by them. The Gharoiki have been carrying out “hydrocarbon mining” in the areas of the Thalassa ton Kataigidon under their control. It seemed to be a pompous way of saying “oil and gas extraction” and it couldn't be doubted that the Hexanesa were being eyed up by the northern barbarians.

Evangela took another sip of tea. The Megas Kritissa had been voted into the position in 2016 as a reaction against the regime of Kommodos Iakoumos, as she had been in the election six years before that. The old woman was one of the few of the Lipotakai, the Deserters, still actively involved in the politics of the Hexanesa. She had been repeatedly elected because she was seen as taking a hard line with Tagmatika. There was still an arrest warrant out for her in the Megas Agios Basileia, even though it had been over sixty years since the events at the end of the Long War which had caused the Hexanesa to break away from Arhomaneia. It looked like the relationship between the islands and the mainland were warming up in the reign of Theodosios VI but his death at the hands of an assassin and the civil war that followed had halted that.

At the time, some of the other Kritai had considered throwing in their support behind the cabal of naval and army officers attempting to revive the Navarkhokrateia but that scheme had been stopped by the then Megas Krites, Ioannes Hegesinos. It just would have meant a vengeful Kommodos landing forces on the islands and bringing them to heel by force. Some of the defeated rebels had tried to flee to the islands in the aftermath of the civil war but they had been turned away, most of those disappearing further east or south. There were rumours that the new regime in Tagmatika had shot dozens, if not hundreds, of rebellious officers. Handing over any refugees would have been as bad as murder even if it would have meant that Tagmatika might have warmed up to the Hexanesa.

The pot of tea was empty and Leotykhidissa stood to her feet, using the arms of her chair to help her get there. One of the Skouterioi stepped forward to take her arm but the old woman waved him off. The big dog stood up and followed the old lady at her heels as she started on the walk towards her official residence. It wasn't too far away from the harbour and the cafe. Gournaion was not a bustling metropolis by the standards of most nations, even New Wurld ones, but it was the largest city of the Hexanesa. The other people walking the streets knew the Megas Kritissa by sight and waved at her as she passed. Many other heads of state would use a car to get around but the size of the capital meant it was unnecessary and Leotykhidissa also loved to see the city. It meant that the old lady felt like she was more in touch with the ordinary people of her country than others in her position might be. And she could see the effects of the policies that she enacted or the repercussions of wurld events.

In recent years, the numbers of boarded up shops were more noticeable than ever before. As she walked through the cobbled streets of the port, it was obvious where the road surface had become worn or damaged and been replaced with cheaper tarmac. The Great Europan Collapse had not impacted the islands as badly as others – the government hadn't fallen apart due to economic ruin like in many other countries but the primary industries of fishing and logging had taken a hit. The tourist trade had been nascent but starting to bear fruit, with southerners coming to see the relatively unspoilt landscapes, although others came to see the remains of the battlefields of the Long War. Those were mainly Tagmatioi and their money was as good as anyone else's, even if the Hexanesoi didn't like their government. However, that had dried up and the tourist board of the Kritakrateia just didn't have the money or the pull to try to attract more people to the islands. Foreign faces were now entirely uncommon on the islands.

The Megas Kritissa got to the official residence of the head of the islands. It was no towering edifice but a low villa, almost in the classical style, if not for the modifications made to the architecture to take into account the frigid winters. A pair of guards in the dress uniform of the Taxiotai, the island's paramilitary police, stood either side of the door. Their faces were slightly reddened from the cold and their breath clouded in the early morning air. Leotykhidissa would make sure that the guards changed over a bit earlier than scheduled to get them out of the cold. The big dog walked up to the nearest and sniffed at the gendarme's boots.

“Arkadios, come.”

The dog stopped sniffing about immediately and trotted after the old woman and into the building. It was a comfortable enough building, if slightly more grand than many others in the city. It was the old seat of the Exarkhos, the governor, of the Hexanesa, back before the Long War had dashed that all to the winds. It was, imaginatively, known as the Palati tou Exarkhou, the Palace of the Exarkhos, although “palace” was far too grand a name. Arkadios' nails clicked on the tiles in the hall. The vestibule was cold and a draught blew through it, even with the front doors now closed by the Taxiotai on guard. The only real nod to being in the building was when an aide stepped forward to take the Megas Kritissa's coat and held out a warm indoor robe. Waving the aide away with a gesture, Leotykhidissa took off her coat and changed into the offered robe.

“A cup of tea to warm you up?” the man asked. He was almost as old as Leotykhidissa and had the air of a trusted retainer about him.

“Yes, thank you,” replied the Megas Kritissa, giving him a thin smile that still managed to be warm. “Can you take it through to the study? There are some papers I wish to go through before I get anything else done today.”

“Of course,” he sketched a quick bow and stopped to give Arkadios a pat on the head before he did so. “Anything for this boy?”

“No, he's had a pastry already this morning,” Evangela said, looking down at the big dog, who was in turn looking up hopefully at the aide with big eyes. He was trying to suggest that he'd not been fed at all today, despite what was being said. “He sat patiently outside, waiting for the service to finish. He's been a good boy.”

Arkadios' tail wagged at the words.

“I will bring the tea through when it is ready, Megas Kritissa,” said the aide, finally stopping rubbing the fur on top of the stheneloser's head and walking down the hall. “The heating's on, so the study should be nice and warm.”

“Thank you, Leontios,” the old lady said and walked further into the residence.

One of the main changes from the traditionally designed Arhomaiki home was that the study wasn't in a commanding place in the building, open to both ends to allow a good view throughout. Instead, in a nod to the cold weather, the room abutted the kitchen, to allow it to take warmth in from the ovens in the walls. That, along with the underfloor heating, made it one of the most snug rooms in the depths of winter. For an elderly person, it made it very liveable. Arkadios padded into the room and went straight over to the dog bed that lay in between the desk and the door and curled up in it. His eyes were on the Megas Kritissa as she pulled out the chair behind the desk and took out a pad of paper. She looked ahead almost blankly for a moment before taking a fountain pen from the mug of pens on the desk and started writing. It took a long time for the words to start properly coming and the cup of tea that Leontios placed on the desk was stone cold before she took notice of it. Eventually, the big dog had started to fidget and whine slightly, making it known that he needed to go out to go to the loo before Leotykhidissa finally stopped her fitful writing and looked down at the words on the page.

She sighed and made the sign of the cross in the Aroman fashion – thumb, index and middle finger together, going from right to left – before sitting back in the chair. Of course, as she herself was not a despot, Leotykhidissa would put it before the other five Kritai to see what they would think. Personally, it seemed to be the only way to guarantee the fate of the Hexanesa but she had no idea whether it was the right choice. She was just tired of seeing her beloved nation rot and its people suffer like they had been doing for the last few decades.

Her status as a Lipotakissa and her stance on Arhomaneia meant that she would probably be the only person who could propose a reunion with the Megas Agios Basileia without it being immediately shouted down and the proposer being arrested for high treason. It was certainly shocking, even to Leotykhidissa, but perhaps it was time for her country to come in from the cold.

 


 

OOC: It's time to get the ball rolling on the first part mentioned here.

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Evangela waited in the vestibule of the Palati tou Exarkhou, Leontios standing just behind her. He was partially there to take the expected visitor's coat but also as moral support. The old lady had a carefully neutral expression on her face but even someone who didn't know her that well would be able to tell that the look was covering a sense of nervousness. A nervousness that would surprise any of the people of her country, as the woman had a reputation for being formidable. The guest was to arrive at nine o'clock at night, late enough that there would be few pedestrians in the street to catch a sight of them arriving at the Megas Kritissa's house but not so late that it was remarkable in itself.

A sign of the Megas Kritissa's nerves and discomfort was that she had been waiting in the hall since half eight.

Every now and then, Leontios opened his mouth to ask if his employer was feeling well, but he closed it again. She wouldn't appreciate his concern. He occasionally shifted on his feet, feeling uncomfortable in the draughts.

Arkadios sat behind the pair of them, confused as to why his mistress was waiting in the draughty hallway when there were much warmer rooms he could be snuggled up in. After a while, he yawned and lay down on the floor, sprawling out so that if either Leontios or Leotykhidissa had wanted to get past him and deeper into the building, they would have had to step over him. A fourteen stone dog would be hard to manoeuvre around.

The sound of the clock in the hall to the right of the door started to become more prominent. The eyes of both the Megas Kritissa and Leontios were drawn to it. It was past nine o'clock. The guest had said that they were coming and it was always a foolish move to spurn the head of a nation. The old woman finally moved and shifted on her feet. There was a knock at the door from one of the Taxiotai honour guard standing outside the building and three in the hallway jumped. The big dog had fallen asleep where he was lying. Almost as soon as the knock echoed around the room, the door swung open as one of the police pushed it to allow the guest in.

“Good evening, Megas Kritissa Leotykhidissa,” said the guest, almost as soon as he had stepped through the door. “It has been some time since we last met. It was this very place, wasn't it?”

The guest was a former Megas Krites himself, Evangela's predecessor, Ioannes Hegesinos. He was a tall man, over six foot, with a salt-and-pepper beard, although his head was shaved. He might have been handsome, had his right cheek not been slightly marred by some slight scars. He entered into the vestibule and the door was closed behind him. Leontios stepped forward and took his coat. Hegesinos bowed towards Leotykhidissa, once his coat had been taken. She returned the bow, although she did not answer directly.

“Good evening, Kyrios Hegesinos,” Leotykhidissa replied. “I hope this not too late in the evening for you?”

“I must admit, I was somewhat taken aback by your request for a meeting,” he said, ignoring her question as she had ignored his. He spoke with a breezy charm, which did not really covering up his own curiosity, or hostility. “Especially one so late at night. It's almost as if you have something to hide.”

The smile he gave the old lady at the end of the sentence made her frown. It was quite obvious she had something to hide – this very meeting. At the very least, it would look somewhat strange. The two had been very opposed when Hegesinos had been in office, as he had been in favour of warmer relations with the Megas Agios Basileia and she was utterly against such an idea. And she had stood against Hegesinos when the election had come around in 2010 and decisively defeated him, although there would have been very little that he could have done to win by that point. The tyrant on the Leopard Throne had done that much.

Before the Megas Kritissa could reply, Arkadios had got to his feet and padded forward to sniff at the stranger, tail wagging despite the edge of hostility in the air. He stepped forward and Hegesinos ruffled the big dog's ears, who responded by trying to lick the hand that was touching him.

“Please follow me through to the study, Kyrios Hegesinos,” the Megas Kritissa said. She turned before she could see if the man was moving behind her. “I'm sure you remember the way.”

Hegesinos raised an eyebrow at Leontios, who did not respond at all, but followed him in turn.

The ex-head of state shrugged to himself and disengaged from the dog, who quickened his pace so that he could be behind Evangela. The building was warm at night and the heating had been on all day, even though it was beginning to be a fine spring. The temperature still dipped below freezing at night, especially on a clear night like it was. The Megas Kritissa seemed to be in a hurry but Hegesinos wasn't. It was the first time he had been in the residence since he had been voted out of office and he was interested in how the old building had changed. At first glance, little seemed to be different, despite the fact that an old widow lived there now, rather than a family with children. The biggest difference was the large dog that walked along in front of him. There was the occasional sign of his presence in the building – a discarded dog toy in a corner, for example, or a lead hanging from the hooks where Leontios had hung his coat.

Once he was in the study, he found the Megas Kritissa had already taken a seat, not at the desk that dominated one side of the room, but in an armchair in a corner. She sat, staring at nothing, whilst playing with the ears of the big dog, who had his chin on her leg. Hegesinos frowned and looked around for a chair. The aide had disappeared off somewhere before he had got to the study. With no obvious option other than the other armchair opposite Leotykhidissa, who did not seem inclined for a conversation, Ioannes took the seat behind the desk. As soon as he sat down, his eyes caught on a sheaf of paper on the desk. Involuntarily, he read the first line and his head snapped back up to stare at the old woman, who was still looking off into the distance.

“Read it,” she said.

Suddenly, Hegesinos was angry. Angry at this little old woman, who dragged him away from his house on a cold night, who had painted him the stooge of a tyrant during the last years of his incumbency as Megas Krites and who had cost him much more than an election with her nationalistic zeal.

“No,” he said, his voice calm but the hostility that had been in the air since he arrived crystallising. A clock on a side table struck a quarter past nine. “You can't just 'invite' me to a late night meeting and command me to do things, Megas Kritissa. You know that very well. That was a stick you beat me with, after all. All you did was say I was a puppet for Tagmatika. I acted with the best intentions of my country at heart.”

“I know,” the old lady replied, quietly. “So do I. Read it.”

Hegesinos didn't want to. Partially out of spite of the hateful old woman but also partially out of fear. He was worried he might read something that he would come to regret. Some state secret that would cost him, or his family, dear. But what secrets like that did the Hexanesa actually have? He loved his country but he also knew that it was an isolated backwater. Even the country, Tagmation, that the credulous feared was ready to take them over at any moment was no longer looking towards them. Its attention was to its own border in the north or across the sea to an island ravaged by conflict and misery.

Before Ioannes could snarl out a comeback and storm out of the room, Leontios opened the door, carrying a tray with tea, biscuits and carafe of wine with two glasses. The aide frowned slightly when he saw Hegesinos sat behind the desk and his employer sat in an armchair but quickly placed the tray on a side table and put out the drinks before retreating out of the room again. It almost seemed as if he didn't want to know what was going on within the study. The phrase “plausible deniability” crept into Hegesinos' head. He shuddered involuntarily.

As if to confirm that idea, the Megas Kritissa waited until the door clicked closed before saying anything else. She picked up her cup and saucer but didn't drink from it. Instead, she just stared down into the cup.

“Hegesinos, at this moment you are the only person whose opinion I want to hear.” Her voice was little more than a whisper. “Read it. Please.”

At that last word, Ioannes' resolve to spite the woman wore down. The stern old lady who had been a bulwark for the islands through the turbulent events of the the last decade seemed so small and frail at that moment. With a sigh, he looked down at the paper in front of him and started to read it. It wasn't, as it turned out, that long a document. When he got to the end he looked up at Evangela, laughed to himself, at himself, at her or all of those and read it again. And for a third time.

He then sat back and drank the tea in one long swallow before getting up, pouring himself a glass of wine and taking a long drink. Only when he had half drained the glass did he sit back down and look over at Leotykhidissa. It was a long, long look and she seemed to wilt under it. He only stopped staring when the big dog looked around to see why his owner wasn't stroking his head any more. Arkadios' eyes then looked over to see the strange man staring at her and his hackles started to rise. Hegesinos realised that whilst the dog did seem to be a big softie, it was ultimately big – probably weighing more than he did and certainly with bigger teeth. He sat down and felt tired, much more tired than he would usually at this time of night.

“You plan to do everything that you accused me off,” Ioannes said, a sardonic edge to his voice. “And more.”

At heart, Hegesinos was a pan-Aromanist, if such a phrase existed. He firmly believed that if the Aroman people could work together, then they would truly be a force for good in the wurld. At times, Tagmation and Adaptos had worked together and the wurld had been moved for the better. If the other Aroman nations, the Hexanesa and Sporseia could also join that, then only great things could come from it. Part of the shine had been knocked from that as Tagmation had lost a monarch who had humanity, to be replaced by a cold autocrat with a willingness to sweep aside those who stood against him. And then Adaptos had once again plunged into isolation.

“I know.” She still stared into the cup of tea in her hands. “I wanted you to read it, to see what you thought of it. And whether I could convince you of what needs to be done.”

“It isn't me that you need to convince.” He lifted his right hand from his lap and put it on the table. The Megas Kritissa's eyes were drawn to it.

In the end, it hadn't been the growing strength of a resurgent Tagmation that had defeated Hegesinos' hopes for re-election, or the fact that Leotykhidissa was able to play on the fears for the country's independence, although those had made him unelectable to the people of the Hexanesa.

What had truly destroyed his campaign in his own eyes were the threats to his life and his family. He had finally, although not formally, withdrawn from the campaign when a letter bomb had been delivered to his house. Unfortunately, it had been missed by both the Taxiotai and the Skouterioi. It took off the top joints of Hegesinos' index and middle fingers on his right hand and scarred his face when he had opened it. Leotykhidissa made all the right noises and her own campaign hadn't suffered in the long run, although she hadn't won in the landslide that had initially been predicted. The bomber had proved to be nothing more than a lone nationalist, obsessed with the Long War and the events after it. But it was enough for Hegesinos to realise that he could no longer have a political career.

Leotykhidissa's eyes were still on the damaged hand. The warning could not be more explicit. Nor more of an accusation against her.

“I imagine that they will come after you a lot harder than they did me,” the man carried on, although he moved his injured hand back onto his lap and out of sight. He had sat back in the padded desk chair and a slight grimace touched his mouth. It wasn't clear whether it was at his hand or what his words were pointing out. “They will see you as even more of a traitor than you painted me as.”

The little old lady didn't look quite so withdrawn any more. The steel that the Hexanesa had come to expect from her flashed again. “No, I don't think they will. I hope to convince our people that this will be the best way towards the future.”

Hegesinos breathed deeply and was silent for a bit. Long enough for Arkadios to settle down at the foot of the Megas Kritissa's chair and drift off to sleep. The clock on the side table chimed the hour. It had felt a lot longer than that since Ioannes had come to the Palati tou Exkarkhou. He drank the rest of his wine and noticed that, despite the old woman's firm tone and seemingly strong belief in her own actions, she had slipped into staring at the wall again.

“I never blamed you for this,” Ioannes murmured, gesturing with his left hand towards the right side of his body. He was looking at nothing in particular, either. “As I said at the time, after the trial, it was clear it was the actions of an unstable individual. You might have been the spark that lit the fuse but I believed, and still believe, that if it hadn't been you, it would have been someone or something else.”

He caught her eye, gave an ironic smile and twisted the knife further.

“Although perhaps I might not have been the target that time.”

That was mean. Perhaps too mean, but then the Megas Kritissa hadn't spent years having to stop herself before she picked up a cup or tried to do up buttons with the wrong hand. To disarm the barbs in that comment, he stood up and walked over to her.

“I will, of course, help in any way that I can,” Hegesinos said. “I am not sure that what I can do will be all that helpful, though. There is too much baggage attached to me, even ten years later. I can talk to my friend in Tagmation, Isaakios Niketas, but he's got as much baggage attached to him as I have. I can show myself out.”

He stood up straight and walked over to the door. As he put his hand on the door handle, he turned.

“Good night, Megas Kritissa. May God give you the strength to see this through.”

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    • By Tagmatium Rules
      “Like the tiger, a big cat native to more southerly Europan climes than our own Arhomaneia, the leopard sometimes takes to man-eating. In my experience, a man-eating leopard is to be dreaded even more than a tiger that has gained the same taste, as it possesses greater agility and stealthiness, as well as its silence.”
      Excerpt from Man-Eaters: The Memoirs of a Professional Hunter by Khristoforos Iagoupes, first published in EK7400 (AD1892). Iagoupes was later awarded the courtly title of Protokynegos, or “First Hunter”, in recognition of his exploits.
       
       
      The Leopard Throne.
      One of the most important symbols of Arhomaneia.
      It stood on a dais of porphyry that was covered with a cloth of gold, under a canopy of the same material, at the end of the grand state throne room, the Khrysotriklinos, of the Basilikon Synkrotima Palatión, the Imperial Palace Complex. The heart of the Megas Agios Basileia, the Greater Holy Empire.
      It was actually a dual throne – the left hand side was the vacant seat of Christ. The Holy Emperor, the Agios Basileos kai Autokrator ton Arhomaion, the Holy Emperor and Autocrat of Arome to give the more formal title, was the representative of God on Eurth, sitting at His right hand. The throne itself was gold and studded in precious stones, a shining example of Aroman craftsmanship and nothing that mere barbaroi could hope to imitate. Its seats were covered in leopard skin upholstery and the sides were in the likeness of snarling big cats, ready to pounce. The teeth of the leopards on the sides were ancient elephant ivory, the red tongues made from coral, their spots picked out in pieces of carved jet and the eyes were crafted from amber. This imagery gave the throne its name.
      To enter the throne room, two vast gold-plated doors had to be opened. These magnificent works of art were perfectly balanced and swung outwards smoothly and silently. They were kept oiled and were polished regularly by one of the myriad of servants within the Imperial Palace Complex. It was considered a high honour to be selected to carry out the task. Once inside the room, a visitor would be greeted by one of the most striking sights in the wurld. The walls of the throne room were a shining white, representing the purity and holiness of Arhomaneia. The floors were a gilded mosaic, breathtaking in its magnificence. Glass, gold and ceramic tiles displaying proud moments in history, fearsome hunting scenes and the glory that was embodied by the Arhomaioi. Behind the throne was a multicoloured stained glass window of vast size which bathed the room in jewelled light when the sun shone through it. Unlike other, more heterodox Christian nations, there were no recreations of heavenly scenes or the Saviour Himself – depictions of holy figures was considered to be idolatrous by Arhomaneia's particular brand of Christianity, the Aroman Church.
      Great pillars held up the high roof. These were alternatively shining white marble or porphyry. Beyond them, the walls were as richly decorated as the mosaic floor and more large windows of stained or clear glass, alternating in the opposite way to the pillars, allowed light to flood into the state throne room. It was designed to overawe any visitor to the throne room, as if being in the presence of the Holy Emperor wasn't enough in itself. The throne itself, on its raised dais, sat under a semi-dome at the apse end of the room with the words “Christ, King of Kings” inscribed across the conch of the apse. It was no mistake that the throne was under the eastern end. The ruler of Arhomaioi was appointed to this role by God Himself, manifesting His will on Eurth.
      As a sign of the Agios Basileos' lofty position as the Thirteenth Apostle, those that approached the Leopard Throne's occupant were expected to acknowledge their lowly position. This act, called the Proskynesis, signified the subservience of the one doing it and the recognition that the Holy Emperor was their rightful overlord. The act involved throwing themselves to the floor and kissing the Holy Emperor's feet with their arms outstretched. It had, however, become impolitic to expect foreigners to perform it these days. The overly proud Barbaroi found it very offensive, as they often did not recognise the primacy of the Arhomaiki ruler over their petty overlords.
      And as there was one Kingdom in Heaven, there was one Empire on Eurth.
      That Empire had stood for centuries as a bastion of civilisation in a world of barbarism, a beacon of faith and light shining out and inspiring the lands surrounding it. It was a centre of culture, ever changing and evolving, and yet maintaining a link to the glorious past of the Aroman Empire before it, even if that past had yet to find the enlightenment of Christianity. This cultural heritage meant that it was Tagmatium's duty to shepherd the rest of Eurth towards that enlightenment and the civilisation that it brought with it.
      The throne was flanked by a soldier from each of the six guard regiments of the Tagmata, the Palace Guard, the unit that had inadvertently gave the common name to the Megas Agios Basileia, the Greater Holy Empire. Their positions near the throne was kept in a strict rotation to avoid one being favoured over the others. The bodyguards were all brightly dressed, with horse hair plumes on their sallet helms the colour of their robes, clothes embroidered with golden thread and carrying shields decorated with symbols of Christ and Arhomaneia.
      A soldier from the Exkoubitoi, their name meaning “Sentinels”, currently stood on the right of the throne, the closest to it. Perhaps the most famous of the units from the guard corps, their red robes and black lacquered armour, a mix of lamellar and plate mail, made them a distinctive sight throughout the capital of the Greater Holy Empire. They regularly accompanied members of the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion, the Imperial Government, abroad on diplomatic missions. Behind the Exkoubitos was one from the Ikanatoi, the “the Able Ones”, wearing red armour, cream robes and carrying a spear. Next to the Ikanatos, dressed in red robes and cream armour, was a Opsikios, holding a shield and a sword.
      To the left of the throne stood a soldier of the Athanatoi, “Immortals”, in green robes and wearing a similar mix of lamellar and plate, although their armour was coloured blue. This soldier was armed with a short-shafted axe as well a sword. Behind the Athanatos was one of the Paramonai, the name coming from those who stood close to the Agios Basileos. They were armed with maces and shields, dressed in blue robes and steel armour buffed to a mirror shine. Like the Exkoubitoi, their role was to closely guard the members of the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion, the palace complex and Tagmatika itself. Completing the row of three was one of the Arkhontogennhematai, “the sons of officers”, in shining steel armour contrasting with pitch black robes and holding a spear.
      The appearance of the guards might be deceptive - they were drawn from decorated combat veterans from the Tagmatine army or from candidates that had especially impressed their instructors during training. They would die to protect their charges and took their roles extremely seriously.
      As well as soldiers from the Tagmata, at all times dignitaries and attendants from the amongst the government, the civil service and the court aristocracy waited on the throne, even if it was vacant. They were dressed in jewelled robes of ancient, although not out of date, style. Whilst the positions within the court aristocracy were not hereditary, members of it were often granted great estates within Arhomaneia. This meant that they would have the time to wait on the Agios Basileos kai Autokrator without having to worry about money or inability to afford the splendour in which they would have to dress. They may not have been as powerful as the military or bureaucratic aristocracies in the reign of Kommodos III, but there was power in proximity to greater power. They were the cup bearers, the concierges and ushers, with their families having been in the service of the Greater Holy Empire for generations, even centuries. Being close to the Holy Emperor for many hours meant that they often had his or her ear and even become valued confidantes. They might be perceived as useless hangers-on by some but that often couldn't be much further than the truth. The Greater Holy Empire would last, and they would have their day again.
      With the guards around the throne and the attendants surrounding it, completing the groups within the throne room were a choir of monks, chanting praise to Christ. They were dressed in black clerical robes that were a sharp contrast to the sumptuous dress of the courtiers and the elaborate uniforms of the bodyguards. Bishops and other prelates were often in the state throne room too, as the Holy Emperor had such an important role within the affairs of the Church. The smell of incense permeated the cavernous room. If the Holy Emperor was present, then the chanting would cease and a respectful silence would dominate the room. Only if the Vice-Gerent of God willed it would that be broken. Court ceremony was entirely designed to emphasise the dignity and prestige of the monarch and to imply the superhuman nature of the one that sat upon the Leopard Throne.
      Recent years had seen a resurgence in activity from the Greater Holy Empire. At first, its attention had been focussed beyond Europa, then Arhomaneia turned somewhat quiet. Unlike @Adaptus, Tagmatium's closest neighbour, ally and fellow heir to ancient Arome, the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion had not become destabilised. Eurth had seen the influence of the Megas Agios Basileia spread. Several programmes to improve Tagmatium's environmental impact had taken precedence over the military actions that had seen the nation's international prestige increase over the years. Sustainable power generation had been stepped up across the country, from wind farms to hydro-electric power stations. There had been some rumblings within the nation's borders, primarily from pro-democracy campaigners, although these had been dealt with peacefully. They did not shatter the tranquillity and prosperity that had been earned after the hard shock of the Civil War in EK7513 (AD2005) and the struggle of the nation finding its feet again in the years that followed.
      Arhomaneia had once again become a main player on the wurld stage, with much of Eurth seeing its influence. But the same wurld was changing, and it was said by some that the Megas Agios Basileia needed to change with it, lest it become stagnant and lose its place as the country that all others looked up to. Arhomaneia could not afford to slip back into the background. It had come a long way since the Civil War and had reforged itself under Kommodos Iakoumos, who had been elected to his position in the aftermath. As yet, it remained to be seen how this most ancient and glorious nation would deal with the changes that had happened around it.
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