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A Crucial Crossroads for Gaellicia (2022 Election)


Gaellicia

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  • 3 weeks later...

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It was a common mistake to assume that the headquarters for the Aon Duthaic Criosid was a church or even a small cathedral. The gothic building and its steeple-like towers projected upwards, reaching for the clouds and dominating the surrounding buildings. The complex did indeed have a chapel, recognized by its flying buttresses, but the purpose of most of the buildings was to house the business of ruling Gaellicia. Any of the men or women who worked within the Chumhachd would tell you they had both a right and a responsibility to rule the land. How dare anyone say or do otherwise.

The Chumhachd was meant to serve as a place for party business only, but this was only a custom. Years of uninterrupted ADC rule had made it too easy to take some official business home, to mix the purposes of the buildings of government and of the party. After all, the party is the nation. Alternatively, an Isoldite would argue that there is no nation, only a consensus.

John Peytr Hillgauntlet uttered a quick, silent prayer, before rising to his feet. He ignored an aid who jabbered in his ear whilst they walked towards the heart of the Chumhachd. Two white gloved ushers opened two large mahogany doors in order for him to enter the inner citadel. A vast, windowless, room built around an immaculate and perfectly rounded stone table. There was a great echo as everyone in the citadel stood for the Taoiseach. The chief whip of the party gave a death glare to a junior member who failed to stand quickly enough.

The room remained standing as the scribe, dressed in his finest, including a white powdered wig, convened the party meeting. “The members of Aon Duthaic Criosid are hereby convened to meet within the noble citadel of Chumhachd, Penzance, Gaellicia, in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty-two, on the one and twentieth day of the eleventh month. Present are his and her excellencies…” What followed was a roll call procedure where those standing around the table announced their presence by way of saying their name, before sitting down. The scribe continued. “For our first order of business, we will discuss the proposal for a minority government.”

Hillgauntlet commanded in a monotone voice. “Chief of Coalition Strategy, state your report.”

A tall, pale man, rail thin, stood and addressed the Taoiseach. “Your excellency. After much discussion with counterparts of the Laird Riochdaire and the Naiseanta Gaellic, the Coalition Committee has drafted a final proposal.” The thin man cleared his throat and described the proposal. “With the cooperation of the Laird Riochdaire and the Naiseanta Gaellic, we are to make a case to the Ríog at the earliest convenience for a minority government. Your excellency will serve as Taoiseach, with Laird Brisbane of the LR serving as deputy. After much… negotiation, Mr. Kellogg of the NG will settle for the position of minister of culture.”

Hillguantlet asked sternly. “Can these fools in the NG be relied upon?”

The chief whip interjected sharply. “Relied upon sir? No. Brought into line? Absolutely. Carrot and the stick, as always. Though with these fellas, I’m prepared to use more stick.”

“And what carrot and stick do you have prepared?” The Taoiseach queried.

“Well, sir, there are of course committee assignments. I’m not afraid to implement those in the middle of our term, multiple times if necessary. There are honors for you to dish out, sir. And of course if someone needs to be brought to heel, squeezing the old purse never fails. We will have discipline in our government, sir. There’ll be no individuals, not like whatever the pinkos try to throw together.” The whip crowed, satisfied.

Alexander Brown, the minister of labor listened warily. He did not trust the Naiseanta Gaellic. He knew many of his colleagues did not either. It was a bad idea. Of course, it would be inappropriate to voice such views unprompted. There was a procedure to follow. One must not stick out.

Little did Brown know, the Taoiseach shared similar sentiments. He could not voice these doubts openly, however. His duty was to his country, and that meant duty to the party. The previous occupant of the chair he sat in had gambled and lost. Lost badly, at a historic level. His predecessor had hoped that by calling a snap election, power could be consolidated for the ADC. A new mandate would have freed up the party from scrutiny, making room to focus on governing. Hillgauntlet was preparing to gamble again, a different gamble. “Do we have a good chance of continuing to govern? Will the Ríog likely accept a minority government?”

The thin man responded. “We believe there to be a very good chance, your excellency. Whatever coalition the opposition can manage to form, it will be untested and unproven. We will make the case that our coalition can be relied upon, we are proven and a mostly known entity. The opposition taking power would run the risk of their coalition collapsing, only creating further trouble for the nation.” Unspoken was the feeling that there was falseness to the argument. There was fear. The NG was an unknown variable. Still, there was confidence in Hillgauntlet’s ability to keep everything steady.

The scribe interrupted the thoughts of uncertainty. “The second order of business. A report from Minister of Foreign Affairs, Angus MacAlpine, on the current world geopolitical situation and on communications with Tagmatium.”

The Minister of Foreign Affairs stood and addressed his Taoiseach.

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Omar Hanta stood overlooking the grey and oily beach of Blair’s Land. Of course he knew it as Qushlar Olish Kor’fazi, the bay where the birds rest, but these Gaels insisted on calling it by their imposed names and even he sometimes mixed up the false and the true. It was also true that it had been many years since birds had actually rested here. The water was too oily, the vegetation too toxic to provide real refuge for the Buranian terns as they made their yearly migration. Hanta was getting tired. Tired of working with these Gaels. Tired of holding his own people together. Tired of arguing. Hanta had a plan, a way to bring some peace.

A ship he had been watching for a while, a once great Orionian liner, Kokebi Sibaniye was growing closer. Ever closer, he could now see the wear and tear brought on by years of use. The rust spots, broken windows, soot stains, peeling and chipped paint. The Kokebi Sibaniye let out a mighty bellow as the workmen below ran about like ants. Black smoke poured from her stack as she packed on more speed and momentum, her hull cutting a frothy bow wave. A workman in an orange jumpsuit waved two glowing paddles in the air whilst another lit a wood pyre on the gravel beach with a flare. Hanta watched as the liner adjusted her course whilst continuing to pick up speed. Her sharp bow was now pointed almost directly at him as he observed from his rocky perch. Kokebi Sibaniye let out a final roar as she drove herself aground. 

A steam whistle sounded from a shack on land, marking the beginning of break time. This was Hanta’s cue. Time for business. As he turned away from the sea an old tug huffed and puffed to close the oil boom at the mouth of the bay. Omar stepped spryly past various heavy equipment and piles of scrap material before entering a sheet metal office. Waiting for him there he found a gray man his age and a young man, nearly a teenager. The room was lit by drafty windows on either side and a lonely ceiling light in the center above a round table. 

“Agur comrades.” He uttered.

“Agur, Marebay.” The two men responded. 

Omar shot them both with a disapproving scowl. “Kabile will do.” Hanta had been addressed by a military rank, a habit of the days of the KLA and the Struggle. Omar wanted to avoid impropriety, preferring to be addressed by his elected title of Kabile, chieftain. “Adham where did you learn that from?” He grilled the young man. 

Adham blushed and replied sheepishly. “I was instructed by Comrade Zakirov… Kabile.” 

Omar shook his head. “No more.” He softened his face somewhat and instructed the youth. “Now see to it that the kahve is brewing and ensure that the stove is adequately stoked.” The youth left the room to see to his tasks. Omar nodded to the older man. “If you’ll excuse me Farit. I am expecting a phone call soon.”

Farit nodded, unoffended, as he took a seat at the round table and thumbed through a notebook. "Just through that door is the office. It has been set up for you."

Omar opened a door on the far wall and stepped into a rather spare office, the centerpiece being an old landline phone that had far voided the warranty with various replacement parts having been frankensteined from old ship radios and even a speaking tube. The frankenphone rang immediately upon Omar’s closing the office door. He answered whilst glancing out at the bay. The tide was beginning to lower and as it did workmen were beginning to climb aboard the Kokebi Sibaniye and other further disassembled ships on the breakers beach. Tiny orbs of light began to bob around the dark hulks like fireflies as the workers began dismembering the vessels with their cutting torches. Omar steeled himself for his coming task as the female voice on the other end of the phone informed him of the morning's events. 

It had been a week since the heads of Talamh and Ataqatigiiit had first met at the Brisbane tea house. A fruitful week of negotiation had elapsed and that morning Douglas an Gael and Nive Anselm had shaken hands in Ten-penny Hall. Omar gulped slightly, knowing that an official agreement meant that he was now committed to one course. There was no longer any turning back. He was not afraid, he just disliked the taste. “I appreciate your continuing to keep me updated Kabile Tölke.” He waited for his Ataqatigiit counterpart to respond before placing the frankenphone back in its receiver. He stared out the window for another moment while listening to the other councilors file into the room. Finally he opened the door and returned, pleased to find everyone now present.  

“Agur comrades.” He said to the room. 

“Agur Kabile.” The room responded in unison. All of them greying men like himself, rose to their feet at their spots around the table. 

“Before I begin I’d like to extend my thanks to Farit once again for hosting us.” 

“Kesinlikle.” The room agreed in unison. There were ten of them in total. All of them elected members of the Yaran Büyük Çuroi, the grand council, the Karalluk answer to the rest of Gaellicia’s Siorrachd governments. Until recently they were all abstentionists occupying seats within the Dáil. The latest election had surprised them all following the loss of four of their federal seats. 

In front of each man was a small stone cup, handle-less and filled to the brim with steaming hot kahve. Omar picked up his kahve, waited for a few moments as the other men mirrored him, before toasting, “Çerefe borrakatuko.”

“Çerefe borrakatuko.” The other men responded. Honor to struggle. Together they downed their kahve, rich, strong, and dark. 

Hanta took his seat and the room followed suit. Adham entered the room with a metal pitcher and topped up each man’s cup. Hanta held his tongue until the youth exited. The rest of the Okkar high leadership, who had been waiting in anticipation for him to speak, were relieved when he finally broke the silence. “Gentlemen. I will be resigning from the Büyük Çuroi and I ask those of you who hold seats within the Dáil to do the same.” Most of the men glanced at their Kabile quizzically. His next words caused their faces to flush red with emotion. “Gentlemen, it is time to occupy those seats we hold in the Dáil.”

The room exploded in noise and shouting but above the medley the voice of Ruslan Zakirov boomed. “I knew it! I knew the rumors were true! I should have known when you were so noncommittal approaching the election! You are a traitor.” The room went silent as all attention was directed to Hanta, awaiting his response.

Hanta took a sip of his kahve, smiled, and answered. “A pleasure to know you still have your passion, comrade. You speak for everyone?” The rest of the room grumbled noncommittally. Omar already knew the answer, who thought what, who aligned with who. There were five hardliners, led by Zakirov. Three of them had just lost the federal seats however, leaving only two to worry about. Those who were ready to move past abstentionism included Farit, who had also lost his federal seat and thus was not a part of the math, and Omar’s good friend Aidar Khudi. In the center there were two, though the one who really mattered was Eduard Gataullin, a loyal partyman but somewhat of an enigma. There was a painful silence as the entire room calculated the math and became aware of the factions. “Allow me a moment to explain.”

“The time for that is well past! You thought you could sneak this past us. Force this betrayal on us at the last moment!” Zakirov spat. 

Omar responded calmly. “You are right to be angry with me, comrade, but would you have let me bring this opportunity before you all if I had not worked in secret.” 

Before Zakirov could respond, Gataullin interjected. “I would like to hear what our Kabile has to say.” 

Hanta nodded to Gataullin in thanks. “Comrades, abstentionism is a losing strategy. If you want I can share the exact data from my comrade at the university-” 

“A colonial institution meant to suck our culture dry and then kill it.” Zakirov protested.

Hanta continued unphased. “The short version is that our party will only continue to lose support from here. Not gain it. The younger generation does not see things the way we do.” 

“Nonsense!” Someone else objected. 

Aidar Khudi quickly countered with a stinging question. “How many people do you know who remember the lowest times? How many young people do you know involved with Okkar?” 

Before objections could be voiced Gataullin cut in. “It’s true. Denying what is in front of us will not make us safe. Pulling wool over the sheep’s eyes does not make them safe from the wolf.” 

“What about the boy here?” A hardliner objected. 

“One lad. And he is my grandson.” Farit observed. 

“If you talk to any of our young people, they are disillusioned with petty politics. Those that do have some passion are not coming to us. They are throwing in with Ataqatigiit. Our base of support is finite.” Omar proclaimed. “Abstentionism as a strategy cannot continue. It is based on the assumption that we will always hold on to our seats. As our generation ages, this is no longer a guarantee. The way I see it is that we have two paths. The first path, we can abandon this political game and discard all of the progress of our lifetime. We can return to previous hard methods, likely failing.” More did not need to be said. All of these men remembered the costs of war. Many had physical scars to remind them. The room went silent for a moment as each man reflected on those that had passed. Comrades, friends, family. “Or, we can use these petite politics to our advantage.”

The balance of opinion could be felt to have shifted. Zakirov, sensing the change in atmosphere, remained skeptical but less hard. “So you expect us to be good little soldiers. To line up and play at their pageantry. Shall we don bonnets and powdered wigs? Budgets and committees and ribbons. Giving legitimacy to a body that should have no say over us?” 

“No comrade. I expect every man to do his duty to his people, what he feels is right. I ask however that he tries to see this path as the path that’s needed.” Omar sipped some khave. “We have leverage right now that we are unlikely to have again in our lifetime. I want us to lend our help in these petty politics, just this once, just long enough to use their own ways to achieve our independence. A reversal of what they once did to us.” 

The room was silent for a moment before Zakirov nodded. “I will play this game, just this once. On one condition.” The room waited expectantly. “No matter the result, by the end of this ‘term’ you will resign as Kabile.” 

“Brother on my honor you have it. That is more than fair. I will be a pin cushion for all of the unsavory bits of this new path.” Omar responded heartily. 

“Kesinlikle to that!” Gataullin proclaimed loudly as he sprung to his feet. 

The rest of the room followed suit. “Ćerefe borrakatuko!” They exclaimed in unison as they downed their kahve.

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  • 4 weeks later...

“You are watching RBC News.” An official announcer voice proclaimed before the television broadcast transitioned from commercials to a news anchor with a great hall behind him. 

“Hello if you are just joining us. I’m Dan Macdonald with RBC news within the Baile Ùr Dun. As promised before the break, we’re joined by senior RBC political correspondent Arjun Neilsen, and Ríog analyst Cecily An Mill. Thank you for joining us both.”

“Of course Dan.” Replied Arjun. 

“An honor, Mr. Macdonald.” Answered Cecily. 

“It is December 30th, 08:40. After two months the time is nearly upon us at last for a new government to be formed. We’re gathered here in the Ríog’s place of business, the great chamber of the Baile Ùr Dun, Cecily, do you care to explain why that is.”

Cecily replied with both nervousness and excitement. “Aye Mr. Macdonald. Over a period of many weeks, two proposals have been collated for ruling of the Dáil. I’m sure Mr. Nielsen will go into greater detail…” She smiled and nodded to Arjun, across from her, “but to get straight to the historical and significant aspect of the matter, this is a heterodox moment for the Ríogan. Normally it is only a mere formality for the Ríog to accept a new government, however, in this instance his majesty will actually have to make a decision on the composition of Gaellicia’s new government.” 

Arjun nodded and picked up from where Cecily left off. “Yes and the proposed governments aren’t any less unusual.” As Neilsen spoke, the camera panned over the three prospective coalition leaders as they sat in a line, high up members of their party sat on benches behind them. Hillgauntlet sat tall and steady in the middle, to his right sat Keir Brisbane of the LR, his perfect posture and attire making him fit right in with the ornate chamber they were gathered in. To Hillgauntlet’s left sat Leif Kellogg, wilting like a neglected orchid. Though dressed appropriately, he didn’t seem to fit the rest of the room. He was much younger than his would-be partners, in his thirties. The only clue to his true abilities and hunger were his eyes alight with starry ambition. 

“The ADC is attempting to hold onto power by pitching a minority coalition government, composed of themselves and longtime partner, the Laird Riochdaire. To boost their numbers they have, controversially, incorporated the far right Naiseanta Gaelica into their coalition.”

Dan took Arjun’s breath as a chance to query, “And this is an unusual move is it not Arjun. Both a proposal for a minority government, and a partnership with the NG.” 

“Absolutely Dan, but it seems the political situation in the nation has made strange bedfellows for all. A larger shock than the partnership of the three right parties is the composition of the left coalition. In a highly unexpected, no, an unprecedented move that completely challenges the political status quo, Okkar is abandoning the policy of abstentionism in order to enter a coalition government with Ataqatigiit and Talamh. Exact details are yet to be revealed but it is certainly happening. Omar Hanta and the other five Dáil seat holders of Okkar are gathered with their proposed coalition partners.” Hanta stood to Nive Anselm’s left whilst his comrades were close behind. All in their finest Karaalluk traditional ceremonial attire. The two coalitions stood separated by a large aisle. In front of them was a large, intricate, mosaic square floor. On the far wall, across the square from the coalition, was an enormous set of double doors, flanked by two sets of pews crammed with clan chiefs and high ranking officials of the Ríogan.

Cecily An Mill chimed in again more confidently. “Any ideas as to how Bricius IV may rule today are pure speculation. Unlike his predecessor Isolde, Bricius has been very quiet on political matters. Some critics go so far as to accuse him of allowing the Ríogan to run itself. Regardless of the accusations, Bricius has been a quiet leader. His mantra has been famously, ‘Speak only when acting is not enough.’ More often than not, he will outwardly uphold the status quo. In this instance of course, neither option is really a maintenance of the status quo so it will be interesting to see who he chooses.”

Dan asked for the benefit of the viewer, “And Cecily procedurally what will we see today?”

“Well Mr. Macdonald, excellent question. Once the Ríog enters the chamber, he may or may not address those gathered. Then the leader of each prospective coalition will address the Ríog, essentially making an argument for why the Ríog should choose their coalition to form a new government. Bricius may or may not request to meet with the coalition leaders privately. Then it will be a matter of waiting, with Bricius’ decision being released no later than New Year’s day.” 

“Arjun, Cecily, thank you so much for your time. It looks like ceremonies are about to begin. We’ll be sure to talk to you first as soon as the ceremonies come to a close.”

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The same day, moments later.

The great hall buzzed with activity and excitement as those present anticipated the start of the hearing. Nive Anselm shifted uncomfortably in her clothes, feeling underdressed. To her left stood Omar Hanta in his traditional Karaalluk attire, the other Okkar TDs standing behind him. To her right stood Douglas a Gael fitted out in full highland great kilt, including medals and a small clan badge. Beyond him on the other side of the aisle stood the triplet of Criosid Coalition leaders, all of them wearing flowing kilts and clan insignia, making Douglas’ attire modest in comparison. Everyone gathered were dressed in their best. Anselm wore her best suit with a traditional Karaalluk necklace and a ribbon of her district’s tartan pinned to her lapel. Nive was technically meeting the requirements of the dress code, but she felt she could not present herself in the way others in the room could.

Conversations towards the middle of the room quieted as a drum major of the Carolean Guards marched precisely to the center. He tapped his ceremonial mace on the floor three times, gaining the attention of the entire room and giving the cue to be silent. The drum major marched to the opposite side of the room from where he’d come. The gap of silence was cut by a low drone that gave Nive goosebumps. The drone was pierced by the chanters of the pipes as a band began to play the Ríogan processional. The great oak doors across from her opened and a train of tartan marched out of them; pipers, drummers, horn players, and standard bearers. The line of men, two abreast, split with the marchers moving perpendicular to each other. The two halves lined the east and west walls of the great hall simultaneously. Bricius IV entered the room with equal parts swagger and gravitas as the last notes of the song were played. With him he carried the great staff of his office, the biggest symbol of the Ríogan’s power, the closest thing to a throne the Ríogan had. It was a relatively modest object, composed of intricately carved segments of wych elm and live oak finished by contoured iron ribbons. At the head of the staff was encased a great emerald.

There was an expectant pause, one that Bricius savored, smirking slightly. “So, I see that you all received my invitation, I hope you like the little changes in decoration made since you were last here.” A polite chuckle gently rippled through the room. “I’d hoped to not have you all back here so soon, but we have had a turbulent year. Or perhaps citizens just like keeping me on my toes.” There was a more genuine (though still reserved) chuckle as Bricius smiled.

John Hillgauntlet kept his face neutral though he felt somewhat off balance. Across the aisle he could see Douglas an Gael and Nive Anselm chuckling lightly. Even Omar Hanta displayed a slight smirk. The various clan chiefs and Ríogan officials laughed the loudest, perhaps overdoing it considering the intentional lightness of the Ríog’s jokes. The mirth of the room only made John’s cloud of seriousness feel heavier.

Bricius continued more reverently. “We are gathered here today for one of the most important functions of our nation, choosing a government. Normally, it is only my responsibility to confirm the choice of the people, but it seems that today I will need to help with the choice. I see it as an honor to be entrusted with this responsibility and I hope that whatever choice I decide on, that it will be respected.” Bricius turned his body a quarter turn to the East, facing the ADC coalition. “Mr. Hillgauntlet, as you are the incumbent, would you state your case first?”

Hillgauntlet bowed his head slightly and croaked, “With pleasure your majesty.” He took a breath and stepped forward. “Your majesty, I am proposing to you a minority government led by my own party, the Aon Duthaic Criosid, and joined in a coalition by the Laird Riochdaire and the Naiseanta Galica. Now our steady coalition, as I like to call it, lacks the numbers of the alternative proposal for the moment, but what we do have is experience. In these unsteady times, the nation needs, nay, requires a steady hand. I know that even though we lack the majority of seats, we represent the consensus view of the nation.”

Bricius looked as if he were about to ask a question but then paused. He rephrased the idea in his mind, before asking, “How will this steady coalition pass legislation, how will it govern without the needed votes? How have you planned for it?”

“Your majesty, our coalition will draft and propose legislation for the benefit of the entire nation. Policy agreeable enough for a consensus. Allegiance to a party is subservient to the needs of the nation.” Hillgauntlet proclaimed .

“All of the members of your coalition agree with that message?” the Ríog asked in a neutral voice whilst examining Lief Kellog.

“Absolutely your majesty. All members of our coalition share the same goal.” Hillgauntlet smiled artificially.

Bricius nodded and turned his body to the West and the other proposal. “Ms. Anselm, if you would state your case.”

Nive stepped forward, bowed her head and began, “A privilege your honor. My name is Nive Anselm, the head of Ataqatagiit. I am proposing a government formed from my own party, Talamh led by Mr. an Gael, and Okkar led by Mr. Hanta.” She gestured to her coalition partners as she spoke.

Bricius smiled and addressed Omar Hanta good naturedly. “I see that you’ve decided you were sick of missing out on all of the fun over here.”

“You could say that sir.” Hanta smirked, “I thought I could liven up the social scene over here you know.”

Another light chuckle filled the room. During the murmur Nive overheard an exchange between two of the Ríogan officials, spoken in Aurivizht. “That frog an Gael is a shame to his name at this point.”

“I truly pity him. He must be going senile in his age. Bringing these two papaqnys, one of them a terrorist, the other with delusions of grandeur.”

Nive waited for the murmur to quiet down before addressing the two men directly, also  in Aurivizht. “Your lairdships, most would consider it rude to speak of guests in such ways directly in front of them.” The two lairds’ faces flushed red. “Furthermore, I think you’ll find me no more deluded than any other member of the Dáil, all things considered. Having discussed with my coalition partner Mr. an Gael, I have indeed come to understand that if I had grand designs and ambitions, that the office of Taoiseach would be the wrong thing to seek entirely.” Nive found herself trembling with rage and annoyance even as she managed to present outwardly as near perfectly poised. There was a murmur of approval as her careful yet stinging retort came to be understood by the room.

Bricius raised his left hand into the air, commanding silence, before asking Nive with genuine magnanimity, “You speak Aurivizht madam?”

Nive responded whilst nodding her head courteously. “I speak enough for conversation, your honor. Appearances can be deceiving; I received a classical education. A privilege unavailable to most.”

“Indeed. Though I think you would agree with me that it is rude to speak in a language not all present can understand.”

“Aye, I would your honor.”

Bricius returned to speaking in Gaelic and addressed the room. “I would like to thank all of you for joining me and participating in an important event for our nation today. I am satisfied that we can conclude our hearing today, however I extend an invitation to Madame Anselm, Mister an Gael, and Mister Hanta to join me for tea.”

There was a murmur of apprehension throughout the room as the Ríog’s band signaled an end to the official events. Douglas an Gael spoke to Nive quietly as he continued to present himself appropriately. “I recall advising you to make a strong impression, but stand firm, but I did not realize you would take my advice...err so far.”

Anselm responded teasingly to cover her true feelings on the public exchange, “I recall, good sir, telling you that I intended to make history today.”

“Well that, you certainly have done. I’m glad that I’ve been invited on for the ride.” an Gael responded with a smirk. 

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Nive Anselm found herself, along with her two fellow coalition leaders, within an incredibly formal room inside the Baile Ùr Dun, the Ríog’s city palace and main place of business. Nive found herself staring out the large city facing windows at the Draoidhad, the so-called magic roadway. When viewed from the direction of the city, the roadway appeared to slope downward even though in reality it was an upwards sloping hill which the palace sat atop. She felt small in the great room. Douglas noted that they were having tea in a different room than was customary in his time as Taoiseach, but he conceded that that had been more than 20 years prior. The room was in fact the same room utilized for state dinners. The singular tea table flanked by two couches, all beside the largest window at the center of the room gave the trio the sensation of being dolls at a tea party.

Nive was jolted to attention by the opening of one of the ornate gilded doors to the tea room. The emptiness of the large room added echo to any sound. She found herself standing automatically, an Gael and Hanta following her lead. Bricius’ steps reverberated throughout the room as he entered. “Greetings once again. I’m glad to see you’ve already been brought refreshment. I hope it is to your liking.” As if on cue a servant entered the room and perfectly arranged Bricius’ own cup along with a small plate of biscuits. The three party leaders all uttered affirmations and compliments to the quality of the tea before Bricius motioned them to join him in sitting. The Ríog took a sip of his tea before stating seriously. “I apologize profusely for the behavior of a member of my council today. I promise you that the laird in question is going to be disciplined.” The party leaders bowed their heads gracefully but without words. “It led me to the decision to continue our discussion in a less formal session. I would like to ask you all a few more questions. First off, the question that interests me the most, what brings your three movements together. I understand you share some interests, but enough to overcome where you disagree?”

Nive answered first, “Well your honor. There is a combination of factors.”

Douglas piggybacked his answer off of Nive’s opening. “As you know, none of us have the numbers to govern alone, but a combined effort puts us over the top. Aside from the math, well frankly your honor, none of us can abide continued governance by the incumbent party.”

Nive continued, “Your honor, our nation is at a crucial point in its history. Moments like this come perhaps once in a lifetime. Your decision on Gaellicia’s next government is more than just a decision on administration. Your decision will determine, in a very real way, the future of the people. The three of us, we are politicians, but we represent and advocate for everyday citizens.”

“Considering the lowness of turnout for the latest election, is it honest to claim to represent the nation’s interest?”

Douglas responded practically. “Your honor, even considering the low turnout, our parties received the most votes. Confidence in government and institutions is pitifully low, and with respect I’d say justifiably so, but you could say our parties are distrusted less than the alternative.”

Anselm added passionately, “Your Honor, the lack of participation itself can be taken as a sign. As my colleague Mr. an Gael said, faith in our institutions, in the future of the nation is incredibly low. Your Honor, looking out these windows.” She gestured to the windows behind her that framed the city below neatly. “Surely at night you can see the orange glows, the little fires that have been breaking out every night for the past few months. Surely you receive reports on the rioting, the arrests. Your citizens are voicing their displeasure, only through methods outside of the ballot box. These scuffles are not limited to the capital here. They are happening in Cathures, in Beaumaris, even in Culloden. Unrest encompasses the nation.” Douglas nodded in confirmation. Anselm finished strongly, “Our parties are the only forces in the Dáil that seek to end this unrest. We seek to offer solutions rather than suppression. Change is going to happen whether it is desirable or not, we do not seek to deny the obvious, instead we wish to harness this energy and to direct it towards a stronger Gaellicia than ever before.”

Bricius nodded neutrally, absorbing the words. John Hillgauntlet certainly did not speak to him with such frankness, nor with such passion. He turned his head towards Omar Hanta. “Mr. Hanta, you have been silent to this point. Would you care to add anything?”

Hanta made eye contact with the Ríog, thought for a moment, then answered. “Sir, in the spirit of honesty that seems to have been established, myself and my comrades in Okkar see our participation in this government as a one time event. We wish to establish an independent Yaran, a state where Karaalluk will not face repression and discrimination. The participation of Okkar in this coalition is a means to an end.” Anselm and an Gael tried and failed to hide their shock at Hanta’s statement but he was not finished. He sipped his tea and continued, “That said, what my colleagues here have said is true. If Okkar can aid them in improving the quality of life for Gaellician’s we will. What helps your nation ultimately helps us as well.”

Bricius maintained his neutral expression, waited a moment, then stood. “Gentlemen, Madame. It has been a pleasure. I welcome you to stay as long as you like. Please, finish your tea. When you are ready to depart, a steward will show you out.” The Ríog shook each of their hands before leaving the room. The three partners looked to each other hoping for insight but they found that none of them knew the Ríog's thoughts.

***

Evening, the same day.

Bricius sat back in his great chair, thinking intently and mostly ignoring the debating of his council. The Ríog’s council chamber was a stone room with a great vaulted ceiling, literally built around a massive round table built of slate and iron. The round table room of the Chumhachd took inspiration from this room, but that was a pale imitation of the original round room. The Ríog’s round room was all that remained of the original Castle Helmold, the ancient stone citadel that had been bombed to rubble at the darkest hour of the Long War. The Baile Ùr Dun had been built where the original castle had once stood, in a new art deco style shielding the gothic round chamber at its heart.

When new, the Baile Ùr Dun had been like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Beaming brightly and perfectly. The years had not been entirely kind to the proud building. Rooms seen by the public were kept in good condition. The great hall, the state dining room, the receiving room, and out of necessity for the structural integrity of the building, the Ríogs round room. Many of the palace's other rooms were in a pitiful state however. Many of them scuffed, dusty, with paint peeling. The tea room had its curtains weighted shut with sand bags, the furniture stacked in the center and covered in white cloth. The solarium and upper gallery, both located on the palace’s top floors, were in a pitiful state. The former was crudely boarded up with many of its delicately crafted one of a kind glass panes shattered or cracked, the room spattered with bird poop as pigeons had found their way in from the outside. The latter was even worse off. All of the artwork was removed and stored in a dry building somewhere else on the grounds, the roof leaked and dripped every time it rained.

Even confining the public to a few rooms could not entirely hide the true condition of the Ríogan estate. From afar the Baile Ùr Dun appeared to stand proud, if duller in color  than in the past. However, on approaching closer one could see the wear and tear of the years. Cracks in the stone, the yellowing of the once pristine facade from years of soot buildup and a failed restoration.

Bricius’ thoughts pondered the state of the building. They also went over the words exchanged with those leaders of the reform coalition earlier that day. He considered the importance of the decision before him. He was brought out of his thoughts by the words of one of his council. “Your majesty. Your majesty, do you agree with myself or councilor MacAlpine?”

Bricius focused on those sitting at his table. He gripped his great staff and cleared his throat. “I have reached a decision. I will ask Madame Anselm to meet with me tomorrow and invite her to form a government.” 

The same councilor gulped and tentatively questioned, “Your majesty, have you… then resolved the argument of which course will better fall in line with established precedent? I only ask as it is our duty to help you reach the most appropriate decision.”

Bricius responded shortly. “My decision is final. The question raised, in my view, overcomplicates a problem that really has a simple solution. Which coalition has received more votes?”

“Well your majesty, with respect, I do think there are less obvious but no less important aspects to consider.”

“Such as?”

“Well… erm such as what preserve stability and security of the nation.”

Bricius remained silent. Thinking about the little fires he would likely view from his chambers that night before going to sleep, as he had done every night for around five months. “Thank you, councilors. You are dismissed. With the exception of Laird Blaire, and Laird MacTurf.”

Bricius sat neutrally as the lairds filed out of the round chamber. He addressed the guards that manned the doors at both sides of the chamber. “Sergeant, if you would be so kind as to give us the room.” The guard sergeant saluted silently before stamping his feet. The sergeant and the three other guards filed out of the room, closing the doors behind them firmly. All that remained in the room were the Lairds Blair and MacTurf, Bricius, and his hand, Brian O’Connell. Bricius stared at the two lairds with silent fury. 

Blair spoke for the both of them. “Your majesty, I would like, we both would like to express our most profound and sincerest apology for what transpired today in the Great Hall. It will not happen again.” Bricius remained silent, smoldering at the two men. “I understand, your majesty, that it was a great affront to you, entirely disrespectful. I will do anything, anything at all to show my sorrow. To once again be in your good graces.”

“Anything?”

“Anything your majesty.”

“You know in previous centuries I would be within my rights to have you executed. I believe the method was a quick chop with a pike.” The Ríog grinned. The two lairds chuckled nervously. “You will issue a public apology. Tour the media circuit, and if the new government desires, face a legislative enquiry.”

“Oh yes your majesty. Without question. We will submit to-”

“I have not finished Laird Blair. You both will resign. Not immediately, but when I decide. In the meantime you will both sit on my council in name only. You will attend meetings, events, but you will say nothing, do nothing. You will be present and nothing more.”

Blair gave a forced smile. “Roy, you never lose your sense of humor.”

Bricius stood and stamped his staff on the floor. “You think I am playing the fool? How dare you sir. You dare abuse our friendship. You address me by my Christian name in this room? In this building? The only fool here is you. Need I spell out the extent of your failure for you? Your remarks today do not merely reflect poorly upon you. They reflect poorly on ME and this office.”

Blair attempted to stammer an apology but before he could be intelligible he was cut off. “Silence! You will resign when I command or I will publicly expel the both of you. Am I clear?”

Both lairds nodded, trembling in terror.

“Now leave. Do not return until you are summoned.” Both men scrambled for the door in shambles. The door shut heavily and firmly, reverberating through the chamber, before near total silence set in.

The silence sat for several minutes before it was broken by the Ríog’s hand, Brian O’Connell. “Feel better now?”

Bricius sighed and sat down heavily. “No. Not really. I feel… righteous.”

“You’re lucky that they didn’t wet themselves. It would be a shame to soil the floor in this room above all rooms.”

Bricius gave his old friend a weak smile. “Do you think I’ve made the right decision?”

“As your hand, or as your friend?” Bricius did not respond. His hand answered anyway. “I suppose I’ll answer both ways then. As your hand, I must tell you that it is not my place to say. The decision lies with you, and you alone. That said, it is my duty to remind you that traditionally the Ríog is to maintain the status quo, or if the circumstances dictate, to make the choice that challenges the status quo the least.”

Bricius pondered the words then asked. “And as my friend?”

O’Connell exhaled. “As your friend, I cannot be certain. Either choice was technically appropriate. Will the council be happy with your choice? Unlikely. I would not call your decision reckless, but perhaps I would say it is damn close. We have been attempting to build something for more than a decade now you and I. Carefully, deliberately. I worry that we will be putting all of our work at risk, potentially throwing all of that effort away.” 

“Are you telling me to change my decision?”

“I am not. If you think it is the right path, then I support you.”

“I have to ask myself, what have we been building towards if not this moment? We have a chance to make some big changes, just enough pressure, and we can continue to ourselves act quietly the whole time.”

“But you have doubts?”

“I do. I always do.”

“As long as you keep that to yourself.” O’Connell smiled wryly.

Bricius chuckled. “You have the paperwork?”

“Of course I do.” O’Connell presented two documents to the Ríog. An official invitation, and a proclamation. Bricius signed both with a fluid signature and sat back so the hand could safely store them in a carrying case. “Right, off to the copy office they go to.”

Bricius exhaled and stood. The doors to the round chamber opened without the Ríog having even said anything. A white gloved usher took the staff from him in order to put it in safe storage. Other servants entered the chamber to flog it clean. Bricius walked beside his Hand feeling small in the towering hallway, even if it was in need of care. “I am not sure I like living in interesting times.” He said softly.

“Indeed, that is wished upon people as a curse.”

“I suppose I made things worse for myself, standing for this post.”

“Heavy is the hand that holds the staff.” O’Connell replied, giving the Ríog a knowing smile. The pair climbed a flight of stairs and turned left, large windows on their right facing the nighttime capital. The two paused for a moment to take in the view. Many lights that should have been on were off. Only street lights, government buildings, and utilities provided much light. This was to be a common sight during the coming winter, households rationing their power, saving it for heat. The stars could be better seen, twinkling in the night sky. Below them, the city center began to be dotted by spots of orange. The glow of a city not at peace, not asleep.

Edited by Gaellicia (see edit history)
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