Virarctul, or The Empire as it is more commonly known, occupies the vast majority of the continent that bears the same name. It is a land of widely varied geography, cultures, and peoples. Although predominantly human, it does have significant numbers of non-human populations scattered throughout. The Imperial Capitol occupies what was once Morfort Island, as well as several smaller artificial islands that have been created in the inland Morfort Sea.
The Empire’s government structure is laid out in the Imperial Charter. It delineates the division of powers between the Emperor, the Great Lords, the Lesser Lords, and the various members of the lower noble classes. It enshrines the Emperor’s absolute authority over the Empire as a whole, as well as the process by which a new Emperor is elected.
The Great Lords, nine in number, are each given an electoral scepter. When the time comes for a new Emperor to be chosen, the Great Lords or their designated Electors assemble as the Imperial Deliberative. On the floor of the Deliberative’s main chamber are three pedestals standing in a single row right across the center of the chamber. The pedestals are set with recesses, allowing them to hold all nine scepters. Traditionally, the Great Lords each place their scepters in the center pedestal at the start of every session to represent their shared purpose. The Deliberative’s main purpose is to choose a new Emperor upon the death or abdication of the previous Emperor. However, there have been instances where the Emperor summons the Deliberative to the capitol to debate the merits of a specific course of action. Knowing when to summon the Deliberative and when to take unilateral action has often been one of the yardsticks by which an Emperor’s legacy is ultimately measured. On occasion, the Deliberative has acted to depose an existing Emperor, which invariably led to protracted conflict. (see “Military Organization” for further information)
Because the position of Emperor is elected rather than hereditary, it is possible in theory for any man or woman of noble blood to campaign for the position of Emperor. When there are several possible candidates, the Deliberative can spend a great deal of time trying to winnow the field down to the two or three strongest candidates. When multiple candidates are present and no clear consensus can be reached, the Deliberative can retire to further contemplate the matter, or dissolve entirely. In the thirty five odd centuries that the Deliberative has been choosing new Emperors, there have only been a handful of instances where the body has dissolved. Such instances have been the prelude to bloody civil wars, sometimes destroying all of the original candidates in the process.
The current Electors are as follows:
- Coriatica – High Queen Nann Cincer
- Danagya – Princess Rashdra Zhay
- Espavor – Lord Guardian Dal Strozst
- Majycis – King Cyr Damtas
- Manchabium – Dominarch Tunon Drastia
- Obica – Protector Nolls Pantur
- Romyrica – Archon Thrad Rentos
- Senzartas – Admiral-Prince Seken Bannbur
- Tyrardur – Grand Prince Ches Syghtai
The Empire’s military might is drawn directly from the nations under it’s control. Article III of the Imperial Charter establishes the primacy of the Emperor in regards to the command of standing military forces. Article III was intended as a means to deprive rebellious Lords of the means to prosecute an armed rebellion against the Imperial Throne. By exercising the appropriate clauses, the Emperor has the right to summon the entire standing military force of any Lord he sees fit to serve as part of the Imperial Army. Most Emperors generally avoid exercising this power frivolously, as it tends to generate resentment and hostility by the Lords, though there is a tradition of gathering together small portions from every Lord’s standing forces and organizing them into units of the Imperial Army as a form of military diplomacy. Full scale activation, or confiscation as some have called it, is usually reserved for situations where a particularly ambitious Lord has come out into the open too quickly about plans to depose the Emperor by force, or a situation arises whereby the combined military might of every standing army in the Empire must be brought to bear.
Article III’s powers descend through the ranks of the Great Lords and Lesser Lords as well. Great Lords can summon standing military units from the Lesser Lords and their vassals, while Lesser Lords can summon units strictly from their vassals. The power does not descend beyond the Lesser Lords, so a Duke cannot compel the standing forces employed by a Count or Baron under him to present themselves at his summons.
Knightly Orders must be issued “Writs of Authority” prior to their official founding, and new chapters of existing Orders must become signatories to the parent Order’s Writ before they can be opened. Most Orders are considered to be adjuncts to a principality’s standing forces, a rapid reaction force that can be sent to initially engage the enemy and slow them up while the main body of the army organizes and mobilizes. Like standing armies, members of an Order are expected to answer an Imperial summons when called to duty by the Emperor. Moreover, the arms of an Order are also subject to the summons of the Lord whose territory the chapter reside within. It has not been uncommon for two chapters of the same Order to find themselves on opposite sides of the battlefield.
The mobilization (or lack of same) of a knightly Order is usually a strong indicator of the politics involved in the situation. Many an unscrupulous Lord, and even a few unscrupulous Emperors, have found their summons to Order chapter houses frustrated by reports of being “besieged.” Many knights, chapters, and entire Orders have won tremendous fame not only defying clearly immoral and unconscionable orders, but actively resisting attempts to force their compliance. Equally, there have been countless tales of tragedy as chapters and Orders have destroyed themselves trying to satisfy the honest and righteous demands of both their Lords and the Emperor.
The Mercenary Exception
Article III, on its face, appears to give broad and sweeping powers regarding military forces. However, there is a glaring exception which was not readily apparent at the time the Imperial Charter was written. Article III has no provisions regarding the Imperial Throne’s authority over mercenary companies. If anything, mercenaries are practically untouchable due to the wording of Article VII of the Imperial Charter, which guarantees the right of every Imperial citizen to undertake any and all professions of their personal choice which they are best suited to make a living by. Their safety is also guaranteed under Article VIII, which prohibits the levying of exorbitant and overly specific taxes against any one tradesman or industry. As long as they pay their taxes, there’s nothing to stop them from making a living as soldiers of fortune.
The freedoms enjoyed by mercenary companies to conduct business stems very heavily from the early years of the Empire, when the First Emperor, Jarmoff I, ruled absolutely. The Empire had been forged in blood and misery, the result of two straight centuries of unrelenting warfare among the various kings and despots that had been long a part of Virarctul. The Emperor had been the one man to unite the disparate warlords and petty kings, but peace could not be maintained at swordpoint. There had to be reasons to build and grow. Commerce had to be re-established at every level. Military supply lines had to evolve into trade routes if the nascent Empire was to survive beyond the Emperor’s death. The Deliberative, with the Emperor’s guidance, submitted the various articles which ultimately led to the Imperial Charter in it’s final form. All of the Great Lords, and the Lesser Lords under them, had fought with armies comprised of levied troops, noble officers, and others who were bound under oaths and previously established law. Not a single one of them had ever entertained the idea of hiring mercenaries. If anything, the idea of paying men to fight wars for gold instead of their own honor seemed practically incomprehensible. A few perhaps understood the necessity of hiring armed guards for caravans across dangerous territories, but such men couldn’t possibly rise to the level of professionally trained and equipped soldiers in their eyes.
Some three centuries after the Empire’s founding, the first recorded deployment of a mercenary company into a conflict occurred. The Empress Silvey I, often known as Silvey The Poisonous, had fallen into the habit of exercising her power of Imperial summons, then sending the recently activated forces back into their homelands to lay waste and ultimately depose the currently ruling Lord. One Great Lord and a score of Lesser Lords had fallen to this pattern. When the summons took the armies of Prince Maelik, a Lesser Lord of the Principality of Tyaelalris, he took steps to ensure that he would not be the next skull mounted in Silvey’s trophy room. Another Lesser Lord had attempted to circumvent the problem by raising a levy of troops from the populace, but they fell under Article III’s conditions just as surely as the recently departed army had, and with a lot less steel in their spines to resist the order. Maelik successfully circumvented it by hiring a company more used to protecting caravans than defending a nation. The contract gave them generous funds to expand, equip, and fully train their ranks. By the time the Imperial Army came to Tyaelalris’ border, they were met by a rather prodigious mercenary army, one whose general was all too happy to display the fully legal commercial contract that had been signed. The contract specified the mercenaries’ terms of service and the objectives which they were obligated to perform. Because the contract was of a commercial nature rather than the overtly political oaths which lordly fealty operated by, the mercenaries could not technically be considered a standing military force, and no amount of hectoring or threats would dissuade them from fulfilling the terms of their contract.
The Imperial Army sent word back to the capitol, seeking instructions about what to do with this rather unexpected turn of events. Meanwhile, Maelik sent messages through commercial caravan or private courier, as opposed to his own sworn underlings, urging his neighbors to make contingencies. Some objected to the idea, and their destruction was as tragic as it had been preventable. Others swallowed their pride and followed Maelik’s model. In time, the various mercenary armies engaged the Imperial Army, often crushing them despite numerically inferior odds, and marched upon the capitol. Silvey I became the first Empress to be overthrown by force of arms. With the collective assent of his fellow Lords, Prince Maelik became Emperor Maelik I. Rather than purge the mercenary armies which had won him the Imperial Throne, Maelik praised them for providing the Empire with a most valuable service at a most dangerous time. With plenty of loot and glory, most mercenaries retired to a well earned rest.
Since that time, the employment of mercenaries has never been stamped out. They have gone in and out of fashion, been alternately cheered and reviled, but there has never been a time where they have completely disappeared.
The Empire’s founding came about from what has often been referred to as “The Age of Strife,” a protracted period of warfare conducted by various nations and multi-national alliances. Over the course of two centuries, as nations conquered each other and alliances grew larger by treaty and marriage, the conditions which had sustained the wars faded and a lull in the fighting came to pass. Into this fragile moment of peace came Jarmoff of Majycis, a well respected king whose skill both diplomatically and militarily was highly regarded even by his most bitter enemies. He proposed a summit to discuss an end to the wars, a permanent and lasting peace that all could enjoy. He invited the leaders of the eight other alliances to meet with him at his capitol at Ostden. At the summit, Jarmoff proposed the founding of an Empire and the election of an Emperor to oversee Virarctul, somebody above the petty day-to-day politics which had led the various nations to the Age of Strife in the first place. At first, there was some natural resistance to the proposal, but once it was suggested that the Emperor’s power would not be focused in any one nation but would draw from all nations, that rule of the Empire would demand abdication of rule over a specific nation, the resistance quickly weakened. As a further concession that Imperial power would not specifically be tied to any one nation, Jarmoff proposed that Morfort Island and the shallow Morfort Sea be set aside from Majycis as the new Imperial Capitol. Impressed by the amount of personal, political, and geographic sacrifice that Jarmoff was willing to make, the assembled rulers voted to make Jarmoff the first Emperor of Virarctul.