It is the 12th of September, the year after the Caledonian War. The Tyrant of Eton was walking more slowly now. His strides became shorter and shorter, his childskin boots brushing the red marble apprehensively, his top lip quivering slightly with each jangle of his resplendent jewellery, as he approached the great portal. He jolted as he knocked into an unseen barrier on the threshold of the House Under the Lords.
He froze, his heart stopped by an eerie chill. The darkness beyond was illuminated by candles rendered in the fat of a thousand generations extracted from malnourished serfs, held in fixtures wrought from the fingerbones of overworked peasants, gilt with the melted-down last pennies of starving grandparents. An eternity passed before the barrier dissipated with an unpleasantly clammy wind. A cloying voice molested his ears: “The Elder will see you now.”
“I AM THE LORD OF CAPITALISM. I REQUIRE THE SOLACE OF IGNORANCE… AND THE DARK OF OBFUSCATION. DEMOCRACY IS MY DESTROYER. ALL THIS SHALL CHANGE. TONIGHT, THE SUN SETS FOREVER. THERE SHALL NEVER BE ANOTHER DAWN…
The Tyrant of Eton scrambles pitifully into the room.
“Ah, Dave. Come closer.”
“You summoned me, lordship?”
“Are you not the most loathsome of my minions?”
“And is your heart black and full of hate?”
“Black as midnight, black as pitch, blacker than the foulest witch!”
“That is why I have called you here. Since I must remain in darkness, you shall be my eyes and ears.”
“You do me great honor, lord.”
“Something troubles me. I feel a presence in the electorate, a force I had mercifully almost forgotten.”
“Must be dread, indeed, to trouble you, lordship.”
“Looking upon these frail creatures, one would not think that they could contain such power. One could rule the universe with it. You must find them for me and destroy them!”
“What do they look like, lord?”
“Fool! Let this serve to remind you. They are each crowned with a single purpose. Bring them to me. You will be well rewarded. You shall be a prince here in my realm!”
“A rare privilege, master. Where shall I look, sire?”
“There is only one lure for such disgusting goodness, one bait that never fails.”
“What be this bait? Please, you teach me.”
The Tyrant recoils at the word as if struck physically. The Elder’s snort of derision thunders through the dark.
“Do you know, maggot, you become more wretched and disgusting each time I see you squirm into my sight?”
“I am but a humble ordinary mother, your maximus! But truly… Socialists? Among the Red Roses? We were sure they were all destroyed when Saint Antonius Parthica usurped their leaders!
“But of course you would think that, you obtuse creature. Still, your carmine friends were just as thick-skulled as you were thinking Ian the Agathist could be your Grandmaster. At first the brother-captains gathered their choices for Grandmaster: Andrew Demon-Eye, Yvette the Overpaid, Elizabeth the Red Oak. Then, as part of their tradition to place a Token Socialist in contention, they chose… the Raven.”
“They chose him, never expecting him to do any better than Dianne of Hackney or John the Pugilist. Yet here we are, weeks before the final contention, and there are forces within the Rosemen anxiously preparing for the Raven’s ascension. Oh, the Oak sympathisers are doing the bidding of their true master, plotting to deny his supporters the opportunity to lend their swords to his cause, eagerly co-opting their supposed rivals in the Oakmen’s ranks to frighten the Rosemen into voting for another puppet, even preparing to expel the would-be captain upon his very succession. Tens of thousands of warriors flock to the Red Rose banner, only for thousands to be turned away.”
“They’re making even bigger fools of themselves than the Straw Lummox! Do they not realise that this could destroy their party?”
“If they do, then their true master lacks guile.”
“Surely he sees sense, your enormity – surely he knows the danger not just to Anglia, but to all Albion itself?”
“That is precisely it, worm – he does all too well. The Raven may fight with the Horde against us on some matters, and he may yet prove a nuisance. He seeks to forge the same empire from the very roots and the grass of the earth that has so benefited the Horde, only with the far greater numbers of Anglia joining him. This is a problem for us, to be sure. But it is not insurmountable – and when it comes to the things that truly matter, when it comes to the very integrity and perpetuation of Our Kingdom, he will turn on the Horde in a heartbeat. Do you forget he opposed the Horde this very year? Even now, he has made the same comment on the Horde’s single most precious thing that you did.”
“… He… He did, didn’t he? Almost the same words.”
“You see, tiny grub? Even the Rosemen’s greatest renegades capitulate to Our New Truth to some degree. We say that the Great Chieftain promised the September Battle was “once in a lifetime,” and he thoughtlessly agrees. We lie about the Horde’s plans for MacBrayne’s fleet and Caledonia’s iron horses, and he blithely repeats them. We say even allowing Caledonia some control over its treasure is too great a danger for the poor Caledonians, and he nods gravely. The Iron Woman’s shadow remains long and dark. With tact and guile, we could render the Raven as blunt and insignificant as the Viscount Apostate. And if he continues to make himself a nuisance, well, I’m sure your peons would make themselves useful.”
“But what if he does win, your magnificence? The Caledonian battles begin in less than a year. Many of the Horde’s newest recruits are Rosemen deserters – if the Raven convinces them to return to the Caledonian Chapter, then they may regain their heartlands.”
“… And… and in doing so… break the Horde’s dominion over Caledonia?”
“Ah, the little larva at last approaches the cocoon! You do not think the Rosemen would be so boorish as to oust the Raven before he outlived his usefulness, do you? The Raven is attracting crowds in Caledonia that the Rosemen haven’t enjoyed for decades. His rhetoric is appealing to their nostalgia for the Old Rose. He even suggested he would do a deal with the Horde where the Fitzrovian would not, even if he would not join them in a second Caledonian Battle. But the surest way to stop the Horde is to prevent that battle from taking place – and preventing the Horde from control over at least half of Caledonia will do that. The Raven may make that goal more easily attainable. Once the Raven has served that purpose, you may do with him as you please.”
“Remaining in the Union, with the hopes of the Raven’s socialism crushed, and the Horde’s crucial majority lost as a result? Truly this would be the Worst of All Worlds for those vile separatists – so I’m worried about nothing?”
“… Nothing? Nothing!?! FOOL! Is it not obvious? We cannot stop the Caledonians from taking control of their own destinies. Only the Caledonians can. We can persuade them, deceive them, frighten them and threaten them, but the Caledonians alone are responsible for their future. It is not enough to tell them they are better together – they have to believe it. Once they stop believing in their own inadequacy, nothing we say or do could stop them. Look at all Our Kingdom’s conquests, Our Empire – do you think Fredonia, Aryavarta, Eireann, Afuraka, and the other colonies are free because we simply permitted them to leave?
“The Raven, alone, can be dealt with. The Horde, alone, can be dealt with. The vast, directionless masses of Caledonia, Anglia, Cymru and Ulster, alone, can be dealt with. But united? With two movements seeking change within Our Kingdom, regardless of their fundamental disagreements on nationhood, supported by the people? That is what troubles me.”
“What on earth do you mean?”
“You know, worm, perhaps that’s the thing that’s most wretched about you humans. Alone, you are small. Weak. Insignificant. But together, with common cause, you could wield unimaginable might: to change your kingdom, your future – your very world. Even the awful glory of the Elders would be straw against the Winds of Change. I would curse you as you threw down our palaces of skulls built on the bones of your ancestors, but I would at least respect you as worthy foes. You are not even that. You are dragons who are deluded into believing yourselves insects.”
“You have no idea the power you have.”