With the height of summer on us and the River Trace lower than any can remember, fears are growing that Galena will be visited by plague this year. Already the air in Bankside and the other low-lying districts is too foul to breathe without a mask, such is the stench coming off the water.
'The link between dirty water, heat and sickness is still little understood,' explained Doctor Gabriel Flitch, who has a Bankside practice, 'but it is a very real one. And the folk who are fortunate enough to live higher up need not think they'll be safe: once a plague takes hold, history shows it'll spread through the whole city! Perhaps then the government will lend a thought to the vile conditions the poor folk suffer, all year round, not just in summer.'
Equester Margulies, the King's private secretary, announced earlier this week that a new Heitman has been appointed for Northern Yapen. The new incumbent is Lady Cordelia Villus, younger daughter of the late Heitman Villus, allegedly poisoned by a Sibutani spy in the spring. The new Heitman is just eighteen years of age, but is understood to have been at her father's right hand during his tenure of the post, so her inexperience should not be counted against her, the Equester said.
This appointment is widely believed to represent a big kick in the stomach for the Count Rattray, whose wife Clarissa is Lady Cordelia's elder sister and might have hoped to gain this highly influential post.
Reports are emerging from a wide range of locations of a curious new cult, or group of cults, centred around the celebration of the coming chiliad, or millennium.
Places as far afield as Ribero, Pell Enna, Lalgola and Swalehaven have seen gatherings of wild-eyed folk proclaiming that the turn of the year 1000 from the foundation of the Ancient Lapangi Empire will see the end of the Wheel. The Chiliasts, as they call themselves, seem to possess no central organisation, but their activities are remarkably similar: they tend to gather at stone circles, or other ancient sites, where available of course, and pray to the Dramaturge to be spared the cleansing flame that will sweep over the Wheel in just over three years' time. Many have abandoned family and property to join the cult, saying that they will have no use for such mundane fripperies.
Rumours are flying around Court that wedding bells may be in the air for Empress Juliana of Lapang later this year or early next.
The lucky man, whispers relate, is Gilberto de los Reyes, Earl Chevalier and the Empress's Master of Horse. The Earl Chevalier, although senior to the Empress by some fifteen years, is a noted patron of the arts and gastronome, who has often served as Juliana's escort on State occasions.
It is thought that this marriage, to a noble not linked to the Imperial line in any way, will further strengthen the Empress's position within her family.
Hard on the heels of Cordelia Villus's appointment as Heitman came the news that her wedding to Heitman Kirkland, scheduled for the end of the summer, is to be postponed into next year.
Sources close to the Crown cast doubt on the nuptials ever taking place at all. 'If the King was unwilling to strengthen Rattray's hand by giving his wife the Villus Heitmanate, he's not going to hand it over to Kirkland!'
Do these developments indicate dissension within the Cabal (if such a body can be said to exist)? With Rattray and Kirkland thus snubbed, and Admiral Horza away from Rangar on military duties, Equester Margulies's star must surely be seen as rising strongly.
Scenes of panic have been seen in Galena, this week, as dozens of Pangaturese flee the Empire's capital. Violent incidents involving Pangaturese merchants and the like have grown increasingly common of recent, and it is thought that these attacks, which have caused three deaths, are to blame for the exodus.
Rachel Vesticote, woollen goods trader, said her shop in the Exchange had had its windows broken three times this summer, and her son Mellon, 14, had been assaulted in the street, lucky to escape with no more than a beating. 'It's this Flaming Wheel that's to blame, everyone knows that. Why don't the Gendarmerie do something about it? Because they're scared too, that's why. Galena used to be a friendly place when I first came here, but not any more: I'm off back to Pell Enna!'
Representatives of the Gendarmerie and of the Flaming Wheel Clubs were unavailable for comment.
The Baronne of Rast announced yesterday that she has found Crown Prince Adolphus, heir to the throne of Tobolsk until his disappearance in 991, after the death of Gustav the Old, led to his claim being set aside in favour of Empress Juliana. Adolphus, the Baronne said, had been living among superstitious northern villagers in the condition of a peasant lad for the last five years, unaware of his true identity thanks to a blow on the head suffered when out riding alone. Now, though, he is fit and well, and anticipates that his throne will imminently be restored to him. The circumstances of his rediscovery were not revealed.
There has as yet been no reaction from the Imperial Court, but it is thought to be unlikely that Empress Juliana will look favourably on Adolphus's demands.
The churro, the annual sheep-drive across Ribero province, is never without incident, but this year's has been worse than ever.
'Imagine how you'd feel if three hundred filthy mountain shepherds and their flocks, thousands of the noisy beasts, came swarming down your main street every year! Well, this time we'd had enough of their rowdiness, and we decided we weren't going to put up with it any longer!' So spoke a bruised but triumphant Karl Triet, Mayor of the lowland town of Corners, which was the scene of a pitched battle this Phamenoth, as shepherds sought to pass through the town on the way to Ribero city, and townsfolk sought to stop them.
This author witnessed the churro last year, and can say that there really is nothing like it: the heat, the dust, the smell and the noise are quite daunting, and villages the drive has passed through give the impression of utter devastation. But as the industrial strength of Ribero leads Lapang into the second chiliad, what place is there for this archaic tradition, particularly as most of the Empire's wool is now imported from Pangaturan?
Rt Hon Tilda de los Reyes
The success of Pangaturan's Royal Exploratory Commission was recognised earlier this month with a knighthood for its best-known member, Stanton Harcourt.
Harcourt was inducted into the Order of Saint Aoradh, the eldest of the kingdom's three orders of chivalry, which was instituted by King William the Justiciar. Its members are generally public servants (notionally, at least) rather than military or political figures.
That Harcourt has been singled out in this way may be seen as a snub to the members of the REC Council, its governing body, none of who are equestrian: the Council has often been seen as too divided by factional squabbles to effectively organise Pangaturan's exploratory and colonial efforts.
Anna Dale, Rangar
As readers will know, Pangaturan has long led the Wheel in economic thought. One of its foremost minds is Equester Gerald Malynes, who has recently committed some of his ideas to print in the form of the book Mercantilism, a quarto volume available from the Cuckoo Press in Rangar for eighty-five crowns, including ten full-page woodcuts.
Malynes's chief thesis is that a nation's stock of treasure is the indicator and source of its economic power. A wealthy nation is one that sells its goods abroad for gold and silver, and buys few foreign-made goods. Also, discoveries of gold and silver from its colonies can be incorporated into this stock of treasure to further strengthen its economy.
This notion is an articulation of a common modern perception, that money is more useful as a store of wealth than are goods, as our ancestors believed. Goods circulate and are used, but the end of this trade is the accumulation of money. Conversely, if money is lacking, trade will suffer, even if goods are plentiful. We cannot and would not wish to return to a barter economy!
Malynes decries the taste among the middle classes for imported trifles. He believes that those who buy unnecessary items from abroad are beggaring their country. It can clearly be seen that through internal trade, wealth cannot be created or destroyed, since one party gains only at the expense of the other: but international trade is capable of enriching or impoverishing our nation, so we should take care that it be the former.
An interesting implication of this view touches on my own field, that of prices. Malynes argues that a low rate of interest for borrowing money is likely to encourage trade, and that this will bring about greater prosperity in general and thus allow the low interest rate to persist, as usurers will not be so dependent on income from interest, in a virtuous circle. My observation, though, is that increased trade causes prices to rise, necessitating higher interest rates as usurers seek to 'keep up'. I would be interested to hear from any readers with thoughts on this matter.
Here, for your edification and enlightenment, are some gleanings from the lives of holy men and women of the past.
Saint Lucrezia was pestered by a noble who wanted to wed her for the beauty of her eyes. She tore them out and sent them to him, saying 'Now let me live my life to the Dramaturge!'
Saint Polixenes while still pagan was remarkable even among the ancients for his appetite for loose women of the streets. After conversion he set up a hostel for these unfortunates, and lived happily among them in chastity for the rest of his days.
Saint Geraint, an abbot of Salemi, wished to be buried in the open, that the Dramaturge's holy rain might wash his grave. His monks brought his coffin back inside, thinking such exposure disrespectful, but heavy rain persisted throughout the province until they moved it back out again.
Yes! More bulletins from the sentry-boxes of the Strange, the outposts of the Odd, the post-despatch of the Peculiar. My researches into Northern Yapen's archaeology are now under way, thanks to the generosity and cooperation of its new Heitman, and I can report that I have tentatively identified the entity to whom the shrine underneath the present castle was dedicated as dread Ah-Kepple, Master of Death, who held the lost realm of Margravia in thrall two chiliads or more ago. Further investigations will be carried out to confirm or refute this hypothesis, never fear.
On the northern coastline of Yapen, so regularly lashed by wind, rain, icebergs and ferocious sea-beasts, the villagers and fisherfolk naturally learnt early to respect the sea, and its prime deity, Euan, protector of the catch. Our ancestors used to sacrifice the finest fish to him in the hope that he would watch over their boats and guard against rough weather. Euan is generally benign in nature, although he does have a vindictive streak: if a fisherman, or a member of his family, spurns Euan or takes his name in vain, or trespasses on the Sacred Net, Euan will blast his fishing-boat with a bolt of lightning next time it puts to sea, and the blasphemer will be cast ashore, his body gnawed by sea-urchins, as a dreadful lesson to all who doubt the god's power. He also causes those whose sacrifice is inadequate to catch beasts like octopi and distasteful spiny or poisonous fish, in lieu of healthy herring and mackerel.
Saint Moel came to Yapen with the Pangaturese, and converted the locals from their pagan ways: having been a smuggler and man of the sea himself, he might be thought to have had some sympathy with their practices, and so it is that even today we see Yapeni Prompters blessing the nets, burying fish, and so on, which would surely be frowned upon elsewhere.
I have received a great deal of correspondence on the subject of elemental spirits. There seems to be some confusion as to their attributes. Gnomes are the spirits of the earth, and guard pits and quarries. Miners often hear their underground knocking. Sylphs are spirits of the air, and are fine and delicate creatures, as might be imagined. It is believed in my native Lapang that those who reject fleshly congress with humans may at will enjoy the company of sylphs, although few examples are known. The water is tended by nymphs, particularly fresh water, and those who pause to admire their reflections in standing water may well find themselves pulled in by a sportive nymph. Lastly, fire is the domain of salamanders, curious creatures who (to my knowledge) have never been observed in the flesh, but one can well imagine how they must look.
Darius de Profundis
Mollin Cant, leader of the notorious Inheritors terrorist organisation, has narrowly evaded a trap set for him by the Ribero Gendarmerie.
Three Inheritor prisoners, captured during the attack in the city's Poste Restante and condemned to death by boiling. were led from the barracks to their place of execution in Telanan Place, apparently under light guard, in the hope that Cant and his cronies would attempt to 'rescue' them from justice. The Gendarmerie's anticipation was rewarded when twelve members of the group, in the disguise of shepherds in town for the churro, surrounded the convoy and pulled out weapons.
Unfortunately, in the confusion caused by the presence of several dozen sheep, the twenty Gendarmes lying in ambush on adjoining rooftops were unable to pounce, and as a result their comrades guarding the prisoners were all severely injured, the prisoners were released, and all the Inheritors managed to escape under cover of the general disturbance. It appears a number of genuine shepherds joined in the struggle on the Inheritors' side, believing that the Gendarmerie were persecuting their comrades.
Arturo Ui, Commissioner of the Ribero Gendarmerie, is privately said to be furious that Mollin Cant, who was positively identified as leading the attackers, has slipped through his net once again: and the reward on this desperate man's head has been increased to twelve hundred crowns!
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