Church and State
I knocked lightly on the door to the room of the Empress Rosalind.
I opened the doors and brought in the tea set, placing it lightly on the Empress’ desk. I poured out a cup, offering to her. She took it with grateful eyes and sipped it slowly. She placed it back on the saucer and stared at it for a while, a faraway look in her eyes.
“Is the tea not to your liking, Your Majesty?”
She shook her head.
“No, it’s not that. This is wonderful tea, as always. Did you use a new blend?”
“Yes, the Palace recently changed its supplier for foodstuffs, so this tea was made using leaves from the first shipment of the new supplier.”
“It’s wonderful. It’s wonderful, but it also made me nostalgic for the tea I used to drink. It used a special brewing method, you know?”
“If you so desire, I shall prepare the next pot using your preferred method.”
“I appreciate the thought, but I don’t actually know the details of the method. Glint knows, but he’s never been able to get it quite right.”
From her words, I deduced that the Empress was thinking of her companion Elysium, the woman that had escaped from the execution grounds. As Master suspected, the Empress held lingering attachments to that woman. I filed away a note to report this confirmation to Master.
Meanwhile, the Empress stretched out her arms and returned to the large stack of papers in front of her. She had long since finished studying the Empire’s recent affairs, and had since begun studying records from years ago, reading up on events that had occurred before she was born. She frowned at one document in particular and beckoned me over.
“Yes, Your Majesty?”
“Our Empire is an isolationist one, yes?”
“That is correct.”
“But twenty-eight years ago, we sent out a force to join in the Holy War, did we not? It hadn’t occurred to me until just now, but why did we send a force to join the coalition if we were isolationist?”
“I am afraid that I cannot provide you a definite answer, as the War happened before I was born, and before Master Julio had begun his work in the Court.”
“I don’t need a definite answer. Give me your best guess.”
I blinked. It had been a very long time since anyone had asked for my opinion, independent of facts. I decided to state a deduction based on what I knew about the historical and social circumstances surrounding the event.
“I can think of two potential causes. The first is that our Empire was bound by some old agreement that was invoked by the Church to secure our cooperation.”
“Not likely. Our isolationism means we don’t have to care about breaking agreements or neglecting our international responsibilities – tariffs and condemnation don’t affect us when we don’t import anything from beyond our shores. The second possibility?”
“Perhaps the previous Emperor was afraid of the Church.”
“Yes. The Church at the time was building up a strong militant arm. Their armies were developing at a fast rate, and many soldiers from other countries defected to join the Church militia, swelling their ranks even further. The Adventurers’ Guild, eager to earn favour with the increasingly powerful Church, had pledged their support for the Holy War and dispatched two battalions of veteran Adventurers. The Church and its armies were led by Vessel – a woman of immense power, her strength creating rumours that spread even within our borders. It is possible that the previous Emperor was wary of turning such a powerful force into an enemy if he were to refuse to participate, and therefore he sent an army to participate in the expedition.”
The Empress glanced at the sheet she was holding once again and frowned.
“And of course, the people he sent were those that were suspected to be involved in illegal activities. A two-for-one. I can’t deny the effectiveness of the measure, but it does leave a bad taste…”
She placed the sheet down and slided it over to me. I had no interest in reading it, but it seemed like she wanted me to read it, and so I complied. It was a roster of soldiers, dated to a few months prior to the start of the War. Next to the list of names was a column indicating whether they had been marked. Some of them had criminal records, some of them had shown signs of extremist leanings, some of them had proven to be incompetent. A small note at the end of the roster gave the reccommendation that these soldiers be sent to the Holy War as the Empire’s representative army. If they were to fall in battle or defect to the Church, it would be no great loss to the country, and if they were victorious, the Church would owe the Empire a favour. A clever course of action. I set the document down and turned to the Empress, waiting to hear her purpose for having me read it.
“Alpha, do you know what happened to the survivors that returned? I couldn’t find any documents about it.”
As a matter of fact, I did. The relevant documents had been destroyed on order of the previous Emperor, but it was still often a common topic of discussion among the older members of the nobility, and as such, I had gained that information.
“Those with criminal records were imprisoned. The rest were dishonorably discharged on the grounds that they had allowed for a defeat to occur. Those that were discharged were kept under surveillance, and any of them that were deemed to be a threat to public order were arrested and later silenced.”
The Empress clenched her fists and gritted her teeth. She seemed strangely agitated. However, she quickly calmed herself down and let out a deep sigh. She turned to me and smiled.
“Thank you for entertaining my questions, Alpha. Not just today, but every time.”
“No thanks are necessary. It is my purpose to serve your needs.”
At that moment, the wooden doors to the room burst open, revealing the imposing form of the Emperor looming in the doorway. Immediately, I curtsied deeply. Behind me, I heard the sound of the chair’s legs scraping against the floor as the Empress stood up to greet her husband.
“My Lord. This is a pleasant surprise. Has the day’s work already been completed?”
“Not quite, but work can wait. I could not bear to spend another minute without you, my love.”
The Emperor laughed.
“Studying again? You are indeed a diligent one. Though that is one of the many things I love about you, my dear.”
The Emperor’s voice shifted, it’s origin coming to face me rather than the Empress.
“Alpha, yes? My brother’s toy. How are you finding your new employ? You may speak.”
Without lifting my head, I answered.
“I am far too unworthy to serve someone of Her Majesty’s esteem, and I am eternally grateful that she has chosen to allow me to wait upon her.”
“Good, good. Is it any better than working for that stiff brother of mine?”
“It is not my place to have preferences about my masters.”
“Hm. Stiff as always. Very well. Begone. I have many important matters to discuss with my lovely wife.”
I bowed even deeper and exited the room with my head lowered. As I closed the door, I caught a glimpse of the Emperor roughly seizing Rosalind’s lips with his, and Rosalind’s hands caressing his back with undisguised passion.