Bogdan shifted nervously from foot to foot, feeling the cold faceless gaze of the armored women flanking the door. He didn’t like being summoned to talk to the High priestess. She could be quite capricious, given to the sort of sudden violent outbursts for which priestesses of the goddess of storms were famed. Bogdan hadn’t served her for long and could not read her moods. Whenever she wanted to discuss matters in private he had come to expect the worst.
“Send him in.” came Hicran’s voice from beyond the door.
The two armoured women, members of the fearsome Thunder Guard, shifted their stance, raising their tridents from their crossed position in front of the doors and bringing them vertical.
“Enter.” One of them said. Her voice was surprisingly feminine and quite at odds with the heavy armour and the monstrous visage in which shape the face plate of her helm had been grafted.
Bogdan turned the handle of the door and stepped into the high priestess’ office. Hicran was seated at her desk. Several scrolls were laid out in front of her. The top one seemed to be a map of the Vale of Glas. She didn’t move to acknowledge him, but continued to look at the map.
She was very young for a high priestess; still under 30. Her long red hair was tied back in a pony tail. She was slim and shapely, but with a very full bosom. Her face was beautiful, although the word handsome somehow seemed more appropriate for her aquiline features. She wore a simple while gown, rather than elaborate ceremonial robes, but one of pure silk which showed her figure off to good effect. Bogdan realised that he had been staring at her cleavage when she raised her head and looked at him with her piercing green eyes. Hicran bridged her fingers and looked thoughtful.
“Tell me about the Glasians.” She said.
“Maam!” Bogdan came smartle to attention before giving his answer. “The main pass through the mountains is guarded by a garrison of thirty men at the fort of Riben. Our latest intelligence reports suggest that the enemy numbers…”
“No.” Hicran cut him of, dismissing his report with an offhand wave. “Tell me about the people. I want to understand them better.”
“Oh… erm. Well, they’re quite insular.” He began, a bit unsure where to start. “The respect all the major gods, but their main patron deities are the earth goddess, Gaia, and the War god, Mars. They are patriarchal…”
Hicran gave a contemptuous snort at the word ‘patriarchal’. Bogdan paused to allow her to comment, but when no comment was forthcoming he continued.
“Yes. erm. Any wealth they have belongs to the male head of the family. Women don’t have any political rights. They can’t vote or hold office, except as clerics of Gaia. Their marriage customs are quite unusual. Different from the rest of the Golden Empire.”
Hicran lent forward, seeing interested in what he had to say, which made Bogdan feel a bit more relaxed. He continued talking, getting enthusiastic as he went along.
“It is traditional in the valley for women to get married on the festival of furrows. It is the most important holy day for followers of Gaia, during which the furrows are blessed to make them fertile, in preparation for the sewing of their crops. It is thought by the Glasians that a marriage made on this day would also be blessed by Gaia and that their seeds would also be blessed when they… plough their furrows, as it where…”
Hicran gave a disapproving look at the coarse innuendo and then sighted, but gave no indication that Bogdan should stop.
“The women of marriagable age gather in the town or village square and the men bid on them in auction.”
“They auction their women?” Hicran said, apalled at the hipocracy of the act.
“Well, yes. But not as slaves. As wives. The Glasian marriage laws put a lot of responsibility on a husband, but make divorce quite easy for any woman who wants it. The amount that they pay for their wife is seen as a mark of respect to the wife and is used as part of their welfare system.” He was a bit flustered, concerned that he had offended the high priestess.
“Go on.” Hicran told him, “Tell me more of these barbaric customs.”
“Well, they start with the prettiest of the girls. The men bid on how much they are willing to pay to have her as their wife. Half the money is given to the family of the bride and the other half goes to welfare fund. They then continue with the next prettiest girl, and so on. When they get to the ugly girls, or the crippled ones that nobody would want to marry they offer them up as brides to whoever is willing to accept the least money in order to take the woman as a bride. The money raised by those paying to marry the attractive women is used to pay for people to take the others as brides. In this way every woman is married off and finds a husband.”
“Hmmm…” Hicran seemed to be thinking about what she had heard, but Bogdan couldn’t tell whether she thought that the Glasian custom was a good thing or a bad thing.
“As I said before. Divorce is quite easy. If a woman wishes to leave her husband she need only petition a priestess of Gaia and tell her in what way her husband has failed in his duties as a husband. If the priestess thinks she has good reason to leave her husband and that she is telling the truth, then she is free to leave. If the husband is found to have been deliberately cruel in his treatment of her, then she also gets half his wealth. It does sometimes make it harder for her to find such a good price from a husband, and so she is unlikely to get such a high status marriage, but she has no reason to stay with an abusive husband. Also a woman has the right to refuse to marry whoever bid highest for her, but in that case she is not allowed to marry at all that year. She can’t just reject potential suitors until she gets to the one she wants. It is the mans choice; not the woman’s.”
“I forgot to say; a single divorced or widowed woman can own money, but as soon as she marries her money goes to her next husband. Divorced women are allowed to marry outside of the festival of furrows. I think this is so that they aren’t left without anyone to provide for them, but it also allows them the freedom to arrange their own marriages to whoever they want. Now, should a man want a divorce then he has to either prove that his wife has been unfaithful or else he has to give half of his wealth to his wife. If his wife has been unfaithful the husband also has the legal right to kill her lover, so women aren’t going to try to get divorced in order to be with a lover. There isn’t any law that allows a man to divorce an overbearing and bullying wife, without her getting a share of his wealth, but as the law gives complete power over a woman’s welfare to her husband, a man is allowed to discipline and punish a wife in whatever way he sees fit. Her only recourse is to either win her husband over, change her ways or file for divorce.”
“Sounds barbaric.” said Hicran in disgust.
“It’s… different.” replied Bogdan, a bit defensively. “They also have quite an interesting welfare system.”
“Well, they have a system in place to ensure that everybody in the country can have a job. If you don’t have a trade or land to support yourself you are guaranteed work doing something. It’s not usually very well paid, but everyone is given work.”
“How does that work?” Hicran asked, puzzled by how such a thing could be possible. She had heard that some countries had welfare systems, but other than temples taking in widows she had never been in a country which had some form of public welfare system. There were always people out of work and it seemed impossible to guarantee everyone work.
“The army hire a lot of the more able bodied ones. Then the royal estates employ a lot of paid laborers. If you want to register for work you simply tell an overseer what skills you have and what you are capable of. You then get given paid work doing whatever you can. If you don’t have any useful skills they have training farms where people are taught how to become farmers. You get food, accommodation and a small salary whilst working there for a single year.”
“How do they make sure they work? Surely there must be shirkers?”
“Oh, probably. The royal estates also have a lot of slaves on them. No distinction is made between paid employees and slaves. You work like a slave and get treated like a slave. Most people stay just long enough to earn enough to get them started in their own business or until they can find someone else willing to hire them. The shirkers get flogged and beaten, just the same as lazy slaves. It is not intended to be a handout. It is intended as a last resort, so that nobody needs to starve. since everyone is expected to be able to get work or somehow support themselves, they have some pretty harsh vagrancy laws. They also brand the farming school graduates at the end of the year, so that nobody tries to go through that system twice.”
“And the cripples? What happens if you aren’t able to work?”
“If you are born crippled it is up to your parents whether they want to raise you. If you can’t find work they continue to be responsible for your welfare. I think the idea is that if they want to raise someone completely useless then it is their fault and should never be a burden to the state. If a person is crippled whilst working for an employer then it is the responsibility of their employer to find work that they can do as a cripple. The army has a lot of crippled ex-soldiers working in stores and training recruits. If a free person is crippled but has no employer and is below the 500 Li tax bracket then the state will pay for a slave to be given to them, to look after all their needs and work for them.”
“That does seem quite… considerate.” Hicran spoke slowly, puzzled by what she had heard. “I thought these people were meant to be evil. Wasn’t Cassander some terrible tyrant?”
“Erm… yes maam. Some of their customs may seem nice but it is all quite self serving. It is easier to put people in work than to deal with lots of thieves and bandits. It also increases productivity. The Dragon blood kings really only ultimately care about their kingdoms wealth. Cassander taxed the people heavily and made them suffer. If people can’t pay their taxes the Glasian practice was to exempt them for taxes for that year, but at a price. The early kings were quite kind to their people, wanting them to be loyal to the throne. Outside of the vale they taxed their subjects through the nose.”
“Ah, yes.” Said Hicran, “I’ve seen the poor devils in the streets.”
“Yes. Outside of the valley, if you failed to pay your taxes then you were given tax exemption for the year, to allow you to be able to keep your farm running and hopefully build up the needed wealth by the next year, but they would cut off your nose as punishment for the lost taxes. If you failed to pay on the second year, then your wife and children were sold into slavery to cover your debts. If you were not married, then everything you own was taken and you would be enslaved. Cassander raised the taxes higher than most people could afford and after mutilating his subjects for their poverty he bought the more attractive wives and daughters for his harem.”
“Inside the Vale of Glas people were still given the one year tax exemption, but did not usually have their noses cut off. Cassander was the first to extend the practice to there.”
“And the harem?”
“Oh, that has been going on a long time. Most of the Dragon blood kings had large harems. By tradition the king has to be chosen from the closest male relatives to the last king, so it was considered a royal obligation to have a lot of children. A king might name a preferred successor, but it was up to the council of nobles to choose who should rule them as king. In theory it makes it more likely that they will have a competent ruler. When the concubines get older the kings would usually arrange marriages for them to some of his loyal followers. The more he liked his concubine, the higher status marriage he would arrange for her. Usually there were financial incentives. It’s because of this that there are so man sorcerors in the Vale of Glas. The royal dragon bloodline is virtually everywhere.”
“Cassander was famed for the cruelty with which he treated his concubines. When he was bored of them he usually had them fight to the death in gladiatorial exhibitions in order to earn their freedom. The performances were perverse, often involving the women fighting convicted murderers and rapists and being brutally raped before being killed. Brutality, murder and rape was encouraged in his solders. He treated the army well, using it to oppress the rest of the kingdom.”
“And now that he has gone? Are you telling me that the Glasians are really not such a bad bunch and that they were just led astray by a cruel tyrant?” There was a cruel, cold edge to her voice. She leant forward and her arms seemed to tense.
“Not at all. Cassander was a monster,” said Bogdan quickly, keen to try to appease her notorious temper, “but he surrounded himself with monsters and psychopaths. Anyone who opposed him was either framed and executed or assassinated. The country has been ruled by the most evil of men for about a generation now. You can be certain that everyone in a position of authority is going to be ruthless and self serving. The nation has been filled with evil for too long for it not to have influenced people at every level. You can be sure that the new king of Glas and his advisers are also evil men. The common folk haven’t been suffering for as long or as badly as in other parts of the Golden Empire, so I’m not sure if we can expect the same popular uprisings, but I doubt they will have any great love for their kings.”
Hicran sat back in her seat, her body no longer as tense. The threatened storm seemed to have died down without coming to pass.
“Leave me.” she told him, “I have much to think about.”
Bogdan gladly turned and left her room, pleased that the meeting had gone so calmly.