Succession by JJ van der Merwe

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SUMMARY: The fall of one Emperor, and the rise of another. Inspired by the succession of Isaac Angelus to the throne of Byzantium.

The Emperor trusted no man, for to attain his position he had resorted to every kind of vice, sin and depravity; the litany of his crimes would make a strong man blanch in horror. He had been told that some of the nobility called him "the Terrible"- this was a good thing, for it meant they feared him. The nobles had just reason to, for the Emperor had torn himself up from the ranks of the army, not from amongst the scheming perfumed halls of the palace, and he saw the so-called Great Men of the Empire as treacherous parasites. One of his first acts, on attaining the throne, had been to have a mural painted inside the great capital's cathedral showing him holding a scythe with a pile of reaped corn at his feet; the message was clear to all.

There were enemies everywhere; noblemen jealous of his achievements, terrified by the proscriptions and the land confiscations. He dealt with them as he knew best; through death. In addition to those he knew to be plotting against him, the Emperor would persecute some noble families for no reason at all, save the warning to the others. The Emperor had been subject to the vicissitudes of fortune too much in his life to underestimate the effect a few well-publicised trials and executions could have upon the intended audience. The populace, whom he well knew never tired of blood and scandal, loved him for it. At least, he was told they did. In truth, the mob was the only force he feared.

Well- there was one other. The Emperor had always been a superstitious man, which he hid under a veil of overt religiosity designed to negate the opposition of the Church. Since he ascended to the throne, this element of his life had come to the fore. He kept an astrologer and a soothsayer in his court at all times; increasingly, he went to them for knowledge of his enemies and their plans before his advisers, whom he had cowed into submission long ago, perhaps too much for now they feared to contradict him; never a good thing. He well knew that this was a bad habit, but power had begun to weary him.

Across the water from the capital lay his preferred hunting villa, by the shores of the straight, surrounded by landscaped gardens which, though he considered them effeminate, he still enjoyed. By a fountain that tinkled pleasantly in the night, he met with his soothsayer and one of his favoured segures, Stelene Oporrimao.
The Soothsayer, who hailed from the northern reaches of the empire, where its islands touched upon the polar lands, had extremely pale skin which burned easily in the capital's strong sunlight; thus, he covered himself from head to foot in an unguent prepared by a royal physician, which stank of putridity and rotting fruit. The smell was so strong it overpowered the guts of the animal he was divining, at the behest of the Emperor, who felt himself disquieted.

The Emperor watched the soothsayer under his bushy dark eyebrows; that stare had been known to reduce men to tears, but the northerner did not fear the Emperor as a normal man should.

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