The World of The Unkindest Cut

30 Aug

This is background for something I’ve been planning, something slightly different to the rest of my work.  Obviously, it draws a lot of inspiration from the French Revolution.

Very little is known about the history of Algarve, a mid-sized nation on the planet of Parnassus, before the arrival of the Imperator. What is known is that the Church of the Imperator systematically destroyed almost all records and ruins dating back to the Imperator’s birth. There are stories told on the edge of the Imperator’s Empire, but very few of them are considered reliable. To whisper them near Vendee is to court death.

The Imperator appeared from nowhere, a thousand years before the Algarve Revolution. His origins remain a mystery. The Church of the Imperator’s official dogma is that the Imperator was the son of God, although various offshoots have alternatively declared the Imperator either a god in his own right or son of a god. What cannot be denied is that the Imperator possessed vast powers. Stories abound of him waving his hand and slaughtering entire armies in fire, or single-handedly tearing down stone walls and sinking ships. In a very short space of time, depending on which story you believe, he ruled an empire that dominated the continent.

Establishing a capital at Vendee, he took a number of wives from the various aristocracies he’d forced into submission. (The exact number of wives is unknown, but believed to be quite high.) His children possessed powers of their own, ranging from great warriors who had the strength of fifty men to healers who could bless the sick. By the time the Imperator died, having appointed the strongest of his children to rule in his place, he ruled two-thirds of the world.

His son ruled as Imperator and his son followed him. The Imperator’s children and grandchildren rapidly displaced the previous nobility, assuming their powers and becoming something of a ruling caste. However, their powers were already starting to wane. Five hundred years – and seven or so generations after the Imperator – most of the magic had faded from their bloodlines. A young man who could set a building on fire might be hailed as a true descendant of the Imperator, but he rarely possessed the power to make a bid for the throne.

The slow loss of the powers had inevitable effects on the empire. A handful of noblemen declared themselves the true heirs to the Imperator, mounting challenges to the throne, while governors and warlords tried to declare independence. Some were crushed, at high cost; others managed to secure an independence that, the Imperator’s Court insisted, was only temporary. (The fact that some of these warlords controlled artefacts forged by the Imperator himself, if the legends are to be believed, only muddied the waters.) A thousand years after the Imperator, the empire he forged is in serious trouble.

Politically, Algarve is divided into a series of castes. First, there are the aristocrats, who hold most of the power. Below them are the churchmen, the state bureaucrats and military officers; at the bottom, the peasants, merchants, soldiers and sailors. It is very difficult for someone to rise above their caste, let alone fall down. An impoverished nobleman may not be able to rub two coins together, but still look down on a prosperous merchant.

The problems facing Algarve are legion – and the current Imperator is completely unable to handle them. First, the government is simply too large to be efficient; the bureaucracy has reached a point where getting orders and funds from the capital to the provinces is pretty much impossible. Second, the endless series of wars to protect the remains of the empire has effectively bankrupted the state, a problem made worse by the vast number of wealthy aristocrats and churchmen who are exempt from taxation (but can still claim stipends from the government). Third, the commoners – farmers, merchants and peasants – are in a state of simmering tension, only kept in check by the threat of vast military force and loyalty to the Imperator. (Peasant revolts are more focused on freeing the Imperator from his ‘evil counsellors’ than actually overthrowing him.) Fourth, bad harvests and famine have been plaguing the land for years.

Worse, the aristocrats have proven themselves unable to handle their responsibilities. Military officers, appointed by birth rather than merit, have been largely unsuccessful in waging wars. (And the handful who have scored victories find themselves the enemies of people who fear what a popular military officer could do.) Landowners, bureaucrats and more have simply been unable to cope with the endless series of problems, further destroying the government’s credibility.

The situation now is best described as unstable. While there is an uneasy peace with Arthur, Algarve’s main enemy, Algarve itself is restless. The aristocracy scrabbles over scraps of power, the churchmen battle heresy that questions the very origins of the empire, the middle class – such as it is – struggles to acquire a say in politics while the commoners and peasants starve. Some noblemen have been raising their own armies, either to protect their lands or make a bid for power; some commoners have been banding together in self-defence militias, preparing to defend themselves against the depredations of the taxman. Vast swathes of the countryside no longer pay anything more than lip service to the central government.

Technologically, Algarve is somewhere around 1750s. Firearms consist of flintlocks and cannons, although the various independent states are pushing development as fast as possible. Steam technology is a concept, but – so far – actual steamships are non-existent. Most ships are wooden, powered by sails rather than steam. The vast majority of people still live and work on the farm, particularly in Algarve, where they’d bound to the land from birth till death. However, the growth of a middle class – and social unrest – is changing things, slowly.

Although there are always rumours of magic – and aristocrats developing powers – none of them have been confirmed. Fakes and frauds roam the countryside, some practicing stage magic rather than real magic, although this has gotten more dangerous as both aristocrats and commoners lash out at the fakes. Country dwellers talk of ‘pixie rings’ and places where fairies can be seen, but none of these are believed to be more than stories.

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15 Responses to “The World of The Unkindest Cut”

  1. Xtriver August 30, 2017 at 11:29 am #

    I like this, give me more!

  2. dan August 30, 2017 at 3:57 pm #

    i like the concept. i’d like to see the contry of “athur” name changed otherwise there will be massive compraissions between french and english history.
    is it a political story? is it a magic returning to the world story? is it a story told through a smaller viewpoint (peasent swept up in the revolution) are you telling the overall arc of the story? is their a napolian in the wings waiting to seize power? is a republic or going to be born? etc etc
    how important will magic be in this world? what are its rules? artifacts of the past can be dues ex machina if so intentioanlly or an ops? excalibur type legends?

    • Martin Conway August 30, 2017 at 5:30 pm #

      I’d like to second changing the name of Arthur. He’ll, I’m English but even I find it too on the nose. You might as well have just called it Albion.

      • chrishanger September 3, 2017 at 8:48 pm #

        It is meant to be a mirror, but I’ll think about that.

        Chris

  3. Turtle August 30, 2017 at 9:15 pm #

    I am generally interested in this, Really for me it all depends who the characters are in this world especially the focal character will he/she be making a bid for the throne or are they more a sideline. I also enjoy a good Sanderson level magic system so if that is involved in a large way i am all in.

  4. G August 30, 2017 at 9:32 pm #

    It all depends on the plot…outsider rises from periphery during time of stagnation and turmoil–especially with magic–would be interesting…if its just a decline of empire less interesting…

  5. Pyo August 31, 2017 at 11:24 am #

    Would it be the usual pseudo-Western-(feudal)-historical-stuff? Because in that case I feel it really could do with some fantasy-cultural twists, and if it’s only some small stuff (like polygamy being normal because of the Imperator or somesuch thing ^^).

  6. Jensebaum August 31, 2017 at 2:39 pm #

    The setting has potential, as long as you don’t follow the actual historical events, even roughly. A lot has been written about the French Revolution, I on my part have absolutely no desire to revisit it again.
    However, there is no need to do so: With magic in play, events practically have to take a different course. In any way, I’m curios what you will come up with and give it a try.

  7. William Ameling September 1, 2017 at 11:48 pm #

    A key question is what happens when descendants of the Imperator marry each other, particularly those who still retain some of his power, will any of their children be stronger than their parents?

  8. doug lake sr September 2, 2017 at 2:52 am #

    when will the latest SIM come out? thank you.

  9. Voldy September 3, 2017 at 3:04 am #

    Is the name ”Algarve” set in stone?
    I kept imagening beaches&sunlight and well ‘summer’ instead of ‘territory’.

    (Algarve is a southern costal region in Portugal, somewhat common place to holliday in)

    other than that the premise is ok, it would be cool to see who you’d put in this.

  10. georgephillies September 4, 2017 at 4:12 am #

    I see a background, but not yet a plot. At 1750, it is not medieval. Consider Arthur being like enlightenment Holland, with the monied classes running away with things.

    • chrishanger September 6, 2017 at 3:01 pm #

      It’s a basic outline. I tend to change things as I go along.

      Chris

  11. PhilippeO September 6, 2017 at 9:57 am #

    Isn’t this to similar to Empire’s Corps ? collapsing empire, powerful aristocrats, suffering people in verge of rebelllion, etc

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