The little room just outside the Verven’theileian that housed the office of the Keeper of the Dynasty was perched between the offices for the Corazhas of Witnesses. It was situated right in the centre of government, even though the office’s executive power was applicable only within the dynasty of the Drazhada.
The office hadn’t moved in the last few centuries. Instead, the interior renovations of the palace moved around the office as if it was carved from the rocks of the earth. The office kept its seat right off the centre of the governing hall, a small pebble in the spiral culminating in the Untheileneise Court. For the most part, it was separated from the general government, since its main function was the running of part of the House of Drazh that didn’t pertain to the general government, like registering births and marriages, overseeing the expenditure, and calculating appropriate dowries.
Its main occupant, the aforementioned Keeper of the Dynasty, had been appointed by Varevesena after the last occupant had passed. According to tradition, a distant cousin to the Emperor of the House of Drazh had assumed the office, and business continued.
No scandals of note had ever touched the position of Keeper of the Dynasty, and none of the emperors felt any need to put his own puppet on the seat. The office was largely ceremonial. When it wasn’t ceremonial, the obligations were administrative — and the office’s courtly position was not sufficiently incentive to make its duties something to be fought over. Although the position had a small voice regarding engagements for the House of Drazh, the chances the Keeper of the Dynasty could influence its outcome against all odds were non-existent. It was input from a purely practical perspective: How to keep the clearest possible line of succession.
That had not been a problem at all for Varenechibel IV. even though his first wife turned out to be barren. Varenechibel had four male children to follow him on the throne — and his heir apparent had heirs himself.
On other aspects, too, the emperor had a low opinion on the work the office was involved. He used it almost as an extension of his secretarial office, and in addition to how it was originally intended.
Practically, that meant the Keeper of the Dynasty had to deal with irate wives much more than his usual inclination as a lifelong bachelor. "Zhasan, how many more times do we have to tell you that we are not the one responsible for the limit on your households spending, his Serenity is. You may take the request up with him, when he returns," the Keeper of the Dynasty said patiently, and didn’t roll his eyes even though he wanted to.
Csoru Drazharan had swanned into his office hours ago, demanding to notarise her orders to various tailors and tradespeople. That didn’t usually fall under his purview, or was necessary at all, but the Emperor had requested that he might deal with as many of his wife's requests as he could, and the Keeper of the Dynasty had acquiesced.
Now, she looked down on him through her lashes — how she accomplished such a feat the Keeper of the Dynasty wasn’t sure — and asked, "Cant thou at least sign off the trade contract?"
Csoru Drazharan may have had a devastating effect on someone who wasn’t used to beauty, but the Keeper of the Dynasty had dealt with so many pretty court ladies, a mere come-hither look wasn’t enough to move him. Beside that, the Ethuverazh Zhasan was old enough to be his granddaughter. He didn’t know how the Emperor managed — even if he did so poorly, and sent his wife to other people instead of dealing with her himself.
"I may be the voice of his Serenity in his dealings with the Drazhada—" the Keeper of the Dynasty said. If he was slightly exasperated, he didn’t let it show, and continued gently, yet firm, "—but I do not have the authority to spend his money. I’m sure his Serenity will deal with this as soon as he comes back."
Of course, sometimes it was him who was yelled at in lieu of the emperor, because the emperor would not say no to his wives. In the long years as the Keeper of the Dynasty for more than one emperor, he had managed to learn how to deal with many different tantrums. A small price to pay, in the grand perspective of things, as it had the additional effect of keeping him apprised of courtly dealings.
Much the same way, he was indirectly kept up to date on political changes through the revenue streams of the Drazhada’s private properties, since there was no official seat for the Keeper of the Dynasty at the Corazhas.
"Do you know when my husband will be back then?" Csoru asked finally, and the Keeper of the Dynasty relaxed imperceptible. Maybe he wouldn’t be yelled at by the wilful wife of his emperor.
"We are sorry. His Serenity’s daily schedule is not under our purview. Your Highness may have more luck trying the office of his secretary."
When Csoru left, the Keeper of the Dynasty breathed out — the small office had no place to escape her heady perfume. Otherwise, the Empress was easily dealt with. As of yet, most of her courtly acumen came from her youthful enthusiasm and the obvious indulgence of the emperor. The Princess Sheveän was much more forceful in her demands to be heard.
A lot of his daily business in recent years came from people the Emperor and his secretaries sent his way so they wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore, and at least the Princess Sheveän had realised the Emperor’s tactic, even though it made dealings with her much more fraught.
He had settled down with his legitimate business, transcriptions of legal documents pertaining to the dynasty; when a courier from the Lord Chancellor swept into the tiny office near the heart of the Untheileneise Court, with the announcement, "His Serenity, the Emperor Varenechibel IV, is dead. The airship Wisdom of Choharo crashed yesterday."
For a few seconds, the world stopped.
"That is…" the Keeper of the Dynasty said, before his brain reminded him that this was a much more far-reaching issue than having to deal with Csoru’s overspending by himself. It was usually not up to him to prepare the succession of the new emperor and his wife -- his work was before done before that: Clearing the line of successions from possible conflicts of law. It was curious that the Lord Chancellor would inform him before any general announcement. "What does the Lord Chancellor expect me to do about it?"
Varenechibel IV. was dead. What a relief that he hadn’t had to deal with Csoru from a position of submission any longer.
Wide-eyed, the courier looked at him. Then he said, "The Lord Chancellor demands your presence." He ended the sentence in a questioning lilt, and did not seem all that sure about what he was saying.
"Why would the Lord Chancellor need my humble self to set a coronation ritual into motion? He would be wiser to reach out to the Heir Apparent directly, as there is nothing I can do to expedite the process," the Keeper of the Dynasty answered, and continued placing a flourish on the royal copy of Chenelo Drazharan’s birth certificate. His Serenity had wanted the copy when the discussion of Archduke Maia’s nuptials came around again. It wouldn’t normally be needed, but his Serenity was treating the whole affair like a marriage to the outside of the family, and not inside like the Archduke’s status demanded.
There was a brief trace of displeasure at the thought, since he had wasted his time — the document would be invalid without the emperor’s signature. "Long live the Emperor," he said. Nemolis would probably make a better emperor, and now that thought wasn’t treason anymore.
The courier was nervously twitching his ears back and forth, a habit he was going to have to break if he wanted to keep his work. "The Heir Apparent has also passed," he said in a quivering voice.
The brush paused on its way to the resting place next to the inkwell-stand, and the Keeper of the Dynasty who had never expected to make any kind of decision regarding the succession of the Elflands, the succession of his Serenity, the headship of his own family, was very glad that the brush did not drip.
The Lord Chancellor must be frenzied. The entire line of succession, especially one that had looked so secure just yesterday, erased in a matter of hours. He stood up and went over to the largely ornamental brass key denoting the importance of his office. Its power was usually symbolic. When the brass key came off the wall, a dark-green stain was left behind.
"What of the Archduke Nazhira and the Archduke Ciris?" he asked quietly, even though he felt anything but calm.
"Dead," the courier said. "The Airship took all of them to their death."
The Keeper of the Dynasty wanted to laugh hysterically. Never before had the fate of a nation rested on his shoulders — never before had the fate of another person rested on his shoulders. The line of succession in his lifetime had always been uncontested. This was how succession wars started, wasn’t it? He had hoped, held out for, a government job that was well-paid and somewhat removed from the intrigues of court — and for the last century, he had prospered. Apparently, now the gods were extracting their price.
With the key, he took the only copy of Varenechibel’s signet stone out of the satin box in which it had lain since it was presented to him — there never had been an occasion which needed the Imperial authority in the absence of the emperor. For all of his faults, Varenechibel had been a busy emperor, unlike the one before him.
During the walk to the Lord Chancellor’s office, the Keeper of the Dynasty didn’t change his expression. Outwardly, he kept his calm.
Later, he would be panicking, but for the moment, he was running through scenarios for each of the candidates for head of the Drazhada — the Drazhada of whom he was a part. A minuscule part, a half-cousin some ways removed from the main line, but someone who would certainly feel the effects if Prince Nemolis’s son inherited the imperial crown as a puppet emperor. The Archduke Maia was at least full grown, and didn’t necessitate a regent. (Who would profit from a weaker emperor, but the highest officials of government— say, the Lord Chancellor?) Who would be the safer choice? Was there a safe choice? Or was either of them, both the goblin emperor and the puppet king, the choice that would doom the line?
"Osmer Drazhar," the Lord Chancellor Chavar greeted him at the door, when they arrived at the office. He looked frazzled, his braids in unusual disarray, as if he had gripped them tightly (or had just come out of bed, an idea the Keeper of the Dynasty wouldn’t discount — he was known to sleep in after revelry). The Lord Chancellor wrung his hands, and then, came right to the point. "What must be done in this greatest hour of grief?"
The Keeper of the Dynasty followed after him into the large, ornamental room.
"We have brought the Emperor’s signet," the Keeper of the Dynasty said, "but it must be you who summons the Archduke to the capital. For further actions, the heir needs to be in the Untheileise Court."
The office of the Chancellor was anything but empty. Normally, the Lord Chancellor would have requested privacy, would have at least sent the Witness for Judiciate, Lord Pashavar, out of the room, but in the chaos of this extraordinary occurrence, the Lord Chancellor didn’t seem to be aware of his audience.
"Summon…" the Lord Chancellor began, then obviously remembered Varenechibel’s imagined blight, "Surely you cannot mean the mad hobgoblin? You are out of your mind!"
The Keeper of the Dynasty had spent long years at court. His time at court was multiple that of Chavar’s. He could convey how little he cared about the implied insult to his ability in a single look. "The principles of inheritance are all guided by the dynastic house laws of the Drazh as well as common law," he told the Lord Chancellor, in a tone that implied, of course someone like you wouldn’t be familiar with them. It seemed successful. "They are based on centuries of traditions, and they will be administered by any court of law."
"Surely the succession can only be confirmed once the inquest has been dealt with and Witnesses have established the cause of the crash?" Chavar said, visibly distressed.
The Keeper of the Dynasty kept his face impassive. "Are you accusing the Archduke Maia of having his entire family murdered from the estate of Endonomee? That would be the only valid reason for a delay in his succession. Otherwise, he’s very clear to succeed both the throne and the headship for the House of Drazh."
"Through the rights of primogeniture, the son inherits the father!" the Lord Chancellor argued. "Idra succeeds his father as the heir apparent!"
The Witness cleared his throat. "We hope the Lord Chancellor isn’t suggesting a usurpation," he said. "Heir Apparent is not only a hereditary position, but a title approved by the Corazhas. Without the approval of the Corazhas, the succession goes down the presumptive line. The next adult male heir would be the Archduke Maia. He was acknowledged as an heir of the blood, after all." The Witness wisely didn’t speak about how it came to be that the Archduke Maia was acknowledged before the Corazhas, since the Emperor hadn’t wanted to accept such a goblin-lookalike without harsh pressure. But there was no dispute that he had— the Keeper of the Dynasty had the paperwork to prove it.
Nevertheless, it was an excellent reminder for the Lord Chancellor.
"Of course, of course," the Lord Chancellor agreed swiftly, not yet recovered enough for a decent retaliation, "but surely, in accordance to his heritage…"
"The Lord Chancellor forgets that the succession line does not only follow primogeniture," the Keeper of Dynasty said, ignoring the great water-serpent in the room. "Prince Idra isn’t a legitimate heir of the late emperor. He’s a legitimate heir of the Archduke Nemolis only. The Archduke Maia is the only legitimate heir of Varenechibel left, as tragic as that may be. Not only is he the closer blood relative to the emperor, he’s also the next head to the House of Drazh as the oldest male of the main line. Who is there to inherit that duty, while Prince Idra is underage?"
The Witness of the Judiciate wasn’t so polite. "Is the honourable Lord Chancellor implying that goblin blood excepts anyone from the laws of succession?" he asked frostily. "Would the Lord Chancellor please explain what other laws do not apply to people with goblin blood?"
"Now, now," the Keeper of the Dynasty said in a conciliatory tone, "I believe the Lord Chancellor didn’t entirely think that through. He wasn’t seriously suggesting just skipping ahead in the line of succession, was he?"
The Lord Chancellor cleared his throat, paused, and then, cleared his throat again. "Well—" he said finally, "I wasn’t thinking. We cannot skip the line of succession. Of course. Let me write that letter."
He sat down to write the letter of summon to the Archduke Maia, the new heir presumptive to the Ethuveraz.
Finished, the letter was sealed with the Imperial signet ring, and sent out with one of the bright-eyed couriers in the outer office. Then, the Keeper of the Dynasty left.
He had business to prepare for the new emperor, especially now that an entire new lineage needed to be explored. An emperor with two royal lines! It would be a challenge to find him a wife of status that was sufficiently removed from his bloodline! Maybe there was the Barizhan side to consider?
When the Keeper of the Dynasty sat down on his table, he looked at the halfway finished birth certificate of the late Empress Chenelo, and crumbled it under his hands. Maybe this would be an emperor who was not quite so self-involved?
He opened the archives behind his desk and began to prepare the formalities.