“…and remember, once you are in the Palace, hold your blasted tongue. I know that you are want to play with it like a kitten plays with a string, but it is paramount that we be respectful. Also there's… something about there which makes you too keen to speak.”
— Overheard as a newly come of age member of the Diite house was being brought to be introduced at the palace.
While the de facto details of how the political institutions behave have shifted considerably since the early days of the Federation under Hashat, the broad appearance of these institutions have remained mostly constant since the crowning of the First Monarch. There is a Queen, who rules from Yalcar Palace in the heights of Hashat. There are houses dotted throughout Esharia who rule their own lands, from which come the Diite, Morelli, and Toqare Great Houses. Court is still held, for the business of state to be decided, and for noble ambitions to play themselves out within a room, rather than on the field of battle. It has been like this for nearly a millennium, and so it will continue to be.
When the First King first sat upon the throne, he was ruler in all things. Those who wished the protection and wealth which flowed from Hashat would have to submit to his will, and the will of his descendants. Power, however easily taken, is a slippery prize, and as the power of Hashat waned, so too did the power of the Throne. By the time the Federation under Hashat crumbled wholly into civil war, there were none alive that could claim unfettered inheritance from Halmus, the First King. Although a Halmid Queen now sits on the throne, she is mostly that in name only: both Halmid, and Queen.
Most of the power now lies with the Houses: families of nobles who are the rulers of the cities and lands of the Royalty. Their ambitions and actions are kept in check by the burdens of time and tradition, and of course by the ever-ready knives of their peers. A House might have control over only a small area of arable land, or a few towns, but some may instead have vast fortunes, and the support of thousands. It is not power that makes a House, as power is cheaply lost or gained, but blood: all of the Houses trace their family back to the old Federation under Hashat. Not all of these may be true, by the strictest sense, but if people accept your lineage, then you are of a House.
The most obvious interplay between the Houses and the Throne is with the Great Houses. The descendants of Toqa, Dia, and Morell represent some of the strongest forces in the Royalty, and yet they often fall behind the Queen. Though she has very few official powers, everyone in the Royalty is sworn to protect the Throne above all things. This, combined with the historic wealth of the Halmids, means that she is in a strong position to convince enough of the Houses to support her that the others risk losing face if they stand against her. This is not an infallible formula though, and a wise Monarch would avoid pressing too hard, and too often, on the Houses.
Yalcar Palace is, at its heart, an ancient stone fortification built upon the tallest hill of Esharia's capital city of Hashat. Named for the ancient Hashar word for Palace, it is a monument to the heights of power that the Federation under Hashat achieved. From towering spires, to cthonic undertombs there is no part of the palace that remains unused for very long, and it is often compared to a miniaturised version of the sprawling lands of the other Great Houses. As the centre of Esharian politics, the palace has wings to accommodate a vast number of guests. These vary from functional to lavish, and a well-heeled Esharian may know their wing in the palace better than they know their own home. As well as the guest wings is the royal wing, where the Halmid family resides: very little is known about this wing, as only the Halmids and the Restorers are permitted to enter.
Adjoining all of these wings is the hall of Yalcar. This is a towering, domed meeting room, whose silhouette dominates the skyline of the capital. This used to hold the daily court of the Monarchs, but now is often used as a symbol of the Queen when certain people need convincing of the rightness of her argument. Beyond this, it is used to hold biannual Gatherings, when those significant people of the realm are gathered at the pleasure of the Queen. As one of the few official powers she still holds, it is always put to good use.
Twice a year, the Queen of Esharia holds a Gathering at Yalcar Palace as a display of her grace and nobility, and also as a reminder of the dues and respect that the Houses owe her and her line. If that were the only reason for accepting the invite, they would still be well attended, but there are a number of other benefits to the Gatherings. These provide exquisite entertainment and refreshments to the guests of the Queen, but also provides them an opportunity to see their peers in a social and unconstrained context. Many people who shape the future course of Esharia use these balls and festivals, as an opportunity to meet with their allies1) and discuss matters of the day, being significantly easier and safer than using messengers. Then, when the Gathering comes to a close, they may go out into the world again to put into motion what they had planned.
OC Note: The OC sessions will take place IC during the Gatherings, and all players will be playing someone who has (one way or another) made it to the Gatherings.
Though, in common parlance, The Court can be used to refer to those who live within the palace, as well as those who come from places beyond its walls to appeal to the Queen, officially The Court only refers to those staff the Throne retains to allow them to undertake their affairs. The positions of the Court often have a lot more duties and responsibilities than they do privileges, but the ongoing proximity to one of the greatest power centres in the world make these offices very sought after indeed. The right word in the right ear at the right time could change the course of history, after all.
There are four broad categories of Courtiers: the Ambassadors, the Stewards, the Advisors, and the Restorers. The monarch has very little power to enact things directly, so it is the responsibility of the court to flatter, bribe, and cajole the families, great and small, into doing their Monarch’s will. The members of the court who serve this function are broadly known as the Ambassadors, and they are the most well-respected members of the court by those outside the palace.
Of similar levels of respect are the Stewards, who are sent out throughout the country - and wherever the Esharian crown has a presence - to ensure that the crown’s will is being done. This is not usually on the level of petty tax collectors, as few apart from the families have direct dues to the crown, but they organise the construction of further expansions to the palace, keep an eye on the movements of the family, and other similar things.
Within the palace those most well-respected, almost by definition, are the Advisors. These members began life doing other duties, or as canny guests, who were able to convince the Monarch to listen to them and give them a reprieve of their duties. Then they (officially) spend their time studying the country and preparing advice to give to the Monarch. Unofficially they spend most of their time bickering with other Advisors.
Finally there are the Restorers. These are no more that glorified servants that stop the palace from crumbling into ruin. They are generally looked down upon by the other members of the court, so a lot of what they do slips by unnoticed.
Queen Ciara Halmid, 9th Monarch of the Royalty of Esharia, is young for a Queen, heirless, and already a widow by the age of thirty years. Under other circumstances one might say that she was a weak Queen. However, none can deny the core of cold steel that she has, her wicked eye for the foibles of others, or her capacity to rise to Monarch among a family of a dozen children. Only time will say how she is remembered, but the Royalty is not yet in panic.
The palace is abuzz with rumours of quite why this young debutante has been appointed as an Advisor. Is it because of an illicit affair with the Queen? Is it because she managed to get the best of Tarqel, and threatened him at sword point? Is it because she set those fires of last year, to show the weakness in the Restorers patrols? In truth, only her and the Queen know.