Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Republic of Beards

Self-acclaimed as the only true democracy in the world, where every man gets a vote and everyone becomes a man when it's time to vote. It's a fragile thing, a flower of what some would call progress built upon expedience and tenuous astral exegesis, caught in a moment when its enemies may wither it or it might fruit into empire.

Ryan Phair
Formally the Unrivaled Republic of Gherriot (though not even its citizens call it that these days), the city-state leans from the sheer cliffs on the western lip of the Bay of Shades' mouth. Sprawling around it are terraces, fields of sunflowers and melons. At its feet are the rubble-stacked platforms of the winch-docks and press-ganged work crews straining in the stifling heat to haul up galleys. Its buildings are pasted with stark white stucco, often stained with wine or blood, mosaics laid beneath to be revealed by damage. Scars and blemishes are an appreciated aesthetic in the Republic.

The Republic is rich, and its richness is based in sacrilege - a theological aside: the Exarchate, who interpret the will of the heavenly archons and advise earthly leaders on matters of Fate, have possessed a divinely ordained monopoly on usury since the Second Conjunction. This has made them very wealthy. Out of envy of their counterparts in Marlo across the trackless waters of the Bay, the Republic's merchant families sough to get a piece of that pie. They found it in the dissident exarch Horopelius, who had been shamed and exiled for his claim that the current age was not meant to be administered by counsel but by mass action. The merchant families touted Horopelius as the bringer of a great awakening. With the legitimacy of the Exarchate and their monopoly brought into question, they promptly set up their own banks, and more reluctantly ceded to some of the democratic reforms Horopelius demanded.

The Prime Exarch of Marlo, with the blessing of the Exarchate as a whole, raised an army and besieged the Republic. Horopelius met the Prime Exarch at the gate. The two have been locked in debate there ever since.

Hans Langseth, longest beard in history
Beards of course are fashionable among the Bearders, even if you didn't grow it yourself. After all what better way is there of proving you're a man? (Stabbing anyone who doubts your manhood in the face is the better way in the Republic). Beards are worn in loops, in coils around the shoulders, bushy, long, waxed into ornate forms - as with all aspects of manliness, loudness (though not crassness) is favoured. Singing ability is the most attractive trait a man can possess.

Women by contrast are expected to be demure, and to content themselves with gentle things like philosophy and engineering. It's boasted that the women of the Republic are the most womanly in the world, as they get all the manliness out of their system during voting season.

Voting season isn't any particular time of year, it's called as a matter of popular consensus. This might make it sound tamer than it actually is. Voting season is a feedback loop of machismo that leads to astounding street violence, where members of rival voting blocs might beat each other unconscious, get pulled out of the brawl for a hit of akarra paste from their fellows, then go right back to the fray. The prominent merchant families can buy a fair amount of support for their agendas each voting season, but the Republic's citizens are proud of their sincere civic engagement (and the bruises, broken teeth, severed fingers, and so on they suffer as a result).

Bearder cuisine is simple and portable. Using cutlery makes you look clueless or foreign. Flatbreads, oily meats, and roasted vegetables are common. Delicacies are things that can be spread: tapenade, melon jam, sweet bean paste, caviar. The heads of wealthy families pay athletes enormous sums to dine off their sculpted bodies.

Three families wield the greatest shares of influence in the Republic of Beards:

The Cicirins are opportunists. They don't tend to keep fixed positions, steadfast allies, or grudges. When the Exarchate siege of the city slipped into its third year they were able to take advantage of the besieging soldiers' fatigue, recruiting them as mercenaries. Given the length of the siege this was successfully argued as temporary leave rather than desertion. The army's camp too has been built up into a de facto suburb. The Eagles of Cicirin company quickly gained a reputation across the Thin Sea for innovative tactics and frightening retribution.

The Voroves took Horopelius' disputation of Exarchate doctrine to heart. They are rumoured to convene with sorcerers, seek forbidden lore, even worship the Burning One. Their young head Dorodo sheds his family's dark reputation like water off a duck through generous patronage and alms-giving.

The Ingrazers own the largest fleet of any family, and count the most feared admirals among their number. The Republic's much-vaunted egalitarianism extends only as far as its walls. Beyond that is the sea, legally speaking, where admiralty law applies and the admirals are unquestionable authorities aboard their craft. The Ingrazers are involved in piracy and slaving, and have colonial holdings from Baxmeo to the Shitholes. They'd be less popular if they weren't such ardent patriots.

Olive Grove - Orange Sky
The outright war between the Republic of Beards and the Exarchate might have stalled, but they squabble nevertheless. The families' banks fight over investments and potential debtors. Popular uprisings are funded in the other's territory and squashed in their own. Espionage, double crosses, privateering, and industrial sabotage are commonplace. One could find quick money or a quicker death in the crossfire.

Horopelius and the Prime Exarch are both getting very old now, getting slow. The citizenry is certain that the end of their debate is coming any day now. They'd be desperate, if it were tolerable for men to express such a dull sentiment. They seek unusual alliances, sail into terra indomina where none dared tread before, hunt for weapons lost and accursed. If someone could provide them the edge they need, they'd win the immense support of the Republic, and cause a lasting break in the power of the Exarchate.

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