The following lecture was delivered at the Annual Symposium on Historiography, Lecture Hall 12 B, 12:15 PM, on the 20th Dekabr, in the year 1899 AU at the University of Nizhny, southern Volchok. Composed and read by Militz Melitovski, Professor of Historiography and Reconstitutive Thought, Department of Critical Studies; Gz, Gz-op, His-spec, Velk-spec, hon.
The Reconstituitive Approach
Let me begin with bluntness, for bluntness is the currency we trade in today. The student of politics with even the most cursory interest in grasping the turmoil currently engulfing the continent of Bratsk can do no better than to start with the signing of the Blood Unity three thousand years ago. In fact, as far as origins go, it is the only origin that matters. After all, let it not be forgotten that the Blood Unity transformed the very nature of time itself, abolishing that parochial, regnal system of measuring time and substituting it with the calendar era. BU (Before Unity) and AU (After Unity), terms that today come as naturally to our tongues as the words of love we issue to our families each evening, first made inroads into the collective consciousness and vernaculars of Bratsk precisely during the pact of the Blood Unity.
Of course, looking back through the mists of time has never been the most vogue of pastimes—not for our politicians, for our economists, for our generals, and not, if I may be so bold, for our rulers. And yet to cure the myopia with which we cripple ourselves today an historicist approach to cultural life has never been more necessary. There is something intolerable about the esprit de corps that conceives of society as it is currently configured having simply popped out of the ground like a mushroom, complete in and of itself, ignoring the painfully obvious truth that to grow, and to grow so blighted, the mushroom must have matured in corrupted soil. As with the mushroom, so with society, whose present illnesses were formulated many millennia ago, through a series of events, arrangements and choices that, regardless of their predictability, inevitability, and often downright stupidity, were constitutive of the reality we all inhabit at this moment. If we are ever to discover a route out of the dark, abyssal canyon we currently find ourselves and into which our selfishness, our prejudices and our narrow-mindedness have plunged us so profoundly, then tracing the source of these woes must surely be in everyone’s interest. As retrospective raconteurs we have a chance at redemption that ignoring history will never provide. Learning from the past, it may become possible to cut an alternative trail through the sludge and thicket that suffocate us today, and in the final instance lead ourselves into the sunlight once more.
Let us begin with a short excursion into the geography of our world, so as to understand better the nature of the slate upon which our history has been written.
Geography of Bratsk
Even an infant knows that in the west of Bratsk lies Tal’dor, an enormous region of sweeping forests and riverways, foothills and long grasses, possessing a seasonal climate and superlative wine. Until our present troubles, Tal’dor was affectionately known as the breadbasket of Bratsk, its endless fields of wheat and corn stretching across softly sculpted hills and valleys that only Tal’dor could boast of, its lands fed and fertilized by lakes, rivers and tributaries that flooded in the winter and shriveled to dry bone in the summer months. Until recently, when we thought of Tal’dor, we thought of emerald: marshes and wetlands that spilt into the horizon, woods and heaths of brake fern that teemed with game, feeding and clothing those fortunate enough to live within the region’s borders.
True enough: Tal’dor’s bucolic appearance masked an altogether less peaceful social history. We all know of those cursed religious conflicts that plagued its antiquity, and even to this day it still bears the scars. Walk through any field or woodland in that enormous province and you will still find the remnants of churches, abbeys and monasteries raised during that fateful era. But it is equally true that under the stewardship of Voron, a Blood that rose to prominence in the region a thousand years BU, Tal’dor emerged from those dark, formative days to enjoy a period of prosperity and peace before its assimilation within the Unity. The question must be asked: would Tal’dor be faring better today if it had never joined the Unity, willfully annexing itself to an empire? The answer: it is hard to see how it could be any worse.
To the east of Bratsk stretches the Nur-Dal, its wild steppes the stuff of legend, tundra and forests extending eastwards across the entire region until its poplars and willows dip their boughs in the great Chukchi sea. Floodplains and deserts, mountains, grasslands, glaciers and lakelands, the Nur-Dal’s topography is as varied as the breeds of goat and sheep that graze in its valleys. More than any region of Bratsk, the Nur-Dal enjoyed a peace longer than any of its continental brothers, and under the enlightened rule of Blood Rurik, an ancient House almost as old as the Nur-Dal itself, the province became synonymous with learning and invention. Until the signing of the Blood Unity, cities within the Nur-Dal were a rarity. The nomadic habits of its people resulted not only in ethnically rich populations, but through the ceaseless transmission and assimilation of customs and cultures, instilled within the populace a profound respect for the stranger and for difference. Since the Nur-Dal’s accession to the Blood Unity, more permanent locations were established, but the vast majority of them date back no further than three thousand years. For the Nur-Dal, history is written in the earth and soil, not in walls and street monuments. Fuelled both by migration within and without its borders, Nur-Dal’s capital, Ulam, has grown to become one of the largest conurbations in Bratsk.
To the north an altogether different kingdom lies, that of Volchok, one founded on conquest and force, destroyed through war and rebuilt once more through the sword and maintained through despotic rule. It is a realm of superstition, of folklore, and for much of its history, of self-isolation. The Zapovedni mountain range runs the length of Volchok’s southern border and constitutes the entirety of Tal’dor’s northern boundary and most of the Nur-Dal’s. The range is inhospitable and densely packed, and long ago entered the language and psyche of Volchok’s people as ‘the shield.’ More than once it has come to their aid. Around 500 BU, architects and engineers across the region were tasked by Blood Neprev—the ruling House of Volchok—to build a passage through the mountains that would at last open this hermit kingdom to the rest of Bratsk, albeit it in a managed way. The Wolf’s Pass, a massive valley passage that runs through the base of the Zapovedni, was the first and grandest attempt to connect Volchok to the world and took roughly three hundred years to build. Later, the Pass was complemented by a network of roads that even today spiral across the Zapovedni like strands of a spider’s web. Every six months, the ocean that meets Volchok’s northern coastline freezes over, and has earnt the name the Sealed Sea. During the Sealing, nothing comes in and nothing goes out of Volchok’s north, forcing visitors, traders and families to take the Wolf’s Pass in the south, whereupon the road divides east and west, heading towards the Nur-Dal and Tal’dor respectively.
The above exegesis has simply been my way of arguing that prior to the signing of the Blood Unity, each of the three regions I have described lived for the most part within themselves. Short-sighted self-interest, expedient yet expendable relations, politics done provincially—this was the way of the world. Trans-regional co-operation was rare, trans-regional conflict rarer still. Each realm looked inwards to the circumstances and conditions that affected their own constituencies, barely bothering to lift an eyebrow at the trials and tribulations of foreign lands, let alone offering them a helping hand. A naïve, insular, sectarian time you may say, and you would be right, but it was a simpler time too, less belligerent in the demands made of the world, free from the encumbrance of global interests with which we have become so mired. It was, at the very least, a time when the anger, the suffering, and the destiny of perfect strangers living at the furthest edges of the continent were not inextricably wedded to one’s own.
From this point, the story is well known. As in nature, where panthers fight tooth and claw for supremacy within the pack, so in the provinces of Bratsk, Blood consumed Blood through marriage, war, or just good old fashioned senility, until the power of one regional family predominated, and the province became synonymous with it. Neprev in Volchok. Voron in Tal’dor. Rurik in the Nur-Dal—the evolutionary growth of each Blood was predicated on the extinction or absorption of other great Houses. The tale of their survival and dominance is not worth the telling here, though I should mention that violence and bloodshed were not the only backdrops against which their ascension towards Prime Blood of their respective provinces played out. But equally true is the fact that were it not for Blood Neprev, Voron and Rurik, Bratsk in its modern iteration would be inconceivable.
The Blood Unity
Relations between the three realms had been steadily growing ever since the completion of the Wolf’s pass around 200 BU. Trade routes between Volchok, Tal’dor and the Nur-Dal developed at speed, whilst cross-regional enterprises—anything from civil engineering projects to cultural exchanges—flourished. It is a universal truth that where coin flows, politics follows, and as relations between the three Bloods grew closer, marriages of alliance became common; at the social, economic and political levels, the provinces of Volchok, the Nur-Dal and Tal’dor were knitted ever more closely together.
Though we cannot know with any certainty that such integration and cooperation was the reason, it seems to have been a driving factor in Volchok’s initial forays into Bratsk’s mysterious southern lands, which we know today as the Sakr. Fuelled financially by Blood Voron and supplied materially from Blood Rurik, Blood Neprev forged routes deep within the Sakr’s interior, first establishing commercial relations with the disparate communities there before putting down more permanent roots in the form of fortresses, roads and military outposts. Before too long, Blood Neprev was doing what it had always excelled at, slowly subduing the populations of the Sakr wherever possible through debt financing and when that failed through force, so that by 100 BU the peoples of the Sakr found themselves pledging allegiance to a northern king whose face they had never seen and whose name they could not pronounce.
It is a hard thing indeed for individuals, tribes, clans, sects, coteries, factions and Bloods to know their true place in history, and harder still to recognise the decisions that must be taken to secure one’s place in that history. All too easy is it to fall prey to delusion and lovingly cling to the seduction of semblance. The story of history is one littered with families who became victims of their own self-grandeur, fatalities to a hubris of their own making, overplaying their hand in the game of life which ensured their destruction rather than their legacy. Such a criticism cannot be laid at the doors of the Bloods in our tale, at least not initially. Neprev, Voron, Rurik: they knew where they stood in the grand narrative of History. They understood they were on the cusp of something special, something truly transformative. Divided, their power and supremacy were temporary blips in the life of Bratsk, but together they would be unassailable. And so, at the very nadir of their own power and influence they gave it away, consolidating their positions by subsuming themselves within a larger entity that would, it was hoped, immortalise their Houses.
And so, on the banks of the Tuskino river, whose three major tributaries flow through Volchok, the Nur-Dal and Tal’dor, the Blood Unity was signed and ratified, transforming the kingdoms of Bratsk into a continent-spanning empire, with Blood Neprev afforded the title of Emperor, and Blood Voron and Rurik nominated as its two Grand Duchies. The Troika Krovi—or Blooded Three—constituted a political, economic and social enterprise whose lands exceeded one hundred and twenty-five million square miles and ruled over two hundred million lives. In the words of the Blood Unity, it would be an empire to ‘outlast the sun itself.’
For one and a half thousand years after, those words seemed prophetic. In no small part due to Neprev’s acquisition of the southern lands, the cooperation between the three Bloods saw unprecedented levels of prosperity for each. In reality, the Blood Unity was merely the apogee of five hundred years of trade and the slow establishment of cultural and social ties, but under the direction of the Neprev Empire, the extrapolation of wealth from one part of the continent and its redistribution in the east, west and north became official policy.
And the coin in rivers did flow. Gold, silver, minerals, diamonds, and gems were dragged from the mines of Sakr and sent abroad, delivered into the hands of those considered more cultivated, more sophisticated, more ingenious, who knew how to put this wealth to better use. Years of enrichment became decades of easy living which in turn became centuries of lethargy, detachment, and delusion. Across Bratsk, entire generations of nobility were founded on this substrate of expropriated wealth, commissioning absurdly expensive projects that mythologised their rise to power, and with each lie they told themselves, the further from reality they strayed. Within a few generations of Sakr’s colonization, the newly monied classes could barely point to it on a map, let alone appreciate the complex, myriad ways in which their fortunes were bound up with it. Meanwhile, the aristocrats of Bratsk, who had always relied on more local means of usurpation and exploitation, built new palaces to honour themselves, breaking millennia old tradition of master and serf sharing the same roof. For the first time in the history of Bratsk, the aristos turned their backs on those who tilled their lands, raised their children, and swelled their banks with the fruits of hard labour. The aristocrats began holding their serfs at a cool distance, giving them nothing whilst expecting the same loyalty, devotion, and reverence they had enjoyed from time immemorial.
To speak plainly, in these halcyon days of empire the ruling classes lost their heads. Lulled by wealth, slaked by overabundance, fooled by the self-constructed mirage of its own greatness, the ever-watchful eye of the Empire closed shut and slumbered, and from the shadows there rose a threat in the south that grew silently, until it was large and powerful enough to sweep the whole harvest away.
The Sakr Dilemma
The Sakr was always a notoriously hard region to subdue, its castes of mineralists, opium growers and gold miners doubling up as wizened, hardened warriors utterly acclimatized to the brutalities of war. For much of its history Sakr had been at war with itself, lord clashing with lord for control of the poppy fields and mines that blessed the landscape. An insurgency from without was nothing to bat an eyelid over. It was just one more trial to endure. There is a reason why sand is a divine property amongst the Sakri – it outlives everything, and it was with this deeply ingrained spirit of stoical fortitude that they approached matters with their northern guests. At first, they bid their time, trading with the outsiders on equitable and then unequal terms. They bit their lips when they saw their own natural resources siphoned out of their homeland and sent abroad. But you can bleed a pig only so much. When conditions for the Sakri had become so disproportionately imbalanced in favour of these northern invaders who came bearing the name of traders, their tolerance waned, and the sands began to shift.
It is true that the Sakr rebellions officially began seven hundred years ago in 1200 AU, but in reality they were in the making long before. The seeds of revolt were planted the moment foreign feet stepped onto Sakr earth, two hundred years before the signing of the Blood Unity. Sakri discontent started with whispers and muttering at the exchange rate offered for their traded goods, and with a growing hostility to the way Blood Neprev’s representatives attempted to corrupt local officials to give them favourable contracts, one-way tariffs and exclusive access to particular markets. Soon, the relationship between the two parties was seen for the fiction it had always been. After Neprev’s takeover of major political and legal institutions in the period 1110-1150 AU, the laws and the policies that were introduced spoke of the contempt the northerners had always felt for their hosts. The Sakr language was abolished as an official language in 1149 AU, and the land reforms of 1152 AU saw farming families who had lived in the same house, in the same village, for thousands of years, compelled to abandon them and move to poorer, less fertile grounds.
But it was the criminalization of the Sakri religion in 1187 AU that proved a step too far. After this, there was no going back; no bridge in the world could ever breach the void that now divided them. Blood Neprev oversaw every one of these injustices, its generals and advisors too stupid to recognise that foreign policy that amounted to little more than kicking repeatedly at a hornet’s nest was no foreign policy at all. Those whispers and glances that began one thousand years earlier had now grown into open declarations of war and retribution. In the intervening millennium, an entire network of secret groups, clandestine organisations, and spies within some of the most important departments of regional government ensured that when the time came to light the fire, the Sakri would make sure they burnt the whole thing down.
That moment, of course, arrived in 1203 AU, right off the back of the 1200-1203 famine that swept through Sakr, a result of three years of bad harvests and abject incompetence in government planning. Cities tripled their populations over this time, and the fight for foodstuffs and other essential items intensified. Shortages, illnesses, diseases and crime led to rioting, and rioting led to chaos. Sakr’s major ports were seized in an attempt to limit people fleeing to its interior, or worse, making it out of the Sakr altogether. The result was predictable: more starvation, more death, more ill will. When the plague came to Sakr in 1210 AU, from sheer desperation, anger, and grief, reasonable people who had stayed away from the resistance up until now had nothing left to lose.
We do not need to lay out the catalogue of catastrophic mistakes Blood Neprev made in its management of Sakr. Neither do we need to follow every twist and turn in the three-hundred-year war that tore the region apart. But when it was over, and Blood Neprev found itself retreating through the heartlands of its two grand Duchies with its tail tucked limply between its legs, the generals, politicians and councilors had no idea they were, in fact, importing into their homelands the same seeds of discontent they had sowed when they’d entered Sakr one and a half thousand years before. The lives lost, the money spent, the trade destroyed, the peoples ruined, and the humiliation endured over the previous three hundred years, all of it was revisited on Volchok, the Nur-Dal and Tal’dor. It must have been like coming to after a particularly pleasant dream gone horribly sour, and for the first time in the history of the Troika Krovi, the eyes of an accusing public saw the regime as the source of their woes.
In 1519 AU, the same year as the empire retreated from the Sakr, the Nur Dal ceded from the empire, claiming it had been bankrupted by the capaign, but in reality horrified by the empire’s treatment of necromancers. The link between the Nur Dal and necromancy is deep and we do not have time to discuss it here, but suffice to say, the Nur Dal could not sit idly by whilst its western and northern partners obliterated that much maligned race. And when it ceded, the empire looked vulnerable. For the first time in a millenia, there was a chink in its armour. Dreams of independence, of local governance, began to permeate the social ether of Bratsk in the 1600s. Failure to hold on the Empire together made it look assailable, vulnerable, weak to a degree even the most deluded, fanciful separatist and revolutionary could never imagine. Sakr had toppled its colonial master. The Nur Dal had ceded. Why couldn’t the same change happen in Volchok?
Troubles at Home
The empire came to an end effectively in 1619 AU, when Tal’dor decided to make a break with Volchok and go its own way. They had been one and a half thousand glorious years of economic success and territorial consolidation, but everything runs its course. But when the empire ended, the Blood system did not. Those rich families who headed the provinces remained in power – Neprev in Volchok, Voron in Tal’dor, and Rurik in the Nur Dal. But their power was no longer as absolute as it once was, when they formed a single polity in the Blood Unity. Suddenly, each faced problems of their own and in many ways, of their own making. So, from the 1600s onwards, discontent in Volchok eventually led to the formation of the Edma. In the Nur Dal, the khans once again were making their voices heard, something that hadn’t happened in two thousand years. In Tal’dor, Voron began to face pressure from a Priesthood he had personally empowered during the empire and that now was threatening to topple him. United the Bloods had stood, and divided they were now falling.
From the 1600s onwards, the three Bloods retreated into their own countries, and the collaboration that had marked many years of their interactions with each other began to fray. Reclusiveness came naturally to Blood Neprev, and as civil war broke out, it withdrew behind its mountain shield and the Wolf’s Pass, which, though remaining open, transmuted into a militarized zone through which trade from the outside world became restricted until it was closed off altogether around 1700 AU. Over the past two hundred years, Blood Neprev has all but severed its contact with Blood Rurik and Blood Voron, not from animosity or ill will but bloody-minded survival. Rather than relying on a partnership that had seen them overcome past obstacles, Volchok used its own troops in the defence of its own lands, its own supplies for its own people, its own resources for its own infrastructure. It called in loans from the other two Bloods, and whilst this helped for more than a century, by the time the current Svyat’s grandfather took to the throne (Svyat Gregori Vasilyevich Neprev, r.1800-1841 AU) Volchok had no more loans to call in. It was completely alone. Meanwhile, Blood Rurik began eyeing Volchok as a possible asset, rather than friend, whilst in Tal’dor, the Priesthood saw an opportunity to exploit the civil war to the north in order to pursue its timeless attempt to annihilate necromancy.
By the time Gregori’s grandson, Affanassi, (r. 1872-1899 AU) assumed the svyatstvo of Volchok, the Empire of his namesakes was long dead, and Volchok under siege. The Nur-Dal became the site of friction between the khans and Blood Rurik. whilst Blood Voron and the Priesthood of Tal’dor grew further and further apart. Each was so busy with its own affairs, that no-one noticed that the Wolf’s Pass in the south of Volchok had been captured and sealed by the Edma, effectively cutting off Neprev from the outside world. For five years (1894-1899 AU), the great mountain passage into and out of Volchok—the Wolf’s Path—was laid siege to by Neprev’s army, but nothing could stop the Edma from holding it and then pushing further into the interior. And then 1899 happened.
And so to the present, one thousand, eight hundred and ninety nine years after the signing of the Blood Unity. Abetted by a section of the population who no longer view their svyat as the divine will of God, and assisted by guards who have not been paid for months, last week the Edma stormed the fortress at Zimny Dvor, took the Svyat and his family prisoner, and executed them. News has emerged that, worried about the reaction such regicide would cause within Zimny Dvor itself and across Volchok as a whole, they tried to hide the massacre by throwing the bodies of the family members into a shaft deep within the fortress, and then blew that shaft up. The bodies of Affanassi, his wife, his four children and the entirety of their entourage were buried under a mountain of stone.
So much for restoring the dignity of man! So much for righteous justice. It seems to me those who claim fealty to the Edma are just as culpable as loyalists who remain ardently supportive of the Empire. But now, I feel, as we move from the past into the present, I too move from a history of politics to politics as it is lived today, and we all know how dangerous having views is in a time like this.
Whatever the future brings, survive the present. And do so in a way befitting of your status as citizens of Bratsk and as human beings.
Long live the revolution!