Tal’dor is the largest of the four countries of Bratsk, and also its most troubled, historically speaking. It is a commonly held view that the larger a country or province, the more lawless, because it is harder for the state to police. And whilst there may be elements of truth to this, it cannot explain the bloodshed and brutality that has defined this province from the time the giants of Volchok are said to have walked the continent.
The finger must be pointed towards religion, which has occupied the public discourse of Tal’dor for thousands of years in ways that it simply hasn’t elsewhere. Why religion figures so heavily in this country as opposed to others is not really the point. Volchok, officially at least, is orthodox Neruna, just like Tal’dor. And whilst it is an official religion of the Nur Dal too, other religions have flourished there, and happily sit next to Nerunism as alternative systems of belief. Both Volchok and the Nur Dal have managed to escape most of the sectarian violence which is such a depressingly predictable motif of Tal’dor. The country is almost universally monoethnic, with very little immigration from its northern and eastern neighbours, and so, one would think, tensions between cultures would have been at a minimum.
The answer perhaps lies in the inflexible mind of the Tal’dor people, but there again, religion can be pinpointed for engineering such intellectual straight jacketing. If there is such a thing as a national trait, then stubbornness and a demand to be proved correct is exclusively Tal’dori. But people are not born inflexible. They are taught to be. And nothing in Bratsk has been more successful in shutting down the faculties for critical thought and discussion as the Church of Neruna, the oldest form of institutional religion on the continent and an organisation singlehandedly responsible for the destruction of hundreds of thousands – if not millions of lives – over the years.
The history of the Church is also the history of the state apparatus in Tal’dor, and it is impossible to conceive of one without the other. Ever since Tal’dor was founded as a political entity in 788 BU, the laws that have governed its public life have also been religious at root.
Religion structures everything here: from cradle to grave the Tal’dori citizen is instructed in the ways of Neruna to such a degree that the omnipotence of the Church has entered the very language of its people. Greetings are religious greetings, foods are named after Neruna, and street names and towns bear the nomenclature of the Neruna clergy. At school, children do little but study the Elaramaika, the holy work of Nerunism which is mandatory in every household across the country. Crime and punishment – indeed the police itself – act as moral correctors as much as deterrents. It is not unusual to see citizens found guilty of softer crimes whipping themselves in broad daylight in the markets of Kvev. The message is as painful for the criminal as it is instructive for the watching public: the Church is always watching.
Tal’dor is the only country in Bratsk to still employ crucifixion as a capital punishment, and the Church uses it liberally, for crimes ranging from infidelity to rape and murder. For less severe breaches in law, such as theft or public disturbances, folk often get away with an initial warning, and then, if found guilty again, with a limb or tongue removed from their person. The law here is real, visible, and marks the body not metaphorically, but literally.