May 26th, 2022
Location: Nayraryuusai Estate, Rora
CW: Language, anxiety
Traditionally, the death of the emperor - or empress, in this case - would have warranted a massive procession. Massive parades for a week with somber processions of soldiers as crowds of spectators silently paid their respects, speeches by family and government officials in each town in Ni-Rao worth putting on a map about how wonderful and glorious the deceased emperor was that would drone on for hours and all be inevitably the same propagandist drivel, shrines and statues put up around the nation for passers-by to leave gifts to the dead (which would be summarily collected by the state, in order to “reach him more efficiently”), and on the seventh day, a grand feast would be held in his honor, featuring only the most decadent courses and attended by the most important figures throughout the world – kings, prophets, prime ministers, tycoons, and many more, congregated in Amao for a night of stuffy formal pleasantries and back-room meetings alike. This, by comparison, was pitiful. The Nayraryuusai Estate, out of which Ni-Rao’s government had been operating for several years, was only, like, the fourth-best home owned by the royal family, not including the palace. Hirana wasn’t much for the monarchy, but she couldn’t help but miss the luxury. At least it was better than her own studio apartment - and, of course, leagues better than the position of anyone currently living in Ni-Rao who was not a noble. Besides the location, there were also very few attendees – just Hirana, Grand Vizier Doran Imo, and a few other viziers and nobles who happened to be in Rora at the time. The government didn’t have the money to put up any shrines, and there was no grand feast being held – although considering the average Raonite citizen was starving unless they did backbreaking labor, Hirana figured she could cope. There were no processions, no ceremony, no speeches, and to top it all off it was raining. No August Emperor had died before a rainstorm before, they were simply too good to do so. Of course, there had been perfect weather last week, but Hirana had been in Alksearia. So it was mostly her fault. Even though Morau was dead, Hirana couldn’t stop disappointing her.
Hirana had been the only one of her mother’s daughters, and despite being second-oldest had always been sixth in line for the throne, because Raonite law still didn’t let women inherit unless there were no suitable male heirs. She had grown up knowing what the crown had planned for her, which was to marry her off to some local noble in exchange for their loyalty, since royal marriages had gone out of fashion globally years ago. To her, the fact that she would never get the throne was a blessing, as she wanted nothing to do with the monarchy. When she was sixteen, she had left the palace and never looked back, except for when her mother had asked personally. And even then Hirana wasn’t happy about it. But then, all of a sudden, the rebellion came. Normally the emperor would personally lead the armies, but there was no emperor fit to lead – not according to the viziers, anyways – so her brothers were sent out, wanting to prove their worth, especially as people approved of the monarchy less and less. And very quickly Hirana had become fifth in line for the throne. Then fourth in line. Third. Second. And now, first. Hirana had thought that when she had left the palace twenty-six years ago, she would be free of Ni-Rao – free from the air that filled with smog and free from the people who treated her like an object, a pawn to be moved around, because of her sex and because of her heritage. But she was learning what so many of her people, fleeing violence and poverty, had - there is no escaping Ni-Rao. And now, she was here - in a country she hated, at the funeral for the one person who had cared about her, fighting a war she didn’t even want to win, and it was fucking raining. Not like that was uncommon here to be fair, but still, the symbolism was evident.
So here she was, Empress Hirana IV, standing with a black umbrella above her mother’s soon-to-be-filled grave, with pale knuckles and glazed eyes. There had been no coronation yet, and there would not be. The August Empire had lost its money, its friends, and its will to live, and now the whole damn system was doing its best to bring her down with it. And worst of all, Hirana couldn’t really see a good way out.
“Are you feeling alright, your grace?” She was snapped out of her musings by the cold, steely voice of Doran Imo.
“I am at my mother’s funeral, Imo,” Hirana responded simply.
“Of course, ma’am. Well, I hate to interrupt your contemplation” – that was almost certainly a lie – “but it would hardly be appropriate to finish this without some final words from the Empress Morau’s successor.” Hirana pursed her lips.
“I see. Very well then.”
“And, your grace, I would recommend doing it sooner rather than later, yes?” The way he said it, however, sounded less like a recommendation… and more like a demand. Oh, Hirana, what have you gotten yourself into now? Luckily, she was nothing if not a good actor – it was her job, after all. Well, not anymore, she supposed. Standing up and turning around to face the scattered attendees, she cleared her throat. Quickly, every one of them stood up as well. Okay, maybe the job did have some perks.
“At ease,” she said with a stern face, hopefully befitting that of someone who actually wanted to rule. “We are gathered here today to mourn the death of the August Empress Morau XII, leader of all Ni-Rao and my late mother. As your empress, she was thoughtful, compassionate, reserved, and wise, letting actions speak when words were not needed, and always leading with careful thought and consideration. Despite her origins” – Hirana suppressed a grimace at that line – “she earned respect and admiration from the nobility, from her subjects, and from the world. However, not even her greatness could save us from Ni-Rao’s greatest enemies: our own people, corrupted by ideas of socialism, rising against their empress under the thrall of a pretender. My mother cared about her people and worked to ensure their safety, as will I, and she also recognized that many changes were negative, and steered us away from them. The greatest shame is that she will not be here to see this war won. May she rest in peace.” Hirana finished to light applause, subdued but more or less respectful.
The remainder of the funeral was, well, uneventful - Hirana’s mother was lowered into the ground, nobody shed a tear, and the few who were in attendance went back to their estates. Hirana had flown in that morning, so now was the first time she was really taking in Nayraryuusai. It had been… what, thirty years since she had been here last? Everything was still in perfect condition, no doubt the work of a relentless - and very underpaid - cleaning staff. But the question remained: what next? What do you even do on the first day as empress of a country in the middle of a civil war? Hirana figured it was best to get settled in and… and look through her mom’s room. Just in case she had left something. Theoretically she could get a servant to do it, but they might not know what they were looking for - not that Hirana knew exactly what she was looking for either. Looking around, she spotted an older woman in a staff uniform and approached her.
“Excuse me, what’s your name?”
“Oh, you don’t need to know my name, your majesty” the woman responded with a customer-service fake grin.
“Please, I insist. And just call me Hirana.”
“Okay - my name is Gaorna, your majesty.” Hirana quietly sighed. Change took time, she supposed.
“Gaorna, will you please ensure my things make their way to a room? Any one will do,” she requested, gesturing towards the few suitcases she had brought with her.
“Of course, your majesty,” the old woman replied, bowing her head and scuttling off. Alone, Hirana slowly meandered up the massive main staircase. Despite being clean, the mansion still felt… abandoned. Since the government was temporarily (well, it had been three years now) operating out of Rora’s town hall, in order to make Nayraryuusai less of a target, there were very few people here. It was odd. While Hirana had always lived alone as an adult, she bounced between studio apartments and cast trailers, and at work she was always surrounded by hundreds of people. Living alone, somewhere this big, was almost frightening. Not entirely so, though, because she was a big girl and could handle it. Still, just to be safe she didn’t explore much – just made a beeline to where she knew her mother’s room was. Had been. Opening the noiseless mahogany door, Hirana stepped inside.
If Hirana hadn’t known any better, she would’ve said that no real person had ever lived in this room. There was barely a single sign of habitation – no clutter, nothing left out, no signs of any hobbies or activities. If someone had lived here, they were like a ghost (well, okay,). Still, Hirana knew there was something in this room, even just one thing Morau had left behind. Luckily, Occam’s razor worked out, because as an inquisitive Hirana opened the drawer of the nightstand, she saw a well-loved journal with a plush velvet cover. Score, the princess thought with a sly smile. Sitting down on the flowing, brilliant violet silk sheets of the perfectly-made luxurious poster bed, the young empress began to read.
Damn, 1950? This book had really been preserved well. That was the year… that was the day Hirana’s grandfather had died. She pressed on.
I'm not entirely sure how to start one of these, but I feel like I should try. My name is Morau, and I am fifteen years old. Earlier today, my father -- the August Emperor of Ni-Rao -- passed away. As his daughter and only child, the viziers say I should inherit the throne. Some people say girls aren't supposed to be leaders though. Most people, actually. And because of that Mr. Phoung stopped me today and told me that I would probably have a really hard couple of weeks ahead of me, but that soon people would see I could be a good leader too. He has good intentions, Mr. Phoung, but he has a tendency to be a little condescending. After all, I'm fifteen -- hardly a child. I bleed and everything. I know when he said a couple weeks he was understating it and it will probably for a long time. People don't like women very much. But that's okay because as
eEmpress I can fix it! I can make people nicer. So it will probably only be a year or so.
After the first paragraph, Hirana started skimming through. Entries were infrequent, only being once every few months, sometimes longer. Eventually, Morau had stopped dotting her is and js with hearts, and it seemed like after a while her youthful vigor started to wear down. Leading wasn’t kind to idealists, Hirana supposed. Ah, here was another interesting entry.
September 11th, 1956
Well, recent polls don’t look good for me. And the only thing that people seem to care about is that I’m not married! I turn twenty-two in three days, and now people are claiming that I’m “too old” to be single. Meanwhile I’ve been running this damn country just fine for six and a half years! I don’t need a man or Anybody for that matter coming in and “helping me!” Still, Roark was right. I’ll be able to do things with a lot less scrutiny if I just get married. And I’m never going to marry for love anyways – not that I could find somebody in this environment – so it isn’t like I’m trying to keep my options open. Still, it should probably be someone from one of the less power hungry families, rich enough to not arouse suspicion from me marrying a “commoner” but also not so rich that they’ve been planning a coup. Luckily, Roark also sent me some dossiers that I asked for on all the eligible bachelors. I hope you know, journal, I sighed out loud when I wrote that.
1. Arino Kyawal
- His people really like him, so he’s good for popular support
- The kyawals control most of the banks in Ni-Rao… could be useful
- The reason his people like him is because he’s an asshole. Figures.
- Generally known as somewhat sleazy, probably wouldn’t be the best look.
- The kyawals have long been pretty openly after the throne, no way that can go well.
2. Haliren Lukya
- Top of his class at officer school. The military is one of my biggest weaknesses as a leader, so he’d help.
- Is well-liked and respected by all his men
- Has a lot of friends in the aristocracy
- Well-known philanderer. I don’t personally care, but a scandal would not be beneficial.
- Could very easily overthrow me
- Tavaris might take it as a sign we’re preparing for war
3. Khiso Phaya
- Definitely not going to coup me, the phayas are weaker and they’re good friends of the crown anyways
- Polite, quiet and reserved. He’ll probably support me more than try to take power.
- The phayas have pretty serious ties to the mining industry, which could be a very valuable asset as we try to industrialize
- Not super well known. Sure, he’s well liked, but he isn’t going to be a good propaganda piece. Then again, as my husband, he’ll probably do enough to help my legitimacy
- Marrying someone from one of the “lesser” houses wouldn’t endear any of the aristocracy to me, but they don’t like me that much anyways…
I’ll need to think this over. I’ll probably announce it on my birthday so it reaches as many people as possible.
Khiso Phaya… dad. Well, Hirana didn’t have to wait in suspense; it was pretty clear which one her mother had ended up choosing. Though it had been weird to see that the choice had been so purely analytical. They hadn’t even met when they got engaged! Not like that was uncommon in Ni-Rao, but you would think the monarchy would have had it better. Hirana’s stomach began to turn. Would she have to… god, she didn’t even want to think about it! No, she would make sure she was empress on her own terms. Right? The princess shut her eyes tight and breathed – in for five counts… hold for five counts… out for five counts… hold again. Of course she would. Hirana was the empress now, after all. And if she won the civil war nobody would care what she did after that. She kept flipping through, until
November 28th, 1978
As I’ve suspected, the doctor confirmed this morning that I was pregnant again. It’s honestly a miracle, with Khiso’s fertility issues and the fact that we aren’t getting any younger. Though, it would feel like more of a miracle if it were happening to someone else, of course.
Still, I can't say I'm not somewhat excited... and obviously this will be a boost to my legitimacy. Although, I do hope it's a boy. I don't think I could stand to bring another girl into the royal family, just for her to be treated like I was. It would practically be insaperian to pass this on to someone else, I think. Selfishly, I think it would be nice to have someone who truly understands... but that would basically be psychopathic to do to someone. Of course, if it is a girl... well, I obviously can't abort; I'd be lynched - it wouldn't matter what I've done for the country. Still, though, I hope she'd do better... maybe she'd be okay, since she won't get the throne. Or maybe it's all just wishful thinking. But she'll need to be tough to make it... I'm not sure I have it in me to
Hirana quickly flipped forward, fighting back tears, when she realized she was flipping through blank pages and stopped. Slowly, she flipped back to the final entry.
Hirana slammed the book shut and stood up, her hands clenched into fists. She tried breathing again, but her breath wavered like a seesaw that she was too weak to stop. With a start, she sprinted out the room and down the stairs, almost tripping several times in her heels. She needed time to think that wasn’t in her dead mom’s room reading her dead mom’s journal. Hoping she didn’t look too crazy, she practically yelled at Gaorna, the elderly maid,
“So, uh, where did you put my room?” The woman pointed and began to speak.
“Awesome thanks bye!” Hirana shouted, speedwalking in the direction Gaorna had pointed in an attempt to look sane and also to not split her skull open. Testing every door until she found her own, she summarily fell onto her bed.
In, two, three, four, five.
Out, two three, four, five.
For the next hour or so, Hirana unpacked, trying very hard to not think about anything else, just finding nice little spots for her various trinkets. Trying to get the feng shui right and all that. Eventually, her heart rate returned to normal, and she pondered next steps. She had to speak to Doran Imo. Either he’d hear her out, or… well, she was the empress! She’d make him hear her out! Hirana sat down, and started formulating a plan. If her mother could make it work, so could she. Eventually, she thought of an approach that would ensure absolutely nothing could go wrong, and stood tall as she walked to Rora town hall.