The Presidential Picaresque
Prologue I: Hlenderian Myth and Reality
Your average person of some worldly education knows a few major facts about the Commonwealth of Hlenderia. The first of these is its position at the southernmost extremity of Gondwana, on the island of Hayaneste. The Commonwealth shares Hayaneste with the Staynish territory of Joralesia, though a sizable irredentist faction, members of which we will be spending some time with in this telling, considers the Staynish settlers there to be intruders occupying what should rightfully be the nation’s “Northwest Provinces”. The history of foreign settlement on Hayaneste is too deep to elaborate upon in this short prologue, but suffice it to say, colonists from numerous nations have been drawn to the mineral wealth of Hayaneste – a hunger which, we will discover, Hlenderians of all sorts are more than happy to satisfy in their own way, despite their hatred of all things foreign.
The second fact, known to many who could not even find Hlenderia on a map, concerns its status as a “hermit kingdom”. This perception of the Commonwealth persists even today, despite efforts by His Majesty, King Yendrin, and President Marsilamat Indari – the protagonist of this story - to rectify what they both perceive to be a problem threatening the country’s future prosperity. Quotas on tourism to Hlenderia were entirely lifted in 2004, though quotas on immigration have hitherto been only very slightly reduced. Indeed, the burgeoning cottage industry of cruises to Semipterna have made some Hlenderians very rich – though this new class itself lobbied hard to ensure that the tourists could not choose to stay in Hlenderia after their 20-day sojourn to the southern ice caps.
The third fact is also mixed with rumor and stereotype. Hlenderia, any student of sociology could tell you, is split between three ethnic groups, united – delicately – by a common religion and language. This student would further divulge to you the names and characteristics taught to them regarding each tribe. The wealthy Vrotrim, in the temperate western region of Hayaneste, most closely resemble upstanding members of the modern world; their values are liberal, their religious strand modernized and smoothed over by foreign melding, and they prefer to resolve disputes by negotiation. The Mūnim, located in the tundra and taiga-transition in the southern and eastern parts of the island, are the complete opposite: they live in traditional villages, practice a form of religion that has not changed for hundreds of years, and possess extreme reactionary views of the world. Finally, the Kwarim, located in the northern and central parts of the nation, are in the middle of these two extremes, and this moderation has ensured their great political success. Both the King of Hlenderia and President Indari – whose story we will begin soon – are great Kwari political operators.
This sociology student would further tell you that the three Hlenderian ethnicities hate each other more than they cooperate, and they are only countrymen in the loosest sense of the word. As one Joralesian poet said about his neighbors to the south - “The land of the midnight sun / where the spindly trees of the forest have hid myriad crimes”. It is true, of course, that pre-contact Hlenderians often sorted out disagreements through violence, sometimes with the approval of the governing authorities. But the last “Great Feud”, in which two fighting families took turns murdering each other until they were both extinct, took place in the 1800s, and modern feuds often fizzle out, or are put down, after only three or four such murders. King Yendrin’s infrastructure-frenzy has ensured that regional gendarmes can often intervene if two families come to violence in the country’s vast interior.
All together, some of this sociological received wisdom is correct, some is not, and the majority is partly-right and partly-wrong. Hlenderia, in the second decade of the 21st century, contains nearly 26 million people, with a wide range of motivations and beliefs, regardless of what some say their tribe or faction “should” believe. Indeed, some – such as the subject of our story, President Indari – could be accused of believing in nothing.
Prologue II: The Kwari Way of Life
Marsilamat Indari was born in the mid-1970s in north-central Hlenderia, in Kwari land, though near the border of traditionally Mūni territory. Ethnic borders at this time, and in this part of the country, had become more or less set. Most land in this region of the country was owned by the families that lived on them, and Indari grew up on his family’s homestead just outside the mid-sized town of Isherrith, a mill town that processed lumber and made paper. Isherrith, population 3400, is located in a part of the country rich in pine and fir, and is far enough north that the temperate forests were thick and the land fertile – as opposed to the alkaline soil in the taiga further south.
Despite this, Isherrith is the center of a community that is largely rural. One main road connected the town to the Kwari cities along the north coast, and in the winter it could snow over for five to seven days until equipment made its way down. Therefore, the Kwari here live a life that was more traditional and self-sufficient than their urbanized kin. They often govern themselves, with occasional visits from provincial authorities. In the center of Isherrith, like most Kwari communities, is a large building that serves as town hall, ballroom, indoor farmers market, and whatever other need arose for it. A Hlenderian temple, known as a “chapel” regardless of its size or opulence, is located on the outskirts of the settlement and contains a large crematorium and cemetery, each essential for the ancestor-venerating local traditions.
Among the Kwari, political office-seeking is seen as a way to enrich oneself and their family. It is considered a job or a career, rather than a public service as the western Vrotri or foreign elements might view it. In Isherrith, the Traditionalist Kwarim party has a monopoly on power, and to become “involved in politics” is synonymous with joining this party. In this area of Hlenderia, what in other nations would be called nepotism and corruption were so endemic to the political order as to be entirely unremarkable to the governed, except for a general grumbling about the cost of doing business. It is at this time, and in this place, that the future President of the Grand Council of Hlenderia would grow up and enter politics.