Chapter 4 - The Children of Zion
With war once again looming on the Valley’s horizon, King Thao I approaches local moneylenders in an effort to secure a small loan to fund the war. Backed by promises of quickly paying them back once the war is over, he manages to get 200 gold from them, which allows him to hire a band of mercenaries to help shore up the Valleyan army, which is still recovering from the Mormon War.
Just as the Valleyan army is gearing up for the war, King Thao I receives an interesting letter from a mercenary captain known as Cooper; apparently, his band of men was hired by Socal months ago, but they have yet to be paid for their services. Captain Cooper proposes that King Thao I hire him and his group instead; promises of a deep discount and knowledge of Socal tactics and plans is enough to entice the king and he agrees to the captain’s proposal.
Word of the Charger’s betrayal reaches the king of Socal and they are forced to quickly flee into the Valley; while many Chargers die, Captain Cooper manages to reach friendly lines and provide the information he promised the king. Apparently, the Socal army plans to quickly march into the Central Valley and propose an alliance between themselves and Prefect Graham, allowing for a swift conquest of the Valley. King Thao I issues orders for his bureaucrats to watch his uncle, dons his armor, and heads off to battle; he cannot allow the Imamites to reach the Central Valley, for he is sure that Graham will eagerly join them.
In March of 2674, the King of Jefferson finally comes of age; King Thao I’s sister Skylar is quickly married off to him, further cementing the ties between the two kingdoms. While King Stanford II cannot become directly involved in the war, he sends a small gift of gold to King Thao I and his best wishes for a quick resolution to the fighting.
The Valleyan army engages the Imamites at Tehachapi, hoping to cut off the main force before it has a chance to enter the Valley proper. The Chargers prove themselves during the battle and the following siege, where they are key in the capture of city.
The victory celebrations are cut short when news arrives that the main Imamite force used the Battle of Tehachapi as a distraction, so that they could slip past the Valleyan army and make their way via Ventura. At Bakersfield, a small Valleyan rearguard is defeated by the Imamites, before the main Valleyan force can reinforce them.
When the Valleyan army arrives at Bakersfield, ready to fight, they instead find that they have missed the Imamite army yet again; while they were marching double time to break the siege of Bakersfield, the Imamites once again slipped past them and liberated Tehachapi.
This game of cat and mouse does not anger King Thao I, but rather fills him with a general sense of malaise; he is not eager for yet another prolonged war in Socal that forces him to put his plans on hold. His court physician, Ricardo, claims that the king is suffering from Slow Fever and issues a rigorous schedule of nature walks to “clear the lungs of the smells of civilization.” This does nothing to help the king feel better.
The king’s health continues to worsen and Ricardo’s treatments become more and more bizarre; this culminates in throwing King Thao I into a room full of angry bees and allowing him to be stung several times. The strange thing is, these treatments work, and the king begins to feel better.
King Thao I’s health recovers just in time for the latest philosophical work from the Emperor, a great tome that is a dialogue between a hermit and a king; by the end of it, the king has given up all his worldly possessions, including his throne, to the much more capable hermit. While the Hermit King is extremely popular, it does not take King Thao I to realize that Emperor Mickey’s latest work is simply all about how he should surrender to the Imamites, abandon his throne, and live a simple, peaceful life in the hills. He very carefully throws the book into a well, without reading it beyond the third chapter.
Word reaches California in October of the fall of the Caribbean Empire; the parallels between it and California are apparent, as the last Empress of the Caribbean was weak and surrounded by infighting. A dark cloud seems to pass over the Empire, as people feel they are in the end days of the once great Golden State.
Suddenly, in December of 2675, the Imamites sue for peace, giving up their claim on the Valley. While no one can prove it, rumors swirl that King Thao I’s spies had a hand in the sudden change of priorities for the Imamites; the sudden rising of several Cetic rebels within Socal cannot be tied back to the Valley, but it is true that the Valley’s coffers are lighter than they were a few months ago. Whether true or not, people begin to refer to King Thao I as “the Shadow,” but usually in a whisper.
Peace returns to the Valley and with it comes more reforms. King Thao I continues to remove supporters of his old council and replacing them with competent and loyal bureaucrats.
The royal court also celebrates the marriage of the king’s brother and heir, Prince Khais; his bride is the daughter of the Prefect of Kern. While nothing special, the marriage provides the Valley with much needed stability and revenue.
The New Year brings excellent news: Ricardo is confident that King Thao I is on the mend, and gives him a clean bill of health.
Now that he is well, King Thao I travels to Sacramento to expand his influence over the Imperial Court. Bucking tradition, he does not name Prefect Graham as his regent, but rather his new father-in-law, the Prefect of Kern. Prefect Tubrog continues to oversee the king’s bureaucratic reforms, which are now in full swing.
While in Sacramento, King Thao I works to project an image of a model Cetic king in defiance of the rumors about him and his family. When offered a second helping during a meal with the Emperor, the king declines, which contributes to the image of him as a temperate and moderate ruler.
Tuolumne continues to be seen as a center of learning, equality, and higher learning; again the people of Dorado bring forward a suspected witch and, in line with the king’s previous decision, Prefect Tubrog demands they release the woman and invites her to stay in the court as a respected scholar. People begin to speak of King Thao I’s ambition to collect all knowledge and prove himself as a worthy successor to House Yudkow.
In August, King Thao I returns home from Sacramento, having secured his position in court. He immediately begins work on a book, which is rumored to be a refutation of the Hermit King; thanks to his open door policy regarding philosophers and scholars, it promises to be a great work. More and more, it appears as though Sacramento is not the center of the Empire, but rather Tuolumne.
The Valley enjoys nearly a year of peace and prosperity, which comes to an end in April of 2677, when a pandemic begins to sweep through Tuolumne; the people of the city immediately blame the spread of the disease on the local cat population. Wishing to come to some sort of consensus, King Thao I sends out the royal doctors and scholars to study and examine the cats of Tuolumne. They ultimately come to the conclusion that the cats are not to blame, though the king orders them to keep a few of the beasts around for further study.
One month later, Prince Khais has his first child, a girl who he names Fine. King Thao I is overjoyed at his new niece, as he still does not have a child of his own.
Perhaps longing for his own child, King Thao I begins spending more and more time with the cats he obtained for examination and becomes more and more attached to a small cat he named Mittens. Soon, the two are inseparable and King Thao I’s mood improves significantly. When a mob shows up at the castle demanding that all cats in the city be driven out and killed, the king picks the meanest looking cat and publicly executes it, claiming it is the source of the disease in Tuolumne. Not long after, the pandemic dies down and life returns to normal.
In October, King Thao I uses his connections in the Imperial Court to force his uncle to name him as the next Governatus of California. Forced by court politics well beyond his ability to control, Prefect Graham names the king as the next Governatus during an impressive ceremony in Sacramento.
While on the surface, Governatus Graham, Emperor Mickey, and King Thao I are all pulling together to protect all of California, underneath it all is a shadowy war for control over the future of the Empire. With his position as Governatus heir secure, the king puts into motion a plan long in the making: the untimely death of his beloved uncle.
King Thao I receives a strange message from Gran Francisco in March; apparently the current king, Walter the Wise, has fallen in love with one of his courtiers and is requesting the king’s permission to marry his lady love. While it does not result in a formal alliance, King Thao I agrees to King Walter’s request; he figures that having the richest of the five kingdoms predisposed to liking him isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
March is the month of weddings it seems, as Princess Opal finally comes of age and her and the king finally marry. The royal court is hopeful that this marriage will produce a heir.
In June, Prefect Graham, perhaps sensing the vultures preparing to dine, invites his nephew to his court for a feast, hoping to mend fences. King Thao I surprises everyone by accepting his uncle’s invitation, if only because he is curious about the gesture.
During the feast, the prefect invites the king to join him in playing an Old American board game known as “Monopoly.” The gaming session is intense, but with some creative cheating, the king is able to win. The joy of beating his uncle fills King Thao I with a love of all things related to gaming, and he leaves the feast with a new passion.
On the New Year, the king’s loan comes due. King Thao I tells the moneylenders to leave him alone and banishes them from his castle. While he doesn’t have to pay his loan, his public image takes a noticeable hit.
But, this black mark on his honor is soon forgotten, as he takes the money he would’ve had to give to the moneylenders and instead invests it back into improving Tuolumne; he improves the castle’s walls and opens up a new public hospital, which is staffed with some of the greatest doctors in California.
The royal court’s culture of philosophy, learning, and debate continues to flourish under King Thao I’s gentle care, but unlike many rulers, the king also joins in the frequent debates and discussions. When the topic of the American Dream comes up, King Thao I makes it known that, to him, the American Dream is not one of learning or of living a simple life, but rather one of conquering all your enemies and driving them before you. He says this while looking at Prefect Graham; not long after, the prefect packs up his office in the capital and returns home to the Central Valley.
In April of 2680, Emperor Mickey the Holy dies and is succeeded by his brother, who is crowned Emperor Reuben II. Emperor Reuben II is a much more vital man, who has strong opinions about what the Emperor’s job is and exactly where the five kings fit within that picture. His first action is to force the Regulated Inheritance Act of 2680 on to the five kingdoms; essentially, the five kingdoms cannot inherit lands from each other, and that the five crowns will never be united under a single king.
As a message to the Kings of California, it is clear: the days of the weak Emperors are over and that the authority of the Imperial Throne is absolute. But where the other kings worry about this new age of Imperial oversight, King Thao I sees the chance he has always been waiting for; with the Kings unhappy about Imperial overreach, he is confident that, should he make his move now, the Emperor will find himself without allies. And so, the king beings to put his plans into motion.