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28 July 2010 @ 01:53 am
A Grand Design, Pt.1001  

I have a lot of story ideas flitting around in my belfry, too many to ever let them all out. Especially considering how lazy I am. I've proved to myself that I can put out a massive mound of work when properly motivated, however. On this journal I've outlined several ideas I've had for future projects, only bringing up the ones which I can immerse myself in to the extent where I know the full (general) story, and can feel the details itching to flow. If I were a short story writer, I'd probably be able to spit out one every couple of days, but those have never satisfied me. My taste is in depth. Even Robert Jordan's world, epic though it is in length, is too shallow for me. Tolkien is really the only fictional author who has given me the kind of richness of detail in plot, recursiveness in storytelling, and true mastery of the epic in time that my mind craves. And yet, I've studied Ancient Egypt, which filled in dynastic genealogies like Tolkien never could, and Greece, which contained a greater dysfunctional family of city-states than Niven could extrapolate into star-faring civilizations and impossible journeys that put Burroughs to shame. Roma was the Empire, one that dwarfed in its greatness and tragedy that other one dabbled in by Asimov. The Khans really knew how to rock a continent, which places them above the Hyborean Age in my book. Likewise, China's Middle Kingdom drew together strands of culture, wealth, and power that no fictional tyrant could ever dream of, even if his Empire was a whole galaxy far, far away. This is the kind of thing I love, and what I want to write. Yeah, I know, my imagination is not worthy of Tolkien's, much less ten million Romans. I have written something of a sweeping story, though, in my Sita Roryn project from last summer. It's basically only about two women, however, and takes place over only a decade or so. If I want to write something anywhere close to what I'd want to read, I'll have to think bigger.

So I've thought bigger. Actually, I've been thinking that big ever since high school, but my efforts were hardly worth mentioning. A scifi epic to straddle the stars, of course. Taking humanity from your next-door neighbors to the far future in places unimaginable. I've developed the story somewhat, which I've talked about here before. It's sort of an ongoing tale of two lovers, seemingly forever trading off living for hundreds of years and dying, leaving each other alone until the next cycle begins. I realize now how claustrophobic the idea is. Along the way, we might see civilization evolve, but it's directed by the main characters toward an ultimate flowering only they can see. And they're lonely. For hundreds of years, waiting. It's damnably unfair to the reader to outline the basic idea from the beginning and yet still go through all of the frustration and angst over and over. I need a story like the history of Ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire, that has a direction and destiny, but one that no one in the beginning could possibly have imagined. One that is not about two archetypical images on a Tarot card but many different characters in the great sea of history. Ah, a sea...now there's an idea.

I wrote the Sita Roryn project originally to keep my cousin in Antarctica occupied during the winter darkness, but also to study, if informally, a lot of what it takes to build an epic. I think I've learned a lot, maybe enough to get started on the real thing. I still have this young adult version of that project to finish and my story about the geeks in the `80s, but the big one is beginning to build within me. If I can hold onto it through these two novels, maybe I can do some real justice to my imagination. If I do, it won't be a continuation of Sita Roryn, because that's a world that belongs to three women (the third shouldered her way in while I was writing - what could I do? There had to be three, it seems) and one slice of time, kind of like Conan or John Carter. No, this will be analogous to the rise and fall of successive civilizations, told from the perspectives of many of their characters, both major and minor. Imagine Egypt, growing from mythical origins, later sharing political space with Mesopotamia and Greece, each of which having their own semi-fictitious origin stories, then all three conquered by one man of unprecedented ambition, Alexander. Imagine the further rise of Rome, the Eternal Empire that was so full of itself and so drunk on its power that it named the Mediterranean "Our Sea". The heights that Rome rose to and the scope of its power were unmatched in the West, but it stretched itself too thinly and finally unraveled under the feet of barbarians and a cult that it once had laughed at. Finally, civilization around the Mediterranean divided into the West, an uneasy conglomeration of warring sibling feudal states and, in the East, a gilded shadow of greatness, slowly shrinking under the pressure of a rising tide of Muslim fanatics. This is the kind of story I want to write. Too big for a single couple or even one dynasty. Hell, too big for one civilization. I want to bring agriculture into a world of hunters and fishermen, then stomp them down under the boots of soldiers. I want to build the First City, make it the mythical template for a hundred others, and have them all crumble as they are choked by the weeds of the New City. I want to write about the curious man who, four thousand years later, goes back to the buried ruins of that First City and finds that it was not the home of the gods after all. Oh, yeah, I'm loving this. There's even a place in it for three women, the unlikely warrior, the improbable princess, and the killer priestess. They wouldn't be called Roryn, Sindane, and Savane, but they should be recognizable. It won't be centered on them, however. Maybe they'll have their moment on stage near the beginning of the 'second empire', when the world really needs fighters with a vision for a future they won't see. But there has to be more, oh, so much more.

Okay, here goes another flight of fancy into the world of my imagination. I'm writing this out for the first time to try some of the ideas, not to cement them into a final order or design. I want the overall story to be a framework for each individual tale, not too different from Asimov's Robots-Empire-Foundation world except that there will be no single thread to tie them all together beyond the general struggle of people to live. It will be about four great civilizations, each in turn taking its place as the bastion of Order against outer Chaos, yet all (but the last) falling inevitably against the forces of change. Seen through the eyes of those on the ground (though at times being seen from afar by a person long before or after the fact), it will be shown only in part. I can't possibly give the whole story without losing all of the wonderful details, and would have to live a million lifetimes to give all of the details. So, I'll give it as it's seen from within, as the world at war was seen by priests and monks in the Chronicles of the Crusades or far palaces were described by alien visitors like Marco Polo, except that most of my tales will be in the third person (did I mention that I'm lazy?).

The First Empire

Beginning at a time when my toy apes are not quite domesticated, there exists many small fishing communities around a huge inland sea with one treacherous outlet into the stormy unknown to the far south. These villages barely know about each other and have little interaction beyond squabbling about fishing rights. Geographically, the sea lies within a much larger continent, with its tropical zone mostly dusted by a desert. North of it lies a vast mountainous region out of whose long and fertile valleys run several rivers that slowly become the onus for a new style of living. They aren't the vast sheltering valleys of our own past, so can't quite bear the first real agricultural civilizations. Out of one of these valleys comes a fighting man with ambition, however. He is driven from his valley home for trying to usurp the authority of the elder councils and ends up in the largest town in the delta of his river. He learns how to fish and realizes what those around him don't; that the sea's bounty is far more than they can catch and could feed a hundred times more people than themselves. He foments a struggle between two of the towns on the coast, becoming the chief of one and subduing the other. Then he sends word of the wealth of the delta back into the valley, coaxing young men with stories of water nymphs and fish that jump into the boats from sheer joy of wanting to be eaten. After a few years of coercion and open fighting, he is the chief of the whole delta, and finally takes on the names and titles that later will define "King". Let's Call him A1.

King A1 is really the king of a small delta among many along the coast, however, which his son and grandson in turn see and covet. The grandson, A3, as ambitious as his namesake, conquers his grandfather's valley in his youth and uses an army created from the conquered to overwhelm the neighboring river deltas along the coast, stretching his kingdom's borders far beyond anything seen before. One of these areas, a delta surrounding a river longer and wider than his grandfather's, proves a better place to build a fortress to secure his fortunes from newly-won enemies, so he moves his capital there and raises many walls and stelae proclaiming that this is actually the city founded by his legendary grandfather. Who's to say any different? By the time he grows old, generations of short-lived peasants have died since he took the throne. When he dies, he is worshipped as the God of the Great Mother's Issue, the place where the river unloads its red, fertile soil into what the people consider to be a limitless ocean.

Several generations later, the kingdom is rich, bloated with beaurocracy, and straddling the coast from the desert in the west to the border with its smaller, but no less strong, rival kingdom in the east. The throne is now held by an administrator rather than a fighter, B4, with the real strength symbolized by the ax in the hands of his Master of Soldiers. Despite the title, however, there is no large standing army, since the need for one only comes when the rival kings, distant cousins from an earlier schism, test the extent of the border. Then something new happens. The rival king begins sending raids by water, not large by army standards, but fast and surgical, sacking fishing villages and threatening some of the fortresses on the border from behind. King B4, seeing the danger if his rival should decide to scale up this tactic, mobilizes his whole kingdom of shipbuilders, working vaguely on the example of his oversized yacht, to build a fleet of the first true warships. With these, he begins to fight back against the raiders, but dies at sea from the inexperience of his warriors in naval warfare. His son, B5, is honed by many years of this and destroys the kingdom of his distant cousins, becoming the undisputed ruler of the northern coast from desert to desert, from mountains to seashore and beyond. Looking outward, he begins to send ships to every part of the sea, some to cities only rumored to exist, planning to give his descendents the entire world to rule.

This plan seems to be working for, after another schism and two assassinations, the empire is still strong after hundreds of years. There are rumors among the peasantry that the royal family isn't the same one as the God of the First City and the God of the Great Mother's Issue, but these are few and spoken secretly. There are many cities now, each one with temples reflecting the worship of the First Fathers and the Father of the Empire Sea, who lives under the waves. Goods from far off lands are brought into every port and sold to mayors and businessmen as riches befitting the kings they wish they were. The mountains to the north are being stripped of precious metals and jewels, and the sea and fields of the green valleys feed everyone until they can't eat any more. The only trouble comes from the ridiculous stories of fire and shaking earth coming from the islands far to the south, but no one takes them seriously. Until the last good day, when all the beaches and harbors of the empire empty of their water, and the waves return, building upon one another until they reach to the highest palace, and the last king, F3, drowns a hundred feet above the huts of his people.

Remnants of the empire exist, mines and villages deep in the valleys and fortresses on the periphery of the deserts, holding back dark and uncivilized outsiders. The fortresses are quickly abandoned when their supplies cease to come, but the inland villages remain and keep something of their culture, even after largely reverting to a simpler form of agriculture. Around the sea lie other remnants of the empire, places where the local chiefs had been replaced by those loyal to a now dead dynasty. These places remember the empire's greatness and seek to regain it, but for themselves. Instead, they are doomed to fight among themselves for several hundred more years until the old culture is mostly forgotten, the language mixed and changed to many different and incompatitble tongues. The empire is truly dead, its greatest cities wiped from the coasts and lost under cypress and jungle growth. Its greatest monuments seen as homes of ghosts and demons rather than the houses of living gods. With time, many are torn apart to build the lesser temples of bastard religions and palaces of kings who fancy themselves descendents of the First Fathers, yet make up the stories because they can no longer read the writing of their predecessors. In time, many new kings in the lands surrounding the inland sea claim to be the true King, but none can rebuild what was lost.

The Second Empire

Finally, a young man walks out of the ancient valley of the First Fathers, much as he believes they did long in the forgotten past (even though this is, in fact, the second center of that kingdom). This region is under thrall of a king to the east, who envisions himself as the heir to the Usurper, the legendary cousin who overthrew the empire once upon a time (even though this, like the original home of the kingdom, is a misinterpretation of history). The young man's people worship the First Fathers, but as grotesque parodies of men. They fear the Father of the Sea, whom they believe rose up to destroy a decadent and sinful society. The young man does not fear the sea or its ghosts, however. He sees the kingdoms surrounding the sea as degenerate dogs feeding on the remains of their dying master. Gathering a small group of like-minded friends, he starts a movement to take the empire back from its destroyers, praying to the Father of the Sea for vengeance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the persecution his people get from their rulers, the man's movement grows quickly. He soon gains the support of wealthy landowners, first secretly from a desire to annoy the king's tax men, then from fear as blood is spilled and villages begin to fall to him. While he matures, the man works provencial lords against one another, gaining a little more influence and warriors with each victory, until he threatens the kingdom to the east. With his two sons, he sails to the cities of the kingdom, sacking them mercilously and pulling down the statues of their gods and king. He finds that the king has been lax in his own defenses and goes against him openly, but both are killed on the battlefield, along with the man's older son. The younger thus becomes king of his native lands and the eastern kingdom, called G3 through a liberal rewriting of the immediate past, but he spends his reign fighting off the vengeance of his conquered people and leaves an empty throne for his war chief to fill.

The war chief marries his predecessor's widow and claims divine recognition to keep the throne, beginning a trend that becomes the tradition for many dynasties to come. King G4a makes solid advances in regaining the lost empire's presumed holdings, but can get not further than taking another kingdom on the narrow strip of green between the eastern desert and the sea. His son tries to follow in his father's footsteps, but he is killed while still a child by the fleet of another kingdom farther to the south. Another native of the northern province takes the throne and fights off this new threat, H1, cementing his family's place at the heart of the kingdom. Through three more generations, this "H" dynasty retakes much of the northern and eastern parts of the old empire, but they are held off by the kingdoms of the fertile south, who have long since learned to trade with the cultures beyond the straights separating the inland sea with the rest of the world. Decades of warfare on the sea are fought between these powers, but the northern kindgom eventually beats the rest, as they are divided and do not have the nationalist fervor (justified or not) of the Empire of the Fathers.

Even though the empire has been re-conquered, it has taken far longer than the original needed, but in fact holds much more land and riches. A few dynasties come and go, their internal problems largely ignored as long as the empire is strong. Although its royalty looks back to a mythical past as a paradise, they actually are lords of a far more powerful empire. This one is diverse in culture, despite early efforts to "northernize" it, and many gods are worshipped in its cities. These religions are tolerated as long as they make deference to the Fathers, and most of them rewrite their myths to include those Fathers as their spiritual ancestors. Some include earlier animalistic gods, though, and those of the deserts include the sun, moon, and stars in their theologies. This last group becomes significant as the ancient mines of the northern mountains run dry of gold, silver, and jewels. There are mountains to the west and south of the western desert where new mines are found, and a city on the coast becomes a hub of trade in minerals as well as a new center of worship. The religions of the sun, traditional favorites in the region, become paramount here once again, and this is reflected in the houses of the nobility throughout the empire. When King K7 finally makes this his capital, he adopts the mixed religion, and the sun becomes an integral part of the empire's theology, bathing the First Fathers and reaching even the Father of the Sea deep in his storied caverns below the mountain islands of the south. As the local priests are the final arbiters of trade in gold and jewels from the desert mines, they also rise in prominence until they rival the wealth and power of the kings.

The "K" kings replace many high priests with second sons in an effort to control the power of the priesthood, but they have a deeper problem. During the wars to regain the empire, many fortresses were built around the shores of the inland sea and regional governors put in place to quell uprisings and keep out expelled people. These governors are initially hand-picked by the kings, but eventually their offices become hereditary and their social life more localized. The "K" kings, seeking to free themselves of the more difficult duties of overseeing a sea-girdling empire, assign the governors more duties in their provincial temples and governments, thereby giving them more power and influence. Rivalries develop between provinces, and a few governors even presume to seek royal power. As the kings' prestige drops, they look more and more to the priesthood for support, and it comes. But with a price. Rather than have kings' sons become priests, high priests are allowed to head the navy and armies, and even marry into the royal family. The empire has been at peace for over a century, but a final struggle between a governor and his neighbors on the northern shore forces King K16 to intervene, and he is struck down by an arrow as he is disembarking at the ancient capital on a diplomatic mission. The king's oldest son and the naval commander quickly right the immediate situation, but the priests in the new capital sieze their opportunity and kill the remaining members of the royal family, cutting off the young King K17 from his empire. He goes into hiding and dies among his defenders in battles with neighboring governors who have decided to cut themselves away from the now splintered empire. The kingdom falls into disarray, with no leader powerful enough to raise a navy necessary to subdue the others.

The Third Empire

As it happened after the first empire's fall, a leader rises in the north with the support of believers in his ancestry and divine right to rule. This man, however, is a leader of fishermen. He comes to power by raiding villages in neighboring provinces and general piracy. This is forgotten as he kills the commander of a king's fleet in the east and blockades the capital until he is given tribute. This king recognizes his claim to the ancient northern throne and becomes his vassal. The new King L1 then embarks upon a reign of terror, destroying city after city along the sea's northern banks until he has won what before he only claimed. With each victory, he gets more popular support from his homeland, and so sends emmisaries to the old desert capital demanding tribute and recognition. This is rejected out of hand, so King L1 sails there directly and, in a surprise raid, burns it to the ground. When word of this gets to other provinces, many proclaim themselves supporters through fear, and L1 uses this to further intimidate others. Within two decades, this one man reclaims the empire, though not yet on a firm standing, and grants himself a place among the Great Fathers in the religious pantheon while still alive. Cementing his victory with the same cold tactics as he employed on the water, he takes the capital of the southernmost province, an island in the same chain where the volcano lies whose explosion destroyed the first empire. This is the legendary home of the Father of the Sea, and instantly becomes the headquarters of a new naval force that holds the empire in a tight grasp. Regional governors are replaced or killed, the mines in the desert reopened with the old capital left to crumble, and all political power is made exclusive to the new royal family.

Despite the empire's resurgence through untold amounts of bloodshed, it thrives under the strong rule of king after king, with each learning naval warfare as children and politics as a game of victory through strength and ruthlessness. Most of the empire does not feel the brunt of this tyranny, however, and supports the royalty with almost mindless enthusiasm. The "L" kings are seen as gods among men, with statues and stelae proclaiming this from desert to desert and northern mountains to southern straits. The conquerer's grandsons venture even farther, to the lands outside of the inland sea, where they make contact with strange peoples and two other vast kingdoms. They bring this news back to their brother, L3, who sends formal invitations to these kingdoms, and so begins political relations with them. He dies without issue, and his nephew becomes King L4. This man, raised on his own father's tales of the foreign kingdoms, dreams of conquering every nation in the world and so fights the empire's first war outside of the inland sea. L4 is not successful in destroying the outer kingdoms, yet returns with much exotic riches and tales of victory. His own son does the same, expanding the empire's influence but not its borders. When L5 dies, his two sons are still young, but the eldest seeks to cement his claim to the throne by finishing his family's work in the outer world. Instead, L6 and his fleet are destroyed utterly and the second son becomes King L7.

The second son was not being groomed to be king but, in the older tradition, was being trained to be high priest and head of the king's treasury. While a child, he had grown to worship his ancestors and the sun-as-First-Father as much as the most reverent of his people. As a young king, he turns away from the empire's mundane concerns and becomes an eccentric fanatic. L7's new naval commander and former friend supports him reluctantly from a steadfast loyalty to the crown, and the high priest, his main wife's uncle, supports him because he is to be given power over all of the empire's myriad religious centers. King L7 abandons the capital and builds a new one in the western desert, near where he believes the old capital had been buried by the sand. Without the navy's harsh rule to defend them, the provinces become victim to threats both external and internal, and the kingdoms beyond the straits send emmisaries who are turned back or ignored. King L7 believes that he is building a more peaceful world by showing all of his deference to the sun shrine of his fathers, and downplays the warnings of his commander and high priest. In truth, the priest seeks to complete the centralization of theocratic rule, and so urges the king to convert the empire to his own solar cult. This King L7 does happily, taking as truth the priest's claims of joy from the people and support from the priesthood. When matters in the provences become untenable, however, L7 sends his commander to make them stable again. With the navy gone, the priesthood rebels, twice nearly assassinating the king. During a third try, they kidnap the queen, kill her and one of her daughters, and leave their dismembered bodies in the sand deep in the desert. The king is beside himself with grief, but will not seek revenge, and poisons himself. A son, L8, rides out to fight the force raised by the priesthood, but is killed along with many of the palace's elite. The naval commander returns and supports a younger son, another second son fated to become King L9. Unable to stop the priesthood's rebellion, the naval commander negotiates with them through the high priest, conceding much royal power and reopening the temples of all the gods.

As a concession to the priesthood, the new capital is abandoned and returned to the southern island, which has become the center of worship in the powerful Sea Father cult. Again and again, the naval commander is forced to quell uprisings in the provinces, but King L9 is weak physically as well as politically and cannot go into battle. Plague arises in the provinces and touches even the capital, killing two of the king's older sisters and leaving him only with his sister-wife. He takes nominal control of the government at maturity, but only lasts another four years until he drowns in a fishing accident, leaving no heirs. By the time the naval commander returns to the capital, L9 is buried and the high priest has claimed the throne with the full (if grudging) support of the priesthood. Sad for the loss of the family that he has been forever loyal to, the commander yet understands his place and the present fragile political reality and reluctantly supports the new King L10a. L10a married the boy-king's widow in the old tradition, but is too old to beget a child on her. In frustration and in fear of his tenuous position, he has her killed and seeks to marry another of the former kings' widows. Instead, he dies without anyone's support, with the naval commander again seeing to security abroad. The commander returns to a capital in severe doubt, with priests vying for power and threatening to take the throne. The commander, seeing that none other in the empire is left with the power to lead, takes the throne himself and replaces all of the high priests in the capital's many temples. Although he, now L10b, spends much of his term of thirty years securing the provinces, he finds time to raise new monuments and stelae proclaiming his divine right and role as protector of Order. To find peace with the priesthood, L10b enacts a program of erasing the heretic king's, L7's, place on monuments and temples and then those of his family. Like the two before him, King L10b is unable to conceive a male heir, and grooms a younger naval commander as his son. When he dies, this soldier begins a new dynasty as M1 and, due in large part to the tireless efforts of the King L10b before him, is able to bring a lasting peace back to the empire.

Along with his personal propaganda, the King L10b had written a text condemning unfair practices by previous governments and the priesthood alike, which was copied and sent to every corner of the empire. This becomes the first written set of laws in the empire's history, making King L10b divine posthumously in the original tradition and setting these statutes against the unlimited power of future kings. While this is resented by the next few generations of the new dynasty M, they gain more by the peace he had won them and the mines that had been reopened. They still feel the need to justify their own reigns, however, and build the navy to ever larger and stronger numbers. Finally, by the fourth generation, King M6 has conquered his first land outside of the inland sea and seems set on more. This is left to his son, but it comes under his rule in due time. These two kingdoms hold their own wealth in minerals and food, being more fertile lands than those of the empire. They prove to be too far away to be ruled directly, and King M7 sets up governors from his ranks to handle them. With this rule comes the peace that the empire now enjoys within its own sphere and the legal guarantees offered to its citizens. Another empire becomes known through the governor of the first vassal kingdom, a potential rival that shows no interest in political relations, so King M7 keeps a wary eye on their dealings. When he dies, his oldest son is only six, and required to have a co-regent, but flourishes in the peace and grows into an expert sailor and astute politician.

When King M8, born during the time of the empire's greatest extent to date, comes of age, he sends emmisaries to the rival empire beyond the straits. They never return. He has foreseen this and believes himself and the empire ready to take on the challenge. M8 personally accompanies journeys to test and stretch the boundaries of the outer vassal kingdoms, gaining the trust of his governors and their people and much acclaim at home. This angers the king of the rival empire, who sends warnings and insults. To answer his own loss, King M8 has these emmisaries beheaded and their heads sent back along with their smashed messages. M8 expects war on the outer sea, but it comes instead through the western desert. The empire's mines are sacked, their stores robbed, and all the workers there slaughtered. Furthermore, the outer empire builds two large fortresses nearby and claimsthe mountainous region as their own. Having concentrated its military strength on the navy, the empire is forced to set these sailors out on the desert sands and train them as well as possible for a land war. Not willing to give up his prior aim, King M8 keeps a large fleet on the water and sends these toward the rival empire as his new army marches to the frontier. The army fares well, better in fact than the navy, thanks to M8's commander. He takes command of the fleet himself but, though he shows genius in battle, he is all but overwhelmed by the rival's superior forces. M8 is forced to retreat to his vassal state, where he sues for and gains an agreement for an accord between the two empires. This is written out, and calls for regular diplomacy between the capitals to forestall further conflict. For this, but more for his claims of total victory, King M8 is hailed on his return to the empire and urged by his wives and courtiers to take the precident of his predecessors and proclaim his divinity while still living. This he does on the event of his second twenty-seven year festival, and lives under the worship of his people until he's well into his eighties.

As he ages, King M8 builds more monuments, and larger ones, than ever before. These are only dwarfed by the tombs of the First Fathers, and gain him respect both within the empire and from visitors from afar. He's only able to do this because of the empire's burgeoning coffers, and these are filled largely from the two outlying vassal kingdoms beyond the straits. M8 has a harem of a size equal to his wealth, wives given to him by provencial and vassal governors, noble families, and even two princesses given to him by kings of the foreign empire. Although he gets many requests for marriages with his own daughters, M8 always refuses. The empire takes, it is understood, it never gives. As a result, M8 has many sons and outlives more than a dozen of them. When he dies, there are no fights for the crown between his survivors, but three of his sons die on the throne within four years. The last, M11, has a much younger heir, so M12 has a long and peaceful reign. When the next king, M12, is in his first decade, however, the outside empire also gets a new king. This man doesn't share his predecessors' feelings about peace, and he begins to encroach upon the lands of the vassal kingdoms. This is done gradually, with coercion rather than armed combat, but his aim is clear: he wants to expand his borders at the expense of the inland sea empire. King M12 sends letters of disapproval, which are answered with flowery apologies. But the encroachment continued nevertheless. One of the vassal governors, now more of a king in his own right, complains that he's being forgotten, and M12 sends an emmisary to the outside empire to negotiate. This man returns in a box with a letter stating that the prior agreement was a forgery and that any requests made will be considered insults. King M12 is enraged and calls for war, but his advisors suggest that he rebuild his forces first and make a long term plan in order not to be forced into the same situation as the great King M8. This proves disasterous, as the outside empire has already been preparing and begins a full-scale invasion of the vassal states at once, taking one of them within a year.

King M12 sails to war with what he has and begins well with a few victories, but is turned back before he can save the second vassal capital. He fights the rival's forces to a standstill, but loses most of the land and resources beyond the straights that his acestors had taken. M12 dies emotionally broken and, although his people are told little of his losses, it is obvious from the drop in trade and disappearance of tribute and stores of precious metals. His son and grandson have some success against the rival empire, but it steadily progresses in tactics and war materiel while the "M" kings remain staunchly proud of their adherence to tradition. After only two more generations, all of the outer lands have been lost and the islands of the straits and western desert have been heavily fortified to keep out the enemy, further depleting the stores of what is quickly becoming a poor government. That the glory days are past is a story spoken on almost every tongue, and attested to by the paranoid kings placing their tombs into deeply carved caves in a valley of the eastern desert. Through another several generations, this uneasy peace lasts, but the empire grows so poor that the priesthood begins secretly robbing earlier tombs and recycling the metals and jewelry they find. A few who are opposed to this and afraid that the bodies of the royals will be lost reinter many of them in a cave far from the royal valley. Ironically, the only grave in the valley that survives this is that of the heretic king's last son, L9, the last one of his bloodline and one of those who had been erased from the royal linneage. His tomb does not survive because of this, however, but because the valley has flooded several times, covering the entrance with many feet of rubble. Even the King M8's tomb was robbed, leaving his body to be interred with the others, stacked like firewood. during the seventh generation after the great king, the volcanoes of the central islands become active again, destroying whole towns and causing earthquakes that all but level the capital. In fear of their seemingly angry gods, the king and people leave, fleeing to a secondary city on the eastern coast, but the damage to the empire's reputation is fatal. Once again, provincial governors rebel, finding that their local militias can easily fight off emperial ships and troops. What's worse, the outer empire overruns the fortresses in the western desert and begin taking over cities on that coast. Several governors claim to be king simultaneously, overshadowing the efforts of the hereditary one, M19, and all of the provinces fall to the outer empire in turn except those in the north, which retreat into the mountain valleys. The last empire ruled by natives has fallen.

The Fourth Empire and the End of Native Rule

The first foreign ruler, M20a, is a brother of the outer empire who brings in a navy powerful enough to quench any attempts to rebel. A road is built through the western desert, connecting the empire with one of its former vassal states and, further, to the outer empire. Within a generation, much of the governments of the provinces are replaced by foreigners and many of the empire's temples are taken by priests of foreign gods. The King M19 is held a prisoner until he dies, then his family is killed and placed with him into a traditionally built, if spare, tomb in the royal valley. The foreign lord has a relatively short reign, ending when he dies of a fever. He's replaced by a foreign official who has proved both loyal and able to deal with the natives. This begins what is to become a new dynasty, the "N" kings, with subsequent rulers taking on the titles and rituals of the natives, though they do not mix blood with them. Along with the change in government, the foreign rule brings with it innovations in culture and technology that the natives at first find heretical, even horrifying. Long reigns of foreigners showing a measure of tolerance for native culture asuage much of this, and the two eventually grew inextricably mixed. After the first foreign dynasty ends in an internal coup, a second begins wherein many native-born are given minor offices. This practice largely ends when the outlying empire is itself overthrown by a religious movement that spreads to every part of both. The inland sea's empire's temples, long since impoverished by attrition, are closed or taken for use by the new religion. The government is replaced by a group of clergy who claim to believe in equality under the new way but, in practice, allow secondary and provencial officials to exclude native rule. Even though the natives have no special love for the foreign kings, they see the dethroning of the last, O13, as the final end of their empire. The greatest irony, and the deepest sadness for natives who know of their history, is that the general standard of living rises again and technology and learning advance in ways that it has never done under the traditional system. In the north, however, rebels fight courageously for many more decades against the foreigners until they're all killed or captured and imprisoned. An interest grows among the foreign nobility for stories about the ancient empires and objects from them, but it's mostly a condescending kind of nostalgia for a primitive paradise that exists only in the stories.

Notes about how the story might be written

The first thing I have to say is that I haven't yet thought of how to name the kings or the empire, but you probably guessed that. Names are a tricky thing in ancient culture, even what they called their own countries, so I'll hold off on that until I have the time to think about it in more depth. I can imagine a system not too distant from the Ancient Egyptian one, upon which this is largely based. It also has shades of Pre-Roman Mediterranean cultures, so I might throw in some identifiable allusions to those. There won't be any direct parallels; my "Tutankhamun" won't be called "Fruitincommon". Even the more recognizable stories won't be so recognizable once I've twisted them around some. I want to echo some of the main themes, though. The conquering native Theban and the heretic king are two that are just too hot to pass up. I'll also be adding in some queens, both those trying to rule after the deaths of their husbands or brothers, like several in Egypt, and one or two who took power for themselves and had a true reign, like Hatshepsut and the Cleopatras. Before everyone starts screaming that I've left them out because I don't consider them important, it's really because they are unique in ancient history, even the Ptolomaic Queens who were of Greek descent. Much more thought has to be taken as to where and how they come to be queen than the men who, after all, basically either get it by genetic accident or by usurping the throne. I believe men like Horemheb were different, so I've included what amounts to the whole Amarna Period. I'll probably mix it up a little, but keep at least three of the primary figures.

This leads me to the next topic. I've defined the timeline by dynasties and kings, but most of the stories (probably short or long, randomly), will actually be about secondary or tertiary characters. The tale of the First Father might be told by a friend-turned-official-chronicler, as a story-behind-the-official-story. This story will again be told in part on later occasions, as legend by a peasant in the first intermediate period, as myth by a priest in one of the later empires, and as a hypothetical reconstruction by a foreign "scientist" of the last period (I used "foreign" pointedly for the outer empire, as all of the separate groups would consider each other foreign in the beginning). Likewise, many different kinds of people can be followed in the different periods. A soldier rising through the ranks of the first empire to become the high commander of the army, only to watch the destruction of his civilization by a massive tsunami from the northern mountain slopes while vacationing at his "summer home". Two peasants looking back to the lost (first) civilization with alternatively a sigh of awe from one and a shrug from the other. The actual youth who rises up to take back his homeland at the beginning of the second empire. A young woman sent to become a minor queen during this period, only to be left holding the crown after many assassinations and battles (this might have actually happened to a few tragic queens in Egypt's Old Kingdom). The possibilities are legion, and should come to me when I decide which parts to concentrate upon.

The point is to take a survey of the civilization, across time and class, showing how much and how little things changed throughout. This also is mostly based upon my studies of Ancient Egypt and Rome, which show an astonishing amount of cultural inertia among the lower classes, with cultural developments happening much faster among the royalty and nobility (but still glacially by modern standards). I want to show the development of the religion, the meaning of being a king and public opinion of the kings, the changing roles of women and the peasantry, the overall swings of power and how they affected (or rather, didn't affect) the lower class, the amazing variety of landforms and how this was reflected in the culture (and how it affects history), and the reasons behind and efforts involved in building the great monuments, as well as how these were seen by the people (some statues in Egypt were themselves deified and given their own small shrines!). Specifically, I want to show things like: the power of visual propaganda in an age when writing was considered to be truth in a way we can barely understand and most of the population was illiterate, how the different classes were seen as different kinds of people (as the Indian caste system can come close to even today), how the theology pervaded every corner of the people's lives (to the extent that the gods practically walked among them), the variety of cultural artifacts (while coming in a very limited number of "types" like pots and beds, combs and sandals), and the comprehensive nature of their culture (how every person and thing had its place in this world and the next). These are what archaeologists learn about, not just the names and fates of kings and queens. Through writing my Sita Roryn project, I think I've learned how to instill the stories with all of these elements and string them together in a way that is understandable, if not quite linear.

This is the last point: I want to build a world through its parts, from the bottom up and from pretty random points of view rather than by telling a single narrative of the various dynasties. There were too damned many kings (emperors, whatever) in the ancient world to do that and keep a reader of fiction interested anyway. There were 30 dynasties of Ancient Egypt and who really knows how many "official" Emperors of Rome and Byzantium. No one knows how many Greek kings there were in the various city-states, much less the earlier cultures in the Mediterranean. The Hittites? The Hyksos? Don't even try, but there were hundreds of kings of various levels of power throughout the region. Only a very few, like Alexander and the Caesars, became infamous enough to be known universally in their own time, and whole swaths of ancient civilizations have been lost because their writing (when they did write) was simply destroyed. I want to give a better picture of an ancient-ish civilization than is normally shown through encyclopedia articles and pretty pictures. I think I can do it, but I have to do it to find out.

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