Excerpt from A History Of Our Noble City by historian Tacus, in the year of Our Lady Esmerelda 5.
With the ascension of Our Lady Queen Esmerelda to the throne, following the death of her father Saul at the age of 86 in his bedchambers, I deemed it imperative to consider the question of how the peoples of Larus find ourselves in this unique position: ruled by both a queen and a sorceress, and them one and the same.
The blame lies with our late king Saul, a forceful personality who showed himself always willing to ensure a smooth path for his daughter (often, and deliberately, without her knowing). But to truly understand this calamity we must delve into the distant past.
A thousand years ago, the depravities of King Gregory III showed Larus the dangers of magic. When madness and dark humors drove him to purge the city, he turned stone roads to liquid, and trapped a hundred hundreds in stone that reformed and consumed them. Half the city perished in the massacre.
The remaining peoples banded together and, with the help of a few loyal mages, overthrew the mad king.
But magic persists. And the new kings found it advantageous to channel sorcerers for their own ends, rather than relinquish these weapons.
The new kings of Larus, none themselves sorcerers, kept a small cabal of magicians loyal to the crown. These men and women could melt prisons to rescue important prisoners, or melt small gaps in a foe’s castle walls through which they could enter, or sabotage the actions of the foe in a hundred ways. Most importantly, they could counter the actions of enemy sorcerers.
But while the royal family saw their uses, Larus’ commoners loathed magicians, and so their presence remained by necessity a secret. Never would they fight on the front lines of a battle. Instead they were sent far afield, spies and assassins and saboteurs with which regular soldiers and even nobles would never be familiar.
Eliar broke tradition in admitting her sorcery, and Esmerelda shattered tradition by openly proclaiming herself, but they were the first two in a thousand years. So far as the common folk knew, every sorceress who lived since Gregory III was burned at the stake. A few even were, to maintain appearances. A necessary sacrifice for the stability of the kingdom.
In order to prevent the cabal from overthrowing the royal line and seizing power, the kings made use of Blood Magic, discovered by the wizard Erdos in the distant past.
Upon blood, with the sacred enchantments carved into them, each sorcerer swore three Blood Oaths:
First, to obey absolutely the king’s commands. In order to prevent the mages being employed in internecine squabbles between members of the royal line, the Oath bound them only to the king.
Second, to commit no harm to the king, nor to threaten the king or another member of the royal family. This Oath eliminates all forms of coercion and blackmail by which a mage might turn the king into a puppet behind which he could rule.
Third, to never conspire to seize the crown. No mage may attempt, by force or by honeyed tongue, to be named heir, or entered into the line of ascension. Nor may any mage attempt to seize power when a king dies.
A Blood Oath, once taken, cannot be violated. Violation caused excruciating death within a day.
Before the reign of Esmerelda, each child in Larus was tested for magic on their seventh nameday. The Testing pushed the child into conditions of stress and pain, in order to manifest any latent powers. Beatings were not uncommon. Rarely were children killed, and this small sacrifice enabled the smooth functioning of the kingdom. Royal children were doubly Tested, for before Esmerelda all were aware of the dangers of a sorcerer also in line for the throne. Though the Blood Oaths ought prevent him from seizing it, still one cannot be too careful.
It is worth noting that Esmerelda has ended this practice. This may have calamitous consequences.
Before the reign of our current queen, those who were discovered to be mages were inducted into the secret and somewhat sacred cabal of mages in Larus, and instructed in the use of magic by their elders. (Esmerelda never seems to have entered into an apprenticeship resembling this one, which makes it a double wonder that she has gained adequate control of her magic to avoid destroying the city.) When a child was inducted into the cabal, the Blood Oaths were sworn.
Though piecing together any history in Saul’s notoriously secretive reign is difficult, the king appears to have simply told his council that Esmerelda had been Tested and was not a mage. A less forceful personality would not have been able to carry off this deception, for any council of sound mind would know the dangers of a royal-born mage and would have insisted that Esmerelda’s Test have witnesses. But Saul’s word was law, clad in iron.
It is uncertain whether or not Saul knew, when deceiving his council, that our current queen was a sorceress. Certainly he knew a great many things he never revealed until the time was right. It is likely, however. Saul always wanted his daughter to have power and serve as a strong queen, and would have known that the Blood Oaths would make this impossible. Likely he knew the truth and hid it.
This may have troubling consequences for the realm, for a precedent has now been set that resurrects the old sorcerer-kings who wreaked such harm. Esmerelda’s decision to discard the Testing and the Blood Oaths will give sorcerers a new reign of freedom. While she talks of implementing new safeguards to prevent mages from destroying the city, this is unlikely to serve. For several hundred years, sorcerers have been selectively chosen and sworn on pain of death to serve the crown in all things. They are magically incapable to disobeyment, from the age of seven until their dying day. Giving these potent beings the same degree of freedom owed a non-sorcerer may well doom the floating city.
Worse, one of these creatures may take the throne—or be born to it. Certainly Esmerelda seems innocuous enough—though her enemies may have a different estimation—but her daughter, or her daughter’s daughter, may not be so predisposed to kindness. If such should take the throne and also have the powers of her sire, than Gods help us to once more cage the evil that she and Saul have unleashed.
—Tacus, The Year of Our Lady Esmerelda, 5