Even more than some, today’s entry doesn’t feel like a complete story to me. I wrote it, like many things, to try to explore a genre that I’m not familiar with. I’m posting it even though I don’t think it really worked out, because I promised myself that I would be okay with that some days on this blog.
“They are protesting again,” said Councillor Ranus. He adjusted his eyeglasses, as though it would allow him to better see the crowd in the distance, where it gathered in the Mall.
In truth his glasses didn’t help him see anything. His vision was perfectly acute. He wore them so that his colleagues would perceive him as more distinguished. For the same reason, he wore a long, braided beard, in the style of a man many years his senior. Among the Councillors, he was the youngest, and thus often the least respected. His beard, a dark black, had yet to fade to grey, though he had at times been tempted to color it artificially.
“So they are,” said Councillor Agamen. He squinted through the window, an act that Ranus found amusing. Agamen did need visual aid, but he refused it so that he didn’t appear weak before his peers. Among the Councillors, he was the oldest and the most frail.
If one knew only of the frequency of his dalliances with women, one would assume him to be an entirely different age. Even now, concerned as he was about the protestors, Agamen’s eyes turned frequently to the woman cleaning the hall down the way.
“Why do they insist on challenging us?” Agamen asked, looking out the window once more. From their viewpoint on the third level of the Assembly House, the councillors could see just one edge of the Mall through the buildings. The grass was completely occluded by the number of people. “They must realize at some point that we are right.”
Ranus looked at his companion sideways. “That’s the entire point, Councillor. They don’t believe us to be right.”
Agamen tapped his cane on the floor. The sharp report of wood on granite echoed through the hallway. The cleaning woman jumped. “It doesn’t matter what they believe! What matters is that we have their best interests at heart.”
Ranus frowned. While he did believe what Agamen said — that Agamen voted and made proposals as he did because he truly believed it was best for the populace — Ranus didn’t necessarily believe that Agamen was right, insofar as his concepts of what was good for the people were correct. However, he had to maintain his standing with Agamen, for now, which meant voting as he did and outwardly respecting the man’s opinions.
“They have a right to peaceful assembly,” Ranus said, hoping to change the subject subtly enough that Agamen wouldn’t notice.
“Yes, they do,” Agamen said. “As they should! And I respect their desire to exercise it. I even respect the fact that they think we’ve made the wrong choices. That doesn’t change the fact that I think they’re incorrect.”
Ranus sighed. Agamen gave the people more credit than the other councillors, some of whom wished they could take away the people’s right to protest at all. Of course, some of the councillors fought for the same things for which Agamen fought, but for completely different reasons. Councillor Nelan, for example, wanted to increase taxes not to improve education, but to raise his own wages.
Still, Agamen was the sort to always be convinced that he was correct, regardless of the opinions of others on the matter. If he believed he had evidence to support his cause, convincing him to change his mind was impossible.
“The people don’t like increased rates of taxation,” Ranus said.
“Nobody likes to spend more money,” Agamen said, “but if they want us to continue to provide for them, we had to increase taxation.”
“I think the issue is one of empathy,” Ranus said. “Nobody wants to pay for everyone else’s well-being.”
Agamen grumbled. “If only they would only realize that it’s cheaper for all of them, in the long run, for the government to provide their healthcare and schooling. The people crying to privatize those services are fools.”
“There are some who would argue the quality might be better, if we were to privatize,” Ranus said.
“And there are some who argue — and I’m inclined to agree — that the government should take over more than what it has,” Agamen said. He turned a fierce eye on Ranus. The wild hair of his eyebrows made his gaze even more intimidating. “There are some political and economic theorists that believe we should start running our own businesses, in competition with private business.”
“What would that accomplish?” Ranus asked. “More frustration from the people about the government sticking its hands into everything? More potential conflicts of interest, as the government taxes its competitors to give itself an advantage?”
“If the government ran successful businesses, it could turn that profit toward needs that would normally be covered by taxation,” Agamen said. “Taxes, overall, could see a decrease.”
“The majority of profits made by a government-run business would have to go back to that business,” Ranus said. “Would they not? In order to pay employees, and to fund the function of the business.”
“Yes, but the profit on top of that would come back to the government,” Agamen said. “It’s no different than the government as it is now. We still pay our employees. We still have to pay for the materials to maintain the functionality of the infrastructure. The only difference is that our capital comes from taxes, rather than from the earnings of a business that we could be running.”
“Interesting,” Ranus said. He had little else to say on the topic, at present. His mind was more occupied with the consequences of the ongoing protest. By law, they would have to address the people’s concerns, should the protest continue.
Eranos had a government which relied primarily on the Council to both draft and ratify the laws. The Council itself was elected by the people, and votes were held yearly for the council members. Each person was allowed three votes. One vote had to go to a representative for their district. The second vote could go to anyone who had been nominated to run for the Council, regardless of district. The third vote could be cast for anyone, but it was not a vote in favor. Instead, in cancelled out someone else’s vote.
Because the people did not vote directly for their laws and regulations, they were allowed to challenge them. They did so by protesting, peacefully, within the Mall, a large, grassy space which had been set aside just for such gatherings. When the people had protested for five days, of unified mind, they were allowed to send forth a representative to speak to the Council, who would air their grievances.
In the event that the people took great issue with a decision the Council had made, their successful challenge brought forth a city-wide vote, during which they were able to vote in favor of or against that which was called into question. If they voted strongly against the decision — obtaining at least sixty percent majority — the Council was required to repeal and revise the law or ordinance or tax which they had passed.
It was, Ranus thought, a complex, convoluted, and time-consuming system, but it kept overall discontent low and resistance against the government relatively peaceful. Before the implementation of the Council, Eranos and its surrounding lands had been ruled by a monarch. When the people had decided they didn’t favor his decisions, he had met with an unpleasant end.
Throughout their conversation, Agamen’s eyes had not often left the cleaning woman, who even Ranus had to admit was an attractive lady. “If you’ll excuse me,” Agamen said. He cleared his throat and left Ranus to go speak to the woman. Ranus rolled his eyes. Agamen walked with a cane, and the years had not been kind to his face, which was lined deeply with wrinkles. His beard was purely white all the way down to its tip, and the hair atop his head had fled long ago.
Yet somehow, in some way Ranus would never understand, women enjoyed Agamen’s company. They didn’t just like speaking to him, either, although he often had them blushing and laughing at his jokes, something which always astounded Ranus, because Agamen’s persona as a Councillor was crusty and unflappable. No, women enjoyed accompanying Agamen back to his bedroom.
Ranus shook his head as Agaman offered the young woman a card and a wink before tottering off, his step light and his cane barely seeming to touch the ground. He waited until the older man was out of earshot before allowing himself a small laugh. Agamen had a different woman at his home every week, if not more often.
Normally, this sort of promiscuity was discouraged in Eranosi society. It made people suspicious, after all: there was always the possibility that someone was one of the Nine Dragons in disguise. Going freely to bed with someone you didn’t know drastically increased the risk of accidentally begetting a child who was dragon kindred. Agamen only got away with it because of his age, his station, and the fact that he had served for many years, unopposed, as Councillor.
There had been talk, among the Council, of laying Eranosi societal rules into law by outlawing sex before marriage. The majority of the populace would go along with such a ruling, here, not only because it had already been long ingrained into their beliefs, but because the fear and disgust at the idea of bearing the child of a Dragon ran deep.
Councillor Agamen had, of course, opposed the idea. To his credit, he had made it seem like he hadn’t opposed it on his account. He pointed out that such a law would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce, and that while it wouldn’t see much opposition, those who opposed it would do so strongly. Since Council votes were a matter of public record, those who voted in favor of such a law would likely see many negative votes during their next run.
Finally, as strict as he was about laws and as much as he believed firm regulations only helped the populace. Councillor Agamen was a firm opponent of anything that regulated people’s private lives and personal decisions. He even opposed laws regarding the use of recreational drugs, even though he personally found them morally reprehensible and chose to abstain.
Ranus respected Agamen for that. He knew that some of his beliefs were purely personal, and he would never force them onto others. Perhaps that meant that Ranus should give more credence to Agamen’s belief that his new set of tax laws — the ones he himself had proposed, which the protestors now railed against — were in the best interest of the Eronosi people. Perhaps Ranus should look over them again, and attempt to propose something that would make both parties happy.