R is for ritual that helps cement history
One reason the Empire had become – and managed to stay – the Empire was because it understood the purpose of information. There were, on the official Empirical payroll, people whose job it was to travel to all corners of the Empire, however closed-off, however dangerous, and disseminate and gather information. It was their job to assure that the will of the Empire was the will of the whole Empire, and their job to assure that all the secrets of a great sprawling land were properly catalogued. These Informers moved in circuits around the Empire, so that they understood the whole land and so that they grew none too attached to one place.
Eliška Konvalinka’s circuit had brought her to the city Scheffenon for the first time; she had been down in the warmer south since her training period ended, as far from the far-northern Capital where she had been born as possible and still be in the Empire. Such was the tradition, but now her probationary period was also over and she was being cycled up to places more in suiting with her linguistic knowledge.
She met her contact in the Informers’ Embassy, a place which each city was required to maintain. This one was mosaiced in water patterns, and three fountains marked its streetwise corners: an octopus, a mermaid, and a shark.
Moya Ní Mháille was cycling out of Scheffenon and to someplace, as she put it, “less damp and less creepy.” The Informers were required to be aware of the places they were stationed, not to like them. She poured the tea, beginning a ritual that was older than the Empire.
“Scheffenon, jewel of the Northern Sea,
Noted for oddities one, two, and three,” she began, in a lilting sing-song. She would recite four couplets and sip her tea; Eliška would repeat back the four couplets and add a rhyming question. Every twelve couplets they would recite the whole thing together.
“Third the fountains, the water, it sings out with pain,
the binding renewed with each stormfall’s new rain…”
Moya had learned a shorter version of the poem from the person before her, who had passed on what she had learned from the Informer before her, and so on. Once a week, Eliška would repeat all the poems she had learned and embellished, cementing them into her memory and locking them into the walls of the embassy itself.
There were paper records, of course, books and books of them, in the Embassy, travelling with the Informers, copied into the Imperial vaults. But the poem lived on, and could neither be burned nor forged.
“The people of Scheffenon hold secrets close
But the answers are written on their walls & their shores.”
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