Reign: 125YE to 167YE
Called: the Undying
Early life and Election
Empress Varkula (also known as the Dowager Empress, the Iron Empress, the Carrion Queen, and the Winterborn) ruled for over forty years, the longest uninterrupted rule in the Empire’s history. A Varushkan draughir, she rose through the ranks of the Imperial army before making the leap to politics.
Taking advantage of a weakened and divided Imperial Senate, she manipulated (and in some cases, allegedly extorted) her way to the Throne, and then set about dramatically increasing the military strength of the Empire. She forced several bills through the Senate that increased the number and size of the Imperial Armies, and during her time on the Throne personally took the battlefield in battles that secured Zenith, Holberg, Skarsind and Miekarova as imperial territories, as well as fighting off two failed barbarian attempts to take back Kahraman and Reikos.
While her reign saw a great increase in the scope and efficiency of both the armies and the civil service, the individual nations chafed under her rule. She is said to have had little time for national politics, and did not especially care which nation claimed the territories she helped to conquer (she is said to have laughed uproariously when The League claimed Holberg from under the noses of the Dawnish). Rather she was interested in the health and well-being of the Empire as a whole, not its component parts. As she said during one speech in the Senate: My arms and my legs are part of me, but they are not the whole of me.
She was ruthless in her treatment of her political enemies, especially in the Imperial Synod, and went some way to reducing the influence the priesthood had gained under previous, more pious, Emperors and Empresses. Specifically, she was able to orchestrate the removal of the Senatorial votes the Cardinals had gained during the reign of Empress Teleri. The political struggle was as intense as any martial conflict the stubborn Empress had overseen, and when the dust settled the Cardinals had lost their vote - with the exception of the Cardinal of the Way. In a compromise that also spoke of Varkula's love of the people of the Empire, the position of the Conscience of the Senate was created and the appointment of the title left in the hands of the Assembly of the Way.
At the same time she took pains to ensure that the quality of life of the common citizen improved, enacting several sweeping reforms designed to ensure social mobility and freedom from oppression in all parts of the Empire. Under the hawk-like gaze, the rights of the Imperial Magistrates to investigate and prosecute crimes were extended, and despite some circumstantial evidence to the contrary, she insisted that while the Senate and The Throne could make laws, they would have a minimal role in enforcing those laws.
Death and Legacy
Throughout her reign she was the victim of frequent assassination attempts, many of which she fought off personally, others of which left her scarred and eventually crippled. By the time of her death at the age of seventy-six, it was fully four days before anyone dared to approach the Throne and try to remove her body – even then apparently her fingers were so tightly coiled around the arm rests that they had to be broken before she could be removed.
She is buried in a black basalt tomb in the Necropolis, behind three doors bound with iron and allegedly wrapped in magical wards. The inscription above the entrance to her mausoleum reads "Asleep at last". and may be considered to be as much a prayer as a statement. Reports have come from the necropolis that when Holberg was lost to the barbarians there was a disturbingly loud noise from her tomb, repeated again twenty-seven years later when Skarsind fell. There are some who worry that if another of the territories she added to the Empire are surrendered to the barbarians the final door of her tomb will be thrown off its hinges and the Empress they called "the undying" would emerge again to sort the situation out, whether the Empire wants her to or not ...
“Other rulers were loved by their subjects, but I was stronger than that. I never courted their love, for love is fickle and demanding. They respected me, they feared me – perhaps they even hated me – But I would not change one minute of my reign. A monarch must remember always that their people will turn on them; I lived my life with a blade at my throat. I never grew complacent, never trusted in popularity, never shied from making the hard choices. I found an Empire of brick, I left it one of marble. History can judge me as it will, but do not speak to me of love.”