The other empress
"So - Giselle - how do you reckon it's going to play out?" he said in a poor attempt to be nonchalant.
"Hah - you're going in on Donnie's wager aren't you? What's he giving - five-to-three that the League claim her back?"
It didn't fool the old advocate - wasn't meant to mind. That's not how the game was played.
"You got me - I figure I pick the brains of the smartest legal mind in Dawn - bound to give me an edge."
"Enchanting - but I notice you never mention my figure any more."
"Isolde, your beauty is beyond compare - you are a rose that will never wilt." She snorted at the obvious flattery but she smiled afterwards so he went in for the kill. Start with the legal arguments, it was always the best way to get Isolde talking. "Naine says there is a legal case to answer - reckons the Highborn have stolen it."
"What? That's never going to fly! Who owns the body? The Empire is the closest you could get to a legal owner - I look forward to being the one to tell the Highborn they were taking the body off the Empire. But lets say the League push for it - Naine's daughter could do the clemency on that one - and she's seven! If taking the body so the Grendel can't despoil it isn't the most perfect example of Vigilance as the basis for your actions I don't know what is. Any priest who can't make that case had better hang his liao up!"
"So it goes to Highguard then? But what about the will?" Isolde was on a roll now, he just needed to keep her talking.
"What the will Giselle never took the time to write down - do you mean that will?"
"I thought a verbal agreement was still a contract?" Isolde was in full flow, just needing the occasional push to keep her on track.
"Sure - but she was dying in agony - Druj poison was burning her up from the inside. I'll never forget her face - it was like she was in labour. She was ranting and raving and screaming all manner of crazy things. It's a good case - but it's far from cast iron. A decent advocate can claim that she was not in her right mind when she said it. And that's before you even start questioning the motives of the only two witnesses to this deathbed testament."
"So you think Highguard will win then?"
"Sarvos have the stronger legal claim - just. Problem is they just showed the whole Empire they can't protect the body. But this won't come down to the magistrates - sorry Hugh, but that's how it is. It'll go to the Senate - and that means it'll depend on how badly the Highguard want her back."
Hugh cursed inside, realizing he wasn't going to get the gambling tip he'd been hoping for. He shook his head - "I never understand why the Highborn want the bodies anyway" he mused.
"Hah! And that's why you're a pig-farmer, paying for tips from a dying woman for a wager on a dead one. Pride, Hugh, Pride! Preserving the traditions and the trappings of the Empire is what makes the Highborn who they are. It's in their bones, it's in their soul. Taking the body off them is like asking a nobleman to clean out your sty. If we give up our Pride then we'll all be pig farmers..."
Isolde stopped, realizing she'd hurt her old friends feelings. "Hugh you're the best damn pig farmer in Hawsmoor - now stop feeling sorry for yourself and get me another ale."
During the occupation of Sarvos, the Grendel stole priceless works of art and irreplaceable cultural artefacts. In one theft, however, they were stymied at least in part. When they broke open the tomb of Empress Giselle, they discovered it had already been robbed... but not in the manner anyone was expecting.
A small cadre of Highborn Unconquered, visiting Sarvos when the Grendel surprise attack took place, quickly realised that the orcs would want to raid the resting-place of the famously rich Empress. They moved quickly to secure the remains of the sixteenth Throne before the unscrupulous Grendel could defile them. Their focus was on protecting the dead Empress; there were plenty of valuable grave goods for the orc thieves to steal away - but they were denied the opportunity to tear open Giselle's coffin, or steal the personal effects with which she was interred.
The Grendel gave chase, and the Unconquered were slowed by the heavy coffin. The intervention of a band of League heroes saved the Unconquered, and allowed them to bring the coffin to Anvil via the Sentinel Gate - well beyond the reach of the thieving orcs. The remains of Empress Giselle were safe.
There is some uncertainty as to precisely what happened next, but the Unconquered band who had recovered Giselle's remains left Anvil heading east toward necropolis. Contradictory instructions were issued, and confusion reigned. Some citizens of the League demanded the return of Empress Giselle, while some Highborn seemed certain that the Empress' remains should be re-interred in a suitable tomb in the Necropolis.
The Unconquered themselves were intercepted by magistrates just outside of Sybella and the coffin impounded until a clear decision could be given as to where the dead Empress' remains belong. Investigation has determined that while there are several word-of-mouth reports that Empress Giselle declined the honour of being interred in the Necropolis, there is no actual written or magistrate-witnessed evidence to support these claims. Sufficient doubt is cast that the matter remains in contention. As a consequence, the decision lies with the Senate; not least because they will need to authorize the construction of a suitable tomb to house the remains.
It is traditional that deceased Thrones are interred in the Necropolis. There have been exceptions - Empress Mariika chose to enter Sydanjaa rather than face death meekly. Emperor Barabbas was lost at sea. Empress Britta - the focus of a similar controversy - was finally given to the marshes of Kallavesa shortly before the Winter Solstice. Yet by far the majority are entombed in Highguard. Even the revoked Empress Brannan rests in the Necropolis, as do the crazed Emperor Nicovar and the incompetent Emperor Walter. It is a tradition that has been observed since the First Empress was laid to rest there.
Weighed against that are the wishes of the Empress. According to those who were with her during the retreat from Holberg, she refused the honour of being interred in the Necropolis and insisted on being entombed in her beloved League alongside her husband. She was laid to rest in the Alivetti estates (a mere two years before they were ravaged by the storm that sank Caricomare) in a marble tomb that has now been effectively destroyed by the Grendel.
Several Highborn Stewards of the Dead have raised serious concerns about the ability of the Empire to protect a tomb built in Sarvos - they argue that the Grendel have shown they can strike at the city with impunity. To re-inter Giselle in Sarvos would be an attack on Imperial Wisdom and Vigilance. Only in the Necropolis can the tomb be properly protected (not least because the cliffs south of the Necropolis provide no access to naval forces.) In response, a group of League bishops lead by the influential Bishop Jago Heshel di Temeschwar of the Church of the Golden Orator in Temeschwar has denounced attempts to move Giselle out of the League - in violation of her stated wishes - as an unforgivable attack on the Pride of that nation. A band of Marcher abbots have penned a series of strongly worded letters to the Senators of both Highguard and the League suggesting that regardless of where Empress Giselle turns up, it might not be a bad idea to start fortifying the coast of the Bay of Catazar given the Grendel appear to be able to attack wherever they want without repercussion.
Regardless, the final resting place of Empress Giselle is of great interest not only as a political hot potato, but as a matter of deep concern to patriotic followers of the Way across the Empire.
The Judgement of the Senate
The final decision about where Empress Giselle should be laid to rest is up to the Imperial Senate.
If they choose to honour tradition and say that she will be interred in the Necropolis, this will reassure the Highborn that their role as protectors of the Imperial dead is still recognised by the rest of the Empire.
Alternatively, if they choose to inter Giselle in a League city (whether in Sarvos, or a different territory) this will salve the injured pride of the League, still smarting from their losses at the hands of the Grendel.
Regardless of the decision, Giselle will require a new vault. The motion to decree the new resting place for the Empress, will automatically include the commission of a vault to house the remains. A suitable tomb will require a minimum of ten wains of white granite and twenty crowns and will automatically create an Imperial title responsible for protecting the tomb. The title will receive 10 votes and 5 liao, and should be appointed through the Imperial Synod. As a result the motion will count against the twelve commissions available to the Empire each season.
If the Senate does not pass a motion regarding its final disposition, the coffin of Empress Giselle will remain in the custody of the Magistrates, in a reasonably secure cellar in Sybella until a decision is reached.
The Pride of the Empire
Choosing either the Necropolis or a League city will also provide a wider bonus. The civil service predicts that if Necropolis is chosen, a completed tomb will have the effect of providing a small boost to every Highborn congregation in Highguard. If a League city is chosen, then the completed tomb will provide a small boost to every League business in that city. In both cases, these bonuses would persist for at least a season.
However, the more prestigious the tomb the longer the bonus would last. There is no upper limit to how many wains may be committed to construction, and wains of mithril (to provide magical protection or beautiful decoration) and weirwood (to construct a suitable garden) may also be invested at the discretion of the Senator responsible for the motion. In each case the standard labour costs of 2 crowns per wain used would apply.
If the tomb is built with 20 wains the bonus will last for two seasons; if built with 40 wains the bonus will last for a year; if built with 80 wains, construction will take six months but the bonus will last for two years; and if built with 160 wains, construction will take nine months but the bonus will last for four years. In each case, the bonus will apply from the point where the tomb's construction is completed.
Regardless, a more prestigious tomb will not increase the number of votes or liao delivered, and any bonuses will last only as long as the tomb of Empress Giselle remains intact, umolested, and uncontested.
The fate of Teodore von Mestra
The body of Empress Giselle's husband Teodore von Mestra, was not recovered by the Unconquered. His sarcophagus was discovered to have been torn apart (presumably by Grendel orcs), and the contents stolen along with a number of other valuable goods precious to that Imperial household. Why the Grendel would take Teodore's body (rather than simply stripping it of valuables) is unknown - speculation suggests they may have mistaken it for the body of Empress Giselle but this explanation is tenuous at best.
Regardless, no matter what the decision of the Senate, Empress Giselle will rest in her new tomb alone.
During the Summer Solstice, the Senate issued no instructions regarding the disposition of the body of Empress Giselle. However, shortly after the end of the Solstice a delegation of respected magistrates accompanied by a discreet coven of diviners visited the cellar where the body is being kept, and apparently engaged in an extensive examination of the remains.
Shortly before the Spring Equinox 381YE, work was completed on Virtue's Respite, a new tomb, in the League city of Temeschwar. Empress Giselle has now been re-interred in the northernmost city of the League.