Reign: 212 YE - 234 YE
Called: The Cunning
Early Life and Election
Mariika Ymmasdottir, is also called Mariika Markling and is one of the heroes of Wintermark. Her parents were Suaq merchants who traversed the whole of Wintermark, and made regular visits to the Marches where they were deeply involved in the transport of grain to the northern nation and in negotiations with the Navarr brokers. Mariika was characterised as a quiet girl who loved to watch and listen, and some of he childhood friends assumed she would choose to join the Kallavesi when she came of age - but she did not. Her cambion lineage drove her to be ambitious and instead of becoming a mystic she took the lessons she had learned from her parents and their contacts in the Marches and applied them to the enrichment not of a single hall but to the folk of Wintermark as a whole.
She was not a charismatic woman, but possessed apparently bottomless reserves of practicality, good sense and cunning. The quiet, observant girl grew into a confident, gregarious woman who loved to talk with strangers and engage in verbal sparring for the sheer joy of it. She quickly gained a reputation for honesty that rivaled that of the Freeborn traders with whom she dealt, but could be as stubborn as a Varushkan mine-owner or as cautious as an Urizen architect. Many of her writings survive to this day, and whenever she wrote on matters of trade and economy she repeatedly highlighted the importance of understanding the people you were trading with. You did not need to like them, but to make the best deal it was important to be able to think like them. Her writings on business and warfare were collected after her death into a volume called "The Good Deal." .
She became a regular presence at the quarterly meetings at Anvil, first in the company of her parents and then as the leader of a group of Wintermark merchants in her own right. A regular at the Bourse she served on two separate occasions as Senator for Sermersuaq. When it was clear that Emperor Nicovar was descending into madness, she became one of his outspoken critics. She was not a demagogue, but she repeatedly pointed out that the paranoia and suspicion flourishing under his reign was driving the nations of the Empire apart. While she did not take a direct stand against the Emperor, she certainly used her Senatorial position to oppose many of the more extreme measures he tried to instigate in the last years of his reign.
After the disastrous end to Nicovar's reign, the Empire went without a presence on the Throne for three years. Recriminations, internal disputes and bickering marked the Senate and the Synod. The mad emperor's obsession with book-keeping and minutae has placed crippling burdens on the civil service; coming on the heels of Emperor Barabbas' maritime spending and the military expansion of Empress Varkula the Empire was on the verge of economic collapse. In 212 YE the Senate prepared to attempt to pass a motion that would levy additional taxes on the richest members of society, a move that was as unconstitutional as it was potentially disastrous for the Empire.
With the support of a large number of merchants, guildmasters, Freeborn, League Merchant Princes, Urizen architects and Varushkan senators, as well and the majority of the Imperial Bourse, Mariika presented a counter-suggestion. If she were made Empress, she would improve the Empire's finances within five years. She did not win the Senate over with wild promises; rather she presented them with solid economic facts and projections, furnished by the Civil Service. She warned the Senate that the single best way to save the Empire was not to start robbing it's citizens, but to let the people who understood money do what they did best. She was elected by a narrow majority.
Immediately after her election, she went to work with a vengeance. She called together the finest financial minds in the Empire, and together they spent three months examining the problems. At the end of this time she returned to the Senate and announced a number of measures she was confident would shore up the Empire and see it prosper.
Her first step was to loosen the strangle-hold the Senate kept on certain key resources. Amid howls of outrage she put forward motions that would move control of a number of important positions (such as the Master of the Imperial Mint) to the Bourse.
Her ruthless efficiency was not restricted to the Senate. She disbanded two entire armies (the Varushkan Iron Helm, and the Thundering Tide of Highguard), and slashed funding to the Military Council, demanding that instead of a constant siphon on the Imperial treasury the generals find a way to do more with what they already had. She gave the Bourse control of a number of raw material surpluses, to the consternation of merchants across the Empire. Further she codified several positions that had previously been filled on an ad-hoc basis, recognised the office-holders as Imperial officers, and then made them pay for their positions by again handing responsibility for filling those positions to the Bourse. All moneys raised by the Bourse in auctioning these new positions would go into the Imperial coffers, minus a small percentage to pay for the running of the Bourse. Perhaps just as importantly it was Mariika who suggested laws that restricted the way the rare material ilium, vital to both the crafting of artefacts and the performance of certain rituals, could be traded.
The Synod and the Conclave mostly avoided her reforms, but they did not escape her scathing tongue. She roundly criticised the Cardinals and the Archmagi for letting the Empire get into the state it found itself in. Both magicians and priests had a responsibility to use their powers in the service not of the Throne, but of the people of the Empire, and if they would not do so then perhaps it was time for them to step aside and make way for people who would.
One of the new positions she created made her unpopular in the Marches to this day; it was Mariika who came up with the idea to offer Imperial Charters to settlements in the Marches, giving them the status of market towns. She offered similar considerations to other nations but only in the Marches was the offer taken up, to the consternation and outrage of many stewards who tried to prove that the move was unconstitutional.
Her reforms were not solely focused on the Empire; while she encouraged renewed trade between the nations, she also continued to encourage trade with foreign nations, bringing the wealth of the world to the Empire. While her reign was not without complications,it is remembered by historians today as the start of a period of unmatched prosperity for the Imperial citizens.
After her economic reforms were pushed through the Senate, Mariika took a step back from the business of governance. Rather than attempting to micromanage, as Nicovar had done, or pursuing personal projects as Barabbas had done, she chose to remain slightly distanced from Imperial politics. Instead, she looked to the example of Emperor Giovanni and the First Empress and surrounded herself with competent advisors, encouraging those with natural talent to seek out positions from which they could serve the Empire by serving their own interests. Two of her closest advisors were the enigmatic Kallaevsi shaman Tekupala and the Steinr warrior-hero Inga Tarn. The League historian Marconi of Holberg wrote a definitive biography of Mariika in which he claimed that "There was not one person in the Empire of whom it could be said they received their position through any influence of the Throne; truly it was a golden age."
She was very unpopular in the Military council, who blamed her for several defeats in the early years of her reign. It soon became clear that Mariika bore no malice towards the generals, despite having disbanded two of their armies. As the economy recovered, as more money rolled into the treasury, she diverted those funds to ensure that the armies were well-equipped and well provisioned. Her arguments were always that it was the responsibility of the armies to be efficient - that over time they had become bloated and set-in-their-ways. By encouraging more small military forces to take responsibility for themselves, and by ensuring that the campaign armies were examples of excellence and had the best logistical support, they became much more effective than mere numbers would suggest.
In 217, five years after she took the throne, Empress Mariika went before the Synod. As the guardians of the well-being of the people. she asked if they felt she had fulfilled her promise. If they felt she had failed, she told them, they should revoke her office and she would not contest it. The Synod took three days to reach a decision, advised by civil servants they agreed that she had indeed reversed the downwards trend in the Imperial finances and stabilized the crumbling economy.
Death and Legacy
After her address to the Synod, Mariika remained on the throne for another seventeen years. She continued to encourage others to take an active part in running their Empire, campaigning tirelessly for greater understanding between the nations, and repeatedly calling for less interference by the Senate in the financial affairs of their citizens.
The first clear signs of the illness that would later claim her surfaced in 233 YE. but she had been unwell for some time. She had concealed the wasting disease that was slowly killing her from all save her closest friends. In 234 YE she returned to Sermersuaq to look upon her homeland for the last time and abdicated the throne. As Winter gathered, she set off on a final pilgrimage into the eternal ice storm of Sydanjaa, accompanied only by Tekupala.
Mariika was not universally popular of course. Many Varushkans and Marchers felt that they bore the brunt of many of her reforms, and there were elements in the Synod who whispered darkly that as a cambion she would surely go as mad as Nicovar before her had. Even some of her own people disliked her; she refused to show favouritism towards Wintermark, and when challenged by the drunken Skarsind Senator she bitterly pointed out that her heritage had taught her not to put any part of her people above the others - and that as Empress, her people were all the folk of the Empire.
The Kallavesi mystic Tekupala is variously recorded as a man and a woman. An accomplished practitioner of the magic of Night, he (or she) also appeared as variously a human, a naga and a briar, apparently through the use of ritual magic. He (or she) maintained that the secret of her (or his) identity was key to the magic he (or she) practiced, and responded to questions regarding it with riddles.
Tekupala served as one of the primary advisors to Empress Mariika, turning up out of the blue one evening shortly before she became Empress. For several years Tekupala served as the Archmage of Night, and made great use of the powers granted by that position to confound and disable the enemies of the Empire.
The mystic was the last person to see Empress Mariika alive, returning from the storm alone several years after they had departed. The Kallavesi would not speak of what had happened, and disappeared again shortly after returning Mariika's spear to her surviving family. Over the next two hundred years, a figure claiming to be Tekupala occasionally appears to offer cryptic advice. Although each time the figure looks entirely different, they maintain the tradition of concealing their true gender. Those who have studied the matter claim that these later Tekupala are most likely members of a secret society of magicians based out of the swamps of Kallavest.