The Royal Household of the Lugal

The Lugal has proclaimed himself King of All, ruler of all on land, in sea, in air, underwater, and in orbit. A full list of his titles would take seventeen and three quarters hours to recite. This is demonstrated yearly during the annual Pronouncement of Command, a festival in which specially trained scribes recite from memory a full list of titles before the temple gods. Such a massive domain demands a massive administration. Few see the Lugal himself, but everyone has seen his Royal Household. Its palaces and temples rise over every city. Its walled compounds and massive engineering works dot the land. Every ruler is served by Royal Scribes and Royal Priests, every land pays taxes to the Royal Warband. Everyone has seen the ruins of lands which defied the King. The Household is the single most prominent instrument of the Lugal’s power. 

The Lugal does not himself care much for the particulars of rulership. He won the battle a thousand years ago, he vanquished the Magog, obtained immortality. Everything else after is an eternal victory lap in which he gets to wrestle, drink, hunt, and ride around on people’s shoulders playing polo (it’s in the Epic of Gilgamesh, look it up) for all eternity. So long as these material comforts are provided and everyone pays him proper respect, he’s happy. He cares somewhat for military matters, both out of personal interest and so as to stave off potential external invasion, but this is the furthest he goes. The Lugal is Gilgamesh if Gil-Gil never learned a damn thing and achieved immortality against everyone’s best efforts.

Legally speaking, every member of the Lugal’s household is his personal property, no matter how lowly or exalted. Everyone from battered prisoners forced into the mines to the soldiers of the warband to the highest priest is property to be used and discarded at a whim. MIllions of souls. This has bred an internal culture of fear and paranoia in which every member of the household who has any degree of personal freedom scrambles for any scrap of favor and authority possible to shore up their precarious position. The Lugal does not care for their squabbles and conflicts, so long as the lions in his hunting grounds remain plentiful and his quiver remains full. If anything, the occasional sudden burst of violence is a welcome amusement. At times, this has even resulted in open civil war between parties and factions that have formed within the Household. One such conflict between two rival cliques wrangling for the prestige of being selected to construct a new palace resulted in the total obliteration of three cities as each party tried to destroy the tax base of the other with beam and blade. Dealing with the Household is never simple, with political squabbles and arcane points of doctrinal dispute that date back centuries befuddling most outsiders. Any who do hope to survive it had best understand it. 

There are four broad branches of the Household: the Custodians, the Priesthood, the Warband, and the Scribes. These branches are only semi-official, more collectives of alliances and common interest among members of the household than branches of government. Posts tend to be hereditary with reassignment uncommon and usually a sign of disgrace, and so over time these family connections and postings have calcified. Each branch struggles both with other branches and with internal factionalism.

The Custodians are a title granted to those of the Household who are tasked with maintaining the palaces and hunting grounds of the king. Theoretically, the Lugal should be able to march anywhere in the world and find a fully stocked palace waiting to receive him and a well-tended hunting preserve for his amusement. This means thousands of palaces and preserves must be maintained at all times on the off chance of a royal visit. Castles and lodges sit unused for centuries, fully staffed, waiting for even a single use. Many never see even that. In practice, most of these palaces serve as bases of operation for the rest of the King’s forces. Soldiers use the great halls as barracks and wine cellars pull double duty as tax record repositories. This creates a vast web of bases in which agents of the Lugal are able to operate out of. Even the otherwise empty hunting preserves are put to use, their sheer emptiness used to conceal further secret bases and projects that the Household wishes to keep close to the chest, vast weapon complexes and strange apparatus intended to speak with the gods beyond the stars. The Custodians also have the foul distinction of maintaining the vast numbers of household slaves who toil in fields, in mines, and as servants to maintain these vast estates. This central organizing position and workforce makes many Custodians consider themselves the most important and powerful of the branches which all other branches must negotiate with, while other branches consider them unimportant housekeepers. It also means that the Custodians are in constant danger, as each of their holdings will have a nearby enclave of escaped slaves who will petition any sympathetic adventurers to aid their cause of helping more escape or even of aiding a full uprising.

Common wants: to obtain more land and property without paying for it, to get the respect they feel is deserved, to obtain agents and soldiers not beholden to the rest of the Household, to not be dragged out of their beds and killed slowly in a slave revolt.

In a stroke of cosmic fortune, pretty much all ancient Mesopotamian palaces are ready-made dungeons.

The Priesthood, despite its name, has surprisingly little care for religion. The Lugal has a host of personal gods and goddesses and spirits whom he venerates and credits for his ascension, but he cares little for how the public views this religion. So long as the temples to his personal gods remain stocked and the rituals performed, public faith is irrelevant. Faiths that contradict or even deny the existence of these household gods are tolerated, so long as the sanctity of the temples are not violated and respect is offered in the form of gifts and offerings. As much as this distresses the priests themselves, the Lugal has issued one of his rare commandments ordering them to not directly interfere with vernacular religion lest stir up rebellion. All of the really dangerous and subversive gods are locked up anyway, which I will circle back to in a future post. With no flock to attend to and only a few tasks of upkeep and ritual to perform, this leaves the Lugal’s Priesthood with plenty of time for its main purpose: business. Gold, silver, food, and goods flow into the temples as offerings and bribes, and debt flows out. The great temples are always willing to offer a loan to the subjects of the Lugal, and many people both great and small find themselves indebted in one way or another to a temple. One Great Ziggurat will offer wheat for famine relief, another loans to cover military expenses for city-states. This has resulted in the Lugal’s priests embedding themselves all over as advisors and tutors, humbly offering advice that would please the Lugal and his gods. Sometimes, though, external affairs become less important than internal squabbles as one temple will invent justification to try and have another branded as traitors and blasphemers, demanding that someone step in to eradicate the offenders. The Priesthood holds the most direct political influence, and its members of course consider themselves to be the real power of the Royal Household. The other branches resent their wealth and status, believing them more interested in serving their own ends than the king. The Lugal himself is, as usual, disinterested in these affairs. 

Common wants: to increase the flow of wealth and goods, to convince common people to care about their gods, to ensnare more rulers and nobles as clients. 

Some of the earliest recorded writing is in the form of records of sale and of debt, likely maintained by elaborate temple bureaucracies within early city-states.

Most fearsome and directly terrifying are the Lugal’s Warband. Of all the branches of his personal household, the Lugal takes the most day to day interest in his personal military. Tournaments and mock battles open to both warband members and adventurer are held constantly to identify promising candidates for recruitment and promotion. The most skilled warriors are selected into units assigned as bodyguards to the Lugal or sent to secretive assignments on hidden bases or deep into the Chaos Wastes. A few, once they get into their cups, will tell tales of battles fought on distant and strange worlds. Those who are less elite are generally shuffled off into mobile warbands ranging in size from a few hundred to a few thousand strong. In theory they patrol to preserve peace and security. In practice they make themselves everyone else’s problem, roving around drinking as much as they can and getting into scuffles with anyone that looks at them the wrong way. Local rulers have little choice but appeasement, as along with the finest swords, spears, and armor in the land these bands also possess terrifying weapons of light said to be able to slice a band of hoplites in half with a sweep. When they aren’t holding cities hostage for more mead, they’re causing cascading crises of displacement by marching into the Chaos Wastes to do some random pillaging of the Lugal’s enemies. The warbands are, however, one of the few places in which the Lugal maintains some semblance of rulership. Though a bit of pillage and bloodshed is deemed unavoidable wherever the warbands go, commanders and warriors who step wholly out of line and begin to sack and burn whole villages, towns, and cities are dealt with harshly with mass executions. This restrains their behavior the tiniest bit and prevents all out warfare from breaking out more than occasionally.

Common Wants: an enormous quantity of food and drink, an enemy to hate, to receive honors and praise.

The other parts of the Stela of Vultures, like the impaled corpses being eaten by the titular vultures, are also relevant here.

The Scribes are the closest thing that the Royal Household offers to an actual service to subjects of the Lugal. Though each branch has some share of ancient and wondrous technologies and magical artifacts, the lions share belongs to the scribes. In particular, their network of flying machines, disks of bronze that glow eerily as they float in the sky, carry messages and cargo to all corners of the world. Anyone with a fat coin purse and a willingness to allow the Scribes complete access to whatever is carried can have nearly anything shipped to anywhere in the world. This network of communication allows the diffusion of culture and ideas on a global scale and has done more good for the world than any other great project of the King. The downside is that the Scribes are spies who delight in knowing secrets and making plots. Intrigue, conflicts, burgeoning wars, the illicit affairs of nobility, even the details of legal agreements and contracts which Royal Scribes oversee as impartial arbiters in many cities in the Lugal’s domain. All interest the Eyes and Ears of the King. If they had their way all knowledge would be neatly inscribed in wedge indents on fired clay and stored away for all prosperity. They delight in making the rest of the household beg and scrape for information, and share it sparingly and only for exorbitant payment. They would much rather manipulate things themselves, a poisoning here, a revealed plot there, to ensure their own status and the security of the Lugal. Of the four branches, they are both the most benign seeming and by far the most dangerous. 

Common Wants: To root out secrets on the off chance they’ll be useful, to monopolize some fantastical artifact or technology, to expand surveillance and record keeping of the Lugal’s subjects. 

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