Sunday, February 12, 2012

What is King Oliver's Grace?

Grace is a supremely important part of Christianity.  It is the very thing that enables the redemption of the soul and entry into heaven.  But what is it, exactly?

My understanding of Catholic teaching leads me to put it like this: grace is a gift.  It is the best gift, in fact.  Grace is the expression of God's love, and God loves us in a way that is similar to how we love each other.  When you love someone, you give them gifts, right?  And what is the greatest gift one person can give to another?  Oneself.  That's what grace is: God's gift of God's Self to us.  It is His very Life, Love, and Power with which He wishes to infuse us.

King Oliver Lihn is not God.  Indeed, he was not considered a god by his people.  Sakrit theology does allow for the ascension of humans to the ranks of the divine, but only after death (or several deaths, depending on which school of thought one follows).  King Oliver bestowed his grace on his people while still alive.  So in what sense did he possess grace, and in what sense did he give it?

According to Sakrit, there are several divine families.  Human families model divine families, and, very rarely, certain families are given divine favor.  The Augur, who acts as the supreme celebrant of rituals and interpreter of mysteries, is always a member of the Gant family.  The Gants have lived in the land of Lihn since before it was known by that name, and they are the descendants of the leader of the sages who first formalized the Sakrit faith.

Likewise, the Lihn family was also believed to have been granted divine favor.  After conquering their enemies' territories, they declared themselves to be touched by the goddess Lihal, and that claim helped to unite the newly subjugated people into a governable kingdom.  Lihal was recognized as the matriarch of the preeminent family of gods, and is currently the most beloved deity of Sakrit.  It is thought that the Lihn family's insistence on the prohibition of human sacrifice was based on the belief that Lihal created human life, and that this prohibition earned them the admiration their people already held for the goddess.

Regardless of how the Lihn family came to power, the people of the Kingdom of Lihn believed that they had been given special protection by Lihal, and that belief kept Lihn's government stable for nearly two hundred years.  Lihn grew more powerful each year, and the nation's borders continually expanded.  It was this expansion that led to the end of the royal family.

Oliver Lihn was born only days before the end of a terrible war being waged against Daelihm.  The Daelihmmers had set up trading posts along the Southwestern coast of the world's central continent (around the area where Southport now stands) and were raiding the settlements of the farmers who lived along the river.  The farmers were part of a loose confederation of families that were ruled only by a set of common laws.  When they appealed to the Kingdom of Lihn for help, Oliver's father saw an opportunity to gain new lands, perhaps peacefully, through an alliance with the confederation.  Together, the kingdom and the confederation were victorious.

But the trade agreements that were made after the end of the war did not have their intended effect.  Rather than convincing the citizens of the confederation that the goddess would extend her divine protection to all who were ruled by the Lihn family, the farmers' republican ideas were embraced and refined by the people of Lihn.  Over the course of one generation, Lihnittes were agitating for a legislative body of elected representatives.

Oliver had grown up hearing the arguments for and against the formation of a Republic, and he was sympathetic to the agitators' desire for representation.  It is believed that his father finally allowed for the formation of a house of commons with limited legislative power at his son's urging.

Unfortunately, some of Oliver's uncles viewed the king's act as a sign of weakness.  At the age of twenty-three, Oliver assumed the throne.  The first thing he did was uncover the plot of his uncles against his father and execute them.  He then demanded oaths of loyalty from his remaining relations and exacted heavy taxes on them as punishment.  When he discovered a plot for his own assassination due to an investigation made by members of the house of commons, he consolidated his power within his family further, and expanded the legislative responsibilities of the house of commons.

Two decades of peace and prosperity followed.  Then came the second war with Daelihm, sparked by the beer poisonings that occurred during celebrations of the victory won in the first war (it was at this time that beer was banned from Lihn and hard cider made in Debenlander fashion became the dominant alcoholic beverage).

Oliver prosecuted the war well, and, despite setbacks and betrayals, victory was achieved.  But the people of Lihn lost much, and radicals who dreamed of the dissolution of the monarchy twisted the sadness of the people into anger towards their king.  Though he had many loyal supporters, Oliver knew that a civil war would leave his Kingdom ravaged, and vulnerable to reprisal from Daelihm.  He saw that the only way to preserve his people, and likely his own life, was to become the last king of Lihn.

Many of the anti-monarchy radicals were also anti-theists, and their calls of, "freedom from gods and kings," disturbed Oliver.  Sakrit was the force that unified a diverse people, and its moral code was the basis for Lihnish law.  If Sakrit fell along with the royal family, Oliver believed that Lihn would dissolve into a collection of warring city-states, as it was before his family's rise to power.  He needed to give up his crown without disowning the gods of Sakrit.

It is his answer to this problem that revealed Oliver to be as clever a theologian as he was a politician and military strategist.  The Lihn family and the Gant family developed a ritual that would be performed to mark the dissolution of the monarchy.  The point of this ritual was to confer upon all the people of Lihn the grace that had been granted to Oliver's family.  The citizens of the new Republic would swear to uphold the practice of their religion, and a grand temple would be built in honor of Lihal near the site of the soon-to-be-constructed Senate building.  The Lihn family would pay the majority of the construction costs of both buildings, and all members of the family would give up the name, "Lihn."  The name would belong to all the citizens of the republic, just as Lihal's grace would.  Indeed, it is by virtue of that grace that Lihnish law would recognize the right of each citizen to vote.

Thus, Oliver relinquished his throne without dethroning his gods, and the anti-theists were stymied in their efforts.  The foundation of the Republic of Lihn would be based on Sakrit's theology of grace.  That foundation survived one hundred a twenty years before the events of The Champion, and it continues to be the cornerstone of Lihnish law and national identity.

It is also the reason that Kirrani believers were persecuted so vehemently in the capital city, as also is evidenced in The Champion.  If the people of Lihn reject the gods of Sakrit and embrace a different faith, the Republic will fall, or so the thinking goes.  If one rejects Lihal, one rejects her grace, and her special protection.

The fate of the Republic is a major concern of Cloudspike, the sequel to The Champion, which I have started to write.  King Oliver's grace, and the grace of the God of the Kirrani faith, will play major roles in the narrative.

Ultimately, I guess a good question to end with is this one: by whose grace do you believe you live?