THE LAST HAMLET: or The Readiness Is All. - 4. THE ARCHDRAXITY
4. THE ARCHDRAXITY
In 1064, a few days after the Accession of the infant Hamlet the First, a cleaner, tackling a long neglected broom cupboard in the Space Centre basement, came across a tin "which had no right to be there." In it was about enough Draxy for one there and back space hop. The discovery produced little public interest: "Bury it!" and "Throw it away!" were typical reactions. An Evening Gazette leader heaped withering scorn upon a suggestion that the Regents might make use of the stuff to prolong their own lives:
The people would rightly despise those for whom the watchword became, "A sniff a day keeps the weakening away!"
Ea-arth had been the place for religion in the galaxy: we had never had any, really, or none that you could say much about. We have always had room in our lives for mystery, and things partly understood; but for the most part we have been content to hold such things in awe, and then let them be. I suppose we might have made a religion out of the Guardians, or even from the usually nonsensical sayings of Reigning Sages. Perhaps we would have had religions if our population could have supported separate 'nations', as on other worlds; but even before the Catastrophe, our entire population did not match any of Ee-arth's larger cities.
Most of Ee-arth's major religions had at their heart the idea of a creator, or supreme being, or 'God'. Whether they ever believed there was only one god is debatable, for groups of people from different nations - or even within the same nation - made frequent war against each other in the name of 'God', each group believing, apparently, that 'God' was on their side! And yet, to be fair, there was much more to it than that, for there were devout believers who found recipes for purpose filled lives in the teachings of their religious leaders and prophets. Love of 'God', and love of ones neighbour, were common themes. One religion actually commanded its followers to love their enemies! Well, I can go along with that, for I had an enemy whom I loved most dearly for a while. But I get ahead of myself.
The oldest of the post-Catastrophe people were thirty years of age, and they were dying.
A census, promoted by the Regents, showed a population of little more than three hundred thousand. So rapid had been the death rate that the normal decencies of burial had had to be abandoned for a while. Train loads of corpses, with or without coffins, trundled towards the newly dug burial sites in the Wilderness. After the mass grief and mourning came the disgust and anger aimed at them, those people who had let it all happen!
Then there came the lethargy, and the hopelessness. Family life had been destroyed. What point was there in education, in qualifying for a career, in ambition - in anything? A lecturer at the Royal University, one Recepius, gave his own simple answer to it all: "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!" Following a day and a night of drunken carousing about the City by a mob led by said acedemic, the Regents acted swiftly, and with draconian zeal: they moblized the remnants of the Royal Army, declared martial law, and arrested Rucepius. Though he was neither tried nor charged with any offence, he was never heard from again!
Who were these Regents, who realised before it was too late that a people without a purpose needed to be given one, and , if necessary, be coerced into fulfilling it? Well, I am afraid we know nothing at all about them, not their number, nor their names, nor their former roles in society: they were simply the Regents. But what did they do? Well, they decided upon nothing less than the invention of an entirely new way of life, one founded in 'repentance philosophy'. There was to be no recrimination, no laying of blame on Draxy the discoverer, or on monarchs, or scientists, or merchants, or speculators: all these, of course, must acknowledge their share in the blame; but so also would the 'ordinary' people who had prospered beyond their wildest imaginings, and had let it all happen. All were guilty, so all must repent and help to build the new Steefax.
The Regents declared that the Draxy found in that tin would be kept as a 'perpetual reminder of the sinfulness of Steefax' past, and as a symbol of future purity of purpose.' The grey powder was to be divided into two equal portions, and sealed in leaden urns, one to be kept by the reigning monarch, and the other to be in the care of a 'person dedicated to the furtherance of the highest ideals of a repentant people, which person was to be female, as representing that sex which during the late disasters had been least in culpability.' This person was to known as the Archdraxite. She would play no direct part in government, but rather she would act - in Ee-arth terms - as a sort of high priestess, presiding over the rites and ceremonies of repentance philosophy. She would also be the sole arbiter in all matters concerning the Enabling of Moles.
Qualification - at least in part - by means of the vagaries of skin blemishes was not, of course, entirely new to us. The most essential qualification for entry into the Sisterhood of the Sages - which predates even the Community of the Guardians - has always been the possession of a circular mole in the centre of the right cheek. Why not, thought the Regents, extend the arbitrariness of this into other areas? Why not, for instance, appoint a Royal Empiricist only from those having moles on their right arms? Or a Royal Astronomer from the lucky possessors of moles on their left arms? The cynics may mock, but let them remember, or do their homework: say the names out loud, and savour them: Mendikop and Lobina, Smirnov and Kraichek, Drainin and Polikova, empiricists and and astronomers most brave and extraordinary! Shortlisted for their offices by moles, but illuminating them with their genius! And was it so very odd that particular moles could throw up these and other giants? I expect you are familiar with that old jibe of the entirely clean skinned people of Bog: "Scratch a Steefaxian, and irritate a mole!" Well, with our average citizen possessing 18.7 of the little beauties, we were certainly the galactic champions in that department.
The appointments that were at least partly mole based became many and varied; clerks and grooms, technicians and craftsmen, soldiers and physicians, journalists and engineers, were equally in the mix. It was the responsibility of parents to make lists of their children's moles, and to submit them to the Archdraxite's Office. When appointments fell vacant, the lists were consulted, and candidates of the qualifying age were summoned before selection boards
From the beginning, the process of choosing an archdraxite went something like this: all girls in their fifteenth years having moles between their shoulder blades were given oral and written examinations to test their soundness in 'repentance philosophy'. Those who made it to the short list had to undergo the 'ordeal of stillness'. Standing feet together, hands down by their sides, heads up, eyes looking straight ahead, the candidates were scrutinized by assessors looking for anything that could be called a movement: a twitch, a muscle spasm, a blinked eye, a licked lip, any such would result in instant elimination. Even those - the majority, perhaps? - who did not actually want to become Archdraxite would probably have been careful not be accused of deliberate movement; so there they would stand, until simple weariness, cramp, or natural need got the better of them. Contests lasting several hours were not uncommon, and on occasion exceeded the length of a day! It is plainly obvious that the winners of these marathons were likely to prove formidable holders of their office. The first of them showed her metal from the start.
Archdraxite Phoebe announced that she was going to ask the infant Hamlet the First to summon the Guardians. The Regents objected, on the grounds that the little boy could not possibly know what was involved. The Chronicle of the Year 1065 gives us Phoebe's peremtory reply: "Neither does he need to know. His right to summon remains."
The six year old learned his lines well, and when the Guardians appeared he put to them the follwing argument: "We, Hamlet, of that name the First, King of Steefax, of that ilk the Minor, are but a weak and unlearned child. In this time of great crisis it is our determined will that the right of summoning you, the Guardians of All Truth, should be removed from us, and given instead to the Archdraxite of All Steefax, to Her Grace Phoebe and to her successors." Having no mind, presumably, to the political implications, the Guardians declared themselves happy to yield themselves to the summoning power of the new estate. Apart from one grand, early exception, this act ended the power of the monarchy for the next hundred years and more.
With the Regents reeling - one may suppose - from the shock of this initiative on the part of their creation, Phoebe struck again. "We cannot," she announced, "in this time of peril, support the continuance of an infant upon the throne." Not a voice was raised in protest, or at least none that came down to us.
Phoebe thought that a mole in the centre of the chest would be appropriate to a monarch, and that the age of twenty two would be about right. It would certainly enable her to see off a brace of monarchs, at least.
From the seven men having the required age/mole combination a short list of three was drawn up. The candidates were given two weeks in which to write histories of Steefax, and treatises on its current ills. If Phoebe had been as subtle and devious as Archdraxite Nell, she might have been less willing to approve the Accession to the throne of one Thirsius, a lecturer in history at the Royal University. He became Hamlet the First, and not the Second, because the brief reign of his predecessor was declared null and void. About what happened to the infant, nothing is recorded.