I feel hugely privileged to be the first to write for the My Farynshire section of this blog.
I thought long and hard about the place in Farynshire that meant the most to me – there are so many! Do I choose a natural wonder, a beautiful village, one of our most spiritual places? In the end I chose Market Square in Rookpot, the place of protest, dissent and rebellion.
The most famous of Rookpot’s Squares is Dameg, surrounded by the Library, the Council Chambers, The Museum and the Cathedral – it is the heart of the city. EassenBren is its soul, and I like to think of Market Square as the city’s conscience. In many ways it is the opposite of Dameg Square. You can see immediately see the contrast between the two when you go through St Fulk’s Cut, the high-walled alleyway that connects them.
The most immediately obvious difference is the graffiti. Unlike its pristine neighbour, Market Square is covered in graffiti – some of which has been dated to before 1400, and some of which is still wet from last Tuesday. Market Square is Rookpot’s public forum, the Square of Ideas, and a lot of them are scrawled on its steps and walls.
But most ideas are conveyed via well prepared speeches, or, more often, incoherent shouting.
Every potential Councillor has to give a few speeches here. Before live feeds, the Council Clerk stood on the steps and recited the minutes of every full Council Meeting. I suppose if the wifi ever goes down some poor secretary will have to do this again. All important announcements are made here.
But it is not just a place for the Council or for important announcements; in fact, these take up but a fraction of the calendar. Market Square is the place in the city where anybody can say or preach anything. It is also the place where, no matter who the speaker is, anyone can argue back.
This sounds like a perfect set up for authorised street fights, I know. But the authorities treat violence (including throwing anything) in Market Square very seriously. The offence is Wilful Destruction of Trust of the People, and the minimum sentence is a week in Rookpot Gaol.
There is also a Code of Conduct that must be adhered to:
- All speakers are prohibited from using loudspeakers, megaphones, or any other public address system
- Anyone who uses the Speaker’s Square to make speeches does so at his or her own risk
- Rookpot Council will not be responsible for any prosecution or legal action by the Constabulary or civil proceedings
The Code is engraved on the left gate post as you walk into the Square, so everyone knows the rules even if they rock up on the day. If you plan your protest in advance, like we did, you receive a copy of the Code via email.
The debates grouped together by classes, and written up in chalk on the blackboard by the entrance. Our student protest was in the Rookpot class, because it focused on the proposed removal of the portrait of the Digger, Meredith Roke, from the Museum Gallery. The title of our protest was History Needs to Celebrate and Acknowledge its Thieves, Amateurs and Adventurers. The idea was to bring the debate surrounding the controversial Digger (which I won’t expound on here; if you want to learn more there are plenty of books in The Lilac Beech and records in the Library about the Rokes and their contributions to the Museum) out of academic circles and to the public’s attention.
This is one of the Square’s main functions: to bring grievances out into the light, and rally support for petitions and causes. Anyone in authority is always seen as a fair target, and there have been numerous protests against the Council or Peer Families – a servant once spent five days endlessly pontificating against one of the Peers. Because of these acts of outspoken sedition and dissent, the Square has always been seen as a safe space. Some have tried to use it as a place of sanctuary, but only those expressing an opinion are safe from arrest – you can’t just pitch a tent in the Square.
The main speakers take turns to make their case by standing on the Speaker’s Spot – a coloured circle in the centre of Market Square. They address the crowds gathered on the surrounding stone steps that rise above them. It is a bit intimidating to make your case in front of all those jeering and cheering faces, but maybe that is the point: your views must be robust enough to survive the mob.
You cannot be arrested in the Square, but anyone breaking sedition or other laws can be arrested as soon as they step back across the threshold. There have been incidents in the past where Rookpot Costabulary have blocked all exits from the Square, waiting to make arrests when people leave. This has led to some calling Market Square a freedom cage.
The authorities have also tried to stop people getting into the Square at all. The Constabulary have formed a ring to stop people from entering, but this was deemed an illegal act. One of Rookpot’s Peer Families erected concrete slabs across the entrance, but these were torn down, leaving two stunted remains left in place as testament to how important the Square is.
And then there are those who believe that having a designated area for free speech is offensive – arguing that all of the city should be free. And whereas everyone might agree that ideally this should be the case, history has proven the value of Market Square. Its special status has allowed everyone space and opportunity for their voice to be heard. And this has meant that Market Square has righted wrongs, exposed corruption, held authority to account, and sparked the occasional revolution.
History is everywhere in the Square. In the graffiti scrawled over every surface, on plaques on the walls commemorating some of the most important and memorable altercations and announcements in the Square, and simply in the knowledge of all that has come before. You can feel the righteous anger of all the people who have stood on the Spot before you lift your voice so that everyone can hear.
So definitely make your way through St Fulk’s Cut from Dameg Square when you visit Rookpot. And, whilst you are here, maybe check out the Gallery in the Museum, where the portrait of Meredith Roke, a rascal, a thief, an unscrupulous seller of precious artefacts, the first Digger, still hangs.