Upon her apotheosis as the Moon, the Red Goddess appointed her son to rule her mundane affairs. He is Her representative in the mundane world, her steward, deputy and successor (which interesting is literally what the word “caliph” means).
The Red Emperor exists to serve as her steward. To better do this, he became the Emperor of Dara Happa (the “rich land”) and has held that office for over three centuries. By virtue of being the Dara Happan Emperor he is the supreme leader of the Yelm cult in Peloria.
After Sheng Seleris tore apart the Lunar Empire and scarred the Red Goddess, the Red Emperor rebuilt the Lunar Empire. Since 1460, he has defeated the horse barbarians and forced them back into Pent, restored the ancient Rich Land to his management, defeated the Orlanthi and established the Lunar Provinces, and established the Lunar Empire as the greatest power in Glorantha. Pretty impressive.
But all of this is in tension with a goddess who reveals that all of this is maya. The Glowline is not cyclical, or at least claims that it is not. The emperor is Yelm not the Red Goddess. This tension, this cognitive dissonance, has erupted in recent years as the White Moon movement, which preaches that the Red Goddess’ stewards thwart her purpose. Pretty heady stuff and no wonder the Red Emperor has ordered its brutal repression.
In truth, the biggest surprise about the White Moon movement is that it took so long to reach crisis point. Ironically, it might well be the result of the Seven Mothers’ success in the Lunar Heartlands that triggered it. Like the Kharijites, the White Moon movement is a sect within the Lunar Way, and not a new cult with different magic, etc.
Is the Red Emperor is more loyal to Yelm or himself than to the Red Goddess? The Red Emperor is the Emperor. He’s loyal to himself. Maybe to a few favorite associates or companions. But he’s past needing anyone to approve his actions. He is Monsoon. He is the Emperor, heir to Yelm and Murharzarm. He is a demigod in his own right. The more important question is how loyal are the Red Goddess, Seven Mothers, and Yelmite hierarchies to Him?
The Red Emperor’s legitimacy is based on two things: he is the son of the Red Goddess (which has been weaker since 1460 – as this is not literally true) and that he is the heir to Murharzarm, Yelm’s deputy in the mundane world. Once enthroned, his position is about as secure as it is possible to be, and although a good emperor does the same sort of thing a Big Man does, he doesn’t have to. The Red Emperor can hand everything over to his servants and hide in his magical chambers if he wants.
Note that Orlanth represents the Big Man principle in leadership. That means he is accepted as leader because of his strength, his skill, and his wisdom – and his ability to persuade others that he has all three. He provides his followers with protection and largess, in return receiving support which he uses to increase his status. A Big Man’s position is never secured in an inherited position at the top of a hierarchy, but is always challenged by the different big men who compete with one another.
The metaphorical and magical truth is that the Red Emperor IS the son of the Red Goddess. But that was even more powerful when the Red Emperor literally was the son of the Red Goddess.
Orlanth often quarrelled with his brothers, but they will submit to his orders when pressed. He did this not through “leadership from the people” but by offering protection and support in a dangerous world, in exchange for service and loyalty. Those who challenged him were forced to submit by Orlanth.
Yelm’s authority comes straight from the Celestial Court – that was his job description, to be the emperor. He handed out names to the gods and spirits that came before him. Orlanth was a broken piece of what was supposed to be Right Air. But many gods refused the name Yelm gave them, and so Right Air became Umath and made his place in the world through his strength. Orlanth continues that – he is ruler of the unruly Air gods through his strength and deeds (and ability to break a few heads when needed).