Within their domains, the rulers of the satrapies or sultanates of the Lunar Empire rule with inherent authority. They are not mere governors or administrators – they are rulers in their own right with few restrictions on their authority.
Those restrictions are:
1. Must acknowledge the universal sovereignty of the Red Emperor and not trammel on his rights (command of the Lunar Army, religious status, etc.).
2. Must not interfere in the temples overseen by the Red Emperor.
3. Must protect the rights of Lunar worshipers.
4. Must pay taxes of stuff, people, and magic as demanded by the Red Emperor and on time. Failure to make the assessed payment by the payment date triggers the Tax Demons.
5. Must prevent civil disorder.
Beyond that, the satrap/sultan is free to choose their methods. If they want to squeeze their subjects, they can, as long as they pay the Red Emperor his due and as long as they don’t squeeze initiates or priests of Lunar cults. If they want to raise a private army they can, as long as they do not engage in rebellion and as long as that private army does not interfere with the regular Lunar Army. If they want to suppress the Orlanth cult, they can. If they want to authorize the Orlanth cult, they can. If they want to create brand new laws, they can. And so on.
This institution is a legacy of the Carmanian Empire, and their term roughly translates to “satrap”. It literally means “protector of the province.” During the first Wanes, a Pentan word “sultan” was used in New Pelorian, which means “power” or “authority”. However after the fall of Sheng Seleris, this title has largely disappeared in favor of “satrap” – although it is sometimes used to describe the rulers of peaceful barbarian nations or as a slur against overly independent and arrogant satraps.
One real world analogy is the relationship between a caliph and such rulers as the Aghlabids of Northern Africa and Sicily.
In fact, viewing the Red Emperor as the “caliph” of the Lunar “ummah”(which consists of all the initiates of Lunar religions in the world) is a very good analogy – in my opinion much better than comparing him to a Roman emperor. The Red Emperor is ALSO the supreme high priest of Yelm Imperator (he’s Yelm’s grandson after all), and all Yelmite nobles owe him loyalty and obedience, as do all Lodrilli, etc.
But his real power comes from being a demigod “caliph” of the Lunar world.
So let’s look at one of these sultanate/satrapies. In 1463, the Emperor’s daughter Hon-eel brought a message of surrender and tribute from the tribal kings of Doblian. The Red Emperor invited Hon-eel to live in Glamour and gave Doblian to her family, the Eel-ariash. They ruled Doblian as satraps (the word “sultan” having fallen out of favor), with the authority to do what they wanted. The Eel-ariash became a sprawling clan, and when Hon-eel resettled Oraya, the Red Emperor gave that satrapy to her as well, and she appointed a family member to rule it.
After the Nights of Horrors, many members of the Eel-ariash died, and the family was too weak to rule two satrapies. The Ari-ji took over Oraya, but the Molari-sor allies of the Eel-ariash waged a Dart Competition against the Ari-ji and seized power in Oraya, which was formally recognized by the Red Emperor in 1522 (the Molari-sor hunted down the last members of the Ari-ji and killed them in 1527).
Within a generation, the Eel-ariash were strong enough to wage a Dart Competition for control of the neighbouring Oronin satrapy – despite the opposition of the Red Emperor! In 1543, led by the legendary Dart Warrior Chain Dancer, the Eel-ariash seized power in that satrapy and forced the Red Emperor to acknowledge their rule. For almost two generations, the Eel-ariash ruled Doblian and Oronin satrapies, and had allies in Oraya. Even more impressively, in 1555 a direct descendent of Hon-eel reclaimed the Lunar colony of Furthest and the Provincial Kingdom of Tarsh and managed to have Phargentes appointed Overseer of the South by the Red Emperor. Just look at a map of the Lunar Empire and realise how powerful that family had become!
No doubt the Eel-arish were engaged in endless Dart Competition with other houses (and sometimes with the Red Emperor himself). Finally, in 1575, they were forced out of Doblian by the Yanoriao-ilart (who were secretly aided by Militaris). Upon Phargentes death in 1579, the Red Emperor reorganised the Provincial Government into three departments and in 1586 appointed a proxy (Appius Luxius) to rule as Provincial Overseer. However, the Red Emperor took Chain Dancer’s daughter Farangold Eel-ariash as a concubine, and in 1588 she gave birth to the Red Emperor’s daughter, Jar-eel.
Chain Dancer was a remarkable figure – if I recall, he the son of Twilight and first served with the Orayan House of Molari-sor and was active throughout the Sixth Wane (1518-1571). He never acted out of order, and so lived to a ripe old age. Every movement he made was part of a magical ritual taught by Hon-eel in his dreams. The result of the dance was the birth of the woman Farangold, who was Jar-eel’s mundane mother.
By 1570, I imagine him to be something akin to Yagyū Retsudō from Lone Wolf and Cub.
During the Third Age, you basically had the “caliph” at Glamour and two independent sultans – one at Jillaro and the other at Kitor, as well as small sultanates at Torang and Rist.
Even in the third age the sultans acknowledged the suzerainty of the Red Emperor. But for all practical purposes they were independent.