Preparing the Harvest.

You reap what you sow

The Grand Chancellor and his father, the Lord Treasurer waited in the pre dawn darkness for the guard to open the sally port to the Merchant's gate. The chill air had the nip of autumn in it, in addition to the light fog of the early morning hours that rose up from the river. The Grand Chancellor kept his hands in his jacket pockets and danced lightly on his feet too keep warm. His father just hunched over and rubbed his gloved hands together. It had been six weeks since the new king had replaced the old. The Lord Treasurer was grumbling to his son about the new schedule the new monarch kept. "In the old days we didn't have to come in till after breakfast. And he didn't hover over the work. Now we come in before dawn and he never has the fire lit till we get there."

There was the rattle of keys behind the door. The view port briefly opened and shut and the entry to the sally port opened.. They walked quickly the five steps through the sally port to the door on the exit. The door clanged shut behind them and keys rattled at it was locked. Again there was the wait for the keys to be turned before they could pass through the next door. They could smell the pine wood burning in the fireplace in the guards room above them.

They passed from the sally port to the palace square. They walked as quickly as they dared across the slick cobbles. The severed heads on the balcony had been taken down, as well as the ones above the tower. The Grand Chancellor had managed to get permission to have them buried the day before. However, the body of the king's brother still swayed above the Bailey Gate. It was still pelted by rotten vegetables and eggs on a daily basis. There was the body of a dead cat draped on its shoulder. The Lord Treasurer nodded to it and muttered "I look forward to when that gets taken down."

"It will take a while before that happens. There is a great deal of animus remaining to the man's habits."

The lord treasurer shook his head in disgust and nearly slipped on the cobbles. "I think he takes too many risks. I dread the time when our heads grace the Tower if things go badly."

The Grand Chancellor nodded in agreement as he helped his father around an icy patch. "At least he listens to us. He is not treating the whole business of governing as little more than banquets and fornication. We have accomplished more in the last month than we did in the previous year. And there is the added bonus of Neftchika being gone. That will aid the treasury immeasurably. Plus there is the advantage we no longer have to speak Grenouilian at court."

The treasurer let loose a humorless bark. "I am truly glad of that. It always made my nose itch. As for the salvation of the treasury... her and that bishop together. However starting a quarrel with the church over him is more of a risk than it's worth. The Arno Republic is totally under the thumb of their bishop and I don't believe it is a good idea to get into a war with them if their bishop decides to rescue our bishop."

Here they arrived at the front door to the palace. They were checked by the guard, and then permitted through. As they walked through the halls they kept their counsel. The king was willing to listen to advice, but didn't like private gossip. As usual when they arrived at the Grand Chancellor's office the king was already there reviewing paperwork. There was a bright and welcoming fire in the fireplace and the chancellor and the treasurer took the opportunity to warm themselves. Today he was going through the petition box and reading the petitions. He was reading them rapidly and putting some of them onto a stack, and tossing the remainder into the fireplace. As his officers warmed themselves in front of the fire he made brief comments about each one. "This one wants to know if her daughter who was put in the house of reform by the bishop can be released, as her old boyfriend is still willing to marry her and take care of the baby..... This one doesn't like my extending the curfew on the ghetto... this one is complaining of the ferry charges for transportation over the river....This one is pleading for reinstatement into the army..."

The Grand Chancellor looked over the stack of petitions the king had put in the pile and was surprised at how many there were. "I never knew why people bothered. All we ever did with them was use them as fire starters. There was even a saying 'The king is cold. Put a request in the petition box.' But it was full every time we opened it."

The king grunted. "Where he is now... he is plenty warm enough. This one wants the job of Almoner now that the Bishop is in jail. Cheeky devil." He put the request on the pile. "I have quite a few requests about remission of taxes. Especially on tallow and hops. Also quite a few complaints about how the city fathers here apply ground taxes."

The chancellor said "There is nothing we can do about the ground taxes. Free Cities and Key Cities raise their own taxes and pay the crown a set fee based on population at the beginning of each Sabor Naroda. "

The king paused for a moment and said "So that means that each city will have to pay a larger tax when we conclude the Sabor."

The lord treasurer said "That is very true, sire. But since the City guilds maintain their monopolies based on the customary duties they will be more than agreeable to the slightly higher tax based on population."

The Grand Chancellor added "It is also traditional to lower the per head rate during each Sabor. Each city usually gains about 800 people per Sabor, and we cut the rate by about 1 in 80. That way it looks as if the king was made to see reason by the burghers, but we get more revenue. It is a nice compromise. The late king wouldn't agree to the cut however, which is why his relations with the Sabor were so difficult. Given the population increase since the last Sabor, we can probably reduce the rate by one in 50 and still double our revenue from each city."

The king turned to them and said "So at the end of the Sabor Naroda the citizens of the towns will see their taxes double, plus they will be robbed by the gilds' monopolies. This looks like a fire waiting for a match."

The Grand Chancellor said "Sire, the way the cities organize their finances is their own affair. We need the funds the customary taxes provide. We get the revenues provided by the free and key cities and they do the tax collecting. The revenues we collect are far and above anything we could gather ourselves. And the cities provide a bulwark against the nobility and the church. Both of which are exempt from taxes."

The king then picked up an old volume that had been laying on the desk. He opened it up about a third of the way in and said "I wonder if either of you have seen this, or paid attention to it." Both of them looked at the page headed 'Conditions of Church Land Tenure.'

The Grand Chancellor read the page quickly, despite the archaic language. He looked up. "This is a very old statute. Surely it has been changed by now."

The king said "Well, your job for the rest of the day is to find out if it has or not, and by whom. But I think it has just been neglected and forgotten."

The lord treasurer picked it up from the Grand Chancellor and read it slowly himself. "Under the conditions for most of the time of the statue it would expose the tenant without a landlord's protection. I can see why very few, if any, had chosen to avail themselves of it."

The king said "Times are different now. Most small holders can hold on to a farm as the chaos of 400 years ago is long since past. And in all these cases, the tenancy reverts to Fee Simple tenancy, which means it no longer belongs to the church, and it becomes taxable."

The Chancellor said "Do you want to find a new quarrel with the church? Isn't the whole problem with the bishop and the benefit of clergy problem enough? We are having problems with the diplomatic service now because they are all ministers. Their right to travel without interference as clergy is what keeps inter kingdom discussions going"

The king said "You have been telling me the clerics have been pretty useless. Most of the useful discussions and information comes from merchants anyway."

The treasurer said "We can't send a merchant as our official representative. They don't have the freedom of travel that Clerics do. A merchant has to stop at every customs post. The Clerics walk right on by."

The king looked mulish. "Some of the Truscan principalities use their prince's commercial staff and forgo the clerics."

The treasurer nodded. "That is true, but that is only during peace time. When war breaks out, they go back to the clerics. And interfering with their commercial staff is interfering with the prince directly, so they have a higher level of protection than normal merchants. And Truscan merchants who are not part of the prince's staff are at a greater disability than otherwise, as they are seen as competition. It works against them."

The king brought the book back up. "Our friend Cannon Leonidas would of course have a copy of these ordinances? Note they are cannon law, rather than civil law. Also since he doesn't have the bishop, he can't start the process of changing them."

The Chancellor said "I will bring the ordinances to his attention today. So you are going to give him the opportunity for compromise here?"

The king smiled grimly. "Appearances can be deceiving. I am counting on our friend the cannon to dig in like the mule he is. In oder to show who is in charge here I need a large army which means large taxes. In order to curry favor with the populace I need to lower taxes. I can't do both. If the condition of most church lands is as I think it is, quite a lot of land will revert to fee simple. The taxes on that land will be a great deal lower than the rents the church is charging, so all those land holders will prefer to pay a small amount of tax to me. And I don't mind collecting lots of small taxes if I can get large revenues by it. We will of course use the Sabor Naroda to pass an ordinance to enforce the cannon ordinances. "

The treasurer said "The bishops will vote it down as a matter of course. Do you think the rest of the nobility will agree to it?"

The king turned to him and said "That the bishops will vote against it is a matter of course. I am counting on that fact. In order to cement my relations with the commons and the nobility I need a mutual enemy. The way the church has been run in this kingdom for the last 20 years, the simony, the embezzlement, the the traducing of the kingdom's daughters and the profanation of the churchmen's vows... The church has set themselves up as a convenient target and I intend to make use of that fact. You might have noticed that land not rented out or cultivated by the church reverts either to the crown or the local baron. That means there are lots of forest lands and common lands that the barons can acquire this way. And when it comes to the nobility, this is an abuse that I can assure you causes a great deal of anger."

The chancellor said "This brings an interesting question. I notice that you are very pious, You pray before meals, you spend a great deal of time in the chapel and you have been to confession almost every day. Why do you have such an iron limb to the Church? And of course you know that my father and I are churchmen. What assurance do you have that in your quarrel with the church that we will be on your side?"

The king sat before the fire and regarded them closely. "You both of you realize that you are, at least for now, easily replaceable. Also I have noticed your loyalty is not to me or to the church, but to the job. You both enjoy the work itself and the power it conveys. You are not gamblers. You are survivors. You are not going to make the risk of dividing your loyalty between the church and the job. It is the job which motivates you. Your affection for the church is not that great, your piety even less so. You, my good lord treasurer, have five children by your woman despite your vow of chastity and abstinence. You also seem to have amassed a considerable fortune, judging by the size of your daughters' dowries, despite your vow of poverty. "

"As for the 'iron limb' for the church.. I am surprised such a pious churchman knows such language.. I believe piety and anger at the way the church in this kingdom manages itself would be obvious. The religion is about salvation and charity and the church seems to be all about rents and multiple offices. It is my goal in my relations with the church to return it to some level of piety."

"Now the next thing. We already recovered the estates of Countess Lyubonochka and Countess Neftchika for the crown. I notice that we took out loans for 1250 gold talents for improvements to Neftchika's palace.The money was for Neftchika's benefit, not the kingdom's benefit. Therefore I think we should stop payment on them. I notice there is an annual charge of 127½ gold talents for interest and we have to find the money to pay the loan back in 20 years. The annual interest would pay the wages of 250 soldiers. And there is no way we can recover the principal."

The chancellor and the treasurer gaped in horror as the king spoke. The chancellor recovered first. "We can't do that sire. It will destroy the kingdom. The money was borrowed on the good faith of the kingdom, so we are obligated to pay it back. That it went to Countess Neftchika's palace and not to pave roads or build a new armory is of no moment. We owe the money."

The Treasurer said "We need to honor the debt. If we don't our credit is ruined and trade will collapse. We need that debt." He glanced out the window and noted the hour was already advanced. "Sire, I can not explain this in a short time. Please make a point to come to my office next week. Today I must rush and audit the payments which are due today. But please don't tell anyone you wish to repudiate that debt. Not until I can can explain this to you in detail." Then he rushed out the door.

The king watched him leave in wonder. "What is that all about?"

The chancellor said "Today is thunder day. He feels he has to supervise the payment on the loans that come due each week every thunder day. He is also going to have to deal with several angry merchants about it, as for the last weeks everything was very confused."

The king said "You agree with him about paying that loan?"

"It is vital we pay that loan sire."

The king sat in front of the fire for a long time while the chancellor worked quietly. After a while the king turned his head and said "It is almost insulting that we still have to pay the money for that, after all that.... By the way, what is the word on the arrival of the Lord Mayors?"

"The last of them is due today by ship. Given the tides today, he should be here shortly after the meridian. I have arranged for him to be brought directly here when he comes, and the rest of them will be sent for. I will have a brief meeting with them over the form of their call for the new Sabor, then I have arranged for you to meet them at a formal banquet, and then they will send out the warrants. Given the work they need to do when a Sabor Naroda is called, they should be on their way again at first light."

The king was restless. "I still don't see why we need to do it this way."

"I am your chancellor, not the chancellor. It is an nice distinction. You said you wanted to keep within legal norms as much as possible to reassure the populace."

The king stood up, leaned on the mantlepiece and looked into the fire. "The Sword of Damocles is heavy, sharp and I worry about the thread holding it up constantly."

"If you will forgive me for direct speech, but you placed it over your own head, and those of us around you must worry about it as well."

The king gave the chancellor a direct look. "I will have to value your honesty, no matter how harsh. It is because he only listened to flattery and his favorites that I am here and he lies in potter's field tonight."

"You will pay attention to what my father said. If even a rumor of your intent gets out about you wanting to repudiate a portion of the debt gets about the consequences could be dire."

"I have already discussed it with my lieutenants, and they believe it to be a master stroke. There is a great deal of anger among the troops about the profligacy of Lybovonochka and Neftchika. The troops resent those who made profits at their expense. It is said that half the price of drinking your beer was because of the way Neftchika opened her legs."

"I've heard that expressed myself in a much cruder fashion. ¾ of the price of beer to pay for her follies was the reason it was called Neftchika's nectar. But that does not change the fact we need good credit, as we will be doing a lot of borrowing ourselves. Only those who pay their loans can have new ones."

The king gave a sharp look. "But they are not my loans."

"They are the kingdom's loans. And you are the kingdom."

The king said "I need to pass my assignments on to my lieutenants. Review those petitions and see how many you can respond favorably to. Give me a report tomorrow on what can be done about each one. For now, I want you to visit the canon and explain the cannon statues on church land tenure to him. Come directly back to me and tell me his response. "

"Sire" called the Chancellor as the king passed through the door. "Please tell your lieutenants that what we discussed about the loans is to be treated like a secret and is to be kept under their hats." The king did not respond. The chancellor sat at the desk and glanced through the petitions the king had placed in the pile. He found several of them amusing, but put them on the bottom of the pile. One of them made him contemplate the fire for several moments, and then he reached for a tablet and stylus and he gave himself up to figures. Then he sat that petition on top of the pile, with the tablet resting on top to keep the pile in place.

The busy work of the office continued through the day. News of the arrival of the last Lord Mayor came in. After lunch he met with all the Lord Mayors in one of the audience halls. He explained the situation to them and requested they sign on to the request for the Sobor.

Any time you gather a collection of self important people into a room there must be natter and discussion and extended arguments about minutia. The Lord Mayors spent a long time debating the form of the circular, but the Chancellor kept them on track. It did not take too long till they had agreed and appended their signets to the many copies the chancellor's clerks provided and then they bustled off to prepare for the Royal Banquet. The Chancellor sent the circular off to the nobility, the shire captains and the various cathedrals. After a quick and modest lunch he set off to the Cathedral with a copy of the circular and a copy of the church statues to show the Cannon.

As he walked out of the palace he saw the king and his lieutenants drilling soldiers on the square. He walked around the square by the tower and stayed out of the way. He had never served, and he found the way the soldiers moved their partisans, nearly three times as tall as themselves, in perfect unison frightening.

Once through the Merchant's gate, across the moat (Which smelled worse than usual) and through the barbican he came to the Barbican square. The king had allowed markets to operate on the square again shortly after he took over the citadel and there was a very good selection of stalls on the square. On the Green square opposite the long wall were more troops doing drill. He walked along the edge of the green square and watched a group of cavalry practice a charge against a collection of hempen effigies and was impressed that anyone could stand against them. The horses hooves made the ground shake and the noise was stupefying. Despite the racket the stallholders on the Barbican square ignored it and gossiped and traded as if they were 1000 stadia away.

As he walked up the long avenue to the cathedral he thought over various ways he could effect a compromise for the bishop's release. Part of the problem was that the king was religious and the bishop was not. The king would expect both restitution for what the bishop had done, and a harsh penance. As a churchman himself he was well aware of the importance the church in the kingdom. He was as anxious as any to preserve the church's authority, but as he knew from the angry glances his church robes engendered in the people he passed by maintaining, let alone restoring the church's authority would be troublesome.. It would be a great help, he thought, if the church officials around the Bishop and the Cannon were not so pig headed about their prerogatives. It had taken four days for the Bishop to grant the dispensation so his father could marry. Four days of no food and no one taking out the bucket. Even with the Bishop's dispensation the Cannon would not permit the marriage to go forward. His parents had no problem continuing as they had since they first met, but the King had spent two hours writing a sulfurous letter to the cannon demanding that the banns be published. The cannon remained obdurate. So the king had sent notice that the cannon would be arrested if he left the sanctuary of the cathedral until it was done.

At last the Chancellor reached the top of the avenue and paused to admire the birch trees that marked its center and were now a bright yellow as the leaves fluttered in the breeze. There were quite a few of them flying along the cobblestones of the avenue when the wind was especially brisk. The Cathedral square was busy with seasonal commerce just like the barbican square at the other end of the avenue. The only incongruous note was the large guard contingent in front of the cathedral itself, watching each door with the lazy wariness of a cat at a mouse hole.

The Chancellor saluted the guard captain and explained he was carrying a message to the Cannon from the King. He made his way into the Cathedral close at the side of the main edifice. There was a warren of several buildings here that were officially part of the Cathedral, and he made his way to one unremarkable door beside a decorative portcullis into the Bishop's square within the Cathedral precincts. There he met a world weary secretary who deigned to announce his arrival to the Cannon.

In his short career in the Chancellor's office he had many times to observe the master of petty tyranny and bureaucratic annoyance at work. The Cannon in the days of the old king had at times been at the receiving end of many such lessons, so now that he had an opportunity to return the favor he took advantage of it. The Chancellor had been expecting a bit of this, so he kept his cool. That was the most important lesson to learn when dealing with petty tyrants. He also used his time to study the church statute book that the king had given him. He spent so much time studying that he didn't notice the time pass, and was surprised when the room went dark. He looked from the window and realized he would be stuck on the wrong side of the city gate. He hoped there was still a guard captain outside to give him a pass outside.

When he realized how long he had been stranded out in the ante room he began to seethe. This was a personal insult and his previous thoughts of how to make a compromise flew away and he began instead to dream of petty and humiliating ways to make the Cannon regret this.

When he was finally called into the Cannon's office his red hot anger cooled to the icy fury of a sleet storm. He was asked to sit on a stool in dark a corner away from the fire and the focus of three distinct drafts. It had been his intention when he had left his office in the palace to find some sort of accommodation with the Cannon. After all, they were both high churchman in the kingdom. And if the Bishop were removed, the Cannon would be in line to take his place. It became the goal of the Chancellor to see learned proper respect for royal offices.

But for now, he was just a messenger. A messenger with very bad news that he would see got considerably worse.

In the guttering light of two tallow candles on either side of his desk the Cannon arranged his expression into three parts indifference, two parts persecuted indulgence and four parts gloat. "Has the king seen the wisdom of calling off the guard and releasing the Bishop?"

The Chancellor had been taught self control as the supreme virtue since the time he was diapers and it really mattered. Now it mattered even more. "His highness " he said with the measured care of a widow counting out her marks for daily turnip "sent me to make sure you are acquainted with the church statues regarding landholdings by chantries and monastic chapters which have fewer members than their charters require. He intends to have the Sabor Naroda pass ordinances for their enforcement. He feels it imperative that the church obey all its ordinances as your vows require.

It was now the Cannon's turn to put on a face of iron self control as he reached for the brother of the book the king had been reading early that morning. He quickly turned pages looking for the the relevant texts. The Chancellor, sounding both helpful and vindictive said "Check pages 385 to 412"

The Cannon brought down two more wax tapers and lit them over his reading desk. When he found the relevant page, he began to read with an earnest intensity. The Chancellor no longer minded the drafts at the back of his neck. The chills going down the spine of the cannon were more uncomfortable. The Cannon read quietly, sometimes referring back a few pages, sometimes skipping ahead. Finally he marked his page with a strip of binding tape. The Cannon, his voice and his expression as bland as oatmeal said "These ordinances are quite ancient, and are of course, no longer binding. However, the ordinances do need to be regularized and it would be helpful to have the bishop here to conduct a synod to repair these matters."

The Chancellor said "These ordinances have not been repealed. The king intends their enforcement."

The Cannon said "That is impossible. Custom makes the law and these ordinances are contrary to custom. They must be amended

The Chancellor then passed over the circular from the lord mayors about the calling of the new Sabor Naroda. "This is given to you for storage as a matter of form" he said. The cannon just tossed it onto a pile of papers that were to be filed away.

They sat in un companionable silence for a few moments. Then the chancellor said "there is also the matter of my parents' marriage. They have the Bishop's dispensation....

The cannon slapped his hands on the desk. "That is invalid" he said. "it was achieved by coercion. We will not permit it."

The Chancellor stood up and took his leave. The Cannon responded coldly. The Chancellor made his way out to the square and looked around for the guard captain on duty. He looked to the city gate, called the Cannongate, and saw it was shut up closed and tight like the Cannon himself. The guard captain was standing in front of the gate supervising the change of shift.

The Chancellor strode to the Captain and greeted him with a warm salute. He got permission to pass through the gate to his father's house outside the wall. The old city bastion, a tall circular tower at the high point of the city wall next to the Cathedral was now part of the Cathedral complex, but was guarded by the city watch. The Chancellor asked if the watch would obey the Cannon or the King, and was assured the watch was under the discipline of the king's guard. The chancellor told the captain that he intended to have some people removed from the House of Refuge, housed in the old bastion, down to the citadel tower. He asked if word could be passed to the governor of the tower to have the top floor, until recently the apartment of the King's brother, cleaned and made ready for several persons who were also to be treated as honored guests of the king under close supervision. He then asked the captain to meet with him and the king in his office in the first morning hour to prepare the paperwork for the transfer. Then his work complete for the day, he passed out of the Cannongate and on to his way home.

next
Let me know what you think

Email (only use if you would like a response)