"And now, your Majesty, we come to the matter of the annual heorthwerod gifts," said Don Alejandro, Count de la Plimoto-Volare, Chancellor of the Exchequer to High King Joern Carlos XI. Though Don Alejandro to all appearances was as composed as ever, the High King knew him well enough to detect a minute hesitation in his voice and a certain wariness in his eyes. He cocked his head and offered his longtime servant a subdued smile of wry affection.
"We take it that some of our stalwart Thanes of La Union Real wish for larger gifts this coming year, Don Alejandro?"
Don Alejandro nodded. "Yes, Your Majesty."
"Very well. Don Alejandro," said the High King with a sigh. "Who wants what?"
"Well, Your Majesty...the Khalifa is requesting an amount that would nearly double last year's gift."
The High King quirked a corner of his mouth. "The Khalifa, peace be upon him, has made a great show in recent months of communicating with great ostentation with fellow believers over the seas. It is as if he wishes to send us some sort of message, is it not?"
The assembled ministers of the High King's Council -- Scandalusians and Cuatrofenians to a man -- murmured assent.
"Leave aside for the moment our inclinations in the matter, Don Alejandro. What are the odds we could actually give him what he asks?"
"None at all, Your Majesty, at least not without incurring ruinous tax increases in Scandalusia and Cuatrofenia, and increasing import duties at the ports in both the Moerish Dominions and the Cota Basquard."
"In which case the Moers and los Basquardos would simply indulge their penchant for smuggling to an even greater degree than they already do," mused the High King. "One cannot entirely blame them, we suppose, but it is ridiculously hard to protect our smugglers from pirates and thieves without revenue."
"We are still attempting to determine the extent to which the coinage has been debased," Don Alejandro added. "We think we have been able to contain the worst of the damage, but we have not been able to ascertain who is behind it. It is rumored that the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition will offer the Crown its services in the matter," he added.
The High King's face clouded. "We are not over fond of the Holy Inquisition," he said, "but we are even less fond of whomever it is that is responsible for the debasement of the coinage. We would almost suspect the involvement of agents of the Khalifa...or of his foreign associates, but we are well aware that there is no evidence of that."
Joern Carlos paused. "What are the other requests, Don Alejandro?"
"The Thane of the Cota Basquard has requested an increase of thirty percent." At an inquiring look from the High King, Don Alejandro shook his head slightly -- no, we can't afford that either. "The Thane of Cuatrofenia," he went on, "has indicated he will be more than satisfied with the same gift as last year, under the current pressing circumstances. None of the Thanes Minor have asked for increases in heorthwerod gifts," he added.
Well, may Heaven bless Duke Miguel and the Thanes Minor, at any rate.... The High King steepled his fingers and mused for some moments. At last he spoke again. "I have been reading of late, of a word much in use in Britannia. We are not experts in the Britannian tongue, but it would render in Scandalusian, I believe, more or less as 'devolucion.'"
To be continued....
6 months ago