Monday, August 9, 2010


"I am very pleased to be able to meet with you, seƱor," de Cerveza said to the official of the Monte-Cristan Academie des Sciences. "His Majesty the High King will be equally grateful, should your Academie be able to shed some light on the debasement of our coinage."

The scientist nodded graciously, if a little shyly. "Mmmm, that is -- kind of you, Don Rafael-Vidkun," he said. "Thus far, we have been able to confirm that the metal in the coinage was not in fact zinc, or tin, as, aahh, first thought, but was, in fact, a rather, ahh, unusual metal called aluminium.

"As to who was responsible, or why they might have taken the action he, she, it, or they took, we, ahh, are unable to ascertain. Those considerations are, ahh, quite outside our area of expertise, as I'm certain the Don will understand," the scientist said with a lopsided smile and apologetic shrug. "Human motivation and behavior is something we of the Academie prefer to leave to diplomats...and the clergy, of course.

"Of course, if the source ever is discovered, the Academie would be very interested in that information."

Don Rafael-Vidkun nodded and smiled. "I read the confidential summary memorandum the Academie so thoughtfully provided," he said. "It seems this...aluminium of yours offers a number of potential metallurgical advantages, although the difficulty of obtaining and working it makes large-scale commercial use uneconomical at this time."

de Cerveza gathered papers into a leather portfolio. "I thank you once more, for my own account as well as on behalf of His Majesty the High King," he said to the scientist. Bowing, both took their leave.

Returning to the well-appointed inn in which he had taken rooms, de Cerveza found Havelocke the Henrovian taking his ease in the sitting room of their suite. "Were you able to learn anything among your contacts here about who might have been responsible for the debasement of the currency, my Colonel?"

Havelocke smiled. "Alas, it is Major now, don Rafael," he said. "I found no new information, but it is widely suspected that some odd metal was used, rather than the usual zinc or tin."

de Cerveza nodded, pouring wine from a crystal carafe. "The Academie confirmed it," he said. "They gave me a memorandum to read about this...aluminium of theirs. Official ministries being what they are, and judging by the look in the eye of the man with whom I just spoke, I should say that this wonder-metal has even more remarkable properties than they are letting on."

Havelocke nodded assent. "Seems a safe assumption, right enough," he said. Then, as if remembering something he'd forgotten, he spoke again. "Oh, I spoke with a man today who is somewhat acquainted with your man Schwinglein, and seems to get news from him now and again. He could not -- or did not, at any rate -- offer a reason, but the word from Nuevo Narviki is that everything is at sixes and sevens for some reason."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Two weeks earlier (continued)

A murmur of confusion, punctuated in one or two places by surprise and consternation, swept the chamber.

"But what means this 'devolucion,' Majesty?" asked Don Adolfo-Miguel de Soto, Minister of the Ports and Customs.

Joern Carlos smiled slightly, and by way of explanation, said, "The redoubtable and honorable Thanes of the Moerish Dominions and of the Cota Basquard have on more than one occasion offered to 'go it alone,' as it is said, out of pique over an inadequate heorthwerod gift. What we propose to to let them."

The High King motioned the sudden uproar to silence. "Gentlemen, please. Your concern is understandable, but consider: What we gain in revenue from the Khalifa's domains is minuscule, I believe" -- here he looked at Don Alejandro, who nodded assent -- "compared to what we spend keeping them quiet and pointed in more or less the same direction as the rest of La Union Real.

"Likewise, our frontier with los Basquardos is one long -- to say nothing of mountainous -- smuggler's playground. What the Treasury spends each year attempting to keep the level of smuggling below the level of 'gross embarrassment to the Crown' is not remotely offset by the customs duties from the ports in Cota Basquard.

"But what of the army?" someone -- the High King couldn't tell whom, in the crowded chamber and general hubbub -- asked. "What about the continuing threat of...." Here the speaker trailed off, but more than one pair of eyes slid to the direction of Llano del Caballero, the Plain of the Plain Thanes, the border hills, and beyond those -- mighty Gallia.

The High King nodded. "In years past, it has been the policy of this House to seek to become a Great Power through acquisition of territory. However, it is our belief that that game is just about played out, and that the returns no longer justify the blood and treasure we must spend to achieve them.

"Conversely, we learn that the colony at Endopotamia is beginning to show real signs of economic vitality" -- another confirming nod from de Plimoto-Volare -- "and the treasury not being bottomless despite the best efforts of the good Don Alejandro, it is now our settled view that what we spend buying off the Khalifa and the Thane of the Cota Basquard every year would be better spent building a merchant marine, along with a navy to protect it. We should also be able to increase the proficiency of the regular army.

"In addition, we see opportunities for increased trade at reduced cost with the lands we send their way.

"Finally," he added with a wry smile after a pause, "it has entered our mind that the legitimacy of the Crown should rest on a firmer foundation than 'take our word for it, we are the anointed of the Almighty.' The Britannian, Locke, has written much -- and well -- on this subject; we have had occasion to have some of his work translated into Scandalusian lately."

The High King rose from his place at the head of the table. "Gentlemen, we realize that we have given you much to consider, and with little warning. We will convene again in a few days, to hear your views -- but we must be candid: our mind is set upon this course. In the meantime, Hasta la vista."

The assembled ministers and clerks bowed and backed through the double doors of the chamber as the High King watched. Once safely out of view, they turned and headed in various directions, many in search of pen, ink, and paper.

One or two ran.