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 do...is 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.
3 weeks ago