The Blue Star
Chapter 8: High Politic

Public Domain

Although the day was bright outside, little light could seep through the leaded panes and what little light there was had been cut off by heavily looped curtains. There were candles down the long table and in brackets on the walls. In the marble fireplace at the high end of the room a small flame smouldered under the stone cupids; before it three men were standing, with goes of brandy in their hands. Baron Brunivar was recognizable by his description—tall, with a mane of white hair and a firm-set mouth that made one think of the word “nobility” without reference to civil condition. He was talking with a short, round man who looked as jolly as he could possibly be and a dark, grave-faced lord who held a kitten in his arm till the little thing struggled to be set down, whereupon it played round his feet, catching for the shoe-laces. In spite of his solemnity, this would be Florestan, the Laughing Chancellor; he was known to favor cats.

In a moment he looked around and signed to Tuolén the head butler, who rapped a little silver bell on the table. All the men from various corners of the room gathered. Three of them were episcopals in their violet robes with flowers of office. Florestan quietly waited till all were at rest, his visage in calm lines (but Rodvard could see just enough of his eyes to catch an intimation that this might be a grim business). He tapped the bell once more.

“My lords, if you were ignorant of this convocation’s purpose, you had not been summoned; therefore, let us leave all preliminaries and turn straight to the matter of Her Majesty’s finance.”

Pause. The apple-faced man said; “What’s there to say of it?”

“That it is a very dangerous thing to have the court in poverty when we are threatened with this question of the succession.”

The faces along the table watched him attentively, all set in varying degrees of stubbornness, and as the kitten scratched at the leg of his chair, he reached down to pet it. “My lords, this has now grown so grave that we can dissolve our troubles only by measures never taken before; all the old means eaten up. Yet we still want money to pay Her Majesty’s army, which is not only a disgraceful thing but also a perilous. Those who should protect us may become our persecutors.”

The little round man’s smile was jolly as before, his voice not; “Your Grace, a bug close to the eye may look as big as a lion. Is there proof of true disaffection?”

A man with silver-streaked hair and the breast-star of a general on his silk nodded gloomily. “I bear such proof. This brawl among the Red Archers of Veierelden has been given a light appearance; but my men have looked into it, and it runs deeper than you think. Namely, they were shouting for the restoration of Pavinius to the succession. We hanged one of his emissaries, a Mayern man.”

“Pah,” said the round man. “Since he was exiled every ruction has been a shout for his return. They do not mean it.”

“Dossola will never bear a king who is himself the leader of a sect opposed to true religion,” observed one of the episcopals. “Even his one-time followers of the Amorosian faith have rejected him.”

Florestan held up his hand. “My lords, you wander. I summoned you here on this matter of finance to say that it is within the powers granted to me as minister by the Queen’s Majesty to establish by decree the new form of tax-payment proposed by our good friend, the Count Cleudi. Yet as some of you have been good enough to let me know this plan will never succeed, I now ask what other you propose.”

“It is a plan to steal from the nobles of the land, and it will surely not be borne,” said a long-faced man with great force.

Said one of the episcopals; “The estates of the Church must of course be exempt from this plan; for it would be an affront to the most high God to make his spiritual ministers into tax-gatherers for the lesser, or civil estate.”

Chancellor Florestan threw back his head with a burst of laughter so heartily sustained that it was not hard to see how he had won his calling-name. “The same spiritual ministers,” he said, “have little trouble with their consciences when it is a question of collecting taxes to their own benefit. No, I do not contemplate that the lords episcopal shall be exempt, however ill that sits, and I tell you plainly that I will enforce this plan with every strength there is. Come, my lords, you waste my time, which belongs to the Queen; and so dissipate her resources. I ask again; who has a sharper scheme than Cleudi’s?”

Now they burst in on him with a flood of words like so many dogs barking, which he hardly seemed to hear as he leaned down to pet the kitten. Rodvard, watching the calm indifferent face, could not catch a clear vision of the eyes in the candlelight and flow of movement. He saw Tuolén advance to pick up one of the glasses, with his eyes fixed on the horsefaced lord who had been so vehement (and it came to him that Florestan must know there was another Blue Star in the room, and be concealing his thought from reading). The Chancellor reached over to tap his bell once more.

“We will hear the Baron Brunivar,” he said.

The lord he mentioned turned a stately head, (but though he was squarely in face, Rodvard could only make out a thought troubled and urgent; nothing definite.) “Your Grace,” he said, “when I first learned of this plan, I thought it was put forward merely to provoke a better. Now I see that it is not, and though I have no plan for raising more money, only for spending less, I ask you to think what will happen if you persist in it. More taxes cannot be borne by the commonalty; they’ll rise, and you’ll have Prince Pavinius over the border with a Mayern army at his back.”

The Laughing Chancellor turned his head and said to his own writer at the side table; “Be it noted that Baron Brunivar spoke of treason and wars in the west, where his seignory lies.”

White eyebrows flashed up and down over Brunivar’s orbits. “You shall not make me a traitor so, Your Grace. I have stood in the battlefield against this Pavinius when he was Prophet of Mancherei, with all Tritulacca to aid him; and there were some who fled.” He looked along the table. “It is not exterior war I fear, but Dossolans at each others’ throats, and an unpaid army against us.”

Florestan’s voice tolled; “Write it down that the Baron Brunivar doubts the army’s loyalty to Her Majesty.”

Brunivar’s face became a grimace, but he plunged on. “Let me beg Your Grace: could not enough be saved on the household budget for the spring festival to keep the army happy for long?”

“Write it down that the Baron Brunivar declares Her Majesty to be extravagant.”

“I’ll say no more. You have my completest word.”

Said Cleudi lightly; “I thank you, my lord Brunivar, for having shown that no plan but mine will do.”

Brunivar’s mouth flew open and shut again. Said one of the episcopals; “Let us think if there be not another plan. I have heard that in some of the estates of Kjermanash, when extraordinary measures are needed, they have a tax on flour which is levied at the mill; most collectible, since no one can avoid it if he wishes to eat bread. Could not a similar be laid here?”

Florestan’s lips twitched. Brunivar struck the table. “I said I’d done, but this outdoes all. My lord, in the west it is exactly that our people have not coppers enough both to buy bread and pay their present taxes that has roused our troubles. Will you starve them?”

The little fat man said; “Yet the present revenues are not enough.”

A general murmur. Brunivar stood up in his place at the table. “My lords,” he said, “I am forced to this issue. The burden lies not on the court alone, but on all of you. The popular can pay no more; whatever comes, must come from our estates. It has been so since the Tritulaccan war and the loss of the Mancherei revenues that kept us all in luxury. We in the western seignories have made some sacrifice toward the happiness of our people, out of free will and the love of humankind. We have been without the troubles that vex such seignories as yours, Your Grace of Aggermans—” he looked at the round man “—and without witchings. And this, I think, is because we show some love for those we rule.”

Cleudi lifted his hand for speech and the Chancellor signed to him. He said; “I speak here under permission, being a foreigner, and not familiar with these new religions that have vexed and divided the ancient realm of Dossola and its former dominion overseas. I would ask whether the Baron Brunivar’s talk of love for humankind places him more definitely with the Amorosians who follow the first doctrine of the Prince-Prophet, or with those who now accept his word?”

 
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