The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 22

While the commanders went back to their camps to rest and prepare for the meeting that evening, Ky’s work continued. That afternoon he was meeting with the head tax collectors, who assigned tax districts to the workers who did the actual collection.

The Emperor wasn’t needed to add weight to what he said, since generally, the tax collectors were favorable to the man who appointed them to their position. Instead, he met up with Lurio, the man responsible for Roman finances. Ky headed across the imperial campus, as he was beginning to think of the complex of buildings holding the Emperor’s residence and the centers of governance for the Roman Empire, to the treasury building.

He found Lurio already there, with ten men gathered around. They all had slates where they were working on something, talking in hushed tones.

“Ky,” Lurio, said, standing and greeting him with the Roman style of forearm shake. “I have been teaching them the new numbers you showed me. I’ll say they were pretty skeptical at first, but once I walked them through what you showed me, how easy it is to add and subtract numbers and perform various functions, they were amazed. The idea of a number that stands for no value was particularly shocking, and it took some time for them to figure out its value.”

“Does anyone have any issues with them?”

“No,” one of the gathered men said. “It seemed so strange and useless when he first explained this system, but once we started using it, it’s amazing how easy this is to work with.”

“Yes. I expect it will be a big step in keeping better track of the empire’s finances. That’s the main reason I wanted to meet with you today. As of right now, you are all out of a job.”

Ky waited while the ten men erupted into shouts. He’d spent some time with the Emperor early that day strategizing how he would deal with the empire’s army of tax collectors. The biggest problem for Rome’s finances, besides the constant squeezing of taxable land by the Carthaginians, was the corruption among its civil servants. Nearly a third of every sestertius collected went into their pockets and not to the empire. As the government had weakened that corruption had only gotten worse. If Ky was going to build up and modernize the empire, he needed to fix its finance system.

“Enough!” Ky said, his voice cutting over the rest of the men. “Rome is hemorrhaging money, and much of it is finding its way into your pockets. This has to end. The old system will be no more. You might still find a way to serve the empire, and even enrich yourself, but it will be on our terms. Anyone who wants to stay and find out how their job may be earned back can stay. Anyone who is too offended at having their thievery pointed out may leave ... now.”

Two of the men stormed out in a huff. Ky knew they would be problems down the road, but he needed to cut the bad apples quickly if he was going to turn the finances of Rome around in time.

“Good. All of you have your jobs back, but there are new rules. There will be no more pocketing of taxes, either through bribes paid to you to accept lower taxes or by marking owed taxes as lower and pocketing the difference, or any other scheme you can think of. We will be checking on you, and we will hang any man found to be stealing from the empire. There will be no bartering, no pardons, and no second chances.”

The assembled men all squirmed in their seats, but none spoke. Ky knew they were all guilty of lining their own pockets with tax revenues. In this time, that was almost expected and was unofficially counted as part of the collectors’ pay, making it the desired job to have. That didn’t mean that he was willing to put up with it, however.

Rome needed to transfer from being an ancient civilization, where corruption and graft were the norms, to a post-industrial revolution society where the graft wasn’t institutionalized and was generally frowned upon by the public. This would normally take a long time and be a slow process, but Ky didn’t have time to wait. That meant taking a more forceful approach.

“That is the stick, but... “ Ky paused, realizing that he had’t seen a carrot since coming to this time. A quick query of the AI’s database told him that carrots hadn’t made it to this part of the world yet, or at least not in his timeline.

“We also offer them a treat, instead,” Ky said, altering the age old adage. “I know your wages were based on a percentage of what you brought in, which created infighting over who got more lucrative territories, and sometimes the urge to cross boundaries and poach on others’ territory. We will be changing the structure of how you are paid. You will each be paid a wage from the treasury itself, with bonuses set by how close you get to collecting a hundred percent of the taxes in your area, instead of pay being based on the amount of taxes collected. Once the new patent law is passed, this will include collecting taxes on the new government patents, which means areas that were previously lucrative, such as inside Devnum itself, will become more active. The new payment structure, however, will not change the amount of taxes you collect, so this shouldn’t matter. An important addition to this is that you will be required to keep detailed records. If your agents do not turn in the proper records for a territory, you will not be paid. We will still send out someone else to check the areas unreported, and I don’t think I need to explain what happens if we find the taxes were collected, but were not reported, do I?”

He looked at each man in turn, to make sure they understood that he was serious.

“I know you have questions, so now that my threats are out of the way, we can get down to details. What questions do you have?”

Ky spent the next several hours answering their questions. The majority seemed to revolve around how they would be paid, which was only natural. Once they found out more details of the new structure, however, they relaxed. Their previous system was a cutthroat business, literally. It wasn’t uncommon to find a tax collector in the gutter with their throat slit. The hard part was figuring out who did the cutting. Sometimes it was taxpayers upset about how much they paid or trying to avoid paying their taxes and other times it was another tax collector, trying to move in on a more lucrative territory.

The new system wasn’t perfect, and there was still going to be conflict. It did, however, eliminate the need for having a better-landed region as the main way to make money. It was also based on how much of the predicted taxes were turned in, which should motivate the tax collectors to be as thorough as possible while pocketing as little as possible.

There were still going to be times when a business or person would owe more in taxes than predicted, which will lead some collectors to attempt to pocket some of that difference, since it was over what they were expected to turn into the tax office. That is why Ky made them all understand there would be random audits by clerks, verifying what taxes were paid and looking at businesses’ records. He knew they wouldn’t catch all offenders, but after the first couple were hanged, it would keep the rest of the graft to at least a tolerable minimum.

The meeting with the collectors went much longer than Ky had expected, making him the last one to make it to his next meeting. They were gathered in the Emperor’s audience hall, with stools set out for each of the men to sit on, and the Emperor upon his dais, looking down on them.

Ky was certain none of the assembled men were oblivious to the Emperor’s not too subtle message with the arrangement.

“As Velius said, the situation is dire,” the Emperor was saying when Ky walked into the room. “Ahh, our Consul is here. Ky, Legates Velius and Aelius were just giving the newly arrived Legates an update on the current situation and everything that has happened since the last message they received. Ramirus also updated us on what we currently know about Carthaginian preparations, when we think they will attack, and what their forces will be. Ky has, of course, been receiving this information as it comes in. Now that he is here and everyone is up to speed, Ky will explain the changes he is preparing to make to the legions to expand our forces quickly and prepare us for the battle ahead of us. I want to make it clear; the Consul and I have discussed these decisions in length, and he has my full support on these measures. I’m sure you gentlemen will have some issues with this proposal, but I agree with him that this might be the only chance we have to survive the conflict ahead of us. Ky?”

“Thank you, Emperor,” Ky said, moving to stand in front of the dais, diagonal from the Emperor, so he could look at the assembled commanders. “Like the Emperor said, I’m sure some of what we’ve been planning has leaked out, and hopefully I can put your concerns to rest. We’ve spent the days since the battle looking at the situation and what we can do to prepare for what the Carthaginians will be sending towards us in the spring. Even with the additions of your legions, the number one problem we see is manpower, specifically, a lack of it. Losing Globulus’s legion was a blow, but even with them, we would be woefully outnumbered by the horde the Carthaginians are preparing. We need to find a way to increase our forces, and we have to do it in an incredibly short amount of time.”

“This is where you’re going to tell us you need to bring slaves and enemy soldiers into our ranks?” Pius, Legate of the second legion, said. “Swords at our backs, ready to stab us as soon as we turn to face the Carthaginians. We don’t need them. We’ve successfully had conscriptions in the past. Your plan is suicide.”

“How have those conscripts worked for you in the past? You’ve thrown them in as fodder, to be chewed up and spat out by your enemies, to gain position, or time, or tire your enemy. None of those will work against an army this size. No position or time will stop them, and a horde that size can roll over poorly armed conscripts with little trouble. You’d have to use almost all of the local population, including slaves, to even slow them down a little bit. If you win, where would that leave Devnum or the rest of Rome?”

“We’ve talked with him about his plans, and we think they can work,” Aelius said.

“You shouldn’t even be here. Had your Legate not caught a bad break, we’d have another senior man here,” Eborius, the Legate of the first legion, said.

“Eborius,” the Emperor said in a warning tone. “Aelius acquitted himself well during the battle of Devnum and has earned the thanks of the entire empire.”

“As you say, Emperor,” Eborius said, not looking sincere in the least.

“All that aside,” Ky said, trying to get through the meeting without it devolving into useless antagonism. “We will be offering incentives to both the imprisoned soldiers and slaves to hopefully ensure their loyalty. We aren’t fools, however. We will spread them out amongst the existing legions, to make it harder to organize any kind of trouble. Every century will get at most twenty new men, a combination of local slaves and conscripted prisoners. We will have several months to train with them if we start now, hopefully getting them ready enough to be effective when standing with experienced soldiers and officers.”

“Won’t all those extra men bloat our current logistics for each of our legions?” Auspex, the Legate of the third legion, asked.

“It would if that’s all we are going to do, but we plan to do more. We will be reforming the Fifth legion and adding at least one additional legion. Those twenty men will not be in addition to your existing soldiers, they will replace twenty trained men, who will move over to the new legions, along with a larger influx of slaves and conscripted soldiers.”

The three legates exploded in protest, each yelling over the other about the stupidity of the plan.

“Enough,” Ky yelled, his voice cutting over the rest of the assembled men like a thunderclap. “I understand your concerns. You’ve trained these men and they have served with your legions for a while now. They are, however, not your personal fiefdoms. If we are going to survive the coming battle, Rome’s armies will need to change. We are going to need new men, new arms, and new tactics if we are going to survive past the spring.”

“Rome has stood for hundreds of years and our armies are the best-trained soldiers in the world. We need nothing,” Eborius said.

To read this story you need a Registration + Premier Membership
If you have an account, then please Log In or Register (Why register?)