Hybel 26, 1014
“Here we are!” said Freddy, cheerfully. Freddy had that habit of being cheerful. Milo usually appreciated it. But today the smile soured his stomach and grated on his nerves. He did his best to smile back, but thoughtfulness won out.
Good Lord, what had he been thinking, letting Freddy talk him into this?
He stared up at the big building before him. The bank. He knew where the name came from: the banca, the tables, the Reman money-changers would set up in the various cities of the Empire. There was always a need for money-changers in Reme, given that the official currency was hardly the only one in use in the empire. And when Remans had started coming to Camford in peace, to study and pray, they had brought money-changers with them. They scented the profits to be made in an international city like a shark following the trail of blood in the water.
And they had grown from there. But Milo didn’t know much about them, other than that they dealt in money the way other men might deal in furs or lumber or metals.
All he knew was that he didn’t belong there.
“There’s no need to be nervous,” Freddy said when the seconds had passed and Milo hadn’t been able to summon up an answer. “You’ll like Josh. I’ve known him since we were both children. And you’ve known Rob for years!“
Milo shook his head, not in denial of the facts but of the conclusion they were seeking to prove. Men like Milo did not belong in banks. They did not use banks. Well–they might, in certain circumstances. Arranging letters of credit for a long journey or pilgrimage, and perhaps arranging money for Camford. There was no denying that it was much easier to transport a letter of credit than a chest of silver or gold, and that such a letter was much easier to replace if lost or stolen. Plenty of noble families also used banks to support their children studying in Camford for the same reason. But for the most part, you didn’t put your money in a bank because … well, why would you trust a bunch of coin-pinching merchants with your money? Money usually had to be reinvested directly back into the land, or into your daughter’s dowry, or into arms for your son. And if you managed to do all those things and still had some left over … well, you spent it; you didn’t leave it to molder in some bank.
The only noblemen who spent any amount of time in banks were those who used them not to store the money they already had, but to acquire money they had no way of getting legitimately. To see a nobleman going in and out of a bank was enough to start a rumor of his debts and his imminent downfall from society.
“It’ll help,” Freddy went on. Milo looked up. “I promise. And besides, you don’t have to agree to anything today. Just listen to what Josh has got to say. You said you’d do that much.”
“So come on. Let’s go in.”
In they went.
Seeing the interior of the bank did nothing to allay Milo’s misgivings. It was in good taste, he’d give it that — but he wouldn’t expect anything less of a brother of Rob and a brother-in-law of Dannie. But in a way, he could see too much of their influence to truly trust what he was seeing. There was just enough richness to the paneled walls and inlaid floor and furnishings to suggest prosperity, but not so much to cause alarm. Rob and Dannie between them would know just how to give that impression. They wouldn’t even see it as dishonest. And maybe it wasn’t. Maybe this bank had all the caution and probity that the decor suggested.
There were things that suggested it — things that Rob and Dannie could not have designed between the two of them. Things like the busy clerks scribbling at the desks studded throughout this main entrance. Things like the long polished counter set with cashboxes every few feet.
Things like the well-cut blue velvet robe worn by the dark-skinned man hurrying toward them. Freddy saw the man, smiled and waved. The man smiled back.
“Good morrow, Master Ferreira,” said the man, shaking Freddy’s hand.
“Hello, Master Kennedy,” replied Freddy. “Thanks for meeting us. This is Sir Milo,” he gestured to Milo, “whom I told you about.”
“Ah, of course!” Master Kennedy stuck his hand out, and Milo shook it. “Welcome, Sir Milo! Master Wesleyan is expecting you both now. Shall I lead you to his office?”
Milo tried to smile. “Thank you, sir. I think,” he looked to Freddy, “that would best?”
Freddy nodded complacently, like this was something he did every day — although, now that Milo thought about it, he probably did do this every day. Or if not every day, at least once a week or so. Doubtless he didn’t even need Master Kennedy to lead them through the door to their right, down the corridor, and to the blue door that was, to Milo’s eye, exactly like every other narrow blue door in the corridor.
Master Kennedy rapped smartly at it.
“Come in!” came a voice from within. Master Kennedy opened the door, leaving Freddy and Milo to follow in his wake.
This office … Milo looked around as best he could without actually looking around. He couldn’t see so much of Rob and Dannie here. The walls here were paneled wood, not cheap by any means, but giving off a homey and down-to-earth vibe. The floor wasn’t the expensive inlaid marble of the lobby but a much more serviceable stone. Desk and bookshelves, table by the door, chairs, even the books and candles and curtains — they all gave off the impression of a man who liked his comforts, liked them to look nice, but didn’t want to pay extra for so-called style. Milo wondered if that ought to make him relax or tense.
He focused instead on the man behind the desk. There was no denying that he and Rob were brothers. This man’s hair was lighter, but his eyes were the same dark shade, and the mouth and smile were identical. His stride and his handshake were both more powerful than Rob’s, but somehow unthreatening.
“Sir Milo, I presume?”
“Aye, Master Wesleyan,” replied Milo.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, none of that,” laughed Master Wesleyan. “Call me Josh. Everyone else does. And it’s not like your wife and mine don’t meet every Wednesday for tea.”
That remark, Milo guessed, was meant to put him at ease. Did it? He certainly had nothing against Cressida. She had a certain sly humor about her that reminded him of Dannie, and he’d liked Dannie once he’d gotten over being afraid that she’d eviscerate him with a glance sooner or later. But more importantly, Nicole liked Cressida — and Dannie, and Sandra, and almost every other lady she met, other than Lady Gwynedd.
Who was — shit! — Joshua Wesleyan’s sister. Milo wouldn’t think about that now.
And while he wasn’t thinking about it, Joshua had greeted Freddy and exchanged a laugh and some small talk with him, and had urged both men to sit down, and had himself sat behind the desk. “So,” he said, shoving his chair in, “what can I be doing for you, Sir Milo?”
They were starting already? And Joshua wasn’t even going to say what he’d heard from Freddy? He was going to sit there with his hands neatly folded in front of him, head tilted to one side, ready to listen politely? That was …
Actually, that was a lot like something Rob might do. Somehow that thought made Milo relax, even as he wished that he had brought Rob around for support. Or, hell, asked Nicole or Rob to arrange an introduction to Joshua, so the first time they meant wouldn’t be in a strictly business setting.
But it was too late for that now. Milo glanced at Freddy, who nodded encouragement to him. Freddy wasn’t a bad man to have around as backup. Milo would make himself remember that if he had to write it on his palm and keep looking at it. He turned to Joshua. “Well …”
Wright damn it, where to start? I hear you have lots of money, can you help me get some? didn’t sound like a very good opening.
He took a deep breath. “I–I suppose I’d better just come out with it. Freddy–Freddy probably told you that I’m trying to save up for an estate of my own. A — a small one,” he qualified. “And I–well, I just put aside what I can. But Freddy thought you might have some ideas to … to help me, and to move things along more quickly.”
There. He had spit it out. Now he just had to hope that he had said the right thing.
Joshua was grinning like a cat in cream. Was that a good sign? “Ideas? Sir Milo, we have a lot more than ideas here. We have a range of investment opportunities –”
“Josh,” Freddy interrupted with what could only be called a look. He didn’t say anything more out loud, but Milo was pretty fluent in reading looks, and he was pretty sure this one said, Go slow — he’s a novice at all this.
Milo forced himself to breathe and turned back to Joshua.
He caught Joshua in mid-snort. But the smile he turned to Milo was friendly enough. “How about, Sir Milo, I give you a sampling of what we can do, and you stop me whenever something sounds interesting?”
Milo nodded, because that seemed like what he was being asked to do.
“Good,” Joshua nodded. “So, like I was saying, we have a range of opportunities for you to choose from. Some of them are low-risk, but they usually carry a low rate of return.”
Rate of return — that meant they wouldn’t make Milo much money. He nodded. “All right …”
“A higher rate of return usually carries a higher risk. Although …” Joshua hesitated, then he said, “I’d be very careful of anyone promising to double or treble your money in a short amount of time. That’s a pretty sure sign that what they’re running isn’t an investment, but rather a con.”
A con. Great. That was the last thing Milo needed to be worrying about now.
“The lowest risk,” Joshua went on, “would be for you to deposit some of the money you’ve saved up here with us, and we’d pay you interest on it. It wouldn’t be much, of course, so I’d urge you to–”
“Wait,” Milo interrupted. “You–you would pay me to keep my money with you?”
Joshua blinked. “Yes …”
Milo looked around — at the building, new-built and probably costly. Out the window, at the prime location in the royal district of Camelot. This place was probably safer than where Milo was currently keeping his money (in a chest under the bed) … and Joshua wanted to pay him for the privilege of keeping it there? “Why?”
Joshua blinked a few times, jaw slightly fallen. Thankfully Freddy came to the rescue. “Milo …” He scratched his head. “You — you don’t know how this works, do you?”
Milo could only shake his head, shamefaced. Men like him didn’t use banks.
“Well, it’s pretty simple, really,” Freddy replied. “If you deposit your money with Joshua, you’re … you’re basically loaning him your money. He can then use it to make loans to other people. And then –”
“Wait–wait,” Milo hesitated. “That’s — that’s usury.”
Usury. The Church didn’t like that. Milo knew that his education in some things had been lacking, but his tutors had prepared him well for the Camford exams, and part of that preparation had consisted in going over the long, long list of things that the Church didn’t like. And, of course, understanding the reasoning for it. Usury actually made sense to Milo. If you charged interest on a loan, you were essentially getting money for doing nothing. You were also, in a way, charging money for the time the money spent out of your hands — and, according to Milo’s tutors, many Church authorities held that time was something that nobody could buy or sell.
Joshua, however, was wincing. “Well … some say it is … but …”
“I don’t want to do anything sinful,” Milo interrupted. Investing — that was one thing. If you invested your money in something, even if you didn’t do any work to make whatever it was happen, you were still taking a risk with that money. If the risk came off, you would get your money back and more. If it didn’t, you’d lose the money. That made it, according to the Church, all right. But just demanding money and not doing anything in return … that couldn’t be right.
Joshua sighed and shook his head. “It’s–it’s not.” But he didn’t sound sure. He swallowed and looked up. “Usury — I think of usury as charging obscene amounts of interest, more than anyone could hope to repay, and using the loan to — to take advantage of someone. That’s sinful. But just charging enough to make it worthwhile to lend the money? That’s not sinful.”
Milo shook his head. “Isn’t — if you can afford it, isn’t it better to give the money? Or, if you can’t afford to give it, lend at no interest?”
The way Joshua kept his eyes trained on Milo suggested that he was having a great deal of difficulty not rolling them. “Sir Milo … aye, aye, charity is always better than business. Fine. But the world doesn’t run on charity. It can’t. And most people won’t let another use their money just on the promise that they’ll pay it back. They need to be compensated for the risk they’re taking.”
“What risk?” asked Milo.
“That the debtor will do a bunk and run off with the cash, never to be seen again,” Joshua shrugged.
Milo blinked. If you seriously thought that the debtor was likely to run off with the money, then why would you–
He stopped. He understood suddenly. In a nobleman’s world, if you lent money, it was to someone whom you knew, someone who wouldn’t run away. It was almost always to another nobleman, a man constrained by the same kind of honor that constrained you. Maybe there were some men who disregarded that honor, but most did not: the consequences for acting dishonorably were too grave. So a nobleman had a reason to trust. And, Milo realized with a sinking stomach, even though the Church frowned upon charging interest in cash for a loan, they said nothing about favors done in return for the money lent. Plenty of noblemen would lend out a bit of money and instead of interest receive a favorable word put in with the King or some government official, or perhaps an advantageous match for a son or daughter, or a market agreement that was perhaps more advantageous than strictly warranted.
But this was not that world. Joshua was not lending money to only men of honor. He was lending it to other tradesmen and merchants, men who were not as mean and sniveling as some noblemen might believe, but who all the same had not been brought up with the strictures of honor from their very cradles. These were not men who could give favors. And they were probably not men whom Joshua knew well enough to simply lend the money and trust.
There was still, however, one last possible argument Milo could raise. “There’s still no labor …”
“No labor,” he repeated.
“Josh …” Freddy warned. Joshua only held up a hand.
“Tell me, Sir Milo,” asked Joshua, “when a man rents out his land to farmers or businesses and collects the cash from them — what labor is he doing?”
“Er …” Milo murmured. That sort of thing happened in cities all the time, even if it didn’t happen often in the countryside. In the countryside, the bargain was much clearer: knights and nobles swore to protect the peasants under them, and the peasants in turn swore to work the land the noble owned and support him that way. But in the cities …
And sometimes, Milo realized, the Church owned the land that was being rented out …
But he would not let his thoughts go down that path. That way, Milo sensed, lay error and heresy. He knew he wasn’t, perhaps, the smartest of men, but he wasn’t stupid enough to walk open-eyed into what was clearly a trap laid by the Grim Reaper. “You … you bring up a good point.”
Joshua smiled, and leaned back, and nodded once. Milo noticed Freddy glaring from the corner of his eye, but Joshua seemed content to ignore that. “Of course,” Joshua continued, “if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of a simple deposit and collecting interest from that — well, I won’t try to push you into it. However, in that case I’d urge you to rent a strongbox from me and keep your money here — it still ought to be safer here than at your home.”
Rent, thought Milo, barely avoiding a sigh. Well, he supposed that was what he got for opening his mouth.
“I do, however, have a range of other options available … starting with crop investments, or really, insurance …”
Milo took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. As unfamiliar and bewildering as all of this was starting to sound, he couldn’t help but think, This is more like it.
He wasn’t, however, thinking that for long.
When Milo got home that afternoon, his head was spinning with the possibilities.
He hadn’t agreed to anything. Somehow Joshua seemed not to have a problem with this. He’d nodded wisely and told Milo to take his time. Talk it out with his wife. Look at his money. Consider just what his goal was, how quickly he wanted to get there, and what risks he was and wasn’t willing to take.
And there were so many choices! He could invest in a crop. In a ship. In a business that Joshua offered to put him into contact with. He could invest in Glasonland; he could invest in Reme. He could invest in land, though Milo assumed he hadn’t the money for that. He could invest in just about anything he could think of, and somehow, some way, Joshua would find a way to make it happen.
Somehow, though, the conversation made Milo less willing to take any risks. It was all too much to take in, let alone choose.
Marian saw him first when he walked in. She dropped her chalk. “Ah! Ah!” she called out, which was the closest she could get to Da-Da … or Mama, or ba-ba, or any other of the words he and Nicole had been trying to teach her. Still, it was to be expected. She wasn’t even a year old yet.
Milo, however, first paid his respects to his wife before heading over to his daughter. “Hello, Marian.”
“Uh! Uh!” she shouted, holding out her hands in the universal gesture for, “Up!”
Milo crouched and kissed her hair, silky-straight and smooth — more like his hair than Nicole’s, for all that she had Nicole’s hair color. His own eyes stared up at him out of her face. But her smile? Her smile was all hers.
“Hello, baby,” he murmured, still unable to believe that his precious little baby would be a whole year old within the week.
And that was when it hit him. Marian was little now, but he would be fooling himself if he didn’t think she was growing fast. The women all said that a year after your child was born was the time to start trying for another one, and if Milo knew Nicole, youngest of eight that she was, she would probably want to start trying for another baby sooner rather than later.
And Milo was not ready. Never mind emotionally (Tom had said no father was ready emotionally), but financially. Soon there would be school fees, and music lessons, and knights’ training, and hopefully Camford someday. Milo wouldn’t think any farther out than that, but … but he needed to prepared. He needed to have enough that he could afford to raise his children right while he laid out a path for the future.
“How did your meeting at the bank go?” Nicole asked as she stood and walked over to where he was holding Marian.
… How to answer that?
“Nicole?” Milo asked as he brought Marian up closer so she could give him tiny baby kisses.
“Do you think, someday soon, we could invite Joshua and Cressida Wesleyan to dinner?” He took a deep breath. “He–he gave me a lot to think about today …”
Milo petted Marian’s smooth, perfect hair. “And I would like to — to think about it some more, and talk it over some more … with you.”