Lenona 10, 1014
Richard took a deep breath and looked into one of the many, many small alcoves in the great warehouse. “All right, Mason, let’s hear it.” There was much to do today, especially since he had missed work the day before — and his appointment with Prince Kay was this morning, too.
Mason coughed and took out his wax tablet, already crammed with notes though the day had just begun. “Right, sir. The Chalice brought in another shipment of mahogany and ebony …”
“And we’ve had …” Mason looked from right to left and carefully murmured, “We’ve had word from Captain Jay, too.”
Damn this secrecy. Captain Jay was currently in charge of the Blithe Spirit, which was undertaking a trade mission to Valencia, Simspain. And of course trading with the Smoors in charge of Simspain was the sort of thing that would bring the Church down on your head sooner or later. Richard knew that Mason and most of the clerks and all the captains didn’t care much about the Church’s prohibition, but many of the warehouse and dockworkers were hired for short stints. It was hard enough to find enough men who were sober, honest, and hardworking without having to stipulate that none of them be excessively pious.
And the devil of it was that Richard could never be sure just how trade with proscribed regions might play out politically. The King had absolutely no interest in dictating just whom Richard could and couldn’t trade with, but that lack of interest could be a detriment as well as a benefit. If things got bad with the Church and the King needed to give some ground, demanding that trade with Simspain be cut off would be a quick and painless way to go about it … for him. And if that came to pass, how many allies would Richard have on the Council to try to talk the King out of it? The du Lacs would probably stand by him, but Sir Bors was appalled by the whole idea, young Sir Lamorak looked thoroughly confused the one time Richard had brought it up, and Sir Mordred … Sir Mordred would do whatever served Sir Mordred’s interests, if Richard was any judge.
Richard started walking, Mason following him. “And what word does Captain Jay send?” asked Richard.
“The landward winds are quite favorable, sir,” replied Mason, which was their code for word that the negotiations with the Smoorish merchants were going smoothly. And that was good. Plenty of nobles in Glasonland and Reme loved Smoorish curiosities, and the best place to get them was from Smoorish merchants. There was also the spice and silk trades to consider. Smina was a good source for both, when looked at very broadly, but the Smoors had some different spices and their silks and other fabrics could be quite popular as well. There was also the matter of their knowledge, particularly in the area of weapon manufacture. Captain Jay had been tasked with bringing back a few swords and some of the Smoors’ famous black powder.
“I have put the letter on your desk, sir, if you want the full details,” Mason went on. Richard nodded. “But Captain Jay also reports that the Blithe Spirit should be leaving for home within the month.”
“Excellent news,” replied Richard, not caring who heard him on that one. “Now, we’d best get the rest of the inventory done before Prince Kay–”
A cheerful rat-a-tat sounded on the door, and Richard shouted, “Come in!” before continuing to Mason, “Anyway, before Prince Kay comes for his appointment with me. So we’ve got to get more –”
“Good morning, Baron Ferreira!”
Richard tried not to let his jaw fall … or at least tried not to be obvious about it. “Your — your highness! Good morning! Welcome!”
“Hope I’m not too early,” smiled the Prince.
“No, no — not at all!” Richard lied. He knew Prince Kay, but mostly as Freddy’s friend, and the friend that Freddy had was a cheerful, fun-loving, free-spirited sort. Richard had automatically assumed, when Prince Kay asked for this appointment on the morning of the tenth, that “morning” meant “approximately five minutes before noon.” Well, he knew what Maude would say to that, had she still been alive: Don’t assume, Dickie-boy; it only makes an ass out of you and me!
Richard was almost certain he was the only man in the kingdom whose mother-in-law kept winning arguments three years after her death.
He strode forward and shook the Prince’s hand. “Anyway, welcome, your highness. I’m pleased you were able to make it.”
“It’s I who should be thanking you, my lord, for taking the time to talk to me about my voyage to Takemizu. Especially today. My congratulations to you on the birth of your granddaughter.”
Richard’s jaw almost fell. He never could have imagined that word of the newest addition to the Wesleyan and Ferreira families would have spread so quickly to the royal family. Little Elena had been born just before dawn the day before, Dannie having gone into labor in the middle of the night. Luckily it had been a short, easy one, so short and so easy that once Clarice and Bianca were there, matters were proceeding so quickly that nobody had had time to go across the street and alert the Wesleyans. So Richard had grabbed Elena as soon as he was allowed, marched across the street, let himself into the Wesleyans’ house and up the stairs, then barged into still-sleeping Mark’s room while announcing at the top of his lungs, “Somebody wants to meet you!” He might have come close to giving Mark a fit of apoplexy, but it was worth it to see the look on his face.
But the most important things were that Elena was doing well, Dannie was recovering splendidly, and that Richard was at a bit of a loose end with Bianca staying with Dannie for a few days to help out. At least he still had Freddy, and Clarice, and little Colin to keep him company.
Still, there was work to be done. “Shall I show you to my office? We can speak more comfortably there.”
“Certainly. You don’t mind if Walter comes, do you?” The valet smiled as he was named. “He’ll be accompanying me on the journey, and I figure it would be easier for him to hear everything straight from the horse’s mouth.”
“Not at all,” replied Richard, and he led the way upstairs after nodding to Mason to continue with the inventory without him.
But this did put a bit of a stymie in his plans. Richard had no idea what the purpose of sending Prince Kay on a voyage to Takemizu was. On the one hand, it could be as simple as trying to find a good career for a younger son and prince. The King was with Lady Leona in wanting to build up the navy; he might have decided that his younger son was a good man to help out with that endeavor. Or he might have some diplomatic aims with the Sminese … it was so difficult to tell!
And if Walter was going to be sitting in … it might be difficult to come right out and ask …
Oh well. Richard would cross that river when he came to it. In the meantime, he could usher Walter and the Prince into his office, see that they were seated, and take a seat himself. “So … sirs,” he said, settling on that as the only possible honorific to be used for a Prince and his valet, “how can I help you today?”
“Well, if you happen to have an idiot’s guide to Takemizu lying around, I’d take that gladly!” laughed Prince Kay. Richard laughed too, the better to hide his sinking stomach. “But I suppose I had better start with the basic questions. We’re sailing early next year, so that my father will have plenty of time to hear from Leona how her voyage went and strategize. And I know we have to be back before the winter storms set in. So … how long will that give us in Takemizu?”
At least that was an easy question to answer. “The journey takes about two months in good weather. So I’d give it at least three for the return journey, especially since you’ll be sailing close to winter. And, your highness, I know you’ll have an experience captain sailing the ship, but I cannot emphasize enough that you should give him wide latitude. If he thinks you ought to winter in Reme, you’d best do it.”
The Prince shot Richard a quick lopsided smile. “I never understand those who hire an expert to do this or that but insist on sticking their nose in everything don’t let the expert just get on with it.”
Richard almost breathed a sigh of relief. Good. At least the Prince was willing to be sensible. He knew that Prince Thomas was pragmatic almost to a fault, but you never could tell with princes … particularly princes who had not been raised to someday be kings.
So it was on to Kay’s next question. “Can you give me any tips for dealing with the Sminese diplomatically? I know my father authorized you to set up some agreements a few years ago, but Da–er, my father wants something more official.”
So the Pendragons — or at least this Pendragon — called their father “Dad” when they were off their guard, not the stuffy and staid “Father” that Clarice always used to refer to her male progenitor. Richard wasn’t sure why that made him relax, but it did. “Perhaps I’d best go over the agreement I made with the Sminese all those years ago — and I’ll send a written copy around in the next few days — so you have an idea where you’re starting from.”
Richard leaned back and relaxed in his chair. “You see, most kingdoms are not as … er … open to trade as the King is. Many of them –”
“Figure the best way to get gold from it is to walk up to the merchants and demand it, instead of leaving taxes and duties out and figuring that the savings will work their way up to you eventually?” asked Prince Kay with an innocent smile and an even more innocent series of blinks.
Richard laughed out loud. “Well, if you want to put that way, aye! But all the same, there’s benefits to doing what they do, not least of which is keeping a close eye on everything that comes in and out of the country.”
“Hmm,” Prince Kay murmured, and Richard didn’t push the matter further. After all, after two years of Council meetings, he ought to know what a thoughtful Pendragon looked like.
“Anyway, the original agreement I hammered out with the Sminese tended to be pretty lax on the import duties, but steep on the export ones,” Richard went on. “At the time, you see, they were more worried about us taking goods out of the country than what we could bring in. I think there’s every indication that the balance might change a bit when you get there, however. Glasonland’s merchants took a hell of a beating during the war. Most of the trade in salt and rye that goes to Takemizu … well …” Richard scratched his head. “I’m doing a lot of it. Other smaller Abionese merchants have gotten in on the game, too.”
“Re-ally,” Prince Kay replied. “But what — if you don’t mind me asking — are we bringing to the table to trade?”
Well, that was a good question, and even though it came from a place of ignorance, what question didn’t? “Grains,” replied Richard. “We ship a great deal of lumber from the Lothian woods, too. Not the exotics, your ebonies and mahoganies and everything else, but oak, pine, ash, and the rest — we’ve got more of that than we can use at the moment. Smina is very built-up, and they’ve exhausted some of their forests. So sometimes it’s cheaper to import the wood than to try to process it themselves. Certainly it is in the coastal cities that are far away from the remaining lumber supplies.”
“I see,” replied Prince Kay. “So … we’ve got a lot of the trade from Glasonland –”
“And Gaul, Simspain and Smooria,” Richard added. “Sorry to interrupt, your highness, but I have to be certain you get the full picture.”
“No, please, interrupt!” Prince Kay grinned. “Lord, the last thing I want to do is go there and look like a complete ass.”
For some reason that made the valet snicker. Prince Kay elbowed him. “And no comments from the peanut gallery.”
Richard looked between the pair, shook his head, and turned back to Prince Kay. “Anyway … as I was saying … we’re the only contact that the Sminese have with the Gauls, the Simspanish, and the Smoors,” Richard continued. “Glasonland, I think, has picked up much of its trade with Gaul again, but everything is overland and like I said, their merchant marine took a hard hit. It’s also a toss-up as to whether they’ll be trading with the Simspanish once their shipping recovers — and they certainly won’t be trading directly with the Smoors, I can tell you that much.”
“But what about the Remans?” Prince Kay asked. “I know they’re not as … observant of the Church’s doctrine in some things …”
Richard barely avoided snorting. To call the Remans “not as observant” was to be guilty of a gross understatement. Still, the question deserved answering. “They’re not, but the Empire is a big place. What they get from the Smoors, they keep. And for that matter, the Empire has a lively trade of their own going with the Sminese.”
“Ah.” Prince Kay nodded. “And the Twikkiis?”
“Are certainly not trading on their own behalf, and the Travellers, so far, haven’t been interested in trading with the Sminese,” Richard replied. “Probably because the Sminese won’t let them set up a mission.” And I wish I could blame them. On the one hand, he couldn’t help but pity the Sminese, cutting themselves off from the Lord like that … on the other hand, when the Lord chose people like the Travellers as His messengers, it was hard to blame them.
“Er … my lord, I have a question,” the valet interjected.
Richard glanced at him with the most honestly-inquiring look he could muster. “Aye?”
“You and the Prince have mentioned more than once that trade with the Smoors is … difficult because of the Church.” He glanced at the Prince, some inside joke being told in the quirk of an eyebrow. “But the Sminese are infidels, too. What’s the difference?”
“Ah. That’s a good question.” One Richard had never known the answer to … if there was even an answer to be given. One was that the trade between the Remans and the Sminese was older than the faith, and asking the Remans to give it up would have meant giving up on converting them. Another reason that sprung to mind (Richard’s mind, at least), was that Churchmen liked silk (for altar vestments) and spices (for eating) as much as anyone else. And then there was the reason that the Church gave.
“Apparently, at one point in his life, St. Robert expressly approved it,” Richard shrugged. “It’s not in the Book, but there seems to be some kind of evidence for it — what that is, I don’t know. I’ve never asked.”
Prince Kay exchanged a glance with Walter; both shrugged. “That would explain it,” replied Prince Kay.
Prince Kay turned back to Richard. “So whom, exactly, would I be dealing with?”
“If you were me, you’d be routing everything through the Customs House in Takemizu, since that’s the only port the Albionese use,” replied Richard. “But … you are the King’s son. You might have to travel into the interior to meet with some officials of the Emperor.”
“Not the Emperor himself?”
“Oh, Wright no!” Richard answered. “The Sminese … from what I understand, they think that their Emperor is descended from their gods. He’ll show himself to the Sminese, but he’ll never meet with foreigners in person. From what I understand, the Sminese think he’s too sacred for that.”
“Too sacred …” repeated Prince Kay thoughtfully.
“Aye, it’s a bit odd,” Richard agreed — or at least, he thought he was agreeing. It was difficult to agree with someone who was being as non-committal as Prince Kay. “But that being said, you’ll know just where we stand in their estimation based on who they send to treat with you. If it’s only the Customs House in Takemizu, well, you’ll know that the Sminese don’t view us as very important. If they’re taking us — or really, you — seriously, you’ll probably meet with their Imperial Treasurer.”
Richard paused, then added, “Er … and I’d probably better explain about the Sminese … government. You see, at the top of the heap is the Emperor, and they have nobles … sort of … large hereditary landowners … but in order for a man to gain power there … well … he’s got to prove himself, you see.” Richard watched as Prince Kay wrinkled his nose. “And he proves himself, first of all, by qualifying to join the civil service … by passing a test.”
“A test?” asked Prince Kay.
“Aye,” Richard agreed. “You see, they have a philosopher that they set great store by. I forget his name, but anyone who wishes to join the civil service has to know a great deal about his works, and be tested on it. And … well … you move up from there. This ensures that the Emperor only gets men around him who’ve been tested by fire, you see.”
“Instead of those with the most land, the most men, or the most money,” Prince Kay mused. “Wise.”
Richard was so startled by that pronouncement — though, perhaps, he ought to have expected as much — that he couldn’t speak for a moment. Then, to regain his composure, he started babbling about Sminese customs and traditions, and how best to blend in, and how not to give offense, and basically how to comport oneself in the country without looking like a complete ass. The next hour passed quickly in that.
And when it was done, Prince Kay stood up; Richard stood too. Prince Kay pumped Richard’s hand. “I can’t thank you enough, my lord. You’ve been a great help. Thank you for being willing to give so much time to a dullard like me!”
“You’re hardly a dullard,” replied Richard, being completely honest for once. He doubted that King Arthur could have raised a dullard — and, now that he thought about it, that wasn’t giving nearly enough credit to the Queen, who also would have been hard-put to raise a child to be a dullard.
A bit more polite nonsense passed back and forth before the Prince took his leave of Richard. Once the Prince and his valet were well and truly gone — and Richard could be certain that neither of them would be running back with “one last question” — Richard sat down again.
He took out Captain Jay’s letter. Now — now the real work of the day could finally begin.