Here’s a short piece by fellow author Jim Webster aka Tallis Steelyard.
I confess that usurers have a name as being distinctly dour and miserable
folk. This is something of a canard, I’ve known several who have a sense of
humour. They have been known to chuckle dryly at a fumbled attempt to hide something embarrassing in a set of accounts. Similarly the legend that
usurers are prone to spontaneous combustion should they venture out into
direct sunlight are just that, a legend. Admittedly given the gloom that
seems to hang around Port Naain for much of the year it is easy enough to
see how the legend might arise.
But strangely enough in other cities, usurers are cut from different cloth.
The usurers of Avitas are more adventurous. Indeed some are possessed of a positively raffish manner.
It is Cheal Latour whose tale I feel is worthy of recounting. The
commendable son of widely respected forebears, he entered the family firm as a partner before he was shaving. In Port Naain this is frowned on.
Partnership is dangled ahead of young men, a carrot for donkeys. To win the coveted partnership I’ve known very senior clerks venture deep into Partann to induce bandit chieftains to deposit their ill-gotten gains in a current account. The argument being that with a current account you have instant
access. This means that you can withdraw the money at an instant should you, perchance, feel the need to hire a mercenary company at short notice.
Between ourselves I would suggest they would be better off with a decent
deposit account. Any interest gained over the years would more than cover
the cost of the bridging loan you or your agent would have to take out to
cover the period between hiring the mercenaries and your deposit account
Indeed, when I stop to think about it, remembering what I was taught by old Miser Mumster, you wouldn’t need all that large a bridging loan. Hiring a
mercenary company does call for some money ‘up front’, perhaps a month’s wages in advance and a month’s money for maintenance. Most captains will accept that they’ll be paid in full when the campaign is over. Knowing the money is being automatically transferred into their accounts with Port Naain usurers will keep most of them happy. You merely need enough cash about should they succumb to the temptation of in point of fact paying for their supplies.
There again, the lure of just hiring as many mercenaries as possible and
worrying about paying them later must be overwhelming. After all, if you
lose, you are almost certainly not going to be alive to worry about your
debts, and if you win, then the assets of the losers are, potentially at
least, yours for the disposing of. None of this can make for an easy
relationship. I understand why our great condottieri captains often look so
perpetually worried. It strikes me that my relationships with my patrons,
even my most difficult ones, are far less complicated that the relationship
between a great captain and the person who has hired him and his entourage.
But I seem to have drifted from the topic in hand, and perhaps shown why I am not the person that usurers should send south to convince their felonious clients to forgo a return on their capital. I would probably spoil things by pointing out that they should not allow themselves to be panicked into doing something unfortunate due to a spurious need for haste.
As I was saying, Cheal Latour was very young to be a partner. But although
he was granted his partnership very easily, he was then expected to earn it.
Now whilst Port Naain tends to be parochial, dealing with Partann and along the Paraeba towards Oiphallarian, the usurers of Avitas are most
cosmopolitan. Not only do they compete with Port Naain for business within
Partann, they also have business arrangements across the Slash. This is the best pass through the Aphices Mountains, and Avitas is situated convenient to it. Certainly anybody crossing the pass will spend time in Avitas. So the usurers there have business arrangements with fellow financiers in places that are barely legends to the usurers in Port Naain.
Cheal Latour would travel regularly to Tarsteps or Elkin Keep to help deal
with letters of credit and to sort out various problems that had arisen. He
was responsible for negotiating reciprocal banking arrangements with usurer in places as far away as Colbig, Battern, and even Meor. Within the family business he was regarded as an old head on young shoulders, a safe pair of hands, equally at home with a writ, a winding up order, or a sword. Thus you can see why the family sent him to Prae Ducis when there were problems there.
The problems in Prae Ducis were complicated and subtle. One of the Lords of Uttermost Partann had been driven from his lands and with a handful of
followers had fallen back upon Prae Ducis. Here he wanted to regroup, hire
more men, and strike back at his foes.
From the point of view of the municipality of Prae Ducis, they did not want
somebody they described as an irrational wrath-driven cutthroat camped in
their city with a host of mercenaries.
From the point of view of Lord Blackrod (The irrational wrath-driven
cutthroat aforementioned) he could hardly gather his army outside the walls, because whilst it was forming it was comparatively small and vulnerable and would be a target for his enemies.
Then there was the issue of finance. Lord Blackrod was drawing cash from his accounts in Prae Ducis. Most of his money was in Avitas and Port Naain and
he was struggling to draw money from them because family members who had fled ahead of him were also trying to empty these accounts for their own purposes. Thus the usurers had frozen the accounts until they could find out what was going on.
Cheal Latour arrived to investigate matters from the point of view of the
usurers in Avitas. The situation was complicated, and due to the nature of
the accounts Lord Blackrod had set up, it appeared to be intractable. As it
was, Lord Blackrod himself solved the problem very neatly. Seeing no short
term solution to his cash crisis he led a force on a plundering expedition
in an attempt to raise capital and was killed when his force was caught in
an ambush. His force dispersed and everybody relaxed. The burghers of Prae Ducis no longer had to worry about too many mercenaries within their walls.
The usurers could go back to doing what they do best, demanding increasingly intimate and unlikely proofs of identity before allowing people access to their own money. It has struck me over the years that nobody ever discussed exactly who solved the problem by betraying Lord Blackrod into the ambush. If you were to blame those who stood to gain by his death, the list is hardly exclusive.
Still, Cheal Latour was finalising matters in Prae Ducis at the time Maljie
arrived. She was then a young usurer, at the cutting edge of her profession.
She had been exploring the concept of fiduciary Money.
This is where my
apprenticeship with Miser Mumster stands me in good stead. In theory we have ‘commodity money.’ An alar is worth an alar because it contains a certain weight of gold. A vintenar is worth what it is worth because of the weight of silver it contains. In reality you can find in your change vintenars
where the only silver is there because it exists as a naturally occurring
impurity in lead. Similarly with the alar, depending on the year and the
mint master, the amount of gold can vary considerably. Ironically coins
produced by the lords of various keeps in Partann can contain higher
proportions of precious metal than those produced in Port Naain. This is
because nobody trusts the Partannese, whereas in Port Naain, it’s generally assumed the money is ‘good.’ Thus in reality our money is already fiduciary Money. It’s worth what we believe it to be worth.
Maljie suggested that we could cut out the whole sordid business of moving
metal about and just replace it with paper. Her ideas were considered
exciting. Too exciting to be implemented immediately in Port Naain, but it
was felt that her ideas should be tested and it was felt Prae Ducis was the
perfect place to do this. (Comparatively small, relatively powerless, and a
long way away)
The tale has been recounted elsewhere:
But with both Maljie and Cheal Latour in Prae Ducis at the same time, it was inevitable that they would meet. They were both usurers, both young, and both bold enough to push against the boundaries of their common profession. Indeed they dined together a number of times and were even rumoured to be ‘very close.’
Apparently Cheal asked Maljie to return to Avitas with him. He promised her a fine house, servants and a generous honoraria. Maljie, after some thought, turned him down. Many years later, over a glass of wine I did ask her why.
She looked thoughtful for a while and then commented, “I thought I’d swept
him away with my beauty and my cleavage, but it turns out he was only
interested in my brains, and whether fiduciary money would open up the road for creating new and even more complex financial instruments.
And now a brief note from Jim Webster. It’s really just to inform you that I’ve just published a full Tallis Steelyard novel. Yes the rumours are true.
Tallis Steelyard, the man who considered jotting down a couple of anecdotes to be ridiculously hard work, and considered the novella form to be the very pinnacle of literary labour, has been cozened into producing a novel.
It is, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights.’
In this novel, recounted by Tallis Steelyard in his own inimitable manner, we discover what happens when the hierarchy plots to take control of the Shrine to Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm.
Will the incumbent be exiled to a minor fane in the far north? Will Tallis end up having to do a proper job? Does ordination and elevation beckon for Maljie?
This story includes the Idiosyncratic Diaconate, night soil carts, Partannese bandit chieftains, a stylite, a large dog and some over-spiced food. On top of this we have not one but two Autocephalous Patriarchs and a theologically sanctioned beggar.
Available both for Kindle and in Paperback.
Mike Van Horn, on the other hand, writes science fiction tales featuring a sassy singer and a varied bunch of aliens—some happy, others angry, and some feeling sorry for themselves.
Available in ebook and paperback. galaxytalltales.com