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Young Stefan (The Good Version)

by Derek

Seneschal to Duke Stefan: I've been receiving reports of "Thyatian atrocities," Sire, from several of the unmapped villages and homesteads. I plan to handle it, of course, but I thought you should know.

Duke Stefan Karameikos: Ah? What sort of atrocities?

Seneschal: Reading between the lines, wholesale theft of property and unlawful eviction seem to be the majority of the claims.

Duke: Those are serious charges. Are there many such accusations?

Seneschal: Well, there /are/ several of these reports, but so far they are sparse in relation to the number of land grants you've made.

Duke: Even so, I think it bears serious investigation, Alexius. Carry it forward, have copies of those reports sent to me directly, and keep me apprised.

Seneschal: Of course, your Grace.

Duke: Now, I understand such an investigation could take time. What's your opinion on the matter, given what you know? Is there something you think should be done right now?

Seneschal: I advise moving slowly, Sire, before taking these reports at face value. It could be exaggeration. I can imagine that if a local farmer had planned to expand into neighbouring land, even if he hadn't started developing it he might already /think/ of it as his own land. A grant-holder exercising his grant there could have such an accusation levelled at him. It wouldn't be fair to take his grant away for such a thing, and it would be inadvisable to force all of the accused to move, if that was the basis of the accusation. You would certainly be seen as arbitrary.

Duke: Very well. We shall proceed as you suggest, cautiously and fairly. I suppose a little friction was to be expected. Once everyone settles in as neighbours, I'm sure it'll work itself out. Confidentially, I'm inclined to think these Traladarans are making a fuss just to see if they can get something from me. Testing the new ruler, so to speak. The Traladarans are opportunists, you know, just like anyone in the Empire. The Marilenev rebellion certainly showed that! Still, I'll reserve judgement until your investigation concludes. Was there anything else?

[Other business and the audience ends with the usual niceties.]

[Weeks or months later ...]

Seneschal: Your Grace, I have an update on those charges of Thyatian atrocities.

Duke: Yes? I've been reading the reports. How accurate are they?

Seneschal: They are all quite exaggerated, and some have been outright false, but unfortunately several of them have a grain of truth. It seems a minority of those with land grants have used them to seize Traladaran properties.

Duke: What?! That's not part of the mandate they were given! Land grants are for /unowned/ lands. I wrote the draft for those land grants myself!

Seneschal: Ah, it seems that clause was missing from these particular land grants.

Duke (Wheels obviously turning in his head, thinking aloud): These people have to be rounded up. Things like this cannot be allowed to go on.

Seneschal: It might be unwise to simply arrest them, Sire. The grant-holders are practically all soldiers or ex-soldiers. You would be undermining the loyalty of your own battalions, laying the grounds for mutiny. And, if the Traladaran families discover you are without the full support of your armies ... .

Duke (bitterly): Anarchy. At best, Thincol's legions will come and seize the country, I will lose my Duchy, and the Traladarans are no better off than they were before, only they will likely set themselves up for a very hurtful defeat by the legions.

Seneschal: Actually, I don't think the Emperor would do that ...

Duke: You don't know Thincol. He may be my friend, but he doesn't suffer fools, and he will take any opportunity to improve the Empire's lot. If that means taking back an unstable country on his border, he'll do it.

Seneschal: With respect, Sire, that's not what I meant. I mean that there are far more Traladarans now than when we conquered them 70 years ago. If they take Specularum and are given time to put up a spirited defence, I doubt that the Emperor would go to the effort to reconquer it. He has the means, but it's expended on the Isle of Dawn, right now. By the time he moves the legions back, the cost of taking the land back might not be worth the revenue it would generate.

Duke: You may be right. But what you haven't considered is that he sees political significance to having a secure border, especially now, and Thincol is a fighter first and a politician second. Besides, I don't trust the Senate to look after our interests, either. But, nevermind. You were saying I cannot take the false land grants away, now that they have been established, and you are probably right. Damn! Alright, here's what to do. First, ensure that no more of these grant abuses occur. I know, they are probably mostly handed out, but do what you can. For those grants that have not been exercised, yet, revise them as necessary and make it clear to the battalion commanders that if they support one more of these heists, their head is on the block. In fact, if you can find evidence of acting beyond the mandate of the decrees supposedly in my name, bring them up on charges. I doubt you will, but perhaps an active investigation will make them put more thought into their actions, instead of simply giving patronage to their fellows. Also, see if you can discover whether those misused land grant documents were forged or just miscopied. It might not matter at this point, but I want to know so we can take better precautions. Lastly, see what you can do for compensating the injured parties without bankrupting the Treasury and without creating unrest in the military. We're spending a lot of taxes on building right now, so perhaps you can creatively hire these people to ensure they have a livelihood, for example. They might be willing to move to Kelvin, Threshold, or Halag, where things are going to be growing soon. If giving them compensatory land grants is the way to go, then do so. You get the idea? Just use your best judgement.

[More weeks or months later]

Seneschal: I have another update on the reports of Thyatian atrocities, Sire.

Duke (gruffly): Good news, I trust?

Seneschal: Ah, there is good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?

Duke (with a steely look): Lord Korrigan, just give it to me in whatever order makes sense.

Seneschal (chastened): Yes, your Grace. Well, the good news is that the grant- holders situation now seems to be under control. There is widespread distrust of Thyatians in general, but the Traladarans are unlikely to revolt, now, and there is a growing feeling with them that you are making an effort to be fair.

Duke: And?

Seneschal: Well, I didn't mention it before, but I'm sure you're aware cousin Ludwig was on the list of those accused of atrocities.

Duke: Yes, of course. It said that he conquered the people of Halag, stole their lands, made them homeless, and other ridiculous statements. He was one of those that were exonerated, of course.

Seneschal: Your Grace, respectfully, not yet, I'm afraid.

Duke: Well, he didn't steal their lands, he's just their new ruler. That's not conquering! They've been a conquered people for generations, no matter how a remote fishing village feels.

Seneschal: If I may, Sire?

Duke (impatiently vexed): Yes?

Seneschal: I took the liberty of hiring an elven adventurer to go investigate, because I had stopped receiving reports of any kind from the Black Eagle barony ... even regular status reports. It seems, your Grace, that when Baron Von Hendricks landed there he attacked the village of Halag with his army, and practically razed it.

Duke: Oh, wonderful. Great Immortals! Didn't the locals in his barony realise an uprising against him would be futile? They're only a village, and he came with a garrison! And, true to Hattian form, he probably humiliated them.

Seneschal: Shall I go on?

Duke: There's more?

Seneschal: Ahem. After that, he conscripted most of the able- bodied population to help build a castle.

Duke: Really? I didn't think he had the money to undertake such a project immediately. I expected he would start with a wooden fort.

Seneschal: Respectfully, sir, my agent said he conscripted them. That is, he doesn't pay them nor, apparently, feed them. According to her, he uses them like slaves and poorly treated ones at that.

Seneschal: Well, that's an exaggeration if I ever heard one. Everyone knows I've declared slavery illegal in this country. And, elves have a very different idea about how much work is reasonable.

Seneschal: Yes, your Grace, I know. Anyway, apparently, the castle is already complete, and he's renamed Halag "Fort Doom."

Duke: "Fort Doom?" Hmph. Always with the drama, he is. It's not that bad out there, even if it does border a swamp in places.

Seneschal: She also said the people told her the Baron keeps a large number of prisoners in his dungeon there.

Duke: Well, your elf obviously doesn't understand the idea of service in lieu of taxes. "Prisoners." "Slaves." Really. Alright, so I'm getting the picture. He came in, they rose up against him, some homes and property were damaged in the insurrection. After it was put down, he had the people help construct a castle, and some of the people stay on as servants.

Seneschal: Perhaps, Sire, but my agent told me those people taken to the castle were held hostage in exchange for their family's complicity.

Duke: That can't be accurate. We've both known Ludwig since we were children; he would never do such a thing. It sounds to me that each family offers to have someone work at the castle to pay taxes in kind, and they probably get room and board.

Seneschal: Hmm. Still, there have already been reports from the village of Luln of people escaping the region of Black Eagle barony, as he's called it. These refugees say that goblinoids walk the streets of Halag with impunity. And, Sire, the elven agent I hired actually saw men there speaking to bugbears. They were being friendly.

Duke: Now, that's a problem of a different kind. If even /some/ Traladarans are willing to cut deals with goblins, we could have a serious problem brewing. That's something I really wouldn't have expected of them given the general Traladaran attitude from the Song of Halav. I want you to send another investigator to go out there and get a better picture of what's going on. Make it someone that won't be obviously confused by normal Thyatian conduct, too. An officer of the ranks would be best. In fact, I want to approve of the next agent that goes, to ensure his loyalty and impartiality. You can bring me a shortlist in the morning. Send him under the pretext of some regular business, but make sure whatever reason you choose allows him to leave by noon tomorrow. Send him with some royal correspondence requesting a reply from Ludwig while you're at it. I want his view of things, too. And, give the messenger a carrier pigeon to take along so we can get a quick report back.

Seneschal: Yes, Sire. Actually, I think I have some officers to short list already in mind. You'll have that short list to look at by dinner.

[more niceties, etc.]

[Two weeks later]

Seneschal: Duke Stefan, there has been no reply from our agent in Black Eagle. He should have returned by now, even if the pigeon hasn't.

Duke: So, we have heard nothing? That's very bad. Something more is going on out there than we know. Ask the Minister of Defence to spare some troops to go look into the matter.

Seneschal: Yes, Sire.

[A few weeks later]

Seneschal enters with a battered, and obviously recently Healed soldier - a sergeant.

Seneschal: Sire, this soldier has a report. Just tell his Grace what you told me.

Soldier: Sir. I mean, Sire. I was part of the detail sent to investigate Black Eagle barony. Shortly after we left the village of Luln, we were attacked by a superior force composed of men, bugbears, orcs and other goblinoids. They seemed to know we were coming as they employed a well- prepared pincer attack ambush. The officers were especially targeted and all were killed in action, sir, primarily to crossbow-fire. Panic ensued as command broke down, and our forces scattered. I don't know how many survived.

Seneschal: Is there anything else you can tell us?

Soldier (grim-faced, reluctantly): No, my lord, just that we were routed. I tried to hold my platoon together, but there were too many, and I think we chose to flee too late. Sire, I know it goes against the chain of command to ask, since you are not my commanding officer, but I respectfully request to be transferred to the western garrisons. Your Grace, I lost my entire command and all of my superior officers. I hope you understand.

Duke: Yes, I think I do. Thank-you. I will consider your request.


Duke: Of all the Holy Immortals, Alexius, this makes the Marilenev uprising look like just another day in the Senate! Transfer some more men to the western forts, and have the Minister of Defence summoned. While you're at it, have a quick word with him and see if that sergeant can be part of the transfer order. After that, ask the other ministers to meet us in two hours' time. And send word to the other barons. If there's any chance this can happen in any of the other frontier baronies, they need to be warned.

Seneschal: Of course. And, I've already sent a runner to inform the Minister of Defence. He should be arriving shortly.

Duke: You know, it's a good thing Ludwig built his castle so quickly; he's probably under siege right now. Goblins don't have the discipline to keep up a proper siege, so he will probably break it himself, but he wouldn't have had a chance without it.

Seneschal: You're probably right, Sire. I'd better go arrange the Ministers' meeting and have messages sent to the Barons. You know, I've said it before, Stefan, but I really mean it: I don't envy you. [exeunt]