How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 23

For a moment, he expected Clyntahn to launch a fresh verbal assault. But then the other man made himself inhale deeply. He nodded once, curtly, and thrust himself back in his chair.

“That much I’ll give you,” he said grudgingly. “If it does turn out, though, that all this resulted from someone’s carelessness or stupidity, there will be consequences.”

He wasn’t looking at Maigwair as he spoke, but Duchairn saw the Captain General’s eyes flicker with an anger of their own. It was just like Clinton to conveniently misremember who’d originally come up with a plan that hadn’t worked out. The frightening thing, as far as Duchairn was concerned, was that he was almost certain the Grand Inquisitor honestly did remember things the way he described them. Not at first, perhaps, but given even a little time he could genuinely convince himself the truth was what he wanted the truth to be.

Which is how we all got into this mess in the first place, the Treasurer thought bitterly. Well, that and the fact that not one of the rest of us had the guts, the gumption, or the mother wit to recognize where all four of us were headed and drag the fool to a stop.

“Something we are going to have to think about, and quickly, though,” he continued out loud, “are the consequences of what’s happened. The purely military consequences are beyond my purview, I’m afraid. The fiscal consequences, however, fall squarely into my lap, and they’re going to be ugly.”

Trynair looked glum, Maigwair looked worried, and Clyntahn looked irritated, but none of them disagreed with him.

“We poured literally millions of marks into building those ships,” Duchairn continued unflinchingly. “Now that entire investment’s gone. Worse, I think we have to assume that at least a great many of the ships we’ve lost will be taken into Charisian service. Not only are we confronted with the need to replace our own losses, but we’ve just given the Charisians the equivalent of all that money in the hulls they’re not going to have to build and the guns they’re not going to have to cast after all. We still have the Desnairian and Dohlaran navies, but if the Charisians can find the crews to man all the galleons they have now, they’ll have a crushing advantage over Desnair or Dohlar in isolation. In fact, they’ll probably outnumber all our forces combined, even if we include our own unfinished construction and the ships Harchong hasn’t finished yet. Frankly, I’m not at all sure we can recover from that position anytime soon.”

“Then you’ll just have to find a way for us to do it anyway,” Clyntahn said flatly. “We can’t get at the bastards without a fleet, and I think it’s just become obvious we’re going to need an even bigger fleet than we thought we did.”

“It’s easy to say ‘find a way to do it anyway,’ Zhaspahr,” Duchairn replied. “Actually accomplishing it is a bit more difficult. I’m Mother Church’s treasurer. I know how deeply we’ve dipped into our reserves, and I know how our revenue stream’s suffered since we’ve lost all tithes from Charis, Emerald, Chisholm, and now Corisande and Tarot.” He carefully refrained from mentioning the subsequent importance of any places with names like Siddarmark or Silkiah. “I won’t go so far as to say our coffers are empty, but I will say I can see their bottoms entirely too clearly. We don’t have the funds to replace even what we’ve just lost, far less build ‘an even bigger fleet.'”

“If we can’t build a big enough fleet, Mother Church loses everything,” Clyntahn shot back. “Do you want to face God and explain that we were too busy pinching coins to find the marks to save His Church from heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy?”

“No, I don’t.” And I don’t want to face the Inquisition because that’s what you think I’m doing, either, Zhaspahr. “On the other hand, I can’t simply wave my hands and magically refill the treasury.”

“Surely you’ve been thinking about this contingency for some time, though, Rhobair?” Trynair put in a pacific tone. “I know you like to be beforehand in solving problems, and you must’ve seen this one coming for some time.”

“Of course I have. In fact, I’ve been mentioning it to all of you at regular intervals,” Duchairn observed a bit tartly. “And I do see a few things we can do — none of which, unfortunately, are going to be pleasant. One thing, I’m afraid, is that we may find ourselves borrowing money from secular lords and secular banks instead of the other way round.”

Trynair grimaced, and Maigwair looked acutely unhappy. Loans to secular princes and nobles were one of Mother Church’s most effective means of keeping them compliant. Clearly, neither of them looked forward to finding that shoe on the other foot. Clyntahn’s set, determined expression never wavered, however.

“You said that was one thing,” Trynair said. “What other options have you been considering?”

He clearly hoped for something less extreme, but Duchairn shook his head almost gently.

“Zahmsyn, that’s the least painful option open to us, and we’re probably going to have to do it anyway, no matter what other avenues we turn to.”

“Surely you’re not serious!” Trynair protested.

“Zahmsyn, I’m telling you we’ve spent millions on the fleet. Millions. Just to give you an idea what I’m talking about, each of those galleons cost us around us almost two hundred and seventy thousand marks. That’s for the ships we built here in the Temple Lands; the ones we built in Harchong cost Mother Church well over three hundred thousand apiece, once we got finished paying all the graft that got loaded into the price.”

He saw Clyntahn’s eyes flash at the reference to Harchongese corruption, but there was no point trying to ignore ugly realities, and he went on grimly.

“Dohlaran and Desnarian-built ships come in somewhere between the two extremes, and that price doesn’t include the guns. For one of our fifty-gun galleons, the artillery would add roughly another twenty-thousand marks, so we might as well call it three hundred thousand a ship by the time we add powder, shot, muskets, cutlasses, boarding pikes, provisions, and all the other ‘incidentals.’ Again, those are the numbers for the ships we built right here, not for Harchong or one of the other realms, and between our Navy and Harchong’s we’ve just lost somewhere around a hundred and thirty ships. That’s the next best thing to forty million marks just for the ships Zhamsyn, and don’t forget that we’ve actually paid for building or converting over four hundred ships, including the ones we’ve lost. That puts Mother Church’s total investment in them up to at least a hundred and forty million marks, and bad as that number is, it doesn’t even begin to count the full cost, because it doesn’t allow for building the shipyards and foundries to build and arm them in the first place. It doesn’t count workers’ wages, the costs of assembling work forces, paying the crews, buying extra canvas for sails, building ropeworks, buying replacement spars. And it also doesn’t count all the jihad’s other expenses, like subsidies to help build the secular realms’ armies, the interest we’ve forgiven on Rahnyld of Dohlar’s loans, or dozens of others my clerks could list for us.”

He paused to let those numbers sink in and saw shock on Trynair’s face. Maigwair looked even more unhappy but much less surprised than the Chancellor. Of course, he’d had to live with those figures from the very beginning, but Duchairn found himself wondering if Trynair had ever really looked at them at all. And even Maigwair’s awareness was probably more theoretical than real, No vicar had any real experience of what those kinds of numbers would have meant to someone in the real world, where a Siddarmarkian coal miner earned no more than a mark a day and even a skilled worker, like one of their own ship carpenters, earned no more than a mark and a half.