How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 24

          “We’ve had to come up with all that money,” he continued after a moment, “and so far we’ve managed to. But at the same time, we’ve had to meet all Mother Church’s other fiscal needs, and they haven’t magically vanished. There’s a limit to the cuts we can make in other areas in order to pay for our military buildup, and all of them together aren’t going to come even close to making up the shortfall in our revenues. Not the way our finances are currently structured.”

“So what do we do to change that structure?” Clyntahn demanded flatly.

“First, I’m afraid,” Duchairn said, “we’re going to have to impose direct taxation on the Temple Lands.”

Clyntahn’s face tightened further, and Trynair’s eyes widened in alarm. The Knights of the Temple Lands, the secular rulers of the Temple Lands, were also the vicars of Mother Church. They’d never paid a single mark of taxes, and the mere threat of having to do so now could be guaranteed to create all manner of resentment. Their subjects were supposed to pay taxes to them, plus their tithes to Mother Church; they weren’t supposed to pay taxes to anyone.

“They’ll scream bloody murder!” Trynair protested.

“No,” Clyntahn said harshly. “They won’t.”

The Chancellor had been about to say something more. Now he closed his mouth and looked at the Grand Inquisitor, instead.

“You were saying, Rhobair?” Clyntahn prompted, not giving Trynair so much as a glance.

“I think it’s entirely possible we’re going to have to begin disposing of some of Mother Church’s property, as well.” The Treasurer shrugged. “I don’t like the thought, but Mother Church and the various orders have extensive holdings all over both Havens and Howard.” In fact, as all four of them knew, the Church of God Awaiting was the biggest landholder in the entire world . . . by a huge margin. “We should be able to raise quite a lot of money without ever touching her main holdings in the Temple Lands.”

Trynair looked almost as distressed by that notion as by the idea of taxing the Knights of the Temple Lands, but once again Clyntahn’s expression didn’t even waver.

“I’m sure you’re not done with the bad-tasting medicine yet, Rhobair. Spit it out,” he said.

“I’ve already warned all of our archbishops to anticipate an increase in their archbishoprics’ tithes,” Duchairn replied flatly. “At this time, it looks to me as if we’ll have to raise them at a minimum from twenty percent to twenty-five percent. It may go all the way to thirty in the end.”

That disturbed Trynair and Maigwair less than any of his other proposals, he noted, despite the severe impact it was going to have on the people being forced to pay those increased tithes. Clyntahn, on the other hand, seemed as impervious to its implications as he’d been to all the others.

          “Those are all ways to raise money,” he observed. “What about ways to save money?”

          “There aren’t a lot more of those available to us without cutting unacceptably into core expenditures.” Duchairn met Clyntahn’s eyes levelly across the conference table. “I’ve already drastically reduced subsidies to all of the orders, cut back on our classroom support for the teaching orders, and cut funding for the Pasqualate hospitals by ten percent.”

          “And you could save even more by cutting funding for Thirsk’s precious ‘pensions,'” Clyntahn grated. “Or by stopping coddling people too lazy to work for a living right here in Zion itself!”

          “Mother Church committed herself to pay those pensions,” Duchairn replied unflinchingly. “If we simply decide we’re not going to after all, why should anyone trust us to meet any of our other obligations? And what effect do you think our decision not to provide for the widows and orphans of men who’ve died in Mother Church’s service after we’ve promised to would have on the loyalty of the rest of Mother Church’s sons and daughters, Zhaspahr? I realize you’re the Grand Inquisitor, and I’ll defer to your judgment if you insist, but that decision would strike at the very things all godly men hold most dear in this world: their responsibilities to their families and loved ones. If you threaten that, you undermine everything they hold fast to not simply in this world, but in the next.”

          Clyntahn’s jaw muscles bunched, but Duchairn went on in that same level, steady voice.

          “As for my ‘coddling people too lazy to work,’ this is something you and I have already discussed. Mother Church has a responsibility to look after her children, and it’s one we’ve ignored far too long. Every single mark I’ve spent here in Zion this winter — every mark I might spend here next winter, or the winter after that — would be a single drop of water in the Great Western Ocean compared to the costs of this jihad. It’s going to get lost in the bookkeeping when my clerks round their accounts, Zhaspahr. That’s how insignificant it is compared to all our other expenses. And I’ve been out there, out in the city. I’ve seen how people are reacting to the shelters and soup kitchens. I’m sure your own inquisitors have been reporting to you and Wyllym about that, as well. Do you really think the paltry sums we’re spending on that aren’t a worthwhile investment in terms of the city’s willingness to not simply endure but support what we’re demanding of them and their sons and husbands and fathers?”

          Their gazes locked, and tension hovered like smoke in the chamber’s corners. For a moment, Duchairn thought Clyntahn’s rage was going to push him over the line they’d drawn a year ago, the compromise which had bought Duchairn’s acquiescence — his silence — where the Grand Inquisitor’s pogroms and punishments were concerned. In Clyntahn’s more reasonable moments, he probably did recognize it was necessary for the Church to show a kinder, more gentle face rather than relying solely on the Inquisition’s iron fist. That didn’t mean he liked it, though, and his resentment over the “diversion of resources” was exceeded only by his contempt for Duchairn’s weakness. For the Treasurer’s effort to salve his own conscience by showing his compassion to all the world.

          If it came to an open confrontation between them, Duchairn knew exactly how badly it was going to end. There were some things he was no longer prepared to sacrifice, however, and after a moment, it was Clyntahn who looked away.

          “Have it your own way,” he grunted, as if it were a matter of no importance, and Duchairn felt his taut nerves relax ever so slightly.

          “I agree there’s no real point in cutting that small an amount out of our expenditures,” Trynair said. “But do you think we’ll be able to rebuild the fleet even if we do everything you’ve just described, Rhobair?”

          “That’s really a better question for Allayn than for me. I know how much we’ve already spent. I can make some estimates about how much it will cost to replace what we’ve lost. The good news in that respect is that now that we’ve got an experienced labor force assembled and all the plans worked out, we can probably build new ships more cheaply than we built the first ones. But Allayn’s already been shifting the Guard’s funding from naval expenditures to army expenditures. I don’t see any way we’re going to be able to meet his projections for things like the new muskets and the new field artillery if we’re simultaneously going to have to rebuild the navy.”

          “Well, Allayn?” Clyntahn asked unpleasantly.

          “This all came at me just as quickly and unexpectedly as it came at any of the rest of you, Zhaspahr,” Maigwair said in an unusually firm tone. “I’m going to have to look at the numbers, especially after we find out how accurate Searose’s estimate of our losses really is. It’s always possible they weren’t as great as he thinks they were. At any rate, until I have some hard figures, there’s no way to know how much rebuilding we’re actually going to have to do.