Chapter 32 Hat

        Ansle was surprised that he missed his daughter so. With Chewt dead, though, he found himself totally lacking anyone with whom he could discuss anything remotely of importance. Conley would have served his purposes exceptionally well: smart enough to notice discrepancies in his projects and to make sensible suggestions, but without the resourcefulness either to counter them or to turn them to her own advantage. Sincere, trustworthy; the ideal sounding board.
        He needed someone like that at his disposal now, if only so he didn't waste time and effort implementing ideas that were just too audacious, too daring. That scheme to arrange Roween's capture by the Messenger, for example... He'd been taken at the outset by its boldness, its clarity, its cleverness, had only now begun to doubt the likelihood of its actual success... But then, under the circumstances, he could hardly have sought his daughter's opinions on that particular enterprise anyway.
        In the folk tales that he'd read as a child, wizards had always seemed to have a familiar with which they could conspire. Sadly, however, current technology wasn't yet up to fictional level, and there was no known magic that could deliver sentient life forms into existence out of nothing. Thus, he might instead be reduced to talking with his brother, in the laughably tenuous hope that someone as completely absorbed with Ca-Atlan coffee futures as he could possibly have any opinion even vaguely worth expressing on a non-related subject. Of course, conferring with Lord Sennary was sometimes productive, despite his being an employee (albeit one entrusted with certain knowledge that ordinarily Ansle would not have disclosed). Sennary, however, was somewhere in the wilds of Estavia at the moment. The only other candidate that came to mind was Porett, and he was disqualified by reason of his total avarice for power.
        Ansle leaned back in his chair. This was exasperating! He needed a confidant.
        He picked up the letter again. A letter, mind: Justan hadn't discussed the matter by comsphere first, he'd just ordered. The fact that he'd re-used general Nolley as a messenger in no way compensated - besides, it was likely intended as a slight to Nolley, lest she nurture any lofty designs after her success as ersatz queen; that Justan hadn't simply disposed of her by now probably meant that he felt she was too good an officer to lose, might later be of use. Ansle rubbed his chin, frowned, then he smiled a little. Yes, perhaps Nolley could well be of use - but not to The King...
        Justan's letter said, simply put, that under the strain of the war effort the Ministry of Agriculture had grown too large, and that its head, Count Feathe, had determined it necessary to split the organisation in two. Ansle had been appointed as first Minister of Supplies, and details of his duties would follow.
        In fact, Nolley had brought these "details of duties" with her: four enormous, Uscaran silk-lined boxes stacked full of books, manuals and ledgers. It would take several weeks just to read them all.
        That, of course, was exactly what Justan required. Ostensibly, Ansle's "promotion" to The King's advisory cabinet was to quash "fears being voiced in public" (of which Ansle, naturally, had heard nothing) that the Academy was "somehow involved in Mitya's death". Very Justan-cute. In actuality, Ansle was being subjected to an unstaunchable inundation of important (so he couldn't refuse the post) but confining (so he couldn't do anything else) work. He would be obliged to remain in and around the home countries to exact taxes, order production, and arrange supplies for Justan's conquest of the Messenger's empire. Day after day of endless fun...
        The first piece of information Ansle sought from within the boxes was his budget. Thirty million clicks; large, but with much of the first year's expenditure already committed. His immediate staff numbered forty-five in Cala, with another two hundred scattered about in various agricultural and industrial centres. In addition, there were over a thousand menial accountants upon whom he could call to perform all necessary numerical work and to keep track of the huge volume of data that would need to be maintained.
        The second thing he'd looked for was the extent of his powers. Harder to define, but they appeared wide. The ministry had been put together mainly using staff switched out from Count Feathe, but their functions under Ansle would be different: Justan had decreed a new system, founded on a revision of the Estavian Unit Model. In this, individual tax collection and basic government would continue to work on the feudal principle, but commercial companies were to be treated separately. Ansle readily accepted the compromise: he'd never thought that shared ownership fitted smoothly into the old set-up anyway. Sometimes, yes, a noble would assert dominion over a company, but it was unusual that a business actually paid fealty. Even in cases of total ownership by single individuals, rarely were believable accounts published, and any profit levels they did announce were without exception impossibly low. Ansle's new office was to act as The King's representative in such matters, ensuring that large businesses did not have free rein. Although the Estavian Unit Model was apparently viewed in Estavia itself as an aspect of democratic government, Justan's revised version had, in effect, the same rôle with regard to companies that lords had to their vassals: law, taxation, obedience. Ansle's spirits lifted: there was tangible power here...
        He spent almost ten seconds considering his new responsibili- ties. As first holder of the office, there were no precedents that he had to observe, and Feathe would never have tolerated deep-rooted factions that might pervert decision-making from below. Ansle could therefore do whatever he liked - well, within reason: directors of a baronial-level ministry, unlike genuine aristocrats, could readily be dismissed.
        He decided, then, to establish a tight, yet shallow organisational framework. This would minimise dissent among his minions, and ensure that control and the flow of information would follow a simple hierarchy with himself at the top. But, beyond that act of initial management, he intended to do no ministerial work personally whatsoever.
        Of course, Justan ought to have a major problem in justifying why the post hadn't gone to a peer, or at least to someone with a knowledge of either economics or military logistics. It wasn't as if the position had even been advertised. Perhaps he intended it to be very short- term, a mere couple of months, while he used Ansle's comparative inactivity to achieve other ends? Yes, well, that was obvious! But what "other ends"?
        Ansle folded his arms. No, he did not like it. For the moment, he was merely being distracted, with real power being dangled as bait so his energies over the coming few weeks wouldn't be directed in ways that The King might find obstructive. However, if Ansle wasn't very careful, Justan might use the opportunity to appropriate some, or even all, of the Academy power base...
        So the first test would come when the Academy's General Council determined a successor to Chewt as deputy chancellor. If Count Feathe, as Justan's representative on the Council, could nevertheless be persuaded to back Ansle's preferred candidate (whoever that might be), all could yet be well. Otherwise, with The King's favoured choice as deputy, life would become uncomfortably dangerous.
        Ansle re-read a snatch of Justan's letter. "Count Feathe's request that the Agriculture portfolio be split has been approved." It was definitely untrue: the tenacity with which Feathe fought for his ministry was famous to the point of legend, and that he'd willingly agree to a break- up, let alone suggest one, was completely unthinkable. Therefore, Justan had dictated it. That meant Feathe would be seething with anger at The King for tearing half his ministry away, and might rather welcome the opportunity to take a little revenge when Ansle offered it him.
        And at least Ansle's own "promotion" required that Justan keep him informed concerning matters of state. Unlike the last time, the next occasion that a battle was due to be fought Ansle would have to know in advance so that supply lines could be changed. Knowledge of the army's future location was highly sensitive; it could be used in many different ways. Indeed, merely knowing where the army wouldn't be was sometimes enough...
        Ansle dropped Justan's letter in a drawer, removed some headed notepaper from another. He took a quill, began to write.
        "My Dear General Nolley..."

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif32.htm