Abbott Thomas sat quietly under the Green Oak in the garden behind the cloister, reading a book. Next to him on the bench was a battered straw hat, and a long rake leant against the bole of the tree beside him. His thinning grey hair was held back by a kerchief, which also served to soak up any sweat that might otherwise have fallen onto the vellum pages. Occasionally, he would take a swig from a jug of cider, or a healthy bite of a ham-and-cheese sandwich his wife had prepared for him.
A shadow fell across the Abbott, and he looked up.
Big Jack - or Wee Jack as his friends insisted on calling him - loomed like a menhir over the seated priest. As the abbott looked up, the burly farmer snatched his straw hat from his head, and held it by the ragged brim, nervously turning it in his hands. Thomas favoured him with a broad smile, and gestured for him to sit. He offered Jack the jug he was drinking from, but the large man demured.
They engaged in a little small talk, primarily about the weather; about the orc raids; and about the soldiers from Wintermark stationed down near the western borders. Big Jack could not conceal the fact that there was something on his mind, but the Abbott allowed him to get round to it in his own time. Some things cannot be rushed.
"Reckon that the war's come early, then." he said at last, his voice rumbling in his barrel chest.
The abbott nodded. "It was inevitable. The war was going to start some time. No point trying to scoop yolk back into a broken egg."
Big Jack chewed his thumb nail for a moment.
"Our youngest's eldest has gone off to Holberg." he said flatly. "Gone to fight with Old Tom's brigade, under Dick Talbot."
The Abbott maintained his silence; this was a time for listening not for talking. He offered the big man the jug again, and this time he did not refuse it.
"He'll ... he'll keep her safe, won't he? I mean, them Druj bastards has run off back east with they tails between they legs. Theres nowt there to fret her gran and me, is there?"
The Abbott sighed.
"Ah now, I wish I could say it would be alright Jack, but I'd be lying to you. Theres war with the Grendel in the south there, and there's Reikos too. The Bounders and the Strong Reeds are already there, helping the Highborn get their homes back. They say the sickness has taken a lot of good men and women, and more before the year is done."
Big Jack looked increasingly unhappy. This was not what he wanted to hear. The Abbott did not enjoy speaking like this - he had taught all of Big Jack's children and grandchildren their virtues, knew them all by name, and considered them family as well as flock. He tried to offer some comfort.
" But Dick Talbot is a good man by all accounts. I don't doubt he will do right by her. But we both know war is a vicious dog on a long chain."
Jack touched the old scar on the side of his neck, probably withut realising he was doing it.
"It's just ... me and the wife. We feel so .. helpless. If I thought it would help I'd get my old clank back from Ham and take off after her, so I can watch out for her."
The Abbot smiled sadly.
"What would your Ham do without his armour, Jack?" He prodded the big farmer's spreading belly gently with one finger. "And how'd you fit into it? Get a tailor to let it outt?"
Jack's face crumpled a little. The Abbott realised he had gone too far - it genuinely seemed like Big Jack Greenfields was about to cry and that could not be borne. The Abbott made a decision. He picked up his book again, stroked the cover for a moment. It was a biography of James of Sarcombe; James the Wise; the only Marcher ever to have trudged the dirty road to the Imperial Throne. The man who first said "enough is enough" and had the courage to confront the butcher's bill and say "no more."
"I know what you mean, though, Jack. You're not the first to talk to me. I've got my old brig out of the boxes and looked at it three times this month. But what do the armies need with a one-legged priest and a broken down old warhorse like you? What a pair we'd make! The orcs would die for laughing at us."
Jack smiled at the idea, just a little bit. Some colour returned to his cheeks. He finished the cider and gently put the jug down beside Abbott Thomas.
"I'll tell the wife you said not to fret, and we'll trust that the young lass has enough of her grand'da's sense to know when to duck then, and we'll fatten a pig up for when she comes home all full of swagger and war stories. There's nowt else to be done."
The abbott was siezed by a premonition then, a cold certainty that Big Jack's youngest's eldest would not be marching home again. It chilled him to the bone, and then filled him with the old rage. He could not accept it. He would not. He would set his will to changing that future, and damn any premonition that tried to tell him otherwise. He clenched his left fist, but let none of the wrath burning inside him show on his face. He looked out instead towards the east field, where some of the younger novices were braving the summer heat to clear and hoe the fertile soil in preparation for the new herb garden."Oh, I'm not so sure Jack. Not so sure at all. We may be old, but we can still fight against death. Let me tell you about the Hearth Tithe ..."
War with the Jotun was always inevitable, but up until the Summer Solstice the assumption was that the ceasefire would hold an uneasy peace until the Spring Equinox 380YE. Recent developments involving the inavsion of Lasambria, however, have seen the treaty ended prematurely. In the west of the Empire, carefully laid plans have been disrupted. The fortifications at Tassato is only just complete while Overton is still under construction; the majority of Marcher armies are engaged on the eastern front; and the people of Wintermark have endured curses and indignity that have sapped their strength. The atmosphere in the Marches, and in western Wintermark, is a little grim.
The people of the western Empire are strong, however. Faced with imminent invasion by the western barbarians, they are not dwelling on the danger. Rather, there has been an upswell of community spirit and national pride. They know that they can weather the coming storm by pulling together. If the yeomen of every farm and town can work together, if the folk of every hall can overcome the lingering divisions caused by the recent curse of tradition, there is nothing that they cannot overcome.
There has been some talk of resurrecting an old tradition that dates back to the days of Emperor James. The Hearth Tithe is a practice that has largely fallen out of favour in the modern Empire, but all through bloodsoaked reigns of Emperor Guntherm and Empress Brannan, it was common practice for farmers to set aside part of their fields and cultivate beds of healing herbs. These herbs were made available to physicks who provided medical aid to their community. Other were given to apothecaries who used them to help brew Anodyne Analgesix, Ossean Solution and Elixit Vitae to be carried into battle by soldiers from the farm, village, or hold where they were grown.
It is not clear where the Hearth Tithe originated. Some stories claim that Marcher merchants selling grain in Hahnmark first observed the practice, and learned of its effectiveness in the sporadic border hostilities between Wintermark and the Marches. Other stories say that the practice came from pre-Marcher Dawn, and there are claims that it was a positive development of an unpopular practice whereby some noble houses would force their yeomen to grow medicinal herbs instead of food. Regardless of the truth,a key element of the Hearth Tithe is that it is about the community - the herbs raised were used to heal and support the families and neighbours of those who grew them. Maintaining a healthy Hearth Tithe was often seen as an expression of Loyalty and Prosperity. Some farmers went beyond what the tradition dictated, especially when their own sons and daughters were going to war, and turned more of their farmland over to the cultivation of herbs, and gained the respect of their neighbours through their willingness to share..
There has been some talk in the Marcher and Wintermark assemblies about encouraging a return to this old tradition. Not only would it provide much-needed medical assistance for the upcoming war, but it would also allow the people of the north-western Empire to make a concrete, practical contribution to the war effort.
The Hearth Tithe was a way for Marcher and Wintermark farmers to support their communities in times of war with more than just food. The practice involved diversification of a farm, but largely fell out of practice during the Second Interregnum. It was common for priests to encourage the observation of the Hearth Tithe - especially in the Marches, where a monastery would often receive donations of herbs from the surrounding farms to be used in support of the wider community. In the north, the herbs produced were often given over to the grimnir who marched alongside the Winterfolk armies.
The practice has not been widely observed for over a century, but the conditions seem to be right to consider resurrecting it, at least in the short term. The power to do so lies in the hands of the priests. Through the creation of auras of virtue, and with the support of their congregations, it would be possible for the national assemblies to re-institute the Hearth Tithe in Wintermark and the Marches.
The national assembly of the Marches, or of Wintermark, can raise a judgement calling on every farmer and every farm worker to "do their bit" for the war effort, and return to the practice of the Hearth Tithe. If they do so, and support that judgement with virtuous auras, then they will encourage every farmer to plant a portion of their fields with medicinal herbs. The farm will lose 36 rings of production, and in their place will produce one dose of Cerulean Mazzarine, one dose of Marrowort, and one dose of True Vervain each season. This temporary diversification will remain in effect for one year.
As part of the judgement, the national assembly must name a single priest that is part of that assembly to be responsible for coordinating the creation of the virtuous auras, and provide that priest with 50 doses of liao.
The judgement of one national assembly does not effect the production of farms in other nations.
In theory, other national assemblies could call for the return of the Hearth Tithe but it is unlikely to be as effective. In the absence of other factors, for any other national assembly to call for the return of the Hearth Tithe in their nation would require a judgement as above and 75 liao.
The exception is the Brass Coast; the idea of enforced charity was universally mocked among the independently minded Freeborn, and for the Freeborn assembly to suggest it held value would be seen simply as an amusing joke as part of this season's Feast of the Broken Wheel.
Not all farmers will want to embrace the return of the Hearth Tith. Their farm hands and labourers, however, are likely to respond to anyone who sneers at the Hearth Tithe as lacking community spirit or virtue. Players who don't want to do this will still lose the 36 rings - representing disgruntled employees, and a difficulty selling their produce - but can hand the herbs their farm would have produced back in at GOD.
During the Autumn Equinox, both the Wintermark and Marcher assemblies threw their support behind the reintroduction of the Hearth Tithe. The Wintermark assembly named Ealstan of Stormspire to encourage the reintroduction of the practice, while the Marcher Assembly named James Appleseeder of Upwold. For the next year, the Hearth Tithe will be in effect in Wintermark and the Marches.