Leaves and fruit
Tears came to her eyes, unbidden. She could see them, the paragons and the exemplars, imagine them looking down on the congregation, inspiring the faithful and the convert alike.
Her blissful reverie did not last. The bickering voices of her sister and the stone merchant, rudely intruded on her meditations. She flexed her gills, the only outward sign of her irritation, and turned to glare at them. They weren't even arguing about anything important - just squabbling over a price. Haggling. Over coins. Infuriating.
"Sister," she said. Chloe ignored her, caught up in her passionate debate with the merchant. Catarina hated raising her voice.
With one final gentle touch of the stone, she moved over to her sister and the stonemaster. They continued to pay no attention to her. She touched Chloe's arm, insistently.
Chloe raised her hand toward the trader - just a moment - and asked Catarina what the problem was.
"Why are you arguing," asked Catarina. "This stone is perfect, let's buy it and go."
Out of the corner of her eye she saw the merchant mouth "perfect, eh?" and grin widely.
"Yes, it may be perfect. Too perfect. This... jackanapes... is trying to charge us nine and a half thrones for it!"
Catarina frowned. "That's more than we have," she said.
"I understand that. He understands that. He just expects us to go and get more money or do without the stone."
"Did you explain it was for the church?" Catarina asked frowning. Chloe looked even more angry.
"Yes. But he doesn't care. He says he can make more selling the stone to the Marchers for their castles."
"The fair price for a wain of white granite is three thrones," said Catarina, echoing the Exarch's words. She was beginning to see why her sister was angry now. She was beginning to share that anger. She turned to the trader and spoke louder.
"The fair price for a wain of white granite is three thrones." she said. "We need the stone for our church. Don't you care about virtue?"
The trader looked a little taken aback by her tone. He bridled.
"Of course I care about virtue, how dare you! But it is Prosperity..."
Catarina cut him off, her face a mask of fury.
"NO! It is not Prosperity. Prosperity says that you should receive a just reward for your work. A just reward, a fair price. Not that you should gouge people to line your pockets! There is nothing of Prosperity in your greed and you should be ashamed! There is no difference between what you are doing and theft! You are selfish and... and full of greed! And when you get to the Labyrinth at last every moment where you let selfish greed rule your heart will be like the weight of one of these slabs of stone, chained around your body! Think of that, how long will it take to get to your next life dragging all that granite behind you!"
The trader was taken aback by her vehemence, especially from such a slight young merrow. He leaned back, for a moment. When he had collected his wits however he leaned back forward again, face like thunder.
"I will not be spoken to like that in my own yard!" he bellowed. "Get out and take your money with you, I refuse to sell to you now at any price!"
Catarina wanted to stay and argue, but Chloe took her firmly by the arm and steered her back towards the road.
"Oh well," said her sister philosophically. "We couldn't afford the stone at that price anyway, and it was worth your outburst for the look on his face. We'd better let the exarch know we won't be getting the granite here. Or indeed any granite for a time to come."
"It's not right," muttered Catarina, stubbornly. "Three thrones is a fair price for a wain of white granite!""Yes dear," said Chloe, patting her arm again. "But I don't think anyone has told the stone traders that."
An old saying, now pretty much forgotten, has it that Highguard is built on white granite. It looks straightforward on the surface. The Highborn build with stone. They are unyielding, impassive, sometimes stubborn. They have a piece of stone in their spirit. But it goes deeper. White granite builds the chapterhouses, the fortifications, the walls of Bastion, and the tombs of Necropolis. It builds the shrines and the basilicas, the temples and the churches. It builds the hostels for the pilgrims, the roads along which they walk, and the monuments they visit. There is never enough white granite in Highguard.
In the wake of schism and uncertainty, many Highborn are looking for a little of that old stability again. They look to the Highborn Assembly, in particular, to the priests who have guided their nation since it was reborn in the fires of civil war. They look to the past, to the traditions that made them great, and some of them are rediscovering that joy that once filled them - the joy of the builder, who makes something that lasts. Something from stone.
Here, then, are three opportunities built partly of white granite, and partly of virtue.
- A virtuous network of roads for the use of pilgrims could be constructed.
In Winter 379YE a series of roads and bridges for the use of pilgrims were commissioned by the Senate in the marshes of Kallavesa. Three months later in Spring 380YE, work began on the Blood Red Roads that now connect half the Empire. Even benighted Karsk has its own road-network, connecting the deep forests and mines of that grim territory. With the commission of the Virtue's Rest hostels during the Spring Equinox, the absence of proper roads in Highguard has been thrown into stark contrast with the rest of the Empire. That the nation who gave the Empire Empress Aenea the Builder should be playing second-fiddle to the League and the marshes of Wintermark does little for the Pride of the Highborn! Worse, in the absence of good quality roads the benefits of the proposed hostelries - intended by their designer Philemon of Fulmon's Bounty to help pilgrims reach the White City - the benefits of Virtue's rest are significantly curtailed.
The wise solution is obvious, at least to some of the Highborn. New roads in Highguard, to rival or indeed surpass the gaudy (but undeniably effective) Blood Red Roads. There have been several plans drawn up for such things over the years, but now there is an upsurge of interest in seeing such a project become a reality. A series of white roads, to connect Highguard in virtue.
Building the Network
There are two potential stages to this plan. The first, and most obvious one, is to connect Anvil to the White City of Bastion. The Blood Red Roads already run through Casca's Doom, so a new road could be built from Casfall to Sybela, through the light woods of Stoneside, to the White City. A second road from Bastion to Necropolis, along the banks of the River Couros, and another north to Tabernacle in Reikos would complete the set - indeed with some additional effort the road through Reikos could follow the headwaters of the Couros east to High Chalcis via Haros, and west to Casca's Doom. Not only would such a sequence of roads help pilgrims reach the Black City and the Necropolis, it would also be good for the benefactors, and for the rebuilding of Reikos.
Plans for the White Roads have been drawn up by Johanna of Ravensfell, a respected student of engineering. An outspoken critic of Lorenzo Macelliao von Temeschwar's taste, she is none-the-less a supporter of his actual work - the Blood Red Roads have made small but significant changes to the way the Empire builds its major highways, and she is quick to credit him with the ambitious vision that allowed her to make clear improvements to her designs. Although obviously, she says, she wants his grubby little fingers nowhere near her roads of virtue!
As designed by Johanna of Ravensfell, constructing the White Roads would cost 120 wains of white granite, and 240 crowns in labour costs, and take six months to complete. Much like the Blood Red Roads, they would improve the wealth of businesses and farms in Bastion, Reikos, and Necropolis. They would also ensure that the Pilgrim's Way hostelries were used to their full potential. Obviously, the project would require a Senate motion, and somebody would need to find all the white granite, but as presented the roads would count as only a single commission toward the limitations of new work each season.
Basilica of the Seven Doors
- The Basilica of the Seven Doors could be refurbished as a meeting place for the Highborn Assembly.
- The title of Speaker for the Highborn Assembly could be reinstated.
The Basilica of the Seven Doors in Bastion was built for the use of the original Highborn Assembly, long before the foundation of the Empire, and long before the Way spread to other nations. At one point, it was perhaps the most significant building in Highguard - the centre of both spiritual and secular power, guiding the chapters and building a new nation on foundations of virtue and faith. The duty of overseeing the citadel and its grounds belongs to the Custodes Clavium - a Highborn chapter named for the ring of keys they notionally hold, each one used to secure one of the gates to the citadel.
Towards the end of last year, Lev of the Unbound contacted the Custodes Clavium to discuss the future of the Basilica, with particular regard to its traditional role in the Highborn assembly. It has taken nearly a year during which the members of the chapter have traveled far and wide across Highguard speaking to respected scholars and priests, but they have finally reached a conclusion.
They agree that the time has come to reopen the Halls, and in doing so reinstitute the formal title of Speaker for the Highborn Assembly.
Historically, the Speaker for the Highborn Assembly served in a manner very similar to a cardinal of virtue, guiding the assembly and ensuring its traditions were upheld. With the formation of the Synod in the early years of the Empire, however, the title fell out of fashion and was eventually abrogated during the reign of Empress Varkula, allegedly at the request of the Assembly of the Nine (over the bitter protests of the Highborn Assembly). The actual role never really went away, however, although it rose and fell in prominence as the politics of the Highborn ebbed and flowed.
Refurbishing the Basilica
- Refurbishing the Basilica will require a Senate motion approving the construction, but will not count against their limited number of commissions assuming the Custodes Clavium undertake the actual work.
- Construction would require 15 wais of white granite, 5 wains of weirwood.
- Labour would cost 30 Crowns but the Custodes Clavium would pay this out of their own pockets.
- Without the involvement of the Custodes Clavium, the work would require one of the Senate's limited number of commissions, 20 wains of white granite, 10 wains of weirwood, and 60 Crowns to complete.
- Details of the old title still exist and the Custodes Clavium have proposed asking the constitutional court and Senate to leave those details as they were.
The Basilica is old, and while it is well maintained, it was built at an earlier time when there were fewer priests. If it is to serve as the new heart of the Highborn assembly, it will need some refurbishment. The Custodes Clavium are more than willing to oversee these refurbishments themselves - and they are more than capable of doing so without placing additional demands on the civil service. All they require is the permission of the Senate, and the support of the Highborn assembly.
As envisioned by the Custodes Clavium, the project would require 15 wains of white granite for the structure itself, and 5 wains of weirwood to enlarge and redesign the gardens that surround the Basilica itself. In theory the project would cost 30 crowns, but as long as the chapter was permitted to oversee the refurbishments, they would be more than happy to pay workers out of their own pocket. It would take three months to complete, and at the end of that time the newly revitalised Basilica of Seven Doors would create a new title.
Details of the old title Speaker of the Highborn Assembly still exist. The Speaker had responsibility for chairing the meetings of the National Assembly, encouraging the priests of Highguard to vote on judgements of the Synod and express the will of their congregations, organising the Day of the Dead memorial, and serving as custodian of the Basilica. The pilgrims and priests visiting the Basilica served as an additional congregation, meaning that the Speaker also receives 10 liao and 20 votes in the Imperial synod.
The Speaker was appointed by judgement of the Highborn Assembly, during the Winter solstice each year, and the Custodes Clavium suggest that the motion request the Constitutional Court keep this provision, so as to preserve continuity with the earlier incarnation. Traditionally, the appointment took place the morning after the Day of the Dead celebration, at the start of the Highborn new year, and the Custodes Clavium would be keen to see that custom recognised and maintained if possible.
This is not a limited opportunity; the Custodes Clavium remain committed to restoring the Speaker of the Highborn Assembly, and refurbishing the Basilica of Seven Doors. The refurbishment could be done without the aid of the Custodes Clavium, but doing so would mean that the restructuring work would count against the limited number of commissions the Senate can begin each season, the cost for the refurbishment would rise to 20 wains of white granite and 10 wains of weirwood, and the full labour costs of 60 crowns would need to be paid.
More than one archivist and ecclesiastic scholar has opined that, were the Speaker for the Highborn Assembly restored to prominence it might encourage other national assemblies to consider improving their own organisation - a Speaker for the League Assembly based in Capodomus Cathedral perhaps, or even a Speaker for the Freeborn Assembly with offices at Atalya. These same scholars imagine that a little more organisation in the more fractious assemblies could be only for the good of the Synod as a whole - but such concerns are for the National Assemblies not for the people of Highguard.
Nature makes us hungry
- An opportunity to build a white granite ministry in Highguard exists.
White granite is one of the most versatile building materials known. It is equally useful in grant construction projects, the building of fortifications, and in the expansion of shrines and business premises. The Vigilant Swan in Reikos produces a significant amount of white granite, but never enough to meet demand. Indeed, Highguard produces some of the best white granite in the Empire - while not on par with Varushka, the quarries and mines of Casinea and Reikos both produce a steady stream of the rare stone.
As discussion of various building projects spreads through Highborn society - talk of the White Roads, the refurbishment of the Basilica of the Seven Doors, the hostelries of Virtue's Rest, and even the proposed palaces of the cardinals in Bastion - a number of questions are raised. Why is white granite so expensive? Why does there seem to be so little of it around? Why is more effort not made to ensure that it is used virtuously? What is the "invisible hand of the markets" and why does it, rather than virtue, dictate the price of something so vital? Why is the white granite produced in Highguard not being used for the benefit of the Highborn people? The benefactors have some answers, but their response simply leaves many of their listeners confused and frustrated. In the end, however, a possible solution is suggested.
More than any other people the Highborn see the need to actively encourage people to make moral decisions when dealing with economics, and try to discourage the rapacious economic practices of other nations in favour of a virtuous approach to supply and demand. The virtuous set prices for things which are fair and buy and sell them accordingly. To do otherwise, to justify price gouging by citing market forces, is to abdicate responsibility for your own actions to an impartial and consequently immoral force.
With that in mind, several benefactors have hit upon what they consider to be an elegant solution to the perceived problem. While the Highborn Assembly already chooses who will hold the Virtuous Swan seat, steps could be taken to stop the small amounts of white granite produced in Highguard each season from leaving the nation, at the same time recognising that economic forces are subject to the will of the virtuous, and not the other way around.
|Total Money Spent||Production||Reduction||Note|
|72 Crowns||3 wains White Granite|
|144 Crowns||6 wains White Granite|
|216 Crowns||9 wains White Granite|
|288 Crowns||12 wains White Granite||With Highborn or General mandate|
|360 Crowns||15 wains White Granite||With General mandate|
The Cinderpath Exchange
The hills of Mareholm are rich with veins of precious metals and deposits of stone that show no sign of running out any time soon. The region is already quite prosperous, and well defended. Trade routes from Reikos, Bastion, and Necropolis already pass through Mareholm on their way to Anvil - and the public auctions prepared by the civil service that gobble up much of the extra white granite produced each season.
The first stop to ending this unvirtuous situation is to build a small exchange on the road to Anvil, most likely in the village of Cinderpath which lies near the eastern borders of Casinea. Constructing the Cinderpath exchange would require a senate motion (or an Imperial Wayleave), and would cost 10 wains of white granite and 20 crowns. It would take three months to complete.
The Cinderpath Exchange would function just like any other ministry, but rather than providing mundane materials it would allow virtuous quarry and mine owners to bring their white granite Bourse notes here and exchange them for a fair amount of money. Those using the exchange would be secure in the knowledge that not only were they enriching themselves, and receiving a just reward for their Prosperity, but they were helping their virtuous fellows. The ministry would need an Imperial title to oversee it - the Cinderpath Benefactor perhaps - appointed annually by
judgement of the Highborn Assemblyvote of those Highborn citizens who oversee a congregation. In addition to having custodianship of the ministry, the benefactors who have proposed the title suggest that the responsibilities of the title holder include securing more white granite for Highguard, explicitly for the betterment of the nation.
The Virtue of the Benefactors
While the most virtuous of Highguard will see the benefits of helping to break the stranglehold of the markets on the trade in white granite, there may be some who do not fully understand why it is virtuous to take a fair amount of money for a product rather than all the money one can get. Some will be genuinely ignorant, others swayed away from Prosperity - which talks about a fair recompense for hard work - by words of greed.
If the Cinderpath Exchange is commissioned (whether by the Senate or by the Bearer of an Imperial Wayleave), the Highborn Assembly can raise the following mandate in support of it.
Virtuous people set prices for things which are fair, and buy and sell them accordingly. To do otherwise, to invoke market forces and economic factors, is to subsume human destiny and will to an impartial, immoral, and unvirtuous force. We send (named priest) with 25 doses of liao to urge those Highborn citizens in possession of white granite to deal through the Cinderpath Exchange rather than to indulge their greed.Mandate, Highborn Assembly
If the mandate is successful, the Cinderpath Exchange will be more successful, and more white granite will pass through its doors each season. (That is, another rank will be added to the ministry).
Alternatively, a similar mandate could be raised in the General Assembly.
Virtuous people set prices for things which are fair, and buy and sell them accordingly. To do otherwise, to invoke market forces and economic factors, is to subsume human destiny and will to an impartial, immoral, and unvirtuous force. We send (named priest) with 50 doses of liao to urge those Imperial citizens in possession of white granite to deal through the Cinderpath Exchange for the betterment of the virtuous rather than to indulge their personal greed.Mandate, General Assembly
If this mandate were successful, the idea that economic forces are unvirtuous would propagate in many parts of the Empire. It is doubtful the idea will gain much traction in the League, Varushka, or the Brass Coast, but some virtuous folk in Dawn, Navarr, the Marches, Wintermark, and among the Imperial Orcs will pay heed. As a consequence, even people from outside Highguard will bring white granite to the exchange. (That is, two additional ranks will be added to the ministry instead of one).
Unlike normal mandates, this opportunity is not limited - but it can only be raised during the season that the Cinderpath Exchange is commissioned, or during the season that work on the exchange is completed.
A limited supply
The exchange is not without consequences, although most Highborn benefactors would consider them relatively minor. The amount of white granite offered for auction through the Bourse each season would be reduced by 4 wains each season if the Cinderpath Exchange were built. If the first mandate were also successful, the amount would be reduced further (by a total of 6 wains), and if the mandate were passed in the General Assembly there would be significantly less white granite available through the public auction (rising to 8 wains). People who might otherwise have sought to make the most money possible would instead accept a fair price for their stone, and the knowledge that they were aiding the virtuous.
The refurbishment of the Basilica of Seven Doors, and the restoration of the title of Speaker of the Highborn Assembly, was completed shortly before the Summer Solstice 383YE.