Small things and large
He stared down at his mud-caked boots, without words. She could tell he was fighting back tears. How different he was from the cocky youth who had come to her farm last year, full of fire and vinegar and complaints about how Mitwold was losing its way and forgetting its roots and all the rest. She'd taken him in because the Paragons knew they needed the help, and because she believed in her heart that people deserved chances to grow and to change. Especially the young.
He'd been resistant at first, this young bandit boy. He'd been a little taken aback at the realities of the traditional Marcher way of life. In a way, the horror of the failed harvest had shown him something he had talked about, but never really understood.
Now he felt the loss of the Spring planting as keenly as she did, as Edward and rest of the boys. He had become part of her family, in a way. He'd fought the elements with the rest of them, desperately trying to save as much of the seed as they could from the torrential rains and the greedy wind.
And now here he was. Offering to leave. Because he knew that with the Spring crops ruined before they were even properly planted, purse strings and belts alike would need to be tightened. Because he still thought being a Marcher was about preventing 'Leaguish influences' and drinking scrumpy from an earthenware jug.
She exhaled, a short sigh, and turned back to her work. She let him stew for a moment.
"You'll need to check the fences on the east field." she said eventually. She could almost hear him blinking stupidly and making a gormless face.
"But I ... what? Mistress Tess I said ..."
"Yes, I heard what you said and I'm going to ignore it. Grey hair may not make you wise, but it gives you a lot of experience of idiot young folk who think they know what's best. Someone needs to check the east field fences. Everyone else is busy and I'll be damned if I'm going to send Pete out in the pissing rain. You on the other hand could do with a good drenching, see if it will cool off your foolishness."
She laid the plane down and turned round again. He looked so lost, she wanted to clout him round the ear.
"Look, Jack, lad. I know it looks bad. The Spring planting is ruined. Like the harvest was ruined. The barn's empty. We're going to have to eat the pigs, and maybe the cows, because we sold what we had to the Quartermasters so the armies wouldn't starve so they could free the Mournwold and stop the orcs. We both know that we've scraped the bottom of the barrel so hard we've got handfuls of grass."
He opened his mouth but she silenced him with a glare.
"We both know it. But what I know, and what you need to learn, is what it really means to be a Marcher. And right now, for you, it means going out in the pissing rain and checking the fences on the east field because if a beast gets in and kills a cow we will have even less than we do now. And it means sticking with what you started, and when you get knocked down by a bully it means standing back up again and planting your feet and daring him to hit you again.
"So no, Jack. You won't be heading up Wayford way to look for work. You'll be going out to the east field, and then when you've done that you'll come back and wash up before supper. And if you ever come into the house with your boots that muddy again, I will box your ears so hard you will be hearing my fists for a month. Do you understand?"
And he nodded, and he tried to say something but she turned back round to the workbench and grunted something, and when she heard the door shut behind him she laid the plane down again and shook her head ruefully, wondering if she had ever been that young and full of foolishness mistook for pride.He didn't really understand, not yet. But damned if the world wasn't doing its best to teach him.
After the disastrous failure of the Autumn harvest, after a harsh winter of tightened belts to keep the armies marching, the Spring planting is hit with torrential rains and a vicious blight that devours many of the seeds before they can be put in the ground. While the rest of the Empire is enjoying a burst of vitality and fertility, the farms of Bregasland, Upwold, and Mitwold are once again labouring under the yoke of a vicious magical curse that ruins the crops, saps the life from the beasts in the fields, and spreads sickness and hunger wherever it touches.
Then comes the catastrophic news from the Mourn. Morale is low, tempers fray. So much loss, and for what? It would be easy to give in to anger, and resentment, and despair.
But giving in is not really in the Marcher psyche. Knuckling down and pulling together is. The first sign of that comes after the failure of the spring planting. Rather than turn on each other, the Marchers help their neighbours. They grumble, and complain, and make it clear their aid is a loan and not a gift, but they look out for each other. Pride and Loyalty, whether to small things or great things, will not allow them to do anything else.
Then, a plan is hatched. It originates in the markets of Meade, and to the surprise of many, receives immediate support from many of the market towns. The call goes out for the construction of a great work, a network of granaries and barns, as well as the creation and cultivation of stocks of seed to be made available to all for a modest price in the face of blight, harsh weather, or similar disasters. It is an ambitious plan - and one that is not entirely motivated by selflessness.
Meade has long since grown past the point where it can feed itself. It relies on a steady influx of grain, meat, milk, and cheese not just from Mitwold, but from across the Marches. Its prosperity relies on trade routes supported by well-fed and healthy merchants selling food and metal and wood produced by labourers who are not starving to death. The rest of the market towns are in a similar situation - and recognise a simple truth. When the farmers starve, everyone starves.
Their project will require the support of the senate, and it will not be cheap - but the aldermen of Meade point out that the Marches has sacrificed for the Empire time and again. They are confident the Senate will do the right thing.
Words are like a peddlar's ribbons - pretty and cheap and quickly discarded. But actions echo. As such, aldermen across the Marches have committed to putting their hands in their pockets and contributing whatever they can afford to this project. They're mostly not seeing this as a gift, or as charity, but as recognition of the fact the Marches - and the Empire - prosper when the farmers prosper, and as an investment for the future. Indeed, there has been some talk of "darning the rip" between the folk of the market towns, and the rest of the Marches.
Even with the assistance of the market towns, building granaries and seed stores for Bregasland, Mitwold, and Upwold will still require 100 wains of weirwood and 40 wains of white granite, plus labour costs of 35 Thrones. Construction will take two seasons to complete as the Marchers swing into industrious action across their nation.
This is not a small investment - but the impact would be significant.
Firstly, the presence of these granaries and silos would boost the income of every farm in the Marches. It is estimated that it would provide benefits equivalent to 1080 rings per territory spread between the farms based there, regardless of curses and other effects that impact their harvests.
Secondly, the presence of this great work in the Empire provides a "safety net" to the Imperial armies. If a nation of the Empire were unable to support their armies (because of a powerful curse or because they had lost a territory, for example), then the natural decay of all its armies and navies would be reduced by half. The silos could only support a single nation in this way - If a second nation were to have more armies than it could support, then the Marcher senators would need to make a unanimous decision as to which nation to assist (or pass a motion in the Senate). The grain stores would not allow an Imperial nation to build more armies than it can support.
The granaries will need to be commissioned by the Senate, but provided the entire network is built in one go (covering all three Marcher territories), it could be raised as a single motion.
The effect of the curse
The curse, identified as Naeve's Twisting Blight, has already had its effect (reduced production for Marcher farms) and will have faded by the time the Summer solstice starts.
The Imperial Senate voted to take advantage of this opportunity. Work has already begun on the new granaries, and all the materials have been supplied to ensure its completion. It is expected that the granaries will be complete by the start of the Spring Equinox 381YE.