You'll recognise yourself
"This is never going to work. You're an idiot."
"It will - I'm telling you - they built this art gallery in Sarvos and this Volpe guy just paid for the whole lot!"
"Right. Course he did. He'll be a Sarvossian won't he? Why would he pay for something in Madruga? You're an idiot."
"Nah - he's from up north somewhere - Temesfar or something."
"It's Temeschwar, you idiot."
"Whatever. So this guy is just going round the Empire building stuff. All we got to do is ask the Senate to build my dam and he'll just pay for the whole thing!"
"He only builds stuff he can put giant cleavers on - how's he gonna put giant cleavers on a lake full of water? Have you thought of that?"
"Now whose the idiot? It's a giant sodding wall holding all the water back isn't it? We can paint a set of cleavers on it 50ft high. He'll love it! Ships at sea 'll be able to see it! Every ship sailing past the Coast will gaze in awe on the 'MAJESTY OF EL VOLPE' - the richest benevolentest prosperoustest citizen in the whole Empire!"
"The coast is 30 miles away! Nobody's going to see that from here you idiot."
"They might... if they're in the crows nest... "
"You're an idiot."
"Yeah. Yeah. But it's worth a try though innit?"
"It's... it's... not prosperous?"
"Course it is! We get the water we need to irrigate every farm for miles around. And the League Prince gets a chance to show everyone how wonderful he is! I call that a pretty fair trade... If he builds my dam I'll vote for him for Empress!"
"You don't get a vote - idiot."
As the Blood Red Roads spread across the Empire, and various constructions are created in the League cities, the benevolence of Lorenzo la Volpe Macelliao von Temeschwar is slowly growing to become a legend. Those who travel to and from the League cities are forced to gaze on his largess as they pass beneath the gates built in the shape of giant cleavers. Word is spreading and more people are becoming interested in news of the Merchant Prince of Temeschwar, the Bloody Butcher, whose patronage brings prosperity in its wake. This growing interest has suddenly come to a head this season and now there are so many people coming forwards with ideas for things the Butchers might fund that the civil service are struggling to keep track.
Not everyone is happy of course - they never are. Some people have called the constructions gauche. Those who grouse, complain that the constructions have nothing to do with the Empire's Pride and everything to do with the Volpe's vanity.
Supporters of la Volpe
A number of citizens have prospered from the many ministries and great works that the Merchant Prince of Temeschwar has created. His supporters dismiss concerns about the architectural merits of putting giant statues of cleavers everywhere and counter with the undeniable truth that the works of la Volpe have benefited every region where he has been allowed to build. The problem they say is not that there are too many follies to the great wealth of the Butcher of Temeschwar - but rather that there are too few.
Individual senators are preoccupied with meagre constructions of dubious economic worth - the most egregious example of which is surely the Dredgemaster of Feverwater, an utterly indulgent Navarr sinecure whose cost was out of all proportion to its benefits. La Volpe, they claim, would never be foolish enough to build something on the edge of a giant monster-filled swamp nor would he be obsessed with creating yet another sinecure to provide nine mana crystals to some fortunate citizen.
The problem, they argue, is that the Senate has repeatedly shown itself to be far too busy to devote serious time to commissions. As a result there is no overall planning, and worse... there's just no Ambition in what is being attempted. What it needs is someone with la Volpe's towering ambition and bottomless pockets to take control of the situation - but the Prince is forced to waste his valuable time messing around with wayleaves and lining up senators to raise the Senate motions he needs.
Their proposal is simple - the Senate should create a single imperial title - the Master of Commissions - to which they should appoint la Volpe immediately. The Master of Commissions should have power to announce as many commissions as they choose. That would free up the Senate's time to focus on the important business of whatever it is the Senate does - but more importantly it would free up la Volpe's time, letting him concentrate on the crucial task of making everyone in the Empire more wealthy.
To those who suggest that la Volpe could not be trusted to use the power wisely, they point out that the Imperatrix can simply veto any commission that the Senate disapproves of; she could do the same if la Volpe's announcements risked leaving the Senate unable to act. Of course she won't have to do that because la Volpe is more than smart enough to ensure that his constructions meet with her approval. They claim that the old system of civilian commissions did not work well because they were all in competition with each other for commissions, but none of them had the kind of resources that were needed to build anything truly impressive. By appointing la Volpe alone to handle the commissions, the Empire would give free rein to his ambition to create truly monumental commissions that would improve lives for citizens right across the Empire. Senators would still be free to raise their own commissions of course - but it would be much more efficient for them to get la Volpe to simply announce them on their behalf. This would mean that the senators could still get their mana sinecures or what have you but without the need to waste their precious Senate motion or risking a vote before the Senate - provided they convinced the Master of Commissions to oversee their construction.
A number of potential benefactors for Volpe's patronage have recently come forward to ask the Merchant Prince for help.
The Majesty of la Volpe
The Galia family own a large series of farms thirty miles upriver from the coast at Lightsea in Madruga. The farms are productive, and regular shipments of grain, wheat, and salted pork are unloaded every week in Siroc - but the area is dry, and water is often in demand. The Galia family would like to build a great dam across the river, creating a huge artificial lake that they could use to ensure that they had a dependable supply of water throughout the summer.
The dam would require 30 wains of white granite and 60 crowns to construct, and would need someone to be appointed to oversee operations, authorize repairs, maintain the sluice gates and the like. In return the Galia farmers would sign a contract for the water ensuring a steady income of 4 thrones every season according to the civil service estimate (a sinecure).
Sadly the family don't remotely possess the means to pay for such a vast construction - but they are more than happy to incorporate the symbols of the Bloody Butchers into their dam. They are very clear they don't care what the dam looks like - provided they get their water.
The Legacy of Wisdom
There are a series of small caves in Marupa in Volodmartz that were used by the armies of Alderei the Fair to store supplies for his armies according to legend. The caves are known as the Star Caverns, due to a set of Ushkan star patterns which are carved into the walls. By some strange artefact of the geography that is not well understood, the caves are bitterly cold - even during the hottest Summer - which makes them perfect for storing food-stuffs and similar perishable goods, including valuable herbs.
Petra, the boyar of the nearby Vale of Stars has put together a proposal to deepen and reinforce the caves, enhance the roads to and from them and build a fortified outpost to protect the way in and out. He has offered to extend his vale's dominion to include the Caverns, providing the necessary schlacta to protect the caves from any nefarious denizens of the nearby woods that might be drawn to them. If successful it would allow the Caverns to be used as an effective place to store food and herbs for use by merchants from vales all across the region. He proposes to call the fortification The Legacy of Wisdom or perhaps the Legacy of the Way if la Volpe prefers.
The Legacy would require 20 wains of white granite and 40 crowns to construct, and would need someone to be appointed to oversee operations, maintaining the defences and dealing with merchants and the like. In return the Legacy would allow the citizen appointed to buy bladeroot - the most common herb grown in this region - for a price. The civil service estimate that the minimum purchase would be 7 crowns in exchange for 16 doses of bladeroot - but they could spend up to 62 crowns to buy 84 doses.
The Blood Red Pig Farm
The town of Graven is the largest settlement in Bregasland and some say it has always had ideas above its station. The aldermen of the town have a bad reputation for their cantankerous relationship with the local yeofolk who supply the town and its inhabitants with food. Bregasland is far from being the most fertile Marcher territory and the high prices the town is forced to pay to feed itself are just one of many sources of friction.
To improve their bargaining position, the town council proposes to build a vast pig farm on the north edge of the town. The centrepiece of the farm will be a large abattoir where the pigs can be killed and the carcasses cut up. The farm will be huge, much larger than any single yeoman might manage so it would need to have a citizen appointed to oversee the essential tasks of managing the farm. The farm will then send shipments of salted pork to the town, including the miners working the profitable mines that dot the adjacent mountain. In return for their time, the citizen will be able to use some of their own funds to purchase ingots of weltsilver and green iron from these mine-owners.
The Blood Red Pig Farm would require 20 wains of weirwood and 40 crowns to construct, and would need someone to be appointed to oversee operations, handling the contracts with the various mine owners who would be queuing up to acquire cheap cuts of meat for their workers. As a result the Farm would allow the citizen appointed to buy weltsilver and green iron - for a price. The civil service estimate that the minimum purchase would be 7 crowns in exchange for 8 ingots of weltsilver and 4 ingots of green iron - but they could spend up to 48 crowns to buy 32 ingots of weltsilver and 16 ingots of green iron.
The Aldermen of Graven are unable to fund the Pig Farm themselves but they are keen to point out that it will include an actual butchers hall! They are more than happy to paint it any colour of red that la Volpe would like and propose to make him the very first Honorary Citizen of Graven Rock - a newly created ceremonial title that would be bestowed for life on whoever funded the Blood Red Pig Farm.
The Colossus of Tassato
Ever since the Colossus of Sarvos was completed, some residents of Tassato have groused that their cousins on the coast have been getting trade that should have come to them. There is no real evidence for this of course - but such is the nature of people.
Never one to stand by and let themselves be outdone by another League city, a handful of Tassato residents have come up with a proposal for a colossus of their own. But rather than put it at the entrance to Tassato, they want to construct it down-river on top of the Red Rock, a high hill that overlooks a key section of the Sapphire Stair. In this way, every ship traveling upriver to Tassato will be forced to spend hours gazing on its magnificence as they navigate the locks.
The group have engaged an artist to create a flattering sketch of the finished statue of Lorenzo, his arms outstretched as he overlooks the River Vassa. They have also come up with a way to make parts of the statue hollow so that although it still needs the same 40 wains of white granite and 80 crowns as the original construction, the new statue will be almost half as high again, more than 30ft higher than the original Colossus!
The civil service estimate that the new statue would bring in an additional of 450 rings spread across all the businesses in Tassato. Of course some of that is trade that would previously have gone to Sarvos, so that city will lose 100 rings of income generated by the Colossus of Sarvos.
The Cleavers Dance
Though Therunin is predominantly a marshy territory with little stable ground, in its southwest lies the region of Peakedge Song, which despite its relative lack of woodland is fairly populated with Navarr stridings. More common here than in any other Navarr territory are profitable mines, extracting a bounty of precious minerals from the foothills and rocky slopes of the mountains that border Morrow to the south.
An aspiring broker by the name of Cyfarth of the steading of Loren's Bargain has, for some time, tried to find opportunities to connect the Prosperous work of the miners with smiths and crafters elsewhere in the Empire. He has recently proposed plans for a great smithy to be constructed in Peakedge Song, meaning that the materials produced from the mines would not need to be transported far.
The comparatively stable ground in the region and the lack of dense forests have been well-accounted for in Cyfarth's designs, and he proposes a great work that would require 20 wains of white granite, 20 wains of mithril and 80 crowns to construct. The resulting Smithy would be well-staffed with artisans from within and without Therunin, who would be keen to take advantage of the opportunities to refine their skills with an abundance of artisanal materials. The increased demand for such materials would create a bounty of 900 rings, which would be distributed evenly amongst mines in Therunin.
Cyfarth has magnanimously suggested that the outer walls of the smithy could be carved out of the white granite to resemble large cleavers, extolling the Prosperity of the Butcher's Guild - and, of course, of la Volpe. He is quite confident that la Volpe would not pass up an opportunity to boost the industry of Therunin and encourage more miners and crafters to take up residence in the stridings there.
The Bloody Great Sausages
The Right Virtuous Company of Provisioners and Victuallers of Holberg have long supplied the army of the Towerjacks with quality rations. Even when times were darkest, the spicers and sausagemakers of Holberg ensured that the rations were as palatable as possible, containing nothing to remind the soldiers of the ingredients they had been forced to use. With the breaking of the siege, the passes became clear and the farmland of Holberg was no longer drowning in Druj; the victuallers of the Towerjacks integrated with trademark efficiency into the logistics chain of the Imperial armies. But it does not have to stop there.
Now that the Blood Red Roads connect everywhere of importance, the desirability of fine-quality sausages across the Empire and the evident Prosperity of the Butchers of Temeschwar have inspired this guild to seek a new and exciting opportunity to diversify. More than just the Towerjacks appreciate traditional Holberg rations: surely the rest of the Empire would do so as well? And with the right investment, they think they can provide high-quality Holberg charcuterie to those with the palate for it!
For a modest outlay in white granite and construction funds - say 20 wains and 40 crowns - the Virtuous Company could engage in a rapid expansion of their supply and distribution chain. This efficiency saving will result in a bounty of two thrones and four rings distributed between the owners of every farm in Holberg, and quickly make the distinctive Holberg travelling ration available wherever good sausages are sold. The Provisioners are more than happy to allow this expansion to carry the brand of the Butchers of Temeschwar, provided its overseers are sworn to maintain the Provisioners’ standards of quality and efficiency - indeed, they propose to create a new speciality sausage just for Lorenzo - "the Bloody Great Sausage"!
Since the announcement of their intention to expand, the Virtuous Company have come under fire from other purveyors of fine food in Holberg. Some critics even go so far as accusing them of attempting a scam, an attempt to secure a monopoly on Holberg sausage. More sober individuals have pointed out that the scheme - to spread the distinctive Holberg sausage across the Empire - works equally well whoever is in charge. Rather than simply entrusting the extension to a single guild, the Senate could create an Imperial title to bestow custodianship of the Bloody Great Sausage project on an Imperial citizen appointed by the Senators of the League.
Detractors of la Volpe
Not everyone is impressed by the ministries and great works that the Merchant Prince of Temeschwar has created. Their argument is not one of Prosperity but one of Pride. La Volpe is rich - nobody can deny that - but his works are tasteless, gauche monstrosities that are entirely devoid of any artistic, architectural, or inspirational merit. La Volpe could have built an artistic statue of the Founder of the League at the entrance to the Jewelled City that would have served as an inspiration to every citizen who arrived in the city - reminding them of what great things those with Ambition might achieve. Instead the city is cursed with some gaudy statue of la Volpe, stood with his legs akimbo, as if about to urinate into the Bay. Yes, it's made the city richer... but is anyone Proud of this obscenity? It's no wonder someone tried to knock the bloody thing down, they say - it's only a pity that they didn't succeed.
In the eyes of his detractors the Colossus is the least of his crimes. The Blood Red Roads are a great work the likes of which have not been attempted before. Does that mean they have to have giant butcher's gates everywhere? What inspiration will citizens draw from Lorenzo's massive follies? To become butchers? Bankers? The Empire needs many things, but there isn't a terrible shortage of either butchers or bankers that anyone is aware of. In fact more than a few acerbically comment that the Empire currently has one too many.
How did it come to pass that one man has been able to paint the Empire blood red, given carte blanche to build giant edifices decorated with cleavers anywhere he likes? The answer of course is because he's rich - he made a fortune playing the Imperial Bourse for mithril - and now he's making a travesty of the Empire playing the Senate for fools. Greedy senators look the other way while la Volpe announces anything he chooses. They groan every time he comes to the floor... but none of them actually do anything about it.
In fact, much of this sentiment comes not from the League where many of the la Volpe's commissions are based, but from Highguard and other places. Unfortunately for la Volpe this group are not just angry about him but also about the Asavean architect whose works have grown increasingly blasphemous. The Empire's commitment to the Way is mocked by this individual whose entire body of work is simply one act of blasphemy after another. In the minds of these people the presence of Asavean temples on the Coast coupled with Asavean statues to their blasphemous gods that now dot the Empire are yet another sign that the Senate simply cannot be trusted with the power of commission.
The solution, they say, is simple. The power of commission must be delegated by the Senate to the one house that can be relied on to use the power virtuously. The Council of the Nine can be trusted to ensure that no more blasphemous temples, no more Asavean architects decorating fortresses with images of his gods, no more statues of butchers and cleavers everywhere you look.
There are nine members of the Council of Nine... and at present the Empire has nine commission slots free. It's too sweet a correspondence to ignore. Then the Empire could go forward in virtue - with works created to inspire Ambition, Courage, Loyalty, Prosperity, Wisdom, Vigilance - and most of all, Pride.
Should the Senate wish to embrace this proposal, it would require a Senate motion that would be a constitutional vote. It would remove the power of commission from the Senate, but create the judgement of commission in the Imperial Synod, available to the General Assembly and the Assembly of the Nine. The wording of the motion would need to make clear whether this power would be restricted to civilian commissions or would include military commissions as well. While the constitutional court deems the basic idea to be constitutional, they cannot of course rule on the matter until they have the exact wording of such a motion before them.
A number of groups have come forward with commissions that they are hoping that the great and the good of the Empire will see fit to fund - but in these cases they have made very clear that they will not accept support from the Merchant Prince of the Bloody Bank.
Back when the plans for the Butchers' roads were announced, "la Volpe" announced his intention to spread the roads further, taking them as far as Anduz in Segura and even as far as Morrow. These plans would have taken these roads to the very steps of the White City of Bastion, holy city, site of yearly pilgrimages by the Highborn and other virtuous followers of the Way. Sadly the roads have not yet arrived at Bastion, but the civil service are confident that if that section is built and completed then it would see a significant increase in pilgrims visiting the holy city - and that prediction gives rise to an opportunity.
Based on the predictions, Philemon of the Chapter of Fulmon's Bounty has put his chapter's resources to work to design a series of beautiful hostels and facilities intended to support the increased number of pilgrims taking advantage of the simple and safe passage to the birthplace of the Way down the Blood Red Roads. Philemon is clear that his chapter are not prepared to see their work traduced by "gaudy red cleaver symbols" and "bloody money", so they are not prepared to take a single ring of la Volpe's money for their commission - instead they are hoping that the benefactors of the nation will dig deep to find the resources needed. Or if not, then perhaps the Cohort of the Winter Bear, whose traditional duty is to defend pilgrims on the road, might help.
Philemon's design for the Pilgrims' Road hostelry requires 100 wains of white granite and 200 crowns to complete. The benefits of such an impressive set of new hostels would be significant, however, providing a bounty of 50 liao and 100 Synod votes spread between every congregation in Bastion. Philemon is prepared to allow the benefactors to have appropriate input on the work to ensure that everyone can be confident that the hostels constitute something every Highborn can be proud of - however he is absolutely clear that he will not permit that "League montebanc" anywhere near this grand scheme.
Which is slightly inconvenient... because although the hostelry is impressive, there is a stark flaw in Philemon's designs - namely, the lack of roads. The hostels are designed to go all along Lorenzo's proposed Blood Red Roads... This great work can be built at any time - but it will only provide half the expected benefits unless the Blood Red Roads or similar are extended to Bastion.
Astolat is the vibrant and beating heart of Dawn, and one of its most famous locations is Laroc, home of the largest known pageantry in the Empire. There, questing knights, yeofolk, and nobles alike clash in glorious bouts, ever eager to prove themselves in the eyes of their peers.
Yet for the most part, the existing tournament ground of Laroc has somewhat fallen behind over the years. The fluted pillars and arches of white granite were once some of the largest non-military constructions in the nation, but in the years that have passed they have begun to look small in comparison to some of the impressive and Ambitious works other nations have built.
A movement has begun to spread amongst the folk of Laroc to construct a new, and much more magnificent tournament ground - an arena not only capable of housing a dozen or more bouts at once, but also seating great hosts of passionate onlookers, who would be drawn like moths to Laroc's flame.
A passionate architect by the name of Lady Larille de Rochemont is leading the forefront of this movement. The Lady has been a very public critic of the work of the Lorenzo whom she scornfully disdains as "that jumped up yeoman" whenever his name is mentioned. She has quite deliberately created two competing sets of designs: one is themed in red and black with a stylised motif of eagles and primroses, the other is blue and argent, with three crescent moons around a gryphon. Doubtless the Lady would be prepared to change her plans if needed but she is making no secret of the fact that she is appealing to the Pride of two of the most powerful noble houses, to see who is willing to do most to support her work.
She is at pains to stress that her designs do include an element that references the Bloody Butchers. A section of the arena which she anticipates will be seen by many visitors will incorporate Lorenzo's name and the heraldry of the Butchers Bank, but she promises that if Lorenzo is prepared to make a 25 throne contribution towards the costs then she is willing to redesign the ablutions block to a more neutral theme.
If it gets built then the resulting edifice would be an truly impressive, but the costs are not small. 80 wains of white granite would be needed to construct the area, along with 160 crowns to pay for the extensive labour required. The end result, however, would be a huge boon to troubadours all over Astolat, who would be well-called upon to extol the glory of the combatants, provide them with sources of spiritual strength, and watch over their exploits. A total of 40 liao and 80 votes would be split between every congregation in the territory.
The troubadours plan to keep extensive records of everyone who competes in the area, so that everyone will be aware of their glory - which would have another minor benefit, since it would allow Dawn to raise any new army in 9 months rather than a year, for as long as the arena stood - provided the army was raised in Astolat.
With their invasion of Zenith complete, the Druj have destroyed the Gardens of Pallas in central Iteri. The gardens have been flooded, their ushabti smashed, their caretaker spires burned. But among the refugees in Morrow, the expertise remains, and to those with eyes to see, this creates what might be considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to salvage something out of this disaster. By next season, the refugees will have begun to disperse, looking for places to use the specialised skills of an Urizeni herbalist. But just right now, that expertise is concentrated, albeit in a refugee camp - and with assistance, it could be given a place to flourish.
Morrow is full of ancient ruins that could prove viable to renovate. Places where people once lived, where people could live again - with work. But the site that has been chosen is considered to be ideal for this project. The Bleak Tower is an ancient structure, long abandoned for reasons unknown. It is now half collapsed but it once housed a vast arboretum. The buildings lie in ruins, but the trees have grown wild and in doing so the site appears to have developed a powerful winter regio - with some unusual benefits.
The work to restore the spire would have to be carefully planned - to keep the overwhelming sense of ruination that may be linked to the regio. But with great care it could be made habitable - and if the skilled herbalists among the refugees opted to remain here they could tend the arboretum. It would require some substantial work - and need 120 crowns, as well as 30 wains of weirwood and the same of white granite - but the benefits could be significant. The Bleak Tower could collaborate with herb gardens across Morrow, exchanging seeds and plants as well as skills and expertise. The result would be a huge boost, a net gain of 80 herbs spread across the herb gardens in the territory.
The real gain would be in the arboretum itself however. The Senate would need to appoint a custodian to oversee the gardens, to ensure that the work did not impact the regio. But in return the custodian would receive the true bounty of the new spire. The trees that grow near the regio produce sap that is a sticky dark red in colour with a metallic tang. It is more than just a mere curio however, it is potent with magic - a rare form of Heart's Blood - invaluable for winter rituals. With careful tending the Spire could produce 6 doses of Heart's Blood for the custodian every season.
Of course 30 wains of weirwood and white granite do not come cheap! And that raises the rather sticky question of who might pay for it. Cyrus of the White Stair, formerly of Zenith, is at pains to admit that while he would be only be too happy to accept backing from the benevolent la Volpe, the nature of the project means it is impossible to include any part of the symbol of the Butchers in the construction. It is not a question of taste, but one of magic; the immutable laws of magic mean it is simply not possible. Every element of the design will have to be handled with exquisite care - to keep the natural sense of Winter that now permeates the ruin. Anything bright or showy would undermine that and make the entire project a failure. Or so Cyrus claims.
Cyrus also claims that the project requires a benefactor whose arete and poise allows them to understand the fine balance of magic and architecture which are essential to make the new spire a success. They are hoping that Achilles of Damakan's Forge - whose fortune is said to rival that of la Volpe - will be intrigued by the potential of the project and keen to play a role in what could be a historic project that would benefit all of Urizen.
These opportunities definitely remain open until the end of the Summer Solstice. After that, interest and enthusiasm - both from those keen to win the support of la Volpe, and those who dislike him for whatever reason - may begin to wane. if this happens, some or all of these commissions may cease to be available.