September 30, 2014

In Which Oswald Is Unjust

April 23, 1187

"Another tax hike in Tagrien?" Oswald scowled. There wasn't a king alive who didn't understand the importance of taxes--they were a good portion of a lord's salary, after all. But in exchange for their taxes, the lord was to provide his subjects with protection, maintenance of infrastructure, support... perhaps even the occasional service. With higher taxes, one was to expect improvements to those aspects.

But since Felron had succeeded his father as count, since he'd driven the tax rate up more months than not, not one Tagrien denizen had reported any such improvements. Indeed, Searle's network had intelligence indicating the opposite. The only purpose those extra coins served was the further weigh down Felron's pocket. "Tell me he's at least put men to work on some new docks at the lake."

"I've had no reports on any construction in that area. Or any other, for that matter."


The worst part of it was that technically, Felron had broken no laws, so Oswald could not punish him. The Shire Autonomy Statute of 1056 gave the lords of Dovian shires the right to do as they pleased with their tax money, with no attempt at policing from the king. It also prohibited a king from deposing a lord unless said lord had been found guilty of a crime by a jury of his peers. If Oswald intervened, even if they understood his reasons, the other lords would grow wary. Threatened. And he wouldn't be able to blame them.


"Poverty in the region is increasing. The people are having to choose between feeding themselves or paying their taxes--and Felron's brutish collectors make it an easy decision. Some of the lords have confronted Felron about it, but he says that if his people want to eat, they ought to work harder. Of course, it's difficult to work when no one's willing to pay."

"Tertius never would have stood for this." But Tertius wasn't around to change anything. And as long as Felron kept to the law, Oswald's hands were tied if he wished to remain a just king. Yet, this was getting out of hand. "The people won't take this for much longer. There will be riots. Felron will squash them. That will lead to more riots. The shire will become a cesspit of violence and chaos, people stabbing each other in the back for a loaf of bread, crowds howling at the castle gates day in and day out. They're my people too; I don't like sitting idly by while Felron drives their home into ruin."

"I wouldn't either, in your shoes." His son-in-law's hand twitched. Some days, Oswald wondered if Searle had been too obvious a choice for the role of spymaster, but at his core, Searle was an honest man. His talents lay in using that honesty in dishonest ways--but never so dishonest as to be treacherous. To those he liked, at least. "Perhaps it would be in our best interests to... move Tagrien along in the line of succession. Make Arkon the count. Nearina would make an excellent regent while he finishes his schooling."

"Searle, if I could have deposed Felron, I would have done so some time ago."

"Indeed. But what if he were otherwise eliminated?"

Oswald clenched a fist. Of course. Searle knew the law as well as any. He hadn't meant that Felron ought to be simply stripped of his title. "You mean if he were assassinated."

"Well, it wouldn't be common knowledge. Natural deaths can be faked. Murders too. There's a whole shire full of people who want Felron dead, after all."

"Searle, I'm not framing one of my subjects for murder."

"And I'm not saying that you have to. I have a plan, and I know of just the man to execute it."

Was this what it meant, to be a just king? Pulling strings in the background, plotting covert assassinations of his own noblemen to avoid doing wrong by the others, to avoid violating his forefathers' own laws? It left a sickly taste on the roof of Oswald's mouth.

Nonetheless, he stepped forward. "I'm listening."



Van said...

Fatigue got the better of me last night. Anyway, this is up now.

Winter said...

It gets to the best of us :D

Felron assassinated? Yes, please! I hope Searle and I are thinking of the same assassin.

Oswald has a good grasp on Searle's character. I think he's a very good choice as a spy, too. He has a good political mind and isn't bound by a (good) king's honor and diplomacy when it comes to fairness vs. the greater good.

Van said...

Sure does.

And you and Searle may just be thinking about the same assassin. ;)

Oswald is a pretty good judge of character, and Searle is no exception. He does have the makings of a good spymaster, even if he would be the first of Oswald's noblemen to be suspected there. He knows the law, but he's not afraid to operate outside it if it's in the kingdom's best interests.

Mimus said...

Yikes! >.<
I'm not sure, if it's a smart solution to simply assassinate Felron. If someone less than honorable finds out, the king and his spymaster will be in deep trouble.
I mean if he doesn't want to make the other lords angry he could at least have them vote for Felron's removal as lord. ...Unless there are other lords in Dovia who share Felron's opinion on how a shire should be handled...
Mind I'm not saying all this because I want Felron to stay alive. I'm just worried that something could get out and while the king probably wouldn't be held accountable for sending an assassin after one of his lords - though his popularity would probably take a hit -, Searle does not have that immunity...

Van said...

Felron is definitely not popular, and neither are his methods. That said, Oswald's worry is that some of the others would take the "he hasn't technically done anything illegal" position and hold to it, which is not an invalid fear, for all, yep, an assassination could be preeeetty risky if word gets out. Oswald is generally quite popular among his people, but yeah, people outside of Tagrien would not take this lightly. The lords would also be pretty appalled.

That and, even if Felron's removed as a lord, he could still potentially cause some grief. He is related to practically everybody, after all.

Mimus said...

Yes, though being related to practically everybody doesn't necessarily mean that those nobles would stand up to him. There was many a noble that had their own relatives killed (well, maybe not their own children though I suppose those existed too) and throwing your bloodkin under the metaphorical bus was not unheard of.

Van said...

True, it wouldn't be the first case of being shrugged off by relatives (nor do I think this would be the first case of a political assassination sanctioned by a king of one of his own men). But I'm sure that even if he lost his title, his family probably wouldn't throw him out on his ass, unless Felron reeeeeally toughens up during his last few years at university. So they'd still have to deal with him on a personal level. :S

Penelope said...

Oh boy, I bet I know what assassin that will be.

You know... Oswald is king. He IS the law. But if it is the letter of the law that he is so concerned about, couldn't he draft a writ? It seems weird for a king to hire an assassin for one of his own citizens (let alone someone that nobody likes from the nobility right down to peasantry). Not only that, but it is technically Oswald's right to lock away or even execute Rina's father for whatever. He doesn't need a reason. And so long as he didn't make a big habit of it, I imagine that most of the nobility would just look away partly out of fear, partly out of fealty and partly because it's Felron.

Penelope said...

Also, I think that if this got out, it would look SUPER cowardly. Like, super duper cowardly. People would wonder why Oswald did it, and assume that he was he did it as a last ditch attempt because he was scared.

Van said...

Oh, it's risky, for sure. :S

This is probably an instance of being too lawful for the law. Oswald's so wary of possibly abusing his power that he'd rather go through a shady channel to get this done than to be upfront about it. :S