Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 419
There was a large shed made from stone and wood in the western sector of Port Cobius which the nikancha used as an assembly hall. Any conflict among the tribes would prompt the elders to convene at the hall for a discussion on the settlement of the matter. Back then, the viceroys and high-commissioners tolerated the hall because it made it convenient for tax collection and labour delegation.
"You mean to say that the nikancha in the colonies aren't registered at all and the head tax collection process was basically sending a notice to the elders and tribe leaders about the amount to be collected and letting them gather what money or objects of value that match that amount?"
Claude got off his carriage and looked at the crude shed with keen interest. Standing beside him was the ambassador the viceroys and high-commissioners had sent to convince Claude and the theatre to pledge allegiance to the first prince.
He was surprised to find that the old ambassador actually didn't sign the document the high-commissioners, viceroys and most other people of authority in the three colonies did, so he managed to avoid arrest.
He found that fact rather weird. Initially, he had thought the old man was a close confidant of Tyrrsim's high-commissioners. He later found that the old man was actually an unimportant servant who stuck around to run the high commissioner's errands to earn some money for his family.
The man had studied in the same middle school as the high commissioner, but he migrated to the colonies much earlier. He didn't do really well and earned a living with his smooth talking. Two years ago, he had gone to the docks to look for work and accidentally rammed into the high-commissioner's carriage and almost got punished for it. Fortunately, the high-commissioner recognised his former classmate and spared him a round of beatings.
There was nothing else to say about that. Even though they had graduated from the same middle school, one worked his way up to a high position and the other ended up piss poor. So, the high-commissioner, in a generous gesture, took him into his estate to run his errands for him. The ambassador didn't let go of that chance and tried to please. As he was quite the smooth talker and honeyed people up rather easily, the high-commissioner decided to let him be the negotiator with the other generals in the theatre.
Unfortunately for him, he ran into Claude and the slaps he suffered from Gum caused him to lose a tooth. Then, he saw the garrison forces of the three colonies crushed almost effortlessly. Later, he was carted off to Port Cobius and Claude sent him in to the viceroys and high-commissioners to carry his message.
After their arrest, the old man no longer had any work. So, he came to side with Claude and revealed some of the secrets of the colonies he was aware of. Claude happened to be lacking in someone who knew the lay of the land, and given his amazing conversational skills, he decided to keep the old man around to assist him. This time around, the old man had been sent to arrange a meeting with the elders and leaders of the nikancha and he completed the task after a month of busywork.
"Yes, Lord General, that is the case," the old man respectfully said, "The head tax the kingdom levies on its citizens is nothing much. Each citizen only has to pay a sunar each year. However, the nikancha are taxed around a riyas per person. As their populace isn't registered, the three colonies considered them to amount to roughly a million people and demanded a million riyas or goods worth up to that amount from them every year."
"What? A million riyas?" Claude was completely flabbergasted. The head tax for nikancha was ten times more than that of Auerans! A million riyas was equal to 100 thousand thales, or 20 thousand crowns! How could the nikancha possibly afford that huge a sum?
"No, wait. I've checked the records. The nikancha in the three colonies only make less than two thousand crowns per year. Where do they get so much to pay taxes?"
"Lord General, the nikancha are actually rather rich. You're just unaware about it. Otherwise, why would the local garrison forces be so willing to raid their settlements? Surely there's something worth taking for it to be worth their while. Most of the nikancha in Port Cobius are indeed the poorest of the poor who aren't even sure when their next meal will come. They scrape by day after day. The rich ones are the tribe leaders and elders. They collect a commission from the salaries of the youths in their tribes. The commission they keep is a larger cut than what the workers get to keep, so most of the taxes actually fall on the leaders and elders.
"On the surface, they only have to pay a riyas for each member in their tribes in taxes. However, they can easily earn three to four sunars from each member. It is actually a rather profitable business. The nikancha tribes in Port Cobius' outer city are even richer than those inside. They have their own territories and can fish, farm, forage herbs and mine. The high-commissioners and viceroys even suspected that they hold a few small gold and silver mines which they weren't able to locate.
"Last year and the year before, these nikancha tribes paid part of their taxes in mined ore worth around three thousand crowns. However, the tax collection officials only let them count for two thousand crowns. Those at the top had tried sending people to ask where they got the ores from, and the elders merely said that they traded for the ores with other supplies from the native eitat people in the Obumuk Mountains and used them to pay their taxes. After hearing that the tribes in the Obumuk Mountains are mostly eitat, those at the top lost interest in them.
"Additionally, the three colonies only hand around two thousand crowns of the tax they collected from the nikancha to the kingdom. Officially, the nikancha are actually taxed a sunar per person. The rest of the money was divided into two portions. The lion's share is split evenly among the high-commissioners and viceroys, so each of them earns around 2500 crowns annually. The smaller share is split among the officials working beneath them. Smaller officials can pocket a dozen plus crowns and the ones higher up in the chain can get up to tens or even a hundred crowns each."
Claude suddenly felt that it would be a shame to send the nikancha away. Think about all the lost tax revenue. But when he thought back at the kind of trouble they caused, it wouldn't be worth keeping three million nikancha in for a paltry 20 thousand crowns. It would be better to rid the colonies of them for good.
"Oh, you, Za... Za-something?" Claude pointed at the old man.
"Lord General, I'm Zakralin," he said, teary eyed at the fact that the general was finally going to refer to him by name. Even though he could only remember a part of it, it was still a huge improvement from being called 'hey', and 'whats-your-name'.
"Alright. Zakralin, have all the elders and leaders across the three colonies come to attend?"
"Lord General, it's impossible to gather them all in one place. We only managed to notify the elders or leaders of the 27 tribes that number above three thousand members. There are hundreds of tribes in the colonies, ranging from those with a hundred members to those with a thousand. This place can't accommodate all of them.
"And actually, we only need to inform these 27 tribes. They'll pass our word on to their smaller, vassal tribes, just like the case with taxes, we only have to inform them and they will assign the smaller tribes the amount they have to pay for taxes. The vassal tribes pay around tens to hundreds of crowns and they'll easily be able to gather enough."
"Since the 27 nikancha elders and leaders are here, let's go in then."
"After you, Lord General. Officer Myjack has surveyed the surroundings and set up a defence perimeter," Zakralin said with a gracious bow and wave.
There were four guards posted outside the doors of the hall. They saluted and opened the doors as Claude entered. Loud chattering from within spilt outside the hall.
The hall within didn't look as large as it did from the outside, perhaps because some smaller rooms had been sectioned off. Claude felt that it was about the size of three tavern halls; it could barely fit a hundred people there. The hall seemed a little dark, mainly due to the poor illumination. There were only a few braziers lit in the centre where many people gathered. Loud chatter and laughter could be heard. Some were even roasting meat and caused the air to smell a little weird.
"General Claude has arrived! Silence!" Zakralin announced after he took a few steps forward, making sure the elders could hear him.
The crowd quieted down as they all turned to Claude. Zakralin took a chair out from who-knows-where and wiped it with his sleeves before beckoning Claude to sit down.
Claude waved and looked at the nikancha elders. The illumination was rather poor, even worse so with the unstable flickering of the flames. He couldn't really make out the features of the red-brown-skinned folk, apart from whether they had beards.
"I am the vice field marshal of the colonial theatre, Viscount and Lieutenant-General Claude Han Ferd," he introduced himself. According to Zakralin, the nikancha respected high-ranking officials and were more willing to listen to someone of high authority. As expected, after Claude announced his station, the silent chatters and whispers stopped.
"Currently, Mormaly, Tyrrsim and Aduras have come under the theatre's jurisdiction. In other words, we will also be taking over jurisdiction of the nikancha folk. I have summoned the leaders and elders of the biggest tribes in the three colonies because I have something to announce--"
"Lord General, is it about taxes? Just tell us how much you want," some asked.
"Ugh..." Claude felt his rage surging. Do I look like I'm here to beg for money?!
"Shut up, you cur! Do you think the general is here to collect taxes from you? Just shut up and listen! Don't interrupt!" Zakralin yelled.
Claude gave him a look and he shut his mouth on cue.
"He is right. I'm not here about taxes. It isn't under my purview," Claude continued, "What I want to tell you is that north of the colony of Vebator in the coastal areas, your nikancha brethren have founded their own independent nation. They are currently waging war against the inland Shiksan colonies and have conquered large amounts of territory."
Wham! A few nikancha elders jumped. The news was far too shocking. The nikancha had always wanted their own nation, but nobody gave them the opportunity to realise their dreams in the colonies.
While the nikancha nation had been formed for quite some time, roughly two years ago, news of it hadn't reached the nikancha at all due to the sheer distance separating the colonies. Even the nikancha miners in Anfiston hadn't heard about the formation of such a nation.
The reason for that was the theatre didn't think much of the nikancha nation at all. Claude had initially encouraged them to stage a violent rebellion for independence to cause trouble for Shiks. Having the nikancha take over the inland Shiksan colonies was much easier than sending his forces in to clean them up. The inland colonies of Shiks had a combined area of around four Aueran colonies. Most of them were wilderness and mountainous areas, so the theatre couldn't be bothered to waste their manpower and time there.
After conquering Vebator and making it the eighth Aueran colony, the theatre decided to set the border of the nikancha nation at Vebator's borders. They also let the nikancha attack the inland Shiksan colonies as they see fit. That way, the theatre only had to focus on threats coming from the sea. It was a great help and convenience to them.
"Lord General, is the news true?" a bearded old man asked with agitation.
"This is the elder of the Roronia Settlement, Zali. Their tribe has around four thousand people and they live on the western bank of the town of Manledo," Zakralin added.
"Elder Zali, it is true," Claude sincerely said, "The reason you are not informed about this is not a single nikancha tribe was allowed to remain in Cromwell and Balingana due to the war. So, word of the founding of the nation stays north of Dorinibla River.
"However, the nikancha nation has now sent us a request for aid. They hope that we can help the nikancha tribes in our colonies migrate there. They said that their nation is the rightful homes of all the nikancha and any of their brethren are free to live free and blissful lives there.
"We have agreed to help out with the request. In another half a month, their ambassadors will come here in hopes of being able to convince you to migrate to their nation. If you have any questions, leave it for the ambassadors. Our theatre will help with the move by providing a free ferry service in the nearby waters. That will cut the journey short by half."
Sometimes, Claude was truly impressed with how Borkal's mind worked. He had sent a carrier eagle to Eiblont, who was stationed in Port Vebator, and asked whether there would be any negative effects of transporting three million nikancha to the areas north of Vebator. Eiblont then handed the matter to Borkal, who was dealing with arms sales with the nikancha nation.
Later, Claude received a letter from Borkal. He was shocked to see what was inside. Borkal had actually used the three million nikancha as a bargaining chip to obtain large amounts of ores, gold and silver from the nikancha nation.
Borkal explained the reason he chose to do so. Initially, the nikancha nation's population didn't even reach two million. After their attacks on the Shiksan colonies, they lost around ten thousand youths. Most of the settlers in the inland Shiksan colonies were mine owners and nobles and they had their slave forces to protect their mines.
The newly founded nation didn't have a problem with suppressing their enemies with numbers, but they still suffered rather huge casualties as they had just learned to use firearms. As a result, they only managed to conquer a third of the inland Shiksan colonies and were no longer able to go on. They were in dire need of more troop stock and population, as well as support with regards to ammunition, equipment and food.
So, Borkal's discussion with them was smooth sailing. The nikancha nation was overjoyed to hear that the theatre was willing to move the nikancha tribes in the colonies there. Borkal used that opportunity to demand a large amount of ores and rare metals as a price for letting the nikancha tribes go. He also allowed the nation to send ambassadors to come and convince the tribes to migrate north.