Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 478
Ambassadors' Night Meeting
"How could it be?! The colonies still owe four million crowns in debt?!" Anklink slammed the meeting table in a fit of rage.
Skri looked at him mockingly. "Lord Ambassador, how else did you think the theatre defeated 700 thousand Shiksan troops with only around 130 thousand men? You may check our accounts. All the fees are clearly stated there in detail.
"The daily expenditure of the forces, ammunition and resupply costs as well as wartime bonuses are all clearly stated in the accounts. Even the pensions and medical costs incurred have clear records. You may check each file and even run an investigation to see if we've faked any of it--"
"I'm not interested in dead people!" Anklink interrupted with his eyes bloodshot. He had thought dealing with Bolonik and Skri as well as taking over the theatre could help fill their pockets.
They didn't think that all they got was an empty husk after checking the accounts. There wasn't much funding left in headquarters, much to the ambassadors' disappointment.
It was worth noting that they did not consider Loki Mountains to be a new colony of the kingdom as there wasn't a single Aueran citizen there, not to mention its desolate state. The fact that there were more than 17 gold and silver mines was intentionally hidden by Skri. All that could be seen on the maps were mountains with no plains at all. In the eyes of people of this era, mountainous areas weren't good areas for colonies.
"Who knows if it's real or not?" Anklink tapped lightly on the stack of accounts and logistics records half a person in height. "Since you defeated all 700 thousand Shiksans, I'd like to know where the spoils and enemy's military funding went.
"I bet the Shiksans didn't send 700 thousand empty stomachs here, right? Even though military matters aren't my forte, I have some common sense. All those soldiers need food and clothes, as well as a salary, which is sure to not be a small number. If you can exterminate all of them, surely you have some gains as well? Where are all those spoils and funds?"
"War is indeed not your forte, Lord Ambassador," Skri mocked mercilessly, "No soldier would carry a large sack of gold coins with them to the battlefield. The Shiksans are no different. Do you see the account books with the blue covers? All our spoils are listed there.
"The tens of warehouses are filled with muskets, cannons and ammunition as well as military wear and the like. There's also preserved meat and food. As for their funds, all I can say is that you've overthought it, Lord. The Shiksans didn't bring their coins to the warzone so as to not lose them to us.
"I questioned many captured Shiksan logisticians and found that they opened a bank account in the united overseas bank in Fochs. All their purchases have been made using that bank account. Lacking in money as our theatre is, there's no way that we'd attack the Fochsian city for the funds in their bank and instigate war with another nation."
Baron Fegri went to the stack of account books with blue covers and picked one out for a detailed look. He was the most well versed in accounting among the seven. After a while, he drew another out, flipped through a few pages, and tossed it onto the desk before turning to the other four ambassadors in the room and nodding.
Viscount Greigliz, who had been sipping his tea, finally put his teacup down. He was one of the two representatives of the old nobility. He looked up at Skri and said, "I recall that a kingdom's main corps' spending wouldn't exceed 500 crowns a year, to say nothing more about two irregular colonial corps you have here. They should be classified under the local garrison and shouldn't spend more than 300 thousand crowns each.
"Two corps' spending together wouldn't amount to more than 600 thousand crowns, and before the war, the theatre collected nearly 400 thousand crowns each year. On our way here, we also saw that the situation here isn't as bad as we imagined. It seems like you still have lots of financial leeway on top of the taxes you collect. If you can collect 500 thousand crowns a year, you'll only lack 100 thousand crowns to sustain two of your corps. I want to know where this debt of 3.8 million crowns come from?"
"You can find the reason for that in the accounts, Lord Ambassador," Skri coldly said, "Ever since our wise king, Stellin XI, ascended to the throne, the theatre lost all support from the mainland. We had to face Shiks in the colonial conflict ourselves. Later, Storm turned traitor in Whitestag and cut off all contact between us and the mainland.
"The viceroys and high-commissioners of three colonies were going to side with the first prince and we also had to send our troops to quash their rebellion. Shiks also leased Cape Loducus from Fochs and was about to send ten corps of 700 thousand men into the war. We were faced with great pressure and had to make all preparations necessary before the war even started.
"Before the war, we constructed factories for mortar production, built defence lines and strongholds, stockpiled ammunition and also set up defences against our coastlines against the two fleets at Shiks' disposal. We also had to form local garrisons, which all added to the humongous cost. During the war, we had to march and transfer our troops around as well as fund their ammunition and supply costs.
"After the war, we had to pay for medical costs and pensions. We also had to resupply and feed the captives. As you can see, Lanu has been besieged and was reduced to ruins. We needed to help our citizens build their homes up once more so they didn't become vagabonds. All that compounded into the large debt we have today."
"Haha... Isn't your theatre rather kind hearted? Building houses for those lowly commoners... Who can say that there was no corruption involved in those projects?!" Anklink insinuated, "However, I'm willing to put that off for now. I'd like to know, however, why you built mortar factories without the kingdom's approval? Do you not take His Majesty seriously at all? I believe His Majesty has decreed, expressly, that advanced weapons like mortars only be produced by the four grand military fabrications of the kingdom."
Skri looked at the gleeful Anklink in shock. Before he even replied, he was interrupted by Greigliz's coughing fit.
"Cough... cough... ahem... Let's not mention that, Viscount Anklink. You might not know, but the mortars were invented here in the colonies before it was handed to the mainland for production."
Anklink's face paled immediately as his eyes widened.
Viscount Olibut closed the main account book before he spoke.
"I want to know to whom this sum of nearly four million crowns is owed. How are the theatre's daily operations even conducted?"
"The four million crowns aren't owed to a foreign entity. It's owed to a bank founded in the colony with the taxes collected in the colonies for the next decade as collateral. It is only possible through the pooled wealth of the populace. Paper notes were issued to replace coinage backed by confidence in the theatre. Now that the colonial war is over, the theatre is prepared to begin mass development, production, and trade. The debt will be paid off within the next ten years."
"These paper notes, you mean?" Olibut asked as he put down a few notes of various sizes and colours.
They varied in printed value. Some were worth one fenny, some five fennies, some one sunar, some five sunars, some one riyas, some five riyas. The smallest denomination was five pennies.
"Clever trick..." Fegri murmured as he picked the notes up for a closer look, "Why didn't you issue notes for thales and crowns?"
"No need. Anyone with enough notes to make thales or crowns can trade them for an actual coin. Right now there would be little confidence in our currency if we didn't have at least some way to convert the notes into old coins."
Fegri and Olibut glanced at each other, a glint passing between them. They were new nobles, so they were adept at finance and understood the market potential represented by these paper notes. Perhaps they could make a killing back in the kingdom with this idea. They decided to not make a fuss.
"We'll stop here for today," Olibut said as he got up, "Colonel Skri, even though His Majesty has permitted your honourable discharge, you still have some things to answer for, so you will stay here for now. You may only leave after we've settled this with General Bolonik.
"His Majesty has another decree, however. He does not want to see any of you on the mainland. You will spend the rest of your lives in colonies. Think about in which colony you want to live and report to us. It'd be easier to reach you that way. If you need anything, tell the guards outside your room."
In another room, Count Dawanil and another ambassador kicked the door open in fits of rage.
"Ridiculous! This Bolonik really is a stubborn old thing. He actually dared to refuse His Majesty's decree with the late king's decree! What's this business of allowing the theatre to designate all taxes to the war effort and the king's benevolent relief of the colonies' tributes? They're all released to the public and the colonies' citizens all know about it!
"How can we fulfil His Majesty's mission like this? We were ordered to collect all the tribute owed and fine them ten times more. But now this old bastard's pulled this trick... The colonies are clearly drowning in riches! How can we get what we need if we don't tax them?!"
For the future of their careers and profits, the seven ambassadors did their best to fulfil Stellin XI's demands. They had a meeting through that night itself to plan their next move from what they learned that day.
"Even though the theatre owes that large a debt, their financial and administrative situations seem rather good. I made a rough estimate of the food, weapons and gear in their warehouses. The three main corps will go crazy over them if we ship them back to the mainland. Those supplies alone can last the three corps for two to three years in a war!"
Olibut picked up the initial financial report they tried to collate. "Actually, the Shiksan spoils obtained only amount to three million crowns. There are also more than 500 thousand captives, all young labourers, but we have no way of dealing with them now.
"If we could convert all that into gold crowns, the debt can easily be settled. It's too bad we won't be able to find a buyer in the colonies, so we can only slowly trade these away after shipping them back to the mainland. Naturally, the theatre's stockpile of arms and munitions will have to be shipped back by us. We can discuss the terms of the trade with the three main corps then.
"It's been good news so far, but we also have bad news. I really don't know what kind of crazy infected those five generals. Even though they have two irregular corps, they formed another 20 garrison lines. They also took the Alliance's fleet and reformed it into their own long-distance patrol fleet under the theatre's direct authority. They now have a total force of around 260 thousand men. Our plans to downsize them will be rather difficult..."
Fegri put down his cup of tea. He was quite the tea addict; his hand was still touching the cup. "The situation the theatre is in is really complex. While their finances are in the red and they don't have much money stored up, they can make use of public trust and goodwill to effectively loan so much money from the populace to maintain the spending of all 260 thousand men.
"Even though we took power over the theatre, we still don't have the backing of the people. I regret that we weren't able to come with a folk. That way, we'd easily be able to suppress all voices of dissent. It's too bad we only have a tribe of marines as guards, and I'm sure I don't need to bring up their abysmal performance. They aren't of any use at all.
"What we need now is time. First, we think about how we can take control of those two corps and use the king's decree to get the high-ranking officers to be demoted and discharged. We'll pick a few low-ranking officers and reliable ones from the marine tribe to hold the men. Then, we'll use the two corps to disband the 20-odd garrison lines before finally downsizing the corps into local garrison forces. However, we'd need at least half a year to do all that.
"During that time, we also have to pick people we can trust among those who chose to side with us. We need to reform our personal guard. Only with a reliable guard can we tax, punish and seek out debts. Naturally, we also have to give the order to collect the guns in the hands of the populace to prevent them from going overboard and causing our men harm."
Dawanil, however, shook his head. He was from new nobility whereas Gregliz was one of the old nobility. Even though they were both ambassadors, they were a little distant and looked down on one another. "Viscount Gregliz is right, as his experience would suggest. Based on his estimations, we can indeed take full control over the colonies in about a year or two.
"But let's not forget that His Majesty only gave us half a year before we departed. If we take out our travel time, we only have around two months. In other words, we'll have to gather a sum of more than a million crowns to be sent back to fill the kingdom's empty coffers. That's the real reason we're here.
"We have no time to dally per the viscount's plans. We are pressed to get His Majesty the money. Otherwise, we won't be able to keep our post. I initially thought there should be a few hundred thousand crowns' worth of cash here, but I didn't think it'd only be an empty husk ridden with debt. This is a huge obstacle towards fulfilling His Majesty's goals. Before anything else, we need to get a million gold crowns.
"But it isn't all doom and gloom. The colonies are much richer than we imagined. I have to admit the five generals did rather well. They managed to develop the colonies to the point that they have a million crowns in taxes each year, which isn't an easy feat. I recall that the kingdom used to obtain around 400 thousand crowns in tribute back then. That means, there's quite a lot for us seven to share.
"Viscount Olibut, Baron Fegri, didn't you say the overseas bank funds the military? Go look into the bank tomorrow and see if we'll be able to get the funds we need from the bank. It'll be a great boon if we could. We can offer them an opportunity to draft a deal that will be beneficial to both of us."
"Alright," the two nobles replied.
"I'll go check it out too," Anklink said.