Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 479
Blinded by Greed
Anklink rushed off the carriage before it even stopped properly and almost fell. However, he didn't care about his posture and instead yelled agitatedly, "Marine ground forces tribe! Gather immediately, quick!"
Upon hearing the commotion at the headquarters, Dawanil came over with three other ambassadors and wondered what was up with Anklink. The tribe was the only force the seven ambassadors had in the colonies. Initially, the war theatre's logistics department's guard line and Monolith's troops were rather nonchalant about the ambassadors' orders. Even after the high-ranking officers were forced to step down, the base-level officers were rather resistant to their orders.
So what would Anklink be doing by gathering the troops? To get into a firefight with the colonies' forces? Even though they were ambassadors and represented the king himself and the forces of the war theatre couldn't offend them outright even if they didn't obey their orders, it would be a whole different story if blood was spilled. Not to mention, given the marine tribe's performance, would they really be a match for the war theatre's forces? Anklink really needed to think this through.
However, he had rushed to the rest by then. "Quick! Let's go to the overseas bank! They have tens of millions of crowns' worth of gold and silver bars, each about this size! Baron Fegri and Viscount Olibut had me gather the troops immediately to seal the bank off... They're about to transfer the bars away..."
The other four looked at each other blankly before turning to Anklink's arm, which was stretched half a metre out. Could such a large bar made from gold and silver really exist?
Fortunately, Greigliz remained calm. "We can't bring all our men away. We have to keep at least two hundred here to watch after those two."
He was referring to Bolonik and Skri, who were being kept under house arrest in the headquarters.
By the time the five ambassadors got into a crowded, single coach, Dawanil and the others heard Anklink's full account. The gold and silver had completely dazzled the three ambassadors who went to the bank. They didn't expect a room full of neatly arranged bars would shock them so thoroughly. When the supervisor of the bank said they were worth around six million crowns, they came to a unanimous decision without even discussing it.
Olibut and Fegri were initially just going to force the overseas bank to give them some shares, naturally shares over 20 percent without having to pay a single penny and being allowed to take part in the bank's decision making. Anklink, on the other hand, was wracking his mind on figuring out how to bring all those bars back home. Well, he wasn't that greedy. He only wanted to take back a seventh of them and leave the rest for the other ambassadors.
Regrettably, the supervisor politely refused the ambassadors' demand to take a few gold bars with them. When he said that the gold bars, as well as the silver bars in another room worth two million crowns and the three million crowns' worth of crowns and thales were the riches of the people and the collateral for the 20 million paper notes the bank issued, the three ambassadors let their greed show on their faces and were set on swallowing the bank in full.
"We can easily close the bank because it doesn't have formal approval from the kingdom's ministry of finance. There's only a writ from the theatre. According to the regulations of civilian financial institutions, this bank is not legal. The paper notes you issue can also be considered to be illegal forgeries that the kingdom won't acknowledge," Anklink said.
Half an hour later, the seven ambassadors stood within the bank's gold vault. The glorious golden mountain basked in candlelight completely dazzled them, rendering them euphoric.
The overseas bank's main branch had been sealed up. Around four hundred marines were stationed all around the building. The main gates were closed and all that remained in the great hall were the seven ambassadors. Had the bars not been too heavy, they would've hugged them in their arms and began dancing.
"Hahahaha... I didn't think the solution to all our troubles would be right here," Dawanil said as he stroked a large gold bar with his hand. The only other time he was so gentle was during the first night of his marriage.
"Sir..." A captain of the marines entered the hall. His arrival snapped the ambassadors out of it.
"What is it?" Olibut said in annoyance.
The captain glanced at the room full of gold bars as he salivated. "Lord Ambassadors, there are lots of civilians gathered outside the bank. They are questioning us about us sealing it off. Some even claim to be the shareholders of the bank who demand to meet you, lords."
"We don't have time to meet them," Anklink snapped, "What are the guns in your hands for? Chase them away! Get the shareholders to buzz off and tell them that the bank was formed without authorisation from the kingdom! They illegally issued currency and gathered capital to disrupt the kingdom's financial system! It's a crime against the kingdom! We will investigate this bank carefully before going after them later. Have them go back and repent and ask them to turn themselves in for the best outcome!"
After getting the captain to leave, the ambassadors went up to the third floor of the bank and were about to check the main accounts of the bank. Soon, they made a great discovery.
"According to these accounts, there's another three million crowns' worth of coinage stored in the vault apart from the bars worth eight million crowns here in this hall. Additionally, each of the seven colonies' branches also has a million crowns in coins. They total up to around 18 million crowns.
"This overseas bank has issued around 30 million crowns' worth of notes denoted in the smaller currencies. Not only that, they loaned out around 30 million crowns to support industrial and agricultural development in the colonies. Up to ten million crowns of interest-free loans were given for the construction of transportation infrastructure to the war theatre..."
Baron Fegri soon finished checking the accounts and gave his conclusion. "There's a list of investors for the bank. There are around two hundred of them and the smallest percentage of their shares amount to 0.1 percent. I believe this list includes all the local people with influence. Their combined wealth shouldn't be that much less than what the bank has."
"Hahahaha..." The ambassadors couldn't hold their laughter in. By the time the bank was dealt with, they would use the list to seek out the investors and slap the crime of illegally starting a bank on them. If the ambassadors couldn't at least wring them dry, they would be worthless. They didn't think there would be so many well-off folks in the colonies.
"We came to the right place this time," Dawanil said as he opened a bottle of blueberry wine, poured himself a glass and finished it in one go. "I really didn't expect this. We thought the colonies would be some rural backwater where the birds won't even stop to shit. Yet, the main task His Majesty has given us is going to be solved with the bank alone.
"Let me hear your thoughts. How should we deal with the gold and silver here? We came here on the same ship, so we should share our benefits. We better discuss beforehand how much we're going to hand in so we don't fight one another for it later. Now, we have to find the right balance to benefit ourselves within the limits of His Majesty's decree."
Olibut nodded. "The Lord Count is correct. I was thinking that His Majesty asked us to collect the unpaid tribute as well as the fine that is ten times that amount, whether it be for only one year or the past five years. That amount is based on the tribute paid five years ago. In the kingdom's financial records, the total tribute of the colonies each year only amounts to 400 thousand crowns.
"Ten times that amount is four million. We can complete our mission with the wealth stores of the bank alone. However, if what His Majesty meant was ten times the amount of the tribute owed in the past five years, then we're in trouble. Five years of tribute is two million, and ten times that makes 20 million. In other words, we'll have to pay 22 million crowns. We're still short of 11 million after giving all the wealth in this bank away..."
Greigliz cleared his throat and put down his cup of tea. "I believe our wise king is aware that the reason the colonies didn't pay the tribute was to fund their military expenses. So, the fine is merely a pretence to punish the colonies for their disrespect rather than actually asking us to go through with it.
"If we really do have to hand in ten times the tribute of the past five years, we'll be doomed. The reason is simple. If our king notices that there's so much wealth in the colonies, he might have us stay for two more years to get the full amount of 20 million...
"Our assignment here as ambassadors might last two years. After the high-commissioners and viceroys take their post next year, all we have to do is to stay for another year to delegate authority to them. In other words, we'll have to return the year after to the mainland. So, the only time we can truly spread our wings is when the rest come next year."
The ambassadors fell silent. They knew what Greigliz meant by that. When the viceroys and high-commissioners came to take their posts, there was going to be an amount of wealth they had to share with them. That was why they could only be the local hegemons during the year prior to the others' arrival.
Dawanil knocked on the desk. "Viscount Greigliz is correct. We have to cherish our time. I have a suggestion. We can't let His Majesty find out about the wealth here, yet we have to try our best to fulfil his orders. So, I believe we should first send a payment of a million crowns back along with a complaint about how rural and desolate the colonies are.
"Next year when the viceroys and high-commissioners come, we'll send another fleet with two million crowns back. The year after, we'll send another million crowns' worth of gold and silver bars. That way, His Majesty will think we've tried our best and won't blame us for not being able to get him the full amount."
"It's a good suggestion. I believe that is what we should do as well." The other ambassadors expressed their agreement. None of them were fools. There were only eleven million crowns in the bank's gold and silver reserves. Giving Stellin XI four million meant each of the ambassadors would get one million. As for the rest, it would depend on what methods the others used. The wealth they squeezed from the populace was their own and didn't have to be handed in to the national and royal treasuries.
The atmosphere grew livelier. The other nobles praised Dawanil's plan. Apart from the four million they would hand in, the rest would all enter their own pockets.
"I suggest transporting the bars, thales and crowns here back to the headquarters for safekeeping. When I came here with Viscount Olibut and Viscount Anklink in the morning, we noticed around 20 carriages with iron plating parked at the backyard of the bank building, so we thought the bank was trying to ship the bars away. That's why we immediately sent Viscount Anklink back to call for troops to seal this place up," Fegri praised gleefully.
Dawanil nodded his agreement. "This is a good idea. Not only do we have to ship the reserves back, we also have to take the accounts with us. That way, we can tell which one of the citizens here are rich--"
However, a rushed knocking came to interrupt him. A lieutenant-colonel barged into the room and exclaimed, "Lord Ambassadors, please look outside the window. It's best we leave."
Dawanil slammed his wine glass on the ground. "Bastard! How dare you rush in so abruptly? You want me to take you off your tribesman post?"
Olibut and the ambassadors went to the window and their faces paled. "Why are there so many people? What are they trying to do?"
The bank was surrounded by a sea of people. All sorts of carriages encircled the bank some ten metres away. Many among the crowd were middle-aged to elderly men in discoloured military wear armed with muskets.
Anklink angrily rebuked the tribesman, "Didn't I have you shoot them to disperse them?! Why didn't you shoot?! Are these filthy commoners going to rebel?! Send our troops immediately to suppress them!"
The tribesman stammered, "T-they have guns... And t-there are too many of t-them... T-the men we had at the perimeter had to r-retreat inside the building..."
"Then what are you waiting for?! Shoot these dirty commoners dead!" Fegri cried in a panic.
"No, we can't shoot! We don't have any reserve ammunition!" Greigliz yelled, "Have the men secure the main building immediately. We'll send someone to ask the commoners what they want to do to see if we have a chance to let someone slip out to call for help."
The poor tribesman was sent outside to ask and returned ten minutes later. "They want us to buzz off and say the bank belongs to the colonies' citizens! They won't let us take a single penny! The investors of the bank are the ones who riled those commoners up! They demand to know why we're sealing the bank!"
"Why? This bank is illegal! We represent the king's authority and are investigating this matter! Do they want to rebel?!" Anklink yelled with rage.
"Wait," Olibut said after some consideration, "Go out one more time and ask the investors to come in to negotiate with us. We'll apprehend them after they come. Perhaps the crowd will disperse that way without them stirring the flames. Then, we can declare the investors traitors and exterminate their families. That way, the folk won't think of resisting us."
However, they miscalculated. After capturing the handful of investors, they weren't able to stop more commoners from rushing there. To the colonies' citizens, the arrival of the ambassadors and relief of the generals of their positions had nothing to do with them. That was the business of the colonies' upper echelons.
But when it came to sealing their bank, it went too far. Nobody wanted the paper notes in their hands to become scrap paper. They gathered on their own accord and surrounded the bank, uniting under the investors and swearing never to let the ambassadors take their reserves away. That was the only collateral that guaranteed the value of their money.
When the first batch of investors were apprehended, the crowd got even more agitated. They built up barricades and stationed their own men in a defence perimeter around the bank. All sorts of fliers were being tossed around with not a single one saying anything good about the ambassadors. Some fliers stated that the real reason the ambassadors were there was to rob the colonies of their riches to be shipped back to fund Stellin XI's lavish spending.
On the 7th of the 11th month, the ambassadors that were surrounded for three days in the bank started negotiating with the investors of the bank. This time, they took one step back and allowed the bank to keep running, but stated that the reserves in the main branch had to be taken away as punishment.
The second batch of investors to negotiate with the ambassadors included the one-armed Sir Bernard. He angrily refused the ambassadors' demands and insisted that they had no right to seal the main branch as that would cause great financial loss in the colonies. The wealth in the bank belonged to the people. The ambassadors had no right over them.
As such, the second batch of investors was once more apprehended. The crowd outside fumed with rage at them breaking their promises and loudly protested. They demanded the imprisoned investors and bank staff be unconditionally freed and for the ambassadors to leave the colonies!
On the 11th of the 11th month, the ambassadors finally used their sound-amplification-spell scroll after being encircled for a whole week. They announced that the commoners were committing treason and demanded them to disperse or be charged as such. Otherwise, they would be bloodily purged by the war theatre.
Yet, Claude came to the bank with Tribe 131 and used a spell scroll himself to give the order. "Attack! Take the bank building! Anyone who resists is to be killed without exception!"