It was with some strong emotion that Mistress Maljie commented that, “Had I drunk less wine I’d have doubtless told Tallis Steelyard fewer stories.” As a friend of hers rather tartly commented, “Had you drunk less wine you’d doubtless have fewer stories to tell him in the first place.”
The discussion was then side-tracked when another of the friends asked, somewhat pedantically, whether, given the number of stories there were, whether it was correct to say ‘fewer’ stories, or whether there should have been ‘less’ stories. At that point I withdrew. It was obvious that the ladies were content, they were relishing the party and could be safely left to enjoy themselves in happy bickering. My duty lay in bolstering the flagging self-esteem of a group of younger ladies who’d discovered that they’d turned up somewhat underdressed for the event, having misunderstood the coded hints in the invitation.
But it has to be conceded that there are many tales about Maljie which are worth recounting. After all, how many now know she was once a person of influence in the world of finance. No usurer’s clerk chosen for her ability to look decorative in a floral skirt, she was sought out by usurers who wished to take advantage of her sharp mind. Finally she was taken on by an avarice of usurers who had every intention of making her a partner, or at least of remunerating her adequately for her services.
At the root of her value to them was her grasp of the value of money. Now this might seem a strange thing to discuss, after all, put your hand in your pocket and pull out a coin, whether it is a golden alar or a bronze dreg it will have the value stamped on it. You know what it’s worth.
But Maljie looked more deeply. What made a golden alar worth so much more than a bronze dreg?
“That is obvious,” I hear you cry. “One is gold and the other is bronze.”
But stop and think. Admittedly there is gold in the alars of Port Naain. Less perhaps than you’d hope for, but more than there would be if the authorities didn’t keep a close eye on the employees of the mint. But an alar is an alar is an alar. One doesn’t look at it and exclaim, “Ah, year of the Fading Dream, this is worth more than twice that alar minted in the year of the Grand Recension because it has twice the gold content.”
Thus and so, when you value an alar, you don’t value it by the real gold content, you value it because the city of Port Naain stands behind it and ensures you that for each alar you spend you will receive an alar’s worth of value.
I realise that it might come as a surprise to you to be lectured on these things by a poet, but whilst I might rarely come into contact with money, my admiration for it knows no bounds. Still to grasp the genius of Maljie you must realise that she was one of the first to grasp that the Alar is not ‘commodity money’ valued because of the weight of gold, but Fiduciary Money. This is money that depends for its value on confidence with which it is accepted.
So it was Maljie who asked, “Why bother with the metal disk containing a variable amount of gold, why not just issue paper script?”
To an extent we do this. There are people who will scribble me an IOU and I will accept it without question. It is literally ‘as good as gold.’ Would that a petty and small minded world treated my IOUs with the same respect. Maljie’s idea was that if we moved over from gold to paper, it would be so much easier to transport money about. After all, under her system, the piece of paper that you just slipped into your pocket could be worth a thousand alars. This to me presents problems. Firstly a thousand alars is a substantial weight. Anybody transporting it would probably have a burly man to carry it for him, and would undoubtedly be accompanied by a number of other burly men, ostentatiously armed and alert. If you can slip the thousand alars into your pocket so nobody notices, where are these aforementioned burly men going to find lawful employment?
There is another issue as well, if one cannot tell whether somebody is carrying considerable sums of money, are muggers and similar louts just going to strike at random, on the not unreasonable assumption that anybody could have that sort of sum on them? Personally I accept, as a poet, that I might be attacked by ruffians because I inadvertently (or advertently) insulted someone in verse. But frankly I feel the world has come to a pretty pass if I, as a poet, risk being mugged because some fool assumes I bear hidden wealth merely because I am elegantly attired in a cast off jacket.
Still, I am a poet, what do I know of the problems of wealth? Maljie had doubtless contemplated these deep matters. Indeed she proposed to the members of the avarice that they look to creating a paper currency for Port Naain. They pondered, they questioned and they pondered some more. Finally it was decided that they had to experiment somewhere, and they picked upon Prae Ducis as the place to try their idea. As a medium sized trading town on the edge of Uttermost Partann you can see why the populace might find the concept interesting. So Maljie was sent down to Prae Ducis with a budget and a number of senior partners promised to ‘make themselves available.’
There were immediate teething troubles. Maljie produced the first one hundred alar note, printed on decent quality paper. Immediately she met resistance. When you have a hundred alars, in cash (I speak figuratively now, it is not an experience I have ever had), there is a solidity about it. One hundred coins is the exact opposite of ephemeral, it has substance. It proclaims its value to the world. A scrappy bit of paper singularly fails to do this.
Undeterred by this Maljie returned a week later and placed before her critics a one hundred alar note, on vellum, not paper. It was a thing of beauty, and was large, two spans square at least. It looked (and was) expensive, and immediately won people over. Obviously you couldn’t print small denominations onto vellum, but for one hundred alar notes and larger, vellum was fine.
So Maljie gave instructions, and her agents started purchasing vellum and in the courtyard of the house she had rented, they set up a press to print bank notes. She also bought a lot of good quality paper and on this she had her people print low denominations.
I suppose that what happened next can hardly be considered to be Maljie’s fault. Prae Ducis is a law-abiding city, the people generally considered honest. But word had got out that in Maljie’s house potentially infinite wealth was being created. First she got the indigents knocking on the door seeking assistance. Then there was the attempted break-ins. These were initially just local ne’er do wells, but as word spread, they were joined by rogues from the various warbands and bandit gangs of Uttermost Partann. Soon Maljie was effectively under siege and the authorities seemed disinclined to involve themselves in the matter.
Maljie had to think rapidly. She had to leave, but also she couldn’t just abandon the money. It was then that her muse whispered gently into her ear. With no hesitation Maljie gathered up all the vellum money and started sewing it together. She was going to use avant-garde technology to help her to escape from the plight into which progressive finance had lured her.
Now the hot air balloon is not unknown, the theory is simple and has been mastered. The real problem is, apparently, with navigation. One doesn’t navigate, one just goes with the wind. Still as her assorted minions defended the perimeter of her abode, Maljie frantically stitched. Finally with the balloon assembled, a ‘basket’ placed under it for Maljie to stand in, and a brazier put in place to provide the heat, Maljie was ready to go. As the burning coals in the brazier heated the air to inflate the balloon, our intrepid heroine loaded the basket with the paper money already printed. Finally, as the balloon strained against the ropes tethering it to the ground, she cast them free and soared upwards.
Her flight had an immediate impact upon three distinct groups of people. The first group, the besiegers of her rented dwelling, dashed to horse and set off in pursuit. The second group, the authorities, were more nuanced in their pronouncements. They were a little unsure how to classify the instrument. Was Maljie a young woman fleeing to protect her maidenly modesty? (When I was first told this tale I found the sniggers from her contemporaries at this point less than helpful.) Or was she a felon absconding with unmentionable wealth?
The third group was the avarice of usurers. Had the money merely been stolen, they could doubtless have coped. After all, this is why one carries insurance. But the problem was that the various persons with whom they’d laid off the risk refused point blank to countenance the idea of such a sum of money flying. They were unreformed, nay even atavistic, when it came to contemplating the fiscal world. Money was heavy, money was shiny metal, and money ostentatiously did not fly. They refused to pay out.
The other person somewhat concerned by the whole process was Maljie herself. She had initially assumed a short flight, after which she would land and hide the wealth. She had not counted on the pursuit to be so rapid. Not only that, but the wind was veering so it was coming more from the east than the south. Her plans had focused on travelling north, but avoiding the coast. Now she was not merely following the coast, she was getting blown further and further out to sea. Whilst this deterred pursuit, it did leave her hanging over the vast emptiness of the ocean. She obviously had to do something to maintain her height, until the wind changed and blew her back towards land. But what to burn when the coals ran out?
Eventually, like many a political leader before her, she settled on casting money into the flames in a desperate attempt to keep afloat long enough for conditions to change.
Finally, as the last of the notes went onto the fire, along with her coat and shoes, Maljie saw a sail on the horizon. The judicious burning of concealed but weighty nether garments mean she kept the balloon in the air until the last possible minute before ditching within a stone’s throw of the vessel.
Thus Maljie passed out of the world of usury and finance and into the arms of a gentleman of piratical persuasion. She commented that, in all candour, she found the superior moral environment refreshing.
Should you wish to learn more of Port Naain, and the friends and acquaintances of Tallis Steelyard, then wise friends recommend that you avail yourself of and of his books. For example ;-
As one reviewer commented, “Tallis Steelyard journeys are set in an epic fantasy world not quite like our own yet the people there have a familiarity that is almost like looking at modern society through a time machine.
This particular story shares glimpses into the lives of many people including an artist’s assistant and a squid-wrestling romantic.
I really enjoyed reading about all the people who cross Tallis Steelyard’s path. The much-beloved poet has a way of helping others that makes me wish there were more people just like him on our world.”