The usurer’s proposal

I confess that usurers have a name as being distinctly dour and miserable folk. This is something of a canard, I’ve known several who have a sense of humour. They have been known to chuckle dryly at a fumbled attempt to hide something embarrassing in a set of accounts. Similarly the legend that usurers are prone to spontaneous combustion should they venture out into direct sunlight are just that, a legend. Admittedly given the gloom that seems to hang around Port Naain for much of the year it is easy enough to see how the legend might arise.

But strangely enough in other cities, usurers are cut from different cloth. The usurers of Avitas are more adventurous. Indeed some are possessed of a positively raffish manner.

It is Cheal Latour whose tale I feel is worthy of recounting. The commendable son of widely respected forebears, he entered the family firm as a partner before he was shaving. In Port Naain this is frowned on. Partnership is dangled ahead of young men, a carrot for donkeys. To win the coveted partnership I’ve known very senior clerks venture deep into Partann to induce bandit chieftains to deposit their ill-gotten gains in a current account. The argument being that with a current account you have instant access. This means that you can withdraw the money at an instant should you, perchance, feel the need to hire a mercenary company at short notice.

Between ourselves I would suggest they would be better off with a decent deposit account. Any interest gained over the years would more than cover the cost of the bridging loan you or your agent would have to take out to cover the period between hiring the mercenaries and your deposit account paying out.

Indeed, when I stop to think about it, remembering what I was taught by old Miser Mumster, you wouldn’t need all that large a bridging loan. Hiring a mercenary company does call for some money ‘up front’, perhaps a month’s wages in advance and a month’s money for maintenance. Most captains will accept that they’ll be paid in full when the campaign is over. Knowing the money is being automatically transferred into their accounts with Port Naain usurers will keep most of them happy. You merely need enough cash about should they succumb to the temptation of in  point of fact paying for their supplies.

There again, the lure of just hiring as many mercenaries as possible and worrying about paying them later must be overwhelming. After all, if you lose, you are almost certainly not going to be alive to worry about your debts, and if you win, then the assets of the losers are, potentially at least, yours for the disposing of. None of this can make for an easy relationship. I understand why our great condottieri captains often look so perpetually worried. It strikes me that my relationships with my patrons, even my most difficult ones, are far less complicated that the relationship between a great captain and the person who has hired him and his entourage.

  But I seem to have drifted from the topic in hand, and perhaps shown why I am not the person that usurers should send south to convince their felonious clients to forgo a return on their capital. I would probably spoil things by pointing out that they should not allow themselves to be panicked into doing something unfortunate due to a spurious need for haste.

As I was saying, Cheal Latour was very young to be a partner. But although he was granted his partnership very easily, he was then expected to earn it.

Now whilst Port Naain tends to be parochial, dealing with Partann and along the Paraeba towards Oiphallarian, the usurers of Avitas are most cosmopolitan. Not only do they compete with Port Naain for business within Partann, they also have business arrangements across the Slash. This is the best pass through the Aphices Mountains, and Avitas is situated convenient to it. Certainly anybody crossing the pass will spend time in Avitas. So the usurers there have business arrangements with fellow financiers in places that are barely legends to the usurers in Port Naain.

Cheal Latour would travel regularly to Tarsteps or Elkin Keep to help deal with letters of credit and to sort out various problems that had arisen. He was responsible for negotiating reciprocal banking arrangements with usurers in places as far away as Colbig, Battern, and even Meor. Within the family business he was regarded as an old head on young shoulders, a safe pair of hands, equally at home with a writ, a winding up order, or a sword. Thus you can see why the family sent him to Prae Ducis when there were problems there.

The problems in Prae Ducis were complicated and subtle. One of the Lords of Uttermost Partann had been driven from his lands and with a handful of followers had fallen back upon Prae Ducis. Here he wanted to regroup, hire more men, and strike back at his foes.

From the point of view of the municipality of Prae Ducis, they did not want somebody they described as an irrational wrath-driven cutthroat camped in their city with a host of mercenaries.

From the point of view of Lord Blackrod (The irrational wrath-driven cutthroat aforementioned) he could hardly gather his army outside the walls, because whilst it was forming it was comparatively small and vulnerable and would be a target for his enemies.

Then there was the issue of finance. Lord Blackrod was drawing cash from his accounts in Prae Ducis. Most of his money was in Avitas and Port Naain and he was struggling to draw money from them because family members who had fled ahead of him were also trying to empty these accounts for their own purposes. Thus the usurers had frozen the accounts until they could find out what was going on.

Cheal Latour arrived to investigate matters from the point of view of the usurers in Avitas. The situation was complicated, and due to the nature of the accounts Lord Blackrod had set up, it appeared to be intractable. As it was, Lord Blackrod himself solved the problem very neatly. Seeing no short term solution to his cash crisis he led a force on a plundering expedition in an attempt to raise capital and was killed when his force was caught in an ambush. His force dispersed and everybody relaxed. The burghers of Prae Ducis no longer had to worry about too many mercenaries within their walls. The usurers could go back to doing what they do best, demanding increasingly intimate and unlikely proofs of identity before allowing people access to their own money. It has struck me over the years that nobody ever discussed exactly who solved the problem by betraying Lord Blackrod into the ambush. If you were to blame those who stood to gain by his death, the list is hardly exclusive.

Still, Cheal Latour was finalising matters in Prae Ducis at the time Maljie arrived. She was then a young usurer, at the cutting edge of her profession. She had been exploring the concept of fiduciary Money. This is where my apprenticeship with Miser Mumster stands me in good stead. In theory we have ‘commodity money.’ An alar is worth an alar because it contains a certain weight of gold. A vintenar is worth what it is worth because of the weight of silver it contains. In reality you can find in your change vintenars where the only silver is there because it exists as a naturally occurring impurity in lead. Similarly with the alar, depending on the year and the mint master, the amount of gold can vary considerably. Ironically coins produced by the lords of various keeps in Partann can contain higher proportions of precious metal than those produced in Port Naain. This is because nobody trusts the Partannese, whereas in Port Naain, it’s generally assumed the money is ‘good.’ Thus in reality our money is already fiduciary Money. It’s worth what we believe it to be worth.

Maljie suggested that we could cut out the whole sordid business of moving metal about and just replace it with paper. Her ideas were considered exciting. Too exciting to be implemented immediately in Port Naain, but it was felt that her ideas should be tested and it was felt Prae Ducis was the perfect place to do this. (Comparatively small, relatively powerless, and a long way away)

The tale has been recounted elsewhere;

But with both Maljie and Cheal Latour in Prae Ducis at the same time, it was inevitable that they would meet. They were both usurers, both young, and both bold enough to push against the boundaries of their common profession.

Indeed they dined together a number of times and were even rumoured to be ‘very close.’

Apparently Cheal asked Maljie to return to Avitas with him. He promised her a fine house, servants and a generous honoraria. Maljie, after some thought, turned him down. Many years later, over a glass of wine I did ask her why.

She looked thoughtful for a while and then commented, “I thought I’d swept him away with my beauty and my cleavage, but it turns out he was only interesting in my brains, and whether fiduciary money would open up the road for creating new and even more complex financial instruments.

♥♥♥♥

And the tour draws slowly to a close. Yes, I might be trying to sell ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights’ but I’m visiting a lot of really classy blogs as I do it. Today we have Mike Van Horn
https://galaxytalltales.com/the-usurers-proposal-a-guest-story-by-jim-webster/

also

Interview with my heroine, Selena M, narrator of my trilogy

Not only has Mike a lot of books to his credit, he’s also done some short stories. Here’s a link to one, just to get a feel for his writing

Lucky’s Story. How I Ended Up With Two Wives

 


4 thoughts on “The usurer’s proposal

  1. When I tried to engage a company of mercenaries to take over Beetley and install me as ruler, the captain took my large cash deposit and I never heard from him again. I would urge others to offer very small down payments, and full payment on results only. Now I have to walk my own dog, and will never rule my domain.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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