“Your Majesty, pardon my ignorance, but could you perhaps enlighten me about the error I have committed?”
Master asked such a question with an icy glare and a sharp voice. Empress Rosalind had issued a challenge, and he was responding in kind. Unfazed, Rosalind opened her fan and hid her lips behind it as she answered.
“Certainly. However, first allow me to confirm the logic upon which your proposal is founded. You have provided two reasons for the proposed tax cut. The first is the complaints of the blacksmiths, and the second is to make it cheaper to purchase weapons for self-protection in view of the fact that public order has been worsened recently. Is that correct?”
Master narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
“Yes. Is there a problem with the reasoning behind these two factors?”
“Indeed there is. Allow me to begin with the less reasonable of the two: the demands by the blacksmiths. Are we going to submit to their demands so simply? Shall we truly lower the tax – money that is required for our country to function – merely to fulfill the requests of a handful of people? If we accede to this request, what comes next? Will we offer tax amnesty to the millers? The craftsmen? The merchants? The farmers? Perhaps we should simply open our coffers and throw the money out on the streets for our people to claim, would that not be achieving the same result with far less tedium?”
Rosalind’s sarcastic remark drew several laughs from the older nobles, who nodded in agreement. Master Julio’s face twitched, but he answered her criticism immediately.
“The money of the country is for the good of the people. The blacksmiths are our people. If we neglect their plight for the purpose of securing more funds, that undermines the entire purpose of the funds we receive.”
“No. The blacksmiths are not our people. The blacksmiths are only a part of our citizenry – a minority, at that. Our duty as rulers is to all our subjects, and that means we have to balance their needs. It would make no sense for us to disadvantage the rest of our people to service the requests of a minority.”
“These men are starving, Your Majesty. More than half of them are living under the poverty line. Are you saying we should abandon them?”
“Certainly not. However, consider this, Chancellor: why are they starving, in the first place?”
“Because the taxes on weapons are too high!”
“Ah, but is the job of the blacksmith solely to produce weapons?”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Blacksmiths are a valuable asset to the country. They work with metal, shape it to form things that many people need. Nails, cutlery, horseshoes, farming implements. All of these are items which are constantly in demand. Yet based on production reports from the last year, close to eighty percent of blacksmiths neglect the production of these tools in favour of producing weapons, a commodity which has a much lower level of demand. And why is that? Pride, perhaps. Yet pride does not fill an empty stomach. If our blacksmiths were simply to devote more of their time toward producing the tools that are not designed for war, they would have enough to feed their families. If you truly want to help the blacksmiths, then rather than a tax reduction on weapons, we should implement a tax waiver on their goods other than weapons and armor, or otherwise provide them with monetary incentives based on the production level of these non-warfare goods.”
“As it seems that you have no rebuttal, allow me to move to my second point – the point you made about public order. It is true that public order has deteriorated in the last few years. I have personally lost a family member to bandits.”
Rosalind’s voice caught as she spoke the last line, but she continued on with her statement after the Emperor took her hand in his.
“However, what you are proposing is not a solution that was restore public order. In fact, I fear it will worsen the situation.”
“How so? Having weapons available at cheaper prices will allow our citizens to arm themselves to protect their families against those that would wish them harm. This would deter potential criminals from risking their lives to attack our citizens.”
“Except that by arming our citizens, you are also arming the bandits. You are making it cheaper to purchase weapons that can be used for crime. The number of people who can defend themselves in times of need will increase, yes. But the number of people who can afford to turn to banditry will increase in tandem. In other words, nothing will change. The status quo will be preserved.”
“Or it could improve, as most people in this country would likely hesitate to turn to banditry. Your Majesty’s argument is based on unsupported assumptions. Just because people have the opportunity to become criminals does not mean that they will. But allow me to concede this point – it is true that it might not change the situation. That itself would make it a lacking proposal. However, Your Majesty claimed that my proposal would worsen public order. Having no impact on the situation and worsening the situation are two very different things, and I have yet to hear why Your Majesty believes that my proposal would result in the latter.”
“Indeed, your proposal would have merely resulted in a stagnation of the situation rather than a worsening of it, were it not for the fact that you proposed to make up for the deficit from lowered weapons taxes by reducing the funding for the provincial armies. As everyone in this chamber is no doubt aware, with the exception of the Imperial Capital Reissvault, the task of keeping public order is left to each territory’s provincial army. They are the ones who patrol the roads of their home territories and keep their territories safe. And yet, Chancellor, you proposed to reduce their funding, thereby weakening them. I’m certain you can see where I’m going with this. Even if the status quo remains unchanged, and the increase in the number of bandits is matched by an increase in the number of citizens that can defend themselves, a decrease in the strength of the provincial armies will inevitably lead to a decrease in their ability to prevent crimes from occurring, which will, naturally, cause public order to deteriorate.”
With that, Rosalind shut her fan and pointed it at Master again.
“Now do you see the flaws in your argument, High Chancellor?”
The Emperor roared out in laughter.
“Well, seeing Julio defeated in a debate is a rare sight. Give it up, brother. My wife is too sharp for you.”
“…Truly, Your Majesty, she is far too strong an opponent for me. I shall withdraw and re-evaluate this proposal, and submit a new one in due time. Empress Rosalind, I thank you for sharing your wisdom and guidance with us.”
With that, Master stepped back away from the throne and signalled for an aide to bring the next item on the agenda. Although the movement was small enough that it could be called imperceptible, I, who was attuned to my Master’s needs, saw that his hands were trembling, clenched into tight fists.