Story for the Day: Tax Season
For many Frewyn citizens, tax season comes but once a year and it is nothing very formidable. Everyone pays in proportion to their earnings (declared earnings, that is), and collected taxes are given to the kingdom treasury, where they are divided into social services, public programmes, kingdom necessities, keep upkeep, and grant commissions. The nobles of Frewyn, being given the privilege of landed estates, pay taxes once a season, and one of the few ways to defray their payments is to donate some of their profits to charity. Sadly, for two of the king's favourite persons in court, charity is a word not entirely understood.
“Well, sire, I will not say that I am fatigued to be dead, but I am not very much alive. I continue being awake on tenacity, which is what always drives me, and on the notion that I am going to enjoy an excellent meal, a feathered bed, and a warm bath as soon as I reach Galashield.”
“Galashield?” Alasdair exclaimed. “But you’ve just come from there—rather, you’ve just come from Tyfferim, but you were near Galashield when you went to Glaoustre to give Breigh the message.”
“Yes, sire, but I go to visit my favour tavern, to be sore and satisfied and spend my holiday with a mulled honey wine and a noble fire. I go to the Up the Road, to see the winter sport in the woods and delight in all the serenity that winter in the south affords.”
A conscious look was exchanged here, the king suspecting something but the Scoaliegh betraying nothing; that one who had just ridden nine hours through a freezing night and frigid frost should want to ride another few hours south instead of resting at the keep spoke only one conviction in Alasdair’s mind. He has his suspicions, as any considerate master must, but the groom broke through his private cogitations with a humphing, “Aye, and to hear all ‘em miners ravin’ about the hunters boundin’ over their mines. T’is a grand place, Up the Road, when all the miners aren’t boulderin’ through it. They come in, and bring the whole mine with ‘em, all that ash and soot on ‘em.”
“There is all the charm in the place, Master Dieas, I assure you,” said the Scoaleigh, fighting an attack of yawns.
Alasdair stepped closer and said in a quiet voice, “You must be exhausted, Cumhaidh. I can’t stop you from riding out again, but if you do mean to go to Galashields, won’t rest a bit here first?”
“I thank you, sire,” the Scoaliegh replied, with a weak smile, “but that is really quite unnecessary. I have closed my eyes for a few minutes, and I should be very well for the next hour or so.”
“Will you make it to Galashields? That’s another two hour’s ride.”
“One, if I ride swiftly, sire, and one hour is really nothing at all. I made it from here to Tyfferim to Glaoustre to Tyfferim to here again in seven hours sire. With my horse newly shod, I can certainly do Gala in one.”
“Well, if you sleep on your horse along the way…”
“You are not serious, sire, but I can sleep on my horse if need be. I am certainly am tired enough for it, to be sure.”
“And you will not see you family for the holiday?”
The Scoaliegh shook his head. “They should not want me, sire. The executive of my family is gone to Marridon to visit the paternal branch of the Norrington tree, and my father stays at home with my mother to celebrate with the UiHanlanns. My cousin, your very good friend in court—“ Here was a look from Alasdair, “—does not like when I am around. Being the laird of the Norrington clan, he would much rather spend time with my brother, the one son who can be bothered to act as his lordly title commands, than he would me, and I am not sorry for it, sire. They will see the symphony, go to the opera house, and do a hundred things I have no interest in doing. My mother and father I see tolerably often, sire, that they had no need of me around the house during the holidays. I should be in the way, and indeed my parents do not expect me. Though my father was against it at the first, I believe nearly thirty years at the profession has cooled him with regard to my being a lord without wishing to act like one. Now he can speak proudly of me to relatives we have no desire to see most of the year. He tells them my brother is his steward, my cousin is his heir, and I am in the king’s service, as His Majesty’s own especial messenger, riding all over the country to convey important information that the kingdom could not do without, and our connections seem to be pleased with that. Holidays in my parents’ house, sire, are always given to entertain those we don’t wish to see until the next holiday, and by my being out of the way, I am in great danger of never seeing them at all.”
Here was a sly smile, and Alasdair sighed and shook his head.
“If only every day where a holiday,” Alasdair groaned, “then I wouldn’t have to hear your cousin or Count Rosse in court.”
“But he so delights in opposing you, sire. Surely, you must admit his rants are entertaining.”
Alasdair gave him a flat look. “About as entertaining as Count Rosse’s serrated breeches.”
“I should tell my cousin to be more adventurous in his outfits, sire. He does bore one with his tailcoats and top hats.”
Alasdair raised his hand to his brow and sunk under the agony of Lord Norrington’s trimmed millinery. “I would put a tax on top hats if it would get him to stop wearing them.”
“Never, sire. He is far too attached to the Marridon fashion, but if you should like to suggest it, I am quite sure my cousin would revel in amusing your ear with his ideas on taxation.”
“If wants me to lower the taxes on his private estate, which I know he does because that’s all he complains about, tell him to follow you father’s example and give more to charity.”
“Ah, but you see, sire, he will still be giving the money away.”
“At least then he won’t have enough to spend on new top hats. I purposely remind the court every quarter to give more to charity if they wish to defray their taxation rates, but they refuse to listen. Breandan does it, your father does it, why can’t everyone else do it?”
“T’aint their fault, Majesty,” said Dieas, emptying his pipe. “Nobles got ‘em ears what don’t work too well. They don’t hear you for all the greed stuck in there.”
Roreigh put down Fearchair’s hoof and muttered, in a severe hush, “Yer forgettin’ we got the Majesty and a Lordship standin’ here, Dieas.”
“Don’t gotta be mumblin’, bai,” Dieas protested, waving a hand at him. “The Majesty and Lord Scoaliegh ain’t the nobles how I mean.”
“No, Master Dieas, surely,” said the Scoaliegh. “You mean those like my brother, who will cry over his profits ledgers once he realizes how much he must give to the kingdom.”
“Brigdan has seen your brother cry,” said Alasdair, with a sagacious smile.
The Scoaliegh could not help laughing. “Has he indeed, sire?”
“Aldus sent him to the Norrington estate when he didn’t get a tax receipt from him.”
“You can tell him there is a way for him not to pay taxes at all.”
“Is there, sire?”
“He can move to Tyfferim and become a farmer.”
“A suggestion my father used to make many a time when my cousin complained of having to part with profits he did little to deserve. How I should love to see my cousin and your friend Count Rosse out in the fields wearing straw hats, reaping the summer grasses together.”
Alasdair delighted in this, peering into the distance of some unknown line, his thoughts on the horizon of possibility, watching Count Rosse, Lord Norrington, and all those who made themselves the adversaries of charity slaving away, pulling up bean plants, stacking the corn, husking and winnowing, their dry mouths begging for drink, their aching backs creaking in solemn and unheard moans for rest, their legs shaking from the agony of overexertion, their feet despising them for over-application. His lips curled in a slender grin, his eyes lowered, and he deliciated in his private conjuration, watching every edacious and ungrateful lord welter and writhe, perspiration pouring from their bent frames, the sun radiating down unmercifully, their bodies wrenched over dandelions telling time. If only I could force them, Alasdair thought to himself, admittedly with some fiendish glee at their being made to suffer. The kingdom could do without the taxes gleaned from their estates, and I would happily trade their assessments for field work if I’d be allowed to watch them. The image of Count Rosse working away in little more than a potato sack was one that he would put away and take out again whenever Rosse began complaining of peasants stealing well earned wages from indolent lords, and the notion of Lord Norrington in a hideous straw hat revived a desire to speak to His Lordship about taxation and charitable contributions that had died in the courtroom long ago. Anything was felicity compared to a courtroom lecture about the importance to ending prinvation, and though Alasdair led the way in giving to those trapped on the lower rung of Frewyn society, that his contributions came from the kingdom treasury, which was comprised of collections from the noble estates, was never a pleasant notion to those who refused to provide for the poor at all. He did, by some means, donate on their behalves in this way, and since the Scoaliegh had been so good as to remind him of how little charity is brother gave, he would remember to remind Aldus to take this season’s contributions to the residence and alms house from Lord Norrington’s profitable estate.