Thursday, June 7, 2007
Chapter 2: A Bad Day in Vilka, Part 1
The Minister of Celebrations
On the very next day after the very good day hitherto described, when the Philosopher-Prince heard the new Vilkan minstrels sing so beautifully, he awoke early in the morning to find the weather somewhat cloudy and damp. This did not dampen his spirits, however. He arrived at his office in an excellent mood, humming a minstrel song and fully anticipating his second consecutive very good day.
The people of Vilka were sufficiently democratic in their sensibilities that their leader did not go to work in any sort of palace, despite being called a prince. Instead, he had a modest but well-appointed office in a two-story stone building near the center of town. A variety of clerks and ministers each had a small workspace in the building, but the Prince had his own office, with a desk and a table and comfortable chairs. There was also a door which actually closed, though he preferred to keep it open nearly all the time, as a signal to the people of Vilka -- and especially the city's clerks and ministers -- that he was accessible.
Thus the door was open when, shortly after the Prince's own arrival, the Minister of Celebrations stormed into the Prince's office, stopped directly in front of the desk, and asked, with almost palpable self-restraint, "Prince, may we speak?"
"Of course we may. Good morning. Won't you please be seated?"
"Uh, yes, of course. Thank you. Good morning to you, Prince."
"I thank you. Of what do you wish to speak?"
The Minister of Celebrations glanced uneasily at the open doorway and asked, "Would you mind very much if we closed the door?"
In truth, the Prince did mind rather more than a little, but he said, "Of course. Be my guest."
The Minister of Celebrations darted to the door, closed it, and stood again in front of the Prince's desk.
"Prince, do we or do we not have a separate budget category for the Ministry of Celebrations?"
"I believe we do."
"Yes, quite. And is it or is it not required than any expenditures in connection with that budget be approved by me, by affixing my signature to the appropriate paperwork?"
"That is most certainly required."
The Minister of Celebrations looked even more agitated. He seemed to be on the verge of pacing back and forth in front of the Prince's desk. But he did not speak further for a moment.
At length the Prince prompted him. "May I ask the reason for these questions?"
"Oh, yes, of course. My apologies. Prince, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has spent nearly all of my budget -- that of the Ministry of Celebrations, I mean -- on unrelated expenses, and has done so without my signature!"
The Prince's interest was piqued, but he remained outwardly calm.
"Are you quite certain of this?"
"I am. I have brought these records for your examination."
The Prince carefully opened the financial scrolls which had appeared on his desk and glanced briefly at their contents.
"I see. Perhaps it is an error and can easily be corrected."
"Prince, I thought so, too, at first. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer assures me that it was quite intentional."
"I will speak to the Chancellor. I am certain we can resolve this amicably."
"Of course, Prince, I hope that we can. I want my budget back."
"That is quite understandable. Is there anything else?"
"Yes, Prince, there is. That budget was approved by formal vote of the Council of Several. I don't see where the Chancellor gets the authority to modify it after the fact at his own discretion, without a vote of the Council."
"Now, Minister, let us not be combative. It is important that the officials of our fair City be unified and conciliatory."
"But, Prince, is it not also important for those officials to conform their activities to the law as it exists, and to submit to the duly constituted authorities of the City?"
"Of course it is. I will speak to the Chancellor. I'm sure this is merely a one-time aberration."
At this statement, the Minister of Celebrations looked even more uncomfortable.
"May I help you further?" inquired the Prince.
"Prince, this sort of thing happened for years, under the rule of your predecessors."
"I see. But let us not speak ill of them. I will speak to the Chancellor, and it will not happen again. May I keep these scrolls?"
"Of course, and I thank you, Prince. By your leave?"
"Yes. Thank you for your concerns. You may go. Leave the door open, if you please."
The Prince's page appeared in the doorway as the Minister excused himself. The Prince said, "Page, would you convey my regards to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and invite him to my office for a few moments at his earliest convenience?"
"Immediately, Prince." The page bowed slightly and disappeared.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
The Chancellor of the Exchequer presented himself before the Prince some 50 minutes later. The Prince quite sincerely thanked him for appearing so quickly. A brief interlude of polite small talk came and went, after which the Prince beckoned the Chancellor to look at the scrolls, which were still open on his desk.
"The Minister of Celebrations is somewhat exercised this morning," said the Prince, ever so calmly. "He seems to believe that his budget has been spent on unrelated matters without his approval. Is that what these scrolls say?"
The Chancellor scrutinized the scrolls for a moment. "Yes, Prince, that is what they say."
"My good Chancellor, the Minister feels it is inappropriate for a budget approved by the Council of Several to be amended without a subsequent vote of that Council."
The Chancellor started, but quickly reasserted his self-control. His countenance nonetheless darkened perceptibly, and he asked, "Prince, may I speak freely?"
"Of course, Chancellor."
"Prince, with all due respect, I have served the City in my present capacity for some years now, most particularly during the administration of your esteemed predecessor and his esteemed predecessor. Our accounting has always been done this way. It is quite normal for us to move funds from one category to another, to meet the contingencies of the day. Generally, we manage to make things work out well enough in the end. If I may say so, I am quite adept at achieving that result."
"Indeed, you must be," said the Prince. "But would you indulge me please? Restore the Minister of Celebrations' budget, debit the proper budget line for those expenditures, and prepare some notes for me and for the Council on where we might find the necessary funds if the proper category is dangerously depleted."
"Yes, Prince, if you insist, but that is not --"
"Chancellor, I insist. At your earliest convenience, if you please."
"Very well, sir. May I now return to my duties?"
"You are at your duties even now. But, yes, you are excused. Please take these scrolls with you."
"As you wish, Prince."
The Printer, the Minister of Communications, and the Deputy Assistant General Clerk
As the Chancellor left, the page reappeared.
"Page, who is next?" the Prince inquired, with the slightest overtone of reluctance.
"Prince, there are three together. The Printer, the Minister of Communications, and the Deputy Assistant General Clerk seem to have a disagreement they wish you to adjudicate."
"Page, did you just roll your eyes, as you spoke of those honorable men?"
Shamed, the page said, "Yes, Prince. I beg forgiveness."
"As you should. You are dismissed. And show the gentlemen in as you leave, please."
After the gentlemen were greeted and seated, and the requisite small talk duly engaged in, the Prince asked, "So, gentlemen, I understand there is a dispute. What is its nature, if you please?"
The Printer said, looking angry, "Prince, I must --"
At the same time, the Minister of Communications said defensively, "Sir, I have --"
Simultaneously, the Deputy Assistant General Clerk, looking embarrassed and alarmed, blurted, "But Prince, they --"
Then all three fell silent.
The Prince raised one eyebrow, looked at each gentleman in turn, then asked of the Printer, "Printer, you begin, please."
Once he began, the Printer poured forth a passionate speech, to the effect that he had been commissioned to print the official Proclamation on the Spring Tax, as authorized by the Minister of Communication. He had followed the approved text quite precisely, and was now being blamed for the fact that in every occurrence in the document, including the title, the word proclamation was misspelled proclumation. Worse, the Proclamation had already been sent to all the property holders in the City, fully 6000 of them, and could not easily be recalled.
"It is an embarrassment to this administration," intoned the Minister of Communication. "We deserve and expect better of our Printer."
"With due respect, Prince," said the Printer, "the word was misspelled in the draft. Who am I to question the superior literacy and education of the Minister of Communications?"
"Who, indeed?" expostulated that Minister.
The Prince calmly turned to the Deputy Assistant General Clerk, a much younger man, who seemed timid and embarrassed. "Deputy Assistant General Clerk, we have not heard from you. Can you illuminate this situation for us at all?"
"Yes, Prince, I --"
The Minister growled and the Printer looked decidedly uneasy.
"You may speak freely," urged the Prince.
"Yes, sir." His eyes widened, but he did not resume speaking.
"Well?" asked the Prince.
"It is my fault, Prince. I received the draft from the Minister of Communication, rewrote it for legibility, corrected certain misspellings --"
The Minister huffed.
"Minister," said the Prince, "we are hearing the Clerk. Clerk, please continue."
"I returned it to the Minister of Communications. He rejected my draft and directed me to convey his original immediately to the Printer, which I did. The Printer examined it, pronounced it illegible, and refused to print it. I returned to my desk, rewrote the draft again, making no corrections, and conveyed it to the Printer without the Minister's specific approval. It was printed, and it has been delivered to each property holder."
"So there is nothing to be done about this proclamation now, I gather," said the Prince.
"No, Prince," said the Clerk.
"Very well. In the near future we will consider how to avoid this problem henceforth."
"Prince," asked the Minister. "May I speak?"
"Of course, Minister."
"Prince, it appears to me that the solution is to find a new Printer and a new Clerk."
The Printer's eyes widened. "Prince," asked the Printer. "May I speak?"
"Prince, it appears to me that the solution is to dismiss the Minister of Communications, promote the Clerk to Minister, and find a new, equally able Clerk."
The Minister huffed.
"Gentlemen, forgive me," said the Prince. I must now make my way to a lengthy meeting. For the present, we will keep our Printer, our Minister, and our Clerk, and we will take up this matter in the near future. You are excused."
As they left, the Prince listened to see if they would raise their voices to each other while still within his earshot, but they did not.
The Adjutant's Absence
The page appeared in the doorway.
"Page, do I not have an Adjutant?"
"Do you know where my Adjutant might be found?"
"Prince, I would prefer not to say."
"Please say, Page."
"Yes, Prince. The Adjutant is on an official errand."
"What errand, Page?"
"With your permission, I would prefer not to answer your question."
"Page, please answer my question."
"Yes, Prince. The Adjutant is currently at the rehearsal of the minstrels the City has engaged for the upcoming celebration."
"Do you know what he is doing there?" asked the Prince.
The page fell silent, and Prince regarded him expectantly, almost glaring in spite of himself.
"What is he doing there, please?" the Prince finally asked.
"Prince, I believe the Adjutant is coaching the minstrels in diction, phrasing, and intonation."
"Page, does the Adjutant know anything whatsoever about the art of singing?"
"No, Prince, and the minstrels seem frustrated and on the verge of quitting the City altogether."
"And perhaps also the profession?"
"I could not say, Prince."
"Page, I must leave for my meeting. After you have summoned my carriage, please invite the Adjutant on my behalf to return to his duties, and quietly apologize in my name to the leader of the minstrels -- out of the Adjutant's hearing, of course. And please invite the Adjutant to my office at day's end. You are excused."
"You're welcome, Prince."
The next fragment of the manuscript appears to describe events later in the same day. It is currently being restored and transcribed, and will be published presently.
Copyright 2007 by David Rodeback.