The Komneniad: Legalities

From the New Byzantium Herald: This newspaper has hesitated to add its voice to the clamour surrounding the Qaratal Line, lest a hasty judgement should lead it into error. But the facts are now in, and we can state unequivocally that the obstructionist attitude of certain parties to the dispute is, not simply a hindrance to progress and industry, but also unpatriotic and even actively dangerous.

In defending the “traditional right of Rome’s allies to their ancestral grazing lands” there may, at least, be a certain, if possibly misguided, honour. It is true that these lands have customarily been understood as being, in some sense, the property of the tribes, even though they are not enclosed and the peaceful passage of other parties has always been permitted, facts which would weigh against any claim of property in settled lands. Thus, if the dispute were merely of one private party against another, the claims of the Alukhai against the right-of-way of the Qaratal Consortium, men of good faith might reasonably disagree, and this newspaper could remain above the dispute, taking no more interest in it than in any other public matter of the day.

But now the trumpets of responsibility to the State have been sounded, and this paper can no longer remain silent. Inter armes, silent leges; and we have heard, from no less a person than the Legate Herakles of the Sol Invictus, that the Qaratal railroad is “an absolute necessity to the defense of the Russian border”. In the face of such testimony, quibbles about private property must fade; where the defense of the State is concerned, the interests of private parties must give way. The Qaratal railroad must be built, and built at speed; and as for those obstructionists who stand in its way, our ancestors invented the excellent customs of decimation and crucifixion for precisely such cases.

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From the Tempora Romanum: It is no light matter to suggest that the recommendations of a public servant may have been bent by private interest; and indeed no responsible journalist would dream of doing so. Your editor wishes, therefore, to completely disavow any claim of insight into the mind of the Legate Herakles. The worthy Legate has risen to command so famous a formation as the Sol Invictus; and it must be clear that the Senate and People of Rome do not give such a position to a man who is liable to be swayed this way and that by any consideration except hard military fact.

But where the minds of men, and especially of generals, are beyond the ken of responsible journalism, statements of verifiable fact are not. Your editor wishes to bring two facts to the attention of the public, which may conceivably have some interest. The first is that several Legates, commanding Legions perhaps less well known than storied Sol Invictus, but not without their own honour and merit, have stated the case for the Qaratal Line in terms much less emphatic than those used by the Legate Herakles. One might almost say that some of the alleged military support for the project is expressed in terms that, were they not uttered by the legendarily decisive officers of the Legions, could properly be called `lukewarm’; as when, for example, the Legate Kallistos (commanding the Victrix) testified to the Senate and the People that “it would certainly be better to have it than not to have it”. In the testimony of the Legate Lykurgos, placed at the head of no less a formation than the I Komnenoi, one might even detect a hint of what, if it were not for the fact that so sure a military judgement can hardly disagree with that of the Legate Herakles, one would call opposition; for in his sworn words to the Senate and the People, the phrase “possibility of other projects taking priority for the time being” occurs in a desirable sense.

The second fact that the public ought to know concerns the membership of the Qaratal Consortium. Although this is not a matter of public record, the Tempora has gained access to the accounts of the Consortium, and discovered there that, not the Legate Herakles, but his wife Leonora, holds no less than 10 per cent of its voting shares.

We feel confident, of course, that so upright a man as the Legate Herakles would not inquire too closely into the details of his wife’s portfolio; for like Caesar’s wife, our high officers do not content themselves merely with being incorruptible, but hold themselves to the higher standard of also appearing so. Nonetheless, we regretfully acknowledge that not every citizen shares our high opinion of the Senatorial class, and we therefore present this information in case anyone might think it has relevance to the question of whether private interests ought to be allowed to run roughshod – perhaps ‘rail-shod’ is the phrase for these modern times? – over the grazing lands of Rome’s sovereign allies.

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April 23rd, 1843
Office of Papandopolous and Sons
New Byzantium, Roman Khanate

“Well, come now! Five percent of the net is exceedingly generous.”

“Fuck you, Greekie!” Remembering where he was, the chieftain of the Alukhai Tatars moderated his language, but not his demands. “Do you think we’re some sort of rubes from Utmost Siberia?” The Greeks in the room were forced to hide undiplomatic smiles, which perhaps had been his intent; with his belt full of knives, a musket over his back, and a powder horn slung over his chest, Timur did look rather like the stereotype of an unsophisticated tribesman. “We know what kind of tricks you pulled with the Nenet. We’ll have twenty percent of the gross, and we’ll have our own accountants checking it; or no deal.” He crossed his arms across his chest, making the knives rattle.

Papandopoulos, the lawyer, was slight and unimpressive compared to the squat tribesman, although like most Komnenoi he had served his time in the Legion. Nevertheless his careful adjustment of his rimless eyeglasses was as much a declaration of intent, and threat, as any ostentatious flaunting of weaponry. “I think you’ll find,” he said carefully, “that my clients’ friends in the Senate would not find acceptable such a contract, if it came to an open vote; and would instead vote for a straightforward expropriation of the lands in question. Which would leave you with precisely zero percent, gross or net.”

“Your client isn’t the only one with friends in the Senate. Do you know how many of the Alukhai are Equestrians?”

“When last I looked into the matter, you had six hundred and forty-three voters on the rolls; although only ten of them are here in the City.”

Perhaps Timur was a little taken aback at the lawyer’s ready command of the figure; but he shot back “Right. And our neighbours will back us; they know a precedent when they see one. So by all means, take it to the Senate; see who has the more friends when push comes to shove. You’ve got the money, but there’s still honour in New Byzantium.”

“Indeed there is,” Papandopoulos said levelly. “And I have personally heard five Senators, representing a total of one-hundred-fifty-two thousand, four hundred and sixty-eight voters, say that they would rather, and I quote, `expropriate the damn savages and be done with it’ than, you should excuse the expression, `give the sheepfuckers a single thin rouble’. I suggest, then, that your tribes, with their total of perhaps ten thousand Equestrians, are likely to be somewhat outvoted. Honour or no honour.”

Timur swallowed his bluff without a quibble, leaning back in the chair, which creaked under him. “Well. In that case, I suggest your friend with the straight-shootin’, hard-hittin’ mouth on him contemplates just why Herakles could make some kind of case for the `military necessity’ of the railroad. I mean, that’s horseshit, and the horse is pretty sick at that, and we all know it. But the reason he can make some idiots believe it is that we’re right on the Russian border. Maybe the Czar would see things our way, eh? Then your friends can watch their clients blame them and walk right off the rolls.”

“That possibility is, indeed, why we are here. But I suggest that you should not put too much faith in this method of bargaining. There are… certain elements… in the Senate who would like nothing better than a good casus belli for war with Russia.”

Timur smiled grimly. “So we all know where we stand. Why don’t you make me an offer.”

“I am authorised to offer you as much as five percent of the gross.”

“And an accountant we hire, to check it.”

“That is acceptable.”

“Very well, then we have a deal.”

The lawyer smiled, reaching across the table to shake hands. “I am glad to hear it. Emotions have been running quite high here lately. It is a pleasure to negotiate with someone not married to dubious points of principle.”

Timur grinned. “Well, I’m not saying I’m above using some editor’s idea of the sovereign rights of Rome’s allies to put a bit of pressure on. A vassal tribe has to use the weapons it has. But yeah, in the end we wanted a cut. The sacred-ancestral-lands bit was for show. Pff, don’t any of these City people read books? We moved onto that land in my father’s day.”

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From the City Tribune: The recent settlement of the Qaratal Line dispute must fill patriots with joy; once again the democratic process of Rome has proven its merit in amicable resolution of conflicting claims. Indeed peaceful arbitration, in open Forum, of the friction of modernisation is among our greatest strengths, and sure to grant us a long-term advantage over our rivals, whose processes often feel the influence of smoky back rooms, political maneuver, and mere bribes…

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