June 26th, 1158
A warehouse in Venice
“Twenty-three, twenty-four. All right, you’re paid up for another month.” Salomone nodded to his tenants, who tugged their forelocks respectfully at his dismissal. He concealed distaste for their obsequiousness; didn’t they know he’d been born in the same back streets? He knew perfectly well what they said about landlords in private. It was a sordid business, renting out houses to poor families, and he wished himself out of it; but it was a steady income, a base to live on while shipping made him rich.
Speaking of which, he thought when he saw his next appointment enter; this time he rose, and held out his hand as to an equal – no sitting in lordly splendour through this meeting.
“Dandolo,” he said, and the other man nodded and shook his hand. “Aiello,” he returned, quite as though both their families had been wealthy in Venice for two hundred years. It still gave Salomone a shock, just how important money was; he kept expecting his business partners to finally drop their masks and look down their noses at the jumped-up backstreet boy. But if Dandolo, in his silks and velvets, felt any disdain for Salomone’s linen, or for meeting in a warehouse and not a marbled palace, it didn’t show on his face.
“Good news,” he said instead, smiling; “our ship came in. You were right – the first harvest in Egypt failed, our grain went for a fantastic price. We filled our hold with cotton, there’s another shipload coming in, and there’s profits left over. This is your share.” He pulled a fat purse out of his silks and handed it to Salomone, who smiled at the sweet ring of gold and the weight of it. He would look over the accounts later, of course, but in truth he did not expect Dandolo to cheat; he’d be a fool to chisel a few extra coins and spoil their partnership. Dandolo had ships and men and contacts, but Salomone had the nose for what shipments would make money; working with him had doubled Dandolo’s profits. He wouldn’t throw that away for the sake of what he could cheat out of one shipment.
“Good,” he said, and thought. “Hmm – two shiploads? I must say I wasn’t expecting quite that much cotton.”
“Apparently the cotton harvest was very good,” Dandolo said. “Ironic, when the grain failed, no? Bale upon bale of cotton, and nothing to eat. Except our barley, of course – and at the very best prices, too.”
Salomone smiled, but only from politeness; high prices for grain meant children going hungry, and he’d done so himself often enough. Even after his stroke of luck with the shark, he’d had an empty belly on occasion, when all his capital was tied up in ships in distant ports, and he caught nothing in the Laguna. It was no laughing matter to him. But there was no use pointing that out to Dandolo; that child of privilege and wealth might agree, might apologise for his jest, might even genuinely feel bad about it, but he would not really understand, not in the stomach where it mattered. Instead Salomone turned to practical matters.
“We don’t want to collapse the price,” he said. “I don’t think Venice can easily absorb two shiploads; what if we send the other to Marseilles?”
“Marseilles?” Dandolo blinked; it wasn’t a place they did much business with. “I would have thought Tunis, or even Barcelona – but never mind,” he added hastily. “Marseilles it is!”
Salomone smiled; if the truth were told, his partner gave his magic nose too much credit. Marseilles was a whim, an experiment; there was probably a market for cotton there, but it wasn’t likely to be another marvel of twice the expected profit, as shipping grain to Egypt had been. His hunches worked that way at most once in ten times – but Dandolo didn’t track the numbers carefully; he remembered the triumphs and forgot the humdrum expeditions that returned only the ordinary profit. That was why Salomone’s capital was growing at twice the rate of Dandolo’s, in spite of the other man having most of the ships. In ten years he would have his own fleet, and would no longer need their partnership – and even Salomone was not quite sure what he would do then. Was he really friends with a patrician, or was he just using the man?
For now, at any rate, the point was moot; they exchanged courtesies and Dandolo left, and Salomone turned to his money. He didn’t like to admit it, but there was a sensual pleasure in counting up gold, feeling the slick weight of the pieces in his fingers, hearing their sweet ring on the table – a very different sensation from taking shaved coppers from poor tenants. Nonetheless he sternly resisted the urge to throw the money up in the air and let it rain down over his head; someone might come in, and then what would he look like? Besides, he’d lost a coin down a crack in the floorboards once, doing that, and had had to replace the whole floor to get it back. Instead he stacked up the coins neatly, fives, tens, twenties; if the stacks made a pretty pattern, well, nobody was like to call him foolish for that even if they saw.
Near the bottom of the purse he found a coin unlike the others – they were mostly Venetian ducats, with a few Arab solidi thrown in – and held his breath. There were not that many bezants still in circulation, but gold was gold. Perhaps one coin in a hundred, of the gold that passed through his hands, was a bezant; and he looked at each one carefully, just in case. A small flaw in the metal caught his eye, and his heart hammered. Yes! There it was, tiny but unmistakable; the letter aleph, for Aiello, that he had carved in his three bezants before sending them out into the world. He grinned in triumph.
“Finally!” he whispered. This was the last of the three to come back to him; after thirteen years, and passing through who knew how many hands. But there were only so many merchants, in this Europe of the twelfth century after Christ; only so many coins, and only so many men who would deal routinely in gold. It was hardly miraculous, that a particular coin should come back to him; for all he knew, the coppers he’d taken from his tenants were on their third or fourth visit to his warehouse. But Salomone cared nothing for coppers. Here was the source of his wealth, come back to him at last; and he would not send it out again. He would put it with the other two in the tiny, secret strongbox in his bedroom, the one hidden within the masonry wall, separate from all his other money. If he ever lost it all – if his ships sank, if his main strongbox was robbed, if even the emergency reserve went to some stroke of misfortune or violence – then he would still have his three bezants; and from that rock he could, at need, rebuild his kingdom. But in truth, he did not believe that would be necessary; for the three bezants were his luck, and he would not again be separated from them.
Oh, how the money rolls in!
Even while lending money from Iberia (500 ducats to Anders’s Barcelona, for mercenaries to fight the heathen) to far Altai (300 ducats to Clonefusion fighting some complex tribal war for the biggest yurt in the whole horde), enough cash has remained in Venice to enable several successful wars:
- Punishing Serbia for its aggression during the reign of the previous Doge, I took its province of Ragusa (formerly Dubrovnik). This apparently-minor war actually saw my largest setbacks of the session: Serbia was allied with the Greek kingdom of Anatolia, which sent troops to defend Ragusa. In the mountainous Balkan terrain, these brave and tenacious soldiers were able to inflict terrible casualties on the Venetians soldier-sailors, more used to boarding actions than mountain passes. I raised new armies, but then had a second disaster: I had split my army into two stacks for faster sieging. Collecting them back together, I misclicked, and one stack attacked a fresh Anatolian army, in mountains, without support. By the time the other stack arrived, the battle was essentially over, there was a rout, and in the rout both stacks were drastically reduced. The immense financial resources of the Venetian state, however, drummed new mercenaries out of the Earth. Serbia is currently a one-province kingdom.
Battle of Cravtat. Note Serbia’s four provinces – modest, perhaps, but a player in the regional balance of power.
Victory, if that’s the word.
- I fought two minor wars on the Greek coast of the Aegean, in support of the ambitions of my vassal resurrected!Blayne. These one-province affairs expanded Blayne’s domains by 66%.
- I conquered Ferrara upon the death of its former ruler, my tributary. Never mind this tributary nonsense, now I have a claim.
- Most significantly, I crossed the Malta Channel and, for the first time in 700 years, planted the Cross on the shores of Tripoli. Holy War for Tripolitania! This is not yet over, but looks hopeful, with a Christian army of 13000 (including 4000 allies from the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem) facing something like 6000 howling heathens.
The Central Mediterranean, April 1239, with recent Venetian conquests outlined in red. Note what’s happened to Serbia – it’s the one-province minor just north of Ragusa (Dubrovnik in the previous screenshot), dealing with a rebel army of 10000 men. Bulgaria has taken one province, and Zeta is independent – except for being a tributary of one of the lesser Venetian families. Moral of the story, don’t mess with Venice.
Abramo Aiello in vigorous late middle age.
Domestic situation in Venice.
The internal politics of Venice, however, are a fly in this Ointment of Triumph (+2 to Charisma). The patricians of Morosini and Ziani are old men even by comparison with the middle-aged Abramo the Lawgiver. (Named, obviously, for his habit of laying down the law to the foreign enemies of Venice – Serbia, Sicily, Anatolia, Ferrara, Tripoli, it’s a long list and the end is not yet.) Compared to the dynamic and thrusting leadership of Abramo’s son Isacco, they are arthritis and sclerosis personified; dividend-drawers and rentiers, not adventuring capitalists willing to risk wealth in new enterprises. But the electorate of Venice does not see it that way, and the difference is large enough that even money, the all-purpose lubricant, is of limited use. Abramo is fifty, and might live for another ten years, might even see out his three-score and ten; but the situation remains concerning.