Excerpt from “For the Empire’s Throne.”

 

At the time that Eyforer Stario was married, the typical tax charged to small merchants in the squares was one copper a day, and ten tin coins at the start of each day to receive a day permit. It was expensive to do business, and a salesman could not just sell anywhere. There were allocated areas for such activity. In the evening, the salesman would line up before the Mercantile Tax Collection Office where he would pay his tax and receive a parchment indicating his solvency. Anyone who didn’t pay or didn’t have the money was arrested, unless he slipped away, and taken to the Minor Jail, from where, if no one came to pay his debt, he would be sent to Crewl, a worse jail (where he was whipped) and where, by decree from the emperor, his debt would increase to one gold. If still no one came to aid him in his moment of need, he was sent to the Dragon’s Hole, the worst place in the world. The price for his release there was one hundred gold, and five extra per year, also by decree from the emperor. Overriding an emperor’s rule required the vote of two-hundred and fifty sildaars and six vittans. Yet this was dangerous—emperors, with their well-paid army and their power to charge anyone with treason or another crime, had the sildaarium in the palm of their hands.

Eyforer Stario’s bride was Ederna Hesoria. She had been a vagrant woman when he met her. She was used to stealing bread. The first time Eyforer set eyes on her, she was stealing a loaf from a cart. The seller caught her arm as she was leaving. A yell from him had a policeman immediately before her. It was then that Eyforer set in motion the path that would lead him to put a wedding necklace around her.

“My lady,” he said. “I am right here. These gentlemen have taken you by surprise. Here, my good sir, have a bronze for your troubles.”

The seller had the right, at this moment, to return the bronze he had received and charge the woman with attempted theft, or keep it and say it was all a misunderstanding. The seller kept the bronze and said to the policeman it was a misunderstanding. By law, the policeman could do nothing. The “theft”—if such it had been—had been settled, and nothing was owed to the state.

Ederna and Eyforer walked away. The youth saw something in this woman, not older than sixteen or seventeen, that was different from any vagrant. Her hair, like a waterfall of blond-red waves, was not wild as that of others, but brushed and clean. Even her dress—a simple long white dress with no sash—was not unclean, which meant she maintained it. With all politeness, he offered her lunch at his place, keeping an eye on her and his valuables.

“My lord, I would not steal from my rescuer,” she said. “You can trust me.”

The words were well spoken, which meant to Eyforer she knew how to read. Even her attitude had the fine aura of a schooled girl, not what a usual vagrant would possess. In her eyes he saw truth. As they talked, she revealed the secrets that had led her to her plight. She came from Arrgy, where her father, Ildrur Hesoria, a pot maker, intended to marry her to an old man who had money. With fear, yet steely resolve, she had refused. Because of her youth, her father had legal rights to her as property. He threatened to sell her to the crown as a slave.

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