Wednesday Snippet

Posted: March 16th, 2011 under Contents, Kings of the North, snippet.
Tags: ,

Shorter, because I’m working very hard to get ready for a big Bach rehearsal tonight.    This snippet shows some of the background stuff that some of you appreciate and some, perhaps, skip over.  That’s fine…but there’s a reason for the background to show now and then.   This is as spoiler-free a snippet as I could find this far into the book (Chapter 20.)   But those who want to know nothing, not even the pattern on the wallpaper, should avoid it anyway.

The book itself is out here and there in Europe, so it’s time for another gentle reminder that everyone’s asked to observe spoiler space for those who haven’t got it yet.

Where: Valdaire, Arcolin’s banker’s offices

Who: Arcolin and Kavarthin, his banker and Guildmaster of the bankers in Valdaire.


“I assume you will need a letter of credit to take north?” Kavarthin said.

“Yes,” Arcolin said.  “I must attend Autumn Court, and I need court clothes.”  He grinned at Kavarthin.  “They tell me I cannot become formally Lord of the North Marches without a fancy robe edged in fur and a ruffled shirt.”

Kavarthin smiled back.  “Well, Captain–my lord Captain, I suppose that will be next season–you may find you enjoy such clothes.  I’m certain you will enjoy your new rank.  Most men do.”  He glanced at the sleeves of his traditional banker’s black gown, where four narrow rows of velvet decorated the black cloth.

Arcolin had not noticed them before and was moved to ask.  “If it is not impertinent–and forgive my ignorance–what does that signify?”

Kavarthin smiled.  “That I am of the first degree in the guild.  And this–”  he pointed to the ring on his finger.  “This says I am Guildmaster here in Valdaire.  All members of the Moneychangers’ Guild answer to me.”  His smile broadened.  “At a certain profit to me, of course.”

Arcolin remembered the merchant stripped of his Guild membership in Cortes Vonja.  “What happens to those you dismiss?”

Kavarthin shrugged.  “It matters nothing to me.  Of all the trades, my lord captain, the trade of money itself must be most closely observed.  It is too easy to cheat, too easy to shave a coin or pass false coinage, too easy to take as one’s own the money entrusted to us by others.  We must be diligent, we must be honest, and we must be unfailingly harsh with those who lie to or steal from those who trust them.  Else no one will trust any of us, and when that trust fails, we are all back to trading a cow for two pigs or a shirt for a loaf of bread.  Commerce would cease; cities would fall; it would be worse chaos than Siniava’s War.  And so I, and the other city Guildmasters, keep watch over our guildmembers.”

And who kept watch over the guildmasters?  Arcolin did not like to ask, but Kavarthin was already answering.

“You will wonder who watches over us–we also are men, and all are tempted at some time or other.  At any time, members of my guild, or certain other guilds, may demand to go through our accounts, and even count what is in our vaults.  If I were not honest, this would keep me so, for the penalty for a Guildmaster’s dishonesty is unpleasant in the extreme.”  He paused, his nose wrinkling.  “Public torture and death.  It is that serious.”


Self-policing by professional groups in the modern age does not work with the efficiency possible in smaller societies…especially fictional ones.   We usually see bankers defending other bankers, and teachers defending other teachers, and so on…even when, to the outsider, the wrongdoing is obvious and indefensible.   And yet the argument is constantly heard, that the people in a profession are best equipped to know what good practice is, and enforce it.  I think most of us have our doubts.


  • Comment by Tkil — March 16, 2011 @ 12:16 pm


    Not related to the snippet, but I thought you might be amused by this anecdote:

    I’m in Taos, NM, taking my boys snowboarding. They’re in lessons, I’m wandering the various eateries waiting for them to finish. At one of them, I noticed that a lady at the next table was reading a copy of Oath!

    We had a wonderful discussion of many re-readings of the Deed, and she was delighted to learn that Kings is coming out next week.

    Friends in the strangest places. One more thing your books have given us.

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 16, 2011 @ 12:26 pm


    Thanks for telling me about that! What a lovely experience.

  • Comment by Anette — March 16, 2011 @ 1:06 pm


    Do the Guildmasters actually, personally, look at and count all the money they put in their vaults?

    I’m asking this question because there was mention (in Oaths of Fealty) that there were a number of not-quite-right coins being found.

    If a Guildmaster does NOT check every coin himself, it could be very easy to get some false coins into his vault and then arrange to have someone demand a look at the accounts and the vault.

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 16, 2011 @ 1:49 pm


    Those were found by members of the Moneychangers’ Guild…they didn’t make it into the vaults. Each moneychanger who is a Guild member is considered fully responsible for his accounts. So they are careful about each coin they accept, yes, and also any other valuables, and about the kind of “paper” they’ll accept (letters of credit are used, but only accepted from known sources.)

    There may be more than one Guild member working in one establishment (a son, a nephew, who has passed the Guild exams) but the senior, the one in whose name the establishment exists, is the one responsible.

    These are small concerns–family banks, if you will. The Moneychangers’ Guild has its rules(as does each guild) and members must abide by them. Customers are free to choose non-guild banks/moneychangers, etc. but there is then no recourse of they’re cheated.

    Cities and other political entities may or may not choose to work with a Guild moneychanger. Those who wish to avoid the fees charged by moneychangers run the risk of having counterfeit inserted into the city’s coffers. In Guild League cities (most–but that may be changing) non-Guild moneychanging is forbidden. It goes on, nonetheless, in the equivalent of pawnshops for the lower classes, and as “private loans” for cities.

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 16, 2011 @ 1:50 pm


    Incidentally, all the forms of money handling described in the books really did exist at some point in our history and much of it still does, somewhere on the planet.

  • Comment by tuppeny — March 16, 2011 @ 2:03 pm


    I find the Yap stone money the most curious, and the most explicit illumination of the peculiar mutual acceptance of the illusion that ‘money’ in itself represents something tangible.

    Self policing I suspect works better in small societies where 1) the group members extensive personal acquaintance with the population served, and the converse. If anything nefarious occurs the populace at large knows individuals responsible and has the chance to exact retribution unless it has confidence in the evidence of internal policing and justice.

  • Comment by Lex — March 16, 2011 @ 10:05 pm


    Do any of the saintly orders in Paksworld act as financial institutions like many of the religious orders of the middle-ages did? Seems like a Marshal of Gird would engender a fair amount of confidence (rumors of nefarious horse-dealing not withstanding).

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 16, 2011 @ 10:17 pm


    That’s an interesting question, Lex…but no, they don’t. For one thing, there is no monolithic established church: even in the north, where the Code of Gird seems to be dominant, other religions exist and so do commercial guilds. In Fintha (and to a lesser extent in Tsaia) the Marshals do take over some of the responsibilities of guilds in enforcing fair trade rules. But even there they appoint (and supervise) the judicars who keep an eye on markets, check for standard weights and measures, and take complaints about bad practices. In Aarenis, there is no established religion; the Girdish are a minority. In that history, the money-changers’ guild has “always” been there and accepted.

  • Comment by David R Campbell — March 17, 2011 @ 11:30 am


    I just upgraded my pre-order of Kings at Amazon to 2-day shipping.

    Next Week! I feel like the 5 year old waiting outside the closed gates of the theme park, wait for them to open…..

  • Comment by elizabeth — March 17, 2011 @ 12:21 pm


    And all I’m doing is showing you glimpses between the bars of the different rides, right?

    Not sure which is worse. Solid gates, or gates you can see a little through.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment