The Price of Beans
Talk about burying the lede.
I still get a chuckle when I look back at the earliest editions of The Periodical, not long after the great Jack Spriggins founded the city of Giant’s Fall.
The beans didn’t get a look-in.
To be fair, there was plenty of other exciting stuff to report on. There was the Golden Harp, for instance. There was the proven existence of the Land Above The Clouds, and the ridiculous debate over whether or not we should attempt to reach there again. There was the building of the Tower of Bones, and the growth of Giant’s Fall from village to town to city, all within a generation.
No mention of the beans whatsoever – nothing for almost a year and a half. Even then, when they finally made an appearance in our pages, it was a lifestyle piece about the best way to prepare beans the size of cartwheels. It included three recipes and tips such as hiring woodcutters to chop and saw your bean into manageable portions.
Clearly the first editor of The Periodical, Hartley Hodgeson, didn’t foresee the trouble those beans would become. I suppose nobody did, to be fair.
Enough musing – it’s time to get to work. I have a ways to go and an important interview to undertake before I can file my story for the autumn issue, and I’m pushing up against the deadline as it is.
You can see Green Mountain all the way from Giant’s Fall, which should give you a decent grasp on the size of the thing.
Despite its height, however, you could never describe Green Mountain as stretching into the sky, or climbing up to the clouds like the famous vine that caused all this in the first place. Instead, it squats on the horizon, a bulky mass of green almost as wide as it is tall.
My little horse and buggy (paid for by the owner of The Periodical, of course) takes almost three hours to reach Green Mountain, and the beggars and the protesters are only few in number for the first hour of the journey.
It’s easy to ignore them as the road passes through the fields of wheat and barley – full of productive workers sweeping their scythes in the mid-autumn sunshine. Others rake the harvest into bundles; more still carry and load the bundles onto the carts to be transported to the threshers. Threshing, then sorting, weighing and measuring, then further transportation and storing – and that’s before we even get to things like milling and trading. All the workings of a healthy economy, destined for the great silos at Giant’s Fall, under the supervision of Lord John Sprigginsson. Most of it is sold to neighbouring states and cities, of course. Something has to pay for our entire expanding infrastructure.
The beggars and the protesters get thicker the closer you get to Green Mountain, and the smell gets thicker in the air as well. You wonder how they can stand it, and why they don’t have a little pride to at least try and keep clean.
A couple of years ago, when my editor first put me on the Mountain beat, the great mob of unwashed were quite happy to see me. They were convinced that if only more people knew about what was happening, there would be a general outcry and things would change.
Now, they stare at me with sullen resentment as I pass. I don’t have to worry about them throwing rotten food at me, though. They are too hungry to let even the stalest bread or rotting cabbage go to waste.
Thankfully, you start to see more Jackmen as you get closer to Green Mountain as well. They keep the road clear and the most violent of the protesters in their place. They were another fine idea from the great Jack Spriggins – a force of guards, not for any one family or estate…but for society in general. A force to protect and serve – generously paid for by Spriggins himself.
Of course, most of the Jackmen are needed on the road between Giant’s Fall and Green Mountain these days – or guarding the mountain itself. They’ve started wearing full armour as well, after the grain riots last winter. They certainly look formidable, almost like soldiers, and I’m very happy to see so many of them out in force. Protecting Green Mountain. Securing our economy.
Eventually, you get close enough to the mountain to see the individual beans, and the protesters and beggars become a swarm, and the smell is even worse.
Look, I’m not heartless.
Of course I can see their point. I’ve even written about it in the past, back before I could see the bigger picture.
The beans fell everywhere when the vine came down. Free food for all – but at what cost? What about the millers and the bakers? What about the men and women who grow the wheat and the barley? What about the thousands who find seasonal work harvesting or transporting the grains to the great silos of Giant’s Fall?
Do you want to disrupt the entire economy, in other words? And when the beans eventually run out? What then?
I vividly remember my first meeting with John Sprigginsson, soon after I first joined The Periodical, when he reversed the order of the interview and asked these questions of me, of our readers.
Lord Sprigginsson had also joined The Periodical recently. He purchased it from Hartley Hodgeson and installed a new editor and new reporters. We were all in this together, he told me. As long as we all kept our eyes on the big picture, everything would be fine.
Swiftly, I was able to see not only the genius of his father’s decision to collect and hoard all the beans and keep their supply under strict control, but also the underlying morality of it. In the end, it was for the good of society as a whole – something that was lost on the short-term thinkers and rank opportunists who made up the swarm of protesters and beggars.
Besides, a person was entitled to earn a living, and the beans belonged to Jack Spriggins by right. They came from his vine, after all. Now they belonged to his son, Lord John Sprigginsson. The fact that for a few years during the founding of Giant’s Fall, the beans were just lying around for any hungry fool to eat for free is rather immaterial, I feel.
The stench got worse again as I finally reached Green Mountain. The mob was so thick on the ground that I had to leave my horse and buggy with an outpost of Jackmen and proceed on foot. Three of the Jackmen (helms on, visors down, heavy maces at the ready) escorted me through the pushing mass of protesters to the Great Fence that runs around the mountain.
The giant beans, collected from all across the countryside where they fell and then piled together here…it really is a mighty accomplishment. A man-made mountain of food…
The Alderman of Green Mountain greeted me at the gates of the Great Fence and ushered me into his office. He looked worried. He told me the situation was getting worse as winter approaches – people remember how bad it got last year.
He expects a sea of the angry poor to wash against his gates by the time the first snows fall. He worries the Jackmen will have to take ever more harsh measures to keep them back from the fence and to protect the cartloads of beans which are sent to Giant’s Fall once a fortnight.
All of this was off the record, you understand.
The Alderman is not a cruel man, and I could see the somewhat brutal treatment of the protesters by the Jackmen was gnawing at him. I put his mind at ease, telling him there was no danger of any of that appearing in The Periodical. Our readers don’t care if a few smelly plebs get their heads stoved in.
I could have sworn there was something else worrying him – something he was not willing to tell, even off the record – but I didn’t have time to pry too deeply. We had an interview to do. Besides, I wouldn’t want to offend the man – I might lose my access to Green Mountain.
We ran through the usual questions about the bean supply and the prices for the upcoming cartloads for Giant’s Fall and beyond. I also made sure to ask plenty of questions about the possible release of free cartloads of beans during midwinter this year. It wasn’t an official policy yet, but Lord Sprigginsson told me he wanted the seeds of his generosity sown in our readers’ minds well before the snows began to fall.
When the interview was done, I left his office and was escorted back to my horse and buggy and the stench hit me again in an almost physical force. The vast tide of angry, unwashed protesters seemed to have grown; even in the short time I was conducting the interview.
One of them started shouting at me as I walked between the heavily armoured Jackmen.
“The beans are rotting! Can’t you smell it? Thousands of people are starving and the Lords of Giant’s Fall will hoard a mountain of food until it rots, rather than share it out. Green Mountain rots…can’t you smell it?” Her ranting continued even after I got into my buggy and switched the horse into a trot, back down the road towards Giant’s Fall. “...Can’t you smell it?”
Rubbish. The ravings of a conspiracy theorist. That smell is nothing more than the stench of thousands of grubby, unwashed peasants all living and shitting in the same place. The beans don’t rot – everyone knows that. They have lasted for decades under sun and rain and snow, remaining in more or less the same state as when the great Jack Spriggins chopped down the giant vine and sent them scattering across the countryside.
Ridiculous. Even if she was right, and the beans were beginning to rot after all this time, what could I do about it? I’m only one reporter.
Anyway, a person’s entitled to earn a living. I have to get back and file my copy for the autumn issue of The Periodical. There’s a ways to go, and I’m pushing up against the deadline as it is…