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Governor Tarbilla Nighthill wanted to stab someone. A Kobold, a mercenary, hell even a dragon. It didn’t really matter. Just a good solid hour of stabbing was what was needed to improve her mood. It wouldn’t make the numbers in front of her look any better, nothing was going to do that, but violent aggression would at least provide a little stress relief after what had been a miserable few days.
Unfortunately, there was no one around who deserved a good stabbing, and from what the figures she’d collected were saying, the previous ‘miserable few days’ were merely the precursor to a long stretch of even harsher days to come.
“You look like you could use a drink,” Escobert said, waving a glass jug of some dwarven concoction that could melt rock like it was made of spun sugar.
“You are not wrong about that,” Tabilla said and shoved a tall empty flagon across the desk as Escorbert took a seat to join her.
Escobert filled the flagon and returned it to her, his eyes searching her face, perhaps looking for a sign of hope? Tarbilla wished she felt like she had any to offer.
“I’m guessing you’re not liking the sums you’re seeing there?” Escorbert said. It wasn’t really a question. They both knew the reality that the math was able to confirm.
“It’s not all bad news,” Tarbilla said. “We held the keep and the mill. That counts for a lot.”
“Maybe so,” Escobert said. “The question is, can we hold the town together after something like this?”
Tarbilla inhaled and looked for the confidence a leader was expected to show. Confidence in this case being a lie she could convince herself to believe.
Exhaling she looked into Escorbert’s eyes and saw that a lie wasn’t needed. He wasn’t here for a fiction, or the truth. He was here for her.
“I don’t know,” she said, feeling smaller even than the limits of her halfling stature.
“What’s our first challenge going to be?” Escorbert asked.
“Food’s the first issue,” Tarbilla said. “We’ve got stores set in that can last us a good bit, but those are emergency supplies. Granted, this is exactly what they were meant for, but once we run those down, we’re going to be that much more vulnerable to a rough winter, or if the next harvest is a poor one.”
“Those are problems for another day, but I take your meaning,” Escobert said. “We can’t afford to forget about the future if we’re planning to have one.”
“That’s what makes this even more challenging,” Tarbilla said. “Right now, we can support the people we have, but only by burning up our reserves. Our people can live in the keep for a while but they won’t start being productive again until they can rebuild their homes and get their businesses up and running.”
“And without the taxes on that, we’ve got nothing to refill our reserves with,” Escorbert said, nodding in agreement as he followed the point she was making.
“Exactly. And then there’s the farmers,” Tarbilla said. “We’re just past the second harvest.”
“So they’re all flush with the money from the sale of their surplus,” Escorbert said. “Or they were I guess.”
“Right. This was the ideal time for the cult to hit us. Thankfully they didn’t burn the crops in the fields, so we still have the fall harvest, but that’s going to need to see us through the winter. Sadly, one harvest will only manage that if we have enough people to work all of the fields until then.”
“You think we’ll see a lot of people leave?” Escobert said.
“Between the families we lost, and the ones that are too scared to leave because the raiders could come again?” Tabilla asked. “Yeah, I think we’re going to lose more than few.”
“More land for the rest to work with then, right?” Escobert said.
“Maybe not,” Tarbilla said. “The ones who are leaving may not be wrong to be moving on.”
“What do you mean?” Escobert asked. “The land’s still good, and we’re still on the same trade road we’ve always been on.”
“That’s part of the problem,” Tarbilla said. “We’re still valuable, which means there are going to be others looking to plunder what the Dragon Cult didn’t take. Especially since we’ve been weakened by the raid.”
“Sounds like more shifts for the guard,” Escobert said. “My team’s not going to be happy about that, but they’ll make do.”
“For the short term, that’s probably what we’ll have to do,” Tarbilla said. “But long term we need more. Our people saw what our current guards were able to do in the face of a serious attack.”
“To be fair, there was a dragon involved,” Escobert said, his tone growing defensive.
“There’s nothing fair about a dragon,” Tarbilla said. “And that’s more or less the point. Your guards weren’t meant to handle things like dragon attacks and cult invasions. We asked them to patrol the town and help keep the peace. Now we need something more. Something that will convince the people that it’s worth rebuilding here.”
“I see the problem,” Escobert said. “That’s going to cost us, dearly, and we’ll need it sooner than later, when right now is the time when we can least afford a bunch of new expenses.”
“It’s not just that either,” Tarbilla said. “Even if people want to rebuild, the Cult took everything of value they could lay their hands on. No one has the money they’d need to construct new houses, or buy new inventory. Even getting seeds for next spring is going to be difficult for some of the crops.”
“That’s a rough spot then, it is,” Escobert said. “What kind of options do we have though? Must be some choices we can still make about all this?”
“Few good ones,” Tarbilla said. “If we can bring in a full harvest in eight tendays or so, that will give us the food to make it through the winter. That’s vital. I think we can keep the people focused on that in the near term, and we can use the guard to try to make sure they’re safe enough in the fields.”
“That’s going to involve everyone pitching in where they can,” Escorbert said. “Maybe I can recruit some new guards to give us better coverage?”
“We’ll need that, in the fields and in town,” Tarbilla said. “By the time the harvest comes in, we’ll need to have at least some of the houses and buildings repaired. If we keep everyone living in the keep in tents through the winter, they’ll go stir crazy and kill each other before another raiding party has the chance.”
“What then? Once the harvest is in and people get a chance to catch their breath, they’re going to start thinking about the long term.”
“I’m sure they’ll be thinking about the long term well before then,” Tarbilla said. “Once the harvest is in though that’s when there’ll be nothing to do but think about rebuilding. If people can’t start on that after the harvest, I think we’ll see them begin to drift away. They’ll want to get settled someplace new before the winter hits, or they’ll start making plans for the spring that don’t involve working all winter on a place they intend to leave anyways.”
“What happens if too many of them choose to head elsewhere?” Escobert asked.
“The keep has ongoing costs, as does the guard,” Tarbilla said. “If we drop too low, we’re not going to be able to support those. The keep can last a while with poor maintenance, but it’ll be a sign to anyone who’s left or who’s thinking of moving in that we’re declining. Losing the guard is much worse though.”
“Don’t have to convince me of that,” Escobert said. “Those are some brave people we’d have to let go.”
“And I’ll be sorry to see them leave,” Tarbilla said. “But if it comes to it, we’ll have to disband them all. We can’t send them out alone, or in patrol groups that are too small. Having one guard protecting the outer farms means we lose a guard in addition to the farm when something attacks, and the people get another object lesson in how we can’t keep them safe even when we try. If we enter that downward cycle, we’d be better off letting go of Greenest as it is, and rebuilding it as nothing more than a small stopping point on the trade road.”
“There’s a problem with that too though, isn’t there?” Escorbert asked.
“The raiders,” Tarbilla said. “Anything that we do that keeps Greenest alive, also marks it as a target for the next set of raiders that wants to plunder us. If next summer the Dragon Cult decides they need some more money and loot, a smaller Greenest will be an even easier target to overwhelm. Or maybe it will be the Hobgoblins, looking to clean up the remnants the cult left behind. Or maybe a company from Amn decides to march up and claim some new territory since we’re such easy pickings.”
“So if we lose the guard, we lose the town then?” Escobert asked. “How soon will we be able to tell if it’s going to come to that?”
Tarbilla leaned back and sighed.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Probably not till after the harvest. I think we can keep things together till then. If we’re smart, and we work hard with everyone? I think we can make it that far at least. Beyond that though? If we don’t have a way out of this bind by then? I just don’t know.”
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