There is a knife in Janos's chest!
"Some of it, certainly," he agrees. "Canals, especially; the work of digging them out takes tremendous power. But much of the work of aqueducts and cisterns is a matter for engineers and chemists; creating the cement, for instance, and many parts of selecting the site and clearing the land can and should be done by those local to the region who know the terrain and its characteristics, rather than mages from the capital Gated in for a few days' labor, who know little of local needs."
He pauses. "While of course you cannot carry out any large-scale architectural projects in the current crisis, it might be possible to begin smaller-scale preparatory work - for instance, locating treatises on engineering and having them translated, copied, and distributed to relevant engineers - and while that might take some time, but it would require no labor from Heralds and only that of a few scribes or clerks, and could therefore be carried out with negligible interference with the war effort."
"Locating treatises from the Eastern Empire proper? That - sounds potentially risky."
"To me as well as you, yes," he says drily. "But there are a variety of ways to do it. In ascending order of cost, risk, and expected payoff -"
"First, if you have a copy of any of the eight-hundred-year-old classics sitting around since King Valdemar's day, either in print or in royal archives somewhere, simply increasing the number of copies would allow more architects to know in advance. Selling them might even make a profit for the government, if you let the architects know you were thinking of commissioning engineering projects after the war. Most of our gains in recent centuries have been in efficiency; the basic designs have lasted since the days of the Founders, and the main changes have been in learning to implement them more effectively.
"Second, a visit to either Hardorn - an imperial neighbor - or Rethwellan - famous as a center of learning - might find you some of the standard engineering texts used today in the Empire; all that would take would be an hour or two of Gate-time each way, which I would be happy to provide, and a week in which a few clerks who spoke the local language were given a budget and told to come back with as many books on the topic as they could carry."
"Third, my first-draft model for the trip to the Empire, should we need to do it: Two Hardornens living in Valdemar but speaking native Hardornen would be located, and Gated by me to Hardorn - I would, of course, not speak, cover my face, and wear Rethwellani dress - where they would present themselves as merchants looking to buy books to sell in Rethwellan. They would hire Hardornen merchants in Hardorn to go through a Gate or series of Gates their 'hired mage' raised to the Eastern Empire to purchase books of value in Rethwellan, particularly on civil engineering, agriculture, and metalworking; a week later the Gate would reopen (after scrying to ensure there was no obvious ambush), and the merchants would come through and sell their books to our Hardornen agents at a high agreed-upon price. I could then Gate our agents back.
"This third plan would still be dangerous, especially if carried out so quickly after my apparent death, but the Empire is very large, there are a great many legitimate reasons Hardornen merchants would like to purchase imperial books to sell abroad, and even a secondary provincial capital would still have booksellers. Obviously, we would want to refine this plan before carrying it out; I would greatly value the advice of whoever is in charge of your intelligence network, as well as - should he have time while he recovers - Herald Vanyel, in refining it. But engineering provides investments that will pay off in the future; every aqueduct built tomorrow is an illness that does not spread next week.
"There are, of course, other things I would be happy to do for you; some routine Gating, for instance, if your Adepts are overstretched, or paving roads - but none of that uses my specific skills, and so my comparative advantages are, most likely, engineering and warfare, and the latter - well, I may be able to give you military assistance shortly."
"I'm not sure if we would have any books brought by King Valdemar," Jaysen says. "I doubt he was prioritizing that, when he got out. Vanyel would know if we do have anything, though."
"Are you sure you're up for that many Gates? Savil says that Gates over significant range tire out for the whole day."
Janos nods. "Hence the week-long pause between sending and collecting the expeditions. That gives me time to recover even if I am much more strained than I feel, as well as giving them time to track down rarer texts. To make the trip in both directions the same day would be a strain; if we do execute the third plan, we may want to break the Valdemar-to-Hardorn and Hardorn-to-Empire Gates into two stages to be carried out, each way, over two days, though the primary risk there would, of course, be the increased risk I would be seen in Hardorn and word would reach the Empire of my identity."
They don't know if King Valdemar brought basic engineering texts back from the empire? But those would have been some of the most valuable things to bring! Why wouldn't he have done it?
"And I would greatly value Herald Vanyel's insights into all of these plans a great deal." He pauses. "Either way, I offer all of them as examples of how I might be able to contribute towards repaying you for your help. I am sure there are other plans that I am not thinking of -" teaching their mages more of what he knows, he's honestly somewhat ashamed that only occurred to him now "- that I could execute later. It is simply that - you have done a great deal, for me, and I would like to repay that as soon as I can." Also, speed is one of the main military virtues, and Janos has known he would lead men since before he was five.
"I understand. We're very lucky to have you, and especially lucky that you seem to be - an unusually honorable man, by your Empire's standards."
(Is that horribly awkward to say? Randi has no idea if Janos is going to take offense! It does seem like it's just true, though, and it feels important to convey to Janos that this matter, and that Valdemar would be reacting very differently if he were a more typical specimen of his society. Though probably Vanyel would be able to phrase it better.)
"Anyway. I have other commitments coming up, but perhaps you could meet a little longer with Jaysen and discuss the census-related questions you had."
Jaysen ALSO has kind of a lot on his plate this afternoon, but he conceals his sigh, and just nods amiably.
That is honestly completely true! They are very lucky about that! Janos is still mildly annoyed because his Empire is great and they're doing the metaphorical equivalent of judging its sewer system, but this is actually totally reasonable. If Janos hadn't thought he was genuinely the most competent-and-moral candidate for emperor, he wouldn't have played for the throne.
"Thank you, your Majesty. I understand."
And then he bow and go listen to Jaysen and learn everything he can about Valdemar's demographics.
(Though while he does that, there's something that's been bothering him.
He's running ahead of his evidence, he wants to make a mental note not to be overconfident of that, he's been making a lot of guesses that way, but -
Vanyel seems to be the smartest Herald. The King wants his insights, he knows obscure facts, he's a royal advisor even though the most effective use of him would be as a pure mage, even though every second he's in Haven is one he isn't making roads.
It is ridiculously unlikely that, if you were recruiting for intelligence, the selection-process you would use to decide on a candidate would select the same person as one the one you would use if you were selecting for magical talent. The smartest Herald ought to be someone who traded off Gift-power and optimal-personality-type for intelligence, the most powerful mage ought to trade off personality-type and brains. They could possibly coincide, a lot of magical skill is about intelligence, but Vanyel isn't just skilled, he's five times as powerful as another mage. There ought to be someone smarter than Vanyel somewhere, unless something absurdly unlikely happened, or unless they aren't actually selecting for intelligence.
Which would, actually, explain a lot, especially if overmuch intelligence was considered a cost, since it might make other Heralds notice that the country shouldn't be this poor...)
King Randale and Katha rise to leave. Herald Jaysen asks Janos if he would mind waiting here for five minutes or so while he makes a stop by the Heralds' archives room to grab some reference materials; for a lot of the questions he knows approximately what the situation is but doesn't have exact figures memorized.
That is completely reasonable and Janos will wait!
(Unless this is an opportunity to assassinate him, in which case he will defend himself with magic if he has to. But that goes without saying.)
He's back more like ten minutes later, with a pile of papers and scrolls and a servant. "Would you like something to eat or drink?" he asks, a little stiffly. "I don't know how long to expect it to take, going through all this."
... Okay, not very organized. Let's see what he can do about that. "Thank you, if it isn't too much trouble." While being VERY CAREFUL not to get it ANYWHERE NEAR the valuable papers, of course, he's not three.
And then he's going to learn.
The meeting does, in fact, take several candlemarks. Herald Jaysen himself seems to have it fairly well organized in his head, but ten minutes clearly wasn't long enough to get the papers he grabbed sorted, or even to collect all the documentation he wanted; he apologizes several times for not having exact records on a particular question.
Farming: significantly less optimized than in the Eastern Empire. There is no large-scale irrigation infrastructure. Crop rotation is practiced in most places, but not everywhere; it seems to be up to individual farmers or landholders. They have surprisingly detailed data on crop yields and such, but apparently no mindset that this is worth analyzing, much less intervening on. Some landholdings have higher yields, some have lower, Jaysen seems to think of this as just the way things are. To the extent that they do any ongoing selective breeding of crops for higher yields or other qualities, it's not tracked centrally.
Prevalence of water-mills: fairly good, actually, at least along the Terilee. Just about all population centers big enough to qualify as 'towns' have one, and even some villages do. Jaysen has much less information on the more-recently-settled north and west of Valdemar, though.
Mining: even worse. Valdemar has no good earth-mapping magic; good locations to open mines are found mostly by accident. Locals can request a Herald-Mage for the initial excavation work, but there's generally a long waiting list for this, and at least half of all the mines in Valdemar have been done entirely without magic. Valdemar imports metals from Rethwellan, which has a better state-of-the-art, though Jaysen seems to be half thinking of it as them having better luck with ore concentrations and such. They actually have pretty good magical techniques for smelting, but not enough mages to rely on this Kingdom-wide. Their non-magical methods are...okay, but would certainly produce lower quality iron and steel than what the Empire takes for granted.
Census data: it seems like there are a lot of challenges of execution in between the Heralds on circuit noting down information about every town they pass through - which Jaysen believes is done very reliably - and actually collating this into any kind of central record-keeping. And, to Janos' eye at least, there appears to be a significant bias in the known lifespan and child mortality figures, due to the fact that much of this is tracked by Healers, and thus only known at all in towns and regions that have Healers, which leaves out the poorest areas entirely. Officially, Jaysen believes that about 80% of babies born will reach adulthood, and around half of childhood deaths are in the first year, but he admits that many farmers and smallholders won't actually register a birth with the nearest town's temple or House of Healing until they actually bring in their crops for sale or tax-collection after the harvest, and won't at this point bother to mention any babies who died in the interim. Average lifespan for adults is believed to be around 60, but again, this is going to be biased by the fact that records are kept by Healers and temples.
Jaysen says that for Valdemarans living in towns and cities, about four in ten people attain basic literacy - according to the temple orders, which also provide most education, and of course families that aren't on temple records are not going to be included in the figures so this is likely an optimistic number. King Randale has already been considering ways to improve that. Jaysen admits that they have much less information on farmers and smallholders, but the Guard recruitment records suggest that less than 20% of the young people recruited from rural areas can read to an acceptable level at the time they show up for training. (Though, given that most of the Guard recruits are volunteers, this likely underrepresents the poorest farmers and those who live very far from the nearest town – and, of course, the Guard mostly recruits men, though women are allowed in; Jaysen isn't sure to what extent literacy for women might be lower.)
Janos feels that, if Farm A and Farm B have roughly identical soil and rainfall, and Farm A has twice the yields five years running, there is a presumption has gone very right in Farm A or very wrong in Farm B. He is not sure precisely what, obviously; that's the sort of thing you investigate more, but he thinks that it is important to do even if there is not a literal famine. At the least, trying to make sure that Farm B doesn't have an infestation of bandits or an unusually tyrannical lord or governor might be worth doing, because those are fixable problems.
Building watermills in the north and west is hopefully something the local lords will do, at least the better ones; Janos knows that in some parts of Hardorn running the mill is a lordly privilege, and suspects it may be in Valdemar. If so, 'provide reasonably competent-looking local lord small loan at low rates to build mill in economically marginal location' would be a useful peacetime thing to do, in the event that they have more money than spare time.
Mining... oh no. If he read the map correctly, you need to cross either a mountain range (???) or Karse (!!!) in order to get to Rethwellan from Valdemar, and it is still worth it to import metals from them? Hopefully the map is just very bad. He is not personally a mining engineer, but (a) he knows some earth-mapping magic for military-map-making purposes, and (b) this is actually something that Valdemar can solve in rather the same way it can solve his civil engineering issue, except cheaper, by importing Rethwellani master-miners and having them train locals up to their standards.
The census data is horrifying! The literacy is actually really good if the numbers are at all accurate; that's not on the imperial level, but he's been places where the literacy rate was 'four percent, if you define it broadly', and that was among the men. But the lifespan and childhood mortality figures are less than ideal, by which he means he silently screaming.
On the meta-level, Janos wonders if - again as a thing to do in peacetime once Valdemar has more resources - it might be worth establishing some kind of chancery of non-Herald clerks, who can provide this kind of information without needing to distract anyone on the Senior Council. That way, Valdemar can better and more quickly get the numbers it needs to recognize problems and measure improvements - for instance, if it begins some kind of new government-schooling project (which is absolutely on the long list of things Valdemar could get great benefits out of if it had the budget), it could start it in one region, then compare the gains in literacy in that region to others to see just how much of a benefit it is. The Eastern Empire has had a lot of experience with projects that everyone is convinced are going to go brilliantly that don't work out; careful measurement, good long-term recordkeeping, and torturing to death seriously punishing anyone who fakes project numbers while giving people who simply fail less strenuous postings are all very important to making sure things work out well over the long run.
He is very grateful to Herald Jaysen for all this information, and is going to start thinking about how best to do something with it, other than 'fret'.
Eventually Jaysen excuses himself, begging another commitment. He offers to walk Janos back to the guest wing first, in case he isn't sure of the way. "I would offer to let you hold onto these," he adds as he packs up his papers, "but of course they're in Valdemaran. I suppose we should arrange for a language tutor for you?"
"I would greatly appreciate that, Herald. Thank you for the offer."
Janos is happy to make his own way back to the guest wing! Hopefully he won't run into anyone who doesn't speak Hardornen who will object to him being there.
It's late afternoon by now, and it feels like a much longer walk back than it did on the way there. When he finally reaches his guest suite, a page is waiting there. He doesn't seem to speak more than about ten words of Hardornen - which he may have learned today for this purpose - but he manages to convey that he wants to know if Janos would like supper brought over, and then he holds out a folded message for him.
Janos spends a moment thinking about it while he reads the folded message. (It isn't secret, obviously; if it was, it would have been sneakier.)
Then in that case, he would like a light supper, yes. And he'll be happy to meet Herald Vanyel, here's a return note.
The page runs off with his return note, and about half a candlemark after his departure, supper arrives, along with another note confirming that someone can come meet him after breakfast and show him to Herald Vanyel's room.
Other than this, and a Healing-trainee who speaks slightly better Hardornen knocking on his door later in the evening to check how he's feeling, he's left alone with his thoughts.
Right now, his most important thought is simple: He doesn't know what's going on. He doesn't even know everything he doesn't know, or if he does, his doesn't know it.
He has three mysteries. All of them have possible theories that help explain each other.
The first is the mystery of the Companions. How do they function? Why were they created? What is the motive behind the Call? (How many Heralds does it select, he should ask that. Is it a certain fraction of population, a fixed number, based on the size of the Companion herd which fluctuates... he's somewhat worried about attracting the attention of whatever was responsible, but if he doesn't, he has to understand that. Just what is the entity responsible, and what are its patterns?
The second is the mystery of Valdemar. A normal state spends more than three-quarters of its revenue on civil wars, defusing civil wars, preventing civil wars, and not risking civil wars. A state that did not have that worry should be spectacularly rich and spectacularly powerful, especially if it had eight hundred years of near-perfect peace. How could it possibly still be poor?
... If he wanted to phrase it a different way, he might describe it as the Mystery of the Eastern Empire, though, which isn't quite a normal way to think. To him, the Empire is normal, and Valdemar is the exception. If he asks "what makes prosperity" instead of "what makes poverty," could it be theoretically possible that there's something else that's causing it, some advantage the Empire has that nowhere else does? But that seems so massively unlikely, to him; you can always just build more mills, build more roads, build more canals, and the restriction on that is that they get burned, or damaged, or wasted by incompetent administrators you can't replace because they're very competent generals. For wealth not to accumulate, there would need to be some kind of metaphorical wealth-eating monster, something that doesn't prey on the Empire but does on Valdemar and on every other country in the world.
But the mystery is still there, whatever he calls it. The mystery of Valdemar, and why he was needed.
And the third is the mystery of Vanyel Ashkevron, the most intelligent man he's met in Valdemar, the king's own advisor, and also a uniquely powerful (and uniquely Gifted) mage. Wherever he came from, or however he was chosen, Janos thinks he may be key to this mess. Janos has no idea how to sort out the crisis he's landed in, but he's going to need allies - and if Vanyel isn't working for whoever's responsible, Vanyel may be his own best choice.
He wishes Arvad was here, or one of the other ingenious early scholars who'd been so important to the Empire, the men who knew more of how the world functioned. When they ran out, something went out of the Empire. Cendas might have been their equal, if he hadn't had to spend his lifetime bailing out earlier disasters, if he hadn't had the job of training a successor. They might be better suited to handle this than someone who'd trained his entire life to lead an army that didn't exist, who'd studied magic for moving armies who weren't there, and who learned how to rule with an administration that was more than a thousand miles away.
None of his theories really explain all of them.
The one that is most likely on the face of it is the Lying Government. He's talked to hardly anyone outside the Valdemaran administration; if they're just lying to him, then the world wouldn't make sense because his sources were bad. This doesn't explain the magic horses, but he did meet the magic horse after his brain had been messed with with unusual powers. The downside of this is that by the time they can fake talking magic horses and entire history books that assume talking magic horses, they're nigh-omnipotent and he cannot know anything, and if they aren't faking talking magic horses, then he has at least one major problem to worry about.
The least silly is Coincidence, because Coincidence is always the least silly. Vanyel's just a lucky roll of the dice, the Heralds are one of the rare interventions of the gods that makes the world better, and some string of foreign wars, petty noble rebellions, and monsters out of the Pelagirs happened to keep Valdemar's economy backwards, and it's a miracle it made it this far. If this theory is true, all his industrialization plans will work unless an actual coincidence stops them. The problem with this theory is that that's a lot of coincidences. A lot. Sometimes there actually are that many coincidences, but he still has trouble believing it.
And the one that fits best is the Evil Call. Why is Valdemar poor? The price of the no-civil-war magic. The god that shaped Valdemar was (and either is or is-by-proxy) optimizing for the-state-of-current-Valdemar; a peaceful agrarian kingdom with starvation, poverty, and regular famines. It has the problem that an extremely capable hostile force optimizing for evil goals is rather an arbitrary thing to posit; there's no particular reason to assume a god would want this other than that this exists, though gods can want strange things. In this case he should just go to Rethwellan and try to build his empire there... except that the theory has trouble explaining Vanyel. It needed him on the inside rather than on the outside? But he's been going around without bodyguards; surely it wouldn't be too hard to get him killed?
... He's in his twenties, Janos and you first met him in the hospital after he'd been badly stabbed. Ugh.
Well, there's always the theory of Something You Haven't Thought Of. That one's always very likely.
And at that he sleeps, wards up as always, ready to wake once so that he'll be able to wake ever again, if he needs to.