Senator Tsibola is once again relaxing in his brother-in-law's study, sipping brandy to conclude a fine meal.
Tsibola: That fish was superb, Jon. Pass my compliments to your housekeeper, will you? But don't give her ideas: the Senate dining room would be a waste of her talents.
Fennik: Ah, well, I wouldn't worry about that too much.
Tsibola: She has been with you a long time, hasn't she?
Fennik: Yes, and she's quite content to look after the house, cook my dinner, and go home to her family.
Tsibola: Loyalty like that is hard to find, in this modern age.
Tsibola, like many reactionaries, thinks of the distant past as a "golden age".
Fennik: She's well paid, and well treated. The work isn't hard, and I let her know I appreciate it. She's not ambitious.
Tsibola: It's rare to find an employee who is content to stay in her allotted place.
Fennik: She's older than I am, Ruthven. She's not interested in taking over the Senate dining room kitchens.
Fennik knows her husband is retired, and thinks she's probably glad to get away from him, as well as needing the income.
Tsibola: Fortunately, my colleagues will never know what they're missing. I'd hate to add to the partisan animosity in the Senate.
Tsibola takes a sip of brandy.
Fennik gestures appreciation for the attempt at humor and leans back comfortably.
Tsibola: Well, perhaps I'm being disingenuous. I'll admit, there are some kinds of partisan animosity I rather enjoy.
Fennik: Indeed. Dare I say you thrive on it?
Tsibola: Well, I don't go out of my way to cause trouble -- it's usually counterproductive to make enemies -- but there's nothing dishonorable about taking advantage of a situation. Quite the opposite: it's the only way to advance our principles in the political arena.
Fennik: So what has the opposition done now? Or is it one of the smaller parties this time?
Tsibola: It's looking as if Pollovic has become vulnerable. Another seat closer to a majority, if it turns out well.
Fennik: I thought the flap over his donation had died down. Don't tell me somebody's come up with another slant on it?
Tsibola: It's died down, mostly, although it can be raised again, as necessary. However, a new scandal has risen to take its place.
Fennik is none too pleased to hear of Ruthven's willingness to raise it again, but he's not surprised by it.
Fennik: A new scandal?
Tsibola: Yes. Do you remember that treaty I was working on, a while back? The one that proposed running cattle back and forth across the border, in Pollovic's district?
Fennik: I believe so.
Tsibola: Well, there have been some difficulties in implementing its terms.
Fennik swirls and sips.
Tsibola: The locals seem to be a particularly stiff-necked group, who don't understand the advantages to having real industry in their area. On both sides of the border, I might add. They've been actively sabotaging the efforts of the cattle companies.
Fennik: Sabotage? Really?
Tsibola: Most of it's been petty harassment: running the cattle away from certain meadows and water holes, claiming that they're reserved for sheep, and refusing to sell supplies to the cattle herders. In fact, Mister Shrub -- do you remember him? A big party supporter, collects Ancient artifacts?
Fennik: Said artifacts being of not entirely well-established provenance?
Tsibola: Well, he's a hobbyist, not an archaeologist. He does the best he can. I had lunch with him last week. He's joined a consortium that purchased three hundred cattle, to be grazed in the area.
Fennik nods, and sips.
Tsibola: From what he says, it appears the treaty will fail, without firm leadership, which Pollovic is in no condition to supply.
Tsibola says this with a certain amount of ~~ relish ~~.
Fennik: But won't that reflect badly on you?
Fennik knows there must be some way that it will be a good deal worse for Ruthven's opponents than his own party or he wouldn't be so pleased about it.
Tsibola: Somewhat, but I have political capital to spend, and Pollovic doesn't. Furthermore, if I can use my political capital to improve the situation, while Pollovic is unable to do so, any criticisms should be leveled at him.
Fennik passes his hand over his hair. He wonders how long it's been since he actually believed that the people running his country had the country's benefit in mind, and not their own petty power struggles. A very long time, but he still regrets his lost innocence.
Fennik: What do you propose to do?
Tsibola: At the moment, not much. I have offered Shrub some personal assistance: he's having trouble buying supplies locally for his drovers, so I've agreed to let him use part of the General Metals warehouse on the Sime side to store supplies shipped in from the larger cities.
Fennik: Some farm machinery warehouse?
Fennik doesn't know much about livestock ranching, but can't figure out why else GMM would have a warehouse out there.
Tsibola: I believe so. Used for trans-border shipments, more than local sales.
Fennik nods, and refills the glasses.
Tsibola: Not much will happen over the winter, I expect: the area's pretty remote. However, I'll have my staff assemble what information is available on the area, and see whether the situation warrants more careful study, up to a full investigation. If Shrub's assessment of the situation is right, this might be the breakthrough that could start the balance of power shifting back towards common sense.
Fennik is getting rather mellow on the brandy.
Fennik: There's an Ancient novel about the struggles between sheep and cattle ranchers out there. It will be interesting to see how it develops in our world.
Fennik wonders if any literature will come out of this struggle. He doubts it, but you never know. Most likely it won't be valued until after he, and the author, are dead.
Tsibola: It's an odd area, to be sure, and not just in the poor choice of a herd animal. Sheep aren't particularly suited to the area.
Fennik: I suppose they're more useful to people who don't eat meat.
Tsibola knows nothing about the secret, entomological profession of the shepherds, or its incompatibility with cattle.
Tsibola: They eat meat on the Gen side, and I'll admit lamb is tasty enough, but there's more meat on a cow than a sheep.
Fennik: More wool on a sheep than a cow.
Fennik suddenly wonders what Fridda is doing. He hopes she's taking good care of herself, and is ready for the winter in Capital, which is much colder than New Washington.
Tsibola: Which gives you another market you have to develop. Well, I suppose they have their traditions. All thirty-odd years of them... the area was wiped clean during the Unity War, and resettled by retiring soldiers.
Fennik: Our soldiers?
Tsibola: And theirs.
Fennik is a little startled.
Fennik: Each on their own side of the border, I assume.
Tsibola: Yes. In theory. Although the lines have blurred a bit, over the years. There's a lot of traffic across the border, for such an isolated area.
Fennik: I suppose people might visit their Sime relatives in-T.
Tsibola: According to Shrub's people, it goes a lot farther than that.
Tsibola: The farmers trade labor, and pasturage, and shop on both sides of the border regularly. He said there are some places, on our side of the border, mind you, where Simes regularly go without retainers.
Fennik thinks this sounds like an unreasonable risk, but lower class people often take unreasonable risks, for no apparent good reason.
Fennik: And nobody shoots them? What's this, Ruthven, a bunch of shepherds have achieved true unity?
Tsibola: Well, technically, it isn't illegal for a Sime not to wear retainers in Gen Territory. It simply doesn't count as murder if he's mistaken for a berserker and shot.
Fennik: True. Well, if they're giving the cattlemen a hard time, then, it can't be due to simple prejudice against New Washington. There is some problem about sheep and cattle sharing a range, but I haven't read that book since graduate school. It isn't complete anyway. Perhaps you should look into it -- the sheep ranchers may have a legitimate complaint.
Tsibola: You know these rural types: they reject progress out of hand, if it involves an outsider. Now tell me, what do you hear from Fridda?
Fennik smiles widely.
Fennik: Ah, Ruthven, she's doing very well. I had a letter from her last week. She sends her love, and says she hopes to see you again, perhaps, someday.
Tsibola: Perhaps, someday.
Tsibola isn't as opposed to the idea as he might have been, once.