The three commissioners strode into the chamber and took their seats. The chairman nodded to the clerk, who had a pile of thick folders in front of him. The clerk announced that the folders were proposals for reorganisation of Hawkus Bay, a produce and grape-growing area to the East.

“Hawkus Bay?” frowned the chairman. “Lawrencus country. Sheep worshipers and winemakers. Always been a rather dubious combination, if you ask me.”

He closed his eyes for a moment. He had known Lawrencus Yulus for some time. He recalled his dark curly hair, twinkling eyes and a smile like a used-chariot salesman. A man with friends in high places.

He looked down at the pile of folders.

Throne of Heretuscany

“Do we have to read them?” he asked the clerk. “We already know what they’ll say.”

“The Napierions are terrified of being forced to get into bed with the hordes from Hustings. They won’t touch Lawrencus with a 40-metre barge pole and will bar entry to their city by ‘earthy types’, which includes farmers, orchardists and freezing workers, and anyone whose surname begins with the letter Y.

“I hear the Warrior Queen herself is hanging up her whips and putting away her boots. The plotters are already slinking around her throne like wolves, including that peculiar fellow Bertus.

“And they tell me that Bullish Doltus has formed a group he’s called DAD – Don’t Attack Deco – to defend Napierion from an imposed merger. He claims it would be undemocratic if citizens did not get a vote on any amalgamation proposal. Spends too much time with the Greeks if you ask me.”

The clerk leaned forward with a folder marked Heretaungus Enlargus.

“What’s this,” said the chairman. “Not some sort of mail-order catalogue is it?”

The clerk smiled awkwardly.

“I think you’ll find this proposal from Hustings is a little more ambitious than the Napierions. Not surprisingly, Lawrencus wants the lot, from Wairorus in the north to the settlements of the Central Bay of Hawks to the south. And by wiping out the regional consul and getting his hands on their wealth, his coffers would no longer be mortgaged to moneylenders.”

The chairman nodded and rubbed his nose.

“That has Lawrencus’ subtle touch all right. He knows that by crushing the fiefdoms in the city of Jafa in the north, the Senate knew the rest would be left fighting for survival. And I’ll wager that he won’t be able to resist the lure of being first to sit on the Throne of Heretuscany.”

The clerk opened a folder titled Hawkus Improvus.

“This is the proposal to amalgamate the Hawkus Bay councils into one body from a group calling itself A Betterforus Hawkus Bay, “ he said.

“They take the one-toga-fits-all approach. Cost savings would come from cutting staff in town planning departments and re-employing them on minimal salaries as chariot parking wardens.”

“What did Lawrencus think of that proposal?” asked the chairman.

The clerk slid out another folder. “Enough to copy it, but there’s a problem.”

“Problem?” asked the chairman.

The clerk slid out a third folder with the title, Boldus Movus on its cover.

“It’s Fentus Fulsome, the regional consul chairman. He’s pushing for a pre-emptive strike on lands to the south as far as the Capital’s border. The whole plan is set out in this proposal. He’s got diagrams, maps and a picture of himself on a horse. It’s a very good likeness.”

“Great Jupiter,” said the chairman. “He must have been planning this for years.”

“No, Fentus said he wrote the proposal himself at 2 o’clock in the morning, after dreaming he was flying over green hills and lush pastures fed by a grid of canals. They were linked to a huge inland sea set in the foothills of the mountains. Farmers whistled happily as cattle waded in the streams.

“A voice told him ‘this land is your land’. When he awoke he drew a plan to invade the southern end of the island. Then he drew a big dam and coloured it blue. He says he wants to turn the whole of the lower North Island into a water theme park, where animals graze on lush green paddocks fed by dams.”

The chairman frowned.

“Animals?”

“He did mention dairy cows,” replied the clerk.

The chairman furrowed his brow.

“I know his type. We call them Otter Men. They’re descendants of the great Otter Men Empire and wherever they settle, they start building huge dams. Just like otters. You can’t stop them.”

“I bet Lawrencus is desperate to get his hands on the consul’s coffers before they spend the lot on the dam. But you can’t stop an Otter Man when he gets water on the brain.”

He looked up.

“I don’t think we need to spend any more time on this.”

“We can’t let the regional consul grab great chunks of territory just because the chairman has watery dreams about cows. If that’s the best they can do then we can safely do without them.

“And the Napierions have been holed up inside their walls for so long they’ve lost track of time. Amalgamation would improve their dress sense at the very least.”

The clerk nodded.

“Which leaves us with the Lawrencus plan and the initial proposal, which are largely the same thing,” he said.

“In summary, they give no indication of the level of public support for amalgamation; the potential for savings seems largely unknown but minimal at best; it would involve setting up a one-stop-shop bureaucracy in the region; it would put the people further away from decision-makers; and probably removes their right to vote on amalgamation anyway.”

The chairman put his pen down and smiled.

“They tick all the boxes. So it’s five into one. Should have done it years ago.”

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