On The Effects Of A Lack of Urban Planning and The Costs of Sprawl
Several caskets of roast beast takeaway, delivered earlier after being signaled for by horn, littered the expansive oak table. A great canvas screen stood at one end of the hall. A drawing of the manor and its surrounding environs as they appeared today decorated its surface. It was painstakingly done, each thread and brushstroke perfectly conveying where things were in relative distance.
Niccolo Gogoli was proud of his Gogoli Earth, portrayed here on this accurately flat surface. It had taken years to perfect the system, and hundreds of thousands of man-hours, but one of the upsides of a famine was that labor prices plummeted like a star heralding the death of a king. He would have to scratch that thought, he needed this king alive to pay his bill.
The King, of course, sat at the far end of the table, a twin pair of ground lenses pressed to his naked eye, to better see the display. The King was portly, though not in a morbid fashion, and wore the kinds of clothes Niccolo believed he himself should, and would, be wearing.
“Zoom in!” he cried, and two attendants lifted his chair and rushed him forward a bit. “Scroll right!” Again, his chair was lifted, and scooched to the right. Niccolo’s assistants scrambled to set up the next canvas screen, directly adjacent to the first.
“One moment, your Grace, it’s loading.”
Once the maps were joined, Niccolo, reflecting a torchlight off a mirror, pointed out the areas suitable for improvement.
“A manor can be turned into a fort, as I’m sure you know,” Niccolo said. The king nodded.
“Every man needs a fort. Keeps the French off your damn lawn,” the King noted adverblessly.
“But what we’re offering, is a chance of a lifetime. If you act now, we’ll skip straight from manor to castle, bypassing the time-consuming fort stage, at a 38% savings!”
It was clear from the expression on his face that the King had never dealt extensively with numbers beyond cavalry, so Niccolo decided to try a different tack.
“Sir, Lord, um, your Highnessish,” Niccolo began, as the King ate the roast beast with relish, in a verbally unclear fashion. “While all your fellow royalty muck about in manors, building forts with their spoils, we can apply the same amount towards building you the kind of castle Louis himself would be impressed with! Especially if he were to see the itemized account receipts!”
The king put down his meat for a second, to take a swig of wine. He nodded for Niccolo to go on. Niccolo, in turn, turned to Andreas, his most trusted, and financially competent, assistant.
“Most castles,” said Andreas, “are square-shaped, increasing volume and driving costs through the roof! There is a direct square relationship between increase in perimeter and increase in area, and I know I’m not the only one at this table who thinks that’s a waste of money, am I right, King?” The King eyed Andreas’ container of take-out.
“I propose building a straight line, two sides to a wall. You can live in it, you can live on it, and you’ll cover more country side than you would have with the same amount of material!”
“Less stone?” The King was now interested. Most of his stone quarries, Niccolo knew, had been dug up to hurl at the French. Also, because the King wanted a mountain view from his bedroom window, and hadn’t believed in sprawl and urban planning at the time.
Andreas nodded. “Also, and stop me if I’m wrong, but you’re a man of terror. You believe in it, you revel in it, you want your enemies, and your friends, to fear you.” The King smiled.
“Now, King, I know you’re big for putting heads on walls. Where we’re from, they tell stories, the great head-king, they call you. Seriously, can’t make that up, can’t buy that kind of press.”
“Press?” said the King.
“Short for pressure you put on other kingdoms to keep it in line.” Andreas smiled loosely. He could tell they were minutes away from sealing the deal, and then it was silk-city.
“But heads have a problem, don’t they? Yes, they rot, and you have to get new ones! Where are you gonna get all those heads?”
The King was excited, this seemed to be a more participatory part of the presentation. “I can take my enemies heads!”
“Yes,” agreed Andreas, “but what about when you have no enemies?”
The King frowned. He hadn’t considered that, but it was true, people were getting sick of war. Even the French had been well-behaved, probably as a result of all his mounted heads. “My own people?”
“But then who will you rule?” Andreas could see he had him. “I propose we craft stone heads. They’ll require a little upkeep, sure, a bit of the old spitshine every now and then, but they’re long-lasting, and more importantly, you can make them scarier!”
“Scarier than real heads?”
“Oh yes,” assured Andreas. “Why, you could craft demons’ heads and the heads of werewolves, and even a head of your mother-in-law,” ribbed Andreas.
“I don’t want to do repeats,” the King replied. “I like your idea, though, when can we start?”
It was several years after the King saw the final bill that the castle was finished, with a few changes to design along the way. Most notably, the addition of a stables house on the West, two fireplaces the Queen had insisted upon to keep out the draught, and two non-demonic heads, with northern Italian features, adorned the South wall, their faces covered in both expressions of terrified suffocation, and a thumbs-width layer of mortar.