"In the end, we saved nearly half of the cardamom crop from the fire," said Gorsen at the monthly Official Moot of Dren Mafferhame. "Some of that is a bit smoke-bitten, but we've found a buyer in Ulmarn who isn't too particular about that so long as the price is low enough. That leaves nearly a third of the total crop that we can sell at the usual price. Which is better than we might have hoped when we saw the barn ablaze."
The farmers of Dren Mafferhame drooped their antennae in unison. The cardamom crop was the village's biggest source of income. To be sure, they didn't need to fear going hungry: they grew a hundred kinds of vegetables for their own use, and to sell, and they could feed themselves gluttonously even if every cash crop and half their food-crops failed. But Dren Mafferhame depended on the cash from the cardamom for spades and blades and brocades and the hundreds of material things that made village life pleasant. They would get few luxuries this year. And even necessities could be troublesome. Probably they would have to choose between, say, whether to buy a much-needed replacement plow, or a much-needed collection of textbooks for their children.
"Then we come to the hay. I hardly can complain that Vanilla and Greeper chose to salvage cardamom rather than hay," said Gorsen. "Still, all the hay that was in the new barn is burnt up, or so sooted and smoked that only a very hungry beast will eat it." Perhaps the village would get neither plow nor books; perhaps it would need to pay for fodder instead. "We've sent the children out to the swamps to gather reeds, and to the forest for ferns, and we'll save the hosh-stalks." Neither one would be the best of fodder: reeds dry badly and are very coarse, and ferns are none too nutritious, and too many hosh-stalks give horses ulcers.
"Finally, the new barn itself. It is not completely useless. But the bemas are burnt badly, the walls are warped weirdly, and I am none too confident that the building will hold up to blizzard or winds." There was a low murmur of grumbling, especially from the farmers who had worked to build the barn in the first place, chopping trees and sawing planks and raising the roof and all.
"Who was it, again, that had agreed to see to the fireproofing of the new barn?" asked Gorsen, who knew the answer perfectly well.
"It is I," said Tansy.
"It is Tansy Noritt," said Gorsen. "And why was the fireproofing not accomplished?"
"Well, we were all very busy you see, and the fire-mage had written to us and asked us to send a rider with a spare horse to Vheshrame to pick him up and bring him out. And all the horses were busy with the cardamom harvest and things, you see, so we couldn't until after the harvest. He was going to come out, let me see, a week and a day from to-day," said Tansy. "Anyhow, who ever heard of a barn burning down less than two weeks after it was finished?"
"It has been a bit of bad luck," agreed Gorsen. "And what of the funds for the fire-mage, which are now futile?"
"We'll have most of them back to the village in a few days," said Tansy.
Gorsen frowned, for she hated surprises, especially bad ones. "You don't have the money that we had set aside for fireproofing the barn?"
"We needed some money in Vheshrame, when we went there to take care of Ellie," said Tansy. "We'll be selling some of our things, and we'll pay the village back when they're sold."
"That is not acceptable! We don't begrudge you the funds, Tansy, not when little Ellie is hurt. But you know that you must ask for them! You can't simply embezzle them off of us without mentioning it."
"It was an emergency," said Tansy. Which was an underestimate: it was, at least, two emergencies at the same time.
"Why'd you do it, Tansy?" said Gorsen sadly.
"We'd just burned down the new barn and spoilt the crops," said Tansy. "We didn't feel good about asking the village for money just then. We were sure we could pay everyone back before anyone asked about it."
"Oh, Tansy," said Gorsen.
Tansy fell to zir knees and elbows, and wept.
"We'll be paying for everything: the money we used, the barn, the hay if we need to buy some, the cardamom even," said Allam, putting a hand on his mari's back.
The villagers gasped. The Noritts and Rounses were among the poorest families in the village: together they had only half a percent or less of the village's land, a small house that the two families shared, and not much past the necessities.
(But they had love and they had courage, at least.)
(Neither of these were immediately marketable. (Actually love, or a tolerable approximation thereof, is marketable in Kismirth, but never mind that.))
Gorsen thought a moment. Ordinarily, she would reject Allam's offer. A good Herethroy village shares risks as evenly as possible, so that nobody and no family is devastated by bad luck, and so that everyone is taken care of. But the Noritts and Rounses had had more than simply bad luck. They had been wicked, embezzling from the village. They had been careless, driving along the bluffs at night. They had been greedy, striving to heal their cosi of a minor non-incapacitating injury. And they had wrecked her beloved carrage and hurt her beautiful mares.
She gave an alarmingly harsh judgment. "You shall pay back the money for the fireproofing, but we will not require of you to pay any more than half of the other monies that you have offered." All the villagers gasped and murmured. "You have until the end of winter to make arrangements."