The next morning Emmeline found herself knocking at the door of her own manor for a second time in as many days. Rhozenn answered and told her that knocking, for her, was completely unnecessary here. It took a minute to sort things out between them, but in the end Emmeline managed to establish that “my lady” need not be used in reference to herself and that she was not disappointed in the small size and poor condition of the manor.
Still Rhozenn seemed wary. Her husband Riok had come home yesterday energized and even looking younger than he had in years. He was even less hunched to his wife’s eyes. This was something Rhozenn was grateful for, but didn’t understand.
When Riok arrived, Emmeline had many questions and he did his best to answer them.
“So villeins are what you call peasants tied to the land?”
“Yes, my lady.” She couldn’t make Riok stop calling her that.
“Okay, so that means they are not free?”
“They are serfs, my lady, but not slaves. We all serve the land here.”
Emmeline digested that. Somehow it seemed right that people should serve the land. The land deserved to be taken care of, didn’t it? But she wasn’t sure she liked the implications of having serfs. “I see. The land needs people to work it and to take care of it and livestock and all those things. I do understand that. But… what if someone wants to do something different?”
“As I said, my lady, they are serfs, not slaves. It is traditional that should a serf wish to leave the manor — that is to say, to leave their obligations to land and manor here — they may do so for a fee.”
“Is it unreasonably expensive for a serf to afford that?”
Riok shrugged. “I wouldn’t really say so, my lady. After all, any time a serf must leave or otherwise cannot work the land, then you must either find a replacement or everyone else must work that much harder to get everything done that needs to be done. Therefore a tax called chevage is levied. It’s the equivalent of two chickens, each time a serf leaves the manor, to a maximum of 10 silver a year.”
Emmeline thought about that. “Well. That doesn’t seem unreasonable… Okay, so what other taxes or rules are there?”
“Well my lady, aside from the chevage, there is the filstingpound, foddercorn, gersum, heriot, legerwite, maltsilver, merchet, tallage, wardpenny, and woolsilver. Maltsilver, wardpenny, and woolsilver is simply paid for in labor, whilst the filstingpound tends to vary.”
Emmeline’s eyes glazed over halfway through the list of unfamiliar words. “Um… That sounds like a lot, Riok.”
“Actually, each of those are quite specific in circumstance. For example, tallage is a tax that is collected but once per year, others only apply during certain circumstances and many things are simply paid for with produce from your own lands. So really, nearly all of it’s yours anyway. The people here just work things for you and in exchange they also enjoy the benefits of livestock and produce as well as your protection.”
“Yes my lady. Of course they do not expect you to be standing around, sword in hand, ready to strike down bandits. They understand that the baron’s protection extends to them through you. And of course matters of justice are things I can deal with in your name, or send up to Uzec in the case of serious crimes like murder.”
“Even so, it sounds like I have a lot to do here. There must be fields to manage, inventories to take, village functions to oversee…”
Riok smiled, “Actually, my lady, that is the task of the steward — which is myself. Because we are quite small, I also fill the rolls of bailiff and reeve, though it might be nice if some volunteer from the village might take on the reeve’s duties. It would leave me with a little time to perform as a warden again…” He looked hopefully at Emmeline.
She nodded, “Of course. Whatever a reeve might do, if it is a help to you then we should have one. But Riok, what am I to do?”
“Why, my lady, you must fulfill your obligation to the baron. I can handle things here for you, but only you can answer your duty to the barony.”
“I have a two week obligation to the baron per year,” Emmeline said.
Riok nodded. “Then the baron has been most generous to you, my lady. Often service requires much more than that.”
“Yes. For example, many land holders must perform military service or pay to avoid it, as well as provide counsel and justice duties.”
Emmeline looked puzzled. “Huh.”
“Problem, my lady?”
“Well, I really have no idea what my obligations are other than ‘two weeks of service per year’.”
“It sounds to me like a token requirement.” Riok raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps my lady is already performing some service?”
Emmeline blushed in embarrassment before recovering. “Oh! I see what you mean. I suppose I am in that I will be mentoring his daughter over the course of much of next year and running an errand on the way. But I agreed to do all that before any mention of this fief was made, so I still wonder what my obligations will be.”
“Only he can tell you that, my lady.”
“Then I need to stop and see him one more time before I leave Uzec,” Emmeline said. “Thank you for your help, Riok.” She then counted out a few gold coins and pressed them into his hand. “Should you need to contact me, this should pay for a blue cap courier. It may be expensive because I can’t tell you where I might be over the course of the next year.”