19 The Prime Minister
As soon as Frederick stepped into the Palace he was accosted by a bear of a man.
"Your Highness. We need to speak, right away." The distinctive deep voice of the Prime Minister and the serious tone gave Frederick no room to refuse. Before Frederick could get a word in, the Prime Minister had already turned his back and begun to walk in the direction of his office.
Frederick shook his head, slightly annoyed, this insufferable man seriously did not treat him as if he were the Prince. The current Prime Minister had held his office for just over a year and had served the previous Prime Minister as his deputy for almost five years. After the previous Prime Minister suffered a stroke and died three days later, Frederick's Father had no reason to refuse his promotion.
As a result, he had a terrible attitude towards what was in his view an inexperienced Frederick, even though he had not been in his position for too long either. However, Frederick had to give kudos to the man, after all he was an administrative genius. It was an open secret that the only reason the previous Prime Minister had been able to remain in his position for so long was half because he had a good relationship with Frederick's father and the other half being the miracles that came from the hands of the so-called Administration God.
Max was a self-made man, he was the epitome of the meritocratic arrangements of the Court. Born in a poor village in the south to a family of farmers and the youngest of five children. In the span of twenty years, Max had gone from uneducated peasant, to the highest public office in the land.
It was said that Max had taught himself how to read and write from reading a book that a travelling priest had given to his parents many years ago. With no interest and no real prospects of inheriting the family property, at the age of eighteen he left his village for Dern, the largest city in the south. There he managed to pass the test to become a member of the local tax bureau as a mere tax inspector.
Twenty-years ago, whether it was due to his diligence or his fortune, Max managed to bust a slave ring within his first year as a tax inspector. What should have been a simple case of overdue taxes became a full-throated investigation that reached into the Court in Erlangen itself.
Dern's largest inn, the Southern Boar, had been behind paying their taxes for the year. Since its establishment, the inn had never paid taxes, while on paper it had, however the newly appointed Max was unaware of this arrangement between the previous handler and the inn. As a result, he went and met the owner to inform them that their taxes were overdue. In that meeting however, the owner offered him a bribe as per usual, to overlook the situation, but Max became infuriated at the actions of the owner and stormed out of the building after warning him that there would be dire consequences.
Fortunately for Max, he had cultivated a good relationship with the Head of the Tax Bureau in Dern. The Dern Tax Chief had always had doubts about the establishment actually paying their taxes, but he had been unable to investigate it too deeply as it was owned by a powerful noble in the Capital. However, upon being informed by Max that he had been offered a bribe, he now had just cause to openly investigate the inn. The Dern Tax Chief used his friendly relationship with Dern's Governor and sent men to arrest the owner of the inn on charges of attempted bribery.
However, the owner of the inn when interrogated by the city guards ended up spilling out some surprising information. The guards and officials had thought that he would simply admit to attempted bribery and as a result would be fined a large sum and sent to prison for a year. However, in an attempt to curry favour with the guards and officials he started giving information on the vast conspiracy that operated from his inn.
It turned out that his inn was a front and the employees, which happened to be all female were in fact slaves. They had been either sold by their poor families, abducted or smuggled in from neighbouring countries. These women would work there for a few months before they would be sent to the Capital and from there, be sold off. Many ended up as sex toys for deviant, rich men while others were sold to those unscrupulous slave merchants that would smuggle them out of the country. However, some were fortunate enough to be bought by sympathetic families who would eventually free them, but this rarely ever happened.
This news caused a political earthquake. The Tax Chief immediately informed the Governor who then immediately dispatched a messenger to rush back to the Capital to inform the Prime Minister.
Slavery had been banned only sixty years ago (from present day) across Agenor. In a surprise move during one of the octennial conferences, the delegation from the Great Frankish Empire managed to secure the support of the other great powers to effectively abolish slavery. The delegation of the time was led by the so-called Philosopher Prince, who under normal circumstances would have become the next Emperor of the Frankish Empire. His idea of freedom, that came in the form of the abolishment of slavery was tolerated by the nobles in the Empire, as they did not really stand to lose much from it. In fact, they found it made their 'servants' happier and more productive than before, whereas they used to serve reluctantly, now that they were free people, they served their masters happily and no longer harboured thoughts of violence.
However, when the Prince attempted to promote the concept of equality, that was removing the different treatment of peasants and nobles, the nobles went ballistic. After all, if they no longer held their privileges and was treated the same as peasants, then what made them qualified to hold their high positions and live in their beautiful mansions. As a result, they did everything they could to stir up trouble for the Prince and he was eventually chased out of the Court and stripped of his title of Crown Prince. Mysteriously enough, two years later the Prince suffered a hunting accident and passed away. The people of the Empire mourned for a week, while the Imperial Court merely acknowledged it and moved on.
Everyone that had a brain saw that his death was no accident, but no one bothered to investigate, after all what was the point. It would not bring the dead back. So, the lessons of the Philosopher Prince combined with the failures of Frederick's Great-Grandfather showcased the power of the nobles across Agenor. Ever since these events, all the Royal Families across Agenor were essentially put on notice and the Philosopher Prince was treated as no more than an idealistic fool.
Erlitz at the time had been recovering after the civil strife between Frederick's Great-Grandfather and the nobles of the time. His eighteen-year old Grandfather had only just ascended the throne and upon the proclamation from the Octennial Conference, had only been able to secure perfunctory support from the still unruly nobles. As a result, it was never strictly enforced and so, many noble families that still had toes in the slavery business merely moved their overt operations underground.
However, over the past forty years (from the time of the slavery ring event), societal attitudes towards slavery had changed dramatically, what was once openly accepted had become in the general public's view a means of oppression and had become a flashpoint of discontent between the lower-class and the nobles.
As a result, when Frederick's Grandfather passed away at the age of fifty-eight, Frederick's Father sought to project a different and strong image. He began a major crackdown on crime across Erlitz, he had the strong support of the Court and the Prime Minister who similarly wished to start laying down a legacy.
Therefore, when the news reached the Prime Minister and the new Grand Prince, they seized upon it as an opportunity to set the tone for their legacy and rule respectively. The Prime Minister vigorously investigated the slavery circle in Erlangen and was even granted three hundred Royal Guards to carry it out.
It took nearly three months to root out the slave masters, the identities of which shocked the nation upon revelation. There was a wealthy wine merchant that had opened orphanages in all the major cities of Erlitz. The investigation also revealed the mastermind behind the ring, which was none other than the head of a major noble family in the Capital. It effectively ruined the von Barenz family, as the family head, who served as Foreign Minister at the time was stripped of his post and was attainted. His family and title would be no more. There were various other minor noble families that were incriminated.
However, even though the investigation was a great success, the fact that a Minister, who had even been recommended by the Prime Minister himself, left no other choice for the old man but to resign from his post. Fortunately for him, the people of Erlitz were very forgiving of the old man and did not blame him for the criminal conduct of his subordinates, especially something as deeply hidden as this. Instead they were grateful for his efforts, after all had he not decided to investigate as thoroughly as he had, there was no guessing how many more lives would be ruined in the days to come.
Fortunately for Max, the man who started off this chain of events, his efforts were not left unnoticed. In fact, he had been summoned by the Prime Minister the day he received notice of the conspiracy. He placed Max in the investigative team and he quickly gained merit for his diligence and intelligence. As the final act as Prime Minister, he had Max promoted and placed under the Tax Minister's department, from there he slowly climbed up until he succeeded his boss and a few years later became Prime Minister.
At the age of thirty-eight, Max was Erlitz's youngest Prime Minister ever and Frederick felt that his ego had grown a little too big. Frederick knew that he had to make Max submit, or he might as well give up the throne. After all, as the saying went, no mountain could contain two tigers.