"So what can you do to increase the income from your lands? You build a new town. You attract people to live in your new town by offering them special tax breaks, special liberties spelled out in the town charter. Basically, you free the townspeople from feudal obligations."
"Why do you give them these breaks?" one of the men said.
"Because pretty soon you'll have merchants and markets in the town, and the taxes and fees generate much more money for you. You charge for everything. For the use of the road to come to the town. For the right to enter the town walls. For the right to set up a stall in the market. For the cost of soldiers to keep order. For providing moneylenders to the market."
"Not bad," one of the men said.
"Not bad at all. And in addition, you take a percentage of everything that's sold in the market."
"Really? What percentage?"
"It depended on the place, and the particular merchandise. In general, one to five percent. So the market is really the reason for the town. You can see it clearly, in the way the town is laid out. Look at the church over there," she said, pointing off to the side. "In earlier centuries, the church was the center of the town. People went to Mass at least once a day. All life revolved around the church. But here in Domme, the church is off to one side. The market is now the center of town."
"So all the money comes from the market?"
"Not entirely, because the fortified town offers protection for the area, which means farmers will clear the nearby land and start new farms. So you increase your farming rents, as well. All in all, a new town was a reliable investment. Which is why so many of these towns were built."
"Is that the only reason the towns were built?"
"No, many were built for military considerations as -- "
Marek's radio crackled. It was Elsie again. "André?"
"Yes," Marek said.
"You better get over here right away. Because I don't know how to handle this."
"Why? What is it?"
"Just come. Now."
The generator chugged loudly, and the farmhouse seemed brilliantly lit in the dark field, under a sky of stars.
They all crowded into the farmhouse. Elsie was sitting at her desk in the center, staring at them. Her eyes seemed distant.
"It's impossible," she said.
"What's impossible? What happened here?"
Marek looked over at David Stern, but he was still working at some analysis in the corner of the room.
Elsie sighed. "I don't know, I don't know. . . ."
"Well," Marek said, "start at the beginning."
"Okay," she said. "The beginning." She stood up and crossed the room, where she pointed to a stack of parchments resting on a piece of plastic tarp on the floor. "This is the beginning. The document bundle I designated M-031, dug up from the monastery earlier today. David asked me to do it as soon as possible."
Nobody said anything. They just watched her.
"Okay," she said. "I've been going through the bundle. This is how I do it. I take about ten parchments at a time and bring them over here to my desk." She brought ten over. "Now, I sit down at the desk, and I go through them, one by one. Then, after I've summarized the contents of one sheet, and entered the summary into the computer, I take the sheet to be photographed, over here." She went to the next table, slipped a parchment under the camera.
Marek said, "We're familiar with -- "
"No, you're not," she said sharply. "You're not familiar at all." Elsie went back to her table, took the next parchment off the stack. "Okay. So I go through them one by one. This particular stack consists of all kinds of documents: bills, copies of letters, replies to orders from the bishop, records of crop yields, lists of monastery assets. All dating from about the year 1357."
Excerpted from Timeline by Michael Crichton. Copyright© 1999 by Michael Crichton. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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