Up From the Mud
Saul Mason is the current Lord Regent of Balos, holding power until the infant King Phineas comes of age.
Mason met the late Bartabas when they were both youths, the King (the Crown Prince) having fled his castle in a tantrum, taking up the guise of a common orphan. Mason’s father (also named Saul) adopted the boy he thought was a simple wretch. The two boys lived as brothers for three months until the royal guard identified the young Prince, who was restored to his family after successfully arguing that the elder Mason be spared a sentence for kidnapping. Young Saul eventually inherited his family business when his father died, and shortly thereafter when Bartabas did likewise, the two were reunited, kindling an unlikely friendship. Mason was often called upon during Bartabas’ reign to consult on how a royal policy might affect the common folk.
Later in life, while the King still called upon Mason as his trusted counselor, the two grew personally more distant; Mason felt his opinions were given progressively less weight as the Balosi noblemen pressed more heavily upon their king, and particularly the Decree of Free Access became a breaking point in their relationship.
Shortly after the Decree, Queen Elspett gave birth to the royal family’s third and final child; she took ill during the birth and passed on six bedridden weeks later. During this time, Bartabas named Saul godfather to his third son, Phineas, in a document known only to himself, Mason and the cleric who performed Phineas’ anointment. Though at the time, this was merely a bittersweet conciliatory gesture between the two men, as a third heir’s godparent is never actually called upon to be the child’s caretaker, it is this document which later would secure Mason’s position as Lord Regent.
When the rebellion of the Crofters first began, Mason had risen high in his guild (largely thanks to his royal favor), and argued that the masons and other guilds should stay out of affairs between the peasants and their lords. When the rebellion turned to outright war, however, Mason’s mind changed and he became instrumental in bringing the laborers to the side of the Crofters, and becoming himself a highly-respected leader of the opposition (though his rivals painted this as mere political opportunism). Mason wrote letters to the king asking for an early, peaceful resolution to the crisis, but when those letters went unanswered, he left Balstead, traveling from village to hamlet raising other laborers and tradesmen to the cause.
The latter years of the war were as devastating to Saul as they were to the land itself; the cause which led the Crofters to take up arms in the first place was lost against the territorial struggle brought in by armies of distant lands. Mason himself only narrowly escaped the marching Chritene army on its way to besiege Bluff Harbor, sneaking into the city during the Flight of Brightside. It is there that the Crofters’ spy network managed to extricate the Temple document naming Saul as caretaker over the only remaining heir to the throne. Connections within the city were able to prove his case, and Mason overruled the word of Baron Pilius, brother to the King, who had been ordering their forces to fight on while Bluff Harbor starved. Peace terms were set, the invading forces removed, and the Lord Regent set his mind toward helping the kingdom survive through the looming winter.
As Lord Regent
The year that Mason has spent since assuming his title has not been without incident. Very shortly after moving to Balstead, he narrowly survived an assassination attempt which is widely believed (but never proven) to be the work of Pilius, at the head of a network of nobles (including many in the family Tiplis) bent on removing what they see as a commoner upsetting the natural order. In response to the attempt, Mason exiled all non-essential members of the royal house from Balstead, sending them back to their own lands, inadvertently convincing even more nobles of his intent to remove them entirely.
While preoccupied with consolidating his position against entrenched rivals, Mason had two other serious problems facing him: the kingdom he “inherited” was in ruins after eight years of war, the last two of which were fought almost entirely in lands which owed fealty to his crown. Having made peace in autumn, yet another winter loomed with depleted stores everywhere; while many more survived than would have had the winter come and gone with the kingdom still at war, many still died, and more than a few survivors blame their new leader for the loss.
Second, the throne still has yet to resolve the repeal of the Decree of Free Access; the peace terms demanded a return to hereditary land ownership as the Custom says, but Mason has been unclear on whether this means that the land rights “purchased” by the Coiner Princes will be revoked or whether they will simply be prohibited from selling again in the future. For his part, while the Coiner Princes’ actions ostensibly instigated the war, Mason’s only alternative may be to restore land rights to a nobility which has already attempted to murder him once and sees him as nothing but an existential threat to their way of life.
Despite these setbacks, a great many reforms have been made. First and foremost, the Crofters’ central demand is still honored: no matter who might hold rights over land in Balos, landholders are no longer permitted to forbid anyone to work land for lack of payment; they may require what land rents they wish, but must always accept one-tenth of the harvest, no matter how high the rent might be in coin. This reform has permitted lands which the Coiners had forced peasants from to be sown again, contributing to the first bumper harvest the land has seen in a decade. Mason has elevated the position of the trade guilds and allowed them to increase apprenticeships, which has sped along construction of works destroyed in the war. Additional lands have been given over to the Temple in recognition of their work caring for veterans, widows and orphans.