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STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jul 22, 2012 10:22 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 30

"How's the development coming on that 'hydro-pneumatic recoil system' you've been working on with Captain Rahzwail and Commander Malkaihy?" he asked.

"Pretty well," Houseman replied. "We had a little trouble with the gaskets and seals initially, and the machining tolerances are awfully tight. We have to do more of it with hand tools, hand-held gauges, and individually fitted pieces than I'd really like -- the templates in the different manufactories aren't as consistent as I could wish, even now -- but I suppose that's inevitable, given how recently we got around to truly standardizing measurements. Amazing how much difference there was between my 'inch' and, say, Rhaiyan's! That didn't matter as long as we were only worried about what we were making, and not about how well parts from our shops would fit anyone else's needs. And those machine tools people like Zosh and Nahrmahn have been putting together still aren't quite up to the tolerances I'd prefer. They're getting there, and quickly, but we've still got a ways to go. Why?"

"But your fittings and steam lines and air lines are holding up? Meeting the pressure levels you were describing to me last month?"

"Yes." Howsmyn eyed the cleric narrowly. "It's still more of a brute force approach than I'd really like in some cases, but they're working just fine. Again, why? You're headed somewhere with this, Paityr."

"Well, I know you and Merlin deliberately steered Master Huntyr and Master Tidewater towards reciprocating engines because you want them for ships, and I don't really disagree with your logic -- or with what I understand of it, any way. But I've been thinking about how they'd actually work. The turbines, I mean. About the way steam pressure would drive the vanes to provide power."

"And?" Howsmyn prompted when Wylsynn paused.

"Well, what if instead of steam, you used air? And what if instead of turning the turbine to produce power, you used air power to turn something like a turbine to do work?" Wylsynn grimaced, clearly trying to wrap the words around a thought still in the process of forming. "What I mean is that the machines you'd run with electric motors if you could . . . Couldn't you power them with compressed air, instead? If you built air lines to the workstations you're talking about, couldn't you use air compressed by steam engines -- like the way you're powering the forced draft on your blast furnaces -- to drive the 'machine tools' your 'assembly-line' would require?"

Howsmyn stared at him, his expression completely blank. He stayed that way for several seconds, then shook himself and sucked in a huge breath of air.

"Yes," he said, almost prayerfully. "Yes, I could. And without all that damned shafting and all those damned drive belts that keep crushing hands and arms no matter how careful we are! My God, Paityr." He shook his head. "I've been so focused on other aspects that this never even occurred to me! And it would be a perfect place to develop turbines after all, too. Running compressors, high RPMs would actually be good!"

His dazed expression was fading rapidly into a huge grin, and he punched Wylsynn on the shoulder, hard enough to stagger the priest.

"You can't run a turbine efficiently at low RPMs, and you can't run a propeller efficiently at high RPMs. That's why Domynyk and I went for reciprocating engines. They run a lot more efficiently at those lower RPMs, and trying to cut the reduction gears we'd need to make turbines work for the Navy would've put an impossible bottleneck into the process. Either that or we'd have to run them at such poor levels of efficiency fuel consumption would skyrocket. We'd be lucky to get half as many miles out of a ton of coal. But for a central compressor to power a manufactory full of air-powered machine tools, the higher the RPMs the better! I wasn't worried about that when we were talking about powering the blast furnaces or pumping water out of the mines. I was too busy thinking about the need to get the Navy's engines up and running, so of course we concentrated on reciprocating machinery first! After all, turbines were mostly the way to power those electrical generating stations we can't build anyway -- it never occurred to me to use them to power compressors! That's brilliant!"

"I'm glad you approve," Wylsynn said, rotating his punched shoulder with a cautious air.

"Damned right I do!" Howsmyn shook his head, eyes filled with a distant fire as he considered opportunities, priorities, and difficulties. "It'll take -- what? another five or six months? -- to get Zosh and Nahrmahn headed in the right direction to put it all together, but by this time next year -- maybe sooner than that -- I'm going to have a genuine assembly-line running out there, and I'll be able to put it in from the very beginning at Maikelberg and Lake Lymahn!" His eyes refocused on the priest. "Our efficiency will go up enormously, Paityr, and it'll be thanks to you."

"No, it'll be thanks to you and Master Huntyr and Master Tidewater," Wylsynn disagreed. "Oh, I'll gracefully accept credit for pointing you in the right direction, but what Merlin calls the nuts and bolts of it, those are going to have to come from you and your greasy, oily, wonderfully creative henchmen."

"I don't think they'll disappoint you," Howsmyn told him with another grin. "Did I tell you what Brahd suggested to me last Tuesday?"

"No, I don't believe you did," Wylsynn said a bit cautiously, wondering what he was going to have to bend the Proscriptions out of shape to permit this time.

Brahd Stylmyn was Howsmyn's senior engineering expert, the man who'd designed and overseen the construction of the canals for the barges freighting the thousands upon thousands of tons of coal and iron ore Howsmyn's foundries required down the Delthak River. His brain was just as sharp as Zosh Huntyr's, but it was also possessed of a bulldog tenacity that had a tendency to batter its way straight through obstacles instead of finding ways around them. The term "brute force approach" fitted Stylmyn altogether too well, sometimes, although there were also times, to be fair, when he was capable of subtlety. It just didn't come naturally to him.

"Well, you know he was the one who laid out the railways here in the works," Howsmyn said, and Wylsynn nodded. Like many of Howsmyn's innovations, the dragon-drawn railcars he used to transport coal, coke, iron ore, and half a hundred other heavy loads were more of a vast refinement of something which had been around for centuries but never used on the sort of scale he'd envisioned.

"He did a good job," Howsmyn continued now, "and last five-day he asked me what I thought about laying a railway all the way from here up to the mines. I told him I thought it was an interesting idea, but to be honest -- given how much we were already moving with the canals open, especially now that we're able to get steam into the barges, we were unlikely to be able to move enough additional tonnage, even with dragon traction, to justify the diversion of that much iron and steel from our other projects. That was when he asked me why it wouldn't be possible to take one of our new steam engines, squeeze it down, and use it to pull an entire caravan of railcars."

"He came up with that all on his own?"

"You just called my henchmen 'wonderfully creative,' Paityr," Howsmyn replied with a broad, proud smile. "And you were right. I thought I might have to prod one of them with the suggestion, but Brahd beat me to it. In fact, he was practically dancing from foot to foot like a little boy who needed to go when he asked me if we couldn't please divert some of our priorities to let him build his steam-powered railway."

"Oh, my." Wylsynn shook his head. Then he took another long sip of whiskey, lowered the glass, and his gray eyes gleamed at the industrialist. "Clyntahn's going to burst a blood vessel when he hears about this one, you know. I guarantee it, this time, and I really wish we could have the opportunity to watch him froth when he does."

"We won't be able to watch," Howsmyn agreed, "but I'm willing to bet we'll be able to hear him when he finds out." The ironmaster raised his glass in salute to the intendant. "Maybe not directly, but I can already hear the anathematization crackling down the line towards us. Makes a nice sizzling sound, doesn't it?"
*
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Jul 25, 2012 9:33 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 31

.VI.
Shairncross House,
Marisahl,
Ramsgate Bay,
Raven's Land.

Weslai Parkair glowered out the window at the gray sky. He regarded the handful of soggy snowflakes oozing down it towards the equally gray steel of Ramsgate Bay through the chill, damp stillness of a thoroughly dreary morning with glum disapproval, not to say loathing.

Not that it did any good.

The reflection did not improve his sour mood, although the weather was scarcely the only reason for it. He knew that, but the weather was an old, familiar annoyance -- almost an old friend, one might say. It was less . . . worrying than other, more recent sources of anxiety, and he was a Highlander, accustomed to the craggy elevations of his clan's mountainous territory. That was why he hated the winter climate here in Marisahl. He neither knew nor cared about the warm current which ameliorated the climate along the southern coast of Raven's Land and the northwest coast of the Kingdom of Chisholm. What he did care about was that winter here was far damper, without the proper ice and snow to freeze the wet out of the air. He'd never liked the raw edge winter took on here in Marisahl, where the drizzling cold bit to the bone, and as he'd grown older, his bones and joints had become increasingly less fond of it.

For the last dozen years or so, unfortunately, he'd had no choice but to winter here. It went with the office of the Speaker of the Lords, just one more of the numerous negatives attached to it, and as his rheumatism twinged, he considered yet again the many attractions of resigning. Unfortunately, the clan lords had to be here, as well, since winter was when they could sit down to actually make decisions rather than dealing with day-to-day survival in their cold, beautiful clan holdings. It wasn't that life got easier in the winter highlands, only that there was nothing much anyone could do about it until spring, which made winter the logical time to deal with other problems . . . like the Council of Clan Lords' business. So all resigning would really do would be to relegate him to one of the un-upholstered, backless, deliberately spartan benches the other clan lords sat in, thereby proving their hardihood and natural austerity.

Might as well keep my arse in that nice padded chair for as long as I can, he thought grumpily, and then smiled almost unwillingly. Clearly I have the high-minded, selfless qualities the job requires, don't I?

"It looks like it may actually stick this time, dear," the small, petite woman across the table said, cradling her teacup between her hands. Zhain Parkair, Lady Shairncross, was eight years younger than her husband, and although his auburn hair had turned iron gray and receded noticeably, her brown hair was only lightly threaded with silver. Twenty-five northern summers and as many winters had put crowsfeet at the corners of her eyes, he thought, but the beauty of the nineteen-year-old maiden he'd married all those years ago was still there for any man with eyes to see, and those same years had added depth and quiet, unyielding strength to the personality behind it.

"Umpf!" he snorted now. "If it does, the entire town will shut down and huddle round the fires till it melts." He snorted again, with supreme contempt for such effete Lowlanders. "People wouldn't know what to do with a real snowfall, and you know it, Zhain!"

"Yes, dear. Of course, dear. Whatever you say, dear." Lady Zhain smiled sweetly and sipped tea. He glowered back at her, but his lips twitched, despite his sour mood. Then his wife lowered her cup, and her expression had turned far more serious.

"So the Council's reached a decision?" Her tone made the question a statement, and her eyes watched him carefully.

"What makes you think that?" he asked, reaching for his fork and studiously concentrating on the omelet before him.

"Your smiling, cheerful mood, for one thing," his wife said serenely. "Not to mention the fact that you're meeting this morning with Suwail, whom I know you despise, and Zhaksyn, whom I know you like quite a lot."

"You, woman, are entirely too bright, d'you know that?" Parkair forked up another bite of omelet and chewed. The ham, onion, and melted cheese were delicious, and he took the time to give them the appreciation they deserved before he looked back up at Lady Zhain. "And you've known me too long, too. Might's well be a damned book where you're concerned!"

"Oh, no, Father! Never anything so decadent as a book!" The young man sitting at the table with them shook his head, his expression pained. "Mother would never insult you that way, I promise!"

"You have three younger brothers, Adym," Parkair pointed out. "That means at least two of you are spares. I'd remember that, if I were you."

"Mother will protect me." Adym Parkair smiled, but the smile was fleeting, and he cocked his head in a mannerism he'd inherited from Lady Zhain. "She's right, though, isn't she? The Council has made a decision."

"Yes, it has." Parkair looked back down at his omelet, then grimaced and laid aside his fork to reach for his teacup once more. "And, to be honest, it's the one I expected."

Zhain and Adym Parkair glanced at one another. Most Raven Lord clan heads tended to be more than a little on the dour side -- enough to give teeth to the rest of the world's stereotypical view of them and their people. Weslai Parkair wasn't like that. Despite his only half joking distaste for anything smacking of "book learning," he was not only warm and humorous but pragmatic and wise, as well, which had a great deal to do with how long he'd been Lord Speaker. Yet that humor was in abeyance today, despite his best effort to lighten the mood, for he was also a devout man, and the question which had occupied the Council of Clan Lords for the last five-day had been a difficult one for him.

"So the Council's going to grant them passage?" his son asked quietly after a moment, and Parkair grimaced.

"As your mother just observed, nothing else could possibly constrain me to spend a morning talking to that ass Suwail," he pointed out. "The thought doesn't precisely fill me with joyous anticipation."

Adym smiled again, very faintly. Although he was barely twenty years old, his father had initiated him into the clan's political realities years ago. No one was immortal, Lord Shairncross had pointed out to his thirteen-year-old son, and having to learn all those realities from a standing start after the responsibility landed on him was scarcely the most auspicious beginning to a clan lord's tenure. As part of that initiation process, he'd and systematically dissected the character, strengths, and weaknesses of every other major clan lord for Adym. Fortunately, Raven's Land was so sparsely populated there weren't all that many clan lords to worry about. Unfortunately, one of those clan lords was Barjwail Suwail, Lord Theralt.

Suwail had never been one of his father's favorite people. Partly because the burly, dark-haired Lord of Clan Theralt had competed strongly for the hand of Zhain Byrns twenty-five years or so earlier, but most of it had to do with Suwail's personality. Lord Theralt had always seen himself in the tradition of the corsair lords of Trellheim, despite the fact that the Raven Lords had never been a particularly nautical people. Aside from a fairly profitable fishing fleet, there simply hadn't been any Raven Lord mariners to provide him with the "corsairs" he needed, but he'd proposed to overcome that minor problem by making Theralt Bay available to freelance pirates of other lands in return for a modest piece of their profits.

Suwail's activities had been . . . irritating to King Haarahld of Charis, who'd sent a squadron of his navy to make that point to Lord Theralt some twelve years ago by burning Theralt's waterfront, which had made a quite spectacular bonfire. He'd made it to the rest of the Raven Lords by sending the same squadron to Ramsgate Bay and not burning Mairisahl's waterfront.

That time, at least.

Adym's father, who'd just been elected Lord Speaker, had been the recipient of that visit's warning, and some of the other clan lords had been in favor of sending a defiant reply back to Tellesberg. Not because any of them had been fond of Suwail, but because they were Raven Lords, and all the world knew no one could threaten Raven Lords! Besides, they weren't a maritime people. Charisian warships might burn the coastal towns to the ground, but not even Charisian Marines were going to advance inland to tackle the clans in their valleys and dense forests. Lord Shairncross had managed to talk them out of anything quite that invincibly stupid, pointing out that the only Raven Lord who'd actually been chastised was Lord Theralt, who'd obviously brought it upon himself. In fact, he'd argued, the Charisian response had been remarkably restrained, under the circumstances.
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jul 29, 2012 9:02 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 32

Suwail hadn't cared for his position, or for his own certainty that Shairncross had been privately delighted by what had happened to him, but he hadn't been particularly popular with his fellow clan lords even before he angered Charis. The Council had accepted its new Lord Speaker's advice, which hadn't done anything to improve relations between Clan Shairncross and Clan Theralt. Still, all of that had been eleven whole years ago, so of course all the bad blood had been given plenty of time to dissipate, Adym thought sardonically.

"I thought Suwail was opposed to the idea, Father," he said out loud, and Parkair laughed harshly.

"Suwail's been opposed to the anything coming out of Charis ever since he got his fingers burnt along with his waterfront. Say what you will about the man, he does know how to hold a grudge. Probably because there's nothing else in his head to drive it out. But, give Shan-wei her due, he's greedy enough to set even a grudge aside for enough marks. In his case, at least, it was never about anything remotely approaching a principle, at any rate!"

Lady Zhain made a soft noise which sounded remarkably like someone trying not to laugh into her teacup. Her husband glanced at her, then looked back at his son.

"I'm sure he's going to hold out for as handsome a bribe as we can screw out of the Charisians, but once he's paid off, he'll be fine with the idea. And Zhaksyn's been in favor of it from the beginning. He's the logical one to serve as our liaison with Eastshare. As long as he doesn't end up letting the Charisians buy us too cheaply, anyway."

Adym nodded, but his eyes were thoughtful as he reflected upon what his father hadn't just said. He knew Lord Shairncross had been badly torn by the request the exhausted Chisholmian messenger had carried to Marisahl, and he respected his father's position, even if it wasn't quite the same as his own.

Weslai Parkair was a loyal son of Mother Church, and he'd raised his heir to be the same. The thought of openly permitting a Charisian army to march across Raven's Land to enter the Republic of Siddarmark for the express purpose of aiding Lord Protector Greyghor against a Temple Loyalist uprising had caused him immense pain. A Lord Speaker was traditionally neutral in any matter brought before the Council of Clan Lords, and he'd observed that neutrality this time, as always. Yet no one who knew him could have doubted how difficult he found the decision.

Poor Father, Adym thought. Such a good man, and so loyal to such a bad cause. And the real hell of it, from his perspective, is that he knows it's a bad cause.

They'd talked about it, just as Adym had discussed it with his mother, and his father knew they didn't see eye-to-eye on this particular topic. But Lord Shairncross was too astute a student of human nature not to understand the very thing his faith and loyalty to Mother Church insisted he deny.

And it helps that Bishop Trahvys knows it, too, Adym thought. Of course, he's more like a clansman than a mainlander these days himself!

Despite its impressive size, Raven's Land's tiny population was too miniscule to support an archbishopric. Instead, it had been organized into a single bishopric, and its climate, combined with its relative poverty and lack of people, meant it had never been considered any prize by Mother Church's great dynasties. Trahvys Shulmyn was the scion of a minor noble in the small Border State duchy of Ernhart, who'd never had the patrons or the ambition to seek a more lucrative post.

And he was also a very good man, one Adym suspected was much more in sympathy with the Reformists than his masters in far distant Zion realized.

"I know this is a hard decision for you, Weslai," Lady Zhain said now, setting down her cup and looking into her husband's eyes across the table. "Are you going to be all right with it? I know you too well to expect you to be comfortable with it, no matter what the Council says. But are you going to be able to live with it?"

The dining room was silent for several seconds. Then, finally, Parkair inhaled deeply and nodded.

"Yes," he said. "You're right that I'm never going to be comfortable with it, but these aren't 'comfortable' times."

He smiled faintly. It was a fleeting expression, and it vanished as he looked back out at the slowly thickening snowfall.

"I never thought I'd see a day when the sons and daughters of God had to choose between two totally separate groups of men claiming to speak for Him and the Archangels," he said softly. "I never wanted to see that day. But it's here, and we have to deal with it as best we can."

He turned away from the window and his eyes refocused as he looked first at his wife and then at his son.

"I know both of you have been . . . impatient with me over this issue." Adym started to speak, but Parkair's raised hand stopped him. "I said 'impatient,' Adym, and that was all I meant. And, to be honest, I've been impatient with myself . A man ought to know what he believes, where he stands, what God demands of him, and he ought to have the courage to take that stand. But I've been wrestling with myself almost since this war began, and especially since the Ferayd Incident and what happened in Zion last winter. What should be clear's been nothing of the sort, and even if it had been as simple and clear-cut as I wanted it to be, a clan lord has obligations and responsibilities. A man can take whatever position God and his conscience require of him and accept the consequences of his actions, but a clan lord, responsible for all the folk who look to him for leadership -- his decisions have consequences for far too many people for him to make any decision this important impulsively. And in the quiet of his own thoughts, he has to ask himself whether or not he has a right to take all of those other folk with him to wherever he ultimately decides to go."

It was very quiet in the dining chamber, and his eyes were dark as he looked back and forth between the two most important people in his own life.

"Mother Church was ordained by Langhorne himself on God's own command. We owe her obedience, not simply because Langhorne created her, but because of the reason he created her -- to be the keeper of men and women's souls, the guardian of God's world and all of His children's hope of immortality. And yet . . . and yet. . . ." He shook his head, his expression sad. "Mother Church speaks now with Zhaspahr Clyntahn's voice, and what she says has driven a wedge into her own heart. Bishop Trahvys has done his best to mitigate that here in Raven's Land, but not even a man as good as he is can hide the harshness of that voice. Or the fact that he finds himself in disagreement with so much of what it says."

He shook his head, his expression sad.

"I don't know how it started, or why Clyntahn and the others" -- even here, even now, he avoided the term "Group of Four," Adym noted -- "sought Charis' destruction. But I do know that if I'd been Haarahld Ahrmahk, I would've responded exactly the way he did. And there's no question in my heart or mind that it's Vicar Zhaspahr who's truly driving this schism. Maybe he's right to do that, and Langhorne knows a true servant of Shan-wei must be dealt with severely, as Schueler commanded. Yet the doctrine he's announced and the policies he's set are only widening the schism. They're justifying this 'Church of Charis'' defiance of the Temple, and I understand how someone like Maikel Staynair or Sharleyan of Chisholm or Cayleb Ahrmahk can see only the hand of Shan-wei herself in the Inquisition's actions. None of which changes the fact that by defying the Grand Vicar's authority, they threaten to completely splinter Mother Church.
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Aug 01, 2012 9:13 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2121
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 33

"And that's why things have been so far from clear-cut for me. But clear-cut or not, we're called to make decisions, and the Council's decided. I can't pretend I find myself in wholehearted agreement with that decision, yet neither can I ignore or deny the arguments of those who pushed for it . . . or that Bishop Trahvys 'happened' to find himself called away from Mairisahl Cathedral on urgent business the five-day he knew we'd be debating it."

He touched his plate, with its half eaten omelet, and his expression was cold, his eyes as hard as Adym could remember ever having seen them.

"It can't be God's will for His servants to deliberately starve women and children in the middle of winter. Not children." He looked up to meet his wife's gaze, and those hard eyes were haunted now. "Not babes in arms, not children who never had the chance to choose. That much I do know, even if I know nothing else in the entire world." His voice was deep, with the pain of a clan lord who'd seen malnutrition in his own lands in far too many winters. "And the instructions to destroy that food came from Zion itself. There are enough of our own people in the Republic for me to know Eastshare and the Charisians've told nothing but the truth about that, and whatever else may be true, Mother Church would never have given that order. It came from the Grand Inquisitor, and so, in the end, we have to choose -- to decide -- whether or not Zhasphar Clyntahn speaks for God as well as His Church.

"I don't know what will happen to the Church in the fullness of time, and no matter what, I'll never be able to draw my own sword against her. But if someone doesn't prevent this from continuing, if someone doesn't stop it, this schism can only become permanent. Mother Church will be broken forever, beyond any hope of healing, because the Reformists will have no choice but to break with Zion and the Grand Vicar completely and permanently. And whatever the Grand Inquisitor may think, he'll never be able to crush the hatred he's fanning."

He shook his head sadly.

"I may not be the theologian he is, but I've spent fifty years watching human beings. We clansmen are stubborner than most, and we pride ourselves on it, yet we're not all that different from others when it comes to it, and not even Vicar Zhaspahr can kill everyone who disagrees with him. He seems determined to try, though, and if he persists, if no one stops him, the wounds Mother Church has already suffered can only become eternal. Only Shan-wei can profit from that, and I fear, fear to the bottom of my heart and soul, that the only power on Safehold that can stop him now lies in Tellesberg . . . and that it can stop him only by the sword I can never draw against her myself. That . . . fills me with shame, in far too many ways, yet all of my grief and all of my shame can't change the truth into something else."

Adym Parkair looked at his father, hearing the pain and recognizing the honesty, and he reached across the table to touch Lord Shairncross' forearm.

"I think you're right, Father," he said quietly. "I wish you weren't, but I think you are."

"Of course I am." His father patted the hand on his arm gently as he tried to inject some lightness into his tone. He didn't succeed in that, but he managed a smile, anyway. "Of course I am. I'm a wise and experienced student of men, aren't I?"

"That's what you've always told me, at any rate," Adym responded in kind, and Lord Shairncross chuckled.

"You should always trust your father," he assured his son, then straightened his shoulders and reached for his teacup once more.

"On a more pragmatic note," he continued, "telling Duke Eastshare he couldn't march through Raven's Land would've been . . . ill advised, I think. Our clansmen are almost as stubborn and bloody-minded as they like to think they are, but there aren't very many of us. Not enough to stop a Chisholmian army, much less a Charisian one, with all those newfangled weapons, from marching pretty much wherever it chooses. And the Charisian Navy doesn't really need our permission to sail into places like Theralt Bay and land supplies for that army, either. That idiot Suwail discovered that a few years back, if I recall correctly."

His smile was tart, but this time it held some real humor, Adym noted.

"We could make their march unpleasant, and we could slow them down, and we could bleed them, but in the process we'd take far heavier losses. And" -- his expression hardened once more -- "we'd turn Raven's Land into what's happening in places like Glacierheart and Shiloh Province, as well. I'm not surprised the Council's declined to do that when we couldn't stop them anyway. And whatever my own doubts about this 'Church of Charis,' I won't be party to that, either.

"So," he inhaled deeply, "if we can't deny them passage, we might as well make the best terms we can and find a way to profit from it."

"Profit?" Lady Zhain frowned distastefully, and he chuckled, this time with more than a little genuine amusement.

"Love, I realize we Highlanders have nothing but contempt for the soft, decadent luxuries that come with money, but even for us, money can be a useful thing to have. That's certainly what someone like Suwail's going to be thinking, at any rate. But there's more than one sort of 'profit,' you know."

"You're thinking about Charisian goodwill, aren't you, Father?"

"In a manner of speaking," Parkair acknowledged, turning back to his son with an approving nod. "I've come to the conclusion that whatever else may happen, this Charisian Empire isn't going away. And if we align ourselves with the Charisians' enemies, it would have to be tempting for them to simply occupy us, the same way they've occupied Zebediah and Corisande. I think they'd prefer not to, but there's no point pretending it wouldn't be a lot easier for them to seize control of Raven's Land -- especially when all they have to do is march right across The Fence to get to us -- than it ever was for them to conquer a princedom as far away, across so much ocean, and with as many people and as much money as Corisande. They might find themselves faced with one revolt after another -- clansmen being clansmen -- but they could do it. Frankly, they'd be stupid not to do it, if we made ourselves their enemy, and one thing Sharleyan of Chisholm never was is stupid. I haven't seen much evidence that this new husband of hers is any slower than she is, either."

He paused, one eyebrow arched, and Adym nodded emphatically.

"So, given all that, it makes far more sense to welcome them in and do everything we can to speed them on their way, minimizing the opportunity for the sorts of unfortunate incidents marching armies frequently encounter, especially passing through hostile territory. And if in the process we get on their good side where things like trade opportunities are concerned while simultaneously staying off their bad side where things like invasions and occupations are concerned, I'll not complain."

He shrugged and sipped tea, looking back out the window.

"I wish it had never come to this, and I wish I'd never seen the day I had to help make this sort of decision," he told his wife and his son. "But we don't always get what we wish, and the Council knows that as well as I do. That's why we've made the decision we've made, and I'm as close to 'all right' with it as I suppose anyone could ever be, Zhain. Not happy, not enthusiastic, but definitely 'all right' under the circumstances."

His eyes dropped back to that half-eaten omelet, and he smiled sadly, eyes darkened by the specter of starving children in Siddarmark.

"All right," he repeated again, softly. "All right."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Aug 05, 2012 9:07 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2121
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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 34

.VII.
Royal College,
Tellesberg Palace,
City of Tellesberg,
and
The Citadel,
King's Harbor,
Helen Island,
Kingdom of Old Charis,
Empire of Charis.

Doctor Sahndrah Lywys stepped into what would have been called her laboratory on a planet named Old Earth a thousand years or so ago. On Safehold, it was simply called her study, although the "studies" she carried on here had very little to do with the libraries and quiet reading rooms most Safeholdians meant by that term. In fact, she strongly suspected that if the Inquisition -- at least the Inquisition as administered by Zhaspahr Clyntahn -- had had any notion of exactly what she studied here, and how, the consequences would have been drastic and extremely unpleasant.

Of course Clyntahn and his agents probably do have a pretty good idea of what we're up to here at the college, she reflected as she used one of the "Shan-wei's candles" which had resulted from those same studies to light the lamps in the room's corners. If they don't, it's not because they haven't been told, anyway! And if they do know, all of us better hope to Langhorne the Group of Four does lose this damned war in the end.

Sahndrah Lywys was a Charisian to her toenails, and she had enormous confidence in her emperor and empress and in her homeland, but that didn't mean Charis couldn't lose, and she grimaced at that thought as she replaced the last lamp's chimney and adjusted the reflector behind it. It wasn't as good as sunlight, but no interior light source was, and her study here in Tellesberg Palace was still far better lit than her original one in the old Royal College. The original College had seldom been able to afford the quality of the lamp oil (refined from first-grade kraken oil) available to it now. The oil burned with a bright, clear flame, far better (and far easier on her eyes) than the tallow candles and poor quality oil she'd had to use altogether too often then. And she could have literally as much of it as she needed, which was an almost sinful luxury after so many years of pinching every tenth-mark until it squealed.

Her new study was also bigger, far better equipped, and much safer. Lywys knew Rahzhyr Mahklyn had been very much in two minds about accepting Emperor Cayleb's (only he'd simply been King Cayleb at the time, of course) offer of a new home here in the palace immediately after the Battle of Darcos Sound. The official distinction between the College and the Kingdom of Charis had always been carefully maintained, despite its name, precisely because its quest for knowledge had been enough to make any conservative churchman uncomfortable. That had been true even before the schism; since the Church of Charis had declared its independence, it had grown only worse, as the act of arson which had destroyed the original College -- and all its records -- had made abundantly clear.

Cayleb had been pressing Mahklyn to move to larger, safer, and more efficient quarters for over eight months before the arsonists struck. After the attack, the then king had been through arguing; he'd commanded, and Mahklyn had seen no choice but to acquiesce. Lywys had been in favor of the move even before someone started playing with lit lanterns, and nothing since had changed her mind. On a personal level, living on the palace grounds made her feel enormously safer. On a scholarship level, which was far more important to her, if the truth be known, the advantages were even greater. There was no comparison between the College's current funding levels, with open Crown sponsorship. And even more significant to someone like Lywys, the Church of Charis' full-fledged support of the faculty's research as a critical component in the Empire's and the Church's survival had let all of them step out of the shadowy, semi-condemned twilight of near-heresy to which their love of knowledge had once condemned them.

Not that there weren't some downsides to the move, she reflected more grimly, thinking about the years of research and notes which had burned along with the old College. She extinguished the stub of the Shan-wei's candle carefully, testing the wooden sliver between her fingers to be certain it was out before she discarded it. There wasn't much to burn here in her study, but she was pretty sure all of the College's faculty had become almost as paranoid as she was where fires were concerned.

She smiled at that thought, given how much of her own studies of late had been dedicated towards finding better ways to make things burn. The Shan-wei's candle was a case in point, although a part of her did wish people could have found a less . . . pointed name for it. Personally, she'd held out for "instant match," or even just "match," since in many ways it was only a better development of the old slow match and quick match which had been used to light candles and fires and set off matchlocks -- and artillery -- forever. She still hadn't given up hope of eventually getting the name changed, but it was going to be an uphill battle, at best.

She chuckled and crossed to the cabinet in the study's corner. Her assistants would be coming in soon, and it was a point of honor for her to be already here, already working when her first student arrived. She knew she wasn't fooling any of them into thinking she'd really been here working all night -- at her age, all-night sessions had become a thing of the past -- yet there were still appearances to maintain and, if she was going to be honest, she thought as she opened the cabinet door, it was a game she and they both enjoyed playing.

She removed her cotton apron from the cabinet, but it on, and turned to the stone-topped worktable to resume her current project. One of her students had obviously spent at least a little time here after she'd gone home, she noted, and reached out to move the bottles of acid whoever it was had left behind. Schueler's tears and vitriol distillate, she noted. Now what had whoever it had been --

"Oh, Shan-wei!"

She snatched her hand back, scowling, as she knocked over the bottle of Schueler's tears, which, in turn, tipped over the other bottle. Fortunately, whoever had left them out had secured the stoppers properly, but the impact of their fall was enough to loosen both of them. Quite a bit of both acids leaked, flowing together in an acrid-smelling puddle, before she could snatch them up once again.

She scowled, castigating herself for her carelessness, and carried both bottles carefully across to one of the lead-lined sinks. She rinsed them both thoroughly, one at a time, then dried them and set them back into the storage rack before she returned to the worktable.

The puddle of combined acids was bigger than she'd thought, and she looked around for something to clean it up with. Unfortunately, there was nothing handy, and she shrugged. Her lab apron was getting worn, anyway. If the acids ate holes in it, it would give her an excuse to replace it. She smiled at the thought, took it off, and wiped the table cautiously, careful to keep her hands out of contact with the acid. Then she crossed to one of the lamps with the sodden apron.

She spread the wet portion of fabric over the heat rising from the lamp chimney, holding the apron by its sides, moving it in slow circles to encourage drying. The fumes made her want to sneeze, but the study was well ventilated -- she'd insisted on that! -- and she'd certainly smelled far worse over the years. In fact --

"Langhorne!"

Lywys jumped two feet into the air as the center of her lab apron disappeared in a sudden, instantaneous burst of light, like the flash of Langhorne's own Rakurai.

* * * * * * * * * *

"So Sahndrah brought her new discovery straight to me," Rahzhyr Mahklyn said much later. He was tipped back in his swivel chair, gazing out the windows of his office, speaking -- apparently -- to the empty air. Now he grinned. "I don't know whether she was more pleased, startled, or upset with herself for having been so clumsy in the first place. But, being Sahndrah, she went through another half-dozen aprons and hand towels checking and duplicating before she came to tell me about it."

"Well, this will make Ahlfryd happy," Merlin Athrawes replied over the plug in Mahklyn's ear. At the moment, he was standing atop the citadel at King's Harbor, overlooking the anchorage. "I know it makes me happy. I never expected anyone to discover guncotton this soon."

"It sounds to me as if she discovered it pretty much exactly the same way Schönbein did," Mahklyn replied. Then he paused, his eyes narrowing. "Owl's remotes didn't happen to've anything to do with her spilling that acid, did they?"

"How could you possibly suggest such a thing?" Merlin responded in tones of profound innocence.

"Because King Haarahld was right when he called you Master Traynyr! Were you pulling puppet strings in this case?"

"Much as it pains me to disabuse you of your faith in my diabolical Machiavellianism, in this particular instance, I am as innocent as the new fallen snow. I had nothing -- nothing at all -- to do with it."

Mahklyn frowned suspiciously. It wasn't that he didn't trust Merlin's veracity . . . exactly. Still . . . .

"Well, I suppose I'll just have to take your word," he said after a moment. "And however it happened, she's jumped on it like a slash lizard on a prong buck." He shook his head. "She spent fifteen minutes telling me all about the additional research she'll need to do before she's prepared to make any definitive statements about the process or how it works. Then she spent the next two hours pointing out possible applications, especially where explosives in general -- and artillery in particular -- are concerned."

"I can't say I'm really surprised." Merlin shook his head. "She's been working too closely with Ahlfryd for too long for the possibilities not to hit her right in the eye."

"But are we going to be able to actually use it?" Mahklyn climbed out of his chair and walked across to the window, looking out over the courtyards of Tellesberg Palace. "I checked Owl's library before I commed you -- that's how I knew about Schönbein. Chemistry isn't my discipline, and we don't really have anyone inside the circle who is a chemist. But according to what I skimmed out of the library, it took decades back on Old Earth to actually develop a reliable nitro-based propellant that didn't have a tendency to explode on its own at highly inconvenient moments."

"Yes, it did. Almost fifty years, in fact. But Safehold's got everything we'd really need to duplicate Vielle's formulation. We'd have to drastically increase the scale of production for some of what we'd, and the quality control involved in washing the guncotton would have to be worked on, but none of that's beyond the reach of what we have right now. It's only a matter of . . . steering the development."

"That sounds at least moderately Machiavellian to me," Mahklyn pointed out, and Merlin chuckled as he leaned his elbows on the battlements.

"Not that Machiavellian. Only a little Machiavellian. And a good thing, too. I'm going to have to reserve most of my Machiavellian wiles for application to the Brethren to really make this work."

"Oh?"

"You're right. We need a chemist in the circle, and to be honest, I can't think of a better candidate than Doctor Lywys. She strikes me as mentally flexible enough, and I'm pretty sure she could handle the shock better than most."

"Don't expect me to disagree with you. I nominated her for membership over five months ago."

"I know you did. And it hasn't taken them this long to make a decision in her case because they don't think it would be a good idea. They've had some other things on their minds."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Aug 08, 2012 9:05 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2121
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 35

"I know." Mahklyn closed his eyes briefly. "I knew Father Zhon's health was deteriorating, but I hadn't realized how sick he actually was."

"Not so much sick as simply old." Merlin's blue eyes darkened. "But there's no use pretending his final illness didn't distract the Brethren badly. And there were a lot of nominations in the pipeline in front of her, as well. Which doesn't mean you and I can't push them -- gently, of course -- where Doctor Lywys is concerned. For that matter, I'd like to add Zhansyn Wyllys, as well."

"Ah?" Mahklyn crooked an eyebrow. "Oh! You want him because of his distillation work?"

"Especially since he's started experimenting with coal tar," Merlin agreed.

Distillation had been a part of Safehold's allowed technology since the Creation, but like all the rest of that technology, it had been applied on a rote basis, following the directions laid down in the Holy Writ, with no more theoretical understanding of the principles involved than the "archangels" had been able to avoid. Zhansyn Wyllys intended to change that. He was far younger (and more junior) than Mahklyn or Lywys -- in fact, he'd joined the College only a year or so earlier -- and unlike some of his fellow faculty, he made no bones about the fact that he fully intended to find out why the archangels' instructions produced the effects they did. He hadn't quite said so in so many words, but Mahklyn was pretty sure he meant to figure that out even if his inquiries brought him into direct conflict with the Proscriptions.

He hadn't joined the College without strenuous opposition from his father -- a devout man who also happened to be one of Old Charis' wealthier lamp oil producers. Unfortunately for Styvyn Wyllys, his son was an obstinate, determined young man, and it was his family's trade which had first gotten him interested in reinventing the heretical scientific method as he worked on ways to improve the distillation and purification of the oil they produced.

For the most part, in Charis, that oil was now harvested from sea dragons, the Safeholdian equivalent of terrestrial whales, although it was still graded in terms of the older kraken oil. Sea dragon oil had begun to replace kraken oil only in the last forty years or so, as the dragoning industry -- for food, as well as a source of oil -- grew with the steady increase in the seaworthiness of galleons, but by now sea dragon oil represented over two thirds of the total Charisian oil industry. The green sea dragon was the most prized of all, not simply because it was the largest and provided the greatest yield per dragon, up to four hundred gallons from a fully mature creature, but because it produced what had been called spermaceti back on Old Earth.

The oil tree, a native Safeholdian species Pei Shan-wei's teams had genetically modified as part of their terraforming efforts, was a much commoner source of oils for the mainland realms. The trees grew to around thirty feet in height and produced large, hairy pods whose dozens of smaller seeds contained over sixty percent oil by weight, and Shan-wei's geneticists had modified the oil tree to make its oil safe for humans and other terrestrial animal species to consume. Unlike the imported olive tree, neither the seeds nor the fruit of the oil tree was particularly edible, although the seeds were sometimes ground into a form of flour and used in cooking.

The fire vine was another major source of plant oils, but it was also possessed of major drawbacks. It was a fast growing, large vine -- runners could measure as much as two inches in diameter -- whose stems, leaves, and seeds were all extremely rich in a highly flammable oil. The oil was actually easier to extract than oil tree oil, but unlike the oil tree, fire vine hadn't been genetically modified, and its oil was extremely poisonous to humans and terrestrial animals. Worse, it was highly flammable, as its name implied, which posed a significant threat, especially in regions which experienced hot or especially arid summers. It wasn't very satisfactory as a lamp oil, either, since it burned with an extremely smoky flame and an unpleasant odor, but it was commercially cultivated in some regions -- especially in the Harchong Empire -- as a source of lubricating and heating oil.

Neither oil tree oil nor fire vine oil was very popular in Charis or Emerald -- or in Corisande, for that matter -- because kraken oil and sea dragon oil burned with a brighter, cleaner flame. The fact that sea dragons were also a major source of meat protein gave further impetus to sea dragoning, but the steady increase in the productivity of Charisian manufactories had been an even bigger factor in the industry's growth. Sea dragon oil was simply more flexible than oil tree oil, and unlike fire vine oil, it didn't tend to poison people, pets, and food animals. Even with the steady growth of the dragoning fleet, supply never managed to keep up with demand, however, and it was a far riskier trade on Safehold than whaling had ever been on Old Earth. Sea dragon oil might be less toxic and less dangerous to human beings in general than fire vine oil, but Captain Ahab's quest for vengeance would have ended much sooner (and just as badly) on Safehold, given the existence of doomwhales. The top of the oceanic food chain, the doomwhale had been known on occasion to attack -- and sink -- small galleons, and the dragoning ships sometimes attracted one or more of them, at which point things got decidedly lively. It wasn't unheard of for doomwhales to sink a half-dozen or more dragoning ships in a single season, although that was usually an accidental byproduct of the huge creatures' feeding on the sea dragons the ships in question had taken.

Personally, although Merlin understood the economics involved, he found it a little difficult not to side with the doomwhales. Sea dragons reproduced more rapidly than most species of whale, and commercial dragoning was new enough that it would be decades yet, even at the current rate of growth, before it started significantly reducing sea dragon stocks. None of which prevented Merlin from seeing the inevitable parallels between dragoning and commercial whaling, and he intended to do everything he could to encourage the move from sea dragon oil to other sources of fuel and lubricant.

At the moment, he had more pressing things on his mind, but that was one reason he'd been keeping an eye on Zhansyn Wyllys. Wyllys' family had grown wealthy harvesting and distributing sea dragon oil, and the dragoning industry had applied distillation to the process with quite a degree of sophistication. All of it was purely empirical, however, and the drive to understand and improve the existing methods was what had sparked young Zhahnsyn's initial interest in his own branch of proto-chemistry. As his interest and experiments had progressed, however, he'd moved from an interest in simply improving the existing processes to a desire to find alternative -- and hopefully more abundant -- oil sources, as well.

Conservatives (like his father) nursed significant reservations about his quest, and not all of them because of religious concerns. Styvyn Wyllys' wealth and his family's fortune depended on sea dragoning; he was none too pleased by his rebellious offspring's effort to find other sources of oil, despite Zhansyn's argument that if he could find them, Wyllys' Sea Dragon Oil could simply drop the "Sea Dragon" part of its name and get in on the ground floor in the new oil industry.

Whatever Styvyn Wyllys might think, Charisians in general, always more enthusiastic about innovation than mainlanders, had become even more enthusiastic over the past several years, and the College, prompted by the members of the inner circle, had supported Zhansyn's efforts strongly. He'd started out looking at conventional plant oil sources -- oil wood, fire vine, nearpalm, and imported terrestrial soybeans, peanuts, and jojoba -- and he'd already made some significant contributions to production and refining. Even better in many ways, unless Merlin was sadly mistaken one of his projects, was going to lead to the production of kerosene from coal tar in the not too distant future. And that, given the extensive oilfields in southern Charis and Emerald Island -- and the fact that Safeholdian techniques for drilling and pumping from water wells were well developed and, with Howsmyn's new steam engines, about to get even better developed -- was likely to lead to an entirely new industry. One that opened all sorts of interesting possibilities, given that the caloric energy of oil was fifty percent greater than that of coal.

But what Merlin was particularly interested in at the moment was the possibility of producing petroleum jelly in useful quantities. Quantities, for example, sufficient to use as a stabilizer in nitrocellulose-based propellants and explosives. With just a little nudging . . . .

"I don't know if anyone's even considered Wyllys," Mahklyn said after several thoughtful moments. "I see a lot of potential in the work he's doing, but I don't know anything about his attitude towards the Group of Four and the Reformists. Do you?"

"Not as much as I'd like. What I do know looks hopeful, though, including the fact that he and his father clearly don't see eye-to-eye. The fact that he's as much of a knowledge seeker as any of the rest of you 'eggheads' doesn't necessarily make him a Reformist, and even if it did, Reformism isn't necessarily the same thing as being prepared to completely jettison the Writ and the Archangels. But we could put a couple of Owl's remotes on him, take a good look at him, before we ever actually suggested him to anyone. You're right that we need to get Sahndrah vetted and admitted to the circle first -- that should've been a higher priority all along, and now that she's stumbled across guncotton, we really need her working with Owl to get chemistry properly launched as a science. Especially given what I have to tell Ahlfryd and Captain Rahzwail about my latest 'visions' tomorrow."

"It would be nice to be able to give them some good news with the bad, wouldn't it?" Mahklyn said almost wistfully, and Merlin shrugged philosophically.

"They're going to give me and Domynyk some good news to go with the bad, first, and it's not the end of the world. What bothers me more is where and how Clyntahn and Maigwair got their hands on the information, and without remotes in Zion, I don't think there's a chance in hell we'll ever be able to answer that question definitively. From examining the drawings they've actually sent out to the foundries and the formulas they're sending out to their powder mills, it looks to me like it had to come out of the Hairatha Mill -- probably from the same son-of-a-bitch who diverted the gunpowder for Clyntahn's 'Rakurai.' Unfortunately, that suggests whoever it was had complete access, at least at the time, and at this point we can't know what else he may have passed along."

"Not a good situation," Mahklyn acknowledged. "On the other hand, their powder mills' quality control is still way behind ours. For that matter, their foundries are in the same boat. The quality of their iron's a lot more problematical than ours, even from lot to lot in the same blast furnace, much less from foundry to foundry. That's a major handicap over and beyond the piss-poor -- you should pardon the expression; I've been talking to Cayleb again -- per-man-hour productivity of their manufactories. And without Ahlfryd and Ehdwyrd -- among others -- to push the support structure that's not going to change anytime soon, which means they're still going to be producing the new hardware in tenth-mark packets."

"And if you add ten tenth-marks together, you get a whole mark," Merlin pointed out acidly. Then he pushed back from the battlements and gave himself a shake. "Still, you're right. We've got a running start and our industrial plant is one hell of a lot more productive. Besides," he produced a crooked smile, "I'm the one who told Cayleb we needed the mainlanders and the Group of Four to adopt the new technology if we really wanted to topple the Church. It's still true, too. I think I've just become too much of a Charisian myself to be comfortable with the idea."

"Speaking as a native Charisian, I'm not really broken hearted to hear that, you know," Mahklyn said dryly, and Merlin chuckled.

"Neither am I, Rahzhyr," he said, gazing out across the forest of masts in the harbor so far below. "Neither am I."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Aug 12, 2012 9:05 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2121
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 36

.VIII.
The Citadel,
King's Harbor,
Helen Island,
Kingdom of Old Charis,
Empire of Charis.

"I'm sorry I wasn't here yesterday, Sir," Sir Ahlfryd Hyndryk, Baron Seamount, said to High Admiral Rock Point. "The firing test ran over." He shrugged wryly. "I'm afraid one of the recuperators failed fairly drastically. It was, ah, quite lively there for a few moments."

"Was anyone hurt?" Sir Domynyk Staynair, Baron Rock Point and High Admiral of the Imperial Charisian Navy, asked sharply, although the truth was that he knew the answer to his question before he asked. He'd been watching the tests through Owl's SNARCs.

"Two of Captain Byrk's seamen were injured," Seamount acknowledged unhappily. "I think one of them may lose three or four fingers." He held up his own maimed left hand and wiggled its remaining fingers. "Unfortunately, it's his right hand and he's right-handed. The other fellow should be fine, though." He lowered his hand and grimaced. "I blame myself for it."

"Really?" Maikel Staynair's younger brother tipped back in his chair. "You personally built all the components of the recuperator that failed, I take it?"

"Well, no." Seamount shrugged. "I did have more than a little to do with its design, though. And I was supervising the test in person."

"And I'll wager no one could've prevented whatever happened from happening. Am I right about that?"

"Well . . . ."

"As a matter of fact, High Admiral, you are right," Captain Ahldahs Rahzwail said. He glanced at Seamount, then looked back at Rock Point. "It was a fault in the casting, My Lord. That's my initial analysis of why the cylinder wall split when the pressure spiked, at any rate. And there was no way anyone could've known it was there until the gun was fired."

"That's pretty much what I expected. So if you'll stop kicking yourself over that, Ahlfryd, what say we get down to the reason Seijin Merlin and I are here? I have to get back to the fleet, and he has to get back to Their Majesties, and I'll give you one guess how impatient Their Majesties are to hear about your latest developments."

"Yes, Sir," Seamount said, and opened the leather folder lying in front of him on the conference table.

Seamount's office seemed smaller than it had been, with the conference table and a complete additional desk crammed into it, but its slate-lined walls were still covered with smeared notations, Merlin observed. He was tempted to smile, but the temptation faded, because those half-smeared notes were all in Seamount's handwriting, or Ahldahs Rahzwail's. Urvyn Mahndrayn, who'd been Seamount's assistant for years, would never chalk another cryptic memorandum to himself on those slate walls again.

He settled into his own chair, across the table from Rahzwail. The burly, dark-haired captain reminded him of a shorter version of Rahzhyr Mahklyn's son-in-law, Aizak Kahnklyn, with blunt, hard features and a heavy forehead which did their best to disguise the quick brain behind them. He might not be another Urvyn Mahndrayn, but very few people were. Rahzwail couldn't multitask the way Mahndrayn had, and he lacked Mahndrayn's ability to intuitively leap across obstacles. Yet he was an immensely experienced officer, the ex-commander of the bombardment ship Volcano, and what he lacked in intuition he compensated for with relentless, methodical determination. In some ways, he was actually a better foil for Seamount then Mahndrayn had been, because of how differently their minds worked, but no one recognized what a disaster Mahndrayn's loss had been more clearly than Rahzwail himself.

Merlin glanced at Seamount as the short, portly baron gazed down at his own notes. Seamount had finally made admiral's rank, despite the fact that he hadn't commanded a ship at sea in decades. There were undoubtedly at least a handful of diehard old salts who might be tempted to denigrate Seamount's admiral's streamer because of that lack of seagoing experience, but if there were, they would be well advised to keep their opinions to themselves. Most of the Imperial Charisian Navy recognized how much it owed to Seamount's fertile brain, and Domynyk Staynair had finally taken the first concrete steps towards completing the naval reorganization Bryahn Lock Island had mapped out but never had time to implement.

Seamount was now the commanding officer of the Bureau of Ordnance, with authority over all weapons-related development for the Navy and with Rahzwail as his executive officer and senior assistant. Rahzwail's primary focus was on artillery and its development, while Commander Frahnklyn Hainai, Seamount's liaison with Ehdwyrd Howsmyn's engineers and artificers, was focusing on the development of new and better alloys of steel and the new steam engines coming out of the Delthak Works. It was a comment on just how severe Mahndrayn's loss had been that it took both of them to fulfill all of the functions he'd fulfilled, although Merlin suspected Rahzwail and Hainai might each actually be better at their part of Mahndrayn's old work load than he himself had been, if only because they had to juggle so many fewer projects simultaneously. He also knew Rock Point had earmarked Hainai to take over the Bureau of Engineering once it was formally established (in about another two or three months, at the outside), just as Captain Tompsyn Saigyl (yet another Seamount assistant, who'd also worked closely with Rock Point and Sir Dustyn Olyvyr) would be assuming command of the equally soon-to-be-established Bureau of Ships. Captain Dynnys Braisyn was already settling in as the CO of the Bureau of Supply, and Captain Styvyn Brahnahr had been named to head the Bureau of Navigation just last five-day.

There were those who found all the reorganization disturbing, and others who questioned the newfangled notions -- especially the newfangled notion of a shore-based naval academy -- and whether or not the middle of a desperate war was the best time to be mucking about with problematic innovations. Most, however, realized it was the energetic adoption of new ideas which had permitted the Royal Charisian Navy and, now, the Imperial Charisian Navy to sweep all opposition from the face of Safehold's seas, and it struck them as a very good idea to continue to innovate if they wanted to keep things that way. As for those who didn't feel that way, the vast majority of them were at least wise enough to keep their opinions to themselves rather than carelessly scattering them about where they might come to High Admiral Rock Point's ears.

"For the most part, Sir," Seamount said finally, looking up from his notes to meet Rock Point's eyes, "we're essentially where we expected to be as of our last conference. Ahldahs and I just returned from the artillery tests, and Fhranklyn's headed up to the Delthak Works to confer with Master Howsmyn. The recuperators worked fairly well, but not perfectly. There's still too much fluid leakage, and I'm not as comfortable in my own mind about how well they'll stand up to really heavy guns. So far, we haven't tried them with anything heavier than a thirty-pounder or a six-inch rifle."

Rock Point nodded gravely. The thirty-pounder and the six-inch rifle had approximately the same bore, but the ICN had found itself facing much the same problem which had been faced back on Old Earth during the transition from smoothbores to rifled artillery. Smoothbores fired round shot; rifled guns fired elongated, cylindrical shot, which were considerably heavier than the shot from a smoothbore of equal caliber. Given the differences in performance -- and bore pressures -- that caused, it was a non-trivial distinction. The increase in bore pressures to which rifled guns' heavier projectiles (and tighter windages) contributed had turned out to be even greater than Seamount and Urvyn Mahndrayn had predicted, yet the advantages would be well worth the headaches. They were going into service, probably sooner than even Merlin had anticipated, and that made figuring out what to call them a rather more pressing concern than some people might have anticipated.
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Aug 15, 2012 9:02 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 37

Seamount had initially proposed designating rifled guns by the weight of their solid shot while changing the designations for smoothbores to the diameter of their bores, since it was primarily the increase in projectile weight which presented the technical challenges he had to solve. In the end, however, he'd decided it would cause too much confusion. Every officer of the Imperial Charisian Navy knew exactly what a "thirty-pounder" meant right now, so he'd chosen to label the new guns using the new nomenclature rather than confuse the issue by making everyone learn yet another new one. Besides, the guns were all going to be firing more than one weight of projectile in the very near future, anyway. The thirty-pounder's solid shot actually weighed almost thirty-two pounds, but its shell -- with fifty-five cubic inches less iron and a roughly two-pound bursting charge -- weighed less than eighteen. The six-inch rifle's solid shot, on the other hand, weighed over a hundred pounds, and the standard shell carried an eleven-pound bursting charge and weighed sixty-seven pounds. And at the moment, Merlin knew, Seamount and Rahzwail were working on heavy shells for attacking armor and masonry. The thicker walls of the new shell's central cavity would reduce the bursting charge to no more than three or four pounds but increase overall shell weight by thirty-five percent, which would give it much greater striking power and penetration.

It would also increase the bore pressures and recoil forces still further, of course. Still, the same basic design for a recuperator -- effectively, a hydro-pneumatic recoil system -- ought to work equally well for the thirty-pounder and the six-inch, although he understood Seamount's reservations about applying their current design to the much heavier eight-inch and ten-inch rifles Edwyrd Howsmyn was currently designing. It ought to work, but until they positively proved it would, they couldn't approve a final design for the new guns' mounts.

The original concept had Mahndrayn's, although Rahzwail had taken the dead commander's original rough sketches and, along with Hainai, turned them into a practical proposition. Essentially, it was simply a pair of large, sealed cylinders, one filled with oil and the other with compressed air. The gun was rigidly attached to a piston inside the oil-filled cylinder; when it fired, recoil pulled the piston towards the rear, forcing the oil through a small opening into the second cylinder. The second cylinder's free-floating piston separated the oil from a confined volume of compressed air, and as the floating piston was pressed forward, it compressed the air even further. The result was to absorb the recoil progressively, braking it smoothly as the internal air pressure rose, and at the end of recoil, that increased air pressure generated a back pressure that returned the gun forward to its original position.

It was only one of several approaches from Mahndrayn's fertile imagination, including the pivoting slide carriage the Navy had adopted while it waited for the hydro-pneumatic system to be worked out. The current carriage, just being introduced, would have been called a "Marsilly carriage" back on Old Earth, and it was a major improvement on even the "new model" carriages one Merlin Athrawes had introduced only five years earlier. There had been some resistance to it, since it required iron or steel slides, but its advantages had quickly become evident. Pivoted at the front end of the carriage, it could be quickly moved to new angles of train. Two men with roller-ended handspikes could train it quite easily on its eccentric axles, and since it used the friction between the metal slide and the transom of the piece to damp recoil, its recoil path was much shorter, which meant it could be loaded and fired much more rapidly. It had already been tested satisfactorily with thirty-pounders, and it could be fitted with compressor screws to increase the friction for still heavier guns, if needed.

The Mahndrayan carriage was more practical than some of his other ideas, although his spring-driven recoil mechanism would probably work for lighter pieces. (Another design, for coastal artillery, using counterweights in a deep pit under the gun platform had proved practical even for the heaviest cannon, although the system would have been totally unworkable for a naval mounting.) As far as the recuperator was concerned, however, Rahzwail had profited in his development of Mahndrayn's original sketches by consulting with the Royal College. Doctor Mahklyn had been able to nudge him gently past a couple of obstacles, but the vast majority of the work was his and Hainai's original work, with substantial contributions from the College's Doctor Vyrnyr. Merlin had found himself tempted to step in and push the project more than once, but Rahzwail and Hainai were doing exactly what he needed Safeholdians to learn to do, and so he'd let them run with it.

Still, he thought now, we do have a few advantages Ahlfryd and the others don't know about. For example, I feel strangely confident that Ehdwyrd's artificers will solve that leakage problem before too much longer. I believe "Doctor Owl" will have a little something to say about that!

"If -- or, rather, when -- we get the leak problem licked, we'll have an effective recoil absorbing system," Seamount continued, "and if we can manage that, I feel confident we'll be able to produce the 'pedestal mounts' at least for lighter pieces." He glanced at Merlin with a half smile as he used the term Merlin had coined. "For the heavier pieces, we're still going to need something more massive, but I think the pivot mounts Fhranklyn and Master Howsmyn have been working on should prove practical. Frankly, one of the things that's bothered me the most has been the need to integrate some sort of capture mechanism to latch the gun in the fully recoiled position for loading. It works fine with Urvyn's counterweight system for the shore batteries, but I'm less comfortable with it for the recuperator. It's an added complication and another potential failure point in the entire system, not to mention significantly increasing strain -- or, at least, the period of maximum stress -- on the pneumatic cylinder. But we have to bring the muzzle back inboard and keep it there if we're going to reload it. Or" -- he looked back up from his notes suddenly, his eyes sharp -- "that's been our working assumption from the time Urvyn and I started on the project. Now, however, Ahldahs and Fhranklyn have come up with a completely new suggestion."

"New suggestion?" Rock Point cocked his head at Seamount and Rahzwail. "They do seem to come rather fast and furious around your lot, Ahlfryd. Is this another one I'd rather not get too close to on the proving ground?"

"It should work fine, Sir," Seamount said reassuringly. "In theory, at least."

"I could've gone all month without that little qualifier," Rock Point said dryly. "I seem to remember a few other qualifiers which led to loud, noisy explosions."

"But most of them've worked out in the end, Sir."

"Including that flamethrower notion of yours? Or the liquid incendiary shell fillings?" Rock Point inquired just a bit tartly.

"I did say most, not all, Sir."

Rock Point eyed him coldly for a moment, then snorted.

"Yes, you did. And, yes, most of them have worked out . . . so far. So what has Captain Rahzwail come up with this time?"

"Ahldahs?" Seamount looked across the table at his assistant, and Captain Rahzwail squared his shoulders.

"The idea actually came to me from another of Commander Mahndrayn's sketches, My Lord. When he was looking at ways to seal the breach of his rifle, he considered the possibility of using a threaded plug, one that would screw in and out and produce a tight seal that way. He adopted the solution he finally chose because it would take much longer to screw a breech plug all the way in and out, and also because he was concerned fouling would cement the plug in place. But the notion of a threaded breech plug or block stuck in my brain, and it occurred to me that the plug didn't have to be completely threaded."

"I beg your pardon?" Rock Point frowned, his expression intent.

"If we were to cut away a part of the threads, My Lord, so that the plug could slide all the way into position, then rotate through a half-turn or so and lock solidly into place, it would greatly reduce the time between shots."
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Aug 19, 2012 9:04 pm

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 38

"I can see where that would be true," Rock Point said slowly. "But with part of the threads cut away, it would be impossible to seal the breach, wouldn't it? Especially with the sort of pressures a large caliber piece generates."

"I agree entirely, My Lord, but the idea intrigued me, so I discussed it with Captain Saigyl and with Admiral Seamount. We were throwing the idea back and forth last month, when Captain Saigyl pointed out the way in which Commander Mahndrayn used the felt bases of his cartridges to seal the breach of his rifle. Obviously, the pressures are much lower in a rifle, but Captain Saigyl wondered what would happen if we substituted a ring -- a washer, if you will -- of something else."

Rahzwail looked expectantly at Rock Point, who nodded thoughtfully. Safeholdian plumbing had developed sealing washers and gaskets made out of several materials, including rubber, many of which were suitable for working with remarkably heavy pressures, so it was scarcely surprising that the concept should have suggested itself to Saigyl. Or scarcely surprising in Charis, at any rate.

"And just what sort of material did Captain Saigyl have in mind for his 'washer?'" Rock Point asked after a moment.

"Stone wool, My Lord."

"I see."

Rock Point glanced down the length of the table to meet Merlin's eyes. Stone wool was the Safeholdian term for asbestos, whose insulating properties and resistance to heat had been known since the Creation. Its use had been ringed around with warnings in the Book of Bédard and the Book of Pasquale, but it hadn't been outright prohibited. Pasquale had declared an anathema against any form of asbestos other than chrysotile, hence the term "stone wool" from the whiteness of the material. Merlin wasn't certain why he hadn't banned it, as well. Admittedly, chrysotile was far less dangerous than the others, especially with the handling restrictions Pasquale had imposed, but long-term exposure to its fibers could were scarcely beneficial to one's health. Probably, he'd decided, it was because the "archangels" had managed to convince themselves the Proscriptions of Jwo-jeng had permanently eliminated the possibility of industrialization on Safehold. The material was undeniably useful -- it had been used for thousands of years, long before Old Earth's industrial revolution -- and Langhorne and his followers had apparently consoled themselves with the thought that the quantities a pre-industrial society would use would be relatively benign.

Unfortunately for what they might have thought eight or nine centuries ago, however, Safehold in general and Charis in particular had been using more and more of it over the last century or so . . . and especially in the last decade. There simply was no choice. Industrial works like Ehdwyrd Howsmyn's needed a material with asbestos' properties and didn't have the capacity to produce any of the synthetics which had eventually replaced it on Old Earth. As a result, "stone wool" output was climbing by leaps and bounds, and despite all Howsmyn, the Crown, and the Church of Charis could do to enforce Pasquale's handling restrictions, exposure to it was climbing as well. It wasn't the only health hazard Charis' innovators had been forced to embrace -- the mercury being used in percussion primers was a case in point, as was the shafting and exposed drive belts involved in applying waterpower directly to machinery -- but somehow asbestos bothered Merlin more than many of the others.

Which didn't mean Rahzwail and Saigyl weren't on to something. After all, "stone wool" was exactly the same material Charles de Bange, the father of practical breech-loading artillery designs on Old Earth, had used in his "obturator pad."

"Have you conducted any actual trials yet, Captain?" Rock Point inquired.

"Only with a modified Mahndrayn rifle, My Lord. So far, it appears a greased stone wool washer or pad should do the job, assuming enough pressure on the screw threads. I've asked Doctor Mahklyn and Doctor Vyrnyr to help us determine a way to calculate how long a breech plug would be required and how much of the threads we could safely cut away. Doctor Mahklyn's of the opinion that he and Doctor Vyrnyr should be able to give us some rough working formulas within the next several five-days. In the meantime, Captain Saigyl's consulting with Master Howsmyn about the feasibility of fabricating breech blocks to the necessary tolerances. We won't know for certain whether or not it's practical even to consider the approach until he's had a chance to discuss it with Master Howsmyn's artificers."

Rock Point nodded again. High-pressure dynamics was an entirely new branch of study here on Safehold, but it was making considerable strides. Dahnel Vyrnyr at the Royal College had begun formulating the rules of pressure and gasses, but it was one of Ehdwyrd Howsmyn's artificers who'd really started the process of examining pressure levels in artillery a year and a half ago when he proposed what had been called a "crush gauge" back on Old Earth. Essentially, it was a hollow based device, consisting of a tube which contained a small, very strong piston and an open frame which contained a small cylinder of pure copper. The bottom of the gauge was threaded, and a hole was bored through the wall of a gun tube and tapped with matching threads. The gauge was then screwed into the hole to form an airtight seal, and when the gun was fired, the pressure entering the gauge through a tiny port in its hollow stem drove the piston upward. A strong steel screw at the top of the gauge prevented the copper cylinder from moving, which caused the piston to deform -- "crush" -- the hapless cylinder. By removing the cylinder and measuring it very precisely, then comparing the measurements to those of similar cylinders which had been deformed by known pressures, the pressure inside the gun tube could be determined within very close tolerances.

No one outside the Charisian Empire had ever even heard of the technique, and Howsmyn had cheated slightly. The numbers from the cubes which had been crushed to establish the original base index were derived from cubes Owl had crushed under far more precise and uniform pressures than Howsmyn's own machinery was yet capable of producing. Not even his own artificers knew that, since Owl's remotes had sneaked in and replaced the ones they'd crushed when no one was looking.

And it had been Urvyn Mahndrayn who'd invented the ballistic pendulum, the high admiral reminded himself sadly, suppressing a fresh stab of grief. He'd sketched out the basic concept for it on the back of an envelope one afternoon while waiting for a meeting at the Royal College, and Mahklyn and the rest of the faculty had been working out the details -- and the math -- to make it work by the next morning. Between the crush gauge's ability to accurately measure bore pressures and the ballistic pendulum's ability to accurately and consistently measure projectile velocities, the science of ballistics was off to a rousing, brawling start, he told himself with a deep, warm sense of satisfaction, and he suspected Mahndrayan would have been just as fiercely pleased by the knowledge as he was.

"In the meantime, however," Seamount put in, "Ahldahs has come up with a fallback position in case it turns out Master Howsmyn can't promise us the necessary precision in manufacturing the screw blocks. It's not as satisfactory a breach closure in a lot of ways, but it should work. Essentially, it's a completely separate breech plug fitted with a copper washer lapped over a compressible layer of stone wool. An external screw clamps it in place with enough force to give a seal which has proven gas-tight in all of our small arms tests. I don't like it as much as I do this 'interrupted screw' approach, mostly because it will impose a much slower rate of fire, but also because I suspect it would be more fragile, more subject to external damage and breakage. Between the two, however, I think I can feel confident in proposing the adoption of breech-loading for our new generation of rifled artillery."

"I see," Rock Point repeated, and glanced at Merlin again. The seijin looked back steadily, then nodded ever so imperceptibly. "All right, Ahlfryd," the high admiral said then. "It sounds to me like you and your pet geniuses are onto something yet again. And I'm sure that between you and Master Howsmyn, you will be able to make it work."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Re: STICKY: Midst Toil and Tribulation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Aug 22, 2012 9:39 pm

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Admiral

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Midst Toil And Tribulation - Snippet 39

Merlin's expression was admirably grave. He, too, was sure they'd be able to make it work, especially since Howsmyn had access to detailed plans of de Bange's original design, including the "mushroom," the rounded "nose cone" at the head of the breech block. It was actually the most ingenious part of the entire concept in many ways, because when the gun fired, the mushroom was driven to the rear, compressing the asbestos "washer," squeezing it so that it expanded outward to seal the breech completely. And because the mushroom was driven by the firing chamber pressure, the tightness of the seal automatically adjusted to different weights of charge. Merlin had no doubt that when Howsmyn sat down with Saigyl to look at his drawings, the industrialist would experience another of those intuitive inspirations for which he had become known and start enthusiastically sketching in ideas of his own.

"All right, now that that's out of the way, what about this other problem you wanted to discuss?" the high admiral continued. "Something about bore pressures and combustion rates?"

"Yes, Sir," Seamount replied in a distinctly less cheerful tone. "I'm afraid we won't be able to get as much benefit out of some of the new advances as I'd hoped."

"Why not?"

"Well, Ahldahs and Commander Malkaihy and I have been going back over the results of Urvyn's artillery tests. We've repeated several of his firings using the new crush gauges to measure bore pressures and the pendulum to measure velocities, and they've confirmed something we already suspected. We'd hoped we could increase shot velocities by increasing barrel length, but it turns out we can't."

"Why not?" Rock Point repeated.

"Essentially, My Lord, the powder burns too quickly," Rahzwail said. "It gives all its propulsive power in a single, sharp kick the instant that the charge fires; with a longer barrel, we actually start losing some of that initial velocity due to friction between the projectile and the inside of the gun tube. Looking at the pressure gauges, we've concluded that a great deal of the powder is transformed into smoke -- solid particles and soot -- rather than the combustion gases that actually drive the projectile. Corning the powder clearly helps in that regard, given how the particulate mass is reduced and how much more of the powder is actually burned before it's ejected from the muzzle, but there are still limits, and we seem to've reached them . . . for the moment, at least.

"Of course, that's only part of the problem. The rifled pieces' shells are much tighter fitting, which means they rub against the walls of the bore more than roundshot do. That increases friction still further, which costs us even more velocity, and the rifling studs only make it worse. Frankly, I suspect the new 'driving bands' Master Howsmyn's experimenting with will be even worse than the studded shells in that respect. I still think the advantages outweigh the problems, mind you, but there's no denying there'll be more than enough problems to keep us busy."

"And that's not the only difficulty we're experiencing," Seamount put in. "Among other things, Master Howsmyn's new steels, especially now that he's tried adding nickel to them, are even tougher and stronger than we expected. That's wonderful news in most ways, but, unfortunately, it also means we can't produce satisfactory armor and stone-piercing shells out of them, after all. The shell walls will be too strong for gunpowder bursting charges to shatter properly if we make them out his new steels. At the moment, it looks like it'll be wiser to restrict ourselves to cast iron shells for the smoothbores and the wrought iron shells he's already developed for the rifled pieces."

"They seem to've worked quite well in the Gulf of Tarot and at Iythria," Rock Point said dryly.

"That they did, Sir. And they should still be quite effective against wooden ships and light shore structures. But it's only going to be a matter of time -- and probably not a lot of it -- before people begin designing shell-proof magazines for their fortresses, for example. Ten or twelve feet of earth, reinforced by a few feet of solid masonry, would most probably stop any of our present shells from penetrating, even from the angle guns, and overhead protection for the batteries is also going to be high on fortress designers' list of priorities once they begin to recognize the threat's parameters. That's why we've been concentrating on producing shells heavy enough to do what the bombardment ships did at Iythria to the next generation of forts. Or even, eventually, to penetrate someone else's ironclad. Wrought iron isn't going to be as effective for those uses, and it's more likely to break up or shatter on impact than Master Howsmyn's steel, especially with the quenching processes he's been developing to harden the new shells' noses. But if we can't find some way to improve our gunpowder, there won't be any point putting a bursting charge inside those shells. Basically, we'd be restricted to essentially the same solid shot we've always used -- heavier, with better penetration qualities, but still a solid projectile rather than an exploding shell."

"And have you and Captain Rahzwail had any thoughts about how that might be accomplished?" Rock Point asked.

"At the moment, all we've really come up with is the idea that we should find a way to increase the uniformity of the powder grains, My Lord," Rahzwail replied. "It seems to me that if we could . . . compress the powder, make the individual grains denser, and possibly produce it in shapes that would increase the surface area, we ought to be able to retard the burning rate at least somewhat. That would mean combustion would take longer, and the projectile would be accelerated for a longer period, rather than beginning to lose velocity from friction. For that matter, if the grains were all a uniform size, we ought to get a more uniform burn rate from powder lot to powder lot, which would make for much more consistent ranges and trajectories for a given charge of powder. I suspect that pelletizing the powder we're using in the new Mahndrayns would improve their muzzle velocity measurably, as well. And Commander Malkaihy's also suggested we might find some ingredient or adulterant that could slow the combustion rate for artillery propellants still further. Since it's the charcoal in the gunpowder that provides the actual fuel, we're considering alternative types of charcoal that would burn more slowly, but we haven't found one that would do the job yet."

Merlin managed to keep his expression blank, but it was harder than usual. Admittedly, Rahzwail had certain advantages, given the significant boost one Merlin Athrawes and his friend Owl had provided to the Safeholdian science of pyrotechnics. And the resources of the "archangels'" allowable technology gave Safeholdians a much broader base of capabilities to build upon than their pre-Merlin artillery and explosives might have led most people to expect. Still, the captain's summary had been almost breathtaking, carrying him -- conceptually, at least -- all the way from the corned powder of the seventeenth century through Thomas Rodman's prismatic powder in mid-nineteenth century to the German "cocoa powder" of the 1890s in no more than a handful of sentences.

And he doesn't even know about Sahndrah's little discovery yet! Dear Lord, what are these people going to come up with next?

He didn't have a clue, but as he sat at that conference table, looking back and forth between Sir Ahlfryd Hyndryk and Ahldahs Rahzwail, he suddenly felt far less concerned about how they were going to react when he had to get around to telling them about the information the traitor in Hairatha had sent to Zhaspahr Clyntahn.

The bastard can steal whatever "secrets" he wants, and he's still going to fall further and further behind, Merlin thought with grim, harsh satisfaction. He can't begin to match what our people can come up with, even without me standing in the corner handing out ideas. And that's why the son-of-a-bitch is going to lose. I don't care how many men he can put into the field, our people -- my people -- are going to kick their sorry arses all the way back to the Temple, and then that bastard is going to pay the price for Gwylym Manthyr and everybody else his sick, sadistic butchers have tortured and killed.

"That sounds like a very interesting idea, Captain," he said out loud, his voice calm, his expression intent. "Have you given any thought to how you might do that? It occurs to me, that if you were to manufacture a form -- a nozzle, perhaps -- of the right shape, then force a gunpowder paste through it under heavy pressure using one of Master Howsmyn's hydraulic presses, what you'd get would be --"
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