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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Ten

       Last updated: Friday, November 30, 2007 01:44 EST




Ehdwyrd Howsmyn's foundry,
Earldom of High Rock,
Kingdom of Charis

    "And how has your day been?" Rhaiyan Mychail asked genially as he stepped into Ehdwyrd Howsmyn's office.

    "Hectic," Howsmyn said with a grin, standing to clasp forearms with his longtime business associate. "On the other hand, there could be a lot worse reasons for putting up with all of the headaches."

    "True." Mychail returned Howsmyn's grin. "The sound of all those gold marks falling into my cashbox at night is such a cheerful one!"

    Both men laughed, and Howsmyn twitched his head at the office window. The two of them walked across to stand looking out it, and Mychail's expression sobered as he shook his head.

    "It's hard to believe that all you had here two years ago was a single small furnace and a lot of empty dirt," he said.

    "I feel the same way a lot of the time," Howsmyn acknowledged. "And, like you, I have no objection at all to how much richer this is making me. But at the same time . . . ."

    He shook his head, and the gesture was far less cheerful than Mychail's had been.

    His older friend didn't respond at once. Instead, he simply stood there, looking out over what was without doubt already one of the largest — if not the largest — foundries in the entire world.

    Howsmyn's new and growing facility sat on the western shore of Ithmyn's Lake, the vast lake formed at the confluence of the Selmyn River and the West Delthak River in the Earldom of High Rock. The West Delthak was a brawling, powerful river flowing out of the South Hanth Mountains, but frequent shallows and cataracts made anything but small, local boat traffic impossible. The lower Delthak, however, was navigable, even for galleons, between Ithmyn's Lake and Larek, the small (but growing) port at the river's mouth, sixty-four miles to the south. That had been a major factor in Howsmyn's decision to buy the land from Earl High Rock, since it meant ships could sail all the way up the river to what was literally his front door. The extensive deposits of high-quality iron ore in the mountains to the west had been another factor, of course, although he hadn't actually done very much to develop the site until the sudden need for enormous quantities of artillery had burst upon the Kingdom of Charis.

    Now engineers in Howsymyn's employ had already begun construction of a series of locks to improve navigation on the West Delthak and facilitate development of the mountains's iron desposits. Still more engineers had been busy further down the river, and much of its water had been diverted through dams and channels by a swarming army of workmen to create an entire series of holding pools. Aqueducts from the highest pools and channels from the lower ones led to almost two dozen overshot waterwheels, all of them churning steadily to power the equipment Howsmyn's mechanics had installed, and fresh mill races were under construction, as well. Smoke fumed from blast furnaces, more smoke rose from the foundries themselves, and as Mychail  watched, a team of workers tapped the ore bath of a puddling furnace. The ferociously incandescent molten iron — wrought iron, now, and no longer the softer, more malleable cast iron — spilled through the tap into a collecting ladle for further processing.

    Elsewhere, a much larger ladle of fiery, molten iron moved steadily towards the waiting molds. The ladle was suspended from an iron framework, which was in turn mounted on a heavy, multi-ton freight wagon. The wagon's wheels had flanged rims, instead of the smooth ones one might have expected, but that was to insure that they followed the iron rails linking the furnaces and the rest of the foundry's facilities. Draft dragons leaned into their collars, moving their burden with brisk efficiency, and Mychail inhaled deeply.

    "Believe me, I understand," he said quietly. "When I look at this –" he jutted his chin at the swarming, incredibly noisy activity beyond Howsmyn's window "– I feel this enormous surge of optimism. Then I think about the fact that the Group of Four has the combined resources of every mainland realm to draw upon. That's a lot of foundries, Ehdwyrd, even if none of them can hold a candle to what you're doing here."

    The truth was that all the techniques being employed out there had been known to ironmasters virtually since the Creation. But most of the iron which had ever before been required had been produced in much smaller operations, and without the consistent application of power from the perpetually rotating waterwheels Howsmyn and his mechanics had integrated into this foundry.

    Well, Mychail corrected himself, there are a few changes in "technique," if I'm going to be honest. So I suppose it's fortunate that none of them had to be tested under the Proscriptions.

    Howsmyn had gone further than anyone else in finding ways to use the power of his waterwheels. As one result, his furnaces burned hotter, and he'd been forced to find more refractory materials for the firebrick those furnaces required. Which, in turn, had inspired him to try to drive temperatures still higher. Mychail was one of the very few people who knew about Howmyn's latest project — a further development of the puddling hearth but one which used hot furnace gasses to preheat the ductwork by which the furnace was fired. Unless Mychail was sorely mistaken, production rates would be going up once more. And if Howsmyn's more optimistic predictions proved justified, he might actually find himself producing true steel, not simple wrought iron, in quantities such as no other ironmaster had ever even contemplated.

    Fortunately, the Church had never set any sort of standard for the materials from which fire brick had to be made, or the temperatures to which furnaces might be heated, which meant Howsmyn's increased efficiency had slipped past almost unnoticed by Safehold at large . . . and by the Inquisition, in particular. The same broader and more innovative use of the power of his waterwheels had allowed him to achieve still other efficiencies, as well, such as the grooved, geared rollers which let him produce iron bars far more quickly and economically than the traditional methods of hammering or of cutting strips from a rolled plate.

    "I know your output is a lot higher on a manpower basis," Mychail continued. "But they don't have to match your output if they can bury you under sheer numbers of foundries."

    "I know. Believe me, I know. On the other hand," Howsmyn raised one hand and pointed out beyond the current outer ring of furnaces, to where still more walls and foundations marked additional expansion which was already well underway, "within four months, we're going to have increased our present capacity by another fifty percent. I'm expanding both my Tellesberg foundry and the one in Tirian, as well, too."

    Mychail nodded, turning his head to watch yet another cargo vessel moving steadily up the Delthak from Larek. He wondered what this one carried as it steered towards the cluster of ships already moored at Howsmyn's lakeside docks. More coke for the furnaces? Copper and tin for Howsmyn's bronze works? Or more timbers, brick, and cement for the ongoing construction tasks?

    Housing for Howsmyn's employees was also going up. Like Mychail himself, Howsmyn held strong opinions on the quality of housing his workers required. From a purely selfish viewpoint, the better the housing, the more strictly Pasquale's injunctions on sanitation were followed, the healthier the workforce he could expect, and the healthier his workforce, the more productive it would be. But there was more to it for Ehdwyrd Howsmyn, just as there was for Mychail, himself.



    Rhaiyan Mychail was perfectly well aware that even here in Charis, altogether too many wealthy merchants and manufactory owners had absolutely no regard for their employees as fellow human beings. He and Howsmyn both detested that view. Indeed, Mychail had been an outspoken critic of that sort of thinking literally for decades, and he felt reasonably confident that that was one of the reasons King Haarahld had approached him and Howsmyn when he needed to create the manufacturing basis for his new navy.

    And those idiots who try to screw every single hundredth-mark out of their workers deserve the loyalty they get in return, since it's absolutely nonexistent, he thought caustically. Funny how starvation and loyalty don't seem to go hand-in-hand, isn't it? But see to it that they have affordable housing and healers, that there are schools available for their children, that they have the wages in their pockets to buy food and clothing, and that they all know you're constantly looking for foremen and supervisors from among anyone with the wit and ambition to better themselves in your employ, and it will repay you a hundred times over just from a purely selfish viewpoint.

    That was a lesson Ehdwyrd Howsmyn wasn't going to forget, even here, even in the face of the crisis the entire kingdom faced. It was, in fact, one he had learned from Mychail, and he'd taken it even further in at least one respect. Howsmyn had established an investment pool for his employees — one which actually allowed them to buy a share in the ownership of the foundries and manufactories in which they worked — and the employees at each of his enterprises were allowed to elect a single steward who represented their interests at the managerial level, as well. Any steward actually had the right to meet directly with Howsmyn, if the situation was serious enough for the workers who'd elected him to demand it.

    That entire concept had been an unheard of concession, even in Charis, until Howsmyn initiated it. Now it was actually spreading beyond his own enterprises, and the older man felt a glow of almost paternal pride as he gazed out at the growing sprawl of manufacturing capacity which was going to cement Edward Howsmyn's claim to be the wealthiest man in Charis in the very near future.

    "What's your cannon production up to now?" he asked after a moment.

    "Not where we need it to be — yet," Howsmyn replied. "That is what you were asking, isn't it?"

    "More or less," Mychail admitted.

    "Actually, between the operation here and my other foundries, we're producing just over two hundred pieces a month," Howsmyn said. Mychail's eyebrows rose, and he pursed his in a silent whistle, but the younger man shook his head. "That's all of them, Mychail — long guns, carronades, field pieces, wolves, the lot. At the moment, we're better than half of the kingdom's total production, too. And to be honest, we can't increase production of bronze guns much beyond where we are right now. There's simply not enough copper and tin available. Of course, the mines' production is going up rapidly now that the new gun powder is available for blasting, as well as artillery, but we're still going to bottleneck on the lack of metal at any moment."

    "What about the iron guns?" Mychail asked.

    "That's a considerably brighter picture, actually." Howsmyn smiled. "Those iron deposits Earl High Rock wanted developed are starting to come in very handy, although I hadn't really anticipated operating them myself. I'd planned on leasing the rights, but it's turned out to be a lot simpler to just hire experienced mining operators and put them to work for me." He shook his head. "We won't really hit our stride with them until the canals are completed, of course, but when they're opened, production is really going to climb. Of course, I couldn't have done any of this without the new artillery contracts from the Crown."

    "Of course," Mychail agreed. After all, he'd experienced exactly the same thing. His ropewalks had increased production by almost three hundred percent, and his textile manufactories were growing even more rapidly.

    The new cotton gins made raw fiber available in enormous quantities, and the productivity of the powered looms and spinning machines Merlin Athrawes' "suggestions" had made possible was mind-boggling to someone who'd grown up with traditional methods. The new methods were also considerably more dangerous for workers, though. He was doing everything he could think of to limit those dangers, but the sheer number and extent of the drive shafts and belts required to transmit power from waterwheels to the new machinery had to be seen to be believed. Every foot of the power train was a broken or amputated limb, just waiting to happen, and the powered looms themselves could inflict permanently crippling damage on someone who got careless even for a moment.

    Well, Ehdwyrd and his people have been dealing with that for years now. The rest of us are just going to have to learn to cope, as well, he thought.

    Even though he knew the argument was true, it didn't make him feel much better about the men and women who'd already been injured working with the new equipment. At least he and Howsmyn both had long-standing pension programs to support workers who were injured in their employ. And, unlike some of their fellows, they hadn't even considered using children in the new manufactories.

    Which means we're not going to get hurt as badly as some of the others when the Crown's new laws against child labor go into effect next year, he thought, with a certain undeniable satisfaction. He and Howsmyn had fought hard to get them applied immediately, and he knew Cayleb had wanted to do just that, but his Council had talked him into allowing for the adjustment period.

    And whatever drawbacks the new technology might have, its advantages were almost unbelievable. Mychail was producing textiles at less than a quarter of his pre-Merlin costs, and even with all of his investment in new machinery, that was going to have a pronounced effect on his bottom line. In fact, he and his trading factors were already hearing screams of outraged fury from his mainland competitors as he and the rest of the Charisian textile industry began flooding "their" markets with quality goods whose prices they simply couldn't come close to matching, despite the Charisians' shipping costs.

    Of course, we're not exporting very much canvas just now, are we? he reminded himself sardonically. The Royal Charisian Navy was buying every scrap of sailcloth he could produce, and as more and more of the powered looms came into operation, the superiority of the canvas he was able to offer became more and more pronounced. With its tighter weave, the new, machined canvas made for much more efficient and longer lasting sails. Coupled with the anti-fouling copper sheathing, most of which was still coming from Howsmyn, it made the Navy's ships speed advantage even more pronounced.

    The demand far outstripped his ability to supply it, even now. And the Navy had first call on the new canvas, which meant most of the kingdom's merchant shipping still had to "make do" with the older, looser weave. On the other hand, his capacity was increasing almost as rapidly as Howsmyn's, so it wouldn't be long before he was able to branch out into supplying the civilian market, as well. He looked forward to that.



    "How are you coming with the production problems on the iron guns?" he asked Howsmyn.

    "Actually, we haven't had anywhere near as many of those as I'd been afraid we might." Howsmyn shrugged. "Not on the cast iron ones, that is. I'm not saying it's as easy with the iron as with the bronze, but our bell-founding techniques have converted remarkably well. I'm starting to experiment with wrought iron, too, but that's incredibly expensive at the moment. It uses an enormous amount more coke, and the furnace time for the repeated firings drives up the cost even more. And then we have to hammer the slag out of the blooms, and even with the new, heavier drop-hammers, that takes an incredible amount of time, which drives costs up still higher. If I can find a way to do all that more efficiently. . . ."

    His voice broke off as he frowned thoughtfully into a vista only he could see. Then he shook himself.

    "I think we may be able to bring the wrought iron costs down, eventually. At least to something not more than twice the cost of bronze, let's say, though that may be a little overly optimistic. In the meantime, though, the cast iron's going to be a lot cheaper than bronze, and I think we just about have the problems in producing guns out of it licked."

    "I'll take your word for that," Mychail said. "Iron making isn't my area, after all."

    "I know." Howsmyn turned to look back out the window, frowning thoughtfully. "You know, one of the things Merlin's in the process of doing is changing the way all of us think about things like this," he said slowly.

    "Meaning what?" Mychail's tone was one of agreement, but he still looked sideways at the younger man and arched an eyebrow.

    "I was talking about it with Rahzhyr Mahklyn over at the Royal College," Howsmyn replied. "I've always been on the lookout for ways I could be a little more productive, a little more efficient. But it's all been . . . I don't know. Not even trial and error, but just a case of seeing obvious possibilities within the existing, allowed techniques, I suppose. Now I'm finding myself actively thinking about why one thing works better than another. What is it about a given technique that makes it superior to another? For example, I know that puddling cast iron produces wrought iron by gathering the impurities into the slag, but why does heating the iron in a hollow hearth while you stir it have that effect? And how do you take the next step into producing steel in larger, more useful ingots?"

    "And do you have answers for your questions?" Mychail asked softly.

    "Not yet — certainly not for all of them, at least! But sometimes I find the implications of just thinking such questions a little bit frightening. There's so much we do today just because it's permitted under the Proscriptions. Which is almost just another way of saying 'because that's the way we've always done it.' Like using bronze, instead of iron, for artillery. Sure, bronze has advantages of its own, but there's never been any reason we couldn't hve used iron if we'd really wanted to. We just didn't."

    "You said you've discussed this with Rahzhyr. Have you happened to mention your thoughts to someone else? Like Archbishop Maikel?"

    "Not directly, no." Howsmyn turned back from the window to face his old friend and mentor. "I don't really think it's necessary, do you? The Archbishop is a very perceptive man, Rhaiyan."

    "That's true." Mychail nodded. "On the other hand, the things you're talking about, the questions you're asking yourself . . . . You do realize how someone like Clyntahn would react to what you've just said?"

    "Of course. And I'm not going to go around saying it to just anyone, either. There's a reason it's taken me this long to mention my thoughts even to you, you know! But despite everything the Archbishop's said, he's clearly aware that before it's over, this schism between us and the Temple is going to end up being about far more than simply the corruption of the Council of Vicars. You do realize that, don't you?"

    "Ehdwyrd, I realized that the first day we sat down with Seijin Merlin and he started sharing his thoughts with us."

    "And does it bother you?" Howsmyn asked softly.

    "Sometimes," Mychail admitted. He glanced back out the window at the smoke, heat, and furious activity, then looked back at Howsmyn.

    "Sometimes," he repeated. "I'm twice your age, after all. That means I'm a lot closer to giving account to God and the Archangels than you are. But God didn't give us minds just so we could refuse to use them. Mahklyn and the College are right about that, and Archbishop Maikel is right that we have to make choices. We have to recognize what it is God expects of us. That's the reason he gave us free will — the Inquisition itself says that. And if I've made the wrong choices, it's only been after trying as hard as I possibly could to make the right ones. I'm just going to have to hope God understands that."

    "This whole war is going to go places Clyntahn and his cronies never even imagined," Howsmyn said. "In fact, it's going to go places I can't even imagine, and at least I'm trying to."

    "Of course it is. In fact, I think there are probably only two people — possibly three — in the entire Kingdom who do truly understand where we're all bound," Mychail said.

    "Oh?" Howsmyn smiled crookedly. "Let me guess — the Archbishop, the King, and the mysterious Seijin Merlin?"

    "Of course." Mychail returned his smile.

    "It has occurred to you, I suppose, that when the day finally comes that Clyntahn discovers everything Merlin's taught us, he's going to denounce the seijin as a demon?"

    "Of course he is. On the other hand, I have a far livelier respect for the judgment — and, even more, for the integrity — of Archbishop Maikel, and he's actually met Merlin. For that matter, when was the last time you knew King Haarahld to be mistaken in his judgment of someone's character?" Mychail shook his head. "I'll trust the judgments of those two men — and of King Cayleb, for that matter — over the judgment of that pig in Zion, Ehdwyrd. If I'm wrong, at least I'll find myself in better company in Hell than I would in Heaven!"

    Howsmyn's eyes widened ever so slightly at Mychail's blunt-toned forthrightness. Then he snorted.

    "Do me a favor, Rhaiyan, and don't say anything like that to anyone else, all right?"

    "I'm older than you are, Ehdwyrd; I'm not senile yet."

    "What a relief!"

    "I'm sure." Mychail chuckled dryly, then used his chin to point back out the window. "But to return to my earlier question, the iron guns are going to work out, you think?"

    "Oh, I never really had any doubt about that.  They're going to be heavier than bronze for a given weight of shot, of course, but they're also going to be a lot cheaper. Not to mention the fact that they're not going to be competing for the limited supply of copper."

    "So things are going pretty well, over all?"

    "Aside from the fact that we really need to be producing the guns at least twice as fast, you mean?" Howsmyn responded with a snort.

    "Aside from that, of course," Mychail acknowledged, smiling crookedly.



    "I wouldn't say they're going 'well,'" Howsmyn said more soberly. "Not given what we're up against. But I'd have to say they're going better than I ever anticipated they might. The biggest problem from the perspective of the new artillery, actually, is the competition for the rifles. Not only do they both use up enormous quantities of iron and steel, but they require a lot of the same skilled labor. We're training new people as quickly as we can, but it's still a problem."

    "And so is keeping someone from hiring them away from you as soon as they're trained, right?"

    "I see you've had some of the same sort of krakens circling around your operations," Howsmyn chuckled.

    "Well, of course. After all, it's so much cheaper to let someone else train them, then hire them away!"

    "I don't think that proposition's worked out quite as well as some of the competition hoped it might." There was an undeniable note of satisfaction, almost smugness, in Howsmyn's voice, and Mychail laughed out loud.

    "It never ceases to amaze me just how stupid some of our oh-so-esteemed colleagues are," he said. "Or, at least, how stupid they think mechanics are! Do they sthink someone capable of becoming a skilled artisan gets that way without having a brain that works? Our people know they're better off working for us than for almost anyone else. Not to mention the fact that every working man and woman in Charis knows we've always treated our people as well as we could. It's not exactly something we woke up yesterday and decided to try for a change . . . unlike certain other employers. That idiot Erayksyn actually tried to hire two of my foremen away from the Weaving Street manufactory last five-day."

    Howsmyn snorted with harsh contempt. Wyllym Erayksyn might as well have been a Harchong nobleman, for all the concern he'd ever evinced for his labor force. In fact, Howsmyn was more than half-prepared to bet most Harchongese worried more over their serfs than Erayksyn and his sort did about their theoretically free workers.

    "I'll bet that was a resounding success," he observed.

    "Not so that anyone would notice." Mychail smiled thinly. Then the smile turned into a slight frown. "I wish there weren't so many others who shared Erayksyn's attitude, though. Especially with the way all the new possibilities for making money are going to play into their basic greediness. Oh," he waved one hand when Howsmyn opened his mouth, "I know he's probably the worst of the lot. But you can't deny there are a lot of others who feel basically the same way. The people who work for them are just one more expense, not fellow humans, and they're going to do their damnedest to drive that cost down along with all the others."

    "They may think that way now," Howsmyn replied, "but I don't think that attitude's going to get them what they expect it to. I may have trouble getting my hands on all the skilled workers I need — and so may you — but that's because there simply aren't enough of them. We've never had trouble convincing people to work for us, and Erayksyn isn't the only one who's found out that hiring them away from us is a lot harder than they expected it to be. Think about that sanctimonious bastard Kairee! And the handful they have managed to hire away weren't exactly our best people, either. Given the pressure all these new innovations are going to put on the supply of trained workers, the cost of labor's not going to do anything but climb, however much they may want to drive it back down again. Given the greater output per worker, the relative cost is going to decline, of course, but people like Erayksyn and Kairee are going to find that the labor force they've abused for so long is going to be going to be workingfor people like you and me, not them."

    "I hope you're right, and not just because of our bottom lines," Mychail said.

    "You're the one who taught me to take the long view — yes, and the one who taught me to never forget that just because a man may be poorer than I am, he's no less a man, with no less a right to his dignity." Howsmyn's expression was unusually sober as he met Mychail's eyes. "That's a lesson I hope I never forget, Mychail. Because if I do, I don't think I'll like the man I've turned into as well as I like the one I am right now."

    Mychail started to speak, then gave his head little shake and squeezed Howsmyn's shoulder, instead. The textile manufacturer had lost both of his sons almost twenty years before when the galleon upon which they had been embarked disappeared at sea with all hands. In many ways, Howsmyn had stepped into the aching void their deaths had left in Rhaiyan Mychail's life. He'd become virtually a surrogate father to Mychail's grandchildren, his wife had become an adoptive aunt, and three of those grandsons were currently Howsmyn employees, learning the ironmaster's trade. Right off the top of his head, Mychail couldn't think of a single person who would have been a better mentor for them.

    "Well, this is all very edifying, of course," he said then, with a deliberate lightness. "But my official reason for coming to visit you is that we need to discuss exactly how we want to handle the management breakdown for that new shipyard in Tellesberg."

    "You've already managed to put together the partnership?" Howsmyn's eyebrows rose in surprise, and Mychail nodded.

    "Ironhill's announcement that the Crown would underwrite forty percent of the initial investment did the trick," he said.

    "And in return for that forty percent, exactly what does Cayleb get?" Despite his own undoubted patriotism, Howsmyn sounded more than a bit skeptical.

    "Obviously, the Navy gets first call on the building slips," Mychail replied calmly. "And I'm sure we'll find ourselves under pressure to give Ironhill 'family discount' prices. On the other hand, the agreement specifically calls for us to buy back the Crown's interest. So in three or four years — five, at the outside, I'd estimate — we'll have complete ownership, free and clear."

    "Well, that's better than I'd been afraid of." Howsmyn rubbed his chin thoughtfully, then nodded. "It sounds fair enough to me. Mind you, I'll want to look at the proposed agreements in writing!"

    "I expected no less." Mychail smiled. "Which is why I just happened to have brought a draft of the agreement with me."

    "'Just happened,' is it?"

    "You know I've always been in favor of killing as many wyverns as possible with a single rock," Mychail replied. "And, speaking of single rocks, one of the unofficial reasons for my visit is to remind you that it's Styvyn's birthday next five-day and that Alyx and Myldryd expect you for dinner."

    "What? Next five-day?" Howsmyn blinked. "Surely not! Didn't he just have a birthday?"

    "The fact that you can ask that question is an indication you're no longer as young as you think you are," Mychail said. "Yes, next five-day. In fact, he'll be eleven."

    "Well, why didn't you tell me that first? That's vastly more important than any picayune worries about manufacturing artillery! Just how many godsons do you think I have? And it's not exactly as if you have an unlimited supply of great-grandchildren, either, now is it?"

    "No." Mychail shook his head with a small smile. "So, should I tell Myldryd you'll be there?"

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