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.