"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?"