How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 17

“That’s part of the problem,” he acknowledged. “In fact, it’s a very large part. I’m afraid it’s not quite all of it, however. The truth is that I’m grappling with doubts of my own.”

“We all are, Father.” Howsmyn smiled crookedly. “I hope this won’t sound presumptuous coming from a layman, but it seems to me that someone in your position, especially, would find that all but inevitable.”

“I know.” Wylsynn nodded. “And you’re right. However,” he inhaled more briskly, “at the moment I’m most interested in these ‘accumulators’ of yours. I may have seen the plans and approved them, yet there’s a part of me that wants to actually see them.” He smiled suddenly, the boyish expression making him look even younger than his years. “It’s difficult, as you’ve observed, balancing my duty as Intendant against my duty as Director of the Office of Patents, but the Director in me is fascinated by the possibilities of your accumulators.”

“I feel the same way,” Howsmyn admitted with an answering gleam of humor. “And if you’ll look over there” — he pointed out the window — “you’ll see Accumulator Number Three beside that blast furnace.”

Wylsynn’s eyes followed the pointing index finger and narrowed as the furnace’s seething glow illuminated a massive brickwork structure. As he’d just said, he’d seen the plans for Howsmyn’s accumulators, but mere drawings, however accurately scaled, couldn’t have prepared him for the reality.

The huge tower rose fifty feet into the air. A trio of blast furnaces clustered around it, and on the far side, a long, broad structure — a workshop of some sort — stretched into the night. The workshop was two stories tall, its walls pierced by vast expanses of windows to take advantage of natural light during the day. Now those windows glowed with internal light, spilling from lanterns and interspersed with frequent, far brighter bursts of glare from furnaces and forges within it.

“In another couple of months, I’ll have nine of them up and running,” Howsmyn continued. “I’d like to have more, honestly, but at that point we’ll be getting close to the capacity the river can supply. I’ve considered running an aqueduct from the mountains to increase supply, but frankly an aqueduct big enough to supply even one accumulator would be far too expensive. It’d tie up too much manpower I need elsewhere, for that matter. Instead, I’m looking at the possibility of using windmills to pump from the lake, although there are some technical issues there, too.”

“I can imagine,” Wylsynn murmured, wondering what would happen if the accumulator he could see sprang a leak.

The use of cisterns and water tanks to generate water pressure for plumbing and sewer systems had been part of Safehold since the Creation itself, but no one had ever considered using them the way Ehdwyrd Howsmyn was using them. Probably, Wylsynn thought, because no one else had ever had the sheer audacity to think on the scale the ironmaster did.

Howsmyn’s new blast furnaces and “puddling hearths” required levels of forced draft no one had ever contemplated before. He was driving them to unheard-of temperatures, recirculating the hot smoke and gasses through firebrick flues to reclaim and utilize their heat in ways no one else ever had, and his output was exploding upward. And it was as if each new accomplishment only suggested even more possibilities to his fertile mind, like the massive new multi-ton drop hammers and the ever larger, ever more ambitious casting processes his workers were developing. All of which required still more power. Far more of it, in fact, then conventional waterwheels could possibly provide.

Which was where the concept for the “accumulator” had come from.

Waterwheels, as Howsmyn had pointed out in his patent and vetting applications, were inherently inefficient in several ways. The most obvious, of course, was that there wasn’t always a handy waterfall where you wanted one. Holding ponds could be built, just as he’d done here at Delthak, but there were limits on the head of pressure one could build up using ponds, and water flows could fluctuate at the most inconvenient times. So it had occurred to him that if he could accumulate enough water, it might be possible to build his own waterfall, one that was located where he needed it and didn’t fluctuate unpredictably. And if he was going to do that, he might as well come up with a more efficient design to use that artificial waterfall’s power, as well.

In many ways, vetting the application in Wylsynn’s role as Intendant had been simple and straightforward. Nothing in the Proscriptions of Jwo-jeng forbade any of Howsmyn’s proposals. They all fell within the Archangel’s trinity of acceptable power: wind, water, and muscle. True, nothing in the Writ seemed ever to have contemplated something on the scale Howsmyn had in mind, but that was scarcely a valid reason to deny him an attestation of approval. And wearing his hat as the Director of Patents, rather than his priest’s cap, Wylsynn had been more than pleased to grant Howsmyn the patent he’d requested.

And tomorrow morning I’ll inspect one of them with my own eyes, he reflected now. I hope I don’t fall into it!

His lips twitched in an almost-smile. He was quite a good swimmer, yet the thought of just how much water a structure the size of the accumulator might hold was daunting. He’d seen the numbers —  Doctor Mahklyn at the Royal College had calculated them for him — but they’d been only figures on a piece of paper then. Now he was looking at the reality of a “cistern” fifty feet tall and thirty-five feet on a side, all raised an additional thirty feet into the air. According to Mahklyn, it held close to half a million gallons of water. That was a number Wylsynn couldn’t even have thought of before the introduction of the Arabic numerals which were themselves barely five years old. Yet all that water, and all the immense pressure it generated, was concentrated on a single pipe at the bottom of the accumulator — a single pipe almost wide enough for a man — well, a tall boy, at least — to stand in that delivered the accumulator’s outflow not to a waterwheel but to something Howsmyn had dubbed a “turbine.”

Another new innovation, Wylsynn thought, but still well within the Proscriptions. Jwo-jeng never said a wheel was the only way to generate water power, and we’ve been using windmills forever. Which is all one of his “turbines” really is, when all’s said; it’s just driven by water instead of wind.