How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 39

Pruait snorted in understanding, and Rock Point reclaimed control of the conversation.

“Commander Mahndrayn’s here in his role as liaison between Baron Seamount and Master Howsmyn,” he said, “and Captain Sahlavahn was a member of Baron Seamount’s Ordnance Board. He’s been promoted to other duties since then — in fact, he’s assumed command of the Hairatha powder mill — but he’s still thoroughly familiar with most of our usual ordnance concerns, and he happens to have sailed down from Big Tirian for a conference with the Baron. So I thought I’d bring both of them along.”

“I see, Sir,” Pruait said with a nod. “And I’m glad to see them, because frankly, I’m not sure what our best solution is.”

Rock Point scowled in agreement.

In many ways, the problem came under the heading of “an embarrassment of riches,” he thought. The prize ships they’d captured carried literally thousands of artillery pieces, although a lot of those guns, especially the ones from Harchongian foundries, left a lot to be desired. The bronze pieces were probably acceptably safe; he wouldn’t have trusted a Harchongian iron gun with a full powder charge if his life had depended upon it.

The Temple Lands’ foundries had done a better job, and they’d also cast almost exclusively bronze guns. He wasn’t overly concerned about those guns from a safety standpoint, but none of them used the same shot as the standard Charisian pieces, which meant no Charisian ammunition would fit them. Their smaller bores also meant their shot were lighter and less destructive, of course, which was another consideration.

“For the moment, we’re going to leave you with your present gundeck guns,” the high admiral said. “I know it’s not an ideal solution, but in addition to all of the artillery pieces, we’ve captured several hundred thousand round shot for them. We’re not going to have the manpower to put all the prize ships into commission anytime soon, whatever we’d like to do, so what we’re going to do in the short term is to raid the shot lockers of the ships we can’t man for ammunition for the ships we can man — like yours, Captain Pruait.”

“I see, Sir.”

It would have been unfair to call Pruait’s tone unhappy, but he obviously wasn’t delirious with joy, either, Rock Point observed.

“I said that’s what we’re going to do in the short term, Captain,” he said, and smiled at Pruait’s expression. “Exactly what we decide to do in the long term is going to have to wait until Master Howsmyn, Baron Seamount, and Commander Mahndrayn have had the opportunity to kick the question around for a while. To be honest, we’ve captured enough guns that it might very well make sense to begin casting shot to fit them. On the other hand, Master Howsmyn’s production lines are all set up around our standard shot sizes. And then there’s the question of what we do about shells for nonstandard bore sizes. Do we manufacture shells for the captured guns, too?”

“How much of a problem would that present, High Admiral?” Pruait asked. Rock Point raised an eyebrow, and the captain shrugged. “I don’t really know very much about these new ‘shells,’ Sir,” he admitted. “I’ve talked about them with as many of the officers who were with you and High Admiral Lock Island in the Markovian Sea as I could, but that’s not the same thing as really understanding them or how they differ from solid shot in terms of manufacture.”

“I’m afraid you’re hardly alone in that,” Rock Point said wryly. “It was all very closely held before we were forced to commit the new weapons to action. Even Captain Sahlavahn and the Ordnance Board were left in the dark, as a matter of fact. Baron Seamount, the Experimental Board, and Master Howsmyn and a handful of his artisans did all the real work on them.

“And in answer to your question, Captain Pruait, I don’t have the foggiest notion how much of a problem it would be to manufacture shells to fit the captured guns. Commander Mahndrayn and I will be leaving shortly to go discuss that very point with Master Howsmyn. We’ll drop Captain Sahlavahn off at Big Tirian on our way, but I wanted to have his expertise available for our discussion here before we left.”

“I’m afraid it’s going to be mostly background expertise, Tym,” Sahlavahn said dryly. “As the High Admiral says, I actually know relatively little about the exploding shells even now. I understand” — his tone got even dryer — “that I’m going to be learning more shortly, though. Baron Seamount tells me we’re going to be filling quite a few shells, and the Hairatha Mill’s going to be called upon to provide the powder for most of them.”

“Oh, we’ll be filling a lot of them, all right, Captain,” Rock Point assured him with a hungry smile. “We’re going to have a use for them sometime soon now. And we’re counting on that efficiency of yours to help smooth out some of the bottlenecks to make sure we’ve got them when we need them.”

Sahlavahn nodded. Although he’d commanded a galley under King Haarahld at the Battle of Darcos Sound, he’d served strictly in shoreside appointments since. He was nowhere near the gifted technocrat his younger cousin, Mahndrayn, had proven to be, however. In fact, he was inclined in the opposite direction, with a conservative bent that was occasionally frustrating to his superiors. But if it was occasionally frustrating, it was far more often valuable, the sort of conservatism that had an irritating, maddening ability to point out the flaws in the latest and greatest brilliant inspiration of his more innovative fellows. Even more to the point, he was at least as gifted as an administrator as Mahndrayn was as an innovator. The commander would have been hopelessly ill suited for the task of commanding the Hairatha powder mill on Big Tirian Island. His mind worked in leaps and jumps, thriving on intuition and incessantly questioning the known and accepted in pursuit of the unknown and the unconventional. Sahlavahn, on the other hand, had already expedited three production bottlenecks in the Imperial Charisian Navy’s third-largest gunpowder production center by approaching them from his usual pragmatic, unflappable, conservative perspective.

“The main point,” Rock Point continued, striding aft towards Sword of God‘s poop deck as he spoke, “is to provide each of the ships with the most effective armament we can in the shortest time frame. At the moment, I’m thinking in terms of a work in progress in which we’ll go immediately to an effective ‘conventional’ armament without worrying about explosive shells. That’s what I meant about a short term solution, Captain Pruait.

“The next stage of the work in progress will be to provide all of you with appropriate carronades. At this point, probably the thirty-pounders, since that won’t require us to relocate gun ports. And we can provide them with the same explosive shells the long thirties fire, which will give you a shell-firing capability at shorter ranges. Eventually, though, we’re going to have to decide whether to melt down the captured guns and recast them as standard thirty-pounders so your entire armament can use the standardized shells, or to produce molds to cast shells to fit their existing bores.”

He reached the taffrail and leaned on it, bracing his arms against it while he gazed out across the harbor. He stood for a moment, breathing the salt air deep, then turned back to Pruait, Sahlavahn, Mahndrayn, and Erayksyn.

“Suppose we do this Navy fashion,” he said and turned a broad smile on Mahndrayn. “Since Styvyn doesn’t know any more about the technical aspects of this than I do, we’ll let him sit this one out. But that makes you the junior officer present with something to contribute, Commander Mahndrayn. Which means you get the opportunity to express your views first, before any of us crotchety seniors get out there and express something that might cause you to change your mind or not suggest something you think might piss one of us off. Of course, I’ve observed how . . . inhibited your imagination gets under these circumstances, but I believe you’ll manage to bear up under the strain.”

Pruait chuckled. Sahlavahn, on the other hand, laughed out loud, and Mahndrayn smiled back at the high admiral.

“I’ll do my best, Sir,” he said.

“I know you will, Commander.” Rock Point turned to brace the small of his back against the taffrail, folded his arms across his chest, and cocked his head. “And on that note, why don’t you begin?”