Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 27


The Delthak Works,

Barony of High Rock,

Kingdom of Old Charis,

Empire of Charis


“Well, it certainly looks impressive, Ehdwyrd,” Father Paityr Wylsynn said dryly. “Now if it just doesn’t blow up and kill us all.”

“I’m crushed, Father,” Ehdwyrd Howsmyn told the Charisian Empire’s intendant in a composed tone. “I’ve shared all of Doctor Mahklyn’s calculations with you, and Master Huntyr and Master Tairham do excellent work. Besides, we’ve had the smaller model running for over two months now.”

They stood side by side under the canopy of smoke rising from what had become known as the Delthak Works in order to differentiate it from the additional complexes Howsmyn had under construction on Lake Lymahn in the Barony of Green Field. Or, for that matter, the two he was expanding near Tellesberg and the entirely new complex going up outside Maikelberg in Chisholm’s Duchy of Eastshare. No other man had ever owned that much raw iron-making capacity, but the Delthak Works remained the biggest and most productive of them all. Indeed, no one before Ehdwyrd Howsmyn had ever even dreamed of such a huge, sprawling facility, and its output dwarfed that of any other ironworks in the history of the world.

Howsmyn didn’t really look the part of a world-shaking innovator. In fact, he looked remarkably ordinary and preposterously young for someone who’d accomplished so much, but there was something in his eyes — something like a bright, searching fire that glowed far back in their depths even when he smiled. It was always there, Wylsynn thought, but it glowed even brighter than usual today as he waved one hand at two of the men standing behind them.

The men in question smiled, although an unbiased observer might have noted that they looked rather more nervous than their employer. Not because they doubted the quality of their handiwork, but because for all of his open-mindedness and obviously friendly relationship with Howsmyn, Paityr Wylsynn was the Empire’s intendant, the man charged with ensuring that no incautious innovation transgressed the Proscriptions of Jwo-jeng. He’d signed the attestation for the device they were there to observe, yet that could always be subject to change, and blame (like certain other substances) flowed downhill. If the intendant should change his mind, or if the Church of Charis overruled him, the consequences for the artisans and mechanics who’d constructed the device they were there to test might be . . . unpleasant.

“I’m well aware of the quality of their craftsmanship, Ehdwyrd,” Wylsynn said now. “For that matter, I’ve already ridden in your infernal contraption of a boat. And I have considerable faith in Doctor Mahklyn’s numbers. But ‘considerable’ isn’t quite the same thing as absolute faith, especially when I can’t pretend I understand how all those equations and formulas actually work, and this ‘engine’ is an awful lot bigger than the one in your boat. If it should decide to explode, I expect the damage to be considerably more severe.”

“I suppose that’s not unreasonable, Father. I won’t pretend I really understand Rahzhyr’s numbers — or Doctor Vyrnyr’s — for that matter. But I do have faith in them, or I’d be standing far, far away at this moment. For that matter, the model tests for this one have worked just as well as for the single expansion engines, you know.”

“And weren’t you the one who told me once that the best scale for any test was twelve inches to the foot?” Wylsynn asked, arching one eyebrow and carefully avoiding words like “experiment,” which weren’t well thought of by the Inquisition.

“Which is exactly why you’re here today, Father.”

Wylsynn smiled at the man known as the ‘Ironmaster of Charis’, acknowledging his point, and both of them turned back towards the hulking mass of iron and steel they’d come to observe. It was certainly impressive looking. The open triangular frame of massive iron beams — at least twice Howsmyn’s height and almost as long as it was tall — was surmounted by a rectangular, box-like casing. Three steel rods, each thick as a man’s palm, descended from the overhead structure at staggered intervals. Each of them was actually composed of two rods, joined at a cross bearing, and their lower ends were connected to a crankshaft four inches in diameter. The entire affair was festooned with control rods, valves, and other esoteric bits and pieces which meant very little to the uninitiated.

Its very existence was enough to make anyone nervous. Before the Group of Four’s attempt to destroy the Kingdom of Charis, no one would ever have dreamed of testing the limits of the Proscriptions in such a way. Not that there was anything prohibited about it, of course. Father Paityr would never have been here if there’d been any chance of that! But every one of those watching men knew how unlikely the Grand Inquisitor in far-off Zion was to agree about that. All of them also had a very clear notion of what would happen to them if they ever fell into the Inquisition’s hands, and that was enough to make anyone nervous, even if he’d had no qualms at all about the work to which he’d set his hands and mind. And, of course, there was always the possibility that even Father Paityr could be wrong about those potentially demonic bits and pieces. So it wasn’t surprising, perhaps, that most of the onlookers looked just a bit anxious.

The man standing directly beside it, however, seemed remarkably impervious to any qualms anyone else might be feeling. He’d never taken his eye off of the bizarre structure for a moment — or not off of a sealed glass tube on one side of it, at any rate.

Stahlman Praigyr was a small, tough, weathered man with extraordinarily long arms and a nose which had obviously been broken more than once. When he smiled, he revealed two missing front teeth, as well, but he wasn’t smiling today. He stood mechanically wiping his hands again and again with an oily cloth, his cap pulled down over his eyes as he stared at the slowly climbing column of liquid in that tube, watching it like a cat-lizard poised outside a spider-rat burrow.

Now he straightened abruptly and looked over his shoulder.

“Pressure’s up, Sir,” he told Howsmyn, and the foundry owner looked at Zosh Huntyr, his master artificer.


“Aye, Sir,” Huntyr replied. “Nahrmahn?”

Nahrmahn Tidewater, Huntyr’s senior assistant, nodded and raised his right hand, waving the flag in it in a rapid circular movement. A bell clanged loudly, warning everyone in the vicinity — and especially the crew clustered around the base of the nearest blast furnace — that the test was about to begin.

“Anytime, Master Howsmyn,” Huntyr said then, and Howsmyn nodded to Praigyr.

“This is your special baby, Stahlman. Open her up.”

“Yes, Sir!” Praigyr’s huge grin displayed the gap where teeth once had been, and he reached for the gleaming brass wheel mounted on the end of a long, steel shaft. He spun it, still watching the gauge, and steam hissed as the throttle valve opened.

For a moment, nothing happened, but then — slowly, at first — the piston rods from the huge cylinders hidden in the rectangular box at the top of the frame began to move. They pivoted on the cross head bearings where they joined the connecting rods, whose lower ends were connected to the cranks, the offset portions of the crankshaft. And as they moved, they turned the massive crankshaft itself, much as a man might have turned a brace-and-bit to bore a hole through a ship’s timber. But this was no man turning a drill; this was the first full-scale, triple-expansion steam engine ever built on the planet of Safehold.

The piston rods moved faster as steam flowed from the high-pressure cylinder into the mid-pressure cylinder, expanding as it went. The mid-pressure cylinder’s piston head was much broader than the high-pressure cylinder’s, because the lower pressure steam needed a greater surface area to impart its energy. And once the mid-pressure cylinder had completed its stroke, it vented in turn to the low-pressure cylinder, the largest of them all. It was a noisy proposition, but the crankshaft turned faster and faster, and one of the workmen by the base of the blast furnace began waving a flag of his own in energetic circles.