Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 36


The Citadel,

King’s Harbor,

Helen Island,

Kingdom of Old Charis,

Empire of Charis.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here yesterday, Sir,” Sir Ahlfryd Hyndryk, Baron Seamount, said to High Admiral Rock Point. “The firing test ran over.” He shrugged wryly. “I’m afraid one of the recuperators failed fairly drastically. It was, ah, quite lively there for a few moments.”

“Was anyone hurt?” Sir Domynyk Staynair, Baron Rock Point and High Admiral of the Imperial Charisian Navy, asked sharply, although the truth was that he knew the answer to his question before he asked. He’d been watching the tests through Owl’s SNARCs.

“Two of Captain Byrk’s seamen were injured,” Seamount acknowledged unhappily. “I think one of them may lose three or four fingers.” He held up his own maimed left hand and wiggled its remaining fingers. “Unfortunately, it’s his right hand and he’s right-handed. The other fellow should be fine, though.” He lowered his hand and grimaced. “I blame myself for it.”

“Really?” Maikel Staynair’s younger brother tipped back in his chair. “You personally built all the components of the recuperator that failed, I take it?”

“Well, no.” Seamount shrugged. “I did have more than a little to do with its design, though. And I was supervising the test in person.”

“And I’ll wager no one could’ve prevented whatever happened from happening. Am I right about that?”

“Well . . . .”

“As a matter of fact, High Admiral, you are right,” Captain Ahldahs Rahzwail said. He glanced at Seamount, then looked back at Rock Point. “It was a fault in the casting, My Lord. That’s my initial analysis of why the cylinder wall split when the pressure spiked, at any rate. And there was no way anyone could’ve known it was there until the gun was fired.”

“That’s pretty much what I expected. So if you’ll stop kicking yourself over that, Ahlfryd, what say we get down to the reason Seijin Merlin and I are here? I have to get back to the fleet, and he has to get back to Their Majesties, and I’ll give you one guess how impatient Their Majesties are to hear about your latest developments.”

“Yes, Sir,” Seamount said, and opened the leather folder lying in front of him on the conference table.

Seamount’s office seemed smaller than it had been, with the conference table and a complete additional desk crammed into it, but its slate-lined walls were still covered with smeared notations, Merlin observed. He was tempted to smile, but the temptation faded, because those half-smeared notes were all in Seamount’s handwriting, or Ahldahs Rahzwail’s. Urvyn Mahndrayn, who’d been Seamount’s assistant for years, would never chalk another cryptic memorandum to himself on those slate walls again.

He settled into his own chair, across the table from Rahzwail. The burly, dark-haired captain reminded him of a shorter version of Rahzhyr Mahklyn’s son-in-law, Aizak Kahnklyn, with blunt, hard features and a heavy forehead which did their best to disguise the quick brain behind them. He might not be another Urvyn Mahndrayn, but very few people were. Rahzwail couldn’t multitask the way Mahndrayn had, and he lacked Mahndrayn’s ability to intuitively leap across obstacles. Yet he was an immensely experienced officer, the ex-commander of the bombardment ship Volcano, and what he lacked in intuition he compensated for with relentless, methodical determination. In some ways, he was actually a better foil for Seamount then Mahndrayn had been, because of how differently their minds worked, but no one recognized what a disaster Mahndrayn’s loss had been more clearly than Rahzwail himself.

Merlin glanced at Seamount as the short, portly baron gazed down at his own notes. Seamount had finally made admiral’s rank, despite the fact that he hadn’t commanded a ship at sea in decades. There were undoubtedly at least a handful of diehard old salts who might be tempted to denigrate Seamount’s admiral’s streamer because of that lack of seagoing experience, but if there were, they would be well advised to keep their opinions to themselves. Most of the Imperial Charisian Navy recognized how much it owed to Seamount’s fertile brain, and Domynyk Staynair had finally taken the first concrete steps towards completing the naval reorganization Bryahn Lock Island had mapped out but never had time to implement.

Seamount was now the commanding officer of the Bureau of Ordnance, with authority over all weapons-related development for the Navy and with Rahzwail as his executive officer and senior assistant. Rahzwail’s primary focus was on artillery and its development, while Commander Frahnklyn Hainai, Seamount’s liaison with Ehdwyrd Howsmyn’s engineers and artificers, was focusing on the development of new and better alloys of steel and the new steam engines coming out of the Delthak Works. It was a comment on just how severe Mahndrayn’s loss had been that it took both of them to fulfill all of the functions he’d fulfilled, although Merlin suspected Rahzwail and Hainai might each actually be better at their part of Mahndrayn’s old work load than he himself had been, if only because they had to juggle so many fewer projects simultaneously. He also knew Rock Point had earmarked Hainai to take over the Bureau of Engineering once it was formally established (in about another two or three months, at the outside), just as Captain Tompsyn Saigyl (yet another Seamount assistant, who’d also worked closely with Rock Point and Sir Dustyn Olyvyr) would be assuming command of the equally soon-to-be-established Bureau of Ships. Captain Dynnys Braisyn was already settling in as the CO of the Bureau of Supply, and Captain Styvyn Brahnahr had been named to head the Bureau of Navigation just last five-day.

There were those who found all the reorganization disturbing, and others who questioned the newfangled notions — especially the newfangled notion of a shore-based naval academy — and whether or not the middle of a desperate war was the best time to be mucking about with problematic innovations. Most, however, realized it was the energetic adoption of new ideas which had permitted the Royal Charisian Navy and, now, the Imperial Charisian Navy to sweep all opposition from the face of Safehold’s seas, and it struck them as a very good idea to continue to innovate if they wanted to keep things that way. As for those who didn’t feel that way, the vast majority of them were at least wise enough to keep their opinions to themselves rather than carelessly scattering them about where they might come to High Admiral Rock Point’s ears.

“For the most part, Sir,” Seamount said finally, looking up from his notes to meet Rock Point’s eyes, “we’re essentially where we expected to be as of our last conference. Ahldahs and I just returned from the artillery tests, and Fhranklyn’s headed up to the Delthak Works to confer with Master Howsmyn. The recuperators worked fairly well, but not perfectly. There’s still too much fluid leakage, and I’m not as comfortable in my own mind about how well they’ll stand up to really heavy guns. So far, we haven’t tried them with anything heavier than a thirty-pounder or a six-inch rifle.”

Rock Point nodded gravely. The thirty-pounder and the six-inch rifle had approximately the same bore, but the ICN had found itself facing much the same problem which had been faced back on Old Earth during the transition from smoothbores to rifled artillery. Smoothbores fired round shot; rifled guns fired elongated, cylindrical shot, which were considerably heavier than the shot from a smoothbore of equal caliber. Given the differences in performance — and bore pressures — that caused, it was a non-trivial distinction. The increase in bore pressures to which rifled guns’ heavier projectiles (and tighter windages) contributed had turned out to be even greater than Seamount and Urvyn Mahndrayn had predicted, yet the advantages would be well worth the headaches. They were going into service, probably sooner than even Merlin had anticipated, and that made figuring out what to call them a rather more pressing concern than some people might have anticipated.