Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 46


King’s Harbor,

Helen Island,

Kingdom of Old Charis,

Empire of Charis

There were too many of them to fit into Baron Seamount’s office this time, so they’d met in Sir Dustyn Olyvyr’s drafting office, instead. The drafting tables where the ICN’s Chief Naval Constructor’s assistant designers normally labored had been moved back against the enormous room’s walls and a conference table had been moved into the middle of the floor. The louvered skylights were open, allowing the harbor breeze to swirl through, and sunlight poured through the glass, flooding the room with the light the draftsman normally required. The smells of salt water, freshly sawn timbers, tar, and paint came with the breeze, and the cries of gulls and sea wyverns, mingled with the shouts of foremen and their work crews, floated through the opened windows over the racket of hammers and saws.

“Every time I get out here, it seems like you’ve figured out how to cram at least one more building way into the waterfront, Sir Dustyn,” Cayleb Ahrmahk said wryly.

“It’s not really that bad, Your Majesty,” Olyvyr said.

“No, not quite,” Domynyk Staynair agreed. “Although, I do seem to recall having authorized you to demolish four of those warehouses associated with the old foundry in order to build new slips over there. Is my memory playing me false?”

“Well, no. It isn’t.”

“I thought not.” Baron Rock Point nodded, standing behind his chair at the table, and surveying the assembled group. Almost half were members of the inner circle, which was going to make the ensuing conversation interesting, since they’d have to remember the other half weren’t.

“All right.” Cayleb slid Sharleyan’s chair up to the table after she was seated, then dropped into his own, “I know we’re all short on time — especially with Sharleyan due to leave for Chisholm in only seven days.” He grimaced. “She and I both have a lot of things we need to do before then, and all of you have just as many projects and responsibilities waiting for you. It’s not often we get a chance to sit down in one place together, though, and before we scatter to our various roosts, I want to make sure we cover everything that needs to be covered. Ehdwyrd,” he looked at Ehdwyrd Howsmyn, “I know you and Captain Rahskail and Commander Malkaihy need to spend at least a full day of your own discussing the new artillery designs. I want to sit in on that as well, if I can find time. At the moment, though,” he returned his attention to Olyvyr, “I’m more interested in where we are on the new ship designs.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.” Olyvyr nodded and settled into his own chair, like all of the others — except Seijin Merlin, who stood comfortably beside the only door into the big room — after the emperor and empress had been seated. Then he folded the hands which bore the long-faded scars of chisel, saw, and adze on the table in front of him and nodded to the man at his right, Captain Tompsyn Saigyl. “Tompsyn and I have been working on that, and we’re confident we’ve solved the last design problems — assuming Ehdwyrd and Commander Hainai’s final drawings and performance estimates on the engines are accurate?”

He raised one eyebrow, and Howsmyn shrugged.

“The test engine’s completed and running, Dustyn, and we’re actually producing about ten more dragonpower than predicted.”

Olyvyr nodded. One “dragonpower,” the unit Stahlman Praigyr had proposed to measure the energy output of his beloved engines, equated to about twenty-five Old Earth horsepower.

“Of course, at this point we haven’t had a chance to see how well our projected propeller efficiency will stand up,” Howsmyn continued, “but the rest of the numbers we’ve given you are sound. And the canal boat propellers we’ve tested so far have come out fairly close to the efficiencies we’d predicted. We’ll be delivering the first harbor tug in about another three five-days, so you should be able to play with it yourself, if you like.”

“And the plate production estimates?”

“There I can’t be quite as confident,” Howsmyn admitted. “Those depend on whether or not we’re able to continue to increase capacity at the projected rate. And whether or not we have enough iron, for that matter. Nickel production’s running a little ahead of our estimated requirements, but there’s only so much iron ore to go around.”

“That’s why I authorized you to strip the iron guns off our Desnairian and Navy of God prizes,” Rock Point said. “It’s not like we’ve got the manpower to crew every ship we have, anyway, and the workmanship on the Desnairian guns, especially, is less than reliable, so if we’re going to find you scrap metal, better there than anywhere else I can think of.” He glanced at Cayleb and Sharleyan and grimaced, his expression unhappy. “I don’t like disarming that many galleons, but Ehdwyrd’s already melted down everything else I could think of, and we can always move guns from some of our early emergency-build ships into the prize vessels later. We always knew using so much green timber was going to cost us in the end, and God knows we’re starting to have enough problems with dry rot! And it’s only going to get worse over the next year or two.”

Cayleb nodded, although he was actually hard put not to smile, and from the way Sharleyan was squeezing his hand under the table, she was, as well. The idea had been hers, after all. They were going to need lots of transports to lift Eastshare’s expeditionary force across to the Republic, once they officially found out about it, and Howsmyn and the rest of the Empire’s foundries needed all the iron they could get. So, since war galleons were already fitted to carry large crews, which meant they had the berthing space and water and food stowage for feeding and transporting sizable numbers of men, why not kill two wyverns with one stone? Go ahead and begin stripping the artillery out now for Howsmyn and his fellow ironmasters, which would just happen to leave Rock Point with a significant number of galleons, berthed right here at Helen Island or Tellesberg, which could immediately be sent off to Chisholm.

“That’s going to help a lot, obviously,” Howsmyn said with admirable gravity. “And Brahd Stylmyn thinks he can increase output at the High Rock mines by perhaps another five, possibly even six percent once the new engines are fully available. I think he’s underestimating a bit, but there’s no way we’re going to get an output increase of more than, say, ten percent in anything less than four or five years, no matter what we do. Those new deposits in the Hallecks are going to help, too, but it’s going to take at least several months to get the mines operating, and transport’s going to be a real problem even after we do. That’s why we’re putting so much effort into the Lake Lymahn Works right now, to decrease how far we’d have to ship it.” It was his turn to grimace. “Which, of course, is diverting trained manpower at the moment we need it most to support your new project, Dustyn.”

“So is the bottom line that we’re going to be able to produce the necessary iron and steel or not?” Sharleyan asked.

“The answer is . . . probably but not certainly. For the immediate future, that is,” Howsmyn said, manifestly unhappily. “On the other hand, the answer for the entire program the High Admiral and I originally discussed is more likely going to be ‘no,’ I’m afraid, at least in anything like our original timeframe.”

“Would that change if we pulled those workmen of yours home from Lake Lymahn and the other new works you’re building?” Rock Point asked.

“Not hugely.” Howsmyn leaned back and shook his head. “And if we pull them back, we lose the increased production we’re going to need even worse down the road.”

“I think you’re entirely right about that,” Cayleb said. “In fact, I think we probably need to make it a hard and fast rule that we’re going to reserve at least — what? ten percent? — of your total capacity for expansion.”

“Your Majesty, I don’t know if we can do that,” Baron Ironhill, the Empire’s treasurer, said. He looked back and forth between Howsmyn, Rock Point, and the emperor and empress. “Your Majesties know how bad the treasury numbers look right now, especially with the loss of all the trade that was moving through Siddarmark to the rest of the mainland. I expect to see some recovery in the revenue numbers in the next year or so, but it’s not going to make up for what we’ve lost. Frankly, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to steal enough money to finance the Crown’s projected share of the new works after all, and even if I can, we’re going to be committed to supporting a major land war in Siddarmark. That means we’re going to have to operate on a mainland scale, and we’ve never done that where the Army and the Marines are concerned. If we don’t produce what they need now — and find the money to pay for it somehow — it won’t matter what we may be able to produce in another three years’ time. And right now, frankly, Ehdwyrd’s running at full capacity just to meet current needs.”

“Ahlvyno’s right about what we’re going to need, at least in the next year to fifteen months.” Trahvys Ohlsyn, the Earl of Pine Hollow, who’d replaced the murdered Rayjhis Yowance as Cayleb’s first councilor, didn’t look happy to hear himself saying that. “We can’t afford to cut back the Navy — the Empire’s fundamental security won’t let us do that — but we’re going to find ourselves under huge pressure to support Stohnar and any troops we put ashore in Siddarmark. But you’re right, as well, Your Majesty. We have to keep expanding output if we’re going to meet our future needs.”