BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER – snippet 21:
Ehdwyrd Howsmyn's foundry,
Earldom of High Rock,
Kingdom of Charis
"And how has your day been?" Rhaiyan Mychail asked genially as he stepped into Ehdwyrd Howsmyn's office.
"Hectic," Howsmyn said with a grin, standing to clasp forearms with his longtime business associate. "On the other hand, there could be a lot worse reasons for putting up with all of the headaches."
"True." Mychail returned Howsmyn's grin. "The sound of all those gold marks falling into my cashbox at night is such a cheerful one!"
Both men laughed, and Howsmyn twitched his head at the office window. The two of them walked across to stand looking out it, and Mychail's expression sobered as he shook his head.
"It's hard to believe that all you had here two years ago was a single small furnace and a lot of empty dirt," he said.
"I feel the same way a lot of the time," Howsmyn acknowledged. "And, like you, I have no objection at all to how much richer this is making me. But at the same time . . . ."
He shook his head, and the gesture was far less cheerful than Mychail's had been.
His older friend didn't respond at once. Instead, he simply stood there, looking out over what was without doubt already one of the largest — if not the largest — foundries in the entire world.
Howsmyn's new and growing facility sat on the western shore of Ithmyn's Lake, the vast lake formed at the confluence of the Selmyn River and the West Delthak River in the Earldom of High Rock. The West Delthak was a brawling, powerful river flowing out of the South Hanth Mountains, but frequent shallows and cataracts made anything but small, local boat traffic impossible. The lower Delthak, however, was navigable, even for galleons, between Ithmyn's Lake and Larek, the small (but growing) port at the river's mouth, sixty-four miles to the south. That had been a major factor in Howsmyn's decision to buy the land from Earl High Rock, since it meant ships could sail all the way up the river to what was literally his front door. The extensive deposits of high-quality iron ore in the mountains to the west had been another factor, of course, although he hadn't actually done very much to develop the site until the sudden need for enormous quantities of artillery had burst upon the Kingdom of Charis.
Now engineers in Howsymyn's employ had already begun construction of a series of locks to improve navigation on the West Delthak and facilitate development of the mountains's iron desposits. Still more engineers had been busy further down the river, and much of its water had been diverted through dams and channels by a swarming army of workmen to create an entire series of holding pools. Aqueducts from the highest pools and channels from the lower ones led to almost two dozen overshot waterwheels, all of them churning steadily to power the equipment Howsmyn's mechanics had installed, and fresh mill races were under construction, as well. Smoke fumed from blast furnaces, more smoke rose from the foundries themselves, and as Mychail watched, a team of workers tapped the ore bath of a puddling furnace. The ferociously incandescent molten iron — wrought iron, now, and no longer the softer, more malleable cast iron — spilled through the tap into a collecting ladle for further processing.
Elsewhere, a much larger ladle of fiery, molten iron moved steadily towards the waiting molds. The ladle was suspended from an iron framework, which was in turn mounted on a heavy, multi-ton freight wagon. The wagon's wheels had flanged rims, instead of the smooth ones one might have expected, but that was to insure that they followed the iron rails linking the furnaces and the rest of the foundry's facilities. Draft dragons leaned into their collars, moving their burden with brisk efficiency, and Mychail inhaled deeply.
"Believe me, I understand," he said quietly. "When I look at this –" he jutted his chin at the swarming, incredibly noisy activity beyond Howsmyn's window "– I feel this enormous surge of optimism. Then I think about the fact that the Group of Four has the combined resources of every mainland realm to draw upon. That's a lot of foundries, Ehdwyrd, even if none of them can hold a candle to what you're doing here."
The truth was that all the techniques being employed out there had been known to ironmasters virtually since the Creation. But most of the iron which had ever before been required had been produced in much smaller operations, and without the consistent application of power from the perpetually rotating waterwheels Howsmyn and his mechanics had integrated into this foundry.
Well, Mychail corrected himself, there are a few changes in "technique," if I'm going to be honest. So I suppose it's fortunate that none of them had to be tested under the Proscriptions.
Howsmyn had gone further than anyone else in finding ways to use the power of his waterwheels. As one result, his furnaces burned hotter, and he'd been forced to find more refractory materials for the firebrick those furnaces required. Which, in turn, had inspired him to try to drive temperatures still higher. Mychail was one of the very few people who knew about Howmyn's latest project — a further development of the puddling hearth but one which used hot furnace gasses to preheat the ductwork by which the furnace was fired. Unless Mychail was sorely mistaken, production rates would be going up once more. And if Howsmyn's more optimistic predictions proved justified, he might actually find himself producing true steel, not simple wrought iron, in quantities such as no other ironmaster had ever even contemplated.
Fortunately, the Church had never set any sort of standard for the materials from which fire brick had to be made, or the temperatures to which furnaces might be heated, which meant Howsmyn's increased efficiency had slipped past almost unnoticed by Safehold at large . . . and by the Inquisition, in particular. The same broader and more innovative use of the power of his waterwheels had allowed him to achieve still other efficiencies, as well, such as the grooved, geared rollers which let him produce iron bars far more quickly and economically than the traditional methods of hammering or of cutting strips from a rolled plate.
"I know your output is a lot higher on a manpower basis," Mychail continued. "But they don't have to match your output if they can bury you under sheer numbers of foundries."
"I know. Believe me, I know. On the other hand," Howsmyn raised one hand and pointed out beyond the current outer ring of furnaces, to where still more walls and foundations marked additional expansion which was already well underway, "within four months, we're going to have increased our present capacity by another fifty percent. I'm expanding both my Tellesberg foundry and the one in Tirian, as well, too."
Mychail nodded, turning his head to watch yet another cargo vessel moving steadily up the Delthak from Larek. He wondered what this one carried as it steered towards the cluster of ships already moored at Howsmyn's lakeside docks. More coke for the furnaces? Copper and tin for Howsmyn's bronze works? Or more timbers, brick, and cement for the ongoing construction tasks?
Housing for Howsmyn's employees was also going up. Like Mychail himself, Howsmyn held strong opinions on the quality of housing his workers required. From a purely selfish viewpoint, the better the housing, the more strictly Pasquale's injunctions on sanitation were followed, the healthier the workforce he could expect, and the healthier his workforce, the more productive it would be. But there was more to it for Ehdwyrd Howsmyn, just as there was for Mychail, himself.