How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 16
Year of God 895
Edwyrd Howsmyn’s foundry,
Barony of High Rock,
Kingdom of Old Charis
The blast furnace screamed, belching incandescent fury against the night, and the sharpness of coal smoke blended with the smell of hot iron, sweat, and at least a thousand other smells Father Paityr Wylsynn couldn’t begin to identify. The mingled scent of purpose and industry hung heavy in the humid air, catching lightly at the back of his throat even through the panes of glass.
He stood gazing out Ehdwyrd Howsmyn’s office window into the hot summer darkness and wondered how he’d come here. Not just the trip to this office, but to why he was here . . . and to what was happening inside his own mind and soul.
“A glass of wine, Father?” Howsmyn asked from behind him, and the priest turned from the window.
“Yes, thank you,” he agreed with a smile.
For all his incredible (and steadily growing) wealth, Howsmyn preferred to dispense with servants whenever possible, and the young intendant watched him pour with his own hands. The ironmaster extended one of the glasses to his guest, then joined him beside the window, looking out over the huge sprawl of the largest ironworks in the entire world.
It was, Wylsynn admitted, an awesome sight. The furnace closest to the window (and it wasn’t actually all that close, he acknowledged) was only one of dozens. They fumed and smoked like so many volcanoes, and when he looked to his right he could see a flood of molten iron, glowing with a white heart of fury, flowing from a furnace which had just been tapped. The glare of the fuming iron lit the faces of the workers tending the furnace, turning them into demon helpers from the forge of Shan-wei herself as the incandescent river poured into the waiting molds.
Howsmyn’s Delthak foundries never slept. Even as Wylsynn watched, draft dragons hauled huge wagons piled with coke and iron ore and crushed limestone along the iron rails Howsmyn had laid down, and the rhythmic thud and clang of water-powered drop hammers seemed to vibrate in his own blood and bone. When he looked to the east, he could see the glow of the lampposts lining the road all the way to Port Ithmyn, the harbor city the man who’d become known throughout Safehold as “The Ironmaster of Charis” had built on the west shore of Lake Ithmyn expressly to serve his complex. Port Ithmyn was over four miles away, invisible with distance, yet Wylsynn could picture the lanterns and torches illuminating its never-silent waterfront without any difficulty at all.
If Clyntahn could see this he’d die of sheer apoplexy, Wylsynn reflected, and despite his own internal doubts — or possibly even because of them — the thought gave him intense satisfaction. Still . . . .
“I can hardly believe all you’ve accomplished, Master Howsmyn,” he said, waving his wine glass at everything beyond the window. “All this out of nothing but empty ground just five years ago.” He shook his head. “You Charisians have done a lot of amazing things, but I think this is possibly the most amazing of all.”
“It wasn’t quite ‘nothing but empty ground,’ Father,” Howsmyn disagreed. “Oh,” he grinned, “it wasn’t a lot more than empty ground, that’s true, but there was the village here. And the fishing village at Port Ithmyn. Still, I’ll grant your point, and God knows I’ve plowed enough marks back into the soil, as it were.”
Wylsynn nodded, accepting the minor correction. Then he sighed and turned to face his host squarely.
“Of course, I suspect the Grand Inquisitor would have a few things to say if he could see it,” he said. “Which is rather the point of my visit.”
“Of course it is, Father,” Howsmyn said calmly. “I haven’t added anything beyond those things you and I have discussed, but you’d be derelict in your duties if you didn’t reassure yourself of that. I think it’s probably too late to carry out any inspections tonight, but tomorrow morning we’ll look at anything you want to see. I would ask you to take a guide — there are some hazardous processes out there, and I’d hate to accidentally incinerate the Archbishop’s Intendant — but you’re perfectly welcome to decide for yourself what you want to look at or examine, or which of my supervisors or shift workers you’d care to interview.” He inclined his head in a gesture which wasn’t quite a bow. “You’ve been nothing but courteous and conscientious under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, Father. I can’t ask for more than that.”
“I’m glad you think so. On the other hand, I have to admit there are times I wonder — worry about — the slash lizard you’ve saddled here.” Wylsynn waved his glass at the fire-lit night beyond the window once more. “I know nothing you’ve done violates the Proscriptions, yet the sheer scale of your effort, and the . . . innovative way you’ve applied allowable knowledge is disturbing. The Writ warns that change begets change, and while it says nothing about matters of scale, there are those — not all of them Temple Loyalists, by any stretch — who worry that innovation on such a scale will inevitably erode the Proscriptions.”
“Which must put you in a most difficult position, Father,” Howsmyn observed.
“Oh, indeed it does.” Wylsynn smiled thinly. “It helps that Archbishop Maikel doesn’t share those concerns, and he’s supported all of my determinations where your new techniques are concerned. I don’t suppose that would make the Grand Inquisitor any more supportive, but it does quite a lot for my own peace of mind. And to be honest, the thought of how the Grand Inquisitor would react if he truly knew all you and the other ‘innovators’ here in Charis have been up to pleases me immensely. In fact, that’s part of my problem, I’m afraid.”
Howsmyn gazed at him for a moment, then cocked his head to one side.
“I’m no Bédardist, Father,” he said almost gently, “but I’d be astonished if you didn’t feel that way after what happened to your father and your uncle. Obviously, I don’t know you as well as the Archbishop does, but I do know you better than many, I expect, after how closely we’ve worked together for the past couple of years. You’re worried that your inevitable anger at Clyntahn and the Group of Four might cause you to overlook violations of the Proscriptions because of a desire to strike back at them, aren’t you?”
Wylsynn’s eyes widened with respect. It wasn’t really surprise; Ehdwyrd Howsmyn was one of the smartest men he knew, after all. Yet the ironmaster’s willingness to address his own concerns so directly, and the edge of compassion in Howsmyn’s tone, were more than he’d expected.