Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 34

Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 34


Royal College,

Tellesberg Palace,

City of Tellesberg,


The Citadel,

King’s Harbor,

Helen Island,

Kingdom of Old Charis,

Empire of Charis.

Doctor Sahndrah Lywys stepped into what would have been called her laboratory on a planet named Old Earth a thousand years or so ago. On Safehold, it was simply called her study, although the “studies” she carried on here had very little to do with the libraries and quiet reading rooms most Safeholdians meant by that term. In fact, she strongly suspected that if the Inquisition — at least the Inquisition as administered by Zhaspahr Clyntahn — had had any notion of exactly what she studied here, and how, the consequences would have been drastic and extremely unpleasant.

Of course Clyntahn and his agents probably do have a pretty good idea of what we’re up to here at the college, she reflected as she used one of the “Shan-wei’s candles” which had resulted from those same studies to light the lamps in the room’s corners. If they don’t, it’s not because they haven’t been told, anyway! And if they do know, all of us better hope to Langhorne the Group of Four does lose this damned war in the end.

Sahndrah Lywys was a Charisian to her toenails, and she had enormous confidence in her emperor and empress and in her homeland, but that didn’t mean Charis couldn’t lose, and she grimaced at that thought as she replaced the last lamp’s chimney and adjusted the reflector behind it. It wasn’t as good as sunlight, but no interior light source was, and her study here in Tellesberg Palace was still far better lit than her original one in the old Royal College. The original College had seldom been able to afford the quality of the lamp oil (refined from first-grade kraken oil) available to it now. The oil burned with a bright, clear flame, far better (and far easier on her eyes) than the tallow candles and poor quality oil she’d had to use altogether too often then. And she could have literally as much of it as she needed, which was an almost sinful luxury after so many years of pinching every tenth-mark until it squealed.

Her new study was also bigger, far better equipped, and much safer. Lywys knew Rahzhyr Mahklyn had been very much in two minds about accepting Emperor Cayleb’s (only he’d simply been King Cayleb at the time, of course) offer of a new home here in the palace immediately after the Battle of Darcos Sound. The official distinction between the College and the Kingdom of Charis had always been carefully maintained, despite its name, precisely because its quest for knowledge had been enough to make any conservative churchman uncomfortable. That had been true even before the schism; since the Church of Charis had declared its independence, it had grown only worse, as the act of arson which had destroyed the original College — and all its records — had made abundantly clear.

Cayleb had been pressing Mahklyn to move to larger, safer, and more efficient quarters for over eight months before the arsonists struck. After the attack, the then king had been through arguing; he’d commanded, and Mahklyn had seen no choice but to acquiesce. Lywys had been in favor of the move even before someone started playing with lit lanterns, and nothing since had changed her mind. On a personal level, living on the palace grounds made her feel enormously safer. On a scholarship level, which was far more important to her, if the truth be known, the advantages were even greater. There was no comparison between the College’s current funding levels, with open Crown sponsorship. And even more significant to someone like Lywys, the Church of Charis’ full-fledged support of the faculty’s research as a critical component in the Empire’s and the Church’s survival had let all of them step out of the shadowy, semi-condemned twilight of near-heresy to which their love of knowledge had once condemned them.

Not that there weren’t some downsides to the move, she reflected more grimly, thinking about the years of research and notes which had burned along with the old College. She extinguished the stub of the Shan-wei’s candle carefully, testing the wooden sliver between her fingers to be certain it was out before she discarded it. There wasn’t much to burn here in her study, but she was pretty sure all of the College’s faculty had become almost as paranoid as she was where fires were concerned.

She smiled at that thought, given how much of her own studies of late had been dedicated towards finding better ways to make things burn. The Shan-wei’s candle was a case in point, although a part of her did wish people could have found a less . . . pointed name for it. Personally, she’d held out for “instant match,” or even just “match,” since in many ways it was only a better development of the old slow match and quick match which had been used to light candles and fires and set off matchlocks — and artillery — forever. She still hadn’t given up hope of eventually getting the name changed, but it was going to be an uphill battle, at best.

She chuckled and crossed to the cabinet in the study’s corner. Her assistants would be coming in soon, and it was a point of honor for her to be already here, already working when her first student arrived. She knew she wasn’t fooling any of them into thinking she’d really been here working all night — at her age, all-night sessions had become a thing of the past — yet there were still appearances to maintain and, if she was going to be honest, she thought as she opened the cabinet door, it was a game she and they both enjoyed playing.

She removed her cotton apron from the cabinet, but it on, and turned to the stone-topped worktable to resume her current project. One of her students had obviously spent at least a little time here after she’d gone home, she noted, and reached out to move the bottles of acid whoever it was had left behind. Schueler’s tears and vitriol distillate, she noted. Now what had whoever it had been —

“Oh, Shan-wei!”

She snatched her hand back, scowling, as she knocked over the bottle of Schueler’s tears, which, in turn, tipped over the other bottle. Fortunately, whoever had left them out had secured the stoppers properly, but the impact of their fall was enough to loosen both of them. Quite a bit of both acids leaked, flowing together in an acrid-smelling puddle, before she could snatch them up once again.

She scowled, castigating herself for her carelessness, and carried both bottles carefully across to one of the lead-lined sinks. She rinsed them both thoroughly, one at a time, then dried them and set them back into the storage rack before she returned to the worktable.

The puddle of combined acids was bigger than she’d thought, and she looked around for something to clean it up with. Unfortunately, there was nothing handy, and she shrugged. Her lab apron was getting worn, anyway. If the acids ate holes in it, it would give her an excuse to replace it. She smiled at the thought, took it off, and wiped the table cautiously, careful to keep her hands out of contact with the acid. Then she crossed to one of the lamps with the sodden apron.

She spread the wet portion of fabric over the heat rising from the lamp chimney, holding the apron by its sides, moving it in slow circles to encourage drying. The fumes made her want to sneeze, but the study was well ventilated — she’d insisted on that! — and she’d certainly smelled far worse over the years. In fact —


Lywys jumped two feet into the air as the center of her lab apron disappeared in a sudden, instantaneous burst of light, like the flash of Langhorne’s own Rakurai.

* * * * * * * * * *

“So Sahndrah brought her new discovery straight to me,” Rahzhyr Mahklyn said much later. He was tipped back in his swivel chair, gazing out the windows of his office, speaking — apparently — to the empty air. Now he grinned. “I don’t know whether she was more pleased, startled, or upset with herself for having been so clumsy in the first place. But, being Sahndrah, she went through another half-dozen aprons and hand towels checking and duplicating before she came to tell me about it.”

“Well, this will make Ahlfryd happy,” Merlin Athrawes replied over the plug in Mahklyn’s ear. At the moment, he was standing atop the citadel at King’s Harbor, overlooking the anchorage. “I know it makes me happy. I never expected anyone to discover guncotton this soon.”

“It sounds to me as if she discovered it pretty much exactly the same way Schönbein did,” Mahklyn replied. Then he paused, his eyes narrowing. “Owl’s remotes didn’t happen to’ve anything to do with her spilling that acid, did they?”

“How could you possibly suggest such a thing?” Merlin responded in tones of profound innocence.

“Because King Haarahld was right when he called you Master Traynyr! Were you pulling puppet strings in this case?”

“Much as it pains me to disabuse you of your faith in my diabolical Machiavellianism, in this particular instance, I am as innocent as the new fallen snow. I had nothing — nothing at all — to do with it.”

Mahklyn frowned suspiciously. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Merlin’s veracity . . . exactly. Still . . . .

“Well, I suppose I’ll just have to take your word,” he said after a moment. “And however it happened, she’s jumped on it like a slash lizard on a prong buck.” He shook his head. “She spent fifteen minutes telling me all about the additional research she’ll need to do before she’s prepared to make any definitive statements about the process or how it works. Then she spent the next two hours pointing out possible applications, especially where explosives in general — and artillery in particular — are concerned.”

“I can’t say I’m really surprised.” Merlin shook his head. “She’s been working too closely with Ahlfryd for too long for the possibilities not to hit her right in the eye.”

“But are we going to be able to actually use it?” Mahklyn climbed out of his chair and walked across to the window, looking out over the courtyards of Tellesberg Palace. “I checked Owl’s library before I commed you — that’s how I knew about Schönbein. Chemistry isn’t my discipline, and we don’t really have anyone inside the circle who is a chemist. But according to what I skimmed out of the library, it took decades back on Old Earth to actually develop a reliable nitro-based propellant that didn’t have a tendency to explode on its own at highly inconvenient moments.”

“Yes, it did. Almost fifty years, in fact. But Safehold’s got everything we’d really need to duplicate Vielle’s formulation. We’d have to drastically increase the scale of production for some of what we’d, and the quality control involved in washing the guncotton would have to be worked on, but none of that’s beyond the reach of what we have right now. It’s only a matter of . . . steering the development.”

“That sounds at least moderately Machiavellian to me,” Mahklyn pointed out, and Merlin chuckled as he leaned his elbows on the battlements.

“Not that Machiavellian. Only a little Machiavellian. And a good thing, too. I’m going to have to reserve most of my Machiavellian wiles for application to the Brethren to really make this work.”


“You’re right. We need a chemist in the circle, and to be honest, I can’t think of a better candidate than Doctor Lywys. She strikes me as mentally flexible enough, and I’m pretty sure she could handle the shock better than most.”

“Don’t expect me to disagree with you. I nominated her for membership over five months ago.”

“I know you did. And it hasn’t taken them this long to make a decision in her case because they don’t think it would be a good idea. They’ve had some other things on their minds.”


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78 Responses to Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 34

  1. Nimitz13 says:

    Woohoo! Smokeless powder! Dynamite! The fog of war is about to lift quite a bit!

    When her apron caught on fire I yelled “Guncotton!”

    (Which just goes to prove I’ve spent WAY too much time on the forums discussing what the EoC needs to “discover” next.)

    What exactly have the Brethren been up to that is slowing down their vetting of candidates for the circle? Hmm…

    The brass cartridge and machine guns are on their way! Take that you hordes of Harchongese peasants carrying pikes! It’s the Battle of the Crapper from “1632” all over again! I nominate Clyntahn to hide beneath the outhouse, since his presence wouldn’t fundamentally change the contents of the hole. Bleek!

    • JimHacker says:

      Only when it caught on fire? I thought guncotten when she spilled the chemicals. I knew it was going to guncotten when she decided to mop it up with the apron. I’m guessing that you know this Nimitz, but this is almost exactly the same way guncotten was invented in real life.

      • Nimitz13 says:

        I knew that – I became suspicious when he mentioned her “cotton apron.” When she decided to use it to wipe up the mess thought “The MWW is NOT going there is he?” I was TERRIFIED she was about to blow herself to kingdom come when she held the cloth over an open flame!

        The whole thing still seems fishy – OWL didn’t do it on his own, but anyone from the inner-circle could have. The EXACT ingredients to make guncotton were left out in plain sight. She “somehow” managed to knock one into the other, and they both fell on the floor. The stoppers had to come out of BOTH bottles and the contents had to mix together. That’s similar to how it happened on Earth, but to happen twice?

        Somebody read about it in OWL’s library and decided to speed things up, and probably had the remotes put the bottles where she found them, analyzed the contents for sufficient purity, then loosened the stoppers and guaranteed that both bottles fell to the floor – open ends positioned to combine their contents in the puddle and making sure the proper amount of each liquid leaked out to make the experiment a success.

        Nobody in the circle is a chemist ( OWL can provide an explanation of the dangers if asked,) but since the result is guncotton, I suspect the military types – Cayleb, Superman, and the head of the navy are high on my list. Or we could take the whole scene at face value and believe that the MWW isn’t being sneaky.

        Yeah right! Bleek!

        • JimHacker says:

          Yeah, I half suspected that she was going to blow herself up and that after this Charisians experimenting with chemicals might be a bit more cautious and scientific in future in order to avoid accidents – and someone else investigating quite what happend would themselves discover guncotten.

        • Zhal says:

          OWL is capable of learning, so it’s not impossible that he set it up himself. That would be a pretty cool twist.

      • Doug Lampert says:

        It was the apron mopping that gave it to me. And I didn’t know that was how it was invented in real life.

    • msj says:

      Ok, the apron probably wasn’t Terran cotton, but Safehold cotton silk. Earth cotton post-processing is about 99% cellulose, silk has no cellulose. And cotton silk is supposed to share characteristics of both. Hmm… I wonder how much cellulose you need for gun cotton and what the impurities would do.

      • Drak Bibliophile says:

        MSJ, it isn’t likely Safehold cotton silk as it is still highly expensive so it is likely Earth Cotton transplanted to Safehold.

        Anything that is likely to get dirty in the process of a day’s work isn’t going to be made of highly expensive material.

        • msj says:

          I was working off the WIKI, so I had to go back and check OAR. Merlin does use the phrase “raw cotton” so the Terran version is obviously on Safehold. So Terran cotton it is.

          But… we’re now something like 5 safehold years downstream from when Merlin caused the “invention” of the cotton gin. Depending on the relative availability of raw stock and raw stock costs for each of cotton and cotton silk, I’m wondering if cotton silk might not be more prevalent and just as cheap as cotton. In other words, the cost of the finished cotton silk vs finished cotton pre cotton gin was mostly based on the labor to remove the seeds. Post cotton gin it’s got to be based on raw material costs plus any deltas to the post seed separations processes peculiar to the raw material.

          In any event – the apron was cotton, since the whole gun cotton thing might not make sense otherwise. Heh.

          • Drak Bibliophile says:

            Well there was talk (in an earlier book) about the price of silk cotton *might* become low enough to use it in ship sails. [Wink]

            • msj says:

              Wasn’t that comment referring to the use of the even more expensive thistle steel silk rather than cotton silk?

            • Nimitz13 says:

              Whoops, that was steel thistle silk.

              From BSRA: “Mychail had even suggested that the cost of the material might fall far enough for it to be considered for sailcloth.

              The very notion had struck both Cayleb and Earl Lock Island as preposterous, yet they’d come to the conclusion that it actually had much to recommend it. For one thing, steel thistle was almost indestructible, with a remarkable resistance to rot and virtual immunity to mildew, so even if initial purchase costs might be high, replacement costs would be much lower. It was also enormously strong, stronger than anything Terra-based humanity had been able to produce before the days of artificial fibers.
              Coupled with its extraordinarily fine weave, which would give it a considerable efficiency advantage in driving power over any organic-based sail which had ever been produced on Earth, there was much to be said for the “preposterous” notion.”

              Gotcha Drak! (First Time EVER!) Bleek!

              • msj says:

                Continuing the thought – pretty much everything was lost when the college was burned, and Caleb was footing the bill for new stuff. If it were me, and I’m going to be dealing with caustic chemicals, I just *might* put in for a steel thistle apron depending on costs. It’s got to be better than plain cotton for this particular use.

  2. Adam says:

    Cool they just invented the single base smokeless powder. Looks like the chemist is going to go into the inner circle so progressing to the double base smokeless powder which is nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin should be quick like. I don’t know why it is safer but that still makes most of the commercial smokeless powders today. There is a triple base which uses another compound that I cant remember but that is not really important. Here is hoping she is more careful when reacting the a fore unmentioned acid and nitric acid with glycerin.

    Lock and Load, the history channel series with gunny, did a episode where they shot the exact same cartridge except for one was black powder and the other was smokeless and the smokeless had nearly twice the velocity for the same grain powder charge. This will help tons with the military. And once they get around to inventing dynamite, they will have a much more powerful charge in their shells. And this process is much harder to reverse engineer than corned BP so i don’t see it getting into the churches hands anytime soon other than another spy.

    PS. Don’t even try to make this stuff at home. It is highly illegal and not to mention very sensitive. You WILL have it go off on you while even making it, potentially killing yourself.

    • Allan G says:

      Dynamite is a truely lousy shell filling. Got tried in the late 1800’s but tends to detonate in the barrel when fired (too shock sensitive). This prompted the development of compressed air cannons in the short term and TNT and Amatol in the longer term.
      Triple base powders work better in cannons anyway (and also have higher pressures). Nitroguanidine was the missing component….

    • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

      They just HAPPENED TO BE the corect molarities (concentrations) of sulfuric and nitric acid to combine with cotton fabric to form a semi-stable guncotton? I mean the flare-off was survivable and didn’t even flame the surroundings!!
      With their “luck/serendipity” they can probably mix in glycerol and get one of the stable versions (even without ‘inner circle’ knowledge/aid) of nitroglycerin (IIRC it is better than a 2 in 6 chance anyway)!!

      I wonder what else the brothers doing the ‘inner circle’ validation are busy at?

      DO NOT even imagine attempting something similar at home!!!!!!
      How the chemist did not die (or be severely injuried) from: the heated ACID fumes; the explosive flare-off; an actual explosion (as impurities do in primer production); or burnt by the spilt acids IS IMO a miracle of fictionalization!
      And the molarity and purity (including what type of impurities are present) of your ingredients is PARAMOUNT. ANY differentials from the correct ingredients can spell the difference between nothing happeng, getting what you want, and outright catastrophe.

      • BobG says:

        I suspect she survived because so little nitrocellulose was actually produced. The actual production of quantities of it needs more work. But heating acid without a fume hood? That is really a bad idea.

        • Andreas says:

          I guess even though the planet is called safehold and they have religious proscriptions for a lot of stuff, safety precautions in a chemistry lab wasn’t yet high on the list.

          Also, whoever in this world get’s ideas about making things boom will already have plenty of ressources available to her or usually him… Luckily most of them don’t have malicious intents and/or remove themselves from the gene pool early.

          • stephen y says:

            I suspect a planet like Safehold would have proscriptions ON chemistry labs and would consider a lack of safty measures an excellent way to discourage anyone who thought to experiment.

            • Drak Bibliophile says:

              Stephen, the proscriptions on chemistry are in the form of “curses”. IE something bad will happen to you if you mess with this. Oh, these “curses” are the currently known dangers of those elements/compounds.

        • Robert Krawitz says:

          It sounds like she did think of that little detail. But they don’t have electricity, and they’re probably not thinking too much about building fans using the steam engines they have.

          “The fumes made her want to sneeze, but the study was well ventilated — she’d insisted on that!”

          • Doubting Thomas says:

            In a previous snippet, what they have driven by their triple expansion steam engine is a blower (this is another name for a fan). they are working on it.

      • Robert H. Woodman says:

        Hi, Rob,

        Merlin claimed he had nothing to do with this. That doesn’t mean that OWL by itself or OWL acting on someone else’s (other than Merlin’s) behest didn’t “help things along.”

      • JimHacker says:

        Actually, the moment she started mopping it up I thought she was going to blow herself up.

  3. ElimGarak says:

    Charis invents gun cotton, AND we land on mars on the same day, nearly at the same hour? AWESOME!

    Some of the early books of DW had a few scenes of discovery in them. As in people (or aliens) taking their first steps in the universe, discovering things, looking at the infinity, that sort of thing. I hope we get more of them.

  4. Frank says:

    Boom! Big Boom! Bring on the book! This waiting is slowly shattering my nerves!

  5. Matthew says:

    “We’d have to drastically increase the scale of production for some of what we’d, and the quality control involved in washing the guncotton would have to be worked on, but none of that’s beyond the reach of what we have right now. It’s only a matter of . . . steering the development.”

    There’s a problem in this sentence… The first part ends in we’d and it doesn’t make any sense…

    • TimC says:

      !”some of what we’d…” I suspect this is an arifact of DW’s use of dictation software, the one I use (Dragon) is quite capable of mishearing ‘We need’ for ‘we’d’ if there was a noise or interruption at thae tme it was said.

  6. jfenton says:

    Merlin swears that he is not responsible for Dr. Lewis’ ‘accident.’ In that case, I wonder who it was that did that, Sharleyan?

    • Robert H. Woodman says:

      It could have just happened.

    • Robert H. Woodman says:

      Actually, I wonder if OWL didn’t seize the initiative and help things along itself. That would be a notable step for the AI computer with numerous ramifications for the plot line. Of course, I’m probably COMPLETELY wrong.


  7. Robert H. Woodman says:

    This was an enjoyable snippet to read. Good to see more of the scientific discovery process going on.

  8. BobG says:

    Nasty bad thought – if she does freak out on learning about the real history, they can stuff her in cryo and then make it appear she died in an explosion.

    Hopefully, she can handle it, however, but no one so far has failed.

  9. AJNolte says:

    Good snipet. I have some concerns that she may be the first failure, though. Having re-read the five previous books this past week (in preparation for the next one to come out), Weber drops a _lot_ of hints that someone is eventually not going to take it well, and he did just go out of his way to hint at the depth of her faith. Could be interesting, in the not so good sense.

    • Robert Krawitz says:

      I doubt it. If you’re referring to the “shadowy, semi-condemned twilight of near-heresy”, I think it’s simply a reference to condemnation by others. She can now do what she wants completely in the open. There’s otherwise nothing I can see that hints at her having any kind of deep-seated religious faith. She clearly has no love for the CoGA.

      She was startled by her apron deflagrating like that, but her first reaction was to conduct some more experiments to verify what happened. That doesn’t sound like someone so bound by her faith that she’ll have a crisis over the truth.

      I also doubt very much that Merlin had anything to do with this — even if OWL had arranged for the right amount of acid to be in each bottle, there’s no way of telling exactly how much would have spilled out of each when they fell, or how well they would have mixed, and if things went wrong and the end result had detonated rather than simply deflagrated, it would have been very bad news indeed.

      • KenJ says:

        Personally, I’d be more concerned she’d be more like Seamount: As in, likely to be pissed off enough to throw caution to the wind and advance TOO fast or else vanish into OWL’s libraries and never be seen again. She’s almost too valuable as she is to tamper with. Better IMHO would be to find a good ‘assistant’ for her that WAS a member of the circle… if possible. (I know, not too likely)

        • Robert Krawitz says:

          She sounds quite level headed to me. After getting over her initial surprise, she checked her results very carefully before going to her boss. She’s also well aware that if things aren’t handled well — not just chemicals — that EoC could be in serious trouble.

          Sure, she might be seriously pissed off at the lies she’s heard her whole life, but I suspect Cayleb, Merlin, and Sharleyan could sit down with her and explain the logic of why they have to do what they’re doing.

          That said, if they told her “we really want you to improve the quality of the propellant, and oh by the way here are a few other tips to nudge you in the right direction”, she’d probably be too busy playing with her new toys to worry too much about the politics. I’d be more concerned about her blowing herself up trying to do too much, but again, it sounds like she’s actually quite prudent.

      • Bewildered says:

        I’d disagree about there being no hints about the doctor having no faith. She’s Charisian to her toenails and Charisians are generally religious. Reformist rather than CoGA faithful certainly, but not unreligious. She hopes to Langhorne. Whether that is blasphemous or genuine prayer I’ve no idea, comparable to our Oh God statements. Usually blasphemous I know but occasionally used legitimately. There’s also her wince about the candles. Now whether that’s purely political calculation or genuine dislike to call something a ‘devil’s candle’ I’ve no idea. I’d say it’s too much of a leap to say no hints of deep seated faith. No love for the CoGA certainly but to suggest agnostism or atheism is way too much I think. Even to claim she’s a lapsed believer isn’t supported by the evidence. Given the likes of Newton or Galileo there are no issues with her being both a genuine scientist and genuinely faithful.

        • Nimitz13 says:

          We see people saying “Langhorne” often enough in the text to see it’s a common exclamation of surprise or plea for protection, as when Hektor & co. ambushed the Delferahkan dragoons who’d captured Irys & Daivyn in HFaF and there were cries of “Quarter! Sweet Langhorne, quarter!” So that’s cultural and not necessarily religious.

          Blasphemy is using God’s name in vain, as evidenced by the inquisitor scolding the Delferahkan lieutenant a few minutes before.

          Naming a match after Satan (for all she knows) annoys her. Oddly enough, they were called “Lucifer matches” in the book “Tom Sawyer,” so the MWW is just duplicating history there.

          Her years of conducting experiments, which is practically heresy proves she’s not particularly devout. So I don’t anticipate her being unable to accept that the CoGA is a big lie, especially since she’s been fighting the proscriptions for so much of her professional life.

          She certainly seems level-headed enough to keep working once she has access to OWL, and her “discoveries” and productivity will go up by orders of magnitude, as will those of her assistants as she guides them to create much needed inventions for the war effort.

    • Nimitz13 says:

      I don’t think she’ll be a failure, but we have a conundrum here. She’s doing EXACTLY what Merlin wants all of Safehold to do – thinking on her own. Making her a member of the inner circle will end her experimentation, she’ll simply KNOW exactly what to do. Her assistants may have a bright idea of their own now and then, but she’ll be guiding them away from failures and towards success. Great for the EoC, not so great for the scientific method and the progress of humanity as a whole.

      Once the big lie is generally accepted and OWL helps humanity get to the same tech level as the Terran Federation, where will they find the great minds who want to experiment and stretch the limits of what’s known, if everyone has just been asking OWL how things work and acting like robots?

      Asimov (I believe) wrote a story about an alien that looked like a sack who would answer any question. Everyone canceled their R&D, since it was so much easier to just ask the sack. Then it departed and humanity found itself set back by decades trying to regain the R&D mindset. OWL may end up serving the same purpose, but humanity needs to develop weapons and ships BEYOND what the TF had and that’s going to be difficult if its “scientists” are accustomed to a lifetime of just asking for answers instead of experimenting to learn new things.

      Perhaps at that point a Gbaba scout will show up, and sheer desperation will focus their minds wonderfully, as is said of someone about to be hung. Bleek!

      • stephen y says:

        Given that even at an accelerated rate it will take MANY years (generations)to reach the level of the federation and OWL does not know enough to deal with the Gbaba it will not be a problem for the foreseeable future.

        • MTO says:

          As a child, I went to school. For 13 years, I was (almost) never given a problem that my teacher didn’t know how to solve himself. And then, in undergrad, it was much the same. And yet, now that I’m an adult out of school, I am able to do research and find solutions to previously unsolved problems, as have many scientists and engineers in the western world. Why does OWL break that?

          • Nimitz13 says:

            Because instead of experimenting in chemistry, Doctor Lywys will KNOW all the answers, and will simply direct her assistants in how best to go about their projects with maximum success and minimal danger. We’ll see very little experimentation, as that’s basically a waste of time that the EoC doesn’t have.

            Remember, Langhorne stomped out anything resembling the scientific method, so the Royal College conducting experiments bordered on heresy all by itself. When experiments almost always succeed because they aren’t experiments at all, merely implementations of the information in OWL’s library, the scientific method that Merlin has been trying so hard to encourage takes a back seat.

            Sure they still have to fiddle with the chemicals they can get, and they’ll have challenges implementing their “discoveries.” But the wild days of experimental chemistry come to an end as soon as Dr. Lywys becomes a member of the inner circle.

  10. dave o says:

    Christian Friedrich Schonbein soaked cotton in a mix of sulfuric and nitric acid. The cotton, now nitrocellulose ignited spontaneously WHEN IT DRIED. According to Wikipedia, pure nitrocellulose is not suitable as a propellant: it burns too fast.

    This is a great step forward, but there’s still a lot of work before the empire gets a usable and safe smokeless powder. Of course. Merlin can hurry things along

    • MTO says:

      I’ve been meaning to go re-read the safehold books to do a survey, but I *think* that in general, MWW never introduces the new tech “in the lab” and “in the field” in the same book, except in Off Armageddon Reef (corned BP, the cotton gin, schooner rigging). Its always a few years of experimentation to make it work in the field.

  11. George Phillies says:

    I believe the question Merlin was asked and evaded was if OWL’s remotes had done this, including the tractor and pressor rays to get the mixture exactly right. However, perhaps OWL did it.

    • Robert H. Woodman says:

      If Merlin is telling the truth, then he (Merlin) didn’t do anything (evading the question of what OWL did or did not do). If OWL did it without Merlin’s action, then OWL acted sua sponte. That would be a highly notable development.

      Anyone have any thoughts on that?

      • Nimitz13 says:

        Yes, it would show that OWL has NO regard for human life! Sorry, but a mere machine who takes things quite literally (even though he IS improving) would be quite unlikely to A) Seize the initiative to fake such an “accident,” and B) Realize that if the liquids in his “experiment” weren’t sufficiently pure, they would KILL the human conducting his experiment.

        Sorry, but the theory that OWL did this just doesn’t make sense. If he did, there’s gonna be a LOT of dead researchers in the future and the Royal College wing of the palace may blow sky-high someday.

        Not that it wouldn’t be cool to see the explosion! Bleek!

        • Robert H. Woodman says:

          Chemistry has always involved some degree of bad smells, explosions, and fires. I would be quite surprised at the development of chemistry on Safehold that did not involve bad smells, explosions, fires, and serendipity.

          I ventured the rather wild speculation that OWL did this only because Rahzhyr Mahklyn reacted suspiciously to Merlin’s protestations of innocence. That OWL could pull something like this on his own initiative is a stretch, but not that big of a stretch, since he has been showing increasing initiative. That OWL could pull something like this and make it work successfully the first time is rather wild, I admit, and I’ll further admit that I’m probably completely wrong about it, but as a number of posters have said here and at DW’s site, “It’s fun to speculate.”

      • Bruce says:

        Not to mention Merlin’s regular frustration with the lack of initiative by the OWL. It never anticipates his needs. I think it highly unlikely that this would be its first “independent” action.

      • JeffM says:

        I’d credit someone’s suggestion earlier that perhaps Sharleyan was this sneaky.

        • DavidS says:

          I’m wondering if this is the first hint of Merlin’s ‘other idea’ that we heard about in the last book. As in possibly VR-Nahrman.

          • Robert H. Woodman says:

            I have yet to be convinced that VR-Nahrman exists.

            • DavidS says:

              Hey, he might not. But there is possible foreshadowing with some things Merlin said. I’ll be happy either way, though I think enough ‘named characters’ died in the prior book that it wouldn’t be cheap if one came back. ;)

  12. Andreas says:

    When is this eARC going to hit the eShelves? I hope Weber can come back to the Honorverse soon. I fear that the war with the Solarian League and the Mesan Alignment isn’t going to start for a few years… It’s time something eventful happens in the Honorverse, not just this meandering about…. like announcing a biiiig battle two books early and then “ups – sorry – my mistake – I give up” and the nano control wasn’t exactly surprising either.

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      The eBook of _Midst Toil And Tribulation_ is scheduled for Sept 18th (TOR doesn’t release electronic Advanced Reader Copies).

      • Anette says:

        Actually, I’m slightly more interested in knowing who is doing the audiobook version. The first two books had a very good narrator. The third and fourth had another very good narrator, even if it sounds a bit odd when the character accents shift between book two and three. The narrator of the fifth book, unfortunately, made me fall asleep.

        I will buy the ebook version and the audio version (yes, even if it’s the same narrator as book five). I don’t have enough room on my shelves for the dead tree version right now.

        At my work I can listen to the audio version while I make sandwiches or other things that don’t require any thinking. A paper book or an ebook reader needs a free hand.

  13. Frank says:

    I just had an evil thought. Is it possible to get a squadron or five of galleons into raid the temple lands? Perhaps sit off of Zion itself on lake pei and pound the waterfront into rubble? Risky… Yes, but it would cause the temple to recall their forces attacking siddermark. Giving a much needed breather to those beligered forces in glacier heart. Also by the time any temple forces arrived to assist the temple the galleons would already be gone. Meet up with a replenishment convoy with a marine expeditionary force at the mouth of the passage, then go on to deal some hardcore justice to gorath. Take out all naval building capacity for the temple in one stroke.
    Another option would be to have the force attack Zion drawing the navy from gorath, have a secondary force take out gorath while the navy is away trying to assist zion. Then after leveling gorath sail to assist the primary fleet sailing out of what is left of Zion. Catch the temple fleet between the two empirical fleets and crush it utterly.
    Lots of holes and logistical nightmares in that plan. But I really want to bring the pain to the temple lands. Any thoughts?

    • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

      Tke another look at the Safehold map: http://infodump.thefifthimperium.com/entry/Safehold/338/1

      To get to Lake Pei/Zion River is next to impossible for any hostile force IMO. And the Temple is made to withstand a nuclear bunkerbuster.
      Even if they could possibly get there, their bombardment would only kill mostly the innocent poor and stepped-on middle class. The priests would huddle in the Temple immune from anything they could unleash!!!

      • Nimitz13 says:

        Exactly what is going to STOP the ICN from sailing up the river and taking the temple? Outdated fortifications? A dozen remaining galleons of the NoG with inferior cannon and sailors?

        The temple itself would be a harder nut to crack IF the temple guard managed to get the doors shut and keep them shut. When the EoC decides it’s time to seize the place, I expect a very large company of commandos pretending to be pilgrims will infiltrate first, kill all the temple guards, close the doors then wait until the ICM arrives. Whether any of the vicars trapped inside survive will be… entertaining. Bleek!

        Give the ICM a couple of years so they’re carrying machine guns while the temple guard is wielding flintlocks or copied breech loaders, and the odds for success go up substantially.

        Of course nobody is going to try such a scheme NOW, while the nature of whatever is “sleeping” under the temple isn’t known and there are still a few years until the Archangels are due to return. So as a feint to distract the invasion of Siddarmark, it’s a no-go.

        But the day will come, as Merlin, Cayleb, and Sharleyan have sworn…

        • JeffM says:

          “Oudated fortifications”? What in the world you give you any idea that Zion has fortifications? After all, NO ONE–not even the barbarians–has ever dared attack Church property prior to Charis.

          • Nimitz13 says:

            I don’t suspect Zion has MUCH in the way of fortifications, and the angle gun galleons could sweep away any there might be in an hour or two.

            Zion has been wide open for invasion since the end of AMF, so perhaps the CoGA is building some fortifications now. If so, they probably aren’t smart enough to build berms rather than rock walls, but I suppose we’ll find out when the day arrives. Angle guns shoot right over berms as well, so any defenders are toast. Bleek!

    • Nimitz13 says:

      As things currently stand the EoC could invade Zion and take the temple anytime they want. There are perhaps a dozen surviving galleons of the NoG there, and on land Zion and the temple are protected by the Temple Guard, who last I checked were still carrying swords and pikes. (Though I’d bet they finally have flintlocks with bayonets by now.)

      A fleet a quarter the size of that which attacked Iythria, with say 20,000 ICM could easily seize the temple. They could reach it before Thirsk could be warned and sail to the “rescue.” He’d arrive just in time to have his fleet pounded to driftwood, which is the inevitable conclusion to any battle he might have with the ICN – especially since it’s busy replacing the smoothbore cannons that fire explosive shells with longer, rifled ones with a much longer range. Thirsk would be destroyed without getting close enough to use the exploding shells the CoGA’s spy network finally enabled the church forces to build. (Think Manticore vs. the Solarian League in a missile exchange. Ouch!)

      Since attacking the temple MIGHT cause whatever is under the temple to “wake up” early, Merlin clearly doesn’t want to do that, no matter how badly he hates Clyntahn. There’s also the tremendous propaganda the CoGA could milk from the situation, as they’d claim that “The heretics have profaned the holy temple!” etc. which would actually rally support for the CoGA around the world, although the reformists wouldn’t shed a tear for all the inquisitors and corrupt vicars who had been executed.

      Since that would open the CoGA to reform and remove Clyntahn, who despite being an amoral narcissistic homicidal maniac, is actually helping to destroy the CoGA and undermine the Proscriptions, it’s not in the EoC’s (or humanity’s) best interest to remove him and slaughter the upper echelons of the Inquisition, as much as they deserve it.

      Doing so WOULD cause a lot of confusion amongst the CoGA troops attacking Siddarmark, as the church would suddenly be left without leadership or anyone to pay the bills, but the risks are too great.

      So the cesspool that Zion has become will remain until Merlin has more information, or time runs out and the EoC has no choice but to seize the temple so they’re in control when whatever is “sleeping” there wakes up.

      Frustrating, isn’t it? Bleek!

      • JeffM says:

        “So the cesspool that Zion has become will remain until Merlin has more information, or time runs out and the EoC has no choice but to seize the temple so they’re in control when whatever is “sleeping” there wakes up.”

        Not true. Apparently Charis simply isn’t doing a back door run to do it. Part of the reason could be that they can’t spare that many infantry from holding Siddarmark together for the moment. I suspect that they simply work their was overland to Zion, in the long run. Next stop? The Border States.

  14. stephen y says:

    The Temple and Zion may well be off limits but I wonder is something might be done about the holding of the “knights of the temple lands”. These lands are held by the Vicars personally and provide them with untaxed income. IIRC the mere suggestion that it may be necessary to tax this income caused even Clyntahn to hesitate because of the political risk. They may be terrified but they will demand protection of their purses. An attack on the personal holdings of the four and the Grand Vicar might produce a reaction out of all proprotion to the actual damage. Given its status I wonder if there are any defences. Who would have dared to attack.

    • Nimitz13 says:

      If there’s one country that’s likely to lack “modern” fortifications, it’s the Temple Lands. Should the ICA and RSA blast their way there – or if it’s possible to sail an invasion fleet into Lake Pei and drop it off directly in the Temple lands, burning the manors of dozens of Vicars is a pretty good idea (While leaving the fields and food intact for the poor serfs who work the land of course.)

      Since those serfs have to live under the heavy thumbs of the vicars every day, they have a pretty good idea how corrupt those “men of God” are. An invading army that burns the manor and strings up the corrupt vicar might be just the thing for a popular uprising to break out. Those tend to spread – and with it starting in the holdings of the vicarate itself and the Temple Guard busy fighting the invaders, a lot of vicar’s manors, guards, overseers, etc. across the Temple Lands and far from the front may cease to exist as the serfs rebel.

      That’s a pretty eloquent example for the other countries of Safehold. Bleek!

  15. JeffM says:

    Anyone else notice that Merlin is out at King’s Harbor AGAIN? So, what’s up out there? :)

  16. George Phillies says:

    “The puddle of combined acids was bigger than she’d thought” because the tractor rays had been filling it.

    Drying sulphuric acid sounds odd.

    • Allan G says:

      I would presume she washed it afterwards…(dilution works wonders for acid disposal). You can actually dry suphuric acid to a fine powder if you really want to (you get sulphur trioxide or 130% sulpuric acid – truly nasty and you do not want it round the house as it will dehydrate pretty much anything to an elemental level).

  17. Frank says:

    Don’t attack the temple directly. Just do what is required to take out thief ability to wage war. All foundries, docks, warehouses etc should be burned to the ground. All infrastructure that allows the temple to function. Make the lands around the temple look exactly like siddermark – minus the rapes and murders. The marines are good at that sort of thing. Run all the people out. Kill all the animals. Salt the earth so nothing grows. Pax Romana. Create a void and call it peace. In the end you will probably save more lives than you lose. Just because it will cause a forced migration to warmer climates.
    If nothing else the empire needs to block any water access to the temple.

    • TimC says:

      I think we may have an attack across the ice of lake Pei in a few books time. DW spent a lot of pages describing the icerigger (sorry Alan Dean Foster) and the layout of markers to us and to Coris who is now on side.

    • JeffM says:

      So, what you’re saying is do “exactly like Siddarmark–except the rapes and murders”. Umm…that still would include starving children. Not. Gonna. Happen. Charis will NOT lower itself to it’s enemy’s level–and has no need to.

    • Nimitz13 says:

      There’s nothing to be gained by attacking the city of Zion and NOT taking the temple. Sure there’s some manufacturing and shipbuilding targets, and a tiny obsolete fleet. Zion is one of the half-dozen biggest cities on Safehold, so chasing the civilians out would result in tens of thousands or possibly HUNDREDS of thousands of deaths by starvation, exposure, etc. Burning the warehouses would DOOM the population of the city to starvation, and the EoC is in the business of capturing hearts and minds, not murdering the innocent. Even if they spared the city and shipped in food, the propaganda value for the CoGA of any attack on Zion would be tremendous.

      Remember, even though Clyntahn is the bad guy, he’s doing God’s work by destroying the Proscriptions. Everything else he’s doing will send him straight to join Langhorne in Hell, where he’ll be quite confused at the absence of Shan-wei. Duchairn leading a coup and cleansing the CoGA is a much bigger threat to the future of humanity than any further atrocities Clyntahn commits, as much as we and Merlin hate to see the human suffering that results.

      Ok, NOW I’m going to get controversial. :p

      The ONLY reason the EoC will attack Zion is to seize the temple. They won’t massacre the residents, but they WILL execute every member of the Inquisition, and quite possibly a goodly number of any vicars they may capture. Then they’ll load up the temple with food and troops,bring in Paityr Wylsynn and possibly Merlin, and scan every nook and cranny of the basement with OWL’s remotes until they figure out what those power sources do – then they’ll shut them down or take them over. In the meantime they’ll bar those battle steel doors and hold off the temple guard indefinitely. Once they’ve managed to shut down/destroy everything threatening to their future goals, such as an AI, Archangels in stasis, or the controls to the Rakurai, they’ll beat a retreat.

      Yes, I realize they may not be able to figure out how to reach some of those power sources, since there are undoubtedly more secret doors than the one I presume leads to the altar of Schueler.

      I haven’t decided whether blowing up the basement and destroying the “miraculous” climate controls to show the fallibility of the Archangels and the vulnerability of God’s home on Safehold is a good idea or not. The CoGA will squeal of desecration, but if God can’t protect the temple, is He supporting the corrupt CoGA or the reformist movement?

      Finally, I think changing the “I visited the temple badge” from a scepter to a torch would be a GREAT idea for EoC veterans of the campaign! Bleek!

  18. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit,
    but instead of that, this is excellent blog. An excellent read.

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