Chaos Calls 02: First Rescue
Copyright© 2011 by Ernest Bywater
One thing I know from my studies and training is you should make the best use of the weapons available, and you should learn how to use them to their best effect. I already know how to use a bow and a sword, but I now spend a lot more time practising with other bows and swords to become better with them. I study how they’re made and how I can make better ones within the technological limits of Chaos, too. I also look at changing what I’m studying at school.
The whole school now knows I’m independently wealthy, because I own and run a few businesses. The talk about the girls’ royalties let that out of the bag. Many of my original classes are compulsory subjects. Most of the electives relate to what I’ll need when I finish my studies, and I start work as a senior business executive. In the mix are a few subjects to help fill up the minimum number of study hours required by the state education laws. Some of those courses don’t count toward my academic point score average.
After a careful study of the available courses for this year and next I seek permission to drop two fill-in classes that don’t count toward my academic points so I can audit two other classes for the rest of this year. I ask to be allowed to sit the exams so I can qualify to attend the next level next year. The two class teachers and subject head teacher have a meeting with me about this. They originally wanted dad present, but a note from him giving Sharon parental authority for me has her in his place. This is much better for me, since she’ll be helping me to catch up.
Mr Monroe, the head teacher for History, opens the meeting, “Now that we’re all here let’s get started. This has got to be one of the oddest meetings I’ve had to take part in. Over the years I’ve been in meetings about students wanting out of History part way through, but not one about a student wanting in. First, Al, why do you want to take the Advanced History course as well as the Basic History you take now?”
I smile at him, “Mister Monroe, I’ve looked at the curriculum for the rest of my time in high school. The basic history class is doing modern history only. I recently got interested in how people lived in the earlier times, and how they did things then. I want to learn more about them. This will help me in a number of ways. I need to keep on with the Basic History studies, because they feed toward my later business studies. But I want to really know more about the people, technology, and ways of life in the earlier periods. I see this as the only way I can do it. I can’t do the Advanced History elective next year unless I pass this year’s class. To do that I have to study hard to catch up on what they’ve done, and to sit in on the rest of this year’s classes. I realise catching up on the older stuff is my responsibility and I can’t take up any class time with it, but I can speak with the teacher outside of class times. The same applies to the studies of Ancient Technology.” I glance at all three of the teachers while I talk. This meeting is taking place in the History Staff Room after school, so they can all be present while they’re not pressured by other matters.
Mr Levi, the teacher of the Ancient Technology course, an advanced elective class asks, “Why do you wish to know all this?”
Settling back into my chair a bit more I reply, “I take it you all know I’m independently wealthy and I pay my own school fees from my trust fund!” They all nod yes at this statement. “My original wealth is from my earnings as an author. My current series of books are all set in modern times, and they require little research on the society, or people, or how things are done. I recently came up with an idea for a series of stories set in earlier periods of history. I need to know the details of the daily lives of those periods, and what it’s like to live in those times. By doing these classes I get the full details from experts. I also get proof I know what I’m talking about. By doing this in class I also get an idea of how others view the things of that time.”
Mr Monroe says, “Al, when I heard you were a businessman I did a search of the public records. I found a lot of information about your trust company, a bit about you, but nothing about any books written by you; despite some of the students saying you’re an author.”
“This information isn’t to be repeated without my prior permission, OK?” They all nod yes in answer to my question. “I write as Lyn Evans.” I watch all their eyes go very wide with surprise.
Mrs Levi, the other history teacher involved, starts to laugh. After a moment she says, “Our daughter and nieces often argue about the age of the girl who writes those, but they always agree it’s a female author. I’m going to have a very hard time not laughing the next time they have that discussion.” The rest laugh with her, for a moment. “OK, so you’re going to do some period stories and you want to be as authentic as you can be. I can understand that. You do realise your marks in these classes will affect your total mark for History and your Grade Points Average, because these are scored classes?” I nod yes. “Good. Since you already carry a bit more than the minimum required these will be extras. You can keep a high average without having to be top of the class in these two at the end of the year. But being bottom of the class, or failing either class, will bring your GPA down. I realise you know this. I just want to emphasise it. I’ll also get approval to do the tutoring you asked me to do. But the price of tutoring now includes a signed set of Lyn Evans books, OK?”
I smile at her, “No. Signed books are never part of a deal by me. I’ll give you a set of signed books as a gift for letting me do the class.”
The meeting continues while we set out the terms of auditing the class. Including a schedule for completing the class projects already done by the class I now need to do, times for tutoring, and the many other details to get this done right. By the time the meeting comes to an end all of them are happy with the arrangements we set up. We all sign an agreement of the targets I’ve got to meet.
During the drive home Sharon is making arrangements to purchase the extra books I was told to study while I read the first of the several text books I’ve got to study. I’ve got some work to do, and I’ll do it.
It’s early evening on the Wednesday of the second week after my visit to Chaos with Joe. I’m in one of the small conference rooms in the business section of the main house. With me are Sharon and four men who are the best known makers of medieval style bows. I’m seeking to hire one to teach me, and others, how to make bows. We discuss the technical aspects of the medieval bows. At one point I say, “I know the best information we have on the power of the Welsh longbow is the descriptions of damage they’ve done in battles with the French, and the tests of bows from the Mary Rose wreck. The technical specifications all vary, but all agree the bows are from six to seven feet long. The problem is with the performances of most of the modern replicas: they’ve a range of about two hundred yards with a pull of sixty to eighty pounds. The average of those on the Mary Rose are six and a half feet long and have a similar estimated pull. While a few replicas copied from them have a pull of one hundred and fifty to one hundred and sixty pounds with a range of about three hundred and sixty yards. We know, from some historical records, good archers had a range of over four hundred yards and the training butts were set at two hundred and twenty yards by the order of Henry the Eighth. Those training butts were set for the average worker to be accurate at, which would mean the professionals would’ve had a far greater range. Some experts have calculated for the arrows found in the Mary Rose to have penetration capability at four hundred yards they’d need a pull of around one hundred and ninety pounds to two hundred and twenty pounds. Few, if any, modern archers can pull such a bow. So we’ve a dilemma to solve. Modern archers are either wimps compared to ancient archers, or they don’t know how to use an ancient bow. Also, the performance capabilities of the bows from the Mary Rose don’t match those of the combat records. Why is there a discrepancy? Did the king send poor quality bows in the ship? Were these from a less than top quality stock pile? Were they testing bows that weren’t made to top standards and not able to perform to original standards? Have the Mary Rose bows deteriorated over time in the water to be weaker than when they were first made?” I look at the men. Three shrug while the fourth is in deep thought. I ask, “Do you think you can make me a yew longbow that’s six and a half feet tall with a pull of one hundred and eighty pounds or more?” All of the men look shocked.
The oldest of them replies, “No, that can’t be done. And if it could, you’d never be able to draw it.”
The second youngest, the one who thought hard on what I had to say, looks up, and says, “I don’t know if I can, but I’d like to try. Will you pay me a good wage while I try to do as you ask?” The other three all looked stunned by his offer.
I smile, “You and I need to go and talk turkey over a cold drink. I’ll only be wasting the time of these other men since they say it can’t be done at all. I may as well get them started on their way home.” The two of us stand, and walk out while Sharon hands the other men cheques for their time, and she calls for a car to take them back to their hotel.
Pierre smiles when we sit down with cold drinks in more comfortable chairs in a corner of my office. Pierre has a cold can of Foster’s beer while I’ve a cold can of coke. Pierre says, “I think you may be right about the bows out of the Mary Rose not being as good as the ones in general use. If they were, then the replicas would’ve been shooting over four hundred yards and they would’ve had a pull in the one hundred and eighty pound range. However you look at it, that’s an awesome bow. I wish I could get my hands on a Mary Rose bow to see how they were made.”
“I’ve managed to buy only two Mary Rose bows. I made a point of not asking how the seller got hold of them. I did check, and confirm, none had been stolen. I also had them checked by experts, and they confirm they’re as advertised.” I enjoy the smile on Pierre’s face. “I also have a good supply of yew branches and tree trunks for you to play with. Many assume the bows were made from the larger branches; I wonder if they’re made from the trunks of the older trees, which would explain the shortage of the Yew trees for so long.” He smiles again. For a long time we talk about the conflicting reports of the quality of the Mary Rose bows, and their power.
“It’s very hard to know what’s true.” I add. “Some reports say the bows in the Mary Rose were well preserved and tested as such, while others say they weren’t so well preserved, and they tested replicas made like them to get their results. Some say the wood should be aged for a year or two. The wood I’ve got hold of is aged from one year to five years, in both the branch and the trunk. I want you to make a set of bows the same from a branch and trunk of the same tree for each aged year group. What I want from this is an exact evaluation of performance capabilities based solely on branch versus trunk plus the wood’s age. I also want you to take some wood from the one group I’ve the most of to make some bows with varying mixes of heartwood in the depth and length of it. All bows to be the same length. This should tell us if the mix of wood types makes a significant difference. I’ve also got a few people I want you to teach how to make bows while you do this.” Pierre gives me a small frown, since few people are interested in making bows the old way. Few people want them now, so it’s hard to make a living at. Most, like Pierre, do it as a hobby. “The last task is to make a short variant that gives the maximum power it can for a bow only twelve to twenty-four inches long.” Pierre gives me a long hard look. “I want to test out the concept of a short bow that can be fired fast in a confined area. Imagine an old style inn where trouble starts. With a little bow like this you can spit out arrows the size of crossbow bolts, you’d probably use crossbow bolts.”
“Al, that would’ve been good then, but useless today.”
“I know that. I want to prove the concept. We don’t know if anyone did or didn’t have or use such a bow. But I write books, and I intend to do some period books where my main character uses such a bow. I want to be able to demonstrate it’s possible when I’m challenged about it.”
Pierre nods, “Ah, being able to prove what you claim in the stories will be a good public relations stunt, so will the challenges. So you wish to push the borders of knowledge on old style bows to make money. You also want to be able to make lots of bows since you figure there’ll be a renewed interest when you publish. You do plan ahead! This’ll be fun.”
I nod yes, and say, “Another point is how the bows are used. Many of today’s archers push the bow out with one hand then pull the string back with the other while they hold the arrow on the side of the bow, resting it on their thumb; it’s called the Mediterranean Draw, because that’s where it came from. I’ve read lots of old accounts, and the description given by a fellow called Hugh Latimer says he was taught how to lay his body into the bow. While another man, W. Gilpin, wrote:
“The Englishman did not keep his left hand steady, and draw his bow with his right; but keeping his right at rest upon the nerve, he pressed the whole weight of his body into the horns of his bow. Hence probably arose the phrase ‘bending the bow,’ and the French of ‘drawing’ one.
“This got me to thinking about it. I suspect the Welsh, and later the English archers who followed the Welsh traditions, stood with the bow in front of their chests then pushed the bow apart. When the left arm moved away from the chest they made this easier by leaning forward to place their body between the stave and the string, then pushed out. I’ve tried this with some local longbows, and you can draw a bow this way. It looks odd, but it can be done. I also found it easier than the traditional method, too.” Pierre looks stunned. “The one hard thing was holding the arrow in place on the outside while I did this. So I tried it with the arrow between me and the bow, and it stayed in place with no effort.” I stop to have a sip of coke. “Another thing I thought about. It takes only three to six seconds to pull an arrow out of a holder in front of you then loose it. Yet several records state the war archer could only fire five or six arrows per minute, and even that was tiring for them. This means it took about ten to twelve seconds to draw the bow and loose the arrow. This bodes well for a very powerful bow that takes longer to draw with a more involved method of drawing the bow.” I add, “Now, another thing I got to thinking about is the way many people use bows around the world. Not all people use bows the same way. I also got to thinking about some of the things said about the size of the bows and how they’re made in close relationship to the height of the archer. The Welsh bows were usually six and a half feet long, yet the average height of a Welshman of the time was close to five feet. So how would a person handle a hunting bow more than a foot longer than he is? I study and use Japanese bows. They’re long, too. They deal with the extra length for power by having the bow held below the centre, so the extra length sticks out above the archer’s head. Yet the Welsh longbow is held in the centre. I can only see two ways they could handle this. One is the bow is always fired while being aimed up into the heavens while the archer adjusts the amount of pull to suit the range. This worries me, because that’s so awkward and hard to adjust accurately. The other is for the archer to grasp the bow in a cross body hold. Now this is not as easy as holding it upright by your side, but it does allow you to sight along the arrow to adjust for range in the traditional manner. I tried many ways to do this, and I found it real awkward in most ways, and hard to keep the arrow in place. I did find if I held the bow in my left hand at my side then lifted my arm up when I lifted my arm out to hold it at full stretch the most natural angle of the bow was close to being at forty-five degrees from upright.” I take another small sip while I think on how best to make my point. “In the end I found a way that was reasonable to use. The odd thing was when I tried it I got a firing speed of several arrows a minute, no matter how much I tried to speed things up. I also figure using a stronger bow would slow me down a bit.” I look up at Pierre while he takes this in.
When Pierre smiles and waves for me to continue, I say, “I used the forty-five degree angle as a guide in my trials of how to use a longer bow. All of the records say the archers stuck their arrows in the ground in front of them, so I set up that way while I tried my way to use a longbow. Stand side-on to the enemy. Hold the bow at my side in my left hand. Lean down to grab an arrow with my right hand, holding it between me and the bow. I hold the bow at forty-five degrees when I rest the arrow shaft on the top of my left hand and the bow stave while I lift the bow and arrow. I raise both hands in front of my left chest, left on the bow with the right holding the string and nocked arrow. Leaning forward at the waist I push out to my left with the left arm while I hold my right arm in front of my right shoulder. Holding my right arm in place I continue to straighten my left arm while I push the bow out and lean my weight into the bow. With my left arm at full stretch the arrowhead is just in front of my left hand while the shaft rests along the top of my hand. My head is tilted forward so I can aim along the top or side of the arrow with my right eye, and my right hand is clenching the arrow and string; waiting to let fly. The bow is at forty-five degrees from upright, and the string runs down in front of my body. I’ve got a full movement range of about forty-five degrees angled down to almost straight up in the air.” I stop to smile at Pierre, he waves again. “I found out with this method I can draw and use a longbow with a stronger pull than I can with the Mediterranean Draw. I’m also more accurate with this method. The one downside is it takes a lot out of me to hold the right hand in place while I finish getting ready and aim.”
He smiles at me, “I must try this. I also wonder how firing arrows this way relates to how close to a castle wall you can fire.” I give him a raised eyebrow look. He grins. “I’ve visited many medieval castles, and one odd thing about the older castles is the angle of sight from the wall to the far side of the moat. They all have different heights and different moat widths, yet that angle is almost a constant in them all. After gunpowder was introduced into Europe the castles that were expanded or built then have many different angles of sight, but all of the older ones from the sword, lance, bow and arrow days seem to have almost the same angle. I just wonder if the builders decided on the moat width or wall height based on how far an archer could safely fire down at those on the far side of the moat. Once they reach the base of the wall it’s not safe to bend over to shoot arrows at them.” I smile, and I also wonder if this was how they decided those issues. I doubt we’ll ever know. He adds, “I’ve seen a lot of medieval art, and much of the artwork about battles is done by people who don’t know how to hold weapons. That’s clear by how they show them being used. But some do, and a couple from the right era do look like the arrows are on the body side of the bow. Interesting!”
I wonder if we may resolve this issue on the use of the longbow while we talk, at length, about the terms of his employment and how long he thinks it’ll take to do what I want. He runs his own software consulting company by email and phone, so he has no trouble with moving his business here. Especially right now, because his business is slow while everyone waits to see how the economy is going. After another hour or so we end the talk, and he goes to the hotel for the night. He’ll go home tomorrow to pack up and move here to live while he works on this project for me.
The next afternoon is another training session with Joe about Chaos. We discuss many things while practising with the types of swords they have on Chaos. These talks cover many topics, and are very educational on how they do things and interact with each other. This day there are two conversations of particular interest.
While blocking a swing at my leg I ask, “Joe, what’s the collective noun for the people of Chaos?”
“You know, I’ve never heard one given for them as a people in the way writers call us Earthlings, Terrans, Solarians, etcetera. I suppose they could be called Chaosians.” He thinks for a few minutes, and smiles. “Maybe we should just call them Chaotics! Ask Mac when you’re next on Crossroads.”
A little later while he’s ducking a swing at his head I ask, “You said gunpowder doesn’t work on Chaos. Do you have any idea why?”
“Not really. I do know I can’t take gunpowder from here through to Chaos, so there must be something different. At first I thought there may be a difference in the noble gases in the air there which prohibited the chemical reaction or slowed it down. But I’ve no way to test what the gaseous composition of the air is on Chaos. The difficulty in getting free sulphur, it not being common there, is a part of the problem in making gunpowder. I did get hold of some to do a bit of testing. The mix of components is different, and all I got was a nice flash of flame while it burned, not an explosion. I did notice when I made it with the nitrates sourced solely from Earthlings it flashed faster, but still no bang. I think the issue may be partly chemical.” I frown. He adds. “The locals have an issue with having sex with Cassandran women so they call them cock burners. This is because of a difference in the body chemistry. We also know some of the local herbal mixes for medicines that heal the locals can be a mild poison for us and the Damsels. So there’s a variance of some sort in their body chemistry. I wonder if that means there’s a difference in the chemical formula of the nitrates they produce! That’s why I tried making some with just my nitrates, but that didn’t work, either. It may need a different component mix, or something else added. Also, the local foods may contain a mineral that changes the nitrate formula. I just don’t know!”
I think on this for a while before I decide I’ll have to ask Mac; but he may refuse to answer. Either answer sounds reasonable, so does the idea it may be a combination of both reasons. It may even be a totally different reason. I’m just glad I don’t have to worry about gunpowder and guns. The portal wouldn’t allow the gunpowder through, so any derived explosives should be blocked, too. No explosives means mining will be harder, but I think the overall effect on the life of the people of Chaos is better without having to worry about explosives, guns, and the destruction they cause in combat.
Steel and Swords
Due to our little attempt to make better steel while on Chaos I ask Sharon to find me an expert on the ancient ways of making steel. The meeting with her takes place after school on Friday, and Joe joins us for the lecture we get. After being introduced to Juanita Hans I explain my wish to know how the ancients used to make high quality steel.
She smiles, and gives us a long lecture on it, but it’s an interesting one. Our memories of using sand to improve steel are right, we just have to make sure we get the right sand that’s high in carbons: these are usually dark grey or black. The Japanese who use this method a lot call the sand satetsu. Another way is to add charcoal during the smelting process. The higher the temperature while smelting, the better, and the slower the post smelting cooling has a good effect, too. The tempering of the steel in the finished product also has an effect on the hardness of the finished steel. The tempering is affected by the metal’s temperature, the temperature of the water used to temper it, and how long the cooling takes. Also, beating and folding the steel while hot improves it a lot. This helps to remove impurities and to even out the carbon content when the metal is folded and forge welded. This folding and beating is often done during both the making of the steel, and later during the forming of the steel into a finished product. Juanita explains many of the best swords are made by using two grades of steel. Both sets of steel are beaten, folded, and welded in the forge before and after being put together. During the forging the steel is broken into small bits and welded back together in the forge. When both sets of steel are finally ready they’re heated up with the harder steel used for the outside when the edge is folded around a smaller bar of softer steel that’s the core of the sword. Both are then heated to the point they’ll weld together. The laminated steel has a hard edge for cutting, but it has an inner soft core that’s better at absorbing the impact of a sword fight. The beating and shaping of the steel goes on through the whole process, but the folding ceases with the welding of the two steels together. By that stage both steels are made up of many thousands of layers of steel that’s as pure as they can get it, and the carbon content is evenly spread through the sword. The result is a high quality steel sword of great resilience.
During the fortnight I’ve several other short meetings with various people Sharon arranges for me to see. I learn about other technologies useful for Chaos. I really like learning how to do investment casting by making a wax shape, then create a mould from it by pouring the casting material around the shape, and waiting for it to set before melting the wax. The lesson on how to use milk and vinegar to make casein plastic is fun, as well. So is learning how to make wire by pounding steel then making it stronger and tougher by drawing it. Joe sits in on all of these extra classes, and he enjoys them too.
After one such class he says, “Damn, why didn’t I think of learning these skills before, and of taking them across to improve the lives of my people on Chaos!” This is a statement of contempt at himself, and not a question. I don’t like how he says it.
“Yeah, Joe. Why didn’t you spend several days straight researching the various technologies, and who can teach them to you!” I say it with as much contempt in my voice as I can. He turns to stare at me. “I asked one of the best research assistants you’ll ever find to look into the sort of technology that was used in the middle ages. She put several of her staff to work on the problem, and found out a lot of stuff. Showed me the list, then went and found me teachers for what I asked for.” He looks stunned. “In your copious spare time it would have taken you years to do just the research. So stop being stupid, and accept the help you can get from others.” He gives a wry smile of apology when he shrugs his shoulders. We both know there’ll be more to learn later, when Sharon and I learn about more technologies, but that’s all we’ve got time for, at the moment. The other skills will have to wait for future trips.