The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 10

Imperial Senate, Devnum

“They’re pirates,” Rotri, one of the Caledonian senators said, his face red, his finger jutting out at the five newly arrived Ulaid senators.

“Us?” Fiacha Sil Fingin, one of the new Ulaid senators said, standing up angrily. “Your people boarded one of our peaceful fishing boats, killed the crew, and sailed the boat back to Caledonia.”

“Only after they fired an arrow, missing one of our fishermen by less than a hand span. I spoke with those brave men, and they were fishing peacefully when your pirates declared that entire area theirs and threatened our fishermen with death if they didn’t leave. That arrow was proof that it was more than a threat. They defended themselves.”

“Your people had no right to be there anyway. Those are our waters.”



“Gentleman,” Lucilla said, moving to stand between them as the two men edged closer and closer. “This is getting us nowhere.”

She’d been to enough sessions of the Roman senate to know these kinds of events could quickly escalate into actual blows if the men weren’t separated. So far, the Imperial senate had been amazingly calm, to the point where she thought maybe it was her people that were the actual hotheads. Of course, they hadn’t had any major disagreements so far. In fact, most of the disagreements were between the senators collectively and her father, or at least Lucilla as her father’s representative.

“Disputes like this are bound to happen, just as you will have disputes within your own borders when various lords or property holders disagree with one another. You wouldn’t want those to come to blows every time.”

“It’s worked so far,” Rotri said, while Fiacha nodded along.

She was pleased to have the two of them finally come to an agreement on something, although she did wish it wasn’t over the idea that they could duel their way out of every disagreement.

“Well, it won’t work here. The whole point of this governing body is to work out disagreements peacefully. Duels might work between neighbors inside your borders, but if these things come to blows, it won’t be long before someone’s friends take umbrage and pull the alliance apart. Then it’s only a matter of time until the Carthaginians show up and reclaim what they’ve lost. I think we can all agree that the last thing any of us want is to give the Carthaginians that kind of advantage. We’ve all spilled too much blood getting to where we are now.”

Both men backed down, if only slightly. She wondered what they would do when the Carthaginians were no longer a threat. For now, they all had a common goal, but eventually, that threat would be gone and it would be much harder to keep tempers under control.

“Now, I think what would work best is a compromise. Clearly, we made an oversight in our agreement to form the alliance, in that we laid out the borders of each land area, but didn’t cover each country’s territory on the water.”

“That isn’t the same thing,” Bredei, one of the other Caledonian senators said. “The land border between our people has existed in the same state since our grandparents’ time. While many of us wanted to reclaim our ancestral homeland, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to agree to leave things as they are now. And neither of us shares a border with the Ulaid or any of the other kingdoms on their island. For their part, the Carthaginians helpfully eliminated all of their neighbors, and we’ve rounded up the rest, giving them no land borders to dispute over. This is different. Conflicts like this have existed for a long time. Before the alliance, we’d just curse the other side, bury our dead, and that would be that, because they were too far from us and we were too far from them. This isn’t new.”

“But it is something we have to deal with, unless you think allowing the alternative of letting the argument over who gets to fish where to break our alliance is worth it. I’m not ready to give my people over to the Carthaginians. Are you?”

Bredei looked to the two men who’d been arguing, and then back at Lucilla.

“I thought not. So the question is, what is a compromise that we can agree on?”

“We need to define how far out from each member’s coast is still considered their territory, open to fishing or whatever else by their citizens, and how far out is open water that does not belong to anyone,” Fiacha said.

“You would suggest that,” Roti said. “Since you know the best fishing waters are a lot closer to your coast than ours.”

“Is that true everywhere around your borders?” Lucilla asked. “I remember hearing that there was also good fishing between the northern third of Britannia and where Codanus Sinus empties out into the ocean. I’m sure many Roman fishermen would like to, and probably are, working in those waters that you might prefer to be held for your people instead.”

“My lady,” Kaeso, one of the Roman senators started to say before she halted him.

“This is the nature of compromise. We all lose something but we all gain something. I’ve found that, if everyone involved is unhappy with a solution, then it’s probably the one that’s most fair. I suggest all of us think about this, look at some maps, and decide what is best for us as an Empire.”

The men grumbled but began to work, which is what Lucilla was looking for. She was surprised it had taken this long to have friction among themselves. This time, the solution was fairly obvious and the friction, while heated, wasn’t as extreme as it could have been. They would have worse to deal with in the future.

“That was well done,” Ky said from behind her.

“Ky,” she said, taking a step towards him like she was going to throw her arms around him, and then stopping, remembering where they were. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming back?”

“Because I thought it might make for a good surprise.”

“It is and I’m thrilled to see you, but I thought you had a lot of work to do with the legions. Checking up on me?”

“Of course not. Bomilcar and Velius can handle the legions for now. They’ve got a plan for getting the men prepared for the assault on the Carthaginian holdouts, and it will take some time. Valdar’s launching the ships today, and I need to start training him and I had something I wanted to talk to Hortensius about since I was here.”

“About the engine Sophus was telling me about?”

“Not directly, no. We’re getting very close to that, but we need one more advancement before we can produce it. I know you hate trying to draw diagrams based on Sophus’s descriptions alone, so I thought I could bring those with me to save you some trouble.”

“Aww, you do love me.”

“I really do,” Ky said.

“You’ll be staying here in town for a few days then?”

“Just today. I’ll see Hortensius and then head to the docks. Once the ships launch, I’ll leave with Valdar and his crews. After some trial runs, we’ll be going down towards the legions to conduct some large-scale trial runs with the fleet and the legions together. I should be back after that, however. I want to be here when it’s time to talk to Hortensius about the steam engine. After gunpowder, it’s probably the most critical piece of technology we’re going to introduce.”

“So you’re not even staying the night?”

“That’s all you heard, wasn’t it?”

“No, but it’s the most important part. Worse, I can’t even go with you to see Hortensius. I have to stay and make sure they don’t come to blows. When you come back for the engine, I want you for at least one night.”

“I live to serve,” Ky said, with a bow.


“Consul, this is a surprise,” Hortensius said, coming across the foundry floor at a quick walk. “Are you here about the thefts?”

“No. Lucilla has kept me informed and Ramirus and Faenius have it well in hand. I’m just thankful we didn’t lose any of the more critical documents.”

“As am I. I apologize for...”

“It’s not necessary. We all knew how the documents were being stored and thought they’d be safe. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Which is what your wife keeps telling me, but they were still stolen from under my roof, so I feel responsible.”

“Which shows that you’re the right man to have here. The new security measures should be sufficient to keep it from happening again, which is good enough for me.”

“Good. I won’t lie; it’s been keeping me up late at night.”

“I know, which is why I know you did everything in your power to protect them. Like I said, we all missed it.”

“Well ... alright. Then I guess I’ll stop wringing my hands over it. So, if you aren’t here about the stolen documents, what can I do for you? I thought you rode off with the legions.”

“I did, but Valdar’s ships launch today, and I need to be here for that. It’s not for a few more hours, however, so I wanted to drop off some more plans for you. There are two sets here, one for now, and the second for you to work on the preliminary stages, but assembling it and the first run must wait until I return.”

“That sounds intriguing. I guess we should start with the part you trust me to manage on my own,” he said, giving Ky a sly smile.

“It’s not like that. The second set of plans is a huge step up in technology, and has the potential of being dangerous if handled badly, which is why I want to be here. Also, this first one is more of an innovation on a technology you already have.”

“And that sounds much less interesting, but I guess I too must wait for dessert until I have finished my supper.”

“Precisely. If you would look here,” Ky said, handing over a set of diagrams and instructions. “You’ll see it is essentially the same as the turning machine the woodworkers use for shaping large pieces of wood precisely, but it is adjusted for working with metal. You’ll also see that it has specific settings and markings to lock off at indicated sizes, so that parts can be engineered precisely. That is the key part of this. The next set of plans, and many of the plans we have coming up, require precision machining, meaning just measuring by hand or by eye is not good enough. Parts must fit tightly together and yet not catch when functioning, which is where the precision comes in. Now, I know your wood lathes, which is what we would call the turning machine you use, is muscle-powered, which isn’t good enough for the new steel you’re producing. That’s why you’ll see this first design is powered by a water wheel. This doesn’t provide the force needed for some of the thicker steel, but for the parts we need right away, it will work. Once you use this to produce the items I’ve listed on page seven, we’ll be able to get the new steam engine built, which is what is in this stack.”

Ky handed over the next stack of instructions, this one much larger than the instructions on the metal lathe.

“I’ve included the entire process of building the steam engine, as well as much of the theory behind it; however, I do not want you building this yourself. For now, just work on getting the new lathe built and work on producing the parts I indicated. I’m sure a lot of this won’t make sense until you get used to using it, after which I’m sure you’re going to have a lot of questions. I want to be able to look over each part and make sure everything is exactly to my specifications before we assemble it. Feel free to look over the plans though. When I get back from the training runs down the coast in two weeks or so, we’ll be ready to start.”

“That should give me enough time to get at least one of these built and the parts you listed made.”

“Remember, accuracy is the most important thing. We’re talking accuracy to a hair’s width, not close enough by eye. It must be exact.”

“This is new to me, but I’ll do my best.”

“I know you will,” Ky said.

Devnum Docks

“Look at them,” Valdar said as the ships settled into the water.

Even from their position on the shore, the ships looked massive to Lucilla. Ky was running late, but she knew he was in a hurry to get the ships to the south for ‘war games,’ as he called them, with the legions, so she hadn’t waited to order the finished ships launched. It had happened much faster than she’d expected. She’d watched Lucan building the docks, but it hadn’t really occurred to her what it would mean when it was time to launch them. Logically, she’d known, of course, since she’d looked over the same instructions that Lucan had used to build them, but reading facts on a piece of paper or even hearing explanations given by Ky and Sophus wasn’t the same as seeing it take place in person.

The entire dockyard was right against the waterline, with a series of wooden and concrete retaining walls that angled into the shore, but ended in a clever sliding wall that involved a huge slab of concrete being lowered into cut-out divots, that became watertight as the waves pushed against it. The wall itself was significantly higher than high tide, while the area that flowed back away from the water angled down into a deep depression that allowed almost two-thirds of the finished ship to sit below the earth. At Lucan’s signal, the gate was raised and a torrent of water rushed in until the ship was floating free. The water in the narrow area pushed the ship up and clear of the bottom of the dry dock, just like Ky said it would.

It still took a combination of plow animals pulling the ship, and dozens of row boats pulling for all their might to get the ship to move forward, along with men using long poles, pushing on either side to keep it clear of the sides of the dock. Without oars, the huge ship was cumbersome and heavy, and Valdar wanted to wait to unfurl the sails until they were clear of the land, just in case a rogue gust caught them causing the ship to smash into the sides of the dry dock. The last thing he wanted was a giant hole in the side of one of his massive new ships. Once it was halfway past the sea wall, as Lucan had called it, the animals were taken away and it was left to the rowboats, with all the men pulling their oars as hard as they could, trying to get the ship to move.

It was slow going, but it worked. Only a small crew of men were on board each ship, with each of them dropping anchor well offshore, to wait for the next ship to follow. Valdar’s comments came as the last ship made it to anchor near its sisters, the three sitting like massive sea monsters; the rowboats looking tiny next to them.

“This is nothing,” Ky said. “One day we’re going to get to the large ships.”

“Large? That would be larger than even the ridiculously oversized two-decked galleys the Carthaginians have built as their flagships, and those things are barely seaworthy, not able to sail even partway across the middle sea without swamping. I’ll admit, these look a lot more stable than I thought they would just by looking at your plans, but larger? It’s hard to fathom.”

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