The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 4

Over the next week, the capital bustled with life as men flooded in, more than had arrived during the original alliance with the Caledonians. Some were former citizens of the Ulaid or other kingdoms that had fought against the Carthaginians, but most were once subjects of the kingdoms who had sided with the Carthaginians. Men who had fought against their new overlords and decided they’d rather be faceless strangers in Rome’s part of the Empire than endure a growing second-class citizenship in their old home.

Ky had already sent a message through the burgeoning semaphore system in Ériu, asking Llassar to keep an eye on the situation. He knew it would create homegrown dissidents, but he was a realist. It would take at least a generation for the Ulaid, brutalized by the kingdoms that had allied with the Carthaginians, to accept them as something close to equals. The kingdoms that had resisted the Carthaginians and were defeated were integrating well, but they were outnumbered by former foes. Conchobar needed to be cautious, or he’d find himself ruling over a majority of disgruntled and hostile people.

In addition to the influx from Ériu and Caledonia, families continued to emigrate from the continent. Dozens, even hundreds, arrived daily, overwhelming the coastal camps set up for them. With Britannia in control of their islands and surrounding seas, word spread of a way to escape Carthaginian oppression.

The Praetorians struggled to interview all these newcomers, searching for Carthaginian spies. Velius, fresh from his return to Devnum, and Hortensius had a semi-feud over who should get more men seeking opportunities in their new homeland.

Ky felt torn. He welcomed every worker and legionary they could get, but for his plan to work, they needed a significant number of locals, especially those with connections to family members already in Britannia, to stay in their homeland. He sided with Britannia’s need for manpower, hoping it wouldn’t derail his plan. As an immigrant to Rome, it would be hypocritical to deny others the same safe haven.

Thankfully, he didn’t have to manage the headaches of a rapidly growing nation. Lucilla handled the new immigrants, both internal and from the continent, freeing Ky to focus on the technical matters he and Sophus excelled at. His only real complaint was that her responsibilities often kept her away from the Capitol, leaving their marriage bed empty. Now that he’d found the companionship he hadn’t known he needed, he was reluctant to let it go, even temporarily.

Regrettably, his duties took precedence over his desires, which was why she was at the large camp outside of Cantiacorum, a small settlement that would later be known as Canterbury. The immigrants had crossed from what would be near modern-day Normandy, a region settled by a tribe called the Uenelli in a city of the same name. Supposedly staunch allies of the Carthaginians, as they were conquered not long after Rome itself, Ky hadn’t planned on a landing near that point. However, his thoughts began to change as it became a pipeline from the continent to Britannia. Stories of Carthaginian reprisals against coastal villages and increased Carthaginian presence hadn’t stopped the flow of immigration.

That, though, was Lucilla’s problem. Ky was on his way to see Hortensius, as the largest part of his plan required a significant increase in Britannian technology. The complex of buildings, the heart of Roman industry, buzzed with activity as men bustled about. To some, it would look like chaos, but Ky saw an intricate dance with supplies flowing from shipment points and through the supply chain as iron became cannons and plows.

Hortensius, like a Roman-era Merlin, always seemed to be aware of everything in this area. He appeared almost as if summoned as soon as Ky entered the main foundry.

“Consul, I’m glad you’re here. I have excellent news,” he said, his indomitable, jovial nature in full force. “We’ve begun processing the first nitrate beds we laid down, and we should be able to ramp up our gunpowder production significantly soon.”

“So soon? I didn’t expect them to be ready for months yet.”

“We are pulling these a bit early, so the soil is less enriched than it could be. But we started the process with a heavy concentration of bird droppings, which you mentioned were high in nitrates. That made me think they would help kick-start the process. We’ve already begun leaching the soil we removed and recycled what was left to start new beds earlier than planned. Considering the levels, I’ve ordered movable coops for pigeons and the like that we can place over new beds to shorten our production timeline. It’s not the most pleasant work, and I assure you that you never want to go into those buildings, but it does seem effective.”

“I see. That’s good news because we’ll need a lot more gunpowder this year for the next phase of my plan. I was going to suggest you talk to Llassar and see about getting help from the Ulaid to collect the supplies you need and lay down more beds there.”

.”I’ve already sent one of my assistants, who knows about the processes, to the Ulaid to begin setting up production there, actually,” Hortensius informed him.

“Excellent. I should have assumed you’d be on top of it,” Ky replied, a note of admiration in his voice.

“I live to serve,” Hortensius said, with a sarcastic smile.

That was one of the things Ky liked about the manufacturer. He didn’t take things outside of his factories too seriously and rarely stood on ceremony.

“I also wanted to talk to you about moving your foundries and factories. We still have a lot of manual labor in the prison camps that I want to use to support a large industrial area well outside of town,” Ky said

“For gunpowder production?”

“Yes, although you relocated them outside of town, as we increase production, I’m not sure you moved them far enough. But that isn’t all. Some of the new designs I have for you will be just as dangerous in their own ways. I have a philosopher I will be introducing you to, who will work with you on some of these new chemicals we will produce using the sulfur and nitrate you’re already producing. While you build the new complex, I have designs for new foundries and chemical factories that need large, enclosed vats. Some of these changes are going to be more than can be done by just adding to your existing facilities, which makes this a good time to make the move.”

Ky handed over a stack of the new paper being produced at the paper mills he began setting up months ago. It wasn’t the quality he needed but it was far superior to the time-consuming production of vellum or the unwieldy scrolls previously used. The quality would come in time as the new chemical industry began to come online, and already people were becoming more used to these individual sheets of pulped wood, over pressed reeds and the like previously used as cheap writing material.

It had been a difficult struggle to introduce chemistry to the Britannians. Even the word had to be introduced to them, although it had quickly been adopted after the first tests of gunpowder. Thankfully, with Ky’s direction, it was more scientific in nature, without the magical or religious overtones it had in the original medieval history of alchemy, with its focus on trying to create impossible results like turning iron into gold or elixirs that granted unnatural life.

“I see,” Hortensius said, examining the documents with a furrowed brow. “These are interesting, but I’m not sure I grasp how they’re better than our current foundries or how these vats are used at all.”

“I understand your concerns. For now, please build according to my specifications. I’ve included some explanations of how these will be used, especially the new foundry design, but they require additional supplies to fully make sense. I have immense faith in you, but we must proceed step by step, as each component is intricate in its own right. I promise it will all make sense eventually.”

“Of course, I will follow your instructions,” Hortensius assured him. “I hope I didn’t sound like I was questioning you. You’ve already shown us so many incredible innovations that it would be foolish to second-guess you. My curiosity is simply piqued by the workings of these new designs, and it’s difficult to build something without understanding the reasoning behind it.”

“I promise you’ll know before long,” Ky said reassuringly. “We just have a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time, and the first step is moving all of our production to a centrally located, controlled complex.”

“But what about the workers? It will be difficult for them to walk such a distance each day to work in the factories and foundries, then walk back. If we’re building there for safety, I assume we don’t want housing built alongside it for our workforce. Losing all of our trained workers along with the facilities would make recovering from a disaster much more difficult. The lengthy walk would exhaust them before their work even begins, significantly lowering efficiency.”

“A valid point,” Ky agreed thoughtfully. “Perhaps we should consider a system of wagons to transport workers between Devnum and the complex. A free service that ensures they arrive rested and ready to work. In time, we’ll develop easier, faster, and more cost-effective means of transportation, but this basic setup would suffice for now.”

“That’s a considerable number of wagons, not to mention the men and horses needed to operate them.”

“I know. But as I said, it would be a temporary solution. But the basic setup would work in the meantime,” Ky reassured him.

“So once again, I must trust that you have this all planned out and build something without knowing the final outcome.”

“We all have our burdens to bear,” Ky said, placing a comforting hand on the manufacturer’s shoulder.

“Don’t I know it,” Hortensius replied, laughter bubbling from his lips as he accepted the challenge with grace.

Dun Ailill, Ériunia

“Where is he?” Llassar demanded, shouting over the screams of men and animals.

“There,” the warrior replied, his finger outstretched toward the wooden palisade wall.

A ragged group of Ulaid warriors clung to its sides, desperately attempting to scale the barrier. Men fell, victims of arrows and axes, their ladders slipping, unable to find purchase, and sending them tumbling to the ground below.

“The idiot is going to get himself killed,” Llassar cursed, before turning to Auspex. “If we let him die, his father will break the alliance. Give me a cohort.”

“We’ve discussed this. A frontal attack is a waste of men. And now you want to throw legionaries into that?” He gestured toward the chaos at the wall.

“We don’t have time to argue. I know what we agreed to, but the fool has forced our hand. I’ll go alone if I must, but to save him, I need men.”

Auspex’s expression soured, since they both knew this decision went against every bit of military wisdom. In just a week, the Consul’s trebuchets would arrive, and they could reduce the fort without sacrificing a single life. Yet the headstrong prince had vehemently opposed that plan. Despite Llassar and Auspex’s efforts to explain the virtue of patience, the prince stubbornly demanded a frontal assault on the walls.

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