Imager’s Intrigue ip-3, page 37part #3 of Imager's portfolio Series
“That’s possible. I think not going could be even more so. I don’t think anyone-including Maitre Dyana, the Council, and Sea-Marshal Valeun-really understands how much thought and resources the Ferrans put into this.”
“You don’t think Geuffryt…?”
“No. He has a very different agenda. The sad thing is that he ended up helping them.”
“What can you do about him?”
“I’ve been ordered not to do anything or to have anyone under me do anything.”
Seliora nodded thoughtfully. “You have another idea.”
“I may, but it will have to wait. Ferravyl is more important.”
“When do you have to leave here?”
“In about a glass.”
She stepped closer and put her arms around me, then lifted her lips to mine.
Ferravyl was close to 450 milles from L’Excelsis, at least by ironway, and even on the express, that was a trip of some nine glasses. Since I was taking the night special, it also meant taking a lead-cloth bed hanging, which I’d obtained from Draffyd, as well as a small bottle of a sleep opiate. Then, too, there was the requirement for an obdurate travel guard. The guard’s name was Claudyn, and, except for the black cloak and trousers, rather than livery, he looked like he might have been a High Holder’s personal bodyguard.
The L’Excelsis ironway station was on West River Road, about a mille south of Alusine Wool. We arrived at the station by duty coach at half before seventh glass, and then had to wait.
While we stood on the platform, I asked Claudyn, “Have you done this often?”
“Never that much. None of the Maitres have traveled since the Ferrans shelled the Collegium-excepting Maitre Rholyn.”
“Where did he go?”
“Only to Asseroiles. High Holder Haestyr had requested his presence.”
“When was that? Do you remember?”
“It was after Councilor Suyrien was shot, but before he died. Maitre Rholyn did say something about not wanting to go.”
That was interesting, especially since Claudyn had no idea what the two had discussed, not that Rholyn would ever have told him. Had Haestyr been angling to succeed Suyrien…or to oppose Ramsael? I’d have to bring that up to Maitre Dyana.
Once the train was opened to boarding, we made our way to the second accommodation carriage and located compartment three. The private sleeping chamber might have been considered commodious by some, but my lead-lined bedchamber was High-Holder spacious by comparison, although the dark oak paneling and deep green hangings and upholstery did help in making the train compartment seem warmer. Once the train was well away from L’Excelsis I prepared for sleep. Even after taking the draught I didn’t slumber all that well, but I didn’t dream. I did wake with a pounding headache and a much fuller understanding of what Schorzat had meant about train travel for an imager.
The locomotive puffed into the station in Ferravyl just before seventh glass on Vendrei morning. Breakfast in the dining car hadn’t been bad, even if the fried cakes had been a touch heavy. Eating had reduced my headache to a dull but faint throbbing. As we departed the train, under a hazy gray sky, Claudyn was cheerful, but kept that cheer to a few remarks and a near-constant smile. Surprisingly, there were more than a few hacks lined up outside the station, and we had no trouble engaging one for the trip to Glendyl’s manufactory, known locally, I discovered, as “the big engine works.”
After Frydryk’s comments, I’d wondered about the security of Glendyl’s facility, but, once the hack stopped outside the closed iron gates, I had the feeling he’d never seen it. The two-and-a-half-yard-high stone wall that surrounded the works ran at least half a mille in each direction from the gates. There were two guards at the stone gate house on the right side of the iron gates.
One of them stepped forward as I walked toward him. The wind was raw, although not as cold as in L’Excelsis. That rawness might have been because Ferravyl was far damper.
“I’m here to look at the works,” I said pleasantly.
The other one murmured, “You want to stop an imager? Or that big ob with him?”
I stopped and waited.
The first guard swallowed. “Sir…if you wouldn’t mind coming with me? I’m certain Director Huesyt would want to show you what ever you need to see.”
“I’d be happy to see Director Huesyt.”
“This way, sir.”
Claudyn and I followed the guard through a narrow side gate. Then we walked across an open stone-paved space from which ran three paved roads, one straight ahead, and the other two paralleling the walls. On the far side of the plaza, if one could call it that, on the left, was a square gray stone building of one story, some fifteen yards on a side, with a single-door entry. The door was iron and squeaked as the guard opened it. The small foyer held two benches and a table, behind which sat a young man in a pale blue coverall.
“Fardyl…Maitre Rhennthyl’s here to see the director,” said the guard.
At that, Fardyl stood immediately, inclining his head to me. “I’ll tell him, sir.” He turned and headed down the narrow hallway, barely a yard and a half wide.
The works guard did not move, but stood directly in front of the outside door that he had just closed. As I waited, I took in the confined space, with its old but smooth-sanded and varnished oak floors, the oak shutters, the white plaster walls, devoid of any decorations or hangings, and the faint smell of strong oil soap.
In moments, Fardyl returned. “He’ll join you in the conference room, Maitre.”
Claudyn remained standing in the foyer as I followed the aide down the narrow hallway to the first door on the right. I entered, and he retreated, leaving the door open. The rectangular conference table was of ancient golden oak, clearly far older than I, and surrounded by twelve straight-backed, armless, and uncushioned oak chairs.
In moments, another figure stepped through the doorway. Huesyt was a narrow-faced grizzled fellow with a short gray and brown beard and a slight paunch, wearing a padded brown leather waistcoat over a pale blue shirt. His trousers were dark blue, or had been before they had faded slightly. He inquired brusquely, “What can I do for you, Master Imager?”
“I don’t know that you’d heard. Earlier this week, Councilor Glendyl was shot. He was seriously injured, but it is likely that he’ll recover with no lasting effect.”
“I hadn’t heard. What does that have to do with your being here?”
“Just about everything,” I replied. “I was taking a walk with the Councilor, and we had just started to talk about the new turbines and why the Council didn’t seem to want to pay for the ships that they’d propel.” I paused. “At that very moment, he got shot. Now, the Council and the Collegium tend to get concerned when the High Holder who builds most of Solidar’s warships gets assassinated, and then the factor who supplies the new engines nearly gets killed. Oh…did I mention that my predecessor was looking into such matters, and he had a building dropped on him? So…you can see why I might be here.”
Huesyt didn’t speak for several moments. Finally, he shook his head. “I can’t say as I understand any of it…what with all the troubles…”
“I understand things haven’t gone smoothly here, either…”
He snorted. “We’re doing all right on boilers and old-style engines for the merchanters…or we would be if we hadn’t lost so many workers. Must have had to hire almost a hundred over the past year. Doesn’t help that the stupid crafters on the Council-pardon me, sir, but not building better ships when your enemy is doing that is stupid. As I was saying, it doesn’t help that we’ve got the best turbines in the world and we got no ships to use ‘em.”
“Why have you had so much trouble with workers? I’ve heard that the manufactory here is modern and well-maintained, and I imagine that workers are paid well.”
“They’re well paid. That they are, but it’s been senseless stuff.
I nodded, then asked, “It sounds like you lost a lot more men than in any year before.”
Huesyt nodded. “I’ve been here twenty years. Never seen anything like it. Not all bad, though. Some of the new men are good, better than those that we lost, but it still slows things down. Now…if the Council…” He shook his head. “Sometimes, I talk too much…What can I do for you and the Council?”
“A tour of the manufactory would be helpful, especially the boiler-making and turbine manufacturing. With the war going the way it is…things might be changing.”
“I can’t believe that there’s much for an imager to see, but I’d not be arguing with either imagers or Councilors. You mind if we begin right now? I have a meeting here in about two glasses, and even a quick tour will take time.”
“That would be good.”
Huesyt turned and strode out of the conference room. I didn’t rush after him, but I didn’t dawdle, either. When we came out of the small building that certainly exemplified Glendyl’s belief in limited administration and supervisors, Huesyt turned westward. Claudyn followed, a step or so behind us.
Despite the light and raw wind, the air held an acrid odor that suggested burning coal, hot oil, and molten metal, as well as other smells I couldn’t identify. I took several steps, then almost halted, because of what lay before me, on both sides of the wide street paved in gray stone. Manufactory building after building stretched away on both sides, with large cranes beyond several, a sight identical to the farsight image I’d seen weeks before. Perhaps it was identical…
“Master Rhennthyl?” Huesyt stopped and half-turned.
“There’s nothing like this anywhere else, is there?”
“Not a thing, sir. A real wonder it is, and it should be.” He pointed to his right, eastward. “The locomotive shops are over there. The foundry is the building with the wide stacks, and the plate mills are next to it…”
I listened, trying to hold the details in my mind.
“…the boiler manufactory is at the end on the left…beyond the turbine works but on the east side. It’s near a mille to the boiler yard beyond the manufactory.” He began to walk again.
I stepped up beside him, trying to take in everything, as well as attempting to figure out what I should be looking for-or avoiding-and wondering if I were on a fool’s errand.
Down the side lane to my left, two workers in pale blue coveralls pushed a waste cart toward a high-sided wagon. What ever the refuse already in the wagon might have been, it had to have been heavy, because four dray-horses were hitched to the big wagon. Beyond them, another worker in blue stepped out of a long building, glanced at us, then slipped back inside, hurriedly.
“Over there is where we drop forge all the smaller parts.” Heusyt gestured to the right.
I followed his gesture. Beyond what looked to be a loading yard was a windowless stone-walled structure, easily as tall as a four-story building. I thought I could feel the stone pavement vibrate beneath my feet, but suspected that was my imagination.
“We can forge and finish parts to a tolerance of better than a thousandth of a digit there…what you need for the speed of rotation of things like turbines, even with reducing vanes.”
I didn’t really understand what he meant, and I was still trying to take in the scope of the works, still wondering exactly what I was looking for-and what I could do if I found it.
“Now…up ahead, beyond the settling pond, that’s where the turbines are assembled and the one beyond is where each one is finished, tuned, and tested…”
Then a single shot ran out, followed by several more, and I staggered back at the impact on my shields, even as I extended them to cover Huesyt and Claudyn.
Two men in the pale-blue coveralls of the works appeared from out of another building on the next side lane to the left. Each carried the wide-mouthed weapons that I’d seen once before.
I immediately imaged stones into their chests, but one managed to trigger his weapon. The impact and explosion threw the three of us backward, and turned a section of pavement at the edge of my shields into shattered rock and gravel.
A single sharp explosion echoed from the stone structure beyond the settling pond, the turbine assembly building that Huesyt had pointed out moments before, and I immediately strengthened my shields, trying to shape and angle them so that what ever came toward us was diverted around us, even as I tried to link the shields to the solid stone pavement blocks and keep them around the three of us.
A second explosion followed, one much larger, so that my teeth rattled, even behind my shields.
I glanced around. Gray clouds billowed from collapsing buildings. Flames spurted from building after building, and black oily smoke poured from at least one structure.
Huesyt stared at me. “It’s all your doing! What did you do?”
“They were firing at me, too,” I pointed out. “I did nothing. I came here because I was afraid something like this would happen. The problem is that I found out too late. Just why do you think you lost so many workers over the last year? That was so the Ferrans could replace them with their own people.”
“You did this!”
I projected absolute assurance-and anger-at him. “I did not. Now…go do what you can.” Be grateful I saved your ass so that you can do what ever is possible.
After a moment, he turned and began to run toward a building where the doors had opened and two fire wagons were being rolled out. One headed toward us.
I motioned Claudyn to the side of the road, stopping short of the sagging stone wall of a building whose function Huesyt had not explained.
“The turbine works!” Huesyt swung up onto the wagon beside the driver.
For a moment, I watched as the fire wagon dashed down the central road toward the farther turbine building, also beginning to show signs of flame and destruction.
The manufactory was far too large and the fires far too extensive for me to do anything. In one sense, I was certain, I’d done more than enough just by showing up. But…sooner or later, the saboteurs would have set off their demolition charges.
Amid the smoke, dust, and fire, Claudyn and I walked back toward the manufactory gates. The only thing more I could have done was exhaust myself, and that wouldn’t have changed a thing. I didn’t like that thought, but I couldn’t afford any futile gestures-not after not even fully recovering from the bombardment and after what I’d just witnessed.
Once we were away from the manufactory-and we had to walk nearly a mille to find a hack-I took it back to the ironway station where I wrote out two messages, one to Frydryk and one to Maitre Dyana. I summarized the sabotage for Frydryk and urged him to make certain that similar events did not befall his shipworks in Solis. The message to Maitre Dyana was an account of what had happened, nothing more. Then I dispatched them as urgent.
Once that was taken care of, I took the hack back to the manufactory where I waited in the administrative building for Huesyt to return. I did more than a little thinking while I waited.
It was close to three glasses later, when he trudged into the foyer. More oily smoke and grit followed him.
His mouth opened when he saw me. “You…you’re still here…after all this?”
I stood. “Where else would I be? There wasn’t anything I could do after all the explosions and fires.”
He looked at me again. “Why? Our own workers fired at us. One of the foremen saw them set the explosions. He couldn’t do anything because one of the first blasts broke his leg. Our own workers…why?”
“Because they weren’t your workers,” I said quietly. “They were Ferrans, sent here to destroy the turbine works and what ever else they could damage. When
“The locomotive works…they were mostly untouched.”
I just nodded. Whether that section of the works had been spared because they’d run out of explosives or because they’d run out of time, I had no idea. I doubted we’d ever know.
“Do you keep detailed records on your workers?” I asked.
“There’s maybe a page on each. Their name, address, their date of birth, their work area and skills, when they were hired, any commendations or warnings, and their pay rate. And their wife or next of kin. That’s about it. What else would we need?”
“Once you put the works back together you might check on those you hired in the last year. I’d wager that a number of them will be nowhere to be found.”
Huesyt looked at me. “Pardon my shortness, Maitre Rhennthyl. That isn’t much help now.”
“No, I imagine it’s not. I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll need to report on what still works here, and how long you think might take to rebuild.”
He just looked at me. I looked back, and he eventually looked away.
Then we left.
Claudyn and I found an inn that was acceptable some two milles from the manufactory-and found that it even had an imagers’ chamber, for which I was thankful, because I wasn’t looking forward to another night of troubled sleep and headaches.
When we clambered out of the hack outside the stone walls of Glendyl’s manufactory on Samedi morning, a smoky haze blurred the outlines of more distant structures, and the acridity of the air was more than noticeable with each breath that I took. Claudyn and I walked toward the gates, now guarded by four men, but the guard in charge took one look at my imager cap and insignia and waved us through. From what I could see from the gate plaza inside the walls, the buildings that held the turbine assembly and testing were burned-out hulks, as were a number of others. The big drop forge structure seemed untouched, as did the locomotive works, but all of the other larger buildings seemed damaged, in some cases being little more than rubbled heaps of stone. What had doubtless saved some of the buildings was their stone construction and the fact that Glendyl had spaced them far enough apart that the fires hadn’t been able to spread easily from building to building.
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