Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Several Adventures of Hugh, Part 17

Back at the docks, Hugh told the twins he would meet up with them later at Walker’s estate.

“Disappearing again? Gee, Hugh… should I be asking what her name is?” the dwarf joked.

Hugh tussled the dwarf’s hair. Hugh walked back to the market, where he knew how to get to the fountain across from Theoson’s tree. When he got there, Theoson was walking around the courtyard carrying a lit lantern in broad daylight. Hugh came up to him.

Without looking him in the eye, Theoson said, “I am looking for someone.”

“Are you looking for me?” Hugh asked.

“I don’t know. Are you the one I’ve been looking for?”

Hugh took the lantern from his hand, blew out the flame, and handed it back to him. Theoson looked up at Hugh and grinned, a crazed look in his eyes.

“I’m glad you’re on board,” Theoson said. “Your next lesson: procure two large bags of coins.”

Hugh stared at him.

“I don’t have any coins for you, what are you looking at me for?” asked Theoson.

“You want to use me to acquire wealth?” asked Hugh.

“It’s not for me,” Theoson replied. “It’s for the wealthy.”

“For the –”

Theoson shushed him and pointed off towards Walker’s estate.

Hugh walked off as Theoson leaned against his staff and relit his lantern.

Hugh found the twins inside Walker’s home talking to Henry.

“I need to make some money,” said Hugh.

“Ha, it is a woman!” said the dwarf.

“No, there’s just something I want to buy.” Hugh stared at Henry.

After a few seconds, Henry said, “I’m not a bank, Hugh.”

“Maybe there’s something I could do that I could be paid for?” Hugh asked.

“I’m also not a recruiter.”

“Henry, please,” said Hugh. “I don’t know anyone else in the city who can help me.”

Henry sighed, closed his eyes, and rubbed his temples with his fingers. After a few seconds of this, he said, “You know what? We need a stableboy at the moment. You can do that for now. If anything comes up, I’ll be sure to keep you… and your unique talents… in mind.”

“Okay,” said Hugh. “What’s a stableboy?”

Two hours later, Hugh had shoveled thirteen horses worth of shit from their stalls. When Henry came in to check on his progress, Hugh was brushing a small bay.

“As it turns out,” said Henry, “The Chancellor has need of your services.”

“Does it involve killing anyone…” Hugh looked at the horse he was brushing, “Or anything?”

“No,” said Henry, “He wants to discuss a project of vast importance to the city.”

Hugh met with Walker in the chancellery. As Hugh entered, Walker was talking with several people he didn’t recognize. Walker motioned Hugh to come over, saying, “Hugh! We’ve been awaiting your arrival. What do you know about walls?”

“I know you build them if you want to keep someone out, or if you want to keep someone in.”

The group laughed. When he was done chuckling, Walker asked, “We were thinking more along the lines of… do you know how to build them?”

“What’s there to know? You stack something up high in a long line,” said Hugh.

This time, there was nervous laughter. “There’s more to it than that,” said a man sitting on a couch. “There are calculations, material concerns, issues with topography and foundation integrity…”

Another man added, “There are questions of specifics, like how tall and how wide…”

“I’m sorry,” said Hugh. “I’m no architect.”

“Here’s the situation,” said Walker. “I’ve ordered our fleet to begin pillaging the outlying villages of Otros. If their invading forces turn back, we can harass them until winter, which will buy us time until spring. We’ve decided to begin production of poleaxes, complete with the hook for dragging cavalry off their horses. We’re also going to work on making those portable walls you mentioned.

“If this delays the invasion, we’re also going to begin construction of a fortified wall on just the south side of the city, as this is where they will be coming from, and it will extend along the Lys River, which runs northwest out of the city. That wall will extend as long as we can make it, and it’s necessary for protecting our source of water in the event of a siege. We don’t have to worry about them sailing around it, as they have no navy to speak of.”

Hugh nodded.

Walker cast his hand over the room. “These are the city’s best architects and stone masons.”

“I’m afraid I’m out of my league in this group,” Hugh said. “You won’t need me.”

“Don’t you want to learn?” Walker asked. “You strike me as a curious person, and these are the best instructors you’ll ever find.”

“Not to diminish their talents,” Hugh said, “But I haven’t noticed many military walls around here. I wonder how much more experience they have in the matter than I do.”

There was grumbling, except from one of them. That one said, “He’s right, you know. We’re not qualified to do this, that’s why we were waiting for him and hoping he could guide us. We’re trying to do something we’ve never done before, and we face an enemy that is capable of crushing us with little effort. We know they have engineers who are capable of building siege weapons that can bypass every defense they have faced so far. We need to come up with something new, something we and no one else has thought of, and that’s why I think you should stay, Hugh. You’re just as likely to hold the answer as we are. You might even have the advantage of being an outsider, with strange, foreign ideas.”

Everyone was quiet, and Hugh slowly moved over to a chair and took a seat, leaning in like he was listening to someone who wasn’t speaking.

It was Walker who broke the silence. “Someone surprise me.”

“The basic principle behind a defensive wall,” said Hugh, “Is that it provides both a barrier of advancement for the attacker, and a height advantage for the defender. If you expect them to sustain a long siege, you need a wall wide enough that your troops can move easily atop it. You also want the wall to be slightly curved outward, never straight, so that impact on the wall will be better distributed, like in an arch. It’s also a good idea to dig a depression in front of the wall along the entire length.”

Everyone nodded. “What do we build the wall out of?” someone asked.

“What do you have?” asked Hugh.

“We have vast sandstone quarries.”

“That’s too soft,” Hugh said. “You want something hard, heavy… like granite.”

“We have granite,” Walker said, “But nowhere near enough of it to construct a wall of this size.”

“Enough to do the front side of the wall, up to about a man’s height?” Hugh asked.

Walker thought for a bit. “Possibly… we’d need a surveyor to make estimates.”

“That’s a good idea,” said someone said. “Granite on the bottom will form a sturdy foundation, and that is probably the part of the wall that will take the most punishment.”

“How tall do we ultimately make the wall?” asked someone else.

“As tall as you can,” said Hugh.

“We already need to make it as long as we can,” someone said. “It’s not a good idea to build endlessly upwards and longwise.”

“We’ll have estimates made once we know the materials,” said Walker. “What I need is to know what we’re using, and how long it will take to construct. We won’t have longer than a year.”

There was more discussion on types of stone, brick making, use of mortar, the dimensions of the battlements, and even the possibility of constructing a mud wall in front of the wall of stone. At one point, servants came in with large platters of sliced cheeses, fruits, and bread. By the time the meeting was finished, it had been dark for a while. The architects and masons left, while Hugh lingered.

“I hear you want money,” Walker said once they were alone.

“I need two big bags of coins,” said Hugh.

Walker got a confused look on his face. “That seems vaguely specific…”

“Tell me about it.”

“Do you care if they’re copper coins?” asked Walker.

“I guess not,” Hugh said.

Walker got up, went over to a small chest and pulled out two bags. “For all you’ve done for me, this is a pittance: two bags of copper petties,” he said. “I don’t think you could feed yourself for a week with this, but it is, indeed, two big bags of coins.”

“Does this mean I’ll need to start paying for my food?” asked Hugh.

Walker laughed. “As long as you’re my guest, I assure you: you’ll never go hungry.”

Hugh put his hands on the bags, but Walker did not let go.

“Keep smithing for me,” said Walker. “Herbert likes your designs, but he has some alterations he wants to make.”

Hugh nodded and tried to take the bags again, but Walker still held them firmly.

“And I want your help building the wall for as long as you’re here,” Walker said. “If you want to leave, you’re can do so, but I need every free hand in the city committed to building the wall. We can’t begin until we get a wall license from the new King, but until then we can still begin surveying and preparing the labor teams. Can I count on your participation?”

Hugh nodded again, and this time Walker let go.

“Why do you need a license to build a wall?” asked Hugh.

“We’re actually a vassal city of the kingdom of Kole. The only reason I think we might get permission is because the wall will only be along the southern side, while the seat of the kingdom and their armies are to the north. If the wall we proposed completely encircled the city, they might see it as a threat to their ability to control us.”

“How do you know the invaders won’t go around the wall?”

“They have no means of crossing a vast waterway like the Lys with all their troops and horses,” said Walker. “We will dismantle all of the bridges upstream, and we can even sail our warships up the river to repel any of their attempts to make crossing. They won’t be able to build any bridges or ships as long as we maintain our naval advantage.

“Besides, any attempt to cross would cause their forces to bottleneck, which would benefit us greatly. Herbert even thinks we ought to leave a bridge open for them to attempt a crossing, and then ambush them, maybe even rig the bridge to be easily demolished, thereby killing those on it and isolating any troops we allow to cross.”

“War is such a horrible thing,” said Hugh.

“Yes it is,” Walker said before turning to walk off. He looked back at Hugh and said, “So let’s work to end it.” Walker went upstairs and Hugh left.

When Hugh got back to Walker’s home, he put the bags of money under his pillow and fell asleep.

To be continued…

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