By the time a year had passed since I had arrived in Hasa things were far worse and were unlikely to get better for a long time. I had greatly underestimated the amount of refugees that would be coming south as well as the difficulty of the projects I was working on. Hell, I had underestimated the difficulty of merely communicating with the refugees.
I, as a royal and a former [Scribe], was well educated and spoke multiple languages, but I was the exception and not the rule. The vast majority of the population spoke Hin while the refugees spoke Mycan and anyone who could speak both was in high demand. The schools I had founded were helping to teach Hin to the refugees, but it was only in Hasa and only for a fraction of the refugees.
To make matters worse the coast had become far more volatile. My plan to turn the refugees into [Soldiers] and [Guards] certainly helped hold the major cities on the coast, but every few months news came of another minor city or town burnt to the ground. Moreover, the casualties among the refugees were brutal and their morale was dropping fast. Concerns were raised about the potential for the refugee troops to mutiny and the [Generals] were of the opinion that it was not a matter of “if they mutiny” but of “when they mutiny.”
Many of the refugees were starting to suspect they were being sent out to die, and they weren’t even wrong in thinking that. I had hoped to allay their fears and increase their effectiveness by giving them old bronze armor and weapons from our army as we replaced bronze with steel, but the development of steel was progressing far slower than I anticipated.
I had thought that steel would be fairly easy to develop. I knew the ingredients, even if I didn’t know the ratio, so all that should need to be done is to create one hundred batches of an iron and carbon mix each one with one percent more iron and less carbon and then test the results to find the strongest. Actually, it was even easier than that, because I knew that steel was mostly iron. So only eight nine batches would need to be made; starting from fifty one percent iron and progressing to ninety nine percent iron.
However, creating a process for purifying iron and removing waste metals from the ore turned out to be far more involved than I had imagined. First, the iron ore had to be run through a “bloomery,” which was more or less just an oven. The entirety of my contribution to that effort was explaining - badly - how to make bellows. However, the bellows were what allowed iron to be smelted in the first place, otherwise the bloomery simply wouldn’t be hot enough.
So after that, the end result was a mix of iron and slag. The second thing you had to do was take the entire mess, heat it up, and then beat it to remove the slag. It was only after doing this that the third step could be taken, which was sealing the iron in clay with charcoal in an attempt to make steel.
The entire process took far longer and was far more labor intensive than I had thought it would be, although progress was certainly being made. The last batch had been reported to be about as strong as bronze and I had high hopes that they would produce real steel within the next month.
That wasn’t to say that their work had not been useful yet. Making bronze required copper and tin, the former of which was not available in all regions and the latter of which was actually fairly rare. We had our own source of tin here in Hin’Tye, but it wasn’t enough to meet demand for bronze and both we and Ra’Sharon relied on trade to obtain the tin we needed. However, that trade went through the Myca Kingdoms which were in various states of collapse.
As a result, replacing bronze weapons and tools was becoming far more difficult and bronze was used pretty much everywhere in society. It was becoming difficult to obtain copper as well, as much of the Hin’Tye supply came from a large island offshore and the Sea Raiders were choking shipments from the island.
If farmers had to return to using stone and wooden tools our food problems would become far worse, especially since this would affect Ra’Sharon as well. Before we attempted to turn it to steel, iron in the second step could be wrought into all kinds of tools. It wasn’t as strong as bronze, but wrought iron was far more available and the nobility was working to increase the production of wrought iron even as bronze production was falling. Discussions were already taking place on the topic of exporting iron tools to Ra’Sharon, as they were also likely suffering a bronze shortage.
I was pushing for the tools to be sent for free or nearly free, despite the fact that Ra’Sharon could certainly pay in gold. There were a number of reasons for this, not the least of which was signalling to my family back in Ra’Sharon that I was “loyally on their side” because appearing to be that way would be very useful in any future negotiations. The Hin’Tye took the implication that they owed me - and Ra’Sharon - for the information I was giving them rather well; far better than I thought they would.
Eventually, I found out that it was not just because of the support of Sut, but also because of Malnia’s support. Her homeland was also suffering from the bronze shortage, although it was far more stable than we were. Essentially, we would be trading iron to Ra’Sharon and Amor in return for food and reinforcements respectively. At least, that was what was going on above the surface, but below the surface…
Well, who was to say those “reinforcements” from Amor would pull all the way back whenever this chaos ended? The Chasms prevented them from grabbing much land, but the leverage Amor could gain from having a foothold to potentially expand from could be used in many different ways. On the other side, if Ra’Sharon found its own source of iron, well they could be an island unto themselves then.
Ra’Sharon agriculture supplied the world even before the Hin’Tye trade deal, mostly fueled by Ra’Sharon’s hunger for tin. Now, iron would replace tin, but if Ra’Sharon had their own source they would not need to trade their food at all. The change in the balance of trade had implications that no one could foresee.
Admittedly, most of my work had effects I couldn’t foresee. I certainly hadn’t predicted that my offhand attempt to make sense of the myriad gods that were scattered throughout Hin’Tye lands would result in the creation of a new grand temple - that wasn’t near finished - dedicated to the worship of the storm and weather gods of the region as a whole.
The whole, gods are real, thing was difficult for me to comprehend and deal with in the first place. The fact that they - and by extension, their [Priests] - could actually affect the weather had meant that they were critically important to agriculture in the empire. However, I was aware that you couldn’t just change the weather in one place without affecting an entire region. Furthermore, I knew that these local gods and their [Priests] were rather weak because they only had a few worshippers each even if their total number was huge between all of them.
All I had wanted to do was to get the [Priests] of all of those gods to coordinate so that we could have weather more conducive to agriculture while taking less energy to do so. Somehow, that had snowballed into the creation of a council of the [Priests], and from that into the “Council of the Storm Gods” themselves. A couple of offhand comments about weather, climate, and the water cycle later and I had somehow landed myself with a Skill called [Blessings of the Storm Gods] bestowed upon me by those gods.
The Skill increased my affinity with Water and Air by a lot, however it also reduced my affinity with Fire and Earth by an equal amount. Apparently, it increased my mana regeneration as well but honestly that didn’t matter much because the closest thing I had to a magic teacher was Shati, and he was most familiar with Fire.
That blessing was the first time I had even heard about the elements of mana because I never had any time to train my use of magic and I could barely throw out what Shati called a “magic missile.” Actually learning how to use the elements was far beyond my current Skill level and now Shati wouldn’t even be able to teach me anything but the utter basics!
I couldn’t even politely refuse, because I was too afraid to even hint that I was unhappy with a group of beings that could smite me with an errant thought.
Thinking of magic, my introduction to sensing mana in the schools I had founded also had unexpected effects. Well, they weren’t unexpected for me; I was fully aware that odd things would happen if I tried to introduce magic on a large scale. For one thing, the [Students] did not get the [Mage] Class, rather they got the Skills for [Minor Mana Sense] and [Crude Mana Manipulation] as part of the [Student] Class.
More importantly, nearly all of the [Students] were adults who had leveled their main Class quite a bit or had multiple Classes, and learning magic had resulted in new Skills popping up. A [Soldier] had gained the Skill [Infuse: Weapon], which allowed him to push his mana into his weapon making it stronger and sharper. A [Miner] had learned [Vein Sense] which allowed him to send out a pulse of mana that would cause concentrations of metals to shine in his vision, even through the ground.
If anything, I was more surprised by the rarity of these Skills than their existence. I could not, for the life of me, understand why one [Soldier] gained the Skill [Infuse: Weapon], another one learned the Skill [Infuse: Armor], and another two dozen [Soldiers] gained no special Skills at all. Neither Skill was needed in the classroom and both of them had wanted Skills that would protect them from injury.
In the end, the special Skills that some people learned when they found out how to sense and manipulate mana were too rare to matter much. Maybe two percent of the population gained a Skill and few of them could be called world shatteringly important because no one had enough mana to make good use of them.
My plan to expand the Hin’Tye body of knowledge regarding magic was a simple one. If everyone could sense and manipulate mana at a basic level, by sheer stint of the numbers some would take the next step and the next step beyond that. It was an undeniably crude method, but [Mages] were few and far between and most were [Priests] first.
As for my other projects? Road building was stalled because of issues delivering food to the work sites, which is exactly the kind of problem the roads were being built to solve. It almost felt like we needed roads to build roads! Sut also axed the waystation idea, citing the possibility for [Bandits] or [Raiders] to use them.
Sut was doing most of the ruling in the empire right now, which was how I was able to get most of my projects moving in the first place. His father, the [Emperor] was sick, and it was the worst time for that. If there were any issues during the succession it could tear the empire apart and burn it to the ground. Maintaining central authority during the chaos was a must.
There was happy news though. Seven months after I arrived in Hasa, Malnia had given birth to a healthy baby boy. As strange as it was to have a step-son, it was definitely something to celebrate. Mother and infant mortality was horrifically high in this world and even though Malnia had received the best care available, that had not amounted to much at all.
However, with the [Emperor] sick and Sut looking more and more like he was going to take the throne soon, Sut having an heir born to him already was seen as a good sign. Obviously, his son would not be ready to take the throne himself for a long time, but the existence of an heir was still a guarantee of stability to the masses.
Plus, little Arnu was cute! Who doesn’t love a baby that you don’t have to take care of personally? All the cuteness and none of the work!
It was good to remember that even in trying times like these, there was joy and humor to be found. The Hin’Tye had a fairly dark sense of humor, the [Emperor] especially as his health failed. Actually, the [Emperor] had become far more relaxed as he had come closer to death and Sut took up more of the ruling of the empire, cracking dark and sometimes bawdy jokes whenever he felt like it.
It would be difficult to articulate how embarrassing it was for me to hear my husband and my father-in-law - who also happen to be future ruler and the current ruler of the country respectively - joking that my father-in-law’s death and my husbands subsequent coronation would be the best time to convince Malnia and myself into a threesome. Both Malnia and I had been too embarrassed to eat dinner with the [Emperor] for weeks after that.
Now, I was waiting to see the latest attempt by my [Smiths] to create steel. I was very hopeful for this one, and so were the other [Smiths] I was working with. The introduction of wrought iron had led to metal armor becoming more available to the average [Soldier], and my [Smiths] were interested in trying it with the much stronger steel. I could almost see the visions of invincible [Warriors] striding through battle whenever they got a faraway look in their eyes.
“Princess?” A [Smith] calls out to me, “I think we have it. Steel.”
“Well let’s begin the tests then!” I say with a smile, “this could be a revolutionary moment for our empire!”
The tests we were doing were not very sophisticated. It really just amounted to, “make a bar out of the metal and then whack it against stuff until it breaks.” If you knew how fast a bronze bar would break under those conditions, and a different metal lasted longer, it was the stronger of the two.
It was horribly imperfect, but it was what we had.
Either way, the test of the newest material that I was watching was simply the [Leed Smith] smashing a bar against a rock. He was trying his best to break it, and he was not succeeding, which was perfect. The man’s Strength stat was over two hundred; he was one of the strongest men in the empire! And he still was unable to break the bar!
I was so excited I could jump for joy, but instead I held my stomach, turned to the side and threw up. I had no idea where the sudden nausea had come from until a thought struck me. Even as the [Smiths] were worrying around me, I was ignoring them as I counted.
It wasn’t exactly easy to be regular in a civilization with this level of technology; health was hardly understood here at all. However, I was far further overdue than I should be and that could mean that I was… Pregnant.
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