Chapter 12: THE TRADE BRIDGE
A late summer and a short fall had come and with the dry season passing, winter promised to come in full force. The piers were set for both of the bridges and the ship building area now had something that was unheard of; a dry dock. All winter, the shipwrights would build a ship that Armad had helped design. The master wood workers set the limits and Armad crowded those limits with materials and designs that they hadn’t seen before.
The tower was all but finished as he passed his first year living on another world and later the next year his two other projects would see fruition. As he completed the tower, the workers split their forces to the bridges and to the docks. A few left to find work in other ports and a few more came into town. The one thing that surprised everyone was that many workers of metal showed up and almost every one of them started as an assistant to Blackie’s forge.
Blackie had a natural and intuitive talent and a lot of information shared by Armad from his foreign knowledge, unknown to others. This knowledge made Blackie the foremost human metalworker around. Unknown to others, were the visiting Dwarves that came and went after they found out that he hadn’t actually discovered their secrets in some magical manner. For the first time the Dwarves had someone new to discuss metallurgy with. They often stopped in to discuss technique with Blackie, and Armad after they found out that he was the source of knowledge.
“Snow!” Called out the first man. He was swiftly echoed by many others. This was the predicted storm that would end their season of construction.
Armad looked that way and called out to his leaders and supervisors “Call in the men! Bring everybody in and head for the docks!”
“But the tools and stock…”
“…Will survive under the snow until spring. We will not need the tools until then, or the materials.” Armad calmed them. He had planned for this contingency.
“We will work in the shipyard through the winter. Materials for several long and complex projects have been set aside and more. We will be recruiting as many farmers from the outlying areas as we can during the worst of the winter. Supplies have been set aside for all and your pay will continue at the present rates as long as the work proceeds at a steady rate. We will not, however, be working around the clock or long hours. Everyone will take turns getting an education this winter.”
A mumbling arose from the men as they marched along the road on their quick return to the docks. Armad waited and listened. It was important to know what the complaints would be.
“After a while, he found that the general consensus was that an education was not necessary. Armad began addressing that immediately.
“Gentlemen, you will be not only taking lessons but giving them, especially through the worst of the weather. Our school will be in the meeting house as well as a few other places such as Blackie’s forge and Lessa’s kitchens. We each have knowledge to share with others, even if it is only your life story or an interesting thing that happened long ago.”
The grumbling slowed to mumbled discussion. Few of them had no better prospects for the winter other than a cold winter in the streets or tents. Their winter prospects, looked warmer than expected, at least.
The next few days saw many changes in the dock side arrangements. Work continued at a steady pace as the increased manpower made up for the time some of the men had to take in retraining to their new jobs.
Armad had all of them trained in cutting and laying stone, mixing cement and in calculating a level base. Many men could not do it at all and were further trained to their strengths. The ones that showed enough ability in stone work were given extra time in the classrooms learning other useful skills. There were plenty of woodworkers but muscle was always in need, so everybody got a basic training in handling and working wood. Some, but not many, showed promise in both skills and were given extra training in both skills. These were the men that Armad was looking for. From this small group came the leaders who would help him design and build the stone bridge.
Marching out to the site in knee deep snow was no picnic, but it did provide information that was unexpected. On the curve of the stream where he had planned to anchor the bridge, there was an unusual buildup of ice. By all indications, one of the piers would have to be reset. It took a while to explain his reasoning to the team leaders, but when they could finally understand his concerns, they all agreed that it would be worse than foolhardy to use the pier that showed promise of failing.
Mid-winter came and went and was followed by the delivery of several sleds of brick brought in by the miners that worked the nearby caves. Soon, their job would be finished and they said that by the end of summer, they would be going back home. The mine had proven to be shallow in the finer ores, but there was a promising vein of coal that they took the time to show Blackie how to use effectively. Blackie said that he would find a way to mine a small amount of it as he needed it.
As spring came, classes began to dwindle in size. The men were anxious to get outside and Armad found he was anxious to check on the supplies that were left by the river.
“Cappy!” Patch came striding down the river path with a huge smile on his usually dour face. It looked a little strange and Armand was a little worried about anything that could change the man’s demeanor in such a fashion.
“You should see the size of the pile if rock left on site. It is trimmed and stacked near the pilings.”
Armad had to ask, “Is any of it blocking the new pier site?”
“No. Somehow they left that spot clear.”
“Is there room to work?” Armad Pushed.
“If what you taught us is accurate, there will be plenty of room. When will we go out again?”
“Will there be a dry period soon, without snow fall for a few days?”
“According to Melnor, we will have a few days of warm weather soon.”
“Let me know when that happens. We will go out, dig our form out and lay our pier. Hopefully, we will have an early spring. Both the boats that we’ve been working on are nearly finished, the roof on Melnor’s tower is ready to finish and I have other projects to start, but first we have to finish our bridges.”
Patch stood there and looked at him. Never had he seen a man with so much energy and plans. All winter long, Armad had been everywhere making deals with the visiting Captains that had pulled in on the first freeze and had been forced to stay the winter. Between Armad, Melnor and Cappy, four ships would leave port fully loaded at the thaw, one of them brand new. Usually, a ship pulling into a winter emergency port would leave in the spring with scanty food supplies and a loss of stock due to the dangers of weather, ice and theft or attrition due to the needs of the crew. The new port of Red Valley was about to announce its position as a new and strong trading port with repair and construction facilities!
With the first full thaw, the ships departed port and the town seemed smaller for it. A few days later, the town felt absolutely desolate as early in the morning, every man available marched off to the river in hopes that they would beat the rise of the river. It would be only a short time before the snow upstream would turn the narrow ribbon of water into the torrent that dug the gorge in the first place. They were joined by the miners, and Melnor made a showing.
By late afternoon, half of the men began showing up. The winter took a toll on their stamina. The next few days would see a rotation of manpower that would allow each man time off to rest. The brick supports began a slow rise from the riverbed and.
The ‘rebar’ that Blackie made was used by the men to be tied into the matrix within. Strong ropes, the strength of strong shoulders and clever minds working with every available bit of daylight put a dent in the long list of tasks that Armand had waiting for completion.