Chapter 13: SPANNING THE GORGE
“Armad! We will reach the level where we have to pour cement soon. How are we supposed to get it here?”
“Armad walked over to the young man that had been one of his best managers. If he needed a woodsman, swordsman or just plain hard worker, this was the man he would look for.
“Have the men bring the stone, lime and that special mix we’ve been preparing to the edge of the cliff. We will finish the surface of the wood bridge right next to the piers so that we can take the materials right up to the piers. Melnor is going to help us with some aspect of the mix as well just as his magic is keeping the insides of the piers dry while we were digging a place to put the gate for the dry dock.”
The pouring of the mix began a few days later as the wooden bridge had been prepared for ahead of time. Layer after layer was mixed and poured around the clock so that all of it was one continuous piece supported by the outside stone and reinforced by the metal. Melnor did something to the outside that was not explained and several “Healers’ helped give a blessing over the piers as well. Each pier was poured and cured in turn. The water co-operated by not flooding; barely.
“Two fathoms and rising!” Called out one of the men.
“What is the rate of increase?”
“It will be three fathoms by sundown,” called out one of the men.
“Do we have an expected depth by sunup?” Inquired the team leader.
“It should start subsiding by mid watch. Do you need someone to keep watch?”
Armad shook his head. “We will break for the night and come back at sunup. If everything holds as I expect it to, we will begin stone work again after we make some forms to hold arches.”
The morning saw them gathered on site once more. The piers had held their own against the rising waters and easily shed the water as well as the usual debris that made its way down the stream. During the day, a tree would get caught in the wash against the pilings and prompt Armad to leave the casings around the pilings for their protection while they went through what he called a ‘long term curing’. Actually there was no need to remove the wood ‘bumpers’ as they would rot away in due time, but he would waste nothing. The pilings that stood just upstream of the supporting pilings also would protect the bridge. The first was a pier that had caused them to restart a pier and he matched that one for each of the supports, but upstream.
Armad stepped out to the edge of the ‘path’ and showed some of the woodsmen where he wanted the first of the supports. “Gentlemen, these trunks need to be stripped of all bark before use, inspected for any unusual flaw just as if they were going to be masts and then they have to be placed in order, just where I mark them to be placed. Since nobody here can read very well, I will color the stress point on the cement and the log to be placed there. Call me before you place the first ones and we will do a transfer measurement to make sure that the supports will match up properly.”
“Why does the wood have to be put in so exact a place if all of the weight is going to be borne by stone?”
This question had been asked by one of the boys that seemed to catch on quicker than most of the men. Perhaps it was because he wasn’t old enough to have preconceived notions or maybe it was because he was smarter. It didn’t matter, the boy’s questions usually gave him an idea of what the other men were thinking and kept him focused on their limitations of the abilities of the ‘modern engineering’ techniques that he was using.
Armad kept notes on the stresses and forces that the bridge would have under load and he had planned on making the bridge more than strong enough. Just as with anything else, if he wasn’t careful, he could build a bridge that could hold the world but couldn’t hold its own weight. Flaws were inherent in construction and you hand to plan for as many errors and flaws as you could foresee. Thankfully, the bridge would not have to handle continuous, repetitive traffic or tunnel winds because he didn’t have the tools that he needed to calculate those forces. Strong sometimes meant brittle and brittle objects could be destroyed by repetitive motion. All of this flashed through his mind as he tried to answer the worker’s deceptively simple question.
Looking at the men, he gave them an answer that they could understand. “I plan on this bridge to be standing for many years to come. Wood does not last long enough and if the stone is to do the job that I plan for it to do, it must be placed with precision.” It appeared that this was reason enough. These men were not used to having things explained and any explanation, no matter how simple, was more than enough.
Placement of the guide supports took many days and then the stone cutters began their work. Arches began to form, locked in place with keystones and glued in place by the addition of Armad’s cement and further fortified by magic that Melnor insisted would help for far longer than otherwise would be suspected.
All winter long, they worked when it was clear or when it was warm enough. Melnor helped enough with the temperature when the cement was being used but drew the line at using his abilities for clearing snow or protecting the surfaces from snow build up. The men, on their own, began to build moveable roofing and covers that would help keep the work surfaces clear when they stayed home during storms.
Ice was another matter. Nothing could keep water and ice from the stone except for planning. It was likely that none noticed that the top edges of the rails were beveled or that the surface of the pathway also curved into runoffs. The mild winter helped but it was still well into the spring rains when the arches were just coming into completion.
Melnor stepped out from the side of the road and tapped Armad on the shoulder. “What made you pick this type of bridge?”
“What makes you think that I had a choice?”
“I’ve watched you plan, change plans and change them once again after finding out the limitations of your workers. I ask again, what made you pick this type bridge?”
Armad looked him in the eye and replied, “History!”
“What does your history have to do with our world?”
He smiled. “People are people no matter what color their skins or hair. Older people work with fewer mistakes and younger people are less afraid to make mistakes or take chances. In my world, part of our studies, encompass the handling of people and the way they think. We have experts that spend all of their time and efforts learning about the way different people think. Our leaders are taught some of these skills and our history studies people, their successes and their mistakes.”
“History told me that I would have a limited amount of materials to work with as well as a limited level of education of the people to depend on. I also realized that there were several examples of simple bridges that last many, many years and that these were the examples that I should choose from.”
“Do you mean that we could have built this bridge from other materials?”
“We could have built the bridge entirely from stone without cement or we could have built it entirely from wood. I could have used the metal to craft nails and joinery techniques but nobody would have understood how to repeat my lessons. Everything that I have used here can be made easily in other places. These men will take valuable skills with them when they leave here that will reflect their abilities wherever they go.”
“You didn’t have to give them your secrets. Secret skills are worth mountains of wealth.”
“Mountains that I will never be able to spend. Instead, the skills that I give them will be repaid in kind throughout my life by respect and increased comfort for us all. I will not always have to make my living by building things. I plan on managing ships that trade in this land. I have a few examples of history that should serve me there as well.”
“You seem very wise for your age.” Said the mage.
“I am not yet forty winters old just as you are not much older than me.” Armad gave a sly smile that said that he was hunting for information.
Melnor returned that smile. “You do not have magic in your world?”
“It may be there, but nobody knows how to use it.”
Melnor nodded. “This is a possibility that my teacher pointed out to me. I am one hundred thirteen winters and approaching five hundred seasons.”
Armad froze in place. He stopped walking, talking and from the evidence seen, he even stopped thinking. If there wasn’t evidence to the contrary, Melnor thought that he had stopped breathing and stood as a statue, frozen in place. After a relatively short while, Armad began to cough. After the coughing subsided, the big man just stood there, slack jawed in incomprehension. When finally the “moment’ passed, he looked at his employer and “casually’ asked; “How many days in a year do you have here?”
Melnor thought a bit. It was true that his guest had been brought from another place but he had never given any thought to how he would compare the worlds. “Our world has a year that lasts about three hundred and seventy some days. I can’t be more accurate than that. How long is your day?”
Armad shrugged. It feels about the same as yours. You don’t seem to have the same measurements of time that we have but we eat three meals a day, sleep for about the same time during the night and your sun is much the same as ours but you don’t have a moon.
“A moon? What, may I ask, is a moon?” He asked.
Sitting down on a nearby rock, he picked up a stick and a few rocks. “Do you understand the movement of the stars?” A nod and Armad continued. He threw a handful of stones out into a clear patch of dirt. “Look there; all of those stones are stars that you see at night. This one, he picked up a nearby stone, is your sun. Dusting the stars away and clearing an area, he placed the ‘sun’ into the center.
“This ‘sun’, has other rocks that surround it.” He again placed a few pebbles around the ‘sun’. “Each of these pebbles is a planet.”
Melnor gave him a questioning look and Armad held a hand up for him to wait. “A planet is a very large rock. We live here on one.” Armad swept his hands around him and indicated the whole land. Melnor looked a bit doubtful.
“You don’t have to accept this as fact, but hear me out. From our point of view, the stars around us don’t change their position very much in our short lives and as a result, we can expect to be able to tell where we are in relationship to what we see when we look up into the sky.”
Again, Melnor gave him a nod of understanding. “Ship’s Navigators use them for sightings, but their abilities vary.”
“When our planet came into being, we found that we had an extra rock circling our world. Does that make sense to you?”
“I can see the possibility. We have comets that pass into the sky all the time. The word he used was not the same word, but something in the way he said it, gave the definite impression that they were talking about the same thing. The spell that gave him understanding of their language had curious gaps.
“This rock that circles our world, or planet, is lit up at night by the sun. Armad held out two rocks so that the magician could see what he was talking about. From the ground, we see this ‘moon’ as much larger than either a star or a sun, it is the largest thing in the sky and usually we only see it at night, early in the morning or late at night when it is the brightest thing we see.”
“It must make it terribly difficult to sneak up on enemies at night.”
“It can do that as well. Our moon does not stay lit all of the time. Sometimes it is shadowed by our planet.” Again, he showed this by example with the rocks. “There is much guessed, spoken and dreamed of the moon on my world. It affects us in many ways and I can’t possibly explain. Suffice it to say, you have magic, we have a moon and our days and years seem to be about the same. I suppose for us to be so similar, it couldn’t be otherwise.” “Our society seems little older than yours but we have developed the art of teaching to a point where even the young can be great teachers of subjects that they barely understand fully themselves. All it takes is a book, a student and a teacher. Often the student surpasses the teacher and neither one knows it. We teach history, math, writing, reading and many other subjects that might be of no real use either here or anywhere else, but we do teach them, and people learn.”
Again the wizard nodded, “It must make for a very intelligent population.”
“It does, and yet they are much the same as people are here. Knowledge does not translate to wisdom. Do all of the people live as long as you have?”
“No, Thank ‘M’Lady,’ the average man or woman lives to only forty or fifty years. The Wood folk, Plains folk, Mountain folk and some others can live as long as I have and some Magicians live no longer than their parent race. Other, more advanced Magicians and Priests live lives in the hundreds of years depending on their skills. Occasionally there are rumors of Mage here or there that just don’t die, but nobody really knows for sure. I personally have left my home several times because people around be began to look upon me with suspicion just because I haven’t aged. I have arranged my ‘death’ several times. Does that surprise you?”
“Not at all, from where I came from, a Methuselah would scare the pants off of the average citizen.” A quick glance from Melnor startled him. “Oh! A Methuselah is just a long lived person. I find that you are over one hundred years to be interesting but it doesn’t bother me past the fact that I might want to know how to do it so that I might extend my life. My experience tells me that life is a cycle built within sixty to eighty years populated by your parent’s friends, work mates and siblings. Later, life is then reinforced by an extended family of spouse, children, grandchildren and all of their friends and work mates. I’ve been given a new life in a new world and I’ve yet to learn how to live it. I may yet wish to live longer than my eighty possible years. Is it possible for me?”
“Anything is possible. Many things are likely. Do you know ‘M’Lady’?”
Armad looked him in the eye with a slight puzzle on his face. “No. How is that important?”
Melnor sat down on thin air with only a flick of his wrist. While Armad sat there slack jawed, “You are correct. We have magic here. Do you have a God?”
“Some people believe in a supreme being.” Armad shrugged.
“Have you ever communed with your supreme being?”
“Some claim they have and various histories chronicle the life of other supreme beings. They all amount to the same thing. I have not personally communed with him or her and do not expect to unless I am near death or under the influence of some material that alters my mind.”
“If given the chance, would you welcome it?’ Melnor was cautious.
Armad stood quietly for a moment. Melnor flipped his wrist and offered him a seat. Looking back and seeing nothing he took a leap of faith and leaned back with trepidation. As he settled into a seat that was more comfortable than any other seat than he had encountered in his life, his face went through a swift change of emotions including surprise, shock, fear, relief and strangely enough, calm. “I’m listening.” By this time Armad had figured out that Melnor had something up his sleeve.
“I would like you to relax and chant a nonsense tune with me. I am going to introduce you to someone and I want you to tell me your reaction.” Melnor could tell that he was dubious, but continued.
“I’m game. Go ahead. Call them in. Bear with me; I am going to get you to go into a relaxed state.”
“Hypnosis,” Armad took the stance that this was to be some kind of parlor trick. He had seen Melnor do some impressive things with his magic but he wasn’t sure that he was ready for a Supreme Being in his life yet.
They spent a while chanting and Armad felt himself drifting off into a dreamlike state. It was nothing compared to any of the drug states that he had experienced in his full and varied life and he also realized that he really wasn’t dreaming because he had full control over the content of his thought processes. It was rather like a waking dream except that he had the mental image of Melnor that included far more of his personality and background than he ever suspected. Information flowed freely here and they ‘discussed’ many things that two men would normally take a lifetime getting to because the trust came quick and deep. In a moment, Melnor was introducing him to someone else. The ‘conversation’ did not last long but it did last long enough for him to realize that there was a third person with them. He hadn’t expected that.
“I don’t know what to say. I can see what you mean when you call her ‘M’Lady’. Do you consider her a God?”
“No. I am fairly certain that there is a God and yes, there are those that consider her and others as Gods, but I also believe that I am only a small part of his plan and that he isn’t going to stop and talk with me, not because I am not important or because he hasn’t the time but because it would serve no purpose. I have also come to the conclusion that M’Lady does not consider herself a God or even a superior being. She has abilities and uses them as she wishes.”
“I don’t follow you but I am certainly impressed by her. I understand something of what you are telling me but how does this relate to my first question?”
Melnor looked him straight in the eye and gave it to him straight. “There is magic in the world and she controls more of it than all of the magicians and priests you will ever meet. She is one of many sources of power for all Priests who follow her and is a primary source of any magician who chooses to allow her to help him. If you wish to live a longer, healthier life, she is your best possibility. Another possibility is that of learning to use magic yourself. It is possible, but not likely. Few can fully control magic and it takes a lifetime to learn everything that it takes to control your health. If you look at me, you see me at the age that I am most comfortable. This is the age that I was when I learned to control my health. I could change my appearance and make my age match it but I chose my condition for my mental health and how I deal with society. You may choose your own path if you are given the opportunity but first you have to talk with her.”
“How do I do that?” Armad found himself amazingly lucid in this ‘dream state’. It was without the normal tethers of unfinished dreams and worldly distractions such as hunger, the need to go to the bathroom or simple itches; he felt that the answer was only a small step away. In that manner, it was just like a normal dream.
“Many people, with no special abilities, have the attention of M’Lady’. They may speak to her any time they wish. Most magicians, priests and often the dying have ready access to her attention. She does not judge but she will often grant needed help. All she asks is that you believe and ask. Occasionally, she will ask for help in return.”
Armad gave him a puzzled look. “What help could a superior being that is considered a God by many, need from the common man?”
“Do you know the history of our lands?”
“I have not had the time for learning much of your history. Why?”
Melnor smiled at him. Armad felt the smile and knew it was not a smile of tolerance but a smile of comfort and triumph. This was the reason for their meeting.”
“Armad, first I must tell you how our people came into existence.”
“How do you know this? Do you have a written history? I don’t see any way that is possible. Besides, many people on our world doubt our religious histories in so far as the history of God is concerned. Religion always seems to be so self-serving that it causes doubt.”
“No written history. We have instead, a witness that was there.”
Armad was shocked to disbelief! He rocked back in the chair that was not there and the doubt showed on his face.
“Before you judge, let me explain.”