Arval is building a flying machine. That’s the plot, such as it is, of A Matter of Facts, one of the lightest episodes of Blood Magic in the whole series. If this were a standalone short story, I don’t think it would be enough plot, but it’s not a standalone, and for where it falls in the series and for what it’s trying to do, I think it works. Plus, I imagine that most of you didn’t expect to get a Verne-esque science fiction story in the middle of an epic fantasy series.
Whenever I write an episode like this, involving invention and innovation, I try to walk a very careful line regarding anachronisms. On the one hand, I don’t want readers to find what the characters think and believe about the world to seem too ridiculous and unbelievable, but I also don’t want them to jump immediately to the “correct” conclusions that we know from several hundred years of technological advancement, because that’s no more believable. To that end, I did a fair amount of research for this episode into the history of materials, and into the inventions of the Greeks, like Archimedes and Heron of Alexandria.
The aeolipile, for instance, is a very real invention, thought to be the earliest example of a steam engine, and it was invented some two thousand years ago. Archimedes lived some twenty three hundred years ago, and had an advanced knowledge of hydrodynamics, lenses, and more. I came across a few sources that postulated that the Greek civilization could have walked on the Moon not long after the start of the Common Era had they not regarded inventions like the aeolipile as frivolous, being more interested in the pursuit of “pure knowledge.” That seems unlikely to me, but the point is that the Greeks were far more technologically advanced than the picture we have in our heads, and in a certain respect chose to live without technological innovations, rather than not having them. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned there.
However, Merolate is not Hellenic, and this is not a story about Archimedes or Heron or Aristotle. Yes, the flying machine is nominally the plot that ties this episode together, but mostly it’s about the characters. I hope Inpernuth was convincing. He’s a character that I would have liked to do more with, but just hasn’t quite fit into the series in more than a minor way. Part of that is his own fault for refusing to ever say anything in meetings, but here we get to see at least a little more of him. Then there’s Arval, who I’m struggling to characterize as different from Doil. They have a fair amount in common, but they’re also very different people. Think of it this way: Doil is a philosopher in the old sense of the word, someone like Aristotle, actually, who thinks about all sorts of things but doesn’t necessarily do a lot of practical work. Arval is an engineer, or maybe, even better, a tinkerer. As his title implies, he’s an inventor, inspired by a little bit of DaVinci and a lot of the classic American garage innovator. There’s overlap between them, but maybe not as much as people think.
Plus, Arval is significantly older, probably approaching forty, which makes him old enough, in this world, to conceivably be Doil’s father (he’s not, so stop speculating – my point is the age difference), and he’s lived most of his life in a rural village where his inventions were regarded with a mixture of suspicion and practicality. That’s a very different perspective from Doil, who’s lived most of his life in the castle, being rigorously educated by the most intelligent, well-regarded scholars the Union has to offer.
We also get a little more time with Ulurush. I don’t know how large of a role she’ll get – there’s only a few episodes left, after all – but she has an interesting history that it would be exciting to explore more than we did here. Yes, she really did beat Vere in a duel, and that’s all I’m going to say about that unless it comes out in the story. Vere’s time in Nycheril is one of the few bits of story involving the major characters that I could see expanding on in a bonus episode or a future Blood Magic novella. I wish that I had thought to introduce Ulurush as a character sooner. If I ever go back and revise all of these again, I think I would do that, so she doesn’t come quite so much out of nowhere.
Hopefully, you don’t mind the ending. I’ve been working on improving them, and I’d like to think that I did a lot better with the ending to Blood and Dragons than I did with, for instance, Pifecha. Some readers might be disappointed with how I ended it, but I do try, for all that these are fantasy, to keep a certain amount of realism, and I thinking having the ending go the other way would have been too unrealistic. Arval’s conversation with Doil about the potential applications of a flying machine is also a nod to that sense of realism. They’re imagining a flying machine, not a modern jet airplane or even a Wright Flyer. Yes, we will see the results of Arval’s next project in a future episode.
Compared to Blood and Dragons, this episode might seem silly, frivolous, insubstantial, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m not trying to write a thriller, or even a serialized novel. I’m trying to write a series of connected episodes with an overlapping cast of characters and a common setting. There are plot arcs that span seasons and the whole series, but not every episode is directly tied to them. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. I hope you enjoy A Matter of Facts.
When Arval accepted the Prime’s offer of a role as Chief Inventor and place on the council of ministers, he had expected…well, he wasn’t entirely certain what he had expected. Probably an august body making recommendations and holding discussions on important topics, while the Prime looked on and came to decisions that were largely irrelevant to most of the Union. That was far from what he’d found, and even after plenty of time to settle into his role, Arval still could be surprised by things that the other ministers appeared to take for granted, like Prime Kiluron showing up for a meeting covered in sweat and dust.
Actually, the other ministers looked almost as shocked as Arval felt – Inpernuth’s boots even dropped off the varnished table at the sight – but the point was, Arval still felt out of his depth. “Sorry I’m late,” Prime Kiluron was saying, ignoring the scandalized looks he received as he trailed masonry dust on the pristine floor and plopped down into his chair. “The good news is that repairs to the wall are going quite well. Shall we get started?”
That was good news, especially to Arval, and he focused on that as Doil cleared his throat and began reading off the agenda. Arval had helped designed a new herringbone style of masonry to improve parts of the wall’s construction; he thought that it would make the wall stronger, although not strong enough to repel an Ipemav attack. Nothing short of magic was likely to be strong enough for that task. He had to force himself to pay attention to Admiral Ferl’s report.
“Casualties from the Ipemav attacks were severe, even just in the city,” the Minister of Public Defense and Civil Order was explaining. “The guard force is almost thirty percent reduced, and leaderless. Guardcaptain Vere’s intelligence network was an ad hoc thing, so it largely collapsed with his, er, disappearance. I’ve salvaged what I can of it, but we have little way of even knowing how bad the damage is in the rest of the Union. At least the other province governors are reporting that their cities were not targeted as heavily as Merolate, but as for the villages…well, it’s telling how many refugees are still coming to the city.”
“At least the harvest is looking quite promising,” Minister Regicio noted. “That is a great relief, after the recent spate of disasters.”
“Do you have any thoughts on who ought to take on the mantle of Guardcaptain?” Kiluron asked.
Admiral Ferl hesitated. “Guardlieutenant Ulurush stepped up admirably during the Ipemav attacks on the city, and she’s taken on many of Vere’s duties since he went through the rift. She’d be my top recommendation, but there are a few other names we could consider, as well.”
“Please write up a list so that we can conduct interviews,” Doil said. “Filling that role is important. Anything else for us?”
Admiral Ferl shook his head and ceded the floor to Borivat. “As far as we can tell, the Ipemav attacks were primarily focused on the Merolate Union, I can only assume because of our decision to shelter the Gruordvwrold. Rovis has not mentioned anything about such events. Ebereen did allude to the presence of Ipemav in their territory, but not to attacks; I suspect they were interested in the present of Gälmourein there. That location has apparently been emptied and destroyed, so an attack force will no longer be necessitated. A second Nycheril vessel has begun plying the route between the two continents, increasing the trading capacity. In all, the international situation could be much worse.”
“What of the Isle of Blood?” Kiluron asked. There was an unusual intensity in his voice that caught Arval’s attention – he had been letting his mind wander back to ideas of animal-free locomotion again.
Borivat hesitated. “There has been no word from them. They seem to have used some kind of magic to protect their Isle, and are no longer passing in or out.”
Kiluron frowned. “I expected some kind of reaction to my changes to the Blood Decrees, at least. And maybe a ‘thank you for saving us, again.’ Except that we never got a word of gratitude the first time.”
“The Balancer faith has very different ideas of gratitude to those which are commonly held here,” Borivat observed.
“Send them a letter,” Kiluron directed. “Summon Yorin here – I want to talk to him.”
“The Isle functions as an independent entity and is not answerable to the Prime of Merolate…summoning their High Priest to you will at best be ineffectual, and at worst could be considered a threat.” Borivat sounded nervous. Normally, Arval would have scoffed at the threat posed by a handful of religious fanatics, but that was before he had seen both Cinnabar and Redra use magic in front of his face.
It seemed that the Prime was honing his next words like a blade. “In that case, let us pointedly request High Priest Yorin’s presence in my audience chamber.”
That decided, the discussion moved to matters of trade and other things that Arval had an even harder time paying attention to; there was an entire discussion in which the other ministers practically attacked Inpernuth over some bit of wording in the revisions to the Blood Decrees, though of course all the Minister of Law and Governmental Policy bothered to reply with was a few monosyllables and the occasional ‘lok.’
He almost missed it when his turn was called, and he had to glance down at his notes and smooth his thinning hair – Blood, it seemed thinner every day, ever since he’d turned thirty, and that was longer ago than he cared to think – before he was prepared to respond. The expectant gazes of the other ministers did not help. “Um, well, with the expedition to Ebereen cancelled it seems there’s not much call for my mud project anymore, so, um, I’ve offered a few contributions to the reconstruction of the walls, and a few of the guardsmen asked me about possibly mounting those ballista things on wagons…”
There just wasn’t all that much for him to report. Doil had told him to keep his work on the Pifechan technology secret even from the ministers, so he couldn’t report on that until a separate meeting with the Prime and Advisor Doil at different time. He made a few more noises about the proliferation of his glowjars, and mentioned plans he had devised to make constructing them more efficient and safer, but he could tell no one was interested, and eventually he trailed off and let the meeting continue around him.
It finally ended, and the ministers broke up and went their separate ways – well, all but Borivat, who usually remained to discuss matters further with Kiluron and Doil – Arval gathered up his notes and followed out at a distance.
“Join me for lunch, lok?”
Arval nigh jumped out of his skin when Inpernuth stepped out from behind the broad doors and fell into step beside him. “You were, I mean, you were just waiting, hiding behind…?” Though, to be honest, that was less surprising than the fact that Inpernuth was voluntarily engaging in conversation.
Inpernuth shrugged. “Good to be unpredictable. Lunch?”
“I, well, that is…” Arval stammered, trying to come up with a reasonable response. Inpernuth didn’t give him the chance.
“Perfect.” Inpernuth set off into the city, with the clear expectation that Arval would follow. With a sigh, Arval did just that; it wasn’t as if he had a good excuse.
They walked to a café overlooking the harbor, which had probably been more of a prime location before the Pifechan invasion caused such destruction nearby; now, it mostly overlooked a construction zone, as masons and carpenters scurried to continue repairs to the docks. That work had slowed in favor of repairing the walls. Inpernuth was silent the whole way, and Arval was not one to know how to make idle conversation, but he did wonder why Inpernuth had incited this in the first place.
A burly baker greeted them and knew Inpernuth by name, although Inpernuth did not return the man’s joviality. “Two of the usual,” was all the Minister of Law and Governmental Policy said, but the baker took his taciturn guest in stride, and soon returned with two sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. Inpernuth muttered a reluctant “thanks,” and then steered Arval over to a table on the patio.
“Man is far too convivial,” Inpernuth grumbled as he unwrapped his sandwich. “Makes a fine sandwich, though, lok.”
He did not seem to expect any kind of response from Arval, so Arval focused on unwrapping his own sandwich. The waxed paper seemed redundant to him – wasn’t the whole point of a sandwich to provide a portable food source? – until he discovered the greasy focaccia that could never alone support the quantity of fillings it embraced. It tasted good, but it was almost too flavorful of Arval’s tastes; he was still unaccustomed to what he considered city food, or perhaps just to food that wasn’t whatever plain sustenance he would put together for himself. Not that he didn’t eat, just that cooking seemed like such a bother most of the time.
Neither of them seemed inclined to conversation, so they ate their sandwiches in an awkward silence. At least, it felt awkward to Arval; he wasn’t certain that Inpernuth thought anything was awkward. The man proved that when he spent a prolonged period of time just staring at Arval, who shifted uncomfortably.
“What?” he asked finally, breaking the protracted silence. “Why are you staring at me like that?”
Inpernuth blinked and seemed offended by the interruption. “Trying to figure you out, lok. You don’t fit, worse than I don’t.”
“So?” Arval tried not to be annoyed and failed in that effort. “And what’s a ‘lok,’ anyway?”
“Just a thing I say to annoy people, lok.” Arval honestly hadn’t expected an answer. “See, everybody on the council, they’re all the same. They all think the same way about things. Most of what I do? It’s a rejection of all of that, symbolically, but I can’t change who I am, where I came from. You, though, are different. Don’t have any of our backgrounds, lok.”
It was probably more words than Arval had ever heard Inpernuth string together. “And that’s why you invited me to lunch? To figure me out?”
Inpernuth shrugged. “Your job was my idea, you know, lok. We need someone different, someone who thinks differently, who sees the world differently. Trying to figure out if that’s you.”
“I…see.” Arval didn’t see.
“You’re trying too hard, lok.” Inpernuth seemed personally aggrieved. “Let the others worry about politics and taxes and wars and colonies. All of that’s the present. You’re here for the future. Future is people like you, lok, and your creepy glowjars.”
Arval frowned. “I’m sorry, but I really don’t understand.”
With a look of disappointment, Inpernuth flopped back in his chair, tipping it backwards on two legs, before bringing the front legs back down with a bang and leaning towards Arval with a fresh intensity. “Lok, what’s the craziest idea you’ve ever had? The wildest thing you’ve ever thought about inventing?”
That was an easy answer, though Arval flushed when he said it too quietly for Inpernuth to hear. He was obliged to repeat himself. “A flying machine. A mechanical bird.”
Whatever Inpernuth had been expecting, it wasn’t that, but he recovered quickly, and there was a light in his eyes when he asked his next question. “You think it’s possible?”
“Uh, well, maybe?” Arval scratched at his bald spot. “There are a lot of problems I haven’t figured out yet, but it should be possible. I designed an automaton once that could replicate all of the motions of a human hand, so I imagine you could do something similar with a bird’s wing.” Not that he had ever built the automaton; that would have required a large quantity of brass and fine tools for working the metal which were beyond Arval’s reach. Well, they had been beyond his reach. Now, he could probably just go requisition some with Union funds.
“Build it,” Inpernuth urged. “Make it real. Lok, that’s what you need to be doing, not sitting around giving reports at useless meetings of stuffy old scholars.”
It was, Arval realized, exactly what he had been missing. He might have a warehouse to himself, as many tools and resources as he could imagine, but he didn’t think he’d spent a single night tinkering by the light of his glowjars, just seeing what he could make. Still, he hesitated. “I do have responsibilities, things the Prime has asked me to look into for him.” Inpernuth’s suggestion was tempting, though, very tempting.
With a disappointed huff, Inpernuth stood up from the table and tossed away his wax paper wrapper. “I don’t like being wrong, lok. Think about what I said.” Then he left Arval alone.
The encounter bothered Arval, but as he returned to his warehouse, his thoughts were more occupied with ideas about gears and bird wings. When he arrived, he sat down at his drafting table and began to draw.
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