Chapter 19. A Hint of Danger
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“This will be the central greenhouse,” I murmured while studying the alien sapling. One of Aikerim’s servants had brought it from the outskirts of Samat. It was still alive according to him. Hopefully, it would take hold here too. “While others will be used for common plants, here I wish to grow spices and other exotic specimens.”

“Green…house?” My uncle scrunched his eyebrows in confusion.

“A house for greens. Buildings that are designed for plants to grow within.”

Uncle looked at me sceptically, while mother pointedly glanced out through the still-empty window frame. The greenhouses were somewhat isolated from the rest of the estate, especially the one we were in. Due to the uniqueness of my plants, I preferred to keep this place secluded and limit the traffic around the place. Especially when my sadaq was still giving odd looks at the bio-printer. Yes, it could undulate and twist a little bit, but that was out of necessity! I even made it look more palatable with bark-like skin and leaves of heavy green instead of black.

I still heard quite a few mentions about ‘that leafy tentacle thing in the shed’.

So the bio-printer got its own personal room, sequestered away from any horrified gazes. The main body, that is. The branches were static and I let them cover the walls and a tiled part of the roof.

Ignoring the overgrown greenhouse, we were in the middle of a small field, green with grass. With plenty of free space to grow outside.

“These plants won’t be for sale. Everything here will be for our personal use and Domina’s kitchens, while bulk goods like wheat and olive oil will be brought from outside. Therefore, space would not be an issue.”

I pointed at one of the finished windows, “The glass will eventually cover every opening. It will let the light inside but keep the warmth within. This will make it possible to keep plants growing even in the winter and enjoy fresh harvest throughout the year.”

That got their attention, but I wasn’t done, “Most of the plants here will be special, designed to grow indoors. I also wish to keep them away from curious eyes, since some of the plants are rather special.”

“The magick plants!?” Uncle Tuk blurted out, his eyes wide as plates, only to be immediately smacked upside the head by my mother.

“No, un…” I sighed and glanced at the white-red ‘plant’ in front of me. He sounded as excited as Erf was when he saw the nanite container, “No magic plants. At least none of the edible ones will be magical and I wouldn’t recommend eating others — you will probably get sick or worse. Which is why only a handful of people will be allowed to enter the greenhouses, especially this one. Most likely it would be both of you, me, Irje and Yeva, as well as the Domina herself or the Lady of the House, if they wish to. I will get some servants to keep the compost bins and water barrels full, so this shouldn’t be too difficult for just the two of you. If not…”

“No, no. We can do this,” Tuk shook his head.

“If not,” I continued nevertheless, “you tell me, and I will get someone to assist you.”

Uncle tried to say something, but my mother sighed and pushed him aside. “Would these plants need anything more than rich soil and water to drink?”

I tried not to smile as she spoke, this was probably the first time my mother directly talked to me after we had arrived at the manor. “Some of them would need support, like grapes, others would need almost no attention at all. I will explain how each of them should be treated once I have the seeds. Or you can ask Yeva if you have any doubts later and I am not around.”

“There are no seeds? What are we supposed to do, then?”

“There is plenty to prepare,” I nodded, eager to continue talking, “You have probably seen Keivan around? Wer, pointy ears, white hair and grey skin? As the potter of this estate, he is currently making pots and trays for the plants to grow inside…”

I kept chatting with my family. But I did it without any rush while avoiding the tricky topics. Just the details about this project, as I answered any questions they had about it. Yeva was adamant that I had to take baby steps for now.

I should go and kiss her later, just because.

I also should check on the potter.

Keivan was eager to work, despite being completely bewildered by my ideas. I don’t think he ever needed to make square containers and pots with holes in the bottom. I could still remember the look of loss and resignation on his face when I tried to explain the idea behind a toilet. Luckily for him, the first batch of pots was currently drying. So I sent him outside to bring me clay and rock samples. Terracotta was fine and dandy for flower pots or storing cheap wine but, if I wanted porcelain thrones, I needed to get the porcelain first. And a few other ingredients.

I idly wondered if Shahin would throw a tantrum upon seeing properly glazed pottery.

Unfortunately, the sand merchants proved to be a bust for any meaningful amounts of zircon. There were some promising results, but these were black sands from the north of Emanai. Aikerim did earn a decent amount of gold from my inventions but nowhere enough to afford such outrageous spending. There were no global delivery systems — the merchants had a few sacks of it available for a possible client or two and that was the entire supply within the city of Samat. And a few days of travel around, at least.

While I needed tonnes of it to separate enough zircon.

It was literally cheaper to hire a wermage rather than replace the rune-carved kiln with a mundane one! At least for now. And I already had Shahin as the ‘Flow battery’ and could borrow Isra and even Anaise if I was desperate. I wasn’t. Nevertheless, I did gain something else. Apart from the few batches of clean sand and flint, necessary for future projects, I did learn a little bit more about the mineral composition of the nearby regions. Around the city of Samat and the southern part of Emanai in general.

And that was the reason for Keivan’s trip. As a potter, he had a decent knowledge about different soils, clays, and rocks. He was someone who was actually able to understand my explanations and find the deposits of readily available bauxite nearby. As well as a few more minerals that would come in handy later.

I didn’t need it for pure aluminium, however. It would be nice to have the metal itself but that was not among my immediate concerns. I was still gearing up for military service and good steel was paramount. Cheap and in large amounts. Liquid crucible steel, not the bloomery steel of Emanai that the smiths spent hours on, folding it again and again to get the impurities out. For that, I needed proper refractory materials. I had some graphite, but once again it was in short supply inside Samat. I also needed materials that wouldn’t easily erode from the contact with oxygen or an alkaline slag that would be generated during smelting.

Something chemically neutral or basic and, very likely, oxidized already.

Like aluminium oxide.

I could extract it in industrial amounts from bauxite ore and use it to make a proper refractory lining for my crucibles and furnaces. It would be possible to use blocks of alumina for molten glass if it was really necessary, never mind steel and iron. Moreover, it was also a great abrasive material for sanding, polishing, and cutting stuff.

I couldn’t wait to have some. Soon.

It was quite fascinating how many little pieces had to be brought up together just for the whole process to start. Unending conversations that all ended up with ‘…trust me, it will make perfect sense in the end’. Days of preparation and running around, just to see the first crucible, full with molten iron. And then, once it was ready and running, to see the steel flowing like a river of metal.

Seriously, wermages were slacking off — all that magic and not a single ‘Summon: CNC machine’ spell around. This Erf had to do everything himself, it seemed. They could punch holes in my late alchemy lab and turn trees into mulch while having an orgasm. Yet they couldn’t carve a perfect thread for a screw using Flow or, at least, make something similar to what Wrena could achieve with a chisel. I asked.

“So we aren’t tasked to deliver a certain measure in crops?” My uncle cautiously asked me during the lull in our conversation.

I shook my head, “No. Just make sure they are picked once they are ripe and send the edible harvest to the kitchens. Feel free to try any yourself first.”

That made him perk up a little. Until mother yanked at his tunic.

“There is no need to rush these plants — they will produce plenty as is. In fact, I would need to come up with good storage designs first, better than ice cellars. Having fresh fruits and vegetables year-round is nice, having them wilt and rot because there are simply too many of them — isn’t.”

“And what if there are too little?” Mother probed again.

“Then we will plant more. And, if we run out of space, we will build more greenhouses.”

I understood their apprehension: crop deficit and wastage was a common reason for punishment at the farm manors. I was lashed personally a few times for these exact reasons too. But it was hard to explain my confidence to them. It was one thing to have a plant that underwent centuries of selection by farmers’ hands. It was completely different to have an AI take the evolutionary blueprint of a plant and apply the whole depth of human knowledge to assemble something never seen before.

At least under this star.

Overwhelming the kitchens with fresh produce was a valid concern. Especially since I haven’t introduced the concept of pasteurization and canned food. Which is why many of the early plants would produce industrial materials and easy to store seeds, nuts, and beans.

And a few just for me personally. Some plants should be universal and their absence in Emanai was just criminally cruel.

The reason for the industrial stuff was very simple — I had no oil or natural gas, rubber or plastics. And I would need plenty of these in the future, just as I would need lubricating oils, cooling agents, and solvents. Yet another group of very essential things that would require an entire industrial complex to produce.

Or a single bio-printer. Seriously, the pre-space Earth had it tough. Having to synthesize complex hydrocarbons while one could program a plant to secrete it for you.

Yes, I wouldn’t be able to make a million tons of something, but it would take me decades at least to reach those levels of consumption.

I will worry about the industrial complex then. Right now I wanted jars of jam that would seal nicely. Maybe some methane for fuel too.

Because charcoal was starting to get annoying and messy. And I was loath to burn my nuclear batteries just to heat pottery kilns. They still had a lot of juice inside, but they were a single-use type. And the organic capacitors could only be grown under pressure in a helium atmosphere.

I didn’t have the ‘greenhouses’ for that yet.

Specific growth conditions weren’t the only limiting factors either; some stuff required specific molecules and elements. I wouldn’t have spent so much time chasing different minerals and compounds otherwise. Proteins had an enormous range in functionality but were limited by a narrow temperature range. Likewise, with the grown bio-printer, I had the ability to synthesize any dye colour for clothing but not every glaze for a pot.

I smiled slightly, watching my family explore the greenhouse. Pleased to see the genuine interest in their eyes, while being slightly amused by the places my own thoughts took me to. ‘Unca Tuk’ even started drawing flowers in the dirt with his finger, offhandedly marking the spots that my ‘Ma’ had deemed suitable for plants.

Although…

I will head out and kiss Yeva, then check on Keivan.

And then I’ll visit Aikerim.

XXX

“First you seek the refuse of smithies and now you are looking for the copper slag?” Domina raised her eyebrow.

I shifted uncomfortably in my litter. Aikerim’s sister had pulled rank and insisted on inviting both of us to the primary Manor of Kiymetl. I wasn’t just walking beside her as I’d done before — I was given a personal litter for myself to lounge on as we coasted through the streets of Samat.

Not a very pleasant experience, surprisingly. While my feet were off the general filth of the street, the ride wasn’t that smooth. Four burly men tried to carry me as evenly as possible, but it was still a bipedal gait in four independent corners. Rocking was inevitable and quite unpredictable. Leagues ahead from the shaking of a cart but it still required getting used to.

Nevertheless, I had to oblige. This wasn’t done for my comfort but to display our status. Her future son-in-law wasn’t allowed to greet her elder sister with flakes of shit on his feet.

Especially when said elder sister was ‘concerned’ with certain ‘rumours’ spreading around.

“Iron bloomeries and copper smelters have one thing in common — they only collect the readily available material and discard the rest. The ore is rich enough that it is cheaper for the slaves to dig more of it, rather than try and salvage the remainder.”

Suffice to say, everything took a backseat as we prepared for this meeting. Instead of talking about this new idea of mine, I spent my time on the appropriate gift for her uncle. Just in case we needed Virnan Shah on our side. The gift, that Wrena probably had nightmares about, was now carefully tucked into my tunic, allowing me to bring up the other topic once again.

Aikerim frowned, “You want to waste time to obtain more copper? Why?”

“Not copper,” I shook my head, “cobalt. It tends to occur in copper deposits. Processing slag would get me a decent amount.”

She kept frowning, “How necessary is it? While copper cuts are cheap, copper mines are an extremely valuable commodity and only two Manors are allowed to have them. They also smelt copper on the spot so, if you are looking for slag, you would need their permission to collect it.”

“Eh. Let me start from afar, then.” I scratched my head, thinking about how to frame it in the best possible light.

Judging by how Aikerim’s whole posture changed when I said that, I didn’t need to try that hard. The tail swished as she leaned on her hand, subtly licking her lips. Her eyes on me, expectant and anticipating.

The lady already knew I was about to rock her sandals off.

“So I just got myself a potter. To make me pots and plates as well as moulds and other things.”

“Like chamber pots,” Aikerim grinned.

“Toilets, but yes,” I rolled my eyes. Somehow my desire for clean, sanitary washrooms was an unending source of teasing and ridicule from everyone around me. “The pottery in Emanai is somewhat similar to iron smelting — potters take the mass and sinter it into one solid but porous mass. Likewise, sintering iron gives you a bloom that smiths have to hammer and fold until they turn it into wrought iron.”

I couldn’t stop myself from grinning a little bit, “And this is where I come in. By using kilns and furnaces that can withstand a lot of heat and techniques to make my fires hotter, I plan to melt the iron as if it was lead and avoid the long and arduous folding process.”

“And make steel cheaper to make,” Aikerim purred in turn, “cheaper for my Manor, that is.”

“Not just cheaper — in larger quantities as well.” I nodded along with the swishing of her tail. “I plan to do something similar with pottery.”

“Melt it?”

“Yes and no. I will melt the part of it as if it was glass, vitrifying it instead of simply sintering. So that it will cool into one solid piece, much stronger than the current types of pottery. Strong enough to form delicate figures that wouldn’t easily break from daily use.”

She hummed, thinking, “A delicate piece could attract the eye, but not that easily. You would need an exceptional artisan to truly showcase it. Something that your potter is still not ready for, I think. After all, current pottery can be made into intricate forms and beautifully engraved too. If it breaks — it would simply be replaced.”

Aikerim’s fingers played with her tail, “I admit, this new invention of yours falls rather short compared to the previous ones. Especially since you need other Manors for it.”

“Oh no, I already have everything necessary to make it happen.” I ignored her teasing tone, “I even have something to improve it further. I can cover it with glass — the glaze would give it a striking appearance and make it fully impervious to liquids and leftover food.”

I scrunched my nose at the memory, “One wouldn’t need to use pitch to seal the insides of wine jars anymore. I tried your cheap wine — the taste is truly atrocious.”

“That does sound like you, now. So what is the deal with this ‘cobalt’ of yours?” She casually flicked her fingers. A piece of something sweet flew through the air. Straight from the plate, carried by a servant nearby, and directly into her palm.

“Well, you see — the glaze can come in many colours. Earthy browns, deep reds, blacks… I am partial to snow-white myself but there is another very pleasing colour.”

I glanced around and leaned closer to her litter. An easy task since her servants carried us side by side. And spoke at the most opportune moment, “It is called Cobalt Blue.”

Aikerim choked on the candy.

A few frantic moments later and servants left us alone again, dismissed by the frazzled Domina.

“You…” She growled, as a blob of water rose from her cup and splashed me in the face, “How different it is from your previous one?”

“Different shade, quite useful for glass and pottery,” I smiled, wiping my face down, “I assure you — the future wares will definitely make eyes turn on themselves.”

“How likely is that someone else discovers it, too?” Her fingers touched one of the ultramarine rings braided into her hair.

“If Esca Manor could have — they would have done so by now, others are quite unlikely to. Cobalt can paint glass very easily and intensely but does it at high temperatures. A single contaminated batch could have been enough. I wonder if their land is scarce with resources or if it’s due to the flux they use.”

“It is. Yusuf merchants buy metals when they can and make a good profit selling them at home. Often enough by selling glass and grain. That should explain to you why Shahin Esca came here on the mere mention of a possible glass-maker. Glass is one of the few local exports that they have.”

“Huh. They chose a really bad place to settle.”

“Their place is good enough. Oases of Yusuf are one of the few places that are both fertile and devoid of Creatures. Hard to conquer too as they are protected by the harsh dunes. Instead of spending their available forces on defence, they can bolster their fleets. Trading or otherwise. The serpent tribes are well-known across the sea.”

“I see. Anyhow, I can see Shahin figuring it out in the future, simply due to her proximity and general knowledge about glass. She won’t be able to replicate it well, however. Haphazard mixing could yield an approximate colour but it would be full with impurities. By itself, it would be a rarity. When there is a better alternative, however…”

“Then it would be seen as second grade,” Aikerim murmured.

“Kiymetl can make batches for Esca instead. We could make it in bulk, for the cost of rocks and fuel, and then sell it to them for a price they would see as fair. Their artisans would be eager to pay.”

“If only Yusuf gave such colour a proper reverence. Or was willing to part with their gold.” The tail started swishing once again.

“Well, they can pay back with final products. Or make them a deal so only you can trade with final products within Emanai. As Domina of Kiymetl, you know these things better than I do. Besides, that is just for glass alone. Trust me, you would appreciate the porcelain pottery as well.”

“You never fail to pleasantly surprise me, Erf. It was a good thing I let my daughter claim you or I would be inundated with proposals left, right, and centre.” She sighed, “Very well, talk to Albin then. Shebet Manor owns gold and copper mines nearby, they are responsible for minting cuts and measures too. Other mines are further north and Albin would be quite agreeable to you, anyways.”

I nodded silently, as thanks for the compliment and with gratitude. Albin was indeed an agreeable man and would likely give me the slag just for the fun of it…

“I wonder if you would pleasantly surprise me with your children too.”

I coughed awkwardly as my plans screeched to a halt, “My Domina?”

The smug fox grinned, “Tell me Erf, will your children be akin to your other deeds? Will I have truly powerful grandchildren too?”

“As in wermage?” I felt myself blushing, “I…er, I don’t know yet. I need to know more about Flow and what makes wermages first before I could promise you anything. I know that mother’s blood is strong — your children resemble you more than they resemble their father but I do not know how much it would affect their Spark.”

“Yet? Do you mean you will find out when you have them, or you have some other means to check?”

“I might be able to find out earlier than that. I have plenty of time, no? Anaise wasn’t planning on having children anytime soon.” I tugged at my collar, glancing at the looming tower floating above us. We were almost there. Sulla was talking with the gate guards already!

“Don’t worry,” Her eyes crinkled in a truly vulpine smirk, “We will have plenty of time to discuss this further, even inside.”

I gulped. These damned wermage traditions! Why did they have to make their visitors wait so long!

“Domina,” Sulla delicately intruded into our conversation, “Your sister is waiting for both of you. Amanzhan Irada asked that you visit her posthaste.”

Aikerim blinked, and so did I. Her eyes narrowed as the mirthful amber inside of them made room for a blazing yellow.

“Thank you, Sulla.” She dismissed him with metal in her voice. Her hand waved at me, “Come here.”

I leaned closer and Aikerim deftly pulled on the golden chain around my neck, freeing the Gestr from my tunic.

“My uncle will arrive shortly,” She quietly murmured into my ear. Meanwhile, her fingers traced the runic script, making it glow and pulse with power, “it is his Gestr — by now he knows you are here. Go with him and make him dance in the way that only you know how. Make sure to do it well but do not dare to mention the curved lines, just as we discussed prior. Do you understand?”

I silently nodded back. The time of jest was over, this was business and intrigue.

Her teeth bared in a grin, the fangs looked sharper than her daughter’s. “My sister wants to show who has the higher rank? Well, she should expect the unexpected too. After all, our trade is full of risk and unforeseen consequences.”

XXX

“You took your time coming back here!” Virnan Shah boomed as we scaled the stairs of the tower.

“A lot had happened during this time,” I scratched my nose. “My tasks have kept me busy since then.”

“Yes, my niece had probably run you ragged. And so is her daughter. But never mind that! Come! We have plenty to discuss, and ample time to teach that old hag some humility!”

“What?” I croaked. My throat was suddenly very dry.

“Oh, you didn’t know?” Virnan winked, opening the door to his study, “Today was the perfect time for you to visit!”

Fuck.

I stood still, looking straight into the twin pools of yellow.

Fuckitty fuck.

“Oh my, The Annoyance himself” The draconic ‘Jasmine’ purred as her tail kept drawing numbers in the sand. Today, Sophia Chasya was fully dressed, clad in blue.

A small part of me did note that the colour of her kaftan wasn’t mine. She was using crushed lapis.

“I’ve been trying to meet you for quite some time. Unfortunately, your mistress was of no help. And yet, here you are. In the very same room where you taught this senile fart how to predict the future.”

Fuck me with an anchor. Sideways.

102