Black Iron’s Glory

Chapter 30


Claude saw another world’s firearm for the first time. He had only seen a few examples of the earliest types from pictures in the books in his father’s study. He secretly pointed it around. It didn’t appear very different from the specimens he’d seen in a museum in his past life.

Welikro said his father had retired with it, a ‘Gally mark 3 matchlock’ he’d called it. It was indeed one of the earliest firearms ever made. The military was currently using Aubass Mark 2s. The Gally matchlocks were long retired.

It was a decent military weapon, but it lacked the accuracy marksmanship required. His father had two purpose-built hunting muskets made as soon as he could afford it. This musket was nothing but a memento of his soldier days now. When Welikro became old enough, he all but inherited the musket and it was all he used for hunting now.

“Can private citizens buy or commission muskets for personal use?”

“Yup,” Welikro smiled, still gazing at the matchlock, “Baromiss has a public armory. They make several thousand muskets a year and sell whatever the military doesn’t buy off to the public. It’s the largest armory in the three prefectures. They also accept commissions, at a premium, of course. Of course, you have to be at least a dignitarian to make a commission, but in principle anyone can buy or commission a firearm. Military veterans also get a great discount.”

“How are your father’s muskets different from this one?”

Claude knew little of true value of these old firearms. As far as he were concerned, they were all the same. Both designs were loose-powder, front-loading, matchlocks, which meant loose, unpacked gunpowder was poured down the barrel from the front, followed by a round, then rammed homed with a plunger-like metal rod, the ram-rod, and a portion of powder, the priming charge was also dabbed on the firing pan on the side of the musket. A slow-match, an extent of rope specially designed to burn very slowly in little more than embers, was fastened to a lever known as the cock, just behind the pad and set alight before the fighting, or in Welikro’s case, the hunting, began. When the musket was fired, the trigger was pulled, which released the cock and sent the embering end of the slow-match into the gunpowder on the firing pan, igniting it. The spark travelled down a small hole bored into the musket, igniting the compressed gunpowder in the breech. The charge ignited, burned, turned into gas — some of which blew back out that same small hole in a puff of soot, smoke, and unburned gunpowder — and shoved the ball out the front of the barrel, the muzzle, towards its target. The ram-rod would then be rammed down the barrel once more to extinguish any lingering sparks before the whole process began again. A trained musketeer could reload and fire little under twice a minute. Though reload speed didn’t really matter to hunters; they got just one shot anyway.

“Dad’s muskets are twice as big,” Welikro began, “They can’t shoot accurately any farther than this one, in fact, they’re quite a bit less accurate, but they damned well will kill anything they hit. This musket will hurt or kill someone at greater ranges, no problem. But it won’t necessarily take down a bull with one shot. And you only ever get one shot when your hunting. So Dad’s perfectly fine to give up a little accuracy and range in return for a surefire kill when he hits.

“That’s also why Dad had two muskets made. He’ll load both before we go off hunting so he’ll have a better chance at killing something if he only grazes it or misses and the thing comes charging at him. He’ll load the one with a single round which will kill anything he hits, and the other he always loads with grape, a lot of small balls. If he misses, or only grazes a boar, let’s say, and the thing comes charging at him, he can hit it with the grape shot from the second musket once its closer and make sure the thing goes down without it killing him.

“The big problem is that they’re so heavy. He had slings put on them so he could carry them over his back, but he can’t do that when they’re loaded, the powder in the flash pads would fall off, so he has to carry them in his hands when he’s stalking something and his arms are usually sore after just half an hour. He also has to use a fork to rest the barrel. They’re too heavy to hold up on your own, even for Dad. Luckily they aren’t being used in a war, they would do very bad there. They also use a lot more gunpowder than this one, so we only hunt big game with them. I can shoot ten times with this musket with the same gunpowder just three shots of Dad’s new muskets use.”

Claude inspected the musket carefully. The whole thing was almost one and a half metres long, made of cherry wood. The black, cast-iron barrel stuck thirty centimetres out beyond the shoe in which it sat and the muzzle flared ever so slightly. The musket’s handle, which, unlike the modern muskets with which Claude was more familiar, was only a gentle curve down from the barrel, not the about 75 degree down angle of modern muskets. The barrel was held in place with a series of clamps that ran over it and around the shoe, clamping it down tightly onto, and into, its wooden shoe. Those same clamps had small holes in the girth beneath the shoe through which the ram-rod was stowed. The handle was framed on either side, covered by a thing copper plate which absorbed much of the shock of use and carry to keep the handle as intact as possible, through they’re been worn through over the years.

Claude knew all about the gun’s workings — it had been a subject of study in school, after all, not that he could really pick out any of the parts of the gun and put any of the official names to them without some careful thought. He could never not recognise the trigger, however. Something was off about the way it fired, however.

“Why doesn’t it have a sight?”

“What’s a sight?’ Welikro asked.

“Uhh…” Claude didn’t have the first clue how to explain what a sight was or how it was used. His words fumbled as he tried to mime what it was for several seconds before Welikro’s eyes lit up.

“Oh, you mean that?” Welikro asked as he pointed at two pips on the musket, one at the tip of the barrel, and the other just behind the cock. They’re called firing points, though, not ‘sights’,” Welikro explained, tasting the unfamiliar use of the word in his mouth, “You aim by lining the pips up with one another and our target before we fire. When you’re ready to fire and everything looks right, you close your eyes and pull the trigger.”

“Wait, why do you close your eyes? Won’t that make you less accurate?”

“If you don’t you’ll be blind after firing just one shot! You’ll see how much smoke the powder in the firing pan makes when you shoot it for the first time, and the blowback out of the little hole that connects the pan to the breech blasts half its smoke into your face as well.”

“How can you still hit your target if you do that though?”

“Training and a steady hand. You won’t hit anything if your hands are shaking, even if you keep your eyes open. If you’ve trained enough you should be able to hit them nine times out of ten.”

“You said the two fire points have to be lined up. So if your hand is stable, will the shot hit for sure? Will the shot hit the point that lines up directly with the two firing points?”

“No. The fire points are about the width of a finger above where the bullet goes, so you have to aim just a bit high if you’re aiming at a particularly small target. And then there’s the fact that the bullet doesn’t always go where you want it, it sometimes wobbles of somewhere else, heaven only knows why, but it does that, quite a bit more often than any hunter would like. And there’s always the chance the slow-match fizzle out rather than lights the powder and then you’ve got a misfire.”

“Sounds like a lot of trouble,” Claude said, “Hey, Eyke, show me that short-barreled musket of yours.”

Eriksson’s father had bartered particularly good catch for his short-barreled musket. He always had it with him when he went sailing. The one his father used nowadays, however, was won at a celebration a few years back. It was also a short-barrel, but the handle was encrusted in cold pewter. He left his old one at home now and Eriksson had taken to using it himself.

“It can’t shoot accurately as far as Wero’s. It can do only about 50 metres if the game is big, but only 20 to 30 if it’s something like a rabbit.” Eriksson said as he handed it to Claude.

Welikro’s matchlock could technically kill a man up to 280 metres, though no one expected to actually hit anything the size of a man at anything beyond 130 metres, even just occasionally.

The short-barreled musket, however, could hit a man at most 50 out, a deer maybe up to 60, but it would definitely only hit some part of the animal, not the part the musketeer actually aimed at. Its basic design, save the barrel, was the same as Welikro’s musket.

“What do the gunpowder and the rounds look like?” Claude asked suddenly, “I heard Wakri say something about using egg-white powder on ships. How’s it different from the normal powder his dad using when for hunting?”

The gunpowder had moved on since the days of the Gally Mark 3. It was no longer poured down the barrel from a canister like it used to in the days that gun was the mainstay of the army. Now it came in small, pre-packed paper parcels. The bullet was also wrapped to each parcel. Nowadays, one could just bite off the back end of the parcel to free the gunpowder and poured the whole lot, bullet, paper, and all, down the barrel. The paper itself was covered in a kind of oil that kept moisture out and the gunpowder, but it also meant that a simple spark from the priming powder wouldn’t light the charge through the paper, so it had to be torn so the spark could get to the main charge directly. The bullet was wrapped in a soft piece of cork that fit snuggle against the walls of the barrel. Not enough to make ramming it in as difficult as it had been with muskets back on Earth, but snuggly enough that the bullet wouldn’t just slide or roll out of the barrel if it was pointing downward.

“What’s this for?” Claude asked as he pointed at the piece of cork.

“It keeps the bullet from just falling out if you point the barrel down.” Welikro explained.

Claude prepared to tear the parcel, but Eriksson stopped him.

“Don’t,” the boy said, “You can check inside if we have any left when we go back. We can’t ruin any shots before we’ve fired. We’ve only got fifteen.”

Each round cost seven fennies, so fifteen was equal to a day of his father’s income from his position in the local government.

“Does yours use the same?” Claude asked, looking at Welikro.

Welikro shook his head. “No. The gun wasn’t designed to fire with anything other than the gunpowder and the balls in the barrel. It wouldn’t fire right if we stuffed paper in there as well. Not to mention the pain of cleaning the soot the oiled powder leaves behind. His barrel is shorter and a little wider than mine, so he can clean it easily, but this one has a thinner, longer barrel, so it’s a pain in the arse to clean, not to mention that because it’s thinner, you’d have to clean it far more often.”

Claude scratched his head. Where were his big cannons going to be? Protagonists from the future were supposed to quickly introduce guns and cannons and sweep over the continents, conquering all the kingdoms and unions in their way. But he felt like he was not going to be able to do anything of the sort.

Welikro took out a few rectangular pieces of leather.

“Alright, let’s go. It’s getting late. We should go set up before the animals start coming to drink. Take two of these and wrap them around your calf. Don’t leave any seams.”

“Why? Aren’t we already wearing long pants and leather boots?”

“Snakes. It should keep their teeth out of you,” Welikro said venomously.

“Can’t… can’t we just use a torch and poke it into the grass or something?”

“Hah…” Welikro was almost laughing. “How do you expect anything to come anywhere near us if we burn the place we’re hiding? We’ll stand out even more than if we stood around yelling all night!”

Everyone quickly tied the leather to their legs.

“Alright, let’s go. Claude and Boa will take the middle and Eyke will take the rear. Since Boa already has his arbalest, use my hunting bow, Claude. I saw you shoot pretty well in archery class, so you should be fine.

“And, make sure to keep quiet. I’ll pick a hiding spot. I don’t want to hear you chattering. You’ll chase our prey away.”

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