The building of the Great Wall was going well. At more than two dozen points along the sixty mile arc, crews of twenty-one workers each were getting the process down pat. True, there were always volunteers rotating in and out of these crews, but enough experienced hands were hanging in there to make it all workable.
Both Blakto and Rimlanders had initially been amazed. To the hundred thousand year old man, of course, the formula was simplicity itself. It wouldn’t have been–Portland cement was not all that simple to produce from the memory of a man who hadn’t used it in multiple millennia–but the Rim possessed, among its many wonders, marvels, and outright gifts from the Creator, a huge (i.e. lucky) formation of just the right limestone-plus-clay combination. Not only that, but this all important element for the making of natural Rosendale cement was right smack dab in the middle of Death Holder’s turf; Ragged Valley was full of the stuff.
Along with geysers, sinkholes, bogs, and boogey man legends, of course. You can’t have everything.
But the few hundred hardy Souls who owned smallholdings in Ragged Valley were unlikely to worry about such minor things. Rather, they were ecstatic over their sudden prosperity, owners of what basically amounted to one huge quarry. Not only that, but since the Valley was sure and horrible death for anyone who didn’t know the place like the back of his or her own hand, the residents didn’t need to worry about limestone poachers. Instead, they built wagons and began quarrying the precious stuff, hauling it out to the western edge of the Rim–the prairie side–where they were paid by the Lime Master for their product. The cargo was then transferred to other freight wagons for shipment to points all along the Wall while the Raggeds turned back to their Valley to bust out more of the stuff.
Each Wall crew was identical in composition, ignoring race (Blakto, Rimlander, or Bowl belly dweller) and gender (mostly male, but with a sprinkling of Blakto women and a few hardy Rimlander females in it for reasons of their own). All are listed as “men” for sake of simplicity.
1. Crew Supervisor (1 man)…………….paid position, thirty Rim dollars per month, payable in gold.
2. Forms Team (2 men)…………..volunteer position (bonus possible). Responsible for building forms and ramps.
3. Mixing Supervisor (1 man) ……………paid position, twenty Rim dollars per month, payable in gold.
4. Mixing Team (5 men)…………volunteer position. Responsible for shoveling and mixing under Supervisor’s direction.
5. Pour Supervisor (1 man)…………………paid position, twenty Rim dollars per month, payable in gold.
6. Pour Team (4 men)…………Responsible for properly filling forms, tamping, wall-tapping, and screeding to achieve maximum wall strength with no voids.
7. Logging Supervisor (1 man)……..paid position, twenty-five Rim dollars per month, payable in gold.
8. Logging Team (6 men)……….volunteer position. Responsible for limbing, bucking, and transporting logs from deadfall timber within the forest to one of the three water powered sawmills.
Total # of personnel for each Wall crew: 21 men.
The mill personnel took care of hauling the final rough boards to the various Wall building sites. Not unlike the Ragged Valley limestone quarries, all three mills were for-profit operations. Together, Wing and Isis had sat down with the owners to negotiate lumber pricing. The mill men were paying nothing for the logs, but they did have high expenses to consider. Saw blades and water wheels and leather drive belts wore out regularly. Mill workers tended to go deaf early due to the screaming decibels assaulting their ears every time a blade sliced through a piece of wood. The mills were also the most dangerous places to work in the entire operation. A reasonable profit was appropriate.
Extortion, of course, was not. Isis left this part of the negotiations entirely to Wing; he knew all about sawmills; she knew nothing about them except that they were almighty noisy and unpleasant places to be.
Fortunately, all three of the mill owners were also Rimlander patriots. In the end, they agreed to a compensation schedule that would probably make them wealthy men by the time the Wall was completely built, but not overnight. Their profit worked out to mere pennies per log.
Wing had hoped to get sixty crews up and running for this first fall season, but that wasn’t going to happen. Rimlanders and Blakto alike had to hunt where they could, lay in meat for the coming winter. Combat losses had been severe on both sides. In the end, they managed thirty crews, exactly half of the original goal, and counted themselves lucky. Spaced two miles apart, the groups were kept competitive by the sheer cussedness of human nature; almost everyone wanted to be a member of the World Champion Wall Building Team. At the moment, though, it didn’t look like anybody was going to outdo Wall Team Six.
That crew, now that they’d worked out the kinks, was averaging one full pour per day, ten feet of foot-thick concrete sandwiched between two thick plank forms, complete with buttresses.
The slowest crew, Team Thirty, was managing only a third of that.
Still, the Pact leadership–meaning Isis and the three Holder Brothers in particular–were pleased with the way things were going. On the job accidents were ugly enough, averaging one significant injury to a worker every seven point three hours plus the occasional death or permanent disability, but the price of doing business was acceptable.
Especially when the alternative was considered. They’d be able to pour concrete for at least another two months, three with luck. Logging and quarry work and even forms building could be pursued whenever the weather was less than deadly cold or producing a major blizzard. At the rate things were going, they should have three, possibly four miles of the first outer wall in place by the time the concrete crews had to shut down for the winter. True, it would only be ten feet high and one fifteenth to one twentieth of the full sixty mile arc, but it would be enough for the Blakto to use as windbreaks. Some would winter up inside the tree line, of course, but many would tuck their teepees right up next to a Wall section. It would still be cold out there, but there would be no wind chill.
And as every wild country dweller knew, that made all the difference.
“What do you think?” Wing asked as he folded up their latest records of wall sections completed and stowed them in a saddle bag. “Are we on the right track?”
Isis laughed. “You’re asking me? The almighty god of ancient technology wants to know what the barbarian bitch thinks now? Kind of late for second guessing, isn’t it?”
“Okay, you got me.” Holder stepped up on his black gelding. The Blakto war chief was already mounted on Steel. Oddly enough, the gray stallion had never offered to kill Night, an unusual attitude the black seemed to appreciate. A casual observer, knowing nothing about the normal state of affairs between a stud horse and a gelding, might have actually thought the two horses were friends. “I was just making conversation.”
“Uh-huh.” Isis twinkled at him. She still felt the occasional twinge of jealousy, the intermittent urge to strangle the old man’s half Blakto slave girl, but she had it under control, more or less. Not that she wouldn’t have jumped Wing’s bones, had he given her the signal.
Which he wasn’t about to do, though both of them acknowledged the chemistry. There was too much at stake.
Such as touring the Wall. They did a lot of that, moseying up and down the sixty mile line, seeing how the work was going and being seen in return. It was important, this contact between the leaders of the entire TranStatePact and the workers. the vast majority of them volunteers willing to take a few weeks at a time away from their usual pursuits to help ensure the long term survival of both nations.
They’d stayed overnight at the Malleson mill, enjoying the home cooking of Yvette Malleson and the evening music provided by seven Malleson sons. It would take half the morning to reach the Wall; they had plenty of time discuss politics and warfare while they rode.
“If I’m not mistaken,” Isis said, “it’s likely to take us fifteen, twenty years just to finish the first run. Then another fifteen, say, for the inner wall. Who knows how long to do the fill between the walls with tamped earth and such, and only then can the second layer of the Wall bulding begin. Plus there are going to be significant challenges at the watershed points. I don’t see how our defensive bulwark is going to be finished in much under a century, Wing–and I’m dead certain we don’t have that much time to play with.”
Wing started to answer, hesitated as Night lowered his head to snort at a rabbit leaping out of the trail, then replied, “You’d be right on all counts…if the six hundred workers we have now on an average day were all we were going to get. But by next year at this time, Faye and Brak should have completed their Bowl tour, and the CAF should be up to full strength, 10,000 soldiers give or take. I don’t know how successful our young friends are going to be when it comes to inspiring volunteers from the Bowl to brave the mountains, to come on out and work side by side with the fierce and fabled Blakto–not to mention working with us Rimlanders, for that matter–but there are bound to be some. Let’s say they manage a thousand people willing to donate a year’s time. Add in the full army, which will be pretty much through the initial training and organization phase by then. That’s another ten thousand.
“So, eleven thousand workers plus the six hundred at the moment. Eleven thousand, six hundred total. Round it up to twelve thousand for easy figuring. That’s twenty times the number of workers we see today. Allow this first year as a freebie, so to speak, letting everybody get their ducks in a row, and then we should be able to crank up that entire Wall in another five years. Six years total, from right now to having a formidable, twenty foot high Wall covering the entire sixty mile arc, twelve feet thick and ready to support watch towers, the whole nine yards.”
Isis shook her head. “You’re something else, Wing Holder.”
“Uh…something else good, or something else bad?”
“Just…something else. You throw those numbers around like they were nothing. I have no way to know if they’re right or not. Plus, you’re the most optimistic, pie in the sky guy I’ve ever met. Your canteen isn’t just half full; you’re carrying extra canteens packed to the brim with happy juice. I swear….”
“Hm. I’m a pie in the sky guy, you say?”
“And how many times do you think I’ve actually snagged that pie right out of that old sky and had myself a feast? Eh?”
She chuckled ruefully. “Got me there, Holder. A few times, for sure. You shouldn’t have been able to come out of that Fear Pass Gap battle unscathed like you did; we had that sucker won. And if you really are as old as you say, then yeah, I’d guess you’ve eaten a few pies here and there.”
“While you,” Wing observed, not unkindly, “are a beautiful woman and the finest leader the River Eyes Blakto could ever want, but you wouldn’t believe the sun was going to come up until the rays hit your face and you started sweating. Nothing’s real to you unless you’re actually holding it in your hand. And yet you went along with my vision when I made my pitch at the Gap. Why? How?”
“Hunh. That was a matter of hope and ugly alternatives.”
“You didn’t believe.”
“Hell no. I hoped. Just like right now I’m hoping that was enough. And that the Wall, if we do ever get it built, won’t fall down.”
“It won’t fall down. It might crack a little, but it won’t fall down. I’ve learned a few things about working with concrete over the last hundred millennia.”
“No doubt. I’m just hoping you haven’t forgotten anything. That’s a long time to hang around without going senile, don’t you think?”
“Se–you think I’m–”
Isis busted out laughing so hard her horse spooked sideways, nearly dumping her out of the saddle. “Gotcha!”
“Oh. I see. You can’t get me in the sack, so you’ll get me in the saddle. Wait a minute; that didn’t come out right–”
Isis laughed even harder. It was infectious, too; Wing found himself grinning so hard he thought his cheeks might split.
He hoped Faye and Brak were enjoying themselves half as much.