Time on My Hands Chapter 40 - 343-347 CE: A Revised Grand Tour

Time on My Hands
Chapter 40: 343-347 CE: A Revised Grand Tour

At Regensburg the Regen River joins the Danube. The confluence of the two rivers occurs in a relatively flat alluvial valley which led to the several large islands in the rivers. The crossing of the Regen was about 100 feet wide. Then it was 80 feet to an island in the Danube, 70 feet to the next island, 80 feet to the third island, then 100 feet to the opposite side of the Danube. From there they headed south to Lake Constance, only this time they went around the east side.

The aurochs and tarpans had been wary of being so close to humans throughout the trip, but true to Raben’s promises, they had been safe and well fed. The longer they traveled with the humans, the more they realized these humans were different from others. While the humans could be deadly, they respected the animals. As the animals entered into the upper Rhone river valley they saw the wall being built across the entrance as well as the defensive walls on the mountains. They saw hundreds of carefree domesticated animals grazing in the fields.

They led the aurochs and tarpans into the valley of the Turbachbach, turning the valley above the village of Turbach {PD 46.478549, 7.335786} into their free range preserve. A low 2 feet high stone wall was built across the valley that the aurochs and tarpans could easily recognize yet cross if needed. Raben had barns built at places along the wall. The upper floor with access to the human side for hay & straw storage and the bottom for the beasts to shelter from the winter winds and snows with a door on the downwind side open for unobstructed entrance and egress.

As the year 343 drew to an end Raben knew he’d been correct that the turmoil in the empire was growing worse as were the barbarian incursions. The Roman empire was engulfed in turmoil. The Persians were once more threatening the eastern borders. Constantius II was tied up with that campaign. The brothers were on the point of open warfare in 346 over the Arianism/Catholicism dispute. The conflict was only resolved by an interim agreement which allowed each emperor to support their preferred clergy within their own spheres of influence. In addition Constans was an active homosexual with a growing reputation for scandalous behavior with handsome often resistant barbarian hostages. Constans developed a reputation for cruelty and misrule. Under pressure from Christian leaders and to placate public outrage at his own perceived indecencies, Constans did sponsor a decree alongside Constantius II that ruled that marriage based on unnatural sex should be punished. The decree outlawed homosexual marriages only, rather than homosexual activity more generally. Dominated by favorites and openly preferring his select bodyguard, he rapidly lost the support of the legions.

During this time Raben was streamlining the trade/travel inter-province routes between Gaul and Italy through the Allobroge areas of the expanded province. Instead of divergent routes they were funneled into just one route from each border crossing gate complex. Everyone passing through a border gate complex had to obtain a passport listing their name, place of origin, business, and destination. An itinerary with route was attached. Any deviation from the route would subject the person to arrest and punishment. Those passing from one adjoining province to another adjoining province had a well defined route through Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae. Those who had business inside the province were trickier but equally regulated.

Those passing through the province were organized into caravans at the gate complex and escorted by Raven Raiders. In addition, non-government travelers were required to surrender all weapons at the gate complexes. The weapons were labeled and placed in guarded wagons that accompanied the caravans with the weapons returned as they left the province.

New inter-province stone paved roads built 50 feet wide. The roads sloped to the center where stone box drains funneled the water into the valley. These new commercial roads were relocated from the valleys onto the hillsides where they were dug into the hillsides. The uphill retaining walls were built a minimum of 20 feet high at a slope of 75°. A defense wall 5 feet thick and high with a low parapet enabling soldiers to look down onto the road was built atop the retaining wall. Behind that a gully 15 feet fide and 5 feet deep was dug to catch any debris that might tumble down the slope before it damaged the walls. Any streams flowing down the hill and any rain runoff was captured and diverted by the gully. On the valley side of the new road stone defensive walls were built to a height of 25 feet above the road. Ten feet wide at the bottom they narrowed to three feet at the top with parapet steps for soldiers to overlook the roads. Every 1000 feet matching watchtowers was erected. Access tunnels were dug under the road connecting the watchtowers.

Every 8 miles a rest stop 500 feet square was built. They were surrounded by walls and watchtowers overlooking the rest stop. The wooden buildings included barns with stables. Places to eat, drink, and sleep catered to everyone from Senators to the destitute, who were offered short term work to pay for lodging and food. A heavily guarded gate complex allowed highly limited access into the valley, mainly for Clan Corvo employees and supplies.

In areas where an inter-province road had to pass across a valley, the road would be elevated to pass over local roads and streams. At all times, the inter-province roads were between manned defense walls and watchtowers, even when elevated.

Raben received a raven mail message from Bjorn in the winter of 345-346 asking him to come north. There had to be an important reason for the request so Raben made arrangements to accompany the 500 emigrants heading to Bazram {PD Trondheim Fjord}. With 2 divisions of Raven Raiders escorting the Corvus Shipping caravan the trip was made without incident. The voyage north also went smoothly. When he arrived it was to find sixty four year old Bjorn was showing his age. The old man smiled upon seeing his ever young friend and mentor.

“It’s good to see you again,” Bjorn declared as they hugged.

“It’s good to see you again,” Raben replied. “How can I help you?”

Never one to mice words Bjorn got right to the point. “My heart is failing. I don’t have much time on my hands. I wanted to formally introduce you to my grandson, Svenn, who will be replacing me. I hope I can hang on long enough for you to take him on a grand tour like you did for me.”

Svenn, 22, was a solid, powerful man with a quick wit but enough intelligence to engage his brain before his mouth. He’d proved himself quite adept at managing various important projects around Bazram whose population was just shy of 14,000. His people skills were outstanding. There was also no doubt he was in awe of Raben. His earliest memory of the clan leader had been when he was 8. Like all children, he loved to listen to his grandfather speak of his grand tour and tell the multitudinous stories of Raben’s adventures. It was hard for the child to reconcile the image he’d conjoured of a powerful imposing man doing those fantastic deeds with the tween he saw. In the 3 visits between then and now he’d noticed how Raben never changed. At age 12 he’d been bigger than Raben. Now he towered above the eternal youth. From his earliest memories he’d longed to go on a grand tour like his grandfather. Now it was about to happen! He was excited and eager, not only to travel but to learn from the fabled Demon Slayer.

Bjorn had a ship and crew ready with a load of iron. Svenn made sure they had adequate supplies as they set sail non-stop around Norway’s coast then cut south across the North Sea through the English Channel stopping in the Port of Brest in Brittany to resupply. From there they sailed across the Bay of Biscay and around the Iberian Peninsula then into the Atlantic Ocean to Ramzab {PD Madeira}.

The voyage was uneventful but never the less exciting. Svenn learned of open sea voyages and marveled at the ease with which Raben scampered up the mast like a squirrel. There were also periods for meditation which Raben insisted Svenn join so he learned to center himself since it assisted a person to maintain their temper.

Raben used the time at sea to give himself a chance to regroup while pausing from dealing with one crisis after another while trying to guide the Clan Corvo through the slowly growing crumbling of the Roman Empire. As he examined all that was going on he realized the Clan Corvo was growing faster than he had expected. Saving the 240,000 Alemanni from slavery and merging them into the Clan Corvo had exploded the population. He pondered long term concerns for the Clan Corvo. Because of their peace and prosperity, they had a modest but sustained 2% a year population growth. Unlike most of Imperial Rome, the Clan Corvo avoided the deprivations of the barbarian invasions which all too many times created starvation in addition to the oft resulting diseases and plagues.

The expanded province Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae had an estimated sustainable population target of 3 to 3 1/2 million. They were currently at 1,354,000 people. They were currently sending 500 people a year to Bazram and 4000 a year to Ramzab. Those numbers needed to drastically rise. Raben made plans that starting in 350, they would send 3000 people to Bazram and 23,000 to Ramzab.

With the discovery of iron deposits in the annexed Alloborge area the yearly iron shipments from Bazram were no longer critical so could be used in Bazram to solidify their already dominate regional position. With the Ramzab shipyard in production the 5 ships and 50 people moving yearly from Bazram to Ramzab could cease. The 4 year delay in upping the emigration would give both areas and Corvus Shipping time to gear up for the increase. The huge increase of people heading to Ramzab created another issue. If their population growth was unchecked they'd hit their target maximum population by 357. That meant Raben had to promptly dispatch exploratory voyages immediately to locate and identify other mid-Atlantic islands suitable for colonization.

Upon reaching Ramzab the iron shipment was welcomed by the growing colony. The fifteen year old colony had a population just shy of 68,000. The terracing was continuing with every stepped slope near the settlement green with crops. Terracing was also being done in areas to be settled in the future. Raben’s news of the soon to be drastically increased immigration spurred that activity in high gear.

Later Island had a satellite population of 2500, what Raben estimated was 45% of the population the small island could accommodate. The salt works was going strong and the fishing was good. Wooden racks filled with drying fish covered several acres. Nets kept the always ravenous sea birds at bay. The dried fish were layered with salt in barrels for storage and shipment to Zarbam. The crops and flocks were doing well. The arroyos near the salt works and village were being terraced and were green with crops. Olive trees were flourishing on the drier west and north slopes, sheep roamed freely around the green northern side of the worn volcanic cone of the long extinct volcano.

The Ramzab shipyard was making clinker ships at the rate of 1 a month. Raben knew he’d have to recruit caravel shipbuilders at Zarbam to send here to start producing caravel ships. Raben spoke with the Ramzab shipbuilders and fleet captains explaining what the future held. "In the writings that helped us discover Ramzab, there were references to other islands out in the Atlantic. They referred to a group of islands further out to the northwest. The distance mentioned is varied so they could be between 3 to 5 days sailing away. What I'd like you to do is send out 3 ship search teams with the vessels staying together to offer assistance in case of an emergency. I'll explain the mission to our ravens who will accompany you. They can give you a better spread on the search. It will also allow you send raven mail ravens with messages back here."

The fleet commander asked, "A lot of people will be involved in building housing and barns as well as speeding up the construction of terracing and water channels. We’ll also need to increase the fishing fleets since we'll need larger catches to help feed the newcomers. With the ships we’re building we’re in good shape. We currently have 30 ships out of the water upside down on stands so we have a reserve. One thing we need to do is train more crew, especially if we need to man the stored vessels."

"I'd like you to begin exploratory voyages as soon as you're safely able to do so," Raben answered. "I'm aware of the demands the influx of colonists will make upon your resources. Taking care of the spring and end of summer supply fleets and your normal fishing will keep you busy. However you should be able to dispatch 3 ship, 10 day exploration expeditions at a time. We need to learn what's out there and how far away it is before making any settlement plans. We will follow standard safe operating procedures. I don't want any of the explorers to take unnecessary chances so go only when the weather is clear and turn away from bad weather before it hits you. Do the exploration as safely as possible. Once you find the islands, if things seem iffy, other trips can see how many islands there are and if they're habitable. If you find them we’ll name them Azores. We'll go from there."

The captains understood and were eager to begin. The thrill of exploration excited them. They decided they could get the first voyage underway in 2 weeks. Svenn was clearly impressed with the flourishing colony.

After 10 days they sailed from Ramzab to Zamrab where they spent 2 weeks touring the sites of Egypt. They then headed to Ostia to visit Mazbar and for a tour of Rome. While the city Colosseum and temples impressed the young man, the crowded streets and jammed tenements made Svenn long for wide open spaces of home. Returning to Ostia they sailed northwest to Zarbam. Once more Svenn was impressed. The massiveness of the port was beyond anything he’d conceived for a port. Learning that it was only started 16 years previously boggled his mind. Taking what had been farmland and marsh and transforming it into a large port in that short time was mind boggling. By this time the jetties had been widened and fortified as the defenses for the first port were completed. The jetties for the second adjacent port were almost completed. Each port had docking for 100 ships and protected anchorages for 200. Needless to say Svenn was impressed by the defenses and security of the Clan Corvo Port.

While there Raben talked to the shipbuilders. The caravels of Corvus Shipping were upgraded and the new ships built larger. Currently, the Bazram clinker vessels had keels of 54 feet, beam of 12 feet, draft of 3 feet, one mast, crew of 10, cargo of 24 tons and could carry 25 passengers. The initial Zamrab caravels had keels of 52 feet, beam of 17 feet, draft of 7 feet, 2 masts and bow sprint, 1 deck, crew of 15, cargo of 100 tons and could carry 35 passengers. With upgrades of quarter decks and forecastles they could handle 50 passengers. The new larger vessels were being built with keels of 85 feet, beam of 22 feet, draft of 9 feet, 3 masts with bow sprint, 2 decks, quarter deck and forecastle, crew of 30, cargo of 180 tons and could carry 120 passengers. An even larger ship was planned with a keel of 150 feet, beam of 35 feet, draft of 12 feet, 3 masts and bow sprint, 3 decks, quarter deck and forecastle, crew of 35, cargo of 360 tons and could carry 250 passengers.

The biggest change was the development of a proto-rudder to steer the vessels. Following Egyptian designs of a stern mounted steering oars, the Romans used a stern mounted steering oar usually mounted through a hole or ‘U' block on the keel. This still left the oarsman handling the full weight of the oar. The modification was to mount a sturdy upright board on a pivot pin system which supported the weight of the board while allowing the steersman to simply move the board. By then the shipyard in Zarbam had established a primitive assembly line similar to the one in Bazram and both could now produce a new vessel every 2 weeks.

Raben spoke with the workers at the shipyard. He wanted some skilled shipbuilders to relocate with their families to Ramzab so they could begin building the 180 ton caravel. The plan was for them to head out as part of the spring fleet.

Before Raben and Svenn left Zarbam, raven mail arrived informing the first exploratory voyage had found the archipelago and were exploring it. Raben planned to head to Ramzab after returning from Barzam next spring.

The pair joined a Corvus Shipping caravan traveling to the Provence of Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae. Svenn’s mouth fell open upon entering the gate complex fortress at the Aix-En-Provence entre point. The imposing massive defensive walls and glacis extended away from the gate as far as could be seen. As they traveled deeper into the Clan Corvo territory Svenn had trouble believing the area and population was so huge. At 1,354,000 the number of Clan Corvo members living in the expanded Roman province of Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae was politically and theologically under the oversight of Clan Corvo and that 99% of the population were clan members simply boggled his mind. That was a hell of a lot of cousins! Raben showed him the defenses of the Clan Corvo as well as the zoo.

Svenn was utterly awed by the elephants and chimpanzees. While the animals had spacious open habitats, they also performed tasks for the Clan Corvo. The elephants often were taken to various locations to provide the strength for heavy lifting. Small groups of chimpanzees were also used to climb inaccessible cliffs and high mountains dragging and placing ropes allowing humans to follow so they could perform tasks. Raben explained that one of the 360 ton ships was set up to transport 3 elephants as well as 10 chimpanzees to the colonies to perform work as needed. The animals usually went out for 2 years making the rounds of the colony before returning to the zoo, The animals were switched out so the vessel was usually available.

The massive defensive walls along the lower Rhone river and Lac Leman made those areas nearly impregnable. The still being built defensive walls across the hills and mountains were impressive. The gate complexes and harbor gates were mind boggling in their scale and gave Svenn ideas for Bazram. Svenn learned a great deal. He and the crew that had accompanied him overwintered in Barmaz. The size of the Corvus Scriptorium library stunned him. He’d never imagined there could be so many writings!

With Svenn at his side Raben reviewed the progress of his weapon researchers. They had improved his designs. They now had round ceramic jars filled with a highly flammable thick liquid. A smaller wax coated juglet was used to plug the fill hole. The juglet was half filled with quicklime, a thin waterproofing layer of wax topped off with water. These were made in several sizes, large for use with a ballista, medium for use with an Onager, small for hand throwing. Upon impact the ceramics would break spreading the flammable liquid, the smaller juglet would break mixing the water and quicklime which reacted with extreme heat igniting the flammable liquid. The shaft of scorpio bolts were modified with four thin ceramic tubes attached, three with flammable liquid and one filled with quicklime and water.

Once more Raben slightly expanded the Raven Raiders by adding a tiger to each division.

In the spring 347 they headed north with the 500 emigrants and 2 divisions of Raven Raiders and the Corvus Shipping caravan to Bonna to meet the regular iron shipment. They took a shipload of the ceramic bombs and plans for ballistas, onagers, and scorpios.

Upon arriving in Bazram they found Bjorn bedridden, barely clinging to life. Raben checked him, quickly realizing his heart was indeed failing.

Svenn told his grandfather all he had seen, especially Ramzab. The dying man listened as intently as his grandson had when the old man told his eager grandchildren of his trip south as a teen. By the time the tales were told, it was clear Bjorn had been hanging on just to hear them. Much of the family had gathered waiting for their beloved patriarch’s end. They were greatly relieved Raben and Svenn had returned.

Bjorn demanded he be carried outside declaring he wanted to die in the sunlight. Gathering his strength he managed to struggle to his feet supported by aides to speak. “Hear me, children! It is time I bid you farewell. I go to the reward Jesus promised and will see you there when you arrive when your time in this life is done. My last act is to relinquish control of the Bazram branch of the Clan Corvo to our Clan Chieftain, Raben Corvo, who will appoint my successor. May our united clan live well and prosper!” The aids helped the clearly exhausted elder sit.

“It is with a heavy heart I accept your charge,” Raben declared as he clasped Bjorn’s hand with one hand and did likewise with Svenn using the other hand while Svenn grasped his grandfather’s free hand. “As head of the Clan Corvo, I thank Bjorn Olvrisson for his years of dedicated service and bid him peace and honor. I appoint Svenn Olvrisson as the new head of Bazram. May his time as leader be as successful as that of his grandfather and great great grandfather!”

The crowd erupted in cheers. Bjorn smiled, squeezing the hands of Raben and Svenn. Then his grips slacked and his head dropped forward to his chest. Svenn and Raben realized Bjorn had passed.

“Svenn,” Raben announced. “Your first task as head of Clan Corvo Bazram is to conduct your grandfather’s funeral.”

The crowd looked at Bjorn realizing their much venerated leader had passed on. Many bit their lips in an effort to hold back the tears other’s freely shared. Svenn choked up for a moment then took charge of the 14,600+ Clan Corvo north.

Raben stepped back, once more being hit by the grief of losing another friend. This one he had mentored from the age of fifteen and helped develop into a true selfless leader. He’d watched Bjorn grow from a rambunctious teen into old age and now death while he never changed. With a heart ripping sigh he hoped to be able to do the same with Svenn.



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