Time on My Hands Chapter 51 - 385-386 CE: Expanding Colonization

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Time on My Hands
Chapter 51: 385-386 CE: Expanding Colonization

“We need to find the last set of islands for colonization,” Raben declared. “They are located further south than the Canaries. However, we’ve searched nearly 600 miles south and west and found nothing. The ancient Phoenician writings have yet to be wrong so the islands must be further south. We have explored the African Atlantic coast from Gibraltar south for 1950 miles to a narrow peninsula that is the western most part of Africa. We followed the coast further south as it curved east for 1050 miles at which point the coast began heading northeast. We need to establish a base, on the African coast and I think the best place is centered on that Peninsula. The area is dry but several rivers are present as well as some native peoples. I want a take a division of Pathfinders and 3 divisions of Raven Raiders to establish the base. That means we need to transport over 27,000 people, animals and supplies in one fleet. Depending upon what we find I may want to establish a colony there. Doing so will depend upon defensibility.”

“This will require a great deal of work on your part,” Raben stated. “Our need for lumber is growing. Trees will need to be cut and transported to sawmills. We will continue to replace any felled trees. Our needs will be best met if we use trees from outside Barmaz. To do so we'll need to buy the rights to cut the trees. We need to make sure we have written signed documents from the landowners granting us permission to harvest and replant the trees. We should strip the regions outside the defenses replanting as we do so in order to stretch and preserve our own supply. Where possible cut near larger streams and rivers to float the trees downstream to Lac Leman then float them across the lake to Barmaz.”

Raben spent an hour answering questions. Ollie was beginning to understand the responsibility of leadership.

They traveled over the Poeninus Mons into Italy just before the snows closed the pass. As part of the tour of Rome Raben showed Ollie the churches and what would later become the famous burial catacombs of Rome. The splendors of Rome impressed Ollie but Raben made sure he also saw the seedier side of the great city, the graft and corruption, the steady decline of morality and the hopelessness of poverty and crowded slums. Mazbar, the walled compound of the Clan Corvo, stood out like a shining pillar of strength and purity in a sea of sloth.

“The defense walls around Mazbar are insufficient and it’s simply too small,” Raben explained to Ollie as he showed them the work he’d set in progress a year before. “The Alemanni and Franks broke through similar walls when they sacked the Roman Rhine forts. Over the years I’ve bought property adjoining the walls. I’ve had Corvus Construction work on new walls and defenses when they had available time. Now it’s time to have them not only work full time, but hire temporary laborers to assist.”

As Raben escorted Ollie around the property he showed how the original southern defensive wall ran east/northeast to west/southwest for 750 feet along the southern tip of the Mons Vaticanus toe then continued straight for an additional 3575 feet, a distance of 4325 feet. “Now that wall is being extended further west an additional 425 feet for a total length of 4750 feet. The western defensive wall has already been realigned in a north-south direction from the new end of the southern wall extending north along the undulating saddle of the ridge to the high point of 335 feet making it 5500 feet long. A new east-west northern defensive wall will be built 3000 feet across the valley to Mons Vaticanus. The northern defensive wall will then continue east-west across the top of 400 feet high Mons Vaticanus for another 3250 feet for a total length of 6250 feet. The new eastern defensive wall will run northeast-southwest along the sharp 100 feet high escarpment for 3500 feet to join the preexisting 1000 feet long escarpment eastern defensive wall for a total length of 4500 feet. The entire property will extend 500 feet past walls in all directions.”

“The remaining old 40 feet high by 25 feet wide defensive walls will be raised to 50 feet high and the width to 40 feet without disturbing the interior footprint where possible,” Raben told Ollie. “The new defensive walls are being built to the same dimensions. Watchtowers 20 feet wide by 40 feet deep by 20 feet high will be built at each corner and every 500 feet along the walls. As you can see stone for construction is being procured by excavating the 500 feet area outside the wall to an 85° angle from the base of the walls to create a glacis/moat. The excavations will be to a depth of 125 feet asl which at the highest hilltop will yield a 185 feet long glacis over a distance of 250 feet. The excavations will also be done directly through the Mon Vaticanus and along the base of the escarpment on the east and southern toe so there will be glacis and moat around the entire compound. As the height of the ground lowers, so will the length of the glacis. At the bottom of the inner glacis a flat bottom area 50 feet wide is being dug. An outer glacis is being cut from the bottom up to ground level over a distance of at least 200 feet. The shorter the inner glacis, the wider and lesser inclined the outer glacis will be. Since the lowest ground level is 175 feet asl, the shallowest moat depth will be 50 feet.”

“The no longer needed old defensive walls are being torn down using the material to build the new walls along with the excavated rocks from the glacis/moat,” Raben continued explaining as they toured the work in progress. “The only entrance will be by the southern toe of Mons Vaticanus. A wooden bridge will be built across the 500 feet wide chasm. Mons Vaticanus has been tunneled to increase storage for food and weapons. A separate tunnel has been constructed for the hazardous ammunition for the long range weapons.”

“The most arduous effort is the tunnel,” Raben declared. “Only Clan Corvo people are working on that. At the base of Mons Vaticanus just inside the new northern wall {GM 42.014853, 12.408714} they began digging twin tunnels heading north. One is 2 feet wide and 5 feet tall while the second tunnel is 10 feet away. That tunnel is 6 feet wide and 7 feet tall. Both dip down as they move north. Every 100 feet they cut a small connecting tunnel just big enough for a man to work. Airtight doors are at the entrances with large bellows between them that can be directed to either tunnel. The door of the tunnel they are digging is left open with the other tunnel sealed with the bellows pumping fresh air in. This creates air circulation. As the tunnels progress from one connecting tunnel to the next, the previous connecting tunnel is cemented shut which moves the air circulation deeper. The tunnels will be 8 3/4 miles long.”

After checking on how the tunnels were being dug, Raben took Ollie out to see the ‘useless’ land he’d purchased years before. “As you can see it’s a steep wooded valley that the stream has cut through the plateau of farmland. The Patrician family that owned it briefly wondered why anyone would want land that couldn't be farmed and was too isolated by the steep valley to be used to construct practical water driven mills but they were glad to finally be able to earn some money from the up until then worthless land so gave it no more thought. I purchased a mile long portion of the valley centered on the exit spot {GM 42.023941, 12.409772} the tunnels will exit, ostensibly as a wooded hunting preserve. The stream is the Cremera. At either end of my purchase the canyon is 1100 feet wide at the top varying in width to the narrowest at 640 feet in the center. The bottom of the valley is about 285 feet wide at the center. The tree covered sides rise at a 45° angle for 85 feet in altitude over a slope of 230 feet. As you can see I've already had a sturdy 3 feet high by 3 feet wide stone wall built along the top of the valley slopes to prevent farm animals from wondering in.”

They rode into the valley from the north to the narrowest point of the steep wooded valley where the tunnels would exit. “That is the spot where the tunnels will exit. I’ve created a pond by building a sturdy stone dam that was 5 feet high on the inside wall and is 6 feet high on the outside wall which is 30 feet away. A foot of sediment has already filled the pool. On the slopes where the tunnels will exit a rustic hunting lodge will be built with the tunnels opening into the basement via a concealed entrance. Short tunnels will be dug into the slope and a brass bell installed. When the tunnel gets close, I’ll have someone ring the bell at a set time every day. The enclosure and trees will muffle the sound so no one could hear it, but the sound will carry through the earth serving as a beacon for the tunnel rats. The smaller tunnel will be an aqueduct diverting 1/3 of the stream flow supplying water to Mazbar with the steady flow filling the moat to the 175 feet asl low spot where the excess would flow away. The exit of the larger tunnel will be a higher emergency exit/entrance.”

“Tunneling through rock must be difficult,” Ollie shook his head amazed at the effort it would take to complete the tunnels.

“It is difficult,” Raben agreed. “Fortunately much of the rock they are tunneling through is relatively soft volcanic tuff, the same rock used to construct the catacombs. Even so it will take many years to complete the tunnels.

Once more Ollie was blown away by the amount of planning Raben did to keep the Clan Corvo safe and prosperous.

In mid December Raben and Ollie traveled to Egypt and Zamrab. The hot dry climate, the sandy desert, the Nile, the ruins of Egypt’s lost grandeur were quite alien to anything Ollie knew. Ollie noted the Clan Corvo at Zamrab was an oasis of stability in the vast desert of societal decay.

From there they sailed northeast to Constantinople and the newest Corvus Scriptorium location, Marzab. The grandeur of that city impressed Ollie but the top heavy government of the Roman Empire revealed it’s propensity for corruption. The vast majority of people they met were concerned about the short term goal of personal prosperity often at the expense of others. That realization only demonstrated that Raben’s insistence upon honesty and openness in all things was far better.

They returned to Zarbam in time to catch a resupply fleet returning to Madeira. The trip through the Pillars of Hercules was impressive. The three days sailing across the open ocean was unnerving for the teen who was familiar with sailing but unaccustomed to being so far from land. The islands were impressive. Again Ollie witnessed how the terraces had transformed the steep hills into fertile farmland. The salt pans on Later Island {PD Porto Santo} were impressive. The isolation of the islands served as a natural defense. The population of the Madeira was capped at 240,000 people. The road around the island was complete as were several roads crossing across the Island. Settlements were established on the north shore of the island. Terraces for farming were built around each settlement, and each were constructing breakwaters to create small harbors. Larger harbors were being built on the northwest corner and on the south side of the eastern tip. A shipyard based on the one at Zarbam was part of that new harbor, a place building new ships with qualified shipbuilders. With abundant and well managed forests, getting enough wood was easy. With a fleet of 225 ships, they set up a schedule to pull the vessels out of the water for cleaning and repairs.

The biggest project in progress was the diversion of water from the north side of the island to the much dryer south side. Small channels were carved directly into the mountain sides, often in areas so steep the workers had to be lowered by rope to do the chiseling. The widest were only 3 feet wide by three feet deep. At places, it was easier to tunnel through a ridge instead of going around it. This resulted in tunnels and channels used in tandem at many places. Much of the water diversion efforts had to be done at the higher altitudes since the channels and tunnels were all gravity fed.

Ollie was quite impressed with the development and progress of the Madeira Ramzab colony. The transformation of the island from an uninhabited remote island to a lively much changed successful colony that now raised enough food they could export some in the span of just 55 years was amazing. The teen was quite intrigued with the water channels and tunnels that fed water to the irrigation channels in the fields.

Like many people, Ollie was entranced by the hydraulic fluidity of the water. Raben smiled as he watched the teen open and close the narrow wooden gates that were used to allow water to flow from a main water distribution channel to an irrigation channel via a short diversion channel. With the gate opened the water filled the short diversion channel to the height of the water in the main channel. When the gate was closed, the water maintained the same level. When the gate at the other end of the diversion channel was opened the water flowed into an irrigation channel lowering the water level in the diversion channel.

Raben gasped. An idea hit him, an idea that was so common sense... yet no one had ever made the intellectual leap. He had Ollie repeat the filling and emptying of the diversion channel. Raben began laughing which caused everyone to look at him as they wondered what he found so funny.

Raben had a man partially block the irrigation channel several feet past the distribution channel leaving a lower level of water in it. Then he dropped a stick into the main channel and the current of the water carried it downstream past the gate. “Imagine this stick is a boat in a river.” Retrieving the stick he had Ollie open the gate to flood the distribution channel but stopped him closing the connection. Then he placed the stick in the main channel. “The boat can now move into the side channel, a canal.” Raben guided the stick into the diversion channel, then closed the gate to the main channel. “The boat now floats in the canal, but we want it to go to the lower channel. So we open the next gate just a tiny bit to allow the water to slowly flow out into the lower channel of another canal.” They all watched as the water level dropped until it was equal to the water in the lower section. “Now we open this gate and the boat sails out. We just reverse the sequence to get a boat from a lower channel to a higher channel.” Which he proceeded to demonstrate.

Ollie was the first to see the significance. “You don’t have large enough streams here to make that practical, but in Barmaz... if you dig canals you could sail ships from Zarbam up to Lac Leman!”

The lights went off in everyone’s eyes as they realized the implications.

During the voyage back to Zarbam Ollie watched as Raben fleshed and sketched out his canal revelation. Canals were used but changing from one level to another was difficult and dangerous. The Romans dug through or around hills to maintain a level channel. The only way of going upstream was to physically drag a boat uphill through a rapid down flow of water.

Raben and Ollie returned to Zarbam with the next supply fleet. They traveled back to Barmaz to Champery where Raben gathered the engineering teachers and students from Corvo University. Taking them out to the irrigation channels he had quickly made a small model of a canal with the gates to lower or raise a boat. Everyone was gobsmacked by the simplicity of the idea as well as it’s implications. The idea of a boat traveling from the Mediterranean to Lac Leman was revolutionary. Raben assigned the engineers the task of making the concept work. They eagerly set to work.

During the winter Raben spent a lot of time with Ollie showing him details of the planning and logistics needed to insure the success and safety of the Clan Corvo. Ollie was amazed at just how much Raben did and continued to do to organize and coordinate all the functions of the Clan Corvo.

Another issue related to the population cap came into play. The growing tarpans and aurochs herds were occupying valuable grazing lands in numbers beyond the capacity of their assigned area. Currently there was no issue, but if they had failed crops or long cold winters, the situation would deteriorate. Raben decided the best solution was to create second herds of the Tarpans and Aurochs Sao Miguel, Azores where they could be released onto the unoccupied wilderness of the extinct volcanos and calderas. A pair of 360 ton ships could each transfer starter herds of 25 aurochs or tarpans with enough food to make it through the voyage.

In the spring of 386 Raben, Ollie, and the 3000 transferees sailed north. The voyage was accomplished without problems and those onboard were taught the basics of sailing.

Svenn was glad to see Ollie and Raben return. Ollie couldn’t get done raving about all he’d seen and learned. Moreover, he understood the honor bestowed upon him being selected to succeed his grandfather. The Grand Tour had been needed to tie him closer to the overall Clan Corvo and to give him goals for insuring the growth and success of Bazram.

After a month discussing the future plans and goals, Raben returned to Barmaz. The sea voyage avoided the still roiling borders of the empire. While there were no major barbarian incursions, there were many small raids and an unsettling tension along the borders. Raben made sure to continue to secure the safety of Clan Corvo. Part of that was to establish a colony on the west coast of Africa.

Three caravels, 2 mast, 100 ton, 52 feet long by 17 feet wide, had done the exploration of the African West Coast. They had stopped at Cape Vert on both legs of their trip. The locals had seen larger ships in the past as some Berber trading vessels occasionally visited so they had been cautious but friendly. There had been a bit of simple barter trading as the ships replenished supplies and water. They did discover the locals were quite interested in trading for salt.

That bit of knowledge collaborated news from Roman North Africa. Camels had been introduced into North Africa shortly after the reign of Emperor Severus. They had a great effect on the nomadic Berbers. While they had traveled through the Sahara Desert the advent of the camel into their lives revolutionized their movements. The ability of the camels to travel through sand was far superior to horses and donkeys, the camel could also carry far more with less water, go longer without water, and could eat almost anything. With the camel the Berbers were able to cross the Sahara from the Mediterranean to Sub-Saharan Africa. The trading routes were in their infancy but the trade enriched the Berbers and their Sub-Saharan African trading partners allowing the formation of proto nations in the formerly tribal and clan areas. One thing the Sub-Saharan Africans needed was salt... the Berbers were able to trade salt for it’s weight in gold.

The colonist distribution was altered for this year. The Raven Raiders and Pathfinders heading to Africa 27,154 people, were being considered as the initial African Colonists. That left 8993 going to Tenerife and 8992 to Gran Canaria. For the next few years all colonists would go to Africa.

The fleet gathered at Zarbam. Raben knew the area he was planning to occupy was inhabited so he intended to either impress the hell out of the locals or to scare the hell out of them. Most likely it would be both. With the men, horses, sheep, chickens, hogs and supplies and several tons of salt, 100 of the largest ships were the core of the fleet. The 150 feet long by 35 feet wide, 360 ton, 3 deck, 3 mast caravel ships would be daunting when compared to the local’s small wooden plank fishing boats and canoes the coastal locals used, the largest were 50 feet long by 7 feet wide while most were 30 feet long by 5 feet wide or 25 feet long by 4 feet wide. In addition 10 ships in the fleet would be 85 feet long by 22 feet wide, 180 ton, 3 mast caravels, 10 ships would be 52 feet long by 17 feet wide, 100 ton, 2 mast caravels and 25 ships would be 54 feet long by 12 feet wide, 24 ton, single mast clinkers for use in the rivers and streams.

The massive 145 vessel fleet set sail in mid August. The nearly 3 week voyage put them off Cape Vert the end of the first week of September in the early afternoon. Cape Vert is the westernmost point on continental Africa {GM 14.741013, -17.530495}, further west than any point in Europe. The fleet sailed south along the southwest angled coast around the point of Cape Vert then headed east into the protected bay. Cape Vert is the remnants of ancient much eroded volcanos, the highest point is 105 meters. This would be the beginning of the Clan Corvo colony of Senegal.

Starting at on the African Coast at the village of Kayar {GM 14.914361, -17.123954} the coast heads southwest for 31 miles to the Pointe des Almadies {GM 14.741036, -17.530566}, the western-most point on the continent. The point is shaped somewhat like the crown of a molar being 4000 feet across the top narrowing to the base over 3200 feet to a width of 2700 feet. From the point the coast heads southeast for 9.5 miles. About 2 miles down that stretch are the extinct volcanos, Deux Mamelles, the highest points in the region. At the end of the 9.5 mile stretch of coast was a semi-circular bay. Laying an imaginary line parallel to the northern coast it was 11 miles northeast across the bay with a radius of 5.5 miles to the shore yielding 16 miles of curving sandy beach to the village of Rufisque {GM 14.712289, -17.273136}. The shore continued to curve southeast for another 15 miles to an endpoint a half mile northeast of the village of Ndayane at GM 14.572158, -17.136467. The start point is 25 miles due north from there. There is a 24 acre habitable island with vegetation about 1000 feet off the north coast 3000 feet from the Pointe de Almadies. There is small uninhabitable island with vegetation about a mile west of the southern tip of the Cape Vert peninsula. A 45 acre habitable island is located a mile inside the bay slightly northeast of the southern tip of the peninsula. The entire peninsula is of highly weathered basalt rock that is only a few meters above sea level. The only exception is a slight plateau on the western ocean side of the peninsula around the remnant volcanos, the rest of the peninsula is relatively flat with encroaching sand dunes.

There were several small villages located around the bay. Their small boats and canoes were pulled up on the sandy beach. It was obvious they had seen the massive fleet as the beaches were crowded with the locals as they stared out at the mass of sails. Raben signaled the 360 ton caravels to drop anchor well into the bay but about a half mile off shore, enough to avoid running aground. The big vessels formed several lines but were far enough apart to avoid colliding if they swung about their anchor point. The smaller caravels anchored inside the lines of larger vessels. The clinkers shifted next to the 360 ton ships to begin the transfer of horses and soldiers of a company of Raven Raiders to ferry them to shore.

While that was happening, Raben stood on the forecastle of the 360 ton caravel anchored closest to a village built beside a small stream {GM 14.733789, -17.413475}. The people on shore were staring at the fleet with a great deal of apprehension. Raben was studying then. After fifteen minutes Raben announced he was going ashore, except for a pair of shorts, he stripped off his clothes. Unarmed, he dove off the bow sprint. Everyone on shore watched as he surfaced and swam toward the village. Several people on board the ships watched their leader but followed his orders to begin transferring a division of Raven Raiders ashore a company at a time. The division of Pathfinders would be the next to come ashore to set up a base camp.

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An empire across the waves

Beoca's picture

Waiting to see how long it takes the Raven's Raiders to explore out into the northern Atlantic and discover Iceland and Greenland (the former of which was initially colonized by the Norse in the late 9th Century), and then eventually North America. With the Western Roman Empire in the century-long process of completely being overrun, it will be interesting also to see how much of western Europe becomes part of the Clan (in addition to the parts that they already control).

This will obviously get delayed if they settle a bunch of African colonies, but I figure it has to happen at some point. And with Raben and his Raiders leading the charge, they'll have the power they need to make their foothold last. The skraelings won't push them off, in other words.

It's Mentioned...

...in this chapter that Raben is using Phoenician data (not totally clear, I don't think, whether or not there are maps, but probably just written records) to decide where they're going. As I think the chapter said, that could get them all the way around Africa -- apparently Pharaoh Necho of Egypt hired them for an exploratory voyage almost a thousand years before the times depicted here -- but the Phoenicians traded and colonized only in the western part of the continent, as far south as Gabon, about 5800 miles south of Gibraltar by sea.

Anyway, the Phoenicians don't seem to have gotten further north than the British Isles, so their records won't help Raben trace out a route to Iceland. Iceland's a lot closer to Scandinavia than Cape Verde is to Gibraltar, but it's open sea rather than coastline. There doesn't seem to be any record of Iceland's "discovery" by Europeans for more than 300 years after the events here, so Raben would be on his own from that standpoint. I think he's fitting out his Norse clans with more solid oceangoing vessels than they had in our timeline -- not that they did badly here -- so explorations might take them further, sooner.

Food for thought

Beoca's picture

Regarding the Phoenicians, it sounds like it is more of a written record (rather than maps). As far as the Norse, their exploration may be being impeded by the sheer number of colonists they are sending south. If, however, that population continues to grow despite sending people south, then I could see Ollie or a successor looking into westward exploration. They wouldn't try to expand across Scandinavia unless by peacefully assimilating neighbors (I can't see the Clan fighting a war with the goal of expansion - unless provoked - and their neighbors would be fools to provoke them).

What is tied to further expansion is the ability to keep in communication. The concept of raven mail might cause the Clan to avoid becoming too large and unwieldy for one Demon Slayer (Raben and Fiach being unable to be in different places at once). However, the reliance on others to man halfway houses feels like something that will cost the Clan dearly if not addressed. And if places like Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland become new frontiers, then the "halfway house" might not work due to the sheer distances between landmasses.

The canals feel like further commitment to expanding via the seas - meaning inland expansion into Africa seems unlikely in the short term barring a perfect opportunity. How this is made to work practically, with an eye on communication logistics, will be interesting to see.

A Bit Of A Surprise

joannebarbarella's picture

Well done. I had not thought of the Cape Verde islands.

The natives

Wendy Jean's picture

are going to get a taste of what real magic looks like.