All the Princes in Marsten had private estates. The Captain had been to only two of them - he preferred to conduct business with the Princes in the relatively safe environment that was the city's Civic Building. When they wanted to meet at their personal estates they wanted to put you on guard, make you uneasy.
Her Ladyship's estate was one he hadn't yet had the dubious honor of visiting. Luckily this trip was on his own terms. For one thing he wanted to check on the status of the new Watchmen she was supposed to be providing him. Her technology fair was supposed to start in just another week, and lots of people were already showing up for it. He needed those extra men, and he wasn't about to let her weasel her way out of a deal. The second reason he was going to her estate was another matter of Watch business. A number of people had reported being concerned at the activity going on there. Apparently there was a makeshift camp of some sort being set up on her grounds, and something about it was spooking the locals. Most of the complains had been couched in terms of "those people".
The Captain knew enough to realize they were talking about the inventors who were gathering for Ladyship's technology fair. A good number of them had come in to town in recent days. He admitted to not paying much attention to where they'd gone once they were in Marsten - that was their own business as far as he was concerned, so long as they followed the laws.
Comping within sight Ladyship's estate it was clear that they had not all simply dispersed within the city limits. A large percentage of them, it seemed, had decided to strike up a camp on the very grounds of Her Ladyship's estate. The gates were left wide open, he noted with disapproval as he approached. The post where a gate guard should have been on station stood empty. People came and went with little apparent care that this was the private estate of one of the Princes of Marsten.
He pressed on, entering the grounds proper. It no longer resembled anything he'd come to associate with a Prince's Estate. When he thought of such estates he thought of carefully tended gardens and flower beds, fountains, maybe some elegant statuary, and a distinct lack of people. Prince Noron's estate even had an exotic, flightless bird of some sort roaming about.
What he found instead was more reminiscent of a village market square. Or perhaps a military camp. The entire grounds were bustling with activity, from the central courtyard to what might have once been the gardens and flower beds and every bit of open space in between. The groundskeeper must be having an apoplectic fit. Frankly, he could sympathize. Men and women wearing work clothes carried a variety of things back and forth, as if an impromptu evacuation were in progress. Very often they wore goggles about their person, he noted curiously. It piqued his interested because he'd noticed it had recently become something of a fashion trend amongst the Watchmen who'd been pulled from night duty onto the day shift. He'd meant to ask about it, but just hadn't gotten the time.
He wandered slowly through the camp, discontent growing with every step. Tents had been set up seemingly at random, sometimes pitched against the side of buildings. Wagons, covered with cloth or having apparently had small houses build atop them, were occupied any otherwise open space. Thankfully most of them seemed to have left the draft animals elsewhere, though where that might be he had no idea. Surely the estate's stables weren't large enough to handle all of them.
A flash of color caught his eye, and he was both relieved and annoyed. A member of Her Ladyship's personal detachment of the Watch, brightly festooned in her house colors, was wandering through the camp. The man looked calmly at the chaos that was unfolding around him, seemingly content to simply observe. The Captain ceased his own slow meander and headed directly for the hapless Watchman. He might be wearing Her Ladyship's colors but he was still under The Captain's command, and The Captain wanted answers.
"You there!" he barked in a tone generally reserved for those who'd gotten themselves in trouble. Half a dozen nearby heads turned his direction, the hapless Watchman's among them.
"Sir!" he snapped smartly to attention.
The Captain narrowed his eyes. Much as he would have liked to remember every person under his command, it just wasn't possible. "Name," he demanded.
"Oakly, sir!" the Watchman replied.
"Right then, Watchman Oakly. Where's Sergeant Langford?" Langford was the ranking Watch officer among Ladyship's personal contingent. He was in charge, and that meant he was the one who had to answer for this sad state of affairs.
"West Courtyard, sir," Oakly said. It was obvious to him that The Captain wasn't happy, and he welcomed any excuse to point him in another direction. Unhappy officers rarely meant good things for those at the bottom rung of the rank ladder.
"At least he's here," The Captain mused. He cast a critical eye around the area. For a moment, Oakly hoped he might leave. "Watchman Oakly," he said instead, "Just what in all the hells is going on around here?"
"Ah..." Oakly fidgeted at the question. He looked briefly towards the West Courtyard, but Langford did not oblige his silent request to suddenly appear. "I'm not entirely sure." When The Captain gave him a look, he hastened to explain. "What I mean is... Sergeant Langford said it was on Ladyship's orders, sir."
"Her Ladyship ordered her estate's grounds turned into a carnival lot?" The Captain asked skeptically. "The gates are wide open!" He gestured back the way he'd come. "She told you to just open up and let anyone who pleased wander in?"
"Yes, that's right. Ladyship's orders, " Oakly repeated helplessly. "Perhaps Sergeant Langford..."
"Yes, yes," The Captain interrupted. "Sergeant Langford, in the West Courtyard." He took in a slow breath and let it back out. "Doing what, exactly?"
Oakly perked up a little. This he knew the answer to! "Looking over the new Watchmen," he said, "the ones Her Ladyship is loaning us."
"Of course he is," The Captain mused. Thinking about the situation, it seemed that perhaps Langford wasn't the one to ask after all. If this was all on Her Ladyship's orders, he might have to go straight to the Prince. Which made him wonder... "Just what are your orders, exactly?"
"Leave the gates open," Oakly recited the orders he'd been given. "The inventors are to come and go as they please and are to be given all required assistance. We are to keep order as necessary in conjunction with the Prince's own house guard." The Captain raised an eyebrow, and Oakly shrugged. "We're doing our best, sir."
"Humph." The Captain grunted. "Very well then. Carry on." There was a brief exchange of salutes, and he left a relieved Watchman Oakly to his nebulous duties. He found himself watching the inventors and their activities with growing interest as he walked towards the estate proper. There were many working on collections of metal and gears who's intended function was, at a glance, a complete mystery. Some had a bizarre and expansive array of tools on display. Not a few had brought what appeared to be portable forges. A great many things appeared to be billowing steam into the air, everything from simple boilers to those incomprehensible contraptions. It was making the area uncomfortably humid, more so than it would have been otherwise. Clearly there was some purpose to all of it, and he would be interesting in finding out what that purpose was.
He was halfway up the granite steps that led to the manor's front door when something exploded. He jerked around at the noise, dropping to one knee behind one of the large decorative planters that lined the stairway. While the rifles used by the Watch were a relatively recent introduction, gunpowder itself had been around long enough for everybody to know just how dangerous it was. He peered around the planter, looking for the source of the explosion and hoping it hadn't caused a fire. The thought of one sweeping through a makeshift camp like this one was sobering.
He didn't see any smoke. And, oddly, few others in the camp seemed concerned about the explosion. Perhaps it was just ignorance, but most were going about their business as if nothing had happened. The doors at the top of the stairs opened. The Captain rose to his feet, irritatedly brushing dirt from one knee.
"Captain!" Her Ladyship exclaimed as she bustled through the open doorway. "What a surprise!"
"My Lady," he bowed formally in greeting. When he straightened his face was stern. "I don't mean to tell a Prince how to run their own estate, but what in the world are you doing?"
She looked confused for a second, until her eyes flicked away from The Captain and out to the rest of the grounds. "You mean, why am I allowing all of these people to set up camp on my property?" She asked with an amused smile. "My dear Captain, I didn't know you cared so much about my affairs." Her smile changed in an instant, as it had done before at the Tower, and was suddenly menacing. "But they are just that: my affairs. While I appreciate the sentiment, they are none of your concern."
"Bah!" The Captain scoffed. "Something just exploded, madam. Things exploding in my city are most definitely my concern."
Her Ladyship's eyebrows raised a fraction at the use of 'my city', and her lips tightened a bit at his tone, but before anything more could come of it she was looking out over the grounds. "Yes," she said, "Something did just explode. I was on my way out to investigate that." She looked back at him, all trace of annoyance gone. "Why don't you come with me?" She asked. Without waiting for a response she was on her way down the stairs.
"You didn't answer my question," he said as he followed her down. She chuckled, almost to herself, as he fell into step beside her.
"No, I didn't." He thought she might leave it at that. But after a pause just long enough to make him wonder she continued, "I've worked hard to make this happen. Spent over a year tracking these people down wherever I could find them. In the middle of cities to fishing villages to cottages in the middle of nowhere. And that was the easy part. Convincing them all to trust me, to share what they've worked on with so many others, that was hard. Some were afraid I would just steal their work for myself. That as a Prince of Marsten we wanted to lure them here and then force them to create things for us, or kill them even. They say the difference between genius and insanity is a very fine line," she said with a glance at the Captain. "Not a few of these people walk that line like a tightrope."
"So you decided to put them all together?" The Captain asked, wondering how that could possibly be a good idea.
"They're more comfortable with one another than they are with other people," she explained, "they understand each other. And there's something that happens when you get a group of inventors in one room. They start... I don't know how to put it. They start to talk, and they get excited. They go from laughing about outlandish concepts to scribbling things on tabletops and napkins, and before you know it everybody's out in a field somewhere with blueprints and hammers."
The Captain walked beside her, amazed at how animated Ladyship herself was getting. "And then things explode?" He inquired with a bit of a smile.
"Ha!" she laughed. "Yes. That's usually when things get really interesting." She shook her head and sighed. "Anyway, it wasn't so much that I decided to put them all together. Really, all I did was give them the option. So many of them are so far from home, and they're still suspicious. Uncertain. They trust me, so I opened my estate to any of them that wanted a place to stay. Honestly I'm surprised at how many are actually here."
"You're surprised," he said, "I'm concerned. Too many people in a small area leads to disease. Look at how often a small plague breaks out in the slums near the river." They walked past a couple of people cooking late breakfast on an open fire, causing the Captain's brow to furrow. "And its an alarming violation of the fire code," he added.
"Ah, yes," Ladyship smiled, "The fire code."
"Don't mock the fire code," he muttered. He knew some Princes thought of it more as a running joke than a serious civic code. He wasn't sure which side of things Ladyship fell on, but it wasn't an argument he wanted to get into just now.
"Gilliad!" Ladyship called out, waving over a nearby Watchman who quickly concluded a conversation he'd been having with one of the inventors.
"My Lady," Gilliad saluted as he approached, "Captain. What can I do for the two of you?" He kept looking from Ladyship to The Captain, unsure of which one to focus on.
"You heard the explosion, didn't you?" Ladyship asked rhetorically.
"Oh!" Gilliad grinned. "Yeah. That was Rosham."
"Rosham?" Ladyship asked, "What in the world was he doing?"
"Nothing involving gunpowder I hope," The Captain threw in.
"Um... no, not gunpowder," Gilliad replied carefully. "Some sort of flammable gas. He and Kali had it in canisters. I think he said something about pressurizing it... not sure why, though. Anyway, they put on some waders and went out into the pond with a boiler. Guess whatever it was didn't go quite as planned, 'cause the boiler popped. I asked Rosham about it, he said it was just the safety valves... whatever those are. Nobody hurt, though, I made sure. And nothing caught fire, either, since they were in the pond."
"See!" Ladyship turned to The Captain, "Nothing to worry about."
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "No."
"I'm glad you agree."
"No..." The Captain held up a hand. "I mean this won't do. I don't care what it is they're using, if it causes things to explode I'm not having it in my city."
"You can't just forbid them from working," Her Ladyship protested.
"Oh, I'm not forbidding them from working. I'm just putting a stop to it within the city. I'll have a detail prepare an area outside the walls where they can do whatever they like, explosions and all. They can stay here, but their work moves out there. It will keep the city safe and it will cut down on the amount of complaints the Watch has been getting."
"You're not going to let it go if I disagree, are you?" She asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
"The safety of the city is the Watch's priority," he told her somberly. "So no, I won't." This was one of the many times he was glad the Watch was separate from the Princes and politics of Marsten.
"Very well," she agreed, and turned to Gilliad. "Spread the word, if you would. Tomorrow morning the workshops and the work move outside the city. The Captain will have someone show us where as soon as it's ready."