Chapter 166 On the eve of the decisive battle
On the fifth day after their agreement, Roland had finally readied all the raw material he needed for the production of the gun-cotton.
He had made some serious mistakes in the beginning with the electrolysis of the salt water, he wanted to take advantage of the left-over copper strips from Anna’s bullet production and use them as electrodes, but the final result was that the electrodes had dissolved in the water, giving birth to the possibility of forming chlorine during the electrolysis. With this the whole basin of saltwater was wasted.
The electrolyte was generally saturated salt water, but the problem was that the salt in this era was not as cheap as the price of cabbage. Therefore, when the water was drained and Roland detected that the copper ions had mixed into the brine, turning it also into waste. Roland felt as if he was throwing away gold royals instead of just salt. In the end, he was able to solve this problem by replacing the electrodes with carbon.
By adding caustic soda to the boiling water to dislodge the oil, he obtained an absorbent cotton gauze. He then later brought over the leftover caustic soda back to the chemistry lab.
The esterification of the gun-cotton was the most important step in the production process, but he didn’t exactly know how he could achieve this. Roland only knew that he would have to soak the gauze in the mixed acid and when the nitrification process was complete, he could then take it out.
Whether it was the solution ratio or the duration of the reaction, he didn’t know anything about this. So with this in mind, Roland ordered Kyle to form groups and run some experiments. Using hourglasses to observe the time, the pieces of cotton gauze were repeatedly dipped into the mixed acid and rinsed with water. At the last step they were soaked in a sodium hydroxide solution to remove the excess liquid acid. Afterward, the still wet products were then shipped back to the castle, where they got air-dried by Wendy.
The result was that the best esterification process would be achieved by using the highly concentrated fuming acid, and with it, most of the trial product could also be quickly ignited. In the end to achieve the best effect with the gun-cotton would be to use the ratio of one part nitric acid and two parts sulfuric acid.
When the rough formula was finally calculated, the laboratory would then start with the mass production and immediately after the soaking and washing process was completed would it be brought away by the First Army. In the end, even the Chief Instructor did not know what exactly it was that they had actually produced.
The dry gauze was cut into tiny fingernail sized pieces by the maidservants and afterward were stored in separate boxes, they were then sent to the North Slope Mountain, there in the backyard they would complete the final loading phase.
In the absence of machines, the process could only be done by using basic manpower. A bunch of guards would have to sit down, dip the gun-cotton in the adhesive and gently push it into the bottom of each cartridge, this way sealing the ignition hole. They then carefully poured in the gunpowder with a funnel, compacting it as far as possible and making sure that each cartridge received and equal share of the propellant.
The final step was to place the warhead on top of the cartridge. The warheads and cartridges were made by Anna who had to ensure that they would fit together so perfectly, that only a few gentle taps with a hammer were required to seal them.
The efficiency of production was very low, in one day they weren’t even able to produce more than 100 bullets. Then on the sixth day, Carter could finally start using the new weapon. Since the Chief Knights body fulfilled every qualification that was required to be an excellent marksman, his hit rate had been greatly improved after repeated practice over the last few days. Compared to the performance he had shown right after Roland introducing the weapon to him, it was like the difference between heaven and earth.
After fixing the problems with the ammunition, Carter no longer had to use his previous strange shooting posture, with him always having to point the gun downwards. Now, as long as the sealing collodion didn’t break, the gun chamber could easily be kept clean. And since it was several times more flammable than the black powder, the fast firing rate was also guaranteed.
Taking advantage of the last day of time they had left, Roland allowed Carter to train his rapid gun drawing and even dual-pistol shooting skills. The recoil of the 12mm pistols was so strong, that it quickly became difficult to guarantee that the second shot would score while holding the gun only with one hand. But in Roland’s plan, Carter would first hold back, letting Ashes draw in close and then start with his surprise attack.
Taking into account that Carter would carry two guns during the duel, if the fight ever turned to close combat, with ten bullets his success should be guaranteed. If the opponent closed in too quickly, Carter could quickly pull out his second gun. And taking into account that Ashes’ weapon offered a certain degree of defense, Roland deliberately chose the not easily deformed steel bullets, increasing its penetration ability instead of using bullets with a high lethality.
With the limits of the current era’s smelting technology, Ashes great sword was in all likelihood made out of pig iron to exaggerate its form without bringing any actual quality improvements. On the contrary, such bulky iron weapons were not actually fully forged, which lead to the problem that the internal stress distribution would become uneven, and with this, it couldn’t be called a good shield. From Roland’s point of view, her weapon could be classified at best, to be of common quality. So as long as their luck wasn’t awful tomorrow, the possibility of being hit by ricocheting bullets was very low.
If Ashes wanted to beat Carter, she would first have to close the distance, which was a cold weapons inherent disadvantage against hot weapons. As long as her eyesight wasn’t exaggerated to such a large degree that she could even track the ballistic curves, allowing her to instantly dodge the bullets, the starting distance should actually be an insurmountable gap.
Maggie flew back to Ashes room only after the sky had already started to turn dark.
“Why are you coming back so late these past few days?” Ashes asked after closing the window.
“Lightning took me with her to catch some birds,” When Maggie had changed back to her human form, she took a roasted bird leg out of her pocket, immediately filling the room with an overflowing aroma, “I deliberately left a piece for you.”
“I’ve eaten,” Ashes shook her head. “Is Lightning one of the witches in the Witch Cooperation Association?”
“Gooo,” Maggie nodded frantically, “her ability is similar to mine, like me she can also soar in the skies, but her ability is much more easier to use than mine.” After pausing for a moment, she then asked, “Sister Ashes, do you insist on beating them? I feel… that they aren’t actually ever going to go with you, and they live here quite well. “
Ashes was startled by this unexpected question and didn’t answer.
“Because, even I want to stay here now, goo,” Maggie sat down on the bed and self-servingly said, “The bed is soft, and the food we get is also sumptuous. I noted that when it was time for lunch, the Lord specifically placed the table in the backyard so that he could dine together with the witches after their practice. Everyone was talking and laughing, and he occasionally also gives a few words, he looks completely different than those aristocrats that hate us. This afternoon Lightning had taken me with her to play Gwent, it is a game playable for two and they even gave me two decks, Ashes sister, do you want to play together with me? I will teach you.”
“No…” Ashes shook her head and took a deep breath. She was aware of the changes in Maggie’s behaviour taking place during the last few days, but she only realized just now, that her own beliefs had also been quite befuddled.
These days, the majority of witches were living in fear, living without any purpose, their only pursuit was to live a comfortable and stable life. The same could be said about Maggie before she had been accepted by Tilly. She had lived within the reeds of a thatched house in the slums of King’s City, just like a real bird, she had spent her nights within the slits of the roof beams. Even after Tilly had decided to cross the seas eastwards, Maggie was still running around, contacting those other witches living in hiding, without even stopping once in the last six months. Most probably she was experiencing a life of peace and quiet for the first time ever.
Wasn’t it exactly the same for me? After I have met Tilly, I suddenly lived a life I had never dared to dream of. But now, after being accustomed to a relatively quiet life in the palace, I ignored the attraction of what it means to finally call a place my home again, in the eyes of those others witches, this is something they have never had before. It is only logical that they want to keep on staying here, wanting to protect their territory and all the feelings it contains, for me it is probably also the reason that I want to protect Tilly in the first place…
If Roland Wimbledon really does what he has said he would, with him being able to resist the God’s Punishment Army, there is no doubt that living in Border Town will be a better choice than traveling to the Fjords and establishing a Kingdom of Witches in that strange land. It seems to be just the place that our hearts are yearning for, but in the end, how much they will have to suffer no one can really predict.
However, if he is unable to resist the church, will the other witches leave?
Ashes mood suddenly cooled down.
Changing the perspective of her thoughts, if Tilly is unable to gain a foothold in the Fjords, I am afraid I will choose to stand beside her, guarding her until the last moment. As the person who I decided to be leading me towards my destiny, I won’t leave her in before reaching it.
“Living here you will always be under the threat of the Church, and if they are unable to stop the God’s Punishment Army, it is only a matter of time before Border Town will be destroyed.”
Indeed, the test was no longer necessary… but Ashes still decided to go through with it. In order to wake them up and prove her point.
“And if they can stop them?” Maggie muttered.
“I hope so too, so I will help them to verify this point.” Ashes voice became gradually smaller.
Finally closing her eyes, she was now ready to go all out.