Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 48
Buying Bullets and Gunpowder
When Claude and Borkal said they wanted to buy rounds and gunpowder for their muskets, Wakri whistled. He did it very rarely.
"Your fathers really spoil you too much. They were actually willing to buy the newest standard issue muskets for you. The Aubass Mark 2 is one of the most advanced muskets on the continent. I heard can even kill huge boars."
Wakri was quite the musket enthusiast. He knew the musket like the back of his hand.
"Did the range improve with the new model?" Claude asked.
He believed the technology was going in the wrong directions. What was the point of making weapons that could shoot further but could still only shoot a round or two a minute?
"Of course. The earliest guns could only shoot 200 metres and were only accurate up to about 80. The newest model can shoot 380 metres. That's the furthest anything's been able to shoot, ever. The Mark 1 could only shoot 360 metres, so they improved that by twenty metres in just one model!" Wakri said emotionally.
Claude realised he was talking to a wall.
"I don't understand why they want to make them shoot any further in the first place. What does it matter that you can shoot that far if you can't hit anything and you probably only get to shoot once in the time it takes someone to cover that distance? Why not make them shoot more accurately and faster instead?"
"Kid, I knew you knew nothing about muskets the moment you started speaking. Range is king when it comes to muskets. You'll understand once you've fought your first battle. Battle aren't just charges, most of the time people are marching towards one another in steady step, so if you have 380 metres, you get five or six shots in before you get into accurate range. And it doesn't really matter that the shots aren't accurate at that range. You're not the only one shooting, and you're not shooting at just one man. You're shooting at a whole line, so even if you miss your target, you're bound to hit someone next to or behind him. And if you've got five hundred men standing abreast of you doing the same thing, you kill a lot of them even with inaccurate fire.
"Accuracy is all fine and good when you're hunting, but it doesn't really matter when you're fighting in formation with hundreds of other men against hundreds on the other side, also in formation. In those situations, range is all that matters. If one side can shoot a hundred metres farther than the other, that side will win."
"Then why would the side with a shorter range just stay in place? Can't they just break up their formation and approach in loose groups so the enemy has nothing to shoot at?"
"That's why you don't really know much about warfare either," Wakri said, shaking his head, "We just said that matchlocks are only good in volley fire. If you break up your formations, you make it impossible to do just that.
"A single musket is nothing on a battlefield with thousands of men."
Claude gave up. He'd have better luck with a plant. No wonder the continent's countries put so many restrictions on peasants. They were so stupid on average that they really were only good as cannon fodder.
Earth also used volley fire in its era of musketry. Units would just line up facing one another and shoot until one side lost so many men the survivors ran away.
Claude remembered watching a film about several such wars. The red-fir army's soldiers marched to their enemies at a brisk walk, all of them dressed completely in red. Even when they came under heavy fire, and were in range to shoot back, their commanders wouldn't issue the order to return fire. So they just marched on.
In the end, the sheer weight of approaching men forced the enemy to break, which point their commander finally let his men shoot. He let his men fire their two volleys, each of the front two ranks firing, then had them stuff their bayonets into their barrels, and charge.
Claude had also read a newspaper article about a conflict at the border of the kingdom that resulted in nearly one thousand casualties. Back then, he didn't understand why the number was so high. He did now. There were no trenches or battlements. The soldiers on both sides merely marched to their deaths. Even if the kingdom were to win the war, it might not necessarily be able to recover before someone else came along and smashed it.
His father had said that even if the kingdom didn't suffer a crippling defeat, peace negotiations would hardly be forthcoming. Either side would only surrender on the brink of complete collapse. It was completely possible that there would be a generation of peace after the war, there'd be no one left to fight another one!
"Why are you spacing out? Have you decided how much you want to buy?"
"Oh, sorry. I was just thinking--" Claude turned to Wakri. "--What does a round and gunpowder for the Aubass Mark 2 cost?"
"The rounds are cheap, just two fennies," Wakri said, "We have three gunpowders for the musket. One can get your round out to 200 metres, another can shoot up to 300 metres, and the third can push the round up to the full 380 metres. They go from cheapest to most expensive in that order."
They even had pellet powder?
"How much?" Borkal asked.
"The first one, the one you bought last time, is one sunar for a package, the second is two sunars for a package, and the third is five sunars for a package."
One 'package' had enough gunpowder for ten shots.
"Then I want the pellet--" Borkal began but Claude shoved his hand over the boy's mouth.
Was he crazy? Did he want to spend a whole thale on just 200 charges? He was told to shoot at least thirty rounds a day for decent practise, at that price a thale's gunpowder wouldn't even last him a month!
"The first gunpowder, please. The guns are only for beginners, which we are, so there's no point in buying gunpowder we can't put to good use," he said, shooting a furious glare at Borkal.
Wakri nodded with a smile.
"You might know nothing about muskets and warfare, but you at least have a sensible head on your shoulders. Start with short ranges, master them, then slowly increase the range as you master each step."
Borkal frowned for a few moments, then nodded with a spendthrift sigh.
"Okay, I'll get ten package of the first kind, then. And enough rounds, too!"
Wakri disappeared into his back room for a moment, then reappeared a moment later with a small scale. He rolled a barrel out from under the counter with 'Type 1' stamped on it and opened it. He scooped out and weighed the gunpowder before packing it into small paper bags.
The weight units were a strange mix of what would have been called 'eastern' and 'western' units back on earth. The most commonly used weight was the catty -- about half an earth kilogram. The tael was smaller, about ten to the catty. The gram was next, at ten to the tael. The decacatty was the first step above the catty, ten to the decacatty as the prefix might suggest, then there was a hectocatty another order up from the decacatty, but there was no kilocatty, just a tonne. Tonne was used almost exclusively to measure ship cargo, however.
Gunpowder was measured and sold in 'packages', which was enough gunpowder for ten musket shots. The standard ration given to the average footman for a battle was three packages, just thirty rounds' worth of gunpowder. Very few men usually actually used up their gunpowder, even in long battles. Most didn't because they were either dead or broken long before, and the rest because the enemy was dead or broken long before. It was even rather common for many, if not quite the majority, of dead soldiers to still have all three of their packages unopened, to have died without ever firing a single shot.
The standard musket used one tael and one gram of gunpowder per shot, so a package was about a catty, a tael, and seven or eight grams.
The packages were made of oil paper, and, once filled, Wakri wrapped them along with the rounds in a linen pouch, one for each boy, and put them on the counter. The two paid and Claude headed to the shelves to look for more magic stuff.