The train stopped at Haroldsburg for a day. At nine in the morning of the next day, it resumed its journey.
Claude felt a headache piling up from the problem of settling Sheila down. He couldn't bring her back home, that was for certain. It would definitely wreak havoc on his family. He couldn't even take Sheila to Blackstone Arms Factory. Putting aside the matter of secrecy, he didn't know how Sheila would react if she ever found out that he still kept Sonia around as a lover.
"My dearest, we've arrived at Wickhamsburg. Let's get down here. I have a farmstead nearby. Rest there and recover first. I'll go to you once I finish my work," he said. He decided to stay in Wickhamsburg for a few days to settle her down there after much consideration.
"But I don't want to part from you, Claude--" She shot him a pitiful gaze. "--Can't I follow you along your work trip?"
He shook his head. "Sheila, my position comes with its own inconveniences. There are some things I simply can't do out of consideration of the potential consequences. I don't want to separate from you either, but it's hard to bring you around while you're still hurt. The place I'm going to is also top secret. It's our weapons factory and I can't just bring anyone there."
After much convincing, she finally agreed to go to the farmstead. Claude promised to go keep her company once he was done. The farmstead was a piece of land assigned to him. It was around a million square metres in size. It was the largest piece of land in Cromwell compared to the countless small patches of privately owned farmland.
The one managing it was a disabled veteran called Bjarne Zilinsk. He used to be one of Claude's guards who was promoted to bandsman due to his good performance. He was on a promotion track, but his luck was quite bad as he broke his leg after being sent flying by the Shiksan iron pumpkins. When he was saved, his left calf had to go. Now, he limped around and walked with a wooden strut as support. However, his voice was still bright and optimistic as it had always been.
"General, why are you here?!" Bjarne asked with glee. Claude's farmstead had just been completed two years ago. Though he had been left in charge of it, he had only managed to meet Claude once when he went to Ferd Manor to report the yields.
"I just happened to be passing by. I also want to get her settled in while she recovers," Claude plainly said, "Bjarne, you did quite well over here. It looks really orderly."
Bjarne cracked a bright smile. "Thanks for the high praise, General. I was just about to write a report to you about something. There are some companies that are banding up to include smaller pieces of farmland to plant a single type of crop and improve upon it in some sort of cooperation. The landowners will be given yearly dividends. They even sent someone to ask whether you want to join."
"There's no need--" Claude waved the suggestion away. "--It's better if we don't to stop them from using us as a namesake to attract more members. If something happens, we'll be dragged down."
Cromwell's farmland was now suited for large-scale operations like joint-farming arrangements. Initially, the land was split into small pieces before being handed to the troops from the two corps so they would have their own careers. This policy attracted quite a lot of immigrants and garnered quite a few voices of objection.
Many merchants hoped they could buy up or rent the land of those two states on a large scale to start farming complexes. That way, they could greatly increase efficiency. However, the autonomous region forbade that motion. What the region now needed was large numbers of immigrants to increase its military might by increasing its draft pool. That was why they had given the land to the troops in the first place. The goal was so that their families would be attracted to move to the region and settle in, before eventually being drafted to join the force.
The two states' land could indeed support those family members, but they would only be able to barely support their lives with nothing much left to spare. So, some companies came up with joint farming for better profits overall.
The region was long aware of that situation, but it couldn't stop it and could only force the companies and landowners to sign agreements under strict supervision to ensure that the landowners wouldn't be scammed out of their lands due to some loophole.
After all, the joint farming arrangement was by no means a surefire way to make money. Sometimes, the demand for a certain crop would be low and an abundance of supply would mean a steep drop in prices. It wouldn't be surprising for a year's efforts of the farms to go to waste. Many small landowners had to sell their lands to those companies to pay back their debts, causing quite a lot of civil unrest.
Bjarne nodded. "Alright, General. I was thinking about planting blueberries this year. That way, we can produce our own blueberry wine here. By the way, who did you mention was going to stay here to recover?"
"It's a lady..." Claude grit his teeth for having to repeat himself. "Let her stay in the main building and make sure she receives the same treatment I do. Give her anything she asks for, and if that's something you can't do, send someone to notify me. I will leave a tent of guards behind here to protect her. Also, go hire two maidservants to tend to her needs, got it?"
Even if Bjarne was a complete idiot, he could see that the person definitely had a complicated relationship with Claude. He immediately nodded. "Yes, General. I will treat her like your wife herself and make sure you have nothing to worry about."
After bidding Sheila goodbye, Claude rode straight to Blackstone Arms Factory without stopping. Receiving him was Sonia, rolling her eyes. "You should've come three days ago. Why did you only reach now? I had to delay my trip to my father's to wait for you..."
He didn't have anything to add to that, so he bowed and apologised. The next day, he woke up with a sore hip and walked tiresomely as the refreshed Sonia took him to see the special gun that was capable of firing 38 bullets in a row.
"I wasn't the one who designed this. This is the work of Magus Barclyde Sherifid."
"He's one of the four highly paid rogue rune magi our lab hired. He's also really well versed in research on metals. Didn't the region make another order for one thousand sniper rifles? I was too busy working on the heavy-ship cannons my father wanted, so I left the crafting of parts to him.
"Not only did he manage to complete that task with flying colours, he got hooked on gun construction and spent three months coming out with a really weird one that can fire 38 rounds in little more than ten seconds. I wrote to you immediately to get you to see it."
Sonia brought him before a really odd-looking machine. It was more or less rectangular, much unlike a traditional rifle. Had it not been for the stock and trigger, he wouldn't have recognised it for a gun.
He later met Barclyde himself. The man was in his fifties and looked like the archetypical oddball professor in science fiction, with his bald head, thick glasses and thin frame. He only needed a white robe to complete the look.
"Nice to meet you, Profess-- I mean, Magus Barclyde--" Claude shook his hand. "--Can you make a shooting demonstration? I want to see if it's applicable in combat."
It was too heavy, so it would have to pass. Four strong soldiers were barely enough to move the machine onto a metallic pushcart. That was reason enough for Claude to not give the green light.
"Why do you need such a thick metal plate at the bottom?" Claude asked.
"Oh, that's to absorb the shock to the barrel so accuracy can be maintained. The metal serves a heavy counterweight," Barclyde replied.
Next came the demonstration. What Claude found weird was the need to spin a wheel nonstop all while the trigger was being pulled. The rounds did indeed fire nonstop and 38 of them were spent within a short half minute.
"Is it over?" Claude asked.
"Then, how is it loaded?"
"Oh, after firing, the back cover here has to be opened for the ammo plate to be removed. Once rounds are inserted into the plate as well as the four barrels inside, the plate is reinstalled and covered up. The gun can then continue firing."
Claude managed to get a detailed look at the internal structure and understood the use of the wheel outside. It was used to spin the ammunition plate within to allow for continuous loading and firing of the rounds. However, a soldier had to be properly trained to match up the timing of the spins with the rate of fire at a constant rate.
Claude shook his head and felt great disappointment. This wasn't the machine gun he envisioned, but rather a rapid-firing machine. He counted the time it took to load it -- it took at least five minutes. That was enough time for a veteran to empty ten clips from their normal rifles.
Compared to ten clips containing 50 rounds, 38 paled much in comparison. The machine, in its current state, was worthless to the region.
He smiled and asked, "Magus Barclyde, I heard you are well studied in metals and mechanical engineering. What kind of magic research did you use to conduct?"
"Oh, I used to design treasure chests and gates for noble houses. Those are mostly security contraptions. Later, I made small magic crossbows and some magic-mechanical contraptions for sale."
It was no wonder the gun was so weird. Claude's doubts were immediately cleared. Barclyde probably used the same thought process he used for his security devices to research the gun. In secret rooms and wall corners, the gun would indeed be uncontended. Nobody would be able to avoid all 38 bullets in a confined space.
"Sonia, give Barclyde his own lab and make sure he has enough apprentice magi and materials. He'll have the same access as you do and declassify our secret projects for him. If you run into any roadblocks, you can also seek him out for advice." Since he was a talented man, Claude didn't mind treating him well.
"However, your gun is indeed not of much use to our troops." The stick that came after the carrot snapped Barclyde out of his drunken joy.
"First, it is far too heavy and can't be carried onto the battlefield. It wouldn't be able to be deployed swiftly enough. Second, it fires in far too short bursts and requires a really complicated loading process. Nobody will wait five minutes for you to finish reloading. It's not really useful in offensive or defensive applications.
"Rapid firing is only useful if it can sufficiently suppress the enemy. Using a bullet rain, we can stop the enemy's attacks and movements while dealing huge damage. The main goal is always to be able to trump their numerical advantage with our technology. There are many requirements when it comes to making a rapid-firing weapon.
"For instance, if a gun can fire at a rate of 60 rounds per minute for ten minutes while maintaining accuracy, all enemy attacks, defences and charges will be sufficiently suppressed. Only then can the basic requirements on the battlefield be met."
Claude pointed at the weird custom gun. "I will call this a machine gun. But it's obvious that there are still huge inconveniences with this design that needs to be worked through. It's heavy, too complicated and loses effectiveness after a short burst.
"However, I trust that you'll one day come up with one fit for the battlefield with further research. How about this, Magus Barclyde, I have some thoughts of my own I hope you can try to incorporate into your work. I'll leave machine-gun research in your hands."
Claude stayed there for six days discussing some concepts on machine guns. Among them, he brought up phasing out the ammunition plate altogether and using normal cartridges instead, replacing it with a much lighter ammunition belt, an idea which Barclyde said was genius. But whether it could actually be implemented to Claude's specifications would depend on the magus' skills. Claude had shared all that he remembered about machine guns from Earth.
Sonia left Blackstone a day earlier with some technicians to Port Vebator. They would be installing six ship cannons on the first ironclad warship developed by Liboyd for testing. They were basically enlarged versions of large-infantry cannons.
In some sense, the ironclad warship was an oddity for sure. Even with the exterior sketches Claude provided of the ships he had seen on Earth, Liboyd didn't draw much inspiration from them. The one he made looked not much different structurally from normal sail ships, save for the outer iron shell that covered it instead of wood. The masts were still kept so that they could employ both sails and steam power for movement.
Claude was most dissatisfied with the firing windows on both sides of the ship. The plan was to have 12 cannons installed on both sides of the deck to increase firepower. However, he didn't see the need for it. The six heavy cannons on the deck itself could shoot far and accurately. It could also freely rotate to aim at firing platforms of other ships, so it should be more than capable of dealing with sail ships of this era. An extra 24 old-fashioned cannons on the flanks was unnecessary.
Though, there was nothing Claude could do about Liboyd's stubbornness. He couldn't fight his chief technician, after all, and consoled himself with the fact that this was the first prototype and hoped that future versions would improve once this lesson was learned.
Having left Blackstone, he returned to the farmstead at Wickhamsburg to accompany Sheila. Claude was planning to return to Anna Farmstead at the end of the 5th month as Adele was expecting a child early in the 6th. He wanted to accompany his brother as his first child was delivered.
Sheila had recovered rather quickly and could barely move about freely by herself now. She was bored to death at the farmstead and wanted to return with Claude. He, on the other hand, hoped she could stay for another month to fully recover before taking her away. Right as he was contemplating what to do, he received an urgent message saying that Adele gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, early and passed away due to heavy blood loss.
"I have to go back immediately. Wait for me here. I'll come back for you," Claude said sternly. She was quite understanding and knew something bad had happened back at the family, so she obediently conceded.
Claude rushed back and saw the sour-faced Angelina. "What's going on? Wasn't Adele evaluated to be quite healthy and likely to survive the childbirth of twins? Why did the delivery come early? Why did she lose so much blood?"
Angelina grimaced. "It's Mother. She sent a servant to hand a letter to Adele, asking her to leave our family after giving birth and not continue to pester Bloweyk. Adele went into early childbirth from the shock..."