The Pythagoreans: Chapter 9

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Chapter 9

Their business with Hexaros the tanner complete, Binyamin and Epigeus headed back to the main cluster of workshops near the school’s gate.  Antaros’ workshop was the easy to pick out from the rest as it was the one that was the most elaborately festooned with various chimneys and pipes.  Aside from the fairly obvious forge chimney, Binyamin could not even begin the purpose of most of the pipes and vents that were steaming and sputtering continuously as they approached.  Epigeus knocked, and after there was no answer, opened the heavy wood door to the workshop to the sound of ringing hammer blows.

Binyamin was immediately assaulted by a wave of searing hot air.  The temperature outside had still been fairly cool, but the inside of the building was positively sweltering.  At the far side of the room, he spotted Antaros busily hammering away at a peace of glowing orange metal.  He was wearing a protective leather apron and a strange mask to protect his face from the raining sparks.  He looked up and noticed the two men approaching, and immediately placed the piece of metal in a barrel of water, sending up an enormous cloud of steam.  After wiping a copious amount of sweat from his brow, he hurried over to greet Epigeus and Binyamin, hanging his mask on a dangling hook as he did so.

“Ah, hello again,” he said enthusiastically as he began clearing an assortment of unrecognizable gears and parts off of a roughhewn table in the corner of the workshop.  “Take a seat, take a seat.  Now that we are in a more secluded space, perhaps you would not mind telling me about your exploits earlier this week?  I must say that I have been simply dying of curiosity ever since I saw the City Watch’s brand new boat washed up on the beach.”

After motioning for them to take a seat on a workbench that had been stowed under the table, he hustled back to the forge and pulled a lever.  Immediately, water began flowing out of a large barrel of and down a sharply slanted pipe, spinning several paddle wheels before it was collected in another barrel below the first. The wheels powered an intricate series of pulleys and gears, which ran up one wall and powered a series of spinning cloth paddles on the ceiling.  The paddles quickly cooled the room and forced most of the smoke through the forge’s chimney.  Binyamin could not help but stare.

“How do you like my new indoor cooling system?” Antaros asked as if he was talking about a well-carved bowl or sturdy yet commonplace piece of furniture.  “I finished it about a month ago.  Indispensable in hot weather, I tell you.  When I work the bellows, it helps pump a portion of the water from the bottom barrel back into the top.  It can also be powered by hot air from the chimney, but I have had a hard time finding an impeller that is both light and inflammable.”  Binyamin, who spoke passable Greek, only understood about half of what the small man was saying, but nodded along anyway because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do.  “Unfortunately, it takes a lot of energy and heat to forge this particular alloy, so I think I will probably have to replace it before long.”

“What does it do?” Binyamin asked.

“No matter how hard you bend it, it will bounce back to its original shape,” Antaros said proudly.  “Ideally, I could shape it into something resembling a coiling snake, but it is still far too brittle for me to shape it that way, so I have to make do.  So tell me, how did you manage to capsize a ship that large?  You are either very lucky or very skilled at reading the wind and currents.”

Binyamin looked over at Epigeus who shrugged his shoulders and said, “Antaros will keep your secret safe.  Besides, it is a really good story.  I would be lying if I said I did not want to hear it again.”

So, Binyamin began to talk.  After briefly describing his life as the navigator on the Heron, he told Antaros about the failed drop, the ensuing chase, his desperate plan to save his ship culminating in the near destruction of the City Watch’s brand new ship, and finally his desperate and painful swim to shore during the raging storm and the subsequent day of hiding from shore patrols until he was found by Epigeus.  Antaros paid rapt attention the whole time, occasionally cutting in to ask him to clarify a small detail or two.  When Binyamin was done, Antaros exhaled sharply, staring at him in awe.  “That is by far the most interesting story that I have heard all year!  Honestly, the fact that you survived all that is nothing short of miraculous.  Come on, I have something to show you.”  Epigeus looked at him meaningfully, but Antaros shook his head, “I do not think that I will betray any of the brotherhood’s great secrets by showing you as well since you will be working here before long.”

In a flash, Antaros was heading to the back door, which opened up into a smaller room whose walls were lined with complicated drawings detailing the design and construction of devices whose purpose Binyamin could only guess at.  “This,” he said proudly, “is what I like to call a Diver’s Dome.”  He showed Binyamin a drawing that closely resembled a man in a bird cage.  “It works by allowing a man to remain seated inside it while it is lowered into the water, while this watertight metal dome keeps a sizable pocket of breathable air in there with him.   Had you had been in one of these, you would not have had to hold your breath for all that time… of course, you need a special crane mounted on a ship to lower it into the water, and the ship needs to be big enough to not capsize due to the weight; it has to be heavy to force the air underwater, obviously… well, maybe it would not have worked for your particular situation, but surely you can see the utility of allowing a man to be able to breathe as he descends into the deep to find pearls or recover important articles from a wrecked ship for instance.”

They spent most of the rest of the morning in the workshop.  While Epigeus pored over a drawing of a strange looking instrument that fed air from a bellows into different pipes depending on which keys were being pressed, Antaros showed Binyamin the various devices that he had designed over the last ten years as an artificer at the school.  Most of the inventions were clever trinkets or devices that could make life slightly easier for their user.  There was a large back portion of the workshop that was closed off behind a thick interior wall and a metal door with an intricate mechanism that Binyamin supposed ensured that that Antaros alone could enter the room.

“I was born outside of Sparta,” he said as he showed Binyamin a strange device that could hurla clay ball into the air when water inside it was heated from below by a fire.  The Heron had not done much business in the cities controlled by the grim Spartans, but Binyamin knew enough about them through hearsay and reputation that the fact surprised him.  “My parents were Helots, which are basically slaves in Sparta. I used to get the ever-loving shit kicked out of me by the Spartan boys when they were forced to steal food during the Agoge.  They could have just asked; I would have given them some.”  He shrugged.  “Anyway, one day Pythagoras was riding from Sparta to Corinth when he saw me making a sort of slingshot hunt for birds with.  He was impressed enough by the craftsmanship that he arranged for my release.  Since he had just helped one of the two queens of Sparta through a difficult childbirth, they were more than happy to grant his request, and my parents just wanted to see me out of Sparta, so that was that.  I have been here ever since.”

“I was told that you are a full mathematikos,” said Binyamin, the word still sounding funny on his tongue.  “Why is it that you work here rather than with Pythagoras and the other senior sages?  It seems that everyone else here would give several toes or fingers to be able to study at the side of the Master.”

“That is a good, if crudely phrased, question,” said Antaros.  “As you probably guessed, I started off as a crafter when I first entered the community, attending classes in the evenings when my work was done.  When I passed the test to become a junior mathematikos, I was able to convince Pythagoras that the construction of intricate and useful devices was as much an art as painting, music, drama, or sculpture.  By the time I passed the test to become a full mathematikos, I was able to convince the rest of them that I was better off here trying to find ways to apply their discoveries to the real world than coming up with theorems in the compound.”

They moved on to a workbench that was covered in gears of various sizes and shapes along with a wide variety of small, exotic looking tools whose use Binyamin could not even begin to guess.  Binyamin could see a small metal box on the bench.  A panel on the back was open and the entire thing had a half-finished look to it.  Antaros opened the top of the box, which folded away in two directions.  A large, brass sphere and several smaller iron ones promptly unfolded from the ends of long metal poles.  A maze of gears manipulated the metal poles and spheres, causing them to jerkily pivot and move on their own.  “I might not have a head for figures, logic, or debate the way some of the other mathematikoi do, and sometimes they hold it against me.  Epigeus doesn’t, but he has a good heart.  Either way, I can build almost anything I want, and I get better every year.  I will show you the basics tomorrow.  I am not sure how long you will be staying, but I can assure you that this is the most interesting place in the Community for a man like you.”

“I cannot see why I would fail to,” Binyamin said as he continued to gaze at the workshop and its contents.  “This is all so fascinating.  It reminds me of sailing, in a way.  You are basically taking motion from nature and using it to power your uh, devices much in the same way a ship uses its sails.”

“That is an excellent analogy,” said Antaros.  “I am looking forward to having an assistant again.  Come, I’d like to show you how this box works.  It is actually quite simple once you break it down into its component parts…”

Before he could begin to describe the principles behind the amazing gear box, they heard a great deal of commotion outside of the building.  As a lifelong smuggler, Binyamin could not help but feel a twinge of nervousness; commotion generally meant something had gone wrong in his line of work.

Antaros clapped a disproportionately large hand on Binyamin’s back.  “Do not worry yourself,” he said.  “He is back, is all that means.”  Antaros, Epigeus, and Binyamin quickly left the workshop to join the throng of people heading to the central courtyard to greet Pythagoras as he returned to his school.

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2 thoughts on “The Pythagoreans: Chapter 9

  1. Pingback: The Pythagoreans: Chapter 8 | abouttogetreal

  2. Pingback: The Pythagoreans: Chapter 10 | abouttogetreal

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