Isaac Bonnington knew that the Indomitable was unlike any other vessel in the King’s Fleet. The fact gave him great pride. He had brought the initial designs to court and stood, visibly trembling, whilst the King had pored over them in mute reflection. Isaac was not a brave man, but he knew how to build gunships. He understood the workings of black powder weaponry with fine precision, and when he had come to choose his career, he had wavered between becoming a shipwright and taking an apprenticeship at the Hall of Science. The apprenticeship had won out in the end, and in time, the position of Royal Engineer had come to him.
But ships had ever been his first love, and it was the shipyards of the south coast that were now his home. He was a quiet, intelligent man in his late forties, with a balding pate and a rat-like face that was incapable of concealing emotion. Women and children had entirely failed to feature in his life, and so he devoted every waking moment to his craft and, of late, to the Indomitable. When she was launched, when the French fleet felt the bite of her cannon and broke before her prow, the world would know of Isaac Bonnington’s work. This ship would immortalise his name.
Who knows, he thought with uncharacteristic bitterness, he might even get paid. He was certain that if he approached the King and asked for an advance, he might find himself replaced with someone King Richard considered more patriotic and less materialistic. Others had ended their days in the Tower for less.
Since he had taken the throne of England, Richard the Unyielding had proven himself to be a man gifted with drive and determination. Blessed with a fierce intellect that grasped the principles of construction and engineering, the King possessed knowledge of the sciences quite beyond the most gifted scholars. Heavy industry had flourished in the cities of England. The cannon of the Indomitable had been cast far from Portsmouth and transported down from Liverpool by ship, while the plates that armoured her hull were beaten in a forge in Manchester.
There was no shortage of bodies to work the furnaces, swing the hammers and dig the mines, as criminals and the homeless were pressed into service. Shackled work gangs toiled in shifts to pull iron, copper, tin and coal from the earth and feed the fires of industry. Labourers and artisans worked the forges and foundries to produce the wonders of Richard’s kingdom. It was dangerous work, but not without its benefits. Those free men and women in service to the Crown were well paid for their efforts, though it was argued by some that the risks outweighed the rewards. Richard did not tax his vassals heavily, but he taxed them all. Farmers, once exempt from the need to present their annual accounts, now had to employ the literate and numerate to control their spending. Failure to provide to the Crown guaranteed a stint in a work gang.
Freedom was a thing long forgotten in England. But Isaac didn’t mind. He was happy in his little office with its tiny window that let in the reek of the port. The odour of the shipyards clung to him; the constant smell of tar, metal and brine. He had grown so accustomed to it that he no longer noticed it, although it was the first thing his visitors noticed.