A year has gracefully passed since the grand Tourney at Maidenpool, and the once suspended rhythm of activity has now gracefully rekindled. Following the conclusion of the tourney, upon their arrival at Claw Isle, Gromond beseeched Bartimos for his favor, seeking permission to embark on a whimsical expedition across the vast lands of Westeros for an entire year. Bartimos, with a curious eyebrow raised, inquired as to the purpose of this ambitious endeavor, to which Gromond responded with a jestful claim of seeking a suitable bride. However, deep down, the astute lord knew this to be a mere charade. Nonetheless, Bartimos, with a measured nod, consented to the proposal, stipulating that Gromond would need to fulfill several obligations for the family. Clement dispatched Gromond to Crackclaw Point, where negotiations were to be held for the procurement of substantial quantities of timber. These logs were to serve multiple essential purposes, such as the construction of sturdy vessels, the expansion of dwellings, and the enhancement of the bustling port.
Thus, Gromond embarked on his expedition, setting sail aboard a modest vessel with a select few companions. Meanwhile, Clement and Bartimos chose to remain on the tranquil isle, diligently tending to the progressive development of their cherished domain. At present, Clement found himself meandering through the resplendent corridors of Crab's Return, accompanied by his trusted steward, Selwyn, who clutched an intricately inscribed parchment in his hands, bearing tidings of utmost importance.
"The Architect, as per your command, has initiated the construction upon the testing grounds of the seawall and wavebreaker, my lord. It's situated along the western shores of the isle." Selwyn dutifully conveyed. "If fortune smiles upon us, the endeavor shall reach fruition by the turn of the coming year."
"A whole year? Can we not hasten the pace?" Clement's brow furrowed in concern. "We speak of the testing grounds, Selwyn, not the entirety."
"The establishment of the foundation itself presents formidable challenges, my lord, as your imagination can fathom. Moreover, the turbulent tempests of the Narrow Sea pose a renowned threat, limiting the promises they could utter at present."
Clement emitted a weary sigh. "Very well then. Unto the next topic, what tidings of progress do we have concerning the expansion of the port?"
"It has just commenced, my lord," Selwyn said. "We have faced a shortage of timber, but we were able to secure additional stocks from merchants. We have yet to receive any word from the houses of Crackclaw point."
Clement's gaze hardened. "And the lighthouse?"
Selwyn hesitated. "It is a complex matter, my lord. We dispatched a team to Gryphonrock to evaluate the feasibility of constructing a lighthouse on the rocky island, but they encountered numerous challenges."
Clement arched an eyebrow. "Such as?"
Selwyn cleared his throat. "There is no proper shore off the island, my lord, only a small carved path to the summit. Transporting the necessary building materials and stone will require a significant amount of time and effort."
Clement mulled this over. "I see. What if we used the wheel-powered cranes we ordered for the port?"
Selwyn hesitated once more. "If we diverted the cranes to the lighthouse construction, my lord, the expansion of the port would be delayed yet again."
Clement shook his head in frustration. "Order more cranes and pulleys, Selwyn. Surely the blacksmiths and carpenters are capable of constructing them swiftly."
Selwyn looked perplexed by this statement, but he did not press the issue. "As you wish, my lord."
After traversing the corridor for a few fleeting moments, Clement eventually arrived at a chamber nestled delicately at the corridor's precipice. It bore the title of the council room, an enclave where his father, stewards, castellans, the maester of the castle, and the household knights convened to engage in intellectual discourse. Clement stepped inside, beholding the sight of his father, a couple of castellans entrusted with the castle itself, Maester Arwynn, and Ser Phineas already assembled.
"Clement, you're late." Bartimos said.
"Pardon, father, these myriad projects vex me so greatly that they seem to drive me to the brink of madness," Clement nonchalantly confessed, before gracefully settling upon one of the chairs.
Bartimos shook his head. "Take it slowly, it feels like you're being chased by dogs."
"Because I am. War is coming to the Stepstones, soon enough, we need to send our own fleet there, a fleet which doesn't exist yet, and once the war is over, our 'boost' of profits will stop. We need to find some ways to fill that blank spot."
"Then, perchance, why not withhold our support?" inquired Maester Arwynn with a respectful tone. "Forgive my temerity, but if the crown disapproves of this martial venture, perhaps we should not march alongside them."
"And gain the ire of the rest of the entirety of the seven kingdoms?" Clement raised his brow. "We're alone here, Maester, literally every house that has interest there is losing their gold except us."
"Then what do you propose?" Bartimos said. "Our short-term profits are indeed high, but it is just that, short-term. What is your plan for the next few years?"
Clement hummed thoughtfully, his mind abuzz with possibilities. "I have contemplated numerous avenues. We must fashion enticements that allure both sailors and merchants, compelling them to dock in our harbors and avail themselves of our services. Our isle acts as a pivotal conduit for northern merchants journeying from Braavos or White Harbor to the southern ports of Planky Town or King's Landing, and vice versa. We ought to establish well-appointed inns, augment the number of skilled shipwrights for vessel maintenance and repairs, and even consider the establishment of whorehouses—"
"whorehouses?" Bartimos interposed, his countenance twisting into a frown. "Surely, my son, you jest."
"I'm not, father." Clement stated. "These establishments of pleasure serve as a sanctuary for weary sailors who have traversed the vast expanses of the sea for countless months. Their patronage yields considerable profits, and furthermore, it presents an opportunity for us to gather valuable intelligence on these merchants, which we may employ should they ever resort to underhanded tactics within our realm."
Bartimos furrowed his brow, the lines of disapproval etching deep grooves upon his face. "Such practices are frowned upon, my son," he grumbled disapprovingly. "In the eyes of the Seven, the gold earned through such means is tainted, soiled."
Clement couldn't help but roll his eyes, a subtle gesture of exasperation escaping him. "Oh please, father, let us not forget that we dwell within a bustling port town," he retorted. "Here, the amalgamation of diverse cultures takes place like no other, transcending boundaries and customs. We lack a sept, rendering us indifferent to the endorsement of any particular faith. Besides, if King's Landing is privileged to harbor the Street of Silk, why should we not establish our own equivalent?"
"The Street of Silk is not owned by the crown, my lord." The Maester stated. "Unlike the one you are proposing right now."
Clement shrugged nonchalantly, his demeanor dismissive yet laced with a hint of defiance. "Nevertheless, they are still subjected to taxation," he nonchalantly remarked, implying that even if the crown did not own the Street of Silk, it still reaped its financial benefits through taxation.
"Let us set that matter aside for the present moment," Bartimos declared. "Have you concocted any further ideas within that imaginative mind of yours?"
Clement pondered melodiously, his thoughts dancing like a gentle breeze. "Indeed, a couple have come to mind. We could liberate the port from the burdens of tariffs and taxes, transforming Brackyore into a haven of free trade."
Bartimos' countenance contorted into a perplexed expression. "What? How shall this endeavor benefit us?"
"A free trade zone acts as an alluring enticement for merchants to engage in commerce within our port," Clement elucidated. "The absence of taxes would yield lower prices of goods, particularly within our local domain. Consequently, the influx of trade would burgeon, amplifying the profits of our services, such as ship repairs, goods transport, and warehousing, thricefold. Furthermore, should we establish an industry in this locale, our endeavors would flourish in unison."
"I... do not believe this to be a prudent course of action, my lord," Selwyn interjected. "We cannot effectuate such a transformation instantaneously; it would require years of meticulous administration. Moreover, the crown obtains a portion of the taxes we collect, thus if there were no taxes, the crown would receive naught."
"What Selwyn has proclaimed bears truth," Bartimos acknowledged solemnly. "This is no facile undertaking, compounded by the vexations it would bring forth. The proliferation of contraband goods throughout the town would be a lamentable consequence."
"'Tis not a matter of an absence of vigilance, father, but an absence of taxation," Clement countered ardently. "But true, it's probably a long time before we can do that. In the meantime, that's it. Inns and taverns, shipbuilding and repairs, warehouses and whorehouses. We can't build an industry here, except maybe our usual crab trappers and fishermen. Well, maybe something else…"
"What might that be?" Bartimos inquired, curiosity etched upon his visage.
"Salt," Clement revealed, his voice cascading like waves upon the shore. "Sea salt, to be precise. Though our climate may prove inhospitable to natural evaporation, it requires vast expanses of space we lack, and given our capricious weather, months shall transpire before the harvest. Yet, we may also explore the art of glassmaking, provided we secure the services of skilled artisans to bring forth such a craft, we need to send someone to Volantis or something like that."
Bartimos let out a thoughtful hum, his voice melodious as he pondered the topic at hand. "Ah, the delicate art of glassmaking," he mused. "We possess an abundance of sand, and securing the necessary materials through our well-established trade networks poses no challenge. Alas, it is the master artisan we lack. Ser Phineas?"
Startled from his silence, the knight, who had remained taciturn due to his unfamiliarity with the discussion, finally found his voice. "Yes, my lord?" he responded.
"Could we dispatch our men to seek out a skilled glassmaker who would be willing to grace our realm? Negotiating their terms with gold shall not be an issue, for we possess an ample supply," Bartimos inquired.
"Truth be told, my lord, we currently find ourselves lacking in manpower," Ser Phineas sighed. "A considerable number of our household guards are dedicated to training the newly enlisted men on the shores, as per your command."
"Very well, we shall table that matter for the time being," Bartimos conceded with a nod of his head.
Clement, ever inquisitive, interjected, expressing his curiosity. "And what of the training, Ser? Expound upon the details of your endeavors."
"In total, we have recruited approximately seven hundred men to undergo training," Ser Phineas responded. "As you commanded, most of them hail from the local populace. At present, their training is ongoing, and I regret to say that I have no further updates, my lord."
"You do realize, good ser, that it is not knights I require," Clement asserted.
"Pardon?" Ser Phineas appeared slightly perplexed.
"I seek men who possess the stamina to swim from Claw Isle to Dragonstone without succumbing to fatigue," Clement clarified. "Not merely tourney knights."
"We...we are diligently striving to mold men of precisely that caliber, my lord," Ser Phineas affirmed, his tone brimming with deference.
"In that case, I shall make it a point to visit the training camp in the near future," Clement declared, turning to Selwyn, his voice ringing with authority. "Add that to our itinerary."
"Very well, enough talk of steel," Bartimos sighed wearily. "Let us now focus on the pressing matter of gold. Let us prioritize the construction of inns and taverns. Our hands are already burdened with a multitude of projects, and it is prudent to attend to this one first."
"What about the whorehouses?" Clement raised his brow.
"You seemed to be excited at the prospect of that." Bartimos argued.
Clement shrugged. "It brings us more profits."
"We'll discuss that in another meeting." Bartimos said. "For now. dismissed."
Clement strode through the verdant fringes of Claw Isle, accompanied by his guards and his faithful companion, Selwyn. Riding on his majestic horse, he sauntered down the path that was paved with dirt, all the while keeping a watchful eye on the construction site where the inland walls were beginning to take shape. These walls, which would vary in height depending on the terrain, were set to stand at an impressive eighteen feet tall, equivalent to the stature of a giraffe. Though still in their infancy, the workers were busy digging the foundations for this monumental project.
As Clement surveyed the site from afar, his gaze fell upon the rugged terrain of the small island off the coast of Crackclaw point. He couldn't help but remark, "Maintaining these walls will be a challenge until our town becomes a city."
Selwyn, ever the optimist, responded, "Indeed, my lord. But as you rightly pointed out, this is a long-term project. By the time the walls are fully complete, half of this land will be populated with buildings, rendering any naval invasion impossible."
"But what if dragons come?" Clement quipped, a hint of amusement in his voice. "They could just soar above the walls and set our town ablaze. We'd be helpless."
Selwyn pondered the question for a moment before replying, "I'm sure we'll have enough artillery by then to fend off any dragon attack."
"Why not start working on it now?" Clement suggested. "Find a weapons engineer and some alchemists to settle here."
"Again, my lord?" Selwyn shook his head in amusement. "So that's now a glassmaker, weapons engineer, and alchemist, who else should I find?"
"Professional rowers for the ships too." Clement shrugged.
Selwyn sighed. "Very well. It will be done in the next… five years."