Surveying him critically, I could see why father regarded Eric Marsh as a popinjay, and harboured doubts as to his sexuality. The general’s breeches, while of uniform blue – with a red and yellow stripe, were cut far too tight. His cap was adorned with a large scarlet feather, which ornament put me in mind of Dashing Daniel’s hat. The tunic fitted almost as snugly as the trousers, and carried an extravagance of gold braid.
“What’s that?” asked Lisa-Louise.
Her question referred not to the wine, or the eccentricities of uniform, but to a corroded metal device. Much of its length was a tube, but there was an arrangement of smaller parts at one end. It was clearly very old, and looked unlike anything I’d seen before. Its presence in the armoury suggested that it was, or had once been, some kind of weapon.
“We found several of these beauties walled up in a cellar recently. This was the best, but it’s not very good. All the same, if we could figure how it worked…”
“Yes, but what is it?”
“It is – or was – a weapon… a relic from the Old Time, Miss Lisa-Louise. It’s a machine gun.”
“A gun? But the Seven Sages outlawed them – and the Red Knights slew the gunmen. If I remember rightly, guns were tubes packed with explosive that shot out a deadly bullet. Isn’t that right?”
“You have it more or less correct. For a long time, men have been trying to re-create them, but it’s difficult to make the tube strong enough, the explosive just right, and find the best way to set it off.”
“But guns arose from Old Time blasphemies,” I protested. “Surely nobody would want to return to that?”
“No priest – or priestess – is going to approve, that’s for sure, Princess Margaret. And the Seven Sages were so much against guns that you’d need a really good one to make it worthwhile.”
“Make it worthwhile?” I found myself aghast at the word worthwhile applied to blasphemous activity.
“Deploy guns, and you’d need to slaughter angry priests – there’d be riot and rebellion – and Daphne Deicide found out that, even in godforsaken Surrey, priestesses are not without power.”
“And this machine gun would make it worthwhile?” Lisa-Louise asked, more matter-of-fact than I was able to appear.
But science and technology have not entirely vanished. There is gynogenesis: