. The Grand Canal
The fire, fanned by strong west winds, followed a path to the east. The old wood and dried timber that had framed so many of Babbage’s old buildings had been easy fuel for the flames. It was only a matter of hours before the fire burned past those who were not able to flee, leaving the stunned survivors in a blackened wake of ash-covered chimneys and cracked stone foundations.
The Grand Canal of Babbage was the first of the city’s canals, built along a natural waterway that drained into the salt marshes to the southwest. During the extensive period of rebuilding that occurred in the years following the fire, the Babbage canal system would be expanded in response to the tragic loss of life and property suffered by the city that night. The newly built canals would ensure a ready supply of water that could be pumped by specially designed barges if needed. On the night of the fire, however, the Grand Canal became a refuge for hundreds seeking protection from the flames.
“At least the fire will be halted by the Vernian Sea,” Brother Kadmus sounded more hopeful than certain as he held tight to the floating piece of timber he shared with Brother Pizarro.
Brother Pizarro finished re-counting his charges, a flotilla of sick children adrift in the Grand Canal, lashed to anything that would float. “At least in this end of the city, brother.” Pizarro acknowledged Brother Kadmus’s observation after he’d completed his count. He noticed Kadmus’s shiver and the bluish tinge to his lips. None of them would be able to stay in the water much longer. “Let’s hope that is soon.”
From his position in the canal, Brother Pizarro looked across at the Cathedral of the Builder— where they had originally intended to take shelter. The walls still stood though the beautiful stained-glass and ornate doors were gone leaving dark holes from which tendrils of black smoke still streamed. The great roof had collapsed, filling the cathedral from nave to apse with a wreckage of blackened timber. The chambers might still be an option for shelter so long as they remained accessible but in looking at the damage that seemed unlikely.
Father Moonwall, who had been swimming from student to student without let-up throughout the night, approached Pizarro and Kadmus. “Brothers,” he said, treading water before them. “We must get our students out of the canal.”
“Agreed,” said Pizzaro.”The question remains as to where to take them. They shall require attention.”
“Inside the city walls perhaps?” offered Brother Kadmus. “They have space. We could set up cots.”
“I don’t like that option,” said Brother Pizarro. “Others will have the same thought and there will be crowds. We don’t know if the boys are contagious.”
“I suppose you have a suggestion,” said Kadmus.
“Joseph has dry beds, and medicines,” Pizarro looked at Moonwall as he spoke. “We should take them there. I will stay with them personally to ensure protocol is respected.”
Moonwall looked at Pizarro for a moment, as if considering his advice. “I do not trust Foehammer. However, you are correct. We will use the Dunsany so long as a brother is on the premises at all times. Kadmus will go with the children. Juris, I require your strength. There may be survivors that will need our assistance.”