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(Un)Civil Servants in the Griffon Emperor's Court (Gerrard)

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It was the middle hours of the morning, when most cities would be thrumming with the varied activities of workers and machinery, making, selling, buying, shipping, receiving, all the labors of life in an urbanized environment.  Perhaps, in times past, Griffonstone had hummed with this activity more than any other, being the core of a mighty Empire.

 

Now, however, the remnant populace huddled in huts, gaunt, barely willing to scratch a living that less scrupulous sorts waited to snatch from their hungry claws.  A sad state of a fallen land, settling like a blanket of quiet, bitter despair.  And yet, there remained one beacon of light and noise, surrounding what was now, thanks to dedicated effort, only half of a total ruin.  Within it all, at the center, Emperor Norton Breakbeak I held court.

 

The local populace still wasn't sure what to make of the fellow, who had come in on one of the rare trains up, bringing with him a flock of eager-eyed catbirds from the formerly-dirty corners of Breakbeak city, following their favorite eccentric.  To be honest, it was uncertain for some of them if any better alternative than unrecognized factory labor awaited them, so better to do their hard work in the sunshine for a boss that was at least funny.  Others might have been here more or less as a working vacation to the old site of their forefathers, feeling it no bad use of their time to fix up an old place with historical memories, make a nice picture at the end of it.  And perhaps, just perhaps, there were some here who actually believed this was their true Emperor, returned at last.

 

Whichever they were, Emperor Norton treated them all the same, as beloved subjects for whom their liege would spare no effort.  Many a time he had held a hammer alongside his crew, and the very floor in front of his makeshift throne had been swept clean by himself, personally.  Now, though, his labors were in the mental space of command, as he reviewed before him some... well, if they were on bluepaper, you could call them blueprints.  As it were, any scraps of writing material had to do.  Backs of old manila envelopes, for example.

 

"We are now ready, send in the Civil Engineer!"  He called out to a youngling out by the "front door", an almost entirely fictional construct consisting of a chalk marker for when they'd eventually rebuild the wall and put a door in.  The Emperor was most looking forward to this first meeting; Gerrard's skills as an irrigation engineer would be most welcome in these drylands.  When that griffon entered the scene, he would see a sight that never failed to amuse and faintly impress all who beheld it.

A male griffon, going up in years but maintaining vigorous health, with the most absolutely magnificent pair of moustaches that a mortal beak could support, clad in a gussied up dress uniform, bedecked with medals both genuine and superfluous, topped off by a hat that was a cross between a field marshal's cap and a tropical aviary.  The glory of griffonkind, ladies and gentlecolts !

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Golden eyes peered out across the the barren wasteland that surrounded the nearby area. A griffon of dark fur and feather looked over his often neglected homeland with the casual attention often attributed to his species by outsiders. It felt like it had been years since he had returned to his homeland, the engineer, usually getting called over to pony lands to deal with situations that went beyond simple pegasus weather manipulation. He had to wonder why they needed his services, agriculture being of substantially less interest to his species. Perhaps they were finally deciding to be more omnivorous than they had in the past, but he found that hard to believe knowing the stubborn nature of his species.

Regardless, his internal dialogue was interrupted as an attendant broke him out of his thoughtful stupor and lead him into the building with the strange, and regally dressed griffon 'emperor'. In contrast to the emperor, Gerrard wore a substantial saddle bag that rest tightly on his chest, clearly in a position to not interfere with his flying ability. His dark welding goggles dangled slightly above his bag, both items partially hiding his form that was by no means gaunt like the regular citizens of his land. A keen eye might even notice that he lacked the substantial musculature of a warrior, either from a life of ease or from the plant based pony diet. The light clicking of talons filled the air as the grey feathered head of the architect poked his head into the presence of the illustrious leader. His keen eyes didn't recognize this particular griffon at all even with such distinct regalia and almost garish looking clothing. Gerrard was clearly not keen on visiting his homeland in his free time. Still, years of time spent in Canterlot had trained him in how to deal with these types of people, and he was eager to test his abilities!

After approaching the emperor, Gerrard paused and did a polite bow approximately five body lengths away from the leader. He had lowered his head to the ground and spread out his large black wingspan in a display of submission and respect, showing that he had no weapons hidden in his large wings. "It is an honor to be in your presence your magnificence. How can I be of service to such an illustrious leader of our people," he politely remarked, fishing through his memory as he tried to remember which particular honorifics worked the best and how to also distance himself from his normal pony employers.
 

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If he was being perfectly honest, or indeed if he was ever lucid enough to actually notice, Gerrard had just given Emperor Norton the first proper, traditional bow such as the Emperors of old had demanded that this new 'Emperor' had ever received.  Previously, all genuflections had either been perfunctory or mocking.  All that said, he accepted it with a graceful gesture of his claw.  "Rise, Sir Gerrard."  And then with a hearty *smack*, he slapped the motely stack of papers in his hand against the throne.  "Now get up here, my good griff, Our people require your services!"  

 

Formative experiences told, and anyone experienced with Canterlot culture could tell that Norton Breakbeak I had never so much as sniffed the air of any existing royal palace.  His public air and manners were not formed in such environments, where etiquette and protocols choked out the light like thick jungle foliage.  No, his public manner had been formed in the streets of an industrial city, where demagogues roared like lions across the Unyasi savannah.  In one sense, that made him more relatable, and in another sense, less predictable.

 

"In case you had not seen the deserts on the way up here, there's an awful lot of work to be done.  Groundwater to locate, extract, and feed the life of our people.  And their economy, what's more."

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As his gesture was not met with immediate or at least obvious anger, the architect retracted his wings and returned to a normal posture, glad that the citizenry of Canterlot had finally taught him something useful in his business life! The golden eyed griffon peered across to the leader, sensing something a bit off about him. He seemed more agreeable than pony royalty and appreciated that, wondering if griffons were less annoying about that or if this individual was just clueless about his alleged station. Gerrard had never been called a Sir except by his odd friend Asteria, so he assumed the latter, but approached regardless, quickly making his way to the side of the emperor.

He nodded as the noble explained the situation. The architect wanted to keep his conversation as griffon-centric as possible, but decided to test the waters a bit as he searched for a proper way to respond to his comments on the desert around him. "Yeah. It is looking drier than Appleloosa in the middle of summer out here. Are we looking for drinking water, or are we also trying to get farmlands set up. This isn't the most fertile looking of lands, but I can find you water out here. I can't promise you a massive underwater reservoir here, but I can quench the thirst of your people. That is a Grayfeather guarantee your highness," he explains playfully for the royal, accidentally giving him an Equestrian salute, but forgetting in the moment. After lowering his salute, as his eyes drifted down at the paperwork. "Do we have any information on the area? Am I going to need to perform a water survey or is that listed here in all this paperwork," he asks with a grin, reaching for the paperwork.

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The Emperor did notice the salute, with a raised brow, though the expression was less that of an offended monarch receiving insufficient acknowledgment, and more that of a military officer receiving a different service's salute.  His beak actually curled into a sardonic smile, and he returned the aborted Equestrian salute with a crisp, parade-ground salute from the Aquellian Marines.  "As commander-in-chief, I'll thank you to do that properly next time."  He said, in a half-jesting severity.

 

Nonetheless, protocol wasn't the business of the day, irrigation was.  Gesturing for Gerrard to come up to a side table, he splayed the variegated papers on the surface, pointing out at various markings as he summed up the situation.  "Now, at this time, the pools and wells sustain the current population, who mostly hunt in the scrublands or scratch out a few soil plots.  But that's not going to support a real city.  This is never going to be a breadbasket, but there might be some possibility of pasturage out by the flatlands here.  Now, over the the mountains, the soils drain water faster than it comes in, but that makes it very good for wine grapes.  Export products bring in the money, and luxury goods bring in the tourists.  Getting an economy going is Out first duty; and for that, we need water.  Now, I took the liberty of finding where the old well sites were, almost all of them either dried or blocked.  Couldn't tell you how many are worth unblocking, but that's your job."

 

The maps were sketchy, and not anywhere near to scale, but readable enough when the poor quality of ink or paper didn't result in smudging.  Mad or not, Norton was taking his work seriously.  But then, the truly insane are not frivolous; their mind has no breathing-space.

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The griffon nodded when he was thanked, but quickly realized that it wasn't the most positive of replies, gulping internally as he realized he had done a pony salute. He was glad that the commander-in-chief used the salute for him, Gerrard probably being the least patriotic griffon around and not actually knowing any salutes of his people. "O-oh, apologies, its a bad muscle reflex my time in the pony lands," he explains, standing at the emperor's side as he looked over the paperwork, starting to feel a bit embarrassed about his questionable griffon-hood!

His golden eyes scanned over the paperwork as he pulled out a piece of chalk from his saddlebags. "Without unicorn magic to scry for specific locations of water, we will need to do this the hard way. Assuming that these wells are still operational, we can use their locations to predict other locations of water in the nearby area. This is by no means a perfect method, but it is a good start," he explains, connecting the dots of the well locations with his chalk to somewhat graph out a reasonable location another well might be able to be formed. "We would check the stone in said wells and determine if the area was likely to support underground reserves of water, and by cross referencing my previous marks with the stone surveys, we can narrow down likely water locations. That being said, if some of these wells can not be reclaimed, it will also greatly limit our data in finding new well locations," he explains calmly erasing his chalk marks and avoiding three marked wells to show how a water outage could drastically reduce the available water in the area!

 

A lot of his work was noticing patterns in water locations and finding rocks that could safely store water within them. He was starting to regret this assignment and thought back to his time in Equestria. When ponies wanted water somewhere, they usually just controlled the weather to get the rainfall they desired. His work often was relegated to getting water out into the middle of nowhere, or just setting up plumbing for the fancy folk he was often employed by!

 

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Norton peered with a keen eye at Gerrard's markups on his makeshift maps, nodding along.  "Rather like how empty supply depots limits where you can put an regiment, I see."  The tone was... different, than any he'd used before, as if a mask of madness had slipped off, or a guise of lucidity slipped on.  A brief moment of sanity and understanding, that sadly was over by the time the irrigation expert would meet the Emperor's eyes, which once again shone with their mad light.

 

"Well, my good lad, I'll tell you this much; if you pull this off, you'll get a statue in Our glorious new capital!"  He clapped his counterpart on the back, in a most un-Imperial gesture, though he seemed not to notice.  Perhaps he was going for a Griff-of-the-people vibe.  "Civil engineers rarely get those, you know, less often than they deserve, frankly.  And as for We Emperors, well, we get them whether we deserve them or not!  But, if you help me deserve mine, I'll help you attain yours.  Have to do my duties as sovereign to my people, after all!"

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Gerrard took his job in Equestria to explicitly avoid doing military service, but had enough general knowledge to understand the analogy. He nodded in agreement with the emperor and pointed a black talon at the map, circling one of the wells with chalk. "Yes, you are correct. Think of the survey as a search for enemy supplies to pillage to add to our war chest. We will leave no stone unturned," he explained excitedly, his long black tail swaying as he spoke.

 

The architect wasn't one one to gloat to other griffons, but the idea of getting a statue of himself was appealing, even if it came from a crazy griffon. He put on as much a smile as any beaked predator could and nodded for the emperor. He looked over to one of the nearby griffons and puffed his chest and spread his wings wide as he struck a fantastic pose! "You can take a picture now if you need a reference, but as a humble griffon, I can wait," he explained with a grin, patting Norton back. 

 

"I'll just collect the paperwork and get the ball rolling. The griffon folk have endured thirst for long enough. By my honor as a griffon, I will save your people emperor," he loudly declares, snatching the paperwork and pointing a talon up in the air to seem even more dramatic. After holding the pose for a dramatic five seconds, he lowered his talon back to the ground. 

 

"Lets get some drills and shovels, and find some water," the architect cheers, looking around to see who his assistants were in this noble quest!

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"Of course, that phot must wait.  I still have not secured a Royal Photographer."  In what was becoming apparent as a patter, Emperor Norton was taking entirely seriously remarks that Gerrard had perhaps meant in jest.  This could cause problems if not adequately accounted for at the outset of any conversation.  "That pose, though... it might work, though honestly something with the tools of the trade.  Speaking of which- Clawson!"  He barked out to a young griff stationed by the imaginary doorway.  "Digging tools, as many sets as you can find.  We are commencing a water-hunt!"

 

It quickly became apparent that the Emperor was going to be bearing a shovel as well as the few workers he could spare at this task.  He hadn't the population yet to delegate all such work, but more important than that, being willing to undergo hard labor himself no doubt cemented loyalty among his followers.  It was an old military officer's tactic to boost esprit de corps, sharing the hardships of the enlisted.  "I hope My presence will not throw you off your task, but it is important, as Emperor, that I am one of the groundbreakers for our future.  Samo, my assistant, shall hold things down while I am out.  I trust my delegates, and that now includes you.  Lead the way!"

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"Understandable. We griffons have more important tasks than picture taking, like rebuilding our country," Gerrard adds with a grin, not taking the oddness of Norton as the most serious issue as he hopped off the area near his 'throne' and helped gather up some of the materials needed to get back to work. He pointed out the various 'clawtools' needed to work on the project, guiding Clawson through what all would be required. As the architect helped collect their supplies, a warm smile spread across his face as he realized the strange monarch intended to work alongside everyone else. The misguided griffon just assumed that pony rulers were too uppity to do any real work, and didn't understand ruler morale boosts.

When asked if the monarch's presence would be a distraction, Gerrard shook his head, clearly not worried about it. "With the amount of wells we will be checking, every talon helps. Our process will be rather thorough. We will be digging down each well a few feet, remove any blockages, catalogue the water available, and note the type of rock presence and their rough permeability," he explained, most of his words being decently simple enough for his companions aside from his last one. As the monarch suggested Gerrard lead the way, he nodded, taking one last moment to search through his numerous supplies, finding everything in order as he stretched out his body and glanced at the map one last time.

"Our first stop will be a mine about half an hour flight from our location. Assuming of course we fly at a modest pace with all of this equipment. And make sure we all have water, can't have anyone getting heatstroke," he explains calmly for everyone around him. The flight didn't seem very far at all, but the architect didn't seem keen on flying there at a particularly fast rate for reasons unknown.

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Norton nodded crisply at Gerrard's assurance of thoroughness.  "Commendable, commendable!  I'll leave the technical details to you; I trust my delegates, Sir Gerrard, and I hope to have my trust rewarded by results!"  Less than two hours after they met and already the Emperor had knighted him in his head?  Well, better to be thought of positively than negatively, though it would perhaps not be a good idea to disappoint the griff, after all was said and done.

 

Emperor Breakbeak seemed to bear the burden well enough himself, remarking that, "Not as heavy as the rucksacks in basic!"  But Clawson and the others had no similar military experience.  And water was by no means light for air travel, so the route took closer to an hour than half.  One or two of the groundbound locals looked up at the strange party overhead, more with resignation than curiosity, though one of the younger residents waved, cautiously.  Norton returned a mid-air salute, and flew on.

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Gerrard kept a steady pace, not particularly fast, but didn't show any signs of fatigue. He didn't know exactly what to think of Norton, but he was at least more agreeable than the average person he worked for on a daily basis. "Emperor, I usually actually have to carry a ridiculous amount of piping so some pony living alone in the middle of a jungle can have water. This is an interesting change of pace, a focus on digging instead of hauling," he explains, glad that most of the weight he was hauling was actually just water. He soon spots the well noted on the map and leads the crew down to the ground level.

He could already feel the heat starting to bare down on himself, the younger architect making a mental note about avoiding this area in the future if possible. He took a large drink from his canteen and surveyed the area. The well itself looked relatively old, some of the bricks already collapsed to the side. It wasn't the most reassuring sight to the untrained eye, but another sight stuck out to him, the ruins of a long abandoned city peppered the landscape, stone foundations poking out above the seemingly dry earth. "This could be a good or bad sign your majesty," he explains, taking a brief stroll through the long abandoned town. He spots a collapsed wreckage of a long abandoned home and hustles over to it. His keen eyes spot a tin can in the rubble and he pries it free of the rocky prison.

With a quick shake of the metal container, a lone coin rolls out it and makes its way over to Norton before eventually falling over onto its side. "Can you identify that coin your highness. It could tell us how old this settlement was and how long this well might have been abandoned," he explains, Gerrard wondering how much of a historical buff the odd Norton actually was.

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Norton nodded, considering the question of infrastructure.  "I think at first we'll have to work with ditches rather than piping.  Some advantage of that is I'm sure the locals will be able to help, as I'm not sure any of them are trained plumbers, but it hardly takes skilled labor to dig a ditch.  Common work binds us together, particularly labor for the benefit of all present and future subjects!"  

 

The flock of griffons descended upon the ruined site, Norton surveying the landscape with an expression of stoic philosophizing, while Clawson frankly looked a little bored.  Though, the younger one's eyes lit up at the sight of the coin.  "'at's gotta be worth summit, eh Yer Majesty?"

 

"Indeed..."  The Emperor murmured, taking up the coin.  He was actually not trained at all in historical numismatics, but the coin itself didn't require the use of such skills.  "Well, I can tell you exactly what it's worth.  Half an Aquellian thaler, about 20 bits in the current exchange rate.  Not from the Imperial days at all; more likely dropped by some tourist or perhaps an unscrupulous archaeologist.  Well, I'll consider it a donation to the Imperial treasury."  He pocketed the coin.  "It doesn't tell us much, and if some Daring-Do type passed through here already, I wouldn't count on us finding any other identifying artifacts.  Fate so rarely gives us the easy path, even on matters so ancillary."

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Gerry nodded as his emperor spoke. "Yes. I agree about the trenches and such, but I believe we should establish our baseline water in the area. You might be surprised how much is in the area, especially if the area has been abandoned. Lets check this area for water and see if the situation is better or worse than your maps indicate," Gerrard explains as he pulls out a shovel and heads over to the well in question.

 

"I was hoping it would say how long this city was abandoned or be old enough to have historical value. Unlucky I suppose," he adds with a sigh, reaching into the well and heaving rocks out of it. He scraped dirt off the stone wall of the well and pulled out a reference sheet, "hmm, not the worst," he mentioned vaguely to nobody in particular.

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"It would indeed be a pleasant surprise to find an untapped supply of groundwater."  The Emperor replied, non-committally as he led the small work team to follow their surveyor.  He was all ready to start excavating, which is why the pause of Gerrard made him pause.  "Referencing something?  Would you care to share with the rest of us?"  Not the sort to be lazy, inactivity made him a little restless.  Same with the others with him, honestly.  Clawson was beginning to idly toy with the tools he was holding, and that might end very badly if he wasn't given something more constructive to do in the next few minutes... 

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