GUNPOWDER, A FAIRY TALE

by Claypipe

Gunpowder, where did it come from? That is the question that stumps the scholars.

The discovery of gunpowder and how it came to Europe is lost in the mists of time. The legend of Black Berthold is fast becoming discounted as it cannot be proven or documented in any form or fashion.

Personally, I believe that gunpowder and firearms came to Europe via the silk road. One clue to this lies in the period of the Hussite wars. Though Jan Huss was the spiritual leader, the true tactian of the Hussite army was a man by the name of Jan Zizka. In "Medieval Costume, Armour and Weapons" by Eduard Wagner, Zoroslava Drobną and Jan Dudik, on plate 17, part V, illustration #4. There you will see a depiction of Jan Zizka astride a horse armed with a mace in the shape of a hand clutching a spike. Similar styles of maces can be traced to India. Its not too much of a scretch of the imagination to see secret of gunpowder being smuggled into Europe as part of an arms race of that period. Every city state of the time was seeking advantages to assure their influence and affluence. I'm sure that Marco Polo would have been quick to realize the possibilities and advantages of gunpowder in warfare.

This work of fiction was written to offer a more pausible idea to the origin of gunpowder.

Once upon a time there were three brothers, Hung Lo, Hung Hi and Hung Nung. Three sons of the imperial cook. Playing as children so often do in the kitchen, making pictures on the preparation table using spice powders of differnt colors. "I'll make the sun." said Hung Lo. "I'll draw the palace." replied Hung Hi using powdered charcoal. "I'll color the walls." said Hung Nung, as he colored the walls with salt petre.

Then the brothers hear their father approaching. Knowing that they shouldn't be playing with the spices, let alone even being in his kitchen, they sweep the powders together and into a bamboo tube with a wooden stopper. They run off to the courtyard to play hide and seek.

Enter dad, the imperial cook, Hung Tu Nee. Not in a good mood, because he has just learned that the emperor wants to journey to the summer place two weeks sooner than originally planned. He discovers the bamboo tube his sons have left behind and grumbles about the wasted spices. He opens it and inspects the contents. When he slaps the stopper tight, the tube splits slightly. Angerily he flings the tube into the cook fire and goes about his work.

PHHHAAATOOOM!

The room is filled with white smoke and a deafening roar. The smell of rotten eggs permeates the kitchen.

Rushing in, comes the palace guards. With them arrives the captain of the guard, Hu Wat Wen. "What has ahppened here?" he queries the cook. Hung Tu Nee, the cook, replies, "The last thing I remember is I threw a wooden jar filled with mixed spices into the fireplace. Then, BOOM!"

During the questioning, Hu Wat Wen spies the cook's sons, looking nervously around the corner. Calling the boys in, Hung Nung caves in, he and his brothers confess to playing in the kitchen and filling the bamboo tube with the mixed spices. "I want you to draw me that exact same picture, the same way as you did it before." The boys comply with the captain's command. The captain writes down which spices are used, and copies the drawing exactly.

Once the boys had completed their project, Hu Wat Wen gathered the spices up in another bamboo tube. Taking a pinch of the mixed spices, Hu Wat Wen flicks it into the fire. The result is a flash and a puff of smoke.

And thus Serpentine powder, the earliest form of gunpowder, is discovered.

But corned gunpowder had yet to come to be. That would come later. Many believe that it happened during one of the English incursions into France. France can be a very damp country, especially in the springtime. Early artillery trains traveled with open casks and tubs of premixed serpentine powder. Moisture from rain, humidity and heavy dew would cause the powder to clump and cake together. This would be laid out to dry on warm dry sunny days and be ground back down to powder. This surely resulted in the catastrophic failure of the older field pieces not designed for this more potent form of gunpowder. Also, one must take into account that metalurgy was in its infancy. Steel of the time was little better than modern day wrought iron.

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