Gunpowder has been known in Sevrin for nearly 500 years. It is an explosive black powder made from saltpeter, ground charcoal, and sulfur. All of these ingredients are readily available to Sevrin’s alchemists.
Saltpeter, also known as niter, is a white crystal that results when waste matter decays in the presence of lime or similar minerals. Some of the sea caves on Stormwall Island are mined for salterpeter, which results when bat guano decays on limestone. Manufacture of saltpeter is common in cities and towns, where human and animal waste can be collected in quantity and mixed with wood ash or certain types of rotting vegetation, then periodically doused with urine. It should come as no surprise that saltpeter mining and production is not a highly regarded profession. It is, however, well compensated and highly regulated. Penalties for selling fake saltpeter include exile and hanging. This might seem excessive, but only up to the moment when a canon refuses to fire upon invadors.
In addition to its use in gunpowder, saltpeter has several medicinal and culinary uses. It is sometimes used to cure meat, particularly corned beef, and in pickle brine. Saltpeter may be prescribed to cool a fever or to relax muscles. This use led to rumors that it could quench male ardor. It does, but only in the same fashion as a fatal hanging. A high dose of saltpeter is more likely to stop a man’s heart than his libido.
The best charcoal for gunpowder comes from willow, alder, blackthorn, and pine. All of these trees grow on Sevrin’s islands.
Sulfur, a non-metallic crystal abundant in nature, is one of the three “heavenly substances” and widely used by alchemists. Sometimes called brimstone, it is regarded as an essential element of Life and a symbol of man’s search for knowledge. In its natural form, it’s a pale yellow crystal.
Proportions for gunpowder are approximately 75 parts saltpeter, 15 parts finely ground charcoal, and 10 parts sulfur.