Do they have coal mines up here?


At dinner that night, the 'soup' was unusually tasty, and as I finished a second helping, I asked, “why was that one piece of salt meat as large as it was?”

“They do not cut their meat small at the Public House,” said Anna, “as they do a lot more of it than we do.”

“And cutting it in small pieces?” I asked. “Is that so it keeps better?”

Anna nodded, then said, “it also tends to taste better for snacks when dried, and stores better when flint-dried. Most dried meat in the fourth kingdom is done like that, which is where I learned of it.”

“The pepper?” I asked. I did not speak of how much meat I actually had removed.

“That stuff down there tends to be spicy,” said Hans, “and they have trouble with keeping dried meat good, so they have to do the job better.”

“How much did you put in that thing?” I asked.

“About twenty strips, or enough for two good meals if cooked,” said Anna. “Why? I know you ate at least a dozen strips of the stuff.”

“I ate a lot more than that,” I said in a shaky voice. “I ate almost that many during one of the later rest-stops inside that place.”

Anna looked closely at me, then said, “how?”

“I'm not certain, even if the book speaks of food behaving like that in several places,” I said. “I wondered how much you had put in there several times, as that bag didn't get less full until I could see where the outlet to the place was.”

I paused, then said, “I figured out a fair number of things in there. I might be able to try a hatchet soon.”

“I am glad of that,” said Hans, “as I think they made that one we have using good metal for the edge and less-good metal elsewhere, as it is going dull faster now.”

“Is that how they do that?” I asked. “I've heard of that being done.” I paused, then asked, “is it wrong?”

“Few make axes up here,” said Hans, “but the good ones use the same metal throughout, or so I have heard.”

I felt unusually tired but shortly after the meal, even with a nap between lunch and dinner, and when I went to bed, I was astonished to find a cloth bag on the shelf. I looked inside it, and to my surprise, I found all of my new clothing and stockings, and as I turned to look at the bed, I was even more astonished.

The blanket was now accompanied by another much thicker one.

When I felt this second blanket, I was surprised to find it to be a 'patchwork quilt', and I wondered for a moment if it was the one that had covered me downstairs. I spread the blankets, and was removing my clothing when Anna's voice came from the hallway.

“I asked for a good knit blanket to replace that old one,” she said. “The knit ones are thicker and warmer.”

“Knit?” I asked, as I slid under the covers.

“Yes, knit,” said Anna. “It might take her another week or so, as I asked for it last week. It's starting to get colder, and I think Hans was wrong about it being as bad as it's likely to be.”

“Uh, more wood?” I asked.

“A lot more wood,” said Anna. “We need to fill the buggy every time we go out, if we can, and I've thought of getting what wood I can during the week. I'm having to travel a fair amount now.”

The warmth of two blankets seemed to induce sound sleep, and when I awoke during the evening so as to use the privy, I found the kitchen had a wax candle burning on the table. I wasn't overly surprised to find it in use rather than one of the tallow ones; not only did the wax candles put out much more light, they also burned a good deal slower.

“And they don't try to start fires when the place gets warm,” I thought, as I went into the privy itself.

The next day at work, I resumed work on the boiler. Here, I had a quandary: I wanted to tin the inside prior to assembly, as well as tin the rivets. I beat out a small 'saucer' of copper, then filled it with a lump of tin. As it heated, I found some long tweezers, and as I dipped the rivets first in the flux and then in the melted tin, I could tell I was creating questions in the minds of the others.

“Why is it you are tinning those rivets?” asked Georg.

“I had an idea for how to assemble containers,” I said, “and I'm going to try it with this one. I didn't get a chance to look at some distilleries this last rest-day, so I'll need to look at them this next one.”

“It is good that you did not go looking, then,” said Georg, “as that evening, there was trouble down the road some.”

“Trouble?” I asked. “What kind?”

“Waldhuis got a lot of dust that evening,” said Georg, “and there were a lot of wild people with muskets chasing all over the place that night. Talk has it they were witches.”

“I think so,” said Gelbhaar. “One of those wretches shot at my neighbor as he came to check his door-lantern, and he shot back at him. They found his body the next day.”

“Body?” I asked.

“The witch,” said Gelbhaar. “He had this bad black clothing on, and no shoes, and smelled terrible. They did up the burn-pile right away, and buried the ashes and bones afterward.”

Here, Gelbhaar paused, then said, “there was trouble for a month in Waldhuis, and those people there are hopping mad. I wish they would hop into church, as it would help their dispositions.”

“Anna mentioned that place,” I said. “What are they like?”

“Mean, surly, irritable, and unpleasant,” said Georg, “and many of them dress like that person who came with the musket.”

“Black?” I asked.

“I've seen more than a few of them dressed that way on the hill,” said Georg. “In the past, when Hieronymus worked here, we had business from that place. They never came here wearing black, nor did they wear that stuff where they lived, but when they did business up on the hill, more often than not, they wore such clothing. They weren't easy to collect from, either.”

“Collect f-from?” I asked.

“I am not sad to no longer have their business,” said Georg. “One must watch oneself closely with that kind of client, as they demand much of you. Then, when they have what they wish, they tend to be slack in paying the balance. At least, they were that way with me.”

Georg paused, then said, “though I've heard they dare not be so among their own kind. They start cutting and shooting then.”

By the time of the morning 'guzzle', I had not merely tinned the rivets, but I had tinned the inside of the boiler's parts, trimmed the hole for the spout, and drilled some of the holes. After I'd finished my 'guzzle' – two mugs of cider, a thick slice of bread with cheese, and three of those peppered pieces of meat – I began refining the drawing I had made of the 'grinding wheel'. I'd taken the idea from the carpenters of sharpening the chalk, and had traced out the lines slightly better. I still longed for paper and pencil just the same.

When I showed Georg the drawing, he needed to look at it for nearly a minute before he spoke, and his question – “what gives with this drawing here” – was of such a shocking nature it took not merely thinking but gathering of 'strength' so as to reply.

“That is a tool for either grinding or buffing,” I said. “Which it does depends on fittings, construction, and wheels, as the frame is the same.”

“What kind of wheel?” asked Georg. “A wagon wheel, or a grinding wheel?”

“Wagon wheel?” I thought numbly. “Where did he get that idea?”

I did not speak of such thoughts, however. What came out of my mouth was a squeak worthy of a crushed rat:

“What? There are grinding wheels? I was hoping there were some...”

I then recalled Hans speaking of there not being a grindstone 'set up' on the premises. I had no idea if he meant 'there is one, but it isn't able to be used', or 'they don't have one'. Georg provided an answer:

“I have a big one out back. I have wondered for a long time how to mount it and make it turn, and now you answered that question. I have another, though. What is buffing, and how does it work?”

“That would need, uh, round pieces of cloth stitched together with an awl, or perhaps leather, then either tallow or g-glue, and some of that fine black sand. I've got abrasives, but not large amounts of them.”

“I ordered more early last week,” said Georg, “as you use more of those than anyone I've heard of. I cannot complain, as people like your work.”

Georg paused, then said, “and those packages are small enough that they might come back by the post. I sent the order that way, so it should be on its way back by now.”

I needed to take the drawing over to the carpenters' shortly thereafter, and there, I needed to explain my 'intricate-seeming' drawing. The place seemed to nearly 'hum' with work, so much so that when I came back, I said, “I hope they have time to do it. They're really busy, and there's this big wooden frame they've almost finished. Is that the drop-hammer?”

“The wooden part, yes,” said Georg. “I've been looking for the other parts that I remember, and have had no luck so far.”

“Did you have one at one time?” I asked.

“Here, no,” said Georg. “There were two places that once had tools like what you drew to the north and west, but both of those things went missing. I may be able to find the other parts needed, but if I cannot, then you might need to make them.”

Georg paused, then said, “at least I knew what you had drawn when I saw that drawing. About half the time, I don't begin to understand what you draw, and when you try to write, I want something for a headache.”

“Uh, I know about my handwriting,” I said. “It needs all the help it can get.”

For some reason, my handwriting, while it had been poor when I came, had deteriorated to a noticeable degree. Legible handwriting now took extraordinary care, with two instances of writing – the first concentrating on composition, and the second devoted to correctly forming the letters and words – being needed to give a usable outcome. A 'nice-looking' outcome was impossible.

Assembly of the boiler went smoother than I expected, as I found a conventional stake worked well for bucking the rivets. I knew I would need the 'strange' stake, however, and I began 'cooking' several bars in the corner forge.

“I hope you do not mind that spot becoming warmer,” said Georg, “as the masons will be putting that first furnace there.”

“Inside?” I asked.

“They are baking the bricks for it now,” said Georg, “and they will need a lot of them. We will need to make the stovepipe for that thing as it is.”

“Stovepipe?” I asked. “Does this involve rivets?”

“Yes, it does,” said Georg, “and not common-rivets, but pipe-rivets. Those are neither the usual shape nor size, as I found a few samples.”

As I went to Georg's desk, I wondered how 'pipe-rivets' were different, until I recalled the ones for the stovepipe at home – and when I saw the rivets, I said, “why don't we use this size more, and those big ones less?”

“Bought-rivets always were expensive,” said Georg, “and that was when you could buy them. Then, they usually weren't very good. Since you went through that swage, I've heard those things compared to the best fourth kingdom rivets, and compared favorably. That goes at least double for those you do.”

Georg paused, then drank from his mug before continuing.

“For smaller things, pipe-rivets work better,” said Georg, “and for stovepipe, they are said to be required. I know of no less than three houses within a hundred paces that want new pipes for their stoves, and that doesn't include the Public House. They've been using mud to patch their stovepipes for at least a year.”

“Uh, how are stovepipes done here?” I asked.

“That boiler you're working on gave me the idea you might be able to do such things now,” said Georg. “Stovepipes come in sections, usually a foot or so to the length, and they slip together. They tend to be done to a certain size, and they're fairly close work for something that common. Hieronymus would have had trouble with them, had he been inclined that way.”

“Do those need a special 'roller' of some kind?” I asked. The thought of 'beating' sheet iron into pipes wasn't a task I felt inclined toward doing regularly.

“They are best done that way,” said Georg, “which is why I ordered the tools commonly used in the last order I sent out. You may have to hammer the pipes some, but those tools supposedly do the hardest part.”

“Uh, supposedly?” I asked.

“Fifth kingdom tools often need a lot of repairs,” said Georg. “I've heard of people taking what they do and going through it so that it works better, which is the other reason I ordered that set. I've already had two places asking to have rivet-swages done.”

The samples of 'pipe-rivets' – Georg had found three of them – had broad flat heads of an oval shape, thin stubby shanks, and carefully softened iron, with all of their scale completely removed. The grainy aspect in the rivets made for wondering, so much so that when I was about to ask about 'wire', Georg said, “one of the tools takes fifteen-line wire and brings it down to that size. I've heard it can be helped some by carefully heating and hammering the wire before using the tool.”

“Uh, is stovepipe-making a carefully guarded s-secret?” I asked.

“I think so,” said Johannes. “Those people might be gunsmiths for all they tell about such things.”

“And unlike gunsmiths, they tend to be prosperous,” said Georg. “The stovepipe itself might not have that much profit per piece, but each stove needs a number of such pieces, and there are a great many stoves.”

Somehow, however, I was missing something, as I could tell I was only hearing part of the truth. Georg and the others had been misled in some crucial way, and as I took the rivets back, I wondered for a moment how to make the 'oval' head of the rivets beyond 'beating it in' with a formed punch. I put them in a small cloth bag, and resumed work on the boiler.

I finished riveting the boiler in roughly another hour. I tried 'soldering' the rivets in place two and three at a time, and that 'subterfuge' worked better than I had hoped: insert rivets, hold over the forge, remove once the tin had flowed, dunk the piece in the forge-bucket, buck the rivets, and then repeat.

After bucking the last rivets, I then thought to add a 'wired edge', and as I began forming the wire – I used 'eight-line' as it came – I had questions directed toward me, chiefly as to the purpose of the wire.

“This is to strengthen the rim,” I said. “I'm still working out some of this stuff.”

'Wiring' the rim went easier than I expected, and 'tinning' the inside of the boiler was simpler than usual; I wiped the inside of the thing with a smelly tallow rag and held it over the forge until the tin flowed together. I then set the thing on the bench to air-cool, and resumed working on hard steel for knives.

At the end of the day – I didn't stay long after the others, as I was still fatigued from the weekend – I went home with the rag-wrapped boiler under my arm and the pipe-rivets in my pocket. After bathing and clean clothing, I went down in the basement to find Hans stirring a beaker full of crumbled bark with a glass rod. I unwrapped the boiler, and he stopped what he was doing to look at it.

“What is this thing?” he asked.

“A boiler,” I said. “It might hold enough for a bath. Now how do we mount it?”

“I think it might...” Hans ceased speaking in mid-sentence, for he just now noted the different construction, and his voice raised in pitch and volume as he pointed a shaking finger at the central cone.

“What gives with this thing?” he shouted. “Anna, come quick!”

Anna wasted no time in showing, and when she came close, she picked up the boiler, then looked at it – and within seconds, began muttering.

“You must have read my mind,” she said, “only what I had dreamed of wasn't quite this neatly done. I hate to think if you do distilleries like this, as you would be buried for work, more so than now.”

“Was that the thing you saw?” asked Hans.

Anna nodded, then said, “the fire comes up through this hole in the center, Hans. You don't heat these on the stove.”

“Then what is it you use?” said Hans. “Candles are not big enough.”

“I think you might use something like a jeweler's lamp,” said Anna, “though what I saw was a bit better, at least for heating. It had a round pot about as broad as my palm and half of that height, a small rod for adjusting the fire, and then this strange thing that held the wick. You could move the wick up and down readily, just like a jeweler's lamp.”

“Like those I have?” I asked. I recalled what I had seen, and suspected Anna had described it.

“Why don't you fetch one?” said Anna. “Hans has corks for that spout in the side.”

Not ten minutes later, the boiler was living up to its name, with steam faintly coming off of the water inside. The 'alcohol lamp' was adjusted up to its largest flame, and I knew it wasn't really enough – or so I thought.

“That is about twice as fast as using the stove,” said Anna, “and no distillate is needed, so you both can keep your hair when we need hot water in a hurry.”

“I think I need to make one of those, uh, lamps,” I said. “Then it would heat faster.”

“Yes, and I think that thing wants legs,” said Hans. “That way, it will stand easier than on this metal thing we got from that one place.”

“Do you want more of those?” I asked.

“I could use more of them,” said Hans, “but you have enough work for several of you there as it is.”

At the end of dinner, I thought to show the rivets I had gotten from Georg. Hans looked at them, then looked at the stove. I could tell he was confused, or so I thought until he said, “these things are not used in that pipe there.”

“They aren't?” I asked. “Then what is?”

“Where did you get these?” asked Hans. “I have seen fourth kingdom rivets for stovepipes, and they do not have this type of head.”

“Georg said they were 'required' for stovepipes,” I said, “and while I can see some benefits to using that style of head, the swage for them isn't going to be easy. I have no idea where he got them.”

I paused, then said, “I somehow had the impression that I'd only been told part of the story, and what I heard didn't sound like the whole truth.”

“What did they say, then?” asked Hans.

“As to what I needed to know to make these, almost nothing,” I said, “and for making the stovepipes themselves, but little more. Supposedly there is a kit of tools involved, and they come from the fifth kingdom.”

“That does not surprise me much,” said Hans. “At least that part is true, as I have seen that stuff. Now what else?”

“People who do stovepipes are close-mouthed, secretive, and seem uncommonly wealthy,” I said.

“Now that is partly true,” said Hans. “They tend to be about as close that way as gunsmiths, at least up here. They are not that way in the fourth kingdom, and I have watched them some down there. Now as for money, that is much harder to tell.”

“How?” I asked.

“There is a lot of work in stovepipes,” said Hans, “and they have to be done carefully so that they fit right, or they turn your house into a smoke-room. I've had to pack the ones here with mud more than once over the years.”

“Meaning I'll need to do all of the work on them,” I said. “I figured that, and no, I don't have time to...”

I looked again at the rivets, and spluttered, “that wretch lied to him!”

“Which wretch is this?”

“Georg was told those were pipe-rivets,” I said, “and they aren't.”

“What are they, then?” asked Hans.

“I'm not sure what they are used for,” I said, “but it isn't something so commonplace as stovepipe.”

I then saw Anna had vanished.

“Where did she go?” I asked.

“I think she might have gone upstairs to find something,” said Hans.

'Something' soon resolved to a small leather bag which Anna brought down. I wondered for a moment as to what its contents was until I felt it, then opened it.

“These are...”

“Stovepipes tend to leak now and then,” said Anna, “and one time years ago I got some good fourth kingdom pipe-rivets so as to keep ours in repair. I figured it would save us a fair amount of money to supply our own rivets.”

Hans showed Anna the three rivets I had gotten from Georg, and as she looked at them, she said, “the head is larger on these, it's an oval, and then the thin part is thicker and longer. Perhaps these rivets are used by instrument-makers, or made by them, or something. I've never seen rivets like this before.”

“A smoke-room?” I asked.

“There's one in back of the Public House, where they dry their meat,” said Anna. “Why, did Hans tell you that bad joke about leaky stovepipes?”

“If those things are wrong,” said Hans, “and it is winter, it is no joke.”

“Until you can thaw the mud, that is,” said Anna. “I've fixed them with mud many times. Not everyone knows how to fix them, and it's hard to work in someone's house when it's smoky.”

“Uh, leaky stovepipes?” I asked.

“Are very common, especially among farmers,” said Anna. “There aren't many places up here that make them, and from what I've heard, they don't commonly do a good job. Why, is Georg thinking about having you do stovepipes?”

“We need s-some for a furnace,” I said, “and he was talking about a set of machines due up here.”

“I hope he gets decent ones, then,” said Anna. “If he gets those things from the fifth kingdom, you will need to rework them, just like you've needed to do with much else in that shop.”

Anna paused, then said, “then again, he may have had that in mind. I've heard of shops doing that and then selling the stuff at a higher price.”

“Yes, and the price goes up a lot for something that is but little better,” said Hans. “Those places that rework those things usually keep them, as they would get no takers.”

The next two days had me gradually increase my time at the shop as I recovered from my ordeal, and then once home, work on the more critical portions at the workbench. Staying at the shop after dark didn't seem terribly wise, which left me perhaps an hour after the others left to do those things that needed lesser distractions that I could not do at home.

At home, however, there were a number of projects: Black-Cap's lock, reworking the jeweler's carving tools while simultaneously making patterns, cleaning up stamps for labeling, marking bags and boxes, and making drill bits and reamers. I'd gotten a large assortment of the latter, and all of them were as 'soft' as the drill bits.

The third day, however, had another source of distraction arrive in the shop: a trio of masons, complete with firebricks, trowels, 'hods', and other things common to bricks and mortar. I found their presence distracting, and they found the noise of forging intolerable, or so I gathered; they left when the 'anvil-music' started, and only returned when it had ceased.

I heard them speaking from beyond the wads of whitish fiber in my ears, and chief among their strangely-accented questions was 'when is it quiet here', and 'why aren't these people crazy from the noise'. This speech soon became so 'annoying' that Georg undid his apron, dumped it on his desk, and fled the building, followed by all of the others save myself.

I stood alone amid massive gouts of steam from doused forges, and when the scrape of trowels resumed, I wanted to toss my apron. I wasn't able to, however; I could not untie the knots, and the thing was tighter than it usually was.

When the masons began singing, however, I knew of their plans for revenge, and I struggled mightily to get out of the apron until one of them laid down his trowel and untied me.

“Why do you need to leave?” he asked.

“Those t-t-trowels,” I squeaked. “I left off with the forging when I saw you being bothered by it, but the noise those make is scattering my teeth.”

“I think you had best leave, then,” said one of the other masons, as he wiped his trowel. “You're not the only one who finds the noise of trowels bothersome.”

By the time I had gotten home, however, my head was pounding with a severe headache, and once bathed, I thought to find Hans. Thankfully he was home, and he mixed up some water and a few pinches of white powder. I drank the stuff off and winced with the acrid taste.

“That is fever-tree powder,” he said. “It works good for headaches, if they are not too bad.”

“This one is awful,” I said. I wondered if I was enduring a migraine, as my vision was distorted noticeably, and the candles seemed to be billowing crazily with their flaming.

“Try it, then,” said Hans. “If it is not better, then I have other things.”

“O-other things?” I asked.

“I made up some of that tincture like you spoke of the day after that one man,” said Hans, “and I have been checking it daily since. It smells the same, and looks the same, save for more aquavit that I added. I have not had a chance to test it yet, and I could give you some of it.”

“N-no,” I gasped. “The headache would be preferable to being crazy.”

“That is when you do not take this other stuff a bit before,” said Hans. “Anna was not able to dose Paul with this stuff, as when you give that much of that pain tincture, you must give it alone.”

“What other stuff?” I asked. My headache was already lessening.

“The widow's tincture,” said Hans. “You take a tube of that, and then a few drops of that other tincture, and then you do not go crazy. At least, that is what Anna tells me, though she is asleep then, so how she knows is a mystery. She is glad when the sick-headache is gone just the same.”

Hans then noticed the lack of an apron.

“How is it you do not have your apron on?” he asked.

As if to answer, Anna came running down the stairs and began looking frantically for something, all the while muttering as if crazed. When she found some of that odd fibrous white stuff, she stuffed it into her ears.

“Yes, and what is your trouble?” asked Hans.

“Th-those trowels,” said Anna. “Someone is using trowels, and I cannot stand their noise.”

“She isn't the only one,” I said, “though in my case, it was trying to concentrate on filing some swage-blocks true and flat while those three people were laying bricks in the shop.”

“Yes, I am not surprised,” said Hans. “What of the others?”

“First, the masons were complaining about the forging,” I said. “When I heard that, I left off hammering right away, but the others either had little else to do, or they didn't hear them, or just ignored what was being said. So, the masons leave when the hammers are going, and when they stop, they'd come back in and try to work.”

I paused, looked for a mug, smelled it, and then put it down. Hans had a species of paint-thinner in it, and the 'turpentine' odor was not appetizing.

Anna went upstairs, and as I looked around for another mug, she returned with two. One smelled like beer, and the other like cider. She gave me the cider one, then looked at the mug with the 'paint thinner'.

“Hans, why do you have a mug of uncorking medicine here?” said Anna. “He almost drank it.”

“I did not want to use your measuring cups,” said Hans, “and I have stuff in the usual things.”

I saw an 'in', and resumed speaking of the 'war' between the masons and those of the shop.

“So then the masons start murmuring about when the place was quiet, and why wasn't everyone crazy, and it gets to be too much for Georg, so he tosses his apron on his desk and leaves. Everyone else followed him within three minutes, and no one bothered to help me out of my apron. It was really tight.”

“Then why aren't you still in it?” asked Anna.

“One of the masons untied it, and I told him how the trowels were affecting me,” I said. “He said I wasn't the only one bothered that way, and now I know he was telling the truth.”

“Yes, and how was it affecting you?” asked Hans.

“About like that big grindstone and that soft knife of Anna's,” I said. “My teeth wanted to hide, and I want to keep them.”

Anna looked at me strangely, then said, “how did you get a headache, though?”

“He was trying to do something close,” said Hans, “and that shop is too noisy for that, even when it does not have bricks going up inside of it for an oven. So, he tries to work anyway, like you do with knitting.”

“Do not speak of knitting,” said Anna crossly. “I might not understand what he's doing terribly well much of the time, but I've tried knitting enough to know about its ability to give headaches.”

It was about time for the morning 'guzzle', and as I worked on another mug of cider, I thought to look for a jug. I had an intimation Hans was about to go out by Paul's, and a small 'cider-jug' sounded wise for the trip.

“Where are those smaller jugs?” I asked.

“Most of them are up in the kitchen now,” said Hans. “Why is it you want one?”

“Cider?” I asked.

“That is what most of them have,” said Hans. “You just got done from the shop, so why do you want a jug?”

“Y-you're going on a trip to the north and west, aren't you?” I asked. “Something about a town near where Paul lives, as there is another 'good' chemist in that area, and you want to ask him about something.”

Hans looked at me strangely, then said, “that fellow is named Korn, and while people think he is crazy for farming because of his name, he is not so. There was a person in the book named similarly.”

Cornelius?” I asked.

“Yes, Korn,” said Hans. “Maarten cannot say... What did you say?”

“The name in the book,” I said. “Why, is it spelled differently?”

Hans left the basement forthwith, and not two minutes later, he came down with the book in question. He turned to the section mentioning the name I had spoken of, then gave me the book. Nowhere did I find the word 'Cornelius' in the tenth chapter of 'Actions'. Instead, the word 'Korn' was in its place.

“Figures, I learned in a different language,” I thought, “and I remembered the name in that language, and here, that name isn't used – and the title of the book isn't the same, either.”

“I learned in a different language,” I said, “and the name I spoke was what I had remembered, for some reason. It's different here.”

“Yes, I know,” said Hans. “Now we should be able to leave shortly.”

'Shortly' was but minutes later, and as we came out of the buggy-way, I saw what might have been a freight-wagon in the road near the front of the shop. Hans noticed them, then turned down the road toward the wagon.

As he drew closer, however, I noticed the faint but tooth-rattling sounds of trowels. Thankfully, those ceased well before we got there, and when we pulled in front of the shop, I noticed two people carrying in one of a great number of rough-sawn boxes.

“Why is a delivery..?”

“I think those mason fellows are helping bring that stuff in,” said Hans. “They should have no trouble finding Georg, as he is likely to be at the Public House.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“I have heard of this happening before,” said Hans, “and when everyone leaves like that, that is where they go. They will most likely be there the rest of the day, and be pickled by the time they get home.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“That is a good question,” said Hans, as he began 'backing and filling' so as to turn around. “We should hurry, as going out that way and back is a long trip.”

'Long trip' was likely to be an understatement, even with Hans' knowledge of the roads, and after a short distance out of town, he stopped by the side of the road. I got out, thinking something had happened, but when he went to one of the axles and began untying a neatly-tied rag, I wondered more.

“Why is that wheel bandaged?” I thought.

When Hans untied it, however, I was no longer wondering, for he had uncovered a small brass pipe that was flush with the surface of the axle. He retrieved a small brass container and fitted it to the hole.

“What are those?” I asked.

“These are the oilers that came with this buggy,” said Hans, “and Anna wants no part of them, so I take them off usually. We have to go a far distance, and they will make it a lot easier.”

“Oilers?” I asked. “What do you usually put in them?” My unspoken question was 'can I help'?

“The ones on postal buggies take uncorking medicine,” said Hans, “and I brought a little of that stuff with me. That was why I was using that mug, is I was looking for the oilers and a small container.”

“Can I help?” I asked.

Hans handed me a larger ceramic vial, then said, “not too full. Put in about half a finger, and close the lid. I have seen your knots, and I think you need to practice those some.”

As Hans undid the bandages, I began 'dosing' the containers. They had once been screwed down, but the screws were gone. Each received roughly two tablespoons of the 'turpentine', and here, I noted its consistency. It resembled the 'cooked' distillate, even as to its oily feel.

Once underway again, however, I could tell the difference. The buggy was now completely silent, and its smoothness was astonishing. More important, it seemed to be moving faster, which even I knew was important for longer trips.

“Does this buggy have, uh, special arrangements for its wheels?” I asked.

“Yes, they are sleeved,” said Hans. “That means they cannot be neglected like the usual type of buggy wheels, as they will become ruined.”

“What do you normally do?” I asked.

“I pull them every chance I can,” said Hans, “and then use tallow like Anna wants, but it is not often that I have time. I usually need to dose them with a dropping tube and uncorking medicine, and hope Anna does not go too far or too fast, as then she will speak of squeaking wheels and how I am not looking after them good enough.”

“When do you dose them?” I asked. “Perhaps I can make an oiler.”

“Every morning, as a rule,” said Hans. “I have tried combining tallow with the uncorking medicine, but they do not mix at all, and I've even tried a little distillate, and that makes it stinky and bad.”

With further travel, the buggy seemed to loosen up yet more, and when Hans turned to the left down a narrow and somewhat bumpy road, he said, “there is a town a little ways further, and there we can water the horses. Hard traveling needs frequent watering, as well as some grain.”

“Grain?” I asked. “For the horses?”

“We go through two sacks of horse-grain during that trip south,” said Hans, “one coming, and one going. At home, we do not need as much, as we do not go as far or as fast.”

“And oiling?” I asked.

“That was trouble at first, though now Anna understands better,” said Hans. “She will not have the oilers when she is riding, so I need to oil the thing every time we stop, or else it squeaks. She likes the noise less, so she endures me doing the oiling.”

When we stopped, Hans untied the rags, and I checked the containers. I was more than a little surprised to see how much I needed to add, as well as the black material that had splattered the spokes of the wheels. I met Hans as I was working on the third wheel.

“That is the other trouble with these,” said Hans. “They are supposed to be oiled regularly, and if they are not oiled enough, or if tallow is used instead, then they make that black stuff when they are oiled like they should be, at least at first.”

“Will they do this more?” I asked.

“They are likely to be done with it,” said Hans. “We will need to stop once more to water the horses before we get to Paul's.”

I looked up once I had finished the oiling on the wheel, and as I moved to the driver's side front wheel, I noted what looked like two shallow bowls. Both had obvious grain in them, and as I finished the fourth wheel, I noticed Hans was right behind me tying up the rags.

“Once I tie this, and they get the rest of their grain, we can leave,” said Hans. “I might go in the Public House here and ask about their horse-grain, to see what its price is.”

While Hans went inside, I looked around. The town itself reminded me of that one place with the witches, even if it was obviously not the same town, and when Hans came back out, I glanced at the near-empty bowls. I let him pick them up, as I still was afraid of the horses and their 'weapons'.

The buggy now had fully loosened up, and so, seemingly had the horses, for their speed seemed nearly half again as fast as when we had last used the buggy. I wondered for a moment as to why Anna did not wish those 'oiler' things on the buggy, then wondered if Hans had an answer beyond the obvious one of 'personal foible'. Somehow, I doubted that was the case.

“Is uncorking medicine hard to get?” I asked.

“Most Mercantiles have it,” said Hans. “Why, do you want some?”

“I wondered as to its cost,” I said.

“It might not smell like distillate,” said Hans, “but it makes up for not smelling with its cost. We usually get several jugs down in the fourth kingdom every year, as it is cheaper there than it is here.”

“And horse-grain?” I asked.

“That stuff was high for price and bad for grain,” said Hans. “The stuff at home is decent, and the stuff where Korn lives is about as good as one can find up this way.”

Another town showed about an hour or so later, and here, we again watered the horses and 'serviced' the wheels. The amount of black material was vastly less, so much so that as I wiped it up with a mug of cider in my hand, Hans went inside to the Public House. He came back out about the time I and the horses had finished our respective duties. I drank a mug of cider as Hans resumed driving.

“It is not much further to Paul's,” said Hans, “as this route is a bit shorter than the usual way.”

“Horse-grain?” I asked.

“This place has some, but it is only a little cheaper than home, and it is not quite as good, even if it is a lot better than the last place we stopped. Since we are going to where Korn is, I will get it in that place.”

As we resumed traveling, I asked, “does Korn deal with grain in some fashion?”

“He does use a fair amount, as he has a distillery,” said Hans. “I think his is different from what Paul has, as he does aquavit mostly. I usually get that stuff from him, as only a few places do better.”

“Better?” I asked. I had the impression that no one did better in this area.

“Yes, in the fourth kingdom,” said Hans, “and theirs isn't that much better. I am not sure how he does it, as that seems a trade secret.”

“Trade secret?” I asked.

“Yes, like with that stuff for the fish that I do,” said Hans. “Making it is hard, so I do not sell it, nor do I tell people what I use for the recipe. I think that is the same for what he does, especially the chemistry aquavit.”

“Chemistry aquavit?” I asked. “What does he do, run the stuff through a pipe filled with charcoal and cover the mash tubs so as to keep the dust out?”

Hans looked at me, then said, “now I can see covering those tubs, as that would keep out things that do not belong in them, but charcoal? No one wants black aquavit.”

“It does not turn black,” I said. “This stuff is washed good and baked in the oven before using it, and it gets, the, uh, oils out of the stuff. You only use it for the last, uh, run, and you bake the stuff in the stove after each use.”

“If you make a distillery,” said Hans, “then I will try covered mash-tubs and running the stuff through some charcoal, so as to try it out. If the aquavit turns strange colors, then you can use it in your lamps.”

“You said things,” I said. “Did you just mean dust in the mash?”

“Mash attracts animals as well as dust and dirt,” said Hans, “and Paul has had trouble with animals getting into his barn since he has been running a lot of mash.”

“What is usually used in mash?” I asked. “Corn?”

“Yes, as a rule,” said Hans. “Some people use other things, especially down south. There, they make really strong drink.”

“S-strong drink?” I gasped. The reek of that one species of paint remover intruded, and I nearly spewed.

“Now what is your trouble?” asked Hans.

“There was this really bad stuff I found up on that mountain,” I said, “and it smelled so bad I nearly spewed. It smelled, like, uh...”

“Yes, it smelled bad,” said Hans. “What did it smell like?”

“Is there such a thing as whiskey?” I said. “There was a drink called that where I came from, and this stuff was like it for stink, only a lot stronger.”

“Yes, in the mining country down south,” said Hans. “I think it is some really strong stuff made with bad grain and rotten grapes, and they put that stuff in burned barrels for a while. It makes it turn brown some, and it smells a lot worse.”

“But that's b-brandy,” I squeaked.

“That is what they call it elsewhere,” said Hans. “There is the stuff made from grapes, and then some made from apples, and the worst is made from pears. That stuff is nearly aquavit for strong.”

Here, Hans paused, then said, “at least the grape stuff works good for small cuts. Korn might have some of it, and if he does, I want to buy it. I'm almost out of that stuff.”

“Cuts?” I asked.

“Those and needle-pokes,” said Hans. “Tailors are said to be fond of it, as they use needles a lot. Most tailors poke holes in their fingers and hands with those things.”

“F-fond of it?” I gasped.

“Yes, that is why it is called tailor's antiseptic,” said Hans. “If it wasn't so hard to get, we would use that stuff for cleaning people up.”

“W-why?” I asked. “Does it do a better job?”

“I think it does,” said Hans, “though I have not been able to prove it right or wrong especially good. My grandfather said it worked better, and Anna's journals say so, and I've talked to several tailors who've used that stuff and regular aquavit. I trust the tailors most, and they all want grape brandy over aquavit, especially this one man up at the king's house.”

“Uh, does he drink it?” I asked.

“I have never seen him do that,” said Hans, “but I have seen needle pokes treated with aquavit, and other ones treated with grape brandy, and the ones with grape brandy heal faster and hurt less.”

Hans paused, then said, “that was not just with him, either, even if I've seen him more.”

After another half-hour's travel, the meadows began to be usurped with fields. Here, the cornstalks were mostly down, and we passed a few people using what looked like larger-than-common knives to cut the stalks. The furrows between the mounds seemed to be getting the bulk of the stalks, and in some places, a dark and malodorous material was being spaded onto the corn. The smell was at first unfamiliar, but as the reek grew stronger, I gasped.

“Is that m-manure?” I squeaked.

“Yes, and it smells fresh, too,” said Hans. “Paul lives at the other end of town, and we should have enough time for you to look at his equipment.”

The stench of manure only disipated when we passed the Public House proper, and here, Hans did not stop. As he drove down the rutted 'street', I noted the similarity between this town and the others we had seen this trip, and indeed, the similarity to home. All of the dwellings, even as to their arrangement and disposition, seemed to made according to a pattern, and only when we came to one unusually 'large' house did I notice a difference. I pointed it out to Hans.

“That one is bigger because Willem lives there,” said Hans, “and that is not just a house. They keep the guns there too.”

“Guns?” I asked.

“Yes, three of them,” said Hans. “They keep the guns there, and the powder, and the shot, and the shells. I would guess him to be looking after the wheels on the carriages and carts, so as to be ready to go at a moment's notice.”

Hans paused, then said, “and that is the other reason I needed to go out this way. Paul might not be a chemist, but he has a lot of good chemicals, and I need some for those things they use to fire those guns.”

“Uh, what are they?” I asked.

“I will show you some when we get home,” said Hans. “I think it would be good for you to look at them, as they need repair now and then when I load those things up.”

“Do these take a string?” I asked.

“Why, have you seen them before?” asked Hans.

“I haven't seen them,” I said, “but I have heard of things used for cannons that used string. They called them friction igniters where I came from.”

“Now you have done it,” said Hans, “as that is the name for those things. They have these little brass tubes, and this iron wire with a loop on the end, which is where the string goes.”

“And those 'tipped' shells?” I asked. “Those are a bit trickier, aren't they?”

“Yes, which is why they are not done up here,” said Hans, “at least, they are not done up here for their metal parts. They usually take thimbles, and I have made those before.”

We were now coming to the end of the town, and to the right, I saw another 'larger-than-normal' house bordered by a cornfield; across from it, I saw a very substantial barn. While the house was the usual 'whitish-gray' with small places of dark trim, the barn was a faded and streaked reddish-brown. I had never seen a 'barn' here, and to see one that looked simultaneously familiar and 'peculiar' – it was taller than I thought a barn would be, and its steeply pitched roof didn't look 'appropriate' to a barn – was such that I marveled.

Hans turned right when he came to the house's yard, and when I got down, I noted the size and number of ruts in the yard proper. I listened carefully as I did so, for some reason.

“He's here alone,” I said. “His, uh, wife is out using the buggy for, uh, business, and the children have an hour's walk once they finish with school.”

“That sounds like I want to believe it,” said Hans, “as that is common for this time of year for him. Now, we go inside and find out where he is.”

Hans tapped at the door, and as we waited, I noted the stoop. I had the impression that the usual number of people here was almost twice the regular three at our house, and when Paul himself showed, I was astonished to find him wearing a cleaner version of what I wore at the shop.

“Now him I expected,” said Paul, “but what are you doing here?”

“They have masons in that shop,” said Hans, “and their trowels were trouble, so the rest of those people left him still in his apron. Then, the noise of the masons makes it hard for him to work, so they untie him, and he comes home.”

“Last rest-day was trouble here, so I am glad you did not come then,” said Paul, as the two of us followed him indoors.

“How was it so?” asked Hans.

“First, Esther was gone on her rounds, like she usually is, and the children were off to school, so I'm here alone, and between the traps and the mash, I'm as busy as if I were doing harvest. So when I cross the road from the barn to back here, I heard this squealing sound, and I look and see a pig just up the road.”

As we went down into the basement, Hans said, “yes, and so what did you do?”

“I went inside, and got the pig-musket,” said Paul, “and I was glad that it just needed priming. The pig had come closer, and I leveled down on it and hit it solid.”

“Yes, and what did it do?” asked Hans. We were at the 'landing', and I was trying to look around.

“It ran off squealing,” said Paul “It was bleeding a fair amount, and when I told the neighbors, everyone turned out to chase it. I stayed behind, as neither the traps nor the mash would let me go, and it was good I stayed.”

Paul paused as we went into his inner sanctum, and while I looked around in dumbfounded surprise, he said, “that pig was a primer. The next thing that showed was a pair of witches, and I had to toss a jug at them.”

“Jug?” I asked. Paul's pronunciation of the word 'primer' was a bit unnerving.

“I had just finished that trap,” said Paul, “and it was ready to go. I tied on the sop, came up the stairs, lit the fuse, and then ran at those two. I threw the jug just as they saw me, and it got both of them solid when it went up.”

“What did it do?” I asked.

“I am not too sure,” said Paul, “as the next thing I know, I'm waking up on the ground with a sore head and back, and there's a big black spot with some charred bones about twenty paces away.”

“What did you have in this jug?” asked Hans.

“I managed to get three small jugs of light distillate, and I'd put some in that one,” said Paul. “I didn't have as much as I would have liked, otherwise I would have used that stuff by itself. I added heavy distillate and some aquavit so that it was half-full.”

“That light distillate is tricky stuff to use for traps that way,” said Hans. “You are lucky you were not blown up.”

“I know, but it was either use what I had handy, or let the witches get away,” said Paul.

If Hans' 'laboratory' looked like it belonged to a Victorian-era mad scientist, Paul's looked more like a 'clandestine munitions plant'. He had nearly twenty jugs on a long planked table, with another table behind having other jugs, cloth and leather bags, a coil of crude-looking 'fuse', and a box full of wooden and copper tools.

“What does he do here?” I asked.

“Make traps mostly,” said Hans. “I will need to get working on mine fairly soon.”

“I don't need to do medicine,” said Paul, “so I do not need to be so careful of space.” Paul then turned to me, and asked, “now talk has it you're set up as an instrument-maker, and you do as good as the best of them. Hans' grandfather used to have these things...”

“Those were hard to do,” said Hans, “and that did not include all the other things he needed to do to them to get them right. He has enough for him and four others, so those things would not be a good idea right now, unless they are needed bad.”

Hans paused, then said, “besides, they want him doing a lot of stuff, and that includes distilleries. He does not know what they look like around here, and Anna thinks it is important for him to see what he can before he tries to do them.”

“I know he was asking about them the night we picked him up, and I know he can do copper things, both by what he said then and by what I've heard since. So how is it he doesn't know what a distillery looks like? They're common enough.”

“I've never seen one,” I said, “and I but vaguely recall the pictures I saw where I came from. More importantly, some people...”

I paused, for I had an impression. It and my recollection as to what Hans had told me about the shapes of distilleries was chilling, as 'wrongly-shaped distilleries' were regarded in some circles as if they were somehow related to black stone knives. The obvious corollary was 'those making them might be witches, and they need burning regardless'.

“Yes, some people,” said Hans. “Who are these people?”

“I'm not sure,” I said, “but I'm fairly certain they don't much care for things that are different, they're really nosy, and they also tend to cause trouble if they learn about things they don't like. Then, there is what many people believe about those things, and how everything about them has to be just a certain way so as to work right.”

Paul began shaking his head slowly, then said, “that rubbish about certain shapes affecting the flavor and strength of what is distilled isn't true.”

“You might know that, and Hans might say that, and perhaps Anna...” My voice trailed off abruptly. I was not being heard at some level, or so I thought.

“Yes, and there are people who believe that rubbish,” said Hans, “and to make those things different will be as wrong to them as if he were a shoemaker and made pointed boots. It is bad enough that he has witches after him as much as he does. He does not need more people speaking ill of him.”

“I know about that part,” said Paul, “and I've wanted good distilleries for years, but every one I've found has had at least its share of problems.”

“Such as wrinkled seams, big lumpy rivets, a really small hole in the top so you cannot clean the thing properly, a strangely-shaped 'cap' and 'neck' that seems made with the intent of clogging up, and...”

Again, my voice trailed off, and I nearly choked.

“I thought you'd never seen those things,” said Paul, “and now you describe most of the problems I've seen. The only ones I've had trouble figuring out is the markings those things tend to have.”

“Markings?” I squeaked. “What markings?”

“Here, let me show you,” said Paul. “I need to go check the mash as it is.”

Crossing the road from the house to the barn had nothing of the strange sensations I had felt in the basement, and once in the barn proper, I was overwhelmed, first by the smell, and then by the sight of half a dozen 'wash-tubs' filled with what looked like 'corn chowder' part-hidden by a brownish-yellow crust. The faint sounds of bubbling seemed to percolate through the single word that repeated endlessly through my mind – and that single word was 'mash'.

“Is that, uh, mash?” I asked.

“That is mash,” said Hans, “and it looks to be corn mash, too. That is the best type for Geneva and aquavit, as it gives the most alcohol.”

“Yes, if you do it right,” said Paul. “Now the two old distilleries are over here, near where I cook and grind up the corn for mashing.”

“Do you use, uh, a grindstone?” I asked.

“I've tried to figure out a better way of doing that part too,” said Paul, “but given what I have to use, there isn't much I can do.”

“What...”

My question was cut off abruptly by the sight of not merely two old-looking 'free-form sculptures' done in copper and brass, but also an ancient-looking device that looked like a cross between a 'mill' stolen from a time far past and a collection of nailed-together, roped-up, and leather-lashed sawmill-ruined firewood shaped into a table conjoined with worm-eaten boxes.

“Th-that wood...” I spluttered.

“Is about ready for the stove,” said Paul, “and I hope I can earn enough this year to get the rest of the new pieces bought. If I was better at doing wood, I'd cut the stuff myself, but I'm not, so I need to have it done. At least I might be able to put it together, if I could get some decent tools.”

“Decent t-tools?” I asked. “What do you need?”

“A good saw, a brace and bits, and the usual things carpenters tend to have,” said Paul. “Most other people can get by better than I can, but I have trouble that way, so it's good tools, or have it done.”

“Yes, and he has more trouble that way,” said Hans, “unless they are small things for castings. Those are as good as anything I have seen.”

“Can you make tools?” asked Paul.

“Yes, but he has too much to do as it is,” said Hans, “as it isn't just the usual things for what he is doing. He has just gotten started, so he needs to make his own tools, then that wretch that was there caused trouble for what that shop had and he must deal with that, and then those people there do not understand him much, and because they think as they do, they might be trying to hurt or kill him. He was burned with a rivet not too long ago, and I wonder if it was tossed at him.”

Paul looked at me, then asked Hans, “I wondered that first night, and I've wondered more since, and now hearing that on top of the other things, it has me thinking more than I usually do.”

“Yes, and you had best not speak of that thinking,” said Hans. “He has enough trouble with witches as it is.”

I now slowly moved closer to the grinder, and as I did – I felt afraid to touch it, much as if its fragility was greater than its rickety appearance implied – I saw the upper 'millstone' with its hole in the center, then the much wider lower one, and finally, the wooden slats that seemed to corral what looked like coarse-ground cornmeal. I saw what looked like fragments of sprouts.

“Do you sprout that corn before grinding it?” I asked.

“That is behind the grinder,” said Paul. “I put the stuff in my older mash tubs, and sprinkle it with water when I turn it.”

“Uh, I think I might have an easier-to-do grinder idea,” I said. “It needs two rollers, some gears, and it's all metal, so I could most likely make it.”

“I would like to see this thing,” said Hans, “as if it is all metal, it will be much easier to clean. Besides, if we have a distillery, we will need to sprout and grind corn ourselves.”

“Now why is it you want one of those messy things?” asked Paul, as he led us past the two 'sculptures' and into an area with three tubs. All of them were part-full of corn, and the faint musty aroma spoke of germination. I knelt down, and touched the kernels, and felt their faint and growing warmth.

“He has an idea for things like jeweler's lamps,” said Hans, “and he has two of those things already and uses them a fair amount, so we need aquavit for those as well as the usual things. Then, he does a lot of work in the parlor, so we need good candles, as close work does not do well with bad light, and he does a lot of that.”

“If they were not so scarce, and so dangerous,” said Paul, “you might want one of those lanterns that run distillate.”

I shuddered, then said after standing up, “after the experiences I've had with distillate recently? I want no part of such things, no matter how bright they are.”

I paused for a moment, then asked, “have you seen what those things look like?”

“Yes, once,” said Paul. “This one had what looked like a bandage tin made of brass on the bottom, then another brass thing on top of the tin with a long metal bar, and on top of that was a big round glass thing, and finally, a long brass tube for the smoke.”

“Th-that's what those things looked like,” I squeaked. “Th-those cannibals had them, and so did that black-dressed wretch who shot at me.”

“Black-dressed?” asked Paul. “That sounds like a witch. What were you doing?”

“Trying not to get shot by those cannibals,” I squeaked. “There was a cornfield ahead of me, and I ran through it, then a dog came after me, and I was running from the dog and the cannibals, and this wretch came out with a lantern and a gun, and he shot at me and hit the dog.”

“Yes, and he got shot some, too,” said Hans. “That was in Waldhuis, and I have heard that those people like to wear that black stuff up on the hill. They keep it hid when they are at home.”

“Uh, I'm not certain it was one of them, Hans,” I said. “That place gets a fair amount of visitors passing through, and it might have been one of those people.”

“Yes, and Georg spoke of those people, and I asked around some since to find out if it was true,” said Hans, “and Georg was speaking truthfully.”

“Still, no common farmer would shoot at someone,” said Paul, “not when he's trying to get away from a bunch of...”

Paul seemed about to faint, then said, “th-those cannibals are real?”

“Yes, I think so,” said Hans. “They were causing a lot of trouble near home that night, and I have heard tell several of them were shot and burned. Then, he saw what they do.”

“What is that?” asked Paul.

“They cook and eat people,” I said, “they chant a lot, they steal food and possibly other things, they kill people while thieving, and they have at least one idol. I saw someone burned in that idol, and I think they have more than just the one I saw.”

I paused, then said, “and someone wearing pointed boots and riding a mule went up to the top of that mountain sometime in the past. I think there are other routes to the top of that place, and people get tossed down that hole now and then.”

“Did you see tracks?” asked Paul.

“At the top of the place, no,” I said.

As I said this, however, I suddenly realized I had seen evenly-spaced lines, much as if someone had raked the top of the place.

“They raked that place,” I spat. “I was right, they do come up there and dump people in that hole, and those cannibals wait with loaded guns for them to fall every day of the week!”

“How often?” asked Paul.

“I'm not certain,” I said, “but going by how many people those cannibals had setting on that ledge, I'd guess they do it with some frequency. Those rake marks looked fresher than those tracks did.”

“Yes, and how old were these tracks?” asked Hans.

“Their sides were crumbling, and they seemed a bit weathered,” I said. “The soil was really sandy and gravely.”

“Then they are not that old,” said Hans. “Moist dirt will hold tracks about three weeks, and dry stuff, a few days. If it was sand and gravel, then they would look old in a day or two.”

“Uh, that mule's markings?” I asked. “They were grayish-green.”

“Those were from the day before, then,” said Hans, “as that stuff is wet for one day, dry the next, and completely gray the day after.”

Hans paused, then said, “and that is trouble, as mules are scarce up here.”

“Are they truly scarce, or just 'thought' to be scarce?” I asked.

“I am not sure any more,” said Hans, “as I have only seen their leavings a few times up here.”

“And the first time he goes exploring, he finds a mule-trace,” said Paul. “I'll keep that one tight too.”

Paul then led us back past the two 'sculptures', and as he did, I noticed their shapes for the first time. They almost seemed alive and nearly sentient, with their unkempt bulging corroded nature but barely held in check.

“Where are we going now?” I asked.

“To my still,” said Paul. “I've seen a fair number of distilling coppers, and I think those sat in someone's barn for a while, as they aren't that close to what's common. I got this one but a few years ago, and it's a lot closer.”

“Those marks?” I asked.

“All three of them have markings,” said Paul. “The one I'm using now has several of them, all in different places.”

I could faintly smell wood-smoke, and when I looked upward, I saw not only what looked to be a large 'hayloft', but also an open 'window' out of which faint clouds of smoke steadily drifted.

“I'll need to check the run,” said Paul. “This is the second running of this batch, so I don't need to watch it as close as the first or the third.”

“Uh, the mash tries to plug the still on the first,” I said, “and the high-test...”

“Now what is this about High?” asked Hans. “Alcohol is not meat, so it does not become High, even if there are ways to test the stuff to see how strong it is.”

“What do you call the third run of a still?” I asked.

“The third run,” said Paul. “Did what you say have to do with how strong it is?”

“Yes, it did,” I said. “I'm not familiar with distilling terms, especially those used around here.”

Paul had his still in the 'rear' part of his barn, and in this instance, the 'free-form sculpture' aspect was much more noticeable. The pear-shaped aspect of the 'cooker's' smoke-blackened sides was accentuated by the crown-shaped cap, then the odd-looking tapering arm segued down into a long spiraling condenser. This last dripped steadily into a tin-plated funnel atop a jug. The reek of alcohol was plain, dire, and nauseating.

“Uh, how do you seal that thing up?” I asked. “Rye paste?”

“You might not know much about the shape of these things,” said Paul, “but I can tell you know something about them to talk that way.”

“I've read about them,” I said, “and this thing... How big is that opening on the top? Is it big enough to reach into, or do you need to swab out the thing with a stick and a rag?”

“That is one trouble with the usual type,” said Paul. “I need to take the whole thing apart when doing the first runs, and that really slows things down. The second and third runs are not as bad that way.”

I came closer to the still, and felt its heat. I then looked at its seams.

“Th-they used those huge rivets on this thing,” I gasped, “and it's a wonder it doesn't leak! Do people demand huge rivets that are hard to peen on these for, uh, appearance's sake?”

“How are those rivets huge?” asked Paul. “Those are the common size.”

“Yes, and he uses much smaller ones,” said Hans. “I have seen those things, and the seams he does are a lot better than those.”

Hans paused, then said, “and those are about as bad as any I have seen, distillery or no.”

“They're about average, actually,” said Paul. “Those two setting over there seem a bit worse.”

“Uh, do you have the cap for those?” I asked.

“Those, no,” said Paul. “All I have is the cooker for each of them.”

“Those marks?” I asked.

“One is on the bottom,” said Paul, “and it's on the inside, and then another is in the inside of the cap, and then the third is on the neck of the cooker. It's covered by the cap.”

“Will you need to, uh, change what's in there soon?” I asked.

Paul looked at the steady dripping coming from the condenser, stuck his finger in the output, and then tasted it. He nodded, then said, “I'll need to dump the water out, and then put three jugs in.”

Helping Paul work on his still was enlightening, for I saw how troublesome the thing was to handle. Only liberal use of damp rags made it possible to dump the exhausted liquid into a sizable wooden pail, and then filling the thing was even worse. The opening was less than three inches across.

“There has got to be a better way,” I spluttered, as I handed Paul one of the jugs.

“If you make them, I want one,” said Paul. “Now what do you propose to do?”

“First, a drain hole,” I said, “one with a proper valve. Then, a much wider mouth, a cap that latches in place so the weight of that, uh, arm doesn't try to lift the cap off, straighter sides, a smoother internal finish, and double rows of six-line rivets – oh, and seams that are tinned right, not the afterthought that is commonly done around here. I wouldn't be surprised if those people making these things make them deliberately sloppy so as to have return business.”

“That, and they do not do a good job to start,” said Hans. “That is much of the trouble at that shop, as they are used to doing the common for here, and he works as if he were in the fourth kingdom.”

“How is that place different?” asked Paul.

“They do not leave off in the middle of the afternoon,” said Hans, “and then they work harder than is common here, and for a lot of them, they think more about what they do, so what they do tends to be a lot better than is usual for here.”

Hans paused, then said, “what is called good up here would start mobs down there.”

Paul handed me the cap, then said, “see, there is that marking I spoke of. Do either of you know what it means?”

I looked closely and barely stifled a shriek, saying, “P-Paul, th-these are w-w-witch-markings, and this thing is a...”

“What is it?” asked Paul. “How are those the markings of witches? Do they do such things?”

“What do they c-call things witches use to c-conjure with?” I gasped.

“I do not know,” said Paul.

Hans didn't know either, and seeing the same mark on the cooker's neck made for further shuddering, so much so that I spluttered, “and no cursed...”

I halted in mid-sentence, for I did not know how to name the markings. Faintly, I heard chanting in the background amid the high-pitched bellowing of an enraged bull, and recall overtook me as I heard a peculiarly distorted voice speaking of witches, runes and the connection between the two. Both Hans and Paul looked at me expectantly, much as if the three of us were at Delphi and I was the oracle itself – an oracle surrounded by carved marble idols.

An oracle of the damned.

“And no cursed r-r-runes to turn the thing into a-an idol,” I muttered. “Is that why these things are shaped that way?”

I was glad to leave the barn once Paul had sealed up the still, and as the three of us walked back, I glanced up at the sun. I sensed early afternoon, so much so that I was glad when Hans got his supplies quickly and we were again on the road. I wondered enough about our direction that I thought to bring out the needle.

“Now I know why you were feeling about those things as you were,” said Hans, “as I had never seen marks like that on a distillery.”

“Th-that bull?” I asked.

“I had seen those marked that way a time or two before,” said Hans. “Did you see those things inside of that mountain?”

“Y-yes, right over the place I escaped from,” I said. “I think it was a curse of some kind, as those people were chanting it.”

“Was what you saw on that cooker and in that cap the same thing?” asked Hans.

“No, that one had four characters, not seven,” I said, “and they were different characters entirely.”

“Then how is it they are witch-marks?” asked Hans.

“They had that s-same look,” I said. “All straight lines, sharp angles, and really strange, almost as if they were glowing r-red like those witches and that knife did.”

I paused, then said, “and one of the carpenters spoke of me having a mark of some kind.”

“What kind of mark is this?” asked Hans. We had just left the cornfields of the town behind.

“I'm not sure,” I said, “but I had the impression it was like a stamp of some kind that indicated I made the thing marked.”

“Ah, I know what those are,” said Hans, “and you should make one up for marking your stuff. They are common things with jewelers, and I have seen some of them on your tools, too.”

“But what should I use, though?” I moaned. “I don't want a mark that looks like that of a witch.”

Hans took the next road to the left, which headed through a woodlot. I wondered if we should get wood until I saw where the sun was. I guessed about another four hours of daylight left.

“When will we be back?” I asked.

“If we can get our business done quickly, then we will be home some time before dark,” said Hans. “If things are slow, it may take longer.”

The town showed but a few minutes later, and when Hans stopped in front of the Mercantile, I thought to go inside with him. The moment I walked in the door, I had the impression that this store was unusual, even though it carried much the same supplies as did the one at home – at least, I thought it did until I took a close look at a comb.

“Hans, that comb,” I whispered. “It isn't like those b-brass things at home.”

“Yes, I know,” said Hans. “This place isn't a regular Mercantile, and what things they carry from the fifth kingdom they fetch themselves. They get things from all over, more than most such places.”

“How?” I asked.

“About half the freighters in the first kingdom live in or around this town,” said Hans, “and they get the stuff needed for this Mercantile when they make their runs to the south.”

“Uh, those deliveries at the shop?” I asked.

“It is likely those people were from around here,” said Hans. “Most freighters live more toward the south, and they like to do local runs when they can.”

“Why does the Mercantile at home not do like they do here, then?” I asked.

“I think it might have to do with knowing the right people,” said Hans. “That, and things like those combs here are a little more expensive than at home, and then, most people don't travel enough to learn about this place and the others like it.”

I looked around while Hans arranged for the horse-grain. I felt 'drawn' to a certain area on the far side of the shop, and when I came there, I was shocked to find rows of sizable tins. One row was labeled 'number one powdered blacking', and I thought to open the tin.

“Th-this stuff is graphite,” I squeaked, as I put the lid down. “Now what other treasures do they have here?”

I went back to the rear 'counter' – that part was close enough to the way the one at home was that I knew one paid there – and when I presented the tin, the 'clerk' looked at Hans knowingly.

“I see you have an apprentice,” he said.

“Yes, and he is not a normal one, either for what he knows or how he does,” said Hans. “I think he will teach me a good deal, as he knows quite a lot already.”

Here, Hans looked at the tin, and said, “now what is it you want with that blacking?”

“Uh, lubricant?” I said. “I've heard of this stuff.”

“I have too,” said Hans, “and grandmother wished I had not heard of it when I got into it as a boy, as it took a week of strong soap and scrubbing for me to not look like a witch's baby.”

“Do you have any, uh, wax candles?” I asked.

“Yes, we do,” said the clerk. Again, that knowing look at Hans – though when the clerk returned with a small bundle, he said, “now what are you using these for?”

“He might be something of an apprentice for chemicals,” said Hans, “but he is far beyond that for instruments.”

“Oh?” asked the clerk. “I'd speak to Korn about that, as he's been after a few special tools.”

“What kind?” I asked.

“I'm not terribly sure, beyond it has to do with the usual type of chemistry,” he said. “I know he isn't after those things Hans' grandfather did.”

“Is he after some special small clamps?” I asked.

“If he is, then I would be too,” said Hans, “as those are good for chemistry.”

I was glad I could pay for both the blacking and the candles, and once the supplies were in the buggy, I thought to drink some cider – and as soon as I finished the mug, I needed to use the privy.

“Korn's house is up ahead a little, so there we can eat,” said Hans.

“Uh, I need to use...”

There are some bushes,” said Hans. “I will wait for you.”

I ran for the bushes and urinated, then came right back. Hans drove off, and as he did, he said, “I think you might want to get a small spade and take it with you, as I had forgotten how much you go.”

“I went at the shop earlier this morning,” I said, “and I normally drink a lot more liquid there.”

“Yes, and you sweat a lot in that place,” said Hans. “Now I should not be long here, and if you want, you can come in. Korn is a bit like my grandfather was, and he has no wife nor children.”

“Uh, what does that mean?” I asked.

“Anna would have a fit in that place,” said Hans, “and so, Esther comes by now and then to make sure it is not too bad.”

“Is it, uh, dirty?” I asked. “I'm not good at cleaning house.”

“Yes, I know,” said Hans. “I think you should make up your own mind when you see it.”

I came with Hans to the door, and as he tapped, I wondered for a moment what would be on the other side. When an older version of Paul opened the door and blinked his eyes, I was surprised at both what he was wearing – an apron like Paul's – and also, his hands. He was wearing gloves, and looked to have been grinding some singularly irate ink.

“What happened to him?” I thought.

When the two of us followed him inside, I saw the usual 'couch', then next to it a small bookcase filled with old-looking books – and then, tall sturdy shelves from floor to ceiling filled with crocks, bags, boxes, and jars.

“The parlor is...” I spluttered.

“This is the shop part of the house,” said Hans, “which is where he sells to people who he does not know good.”

“And Esther is about due, too,” he said. “I might make the stuff fairly good, and the same for packaging and selling it, but I'm about worthless for housecleaning, and no mistake.”

Here, he paused, then said, “now your name would be..?”

“He is called Dennis,” said Hans, “and when he is not working as an instrument-maker, he is helping me do the stuff in the basement.”

“Do you still have those clamps?” he asked. “I'd like to get some like them, if possible.”

“Yes, I do,” said Hans. “That shop is getting an oven, so that might make them easier to do.”

“Especially if I can borrow one of them for a pattern,” I said. “A sample usually helps a lot, and casting them would make it easier to do them in quantity.”

The kitchen proved to have a table that looked to have once done service in a Public House – it was about half the size of the one at home – and in the corner, I was astonished to see several sizable sacks of corn.

“The corn?” I asked.

“That would be for the distillery,” he said. “It's downstairs.”

“He would like to see that thing,” said Hans, “as he is to be making them.”

“I hope he knows what people think about those things,” he said, “as well as how much truth there is to that rubbish.” We came to the top of the stairs, and began going down them.

“Uh, everything about distilling coppers as done as if they are tools for witches,” I said, “and to not do them such that they look that exact certain way means the maker is thought to be wrong?”

“Now that is as good a saying for those as I've ever heard,” said the man, as he led down the stairs. “Did you go to the west school?”

“I doubt it,” said Hans, “as he understands stuff that is beyond what they teach there.”

“Good, as I keep the good stuff hid from people who don't think about what they're doing,” he said, “as I don't fancy having one of those wealthy people calling me a witch.”

“W-wealthy people?” I gasped. “Why would they call you a witch?”

“They don't like things that go against their wishes,” he said. “There's some that live about a mile down the road, and they've got locks on their doors and a coach in their barn, and every time I see those smelly wretches, they're pickled – and I've seen them call someone a witch more than a few times.”

The man paused, then as we entered his 'inner sanctum', he said, “and more often then not, enough people listen to what they say for someone to end on a burn-pile.”

“Do they wear black clothing?” I asked.

“Not openly they do,” he said, “but I've seen them wear that stuff when they're indoors, and I hear they wear it when they travel.”

“Seen?” I asked.

“Part of being a chemist is knowing what is going on around you,” said the man, “and that goes double if you make medicine that works. I don't know how much it increases when you've got stinky drunken thugs up the road from you, but having them around makes it a lot more important.”

While Korn's distillery seemed to be of the same 'pattern' as what Paul was using, I noted some differences within seconds beyond its smaller size and neater 'firebox': it had smaller rivets than the near-half-inch lumpy-headed things I'd seen before, they seemed a little neater and cleaner, the tin had been scraped carefully from the outside, and the cap seemed to fit closer.

“With things like that, it's the little things that make the difference,” he said, “that, and an extra run for aquavit.”

“And washed corn, covered mash-tubs, fresh charcoal for the output of the last two runs, and some, uh, rework to the still for easier cleaning?” I asked. “Is it true about people being able to do better work than what examples I've seen, and deliberately choosing to do them badly, or is this the best people up here can do?”

“I think it might be the latter,” he said. “I've heard about those marks those making them like to put on them, and that makes me wonder.”

“As to what the marks are?” I asked.

“No, not that,” he said, “I did some asking about those. It seems that a common belief is those marks somehow indicate the thing is a good one, and they are thought to help it work like it should. I didn't believe that, so I removed them so as to find out, and it didn't change anything as to what it did. It still needed care and close watching, just like it did before.”

“Who believes that such marks affect how the thing works?” I gasped.

“Mostly those making them,” he said. “The marks tend to be small and well-hid, so only if you look closely are you going to find them.”

Here, he paused, then said, “now what you said about charcoal and all those other things is most of what I do different from the common. How did you..?”

“You want to be close about that,” said Hans, “as the witches are after him a lot, and they have tried for him several times in the last few months.”

While Hans and Korn talked, I continued looking at what was in the basement. Hans might have had more glassware, and better glassware, and perhaps a bit better equipment, I had the impression that Korn had some 'secrets' up his 'sleeve'. I soon found an obvious mortar and pestle, as well as an unusually delicate-looking balance and some small tin 'trays'. I was even more surprised when I found a small yet sturdy table with tools hanging from pegs behind it.

“I have much the same trouble as Hans' grandfather,” said Korn, “and so I have to do things like he did.”

“Uh, work on your own things?” I asked.

“Yes, I do, and that because I need to,” he said. “Most people that call themselves instrument-makers up this way aren't much better than those that make distilleries. I think Hans' grandfather had those clamps made, and then went over them so they worked properly.”

“He did some work to those things, but they were passable as they came,” said Hans. “They were not like some things that way.”

Shortly thereafter, I found what looked like percussion caps, and when I gently picked up the small tin, I heard steps coming closer.

“Good, you're being careful with those,” said Korn. “Getting good ones up here is impossible, so it's either do without or make them oneself.”

“Are these for the tipped shells, or something else?” I asked.

“Those there are mostly for those shells you were speaking of,” he said, “as the filling is a little stronger, and I put more of it in them.”

“That ink?” I asked.

“That's for a printer,” said Korn. “Ink that isn't greasy or prone to smearing is worth a premium, at least to some printers up here.”

“Do you have some un-filled thimbles?” I asked. “I wanted one or two so as to have samples.”

“Yes, I do,” he said. “If you make them in numbers, and they come good, I hope to have some, as I've needed to check these over carefully. About half of them are not good enough to use.”

I needed to help Hans carry his supplies upstairs, as he'd gotten two jugs and a sizable sack. Once stowed in the buggy, the two of us 'crammed down' some meat, cheese, and bread, and Hans turned toward home. He headed away from the house that Korn had warned us of, thankfully.