A new beginning (or so it seems)


That night's sleep – Anna had urged the pain tincture upon me after hearing my moaning as I moved with slow and aching steps up the stairs, but Hans spoke of me making a mess in my bed if that was done – was as lacking in dreams as the afternoon's nap had been filled with them; and when I creaked and moaned down the stairs in the dawn's early light, I wondered if today would have my regular work.

“Those masons ran out of bricks, hence they were burning more over the weekend, and the trowels will be busy for at least the first few hours of today's day. Besides, the area is again on a witch-hunt.”

“What, more pigs?” I asked.

“Of the hundreds that escaped, about half of them remained in the kingdom house,” said the soft voice, “and the remainder have run cross-country to investigate new haunts.” A brief pause, then, “just when a fair number of well-hid witches were relaxing their guards and resuming some of their former tendencies.”

“Here?” I asked.

“No, but a fair number of towns will ring with gunfire,” said the soft voice, “and where those two men live will be one of those towns.”

“They won't be in today,” I murmured – as I tried to swing my arm and found that I could barely move it.

“You had best think about resting some,” said the voice of Hans from upstairs. “Now I would eat, and eat plenty, as there is a trip for the two of you to fetch those boots.” Hans paused, then said, “and I would be careful, as she has not worn those things before, and I know that man did not spare his nails.”

“Thick knit stockings?” I muttered, as I moved like an ancient codger to my workbench. I could bring rags for padding, at the least – and I had some of those remaining in a small cache in one of the drawers.

“Yes, she has those things,” said Hans. “Her feet are not like yours.”

“They're smaller, yes,” I said.

“She does not walk barefoot much, either,” said Hans.

“I do too,” yelled Sarah from below. “I do that all the time!”

“Still, her feet are not like yours,” said Hans quietly. “She might need carrying when those things get to her, is what I think, and I remember how you were with those nails that man puts on his boots.”

That took some small explaining, as well as showing Sarah the small bronze diamond-headed things that liberally studded the bottom of my boots. I was wearing my 'common' shoes, which had no such 'nails', and as Sarah drove – I sat in the back, with ready gun in case swine or witches showed – I wondered just how she would react to trekking boots.

At first, she seemed fine as the shoemaker laced them on her feet, but when she took her first step, I thought I saw an expression that spoke of pain. I surmised she was as sore as I was, at least until we were part of the way home with her boots still on her feet.

“Did that man do those hobnails right?” asked Sarah. I could tell her feet were hurting to no small degree.

“They looked like mine, didn't they?” I asked. “He thought your stockings were fine.”

“Yes, and that was him thinking,” said Sarah through clenched teeth. “He is not wearing them. I am!”

“Perhaps remove them, then,” I said.

Removal of Sarah's boots took some uncommon persistence, for not merely had the man fitted them extremely well to her feet, but the stockings had a most peculiar effect. After removing one, I smelled it, then looked carefully at her stocking – or tried to, as she took it away from me and slipped it back upon her foot. It made for fear upon my part, and that showed in my voice.

“What, did I do something wrong?” I asked.

“No, but I think those things are going to need feet that are not already sore so that I can get used to them,” said Sarah. “I did not realize how sore I was there until I put those things on.”

After removing the other boot and stowing both in the rear of the buggy, we resumed travel, and I thought the matter closed until arrived home – and there, I learned that Sarah had become so footsore that she was unable to walk. I carried her to where she could unhitch the horses, which she did while choking back tears, then as I picked her up carefully, the door opened to show Anna.

“What happened?”

“Her feet are very sore,” I said. “I'm not sure how I'm going to help her, especially as I'm about out of Geneva for rubbing.”

“They got some from Paul recently,” said Sarah. “I thought my feet were fine, but those boots must have started something.”

“Lead?” I asked.

“I dumped that when I bathed yesterday,” said Sarah as I carried her indoors. I put her on the couch, then put my things where I usually did, and while Anna 'disappeared', I asked softly, “where is that Geneva?”

“You'll need to ask Hans, as he hid it so he does not need to smell its fumes,” said Sarah – who was slowly removing her stockings and making soft moaning noises all the while.

Hans was not in the basement, but I found the Geneva anyway; and when I came up, I saw Anna looking at Sarah's feet with both of them in her lap. She was shaking her head.

“If there was a way to set these, I would do so,” she said, “but I have no limb-braces for feet.”

“Wh-what happened?” I asked. Sarah's feet had shown but few and small bruises at the shoemaker's.

“I'm not certain if she has broken bones or not,” said Anna, “but I know she had to kick a witch when she shot her pistol dry, and that kick reminded me of a mule's.”

“As in how she did so, or..?”

“Only you kick harder,” said Anna, “and I think those boots help some with your kicking.” A pause, then, “about all you can do for her is rub them carefully.”

“Rub?” I asked, as I knelt down beside the couch.

“Let me fetch a rag, and you can do that,” said Anna. “It might help.”

The idea of rubbing Sarah's feet seemed to bring back a horrible memory, but one look at them spoke of why she might be sore.

“Dear, what did you do?” I gasped. Sarah's feet were no longer soft and pink; they were badly swollen, and more black and blue than all else.

“I kicked a witch in the teeth,” spat Sarah, “and that wretch bit my shoe when I did it.”

“Bit your shoe?” I asked.

“He left teeth marks on its front,” said Sarah, “and now I am sore from it.”

“Both of them?” I asked.

“I wish heartily that I had borrowed a spare revolver,” said Sarah with something resembling a sigh as I sat down with her feet in my lap, “as I had to kick another witch out of the way as we were leaving the inner court. He was trying to act like a large and bulky log.”

“Log, or dog?” I asked. My hearing was still 'shot'.

“Log,” spat Sarah. “He moved fast enough when I walloped him, as he left the ground and thumped his head against what was left of one of those gateposts.”

I dampened the rag, and carefully began rubbing. Sarah choked back a sob, but as I gently continued rubbing, a sudden paroxysm of pain grabbed my foot and I nearly screamed. Sarah ceased sobbing, then asked, “what happened?”

“I must have found a really sore spot, dear,” I said, “as when I touched it, it hurt my foot.”

“You had best have Anna look at yours, also,” said Sarah.

“His are fine,” said Anna from the kitchen as I began removing my shoes. “That's the good thing about trekking boots – if you must kick someone, they do protect your feet.”

“Presuming you wear thick knit stockings,” I muttered. “Otherwise... Dear, did you think he put those nails in backward earlier?”

Sarah nodded, then the fumes of Paul's Geneva got to me, and I nearly spewed.

“My great-uncle's Geneva was the worst for fumes of any I've ever smelled,” said Sarah, “but it worked so well I lived with the visits to the privy it caused.”

“Could this here become what she spoke of?” I asked silently.

The reek instantly became so intense that I turned to the side and began heaving, but after a few seconds, I choked back the now intensely-sickening aroma and softly rubbed Sarah's largest toe. Instead of a moan – I had expected that – she loosed a giggle.

“What?” I gasped.

“Carefully,” she said. “I think you asked for that stuff to become really strong, as it's not only making me wish to spew, but it's really helping the soreness.”

I now slowly moved the rag across the sole of her foot, and while the sickening stink was causing pain in my middle, what was happening to the black and blue marks where the rag went was so astonishing that I nearly choked. I gasped, then said, “A-Anna, please, come here.”

Anna wasted no time, for she seemed to show as if by magic; and when I nearly spewed all over her from the fumes, she choked back a gasp herself.

“What did you do?”

“Urgh, he asked for that stuff to become something, urp, else,” said Sarah. She was talking with her hand over her mouth. “It smells like what my great-uncle's recipe for Geneva.”

“I've smelled this before,” said Anna while shaking her head, “and I think I once tried drinking it.” I then rubbed Sarah's foot once more, this time on the top side – and Anna looked at me in shock.

“Here, you try,” I muttered. “If I don't go to the privy now, I'm going to make a mess on you or the couch.”

I did so, and there, I found that not merely did I loose what was left of my scanty breakfast, but I found that I needed to swap ends quickly, because I had the runs. When I came back out, Anna was holding her nose with one hand and rubbing her own feet with the other, while Sarah had found her own rag.

Which she was heaving into.

“What did I do?” I gasped as I held my stomach.

“That jug is no longer Paul's recipe,” said the soft voice. “It is now that of Sarah's great-uncle.”

“It makes me sick,” I squeaked.

“It also has other properties that Sarah forgot about,” said the soft voice. “Given her great-uncle has extra toes on one foot, two missing toes on the other, and a peculiarly shaped growth at the base of his spine from an injury, it ought to.”

“What does it do?” I asked, as I knelt down by the couch.

“I forgot what his stuff did if you were really sore,” said Sarah. “Like after dealing with swine, or witches.”

“What?” I asked.

“It seems to get rid of lumps and bruises,” said Anna through clenched teeth. “That, and forget even thinking about drinking it, as this was the stuff I tried in the potato country, and I suspect only some really bad strong drink which I've heard about but never tried tastes worse.” Anna then took her rag and grabbed my arm, and began rubbing one of the bruised areas.

The fumes were so potent I nearly passed out – at least until I saw a lumpy purplish-red place go shades lighter in seconds.

“It hurts a lot less there,” I murmured as I touched the now-tingling place. Its colors were still fading, though slower. “What is that stuff, a local anesthetic?”

“I am not sure what it is,” said Anna, “but if we must fight witches and swine, we want jugs of this stuff, and many of them.”

“Urgh, I feel sick,” I gasped.

“Me too, but if that's the price I need to pay to help this much, then I'll live in the privy for a week,” said Anna – who suddenly sprang up and ran for the kitchen. I took her place, and with my nose firmly clenched in one hand – I was wanting 'boogers' now, or better yet a gas mask – I dampened one of the rags and began gently massaging Sarah's left foot with it.

“Ooh, that tickles,” she said. “It feels a lot better.”

“Did that stuff, urp, do that?” I asked.

“Y-yes, it did,” said Sarah. “Do that some more.”

“Now what is this?” said Hans as he suddenly came in the front door. “If that is Geneva, then it must have come from the potato country, as that smells like what I am smelling.”

“It did not come from there,” said Anna as she returned from the kitchen. She was wiping her mouth with a rag. “We need a still for this stuff.”

“Why is it you want bad Geneva now?” asked Hans. “That stuff put you in the privy when you tried it then, and it looks like it is doing that now.”

“It is,” said Anna. “It is also doing something else that makes spewing worth the trouble. Watch!”

I rubbed Sarah's right foot, and before my eyes, the purplish red puffiness seemed to slowly diminish.

“That is because he is rubbing that place,” said Hans. “That would happen...”

Anna had fixed Hans with a stare that I had only seen a handful of times, then she said between clenched teeth, “try it yourself.”

Hans did, all the while shaking his head, at least until he dampened his rag. He then sneezed.

“It cleans out the nose,” he said, as his eyes began watering. “Now where is that bad sore spot you got?”

“Here,” said Anna pointing to her back just above her 'rear'. “Careful, as it's very sore.”

Hans put the rag there, and Anna's eyes went white with shock.

“What?” I gasped.

“It just went numb,” said Anna through her clenched teeth, “and...”

Hans was looking in Anna's clothing, and while I knew that was something that normally made for an uninhibited slap no matter who did so, this time she seemed to be thinking otherwise. Hans was looking carefully, then he retied the sash while shaking his head. He then looked at the jug.

“That place is half as bad as it was when I saw it last,” he said. “Now is it hurting still?”

“N-no,” said Anna. “Here, rub that stuff on your lumps.”

I was continuing to work upon Sarah's feet, and though I had acquired a severe case of the dry heaves and once needed an extra rag which I turned a nasty-looking shade of green, I continued rubbing them with rags soaked in the 'Geneva'. Sarah's feet now looked far closer to normal, so much so that I gently grasped one of her toes and gently wiggled it. I hoped it was not broken, as it was now almost normal-looking; and while that was mostly what I was checking for, checking for broken bones was not the only reason I was wiggling her toe. Anna then looked at me, then at Sarah.

“What?” I asked, as I resumed rubbing.

“That was very nice of you,” said Anna. “The book speaks of washing feet, but here, rubbing them is thought to be much the same thing.”

“Yes, and the toes are the worst part of that business,” said Hans. “Now are you playing with her toes?”

Sarah smiled, then nodded. “I'm glad my feet hurt less.” She then choked back a giggle.

I continued rubbing her feet, now and then checking the rest of her toes one by one, then her feet. Gentle pressure with the dampened rag seemed to make the swelling go down faster than merely rubbing with the rag soaked in Geneva, and by the time I had gone to the privy twice more with the runs, Sarah's feet looked almost normal.

I had also tickled them briefly three times, and Sarah had howled with laughter. Anna had shaken her finger at me, though I could tell she was not disapproving of my doing so.

“I think those boots might fit those there,” said Hans, “as if you are laughing, it is likely they do not hurt much.”

“They feel strange,” said Sarah. “Now I will need to write down his recipe, and all the rest of the things that we did to that stuff.”

“You what?” said Anna. Her voice was almost a screech.

“I used to help him make this stuff,” said Sarah, “and I saw that still that went out. I doubt we will want one as large as that thing, but one half its size should work well.”

“No, dear, it will need to be larger than that,” I said. “Half its height and diameter means one eighth the volume.”

“That was not a small still you made,” said Sarah, “and this is not the potato country.” A brief pause, then, “you might need one jug where that place would wish ten.”

“Yes, that is for most of the time,” said Hans. “Now the swine-season is coming, so there are lots of people going to get hurt like they were last night, so then we will want lots of that stuff for then.” I had the impression – one based on last night – that fighting in this area meant lots of soreness in those who weren't severely hurt. That educated my next statement.

“Perhaps half the volume, then,” I said. “How much would that one I made make?”

“Enough to keep my great-uncle most-busy with mashing and jugging,” said Sarah, “as it would run twice what one of those nasty witch-made...”

“No, dear,” said the soft voice. “Not merely is that particular type of still all but immune to clogging compared to those smelly fetishes you learned to dislike so intensely, but it's a lot more efficient at concentrating and polymerizing those essential oils.”

“What does that mean?” asked Anna.

“Oh, my,” I spluttered. “Not only will what it makes be worse for spewing and nausea, but it will work better at removing bruises and, uh, risings.”

“And not a little better,” said the soft voice. “That liniment's therapeutic properties will increase more than the side effects, which will make for a vast increase in his custom.” A brief pause, then, “be glad you kept your patterns, as Georg will get more orders from the potato country once that man puts that still in action.”

“Witches?” I murmured.

“You ruined the fetish value of distillation with that design,” said the soft voice, “which, however, will not stop every witch that wishes a still from trying to get one of yours of that pattern – as it looks 'likely' in the fashion peculiar to witchdom.”

“Why?” asked Sarah.

“Because I made it, I guess,” I muttered. “Those wretches are going to be really surprised if they try making forty-chain with one of those things, though.”

“Why is that?” asked Hans.

“Because it will, uh, concentrate the bad parts that we normally want a column still for,” I said softly, “so that stuff will taste horrible when it's just distilled.”

“It does that already,” said Hans – who seemingly had not heard me. “Now will it be worse?”

I had no answer for Hans, beyond, “there's things in, uh, corn mash that that type of still will not remove, but rather concentrate, and, uh, they...”

“Those people use cheap grain and bad grapes,” said Hans. “Now what is this about corn mash?”

“The bad parts, Hans,” said Sarah. “Remember how you said forty-chain will put your tripes in the privy if you drink it for too long?”

Hans nodded.

“If you use one of those stills to make that drink,” said Sarah, “it will not need years to do that. I'm not sure how how it will need, but it will not need years.”

“How long will it take, then?” said Hans.

“I am not sure,” said Sarah, “but I would not drink Geneva made with that type of still, not even on a dare.”

“Yes, because it will put you in the privy,” said Hans. “It is bad stuff.”

Anna shook her head, then said, “I think that type of still concentrates more than just the alcohol, Hans. I think it concentrates that stuff that shows on the charcoal we use also.”

“Very much so,” said the soft voice, “and that, in concentrated form, is not merely a cumulative poison, but also adds much to the 'flavor' of strong drink. Hence witches will not merely drink more forty-chain if it is made with that type of still, but instead of lasting a few years while consuming it, they will...” The abrupt fading of the soft voice was astonishing, for that seldom had happened before. I wondered what it meant, at least until Sarah spoke.

“No, not years,” said Sarah. “I am not sure how long they will last if they drink stuff made with those things, but they will not endure years. Some might last a few months, if they drink that stuff sparingly, but if a witch likes strong drink...”

“They will like this stuff,” said the soft voice. “One taste, and they will drink it with abandon.”

“They do not practice anything near moderation,” said Sarah. “They will drown their tripes in that nasty-tasting drink, and then they will dump them most quickly.”

“In some cases, the very first time they get into it,” said the soft voice. “It will not be 'forty-chain' then, but rather, 'forty minutes of drinking that stuff and you're ready to live in a rest-house' until you die.”

“Absinthe,” I muttered.

“No,” said the soft voice. “Think something closer to 'half a bottle of this stuff and you're dangerously psychotic for life'.”

“What does that mean?” asked Anna.

“What people do with forty-chain, should they consume it to excess for a long time,” said Sarah. “Lukas has spoken of it, but I have seen what those people do several times – and crazy is no word for how they can get.” Sarah paused, then, “half a bottle?”

“Yes, like those you used for wrecking the hall,” said the soft voice. “About four or five of the usual-sized glasses.”

“Oh, my,” said Sarah. “That stuff would clear out whole mining towns overnight!”

“Then let those witches buy those things,” said Hans with a chuckle. “If those witches like the flavor of rat poison, then we should make it easy for them to drink it.”

“No, Hans, we do not want the rats to get into such drink,” said Anna. I wondered how 'witches' had suddenly become 'rats'. “I've heard how they get on cough medicine.”

“They would not become like that,” said the soft voice. “They would act as if they they were three times as big as they actually were, and white as snow for color – and a good dose of 'drink' prepared with such a still would have permanent effects, unlike those short-lasting periods common to cough medicine.”

“White rats?” asked Anna. “I've never seen one. What are those like?”

“If you have not seen a white rat,” said Sarah, “then hope you never do, as they are bad trouble if they are at all large.”

“Have you?” asked Anna.

“Several times,” said Sarah, “and calling those things bad tempered is calling them wonderful.” Sarah paused, then said, “and if one of them shows, you either want to put soot on it or use stiff shot, as they tend to ignore being shot otherwise.”

“Were these larger rats?” I asked. I recalled the charge of that one fifth kingdom 'rat' and its hefty nature, so much so that I looked at the floor and saw a ghostly outline of the creature. It was, indeed, nearly three feet long in the body, and lumpy with muscle; and now – for the first time, ever – I saw the claws and teeth of the animal. They belonged on something a good deal nastier than any mere 'rat' I had ever seen, and as what I saw faded, I felt reminded once more of 'Africa' and 'The Big Five'. I'd needed a load able to stop 'dangerous game' then.

“Once,” said Sarah. “The others might have been slightly larger than is common for the fourth kingdom's market town, but that larger one had me dodging its teeth and claws until I put an entire shot-bag full of mingled shot into it – and I lost count of how many balls I put into it, but I was most sore afterward.” Sarah paused, then said, “and I was ignorant of what roers were like then, as I wanted the use of one for that rat.”

“How big was that thing?” said Hans.

“About as long as seven of my feet toe to heel for its body from nose to rump,” said Sarah. “It might not have been a rooster for wanting lead, but it was worse than any common animal I've ever heard of.”

I mentally measured off Sarah's feet, which I now 'really' noticed for the first time. They seemed to have 'grown' slightly, and as I calculated the length of that rat by multiplying seven by about eight and a half inches, I gasped.

“Four and a half... No, nearly five feet!” I squeaked. “That thing was huge!”

“I have heard of larger ones,” said Sarah, “but that was the largest white rat I have ever seen.”

“Those rats like that need plenty of powder and lead,” said Hans, “though that one sounds more like a rooster than a rat.”

“Uh, I needed to shoot one in the fifth kingdom,” I muttered. “It was causing trouble, and...” My voice faded amid ghostly echoes of gunfire. I wondered if my blood sugar was dropping.

“With what?” asked Sarah. “You used what you usually do, didn't you?”

I nodded, then said, “that rat needed it, as it charging hard and it had teeth and claws like, uh, a...”

There was no word in the common language for 'Leopard', as such animals did not exist here. I now realized that they did not need to have one: any rat longer than three feet had similar claws and teeth; and more, rats were true experts at hiding.

“Just like leopards were said to be,” I thought.

“Yes, this thing had bad claws and teeth,” said Hans. “The rats down south are like that. Then, they can hide in places you would not expect them to fit into.”

“Don't remind me, Hans,” said Anna. “That thing ignored being shot, and I put one in its head.”

“Thing?” I asked.

“Once one of those things showed in our quarters in that market town,” said Hans, “and we both put lead into it before it left. I still had that roer then, but I was not about to try it in that little hut they had given us to stay in.”

“I doubt they would have minded,” said Anna.

“Did you sell that gun down there?” asked Sarah.

“Yes, as few will buy them up here, and that one had had three owners before me,” said Hans. “None of them had used it much, so it was still decent for working.”

The thoughts bloomed in my mind: “Muzzle-loading elephant gun. Used four times. Injury forces sale” – and I nearly laughed in spite of the slowly clearing fumes of 'Geneva'.

“Now what is your trouble?” asked Hans.

“The thought of an advertisement for a roer,” I said. “You've shot the thing four times, and now you're too badly hurt to shoot it.”

Sarah was looking at me with utmost seriousness, then muttered. “anyone who isn't able to shoot those things would be saying that after one round, not four.”

“No, dear, not four one right after the other,” I said. “This is more like what happened to Hans – shoot gun, game goes down, and so does the shooter – and each time, he gets hurt worse than the one before.”

“That is what that thing would do,” said Hans, “and that was for me.”

“Want to try mine?” I asked.

Hans shook his head, then said, “that roer cured me good of that kind of thing, and then there is what yours does for fire and noise. It is not a normal musket that way either.”

“Fire and noise?” I asked.

“Your usual load sounds like half a stick of that farmer's dynamite,” said Hans, “and the flame coming out of its front looks like you loaded it with that stuff instead of powder.”

Naps and 'homework' took up the rest of the day, and as I recalled Tam's comments, I 'drew' up the 'plans' for a powder funnel and 'measurer'. While Tam had spoken of but few rivets, for some reason, I not only wanted a 'moderate' number of them, but I wanted them 'rounded side out', with the flat-peened side cut short and then peened flatter than was usual, to give a shallow arc so as to not catch any of the contents; and then, I did not want copper. I wanted brass sheet, as Hans would use this measurer for more than just 'jug-filling'. He'd use it a lot, or so I suspected. Finally, it needed tinning on the inside, and this smooth, even, and all-covering. Tin, I now knew, endured many chemicals fairly well. It made for wondering as to using a different species of seal on pressure pots – embossed sheet tin gaskets, these replaced when they went 'flat' – and the sealing surfaces of the pots scraped flat and then lapped carefully with rouge to give a 'no-gasket' surface, and hence improve the actions of such a 'tin' gasket.

“Not just him, if you do it that way,” said the soft voice. “I'd make some patterns for that thing if I were you, as every Public House that hears of them is going to want several, in varied sizes.”

I then felt a shadow to my rear, and I turned to see Anna. She was shaking her head.

“You make one of those for Hans and it will grow legs,” she said, “and I myself will be the cause of it. That thing looks perfect for measuring flour.”

“Best make two, then,” I murmured.

“Make the first one and let both of them try it, then adjust their sizes to suit,” said the soft voice. “Hans may want one that big, and so will most cooks at Public Houses, but Anna will most likely wish something a bit smaller.”

“Set of three,” I muttered. “Hans gets the biggest one, Anna the middle-sized, and Sarah gets the little one – though I wonder what she would do with a measurer, come to think of it?”

“She'd put it in that new satchel she's making,” said Anna. “She's definitely gotten some ideas from that bag you carry, and I can tell she wants one like it for utility, if not its size.” A brief pause, then, “and though you might not be Pump, you pull almost as much out of what you carry.”

Dinner, then night; and finally, rest, this taken in bed. Again, there were no dreams; and between the rubbing of the day before – I had set out in the back yard with a cup of that 'evil-in-a-jug' Geneva and rubbed myself everywhere I could reach while intermittently watering the grassy spot where I sat with my vomit – and the aspect of restful 'repose', I felt myself recovered.

At least until I lifted up the latch to the front door of the shop, and the aches and pains returned to a more than modest degree. It made me wish for an old-time 'prescription aspirin', in fact – as those worked, they did not mess with one's head, they cost little enough, and they caused no other troubles that I knew of.

The others filtered in about half an hour after I'd gotten the long forge lit, and when they came, the door's cracks showed enough sun for me to turn down the 'Sun' lantern over where I was working on parts for the blower's main sheet-metal housing. While they warmed their outwards over the heat from the slow-flaming kindling I had made in the long forge – it had gone strangely cold the night before, almost as if the heat of the now-dead witches was spent in this world upon their descent into hell – I heard mumbling between sips of beer. Finally, I stood up and groaned.

“You also,” said Georg. “I have my own lumps yesterday, as I was busy with deliveries, and a pig came under my wheels.”

“A pig?” I squeaked.

“Fair for size, if I go by talk,” said Georg. “It was not fair for smell, nor was it good for my buggy.” A brief pause, then, “and now, I must borrow a buggy to make deliveries.”

“The, uh, irons?” I asked.

“They were in poor condition when I saw last them,” said Georg, “and had I the money, I would order the fourth kingdom's sleeves and have you fit them up.”

“Uh, why?” I asked. I had the impression the sleeves themselves weren't that costly.

“It is not the cost of the sleeves,” said Georg. “One needs at least two trips, and often three, and those trips are expensive.”

“Months,” I muttered. “A month each...”

“No, it would not take me months for those trips,” said Georg. “Had I the use of a buggy like one of those...”

I turned toward the door to hear a faint 'whizzing' noise and see a slight dust trail. I suspected Sarah was off on an errand.

“That one especially,” said Georg, “though I suspect I might be too large to sit in its seat.” A pause, then, “still, I am glad she has it and a decent team.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“I am not sure I am up to swine now,” said Georg, “but I have shot enough guns to have an idea of what that kind of thing is like – and when someone is hurt, you do not want to waste a moment's time.”

“Hence you must have your work done locally, which means...”

A pause, worthy of pregnancy or some other condition fully as troubling. I then had a question.

“That one second-hand shop,” I spluttered. “They've got a small batch of cups and cones!”

“Are these rough, or what?” asked Georg.

“Rough as in...” I paused, then said, “rough-fitted,yes. They're close enough that they are tied to one another with string!”

“Which means they will wear in, or you can lap them closer,” said Georg. “Now where is this place, and how do I get there?”

I drew Georg a map from memory as best as I could, and he left 'hotfoot' nearly the minute I had drawn it. I then resumed work upon the blower's housing. The others busied themselves in the rear, and when I needed a break, I went back to the rear door of the shop.

Not thirty feet away stood 'Frankie' in all his glory, with the main shaft of the furnace standing tall enough to be a landmark of sorts. The bricks of his waist-high plinth had not merely become far more numerous, but they had sprouted in unusual places, including a sizable place just off of the place where the blower would connect to the wind-belt. The charging platform and stairs leading to it were in place, but I could tell they would need my attention, especially regarding bolting and then riveting.

“We found those bolts in a bag under your workbench,” said Gelbhaar. “They were part of what came to do those two buggies for the house.”

“And I need to make good ones,” I said. Bolt failure sounded like trouble when it came to foundry work.

“They were soft bolts,” said Gelbhaar, “and badly fitted. They are not like those you do, especially that last batch.” Gelbhaar paused, then, “why did you do those nuts with six sides? Most nuts have four.”

“Not those I'm accustomed to working with,” I said. “Look at those on those rivet swages, and tell me if those are square or not.”

Gelbhaar did not leave, for he scratched his head, then said, “those have six flats, also. Why is that?”

“Because I milled those things, and what I used permits me to cut four, six, eight, or twelve such flats,” I said. “It's normally intended for milling cutters or reamers, but it works equally well for nuts – and what I commonly use for nuts...”

“Is that stuff we do up with the drop-hammer,” said Gelbhaar, “though you work it a fair amount more. I tried forging it, and it works well if you get it hot enough and bury it deep in your fire.”

“You what?” I asked.

“I wanted a small knife, one for carving wood,” he said, “so I tried doing things like you do. It moves slowly, so needs patience, a yellow-red heat, and much beer.”

“Yes, for the two of us,” said Johannes as he joined us. “It is not so for him. Now how is it you like Frankij?”

“What?” I gasped.

“Its name,” said Johannes. “Here, let me show you its naming plate.”

I was now led outside, and as I stood upon the edges of the plinth, I gawked at what we had actually done.

“They have more to do to this thing,” said Johannes, “but that waits for your things. Then, they will do the inside, and once that happens, we can start burning.”

“Burning?” I asked. “As in curing the lining?”

“Yes, though that needs little or no blast, at least at first,” said Johannes. “They do not have these things this far north, so all we know is what those masons told us.”

“Do they, uh, have these?” I asked.

“Some of their places do, or so they said,” said Gelbhaar, “and some have another type, one that is used in the fifth kingdom. Those need large barrels, and this type does not.” A brief pause, then, “and what you are working on is no type of barrel I have ever seen.”

“I've only seen one of those,” I said. “It was at Knaadelmann's.”

“If you saw it there, then you should know how they are,” said Johannes. “So... Ah, here it is. The naming plate.”

“Oh, my,” I spluttered. “It really is spelled that way.” A brief question: “Who was he?”

“An old farmer some miles south of here,” said Johannes, “and though he was a prime curmudgeon, he was trouble for those northern people when they showed.”

“More than that,” said Gelbhaar. “That wretch would blow witch-horns earlier than anyone, and his was loud enough to make the dead leap out of their graves.”

“Might be an apt name, then,” I murmured. “Now I post late tonight, so I hope Georg gets back here soon.”

Georg did arrive before I left, though he did so as I was taking off my apron. He was overheated and dusty, but when the others went out and brought back four bags, each of them well-stained with grease, Georg said, “no, best just let him look at them. They'll wish to fit them as they are.”

“Did you?” I asked.

“They're as good as anything I've seen,” said Georg, “but I've never heard of the place casting them. It's got a name that begins with an 'M', and I cannot speak it.”

“Machalaat Brothers?” I asked.

Georg did a double-take, then said, “who are they?”

“They seem to do decent work,” I said. “Some of my tools are from there – and not the less-good tools, either.” A pause, then, “I've seen some Heinrich tools, and I have some of those as well, and those are the only ones that are better to any real degree.”

Georg seemed satisfied, and as I went home for a bath and a nap in the early afternoon, I felt satisfied at my progress as well. I was at the point where I needed to cast the blower parts to finish the housing; I'd cut up some copper for a smaller version of that one liniment still – it too would need a species of rag-padded cradle, which meant another drawing for the carpenters – I'd answered a fair number of questions, and I still had most of a tank of aquavit in the 'Sun' lantern. I was not expecting the bagged package on the couch when I came home, however, nor was I prepared for Anna's speech. I heard this as I was getting my bath ready.

“Georg's due for a new buggy,” she said, “and about time.” A pause, then, “and I had no idea he disliked pigs that much.”

“Why, what happened?” I asked.

“That thing wrecked his buggy,” said Anna, “and it was a large one. That wasn't what was surprising, though.”

“Yes,” I asked. “What happened?” I had just gotten the heating lamp going under the boiler, and I'd have hot water by the time I got my clothing and fetched a fresh bar of long thin 'washing soap'. The other stuff wanted another batch soon, as it was vanishing in a hurry.

“His front axle broke,” said Anna, “and he pulled the wheel pin, tossed the wheel, and ran down the road after that pig while he was thumping it with that axle.”

“Georg has a temper?” I gasped. Georg had seemed to have an uncommonly even temper, more so than almost anyone I'd encountered here.

“Yes, though I suspect it has to do mostly with pigs,” said Anna. “He told me about how they tended to crowd his dreams unless he was dosed with tinctures, and now I do not doubt it.” A brief pause, then, “he was really surprised when it escaped, though.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“He wore soot from the explosion,” said Anna, “as that pig had escaped into the house of a well-hid witch, and that wretch was running something that burned heavy distillate.”

“Was he hurt?” This from the stairs as I was descending with an armload of greens. I'd gotten two more pair, though I was beginning to wonder if they came in thinner fabric. They were acceptable in the always-chilly house proper, but riding to or from the place, especially in the daytime, meant for sweat and itching.

“No, as the explosion was caught by the witch's house,” said Anna. “He must have been most short of distillate, as all it did was blow his door open and blow out his window – and Georg was about five feet from his door, so he caught soot from the explosion.”

“And the witch?” I asked.

“I'm not sure what happened to the witch, even if the pig was found some time later lying dead on its side from Georg thumping it.”

I closed the door then, and during my bath, I noted the still obvious lumps and bruises. I thought to rub them again with some of our Geneva, as that worked passably for lumps and bruises. I suspected I knew where Hans had a part-filled jug of it hidden, and when I went downstairs dressed for 'work' with the Sun lantern – he could use it just the same, now – he was cleaning the glassware for motor oil. I began hunting for his 'stowed' jug, and when I found it not two minutes later, he was 'smiling'.

“Ah, I have been looking for that thing,” said Hans. “That other stuff is almost as bad as the bruises. Now how is it you find it so easy?”

“I knew it was down here, and when I got downstairs, I knew roughly where it was. I went over there, started looking – and I found it quickly. Why?”

“Because I have been hunting for it for a long time,” said Hans. “That jug is from last winter, so it is not going to make me sick should I need it for the crae.”

“You?” I asked, as I uncorked the jug. The odor, while mild compared to that of the other jug of Geneva, was still enough to make me feel sick.

“No,” said Hans. “After one has that trouble a few times, one becomes much less likely to get it for some reason, and it is usually worst the first time you get it.”

“Immunity,” I muttered. “Why, when is it most common?”

“Now is one of the more common times,” said Hans, “and then, there is winter. Then, it is worst.” Hans paused, then said, “and there are people in town that might need dosing, as I know they have not had that trouble yet.”

“Children?” I asked. I had found their seeming absence in town to be remarkable.

“They do not get that sickness unless they go out in the woods a lot,” said Hans, “and if you are a farmer, that does not happen much until you are old enough to carry a musket.”

“You, uh...”

“Ephraim grew turnips, mostly, and our patch of those things was small,” said Hans. “He did other things mostly, and that meant a lot of time in the woods looking for things.”

“Him, or you, or both?”

“All of those things,” said Hans. “If you make medicines, you are out in the forests and fields a lot, at least up here, and then, I learned to shoot early, so I was getting meat, too.” A pause, then, “so I got into the crae earlier than most, and I got it oftener than most, too.”

“And Anna was out in the fields much, also,” I said. “Correct?”

“She was, though with her I am not sure, not after learning about how her mother was,” said Hans. “Her grandparents were close to where my family lived, so it caused little trouble for us, and then once we were married, we had this house.”

“Did it sit much?” I asked.

“No, because they visited it every few months so as to keep it clean and looked after,” said Hans, “and I think they might have tossed some fetishes, too, as they had someone else look through it first off after her parents were killed.” Hans paused, then said, “talk said that person had had trouble with swine.”

“And he was, uh, burned?” I asked.

“He was burnt good,” said Hans. “He needed to wear burn-clothing for months, as well as dark eye-shades, and after, he needed to wear soft deer-leather gloves all the time.”

“Including some, uh, vegetable fiber in one or more of the fingers,” I murmured. “So he cleared out the fetishes? Did he, uh, burn them?”

“No, but they tried burning him,” said Hans, “or so he said. I was not there, but Anna's grandparents spoke of how he was sooted up as if he'd been working with chemicals, and they knew about that part, as I had gone there after I'd gotten sooted up once or twice.”

“And bathed,” I said. I filled two vials with Geneva and topped up my usual one, as I suspected I'd need to share with whoever I posted with; and later that night, I was proved right, as both guards were both new and altogether sore. They'd taken part in the destruction of the hall, and what Sarah had said about what 'dealing with witches' would do to them was an understatement.

Both 'men' now had something of a staring aspect to their facial expressions, and their lumps, bruises, and groans were legion. More, one man spoke of how he had come far too close to 'seeing the hare', and the other groaned in agreement. I was not inclined to disagree with either man, as that mess had been enough for me.

“No, it was not the Swartsburg going up the second time,” I spluttered as the shift ended and the two of them went for more beer. “That mess was in its own category for trouble, and my ears are still ringing like monk-house bells.”

While my ears continued to recover, I was busier than I had ever been, with castings, patterns – we would assay 'camp ovens' with Frankie's first run, if not lathe beds; also, Georg spoke of small cast-iron 'bricks' as being especially valued by instrument-makers. I felt decent about trying those.

With each piece of work I finished – I needed breaks from working on Frankie; my concentration tended to wander, and doing the 'bored out' engine did not want wandering concentration, especially given the makeshift means available to me – the stack of slates shrank, sometimes by two or three at a time. Georg now had bags of finished work hanging from the front part of the shop, and when a customer came – not rare, especially now – he often had to spend some time talking and looking among the bagged articles. More than once, I had heard mention of his buggy being 'destroyed' and how he had gone after the 'big grunter' that had wrecked it.

“Big grunter?” I asked.

“That was a large pig,” spat Georg, “and though my buggy was not in good condition, that pig turned it into kindling when it tried for me.”

“Kindling?” I asked. This was news to me.

“It tried to get too friendly,” said Georg, “and I do not like pigs. So when the horses bolted and the the whole thing went smash after that pig climbed into the bed, I was flung into the dirt next to the broken front axle, and I pulled the wheel-pin and used that piece of wood on that pig as a club. I'm glad it did not break.”

“And that pig went for a witch's house,” I murmured.

“Yes, only I did not know that,” said Georg. “I only had eyes for that pig, and I was thumping it as much as I could, so when it broke the door down, I almost went inside after it.”

“But you did not,” I murmured. “The smell?”

“That and this lantern that was acting like what Hieronymus used,” said Georg. “I backed up in a hurry, and a good thing I did, as that place went up in smoke right in front of me and I became almost as sooty as Hans sometimes gets.”

“Typical light-giving firebombs,” I muttered. “Now do you know why I call them that?”

Georg nodded earnestly, then said, “that witch, though... He will be learning of that trouble where he belongs, as it turned him to charcoal and set his house alight.”

“And the pig?” I asked.

“That ran off,” said Georg, “though by the time I'd arranged for a ride back, someone had found it. It was dead then, and they said I'd killed it.” A brief pause, a long drink of beer, then, “and that will be one less pig to have bad dreams about.”

“Uh, do those have special names?” I asked.

“Yes, though those tend to be oaths,” said Georg. “Now I heard those masons speak of swine, and they spoke of some that were especial trouble where they came from. They had trouble speaking our language, but the best they could manage was 'bad-pig'.

“Sounds like you encountered one, then,” I murmured.

After that day's regular work, however, I set to work on 'close matters', these being the heat-treating and then tempering of swords. I was finding those to be especially amenable to batch-work, and as I deluged the shop again and again with the thick gray smoke of repeated fat-quenches, I knew that these would be part of my homework. That night, however, I was distracted, and as I examined my second 'shuttered' lantern – this one was 'full-riveted', and hence more work – I thought to try coiling up some glassblower's wire and sticking it inside. I found a chunk, cut it with nippers – it was like music wire for springiness – and then began to coil it up as small as possible. I then, using pincers, lowered it slowly into the 'chimney' of the lamp.

At first, nothing happened, save for the thin trail of soot coming out becoming less; but within seconds, I noted a noticeable increase of light. Further movement down increased the light yet more; and as I moved the wire around just over the candle flame, I marveled at the increase in both light and heat the thing was giving off. Finally, I removed the wire, and the lantern settled down to its former dimness.

“Seems that works, I murmured, as I let the softly glowing wire slowly cool. I then looked closer at the wire, and saw a small sign slowly materialize in the air next to it. It made for strange thoughts.

“Wire-drawing, as practiced in the fourth kingdom, commonly causes the thorium present to gravitate to the surface layers of such wire,” said the soft voice. “Now if you were to process such wire, the situation would be different.”

“Uh, how?” I asked.

“That thorium would not merely be far more concentrated in that surface layer, but also changed at the atomic level,” said the soft voice. “It would gain a great deal of activity in certain uses.”

As I heard this, I slowly recalled a soft and dully glowing glass globule-collection that I had used where I came from, and with it, the soothing sounds of music as I yawned unwittingly. I then abruptly 'awoke' with a faint unvoiced screech. I had fallen asleep, hypnotized by the now no-longer-glowing wire coil.

“Th-those things?” I gasped at the thought of softly glowing vacuum tubes.

“Such wire would work well for filaments,” said the soft voice. “Those directly-heated cathodes would have surprisingly high emission, given their likely lifespans.” A brief pause, then as if to answer my latent questions, “tungsten wire is difficult to draw that fine, at least if it is processed conventionally.”

“Wire-drawing dies?” I asked.

The impression was too difficult to ignore: I needed to try the matter as soon as I could. I began looking for my wire-drawing set. Andreas had mentioned special wire-drawing dies, and when I found them next to a small glass vial of obvious red-paste, I was stunned, shocked, and amazed.

“How?” I gasped, as I straightened out the wire coil. For some reason, I wanted to start at that end.

“I'd anneal that stuff thoroughly beforehand,” said the soft voice.

I did so; and with the gripping end pointed and the first die of the twenty-die set in its holder and secured to the desk, I pulled the wire.

It came through readily, and after two more times through that die, I switched dies to the next-smallest. Again, a dab of red-paste upon the die, thread the pointed end of the wire through the hole, then pull with the pliers. Twice more, then clean and anneal the wire again. It was quicker this time, even if I had nearly another foot of wire. I repeated the process twice more, and as I was wiping the wire with a rag, Anna came up to where I was. I had almost six feet of wire now, and I realized I needed to cut it – as it would grow more in length.

“I was wondering when you would get to that,” she said. “Sarah told me about an experiment you had planned, and I know that Abbey place will want those lanterns.” A brief pause, then, “you didn't check what was in that sack on the couch, did you?”

“N-no,” I asked. “Why?”

“Because it's addressed to you,” said Anna. “It's from Albrecht, and I suspect I know what it is.”

“Where is it?”

“It is not on the couch now,” said Anna. “It's on the table.”

After cutting my wire in half, I was led to the table, and there I found the bag in question. A brief touch spoke of a familiar shape, and the chilled touch behind the cloth had me guessing. It wasn't brass I was feeling.

“A lantern,” I murmured. “I wonder...”

The top of the bag had come undone with my fumbling, and the shiny gray metal that I saw of the lantern's rim was too familiar for it to be other than but one thing. I first took that out, then carefully reached in to find a lantern exactly like those I had seen in the third kingdom.”

“I was hoping one of those would show,” said Anna. “I was glad for that brass one the night the hall went where it belonged, but those are brighter, and not a little brighter.”

“Now why would I need one of these?” I thought.

“I think this one is for your work,” said Anna. “Watch that you do not become dim-eyed.”

I resumed my wire-drawing work, but after another two instances of annealing with three passes through each of half a dozen progressively smaller dies, I not merely had to cut my wires again, but I was now getting wire somewhere close to what I thought might be needed. I put the four lengths of wire away, as well as the dies and other tools, and went to bed shortly thereafter.

The forth kingdom lantern went with me the next morning when I left before dawn, and as I buffed near-finished sword blanks under its brilliant white light, I hoped that no one would complain. While the town was more or less cleared of witches, I knew there were still some few in the area.

“Yes, and the pigs are sniffing them out, also,” said the soft voice. “Albrecht, while he still has more than his share of trouble to the south, no longer has much trouble once he's much north of the second kingdom's border.”

“Uh, the fear?” I asked.

“Witches are might be scarce around here,” said the soft voice, “but between that scarcity and what has happened in this area, those further away are maintaining a lower profile. Only when you get down to close to the border region do they truly 'carry on' as usual.”

“And if he goes into the right places,” I murmured, “then he can avoid trouble to some extent.” I was thinking of the potato country.

“He's been going there for years,” said the soft voice, “and his current route is sufficiently hazardous in places that he's now wondering about using a small boat.”

“Small boat?” I asked. “As in what some use for fishing up near the north-tip?”

“Yes, on the east side,” said the soft voice. “The west side is thought the realm of pirates and those northern people, and while much of that is rumor, pirates do operate in those regions during certain seasons of the year.”

“What's there to do up there, though?” I asked. I was thinking of pirates.

“Mostly stay out of trouble this time of year,” said the soft voice. “A lot of pirates keep their more-thuggish aspects hidden the bulk of the time, as piracy, save in the waters off of the fifth kingdom, is a poor-paying proposition. Shipping 'hazardous cargoes' might have little 'loot', but it does tend to pay steadier.”

“Hazardous cargoes?” I asked.

“Dynamite and distillate for the witch-trade, along with pigs now and then, as well as those things popular in the second kingdom port,” said the soft voice. “Anyone shipping the combination of explosives and pigs is either truly desperate for income, or a part-time pirate – and more often than not, the combined state of poverty and piracy is present.”

“And hence their, uh, graving docks?” I asked.

“Yes, on one of the larger islands,” said the soft voice. “That settlement is a much smaller version of the third kingdom's port, and though it is poorly known and hard to find, it does tend to be busy.”

“And fishy-smelling,” I murmured. “Those people do a lot of fishing, and they dry those things.”

“Their chief source of legitimate income in dealing with the mainland,” said the soft voice. “Dried fish is both cheap and commonly sold in that second kingdom port as well as the port of the third kingdom and a few of the larger inlets between the two locations, and is about the most readily available source of protein to the 'commons' of both kingdoms, if they live within twenty miles of the sea.” A pause, then, “and more than one of those islands has a well-hidden outpost of Norden's people, also.”

“Oh, my,” I thought. “Tinned spams?”

“A few, perhaps,” said the soft voice, “but mostly what they do is catch and dry fish for export to Norden.”

“Norden needs dried fish from around here?” I asked.

“Norden's coastal waters tend to border on sterile when it comes to edible creatures,” said the soft voice. “If you go out into the middle of that gulf, then you catch fish, but those people don't like going there.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“Neither winds nor currents to assist them in that area,” said the soft voice, “and the ships of Norden, while sturdy enough for what they do with them, need either rowing, strong currents, or decent winds to make much in the way of headway.

“Or all three at once if they can get them,” I muttered. “Now why do they fish at those islands?”

“Better weather, for one,” said the soft voice. “There's a world of difference between what those islands experience and what Norden endures. Then, there are no witches present on those islands.”

“That's no small difference,” I muttered.

“Precisely, which is why those fishing outposts are preferred duty among Norden's people,” said the soft voice. “Then, relatively easy work, regular meals of good food by Norden's standards, no dangerous mutated animals to cause trouble, and then limited sea duty.”

“Nets?” I asked.

“No, a number of small boats with fishing equipment similar to what you've used here,” said the soft voice. “The waters between those islands are not merely about as sheltered as you are going to find near this continent, but teem with fish that resemble slightly larger versions of herring.” A brief pause, then, “and those people catch their share of them in those shallows.”

“Uh, how do they prepare them?”

“First, they cut them in half lengthwise, then boil them briefly in saturated salt water. That both cooks and dehydrates them enough to permit ready drying,” said the soft voice. “A few weeks on the drying-flitches, and the flint-dried fish are then turned into a coarse meal mingled with crude salt that Norden's people evaporate in pottery basins over slow fires, and then that salted meal is put into leather bags.”

“They...”

“Each of those stations fills one of those rowed ships roughly every two to three weeks,” said the soft voice, “and while that isn't much for millions, that 'fish meal' does help keep those colonies of Thinkers healthy and growing. Then, Ultima Thule's extended coterie needs supplemental food, and finally the spams need occasional treats, especially during the growing season when they're working harder than usually.”

Again, there was another late posting, which I did alone; and while I kept watch during the wee hours of the morning – the 'dead' sixth posting – I either drew plans, refined plans I had drawn before, or wrote notes under the heading of 'Lunacy'. General's Row was so quiet I wondered if there was anyone inside the place, and when I touched the 'main' door of the Row – it had been repaired, somehow, though its five hinges had gone to three in number, and these three were a good deal less substantial than those they'd replaced – I could feel a still and cold emptiness. Touching the other doors that composed General's Row, save for one, all gave back the same sensation; and that single exception had a barely detectable half-drunk snoring sound coming from some well-hidden location in the bowels of the place.

“Probably goes subterranean as well as above this floor,” I muttered, as I returned to my post.

“While it does do both of those things, neither passage is well-known at this time by the current occupants,” said the soft voice. “They will eventually learn of them if they remain, as well as the many well-hidden sacks of coins and other things left by the late unlamented multitude – and in time, again presuming they remain in the area and survive, they will become the new leaders of another fine crop of Generals.”

The way this was spoken, however, implied that unlike times past, these people would serve a far different purpose than the previous one. I suspected that not merely would the next crop of black-dressed thugs be uncommonly numerous, but also widespread, with more back-doors and hidey-holes than any previous batch I'd faced; and while they would be wily in the house proper, those witches that would come into the town itself would have learned lessons from their predecessors regarding those things that had caught out those people.

“No more pigs, for one thing,” I muttered.

“No, there will be pigs,” said the soft voice, “but they will not be kept in numbers. More importantly, most pigs in the house will arrive in smoked and dried form, as then they are difficult to distinguish from other provisions.”

“Nor can they seek out witches,” I muttered. “Smoked and dried?” I asked.

“Is thought a delicacy among the connoisseurs of swine,” said the soft voice, “and only freshly-roasted well-greased Shoet is thought better.” A brief pause, then, “pigs will come by the secret way, either alive, on ice, or packaged, and only the wealthier witches will be able to eat pork routinely.”

“No, uh, guards coming with greasy faces...” I thought.

The answer, while unspoken, was a flat and emphatic 'no'. No guard would be able to afford the 'cover charge' to get into a place that sold pork in the foreseeable future, much less the pork itself; and a lot of the former witch-haunts would be far better hidden.

“Yes, initially,” said the soft voice. “That one Public House that remains to witchdom will commence its rebuilding within a month, and then two others, these being either new entirely or enlarged versions of existing places, will show on the edges of town – one near where that one major path breaks out of town to go to the house proper, and another place near the still-smoking rubble of the hall.”

“And, of course, the existing two-doored shops...”

“Will begin doing better within some weeks, due to their increased custom in strong drink and 'distinguished wines',” said the soft voice. “Also, all of those formerly 'captive' drink-houses will expand both their facilities and their clientèle during that time.”

“Getting their supplies...”

I ceased my questions, for I could feel the coming of both fatigue and those who would relieve me; and I was more asleep than awake on my ride home. I would have two days off, for Frankie was pressing, as was that stack of orders; and when I came in about the time for the morning guzzle, I wondered if we could run bronze today.

We could, with that happening after lunch; and we did. More importantly, as the 'bronze' flasks cooled, I began loading up a cast-iron crucible. I'd be pouring cast iron today, once the others left, for the engine's iron castings weren't nearly as large as the bronze castings we had done earlier.

However, I found I actually 'did' get help with pouring the iron, as it became ready just prior to the now-usual quitting time of the others; and as I began banking the shop's fires in preparation of several hours of both fire-watch and my 'closer' work that needed a distraction-free environment, the others began doffing their aprons and leaving.

The next day, I shook out the castings, and then set to work upon them. The day after I would need to pour more bronze, but Georg spoke of letting the sand rest longer between such instances. He had the apprentices raking and wetting our now-sizable sand-heap, and as the last two barrels of Joosten's sand were emptied onto it, he said, “they will pick those up if we put them out front, just like they did with the others.”

“Y-your buggy?” I asked.

“It is coming steadily,” said Georg. “Those carpenters have stopped digging upon their hole, at least the three of them, though that boy they have is still working on digging it.”

“The saw blades?” I asked.

“I have told them what is required, and what we are doing,” said Georg, “and all three of those men can see the top of that furnace if they go into their rear yards and look north some.”

“Do they know we need it?”

“Yes, and I told them of what would also come of having what you are working on finished and working,” said Georg. “I told them we would have iron as good as could be had, as I read some more in those Compendium books – and it seems that this one place only uses a certain type for their blades.”

“One place?” I asked.

“They make the best saws to be had,” said Georg, “and the only metal they use for that needs a furnace like that one you have been using. The usual stuff will not work, or so they say.”

“Round blades, right?” I asked.

Georg nodded, then said, “and those are bad for warping, so I told them if they wanted a saw that worked well, you would need the new equipment to make it, and no mistake.”

“Uh, the straight blades are worse yet for warping,” I said.

And yet, the matter suddenly dawned upon me: pattern-welded steel did not work for pit-saw blades. What was most commonly used for both round and rectangular blades was rolled fifth kingdom metal, this being a steel on the low end of the medium carbon range; while Knaadelmann's used first the output of their version of Frankie, then used a furnace like what we currently used – and the two-step process, with both instances heavily fluxed, was the only way on the continent to get 'clean' steel of adequate carbon and alloy content to both be warp-free when forged and then take – and hold – a good edge when properly heat-treated.

“Whole process is probably tricky as anything,” I thought.

“Only when you approach it like a chanting witch is it that tricky,” said the soft voice, “and the bulk of the 'tricks' involved just occurred to you. Do it that way, do it with adequate attention to detail, and then adequately clean 'tool steel' is neither magic or mystery.”

I then saw that Georg was still present, and more, he had a question. I had taken down the titanium lantern when I heard the men coming that morning, same as I had done with the Sun lantern; and the night before, I had taken the lantern home with me after first letting it cool briefly and then covering it with a rag.

“What gives with those cloths over the windows?” he asked.

“We've been having wax-shortages,” I said, “and good candles are still hard to find in quantity.”

“They are just becoming common again, assuming you know where to get them,” said Georg. “The common places still do not have them, so most must still make do with tallow.”

“Uh, you?” I asked.

“More than once, at least until that pig wrecked my buggy, I wondered about finding a wick-lantern,” said Georg, “and then putting boiled distillate to it, but after that pig, I want nothing to do with those things.”

“Er, even boiled distillate can cause a bad fire,” I murmured. “There was this one batch of witches coming to the hall that night that had one, and it, uh fell down and b-burst open....”

“On Hallstraat, correct?” asked Georg. “Talk had it they were running those things, and now all that remains of them is dust and melted scrap-iron.” A pause, a cough, then, “no, that pig was the end of those things for me. I needed to wash three times to get rid of the soot, and I had to get soap from Anna to get rid of it after trying the usual stuff, that soot was so bad.”

“Soap?” I squeaked.

“It seems you or Sarah came up with something that works like this stuff they sell down south,” said Georg, “save it does not eat your skin off of your body. I needed first a piece of that, then this other type that settled my skin after using it, as I wasn't just sooted up. I had some burns, too.” Georg paused, then said, “and if I could get those two types of soap regularly, I would buy them.”

Georg pointed to one of the blocked windows, then said, “this has to do with the candle-shortage, does it not?”

I nodded.

“And you made a trip to the fourth kingdom house,” he said. “I hope you secured one of those strange lanterns, as those at least are safe enough.” Georg then noted the rag-covered mound. “Good that you took it down.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“While this town no longer has witches in it,” he said, “nor will they come close to spy upon it, I know that they do put spies out this way if they can find people to do so – and that is so even now.”

“That will not be easy for them to do that,” said Hans as he came in the doorway with a clanking bag. “Now here are those things, as no one in our house will endure them except me, and Anna tossed them at me just a few minutes ago.”

“I'm not certain as to when I will get to them,” I murmured, “but I did up some drawings, and I know Anna saw those.”

“Yes, and she still tossed these things at me today,” said Hans, “and since I do not like them landing on me much, I am taking them here.” Hans then set them on my bench, and 'vanished'.

“Now what did he mean by they would have trouble setting spies upon us?” asked Georg.

“I'm not certain if he's right or not,” I said. “I do know there's a really severe witch shortage in this area right now, and after tossing that bottle Sunday...”

“They must do so from at least a half mile away, then,” said Georg, “as there is no cover that is closer than that, and to show themselves openly would mean gunfire at the least.” Georg paused, then went for a jug of beer. He returned with a full copper 'mug' in his hands. I felt reminded of the 'mugs' I had in process like it. “If you are using one of those fourth kingdom lanterns in here when the light is poor, then such covers are wise.”

I nodded, then pointed to the rag-covered mound.

“Then also, many far-seers border on worthless at that distance,” said Georg, “so they either must content themselves with blurry sights, or no sights at all.”

“Have you used one?” I asked.

“I have looked in some of them, yes,” said Georg. “The commonest ones seem intended to make one dim-eyed, as they will not give a sharp image no matter what you do, then the better ones are but little better, even if they are twice the price and more.” A pause, a slurp of beer. “And then, there is another type, only those look entirely different – and I doubt any witch can get one of those.”

“Uh, what do those look like?” I asked.

“I was told they were either a glossy dark color,” said Georg, “or a very soft-looking gray – and those gray ones have three 'X' marks upon them, like I have seen upon a few of your tools. The others, I am not sure.”

“And those bad ones?” I asked.

“They look to spend hours with the straps upon them, if they do not use a cloth wheel like we have,” said Georg, “and they are made entirely of brass.” Another pause, then, “and while those gray or dark ones are said to be clean to the touch, those brass things... I would watch myself around them.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Every one of the three I touched was slimy with an unpleasant-feeling grease,” said Georg, “and I suspect that grease was the boiled and rendered fat of swine.”

“Yech,” I said. “That stuff feels awful.”

“I know,” said Georg, “though if what I have heard is the truth, then 'your' awful and what they felt like to me are two very different things.”