When it drips, it pours iron”


Our 'last mile' finished, and while Hans 'backed and filled' so as to get into the buggy-way, I dismounted and went to the front door. I tapped twice, and stood there waiting until someone came: Sarah. I had a question, and it recurred to me as I came inside to lay my things on the couch.

“What would tickle the bottom of my feet while I'm in bed?”

“Normally me,” said Sarah. “When was this?”

“You were gone then,” I said.

I was not prepared for what Sarah did: she turned, then yelled with astonishing loudness: “Anna! The rats have started!”

“Was that a rat?” I asked.

“What else could it be?” said Sarah. “Half the houses in town are speaking of them showing now, and it's about time for us, I think.”

“Not quite,” said the soft voice, “even if that was a rat. It was a young one, and had gotten lost.”

“And the other houses?” I asked.

“Are those of farmers,” said the soft voice, “and their rats merely become scarce, unlike this house. It's only attractive to rats when the other houses become 'too lively' for the rats to wish to remain in their preferred haunts.”

Sarah turned, and I followed her. I wondered how she would react to the trunk, and as we followed Anna out of the outer bathroom door, I could almost feel the eruption building in her mind as Hans unhitched the horses.

“Now what did you get, Hans?” she said. I was surprised at her calmness. “I doubt Sarah wishes a trunk like that.”

“No, not what like you have, Anna, at least not now,” said Sarah, “though I can think of a use for a trunk like that some time in the future.”

“Yes, he spoke of that,” said Hans. “Now he says there is a lot of stuff in it, and it is heavy, so it will need us all to get it in where we can look at its things.”

It needed more than 'all of us' – it needed Anna attempting to spit oaths and failing to manage them, and Sarah making noises appropriate to an irritated mule, and me speaking of possible dire injuries, and Hans trying to imitate Anna's outbursts before we got that monster into the space between the kitchen table and the stove.

“It is bigger than I thought it was,” said Sarah. “I could hide myself in it, it is so big.”

“He talked about that too,” said Hans. “Now there is more out there, and you will like this stuff, I think.”

Hans had not merely gotten all that I had spoken of, but also a leather sack which he handed to Anna. What she first took out of that sack caused her to make a dire-sounding screech – and Sarah to nearly get into a full-scale fight with Anna for what proved to be a collection of 'genuine cook's knives'.

“Dear, why are you..?” I wasn't certain as to what to do upon seeing something that I'd only heard about happening.

“I've wanted a decent poker for the longest time,” squawked Sarah as she tried to get the knife clear of Anna's grasp, “and that boning knife there is perfect for poking thugs!”

“I was told both you and Anna needed smaller versions of that evidence dagger,” I muttered, “and I see that who told me did not lie.”

The struggle abruptly ceased, then Anna looked at the 'boning knife'. She handed it to me, then said, “A smaller handle of darker wood – blackwood perhaps, well-rubbed with drying oil – a thinner guard of eight-line brass, and about an inch less of stout symmetrical blade, with an edge to both sides of it. Then it would be perfect for poking thugs.”

“What?” I gasped.

“I wanted to ask you the same thing,” said Anna, “as I do not remember what I just said.”

“I do,” said Sarah. “Now I think I can recall what she said long enough to get the rest of the things in.” Sarah then turned to me, and asked, “where did you get that pot?”

“At the same store where we got the trunk,” I said. “Why?”

“I hid in one like that once,” she said. “Now how heavy is it?”

It was heavier than I recalled it being, and once the thing was parked in the bathroom, Sarah leaped over its heavy riveted rim and crouched inside it, then squawked, “I hid in this thing from witches once in the potato country.”

“If it was made there, then it is a good one,” said Anna. “Now where will we set it so as to boil soap?”

“That is a mystery,” said Hans. “He was told to wait, even though he spoke of talking to those mason people about reworking that one oven so as to take it.”

“No, Hans,” said Anna. “That thing needs its own firebox, almost. At least I can soak clothing in it for now.”

“Soak clothing?” I asked.

“Yours especially,” said Anna. “Your clothing is worse than that of any farmer I've seen for dirt, and that stuff doesn't need much scrubbing to work if you give it enough time and water.”

Sarah looked at me and softly mouthed the word, “good.”

“You do not like scrubbing?” I asked. I had suspected as much, but I was not certain about that line of thinking. Sarah had been surprisingly hard-working, more so than myself. Scrubbing, to put it mildly, made my hands hurt.

“That, and neither of us are very good at it,” said Sarah. “Now what else is out there, as we want these things inside where no witches can see us with them.”

There was more shot than Hans had spoken of, for he had implied but one small bag being present. There was one hefty leather bag of obvious lead 'particles', and another smaller leather sack of similar heft. I now knew why he felt the buggy could not take me: it had more in it than I realized.

The chemicals – several crocks – were also of surpassing heft, and when I dusted off the label of one sizable crock, I felt a distinctive tingle in my arms. I could not read the label, however. Sarah walked over, looked at it closely, then screeched, “purified potash, number one grade, Natresson's, fourth kingdom!”

“What?” I squeaked.

“Natresson's,” squeaked Sarah. “Roesmaan's buys some of their chemicals from that place, and their potash is the best to be had!”

“Ah, that is good then, as I think all of these things are potash,” said Hans.

“First lye, then potash,” muttered Anna. “All we must clean now is that keg of niter.”

“And they do that good,” said Hans. He meant Sarah and I. “I might do their work, but I do not get their niter, and I think that is important for this soap.”

“Besides, we need to clean niter for the bombing of the Abbey,” I murmured, as I went out the door to get the grinder. I then recalled what it had on it. “Hans!” I yelled. “That grinder has that nasty grease on it.”

Anna came out with an old-looking cloth, then with my gingerly-applied help, she wrapped the offending massive bundle of rags with it. She looked at me, then said, “this thing is heavy. Can you carry it now?”

I did, with gladness; and once it was laying in the corner, the others set about emptying the buggy of its few remaining things and then putting it away. I had a trunk in front of me; and the thing had a keyhole. I wanted to try that key out on it for curiosity's sake.

I had brought out the key and was advancing on it when Anna came in the rear door. She asked, “is that thing cursed?”

“No, but I want to see what this key will do,” I said. “It's done more than one thing so far that I don't begin to understand, and...” I brought the key up to the old brass lockplate. It went in the keyhole without the slightest resistance, and without any attempts whatsoever on my part to turn it, the lock clicked and the lid of the trunk lifted up a fraction of an inch.

“It works,” said Anna. “Now what is in that trunk?”

“That is a secret,” said Hans. “Now all of this stuff is inside where it is safe, so we need to you to close your eyes so we can surprise you.”

“Why?” asked Anna nervously. “You aren't going to put me in that trunk, are you?”

“Not that, Anna,” said Sarah. “What's in here is really important, and it's medical stuff. I can tell that much.”

“How?” I asked.

“That one place's things,” said Sarah. “I can tell this trunk has some of them, as they have this peculiar smell to their preservative grease – and I can smell that grease.”

“What place?” asked Anna, as she closed her eyes. I then opened the trunk – and nearly fainted in shock.

“Oh, my God,” I squawked. My voice had gone up an octave, so much so that it was almost as high-pitched as Sarah's. “Toss the blindfold, Anna – get over here and l-look!”

Anna stumbled over, then said in a tone of complete wonder, “th-that dream. This stuff was in that dream.”

“No, dear,” said the soft voice. “What you saw in the dream that looked like this was better, and not a little better – and that was during the time of the dream, not now.” A brief pause, then, “what they have now will make you think you're up here, where there are no limits to anything, and there's no such thing as death or dying.” A brief pause, then, “ask Dennis as to what some of this stuff is. He's seen things like it.”

I gulped, then handed the first of the set of 'lead extraction tools' to Anna. “This is better than a lot of what was used where I came from. I'm not sure just what this thing does, but...”

“I am,” said Sarah, “and what you do not understand, it is likely I do.”

“Uh, Liza?” I asked.

“Has nearly all of these things, save for that type of small-seer,” said Sarah as she pointed to the center of attention. “Hers has but one eye-piece, not two – and those like that one there are written about upon tapestries.” Here, Sarah turned to Anna, then said, “I think you have the best one to be had.”

“Yes, in the five kingdoms,” said the soft voice. “I would be careful of those books that are under it, though.”

“Why?” I asked. “They'll go to pieces?”

“No, their paper,” said the soft voice. “It's not normal paper, which means unless you set it alight with a too-close candle, it will endure for a very long time.”

“Yes, because paper burns,” said Hans, as he took out a piece of wax-covered 'junk'. “I think I know what this is, as I have seen these, and witches fight over them.”

“What is it?” I asked. I wondered about the paper spoken of, as it did not burn normally. It was closer to 'celluloid' for burning.

“It is this special thing that you...” Hans had no words for it, even if Sarah took it in her hands and felt it.

“That is either their special 'grease' or something from before the war,” said Sarah, “and if it's from before the war, then it was made in Vrijlaand.”

“What is that?” asked Hans.

“It needs cleaning to learn just what it is,” said Sarah, “but about a third of the tapestries that remain readable were done by people from that place, and those are not the common for tapestries.”

“That one place with the itchy clothing?” I asked.

“Has a number of those things,” said Sarah. “The others tend to be scattered widely throughout the fourth kingdom, and few students, even those where I went, recognize their importance.”

As we covered the kitchen table, first with rags and then the contents of the trunk, I gasped repeatedly; for not only was I seeing a lot of tools that Anna would need in the coming months; but also, I recognized many of these gleaming instruments as portions of waking nightmares I had had many years ago. Some of them were strange fittings that seemed to fit equipment that was not present in the trunk, save in perhaps pieces and fragments; other pieces were obvious, these being odd 'probes' and 'sounds' that were supposedly 'historical' where I came from; some pieces had Anna looking at them with askance, even if I recognized them as portions of special 'surgical knives'...

“This is more than Liza has,” said Sarah with awe. “Those knives there are strange things.”

“They don't rust,” I murmured. “I wonder about their edges, though”

“Yours, especially those you pray over, are not particularly inclined toward rust,” said the soft voice, “and as to function, there's no comparison.”

“These are better?” I asked.

Anna looked at me, then shook her head. “I had to open a rising with one of those knives you made, and the merest touch was enough to drain it.” She took up one of the gleaming things, touched the blade with her thumb, then muttered, “and these are dull things that shine enough to make me think of witch-tools.”

“Did they have such things in your dream?” I asked.

“Yes, but not like this,” said Anna. “That was one of the weirdest parts, as they were using knives like I have.”

“Like you have for shape?” I asked.

“No,” squawked Anna. “They were exactly like those I have – shape, color, metal, and for working – and those people were glad they had them! They'd tossed their old ones, they were so bad.”

Here, Anna's speech faded, “no, they weren't like this, either. Those old tossers had black handles, and blades like glass.”

“Witch-knives,” said Sarah.

“No, these weren't those either,” said Anna. “There were some other things they had in that dream, and they used them a lot, only I don't see any of them here.”

“What were they like?” asked Sarah.

“Long, thin, mostly glass, save for the pointed end,” said Anna. “That was like a sewing needle, only shorter, and they used them to give special medicines, ones that you cannot give by mouth, for they will...”

I looked at my arm as Anna spoke. Time had slowed to a crawl, and the horror-reek of a hospital was pounding down my sinuses and thence into my brain. I could feel the poisoner coming, his long walk slow, patient, steady, a junkie with an addiction to both drugs and murder.

“Not...”

I saw what Anna had just spoken, that single knot now multiplied by a figure of ten or twenty. Long snaking lines of knotted sutures crawled all over both hands, for the tormentors had made what were once more-or-less normal hands and arms into clawed appendages worthy of a monster.

“Work...”

This was so I could labor, my life being that of a slave. I was lower than such a being, however; I was evil incarnate, the ultimate loathsomeness, a horror-reeking creature that needed erasure in the worst way possible – and this but was its beginning. Anna was still speaking, each word crawling out of her mouth and flowing like a river of time across the naked stainless steel floor of my prison.

“Then...”

This was not then; this was now; and now, one of those unspeakable horrors Anna had conjured by her request had showed and was drawing close to me, much as if it scented blood and mine was the flavor it desired most. It was the single-toothed vampire, the thief of life, the murderer in virgin's white, the night-crawling assassin cloaked in the garb of a healer.

“Those are spoken of on tapestries,” said Sarah, “and in some of the better-known old tales, also. They were used for torture.” Sarah turned to me, shuddering, and said, “and had I not known better, I just saw one of those things trying for your arm so as to fill you with poison.”

“Have you seen them?” asked Anna.

“Yes, on the tapestries, though it hard to make out the pictures, given how old that ink is they used.” I was astonished at the mention of ink, so much so that when Hans put one of those thick medical books in my lap with his finger stuck in the thing, I looked up at him with a face writ deep with misery. He then opened the book, and there, in all its hideous 'glory', I saw the object of my deepest nightmares. Sarah came to my right side, and as I shuddered, she looked upon the object of my terror.

“N-no,” I gasped. “Th-that thing, it...”

Spraetze,” said Sarah. Hearing the word said – 'Spra-et-zeh' – was not calming to my shuddering nerves. “That is its name, both here and on the tapestries, and a more evil means of torment and murder does not exist.”

Anna came over to where the book lay in my lap, and looked over my shoulder. “No, Sarah, not what these people used. Those must have been witches you were speaking of, as these people were using things like that to save lives, not to take them.”

“Those two women?” I asked. My voice still shook with soundless thunder, the buried avalanche of death still pounding like long-dead drums in the corridors of my mind. I could hear their rhythm faint upon the soulless wind of my prison.

“They used one to help that person, or actually several of them,” said Anna. “He would have died right then if they had not done so.”

“Then we must secure a number of them,” said Sarah. “If they save lives...” She looked at me, then, asked, “how did they torment you so?”

“I can barely remember much of that time,” I said. “Most of the bad stuff I was tormented with was in pill form, while those things...” I then slapped my leg, and yelled, “ouch!”

“What?” asked Anna.

“It felt like someone took a large sewing needle, heated it red hot, and jabbed me there,” I squeaked. I then shook my head, and shuddered, “they felt like that. I remember that much about them.”

“Not with what these people did,” said Anna. “They said 'this will not hurt. I swear it' – and they meant just what they said, too.”

“They'd say that to me,” I muttered. The spot on my leg still burned like the stab of a red-hot nail.

And yet, as I heard Anna's voice echoing in my mind, I somehow had a peculiar impression: these people spoke that way because they'd stuck themselves with the accursed harpoons or whatever they were actually called here until they could speak with real authority – and more, they did not speak such lies as I had heard as a child. Their medical oath explicitly forbade them doing that; and when they swore that oath, they did not speak of that one infernal wretch I had heard mentioned as being involved where I came from. Instead, they promised, hand upon book, this to another person, someone absolutely real; and his word was their law.

To safeguard the life of my patient at all costs, even if it should cost me my life,” I murmured. I then looked at Anna, and her mouth was wide-open in shock.

“They said those exact words,” she said, “and they meant it, more than any preacher I've ever heard in my life. Only one person have I heard speak more plainly, and with greater meaning.”

“G-God?” I asked.

“I did not mean him,” said Anna. “I said 'person'.” A pause, then, “I meant you.”

The world suddenly went black as I fell backwards in a faint, and I came to myself upon the couch. It was nearly sundown, and my ravening appetite got the better of me. However, the table was still covered with 'stuff', that trunk was still present, and the smells in the kitchen spoke of far more than just 'dinner'.

“More soap-boiling,” I muttered, as I squirmed under the room-blanket. I felt cold, for some reason.

“Yes, that is so,” said Hans, as he came in through the front doorway and closed the door behind him with exaggerated care. He had a hefty crock under his arm, and when I was about to ask, I caught the faintly smoky smell of the crock's contents.

“Herring!” I squeaked. “When did those come in?”

“They have been there some time,” said Hans, “but this is the first of this year's crop of those things, so they are said to be especially good.” A pause, then, “Anna? Sarah? I have dinner, so you can stop getting stinky and come eat.”

“Getting stinky?” I asked.

“Yes, with cleaning,” said Hans. “There is a lot of stuff in that trunk thing, and then that lead is better than I thought it was, at least for its lead.”

“Lead?” I asked. I then realized what time it was.

“Oh, no,” I gasped. “I have to post tonight.”

“Yes, so you must bathe and dress quickly,” said Hans. “You should have no trouble, as Jaak wants to run, he is getting so frisky in that hay out there.”

Jaak not only wished to 'run', but he seemed restive; and it was not until I had set out with a stomach full of herring and a full flask of beer that I wondered if there was a mare nearby. I did not smell any such animals, or so I thought until I got to the house proper. There, when I leaped off of Jaak, he shot toward the barn as if a love-sick swain, or so I guessed; and I let him enjoy matters.

“Presuming he enjoys such things,” I thought morosely. “Now I hope Sarah does not expect much of me that way, as I would most likely disappoint her badly no matter how hard I tried.”

I had the place to myself on post, but as I walked the floors after my time of exploring – I'd gotten there early enough to both explore a few hallways below the main floor and get my water-bottle refilled, as well as my usual mug – I could feel a distinct and far-reaching change. The floors above me were 'alive' with people, for the latest crop of guards was now 'choosing their rooms'. Before, they – at the demands of the Teacher, most likely – were sleeping in a single room in shoulder-to-shoulder squalor, much as if they were his bought-and-paid-for slaves; but now, given that they had 'graduated', they could room upstairs more or less as they wished. I suspected two or perhaps three to a room would be the common arrangement, as that meant keeping such a place 'livable' was easier on those living there.

“Not merely that Teacher's choosing that they do so,” said the soft voice. “Those rooms were in dire need of cleaning and refurbishment, and they were 'inspected' and declared ready today.”

“Sleeping in shoulder-to-shoulder squalor?” I gasped.

“Hendrik saw that, and it was the last broken stick of a very large bundle,” said the soft voice. “Before, he wondered about that man's way of doing his job, but he recalled his tapestries enough to know of how slaves were treated – and he then presumed much of what that man was doing was in a similar vein.”

“Which has at least some truth,” I murmured. “Now they have decent beds, so they're not sleeping on a hard stone floor.”

“Yes, for now,” said the soft voice. “Hendrik is waiting upon your documentation, but Lukas and those others who wear greens...”

“That other man was killed recently,” I muttered. I'd never even learned his name, much less met him – and he'd been ambushed by a party of witches some distance to the north. “It's just the four of us now.”

“Hendrik does not know that yet,” said the soft voice, “but yes, you're right. Lukas is glad he did not catch up with that one witch, as that treacherous wretch has killed nearly as many people as he has – and Lukas knew that starting out.” A brief pause, then, “they've been giving advice as to what's needed for taking war to the enemy, and while they don't know how to begin to do that part, they do know how to campaign.”

“Campaign?” I asked.

“Cover distances when time is of the essence and the usual methodology of stopping for long meals in every town encountered will not do,” said the soft voice, “and that's for Lukas and Gilbertus. Tam – he's saying more than both of those two put together about hard traveling and fighting swine, and between the three of them, that portion of matters is covered for the time being.”

“Meaning more orders for travel cookware,” I murmured. I suspected that was my part of the immediate proceedings.

“And knives, and smaller hatchets, and 'small shovels', and related things,” said the soft voice. “Also, more buggies like Sarah has. That thing's antics have been the talk of the house, and it's thought a prime 'baggage-wagon', as Tam has put it.”

“Smaller hatchets?” I asked.

“Like what you plan for Sarah,” said the soft voice, “or like yours, save with perhaps two inches less on the haft.”

“That buggy...”

“Andreas is trying to locate more 'donkey-sleeves',” said the soft voice, “and it is hoped that your crucible steel, once teemed, will serve for the other main metallic parts.”

“Forging...”

“The raw ingot metal would go south to be forged and then machined,” said the soft voice. “You don't have the facilities for that, and Hendrik knows that, courtesy of Sarah's report on the matter.” A brief pause, then, “at least, not yet. You will have such equipment before harvest is in full swing.”

Riding home in the darkness seemed spookier than usual, for not merely was Jaak his old self once more, but the sense of 'stillness' that I could feel was now deeper and darker than it had ever been before. I could feel no pigs in the area, nor witches; and in this aspect, it almost saddened me. No longer did I have to worry about gunfire, as long as I stayed well clear of Waldhuis; the witch-parties heading out of the area had left this region behind, and were now heading either far to the north or westerly toward the coast; and information of the 'witch-vacuum' had not yet trickled down into the second kingdom.

“It has, actually, but you're still in this area,” said the soft voice, “and word of you planting those three witches has spread that fear even further to both north and south and lengthened your 'reach' to no small degree.”

“Further?” I asked. “Reach?”

“Those people in the second kingdom won't even think to come up here until they receive word of your being out of the area,” said the soft voice, “and only when you're gone for more than a week's time will most of them even begin their packing.”

“And once they do that, then they will come regardless,” I said. “You don't sell out in witchdom unless you know exactly where you are going and why you're going there, and you prepare to fight your former compatriots every step of the way you take out of line. Correct?”

“Closer than you think, actually,” said the soft voice. “It was exactly that way in the Swartsburg, especially the second time.”

“Do I need to take a nocturnal tour of that area before we go on that trip?” I asked.

While there was no answer, I could only feel a handful of things remaining before that could happen: the two runs of Frankie; actually preparing for the Abbey and then dealing with the place; clearing up what orders I could in the meantime; and then making ready for the trip itself.

“Which needs to be by sea,” I thought. “They can only think of sizable boats, can they?”

“Yes, save for a very few people who have spoken thus far – and those few have little knowledge beyond the tippy nature of floating logs and how they can be used to travel downstream if you're a boy and not needed at home for a few hours.”

I vaguely recalled a possible boat, one with two and long narrow canoe-like 'floats' and a single sail, and once home, I scribbled out on a sheet in my latest ledger what the boat looked like before going up to bed. I awoke later than my usual – the sun was up, but it was still early morning – and I screeched “Frankie!”

“Is being fired with wood as we speak,” said the soft voice. “His lining needs a full cure, which means he won't run today, or tomorrow, but the day after that he will.”

“Wood?” I asked.

“That, putting the roof on the sand-house – that needs the carpenters to build the framework, which they are doing right now using those hammers you made – cleaning up the back region of the remnants of brick and mortar activity, bringing in a lot more charcoal, and Sarah spending more time with that one man, which she is doing right now.”

“Where is she?”

“The northeastern fringe region of the kingdom house, where he and the other masons live,” said the soft voice. “There's a small colony of those people on that fair-sized piece of property, in fact – and she's located a mold-maker there as well, so he's next on her agenda.”

On the way to work, I smelled the smoke of burning wood and the gray clouds billowing out of the 'smokestack' about halfway there, and once in the shop, I thought to 'gawk' at the thing. All of the apprentices were hauling wood up the stairs, this one bundle at a time, and Gelbhaar was slowly tossing in pieces of drop-wood every few seconds.

He was also becoming grimy with soot, and I did not envy him in the slightest.

All that day, I labored; and while the others left at their accustomed time, when I thought to check on Frankie, I noted the heat coming off of the furnace from the rear door of the shop.

“I hope it does not start a fire,” I murmured.

“They packed it full of charcoal just before leaving,” said the soft voice, “so it should burn hot all night long – and in the morning, they'll drop the ash-doors in the bottom and resume what they were doing when you last looked.”

“And I won't be here,” I thought, as I returned to my 'sword labors'. I'd gotten the second batch going, so I had two batches of six in finishing and a further batch of eight starting with their preliminary forging and 'cooking' so as to 'homogenize' the blistered surfaces and get rid of the slag.

With the blower done, my after-hours labors were those things of greatest difficulty for me, and while I did but little forging then, I did a lot of filing and grinding, with breaks being used to refine various drawings. I was adding details to that drawing of a boat in my ledger, and when I came back from the privy to then set down under the turned-down glow of the titanium lantern, I had a strange idea.

I closed the ledger, then pressed my right hand upon it, and closed my eyes, silently praying as I did so. Within seconds, I felt submerged – and then, I felt strangely, such that I wasn't certain for a second if I was still here.

This had happened before, both here and where I came from – and the most-memorable instance prior to my arrival here had had me wondering if I'd had an experience like the apostle Paul had spoken of.

I came to myself on the surface of a glassy sea, the wind blowing upon my back and to somewhat to my left from a surprisingly stiff breeze. I was sitting on a strange 'rug', one reinforced with thin rope sewn between the thick double-layered 'canvas' in a close-spaced gridwork pattern, and the twin varnished keels – long things – of glossy darkness sprayed back a thick mist from their pointed bows as the cracking full sail made the boat all but fly along the surface of the water. The keels but barely touched its surface now, so much so that one needed to be very careful of moving about on the 'rug' when the boat was at speed – and when it was really moving – it would do that presently – one steered as much or more by weight-shift and sail alignment as one did with the rudders.

“One must be careful with this boat,” I heard. This deep bass voice sounded like 'the old man of the sea', and while I wondered who that was, I did not doubt that he knew of boats and their handling. “Move the tiller slow and gentle, with but your thumb and forefinger, for she tips easy at this speed; and keep that sail full – and there ain't nothing that runs on top 'o the water that can catch you.”

The deep voice then vanished, to be replaced by a trio of 'banjos' – these played by most-skilled musicians. These were not playing Valley music, or even music that one normally heard played by banjos where I came from, but a song I vaguely recognized as most appropriate for sailing at such speeds. I then opened my eyes, and for a moment, I still felt the south-bound wind to my back and the mist spraying to each side of my face.

Wipe-out?” I asked. “Banjos? Where were the drums?” I then opened my ledger – and nearly fell to the floor in shock.

My drawing had multiplied itself markedly for pages, and each such sheet, now neatly inked, was also staggeringly detailed; and as I looked at the pages – a total of eighteen – I noted neat yet small handwriting detailing all of what was needed, down to the very screws and nails to be used. I knew I could take this to the boatwrights' shop and expect it to be done in a fit and proper manner.

“Those people have worked on boats, haven't they?” I thought.

“They have, and that set of drawings, while a bit smaller than what is usual for size, is otherwise a very good example of shipwright's plans as used at Boeskmann's. They'll understand them perfectly, and if you hand it to them tomorrow, that boat and its needed trailer will be done in good time for the trip.”

“It will?” I asked.

“They'll think it a treat, especially given how simple it is to actually build,” said the soft voice, “and if you show that set of drawings to Sarah, she can speak of it.”

“On tapestries, right?” I asked.

“She's the most knowledgeable person currently alive regarding those,” said the soft voice. “Only a few lecturers come close to her in knowledge that way, and none of them got into that place where she bathed.”

“How many people get in there?” I asked.

“Other than those who live there?” asked the soft voice. “She's the first student to get inside that place since it was started two hundred and forty-three years ago!”

“Could I get in there?” I asked.

“Yes, you could,” said the soft voice, “and they'd show you everything, not just some of the things.”

“Probably won't have time,” I murmured.

There was no answer, and I let the matter drop. I had work to do, it was in front of me, and tomorrow, I would have trouble. What kind of trouble was a mystery, but I knew would have trouble.

I was wrong; I sat my post, more or less alone save for a few quiet visitors that saw Hendrik, while the appalling silence of the house seemed but barely broken by faint whisperings. These seemed to come from all over the place, save for the eerie and death-like silence of General's Row – and when Mathias suddenly showed with his arm in a sling and a perceptible limp, I asked, “what happened?”

“I was tossed when the hall went to hell,” he said, “and Anna had to bandage my arm the morning after.”

“Is it broken, or merely sore?” I asked. “Could you move your fingers?”

“Yes, but it was very painful to do so,” he said, “and the bruise on my hand is just starting to fade now. It is still sore.”

“Bruise?” I asked.

“I flew into a post,” he said, “and nearly put the roof of that place on my head. I have been in bed for most of the time since she looked at me.”

“And Anna could only think of bed rest, right?” I asked.

“She wished she could do more, but there isn't much she can do,” said Mathias. “That will change soon enough, though, as I heard about that one trunk you-all got and all that was in it.”

“How fast does gossip travel around here?” I muttered.

“This was not gossip,” said Mathias. “It came on the wires, and those witches that tried for you and Hans on the way back ate shell-splinters from Willem's guns.”

“How did he...”

“He has that equipment,” said Mathias. “It just went in earlier this year, and this woman who lives near him taught him how to use it.”

“Esther,” I murmured, remembering the proper way of saying the woman's name.

“Yes, that is her,” said Mathias. “I sheltered in their barn more times than I can count, and though she is not at all well, she is the nicest woman one could hope to meet.” A brief pause, then, “assuming, of course, you are not a pig or a witch.”

“What does she do then?” I asked. “There is this one fellow where I live...”

“Yes, I have seen what he does, too,” said Mathias, “and I know how he got that way, as I was watching when it happened. Other than him, I've not seen any gunner stiff enough to stay by his gun until the pig was upon him, but that man did just that.”

“He what?” I asked.

“The rest of the crew fled, but he did not,” said Mathias, “and as the pig came for him, he slewed the carriage to keep it aimed straight, and he was cranking down the elevating screw all the while – and when it made its final spring, he yanked the lanyard, and that gun put the shot square into that pig's mouth as it tried to bite the barrel.” A pause, then, “it may have hurt him badly, and that pig wrecked the gun, but he stopped that pig colder than a dead hammer, and that I know, because I touched that swine with one of those swords those northern people carry the day after he fired his last shot.”

“Swords?” I asked.

“I used that one until it broke,” said Mathias, “but that was a bad one, one worse than is usual for those things, as they do not break easily as a rule. I found a better one later, and I'd heard about what to do for testing those things by then.”

“What?” I asked.

“First, most of their swords are for their commons, and they look fit for loading up a furnace like that one in Roos that's about to run its first load,” said Mathias. “The ones you want are those of the leaders, and the bigger the group, the better that sword is likely to be.” A brief pause, then “the way you tell them apart is by swinging them on a thick tree as hard as you can. If the sword cuts deeply, and does not bend or break, you have a leader's sword – and short of those you make or work on, those are about as good a sword as you can get up this way if you want one to use much.”

“Those, uh, scouting parties?” I asked.

“Those swords are smaller,” said Mathias, “but their size is all they give up to the swords of leaders, as they are much the same for their metal.” Another pause, then, “I put my big sword away once I got my hands on one of those things, as those are better swords if you must travel a lot on foot.”

“Travel fast on foot for real distances, you mean,” I murmured. “You literally could not sleep in the same place twice, correct?”

“There were times like that, yes,” he said. “Our group usually set watches, and then there were some places that we made out in the forest so as to shelter in during bad weather. We had several of them, all of them widely scattered and well-hid in the middle of the bigger woodlots.”

“Several?” I asked. “What were they like?”

“Small, crowded, dirty and smoky,” said Mathias, “and the hole for the smoke usually had our latest kills hanging in the smoke to dry so the meat would keep.”

“In cold weather?” I asked. “Oh, you can't hang such food such that it will show, can you?”

“Yes, as the witches were usually looking for us, and to show food like that would not just have them take it for themselves, but they would then kill us for stealing what they thought belonged to them.”

“Those stinkers think they own everything,” I muttered.

“I have heard more than one witch say something like that, though it was in witch-language,” said Mathias. “We killed both of those fiends later.”

“How?” I asked. “Were they in coaches?”

“Then they were,” said Mathias, “but coaches leave tracks, especially when the ground is soft or has snow, and witches have houses, and though they have locks on their doors, many of those doors are either easy to pick or they open with a button. We'd find their house in the daytime, wait until it was about three hours before dawn, then go up to the place. We'd usually go to the back door, open the thing, then those of us with those smaller swords would go through that house and kill everyone in it.”

“No money, right?” I asked.

“Everything that a witch owns has its own curse tied to it,” said Mathias, “which is why one must not steal such things. It is best to burn both witch and all he has so that those curses do not spread their evil and cause others to desire the life and lies of witchdom.”

“Thank you,” I murmured. “Now I know why everyone is so enthused with burn-piles.”

“It is not that way for most,” said Mathias. “They do not know what I just told you, as this person who told me was an itinerant tailor who had gone to the higher schools.”

“Then why do people think something like 'must burn witches, and fill them with distillate, and sew their mouths shut', and all that other nonsense? They make decent manure-substitutes if you bury them in your fields, and the same for pigs.”

“I am not sure, even if she told me that the last curse a witch says is usually the worst one that stinker will ever say, and most of that stuff that people usually do comes from a long time ago.” A pause, then, “though I think that if you can find a big enough manure-pile, it is best to plant witches in one of those.”

“Oh, so you can spread their manure out better?” I asked.

“Witches think being burned is some kind of honor,” said Mathias, “or at least those wearing black all the time do. If you put them in the ground, you insult them by treating them like any other common person.” A brief pause, then, “though if you put them in a manure pile, then that says but one thing to such people.”

“What?” I asked. “They stink really bad?”

Mathias grinned, then said, “not that, though that is true enough.” Another pause, then, “if you put witches in a manure-pile, it is because you reckon them to be manure – and no person who is that full of himself wants to be treated like manure.”

I slapped my knee, then said, “full of themselves... Corked... Corked, and full of dung, so that's where they belong!” I then 'sobered up', and said, “we don't have that big of a manure pile at home, not even with five horses making it.”

“Best to gather up the manure of a whole town and mingle it then,” said Mathias. “You get better manure that way, and if the witches and pigs show, you get more and better manure when you bury them in such a pile.”

“Better manure?” I asked.

“Yes, that is what happens,” said Mathias. “She said that certain towns in the fourth kingdom do just that, and they did that where she went to school – and they grew enough stuff in that place to eat good all the time and sell some besides.”

“Is this lady short and dark-haired?” I asked.

“Yes, and she gets around a lot more now than she used to,” said Mathias, as he turned to go. “Now I need to go to that refectory, so as to get some beer. Those tinctures go down easier with that stuff, even if I do not like what is in the other jug much.”

“Other jug?”

“Uncorking medicine,” said Mathias. “Two mugs with each dose, and a lot of time in the privy.”

As Mathias left, I thought, “he must have gotten hurt worse than Anna thinks he did.”

“He was,” said the soft voice. “Had Hans been hurt that badly, you would have needed to bury him the morning after the hall went to hell, as he would have never moved from that spot under his own power.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“He fetched up against one of those thick wooden posts most stoops have to each side of their stairs,” said the soft voice.

“Did I have a hypoglycemia attack then?” I asked.

“Yes, and that 'blasting oil' was actually honey,” said the soft voice. “It seems that Sarah found some in a shop on Kokstraat, and put two vials of it in your possible bag, as well as one in her satchel.” A pause, then, “and I would strongly advise you to keep some of it handy between now and the time you sail.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“If you must revive someone suffering from hypoglycemia, and you are forced to do so by mouth,” said the soft voice, “honey works faster than anything currently available in the five kingdoms.”

“Huh?” I asked.

“Anna's journals, to put it bluntly, have a large number of serious errors in them,” said the soft voice. “Esther now keeps a jug of honey at home, and takes a vial with her everywhere – and you need to do the same thing.

I searched for the vial in question, and found not merely one such 'vial', but two; and both were labeled, this neatly with dark brown paint, 'honey, for fits'.

“And I need to see those leather people as well as the boatwrights before I go,” I thought.

The stillness was still appalling when I was relieved by Lukas, and as I told him of the matter, he said, “that Teacher's got the sulks, so he's off getting into some Geneva.”

“No choosing, I take it,” I said.

“No, and I told him I'd thump him good with my pole if he tried to do that nonsense, and Hendrik backed me,” said Lukas. “Now all them new guards is getting set up upstairs, so starting tomorrow, all of them who's seen the hare, or at least something like it, get two new people to watch over.”

“What?” I asked.

“That character didn't try to ruin twelve people like he usually does,” said Lukas. “He ran twenty-three this time, and that all at one go.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because Hendrik said we needed to replace losses, and that those were the people he wanted, and he wasn't going to hear no for an answer,” said Lukas, “and I heard he said that with that one sword in his hand, as that wretch knows about that thing and what it can do.” A brief pause, then, “and talk has it you did up a batch of swords recent. Did you?”

“I just finished a batch of six, and I've got another batch of eight in the works. Why, did you get yours?”

Lukas shook his head, then said, “talk has it that man Georg has a dead buggy, and he killed the pig what did it.”

I shook my head, then, “killed that pig? He turned it to mush. I saw how he is around pigs, and...” Here, my voice became 'hysterical'. “H-he goes out of his mind!”

“He do that around witches?”

“Yes, and I had to shoot those people when they were out of his reach when he was chasing those pigs down,” I spat. “He's absolute death on both witches and pigs.” I paused, then said, “and I don't know what I was seeing, but when I saw him getting ready to go out with that club, it was like this shadow he had – it was huge, and so big it had trouble getting through the door, and long hair braided down to his waist, and arms twice the size of mine.”

“Now that's out of an old tale,” said Lukas. “You ever look at his toes?”

“No, I haven't. Why?”

“'Cause that shadow is what's said to happens to marked people when they get ready to fight,” said Lukas, “and Anna told me that something like that happens around you some times, only it's not like what you just told me.”

“My hair?” I asked.

“No, it ain't your hair,” said Lukas. “I think them Veldters might have a name for what she was speaking of, but I disrecall their words.” Lukas paused, then said, “it's almost like seeing a huge creature made of fire, only it ain't normal fire – normal for burning, or normal for color – and the way they talk about this thing, it's like it's a messenger from God, almost.”

The leather shop first; and here, I found not merely those four men I recalled, but a new man, this fellow older and wizened-seeming; and upon asking a few questions, I learned that he had 'sold out' his shop to the south and had headed north a bit too early. He was spending time here until the Abbey was ready for him, and when I spoke of a medical satchel, he looked at me strangely.

“Can you draw that?” he asked. His 'accent' said he was from the fourth kingdom.

I gave out what drawings I had, and he looked at the briefly, then said, “I've seen these, and I've done two for this woman Liza and a few for others like her who do medical work down there.”

“What?” I asked.

“She showed me some pictures, only those bags were black,” he said. “That color gets gunfire down there, but it's worse that way up here nowadays, and no mistake.” A brief pause, then, “bronze buckles, harness-leather straps, and every place riveted where it needs to be so it can stand plenty of use, correct?” I nodded, then laid out three gold monster coins as an 'inducement'.

“Now what's this for?” he asked.

One of the other men said, “he's like that, same as you – only if talk be true, he's more that way. Besides, you were speaking of needing money, and...”

I said no more save 'good day', and left forthwith. I had another shop to visit, and then I needed to get home; and once there, I needed to plan tomorrow's running of the furnace.

The boatwright's shop was even more 'brusque': hand the first person I saw the ledger, show him the first page, he whistled as if he'd had lessons from Sarah – and not a minute later, the whole place was humming like an angry wasp nest and I wanted to run, as these people had not gotten a treat; they'd gotten something a whole lot bigger and better than that. One of them then turned to speak to me, and said, “Hendrik knew you'd come up with an answer, and now we have one.”

“What?” I squeaked.

“He spoke to you on that trip about traveling by sea, or so he said,” said the man, “and now we get this – and while this might be your way of writing, and your drawings are this good, this isn't your handwriting – and there's been a deal of talk about that, so I know these plans are good ones.”

Home again, and a change of clothes and a pair of herring fillets; then off to the shop as the others were packing up to leave. Frankie still smoked like an 'iron-smelting furnace', or so I guessed; but when I came to the rear of the shop, the last evening's heat seemed but little compared to the near-roasting warmth I could feel now. I wondered just how bad it would be pouring iron in real volume, and then, I looked at the tools we had present to do so.

“Ingot molds, gaff, poker – no, no ladle,” I murmured.

“That type of furnace usually does not have a ladle,” said the soft voice. “Sarah should come by shortly, so I would plan on spending tonight's homework session going over her notes and adding any impressions you get on the matter – as Frankie will startle you all when he runs.”

Accordingly, I began cleaning up, and as I began untying my apron, the faint noise of a rapidly-coming buggy seemed to intrude into my mind. The noise – still faint, but becoming quickly audible – came closer, then suddenly stopped to be replaced by lithe quick steps that shot into the shop to halt behind me. Nimble fingers then untied my apron in a trice.

“You need a new apron, and no mistake,” said Sarah. “I've been asking about the things needed for one, and while I might have found most of the leather, I keep being told to wait, and that by someone I know” A pause, then, “do you know why?”

“No, not really,” I said. “I doubt I will gain much weight doing what I'm doing. Now, that ledger?”

“I did not quite fill it,” she said, “but I did do enough writing that my hands are most sore.”

“I'll rub them carefully once I get a bath, dear, and then we can go over your notes,” I said. “Your feet hurt, too – don't they?”

Sarah nodded; and I got a ride home in the buggy. It was dinner-time, and bath beforehand, and then clothing soaking among the jungly hanging stuff in the bathroom. With four ropes on the ceiling, and all of them crowded badly, and a steady slow fire in the oven for heat, the aspect of the place was closer to a sauna than a bathroom.

“Needs better ventilation, doesn't it?” I asked, as I opened the rear door a crack – and then promptly closed it as the temperature dropped precipitously. “How does all of this stuff dry?”

“A bit faster than most kingdom house clothing-dryers,” said the soft voice, “which is why, when you get a new bathroom, you will want it both to be a good bit larger in floorspace and with several small screened windows equipped with shutters.”

After rubbing Sarah gently – I used 'our' Geneva, which seemed to work passably; I was working on a smaller liniment still currently at work, among other copperware – I sat down with her on the couch with my own ledger. As she began reading, I knew that whoever she had interviewed was truly an expert on his subject.

“Did you see the tools we have?” I asked.

“Yes, and I drew those they used,” said Sarah. “Yours will probably work, but you will wish to work on them to fit them to your practice. He did say all of those furnaces are different and you need to learn their likes and dislikes.” Sarah then paused to drink. She needed to, as she looked dehydrated. “I've been working on a traveling list, and I've been getting those things as I'm able, now that I'm no longer seeking sewing jobs.”

“Instead, you are boiling soap,” I muttered.

“Or fetching soap to start with, or cleaning niter,” said Sarah. “Mine seems to work passably in soap, but I suspect you will wish to help for those things we need for the Abbey, especially those swine-shells. You don't plan on filling those with powder, do you?”

“No, dear,” I said softly. One wished to speak softly to Sarah as a rule. “I plan on filling them with something similar to those two bottles we have left, only using a good deal more of that headache inducing 'vlai' in their mixture.” A pause, then, “have you had cause to toss squibs?”

“Yes, once,” said Sarah, “and that miser did not like it much.”

“Miser?” I asked. “Where?”

“He was hiding well in that shop, or so he thought,” said Sarah, “though when I saw this strange black book he had on his counter, as well as smelled aquavit on him, I suspected him to be one as he went into his back room.” A pause, then, “only when he came out with a fowling piece, I knew better, and I shot him in the gut.”

“The squib?” I asked.

“There were more witches in that place, and that shot drew them,” said Sarah. “I had a friction igniter rigged up to my 'ready' squib, so I pulled its string and tossed it in their back room before I left.”

“And?” I asked.

“That place lost its windows and door,” said Sarah, “and the explosion started some pigs, so once I'd shot my pistol dry at those stinkers, I jumped in the buggy and left as fast as I can.” A brief pause, then, “those people in that town are about the worst shots I've ever seen, and I did not wish to dodge their lead.”

“I think you need a spare pistol, dear,” I said.

Sarah shook her head, then said, “this one will serve for the time between now and the Abbey. I suspect I'll find something there that will work better.”

For some reason, I could almost see Sarah hosing down mobs of pigs with a machine gun, almost as if she were a smaller version of one particular thug I but vaguely recalled.

“No, it isn't that big,” said Sarah. “I could carry this in my satchel once I had folded its rear portion – and it holds more than five shots. I know that much, if but little more.”

“More than five?” I asked.

“In my dream, I was being chased by witches, and these people were from the second kingdom, which meant they weren't about to give up,” said Sarah, “and I had one of these weapons. It has these odd slightly curved things that look like long metal boxes, and when I had used up one, I removed it and inserted another, then resumed firing.” Sarah paused to drink, then said, “and that thing was death on those witches. If I hit them solid inside of a hundred paces, they went nowhere except down.”

“And past that?” I asked.

“I had to hit them in the chest or head then,” said Sarah, “but if they were inside of a hundred paces, they'd drop if I hit them in the body – and it did not matter much where I hit them, either.”

“Uh, how were these thugs dressed?” I asked.

Sarah thought for a moment, then said, “I'm... No, they weren't dressed in black, they were dressed in this really strange dark blue clothing with these big silver collars.”

“I've not seen anyone like that in the second kingdom, but I've not seen much of that place, either – and I suspect you have.”

“Yes, much of it,” said Sarah. “Now it's clear to me. This was not the second kingdom, but some other place, and these people... They must have had second kingdom witches teaching them how to act, though, as they would come after you if they could move, and they acted like they were full of drink.”

“Now that does sound like a second kingdom witch,” I said. “Wretch went after a young girl and her cat, and that cat clawed that wretch so bad he looked like he'd run into a very large and angry rat.”

“Was this a long-haired cat?” asked Sarah.

“He was, and that witch was ripped up badly,” I said. “He tried to shoot me just the same, but I shot first.”

“These people were like that,” said Sarah. “At least they weren't hard-witches like that one man who needed me shooting him with a roer to finally quit.”

We returned to our labors, and within perhaps an hour – Sarah had written nearly fifty pages in her ledger, not including the drawings; and when Anna said she could draw like an artist, she was not exaggerating in the least. I saw this, and noted with satisfaction that at least my mold-making tools were still usable.

“They looked at those and said you most likely knew enough about molding to avoid the worst troubles,” said Sarah, “and that one man wonders if Georg will have him.”

“I would not mind,” I said, “but people in town might.”

“Yes, and he knows that,” said Sarah. “He also wonders how they will endure that furnace when it is running.”

“The noise?” I asked.

“He said that kind of a blower is much quieter when it is running into a furnace,” said Sarah, “but it is still quite loud. Then, there is the flame from the furnace mouth.”

“How tall is this flame?” I asked.

“It is more the color than the size,” she said. “If the flame is clear, then your melt is doing well, especially if you have but little smoke. Smoke means a cold furnace or wrong loading. Then, you want a slightly yellow tint to your flame, as that says you've the right conditions inside of it. Finally, he said you've got good peepholes, and you want to watch for the iron as it drops down into the sand-puddle.”

“Who did those?” I asked. I'd been looking for 'mica' and had not been able to find it, so I made small holes with bolted surrounds in case some showed.

“Andreas,” said Sarah. “He came by with not merely suitable furnace-windows, but also some of his bolts for the critical portions, and he replaced those tossers those people put in.”

“But I made some...”

“Yes, and I told him about those,” said Sarah. “He thinks some witch came in the back area and removed them to sell as fetishes, as that kind of bolt usually goes for a lot of money in that fourth kingdom market, and I've seen well-hid witches come to blows over them.”

“Hopefully that does not happen again,” I murmured.

“I doubt it, at least for a while,” said Sarah. “Then, he spoke of clay, and finally, this thing to plug the furnace between the times of tapping.”

“They call that thing a...” I paused, then wondered just how to speak the word 'bot'. There was no equivalent word or phrase in this language, and Sarah had spoken of the matter in the only way that was really possible that I knew of.

“It's like a poker, only has a flat place for the clay, right?” I asked.

“He said you might wish longer pieces than those you have if you run the furnace all day, but he thinks your sessions will be short ones,” said Sarah, “as you do not have enough metal to run one for long, and the same for charcoal.”

“Meaning perhaps a few hundred pounds of metal at a time,” I said. “Perhaps a...” The word for 'ton' did not exist in this language.

“Yes?” asked Sarah. “This is a large unit of weight, and I doubt the Gustaaf has a word for it. The way you spoke is about the only way to specify it.”

“Thousands of pounds, perhaps?” I asked. “Two thousands? That is what I wished to say.”

“That is a great deal of metal,” said Sarah. “A large fifth kingdom smelter might do five times that, if those smelly wretches work it close to ruination before ceasing for a time.”

With what I had heard before and after dinner still rumbling through my mind about iron and furnaces, I went to bed; and I awoke before dawn. A hasty breakfast, and I and my bag of tricks, as well as the rag-veiled titanium lantern, went to the shop. I understood but one thing: Frankie would run today, and as I went to the rear door of the shop in the still-chilly air of pre-dawn, the heat of that furnace seemed pleasant and warm – from the door. Three steps closer, and it was neither pleasant nor warm, but enough to cause profuse sweating and an eruption of oaths that my mouth but barely caught in time.

“That thing is going to be hot and sweaty to run,” I gasped. “What did they load it with last?”

“Charcoal,” said the soft voice, “and you've still got a decent layer of coals. You'll just need to load it like you were told – flux, more charcoal, some iron, and charcoal on top – and then put the blast to it. It's 'hot and ready for business' already, and I'd recommend warming it up like that in the future when you run iron.”

“Heating overnight?” I asked.

“Keeps the lining from cracking, especially in a reducing environment,” said the soft voice. “When you drop the bottom, close it back up quickly, and let the furnace cool slowly. Today's run will fully cure that lining, and it will last longer that way.”

“And all of our scrap..?” I muttered.

“Is bagged and ready for tossing,” said the soft voice. “I'd run a lot of bars today, as Georg already has orders 'on speculation' for your output.”

“Camp-ovens,” I spat. “I need to mold those things!”

After setting the fire in the long forge, I began my molding using the indoors heap. The sand-house was not entirely finished; the masons had run out of tiles for roofing it, and the indoors heap was convenient for smaller matters. I had three molds done when the first of the apprentices showed, and as the other men and boys came, I continued ramming molds for camp-ovens. I then asked, “ingot molds?”

“I ordered several,” said Georg, “and they are in the sand-house to keep that thing that supposedly lives there from causing trouble.”

“That thing?” I asked.

“There is an old tale,” said Georg, “and Sarah has spoken of it. She calls it 'The Sand-Man', and thinks it good for scaring children into the privy, but I have heard founder's talk enough to know that strange things can happen in sand-houses.”

“Yes, the sand stays good longer, and we don't need a collection of old clothing to cover it,” I said.

“I wish you could speak to my dreams, then, as I have had ones like that tale, and I was dreaming of war and the flames of dragoons, and then...” Georg paused to drain his beer mug, then gasped as he pointed to the furnace in the corner with a shaky arm, “and things that will bite, and I k-know about those, as that furnace over there tried to bite me!”

“Frankie will be hot and sweaty, mostly – that, and really bright,” I said. “You'll want me to tap the iron, won't you?”

“Yes, as that one man is not here, and you are,” said Georg. “If Sarah has notes, I want to read them, as those are said to be tricky to run, and that man said as much.”

“Yes, if you do it wrong,” I said. I wondered how I was so certain. “Now, do we have flux? Broken up limestone, and perhaps a little welding flux, all nicely bagged to toss in with the scrap metal and that nasty black-cast stuff? Oh, and a decent amount of that cut-up metal from Norden, also.”

Georg nodded, then said, “I'm glad you know something about this, as that dream was last night, and it scared me enough to be glad I had a vial of that tincture for widows. I took some this morning, in fact.”

Getting the blower out to Frankie was not merely hot and sweaty; it was heavy work, and as I tightened the main steam fitting back up with a wrench, I noted a veritable hive of activity in the area. Someone was in the mostly-finished sand-house and bringing out long trough-like iron things that made for wondering until I actually saw one, and as I oiled and checked over the blower – I had drained the lubricant after its run-in, and was now replacing it with fresh stuff – I had an intimation: this might be dangerous, but if one thought about one's actions carefully, it was predictable in its danger.

“Exactly correct,” said the soft voice, “and everyone present is scared enough of that furnace to do what you tell them to without either deviating or hesitating.”

“Wonderful, I have to do the thinking for everyone,” I muttered.

“There isn't much thinking involved,” said the soft voice. “Get the blower started, and let it run slow to warm itself, then start piling in the charcoal. Once you've got it to howling, though, then it gets busy – as that thing's going to eat charcoal and flux and iron so fast you'll be filling those ingot molds almost as fast as you can dump the hot ingots.”

“And tapping slag,” I asked. “How long will this go on?” I asked.

“About forty-five minutes or so once you start 'howling', said the soft voice. “They didn't bag enough up charcoal to do more.”

“That still sounds like...”

“Well over a thousand pounds,” said the soft voice, “and all of those camp-oven molds, also. Those who want them are screaming for them, so Georg will be most glad to fill those orders.”

With the boiler fueled, I began watching. Bags of charcoal began appearing, almost as if by magic, while clanking bags of scrap metal began doing the same. I then saw the smaller bags, these tied with somewhat coarse-looking red 'twine'.

“Flux?” I asked.

“Your speaking of adding welding flux was followed,” said the soft voice, “and doing that will give a much cleaner metal.” A pause, then, “Georg will be most surprised at it, in fact – and 'merchant bar' of that quality brings a very high price in the fourth kingdom.”

“Which those molds will do,” I murmured, “and the roads are clear, so sending it down there will...”

“Will start something of an uproar,” said the soft voice. “Metal that good is very rare.”

With the steam 'gage' reading three, I cracked the valve; the engine began billowing steam which the blower inhaled hungrily. The humming this time was somewhat muted, and as the engine warmed to its task – I had added charcoal this time, rather than coke – faint ethereal waves of flame began to hover about the top of Frankie's 'exhaust'.

“Time for more charcoal,” I said, my voice louder than usual. “A bag of flux, two of charcoal, and then another bag of flux.”

“Why flux this early?” asked Gelbhaar.

“So it coats the 'hearth' or whatever it's called,” I said. “It will protect the iron and keep it, uh, clean.”

“Cast iron is not clean,” he said.

I kept my retort to myself, as I suspected Gelbhaar was referring to southern black-cast – and there, I agreed with him. Dirty was a compliment when speaking of that stuff.

Whatever the speech to the contrary, my talk was obeyed; and when I began gradually opening the throttle valve, each instance a little at a time, the column of fire became taller and more luminous. It reminded me of a jet exhaust, save with a slight gray haze at times.

“More charcoal please,” I said. “We'll be ready to add iron shortly, and then, it gets warm.”

My words were prophetic, for as the blower began to speed up, I could hear – and feel – the coming howl. I indicated the iron to be added, bagged scrap first, followed by flux and then broken up black-cast, then more charcoal; and as the last was dumped, I cracked the throttle valve a trifle wider.

And the blower howled the instant I did so.

While the volume was muted compared to the initial time I had run the blower, the tone and other aspects were not, and the thing was still loud enough to be glad of ear-corks as I stuffed mine in. The column of fire out of the top of the furnace showed a faint trace of smoke that soon cleared, and as I began looking over the tools, I knew I needed to look at the spy-holes for the iron. I left my post at the still-howling blower – its noise was growing on me rapidly, such that I started to feel crazy enough to scream – and went to the nearest of the eight glowing panes of 'mica'.

“Wow,” I gasped. “That stuff is dripping bright iron droplets like mad! What did we do?”

“I'd get your ingot molds ready, as you'll be ready to do your first tapping in a few minutes.”

There was now a mad scramble, and as I indicated where the ingot molds needed to lay in the sand bed we had for the output of Frankie, I cleaned and smoothed the 'trough' with my molder's trowels. The others seemed transfixed, all but horror-stricken; for between the noise and the flame now shooting thirty feet above the stack, they thought themselves to be baking in hell.

“Only meeting Brimstone is worse,” yelled Johannes. “Now what is it you want with this clay on this rod?”

“Plug the hole I pick out when I tell you to,” I yelled. “I'm going to gaff that thing in a minute.”

I began picking at the tapping place, and with each tentative jab, I could tell I was 'getting warmer'. A sudden glow showed, then with the next half-frightened poke, the 'dam' broke and out came the iron.

Its dazzling sparkle spoke of intense heat, and I could barely look at it, it was so infernally bright. I had to use another tool, one shaped like a hoe, to guide it into the ingot molds, and as the last one looked to fill, I yelled, “plug that hole!”

Johannes broke out of his terror-stricken 'frozen' state and leaped over the still-flowing stream of iron, then rammed his clay-tipped 'staff' into the hole I had picked, and as he leaped back and out of the way, the still-running molten iron obediently clung to the path until it had filled the last of the ingot molds.

“Another loading of charcoal and scrap,” I yelled, as I went back to the blower. I wanted to turn it down, and I did so. We needed to wait a short while until we could 'deliver' the ingots from their molds and turn them out onto the sand-bed prepared for them.

“Why don't we use the sand bed itself?” I asked.

“Frankie could fill molds made that way in one tapping,” said the soft voice. “You've got enough supplies bagged up for three such runs, but the next thing you do, before you go much further with iron-founding, is you need to make up a trio of ladles. Those are going to be needed for the smaller castings you'll be doing.”

Tipping the ingots out of the molds made for huge gouts of steam, and as each mold was set back in its former place, I looked back inside the furnace. I could see another ready pool of iron forming, but for some reason, I wanted the blower to howl for a few minutes first. Accordingly, I did so; and again, we filled every mold.

The third time, however, I wanted the camp-oven molds run, and those were brought out. I checked each one, running its feed in the sand-bed, then the feeds to the ingot molds that would catch our last load; and as that scrap was loaded, I asked, “how much Norden-scrap have we been using?”

“A fair amount, but much of the scrap is stuff Georg has had for ages and now knows it is best used this way. The end product will still be amazing.”

“And the slag that keeps dripping out of its runner is amazing me.” I said audibly. “Stuff looks like black volcanic glass, and there's a lot of it.”

“That is the color you want,” said the soft voice. “If it's clear, or gray, then you've got dirty iron. Black slag means clean iron – and when you run that metal for crucible steel, you'll be most glad.”

The molds ran clear, one after another, and I had to use my 'spade' to direct the flow of iron. I could feel the fatigue of the others, as well as my own tiredness; and as I directed the last of the iron to the remaining ingot molds among gouts of steam and long thick bars of tremendous heat, I wondered if the cellar had been this bad.

I found out later, once we were indoors 'soaking' in beer. We all were dried out, even the apprentices; and while I would need to stand 'fire watch' until the regular quitting time at the least, we all had a new appreciation for foundry work. Founding iron wanted 'iron men' of strong constitutions, and as the others staggered out into the late morning sun, there to go elsewhere to 'unwind' for at least a while, I was glad for the peace of the shop, even if the heat from the rear still felt like that of the cellar at its flaming worst.