Construction Function

'Construction' commenced after getting the dishes done, and here, I was astonished. While I had seen the pilings Hans had spoken of, as well as one or more carpenters now and then, the supplies that had suddenly showed were such that I marveled.

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“They brought rest of it over in the last week or two,” said Hans, “and they spent two days putting in those pilings there. They put barrels over them so as to keep them dry while the mortar sat.”

“Uh, the masons?” I asked.

“I was glad for the widow's tincture then,” said Anna, “as I would have been out of my mind from the trowels.”

“Then why did I not see the barrels?” I asked.

“When you come home dirty from work,” said Anna, as she lifted up an uncommonly large copper-banded wooden mallet, “you seem to have eyes for soap, hot water, your tub, and your dipper, and the place could be on fire and I doubt you would notice it.”

“Yes, and after you bathe, you notice a lot more,” said Hans, “and once you eat, then you are awake like you should be.”

The pilings were far more substantial than I thought they would be, with their shape resembling truncated pyramids. I helped Hans bring out the longer pieces of wood, then laid then down as he indicated. I wondered how he knew until I saw the chalk marks on both pilings and wooden pieces.

“Are these pre-cut?” I asked.

“Yes, and they finished them in the last few days,” said Hans. “They were buried with work for the shop, and now most of that is done.”

“Uh, what?” I asked.

“Some of it has not come over yet, as you still have a lot of that machinery that needs doing, so there is no room for that stuff there, and then there were patterns that went out recently to a foundry. I think Georg drove them out there a week or two ago on the rest-day.”

“Uh, does he take that day off?” I asked.

“I am not sure,” said Hans. “I know he takes that buggy out then, and is usually back by lunch. What he does then I have wondered about for a long time, as he visits at least one town when he is gone.”

“He mentioned collecting from those people who lived at Waldhuis while Hieronymus was there,” I said, “and he said they were hard to collect from. Do you think he is doing that?” I asked.

“That sounds as likely as anything,” said Anna. “Hans, this one has four marks, so that piece needs to go here.”

“Does this stuff use nails?” I asked. I wanted to add, “if it does, it will need a big hammer.”

“The big stuff like this uses wooden pegs,” said Hans, “and those are lying next to where the pieces of wood were laying on the ground. Anna should be able to bring them to us once we fit these beams together.”

The 'beams' spoken of – sizable things, each over four inches thick and amazingly long – went on the pilings, and then 'fitted' together. I noted what looked like a routed place in the top of the beams, and once we had 'aligned' them, Hans fetched one of the pegs.

The 'peg' looked like an unusually thick and slightly tapered wooden dowel, and it went in easily nearly half of the way. The other joints needed careful aligning as well, and here, I saw evidence that some people were accustomed to accurate work: the joints fitted closely together, and inserting the dowel locked them together.

“Then, they are hammered,” said Hans. That will make this part solid, and we can put the floor planks in.”

“Floor?” I asked.

“Yes, it needs a floor to be good,” said Hans. “They treated all of this wood, so it will need painting next year after it has set for a while.”

After driving the pegs in – I let Hans do that, as I was afraid I might break them, and said so – we began putting in the floor-planks. These, again, were of a dark-stained wood, surprisingly smooth, and quite sturdy-looking. I was amazed again when the framework did not rock under my weight.

“Did they check this?” I asked.

“They did,” said Anna, “and they actually part-assembled it so the masons could level the piers so it would not wiggle. That's important when it has to fit close to the house like it needs to, as otherwise, it will have drafts.”

“This kind of room tends to have those just the same,” said Hans, “so we will need to keep a fire going in that oven some.”

“Perhaps to dry more meat?” I asked. “At least, when there are no sheets, or...”

“I've been boiling your clothing in that oven,” said Anna, “as since that nasty stuff came from the fifth kingdom, nothing else gets them clean. I hope Hans can make up some paint for that stuff, as it needs it to not turn you into a turnip-farmer to use it.”

“Yes, and I am working on that,” said Hans. “I might manage to do some more to it tonight, as it needs that whiting ground especially good.”

As the 'floor' continued to go in, I realized how big the 'shed' was going to be, as well as more notches on the sides of the beams. As I put in the final 'planks', I asked, “how do these stay put?”

“Those will need nails,” said Anna. “I found a place that's doing those, and they've been doing them for a big contract.”

“That is good, then, as they are in practice,” said Hans. “We will need hammers for those things, though.”

“He has lots of hammers,” said Anna. I noted she was bringing more pegs over.

“Yes, and those are not to be used for nails,” said Hans. “I asked a jeweler about that. She said those need to have their heads kept shiny, and not banged up with nails.”

“What kind do I need to make?” I asked.

“I would see the carpenters,” said Hans, “and find out what they use, then make some similar.”

I soon found the reason for the large 'hammer', as Hans thumped the bottom of the uprights in place when I brought them into their respective positions. I wondered for a moment as to how houses went together, then asked, “are houses built this way?”

“They have their sides done like this some,” said Hans, “but then, they have a lot of stone too. That is good for the carpenters, as they would waste more time with those nails.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Nails bend a lot,” said Hans, “and that is true no matter how good they are made.”

“Perhaps I can cook them in a forge overnight,” I said.

“Why would you do that?” asked Anna.

“They would be harder,” I said, “and less inclined to bend.”

“I think you should, then,” said Hans. “Most nails are really soft things, and I have wondered about Mercantile hooks that way for a long time.”

“Uh, why?” I asked. Supposedly, hooks were once made from needles.

“I think some people make those things out of nails,” said Hans.

There were nine uprights, with two for the furnace end, three for the other end, and four for the long run, and once they were up, the three of us needed to bring out the stools so as to put on the upper portion. This involved more substantial beams, these being but somewhat less sturdy than those of the lower framework, and more mallet-work as well, followed by careful 'pinning' of the upper beams. This last needed me holding Hans' legs while he stood on two stacked stools, and once he was done with the last peg, he said, “that does it for this time. Next time, we will want those nails, hammers, and help.”

“I hope this help does not need to be...”

“They will be carpenters,” said Hans. “That was bad that they had you doing that stuff like that.”

“How?” I asked, as Hans set down the mallet on the 'floor', and Anna went inside.

“I found out some things since then,” said Hans. “I think what you said about Hieronymus has something to it.”

“What, that I'm supposed to act like an...” I choked on the words, even as a peculiar term came to me. That term was arch-witch.

“Like what?” asked Anna.

“Is there a special name for a really nasty and especially evil witch?” I asked. “Especially a witch that has 'control' over a group of witches, or something like that?”

I paused, then whispered, “would that person be called an arch-witch?”

The two of them looked at me in stunned 'shock' until Anna coughed, then said, “now that is what the old tales called the very worst witches.”

“Worse than Hieronymus at his most ill-tempered?” I spluttered. “Secretive, cunning, chanting curses, turning everything I touch into an idol, murdering, robbing, sacrificing every 'fool' stupid enough to arouse my ire?”

I broke down and wept, then said, “no, th-that's wrong, and I cannot do it.”

“I know that,” said Hans, “and that is what Dirk told me.”

“What did he say?” I gasped between my tears.

“Georg spoke of what needed to happen,” said Hans, “and that was one thing, as Dirk knew nothing of what was to be done, and the same for the rest of them that do not work there. So then he comes over and hears this strange speaking, and he seems to go to sleep, and only wakes up when he is home the day after.”

“Who was speaking?” I asked. “Did it sound like a chant of some kind?”

“He did not know,” said Hans. “He seemed to wake up some when you were close to him, though, and he saw what you were doing to keep him out of trouble. He knows that much, at least, if not much more.”

“Was it different for the others?” I asked.

“I think that is the trouble,” said Hans, “as they think strange things about that grindstone, and I wonder more than a little about what else they think.”

“Why do you wonder?” asked Anna.

“That grindstone turns really easy, Anna,” said Hans. “Even those boys can turn it fast for a long time, and there is no crank to hurt them.”

“Then how does it turn?” asked Anna. Her 'oblivious' tone was especially troubling.

“Like that watchmaker's thing by the workbench there,” said Hans, “only without the gears.”

“How...”

Anna abruptly ceased, then said to me, “didn't you say something about how distilleries are?”

“What did I say about them?” I asked.

“Hans said you told him and Korn that they were done as if they were the tools of witches,” said Anna, “and everything about them needed to be done exactly so, or else the person making them was wrong.”

“That might be rubbish, but a lot of people believe it,” said Hans.

“And the people at the shop believe a lot of, uh, similar 'rubbish'?” I asked. “Including I'm supposed to act like a nastier version of Black-Cap, because I do things they don't understand terribly well?”

I paused, then said, “and I'm supposed to put rune-writ curses on everything I make, so as to deed it and all that touch it to Brimstone? No! I don't want to be a witch!”

“No witch could do those things,” said Anna. “Why are you so frightened?”

“I think they expect him to act like one, Anna,” said Hans, “and because he does not act like a witch, he must be wrong somehow.”

For some reason, I did not faint, even if I sobbed uncontrollably for what seemed an hour, and at the end of that time, my eyes seemed dry. I opened them, and as if in a mirror while I sat at the table, I seemed to see darkness mirrored in my vision. I looked around, and then saw that I was no longer in the kitchen.

I was somewhere else, and I didn't like the feeling of the place at all.

At each juncture, and at each footstep, I heard the voice of 'reason' speaking of bowing to 'convention'. Long snaking lists showed in front of my eyes, and the chiefest thing I saw was to shed the 'garment' of 'gentility' and doff 'the mask of deception' – and assume the garments of hell.

Chiseled into the red-brick floors of this black-stone-walled hellhole were endless burning-red strings of curses, some of which might have been runes, and others, in plain-writ letters. Among them were the following:


Knowledge is power. Therefore, make nondisclosure your rule, and secrecy

your weapon, that you may control all that you meet to the utmost degree.”

and

That which is unwritten defines life. That

which is written is an obstacle to be destroyed.”


There were more than just curses cut into the floor; there was a reddish haze of tramping footprints, and the snap-crack tramp of a myriad copies of Black-Cap made the place ring as if it were floored with bad anvils and each sordid boot a badly-made hammer.

The walls had a acquired a glossy sheen, and as I saw their depth, it seemed beyond belief, so much so that as I ran screaming, I was sucked into the floor to then be swallowed up by darkness.

To then awake on the couch with that vile tube in my throat and Anna pouring something into a funnel attached to it.

“First a nightmare worse than anything, and now this other nightmare that is worse,” I thought.

As if in response, Anna began withdrawing the thing, and the horrible sliding sensation was enough to make for at first gagging, then choking, and finally gasping.

“You fainted again, and this time, I took no chances,” said Anna. “I had that tube ready, and Hans mixed the stuff up right away.”

“That wasn't, uh, the usual thing, dear,” I said quietly. “I have no idea what...”

“That one was trouble,” said Hans, “as this time, I had to hold you down...”

I now truly awoke – the second portion had also been a nightmare – and saw that I was still sitting at the table.

“What happened?” I squeaked. I then looked around.

Both Hans and Anna had fainted, and I leaped from the chair to Anna's side. I checked her pulse – fine – and then laid her on her side. I did the same for Hans, and then went after my blankets so as to cover them.

I had come down the stairs at a run with a handful of blankets to nearly run into Anna as she staggered to her feet.

“Are you all right?” I gasped.

“N-no,” she said in a wobbly tone of voice, “and if that wasn't a witch-hole I saw, I don't know what it was. I think I want the bull formula.”

“Yes, after I have some of it,” said Hans, as he shakily got to his feet. “That place was enough to put me in a rest-house to see it. What were all of those things burning in the floor?”

“Uh, was this floor made of bricks?” I asked.

Both of them nodded soberly, even as Anna began sucking down the contents of her mug.

“And were there marks like on that bull, as well as other written 'sayings'?” I asked. “And all of them were glowing red, as if they were red-hot iron?”

Again, both nodded, then Anna said, “I think I might have seen the same thing that was on that bull.”

“There was the same marking that was on Paul's still, too,” said Hans. “That one was really burning a lot.”

“I didn't notice any particular ones, save for two or three,” I said, “but that place was so awful that I wonder just what it was. The floor was brick, and every stinking one of those things had a curse cut into it of some kind.”

I then recalled something.

“The bull formula?” I asked.

“There are two strengths of that tincture,” said Hans, “and that for bulls is a lot stronger than that for widows. Some bulls need it daily to be manageable, that and mash and uncorking medicine so they do not become corked.”

Hans paused, then said, “and that one you took ax to was as corked as any bull I have ever seen.”

After such an episode, a nap was most warranted, and I took one upstairs. This example was shorter, and I needed no waking. I wondered for a moment if I was getting enough sleep, until I came down to meet Anna in the kitchen. The smell of 'stew' was enchanting.

“Good that you got more rest,” said Anna. “You were not the only one, as Hans needed a nap after that building, and I did too. I just woke up.”

“Do I get enough sleep?” I asked.

“I doubt it,” said Anna. “I know you wake up at least once a night to visit the privy, and then you work like you do here and at the shop. I think Hans is wrong about you working like they do in the fourth kingdom.”

“They work more hours?” I asked.

“I think you worked more hours than they do there after you'd been here a month,” said Anna, “and you've been working more hours than that since.”

Here, Anna paused, then said, “I think it cannot be helped much, though, as there is enough work for you to do here to keep you fairly busy all by itself, and I'm not including what you do at the bench. There promises to be more, though.”

“More?” I asked.

“It seems Korn likes those thimbles you made,” said Anna, “and I think he's spoken of them to others, as Hans has had word to make up as many as he can.”

“Now that is not true,” said Hans as he came up the stairs. “They do not have enough money to get many of the tipped shells, so the batches he has made so far should do those things.”

“But aren't they hard to make, and take a long time?” asked Anna.

“The hardest part is making good thimbles, and with what he has, it might take an hour or so to make thirty or forty of them,” said Hans. “His last batch was a bit bigger than the first, so the two of them together was about a hundred. Then, Korn is filling them, so all I needed to do was clean them good and send them over in a vial filled with aquavit.”

“I need to make some for my use, though,” I said.

“Yes, I know,” said Hans. “I still have not found a fowling piece, nor one of those pistols, and given the trouble you are having lately, you need one or the other, as both give more than one shot per loading.”

“Where are they made?” I asked.

“The cheaper ones are made in the fifth kingdom,” said Hans, “and the better ones, in the fourth, though those better ones are expensive, and take a long time to get.”

“Those take close to a year, Hans,” said Anna. “Even those from the Heinrich works take a long time.”

“And the ones from the fifth kingdom need a trip down there, and dealing with people like Black-Cap,” I muttered.

“I am not sure if it is that bad,” said Hans, “as I have seen those in that market down there. Still, that is a far distance to travel.”

“Perhaps Albrecht,” I asked, “or that one Mercantile?”

“I never thought of that,” said Hans.

I was dumbfounded at Hans' answer, and yet more 'dumbfounded' when I saw what he was making in the basement.

“What is it?” I asked.

“That is some whiting,” said Hans. “That bad equipment will need painting once you have it done, and I think those other people can do that passably.”

“Paint the rollers, and leave the frame bare, and uh, put more paint on the floor than on the machines?” I asked.

“I think I might need to check on them some,” said Hans, “that, and talk to Georg a lot. I think his head is scrambled, is what I think, and he needs to do his job and not try to force you to behave like a witch.”

“I've already started talking about that,” said Anna. “I had to get some more potatoes down at the Public House, and I told the publican about what you said.”

“About what?” I gasped.

“What Hans said about them thinking you to be a witch,” said Anna, “and how tormenting it is for them to think that and treat you the way they do.”

Anna paused, then said, “I was surprised to hear what he had to say, though.”

“What?” I squeaked.

“It was not about you,” said Anna. “It seems he'd heard from a freighter, and that man had seen someone that looked and acted too much like Hieronymus to be a coincidence.”

“Yes, and where was that wretch?” asked Hans.

“In the second kingdom house,” said Anna, “and he was dressed in black-cloth, wearing a box-hat, and pointed boots. That made what I said much easier for the publican to understand.”

“Hans said he acted like a witch, and now he dresses like Black-Cap?” I asked.

Anna nodded, then said, “and I did not need to tell him how the witches are after you, as everyone knows that.”

“Yes, and that wretch must be a witch, too,” said Hans. “So, I will need to tell him straight, as you have enough trouble from witches, and do not need more of the same kind.”

I spent most of the day's remainder either grinding whiting, watching and stirring uncorking medicine over the sand-bath – Hans was now using it for much of his 'slow' drying – and mixing up more 'bullet lubricant'. This time, I half-filled a bandage tin, and I weighed the ingredients carefully. I used the student's ledger to write down the proportions, and then let the stuff cook next to the uncorking medicine on the sand-bath. I stirred it now and then to help it 'mingle' properly.

“What is 'cooked' uncorking medicine used in?” I asked.

“That wood-treatment, for one,” said Hans, “and the same for this paint. The cooked stuff helps it dry a lot faster, that and this one chemical, and I'll need to add some distillate to it to make it soak in better.”

“Uh, cooked distillate?” I asked.

“That would help the stink and fumes,” said Hans.

“Do you have any tubing like what Anna has for her, uh, stomach tube?” I asked. “I might manage something then.”

Not only did Hans have an assortment of old-looking pieces of rubber tubing, but he spoke of using it commonly.

“That stuff is common in that market town, especially in the scrap-market,” said Hans. “I have heard tell that some new tubing shows now and then, but I have not seen that stuff.”

“This may be old, but it looks good enough to use,” I said. “Is that what Anna uses?”

“That is bigger stuff,” said Hans, “and that one showed one time while we were down there for longer than usual.”

“Usual?” I asked.

“We usually stay four days now,” said Hans. “Years past, we stayed longer, and did some exploring on the way down, as things were slower then.”

I found an Erlenmeyer flask, a cork, a length of old-looking glass tubing, and a beaker, and then set up a 'primitive' distilling arrangement using a rag wrapped carefully around the glass tubing and brass wire to hold it in place. Hans looked on with great interest as I worked.

“Now what is it you will do with that?” asked Hans. I was filling up a jeweler's lamp with aquavit.

“Deodorize that distillate quickly without starting a fire,” I said. “This should help some with quantity, as I can tell I can use a fair amount of non-stinky distillate.”

“Yes, you and a lot of people,” said Hans. “If that works, then I think I will want to do it a lot.”

I part-filled the flask with 'fresh' distillate, then put the cork back in the flask quickly. The stink of distillate was gut-churning, even with such brief exposure, and after lighting the lamp with a candle, I adjusted it for the lowest flame that 'stayed'. I put it under the flask, and began watching.

Within seconds, the stuff inside the flask began to evolve visible fumes, and I used a dropping tube to add more water to the rag.

Over the course of the several minutes, a colorless liquid began condensing in the beaker, and some faint smelly artifacts seemed to gather near the surface of the gently bubbling water. Hans seemed utterly entranced, even when I removed the lamp and put its 'snuffer' down on the wick.

“Now, we wait until that stuff cools, and see what it's doing for odor,” I said.

“That stuff in the beaker looks like light distillate,” said Hans. “I hope that it is, as I need some of that for traps, and it is scarcer than lead right now.”

“Traps?” I asked. “Are these like what Paul is talking about?”

“Yes, those too,” said Hans. “There are other uses for that stuff, but not many, so I have need of it all the time.”

“Other uses?” I asked.

“Yes, for certain extractions,” said Hans. “Those I do like you have there, save no rag around that glass tube, and no lamp under the container there.”

After uncorking the flask and marveling at the lack of odor, I poured a small amount into a copper saucer and showed it to Hans. He looked closely, then said, “ah, this is perfect for paint and things, as it has almost no smell. You might want to draw that setup, as your drawing is as good as your writing is bad.”

After running three more such batches, I managed a drawing on a slate, which Hans then put next to another. I had 'cooked' nearly a quart of distillate, and part of the last flask had gone into a larger medicine vial. I wanted that stuff for the stones at home, and when I went upstairs, I found the stones-vial and poured it in. Anna came closer once I had done that.

“Is that distillate?” she asked.

“Yes, some I just 'cooked',” I said. “It has almost no smell.”

As if by plan, Hans came up, then said, “and I think I know why, too.”

“Why?” asked Anna.

“About a fifth of heavy distillate is this stuff that makes it smelly,” said Hans, “and it looks a lot like lighter distillate. I have jugged that stuff up, and I hope I can do that more for the traps.”

“How common is heavy distillate right now?”

“It might be a little scarce in Mercantiles,” said Hans, “but lots of people have some, so I can trade for a little here and there.”

“There is one stinky jug at Georg's that needs to lose its smell,” I said, “and I was told there was another.”

I then paused abruptly, then asked, “Hans, do people hide things in that place much?”

“I am not sure,” said Hans. “Why is that?”

“Because I want to check some of those boxes,” I said. “There's something in one of them, and I'm not certain I want to find out what it is at an inopportune time. I think we need those small lanterns to go look.”

The sun was nearly down when we left the house, and the dark-clouded sky overhead spoke of either rain or snow. It didn't feel 'cold' enough for the latter, though I knew the stuff would come any time.

“When will it snow?” I asked.

“It has started doing that recently,” said Hans. “It does not stay on the ground long, but it will do that soon. Festival Week happens in a few weeks, and the stuff is on the ground solid by then.”

The shop was dark when we came to it, and upon entering it, I could 'feel' that disquieting feeling becoming stronger. There was something in the rear area, it had come recently, and it was...

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,” came the ghostly faint words of recollection, and I recalled the time and place I had heard those lines. It was at a theater, and the play – I could not recall its name, even if I otherwise recalled it clearly enough – involved witches. There were three of them, and they were significant characters, with their collective title being 'the weird sisters'. The main character's name, and that of the play, were one and the same.

“And his name was 'Mac'-something,” I thought. “Mackenzie? No, not that one.”

“I wish we had used these things when we were in that stinky place with the rats,” said Hans. “At least those machines there seem to be going together good enough.”

“The one for rolling cylinders is nearly done,” I said, “and the other big machine might take another few days. I still need to make most of the parts for the rivet swage, even if I have the swage-blocks themselves done.”

“Yes, and which rivets did you do?” asked Hans.

“Those like Anna had,” I said. “I have a bad feeling about those oval-headed ones, even if it isn't nearly as strong as what I'm feeling now.”

“What is it you are feeling?” asked Hans.

“Something similar to how I felt when I saw that marking on Paul's distillery,” I said. “It isn't the exact same, but it's close enough to make me worry.”

The boxes had been arranged in somewhat better order than the last time, and I suspected 'straighten up the boxes' had been a portion of the 'make-work' commonly assigned to the apprentices when I was not doing work 'appropriate' for teaching them. The juxtaposition of what I was 'looking for', the accompanying feeling, and the realization of what was being done regarding teaching was enough to make for a sensation that was hard to put into words.

“What is it apprentices normally do?” I asked, as I looked carefully at the boxes.

“That depends on the shop,” said Hans, “that, and what they are trying to learn. Here, I suspect that none of them are old enough to be thought able to learn much, so they mostly do the simpler things.”

“Who thinks that?” I gasped. “I picked up stuff like that when I was younger than they are.”

“That is another thing that Georg needs telling,” said Hans. “Most smith's shops do not have good teachers.”

“Hans, I'm not that good at teaching,” I said.

“I know that,” said Hans. “If what I suspect is true, most people that do what you do are a lot worse.”

However, as I 'felt' the thing – I had it localized to a handful of boxes – Hans said, “now that I think about it, I wonder if you are as bad a teacher as you think. Why is it you think that way?”

“I don't know how to, uh, get inside people's heads and talk to them 'correctly',” I said, “and it isn't just my language. It's a lot more than that, and I got in trouble constantly where I came from because of it.”

“I think much of the trouble is them wanting to treat you like a witch,” said Hans. “Now why is it you are looking at those boxes there?”

“That thing is in here,” I said, as I moved my hand to indicate one of three boxes, “and whatever it is, it's not something I want handy. It's got one of those markings on it, and this one is a really bad one.”

As I began carefully unstacking the boxes so as to keep them in order – that seemed important, and I knew it probably was wise – Hans began looking in them. He seemed to be carefully 'rummaging around' in them one after another, and I nearly jumped when I put my hands on the first one of the three I had picked out.

“What is it you did there?” asked Hans.

“I'm not certain,” I said. “Why are you looking in those?”

“I thought you said it might be in these,” said Hans. “What is it you are looking for?”

“It isn't in those,” I said. “Those boxes were on top of the three that feel most likely, and I put them in order so as to put them back correctly. This one might have it.”

I put it aside, again in order, and when I began removing the second one, Hans said quietly, “I should have listened to you, as this is bad.”

“What is it?” I asked, as I set down the second box of the three.

Hans began carefully removing some odd-looking parts that took a minute or so for me to recognize – which was long enough for him to assemble them into an example of one of the lanterns I had seen in the volcano.

“Hans, that is...”

“Yes, I know,” said Hans. “You'd best look in those other boxes, as now I know better than to not listen to you. I was thinking we would need to search every one of those, and you found the trouble right off.”

Both second and third boxes also had lanterns of the same kind. The assembled lanterns were put aside, along with their bags of 'tools' and rolled-up wicks. The greasy feeling of all that I touched was tormenting, so much so that I was wiping my hands on the ground and longing for that herbal soap. It made my mind wander, even as Hans took out some cloth bags.

“Are there special soaps?” I asked.

“Yes, some, though they are costly,” said Hans. “That one Mercantile might have some, and the same for that second-hand store. Why?”

“I just thought to ask,” I said. “These things feel so awful I want to bathe my hands with aquavit and then that soap with the herbs, and that reminded me of soap. Ugh, this stuff is awful. That lantern felt like it was coated with lard.”

“I would not speak of pig-fat,” said Hans, “as you might be right with these things.”

I was glad Hans was able to bag them up, and once I had replaced the boxes, I noted the feeling. The boxes merely felt 'dirty' now; they no longer felt as if they were filled with witch-tools. As I took up two of the bags, I asked, “there isn't a special name for the tools of witches, is there?”

“I asked around,” said Hans, “and so far, I have not heard anything. Most people I talked to had about as much idea of witches and tools as Paul did, and the rest had less yet.”

Trudging home with the sacks made for an even more frightening trip, so much so that I wondered if it was my feeling or that of Hans, and once inside with our plunder, I thought to ask.

“I was not that worried,” said Hans, “as I know this area, and I've gone in back of Georg's a few times, at least that part of Georg's. Then, you can see good in the dark, and anyone who could outrun that many witches would know of them and how to hide. Besides, we were still close to home.”

“Now what did you fetch from there?” asked Anna. “More stuff they have no business trying to ruin?”

“No, Anna,” said Hans. “This is bad trouble, and now, Georg has no excuse for his behavior.”

“Why, what did you find?” asked Anna. “Did you find a black stone knife, or one of those black books?”

“No, we found three of those fifth kingdom lanterns in those boxes,” said Hans, “and I should have listened to him, as he found them right off, just like out of an old tale.”

Unpacking the 'fifth kingdom lanterns' made for more hand-wringing until Anna fetched me a rag dampened with aquavit. I rubbed my hands, and whispered, “thank you. I have no idea what they put on those things, but it feels awful.”

Anna touched one of the lanterns, then said, “now this is strange. I see some odd markings, ones that look like some I saw in that nightmare. They're hard to see, but I can see them on this bottom part.”

I moved over to where Anna was looking, and shuddered, for what I saw was the same identical 'curse' that I had seen over the volcano's 'exit'.

“Th-that one's a curse,” I spluttered. “It's the exact same thing I saw in the volcano, and those witches in there were chanting it. It sounds like...”

I felt an abrupt 'jolt', and I stopped in mid-squawk. Saying those things wasn't a good idea, even if one wasn't a witch.

“No, especially if one isn't a witch,” I thought. “They're dangerous for witches to speak, and I have no idea for those otherwise.”

“Now what were you going to say?” asked Hans.

“I was going to try to tell you what that curse sounded like,” I said, “and I stopped, because I knew suddenly it was a really bad idea. Those are dangerous for witches to say, much less people like us.”

I paused, then said, “they aren't even a good idea to write down, in fact, especially certain ones. I think that one there might be one of them.”

Another brief pause, then “are there any other, uh, markings on that thing? Perhaps I should wipe it down so it can be handled without torment.”

Anna fetched two rags, and between the three of us, we managed to get one of the nasty-feeling things wiped down. The sense of nausea grew, even as the others looked to be 'oblivious' – at least until Anna ran for the privy. Strange unpleasant-sounding noises began to come from behind the brown door, then suddenly, I heard a noise unlike anything I had ever heard before:

Urargh-Ptttaaah.”

“What was that?” I gasped.

“I think Anna has spewed,” said Hans. “This stuff might be making her sick.”

“It is,” muttered Anna as she came from the privy wiping her mouth, “and I know what it is, now. Those things are covered with swine-fat.”

“Coated with l-l-lard?” I gasped.

“He spoke of that, Anna, and he was right,” said Hans. “Now we will need to burn these rags, so we do not have trouble with them, and then on Monday, we will need to put these things on Georg's desk and ask him what he meant by fetching these things.”

“Did he order them, or were they, uh, an unintended bonus?” I asked. “There was a bill of lading, and it was fairly long. If it has them listed, then we know it was official and he spoke of them knowingly. If they aren't, then we have a big problem.”

“Yes, and what is that?” asked Hans.

“The people down in the fifth kingdom know about the shop,” said Anna, “and they're trying to turn him into a witch too!”

I looked at Anna in stunned shock, so much so that I could only say in a soothing voice, “yes, dear. You're right.”

“Now why are you talking to me like that?” asked Anna. “I've never heard you speak that way before.”

“Why, was it bad?” I asked. “I was really surprised to see you think beyond the 'right-in-front-of-your-nose obvious'. That isn't a common thing, is it?”

“No, it wasn't bad,” said Anna, “though it isn't often to hear someone talking in quite that tone of voice.”

“What did I sound like, then?” I asked.

“As if she were about to have a fit, and needed calming down,” said Hans. “I might try that more often, as it seemed to work.”

I was expecting Anna to now have a fit – until she said, “now how is it I don't think beyond the obvious?”

“It isn't just you,” I said, “and you are far from the worst. At least you think within the realm of your knowledge and experience, and listen to those things that interest you. Some people make me wonder if they listen or think.”

“Yes, those people at the shop are bad for that,” said Hans.

“No, at least they do eventually come around,” I said. “Or, at least they seemed to, current evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.”

Here, I paused, then said, “recall what you, Paul, and Korn said about how people think about distilleries? The three of you called that stuff rubbish, and at least two of you said some people still believed it was the truth. To top that, those people are greatly disinclined to test their information. Those are the people that worry me.”

I then added, much as an afterthought, “perhaps we can clean all of these nasty things up, as I don't much fancy handling lard-covered objects, even a little bit.”

The first lantern needed several more rags, and while Hans was in favor of burning them, I said, “perhaps a bit of lye, and then boiling. The lye will turn that slimy stuff into soap, and...”

“The smell will be worse than if they were burned,” said Anna. “If you must do that, then do it downwind and outside.”

“The rags, dear,” I said. “We can always dump out the 'soap', or perhaps burn it afterward. Nice soft rags are a good thing to have for wiping tools. Now doesn't lye soften them nicely?”

“Yes,” said Anna, “but pigs are supposed to be burned.”

“Perhaps the manure-pile, then,” I said. “I'm not up on swine-disposal, I have to admit – though for some reason, I really don't want to burn those rags. There's something about the smell being really bad, almost like, uh, p...”

“What is that which begins with a 'P'?” asked Hans.

“There was a poisonous plant where I came from,” I said, “and it was called poison ivy. Touching it caused trouble, and burning it spread that trouble and made it worse, as the smoke was poisonous too. Now do we want half the town spewing like Anna just did, or do we?”

“I think you had best use the lye,” said Anna, “as now I remember what burning swine do.”

“They put whole towns in the collective privy, don't they?” I asked.

Anna nodded soberly, and then went downstairs to return with a pail and jug minutes later. I was more than a little surprised when she set a pot of water on to boil.

“You can use your tongs to put those rags in the bucket,” she said, “and after we clean those nasty things up, we can put the rags in the bucket, and you and Hans can set the stuff under the fume hood in the basement.”

“Does lye actually soften the rags, though?” I asked.

“It does that with diapers,” said Anna. “Is that what you mean?”

“Are diapers similar to rags?” I asked. “If that is the case, then not only will those rags be clear of that nasty lard, but they will feel better to use, especially for less-smelly tallow rags. I think Hans likes that latest one.”

“Yes, and it helps a lot for guns, too,” said Hans. “I wiped ours down after I cleaned them good.”

“Do I need to clean them properly?” I asked.

“I think if you do that now and then, they will stay good longer,” said Hans. “I've been cleaning them like you do, so that should help some.”

The remaining lanterns needed several rags apiece to become properly clean, as a rag damp with aquavit seemed to pull more lard out of the cracks and crevices. As I wiped one of them clean for what I hoped was the last time, I asked, “was he motivated by my staying later?”

“I doubt that,” said Hans, “as if he were worried about light, he could have asked us. He knows you work later than is common when you are home, and that needs good lighting. Then, most people know about those fifth kingdom lanterns, especially this kind.”

“Why, are these special ones?” I asked.

“I think they are the better grade of lanterns from down there,” said Hans. “The ones I have seen didn't look to be made this good.”

“Then that argues for him getting them as a 'bonus',” I said, “as those machines...”

“Yes, those were bad,” said Hans. “Now what else?”

“He may have gotten their number 'nine-hundred and twenty-three' grade of machinery,” I said, “but he also got that fourth kingdom axle grease. Then, most of the other supplies seemed to be decent, at least the ones I've seen so far.”

“What did you mean by that number?” asked Anna.

“They were listed as 'number one first quality',” I said, “but their actual grade was closer to 'the worst stuff we make'. Then, whoever talked to Georg lied to him about what happened, even if those freighters picked the stuff up in the fourth kingdom. Now, a question. Does the fourth kingdom make lanterns like that?”

“No, they don't,” said Hans. “I have never seen them there.”

“You must not have been looking,” said Anna, “as I've seen them a few times in that market. They aren't common, and they usually aren't where you expect to find them, but there are people selling them. I am not sure if people make them there, though if they did, they would look like these.”

“Light-giving firebombs?” I gasped. “You said they had some that were, uh...”

“Those things cause people to become dim-eyed,” said Anna, “and I'm not certain where they are made. If they are made in the fourth kingdom, I'd guess they were done at the Heinrich works, or one of a few places that do almost as well.”

The rags went in the bucket, followed by the now-steaming water, and down in the basement, Hans uncorked the jug that Anna had brought up. The stench that ensued was of such intensity that I had to leave the area with watering eyes. I thought to go to the privy, as I felt sick, and the smell within was not much of an improvement. It was similar, if not quite the same.

I met Hans near the top of the stairs leading to the basement. The odor, thankfully, seemed inclined to remain downstairs.

“What was in that jug?” I asked.

“That was lye,” said Hans, “and that greasy stuff went white almost right away.”

“White?” I asked.

“Yes, like soap,” said Hans. “The fume-hood is drawing good, so the smell is going up the oven's chimney. It should be good and clean by tomorrow morning.”

After church, I thought to check the downstairs area. The stench was gone, and in its place, I smelled a vague aroma, one that seemed to speak of soap, bathing, and other pleasant sensations. I looked for the bucket, and to my astonishment, it was gone.

“I dumped out that stuff on the manure pile,” said Hans, “and I have the rags rinsing good in that bucket. They are as clean as anything, and they no longer smell bad.”

“They smelled like soap, in fact,” I said. “Did the stuff look, un, nasty?”

“It looked just like common soap, except it was a bit softer,” said Hans. “That, and it got the inside of that bucket cleaner than it has ever been.”

“I guess fat is fat, at least to some extent,” I said. “What is soap usually made from?”

“Tallow, lye, and a lot of work,” said Hans. “I think that we should not burn swine, but put them in lye, as that gets rid of them and does not make people sick.”

“Perhaps bury them after their demise,” I said. “Do burn-piles constitute public entertainment?”

While I had truly lost Hans with my last statement, I lost neither him nor Anna after lunch when I went through the supplies that came with the lanterns. These, thankfully, were not unduly greasy, and when I looked at the wick, I read a faint marking at its end. I showed it to Hans.

“That wick thing was made in the fourth kingdom,” said Hans, “as I recognize that mark. Now do those things there have it?”

The 'things' – what looked like a special pair of unusually small scissors with long handles, and a 'snuffer' – both had the same mark. I thought to look one of the lanterns itself, and began removing first its 'chimney', and then its 'globe'. I then unscrewed the 'wick-holder', and looked on the underside.

“Here, that mark's here too,” I said, as I brought it over to Hans. “Is this a counterfeit mark, with all of this stuff stated as being made in the fourth kingdom, while it was actually made in the fifth?”

“Now what is it you are saying?” asked Hans.

“Someone in the fifth kingdom made an impression, or copied a fourth kingdom marking stamp,” I said, “and then marked them as being made in the fourth kingdom while being made in the fifth.”

“I doubt they would do that,” said Hans, “as this work is too good for the fifth kingdom. I did not see how they did that lantern on the inside before, but now I am sure of it. The fifth kingdom doesn't do work near that good, especially for parts that do not show.”

Anna looked closely at the lantern's 'bottom', then said, “I think Hans is right. It might not be up to your standard of work, but it's a lot better than the common for around here, much less the fifth kingdom.”

“And the fifth kingdom?” I asked. “Do they make work this good?”

“You should know what they do, as you have spent days getting filthy making their bad work right,” said Hans.

While I did not speak of the matter, I had the distinct impression that not everything the fifth kingdom turned out was rubbish; there were several 'grades' of equipment and materials. More, if one was in touch with 'the right people', and knew the correct 'approach', then one could get the better grades.

“Perhaps one needs to look and act like Black-Cap to get the better stuff down there,” I thought. “Now I wonder if we want to look for that bill of lading?”

My speaking of the thing got Hans interested, especially when I brought out the bag with the student's ledger. I then thought to ask about the paint.

“Yes, that is nearly ready,” said Hans.

“How close is it?” I said. “We may want to take it over if it's ready to go.”

“Why is that?” asked Hans.

“In case someone asks us questions,” I said. “The machines are going to need painting, you have the paint, and if we are bringing it there, then we have a legitimate excuse for our presence.”

Hans looked at me slyly, and as I followed him downstairs, he said, “I think you might want to help me set out some jugs when those people come, as that kind of thinking isn't common.”

“What?” I gasped.

“Most people are not nearly that tricky,” said Hans, “including those people fond of box-hats.”

“It isn't much of a trick, though,” I said. “You yourself said those machines need paint, I've helped you make that paint, I think they need paint, and I'd just as soon take that stuff over and, uh, plan the painting job in a less-distracting environment. The fact that Georg may be trying to increase the distraction level by playing some kind of morally-deficient games doesn't help much, which is why we need to find that bill of lading, and look it over carefully.”

I paused, then said, “besides, nothing is more distracting than having people around you think you're a witch.”

“Except trying to make you act like one,” said Anna. “I've done painting before, and I might be able to help you figure that job better.”

“Is this a type of deceit?” I asked. My thinking felt sufficiently deceitful that I was not comfortable with it, even if it was the truth.

“She paints better than I do,” said Hans, “and most in town people know that, and neither of us have seen you apply paint, even if you do well enough at helping to make the stuff. Now I need to put some more of that distillate you did up to this paint, and then jug that paint.”

“We have a jug of distillate over there that needs deodorizing, remember?” I said. “Everyone there much prefers that I use that type over the smelly stuff.”

“I thought you said there were two jugs,” said Anna.

“I was told there were two,” I said. “And at the time I was told, that figure was correct. I think more of that stuff arrived in those boxes, and we need to check them carefully. Perhaps we can deodorize that distillate as well.”

While Anna remained home – she had stew to attend to, as well as meat to dry – Hans and I went to the shop to retrieve the jug of distillate that I knew of. I wanted to see about looking for more of the stuff, and while I went back in the rear area, Hans looked in the front. I suspected he knew where Georg had his paperwork hidden.

By the time I had looked carefully for more distillate and had 'narrowed down' the portion regarding the boxes – I could tell there was some, but not a lot, and it wasn't common 'stinky' distillate, but something slightly less smelly – Hans returned with a long piece of paper in his hands. I turned and recognized it at once as the bill of lading.

“Where was it?” I asked.

“Where he usually keeps his papers,” said Hans. “I have looked there before, when trying to learn something about Hieronymus.”

“Does it show lanterns?” I asked.

Hans was slowly going down the list, then said, “yes, he does have them here. It says, 'three fourth-kingdom distillate lanterns, first quality, with tools and well-dried distillate'.”

“Is that why that stinky stuff seems to have lost some of its smell?” I asked. “I know roughly where it is, and there isn't a whole lot of it.”

“Where is it, then?” said Hans, as he folded the bill back up.

“Those boxes,” I said, as I pointed to them. “Why don't you put that bill back where you found it, and uh, make sure it looks undisturbed. I may well tell Georg about that one experiment I did with that stuff. Perhaps then he'll realize how dangerous it is.”

“Is this the one where you almost blew up the shop?” asked Hans.

I nodded, then resumed trying to 'feel' where the respective boxes were.

After a few minutes, Hans returned. I had moved the 'extraneous' boxes out of the way, such that I could readily retrieve the ones I wanted to look in. I brought out the first one, and as I opened the lid, I hesitated for a second.

“Hans, is there another type of distillate that's especially stinky?” I asked.

“Why, do you smell some?” he asked.

“There's some of that vile-smelling stuff around here, but it isn't in these boxes,” I said, “and if Georg knows of it, I'll be surprised more than a little. He might not know much about heavy distillate, and less yet about distillate-burning firebombs that look like lanterns, but he's heard of this stuff, and he wants no part of it or its smell.”

“Then why would he have it?” asked Hans.

“I don't know,” I said, “but if someone else put it here, that someone is most likely up to no good. If Georg got it, then someone lied to him, or he got it by mistake – and in either case, he has no idea how to properly dispose of it.”

I then opened the box, and removed a jug, followed by a second example. The neatness of execution was astonishing, so much so that I held the jug up and showed it to Hans.

“That is a fourth kingdom jug,” said Hans. “Did you check to see what is in it?”

I set the jug down, then uncorked it. The intense reek had me gagging as I put the cork back in, and I looked at Hans through a vague fog before I said, “well-dried distillate, eh? Georg really wants the shop to be blown to the four corners of town, doesn't he?”

“That in there smelled like it had sat outside for a while,” said Hans.

“Yes, and it still stinks,” I said. “I hope we can organize a way to get the stink out of these things in a timely fashion.”

The number of jugs I recovered hidden in boxes totaled nine, and after putting the boxes away minus their jugs, I thought to look where that especially smelly distillate was hiding. As I came close to the privy, I could tell I was getting 'warmer', so much so that when I came to the base of the hay-pile, I began carefully looking. I wanted a bayonet, or other poker, as the distillate wasn't the only thing hidden in the area.

I cautiously moved aside the piled hay near the base, and after circling around to the back side of the pile next to the wall, I felt something cold and metallic.

“Is this a trap?” I thought, as I gently explored its contours. “It feels like a p-pistol of some kind.”

I continued my tentative exploration with nervous fingers, and when I touched what felt vaguely like a hammer, I stopped. The thing was half-cocked, or possibly full-cocked, and I drew my hand out carefully. I turned to see Hans behind me.

“Hans, this might be a trap,” I said. “I need to move some hay out of the way, but carefully.”

Hans had no suggestions beyond grabbing the hay and pitching it, and as he came closer, I warned him off.

“The fewer people that get blown up the better,” I said. “Let me get this hay out of the way. Take the distillate into the shop, bring the buggy from home, load it up, and take it there. I should be back presently.”

Hans then left, and I felt better, even as I resumed feeling around this weapon.

I soon found the trigger guard, and when I felt the trigger carefully, I knew the weapon was fully cocked. I then felt upwards, and as I did, my hands felt a definite thrill; the weapon was some kind of revolver, for I could feel a cylinder. I then moved my hands along the barrel, and at its end, I found what felt like a stiff length of cord.

I began gently worming this cord out of the muzzle, then when I felt its end, I went along the cord to the other end. There, I felt what might have been a cylinder nearly two inches in diameter – and within less than ten seconds, I began to get a headache.

The headache quickly built to a pounding intensity, so much so that without thinking, I withdrew the tan cylinder from the hay and began walking with it. I gently set it down some twenty feet away, then returned to where the pistol lay still hidden. I needed to get to the bottom of this problem.

“And I hope this headache goes away in a hurry,” I thought. “I wonder if migraines feel like this.”

I continued feeling in the direction away from the pistol, and not two feet further, I felt first the handle of one jug, then another. I slowly pulled the jugs out, and as I did, I noted their rougher exterior, as well as their long and bent-looking corks. I took the jugs and set them in the shop, where I uncorked one. The reek was of such intensity I gasped after I replaced the cork – and to my surprise, I heard Hans' voice outside.

“What gives with that light distillate?” he asked.

“Is that what this stuff is?” I said quietly. “I hope we have plenty of that headache powder, as I've gotten a really bad one.”

Hans then came in, along with Anna, and both of them had jugs marked with chalk.

“Hans thinks you can add the distillate to thin the paint how you want it,” said Anna, “so we jugged it this way. I said that was important to get a good finish.”

“I've done enough painting to agree,” I said. “Someone must not like Georg much, as they rigged his hay-pile.”

“How is it they did that?” asked Hans.

“First, there is a pistol in there,” I said, “and then there was something in the barrel. I'm not certain what it was, but it was connected to this cylinder about two inches in diameter. I moved that a good ways away, and I'm glad I did, as I got a bad headache from touching it.”

“How bad was this headache, and when did it start?” asked Hans.

“It's still bad,” I said, “but it started shortly after I touched that cylinder. I was in so much pain I could barely see, so I went back and found those two jugs there by feel, and I took them in here. That's the really stinky distillate.”

I paused, then said, “could someone get me some fishing string? I want to get that pistol out, and I think it's at full-cock.”

“You might want to keep that, then, especially if it is decent,” said Hans. “Failing that, you can rework it.”

“Hans, I think this pistol is one I want,” I said.

Hans then looked in the 'tool carrier' – I suspected there was some string in there, but the headache was too bad for me to look carefully – and within moments, not only had he found a spool of what looked like twine, but Anna and I had loaded all of the 'smelly' distillate jugs in the buggy. I then went back to the hay-pile with the two of them in tow.

As I began tying the string around the pistol's grip, I could hear muttering from behind me, then Hans said, “that is trouble.”

“What is?” I asked.

“You found a stick of mining dynamite, and it is strong stuff, too,” said Hans.

“Is that stuff on the end a fuse?” I asked.

“I think it is quick-match,” said Hans, “and someone knew what they were doing, as that stick has a cap in it. Had that gun gone off, it would have blown those jugs up, and that would have lit the whole place on fire.”

I had just finished tying not only the grips, but also the hammer back, and as I paid out the twine, I began praying – both that I had found everything, and also that the gun would not fire. I took cover behind the wall of boxes, and began pulling.

The gun came fairly easily, and once it came clear of the hay, I was astonished.

“Th-that's a revolver,” I squeaked.

“Yes, and it looks decent,” said Hans, as he came closer to it. “You can stop pulling on it, as it seems to be only partly cocked.”

While Hans untied my knots, he muttered about how bad they were, and as Anna came closer, she said, “why would they put a perfectly good gun like that in the hay?”

“To blow someone up,” said Hans. “No gun is that safe when it is at full cock, and this person was not smart with this one, as he has thimbles on all six nubs.”

“Uh, hammer down on an empty chamber?” I asked.

“That cock is to be down on an open nub for carrying,” said Hans. “Now what is it you said?”

“I think I said the same thing, only in the words I learned years ago,” I said. “Perhaps if one of those thimbles is removed, then it can be, uh, transported to where it can be kept safe.”

Hans pried one off with his knife, then thought for a minute with the pistol in his free hand. He'd already put away his knife.

“Didn't you say you once had one like this?” he asked.

“Mine wasn't exactly like that,” I said, “as it was an open-topped design, and that one isn't. Otherwise, it was quite similar – oh, and it had some brass parts and looked a bit better made.”

Hans then gave me the pistol, and I carefully drew the hammer to half-cock, where I spun the cylinder around such that the empty nipple was under the hammer. I then lowered it gently.

“That is a good job with that thing,” he said. “Now, you can put it in your pocket.”

It was awkward walking lopsided with two pounds of revolver in my pocket, but once we had tidied up the 'mess' – the boxes back where they belonged, the hay regathered, and both the stick of dynamite and the two jugs of light distillate loaded in the buggy – we were able to head home.

There, I ran several more batches of distillate from the 'well-dried' jugs. I was able to use a slightly larger flask now, and I processed an entire jug before I was finished. I thought to carefully examine my new 'toy' to see if it could be fired.

I found that the cylinder used an odd screw to remove for cleaning, while the lockwork was accessible from a side-plate. The crude-looking filing and other problems I saw spoke of a need for a near-complete reworking, or so I thought until I began filing and stoning the inner parts. The crudeness cleaned up rapidly, and when I reassembled the gun after a partial cleaning, it seemed workable. I thought to ask Hans to feel it, and when he did, his eyes seemed to open more than usual.

“Now this gun feels good,” he said. “I dug up some thimbles I loaded a while ago, and we can shoot the loads out of it so it can be cleaned right.”

I thought to tie the pistol to the tree, and Hans thought it wise to do so. I cocked the hammer, and from inside the house, Hans pulled the trigger. The pistol fired, with a billowing cloud of smoke.

After shooting all six loads, Hans untied his knots, and handed me the thing. The soot that now covered it was astonishing.

“Those must be bad thimbles,” said Hans. “Now it will need cleaning good, and then you can go through it proper as you have time. It will work as it is.”

The cleaning done – it was somewhat time consuming, much as I recalled – I thought to gage its bore. To my surprise, I found its bore just a hair under three-eights of an inch, and I wondered about cutting a mould block – at least, until Hans found a small leather pouch.

“I got these years ago in trade,” he said, “and I am not sure if they are good for that one, but you might try them.”

“What are they?” I asked.

“I think they go to that size of pistol,” said Hans. “There might be twenty balls in there, if that, but that will help until you can get more or make a mould.”

When I examined the pouch's contents later that day, I was surprised: not merely had Hans underestimated the number of the balls – there were thirty-four of them – but also, I suspected they would fit passably. As I was replacing them in the pouch, Anna came to the side of the workbench, then picked the gun up.

“This should help,” she said. “It might not be the lightest, but it's lighter than a musket, and it's smaller than any musket I've seen. How many balls are there?”

“Thirty-four,” I said. “I can make up some more thimbles tonight, and also, I can get some of the important dimensions off of this weapon for what I need to make.”

“Why?” asked Anna.

“First, I need to test some of the ideas for Black-Cap's weapon,” I said. “Secondly, when I was walking through the woods up to that volcano, I realized I wanted a weapon for hunting.”

“Then you should work on one,” said Anna. “That pistol will work until then.”

“I don't mind if you borrow it once I have the other,” I said. “I imagine it might help some now and then, as marmots do show by the side of the road.”

“I take one of the muskets,” said Anna, “and yes, I've brought home more than one over the years.”

I was not looking forward to the next day, so much so that I startled when I heard an earshattering explosion somewhere to the rear of the property. I ran to the back door just in time to meet Hans.

“What was that?” I asked.

“I got rid of that dynamite,” said Hans. “It was starting to turn brown, and that is not what you want to have around the place, especially when it is that kind.”

“That kind?” I asked.

“That stuff had a lot of oil in it,” said Hans. “I am glad it was not this one type I have seen. That stuff drips oil the day it is made.”

“It must give awful headaches,” I muttered. “That stuff made me think my head was going to explode.”

Morning dawned cold, with a sense of gloomy brightness outside, and as I looked out the window, I was surprised to see places where the dark ground was now frosted with white. A faint dust seemed to drift down with powdery slowness, and brief flurries made for wondering. I looked down at my bare feet, and then nearly leaped.

“Where did these shoes come from?” I gasped. I had not merely my boots – they needed to return to the shoemaker's, I now knew – but two pairs of round-fronted shoes, one pair of which was perceptibly taller and wider than the other. Neither had laces of any kind – they obviously slipped on – and both pair were obviously new. I thought to take them downstairs with me.

“Those came Friday,” said Anna, “and things were so busy then that I forgot to speak of them.”

“Did they take longer than planned, or what?” I asked.

“It seems that he needed to make a new molding for your feet,” said Anna, “as nothing he had came close. That added almost a week to the work. Once that was done, then he could work on them.”

“Molding?” I asked. “Is this a wooden thing?”

“Yes, that especially,” said Anna. “I wondered why he took so many measurements, and now I know.”

Anna paused, then said, “after breakfast, we all three will need to go to that shop, and take those lanterns over. I think you should take that pistol, as I want to ask Georg something.”

“Uh, what?” I asked. “The former owner?”

“That especially,” said Anna. “Hans suspected Hieronymus of having one of those, and that one might well be his.”

“As in he might wish to cause trouble beyond 'ruining' those stakes?” I asked.

Anna nodded soberly, then said, “or had someone from that area do it. That place has more of those black-dressed people there than anywhere I know of outside of the fifth kingdom.”

I was glad the lanterns were bagged when the three of us went over, and while I carried a jug of cider like I usually did, both Hans and Anna carried other smaller jugs. I suspected they had 'boiled' distillate, and when we came inside, I asked, “why isn't anyone else here yet?”

“I think it is the snow,” said Hans. “I am glad you have good shoes now, as you will want them when it is cold like this.”

“Another shop pair should come within a few days,” said Anna. “He had to make a new molding.”

“Uh, a last?” I asked.

“Those things are not called that,” said Hans, “at least, no one I know of calls them that, and that includes him.”

“The lanterns?” I asked. “Should we, uh, present them to him?'

“We will wait on those things until he comes in,” said Hans. “You might start your usual things, as he might be some time coming with this snow.”

'Some time' proved to be nearly an hour, during which time I had lit two forges – here, a small dash of the distillate proved helpful, even if the flash of ignition was still huge, billowing, and red, and the black smoke half-filled the shop – and made the slip-roller ready for painting.

I had just begun working on the 'wire-roller' when the apprentices 'staggered in' with closed mouths and sleep-encrusted eyes, and as I watched minutes later, one of them almost lit himself on fire when he attempted to load one of the forges I had lit. I wondered how he could not notice the fire.

“No, put that stuff in one that is not going,” said Hans. “He got two of them lit good already, and I think they are ready for the charcoal.”

The boy 'jerked', then dumped his wood and yawned sleepily, then stumbled outside again. I wondered if he were 'awake', until not three seconds later he ran back in and yelled, “why are those lit?”

“He came in here at the usual time,” said Anna patiently, “and started those two, as the shop is cold and he will need to use them shortly. Now pick up that wood, and put it in a forge that is not burning, and then light it with a stick from one that is.”

The brainlessness of the boys didn't improve much, even when the others began stumbling in. They too seemed more asleep than awake, and only after ten to twelve minutes of gaping, drinking, yawning, and nearly burning themselves at one forge or another were they 'semi-awake'.

“Now where is Georg?” asked Hans. He was close enough to touch Johannes.

“I think he might be still asleep,” said Johannes. “The snow has started, and that always causes trouble that way.”

“Yes, for you,” said Hans. “I think I might roust him if he does not show soon, as he needs to hear a lot, and if he is not here, he will not hear it.”

“What does he need to hear?” asked Gelbhaar.

“It is not just him,” said Hans, “though he is the worst for it, as he is not doing his job. All of you treat Dennis as if he is a black-dressed witch, and he is not one of those things, so that is not right.”

“How do we do that?” asked Johannes.

“You think him a witch, because you do not understand what he is doing,” said Hans, “and he is not one of those things.”

“And you expect him to yell, curse, and be drunk constantly, just like a witch,” said Anna.

“Then why is it he drank that fermented cider, and was not affected?” asked Gelbhaar. “I would have been pickled had I done that.”

“I am not sure why that is the case,” said Anna. “He has not done that since, and he only has the stuff that is not fermented.”

“And he cannot have more than a little beer, or he acts like he is sick,” said Hans.

“That is because he might well be sick,” said Anna, “and sick or not, he has enough work in here without you people tormenting him and trying to turn him into a witch.”

“How are we doing that, though?” asked Johannes.

“You expect him to act like Hieronymus,” said Hans, “and that I heard you yourself speak. I have heard that Hieronymus was seen in the second kingdom house, and he was wearing black-cloth, a box-hat, and pointed boots. So, he is now dressed appropriate to his behavior.”

“How did Hieronymus act?” I asked.

The two men looked at each other with glancing eyes, then Gelbhaar said, “you do not act like him at all.”

“How did he act?” I asked. “This is important, at least for my sanity, as what Anna said is nothing but the truth.”

I paused, then said, “did he chant?”

“What is that?” asked Gelbhaar.

“A repetitious saying,” I said. “It may or may not have made sense.”

“I often heard him mumbling something or another as he worked,” said Johannes. “He did not like me asking him what it was.”

“Did it sound especially strange, as if it wasn't the language commonly spoken here?”

“Yes, I think so,” said Gelbhaar. “He did not want us close then, as he seemed especially unpleasant when he was speaking that way.”

“Was one of the sounds similar to how we would speak of young boys – a 'J' sound, followed by a soft 'o'?” I asked.

Gelbhaar nervously nodded.

“Then, another, with a 'K' sound, followed by a long 'I'?”

Again a nervous nod, this time from both men.

“And, another sound, with an 'H' followed by what might be a soft 'o'?”

“I think I might manage that one,” said Gelbhaar. It was...”

“Do not say it!” I shrieked. “That is a curse, and witches speak it so as to hide in darkness! No! I don't want to be a witch!”

“Then why are you working here, fool?” said a faint yet echoing voice that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. “Either become a witch, as per the demands of Brimstone and his servants, or burn in hell where you belong.”

“Did you hear that voice?” asked Hans.

“What voice?” said Anna. “I heard something very faintly. Was something said?”

“It was speaking of him becoming a witch,” said Hans, “and it called him a bad name, and gave him but two choices.”

“What were they?” asked Anna.

“To become a witch, or to burn in hell,” said Hans.