Cough Medicine, Gun Barrels, Hair-Cutting, and... Ouch!


The thrashing of the dream communicated into wakeful screaming, and when I came to myself I heard steps coming up the hall at a dead run. I was afraid I would be cut to pieces, or shot with one of those...

“Are you all right?” yelled an anguished voice. It was the voice of the sacrifice calling faintly, that person who had died unmourned and unmissed. She had come back to haunt me.

Dim echoes in my minds of the chants, the suffocating datramonium fumes, the murdering...

“Augh!” I shrieked. “Help! They want to kill us all!”

“Now who is this they?” asked the voice of seeming reason.

“The witches!” I screamed. “They went hunting, and killed dozens because of their inclination of the moment.”

“So?” squalled another voice. “Witches are like that. If you want them to stop, then find them and... kill... them...”

And some other voice, this one from another world, rumbled in subaudible tones that vibrated house, planet, and mind:

This is the day of retribution.

There will be no mercy, no relent, and no tears.

All who do evil shall sup with Brimstone.


My eyes then jerked open, much as if I had been poisoned with datramonium, and two grim light-bearing phantasms stood above me as if guardian sentinels. Their sheer whitish draperies flowed in a high and mighty wind, even as if I was blowing on them from the ground, and both of them...

They looked ridiculous, and I yelled with laughter.

“Now what is so funny?” asked the disembodied voice of Hans. “This is not funny, as I think you must have something coming on you. Now drink this.”

I was an obedient child, and drank. The sense of sleepiness that accrued thereafter was as swift and as potent as a weighty cudgel, and I resumed sleeping to awaken to a thick and reluctantly-lit scene of gloom and familiar surroundings.

I felt my bed, and it was not the hard cold stone of the night-dream's altar; and my hands were not tied to the ringbolts. I stood up, and I was not poisoned with datramonium.

I had been dosed with something, though, as the room had mobile walls and changing corners, and when I went downstairs to use the privy, I wasn't completely there. As I went, however, I wondered more than a little:

“Am I in a privy? Or am I in a powder mill?”

I looked at the edifice before me, and wondered for a moment if the huge stoneware crock was a nitrator. If it was, I needed to add glycerin to it, so as to make the stuff of dreams, and perhaps, nightmares. Faintly, the thought of the worse headache I had ever had crossed my mind, and as I wobbled out of the powder mill – I had decided, it was a powder mill, and I was making explosives in it – I nearly ran into a ghost.

The ghost was not that of my vaporized cousin who had vanished in the last explosion of the place, as that person was not female – and this being was.

“Now what happened to you last night?” asked Anna.

“I think I had a bad dream,” I said. “Is there a big town to the south and east about twenty miles in a straight line?”

“That would be the kingdom house,” said Anna. “Why?”

“Is there a really big building there,” I asked, “one with four or five above-ground stories, one or perhaps two below ground level, with a lot of really wide stairs, wide halls, and a lot of places to get lost in?”

Anna looked at me with a degree of interest that I had seldom seen, and she asked, “that sounds like the kingdom house proper. What happened there?”

“Th-they caught someone in th-the city to the south and east, in Maarlaan, and p-poked her w-with needles, then took her...”

“If you ever go to the kingdom house,” said Anna in a knowing tone, “you do not want to go anywhere near Maarlaan if it is dark. There might only be three drink-houses that sell services in that town, but two of them are on that street, and the third is just off it, and all of them are near one another. Now what happened to this woman?”

“They took her into the deep-cellar of that big building, through this long secret passage,” I said, “and into this black room filled with white smoke, a big black stone altar, and th-they sacrificed her.”

“I wonder if you had an ordinary dream,” said Anna. “You were shaking and sweating, so we put a whole mug of beer in you, along with three drops of the widow's tincture.”

I had more than a little difficulty trying to eat mobile bread and drink from a frisky mug at breakfast, and as I looked around, the wiggly walls and ghostly aspect of the room made for wonderment – at least, in some aspect.

“I f-feel impaired,” I said plaintively. “What happened to me?”

“I think you are sick,” said Anna, “as you should have had an easier time sleeping, and you look as if you got into the bull formula.”

I felt my head, then said, “why, do I have horns like those people wore on their hunting clothing?”

Hans looked at me, even as his face seemed to wiggle atrociously, and said, “now what is this of hunting clothing?”

“There were witches,” I said, “and I saw everything they do when they get ready to get someone to sacrifice, from the time they start getting ready in the late morning until the evening of the day after.”

“Now this is strange,” said Hans, “as when I woke up, I could hear someone speaking faintly, and their talk was strange.”

“What was it?” I asked.

“I didn't just hear this talk,” said Hans, “but I saw that inscription on that lantern, and with each of those little marks, there was a sound, and it repeated over and over.”

“H-Hans, those people chanted that curse constantly,” I squeaked, “and from the time they corked themselves until the time they had finished initiating Judas, they did not stop chanting, as to stop doing so would name them rebels against the will of Brimstone.”

“I had think you had best stay home today,” said Hans. “That dream you had sounds important, and we had best hear of it. I think we should have heard it then, but...”

“But what?” I asked.

“You needed to sleep,” said Anna; her saying 'sleep' meant 'be quiet', “so I dosed you, and you went back to sleep. Then the two of us could go to bed like we wanted to. I think you need to go back to bed, as your talk bothers me...”

I opened my eyes, and found myself still standing in the privy. I had just finished going, and I shook my head so as to dislodge the effects of both dream and drug. I turned, cleaned my hands, and came out to see Anna.

“No, I am not all right,” I spat. “Did you dose me so as to silence me, because I had a nightmare and screamed?”

“I thought about that for a moment,” said Anna, “but by the time...”

Anna abruptly ceased speaking, then said, “why did you think I wanted to silence you?”

“First, I had a dream about a pack of thirteen witches,” I said, “and when Hans called them murderous, he was saying they were wonderful. One wretch killed an entire family of seven because he wanted to baptize his sword in blood. He needed no more reason than that.”

“When was this?” asked Anna.

“During the time of the dream,” I said, “and that thing was as bad as any dream I've ever had. I'm not certain if that one with the bugs was worse.”

“Bugs?” asked Anna. “You don't handle smells well, so I can see how that might be bad.”

“Those bugs didn't smell,” I said. “They ate away my legs, and I had to keep forcing out the...”

I stopped, then shook my head. I wanted to sit down.

Once I had done so, and drained two mugs of water, I felt better. Anna seemed to be busying herself around the kitchen, and when I looked out the front window of the parlor, the conditions seemed to match perfectly what I had seen in the beginning of the dream: night and fog, and the round of them...

“No, that stuff was not grog,” I thought. “That stuff had to be the twin of that vile stuff I found on the way up that volcano, and it wasn't much less than aquavit for strength.”

A minute later, I thought to speak: “they killed her in the deep-cellar, down deep in the king's house, all thirteen of them, and Judas made his bones and got his first ink-marking.”

“What is this?” asked Hans, as he suddenly 'appeared'. “You were saying things last night, and I told Anna to not dose you.”

“Did she wish to silence me?” I asked. “Because of her...”

Anna looked at me, then said, “I think so. I was angry with you for disturbing my rest, and I wanted to fill you full of beer so you would not scream so much.”

“Then you do silence people that way,” I muttered. “Will you pour tubes of datramonium up my nose and then put a Desmond to me, like that poor girl in that dream? Is your inclination of the moment the death of the one you name disgraced?”

“That was why I told Anna she must not dose you,” said Hans. “You were not wanting to cause her trouble, even though she was talking as though you were.”

“Were you having a dream also?” I asked.

Anna shook her head, then said, “if that was a dream, it was the strangest one ever. I was in this house near Maarlaan...”

“That is a bad place,” said Hans. “It might not be the second kingdom house for bad, but it is bad enough.”

“And some wretch left a body with its guts all over the street and with its head by its side,” said Anna. “That was just the beginning of my bad day, as when I went to where I had those women I owned and ruled with gun and knife, one of them was gone, and...”

Anna stopped, then said, “what am I saying?”

“I was not the only one who was dreaming,” it seems, “and I'm not the only person to act while dreaming, either. I only fully woke up just before I came out of the privy this morning, and before that, I had first the one dream, then one where I woke up after having been dosed with beer and the widow's tincture, and...”

Anna abruptly collapsed, with her head on the table. I jumped up and felt her pulse, then picked her up and took her to the couch. She awoke what seemed seconds later.

“That was what I dosed those women with in the dream,” said Anna, “and I thought you were just another one of them when I woke up.”

“Were you a madam in this dream?” I asked.

“What did you call me?” asked Anna. She had sat up, and was now rubbing her head as if inclined toward a headache. I was glad Hans had plenty of fever-tree powder.

“You spoke of those women you, uh, 'owned and ruled with gun and knife',” I said. “That wasn't all that rare where I came from, and 'madam' was one of the more well-known terms for such people, at least for women in that position. The men that did that... Ugh, I do not even wish to think about that name.”

“Is it a curse?” asked Hans, as he brought Anna a mug.

“I'm not sure,” I said, “but if ever a word needed to be made into one, that name does.”

At breakfast, however, I thought to ask about explosives, specifically the container used for blasting oil nitration.

“That depends on where it is done,” said Hans. “Some places down south do it in containers that look as if they were stolen from privies up here.”

“Do they call them nitrators?” I asked.

“Now where is it you heard this?” asked Hans.

“I was in the privy during the end of the second part of that dream, and I could not make up my mind if I was in a privy or a powder mill and standing in front of a nitrator,” I said. “I finally figured out it was a nitrator about the time I finished.”

I staggered to work shortly afterward, but once there, I could tell the effects of that evil dream had told on me. I was unable to concentrate at first, and only about the time of the morning guzzle did I trust myself around the grinding wheel to work on the ax-blades. I was glad they were forged so close to size, as I barely needed to grind on them before smoothing them up with a succession of files and then hardening them.

The ax-heads went over to the carpenters before lunch, and by the usual quitting time, I was absolutely drained. I felt as if cross-eyed, and needed to rest badly, so much so that I was wondering about the effects of the widow's tincture, and I was sitting down and staring dumbly at the opposite wall when one of the carpenters suddenly came in.

I didn't bother looking at the 'handled' axes much, and I dug out my money pouch and handed it to him, muttering as I did, “that dream was awful.”

“What dream was this?” he said. I could hear the clink of coins above and to my left.

“That one last night,” I said. “Witches, ugh! Those people are horrible.”

“At least you have some way to put powder and lead in them should they show,” he said. “I hope you can make more of these soon. Are these two for testing?”

“I'm not sure yet,” I said. “I think so.”

I then took out the revolver, and looked at it, then put it away. The familiar appearance was a bit much to endure, especially as several of that group had had similar – though much better-made – weapons. What Hieronymus had had wasn't the worst piece, but it was far from the best, at least originally. I'd improved its function to no small degree. I had not helped its looks much by parts replacement, and it now looked worse than when I first got it.

“This thing needs to have its handles smoothed up and fitted right,” I thought. “Perhaps new ones of better wood?”

I stumbled north when the others walked south, and my grim ax-bearing visage, complete with the usual bag of tricks, made me wonder if I'd become a witch myself by the time I came in the door. I laid both axes on the table, then fetched my clothing and bathed. I was more than a little surprised when I came out clean, refreshed, and closer to being in my right mind. The axes were leaning head-down in the corner behind the table.

“So now you know about what witches do in those places they have,” said Hans. “I have been asking some, and what you said has helped a lot of people know about those things and what they do.”

“But what did I say?” I asked.

“You spoke of what they were doing, almost as if you were there watching them close,” said Hans. “There was a lot I did not know before last night.”

“Twenty-th-three people before they k-killed that g-g-girl?” I spluttered, “J-just because they f-felt like killing people?”

“I knew those things were murderous, but not like that,” said Hans, “and they have a room like that up on the hill? I thought they put those rooms out in the middle of nowhere.”

“And r-rich people doing all of that stuff?” I gasped.

“That is not good,” said Hans. “I heard all of that, and if they are in that place, that is bad.”

“Why?” I said. “That is a good hiding place. No one would think to look there.”

“I know that,” said Hans. “That place you described sounds like the king's house proper, and if he finds them, he will want to light them on fire himself.”

“Uh, 'off with their heads'?” I asked.

“That and cut them up good,” said Hans. “He might even outlaw them to the ultimate.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“They, their families, all that know them, their animals, their things, all of it goes on burn-piles,” said Hans, “and their homes and lands are burnt to the ground afterward.”

Here, Hans paused, then said, “and I think we might go to the Public House, too. I think you need a good meal.”

“Yes, Hans,” said Anna. “I do need a good meal, and I feel inclined toward a pie.”

“Marmot pies?” I gasped. I had almost said 'Possum'.

“No, not those,” said Anna. “Someone brought in a smaller elk, and elk tastes good in pie, especially with a lot of pepper.”

'Pepper pie' was what Anna wished, and when I had a plate of the steaming hot concoction, I had a very good idea as to why she was so inclined. Pepper pie was spicy, yet not burn-the-mouth hot, with bits of potato, carrot, and what might have been turnips hiding here and there amid gravy-dripping chopped meat, and all of this hidden beneath a thin flaky crust on the top. The brownish color of the crust, however, seemed something of a marvel.

“What is in that crust?” I asked.

“There is some rye,” said Anna, “and perhaps cornmeal, but a certain amount of the grain comes from points south. The lower pie-crust is rolled to half the thickness of a finger, then cooked in a slow steamy oven while basted with oil until it is part-cooked, and then the pie is filled and the top put on. They usually need slow cooking, which is why I came down and spoke of it about lunchtime.”

“Lunchtime?” I asked.

“Pies are more common during the cold months,” said Hans, “and people eat them more then, too. So, if one wants to be certain of having a pie for a meal, even during this time of year, then one must speak of the thing earlier in the day so they have it ready to dish up when you come for it.”

“And the greens and things?” I asked.

“Those are quick and easy, if the stove is ready and they are chopped already,” said Anna. “I think they keep a steaming pot or two back there during mealtimes so as to cook greens.”

After devouring the pie – I had no idea how those two men managed to eat one of the things each, not when a similar-sized example glutted the three of us – we left for home. The night was just beginning to truly become 'dark' when we arrived, and I did not wish to stay up and work much.

“How does the widow's tincture feel?” I asked. Again, I felt reminded of it. I wondered if I was turning into a drug addict.

“Why, do you want some?” asked Hans. “I can get you some of it.”

“It was making everything look weird,” I said. “Anna said she put three drops in a mug of beer, and got the whole thing down me somehow...”

Hans had all he could do to not laugh, and I shook my head before spluttering, “what is so funny?”

“We have never managed to get anywhere close to that much in you, as you go to sleep long before that,” said Hans.

“That tube?” I asked.

“I doubt she would tube you unless you looked as if you were in bad trouble,” said Hans.

“You might try a drop or two of that tincture, though,” said Anna. “That might well help some.”

“How much is that much?” I asked.

“Three drops is what I would give a baby,” said Anna. “Given how sensitive you are, three drops might well affect you as if you were normal and had a tube of the bull formula by mistake.”

With great misgivings, I tried drinking a small cup of water with two drops of the tincture in it. I barely got two swallows down before I began gagging, then choked, “th-that stuff is horrible!”

“Yes, that is like most medicine,” said Hans. “Try to drink more of that stuff.”

I managed perhaps two thirds of the container before I began retching – and then, I began moaning. I had drank poison by mistake, and now I would be captured and then sacrificed by the witches.

“No, that is not true,” said Anna. “I've had some myself more than a few times, and I usually need a good deal more than what you had.”

“But...”

As if to disabuse me of the notion of poison, Anna consumed the rest of the liquid, then said, “now if it was poison, would I drink it?”

And, as if the stuff wanted to disabuse Anna of its flavor, she began retching.

“That stuff tastes worse when mixed with water than when straight from the dropping tube,” she gasped. “How could you stand it?”

“It wasn't easy, dear,” I said, as I began yawning.

“I think you had best go to bed,” said Hans. “That stuff helps when you have lots of bad dreams.”

That night, I had none, even if I awoke during the night to visit the privy. This time, I knew it was a privy, even more so than normally, and when I lay down in bed, I felt unusually 'sane' and collected, as well as unusually inclined to sleep. I awoke feeling better in the morning, as if I had gotten over the worst of a serious illness, and was now better.

“If that stuff is a sleeping agent, it makes anything I've had before seem worthless,” I thought.

For some reason, both Hans and Anna felt inclined toward wooding, and when we went to the west, I wondered if it were just wood we were after. All three of us wore long linen cloaks with the hoods up, and when we came to a familiar woodlot, we stopped briefly to load up the buggy partly. Here, the axes were in use, and both Hans and Anna commented about them.

“These are as good of axes as one could ask for,” said Hans. “They have that one type of handle, and they are sharp enough to almost cut of themselves.”

“They are not the usual type of ax, Hans,” said Anna. “They are about a handbreadth shorter for the handle, and a bit lighter for the bit, and a good deal easier to use.”

“And that one I made first?” I asked.

“That one you keep in your things,” said Hans. “That is a good one for fast travel, when one must watch the weight.”

“Trek-ax?” I asked.

“I think it would work good for that,” said Hans, “though with that heating lamp, I would sooner take a small jug of aquavit and that stand. You might want to make more of those things.”

“Things?” I asked.

“Those lamps and stands,” said Anna. “I think Hans wishes to reserve one for downstairs, and I know I would like one for meals. That one you made is just right for the quicker soups, especially for just two people.”

“Did you try either of those, uh, mess-kits?” I asked.

“Those are not messy,” said Anna. “That small fryer works good if one wishes to cook small meals, though what kind of meals is a mystery. Most fryers are quite a bit bigger.”

“Those things are not found in most homes,” said Hans. “They are found at Public Houses. That one you found is the smallest one I've seen, outside of what is in those two things.”

Here, Hans paused, then said, “now why did you call those things what you did?”

“There were things like them where I came from called 'mess-kits',” I said. “At least, they were somewhat like them. They made passable utensils, even if they were almost worthless for actual cooking. Those I made should work better, and I hope to test them before making more.”

After a part-load of wood – there was room still for myself, a jug, a wicker basket, and two sacks – Hans resumed driving west. I suspected he was going to that one second-hand store, only this time, he wasn't planning much of a clandestine nature.

“Either that, or whatever it is can be hidden readily on the person,” I thought. “Some of those vials were small enough for size to allow it, even if their weight was otherwise.”

“When do children usually show the most?” I asked.

“They usually arrive just before the start of harvest mostly,” said Anna, “though they come all during the year. We usually go on trek during late spring, as they are scarcest then.”

Anna paused, then said, “and for some reason, there has been a lull in them showing this year.”

“And trek-time?” I asked.

That is best once the weather is good and the planting is done,” said Hans. “Now how is he going to help when it is time for children?”

“You do not help much,” said Anna, “nor do you need to. Still, I have no idea as to what to do with a person who is likely to be worse off than both parents combined after a baby arrives.”

“I had best make up a lot of the widow's tincture, then,” said Hans. “I hope I can get more of the roots for that stuff.”

“Does that tincture, er, root, have a special name?” I asked.

“That stuff is called Valoris root,” said Hans, “and where that name comes from is a mystery, same as with a lot of chemicals and things.”

“Where do you get those roots?” I asked.

“They do not grow up here,” said Hans. “There are places that raise herbs in the fourth kingdom, and that is one of the better-known ones. I usually get a big sack of the stuff when I go down there, then process them once I get home. The roots do not keep that good, even if the tinctures made from them do.”

“Does this one store carry those?” I asked.

“Yes, which is one of the reasons we are going there,” said Hans. “They just got a delivery from down south, and you might want to look over that place better than the last time.”

By the time we had arrived at the store in question, however, I knew what else I needed to make: a small grist-mill. Grinding corn demanded one, and Paul's setup sounded like trouble to both make and use.

“When making corn-mash,” I asked, “does one need to sprout all of it?”

“It is best that way,” said Hans. “It is much weaker for fermenting than barley, so one must use corn-yeast.”

“And cooking?” I asked.

“It needs that too,” said Hans, “though it is much simpler than with beer. With corn, one sprouts it, grinds it, puts it in the mash tub, and then adds warm water that has been boiled good, then stirs it for a while. Once the mash has cooled, one adds the yeast.”

Hans paused, then said, “and I will want to know when you are nearly done with that distillery, as I have everything ready except for a grinder. Paul's is a bit far to grind that stuff up, and his grinder needs a lot of work.”

“I need to make the grinder first,” I said. “It should be a decent break from that gun.”

“Is this for that one man?” asked Anna.

“I need one to practice on first,” I said. “His isn't like the ones common up here, and besides, I need one for, uh, hunting.”

“And what I will hunt with it is a mystery,” I thought. “The deer have all gone into hibernation, it seems.”

Once at the store, however, I followed the others in after Hans cut the ice out of the watering trough and pumped fresh water for the horses. The noise of the pump – a 'hoogh-roagh' sound – was enough to make me cringe and my teeth wish to hide. I actually felt them with my hands as Hans finished.

“What is your trouble?” asked Hans. “I hope you do not need to see a tooth-puller, as those people are worthless for helping.”

“Th-that noise,” I squeaked. “It's awful.”

“That pump is going bad,” said Hans. “It needs some work, and it might come to the shop once it thaws out. No one pulls pumps in the winter.”

Inside, I roamed the aisles of the 'ostensible' portion of the store, as did Hans and Anna. I had an intimation that part of what was being purchased was gifts, or so I thought when Anna nearly yelled.

“What is it?” I asked as I came to where she was standing.

“I found something you need,” she said.

I came to where Anna was standing, and when I arrived, I was surprised to find her holding an eight-sided candle lantern.

“These are the good ones,” she said. “Hendrik has several, and they give more light than anything else that uses candles.”

“Hendrik?” I asked.

“The king,” said Anna. “I've seen him a number of times, and he has these things in his office.”

“What are they doing here, though?” I asked.

“I think this one might have been a student's lantern,” said Anna. “I've seen students up here with them.”

“Would they sell their lanterns?” I gasped.

“Some of them might,” said Anna. “I've suspected that more than a few of them bring things from school into this area and then sell them. School isn't cheap, and not all families can provide all their children's needs while at school.”

Anna paused, then said, “and I know they buy things up here and take them to school to sell there.”

“What would those be?” I asked.

“Powder and lead, for one thing,” said Hans. “The fourth kingdom's powder is decent, but there are places up here that make better, especially this one man.”

“What would they use powder and lead for?” I asked.

“Most of those schools do chemistry,” said Hans, “but all of them have trouble with vermin, if rumors are true.”

The lower section, however, had yet more treasures, for as we went down the stairs, I could smell something especially delightful, and once we were among the aisles, I began moving toward the source of the odor. The others seemed to be doing business at the area where the counter was.

“I must find the source of that smell,” I thought. “It smells wonderful.”

I soon localized it to an area near the back, and when I came to the end of an aisle, I found a sizable wooden box. I opened its lid, and nearly fell on the floor with the intensity of the odor. It was that of flowers of some kind, though what kind they were seemed a mystery. I could recall their possible appearance, but for the life of me, I could not recall their names.

The box was filled with rectangular tins, and they were emitting the aroma in question.

I removed one, and gently stroked it. As I did, I thought, “who needs a Jinn when such delightful smells are to be had,” and as I slowly walked toward the counter, I felt transported, much as if overwhelmed with pleasure – at least until Anna looked at me as if I were out of my mind.

“Now where did you find that tin?” she asked.

“There was, this, uh, box back there,” I said, “and it has a number of them in it.”

I then proffered Anna the tin. It was a priceless gift, in my estimation.

She smelled it, then said, “it does smell nice. What is it?” I had no idea, even if the owner of the store did.

“That is some special soap,” she said, “and I got that box in trade for a very unusual anvil.”

“Yes, and what was this anvil like?” asked Hans. He'd gotten three 'lumps' of lead and two of tin, as well as a third one of what might have been that one hardening metal. I suspected the last tended to be rare in its uncombined form.

“It was quite old,” she said, “and it needed lengthy cleaning so as to remove the dirt from it. I was glad to be rid of it, and he was almost as glad to get it.”

“Did this anvil look, uh, unusual?” I asked.

“The front part was longer and thinner than is common,” she said, “and the body seemed unusually thin. It might have once been painted, as there were traces of what might have been paint on it, as well as some strange markings. I'd never seen those before.”

“S-strange markings?” I asked. “What did they look like?'

“They weren't what some call witch-markings,” she said, “as I've seen those before, and I won't let anything having them inside here. Those things marked with them either tend to be dangerous, badly-made, or only a few people want them – and I want nothing to do with that type of person, no matter how much money they are willing to pay.”

“Black-cloth?” I asked.

“That, sharp-toed boots, bad odors, and worse tempers,” she said, “and that goes double for what those people travel in, especially some of them.”

“Yes, and why is that?” asked Hans.

“More than once they've had mules drawing those things,” she said, “and I do not like mules.”

I did not have sufficient funds on hand to purchase both tin and lantern, hence I put a payment on the tin and bought the lantern entirely.

“That is common with expensive things,” said Hans, “so I would guess you can come back next rest-day and pay the rest for that thing. Neither of us have that much money to spare with us.”

The remainder of the weekend went for gun parts of one type or another, and here, I was carving wood for patterns. I drew several special shapes of small knives that I suspected would help, with each such drawing going in the student's ledger.

The lantern was all Anna had said of it, for it seemed to both enlarge and brighten the flame of the candles I used to an astonishing degree. It also eliminated their smoke completely, and I wondered how hard it would be to copy, so much so that I looked at it before bedtime Sunday night once it had cooled.

“There seems little different about this lantern beyond its shape and its dimensions,” I thought, “and, perhaps, its glass pieces. The usual ones seem to have a measure of frosting and more than a little unevenness, unlike this type.”

However, upon comparing it with the other lanterns I had, I began to see differences, even in the smaller ones that had come with my tools.

“This thing flows air up into the flame,” I asked, “unlike those others. I wonder if I can duplicate it?”

The next day at work, I went to the carpenters with a slate covered with details regarding the grist-mill patterns. I suspected they would be faster for woodworking than I was, and my guess proved correct: I was presented with the needed pieces by lunchtime. Again, I handed them my money pouch, only this time, I needed to answer questions as well as pay for the pattern.

“This is to be a small grist-mill,” I said.

“For what?” asked the carpenter. I could tell I was drawing an audience.

“Mostly for corn,” I said. “This one isn't really changeable, so it might not work for barley.”

“I would not be too certain of that,” he said. “If it works for the one, it will work well for the other, and chopping barley, especially if you consume your share of beer, takes a lot of time.”

“Unless you have a good knife, that is,” said Gelbhaar. “Now how does that one work?”

I showed him the patterns, then said, “this part here takes the rollers, just like for that bar-mill, and then these are bearing-caps. The gears will go on that side there, and I'll need to make a guard for them so they don't grab fingers. Then, this handle will go on one of the rollers, and I think I had best make it so it can go on either side.”

“And that part there?” asked Gelbhaar, as he pointed to places on the main casting.

“You attach it there, and at two other places,” I said. “It might be smaller than one grinder I've seen, but it's not intended to be a toy.”

I ran the castings for the grist-mill after the others had left. With the new lantern, and the warmth the furnace provided, it was possible to stay later readily. Here, I tested my new molding tools, and found them to work passably. I clamped the molds together, being careful to line up their small pegs and holes, and poured the metal after skimming the dross. I was glad there was so little.

“And I'd best think about a few ramming tools,” I thought. “These flasks are probably a lot smaller than what is normally used.”

After drawing the things I wanted – I would want them turned tomorrow at the carpenters, and preferably of hard close-grained wood – I stood 'fire-watch' over the flasks while I began trimming sheet copper to size for a distillery.

By the time I knew the castings weren't going to start fires, I had not merely cut the pieces of copper roughly to size, but I had also rolled the sidewalls of both the cooker itself and those of the rectifying column.

“This thing might not be as big as those I saw at Paul's,” I thought, “but I doubt it will need three or four runs to make aquavit.”

Once home, I filed on the first two woodcarving blades, then after dinner, I resumed filing on them. I could really see their need, as Black-Cap's trigger guard was a true 'piece of work', unlike what I had envisioned for my weapon, and I would need not merely special knives, but better woodcarving chisels beyond the 'common' ones I had found in my tools and those copies I had made. As I finished first one knife, then the other, I noted a shadow to my right, and I turned to see Hans.

I also nearly fell on the floor.

“Now what is it you are working on there?” he asked.

“Woodcarving tools,” I said. “Do you know of anyone who does woodworking for, uh, muskets?”

“There is one person I know of,” said Hans, “though I think you will want more than you have now, unless you want to do most of the work on it.”

“More than I have now?” I asked.

“Yes, all the metal parts,” said Hans. “Then, he might be able to get it close. I would tell him to not get too close, as I think you would be better at that part than he is.”

“How close is 'close'?” I asked. “The width of a wide stripe of chalk?”

“That is not close,” said Hans. “Even for where you work and for those people, that is not close. He might manage within eight to ten lines if you give him all of the metal parts.”

“No, Hans,” said Anna. “He would take at least a month to get it that close. I would have him cut the blank to the common length, and cut away the most of it, so that it looks like a club. He can do that fairly quickly.”

“A month?” I asked. My voice portrayed a degree of astonishment that was difficult to put into words.

“He neither works your hours, nor with your energy,” said Anna, “and he does much less with each hour compared to what I have seen you do. I've seen how you carve wood, and while how you carve wood is as strange a thing as I've ever seen, I've seen the results enough to make me wonder.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“Those that carve wood should toss what tools they have and what they know, and have you teach them,” said Anna. They'd do thrice the work in half the time, and much better work, too.”

“Yes, if he could teach them,” said Hans. “They might be like those people at the shop that way.”

“They do learn,” I said, “and at least they seem inclined to try, even if I need to simplify things greatly and go very slowly.”

“I know that,” said Hans. “That is the usual for teaching, at least for most.”

“Present company included,” I thought, “especially for math. Hans might manage 'three and four is seven' about nine times out of ten. Anna does passably until the result gets into three digits or involves carrying numbers, and then she wants to toss the slate and chalk because she thinks it too hard.”

The next morning at work, I had questions about the castings I had done the day before. Their clean nature – the grain of the sand barely showed – as well as their shapes, garnered no small amount of questioning, especially from Georg.

“Have you done this before?” he asked.

“Yes, but not here,” I said. “I'm really surprised those came out as good as they did.”

“If I did not know better,” said Georg, “I would think you had been apprenticed as a founder in the fourth kingdom. This is as good as anything I've ever seen.”

I wondered for a moment about the previous open-faced examples, then thought, “those weren't 'conventional' castings, so they don't 'count'.”

“How many times did you pour castings before coming here?” asked Georg.

“A few times,” I said. “If it was big or complicated, I needed to have it done – and I'm glad I didn't need to have it done very often. It tended to be really expensive.”

However, when I began filing on the parts, I attracted another audience.

“Why is that bronze behaving like that?” asked Johannes.

“How does bronze usually behave?” I asked.

“Here, try this piece,” he said.

I was handed the guard for a knife, and the first stroke made me grit my teeth. The hard grainy feeling was utterly unlike what I was working on, so much so that I spat, “that felt awful. This isn't the same metal at all. What did they do to that stuff, mix sand and rust with it in the crucible?”

“These look to be decent castings,” said Johannes, “but given the choice, I would melt them in your crucibles as scrap and make those things here. I tried filing your sprue and that stuff you did is a lot better.”

The comment had Georg looking at the parts I was working on, then at the knife parts that had arrived. He tried filing first the one, then the other, then began muttering as if he'd taken lessons from Anna. I wondered when – and if – he'd erupt.

For some odd reason, he did not, at least in the manner of Anna. Instead, he said, “they should have just sent us their scrap and called it rightly, as that is what those things they sent are. I just hope they can be made good by melting.”

“I'd need more flasks, then,” I said, “as well as sand, some rammers...”

“Those flasks you are using are a lot smaller than the usual,” said Georg, “so I hope you can tell them what you want.”

“I can,” I said. “I drew up three of them.”

After showing the carpenters the slate in question – I was catching onto the tricks of slates in a hurry, and was sawing the inch-thick square chalk-sticks into quarters with a hacksaw – I left the slate with them and returned to my castings. I would need to forge up the rollers, make the hopper, file the bronze gear-blanks, and then fit the crank.

I had all of those things nearly done by the time I left for home that evening, such that I but needed to finish-file and scrape the various pieces, then put in the bearing shims and fit the thing up. The three rammers had come within two hours after bringing over the slate.

“I see that lantern is helping a lot,” said Anna, as she picked it up for a moment so as to look at it closer, “and so is that oven. Do you fire it often?”

“Every day,” I said, “and not just with charcoal, at least, not during the day. It really helps heat up the shop.”

“That is good, then,” said Hans as he came upstairs. It was nearly time for dinner.

By the time I was ready for bed, the grist-mill was nearly complete, with but finishing touches needed, chiefly hardening the rollers and screws, as well complete the handle. I had its spindle already done.

“I wonder if I can cast a bronze handle?” I thought, as I made ready for bed.

The handle proved laughably easy to cast once the carpenters turned the pattern, and that evening at dinner, I presented the grist-mill to the others.

“Now how does this work?” asked Anna.

“One puts the grain in here,” I said, while indicating the funnel, “and then turns the crank. It should crush the grain nicely.”

I paused, then said, “I hope you got the mashing stuff ready, as I'm going to have that still ready in a few days. Now did you get in touch with that one man?”

“Yes, I did,” said Hans. “He would like some good chisels for wood.”

“Did he give drawings, or provide samples, or speak of what he wanted,” I asked, “or did he say something like 'several wood chisels, as per usual'?”

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

“Most orders are of so few words, and of such general words, that I have no real idea of what is wanted,” I said. “That one man said he wanted his musket 'worked over', and that was all he said – and Black-Cap didn't even do that.”

I paused, then said, “the usual knife order is 'one knife, as per usual'.”

“I think he heard about what you do,” said Hans, “and he wants some good tools. Most people have to make do with what they can get.”

“Or what the maker feels inclined to make for them,” I muttered. “That cussed dream spoke about that.”

“Yes, and what did it say?” asked Hans.

“They were unthinkingly obedient, as befitting proper slaves,” I said, “and you could hand them a turnip and tell them it was a chisel, and they'd believe you enough to smack the thing with a hammer as if it actually was a chisel.”

The expression upon the faces of Hans and Anna was unreadable.

“That was not all, though,” I said. “If you punished them because they made a mess instead of chips, they'd believe unquestioningly that it was their fault, just as you had told them, and that strictly because you had said so.”

I paused again, then came to the 'punch line'.

“That was for certain individuals,” I said, “who were heavily indoctrinated. The scary thing was knowing a lot of people in the area would function in precisely the same fashion, and for much the same reasons, and that with no such indoctrination beyond what they'd heard and seen.”

Hans found his tongue first, and said, “what does that mean?”

“It means that most people will ask for a chisel and hope I deign to give them one, instead of a rotten turnip,” I said, “and if that chisel is good, bad, or indifferent, they will neither complain as to its wrongness, nor will they question what I do.”

I paused, then whimpered, “no, I don't want to be a witch, and witches take advantage of such people.”

“That is not true,” said Anna. “If one does bad work, that brings the mobs running.”

I had no idea as to how to reconcile the two statements, until Hans said, “I think I know how it works. What would be called good here would draw mobs in the fourth kingdom...”

“The-that dream,” I muttered. “The truth is what the witches say it is, and most people believe the speech of those over them without question, even to the point of killing those the witches wish dead without the slightest hesitation or thought.”

“How can that be?” asked Anna. “The truth is what it is, and if people ask no questions...”

“A lot of people don't,” said Hans. “They just believe what they hear, especially if someone important says it.”

“Especially the preacher,” I said. “One of those men was an o-overseer, and he killed his share that night. He had made a blood-pact, and poured out his share upon his i-idol.”

“What?” screeched Anna. “How?”

“Are preachers told what to speak and how to speak it,” I asked, “as if they are rebellious stiff-necked fools?”

“I am not sure if that is the case,” said Hans, “though Maarten has spoken of how those over him are. He has his share of trouble with them also.”

Hans had no real idea as to what the man wanted, and I wasn't that familiar with wood-chisels beyond the handful that were in my tools, those copies I had made for my own use, and the half-dozen or so I'd seen at the carpenters' shop.

“Perhaps make duplicates of what I have in mind for my use?” I thought, though a second later, another line of thinking intruded: “would he use such things? Do they use chisels that look like awls here?”

The next day at work, I was mostly busy with the distillery. The bottom – flat, not rounded, save for a gentle curve to where it joined the cylindrical portion – went rapidly, and the shapes for both upper portion and cap also went rapidly. I was glad I could roll those, and gladder yet I had modified the slip-roller so as to permit doing so. Its previous adjustments were to accommodate sloppy manufacturing practices. I had removed most of the 'slop', so I could now roll obtuse cones of a certain range of sizes.

The bar-roller's seaming capability made for a very neat seam, and as I drilled the holes, I knew I hadn't yet gotten an audience. The drop-hammer was in use, with a steady banging once a second; more 'flats' were being mashed out as well as others being forge-welded into usable billets; and I suspected someone would later attempt using the drop-hammer to forge-weld something for a buggy. I'd seen what looked like buggy parts on Georg's desk that morning.

“And I hope they forge the pieces using some of that blister steel,” I thought. “Sandwiching a few pieces of that in those pieces would really help.”

As a break from fitting together the pieces of the cooker, I forged out both awl-blanks and those for 'carving chisels'. The latter were similar in size, if otherwise a bit thicker near the business end, and after accumulating a dozen of each, I returned to the bench.

The 'still-stake' was especially helpful, as here I was able to insert several rivets at a time until I came to the longitudinal seam. There, I put in half a row of them and then 'soldered' them over the nearest forge.

As I set the rivets, I had an idea for a 'riveting' hammer, one with a special 'cupped' head, and I drew it once I peened that group of rivets. The drawing attracted an audience once I'd resumed inserting the rivets for the main longitudinal seam.

“What gives with this hammer drawing?” asked Gelbhaar.

“That one will speed up the process of riveting,” I said. “It has a pointed head, with a flat point on one end for starting the rivets, and then a cupped one on the other end for forming them. It might be quite tricky to use, and using it for fifteen-line rivets is out of the question.”

“You do not use those anyway,” he said, “at least for copperware. Now is that a distillery?”

“The first one, yes,” I said. “Those other things are...”

“That is no distillery I've seen,” he said. “Those are much different.”

“And much harder to make, prone to leaking, hard to clean, and the cap commonly plugs up with mash,” I said. “This one is intended to rectify all of those problems, and rectify another one that I've seen and no one else mentioned.”

“What is that?” asked Gelbhaar.

“The common type takes three or four runs to make aquavit,” I said. “This one should – at least, I hope it should – do it in one.”

“What?” said Georg. “Aquavit in one run?”

“I hope so,” I said. “It might take two, but I doubt it will take three or four. Then, this cap should seal up a lot better than those leak-prone things I've seen. That causes a lot of fires.”

I paused, then said, “do we have tubing for the, uh, condenser?”

“Yes, in those boxes,” said Georg. “I ordered eight bundles of twenty-line tubing, which is the most common size, supposedly.”

“Supposedly?” I asked.

“That size is made commonly for that purpose,” said Georg, “and getting other sizes of tubing is not merely difficult, but costly and time-consuming.”

“Are condensers sometimes called worms?” I asked.

“They are, but not by people I wish to be around,” said Georg. “I've heard that term is supposedly used by those that make brandy.”

“What kind of brandy?” I asked. “Hans spoke of three different types.”

“Those people do not make the kind tailors use,” said Georg. “I ordered some of that, also, and I'm still looking for it.”

“Was this brandy called tailor's antiseptic?” I asked.

“I asked specifically for that,” said Georg. “After that one hot-rivet burning you on the back of your neck, I've been wanting that stuff a lot more.”

“Burns are helped by it?” I asked.

“The smaller and more common ones, yes,” said Georg. “I've been wondering if there were special rivet-holding tongs, as rivets escaping like that are not rare.”

“Especially when boys are holding those things,” said Johannes. “I doubt that was like most times though, as mostly escaped rivets drop to the floor.”

“You mean he threw that thing at me deliberately and made it look like an accident?” I spluttered.

“No, it was not that,” said Johannes. “I do not know what it was, but I doubt it was that kind of deliberate.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“I could see someone like Hieronymus doing that,” said Johannes, “but I have trouble seeing an apprentice tossing a rivet and making it look like an accident. Tongs are not that good for throwing things, especially the ones that have the old type of hinge. Those you've done work much freer and grip better.”

“Especially those two with the small grooves near the tip,” said Gelbhaar. “What are those for?”

“That type is for handling rivets,” said Georg. “I took one with me last rest-day so as to ask about it, and not only did someone speak of them that way, but also wished ones like them.”

Checking the 'twenty-line' tubing showed that it was fairly even, with its 'coil' such that merely pulling the stuff apart carefully and bending it in the right places made for a fair condenser. I suspected one wanted to solder copper pieces on the inside to add 'rigidity' and assist with cooling, and after fitting four such pieces to the coil, I looked around.

The others had all gone home, and it was time to light my lantern again.

After a short time, though, I knew it was time to head home. I had thimbles to make, fittings to figure out, and possibly other things, and when I came in the door, the aroma – sweet, slightly 'syrupy', and more than a little reminiscent of corn-meal – was something I wondered about. Hans spoke of it at the table during the latter half of dinner.

“That mash is working,” he said, “and I have covered it up with a clean cloth and a lid.”

“Mash?” I asked.

“Yes, corn-mash,” said Hans. “I had started the corn sprouting about two days ago, and I ground it up good in that grinder. I think we might want to use that thing for beer, as it was a lot faster than the usual way with two stones.”

“Would it work for beer?” I asked.

“I think so,” said Hans. “I put some malt in afterward, and it mashed that stuff up good too.”

“Did you clean it?” I asked.

“That and wiped it off as good as I could,” said Hans. “I had to take off that hopper thing so as to get at those rollers, and I could not figure out how to put it back on, so I put the whole thing aside for you.”

“I hope you didn't lose those screws,” I said. “Those were not easy to make.”

“He didn't,” said Anna, “even if he had to use one of your turnscrews to remove it. It took him a while to find the right one.”

“R-right one?” I asked.

“It needs to be the same width as the screw,” said Anna, “and it must fit properly in the slot. I've watched how you use those, and I told him that was important. He would have used the first one he laid his eyes on otherwise.”

“Properly?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Anna. “I asked about those recently, and I was told they needed to be fairly tight. That's especially important with the usual types of screws, as they are so soft. Yours aren't.”

“Who did you ask, though?” I asked.

“A jeweler,” she said. “They both especially like those carving tools you did for them.”

When I began filing on the chisels that evening, I had questions to answer.

“What are those?” asked Anna.

“Woodcarving chisels,” I said. “I made enough for what might be two full sets, or at least, I hope they'll be two full sets. One set will go to that man Hans spoke of.”

I paused, then asked, “no descriptions of what was wanted, no drawings, not even questions?”

“I'm not surprised,” said Anna. “With bought tools, one must use what can be had as a rule.”

“Was that man thinking I was a witch?” I asked.

“I am not sure,” said Anna. “If this is who I am thinking of, I would wonder, as he's not afraid to try new things.”

“And most people tend to be?” I asked.

“Some are more that way than others,” said Anna. “The ones I've seen that are most disinclined to try anything new act like witches.”

“And those people that wanted to pack cheese in that one man's wound?” I asked.

“I'm really unsure about people like them,” said Anna. “They tend to be very set in their ways...”

Anna stopped for a moment. She seemed to be thinking.

“Meaning they aren't particularly inclined to think much,” I said. “Do such people tend to follow orders 'because they are orders'? Because someone 'in authority' said so?”

“Most people are that way,” said Hans. “That is one place where few think much, especially when the person speaking is someone with a lot of money or power.”

“Someone wearing black-cloth, a box-hat, pointed boots, and riding in a coach?” I asked.

“A lot of people listen to them as much or more as they do preachers,” said Hans. “That is not right, but they do.”

I managed to file all of the chisels that night, and 'temporarily' hardened them using the heating lamp so as to try them out. I found that several of them needed thinning when I tried using them in places on the 'sculpture' of Black-Cap's trigger-guard.

“I'm glad mine isn't nearly that hard to do,” I thought, as I scooped out more wood so as to thin the pattern. Black-Cap's pattern would need to be a trifle thicker, or so I guessed. Mine would most likely show how thin I could run bronze and expect it to flow properly.

“I wonder if he wants sling-swivels,” I thought. “I know I want some for mine.”

The lack of such 'furniture' on weapons I'd seen here, as well as their lack of aiming equipment, made for not merely clarifying my drawings, but also planning for their construction during the coming weekend. Before I progressed much further on such things, however, I needed to first finish the distillery and carving tools.

The chisels finished the next day, and when I handed Hans a bag of six 'awl-handled' carving tools, he wondered what I had given him.

“Open the bag and tell me if they are 'good wood chisels',” I asked. “I've still got some work on that distillery yet, though I'm close to finishing it.”

“That is fine,” said Hans as he untied my clumsy knot and loosened the strings. “I thought you were practicing on these things.”

“The knots or the chisels?” I asked.

“Your knots are not getting much better,” he said. “You may want to have others tie them for you, if that is the way you are.”

Hans then withdrew one of the chisels. The resemblance to my latest awls was remarkable if one ignored the sharp end of the thing.

“Why is it you did them this way?” he asked.

“I had no idea as to what was wanted,” I said, “so I made two sets, one being for my own use, and I needed ones for working on patterns for Black-Cap's weapon – that, and patterns in general. I know enough about gunstocks to know the two types of work can be quite similar.”

“These are not like anything I have seen,” said Hans. “Most wood chisels are a lot bigger.”

“Do they have huge handles of bad wood that need hands a lot bigger than mine to hold them?” I asked.

Hans nodded soberly, then said, “the ones from the fourth kingdom are usually like that for size and shape, if not much else.”

I shook my head as if to ward off an attack of nausea, then said, “why do they make the handles so big? Do they intend them to be customized by their users, or is there some other reason? Do people even manage with them otherwise?”

Hans had no answer, at least until I showed him how the chisels actually worked. He then needed a stool and two mugs of beer, one right after the other.

“This is what I'm talking about,” I said, as I carefully shaved off chips from the pattern. “I need to cut with and across the grain without splintering it, I need to carefully control the depth and direction of cut, and in most cases, I need to make very small cuts so as to get the needed detail. This thing isn't going to permit easy cleaning once I cast it, at least in the areas I'm working on now.”

“I think that thing was engraved by a jeweler somewhere,” said Hans. “I'm surprised you have tried copying it.”

I'm surprised I'm managing as well as I am,” I said. “Now do you see why I made those tools that way? Even for common gunstocks, they need work of a similar nature so as to fit the lockwork and trigger guard, and then inlet the barrel.”

I paused, then muttered, “and that spokeshave is enough to drive me to tears the way it's aggravating me.”

“Why is that?” asked Hans.

“I think the angle is wrong on the bit,” I said. “Then, the bit's of poorer than common steel, at least for what I've received. It's about as hard as a full-polish wrench, or perhaps slightly harder.”

“Yes, and you no longer have those,” said Hans. “I have seen those things, and they are all those shades of gray.”

“And deburred,” I said. “And cleaned up all over, as their shapes were, uh, awkward in places. And their openings evened up, sized correctly, and in some instances, made properly parallel, so they'd actually stay on the nuts when I used them. And then, finally marked as to their proper size prior to heat-treating. I had to make a new smallest wrench from scratch, as cleaning them enlarged them to the next largest size.”

“Those things were not marked that way,” said Hans. “How is it you marked them?”

“With the stamps, once I cleaned them up and properly hardened them,” I said. “They were a good deal harder than those wrenches were, but not hard enough to suit me.”

I finished the still about lunchtime of the next day, and took a portion of my lunch period to take the thing home piecemeal. It needed three trips, as the condenser was a bit fragile, and the rectifying column's internal pieces tended to rattle slightly. The snow had grown roughly an inch deeper, and the cold, but slightly greater. The hours of light were such that I commonly arrived at the shop two hours before dawn, and stayed an hour or more after true sundown, and then went home for my 'homework'.

I was still plotting the duplication of the student's lantern. Georg was having no luck trying to locate others like it, and travel in the area 'was not happening'. I hadn't seen any buggies, no 'sleds', and but few slow and unsteady riders on horseback, so I found his statement believable.

However, Georg's hay-pile was still sizable and varying in size, so hay deliveries were continuing. I suspected I either wasn't looking for such tracks, or the arrival and return of those delivering the stuff was happening during the hours of darkness.

Once I had returned to work after my three deliveries, however, I had to answer questions as to what I had taken home.

“Do any of you know how to run a still?” I asked in response.

The head-shakes of 'no' were all I received as answers from the others.

“Turning loose a 'strange-looking' still – strange-looking for this area, as Anna has seen my drawings for the thing and she said fourth-kingdom stills look like what I made – without testing it to make certain it works as intended strikes me as unwise,” I said. “Hence, it needs testing and perhaps correction before I make more of them.”

“But won't you make the usual type?” asked Georg.

“After asking two people who run them regularly as to what those are like?” I squeaked. “Georg, those things remind me of idols, and them being marked like they were didn't help much.”

“How were they marked?” asked Johannes.

“With a curse like those lanterns had,” I said. “It was not the same one, but it had similar figures on it, and many people believe...”

I ceased speaking abruptly, as I now saw the truth of what was commonly believed. The rune-marked curse was not believed to facilitate distillation, nor did it indicate 'quality'.

It – and it alone – was believed to make the strange-looking 'sculpture' actually work.

Proper heat-control, cleanliness, correct filling levels, cooling the condenser, mash constituents and fermentation – none of that was thought to matter by most users of stills. The only things that actually mattered to the majority of people were the following:

The shape, size, and color of the still were crucial, as befitting an idol.

The markings. Those had to be the right shape, the correct size, and in the proper locations, just like the distilling-curse.

The fire. It had to be properly-prepared wood of the right type, and burning in a proper furnace.

And finally, the chants used. The chants affected the flavor, color, and strength of the resulting beverage, unlike what went in the mash-tubs, or other common-sense matters.

“And what kind of chants do non-witches chant at stills?” I thought. “Come, Geneva, Come? How dry I am, and how wet I'll be? O little brown jug?”

“What do people believe about stills?” asked Georg.

“Do most people talk to their stills?” I asked. “Do, they uh, chant like Hieronymus did?”

“That I can speak of,” said Gelbhaar. “I've heard it is best to sing while running a distillery, or speak portions of the book. It is said to help prevent those things from starting fires.”

“So that's what they chant, then,” I thought. “They would do better by saying 'Come, Geneva, Come'.”

While the origin of that particular 'chant' was from backwoods butter-making with a hand churn, with 'butter' substituted for Geneva – the same basic idea was involved, only to a far greater degree. 'Come Butter Come' was mostly a means to ensure the proper rhythm of the paddle when churning buttermilk to make butter. It wasn't a requirement to get a usable outcome.

Chanting at one's still was.

I stayed after honing the 'guesstimate' mandrel I would need for barrel-forging, then once home with jug, bag, and lantern, I put them aside and found clean clothing so as to bathe.

The bathroom now had its share of clothes hanging from the ceiling to the other side of the door, and under them, I saw a copper-rimmed tub. That, most likely, had clothing soaking, and a brief glance at the tub as my water heated under the latest heating lamp showed my assessment to be correct.

The warmth of the bathroom – not as warm as the kitchen, but not much less – was such that I felt comfortable while bathing, and I wondered for a moment how I would make it to that one location tomorrow. The road through town had two inches of 'fresh' snow easily, and under the new-fallen powder, the stuff had compacted enough to make for slippery going. I wondered if there were snowshoes to be had, and wondered more about the trip itself.

I came out of the bathroom fully dressed save for my shoes, which remained in front of the bathroom's stone oven so as to dry partly. I had noticed both Hans and Anna periodically putting their shoes next to the kitchen stove.

“I think I had best make a folding shoe-rack, then,” I thought. “Perhaps after Black-Cap's weapon is completed.”

At dinner, the talk was of the mash and its steady boiling fermentation, and after dinner, Hans asked, “how is that distillery coming?”

“It's done,” I said. “It will need careful cleaning before we use it, and I can explain how the various pieces work when we do that.”

“I hope it's easy to clean,” said Anna. “Most of those things are nearly impossible that way.”

“This one is intended to be,” I said. “The cooker has wooden handles on it, so no burns when needing to handle it while hot, it has a drain, the top of the thing has a wide seating surface, and the condenser is well-protected, with its own stand. We could actually run the thing on the stove.”

“How is that?” asked Hans. “Those usually need a special firebox.”

“A firebox stoked with sizable pieces of well-seasoned hardwood, with the wood chosen carefully and cut with the correct tool,” I said. “Do people speak from the book when running a distillation?”

“Paul does not,” said Hans, “though he might pray sometimes when doing his first run, as that is the most dangerous one with the common stills. I am not sure what Korn does.”

“I had some impressions about the common distilleries,” I said, “and what most people believe about them is quite strange – at least, it's quite strange if you aren't a witch.”

“What do people believe?” asked Anna.

“The only things that are important about distilling are the shape, size, color, and markings of the distillery itself, the use of the correct fuel and furnace, and what is said while working on or around the still,” I said. “Nothing – and I do mean nothing – else matters.”

“Did you speak of cutting wood for fuel?” asked Anna.

“Not merely cut, but chosen carefully, much as carpenter's hammer-handles are, and prepared in much the same fashion,” I said. “I'm not certain if most go to that much trouble about fuel, but I do know most people insist that distilleries be fueled with wood.”

“That is so,” said Hans, “as even...”

“Do they do that because 'wood' is the correct fuel,” I said, “or because it's convenient and easily acquired with minimal time expended? That's really important when you run as much mash as Paul does, or when you are as busy as Korn commonly is.”

I paused, then said, “besides, neither Paul nor Korn has the correct shape or arrangement of furnace.”

“What is it, then?” asked Hans.

“The chimney must be tall, slightly tapered, and laid of bricks,” I said, “with a support-pillar in the fire-bowl to support the weight of the still proper. The stoke-hole has no door, and is oval-shaped, with painted reddish teeth to signify the hunger of the flames...”

I stopped, then screeched, “what am I saying?”

“I think you said something about what people actually believe about those things, or at least what some believe,” said Hans. “I want no part of doing stuff like a witch.”

Hans paused, then said, “and I think your idea of using the stove sounds likely, as that will keep the mess down.”

“That, and make digestive remedies and fuel easier to prepare,” I said. “We don't have a dedicated still-house, and that's also thought to be a requirement according to what most people believe.”

Hans looked at me, and rubbed his chin thoughtfully, then said, “yes, and I think you might be right about that stuff. I never saw it before, but I think you are right.”

“If so, then we must chant over the mash, and then circle around the still while chanting,” I muttered. “Like this: 'how dry I am, how wet I'll be, If I don't find the bathroom's key'.”

“There are no keys to that room,” said Hans, “so why do you speak of one?”

“It's supposed to be a joke,” I said. “At least, that silly 'chant' is. I wish I could say that for the other stuff, as some people really do chant over the mash and circle around the still while chanting at it, and they actually do all of the other stuff, also.”

I paused, then said, “are there such things as 'Revenuers' here?”

I now had two utterly confused people looking at me.

“Uh, revenue agents? Taxes on the outputs of distilleries? Bonded warehouses?”

“Nothing like that,” said Hans. “If you have one and make Geneva, then they like to taste your jugs during Festival Week.”

“When will the mash be ready?” I asked.

“It might take another day or two,” said Hans. “It is going good now, and that means it needs to run more.”

“Tomorrow evening?” I asked. “Sunday after church?”

“Either of those is likely,” said Hans, “though Sunday sounds more likely than tomorrow night.”

Prior to actually retiring, however, I thought to investigate the mash itself. Hans was putting out the candles downstairs, and as I moved to where the tub was sitting, I could hear plainly the bubbling and hissing of a sizable tub, as well as smell the fermentation. It smelled like a very sour version of beer, so much so that I asked softly, “is it common to reuse the water from distillation?”

“That is best if you are going to make Geneva,” said Hans, “though for aquavit, it does not matter. This first batch is best done for aquavit.”

“Should we make a jug or two of Geneva, though?” I asked.

“I think that a good idea, especially for Festival Week,” said Hans. “Indigestion is more common during the winter.”

Hans paused as he collected up the last two candles, then said, “so, if we make that stuff, then I need to make a trip out toward that one second-hand store tomorrow.”

“To get the, uh, berries?” I asked.

“The best place for those is a greengrocers in a town that is close to where that place is,” said Hans. “I can drive you most of the way there, and then pick you up on the way back, so you are not walking too long in that snow.”

Hans proved as good as his word, and I was let out about a mile and a half down the road from the place when he went to the left and I was to continue straight. I had one of the water bottles I had made, a bag of dried meat, and another small cloth bag having the ammunition for the revolver. I was really wondering about some kind of a holster for the thing now, as it was cumbersome in the pocket.

That, and I needed to hike up my trousers now and then with all I had.

As I walked by the side of the road in the 'powder' stuff, I was glad I had 'partial' hobnails. Unlike 'full' hobnails, which covered the entirety of the sole, 'partial' hobnails went around the periphery of the sole and heel. They tended to be easier on the feet and gave nearly as good traction, especially in ice and snow. Only in the very worst conditions was there a noticeable difference.

While the snow muffled my walking, and the light-tan color of my cloak did a passable job of hiding my figure when not moving, I now realized the snow also hampered the movement and feeding of game. For some reason, within five minutes of setting off down the road, I had seen my first 'winter' deer, complete with fluffed-out white-dusted coat.

“These things don't go dormant,” I thought, “they go looking for the best food.”

'The best food' seemed uncommonly concentrated, as within another twenty minutes, I saw another five deer, two stub-horned elk, and what might have been a marmot. The last seemed more furtive than usual for marmots, or so I guessed.

The town proper hove into view another ten minutes later, and here, I saw my first 'sled', with two horses on long traces in front and the buggy-box thing behind on long and slender copper-sheathed rails.

Hans had not exaggerated the speed of sleds, for the thing went whizzing by me at an easy ten miles an hour, until it was time to 'stop' for another delivery.

I stopped by the sled to look at it more closely when the driver returned. He seemed preoccupied, at least until he saw I was looking more closely at his vehicle than at his cargo.

“I'm the greengrocer,” he said. “I've got some deliveries here and in the next two towns.”

“Do you commonly do that?” I asked. My curiosity was genuine.

“Most don't do that, but I do,” he said. “A fair number of people around here were hurt years ago during a big raid, and they don't get around as easy as they used to.”

“Knees?” I asked. I recalled Tam as I said that, and my knees began hurting.

“Those and other injuries caused by swine and those northern people,” he said, as he made some notes and made ready to travel again on his sled. “One of those I see can only have beer.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“He was lucky he lived,” said the man. “Most people die when they're cut open like that.”

Once at the store and let inside, I followed a young girl down to the 'rear' area, where I paid the balance of the money for my soap. However, as I did, the proprietress spoke of another type, and when she fetched it, I longed for it greatly. This time, I knew not merely the smell – roses – but also, the name of the flowers used.

“This one is even more special,” she said. “I was told to reserve it for you.”

“By whom?” I asked.

“Albrecht came by with some small trinkets, and picked up some things I'd gotten for him, including a few letters,” she said. “He also spoke briefly, and gave me this. He said you'd already paid for it, so I only need the little bit I need for storing it.”

“That amount is?”

“For things like this, and this size, the amount is usually a guilder. Given how I've had no takers for the other soap, and you're with Hans, I'll just let you have it.”

After bagging the two tins, I left her a large silver piece just the same. I had the impression she needed it – and, as I suspected she would be, she was grateful.

“Especially right now,” she said. “I hope Hans comes by with more of the widow's tincture soon.”

After bidding her 'good day' – I felt as if I'd done horribly, even though I was as sincere as I knew how to be – I took my leave. I'd wished I had a vial of the stuff to give her, as I suspected she needed it badly.

“Given she's probably a widow, she most likely does need it,” I thought.

My trip back meant following my trail inbound, and when I came to where I was let off by Hans, I suspected I had a certain wait to endure. Thankfully, I did not have to wait long; Hans came rolling and sliding up not ten minutes after I got there. I hopped on as he slid by me, then put the bag of soap between us.

“Do you give that woman some of that widow's tincture?” I asked.

“Yes, and she is about due for more,” said Hans. “If she shows at church tomorrow, I will give her some more, otherwise one of us will need to take it to her on Monday. Why, did she ask about it?”

I nodded, then said, “it seems Albrecht comes by there sometimes, and he left something for me.”

“Yes, and what was it?” asked Hans.

“Soap, though of a different kind,” I said. “It smelled even more delightful than that stuff I showed Anna last week. Now, if there was only someone...”

“Yes, some person,” asked Hans. “Who would this person be like?”

“S-short, dark-haired, frolicsome, independent turn of mind...”

I gasped, then said, “what am I saying?”

“I think Anna might know someone like that,” said Hans. “I've only seen a few people with hair like yours.”

“Anna said she only saw but one other person,” I said.

“I think she meant in this area,” said Hans. “Dark hair is a bit more common to the south.”

Once home, and the supplies put away – Hans had two sizable crocks, and two yet more sizable bags, all of which needed to go in the basement – I thought to clean out the still and its parts. I brought those still in their bags to the table, and then began 'unwrapping' them. The first one unwrapped was the cooker.

Anna came from the upstairs with a large and bulging cloth bag, which she sat down preparatory to fetching a stool. I had the impression she was about to commence knitting, and only when she'd knit for three minutes and tied her finger up with the yarn did she look up and see what I was unveiling.

“What is that?” she asked. Her knitting was utterly forgotten.

“The cooker, dear,” I said. “It needs cleaning before we put any mash in it. Now how are stills commonly cleaned?”

“Hot water,” she said. “That one looks like it will fit on the stove.”

“I intended it to,” I said. “Perhaps fill it part-full and set it over an eye?”

That part went surprisingly easily, and Anna returned to her knitting. I watched her for a short time, even while she did her usual 'knit one, purl two, knit one, entangle finger in yarn' trick twice in the space of three minutes. I then fetched the cap and rectifying column, and began taking it apart.

The cap was separate from the column, and inside the column, there were nine stripper plates. There was room for several more, but I hoped to not need them. They weren't the easiest things to make.

As I removed the stripper plates themselves from the column, I could tell Anna was becoming frustrated with her knitting. She'd already entangled herself more in ten minutes than she usually did during an entire session, and an eruption would ensue shortly.

I had picked the time well, even if I was far off with the magnitude: Anna abruptly stuffed her yarn, her project, and needles into the sack, and then shoved it toward the middle of the table. She then looked up and 'saw' what I was arranging.

“What is that?” she asked.

“This is the rectifying column,” I said. “Remember the drawing? This is the first one.”

“N-no long skinny tube that gets plugged up all the time?” she asked.

I turned over the cap, then pointed out the screen and its tinned wire retainer.

“It will take some real doing to plug this one up,” I said. “That design of cooker tends to funnel mash-eruptions into that, uh, arm, unlike this one. Now, let me fetch the condenser, and we can clean this thing up. The cooker is beginning to steam.”

Cleaning the parts proved especially easy: dunk stripper plates, lay out to dry, wipe out the column tube with a damp rag, pour hot water though the condenser, and then dump the hot water in the cooker itself into a pot before wiping it out. I then showed Anna how it went together, complete with the latches.

“I'm glad I have plenty of rye flour for the joints of that thing,” said Anna. “That one looks a lot easier to paste up than any still I've ever seen.”

“That, and it needs much less 'pasting', also,” I said. “You should only need a little bit for the upper cap, and but slightly more for the lower cap. Why don't you call Hans, and you can describe it.”

Anna went downstairs, and came up with Hans a minute later. He was wondering why she had done so until she showed him what we had just cleaned.

“That thing is...”

Hans had lost the use of his tongue, and for the next three minutes, all he could do was look at the thing with agog eyes and speechless lips. Anna described what was inside the rectifying column, then removed both column and cap to show the interior of the cooker, then finally latched it back in place and screwed on the condenser after adjusting its column stand.

“That thing is... What is it?” asked Hans. “It is not like anything I have ever seen. Not even the fourth kingdom ones are like this.”

“But Anna said it was like them,” I said.

“Those are not done this good,” said Hans, “nor do they have handles, nor latches for their caps, nor that big tall thing, nor are their condensers done with strips of metal like that.”

“Running water isn't common around here,” I said dryly, “so I couldn't make a Liebig condenser. The usual coils make this type quite easily, and if one puts a few strengthening fins, they become sturdier and more efficient.”

I paused, then said, “how is the mash?”

“That can run later today,” said Hans. “It still has a way to go, according to this thing I use.”

“A hygrometer?” I asked.

“I am not sure what it is called,” said Hans, “only that we found it in that one place with the rats, and the instructions speak of specific gravity. Corn mash is done when it is dropped two whole lines from when it is just seeded with yeast, and it is not quite there.”

“Does it drop further?” I asked.

“I did a few smaller batches earlier and that is a good drop,” said Hans. “The stuff starts to smell shortly thereafter, so corn-mash needs to run as soon as it is ready to go.”

“Smell?” I asked.

“It gets really stinky,” said Hans, “and then the bugs start to show.”

“Bugs?” I asked.

“They smell worse than mash that has gone bad,” said Hans, “and Anna is not fond of the bugs.”

The time for the mash, however, was sooner than Hans had expected, for he had checked it just prior to dinner. I'd been finishing up the mould for revolver bullets as a break from carving patterns, and all that remained was 'adjusting' it for proper closure.

“The mash is ready,” said Hans, “so we will need to run that stuff on the stove once Anna has cleaned up after dinner.”

“I've never run a distillery before, Hans,” said Anna. “I've made the rye paste before, but never run a still.”

“This one should be a bit easier,” I said. “If you noticed carefully, there is a small hole where one normally puts a thermometer.”

“Is that where that one cork is in the top part?” asked Anna.

“Yes, it is, and we have several of them from that dark place with the rats,” I said. “I've even fitted one to a cork and tested it for fit.”

I paused, then said, “do we have several, uh, jugs for the aquavit?”

“I have set those things aside,” said Hans. “I also looked up distilleries in one of those chemical books, and they show what you did. Now did you look it up in those books?”

“I had heard of this type before coming here,” I said. “I just hope it works.”

'Loading' the still took two mostly full cooking pots full of mash, and I put the cooker on the stove. Hans helped me with the cap, while Anna 'painted' on the rye paste. Hans was surprised when the bulk of the paste squirted out.

“That is a tight one,” he said. “I hope it holds good.”

The rest of the still was assembled but minutes later, and when Hans came with the funnel, I was surprised to learn he'd remembered the charcoal.

“No, Hans, we do not need black aquavit,” said Anna.

“I washed this stuff good,” said Hans, “and I think Korn uses this with what he does.”

“Hence no nasty off-taste,” I said. “It should make better tinctures, also.”

As the temperature climbed on the thermometer, I wondered when the 'still' would begin to produce its first drips. I felt the cooker, the column, and then the condenser, and as I did, I began to notice an odor of such frightful intensity I nearly spewed.

“Gah! What is that stink!” I squeaked, as I gently touched my burning nose.

“I think it is starting to make the stuff,” said Hans. “This is not at all usual for a first run.”

“No, Hans,” said Anna. “I think it is making aquavit. See, it's starting to drop into that charcoal there.”

Hans used a spoon, then caught what looked like a steady colorless trickle that twisted as it came from the condenser. I watched the thermometer, which seemed to be holding steady.

“How much mash do we have?” I asked.

“Enough for two more runs,” said Hans. “I think each run will fill a smaller jug. Now I need to test this stuff to see its strength.”

I wondered for a moment how Hans would do so, but he left for the basement after touching his finger to the liquid and tasting it. I wondered how he could stand 'potable paint remover', at least until he came back up a few minutes later. He was muttering something that I could not understand.

“That is the strongest aquavit I have ever seen,” said Hans. “It must be nearly pure alcohol, as I had to cut it with nearly its entire volume of water before it would not burn.”

“It can't be,” I spluttered. “That is just the first one, and it has to have something wrong with it.”

“I doubt it has much,” said Hans. “I think you might think about making more of these things after Festival Week, as I know Paul will toss what he has when he finds out about this one, and the same for Korn.”

After the still finished – the condenser 'dried up', as Hans put it, and the once-steady temperature began to rise – we needed to empty the thing out carefully. In this instance, Hans wanted the residue in a collection of buckets, and when we had brought them down into the basement, he covered them carefully with clean rags.

“What do you plan to do with this, uh, used stuff?”

“First, there is a special flavoring in yeast,” said Hans. “It is called yeast-spread, and it looks a little like fourth-kingdom axle grease. It goes good on bread, but one must be careful with it, especially during Festival Week.”

“Why?” I asked.

“The stuff goes in one night,” said Hans. “It is sad to see something that takes that long to make up go that quickly, at least if one is limited to beer for its source. Now that we have corn-mash, I can actually make a decent amount of it.”

“And afterward?” I asked.

“Then, one cooks the mash some over a slow fire, such that it is dried good,” said Hans, “and then it is good for mixing with horse-grain. One must be careful, though.”

“Uh, why?” I asked. “Drunken horses?”

“Cooking it drives off that trouble,” said Hans. “Horses given too much of that type of grain can become frisky, or so people say. I think that is rubbish, especially when it is cold, but just the same, I do not want to be near a horse that thinks itself a mule.”