Quoll-and-potato soup, and other medicines most peculiar
“That, and we must make up the sleeping medicine,” said Sarah. “Let me fetch a vial of ink and the shaved quill I use, and my current ledger, and you can take dictation.”
While Sarah was gone, Sepp proved to be a better teacher of 'how to pluck and then gut quolls', as he made Anna look to be worthless at both; and by the time I'd managed to do the 'surgery' on mine, Sepp was not merely cutting up the other birds with his knife, but Anna was staring at what I was doing to my bird as I finished it up.
“No, I think not,” she spluttered. “If you could get over that trouble you have, I think you'd make me look worthless for that business.”
“Wh-what?” I said.
“You've no business doing butcher's work, and I know why, now,” said Anna. “If we had the ways and means to do the work I'm thinking of, you'd make me look clumsy and foolish.”
“Those will be coming in short order,” said the soft voice, “along with people who can give you-all the training you will need shortly after they come here.”
“This would be medicine, correct?” said Sarah as she showed with a smaller bag, this neatly sewn and having a button-closed pocket. She gave it to Katje, who readily opened the pocket, and removed not merely a vial marked 'ink, for documents', but also a long slim copper tube with a carefully whittled wooden plug that proved to be of unusual length. The reason why that wooden plug was as it was, I soon learned.
“Andreas does his quills that way,” said Sarah, “and if one has poor handwriting...”
“Only a few people have worse,” said Anna, “and two – no, three of them – are in this room.”
“Mine isn't that good,” said Katje, “but at least both Maarten and I can read it readily.” A pause, then, “now, what am I to write?”
“His recipe,” said Anna. “I hope I can get one of those strange ledger-shaped things they have across the sea, as those not merely remember what you write as you write it, but they also obviate the need for such work as forming letters of especial neatness.”
I gave out the thoughts I had regarding 'quoll-and-potato soup' as I finished the gutting and then dismembering my particular bird, then Sepp looked things over with a practiced eye. “Save for how long it took you, I'd say you're good enough to do butcher's work, and no mistake.”
“No, not butcher's work, Sepp,” said Anna. “If we can get what is needed and someone becomes badly hurt, then he can help out in ways other than just by prayer.” Anna looked at me, then said, “we may need to dose him with the bull formula beforehand, and have him drink all the beer he can hold while he's doing it, but I'd say he'd do well at that work.”
“I h-hope not,” I gasped. “I'd feel awful, and...” A sudden recollection came to me, regarding the idea of using a syringe upon others. “I'd feel like a m-murderer if I had to use one of those s-Spraetzen, and I felt that way before coming here!” It was worse now; I knew that much.
“They probably used them for that business where you came from,” said Anna matter-of-factly. “One of those fiends in those old tales there spoke of getting his name from a place more evil than a corner of hell, and...”
“Mangle,” said Sarah. “He spoke of himself as being a doctor, but I know his name was not that what is in that tale.” Pause, then, “that tapestry called him that, but whoever wrote it said later that to write his name as it was truly spelled would cause trouble, and I think I know why now.”
“His name, writ in runes, was not merely an especially nasty curse, but a whole section in one or more camps was named...” I was grasping at straws, or so it felt like it. I was cleaning my knife, this before putting a 'passable' edge on at least some of Anna's kitchen knives. The fact that I was seeing the runes, these not in flaming colors, but in stark black and white atop a shimmering haze of bluish-white, this for nearly a second, did not help my concentration.
“Yes, in Berky itself,” said Sarah. “There was one long place, as long as two fifth kingdom Alleys back to back, and it was shaped like one for its front and its rear – and those witches named it after him.” A pause, then, “I just saw his real name spelled in runes, and it is a bit too long to be 'Mangle'.”
“Where?” asked Anna.
“On the top of the table here,” said Sarah, as she pointed to the place. “I think I know why he was named Mangle, as his name writ in runes is spoken similarly as to sound...”
“Yes, and also no,” said the soft voice. “His cult-name, which you just saw for a brief period, was such a potent curse that only a handful of witches – his peers in strength, namely – could say it and not become his witch-puppets; and more, like another witch you've learned a good deal about in the last two days, to speak his name would cause him to show up, knives unsheathed and ready to do business – and he did a lot of business that way, more so than any other well-known witch of his time and place.”
“Even that one stinker?” I gasped.
“That witch named 'Mangle' not merely 'ran' the camps for that stinker, but more or less planned them and their regime,” said the soft voice. “That one witch may have claimed doing so was his entire idea, but he wasn't above taking credit when and where he could for the work of others, and the labors of 'Mangle' were no exception.”
“Even at Berky?” asked Sarah.
“He especially planned Berky, and the Mistress of the North disposed of his understudy and ran matters according to the plans drawn up by Mangle,” said the soft voice. “She didn't have to do much beyond 'find' those documents where that one witch had hidden them, read them carefully, dispose of that one witch who was trying to become wealthy in a great hurry at state expense, and then return that camp to its former state – which was a very efficiently-run armaments factory, one that killed vast numbers of slaves and produced vaster-yet amounts of very capable ordnance.”
“But slaves do poor work...”
“Not there they did,” said the soft voice. “Those machines and most of the other areas were wired with some highly cursed devices whose ideas came from a stolen intercept, and such thought-discriminators were not merely very effective in discerning what people were actually thinking, but they were everywhere in Berky – and there was no dodging the matter if one of those 'ratted' on you, as the witches believed what they indicated over anything a given slave might say, so much so that the torture that was done to the slave was for means other than the gathering of information.”
“Mostly because those things tended to be fairly accurate,” I muttered. “If one of those things was in the area, it was a very bad idea to even think about doing anything other than one's assigned work.”
“More than that, even,” said the soft voice. “Not merely did one have to do all of what you just said, but one had to give one's true utmost to one's assigned tasks, and that in every aspect demanded by the witches – and if one failed – even for an instant – to do what was demanded in full particulars, the overseer-witches in the area knew of it the instant such treason happened – and they started in right away with the clubs and whips.”
With the birds boiling in one of the larger pots and Katje and Anna making ready to peel potatoes, I found I needed to get to sharpening knives. As fast as I put a 'passable' edge on one knife of the set, I found that the knife in question received a quick yet thorough cleaning of its bloodstains; and when it was done being used for a moment, it went back to where I was now sitting with my stones. A periodic glance around the region spoke of some areas being 'clean enough, once the place is packed', so much so that I mumbled, “the only issue will be the stink then...”
I meant more than just the floors and walls; I meant the knives, also. Those needed a thorough cleaning, and the level of sharpening needed to be a bit better than 'passable' – for the less-used examples. It really exercised me about copying these blades in some 'knife-grade' crucible steel, as well as handles that would not absorb blood readily. I was wondering if I could get such materials across the sea, in fact.
“That is why it needs to be cleaned right,” said Anna, “as I will have nightmares when I'm awake otherwise.” A glance toward the door, then, “I hope they can have something done by tonight, even if it isn't a proper door.” Pause, then, “I'm not inclined toward a blanket over the doorway, as it is still cold enough for the night-chill to get under one's blankets, and it will not help Katje much either.”
“I suspect so,” said Hans, as he came in. “Those two men must have door-pieces ready to put together, as I saw them gluing those things into a door.”
“They do?” I asked.
“Most doors, at least those in the towns I have seen, might vary the width of a finger from one another,” said Hans, “and doors, while they do last decent if they get paint and things regular, need replacing or repair now and then, same as most things in or part of a house. So, if a carpenter is decent for figuring, he or she has at least one door most of the way done, so all it needs is trimming and gluing its pieces together – and I gave them some of that good glue from the fourth kingdom, and I think they want to toss their usual, as it makes that stinky stuff smell like a bad butcher's place in the fifth kingdom.” A pause, then, “now I think Anna will wish these knives copied, as Georg was making them go dull quick on those witches.”
“I am glad she had them just the same,” said Georg. I was surprised he was still around, until I realized he needed further doctoring – and, possibly... no, probably – prayer. It made me wonder if he needed dosing with that stuff Sarah had been planning on making; and further wondering as to where, exactly, she was. “I have never put knives to witches before today, but that hammer was too messy, there was but the one club left and I'd heard you break them worse than I do, and then no gun will work should I try it...”
“I thought that an entire lie,” spat Anna. “Now I know better, and should someone ask me, I will tell them it's nothing less than the book for truth, as I saw you try everything we have, both flint and thimbles, and nothing fired for you.” She then looked at me and said, “that was one reason I made sure he didn't ruin all of those clubs.”
“Yet still,” Georg said, as he fingered one of the knives I had just finished putting a 'rough' edge on. “There was talk of some knives you were working on, and I looked for those, and I could not f-find them, but I could find these, and I s-sliced o-on s-so m-man-many witches...”
Here, Georg shuddered, then sobbed. Hans shook his head; he'd seen numbers of people who had 'had too much swine'; but what he was seeing now – that could only be called 'too many witches', and it made that nonsense about 'too many pigs' seem as nothing; and, when he looked at Anna's shaking hands and her nervous looks about the room, it was yet more obvious: he was seeing two people who had seen 'too many witches'.
“Now what is it you did with those knives?” asked Sarah. She said this very gently. “The reason you could not find those others is they were down in the basement, and...”
“There was no time for them, then,” said Georg through his sobs. “There were witches coming in the house so fast that I had to either try to shoot them, and then Anna took the gun out of my hands and shot them such that I got burns from the flames like being too-close to a hot-loaded three-incher's muzzle when it's firing flat and the pig is coming hard, or I banged them with clubs and then threw those witches I had hit at the oncoming witches to drive them out, or when I cracked that second club bashing a witch, all I had was those knives there, so it was one in each hand, and load as I could and slice and stab when I needed to, and I stabbed more witches than I can count, and I cut throats, too.”
“They could only come through one at a time, though – or could they?” I muttered.
“You would think so, but I once had three of them in here, all of them with either rotating pistols or fowling pieces, and I had to poke two of them and use the one that was thrashing the least to thump the third one over the head – and all of them were shooting at me the whole while.”
“What did that do?” asked Hans.
“It put all three of those stinkers on the floor, and gave me time to get the biggest knife, which I put into the back of another witch. That dropped that one when I pulled it out, but the next witch that came in here swallowed that knife, as I had two more witches again right away, and these people were those that taught that first batch of three how to fight. I got sliced then, but I gutted that witch like a fish with this smaller knife of Anna's and kicked the other in the tripes before I broke his back across my knee.”
“You what?” I asked.
“I got his throat in one hand, and one of his legs in the other, threw him up to the height of my chest, and then threw him down on my knee as hard as I could. He screamed, then fell off and lay still, which was a good thing, as I could barely move afterward.” A pause, then, “that big knife was gone then, as that one witch had taken it.”
“I found him dead in the horse-barn,” I said, “and I've yet to sharpen that knife.”
“I might have thought it decent for its metal in the past,” said Georg, “but I had never used knives on thugs before, either, and if I ever think I might wish to try that again – then I want one of your swords.”
“You'd need training to use one,” said Sarah, “as you could cut yourself most-readily.”
“He wouldn't need much, not if he caused that much trouble with these kitchen knives,” said 'big' Willem. “Now those there look decent, but they way they're needing those coarse stones says they were done for looks more than using.”
“I am not sure if that was so,” said Georg, “but if one must use a blade to stay alive, one wants a decent one at the least, and while those might not hold a terribly good edge when fighting, they did not break or bend – and that is better than is common for most things with an edge that I have seen.”
'Large' Willem thought for a moment, then nodded. “You're right, they didn't bend or break, and their edges did last long enough for you to do your business with those stinkers.” Pause, then, “best get yourself a rigging knife from Machalaat, if you're going to stick witches much.”
“I think those could be made up here,” said Sarah. “Now...” Sarah paused, then said, “no, not a rigging knife, Georg. Those might be decent, but I think you want a corn knife, one with a long blade and a good handguard.”
Georg thought for a moment, then said, “that would most likely work, though people would wonder as to why I was wearing one.”
“Not after they learn about what happened here,” said Anna. “They'll know the witches are after you, same as they're after me and anyone else who lives in or around this town, and they'll know you need to travel armed.” Pause, then, “now if you use a corn-knife, especially a larger one, then you'll...”
“Those are not much shorter than some swords,” said Sepp, “and they're handy for close-work, also.”
“Tonight was close enough to suit me,” mumbled Georg. “Now I hope she finishes up that medicine, as I'm hearing witches yelling their stinking curses right now, and I can almost see one about to try for me with a witch-dagger.”
“Black stone knives?” I asked.
“I broke three of those things with a club!” shrieked Georg – who then began sobbing.
“Did they go after him also?” I asked.
“That was one of the chief reasons that second witch-group put so much time and effort into their cursing,” said the soft voice. “Georg not only needs a short sword and good knives, he needs to carry them routinely, as he's more or less thought to be marked now on account of what he did to that witch-column.”
“What did he do?” I asked. I knew he'd killed and injured a lot of witches during his rampage.
“Not merely 'killed and injured' a lot of witches,” said the soft voice. “He wrecked several coaches by smashing one or more wheels, he banged a large number of horses and mules in the head with his club, and he narrowly missed being killed by flying debris when he threw a large rock at a coach and hit a distillate-fueled lantern as he finished his business with them.”
“They all blew up seconds later,” I thought.
“That column had but little dynamite, but the one he hit had about ten fused sticks, so its blast set off several others,” said the soft voice. “The resulting fires, though, got into what dynamite the witches had as well as their supplies of distillate, so the remaining coaches either burned or exploded over the course of roughly a minute.”
“Supplies?” I asked. I meant both dynamite and distillate.
“Most coaches that went abroad tonight, save if they had still-wealthy witches as passengers, had small amounts of old mining dynamite, a jug or two of strong drink, and enough distillate to keep their lanterns 'smoky',” said the soft voice. “That's still more than enough to scatter a coach thoroughly.”
“One stick of mining dynamite...”
“Will scatter most coaches,” said the soft voice. “If you see one tomorrow, try one of those 'metal pears'.”
“Thing will probably make a crater in the road,” I spat silently. I meant the blast of the grenade.
“It will also turn any coach into a blood-dripping pile of scrap,” said the soft voice, “and that presumes said coach has no dynamite or distillate – and it's a rare coach that doesn't have at least a bottle or two of distillate for their lanterns, and a few sticks of fused and capped dynamite for causing trouble.”
“B-bottle?” I thought.
“What witches commonly use when they cannot get enough distillate to fill 'heavy' jugs like Hans uses for traps,” said the soft voice. “That 'trick' has gotten out about using 'sturdy' jugs, as it makes fires a good deal less likely – which is the case if the people shooting are using muskets or fowling pieces.”
“What we have now would break such things anyway,” I thought.
“They can, and several times tonight, they not only did break such jugs, but the bullet's impact actually caused the distillate to 'low-order',” said the soft voice. “Hit a container of distillate with a high-velocity projectile or shell-splinter, and there's a fair to middling chance it will actually 'explode' – though the blast won't be in the same class as if it's driven by dynamite or other 'fast' high explosives.”
As I continued working on the knives, in the background, I could hear the following:
The ongoing process of cleaning. I knew that having as many people as we did on the premises tonight made a process normally good for much of a week happen in perhaps two hours, maybe three at the most – though for some reason, perhaps the sheer quantity of 'mess', it looked to need all of that time and perhaps more.
What was happening in the kitchen itself. For an instant, I saw Sarah speaking with Anna; then as suddenly, she was gone again. I could feel her somewhere on the premises, however, and whatever she was doing was very important.
The state of the town. The Public House had now 'unclenched' their weapons, and were most-busy, as between the 'dryness' caused by the whole town essentially enduring a mess but slightly bested – for the average person – compared to what they had heard of the hall and its destruction, and the sheer fright caused by a truly massive witch-invasion, one where the swarming witches acted as if they had nothing to lose, was enough to give everyone currently inside the Public House a most-powerful thirst.
“Anna stayed out of that mess, mostly,” I thought, “and I guess Georg was a cannon-master once, as he showed himself a most-capable fighter, even given his inability to shoot, less-than-good clubs...” I then thought, “what?”
“Willem understated the case,” said the soft voice. “That process doesn't just help the glue set up harder, it also 'drives it into the wood', so it grips better; and then coating the wood while it's still hot helps the finish soak into the wood a lot better.” A pause, then, “about the only real improvement over 'overnight' cooking in a 'hot-room' after gluing, is following that 'cure' with Hans' wood-treatment, this painted on repeatedly, then another period of 'baking' once the wood in question will take all it can.”
“And then rubbing the still-hot 'cooked' clubs with drying oil so they get the desired finish,” I murmured. “They'll look 'decent' then...” I paused, then asked, “is that why those people use v-varnish so much? For its appearance?”
“They tend to need to 'move' their products, and varnish, while it's not terribly good for protection, does dry relatively fast,” said the soft voice. “That last batch of Hans' wood-finish, though – they want more of that stuff, as it's nearly as fast-drying as varnish and is vastly more durable.”
“Varnish isn't very durable,” I muttered. “Stuff is brittle, it cracks at the first hint of an impact, then it flakes off in patches and the glue goes...”
“Its chief weakness,” said the soft voice. “It is hard, which means for much of what goes in the house, it wears well – provided what it goes onto doesn't get abused.”
“And it looks 'pretty',” I murmured. “Whoever got in the habit of putting that nasty-smelling stuff onto everything must have been a long-ago witch, and it's been done that way ever so long, and no one ever thought the wiser of it.”
The silence that seemed to ring me about was if I had been accused of heresy, so much so that when Anna came close to hand me a knife that had seen some careful scraping and cleaning for further sharpening, I thought to ask her.
“Hendrik doesn't care much about how things look as long as it looks 'decent',” said Anna. “He's more interested in chairs that don't dump him on the floor, actually, and varnish does work for keeping the worms out of the wood if it's kept up reasonably well.”
“Redone yearly?” I asked. “More often than that, even, for those things that get used a lot?”
“I'd need to ask Kees about that business,” said Anna. “I know a lot of people at the house proper were quite particular about looks, but most of them are gone.”
“And they wanted 'varnish', or better, 'hand-rubbed drying oil', this of multiple coats, and...”
“That sounds about right,” said Sarah, as she suddenly showed. “Varnish is about all that is used for coaches, and I've seen enough of those stinking things to know something about them.”
“Varnish, or was it just 'dark, glossy, and really hard-to-look-after'?” I asked. “Kind of like this old-looking furniture witches like – stuff needs to be dosed regularly with drying oil thinned with heavy distillate, rubbed really carefully all the time, and then one almost needs a magnifier to make sure all of the dust is gone, as that nasty stuff grabs dust out of the air like Mine birds like insects. Correct?”
“Esther said some of the people she cleaned for had that kind of furniture,” said Sarah, “and it is very difficult to look after. A pause, then, “I need to let that ink mingle, and then I can put it in vials and a globe or two.”
“How much ink did you make?” asked Anna. “I hope I can get a small vial of it.”
“One vial for you, two more for the house here, at least one globe for the house proper, and several vials to take with us,” said Sarah, “which is four of the usual batches of ink.” A pause, then, “if one is combining one's batches of that stuff, it wants to set a bit, with stirring afterward – and once I've gotten it in the containers I spoke of, then I can do up that other stuff.”
“Which might take ten minutes, assuming the tinctures are ready and merely need mixing,” I murmured.
“They are, but it is a bit more complicated than just mixing them in the right proportions, as one wishes to add a small amount of boiling water and aquavit when using that much of the bull formula,” said Sarah. “It might take half a glass to do three vials.”
“Three?” asked Anna.
“One for here, and two for the trip, in case we should have trouble,” said Sarah. “Then, a small vial of the tincture for pain, two vials of the usual widow's tincture, some of that of the bull formula, and then some vials of a number of medicines I saw that Hans probably has no idea of what their labels mean – but I do.”
“Like the stuff that deals with this strange type of spewing that's really common down around the third kingdom port?” I asked. “Something about those people not being careful about where they get their water..?”
“They do not boil their drinking water in that area,” said Sarah. “I hope we go to this one place, as they distill theirs, and the steam from that place is as thick as that of a busy fourth-kingdom printing shop or laundry, what with what they do there for distilling and other things.” A pause, then, “I doubt that sound outside to be coaches, as coaches do not sound like what I am hearing right now.”
“Buggies,” said an unidentified man, who then went to the door to speak to those outside. “West of the church with those stinkers, if you intend to make a night of it. There's a big hole there, and it's fit for putting these things in it to start your manure-pit.” The man then returned to his work, this cleaning the area around the couch, all the while muttering about 'distillate' and those stupid 'rules' about 'witches must be burnt'. Finally, his irritation now showing plainly, he went back to the doorway.
“Cease your speaking of distillate and burning,” he said, his voice raised to just under a shout. “Burning witches honors them! Now you need manure in this place, and to put the stinkers in with the dung shows their master what you think of them – they're dung, same as what comes out of those stinky mules they so love! Now put your backs into it and work, or I'll shoot you down here and now like the witches you name yourselves to be!”
The man then shouldered his rifle, and aimed out into the darkness. Running feet seemed to erupt, faint footsteps frantic and scattering, and I dropped the knife I was working on. Too slow, as if in a dream, I turned, then as I heard a faint cry that spoke once more of burning, I thought, “is it distillate you fools want? Then bathe yourselves in it, and burn like the idiots you are!”
The flames that suddenly turned the street outside the house into a billowing sheet of brilliant white caused the man to remove himself from the doorway, and as half those yet laboring in the parlor crowded the window and doorway, 'big' Willem said, “those people were witches if they went up like that. This ain't the fourth kingdom, and people in this town ain't used to working this late, so anyone who wants to be outside when it's hours after full-dark is likely to be a witch.”
Finally, the 'truth' of the matter dawned on me: Willem, at least for the time being, was right. Without decent lighting, working outside after 'full-dark' came was a matter of sheer necessity if it was done at all, and most people in town did well to have some candles that burned brightly enough to do something other than merely get ready for bed while indoors.
It wasn't just habit and witch-nourished custom that made for people going to bed shortly after sundown outside of a few areas – it was a dire scarcity of good lighting, also; a scarcity that was at least partly witch-contrived, and a scarcity the witches took advantage of to the full.
“Most people in town have no idea about the existence of student's lanterns, even if they wish they could get something better than less-good tallow for lighting,” I murmured.
“That is so,” said Hans. “Now those out there trying to burn all of their dead in the darkness, or talking like it, were witches robbing their dead fellows so as to get money enough to buy their way to favor with those stinkers that are coming, or so it looks likely, if I think about it.”
“They would not get that much,” said Willem the 'larger'. He seemed to have an idea as to just how wealthy these coming stinkers would be. “They might get enough to hide themselves a bit better and longer is all, and if they were using a buggy...” He then turned away from the door, and asked Hans, “best go and see who in town has had their buggy stolen, as that one witch did that earlier tonight, and...” Pause, then, “where'd he go?”
As I turned back to the knives, Anna said, “I think he left when he heard you speak the word 'stolen', or so I suspect, and that will get people outside – as he took one of those lanterns that needs those smaller candles, and those give more light than anything like them.” Another pause, then, “I hope I can find time to run more of those candles tonight and tomorrow, as they will need more of them for the trip.”
As I 'sharpened' with the coarser stones knife after knife – Georg had not only dulled their edges terribly, but he'd put nicks in several places on a number of them – I could hear the whole town 'turning out' in some strange fashion. The place wasn't half as sleepy and 'dead' as Willem the larger had implied by his indictment of the first kingdom, as a lot of people in town had been 'getting into some beer' down at the Public House. Their being absent from their homes had given these witches the chance to steal several buggies, and the mutterings I heard as Hans tied the teams and buggies 'draw-bar' to 'tail-piece' for ready leading had him speaking of trouble.
“No, no trouble, not unless you want that tainted witch-money,” I thought. “Just lead those teams and buggies down to the Public House, have August take charge of that nasty stuff once he cuts open their pockets, and then park the teams and vehicles in the yard there. People can use their manure-carts if they want to move witches – besides, those are a lot handier for that narrow passage that leads to that shell crater compared to buggies, it will pound that path good and solid, and...”
“And there are a good many more manure-carts than buggies in good order, also,” said the soft voice. “One matter that you haven't had a chance to learn in this town is a lot of people have buggies that are in poor condition – many but somewhat better than Georg's was before that pig destroyed it – and hence they don't go very far or fast when they travel.” The unspoken part was implied by the emphasized 'when': 'when' wasn't very often. It wasn't needed, as a rule, least if you were a common farmer, as Roos was a self-contained entity when it came to what most farmers generally needed.
“Tend to be in better shape here, as a rule,” said the soft voice, “as well as a lot easier to handle on narrow tracks like the one going past the church.”
“And tonight isn't a fit night...”
“No, Hans will tell them what needs to be done,” said the soft voice. “You-all might be relatively used to working longer hours, but you-all also have decent light and the need for doing so.” A pause, then, “these people are just now learning of their need to work harder and longer, just like a lot of places in the first kingdom – and they don't have light-sources that are fit for working after dark.”
“They do well to have tallow candles that don't smell too bad,” muttered Anna, as she 'cleaned' one of the knives I had just worked on. This was being done with a small and strangely-shaped piece of 'stone', or so I thought until she dipped it in a small pot of steaming-hot water. “I only learned what this was today.”
“Today?” I asked.
“It was in that trunk, along with a small cloth bag of other ones like it that are shaped specially,” said Anna. “They're used for cleaning things after surgery so as to get all the blood and mess off of them, and they work passably for polishing such tools, also.” Pause, then, “polished medical tools are a lot easier to clean properly, so if anyone speaks of trying to make fetishes, tell them to put the polished ones under that magnifier and count the little creatures you see then.”
“There are these other things we found,” said Karl as he 'took a break' from cleaning to see what I was working on. I was still using the coarser stones; some of the knives were finally getting somewhere close to usable, even if they were still dangerously dull as far as I was concerned. “They look like these thick rags, only they are not rags, and they itch a little should you rub them against your skin.”
“They do more than that, Karl,” said Sarah. “I've got that tincture ready to jug, only it needs a short time to set and mingle.”
“The ink?” asked Anna.
“That is in its containers,” said Sarah. “When I have the three vials of that one medicine done, I'll bring one up here for you to taste it.”
“She will not be the only one who wishes a drop or two,” said Karl. “If this is like what you made up for dosing people today, then everyone in here, including me, wants or needs a taste of it.”
“You, a taste,” said Anna. “I'll wish more than a taste, unless it is very strong.”
“It will be that,” said Sarah. “I'll most likely need a smaller dropping tube, as this stuff is closer to the bull formula for strength than that used for widows.”
Faintly, I could hear a soft rattling at our 'drafty' door, and when Hans suddenly 'reappeared', he seemed out of breath. I was about to ask why he was so when Anna looked at him, nodded, then said, “good. You did not waste time telling everyone what had happened.”
“They were all down at the Public House,” said Hans breathlessly, “and once I had gotten all of the teams and buggies tied up down there, I go inside, and the place is as full as I have ever seen it, and it is nearly as sooty in there as it was in here, and there are lots of musket balls on the floor still.”
“Did you speak of what those were likely to be, and how they would work poorly in common muskets?” asked Anna.
“I did not need to, as most of these things were barely dented, and there might be three people in town that do not know what that means.”
“Hardened lead, so forget using it on game in a common musket,” I murmured. “I might need it, and it will work well for stiff shot, but most people would find it all-but-useless in what they have.”
“Yes, that is what they knew,” said Hans. “I had to remind them, though, as there was talk of those things being witch-bullets...”
“Not just massive gunfire and swarms of bought witches sworn in by cursing, but lots of rumors as well,” I muttered. “Those stinkers really worked on this town, didn't they?”
“Yes, and now they are dead,” said Hans. “I told them about that big hole, so first daylight, everyone who has a manure-cart will take their witches to that place and dump them.”
“Perhaps bring the carts out and load them up tonight?” I said gently. “They can do that from the stoops, so they have some light to work by then, and it will save them some time.”
“I did not think of that,” said Hans, “and these people aren't used to...”
“No, Hans,” I said, raising my voice. He'd fallen for the trick, just like the rest. “Stinking curse, go find those foul witches that are yet in town and give them a desire to sleep, not our people who you troubled!” Pause, then a distorted roar: “wake up! Time's a-wasting!”
The effect was almost 'explosive': yells sounded not two seconds later, then a spattering roar of musket-fire began steadily proceeding up the street. I dropped the knife I was working on, picked up my 'new' rifle, and by the time I was at the doorway, I had passed a number of others who were comparatively 'slow' in responding in their mad scramble for weapons.
No matter: the street was once again 'alive' with witches, and I went to the south-facing rail of the stoop, knelt down so as to steady my aim, and began firing.
I had help within perhaps a second, and as the ragged banging of musketry chased the droves of ragged-clothed running witches forward and toward us, our rifle fire began to thin them out as they drew rapidly closer. Karl brought out something else, however, and as I handed him my rifle, I hoped...
“Now isn't the time for a small spool,” I muttered. “I hope this one...”
No time for thinking. I yanked back the charging handle, let it go home, took off the safety, and fired.
The burst that roared forth was not the familiar stuttering rhythm, but a roar that rapidly picked up to a keening and demented roaring howl as the long white flames scythed down the witches and people all but ran from the stoop in shock. I then stood up after being nearly rocked onto my posterior, then moved out into the yard, firing successive short bursts, now conscious of one thing.
The witches were coming, they in their endless black masses; and no one dared stand against them, no one save me; and if I did not kill them all, they would overrun our position and kill us all.
Another longer burst, this one worse for climbing up and to the right than the broom. I had to fight hard to keep the muzzle down, and more, I had to sweep the street as a solid rank of these running-in-formation witches toppled and fell to then lie still.
“Human wave attacks,” I muttered, as I knelt down and fired again. The blast nearly put me on my rear, even with a short tap of the trigger.
The screams of the dying went out into the darkness. No matter. I fired again, this time learning the nature of 'the brief pluck' that spat twenty or thirty rounds in a single blast of 'lightning'. I knew this wasn't the last time this would happen.
No, this was practice. I needed to learn war, and my next lesson, the one where I applied what I learned tonight, would happen far sooner than I thought possible.
A move to the side, then as the witches tried to run for the watering troughs on the east side of the street, I gave them a brief dose of 'flanking fire' that pitched dozens of them onto the ground to slide and tumble. More than a few hit their heads against the troughs they were seeking to hide behind, and became wet in doing so. A turn to the west, another burst, then a third wave came from seeming nowhere; a short burst while kneeling – and that wave fell, first one by one, then in small groups, and finally, in a wavering line, all of them falling just in time to sup with Brimstone.
It was too easy to just tell them to go to hell; too quick; too painless. They needed to suffer, just like their many victims who had given all they had to give for their pleasure; and these fiends needed to die slowly. More, our people needed practice in killing their enemies, this with the blade, so as to bathe themselves in their enemies' blood and thereby become 'hard as stone and as obdurate as steel'.
“Hard-iron,” I spat, as I ripped off another burst while kneeling. The heat between my legs was a fierce and burning fire, one vicious in nature and quickly building in both heat and size. I moved to the side, and took two 'duck-walk' steps forward before kneeling again. “That rubbish called 'hard-iron ain't nearly good enough for what we need to do. We need the best, and now... I'm going to show you just what that is.”
Another burst, this one two taps separated by a breath. The sheets of white-flaming 'lightning' lit up the whole northern third of town, and it mattered not where the witches tried to run. The bullets, each with its own mission, knew of Brimstone's hunger for meat and his sworn enemy's desire for vengeance upon his enemies; and with this last matter chief in mind, they sought out the witches, even as they crashed down doors and blundered into houses where people were but slowly waking up from their accursed slumber.
Now the other houses of this town would have bloody floors also; and more, those living in them would need to kill the cursing and wounded witches so as to silence them for all of time.
A third burst, then a brief touch of the belt-bag. It was still full, for some reason – a reason which I put out of my mind as I moved to my left and 'raked' the houses on my left with a longer burst while moving at a rapid trot. I could hear glass shattering in sheeting waves of crackling tinkles, then a multitude of screams that coalesced into another thick black-clad swarm of witches billowing darkly out into the streets from the fronts of several ruined houses.
“They broke into those houses so as to hide,” I muttered, as I moved forward another few steps and 'scythed' a number of the emerging witches down. Most of these stinkers ate dirt, falling face-down in the yards of houses to thrash feebly. The few exceptions crawled on hands and knees, these slowly and painfully.
It would be a night of the long knives; farmers had plenty of corn-knives, and while I had not seen any of these 'weapons' yet, and few had used them for the purpose of throat-slitting, those having them would need to do so tonight.
“Your iron is thirsty for blood,” I murmured, as I moved to my right and 'lit up' a long row of darkened houses. The crash of slashing glass as windows disintegrated was drowned out by screaming. “You don't need windows, you lazy fools! You need to work like deep-slaves until you put the lies to those witches' cursing!”
And again, a fresh eruption of witches from the houses I had just shot up. I now knew how these people had hidden themselves this last month and more; they were the true experts at breaking-and-entering when it came to the witches of the first kingdom, sneaking inside of houses amid the sleeping inhabitants and then hiding where they could not be seen by the mobs, all the while mouthing the hiding curse and any related curses they knew so as to hide themselves in the darkness that they wrapped about themselves like an impenetrable blanket – and when they left, they took whatever money or other easily-carried valuables they had found while hiding.
As witches currently went in the first kingdom, these people were 'wealthy', their sizable money pouches jammed full of coins – and the rule was to have several such pouches among these witches.
“No more, you fools,” I muttered, as I again 'lit up' another long row of houses. No one in town – save, perhaps, us and a few others – was to have an intact window remain after tonight. They'd not hardly sleep for weeks, just like I used to do before coming here, and in covering their windows...
“They will learn to labor as they should,” I muttered. “Bad candles, and but few of them, but that doesn't give anyone any excuse for sloth – certainly not now, not when every single day must be made to count, and that day to start well before dawn and continue to well after the sun goes down!” A pause, then, “put those hoarded deer-hides over the windows...”
And yet, I knew another thing: while there were some deer-hides hoarded, they'd reserved these for matters that needed such work – and more importantly, their houses, previously snug and warm, would now be drafty, chilled to near icy cold at night; and they would now possess a most-strong incentive to stay warm by 'working as they should, and laboring as they ought'.
“You can either freeze here, or you can burn in hell,” I thought, as I 'lit up' the far reaches of the town and more witches billowed out into the streets to be mowed down by a few successive short bursts. “Not an intact window in this town, save where I live – as those in there have either learned to work like slaves before they came to this place on account of the witches trying to kill them every day, or they have eaten grass in hell!”
I had to move south again. Now, I began advancing into the 'dead zone', this darkened realm where no light showed and no life seemed to remain. If I saw movement in my peripheral vision, I pivoted and fired, faster than thought; I did not care who I hit or what I wrecked now; for if it moved, it needed shooting; and when I saw a window that looked more or less intact, I fired a burst into the place.
In every instance of my doing so, witches boiled out of that house though the door and in some cases the just-shot-out window as well; I mowed them down before they had cleared the stoop – and in most cases, I had to wheel to my right or left to catch witches bursting from buggy-ways or the narrow aisles between some of the 'shops' next to the location I had just shot up.
A large window, this with but a few holes in it, beckoned at the front of a shop south of the church on the west side of the street. I fired a burst into the place and the door all but crashed off of its hinges with the screaming mob of witches pouring out of it. I fired another burst, and as the witches screamed yet louder, I saw pouring around the chest-high mound of squirming bodies – bodies choking the door, stoop and stairs – an ankle-high river of blood that splattered as it went down the steps to begin pooling in the hollows in the place's yard. I could tell a sizable lake was growing in the parlor that dwarfed the crimson waterfall I was seeing.
“Bloody floors, you fools,” I muttered, as I resumed my walk down the street. I was deaf, gone mad with the noise, and I didn't care. The enemy would die; he would die tonight; and I was going to make certain of both his demise and the freeing of where I lived.
“No more slavery,” I screamed, as I turned a door into kindling – kindling that must have had twenty witches stacked up in a two-abreast line behind it, as they ran out of the door to then fall in crumpled heaps, many of them upon the stoop or the stairs coming from it. “If I have to make this place draftier than the back side of the witch-owned parts of the second kingdom, then so help me God, I will!”
Each house now received its burst of fire, unless I saw people pitching witches out of it with vigor; I had to wake up the entire town, and this hot smoking weapon I held was the means. This town would be the town of the monster; and it was about time it lived up to that terrible name.
After all, the witches had named it that, and in their long-chanted cursing, they had not spoken of Roos.
No, that was not the way those curses were said in that large black book from ancient days that they so treasured, that book long-inked in blood with over a hundred names and said to be older than the birth-date of Cardosso. That book spoke of monsters, and in that particular curse-collection, the curses both individually and collectively spoke of 'that realm, which it be owned by ye monster'.
About time I took ownership, then. After all, that was the job of the pendant, for if I was to be responsible for what transpired upon an entire world, and yet more responsible for the whole of the eventual outcome, then in effect I owned the planet in some crucial fashion.
“And with responsibility comes authority,” I thought, as I shot out another window, then switched to the door as the leather hinges holding it 'closed' tore like rotten paper-string with the piled-on weight of a multitude of crashing-through-the-door witches. I turned the door into kindling with a brief burst and the witches into bloody sieves, this so much so that the doorway and the area just outside of it was now blocked with the dying to the height of my chest and beyond.
“Leather hinges?” I spat. “What gives with this rubbish! This isn't the second kingdom's back country, is it? You want a tight door in this place!”
“More like 'you want a house that's actually weather-tight and not a drafty one built by a pack of witches,” said the soft voice. “Keep doing what you're doing, as this town both needs to wake up and this group of witches you're killing comprises most of the true experts at hiding north of the area surrounding the forth kingdom's market.”
“They are?” I thought, as I first blasted out a window and then turned another door into wide-scattered smoking kindling. Again, I plugged the doorway and the region on both sides of it with squirming bodies. In this instance, however, the doorframe itself was rotten, and I sawed through one of the roof-supporting posts with a stray bullet or three – which showed the supporting post to be nearly as rotten as the doorframe had shown itself to be. “What gives with this rubbish?”
“You're uncovering a great deal of rottenness,” said the soft voice, “and all of those rotten boards and timbers needed replacement years ago.”
“And making lakes of blood in homes, also,” I thought, as I moved to the next house and 'smelled' a small mob of witches 'sheltering' in a buggy-way. I turned the doors into kindling, destroyed the buggy inside it, and piled the room with dead and dying witches. “They didn't need that falling-apart thing anyway, not when both buggy-horses were stolen by witches months ago.”
“It was worse than you thought,” said the soft voice. “That family has been going steadily downhill for years, and now they have to make a choice.”
“Remain in slavery to laziness, or work like slaves to be free,” I muttered as I fired a burst that took out both a window and disintegrated a door, these belonging a shop with a large window and doubled doors. The screams that came forth from that place were enough to need three bursts, as I had to let the mob of witches sheltering within pile outside to a degree before I began killing them, as otherwise some would have escaped through the rear door of the place and then via the passage to the rear running north-south between town lots and cornfields.
No matter: I still shot down enough witches inside the place for the floor to be ankle-deep in blood in the less-deep places, and enough bodies thrashing in that blood to make for a very messy several hours of scrubbing on hands and knees with lye and soap on the part of the shop's owners.
As I 'hosed down' home after home, I learned the secrets of using a machine gun 'at length': save when one needed extreme accuracy, one fired this weapon from the hip, as when one was getting 'that shattering roar' one simply 'aimed by feel' and took out entire doors or windows with single taps of one's trigger finger. Side-slinging the weapon gave more dispersion for close work as well, and since I was seeing a lot of odd bullet behavior, it meant that each such burst would usually kill and wound a fair number of witches.
“Usually wound,” I muttered. “Granted, badly wound, but still...”
“They'll need to be finished off,” said the soft voice, “and since there are so many of them, the townspeople will need to labor all night and most of the following day with their dung-carts so as to clear them out of their homes and shops before they begin to smell badly.” A brief pause, then, “they're going to need to get used to living like slaves for a while, as you're breaking down their hubris with a vengeance.”
“They'll know what slavery really means, then,” I muttered, my voice now raising to a roar, “and they'll receive in full measure that rod which is meant for the backs of fools!”
This last shout seemed to finally 'break loose' the witches, and from every house I had not yet visited, the doors disintegrated and crashed down the stairs of stoops and the windows burst out as the witches poured out of the doors and windows of this remaining last group of houses. I had a hot time for nearly a minute without letup, long ragged bursts piling bodies in thick squirming bloody windrows that covered stoops, yards, and by the end of my firing, nearly the entire street of the town from just south of the Public House to within feet of where I stood but a short distance south of the church was paved with still-squirming bodies.
“A street now cemented with blood and paved with witches, and work for the citizens all night long,” I yelled, as I pointed the muzzle of my smoking hot gun up towards the moon and put it on safe. I then noticed the limp ammunition-belt lying some feet to my left on the ground where I stood with the still-smoking muzzle of the gun held skyward.
It was utterly and completely empty.
“How..?” I asked.
“You got a lot of free hot lead tonight,” said the soft voice, “and you left enough 'bird-whistles' behind you in the street to fill Sarah's buggy heaping full thrice over.” A pause, then, “have the people collect them up in bags and bring them to you-all, as you will need them – and make certain that that happens quickly, also.”
“Tam,” I thought. He was awake now, as he'd been doing his shooting as well. He'd know what to do, and his stock-whip wanted action anyway.
As I walked home, I could see, this to each side, the darkness in each house 'leaving' like a furtive thief as first one candle was lit, then another, then yet more in each house I passed; then, with enough candles lit, the screaming started: this screaming that of witches being slaughtered slow and surely, with corn-knives, dull yet moving steadily, sawing their way slow and sure through a multitude of witch-necks.
It wasn't enough to just 'cut throats', I knew. We wanted that manure-pit ringed round-about with ranks of the spiked heads of witches so as to mark it as a carrion-repository for those witches who were yet to come. They'd have reason to come to this town then. It had me speak upon the subject in tones at once familiar and not so.
“Louder!” I shouted, my screams distorted yet otherwise unmistakable. “Brimstone wants fresh meat, you accursed fools! Louder!”
Again, a link in the chain of long-wrought deceit broke as the screaming grew louder still, until it shattered the night and seemed to turn the very air red, much as if the sprays of arterial blood from hundreds of dying witches became a crimson perfume. I could smell the blood now, and I grimly nodded with satisfaction. I knew what this was, and I was sent here especially to make it happen.
This was the way of the monster:
No Mercy for those who did evil.
No Relent in their complete and total destruction. All of them had to
die, and in the process, suffer long, and suffer with great pain.
No Tears to be shed for the wicked as they got their just rewards,
both here and in the place they most wished to become a part of.
“And corn-knives for the throats of witches,” I screamed. I wanted Heads, row upon row of them; Dugashvili didn't hold a candle to me when it came to taking heads; no, not now. “It's Harvest-time! Bring forth your knives, and REAP!”
As if my voice had somehow penetrated unto the bowels of hell itself, the screaming became louder still, a symphony fit for the reptile's way inside – but now, that reptile was the main course; it was being carved, being torn up, being savaged and ripped, this by beasts who ate their meat raw and bloody, wild beasts that delighted in first the chase and then the kill. Like wild animals, the townspeople pounced upon the bloodstained witches; they slew and hacked, stabbing again and again with their knives; their barefooted steps splashed in rivers of blood, a red mist swam before their eyes; bewitched, they knew but one thing.
This was the enemy, and he must die.
“About time, too,” I murmured, as I came to the house next to us with its stacked corpses laying growing cold and fully inert in its yard. For some odd reason, I thought to fire into it, and as I pressed the trigger, the gun suddenly fired with a flaming shrill roar and blossoming gout of white fire that reached nearly to my current target.
The bullets first smashed into the doors of the buggy-way, turning them into kindling and smashing the gone-rotten buggy in the blink of an eye; then as my muzzle continued spitting long and luminous flames, the bullets bit deep into the stone in a ragged line of southbound holes – until they found the door of the place. There, the bullets seemed to gather themselves for a quick count of three, sending the door into the house as a flying blizzard of flaming toothpicks amid screaming bullets; and finally, after another line of bullet-holes, I found the window, this south of the door instead of north – and it vanished with a thundering roar amid the shattering scream of glass as it raked the interior of the place amid a stream of bullets. I let up on the trigger.
With a soft groan that segued into a crashing rumble, the house seemed to implode upon itself, the roof falling inward slowly with crackling noises, the stones of the upper story steadily toppling inward – and as the upper part of the house steadily fell down inside the stone portions of the place, soft flames erupted, green-tinted, yellowish, faint traces of red here and there, but the old gone-rottenness of the house of and by itself wasn't quite good enough to burn.
Unless, of course, it was helped along with a great deal of stored tincture of datramonium; and as those flames slowly burned their way through the rotten shingles and worm-eaten timbers that lay heaped within the still-standing first story of the place, the reek of datramonium became profound.
The witches had hidden great store of that plant and its tincture within that abandoned home so as to cure their chiefest sacrament in the sanctity of a still house, one they owned by default according to their thinking; and as I watched the wooden portions of this house oh-so-slowly begin to burn to ash, I also noted a slow-growing tidal wave of blood, this coming like a river of old molasses out of the doorway, out onto the stoop, and then cascading in a steady trio of hand-wide rivulets down the stairs to form a quickly growing pool in the place's long-abandoned yard.
The wooden parts were now burning with a smoky flame that reeked of burnt flesh, and this smoke was slowly climbing its way into the still-darkened night sky as a sign and symbol of a 'burnt offering'.
“Who was in there?” I asked, as I watched the slow-roasting flames continue to cremate the dead and dying. The crackle of flames, soft, ominous, steady – they were slow-roasting those who were inside the place, and low hoarse moans and faint cries now penetrated the flames to give them a multitude of added shapes and colors.
“The witches who were waiting until later tonight so to kill everyone where you lived,” said the soft voice. “More importantly, they were the actual leaders of tonight's three-wave invasion.” Pause, then, “now, with the third wave of witches finally broken and your erstwhile murderers dead, you can rest from your labors.”
“Not yet,” I murmured. Perhaps I misunderstood this command. “I've got guns to clean, and some unpacking to do, and...”
“Yes, some,” said the soft voice – who just the same implied the amount of work needed was likely to take some hours yet – and long, hard, and frantic-with-labor hours they would be. “Recall just when you must leave, though, and plan your bedtime accordingly. I'd finish up those last few knives that need further cleaning and sharpening, keep an eye on things outside for a while, do some unpacking – that which needs you doing it tonight – supervise the unloading of the buggies – and then, once Katje is tucked in and Georg is fully dealt with...”
“Prayer,” I said as an answer to the last. “We don't have time to do his work the conventional way, even after Anna's eating grass in hell. It would take far too long – several hours at the least – and we don't have hours, not if we must leave an hour before sunrise and plan on putting in another long day, one fully as long as this one is proving itself to be.”
In my saying this, I hoped I was not being presumptuous; and as I laid the still-smoking gun on the stoop and came into a white-lit realm, I gasped at the transformation that had been wrought inside. Every wall now positively glared in its whiteness, save in the many places where gray showed around a surprisingly large number of bullet holes and yet-more-numerous chips where hardened lead shot and balls had ricocheted; the flags of the floor were spotless, not a trace of soot or blood remaining upon them; and while the couch itself showed three small bullet holes, it wasn't as if they would be especially tough to repair.
Hans had repaired bullet holes in this couch before, I suspected.
“Now that you needed to do,” said 'bigger' Willem, “as when you started going after them witches, this place got a lot easier to clean right away, and with each bunch you killed, it got cleaner while we looked in upon it from the stoop, until you finally got onto the big stinkers hiding next door.”
“Were you w-watching, or...”
“Oh, we're sore enough, all right,” said Paul. “I emptied everything I had, and Sarah had to put a fresh box in everything, same as she did with most of us on the stoop who were shooting the witches who were trying to escape north and out in the fields when we weren't actually watching your back."
“I'm sore enough to try some Komaet,” said Anna, rubbing her shoulder. “I emptied one of those long things twice, and I doubt I missed more than three witches out of however many times I fired.” Pause, then, “I can help explain how those things work tomorrow at the least.”
“And now, for the rest of your knives,” I said. “I'll do them up as best as I can in a short time, as we need to clean our weapons passably sometime tonight, and then I'll need to start supervising the unloading.”
“I can check to see what people are doing outside,” said Sarah – who suddenly showed with a small ceramic vial, complete with a stamped tin label tied with string about the vial's neck and a waxed cork. She laid it on the table, then gasped, “what did you do?”
“Clear out the biggest batch of witches this town has ever seen,” said Willem the larger. “Now if that there is the bull formula, we'd best go easy with it, save for that lady that's sick, and...”
“Yes?” asked Sarah. “Do you smell herring? I do, and a pie, besides – a meat pie, one made with fresh beef, chopped fine, and I think it's a larger one.”
“Oh,” I said dully, as I began to hurriedly put 'a decent edge' on the knives which had been pointed out to me as getting the most use by Anna. The others were most likely 'good enough' for a few weeks' time as they currently were; they were no longer anywhere close to dull, even if they weren't truly as sharp as I usually did those knives that would take decent edges. I then had a comment to make.
“Those witches need to be stripped of all their clothing, and that needs to be piled off to the sides before their bodies get dumped into that hole – their headless bodies.” A pause, then, “you-all can guess what needs to happen to those heads, especially if you've gone into the kingdom house recently.”
“Why?” asked Sarah – who knew about the heads, and most likely why that portion needed to be done in this instance. “The money?”
“Not just that,” said Willem. “Those stinkers rot faster if that clothing isn't on them, and there's more yet – something about them who are coming at the Abbey wanting that black stuff for some reason.”
“Why would they wish black-cloth?” asked Sarah. “Especially if it's got blood and mess on it?”
“Now I doubt much that stuff out there has much quill to it, if it has any at all,” said Willem, “and I've heard tell from good sources that those people across the sea buy rags when and if they can, and big bags of 'em, too.” A pause, then, “so, if they come up here, we can get rid of rags we cannot sell, they can get something they want and need, and that stuff being gone helps our manure get ready faster.”
“Which we will want, as this next year is going to be something unusual.” I wondered why I had spoken thusly.
“How?” asked Sarah.
“I'm not really sure,” I said, as I looked at the quoll soup. It smelled remarkably salubrious, almost like real medicine. “Two more knives left to go, I think, though I'll ask Anna again about those she uses most and maybe get them a bit sharper if she thinks they need to be.”
Sarah came back toward the door, then said, as I pointed to those which were furthest along, “this one, this one, and this one need to be truly decent, as they get daily use.” She was pointing to others; perhaps Anna was not doing as well as she thought she was. “The others she might use once a week.”
“When feeding four people or more,” said Willem the smaller. “With just two for a few weeks...”
“No,” I said. “About the time Maarten and Katje leave, we'll leave, and then there are going to be anywhere between two and four people from the Valley living in here so as to do a number of things that need doing beyond repair the place properly.” The part that did not need saying, I left unsaid: there were a lot of repairs that this place needed, enough for the local carpenters to import a great deal of wood – and charge accordingly for it. That saw that was just barely getting planned in my mind wasn't going to happen tomorrow, and there were other needs that needed addressing, such as a faster way to drop and then haul the needed trees.
“Number of things?” asked Anna. “Like what else beyond what you spoke of?”
“A soap-boiling shed, for one thing, one large enough to take both that pot and the drying racks – as while we might dry that soap inside when it is cold or damp, it is starting to warm up outside – and once the place is, uh, modernized, we'll have no trouble then with cooking or drying soap.” A pause, then, “and if those witches should show early, then those people will be able to help out with keeping them off, especially if you can get that one woman to train them some.”
“Most of them have some familiarity with weapons similar to what you used tonight,” said the soft voice. “More, they'll learn very quickly, and prove themselves good shots.”
As I finally finished up the last of the knives, I could hear not merely steps outside, but also faint groaning noises. I continued working, then when I finished the very last of the knives, I could hear both Paul and Willem, along with Hans, speaking to those who had been making the groaning noises. I wondered what they were doing, and asked this question of Anna as she put the knives in their holder.
“Telling them what they need to do with those witches,” she said. “I told Hans that not merely did they need to take off their clothing before dumping them in that hole, but also, that they needed to actually look closely at the markings those people are likely to have.” Pause, then, “I think they already know about the heads.”
“So they know what those markings actually look like?” I asked. “As in that may be the only way of telling who's a witch in the future?”
“Thank you,” said Anna. “That stuff Sarah mixed up may taste vile, but it does help if one takes a drop or two.” A pause, then, “I'll take some more of it when it's bedtime.”
“Is it really strong?” I asked.
“It is that, and both for its taste and effects,” said Anna. “When I give it to Katje, I'll mix it with beer and sugar-tree sap, as that might help the taste.”
“Or honey,” said Sarah, as she came up with a smaller jug and I began cleaning up my 'mess' on the table. “Good, those knives are done. We'll begin unloading directly, once Hans and them show everyone in town where those witches need to go and what to look for on those stinkers.”
“Not able to look well in the darkness...” I paused, then said as I looked outside through the vacant doorway, “the moon! It's finally gotten bright!”
“Yes, I know,” said Sarah. “I suspect it will remain bright that way for the rest of the night, as people around here don't have lighting better than bad candles, outside of this house, what Tam has for his lighting, and what August keeps in his back rooms.”
“What does he keep there?” asked Anna.
“He recently got a student's lantern,” said Sarah. “It seems they're more common up here than I thought they were.”
“If you mean ones that look decent, then I think you're correct about them not being common,” said Anna. Her tone was one I had never heard her use before, no, not once. “If you mean ones that look nasty enough to pass for scrap metal, then they're not at all rare – and I think he got one of those things and boiled it overnight in common vinegar.”
“Gets most of the dirt and corrosion off that way,” I murmured. “Can't use lye, as it will make them fall apart.”
“So Andreas told me, but until I ate grass, I did not believe him, at least about the lye,” said Anna. “I knew about the lanterns, but I thought they were fit for scrap until today.”
And now I know better, also,” said Sarah. “We may wish several of them, at least for those parts where the witches might see us while they are common.”
“No, Sarah,” said Anna. “Those stinkers are going to not wish to see any lights once it's fully dark, and wax, save if we bring it up secretly, will become scarcer than it has ever been in this area since the five kingdoms were divided up out of the land that remained after the curse!”
“Meaning if we put candles in the lanterns outside, they'll take them,” I murmured. “Or, failing that, they'll set fire to the house by tossing a jug of distillate at the stoop.”
The silence that once more descended lasted for perhaps half a minute, which was only ended by steps on the stoop and the arrival of several people, each of them burdened with food in one hand and a jug of beer in the other.
“Seems that new grain-mill helps more than any of us thought it would,” said one of the four that had come. “I had no idea there were such things, but getting it when we did is really helping now.”
I kept my thoughts to myself about the matter, as that grain-grinder had been done 'secretly'; I had included the needed patterns in one of the twice-weekly runs of bronze parts, and as I tended to dig those out of the sand when I first came in of a morning so as to 'examine' them for porosity and other problems needing my attention, it had been an easy matter to make another grain-grinder so as to 'test' the design yet further.
The other two grinders, Georg knew about. The third example was to ensure our survival as a town – and by extension, more and more of what I would be doing would now embrace the larger picture. I wondered more than a little if Georg would go along with that level of thinking.
“He will, at least for a while,” said the soft voice – who implied 'a while' was not a short period, but one easily enduring for months – if not years. “Tonight made him a believer, between being swarmed with witches and Anna's showing him that tale.”
“And if the witches now think him marked, that situation will continue to remind him,” I thought.
Yet still, there was something more than those matters, even if one included all of those things that were obvious to me. There was another matter, one spoken of by Sarah and some few others, this regarding the deterioration of skill and effort on the part of the others working in the shop, such that I needed to do the work 'more or less' on my own.
“That situation has changed also,” said the soft voice. “I would still watch matters, as you were right about the picture suddenly growing a good deal larger – and it is far from stopping, or even slowing, that growth.”
With food now in the house – one of the people who had come spoke of what Anna was cooking, and wished the recipe for the Public House – we all more or less put down whatever we were doing and began eating. While Anna led Katje upstairs with two bowls of soup, the rest of us began eating – and once Anna came down, she spoke of the other soft noises that now seemed omnipresent under the still-brightening moon.
“Those are manure-carts,” said Anna, “and I wiped myself down with some diluted aquavit before I came down.”
“You what?” I gasped. I was still mostly in my suite, as I needed to eat, and I was hoping to get completely out of it soon. 'Wearable sauna' was an apt term for it if one needed to work while wearing it.
“I could not bathe myself up there, so I used one of those things we recently got from the fourth kingdom,” said Anna, “and I used two parts aquavit and one part distilled water.”
“Distilled?” I asked.
“If one is just running water, then that distillery needs but little watching,” said Anna, “and that water has no small creatures in it, unlike boiled water, which does.”
“Yes, dead ones,” said Sarah.
“No, it still has some what are live, if it hasn't been boiled good,” said Willem, “and that's if you use a small-seer for looking.”
Anna shook her head, then said, “I have one of those, and mine shows some things that I know are trouble, and that with water that's boiled for hours.” Pause, then, “those things do not climb out of a distillery, though, so if your water is distilled, then...”
“It is truly safe,” said Sarah. “That aquavit makes it clean better, especially if one is sick.”
“That was not why I used it,” said Anna. “Straight aquavit may be somewhat better that way, but if you distill your water and put enough aquavit to it, then it kills a great many small creatures, and especially those that cause the crae.”
“Meaning about as strong as cough-medicine,” I murmured.
Anna spat her bite of herring onto the plate, then squeaked, “so I was told once I got back here from where I was eating grass!”
Anna resumed eating, then when she'd gotten a small slice of pie, she resumed about the manure-carts: “they've been working on those things steadily in the carpenter's shop since plowing started, and they've entirely left off digging that saw-pit now.”
“Because they need every pair of arms they have?” I asked.
“Yes, for rough-cutting the lumber to size to repair things,” said Anna. “That boy may need a good deal of watching, but I think I know why they took him on, as he's decent for quickness if one speaks of learning what carpenters do.”
“He is still clumsy,” said Hans.
“He will outgrow that soon enough,” said 'smaller' Willem. “There's a certain age where many are clumsy, and the worst time for it are when most are being apprenticed.” Pause. “I know I was clumsy then.” Another pause, then, “I'm glad that table got torched like that.”
“T-torched?” I asked.
“It was smoking when I looked inside once,” said Paul, “and then, when you were finishing up out there with that thing that Karl spoke of as being like a broom and even I know is no broom, then I went inside quick so as to put it out, and it had stopped with its smoke.”
“Yes, and now it will need time at the carpenters for fixing,” said Hans. “It has no finish left to it, and I looked good for that stuff.”
“Scrape it some and then put that wood-finish to it,” I said. “It will work...”
“You did not look close at that thing,” said Hans. “You were too busy with those knives to see where it has shot and bullets in it still, and those need to come out. Then, there are places where the bullets tore up the wood, and those need work, and then there is this big slice with this rusty piece of metal in it...”
“That's gone now,” said Sepp – who in saying so meant the piece of metal. I could see the 'slice' – and no, I had not seen it before, much as I had not noticed any the other matters Hans was speaking of. “You're right about the other things, as you do not want lead anywhere close to where you're working on things to eat, and you do not want a chewed-up table, as those are hard to keep clean enough to be safe.” A pause, then, “I'd put that wood-finish he spoke of on it after, though, as I've seen what that looks like, and I'd want that stuff on any furniture I've a mind to use.”
“Why, its looks?” asked Maarten.
“No, because that stuff is hard, so it wears well,” said Sepp, “and then it's smooth as good glass, so it cleans easy, and it stays put on things, and then this other part I saw is strange.”
“Yes, and what is that?” asked Hans.
“Dust does not like that boat,” said Sepp, “and the same for anything else they put that stuff on, as they had a little left and they tried it on a pair of stools – and dust does not like them either.”
I looked at Anna, and her eyes narrowed slightly. She then turned to Hans.
“That is what is needed, Hans,” said Anna emphatically. “If I must do without a table while that stuff is stinky, then I will do without a table, but I know the two of us are going to be far too busy to do much work for cleaning, least for a while.”
“And neither will we have time for such work,” said Sarah. “Hans, that table was about ready to have work done to it anyway, as its finish was getting worn in places, and bare wood is not a good idea for a table where one sets food.”
“Hence the carpenters' back room, or rather one of them, usually has at least one table from the Public House being refinished,” I said. “I think the publican now wishes no other finish – or does he?”
“He used to want drying oil,” said Sarah, “and several coats rubbed well, and he lived with the needing to scrape the tables down and redo all of them every year, including his spares – but since talk has started going around about that last batch of wood-finish, I think he wants that stuff on them instead.”
“Best be planning on making batches regularly, then,” I said. “At least now, I have access to tools that will permit me to...”
“Yes?” asked Hans. “So we can do that stuff up right?” Hans looked around, noting the number of people present was twice the number of chairs and then some, then suddenly, he pointed to the doorway.
All three of the carpenters were present, and it looked like they were fixing to 'camp' there for a while. I thought to ask them about 'doors' when one of them said, “we are going to be very busy, and no mistake, so I hope you can get some way of making something quicker than a saw-pit for making boards out of logs.”
“I thought so,” whispered Sarah. “They may wish that pit to be done right, but I doubt they will wish to have a round saw-blade singing like those things tend do.”
“I doubt I can make one of those, dear,” I said. “I suspect more than a little that I can make something a bit faster than the usual means of making boards in this area.”