I needed that dose

Anna must have heard Sarah's talk about dosing me before anything, as she first 'dosed' me with a sudden quickness that prevented me from objecting in the slightest, then but an instant later, she was plying me with beer. Again, this was to get what she had dosed me with 'down' and 'doing its work' quicker, and as I got up shakily, this after two full cups of beer, she looked at the jug.

“This stuff needs to go in the cold room so as to cure, and that but two days after it has been made,” she said. It was as if she had overheard what I have been told. “I do not have the equipment here to separate the good from the bad as to the small creatures, but if that can be done, it needs doing.”

“What was that place called?” I asked. “Where you got that jug from?” I then said, “it had nearly turned by the time you got home, you two took so long to get here.”

“I think... No, you're right, it had gone off,” said Anna, “and that place is named Bruckelmann's. Now how will keeping it cold..?” She then thought for a moment. “If we do that multiple times, carefully decanting a sample from the liquid portion of the beer itself before it is poured out for the first time, and then use that liquid to seed our jugs and put them straight back into the cold room, and do that process several times, then most of the bad creatures will not be present in it.”

“Try 'more like nearly all of them', dear,” said the soft voice. “They can do better overseas, but not much better, not if you do precisely as you were just instructed.” Pause, then, “Once you do that four or five times, you will have a fit material for 'seeding' your jugs of beer. That's likely to give the best material possible, at least until you can make it in conditions of 'total' sterility...”

“Much as if you were making certain medicines I've heard of,” I said. “That's just how they do such materials, and...” I gasped with the sudden knowledge. “That beer! It has some! It's a natural antibiotic culture i-if it's made right!”

“What does that mean?” asked Anna.

“It means if you give it to people who've been hurt badly, especially if it's done right, it not only gives them food, but it k-keeps their injuries from getting infected.” My voice was shaking with this statement, as this truly was a real 'medicine', one that would have been most-useful where I came from at the time I left that place.

“Not merely 'injuries',” said the soft voice. “Recall how a certain type of medicine you once had made you crazy while taking it, and then, just what it was used for?”

“I doubt I wish to have one of those,” said Anna. I suspected she didn't know much about 'peritonitis' and how it was commonly treated where I came from – and indeed, what actually caused that condition to manifest. I was listed as being 'allergic' to the first-line drug used for treating it – and it had indeed caused a most-unpleasant species of insanity; only the nastier pain drugs were worse than Metronidazole that way. “Now does beer done that way help similarly?”

“It does,” said the soft voice. “It not only causes internal injuries to heal faster and reduces the chance of them becoming infected, but it prevents bad adhesions from happening – the kind that you've seen people die from 'later on' when they seem much-mended – it provides a pre-digested food of a nearly complete nature, and it has sedative and pain-relieving qualities which are most-needed for people who've been seriously hurt in wartime conditions.”

“What?” I gasped. “It does all of that?”

“Wait until you see what's currently available overseas,” said the soft voice. “They went far beyond fictional descriptions of 'engineered microorganisms' during that war's 'hot' stage, and they've progressed markedly since that time.”

“What are those?” asked Anna. “Are they something I need to know about?”

“Yes, you do need to know about them – in some detail at the very least – and when they become available, they need to go in your medical satchels,” said the soft voice. “Recall what that one person was dosed with in your dream – those 'medicines' that saved his life right then and there?” A pause, then, “those were early versions of what I spoke of. They have drastically improved them since that time, and a much-greater level of further improvement will happen within months of today.”

“I think you had best look at my drawing, Anna,” said Sarah. “He might do better, and not a little better when it comes to such matters, but I need to do my share as I can.”

I said nothing, even as Anna hurried to see what Sarah had done. She picked up the missile's warhead, then said, “it's longer, gentle curves for its front and rear parts, this straight portion here is about...” A pause as Anna closed her eyes to think, then, “forty-two lines, give or take a line or two.” She opened them, then spat, “I could not do that before.”

“Then you are learning,” said Sarah, as she took a small brick of yellowish-brown fibrous material, one with its corners rubbed off into lumpy-looking 'knobs', and began to rub her ledger vigorously. I could smell a faint odor, one that reminded me of when Hans was 'baking' ear-corks. “I thought this drawing might be off, as I usually do not do this type of drawing, and he does them all the time.”

“More than that, Sarah” said Anna. “I think you need to learn to be closer as to your dimensioning and shapes, as while you may well draw like an artist...” Here, Anna thought for a second, then said, “you understand less than you think about that which we have received today, much less the things you will soon see and that which is to come here.” A pause, then, “what did I say?”

“The truth, I think,” said Sarah. “You are right, as I was not going to the west school so as to be apprenticed to an instrument-maker, but rather another matter entirely, and I was never told as to why I went there and not someplace else.”

“Because those who could tell you were n-no longer available for comment, and the funds were put aside in the kingdom house in the fourth kingdom shortly after your birth,” I said. “Am I right? It was specified then, not the year or so before going as is usually done for that school?”

Sarah looked at me, her hand poised in mid-air, then, “thank you. You explained a great deal just now.”

“What?” I gasped.

“My foster parents were among the most closed-mouthed people I have ever encountered, and I knew they were not my real parents,” said Sarah. “I was taken from those people when I was very small, and I recall but little of that time – the time from when I was small and lived with my real parents until the time I went into the west school, save for the times I spent with my cousin's relatives, is a very patchy period indeed for recalling.”

“Repression of traumatic memories,” I muttered. “Happens all the time, supposedly.”

“Not here it does,” said the soft voice. “That did not happen with you, did it?”

“N-no,” I said. “Not repression. More like so much happening I just could not recall it all. No blanks in what I remember from the time I was perhaps one or two years old, save those caused by information overload – which happened constantly.” A pause, then, “what happened to her?”

“Recall what she has said about the matter?” asked the soft voice pointedly. “She's as interested in learning what happened as you are, if not more so yet, as she knows it was not good, whatever it was.” A pause, then, “suffice it to say it was a time of terrible danger, one utterly unlike what most people here experience.”

“Be glad it was not what he experienced,” said Anna. She was not speaking to me, but Sarah. “It was like out of an old tale... No, worse, and not just any old tale, but Smokestack Heroes itself!”

“I suspected as much,” said Sarah. “Katje said that, and I'm not surprised.”

“No, you do not understand, dear,” said Anna. Her voice was shaking. “You don't get that way by surviving a time in Berky, or even the place that inspired those witches where he came from. There, the evil was not hidden, and the witches did as they willed whenever they felt inclined, and did so openly.” A pause, then, “this was closer to here as it was before the drowning, and I'm not sure if that smoky place with all of its strange things and hoards of evil people was worse or not!”

“Smoky place?” I asked.

“Both smoky places,” said Anna. “I could not tell as to which one was clearly worse, now that I think about it, as they both had hoards of spirits...” Anna shook her head, then said, “no, one place had a sun, even if that place was smoky and hard to breathe in, and w-where I ate grass had no such thing, but was never 'dark', unlike the one place, which did have 'day' and 'night'.”

“Really red light, correct?” I asked. “I may not have eaten grass there, and I was only in that place for what might have been a handful of seconds...”

“Twice,” said the soft voice. “That cellar room was on its outskirts, but that second time was 'enemy headquarters', or as you have called it, 'Brimstone village'.”

“Neither time was very long,” I said. “It was bad enough to suit me just the same.” A pause, then, “at least where I had lived has...” I shook my head, then said, “I could never figure out why those people were all saying 'the day of judgment is coming next year', or something like that, as the book says that time will be almost as if that whole business drops out of the sky and gives the people saying those things n-n-no warning at all.” I then paused, “and I fell into that stream with those trouts in it and...”

You dropped out of the sky, then,” said Sarah; then to Anna, “is this better?”

“It seems to be,” said Anna. “I think you'll wish one of those things I heard named, as they can be used for drawing, or so someone said.”

Anna sounded more than a little unsure just who she'd heard speak of the matter, much as if she had been concentrating intently upon her 'designated' tasks when she overheard a 'rumor' of some kind – though she was certain she'd heard this particular rumor, which meant someone other than me. She then corrected me.

“I think you'd best let him look at it, now that I think about it,” said Anna. “I might be able to make better comments at a later time, but I only now realize I not only have no understanding about what you are drawing, but also that I'm not an artist – at least, not right now I'm not.”

“Just wait, dear,” I said. “You'll become a passable one sooner than you think, as you need to be.” A pause, then, “they teach drawing over there, don't they?”

Years of such instruction, if you're in their version of medical school,” said the soft voice. “More, not just 'medical drawing', but the kind you're doing also, as your speaking of them currently needing to make nearly everything they need to do their jobs is nothing short of the absolute truth.”

“And hence they need to have a more-than-passable understanding of how what they use works,” I asked – and in doing so, I felt reminded of one particular doctor, one who not merely had gone to medical school, but also had a degree similar to mine.

“They don't go quite as far as he did, as a rule, but yes, they do have some people who specialize in doing that portion of what they need to do,” said the soft voice. “More, there is some communication between them and a select handful of people that do do what you trained to do, so they can get those things they need and are not currently able to make.”

“Currently?” I asked.

“But one thing among many those long-ago 'conquerors' thought to do so as to keep them from 'rising up' against them,” said the soft voice. “That would be one matter among many that Rachel can speak upon at some length, based upon her experience.”

The unspoken portion, however, was a matter of some silent questioning upon my part, even as Anna 'vanished' and Sarah came to my side with a drawing. Here, I simply traced rapidly the correct 'proportions' and 'lines' of the three parts to the rocket itself, then attempted to label them as to what they were – and as I 'wrote', I then recalled something.

“I've been dosed, so why is my handwriting still so awful?” I asked silently.

“You don't need to worry about that,” said the soft voice. “Wipe your hand over that drawing, and then see what happens.”

I did so, this 'dumbly' – and before my eyes, the drawing more or less 'became' much as that of mine: fully lettered, entirely cleaned up, and then inked – in four colors, no less: blue-black for the outwardly visible portions of the missile and the lettering, dark red cross-hatching for the explosive, bright purplish-blue for the propellant portions, this in a forest of small '*' marks – and for the 'confetti', a brilliant green cross-hatching. The propellant, surprisingly, was a solid material, this without a trace of a cavity or any such part for the rocket motor, and for the other part, that which formed the 'ejection charge', that showed as an even smaller portion.

That 'confetti' took up most of that third part of the rocket, which did not surprise me.

“I saw that happen, and I still don't believe it,” muttered Sarah.

“Not just you, dear,” said the soft voice. “He finds it fully as hard to believe as you, as what happened is 'magic' as far as he's concerned.” A pause, then, “both of you, just do what you can regarding drawings, and you” – here, I understood myself to be referred to – “do as you just did, and they'll all come out like that.”

“Tonight, anyway,” I said. “We need...”

“Not merely 'tonight',” said the soft voice. “There will be many instances in the foreseeable future where you'll need that capacity, which is why it's now 'installed'.”

Sarah hurried back over to her side of the table, then as I got up to put away the rocket and its launcher, I thought to bring out the vest in which the disassembled rocket rounds normally went inside. It took but a moment to first find it, then 'fill it' with the pieces of four rockets. For some odd reason, I only now noticed how it worked to actually hold all the pieces.

“One takes this off before shooting the rockets, as the warheads are all on the back side, and the other pieces are on the front in o-order of assembly,” I said, as I wondered how to stand it up for drawing. I suspected this was an article Sarah could readily draw, as it looked like clothing – and I didn't do 'clothing' for a living, even if I could and did do leather articles with some frequency. I could hear her pencil working rapidly, and I guessed she was drawing – or writing – as I spoke. “Why that way, other than normally rifle shots would be more inclined to hit the front part and not the rear when advancing into enemy territory?”

“The warheads would be covered by the person's other gear, which meant they were well-protected in comparison to the motors and 'ejection charges',” said the soft voice. “That arrangement was based upon experience fighting those people on the north part of where they lived, as firstly, their 'field packs' were of the type that donned and doffed quickly, and secondly, they found that one usually fired more than one rocket at a time from a given position, presuming it was selected with due care.”

“More than one?” I asked. “H-how..?” I then realized one possible reason. Sarah was still scratching away like insanity made tangible. “No real s-signature?”

“Not with what their 'northern invaders' had for equipment,” said the soft voice. “Much the same would happen where you came from, by the way – first, they leave no 'smoke' when they're fired, then the 'backblast' doesn't blow up people and things.”

“It is not fun to wear that stuff in one's hair, though,” said Sarah, who was writing or drawing frantically, “and one does not wish to be behind that thing when someone shoots it, even if one is several feet off to the side, as it will try to put you on the ground.”

“Try getting closer and remaining to the side,” said the soft voice. “You won't wear that 'grit' then.”

“Grit?” I asked. “Is that what that stuff feels like?”

“It is too coarse to be sand,” said Sarah, who looked up from her work, “even if it stings as bad as a fifth kingdom dust-storm when it's blowing like it does in the mining country.”

“The Valley has worse?” I asked.

“I am not sure if that place's dust storms are worse, even if they are very common,” said Sarah. “Now Anna should bring up another knife soon, and I think I want some more beer.” A pause, then, “you could use some, I think.”

I knew I could, and for some reason, when I got up to fetch the jug, I silently asked the stuff to be 'as it should be, with no harmful microorganisms in it'. The jug shook, then suddenly beaded thickly with sweat. I touched it, and was stunned at how 'freezing cold' it was.

I poured out a small amount, and the aroma that 'bit' my nose was so astonishing I nearly dropped the jug. Sarah grabbed my cup as quickly as I could set the jug down, then she looked intently at what I had poured in it. She then jumped up and yelled downstairs: “Anna, come quickly! You need to see this!”

I shook my head, even as Sarah filled her cup with what was in the jug. It was smelling more and more 'exotic' with each passing moment. Anna seemed oddly tardy, or so I thought until she brought up something that had a much-more-familiar – though very faint – odor.

“I washed these things good in rain-water,” she said, “and then wiped them.” Pause to sniff. I knew she'd catch that smell right off, or so I thought until she spoke again and surprised me. “You” – here, I knew myself to be referred to – “need to check them over and tell me if they'll do.”

I held up one of the knife blanks as Anna moved to where Sarah sat and began speaking with her in hushed tones. I then noted the even blue-black color in the pair of blades. No streaks that I could see over the whole of them on both sides, meaning an obviously 'careful' job; then when I felt the blades themselves, I noted that not merely was the finish 'smooth', but also, it seemed 'shiny'.

“Uh, how long in the nitrogen-acid?” I asked. Anna was still speaking with Sarah.

“Not very long,” said Anna – who then turned to me from her discussion. “Those notes speak of the stuff eating this metal, and I knew the word Sarah had used was one I had never seen before, so I had to pray as to what it was.” A pause, then, “either that acid is stronger than what Hans usually uses, or my count is slow, as before I could count to twenty, I knew I had to pull them out with the bent pieces of wire I used to hold them.”

“And this?” I asked, indicating the color and its seeming shine. I had thought a 'satin' finish, one closer to what I usually put on revolvers intended for 'covert' use, was a better idea for knives, but I suspected this would serve. It was similar to the usual finish of pistols, especially the three I had done recently that were 'ready' for shipment once thoroughly cleaned. Hans had showed me all three earlier that night, and I suspected, even though they looked clean, that I needed to carefully clean each one.

Anna had given all of them a most-thorough testing, and hence, these were 'tried' weapons. I suspected that the news was already getting out about them; that, and when they were delivered by Hans to their owners, he would speak of what Anna had done driving off witches during a heavy assault.

That meant a lot to people who lived and died by the capacity of their weapons, and it would most likely mean bags of coin on the door.

“I used one of your more-recent pistols as an example,” said Anna, “that, and I was told to take it out when I did, as what you will put on those things wants that finish – and that stuff will make them not reflect light.”

“If you were told that, then I'm not going to complain,” I said. “I would have left them in a trifle longer than you did, but not much longer – perhaps...” I then paused, “no accurate timepieces handy, so you have to guess, and...”

“I think that is why I was told when to take them out,” said Anna. “Hans told me to let them set longer, but I dared not obey him rather than the one who told me 'take them out now before they become brittle'.”

“Oh, then I know what happens,” I murmured. “It's called hydrogen embrittlement, and it's a real problem with most high-strength metals.” A pause, then, “and that acid... Roesmaan's, correct?”

“I made certain to use their materials only, just like the notes spoke of,” said Anna. “Now you were speaking of a timer, or thinking of one, and I doubt we can get one made where they usually are.” A pause, then, “across the sea, perhaps, but not in the fourth kingdom. One needs to be a sea-captain to get one, and not a common sea-captain, but one especially able – and then one waits a year or more to receive it, and one hopes it is good enough to do the job.”

“Uh, no,” I said – and then swiftly retracted my statement. “I'm wrong. They'd have to have such things, at least for certain matters, much like what you were doing.”

“No, you were right the first time,” said the soft voice. “Dedicated timers are more or less not currently available, even if getting one made won't be terribly hard once the place isn't as it currently is.”

“Made?” I asked.

“An electronic one, anyway,” said the soft voice. “Ask for a logic prototyping 'plug-in' and its connecting 'board' for a computer, along with some of their 'lesser' programmable devices done to 'laboratory' grade, a keypad module, a display module, their connecting 'board', and then you could easily make one here.” A pause, then, “watch out if you do that, though.”

“Why?” I asked.

“First, you'll have every medical laboratory wanting a complete writeup once you get it working, and then you will have the chemistry students doing the same, and then you'll be buried for work making other things for both of those schools – at least, until they locate the needed supplies to make what they need entirely overseas.”

“Need to be certain to find those places, then,” I murmured. “No doubt that will help them in a lot of other ways also.” A pause, then, “will it?”

“More than you might believe possible,” said the soft voice. “If you have the opportunity to do so, you will want to do that as much as you can.”

The latter portion was sufficiently cryptic that I wondered as to the tone, then when I recalled once more the knives, I said, “the hilts?”

“These do not have hilts fitted yet,” said Anna. “I wanted to test these first to make sure I was doing it right, as Hans is now using those gages to do the wood pieces one at a time, and he is getting them close indeed.” A pause, then, “I hope you leave some of those others like them here, and I hope yet more I can get two out of the second batch of these you do.”

“They'll most likely be somewhat better,” I said. “These are the first ones, they're unproven... No! You used one today! Where is it!”

“That one is yet downstairs,” said Anna. “I wiped it down good with a damp rag already and then an oily one, and I think it needs a good cleaning once...” Anna looked at me and ran for the stairs, while I went to fit the hilts to the fresh-blackened blades. By the time I could hear rapid steps coming back up the stairs, I was much of the way toward finishing one hilt, and by the time a shadow showed to my right, I was trying the hilt on the first blade for the first time. I had just laid aside the file.

The file was to my right on the workbench, small dustings of bronze still laying upon its teeth. This file was a most-special one, one I'd most likely 'cook' especially well – with that special mixture, if it was available – before a brief bite in acid so as to sharpen its teeth. It was holding up passably thus far, especially as I'd used it mostly on brass and bronze. It had never seen 'hard' steel yet, but I knew that situation would most likely change in the near future.

“Just a little more,” I murmured. I then turned to see Anna holding a knife that still had traces of blood on it, which surprised me no small amount – both that she had cleaned it as well as she had while she was 'dead and not knowing it', but also that the remaining traces of blood had not started rust on the blade. Blood was supposedly especially bad that way.

“That handle?” I asked, pointing to the knife with the file. Two strokes of the file, and I knew: the hilt would fit properly. In contrast, the handle on the knife Anna had used was close, but not 'gaged' yet, with a pair of fitting bolts holding it in place. It made for an obvious question. “How many sets of those bolts did I make?”

“I think you made more than one pair that I know of, as I change them for Hans so he can fit the pieces,” said Anna, as I tried the hilt. It fit perfectly. On to the next one, as I removed the knife-blade from the 'special' vise. “I know you've got multiple pairs for the other sizes of knife.”

“Those vary some, Anna,” said Sarah. “I've seen three sets of handle gages for the common size of knife, and that's for those.” A pause as I put that knife aside and began filing the other hilt in the special vise, then, “I have no idea how many sets of them he has for swords or the other knives he makes.”

“I think only there is but one set for swords,” said Anna as my file made the soft bronze fly. “He more or less fits those individually, unless I've missed something.” A pause, then, “I know he tried to do that with yours, as he had me hold it before he wrapped the handle with the twisted silver wire he uses.” I paused, then looked to Anna looking at me, and I then knew: she'd like that type of wire on her knives, that and a slim tapered grip. It made me wonder: did I do those gages wrong, or was it just a matter of preference – as in I had made this first batch generic enough to 'work', but for these daggers, there would be a fair amount of customization, just as was currently the case for swords? Would some wish them with a different profile to the blade – thinner as to width, with a more-tapered profile to the blade and a thicker spine? Especially if the person was like someone I had yet to meet – someone who liked knives, and was good enough with them – and stealthy enough – to pass for a character imported from a Japanese fable?

“I try to do that, or I wish I could,” I said, as I test-fitted the second hilt. “Georg usually didn't give me enough information...”

“I think he will work hard so as to get that information, at least he will try now, and then put whatever he is able to learn and put it in good writing,” said Anna, “and if I ever see him put as little information as I've seen about those things on a slate again, I will put soot on him when I air out his smelly hide. Mark my words, I will – and he knows that, as I told him so myself!”

“I think he knows better now,” said Sarah. “If anything could put fear in a man and make him wish for the best to be had, it is dealing with witches like he did today, and no mistake.” In lower voice, then, “I thought I knew something of witches from being around my relatives as much as I was down in the potato country, but going to the west school cured much of my ignorance, and the time I spent as a messenger after that cured a good part of its remainder.” A pause, then, “I have some that yet remains, though how much that might be is yet a mystery to me.”

“And you?” I asked this of Anna.

“I poked my share of those stinkers today with that knife when I wasn't shooting them,” said Anna. “I must have killed over a dozen, but how many I merely hit with shot or balls is a very good question, and the same for slicing or poking them with that knife there.”

I dismantled the knife in a trice, then once I had done so, Anna took it from me, both blade and wooden pieces. From the kitchen, I could hear the now-familiar 'swishing' sound of her cleaning the blade carefully with those 'polishing stones', then as she finished one side of the blade and turned it over for more cleaning, I heard her muttering about town and how it had seemed to be utterly swarming with witches when they had started on the house.

“Swarming?” I asked, as I tried the fit of the hilt. Perhaps two more strokes of the thin 'square' file, and it would fit 'right'. These blades had a slight taper to their tangs, this so as to more readily fit the hilts and then the hands of their users, and with this batch, I had omitted anything resembling a pommel, seeing as how they were the first ones and I doubted anyone would be using them as I had heard from multiple sources of farmers using them for 'pounding' things.

Such recollections gave me the shudders, as I too-well recalled how I had abused mine that way, and I was glad it showed so little scarring.

“I think they might have been concentrating on this end of town, though they were all over the place, if what August said is right,” said Anna. She sounded as if she were still working hard at getting the blade spotless, as was necessary for steel prior to blackening. Blood, even slight traces, tended to make for trouble in that process – and the better the steel, the more important that it be clean.

“They wanted my hide?” I asked. I wondered when Anna would ask about the beer, and more, when I could actually taste it. I was almost scared to, as Anna needed to get a sample and put that in the cold room very soon. She'd be able to seed that material into a just-done jug when next we did beer, and from that point, then a similar 'dose' in each jug from her source-jugs would give this particular 'medicine'.

“I am not sure if they just wanted to get to y-you or if they wanted to wipe the town off of the map, or if they merely were lost, or what they-all were doing here,” said Anna. “I know some of them were cursed so as to come here and try for this house, but how many 'some' was out of all of those stinkers who showed in town is a question for which I have no answer.” A pause, then, “I had no idea just how I said what I did, but I'm finding I... Oh, good. No rust on this one, as here's the last of the blood, and I've not found any rust at all.” None the less, I could still hear the stones swishing. Anna wanted to make certain the thing was clean, as was appropriate for someone who needed to learn about how to properly clean surgical instruments.

“Good,” said Sarah. “Now here, I'm trying to draw this bomb. Once you get done with that knife, please come and tell me if it's close enough or not.”

“Which one?” I asked.

“Those ones we found that look a bit like a hornet's nest for shape and color,” said Sarah. “I know of no fruit that looks like these things, even if old tales speak of people calling them fruit of some kind.”

“No currently available fruit, or..?” I asked. I was reaching for that small portion of beer I had poured out, now once more fearful of its taste. The stuff had a distinctly red tinge, unless my eyes were playing tricks on me.

“No fruit that has grown here, as far as I know,” said Sarah. “There are no real records that date before the drowning that I know of, so some might have been around then.”

“That type of fruit never grew here, at least for shape,” said the soft voice. “There are fruit that taste vaguely like them here, but that type of fruit never grew here.” A pause, then, “ask him what they looked like.”

“They did not look like those,” I said, seeing first a pineapple in my mind as clearly as if I were viewing a photograph of one – then the grenade known similarly. The latter I now attempted to describe in what detail I could manage. “That type of, uh, grenade was a bit shorter, fatter, a very different shape, had a different-looking fuse block assembly, a shorter handle that curved less, and...” A pause, then, “if they had a bad intercept, though, and tried to copy what they found shown in that, then that could explain a fair amount.”

“They did,” said the soft voice, “and they” – I understood 'they' to be people from this area, most of whom were not 'witches' in truth – “called those things 'fruit'.” A pause, then, “why don't you draw her a picture of one of those things, as she'll then see the resemblance.”

“The grenades, or the fruit?” I asked.

“If possible, both,” said Sarah, as I began once more fitting the hilt to the second knife-blade. I was not surprised to see it fit as it should. I was just removing the hilt from the blade when I then heard a screech, then fast-running steps up the stairs. This was quickly followed by another yell: Sarah's, this telling Anna to taste what she'd been drinking. That had caused the screech, or so I suspected.

“She needs to get a sample from that jug, dear,” I muttered. “She needs to get it shortly, then put that stuff back in the cold room before it, uh, gets contaminated.”

“Is that why I was told to boil that flask?” said Anna fearfully as she came into the parlor. “I set one of Hans' smaller glass flasks, the flat-bottomed ones, to boiling in one of these old copper pots he found recently, and...”

“No fifteen-line rivets, hopefully,” I murmured, as I removed the second blade from the vise and brought both blade and hilt to the table. I sat down, then began drawing first the grenade once called a 'pineapple' by some, then the stranger-yet looking fruit. The grenade I wiped with my hand once I had an outline of sorts, while the fruit I was at such a loss for that I could barely manage a half-baked drawing before wiping it with my hand out of frustration. While the grenade's picture acquired color, detail, captions, and depth, the fruit itself just showed as a reasonably good outline drawing, one that showed clearly the resemblance between the two. A few scribbled words indicating where the resemblance came from and the coloration being similar, another quick wipe – and the explanation became 'fairly' clear beyond the 'obvious' one garnered by the pictures themselves. It also grew from a few words to a short paragraph, one indicating that it came from more than one source, and that the best available intercepts currently resided 'across the sea'.

“N-no, as he's cut those all of those up for scrap with a chisel, and that scrap is bagged up and labeled as being for melting,” said Anna. “These pots he found this morning may be older than time and too small to cook a meal fit for more than two people, but their rivets are but a trifle bigger than those you use, and they used a lot of them.” A pause, then, “that pot I used should have its water boiling quickly, as that was a larger heating lamp, the one that's usually used for the distillery.”

“A sampling tube, also,” I said, just before tasting the beer. Anna was watching me intently, and sniffing as she did so. I then tasted the beer.

The flavor – sharp-tasting, 'peculiar', and above-all, 'medicinal' – was otherwise beyond description, save that it seemed to grow on me; and when I'd swallowed twice in the process of draining my cup, I had to sit down. My head seemed to be spinning like a compass' needle gone insane for what seemed a second or two, then as Anna got her own cup, I looked through eyes that felt as if they were badly crossed for what seemed a yet-longer period of time. When I came to myself – or, so it seemed; I was still not all the way present – I could hear someone speaking, their tones high-pitched, sharp, and above all, dead-serious. I had to hear them speak several words before I recognized who was speaking. I felt very impaired.

“This is not what I recall tasting those two times,” said Sarah. “I am not sure what this stuff is, but I know you want to get a sample of it, and I know you want to make a lot of this stuff up in the next few months.”

“Save the sediment, also,” I said. I was having to spit the words out around my 'knotted' tongue. “That stuff is weird, and I'm not so sure if I like its taste or not.”

“I am,” said Anna. “I dipped a spoon in Sarah's cupful, and I remember that taste well.” A pause, then, “how did you get Bruckelmann's special beer, the stuff they serve only to people that have been hurt badly?”

“H-hurt badly?” I asked. “Is that why it tastes so strange?”

“To you it might taste strange, but this is the stuff I have been trying to get for years, and I could not get it, as you need to be s-seen there by one of the medical people in town and have a written slip for them to give it to you – and short of being shot up in a witch-fight like I was today, that doesn't happen there.”

“Prescription-grade beer?” I asked.

“Exactly,” said the soft voice, “and while what Sarah was given isn't a joke, it's better suited for the fourth kingdom's more-common gastrointestinal 'bugs' rather than being 'the mule itself' – which that material is.” A pause, then, “and that material is not easy to make using the fourth kingdom's barley and hops.”

“Barley?” I asked. “Hops?”

“The first kingdom's climate and materials work best for that beer, and it's best put in the cold-room once the jugs are seeded. They take a while to get 'ripe' in such an environment, but then, you have a beer fit for dosing people who've been shot or stabbed by witches and northern thugs.”

“Meaning 'no more peritonitis' that kills people like crazy up here,” I said. “No more anaerobic...” I gasped, then said, “I hope that stuff does not make me crazy.” Its mental effects were still 'scrambling my brains' to no small degree, even if I did not feel 'crazy'. I was unable to concentrate terribly well, and I wondered just where I actually was and what I was currently doing – but I was not crazy.

“It will not do that,” said the soft voice. “What's available overseas, though – you'd better watch yourself if you're given some of what they have.” Pause, then, “they'll wish a sample of both types of beer, by the way, especially that stuff there.” For some reason, Anna then went downstairs at a hurry, then came back up quickly with a heavily-steaming pot held with a pair of small rags and put that pot on the stove. It continued to billow steam, which made me want to stagger over to it and 'get steamed up', as if I had an infection in my chest and it needed to 'come out' by breathing the steam. I then spoke, and had no idea at first of what I was saying, due to the still-slowly-diminishing effects of that small sip of 'beer'.

“You'll wish to dry it in the oven, dear,” I said, “then fetch that stuff out with those longer wooden tongs you have for glassware, cover it with one of those boiled tin covers Hans found today, and...”

“Is that why I was told to boil those also?” asked Anna, as she looked into the unusually-small steaming pot. “He didn't know what those things were when I found them, and I didn't either at first, even if the description I was given was very clear as to what they looked like and were intended to be used for.”

“Tinned copper c-copies of them?” I asked. “Electro-copper, spun on a polished cast-iron form using a special species of lathe that turns especially rapidly, polished carefully, then electroplated with tin – no, not tin... silver plating, and then this, uh, special treating so the silver turns this odd shade of blue? Really nice-looking, pretty, and bright blue, like the spring sky in the west just before the sun comes up?”

Anna looked at me, then said, “what would that do?”

“I'm not sure, beyond make those things plated and treated that way really unpopular with a lot of bacteria,” I said. “Just boil them before each use, and they'll be very unpleasant to those for some d-days.”

“Try more like 'some weeks',” said the soft voice. “You'll want to bring those medical people some silver pieces, as they've been wanting some silver for doing that to a lot of their metallic wares for a very long time.”

“They cannot get silver?” I asked.

“Not currently they can,” said the soft voice. “A small pouch of the 'worse' silver coins will serve for the time being, but you'll have the recipe for doing that here before long – and then you can plate that silver on all of the special pots Anna will need for her medical work.”

“Plate that stuff on those b-brass screws those tools need?” I asked. My brain was finally getting back to 'normal' now, and I needed to get back to work.

“I think you'll want to plate everything that will take it,” said Anna. “I'm not sure if you want to plate surgical knives or other things, but...”

“Those merely need doing of the best steel he can manage, then careful hand-polishing,” said the soft voice. “It might not be 'rust-proof' steel, but it does tend to resist rust to a marked degree, provided it's protected appropriately.”

“Meaning you'll want to wipe those knives down with, uh, uncorking medicine when you're not using them, I hope,” I said. “Regular wiping, then wrapping in clean well-washed flannel that's damp with it – or is that a good idea?” I could ask questions, finally, and realize what I was actually saying. Before now – who knew? I might as well have been drunk for how I felt. My first experiences with beer here were a primer for what I had most-recently tasted.

“The best means currently available here,” said the soft voice. “There are better means, but they need a lot of special equipment that isn't currently available here.” Pause, then, “it will be available shortly, however, so just use rags done like he said and you can then use such instruments right away.”

“But won't that cause i-infections?” asked Anna.

“Not if you keep them polished well, boil them after each such use, then keep them covered with those rags while the rags are kept saturated with that stuff,” said the soft voice. “It not only keeps rust off of such tools, it also keeps bugs off of them nearly as well as true 'sterile' packaging – which they stopped using overseas after the war's 'hot' stage.”

“Uh, why?” I asked. I was wondering what next I needed to draw, as Sarah was still working on her drawing. Anna was pointing matters out to her with the grenade in her hand, and I hoped she knew enough not to 'mishandle' the thing.

Those 'common' grenades, while they weren't nearly as bad as 'metal pears' for blast or destruction, weren't quite 'safe' enough to be handled cavalierly, especially when they'd sat for 'eons', in contrast to those we had boxes of. It made me realize just why a lot of places, including the country where I came from, had once commonly shipped grenades with their detonators separate from the 'bombs' themselves.

“Wait until you see a 'sterilizer' in operation,” said the soft voice. “They may look strange enough to fit perfectly in a science fiction novel, and make good medical clothing fluffy enough to think you're seeing a real-life version of the Ether Bunny, but they also work good enough to kill everything remotely resembling an infectious organism – and that quickly.”

“What?” squeaked Sarah. “What is this odd type of hare? A pause, then, “do I want to know?”

“I doubt that animal actually exists,” said Anna. “I think it means...” Anna then looked at me strangely, and asked, “now why would medical clothing become so...” She was trying to think of the word needed to describe what amounted to the worst case of 'bad static' one could imagine applied to clothing that seemed the epitome of 'soft, warm, fuzzy, and delightful to the touch'.

'Bad static', when applied to such clothing, made it even more delightful, this to both behold and touch. More, it also made it impossible to stain permanently, so much so that blood didn't touch this stuff, and the same for nearly all body fluids. Mud, dirt – the same. While it remained 'fluffy', it did not get dirty; and during its 'fluffy' state, it actually changed colors if you looked at it right – this in a really strange rainbow pattern, almost as if one had been slipped a strange hallucination-inducing 'torture drug', one that caused one to see strange sights – like a world where everything had turned varied and raving shades of purple, and purple fog – no, purple haze – covered the ground, floor, walls, and ceiling to a lesser or greater degree.

“It may be all of those things, but that type of clothing is something those medical people have records of and wish they could currently make the updated versions,” said the soft voice. “That fabric, once passed through a sterilizer, also grabs microorganisms out of the air and sequesters them, so they cannot get into wounds – and the latest versions do that for much of a day.”

“Then I want some,” said Anna. “I can live with being...” A pause, then, “what would I look like?”

“Very, uh, huggable,” I said. “Really soft, warm, a very pure white color unless the light catches it a certain way, especially cuddly...” I was looking at Sarah. “If Sarah was in such clothing, she'd be utterly irresistible, and I would be driven to complete distraction at the mere sight of her in such clothes.”

What I had left out, though, was that odd 'rainbow' effect the stuff had at times. In good lighting – like what one found in real operating rooms, those horrible places of torment and nightmare – that did not happen, thankfully.

Operating rooms had more than enough insanity-inducing things in them without the people about to torment one looking as if they were strange beings just arrived from an alternate dimension.

“Then I need to get some also,” said Sarah. “I am not sure I wish you to be driven to distraction if we receive people who've been hurt, but if those clothes work to keep hurt people from getting sick, then we need them.”

“They do that if you put them through a, uh, sterilizer first,” I said. “Those things look really strange, like this odd-shaped t-tunnel made of this strange metal gridwork, they have weird-colored lighting that's like walking in a rainbow that changes colors the whole time you're in that thing, and they make this weird noise – a noise too high-pitched to hear normally.” A pause, then, “they'd drive Iron Pigs completely crazy if one was in the area and those pigs could hear it 'screeching'.” I then had a question.

“What happens when I try to whistle?”

“Just do that if you think one of those swine is in the area,” said the soft voice. “Blow your hardest, and that pig will stop, wherever it might happen to be if it's within range – and then it will have a fit worse than anything any of you could possibly imagine.”

“Why?” asked Sarah.

“Because that pig will have the worst 'sick-headache' imaginable,” said the soft voice, “and if it's at all close, it will also have bleeding ears.”

“Ooh, that's bad,” said Sarah. “Head-wounds on those things kill them quicker than any other kind.”

“No, dear,” said the soft voice. “If that pig is within half a mile when he whistles like that, it won't just have bleeding ears, it will also have its brains temporarily scrambled once it gets over its fit, so it will lose most of its cunning and be 'messed up' when finally it gets moving again.”

“Messed up?” I asked. Only now did I not feel 'messed up', I realized – and more, I needed regular beer, not something best described as 'a very potent species of medicine, one with its share of side effects in addition to its useful properties'.

“Meaning much like you were when dosed with that place's version of torture drugs,” said the soft voice. “That pig will be lucky if it can run without falling down for some minutes at the least, and it will be trying to run in multiple directions at once, just like a mule dosed with a stiff load of Veldter's drain-opener.” A pause, then, “those witches are not having an easy time with those mules.”

“I'd best get that battery charger serviced soon, as these lights are going dim,” I muttered, as I rose from my seat. I would need some tools, as well as a funnel and pot to catch the drained lubricant, then some 'flannel' so as to filter the oil as it came out. Finally, I'd need to top up the lubricant reservoir in this one tonight at the least, and service both of them before we left. I then wondered where the knife blades – all of them I had worked on – had gone. Anna, I could guess, if I went by what had happened to both the pot on the stove and the still-sweating jug.

As one of the lights suddenly went from 'somewhat dim' to 'barely lit', Sarah jerked, then suddenly she jumped up and seemed to 'know' what I needed to do. Within minutes, she'd gathered nearly everything I needed, while I had found not merely the drain plug, but also the 'sight-glass' hiding behind a thick metal cover that swung aside once its latch had been undone. It was very well hidden, which did not surprise me for a piece of gear intended for battlefield use.

“Here are three sheets of new flannel,” said Sarah. “I put it in this small funnel here.”

“Small f-funnel?” I asked shakily. This was not one of my funnels; I did not have anything in my tools made of either stainless steel or titanium, and this looked to be the latter.

“One of several I've pulled out of this bag here,” said Sarah, indicating one of the bags crowding the table. “This one has a very fine screen in it, so I think it might have been intended for filling things that wish clean fuel.”

“They learned to put cloth in on top of those screens out in the field,” said the soft voice. “Now, renew that o-ring while that drain plug is out, and by the time you've done that, most of the 'dirt' will have gone out of that generator.”

Doing so took more looking in the looted supplies, but when I found a smaller tin of 'o-rings' next to the package that had held seals, I was more than a little surprised. Thankfully, my tools had some 'awls' with small steel hooks that worked well for removal of the 'old and tired' o-ring, and then slipping on the new one went easier than expected. I was seeing the very last drippings come out of the generator when I came back to it with the drain plug.

“I think this thing is empty,” said Sarah, “and it had much dirt in it, as I can see a lot of it on this cloth.” A pause, then, “do I want to save this cloth?”

“You do, and I would put it in an empty tin, one of those with gaskets that need a coating of that wax mixture, and use it and two others like it for keeping oil-rags for the trip,” said the soft voice. “That way, you'll have enough in case you all need to clean weapons at one time, or in case one of the tins manages to 'get lost'.”

“That can happen,” I muttered. “I've seen it happen a number of times, though not here.”

There was no comment, thankfully, and once the drain-plug was put back in the generator, I began putting the clean lubricant in it. Sarah found one of two containers Katje had filled with that 'restricted' lubricant, and as I watched, she slowly poured some of the oil in the funnel in the filling place on top of the device.

“This one has one of those ring-seals also,” she said. “I think it needs replacement also, as we do not wish this stuff to leak out while we are traveling.” A pause, then, “tell me when there's enough.”

“Not yet, though I think you want to wait on putting in more,” I said. “That stuff coats the gears and all when you pour it inside, and it takes a while to show on this glass here.”

“Is that a sight-glass?” asked Sarah.

“This one shows the oil level,” I said. “Most of them where I came from showed quantity, unlike that one on that engine at the Abbey.”

“If ever I hear that thing again, it will be too soon,” said Sarah. “Now I smell candles downstairs, and I hope...” She turned toward the stove, then asked as she looked up from where she had put the oil, “could I cook up some of that wax on the stove?”

“I imagine so, if the thing's dampered down enough,” I said. “First heat up the torment-grease until it, uh, smells, then shave in pieces of beeswax a bit at a time, with stirring now and then.” A pause, then, “figure roughly two parts torment-grease to one of beeswax, and get one of those old copper pots... No, not just any old copper pot. Find the heaviest one of the lot that Hans found, and use that one.”

“Why the heaviest?” asked Sarah, as she stood up and I looked once more at the generator's sight glass.

I'd been replacing the fill-plug's o-ring, which had proven easier than the drain-plug's due to it cracking off when I pried at it. Putting on the new one was much the same. “Better heat transfer,” I said. Pause, then, “but a little bit more, and that oil level will be centered in this thing here.”

“Best fill it up, in case it leaks a bit,” said Sarah, as she went downstairs.

While Sarah's remark sounded decent, I had a sneaking suspicion: centering it now would get it mostly full by morning, as this oil tended to have a definite 'clinging' aspect in regards to metal parts when it was 'cold', while when it became warm, matters became even 'worse' in some ways.

“How much worse?” I asked.

“That type of generator doesn't get warm enough,” said the soft voice. “That generator at the Abbey did get warm enough, so now many of its parts 'have the film' on them.”

“Have the film?” I asked. “As in that lubricant actually sticks to them?” A pause, then, “how do you clean it off, then?”

“That isn't a problem,” said the soft voice. “It comes off when a replacement molecule can change places, or when it wears off – and that's for that lubricant.” A pause, then, “the stuff that has been developed overseas from samples purchased prior to the war, though – that stuff is awful that way.”

“Awful?” I asked. I could hear Sarah checking the pots Hans had found; they might have been small pots, but he easily had over a dozen of them. They'd come in handy in the future, no doubt – even if they were smaller than was commonplace for fourth-kingdom 'medical' pots. I then heard more about the 'recent' vintages of lubricants we would soon get 'samples' of.

“It will not burn, and breaking it down takes some truly unusual conditions,” said the soft voice. “More, it degrades gracefully, so much so that the Rooster Totem wishes they could have done half as well with their lubricants of a similar nature.”

“As in it does not let guns 'stick'?” I asked.

“The blue stuff works better that way, at least how it is currently formulated,” said the soft voice – who implied getting a 'copy' of the blue material would most likely be possible overseas. “If it's not going in a gun, though – then what's available overseas has a clear and decisive edge regarding performance and longevity.” Pause, then, “if you could have used that lubricant in your engines, you would have gotten nearly twice the running time on them before they needed to be gone-through, at least in most aspects, and they would have run significantly cooler as well – and no more trouble with 'loading up' in traffic.”

What?” I gasped.

“What happened in traffic when you got 'oil contamination' due to the loose clearances needed to prevent seizing at high power settings,” said the soft voice. “You recall how that engine needed to be run hard now and then so it sounded and felt happy? That was why – it wasn't really 'streetable' enough to be driven sedately for any real distance, much less driven much in slow-moving traffic.”

“Nearly cooked things more than once until I put added cooling fans in, and not just for the water radiator, either” I muttered. I'd needed an extra oil cooler as well, with added thermostat-controlled fans for both 'radiators'. “I thought that radiator was big enough to do the job, and normally it was.”

“Engine size isn't just the only indicator of how you need to size a radiator,” said the soft voice. “The amount of power that engine puts out is a better indicator, but there are a lot of variables in sizing heat-dissipative components.” Pause, then, “be glad there are simulators that permit relatively precise modeling of such components where you are going.”

“I had no such things,” I muttered. “I did not take thermodynamics where I went to school, and based on the rumors I heard, I wasn't about to take that class.”

“It isn't needed here, at least not to that degree,” said the soft voice. “That suite of programs is sufficiently easy to use that medical students use it to determine where infected regions are located within perhaps one centimeter in three dimensions – and more, where their starting point or points are located.” A pause, then, “it comes in quite handy at times, as some functionaries use more than just sticks to hurt and kill people.”

“Some?” I asked.

“Be glad those people are rare,” said the soft voice, “and be glad that you'll deal with some of the worst of them.”

“Be glad?” I asked. These people did not sound at all amusing.

“I heard that,” said Sarah as she came into the room with a copper pot and a tin 'bucket'. I had not heard her coming, and when I realized just what I had been drawing while otherwise engaged, I nearly squeaked like a crushed rat. Sarah came running, once she had put the pot next to the stove.

“Now that is good enough to suit me,” she said regarding the generator drawing, “and I think you might wish to charge up some of these things, as it might be bright enough in this room for me to think we were using smelly tallow candles again.”

“Uh, how?” I asked. “Should I just ask..?”

The lights suddenly went from 'barely lit' to full brilliance, and Sarah looked at me. Slowly shaking her head in disbelief, she moved toward the other side of the table, then fetched me her ledger. I could tell she'd put some wax in the bucket so as to carry it more readily, and when I saw her take the wax out and set it on the counter, then adjust the stove, I thought to comment.

“That jug is upstairs,” I said. “Put a little bit of that special oil in there – perhaps a spoonful – and then start shaving wax onto a plate. I'll fetch that torment-grease from upstairs.”

The 'grease' needed not merely my looking for some minutes, but also a trio of rags to handle the first jug, and by the time I'd brought down the second example of such grease – Katje had gotten two of them, as I suspected she wanted a tin of such 'grease' as well – Sarah had made a sizable mound of wax shavings. More, she'd found an old brass spoon in one of Anna's kitchen drawers, or so I thought.

“Hans had this one laying out on one of his old tables, one fit for kindling and that only, and Anna said the spoon wasn't fit for food,” said Sarah. “Even I know it would need tinning before it was used, and that entire.”

“Those utensils I did for those mess-kits would need such tinning regularly,” I said. “Wiped tin does not wear well when used for, uh, eating utensils.”

“Hence it should be electroplated,” said the soft voice. “More, I would also first plate such brassware with a copper-nickel alloy, and then tin-plate them.”

“A small addition of silver to that tin, perhaps?” I asked. “Would that help – perhaps about four to five percent by volume, or ten percent by weight? A bit less than one wishes for plating cases, perhaps?”

“That might help such tin wear better, though one would need electricity to do so, I suspect,” said Sarah. “Now I hope we can get some of such crocks, as all of the silver and gold that we find or have found needs cleaning up of its cursedness, and that quickly if those witches come up here with bags of accursed witch-coins.”

“Accursed..?” I asked, as I rubbed my hand over first my drawing, then Sarah's. “Are these stinking things going to be all polished-up by witch-jewelers?”

“A fair percentage will be, yes,” said the soft voice. “Those you find in the house proper's 'hidden places' in the lowest basement, though – those will nearly all be polished, and more, freshly polished.” A pause, then, “be glad the house proper has plenty of rat-tongs.”

“Why?” asked Sarah. “Are those things smeared with lard, er, swine-fat?”

“Most polished coins are, at least when they are just polished,” said the soft voice. “The witches tend to pass those things down to lesser witches as their shine wears if witch-jewelers are rare enough, as such people normally get two dull coins for one polished one.”

“It sounds as if being a witch-jeweler can be quite profitable,” I said. “If one works at it, then one could easily...” I then had a question, even as I dug in a bag and found that the next item I wished to draw, or rather describe mostly and draw to a modest degree, were the various cordages we had found. I then finished my questioning.

“How do witch-jewelers polish coins?” I asked. “By hand?”

“They do not use steam-powered buffing wheels,” said the soft voice. “If they do use buffing wheels, such wheels are turned much as you've heard regarding the usual for grinding wheels.”

“Meaning a lot of hard-worked apprentices, or...” I then spat, “they spend all day doing a handful of coins.”

“One coin per day, usually,” said the soft voice. “Being a witch-jeweler may be easy in regards to what one does, but it is not particularly profitable unless one has many slaves doing such work – and that is the preferred way to polish coins – long, slow, 'patient' rubbing with leather pieces loaded with rouge and lard, hours for each coin, and the whole done in the least light possible for such deep-slaves laboring as such slaves commonly do, this in the below-ground slave-warrens where most witch-coins are made.” A pause, then, “the only way processing coins is more-profitable yet is when said jewelers cast them and then polish them, and if witch-jewelers have good 'waxes', such that they need minimal polishing, then they can produce a modest number of coins and do 'well' by the standard of common jewelers.”

Sarah looked at me, then shook her head. I wondered about her cousin, and how she was said to be 'good with knives'. Did that mean she was especially good at carving? Not just people, but also wax – as in her 'waxes' tended to be fully as good as those of Andreas, if not in some ways better?

“Polish the waxes with a soft cloth – say, well-washed linen...” I paused, then said, “Veldter's linen. Not just the commonplace stuff, unless it's unusually good cloth made from plants grown this area. Then coat them with a thin coating of thin plaster or whatever they use for investment, then a thicker coating, then three more coats of the usual type, carefully burn out the wax, and then pack that tree in casting sand like we have – no, that tree needs pouring when it's still hot, so that all has to be done with the silver ready to pour, so that sand needs to be dry and powdery...”

“You may wish to do that,” said Sarah. “If good master coins can be had...” Sarah looked at me, then spat, “they probably have her doing a lot of those things.”

“I just now suspected that was the case, dear,” I said. “Now I should need to work on some knives shortly, and then we really need to finish our drawings up, as the night is getting on and we need to get as much sleep as possible, yawn.” Pause, then, “tomorrow does not look to be amusing, not with the possible need to rescue two people from a pack of smelly thugs.”

While I was right about the knives – Anna brought up no less than three of them, then several more candles within perhaps a minute or two – I had not mentioned the 'grease' on the stove. I needed to not merely add the torment-grease, but also the lump of wax Sarah had left unshaved, then while using the old brass spoon, I cut up several more lumps with my knife, then tossed them in.

“About half a glass's time, then more stirring and more of such lumps,” I said. “Oh, and a little motor oil, also. That will help everything, uh, mingle – and then a few of those old diapers. Cook that stuff into them, and I'll take two of such rags for tool-wiping.”

“I thought so,” said Sarah. “I hope I can find more wax, as I can tell you'll wish more of it.” Sarah then left for downstairs while I went to work on the knives.

“These are more or less ready for riveting,” I murmured, as I fitted the hilts one after another. “No, best let Hans 'cook' that wood-treatment into them first, then let the stuff get a good 'set' before I do that.” I then had a question.

“How will I rivet these tonight?”

“Once that wood-treatment has been cooked for a short time and then the wood pieces rubbed with drying oil and allowed to cool enough to handle, you can rivet them then,” said the soft voice. “Baking them in that small oven won't affect the temper on that steel, as it's not all that warm, but it will bond the wood to the steel if the handle portion of the knives are then dipped once more in that wood-treatment and wiped well, first with rags and then another dose of drying oil – which will help the finish, even if the end result will be nearly as dark as the blade.”

“That's right,” said Anna breathlessly, as she came up with another knife. I suspected they either were all blackened, or would be in short order. “Hans is just starting to dip the wood pieces in that stuff, though he only has so many plates to keep everything together.”

“Might want to rivet on the hilts, then,” I murmured.

“I think you'll want to peen your rivets all at once,” said Anna. She was still out of breath. “I've seen you set those, and I know you have ready-cut rivet-wires for those things.”

Why are you so out of breath?” I asked. It sounded as if Anna was running constantly, though I did need to make some allowance for her being injured and probably having lost some blood.

“Because I'm having to move around a lot in that mess down there, and I must not waste time doing so,” said Anna. “First, I must do the candle molds, and then keep the handles straight on the knives so Hans does not get them mixed up, and then take those fitting bolts out and put them in new knives that need work yet, and then stay out of Hans' way when he's dipping those things in that wood-treatment and then cooking them in that oven he's done up with a heating lamp and firebricks.”

“A heating lamp?” I gasped. I only then recalled it being spoken of – both the heating lamp and the firebricks. I hoped he had done so under the fume hood, as 'cooking' that wood treatment sounded like a recipe for 'smell'.

“A small one, turned down low,” said Anna. “That thing might not get hot enough for baking bread, but it is warm inside that thing, and it smells some, too. He only needs half a turn of a glass before he puts drying oil on those things, and then he just sets that pair aside on a tin plate so as to cool off.”

“How..?”

“He keeps a cloth handy, one with plenty of drying oil on it, and wipes them off with it quickly,” said Anna, “and he does not handle them long, as they are like fresh-baked Kuchen for warmth.” A pause, then, “and those wood pieces look good enough for me to wish that done to furniture in here.

“G-glossy?” I said.

“Not merely that,” said Anna. “Varnish may well look good if it is done right, but I think doing wood up that way looks better, and I'll ride money on Hendrik and Maria thinking likewise.”

“We will be buried for work, then,” said Sarah. “Hans will be cooking up that stuff all the time, and...”

I almost laughed. “Getting the raw materials might make us busy enough, possibly, but imagine a five-jug reactor d-done at the Abbey, and add some of that hardening stuff from the Veldters, only made across the sea. Then that wood-treatment will be just a little yellowish, not its current color, and we can tint it so it looks, uh, nice. Then it won't need rubbing with drying oil, and we can just dip the finished knives twice – once before the scales go on, wipe, rivet, then another dip, and then a short time baking – and then, they're done, save for sharpening.”

“Those will not need much,” said Anna. “They are sharp enough to want care and leather gloves as it is.”

“Uh, some time on the stones,” I said. “Perhaps a few strokes on the white one, then...” I smiled, then said, “no, the ones we got at the Abbey. About three strokes per side, and then we're done with them.”

“I think you'd best draw those up for Rachel's looking,” said Sarah, as she stood to stir the pot. A brief bending to smell, then, “he was right. This does reduce the smell. Oh, that oil. It needs it.”

“Which oil?” said Anna – who then reached into her pocket, and produced one of the 'house's' vials of the stuff, one of those we kept here. I had several in my workbench 'just in case', and I always carried at least one such vial in my possible bag. “This kind, correct?”

Sarah nodded, then took the vial and added a 'dash'. The odor increased slightly, then as Sarah continued stirring, she said, “that really helped this stuff. It's smoothing out good now, almost like laundry soap, or...”

“That looks like Vlai, Sarah.” Pause. “Really, it looks like Vlai that has had some spices added, much like they do in the fourth kingdom.” Another pause, then, “I'd draw up some of that Kuchen dough, both types, as I think Hendrik will wish to see some tomorrow.”

“He will?” I asked. “A demonstration, perhaps?”

“If you can do that, I would,” said Anna. “Not too big of one, as that 'gun range' doesn't want a big hole in the ground right now.”

“Why, it has a big witch-cache?” I asked. “One of these old trunks, one filled with bags of gold monster coins and varied sizes of silver pieces? Old ones, lard-greased so they're still shiny?”

Anna looked at me, then said in a near-whisper, “if there is such a thing, then it needs exposing, and then that money will need to be cleaned up and recast.”

“No, not recast,” I said. “There are a much faster ways of making coins, even if we do not currently have ways of doing them here.” A pause, then, “they might be able to process such metals that way across the sea.”

However, as I said this, I recalled just what was an issue: if we were to 'punch-press' our coins after cleanup and 'proper' alloying with copper, then what would we put on them to make them 'coins'? No one I knew had any idea as to what they looked like, me included, and in order to make dies suitable for pounding out coins, we needed a design of sorts. Better yet, we needed a design that would work for a country free of witches, and more, a design that no witch would wish in a million years.

“A design that would set them alight if they touched one,” I muttered. “Now what would that be? A pair of stone tablets, those the book mentions on one side, and on the other, the coin's worth, stamped as a common number?”

“Keep that in mind,” said the soft voice. “While you will get a better design than that in the future, no witch would wish one like that.”

“Better design?” I asked. “Where did that one come from?”

“The book, obviously,” said Anna. “It might also be from an old tale, but I've not had much time for reading those.” I had had almost no time to look at those books, so Anna had me there.

“I have,” said Sarah, “and there were coins like that at one time.”

“Where?” I asked.

“Vrijlaand,” said Sarah. “I'm not sure what they looked like now, but I do recall drawing them from a tapestry once when I went to that one place that needed me bathing and then wearing their clothing, and my notes were lost when I had to escape north to live up here.” Pause, then, “until we have something better, I'd just have Andreas...”

“Your cousin,” I said. “She could do a carving in, uh, this weird hard wax they can make overseas, and t-then we let them make the stamps, and we, uh, use one of the forging presses at the Abbey.”

“Too slow,” said the soft voice. “You need at least one steam-hammer at the shop, and if you use one of those, you can not merely stamp such coins out of strip, but the dies can blank the coins also.”

“What was meant by that?” asked Anna.

“Bang, a coin,” I said. “Several coins a minute, easily.”

“Not if you have them do the important parts of the hammer,” said the soft voice. “That boiler might be troublesome, but if you weld it up at the Abbey out of the right materials, then you can make a lot of coins quickly.” A pause, then, “besides, you need both the practice working on such equipment, and you need to learn the things that go along with using them.”

“What would that be?” asked Anna.

“You want people like Willem to have guns able to kill Iron Pigs at ranges he can only dream of, don't you?” asked the soft voice pointedly. “Guns able to sink their ships if they can see them? Guns able to drop dozens of tinned northern thugs if they dare to show themselves, and that with a single shell?”

“We don't have such guns, not now,” said Anna. “We could use them, but we...” Anna looked at me, then said, “do you mean we will need to make them? Up here? And those steam things are part of what we need to do?”

“Yes,” said the soft voice. “You are learning.” A pause, then, “every minute counts right now. All of you, back to whatever you need to be doing, as the night is getting on.”