Cold Harbor, or 'how I wish this were Gettysburg, but it isn't'.


The coast now had a straight run, such that here, I sighted on a point perhaps eight miles ahead in the darkness and ran with canted sail so as to catch the wind, our speed now perhaps forty miles an hour. I could see the beacon fire to the south now with naked eye, though it drew closer with what seemed agonizing slowness.

Or rather, it was coming closer faster than I thought, but it was a huge fire, and more...

I paused in my thoughts, then far away, perhaps thirty, maybe forty miles, I could clearly see a headland, this jutting out nearly a mile, and in seeing it, I knew that it curved like a finger, with it serving as a partial breakwater of sorts. The 'built' breakwater was very old, of stone laid long ago, wide enough to serve as a road, and but four feet above the water's surface, and as I recalled how seldom were storms at sea here, and how the ocean had seemed all but glassy when I had bothered to look at the surface of the water here, I looked to the left to there see waves crashing onto the seashore.

Waves perhaps six inches high, these lapping steadily, while out where we were, the water was as smooth as glass.

Glassy-smooth water was made for this type of craft. It made for a question, only the answer had me wondering.

“No, don't wonder,” said the soft voice. “You've got about twenty minutes left before you'll need to turn out to sea once more and drop your sail, then once you've nearly stopped, one of you will need to wake Gabriel and issue him a paddle. He'll want to get used to using it out of earshot of the port, as he's never used one before and until things actually get started, you want to achieve maximal surprise.”

“I thought that was what this was all about,” said Sepp. “First I think that, then he will turn loose one of those noises that can uncork a witch ten miles away, then I hear about needing to be quiet again. What gives?”

“Surprise,” I said. “Your worst nightmare just landed in bed with you, and it came down like a bolt of lightning out of the sky,” I murmured. “Now why is this water so smooth, yet how come we can move so rapidly across it?”

“How many ships have you seen this close to land?” asked the soft voice.

“None, though there was a point where I was dead to the world for fatigue,” I said, as I sipped beer while Sarah handled the sail tiller for me. I would need to 'tank up' before going into port, which is why I would need to get all I could for food and drink while just needing to use one arm for steering.

“There's a reason for that,” said the soft voice. “Now, how many of those ships are well out to sea, out in the 'strong wind zone'?”

“Lots,” said Sarah. “I doubt more than two of them are moving right now, as every ship that I know of which can sail at night is chartered to go up the back side with people for the Abbey.”

“Including Pieter's,” said the soft voice. “Only one ship isn't, and you're going to be riding out on it as soon as it returns to port and transfers its inbound cargo out and transfers on board its outbound cargo – much of which will be you and your gear.”

“Much?” I asked. “How does that boat get out of the harbor?”

“The same way most of them do,” said the soft voice. “There's a brief period, one near dawn and near near dusk, where the wind blows 'backwards' and out to sea, and that's when ships leave that harbor – which is one of the chief reason's it's the biggest and busiest one on the whole continent.”

“Not much wind, though,” I said.

“True, which is why that period is when the ships can get out into the strong wind zone, which is the only area where they aren't all but 'becalmed' unless that ship is a very unusual one,” said the soft voice “That one you'll be taking is one of those unusual ones, Pieter's is another, and then there are three more currently afloat based on those plans – and each of them, save for the one based in this harbor, is currently crown-chartered for moving people from the fourth kingdom port and up the back side of the continent.”

“Those plans?” I asked.

“They're narrower for their length, they carry more sails, they carry different sails, and they tend to carry cargoes that are compact and light,” said Sarah. “Pieter does carry some cargo, just not very much, though where he would drop it he never told me.”

“Usually in one of those east-side ports, as until the fourth kingdom hired out so many ships, his was the only one 'fitted out' to do trips lasting longer than a few days,” said the soft voice. “He didn't carry much over there as those people are comparatively self-sufficient, so all he'd bother carrying were things they could not make that were costly enough that they were worth his time going to a region he'd already mapped satisfactorily.”

“Satisfactorily?” I asked. We would need to turn out to sea once more within ten minutes, as now I could see that beacon light flickering plainly.

“Charts need to be periodically updated, which is why he has a loft in the fourth kingdom,” said the soft voice, “which is where he and two others, both of whom are marked enough to need to wear burn-clothing and go out only at night should they leave that loft, actually trace out and ink new charts, then those new ones need to be checked and verified, and finally, then stamped by Rolf himself.”

“Those people take his ledgers and do charts all day,” I murmured.

“True, that's much of what they do,” said the soft voice. “They also look after a telegraph station, one of the main ones, and they are Rolf's eyes on that part of the market. That's one of the tallest buildings there and Pieter has its top floor to himself, so Rolf gets to learn of what's happening in that place as soon as those people take notice of it – and since charting is fatiguing, they need to take a lot of breaks, and since they're a main telegraph station, they have a direct line to the house proper, as well as ones going south and north – and they have the best 'tickers' currently available.”

“Yes, I know about charts and maps being tiring to do, if one wishes ones worth the bother of using,” said Sarah. “I'll show you mine once we've gotten our rest back and we're safe in that one hostel.”

That one headland drew closer steadily, and I began to sheer off, this such that I would clear it by at least a mile. Once clear of it, then I would 'drop' the sail, and Karl and Sepp would need to first untie its top-ropes, then take down the sail itself, and then remove the poles and stow them in with Gabriel.

“Wake him up then,” I thought.

“He's about ready to wake on his own,” said the soft voice. “You know what to do now. You'll make it, and this place is going to do its own regime-change very shortly.”

I came out past the headland, and here, I now actually saw what it was – it raised up into a spiral-staircased 'mound' with a broad flat top, that being where the fire-pit was; and while the fire-tossers were not going to warn those drunk-and-getting-drunker people in those drink-houses in time to help them much, those carrying wood up to the top just might.

“No, not them either,” said the soft voice. “That's a crown-paid job, one of the few jobs laboring in the third kingdom that pays well, and hence none of those people is going to leave off for half an hour so as to warn anyone he knows in that port.”

“Half an hour?” I asked.

“If one of those people runs, he could do it quicker,” said the soft voice, “but carrying wood up and down that spiral 'road' in a steady stream makes for very tired people at the end of their four hour watch, so they generally don't do anything save try to get home any way they can without trouble – and they're all located on the south end of town, as they need to sleep during the day and that's the only portion that's close enough to permit walking and yet far enough from 'business' to be quiet.”

“That one rumored section?” I asked.

“Is more or less 'quiet' as a rule during the day, but none of them wish to go near it, as in the third kingdom, especially now, 'suspicion and the crime are synonymous',” said the soft voice. “Cleaning out the port is going to really shake things up – so much so that only doing what you need to do across the sea is going to do more regarding what happens on the continent.”

I began to take back the sail, then as the wind all but 'died', I found that Karl and Sepp, both of them moving slowly and near-noiselessly, first untied the ropes to the rear, then those to the front, ropes I had not seen; Sepp then untied this other rope – and the sail slid down noiselessly to drape over the covered section. Karl lifted one of the poles after Sepp had untied it, then once he'd undone the other, I noticed Sarah was gone.

“Hist, Gabriel,” she whispered. “Wake up, get your things ready, and fetch out the rest of those paddles. We're going in.”

“Are we still out upon the sea?” he asked fearfully.

“Yes, but we are not moving,” said Sarah. “No, I take that back. There is a definite drift-current, but it's slow enough that we aren't moving nearly fast enough to be troublesome. Now we must paddle the rest of the way.”

“I need where you are to put these poles and that sail, Gabriel,” said Sepp. “Now bring out all of your things, that stuff that's in your two bags, and then we're going to need to paddle.”

“The broom, also,” I said.

“That is in this other bag, this one that I brought out already,” said Karl, as he took up his position as forward paddle on the left. I was now needing to center myself, such that I had control of merely the main rudders, and as the four began to slowly dip their paddles in the water to Sarah's whispered count of 'one-two-three-dip-stroke-up', then I steered back toward land, this gently, so as to not waste an ounce of energy.

It might take us two minutes to deal with the port, but it was going to be an insane two minutes – and then perhaps some twenty minutes of sniping fleeing thugs when and if we saw them.

“You will not see many, as if such people run, it will be north through the places between buildings, and more, many of those people are going to be hurt in the process of doing so.”

“Uh, why?” I asked. “Big mounds of trash?”

“Worse than that,” said the soft voice. “While there are big mounds of what looks like trash, any such mound either has a trip-line with spikes running each way, or a lot of sharp rocks holding down more spikes – as most places in this port are, for the most part, honest. The three drink-houses and those places they've 'grabbed' recently aren't, that one area that's well hidden isn't, their underground places aren't – and almost everywhere else is, as this place is the one location that routinely sees guards during the day outside of the house proper, and they have some rather unusual powers here.”

“Unusual?” I thought.

“They approach what you have, you being one of four individuals wearing greens,” said the soft voice. “The third kingdom does not have many guards, but if they live more than two years, they're like those wearing greens in the first kingdom in terms of authority, and the crown up here takes a lot more time and energy to train that handful of people a year than was done in the first kingdom since that one man you dealt with before leaving 'took over'.”

“He t-took over?” I asked.

“Those Generals had a substantial say in the matter, and more, they killed the person doing that job beforehand, as they knew a good 'fool' when they saw one,” said the soft voice. “Until you came along, it was business-as-usual, but when you showed, followed by that trip and what you were given to – then every former rule on the books went out into the manure-pile.”

“As Hendrik is still learning about,” I thought.

“He is, and he will have gained a measure of further understanding and capacity by the time you've gotten back,” said the soft voice. “He will also have shot down more than a dozen Generals, cut up several with that one sword, stabbed several more with one of those daggers, and then tossed more than one bomb into General's Row – which will just raise the stakes for the house proper that much higher, as those thugs will make good their losses as fast as you-all can thin them out for quite some time.”

“We shall thin them out down here for 'quite some time' also,” whispered Sarah. “Not much further. One -two-three...”

Even paddling, even moving as quietly as possible, we were still making a very creditable speed, one that I estimated at perhaps five miles an hour. More, there was a definite channel here, one that even we needed to heed, and when I saw it ahead, I not only steered for it, but as I came to where it was and lined up, I saw what might have been a fin slice the surface of the water.

Goiter,” I thought.

“Yes, they're following you in, as while 'Goiter' doesn't know much, he does know 'free food is about to be served',” said the soft voice. “Given that I informed every such fish within fifty miles, that port is going to be swarming with them.”

“And they are still coming in,” I thought, as I saw another such fin. For every fin I saw, I knew there had to be ten yet unseen, if not fifty or more. “Big, mean, nasty... Was that thing named 'Goiter', or was it named Yaws?”

“Both names will be recognized overseas, as they have some portions of that film,” said the soft voice – who implied reading my mind would give them the balance and clear up a great deal else about it and many other questions. “They have a lot of names for those fish, most of them very uncomplimentary. There is another fish, though, one much larger, that they say nothing but good about.”

“What is it?” I thought, as I 'threaded the needle' of the actual breakwater. There was the naturally occurring portion to the north, but then there was first one sea-wall, deserted, well-laid stone, ten to twelve feet wide, then some hundred and fifty yards past that one, such that one needed to be very careful with the common size of ship, was another such wall, it much like the first; and the channel, weaving like a snake through the three interlaced 'walls' while deep enough to pass a ship of perhaps fifteen feet draft, was not the thirty or more feet needed by one of those boats we would be riding on soon enough.

However, once past that second sea-wall, the size of the place we were in was blatantly huge. Easily two miles in depth and nearly half a mile wide, ships rode 'at anchor' almost immediately to our left, this so close together that I could see gangplanks connecting them one to another. I had the distinct impression regarding these blacked-out craft – not even a candle showing where I could see it – that these craft, unlike nearly all else in this harbor, were honest craft, ones with truly legitimate cargoes.

More, they were arranged like this out of need, not choice; and more, they were trying to load or unload their cargoes as best they could while thusly arranged. It made for slow and tiring work, or so I surmised, until I knew.

Loading and unloading real cargo in this port was slow and tiring work no matter how it was conveyed. It was merely 'somewhat' easier and quicker when done in the usual fashion.

As I passed the last of these boats, I saw its gangplank sloping down onto a jetty, this one leading to a road of sorts, a crude, well-rutted one of dirt, one heading north and then east. I then saw why it needed to head north first, as there.

Rank. Miasmal. Pestilential. A swamp, this perhaps three hundred yards deep, over a hundred yards wide, filled with a strange species of reed, and though I could not hear bugs in it, I knew that here, we dare not go long without taking doses of both 'dysentery-medicine' and 'quinine sulfate', as that region drew 'nasty mosquitoes' like nowhere else in the region.

I then glanced across the harbor, and saw a similar region – save this one was a good deal wider. Both would eventually need draining and filling prior to further extension of the wharves – as this place could stand some serious expansion and revamping.

Across the water, though, while it was 'dim' for lighting, I could see long rows of ships lining its wharf, while to my left...

“Bright enough to want the dark goggles back on,” I muttered, as I closed my eyes and changed them over by feel. “They must be running a thousand of those titanium lanterns, every single one of them turned up as high as they will go.” I then noticed a difference.

They weren't that brilliant blue-white arc-welding blast. These things had a definite yellowish tint to them, and that told me what kind they were: Infernal lanterns, or something...

“No, not distillate, even if they did try to run some,” I thought. “Now inside those three stinky places where they sell drink, gamble, do prostitution, and conduct high witch meetings, they probably have real Infernal lanterns going, not these things that they tried putting distillate in and found that they turned into smudge-pots that tried to set them alight.”

A glance ahead and to the left had me seeing red, and as I counted three red lights, I knew those were the closest things to effective markers for our main targets as anything. It made for thinking, this now rapid as the boat with full sail and the wind directly to my back.

“The center one first,” I thought, this being Funkelmann's, “then Snoggwaart's on the east end of this long stretch here, then the one closest to where we are now, which is Goortmann's.”

I then thought to tie up next to Funkelmann's. Save us trouble and time.

Instantly, I knew that to be wrong. I wanted the nearest possible place I could find to tie up, then as the others made ready, I would get up on the end of the dock, nestle down into the broom...

Everything I had planned before now all seemed to whirl in my mind, and as I saw where I needed to tie up – this narrow jetty that adjoined the very end of the dock, ships running bow to stern along the whole of this bright-lit place – I knew 'the road of death'. Every ship tied up along both wharves was going to sink, and most of the places facing them would suffer enough exterior damage to 'remind' them of what was important and just who needed to be listened too.

“Stow the paddles shortly,” I whispered, as I steered for the end of the jetty, then I indicated that the two on the left would need to jump onto the jetty and tie us up while I went out with the broom to provide security. Once tied up...

It wasn't going to wait. Not now. No longer.

Deep down inside, I could feel it building, and this wasn't just the 'scream' of the Tigris. This... This was the Tigris, that dark animal that was the size of a lightning hare, able to run at the speed of a flying rocket, and destroy anything that it could reach, climb up tall mountains as if they weren't there...

Stand up next to a mountain, knock it down with the edge of my hand. It was going to come down.

Bump, soft thud of wood rubbing copper, skid, skid, skid, stop. Two soft cushioned thumps, then suddenly, my legs were running at my very fastest speed upon the boards of the jetty. I could feel the growl coming out, then suddenly, without warning...

The growl seemed to make the very air vibrate, lightning split apart the sky overhead amid the clouds, and merging with thunder and a sudden drenching rain came the roar...

Ghostly rarefaction waves pounded down the Long Wharf as I slid to a stop and went into a crouch, all the while that noise relentlessly building in pitch, volume, force, and wildness. The stock of the broom finds my shoulder, I somehow feel the 'invisible' trigger, then as the pitch of the panther-scream hits the ultrasonic range, every single light that lit up the place disintegrated in a huge billowing eruption of white fire that flared for perhaps a count of three, and the swarming mobs that then billowed forth into the still-flaming ruins of the destroyed lanterns were met by my yelled command for 'high explosive rounds' as the broom began to roar and then howl.

The explosions caught the first thugs and flung them well into the air, then as as the broom now howled long and hard, it dumped them all along the wharf or caused them to flee to either side in what seemed like a long slow minute but I knew might have been perhaps two seconds at the most. Steps to my rear told me of the others pounding along the jetty at a dead run, so I began trotting forward, gun now at my hip, firing burst at any movement I saw – and those high-explosive rounds were just that.

But one trouble. These things were not what I expected, but something closer to what came out of 'Big Momma' when that gun was loaded appropriately, as if I hit a thug anywhere, it dumped him right then – and if there was more than one thug in a group, each hit dropped several.

The centered thugs tended to turn into red mushy 'puree' in the blink of an eye, however, and as the thugs started to become truly scarce, I decided to 'toss the dice' and ask for something a bit different.

“Mix of armor-piercing, hot-red-tracer, and high explosive,” I snarled. “One of each, then repeat, as I need to get penetration and fires. Now!”

Another swarm of thugs suddenly billowed out of a doorway, but a brief burst scythed them down and set them alight, this with what billowed into thick red flames that winked out as they flew to then splash. One or more ships began to burn, while the smoke clouds left by what looked to be a distillate-tainted lantern cleared away under the still-pouring rain, rain that left the wharf slick.

Trekking boots found good traction anyway, even as I ran through what seemed a splashing lake of blood-stained water.

However, in the middle of this lake, I had a strange idea. In the middle of my stride, I leaped, this such that my head almost brushed the overhanging bottom of the second story perhaps fourteen feet above the dock, and I turned about in mid-air to fire a raking burst along the deck of the ship nearest me.

It was the first actual ship, and as I went back down and toward the wall from the recoil, the rounds scythed down the length of the ship and caused a mass exodus of thugs to leap over the side.

They were getting ready to ambush us, and as I splashed down, I showered Sepp and Sarah with water, even as they continued to run as rapidly as they could. I caught up with them easily, and now I knew why I had only carried the broom.

I had a long run, I had to cover the whole length of this thing, or near it coming and going, and I was going to hurt all over from doing such nonsense as I had just done.

No matter, I passed Sepp and Sarah again, and for some reason, I heard gunfire from my rear. I then felt the ship I had just shot up catch fire, this to burn steadily, though not terribly fiercely. The storm was having its effect on keeping the flames down to 'manageable' levels, but more, it was doing something else, something that was causing a lot of screaming to my rear and right.

“No, no distillate in that thing, but whatever is inside it, it is flammable,” I thought, “and there is a lot of it.”

Another 'swarm' of thugs billowed out from a further-away doorway, this swarm so sizable and irritated that some of the forerunners were 'splashing' in the harbor from the sheer press of their fellows emerging to their rear as they attempted to charge toward us.

They were drunk, and there were a lot of them. No matter. The first burst dropped enough of them that those behind them were now pressing over thick-fallen bodies, the second burst, I fired when they had cleared those, and then the third, this at a range of perhaps a hundred yards...

It dropped over half of those remaining, and those thugs yet able to retreat did so – which was a fraction of those who emerged, and in their raw panic, they were trampling and kicking their fallen comrades out of the way, even as more and more of those people crawled over to the edge of the wharf and splashed into the harbor, there to scream horribly as 'Goiter' swarmed into the area.

The rain, thankfully, was washing the blood into the harbor almost as fast as I could spill it, and as I came upon another ship – there were gaps between these things, usually non-trivial ones; they were not bow-to-stern as I had thought them to be – I seemed to 'see' what looked like a huge cargo of barreled tool-cleaner though the side of its crudely-spiked hull. I pivoted so as to shoot it, but then I continued, kneeling down, then as a door suddenly opened wide to admit another crowd, I fired a burst, this long, concentrated, and deadly, a burst that caused a vast number of these people to slide screaming into the harbor, while those not yet outside retreated back indoors. I then turned about, fired a burst as an afterthought into that ship, then as I resumed trotting once more, from somewhere behind, I heard someone firing a machine pistol – a whole magazine, it seemed, the gun firing full-auto – then, two thundering roars from an obvious shotgun – and as I traveled perhaps two more seconds, a final sound, this one an explosion of such violence that I wondered, seemed to give me a push to my rear to get me to 'go faster' and 'kill more of them'.

“What was that?” I thought, as I came even with the stern of the next ship in line, then 'scent' more of that tool-cleaner. It was up near the bow, and as I came even with where it was, I turned to my right in mid-stride, fired a short burst, then sprinted ahead. I'd shot near the waterline, this with the goal of sinking the boat.

It was good that I ran faster, as the blast from my rear nearly pelted me with kindling, then somehow, I seemed to see that ship sinking 'like a rock', its deck going awash in perhaps two seconds, then further down, such that now, 'Goiter' could dine readily.

That part about 'Goiter' not wishing to get into shallow water was an 'old sailor's tale'. 'Goiter' could and did get into thigh-deep water if he could tell it was worth the bother – and while the fire to my right and rear wasn't much as a fire, for height, it was burning hot enough to provide trouble, and it was spreading rapidly across the surface of the harbor from the wrecked ship, as I could tell that while this wasn't conventional distillate – it didn't explode very well – it did burn well, and more, my bullets had caused enough explosions to spring its casks.

Muffled booms coming from my rear, though, told a different story. This stuff did explode, it just didn't explode terribly hard – and more, it exploded like slightly damp gunpowder, not like dynamite.

“What did I hit?” I asked. “Casks of, uh, tool-cleaner?”

“Not commonplace tool-cleaner, but 'firebomb-stuff' for the witch-trade, which is what most of these ships have,” said the soft voice. “Keep doing every ship you can see along this wharf, as that wall of fire and smoke will give you lots of needed cover, and then herd the witches back into their locations. with gunfire as needed.”

As I continued trotting toward Funkelmann's, I now fired bursts into every ship I saw – nearby or across the harbor, it got shot at – and if I saw more one thug in my way, he got a burst also. More than once I pivoted as I came to a space between buildings, however, and ripped a short one up those – and the flames and screams that resulted were enough to tell me certain matters.

I was turning the entire Long Wharf into a kill-zone, and everyone on this side of the harbor was either going to get 'right' before their Judge within the next few minutes, or they were going to be judged and condemned – and then sent where they belonged.

Another huge mob of thugs came billowing out, this but a hundred yards to my front, and this time I simply mowed them down as they came out. I didn't let up until I saw no more thugs standing to my front, and at the end of this burst, I let the broom go to my right and raked every ship along the Long Wharf I could reach, all of them, starting from some nearly half a mile distant to the one just to my right.

Every single one of them either caught fire, or in most cases, dully 'exploded' to then sink, and the entire north side of the harbor was now covered with a sheet of flames, flames that were rapidly spreading southward. I then stopped and turned.

Time to watch Sarah and Sepp deal with Funkelmann's. Sepp kicked the door, tossed in a metal pear, Sarah sprayed the room full-auto, then Sepp tossed a smoking satchel charge inside the place as they ran on ahead after Sarah closed the door. I now resumed trotting east, knowing that Funkelmann's was going to be pretty much neutralized, but as another sudden small clot of thugs showed to my front, I just mowed them down...

Leaped over their quivering corpses that were spraying blood like so many red-drizzling fountains amid the still-pouring rain – and through a wider-than-usual gap between the quick-sinking ships, I fired a long burst across the harbor that caused flashes, sparks, fires, and explosions that continued to dully 'boom' as I resumed trotting east.

There wouldn't be much of a harbor left by the time we were through with it, I thought, and as another swarm of thugs came out, I sprayed them down, then looked up the way they had came, that being from a gap between buildings.

“Hot red tracer with a nose for distillate,” I said, as I began hosing down the passage, just letting the broom howl steadily for over a second, then as I resumed, the explosions that seemed to come from everywhere to my left were almost beyond belief. It made for a question.

“You got them in the kill-zone now,” said the soft voice. “Fire to their front, fire to their rear, solid walls of it, and now Karl and Gabriel are about to blow Funkelmann's...”

An earshattering roar blew the night apart as lightning once more shot across the cloudy sky, and as the night went from dark and cloudy to 'massive flashbulb' for a count of three – the lightning had 'started' this, but Funkelmann's finished it up – I saw more thugs coming out of various doorways.

Either our three drink-houses had commandeered this entire port, or there were multiple exits from those places, and now, I wondered as to our order, even as I saw the end of the Long Wharf and saw a vast scrambling mob to my front, all of them heading east and away from me. I began to 'hose it down' with long bursts, the 'hot red tracer' bounding and then vanishing to start huge smoky fires among the thugs as they dropped in clumps, then suddenly that entire wooded area they were running toward ignited as if soaked in distillate, and the mob turned back toward me – those of them able to.

“Time to face the noise of Hell, fools,” I thought, as I asked for 'high explosive rounds'.

A long burst sent such a storm of flashes among these thugs that they seemed to melt away in a quick count of three, then as I came to another red light, I did not think to scream or yell or do anything, save but one thing.

Every doorway, I now fired a burst into, open, closed, wrecked, or intact: it received a burst of fire, this terror-tactic now turning the screaming places I was spraying into blazing infernos that crackled with flames – and in most instances, the explosions that resulted as I moved on were so violent and vicious that I knew one matter had become blatant: Snoggwaart's had, indeed, expanded its holdings, so much so that the witches had effectively taken over the port.

“North side of it, anyway,” I thought, as I fired another burst into a doorway, then another down an alley. That 'high explosive' stuff was playing absolute hell inside of these places – each one perhaps as bad as a blasting cap, but I was sending a lot of those blasting caps, and unlike those thin-copper things, these 'shells' actually had fragmentation effects.

“Not quite,” said the soft voice. “They've made progress, and not a little of it, and much of it quite recent, but there are many businesses on the north side of the port that are yet genuinely honest.”

“None of these ships, though,” I said. “Every honest ship knew enough to get out of the main area, as the witches decided to take over the port for a while at the least.”

“That they did do,” said the soft voice, “which is why you can expect a lot of people who are moving from their beds right now to come during the night and work their hardest to clear their homes and businesses of thugs.”

“Remains of thugs, anyway,” as I suddenly came to the very end of the paved part of the Long Wharf, and looked up. There, the red-painted sign spelling out the name 'Snoggwaart's' told me that the basic idea with holding towns had been done here: get the ends 'sewn up tight', get at least one place in the middle, and then the whole place is 'fully owned and utterly controlled' in truth if not in seeming.

“Closer than the honest people liked, anyway,” said the soft voice. I now began to provide security for Sepp and Sarah, and when it came time for Sepp to kick the door, he did with gusto...

Only instead of Sarah spraying the place with a machine pistol only, I was shooting the place up also, and as the satchel charge went inside, we passed Karl and Gabriel as they 'halted' at a safe distance from a place that was about to blow up...

The thundering roar from behind told me the place had 'gone up hard', as I'd hit something important when I'd shot up the place with the broom, and as Sarah and Sepp now ran with lightened loads past flaming buildings on their right and a flaming harbor on their left, I kept up with them, now and again going ahead of them and either shooting across the harbor, or when and if thugs showed, I sprayed them also, the tinkle of brass shell casings now drowned by the hungry crackle of flames, the still-pouring rain, and the near-continuous rumble of deep subterranean explosions. I glanced between gaps between buildings; and the sight of a wide, deep, and tall 'wall' of fire, this easily a hundred yards wide from south to north...

The still-living thugs could either provide 'Goiter' with dinner, burn up where they were, or get into the underground passages and head toward anywhere that was not yet about to catch fire – that being Goortmann's at the west end of the place. It then suddenly dawned as to our strange-seeming order of business.

“So that's why we do Goortmann's last,” I thought. “The survivors of Funkelmann's and Snoggwaart's will all be in there, and then when it's blown, then it's just mostly a matter of 'get back to the jetty, post a guard, and watch the place burn like a torch for an hour or so'.”

“And watch 'Goiter' dine at witchdom's expense, as all of the ships in the harbor, other than those connected by that gangplank setup and the one you came in on, are now either burning or sunk.”

“How will they get that one that's due in inside here, though?” I thought, as I surged ahead and then sprayed a passage where a mob of thugs were waiting. These people died so rapidly as the high-explosive rounds tore into them that only when I had piled the passage with dead did I ask, “how deep were they stacked up in there? A hundred yards?”

“The Long Wharf is the older portion, and most of these buildings went up once the kingdom house proper had become 'secure',” said the soft voice. “They've been improved and enlarged steadily over the years, with several rounds of extensive repairs, renovations, and additions, such that many of these buildings are not just shops – they're warehouses, also, and then since this place is essentially isolated from most of the conventional sources of supply, the legitimate businesses must lay in supplies in bulk – and that means they need plenty of room to store them.”

“Basements?” I asked.

“Those work well for things that wish cold,” said the soft voice. “More than one of these locations, that one inn especially, has a fourth-kingdom-made cold-room, and they make ice there – and that place supplies most of the port with its supplies that need cold, as that isn't a commonplace cold room for either size or performance.”

Goortmann's was coming up fast, and now, I could feel the state of the place. The thugs were trying to get out through its narrow deep-level passageway to the north and west, but there were so many of them – and they were all so panicked – that few if any people were getting down to that lowest level of the three for all the screaming and knife-fights. I then realized something else was happening.

Goortmann's had already had a 'taste' of what was to come, and between first my shooting up its doorway, then Karl and Gabriel shooting into it and tossing 'something unhealthy', the place wasn't doing at all well.

“Burning like a torch, in fact,” I thought, as a flaming thug ran out into the water to then splash – and he managed one good scream before he was pulled under by a trio of ravenously hungry 'Goiters'.

'Goiter' was definitely getting his free 'meals' tonight, and as I paused in front of Goortmann's, I saw what was a blatant inferno inside, with flames racing up several runs of stairs, while below and above, the screaming that I could hear...

No, feel.

Was that of a multitude. Every thug worthy of the name was now in either location, and as Sarah sprayed the room and I added my contribution, Sepp tossed his satchel charge, then I followed the two back to the edge of the wharf, there to wait and see the results.

The blast out the front was staggering, but through the thick gouting black smoke, I saw Karl and Gabriel run, Karl putting the mine right in the doorway, Gabriel reeling out the wire without stopping, then as he came to the end of the wire, he indicated we needed to either get further away or down, as Karl came up with his 'load'.

That being a pot-battery, which he instantly touched to the bared ends of the wires.

Goortmann's simply 'vanished' in a blast so ferocious that I nearly fell on my rear from my kneeling position, while as the blast rocked the port, I could feel something else happening...

“Back to the boat, people,” I yelled. I was very sore, I now realized. “Back...”

No more urging was needed, as those muffled crumping noises now segued to booms that rumbled and shot mountains of fire into the sky from several other locations beyond the three drink-houses, and as I got back on the jetty, there still holding the broom in readiness, the others watched also, as the sea of flames came steadily closer.

“No, no closer,” I said. “Keep those thugs under until they drown or 'Goiter' gets them, or set them alight, but not us.”

“No, won't do that, 'cause the tide, what tide this place has got, is coming in,” said a laconic voice from my rear. I turned to see an obvious 'sailor' coming down the gangplank. He had what looked like a roer in his hands, and a large knife, one nearly as big as that rigging knife. “Now that ought to tone down them pirates considerable, on account of they told us to get off by our lonesomes until they'd gotten their fill of drink and sicknesses, then once they shoved, they'd let us have the place back.” Pause, then, “the way they was going, though, they weren't about to shove for a month, as they was coming in here as fast as they'd leave.”

“Uh, no, actually this batch was planning on leaving before that, because every day they save regarding their cargoes gives them a bonus,” I said. I then had a question: “or am I all wet?”

The latter was a bit too palpable, even if the rain had suddenly quit like a switch and the clouds were clearing fast. There'd be stars and moonlight inside of fifteen minutes, unless I was utterly unfit to tell time.

I was sore enough to need dosing, and that one vial got passed, then the beer to wash it down among us. I was drinking the stuff down as fast as I could swallow it, as while that had been a 'hot' two minutes or so, it had been a hard and wearing two minutes, also.

“Were they honest, you'd be right, and no mistake,” he said. “They were all carrying stuff fit for witches so they could take the first kingdom – and now, about all they're going to take is a ride inside a killer-fish straight to the dinner plate of Brimstone.”

“Them what aren't being roasted by yon cooking fire,” said another voice. “That noise you-all made doing those places got all of us woke up good. Now it will be better in the morning, as the in-tide is followed by the out-tide, and that will take all of that drifting witch-junk out to sea with it.”

“Drifting witch-junk?” I asked.

“Yes, those bad ships they was using,” he said. “All of them made in the fifth kingdom, and all of them filled with stuff straight out of the ground, just strained and then barreled, as that is what works well if you are a witch and want to start fires.”

“And, once that stuff all burns off, then...”

“Not all of what you see is exudate for fires,” said Sarah, shading her eyes from the sea of flames now reaching ten feet and more into the air to try to hide the fast-emerging moon and stars. “Much of it is bad fifth kingdom ship-wood, and by the time that fire is done, the out-tide will be starting, and between that and the out-wind, then those ready to sail can do so, and the wreckage will most likely go out too.”

“If it's floating wreckage, yes,” I said. “Some of it went down...”

“They will fish for that stuff with these things they have what are made in the fourth kingdom,” said that second man. “Now, when that one boat comes in tomorrow, he will be glad, as he'll be going back out a lot quicker now.”

“Going out quicker?” I asked.

“Normally, it would take him three days to get himself unloaded, and then another three to load, but if there are few ships handy competing for the laborers, then they will have him, they will have us, and that is a lot less than is usual for this place, given we'd unloaded and loaded much of our things when those stinkers got us out of their way at gunpoint.”

“Hence just enough time to rest up,” I said. “Uh, I need to eat something.”

“Yes, after what you did, I think so,” said the man. “Now is that there your boat?”

I did not hear him, for now I was all for some food and more beer, and once I got plenty of both things down, I fell asleep to then awaken what felt like 'some hours later'. A glance at the brass cube, however, as well as the western sky, told me enough – that, and my bladder. It needed emptying, and amid the stillness, I found I could just go to the rear platform of our boat and 'go' there.

'Goiter' had gotten his fill. He was outside now, logy and glutted, and that type of fish tended to find 'shoals' or things like them to 'sleep it off' when that full.

An hour before dawn, and with the place no longer going 'all day and all of the night', it would get back to its more-usual hours early. I then 'looked' out to sea, and then, I knew.

That one ship. It was coming with every sail set upon it, its best pilot driving, and he or she was going to make port as quick as he could, as that ship had been sailing all night long. I then saw the sheer volume of charred junk that remained afloat – there was a lot of it in the harbor yet – and then, I heard a multitude of stealthy voices.

I was having trouble smelling smoke now, for some reason, even if I could smell a great deal, much as if I had somehow become an animal like a Tigris for my ability to smell things – as while the Breganz breed of scent-hound had a good nose, that of the Tigris was better still – as the Tigris didn't just scent things conventionally. It could scent things, places, people, and danger like I could, also.

Yet I knew through the faint ringing in my ears that I was hearing voices conventionally, a vast army of voices, and I then gathered those things I would wish to show: rifle on its strap, machine pistol to my front, possible bag on its strap, and my clothing – still damp, but warm enough just the same – arranged such that I looked like the traveler I truly was.

My hood was up, that such that it hid my face, and I stood upon the jetty, trying to ascertain what was happening to the east along both Long and Short wharves, even as I walked to the very edge of the Long Wharf itself.

“Exodus,” I murmured softly. “They may have one horror of a mess to clean up, but...”

“They've been cleaning up the mess,” said the soft voice, “and they started doing that as soon as they'd dealt with the witches running south.”

“Good,” I said. “This place might not export much in the way of produce, but it does like its manure, and there's little enough of it for them to want those people for fertilizer and not waste firewood or distillate on them.” A pause, then, “what else is happening, beyond the obvious that they've gotten a lot of work to do to clean up what those stinkers did.”

“They've had this happen before, just not recently,” said the soft voice. “Hence, almost every one of these places has its own 'hiding places' for their supplies, and in the past, they'd just 'head south' and wait the pirates or witches out, then come back and do repairs once they'd left.”

“Save for the three drink-houses,” I murmured. “Gone isn't the word for those places. Maybe they can salvage their foundations, but I suspect they'll need to start from scratch with them and...” A glance to my left, where a still-smoking mess remained. “Oh, got to that place over there, also.”

“It did, as there was a lot of distillate stored in that tunnel, and when Goortmann's blew, it shattered all of the jugs and blew the flaming vapor up the other end of the tunnel, which led to that other location – where it came out and then detonated like three of those telescopes you saw, so that place is currently 'gone'.”

“Rebuild it a lot quicker,” I said.

“It's not the first time it's been destroyed,” said the soft voice. “It was essentially a large witch-built town, this mostly of wood, rubbish, and tents, so when witchdom decides it wants it rebuilt, it can 'throw up' a replacement in a fortnight.”

“Can't do that indefinitely,” I thought. “Might not be nearly as hard or as costly as the Swartsburg was, but doing that costs money, and...”

“Here, any construction is costly,” said the soft voice. “Stone costs the most, wood costs the least, but given how little there is of it, and then where it comes from in this area...”

“Almost have to bring it in overland,” I thought.

“They will do that, and quickly, relatively speaking – once witch-grade transport isn't tied up with trying to take the first kingdom, that is.”

“And they lost some more of that last night,” I thought.

“Try 'about half of it', actually,” said the soft voice. “There aren't that many 'committed' seagoing witch-vessels left, even if there are a fair number of opportunists left.” Pause, then, “those three drink-houses 'converted' most of the opportunists in this area to their ways lately, as the money and other things involved with witchdom trying to retake the first kingdom affected this location severely.”

“Those places are wrecked too,” I murmured. “Not quite as wrecked, but still...” Pause, then, “who are these people? They work like they're from the Valley, or maybe that market when it's 'busy-season'.”

“Both locations, with many of the laborers from the back country that learn the local language adequately coming down here to load and unload ships – and the cheapest places to live are in 'south-four' street, so that's where two entire buildings have essentially been turned into settlements in the last year.”

“Two entire buildings?” I asked.

“That trickle of refugees that's been getting out of the Valley for the last few years is due to become a flood, and in some places, especially the region just east of the Red Mountains and northern border region, has already become one. Hence, with the witches no longer running matters, if a person acts honest, even if he's a newly-arrived emigrant from El Vallyé, he's going to be fairly safe in much of the third kingdom, rather than just the poorer portions of the back country.”

“Fourth kingdom's witches?” I asked.

“Still carrying on their war as if they have nothing to lose,” said the soft voice, “even if they have lost a lot already and are losing more by the hour. There are a lot of casualties, a lot of damaged shops and homes, some badly damaged districts – and more and more witch-run locations are being set alight. More, it's no longer needing to be a matter of certainty for a mob to get their distillate and guns.”

“As in 'suspicion and the crime will be treated identically' in the near future?”

“Figure that happens by the time you-all are on dry land overseas,” said the soft voice. “That witch-war will be in the mopping-up phase then, but without the witches running the place, repairs will happen faster than what you're seeing right now.”

“And once those repairs are done?” I asked.

“Well, by that time, figure 'Rolf the blood-handed' will have earned his name, as he will have cleared the house proper of witches, or at least done as much as he possibly can to achieve that state,” said the soft voice. “He might not get everyone in there that's a witch, but he will get most of them, and he will 'clean up' the fourth kingdom greatly – and while he might not get Boermaas closed, he is going to make it very costly for them to stay open.”

“Uh, how?” I asked.

“Figure that place is going to get shot at with some frequency, once his guns are once more in good repair and his stock of shot and shells replenished,” said the soft voice. “Now if you watch closely, you'll see that one ship come in within about five minutes, as that pilot-woman is one of Sarah's classmates, and she's truly good at what she does. She'll bring that thing in and 'grease' it right up next to the wharf – and once you see that ship inside the harbor, you can figure on needing to wake the others shortly.”

I then looked around, and gasped. “Not a ship in sight, other than the ones near where we're tied up.”

“Correct, and there's a lot of charred wreckage that's being fished out of the water to be used as fuel once it has become adequately dry,” said the soft voice. “There aren't any small boats out collecting it up yet, but if you look, you can see people dipping the stuff out with nets from the Short Wharf.” Pause, then, “this place is sufficiently short of fuel that it has to import almost all of it, and hence fuel here is not cheap, which is why those across the harbor who don't have huge messes to clean up are dipping out what they can readily reach right now.”

“Uh, not just charcoal, correct?” I asked.

“The usual here, save where large amounts of fuel are needed, is to take that 'smelly' cooking fuel that comes off of that ship that comes in and make a black paste-type fuel using it and either sawdust from the woodworking area, or charcoal that's come in – and how much of which is used depends on the cost more than all else.”

“As in neither is cheap, but the cheaper one will predominate as a rule,” I murmured. I then looked back more at the Long Wharf. If anything, the place was even busier than before, much as if a vast number of people were swarming into the place steadily, and the number of bodies being tossed out into the harbor was staggering.

These floated, undisturbed save by a faint current, one that seemed to be carrying them out to sea, and while they were moving slowly, they were moving. More, I suspected that once the place had been cleaned up, and the fuel gathered, then those who minded the manure-piles in this area...

“Are there manure-piles?” I asked.

“There are, and that's one area where those settlements are finding out they have something no one else can do, and that is grow vegetables here.” Pause, then, “figure they will gather those bodies they can today and tomorrow, as by then, Goiter will have taken the rest or they'll have gone out to sea on their own.”

“And now, those lanterns I see most of these people putting up,” I said. “We were not seeing too many 'Infernal' lanterns, save inside those three drink-houses – so why did those burn the way they did when they burned?”

“Because the ones they are now putting up are those which are normally used outside, not those they left handy for the pirates and witches,” said the soft voice. “Given the choice between an expensive titanium lantern and a relatively cheap lantern from a passing tinker, it's not hard to understand why those were hid and the oldest lanterns they had from the Valley were left out for the witches.”

“And the witches tried distillate,” I murmured.

“They did, and after they learned about 'smoke' and 'bad fires', they just put a little bit in the tank to 'lubricate' things, which accounts for what you saw when those things 'disintegrated',” said the soft voice. “The cost difference between those titanium lanterns and those that come from passing tinkers is such that for each titanium lantern, there are between three and five well-maintained items from the Valley for most of the shops along the harbor, while once you get into the streets where people work or live, that ratio goes a lot higher – as in 'titanium lanterns are for rich people, and everyone else uses a brass one if they have it – as those might cost more to buy than tallow candles in the short run, but if you're going to live here, you'll want one of those from the Valley, as it will pay for itself within a very few years.”

“The titanium ones are something of a status symbol, then,” I murmured. While I did not receive an answer to that question, I did hear Sarah suddenly yawn – and even more suddenly, she then leaped for the jetty, there to vanish as if smoke. She came back quickly, this while still making yawning noises, then asked me a peculiar question – or rather, first made a comment, then asked a question.

“I hear a ship coming,” she said. “Is that the one we will take ship on out of here the day after tomorrow, or tomorrow evening?”

“I suspect so as to that being a ship making the noise you hear, even if I'm not sure about when, precisely, we will leave,” I said, as suddenly the bow of the ship showed.

Every sail that could be hung was set, while the ship 'threaded the needle' as if it were running on rails. The responsiveness of this craft was mind-boggling, and the way it heeled over as the person 'sawing on the wheel' turned it was astonishing. It was 'built as if for racing', and as a woman shouted commands and the sails came down over the course of a handful of seconds, Sarah whispered into my ears.

“I know her,” she said excitedly. “She was in my group at the west school, and...”

“Uh, lost part of a finger in a fight here, dear, so she's become a bit better at mathematics. Does her own charts, just like you did, in fact, and if she were known about by Rolf, he'd 'draft' her,” I said. “Now...”

“No, Rolf will not draft her, but you can soon figure that ship is going to be running people down to the fourth kingdom and back in addition to getting stores at sea – and that under crown charter, much as it runs now.”

“They'll still do that?” I asked, regarding running out to sea to meet with this other.

“Some, yes, but they'll do so much closer to land, and those craft from across the sea will do so on the way up to the first kingdom,” said the soft voice. “Now watch how she comes in for a 'landing'.”

I was amazed, as here, the boat but slowly bled off speed, then as it did a turn-about in the middle of the harbor, I was yet more amazed to see it slowly slide up to the dock, there to coast to a stop. A rope, this thicker than my forearm, came down, and one of those who was working like a maniac to clean off the blood that yet remained upon the wharf tied the ship up to this strange metal 'staple' he pulled up from its socket.

“Very neat idea for docking,” I murmured. “Now who is it we're supposed to see?”

“I expect that person to show shortly, as he does not have far to look,” said Sarah. “I've met him before, though if I ask my classmate, she may well know more.”

“Johan!” shouted that woman. She was loud. “Johan! Where are you, you lubber! We have come back!”

“If that does not bring that man, then he is either dead, or he is dead to the world,” said Sarah. “Karla was always able to shout louder than anyone in our group, and only a few people could shout louder than her during my class.” Sarah then looked at me, and said, “I think if he does not show, then perhaps you should make that Tigris noise again – as that noise would wake the dead and cause them to walk.”

“No, dear,” I said. “I cannot do that whenever I wish to, and I think if I do it more than once every so often, I'll damage my voice.”

“I wondered if that was the case,” said Sarah. “Now I think I know who this man is she's calling for, and that would be the harbor-master.”

“Has his office over on the second street from the Short Wharf?” I asked, pointing at one particular spot. “Go through this one passage, one that's about right there, one that's perhaps wide enough to drive a buggy through, it's paved with cobbles, so it's an 'approved' path – and it gets a lot of traffic? Perhaps a vendor or two selling fry-breads near the back side?”

“Yes, and I've been in that place – both that passage and where that man works,” said Sarah. “Now while he will come here, Gabriel will need to go with him, and then I suspect that we will need to go as well, though then again, we might not need to.”

“Uh, why?” I asked, as someone suddenly 'showed' in the now-teeming crowd as the place had gotten its full complement of people 'up' – and they were 'doing' with all the will they could muster. He stopped at that one ship, where that one woman was beckoning him to come up the gangplank that had just been dropped, but he shook his head and pointed to us.

“That's him,” I said. “Gabriel, I think...”

“No, not yet,” said Sarah. “He needs to make sure it's us, as I recall what he's likely to know now, given that I think I was Hendrik's dictation-taker.” Pause, then, “he'll then need to see her manifest, check it over, have her and the ship-master pay the fees...”

“Uh, won't that need me going to his office?” I asked.

“I actually doubt that to be wise,” said someone from our rear amidst a yawn. It proved to be Gabriel. “I'll need to go with that man to pay some fees, but I suspect he has business of a more-pressing nature first, and therefore I had best not waste a minute when I could be doing what I can right now.”

“What would that be?” I asked.

“I can secure our lodging, assuming that the designated place is usable,” said Gabriel. “That involves money and talk. Then...”

The man obviously knew one of us, though when he came up to Sarah, he said, “good, it's you. I was told to expect five people, one of them you, and...”

I reached inside of my clothing, then briefly, drew out the pendant, just a hint. His eyes bugged out, then he indicated I needed to put it away. “There's still plenty of thugs in this place, even if talk has it a Tigris showed out of an old tale and killed every pirate and thug it could catch, and if I go by how many ships were up to the sides of the wharf, and how there's but one now, I'd say that happened. Now did it?”

“No, worse,” said Sarah. “You have Karla to take care of, first, correct?”

“I do,” he said, “but since that is common work, it will be as long as it takes the three of us to walk to where we can sign papers, then you and...” Pause, then, looking at me, “will you handle the fees?”

“No, I don't,” I said. “Money feels so awful it's like playing with swine, and those make me sick.”

“Given that much of it is handled by witches, and it has swine-fat put to it so as to keep its shine, I am not surprised,” he said. “So, send the one who will sign the papers and put the fees when he is up to it, or about half a turn of a glass from now, and then perhaps...” Again, another look at me.

“My handwriting is terrible, unlike his,” I said. “It makes hers look wonderful.”

“I have seen hers, and can read it with difficulty, provided she does it twice, so it is likely that you need someone to sign paperwork or... Can you read and write?”

“Better than anyone at the west school,” said Sarah. “He's taught me more than the sum of my lecturers since I encountered him late last year.”

“Then I take it he reads well, but his handwriting...” He then saw my hair, and seeming pallor. “Well, if that does not beat all. I know who he is, and I know what he is, and then...”

“No, I am not 'the crazy man from the Valley',” I said.

“I figured that,” said the harbor-master. “I know some small rumors about those of that title, and I doubt they were thought fit to be given to the last of the pendants. It can only be one person, and I am not going to speak your name, no, not here.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“You would be mobbed, and people would toss money at you, and you would never get out of here for all they would wish to do,” he said. “So I will just call you 'her husband', as you two fit as well as any pair I have ever seen.”

“Mostly because we were married yesterday at dawn,” said Sarah. “So, by addressing him that way, then you merely speak the truth.”

However, while this man did go off to deal with Karla and another woman, I soon found that while I could not write legibly, I could – and therefore did – do much of the planning. As I did, though – Gabriel was to go get our lodging and secure 'a good room, one elevated', near a stairway, and ideally with no windows, or 'if a window, the smallest one to be had' and then see the harbor master and pay our fees, Karl and Sepp were to see about a warehouse of size, preferably one that wasn't that far off.

“We will need to go to the other side, as that is where those are, and I think we shall need to paddle to do that, so Gabriel, out with you,” said Sarah. “Salz' is the place you want, and if you go about thirty feet past the bow of that ship, and start asking those you meet there, you'll find it. We can meet you on the other side of the harbor, or rather...”

“No, that would make for tough paddling,” I said. “Best simply cast off, paddle to where we can...”

It seemed Gabriel had other ideas, as had Sarah, for he was moving off with a definite purpose along the jetty and then onto the wharf itself, while she was right beside him. That left me holding security, eating Kuchen and drinking beer; and this while discussing what kind of warehouse arrangements we needed with Karl and Sepp.

“You need a big one,” said Karl, “as this is a big boat, and then we...”

“No, it comes apart, remember?” said Sepp. “Still, though, you are right – it needs to be a large one, as these things it is made of are long.”

“And then, of course, it needs to have plenty of added room,” I said, “as we will be coming back with a great deal, and it will take possibly three to five days once news of our return is sent from here and reaches the house proper at home. Now, is there a telegraph office in this town?”

“Yes, and Sarah knows where it's located,” said the soft voice, “which where Gabriel needs to go once he's secured your room.”

“Room?” I asked.

“Salz's may have lost its share of people due to the pirates killing some and driving others off,” said the soft voice, “but he had a full house when they came. Then, he's got every person able to clean working on one room at a time for his slow-returning lodgers, so it's mostly a matter of which room is cleaned first. Sarah's explaining what is needed right now, as she knows the publican personally, and she's wanting her room if she can possibly get it.”

“Her room?” I asked.

“Best in the house,” said the soft voice. “When she came here in the past and needed lodging, it was with other students, and those people want quiet safe rooms – and this place usually isn't that quiet. So, while Gabriel puts money down for four days and a gratuity so as to get the room properly cleaned and put enough beds in it...”

“Baksheesh?” I asked.

“More work, faster work, and a better grade of work in the bargain,” said the soft voice. “Those pirates trashed his place badly, and he's having to hire everyone he possibly can who's inclined to work so as to get the place habitable again in short order – and hiring extra people means he has added needs beyond the usual for one of these events.”

“I think this is like what people hang on the door where you live,” said Karl. “Now, if this is a warehouse, and we do not want this boat tampered with, then it wants a good lock, and while I have not been here before, I know what kind of lock I want, and I bet I can find one once we get the warehouse looked to.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“One like this one I have seen in the tailor's shop at the house proper,” said Karl. “They call those things hard-locks, and it needs someone like you to open it, that or Sarah's cousin, and that type would take her an entire turn of a glass, or so she told me when I asked her about locks, as I knew we would need one for this place.”

“So, do you know where to get one?” I asked, as Sarah and Gabriel returned out of the shop in question. I then knew what to do, or so I thought until no less than three people towing carts followed the two of them to where we were currently sited.

“Oh, right, unloading,” I said. “We're so low to the water, that we either need a drag, or we need a crane to bring our things up, or we need to unload it here – and I suspect that means unloading it here. So while Gabriel helps get things...” I was getting confused.

“It wants four paddling, as if one is missing, then it makes the boat harder to steer,” said Sepp. I could tell that much last night as we were coming in – we had to paddle the way we did, all of us in time, all of us doing our share, and then doing so quietly, so as to not let these people know we were coming until we were ready for them.”

“And if the boat is unladen, then it, uh, becomes easier?” I asked.

“I suspect that it does,” said Sepp. “Now, those carts there look decent, but I am not sure how...”

While Sepp was not sure about how to deal with matters regarding our things, and I was less sure yet, Sarah was entirely sure, and when Gabriel had spoken of 'throwing two gold monster coins down' to ensure we had a good room, I spluttered, “that much?”

“First, the prices here are, at least for lodging, nearly those of the fourth kingdom's market,” said Sarah, “and then I got the room that I've been in before when I was here, so I know it's a good one, and finally, he's hiring a lot of people right now, as he wants to get his food back to running, and they made a mess in there. Dung all over, privies so smelly you'd think the two of us had eaten a whole pot of Vlai between us and then set up camp in them, and then he's got his other things, and those need to run also.”

“Other things?” I asked.

“One of the things that man does is boil salt,” said Sarah, “and his entire back area is both large, walled, and quite steamy, or it will be short order, now that his salt-boilers are stoking those things once more.”

“Does he clean that stuff?” asked Sepp.

“He does, and only your salt is much better,” said Sarah, “though I suspect that situation will improve to no small degree once we get home, as by then, I suspect Annistæ will have that good charcoal to get the bad things out of it.”

“And then, of course, your second pot will most likely be done then,” I said, “your salt-shed will be finished up, and then your family will be running a lot of salt.” Pause, then, “though I might well ask Annistæ if she can figure out how you can do it quicker and easier.”

“I suspect she can, as she will not touch common salt – and she puts salt on her food, unlike most people in the first kingdom,” said Sarah. “Now, we must get our bags on those carts there, and one of us will need to stay with the boat.”

“M-me?” I asked.

“I think that to be the best idea, given your knees, as you do not want to carry those things up stairs much,” said Sarah. “Expect more carts, though, as he's still putting those back together from where he had them hidden, just like all of the rest of his stuff.”

Untying the tarp took but a short time, and when Sepp came back with another group of carts, he was shaking his head.

“Trouble?” I asked.

“No, not at all,” he said. “She got the best room in the place all right, and there are so many people in that place that it will be clean as lightning inside of three turns of a glass. That isn't the trouble.”

“What is, then?” I asked.

“I have no idea how those people could clean up that mess in that room that quick, but they are cleaning it up,” said Sepp, “and while they are using lye, Sarah made sure to tell them to use Roesmaan's battery-grade sulfur-acid afterward.”

“An acid-bath?” I gasped.

“She said to put a small glass to a large bucket, and then that bucket in four others for a total of five, and fill all of them the rest of the way with water to wash everything down after using lye,” said Sepp, “and she was very careful about the acid. She had to see the jug in fact, then show that man precisely what she meant.” Pause, then, “what will that do?”

“Neutralize the lye,” I said. “Trouble is, I'm not sure if it's 'Lye' or its impurities that make me ill, though.”

“More the impurities in 'commonplace' lye, but given that his 'Lye' is also from Roesmaan's and is of their highest grade of purity, neutralization followed by thorough rinsing will keep it from making you overly ill,” said the soft voice. “I would be glad you're not going to be in that room that long just the same.”

“Sewing?” I asked. “Leather? Rest?”

“You'll have time to do those,” said the soft voice. “Clearing the port like you did, and that to such a degree, is having some rather unusual benefits – as those people from across the sea saw what happened, and they – and those over them – know something is up.”

“Something is up?” I asked. “What kind of something?”

“Big Brother is wondering if he will encounter a Tigris come to devour him in his bed,” said the soft voice enigmatically, “and most of those interface people are having nightmares involving 'large dark gray cats' named Smoke.”

“Just what they need, then,” I said. “Now, two more trips of those carts, then we paddle over to the other side...”

“No, you want to go with the last load, as you'll wish to touch that lock so it stays locked,” said the soft voice. “Granted, carry as little as you can get away with, but otherwise, go up the stairs, make sure the place is being aired out decently – it has two smaller windows – and then lock the door with first the key and then ask it to stay closed.” Pause, then, “you can ask your other question of those people while you're in there.”

“And who stays with the boat?” I asked.

“Given that it's 'broad daylight', there will be nothing on it, and those people you're moored to are honest sailors, you won't have much to worry about, not for a ten minute trip,” said the soft voice. “They might well look at it, but expect them to keep their distance just the same.” Pause, then, “were you to leave it alone an hour – then, I might worry a bit more, and two hours, I'd definitely worry, as the remaining thugs will have come out of hiding once more, and you'll wish to trap that warehouse.”

“Trap it, eh?” I asked, as I saw all five wagons suddenly come out the door one after another, this time with all four of the others walking. I had a distinct suspicion, this being something that had happened to Gabriel, and when he came close such that that I could speak to him, I asked, “did you need to use the privy?”

“Yes, and they smelled bad when I went in there, but they smell worse now,” he said.

“Did you get hurt?” I asked.

“No, even if I am sore enough to be glad of that tincture, and once we're upstairs, I'm going to wish a bath and then wiping with Komaet in places,” he said. “That is not the cause of the stink.”

“What is?”

“It seems thugs like privies down here, also,” said Gabriel, “and when that man got too close to me, I could smell strong drink on him, so I didn't take a chance.”

“Yes?” I asked. “Poked him?”

“That, and I put some Krokus in his mouth once he looked to be dead,” said Gabriel. “I am not sure what Krokus does to witches to make them go rotten like that, but it does make them go rotten quickly, and it makes them smell worse than a dead squab done fit for an arch-witch.”

“Best not to speak of such birds here,” said Sarah. “I'd not think about asking about anything other than the usual in that place, as firstly, I doubt they have anything out of the ordinary left, and secondly, I doubt you could get someone to fix it, and then...”

“I am not interested in much beyond beer, perhaps some bread, and a bit of fish,” said Gabriel. “I thought I liked flour-mush, and that greatly, but I can speak of something better now, and that trout Sepp caught, or one like it, cooked on a griddle, done with eggs and dried bread, is that very thing.”

“Oh, no,” I whispered. “I may be fit to be called a jam fiend, but I think I know what Gabriel is.”

“Yes, and what would that be?” said Karl. “He has a red hand, now, is what I think, and that is a good thing, as those thugs like knives here, and he did that wretch up proper, as he told me about it when I caught up with him.”

“Caught up with him?” I gasped.

“Yes, he was running out of the privy, and while he does not like bad-smelling privies much, I do not like them either,” said Karl. “So, I think. Now why would he come out of a privy at a dead run, when running is not good in a place that has a lot of soap on its floor.”

“And?” asked Sarah.

“So I think about the times I got the dung frightened out of me while I was in a privy,” said Karl, “and that was when a witch tried for me, and I had to poke him. So I asked him, and he told me he did that, then stuck that stinker in the ear with one of those daggers, and then used the tip of it to put some Krokus to him, so he will not have that witch try to put his spirits on him.”

“Ya, that is the good thing for those,” said someone who sounded as if they'd just come from Sweden. “I've shipped on that boat what meets out on the ocean with those from across the sea, and they talk like that, and I think it has rubbed off on me some.”

“Wisconsin,” I thought – though thoughts of 'fish' pronounced 'fissss' competed with that word. That woman and her daughter had been from Iceland, and I half-expected to see someone like her in the near future – though I doubted much anyone over there would be named 'Hildur' with a rolled 'R' on the end and a peculiar overall pronunciation, and I doubted even less that I would encounter any small children named named 'Odney' – pronounced 'OTT-nee'. The last names generally were likely to be similar to this area, though I wondered more than a little – and encountering someone named 'Odney Hildurssdottir' was very unlikely. “I wonder if this fellow saws wood?”

“Not sure about that one place, though people say I snores good,” he said. “Now that sounds like a saw, one that is just sharpened up good, so if you are after good hardware, I know where to find it.”

“New, or second-hand?” asked Sarah. We were slowly wending our way among the throng, this of people so infernally busy that I wondered just how busy that fourth kingdom market was. They were working their hardest, the bloodstains were coming up in a frightful hurry, and now, people were dip-netting charcoal when and as they could reach it, the charcoal going in loose-woven 'cane' baskets lined with coarse sacking of one kind or another.

“Most of the third street from the Short Wharf has second hand places, but if it is new you want, then you want some place right near the custom's house here. I disrecall its name, but it has a sign shaped like a lock, and they sell lots of them there.”

“Uh, special ones?” I asked. “Ones fit for a large warehouse space?”

“That is where I would go, if you want your things to stay there,” said the person who sounded as if he were from Sweden. He'd forgotten a good portion of his 'accent' now, though what he had told me but confirmed matters about where we were going.

'Twas a whole new world over there, one that was no longer mired in superstition – unless one considered 'bad luck' in the shape of this strange-looking blindfolded woman with a dart in her hand, one that never flew straight, and bear-traps – three to one foot, none to the other one, though I was expecting to see three legs, and one trap to a leg – to be a mere superstition. I'd seen pictures of superstitions before.

“Sniff the thrust,” I murmured, as I seemed to be seeing Magraat herself depicted upon a blank section of wall, one already well-scrubbed. They had someone named similarly where I came from, though that man was reputed to be involved with aviation – and no descriptions were available of him. Still, this picture looked absolutely real. “That is one strange-looking woman...”

“You do not sound as they do, but you do have their words,” he said. “Now, are you from the west school?”

“No,” said Sarah. “I have no idea what this place was called, nor those places before it, but they made the west school seem worthless for learning, even if they were much less hazardous for most going to them.” Pause, then, “for him – those places might as well have been Berky during its smoke-billowing worst.”

And now, it was time to cut cross the crowd, into wide-opened doubled doors that were freshly hung, and then coerce my knees to go up the stairs. For some reason, though, Sarah led me back straight into this outrageously huge 'Public House', it easily being the largest one I had ever been in, and as I passed between two stone-cased stairs with arches supporting them, I saw the following.

Every wall was inside being scrubbed.

The floor was being scrubbed almost everywhere one could put a foot that wasn't glistening with soap-suds of one kind or another.

The place positively reeked of a species of lye, only this lye was so different from the usual material that it made me wonder if 'the usual' for lye was better termed 'calcined mule dung'. It had a distinctly sharp and biting aroma, but the 'nausea' lye normally caused was nowhere near as bad.

“Roesmaan's lye?” I asked.

“The same,” said Sarah. “He gets most of his chemicals from there, same as a lot of people who use chemicals in this port do, as while they might be expensive, they also tend to be as good as you can get – and he needs the best, as this place has a reputation fully as good as an expensive place in the fourth kingdom.”

“Expensive?” I murmured.

“Costs a bit less,” said someone scrubbing like a maniac. “You want cheap, then you go to the fourth street on the south side, but then you'd best sleep with a club handy, that and a fowling piece on the bed next to you, and burn your lamp all night long. Here, not near that trouble, save when these stinkers decide to show.”

“I've never been here before, and hence I don't know much about, uh, prices or anything,” I said. “Now I can tell that finding better is going to be hard in this area, even if one includes the kingdom house proper, the food here is about as good to be had, it tends to be as healthy as you can get in the kingdom, and one wants to travel to the privy armed.”

“Most, yes,” said someone to my left and front. “You – I doubt that much, as I know who you are.”

“Oh, no,” I thought.

“You do not,” said Sarah. “Why, do you think him to be from the Mule's Totem?”

“I know he is not one of them, as he would smell of mules, and he does not,” said another man, “but I did see what he was doing last night, and those people wish they could cause that much trouble.” Pause, then, “though if I had not seen that business, I would guess him to be one of those who travels with a pack train, one of their leaders – and no, you do not trouble those people. Not if you want to stay alive.”

Again, lanterns were going up to dangle from brass hooks hung by chains from the beams above our heads, these latest ones all those titanium things, and now, my question was burning a hole in my mind, just like these blinding just-lit lanterns seemed to be inclined to burn my eyes. Sarah was taking me 'somewhere', though where was a good question, at least until we came to an obvious 'counter'.

Complete with a just-lit titanium lantern, one that was running a 'decent' grade of aquavit. That explained why it was 'hissing like a snake' – it needed to build 'heat' in its generating apparatus, and that aquavit wasn't '99' grade stuff. It was closer to 'whiskey' in strength.

“The publican?” I asked.

“Yes, him especially,” said Sarah. “Now you had a question, and it relates to these lanterns, and if anyone would know, it would be either him, that person who Gabriel is due to speak to once we get the boat across the harbor, or perhaps those we encounter in the process of finding those things we need before they have food ready.”

“And you're going to ask about that?” I asked.

“She already did, and it will take us at least two hours to have food ready to serve, as they made a good mess in that place, that and our stoves are lined with doubled bricks so they don't burn food so easily as the usual ones,” said a portly individual who looked as if he was related to the publican back at home. “Now, you wonder about your room?”

“No, not that,” I said. “I can tell a great deal about the room, and much else in here.” Pause, then, “I've been wondering about these lanterns.”

“Yes, that boat that just docked a glass's turn ago brings those in,” he said. “You can probably get one from them easy.”

“We already have one, though where we are from, we must keep it hidden for the most part,” said Sarah. “I am now married, and he's the one.”

“Good,” said the man. “Now, you two are part of a party of five. The place in here should be fit to host buyers in two hours, or four turns of the glass, depending on which you trust more. Me, I trust clocks, and I've just got mine out of hiding. Helps with keeping regular hours, as people want those in a place like this.”

“Uh, why are these lanterns turned up so high?” I asked. The closest one was about 'hot enough'. It could be turned down now. “My eyes feel like they're on fire.”

“Ah, then I can tell you,” he said, as he turned the nearest lantern down to a bright yet otherwise pleasant level. “Most people do not know that they are variable as to the light they give, or while they do need to be turned up all the way to light and clear out if you're using something that is called aquavit and isn't that much stronger than what pirates fill up with, they think they need to stay there, so once ours are cleaned out good, and the place is decent again – that needs more light than is usual – then I will have them turned down.” Pause, then, “those people up at the house proper are strange that way, but I think I know why, and I doubt they'll be half as strange that way much longer.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“Same reason why pirates are not going to want to come here much for a while, and that's for those that like that business enough that they do little else,” he said. “Most do that when they think they might get away with it, but they usually run cargo otherwise.” Pause, then, “those people up at the house proper were like pirates that do that and nothing else, and there's but one word for the lot of them.”

“Yes?” I asked cautiously.

“They're a pack of witches, and they had the king by his hair, but most of the ones up there are dead, and now they're mostly dead in here, so I think this place is going to get its nose back into the book, which is where it needs to go, only now, I think it might well stay that way.” Pause, then, “good. I hope and pray that it does.”