The Big House, part 5.


The rest of the class came in minutes later, and as I stood thinking, I noticed that several of them seemed to have faint chalk-marks on their clothing. I wondered for a moment as to what had happened, when Karl came up to me.

“That place wasn't near as bad as I was told it was,” he said.

“What p-place... Oh, the tailor area,” I said. “No three smelly men?”

“No, there weren't,” said Karl. “There were five of them, and three were women. None of them smelled bad.”

I had no idea as to who to ask, or how to ask, so much so that when I squeaked out the words “could three of you come with me to fetch some muskets?” I thought I would be ridiculed. I was more than a little surprised to have Karl and Sepp be two of the people, while the third was 'shorter Johan'.

Walking down the stairs with the key showing plainly in my hand seemed something of an adventure, and the talk of the others seemed to echo the thoughts in my mind. The place had been rigged the last two times, and somehow, I suspected the instructor had not changed his ways in the slightest. Olden habits died hard deaths.

“Is he dense that way, or does he simply not believe what I'm saying?” I thought.

“Who is this?” asked Sepp.

“Those black-dressed people know about everything we do before we do it,” I said softly as we came to the roundabout, “and the last two times I've been in this place, it's been rigged.”

“Do you think they're behind it?” asked Sepp.

“I suspect they know something about it,” I said, “and I know the instructor goes to this one Public House whose owners either wear black clothing or want to. I have my suspicions about some of the patrons.”

My last sentence and its 'reply' seemed to have vanished, and when I walked, I listened carefully. My steps had acquired a ringing echo, and the feeling I had was that I was in front of the others and my steps were being copied with precise and consistent accuracy, as was appropriate for an arch-witch conjuring his slaves.

The others were as puppets, or as automatons, and as I walked, I saw my boots become steadily darker and more pointed. It was all I could do to not march in the manner of the true-step, with feet raised high and then pounded into the floor in a steady crashing rhythm. I stopped in mid-stride and was nearly pushed onto the floor by the others.

“Why did you stop like that?” asked Karl.

“Something was happening,” I said, “and I was trying to find out what it was.”

I paused, then noted one of the columns was but a few feet directly in front of me. I pointed, then spluttered, “I w-would have run into one of those things if I hadn't stopped.”

The feeling of complete and total 'puppetmaster-level' control vanished with such abruptness that I was staggered by it, and only by putting the key in the lock did I come completely out of my 'funk'.

“Let me go first in here,” I said. “They might well have rigged it again.”

I received no argument, even as I unlocked the door and carefully swung it open. The vestibule itself seemed clear, and as I put my foot inside, I had a strange feeling.

There was someone in one of the rooms ahead.

I had nothing beyond the small blades in my tool-roll, or so I thought when I felt my trousers on the right side.

“How did that get there?” I squeaked, as I felt first the pouch for my knife, then that for the revolver.

While my voice was scarcely audible, the movement of the person ahead spoke of being heard, and I unbuttoned the revolver pouch with alacrity. I drew the pistol, silently thumbing back the hammer, then resumed walking slowly with the thing at my side next to my trousers. I wanted to get next to a wall, for some reason – perhaps to hide it better – and when I heard a faint hissing sound, I stopped.

“Did that wretch draw a sword?” I thought. “I doubt that was a snake.”

Soft muffled steps came closer. I could clearly see a shadow lurching side-to-side in the hallway as it came closer. I then noted the acrid smell of datramonium followed hot on its smelly heels by the varied reeks of strong drink, rotten meat, and filthy unwashed skin.

The shadow gathered depth, presence, and a faintly reddish glow about its periphery, and I silently moved to the side. I was still in the vestibule, I now realized. I wondered if I could 'catch' this person and ask questions.

The stink grew stronger, as did the faintly hoarse rasps of the man's breathing. I could really smell the datramonium now, and when he came into the vestibule with drawn sword ahead of him, he turned his face toward me in the near-total darkness.

He was wearing black face-grease, and the faintly gleaming shine of his face only accentuated his rage-contorted features.

His mouth moved, and softly I heard the runes of the hiding-curse vocalized, followed by “Boh-Sagh-Tagh.” I stepped closer, and slowly brought up the revolver, such that it was waist-high.

The sense of fear I had had – a twinge, but it was indeed there – had now vanished. I stepped twice more, and was directly behind the witch. As he reached toward the door to close it, I put the muzzle of the revolver to the back of his neck just below his head.

The witch froze.

“Now, walk outside,” I said softly. “I know who you are, and why you are here, and I want answers.”

The witch seemed to bristle, and I poked him in the back of the neck again. He took a step toward the door and put his hand on the knob, then slowly began opening it.

I expected a trick of some kind, and as the witch tensed to leap, I hooked my left foot around his shin and pushed hard with my left hand.

The witch flew out of doors bodily, and as his sword flew through the air in a glittering arc, I came after him. He stumbled, then turned to face me – and I grabbed his clothing and pulled him such that the barrel of the revolver was but inches from the shiny black skin of his face. His reddened eyes blazed in fury, and he brought up both hands. His goal, beyond my death, was unclear.

I released my grip on his clothing, then flicked the nearest hand away with the back of my hand. He seemed to be jerked to the left, so much so that I lifted up my revolver and grabbed his other hand in mine and pulled hard. He began to spin around somewhat faster, and as his face showed in profile, I slapped hard at his upper chest.

His legs gave way and he began falling backwards in a clumsy sprawl. I followed him down with the revolver's muzzle, even as he landed with a drawn-out grunt of pain on the stones of the floor. I had the muzzle of the pistol in his face again before he realized what had happened.

“Perhaps I should shoot you in the knee,” I snarled.

The witch looked at me – and in a movement too quick for my mind to follow, I grabbed his nearest arm and yanked hard.

The tearing snap that followed was of such a shocking nature that only what came after seemed worse.

The witch began screaming.

“Cease with the screaming,” I said. “I have some questions.”

“Who is that?” asked Karl. His voice seemed to echo in my mind.

“Not too close,” I said. “I think I caught someone trying to rig that suite of rooms again. One of you, go fetch the instructor.”

“You caught a witch,” said Sepp, as he came to my side.

“Did someone go for the instructor?” I asked. The witch was continuing to scream.

“Johan went,” said Karl. “Now...”

“I haven't shot him yet,” I said, “because I want to question him. Do either of you have rope?”

“Are you going to do him like that witch south of Roos?” asked Sepp, as more steps led away.

“N-no,” I said. “I wanted to tie him up so he doesn't run off while we question him,” I said. “There's something rotten in, uh...”

“They don't have a place called Denmark here,” I thought, “so I can't use that one.”

“He smells rotten enough,” said Sepp. “Now why is he screaming?”

“I'm not sure,” I said. “I told him I'd shoot him in the kneecap if he kept causing trouble.”

I paused, then said, “cease with the screaming, sir.”

The witch screamed more, and as I looked closer at his face, I saw small droplets of red near his mouth and nose.

“It looks like you poked him in the chest,” said Sepp. “I see some blood. Did you?”

“Uh, no,” I said. “I put him on the ground, and then I, uh, pulled on his arm really hard.”

“Did it pop?” asked Sepp.

“I th-think so,” I said. “Did I, uh, dislocate his shoulder?”

“You popped his arm,” said Sepp. “That hurts enough to make those northern people scream.”

I heard people coming from my left, and seconds later, Sepp said, “here comes Karl with some rope. How are you going to question him?”

“First, we need to tie him up,” I said, “and then perhaps dose him with something so he can talk without screaming. After, I'll need to get my ledger so I can write down his answers.” I paused, then asked, “uh, why did you ask?”

Sepp was silent, and when Karl actually came, I asked, “could one of you tie the knots? Mine stink.”

“Mine are decent,” said Karl. “Now what part do you want tied first?”

“Perhaps his legs?” I said.

“Are you going to hang him out to dry?” asked Sepp.

“I'm going to ask him some questions,” I said. I then gasped, and squeaked, “what?”

“That is the old way of doing that,” said Sepp, as Karl began tying up the hind legs of the witch. “Karl, watch those boots. Those are the sharp ones.”

“P-pointed boots?” I asked.

“He has those,” muttered Karl. “I've never seen a witch in hunting clothing before.”

“Is that what he's wearing?” I asked. “I thought those boots were different.”

“He's all in black, and has that black stuff on his face,” said Karl. “Everyone said that was what they did when they went out hunting.” Karl paused, then said, “now what? I have his legs tied.”

“The hands?” I asked. “We'll need to turn him over, and uh, bend both arms behind him.”

Turning over the screaming witch was not something I relished, and when I touched the arm I had yanked on, the grating feeling – and grinding noises – spoke of a serious injury. The witch began coughing blood amid his screams once we began tying his hands. He was not up to fighting back.

“How hard did you pop his arm?” asked Sepp, as Karl tied the rope to the witch's hands.

“I yanked hard,” I said. “Do you think it drove some broken bones into his lungs?”

Sepp looked at me, then said, “I doubt Anna could help him much.”

After putting the witch on his back again, I was able to relax slightly. I then looked around.

We had acquired a sizable audience which included the class, and the sense of terror I felt was overwhelming.

“Uh, what now?” I thought. “I have this revolver, and there's a tied-up witch making a mess on the floor, and no...”

“Paper?” I murmured softly. “Someone who can write clearly?”

I was more than a little surprised to see one of the students bringing my bag closer, and when I received it, I opened it quickly. I recalled just what I had inside.

“Good, I have something I can give him,” I said.

“What is that?” asked Karl.

“I have the widow's tincture, and some of that for pain, also,” I said, as I brought out the two vials in question. “If he isn't in such pain, he'll scream less, and perhaps answer some questions.”

'Dosing' the witch proved troublesome, as he did not wish to cease screaming, and he spat out the first dose of the widow's tincture. I had to put the stuff in the back of his throat while Karl used a stick to hold his mouth open.

As I put a tube of the pain tincture down the witch, I could hear muttering from the group that had gathered. I wondered for a moment as to how what I was doing would be perceived, until the witch groaned.

“Good, you're not yelling,” I said. “Now for some questions.”

The witch went silent.

“What were you doing in that room?” I asked.

The witch scowled, then began to speak the hiding curse.

“The stick, please,” I asked.

Karl handed me the stick, and I unceremoniously plopped it into the mouth of the cursing witch.

“That is not a satisfactory answer,” I spat. “I have heard that curse before, and I have an idea as to what it means.”

I holstered the revolver after lowering the hammer, then drew my knife. The eerie gleam of the blade was such that the witch seemed hypnotized by it, and when I gently drew it across his clothing, the stiff coarse-feeling fabric fairly burst open as if pressurized. Underneath was more of the same.

“I think the people around here need to see your ink-markings, witch,” I said. “I can find the answers to my questions by other means. It just takes me longer to do so...”

I felt eyes upon me from all corners of the huge corridor, and I stopped speaking. I wondered how else I could get the witch to give up his information, and I resumed cutting his clothing.

He had several layers more of black cloth hiding his skin, and when I came to the grimy white stuff, I was astonished, for I had unearthed a multi-colored tattoo of a grinning goat-man hybrid entrenched in a five-pointed star.

“Now everyone, come and take a look at this,” I said. “Here is one of those...”

No one was coming closer.

I wondered if I had made myself a pariah of some kind, so much so that I wondered what next I could do. The witch spat his 'mouth-plug' at me, then spat words to follow it – or, rather, he tried to before Karl 'corked' him again.

“I doubt he will say much of a useful nature,” said the voice of Gabriel from behind and to my left. “It would be better to end him where he is.”

“He will die soon enough,” said Sepp. “I saw the blood he coughed.”

“Was this bright red?” asked Gabriel.

“It was,” said Sepp.

“Then he's not likely to live long,” said Gabriel. “I think it would be wise to take him outside and pile the wood, and then burn him.” Another brief pause, then “unless, of course, you wish to question him as per the old tales.”

“What?” I asked.

The third degree,” said Gabriel. “If you plan on doing so, you will want to do so outside.”

The world went black with such abruptness that I had no chance to spread my arms, or do much else prior to hearing faintly the muttering voice of Anna. I wondered what I had done wrong now.

“Y-yes?” I gasped. I felt distinctly ill.

“You should have just shot that witch and been done with him,” said Anna. “He was as bad as they come.”

Anna paused, then said, “now why did you faint?”

“Th-third degree?” I gasped.

“Who spoke of it?” asked Anna.

“G-Gabriel,” I spluttered, as I sat up. I was in one of the small 'guard-rooms'.

Anna muttered more, then said, “I have heard they talk about such things in the lectures here. Do they?”

“It was mentioned once,” I said. “Th-third degree?” I wanted to add, “what kind of evil thuggish wretches came up with that one?”

I paused for a moment, then said, “what did they do with that witch?”

“I'm not sure if he's been burned yet or not,” said Anna. “They put you in one of the rooms here and sent for me.”

“Uh, how did they f-find you?”

“I was in the house on business,” said Anna. “Hans went into town to get some things he needed.”

“How long was I, uh, out?”

“Not very long,” said Anna. “I had enough time to check you over, but not much more.”

After a mug of cider and a slice of bread, I was able to stagger to my feet. Opening the door made for shuddering, for faintly I could smell the sickening stink of burning flesh. Steps came down the hall, then the voice of Karl.

“They cleaned that witch's pockets for you,” he said, “and all of that stuff is coming.”

“Did they burn him?” asked Anna.

“They are just getting the pile ready,” said Karl. “He's dead, so they untied the rope.”

“Good,” muttered Anna. “Who killed him?”

“I think he did,” said Karl, as he indicated me with his eyes. “That witch died before we dragged him outside.”

“How?” asked Anna. “I heard that witch was still alive.”

“He was,” said Karl, “but he was coughing blood. Sepp has seen injuries like that, and he said there was nothing you could have done for him.”

“How bad was it?” asked Anna.

“That first time was a primer,” said the voice of Sepp from down the hall. “After he fainted, that witch coughed up a lot more blood, and when they stripped off his clothing, I found out why.”

“What happened?” asked Anna.

“His arm was nearly ripped off,” said Sepp, “and the broken ends of the bones went into his chest. There was a big swollen place full of blood under his arm.”

I made a gasping noise, then Sepp said, “oh, you're up. I said you would need to go through his things so as to learn what you could, and the king said that was a good idea.”

“D-do they know who he w-was?” I asked.

“I do,” said the instructor, “and I found what he was rigging up this time.”

“What was it?” asked Anna.

“I'm not sure what most of it is,” said the instructor, “but I do know swine-shells when I see them. He had three of those things on the floor.”

“I hope you left it for Hans,” said Anna.

“I did,” he said. “I know enough about bombing to know I'd best leave such matters to those who know about it.”

“I don't know when Hans will be back,” said Anna, “but if he's up to it” – here, she indicated me – “he might well be able to clear the thing. Hans isn't that good about clearing traps.”

As our small group made its way back to the room, I wondered as to what Anna meant. Did she mean Hans wasn't inclined to clear them, or was he not able to clear them? I continued wondering until I actually went back inside the vestibule, where I turned to see the others waiting outside.

“Uh, he didn't get the thing set, did he?” I asked.

“I'm not certain what he did,” said the instructor. “I didn't get too close, and I let no one else go inside.”

The sense I had was the witch was 'tardy' in his trap-setting, and when I came to the room where he'd been hiding – the concentrated stench gave it away – I found several cloth bags laying on the dusty floor. Three tin 'canisters' lay on top of one of the bags, and as I looked around, I had the distinct impression the witch had arrived but minutes before we had.

“He'd barely had enough time to get his stuff out,” I thought. “He would have needed half an hour or so to set the thing up.”

“He had the stuff still in the bags,” I said once back in the vestibule. “I think he figured I would be by later.”

“Good,” said the instructor. “I remembered what you said and spoke of the matter accordingly.”

“What?” said Anna. “Did you talk to that witch?”

“Not him,” said the instructor. “I didn't know that Public House was owned and run by those people until recently. So, if they ask me questions now, I tell them one thing, and I do another.”

“That witch?” I asked.

“Recall what I said about going into the house and fetching back the head of a certain person?” asked the instructor. “That witch you caught is thought to be close to that man.”

“How do they know that?” asked Anna.

“His papers,” said the instructor. “They mentioned a number of well-known names, as well as what he was tasked with.” The instructor paused, then said, “I had no idea there were witches that knew much of bombing.”

“They aren't common, are they?” I asked.

“I'm not sure if they are or not,” said the instructor. “I am sure that one won't be setting more traps in that room.”

“He set the others?” I asked.

“His papers say he did,” said the instructor. “I think we can get the muskets now.”

I led past the room where the 'bombing supplies' lay, then once in the room where the muskets were stacked, I felt at a loss. All I knew was to 'begin looking', and as I went past one rack after another, I paused to briefly look at the weapons.

“These things are awful,” I thought, as I touched a rancid-smelling weapon. “They remind me of Hans' before I reworked it.”

A touch of a file spoke of soft metal, and when I stood, I muttered, “I must have found the only one in here that was decent.”

“Then try to find some that are not too bad,” said the instructor.

The reek of rancid tallow grew steadily stronger, even as I carefully looked over the various muskets. All of them seemed ancient; I didn't know if it was the 'eons of faithful tallow applications' that made them seem older than time, or if they were simply 'older than time' apart from the matter of faulty preservation. I found one that seemed 'passable', then another, and finally, I found a third. The rest of the weapons seemed ready for scrapping.

As we came outside to where Anna was waiting, I asked, “how old are these?”

“Most of them are likely to be older weapons,” said the instructor. “New weapons are seldom purchased by the house.”

“Is this why it is best that we purchase our own?” I asked.

“I suspect that to be the case,” he said. “I only recently have wondered as to why.”

“Why is that?” asked Karl.

“I never had anyone ask questions like him,” he said, “nor do things like him. I've been reading all of the old tales I can since that one student turned out to be a witch.”

Anna had gone somewhere, and once back at the room, we began cleaning the weapons. These were indeed preserved with tallow, and the foul rotten-meat stink mingled with the nauseating reek of distillate as each weapon was 'scrubbed down'.

“Was that stuff, uh, dried?” I asked.

“Supposedly it was,” said the instructor, “but I wonder as to how well. I've heard there is some that is so dry it barely smells at all.”

“That stuff is boiled,” I murmured. “I hope to make a distillate-still soon to do that.”

The rest of the class slowly filtered back inside within the next half hour, and the reek of burnt flesh and distillate that came with them seemed especially cloying and smelly. While the lecture commenced, I began going over one of the three muskets.

“Every one of these things has those 'secret' markings on it,” I thought, as I began removing the screws from the lockplate of the weapon in front of me. I was seated on a stool behind a rag-padded table.

“Muskets need close aiming,” intoned the instructor, “as otherwise, one is likely to waste one's ball.”

“How is that done?” asked one of the students. His voice marked him as one of those who had an attention span measured in eye-blinks.

“One puts one's target under the front of the weapon,” said the instructor, “holds steady, and then fires.”

For some reason, the student seemed completely satisfied with the matter. As the instructor spoke of padding the flint in the cock with lead or leather, I continued removing the screws from the lockplate. Their softness and crudity spoke volumes, and only when I noted little beyond surface rust on the inner portion of the lock was I surprised. I looked closely and wondered how I could 'easily' rework what I now knew to be a relatively 'pristine' weapon. It would not remain so long.

“What is the smallest target one should try for?” asked another student.

“Most muskets do well to hit a smaller tin plate at fifty paces,” said the instructor, “which is why being close to one's target is of such importance.”

The instructor paused, sipped from his mug, then said, “then, that presumes they fire. Most muskets might misfire one time in twenty, if they are in good condition. Many of them are not.”

The instructor paused again. As he did, I could almost hear something amiss, and only by considerable effort could I continue to clean the lock I was working on. I could feel a definite change in the air nonetheless, and when the instructor resumed speaking, I had an idea as to why.

“If one must make one's weapon a bludgeon, the matter is as lost, and its damage is of no consequence,” intoned the instructor. He now sounded as if the voice of a nightmare come calling in the daytime. “Swing with a will and a prayer, much as if you will give an account to God shortly.”

“Why?” asked one of the students.

“Because it is likely that you will do so,” said the instructor. “I have been fortunate that way, both as to not having had to use a musket as a club and having seen others do precisely that.” He paused for a second. “I have seen several who have done so, though through a glass from afar. Of those seven men, but one of them lived after the battle, and he was not inclined to speak of the matter afterward.”

“Why?” asked one of the more-obtuse-sounding students. I could not recall his name.

“He lived in a rest-house until he died the next year of his wounds,” said the instructor, “and his speech was seldom and difficult to understand.”

I managed to clean the first weapon by the end of the lecture, and when the other two were gathered up prior to my touching them, I looked askance at the instructor.

“To the rear of the property,” he said.

As I gathered up the rest of my equipment, I noted all four of the muskets being carried, including the one that I had found first. I wondered as to the two that I had not gone over fully, and once outside, I wondered yet more where we would 'shoot'.

The instructor led over toward the south of the property until he came to a hedge, then turned left and led along a narrow strip of close-cropped dried grass mingled with mud and perhaps a few pale green sprouts. Here and there, I saw the stones of what might have been a path, and ahead, I saw a brushy realm that seemed conjoined to the hedge on the right.

The 'brushy realm' drew steadily closer. Details, such as a 'fold' and the actual bushes quickly showed, and when we came to the fold itself, I noted its 'roofed' nature, its near-impenetrable status, and finally, what might have been thick walls hidden with brush prior to the doorway proper. This last was not locked, for some reason. Once inside the place, I understood why.

“I had no idea this place had a shooting gallery,” I thought.

The thick loamy backstop was easily ten to twelve feet thick, and the three hay 'targets' fronting on it seemed old and waterlogged. I wondered as to the nature of the targets until the instructor looked in a covered bucket and brought out three red-painted scraps of wood.

“How will those work?” I thought.

The scraps of wood went into the hay such that they remained visible and standing.

“Those of you with muskets, begin loading,” said the instructor. “I want to watch you.”

I wondered briefly as I capped what I had – I had loaded it some days ago – but I soon found I need not have worried about loading mine. His attention was strictly for the others, and as he corrected their usage of the 'coarse' and 'fine' powder, Karl came up to me.

“I've never seen one like that,” he said. “What are those things there?”

“The sights,” I said. “The usual lack-of-anything would be impossible for me.” I paused, then asked, “did anyone get that witch's sword?”

“I did,” said the instructor. “It was put with his things for you to look at.”

The other students took perhaps another minute to finish loading. As they did, I wondered what the witch had on his person – until I was abruptly jerked from my thinking by three of the students lining up at the firing line.

“On my signal, volley,” yelled the instructor. “One, two, three, fire!”

Two of the muskets fired, while the one nearest me 'flashed' its pan. 'Taller Johan' began 'dismounting' the gun from his shoulder. He'd gotten it down near his chest when it fired. He fell to the ground with a thud and a groan.

“I didn't have a chance to clean that one,” I muttered, “and it hang-fired.”

I was expecting an eruption of some kind and was surprised when it didn't come. After all, it was my fault that things were not perfect. I then glanced at the targets.

“What?” I gasped. “Fifty feet and all of them missed?”

“I presume you can do better,” said the instructor. “Why don't you show us?”

I shouldered my rifle, then aimed at the center fragment of wood. It took some seconds to settle down, and as the rear sight captured the front, I gently squeezed the trigger. The sudden abrupt report was a complete surprise – as were the comments from all and sundry.

“What did you load that thing with?” asked the instructor through my ringing ears.

“The usual load,” I said, as my eyes focused on the middle haystack. “W-where's the target?”

The instructor went to the center mound, then began mumbling as he returned to where the musket-loaders were dealing with their balky charges. He seemed disinclined to speak of aught save what those people were enduring.

“I think you centered that wood-piece,” said Karl. “What is that musket like to shoot?”

“Do you want to try it?” I asked.

Karl nodded as I began loading it. Steps drew closer as I swabbed the bore with spit and tallow, then dried it prior to dumping the powder. When I inserted a bullet, I heard an oath from the instructor.

“That is no musket I have seen, ever,” he said. “Now what was that you just put in?”

“The bullet,” I said, as I ran it down with the ramrod. “This may be a bit slower to load than those you have there, but given its results...”

“I put another target to replace the one you burst,” he said. “I've heard about how that one does on game.”

“What does it do?” asked Sepp. He was watching one of the other students prime his weapon.

“Talk has it hits like a roer, and that with its common load,” said the instructor. “It didn't put you on the ground, though.”

“Uh, I put in the usual load,” I said, “which is less than the first few times I fired it.”

“How much is that?” asked Karl.

“About two-thirds of the usual measure of powder,” I said. “If I put in a full measure of what it likes, I would need lengthy rubbing with liniment.”

“Why?” asked the instructor.

“I would be very sore and badly bruised,” I said. “When I shot that first pig, I needed rubbing for days.”

I had to spend several minutes explaining to Karl the various tricks of my rifle. During that time, the others 'volleyed' again, and I glanced at the targets. One of them had been 'nipped' by a bullet. Karl then shouldered my rifle.

“This thing is a lot heavier than a musket,” he said, “and those things you have there seem to grab my eyes and force them to not wander.”

“Come to the firing line,” I said, “and try shooting.”

Karl did so. I was jolted, shocked, and deafened when he fired – and I was glad I was nearby, for he dropped the rifle. I caught it before it could hit the ground, and as I straightened up, I saw him holding his shoulder and grimacing.

“Well?” I asked.

“It needs its weight,” he said, “as it shoots harder than anything I've ever shot.”

“How so?” asked the instructor, as I removed the 'busted' cap.

“I have shot the larger muskets before,” said Karl, “and the smaller ones, and none of them thought to act like mules.” Karl paused, then said, “Stephan dared me to try a roer.”

“Well?” asked the instructor.

“I think I will let him shoot that thing,” said Karl.

“The roer?” I asked.

Karl looked at me as he rubbed his shoulder, then said, “both that gun and what you have. It might not be a roer for the ball, but I do not wonder about how it can make you sore.”

I then looked at the mound of hay. The target was gone.

“I think you hit the target,” I said, as I finished reloading.

Karl startled, then began muttering. I wondered if he'd taken lessons from Anna.

“What happened to it?” he asked.

“You centered it,” said taller Johan, “and that gun tried to get away from you when you shot it. What is it, a roer?”

Karl resumed muttering while rubbing his shoulder.

After the entirety of the class managed two shots apiece from the four muskets – I was excepted, even though I suspected my remonstrances regarding the priming powder fell on deaf ears – we adjourned to the classroom. There, I demonstrated musket-cleaning on one of the weapons, while the rest of the class watched.

“Now you do as he showed,” said the instructor.

The nerve-wracking aspect of 'enthusiastic ineptitude' I saw displayed over the next half hour was sufficient to ensure nervous prostration, and when class actually ended, I was astonished to find not merely two large wicker baskets in the corner of the room, but also Hans seated on a stool with a tinned copper mug of beer in his hand. I went with him with one of the baskets in my hand, while the talk to our rear spoke of being followed.

“Anna told me about that witch,” he said, “and I am glad he is dead.”

“Uh, no answers to my questions,” I said.

“Talk has it witches seldom do that,” said Hans. “The old tales say there are ways of making them talk, but I disrecall what they did.”

I remained silent until we came to the buggy. Anna was already present, as was another wicker basket, two wooden boxes, and several cloth bags. I put my basket in the rear of the buggy.

“Put that other one next to it,” said Hans, as Sepp came to my side.

I was not prepared for what happened next, however, and when Hans squawked, I nearly jumped under the buggy.

“What gives with those guns?” he said.

“They need repair,” said Karl. “The instructor spoke of them going home with him.”

“What?” I gasped.

Anna looked at me knowingly, then held up a small yet bulging leather pouch. I got in the rear of the buggy, and as Hans drove off, Anna said, “that was arranged by Gabriel.”

“How?” I asked.

“It seems you spoke of what you found,” said Anna. “and you were heard. Hence, they are to be 'gone through'.” Anna paused, then said, “he said more than that, and I'm glad he did.”

“What did he say?” asked Hans.

“He spoke of cleaning and repair,” said Anna, “as well as something called 'the usual pattern'.”

“U-usual pattern?” I gasped. “What does that mean?”

“He spoke of how you usually do guns,” said Anna. “This isn't a small inducement.”

“Does he want them, uh, rifled?” I asked.

“I doubt he knows much beyond their reputation and what he's seen of ours,” said Anna. “He mentioned both of them repeatedly, as well as the other guns you've done.”

I recalled the instructor speaking of people dealing with me 'directly', then asked, “uh, did he want to speak with me...”

“I think he knew about how you are,” said Anna. “I've had two men ask me about having swords gone over, and I told them you were very busy right now.”

“T-two men?” I asked.

“They were guards here,” said Anna, “though when they saw me, they were not at their posted hours.”

“Posted hours?” I asked. I wondered if there was a schedule.

“There are six posts to the day,” said Anna, “and each one is eight turns of the glass, or four hours.”

“Now how is it there are that many hours in the day?” asked Hans.

“Twenty-four hours?” I asked.

“I have seen clocks and watches, and none of them have that many markings on them,” said Hans. “The most I have ever counted was twelve.”

“Hans, that's because there is the day-circle and the night-circle,” said Anna, “so those things circle twice in a day. Twelve and twelve is twenty-four.”

Anna then turned to me and asked, “it is, isn't it?”

While Anna's math had improved markedly since my coming, she had difficulty unless she wrote everything down and proceeded in a systematic and methodical fashion. I nodded, then “and six multiplied by eight is..?”

“That is simple,” said Hans. “That is fourteen.”

“Hans!” yelled Anna. “I might not know what it is, but I know it is not fourteen.”

“Twice twenty-four,” I said, as I looked over the muskets. “Forty-eight.”

The muskets went in the shop on the way home, and as I carried them inside, I noted the seeming absence of the others that normally worked there. As I came out, I asked, “what have they been doing recently?”

“They come every day,” said Hans, as I climbed back in the buggy, “though I have heard tell they do not do much while they are there.”

“Do they leave early or something?” I asked.

“I can ask about that once we get home,” said Anna. “Why, weren't they in there?”

“If they came,” I said, “they left hours ago.”

As I began heating the sword-blank in a fresh-kindled forge, I heard steps coming from the shop's doorway, and I turned to see Anna. I was surprised to see her carrying one of the small lanterns.

“They left before lunch,” she said, “and they weren't doing much inside while they were present here.”

“Uh, I have to do all the work?” I asked. It seemed likely, given the meager quantity of work that had been done.

Anna began muttering, then said, “I have a hard time believing some of what I heard.”

“What did you hear?” I asked. “Are they afraid to try anything beyond the simplest unless I am there to keep them from making mistakes?”

Anna muttered more, then said, “I am not sure. It may look that way, but I still wonder.”

I packed away the sword blank after welding it twice, and as I beat out copperware, I wondered how many more days we would be in training. The stack of slates was steadily growing, and my recollection of the part-finished steam boiler flared for an instant in the back of my mind.

“I need surface plates to get those boiler casting parts flat,” I thought, “and I barely recall how to do those. I'll need patterns of some kind, also.”

While the patterns could wait – they would have to, given the conditions at the shop – I could ill afford to wait on those things not needing a steam engine, and I worked until an hour after sundown before heading home. I took one of the gunlocks with me in my bag; while it was not the one I'd dismounted earlier that day, it too showed little beyond surface rust. At dinner, I spoke of the matter.

“That does not surprise me, that you should need to redo those things,” said Hans. “Now will you do them as you usually do?”

“All new metal parts, save for the barrel itself?” I asked. “That would take a lot of time that I cannot spare right now.”

“I thought so,” said Anna. “I doubt they knew that you still have a great deal of work above and beyond what they see you do at the house.”

“These parts aren't that worn,” I said. “I was hoping I could rework at least some of them.”

“I think you might want to do them as you usually do,” said Hans. “People expect that now.”

Anna all but glared at Hans, then said, “are these different from the ones before?”

“They are nowhere near as rusty or as worn,” I said. “The chief issue is poor geometry, poor fits, and soft metal.”

“Yes, that is the same as for the others,” said Hans. His oblivious tone was troubling, for I had the impression he was seeing what he wished to see. I wondered if he saw my presence as a form of advertising. I suspected he got some business that way, for some reason, and I wondered greatly as to why I was thinking that way now.

“The others had all of those things, and severe corrosion and substantial wear,” I said. “I was hoping to save myself time, and those commissioning the work money.”

I paused, then said, “they don't expect these to be done in a few days, do they?”

“Gabriel spoke of that,” said Anna. “I suspect someone was thinking of the usual times for work like you do.”

“The usual times?” I asked. “Usual for me, or..?”

“The usual for instrument-makers,” said Anna.

“That is why I said it would be best for you to do them as you usually do,” said Hans. “They will not be looking for them until next year, so you have time, and it is best to not take chances with house-work.”

I said no more, for I realized the realities of 'quantity production' were lost on both Hans and Anna. Even in 'batch mode' and using patterns and gages, the usual 'method' would take far longer than I felt I could spare, and as I began working on dismantling the lock, I had an impression.

While I didn't have to finish the guns in days, I did not have months.

“I might have a few weeks to get these done,” I thought, as I unscrewed the nut holding the cock, “and I can tell I will need to make a fair number of parts for these guns as it is.”

As I prepared myself for bed, I made some notes in the ledger regarding the parts I was likely to need for the guns, those being screws, pins, tumblers, bolsters, and springs. I suspected I would need to make some larger parts as well.

“I wonder if I can mix and match some of the other parts,” I thought. “I'm using patterns for these things anyway.”

On the way to the classroom the next day, I had the impression that our lectures would be entering a new 'phase'. The instructor confirmed this by the time he had uttered his third sentence of the morning, and as he spoke of 'giving chase', I noted not merely the 'intensely' medieval tone and feeling, but also the aspect of hearsay and rumor being treated as absolutely reliable information. To hear such things spoken of in a 'preachy' tone of voice was unsettling in the least.

“In your travels, you will stop oft at Public Houses,” said the instructor, “and there, you may find what information you are seeking. Give close ear to all that you hear, and ponder carefully.”

The aspect of 'care' seemed a euphemism of some type, and when I heard him resume speaking, I wondered yet more. Was he speaking clearly, or in a type of 'code'?

“When questioning, do so in a manner that seeks your desired goal, and should a chance word come to you, seize upon the matter wholeheartedly,” intoned the instructor. “Lay in wait for further words, and if needed, follow likely subjects when they leave the premises. Question them further once they have attained their dwellings.”

“Why?” asked one of the students.

“The old tales speak of questions put to witches and evildoers,” said the instructor. “Let those tales guide your hands and minds as to what you do should you question such people.”

“Old tales?” I thought.

“Then, those northern people do not answer civilly, no matter what is said to them, and they prefer death to speech,” said the instructor. “Burn them, and be done with them.”

“Is questioning of witches and evildoers by the third degree common?” asked 'shorter Johan'.

“I've not seen that way of questioning done,” said the instructor, “though I have heard of it. It is quite rare to have witches or brigands be captured while still alive.”

Karl looked at me, even as I wrote down what had been said. I again recalled the behavior of yesterday's witch.

“Then again, the old tales speak of third degree methods as being especially effective,” said the instructor. “Charles did them commonly, and learned much thereby, even though the witches were disinclined to speak to him.”

Again, and for the third time, I recalled the witch's cursing of the day before. It was not easy to concentrate.

“That was so the case,” said the instructor after sipping from a mug, “that special words that I cannot speak were used to describe the behavior of evildoers.”

“Obdurate?” I asked, as I recalled the witch's behavior for a fourth time.

“I suspect so,” said the instructor. He then did a double-take and looked at me, then muttered something which I had trouble deciphering.

“Did you go to the higher schools?” asked Karl.

I shook my head to indicate 'no'.

Our lecture continued somewhat longer than normally, for some reason, and when we ceased with the matter, the instructor led us to the floor where we did our sword-drills. While the wood-swords were still present, or so I suspected, he went past that particular area.

“There will only be a few more lectures,” he said, “and then the second and longer portion of your training will commence, where you will be paired up with older men. In the mean time, it is important that you have knowledge of this building so as to guard it and those in it.”

He stopped, turned, and then faced us before continuing.

“While I can show you the building proper, you will need to explore things on your own,” he said, “and that will be much more than this building. I would consider such matters carefully.”

Our tour led us through darkened dusty halls, strange rooms, and eerie passages. As I walked in the middle of the group, I could plainly discern 'secret passages' hidden by guile and locked doorways, and while the instructor was attempting to be 'complete', his attempts were marred greatly by his limited knowledge. He didn't spend much time exploring, so much so that I wondered as to the phrasing of the concept. “Do as I say, not as I do,” seemed appropriate, and I loathed the concept intensely.

I had the impression he avoided much of the lower floors as a matter of course, as did most of those who worked in the building, and when he came to the northwest staircase, I noted it went down from where we were as well as up. He did not wish to go down the stairs, for some reason, even if I did not 'feel' the bad place below like I had weeks ago.

We again left off early, and while I rode home in the buggy, I had the impression the others would first eat in the refectory and then explore the place at length. I thought to ask about the matter. Anna had come by herself that day.

“I think that part is mostly for their benefit,” said Anna, “as word has gone around about you being able to find things and places.”

“Uh, secret passages?” I asked. “That place feels like it has its share.”

“I thought so,” said Anna, “and you're right, it does. Hendrik has told me about a few of them.”

“That place has more than a few, dear,” I said. “I felt at least five of them on that second below-ground level during the first ten minutes of the tour.”

Anna had no answer for me beyond an expression I could neither figure nor name, and I was glad to arrive home early, even if the others in the shop were not present. When I came to a lit forge, I was shocked, at least until Hans arrived a few minutes later. I was almost expecting him, for some reason.

“I had to get onto them to make sure the place was ready for you to work when you came,” said Hans. “They did not want to touch a thing unless you were here.”

“Did they say why?” I asked.

“Georg spoke of nothing they do being good enough,” said Hans, “and they showed me this pile of stuff they called scrap over there in the corner.”

I glanced in that direction, and spluttered, “those are blanks that need reheating and rewelding before cooking them some more. They aren't scrap.”

Hans looked at me with a knowing 'leer', and I went to check the furnace. As I brought out the cooking containers, I noted the still-present warmth of both boxes and furnace. It was obvious they had not done anything in that area of the shop, and for some reason, I was glad.

“They don't stoke this up, do they?” I asked.

“Georg has been speaking of wood and charcoal,” said Hans, “and how scarce they are right now.”

“Uh, how do they make charcoal?” I asked.

“The burners use big pots filled with sticks, and they burn them in big stinky places that look like kilns,” said Hans, “and then they bag the stuff up when it is done with its burning.”

“Do they have trouble getting the wood?” I asked.

Hans thought for a moment, then said, “I doubt it. Burning charcoal might not pay much, but it is steady work.”

“Do most charcoal-burners farm as well burn charcoal?” I asked.

“Those I know of do,” said Hans. “There are three of them within a half-hour's drive of here.”

“Perhaps they could fetch wood and charcoal for when I'm, uh...”

“I told them about that,” said Hans. “I think they will start getting that stuff tomorrow.”

As I began my last session of welding on the sword-blank, I noted the feeling of the steel under the hammer. It felt 'normal' for that strange iron, and as I began forging the blank to shape, I recalled the tendencies of curvature that happened with unequal bar-sections. I therefore left the blade nearly straight as I forged first the point of the blade and worked back toward the handle portion. I was glad it seemed so even and 'clean' when I finished, and I let it soak for a while among the heaped coals of the forge before withdrawing it completely. I wanted it fully annealed before finishing it.

I buried the blade in the ashes to cool slowly, then gave my attention to the rest of the work needing my efforts. The others had been running 'modest' amounts of stovepipe, or so I thought until I checked the various pieces over. Thankfully, they had separated the various steps into individual mounds.

“They barely start the stages of this stuff, and call them done,” I spluttered. “It's almost as if they're afraid to get it even slightly close.”

Yet as I ran each 'batch' through the various machines and checked them, I suspected that wasn't the whole story. There was more to the matter than the proffered concern over adequate levels of quality. I finished each stage in process, and when I put the first of the finished pieces near the stacks, I did a 'double-take'.

“H-he's been selling this stuff,” I said, as I mentally counted the remaining portion. “He must have sold three-fourths of what we had a few weeks ago.”

I noted the absence of those things I had finished, and as I counted the growing stacks of slates, I knew time – as evidenced by orders – wasn't standing still in the slightest. Georg had obviously been purchasing slates as well as taking orders upon them.

I stayed later that evening than the night before, and when I came home filthy with grindstone dust from grinding blades and other iron pieces, I seemed weary beyond measure. I ate in near-silence, and then after eating, I spent but a short period dismantling the lock I had brought home with me before heading upstairs to bed.

I was sufficiently tired that I dozed through the first half of the trip over to the house, and only fully awoke when most of the way there – and when I sat down for the lecture, I wondered what it would deal with that day. The instructor's beginning words provided a slow-blooming clue, and I wrote dumbly what I heard – at least, until I 'heard' what he actually said.

“Should you find a witch,” said the instructor, “do not waste your time with questioning. Witches are to be killed and burned.”

What?” I thought. “Didn't he speak of questioning witches as per those old tales?”

The rapt attention of the remainder of the class seemed to but add to the air of 'preaching' by the instructor; they were his 'choir', and he their 'preacher', and both were on utterly familiar ground. I was the 'odd man out'; and along with such thinking went other more-troubling strains of recollection: “that interloper who is not as we are, who is not part of us... The penultimate 'them'... The 'other'... That 'it'.”

“Do not question witches,” he said, “for all that witches speak are curses, and all that they do is evil. Their evil leaks out from them, and it ruins all they touch.”

“What does that mean?” asked taller Johan. His obtuse speech was especially troubling, as he commonly seemed much less that way.

“Firstly, do not touch the property of a witch,” said the instructor, “or the witch himself, or even anything in the area, lest it be tainted in some way. If one must handle such things, use sticks, and then burn the witch, the witch's property, and the sticks in the same burn-pile.”

“Is that why you fainted?” whispered Karl.

I shook my head to indicate no, then resumed copying the 'Gospel' according to the instructor. Though its usefulness was at best questionable, his spiel gave a great mass of clues regarding what was actually believed by many.

“Secondly, have nothing to do with entering the realms of witches,” said the instructor. He then paused for a moment, as if to answer questions.

“Why is that?” asked one of the class. He seemed unusually obtuse, even for him.

“I do not know, beyond what is written in the old tales,” said the instructor, “and I have been asking questions and reading those as much as I can lately.” He paused, then said, “those tales speak of witch-realms, and describe them as being the property of the witches owning them, such that few other than the witches themselves could set foot upon them and not be affected.”

“Is that why they became as they did then?” I thought.

“And that part, I know about,” he said. “I had sufficient trouble with that witch-hole he found, and that was when I stayed clear of the hole itself. I fell asleep the minute I set foot on those stairs that lead down into it.”

He paused, drank deeply from 'his' tinned copper mug, then said, “and the same thing seems to happen in certain Public Houses. You want to watch those close.”

As the lecture continued, I slowly learned that much of the knowledge of witches was actually presumed, as he seemed to be hitting the 'highlights' of witch-trouble. More, that knowledge was defined by rumor, and cemented firmly by the foundation imparted by the old tales. He continued but a short time with that topic, for some reason; and during the 'intermission', he vanished. I wondered if he had taken lessons from Hans for a minute, at least until someone spoke of what he had done.

“Now where did he go?” asked Karl.

“I'm not certain,” I said. “He went up a floor and to the west of here.”

“Is he checking on the armory?” asked Sepp.

“He does that seldom, and not during class hours,” I said. “He's looking in an area south of that area along this hall that goes east and west, and there's this one room with two desks and a lot of rolled up pieces of paper.”

“Those sound like maps,” said Karl. “I drew some of them in school.”

“Do they teach that?” I asked.

“Once you can read and do sums, they do,” said Sepp. “I drew some shortly before I left for my apprenticeship.”

“What was that?” I asked.

“Until my father was killed,” said Sepp, “I was apprenticed to a butcher. I was a year from getting my walking papers when he died.”

“And you were ready to walk a year before that,” muttered Karl. “Now I hope I can read the maps he brings.”

“Do maps tend to be, uh, decent, or are they fanciful?” I asked.

“Have you never seen them?” asked Karl.

“I have seen maps,” I said, “and read maps, and used maps – where I came from. I haven't seen any of them here.”

When the instructor showed next, he had an armload of 'parchment', and began to carefully unroll his various prizes prior to handing them out. As the students looked closely at the individual maps – there was a bottleneck at the front, hence they were not trickling back to us at the rear of the group – the instructor looked closely at the students who were trying to decipher what they had in front of them.

“I think you all need practice with these,” he said, “so you might well wish to recall what you were taught and put it to use after today's lectures.”

As the maps continued in their hidebound state, the instructor resumed his spiel.

“No map is perfect,” he said, “and most of them have errors, even if they be done by map-captains with sextants and figured by a Guymus' lecturer.”

“Then why should we use them?” asked one of the students with a map in his lap. I personally wanted to ask about 'Guymus', for I suspected it to be the name of one of the higher schools.

“Even an error-filled map speaks loudly of where you are going,” said the instructor. “Besides, you will need to stop for food and drink, and that several times a day. Don't be afraid to spend time learning what you can.”

Knowing glances all around spoke of things I'd heard Hans and others speak of, and the instructor confirmed matters when he resumed speaking.

“Asking questions at such places is expected of you by most anyone you might encounter,” he said, “and hence, you can learn the details the maps omit or speak wrongly of. Freighters and students at the higher schools do no differently in their travels.”

As the lecture continued on – there was mention of the surrounding area, with some hints as to what lay outside the roughly twenty mile radius he was describing – the maps moved slowly toward where I was sitting. Finally, one reached my seat.

Touching the paper spoke of age, dirt, grime, and grease, and as I looked at the stained and rumpled 'watercolor', I thought, “this is a map? It might as well be a pure fiction embroidered with multicolored rumor. It's worthless!”

“That one is not bad,” said Karl. “I think it shows somewhere to the north of here.”

“How?” I squeaked.

Karl took up the map, then looked for a moment before whispering, “here is where we are, I think.” He pointed at a spot near the center of the map.

“That map is of the second kingdom house,” said the instructor. “The markings on the upper left corner speak of the place and time it was done, and also its grade.”

“Grade?” I squeaked.

“I suspect it was done by an apprentice,” said the instructor, “and I have doubts as to its usefulness. The maps I brought down were not being used by the house, and the amount of dust and dirt on them said they had not been used in quite some time.”

The others were still at the shop when I showed later in the day, and I wondered why for a moment until I noted the black powdery traces here and there, as well as a multitude of splinters scattered widely on the floor.

“Wooding and charcoal?” I asked.

“That we did this morning,” said Georg. “I had no idea both places had their buggies go bad.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“At least one axle needed slatting,” said Gelbhaar, “and if that is if they do not mind it going bad in a hurry. I think they smoked that wheel.”

“So you all needed to go get the stuff?” I asked.

“That, and then store it in the rear,” said Georg. “They both had a lot of charcoal, as they had been burning the stuff steady.”

“Do they gather their own wood?” I asked.

“I think he was giving discounts on the stuff to people who brought wood,” said Johannes. “Had we time to do so, I would think about doing the same.”

I was going to ask about 'time' when Johannes continued, saying, “I learned years ago that I could earn more money hunting than just about anything if I wasn't working in a smith's shop. At least, that is usually the case.”

“It has not been good lately,” said Gelbhaar. “This time has been the worst since I came to this area.”

“M-more money?” I asked.

“Most people do things like that,” said Georg. “I'm not one of them.”

“Uh, why?” I asked. “Too much business?”

“That is usual,” said Georg, “but lately, I have had time on my hands with you being in training. Talk has it you are doing a fair amount of it.”

“Uh...” I was tongue-tied.

“Doing?” asked Gelbhaar?”

“With swords, no less,” said Georg, “and that's when he's not going after witches.”

My legs became weak, and as I found my stool, my eyes brimmed with tears. I could scarce suppress the sobbing.

“What happened to you?” asked Georg. “Do I need to fetch Anna?”

“N-no,” I gasped. “Th-those witches were t-trying to k-kill me, and, and...”

I sobbed more, and as the 'shroud' of grief descended, I felt reminded strongly to 'take my medicine'. I did so, and nearly screamed a minute later, both at the recollection of what had happened, and the emptiness of the shop.

“Where did everyone go?” I gasped.

“I think they are heading down to the Public House,” said Hans, as he came in the door.

“F-for food?” I asked.

“Talk has it some freighting wagons are coming up the road,” said Hans, “and they might be waiting for them to show. Now did they get wood and charcoal?”

“I th-think so,” I spluttered. “They said they did.”

A minute later, Hans came back into the main shop, saying, “I do not know why they got so much of that stuff, as they have thrice what I have seen in the past.”

“F-forging to make up for my absence?” I asked.

“They might do that,” said Hans. “Talk has it your lectures are almost done.”

“M-maps?” I asked. “They showed those today, and the one I saw was a d-decoration.”

“Did this map have colors on it?” asked Hans.

“Some, though they were dirty,” I said.

“Was this map of the second kingdom house?” asked Hans.

“Have you seen that one?” I gasped.

“That thing is no map,” said Hans. “I have seen boys just starting in school do better.”

“Uh, that drawing I did?” I asked.

“That was a good one,” said Hans. “I have seen better, but those are costly and hard to find, and they usually describe the sea and the land next to it.”

Hans left shortly thereafter, and as I worked on forgings for the three 'domestic' guns – the fourth kingdom example was good enough that it only needed a handful of new parts prior to finishing and case-hardening – I tried 'listening'. For some reason, I could 'hear' a pair of freight wagons coming up the road a few miles away, and while I had but little idea as to what they were carrying, I wondered greatly about the cargo of one of them.

“Is Georg planning a submarine?” I thought. “That pipe is b-big enough for one.”

I kept the sword-blank well-hidden under the cloth that I had laid down for the muskets, and when the thought occurred to me to use stamps and sheet tin to indicate what needed to happen, the idea was enough to cause an involuntary squeak.

“I need to write the same things anyway for most of this stuff,” I thought, “and there won't be an issue with legibility, either. Maybe I should do some stamped labels that speak of 'trimming' and 'annealing'.”

The forging for the gun parts was proceeding well, surprisingly, for I was using the 'scrap metal' I had told Hans about recently for a starting point. While it had 'cold shuts' – mostly badly-done welds – in great abundance, as well as but slightly diminished slag for the most part, it wasn't difficult at all to 'clean up' with a short stint of forge-welding. The area around the anvil had become carpeted with smoking hot droplets of slag by the time I heard the creaking wheels of at least one freight wagon. I went to the door to look.

The first of a pair of freight wagons was heading slowly up the muddy street behind a long team of decrepit-looking horses, while Georg, Gelbhaar, and Johannes walked beside it in the road. All eyes were on the long rivet-studded cylinder tied to the front freight wagon, while behind it came another with a cargo of what looked like barrels and boxes.

“T-that thing has to be fifteen feet long if an inch,” I thought. “What is it for?”

My question was only answered when both freight wagons were in the yard and backing slowly up to the door, with one freighter from each wagon guiding the driver as he backed.

“What is that, uh, tube for?” I asked.

“I showed that drawing you did around some time ago,” said Georg, “and while no one knew what you meant by the word you used, I did learn about that type of furnace. I sent down word for a smaller shell once I'd learned enough to do so, and it finally got here.”

“Uh, did you get plate and, uh, angle?”

“Some of that came on the second wagon,” said Georg, “and more is due within a few days.”

Georg paused, then said, “at least that metal will be coming from the fourth kingdom. That place doesn't do furnace shells like this.”

Unloading the 'fifteen foot' tube proved my estimation of its length to be low, and as it went into the shop, I marveled at its size and heft from my 'tail end' vantage point. I was glad for the maneuvering 'horses' that the freighters had to cope with the monstrous thing, and once it was in the rear of the property, I marveled.

“Now I'll need to put out the word for the plinth and the other things,” said Georg. “You might want to draw the other parts that go with it, as details were few and hard to find.”

I drew what I recalled from memory using both sides of a blank slate while the remaining supplies were unloaded into the rear area of the shop proper. As I finished the drawings, I thought, “ha! Now I know how to dispose of all of that bad northern scrap! We can make real pig-iron!”

Once the shop was again quiet, my files resumed their noises, first upon gun parts and then upon various blades. I had the intimation I wanted to do the bulk of the work on my sword at home, or so I thought until I began filing several knife blades to finished size.

“I'd best work on it here, too,” I thought. “I'll have need of it within a few days.”

The blades progressed rapidly under my files, even that of the sword, and when I left for home, I had a filed-to-shape sword wrapped in cloth and hiding in my bag. I would need to drill the holes needed for the handle at home.

After bathing and dinner, I resumed work, and within moments, Anna was watching me work intermittently.

“I saw that drawing in your ledger,” she said, “and I wonder about it.”

“Uh, it isn't like the others I've seen here,” I said. “I have heard of or seen ones like that where I came from.”

“But I thought you would use that sword that came here,” said Anna.

“Sword?” I asked, as I stroked a fine file down the length of the blade. I was hours from the coarser stones.

“Yes, a sword came here, as well as a lot of things that bother me,” said Anna. “You were supposed to look at them, and I hope you can do it soon.”

The aura of 'fear' in Anna's voice was such that I shuddered, and when I went to follow her down into the basement, I asked, “this is the stuff from that witch?”

“I think so,” said Anna. “They sent everything he had here, almost.”