The Big House, part 13.


“They'll start working on that new forge tomorrow, and I need to...” The recollection of the effects of trowels upon my mind was enough to induce a headache, and I began moaning.

“Now what is your trouble?” asked Hans. “You do not need to be there.”

“No, Hans,” said Anna. “This is for a saw-blade forge.”

“They know how to do forges,” said Hans. “He can stay home.”

“They only know how to do the one...” I gasped, then squeaked, “they have no idea how to do even the common forges. They'll be banging our door down when they come, and I'll have to watch them every second so they don't ruin the thing, and they don't know a thing about drawings, and I don't know much about forges. Oh, no!”

“Then how is it those things that are there were done?” asked Hans. “They need to work on those things all the time down in the fourth kingdom.”

“The way that shop is, they might be older than either of us,” said Anna. “They have more forges than the common, and they never did that much in any of them.”

“Until I came,” I gasped. “I use them a lot.”

“Yes, and you do not use the same one from one day to the next,” said Anna. “I've seen what you do with those things, and only when you are welding or forging iron do you work those things as hard as is common.”

“So they are old,” said Hans, “and masons learn to do those things. They should not need him there.”

“This isn't like a common forge,” I spluttered. “It's long, narrow, and the usual for that type of forge has three bellows and some really complicated 'plumbing' for the blast. This one isn't going to have that, but a place for that one blower.”

“I think you had best draw it up,” said Anna, “as I have no idea of what you are trying to do, and those people will have less yet.”

“They do not know drawings,” said Hans. “I know about those people that way.”

“Then how did they know how to do that oven?” I asked. I then recalled Hans speaking of a drawing of some kind done by Georg.

“I had to tell them,” said Hans, “and I was careful, and I needed to be, as if it is not mortar, or a trowel, or things that masons do, they do not know much.”

“They're illiterate,” I gasped. “They cannot read at all, nor do sums, nor draw.”

“That is what I said,” said Hans. “If it is not the common for what masons do, they do not know much.” Hans paused, then said, “I think none of them went to school, is what I think.”

“Did they come from around here?” I asked.

Hans looked at me strangely, then said, “I am not sure if they did. Why?”

“Do they speak...” I paused, then recalled what I had heard. Their accent was utterly unlike what I normally heard in this area. Worse yet, their speech at times sounded vaguely like Spanish. It didn't help much to be reminded of where I came from that way.

“They talk differently,” I said.

“How was this?” asked Hans.

“One of them said this s-strange w-word,” I said. “He called one of the others 'Cabal' or something like it.”

“Ah, I know now,” said Hans. “Those people are from the third kingdom, and schools down there are bad unless you go to the one in the kingdom house.”

“No, Hans,” said Anna. “They aren't just from the third kingdom, they're from the back country, and Sarah knows that speech. I've heard her speak it more than once.”

“Do they have schools?” I asked.

“She might know,” said Anna, “but I don't. I've seen people from there, though, and they do well to have what they wear. They're very poor.”

“And they are glad that it is fit to wear,” said Hans. “A lot of their clothing looks fit for making paper.”

I tried drawing up the forge before bedtime, and beyond a simple enclosure shaped like the others, save differing dimensions, I was at a loss. It made for a bout of insomnia, or so I thought, and only a cup of beer helped with sleep.

It also made for an uncommonly strange dream.

I was 'tending' the boiler attached to the engine, and between 'stirring' the charcoal, adding more with a scoop, watching the pressure gage – a scale, spring, and lapped pin in a bronze tube – and adjusting the engine's throttle, I had my hands full. The engine billowed thick clouds of steam which the blower inhaled, and the noise?

“This thing sounds like it would conjure evil spirits!” I thought. “It's really loud.”

That wasn't the only thing that seemed an apt portion of hell, for the furnace billowed a tall and luminous column of flame from its top. We were pouring iron, and that in sizable amounts.

The blower had other duties when it wasn't running the furnace to the rear of the property, and there, it was much quieter. The furnace inside no longer needed coal to melt iron, and crucible steel was as easy as loading the crucibles appropriately, loading the furnace, lighting it, and then pouring the metal when it was 'done'. There, the blower ran with a steady low moaning sound, and for the saw-forge, it ran slower yet as a rule.

In this dream, I saw the forge go diaphanous and gauzy, and I saw its internal arrangement. It needed more than three tuyères; it needed a long narrow slot of graduated width, with a 'wind chamber' underneath the main 'trough', and a narrower-yet width than I had thought it might need. More importantly, this forge wasn't limited to saw-blades.

It worked especially well for reworking the common length of sword, and I suspected it might work well for forging other long narrow pieces of iron.

“What those are is a mystery,” I thought – until I saw what freighting wagons commonly used for their undercarriages. I then shuddered, as I would need to forge them.

“No, not quite,” said a soft voice. “That type of 'long-forge' is easily managed, more so than what is used now in the shop, and while it will still be possible to burn metal, it will be much more difficult.” A brief pause, then “while the masons are not familiar with the common species of forge, they are familiar with that arrangement.”

I wanted to ask questions, but instead, I abruptly awoke. My ledger lay on the floor beside me with a sizable sheet of folded paper protruding from it. A pale glow came into the room from the window, and when I opened the ledger to remove the paper, I saw a freshly-sharpened writing-dowel. I then looked at the paper.

There were two sheets, both of them with neat drawings in what looked like ink, and they laid out the forge in careful detail. More importantly, they spoke of routing 'blast' in general terms, and while I had some experience with 'airflow' – the home-made flow bench I had where I came from had given up some secrets – I had never dealt with what was needed for solid fuel furnaces. This provided a definite start, and the sweeping 'curves' that made up the wind belt of the cupola made for an odd association.

Furnaces were named in regions to the south, and I knew of a good name for the 'submarine'.

While the last name of the man was spelled otherwise, the first two names did seem to work, and after noting it down in the ledger, I went downstairs to visit the privy. I then returned to bed, and slept well to awaken before dawn.

I suspected the masons would not 'call' before breakfast, and I began working on one of the fowling pieces at the bench. I suspected the next few days would mean a fair amount of time home, as while I might need to explain matters to the men...

“They might be functionally 'illiterate',” said the soft voice, “but they follow instructions particularly well, much better than is usual for this area. That drawing is for your use, as it will help you mark out the place on the floor and indicate appropriate dimensions.”

“Did Hans have to check them much?” I asked.

“He checked them more out of his knowledge of the common for this area than by necessity,” said the soft voice. “His language isn't the easiest to follow for descriptions, and they had to figure out what he wanted. They are good about doing that, unlike most people in the area, and they are genuinely good at what they do.”

“Is that why..?”

“They come from a region where things need to work as well as possible,” said the soft voice, “and where 'literacy', especially among those of their class, is very rare.” A brief pause, then “a common misconception in the northern kingdoms is 'a lack of letters speaks of a lack of intelligence', and the converse is thought to be an even greater 'truth', if seldom stated directly in this area.”

Another brief pause, then “that connection is more clearly stated to the south.”

Anna came down shortly thereafter. By that time, I had dismantled the gun to its larger components and was looking at one of its locks, with an eye to which parts needed replacement. I was making notes on a slate when Anna picked up the other lock.

“This one won't take a lot to make it better,” I said.

“How?” asked Anna, as she touched the rough-looking hammer.

“Most of the parts are merely 'rough',” I said. “That means they'll clean up readily with a modest amount of time, and after the things I usually do, this weapon will be serviceable.” I paused, then said, “it would take much more work to improve it beyond that.”

“Would you need to replace its parts?” asked Anna.

“I would need to replace nearly everything that's metal,” I said. “Still, it would serve for a while.”

Anna looked at me, then asked, “in what way?”

“You mentioned needing one last year for those noisy birds,” I said. “Given they haven't been showing up in the rear of the property much lately...”

“The warm time of the year is coming,” said Anna, “and then they will show commonly.”

“How many times a day would you fire at them?” I asked.

“Perhaps once or twice a week,” said Anna.

“Then what I proposed would most likely last for at least a year or so,” I said. “It wouldn't work that well for heavy use, unless...”

I touched the lockwork with a file. My eyes opened wide, then said, “no, I take that back. It might well last years.”

“Why?” asked Anna.

“The metal in that lockwork isn't like Black-Cap's,” I said. “It's about as hard as a full-polish wrench.”

“Did you start on that wrench?” asked Anna.

“I did, and I should be able to retrieve it this morning,” I said. “I'll be able to heat-treat it after cleaning it up the rest of the way.” I paused briefly, then said, “do you want it full-polished, or what?”

“I'll settle for it not being rusty,” said Anna. “I'd never noticed that before yesterday, but most polished tools get like that one did, no matter what you do to them.”

“Unless you constantly polish the rust off,” I said. “Red-tallow, ugh.”

I resumed dismantling the 'shotgun', then after breakfast went over to the shop. I cleared an area for the new forge, and carefully swept the dusty floor with an old broom prior to removing the cooking cans from forge and oven. The others were not present, which did not surprise me in the slightest, and as I began stoking the smallest forge for heat-treating, Hans came in the door.

“They are all down at the Public House, and they are eating like they are starved,” said Hans.

“I figured they might do that,” I said. “The masons?”

“They should be along soon,” said Hans. “You might tell me what you want, as I am not bothered much by trowels.”

I had no idea how to speak of the dream and what I heard, so I showed Hans the drawings. He looked at them carefully, then said, “is this like some of those things I have seen of yours, where they show between two days?”

I nodded, then asked, “the writing?”

“This is neater than you do, but otherwise they are your words,” said Hans. “The drawings are just like how you do them, only in what looks like ink. I have not seen you use that stuff.”

The mere mention of 'ink' had me seeing visions of huge puddles on floor, table, and workbench, blotchy-looking spills on drawings, unholy messes in general, and a fleet of battered quill pens. I'd used things like them in the past, and calling them cantankerous was giving them unwarranted credit.

“Perhaps I can help these people understand drawings,” I said. “I've seen Georg's drawings, and they're very confusing if he's trying to explain something that needs a drawing.”

“That is when you can read them,” said Hans. “They like to use full sticks of chalk here for those things, and they smudge them up a fair amount.”

“When they do drawings,” I said. “Those aren't common here.” I paused, then said, “I'll try describing what I want done. If I have trouble, I'll get you.”

Hans left minutes later, and I recalled the name of the furnace. I found some sawed chalk, then when I came to the rag-covered 'submarine', I wrote the letters spelling out its name.

“Francis Ford,” I thought. “If that isn't a good name for a cupola, then I'd like to know a better one.”

The forge was heating the wrench and other things that needed heat-treating when the first of the masons showed, and when one of them came to where I was, I thought to show him the drawings. He scratched his head for a moment, then looked at me.

“Let me lay it out on the table over here,” I said, “so that it faces how the forge is to go. Then, picture the bricks and other things so that it looks like this drawing.”

I did so, then as the other men came in, I went to the spot I had cleaned and drew out the shape of the plinth on the floor with a part-cleaned billet. Meanwhile two of the men were looking at the drawing carefully. They seemed loath to touch it, for some reason, and when the third man – the 'leader' – looked at me, he said, “I have seen that type of forge before, and they work well, unlike these here.”

“Those proportions?” I asked.

“They are what you want when you must make something that is long and thin, or when you are doing a lot of pieces,” he said. “You move them across the forge while keeping them buried in the fuel, and the forge-master tongs them out for forging when he is ready for them. One of his helpers keeps them moving so he has them when it is time.”

“F-forge-master?” I asked. My voice showed a measure of fear, and I could not hide it.

“The forging machine is like that one there,” he said, as he pointed to the drop-hammer, “only it is larger, and of metal. It pounds rapidly, much like one of you does.”

“That is him,” said one of the men looking at the drawing, “and I hope he does not pound, as it gives my head nightmares.”

“I will not make that noise while you all are here,” I said softly. “Why does that sound give nightmares?”

“Those machines he spoke of,” said the man. “Those people looked after them poorly, and they went to pieces all the time in that place.”

“Went to pieces?” I asked, as the third man went back towards the door. I suspected he was after a 'hod' or something similar.

“The forge-master and his helpers are supposed to look after their machines, and these people did nothing that way, so their equipment went to pieces. They were not like the people at home that way.”

“At home?” I asked.

“Yes, there,” he said. “Those to the south know much less about machines, and are unjust as well as bad-tempered, and they are that way constantly.”

“Home?” I asked.

He looked around carefully, then said in a whisper, “el Vallyé.”

Again, I heard the accent, and now I knew a chief portion of its mystery: it wasn't Spanish, even if there seemed to be a superficial resemblance as to its sound, and the source of the accent was now obvious. The third man now came with a sizable bucket, and when he set it down, I was amazed.

“Those are m-measuring tools?” I asked.

“They were not easy to get,” said the first man. “Finding good ones up this way is hard unless you talk to the right people.”

Over the next ten minutes, the three masons brought in 'samples' of bricks, and I indicated carefully the size of the thing – at least, within 'certain limits'. I spoke of the workpieces involved and their likely sizes, and when two of the men began writing on what looked like small slates, I said, “uh, that isn't the common writing here, is it?”

Non,” said one of the men. I plainly heard the accent again. “It was not easy to learn to speak this language, and no one teaches its reading unless one is a child.”

“And they do not teach its writing in this area, no matter what the age of those learning,” said the other. “That is another way they are not like home, as most there learn all of those things, including what they call sums here.” He then passed me the slate.

I looked and was utterly astonished to see what looked like a clear-cut case of trigonometric solving for angles, and I spluttered, “only a few do mathematics of this level here!”

“It is part of being a mason,” said one of the men matter-of-factly, as I handed the slate back to him. “Why, are you familiar with such things?”

I nodded, then said, “I didn't come from around here, either.” I paused, then thought, “illiterate?”

“Unlike those of higher status, they are not bilingual,” said the soft voice. “It makes it much more difficult to emigrate.”

“And that language?” I asked.

“Is thought the language of witches, especially to the south,” said the soft voice. “What Hans perceived was in large part due to their caution.”

“As in he thought he knew what masons were like, and these people are different...”

“That was well over half of it,” said the soft voice. “They could not read or write the common language here, nor were they inclined to do 'sums' in front of someone that frightened them.”

“Was this person speaking to you the chief spirit?” asked the first man seconds later. “Espirutu Majere? The one they speak of in the churches here?”

I nodded, then said, “you heard?”

“Yes, and in the language I learned first,” he said. “Not many know of him in the valley, but they commonly know of him here, and when I first heard of him, I was on my face for days until he spoke to me.”

“That is rare among people around here,” said one of the others. “If they had escaped from el Vallyé, they would look for him more than anything, and not waste time with common things until they heard his voice.”

“They would call breathing and eating dust good, also,” said the third man. “Now tell me if this is right.”

He then described the forge in detail, and as I listened, I was astonished, both at his difficulty in speaking the common language – I could tell he was mentally translating as he was going – and also, at the exactitude of his conceptual grasp.

“I don't have the blower done yet,” I said. “I have a suitable engine, but I need to finish the boiler and some other parts.”

“Does this boiler take water and fuel, and make steam?” asked one of the men.

I nodded, then was astonished seconds later when he spoke again.

“The usual device at home needs a cable to connect it to its power source,” said the third man, “and it is very quiet, unlike these horrors they have to the south.”

“They do not look after those, either,” said the first man. “They cause nothing but trouble.”

“Uh, I might have seen one recently,” I said. “Cable?” This last came out closer to a squeak.

“Yes, with thin strands of copper in it, surrounded by colored tubing, and the whole in another such tube, said the man. “It has a strange thing for attaching to the proper hole, and then a lever that activates it.”

“Yes, and one must be an Elektrikalé to work on such things,” said one of the others. “There are no such machines here, nor such people, so one must make do with such as you describe.”

As the men began preparing their site, I quenched the wrench and other parts I had heating, then parked the pieces on the walls of the forge to 'draw' their temper. One or the other of the masons watched what I was doing, then to my surprise, one of them handed me the metal portions of a trowel.

“This one is soft,” he said, “and I have seen them hardened as you did with some of those there.”

“You would like me to harden it?” I asked.

He nodded, then said, “it will take a while to bring in the bricks for the plinth, and then mix the mortar. Until then, we will not be using them.”

I 'cooked' his trowel while I tidied up the remaining pieces, then once I'd packaged up the pieces for homework, I tonged out the metal pieces one by one and doused them in water, then set them on the edges of the now low-burning forge. I thought to wait until the water had dried, and a few minutes later, I was 'assembling' his trowel. He came just as I was finishing.

“That looks to be much better,” he said. “It will shine up once I lay some bricks.”

I left moments later once the trowels started, and as I walked home, I was astonished to see where the sun was in the sky. I suspected 'lunchtime' would work well for a check, and as I touched the door to tap, it opened to show Anna.

“I can hear those trowels,” she said. “They must have just started. Did you have trouble speaking to them?”

“No, I didn't,” I said, as I came in the door, “and I misjudged those people greatly.”

“How did you do that?” asked Anna.

“Firstly, they are from this place they called 'the valley',” I said, “and it seems they not only have schools there, but they're decent ones.”

“They can't read or write, though,” said Anna.

“That is true for the common language,” I said. “It is not true for the one they grew up speaking.” I paused, then said, “there are some individuals there that are taught the common language as well, so they are able to speak, read, and write two languages. Then, they are surprisingly good at mathematics.”

“I thought they could not manage sums,” said Anna.

“They do well beyond those,” I said. “There's something about the way they are perceived...” I paused, then said, “are people from that place thought to be witches?”

Anna nodded, then said, “it isn't that bad up here, as long as they are careful.”

“And elsewhere?” I asked.

“To be heard speaking that way commonly means a burn-pile,” said Anna. “It's especially bad in the third kingdom, as they think everyone from the back-country is a witch.”

“Those people?” I squeaked. “Witches? I really doubt that, not after I heard about what happened when they first went into a church.”

“What is this?” asked Hans.

“Those masons,” I said. “They learned their letters in their original language, and they could not find any way of being taught here. I suspected they tried to learn the language as best they could.” I paused, then said, “and when they went to a church service...”

“I doubt they would let them inside,” said Hans, “as most think those people are witches.”

“It seems they got inside, somehow,” I said. “That isn't all that happened, either.”

“What happened then?” asked Anna.

“Th-they got on their faces,” I said, “and they stayed there until they heard God speak to them.”

“Oh, my,” said Anna. “That is out of an old tale. Did they hear a calling sermon?”

“I doubt it,” I said. “I think they just heard a common one, actually.” I paused, then said, “it was much like that with me, in fact, and I learned...” I stopped speaking abruptly, then resumed seconds later.

Right,” I spat. “Remember what I called Korn when you first spoke of him? I didn't grow up speaking this language either, and I learned much of what I know in that language, not the one spoken here.”

Anna looked at Hans, then said, “what did he call Korn?”

“It was this word I cannot speak,” said Hans, “and it was close for its sound, at least for the first part. It was a lot longer than his name, though, and it is not in the book that way.”

“And my name?” I asked.

“It is that way in the book,” said Hans. “I looked it up some time ago.”

“It was not that way when I originally learned it,” I said, “even if the names were closely related where I came from.” I then began muttering as if I had taken lessons from Anna, and mumbled, “and I was thought to be a witch at the shop, and some still think that way of me, and I wonder if that has something to do with it.”

“I know it isn't that,” said Anna. “Now did those people listen?”

“Very well, in fact, and they seem to be quite knowledgeable about that style of forge,” I said. “They called the common ones 'bad', in fact.”

“They do not know forges, then,” said Hans. His statement was sufficiently 'oblivious-sounding' that I grew worried, at least until Anna spoke.

“Hans, how much iron do you pound?” asked Anna.

Hans looked at Anna as if to dismiss her comment, and to my astonishment, Anna said, “he more or less runs that shop, and he's had to teach those people a great deal, including how to lay their fires right.”

“So they did not learn much,” said Hans. “Those forges are the ones used here, and they are...”

“Uh, they're different in the fourth kingdom, aren't they?” I asked. “Some are like what we have in the shop, and some are quite different.”

“You have not gone there, and I have,” said Hans belligerently, “and I have only seen the one type.”

“I think you weren't looking very hard,” said Anna. “I remember seeing some there that did not use bellows.”

“Where was this?” asked Hans.

“In an instrument-making shop off of Knokenbeenstraat,” said Anna. “Theirs worked with a wheel, and it sounded different.”

“So that is for them,” said Hans. “Everywhere else uses that type.”

“Not where I came from,” I said. “I had a small furnace that I used for melting and forging, and it not only used liquid fuel, but also some equipment I've not yet seen here, and at school it was yet more different.” I paused, then said, “and while I cannot complain about the fuel we use here, I have given thought about replacing those big leather and wood things.”

“Yes, and with what?” asked Hans.

“Perhaps with smaller blowers,” I said. “I made a few of those before coming here, including the one that went to my, er, furnace.” I almost said forge.

I then reached into the bag to remove the things I had hardened, and when I brought out the wrench, Hans bristled before he spoke. I was beginning to see a pattern with his behavior, and it did not look good.

“This was a good wrench, and you have ruined it,” he yelled. “Now it is wrong.”

Anna picked up the wrench, felt it carefully, then said, “how? It isn't rusty anymore, and it feels better in the hand.” Anna paused, then said, “Hans, did you bring up all of that money? Hans?”

“I suspect he didn't,” I said, “as he's beginning to sound like a witch again. Now do I need to search him to find out about one of those things, or..?”

Hans toppled over to hit the floor with a thud, and I began carefully feeling his chest. To my complete and utter surprise, I found another of those accursed blank-on-both-sides disks on a chain, and I carried it by its chain to the front of the door, where I tossed the thing while telling it to leave. The explosion put me on my behind some distance from the door, and when I 'woke up', I could hear Anna yelling at Hans again.

“No, dear,” I muttered, as I came to where he still lay unconscious with half-open and unseeing eyes. “This time, I need to find the money and deal with whatever other tricks that witch put in those bags. I'm glad that wretch will no longer cause trouble that way.”

Anna looked at me, then said, “did he?”

“Did he what, dear?” I asked, as I brought out a thin length of 'string'. I wanted to tie Hans up while I searched, as I didn't need him 'helping' me while there were fetishes still hiding.

“I think he stole some of that money that came,” said Anna.

“Which would explain that second 'medal' that showed,” I said. “I'd bet at least one of those bags came down into the basement the way it was, and that thing was hiding inside it, just like that dagger hid from us at the king's house.” I paused for a second, then said, “and I had to to find that dagger, too.”

“How much does he have down there, then?” asked Anna. “He brought up a fair amount of money.”

“I'm not sure now,” I said. “Those three bags were those he'd filled on his own. I have no idea what else he has hidden down there.”

As I began tying Hans' hands together, Anna looked at what I was doing, then 'adjusted' my knots. She also muttered more than a little.

“I know my knots are not very good, dear,” I said.

“I knew about those,” she said. “I had no idea he would try to become a witch again.”

“I doubt he intended to,” I said. “That second one was just waiting for him to touch the bag it was in, and that's all it took to take him over.”

“But why would he put that thing on?” asked Anna. The matter seemed obvious to me, given how people were at the shop, and as I recalled other instances – my first day of guard-training being a key example, with both men all but compelled to desire greatly the witch-things – I realized how hard it was to choose correctly without substantial assistance from beginning to end. It was simply far too easy to choose wrongly, and that on top of what many actually wanted wholeheartedly.

“Is it thought that being a witch is a matter of choice?” I asked.

“It is that,” said Anna. “I've heard enough sermons to know about those choices, and how one is very easy, and the other is so difficult it needs a great deal of help.”

Which of them is easy?” I asked. I was working on Hans' feet with a second piece of 'string'.

“I heard it was very easy to choose to be a witch,” said Anna.

“And a great deal of help is needed to choose otherwise?” I asked. “Did whoever was speaking go into detail?”

“He did, but I had trouble understanding what he said,” said Anna, “and I wondered if he'd learned such a thing from a witch, as that's just the opposite as most people believe. They think choosing God to be the easiest thing imaginable, and even I know it isn't that easy.”

“As in no one wishes to do so unless that desire is imparted from outside them,” I asked, “and they need no such help to do what comes naturally?”

“That...That... What did you say?” asked Anna.

“No one wishes to have anything to do with God unless he causes them to desire his presence,” I said, “and choosing evil comes naturally, in contrast. That is what the book says, by the way.” I paused, then said, “now did you hear that sermon correctly?”

Anna looked at me as I stood up, then as she followed me down the stairs, she asked, “was he saying it was easy to choose correctly?”

“I wonder, dear,” I said. “I know at least one church-overseer was part of that coven in that dream, I know something about their attitudes – both from that dream and in other ways – and I know how those overseers think preachers are supposed to be well-hid serious witches. If that is the case, and if witches believe everything in life to be a conscious choice, then it's quite possible what he said was something along the lines of 'making the correct choice is very easy, and choosing otherwise is the act of a fool'.” I paused, then said, “he'd be right, at least from his perspective.”

“How?” asked Anna.

“Perhaps I should have said, 'from his perspective as a witch',” I said. “Does that sound better?”

Once at the bottom of the stairs, I tried to recall precisely where Hans had hidden his money beyond it was in a box somewhere.

“And if that thing had taken him over when he touched it,” I thought, “it would have had him hide the remaining money so as to make it harder to track down. He probably spread it around...”

I stopped in mid-thought and went into one of the corners of the basement, and when I came to a mostly-hidden 'desk' of some kind, I went on the floor and began crawling on hands and knees, then down on my stomach so as to reach into the corner behind it. I could hear Anna 'floundering around' in the background, and as I closed my hand on the slimy-feeling pouch, I wondered if it was rigged.

“He didn't think that necessary,” said the soft voice, “as he has a high opinion of his abilities to hide things.”

“Has, or had?” I asked.

“It will soon be past tense,” said the soft voice. “There are a number of such bags, and all of them contain fetishes.”

“Then they all get burned,” I thought. “Good riddance...”

“No, sort through them carefully,” said the soft voice. “Not only is the money needed, but also you need the practice.”

I thought to then 'go through' the bag once I'd gotten back to a table, and when I dumped it out, the noise brought Anna.

“What?” she gasped. “There has to be...”

“One of these things is a witch-tool, dear,” I said, “and I need to find it. There are several more such bags, and I have the impression those fetishes are part of a set.”

“No, not quite,” said the soft voice. “They aren't part of a set that way, even if they do help each other to no small degree.”

“And hence dealing with them one at a time?” I asked.

“Is a good idea,” said the soft voice. “They would be much harder to separate out otherwise.”

Even so, I had to actually touch each nauseating gold monster coin more than once to find the fetish, and when I pinned one particularly unpleasant-feeling coin down with my finger, it suddenly changed to one of those 'medals'. I took the thing up the stairs and disposed of it as I had the one beforehand – thankfully, I wasn't blown off my feet when it exploded – and went back down the stairs, where Anna was packaging up the remaining coins.

“There are twenty-three of these things,” said Anna. “That isn't any normal blessing.”

“Uh...” I felt as if my tongue was glued to the roof of my mouth by a state that vaguely resembled panic.

“The biggest one I've seen yet had one such coin,” said Anna, “and most are half that size.”

“Someone hung that pouch on the door?” I gasped.

“I think it would have fallen off if they did,” said Anna. “I have no idea why you call these things monsters, even if they aren't particularly light.”

“That has something to do with that name, dear,” I said. “They each weigh as much as a ball for a roer, if not more, and they're the biggest coins I've ever seen.”

Anna held up one of the monstrous things, and I noted again its diameter. It was easily two inches across, and nearly a quarter of an inch thick.

“Gold monster indeed,” I thought. “Now where is another of those bags?”

I found the second bag in one of Hans' medicine crocks, and while it wasn't as big as the first one, it still weighed over a pound, with silver coins of both sizes predominating and a handful of gold monsters. Again, I needed to touch each coin to find the hiding fetish, and when one of the gold coins shrank in size and changed color to a faintly red-tinted mottled gray, I was astonished.

As I went up the stairs with another 'medal', I asked, “how many more of these stinkers are there?”

While there was no immediate answer, the medal answered me with an intense and increasing foul odor, and by the time I'd tossed it, it was billowing thick and nauseating fumes. It caught fire and burned like a distillate-saturated torch once it left my hand.

I headed back towards the stairwell, and as I went down it, I heard the following:

“There are no more 'stinkers', but there are several 'flamers' and two more 'bangers' still hidden. I would watch the bangers, as they took lessons from that one that threw you back in the house.”

I found one of the flamers within seconds after I resumed looking, and it lit the bag on fire before I could untie its string. I had to toss the bag while it billowed flames, and when I came back down, Anna was collecting the money that had spilled out of the bag while I had run up the stairs with it.

“That one had silver in it,” said Anna. “He had to be stealing money to have so much.”

“Where would he get it, though?” I asked. “He was saving for well over two years.”

“He brought up more than three hundred guilders,” said Anna, “and I could see him saving that much in two years or so. It would take him twenty years to save as much as I've found so far.”

“Where would he steal it from?” I asked.

Anna looked at me, then said, “I think he's been stealing it from you, actually, at least for some of it. I never told you how many bags show on the doorstep, did I?”

“No, you didn't,” I murmured, as I left in search for another. “I'm not sure I want to know.”

“I've counted as many as eight in one day,” said Anna, “and it's seldom less than four or five.” A brief pause, then, “and if I go by what I'm picking up here, I've been missing a fair number of them.”

The next bag – a hefty brute – was also a flamer, and it erupted in flames in the parlor. Money flew in cascading and ringing sheets to then roll all over, and when I tossed the actual 'flamer' fetish, it turned into a massive billowing sheet of fire that burned hot and smoky in the street for a count of three. I turned to see a smoke-filled house, and said, “we do not need a...”

The smelly smoke billowed outside thickly, and as the parlor cleared, I noted the 'cascade' of money had coalesced into a shining 'sheet' about three feet across and six feet long. The resemblance to an archetypal grave-plot was staggering, and the money itself – numbers of gold monsters, huge numbers of both large and small silver pieces, and a handful of odd-sized coppers – seemed to provide a doorway into death and hell. I shuddered, and one of the coppers twitched.

I knelt down and touched the coin in question, and its chill dry sensation under my finger reminded me of a snake. I picked it up – it was fighting me – and walked toward the door as the thing grew steadily warmer in my hand. I could feel the obvious fetish, and I tossed it out the door while yelling, “leave!”

The coin billowed smoke at first, then burst into brilliant whitish flames like a magnesium flare. It burned out before I could count three, and I turned back toward the parlor.

Anna came up the stairs from the basement with a pair of bags, then saw the 'sheet' of money when she was about to go up the other flight of stairs. I heard both bags hit the floor with a clank, then as she came closer, I could hear trembling. For some reason, I could not see it.

“What is all of this?” she asked.

“A great deal of money,” I said. “I still don't have a clue as to where or how he could have stolen it, as Hans does not strike me as a terribly good thief.”

“He managed to get all of this,” said Anna with a tone of finality. “Now I'll need to go asking people in town if money has gone missing, and we'll need to pay back three for every one.”

“No, he did not steal it that way,” said the soft voice, “nor did he need to, dear. You drastically underestimated the number and size of the bags showing on the front door, and the only ones you've counted have been the smaller ones. He grabbed the larger ones right away once they started showing.”

“And who's been dumping those?” I asked.

“Many of them came from the Swartsburg,” said the soft voice, “and for much the same reasons that Koenraad's own bag showed. You haven't found it yet, by the way.”

“Those witches...” gasped Anna.

“Precisely,” said the soft voice. “Hans could easily 'buy you off' with what he gave you and still have the bulk of his hoard remaining, and the same applied for what and when he stole.”

“How much does it take to get one of those halls set up?” I asked.

“He had thrice the amount needed to fit out an exemplary hall, but misers, like most witches, lack common sense or much else of a similar nature,” said the soft voice. “The love of money, once it has taken over a person to that degree, has its own priorities.”

“And hence a 'clumsy' thief like Hans could get what he wanted without hardly working at it,” I murmured.

“Precisely,” said the soft voice. “Had he tried doing what Anna thought he did, someone in town would have 'aired out his smelly hide' before he'd gotten much of anything. He knew that, as did the 'benefactors' of the Swartsburg, so they made him into a 'miser' by the only feasible means.”

“And thereby achieved control of him,” I muttered. “Nothing like having a well-hid witch in the house to cause trouble...”

It took nearly an hour to find the remaining bags, or so I thought, until I recalled the number of 'bangers' said to be present. I'd only had one assay blowing me up, and while it had tossed me on my rear, I recalled two of them being spoken of. I resumed looking, now wondering if I could find the fetish. I could not feel its presence in the slightest.

I wasn't wondering at all as to what would happen if I didn't find it, as I knew Hans was especially vulnerable to matters of money.

“Especially when there are witches dumping curses and fetishes in quantity,” said the soft voice, “and when they realized you weren't 'readily' corrupted by that means, they went after someone who was.”

“Was he predisposed to 'love' money?” I asked, as I looked in that one 'desk'. It had several drawers, and so far, they had not shown anything out of the ordinary.

“No more than most,” said the soft voice. “Anna is actually slightly more vulnerable that way, but she isn't a well-known billiard player.”

“Is that a hint?” I asked.

While there was no answer, I began to wonder about the precise nature of what the billiard balls themselves looked like beyond carved wood with numbers. I then recalled the white ball's name.

“A cue-ball?” I asked. “Is that it?”

“It may have the shape of a cue-ball, and be the size of a cue-ball, and be painted to look like a cue-ball, but it is not a cue-ball,” said the soft voice. “It's hiding in the medicine chest, along with the rest of that bag's contents.”

The medicine chest proved to not merely be well-hidden, but also 'contrary' regarding its opening, and when I got the lid up, I was astonished to see its interior seeming to burn as if aflame. I began to look carefully for a 'round object', and when I found a sizable cloth bag, I touched the thing. The screaming in my ears told me plenty, and I picked it up and ran for the stairs.

The bag was squirming as if it was filled with irate hamsters looking for a way out, and when I ran up the stairs, I could hear thrashing and thumping coming from all around me. I came to the top of the stairs and nearly collided with the table, then had to leap over Hans as he thrashed crazily. I wondered where Anna was until she filled the front doorway with a pair of loaded revolvers cocked and waiting for me.

I ignored what I saw, even as the flames erupted from each muzzle and the bullets whizzed past my head, until with a sudden heave I tossed the bag while yelling “Leeaaavve!”

The explosion was of such magnitude that I awoke on the floor with someone massaging my head with a cold cloth of some kind. There was a reek of some kind in the air, and only when I awoke further did I realize what the smell actually was.

“Gah!” I blurted, amid the fumes of Geneva. “That stuff stinks.”

“Lie quiet,” said Anna. “I have no idea what that thing was you tossed, but it almost blew the stoop to kindling.”

“That was K-Koenraad's own bag of stuff,” I said.

“Is that why the bed upstairs was covered with coins?” asked Anna. “I needed three leather sacks to bag them all.”

“Did you try shooting at me?” I asked.

“How?” asked Anna. “I was trying to find a place to put all of that stuff you found, and I could only pile it up in the closet. There's quite a lot of it now, and I'm frightened.”

“If people learn about it?” I asked.

“That especially,” said Anna. “I lost count of how much there is, in fact, other than there's enough to get us all labeled as being misers ourselves.”

“Isn't that a matter of behavior?” I asked.

“I'm not sure,” said Anna. “Hans has been behaving strangely for quite some time, and I'm worried...”

I could hear something strange coming from the rear of the property, for some reason, and I tried to sit up. For some reason, I felt unbelievably sore, and when I sat up, I nearly fell back down. I was glad Anna didn't try to force me to lay down.

“What is that noise?” I asked.

What noise?” asked Anna.

“It sounds like there is someone trying to, uh, speak with a mouthful of dirt,” I said.

“How?” asked Anna.

“Those masons were saying things like that,” I said. “Something about calling breathing and eating dust good, that and looking for God more than anything, and not wasting time with...”

I stopped in mid-sentence, and mumbled, “is he?”

“He is,” said the soft voice, “and while there isn't much grass to the rear of the property, he knows of its flavor now.”

“Eating grass?” asked Anna. “L-like that one king?”

“Similar idea, I suspect,” I said. “I wonder where he got that idea?”

“Your speech regarding the masons reminded him, but he had heard of the practice beforehand, and not merely from old tales. He's encountered people who've done so as well.”

“Who?” I asked. There was no answer.

“I think I might know a few people like that,” said Anna. “Esther spoke of doing that, and I think that jeweler at the king's house did too, and Sarah might have,” said Anna. “I had no idea those masons did until you told me.”

“They spoke of getting out of that valley being difficult,” I said, “and given what you told me, they'd probably have people trying to kill them.”

“A lot of them do get killed,” said Anna.

“Hence they've got something... You said they needed to be careful up here, didn't you?”

“I suspect they do,” said Anna. “I'm not certain they would be burned around here, even if I am certain as to most other places.”

“Meaning they have to hide almost everything about them, and become different people,” I said, “just like I needed to where I came from, and for much the same reasons.” I paused, then said, “so they need a lot of help to stay alive, and not ordinary help, and there's only one person they can ask safely. Just as if they were, uh, marked.”

“Are they?” asked Anna.

“I didn't ask,” I said, “and I wasn't informed. They seemed to trust me, though.”

I had to adjourn to the couch for further resting, however, as when I tried to get up and move, I crumpled to the floor. I was tired beyond comprehension, so much so that I seemed to faint once I had reached the couch, and only when I smelled food did I awake. I was able to stand then, and as I staggered into the kitchen, I heard not merely the voice of Anna, but also Hans.

“Can I eat?” I asked feebly.

“Yes, when it is ready,” said Hans. He sounded utterly unlike himself, even if I compared how he sounded now to when I first came, and when I saw him, I wondered more than a little as to how he had changed now – until he ran for the privy.

“Uh, what happened to him?” I asked.

“It seems he had to spend about an hour on his face praying,” said Anna, “and after that, he needed to use the privy badly. I have no idea how he managed to drink some uncorking medicine, but he's acting like he's been drinking it for hours and it just caught up with his tripes.”

Anna paused, then said, “and those masons came by to see how you were doing.”

“D-did you tell them w-what happened?” I asked.

“I tried to,” said Anna, “and they seemed to understand. One of them spoke of similar things happening where he came from.”

“Exploding fetishes?” I gasped.

“He did not speak of them that way,” said Anna. “All of them could tell Hans wasn't going to cause them trouble, and you were right about them learning what they know in another language, as they needed to use some of its words to say what they were trying to speak.”

“What were some of those words?” I asked.

“I'm afraid to say them,” said Anna. “That language sounds like a witch's own speech.”

“I doubt... Anna, those people dislike witches more than you do, and with good reason,” I said.

“How?” asked Anna.

“Some of those bilingual people learn more than just the common language,” I said. “Some of them learn, uh, witchcraft also.”

“Was that what he said?” asked Hans, as he returned from the privy. “I hope I am not as full of myself now, as I was told a lot while I was eating that green stuff in the rear there.”

“What did he say?” I asked.

“There was this word that began with a 'B' sound,” said Hans, “and that letter is not common, and then this strange flatted 'R', then this long 'U', then an 'H', and finally a strange 'heh' sound.”

Brujé?” I asked. “I've heard words like it where I came from.”

“How you said that is beyond me,” said Hans, “but he said there were people called that where he was born. They were trouble, too, especially if they turned bad.”

“That word means 'witch',” I gasped. “Turned bad?”

“He was able to talk about that part,” said Hans. “I think there are a lot of words they do not know, even if they understand a lot more than I thought they did. I heard plenty about that while I had my face in the green stuff back there.”

“What did he mean?” I asked.

“They called me that word, Hans,” said Anna, “and I was afraid to hear it.”

“Oh my,” I murmured. “Remember what I told you about how 'witches' supposedly were where I came from? How they had medicines that worked and helped women with children?”

“I think that is likely,” said Hans, “as they were speaking of me having tossed the goat. Now I don't much care for goats, so I wondered what he was saying.”

“Turned b-bad,” I asked. “You had another of those nasty fetishes, and...”

Hans looked at me with sudden comprehension, then ran for the privy again.

“I might have an idea,” I said. “It seems there are witches among those people also, and those otherwise aren't overly fond of them.”

“I think so,” said Anna. “They left where they lived because one of those people tried cursing them.”

“How?” I asked.

“They were speaking of all the noise and flames when you were tossing those things, and they said they'd seen things like it,” said Anna. “They might have had trouble saying some of what we do, but they said enough for me to know what they were trying to say.”

“Which was?” I asked. “Do fetishes go up in smoke where they come from?”

While Anna wasn't able to answer the matter with speech, she was able to serve up some food, and after eating, I felt well enough to go to the shop. There, the plinth was laying in the precise area I had indicated, with neat overall construction and clean execution. I suspected they would return the next day with the goal of building the forge, and the stacked bricks nearby spoke of its likelihood. I met Hans at the door upon my return to the house.

“How is that forge?” he asked.

“The plinth is done,” I said. “I think there is something about the plinth needing to set up before they build anything on top of it.”

“That is the usual,” said Hans. “I think that green stuff out back is like uncorking medicine, though it seems to be working less now than when it started.” Hans paused, then said, “and I hope I do not have to eat more of it, like that one king did.”

“Nebuchadnezzar?” I asked.

“Maarten has never tried to say that name, and how you said it is beyond me,” said Hans. “If an hour of grass put me in the privy like two mugs of uncorking medicine, then I hate to think what seven years of it will do. There might not be anything left of me.”

“Uh, could I fetch home those s-surface plates?” I asked. “I need to f-flat them, and they're heavy enough to not want to carry them much.”

Taking them home in the buggy made for Hans commenting on their size, as well as their uncommon presence in the fourth kingdom's shops, and once each of the roughly forty-pound plates was stacked inside the kitchen and next to the stove, I thought to ask as to why they were put in that location.

“Those things need to rest for a while,” said Hans. “They do not work on them until they have been next to a stove for a year or so.”

“I cooked those several times for that precise reason,” I said. “I cannot afford to wait that long.”

“They go bad if you do not wait, though,” said Hans, “and they usually use these big machines for flatting them most of the way.”

“We do not have...” I choked, then gasped, “b-big machines?”

“There are some bad ones in the fifth kingdom,” said Hans, “and then there are some others in the fourth kingdom that are much better. They still need to finish those things by hand just the same.”

“Could I buy one already done, then?” I asked.

“Those that have them do not sell them,” said Hans. “If you want those things, or need them, then you must do as you did with the casting, wait a year while they rest next to a stove, then spend a lot of time flatting them right, and have a person do nothing but keep them and those things like them good. Only a few of the big places down there have those things, as it is said to take years to get them ready.”

“And I need at least one decent one,” I muttered.

Hans' pronouncement, while it did make a measure of sense, was of no help, and I returned with dejected sighs to the bench. I had things that I needed 'now', and their parts didn't need to wait an entire year. I was more than a little surprised to see Anna come closer.

“I think he needs to spend more time in the privy,” whispered Anna, “as he must have heard an old gaffer's tale down there.”

“Do they have, uh, surface plates?” I asked.

“They're not at all rare in the fourth kingdom,” said Anna. “Every instrument-making shop has at least one, and usually there is one for every person working in a shop.”

“Do they set them next to stoves?” I asked.

“That part was what I wondered about,” said Anna. “I know he doesn't do this, and you do.”

“Some of what he said made sense, though,” I said. “The casting process induces stresses in the metal, and you need to heat and cool the workpieces repeatedly or they eventually go out of true. Then, it takes a while to get them flat, especially if you do it by hand, and they need a certain amount of maintenance to stay flat.” I paused, then said, “years?”

“If they took that long, then he would be right, because few could afford them,” said Anna. “They seemed a bit too common for that.”

“Perhaps there are several grades?” I asked. “I need something about as flat as that jeweler's anvil, only bigger. It doesn't have to be perfect.”

“What do you need it for?” asked Anna.

“Those boiler pieces, then eventually that sextant, and...”

“I think you had best do what you can, then,” said Anna. “Let me fetch an old sheet.”

I then wondered just how I would 'scrape' the things in, and when Anna returned with the sheet, I was looking in one of the drawers. I had the intimation there were some tools that looked vaguely like broken files, and when I continued looking, Anna asked, “are you looking for the tools they use?”

“I think so,” I said. I suspected I still sounded dejected. “Why, what do they look like?”

“Like some woodcarving tools I've seen,” said Anna, “or like some files, or other tools. They tend to have big thick handles.”

“You haven't seen any scrapers, have you?” I asked.

“I've seen you use the smaller type,” said Anna, “but those big ones, I've only seen them used once.” Anna paused, then said, “maybe that was where he learned what he spoke of.”

“Uh, where was this?” I asked.

“It was in that market town,” said Anna. “There was this one place like a little yard in front of a shop's door, and there were four people working on these big messy-looking pieces of metal.”

“Yes?” I asked.

“At least, I think they were working,” said Anna. “They were spending a lot of time looking at those pieces, and maybe using a tool on them every few minutes, and they spent more time drinking wine than both of those activities put together.”

“Wine?” I said this mingled with a gagging noise.

“I heard about you tasting that stuff and spitting it out,” said Anna, “so you might do things differently than those people. I think they were pickled.”

“Big thick handles?” I asked.

“Like those tools that jeweler brought here to be redone,” said Anna. “The ones they had were larger still, and they had trouble holding them.”

“Ugh, handles like sticks of mining dynamite,” I muttered. “How can anyone get anything done that way?”

“I have no idea,” said Anna, as she returned to the interior of the kitchen. I was more or less on my own again, and only prayer seemed left to me. Accordingly, I did so silently.

While I learned nothing new about the process of 'flatting', I did get 'some' idea as to where some tools might be, and I looked in the 'fourth' drawer. As I went to row 'E' and began counting up to eleven, I heard steps coming from the kitchen. I turned to see Anna coming with a tool I didn't recognize.

“What is that?” I asked, as I brought out the eleventh pouch.

“I think this might be one of those things I saw those men using,” she said. “Hans thought it might be a kitchen tool when he got it in one of his boxes years ago.”

“Kitchen tool?” I asked.

“I'm not sure either,” said Anna. “About all it might work for is thumping rats when they show.”

“A rat-gun?” I asked. I was wondering about 'shortening' the barrels of the fowling piece I was working on in order to make it handier for 'indoor' use.

Anna wordlessly handed me the tool, and when I looked at it, I was astonished to learn it was much as I had been initially looking for, save for its garnishing with rust on the 'blade' and its profound corrosion elsewhere. Its thick and clumsy handle was wrapped in copper wire near where the 'blade' inserted into the wood, and upon trying its edge with a file, I was stunned

It might have been as hard as a full-polish wrench, if that. It was worthless as a scraper for cast iron. I resumed looking in the leather pouch.

The pouch contained what looked vaguely like one of the smaller 'turnscrews' I had made, save with a removable fitting on one end and a wrench to fit the 'nut' on the other. I undid the fitting, and shook the handle. Out leaped two small 'blades' that reminded me of some of my earliest screwdrivers, with one being about a quarter inch wide and the other half again as much wider. I tried a file on one of the blades, and it did not bite.

“This one is usable,” I thought, as I moved the 'tool' Anna had brought out of the way. “I'll still need to make some other ones as I see a need for them.”

After setting up with one of the castings on a pair of empty boxes, however, I soon learned of the tool's efficacy, for I could readily 'pare-off' thin shavings of cast-iron. I used the largest steel square I had smeared with bluing on the thick 'leg', and 'waved' it over the casting in wide sweeping runs.

The scraping noise of the tool reminded me of the gnawing of a rodent of some kind, and after carefully dusting off the surface of the plate with a paintbrush and 'dustpan', I 'wiped' the thick end of the square once more. More blue places showed, and I began scraping them.

“I thought these might have a hump in the center,” I murmured, “and this one certainly does.”

With each further round of scraping, the blue-tinted patches showing on the plate grew larger and more complete, and after one longer round, I straightened up. I then saw Anna.

“I thought so,” she said. “You did more in that short time than all four of those men did in an hour.”

“Years?” I murmured.

“With you, it might take a few days,” she said. “You don't have a sweep, don't you?”

“A sweep?” I asked, as I held up the square and showed its blue-stained bottom.

“Those are used for flatting, and nothing else,” said Anna.

“A... What do they look like?” I asked.

“Much like a scale, save with no markings, and a much thicker back with a handle in the middle,” said Anna. “I thought I saw something like that in your shop-tools.”

“If it's what I think it is, it's less accurate than these plates were,” I said. “I'll need to flat it, also.”

About midafternoon, I went after the 'sweep', and when I found it, I wondered as to the discrepancies between Anna's description and the bare metal 'bar' I had used. I thought to look further where I had removed it, and as I moved tools out of the way, I became aware of not merely a sizable leather pouch that I had missed before, but also another such piece.

“No, there's more than one of those,” I thought, as I dragged out a much newer-looking 'straightedge'. “Now where are those fittings she spoke of?”

The first one I dragged out was about the length of my forearm, unlike the longer one I had found initially, and the second one needed removal of most of the tools in that portion of the carrier, as it was the longest of an obvious 'set'. I then lay the three 'straightedges' one next to the other, and brought out the pouch itself.

I untied the thong with clumsy-seeming fingers, and as I did, I had a strange impression: there was a fetish of some kind in the pouch. As I slowed down my fingers, I thought, “not again. When will there be an end to that rubbish?”

There was no answer save that which lay in front of me, and I continued the dance of my fingers with the leather thongs holding the pouch closed.

The knot finally yielded – I had to pry it open with an awl – and as I untied the thing completely, I felt the bagged heft of the contents. I then opened the pouch, and looked inside to see 'machine parts', and I upended the pouch on the bench.

The first things that came out were a pair of globular 'knobs' with captive screws, then another small straightedge, a brass-cased level, and finally another pair of small screws. I fitted one of the knobs to the center of the straightedge, attached the level – and then wondered just what I had found. It wasn't a fetish, thankfully, and everything I'd found looked 'usable'.

I packed the assembled 'straightedge' back in the pouch – it still fit, surprisingly – and then gathered the other longer pieces. It made for a full – and heavy – load, and once home, I carefully laid everything on the bench.

“See, you found them,” said Anna. “I've seen those things used before.”

I removed the 'assembled' example, then showed it to Anna. She looked at it carefully, applied a small amount of bluing to the 'sharp' edge, then 'dragged' it across the plate.

“This size of plate normally uses a much longer sweep,” she said. “This size is what they use for doing parts of machines.”

“Scraping...” I murmured.

“I think that's fairly common down there,” she said. “They need to do it for things like that one machine in the shop.”

“Which machine?” I asked.

“The one you made,” said Anna.

I undid the parts from the smallest 'straightedge', and put them on the largest. Anna looked askance at what I was doing until I showed her the 'worn' example. She tried it on the plate, then knelt down to look.

“Oh, my,” she said. “This one needs work.”

“I thought that was the only one I had, dear,” I said. “I found these others less than an hour ago.”

With the large straightedge, I found I had better results than with the thick end of the square, and within a few 'passes', I had a nearly 'flat' plate – or so I guessed. I suspected that when I started testing them one again the others I would learn more.

By dinnertime, I had started on the third surface plate. The first two looked 'rough', and while I had to answer questions, I felt satisfied as to my progress.

“Those things will go bad in a few months,” said Hans, “so I think this is practice for you.”

“I've never really done it before,” I said. “I only need to get them fairly close.” I paused, then asked, “what constitutes 'close'?”

“That depends on who is doing it,” said Hans. “Most places that have those things would call those what you have good.”

“Hans,” I gasped, “they aren't even close!”

“That is why I said most places,” said Hans. “The better places check them one with another, and those places spend years doing what they do.”

“I doubt it will take him more than a week, Hans,” said Anna. “Where was it that you heard it took that long?”

“There was this old fellow in a shop in one of those back streets they have there, where it is quiet,” said Hans, “and they had a lot of those plates there, so I think he did little else, him and those other people they had there.”

“Did they have a 'yard' of some kind?” I asked. “One where they worked out in the sun on the 'better' days?”

Hans nodded, and Anna looked at him. I could tell she was about to erupt.

“Did these people seem pickled?” asked Anna.

“They were not that way when I saw them,” said Hans, “though they liked that bad wine, as I could smell it a lot there.”

“They probably were the same people,” said Anna.

“If you're trying to get those plates nearly perfect, it can take quite some time,” I said. “I don't need to get them quite that good for the boilers.”

“How good do they need to be?” asked Hans.

“If I can put a candle inside a casting, and see no light, then they're fine,” I said. “I haven't found any feeler gages yet, so it's hard to say better.” I paused, then asked, “is there such a thing as furnace cement?”

“I doubt it,” said Hans. “I think the best you might do is tin those edges good once you put that thing together.”

I then realized that I didn't really have that good of an idea as to how to 'put that thing together' beyond the 'lumps' I had cast for bolts, and then...

“I used the top of the jeweler's anvil for that one that's on the drilling machine,” I thought. “I'll need a good surface plate to do one big enough for a boiler support – and somehow, I doubt I want to use rivets to assemble boilers. There's something about those needing checking and cleaning on a regular basis.”

I bathed and went to bed after finishing the third plate, and in the morning, I used the first plate to check the other two. There was a definite center hump that needed taking down, and as I worked on the two plates, I realized I needed a scraper shaped like that 'thing' Anna had showed me.

“Only the blade needs to be harder,” I thought, “and perhaps 'cranked' slightly, and with a more-comfortable handle. I'll have to work around the masons and what they're doing.”

There was barely enough time for me to forge a pre-existing billet to size before the three men arrived, and they began bringing in the bricks while I ground the still-hot piece on the wheel. I suspected it needed a careful annealing just the same, and I buried it in the forge I had used as the masons began mixing their mortar. I ran out of the place once the trowels started up.

At home, I resumed work on the two plates of the current 'round', and the second of the two served as the 'bottom' once I'd gotten it done. I did the third plate first, which took three sessions of scraping, and the 'first' plate, which I did second, needed two. It then became the 'bottom' plate. I had stamped them with numbers to indicate their 'order'.

I suspected that after another half-dozen instances, I might well have three usable plates, but as I began the third round of scraping, I was noticing several things.

Firstly, I was getting decent contact on most of the plate, with the areas of darker blue showing places where I needed to scrape more than the lighter places, and the untouched regions tending to be small and scattered.

Secondly, I was needing to be fairly careful about how much bluing I needed. The first round had needed much less care.

Thirdly, it was nearly time for lunch, and I needed a break.

“And perhaps that larger tool,” I said. “I need something for wide shallow scraping now.”

I went back to the shop after lunch, and to my astonishment, the forge was not merely 'done', but the masons were cleaning up. I was sufficiently glad that I gave them each three of the large silver pieces, saying, “this is for an especially good job on top of what you are to get regularly.”

The men were nearly speechless with gratitude, and when I noted two other trowels that could stand 'heat-treating', I offered to do those.

While the scraper heated, I dismantled both trowels, then took them to the buffing wheel. They had started to show small traces of rust, but a run of coarse-grit, followed by another of fine, removed not merely the rust, but also much of the worst crudities. I then put the pieces in the forge to 'cook', and after finishing the scraper, I quenched both sets of trowel parts in water and set them on the sides of the forge to 'dry'.

“Would you like these oiled?” I asked. I heard two 'yeses' and another word which I took to mean the same thing in the other language. Its sound was “Chay”, and when spelled on a slate, “Cé.”

After cleaning and oiling all three trowels, the 'most literate' of the three said, “where did you get such oil?”

“I made it, most likely,” I said. “I can get you a small vial and a rag, so you can oil those when you're done for the day.” I paused, then said, “there tends to be a problem with rust...”

“It is bad here, but it is much worse to the south,” he said. “El Vallyé may have much trouble, but it has little trouble that way.”

“Did you get those there?” I asked.

“These came from the south, though not from the really bad part,” he said. “The ones made in this area are worse, and those in that bad place are worse yet.”

“And all of them are soft,” I muttered. “I hope they aren't going to go to pieces in a hurry.”

“What you did helps that way,” he said, “and it also helps with the rust. A lot of these people around here insist that everything they own for tools is fit for el Brujé do Sierro Majere Medicalé, and they are of common metal, so they rust quickly.”

“Polished?” I asked.

“Yes, they insist that they be like mirrors,” he said. “All of our trowels were like that when we got them, and we all had to find stones like you have in your tools so as to make them smooth and flat. It took much time.”

“Meaning they took a rough forging, ground on it some, and then went straight to the buffing wheel,” I muttered. “Nice, shiny, and purely for looks, and the poor wretch that buys them has to make them such that they can be used. Does a shiny surface like that cause trouble?”

“Trowels need to be smooth, and it is important that they have the right shape,” he said. “The polished ones tend to become rough in a hurry from use.”

“They are hard to use when they have lumps,” said another of the men. “I think when we need more, we will come here to get them.”

The three men left once their trowels were oiled and 'bagged', and I gave them a vial of 'motor oil'. I suspected they would stop at the Public House to collect their wages, and I heard steps when I was fitting the handle to the scraper. I turned to see Georg, and as I watched, he came to where the new forge was with goggling eyes.

“This is not like...” His stammering voice said far more than mere words.

“No, it isn't,” I said. “They aren't familiar with the common forge construction, and neither was I. I was given some information about how to make this type, and they know about these.”

“But the bellows...”

“This type doesn't use them,” I said. “Now I'll need to get working on that blower as soon as I can get the surface plates scraped in – or rather, as soon as they're sufficiently close.”

“But that will take...”

“I'm already on the third round,” I said, “and this scraper should help me get closer much quicker. I may be able to start scraping the boiler parts within a few days.”

“B-boiler?” said Georg.

“Yes, the boiler turns water into steam, and the engine runs on it,” I said. “I'll need to make the blower itself, and then put everything on a small, uh, cart.” I paused, then said, “I might have seen something similar to what you were speaking of recently.”

“There a-are n-none of those horrible things up here,” said Georg. “They're too big and noisy to hide.”

“Do they sound like I do when I'm welding?” I asked.

“They do, though usually not as fast,” said Georg. “The ones I've seen were almost as tall as I was, and longer than my desk, and the wheel was taller than me, and their chimneys...”

“Did those glow red when they ran?” I asked.

Georg nodded nervously.

“And spew a lot of reddish flames high in the air, along with a lot of thick black smoke?” I asked.

Again, Georg nodded. He was on the verge of fainting with terror, and in a sickly-sounding voice, he asked, “how did you learn about those things? Is this like when you know like you do?”

“I had to go into the Swartsburg to deal with Koenraad,” I said, “and I passed what looked like a very busy smithy. They had equipment that matched the descriptions I've heard here, and I saw it in operation – and noisy, smoky, and dangerous are all understatements.”

“And what you have planned?” asked Georg.

“When run for this forge or that furnace, it will be fairly quiet,” I said. “For the big furnace out back, it will be noisier.” I paused briefly, then said, “it will not sound like what I heard then.”