The end of the beginning, continued


The spurts of dung did not cease, even as the mule occasionally assayed galloping, and its brief grunting spurts of a hundred yards or so seemed to recall the tale I recalled reading – as the lethargy of the mule vanished then, and its speed, while not that of a comet, was enough to make for a wide berth on my part and mumbling on the part of the hostler. I was still waiting for the thing to try bucking him off.

The 'main road' showed a short time later – the galloping spurts of the mule were enough to keep up with Jaak's steady speed, but not much more – and when we turned onto the main road itself, the hostler cast a glance my way. I was part-asleep again, for some reason, and Jaak had an idea as to where to go.

“They leave anything else behind,” I softly mumbled under sleep-bowed eyes, and minutes later, we passed a turnoff. The hostler went left down it, and Jaak and I continued on to the north. I suspected the attractions of that town's Public House, as well as the obnoxious nature of the mule, counted for much.

Without the ball and chain of the mule, however, Jaak settled into his 'true' stride, and sped up noticeably. I looked around, and noticed in the distance one of the towns that the road went through. It reminded me of many of the other towns I had seen, and as we passed by its Public House, I could feel the dinner hour and its many ravenous patrons.

The minutes seemed to pass like fleeting dreams, and the winding road and its woodlots seemed to conjure a desire to sleep. As we came out of one woodlot, I saw vanishing into another some distance ahead an obvious freighting wagon.

“Is that it?” I thought, as we rapidly closed. “It seems to be moving at a decent speed compared to that one with the hay.”

Decent for a wagon, and decent for Jaak were two different things altogether, for within minutes, we were coming past the thing on the left. The smooth near-silence of the wagon's wheels, their faint bronze glints, and some small wet places on the hubs spoke of sleeved wheels, while the load on the wagon was such that I marveled: mounded dust-marked gray bags, stacked wooden boxes tied down with thick bristly ropes, and what might have been several hefty barrels. Only the team – eight sizable gray horses – seemed an effectual terminus, and it made for marveling, at least for a moment.

“Uh, I'm still afraid of them,” I muttered. “Jaak, can you speak to the ones at home?”

I seemed to get an affirmative response, as well as another question; and without thinking, I said, “any time.” I was truly surprised seconds later.

Jaak went to the side of the road, backed up into the ditch, and went to the bathroom, then flicked his tail and resumed his northward pace. He almost seemed to be flinging dust on his 'leavings', as now, he moved more rapidly yet.

“No, you are not a mule,” I muttered, “and I'm glad of it.”

The shoemaker's town now showed some distance away, even as the road undulated slightly. I had never noticed the matter before, and when I looked to the east, I thought, “how fast are we going?”

There was no answer, even as the sun seemed to hang in the sky by a huge and invisible rope, and our passing through the town of the shoemaker was surprisingly quick. I knew it was less than a minute, and once on its other side, I seemed to smell faint on the wind that one smelly clearing.

“I hope that stink goes away soon enough,” I muttered. “I'm sorry I ever did my part of that mess.”

The stench grew steadily greater, as did my sense of it, and I was glad for the rapid trip through the clearing proper, as well as the stink's rapid diminution. Home wasn't that far, and when the Public House showed minutes later, I was astonished to see someone lighting the lamps flanking the doorway. I glanced at the sky, and knew why.

“Sundown happens soon enough,” I thought. “Now I wonder what kind of room is available in the back?”

I came to the house itself in what seemed seconds, and while I went to the buggy-way, Jaak began drinking from the watering trough. I wondered as to whether I would need to move the buggy, at least until I opened one of the doors.

“It's g-gone,” I spluttered. “Where are they?”

I opened the rear doors, and as I looked around, I heard steps coming from behind. I turned to see Jaak, who walked around where I stood. I hurried to catch up, and as I nearly ran into the tree, I goggled at the rear of the bathroom.

“Th-that thing's huge,” I gasped. “No wonder it seemed so big inside, and th-those shingles, and...” I turned to look at the 'horse-barn', and nearly fell to my knees.

“What did they do there?” I gasped. “It almost takes up the whole side of the property now!”

I went into the 'tack-room' first, and here, I began seeing changes immediately. The masons had completely redone the place, with the two previous stalls now half again as big as they had been, and a third stall added between them and the 'tack-room'. The roof was new, as were the walls, and the small windows on the north-facing wall brought light into each of the doorless stalls. Jaak seemed to know which one was his, as he went inside, then rolled in the high-piled hay like a dog. I then returned my attention to the tack-room's contents.

The number of barrels had markedly increased, and their newer appearance and increased size made for wondering, at least until I opened one of them. I saw a half-full barrel of obvious horse-grain, and then looked for a scoop and shallow bowl. I found those, then filled the bowl and went into Jaak's stall.

There, I was again surprised, for Jaak had his face in a 'manger' made of iron-reinforced wood, and I looked for a place to put the bowl. I soon found a short stone step, and put the bowl there.

“And I'd best make a bigger bowl,” I thought, as I went to find the bowls of the other horses.

While the horses themselves were absent – I was glad – their grain-pans were not, and after filling each such pan brimming full, I put them back on the stone steps where I had found them. I then thought to look in the other barrels.

One barrel was empty, while the other of the two had ground corn that had been fermented for aquavit. This last I wondered about, even as I emptied my grain-sack into the 'grain' barrel, and when I retrieved my hoof pick, I thought, “I will need to fetch some horse-grain soon. Jaak needs at least twice what the other horses do, and they don't get near enough as it is.”

After checking his hooves, I unfolded the blanket and hung it from a pair of pegs on the far wall of the 'barn', and finished with a thorough rubbing before going indoors by the back way. I then recalled the buggy-way, and reversed direction after putting my things on the table.

I closed the front doors first, though I left them a little ajar, and then the rears, and then went inside. I put a few sticks in the stove, stirred the remaining coals, and then thought to bathe. For some reason, however, I suspected I needed to remain indoors and near the parlor, and I went to the couch. There, I fell asleep the instant I sat down – and awoke to a muffled thumping upon the door.

Opening it showed not merely the two freighters I had passed, but also a signed bill of lading with the bottom stamped 'prepaid in full'. I scribbled my name, all the while wondering as to how this had happened, and when I finished, I was presented with a sizable bag.

There were more of these bags, however, and once the bags were inside, the three of us untied and emptied them. As the bags finished up, both men collected them, and suddenly, I was surrounded by knee-high stacks of books as I sat on the floor. The freighters were gone.

“And all of these things are tomes,” I thought, “except for that... What is in that bag?”

A gray cloth bag had been left behind, and while it was much smaller than the mottled and patched thick heavy brown things the books had come in, it was still a fair-sized bag. I untied its knot with the help of an awl, then opened the bag's mouth. I reached in, and was astonished when I brought out a 'large-sized' ledger.

“Oh, this is better,” I thought, as I opened one of them. “No more cramped drawings.”

The ledger I had removed – there were six others in the bag – was about nine inches wide and eleven inches tall, with a thick leather covering and small pocket on the side. I marveled at the thing, and then replaced it in the bag. I needed better light in the parlor before I began examining what had come.

With a well-stoked student's lantern on a cooking stand to my right, I began examining the books themselves. The first ones seemed all of a set, and when I looked at the example with a '1' on its spine, I marveled at its 'title'.

“Compendium,” I thought. “Hans spoke of these as to their contents, but he did not mention their size.”

I was surprised he had not done so, for each of these books was over a foot tall, but little less wide, and nearly four inches thick. A quick examination of the 'main' table of contents, followed by further looking in each of the mentioned books, spoke of an attempt to cover 'everything' – as in a complete encyclopedia, a detailed atlas, a formulary, a dictionary – granted, it seemed abridged and somewhat specialized – a thesaurus, and a few books of types I did not know existed.

I spent minutes stacking them in order, and the four stacks that resulted were again a source of astonishment. I then saw seven volumes of even larger size. The first one of these had silver-embossed letters on its front, and its caption, “Grim Old Tales,” had each word on its own line.

“What!” I squawked. “It actually says that?”

The books themselves were two inches larger in width and length compared to the Compendium set, and their thickness, easily half an inch more. I opened the first of the set, and briefly went through the table of contents at the front.

“My, these things have decent printing,” I thought, as I counted the tales themselves. “Seventy-eight, seventy-nine, eighty, eighty-one.”

Some of the above tales, however, were fairly long, with most occupying eight to fifteen pages. I looked at the pages of one tale, more as a way of ascertaining its actual length than all else, and marveled at the size of the type.

“Any smaller and a magnifying glass would be useful,” I thought. “Those longer tales must be closer to novels for length.” A brief pause, then “what are these over here?”

'These' proved to be navigational books, and their number, three. Examination showed numbers of charts, instructions for sailors – those took up nearly three hundred pages in a book the size of a Compendium volume, and included mending clothes, fishing, and cooking meals aboard ship – and clear descriptions of every documented navigational instrument.

“I hope they describe sextants in here,” I thought, as I began paging through the book in question.

The 'instruments' described – sextants, compasses, telescopes, and chronometers – were few in number, but each such section described them in detail. That portion under 'sextants' gave calculations, instructions as to their use, 'navigation tables' – and, at the end, roughly twenty pages under a heading describing 'construction'. I leafed through this section hurriedly, noting pictures and drawings as I did so, and felt heartened by what I saw.

“There's more than enough to get started,” I thought. “Thank God.”

I then looked at the charts, and my heart sank, for I felt as if reminded of that one multicolored fiction I had seen during the 'map lecture'; these charts looked 'nice' – or, perhaps a better word was 'impressive', for they superficially seemed accurate and detailed – but upon closer looking, I saw within seconds that the bulk of their details were conjecture, and their accuracy was along the lines of 'here there be tinned spams, and irate black pigs'.

“Ugh!” I thought. “Now how far away is Norden from... What?”

Norden's distance was listed as 'four hundred and thirty miles from ye north-tip to ye southern shore', and upon reading their captions, I began to notice a definite medieval feeling. More importantly, I recalled what the instructor had said about maps.

“He was giving them credit they don't deserve,” I thought. “These are nearly worthless for 'travel guides', much less real use.”

After putting away the navigation texts, I realized I still had a fair number of books, and upon reading the top example of one of the remaining stacks, I was overjoyed. I had found a Greek lexicon, and the thing was actually usable.

“And none of that medieval rubbish,” I thought, as I began looking. “This one reminds me of what I had at home.”

I also found two grammar books, a thesaurus, a new testament, and then a 'commentary' – though upon glancing at this, it seemed to emphasize what the words themselves were likely to mean, not the verses. I then assayed looking at those books dealing with Hebrew.

I opened the first of the books in question, and when I saw the letters themselves, I was astonished.

“Weren't those, uh, more 'flowing'?” I thought. “These look more squared-off and blocky, and what gives with all of these, uh, vowel points?”

Not merely were there dots in multiple combinations, but I noted small circles of two different diameters, horizontal and vertical lines, triangles in 'up' and 'down' position, 'carets' in 'up' and 'down' position, and then what looked like an infinity symbol – and the combinations vast in their multitudes.

Finally, on the very bottom, was a book that dwarfed all of those that had arrived. As I assayed picking it up, I thought, “tome? This thing's got to be an archetypal example, as I doubt I've ever seen a book this big. It makes an unabridged dictionary look small.”

Opening the tome, however, gave an idea as to its heft, and as I leafed through the thing, I thought, “I know what this is – it's a Strong's Exhausting Concordance, as one needs to be strong to pick it up, it's exhausting to carry, and it seems to be a concordance.” I paused in my thinking for a moment, then muttered, “a man's book, indeed. I'd faint if Anna or Sarah tried picking it up.”

The huge book went to the wall at one end of the line of tomes. I had but two stacks left, and both of them seemed shorter stacks than the others. The shorter of the two stacks proved to be a pair of dictionaries, one of which seemed to emphasize 'technical' matters, and the other, 'literary'. A brief glance, and I put both of them on the kitchen table before returning to the sole remaining book stack.

These were numbered on their spines, and when I picked up volume one, I nearly dropped the thing, for lettered in 'Archaic' script was this: “Handbook of Instrument-Making.”

The very feeling of the book was Medieval, and opening volume one seemed to all but confirm matters, for everywhere I saw text I saw 'the written format' in use – and with further reading, I saw it become yet more and more convoluted and 'byzantine'...

“Is that the right word for this stuff?” I thought, as I began looking in the other two such books. “Oh, at least there are pictures here... What? 'Ye places that must be seen'?”

I paged through the long list of towns in the first kingdom, until I came to the listing under Roos, and upon turning there, I was shocked to see an 'etching' showing awls, a rivet-swage, and a tinned copper saucepan in the foreground, and a boiler with cooking stand and heating lamp in the background. The caption read, “for all things of metal in the first kingdom, no matter how close or difficult their manufacture, they may be had in Roos.”

“Wonderful,” I thought. “That's sure to bring everyone up here.”

As if to provide a counterpoint to this dismal thought, I heard faintly the noise of a buggy coming from the south, then as I turned toward the door, I heard three voices. It took several seconds to recognize them all.

“Maybe I can ask Sarah about these things,” I thought, as I moved the last 'treasures' to the side of the room. “There's enough of these things to fill two of Hendrik's larger bookshelves and then some.”

I was astonished when I opened the door, for I now saw it to be sundown, and when I looked to the south, I saw some distance away the buggy coming slowly. It was about mid-town, and I turned in my tracks to light the other student's lantern. As I walked to where it was in the kitchen, I noted the warmth coming from the stove, and once I'd lit the other lantern and two candle-holders, I saw a slate.

“I'd best make up some kind of list for packing,” I thought. “Now where will I get some more of those, uh, erasers?”

There was no answer, and when I turned back toward the still-open door, I could hear the 'stealthy' sound of the buggy's wheels. I then noticed its quiet, and more, the laboring aspect of its horses.

“How far did they travel today?” I asked. Again, there was no answer, but I began to have a suspicion, even as I came to the door's threshold. I looked out, and was astonished to see the buggy pull into the yard behind two 'drooping' horses.

“How far did you all go?” I asked.

“Enough that it makes me wonder,” said Anna tiredly. “I suspect it wasn't much less than what we do on trek.”

“I think so,” said Sarah. “Those people in town would not sell to me, and...”

Sarah stopped in mid-sentence, then looked around. She was all-but buried in cloth bags, and I came down from the stoop to help.

“It is a good thing you are home,” said Hans. “Now did you get a ride, or did you come the usual way?”

“I g-got a ride, though it wasn't the usual for rides,” I said. “I hope those there don't mind company, and I hope more we can get enough grain.”

“That one place has the best, and you know where it is,” said Hans blithely.

He did not remain blithe longer than a second, however, for his face abruptly changed and his voice jumped an octave higher.

“Now why is it you are talking that way about company and grain?” said Hans. He was almost screeching.

Sarah did not wait for an answer; she fairly leaped out of the buggy with an armload of bags and shot into the house – to then come back shaking to the doorway.

“Where did those books come from?” she squeaked.

“Not now, Sarah,” said Anna's tired voice. “We need to get the stuff in, then start dinner...”

Anna began muttering. I could hear something about 'a cold stove', and as I grabbed two of the bags, I said, “I stoked it when I came home, so it is not cold.”

“Good,” murmured Anna. “That was the thing I was worried about the most. I knew about the books.”

While Hans began taking the black and the gray around back, the three of us began bringing in the packages. Under the bags – they went mostly on or in front of the couch – there were wicker baskets, and among those, I found several crocks and smaller bags. I wondered yet more as I brought in something that smelled 'peculiar', for it felt more than a little squirmy. I suspected it was food, and when I turned to go back to the buggy, I heard Anna screech and begin tossing things. I turned to see a frightened rat running toward the front door with Anna in hot pursuit.

The rat was quicker, however, and it made the door with a flash and vanish by the time she had came to where I stood transfixed.

“I wondered why that package smelled strange,” I said. “Was that rat the cause?”

“I doubt the smell of a rat can hide the smell of a fourth-kingdom smoke-sausage,” said Anna.

“Squirmy?” I asked, as I heard the bang of a pistol to the front.

“That would be a rat,” said Hans, as he came in the front door. “Now did one of those things show in here?”

“The rats have started,” said Anna. “One of them jumped out of the bag when I turned to put it away.”

“Uh, that package was moving some when I was carrying it,” I said.

“That is good, then,” said Hans, “as I drilled that rat when I saw it. It came from that shop, Anna.” Hans paused a moment, then as he turned to go, Sarah came in from the rear.

“Now where did you get that horse?” she asked. “Don't tell me, they reserved it for you.”

“Him, dear,” I said. “I learned something else about mules today.”

“Yes, and what was that?” asked Hans, as he went back toward the door.

“G-genuine M-m... Ugh!” I spat. “That thing could have passed for that animal, and I'm surprised it didn't buck him off.”

“Who was this?” asked Hans.

“That hostler,” I said. “I gave him some money for its replacement.”

“That is good, then,” said Hans. “That thing might have been decent for a mule, but it was still a mule. Now did you get that one horse?”

I nodded, then said, “he's faster than I am when walking.”

“That is good, then,” said Hans. “Now these last things in here are a bit much for the weight, and I think you might want that bag there.”

“Why?” I asked. “Does it have a rat in it?”

“No, but it has this special horse-grain,” said Hans. “They blend sugar-tree sap with it, and it is said to give horses a good disposition.”

“It might do that,” said Sarah, as she picked up two jugs, “but it is what you want when you need to go distances. I learned about that during my traipsing, and I learned more about it afterward.”

“Afterward?” I asked.

“I was acting as a messenger for some years after school,” she said, “and I had a slightly enlarged medical buggy for my use then.”

It took two more trips for the three of us before Hans could bring the buggy into the buggy-way, and when I came inside to look, I spoke of needing to see the underside.

“Ah, I wondered why I got that extra pair of barrels,” said Hans. “They said you'd need them.”

“Were you talking about the ones in the barn?” I asked.

“Those are for horse-grain, and I got three of them when I had the chance,” said Hans, “as I knew you would get something sooner or later to ride. I am glad I got bigger ones when I did, as those like that need more grain than the common.”

“They all do,” I muttered. “I put some more down for each of them.”

Hans was about to speak when Sarah came in from behind me.

“I thought so,” she said. “How did you know about grain and horses?”

“I just, uh, knew,” I said. “Is stinting grain common?”

“I think so,” said Sarah. “Most might put half as much down as you did, and after what I saw during my part of the ride, I think it would be wise to put that much down regularly, and that's for those two.”

“And Jaak?” I asked.

“He might want twice that much again,” said Sarah. “I've only seen those a few times, and I'm surprised he doesn't have bronzes.”

“Uh, how are those put on?” I asked.

“They are not forged, but cast,” said Sarah, “and they need close fitting. I think they might use waxes for their shoes, and the same for their clips.”

“And they wear rapidly on cobbles,” I said. “I don't know anything about shoeing horses.”

“I would not trust just anyone to do his,” said Sarah. “Now how did you know about harness for those?”

I was about to speak when Hans came in with a barrel. He said, “I doubt he knows about that stuff much.”

“I don't know anything about it,” I spluttered. “Where is the other barrel?”

“It is around in the corner there,” said Hans. “I can bring in the other, and then we can pick this thing up and she can put them under it.”

“Are you going to pull the wheels?” asked Sarah.

“I am not sure if I will do that or not,” said Hans. “He needs to look at the irons for that thing, and that is better done when they are up in the air like that.”

Hans came back in with the other barrel, and Sarah came with one of the smaller candle-lanterns, or so I thought until I looked closer. She set it on a hook in the wall next to the house, then when Hans and I lifted up one end of the buggy, she darted underneath with one of the barrels.

“I would hurry if I were you,” she said, as I went for the other barrel. “This thing is not easy to hold up.”

I passed the barrel to Hans and went for the rear of the buggy, which I picked up easily. I could hear someone moving underneath the thing, then move away quickly.

“You can set that down now,” said Hans. “I put the rear barrel just ahead of the axle there, so it should be good and steady. You might want to look at the front part to see if everything is clear.”

Sarah took down the lantern, then held it close as I knelt down. I was nearly flabbergasted by what I saw.

“That's...”

“That is a lot more complicated than the usual for those things,” said Hans. “With these, it must be as light as they can make it, and it has to hold up good, too.”

“But all this?” I gasped. “This is, uh, like some things I've seen where I came from.”

“Do they have buggies there?” asked Sarah.

“Not like this they do,” I spluttered. “Did that, uh, metal come?”

“It did, and so did I,” said Sarah. “They were just leaving then, and they left it up to you.” Sarah did not sound impressed with what those at the shop had done. I guessed it was close to their common quitting time.

“That is like those people,” said Hans, as he went toward the rear door. “I will leave it up like this for looking after those things tomorrow, as I can see some places I do not normally get to.”

“Those, uh, strange-looking bolts?” I asked.

“I will want some of that fourth kingdom grease for them,” said Hans, “as those take that there.”

“Uh, how does it work?” I asked.

“Those are special bolts,” said Hans, “and they are tricky. They put these little holes in them, and the grease gets into the joint there so it works good.”

“And brass washers?” I asked.

“I wondered why you did your perches that way,” said Hans, “and now I know. That one has them too.”

“I just hope I have time to do all of what needs to be done,” I said.

“I think you might,” said Sarah. “Those parts I saw looked to just need cleaning.”

“Then why did they get, uh...” I spluttered. “What did they get?”

“Mostly brass and iron,” said Sarah. “All of it was first quality fourth kingdom stuff.”

“Do you know...”

“I've seen brass and iron,” said Sarah, “and I spent enough time in that market town to know about how much it costs and how it looks, so I doubt the person selling it was lying. I did hear him name that metal that way, and I saw how much was paid.”

Once inside, I was again astonished at how rapidly Anna had managed to make 'dinner', and when I saw the plates and bowls, I began setting them out. As I did, I recalled one particularly strange item of cookware, and wondered if I could make one.

“That pressure-pot pattern would work well once a few nubs were added on the bottom,” I thought, “and then perhaps casting it out of iron. Bronze would need lining with tin.”

I then felt reminded of a need to bathe, and went upstairs to fetch my clothing. I came down, just as Anna was beginning to set out the things.

“D-don't wait up for me,” I asked, as I closed the door. “I was too busy or tired to do this earlier.”

Nonetheless, I bathed quickly, and I came out to find the others just starting. I did also, and while I was hungry enough at first, I found my appetite strangely less.

It was greater than that of the others, however, for they all seemed inclined mostly toward beer. The 'smoke-sausage' had been cut up in small pieces, and it seemed a prime target for forking.

“Is that why dinner was so quick?” I asked.

“Hard traveling does not make for good appetite,” said Hans, “and we must have done that today, as I am on my third mug of beer here, and three of those sausage pieces and half a piece of bread.”

“Then why do f-freighters eat...”

“That is them,” said Hans. “I doubt they did half of what we did today.”

“It's more than that,” said Anna. “The ones that live up this way aren't that inclined toward food.”

After helping Anna put away the dishes, I thought to mention the books. I soon found that Hans and Sarah had already discovered them, and one of the word-books was in use.

“This will help a lot,” said Hans. “Now I hope I can understand what you say sometimes.”

“Understand?” I squeaked. “Me?”

I went after the first volume of the instrument-making set, and plopped it in Hans' lap. I then spluttered, “try reading that thing.”

“That is for you to read,” said Hans. He seemed satisfied with his current reading material. Sarah, however, picked up the book, and began muttering as if she'd had Anna teaching her.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Everyone says these things are prime examples of writing,” said Sarah, “and I've always had my share of trouble figuring out what they are speaking of.”

“You?” I asked. “But they're written in...”

Sarah looked at me with a grimace of distaste, then shook her head. I overheard muttering, with the chief phrase – it was repeated twice – being 'witch-scribbling'.

“Witch-scribbling?” I asked.

“These might not be written in that stuff witches write with,” said Sarah, “nor in that strange language witches sometimes speak, but it might as well be one of those for understanding.”

“Why did Gijs speak so of written materials, then?” I asked. “He spoke of the written format..?”

“Many people need help with that portion,” said Sarah, “and a great many more need help with making sense, and the two things seem to be one way or the other. I had little trouble making sense.”

“And the other portion?” I asked.

“That took years to learn,” said Sarah, with 'years' seeming to be groaned and not spoken. “At least I could learn it to a degree. One of my relatives could not learn that stuff no matter how hard she tried, and she was at the worst school for that business.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“She needed help the entire time she went,” said Sarah, “and once she learned about how that place was, she wanted to come to the west school.”

“Uh, where did she go?”

“Boermaas,” said Sarah, “and it was very hard for her.”

“The writing?” I asked.

“The west school tends to be mostly concerned with making sense,” said Sarah, “and if your writing can be understood readily, most lecturers there tend to overlook things like the formal form of 'the'. It isn't that way at the other schools, nor in some house positions.”

Sarah paused, then said, “and the worst place of all of them is Boermaas.”

“Some house positions?” I asked.

“The first kingdom might have some people that expect it,” said Sarah, “and there might be a few at the fourth kingdom. The third kingdom, that depends.”

“Depends on..?”

“The current king is not demanding that way,” said Sarah. “I heard it was otherwise in the past.”

Sarah paused, then said, “the second kingdom house is trouble, and the fifth I have no knowledge of, at least in that way.”

“How is the second kingdom house trouble?” I asked.

“That type of writing is more or less demanded by nearly everyone there,” she said, “and not only must it...”

Sarah looked at the book, then asked, “can you fetch me the second volume of these? I can explain it better if I have it handy.”

I found the book in question, gave it to her, then watched as she opened the thing to the middle. She seemed quite familiar with the contents, so much so that when she came to one particular area, she stopped and looked at me.

“The second volume has a large section that speaks of these markings that are thought to be secret,” she said, “and what they mean by them is a mystery to me. They are not a mystery to many in the second kingdom house, especially the house proper.”

“Do they write those on the documents?” I gasped.

“They do,” said Sarah. “Then, they don't use just any form of the written format, either, but an especially difficult type, and the only common place I've seen it outside of their documents is in this section of this book.”

I sat down to Sarah's right, and began reading. As I did, the terms 'convoluted' and 'Byzantine' were submerged by a language that seemed to have lost its moorings to sanity, and with each such line, I felt a steadily growing headache. I was about to quit reading when I encountered the phrase 'hard-iron'.

“What does that mean?” I asked, as I pointed at the phrase in question.

Sarah looked closer, then said, “in this context, I think they mean a type of iron that is harder than is common. I'm familiar with the term as it's commonly used.”

“Steel?” I asked.

“You haven't seen any tapestries, have you?” she asked. “That is the only place where I've seen that word written.”

“They don't use it..?”

Sarah shook her head, then said in a low voice, “outside of the tapestries, and certain places in the fourth kingdom's market, no one uses that word.”

“Does anyone know what it means?” I asked.

Sarah looked at me, then asked, “do you?”

“It was common speech where I came from,” I said. “The 'iron' that I've seen in the shop tends to have very little carbon in it, and if I go by what I recall reading, it was called there 'wrought iron'. It tended to have a lot of slag in it.”

Sarah seemed raptly attentive, and I wondered why, even as I continued speaking.

“The stuff called steel, on the other hand, had more carbon, and no discernible slag,” I said. “It tended to be a good deal stronger, depending on its carbon content and other things, such as alloy constituents and heat-treating, if was the type that responded that way.”

I paused again, then said, “then, they had pattern-welded materials, though they were not commonly used at that time.”

“Why?” asked Sarah.

“The reason why such materials were done in the past there was because of a lack of anything better,” I said. “Much of what I do in the shop, in fact, was historical where I came from – including pattern-welding.”

I was thirsty, and after fetching a tinned copper cup of boiled water, I returned to the couch.

“What did they use pattern-welded things for?” asked Sarah.

“Mostly expensive 'decorative' knives,” I said. “More-common knives were made of special types of steel.”

“Where were they made?” asked Sarah.

“Some were made in small shops, and others in much larger shops,” I said. “I had one of those 'more-common' knives, and it worked well.” I paused, then muttered, “it ought to have, given what it cost me.”

“Now what is this?” asked Hans. “You were speaking of knives.”

“I had several where I came from,” I said, “and one of them took several months to save up for.”

“That sounds like a decent one,” said Hans. “How big was it?”

“Slightly larger in the blade than what I commonly use,” I said. “It folded, though, so it was easier to carry in the pocket. It was but a handful then.”

“How?” asked Sarah.

“There was a pin that went in the blade, and a special locking mechanism to hold it open,” I said. “It used some very special steel, so much so that it was quite difficult to sharpen.”

I felt reminded of my smaller knives, then said, “like those surgical knives, in fact.”

Hans paused in what he was doing, then looked at the long stack of books. I could almost hear him counting for nearly a minute, then when he finally spoke, I was surprised.

“That is quite a library there,” he said. “I hope we do not have people beating our door down to see it.”

“Those tales especially,” said Sarah.

Later, while Sarah was in the privy, I thought to speak to Anna. She was at the table attempting to knit, and not having much luck with her task.

“Uh, how can we slip her some money?” I asked.

Anna stopped knitting abruptly, then looked at me. For a moment, I wondered if I had said something especially heinous.

“She isn't doing badly right now,” said Anna. “Harvest-time was the worst for her.”

“When?” I asked.

“It started a month or more before you came,” said Anna, “and it continued nearly as long afterward.”

“Still, I...”

Noises came from the privy, and Anna resumed knitting. Somehow, I would have to speak of the matter later.

The next morning, I awoke before dawn, for some reason, and when I staggered down the stairs, I wondered why I had gotten up so early. I came to myself in the privy, and nearly shrieked.

“Nine days,” said the soft voice, “and you have plenty to do each of them.”

“We leave on a F-Friday?” I asked.

“It might be a day or two earlier,” said the soft voice. “The actual day and time of leaving depends mostly on when everything is ready.”

“Especially the buggies,” I said. “I hope I don't have to do much to them.”

I hurried with my lantern and the other things, then all-but-ran to the shop in the pre-dawn gloaming. I went through the usual routine of clearing ashes and starting fires, then once I had done so, I began looking for the supplies and parts.

They were nowhere to be found in the shop itself, and when I went to the rear of the property, they were not present there either.

“Where are they?” I mumbled, as I went over the orders. “I cannot afford to waste a second on them, and they are not here.”

Strange thoughts went through my head – “they will only deal with you directly” followed by “most instrument-makers trust few other than themselves to do their business” – and as I thought about the matter, the more tormented I became.

I wanted to scream with frustration, for I could not concentrate. All I could think about was the trip, and how it was ruined by my lack of attention...

Months,” said the voice of recollection. “They will want you to redo everything from scratch, and the trip will be postponed until next year – late next year – and it will need a small army, as is customary for such trips...”

No!” I screamed. “Where is it?”

There was no answer, and I ran in haste toward the door to nearly be clouted by Sarah when she opened it.

“What is wrong?” she asked.

“It isn't here!” I shrieked. “Where is it?”

“I think I know what happened,” said Sarah.

“Did they unload the parts?” I asked.

“I didn't stay longer than it took me to pick up my bags,” said Sarah. “The usual for instrument-making is to speak to the instrument-maker personally, and since you were not there when he came, he most likely went back to the house. He'll be along later this morning, most likely.”

“But I need to work on it today!” I shrieked.

“I know that,” said Sarah. “Not everyone does, though, and some people seem set in their ways. That man might have been one of them.”

“But wasn't he told?” I asked.

“Much at kingdom houses is told to those who must know,” said Sarah, “and 'must' is often interpreted closely in such places. Given how much trouble witches have been in that place, that might well account for what and how much he was told.”

“What was he told?” I asked. “Did he speak of it?'

“He was given most-specific instructions,” said Sarah, “and I read them myself, as he had trouble reading them. He was to first go to that one particular store, where the needed supplies were prepaid and the material was to be waiting. That went fine, and he followed his orders closely. He was to then proceed with all possible haste to this shop, which he did.”

Sarah paused, then said, “and he nearly smoked the wheels doing it. I had to tell him to stop and let me put water on them.”

“Water?” I asked.

“I did not have some of that oil with me,” said Sarah, “and while I have pulled wheels before, I doubt he would have let me do my share.” A brief pause, then “he would not slow down, nor stop, no matter how much noise those wheels made, and I nearly had to thump him to let me douse those things.”

“And then what?”

“The instructions read that he was to deliver the parts and materials to this shop, and take receipt for them, as well as provide the inducement,” said Sarah. “The instructions ended there.”

“So he had to...”

“I think he did some asking while he was getting ready,” said Sarah. “He was talking about never having seen an instrument-maker before.”

“Did he ask you questions that way?” I asked.

“He did, and I told him how they usually were,” said Sarah. “I said you were not the usual for those people, and things would be different with you.”

“Different?” I asked. “Did he have any idea as to what you meant?”

“I told him to ask Anna if he had questions before I left him with the supplies,” said Sarah, “and we left but a short time later. I did not see him again, and I doubt if Anna saw him.”

“All the way back to the house,” I muttered. “I'll be lucky if I see him and the parts before noon.” I paused, then asked, “uh, why did you come?”

“I may have started with what you wrote yesterday,” said Sarah, “but between my traipsing, and the questions I asked yesterday while at the house, I made up something of a list. Then, I looked at what you have for clothing.”

“And?” I asked.

“You need at least two sets of warm-weather clothing,” said Sarah, “a cloak with no wax, and possibly a ground-cloth, if you use such things.”

“If?” I gasped. “I recalled laying on something with wax in it when I had this strange dream. I was sleeping under a buggy.”

“I never tried that,” said Sarah, “but I have slept on the ground, and a waxed ground-cloth is a very good idea, that and a cover-sheet.”

“Cover-sheet?”

“No tent is tight enough to keep out all of the bugs that show to the south,” said Sarah, “so one wants a cover-sheet then. It keeps the bugs out of one's ears and off of one's skin.”

“Crawling?” I asked.

“Those tend to ignore such sheets, especially if they are larger,” said Sarah. “They don't bite, unlike those bugs that fly.”

“R-red fever?” I asked.

“I think that was why they spoke of always sleeping under a cover-sheet at school,” said Sarah. “Those flying ones are awful, even if you don't get sick from them.”

“Do I need to be measured?” I asked.

“It might be wise to check,” said Sarah. “Anna has your dimensions, but cloth is expensive enough for me to not wish to waste it by cutting it wrongly.” She paused, then said, “I can check it readily here, in fact.”

“In my clothes?” I asked.

“Had I no measurements,” she said, “I might wish you to wear bed-clothing, but since I am just checking, I can manage as you are.”

“Bed-clothing?” I gasped, as she began measuring.

“That is the usual when I measure people,” said Sarah. “Most might want less, but after measuring Paul's wife, I learned it was a good idea.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“She did not wish anyone to see her with less clothing,” said Sarah, “and given how I feel about the matter, I'm not surprised.”

“Y-you?” I asked.

“It took me some time to get used to the school that way,” said Sarah, “and the first year of real traipsing wasn't easy. I still don't much care to be seen in less than bedclothes.”

Measuring proceeded calmly until Sarah accidently brushed my stomach with her fingers. I nearly doubled up with laughter then, and she could only proceed when I had calmed down.

“Yes, dear, I am ticklish,” I said. “I like being tickled.”

While Sarah did not reply, I wondered if she were ticklish as well, and once she had finished, I felt better. I began working, and only when the others began arriving did this strangely placid mood lift.

“I thought you would be working on buggy-parts,” said Georg when he came in.

“They are not here,” I said. “Did the person delivering them...”

“That was strange,” said Georg. “I spoke of taking delivery, but he wouldn't go for that. He said it had to be you, and you only, and he didn't even want to say that much.” Georg paused, then said, “he said he would be back today if he could not find you.”

“Did he say when he would come?” I asked.

“He said as little as he could,” said Georg. “He was looking at this sheet of paper, and having a lot of trouble reading it. I suspected it was from the house, as I've seen such orders before.”

“Was this written like that document of Black-Cap's?” I asked.

“No, thankfully,” said Georg. “The house here seldom writes that way, unlike those to the south.”

“How did you recognize their writing, though?” I asked.

“The fold was special,” said Georg, “and it had a round red wax marking. Then, I noticed the handwriting itself. I've seen that person's writing before.”

“Uh, who?” I asked.

“He's taller than you,” said Georg, “and thin, and started there within the last year. Him, and a few others, write most of the orders I've seen.”

Georg paused, then said, “at least, most of the orders I don't wonder about.”

“You don't wonder about?” I asked.

“There are some black-dressed people that write orders,” said Georg, “and I've heard about their orders, even if I've never seen them. Talk has it they are really hard to understand, and that's for the common words.”

“Common words?”

“Some of what they write is not common,” said Georg. “People talk and write that way at the higher schools, which is where they most likely learn it.”

“Did you see the parts, or supplies?” I asked.

“No, and he wasn't about to show them to anyone but you,” said Georg. “This girl was riding with him, and we were about to leave when he came. She left before we talked.”

Georg paused, then said, “I still don't understand what he was trying to do.”

“Did Hieronymus go after his own orders?” I asked.

“As far as I know he did,” said Georg. “I might have delivered some of that stuff to Waldhuis, but I did not get those orders, nor did I get much orders for the closer work then.”

Georg paused, then said, “he would have a written list with him, and he worked as much to that as he did the slates.”

“Did he ever have any strange books?” I asked.

“There was this set of three he had,” said Georg. “He was very close with those.”

“He was that way with everything,” said Gelbhaar. “I am not sorry he is gone.”

“Were these large books, about so big?” I asked, as I moved my arms to indicate the dimensions of the instrument-maker's handbooks.

“They were, and numbered on their backs,” said Gelbhaar. “I got a look at one of their covers once, and I had trouble understanding what the words meant.”

“I suspect I know what those books are,” I said, “as a big load of books came yesterday, and there were three books on instrument-making.”

“There are?” asked Georg. “Do they speak of what you do?”

“I'm not sure what those things speak of, as I've barely had time to look at them,” I said, “and they're strange enough in places to cause headaches.”

After belting up the steam engine to the buffing wheel and starting it, I demonstrated buffing copper under power. The others seemed somewhat afraid of the steam-billowing engine, even as I adjusted it for a smooth pulsating sound that seemed calming to my ears.

“That thing is...” spluttered Georg.

“A steam engine,” I said. “I have castings to run for a larger one, and I'll need to do them soon – that, and a larger boiler.”

The shop was in full 'noise' by the time of the morning guzzle, and the resulting buffed pieces looked much better than usual. I suspected not having to turn the buffing wheel by hand had much to do with the issue of consistency in finish, and when the break happened, I wondered as to when the man with the buggy parts would arrive. I was more than a little surprised when I heard someone come riding up on a horse.

“Don't tell me,” I thought, as I broke down the engine's connection. “He got in trouble.”

The sounds of boots upon hard-packed dirt came steadily closer, until someone dressed in mottled green clothing came indoors. Georg came close to the man, and the two began an animated conversation. I heard but a portion of it at first, as I was still working on the engine. I was nearly finished with draining its lubricant.

“He came by yesterday... No, he didn't say... It was the usual time... He wasn't here then.”

“I know why he wasn't here,” said the man, “as he was at the house, and was being looked over for burns, then had to finish his posting and ride home.”

I came closer, then said, “is this about that delivery?”

“It is, and he was to see you,” said the man. “He could have stayed in the front here, or waited in the yard where you live, but he didn't.”

“Did he go back to the house?” I asked.

“No,” said the man. “I stopped at three places on the main road here, and he stopped at all of them to ask about where you were.”

He would not spend time in those places,” said Georg. “Why was that man looking there, Lukas?

Georg's naming of the man spoke volumes, and hearing someone spoken of that way made for odd recollections. I kept such thoughts to myself, as I doubted anyone here wished to hear speech regarding 'the prince of darkness'.

“I think that would be his inclination,” said Lukas, “that, and what he was told.”

“Did he think to, uh, 'sample' something at each of those places?” I asked.

The man looked at me, then slowly rubbed his face before saying, “that sounds as likely as anything, as each of those publicans said he was asking for wine.”

“Did he get it, or did he... Who did he talk to before he left?” I squeaked.

The impression I was getting was becoming too strong to ignore, and I mumbled, “no, I don't want to be a witch, and that man thinks I am one.”

“Now how would he think that?” asked Lukas.

“Someone told him about instrument-makers and made them out to be black-dressed drunken thugs,” I shrieked, “and the most likely place they'd be when not 'working' is the nearest drink-house.”

Lukas now looked at me with wide-open eyes, then mouthed the words, “he didn't.”

I had no answers for the man beyond what I suspected, at least at first. After calming down for a second, I then said, “which Public Houses did you stop at?”

“I went along the main road,” he said, “as most that go from the house out here don't think to travel the back ways.”

“It's f-faster, though,” I said.

“It is, and not a little,” he said. “There's no stopping places unless you know that area well, and few go any distance without stopping when and where they can.”

“His o-orders?” I asked.

“Those would speak of not stopping, at least not for any real time,” he said. “He ate before leaving, and I put the grain to the horses myself.”

“Wonderful,” I thought. “He got trashed, and...”

I paused in my thoughts, and blurted, “he hid himself in someone's barn, and he just woke up!”

“Where is that wretch?” said Lukas. “I spoke to him about waiting for you, and he didn't do it.”

“He went as far as he could while the sun still showed,” I said. “He wasn't about to try traveling at night. Then, his wheels were starting to grab and drag badly...”

“Did he smoke the wheels?” asked Lukas.

“No, but he came awful close to doing so on the way here,” I said. “Sarah had to douse them.”

“Can you find him?” asked Lukas.

“I can, but unless he tries to smoke his wheels again while coming here,” I said, “it would not be a good use of my time.”

“Why is that?” asked Lukas.

“Because after that third stop at a Public House, he saw that he had two choices,” I said. “He could stop closer to here, or closer to the house, and he couldn't reach either destination before dark. Then, he had noisy wheels and tired horses, so he headed north after that last Public House you spoke of, stopped at the first farm he came to, drank up his wine and ate his food, and then found some hay to sleep in.”

“I think you had best go with me, then,” said Lukas. “We'll need to pull those wheels, and possibly drive that buggy as well.”

“I do not know how to drive a buggy,” I said.

“No matter,” he said. “I do.”

It took roughly half an hour to gather up the needed supplies for travel, and once the two of us were on the road headed south, I wondered as to why I needed to go. The obvious portion was that I 'knew' where the man was, and could 'find' him, but I suspected strongly there was more to the matter than just my supposed capacity in that regard.

“Is this buggy one with plain axles, or...”

“I think it's brass-slatted,” he said. “Those can go a little further than the usual, but they all need regular wheel-pulling, and it's been busy enough lately that people at the house have been neglecting their duties.”

“Uh, who usually pulls wheels?” I asked.

“Why, guards do,” he said.

“I was never told about that,” I murmured.

“New guards have enough to do without that business, at least for most of them,” he said, “and talk has it you have a lot more than the usual as it is.”

“In what fashion?” I asked.

“I didn't know about the shop until today,” he said, “but I'd heard talk about you having enough work for three people, and that was before the stuff happened yesterday. Now I know better, and those that speak of three need to add to that number.”

“And those wheels with sleeves?” I asked.

“Both of those whose metal he was hauling are that way,” he said. “I don't know what needs to be done to those parts, so I cannot speak much more of them.”

“Were they d-dirty, or..?” I asked. My voice was faltering.

“They cleaned those up good with distillate before they packed them up,” he said, “and they supplied the usual things on top of the metal that was to be gotten.”

“Why would I need metal?” I asked. “These aren't badly worn, are they?”

“Now that I doubt,” he said. “They were gone through down south but last year, and not used much since.”

“Gone through where?” I asked.

“Most likely, it would have been in the fourth kingdom,” he said. “They have two or three big buggy places there.” Here, he paused, then said, “I suspect I know why there was an order for metal.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“That buggy Anna drives has an especially good latch on the back,” he said, “and it's been looked at closely by enough people to know none of those buggy places does that grade of work.”

“Is that what is wanted?” I asked.

“There isn't time for it,” he said. “Even if I go by what Anna said about how you do things, there isn't time, especially with this wretch acting like a witch.”

“Like a witch?” I asked. “How?”

“He didn't do as he was told,” said Lukas, “and those like that tend to be witches. Then, you said he had wine.”

Wine makes him a witch?” I asked. “How?”

“That just adds to what he did wrong,” said Lukas. “I told him to wait for you in Roos, and Hendrik spoke to me specially about that yesterday, and now he goes and gets himself pickled with wine so as to cause trouble.”

“Pickled?” I asked.

“He asked for wine at all three Public Houses,” said Lukas. “If he got that stuff at each of those places, then that means at least three mugs full – and that's enough to get most people pickled, and that proper.” A brief pause, “and getting pickled is just what a witch would do.”

I was still uncertain, at least until I saw the man, and as I rode south, I thought of the time I was wasting by riding when I needed to be working. I continued ruminating on the matter, even as we passed through the smelly clearing and headed down toward the first of the towns that I recalled.

“Now who did that we just passed?” asked Lukas.

“Uh, what portion?” I asked.

“That witch that was done up there,” he said. “Why, was there more?”

“A stinky mule-drawn coach full of distillate and dynamite,” I said. “I did the other part.”

“You did?” he asked. “Did you read about it?”

“Uh, no,” I said. “It just came to me somehow, and...”

“Good, then,” he said. “You can cut up and bag that traitor when we get there. I'd be cursed for certain if I tried...”

My hearing faded out, even as I felt horror beyond the bounds of language, and when I came to myself, I heard “because I'd become that witch's proper slave, and I'd cause you trouble until you put me in hell where I belonged.”

“What?” I squeaked.

“I know you've killed a lot of witches,” he said, “and you've done third degrees, so you should do him up fit for Brimstone. I'd be ridden for certain if I tried.”

“Ridden?” I asked.

“What happens when most people get too close to witches or their things,” he said. “That's the common term in the Grim Collection, that and terms that speak of slaves. The term they use in some of those tales is really strange, though.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“They'd speak of owning, and the worst of such slaves are said to be fully owned,” he said. “They're owned by the witch, and twice over by Brimstone, and everything they say, think, and do is done at the bidding of that witch what owns them and that lizard.”

“Fully-owned witch-slaves?” I gasped.

“Aye, that's it,” he said. “That wretch is likely to either be such a one, or be a witch and want to make us both his proper slaves.”

We passed through the town where the shoemaker was, and as we left the town behind, I seemed to feel the disposition of the individual in question. He had indeed become thoroughly drunk the night before, and was now treating his monstrous hangover with more wine.

“How much of that stuff did he get?” I muttered. “He looks like he drank half a jug last night.”

“Then he's a witch for certain,” said Lukas. “Now what else?”

“He's really hung-over, and is on his second mug of wine of the day right now,” I said. “He hasn't stirred from his hay-bed otherwise, and that farmer is wondering why he's not going yet.”

“Did he ask the farmer?” Lukas was catching on quickly to how this seemed to work.

“He did,” I said, “and he even paid two guilders out of his own pocket. That farmer is really curious about the stuff in the back of that buggy – oh, and he's wondering about the wheels, also.”

“Which wheels?” asked the man. “The ones on the buggy, or the ones inside of it?”

“He's seen the ones inside,” I said, “and that's gotten him concerned, as he knows sleeved wheels means... No, he thinks this is for a pair of postal buggies.”

“Close enough, as the irons for those are the same,” he said. “The buggies themselves are a good bit smaller and lighter.”

“And he's concerned about that, as that means they're house property,” I said. “So he's wondering about that... Oh, my! He suspects that man of being a thug!”

“Close enough,” said the man. “Most witches act like thugs when and as they can.”

“Uh, no,” I said. “That farmer thinks he's found a thief, and is going for his musket.”

“You might have to deal with a cursed farmer, then,” said Lukas. “At least you can, if talk is right.”

“Uh, the instructor?” I asked.

“Him especially,” he said. “He tends to get ridden easy enough that I wonder about him.”

“Now the farmer is coming back out, and he's gotten a large musket loaded with shot,” I said. “He's been having trouble with rats lately.” I paused, then said, “oh, one question about the trip.”

“What is it?” he asked.

“Would it be wise to bring a worked-over fowling piece for game?” I asked.

“If you have one, and have the things it needs, then I would bring it,” he said. “There are fair number of birds to the south, and they're decent in the pot of an evening.”

“Pot?” I asked.

“You might want to ask Anna for her trek-recipes,” he said. “I'm not much of a cook, but I can do passably if I have decent instructions.”

A minute later, I could 'see' the farmer starting to sneak up on his hay-pile. The effects of the first two mugs of wine had called for a third one, and the driver was again becoming drunk.

“You're right about three mugs of wine getting people drunk,” I said, “as he's working on his third mug, and he's getting drunk in a hurry.” I paused, then said, “I'm not familiar with wine, beyond I've heard of several types. Are you?”

“The only kind I can stomach is that which hasn't fermented,” said Lukas. “I can drink that, though I'd rather have beer if I have my choice.”

“Beer?” I asked.

“Aye, especially if it's dark beer,” he said. “That makes for a good night's sleep. I'll want a good-sized jug or two for the trip.”

“This wine-slurper is getting ready to resume sleeping,” I said, “and our farmer is short of shot.” I paused, then said, “he is not short of string, though.”

“String, eh?” he said. “That does work, if it's decent.”

“This is thicker string,” I said. “Perhaps six lines thick or so.”

“That is the good type,” he said. “I usually carry a small bundle of it with me when I'm traipsing.”

“I have some rope that is but slightly thicker,” I said. “I'll be bringing it on the trip.”

The farm in question was now but a handful of miles away, and I thought to reward the farmer for his trouble with some shot from my shot-bag. He was down to his last three loads, and a few handfuls sounded distinctly helpful. I then had a peculiar idea.

“I wonder if I can get some bad feathers and that tool cleaner stuff?” I thought. “That would teach him a lesson.” I then mentally pictured someone coated in greasy smelly black stuff liberally dusted with what looked like chaff from threshing, and I almost didn't catch my laughter in time.

“Now what is so funny?” asked Lukas. “I could do with a laugh right now.”

“Uh, can we get some tool-cleaner?” I asked. “That, and this whitish stuff that looks like bad snow?”

“Tool-cleaner is easy,” he said. “Most farmers have it. The other stuff sounds like linen-waste.” He paused, then said, “why do you want it?”

“Uh, coat that drunken character with tool-cleaner, and then dust him with the other stuff,” I said, “and then turn him loose to walk off his drunk.”

“Now why is it you want to turn him loose?” he asked. “He'd burn good done up like that.”

“No, no flames,” I said. “How hard is that tool-cleaner to get off?”

“He'd be a week getting it off if he worked at it steady,” said Lukas.

“That sounds about right,” I said. “He'd never try that nonsense again.”

“He'd catch fire long afore the week is up,” said Lukas. “That tool-cleaner is like distillate that way, and with linen-waste on him...”

“You're right,” I spluttered. “He'd be a burn-pile waiting to happen that way, and the fumes would flash-back from the nearest source of ignition.”

I then thought some more, and said, “I know. Rotten eggs.”

“What would you do with those?”

“Why, coat him liberally with them,” I said slyly. “He'd smell horrible, and feel worse, and... How long does it take to clean up rotten eggs?”

“Long enough,” he said. “Now where are those to be had?”

I then realized eggs seemed uncommonly scarce, for the example Anna had tossed was the only one I had seen during the whole time I had been here.

“Public Houses, I think, though most might have a handful, not the basket-full we'd need,” I said. “Scratch the eggs.”

Farms now showed to left and right between woodlots, and when we came to the one in question on the right, I turned up its short 'road'. Upon reaching the 'farmhouse', I was more than a little surprised to see someone who reminded me of the shoemaker show with a loaded musket.

“Now why is it you two are here?” he asked. “I was going to ride to the Public House to let them know about that thief.”

“Is he tied?” I asked, as I reached into my bag. “I know you're running low on shot, and I have some for you.”

The farmer nearly dropped his musket, then asked shakily, “do you have dark hair?”

“What of it that is left on his head,” said Lukas. “He had to clear out a witch-hole at the house proper yesterday, and lost much of his hair doing it.”

I thought to 'hang back' slightly, but without another word, the farmer led off toward his barn. As we walked, he spoke.

“First, he comes in here about half an hour before sundown,” said the farmer, “and he's got this stuff all covered in his buggy. He's asking for a place to sleep, and says he'll go just after it gets light enough to see good, so I says he can stay. He gives me two guilders, which makes me wonder some.”

“Is that the usual?” I asked.

“It might be if he was sleeping in the parlor,” said the farmer. “Most let tired travelers sleep in the barn during colder weather. I know I do, and I catch a fair number of 'em.”

“What are they like?” I asked.

“A lot of them around here are women, and I think they sew,” he said. “I know one of 'em does, and she has hair like yours.”

“I think I know that lady,” I said, “and she does sew well.”

“So then, he doesn't up and leave when he says, and I go out to see if anything is wrong,” said the farmer, “and sure enough, something is, as I can smell some bad wine.”

“Bad wine?” I asked. “I'm not that familiar with wine, which is... Ugh!”

“You too,” he said. “I've smelled enough of that stuff to know that isn't the common for wine.”

“Th-that stuff smells really bad,” I gasped. “I've smelled it once or twice before.”

“What kind is it?” asked Lukas.

“Really sour, acid-smelling, acrid, and, uh, nauseating,” I said.

“I go out there, and check what he has in that buggy, and he has the parts for at least one postal buggy in there, and I starts thinking he might be a thief. I get the big musket and go tie him up, and I just finished a little while ago, and now you two come.”

“You two?” I asked.

“I've seen him before,” said the farmer, “and I suspect I've heard about you. The third ditch, right?”

I gasped, then spluttered before saying in a faint voice, “yes.”

“I won't say more,” he said. “I've fired guns before, and I know about the nightmares that go with swine and cannons.”

The 'drunkard' proved to be snoring in the hay, with a sizable jug next to him tipped on its side. A faint yellowish puddle lay tainting the straw under the jug, and when I knelt down to look, Lukas spat, then said, “I know that stuff. That's some accursed wine, and if he got that, he's a witch.”

“At that Public House?” I said. “Not that many places carry it, do they?”

“There are enough two-doored shops around that he could have gotten it easy,” said Lukas. “Now where do you want to do this?”

“Do what?” asked the farmer.

“Question him the old way,” said Lukas. “I might not be good for much, but he's done those things before, and he got some answers out of a witch recently.”

“He wasn't forthcoming,” I said, “and I've wasted enough time on what's in the buggy already.” I paused, then said to the farmer, “do you have a large cloth sack?”

“I might find one,” said the farmer. “How big of one?”

“Big enough to bag up this wretch,” I said. “I have an idea.”

As the farmer left with his musket, Lukas began looking in the buggy. As he looked, I wondered as to the team, and when I found them still harnessed near a watering trough, I nearly shrieked. Lukas came running.

“Now that's bad,” he said, as he watched me trying to undo the harness. “He gets drunk, and doesn't look after what he's driving for the buggy, and now he abuses the horses.” A brief pause, then “you don't do much with harness, do you?”

“Uh, no,” I said. “Jaak doesn't like it, and I have no idea how that stuff works anyway. At least I know how to look after some of the other things.”

I drew my hoof-pick, then began working on the hooves. The first one had a rock, which I removed, then as I checked around the other seven feet, I commented on loose shoes and other rocks.

“We cannot do the shoes here,” he said, “and the nearest decent farrier I know of is some distance past where you live.”

“I hope that will work,” I said, as I straightened up. “How do the parts look?”

“You most likely could tell a lot more than I could,” he said. “Now why do you want to bag that character?”

“He won't answer questions while drunk,” I said. “Hence, I'll put him bagged and tied in the hay-pile at Georg's until I'm done for the day, and then, uh, simmer him some near a forge.”

“Ah, that should do the trick,” said Lukas. “Now what is this you mean by simmer?”

“Forges get very warm,” I said. “So, I will put him on a stool close to one.”

“What will that do?” asked Lukas.

“Cook him to a turn,” said the farmer as he came with a sizable bag. “I've been in smithies enough to know how hot those things get.”

I gasped, even as the farmer began stuffing him into the bag. Lukas began helping, and by the time we'd bagged him up, I wondered what I had gotten myself into now.

“I wasn't planning on cooking him,” I thought miserably, as I wondered how my use of the word 'simmer' was somehow twisted into 'roast', and my 'bluff' had been called.

“Now we need to pull the wheels on that buggy and grease it,” said Lukas.

While the farmer went elsewhere – where, I had no idea – I had the impression that 'greasing' the buggy involved tallow, at least until Lukas brought out a small tin that I quickly recognized as containing fourth kingdom axle grease. I wondered for another moment as to how we would do the work until the farmer came back with a strange-looking device that he took to the rear of the buggy.

“I use this for the buggies and wagons here,” he said. “It helps a lot.”

How much it helped was 'staggering', for within minutes, I was removing one axle pin while Lukas and the farmer were working on the other side. I found my wheel to be disinclined to come off, and when I pulled harder, I nearly fell on my rear with the wheel in my hands.

“You got that one off, now try this one,” said the farmer. “Did that wretch smoke the wheels?”

I looked closer, and saw blackened gouged wood slivered with faintly iridescent brass pieces, then shook my head before saying, “I'm not sure if these are smoked or not, but they do not look particularly good.”

I laid the wheel against the buggy's side, and as I went to the other side, the farmer and Lukas went around the front. As I settled in to pull, I could hear the farmer muttering.

“Yes?” I asked, as I began wiggling the wheel.

“This looks like they were smoked some,” he said. “They look really dry.”

“Grease?” I asked. “Perhaps that, then gentle tightening every mile or so when it rattles.”