The fifth kingdom's mess, part g.
Awakening was slow amid yawns and other strange noises that took nearly a minute to recognize as the sounds of escaping gas. I looked at my right arm, and then felt it.
“Uh, that does not look good,” I thought, as I pinched the portion of muscle. Something was missing, and I could not place either it or the meaning of its absence.
“All the more reason to head home,” said the soft voice. “I would try to leave tonight, if possible.”
I blinked my eyes, and as I rubbed them, I wondered what time it was. This last thought so exercised my still-trembling mind that I slowly staggered toward the mouth of the stable, then up the incline. I was more than a little astonished to see both buggies up on barrels with their wheels beside them, and yawned sleepily as I came out into the bright sunlight. I wanted to touch the buggies to ensure they were indeed there, for the many strange sights I had seen in the evening seemed to be once more crowding my vision.
Once I had touched one of the buggies, however, I realized I needed a lot more sleep, and turned back to 'get it' – and in the process, I saw where there had once been a hole in the stable wall.
“What?” I squeaked, as I woke up fully. “Th-that d-door!”
“Not bad, given I'm no carpenter,” said the voice of Lukas from somewhere near my feet, and I turned around to see him wiping the metal portions of the nearest buggy with distillate. I had been so far gone he'd turned 'invisible'.
“That s-stuff...” I spluttered once I'd noticed the near-complete lack of 'distillate' odor.
“Took some doing to find,” he said. “These people are like rats for hiding things.”
“Rats?” I spluttered. “I s-shot a big one...”
“So I heard,” said Lukas. “Shooting that thing likely kept those people off of you long enough to get clear of 'em.”
“Uh, why?” I asked.
“About half of the money-changers in the east half of the house are named Makooij,” said Lukas, “and they don't much care to hear about other combines.”
“It was more than that,” said Gilbertus' voice. I turned to see him with a sack carried over his shoulder. “They knew she was from the house here, but they didn't have any idea about him.”
“How are you finding out all of this?” I asked incredulously.
“Seems they have a clock-ticker in that place down below,” said Lukas, “and it's decent for working.”
“But the batteries...”
“Not to worry,” said Lukas. “For each one of those crocks, they have two more waiting and ready to go, and then they've got the thing what puts the juice to 'em, too.” A brief pause, then, “you might want to see that thing afore we leave.”
“Leave?” I asked. “When?”
“Most likely tonight,” said Lukas. “Hendrik's spoken of what's happened around here with the combines and all, and how if we don't leave soon, we're not likely to be able to do so.” Another brief pause, then, “they're in most-decent shape around here, 'cept for a few things what need your working on them.”
“Most-decent?” I asked.
“They're near-done with that outer door,” said Lukas, “and most of the inside's about cleaned out of witches and pigs.”
As if to disabuse us of the matter, a frantic screech seemed to ring in my mind, followed by a less than faint gunshot.
“You spoke too soon,” said Gilbertus. “That was a pig.”
“It sounded like a small one,” I said.
“Aye,” said Lukas. “What pigs are still in there are Shoeten, and they barely know what's likely as food.”
“Witches?” I asked.
“Those traps all went off,” said Lukas, “and when the two of us went back in about an hour after dinner, there were a lot of Shoeten lying on the floor.”
“And two witches,” said the voice of Sepp from behind. “Those people in there are working like no one I've ever seen.”
“Uh, where?” I asked. “Inside?”
“That also,” said Sepp. “About the only place in there that doesn't have people in it is that one stinky room with the cloth.”
“Did they find any more witches?” I asked. “Pigs?”
“No, but that doesn't mean that much,” said Sepp. “I told them that if they were being ridden, they would only know what the witch doing the riding wanted them to know.”
“That one woman went earlier this morning, though,” said Gilbertus, “and she said there weren't any more witches.”
“Pigs?” I asked.
“She allowed there might be a few of the smaller ones,” said Gilbertus.
“Meaning I need to go over the place and see if anyone's still, uh, hiding,” I said.
“And clear out the last of the pigs,” said Sepp. “Shoeten do not stay small if they can get into enough food, and the bigger they are, the more they eat.”
Sepp's description sounded more appropriate to the behavior of Desmonds rather than swine, but when I turned to go back inside, I had but little idea as to what time it was – at least, until I found my cot.
Someone had put a plate with a lump of camp-bread on it, as well as a jug of beer next to it, and I knew I needed to eat what and when I could. After devouring the bread, I noted my still-raging hunger, and I went in search of food.
The 'usual' place, however, was no longer active for food preparation, for not merely was it 'unoccupied', but the braziers and cooking utensils were gone – as was the pot-boiler, the pots, the spare tub, and much else.
“Where did it go?” I thought, as I turned to go back to my 'stall'. “People still have their bedding and things out here...”
“The inner house is still not entirely habitable,” said the soft voice, “even if the kitchen is approaching full usability.”
“The kitchen?” I asked.
“Go to the 'bottom' floor, then turn the corner at the far end to find the actual lowest floor of the house,” said the soft voice.
After gathering my things, I went to the threshold of the inner house, and paused to listen. The sounds I heard – labor, talk, the noises of various tools – reminded me of the first kingdom house's kitchen, and when I came to where the 'secret passage' branched off, I paused to listen.
Faintly, I heard voices, and I thought to investigate, at least until someone I recognized – I'd seen him inside several times – came up the passage with a sack of tools and a jug.
“Y-yes?” I asked.
“The door's wedged so they can't open it from the outside,” he said, “and the doorknob's pieces are in this bag.”
“And?” I asked. “Will I need to work on it?”
“You might,” he said, “but Liza spoke of how touching it bothered you, so the least we can do is soak it so as to clean it up good.”
“Uh, hot water, followed by scrubbing with Fell's soap, and then dunking in heavy distillate,” I said. “That...” I ceased speaking upon recalling the talk about 'dirt, grime, corrosion, and grease'.
“That what?” asked the man.
“I was told the button was hidden by a lot of dirt and nasty stuff,” I said, “and the inside...”
“I looked at that,” he said, “and I'd call it decent, given what I know.”
“What you know..?” I asked.
“I spent four years apprenticed at a jeweler's before they were burned out,” he said, “I was about a year or so away from getting my walking papers.”
“Tools?” I asked.
He grinned, then said, “I came here with what I had, and I've bought more since.” A brief pause, then, “and keeping that thing working properly made it easy to get more tools.”
“That thing?” I asked.
“What's used to send and receive messages here,” he said. “Those black-dressed thugs were about worthless for working when they were sober, and that wasn't often.”
“For keeping it operating?” I asked.
“That, and actually using it,” he said. “It got so all they did was stay drunk all the time and carry the messages for me.”
“And..?” I asked.
“It was easier for me to stay out of trouble then,” he said. “I had to stay by that thing day and night, and make sure it kept working, and send and receive messages, but if I did all that those thugs ignored me.”
“And you had some free time then, or did you?” I asked.
“Once I had it to myself, I did,” he said. “Until then, though – I was on the jump every waking minute, and I didn't sleep much.” He paused, then said, “those people aren't jewelers.”
“Clumsy, tend to break things...”
“All of that and a whole lot more,” he said. “They'd yell at that stuff strange all the time, and that no matter what was wrong with it.”
“Yell at it?” I asked.
“It wasn't any language I've ever heard,” he said, shaking his head. “There's something about wearing black-cloth that removes a person's common sense, and that entirely.”
Passing the previous regions of pigs and witches showed a great deal had been done regarding cleaning, or so I thought until I paused at one of the doorways. I had set a trap in that particular office, and while the room still reeked of powder and 'dirt', the visual aspect of filth and soot was very much reduced.
“Hello?” I asked as I poked my head inside.
There was no answer at first, but as I turned to go a woman came from a doorway across the hallway.
“That one was a big mess,” she said. “Filled with dead witches and pigs, and all of them smelled horrible.”
“Were the pigs, uh, going rotten?” I asked.
“They smelled vile,” she said. “Otherwise, I could not tell, and they sold fast enough once we'd gotten them outside.”
“And the witches?” I asked.
“They went as fast as the Shoeten,” said the woman. “I think there's about two more of those things in here, but...”
A deafening screech came from up the hall, and a scrabbling noise spoke of a struggle. I unslung my rifle and pulled the hammer to full cock as I mounted it. I was none too soon, for a sizable black-and-tan pig shot out of a door but thirty feet away.
I fired at the still-airborne animal as it began descending, and the pig hit the floor to tumble and slide into the nearest wall. When I turned to the woman, I was alarmed to find she'd fallen to the ground in a dead faint. I knelt down and asked her to wake up, which she did with alacrity to then stand and begin walking toward the pig. Her walking – uncommonly wobbly, much as if she were drunk – made for further alarm on my part, at least until she walked past the pig and the just-appeared threesome who were working on dragging it down the hall toward the outside. She then turned the corner, and I relaxed to a small degree, even as I seemed to hear another pig nearby.
“Where is that stinker?” I thought, as I paused to stuff a bullet down the barrel of my rifle. “I can hear that slimy thing...”
I caught up with the still-wobbling woman about the time she passed the room I had yet to clear, and the rotten-meat stink coming from its shattered entrance made for retching.
“At least they've got a warning sign on it,” I thought, as the woman wobbled around the last corner that had been mentioned to me. “Now where is she going?”
Two doors, a third on the right, then a fourth on the left; and she ignored all of them to duck into a doorway faintly wreathed with steam. The odors coming from this room spoke of cooking, and when I went past a smallish 'refectory' – a half-dozen freshly-cleaned rectangular tables, each of them clustered about with stools – I marveled at the obvious changes that had happened.
“Where is she going?” I thought, as she passed a cloth-hung doorway on the right.
The smell of cooking drew steadily stronger, and when she turned to the left, I saw a steam-wreathed doorway that practically vibrated with the smells of food.
She had that place obviously in mind, for she ignored both steam and smells and proceeded as if having a single thought in mind. I was distracted horribly, even as the smells and steam became first thicker and then subsided prior to entering a further room – a room all but stacked with shelves, and...
And jugs. She went past the shelves to the very end, and there found a cloth-covered table, two jugs, and a stacked mound of tinned copper mugs.
She sequestered a mug before my still-glazing eyes, then began twisting out the cork. It came readily, and the odor as she filled the mug spoke loudly of beer. Karl's voice behind me broke me from my revery.
“I know there is a Shoet in here somewhere,” he muttered, “and I think that pig likes beer.”
“Do not speak of pigs,” spluttered the woman between gulps of beer. “One fit for Kossum's tins showed, and he shot that thing.”
“Did the noise make you f-faint?” I asked.
“I have heard enough dynamite to become used to it,” she said, “but I have trouble with swine.”
I let her resume drinking, and thought to join her. I filled both water-bottle and smaller cup, then as Karl filled his cup – old, somewhat battered, but otherwise serviceable-looking – I thought to ask him where he'd gotten it.
“They had some of these things hid back here,” he said, “and I asked for one.” A brief pause, then, “and I suspect I will be wanting it rather than the regular kind, which is why I gave them what I'd brought with me.”
“I hope to get more of those,” said the woman. “Beer stays cooler in them, and that helps in a hot place like this.”
Karl shuddered, then said, “those things will be no good to us should they break.”
“I know,” I said quietly, “which is why I use the c-copper ones exclusively.”
Karl looked at me, then said, “I am not worried about dropping those things.”
“Then what?” I asked.
“That trip back,” he said. “We will want to pad every jug as if it were filled with eggs.”
“As in rough roads?” I asked.
Karl nodded, then checked his pistol. I was glad to see one chamber uncapped under the hammer.
“I need to get something to eat,” I said, “and then we can find that...”
The screech of a pig seemed to come from everywhere at once, and I set down my mug as Karl turned and began looking around. The woman promptly vanished from the area, as did the mug she was using.
The jug remained where it was, with the cork replaced with astonishing care.
Again, the pig-shriek rang out – though this time, the ending of the noise was high and fading – and followed by a woman's howl of triumph.
Karl ran toward the yelling, and I followed in his wake at a somewhat more prudent speed – which proved wise, as the yelling just as abruptly turned into a terrified feminine screech amid renewed squeals from another pig.
I could hear Karl yelling, then the sounds of a scuffle came from ahead. The pig shrieked once more, and when the thing's head showed out of a doorway, I drew my revolver and fired.
The pig leaped convulsively, and in its wake Karl showed. He seemed both peeved and unaccountably dirty.
“That pig was trying to drag her off,” he muttered, “and I'd just poked it a good one.”
I looked in the direction of the pig's travel to see an immobile lump about ten feet away. Karl looked up, then muttered anew.
“She'd thumped it good, and...”
The woman herself then appeared – and the term 'dirty as a turnip-farmer' acquired a new and blatant meaning. Not only did the woman absolutely reek of 'pig', but she was covered in a smelly gray material that took scant seconds to recall the nature and name of.
“Is that dung?” I asked. I wasn't about to call it 'pig-slime', even if that was its more-common name near home.
She nodded, then said, “it had gotten into the grain, and it was devouring the stuff like a bad northern worm.”
“B-bad northern w-worm?” I asked.
“It squirted me with its leavings when I drove it out of the grain-room with a club,” she said, “and I was running for a meat-knife when he ran into me.”
“Who shot that pig?” squeaked a familiar voice.
“Uh, I did,” I said. “Why? Was it shamming?”
“It will not do that here,” said the voice of Liza. “It has blood in its ears.” A brief pause, then the sound of retching.
“I had best get a bath and clean clothing,” said the woman. Her voice was the picture of delicacy, even if she and the surrounding area stank horribly, and when she 'vanished', I again recalled the reason why I had come here.
My nose led me toward the scent of food, and when I came into the obvious 'kitchen', I was fully astonished to see three 'Public House' stoves and twice that number of obvious cooks attending them. The odors of 'stew' and 'greens' were especially tempting, and the pots clean, sizable, and obviously full.
“Lunch?” I asked.
“Is nearly ready,” said one of the 'cooks'. “We should be setting tables in about another turn of the glass.”
“I would not wait that long for him,” said the voice of Liza. “Those people are wasting away with the days as it is, and doubly so for him.”
“It is time, isn't it?” I thought. “Perhaps...”
As clear as if I were standing in the bell-tower of a cathedral, I heard the words 'after lunch', and then plainly, I understood my schedule and what needed me:
The room with the cloth.
Check the remaining areas underground.
A time of 'meeting', perhaps midafternoon.
Sleep when and as I could. Rest was of especial importance.
Clearing out the stables.
“And then getting that c-coach...” I muttered. “Now how am I going to m-move a big stinky thing l-like that all that distance, especially as Jaak wants nothing to do with...”
Again, clear as a bell: the coach had its own secrets that way.
“Try to blow up the house with me next to it, no doubt,” I thought. “How will it be different?”
There was no answer to that question, even if an answer to my growling stomach arrived shortly, and I went into the 'refectory' so as to eat it.
Karl had already occupied a corner table, and when I joined him, I heard the voices of Sepp and perhaps Kees somewhere nearby. Both of them sounded inclined toward lunch as well.
“They ought to be,” said Karl. “That door is of two pieces, and both of them solid iron.”
“Door?” I asked.
“You have not seen it yet, have you?” he asked.
“Is this the door for the stable?” I asked.
“It is,” said Kees, “and it's finished.”
“F-finished?” I asked.
“And working,” said Sepp. “We needed everyone who was able to put it up, it was so heavy.”
“H-how did you..?”
“There's at least one jeweler here,” said Sepp. “Between him, those two gaffers, and Eduwart, they figured out how it was mounted.”
“And the rest of us mounted it,” said Karl. “I do not like mason's work much.”
“Too sweaty?” I asked.
“That mortar stuff is bad on the hands,” said Karl. “It makes them itch a lot.”
The pig had vanished when I took my bowl and plate in to where the pots were boiling, and here, I was astonished to find two more stoves. Each had a huge pot billowing clouds of steam, and the 'pot-boiler' – a different person from the one I recalled – spoke of parts to a distillery.
“Do you know where those parts are?” I asked.
“I would look in the workshop,” said the woman as she removed a tinned plate from one of the pots with long wood-handled tongs. “Lunch is about due, so you may wish...”
She then saw my plate and bowl, and asked, “I suspect you needed an early lunch, if you went that far last night.”
“It wasn't just the walking,” said another woman's voice. “He shot a rat fit for Kossum's tinning.”
“And being held up by a drunken thug,” I muttered. “Liza spoke of, uh, Blomfels.”
“If he was from that combine,” muttered the 'pot-boiler', “then there will be trouble.”
“For the house?” I asked.
“For you all, should his people learn of it,” she said. “Only them of the Makooij combine are worse.”
“Yes, for feuding,” said the other woman. “For pure trouble, I am not sure if any combine is as bad.”
The trip back toward the 'outer' house meant dodging a steady and growing trickle of workers heading toward the refectory, and when I came out into the yard, I was even more astonished to see a sizable mound of 'chopped hay'. It was over a foot taller than my head, and easily thirty feet across at the base. The odor was that of 'greenery' mingled more than a little with that of distillate.
“The horses?” I asked.
“Are now eating properly,” said the soft voice.
“W-what?” I gasped. “G-grain..?”
“What you had sufficed for a day's resting,” said the soft voice. “More hay and grain will arrive by midafternoon.”
“And mule-feed?” I asked. “Goats..?”
There was no answer to that question, even if I found answers to several others as I came to the inner stable door.
The door itself was thick, old-looking, of varnished planking, and bound with riveted iron straps. A sizable 'brass' knob bulged out of a lockplate cast of a similar metal, and the patina on both knob and lockplate spoke of considerable age and substantial use. Touching the knob, however, made for an 'electric' jolt.
“They cleaned that thing up,” I spluttered, at the sense of 'direct' chill on my fingers, and this unaltered by the presence of grime or corrosion. “Now what...”
I had just seen the shape of the rivets themselves, and their oval heads meant for tormenting disquiet.
“They found a fetish-door...”
I paused in mid-thought as I looked at the rivets themselves, then said, “no hiding.”
Seconds passed, and there was no change in either my sense or the door itself; and I touched those rivets nearest my hand. Their chilled iron named them solid enough – yet still, there was a question, that being 'why?' relating to their being used.
“Bought-rivets,” I muttered. “He said they usually weren't very good... And ours commonly had cracked heads unless done right...” Again, that single word. “Why did they use fetishes..?”
“While that style of rivet is beloved of witches,” said the soft voice, “recently-made versions tend to warrant the term 'best-grade', and those used in that door are no exception.”
“They're better?” I asked. “How?”
“Recall the mention of 'relatively precise' workshops locally?” said the soft voice. “Oval-headed 'fetish-rivets' are among the best-selling 'common' products made in those shops.”
“And, uh, 'instrument-makers' fighting over them?” I asked.
“Much of what those people make is sold to witches,” said the soft voice, “while a small handful of fourth kingdom shops have actually tested those rivets.”
“And..?” I asked, as I recalled what I had not done. A fetish was a fetish, supposedly – and fetishes, by and large, did not prefer my company.
“They live up to their more-common name of 'best-grade' rivets,” said the soft voice. “Georg was understating the case when he spoke of most purchased rivets not being very good.”
I then recalled the phrase 'recently made'.
“The rivets witches truly want are both very rare and very old,” said the soft voice, “and those are fetishes in every sense of the word.” A brief pause, then, “your rivets are nearly as prized.”
“What?” I gasped. “How?” Then, “do witches..?”
“They do,” said the soft voice, “and for many of the same reasons.” A brief pause, then, “yours are thought to be stronger, actually.”
“As r-rivets..?” I asked.
“Both as fetishes and rivets,” said the soft voice. “They don't respond well to the common means of 'inadequate heat and a too-large hammer', which means they are thought to be potent fetishes; and then among those knowing the 'secrets' of their use, they are especially prized for their strength and consistent dimensions.”
The whole of this time of questioning had my hand on or near the doorknob, and twisting it made for a smooth motion followed by a click. The door opened slowly and without sound at my gentle touch, and within, I saw the light of candle lanterns throwing shadows upon long serried stacks of stone and other building supplies. A step inside, close the door behind me; and the sole light within was that of a half-dozen flickering candle-flames.
And at least one blindness-inducing lantern, if I went by the brilliant white light showing from the 'workshop'.
The faint hiss common to such lanterns grew louder with my steps as I passed first the cordoned-off refuse mound, then the 'great beast'. I glanced at the floor to see footprints – footprints that went from a normal pace to slow-dragging to full-stop, then a resumption of the slow and awkward slow-dragging iron-bound steps of a shackled slave until the coach faded from sight and sound. My next question seemed to have an obvious answer – an answer I did not trust; and hence I asked the question anyway.
“Is that thing causing trouble?” I asked silently.
“It is, which is why it needs to leave tonight,” said the soft voice. “I would pack it full.”
New-wrought questions bloomed in my mind spoke of how to move a weighty vehicle several miles, which were just as quickly blown to rags by my entering the 'workshop'.
My voice ceased in wonder at the changes wrought upon the place, and the hung-from-the-ceiling lantern's strong and unflickering light showed all that I saw clearly and in sharp relief.
The forge had acquired a smoke-collecting sheet-metal hood and a pronounced aura of cleanliness; the anvil had been 'exchanged' for a much better one; the workbenches had been cleaned and 'resurfaced'; and the walls now hung tools in great and orderly profusion. I wandered in, dodging several men and women; one was working upon a door lockplate, another a somewhat dented copper pot, a third what might have been a poker, and when I came to the end of the first workbench, I nearly tripped over a collection of stakes and a stake-holder.
“Where did this come from?” I asked.
One of the women ceased filing, then turned. I noted a face crinkled with concentration as she pointed with twitching finger at the stakes I had collided with. “Someone hid those things good.”
“Hid?” I asked.
“That one biggest room in the inner house,” she said. “I found some more files down in there, which is good.”
“G-good?” I asked, as I went to where she was working on the second bench. The pieces of three dismantled 'bowie knives' lay rag-padded and scattered among her tools, while the rough-ground blade of one example lay in a copper-lined vise. She seemed to be 'cleaning it up', and I thought to ask about it.
“We have at least thirty of them bagged up so far,” she said, “and at least a dozen more of those filthy things are soaking in heavy distillate and lye.”
“Lye?” I asked. “Corrosion?”
“That and dried blood,” she said. “The distillate stops the rust from starting, and makes them easier to handle after they soak in it, and then with the lye...”
“They come apart before they get the lye,” said another man.
“It helps get all the rust that way,” she said. “Then, I get to work on them.” A brief pause, then “someone said one could grind grain with them, but I suspect...”
“We need a regular grain-mill, and no mistake,” said one of the men. “Cutting up grain for the house's people would need every one of those knives being used, and that without cease.”
“They...” I spluttered. I was at a loss for words.
“That is when they do not use those things in the kitchen,” said the man next to her. He was swaging rivets, or so I guessed by the tools he was using. “You might want to check over the parts to that still over there before we put the rivets to it.”
“Still?” I thought, as I walked to where he had pointed. “I hope it isn't an...”
My thinking stopped mid-thought as I saw first the tall straight-sided cooker, then the pan-shaped 'cap', and finally, an obvious 'condenser' – only this last was double-walled, with a small funnel attached to its upper 'coolant' inlet. All of these pieces were in surprisingly good condition, with but small smears of brightened tin remaining on the outside where the old rivets had been removed – and, as I glanced at the seams, I noted the size of their rivet-holes.
They were not sized for fifteen-line rivets, but fasteners a good deal smaller.
“I suspect it's from the fourth kingdom,” said the man who'd pointed it out to me. “The pieces to that still which turned up first went with a freighter yesterday.”
“Uh, why?” I asked. “The smell?”
“That and those markings it had,” he said. “Liza spoke of stills like that being trouble, and not just because of what is written on them.”
“That one had a bad bottom,” said the woman who'd been working on knife parts. She then resumed her filing, and the long smooth strokes of draw-filing reminded me more than a little of a certain jeweler's wife and her filing.
“I was two years from my walking papers when those thugs burned the jeweler's place,” she said, “and Maarten had but a year to go.”
“How long is the usual apprenticeship for jewelers?” I asked. “Seven years?”
“It is for most,” she said. “Perhaps one person in ten might be good enough to finish a year early, and those like Maarten, they are less common yet.” A brief pause, then, “I would not have lasted two days traveling from that place without him.”
“Uh, why?” I asked. It seemed most unwise to speak of 'unusual anatomy'.
“He's like Liza that way,” she said, “only Liza's more so yet.”
“That is because she used to grow potatoes,” said a man who I had not yet heard. “They get those large pigs in that place, and...”
“Did she grow potatoes, or did her relatives?” asked the woman. Her pointed tone was obvious.
There was silence at this last question, and I went back to look at the rivets themselves. A brief glance spoke of 'decent' examples, and while I watched the man making them tap out more, I wondered if his swage was 'decent' as well.
“Could use some work,” he said. “It's a bit balky still.”
“You might let him look at it, Claus,” said the woman working on the knives. “Getting better ones around here will be most difficult.”
“Let me fetch my tools,” I asked softly, as I began to back out of the 'workshop'. “I hope I have enough...”
I then saw the stable's outer door itself, and I turned in stunned shock to see something that looked as if but lately removed from a nineteenth-century bank vault. A faint creaking noise, and the right door of the pair opened slowly.
“One less Shoet,” said the man who'd opened the door. He then turned to pick up something, and I ran forward to help him.
As I reached the door itself, however, it became obvious that he'd thought ahead on the matter, for two other men – both armed with revolvers – were helping him muscle in an unusually large sack of grain. The faintly musty smell made for wondering on my part, at least until they'd gotten the sack inside and the door fully closed – or so I thought until all three men picked up a thick iron bar and lifted it into the staples on the door after withdrawing a large wood-handled iron key from a previously-hidden lock.
“They could get in here,” said the first man, “but even with dynamite, they would not have an easy time of it.”
“The other door?” I asked. “Was it of..?”
“That thing was of wood,” said one of the other men, “and bad wood, too.”
“Bad wood covered with stone on the outside, you mean,” said the first man, “and then covered with blood on the inside.”
“C-covered with blood?” I asked.
“That and a lot of these bad letters witches like to use,” said the first man.
“Those things are not letters,” said the third man. It was his first speech in my hearing. “Liza said witches used them for bad curses.”
On the way to fetch my tools, I saw Karl and Sepp both engaged in packing up 'our' supplies. It was more and more obvious that we would be leaving in the evening, so much so that I did not notice my tendency to yawn until I'd actually returned to the workshop.
“I would get more sleep if I were you,” said the woman who was working on the knives.
“That would be difficult for him,” said the voice of Lukas from the open portion of the stables. “We'd best be bringing those buggies in here...”
“Uh, no,” I said. “I've already seen trouble caused by that coach...”
A faint squeaking noise, then unsteady steps shambling off toward the inner door which then thumped softly as it closed.
“Was he..?” I asked silently.
“He was,” said the soft voice, “and that much more than he knew.”
“Yet how did he..?”
“He knew enough once you spoke of the coach,” said the soft voice, “and he left the area.”
“And these people?” I asked.
“Know it to be an effectual fetish,” said the soft voice, “and hence stay clear of it as much as they can.”
I wanted to ask more, but I had a rivet-swage in front of me, and after drawing the first of several bolts, I knew I had been altogether too generous in thinking the thing 'decent'.
“This thing needs cleaning up,” I muttered, as my files scraped across lumpy bits of metal which alternated between the hardness of a typical full-polish wrench and something much harder, “and that on top of a thorough cleaning.”
“More of the coach's effects,” said the soft voice. “He didn't realize that swage was that bad.”
“Meaning the rivets are likely to be scrap,” I muttered – at least until I actually looked at a sample.
“How did those..?” My tendencies toward frustration rang like chimes in my head at the gross incongruity manifested before me, which seasoned my muttering with barely-suppressed oaths.
“A combination of patience and unusual manual dexterity,” said the soft voice, “as well as a better-than-average level of care for this area.”
“And sloppy bolts,” I muttered. “I cannot make larger ones, nor can I ream these blocks...”
“Nor do much beyond the simplest and obvious, given what you have for tools,” said the soft voice. “Still, a thorough cleaning with distillate, followed by judicious cleanup with those tools you have, will help that swage's output markedly.”
And, at the back of my mind, I realized, I did not have time to do much to the swage beyond what I had just heard described; and that 'list' of sorts that I had compiled returned to me – only in a different order:
Sleep when and as I could. I needed all the sleep I could get, I now realized.
Clear out the stables of fetishes.
Clear – or finish clearing – the room which had the passage and cloth.
A time of 'meeting', perhaps midafternoon.
Check the remaining areas underground for swine and witches.
And, if time permitted, dinner.
Regardless, I would need to wait until some hours after nightfall to dispose of the coach; and then, we would need to leave. I wanted as much time as possible for travel while darkness prevailed.
“Packing while I deal with the coach?” I asked. “Would that be wise..?”
“That, more or less, was Lukas' idea,” said the soft voice, “and had the stables been cleared, it would have been wise for him to do so.”
“And what Karl and Sepp are doing?” I asked.
“Gilbertus thought they needed to be kept busy,” said the soft voice. “Their labor will save some time with packing just the same.”
My hands had not been idle during this questioning, and I looked down to see a completely dismantled rivet-swage. Several pins – or rather, random bits of rust-streaked twisted wire – had fallen out, and the overall 'grimy' aspect of the thing's parts had grown mightily. I gathered up the various bits, bagged them, and then left for the stable's inner door.
Once outside, I again noticed the odor of distillate, and I moved across the close-cropped grass of the courtyard toward the mound of hay. Heat-waves shimmered off of the roof to my right, while barren brown places churned up by the hooves of mules showed dead against the still-living sections of grass surrounding them. The remaining grass, however, had been gnawed nearly to its roots, and I wondered which animals had caused so much 'destruction'.
“All three types,” said the soft voice. “Those dead spots are due to the leavings of mules.”
“Can anything grow there again?” I asked.
“In time, the grass will regrow,” said the soft voice. “I would keep mules off of it just the same.”
The mound of hay loomed larger still as I drew closer, and with my walking, I knew I had underestimated the size of the inner courtyard as well. It was easily two hundred yards on a side, and in the northwest corner, I found not merely the huge mound of hay, but also a head-high circle formed of tall thin wooden 'powder kegs' and sawhorses that lay 'hidden' – their outlines were obvious to me – under a patched gray-and-tan cloth 'pavilion' of sorts. It had been hidden behind the 'hay-pile'.
The reek of distillate was now unmistakable, and mingled with it was another odor equally vile. I wondered if the privy had received its due attention, and glanced around to see if I could find it.
“Where is the pr-privy?” I asked. The former place was 'gone' – and that without remaining trace.
“The ones in the inner house are working again,” said a voice I recognized as that of the man with the doorknob, “and this thing is cleaning up easier than I thought it would.”
I then heard steps coming closer, and a cloth moved aside to show the man himself with a long-handled wire-bristled brush. I followed him back into his 'lair' as the mingled stenches grew more and more intense.
“Here is that knob,” he said, as he resumed scrubbing something in a deep tin pan. Dust and dirt seemed to be streaming out of the knob's cracks, while here and there, yellow-brown tarnished brass showed through a thin film of near-black dried-hard grease. “Now what is it you have there?”
I had not heard this last portion, for the mingled stinks were causing me to become nauseous; and I gasped while holding my stomach with my free hand, “what is that stink?”
“The distillate, which you see,” said the man. “Why..?”
“No, that other stink,” I said between attempts to retch. “It smells like a blasted privy.”
“That is lye,” said another man who then showed with a stained leather apron. “These things soak themselves in it so as to come clean.”
I received a small bowl full of 'well-dried' distillate and a small brush, and I staggered queasily from the 'realm of lye' for the relative shade underneath the southeast corner. There, I spread out my rag, and piece by piece, cleaned the swage-parts. My file became busy once I'd doused each part with the fuming liquid, and between deburring and truing stints, I cleaned the parts anew in the distillate. Two such 'go-rounds', and the parts were cleaned, deburred, and somewhat more even; and I left them lay upon the rag while I returned to where I had gotten the distillate with the still-reeking bowl.
And this time, once inside, I noticed plainly who and what inhabited that small region: three men, all of whom were busy cleaning objects of one kind or another; two sizable distillate-reeking wooden tubs filled with assorted knives and daggers; the doorknob itself, with the outline of the button now plainly visible, if still reluctant to move; several more tubs, these filled with bubbling and 'smoking' lye solution; and finally, a last tub, this filled with rusted and old-looking tools. This last received the off-washings of distillate used to 'final-clean' various pieces. I could plainly see more fumes billowing up from the last.
I pinched my nose, then asked as I handed over the distillate, “the goats?”
“Are in the stables now,” said the cleaner of the doorknob. “They mostly graze in the early evening.”
With mostly-dried rivet-swage parts in my hands, I returned to the stable's workshop, and once there, I found myself alone. Someone had used chalk to write upon a slate the following inscription:
“Gone to Lunch,” I thought, as I spread out the swage-pieces. “Now how can I improve this thing..?”
My hands had not merely found my files, but my mind was engrossed in prayer; and as if in a daze, I saw the crude-looking bits of metal take on a luminous bluish haze. My hands had acquired their own intelligence, even as my ears lost their normal capacity for hearing; and when this odd sense lifted what seems minutes later, I stood, gazing in utterly stunned fashion upon the parts.
“W-what happened to them?” I asked, as I gently touched one of my files to the swage blocks. “They've become, uh, a lot harder.”
There was no answer beyond the obvious, at least until I checked them further. Not only did the files barely bite upon the individual pieces of metal, the whole assembly had become markedly more precise.
“Does this thing need heat-treating?” I asked softly.
And at the back of my mind, the answer now stood aloof and obvious: I did not have time; and with each new insertion of pins and bolts, I noted much of the 'wiggle' had gone out of the assembly. A minute later, the swage was fully assembled. I then tried it out.
The rivets came out with even round heads, clean-looking shanks – the swage had formerly made ones of noticeable taper – and barely-present 'flash'. Formerly, that portion had needed a few strokes with a file.
“These are good enough to use on my things,” I muttered, as I finished wiping the remaining oily aspect of distillate off of the swage. “Now it is time – isn't it?”
“Yes, for a nap,” said the soft voice. “Lunch has at least another hour to finish serving, and another hour after that for 'cleaning'.”
As I made my way to my cot, I wondered when – and if – Liza slept, at least until I removed my boots. I then toppled over as if clubbed to awaken 'some time later' with sudden abruptness. I needed to use the privy.
“And the privy outside is, uh, filled,” I muttered, as I rapidly walked down the hall and into the inner house. “I wonder where the ones inside are?”
Turning the first corner spoke of further labors in and around the varying offices, and meandering stacks of 'refuse' out in the off-branching hallways spoke of further 'cleaning' underway. I suspected what was being removed would have 'street' resale value, and when I entered the kitchen area so as to ask about the privy, I heard voices confirming that assessment.
“Where is a privy?” I asked.
“Down that hall there,” said the voice of a cook. I turned, saw a 'hallway', and wondered if it were meant.
“Yes, that one,” said the woman's voice. “Two doors on the right, then the next one to the left.”
The privy itself proved conventional-looking, but its relative lack of odor was a matter for further questions, and when I emerged, I heard faint talk speaking of a grindstone.
“Y-yes?” I asked. I felt much better. “Did someone speak of a grindstone?”
“I did,” said the voice of the former cook as she showed herself, “and I'm glad it turned up, even if it's about a third the common size for such things down this way.”
“A third?” I asked. “The common size?”
“Those come to my shoulder when setting on the floor,” she said as she indicated with a dough-crusted hand, “while this one is perhaps a hand's width taller than my knee.” A brief pause, then, “it might be three fingers for wide.”
“Uh, how is it done?” I asked.
“Decent, or so I've heard,” she said. “It was well-used, which usually means its tricks are well-known.”
“Usually?” I asked. “Tricks?”
“The boxes, for one,” she said. “I suspect someone replaced those things.”
“Yes, with poured type-metal,” said another cook. This voice was male, and its issuer, unseen.
“What does that do?” I asked.
“It is more touchy about greasing than the usual boxes,” said the man, “but if one does not stint the grease, the wheel runs fast and cool.”
“And the usual boxes?” I asked.
“Are of wood,” said the woman, “and they make for hard turning, no matter how much or how good their grease.”
“And fires,” said the man. “I've seen grinding wheels escape more than once.”
Wandering through the kitchen area while wondering what next to do showed preparation for another meal underway. Liza was conspicuous by her absence, and I thought to ask where she might be – until I recalled her speaking of laundry as being her 'normal' job.
“Is that it?” I asked silently.
While there was nothing resembling an answer, I could smell what might be soap, and I followed my nose back the way I had came. Turning the corner, I then saw a 'roped off' region tagged as being 'unchecked', and I asked, “uh, do I need to go in there?”
“Yes, but briefly,” said the soft voice. “Those fetishes which remain in that area are fairly weak ones.”
“Good,” I thought.
“They are weak as fetishes,” said the soft voice. “They are not weak otherwise.”
The soap smell continued to increase in potency as I first passed the former 'throne room', then that one realm of death. I did not glance at the latter; for now, I needed to speak to Liza. Her time was at hand, and I dare not wait any longer – as if I indeed had waited.
I was not aware of waiting, only being beyond any reasonable definition of labor I had yet endured since leaving where I had come from.
The soap-smell grew stronger, as did a trio of soft women's voices. One of them was Liza's, or so it seemed, and when I came to the corner where the room's passage merged with where I was walking, I stopped. A shriek came from within the 'laundry room', and a slim white bar of obvious soap half-slid as it tumbled across the floor to stop near my feet.
“She's got about as much business washing as Rachel did,” I muttered, as I picked up the slippery bar of soap. “Now who lost this..?”
Rapid steps came from the right, and an apron-clad woman showed. I handed her the soap-bar.
“Thank you,” she said. “Liza's showing me...”
Another feminine screech from within, then, “where did it go?” This last was indeed Liza's voice.
I followed the other woman inside. Steam grew thick and yet thicker, while the soft light of candles shed flickering yellow tints upon the wafts of steam and moisture. I wondered for a moment how the moist air escaped when I heard – faintly; it was at the edge of hearing – that one noise I had heard in the cloth-room what seemed an age ago when I had left it after blowing out the last of the firebomb-lanterns.
A faint breeze came from behind me, and sighs from before me; and both tactile and audible sensations grew slowly in intensity. The thrumming was now noticeable, if still barely audible.
“What is that, uh..?”
“That thing is in that one big room below us,” said the woman I was following as we passed the first of three drawn draperies hanging on wooden platforms. “I'll be glad when Maarten has another chance to look at it.”
“Is this thing, uh...”
I ceased speaking, for suddenly I had an intimation. That lowest room just spoken of had secrets I needed to see, including what was likely to be a blower of some kind. I pushed this back and out of my mind as we passed yet more drapes amid flowing clouds of moisture and steam.
“Is there a place to dry...”
I could hear further speech, this being Liza's; she was still hunting for what had turned up missing, and when the woman walking with me 'vanished', I found myself confused. No less than three draperies walled in the 'end' of the line, and all three portions were closed off.
“Where did she go?” I mumbled, as a gout of steam seemed to come from behind me to waft about my face.
“I hope Maarten puts new rope in that dryer just the same,” said a female voice unlike that of Liza and the other woman's. “It leaks its steam into here, and it does not take ours out.”
“Try closing the door again, Marta,” said Liza's voice. She was directly ahead of me, if I went by the sound of her voice. “The ropes might be poor, and they might need work, but closing the door completely helps more than a little.” A brief pause, then, “oh, and check where it is closing, too. There might be a rag caught in the door.”
Two more steps on my part. I could almost hear the feeling of consternation, and there was no 'almost' regarding the faint splashing sounds. I came to the drape, and found a fold; and upon putting my hands in it, I heard Liza speak.
“Thunderation,” she spat. The oath was almost silent just the same, and I moved the outer 'leaf' of the fold aside to permit my passage.
The inner area delineated by drapes was perhaps ten feet wide, while its length was easily double its width. Small assorted mounds of underwear lay upon gray-brown bags, while to the rear of this scene, I saw a sizable and ancient-looking stove with two slow-steaming pots atop it – and in mad profusion, hanging from the overhead beams of the ceiling, ropes ran, each of them festooned with pieces of underwear mingled with small towels. For a moment, I admired the colors of these last 'mites' of cloth.
“That cloth Sarah got was all the same 'tan-with-a-hint-of-mottled-gray' color,” I thought, “and this stuff...” I paused while I counted at least three shades of 'tan', 'gray', 'yellow', 'brown', and 'red'. The last color made for wonderment – as I'd never seen red colored clothing in this place, save at that third kingdom 'carnival' – and now, here.
I came to Liza's side, then watched her. She was obviously trying to find something in the copper-banded tub amid faint clouds of steam and murky water – and she looked ripe for an eruption.
“Yes?” I asked.
She startled, looked at me, then said, “I've lost my soap.”
I was about to speak of there being more to life than soap when another thought-train crowded the former one out and away from my mind. This one spoke of asking the soap to show itself, and I silently did so.
The water faintly 'boiled', and she darted her hands from the now-troubled waters in a state of mild panic as the faint gray of 'wash-water' became dotted with small and furtive 'whitecaps'. Seconds later, the 'suds' in one area coalesced into a long and thin whitish bar that slowly rose from the surface, followed by another such droopy and bubbling bar; and as Liza reached for the two bars of soap that had 'arisen from the depths', a third one wiggled slightly as it 'broached to' and then rose to the level of her eyes. It stayed there, hovering, even while she first straightened her back, then put the two bars she held in her hands on a small weathered table I only now noticed. She turned for the third bar, grasped it – much as if she thought it a figment of imagination and needed to be certain of its slick and soapy reality – and murmured softly, “these are not ax-heads.”
“Yes, I know,” I said. “Would you like to do more than just clean up messes after the fact?”
She looked at me again, and this time, there was a faint 'aura' or mist that seemed to shadow her. Her features sharpened, then as I watched, faint and ghostly a three-dimensional vaporous figure seemed to mold itself to hers. The fit of the two figures was too close to be a coincidence, and as the vapor faded, I saw clearly once more her resemblance to Sarah.
“She might be two inches taller,” I thought – until I recalled mistaking Maria for Katje.
“And they were supposedly related,” was the mental rejoinder. “This woman looks so much like Sarah I could think her a slightly stretched identical twin.”
I thought to kneel, and as I did so amid the puddles of water, Liza did the same. Of its own, seemingly, my right hand came up, palm downward and fully spread, to then hover roughly an inch over the dark hair of the woman to my front. I knew what to say, but I felt as if I were trying to speak a book the size of a Compendium volume in the words of a few sentences – so much so, that I was surprised when I choked out the words:
“Th-this place is b-bad f-f-for sickness,” I squeaked, “and that's for the commonplace types that are visible. Those otherwise are worse yet, and s-she... She was meant to heal s-sickness, and there is n-n-need.” A long pause, one long enough to endure pregnancy and then delivery of a trio of howling red-painted thrashing infants; then finally, “p-please, m-make her a doctor.”
A sudden subaudible rumble sifted a drifting shower of sand upon my head, and screams came from all points of the compass as the entire room suddenly erupted with billows and torrents of blue-white fire. She was lost to my vision, as was all else; time seemed to come to a screaming halted state. The ground shook under my feet, first once, then twice; then a third time it shook with appalling violence. Faintly, as if somewhere faint and far away, I could hear screams of an animal panicked beyond measure, and the echoes of this being were mingled among those of another further-away kingdom, one filled with foulness, corruption, and a vast and potent array of evil reeks.
Upon the gray and ghostly screen of my mind, I saw witches shaking their fists and cursing the broiling sun overhead as it abruptly turned a ghastly reddish-brown. It was no longer a giver of health, wealth, and life – it now took all of those things, and gave nothing in return save the gray-toned ashes of its victims.
This message, potent and burning, had an unmistakable meaning; and that, by intent. Only a fool could dismiss it lightly – and such fools remained outside until they ignited like too-warm tallow candles.
The witches cursed the sun amid their spouting of maledictions too evil to be endured; and as they died steadily to then rot under the red-creeping flames billowing down from overhead, they went from flesh to dusty ashes without the slightest sign of remorse or sorrow.
“Obdurate,” I muttered, “and that entirely, and without relent until the very end of their journey to the dinner plate of Brimstone.”
And as if to jolt me from this nightmare, I recalled Sarah's large and expressive eyes and their at-times luminous glowing, much as if twin searchlights; and as the blue-white torrential flames faded, I looked once more at Liza.
“Y-your eyes,” I thought. “A-and y-your p-personality...”
Both of these things had been somehow hidden previously, and now, they both showed themselves forth in unadulterated fashion. She looked at her left arm with unabashed curiosity, then pointed at something which I could not see. This behavior seemed to conjure Sarah's presence forcefully.
“I do not need this lint on my arms,” she said. The 'sharp' tone was a revelation – and a further reminder of her previously-squelched independent turn of mind. Again, like Sarah – she was as bold as a lion, and fully as determined as what the ancient meaning of Sarah's name implied.
“Especially that type of lint,” she spat.
Both arms erupted with colonies of electric blue-white flashes, so much so that I almost raised my hands up to cover my eyes. Liza seemed utterly unfazed, and she turned to me with a strange and fairy-like expression. I could almost see her wearing a crown and leading people.
“What are these small cylindrical objects that I see?” she asked. “They are rushing around inside my arms, as if they were in a great hurry along many narrow streets.”
“Those sound like, uh, erythrocytes,” I murmured – and the part-complete reddish donut-shaped picture I had seen long years before showed clearly in my mind as I spoke of it. “There should also be, uh, leukocytes – those are a whitish color, hence their name – and a number of other strange-looking microscopic things as well.” I paused, then, “these streets...”
“They are not streets, but tubes,” she said. “Some are deeper, others shallower, and the deeper ones tend to have much thicker walls and faster speeds.”
“Arteries,” I muttered. “The others are veins.”
Again, she looked at her arms, and murmured, “I see those and a great deal else.” She then hitched, looked up – and her face seemed contorted with concentration. She was obviously about to speak something of great importance.
“Turn around, please,” she said. “There is something in your back, and it does not belong there.”
I did so, all the while wondering as to what she was speaking of. Her 'arch' tone didn't help my curriosity.
“I need to remove this thing,” she said.
“What is it?” I asked. My voice showed more than a trace of unreasoning fear.
She stood up, her feet yet unsteady, and slow-stepped around me as I continued to kneel. A faint touch near my shoulder, then a slow tracing of a finger as it passed lower – until, she stopped with her finger an inch to the right of my spine about eight inches above where it joined my pelvis.
“There,” she said. “It's lead. I know but little more at this time.”
My shirt lifted, and again, I felt the near-electric tingle of her touch over the area. Strange blooming warmth erupted amid a pleasant tickling sensation – and with similar abruptness, my shirt dropped. She walked around slowly with a rag in her hands, all the while looking at the rag and what lay upon it.
“W-what did you..?” I asked. Again, I felt fearful.
“This looks like a common musket ball,” she said, as she unwrapped a whitish blob tinged with faint reddish streaks. “It's surrounded by this hard capsule – oh, and I knew where it was the minute I lifted your shirt, also.”
“H-how?” I asked.
“There was a scar where you had been shot,” she said, “and when this came out, the scar almost vanished entirely.” A brief pause, then, “all that remained after I removed this thing was a very small dimple and a thin whitish line.”
“B-but why wasn't it, uh, removed before?” I asked.
“I guess it was thought to be well-healed,” she said. “There were no signs of infection, and compared to other such wounds I've seen, it was barely noticeable.” A brief pause, then, “I've cleaned enough bullet-torn clothing of blood to know what such wounds are commonly like.”
“Uh, this one thug...” I spluttered. I'd just remembered what I had seen and the comments I had heard while examining Sam Brumm.
“Those became infected,” she said archly, “which is most common for bullet-wounds in this area.” A brief pause, then, “the usual...” She paused, scrunched up her eyes in concentration, then continued.
“The usual among those with sufficient funds is to bathe the person in mingled water and strong drink, then douse the wound or wounds itself prior to applying clean rags and tying them in place with ropes.”
“Ropes?” I asked.
“They do not merely bind the wounds,” she said. “They also tie hand-and-foot the wounded person, and pile them into bed.” A brief pause, then, “the person is dosed with strong drink and this evil-smelling concoction.”
“Does the concoction cause nightmares?” I asked. I suspected it was a species of flower-sap tincture.
“It does,” she said sagely, “though not those you are thinking of. Flower sap is common here, and only those less-fortunate members of the commons use it for pain.”
“What?” I spluttered. “What is it used for otherwise?”
“Other reasons entirely, especially among those naming themselves betters,” she said. “More importantly, that concoction is not made from flower sap.”
She again paused prior to resuming her former spiel. “Those so wounded are allowed to consume as much drugged strong drink as they wish, and should they prove themselves to be 'lucky', then they survive.” A brief, final pause; then, “usually they die within a day or two.”
“There are no doctors here, so...”
“There are people who dress and act as witches,” said Liza, “and they name themselves doctors – though it is more accurate to name them charlatans. Without exception, they either have much money, or desire it greatly, and they kill many by their willful and knowing ignorance.”
Again, she paused, then said, “save when they speak of medicine and give arsenic in its stead.”
I thought for a moment, then asked, “that concoction is, uh, made of..?”
“A collection of especially bad-smelling herbs,” she said. “Some of them are rumored to come from the valley to the north.”
“And its chief use?” I asked.
“Delivering livestock from parasites,” she said. “Such creatures are both troublesome and common in this area.”
“It's name?” I asked.
“Most in this area speak of it as 'Green-Stripe,” she said. “It is already mixed fit for the dosing of wounded men, or so it is commonly thought by those named betters.” She paused, then said with finality, “its sole use among commons is the dosing of long-horned oxen should their worms cause weakness.”
I then recalled mention of not merely a dryer, but also, steam; and as I shakily stood, I asked softly, “the dryer?”
“Is on the other side of the main aisle,” said Liza. “I doubt Marta understood what I said.”
I followed Liza as she walked to the place in question amid soft further speech on the nature of the accumulating steam near the ceiling. A glance at the other 'wash-rooms' showed more ropes bearing sundry articles of clothing.
“Is that dryer defective?” I asked.
“It never worked that well,” said Liza. “Between having laundry held up partly for several days, and many people becoming uncommonly dirty, we're behind.”
“And if the dryer...”
I ceased speaking upon seeing the device in question, and when Liza clutched the door's handle, I marveled – at the iron-plated 'room' itself with its many sizable hot-rivets, the near-noiselessness of its door as Liza opened it with ease, and finally, at the blatant and steamy warmth the thing gave off.
“Sounds like it needs venting?” I murmured, as Liza began turning something inside. “Is that the hanger?”
Liza turned and nodded, then brought out a shirt. The limp aspect of the thing made for faint shuddering on my part.
“How long did that one remain in there?” I asked.
“Perhaps a glass's run,” said Liza. “It usually takes perhaps an hour to load it full, then several hours with periodic inspection and turning before the clothing is sufficiently dry.”
“That is when they have a fire down below,” said that one unnamed woman. “When they do not, then things do not dry in the dryer, and they dry slower in here.”
“Fire down below?” I asked, as Liza moved out of the way to let me look inside the 'room'.
“That and steam,” said Liza. “That room has had its share of laundry hang in it in the past.” A brief pause, then, “you should have an hour's time, perhaps two, before that meeting.”
“M-meeting?” I asked.
“I've not a spare minute, now,” said Liza. “I made some few notes, but I suspect they are now better used for fuel in one of the house's stoves.”