The fifth kingdom's mess, part h.
Liza left her laundry to its steaming once she'd spoken to the two other women, and once out of the 'laundry area', she vanished as if made of vapor and smoke. I stood standing in the hallway, now more-conscious of the aspect of labor than prior, and I went back the way I had come. That one room needed me looking at it.
“And she spoke of an hour, or perhaps two,” I thought as I turned the corner. “That does not give me m-much time...”
“While the meeting will start without your presence, it will not end until you read and comment upon what has been spoken and listed,” said the soft voice. “Nonetheless, she understated her case.”
“How?” I asked, as I saw the 'roped-off area' prior to turning the corner. The silence within its halls and rooms spoke loudly of it needing attention.
“She had managed perhaps two paragraphs in the last two days,” said the soft voice, “and she now knows much of what she wrote bordered on useless.”
I passed the three rooms prior to the kitchen. Each of them was obviously occupied, and those occupants labored mightily; and when I came to the kitchen's hallway, I paused. I knew the room was 'down here', but I wondered just 'where' it was.
“I don't want to just blunder into that room if I can help it,” I thought for an instant as I realized I did not have the common-as-grass surety as to where the place was. “I'd best ask.”
And as I walked into the 'kitchen area', I thought, “is that why? I have help?”
That question remained unanswered, even as I found a trio of cooks chopping up long stringy 'chunks' of dried meat. This coarse grainy material – it looked vaguely like the dried goat I had seen in the third kingdom – had a rich 'meaty' smell, and its behavior under the knives of the cooks spoke of a certain remaining amount of moisture.
“Dried goat?” I asked.
“From Eisernije,” said one woman. “It's not bad for dried goat.”
“From around here, or..?”
“The third kingdom's meat is said to taste slightly better,” she said, “and be much less inclined to gripe one's inwards.”
“Aye,” said the voice of Lukas. I turned to see him emerge with a tinned copper cup in one hand and a grimy wrench in the other.
“The wrench?” I asked.
“Maarten needs his share o' help with that thing,” he said, “and that's for what turns.” A brief pause, then, “those shelves must o' come from a good second-hand store for what's hidden in 'em.”
“As in you found a small grist-mill from the fourth kingdom?” I asked.
Lukas' eyes opened wide as saucers, and with a barely suppressed shout, he spat, “where?”
“If this is that, uh, room,” I said, “I most likely can find it.”
“Then you had best do so,” said the other woman among the cooks. “Bart here is inclined toward beer, and not a little.”
“There's yet enough for drinking,” said Lukas, “even if...”
“He would make it,” said the woman, “and given he once labored at Bruckelmann's in the fourth kingdom, he should know his grains and hops.”
I followed Lukas when he walked back into the hallway and down the hall. There seemed to be no end to the hallway itself, and the doors to each side – all of them open, and every such location occupied by at least one hard-working man or woman – were potent distractions. I was even more surprised when Lukas 'turned the corner' and came to a pair of shoulder-width doubled doors but feet beyond the corner.
“That room?” I asked.
“It's thrice the size of the stables, easy,” said Lukas.
“Which s-stables?” I asked, as he opened the right door. The yellow-brown gleam of 'varnish' was astonishing in its aspect of 'clean'. More, it looked freshly applied.
“Both of 'em,” said Lukas. “All the grain so far has gone down here.”
The ample lighting of the hallway abruptly diminished to near-sepulchral darkness beyond the door, and a handful of feeble-burning candle-flames at head-height spoke of a low ceiling to the narrow curving passage. It seemed endless, so much so that when the candle-flames fled away not four steps in from the door I gasped in shock – first, at the near-complete 'darkness' – and then, at the commingled odors. Lukas brought up a lantern from 'somewhere', and the faint and feeble rays of a single candle-flame showed us standing within a vast cavern filled with dark shadows and greater darknesses.
“L-lanterns?” I asked.
“They had those firetraps in here,” said Maarten's voice from some distance away, “and finding enough candles and lanterns to replace them has been impossible on two day's notice.”
“D-did you f-find the f-fire...”
“No, I didn't,” said Maarten, as he came from behind what looked like a huge 'column' chiseled from massive stone. “I'd trade every one of those bombs-in-waiting for a single fourth-kingdom lantern.”
“You would need to hide it in a grain-sack to bring it down this way,” said Lukas. “This place don't like those things.”
“Then the one in the workshop?” I asked.
“Was hidden in the laundry area,” said Maarten. “Liza's an expert that way, and no mistake.” A brief pause, then, “and I'm not much of an expert on some of the things down here, even if I understand the messaging equipment passably.”
“Are there places where things might be, uh, hidden?” I asked.
“There are, and many of them,” said Maarten. “Is there something you know of?”
“He was talking of a fourth kingdom grist-mill,” said Lukas.
“A small one,” I said. “It might be, uh, half again as large as those made where I work.”
“Then it's big enough for a busy Public House,” said Lukas.
As Maarten led us through a 'maze-like' mess of cloth-covered mounds and tall yard-thick columns, I began to have questions, chiefly about 'fourth-kingdom grist mills'. I only now realized I had been referring to a mill like the handful I had made thus far, and I'd heard of at least two other types.
“Do f-fourth kingdom mills have two rollers, or what?” I asked.
“I hope it's that type,” said Maarten. “Those are said to be the best for beer.”
“And flour?” I asked. “B-bread?”
“That needs a turn-stone, unless the grain's already crushed,” said Maarten. “Crushed grain isn't that hard to grind further, even if all one has is a mortar.”
“They have two o' those things here,” said Lukas.
“Two large ones, you mean,” said Maarten. “I have a chemist's mortar among my things, and I doubt it's the only one in the house.”
Maarten came to an obvious wall, and as we walked along it, I noted head-tall 'black holes' to my right. We passed four such spaces, then Maarten halted at the fifth example and held up a lantern.
“I'll need yours to light this one,” he said.
Once lit, the added brightness was most welcome, and I followed Maarten into the 'hole'. Two steps from the doorway, and the shelves started to the left and right – and a brief glance spoke of not merely little attention, but also great age, for dust lay thick and piled atop thickly-stacked shelves.
“How will you find this mill?” asked Maarten.
I was about to reply when Lukas said, “he finds stuff better than anyone.”
Two more shelves in silence, then as I passed shelf three, I gasped, “here, on the left, the next one.”
Maarten stopped in his tracks to then turn around slowly, much as if he were a wide ship in a narrow passage, and as I cautiously moved to the 'mouth' of the aisle, I wondered just what I was feeling. I could tell it was important and needed, and little beyond that.
“It's made of metal,” I thought, as I took my first tentative step “and, oh, there's more than one of them.”
I took the lead, with the other two men holding the lanterns such that my head felt uncommonly warm and the candle-flames punctuated my peripheral vision with lurid flickering. What I wanted was still further ahead, however, and as we passed dusty shelves piled high with bags and boxes, I continued to 'listen' for the thing in question.
“Have you done much looking in this place?” whispered Lukas.
“What I can,” said Maarten. “I've found two decent lanterns so far, and three more that needed work so as to use them.”
“The two decent ones?” I asked.
“One is by where I was working,” said Maarten dryly, “and I am holding the other.”
The sense of 'closer' drew stronger with each footstep, as did the faintly 'dirty' smell common to the southern regions of dryness. The end of the row seemed impossibly far away, so much so that when I finally saw the end of the row, I gasped. My lights vanished abruptly from my shoulders as well.
“How long is this thing?” I spluttered.
“These rooms are difficult to measure for size,” said Maarten, “and candles don't help much in here.”
I turned, backed up two steps, and nearly collided with the other two men. They were both looking at an uncommonly lumpy bag set far back on one of the lower shelves.
“Yes?” I asked. My bag was on the top shelf, and getting at it would demand determination, labor, and perhaps an empty powder-keg for a stool to stand on.
“Liza spoke of bags like this,” said Maarten. “She said they sometimes had lanterns in them...”
“If one of you finds me a small box or, uh, stool,” I said, “I can give you each a decent one.”
“I hope you can find candles for them,” said Maarten, “as we've run short of 'tall-dips'.”
“T-tall d-dips?” I asked.
“The best grade of local candles,” said Maarten. “What we've been getting are common wax ones – and while they do smoke less, they're not as bright.”
“Common wax?” I asked.
“Like what we have,” said Lukas. “I hope...”
“Perhaps the stubs?” I asked. “They don't burn those things down to the very ends, do they?”
“Aye, 'tis true, they don't,” said Lukas. “I'll need to ask...”
Maarten had left for parts unknown, and with but one candle shedding faint and flickering light, I groped carefully toward the bag the two men had shown interest in. A single touch meant for jerking my hand away and a barely-suppressed screech.
“Th-that's a fetish,” I spluttered, “and...”
“There is one still-living witch on the premises,” said the soft voice, “and he's hiding in that roped-off area.”
“And this..?” I asked.
“Is his personal Infernal lantern,” said the soft voice. “He kept it hid from the other witches when he wasn't using it.”
“Wonderful,” I muttered, as I again touched the bag. “The nastiest type of light-giving firebomb...”
My palsied fingers seemed mired in a horrific sensation, one compounded of 'twice-rendered lard' and 'pig-slime', and the faint reek of 'pig' grew stronger in my mind. I wondered silently if I was smelling that odor conventionally – at least until steps drew closer to where I was standing with yet-outstretched hand reaching toward the bag.
“Here is a box for standing,” said Maarten. “That bag...”
“Has one o' them Infernal lanterns in it,” muttered Lukas, “and we still got witches in here.”
“Where?” asked Maarten. “Is one in here..?”
“No, not here,” I said. “He's in that one place... Why is he in there?”
“Waiting to sneak out,” said Lukas. “He's not going to have an easy time, not the way this place is.”
“Especially given his recent diet,” said the soft voice. “He is not doing well.”
“I expect so,” murmured Maarten. “I've yet to see a witch not glut himself with bad food.” A brief pause, then, “at least we can sell that lantern. Now why aren't you touching the bag?”
“It feels awful,” I said. “It's like touching a pig smeared with lard.”
“I'd best get a stick, then,” said Maarten. “I'm glad we still have plenty of lye.”
While Maarten went in search of a stick, I tried out the box he had brought. It gave me the extra foot or so I needed to reach well back from the top shelf's edge, and by the time he'd returned, I was standing and looking carefully at that shelf's many and varied contents.
And wishing for a decent light. Even my eyes were having trouble, and I was glad for the bag I had sensed being obvious and within ready reach.
Faint noises from what seemed ages and miles away spoke of the fetish-lantern's removal, and once it was 'gone' – I could tell both men had left with it, as the single candle-flame that remained no longer wavered due to movement – I felt much better. I felt so much better that I nearly panicked.
“Will that thing r-ride..?” I squeaked.
“Not all domestic pressure lanterns are marked with runes,” said the soft voice, “and the better ones tend to be cheaper.”
“Better?” I asked.
“Better for lighting,” said the soft voice. “That is doubly so if they are imported.”
“Uh, those titanium things?” I asked.
“Are not fetishes,” said the soft voice. “There are other pressure lanterns which superficially look like fifth kingdom 'fetish-lanterns', but are made elsewhere on the continent.”
“Are those fetishes?” I asked.
“Their makers label them clearly as lamps,” said the soft voice. “Their less-knowledgeable purchasers think them to be otherwise.”
I touched the bag, and the faint – and old; this bag had been here for many years – electric chill spoke volumes of unwritten speech directly into my mind. I moved the bag, and the dull metallic clinking spoke of something sizable.
“It isn't particularly light,” I thought, as I stepped off of the box with the dusty bag in my hand. “I'll need an awl for this knot here...”
“Now what is it you have there?” asked Lukas. He'd returned during my retrieval of the bag, and I had not noticed his steps.
“I think this... Best go outside where we have room,” I murmured. “This isn't anything like, that, uh, firebomb...”
The muffled clanking grew louder, and faint echoes came from 'far away' as we came back into the main area. A dim flickering showed some distance away,
“He's over there,” said Lukas. “I'd unwrap that where he is, as the light's better.”
Walking 'across' the 'cavern' showed vast numbers of stacked sacks lounging head-high, more covered objects hiding in the shadows, and finally, a large number of kegs and casks. Most of these last were on their sides in long two-high piled rows.
“Those..?” I asked.
“Will need selling,” said Lukas. “Some of them smell like forty-chain.”
“That is because they came here with that stuff in them,” said the voice of Maarten, “and forty-chain poisons anything lesser of a drinkable nature.”
“And the person drinking it,” said Lukas. “I hope you have room for what he's got here.”
Maarten had two tables pushed together end-to-end in a corner behind two thick columns, and here, I saw the contents of that one nasty-feeling bag.
“That's a...” I choked at the sight of a pressure lantern identical to the ones I had seen previously.
“Only a witch would wish such a lantern,” said Maarten, “even if it shows none of their markings.” A brief pause, then, “and it smells as if it recently had distillate put to it.”
I paused to smell it – and amid the faint yet blatant smell of 'distillate', I smelled 'lard', 'pig' – and finally, 'datramonium'.
“It smells less than it did,” I asked. “What did you do – wipe it down?”
“With a rag soaked in aquavit and a little salaterus,” said Maarten. “Now we can look at what you found.”
“Uh, the knot?” I asked.
Maarten had an awl among his tools, and he had the knot untied by the time I could count to ten. The bag opened its 'mouth' wide, and amid softly drifting clouds of dust, he reached inside...
And brought out a lantern almost identical to that of the witch.
“Another witch-lantern,” muttered Maarten. “Now there's...”
I moved to his side, then took the dull tarnished brass thing out of his hands – and as I made to set it down next to the other, I thought about the matter carefully. I wanted to compare the two closely, and when I set it down, I thought to smell my hands.
“No, that isn't lard, nor is it distillate,” I thought, as the faint musty scent tweaked my nose. “It isn't aquavit, either.” I turned to Lukas, then held my hand out in front of him.
“Do you recognize that s-smell..?”
Lukas crinkled up his eyes abruptly, then all-but tore the bag away from Maarten. He looked as if inclined to climb in it as he jerked its mouth open wide.
“Now what did I do..?” I thought, as Lukas brought out another lantern, then a brass container – it resembled an obese powder measure – and finally a leather-laced package whose clinking sound spoke its likely contents being tools.
“I've smelled that stuff before,” muttered Lukas, as he continued looking inside the bag. “'Bout the only place to get it is in that market.”
“Stuff?” I asked.
“It looks like bleached beeswax,” said Lukas, “and if we can get some for that trip back, we want it.” A pause, then, “it ain't in this bag.”
“Then why does my hand smell...”
I ceased speaking, then picked up the first of the two lanterns and began looking at it. I saw the brass parts softly gleam under a deep film of time-stamped dirt, then the neatly-peened rivet-heads showed 'clearly', and finally, the 'knob' itself. A quick grasp, a gentle turn, and...
“This t-thing isn't a fetish,” I spluttered, “and... Oh!”
I had found a label of sorts, and looked at it in complete fascination. A candle's flame appeared above my right shoulder.
“Now that's the Valley's language,” said Lukas.
“So-lay,” I muttered. I hoped my pronunciation of 'Sole' was correct. “I think that means, uh, 'Sun' – oh, and C-a...”
“They do their 'L's' that way,” said Lukas, “and that's either an 'N' or an 'M'.”
“L-A-M... Lampa?” I asked. “Lamp, uh... I think this label says this is a pressure lamp, and...”
Before my eyes, the placard blanked, and the following showed ghostly blue-white in its stead:
Lamp operated by Pressure
DANGER: DO NOT USE DISTILLATE
“Oh!” I squeaked. “Th-this can use aquavit!”
“Now that's a new one,” said Maarten. “That type of lantern gets light distillate, and nothing else.”
“N-no,” I said. “You would have to ch-change the jet and, uh, adjust it, and...” A brief pause, then, “can I clean this up and try it?”
“You could, but you would most likely set yourself alight in the process,” said Maarten.
Lukas looked at me, then at the lamp, then at Maarten, then said, “what would it do?”
“Uh, I'm...” I paused in mid-sentence, then asked, “would this lantern try to burn our eyes out?”
“Only if you turn it up all the way,” said the soft voice. “That type of lantern isn't quite as bright as those others.”
I looked at the lanterns, then at the darkness, and said, “we could use some decent lighting in here.”
“Aye,” said Lukas. “I'll go fetch a jug, and...”
“I'd best fetch one also,” said Maarten. “No, two jugs – one of beer...”
“Beer?” I asked, as I picked up one of the lanterns.
“I had no idea there were lanterns like that what used aquavit,” said Maarten. “There's a lot I don't know.”
I 'set up shop' just outside the doubled doors of 'the last room', and there began carefully wiping off one of the lanterns with a rag while the two men went in search of aquavit and beer. I thought to check the bag filled with tools once I'd gotten the 'easy' dirt off of both lanterns. A great deal remained.
The bag's knot proved strangely easy to untie, and the silky feel of the cord was utterly unlike anything I had felt while here. I opened the bag, then dumped out its contents upon the floor.
“Oh, my,” I gasped. “These are...”
“Now those you want to keep,” said Lukas as he returned with two jugs. “Those tools would get a fight going in that fourth kingdom market.”
“This?” I asked, as I held up a satin-smooth wrench of dark mottled gray finish. “It does feel good.”
“That ain't why people fight over those things,” muttered Lukas, as he uncorked one of the jugs and filled his cup. “Heinrich's tools might look a bit nicer, but those work every bit as good as anything made, three-X or no.”
“Three-X?” I asked. “As in they're, uh, reserved?”
“Aye,” said Lukas. “Only certain people can get Heinrich's tools.” A brief pause, then, “those like that, though – all those need is money.”
“I think they go to these lanterns,” I murmured, as I tried the wrench I had picked up. It fit the nut holding the 'cap' perfectly, and the nut came loose readily.
With each part I removed, the contrast seemed to grow steadily between what I was working on and those Infernal lanterns I had seen. While the parts themselves seemed close enough to one another for form and function, the detail fit and finish of what I was working on seemed far better – and as I reassembled the now thoroughly-cleaned pieces of the lantern, I muttered about 'mechanical plagiarism'.
“Now that I can't speak,” said Lukas, as he handed me the 'cap'. “What did you mean?”
“Those people who make Infernal lanterns must have copied these things,” I spat. “If they built them this good, they'd have much less trouble with fires.” I then recalled Hans' talk regarding the 'explosive' nature of distillate – and added, “assuming they used fuels other than distillate.”
“Precisely,” said the soft voice.
“Infernal lanterns are copies of these?” I asked.
“Those lanterns which are less inclined toward explosions, yes,” said the soft voice. “Some are copies of much older lanterns, and are thought – with some justification – to be potent fetishes indeed.”
I returned the 'top-nut' to its former location, and carefully twisted it down. The lantern now looked almost new, save for a rich 'patina' of age. It reminded me more than a little of some antique lanterns I had seen pictures of, and when I looked again in the jumbled pile which I had decanted from the bag, I found a small brass funnel with a screen in the spout.
“See, these tools go to these lanterns,” I said, as I pointed the funnel out to Lukas. “This thing's screened...”
“What?” gasped the voice of Maarten. He'd finally returned with his jugs.
“There's a fine brass screen in this funnel,” I murmured.
“I-I h-heard that,” muttered Maarten. “I never saw a lantern like that one.”
“I've worked on lanterns like this before,” I said. “If you have aquavit, we can fill it up.”
I filled the lantern half-full, then checked for leaks as I pumped it up. I had a strong sense that this type of lantern needed but little pressure, and after roughly a dozen strokes, I twisted the pump handle to lock it down.
“A candle, please,” I said softly. “I'll, uh...”
I paused in mid-sentence with a question all-but-clanging in my mind. Where – and how – did I light this lantern?
The question remained foremost in my mind, even as Lukas produced a yellow-streaked gray candle stub and lit the thing. With the stub in my right hand billowing a thin trail of smoke atop a long yellow flame, I twisted the knob a fraction. A faint hiss ensued, and seconds later, the wire 'mesh' became moist.
“Another second or so,” I thought, as first one fuming drop of aquavit hit the bottom of the lantern's brass enclosure, then another. On 'three', I picked up the lantern, tilted it slightly from the vertical, and then put the flame of the candle into one of the 'air holes' near the base.
“Is this thing lit?” I thought for a second, until I felt the obvious heat coming from the top. I then set it down a few feet away, and blew out the candle stub prior to returning it to Lukas. My back was still turned away from the lantern when I heard Maarten nearly choke on his beer.
I turned to see a faint redness showing in the wire mesh amid now-visible flames, then as I watched, the mesh grew slowly and steadily brighter.
“Now that ain't bad,” said Lukas. “It's about twice as bright as any candle I've seen.”
“Uh, no,” I said. “It needs to run for a bit until the dirt is burnt off and, uh, the... What? The thorium in that mesh reactivates?”
As if to confirm my squawk of consternation, the redly-glowing wire mesh went from red to red-orange, then orange, then orange with a strong yellow tint – and with each such change, the lantern grew markedly brighter.
“It's now brighter than a wick-lantern,” muttered Maarten. “Will it...”
With a sudden surge of flame, the wire mesh 'mantle' went from orange to a sunny yellow-white – and the light tripled in intensity. I turned my head away instinctively.
“Best turn that thing down before we go dim-eyed,” said Lukas. “How far did you turn it up?”
I walked toward the now glaringly-bright lantern with squinting near-closed eyes, and reached down toward the knob. Upon touching it – I had needed to close my eyes entirely, as it was now eye-burning bright – I began slowly twisting it. The lantern dimmed slowly in response to my turning it down, and by the time I could open my eyes, I had twisted the knob nearly half a turn.
“Now that's a good lantern,” said the voice of Lukas. “It's as good as a wick-lantern now.”
While the lantern burned steadily – I suspected it would grow brighter yet with continued use – I cleaned the other one. With two people able to help me, the job went quickly, and I demonstrated how I had lit it to both men.
“Now you have two decent lanterns,” I said. “These will help find the other things in there.”
“Other things?” asked Maarten.
“I suspect there are at least two more of these things on the premises,” I murmured. “More, if you talk to the right people, you might well be able to purchase this type of lantern at reasonable cost.” A brief pause, then, “I suspect that not merely are they a good deal cheaper than those found in the fourth kingdom's market, but also...”
“They won't need care in smuggling them in,” said Lukas.
“Oh yes they will,” I muttered. “The witches will steal these things and pass them off as 'Prime Infernal Lanterns' to those who want to be witches.” A brief pause, then, “you'll want to talk to some people up near the north-east end of the house... Uh, Chemielaan, or close by that place.”
“Where on Chemielaan?” asked Maarten. “That street runs for a Laeng at the least, and it's ten Laengen from here as the quoll flies.”
“Near those places where the house ends and the brush starts,” I said. “Those people don't like coming down into this place any more than they have to.”
“T-those people?” asked Maarten. “Who would they be?”
“I suspect they're from the Valley,” said Lukas. “This is their writing.”
“On second thought,” I murmured, “you could try Eisernije. It's closer, and I think... Where do tinkers travel around here?”
Maarten looked at me with a face I could not decipher to save my life, then slapped his knee before speaking. “Why did I not think of that?”
“Uh, why?” I asked.
“A fair number of tinkers out this way go up into that place,” said Maarten, “and about half of the people in here have spent time in Eisernije. It's a lot closer than Chemielaan, and much easier to get to.”
“Hence leave money with a tinker to fetch more of these things?” I asked.
Maarten nodded, then said, “let us finish cleaning this one up, and we can resume working in there.”
“That container?” I asked, as I gathered up the tools.
“I suspect that's what they put the fuel in,” said Lukas. “I've seen those things before.”
“And..?” I asked.
“They work decent for powder,” said Lukas, “or so I thought until I saw what you use. I know better now.”
With both men holding bright lights, the nature of 'the last room' was completely transformed. The columns now were obviously carved, for there were no signs of mortar or mason's work; the floor showed its smoothness by a vast collection of dirt-filled striations that reminded me of surface grinding marks; the number of 'plinths' seemed 'legion', with most of them showing signs of machinery being once present; the cloth-covered mounds grew in size and number, as did the 'black holes' along the walls; and that one particular 'black-hole' where we had found the lanterns had grown greatly in size. I went in between the two men, now to look for the grain mill and whatever else that might turn up in the process.
The sense I had had was now mutated, for with the absence of the distractions of deep darkness and needed lanterns the 'clutter' was now gone. I went to the fifth aisle, turned right, and walked three steps in between the massive shelves amid the dust and confusion. I could plainly 'feel' the mill...
Another step, then a second. Chest-high, that shelf...
A dusty mound of bags showed, and my hands went to it. The first touch was distasteful with dirt, but underneath the years of accumulated filth I felt a smooth cold cylinder, then another beneath it. I drew out the bag and handed it to Lukas.
“This it?” he asked.
“Part of it,” I said. “Whoever brought it in knew it would cause them trouble if the witches learned of its presence, so they smuggled it in here in pieces.”
The others were speechless, so much so that they did not speak as we brought the bags out and piled them by the doorway. There were more bags than I thought there might be, and their size and heft spoke of something unusual.
With two lanterns shining, Maarten's 'work area' was actually usable. I wondered for a moment about his tools as I began untying one of the bags. The leather thongs were being their usual contrary selves, and I wondered about using 'string' to replace them.
“You'd best let me use this awl,” said Lukas. “Someone tied these knots fit for their grandmother.”
While Lukas 'started' the knots, Maarten finished them, and I was glad for the more-nimble fingers of the others as I reached into the first bag. The cold chill I felt was remarkable, and my thoughts yet more so when I brought out a foot-long roller nearly two inches thick.
“Uh, this isn't what I expected,” I murmured, as I was handed another untied bag.
“How so?” asked Maarten.
“The rollers for those mills I make are a lot smaller than this,” I said. “This...”
I had pulled out another roller of similar size, and over the next few minutes, I brought out castings, nuts, screws, 'pins', a sheet-metal hopper, 'shims' for adjustment, and much else. I then read the inscription on one of the castings.
“Hoelmaan's Grist Mill,” I murmured. “Number three size.” A pause, then, “about how big are the ones I've done?”
“About two-thirds the size of one of their number one's,” said the soft voice.
“This thing must turn out a huge amount of g-grain,” I muttered.
“The difference in output as to quantity is less than you might think,” said the soft voice. “There is little difference in quality, with yours producing more-even grist.”
“Now to clean it up,” I muttered.
I noticed more the speed at which matters progressed this time compared to the second lantern, and within minutes, I was assembling the mill using Maarten's tools. I marveled at the lack of full-polish wrenches, even though I did not marvel at the rough finish on some of the tools I was using. I was soon wringing my hands when not actually putting the mill together.
“You need to strap those some,” muttered Lukas. “They're making him sore.”
“While getting tools wasn't hard with those thugs,” murmured Maarten as he cleaned the long curving crank-handle of the mill, “I wish I could speak likewise about things used for smoothing. They didn't want to bother with any of that stuff once they knew what I was asking for.”
“Straps?” I asked. “Buffing?”
“Those are common in this area,” said Maarten. “They also require dealing with the larger combines.”
“Blomfels?” I asked.
Maarten nodded, then added, “worse thieves do not exist.”
“Meaning you are likely to receive, uh, ouch!” My voice raised noticeably upon finding an especially rough spot on a wrench. “This one needs draw-filing.”
Maarten took the wrench from me, looked at it closely, then felt it. As I watched, his face changed expression abruptly.
“I never noticed that before,” he said, “but you are right.”
“Perhaps that grinder?” I asked, as I turned to go. I wanted my tools.
I came back to find the grinder nearly assembled, with both men puzzling out matters between themselves. One glance told me plainly what had happened – they'd 'stuck' the rollers by omitting the shims – and I began undoing what they had attempted. With my tools, the work of disassembly proceeded much faster, as did the reassembly with the correct shims. The rollers now turned smoothly with a faint metallic muttering of gears.
“Now that I never saw,” said Maarten. “How did you know?”
“How would you normally put something like this together?” I asked. “Try it every which way...”
The dumbfounded silence that greeted me seemed terrible enough to make me think to look around for a fetish, and when Lukas finally spoke, he said, “I'm glad you're here.”
“Would you have eventually figured it out, or would you, uh..?” I then recalled the trouble Andreas had had with Hendrik's travel-desk – and that after the bulk of its fetish-nature had been expunged. I then continued speaking along the same lines.
“Would you have gotten hammers and attempted to beat it into submission?” My questioning was with a distinctly distasteful voice.
“I am not sure about submission,” said Maarten, “but hammering on something that is supposed to fit and does not is all most in the house know to do.”
“It does fit,” I said, as I pointed to the shims. “Those establish the proper clearance...”
The looks of the two men made me wonder again if a fetish was hiding in the area, so much so that I took one of my wrenches and slowly waved it side-to-side in front of Maarten's face. It took him several seconds to 'blink' and come to himself.
“What did you do?” he asked.
“You two were behaving as if this thing was a potent fetish,” I said, “and I wondered if you were being, uh, ridden.”
“It ain't that,” said Lukas. “That coach does that, and some of that stuff in the place next to it, but that thing ain't at all obvious as to how it goes.”
“Those small pieces of sheet metal?” I asked. “Setting the gap in the bearings?”
“I might have known that had I seen the thing assembled as it is now,” said Maarten, “and I expect he's the same way.” A brief pause, then, “that's more than most can manage in the fifth kingdom.”
“The others are worse for being that way,” said Lukas, “and home's about as bad as it gets.”
“The third kingdom?” I asked. “Are they..?”
“They might talk like they're worse,” said Lukas, “and they might be more inclined toward burning things they don't understand, but...” Lukas paused to sip from his cup, then continued, saying, “I think they understand more than a lot of people around home.” Another pause, then, “this thing over here, now – that would fetch mobs for a burn-pile in the first kingdom, and no mistake.”
As the two men led me among more cloth-covered mounds and around various plinths, I noted that many of the latter had once had 'things' upon them – until I came to first one, then another that showed signs of explosions occurring. I paused to look upward from the second, and found a black hole surrounding a brilliant pinpoint of light some distance away.
“What used to be on this, uh...”
“An evil engine,” muttered Maarten. “Both of those things were long before my time.” A brief pause, then, “witches like those, unlike this other type.”
“And?” I asked.
“Not every manufactory wants an engine that lies in wait to kill those near it in the manner of a Death Adder,” said Maarten, “which is why those shops not run by combines wish them.”
The musty smell I had smelled earlier intruded, and I asked, “that smell?”
“That would be rye grain,” said Maarten. “I'm glad you put that mill together, as I'm doubting more and more that I could have assembled it properly.”
“Uh, instructions?” I asked.
Maarten turned to look at me, then shook his head, saying, “no, not really. Most places that make things like this not only have their people assemble what they sell, but also have their people look after what they sell once it is assembled.”
“Aye,” said Lukas. “There's a lot the fourth kingdom makes what stays close to where it's made, and that's the exact reason why.” A brief pause, “and for things like this thing over here, they commonly do more than that.”
I followed Lukas' arm to another plinth, and gasped in shock at what I saw.
Atop a carefully-laid masonry plinth stood a well-used steam engine, while directly to its right stood a tall riveted boiler. The whole assembly looked clean, purposeful, and well-maintained – which made me wonder as to why I had been told what I had just heard.
“Who looks after th-this?” I asked.
“Mostly me,” said Maarten.
“Then what you told me..?” I gasped, upon hearing an apparent contradiction of most-recent revelation. “Why..?”
“The shop where I was apprenticed had one,” said Maarten, “and I was given lengthy formal instruction in its operation.” A brief pause, then, “unlike the common engines in the fifth kingdom, this type will often run for many years with little attention – if it receives the attention it needs.”
“And they don't need much o' that,” said Lukas. “They need something like this where he works.”
I was speechless, and remained so as I circled around the engine. Its size – the one I had made was a toy compared to this thing – was such that I knew its makers had sizable machine-tools capable of decent accuracy.
“Brass bushings, crossheads, two cylinders...” My thinking was loud, even if there was no outward evidence in the form of voiced words.
“The stronger of the two holes is smaller than the weak one,” said Maarten. “I need to put the grease to it before I run it again.”
“Grease?” I asked.
“It needs warming beforehand,” said Maarten, “and the engine must turn slowly for half a glass's run with but an inch showing on the gage, and that with no load.”
“The gage?” I asked. “Pressure gage?”
“Here, let me show you,” said Maarten. “I'll need to run it again soon, as they're likely to want more heat in the laundry room.”
The back side of the boiler – it was larger than I had thought – showed a glass-tube sight gage for water level, a pressure gage similar to the one I had made for my boiler, what might have been a safety valve, a 'boiler feed pump' – again, similar to what I had built for function and shape, if not size – and a surprisingly small brick-lined firebox. I soon learned why the last was so small.
“Uh, this one isn't intended for long periods of running, isn't it?” I asked, when I saw the modest-sized bucket of coke next to the boiler's 'stoke-hole'.
“It was until I added those bricks,” said Maarten. “Before, we had plenty of fuel, even if I had but little time to attend to it.”
“And he has less time to stand watch now,” said Lukas. “These need close watching.”
“Not nearly as close as those others,” murmured Maarten, “but still, I need to need to be close by and check it every few minutes once it's running steadily.” Maarten turned to me, then asked, “do you know much about these?”
“Uh, not ones like this,” I said. “I have a much smaller one...”
While Maarten began 'firing up', I stood thinking about the next obvious thing I needed to do, that being either clearing that one room or the nearer 'suite' of rooms. As I stood thinking, Maarten 'dosed' the 'oil-cups' with a brush and pot of warmed 'grease'. The smell of distillate slowly grew stronger.
“That doorknob?” I asked. The distillate odor had reminded me.
“Is still soaking,” he said. “I put fresh distillate to it just before coming down here.”
“And that one group of rooms?” I asked.
“I would check the room with the cloth first,” he said. “Most people are worried more about it than those others.”
I again thought about the matter while Maarten finished 'cleaning and wiping' his pride and joy. He'd just put away his 'oil-pot' when I noticed the coals in the firebox. They were faintly glowing amid a dusting of powdery cinders.
“You have a f-fire going in there,” I squeaked.
“I try to keep a small one lit, yes,” he said. “That way the dryer doesn't get entirely cold.” A brief pause, then, “I'll need to belt it up once it gets warmed to its task.”
I paused in my thoughts to look upward and noted not merely a sizable wooden pulley, but also an obvious 'line-shaft' that I had not noted before. I followed this last with my eyes until it vanished somewhere off into the gloom beyond the range of the lantern's light.
“That goes to..?” I asked, as I pointed at the shaft.
“To a number of things,” said Maarten. “The chief one is a smaller blowing-barrel to keep the fumes down in the house, and the other thing... Now that you might want to see, also.”
Maarten looked at Lukas as if to tell him to show me where I needed to go, and Lukas turned with lantern in hand to 'guide' me. I followed him, now and then glancing upward, and I noted we were indeed following the line-shaft.
“That room with the clock-ticker is up ahead,” said Lukas.
“Does he, uh, pray when starting that thing?” I asked softly
Lukas turned, then beckoned me to come closer. I did so, and he whispered in my ear, “I suspect he's a bit like Ernst, at least for what he does with that thing.”
As Lukas again led off, I wondered how he felt about seeing an obvious compound steam engine, and my thoughts wandered toward the possibility of using that principle on the blower's engine. I vetoed it promptly, as I still had substantial limits upon the possible dimensions of bore and stroke – that, and I needed all the power I could get out of each hole I plugged with a piston.
“And you need much higher speed, also” said the soft voice. “Your engines turn much faster.”
“How fast does that one turn?” I asked silently, referring to what I had just seen.
“Its nominal speed is roughly three hundred and fifty revolutions per minute,” said the soft voice, “which is thought decent 'turning' by its makers. In contrast, yours turned several times that on its initial run and will turn faster yet as it breaks in.”
“Now that I heard part of,” said Lukas. “How big is what you have?”
“Uh, as big as a navigating timer, supposedly,” I said. “It isn't nearly as large as what I just saw.”
We then passed several more cloth-covered mounds, then came to another of the walls of this huge place. Walking along the wall showed more 'black holes' with occasional flickering candle flames within. I kept looking for the line-shaft, as it seemed to have vanished – until Lukas suddenly lifted up his lantern and ducked into a cloth-shielded doorway.
Unlike the larger room or 'cavern', this one was lit passably with candles, and the brightness of the lantern merely added to their soft glows. The line-shaft ran directly down the center of the long and somewhat narrow room, and in the rear, I noted an obvious 'blower' of familiar shape. Closer, however, was something of yet greater mystery, and Lukas held his lantern just over the table upon which it sat.
“That's a g-generator,” I squeaked as I hobbled closer. “Is it..?”
I then noted the 'clutch' on the handle – and, at the other end of the machine, the small crowned pulley for the use of a flat belt. The device in general made the steam engine I had seen appear crude in construction, and as I gently touched the thing, I heard steps in the doorway. I turned to see Maarten.
“I've got the turns warming up,” he said. “Now I need to belt up the blowing-barrel so as to put wind to the house.”
“Put w-wind?” I asked. “W-wind?”
“Aye,” said Lukas. “Neither privy in this place smells, and the same for much else.”
I then looked again at the 'generator', and when I found the first of a trio of slip-rings, Maarten said, “they had painted that thing, the turns, and a lot else all up with their markings.”
“Markings?” I asked.
“They've all gone to dust and ashes down here, and that recently,” said Maarten.
I looked at the generator for another minute, then glanced at the rows of crocks, the sounder, and the key, all of which were on another table. They seemed copies of those I had seen in the fourth kingdom. Maarten and Lukas were busy in the background, and when they ceased, I straightened up. I had a question of sorts.
“Did the witches, uh, hoard things in here?”
“They did,” said Maarten as he came to where I was standing. “At least some of them were usurers, and I suspect those people left.”
“L-left?” I asked.
“That passage you came in last night had tracks going out when I first went down it,” said Maarten. “Usurers tend to be smart that way, or so I've heard.”
`”And that one, uh, passage,” I muttered. “I bet some left that way, too.”
Yet as I left the 'last' room, I recalled those things remaining on the list, and wondered which of the two most obvious things I needed to do. I was so lost in thought that I nearly ran into Gilbertus – and when I recovered myself, I was astonished to see him holding a fowling piece 'at the ready'.
“Pigs?” I asked. I wasn't 'feeling' any swine in the area.
“No, a witch,” he said. “Someone said a witch had holed up down here, and...”
“I think I might be able to find that wretch,” I murmured, now thankful for what seemed obvious 'direction'. “He's in that roped-off place, and, uh, he's indisposed.”
“He's what?” asked Gilbertus.
“I was told he was not doing well,” I said, “and I was wondering what next to do of those things that need me doing them when you showed with that... Is that one ours?”
“I had both of those youngsters cleaning guns last,” he said, “and I borrowed this one.” A brief pause, then, “we can't use that big stable for packing until that stinky coach goes, on account of it riding anyone who gets within ten paces of it, and the same for some of what's in that trash-pile.”
“I was told this area ahead has fetishes in it,” I said softly. “They were said to be, uh, weak as fetishes, if otherwise...” I turned to Gilbertus, then muttered, “what would be weak as a fetish and strong otherwise? Pressure-lanterns?”
Gilbertus ran his free hand over his face, then shook his head worriedly.
“Perhaps they're some, uh, copies,” I said. I tried to sound soothing. “I've already found three pressure lanterns today.”
“I hope they aren't,” said Gilbertus. “There were lots o' those things in here, and no one's found them so far...”
“One of the ones I found was an unmarked 'Infernal' lantern,” I said. “The other two are being used at this time.”
“How?” asked Gilbertus. “Those things use light distillate...”
“Not those he found,” said Lukas. “Now are you two after that witch, or what?”
The three of us came to the 'boundary', and I lifted the rope to let the other two pass. The first doorway lay with part-open door to my right, while another was across the filth-floored hall and perhaps two paces further into the 'realm of darkness'.
“We could about use one of those things now,” said Lukas.
“Uh, not yet,” I whispered. “We have a witch – granted, he's sick as a, uh...”
“He's most likely corked and spewing at both ends,” said Lukas. “That it?”
“Uh, what do you call a dog that's been kicked by a mule and then run over by a freighter's wagon?” I asked.
“A dead dog,” said Gilbertus.
“If it was still alive?” I asked.
“It would be close to dead, then,” said Lukas. “Why?”
“Our witch is, uh, doing about as well as such a dog,” I said. “He's really sick – oh, and he's hid good, too.”
“Oh?” asked Gilbertus. “Do you know where he is?”
“Uh, that place there,” I murmured, as I pointed with my left hand to the doorway at the very end of the hall. “In one of the back corners, between two overturned desks, with, uh... Is that why he's so sick?”
“What?” asked Lukas.
“Our witch is the last of a party of five witches,” I said. “They rounded up one of those big messes of Shoeten, and, uh... Do 'domestic' pigs bite?”
“I'm not sure,” said Lukas' worried voice. “I know they have teeth, and they'll chew anything that looks likely for food.”
“'Cept if it's meat,” said Gilbertus. “Those common pigs won't touch meat.” A brief pause, then a dry-toned “why?”
“Something around here really likes to bite,” I said, “and all of those witches, except him, got bitten enough that parts of them looked like pie-filling.” I paused, looked briefly in a darkened room, then resumed walking toward the end of the hallway, saying, “and these things might as well be poisonous, as those bites became infected and killed them dead within hours.”
“That sounds like Death Adders,” said Lukas.
“These things are not snakes,” I said. “I know that much.” A brief pause, then, “and while he didn't get bitten as much as his fellows, he did get bitten more than once.”
“So why is he still alive?” asked Gilbertus.
“I think he cleaned himself up some,” I said. “Liza spoke about washing wounds with strong drink, and I think he did that.”
“He probably washed his tripes in that stuff,” muttered Lukas, as I came to the last of all the doorways.
I nudged the iron-bound door open with my rifle barrel, and paused. The stink within was of such mind-bending intensity that I staggered back, then turned to see the darkened roof flare into brilliant flashing shades of red, green, and yellow. Faint noises came from all around me, and I blacked out to come to myself seated on the floor some distance away.
“You were speaking of fetishes,” said the voice of Lukas. “I thought you didn't get ridden.”
I gasped, spat, then blew my nose with my fingers – before moaning, “he said they were weak as fetishes, and they were not weak otherwise...” I paused, then checked myself before I toppled over, gasped again, then asked weakly, “what was that stink?”
“Forty-chain,” said Lukas flatly, “and if that witch got into that stuff...”
A faint noise came from the doorway in question, followed by low-pitched guttural speech. I could almost hear the rune-curses being churned by the speaker.
“He's drunk as a stinker,” said Gilbertus.
“Ooh, I feel sick,” I moaned. My hands were over my stomach.
And as if to advise me of the proper means of handling such potent drink-fumes, the room's occupant made yet more thudding and thrumming noises. Lukas shouldered his musket, and Gilbertus the fowling piece he'd borrowed, while from within the room, unsteady steps came steadily closer – and with each step, I could hear firmness and purpose being multiplied – almost as if the witch wanted to shake the ground with his fully-owned version of the august true-step...
The feeble groping movements within changed with such abruptness that I marveled – until I heard the Lurch-Pang of an obvious witch mingled with the squalling sound of a dragging sword-sheath. The two men remained at the ready as the seconds ticked off; I was still uncommonly sick, so much so that I absent-mindedly turned toward the door with my cocked revolver in my right hand, while my left hand remained upon my stink-wounded stomach.
“Do I spew or shoot first?” I thought, as the Lurch-Pang snapped louder and sharper amid the intermittent tormenting squab-like noises of a dragging sword. “Urgh, I feel sick.”
And in my miserific daze, the witch showed himself: tree-tall, iron-strong, immovable, unbending; and his will being iron like his body, he was prone to rusting. I knew this, and spoke accordingly.
“Now, now, iron-head,” I muttered. “You need to rust up solid.”
A painful groaning shriek pounded upon my ears, and my mind retreated further amid the putrid gases and flames of the iron-smelting furnace that I was now viewing. I could see a river of fire boiling up...
And the horror-song came up once more, as if it were like molten lava - and this time, I heard its every word without the adulteration of time, space, or distraction:
“Give me a smelter, man,
(Long drawn-out howl)
Give me a smelter,
Give me a smelter... Man!
(Banging, crashing, roaring flames)
Give me a smelter.
Black smoke a choking,
Black-cloth coming steady,
Give me a smelter,
Give me a smelter.
(Mules braying insanely amid the rumble of unlubricated coach-wheels)
River of slag, lake of fire,
Give me a smelter,
Charred flesh of a Useless Feeder,
Sacrificed to Brimstone,
Lord of fire, Smelter-leader,
Give me a smelter...”
And the flames finally died down. I shook my head to see a huge cloud of smoke blackening the ceiling amid a nauseating stink – one that took seconds to recognize as the reek of burnt human flesh. The other smell, however, was entirely and completely gone.
“What h-happened?” I asked, as I tried to get up.
“I'd holster that pistol first,” said Lukas. “You ain't likely to need it.”
“Uh, why?” I asked, as I did what was told. “That song was awful.”
“That witch burned like out of an old tale,” said Gilbertus.
“B-burned?” I asked. “H-how?”
“You told him to sup with Brimstone,” said Lukas. “Leastways, I think you told him to do that.”
“I did?” I asked. “I was, uh, hearing this really bad song about smelters and black-cloth and rivers of fire, and I was seeing fires, and...”
“Good that he's gone,” said the voice of Liza, “and I'm glad that stink is gone, too.”
“Was that, uh, why the place was uh, roped off?” I asked, as I staggered to my feet.
“I recognized the drink-fumes when I was first showed it,” she said, “but this last time, I could not only smell a great deal of forty-chain, but also a very sick witch.” A brief pause, then, “and that wretch and those with him gathered every stinking lantern and jug of strong drink in the place that wasn't hidden.”
“Meaning?” I asked.
“I would put money upon any wager that spoke of some of those lanterns being of a type I recall seeing in Eisernije,” she said. “They resemble those lanterns named Infernals, but they neither are those lanterns, nor do they use distillate.”
“He found two of those things,” said Lukas. “Do you mean there are more in there?”
“I am certain of it,” said Liza, “and I know that is not the only place in the house where they might be found.” She paused, then said, this time to me: “and you need an effectual restorative before attempting that other room, much less that meeting.”
“And the rooms?” I asked.
“I suspect they are safe enough now,” said Liza. “I'd say you need half a jugful, and no mistake.”