Frankij Lives.

That day passed in a blur of hard sweating labor, for with both bronze and iron castings, I could actually begin 'machining' – though hammer-and-chisel labor, followed by files, and in some cases, reamers and drills made for long-suppressed longings for machinery. I hoped to begin work on a lathe soon, a real example, not the 'ultra-precise toy' I currently used, and with each chisel stroke and file cut – that Great Bastard File was earning its keep now – I kept my eye upon the main issue.

I needed an engine, one that could turn 'rapidly'. I wasn't sure how fast that would be beyond 'well over a thousand revolutions per minute'. More, this engine had to run at such speeds for substantial periods, perhaps hours at a time; and then, it would need to do so on a regular basis. Finally, it needed to be easy to work on, as I suspected 'white metal' bearings, even those I had done before, would be sorely tried by the abuse I would be subjecting them to. The thought occurred to me that I might need to have 'ready-to-fit' sets, and essentially rebuild the engine each time I ran a long blowing session.

I then needed a blower for the engine to drive. Not only would this blower need to handle a certain amount of rough handling – it and the engine together promised to weigh a fair amount – but it would need to not vibrate unduly while turning at the maximum speed the engine could muster. Given what I had been told, it needed to be well-balanced; and I needed a stout hardened shaft running in a well-oiled white-metal bearing – and again, it needed to be easily rebuilt. I had my doubts about my bearing metal's capacity to endure high speeds, and the lubricants I had access to were 'doubtful' at best.

“And if it 'throws weight', it will vibrate,” I thought, as I 'lapped' the shaft's bearing surfaces. It had been a stretch for my 'lathe' at home to cope with it. Only the machining I had done on the crankshaft thus far had been a worse ordeal – and much of that had been done with file, saw, chisel, and grinder prior to assaying lathe 'lash-ups'. I wanted a real lathe in the worse way imaginable, and I had but slightly less longing for a vertical milling machine.

And finally, I needed a boiler and its ancillary fittings, these being up to handling both solid fuel and a good deal of pressure; and more, this boiler needed to be movable, or so I suspected. It would need to be clamped down when running Frankie, and then it would need to be moved so as to either run the long-forge, or the furnace we had already. That meant a leak-proof fitting that could be readily attached and detached.

The spindly-looking connecting rods I had forged would first need to be finished all over, then 'cooked' for some length and finally heat-treated. I'd made a fixture to hold them in hopes it would prevent their warping, but as I initially cleaned up the two cast iron pistons with files, I wondered for a moment.

“Sheet brass piston rings?” The screech in my mind was not making it to my mouth. “How many?”

“Use three-line brass sheet,” said the soft voice, “and only two rings, both near the top of the piston. Otherwise, machine off as much weight from those 'slugs' as you can, as that engine is going to spin faster than your first one did.”

“And get them even as to weight, also,” I thought. I knew about that part.

I had to use Hans' scale to do so that evening, and while I confined my filing and scraping to a rag-topped table a good six feet from the scale, my back-and-forth travel with first the pistons, then the two wrist pins, then the connecting rods – my weighing of each end of those separately had him looking at me as if I'd lost my mind – and finally, adding up the units and double-checking my weights had him muttering about loose rivets. The engine did not use those, so I did not worry about his speech that way.

I then heard steps upon the stairs, and when I looked up from my figuring, I saw Sarah. She went up to where I was working, took one look at the two near-polished pistons, then asked, “how fast will this thing turn?”

“I'm not certain,” I said. “Why?”

“Because if I go by what I see here,” said Sarah as she picked up one of the 'slugs', “I am thinking that Machalaat Brothers had best toss those things they make and get your drawings.” She then turned to Hans, and asked, “have you seen that other one running?”

“Yes, and it scared me bad,” said Hans. “Then, there is what those men have said about it.”

“What?” I asked.

“It screams as if it were in hell,” said Hans. “Those things from the fourth kingdom do not do that.”

“They are much larger, also,” said Sarah. “Have you ever seen one run too fast and scatter itself?”

“No,” said Hans. “Why, are those bad that way?”

“If they are run carefully, with careful oiling before starting and with a watchful eye upon the gage, they are not,” said Sarah, “but should there be too much pressure, or if one opens the engine-valve too much, they are terrible.” Sarah's voice quavered, almost as if she was reliving an experience too frightening for words. “First, they hum, then start to clatter.” The tension seemed to be building. Hans was no longer 'blasé' in the slightest. “That clatter gets louder, and they start shaking – until finally something breaks or a bearing screams, and then they toss bolts and pieces all over while scalding everyone within ten paces.”

“Where was this?” asked Hans.

“This was written on a tapestry,” said Sarah, “but I know this much. You can run this type here with a full knob and a full gage, and they will not scatter themselves. They may make a great deal of noise, but they will not throw parts at you.”

“A bearing screams?” I asked.

“I have heard that happen,” said Sarah, “and that engine needed to be pulled down to its smallest pieces then, and looked over by a workman from Machalaat. They had to replace much of it, and he said the person running it was most lucky, as it could have killed him had he not been especially watchful.”

“Those are not like those things they use in the fifth kingdom,” said Hans, “so how can it do that?”

“That workman spoke of that happening on test,” said Sarah, “which is why they have especially thick walls in their testing room, and a vent-valve for the portion that boils water – and they do not use solid fuel for burning, either.”

“What is it they use?” asked Hans. “That type of engine there wants cooked coal.”

“I think they use something similar to Veldter lamp-fuel,” said Sarah, “as the test-man who runs that portion must work a lever steadily to keep the fire burning, and if he does not do so, the steam is vented and the firebox doused.”

“A dead-man switch,” I mumbled, as I walked to check the smaller end of the two connecting rods once again. These, while still in the 'toy' class for size, were both slightly longer and significantly stouter than those for the other engine; and their mottled bluish tints that played over their steely gray spoke of both 'heavy' case-hardening and then heat-treating. Both had four bolts, all of which were forged from an off-cut from a sword-blank and then lathe-turned. One of the latest batch of swords – I had finished the first batch, and Georg had taken them off for delivery, each wrapped in rags and tied with string – was destined for Sarah's use; and another, I hoped, would be in Karl's hands by the time of the Abbey. I suspected Sepp was wanting one as well, hence I would try to ensure he received one before the Abbey's nonsense commenced. His current one – and Karl's also, I suspected – would sell readily to the newer guards. They knew how effective swords could be at close quarters, given adequate training. That one section of the house worked well for that if one 'worked' during the lessons the Teacher gave.

“I am not certain as to what they called that lever,” said Sarah, “but that one workman spoke of how it took them years and a number of severe injuries and deaths to figure out that arrangement once they started building those things.” A brief pause, then, “and what the Heinrich works uses for driving their overheads is stranger yet.”

“What is that?” asked Hans. I suspected he'd never been inside of that place, as they tended to want documentation about who one was if one wished to do more than 'order' something or buy something they made in numbers. Even if one was from the west school, one still needed one's papers signed, almost as if one wished to see one of the rarest of tapestries; and that was for their 'commonplace' things. There were some places, including where these machines were housed, where one needed all of the usual things and a great deal more.

Sarah looked at me, then nodded. “They guard that area specially, as not even the fourth kingdom market is entirely ready for what they are using there. I know but little more than that about what I saw, even if I could draw how it looked from memory readily.”

“Why is this?” asked Hans. I was surprised he even asked, given the prevalence of plain-dressed yet killing-serious witches in that area.

“Witches, mostly,” said Sarah. “That place more or less needs you to be a student in good standing at the west school to go behind their walls, but if you want to see everything, then you need to be signed for by the king himself – and not many people get such signatures.”

“And you did,” I murmured.

Sarah nodded, then said, “it might not be as hard to get to as that place I had to bathe for and wear their itchy clothing, but it is not much less for trouble otherwise – and I had to wear their clothing also.” A brief pause, then, “they might wear strange clothing at the Heinrich works, but it isn't dark there, nor gloomy, and their clothing does not itch, unlike that one place.”

“Where is that place with the itchy clothing?” I asked.

“About forty miles east of the forth kingdom house,” said Sarah, “and about the same distance north, and the poor condition of that area's roads means either one goes off of them or takes several days getting there. It's at the base of the Red Mountains, and those monks there don't go anywhere once they go inside that place.”

“What?” I gasped.

“Many of the tapestries that are not at kingdom houses are in monk-houses,” said Sarah, “and while most of those place merely need to see your papers, the rarest ones are in that place and this one place in the second kingdom that's north and east of the kingdom house. I had little trouble with that one in the second kingdom, but that one place...” Sarah paused, then spat the single word: “ugh!”

“Were these people bad?” I asked.

“No, they were not that,” said Sarah. “About half of them are marked, and while Tam spoke of what he knew, there are places in the fourth kingdom where one can have visible markings and live longer than a ten-day – and that is one of those places. I am not sure if there are more than one or two others, but that one I've been to and seen the people inside it.”

“Yes, but friars don't travel much, unless they have business,” said Hans.

“The common friars, yes,” said Sarah. “These people are not common friars, and I suspect what they do, other than pray a great deal, is print most of the books that deal with the book's original languages.”

“The books worth bothering with, you mean,” said the soft voice. “There's a lot they didn't show you, dear, including what else they do besides prepare grammar texts and word-books – and not merely for those two languages. They prepare such texts for all of the languages currently spoken on the continent, and all of them are the best to be currently had.”

“What else?” asked Sarah breathlessly.

“Some of the most effective medicines currently available in the five kingdoms,” said the soft voice, “and the Heinrich works does not teem that special steel, nor do they make those medical tools.”

Do those people?” asked Sarah.

“I suspect they have some very old equipment that still works well enough to do the job,” I said. “Somehow, turning out corrosion-resistant steel with equipment like we have doesn't sound very likely.”

“It's just barely possible with what you will soon have,” said the soft voice, “provided you personally do almost all of the work involved and pray as you feel led.” A brief pause, then, “across the sea, they not merely have the equipment needed to do that readily, but they have medical equipment you've never heard of.”

“Real, or fictional?” I asked. I was thinking of a certain well-known television series, one where spacecraft became 'warped' as they bent time and space to their will, and a doctor with the colorful name of 'Bones' did his routine medical magic using strange tools and stranger medicines. At least, that was as much as I readily recalled. So much had faded from my memory, that I wondered now and then if I had ever lived where I had come from. It seemed like a bad dream now, unlike my still-ringing ears.

“Both,” said the soft voice. “Their capacity goes beyond what you were thinking of, even if most of it is currently unavailable to nearly all of those that live there.” A brief pause, then, “and those friars do have some very old equipment, most of which still works quite well.”

“Then why do they need to deal with the Heinrich works?” Sarah's voice was crestfallen.

“They need a contact with the outside world to get those things they need and an outlet for their products,” said the soft voice, “and the Heinrich works is not merely capable, but 'believable' in the eyes of the general populace. Hence they are 'used' in that fashion.”

“And transportation?” I asked.

“Recall that one donkey-train that passed you on the trip back from the fifth kingdom?” asked the soft voice. “They usually have longer versions of those going to that place several times a month, and they run those trains only at night with marked people leading them.” A brief pause, then, “the only reason Sarah was able to get in there is because of her family tree and what those people learned when she bathed.”

“What did they learn?” asked Sarah insistently. I wondered what she was asking, as I knew she had her share of scars. Granted, she did not have anywhere near as many as I did, but she had more than any woman I'd encountered on the surface of two planets – and that saddened me in some strange fashion. At least her skin was still soft and smooth to the touch, which was something I found most-precious.

“They were not merely looking at you with their eyes, dear,” said the soft voice. “They used other means as well – and no, not even Dennis knows about what they used. Their methods are beyond his fathoming.”

“Genetic structure,” I mumbled. “They looked at...”

“Not merely that,” said the soft voice. “They were also able to analyze all of the various scars she'd acquired, and infered much from them about the type of person she was.” A pause, then, “in short, dear, those papers may have gotten you to their doorstep, but their 'examination' was enough to discern nearly everything about your thinking, your goals in life, your behavior when facing witches, and most of all, how close you are to actually being visibly marked.”

“I've been chased by witches enough,” muttered Sarah, “and I've almost ended on a burn-pile more than once.”

“Gathering a mob?” I asked. “Being chased?”

“No,” said Sarah. She sounded as if terrified, with dire recollections building like thunderheads in her mind. “I was chained up, and lying on the wood with my clothing and hair soaked with heavy distillate, and some wretch was coming with a torch so as to set the pile alight when he and that mob suddenly dropped their torches and ran.”

“How did you get loose from those chains?” asked Hans.

“I was able to squirm out of them readily once I'd put my mind to it,” said Sarah, “but it took my skin much of a week to get over the effects of being in distillate-soaked clothing, and twice, my hair needed trimming to the length of a finger's-width because the distillate had ruined it. I had to wear a hooded cloak all the time both times until my hair was close to its usual length.”

“S-some wretch?” I asked.

“Those people were acting like a witch had cursed them,” said Sarah. “Their faces had gone the color of sun-bleached wax, and only their mouths moved. They were like puppets, almost.”

“Oh, no,” I thought. “They were taken over.”

A sudden recollection: a long-ago peep into a mirror showed how I looked when I spoke. Only my mouth moved, and that in the manner of a robot, nearly; and seeing this had suddenly explained a large portion of why I had been judged 'crazy'. A face that showed little or no emotion, especially in certain 'medical' environments, was the very sign and seal of insanity; it was called a 'negative symptom' in the witch-babble of the psychiatrist, and to have it meant but one thing:

One was insane, and therefore one needed erasure from the sight of the pure and the righteous who were 'normal'. It took long years of living in drug-blazing hells and accusations just short of 'death to the witch' to learn the final truth as to the real reason as to why I was as I was, and only then was I able to 'get somewhere' in my attempts to 'conform to the will of society'. I could not hide what I was to any substantial degree for any length of time, no matter how hard I worked at it; and society believed I chose knowingly to be 'evil' and 'antisocial' so as to infuriate all who saw me. Belief, and not truth, educated their behavior; those few who had broken ranks with the Herd had found me the most dependable and true friend they had.

“Don't go out in public unless you absolutely must,” I had thought. I had put that into practice to the greatest extent possible. “Some people are irritated beyond reason by the mere sight of you” – hence the attacks I had endured, some of these being with knives and gunfire – “and many more regard you as evil incarnate should you dare to approach them, even if you show every sign you know of friendliness and speak soft apologies so as to try to defuse their anger.”

“I do not think you have had people douse you in heavy distillate,” said Sarah, “but what they did do to you sounds like something out an old tale. Those pills were awful.”

“Yes, most of those things are,” said Hans. I presumed he meant the taste. I had not seen pills here – yet. I recalled the way history spoke of them as being small spherical things rolled with the fingers.

“Not that type of awful, Hans,” said Sarah. She sounded alarmed. “These things were straight out of an old tale, and though I cannot speak their long and horrible names, they were much like those the witches used before the war to torment and kill those that they hated.” A pause, then, “one of these drugs actually duplicated the experience of being burned with distillate when it was used, and many of the others caused one to feel as if one wished to die, and that badly.”

“That is bad,” said Hans. “That wants the widow's tincture at the least.”

“Not like this stuff, Hans,” said Sarah. She sounded yet more alarmed. “Given the choice between some of those drugs and a burn-pile, I'm not sure which of them I would chose.”

I managed to fit up the reciprocating assembly to the crankshaft that evening, and as I filed the ring-gap of the brass piston rings to fit, I wondered how to check the rotating assembly for balance. It was late, and the faint hiss of the titanium lantern as it shed a steady glow from its perch atop a box on my workbench lit up the whole scene below it with a near-actinic light. Again, its light made for wondering about wire-drawing and glass-blower's wire, and I knew I needed to go yet thinner on my pieces.

“About a third of a line,” I thought. That would make for an easy twenty feet of wire, if not more. “Then a tight spiral, one perhaps twenty lines in outer diameter and five to seven turns, and then a collet and nut with a lever, so it can be adjusted to the candle's flame.”

As I drew and wrote this in my ledger, I knew I'd learned another secret of these lanterns: they needed regular attention during their use to achieve maximum brightness.

“Which you have not yet seen,” said the soft voice. “Draw that wire down a bit further to the thickness that occurred to you, and in the next batch of those full-riveted lanterns, make them roughly an inch taller for the glass with a slightly taller chimney. Put your nut for the collet in its center, and put a long handle on that nut for such adjustment, as it will get warm.”

“Almost want to make them out of sheet-iron rather than brass, then blacken the parts,” I thought. It might stand up to heat better than brass, was my thinking.

“Keep that idea in mind,” said the soft voice. “While you won't need 'darkened lanterns' for the Abbey, they will come in handy for the period right after it. Until then, though, don't worry about polishing your lanterns for 'your' use, and ask Sarah about her solution for darkening brass. They'll serve then for that trip.”

I wondered until I slept that night as to why we would wish darkened lanterns, and during the night, I had a short dream. This involved driving a hideously slow yet otherwise familiar-looking battery-operated truck down a darkened concrete-lined arch-roofed tunnel, and the darkness all about was sufficient to wish our own lights so as to 'work'. We had brought a number of these small brass things, as well as a vast store of thick wax home-cast candles of 'long burning' blend; and for some reason, we wanted to proceed unimpaired in this darkness where only I could see truly well and the others needed some source of small light to see by that did not use electric power. The truck was so commonplace a thing that it was essentially ignored by those who spied so thoroughly and unsleepingly upon the populace.

“Why?” I thought, as I sat bolt upright in my bed. “Do they have ways of monitoring people that I have trouble understanding?”

I was thinking of Orwellian nightmare worlds where 'speakwrites' and 'duckspeak' were thought ancient and ineffectual museum-pieces by the fully-indoctrinated upper Party Members, and their local 'Ministry of Love' and other bureaucracies made Orwell's all-powerful state seem a sick and queasy joke.

“No, they aren't beyond your understanding, even if how they do it at the device level is beyond anything you've read about in school or otherwise,” said the soft voice. “The reason their computers do not respond to speech input like in that one television program is that they simply do not have the needed hardware installed. Otherwise, they do have such capacity – at this time.”

That last phrase implied their current 'capacity' would grow drastically.

“Especially when all of that surreptitious research becomes available to the 'commons' in that place,” said the soft voice. “They'll be very surprised, and so will you.”

At breakfast, however, I had a peculiar question, and I wondered if I could have an answer. We were eating in the light of the turned-down Sun lantern as it hung from an overhead riveted iron fixture I had 'cobbled together', as candle-wax, while it was becoming more commonplace, was doing so with a painful slowness; and even that one shop with its means of supply could not fully supply all of its customers. The titanium lantern, cooled and refilled with recent-run aquavit, was bagged and waiting upon the couch.

“Aquavit is still easier for us to get than wax candles,” said Hans. “Now what is your question?”

“Could I, uh, have leather slippers made for when I must walk barefoot outside?”

“You need those things for indoors too,” said Anna. “Aren't your feet cold?”

“No they aren't,” I softly murmured, “but I'm going to need to do more house-clearing in town in the months to come, and that wants quiet – and no footwear that I've seen here as of yet is that quiet.”

“Especially trekking boots,” said Sarah. Those tended to squeak unless kept rubbed with deodorized tallow and beeswax, and the hobnails made their own noises. “Mine might not hurt now, but I still could stand some rubbing when I wear them for much of a day.”

“Yes, and he likes doing that,” said Hans with a face-wrinkling grin. “Otherwise, though, you need to wear those things when and as you can, as you will want them for that Abbey place, and then that trip.”

“Especially when you need to kick thugs that come out of nowhere,” I blurted.

“Yes, and that is the usual for thugs in some places,” said Hans. “That is why one must be careful in some of the kingdom houses.”

“The fifth, obviously,” I murmured, “and some places in the second. I've never gone in those, er, districts. The kingdom house here is fairly safe now.”

None of these places, however, compared with what I had spoken of; and no thug that I had ever encountered in truth or fiction seemed to be able to 'materialize' with such speed and cunning like these people did. They commonly showed in small well-trained groups, so silent one could hear almost nothing, even with my ears; and when they got to business – that being killing – they did so with such speed and in such silence it was as if the hand of God himself had crushed the life out of the person so murdered and left the shattered body lying cold and lifeless upon the chill floor as an impossible-to-ignore object lesson regarding his idea of vengeance.

“Yes, there have been more burn-piles,” said Hans. “I had no idea that place still had witches in it, but those smelly pigs found them out.”

“They did not find all of them,” said Sarah. “There is at least one secret way out of the kingdom house, and I would bet a fair number of witches went out of the area that way.”

“More of them than anyone realizes,” said the soft voice. “Only with the death of its 'owner' when the hall was destroyed has it become accessible to those of witchdom's lesser elite – and those few knowing of it who survived the hall's destruction told their 'comrades' about it before leaving.”

“How?” squeaked Anna.

“They did not go north on that underground stretch beneath the hall, unlike the majority of those witches seeking to escape,” said the soft voice. “They went east, past the partial blockage under the ruins of the 'business' gate into the 'dark' region, and stayed there with their cached provisions until last night – where they then made their way back out of their refuge through the still-smoking wreckage that once was the hall. All save a few of them went for safe-houses near the south and west borders of the town, which got them killed when the swine sniffed them out. The exceptions, however, stayed close by the hall's wreckage and found the mostly-intact access point to the secret way.”

“Mostly intact?” I asked.

“The explosion of the hall sprung the door and destroyed the curse-lock,” said the soft voice, “so it was a matter of prying the door open enough to slip inside and go down the mostly-intact shaft and then using one of the waiting vehicles to escape.”

“Waiting vehicles?” I asked. “Like what was used in the 'hall-to-kingdom-house' run?”

“These were larger and more sophisticated, if but little better constructed,” said the soft voice, “and while they are clumsy and slow compared to some of what runs in that underground place, they are faster than walking – and not a little faster.”

“And no one can see them,” said Sarah.

“Which is how they escaped out of the 'staked territory' of your husband-to-be,” said the soft voice. “That first group to leave took the last of those vehicles, but they were not the last witches to use that route to leave.”

“Which meant walking,” I muttered.

“Yes, but they were not seen,” said the soft voice. “Sarah knows about these matters.”

“You do?” I gasped.

“It was spoken of upon more than one tapestry,” said Sarah. “Those witches that lived before the war had vast roads, long, dark and narrow, and all of them underground.”

“Vast?” I asked. It was getting nearly time for me to go, as the sky in the west was starting to lighten.

“Some were wide, and had many pairs of iron rails,” said Sarah, “but most were merely quite long, and there were vehicles that moved upon those rails, much as if they were mining carts except larger and faster.”

I had a later posting, the fifth, which meant leaving the shop early so as to fetch a nap before leaving; but during the six hours that I had between my arrival at the shop and the time I needed to leave, I labored with all I had. When I was not working on the engine or blower, I was working upon other orders; and during one of my breaks, I noted the three masons moving through the shop with small neatly-made carts laden with yellow-tan rectangular bricks. They were the 'usual' size these people used, that being perhaps six inches long, two thick, and three wide.

“More masonry?” I asked.

“Yes, for the sand-house,” said the soft voice. “They've planned on working on that building when you're ready to fit the blower, as that work is nowhere near a full day for them and Georg is speaking of that 'sand-heap' needing careful protection from the climate.”

“Especially during the summer,” I murmured as I recalled the rags and old cloaks currently used to cover it between my uses. “Will he use tiles for the roof, or shingles?”

“Shingles may be cheaper, but the Compendium spoke of sand-houses using tiles, and the masons not only have molds for such things, but can both make and lay them.”

“On near-flat roofs, you mean,” I murmured. “That Valley has few rains.”

“Yes, but the ones that do fall are of torrential nature,” said the soft voice, “and those are commonly accompanied by sizable hailstones in the middle portion and slushy snow in the northern parts – and these people are accustomed to the latter region's weather, as they came from that portion of the Valley. Then, there are the Valley's near-constant dust-laden winds, and those almost make up for the lack of rain.”

“Why?” I asked.

“One wants a tight roof in the Valley, and the same for all of one's doors and windows,” said the soft voice, “as otherwise, the interior of your dwelling will gather an inch of dust in three days' time during the bad periods and in a ten-day the rest of the year.”

“And it will be unlivable all of the time,” I muttered. “Not just dust, but cold nights much of the year.”

“That also,” said the soft voice. “Most shingles are badly done, hence a steep pitch is needed for a roof that does not leak in an environment that has appreciable rain and snow. Tiles, if done right, need about a one in ten pitch in the same environment – and that's more or less the usual in the Valley.” A pause, then, “any house fit for residence in that place will work well for 'keeping' molding sand.”

I had the bench to myself once more during my posting, and as I 'walked the floor' periodically, I felt the state of the house proper. That accursed fetish-ink had been finally found out and 'tossed' with imprecations and muttered oaths, and inking had ceased until a fresh supplier could be found; the perfidy of those who had switched suppliers, while known of to a modest degree, could not be traced. I had half a mind to either speak to Sarah, or ask Andreas about the matter.

“Andreas has been asked,” said the soft voice, “as Hendrik suspects what happened was the work of someone he would not normally suspect. He does not know about Sarah's ink, save by the well-known reputation of the original firm – and he has no desire to deal with those people.”

“The cost?” I asked.

“The needed trips, the inducements, and all the other nonsense demanded by people who are not witches but otherwise act much like them in many ways.” A brief pause, “a three hundred guilder jug of 'ink' costs upwards of a thousand by the time the multiple 'long-trips' and other typical activities associated with the procurement of potent fetishes are factored in.”

“Long-trips?” I asked.

“A month's time for each slow-moving time-wasting trip made by a king's officer's party, and three such trips needed for each order, then the special 'fetish-grade' means of transport of the actual ink itself,” said the soft voice, “and Andreas, while he does know a lot of people and is very resourceful, cannot figure out a way around that nonsense regarding that firm.”

“As in they only do business that way, and you either act like a witch, or you can take your coin elsewhere,” I spluttered softly. “That kind of nonsense almost demands kicking their doors in and taking what you want at gunpoint!”

“Which is why their 'factory' is built like a real fortress and not the 'pretend' one that the hall managed,” said the soft voice. “You would need a well-placed 'boom-bottle' to get into the place, and using one would more or less flatten that whole shop and wreck its entire contents.”

“Then how did she get in?” I asked.

“Her cousin helped her,” said the soft voice, “and between those two 'girls', there wasn't anyplace in the central part of the fourth kingdom safe from their crafty ways.”

“So I must speak to Sarah, then,” I thought. “I hope we have sufficient chemicals.”

“Roesmaan's chemicals are relatively easily procured,” said the soft voice, “and making sufficient for the modest needs of the house proper isn't that difficult – as that stuff isn't like blasting oil or nitrocellulose.”

“We're mostly limited by how much chemicals we have and the size of our glassware, then” I murmured.

“Not quite,” said the soft voice. “It becomes touchy in 'quart-sized' batches. Term-sized batches, or batches but slightly larger – roughly a cupful – however, are easily made; and making several such batches and combining them will produce a more uniform product.”

“Meaning perhaps an hour's work,” I thought.

“Less than that, if you help her,” said the soft voice. “Figure a number of the recently-arrived oil bottles filled with ink, each with a waxed cork.”

“It likes to escape, doesn't it?” I thought.

“Her version more than theirs,” said the soft voice. “Given that her version is actually superior to their best batches, especially for hand-inking documents, that should not surprise you.”

“What?” I gasped.

Real chemistry versus 'double, double, toilet trouble',” said the soft voice. I was amazed at hearing that particular joke. “Her version is a bit thinner for viscosity, so it wants fine-cut quills and a true inking surface, though it will work passably on the paper you secured. Your take on that presentation-grade paper you saw in that shop is correct, which is why it sells as well as it does in certain select circles. The house proper buys a quire a month from that store, in fact – and they deal with no one else regarding paper.”

“They use that ink, or things like it,” I murmured. “She said, that, uh, honest printers...”

“They cannot use hers, as they'd need to be extra careful when inking their plates, and most printers are not that careful, save for those who are unusually skilled.”

Instead of skilled, I heard 'marked' for some reason.

“Most printers are almost as inclined to chant while they work as Ernst is when he is blackening guns, and do their work using similar 'methods',” said the soft voice. “Those 'monks' don't, and the two biggest printing houses in the fourth kingdom don't – their equipment isn't the usual for printers, their volume is vastly higher, and they compound their own inks – and nearly other printer in the five kingdoms chants at least occasionally, no matter how they feel about witchdom.”

My posting ended with the arrival of three new men, and as I spoke of the house's quietness in detail, I noted a new and different aspect. These people weren't those I had seen prior to the hall going where it belonged; somehow, they had aged years since then, and I wondered if I would find gray hairs among the thick yellow thatches adorning their scalps. As I left them behind, I could hear them whispering among themselves; and this talk, or the bulk of it, was about the destruction of the hall and how sore they still were. For a moment, I wondered, and as I came to the doorway of the house, I asked, “how many of those new guards went?”

All of them,” said the soft voice. “Only a few guards did not go, in fact – and save for those bottle-toting people who went into the place itself, nearly all of those 'boys' were on the firing line loading and firing as fast as their limited experience in shooting would permit.”

“Nearly all of them?” I asked. I could hear Jaak coming from the stables.

“Some of them were passing bottles for you to toss, and two of them actually went into the hall's inner court,” said the soft voice. “One of those people was Mathias, and the other a person from this batch that is currently training.”

“What of them?” I asked.

“Hendrik put a stop to much of that man's nonsense,” said the soft voice, “and while your manual is nowhere near complete, he hopes to have that man study it closely when it is.” A brief pause, then, “expect another batch of guards within a ten-day's time, and then 'normal' hours once more.”

“Hopes?” I asked.

“Hendrik now wonders more than a little about that Teacher,” said the soft voice, “and though that man is far too full of himself to suspect much is happening beyond what he himself thinks and sees, more than one person wearing greens is keeping a close eye on him.”

“And if Tam sees him doing something suspicious, he'll get a bullet in the head,” I muttered as I mounted.

“Not just Tam,” said the soft voice. “You're the only person in this area currently that is wearing greens who does not have definite plans for that man should he show any inclination toward the things of witchdom – and while he fears those people, he fears you far more.”

“Why?” I asked. I had my hands well beyond full with my known responsibilities. Only if the Teacher actually became a true threat would I concern myself toward him; and hearing that Hendrik had curbed many of his worst abuses helped that aspect of my concern.

“Because he knows he won't get even a shred of warning,” said the soft voice, “and he also knows his death, should it come from your hands, will be as sudden as a lightning strike.”

“W-what?” I gasped.

“No negotiation,” said the soft voice. “Utterly unstoppable. Impossible to see or even touch. The living embodiment of 'no mercy, no relent, and no tears'. No weapon too deadly, no stratagem too difficult, no thoughts too low or too deep; nothing whatsoever is beyond his cold and calculating thoughts of destruction. There is no warning of his showing: just a sudden blast of light and sound, or the screaming hiss of a razor-honed blade, or a bullet that rips its target apart like a round-shot fired from a cannon – and that witch-whispered reputation has ample evidence to back it up.”

“What?” I gasped again.

“What he – and nearly every witch and supplicant that knows anything about you – believes,” said the soft voice. “Some witches even wonder if you are the manifestation of Sieve.”

“Sieve?” I squeaked. It had been some time since that name had graced my overworked mental faculties. “What is that thing?”

“It is thought to be a spirit of some kind by those witches that know its name,” said the soft voice. “It is not a spirit.”

I wanted to ask as to what 'Sieve' actually was, but the night was pressing inward like a crushing fist and Jaak wasn't wasting time. I needed to be home – and more importantly, I could tell asking about Sieve would not get me an answer, at least right now. I had been told what I needed to know – that the area's witches were sufficiently scared of me that they thought me to be nearly as much trouble as an all-powerful evil spirit with a bad attitude and a raging hunger for witch-meat.

“More than a few witches believe that,” said the soft voice.

I nearly laughed, then muttered, “stupid witches. Duh, I'm a spirit.” I almost wanted to spit an 'evil-sounding laugh' at such complete and utter rubbish.

“Getting Koenraad the first's head started that one,” said the soft voice, “and events since then have added to that thread of belief.”

I would have no postings the next day, and hence I went to bed promptly and got an early start. I was now altogether conscious of Frankie's needing to run as quickly as possible, and as I labored – we poured bronze early in the day; I had kept the furnace 'warm' baking sword-blanks and there were still decent coals showing when I came an hour before dawn – I felt the 'need' pressing down upon me. Only when several rough-feeling sacks clanked down near the foot of my workbench did I start up from my all-consuming labors.

“What are those?” I gasped. I then saw who the delivery person was: Sarah. “What are you doing here.”

“Errands, mostly,” she said. “It seems someone left a note for me regarding that ink I did recently, and I did up two batches and combined them so as to take a full globe to the house proper.”

“Uh, I wrote a note to myself in my journal...”

“This may have been your manner of writing,” said Sarah, “but not merely was it in ink – that particular ink, in fact – but the handwriting was a good deal neater than your usual.”

“But I d-don't use ink,” I spluttered.

“I know that,” said Sarah, “so that told me who was likely to be involved. I wasted no time on that matter after finding that note, and I left the house before sunrise to deliver that ink to Hendrik.”

“Him?” I asked.

“His-own-self,” said Sarah emphatically. “He now has decent ink, as I saw where he had tossed that rubbish he was trying to use.”

“Tossed?” I asked.

“Yes, there were ink-stains on the wall near his desk,” said Sarah, “and if it was bad enough for him to toss it, it was a proper tosser, and no mistake.”

“Probably ruined an important document,” I muttered.

“Several instances, and this was to go before the eyes of the fourth kingdom's king, so he needed to do it himself,” said Sarah. “He'd manage about three sections with that nasty stuff, then his pen would spit ink and ruin all of his work. I looked in his trash bin, so I know beyond his mere speech.”

“The eyes?” I asked.

“It was to be 'red-sealed' with the fourth kingdom's stamp, which means only the king may read it,” said Sarah, “as I saw both red-wax and a stamp-set, and that particular stamp was out.” A brief pause, then, “if I did not know any better, I would swear those stamps to be my cousin's work.”

“The stamps?” I gasped.

“When she came up here, she went to work with a jeweler,” said Sarah, “and while she signed apprentice's papers, she's good enough to journey – or so I thought when I last saw her a year ago.”

“How l-long was she there then?”

“I'm not sure if she learned as fast as Andreas did,” said Sarah, “but most of his apprenticeship was a formality, as he did work beyond 'master-piece' level before he'd been there a year – and those stamps are that. These were as good as any I've ever seen.”

“Uh, is Hendrik inking now?” I asked.

“Yes, he is,” said Sarah. “I think he might be inking both an order to Roesmaan's, and another to this one store that's in the house there.”

“Where I got my paper,” I muttered. “They had some presentation-grade paper that's meant for inking, while my paper has a surface for more suited to writing dowels.”

“So that was the other portion left for me,” said Sarah. “I got all of my paper at that store when I was at the west school, but I wasn't certain it was the same place until I showed him that piece of paper. He recognized the address right away.”

Sarah paused to drink, then said, “so once I had given him some proper ink...”

“Small bottles,” I murmured. “With waxed corks.”

“I brought several of those also,” said Sarah, “and I've used that ink enough to know about its tendencies to escape. That was also mentioned on that paper, by the way, which is why I know I'll need to make more of it in the near future.”

“Once the chemicals arrive?” I asked. “I should be able to help then, but Frankie needs to run soon.”

“Yes, I know,” said Sarah. Her voice had acquired an ominous-sounding depth to it. “These things were given to me by Andreas. It seems that one room is now entirely cleaned, such that it no longer smells much, and these are those bad nickel buckles witches are fond of.”

“Yes?” I asked. “I need, to, uh, melt them with gray-metal and some other things to make this strange alloy. It's easy to, uh, cast.”

“He told me that,” said Sarah. “His gray-metal will be coming soon also.” A pause, then, “I recall those witch-medals we found recently, and I've heard you have your own collection of things similar that need melting, so it seems those would be best used first.” Sarah paused once more, then said, “they will work well for some of the parts of that machine you have planned.”

“The, uh, lathe?” I asked.

“This is not a wood-lathe, is it?” asked Sarah. She sounded nervous. “I hope you do not try to run marmots.”

Thunderation,” came an oath. “First, he speaks of not using blowing barrels, but these other things that scream like they're birthed in hell, and now he wishes to run marmots. When will it cease?”

“Georg?” I asked nervously. I could not tell who had spoken, even if it sounded like Georg to a degree.

“That was not him,” said Sarah. “He's gone on a delivery of some kind.”

“Uh, no marmots,” I murmured. “Not enough speed, I suspect, and I doubt they've got the torque, either.”

“What?” asked Sarah. I suspected 'die Kopael' wasn't a commonplace word, even for someone like Sarah.

“Their capacity to turn the spindle, dear,” I said. “I need at least four hundred revolutions per minute. Then, should I need to take decent cuts of iron, that spindle will need to be difficult to stop.”

“Those things can manage the second part,” said Sarah with a tinge of shuddering. “Hang enough carrots, and you will need a pistol to stop them if they are at all fresh.” Another pause, a slurp, then, “I am not sure about the second portion. How fast is that?”

“About as fast as those two-hole Machalaat steam engines can turn without coming apart,” I said. “Their 'rated' speed is really their 'maximum safe speed' – and I need a good deal more speed than that for soft brass.”

“Then your damp-motors are a far better idea,” said Sarah. “Those will easily manage such speeds.”

Again, I heard the voice speaking of motors that screamed as if they were birthed in hell. I stood up, then asked, “who said that?”

“I think that person is in back,” said Sarah. “Let me go look.”

Sarah returned a minute later, then said, “that was one of the neighbors. He's looking at that furnace and scratching his head, and I told them it was for pouring iron.”

“Did he object to it being there?” I asked. He'd already spoken of my motors, and that did not sound at all pleasant to the ears.

“I doubt much he's been near a foundry, actually,” said Sarah, “and he does not know of the more-obscure old tales, so he's not speaking of the Sand-Man.” A brief pause, then, “though if he did know of that tale, he would speak of that sand-house as being a likely home for it.”

“What?” I gasped. “I thought those people...”

“They are laying out its foundations at this time,” said Sarah, “but they showed me their drawings. It seems at least one of those men can draw especially well.”

“I think that's part of their training, dear,” I said. “Now I need to resume, and I suspect you do too.”

“Yes, I do,” said Sarah. “You'll want to do that gray-metal stuff after the rest leave, and most likely in a new crucible, one you will use for nothing else afterward.”

“It tends to contaminate other metals?”

“Badly,” said Sarah. “That, and stay upwind of its fumes. They cause sickness.”

Georg had ordered spare crucibles from the fourth kingdom, and the gray-toned aspect and neatness of execution had me wondering, even if they were smaller than our usual items. During a break, I was contemplating one of them, along with its lid, when I thought to ask about their intended use.

“Those are the type commonly used in the fourth kingdom for 'special iron' and glassblower's metal,” said the soft voice, “and they have a substantial portion of 'blacking', unlike the usual variety.”

“And they need some careful handling, also,” I thought. I had heard of graphite crucibles before, and their needing to be carefully warmed and gentle handling was 'legend' – or so I had read.

“Those mostly want a neutral or carburizing flame,” said the soft voice. “An oxidizing flame will cause them to fail quickly – which explains their short life when used for glassblower's metal.”

“Oxidizing flame?” I asked.

“That and the heat itself,” said the soft voice. “The furnaces used need extensive repair after each running, and it's not uncommon for the crucibles themselves to be too thin to be reused for such work.”

“They sell them to less-demanding users with tight pockets,” I muttered. “They might last for a handful of times, given light-loads of tin-bronze.” A pause, then, “for steel, though...”

“Give them a reducing flame going to the edge of neutral during superheat,” said the soft voice, “and then cool the empty crucibles slowly in the long forge while buried deep in the coals, and they'll be good for months of regular and frequent use. Go oxidizing for more than a few minutes in that furnace, or cool them rapidly, and they'll do well to endure three uses before they either fail during the melt or crumble during pouring.”

“And warm them slowly, also,” I thought. “Perhaps leave them in the furnace while it's cooking sword-blanks.”

“Is a wise idea, though it's seldom done,” said the soft voice. “The usual is to gradually build the heat in the furnace over the course of two or three hours using either fine-ground cooked coal or ground charcoal dampened with distillate.”

“Distillate for superheat?” I thought. I recalled that being needed just prior to removing crucibles for pouring into molds.

“Yes, if you boil it first,” said the soft voice. “Well-dried distillate would need your immediate presence and careful handling to not scatter the shop.”

“N-no thank you,” I thought. “I'll want a cup or so of boiled stuff per run.” A brief pause, then, “house-clearing?” I was thinking of the flammable liquids that seemed part of many witch-hoards.

“All of those houses have their share of distillate,” said the soft voice. “I'd wait until after you return from your trip to clear them, though.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

“Part of it is what needs to happen between now and the time you 'sail',” said the soft voice, “and then much of the matter will become obvious upon your return.”

In the hours that remained before sundown, I made 'bearing shells' of sheet brass for the connecting rods, while I pondered hard how to effectively 'line' the quill-casting. It would need boring to give a clean surface, then use of the shaft itself, or something like it for the core and then reaming to size. I wondered if using the shaft itself would draw the temper too drastically.

“Not really,” said the soft voice. “That shaft is about as hard as is practical now, and a slightly softer surface draw isn't going to hurt it – and that method will give you a straight and round hole.”

With the others gone, I began to try 'spinning' the rotor. All attempts at making it spin like a top were a waste of time, and only once I had measured it carefully did I notice a definite but troubling eccentricity. I had checked the pattern, and noted it to be within a line of true; but somehow, that one line had become four – and that meant first filing to 'true' – this needed chalk and a steel pointer – then careful scraping of the vanes and flat surfaces of the bottom so as to try to get it to 'spin' like a top. All the while, I was praying that this important piece was not ruined. Making another wasn't something I wished to contemplate, as its molding had been a sweat-dripping nightmare punctuated with silent prayers.

As I worked, however, I wondered how the thing had shifted. I had checked everything carefully before making up the mold, then carefully riddled the sand and gently packed it around the piece before flipping the upper flask – they did not call it the 'cope' here, or so Georg had told me – and then withdrawing the pattern with gentle persuasion, more prayer, and trepidation. I'd coated the pattern with blacking dissolved in aquavit so as to ease it out when the time came – then, I'd rammed up the lower flask – again, Georg had spoken of the usual terms, so it was not a 'drag' – with the core-print in place, and once it was on the bottom-board, I'd inserted the hard-rammed core before gently lowering the upper flask down and then clamping the two flasks with wedge-clamps from among my now 'huge' stock of such things.

“Did that core shift?” I thought. I'd made certain it was 'solid', and I'd mixed a little flour in with the dampened core-mix before ramming the core-box. Anna had wondered about my leaving the core on the back of the stove overnight until Sarah had spoken to her about foundry ways.

“Best do up a core oven for the shop, then,” I thought upon recalling Anna's soft mutterings about my 'smelly experiments' – and when I did so, a sudden thought banged into my head.

“That core-box!” I spat. “Stinking thing's off!”

“Less than you think,” said the soft voice. “They turned a billet on one of their lathes and used it as a guide – and while that core was a bit lumpy in places, it was within a line's distance of where it belonged.”

“Tolerance stack-up?” I thought.

“That would account for perhaps a line and a half of eccentricity,” said the soft voice. “I'd ask Sarah about dusting your molds when you prepare them, even if they only are going to wait an hour or two.”

“Uh, why?” I asked.

While there was no answer, I suspected that 'dusting' involved being able to read 'fingerprints' or things of a similar nature, and when I went home that night – I'd taken the gray-metal home, for there was no wind present to blow the fumes away from me when preparing that alloy – the first thing I did upon encountering Sarah in the basement was wait until she was at a stopping point in her ink preparation.

“How many batches so far?” I asked.

“Four, and this will be the fifth,” said Sarah. “I found more of that gray-metal here, as well as where you'd hidden your stock of that stuff – and those things need melting.” A brief pause, then, “no wind tonight, correct?”

I shook my head to indicate 'no', then said, “bad core-shift in that rotor, though.”

“That would mean someone tampered with that mold,” said Sarah. “I saw that core, and it checked closely with your drawings.”

“Dusting?” I asked.

“I would use fine flour, same as you did for your core-mix, and then dust both the fast surfaces and the slow ones.”

“Uh, fast and slow?”

“The surfaces that face one another are said to be fast,” said Sarah. “I am not sure why foundry-people speak as they do, but that is what they call them. Then, the slow portions are those that either receive the molten metal from the crucible or ladle or rest against the supporting wood or floor surface.”

“But I clamped the thing carefully,” I murmured.

“No matter,” said Sarah. “If this is what I am thinking of, merely undoing those clamps and lifting the upper mold to see what you had done would cause that – and I can think of people who might wish to do so.”

“And they would not be motivated by curiosity, but by something else,” I murmured.

“Especially that one man that came to look,” said Sarah, “though somehow, I doubt it to be him. He would have asked you before touching a clamped mold, and the same for most in town.”

“Uh, clamped?” I asked.

“While people in town know little about foundry work, they do know about what carpenters do,” said Sarah, “and they know that touching clamped pieces is unwise, as that will unsettle the glue – and a clamped foundry mould looks similar enough that most people think it is much the same way.” A brief pause, then, “I will need to talk to those I know, and tell them what you are doing is fully as important as if you were casting cannon-barrels.”

“Because these parts are bronze?” I asked.

“They know what cannon barrels are for,” said Sarah. “Interfering with matters that are required for our survival is not done, and those who do so are either witches or wish to be witches.”

Sarah's sure pronouncement was unsettling to say the least, and as I did more 'homework' – this being turning the 'oversize' reamers for the bushings, and gathering copper 'dust' for another batch of bearing metal – I wondered just what she had meant. The closest thing I could figure was that such people were traitors of a sort, even though their motivations were not obvious treason; and this assessment did not allow for belief or custom, neither of which I truly understood – here, or where I came from.

“And both of those more or less drive a lot of people's actions,” I thought.

“More than 'a lot of people',” said the soft voice. “Those that are marked are not the servitors of 'Fashion'. Nearly everyone else, save for those who are thought 'foreign' by the majority, is.”

“Fashion?” I asked. The concept only then 'hit' me.

'Fashion' drove the lives of almost everyone where I came from; for most, it was the most important thing in their lives, and for the bulk of those not of the first group mentioned, it was the entirety of life. Only those as I was thought and acted otherwise, and those who went to church were much as those who did not go when it came to the ever-changing ultra-conformist 'social gamesmanship' that truly determined who lived and who died in that place.

“As it did long ago in this area, and in much the same manner,” said the soft voice. “The other side of witchdom – the more-attractive side to the majority – may be thought of as 'Fashion' – even if 'Fashion' here and where you come from currently have little in common.”

“The societal beliefs and practices?” I thought.

“Are 'Fashion' where you come from,” said the soft voice. “Here, it might be better called Kultur.

Upon hearing this, an odd picture seemed to go with what I was hearing, and describing it beyond 'that thing looks weird' and 'is that a bird of some kind'? was utterly impossible. However, that was not the case for the word. I'd heard of 'Kultur' before, even if it most likely had a very different meaning here.

“Th-that w-word...”

“Is the black book's name for 'Fashion',” said the soft voice, “and that picture you saw was a symbol commonly associated with it in witch-owned regions before the war.” A pause, then, “getting Kultur out of people's systems in this area is going to take a full-fledged war, among many other things.”

“Oh, my,” I thought. My recollection of the hall's fight to the very last seemed to pound loudly upon my head. Only the recalled concussion of that last 'boom-bottle' I had tossed at the 'massing witches' was worse.

“That should give you an idea of just how tough and persistent that opposition is – or rather, how it would like to be,” said the soft voice. “Be glad it won't be routinely that tough.”

“Bigger numbers, though,” I thought, upon recalling the 'massing hordes' of Norden. “They don't need to be all that tough then.”

“True,” said the soft voice. “Very true.”

The day after, there was a posting, this being the 'dead' sixth. I labored until nearly the quitting time of the others upon the engine, boiler, and blower, then took a hurried bath followed by a nap before dinner. I was getting very little sleep, so much so that I slept part of the way to the house and needed beer and effort to remain awake upon post; and the way home started in the dark and ended about sunrise. It was all I could do to not bathe and resume work, but sheer fatigue prevented my doing so.

At least for an hour or two. Frankie was calling me, just like a calling sermon.

At work, the engine itself was finally coming together. Amid all the test-fitting, jury-rigging, and filing, I found myself pounding my head with first my right hand, and then my left, and finally, both of them at once; for while Georg was off on deliveries, he was not present at the shop.

And I was.

And, so were numbers of customers, with each one of these headstrong people asking me questions that I could not answer, and not bothering with questions I could answer; in every case, they were all but shouting for their things, and that as if I knew precisely where they were 'hidden'. Each one of these men or women wanted to 'throw' money at me – much like that one nightmarish food-fight in the second kingdom – and every one of those 'tossers' wanted me, upon delivery of such funds, to drop everything else I was doing and commence work upon their particular order as if I were an accursed curse-chanting 'magician' who could work miracles of production.

“No,” I thought. That furnace wasn't going to wait, even if my limited presence of mind and weary will forced me unto 'patient struggle', and I needed to take breaks from 'critical' work to work on the tame and simple routine matters that put money in Georg's exchequer. This led to further thinking, and among these thoughts was “I'm not going to accept your stinking bribes! I have no idea where Georg puts those things!”

They all acted as if I not merely handled the money, but also set the prices and all else related to my things, in addition to actually making the things my-own-self; and after saying words regarding what I did do, which was make the stuff – and did not do, which was nearly everything else, especially handle that concentrated-evil filthy-seeming nightmare-clanking stuff called money – for what was by my count the 'eighteenth' time that day and for what felt like twenty eons in the lower – and noisier – depths of hell, I finally had peace.

It was not because the people had heard an iota of my talk; it was because Georg had returned, and they had fastened themselves onto him.

“Ugh!” I grunted, and I stood up from my stool. I was covered with dirt and filings, yea, my body layered deeply with the nasty-feeling stuff; and my back had grown a knot, scoliosis, and perhaps protruding warts from 'too much blower'. I needed a break, and I wobbled slowly, much as if I was drunk – with fatigue, if not drink – to the rear doorway of the shop. As I reached the doorway, I turned around to look at the object of my laboring.

“I'm actually getting somewhere with that thing,” I thought, upon seeing a mostly-assembled crankcase with the connecting rods poking out of their respective holes and the blower housing itself beside it, “and I think I know why, too.”

I had not had to scrap anything yet, for a change.

The area immediately to the rear of the shop had more sights to amaze me: mounded bricks, these neatly piled near the furnace in slightly shaky oblongs about waist high; string tied bags of 'sand' and other materials, these also neatly stacked; neatly-cut 'building stones', these about eight inches wide, four thick, and about three high, with roughened edges that looked to have been deliberately worked over by a pointed chisel; and finally, three smallish kegs, each of them labeled neatly as 'dry-mixed mortar'.

“They had to pay a sign-painter for labeling those lids,” said the soft voice, “and that man thought very hard and long before he charged them his usual price for such work.”

“Uh, why?” I asked silently. I suspected these people were thought 'ripe for the taking' due to their 'foreign' status, much like those known to be marked were in many communities – and, I now realized, those like Rachel. She'd had to continue moving from town to town, as not even the current state of the central portion of the first kingdom made it truly safe for someone like her.

“Only the smoke and scent of several nearby burn-piles dissuaded him,” said the soft voice. “It isn't known very well, but pigs tend to also sniff out 'would-be' misers – and that type of thinking is often the start of miserhood.” A brief pause, then, “your take on those known to be marked however, is correct for attitude and seriously off regarding its prevalence.”

“As in?” I asked. I suspected the situation was much worse long in the past, especially where that foul bird with the name of Kultur held sway. I thought to pronounce the word mentally, complete with its displayed doubled umlauts – as in KÜLTÜR – and felt a potent and unmistakable 'NO'. It was nearly as bad as a rune-curse, or so I gathered.

“Yes, in those territories that were owned by witches,” said the soft voice. “Otherwise, the only places where one can be marked and expect to not be cheated at least some of the time outside of the central portion of the fourth kingdom are a handful of 'special' towns, the Valley, the marshes, and most monk-houses.”

“And this area is not one of those places,” I muttered. I wondered briefly if anyone had heard me.

“That, unfortunately, is still all too true,” said the soft voice. “Before you acquired your current 'reputation', there was a good reason you were accompanied by either Hans or Anna when you went 'shopping' – and though their reasoning then was that you were new to the area and seemed very 'naive' – in fact, to the point of seeming to be a small child regarding much of life – they know somewhat better now.”

“That I'm not like a small child?” I asked.

“No, that those known or suspected of being marked are routinely the targets of systematic 'discrimination', and that by nearly everyone.” A brief pause, then, “recall how shopkeepers were said to be toward Sarah? And then, how Hans spoke of Andreas?”

I nodded, this mentally.

“Now, how many times did you wonder if people would sell to you? Mind, you don't buy cloth or other supplies where witch-thinking tends to be more likely to be present at this time.”

“A lot of times,” I thought.

“You were sensing the commonplace attitude toward those either known or suspected to be marked,” said the soft voice, “and that attitude is both deeply ingrained and witch-fostered. More, those inducing that attitude have been using a plan that is both very old and very effective, and they've been working on it for a very long time.”

“Centuries,” I muttered. “That plan's in that black book, isn't it?”

“While the goals are more or less unchanged from the time of that book's writing,” said the soft voice, “the actual core idea-collection comes from the time between the war's true ending and the Curse. Then, several others added to and 'improved upon' what came into their hands as that document passed from arch-witch unto arch-witch, until the existing plans came into the hands of Cardosso – who then made the whole garbled and scrawled mess that existed by that time coherent and truly workable; and then he actually set it in motion, starting with those cities he then held by main force. Its effectiveness has been building slowly ever since his day.”

“And to undo this evil way of being?” I thought. Again, I could feel the presence of that stinky bird. I wondered if it was a captive pigeon, as it did look like one. I resolved to ask Sarah about it, as she had seen 'nearly every tapestry there was to see, and that with her own eyes'. Anna had said so.

“Was the near-exclusive task of one of those given to an earlier pendant,” said the soft voice. “She not only failed to achieve anything of a positive nature, but made matters significantly worse for those to follow her – and ultimately, you.”

“How, though?” I asked.

And as if to 'chide' me, I seemed to recall – it was fading in and out for some reason, and it seemed mingled with howling winds, and perchance other species and sources of howling – what Gabriel had said on the way into the bowels of the fifth kingdom house: “both possess and implement such answers... much will depend upon your actions...” and then, this clearly, “all count on you now.”

“Wonderful,” I muttered. “I ask for help...”

“And that help is coming soon,” said the soft voice. “He spoke of what he knew, which was not very much – and much of that little was shot through with a variant of Kultur.”

“Perhaps Sarah?” I thought.

“She would know more, and her information would be more reliable, but I'm afraid the matter is beyond her understanding also,” said the soft voice. “More, there is the matter of belief, and in this area...”

“Masterful in his entirety, correct?” I spluttered. This time my speech was audible, and I wondered once more if I was being heard. I suspected that had been the case, so much so that I turned and saw the front of the shop quiet and Georg – and the others – working on their work. They, after all, had not been given to a pendant, and in some small ways I mildly envied them.

“They have their own troubles,” said the soft voice, “most of which you are not privy to.” A pause, then, “you were, however, altogether correct about the matter of belief, at least among those who believe witchdom's lies about the time to come and how change will occur.”

“That led to the trouble with the other six given to these things, didn't it?” I asked.

To that, there was no answer beyond the soft wind that I felt blowing from the east; and when it continued – it helped with the shop's slowly-growing warmth, I now realized – I wondered if today would be wise to run that alloy involving the buckles. I suspected I needed to wait until I both had an east-blowing wind and all of the needed materials handy.

“And Frankie running,” I thought. “It would be best to do this while...”

And again, I felt it: the sensation of dread that I had not noticed earlier. First, a customer had spoken of things that screamed as if birthed in hell. Those had been accidents. Then, there was gossip, and only the near-complete ignorance of the vast majority of the townspeople regarding our latest work gave pause to those rumors. And then, finally, the fumes and smoke that went with the melting of gray-metal – which was something, at least in this area, was purely a matter of witchdom's interest.

“And brass-founding,” I thought. “They got to make that stuff somewhere.”

“Be glad you have not encountered any of those people,” said the soft voice. “Only a few trades are worse than printers and chemists for witchdom's beliefs and practices that are not actual witches, and brass-founders are among the worst.” A pause, then, “and your take on that gray-metal alloy is correct.”

“Meaning its fumes being seen and recognized would be nearly as bad as having a trio of Shoeten sniffing at my apron,” I thought, as I returned to my work.

“No, not quite,” said the soft voice. “Pigs in the shop would be worse, and not a little worse, as most people in town know what their presence means. In contrast, the fumes and smoke you spoke of would be matters of curiosity, at least until someone either became deathly ill from inhaling them or they were recognized for what they were.”

“And hence I must not only keep close control of my temperature while melting the buckles, copper, and tin,” I murmured, “and then add that nasty gray-metal stuff last while in a barely-molten state, but also use a special mingle-flux and a dusted charcoal covering, with the whole using a tightly covered crucible while it, uh, 'bakes'.” I would need to write these details down, as they added a great deal to what I needed to know about making that alloy. Before, I knew just enough to get into trouble.

“That will keep the smoke and fumes down to an easily-hidden level, provided you do it after hours,” said the soft voice. “All you would then need to worry about is your health.”

“Which means it's not a good idea to do it without better equipment,” I thought. My file had resumed its steadily stroking of the mating surface of one of the palm-sized cylinder heads. I would need to turn the valve forgings tonight, as well as the rods that screwed into the pistons that actually 'connected' to the connecting rods – and both needed polished round 'lapped' surfaces to work as intended, which meant overnight pack-hardening and quenching afterward, and that while in a fixture to hold them straight.

“Were you to do it regularly, yes,” said the soft voice. “Were you to do it once or twice in small batches of a crucible each, and do what you thought to do, then you could get away with it for a short time.”

“Sh-short time?” I asked.

“Recall how I spoke of help?” asked the soft voice. “How you wanted a gas mask recently?”

While I did recall such matters – the latter more than the first portion, as that smell had been so horrible and sickening that it had burned its way into my mind – I wondered about the means of such help. Would I find a gas mask in the Abbey?

“You'll find a lot of things in there,” said the soft voice, “but that help I'm speaking of will be much better than what you find in there.” A brief pause, then, “it needs to be.”