Cough Medicine, Gun Barrels, Hair-Cutting, and... Ouch! part three

Anna was waiting in the kitchen, and as the two of us set our lanterns down, she asked, “what happened?”

“He was right,” said Hans, “and we got there none too soon. That witch showed after we fetched out the first of those things, and then he rigged the front door and we went out into the back area of the place.”

“How could he?” said Anna. “You didn't tell him about the jugs, did you?”

“I could not think, it was so sudden,” said Hans, “and he seemed to know what he was doing, so I followed his lead. Then, we go around the delivery side, and as we come close to the front of the shop, that bomb went off.”

“I doubt it did much,” said Anna. “Those things weren't very big.”

“It got that witch, though,” said Hans. “It put him on the ground, and it got him solid, too, as I saw traces of blood. Then, he wasn't moving at all, so he was hurt bad.”

“What we saw on the ground was only part of the blood, Hans,” I said. “That wretch needed to be dragged into the coach by his helpers, as he wasn't moving.”

Anna seemed stunned, so much so that she found a stool and sat down. Hans continued speaking once he and I did the same.

“Then, he goes closer to the front of the place, and he hands me the string to the other one and tells me to hold it. Then, he tosses that other bomb, and it went off inside of the coach.”

“Did you see it?” asked Anna.

“It went off like a swine-shell,” said Hans, “and then they drive off with the door to that thing still open and flame coming out of it like it had three broken jugs of distillate and a bad lantern, so I think he was right about them wanting to burn the place.”

“They had a distillate-fueled lantern in that thing,” I said, “and if I went by the smell, their distillate wasn't even well-dried.”

“But I heard three explosions, and the last one sounded like dynamite,” said Anna.

“That one happened after they'd gone a ways,” said Hans, “and I saw it go. It looked like most of a box of the stuff when it went, though with it dark like it was it was hard for me to tell.”

“Were there more of those things in the forges?” asked Anna.

Hans produced his bag, then pushed it toward Anna. She untied it – I marveled at her ability to do so – and then dumped out the contents. She looked at one of the 'intact' disks, then shrieked.

“What is this?” asked Anna.

“Those things are gray-metal,” said Hans, “and they have this witch-mark on them, so that means that wretch was a witch.”

“And a well-connected witch who knew of a good foundry,” I said, as I examined one. “I wish this place had done our last batch of castings.”

“Why is that?” asked Hans.

“I've seen but a handful of castings here,” I said. “For some strange reason, mine seem to be about as clean and well-defined as I any have seen. Most castings – those machinery castings excepted – look 'decent'. This one looks to be better-executed than my very first ones.”

“I would not be so sure,” said Hans, as he looked closer at what I was holding. “I've seen those things, and they are smoother than that.”

“The bronze ones, or that thing I did for the buffing wheel?” I asked. “That was the first one I did, and these look better for finish and definition.”

“That thing was no casting,” said Hans, “nor were those things you did for the hinges. Castings need to have both of those boxes, and the right tools...”

I shook my head, then said, “perhaps that is the common 'wisdom', but are bullets considered castings?”

Hans thought for a moment, then shook his head to indicate no.

“They are where I came from,” I said. “Those are called permanent-mold castings. Then, there are sand castings, both closed and open – the first ones I did would be considered 'open' sand-castings, while the recent ones with bronze would be called 'closed' – die-castings, and then lost-wax castings. I would bet there are more types than I spoke of.”

I paused, then said, “so open-mold castings aren't considered castings? What? How do they do ingots, then?”

Hans had no idea, even if he slowly realized he didn't know much about castings beyond hearsay, opinion, his times running bullets, and a few short instances of observation in the fourth kingdom.

“Now, speaking of castings, I have that revolver bullet mould done,” I said. “I made it to have two cavities, as those are small enough to permit that many, and revolvers can spew lead faster than muskets.”

“I have never seen a mould like that,” said Hans. “I thought they could only have one place for bullets.”

“What, no gang moulds?” I asked. “Those are what you want when you need to make lots of bullets.”

“Hans, I think I know what he means,” said Anna. “Remember what that one man said about armory moulds, and how much trouble they were?”

“Trouble to make, or to use?” I asked.

“I'm not certain,” said Anna, “but I am fairly sure that there are places in the fourth kingdom that make and run those. They use nearly as much lead and tin as a shot-tower.”

After returning the 'gray-metal' disks to the bag and putting the thing in my 'junk-box' – I wanted to exhibit them as evidence prior to melting them down – I resumed working on the gunstock. I brought out the spokeshave, and as I carefully sharpened the blade, Hans picked it up.

“This is a good one here,” he said. “Now how is it you have trouble with it?”

“The angle is too steep,” I said, “so it digs in readily. Then, the bit is soft, so it needs sharpening about every half hour of use, its adjustment is really finicky, and finally, it has enough slop in it to not hold that adjustment terribly well.”

I paused, then said, “about half of the trouble is the angle and the blade itself. The other things might need replacement, and then again, they might not.”

Hans seemed disbelieving until I tried using the thing. Its contrary nature was such that after three strokes, I wanted to toss it across the room.

“Ah, that one works good,” he said.

“Good?” I shrieked. “Here, you try this thing.”

Hans promptly did, and as I watched, I was glad there was so much stock to remove, as he was wiggling the tool side to side so as to gouge off slivers and shavings of wood. After five strokes, however, he said, “I think you are right about the bit, as I could feel it going bad in a hurry.”

I pointed out his 'work', then said, “and this?”

“That is not bad,” said Hans. “That would need some work with scrapers and things like them so as to be decent.”

“N-not bad?” I gasped. “Hans, I've seen the carpenters, and they do better work than that.”

“Yes, and those people in town are better than the common,” said Hans. “Lots of them would call work like I just did good enough to get extra money.”

I slowly shook my head, and began removing the blade from the spokeshave, then when I glanced at its edge, I shuddered. It had gone dull in less than two minutes of use.

“At least I can make another blade tomorrow,” I thought. “I have no idea where Georg got his figure of two weeks, as I doubt I have that much.”

The next morning prior to breakfast, I began working on the spokeshave. I carefully marked a line at the rear of the thing, and began filing. The soft metal – it was the softest tool I'd worked on so far among those things Albrecht had brought me – was such that I wondered for a moment how such tools actually lasted, until I recalled its common use.”

“Soft material, so a soft tool is thought acceptable,” I thought. “At least it seems passable in the workmanship department.”

I resharpened the bit, then put it back in the tool, and tried it on the stock. The shavings seemed a bit 'better', but once I'd taken it apart again, I noted not merely the dull blade of the thing, but also the 'wear' on the spokeshave itself.

“Did they case-harden these things?” I thought. “As in it was 'hard' on the surface, and then butter below that?”

A touch of a file to several areas confirmed my suspicions: the bit had received a very thin, almost superficial treatment of some kind that made what otherwise looked like dead-soft wrought iron behave like a full-polish wrench for hardness, while the spokeshave itself showed less hardness yet.

“At least the workmanship is passable,” I said, “if not much else. Dead-soft metal, very little slag, and good forging, but still, dead-soft metal for both parts. I'll need to carburize the spokeshave itself once I get the thing close to where I want it, and before I do anything further, I need a new bit – or, perhaps, a selection of bits.”

“Will we need to go wooding today?” I asked at breakfast. 'Dawn' was still two hours or more away, even though it felt like the usual time.

“I doubt it,” said Anna. “Why, do you need to do something away from home?”

“I need to spend some time in the shop,” I said, “though hopefully not a lot. I need to make a new spokeshave blade, harden a drop-hammer die, and then harden the spokeshave itself after I get it right. Otherwise, I can do much of what I need to do at home.”

“But can't that work wait until next year?” said Anna. “You need to stay home and rest.”

Hans shook his head, then said, “I doubt that would be good. Anna, that one man will want his gun before then, as I have asked around some.”

“But those usually take a year to make,” said Anna. Again, I heard that plaintive voice that seemed to demand I practice 'sloth' and 'indolence' as per the time-honored 'custom' of the area.

“Is it the time of year?” I asked. “As in everything shuts down during winter?”

“It might not completely stop,” said Anna, “but most people are preparing for Festival Week right now, and otherwise they are resting.”

“Yes, and he is not most people,” said Hans. “This is the start of one of the busy times for me, as medicine is best made during this time...”

“And it isn't going to slacken in my case,” I said. “It will get busier yet with the new year.”

I paused, then asked, “now how is it you found out about that man and his weapon?”

“That jeweler at the king's house,” said Hans. “That black-dressed fellow is there a lot, and he overheard him speaking of that lock you had done.”

“Supposedly Georg told him what we needed to do,” I said, “including make a lot of new equipment and do things that aren't commonly done up here.”

“I think Georg promised him what he wanted to hear,” said Hans. “He was talking like he'd have it finished in a big hurry.”

“A year?” I asked.

“They do not take a year to make guns in the fifth kingdom,” said Hans. “They turn those things out a lot faster than that, even fancy-looking ones like that man brought in.”

“But don't they take that long in the fourth kingdom?” asked Anna.

“Yes, if you go to a few places that make the very best ones, and have them do one to order,” said Hans. “They might take a few weeks otherwise when they are making them in numbers, if they have the tools to do that.”

“A big hurry?” I asked.

“Yes, working long days all the days of the week, and doing nothing else but his gun,” said Hans.

“I told Georg that those people believe what they want to believe,” I said, “and I think I was right. Then, there was that paper he delivered.”

“Now what was this paper?” asked Hans.

“Georg said it was an indenturement paper,” I said, “but it was very confusing to read. As far as I could tell, that paper said he basically owned the shop and its workers for the duration...”

Hans looked at me, as did Anna, even as I stopped in mid-sentence. While Georg had said the thing was no good, I suddenly knew he was utterly and completely wrong. It didn't matter if none of us had signed it.

Black-Cap had, and so had his good friend the Magistrate, and the document wasn't an indenturement paper. Its language was deliberately confusing; its mention of 'cheese', 'tall mountains', 'barrels of wine', and 'rotten cabbage' was a carefully-written smokescreen; its familiar-looking format was specifically intended to conceal its true purpose. More importantly, its not mentioning specifications or other matters germane to a 'contract' was a deliberate omission.

I was expected to read Black-Cap's mind, as befitting my 'defined' status as a witch, and deliver unto him as per his inclination of the moment, as befitting my other status, that being his fully-owned and completely controlled slave.

“Th-that document acts like a c-curse,” I muttered.

“What document is this?” asked Hans.

“That 'indenturement paper',” I said. “Black-Cap gave us this document that was done in a print-shop...”

“I think I had best look at this thing,” said Hans, “as I have heard of some of the tricks those black-dressed witches do to cheat people, and this thing you are talking about sounds as likely as anything.”

I gathered up my supplies as per normal for working, and Hans and I left in the pre-dawn stillness. The silence of town spoke of its deathlike slumber, and once in the shop, I lit the student's lantern with the smaller one I had taken with me.

While I checked over my 'responsibilities', Hans began looking for the paper in question. He seemed an accomplished searcher, for within minutes, he came to where I was building a fire in the oven with a paper in his hand.

“Is this it?” he asked.

I glanced to the side as I ceased my loading of wood, then nodded.

“This one is trouble,” said Hans. “I have heard of this type.”

“Does it truly give Black-Cap the ability to ruin all of our lives if we don't read his mind and do as he wishes, and that to the ultimate degree in all senses?”

“I am not sure if this thing does that,” said Hans, “but the way these are said to work is those people that use them can do nearly anything they want.”

“Close enough to what I said,” I asked. “There isn't much of a legal system in the area, so a 'decree' like this has no possibility of defense beyond doing as the issuer wishes and then hoping he likes the outcome.”

Hans seemed dumbfounded, even as I resumed fueling the oven with wood. He didn't speak until I actually lit the oven's fuel and closed its door.

“I think you might be right,” he said. “I want to show this thing to Anna, so she knows that you need to do what you can.”

“You might wish – no, it won't do much good,” I said.

“What will not do much good?” said Hans.

“The king will not wish to be bothered with such trivialities as this,” I said, “and even if he were willing to help, he would not be able to stop things like what has happened recently.”

Hans was again dumbfounded, so much so that when I turned to look again, he was gone.

“Good enough,” I said. “If I want to stay alive, I had best not count on anyone to care about me in a positive sense – save, perhaps, God.”

I was grinding on the die so as to clean it up when I was 'rudely' jostled. I was so startled that I flung the die into the air such that it landed several feet away, and I turned to see Anna. Her face seemed the very picture of fury, and as I gently moved her away from the grinding wheel – she seemed utterly unaware of how dangerous it was when turning, as well as how unwise it was to interrupt my using it – I wondered if she were angry at me.

I wondered even more how I knew she was 'angry', beyond a steadily growing familiarity with her expressions. I still had a fair amount of trouble deciphering her facial expressions just the same.

“Do you wish me to come home and sleep as per your inclination of the moment?” I asked. I could not keep the acid out of my voice if I tried.

“Why are you speaking to me like that?” she said.

“First, you nearly drove my fingers into the grindstone,” I said, “and it felt like you did so with the specific goal of injuring me. Then, earlier today, when you spoke of my not working until next year, there was not merely an aspect of 'this must not be done' that I heard, but also, 'I want you to be home, because I wish it, and that for my own reasons, and you must not do otherwise'.”

“That might not be the case,” said Hans, as he came in with a wicker basket and jug, “but I know she does not want you to be working so hard, what with you most likely being sick.”

“Did you explain what that paper meant?” I asked.

“Yes, and she believes what you said about it,” said Hans, “and how if you do not work as you are able, then we all will be in trouble.”

“Then why did you jostle me and nearly grind my fingers off?” I asked gently.

“How else was I to get your attention?” said Anna sullenly. “When you are like that, the place could be on fire and you would not notice it.”

“I have no answer for that,” I said as I went to pick up the forging. “On second thought, perhaps I do. You might just wait to the side, like you do at home, and I will see you sooner or later when my concentration wanders.”

“Especially when he is grinding, Anna,” said Hans. “Those things don't just take off metal, they take off fingers, too.”

“As I well know,” I said, as I looked at my fingers to see faint abrasions. “Now, what are we – no, you two – going to do about that paper? I know what I need to do.”

“I have no idea,” said Anna, “other, than perhaps make certain you don't have more trouble than you already have.”

“Meaning not much,” I said. “Then again, there isn't much you can do, so I don't fault you.”

I paused, then said, “almost the whole thing is in my hands now, and it feels like I'm being crushed under the weight.”

“That was why I wanted you to stay home and rest,” said Anna. “This is not good for you.”

For some reason, I knew that what Anna had just spoken was a lie of the blackest description, and her true reasons for having me home were for her benefit – and her benefit alone. I wondered how to test my suspicions, even as I resumed filing on the die.

The two of them left but minutes later, and then finally, I felt at 'peace', or as close to that state as was possible while knowing people around me were plotting my demise in one form or another. I cleaned up the die to the 'passable' level – beyond the proper shape, crack-prevention was my sole concern – and then packed it in the largest cooking container I had, along with a load of charcoal.

The oven was ready for charcoal, and after stoking it and putting the container on the step, I latched the door closed. I needed to get a forge going quickly.

While the forge 'warmed to its task', I began selecting the likeliest-looking pieces of common and 'better' iron, then began cooking them in the flames so as to remove their scale. I brought over the lye crock, and as I began 'dipping' the twisted rods in the lye while trying not to vomit, I heard steps behind me. I turned to see Hans.

“She went home and went back to bed,” he said, “as I think I know why she was doing like she did.”

“It's still 'too dark' outside?” I asked, even as I looked at the door to see a steadily lightening sky. It wasn't quite dawn yet – at least, winter-dawn. Falling snow tended to greatly confuse the issue.

“I think so,” said Hans. “Most people tend to stay in bed when it is not good and bright outside.”

“Meaning workdays that are perhaps three or four hours long this time of year,” I said, “and life more or less does come to a near-complete halt. Did she say why she demanded that I stay home?”

“When you are there, then it is easier to work,” said Hans. “I am used to working where candles do the lighting, so that is not affected much by the time of year, but she is not like that.”

“And the 'custom'?” I asked.

“That is staying in bed unless it is good and bright,” said Hans. “We've been up a lot more than is usual for this time of year because of your working like you do.”

“And if I'm not home,” I said, “there is no reason to be up, I take it.”

“That might not be completely true,” said Hans, “but I think she might well believe that to be so.”

“Why did you come back?” I asked.

“Mostly as I needed to put that paper back in his desk,” said Hans, “and then, I might be able to help with some things. I doubt I can do much, though.”

“There isn't much to do here,” I said. “I'm waiting for that forge to get lit, and until then, I am getting these pieces ready for that barrel. Then, once the forge is going, I'll need to forge out two or more spokeshave blades, as well as... Hans, someone spoke of a drawknife some time ago. What are those like here?”

While Hans cleaned one of my slates, I resumed twisting the bars. I had the impression that I would also need to forge them out, then possibly cook them in a cooking container. I suspected I would need to make another cooking container, so much so that when I went out to fetch more iron, I began looking for likely-looking pieces of sheet.

I found a sheet of iron that seemed possible for size and shape, and when I came back with it and more rods, I noticed Hans putting some charcoal in the forge with tongs.

“Good, you won't get so dirty that way,” I said. “Did anything ever happen with that apron?”

“That needs someone doing it that knows more about leather than either of us,” said Hans, “and finding people that do aprons is not easy, especially right now. Why, is your old one going bad?”

“It's dirty enough to drive me crazy,” I said, “especially if I touch it with my hands. I have to wash my hands in a forge bucket whenever they get a little dirty.”

“Yes, and I am glad you do,” said Hans. “Anna has spoken of clean hands and sickness.”

“That isn't why,” I said. “Certain sensations are very pleasant, and certain others border on torture.”

Hans left once I began using the hammer, and within a surprisingly short time, I had forged out not merely three blanks for the spokeshave, but also began working on more mould-blocks. Black-Cap's weapon would need its own bullet mould – I already had made the tongs needed – as well as a pair of powder measures and cleaning equipment, and...

“Screwdrivers, also,” I murmured as I ran the blast. “At least I can do those quickly enough.”

By the time I had forged out the twisted pieces for the barrel-making rods, I was in need of liquid, and I drank off a mug full of cider, followed by two of water. I then began grinding on the pieces for the spokeshave.

Again, 'functionality' was the byword, and I spent no more time on them than was needed. I heat-treated them after testing for fit in the spokeshave, then stoned their working edges. I wondered about the piece of wood, and how much trouble it would be to get it 'close' in the shop so as to avoid a mess in the house.

I heard what sounded like a buggy heading south a short time later, and I turned to see the 'sun' finally showing itself by making the cracks in the door stand out brightly amid the otherwise near-black dimness at the very front of the shop. I guessed it was about the time of the morning guzzle, and when I checked the oven through one of the small cracks that had grown, I saw its interior a bright red-orange.

“I wonder if I can go home soon?” I thought. “I need to test that spokeshave before I do.”

I found a piece of wood, then put in the 'flat' blade and adjusted it. I tried it on the wood, and was astonished to find that not merely did the thing actually cut, but it was also much easier to control. I wondered if I could improve it more, so much so that as I removed the blade, I looked at the thing.

“That stock needs the best tools I can find,” I thought, “so I need to do this one as best as I can, at least for function. I can fix the appearance and other 'faults' later.”

I tried reducing the angle slightly, then tried it again. This time, the aspect of control improved markedly, so much so that when I turned the thing over, I thought, “now I just need to true up the bottom properly, clean it up where I can, strap the handles for a bit, and then cook it. The other hardware I can do on the lathe when and as I have time.”

The spokeshave went in its own cooking container but twenty minutes later, and as I looked at the drawing Hans had left me, I wondered as to its size. As I sat pondering it over a mug of water, I spied movement in the door, and turned to see first Anna come in, then Hans.

“Did you drive south?” I asked.

“Yes, and that coach was scattered good by that dynamite,” said Hans. “There was almost nothing left of it except for a big hole in the road.”

“Hole?” I asked.

“Dynamite does that when it explodes,” said Hans. “I was wondering if you wanted that big piece of wood here, as I was telling Anna about what kind of a mess you would make getting it to size.”

“I would make a mess, especially when I'm roughing the thing out,” I said. “I was wondering about how big this drawknife was supposed to be.”

“Those are usually about two feet across,” said Hans, “but those are for carpenters. You might want a smaller one for this.”

“Now why did you do these things like this?” asked Anna, as she picked up the spokeshave blades.

“In what way?” I asked.

“They look terrible,” she said, “and then two of them are shapes I've never seen before.”

“I can always clean them up properly after I test them fully,” I said evenly. “Those are experiments, more or less – that, and I need to save time when and where I can right now. If they work out, I'll stone them smoother once I finish Black-Cap's weapon.”

“Why can't you grind them, though?” asked Anna.

“He did that,” said Hans as he pointed to a spot on one of the blades, “and I can see what he is talking about. This is like a plow-point, Anna – the shape is the thing, that and how it works. Shiny plows don't help much when you have a lot of fields to do, even if most think they look nicer than the common.”

“It depends on where they are shiny,” I said. “Certain places might actually help. Now, look at where the pins bear on the blade, then at the edge. I did a decent job there, as I needed to test those blades. I'll get those parts better once the spokeshave is heat-treated.”

“Is this where the part becomes a mottled gray color?” asked Anna.

“Yes, it is,” I said. “I'll need to stone the bottom of the thing so it slides easier. I already cleaned up and strapped the handles.”

The two of them left when I began forging the drawknife out. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to make this odd-looking 'boomerang', and once the thing was sitting in the ash-pile, I wondered what next I needed to do – other than find more rods suitable for barrel-making.

Those took a short time, then as I cleaned them in the fire and then twisted them, I again heard steps behind me. This time, Hans had brought the wood piece with him, as well as what looked like the small ax I had first made.

“How am I going to use that?” I asked, as I looked at the ax.

“I think you might try it,” said Hans, “as I can see places where he did that.”

“Hans, I suspect...”

I stopped in mid-sentence, then clamped the stock up in a rag-padded vise. I began using the ax, and within seconds, I knew it was the wrong tool for me, especially when the bit sank in nearly a quarter inch with a feeble swing.

“Now how does this help?” I asked. “Do I just pry the wood off?”

“I did not think of that,” said Hans. “You might want to use what works for you, as you are not that man, and he is not you.”

“Meaning his hatchet was the twin of that soft-headed thing we were using when I first came,” I said, “and only by lengthy hours of steadily chopping did he make any progress. Is that likely?”

While Hans had nothing to say, I brought out my sack of wood chisels and began attacking the stock using one of the largest ones and a mallet. Here, I chipped out the pieces from where the hatchet had cut, and as the chips flew, Hans tried to gather them up and bag them.

“You might do it that way for the worst of it,” said Hans, “as I think you were right about his hatchet.”

“I need to twist more of those rods,” I said. “I can just tell we'll need to make at least two or three more barrels until we get one good enough for that man's gun.”

Twisting the rods went rapidly, and when I took a break, Hans was clumsily trying to chip out a piece of wood with the mallet and chisel. He was doing more prying than chiseling, and only when I showed him how I went about the matter did he stop attempting to break the chisel he was using.

“I must not have been watching you very good,” he said, “as I did not realize how you did that work.”

“Watch closer, then,” I said evenly. “Now see that ax-cut? Watch how I come in at an angle here, then tap the chisel gently. See? Now I'll do it again from the other side.”

“Yes, and you have a really strange piece of wood now,” said Hans.

“That isn't the half of it,” I said. “I'm glad I have a good wood-saw, as I'm going to need to trim off a piece of this thing.”

“Why is that?” asked Hans.

“I might well keep Black-Cap's gun full-stocked, as it came that way,” I said, “but I don't much want that type for mine.”

“Why is that the case?” asked Hans.

“Full-stocked guns were very rare where I came from,” I said, “even for those that loaded from the front. The type I'm thinking of for this gun has the wood stop somewhere between four and fifteen inches from the muzzle, and the shape is very different from the common here, just like how Black-Cap's weapon uses barrel-bands and not pins.”

“Are you going to use pins for yours?” asked Hans.

“I'm more familiar with barrel-bands,” I said. “They tend to make for somewhat easier cleaning, actually, and they take a little less time to make so they fit correctly, especially given I can cast them nearly to size. Bronze doesn't shrink much here, for some reason.”

I periodically stopped with my twisting of the iron rods to chop on the stock more, while Hans cut the wood away from the ax cuts. After making a series of ax-cuts twice, I began chopping at an angle, alternating my blows right to left at a forty-five degree angle. The chips flew steadily, and after twenty minutes or so, I had a rough approximation of what the underside of the gunstock looked like. I turned the blank over, then began working on the rear portion of the stock. Ten minutes later, I was ready for the saw, and as I tried to see where to cut, I prayed.

The feeling I had was to shorten the blank nearly a foot, and as the blade zipped through the wood, I could hear Hans muttering. I finished the cut and caught the piece of wood, then said, “this one will work for new grips on that pistol.”

“Now you have done it,” said Hans. “I had no idea you could take that much wood off that fast.”

“I think I figured out how to use the hatchet that way,” I said. “Expect me back a little after lunch – oh, and if possible, bring the buggy so I can get all of the stuff at once. I'd just as soon not make three or four trips with all this stuff.”

By the time in question – the die quenched, tempered, and mounted, the spokeshave ready for use, and the drawknife ready for its handles – I had chiseled off the worst of the 'ax-damage', and had reduced the bulk of the stock markedly. I also had something that looked roughly appropriate to what I had envisioned, and when Anna showed in the shop, she was amazed.

“I had no idea you could do so much,” she said, “though why you did that wood piece that way makes me wonder. Will you make a short musket?”

“No, dear,” I said calmly. “This is like what I remember this type of rifle looked like. The ones in common use around here are similar to ones about a hundred years older than what I'm thinking about.”

I paused, then said, “at least this one is close enough to done that I can do the rest at home if I can borrow a sheet.”

“Yes, after I am done with it,” said Anna.

“What are you using a sheet for?” I asked.

“Cutting hair,” said Anna. “I managed Hans' passably for practice, and I can try yours.”

“After I bathe?” I asked.

“That, lunch, and then I can cut it,” said Anna. “I've wondered about your hair for the longest time.”

“I don't wonder about hair cutting,” I thought. “I've fallen asleep then more times than I can think of.”

At lunch – soup of some kind; I was preoccupied with the knowledge that I needed to work as long and as hard as I could each day between now and Festival Week, so I barely tasted what I was eating – I wondered as to how Hans' hair had somehow become so much shorter. It had lost nearly three inches.

“How do you trim hair?” I asked.

“I needed to borrow some scissors,” said Anna, “and I'll need to give them back tomorrow.”

“Scissors?” I asked.

“Yes, you get those things, and a little clump of hair,” said Hans, “and then cut some of that clump off, and do another. With you working like you do, it is either cut it when we can, or let it get long enough to cause trouble with fires.”

“That distillate in the kitchen,” I muttered, as I touched my hair. I was shocked at how long it had become.

“It was short enough after,” said Hans, “but it has grown back and then some since.”

Once the sheet in question was draped around my shoulders, Anna began cutting my hair. As she gathered small clumps of the stuff, I could hear muttering amid the shivering noise of the scissors. After some minutes, she ran her hands through my hair so as to clear it of what she had removed, and the tingling sensation was of such intensity I nearly moaned – until, for some reason, she touched the back of my neck and began rubbing it gently. I then fell asleep with no warning to awaken to see Anna looking me directly in the face.

“Now why did you go to sleep like that?” she asked.

“You were rubbing my neck,” I said in a drowsily relaxed voice. “Besides, I've gone to sleep when having my hair cut before.”

“Why?” she asked.

“It's very relaxing,” I said, again in a drowsily relaxed voice, “and also intensely pleasurable. Had you rubbed my back, I most likely would have fainted, it feels so good.”

Anna resumed muttering before she resumed trimming my hair.

“Why are you muttering so much?” I asked.

“Your hair is the finest I've ever seen,” said Anna, “and these scissors aren't very good. They might work passably on Hans' hair, but yours is finer than that of a new baby, and they do not wish to cut.”

After my hair was done, I felt it gently with my hands, and then carried the sheet out into the rear area. The manure-pile was notable in both its steaming and its lack of snow, and as I scattered the thick brown 'chunks', I noted tufts of blond hair as well. I gave the sheet a final flick, then returned to the kitchen through the bathroom.

It was now mid-afternoon, or so it seemed, and after 'lashing up' the stock, I began to first use the drawknife to peel long thin curling shavings of wood off of the stock. After a few minutes, I looked down to see the rapidly growing mound of shavings on the sheet beneath my legs, then looked to the side to see Anna.

“Now it's looking much better,” she said. “I had no idea it was possible to shape one of those things that quickly.”

“I didn't either,” I said, as I took a break from the drawknife. “I'll most likely clean up those spokeshave blades shortly, and then try it out on this thing.”

By dinnertime, I had gone almost as far as I could without having all of the metal pieces done, and I had cleaned up both drawknife and spokeshave. The stock now looked much like what I had had in mind, and as I began work on the mould blocks, I wondered how large his bullets were actually going to be. Georg hadn't mentioned anything about the desired bore of his gun, and balls were not easy to cut cherries for, unlike what I had done before the last mould.

“That revolver one took three cherries to get one that was close to round,” I thought. “I wonder if he'll cope with a hollow base projectile?”

As I worked on the blocks, however, I suddenly had an impression: make the gun such that it could shoot 'bought' balls using patches, and then make the mould such that it would give a tight fit for the slugs. Again, there were unknowns, but the decision to do so did make it possible to get the needed pieces fairly close to size at this time.

“And two bigger mandrels, most likely, and boring 'reamers', and perhaps a few other things,” I thought.

By Monday morning, however, I had made a substantial amount of progress, and I came with a bulging 'bag of tricks' to the shop long prior to 'dawn'. There, I began firing the oven and two forges, and as I laid out my iron pieces for the drop-hammer, I looked at the large and growing mandrel collection.

“I imagine they didn't like my forging those things yesterday,” I thought, as I began working on the commonplace – and quieter – things in the shop, “and hopefully, we can do a decent barrel today.”

The others came in shortly after 'sunrise', and this time, I was prepared fully once they were ready to work. The forging went smoother than both prior instances; the combination of a more-effective flux, careful metal preparation, higher welding heats, and rotating all three men on the crank made for a rough-forged barrel within an hour and a half.

After driving out the mandrel, I put in the next-smaller one, and began hand-forging. I seemed to have impressions as to how far the metal needed to be compressed, and by the time I had gotten it 'down', I had an uncommonly thick looking cylinder slightly more than three feet long. I also knew I needed even larger mandrels yet, and I sent the others out with bronze slugs so as to find usable metal pieces.

When Gelbhaar came in with a rough-looking bar nearly an inch and a half across, he said, “this one looks likely, as it has been sitting a while.”

“Does that help much?” I asked.

“I've noticed that the rust is a bit different on bad pieces,” he said, “and the even-looking ones tend to be better. This one isn't bad.”

“It will need to be forged down to size a little,” I said. “The drop-hammer should help with it.”

While the others used the drop-hammer to forge the round to the 'indicated' dimensions – straight, round, rust-free, and clean being what I emphasized – I began setting up the latest barrel on the boring 'machine'. The first reamer made it from one end to the other smoothly, and as I fitted one a trifle larger, I wasn't surprised that it had not fully cleaned up the bore. I had felt places where it didn't cut evenly, hence I needed the next one in line.

The second reamer also cut smoothly, but as I detached it from the end of the boring bar, I knew I needed a third one to both fully 'clean' and straighten the bore. After it had passed fully – clean cutting metal the whole way – I cleaned out the bore, and set the student's lantern at one end of the barrel, and looked down the tube from the other end.

The shine of the barrel's inner surface was astonishing, and as I turned it carefully, I noted its straightness. I put the barrel in a vise, cut the ends with a hacksaw, and then used a special 'barrel-truer' to clean up the ends. I then measured it with a 'tape'.

“Thirty-four inches and fifty-six lines,” I murmured. “That's about the usual length for musket barrels around here, or is it?”

While I was unsure as to 'custom's' demands as to barrel length or much else, I was thoroughly glad to have a usable barrel, and when I set up the grindstone with a 'rest' so as to take the 'bark' off of the barrel, the questions I received were many and varied. The most common one had to do with the heft of the thing.

“I've never done a barrel before,” I said as I continued spinning the barrel while moving it left to right, “and this one needs further testing before I try to get it as thin as the barrels I've seen around here. Remember, this is a new process, and I'm still not sure how it will work out.”

I paused in both speaking and grinding, then asked, “what is the usual length for musket barrels?”

“Those vary some,” said Georg, “but that one you have there looks about right for length. Now how much are you going to grind that thing down?”

“Mostly until it's straight and round,” I said. “I found out exactly what that piece of paper Black-Cap gave us means.”

“What does it mean?” asked Georg.

“It isn't an indenturement paper,” I said. “It is a very tricky ruse to get us all in trouble if that man doesn't receive the gun of his dreams when he next comes back. It seems Hans has heard of papers like that one, and he said they were commonly used by those black-dressed people.”

“What do they do, though?” asked Georg.

“That paper essentially makes us, this shop, and everything we own, do, and think to do his property,” I said, “and that from the time he delivered that document until the time he burns that paper in front of witnesses. More importantly, that type of document does not need all parties signing on it – it just needs the important people's signatures. It has those, those being his and that of the magistrate.”

I paused, to see if I was being heard. The silence of the place, save for the still-turning grinding wheel slowly coasting down, was uncanny.

“Yes, it is entirely 'legal',” I said, “and no, we have no way of 'dodging' our responsibilities as his fully-owned slaves. All we can do is deliver as per his demands and our obligations.”

“But they don't have slaves up here,” said Georg.

Wrong,” I said emphatically. “They do, we are, and that document names us as his property to do with as he feels inclined. Here, fetch that thing out and I'll show you precisely what I mean.”

While Georg began looking in his desk, I washed my hands carefully of grime, and once I had done so, I came closer. For some reason, I had the impression that something was going to show up that had not yet showed before, and when Georg unfolded the paper, another small scrap fell out. He picked up this last up, then looked at me.

“Yes, read it,” I asked. “Or is it written in something you do not understand?”

He handed it to me, and I nearly turned as white as a sheet.

Under the heading 'Geheimnung' I read the following in a quaking voice:

I desire a new weapon, and I shall have it, come

what may, and I will compel that witch to do my

bidding, as is my decree and his duty to me as his

lord and master. I have the desire, the money, and the

position, so all shall be as I wish, with no possibility

of denial whatsoever. As I will it, so shall it be.”

The pale expressions I saw on the others now matched my own, and I asked quietly, “did he think Hieronymus still worked here, or was he thinking of me?”

With no answer forthcoming, I waited for what seemed an epoch, then said, “or is this merely a general thing with close-men – as in, 'all of those wretches are witches, every stinking one of them, and I'm better than they are, so I can give orders and expect them to be carried out regardless'?”

Again, there was no answer coming from the others, and only once I had looked again at the document itself did I have reason to wonder why.

The wide-spaced lines that I had seen before now had other lines between them, and the dark reddish-brown figures spelled out a number of rune-writ curses. I looked at the others, and saw plastic-seeming expressionless faces.

“Hello,” I said quietly as I waved my hand in front of Georg's face. “Is there anyone home?”

The sense I had of sleep was so profound I muttered, “no, we have work to do. Wake up, please.”

With faint moans and grievous shuddering Georg awoke, then so did the others. The runes on the document now burned redly and moved around as if paper-embossed insects.

“No, no trouble,” I said. “Quit bothering these people, but otherwise remain permanent, so we can show that wretch – oh, and let his affirmation sheet...”

I paused in mid-sentence, then said, “is that what he actually had in mind when he sat down with that magistrate to ink those curses?”

While there was no answer, I put the two pieces of paper side-by-side and looked at them. The correlation between the two became steadily more apparent, such that it was obvious that the small piece of paper indicated what the man wished to do, and the curses were his means of achieving his desire.

“I think I'm going to hide that smaller piece of paper,” I said, “as that's our way of getting out from under his control. We still have to deliver a gun, or rather, I do.”

I paused, then said, “now, was that fellow thinking of Hieronymus, or was he thinking of me, or did he have some kind of a vague idea about so-called close-men as a group?”

“What idea was that?” asked Georg.

“He might have thought all 'close-men' were witches,” I said, “and based on the descriptions I've heard from you all, it sounds plausible.”

“All close-men are witches?” asked Georg.

“I'm not certain about that,” I said. “I am certain that idea sounds plausible to Black-Cap and those like him.” A brief pause, then “did Hieronymus act like that?”

“That black-dressed man was worse for behavior and smell,” said Johannes, “but the two of them were much closer for behavior than either man is to you.”

I realized that 'gun-work', outside of the process for actually making barrels, was to be after-hours, as the usual 'shop-day' was short enough to be bothersome. 'Sunrise' to lunch-time – that hadn't changed; stomachs were as reliable a clock for the others as mine was unreliable for me – was only about three hours, and then 'quitting time' wasn't much more than an hour and a half after lunch ended.

“Given the paucity of watches, I'm not surprised,” I thought, as the others filed out into the late afternoon's slow-drifting snow. “Georg may have a watch, but so far, he's the only person I've seen with a timepiece other than the sun.”

With the others gone, I began twisting, cleaning, and welding pieces for another barrel, then as a break from iron, I began molding bronze rifle pieces. Only when I had loaded up the previously-existing flasks did I notice two more flasks had arrived.

“Good,” I thought. “I can load both crucibles, perhaps. Now I'll need to make those patterns for powder-flasks tonight.”

While the bronze melted, I scavenged around for wooden pieces, then sawed and 'coarse-chiseled' them roughly to shape, then when it was time, I poured the bronze. I would need to do 'fire watch' until the stuff was ready to shake out – and while I did 'fire-watch', I could forge pieces needed for 'my' gun.

I had in mind to make a partly hollow breech-plug, and as I forged it and some of the other iron pieces, the needed shapes occurred to me. I didn't have much time to make the lock, even if I had most of the other pieces made.

I spent long hours that evening sawing, filing, chiseling, and drilling, and in the morning, I slogged to work with a weary mind and aching hands. I hadn't waited for breakfast, as there was no time to waste, and once I began the usual starting routine, I wondered what I needed to do, even as I gnawed a piece of bread I had kept over from the night before.

The obvious things were those commonplace and quiet products, those things that didn't involve much hammering or hard rivets, and as I raised copperware in the light of the student's lantern and a red-glowing forge, I tried keeping my eyes open. I'd have more castings to do this afternoon once the others had left.

The others seemed to have acquired a measure of comprehension regarding barrel-making, for we ran another barrel in a bit more than two hours, then a second one after lunch once they'd rested up. I had to more or less skip nearly all of my lunch, what with the work I needed to do, and during my breaks, I had to answer questions, chiefly about the castings that I'd laid out for Black-Cap's weapon. I paused to request a favor.

“Could one of you whittle some on a smaller version of the hilt and butt-cap for a knife?” I asked.

While willingness wasn't an issue – both men were entirely willing – their seeming capacity was of such a low level, and their work so poor, that I considered the outcome of such efforts to be a waste of time. Once they'd all left, I thought to look again at the pieces that had been whittled on.

“They might be slow, and this work might be rough, but it saved me some time,” I thought, as I bagged the pieces and slipped them into my larger bag.

I ran the castings for my rifle, and while standing fire-watch afterward, I worked on the two barrels we had forged that day.

Here, I saw the merits of batch-mode, as while one of them was heating, I could forge the other. I continued pounding until I was tired, then noticed how I actually felt.

I was spent, worn out to the point of feeling ill, and I needed to eat.

After guzzling two mugs of cider, I thought to do more work of a quieter nature, and as I raised the pieces for another set of three heating lamps, I wondered as to whether I would have time to finish what was needed. Black-Cap was ready to spring his mine now, but he had other things that needed his attention currently – that, and he wished to savor our pain when he ruined us and led us off as his true-slaves. To that end, he wanted to 'crush' us at the very beginning of Festival Week itself.

Witchdom had its own holidays, and Festival Week wasn't included among them.

“Does that man want his gun, or does he wish our destruction?” I thought, as I rotated the upper portion of a heating lamp under the steady tapping of the hammer. “Or does his inclination run along the lines of 'get the gun first, and kill its makers afterward'?”

A second's pause, then “why am I so certain he wants us dead? Is that just the way of witches in general, to kill their slaves for amusement?”

Another seconds pause, then a truly troubling train of thought: “what if I stand up to him, and force him to burn his paper in front of witnesses I choose? Will that make him quit?”

Such thinking carried over into the evening at home, where I again stayed up late filing, chiseling, carving, and drilling – and here, the speed at which I worked was astounding, so much so that the chips of bronze flew like a miniature hailstorm as I cleaned up Black-Cap's trigger-guard. I was glad for the simple aspects of fitting his weapon up just the same – and I was gladder yet I had made the barrel band patterns so oversize.

The next day, we forged but one barrel, and while the others busied themselves with finding the metal needed – we were running 'low' on suitable stock, as Georg's long-hoarded supply of suitable metal needed replenishment – I resumed hand-forging barrels. The first one of the day before cleaned up at roughly the common musket bore, or about a sixteenth bigger than the one I'd chosen, while number two was but slightly bigger. I had to set my sights on the one we had done today, and as I pounded it after the others went home, I began praying. We weren't getting nearly close enough at the speed needed to avert disaster.

The others seemed oblivious to the issue, and they could do but little anyway. The matter was all on my shoulders.

I stayed late enough to begin boring the latest barrel, and it cleaned up the largest yet, with an inner diameter of thirty-six lines. I took that particular barrel, and set it aside. It most likely would do for Black-Cap's weapon, and I just hoped I could find samples of musket balls so as to gage them properly.

At home, I began fitting up the lockwork for my weapon. I had an idea as to the outer barrel size, and as I filed on the various pieces, I was thoroughly glad the lock was simpler. The swarf fairly spewed off, and as I filed late into the night, I noted the shape had subtly changed from that of the patterns I had used for flintlocks, as had the hammer, its tumbler, the sear, and the mainspring. The parts would need hardening the next morning, followed by hard-fitting, and then, I could begin the final assembly of the weapon.

The first half of the next day flew by in a near-blur, with the others now resting weary arms from cranking the drop-hammer so much. I barely had eyes for them, even as the noises in the shop indicated a certain level of business, and when I sipped from my mug, I noted that not merely was its level remaining nearly the same, but also someone had a cloth-covered plate near where I was working. I thought to check it, and found that someone had sliced bread with what looked like cooked meat. It was close to lunchtime, as far as I could tell.

“W-who did this?” I gasped, as I sucked down cider.

“I went and got that at the Public House for you,” said Georg. “I didn't believe you at first about that paper, but I've asked some since.”

“And?” I asked, between bolted bites of meat and bread.

“He might not be able to do as much as is common to the south with those things,” said Georg, “but he can cause us more trouble than any sane man would wish.”

“Burn all of us on burn-piles, and sell the entire town into slavery?” I gasped.

“This isn't the fifth kingdom house, so I doubt that,” said Georg. “I suspect he could cause you the most trouble, as I did find out who he was after the most.”

“Who?” I asked.

“It seems he had heard of Hieronymus,” said Georg, “and came thinking he was still working here. He didn't know who you were, at least until he saw that gunlock. That told him plenty.”

“Hence he thinks I'm meaner, stinkier, nastier, and more inhabited than Hieronymus was,” I spat.

“I am not certain he thinks that,” said Georg. “I am certain Hans' sources are hard to beat when it comes to information, and Hans told me that man ignored what I said and believed what he wished to believe.”

“As I told you he was likely to do,” I said. “I have no idea how to pull off getting half the town to show up at a moment's notice with loaded muskets, but I suspect we might want to plan that.”

“Why?” asked Georg.

“He's going to need to burn that paper in front of witnesses,” I said, “and those witnesses had best be armed.”

“Armed?” asked Georg.

“Mostly so as to keep his mind on his job and not trying to add to his body count,” I said. “If anyone shoots him down, though, most likely it will be me.”

“You're serious?” asked Georg.

“Very much so,” I said emphatically. “Those people understand cold steel at the back of the head quite well.”

“Now that is strange,” said Johannes. “What is it you mean?”

I drew the revolver, cocked it in one smooth movement, and then pointed it at an imaginary person, where I held it with finger on the trigger for a count of three. I then lowered the hammer to half-cock, spun the cylinder such that the empty nipple was under the hammer, and then lowered it fully before replacing it in my pocket.

The speechless bleached-white faces I saw around me spoke a great deal. It was nearly a minute before someone spoke.

“What was that you did?” said Gelbhaar.

“What I did?” I asked. “I showed how to draw a revolver and present the thing so as to get a thug's attention. Why?”

“I could almost see a person there,” he said, “and he looked just like the man who brought that gun.”

“What, did I look like that?” I asked.

“No, the person you had that gun pointed at,” said Gelbhaar. “He had his hands up in the air, and your gun was touching the back of his neck, as if you were going to shoot him if he did anything at all. He looked as if he was turned to stone by fear.”

“Perhaps that will get his attention, then,” I said. “Still, I would put the word about about rounding up some witnesses with loaded muskets, and I would do it today or at the latest tomorrow. That wretch is showing late next week, most likely early Friday morning.”

I began truing up 'my' barrel after the regular lunch, and here, I used the the brass pieces I had kept for shafts and mandrels. The high-spots showed rapidly, I draw-filed them down, and as I worked, I kept adjusting the taper. I wanted full diameter at the breech and for the first foot of the barrel, then a steady graceful taper to about nine-tenths of an inch at the muzzle. I thought to measure the bore itself, and while I looked for the calipers, I felt inclined to look in one of the tool carrier's drawers. There was a small box in there, and as I looked, I had an idea as to what it carried.

When I found the box, I was surprised at not merely its size – it was only small in comparison to many of the shipping boxes I'd gotten – but also its contents, which were a number of odd-looking 'gages' in increasing size. Their near-new status, as well as their appearance – they were obviously lathe-turned, then hardened and ground – spoke of a relatively precise tool. I picked up the smallest one, and turned it over in my hands.

The spherical end was an obvious 'handle', while the largest diameter said 'No. 1' with 'Guyboen Bros.' under it.

“These look like plug-gages,” I thought. “Now where is that old barrel?”

I was glad I'd kept all of the parts off of Black-Cap's gun handy, and when I inserted the plugs, I found that the third ring of the 'No. 4' gage fit tightly, with the middle ring fitting 'normally'. I measured the third and smallest ring, then thought, “this is my final diameter prior to lapping and rifling. Now I know how big to make that final reamer.”

As I now had a near-finished barrel, I could fit its sighting arrangements once I had fitted the breech-plug. For some reason, I had the intimation that I would have a ready-to-test rifle tomorrow, and with that knowledge, I worked steadily and with greater care.

I had made some minor alterations regarding the boring 'table' involving the lathe's change-gears, a feeler, and also a small brass rack that I'd found in my 'junk' boxes. I needed to make two more rifling heads, which meant turning them at home. I packed up my bag of tricks, and left shortly after the others. I had enough homework to stay up late again, and I did so.

The next morning, I showed early again, and by the light of lantern and wood-fired forge, I set up a board that I had found in the shed. This board was old and well-seasoned, and it responded well to my chisels as I cut a curving track that was nearly straight at the breech end, with a progressively increasing curve until it hit the margin at the other end of the board. I used 'roller pins' I had made to help guide it.

The nature of the latest rifling heads, however, was a bit unusual, for these had multiple 'scrapers' on each side of the peak example. My hope was that they would cut faster and deeper, and when I began running the smaller one in my barrel after carefully lapping it, the smooth feeling was astonishing.

The fine scrapings it produced were yet more so, and 'painting' the rifling cutter with boiled distillate every few passes was a requirement. Thankfully, the gears and rack needed but one dose of grease at the beginning, and the same for the bearing blocks.

I was still working the rifling cutter back-and-forth when the others began 'stumbling in', and while they busied themselves with stovepipes, wagon fittings, and finding sundry scrap that could be used for the 'daily business' of knives and assorted tools, I remained busy. I was learning a great deal about what I was doing, so much so that I knew constructing my rifle first was indeed the correct course of action.

The questions that resulted from my periodic 'painting' of the rifling head, as well as my changing it so as to cut all twelve grooves evenly, were such that I had all three men watching me pushing and pulling the handle back and forth. They seemed fascinated by the action of the board as it acted on the follower, and of the rack as it rotated the rifling head, and then the hissing sliding action as I stroked the thing back and forth.

“Is this how you did those first ones?” asked Georg.

“Those used a more primitive setup than this,” I said. “This one allows me to easily change the pitch of the rifling, as well as permits me to make constant or gain twist rifling. That track is curved, so I'm doing a gain twist.”

“What does that mean?” asked one of the boys.

It starts out slow and goes faster as it travels along the barrel,” I said. “Hopefully, I'll be able to test this one today.”

After finishing the rifling process, I 'final-threaded' the breech end, then final-threaded the breech plug itself.

The remaining pieces went on with such rapidity that I had a near-complete weapon by lunchtime, and as I aligned the sights amid billows of shavings and mounds of chips, Gelbhaar was scraping the stock and wiping the thing down with drying oil.

“Now this one is strange,” he said. “First, all of its fittings are bronze, and then they fit as good as anything I've ever seen, and then the stock has nearly a foot of that barrel coming out of its end.”

“I've never built a gun completely from scratch,” I said, “so before I do Black-Cap's, I needed the practice.”

“Then, the barrel not only is as big on the outside as a large musket, but the hole in the center isn't much bigger than that of your pistol.”

“I'll need to go home early so as to turn the cherry to size,” I said, “and then, I'll need to test this thing. I've got plenty to do between now and Monday on Black-Cap's gun just the same.”

It took nearly an hour to get the sights aligned and finally mounted securely, and as I adjusted them and squinted through the rear peephole, I could tell I was creating a degree of curiosity that the others had seldom experienced before.

“What are those things on that barrel?” asked Johannes. “I've never seen anything like them.”

“These are for adjustable aiming,” I said. “If I did them like others do, I'd be wasting my time, as I'd never hit anything.”

“Then why do you do so well with that pistol?” he asked.

I drew the thing out, then pointed out the 'afterthought' sights I'd added.

“It didn't have these when I first got it,” I said. “Perhaps I can fit good ones during Festival Week, and then I can really annoy those marmots. Perhaps I can age them some.”

“Is this like hanging them until they are High?” asked Gelbhaar.

“I meant getting the balls close enough to cause premature aging due to fright,” I said. “I still think that one shot had to be luck.”

“I can believe in luck for one time,” said Gelbhaar, “but there was talk of a large deer with its brains scrambled from you putting a bullet up its nose.”

“It was chasing Anna,” I said, “and that had to be luck.”

I paused, then said, “besides, lead-induced allergies are a potent distraction, and that deer needed distracting in the worst way imaginable.”

I mounted the parts to the stock when it was close to the normal quitting time, and as I put the lockplate in place, I had another audience.

“Why is that one so different from the common?” asked Georg.

“I guess I'm uncommon enough to need a different gun,” I said. “Then, this one is a test for Black-Cap's, and finally, I needed the practice. Now I'll need to wrap it up in rags so as to take it home, as I'm going to need to finish cutting the mould blocks for this one, cast the bullets, and then perhaps see if Hans made up some more thimbles. I should be able to test it tomorrow morning, or perhaps, tonight.”

While the others went south to the Public House, I went north. I felt as burdened as a packhorse, and once home, I quickly bathed. I felt more than a little guilty, at least until I put the rag-wrapped gun in the corner of the kitchen and began measuring the rifling cutter preparatory to finishing the cherry.

“I wonder if I can harden this with a heating lamp?” I thought, as I began steadily pedaling and cutting the final diameter of the cherry. I would need to finish the thing with files before I hardened it.

I decided to do otherwise for hardening, as I soon learned I did not have oil handy, unlike at work, and as the sun began to actually hide itself behind the clouds and slow-falling snow, I quenched the thing in the melted fat after putting it on top of a cooking can in the furnace. I tossed the still-hot cherry in the lye container, then removed it a few minutes later to rinse and dry. By dinnertime, I had finished the mould and mounted it to my tongs.

Dinner that night was at the Public House, and there, both Anna and Hans tried to make up for the lack of communication the last few days. They seemed to have forgotten the nature of the document, or so I thought until Hans said, “now everyone has their muskets loaded and ready to go for when that witch shows.”

“Witch?” I asked, around a mouthful of chopped meat.

“Yes, that wretch with that paper,” said Hans. “Talk has it he needs to burn that thing in front of witnesses when he picks up his gun, and those people need to be armed so he does not try for them.”

“Why does he need to burn that paper?” asked Anna.

“That is the way of canceling those things,” said Hans. “That much I knew from before.”

“But can't he just tear the thing up?” asked Anna.

“That document had a number of curses on it,” I said, “and those need burning to cancel, supposedly. Given that document involves more witchcraft than everything else, I'm not at all surprised.”

I then produced the small piece of paper, then showed it to Hans, saying, “I think this is what he had in mind when he got together with that magistrate.”

Hans looked at it closely, then said, “now what does that word at the top mean?”

“It has to do with secrecy,” I said. “The idea of doing things in secret is implicit in the beliefs and practice of witchcraft – and I'd bet that word has to do with that one especially bad curse that's associated with hiding in darkness.”

At home after dinner, I took the new mould down into the basement, then set up the lead-pot on top of the stand over the heating lamp. I thought to use a mixture of printer's lead, tin, scrap common lead, and the hardening metal, and as the stuff began slowly melting, I turned to my right to see Hans.

“Those things work good for that,” he said. “I hope you make more of them soon.”

“I have three in process now,” I said, “and once Black-Cap's weapon is done, I'll work on more of them.”

I paused, then asked, “have you had a chance to fill up more, uh, thimbles?”

Hans left, then came back with an unusually small tin, which he opened to show it full of thimbles.

“I am glad you made as many of those things as you did, as I have been filling them steady,” he said. “Are those old ones nearly gone?”

“I might have another dozen or so,” I said. “Did you recently get some powder?”

“Yes, some,” said Hans. “You might make yourself a good powder measure for that one.”

“I have several castings that need to be machined,” I said, “and then I'll have one, as well as two for Black-Cap's weapon.”

The new mould took but three instances to start producing good bullets, and as I cast bullet after bullet, I wondered how to best carry the things. These slugs were over an inch long, and when I needed to take a break to let the mould cool, I thought to weigh one.

“Twenty-two units?” I thought. “What? These weigh over an ounce? What will they do when I fire them?”

I returned to the lead-pot and resumed casting a minute or so later, and after casting roughly thirty-five bullets, I 'pigged' my remaining lead mixture in a small copper mold that I had left oxidized.

Hans then brought a small bowl of powder, which I put aside briefly. I had an idea about the rifle, something about grinding the stuff up carefully and then sifting it afterward. A glance at the powder in the bowl told me it most likely was a wise idea, as not merely was the powder coarse-grained, but it was also very uneven.

It took roughly five minutes to round up a small copper dish, a brass rod, and a piece of tin. This last I began carefully poking holes in it with my awl, such that I formed a sieve of sorts. I began grinding the powder, using one of my knives to transfer some into the dish every minute or so. I put the sifted powder into another small dish, and as I ground the powder carefully, I wondered what I could use for a temporary measure.

“What gives with that powder?” asked Hans. “I thought that stuff was decent.”

“It might well be,” I said, “but it was far too coarse, and quite uneven as well. Go up in the kitchen and fetch that bundle in the corner, and I'll show you why I need to do this.”

Hans promptly left, and when he returned, he was mumbling more than a little. I waited for the eruption – he sounded very likely – and when he laid it down and began undoing the strings, he said, “your knots are not getting better.”

“I know, and finding time to practice knot-tying is not easy to find, either,” I said.

Hans continued unwrapping, and when he had the rifle out, he said, “Ah, this one is interesting. Now these do not need priming powder, so why are you grinding that stuff up?”

“Look at the bore, please,” I said evenly, as I spooned another bit of the coarse powder into my grinding dish.

“Now why does this thing have such a small hole?” he asked. “I have never seen one like this. Anna might wish to try it.”

Here, Hans aimed the rifle at an imaginary animal of some kind, then said, “on second thought, she might not, as it is about half again as heavy as a common musket. Now what gives with this stuff on top here, and why are there so many bronze parts on it?”

“Firstly, Black-Cap's gun had the worst rust I've ever seen,” I said, “and hence we agreed to do as much as possible with bronze. Then, I needed to practice for that thing, as there were a lot of new ideas and processes, and finally, I need a...”

“Yes, that is so,” said Hans. “Now what is this thing at the rear here?”

“That's for adjustable aiming,” I said. “The small knob to the side – yes, that one there – adjusts for windage, while the large ring below it...”

Hans was gently twisting the elevation ring, and noting the faint clicking noises. He seemed to have found a favorite toy.

“Not too far,” I said. “That adjusts for elevation, in case one needs to make long shots.”

Hans looked at me as if I had lost my mind, then said, “how many more barrels did you need to make to get one for that man's musket?”

“The first two were scrap,” I said, “that's the third one, then it took three more to get one big enough.”

“So that leaves two,” said Hans. “What happened to them?”

“They're not done yet,” I said. “They could most likely be used. Why, do you think Georg will sell them?”

“He might,” said Hans. “Most barrels are made in the fifth kingdom, with some being made in the fourth.”

“And none north of that location,” I said.

“Yes, until now,” said Hans. “Getting barrels up this way is nearly impossible.”

“Do you think...”

I stopped in mid-sentence, for the impression I had was too strong to ignore. Not only weren't there any gunsmiths up to finishing rough barrels, but there weren't any up to fitting breech-plugs or doing much of the other work needed to fit barrels to weapons. We could only sell finished products – and would most likely need to install them ourselves. The prices would be high enough to ensure a very modest market – or so I thought.

“What is it I think?” asked Hans.

“If a gunsmith bought a barrel, it would need to be finished and ready to install, wouldn't it?” I asked.

“With those people up here, that is likely,” said Hans. “Most of them do not have many tools.”

“And that one man?” I asked.

“He has more than the usual for here,” said Hans, “and he likes those chisels a lot.”

“Did you tell him about the other tools I made?” I asked.

“Not yet,” said Hans. “Now why is this barrel shaped like this, and why is it so thick?”

“It's the first barrel I made,” I said, “and then, the extra weight will help steady my aim. I tend to wobble an awful lot.”

Hans laid down the rifle, then asked, “now when will you try this thing?”

“Most likely tomorrow,” I said. “Do you have a regular-sized powder measure I can borrow?”

Not only did Hans have one, but he had it ready to hand, and when I began filling the thing, he said, “that one is the spare. If yours come good, I will put it back up, for in case my regular one goes bad.”

“Do you know where I might find a board about an inch and a half square and a foot or so long?”

“Yes, I have some lumber down here that might work,” said Hans. “What is it you want it for?”

“A bullet-holder,” I said. “This one has a tighter twist on its rifling, so it doesn't use balls.”

“What does it use, then?” asked Hans.

I produced a bullet. Hans picked it up, then said, “this thing is heavy. It might not be as heavy as that of a roer, but it is a lot heavier than any balls I have seen otherwise. How much does it weigh?”

“Twenty-two units on the scale,” I said, “though I just weighed the one. The best way would be to weigh ten and average the weight.”

“That scale will not hold ten of those things,” said Hans. “I have never seen lead corncobs before.”

Hans paused, then said, “now what gives with all of these grooves in this thing?”

“Those are to hold the grease,” I said. “I've done this type before, and they worked well, especially with hard lead, and I used hard lead to do these.”

Hans looked at me, then slowly shook his head. I surmised I would need to prove the matter one way or the other.

I worked until bedtime grinding powder, then after finishing the powder, I finished the sling swivels and attached them. Finally, I drilled fifteen holes in the board Hans had given me, greased the bullets, and then filled each hole in the 'loading board'.

The next morning, I arose early, and as I turned and threaded several pieces of fifteen-line brass rod for a rammer and cleaning rod, I wondered about a leather pouch like Hans had. I had the intimation that I wanted one a good deal larger than his, however, and as I tried to think about why, I heard yawns and steps above and to my right. I turned to see Anna.

“That paper has got me worried enough to have trouble sleeping,” she said. “Hans spoke about your musket, and I wanted to see what it looked like.”

I stood, stretched, and then reached for it, then watched Anna's face as I handed it to her. She held it readily, or so I thought until she set the thing down and held it by the barrel.

“This thing is heavy,” she said. “I thought you were going to make something to hunt with.”

“That is close to what I recall,” I said, “and while it is heavy, I tend to wobble an awful lot when trying to aim. The weight should help that way.”

“And this thing?” asked Anna, as she pointed to the front sight.

“That permits aiming,” I said. “I would never be able to hit anything...”

Anna was looking at me as if I was the purest liar she had ever seen.

“Those had to be luck, dear,” I said.

“But that pistol has...”

I pulled out the weapon, then pointed at the sights as I said, “they aren't as good as I'd like, but I put these on when I was putting in the first of the new parts. I hope I can make better ones during Festival Week, as then... Do quolls show this time of year?”

“Not usually,” said Anna.

“If they show, then perhaps I can drive them off,” I said. “Or, perhaps another captive pigeon will show.”

“No thank you,” said Anna, as she turned and walked into the kitchen.

I took the powder measure downstairs after breakfast, and while Hans went around and lit his candles, I adjusted it for a charge of sixty grains, or a bit more than three units on the scale. Once I had done so, I thought to help Hans until it was light enough to readily see, and when he went back into a corner of the basement, I wondered just what he was currently working on – until I saw several old-looking beer jugs.

“The jugs?” I asked.

“These I picked up second-hand for fire-traps,” he said, “and I've been making those things steady.”

“The tossing type, or..?”

“I have never been much of a tosser,” said Hans, “as I like to get more than one pig or group of those people with a jug. I usually string these things up where they are going to come.”

“Do you fill them full, or only partly?” I asked.

“For placing, it is best to fill them about half full, and then cork the thing. I carry the friction igniters separate, and put them in just before setting the trap.”

“Evaporation?” I asked.

“That is usually the best thing,” said Hans, “especially with that last batch of those things, as they go off easy.”

“Is there usually a delay between pulling and ignition?” I asked.

“A bit more than a good musket,” said Hans. “That is another good thing about guns that take thimbles, as they do not waste time when you pull the trigger. A flint-musket tends to do that, unless it is one of those you worked on.”

“Do the traps have burster charges?” I asked.

“What is this?” asked Hans, as he looked at a sizable copper cylinder, then gently set it aside.

“Something that the friction igniter sets off to blow up the jug,” I said.

“I have put blasting caps on the ends of the igniters,” said Hans, “but that makes little difference if you are using light distillate, especially if it is warm outside. All it takes is a good fire inside the jug, and the stuff explodes.”

“And other things?” I asked.

“If I can only get heavy distillate, then I want the caps,” said Hans, “and the same for cold weather. They make a lot of difference then.”

“Do you need help down here?” I asked.

“Right now, no,” said Hans. “We might try wooding later today, but I am not certain I want to try that.”

“Is it because there's only enough glassware for one person to need to be present?” I asked.

“That, and it is close to Festival Week,” said Hans. “I don't slow down much during the winter, except for that time and just before it, and then after, it gets busy again.”

I went back upstairs, after finding a short length of wooden dowel, I whittled and drilled one end such that I could tie it to my loading board for a 'short starter'. I then realized I needed a screw-tip for cleaning, as well as tallow-rags, and after I had the screw-tipped filed and three rags gathered, I knew I needed a bag to put the stuff in.

I had one, thankfully, and after tying its drawstrings shut, I thought to check outside.

The western landscape was just starting to lighten, and Anna was setting up to try knitting. I idly fetched the revolver, removed its stocks, then traced them out on a slate. I planned on retrieving that piece of wood today, as well as possibly work on Black-Cap's gun – but first, I needed to test what I had, and I was becoming impatient.

“Oh, I'll need rope and string,” I thought.

After I found those, however, I could no longer wait, and I took my supplies to the bathroom, and from thence, to the rear area. I brought out the powder measure, worked it, then dumped the powder into the bore. The faint dusting seemed to set off the eerie gleam of the lands and grooves, and as I looked, I seemed almost hypnotized. Distracting was an understatement.

I brought out the bullet-board, then used the attached dowel to insert a bullet into the barrel. I followed this with the screwed-together ramrod, and carefully seated it on the powder. I pulled the hammer to half-cock, then brought out the rope.

I tied the gun at head-height such that it aimed to the east and slightly south, then carefully tied the string to the trigger. The whole time, I prayed fervently that my knots would hold, then as I put the cap on the nipple, I mentally crossed my fingers – and prayed again when I pulled the hammer back to full cock. I took up the string, and began walking backward carefully. I gave mind to the string and where I was walking, and when I'd gotten to the juncture of house and buggy-way, I knelt down. I began taking up the slack in the string, now cognizant of the gun's light trigger.

I had fully taken up the slack, and began to gently pull. I wondered if the gun would work, even as I continued slowly increasing the pull.

The sudden crack was so startling I fell against the wall of the house, and the billow of thin bluish-gray powder smoke was such that I wanted to crawl off and hide somewhere. As I collected myself up enough to stagger to my feet, I thought, “why did that thing make that noise? It sounded like a...”

I then recalled the usual noise of muskets: a deeper-pitched and prolonged 'Booom'. In contrast, what I had just fired sounded like a modern weapon – and not a weak example, either.

I untied the rifle, and began carefully looking it over prior to swabbing it out carefully with 'spit and tallow'. I then dried the bore, and put in a full charge of powder followed by a small portion of another. I rammed the bullet, pulled the hammer to half cock, put the cap on, and retied the weapon. I pulled to full-cock, and retreated to my 'hiding place'.

The crack this time was louder, so much so that I flinched from the noise alone, and as I stood, I noticed my ears were beginning to ring.

“That thing sounds like something that would hurt me,” I thought. “I hope it isn't going to be dangerous at both ends.”

The next test, and the one after it, were similar as to tone and greater as to volume, and when I dumped in two loads of powder, I prayed – short, but fervently just the same. I did not wish to blow up the gun, but I desired even less to learn about weaknesses in workmanship or material the hard way. I knew that this was one way weapons were tested.

The result of firing the gun this last time was a crash like lightning, a buffet from the muzzle blast, and ears that rang like chimes, followed by the door abruptly opening to my right. I turned in a numb-feeling daze to see Hans, and I was not surprised to see an unreadable facial expression. His tone of voice, however, was easily deciphered.

“What gives with that dynamite?” he shouted.

“I was testing that gun,” I said. “That last was a proof load.”

“Yes, and it sounded like dynamite, too,” said Hans. “How much powder did you put in?'

I had to think for a minute, so as to collect my wits, then I muttered, “h-half as much again as the usual measure, or twice what it is supposed to have. I overloaded it to see if it would be safe to shoot.”

Hans began untying my knots, and as he did so, he mumbled about some people not mixing with ropes and how surprised he was that the gun did not escape. I held the gun carefully, then once he'd removed both rope and string, I began cleaning it. His eyes lit upon the brass cleaning rod.

“How does that work?” he asked.

“Quite well,” I said. “So far, so good – though how Black-Cap's gun is going to be tested is a mystery.”

“I think those people at the shop can manage the ropes,” said Hans. “You do the other parts fine.”

I resumed checking the gun over, and after a thorough cleaning, I reloaded with a single measure of powder. I then saw Hans was no longer next to me, and as I looked around, I saw him leaning on the wall and looking out toward the north and east.

“I see some animal out there,” he said, “but it is far off.”

I walked toward the wall, then looked where Hans was now pointing. For some reason – perhaps this animal was deaf – a deer was slowly walking across the snow-covered fields. It looked to be walking toward a sizable copse some further distance away.

“Perhaps this one will carry that far,” I said softly, as I tried to 'guesstimate' the range; it looked to be an easy three hundred yard shot. “I might be able to hit that deer.”

“How is that?” asked Hans. “The smaller the ball, the sooner the drop.”

“Uh, remember what I showed you last night?” I asked. “How you called those things lead corncobs, and how I spoke of them weighing over an ounce?”

“I do now,” said Hans. “What will that thing do?”

The deer was now grubbing at the snow with a tentative hoof, and I said softly, “no time like the present to find out.”

I began cranking up the rear sight, and at three turns, I had what looked 'right'. I settled down with the rifle on top of the wall, with my left hand under the wide portion of the stock. The barrel looked like it belonged on an artillery piece, and as the deer turned broadside to me, I had an intimation:

I wanted to hold for the middle of the deer's body, with a vertical line running through the front legs. I nestled into the stock, lined up carefully, pulled the hammer to full cock. As I concentrated, a strange phrase came through my mind, and for some reason, I could not blank it out, even as I did the usual litany of breath control and trigger manipulation. It was still distracting, so much so that I paused, then thought, “why am I thinking of the phrase 'Elanor Rigby'?”

I lined the sights back up again, took in a breath, let part out, and gently squeezed the trigger.

The abrupt stabbing blow to my shoulder was worse than any rifle I'd ever fired in my life, and the chiming sound I heard in my ears was such that I felt as if I'd been hit with an eight-pound sledge. The smoke billowed thickly and washed back over me, and as I shook my punch-drunk head and rubbed my shoulder, Hans said, “I do not believe that gun.”

“W-why?” I asked drunkenly. I wanted to add, “it's as dangerous at one end as at the other.”

“That deer went nowhere except down,” said Hans. His voice showed clear amazement. “It is not moving at all.”

“L-let me reload,” I said, as I slowly rubbed my shoulder and shook my head some more, “and we can go s-see what happened.”

As I reloaded, I had visions of a deer that looked like deer-burger on the off-side, or whatever a deer looked like when it had been hit with an artillery shell. My shoulder was no longer hurting badly, for which I was grateful, but my ears still rang slightly, even as I followed Hans out of the fold and across the snow-covered fields toward the deer in question.

The stillness of the animal remained a constant, and as we came within twenty feet of it, I knew beyond all doubt that my rifle was not a toy. As if to buttress the matter, I slowly rubbed my shoulder while wondering if there was such a thing as liniment, and as Hans looked at the deer itself, I muttered, “as if I could ignore how it felt to shoot it.”

“Yes, and what is that?” said Hans, as he turned over the deceased deer.

“I'm feeling sore,” I muttered.

Hans then whistled, and beckoned to me, even as he unsheathed his knife. I came to his side, and as I did, I saw what he was whistling at.

There was a huge spray of blood nearly eight feet long where the bullet had blasted through the deer, and when he pointed to a golf-ball sized exit hole, I said, “oh, no. I ruined half the meat.”

“I doubt that,” said Hans. “The hole on the other side looks like that from a common musket.”

“And t-that?” I gasped, as I pointed to the exit hole and ripped flesh.

“A roer does things like that if you are close,” said Hans, “but not at three hundred and fifty paces.”

Hans paused, then said, “now after this one is cleaned up, we can bag it and hang it outside, as it will keep good. Anna will be most pleased, as we have winter-meat for Festival Week.”

“Should I look for a stick?” I asked, as Hans began gutting the deer.

“This one is close enough that we can drag it home,” said Hans. “The snow makes it easy, and it is not far.”

“Do you want me to drag it, or you?” I asked.

“I think I can manage it,” said Hans. “If not, we can trade off.”

I was more than a little surprised to find Anna waiting with a pot when we came to the rear of the property, and once the deer was hung, skinned, and fully dressed, she looked at the bullet hole going in, then at the one going out.

“What did you shoot it with?” she said in a tone of wonder.

“Those lead corncobs may look strange, and that gun looks stranger yet,” said Hans, “but it dropped that thing...”

“I saw what it did, Hans,” said Anna. “Only one of Willem's guns hits harder at that kind of range. Now what did he do to this deer? It looks like it was hit by a roer.”

“Uh, do you want to try shooting it?” I asked.

“Not if it kicks like a roer,” said Anna. “Hans was sore for days every time he shot that thing.”