The Big House, part 1.

Anna helped me with a few more drops of the tincture, and as the sense of calm clearheadedness increased, I began weeping. It seemed easier to cry, for some reason.

“I heard about most of what happened,” she said. “Talk has it those stonemasons are working on the house today.”

“Th-they are?” I asked.

“We will know about them soon enough,” said Hans. “Now what happened during the morning?”

“Mostly things I expected,” I said, “until we started working with those poles. I was afraid I would hurt the person I was paired with, so I was just blocking his pole when he was coming for me.”

“What was that like?” asked Hans.

“What I was doing, or what the others, sob, were doing?” I asked. “I wondered as to the point of it, as it might teach hand-to-eye coordination to a degree, but the others seemed to be doing nothing beyond beating each other with those things.”

Anna looked at me with huge eyes, then she shook her head before muttering. Hans, however, was more forthright.

“So that is why he was like that,” said Hans. “At least he has spent enough time in the privy, so he is less full of himself.”

Hans paused, then said, “though it cost enough to uncork him.”

“Didn't he ask?” asked Anna.

“Yes, and he believed nothing that he had been told,” said Hans. “He spoke as though all of that stuff was a lie, and I had to tell him about that pig.”

I soon felt sleepy, and I was glad for a blanket. I curled up in the thing, then fell asleep to awaken but a few miles from town. It was obviously in the afternoon, though when in the afternoon was a good question.

“Where are we?” I asked softly.

“About two miles from home,” said Anna. “We passed a freight wagon a short time ago, and they had things for the shop.”

“Things?” I asked.

“It looked like a lot of iron,” said Hans. “Some of that stuff was in long rusty bars, and some of it was shorter, and then some was sheet and wrapped up good.”

“The barrels, Hans,” said Anna. “There were three barrels.”

“Those I could not figure,” said Hans.

“Sand?” I asked.

“That sounds as likely as anything,” said Anna. “I think you should rest once we get home.”

We arrived roughly half an hour later, and when I dismounted from the buggy, I seemed to hear faint sounds of labor from the rear of the property. I wobbled to the stoop, and there, I was astonished. Someone had been here, and I stood looking at the faint footprints that wavered above the white painted boards as Anna came around me with an armload of supplies. I followed her inside into the kitchen, then sat down. I felt too 'relaxed' to do much, and when I 'collapsed' on a stool, I nearly jumped.

“Th-this is a c-chair,” I squeaked.

“Good that they brought those things,” said Hans as he came in with a wicker basket in each hand. “They had a few of those at the house proper in their back rooms, and they cleaned them up some.”

For some reason, I did not notice Hans' speech save as a superficial matter, and when I turned to the rear wall of the kitchen, I suddenly knew why: I was terror-stricken. I thought I would be rejected out of hand by everyone around me, and those to the rear working on the new foundation...

“How will we bathe and dry our clothing?” I thought. There was no answer.

I now seemed to separate what I was feeling into its component parts, and I was astonished. My terror was but a portion of what I was feeling. The balance was the fear of others, and my terror was as nothing to it.

The laborers to the rear were afraid of the man who led them – and overshadowing that fear was their even-more-real fear of me as a person.

Secondly, they were not the only ones afraid. There were a great many people who lived in fear, and their terror-focus was myself. They did not commonly express it, nor did they commonly feel it, save in my presence.

I had never noticed it before, due to distraction. That was completely gone, and now, I could not escape – and hence, I was afraid of the inevitable rejection that accompanied being an object of dread.

I am a dread to my friends,” I thought. The quotation fit, and fit perfectly, and a fresh spate of tears erupted from my eyes.

“Do I frighten people?” I asked between sobs.

“You do not frighten us, nor do you frighten Sarah,” said Anna, “and I doubt you frighten those that know you. Those that know only vague rumors might wonder.”

“Why would they wonder, though?” I asked.

“Anyone who can see and feel what you do is too sensitive to endure life without much help,” said Anna, “and what those wretches did to you before you came here turned you into pie-filling.”

“Yes, and that training isn't the safest thing, either,” said Hans. “I have heard of people getting hurt and killed during it.”

“Th-those poles?” I asked.

“Those that do them up think that padding good enough,” said Hans, “and for most people, it is.”

“And they need blacksmith pads for people like him,” said Anna. “Most people don't pound metal like he does.”

“I b-barely touched him,” I shrieked. “That instructor called me a morally deficit wretch, which hurt more than any yelling. Am I one of those?”

“No, you aren't,” said Hans. “I think he named himself good for not listening better and watching close, is what I think. Those people that do that training need to listen a lot more, and yell less, especially when they get a live one. They don't get those often, but you are not the first one that man has tried to ruin.”

Hans paused, then said, “and talk has it you ruined one of those pole things when you thumped Karl.”

A fresh spate of tears erupted, and I sobbed more.

“What, did you hit his head?” asked Anna.

“N-no,” I sobbed. “I touched his rear, and he flew through the air and hit a tree with his head.”

“I thought so,” said Anna. “Since you are far too sensitive for common things...”

I now noticed the 'oblivious' aspect in Anna's voice, as well as her thinking the matter to be obvious.

“You must be intended for uncommon ones,” she continued. “You must be helped to endure the common things, so that you may do the uncommon ones – and what those are is a very good question.”

“With that many witches coming after him?” said Hans.

“That says those things might be very uncommon indeed,” said Anna. “Some say all witches know each other in some hard-to-understand way, but with Old Shuck coming, then those northern ones...”

“There are some at the king's house, too,” said Hans. “Aart spoke about those clothes and things, and that speaks of trouble.”

For some reason, I felt my bag, and as I touched it, I jerked my hand away. It almost felt like that accursed 'sporran', and when I opened it, I was astonished to find the invitation paper, complete with red wax seal. The latter seemed mobile, much as if it were fresh-spilled blood.

“What is that doing here?” I shrieked. “I put those things in that b-belt-pouch.”

“Now what is this?” asked Hans.

“There were a lot of things those p-people tried to foist on me beyond those clothes,” I said. “There was a belt-pouch, and it had money, a wax-sealed paper, a brass magnifier, a strange-looking key, and then the pouch itself had that one bad curse embroidered on its inside.”

“What gives with all of that stuff?” asked Hans, as he looked at the red-wax seal. “This thing looks strange, as it has this odd mark on this wax stuff.”

“Th-that is an invitation of some kind,” I moaned. “Th-the witches were either bribing me or challenging me, and I'm not sure which. The other two were taken over by that stuff, and I had to choose.”

“Yes, and how did you choose?” asked Hans.

“No! I don't want to be a witch!” I shrieked.

Hans picked up the paper, and tried to 'remove' the seal by tearing the paper. The stuff proved itself uncommonly tough, so much so that he drew his knife.

“No, Hans,” said Anna. “You might let him open it.”

“How are those things opened?” I asked. I had never encountered sealing wax before.

“I would like to know how you did that,” said Hans, “as that red thing just broke in half, so it is open. Now did you get in that room without a key, or what?”

“I, I...”

“What did you do?” asked Anna. “You can speak of those things here.”

“I asked the door to open,” I said, “and it did.”

“I think you might be careful,” said Anna. “Those witches at the king's house might try for you if they learn of such things.”

“They did that already,” said Hans, “as this thing here is a map showing two houses in the Swartsburg, two near it, and three others, and it speaks of a special key.”

“There was one,” I said, “that, and a lot of money. I tossed the whole thing when it went up in smoke, though that dagger tried to hide. It tossed me when it left.”

I paused, moaned some more, then said, “and now that accursed invitation hid too.”

“I think this is a copy,” said Hans, “as it has some strange glowing places here and there.”

“Glow?” I shrieked. “Hans...”

“This is a bluish glow,” said Hans. “It is not glowing red.”

Anna came to his side, then said, “Hans, it is a copy. See, there.”

“Yes, that is so,” he said. “Now what gives with this stuff here?”

“Didn't he put stamps on those boxes and bags?” said Anna. “I know I would have trouble the way those are laid out in there.”

“What does it say?” I murmured.

“There is a list here of things,” said Hans. “I know you were using those stamps a lot on those little tags, and I think they were like this.”

Hans moved over to the bench, with Anna following him, then said, “three, B-14. Does that mean anything?”

“The third drawer, second row, fourteenth container,” I said.

Anna opened the drawer in question, then began shaking her head and muttering.

“I had no idea you'd gone this far with those labels,” she said, “and I'd like to know where you got all of those bags.”

“There was a bundle of those things in one of the boxes,” said Hans, “and then, I got some more of those things here and there.”

“This many?” asked Anna. “There, number fourteen – and this one isn't cloth, but leather.”

“Leather?” I shrieked. “What?”

“It isn't that big,” said Anna, as she brought the leather pouch to the table. “Why, was there something like this that you tossed?”

“Y-yes,” I said. “There was a really slimy-feeling brass thing that supposedly magnified objects, but I was getting a headache from it. It was too blurry to use.”

I paused, then said, “and that man Gabriel said it was good.”

“He is new there, so that might be why,” said Hans. “Why, did he have one?”

“He does,” said Anna. “Now this...”

Anna stopped in mid-sentence, for she had withdrawn a satin brass object about two inches across and an inch and a half high. She held it up, then removed a soft cloth to clean it, and held it near her arm.

“This is a very good magnifier,” she said. “It is very clear, and shows the hairs on my arm as if they were the thicker species of knitting yarn.”

“Is it blurry?” I asked. “That thing was awful that way.”

Anna handed me the 'magnifier', and when I looked at it carefully, I was astonished. Not merely was it clear, but it also had a fine-etched black scale and focusing ring, and as I twisted the latter, I was yet more astonished – as it was variable power, at least to a modest degree, and the focus was razor-sharp.

“What would I use this for?” I asked.

“I am not certain,” said Anna, “but every instrument-maker I've seen or heard of has one. I haven't seen one like that before, though.”

“Ah, this might speak of it,” said Hans. “There is this paper here in its bag, and it says it is for precision layout and inspection. It shows some strange figures here, something about a dot, three 'O's', and then a '1'. Is there a ladder in that thing?”

“A scale, yes,” I said. “Are those the sizes of the divisions?”

“I think so,” said Hans. “Now there are some more of those places here, and we should look at them, so as to find out the rest of this thing. I think it is important.”

The next location – 4-C-11 – showed another leather pouch. The telltale noise of this one was such that I cringed, and only when Anna returned from upstairs did I think to breathe again.

“That thing was filled with gold pieces,” said Anna. “Now why did one of those show?”

“Was I c-cursed?” I gasped. “Cursed with g-gold m-m...”

“I doubt it,” said Anna. “Didn't you say you did not want to be a witch?”

“Then why is this stuff showing in my workbench?” I gasped. “I tossed it out and now it came back!”

“No, that is not so,” said Hans. “This paper here has words showing on it just now, and it says you need those things, or will need them soon. It says the bad stuff is where it belongs.”

“What?” I shrieked.

“Here, look for yourself,” said Hans. “It was strange seeing those letters show like that.”

I looked at the paper, and amid the clear and precise-drawn map, I began seeing letters that formed into words, and from the words, I read:

I said I would help you, and I keep my promises.”

Even as I read the other portions – Hans was indeed right about needs and 'the bad stuff' being where it belonged – I kept going back to the 'centerpiece', that being the portion I had read first.

“Then why did I get this map, though?”

“How else are you going to know where the bad places are in the king's house?” said the soft voice. “Bring out the other things listed, and it will be much clearer.”

The next location – 4-A-9 – showed another leather pouch, and in this instance, the satin brass thing was slightly smaller in diameter and about half as thick, with a hinge in the middle. Anna unlatched it – I half-expected it to be a music-box, for some reason – and gasped.

“This is a compass,” she said.

“That is good, then,” said Hans. “Once that training is done, you will need to go to the house, and you will want one of those things. I have wanted one for a long time myself.”

The next item, however, was a strange silvery 'key' of a shape identical to the ancient-looking thing that I had tossed. It had a small stamped tin tag labeled 'copy, for purposes of evidence'.

“Now what is this about evidence?” asked Hans, as he opened the sixth drawer in my bench.

“Perhaps there were important things that I'm not able to understand or figure out now,” I said. “I was told the original would open doors.”

“Yes, if you wanted to be a witch,” said Hans. “You said you did not, so you do not need a key like that thing.”

“Hans, look at that paper,” said Anna, as she carefully went through the sixth drawer. “I think he does need a key like that. Look at the places we've found things so far, and tell me what it says for that key.”

“It says that key will give answers,” said Hans. “Now how will a key give those?”

“Hans, I would not worry about how,” said Anna. “I need some help getting this one out.”

I got up from the table and wobbled over to the bench as the two of them began carefully removing the bags and boxes that were in the way. I still felt teary-eyed, and as I cleared away the bags to show what looked like a brown leather 'scabbard' of some kind, I asked, “did either of you learn about those three smelly tailors?”

Hans looked at me, then said, “they have run off somewhere, and Aart spoke of what they did for your clothing and everything. They did not do it at the house.”

“At least they were doing things when we left,” said Anna. “I let them copy the list the knitter did up for me, so between the two, that should help. Now what is this thing?”

“Oh, no,” I moaned, as Hans wrenched out the scabbard. “It's a copy of that nasty dagger.”

“Now what is this?” he asked, as he undid the thongs and drew the thing.

“There was this horrible red-flaming dagger, and it tried hiding, then tossed me when I told it to go,” I said. “Now I have a reminder....”

The eerie shine of the thing was a marvel, so much so that Anna gently picked it up. The long slender blade was the length of her forearm, while the oval-shaped wood handle was of a near-black color. It looked like a dark and close-grained species of walnut – or perhaps, rosewood – while the brass hilt was unmarked. I then saw the tin tag.

“This thing says it is a copy for evidence, too,” said Hans.

“It's n-not glowing,” I said.

As if to speak otherwise, the thing faintly glowed a very light blue for a second, then twitched.

“I saw that,” said Anna. “I suspect that one is safe enough, though I would be very careful about where and who you showed it to.”

The last example of evidence was a cloth pouch holding another 'sporran', save this example was a medium brown color without the runes inside. Otherwise, it was an exact copy, with a cloth lining, an inner pocket – I had not seen that portion before – and several blank sheets of folded paper.

“That is a nice belt-pouch,” said Anna. “I would keep that handy, in case you...”

Anna paused, then said, “do you need one with that bag you have?”

“I doubt it,” I said.

After 'hiding' the various examples of 'evidence', I returned to the kitchen table. I felt so relaxed I could scarcely move, and when Anna returned from upstairs, Hans said, “now I have an idea as to what happened today, and it was a lot more trouble than I knew. They were supposed to measure him special, but in the regular fitting room.”

“What?” I asked.

“Wasn't that it?” asked Anna. “All of the guards get fitted there.”

“Yes, and not him,” said Hans. “I asked Aart about it while you were in that food place, and he said Hendrik had spoken about it. We should have gone to him.”

Anna seemed oblivious, for some reason. I wondered why for a moment, until she said, “I wondered today if you could make a special tool for shaping Kuchen. I have an old one that has been in my family for many years, and one of the neighbors wishes to have it copied.”

As Anna left for upstairs, I looked at Hans through tired eyes, and asked, “shaping Kuchen?”

“Yes, a molding thing,” said Hans. “The usual molds are of tinned copper, and I think she has two of those things in her drawers.”

Anna returned a moment later with an old-looking cloth bag tied with age-yellowed string. She took some few seconds to untie the thing, then she drew out a tarnished silvery figure which she laid on the table. I had resumed weeping, and only when my tearing eyes cleared slightly did I recognize what it was – and as if to buttress the evil of my childhood ways, the blackened edges faintly glowed red for a fraction of a second.

“No!” I shrieked, “No! I killed him! I ate him like a witch!”

“What happened?” said Anna's panicked voice.

“Th-that sweet,” I cried, as I pointed panic-stricken at the red-flaming silver 'mold'. “I-I was f-five years old, and m-my mother gave me a sweet shaped like that, an-and I bit into it, and...”

I barely suppressed a scream, then “no! I murdered him!” The tears now came in a fresh flood, and I sobbed with my head on the table.

“That place is full of witches,” said Anna, “and they probably put blood in it. Now what did you eat?”

“A sweet in that shape, Anna,” I gasped between heartbreaking sobs. “It looked l-like a person, an-and it had n-no blood. I bit it, and I-I murdered him, an-and I ate him. No! I don't want to be a witch!”

“But that is a common Kuchen-mold,” said Anna plaintively. “Five generations back, one of my relatives was a jeweler, and he made that one. Those that are silver are special, but she does not care what you make it of, only that you make it to remind her of her brother. A pig got him, and this is her remembrance-wish.”

“No!” I shrieked. “No death-things, please! Eating that sweet was bad enough, and pigs are worse. I hate pigs!”

“That is all the more reason to make one, then,” said Anna. “She wants Maarten to bless it with the swine-prayer, so that one will hopefully help those that fight those swine, and she wants you to make it.”

“W-why me?” I gasped.

“You got that pig, remember?” said Anna. “There will be more of them. Thankfully, they will be done soon.”

“Now is not a good time, Anna,” said Hans, as he bagged the mold. “Whatever he ate then was trouble, blood or no blood. I think we had best dose him, before he goes out of his mind.”

Minutes later, someone was trying to lift up my head, and when I looked, I saw a tinned copper cup filled with beer. Hans was holding it, and as he put it into my hand, he said, “you should drink all of this, so you do not feel so bad.”

I took one swallow, and the room abruptly went dark.

I awoke in bed to muffled sounds and spectral shadows, and the faint echoes of soft speech seemed tangible and solid in the too-thick air. A sizable funnel was attached to my mouth, and my stomach felt cool, full, and somewhat paralyzed. A faint splashing noise came from the funnel as the shadows moved in slow motion and the air moved aside to accommodate them.

There were piled pillows behind my head, and the weakness I felt slowly grew into paralysis as my eyes became steadily heavier with sleep. More splashing noises came from the funnel. I felt so relaxed I could not move. I fell asleep again minutes later.

I awoke the next morning with a bursting full bladder, and when I attempted to get out of bed, I fell heavily to the floor. The grain of the floor was wavy and squiggly as I crawled slowly on hands and knees to the distorted-looking aperture of the door, and glancing to the sides as I crawled showed slow-changing corners and wiggly walls.

I came to the doorway, and crawled past it, then turned right. Ahead lay another doorway, this one so mobile that nothing I saw was straight or stationary. I used the wall to my right to slowly work my way to a standing position, then took my first step. My bladder was pounding insistently.

My foot finally found the floor, but as I took the next one, I was terrified; each step was distorted to the point of madness. I came to the stairs, and here, they seemed alive as well as mobile. The 'hallway' was growing and shrinking, and the ceiling billowed with smoke left by slow-moving things that reminded me of comets as they shuddered across its narrow width to then vanish when they merged with the wall.

This nightmarish feeling did not diminish with my descending on the stairs: the angles were still madly askew and mobile, the walls seemed made of sentient silly putty, and each step seemed to boom hollowly amid the shrieking of a million crushed rats. Both sounds echoed between my hugely-spread ears.

I reached out my hands to steady myself, then took another thumping step. There were a million more to go, and with each rattling booming rumble my full bladder jolted. Finally, I was at the bottom, and here, there was uncharted wilderness: no convenient walls were handy to steady myself.

I wobbled into a flame-blooming blooming city with tall maniacal skyscrapers covered with raving mouths and jagged teeth. Now and then, the teeth flew like arrows to mingle with the thick smoke obscuring the ceiling, but a tall and wide brown-painted door suitable for the closing of a barn stood ahead, and it opened silent and ghostly to admit my passage unto the inner sanctum. Therein was the throne, and it was unoccupied.

The throne proved a ceramic coffin, with a thick and bloodstained lid painted with evil-smelling red-tinged varnish. I was about to be nitrated, and the nitrator before me needed glycerin. I had a full bottle, and it needed adding, I reminded myself, as I opened the nitrator's lid.

As I added the glycerin, I felt much better, and by the time the nitration had ended – I was glad for a lack of the reddish fumes that meant trouble, even if faint near-colorless fumes seemed common and they vigorously attacked my nose – I felt almost 'normal' on some level. After cleaning my hands, I wobbled out of the nitration-room and looked around.

“This reminds me of that salivary gland stone,” I thought. “Ugh! That morphine was awful!”

As if to answer, the walls echoed with the faint but unmistakable caws of a monstrous raven, and the bricks outside, along with the mortar and trowels, made me think of Amontillado and Montressor.

As I came to the kitchen table, I turned to look 'through' the wall to my right, then muttered, “no, no bricks. Witches use bricks. Those are stones, and I wonder if I am living in a rock-pile.”

As if to answer, Hans showed abruptly from the stairs leading to the basement.

“First you speak of making blasting oil in the privy,” he said, “and now you speak of witches and bricks.”

“Uh, do witches build things?” I asked in an intensely sleepy voice.

“If they do that, they use whatever they can find,” said Hans. “Bricks are used to the south and east more, as stone isn't common there, and coal, sand, and clay are. You look a lot better, and we put a whole jug and half of another in you last night, and the two of us needed to take turns leading you to the privy, as you go a lot with that stuff.”

Here, Hans produced a vial and a dropping tube, then said, “open wide and swallow. This is the widow's tincture. I think you should take it daily.”

I had a full tube of an intensely vile-tasting mixture dumped in my mouth, which I washed down with a cup of boiled water. Within a minute, the weird sensation mostly left – the beer-induced weird sensation. I now felt much weirder, and all movement seemed slowed to the point of horror, with distorted walls, wiggly floors, lively ceilings, and too-bright lights.

Hans helped me into the bed of the buggy, and when he drove off – again, it was still dark – I felt uncommonly relaxed and unsettlingly calm. I was not sleepy in the slightest, for some reason, and while I looked around with staring-seeming eyes, I realized just how strong Valoris tincture actually was.

“It makes the beer here seem tame,” I thought, “and if I need to rest, it acts like a really strong sleeping pill. I wished I had it where I came from, as it makes the stuff there look worthless.”

The sun started 'showing' about half-way there, and as the buggy slid slightly around a turn, I asked, “what is commonly used for people who have trouble sleeping?” My voice was frightfully distorted; it rang, it echoed, it was too loud, and seemed two octaves too low.

“The widow's tincture works as well as anything unless one has had too many close ones,” said Hans. “If that is so, then some of the tincture for pain is given with it, and that causes sleep so deep that the person needs close watching.”

“W-why?” I asked innocently. Again, my voice echoed, rang, sounded too loud, and had the tone of a foghorn.

“They would go in the bed with that stuff,” said Hans. “With beer or the widow's tincture, they wake up and go usually, like you did.”

“But I needed to be led,” I asked. “Or did I?”

“You could not see where you were going,” said Hans, “and you were talking to the walls. Otherwise, it wasn't that bad, even when we were bathing you.”

Here, Hans paused, then said, “now if the two tinctures are given, though, a bucket is needed, and the person needs to be watched as if they were a crock used for making blasting oil. You would need something like one of those books speaks of, as otherwise you would need a wash-tub.”

“Do people have trouble with beer or tinctures?” I asked, with a voice that simultaneously seemed horribly bent and badly twisted. Faint glowing spheres were falling from my mouth to hit the buggy-box, where they bounced and rolled until they faded.

“Some do, but almost all of them are witches,” said Hans. “Even those hurt bad enough to need dosing with that tincture for months find it unpleasant.”

“Do they need to take more with time?” I asked.

“Only witches want that stuff then,” said Hans. “Most dislike it at first, and it gets worse the longer they take it. Paul was glad he only had to take that stuff for three days, and he did not mind sitting in the privy for a day when he was done.”

“Uh, long times?” I asked.

“A few days in the privy, and they are fine,” said Hans.

“And beer? Geneva?”

“That is the same way,” said Hans. “Unless the person is a witch, or wants to be one bad, they get silly, go home, sleep well, and don't cause trouble, and that is if they are not sick.”

Hans paused, then said, “and given how that place where you came from is full of bad witches, I think there are lots of people that cause trouble that way.”

“There are, and they do have trouble,” I said. My voice still echoed frightfully. “I am terrified that I will become like some ill-tempered and violent drunks I ran into there, and I don't want to be that way, nor do I wish to become an abusive fiend shaking constantly like a tree in a storm, and seeing things coming out of the walls, like, uh, pink deer.”

“Now what is this about deer that color?” asked Hans.

“Th-the horrors?” I asked. I had no idea of how to speak of delirium tremens 'conventionally', and I doubted there were zoos or elephants in the area. “Like when people drink a jug of Geneva a day and suddenly stop?”

“Those that do that do not stop suddenly,” said Hans, “unless someone hangs them out to dry or airs out their smelly hide, and I think most of them are from the north. Those people drink like fish are said to, and I got a sample of that green stuff they like to drink. I have it drying out under the fume hood.”

“Uh, that stuff smells horrible,” I said.

“That is why I am careful as to when I let the cork out, so no one gets sick from the smell,” said Hans. “I think it has datramonium in it, and if it does, it must be evil in a jug.”

“Jug?” I asked.

“I got one of those jugs those people use, too,” said Hans, “and I am wondering how to get more of them made like it.”

“Uh, why?” I asked. “A fire-trap?”

“That or a powder-jug,” said Hans. “Grandfather put jugs in or near the ships when he could. I think he would have liked to have you help him, as I have yet to see anyone find those places as easy as you did that one time.”

“Easy, he says,” I thought. “It wasn't me doing it.”

I was dropped off at the front gate, and after being checked carefully, I walked back toward the doorway. It was a bit earlier than the day before, and when I came to the 'tailor section', I was led back out into the hallway where the numbered doors were. One of them was missing its 'tag', and when the door itself was opened, I was astonished to find a small square table of varnished wood, a narrow bed of similar construction, a plain wooden stool, and barely enough room to move around in.

“Do I change in here?” I asked. The echoes had diminished to a degree. They were still quite marked.

“Yes, that would be wise,” said my guide. “This is one of the guard rooms. After you get changed, I would bring your other things, as there have been comments about them.”

“I hope those are good comments,” I mumbled, as I followed him back to the 'tailor section'.

“That musket you have seems especially interesting,” he said. “One member of the General Staff has one similar, and copies are wanted. Since he got it, he has shot two deer, changed his diet, language and behavior, and now walks more or less normally.”

“What?” I asked. The clanging sound in my ears was astonishing.

“I think his feet became sore enough to notice,” he said. “Walking like that, especially in those boots, is a recipe for sore feet.”

I was given brown-splotched gray trousers and shirt of uncommon bagginess, along with a leather belt, and carrying the bagged things back to the room made for wondering, especially once I was inside it with a lit candle and the door closed. Changing took but minutes, and in this instance, not merely were the clothes amply loose, they also itched to a modest degree in a few places.

“At least this is a common-enough belt,” I thought, as I transferred my pocket-things to the pockets. I gathered my supplies and went to the 'guard-room'.

The lecture was just about to start, and when I sat down and arranged my things, I felt in my bag for a 'notepad' and pencil. I found them just as the instructor started in on the subject of bows.

His first mention of them was their history, which he kept mercifully short. I had the impression there wasn't much 'history' to talk about, and when he began speaking of the various types of arrows, I glanced around.

The others seemed inattentive, for some reason, so much so that I wondered why they felt that way, and my thoughts were these:

“Those people have plenty of archers, and while accuracy isn't something they can brag about, they do manage fair volume. I saw a large number of tinned thugs on the ground with arrows in them – and besides, bows are quieter than muskets.”

The lecture spoke of bow-care – they didn't much care for damp, especially the strings – and then, the actual method of shooting. I gathered that talk didn't provide much help beyond the very basics.

When the lecture finished, we left the room and headed toward a staircase that I had missed, this being the downward continuation of the large one I had gone up yesterday. As we went down the stairs in near-silence, I felt distinctly 'creepy', more so than anywhere I had been in years.

“Is that room here?” I thought. There was no answer.

The obliviousness of the group was astonishing, and the odors I smelled gave possible clues. I smelled beer, Geneva, and an odor reminiscent of the mash tub at home when it was ready to run.

“And Hans was speaking of getting another one of those things,” I thought. “Now did they rub themselves with that liniment, or did they drink the stuff?” I paused, then thought, “did yesterday bug them too?”

We now turned onto a landing, and as I looked, I saw the stairs heading down for at least one more floor. I was glad we were not going down them, as I could feel that stinky room's presence below us – and it was very much in use at this time.

The current hallway was a good deal darker and narrower than that of the 'ground floor', and as we passed dark varnished doors and hallways, I looked around. There were great numbers of small brass-framed 'lanterns' with flickering candles shedding a somewhat dim and 'romantic' – or was it spooky? – light upon us as we passed them, and I wondered as to the presence of rodents and vermin in the building. The faint musty odor that seemed compounded of tallow and dust didn't help.

Our destination was somewhat further down this hall, and as we continued past doors and darkened hallways, I thought:

“Bottom floor: Dungeons, Dragons, Desmonds, Witches, Black Stone Knives, and Lingerie.” I nearly giggled at the last.

While the idea of 'Lingerie' was amusing, the other things were not, especially those things they named Dragoons. I did not wish to encounter those. I had already encountered a Desmond, and I'd had enough run-ins with witches to not enjoy their company.

“That whole bottom floor has the feel of a dungeon,” I thought.

An iron-bound varnished wooden door loomed directly ahead on the far wall, and as we weaved around the thick stone columns, the instructor seemed to be heading toward that one particular door. The darkness surrounding it, while not total, was sufficient to give it an aura of danger and strangeness, and that sensation was increased when he stopped in front of it and produced a key.

This key was truly fit for the heart of a skeleton, with a brass shank, a red wooden handle with brass inset, and a size such that I marveled. It was nearly four inches long from end to end, and when he slipped it into the lockplate, I wondered how long he would spend jiggling the key before the lock clicked.

It clicked immediately, and he opened wide the door to show a darkened vestibule. He went to the nearest 'lantern', removed it from its metal 'peg' – there was a hole in the back of the 'lantern', such that it slipped over the peg and hung from the wall – and then went inside. Within seconds, the place began to grow brighter, and as we filed in, I suddenly understood why.

The place had more of those 'lanterns', these being larger examples with thick yellowish-white candles, and as he lit them, he handed them to us.

“Be careful where you go,” he said. “Follow me.”

The dusty floor of the place showed a jumble of footprints and cleared 'paths', while the walls themselves showed their age. I almost expected to see traces of niter showing here and there, though they were conspicuous by their absence, and as we passed dim hallways and rooms, the resemblance to a catacomb broke down, for there were no skeletons.

There were weapons in profusion to take their places.

Long rows of axes stood next to sheafs of pikes, while rack after rack showed muskets in various states of disuse. The reek of tallow was omnipresent, and its rancid smell caused retching. One room, with its tin label of 'room of the swords', seemed interesting, but the instructor led past it without stopping. I surmised he was after the bows.

The irregular nature of this winding and twisty maze of passages and rooms spoke of its being put in as an 'afterthought' or as a filler for the space left by the other rooms.

“And I doubt this is the only room like this,” I thought.

After passing several more alcoves and rooms, we turned left at a branched passage, and went down a long dismal hall. The dust was a bit thicker here, and after two more alcoves and three 'closets', we came to a room with a white tin label spelling out in black block letters the following dread statement:

“Huh?” I thought. I then wondered what Sarah shot for a bow.

“Lift your lanterns up when you come into this room,” said the instructor. “It's a fair-sized room, compared to most in this group.”

“Are there more of these places?” asked one of the students.

“There are,” he said. “Every floor has at least one, save for the lowest one, which is two below this one. No one goes down there.”

I now saw several large free-standing racks, each with two lines of pegs running from knee-height to shoulder. On each such set of pegs lay an unstrung bow, and as I looked closer, the instructor resumed speaking about the 'care and feeding' of bows.

I listened as well as I could in the presence of so much distraction, and when he began handing us each a bow, I listened slightly better – at least, until I was handed one. I stood it on end, and to my surprise, the thing was but a bit shorter than myself. I looked at those handed to the others.

They were easily a foot shorter than mine, and noticeably thinner as well.

The lecture now resumed, and in my distracted state, I saw a dark and dusty table piled high with cloth 'rolls'. These were tied neatly with thin cords, and during a lull in the lecture, I went over to examine them. A touch showed them to be 'sheafs' of arrows.

“I would take one of those rolls,” said the instructor. “The arrows are in there.”

I lifted a bundle, then held it such that I could hopefully look at the pointed ends, and as I looked, one of the other students asked, “what kind of arrows are those?”

“Those would be war-arrows,” said the instructor. “They have different heads compared to hunting arrows, chiefly because deer and elk don't wear plate. Those people to the north do.”

“So that's what they go after those thugs with,” I thought.

“Besides, I have some hunting arrows, in case a deer or elk shows,” said the instructor. “It isn't common this time of year, especially with new people, but I have seen it happen.”

I felt my pockets, then recalled at least one other person had a knife as the lecture resumed.

Minutes later, we were walking single-file back the way we came, with extinguished candles and a locked door behind us. I was glad we had blown them out, as I had noticed several small kegs of a familiar form. They looked too close to those kegs Willem had used on the wagon to be a coincidence, and I did not wish to be blown up by carelessness.

“And I'd best ask Hans about that powder he got recently,” I thought. “I could use some more.”

Once back at the 'guard room', we were shown how to string our bows. Again, I noticed the verbal instruction seemed more 'perfunctory', and now, I knew why: most of the class were obviously tactile learners, and they learned in a very hands-on fashion.

My bow proved slightly awkward, due to its size and stiffness, but I managed to string the thing properly before the instructor got to me. He glanced, nodded approval, and resumed showing the others how to deal with their 'contrary sticks', while I looked mine over.

The draw of the bow was quite substantial, so much so that I marveled. I then untied the 'roll' of arrows while sitting, and here, I was again surprised.

The shafts were nearly a yard long, with a smoothly varnished finish and four stiff-looking feathered 'fletches' at one end, and a gleaming steel tip at the other. I looked closer at the tip, and thought, “now I know why I have four-cornered deburring knives and not three! This thing is one of them.”

I was about to slip the arrow back into the 'pouch' when the instructor said, “pass out one of those to each of the others, and you wear the quiver.”

As I did so, I wondered more than a little as to why I was to wear the quiver, until the instructor said, “that bow you have is special, as it has a much stronger pull than the usual. Few can manage those like that, but I suspect you can, based on what I learned yesterday after the class.”

He paused, then said, “now, we can go outside.”

We left by a door next to the refectory, which proved to have its own secrets. This door led to a narrow hallway that first turned right, then left. This passage had two doors on the right side, with a strange-looking blackened metal band between them, and a door some distance ahead. I suspected the band to be a gate of some kind, and when the instructor opened the door going outside, he glanced to his right before opening the door completely. He then looked at me. I suspected I was to go outside first.

I did so, then waited for the others, who came out afterward. While they looked bewildered, I had the intimation that I needed to lead off, and I began heading in the direction of the northeast corner of the property.

“I thought so,” murmured the instructor. “That is the direction we need to go, and you did the right thing without being told.”

As I went through the trees, I wondered why I was the 'point man', as well as why I had the bulk of the arrows, but as I moved, I could hear clumsy stumbling steps in my wake. I stopped for a moment, and saw the other students trying to keep up with the instructor – who was just able to keep up with me. I resumed moving through the trees, now wary for other surprises.

I broke out of the first batch of trees less than a minute later, and while I recalled what might have been a stable to my left – again, I had smelled the terrifying aroma of horses long before the end of the trees – I noticed a building to my right. I knew it was not a stable, and as I moved straight ahead, I noted that building's odor.

It fairly reeked of dogs.

“That must be the hound-house,” I thought, as I scanned it briefly. “It does not look like a kennel.”

I thought to head in the direction of the manure-pile, and as I came closer, I noticed not merely the odor of horses, but also another odor – a foul, rank, and pungent stench – and I wondered briefly what it was until I heard a loud and discordant braying noise.

I froze in my tracks, knelt, and pointed my arrow in that direction, then turned to the others. I made the hand-signal for 'please come'.

Karl came from the bunched group, then knelt down beside me. He seemed to be learning quickly.

“Was that a mule?” I whispered into his ear.

He nodded, and the sense of fear I felt seemed echoed in his worried look. I resumed my forward track, with arrow nocked. I wanted to go around the manure pile, for some reason.

The mound of dung grew steadily higher in my vision, for it was easily ten feet tall and forty or more feet wide. The reek of the stuff grew steadily more intense, and as I skirted the base of the mound while heading more to the north, I noted its dark color, its complete lack of snow, and also, its warmth.

I came back to the east portion of the unusually thick copse, and as I did – there was a path of some kind present, with an area clear of snow, slush, and manure – I heard a faint snapping sound, then a shout followed by the cluttering noise of hooves. I moved ahead faster, then when I came around the other side of the copse, I froze.

The doorway to the 'stable' – wide, doubled doors, dark within, and steamy-seeming – was flung open, and just in front of it, in a small clearing, was a huge black horse rearing up on his hind legs. He was waving his front ones, and as I watched transfixed, I lowered the arrow such that it pointed to the ground. The horse was being mistreated, and he was communicating in the only way he could. I cautiously stepped closer.

For some reason, I did not feel afraid of him, and when I came within ten feet, I carefully laid the bow on the ground. He became calm and quiet, and I let him smell me as I stood completely still.

“They should not treat you so,” I whispered. “Here, let me remove that...”

I nearly screamed with the sense of torment as I touched the saddle and bridle, and when a 'groom' came up breathless, I began removing the horrible-looking thing in the horse's mouth.

While I wasn't familiar with either horses or what was used, I knew that this equipment didn't work very well. I handed it wordlessly to the groom, then when I moved to the where the saddle attached, the horse seemed to kneel slightly. I undid the buckles, then hauled it off – and looked on the underside of the wood-and-leather instrument. It was terribly rough-looking.

“This thing needs about four inches of foam padding,” I thought. “Now that blanket...”

I removed that also, then handed it to another startled groom.

“Someone wished to ride him, but he wasn't inclined,” said the second groom, “and that man tried using a crop.”

I nearly screamed again, but shook my head soundlessly.

“That isn't right, especially with this kind,” he said. “They do not like that treatment, even if he seems good enough to win any race that runs.”

“Do you have a hoof-pick?” I asked softly.

He handed me one, then I went down on hands and knees. I carefully examined the right front hoof, gently touching the shoe and trying to wiggle it, then carefully going over the inside of the hoof as well. I then went to the rear, did the same – and noticed a wiggle in the shoe.

“This one is loose here,” I said. “It needs careful reworking so it's tight and fits properly.”

After checking over the other two hooves, I stood up, handed the hoof pick back, then said, “he needs a good deal of grain, more than is common, and perhaps a blanket and a soft lead, if that.”

I paused, then said, “he seems different in some way. I thought I could never get close to one of them.”

“That never occurred to me,” said the groom, “but what you said makes sense, as that is how those who race ride, and most of those horses will not endure the usual equipment. Extra grain is a must with them.”

As the horse willingly followed the groom into the barn, I retrieved my bow and arrows, then looked around. Everyone else, the instructor included, had hung back in the trees that bordered the stable, and as I came to them, I looked with questioning gaze upon their faces.

“What did you do?” asked the instructor. “That one is the really wild one, and I thought you were afraid of them.”

“I am,” I whispered, “except for him. I think he might tolerate me if I treat him right.” I paused, then said, “the gate is over in that direction, isn't it?” I pointed with my hand, and he nodded.

The rear group of trees seemed to stretch on and on in an ominous fashion, even as I 'felt' the gate becoming steadily closer, and the seamless merging of the hedge with the 'forest' provided an added element of confusion – at least, until I moved to the right. I was looking for a hollow in the hedge, and as the stuff grew in thickness, I marveled more – until I found the beginnings of an arch-roofed tunnel with a floor of dirt mingled with gravel. I turned to wait for the others, as I had a feeling about reaching the gate.

The others took nearly a minute to come to where I was, and as I listened, again, I heard their 'stumbling', near-tripping, and noisy passage. Hans and Anna were quieter, and listening to my classmates was a cause for wondering, at least until they showed. The instructor checked them over, then softly said, “hand-signals as much as possible while we're out, and try to keep up.”

I then led into the dank tunnel. The close and clutching aspect of the greenery on all sides made for slow moving on my part, or so it seemed to me, at least until I came to the door of the gate. This was of thick varnished wood, dark forged iron straps – they formed part of the hinge, and bound the door proper together – and an uncommonly large dirty brown doorknob about half-way up at the right margin of the door. This last was nearly three inches across, and showed underneath it an obvious keyhole. I wondered if I could ask the door to open, and carefully took hold of the knob as I shifted my bow and arrow to my left hand.

“Oh, my,” I thought, as I felt an obvious button on the back side of the knob near the bottom. “This is one of those knobs. Now I wonder...”

The impression I had was to ask the door to open, and my thoughts were along those lines: “open, please, and close when we are all outside and ready to go.”

A faint sluggishness seemed to overshadow the mechanism, even as it shuddered under my hand, then it freed up and twitched as the mechanism clicked. I turned the knob, sheltering behind the door until I looked outside. There was a hedge on the other side as well, though thinner and less 'imposing', and also, a strange recollection – one of a gun store I had once been in.

I had nearly dived for the floor when another customer – to my left, at the counter with a salesman – was examining a weapon and its action went into battery with a click. This feeling was quite similar, so much so that I was all too wary as I slowly moved through the outer hedge. The feeling of 'hurry' was becoming stronger, as the huge musket ball would rip through the foliage surrounding me unimpeded, and its nearly one inch diameter...

“Hans spoke of roers,” I said, “and that sounds about right for one,” as I ducked down and moved hurriedly, then ran to the right and dove for the ground to slide as a whistling object flew overhead and to my rear to first rattle the hedge and then hit the hedge-hidden wall with a wet smacking sound. I then heard the rumbling cannon-like report of a large musket far in the distance.

“Silence may be good on the march,” I spat testily, “but this is war if that was what I think it was.”

As I slowly got up, the instructor came out of the hedge, then began muttering before saying, “I think this training is going to be tougher than I thought it would be, as some wretch over yonder shot at us with an elk-musket.”

“Over yonder?” I whispered, as I looked to the north to see snow-covered fields, copses, and woodlots.

“He's either blind, a brigand that wants outlawing, a brigand already outlawed, or a witch,” said the instructor. “Once the others are out, lead off in that direction.”

While I waited, I checked my bow, the arrow I had nocked – they were both fine – and then the arrow-pouch. I continued looking, then saw a nearby copse and went toward it at a near-run. It proved wise as another whistling projectile hit the ground where I had been standing but seconds before.

“No, and I dare not stay put unless I have good cover,” I thought. “That wretch wants my hide.”

I knelt down, then looked back toward the hedge. There were still people slowly coming out of it, and the instructor was 'missing', or so I thought until he came out of the hedge with one of the other students ahead of him. I recognized the two – Karl, and that one man with his knife – that were currently out, and their watchfulness seemed marked. I wondered if they'd been shot at before.

It took nearly three minutes of the instructor ferrying the remainder of the class through the hedge, and as the last person came out ahead of him, I held up four fingers – 'follow me' – and then led off at a run from behind the copse.

While I had heard from Hans how rapidly I moved, I wondered if it was merely a fluke as I went toward the nearest copse. It was a good two hundred yards, and as I bounded over the snow and mud-flats that showed here and there, it seemed a marvel – until I suddenly leaped down and to the side as another ball whistled close by. I heard the booming report as I regained my feet and pressed on towards the beckoning copse.

Again, I knelt down against the back side. I suspected strongly that the shooter wasn't shooting 'conventionally', but rather in 'indirect fire mode', and as I watched the others, I saw first one of them trip and fall sprawling, then another, then two more slip and land on their backs or faces. The yells of confusion and screams of 'wait up' were both endemic and troubling.

“And they make as much noise as a buffalo stampede,” I thought, “and that's when they aren't yelling or screaming. They'd be dead meat if that character was after them.”

I paused, then thought, “and he isn't staying put, either. He's coming closer.”

Once the others were close and clustered around the copse, I waited for a moment, then led out at an angle toward the east and north. I wanted to flank the wretch with the shoulder-fired artillery if I could, and I knew he was going east as well. He had a dugout of some kind in that direction.

He also wasn't letting up with his shooting, as a ball whistled directly overhead but seconds after I made the 'safety' of another copse.

“How much range does that thing have?” I thought, as I peered around the northeast portion of the copse while kneeling. “If it takes as much powder as I've heard, then it should leave a smoke cloud when he fires.”

The copses were growing somewhat closer together, so much so that when the others had arrived, I waited until they had caught their breath. I listened carefully – both to their murmuring and their breathing, then when I turned to them, I held up four fingers again, and ran for the nearest copse to the north and east.

I was glad this one was so close, as within three seconds of my starting for it I had to leap for the ground as another ball shot overhead. This one was close enough that I felt its breeze and heard the splat as it hit but feet to my right and behind me, and when I got up and resumed running, I saw what might have been a slow-rising bluish cloud of smoke some distance to the north.

I waited again at the copse. I was beginning to wonder if I was better off alone, so much so that when I paused in my looking through the gaps in the branches, I turned to see the instructor next to me.

“Do you see where he is?” he asked.

“No, sir,” I said. “I saw what might have been a smoke cloud, but not merely – Down!”

I yanked him down with me as a ball ripped through the copse, then when he got up, he muttered about the person being a witch and a brigand.

“I'm not sure he's after you,” I said. “I think I'm drawing most of the fire.”

He looked at me, then shook his head before saying, “I've had such people shoot at me before, and the clothing is what draws fire from them. They don't much care for being hunted.”

“Uh, that first time?” I asked. I had been the only person outside then.

“That makes for wondering,” he said.

While he wondered, I was beginning to wonder a good deal less, for as I watched and waited for the others – they were still falling, tripping, yelling, and screaming – I wondered as to how to deal with the shooter.

“They're like a ball and chain on my leg,” I thought. “I'll need to hurry when I get close and deal with that wretch myself.”

I looked for the next copse, saw it, and this time, I went at a pace that seemed good to me. I only needed what seemed seconds to reach it, and as I went to ground behind it, I heard the ball rip through the branches overhead followed an eyeblink later by the noise of the gun firing it.

“I'm getting closer,” I thought. “I wonder if he's gotten into his dugout yet?”

With lessening distance, I knew his 'gun' had higher velocity and less drop – and hence, he was more likely to shoot 'direct'. I also suspected he might be able to actually see me, and when I left the bushes of the copse, I did not hesitate.

I also felt him fire the thing, and I leaped to the side as the ball shot past me. I hit the ground, then leaped to a standing position and ran for the nearest copse, making it but seconds later and coming to a kneeling position near one edge. It proved wise, as something ripped through the foliage shortly thereafter, and it wasn't a single ball.

“That wretch is firing buckshot,” I thought, as I came from around the bushes and ran toward the smoke cloud.

The smoke was now much more obvious, and when I came to the edges of a woodlot, I suspected that the thug with the huge musket was hiding somewhere inside it. I had to keep moving, as now I had no real cover, and I was in an unfamiliar location, unlike the shooter. I was so astonished when I saw a black-dressed shape seem to materialize not forty feet away that I instinctively drew, aimed, and fired – and then jumped backwards and twisted to fall on my face as the location where I had been standing swarmed with a cloud of hot lead.

I picked myself up off the ground slowly, now wondering if I'd been hurt. The odor of burnt powder drifted nearby, and as I got to my knees, I saw the thick cloud of smoke slowly drifting out from under the trees. I then saw a crumpled black-dressed form lying face-down and motionless on the ground.

I nocked another arrow, then slowly advanced. Each step seemed an eternity, and each slow crunching noise my feet made as I stepped on the snow seemed the roaring rumble of an avalanche. I hoped this person was the sole shooter, even as I came closer.

“And I hope the other students stay clear,” I thought. “This isn't something 'trainees' should do.”

The black form had an area on its back that seemed uncommonly slick, as well as something under it, and when I came to the body lying face to the ground, I knelt carefully. I then looked, even as I heard someone – the instructor – 'yelling' at his charges to 'hold up'.

“Figures, they all are coming like a pack of...”

Someone shouted, then screamed as he fell, and I stood up and walked back to the edge of the forest. I then was astonished.

The instructor had somehow managed to hold everyone back, and was looking carefully my way – from a distance of nearly two hundred yards. I surmised he didn't commonly deal with people shooting like that one thug had, and I made the hand-signal for 'come closer', followed by 'slowly'. I then returned to the fallen.

The black-dressed individual was still immobile, and when I looked on his other side, I was astonished to see the uncommonly thick form of some kind of 'gun'. I began to carefully turn him over, as I had the impression he might be shamming.

I then noticed the smell, this being a near-palpable mixture of rotten meat, strong drink, 'dirt', and another acrid stink that took me some seconds to recognize as that of datramonium.

When I had gotten him up to a degree, I noticed the blood staining his front, and then, once I had him on his side, I heard the noise of the others as they came at a walk. A torn fragment of bloody cloth on his back showed where the arrow had exited his body.

“At least they aren't tripping and falling constantly,” I thought, as I moved the soot-grimed 'gun' out of the way and laid it to the side. “They'd best sit down and rest once they get here...”

My thinking was arrested by the sight of a shiny black face covered with what resembled a runny – and malodorous – version of bullet lubricant. It made for an entirely different train of thought, as well as a thoroughly unpleasant recollection involving that dream of witches, their prey, and what the two parties did to one another on a fogbound night.

“No, it can't be,” I thought. “Is this what those people were wearing?”

There was no answer, and my thinking of 'camouflage' implied shades of green and brown 'worked' in a forest environment. Instead, the witch was wearing glossy black stuff that seemed to faintly shine in the darkness like a wearable black hole, and the ideas that poured through my mind of other reasons for its use made for wondering, as well as further questions.

Again, the impressions gathered. That one witch had had traces of this stuff here and there on him, and as I began to feel the outside of the pockets of the now-obvious witch, I heard steps coming closer. I looked up to see the instructor cautiously looking into the 'clearing' – and suddenly, the sensation on my hands became overwhelming. I dropped the witch forthwith and began rubbing my hands on the snow and the ground to get rid of the 'greasy' feeling that seemed to cover them. I was surprised he remained on his side.

“Do witches always feel greasy like this?” I thought. “He feels awful.”

I put the witch on his back with my knee, and then looked to my right. To my astonishment, I saw what looked like an open trapdoor not forty feet away, and I began walking toward it. With each step, the feeling – and smell – of what I was approaching grew steadily stronger and more ominous.

The person that had been shooting at us – or most likely, me – was a live-in caretaker of the doom-room. More, he was also the coven-leader, and dungeon-master; while he wanted a dragon – a dray-goon, as was pronounced locally – he hadn't been able to conjure one.

“Didn't Hans say they liked to set these places up in this kind of situation?” I thought. “I bet that place has at least one Desmond in it, and that means being careful.”

Steps from my rear drew closer, and I turned and waved my hand to indicate 'no closer'. This was dangerous enough for me, I now knew for certain, and when I turned, someone asked a question. The feeling I had reminded me of the apprentices' initial attitudes toward my working longer hours.

“And they didn't like it much,” I thought. “How could I deal with that stack of orders otherwise?”

The distracting knowledge seemed uncommonly abstracted as I resumed my cautious stepping toward the trapdoor, and when I came to the edge, I saw tarry-looking wood framing a wide rectangle of darkness that flickered with feeble candlelight. Cut logs made for narrow steps that plunged downward into the darkness, and when I turned to go back to the dead thug, I had an idea regarding his musket.

“Perhaps I can convert that thing into a pipe bomb,” I thought. “It's worth a try.”

When I came to the witch, I brought out my tool-roll, and extracted one of the small knives. I thought to use it to cut his pockets, but the sense of 'no' I felt made for putting knife and roll back where I had gotten them. I looked up to see the instructor coming cautiously nearer.

“That was a test and a half,” said the instructor, “as that wretch has a price on him. He was known for a brigand, and now known for a witch. We need to make a burn-pile for him.”

He paused, then saw the door to my rear. He cautiously went closer, then returned to where I was trying to figure out what the witch had in his pockets.

“And burn that hole,” he said.

“I have an idea as to that hole, sir,” I said quietly. “Overload this musket here with priming powder, then prime it with a string tied to its trigger after putting it in a corner. A few jugs of distillate next to it should get both the room and its occupants when it goes.”

“If anyone else mentioned such a thing, I would wonder,” he said, “but you do live with Hans, and that sounds like what he might well do for such a place.”

The instructor thought for a moment, then went back to where the others were sitting. He spoke for a moment, then sent out four of them to fetch what I had asked for. As they left, he returned to me, then said, “I wonder if Hans ever did that one. Did he teach you much about bombing?”

“I went with him a few days ago to string up several of them,” I said. “I've also helped with some of the more critical supplies for shells and friction igniters, and then I work in the basement a fair amount.”

I paused, then said, “that was here. I dealt with such things where I came from enough to learn how to be careful around them.”

“Then the witches are in trouble,” he muttered, “as between the two of you, I doubt there is a trap they can figure. Have you thought about swine-traps?”

“What do they like to eat?” I asked.

“Anything that resembles meat,” he said. “Why?”

“Bait, sir,” I said. “I've made a number of gunlocks from scratch, and have made smaller versions of witch-jugs before. A cast-iron version baited with meat should cause the pigs trouble.”

As I said this, however, I had the intimation that my idea was well beyond anything Hans had considered, so much so that while I could ask him, I was mostly on my own. Still, I needed to do so, and more importantly, I needed to speak of the matter currently.

“I plan on working it out better and then showing Hans the first example,” I said, “in hopes he might suggest improvements or contribute ideas.”

I then looked at the witch's face. He was not rotting, for some reason, and when I went closer, I asked, “can you or someone else remove what is in his pockets?”

“Why, can't you?” he asked.

“Witches feel really greasy,” I said, “and there are few sensations that feel worse on my hands.”

I then resumed wiping them on the ground, as the 'greasy' feeling had returned. The instructor was disinclined to look until I pointed out the witch's money-pouch with my finger, then his 'notes' in another pocket.

“Why would a witch have such things?” he asked, as he removed a greasy-looking string-tied packet of paper.

“Perhaps he was keeping track of something,” I said. “I've found notes like that in two other instances, and I'm hoping I can figure out what is involved.” I pocketed the paper packet thankfully.

The witch also proved to have a well-hid leather satchel with his loading supplies. I began cleaning the 'gun' while the instructor watched me.

“I've heard you work on those,” he said. “How much?”

“Whenever they come in the door of the shop,” I said. “This one seems to have a passable action, a somewhat worn bore, and the wood's seen better days. I wonder if that witch was patching his balls.”

The instructor left me to my gun-examination, so much so that when I resumed looking in the leather pouch the witch had, I was surprised to find ragged-looking tallowed squares of coarse cloth, a small leather sack of 'shot', a small tin of tallow, and a decent-sized leather sack filled with lead balls. I took one of these last out, and was clearly astonished, for the thing showed a nearly invisible parting line and a small sprue. I pocketed several of these huge projectiles, noting as I did so their diameter.

“Those things have to be an inch or more,” I thought. “Lead is lead, and melting the stuff will remove any taint it might have. Now how do I get this thing ready to rig up?”

I turned to the opening of the 'clearing' and seemed to hear those sent back gathering the supplies in question. I was glad Karl was with them, for he seemed to be learning a bit faster than the others, and I suspected he could find the needed supplies.

My suspicions proved correct, even as I carefully checked the area around the trapdoor. The only path to the place seemed to be the clearing, and when I came out again, I was astonished to see the others standing around aimlessly. I wondered as to what I could do until I saw four people coming steadily in the company of a horse, and when they came to the mouth of the clearing, I came nearer.

“Did you get some, uh, distillate?” I asked.

“We found this cleaning solution that comes from the south,” said Karl, “and it was said to make distillate seem feeble for burning.”

“Priming powder?” I asked

“Several pounds,” said Karl. “I thought it would be a good idea to get some quickmatch, so I got some. I hope it will help.”

“I suspect it will,” I said. “Then again...”

I paused in mid-sentence, for I had an impression too strong to ignore. The witches had dynamite in their 'hole', and it was not fresh.

“They have dynamite in there,” I said.

“That is said to explode if fire gets to it,” said Karl.

“Hans said it does,” I said. “Still, I would like to use caps if they have them.” I paused for a moment, then asked, “could someone bring me that priming powder?”

Karl brought an unusually squat keg some minutes later, and as he and the instructor worked at levering the top of the thing off, I brought in the four jugs of 'cleaning solution' and quickmatch. The jugs were of the 'standard' form, with a pale yellow-tinted exterior glaze and a wide dark green stripe. I wondered if it was wise to examine the stuff when I recalled the candles in the witch's dugout – and also, the behavior of distillate.

“I'd best not,” I thought, “and I'd best clean that gun again and make certain it's good and dry.”

The 'spit and tallow' regime had loosened up more dirt and 'soot', and when I finished my second cleaning, I carefully dried the bore and pan. I then thought to examine the witch's gear to learn if he had anything suitable for loading up his gun.

He didn't; his powder measure was old, badly worn, and on the verge of coming apart.

When the lid came off of the powder keg, I marveled at the silvery-gray 'dust' within, and then saw the lid itself. Its 'X-V-X' marking made for wondering, at least until I knelt down and brought out my tool roll, and then its knives.

“What gives with those things?” asked Karl, as I began to look for something that might help with loading the gun beyond the narrow blades of the knives.

“These are some things I carry in my pockets,” I said. “I don't have a spoon here, so I'll need to use one of these knives to get the stuff in the gun.”

I paused, then asked, “could you talk to the fellow with the knife and have him cut a piece of tree-branch to use as a cork for this barrel?”

While Karl left immediately, I began to 'load up' the gun. Every few doses of powder, I gently tapped the side of the thing to settle the stuff. I suspected I had my work cut out for me, so much so that when someone dropped a thick bundle of fishing string next to me, I startled.

“I would stay clear, Johan,” said the instructor. “You do not want to be too close to those doing bomber's work.”

There were two young men of that name in the class, and as I continued filling the gun's barrel and tapping the stock against the ground, I wondered just what the others could do in the meantime. I soon found out.

The person with the knife came into the area shortly with a thumb-length piece of wood, and looked closely at what I was doing from a distance of several feet, while Karl began undoing the fishing line from the bundle. He kept his distance, so much so that I wondered, until I saw movement in my peripheral vision and turned to my right.

The other – taller – Johan was looking to go down the steps, and was pausing at the threshold of the doom-room.

“Johan, that would be unwise,” said the instructor. “Those places are dangerous if you are not familiar with them.”

He then turned to me, then said, “are you?”

“Those here, no,” I said. “Where I came from, to some degree. They were less primitive-looking and far less obvious – and no, you usually didn't have a witch reveal the thing for you. You had to sense their location, and I did that a lot. Then, since I came here, I've had several run-ins with witches. It might be the horribly-nearsighted leading those more so, but I am willing to try this.”

I resumed filling the gun with the powder, then minutes later, I tested how far it had been filled with the ramrod. It had some distance further to go, and how much time it would take was much of a mystery.

As I continued, I heard Karl arranging the fishing line, and now and then, I glanced to my left to see the man with the knife. He seemed especially good with his blade, so much so that when I filled the gun more or less full and put in a rag, I was handed a 'cork'. I put it in the muzzle, and found it fit tightly. I then pounded it in tighter yet with a rock.

“Thank you,” I said. “I'll leave this thing unprimed until I find out what's down there.”

I came to the edge of the doorway, then gingerly put a foot on the top section of log. It held, though the sense of treacherous footing was enough to cause a sudden spurt of fear. I took another step, then another, and I was thigh-deep in the doom-room.

“Ten more steps to go,” I thought, as I made another cautious step downward into the dimness.

As I made further steps down into the place, I noted the slimy-looking black walls of the place, and I paused on the seventh step to look closer. My eyes seemed to be quickly adjusting, for I saw not merely obvious 'spikes', but also rough-sawn wood and faintly dirty crevices. I touched the surface, and nearly yelped with the roughness of the wood.

“They coated that stuff with tar,” I thought, as I resumed stepping downward.

The tenth step showed a sizable roof-beam overhead, and with three more such steps, I came into what might have been a 'mine' of some kind. Thick tar-coated beams – they looked like peeled tree-trunks – showed to the sides and overhead, and to my right was a dark passage that seemed endless. The worst portion of the odor was that way, while ahead were the dim flickering light-sources that I now recognized as obvious candles.

I cautiously walked on the pounded-flat dirt of the floor, and as I came even with the first of the mid-span support-beams, I saw not merely obvious candle-holders, but to my right, I saw a barrel on its side, a jug-collection, and a rude cabinet of some kind. I suspected it to be food, and when I went closer, I saw two or three sizable crocks. I opened one, and clapped down the lid in a hurry.

“That's the food, all right,” I thought. “I have no idea how people stay healthy eating meat that smells like that.”

The other support-beams to my left seemed to divide the 'living-chamber' of the occupant from what might have been an area used for storage, and a brief glance at the boot-scarred floor spoke of things being stored there recently. The place was more or less bare right now, or so I thought until I looked to my right again.

A 'bed' made of thick poles lashed together with leather thongs and piled with a lumpy-looking mattress occupied a tar-walled niche, while a box lay next to it for a nightstand. Jugs of various types seemed to form the bed's boundaries, while the stink of rotten meat seemed to now be uncommonly potent. I turned left from the bed, and did not believe my eyes.

A smoke-dried animal carcass striped with ragged green and white 'fuzz' lay above a stone-lined firepit, with crude-forged iron utensils of some kind on the stones to the side of the charcoal-layered 'hole'. I looked above and saw an obvious smoke-blackened place for the smoke to escape, and then returned my gaze to the firepit.

There, I saw several smoke-blackened cooking utensils, and three dirty tin plates, and as I looked closer, I wondered what the utensils were made of. Somehow, they did not seem to be copper, and when I turned, I saw a small cloth-hid crevice across the 'room' with several boxes laying stacked next to a keg of some kind. The recollection of those two 'powder kegs' Willem had was enough to make for wondering, and as I went past the support-beams, I began to feel a glimmer of pain between my eyes.

With each step, the pain grew more noticeable, until I touched one of the boxes. I then saw the copper corners, the copper or bronze nails, the dark-stained wood, and also faint gaseous gray-tinted billows...

“Why am I seeing fumes coming off of those boxes?” I thought. “Is that stuff dynamite?”

I stepped closer, one step at a time. I could 'feel' the presence of caps, and when I saw the small box at my feet, I squeaked, “don't they know enough to keep those clear of that stuff?”

I knelt down, then picked up the box and walked with all haste to the doorway, then up the stairs into the clearing. My head was still pounding, and I blinked my eyes until I became used to the sunlight. The headache forced a grimace of pain.

“What is this you found?” asked Karl.

“I think these things are caps,” I said. “Let me open the box and find out.”

The box had an old-looking brass latch, dovetailed joints, and what might have been faded lettering on top, and when I opened the thing, the interior filling of sawdust brought a feeling of dread. I gently poked my finger into the stuff, and found hard round cylinders. I separated one from its brothers – it had plenty of company – and began bringing the thing out.

“How big is this thing?” I thought. “I thought blasting caps were smaller than... Oh, my!”

I had unearthed a tarnished copper cylinder nearly three inches long and nearly half an inch thick, with a pointed closed end – it looked like a huge copper-plated pencil stub – and a 'ferule' on the other. Karl looked at me quizzically, then said, “I think that is a cap.”

I held the monstrous thing up to inspect it, then said, “th-this thing is huge. I heard they were a lot smaller.”

While Karl had no answer for me, I saw the quickmatch nearby, and had an idea. I dug for a few more caps, and after finding five of them, I left the box on the grass. I gathered up a coil of quickmatch, then returned to the place down below.

I went to the edge of the passageway going right, and looked right and then left. The left had an obvious wall, but the right had a dark vestibule of some kind. Looking closer showed clothing of some kind, and examination showed it to be 'common' clothing, or so I thought at first until I touched the stuff, and noted its itchy feel. I then looked closer.

“This is some nasty stuff like they did for my clothing,” I squeaked.

Looking further in the 'clothes-closet' showed more-common clothing, but there was something important further on in the passage, and I returned to it. Another few feet, and a 'black hole' appeared to my right.

Here, I was astounded, for the previous clothing-closet had been a primer. I saw enough black clothing of one kind or another to make for wondering, and its arrangement gave me an idea, even as I looked closer at some of it. I recalled that dream, with its black leather skullcaps decorated with stubby horns – and I nearly screamed when I found black greasy-feeling leather and a pair of carved whitish 'lumps'. A glance spoke volumes, and a moment's further exploration told me ample.

“This is perfect for hiding that gun,” I thought. “Now all I need to do is explore the rest of the place, and I can rig it up good.”

The edge of the second clothes-closet broke out into a larger room, with a rough-chipped black stone block in the center. The stink of death was intense, malodorous, and nauseating, and as I carefully moved around the block, I noted its thick piled-high caked blood, its bloodstained tools, and its aura of evil. I was so distracted that I nearly collided with a short bloodstained post set into the ground.

I looked further, and saw that much of the rear of the place had such posts. They were all blood-caked, and the smell seemed to grow stronger with each step I took among them. I began counting.

“Seventeen, eighteen,” I thought, “thirty-four, thirty-five.... Thirty-nine? No wonder this place is so big. Now what is that thing over in that little place there?”

I made my way through the posts, and as I came closer, I noted the chief source of the smell in the place to my right. I looked to see a hole in the ground filled with uncannily mobile offal.

“That must be where they keep the worms,” I thought. “Now why does that place over there remind me of what I saw in the volcano?”

I took two more steps, and then came to the threshold of the small 'alcove' with the third. It too was hidden by a dark cloth screen, and when I drew it aside, I nearly fainted.

I had found an iron 'grille' of some kind, with remnants of 'meat' upon it.

“Burnt...” I gasped. The dream suddenly began to make sense of some kind.

I retraced my steps in a hurry, then began 'plotting' how to deal with the place. I needed to blow up the 'altar', the 'burner' – the name 'Molech' came to mind for it, just as it had in the volcano – and the other places. I then thought to check the box next to the witch's bed.

As I eased up the copper-nailed lid, I smelled a potent 'chemical' odor, and then the headache redoubled in intensity. I looked inside, and was stunned.

There were easily a dozen thick tan paper cylinders, each over two inches in diameter and a foot long. I closed the lid, and as I tried to blink the headache away, a strange thought occurred to me.

“I wonder if that witch was smoking it?” I thought.

Somehow, 'smoking dynamite and drinking TNT' seemed an appropriate phrase for witches.

Examination of the other boxes showed them full or nearly so. My idea was becoming clearer, even as the headache became steadily worse.

“I wonder if we have string other than that fishing stuff?” I thought. “I could use one or two helpers down here...”

The impression I had was too strong to ignore: no one else wanted any part of this place. Johan was showing his complete ignorance of such matters by looking at the entrance.

“And I need to hurry anyway,” I thought. “They're getting restive, and I bet someone is wondering why we aren't just burning the witch and the place where we found him.”

I went upstairs, then asked for some added string. The questioning glances I received needed an explanation, and I gave it.

“There's a lot of dynamite down there, and I want to rig the place so as to get the rest of the witches,” I said. “They can replace one or two members easily, and the same for minor damage to their location – and that place has been here for quite some time.”

Karl had secured some thin rope of some kind, and I took it down with me. I gathered up several sticks of dynamite, tied it into a bundle, then opened one end of one of the sticks. I now had a quandary, chiefly how to 'crimp' the cap onto the quickmatch. I then thought to use the back of one of my knives.

It worked passably, and I used a piece of the rope to tie the 'fuse' in place after gently inserting the cap into the damp sawdust of one of the sticks. I then went into the darkened place to the right, where I put the charge on the brazier's grille, and shut the curtain.

I left the quickmatch coil next to the main altar, and did up another large bundle of dynamite. I put the second of my four caps in that bundle, and put it on the back side of the stone block, with the quickmatch cut and tied carefully in the cap. I then led the bundle of match into that one clothing-closet, where I cut a length added. The general darkness of the 'ceremonial' section seemed sufficient to hide the quickmatch from the eyes of the witches.

The third cap went in a third bundle, which I hid between two of the dynamite boxes, and here, I needed to hide the 'fuse'. I cut a groove in the floor with one of my knives, then buried the stuff until I had it come to where the 'ceremonial clothing' was.

“Now to rig that one box next to the bed,” I thought. “I'll put one of those jugs of cleaning solution in that box.”

I needed to dig away the dirt on the side of the box so as to thread in the quickmatch through a hole I made with my knife, then run the quickmatch and tie on a cap. The cap went in one of the top sticks, and as I ran the line back to the one area, someone called from upstairs.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Are you all right in there?” asked the instructor.

“I'm nearly done,” I said. “Could you bring down those jugs of cleaning solution?”

The silence I heard for a reply confirmed my feeling about the others, so much so that when I stood up to go fetch them, I was astonished to see Karl and the instructor bringing the jugs in question down into the place. I took the jugs from each man and hurried into the darkness of the 'ceremonial' clothes-closet, then returned to see two visibly terrified men. Their grayed-out expressions reminded me of old tin plates, for some reason.

“Oh, I need to fetch the gun next,” I said. Neither man moved.

“Wake up, please,” I said softly. Nothing happened.

“Now I need to drag them upstairs,” I thought. “I'll try Karl first.”

Getting Karl up the stairs wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be, in spite of his stiffness, for he seemed to wake up about half-way up the stairs.

“I was so afraid that I nearly fainted,” he said.

“I'm not sure it was normal fear,” I said. “I needed to carry you part of the way. Now I need to fetch the instructor.”

Getting him up the stairs was a good deal harder, as he did not 'wake up' until I had gotten him twenty feet from the door and sitting on the ground. He shook his head, then muttered about witch-holes and 'tin-fright'. The term seemed an apt one, based on what I had seen.

“Five minutes more, and then we can leave,” I said. “I've just got to finish rigging that place.”

I primed the musket before going down the steps, then went to the 'ceremonial' area. Here, I leaned the thing against the far wall behind the clothing, then brought the quickmatch 'fuses' nearby. I weighted them down with three of the jugs of cleaning solution, while the fourth one went in the bedside box. Its lid down, I returned to the upstairs to get a small sack of priming powder and the fishing string.

“Now for the charge for the musket,” I thought.

I fetched a last few sticks from one of the boxes, tied it in a bundle, inserted a cap and quickmatch, then bundled this last 'fuse' with the others. I tied both priming powder and 'fuses' to the musket about four inches up from the lock, then tied the end of the fishing string to the trigger. After cutting about fifteen feet of line, I tied on several branches, one of which went to the nearest black trouser-leg. Another branch went to the main altar, a third went to a post next to the witch-bed, and the fourth went across the entrance. I then realized we needed to do something with the witch.

I tied the remainder of the thin rope to the thug to provide a harness, and carried him into the place, all the while stepping over the trip-lines. I dumped him face-up in his bed, doused him with a jug of potable paint remover, then covered him with his blanket.

“Now comes the tricky portion,” I thought. “I'll need to be careful here.”

Careful was an understatement, for arranging the jugs, the bundle of dynamite, the gun itself, and then full-cocking the thing made for intense anxiety. I needed to carefully clear the strings, and in the near-total darkness of the place, that meant moving slowly and carefully, up to and including the line I had strung across the entrance proper. I paused at the entrance after clearing the line, and turned around.

The previously 'dim' lighting had become noticeably dimmer, and I suspected it would be dimmer yet in a short time as the remaining candles burned out. I made my slow steps up the thirteen sections of log stairs, and blinked as I came into the sunlight of morning.

The sense of restiveness, and indeed, misunderstanding, had grown mightily since my last trip to the outside, and as I carefully closed the door and scattered the leaves over it, I could hear murmuring behind me. Karl came up, then said, “they were about to toss a jug down there.”

“Why?” I asked. “I'm done now.”

Karl had no answer for me, even as I gathered up the rest of the supplies and helped put them on the packhorse. I could not read the instructor's face as to how he felt, even if I heard muttering about witches that seemed to come from everywhere.

“Which direction?” I whispered.

“That way,” he pointed. “I hope that trap works.”

As I led off to the east and slightly south, I wondered as to why there was such a feeling of unease and restlessness in the others. I began to walk faster as soon as we reached open country, and within moments, I heard steps to my right.

“Why are you going so fast?” asked the man with the knife.

“Uh, that place might get visited soon,” I said, “and I do not want to be close to it then.”

I could almost hear the sense of 'understanding' in his mind, even while the grumbling and muttering from the group to my rear steadily tapered off to be replaced by labored breathing, occasional yells, and now and then the sound of someone tripping and falling.

“And I'd best bring my compass in the future,” I thought, as I paused by a copse to wait for the others.

A few minutes sufficed for them to 'catch up', and I led off again. I could see a large woodlot some distance away, and I wanted to head for it. For some reason, it seemed 'likely'.

The minutes passed steadily as I walked in a near-straight line toward the woodlot, and when I stopped again to 'wait up', I turned toward my rear. I looked back at our path, then scanned the region around. For some reason, I could hear people coming. They were not of our group.

“And they make the class seem quiet,” I thought. “They might not be tripping and falling much, but they more than make up for it with their other noises, and that's for those who aren't riding.”

Upon reaching the woodlot, the instructor called a halt for rest. I listened to the others slowly come in, and their 'dragging' aspect, as well as their noise, was uncommonly loud. When we resumed, however, within moments, the young man with the knife came along side of me.

“You could stalk an elk and cut its throat,” he whispered.

“How?” I replied.

“I've stalked deer before,” he said, “and you make me look noisy.”

I went through the woodlot at a surprising pace, and on its other side, I turned to the right so as to head for home. I waited in the snow-and-mud mingled meadow, and as the first of the others came out, I heard a frightfully loud rumbling roar. I ducked down and dove for the ground, then began looking around, even as the others continued coming out of the woodlot.

“What was that?” I squeaked.

“I think that witch-hole is a smoking pit,” said the young man with the knife, “and at least one more witch is supping with Brimstone.” He paused, then asked as I got up, “why did you jump for the ground like that.”

“Recall that witch shooting at us, Sepp?” said the instructor. “He spoke of drawing most of the fire, and now I wonder if he was right.”

“That does not include fires, explosions, and arrows,” I said, as I stood up uneasily.

Clearing the south side of the woodlot showed a small plume of thick and greasy-looking black smoke coming from what looked like a burnt-out wasteland, with a huge smoking crater in its rough center. I could discern smoking dots laying here and there on the snow that bordered it, and as I paused to look closer, the instructor came up to where I was standing.

“I think that trap worked,” he said. “How much dynamite was in that place?”

“S-several boxes,” I said, “and a lot of jugs.”

“Drink-jugs or distillate?” he asked.

“I thought they were drink,” I said, “at least, the ones near the food were. That witch had a lot of jugs around his bed, and given he had dynamite there also, I wonder what was in them to cause that big of a fire.”

We came back to the house in time for lunch, and Hans collected me up just after I'd changed into my usual clothing. I'd retrieved the caps, paper-bundle, shot-bag, and musket balls, and when I laid them in the bed of the buggy, I noticed several new-looking jugs, a wicker basket, and several cloth bags. I took my seat, then as he drove off out of the gate and down the road heading north, I said, “I found a witch-hole today, and the place had a lot of dynamite in it – though I must have forgotten what dynamite looked like here, as it was not what I expected it to look like.”