Witches? I hope not...
I had been afraid to go to church in that old hell, for fear of rejection. Here, so far, that manifestation of hatred had been absent, and there were a pair of people who seemed to like me. The next morning – Sunday – I had but two sets of clothing, one of which was in tatters, and another which fit badly. I saw there was little choice, but I went anyway in the one that seemed more presentable, that being the too-tight stuff I had been given. Somehow, something had changed greatly, and I was not certain what it was.
Church was in the middle of town on the opposite side of the road from the house, and closer to us than the shop. About two hours after sunup, the three of us left the house to see people coming into town on horseback, in buggies, and a few farm wagons.
Thankfully, none of these people were dressed especially fancy: shirts and trousers for the men, while the women wore long-sleeved loose flowing 'dresses', much like Anna had when I first saw her. Both genders wore dark leather shoes. I saw some few examples of knit clothing, and three long near-floor-length garments with hoods, capacious pockets on the front, and large wooden buttons holding them closed. All of the colors I saw were earth-tones – shades of brown, gray, and green – and this broad array of mismatched 'homespun' clothing was heartening, for it gave an unmistakable impression of tolerance regarding appearances.
“At least, I hope it is that way,” I thought.
Perhaps what was on the inside mattered more than outward appearances here. If so, it would indeed be a first for me.
The slow-clopping sounds of horses' hooves seemed a fit background for Hans' talk, and as we walked down the road, he said, “most people don't have much clothing, so they wash their best and themselves before they go to meeting.”
“Is that true for farmers, or..?” I asked. The hesitation in my voice was plain.
“Most people farm at least some of the time,” said Hans, “and when you are a farmer, special clothing isn't a common thing to have.”
Hans paused, then said, “only the rich have clothing special for meetings.”
“Those people don't go to church much,” said Anna in a near-whisper. I could tell she did not approve of such behavior.
I paused for a moment in my thoughts, again noting the long hooded garments. Anna seemed to be watching me, for some reason, and she spoke before I could ask about what I was looking at.
“Those would be cloaks,” she said. “You'll want one soon enough, most likely.”
“Yes, when it is cold,” said Hans, “that, and when it rains.”
At first sight, the church seemed remarkably like the house I slept in, and as we filed in, I saw an obvious 'high' ceiling, a worn-smooth stone floor, and a large number of wooden chairs that looked somehow old and yet in good repair. Near the front of the room and separated by rows of these chairs stood what might have been a darkly 'varnished' wooden lectern.
Yet the familiar sights seemed to brew up in myself a tremendous desire to hide. I did not wish to be in here, and the previously well-hidden terror – fear wasn't nearly a strong-enough word – of rejection resurfaced, though in a form that was beyond my previous imagining.
It was if I was going to be burned at the stake for a 'crime' so monstrous...
Why would I be burned at the stake here? Did they do such things here? Who was I? Was I a witch? Was I something worse yet, something too evil for such language to express?
I kept my head to some small degree and followed Anna and Hans to some old-looking chairs near the back of the now cavernous-seeming room, and I noted more details of the 'chamber'. My near-panicked mind wanted to title this room 'the chamber of the Inquisition'.
The rows of chairs straggled slightly across the worn dark stones of the floor. The walls were of boards running vertically, their widths uneven, thinner strips of planking covering the gaps in each board. Nails seemed small, yet fairly plentifully used, the faint dark spots in the grainy wood of the planks a testimony to careful neatness in work. It seemed ominous to an astonishing degree.
As I sat and watched, I found it a trifle easier to relax as first Paul, then Willem came in. They sat just ahead of us. Paul seemed to be markedly better yet; his hand was still wrapped, though it was obvious the bandage was a fresh one. He somehow seemed a good deal cleaner than when I last saw him, and I recalled Hans' talk of bathing and washing clothing.
I wondered yet again if there was to be a burning after the service, for I could feel something cold and hungry outside, something that screamed for raw meat and steaming blood in its hoarse-yelled cry of “death to the witch.”
I said to Anna, “I am frightened out of my mind here.”
“Why?” she asked.
“I was tossed out of a church once,” I whispered, “and I never was really accepted in or out of church. Both places had the same rules that way.”
“Why? Oh, I think I know,” said Anna. “Did people think you a witch?”
“No, not a witch,” I said; my thinking behind my words seeming to contradict what I said. I seemed to stumble with my teeth, then whispered, “I was too different to suit others. In that place, difference was regarded as being evil in some hard-to-understand fashion.”
“You don't seem that different to me,” said Anna. “You might do some things a bit different, but witches would not act as you do. Those are not common here, but...”
“I think the preacher just arrived,” said Hans. “Now we sing.”
Not two seconds later everyone stood, then began to sing. The number of rough, off-key voices was astonishing, and it gave me a slim margin of hope. Perhaps I might be tolerated here, or even accepted.
As I listened carefully and tried to follow the unfamiliar words to the song, I suspected that its 'music' – there were no instruments, but I could 'feel' the rhythm readily – was lifted from an old Public House carouse. I knew of many such hymns where I came from.
“And no hymnbooks,” I thought. “I cannot follow along with this thing no matter how I try.”
My thinking put words to how I felt, and the sense of embarrassed awkwardness seemed overwhelming. I was glad when the song ended, and as everyone sat, I did as they did. Thankfully, my minor clumsiness was buried by the shuffling and throat-clearing that everyone else seemed inclined toward. It took what seemed an age – in reality, several seconds – for all to be seated.
The preacher seemed to have his head somewhere other than in the usual place, wherever that was, and as he mumbled what might have been a greeting, I noted his clothing. A small patch on a worn trouser knee showed an unraveling weave; his shoes seemed scuffed to a small degree; he, like everyone else in the congregation, had no hat; his short-cropped hair seemed a trifle frowzy.
I did not mind his 'unseemly' appearance, for my thinking was thus: 'if he does not care that much about his appearance, he may well not care that much about mine'.
At least, I hoped he would not care that much about my appearance. Too often, it had been otherwise, and had served as one of the chief 'reasons' for the harassment of others.
I then saw what he had laid on the lectern. This was a massive book of awesome brown-toned leather, and the word 'tome' occurred to me as he leafed through the thick-seeming pages to an area near the front. As he did so, my mind drifted back to the night I had arrived: I had met Paul and Willem then, I had first heard the language spoken here, and most importantly, my impressions.
I found it amazing that I understood this language so well, for it was almost as if I had grown up speaking it instead of my 'original' language.
The preacher began speaking, and I noted his text was in the old testament – and within further seconds, I knew the book in question to be Leviticus.
“Why did he call it 'Sword-Brother's Way'?” I thought. “Is that due to what happened after Arron had that copy of that bull-idol made? When the Levites took sword to those they met, and were set apart from that time?”
This distraction abruptly faded to be replaced by a new one, just as happened many times before. A memory, one of the Boers and their preferred texts, came to me, along with the supposed title of their preachers.
“Do they call him a 'predikant'?” I thought. I could ask later.
His text now went to one of the areas I had always wondered about, that being about Nadab and Abihu, and how their experiences related to everyday life: chiefly what they did, and what happened to them as a consequence.
“I never understood precisely what 'unauthorized fire' actually meant,” I thought. “Was it how they did it, or when they did it, or what they used, or something else?”
Another question replaced it in my mind, however: “how does that type of burning apply to life here?”
The preacher then led to his 'application', that being the 'nature' of witches and what needed to happen to them when they showed, with the text serving as a guide to both our behavior and our attitudes. As a clincher, he spoke of other instances of 'spontaneous combustion', with those first two groups of men sent by Ahab after Elijah prominently figuring.
While I knew of many of these examples, my mind wandered to a degree as he covered them while roaming through his book, and as my mind wandered, it seemed to gather fear anew. It was difficult to dismiss the sense of knowing I felt; I knew, beyond all reason and knowledge, that a stack of wood lay outside the building within close proximity, and those blue-painted people – and those like them in some difficult-to-discern fashion – were to be roasted alive amid the high-flaming brands at the stake.
“Until they be burnt to ashes,” said the preacher in a velvet-hid tone of brutal iron, “and without stinting fuel or fury, for God rages against his enemies, and longs for vengeance; and he is only satisfied when their well-chewed bones lie mounded at his feet.”
I looked covertly to my side, and saw Anna listening as if transfixed. Her rapt attention, and indeed that of the multitude surrounding me, was overwhelming, and that but added to the fear I felt.
While I understood partly what he was speaking of, there were a number of incongruities that I could not dismiss. Firstly, this wasn't the area spoken of, as far as I knew. Secondly, I knew that witchcraft was trouble, and that in no uncertain terms.
But in this area? Were there witches?
I had read of such people prior to coming here, but they seemed ancient history then – and now? And those like them? This place seemed an utter unknown and a great mystery, and such thinking did not help.
And my fears crashed in hard around me, and my mind reeled, even as I thought hard about the matter. The fear of hatred – I did not wish to be hated here – was such that it seemed overwhelming. In the past, hatred had been the norm; I had been crushed by it, and had become fearful of attention.
With an abrupt thump and the closing of his book, the preacher ceased his speech. The last word in my mind prior now came to the forefront, and 'attention' seemed to be thundering down upon me as this man began to stride purposely toward the door with his head down, as if he were marching into a heavy wind-whipped rain.
I thought myself hid, until he came within six feet of me. Time seemed to halt as one of his red-rimmed sleepless eyes swept my countenance like the harsh beam of a searchlight, and by the time he resumed his near-run toward the door, I felt as if on the verge of panic. Seconds later, I heard the neigh of a horse and clopping hooves that receded rapidly – and the near-breathless quiet of the congregation vanished as abruptly as its preacher to be replaced by a multitude of voices. The totality of the service had lasted but half an hour by the clock. It had seemed an eternity to me.
“Now that, I understood but part,” said Paul. “Witches burn” – here, I cringed inwardly – “and when I see one, I look for a musket, but that part about those people in the desert is beyond me. I wonder why he looked so frightened, though, when he stopped here? Do any of you know?”
“Maarten tends to be worried for new people,” said Hans, “and three towns, the same sermon for each done a little different each time, and a wife that doesn't understand him or what he is to do helps little. Maybe you should eat with us, Paul and Willem, and we can figure it out between us all.”
Once out of the church – those last out closed the door, using a large wrought-iron padlock to secure it, it was the first lock I had seen here – the five of us walked back to the house. As we did, I noted Willem was leading two horses attached to a buggy similar to what I had ridden in the day before.
“Do they have families?” I thought. “Can I ask?”
“Paul, Esther must still be sick,” said Anna. “Is she?”
“Yes, and Sophie is looking after her,” said Paul. “I think it was too much too soon for her, but she should do better in a few days.”
“I said she needed to stay in bed for a longer time,” said Anna. “What was it, two weeks?”
“No, closer to a week,” said Paul. “She was sitting there in bed and going out of her mind, and she had to get up and do something, and then a pig came running down the road.”
“That is not good,” Hans said. “Where did that swine come from?”
“There is some old worn-out farm up the road where I have seen freshly dug spots on the ground,” said Willem. “I wonder if there are witches there?”
Once inside, I had no idea as to what to do, beyond hide from the hidden witch-hunters that I still felt were in the neighborhood. The kitchen seemed a likely hiding place, and there, I asked Anna as to what she needed. I was thoroughly glad she seemed oblivious to what I was feeling, for I was again on the verge of panic. I wondered to some degree if I was a witch – or, more importantly, I wondered if people would think me a witch. The latter seemed likely, for some reason.
“Not much needs doing for lunch,” said Anna. “Mostly, the bowls, mugs, and spoons need setting, and then bring over the pot. This is normal for Sunday noontimes here.”
“Anna pointed to one of the drawers. Opening it showed bowls, spoons, mugs, and what might be wooden platters, and as I made the first of three trips, questions ran through my mind.
How was the table to be set? It coped passably with three, but even I could see four would be cramped and five unworkable, and as I brought out the rest of the servingware, I wondered more.
None of it matched.
Was there a special pattern to the bowls? I could not tell, even if the screamed howls of the witch-burners were steadily fading in my mind and a possible arrangement for the servingware occurred to me. The possibility of censure was still very real.
“That will do,” said Anna. “This pot here is heavy.”
I was glad for the distraction, so much so that I said unthinkingly, “I can manage it, I think. I doubt it is that heavy for me.”
The pot Anna had spoken of was a heavy browned copper thing lined with tin and filled with a rich-smelling stew swimming with small pieces of potatoes, carrots, and meat. I was glad it seemed as thick as it was, and while I looked at first the pot and the table, Anna laid out a folded cloth. I picked up the pot by its riveted brass 'wire' handles, and rapidly moved to the table. The handles were hot, even if the pot felt lighter than I thought it would be.
As I rubbed my hands after setting the pot down, I found I seemed to be an island amid a swift-flowing current, for Anna seemed to be on both sides of me at the same time with platters, bread, cheese spread, spoons, and much else. I thought to get out of her way, and did so just as she seemed to finish.
Is this all there is to meals here?” I thought, as I wondered about washing my hands.
I had no time for such activity, for within seconds, everyone else in the house was standing in line. I got to the rear just as Hans began speaking what might have been a prayer.
His rapid speech and mumbled words were such that I had trouble following, and by the time he had spoken his piece – perhaps a few seconds – Anna was ladling out the soup or stew into one of the bowls. As I was the last in the line, I had a chance to look closer at my bowl, and as I felt it, I noted its hefty nature and creamy white green-spotted glaze.
“I hope they didn't use lead in this stuff,” I thought. My stomach seemed to growl an answer, and as Anna passed, she said, “those are not easy to get.”
While I said nothing verbally, my stomach growled again, and I hoped there would be something left in the pot when my turn arrived. Thankfully, the pot still had a great deal of its former contents, and as I used the tinned copper ladle, my stomach made more noise. The stew's delicious aroma seemed to urge the noisy portion to greater efforts, and as I followed Hans, I wondered if he minded.
I was glad for the three stools in the parlor, and while Paul and Willem took up the couch, the three of us used the stools. Five people made for a crowded parlor, and as I noticed the crowding, I also noticed details about the window: small, thick-paned, each pane somewhat irregular as to size, and large and obvious lead bars with old-looking solder.
As 'polite conversation' had always been a mystery to me, I remained silent while my noisy stomach became quiet with food. I was glad that seemed a worthy goal, for the others seemed to have a similar mindset: eat first, talk afterward, and while eating, do not waste time with talk. Seconds seemed another worthy goal, and while I was last in line again, I noted that refilling my bowl finished the pot. As the bowls finished, I took them into the kitchen, and placed them in the soaking bucket. Anna looked a bit too comfortable to be inclined to move back and forth in that fashion.
Anna looked at me strangely as I returned to my stool, then said, “I think that might have been what Maarten was seeing.”
“Yes, and what is this?” asked Hans.
Anna seemed to ignore him, then said, “first, you look different.”
I wanted to hide in the worst way imaginable, for Anna's statement confirmed the root cause of my fear; I looked different, and was therefore bad – or so I thought, until she resumed speaking.
“That isn't bad,” said Anna, “but dark-haired people are rare. I have only seen two of them, and you are one of those. Then, you brought in the dishes, and that is as rare as dark hair. You have not been here long enough for talk to get around, so I wonder if he saw something.”
“Why, was I not supposed to help with dishes?” I squeaked. “I did so all the time as a child and I do not know better.”
“Well, that says you are not from around here,” said Anna, “and strangers are rare – and appreciated. They are even more appreciated when they have good attitudes. I'll need to start dinner soon just the same.”
Anna got up a few minutes later, and I followed her into the kitchen. There, I was shown how to 'rinse' the dishes; the process involved a 'swab', that being a piece of wood with a frayed rag tied to it with thick string, washing carefully with stove-heated water, and then using a succession of dry rags to wipe off the utensils. I was as careful as I could be, but Anna still looked over what I was doing and 'touched up' what I had done.
As she finished putting the 'dishes' away, she said, “now, we need to peel some potatoes and carrots for supper. Those are down there near the bottom.”
It took me two tries to find out where 'down there' was, and when I came up with a pair of substantial cloth bags smeared faintly with dried mud, Anna took them both from me. She then rummaged around in one of the more-crowded drawers while muttering 'this is a mess' and 'where is it?'. I did not envy her, and when she brought out an old-looking wood-handled knife, she spoke of peeling the roots in question. I was willing to try, even if I had never peeled either root with a large knife before.
The carrots were shorter and plumper than what I recalled seeing in the markets where I came from, and while the potatoes were of a familiar color and size, they otherwise were unlike anything named a 'potato' I had ever seen before. Their shape – like elongated gray-brown leather-husked billiard balls – and lack of eyes save for one at each end had me wondering, both as to what they were and how to use the knife. It was so dull I nearly wept with frustration – when I did not come close to slicing my hand with it. It seemed amply sharp for that activity.
“Here, let me show you,” said Anna.
While Anna made rapid progress, when I resumed my attempts, within seconds, I longed for a potato peeler, and in less than a minute, I nearly sliced myself twice more.
“Dull is not the word for this thing,” I thought. “Is there a word that speaks of this knife?”
Anna saw my slow progress, and removed both knife and potato from my hands. As I watched her deftly pare off the peelings, she muttered, then asked, “how much cooking have you done?”
“Enough to know that I cannot cook very well,” I said, “and this type of meal is about my limit for preparation.”
“I thought so,” said Anna, as she dumped the cut-up pieces into a pot. “There, that one can go on the stove.”
I managed the lifting satisfactorily, for which I was thankful. As I returned to Anna's side, she said, “it took me years to manage the simpler meals, and that trout yesterday wasn't one of them.”
I was speechless, and when Anna resumed, I seemed tongue-tied.
“I have burned those more than once,” she said, “and many do worse for cooking than you do. All that is left is to dump the peelings on the manure pile outside.”
After doing dumping the small pot in back – the horses were busy eating, thankfully – I went into the parlor. As I found my stool, I thought to speak of the knife that had nearly cut my hands to ribbons while producing a frustrated state of mind.
“Is there another sharpening stone?” I asked. “One a bit coarser than the two in the chest?”
“That knife you were using is an old thing,” said Hans knowingly, “and it has not been sharpened in a long time. I think a carpenter's stone would work, and I can ask about one tomorrow if I cannot find that one I have downstairs. It went missing months ago.”
“Is that the one that looks like a fish without a tail?” said Anna.
“Yes, especially as it is worn enough,” said Hans, as Anna got up.
Seconds later, I heard more muttering amid the sounds of rummaging in drawers, and when Anna returned, she not only had that horribly dull knife, but a gray stone that was nearly as long as my forearm. When I was handed both knife and stone, I glanced at the stone.
“This might work,” I thought, “even if it is a bit coarser than I like.”
Yet as I carefully brought the knife across the stone, I flinched. The noise was enough to make my teeth wish to hide. The second stroke, however, made for an outburst on my part:
“This knife isn't just old,” I squeaked, “but it is as soft as cheese spread.”
“That was why I had that stone in the kitchen,” said Anna. “I could never get it sharp enough to suit me, even if I used it every time I could find it. It worked passably for vegetables.”
I looked at Anna. My thoughts were not cordial.
“I wished I had a knife like my surgical one for meat,” said Anna, “except with a bigger handle and blade.”
I began alternating the strokes on the blade, and with each stroke, I marveled at the softness of the metal. The rapidity of which I formed a passable edge – it would never be truly sharp – was astonishing. I was jerked out of my 'knife-sharpening funk' by Anna's voice. She then gently took the knife.
As she looked at it and tested its edge with her thumb, she said, “that will get you talked about.”
“In what way, Anna?” I asked.
“If that knife is half as sharp as it looks,” said Paul, “you will want sharpening stones and some distillate, as everyone that finds you will want his or her knives sharpened. Let's see what you do with this one. I had this one from my grandfather.”
I was handed another old-looking knife. This example had a broader blade than Hans' and a bronze hilt, with a battered-looking bronze butt-cap and weathered wooden scales. A jumble of battered brass pins held the whole thing together.
When I tested the edge against the stone, I nearly choked: it was nearly as soft as the kitchen knife, and in a minute, I had a passable edge. As I handed back the knife, I said, “that knife needs better steel for a decent edge.”
Paul felt it with his thumb, then looked down at his knife. I was afraid he had a bloody thumb, but he did not. Instead, he said, “this is a lot better than ever it was. I would watch out for the farmers and hair-cutters if this gets out.”
Willem handed me his knife, which seemed the twin of Paul's for appearance and soft metal, and finally, Hans handed me his. This last had significantly harder steel, so much so that it took several minutes to get a decent edge.
“This one might profit from time on the medical stones,” I thought. “Those others would just load them up.”
Hans looked at his knife prior to putting it away, then as he finished inserting it into its sheath, he said, “edges like that will have carpenters chasing you.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Carpenters need good edges on their tools,” said Hans, “and that was as good an edge as I have seen up here.”
“Yes, and where have you seen better?” asked Willem. “There might be some people that do well in the fourth kingdom, but no one wants to trek for half a month to get their knives done.”
I then returned the stone to the kitchen. As I had no idea where Anna had gotten it, I laid it in plain sight, and when I returned to my stool, I saw Hans looking again at his knife.
“I got this one from my grandfather when I was a boy,” said Hans, “and he got the file that he used for it when he was a young man.”
“File?” I asked. I had heard of files being made into knives. Supposedly they were more trouble than they were worth, which was why I had used drill-rod and flat-ground stock instead.
“He took it to a smith and had the knife made from it,” said Hans. “He got a better one in trade, and gave me his old one.”
Here, Hans paused, then said, “good knives are hard to find, and those that can sharpen them are harder yet, and this will get out. Georg will need to order a lot of stones.”
“The ones there are...”
“They are old things,” said Hans. “I heard talk of a saw blade you made that was harder than most knives, and yet was still flexible. Work like that will get him a lot of business, and you will be busy between those two things.”
Hans paused again, then asked, “now about this fire Maarten was speaking of – do you know what he meant? He lost me after he spoke of witches.”
“Witches?” I said, in a fear-tinged voice. “Do they have those here?”
“There are many tales of witches,” said Paul, “but every so often one shows, and then there are burn-piles, as witches cause trouble.”
“Trouble?” I asked. I wanted to ask questions as to what kind of trouble. I had much less confusion about 'burn-piles'.
“I put some powder and lead in one the year before last,” said Paul. “That thing” – the word 'dinge' that Paul used made me wonder more than a little – “came out after dark all red in the face and stinking of witch-smoke.”
“Witch-smoke?” I gasped. I was becoming steadily more frightened and confused.
“That is when they burn datramonium plants,” said Paul, “and the stink is horrible.”
“Yes, and that gets people outside with their guns,” said Hans.
“That fool got five balls in him before I could count slow to ten,” said Paul, “and he dropped like a stone. We all dug the hole for him, tossed his stinking body in, and doused him with aquavit. I tossed the candle stub myself, and once he was burned to cinders, we filled the hole up and cut the marks on the nearest tree so people would stay clear of it.”
The confusion I felt was such that I said in a frightened-sounding squeak, “what is datramonium, and what do these people look like? I want to stay clear of them.” The unspoken portion mirrored my previous feelings, and I tried unsuccessfully to suppress my terror.
“That plant growing wild on the riverbank was datramonium,” said Anna. “Witches are said to make poison from those plants.”
“Yes, and I make that special headache medicine from them,” said Hans. “That is for when the usual things do not work.”
Anna shook her head disapprovingly at Hans, then continued.
“Those things are weeds, Hans,” said Anna. “They aren't like most herbs.”
Here, she turned to me, then said, “witches, that depends. My mother told me that witches behave as if they own all the world and all in it when sober, and worse when not, and datramonium made them crazier yet.”
Anna seemed to have something on her mind, and I was not certain as to what it was.
“I always thought anyone who wished to be a witch was crazy,” said Anna, “and datramonium made them worse.”
That seemed an opening for answering the aspect of 'burning' as it applied to 'witches' – whoever they really were. I tried to explain that those people who were mentioned desired their own ways more than all else, and that to tolerate such behavior was terribly wrong, with dire consequences for all concerned.
I thought I had done a miserable job of explaining, so much so that I wished I had done better. I was surprised greatly when Hans said, “that makes about as much sense as anything I have heard. I have heard that sermon twice prior and never could figure it out, but witches do tend to be very selfish and want their own way without consideration of others, especially when they are out hunting during the night. Then they are murderous and kill anyone they can.”
I could barely suppress the shuddering I felt, so much so that I startled when Hans resumed speaking.
“The rest of the time, they are just ill-tempered, rude, and violent, and will rob sleeping children as a trick.”
“What?” I squeaked. Hans seemed oblivious, for some reason.
“Most witches are wealthy,” said Hans, “so unless they are caught outside while hunting, they usually get away with doing what they do. Still, every so often, one gets caught, and that is one less witch to cause trouble.”
The mention of the word 'trouble' made for a desire to hide. Hans still seemed oblivious.
“Yes, and a lot of wealthy people act more like witches than is good,” said Hans. “That is for those people here. Now, there are some witches to the north...”
“Those black-clad fiends are the worst ever, they and their swine!” spat Willem. “God help you if you get within scenting of an Iron Pig.”
“What is an Iron Pig?” I said in all innocence.
“A big black swine with iron-tipped tushes,” said Willem, “and the worst of them wear iron plate laced with leather.”
“What do they do?” I asked.
“Those cause trouble,” said Hans, “and...”
“They need artillery to stop them,” said Willem, “that, or good traps.”
Willem's face seemed to faintly change, much as if he were recalling a scene of concentrated horror, then in a 'spooky' voice, he said, “the man who trained me to shoot guns told me of a time when one of those things was loose around here, and it took two solid hits with round-shot to slow it down, then the whole battery of twelve firing shell to finally kill it.”
“Was this when those gunners were hurt?” asked Anna.
Willem nodded, then said, “I knew one of them.”
Again, Willem's face gathered its previous strange expression, and he spoke.
“They got the ammunition carts and the guns rolling, and they saw the pig, then came into line and loaded with shot and full charges. They fired first at half a mile in open country, and the pig leaped into the air when the shot hit near it.”
“Leaped into the air?” I asked.
“And came down flinging sod like a racehorse,” said Willem. “By the time they loaded again, the pig had covered half of that distance, and was snorting like a monster.”
I somehow had the impression the gunners weren't terribly fast, at least until Willem continued.
“Those pigs make any racehorse alive look dead for speed,” he said, “and those gunners were as good as any. They had their guns loaded in a slow count of ten, and after that, they fired two guns by the count as the pig came closer.”
Here, Willem's face became even more frightening to look at. He seemed to be reliving a scene of such terror and horror that I felt transfixed by the obligation to hear him out.
“The fountains of dirt the shot flung were terrible to see,” said Willem, “and the pig gathered its strength and went faster yet with every miss, for it became angrier with each shot. The last two guns of the battery fired at fifty paces, and both shot hit that pig solid.”
The tense atmosphere was such that I marveled. I had the impression that this particular tale was indeed a spellbinder, and I found myself leaning forward, much as if being blown on by an invisible wind.
“The pig flipped over backwards and to the side,” said Willem, “and when it landed, it was screaming. It turned over somehow just the same, and even though its insides were scattered behind it for another fifty paces, and its shoulders were shattered, and it was streaming blood, it continued to come closer to the guns. Its eyes were fierce and bright, and its bloody tushes were waving in the breeze, and it was bleeding from the mouth, and it was hungry for those men. They knew it, too, and they put the tipped shells in.”
“These have the brass nubs on the tip and the fins in back, don't they?” asked Hans.
Willem nodded, then said, “short distances are too hard to cut fuses for. They fired the guns all at the same time, and that blew the pig apart. It also damaged several guns and hurt those men, but they counted it cheap to get that pig.”
Here, Willem's face became normal, as he seemed about to deliver the 'moral':
“That is the only way an Iron Pig can be stopped,” he said. “Those pigs need to be blown apart, or burnt to cinders. Otherwise, if those pigs are alive, they will charge, and they won't stop until either they or their victims are dead.”
Hearing such a tale did not make for calm nerves, and after some further talk, this being mostly about 'commonplace' things – crops, food, mending, and 'farm' activities – the two of them went home. I suspected it would take them a while to reach their destination, and as I picked up my stool, Hans said, “they should be home about sundown. That buggy they have is almost as fast as ours, and that farm wagon is a slow thing.”
“Slow?” I asked, as I set down my stool.
“Yes, even for farm wagons it is slow,” said Hans. “With that one, it takes much of a night, and with a decent buggy, about three hours or so if one is not in a hurry.”
Here, Hans paused, then said, “and that is about time to make dinner, and perhaps figure out better what Maarten said, as I think you might know more. I still cannot figure some of those references he made.”
I was now wondering greatly, so much so that as Hans went upstairs, I was astonished to hear Anna speak.
“I wished I knew how to read,” she said. “Hans has trouble enough, but I saw you reading those books downstairs, and you read them well. I think that is what he is after.”
As I sat down bewildered – I had glanced in them enough to know I could not merely read them, but understand them, and in the case of much of the information, I had been astonished at my understanding, for it seemed to have grown mightily – I wondered how Anna knew of my reading beyond the little that she had seen. I heard steps to my rear, then Hans showed with a brown leather-bound book. Thankfully, it was nowhere near the size of Maarten's tome.
The type of book, however, was identical, and as Hans steadily leafed through it while seeming to squint his eyes, I wondered what I was to do. Was this a trial by ordeal, much as the Inquisition might use to 'rout out' demon-possessed people? I was interrupted by Hans beginning to read from the book out loud.
The amount of trouble he had with the book's words was such that I recalled Anna's speaking of him having trouble, and when he passed the book to me, I looked at him with barely-hid terror.
“Now you read it,” he said.
I found his place, then began reading the large squared-off block letters. I suspected he wished me to read out loud, so much so that as I read the words, I felt something inhuman and monstrous in the room. I wasn't certain as to what it was, but when I had read perhaps half a page, I looked up to see both of them possessing eyes that telegraphed an unknowable emotion.
Were they shocked?
Were they amazed?
Were they about to call for my burning as a witch?
“I knew it,” said Hans. “You do this as good as the preacher does. Now, you read some more, and I will try to follow you.”
Again, I read out loud for half a page, and then handed the book back to Hans. I was beyond astonishment as I watched the two of them struggle to read; Anna had not exaggerated her illiterate status, while Hans might have managed second grade level reading – on a good day when he wasn't too fatigued. He was still trying to help Anna to the best of his limited capacity, and after an hour of 'round-table reading', he was rubbing his head as if needing a dose of aspirin, while Anna seemed nearly asleep with exhaustion. I had no idea as to what to do.
“What do they teach in school here?” I asked quietly. “I am not faulting anyone, I am new here and do not know.”
“It depends on where you go,” said Anna, “and how much money your parents have, and where you live, and perhaps who you know. I mostly learned what most girls do, and Hans what most boys do.”
“When does school start for children?” I asked.
“That is usually about eight years or so,” said Anna. “Not all towns have schools, so children need to be big enough to walk some distance.”
“Yes, and then sit in the schoolhouse and work steady from start to finishing,” said Hans. “I did not have an easy time with that part.”
“You and most boys,” said Anna.
“How long does school go here?” I asked.
“With the lower schools, it runs all the time,” said Anna, “unless it is Festival Week or the swine come, and from the starting time about an hour after sunrise until a bit before lunch. The higher schools are different that way.”
“Higher schools?” I asked.
“Those need finishing the lower ones, and then an examination,” said Anna, “and then, they usually need a good deal of money. Few have enough money, so there are some few places each year for especially good students.”
Anna then rose from her stool, then went to an area on the wall away from the privy where a 'cabinet' had a pair of doors. She held her nose, then opened one of the doors. Upon removing the lid of a large ceramic crock, I understood why she held her nose, for the stench was nauseating, so much so that I wondered whether I should open the door to let out the stench, sit still and endure it, or hunt up some non-existent air freshener – until she used a long two-tined coppery-looking fork to remove from the crock a sizable dripping mass of grayish-brown fibrous salt-crusted 'stuff'.
“That must be salt meat,” I thought. “As the stomach turns...” The last was a 'gut' reaction to the stink. I looked and saw that Hans had 'conveniently' vanished, along with the book he had brought.
Anna, however, did something constructive with the smelly stuff: she took it to another wooden platter, then began slicing it into thin strips. As she cut the pieces free, she dumped them into another tinned copper pot, its sides black with age and possibly smoke. Soon she had all of the meat in the pot, then used a ladle – another like the one for soup – to put water in this pot, which she then put on the stove. I then knew what I could do: fetch water.
“Do you need...” I asked.
“Yes, please do,” said Anna. “Here is the water-pot.”
I was handed a tall copper pot, one nearly twice the height of the others and the same in diameter, which I took outside to fill from the pump. Thankfully the horses kept their hooves on the ground, for no wagon was in the way; they seemed to have eaten their fill and were inclined to engage in the 'horse-rumba' if I gave them an excuse. I had few illusions about being kicked in the head. I filled the pot, then the trough as well, then brought back in the pot and placed it where it was originally, and then putting its copper cover in place.
“After dinner is cooking,” said Anna, “we can put that pot on the stove. It makes the water drinkable, as it must boil first. Not boiling the water causes sickness.” I wanted to ask about the meat, but refrained, thinking “what tales the privies here could tell, if only they could speak.”
When Anna opened the stove's bottom door and began looking on the floor near the stove, however, I had an idea as to what was wanted, for a change.
“The wood is where?” I asked.
“Out by the oven, in a small pile,” said Anna.
I went outside through the door, then looked to my right. There, I saw what might have been a sizable armload of short pieces of wood, and I gathered up as much as I could carry. I closed the door with my foot when I came in, and I put the wood next to the stove.
“That is three days worth,” said Anna, “but I am not complaining for it – we are going to have to go and get some more wood next Saturday out in the forests.”
Hans came in, yawning, then said, “hopefully there will be some wood on the ground.”
“There usually is,” said Anna, “even if it tends to be scarce in the common places.”
“Wood?” I asked, as I looked at what remained of the pile near the stove.
“The trees drop most of that stuff in the winter,” said Hans, “and we will need an ax to cut it such that it will fit in the stove. I will ask the carpenters so as to use theirs, as it is a decent one, and those things are scarce around here.”
Here, Hans paused, then said, “I have wanted a good ax for a long time, but they are dear when you can find them.”
Questions bloomed abruptly in my mind, chiefly about 'ax-making', and also, 'how big is a good ax?', and as I wondered what next to do, I stifled a yawn.
“I heard that,” said Anna. “You might try the couch.”
“Couch?” I asked.
“Yes, for a nap,” said Anna. “I can tell you need one, and Hans and I most likely will get one too.”
I wobbled over to the couch, and within less than a minute after removing my boots and socks, I was unconscious. I awoke what seemed an hour or more later amid dim candlelight coming from the kitchen, and as I staggered toward that location, I noted a peculiar smell.
“What is that odor?” I asked.
“That is pepper,” said Anna, “along with some other spices. That meat was almost ready for the manure-pile.”
“I hope I don't get sick from it,” I said. My gut squirmed at the mere thought, and I suspected I needed to head to the privy.
“That hasn't happened yet,” said Anna, “though I was close to tossing it just the same. I'm not fond of lengthy stays in the privy.”
The steadily steaming pot made for wonderment, so much so that I gently stirred the contents, and the spicy smell seemed redoubled. My gut squirmed again, and I barely made it to the privy in time before I had to 'vent'. I returned to the kitchen afterward.
Anna looked at me strangely, then said, “I would watch that where you work.”
“Uh, why?” I asked.
“The forges,” she said. “I've heard tales of candles and privies before.”
“What?” I spluttered.
“I did not believe the tales,” said Anna, “so once when I was small, I ate a great deal of cabbage, and waited with a lit candle near the privy. I went inside, did as you just did, and wished I hadn't when the privy thumped me and singed my hair. Ever since, I have not bothered, and done like most do.”
“Yes, and privies make that stuff without such help,” said Hans. “That is why you do not want to take fire into a privy, unless you want to get thumped good.”
“Is that why they have, uh, vents?” I asked.
“Yes, that and light,” said Hans. “The vents are not just for the stink, they are for that other stuff too. I put in more of them than the common, so as to not have trouble.”
When we ate the meal, the meat was not merely 'edible', but quite tasty, with a very spicy aspect that made for a good appetite. I could not recognize the spices to save my life just the same.
As the just-refilled water pot began steaming – we had used much of its contents to clean the dishes – a question wormed its way to the front of my mind. I thought to speak of it.
“Does salt meat always smell that badly?” I asked.
“No,” said Hans. “Sometimes it smells worse. Ours smells the least of any I have seen up here.”
The recollection of the stuff and its nauseating stench intruded, and I looked at Hans. He must have read something of my facial expression, for he said, “we use a lot more salt for that stuff than is common, and if we are keeping it long, we dry it good in the oven.”
“Yes, and I could use some flint-dried meat,” said Anna.
Hans paused, then seemed to think for a moment before resuming.
“That is a good idea,” said Hans. “The Public House does almost as good a job with their usual meat, but I doubt they keep their wet-salt meat more than a week. They use a lot of that stuff, so it goes as fast as they get it.”
“How old was that in the crock?” I asked.
“Old enough to be ready for the manure pile,” said Hans. “Had we not eaten it, I would have buried the stuff in the next day or two, as it was too close to High for my liking. We kept it as long as one should keep wet-salt meat, even the way we do it, and then it needs long boiling and a lot of spices to make it eatable.”
Dinner had a profound sedative effect, even with my drinking boiled water from a mug instead of beer. As my yawning became impossible to suppress, Hans said, “we will need to make more beer soon, and you should help me, as if you know how to do make beer, that will make two of us, and that is a hard job.”
“D-does it smell?” I asked.
“Yes, it does,” said Hans. “Why, does beer-smell bother you?”
“Remember how beer affects him?” asked Anna. “He might be worried that way.”
Hans thought for a moment, then said, “at least you drink boiled water. Not everyone does, no matter what Anna says about not boiling it causing sickness.”
After bathing in the trough the next morning, I went to Georg's, and during the break – but one sip of beer, and fresh-pressed cider for the balance – I asked about smaller knives and axes. I was still working on the buggy parts to a small degree. The other men were obviously busy.
“Good axes are very hard to find,” said Georg, “and people want them, just like they want knives.” Here, Georg paused, then brought up a slate with a string-tied piece of chalk. He seemed to be thinking for a moment.
“I put out the patterns for that sextant,” he said, “and they have them over at the carpenter's shop. I know a good foundry to the south a piece, and they will pour those castings once the patterns are done. This fellow Huygens is particular, so talk has it, and he gave a drawing of what he wanted.”
I recalled the handful of patterns I had worked on before coming here, and began checking the saw blades as a break. Most of them needed but little touch-up.
“Does the foundry clean up the castings, or do we?” I asked aimlessly.
“They usually do that some,” said Georg. “I take it you're wondering how those things are made.”
“I'm not familiar with outside-work as it's done here,” I asked. “I might have an understanding of this portion to some extent.”
“First, the patterns need to be finished,” said Georg, “and then he checks them over. When he's happy with them, they go to the foundry, they cast them, and then they come back up here. After that, then how they are done is your business as long as he likes the outcome.”
I flinched involuntarily, and Georg said, “you might want to look at the pattern so as to plan your work. The carpenter's shop is down the road next to the cooper's, as they both work with wood and share their wood-yard.”
“Where they season the stuff,” said Johannes. “Both of them cut their own wood.”
While I had cut short 'my' break, the others had taken a longer one, and once they resumed, I went outside toward the Public House. I had but little idea as to where the carpenter's shop actually was, but within seconds, I heard hammering.
“Is that them?” I thought. It sounded likely.
With each step closer, I could hear the hollow-sounding rapid thumps of at least one hammer, and the rhythm – b-b-bang, b-bang, b-b-b-bang – was enough to remind me of what I sounded like when I was forging.
I had gone roughly four 'houses' down when I noticed the 'yards'. Georg's shop wasn't the only place with a mixture of hard-pounded clay and gravel in front, for every such location had the same material for 'paving', with proportions that varied greatly from house to house, and even within each lot. The source of the hammering – it was not letting up – was not much further. I then noted that location, and the one next to it, were actual shops, and not houses.
The first of these locations proved the source of the hammering, and when I stopped in the door, I was afraid to go inside at first. The place was obviously a cooper's shop, for I saw several barrels under construction, and each such barrel attended by a leather-aproned man sitting on a small stool.
The place had more than barrels. It also had a long workbench on one wall, and a large number of pegs hung with tools on both walls. The floor was covered with shavings, and when I watched one man remove a stave and began planing it with a 'spokeshave' and try it again, I did not wonder as to why the place was ankle-deep in shavings.
One of the men paused from his 'fitting', and stood up. He blinked, then looked toward the doorway and saw me, then beckoned me inside as he walked toward the bench. I stepped inside cautiously, and as I did the other men stopped what they were doing one by one. As the man who invited me found a tinned copper mug and began drinking from it, I did not wonder why as to their stopping: he was thirsty, and his sweating indicated this was uncommonly thirsty work.
I was careful where I walked, for I now saw what the 'front' wall was hung with. Several long thin bags of coarse-looking cloth showed nubby protruding threads and drawstrings of slim silvery-gray cord, and their lumpy bulging nature reminded me of the root-bags at home. I wondered as to their contents, and touched one. The crackle spoke of shavings.
I looked for the face of the man I had seen previously, and when I did not see him at first, I nearly panicked. Thankfully, he recognized me, and came closer with a sheet of copper about ten inches square in his hand.
“This should do for the dipper,” he said, as he handed me the sheet. “The tub will take another two days to finish, roughly, if it keeps like this.”
“The shavings?” I asked.
“Cooperage turns a good deal of wood into chips and shavings,” he said, “and cutting wood for barrels and tubs leaves little time for gathering stove-wood. Shavings work well in the stove.”
“Yes, even if you have to add them often,” said another of the men. “They are dry, and light easy.”
“How long does one of those bags last?” I asked.
“About a week,” said the first man, “or longer, if you put distillate to the shavings before you put them in the stove.”
Here, he found a jug, uncorked it, and refilled his mug.
“Distillate is costly stuff, though,” he said, after another sip. “A small jug of the stuff costs as much as a good meal.”
The word 'distillate' rang a bell, for Paul had mentioned it. Still, I was ill prepared for his question:
“Do you know of a good tool-sharpener?”
“Yes, and he is a good one, too,” said Hans' voice from the doorway. He then came inside as if he worked there.
“You don't say,” said the man whose name I now recalled. I had recognized his face right away.
“He did as good a job as I have seen on my knife,” said Hans, as he drew his knife from his sheath to show Dirk.
“How did he do this?” asked Dirk.
“With an old carpenter's stone,” said Hans. “I wondered if you could spare an ax this rest-day for cutting wood.”
While Hans and Dirk made arrangements – I had the impression borrowing of tools was common – I looked around the shop further. Near the rear of the place, I saw four stacked barrels with chalked markings, and upon looking closer, I was mystified by the cryptic symbols.
“Those are for an order,” said one of the coopers, “and these we are doing are much of the rest of it. Now can you sharpen my drawknife? It could do with some time on the edge there.”
“I could,” I stammered, “but that stone Hans mentioned, as well as a pair in the medicine chest, are all I know of outside of those at work. I would not feel right about charging for doing that, as...”
“He is bashful about money,” said Hans, “and still, he needs clothing, and will need shoes, and a collection of stones for sharpening, as there will be a lot of people going to Georg's to have knives and the like sharpened. I thought to try here first for an ax.”
A minute more, and I slipped out the door amid the beginnings of what looked like a gossip session, and went across the small 'cut' between the two shops. I paused to look, and saw two ruts that looked to be made by a buggy. The depth of the ruts spoke of a lot of traffic.
Again, I paused at the door – it too was open – and as I watched, I noted the number of men inside. This place had but three, unlike the five of the coopers, and the amount of light coming inside from the windows spoke of closer-tolerance work that needed care and exactitude. One of the men was using a pair of slates and a pointed piece of chalk to figure something out next to a workbench.
I cautiously walked inside, and as I did, I noted a large array of tools hung from pegs on the walls; there were more than at the cooper's shop, and easily as many as at Georg's. I then saw the bags hanging from the rafters and stacked near the man figuring. One of the latter was untied.
“Georg said the pattern for the sextant was being worked on,” I said quietly, “and I came to look at it.”
I had expected the man to startle, but to my complete surprise, he not only did not startle, but did not pause in his figuring while he spoke.
“That I figured,” he said. “Now what is this I hear about tools being sharpened?”
“I have sharpened several recently,” I said, “but I am new here, so I have no idea as to what arrangements are made for such work. I did need to see the sextant patterns, as I will most likely be working on it.”
“Yes, and speak to Georg about sharpening,” said Hans from the doorway. “He is bashful about money, and needs clothing, shoes, and sharpening stones.”
The man reached for the untied bag, and began removing its contents, saying as he did, “sextants are made to either the large or the small size, and the smaller ones tend to be rare, as most want such things to use them. The larger patterns are much more common.”
“L-larger patterns?” I asked.
“Here, let me show you,” he said. “I was figuring out the parts I needed to add to it, as metal tends to shrink when it is cast.”
As he brought out piece after piece, I wondered what they all went to. More than a few of them appeared to be portions of a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.
“W-why so many pieces?” I asked.
“Everyone who owns a sextant has their preference as to its fittings,” he said, “and while the big pieces tend to be much the same, they all have their peg-holes for the little bits. See, here.”
He pulled out a round 'disk' about ten inches across made of carefully cut and varnished wood. The number of small dowel-holes was easily a dozen, and when he put three of the smaller loose-pieces on, I suddenly saw how the pattern 'kit' could readily be customized.
“The way these work is one puts them together with sealing wax,” said the carpenter. “If special pieces need making, like for this one, then the existing parts serve as patterns for those I'll need to make specially. I'll need to make a fair number of those for this man, as he's said to be particular about his things.”
“Particular?” I asked. “In what way?”
“That, I am not certain,” he said. “The usual is to make several of each part, as sea-duty tends to be rough on these, and they have to be especially close.”
As the carpenter pulled out more pieces to the thing, I tried to figure out how the 'jigsaw' fit together, and with each added piece, the conundrum grew. I could feel the beginnings of a headache, as I knew little about 'sextants' beyond their customary uses – they were used on ships to determine position – and the fact that their 'fixes' were determined to a great degree by how precisely they were made.
“And this thing makes a jigsaw puzzle look easy to figure,” I thought, “as this thing has several rings and more odd-looking lumps than anything I've ever seen, and they aren't even close to finished. It makes a combination square look easy to make, and most likely needs an even better degree of precision.”
I paused in my thinking, then muttered, “and the best tools I can get or make are none too good for it.”
“That is what I expected to hear,” said the carpenter. “These usually take quite some time to make.”
I tried to leave politely, and bungled the matter horribly, or so I felt, and as I turned to go, I noted Hans was gone. He seemed able to vanish like smoke if he was so minded.
As I walked back to the shop, the sense of a headache steadily grew, and I mumbled about special tools, practice, the best metal I could find, and...
“And research,” I said. “I have no idea how to use those things, and something tells me tricky is an understatement for these – tricky to use, and more so to make.”
My brewing headache had dissipated by the time I returned to the shop, and as I came back to my saw-blades, I wondered as to how I would speak about 'my' needs. I felt inept, clueless, and frightened, and I needed to force out the words.
“T-that sextant is going to need a fair number of...”
“Sharpening stones, too,” said Georg. “I had three people ask about you sharpening knives while you were looking at that pattern.”
“Oh, no,” I thought, as Georg came closer to where I was.
“Those saw-blades you did there are a good start,” he said, “as sextants are done by instrument-makers, and those people tend to make their own tools.”
I held up the saw-blade I had been sharpening, and mentally gulped. The one I had made was in use.
“Not all of them forge the tools themselves,” said Georg, “but it isn't at all rare for them to do so, as they are picky about what they use. I wonder if you can sharpen a knife or two, as I could never manage that passably.”
“Uh, the sharpening stones?” I asked.
“That is why I ordered them,” said Georg. “There are but the three we have here, and those come from down south, same as most less-common things. I ordered all I could think of when the post came.”
“Down south?” I asked.
“It might take a few weeks,” said Georg. “The weather is still good. It will not be so in time.”
Here, Georg paused, and seemed to think. I was not prepared for what I heard next.
“Besides, a sextant usually takes close to a year to make, just like a good musket,” said Georg. “How did that one work for you?”
“I did not fire a musket,” I said, “but the candles lit easily. I am not fond of having my face lit on fire.”
I wondered how people could stand a small explosion going off but inches from their faces as I handed back the powder bag, and as I watched, Georg put it in his pocket after checking its drawstrings.
I spent the rest of the day with the sharpening stones and a small container of aquavit, and when I wasn't sharpening the shop's tools, I was sharpening knives. Georg's was but the first example, and no less than fifteen people brought one or more knives into the shop over the course of the day. With the exception of Georg's knife, it took but minutes to put an edge on the blades I saw, and while I did more work on Georg's knife, I marveled at the softness of the metal commonly used. Georg's knife was similar to Hans' for hardness, and I suspected it had a similar origin.
“Why are people's knives so soft?” I asked, as I sipped unfermented cider from a mug.
“Mostly because the metal used is soft,” said Georg, “and few spend much time with them. Then, most that make them are not very good.”
“Why is this one better?” I asked.
“That one there was made from an old file,” said Georg, “and I got it in trade some years back.” Georg paused, then said, “now if you made them, they would be good ones. Small swords are not common, though, nor are handled razors, and that saw blade you made reminds me of a small sword as to its hardness.”
“Using old files to make knives?” I asked.
“Those are not common,” said Georg, “and the knives made that way tend to either be too soft, or too brittle.”
“And getting an old file is not easy hereabouts,” said Gelbhaar. “Most people that wear them out keep them for themselves.”
Bathing and eating that evening made for ready sleep, and prior to bedtime, I consumed two swallows of beer. It seemed to help greatly as a sleeping aid, and in the morning, I returned to work refreshed. That day, I spent nearly the whole of matters either sharpening knives and tools, or 'exploring' the premises so as to learn further what we had for supplies. The buggy parts had mysteriously vanished.
The next day, however, saw a change: the number of knives and tools coming in had precipitously dropped, so much so that I thought to try my hand at some tools. I had heard chisels were among the easiest things to make, and I selected four iron rods, three of them finger-thick, and the fourth, thumb-thick. I suspected forging such blanks and making chisels would be good practice. I did not need to think about their potential uses; I was familiar with those.
Georg was most interested when I spoke of what I was doing, saying, “that size of chisel is common with instrument-makers, and they will want ones like those you are working on.”
“They use these?” I asked. I had made and used my share at home.
“Yes, those and files,” said Georg. “The files are to come with the stones, and I ordered a lot of them, both common and instrument-maker's files.”
Here, Georg paused as if to think, then said, “the files here are past their prime, at least for files, so I needed to get them soon regardless, them and a supply of the better grade of iron.”
“Iron?” I asked. I had an impression, and thought to ask. I hoped I could reserve a 'dead' file.
“There are several grades,” said Georg. “One is especially costly, and is...”
My ears seemed to grow an inch higher upon hearing about 'costly' iron, and I blurted, “what is this costly iron like?” The unspoken portion was, “that sounds like what is needed for good tools.”
“That stuff is haunted,” said Gelbhaar, “or so it is said. There is a special mine where it comes from down there, and it holds an especially good edge when made into swords. No witch will touch that stuff, though, as it causes burns.”
“What,” I squeaked. “How does it cause burns?”
“That iron is worse than the witches, and it lights them on fire,” said Gelbhaar.
“How can I know this iron?” I squeaked. My fear-laden voice seemed to echo in both the shop and my mind, and while I was not a witch – or rather, I hoped I was not a witch – this iron might not be picky, and light me on fire regardless. Hence, I wanted to stay clear of it.
“It is like a mirror for shine,” said Gelbhaar, “and it shows pattern-welding especially well. I once saw a sword made of it once, and I could see myself in it.”
“Did it seem to have a good edge?” I asked.
“I could not look at it that close,” said Gelbhaar, “but I was told it was as sharp as a razor.”
Gelbhaar paused, then said, “and that wretch that had that thing was trouble.”
“Was the sword his?” I asked.
“Yes, and he got it from his grandfather,” said Gelbhaar. “It was an old thing, but looked as if it had been made recently.”
The rods seemed to become firmer with astonishing speed, and by 'quitting time', I had folded the blanks twice. I left them to 'cook' in a forge heaped high with charcoal, in hopes they would impregnate deeper overnight.
Trudging home in a haze of fatigue only accentuated the longing for cool water and a clean body, and when I staggered into the house, I wobbled toward the stairs.
“Your tub came,” said Anna, “and it's in back. I have a surprise for you.”
I was half up the stairs before I understood the full import of what had been said, and when I came down with my other clothing, I stumbled into the kitchen to find a copper pot slowly simmering on the stove.
“S-surprise?” I asked. Anna was preparing something for dinner, and I wondered what it was.
“Yes, warm water for your bath,” said Anna. “That is the smaller pot, and I put it on when I started dinner. I think warm water will help with dirt and soreness.”
“I have no idea how to run a wood-stove,” I murmured.
“I did not learn quickly,” said Anna, “but if you are just heating water, or cooking soup or stew, it isn't that hard.”
Here, Anna paused, then said, “first, you clean out the ashes, and dump them on the manure pile, then put some shavings or small twigs on the grid there, and light them. Once they are lit, then you add small pieces of wood until you have a fire.”
“I would either soot up the kitchen or burn it down, most likely,” I thought.
“That tends to be hard to start a fire in a cold stove,” said Anna, “so I usually try to have a candle going for stove-lighting if Hans isn't handy.”
The hot water mingled with two cold buckets did indeed help with soreness and dirt, and once inside with my dirty clothing soaking in the tub, I noted the other pot on the stove. This one was larger, and its rich meaty smell made me wonder as to its contents.
“This time, we have potato-soup,” said Anna. “I had to fetch some pepper before starting.”
The potato-soup was tasty and uncommonly filling, and seemed intended to induce sleep; it made for an early bedtime. The next morning, I resumed work on the chisels.
The dark gray color of the blanks was such that I marveled, so much so that after welding the blanks again, I let them set in the forge to 'cook' more under a heaping mound of charcoal. They had become markedly 'firmer' under the hammer, such that I felt reminded of my experiences with oil-hardening tool steel.
By the end of the day, I had folded the blanks three more times, and cut each of the thinner blanks into fourths prior to forging them out roughly to size. The larger blank – it too had become much harder – I cut into thirds. I had not spoken of its future, that being knives for the shop. The ubiquitous nature of knives – every man I had seen had one, and with very few exceptions, they were soft metal – indicated a pressing need.
As I began filing the chisels, both chisels and the larger blanks garnered much attention, and when I had filed the third chisel blank to size, Georg picked it up and looked at it.
“Now this is a good one,” he said, “as I have seen this type, and they are expensive things. Only a few make them in the fourth kingdom.”
Georg paused, then said, “what gives with those bigger pieces?”
“Those are for knives,” I said.
“If they are done like this chisel,” said Georg, “people will want them.”
“I have to finish them, first,” I said.
I stayed a bit later to finish the first three chisels and begin forging out the knife-blanks. The nature of the steel – it was harder than that of the first saw blade – was such that I marveled, and in the morning, I finish-forged all three knives to size. I then resumed filing on both knives and chisels, and by lunch, I had all three knives 'close' to where I wanted them, and two more chisels roughed out. I was finish-filing one of the knife blades while wondering about its fittings when one of the apprentices came next to me.
“I know where there's a piece of deer-antler for the handle,” he said.
“Deer-antler?” I gasped. I had not seen anyone here with such a knife, even if I recalled knives with such handles where I came from.
The apprentice had vanished like 'smoke', and as I resumed with my filing, I could hear faint talk seeming to gather around the shop. The words were indecipherable and vague, with other portions having the feeling of strange 'chants' of some kind, and when I heard sawing next to me, I looked up to see the apprentice sectioning an obvious deer-antler.
“I hope that works,” I thought. “Now I remember seeing a hand-drill of some kind, and some brass wire for rivets...”
Hunting in the back for brass bar and wire was a welcome break from the hard labor of filing, and when I had returned with the needed pieces, I was astonished to find two roughly-to-size scales for the handle – as well as the drill and the bits I had worked on recently.
“Now what?” I thought.
“If you trace out those brass pieces,” said Johannes, “I can get them close to size.”
I did so, not wishing to be offensive, and as I continued refining the shape and finish of the blade, I found that not merely did I get help, but most of the pieces were such that only a modest level of finish-fitting was needed to fit them to the blade. As I finished them, however, I noted certain pieces vanishing temporarily to return once more, and when I paused for a break – I was nearly ready to do the heat-treating of the knife – I noted the other blanks had been filed closer to size and the various pieces neatly duplicated. A brief check showed them fairly close.
After a brief polishing session with the stones, I began heating the blade in the forge. Here, I used gentle blasts from the bellows until the blade was a bright orange-red. In this instance, I did not want to quench the blade in water; I wanted oil of some kind.
As I let the blade 'soak', I asked, “is there some old cooking oil or tallow...”
“Yes, there is,” said Georg. “I have heard that to give better tools, and I fetched some this morning from the Public House. Here, let me bring it close so you can drown that thing.”
“D-drown?” I gasped, as I looked closer at the now brilliantly glowing blade.
The bucket proved to be filled with what looked like rancid semi-solid cooking oil, and when I plunged the blade straight in and swirled it around, the gouting smoke and vile smell nearly made me gag. I backed out of it gasping for air with a still-smoking blade in the tongs, then spat, “gah! That stuff stinks.”
“That is normal for a fat-quench,” said Georg, “or so I have heard. I know why they are not common now.”
Cleaning the blade off with the coarse stone rapidly brought out a mirror-like shine, and as I wiped off the blade with a rag, I had an idea. I took another clean rag and candle-stub, and then carefully kneaded the tallow into the rag such that I could use it for wiping tools. I folded it carefully and put it aside, then resumed cleaning the blade off prior to tempering it.
My experience with the clay out back had emboldened me. Here, I did as before, and slowly 'cooked' the blade over the forge-fire until the back of the blade had become a dark purplish brown. I then doused it in the bucket of clay, and untied its wires.
Wiping with another rag, followed by a session with a somewhat finer stone, seemed to bring out not merely a wavering line that corresponded to where I had put the mud, but also a definite wavy 'pattern'. I then began final-fitting the various pieces and peening them on, and after fitting the hilt, butt-cap, and scales, I went over the added pieces with a fine file. It was nearly quitting time, and I could hear the others putting away their things and aprons.
“Now who wants this knife?” I thought. “I know I don't want it, especially given it has a temper-line and that pattern showing like it does.”
Georg came by, then whistled before saying, “that one, you take it and wear it. The best advertising for knives I know of is to have a sample that people can see, and if people feel about knives like I think they do, there will be lots of them wanting ones like it.”
The sinking sense I felt was one of horror, and as I looked shakily at the knife, I saw as if in a dream a faint and ethereal bluish glow seem to gather itself unto the knife to there remain for a fraction of a second. As the glow 'left' – there was a part that seemed to abide, but it was no longer 'visible' – the steel seemed to shine with a feral light and the brass portions became 'molten-looking' with a soft subdued shine.
More importantly, the sense of 'gaudiness' that the knife exuded was frightening, even if I recalled seeing much fancier ones where I came from. As if to confirm this assessment, the brass pins holding the scales seemed to burn like stars for an instant, and again, I nearly collapsed.
I needed to hide this thing, before it condemned me to the stake, and with terror-stricken mind I carefully wiped it with the tallow-rag, then wrapped it in a clean one and tied the resulting bundle with string, all the while looking furtively at the others. They seemed to have but one thing in mind – the Public House – and they left me alone as I removed my apron.
As I walked home with this 'package, I felt as if I were carrying an unwarranted artifact, one so damning that to be found with it would condemn me. No trial would be needed; to have such a thing in my possession named me a witch, and I would burn if I was seen with it.
“And half this size is big for me,” I thought. My previous use of knives educated my preference as to size and 'finish' – plain-looking well-made pieces intended for use. I had not had enough courage to speak of my intent regarding this one – communal use in the shop – and now, I was paying the price of cowardice.
As I came in the door, I was surprised by Hans, and I nearly dropped the 'package'. My face seemed to broadcast shame and terror, and my filthy visage did not help my fright-filled mood.
“I was about to get supplies for beer,” said Hans. “What is that in the rag?”
“Uh, something I made at the shop,” I squeaked, “and, uh, I am afraid to let anyone see it. They wanted me to wear this thing.”
“What, it was bad?” asked Hans.
“No,” I choked. “It-it is the opposite – I think. Here, you tell me.”
I could not speak of my terror as I unwrapped the knife with trembling hands. The blade seemed to gleam wildly, even if I could no longer see the faint bluish-white glow. Hans looked at the knife, then at my fear-stricken face, then at the knife again. Finally, he spoke:
“Why, do you think someone would think you stole this? I have not seen one like this, not ever.”
I could not put into words the precise terror that I felt as I spluttered, “n-no, it looks sh-showy to me, and I-I wanted something closer to-to what Anna has for surgery, so I c-can carve things with it, an-and mend my cl-clothing.” Here, I paused, gulped, then said, “it is fairly sharp, but some hours...”
Hans had been feeling the edge with his thumb while I had stammered my reply. He began to shave with it.
“No!” I shrieked. “Hans, no! It isn't sharp enough!”
He looked at the knife, noting the substantial amount of short blond hairs he had removed, then said, “it is sharper than my razor, and it seems to work well. It is a little bigger than...”
Anna came down the stairs, took one look at the knife, then at Hans, and screeched, “Hans! You didn't!”
My terror tripled: it wasn't enough to be labeled a witch, but to sunder a previously peaceful familial relationship was too much to endure.
“I know you wanted a good one,” said Anna, “but that thing cost the money for three months!” She then looked at me, saying, “where did he get it?”
I choked, then stammered in a nearly inaudible voice, “I-I made that one, an-and there are two more coming out like it.” Here, I nearly fainted, then chose the least troubling of the many conflicting horrors pounding down the corridors of my mind: “it is too 'gaudy' for me, and I-I wanted knives for the shop, as ever-everyone's knives are so soft and badly made. Georg said this one was for ad-advertising, and I-I know nothing about that.”
Anna looked closer at the knife, looking at Hans' face, then at the blade. I felt my chin, feeling a trivial amount of stubble, then looked at my hand. The amount of short bits of hair I saw there was astonishing, so much so that I was distracted as Anna held the blade to check for sharpness by looking at the reflection off of the edge.
“This is a very good edge,” said Anna. “Now why would you think this one too gaudy, other than it looks like something a wealthy person would have?”
I nearly strangled on my tongue before I said, “th-that is one of the reasons why I was afraid to wear it. Then, I have no sheath, and, and...” I choked, then said, “it is too large.” I wanted badly to say, “and I would be burned as a witch if I had it with me.”
Hans took out his knife, held them one in each hand, then said, “no, this is the common size for knives, but what is this wavy grain to the steel and that marking along the sharp part of the blade?”
“I-it is pattern welded, folded several times, and cooked for a while in the forge between each welding, and that makes the layers. It also makes the steel much harder. Th-that marking is the temper line. That part is harder with the back part softer, so it might hold a good edge, yet not break readily.”
“Why do we not try this blade at the Public House?” said Anna.
I was frightened out of my mind, so much so that I nearly screamed inside. The words came out, for I could no longer restrain them: “no, no, please, don't burn me. I don't want to be a witch, no, don't...”
Anna looked at me, but Hans said, “no, you are not a witch. No witch could read the book like you do, nor understand it that good. I think you need to eat a good meal, and you will feel better.”
“Yes, and a bath, too,” said Anna. “I have the water good and warm for you.”
After bathing, I did feel better, but as we walked down the roadside path, I saw more of the town than I did the last I had walked. Once inside the Public House with a mug of apple juice down my throat, I felt much better, and I wiped sweat off of my face. I felt much better – at least, I felt much better until the food arrived, and Hans began to cut up the meat with the knife. The attention it garnered was so much I badly wanted to hide.
“First I shave with it, and now it cuts like a surgical knife,” said Hans. “Anna, you may want one of these in case your usual one goes bad.”
“I see – except that one is a bit large for surgery,” said Anna. “Now if smaller ones were made all of one piece, those would work well. Why is that one too large for you, Dennis?”
Both of them seemed to have forgotten my panic-stricken raving about being burnt for being a witch.
“Anna,” I said quietly, “what would I use something like that for?”
“Why, eating, and possibly hunting, too,” said Anna. “It isn't uncommon to find deer out in the woods this time of year when out looking for firewood, and Hans often gets one. Maybe you should look at his musket.”
I was glad for a commonplace subject. The unsleeping nightmares that otherwise came were impossible to endure.
“I would be glad to do that, but Anna, what does one customarily use for letters” – my preferred knife size came back to me – “or carving wood, or things like that?”
“What one has,” said Anna. Her next question, though, nearly put me on the floor: “why?”
“What I wanted was one about like that surgical knife, about that size.”
Hans thought, then said, “for general use, this size works well, but for letters, it is a bit large, and those who get them often commonly use razors for opening them. Carving wood, one makes do, but I can see using this would be making do for what I think you might have in mind. Are you thinking of pattern-work for that sextant?”
I recalled the knives I had had beforehand, then said, “those knives I have had before were a lot smaller, with the largest ones having a blade half that long – and I thought those too big much of the time. Anna's surgical knife has a good-sized blade, and that is the size I am used to for nearly everything – like sewing.”
I paused, then said, “I was hoping to mend those clothes I came here with. All I might need is a needle, thread, wax, and possibly cloth. I wonder where one gets those?”
“I have those things at home,” said Anna, “but I have never someone as big as you sew. Can you?”
“Yes, I can,” I stammered. “Maybe not the prettiest, but it will hold for a while.”
“Anyone who gets it to hold for a while, if they are any good, ends up doing it for a living,” said Anna, as she looked at her meat. “Usually, it has to not merely hold, but also look good. Still, I have seen sewing done badly.”
“Badly?” I asked.
“It held for a few months,” said Anna, “and until it ripped out, it fit terribly.”
Soon Hans had a visitor. While I did not recognize him, he seemed transfixed by the sight of the knife, so much so that I was afraid of him. He said in a near-hypnotic tone of voice, “that is a very good knife. Where did you get it?”
Hans paused in his roast-cutting to point at me with the knife, then returned to his work. It seemed my turn to talk, fear or no fear.
“That was the first one I made here,” I said quietly, “and there are two more like it that are mostly done. All three were intended to be used at the shop, as those coming into the shop to be sharpened were so soft, and...”
I gulped, then choked out the last words, saying, “I wanted to see if better ones could be made.”
The thought of being burned as a witch returned, and I looked about in terror. There was more I needed to say, and the reasons why...
“Why?” I thought. “How do I know so clearly that I need to say more?”
Hans paused with his cutting – he was almost done – and said, “I think you did make a better one. Now talk has it that you will need to make a lot of tools for that sextant, and I am not surprised much.”
I gulped again, then said in a faint and fear-stricken voice, “there is supposed to be this special steel, and I was told the stuff was 'haunted'.”
“Is this why?” I thought. The pause was as brief as a breath.
“I think any spirit tied to that stuff isn't going to enjoy the forging process much,” I said, “but how to get that stuff... I really want to try some smaller knives made from it.”
“What for?” asked the visitor.
I had no answer for the man, and recalling Anna's reaction to my mention of smaller knives did not help.
“Those are what you want for close work,” said one of the carpenters. His voice seemed to come from nearby. “I make do with what I have for marking patterns and trimming dowels, but if I could get a small one that worked like that one there, it would help a lot.”
Here, he paused, and I could hear some liquid being consumed. The prevailing odor of the Public House – beer – and recently-observed custom made that liquid likely.
“That is for carpenter's work,” he said. “I know a jeweler, and she needs hers made to fit so she can carve wax, and the same for instrument-makers. Most of those people need their tools made to suit, and their knives are the same way.”
“What are those like?” I asked. My voice seemed uncomfortably loud.
“About two inches of very hard and sharp blade,” said the carpenter, “and close-grained wood for the handle. Most people don't know that much about those things up here, but those that do know of them want them, even if they don't do wood. I know of at least one tailor that wants one of those knives for trimming to size.”
Anna put her hands over her mouth and her eyes went wide in wonder. I felt repudiated, but I did not console myself with what had been said.
“It would seem you are not alone in wanting a smaller one, then,” said Hans. “Still, this is the common size, and it works well. I think we can make arrangements for the beer now.”
Hans now stood, and as he went back to the rear of the building, I followed after. While I had been too overwhelmed to notice much last week beyond smells and songs, I now saw the interior of the place much clearer: thick smooth timbers every so often rising up to the ceiling, and between these timbers, courses of stone showing tool marks on the stones themselves and thin seams of fine-grained whitish mortar between them.
Hans continued to dodge crowded tables, and as I passed, I noted that the usual table in the place was planked, varnished, and doweled, with the table sizes varying noticeably one from another, and the servingware used was much like ours. Again, it seemed to vary, though it varied less than the tables.
The rear of this candlelit building seemed further back than I recalled it, and as Hans came to the 'bar' at the rear, I wondered as to what he had planned.
“This is awful light business for a bar,” I thought.
However, as we came to the 'bar', I soon found that it had little to do with drink beyond what commonly went with meals, for three plates showed abruptly to be whisked away by a waiter.
“What is this place back here?” I asked quietly.
“This is where one sees people about things like meat and malt,” said Hans, “and if one is traveling and wants food, then one comes to the back like this.”
“Traveling?” I asked. I could tell someone was coming.
“Yes, when you stop at a place like this for beer and bread,” said Hans. “You go in, get your stuff, pay for it, and then you go.”
An older man soon came with a slate and chalk, and Hans asked him about malt and hops. I surmised he was the publican.
“We just got a fresh supply of both,” said the man, “and I take it you need some.”
“Yes, and how is Mathilde?” asked Hans.
“She is doing better,” said the man. “That recipe you spoke of has something special to it, and I am not sure what it is.”
I looked to my right to find another such slate, and as I moved around Hans to examine it, I saw what looked like barley. The paleness of the grain spoke volumes to me – it was as blond as the publican – and it said it needed toasting. I looked at the slate, saw it was clean of writing, and picked it up. Both men seemed deep in conversation, and as I began writing, my tongue protruded with the effort of concentration. I was trying to write legibly, and doing so needed all the concentrated effort I could muster.
“Cook one-fifth of malt until somewhat brown, and crush carefully using a large knife. Put barley in clean sacks, add to boiled water in pots, and heat water slowly until one's finger feels hot when dunked. Remove sacks, place them in fresh pots with boiled water, and repeat process three times, each time boiling down the result. Combine pots, add hops, boil briefly with a small addition of boiled water to bring up to the right color once done, then strain with boiled cloth, jug, cool, and pitch yeast. Cover mouths of jugs with clean rags during the first few days while the yeast works, and then cork. Store beer in a cool dark place for at least a week, and preferably two, before drinking.”
I ceased writing, and looked at the outcome. I was astonished to find it legible, and when I put the slate up on the counter, Hans picked it up. I then noted how hot and sweaty I felt.
Hans looked at me strangely, then nodded to the publican, saying, “I think what he said about knowing about beer is true, as these are good directions.” Hans paused, then said, “now what gives with cooking that malt stuff brown?”
The publican looked at me knowingly, then said, “that part is tricky, but if you do it right, your beer sells faster than you can make it. Now I have never heard of chopping the malt like that, nor bagging it. I usually strain the stuff.”
“It keeps the grain out of the beer,” I said. “I have done it that way before, and when I saw your malt, it had less color than what I remembered. If you toast your malt, though, your beer will be darker than it is now.”
“I know,” said the publican, in a voice that seemed to imply he was drooling with anticipation, “and dark beer is a rare thing, but if the malt is toasted right...”
I saw a drop of spittle form at the man's lips. It then fell soundlessly. He was drooling.
“I could not get enough of that stuff,” he said wistfully. “How do you toast the malt?”
“Uh, could I have the use of a...” I was confused, so much so that I used the back of the slate and drew a frying pan, then said, “do you have..?”
“How big of a fryer do you want?” said the publican. “Come back here, and see what we have.”
Minutes later, I was 'cooking' the malt in an conventional-looking frying pan on an unpleasantly warm wood-stove amid a small crowd of people working on various meals. I had to keep the malt moving around with a fork so that it did not burn, but a few minutes of such 'cooking' made for a fairly evenly browned handful of malt. I poured it out into a tinned copper bowl, and took it to the publican.
“I never did it that way prior,” I said, “but this is what you want it to look like as for color. If you use a number of batches like this and keep one handy as a sample, then they will average out passably. Do you have...”
He looked at me, then said, “let me get a cleaver. I think you will want one of those.”
Upon his return, I was handed a small but otherwise common-looking cleaver and directed to a cutting board, where I rapidly cut up the barley kernels such that they looked about 'right'.
“Granted, it most likely takes longer this way, but...” I said.
“Yes, and that gives a good result,” said the publican. “I am going to try this formula and see how it comes out. Jodocus, Dieter, we make the beer soon. Let me show you how...”
As we went back to the table, I said “Hans, what did I do?”
“I think you came up with a recipe for beer. Now, the supplies will come by Monday night, and we can make up some then. I think we finish dinner now.” Hans paused, then said, “how hard is it for you to write? You were sweating a lot there.”
“It isn't easy at all if it has to be readable,” I said.
“That was not too bad for writing. I have seen it done worse, but I never saw anyone work that hard to do it, nor anyone put their words together that good.”
As we sat down, I glanced around briefly. Two tables over, I saw two men, each with a deep tinned-copper pie pan in front. The two of them were devouring the savory-smelling contents of the pans in such a manner that I wondered if they would eat the utensils.
“What are they eating?” I asked, as I indicated the two men.
“Those are pies,” said Anna. “I think they are marmot pies, if I go by the smell.”
“M-marmot?” I asked.
“Yes, marmot,” said Anna. “They taste especially good in stew.”
I wondered for a moment if there were 'possums' here, and as I resumed eating, the thought of 'possum pie' did not make for a good appetite, at least for the first two bites. The third mouthful had overcome any and all thoughts of nausea, and I devoured my food with no further thinking on the matter.
The food was gone from the plates and platters roughly half an hour later, and Hans left three smaller silver coins on the table as we rose to leave the now-crowded Public House. Outside, the sun had just gone down, and as we walked out the door, I noted a light to my right. I turned to see a small brass lantern – one that seemed a copy of what was on the wagon the night I came – with a lit candle shedding a tremulous light.
The lantern was hung from a long forged-iron hook attached to the wall, and as we walked home, I saw several more lanterns like it on the stoops of various houses. More houses showed faint light from their windows, and as we walked slowly home, the sense I had was that of gathering darkness, stars overhead becoming steadily brighter – and the steady and growing distraction of flickering candles close to eye-level. More than one person put a candle outside during our walk.
While our stoop had no lit candle, it did have a pair of sizable cloth bags, one being a good deal smaller than the other. The larger one had but little odor, but the smaller one fairly reeked of the musty odor of hops.
“Ah, the malt and hops came,” said Hans. “We can start a little early on that beer, and I'd like to see you cook that malt that way some. That might help.”
“Yes, as long as he doesn't cook it so that it burns,” said Anna.
“Burns?” I asked. I did not contemplate the idea of 'stout' with fondness. One bottle of Guinness had been enough to suit me, and that with pouring most of it in the toilet.
“Burned food can cause the runs,” said Anna, as she went inside ahead of me. “I smelled what you were doing in there.”
“How did it smell?” I asked.
“Good enough that everyone was asking about it when they weren't asking about that knife,” said Anna. “I suspect people want knives like that one. I know I would like some all-metal knives for surgery.”
“All-metal?” I asked. “Is this so the handle is easier to clean?”
“Is that why?” asked Anna. “I wasn't sure why I've wanted them beyond some dreams I have had.”
After Hans had gone outside with a brass lantern 'stuffed' with a thicker than usual candle, I asked about the use of a needle and thread. Anna left for the upstairs, and returned minutes later with a small cloth bag.
Within this bag was a long thin stick having carved bulbous ends and coarse-looking white thread, what might have been a small copper 'shot-glass', and then a brownish-yellow lump of wax with an unusually long and thin mottled purplish-brown needle poked into it.
After waxing a length of the thread and poking it through the needle, I fetched my damaged pants and began to carefully stitch the rips. While Anna was watching me from the beginning, within less than a minute, I had Hans watching me as well.
After sewing one ripped portion – the sewing wasn't going as well as I liked; I was glad it wasn't as hard as legible handwriting, just the same – Anna said, “that will get you talked about as well. You might be too slow for doing that much, but that is not bad work.”
“Not bad for men?” I asked.
“Those that do that for hire tend to do a little better, but many of them do worse,” said Anna.
“What kind of thread is this, and where does one get sewing supplies?” I asked.
“Those are at the Mercantile,” said Anna. “Given how you are paid, you should manage such things soon.”
“Oh! I forgot!” I squeaked.
“Georg didn't,” said Anna, “and that was arranged before. I doubt you are good at bargaining, and I know you are not accustomed to living here. I am not surprised much.”
I visibly flinched, then looked around for a place to hide.
“I can take you to the Mercantile when it opens next,” said Anna, “and I will show you what I can then.”
I managed to repair about a dozen smaller rips before I felt fatigued, and then gave Anna back her supplies – and but minutes later, I staggered up to bed. There, I fell asleep as if clubbed, and woke up the next morning feeling slightly 'frowzy' and wanting a bath in the worst way imaginable. I gathered my clothing, and wobbled down the stairs.
As I came near the stove, I felt its less-than-subtle warmth, and upon opening the door where I had seen Anna put wood, I noted a faintly smoking ash-heaped mound. Using the 'poker' stirred up some feeble-looking near-colorless flames, and tossing a few of the smaller pieces of wood resulted in larger yellow-tinted flames within seconds. I then closed the door, and went after some water.
I kept a close eye out for the horses as I went to the pump and filled a pot, then returned to the kitchen, where I stood shivering – and thinking while I shivered, for I had a conundrum of the worst kind: how would I heat water on the stove? Did I remove an eye? Did I put the pot on the covers the way it was? Was there another method that escaped me entirely?
“That water will not get hot if you don't put it on the stove,” said Anna's voice from behind me. “Let me take one of those covers off.”
Anna used the poker to do so, then I covered the now-fuming 'eye' with the pot. She then opened the lower door, and closed it abruptly. The billow of thin acrid smoke was followed by her scurrying around to my left and adjusting something at the rear of the stove, then moving back to the front as I moved out of the way. There, I saw another wooden handle, and as Anna moved it to the side, she muttered something about a damper.
“This stove has a damper?” I asked.
“Yes, it does,” said Anna, “and also an air-feed. You have to adjust those whenever you want to cook something.”
“What did you just do?” I asked, as Anna opened the lower door and tossed in a few more smaller sticks.
“That was the air feed,” said Anna. “The damper is on the back of the stove.”
Anna paused, then said, “I needed to get hot water for clothes anyway. I'm glad we'll be getting wood today.”
Steps coming down the stairs spoke of Hans coming, and when he entered the kitchen, I saw the leather wrapped bundle I had seen before. This time, he unwrapped it to show a well-worn flintlock. I had never looked closely at a flintlock before, but the aura of age and decrepitude this example showed said but one thing to my mind.
“That thing needs to be gone through,” I thought.
Hans laid the gun on the table while he went downstairs, and I thought to look closer. The stock was similar to pictures I had seen of antique weapons for shape, and the slightly rusty-looking barrel – this wasn't patina; this was full-on flagrant rust – was nearly three feet in length from vent to muzzle. I thought to test the bore with my smallest finger, and to my surprise, it almost fit. The bore was about half an inch, if that, and when I looked at my finger, I saw what might have been a ring of faintly sooty tallow.
“Not everyone takes good care of muskets,” said Hans as he came up the stairs from below, “but I do as I can. Most people with them do, as one never knows when witches will turn up.”
I nearly fell to the floor in a faint, then said in a near panic:
“Hans, this talk of witches scares me. Do people think I am one?”
Hans laughed, then said, “You? A witch? Since when? No, you do not look or act like one, and that episode with the book proved it.”
“That was a trial by ordeal,” I thought. “I'm glad I wasn't given the 'drown-test'.”
I was about to speak when Hans said, “a witch would have been in bad trouble reading the book. You had none at all, and understood it good enough to help the preacher.”
“Bad trouble?” I asked.
“Witches want nothing to do with the book or what is in it,” said Hans, “and so, even if you can do some things that make me wonder, you are no witch. There are tales of such people, and they all were sent specially. Once that gets out, I would watch close.”
“W-why?” I squeaked. “Would I be burned as a witch?”
“You might find the mobs a bit much,” said Anna. “It isn't at all common when someone acts as if they walked out of an old tale.”
After loading the buggy – jugs, ax, musket, basket, and a leather satchel with a long strap and large wooden button – Hans drove down the road headed out of town in the direction we had gone last week. I wondered if we were to go there, at least until he turned right down an uncommonly narrow rutted road between two huge fields of still-standing corn.
As I looked at the plants, I could see they had been gone through carefully a great many times, for there were vacant places on each plant where 'ears' had once been. More, the plants seemed more dead than alive, and their faint rattling sounds in the soft breezes were a cause for fear on my part, especially as the fields showed no signs of ending at this time.
I thought too soon, however, for after several gentle bends, the cornfields abruptly ended and we came out into grassy meadows and wooded country. The deep rich green of the meadows was a cause for wonderment, and the wooded areas, more so.
“Those places get lots of people in them,” said Hans, “so they will be picked dry of sticks. I know of some that have few visit.”
“Few people, you mean,” said Anna. “That last place had deer in it, but none of them showed themselves.”
“I think that was because you were after the wood more,” said Hans. “With three people, one of us should be able to watch good.”
After passing several large patches of forest and wide green meadows, Hans came off of the road next to another forest patch. This particular instance, however, was profoundly different from the previous ones in some hard-to-describe fashion, and its uneven-looking deep green grass seemed to suck at the wheels of the buggy as Hans drove close to the edge of the forest. I wondered what to do as the two of them got down and Hans fetched out the ax.
“Come with me,” said Anna. “This woodlot has a lot of drop-wood in it.”
Anna did not exaggerate, for the forest was carpeted with sticks, and gathering a sizable armload took but minutes. I followed Anna out to where the buggy was, and there, I dumped my load next to hers.
As we went back into the forest, I heard the crack of the ax. I had tried to gather sticks of the right length, or so I thought, and as Anna began to gather more of them, I heard a faint crackling noise. Anna stopped abruptly, and whispered, “did you hear that?”
I nodded, then whispered, “was that a d-deer?”
“I don't know for certain if it was,” said Anna, “but I think it likely.”
“The wood?” I asked, as the ax cracked again.
“I've been getting the smaller pieces,” said Anna. “They break up easier with the ax, and they work better in the stove. Anything much bigger than your thumb tends to be more trouble than it is worth, at least for the stove.”
Our second pair of loads showed Hans had not merely been trimming the stuff to size, but also loading it in the buggy, and over the next half hour, Anna and I got another five loads each. Twice more we heard the crackling noise, and when we came out, Hans said, “I think I saw a deer.”
“I heard something three times,” said Anna. “How much more wood do we want?”
“Those loads were big ones,” said Hans, “so two more should do for today.”
After bringing back two more loads, Hans handed me the ax, and while Anna indicated which pieces needed chopping – but a few – Hans went looking along the edges of the woodlot. As I cut the pieces Anna indicated – I had used axes enough to have some ideas – Anna said, “a small deer is a good number of meals at the Public House, and a bigger one, many more.”
“Is that where their meat comes from?” I asked, as I chopped a stick in two.
“That, and free meals for those bringing meat in,” said Anna. “Many of our meals are cheaper than the usual because Hans is one of the better hunters.”
After laying the ax on the buggy's seat, I began to help Anna with the remaining bits of wood. I seemed to 'feel' something was about to happen, so much so that once we had finished with the wood, I kept the ax in hand. That feeling was not going away.
As we arranged the wood carefully in the buggy, I heard faintly a crackling noise to my right and ahead. I dismissed it, for it had interrupted my thoughts about axes. I wanted to make one or two.
The crackling noise came again, and this time, I had the impression an animal was warily emerging from the trees. I tried to localize the sound while I arranged the sticks as Anna had, and was doing the latter passably when a thunderous booming roar nearly put me in the bed of the buggy. In a panic, I ran around the buggy so as to protect Anna, and as I came around, I saw not merely Hans, but a huge bluish cloud of powder smoke – and not quite a hundred yards off, a deer slowly limping toward the trees.
I left Anna behind and began running with the ax, and when I came to fallen logs lying in the meadow, I leaped over them. I had not seen them before. Hans seemed in a 'funk' of some kind, for he was neither moving nor doing much – and my mind was racing faster than my feet.
As I came closer to the deer, I noticed that it was no longer limping, nor was it trying to get away. It was turning toward me, and as if in a dream, I saw it pawing the ground with its forehooves, much as if it were an irritated bull. Its antlers – three wickedly sharp black-tipped points per side – were beginning to lower as the deer crouched to spring. I had but one thought: use the ax before it charged.
The deer lunged viciously as I came near, and I dodged the stabbing horns as it tried to spike me. I came to earth from my leap, bounded toward it, and then swung the ax with all my strength at its head. The ax flashed like lightning, and the bit sunk in up to the haft just above the eye of the deer as it was lowering its horns again.
The deer seemed frozen, and as blood began to slowly ooze from around the bit of the ax, the deer's front legs gave way, then its rear, and as it fell, the ax shuddered a bit before coming free in my hands. I looked at the blood-fouled blade of the ax, and noted gray muddy stuff on it as well. I seemed dumbstruck, so much so that as I wobbled away, I could think of but one thing: clean the mess off of the ax.
I sat down and began slowly wiping the blade on the grass. The mess came up readily, and as I finished the job, I wondered in subtle terror:
“What happened to me?” I thought. “Have I become a witch?”
The thought was so horrible that I mumbled, “that will get me in trouble.”
“Yes, with the deer,” said Hans. “That one looked good for three hours of chasing, and you stopped it quick.”
Hans then looked at his musket, and said, “this musket needs work, as I hit that deer solid. I think the balls have gone small or the barrel worn, or maybe both of those things.”
“C-can I clean...”
“Yes, you may,” said Hans. “I need to work on that deer, and I can try this knife doing it.”
While I had never worked on a flintlock before, I had done my share of cleaning regarding black powder, and when Hans handed me both 'gun' and pouch, I moved off to the side and began looking in the latter. Here, I was surprised.
I had not seen a ramrod under the musket's barrel, and as I began rummaging in the pouch, I learned why: the ramrod was an old-looking wooden and brass thing that screwed together. As I assembled this 'tool', I noted the screwed fittings seemed a trifle uneven as well as worn, and after putting together the rod, I found the small pouch of its fittings. One of them had something that resembled a corkscrew.
I put that on the end, then availed myself of the rags inside the pouch. I tore one of the smaller ones into several narrow strips, then spat on it and wound it on the corkscrew. I began swabbing the bore out.
The dirt that came out was of such volume I shuddered, for I knew it wasn't merely from this particular shot; it had accumulated to a marked degree.
“Does he clean this thing properly?” I thought, as I wound on another strip of rag and wondered about a candle for greasing.
The third such patch showed less dirt, and when I found a candle stub, I kneaded some tallow into a fourth one. That brought out more dirt, and I used another spit-dampened piece of rag to get what had accumulated. A sixth piece with tallow came more or less clean, and when I found the small leather pouch full of balls, I thought to try one.
I untied the string and dug in the pouch, and when I had wormed out a bullet, I was astonished. I knew they were not likely to be swaged, but rather cast; the mould used was of such a crude nature that I knew it needed as much work as the gun itself. I then tried fitting the ball to the bore, and shuddered.
The gap between bullet and ball was such that the ball rolled readily down the barrel, and only tipping the stock up caught it in time. I was glad when it rolled back out, and cautiously tried the ball again. The gap was astonishingly large, as well as readily perceptible; I could wiggle the ball with my fingers.
I sighed, and then used one of the last pieces of rag to wipe down the outside of the gun's metal. The rust that began to come off was as astonishing as anything else, so much so that as I used the last piece of that rag to wipe on more tallow, I was astonished to see Hans looking at both me and the pile of dirty rags. The knife I had made had been 'blooded', for I could see traces of blood and fat on the blade.
“Now that is a good job of cleaning that thing,” he said. “I usually do that when I am done for the day.”
“Not like this you do,” said Anna, as she knelt down to see the pile of torn rags. “I know you clean your musket better than almost anyone I know of, but I had no idea there was so much dirt in that thing. Look at this.”
Hans wiped off his knife, then knelt down and whistled, saying, “I had no idea it was this bad, Anna. How many times...”
“These rags show a lot of soot,” said Anna, as she looked at me. “What did you do?”
“Wet them with spit,” I said, as I finished wiping the gun's metal down, “and then the tallow loosened more dirt, so I had to start all over. Then, the balls fit really loose.”
“Can you shoot?” asked Hans.
“Y-yes, but not with one of these,” I said. “I do not want my face lit on fire.”
“He must be talking of one of those fowling pieces,” said Anna. “Those don't do that.”
“No, not one of those,” I said. “Do they take small copper things that...”
“Yes, they take thimbles,” said Hans. “There are fowling pieces, and some muskets that are made down south, and then these odd pistols with this canister that turns such that they fire several times before needing reloading. All of them take thimbles.”
I had the distinct impression Hans was speaking of a revolver, so much so that I said, “that sounds like what I had. Its ball was a bit smaller than these.”
“That is what most of them take,” said Hans. “Now let me show you how to load that thing there up.”
Hans first laid out his supplies on the pouch, these being a tubular brass powder flask with a thong-tied tubular measure, a much smaller flask of similar construction, the pouch full of balls, and another rag. I had already assembled the ramrod for him, or so I thought until he removed the 'corkscrew' and put on a small wooden knob.
After filling the measure heaping full, he dumped the coarse-looking silvery gray powder down the barrel, and tapped the butt of the gun to settle the powder, followed by a ball. His eyes seemed to open a trifle wider when he dropped the ball down the barrel.
“I never saw that before,” he said. “Those things fit looser than I remember.”
He then took a small piece of a rag, placed it in the barrel, and then smoothly rammed the rag down such that it was firm. Once the ramrod was out, he handed it to me.
The last portion involved putting the cock to half-cock, and here, I saw more trouble. The cock was having trouble making up its mind as to whether it would hold or not. Finally, Hans coerced it into holding, and placed a small amount of priming powder in the hollow beneath the frizzen, and snapped the thing close with a faintly audible crunching noise. My assessment about the gun needing work was accurate.
“I want to go through that thing and repair it,” I said, as I finished taking the ramrod apart.
“I thought so,” said Hans with a faint smile. “I can tell this one needs a lot of work, and I have had it some years, too, so it is about due. We need to get home with that deer.”
As we loaded the animal – it had been field-dressed, or so I surmised – Hans said, “I had it worked on three years ago, and it needed a fair amount of work then.”
“Is that usual?” I asked, as I moved the sticks aside so as to find a place to sit. The deer was lying on top of the wood to the rear of the buggy.
“Most do well to have their guns still work after that much time,” said Hans. “I might shoot this thing two or three times on an outing.”
As Hans drove out of the grassy portion and onto the road, he said, “that deer-hide will make a good sheath, or several of them, once it is tanned.”
I looked at the deer, and noted its odor, that being one of 'fresh meat'. I had never seen a deer up close before, and this one seemed about 'average' for size.
“You will want tool pouches for what you will make,” said Hans, “one for each set of tools.”
Bewilderment wasn't close to how I felt, and as we passed another of the woodlots, I asked, “for tools?”
“Instrument-makers have lots of special cloth or leather pouches for their tools,” said Hans. “It helps them keep organized, or so I have heard, but the best tool pouches are made of leather softened with tallow.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It helps the tools stay good,” said Hans. “Now this deer is a fair-sized one, and even after the leather is tanned, we will have a fair number of free meals for each of us.”
“Fresh meat?” I asked. “Is that why?”
“Yes, as otherwise, he would have to buy it, and bought meat is more,” said Hans. “About a fifth of the meals in that place are on account. Then, we have fresh meat for a day or two, and Anna can dry some up. You might watch her, unless you know how to dry meat.”
“I have dried meat,” I said, “but not how it is done here, and I never kept the stuff very long and then ate it. Besides, I have no idea as to the tastes here.”
I was thinking of the various species of jerky where I came from as I spoke, but as I looked ahead, I noticed Anna was now holding the musket. I could faintly hear some crackling sounds ahead and to the left, and thought to speak to Anna.
“Anna,” I whispered, “be ready. There's something up ahead.”
“What is it?” asked Anna.
“I'm not sure,” I said, “but it sounds like another...”
As if by 'program', a deer burst out of the margins of the woodlot but thirty feet in front of the buggy, and Anna mounted the gun and fired. The noise and smoke of the shot was enough to nearly toss me onto the road, and when I recovered, the buggy had stopped.
“W-what happened?” I asked.
“Come out and see,” said Anna. “It's going to be crowded back there.”
By the time I was walking ahead along the road, Hans was well into field-dressing another deer, and with his help, I dragged the thing to the margins of the woodlot so as to dump the guts. I had but little feeling for the matter beyond I was glad he was doing the work and not me.
“I would ruin the meat if I did what he's doing,” I thought.
Thankfully, this deer was a bit smaller than the first example, and went next to it in back. My area was now very limited, and somewhat cramped. I began cleaning and then loading the musket.
The cleaning process still involved a number of small pieces of spit-dampened rag alternated with tallowed examples, and when I finally got the inside clean, I began loading the gun. After dumping the powder, I tore a small piece off of the last tallowed strip, then put the ball in on top of it. I made certain the wide lop-sided sprue was facing up, and as I began ramming, I noted the amount of force the ball took. It was not loose now, and when I finally got the ball seated on the powder, I was amazed – not merely at how well the powder flasks worked, but at how gritty-feeling the action was.
After priming, I handed the gun back to Anna, saying, “I loaded it with a patched ball. It should shoot better now.”
“You don't say?” said Hans. “How far do you think it will go?”
“Why not try it...” I stopped in mid-sentence as I looked at what was in the buggy. “No, best not. I would need to walk if you got more deer.”
“No, not more deer,” said Anna. “There are marmots in the fields, and farmers would rather have them in the kitchen stewing than out in the fields devouring vegetables.”
The buggy now felt smoother than I recalled with my first ride, and once back on the main road, Hans drove straight to the Public House. Several people came back out with him as I and Anna dismounted, then I followed the 'herd' back in behind Anna. They took both deer into an area of the place I had never seen before, and here, Hans and two others began skinning both deer out.
“They will be a little while doing that,” said Anna, “and while they cut the meat up, we can take the hides to the tanner's.”
“What about the wood, though?” I asked.
“That will keep,” said Anna. “We have plenty for now, but I would plan on trips to woodlots every chance we can before the snow begins falling. Gathering wood during winter is much harder than right now.”
The damp hides came out more or less intact but fifteen minutes later, and while I carried them, I followed Anna to a house she had identified as that of the tanner's. Here, we were met by a young girl, who with her two brothers took charge of our hides. As we left that place to head back to the Public House, Anna said, “those will take about two weeks, and then they will be done.”
“How do we pay for them?” I asked.
“Hides are worth a portion of the meat,” said Anna. “Most people in town know each other very well, so the tanner's family now has fresh and salt meat for a while.”
The finishing of the two deer took but minutes after the two of us returned to the Public House, and when Hans came out, he said, “this knife still feels sharp. You spoke of sharpening it more.”
“I did,” I said, as I got back in the buggy. “It seems to take a good edge, much like that surgical knife.”
“It's hard to tell for difference,” said Anna. “Until you sharpened it the last time, there was little to tell for sharpness. Size, yes. Sharpness, no...”
Anna put her hand on Hans' leg, and he stopped as Anna dismounted. She went to the side, using the horses for cover. I looked to see what she was going to do.
At the edge of the nearest field – it was just across the street from where we lived – I saw a furtive-looking brown 'creature' seeming to be in a trance as it looked at something on the ground near its head. I wondered where it had come from, as it resembled that huge 'gopher' that I had seen the night of my arrival. The sudden roar of the musket jerked me out of my 'trance', and the 'gopher' screamed heartbreakingly as it convulsively leaped into the air. It landed on its back and thrashed crazily for a few seconds before becoming still.
“What did you do to this musket?” yelled Anna. “It shot like it had a double charge of powder.”
“A-are you sore?” I asked.
“No,” said Anna. “I think what you said about the balls fitting loose was the truth.”
“Yes, and now I know the trouble with that gun,” said Hans. “The balls fit loose. Now why did you put a patch on the ball? I thought tailors used patches, not muskets.”
Anna returned to her seat and handed me the musket. I had barely gotten the ramrod together when the buggy stopped and the two of them got out. I had heard of marmots, both here and where I came from, and I thought it wise to see what a marmot looked like.
By now, I had something of an idea as to how to get out of the buggy, and I came down feet first. The shock of landing wasn't easy on my ankles. I was so interested in this animal I ignored the brief spasm of pain.
My impression of that first night's gopher proved correct as to the color and wrong as to nearly all else, for when I came close, the first thing I noted was the feet. The question that erupted in my mind almost made it out of my mouth:
“Why does this thing have cloven hooves?”
There was no answer to my unvoiced question, and as I examined the animal's head, I noted a capacious mouth smeared with green material. I suspected that not only did marmots here have voracious appetites, but they also had the four partitioned stomach of ruminants.
“What is this thing?” I asked.
“This is a good-sized marmot,” said Hans, “and it has been trouble, as I can see places where it was shot before. There, now it can bleed out good.”
As I watched Hans begin to gut the animal, I was astonished at its fur – short, somewhat fuzzy, uncommonly dense, and seeming to almost gleam – and also, its size and proportions, those being appropriate to a stumpy-legged half-grown sheep. I heard clicking noises now and then, then Hans produced some small whitish spheres.
“I knew it,” said Hans, “as that was some shot I just dug out of its hide.”
I could hear someone else coming, and when I looked up, I saw someone coming on horseback with a musket slung across his back. He looked like a 'farmer'.
“I think that is dinner, Hans,” he said, as he dismounted. “I saw that shot, and I never saw that musket shoot so good.”
“Yes, and it was loaded different, too,” said Hans, as he began removing the guts from the animal.
“That one has been around some,” said the farmer, “both that musket, and that marmot. It was a pest enough, and more than once, I dumped a load of shot into it, and it still got away. Now it seems ready for the stew-pot at home.”
While I had no idea who was to get the animal, within minutes, Hans had not merely a sizable gobbet of dripping-red meat, but the farmer was riding off with the rest of the animal.
“That is stew for today,” said Anna, as she held out a cloth bag to Hans, “and later, I can go get some of that deer we left at the Public House.”