Witches? I hope not... (continued)
Anna went inside with the meat once we were home, and while Hans and I brought in the wood, I noticed the 'herb garden' had been cleared off and laid with stones.
“Did that place once have, uh, herbs?” I asked.
“Yes, until the birds ate them,” said Hans. “Now we put the winter's wood there, as we do not have time enough to do medicine and farm. If we tried, neither of those things would come good.”
Hans paused, then said, “until it snows, we will need to fetch what wood we can, and the same for meat, so Anna can dry the stuff good.”
“The wood, or the meat?” I asked.
“She does not do carpentry, so she does not dry wood,” said Hans. “She will need to dry the meat. They might do that decent at the Public House, but they tend to not be open of a Sunday, and for Saturday, one must plan ahead some, unless you do medicine. Much of that does not plan good, so we do as we can.”
“And other people?” I asked.
“They tend to be doing other things Saturday and Sunday,” said Hans. “That needs luck to catch them then, and I don't count much on luck, unless I have to.”
After the wood had been stowed, I retrieved both 'medical stones' from the chest, along with the aquavit jug and copper cup, and began sharpening Hans' knife at the table. It took some half-hour with the two stones to get the knife close to where I wanted, and during the whole of that time, the nose-burning reek of aquavit seemed to fill that portion of the kitchen. I kept the stones wet to prevent their clogging, and as I started using the small black stone, Hans came up with a medicine vial. He put the corked container near the copper bowl.
“What is that?” I asked.
“The thicker grade of distillate,” said Hans. “I have heard it is used for what you are doing there.”
I uncorked the vial, and the reek of aquavit was replaced by an odor compounded of equal parts rotten eggs, unusually smelly gear oil, strong-smelling 'kerosene', and an indescribable chemical stench that was too strong for words. I replaced the cork in a hurry and spat, “gah! That stuff stinks.”
“That has sat some,” said Hans, “so its smell is less. Most people keep a jug or two of it handy.”
“W-what for?” I asked.
“I have seen it used for keeping stones like those there good,” said Hans. “Lots of smiths have a little pot of that stuff with their stones in it. Then, if one mixes some road-tar with it, it works good as a tool cleaner, and if one uses it the way it comes, it keeps rust off of tools if you wipe them now and then.”
I had a sense Hans wasn't telling me the whole rationale for keeping a vile-smelling chemical on hand, and as I looked at the container, I had an impression.
“Does this stuff burn especially good?” I asked.
“Yes, which is why most have it,” said Hans. “They use that stuff to burn witches and brigands.”
I moved the 'firebomb' clear of what I was doing, then handed Hans the knife, saying, “now try it.”
Hans looked at the knife carefully, and as he did, I saw a brief bluish-white flash along the new-sharpened edge. Steps came from behind me, then Anna looked at what Hans was holding. She stepped closer, then gently removed the knife from Hans' hands. As she sighted along the blade, her expression changed mightily, so much so that I wondered what she was thinking.
“I just might use this one if my regular one goes bad, Hans,” she exclaimed. “That knife is as sharp as anything I have seen or heard of.”
Hans retrieved his knife, then began scraping his face. After a few strokes, he said, “ah, this is a razor with a handle on it. That is what this is, it is sharper than anything, even a fourth kingdom surgical knife. I have heard of a few things sharper than those – and this is one of them.”
Our lunch was simple – rye bread with cheese spread – and the time after cleaning the utensils had Hans return with another cloth bag. Anna took charge of it, and after rinsing the deer meat with boiled water, she cut it into thin strips and rinsed it again prior to putting it in the just-cleaned meat-crock. Each layer of meat was sprinkled with a small handful of coarse salt from a small yellow-glazed crock.
I was glad Anna was cutting the meat, as I wasn't certain as to how to do it right, and she seemed to know – both how to cut the meat, and how to make that one dull knife actually cut. The deer meat steadily went into the crock, layered thickly with salt, and once it had all gone inside, Anna added more salt and a small amount of boiled water so as to cover the meat. She then finished with a round ceramic weight and the crock's lid.
“How often is that thing filled?” I asked.
“Usually once a week,” said Anna. “It was busy lately, so we ate a lot at the Public House instead of at home. That meat sat longer than usual for it.”
“Usual?” I asked.
“Nearly a month,” said Anna. “We usually get meat every Friday already salted.”
“Where?” I asked.
“At the Public House,” said Anna. “Most people get their meat there, if they don't grow it or shoot it themselves. Vegetables, we get at the greengrocer's, and spices, at the Mercantile. Those come from the south, as does the salt. I'll need to get more soon.”
I then looked at the inside of the 'salt-cellar' – supposedly such containers were called that – and when I removed the lid, I was astounded: the stuff looked as if done with dirty dishwater, and the faint musty smell was such that I wondered.
“Does salt usually look like this?” I asked.
“That is better than is usual for salt,” said Anna. “Most of it is darker for color and worse for smell.”
Anna now began working on the lump of marmot. As I watched, she cut the meat into cubes, then added cut-up potatoes and carrots. The spice-additions were surprising, for here I actually saw 'a pinch of this and two of that' being done.
“Can I put some wood in the stove?” I asked.
“I would wait until I have this going,” said Anna. “Marmot needs slow cooking for some hours, especially if it's an older one.”
“What was that you added just now?” I asked, as Anna finished spooning in some yellowish-brown granules.
“Corn-meal,” said Anna. “I'm nearly out of it, and will need to go to the greengrocer's soon.”
As Anna showed me how to 'adjust' the stove – it had its less-obvious tricks, such that I could see cooking with one was neither simple nor easy – I marveled, especially as to how little wood the thing actually took. A dozen or so sticks comprised a 'full load', and as Anna adjusted both damper and air-feed, she said, “we keep the stove lit all the time in the winter.”
“Doesn't that go through a lot of wood?” I asked.
“Yes, it does,” said Anna. “Usually, we go almost every rest-day this time of year, and gather as much as we can.”
I knew my room had no heating arrangements, and I hadn't seen anything downstairs other than the stove.
“For heat?” I asked.
“That also,” said Anna. “When the snow is on the ground for months, one wants a warm house to come home to. The stove keeps the kitchen warm at the least.”
The recollection of that one stove at the Public House intruded, and as I felt the slowly gathering warmth of the stove, I thought to ask.
“Just the kitchen?” I asked.
“The kitchen tends to be good for warming oneself when cold,” said Anna, “but no place in the house is truly cold if the stove has a fire in it. We have winter blankets just the same.”
I then recalled Hans speaking of drying meat, and asked, “drying meat?”
“That is fairly simple,” said Anna. “First, one packs it in salt, and lets it set at least a day or two, then puts it on tin plates in the stove with a slow fire. It takes most of a day to dry all the way, and then it will keep for weeks. If one wants flint-dried, though, one packs it in a crock with dry salt after drying the first time, and then dries it again. It looks like bad leather after that, and is as hard on the teeth.”
“Is it edible?” I asked.
“Yes, if you soak it for a while, then boil it,” said Anna. “The best meat, though, is winter-meat, as the snow and ice keeps meat frozen through once it is bagged and hung outside. Festival Week happens then, as it is the dead of winter, and game is easier to find. Right now, it isn't that easy to find game.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Harvest is happening right now, and there are lots of people in the fields,” said Anna. “The noise and other things frighten the animals away from the usual places. Hans usually goes elsewhere.”
I fastened on one phrase Anna had used, and thought to ask of it.
“When is Festival Week, and what is it?” I asked.
“That is the last full week, from Friday afternoon to the second Sunday morning after it, that can be fit in December,” said Anna. “Then there are parties in every house, gifts, singing, and merriment, along with a great deal of food and drink. No one works then unless it is a dire emergency, and most of that month is spent preparing for that time.”
“December?” I asked. I was shocked to hear that particular name used. I had expected otherwise, and the same applied to the names of the individual days. It had only dawned on me now.
“Yes, there are twelve months in the year, and that is the twelfth one,” said Anna. “No one knows where that name, or any of the other eleven month-names, came from. The day-names are the same way – they have been that way ever so long.”
Hearing 'December' pronounced “Day-tsem-bear” was a bit much, and hearing “Vree-tagh” for 'Friday' was even stranger, especially as the 'Vree' had the barest trace of a 'J' at its end – while “So-nen-tagh” with a long 'O' for 'Sunday' was the most unusual of all.
After cleaning the 'mess' in the kitchen, I went in search of Hans. He was down in the basement grinding up something in one of those mortars we had 'stolen' from that one place.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Fever-tree bark,” he said. “I do a lot of that stuff, as it needs to extract for a while, and it sells good.”
“Fevers?” I asked.
“Yes, and headaches, too,” said Hans. “I took the musket down here, as I remembered you speaking of looking it over.”
After finding a small and somewhat rickety table that wasn't in use, I took the musket over and laid it out on clean rags. As I began examining the thing, I began looking for something to write on. I got up and began looking.
“What is it you are after?” asked Hans, as he dumped the ground-up bark into a copper canister.
“Writing...” I muttered.
Hans pointed to a small stack of wooden-framed slates, and as I picked one up, I noted the string-tied chalk hanging off of it. I returned to the table, and as I looked over the musket, Hans said from my side, “Now I see you are wondering about making turnscrews. We have an old one around here, but it has grown legs and wandered off.”
“Wandered off?” I asked.
“I hide the really special stuff, so it stays put,” said Hans. “Otherwise, it acts as if it has legs and a mind for travel.”
After a few minutes and some 'eyeball-measuring', I knew further work wasn't going to happen without tools. I felt inclined to hunt for this 'turnscrew' that Hans had spoken of, but when he showed me his 'junkboxes' – he had a large number of these – I thought to look inside of them.
I moved two of these ancient-looking wooden boxes to a clear section of floor, then opened their old hinged lids to examine the contents. Within moments, I found an old-looking rust-encrusted screwdriver of a type I had seen before in pictures only, then a second example, and finally, a third. All of them had wooden handles attached with corroded brass rivets.
“Those are old scrap things I found a long time ago,” said Hans, “and I was hoping to have them made into knives for the table. It was too much, though.”
“Too much?” I asked.
“Yes, to have them done,” said Hans. “I have yet to see table-knives up here, but there are places that use such things in the fourth kingdom's market town.”
“Table knives?” I asked. “What are those like?”
“About half the size of the common ones,” said Hans, “and with a different shape to the blade, and some other things different.”
Here, Hans paused, then said, “now, it might not be too much. I have seen old anvils for sale in places up here.”
“If you draw them,” I said, “I could try making them. I need the practice right now.”
While Hans returned to his grinding – he had a big sack of the raw bark, and I surmised he needed to fill the copper container – I resumed looking in the boxes. The amount of old 'scrap metal' I was finding was astounding, so much so that I felt heartened and 'accepted'. Hans seemed a packrat.
“And it takes one to know one,” I thought. I had been wondering about where to put my finds.
A short while later, while rummaging in a third box, I found the remnants of an old brass-bristle wire brush. This thing was well-past its prime, or so I thought until I began to clean the worst rust off of the three screwdrivers.
The rust came off surprisingly readily, and within moments, I could discern faint markings on the blades of the screwdrivers. I had trouble reading them, however, and after wiping the three screwdrivers with a tallow-rag, I noted their pitting and corrosion seemed much less.
“I want better ones than these,” I thought, “but I don't have them right now.”
One of the screwdrivers fit the handful of screws on the gun 'passably' – the screws were badly chewed up, and seemed soft – and as I removed the lockplate, I nearly fainted.
“No wonder it felt so horrible,” I exclaimed. “Hans, look at this thing!”
I heard steps, then Hans said, “that is almost solid rust.”
I recalled Hans speaking of distillate and cleaning tools, and I went up to my room to retrieve the distillate vial from the shelf where I left it. As I came down the stairs, I wondered about some kind of a small bag for putting my things.
As I uncorked the vial, I suppressed an urge to vomit, but I could tell the smelly stuff wasn't going to let up with its stink. I wobbled away from the table, thinking to find either a small rod, a stick, or an eyedropper. I vaguely recalled finding some thin short glass tubes at that dark and dirty place full of rats.
“Are there, uh, dropping tubes?” I asked.
“Yes, and why do you need them?” asked Hans.
“For cleaning that lock,” I said. “I just need one.”
Hans left off with his grinding and went into a small 'cove' that was hidden with a blanket, and returned a moment later with three uneven-looking glass tubes.
“What are these?” I asked.
“Those are dropping tubes for tinctures,” said Hans, “and they are not easy to find up here. We get those things down south at that market town when we go there yearly.”
“Yearly?” I asked.
“Yes, to get our stuff,” said Hans. “Most of the ingredients for medicines are down there, or at least the commonest ones are. That bark I am grinding needs gathering special, and I fetch it up here at some places near the river.”
I poured some of the distillate into a small copper saucer I found, then checked my gorge again as I held the lock over the saucer and used one of the dropping tubes to dribble some of the evil-smelling 'light-weight motor oil' onto the parts. For some reason, I could see the rust actually breaking down, and when I used a small stick to rub on the lock parts, the amount of rust that came off astonished me.
“I am not about to try dismantling that lock,” I thought, “as I will not get it back together. I can tell this thing is badly worn.”
After dribbling more of the distillate on the lock, I looked at the distillate itself. I could almost see fumes coming off of the honey-colored liquid, and I turned to the side and nearly heaved lunch onto the floor. The stink was not getting easier to cope with.
My second scrubbing showed badly pitted parts, misshapen screw heads, crude filing, and considerable wear. I thought to move the cock slightly, and felt a perceptible wiggle – as well as a near-complete lack of grittiness.
“Once more,” I thought, “and then I can cap this stinky stuff and get some fresh air.”
The third round of scrubbing dislodged yet more rust, though I could see that I was reaching an area of diminishing returns. I thought to put a little tallow on the parts in hopes of lubricating and 'rust prevention', and as I wiped the lock down with the tallow-rag, I could see the tallow rapidly dissolving and coating the parts.
“Now to assemble the thing,” I thought. “I hope it will work still.”
The lock went back on readily, and moving the lock to full cock showed little grit. I held it and pulled the trigger – and there, I felt creep, wear, and grit still. I wiped down the gun with the tallow-rag again, and filtered the used distillate through the rag as I poured it back into the vial.
“Now I have a stinky tallow-rag,” I thought, as I kneaded the thing carefully with more tallow and noted its 'oily' feel. “I'd best let it air out under the fume hood.”
After setting the rag out, I returned the distillate to my room. When I came back, however, Hans was holding the musket and shaking his head.
“Did I ruin it?” I asked.
“This is about as good as that gunsmith did,” said Hans. “It stayed good until this summer, and since, it started going bad. Now it is as good as it ever was, almost.”
“Did you ever take the lock off?” I asked.
“No, I didn't,” said Hans, “as I do not do guns, and I have no tools for them. I thought I would ruin it if I tried to do more than I was taught to do, and that character...”
“Character?” I asked.
“That gunsmith told me to take it to him if it went bad,” said Hans, “and I have heard that is best to do if you do not do that work for a living. My grandfather worked on his once, and he had to take it in afterward, and he had to pay a lot more because he had made it worse with what he did.”
Hans paused, then said, “what I saw happen to others and what he said stuck good, as he did a lot of work on his own things. That gun still got him in trouble, as it would not hold the cock after he worked on it. It would before, but it was tricky.”
“If that lock was as corroded as what I just cleaned,” I said, “cleaning could well make it worse. I am surprised that one still works, as not merely was it very rusty, it was badly worn, badly made, and most likely of soft metal. It needs to be completely redone to work right.”
“Yes, and if you do those things,” said Hans, “that shop will be buried for work. Even what you did to this one will help a lot.”
After spelling Hans at the mortar – the bark was in chunks when it went in, and was near-powdered after a few minutes of grinding – I went upstairs for a while. A nap seemed good, and the smell – and warmth – from the stove spoke of dinner cooking steadily. I believed Anna now about the house staying warm in the winter, and as I went to the couch, I found myself yawning. I fell asleep almost instantly upon laying down.
I awoke to an even stronger 'odor of dinner', and when I went into the kitchen, I saw that Anna had found more tin plates. These were larger than the usual tableware, and when I asked about them, Anna said, “these I use for meat-drying, and I was oiling them for tonight. I'll put some of that meat in the stove then.”
“Slow fire?” I asked.
“Close the damper nearly all the way, and close the air-feed completely,” said Anna. “I usually do that at night anyway, unless it is winter.”
“And then?” I asked.
“I leave the stove a bit slower than this,” said Anna, “and one or the other of us needs to feed the stove during the night.”
“Do you stay up?” I asked.
“No, not really,” said Anna. “I pile it full before bedtime, so it goes longer. We only need to get up once to do it then, and then in the morning, it gets piled full once more, and then more wood every few hours during the day.”
I paused at the stew-pot, and noted a peculiarly enticing odor, as well as a thickened liquid swimming with carrots, potatoes, meat, and other odd bits. The yellowish tint made for wondering until I tasted some of the 'stew' at dinnertime.
“I had no idea marmot tasted this good,” I said.
“Yes, and that is the first meal from that pot,” said Hans. “Those things are good for flavoring potatoes and other roots, so one saves the broth and cooks up potato soup with it afterward.”
“Is marmot common for meals?” I asked.
“Yes, when they show themselves enough to get shot,” said Hans. “They tend to be hard to find except during harvest and just before then.”
“Do they get around at night?” I asked.
“I am not sure, as few go outdoors then,” said Hans. “Paul and Willem are the only people I know of that do that regular.”
“Yes, for that trip,” said Anna. “That's about the only one they do at night, and if they could do it during the day, they would.”
Before bedtime, I helped Anna load up the plates she had oiled with deer meat, and after putting them in the 'oven' part of the stove, I watched her adjust the thing. The stew-pot got more water, as well as diced potatoes and spices.
“Is potato soup common?” I asked.
“Yes, it is,” said Anna. “We eat it less often than the usual, as far as I know.”
“Are there other roots?” I asked.
“Yes, there are,” said Anna, “though I seldom cook those things save for certain meals.”
“Things?” I asked.
“Turnips,” said Anna. “They might be cheap, and easy to grow, but only a few things taste worse if they are not done right.”
After bathing and dressing – my 'arrival' clothing was repaired enough to be usable now, and I had let out some of the seams in my other clothes – we went to church the next day. As I went in the door, I could smell an unfamiliar odor faint on the wind, and when Maarten showed at the lectern, he spoke of a ceremony, one called the supper.
“Oh, no,” I thought. “I feel horrible.”
Horrible was an understatement, for I had never coped well with 'communion', and the mere thought was sufficient to insure grief – both in the past, and now. I had often felt as if a murderer when it had been presented in the past, and it had never been an occasion for comfort on my part.
My current feelings were fueled by recollections of the past, and they goaded my thinking into tormenting words:
“I always had trouble with this...”
“It is supposed to be symbolic...”
I was still ill; ill at ease, and ill in other ways.
“I don't like to hurt people...”
And shooting through all of this rationalization was the tormented scream that welled up inside:
“I killed him, and I am too evil for words!”
I began weeping quietly, and Anna asked me what was wrong.
“How?” said Anna. She did not understand what was happening, much as those where I came from seemed to take the matter for granted during this 'ceremony'.
“I do not like to hurt people and it bothers greatly me to know I was the cause of it!” I whispered.
“This bread is strange, and that drink they use is vile,” said Anna. “Some get corked from it, and that causes intense pain.”
The 'food and drink' soon came my way, with a strangely-shaped tinned copper 'basket' for the 'bread', and an octagonal sheet-brass container filled with small copper cups. As I took the bread from the basket – this was a roughly square bleached white wafer – and one of the small copper cups of 'wine', I noted an odor, one evocative of death and decay, and a chill sense, that of ice. I looked at what I had picked as the 'vessels' continue to circulate. I nearly fainted.
The off-white piece of what seemed bleached and uneven cardboard showed new-spilled blood that crawled insect-like, as if it were alive and not dead, and the cup itself was filled with blood that formed a fierce-looking face that defined evil itself. I looked around, and saw the others in the room eating and drinking.
I did not wish rejection, in spite of what I saw and felt.
I forced myself to eat the nauseating 'cardboard' and gulp back the malodorous deep red material in the cup, but the sense of evil was so overwhelming I nearly fainted on the spot; I then choked and nearly vomited where I sat. I struggled then to not run out of the church, but then the sweat began pouring down my face.
I looked at my hands, and saw them coated with blood; I felt my face, and felt blood there; and when I looked around, all I those saw seemed caricatures of evil, evil so strong I felt overwhelmed. The service then ended, but as all the people got up, I saw each one of them leave a trail of bloody footprints as they staggered slow and weary to issue out the door, now treading steadily into an evil world lying under the grinning bleached-white skull of a pale sun.
Once home, I ran for the kitchen, grabbed a pot and leaped for the door of the privy. Therein I began to retch within seconds. Soon a dank miasma that reeked of corruption flooded out of my mouth, then a sour-tasting thin brown liquid spurted into the pot as my guts heaved in spasm. Within what seemed seconds, the brown liquid became flecked with blood, then more sourness spewed out of my mouth.
After roughly a minute, the flow seemed to abate. I thought it was 'over', but I thought too soon: a fresh flood spewed out into the pot, and now, it was a dark greenish material of such intense odor and acid flavor that I nearly collapsed from the smell alone.
Finally, my vomiting ceased. I opened the lid of the privy, and poured the evil smelling liquid into the 'stool' until it was finally gone. I then wobbled out the door holding the pot, and as I looked, I was horrified: all of the colors had mingled, save for the blood. That remained, and its fresh red color seemed to mirror what was on my face, that being a deep-etched grimace of torment
“What happened?” exclaimed Anna. “I have never seen anyone act so in my life!”
I choked, then gasped, “th-that white stuff had b-blood on it, th-the cup was filled with b-blood, an-and we are n-not to eat b-b-blood.” A wave of nausea swept over me as I spat out the word 'blood'.
“I have wondered why they use that vile-tasting wine and that stuff that looks like bread without starter like they do,” said Hans. “I think you need a swallow or two of beer, so you do not go out of your mind. Then, once you are better, we need to make up some beer.”
“W-who are these people that force us to eat and drink blood? Why do they wish us to be evil and, and...” I choked, then spat out the word: “unclean?”
“But that is what they always use, and have used,” said Anna, who appeared to think me insane for 'making such a fuss'; she continued, saying, “it took a while to tolerate it, and it still bothers me as to the taste.”
“I have wondered about that white stuff, though,” said Hans. “It says they used bread like that in the book, but I have not seen bread like that anywhere except in church.”
“Th-that b-blood,” I spluttered. “It had a f-face...”
“That stuff might have some kind of grapes in it,” said Hans, “but I do not know where they get them. That stuff tends to make people sick for a while when they first eat that supper.”
Anna looked at Hans, then at the pot I was holding, and looked back at Hans, then she silently took the pot and poured water into it prior to going outside with the pot in her hands.
“Yes, and sick for most and sick for you are two different things,” said Hans, “as that looked bad.”
Anna then returned, and shook her head, before saying, “Hans, I don't think it would be wise to speak of what happened, as there might be talk.”
“Yes, and what kind?” said Hans.
“I need to look at my journals,” said Anna, “but what I saw in that pot worries me. I am not sure he's most people when it comes to that stuff.”
“S-sick?” I muttered. I then felt a gnawing pain in my stomach area that seemed to abruptly bloom and then dissipate.
“There are several sicknesses that cause people to spew like that,” said Anna, “and most of them are quite serious.”
It took nearly two hours and lunch to recover a small amount of composure. During lunch, a familiar ache manifested for an instant and then left, and as I tried to carry on – I had no words for what had happened, and the 'oblivious' aspect of both Hans and Anna seemed to rebuke me for feeling as I did, even if I could have told them as to what I had seen and how intense it was, and how repulsive it felt – I felt as if alone, unwanted, shunned, and even...
“I hope I am not to be hated because of what happened,” I thought. “I still feel sick from it.”
Just how sick made me wonder, for in the middle of lunch, I had to head for the privy. There, I had the runs, and the twisted feeling of my gut as it spasmed was enough to cause quiet moaning.
“Are you all right?” asked Anna, as I came out into the kitchen.
“I d-don't think so,” I said.
Anna's face, while it still showed an oblivious aspect, now showed concern, and her voice mirrored it when she asked, “what happened?”
“T-the runs,” I said.
“That does not sound good,” said Hans. “If that stuff makes you this sick, then you might decline it.”
Anna's face seemed screwed up with concentration, then she seemed to dismiss the matter by saying, “I should be able to look in those journals soon. We need to make beer now.”
I followed Hans wordlessly down into the basement, where he led me to another shelf I had not yet seen. Here, I counted four rows of six jugs each, and as Hans grabbed two, he said, “the top ones are empty, so we can fill them today.”
As the two of us went up the stairs with a jug in each hand, I asked, “where do we get the yeast?”
“That is from the jug we are using now,” said Hans. “We clean these things out good, fill them, and then put a little beer in each of them. That gets them going.”
“Six at a time?” I asked.
“Sometimes more,” said Hans. “I have filled eight of these things in the summer. Then, in the winter, we make it stronger.”
The thought of 'stronger' beer was enough to make my mind reel, and as the two of us went back down into the basement, I asked, “uh, why? Cold weather?”
“Cold weather causes illness, especially catarrh,” said Hans, “and stronger beer seems to help with that.”
“Is catarrh when your nose runs and you cough?” I suspected this ailment was the common cold.
“Yes, it starts like that,” said Hans, “and if it gets worse, one starts spitting up green stuff a lot. Then, it is time for the steam.”
“Steam?” I asked. I recalled the worthlessness of steam during the many sinus infections I had endured in school.
“That is when you have a big pot of steamy water, and you sniff the steam,” said Hans. “You have to do it for hours at a time for it to help much, but that is what we can do for it. If it gets much worse, though, all that is left is prayer – and sometimes, people die then.”
While I had grabbed the last two jugs, Hans had been busy getting some other supplies, and when the two of us were upstairs, I was astonished to find the top of the stove covered with pots.
“People die of neglected catarrh?” I asked.
“I have seen two people die that way,” said Anna. “I'm glad that isn't common.”
“Catarrh?” I asked.
“Catarrh is very common,” said Anna. “Most people get over it in a week or so, unless they start spitting up thick green stuff. That type is much worse.”
As I examined the pots, I noted one of them that was larger than any I had yet seen. The stove had been 'turned up', and as I looked for what to do, Anna brought over one of her wooden platters.
“I hope you can cut up the grain like you spoke of,” said Anna.
“I should be able to,” I said, as I wiped my brow in the now oppressively hot room. “Can the door be opened?”
Anna promptly opened it, and the roasting heat began declining.
“Cleaning the jugs?” I asked.
“Hans should be getting a funnel,” said Anna. “Each one gets hot water followed by a cork, and then they need to be shaken good to clean them out. The water goes on the manure pile.”
Hans brought the bag of malt to the table, then laid out a small copper bowl and what might have been a measuring cup.
“How did you do this in the past?” I asked.
“Much the way as you wrote on that slate,” said Hans, “though I saw how you cut that stuff up, and it was better than what I or Anna usually do.”
As I began chopping the barley using that one 'dull' knife – I touched it up before beginning – I noted that between adding water and rinsing out the jugs to be filled, both Anna and Hans were fairly busy. The pots were starting to steam a little, and as the jugs were cleaned out, they came back into the kitchen so as to cool off. I touched one and found it uncomfortably hot.
“I have wondered about a small boiler for that oven outside,” said Anna.
“Boiler?” I asked.
“Yes, for your bath,” said Anna. “I think if you have one that holds a gallon or so, it will help a lot.”
“I have heard of boilers that heat water faster than the stove does,” said Anna. “That was why I suggested it.”
While Anna's suggestion was a good one, it supplied little beyond an opinion, and I returned to cutting the kernels of barley. I tried chopping them up as I had done in the Public House, and within minutes, I had started on my second batch of malt.
“Here is a bag for it,” said Anna, as she began to scoop the bowl's contents into it.
“Are there more of those?” I asked.
“Yes, several,” said Anna. “I boiled them this morning.”
Three more such batches, and Anna tied the one bag with string. It then went in one of the smaller pots. I paused with my chopping, and wondered about a large pot, one big enough to cover half the stove.
“How big are distilling coppers for Geneva?” I asked.
“That depends on the person making it,” said Hans. “Some make it for themselves and their families, and some make it to sell.”
“Paul?” I asked.
“He sells some of that stuff,” said Hans. “If the person is just making it for home use” – I heard remedies when Hans said the word 'use' – “then the copper is about as big as that pot there.”
Here, Hans pointed to the biggest pot on the stove. I guessed it to hold five gallons or so.
“And, if they are making it for trade, it might be a handbreadth taller and the same wider,” said Hans. “Only a few places have them much bigger, as distilleries need close watching.”
Hans paused, then said, “now why is it you ask, seeing as how we are making beer, and not Geneva?”
“Paul and Willem were speaking of distilling coppers the night I came here,” I said, “and they said Georg had once had someone that made them. I'm the only person there that seems to do work like that.”
“That was that one wretch,” said Hans with surprising vehemence, “and I am glad he is not here.”
“Uh, why?” I asked.
“He caused a lot of trouble,” said Hans.
Hans paused for a moment, then said in a more-normal tone, “still, a lot of people miss what he did, if not the man himself.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Most smith's shops have one person who does all the close work,” said Hans, “and that person trains the apprentices. The rest of the work, which is usually most of what such shops do, is done by the others.”
“Georg's isn't that way, though,” said Anna. “There, that bag's filled. One more, and that should do it for this batch.”
“Yes, I know that,” said Hans. “In most smith's shops, if that person doing the close work is good, they make more money for the place than everyone else put together.”
Hans paused again, and resumed stirring the water in one of the smaller pots. He took out the spoon to look at it carefully, then put it in the other smaller pot. He then stirred that pot slowly.
“Georg's custom has doubled since you came, slower season or no,” said Hans, “as most people outside of the big towns either do without or go to a smith's shop if they need things of metal other than jewelry or instruments.”
“Instruments?” I asked. “What kind?”
“Things like that balance in the medicine chest,” said Hans, “or that surgical knife, or those pointed things Anna uses for splinters, or some small clamps I have from my grandfather.”
“Th-that knife?” I asked.
“The best ones, yes,” said Hans. “Those are common things for such shops to make.”
I looked at Anna, then said, “three month's money?”
Anna nodded, then said, “work done by such people tends to be very expensive, and they do much business.”
“Yes, and if a smith's shop has someone that does that type of work, or jewelry,” said Hans, “then that shop makes more money than the owner knows what to do with. That might be why Georg is so generous.”
“Guns?” I asked.
“Taking one's musket to the smithy is common when there are no good gunsmiths in an area,” said Hans. “Most of them are not that good, and it is rare to find one that isn't inclined to thievery. The nearest one I know of that is decent is close to where Paul is.”
Hans paused, then drew out his spoon. The steam that came off of it was such that I wondered until he said, “that one looks done. We can set it to cool.”
Over the next two hours of boiling, straining – some grist got in the beer – steeping the hops, 'cooking' a modest amount of the malt and then steeping it, cooling the beer, and then mixing the three washes from each grain-sack prior to jugging the beer – I gathered a number of ideas. I wanted a large boiler, a mash tub, several tinned copper buckets, and possibly other means of heating the brew.
When the last beer-jug was filled, Hans took one in each hand, and I did the same as he led the way into the basement. There, he moved all of the jugs up one shelf, and as I put my two jugs gently on the floor next to where he was kneeling, I said “that was a mess.”
“Beer is like that,” said Hans. “Still, we have enough for a week or more.”
“How much do those jugs hold?” I asked.
“I am not sure,” said Hans. “They are the common size for beer, and we get at least two days from one of them this time of year. When it is hotter, we get at least a day, which is twelve full mugs to the jug.”
“F-full mugs?” I asked.
“Yes, four or five a day this time of year,” said Hans. “One needs beer to stay healthy, and no beer means a scrambled head.”
“Where do you get the jugs?” I asked, as we went back up the stairs.
“There are two potters around here,” said Hans. “One is north some miles, and the other west and south a bit. Both of them burn a lot of jugs.”
The thought in my mind was to eventually make not merely a 'beer cooker', but also a distillery, but I felt both things beyond my capabilities at the current time. These thoughts were in my mind while I went through Hans' junkboxes again. I had seen a piece of what looked like brass rod in one of them.
After finding the piece in question, I thought to ask Anna for a cloth bag.
“Why is it you want one?” she asked.
“To put things in,” I said. “I noticed all of what Hans has down there in his boxes...”
Anna wordlessly began digging in the area where the potatoes normally 'hid', and said, “how large of one?”
“One big enough to hold a sheet of copper and some brass rod I found,” I said, “Most of them tend to be about that large that I have seen.”
“I have three here, but most of them are used,” said Anna. “I thought you might want leather ones, actually, and I've been looking in my things for leather scraps big enough.”
“Leather scraps?” I asked.
“First, you might want to carry some coins around,” said Anna. “Most people have small leather pouches for that. Then, you will need a lot of them for your tools.”
“How big are those small leather pouches?” I asked. “I might have made one at one time.”
Anna straightened up with the bags she had spoken of, then reached into a well-hid pocket and brought out a small leather drawstring pouch tied with a leather thong. After handing me the bags, she said, “this one is a bit larger than what most men carry, as they seldom do much shopping.”
“What kind of leather?” I asked.
“This one is deer,” said Anna. “Most of them are, at least those I have seen.”
“Those huge gold, uh, coins?” I asked. I almost said 'monsters', and was glad I didn't.
“Twenty-guilder pieces tend to be a bit heavy for carrying if you have more than a few,” said Anna. “I change those things out for silver when I can.”
“Gold monsters, indeed,” I thought. “They're bigger than any coins I've ever seen.”
The next morning, I went to work with the bagged copper sheet and brass rod. As I walked, I wondered about how to make a 'water bottle' of some kind, and while I could think of a means – beat out two halves, fit the neck, and solder it together – it was still beyond my ability. I put the idea aside once I came in the shop.
For some odd reason, I was the first person here, and began going over the saw blades as I usually did. They still seemed disinclined to wear or go dull, so much so that I had touched up all of them by the time the apprentices came. I then resumed work on both the knives and chisels in the area I had 'appropriated' after sharpening several knives.
“Oh, no,” I thought. “I need a...” I had forgotten to ask Hans about his knife.
I then saw that the knife-pieces that had been cut were close enough to just need 'finishing' and then heat-treating.
During the first 'guzzle' of the day, I asked, “Georg, do people have trouble with muskets?”
Georg began muttering something unintelligible, and then Johannes said, “I think so. Most of those that work on them act too much like thieves for my liking.”
Johannes paused, then said, “first, they tell you not to touch their works, then, when they go bad, you take them in, they charge you three month's money, and then they go bad again in a few years, and that is if you look after them carefully.”
“Carefully?” I asked. My recollection of how Hans seemed to look after his grated on me.
“Clean them until all of the soot is out, grease them with tallow, and then clean them as much and as often as you can when you are not using them,” said Johannes. “Most don't do those things, and they do without a lot.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Either you must buy one in better shape every year or two,” said Johannes, “or you pay six month's money to have it completely redone – and if you use it, it goes bad in a hurry.”
“Why did you ask?” asked Georg.
“I took apart Hans',” I said, “and found the lock was more rust than metal. I cleaned it up, it felt better, and he says it works better, but...”
“That alone made a difference?” said Georg. I could hear disbelief clearly in his tone of voice. “What did you do to it?”
“I took the lock-plate off,” I said, “and cleaned it with distillate and a small stick. I had to do that several times, as the rust kept coming off. Then, I wiped it off with a rag that had tallow in it.”
I paused, then muttered, “and that stinky rag is still under the fume hood. I forgot and left it there.”
“What was this about a stinky rag?” asked Gelbhaar.
“I have rags that I rub with candle-stubs,” I said, as I picked up the one I used at the shop, “and I wiped the lock off with one. Distillate smells terrible, and the rag got some on it when I wiped the lock down.”
“I've sent for two jugs of the stuff,” said Georg, “as we were out of it. Those stones go bad if they aren't soaked in it. Those we have are old enough that I'm not worried much.”
“Then, the parts in that gun,” I said. “they were pitted, worn, and badly done – and I suspect they are soft metal. I'd like to try making a replacement.”
“Until those castings come back,” said Georg, “that would be a good idea.”
Georg paused, then said, “that sack looks to have copper sheet in it. What is that for?”
“A bathing dipper,” I said sheepishly. “I get dirty here no matter what I do to try to stay clean, and dirt bothers me a lot.”
“Given how you work,” said Georg, “I am not surprised. Can you raise metal?”
The question was one for which I had no answer for beyond what I had done in the past, and I said quietly, “I have done copper before that way. Let me try and see if I still can.”
While I began examining the tools in hopes of finding a 'raising hammer', I began thinking about the process and what I recalled of it, and when I began looking over the hammers at the shop – I wasn't having much luck yet – I could hear something being dragged into the shop from the rear of the property. I turned to find both Johannes and Gelbhaar dragging a heavy wooden box covered with a dirt-stained cloth.
“What is in there?” I asked.
“These are the stakes and their holders,” said Johannes. “There might be one of those special hammers in here, and the same for some of the other things needed to do that stuff.”
I resumed looking for a suitable hammer, and when I came up dry, I went back to where the box was. The two men were now dragging out a great many rag-wrapped things, most of which smelled terribly.
“What is that smell?” I asked.
“Tallow that has gone rancid,” said Georg. “It might keep tools from going bad if it is used...”
“Yes, if you wipe them a lot with the stuff,” said Johannes. “Remember those wrenches?”
“Is distillate better?” I asked.
“I think it might be,” said Georg. “Tallow is cheap and easy to get, though.”
“Perhaps smelly tallow-rags have merit, then,” I thought. “I need to try and see.”
Unwrapping the contents showed a number of stakes, two hammers, and a wooden 'stand' that held the stakes. I fetched a file, and began to help with removing the rags.
The rags stripped off readily, and as their piled messiness accumulated, I saw that all the tools thus cared-for were coated with a patchy crustwork of rust. I wondered more than a little as to what it would take to repair them, so much so that I was startled by Georg's muttering.
“They weren't back there long,” he said, “and every one of them has gone bad.”
I looked closer at one of the stakes, then thought to file on it slightly. The rust came off readily to show an 'etched' surface with little pitting.
“I think this stuff can be cleaned up,” I said.
My words seemed land upon deaf ears, so much so that when I looked at the faces of the others, I saw rank disbelief.
“What would normally be done, then?” I asked.
“Toss them out in the scrap pile,” said Johannes. “These things are ruined.”
I filed a little more, and got clean bright metal. As I did, I noted the stake I was working on, at least, was not particularly hard – though it was a good deal harder than common wrought iron.
“These need periodic dressing with files, don't they?” I said.
The looks I now got were such that I wondered, until Georg muttered, “they might be done that way, but not up here. When those go bad, it's the usual to scrap them, as it costs as much to send them south and have them gone through as it does to order new ones, and getting new ones is much quicker.”
“What, no one touches up their tools here?” I asked
Georg paused for a moment, then said, “most shops don't have those things, and those that do usually only have one or two that they make themselves. As for touching up tools, that tends to be for those made on the premises. Bought tools are used and then tossed.”
“Except for files,” said Gelbhaar.
After unwrapping the other stakes – there were four, all of them sizable, double-ended, and rusty – I gathered them all to my area, along with the hammers. There, I began filing.
The speed at which the rust came off of the things was such that within twenty minutes, I had the first one cleaned up enough to use. As I switched to the finer of the files I had access to, I heard a shocked intake of breath, then the single word “Thunderation.” I suspected it was an oath.
I turned, then said, “I thought these could be cleaned up, and I guess I was right.”
“I think so,” said Georg. “I hope you don't mind cleaning up more of those things, as the chief cost of sending them south is the freighting fees. If they only have to go here, then it's cheaper to go through them than buy new ones.”
I looked around and saw the stand itself was gone.
“Where did it go?”
“They took it around back to the woodpile,” said Georg, “and when they come back, it can come back too. A stand with no stakes isn't worth much save as firewood.”
The thought of 'tossing' a perfectly good – structurally, at least – stand was something I had trouble understanding, so much so that I said, “why?”
“That has to do with the way the purchasing works down there,” said Georg. “With those things, the four most-common stakes need purchasing as a set, and those come with the stand. There are some less-common stakes that are bought separately, but those are much more expensive and seldom used in a smithy.”
I now concentrated on filing the stake to a smooth finish, and as I finished one end and was about to begin the other, I heard another “Thunderation,” followed by “how did you get that one to come out like that?” The speaker was Johannes.
“With a pair of files,” I said. “Why?”
“But n-no one can do those things,” said Johannes, “except those that make them.”
“I should be able to try this one shortly,” I said, “and I'll clean up the others as I have time.”
My thinking about Johannes and his talk proved a slight distraction, but only a slight one; I did recall cleaning up at least one such stake where I came from.
“Why did he sound so afraid?” I thought. “Did I commit the smith's version of heresy?”
Mounting the stake in the stand proved that not merely had the stand seen better days; it was not built particularly well, and as I returned to my vise – I needed to clean up the hammers still – I could tell the stake was drawing all three men to it as if it were a new-arrived oddity from another world.
“This one is as good as any I have seen,” muttered Georg. “They usually are not this good when they are new.”
“I will see about having it made right,” said Georg. “The stakes may be passable, but the stands are usually not that good.”
After cleaning up the hammer – it was but marginally harder than the stake – I fetched the sheet copper, and tried marking out a circle on it prior to cutting its corners such that it became roughly 'round'. Georg suggested chalk, but one attempt told me it was worthless for marking metal. The lines were far too broad, as well as easily rubbed off. A single swipe with a rag removed the chalk.
I used one of the chisels as a measuring 'piece', and a decrepit-looking awl to do my marking. The result, while not perfect, gave a decent-looking circle, and after trimming and deburring the copper, I found my stool and began raising.
As I turned the copper, the steady 'thunk-thunk-thunk' of the hammer seemed like a calming metronome, and after the first three 'rows', the copper seemed ready for an annealing. I put it on one of the forges, and let it set after pumping the bellows a few times.
“Wasn't this harder?” I thought. My recollection implied it was, and not just a little.
After quenching the sheet, I took it back to the stake and began running the steadily widening circles that I recalled as being usual. The copper moved readily under the hammer's blows, and only when I was near the rim of the now vaguely saucepan-shaped 'pot' did I need to anneal it again.
The forge had had its charcoal replenished, and when I laid the pot on it, I was surprised to hear the bellows work. I turned to see one of the apprentices.
“Only a few times,” I said. “This stuff doesn't need to get red hot.”
While the apprentice left off a half-dozen pumps later, the heat from the forge was such that I had to 'snatch-and-quench' quicker than the last time. I returned to the stake, and turned it around the other way. I was going to try 'planishing' the thing.
The blows were now faster and lighter, and the distance between the spiraling circles less. I was astonished at the faceted aspect that rapidly grew as I finished the 'pot' to size, and when I had run it as far as I could, I trimmed the uneven edges and filed them smooth. I then thought to bend them down.
Here, I needed to cut a short iron bar, then cut a slot in its edge. As I did so, a special shape occurred to me, and I fetched a slate to draw it quickly. The slate seemed to garner a great deal of attention.
“What gives with this drawing?” asked Georg.
“That is a tool I will need to make specially for this work,” I said, “as it will allow me to bend down the rim so as to reinforce it.”
“Why?” asked Georg.
His question was such that I wondered; wasn't it obvious that a reinforced rim would be less inclined to bend?
“What is normally done for pot rims?” I asked
“This is fine the way you did it,” said Georg, “and this is one of the best small pots I've seen.”
“It isn't done yet,” I said, as I began to cut the slot in the iron piece. “Do we have more of that brass wire for the rivets?”
While I heard no verbal reply, the movement I heard in the background implied someone was fetching wire. I finished the 'tool' – an expedient if ever there was one – and as I began bending the rim down on the inside, Gelbhaar came with not merely the wire in question, but also some shiny lumps of metal and a small crock with a ceramic lid.
“We don't have rivet-swages, do we?” I asked.
“Not for that wire,” said Gelbhaar. “We have some for fifteen-line wire, though they are starting to go bad.”
“Rust?” I asked.
“There is some of that,” he said, “but mostly, those things get beaten on a lot. I think they were used when we got them.”
“How?” I asked.
“I got those at an estate sale,” said Georg. “It is usually impossible to get used tools, especially that type, but if one checks estate sales, one can often find tools. I would go to every one I knew of, had I time enough.”
“Fifteen-line?” I asked.
“That is the size of the wire used,” said Gelbhaar. “If one gets an especially good scale, the smallest measurements are the individual lines.”
“How many of these lines are in an inch?” I asked.
The silence I heard was telling, so much so that when I had folded down the rim as far as it would go and began tapping it down the rest of the way, I was not bothered further. I somehow had the impression...
“Are there scales here?” I asked.
“Yes, one old one,” said Georg. “It is hard to see the markings on it, it is so old.”
“Is there some fifteen-line wire?” I asked.
Within minutes, I not merely had the rim bent down neatly, but I had several short lengths of black and scaly iron wire and the scale in question. While the scale was horribly crude-looking – crooked lines, crudely-fashioned numbers sloppily stamped, and noticeable unevenness in the spacing, and that on top of wear, rust, and obvious age – the wire in question seemed about a quarter inch. My suspicions were answered; each 'line' was most likely a sixty-fourth of an inch.
“And that's sloppy work when you need to get down to tenths,” I thought. There had been many projects in my past that needed that level of precision.
After putting the thick iron wires aside, I resumed peening the rim of the 'pot', then annealed the 'handle'. I suspected it would need cold-forging, and while I waited, I made a rivet-heading tool with one of the 'rivet-blanks'. As I filed on the thing, I realized I was drawing a great deal of attention.
“This is for heading those rivets,” I said.
“That small of wire?” asked Johannes.
“Are there other sizes?” I asked. “I knew about this size.”
After Johannes' reaction, I wasn't about to speak of my other potentially 'heretical' ideas. I knew from history that 'heretics' and 'witches' both tended to be burnt when found out – and in the minds of some, the two were related in some nebulous fashion.
“Let him try with that size,” said Georg. “That thicker wire may make for easier riveting, but if I recall correctly, that size is both about the commonest and cheapest.”
“And it requires much less force to peen, which reduces distortion in what you are riveting,” I said. “That thicker wire...”
I paused, then said, “how thick is this wire, usually?”
“Like most rivet stock, which is fifteen-line,” said Johannes. “It is rare to see rivets other than that size.”
“For a bathing dipper?” I squeaked. “Brass wire?”
“Fifteen-line brass wire isn't easy to get,” said Georg. “It needs special ordering.”
Here, Georg paused, then said, “and come to think of it, I have seen a few pots with smaller rivets than fifteen-line. They tend to be the better pots, too.”
The handle moved readily under the hammer blows, and when I began fitting it to the 'pot', I thought to carefully scribe out its outline with the awl. I then wondered as to the number of rivets, and after filing the handle smooth, I marked out places for ten of them.
After drilling the holes in the handle, I carefully held it against the pot and pressed with the awl in the needed places to mark them. I then drilled the holes – and, to my surprise, they lined up properly.
“Now to cut the rivet wires,” I thought.
Those took but a minute, and as I threaded them in one by one and peened them on the stake with a smaller common hammer, I could tell I was being watched – and watched closely – again. I wondered if what I was doing was thought to be witchcraft of some kind, so much so that as I finished and looked at the neatly peened rivets, I could feel someone behind me. I turned around to see Georg.
“How much have you done that before?” he asked.
“I did it some before I came here,” I said, “but I hadn't done it in a while. I thought I would do worse than this, actually, as I never made rivets from scratch before.”
Georg took ahold of the 'pot', then whistled, saying, “Hieronymus might have done half as good on his better days.”
“Hieronymus?” I asked.
“The person who used to do this here,” said Georg. “Everything I've seen you do is as good as his best, and that is when it is not better still.” Georg paused, feeling the rivets, then asked, “why so many?”
“Most rivets I used where I came from tended to be about, uh, eight lines or so,” I said, “and most riveted structures used plenty of them. Then, the smaller rivets don't have the area of the larger ones, so you need more, and finally, the force needed to peen those big things...”
“I see,” said Georg, “and what you say makes sense, especially as fifteen-line brass wire needs a lot of hammering. Hieronymus used copper, which is a bit easier.”
“Fifteen-line?” I asked.
“Did the pots or, uh, distilleries suffer on account?” I asked
“I am not certain if they did or not,” said Georg. “I am certain he had to work on them some after riveting them.”
“Lining with tin?” I asked.
Georg had no answer for me, and the others didn't either. I had the impression that this 'Hieronymus' was somewhat disinclined to show his 'secrets'; more importantly, much of what he did wasn't particularly well understood by the others.
The metal in question seemed to be tin, and as I wiped the inside of the 'pot' with a tallow-rag, I had an impression – I needed a stick with a frayed end to both hold the tin and rub the stuff around, as well as a flux-swab.
“Where can I get two sticks?” I asked.
“How big do you want?” asked Gelbhaar.
“About a foot or so long, and about as thick as your thumb,” I said. “They need to be dry and straight.”
“I would get those from the carpenters,” said Georg. “What for?”
“One is to hold the tin while I'm tinning the inside of this thing,” I said, “and the other needs to have a rag tied on its end to serve as a flux swab. The crock has flux?”
Georg spoke to one of the apprentices, who left at a run, then said, “I think it has that in it. You may want to check it. The metal there is tin.”
Once I had finished wiping out the 'pot', I thought to ask a question:
“Was, uh, Hieronymus inclined to tell about what he was doing?”
“Not like you do,” said Georg. “I have never seen or heard of anyone explaining things like that, especially in this line of work.”
I had to saw up the one stick on the end such that it had a cross-hatch pattern, and as I wrapped the rag around the other and then wired it in place, I could still tell I had an audience. The sense of what I was doing being unlike anything ever seen before was such that I felt terrified, and muttered under my breath, “no, I don't want to be a witch.”
“What was this you said?” asked Georg. “I could barely hear you.”
I turned in near-shock, then blurted, “did he ever show what he was doing?” I wanted to scream.
“With some things, yes,” said Georg. “I never got that good of a look at what he used to tin the insides of pots and saucepans, and I wasn't taught to do that as an apprentice.”
I tried to control my fear, but I had little luck. With terror in my heart, I dipped the swab in the flux, and moved my stool next to the nearest forge. There, I put the crock and the other pieces of tin, and laid the pot in the middle of the coals with some shorter tongs.
I tossed in one of the lumps of tin, and caught the thing with the scratch-stick as the tallow began smoking. I began moving the tin around, and as I did, I could hear vaguely some kind of meaningless singsong speech in the back of my mind. I tried to ignore it, and could not. I could attempt the work nonetheless, and I did.
The tin began to slowly leave a film on the copper, and I moved it around more rapidly with less pressure, with the goal of covering the inside of the pot fully. I removed the scratch-stick after a few seconds more, and then replaced it with the flux swab.
The gouting acrid fumes that billowed up made for burning eyes and gasping, and once my eyes and throat had cleared, I took the pot out of the fire.
The eerie mirror-like shine that greeted me was such that I marveled, then said, “I saw this done once years ago, and I doubt he had this little trouble...” My fear had vanished in some strange fashion.
“You saw that when?” asked Georg.
“Once, and years ago,” I said. “I didn't pay that close attention, as I was working on my things at that time. I've never done this before.”
Georg took up the pot as I began cleaning up my 'mess', then said, “can I borrow this for a few minutes?”
“Yes, as long as I get it back in time to bathe,” I said.
Georg promptly left. I wiped the tools I had used with the tallow-rag, and as I finished with those I had cleaned, I had an impression which was difficult to ignore: those rags weren't just smelling of 'rancid' tallow. Their odor was that of urine as well.
“That wretch pissed on them,” I thought, “and that caused the rust.”
Nonetheless, I didn't think at all highly of tallow as a rust-preventative, and I thought to try 'smelly' tallow-rags at the first opportunity to see if they worked better.
Georg came back a short time later. There, he sat at his 'desk', and wrote down something.
“Uh, the dipper?” I asked.
“It might be a bit small and short-handled for a saucepan,” said Georg, “but otherwise, it's the best I've ever seen. The publican wanted to fight me for it, it was so good.”
“What?” I squeaked.
“I need to order more materials for pots, saucepans, and distilleries,” said Georg, “which is what I was writing here.”
“Distilleries?” I asked. I had never seen one save in pictures – where I came from.
“The cap is one of the hardest portions,” said Georg, “or so it is said. They are about this size and shape.”
I saved my questions for later, and once home, I tried out my dipper. It helped immensely, and when I came inside with it, Anna all but took it from me by force.
“Where did you get this?” she asked.
“I made it,” I said.
“You couldn't have,” said Anna. “Not even the best people in the fourth kingdom can do pots this well.”
“He did,” said Hans as he came up from the basement, “as I saw him working on that thing for a short time.”
“When?” I asked.
“You were hammering on that thing,” said Hans, “and by the sound, I think you were touching up the rivets.” Hans then saw the dipper itself.
“What gives with these little things here?” he said. “Most rivets are a lot bigger.”
“This was what we had,” I said.
The fear I felt earlier that day returned abruptly, and I moaned, “no, please, don't burn me, I don't want to be a witch.”
“No witch could do this good of work,” said Hans. “That wretch could not even come close to this.”
I wondered how to speak of him fouling the tools, so much so that I cringed with the thought.
“Yes, what did he do?” asked Hans.
“I think he used the box the stakes were stored in as a privy,” I said, “and the tools were covered with rust in spite of being wrapped with rags and coated with tallow.” I paused, then said, “why are people so enamored of using tallow for preventing rust?”
“Tallow is easy to get,” said Hans, “and everyone says it helps keep tools good. Why, do you know of something better?”
“Tallow has w-water in it,” I said. “That doesn't help with rust.”
“That is why I spoke of using distillate,” said Hans. “Tallow is used because it's common, not because it's better than other things, which is why farmers spend the money and get that tool-cleaner stuff. That works good, even if it is messy and stinky.”
In the course of the next few days, I made the blade portions of several small screwdrivers. In each case, I needed to pattern-weld billets of iron in the forge, then section the billets and forge the resulting 'blades' roughly to shape prior to finishing them to size.
For the handles, I cadged small scraps of hardwood from the carpenters. I recalled some of the file handles I had made before coming here – hand-carved scraps of walnut, silver-soldered scrap-copper rings roughly hammered to size, linseed oil finish – and realized that most of those means and supplies were beyond my capabilities here.
As I stood pondering my dilemma, Johannes came to my side and said, “those things usually have their handles pinned on like knives.”
“Like knives?” I asked.
“Yes, like those you did,” he said. “These look to be as good as I have seen, even if they are a bit shorter than the common.”
I had an impression, one too difficult to ignore.
“Does Huybert's have small bronze or brass rings?” I asked. I then recalled the three screwdrivers I had found in Hans' junkboxes.
“Yes, they do,” said Georg. “Why do you ask?”
I held up one of the rough-filed blanks, then said, “handles for these?”
“That is the other way those have their handles put on,” he said. “It tends to be a bit easier on the hands when done that way, even if fitting-up takes a bit longer.”
After bathing, Anna said, “I think we need to go to the Mercantile. I can show you the important things in town.”
As we passed house after house, Anna pointed out to me the various locations that she went to regularly. I found that several of what I thought to be 'houses' were actually 'shops', and when I asked about the greengrocer's, Anna said, “that's that house over there, that one, next to the tanner's.”
“Why doesn't it look like a shop, though?” I asked.
“Mostly because much of what they have is in their basement,” said Anna, “and the 'shop' portion is where our parlor is. It isn't very big, actually, even if their basement is as big as any I have seen.”
Huybert's – near the end of town across from the Public House and up a little – resembled a two-storied version of the Public House, with the overhanging upper portion common to most buildings in town supported by thick wooden posts. Following Anna inside showed long rows of chest-high wooden shelves cluttered with sundry trinkets, and faint noises overhead made for a whispered question.
“What is upstairs?” I asked.
“They live there,” said Anna, “that, and they keep many of their things, what they don't have in the basement.”
“They?” I asked.
“Yes, the family that runs the Mercantile,” said Anna. “The oldest is named Tam, and the youngest boy is named Charles.”
While we slowly walked toward the rear counter of the place, I wondered as to what Tam's name signified – until we came to the counter proper. In my peripheral vision I saw an elderly man with a severe limp, and as he moved toward a chair, I felt horrible. I ran to get it for him, and as he sat down stiffly, I felt as if ready to go into shock.
“Thanks, my knee is bothering me,” he said. “Ever since I fell out of that tree when the swine came, it has hurt badly...”
I felt tears coming, then knelt down at his feet with my hands gently on his knee.
“That feels strange, as if it is much warmer than normal,” he said. I barely heard him.
I seemed lost, in another world, the pain in my knees now overwhelming, as I saw what had happened to him, the prayers coming unbidden, then...
Anna was shaking me awake, saying, “what happened? You ended up screaming as if one of those northern fiends was hitting you with one of their axes so as to feed you to a pair of those black pigs.”
I held my knees and moaned, both with the horrific recollection and the remnants of the pain – both his pain, and what I recalled enduring prior to knee surgery years ago.
“Now that feels much better,” said Tam. “All the stiffness is gone out of both of 'em, and the one will support my weight proper again, as if it was made right.”
“What happened?” asked Anna.
“It got really hot,” said Tam, “and then I felt parts inside moving slow, as if they were bent and busted up for a long time and were coming back together, and now, they're right.”
Here, the old man paused, then said, “now who is that fellow?”
“He lives with us,” said Anna.
“I never seen him before,” said Tam. “You had best not let Maarten know about this, as he'll be scared mindless to know something like that happened, old tales or no.”
“No, given how he is, that doesn't surprise me,” said Anna. “Now, up with you. You are a bit much to pick up.”
I staggered to my feet to see a wobbly room spinning slowly, and I felt as if I'd worked for a week straight with neither rest nor sleep. I felt a stool as it was slipped behind me and to my rear, and I slowly sat down as my head seemed to come to rest. It seemed upside-down from normal.
At least my knees no longer hurt.
I wondered as to the meaning of what had happened, and with the passing seconds, the dawning realization became steadily more concrete and real.
“Oh no! I prayed for someone and they were healed.” It was still a shock, even if it was far from the first time.
Anna shook her head, then said, “I thought I heard someone speak in my head, some vague, fuzzy voice that was worried about someone getting well when they were prayed for.”
I was speechless, and the sense of terror – and more, shame – was horrible.
“I've seen it happen before,” said Anna, “and most people that do medicine either see it happen, or hear of it happen. I wish it were more common.”
“Maarten,” I croaked. I could barely speak.
“If he doesn't like it,” said Anna, “he can read about it in the book. It happened in there a number of times, and we are not so special it should not happen to us too.”
I was glad Anna could handle the money as well as actually dealing with the people, for I was still 'impaired' to a great degree. I had spoken of what I wanted, thankfully, though more than once I needed to be prodded to my feet and actually 'look' at the things needed. This was especially true for the bronze rings.
At least I could answer about those. The other things – I didn't know that much about them, and Anna knew more than I did.
“Towels?” I asked weakly, as I came near Anna's side. She'd already arranged for the needles, thread, and wax.
“He needs two,” said Anna, “similar to what we bought two years ago, save a good deal larger. I think these are for bathing.”
Anna then looked at me and muttered, “and how you managed with that rag like you did is a mystery.”
“Not very well,” I said. It was the unvarnished truth.
While Anna 'gossiped' with the people that ran the Mercantile, I thought to explore the contents of the store. I was still a bit wobbly, and thought that walking would help – both to get my bearings, and to help me stay out of trouble. I barely understood what Anna was doing beyond the suspicion that it was 'important' in some difficult-to-discern way.
As I wandered the aisles in search of something I could not name, I noted the nature of the 'trinkets': cheap, badly made, and in many cases, polished. The middle of the second aisle, however, had me find a razor – and as I picked it up and looked it over, I cringed. It blew the thought of combs completely out of my mind.
“This thing is awful,” I thought. “Hans shaves with one of these?”
“There, that part is done,” said Anna's voice to my left. “Why are you looking at that razor?”
“I...” I was at a complete loss for words.
“You barely have any hair on your face,” said Anna, “and you never had much.”
After putting the thing down, the two of us began walking out of the 'store'. Anna muttered for a moment, and I caught a bit of what she was saying, something about some women having more hair on their faces than I did.
“Is that true?” I asked. Bearded women did not sound amusing.
“Yes, it is,” said Anna. “I think much of your face's hair has fallen out, actually, as I remember you having more of that stuff than you do now.”
“I'm glad you could handle the money,” I said. “When I picked up that razor, I was thinking of combs.”
“They have those brass ones here,” said Anna. “I remember you saying you wanted to try making some of them.”
At the door, I opened it for Anna, then recalled what I had been thinking about the 'trinkets'. I did not wish to be potentially offensive – the shop was scary enough that way – and only when we were halfway home did I think to speak on the matter.
“Where did most of that stuff come from?” I whispered. “I'd be embarrassed to turn out stuff done that badly.”
“Much of the common things in Mercantiles comes from the fifth kingdom,” said Anna, “and some from the fourth, and the rest from wherever the people can find it. That market town down in the fourth kingdom has better prices for nearly everything.”
Anna paused, then said, “we go there every year to get things we need.”
“What are those?” I asked.
“Mostly medicines and things for the shop downstairs,” said Anna. “The medicines tend to be expensive, especially what's used for that tincture. A year's supply costs at least twenty guilders.”
“And those, uh, bad things?” I asked.
“Those are made in the fifth kingdom,” said Anna. “They make a great deal down there, and the place looks and smells like it.”
“Looks?” I asked.
“Smoky, smelly, and dirty,” said Anna, “and that's good for that place.”
By this time, we were much closer to home, and as I looked at the houses, I noted some few of the 'door-lamps' had been taken in. Seeing the remaining smoke-smudged metal things jarred my memory.
“Where does one get silver sheet and wire?” I asked.
“If you want just a little,” said Anna, “I would find a jeweler, but if you want more than a few ounces, I would go to the kingdom house. They have silver-houses there, and the metal is cheaper.”
We came to the door here, and as I glanced around, Anna opened it. I followed her inside, and she resumed speaking, saying, “if you find some old silver jewelry, you could melt it down. I've heard a lot of jewelers do that for their metal. Why is it you want silver?”
“I was thinking about four or five silver combs,” I said – and as I spoke of their number, I wondered why I wished to make 'four or five' of them. I suspected good combs would be appreciated gifts.
I brought my 'smelly tallow-rag' the next day, along with the vial of distillate, and when I next sharpened a knife, I dipped the stones into the vial. The evil reek of the stuff was such that I had trouble concentrating, and until I had sharpened two knives and a chisel, I did not notice a difference.
“Those stones were clogged,” I thought, as the stones began to actually cut.
The end of the week saw both knives completed, over thirty knives and assorted cutting tools sharpened, and the screwdrivers and chisels finished. As I folded my apron, Georg said, “those patterns are due for checking soon. They're done, more or less, or so I hear.”
“How will he know to check them?” I asked.
“Most likely the post,” said Georg. “Once he checks them, then the patterns go to the foundry, and they'll need to make at least three pours.”
“Three?” I asked.
“Bad castings aren't rare,” said Georg, “and then, there needs to be three full sets of parts, so that he can be sure to have at least two good examples of each piece.”
“Uh, why?” I asked.
“Sextants are about the closest work there is, supposedly,” said Georg. “I barely knew what they were before that order came in.”
“And now?” I asked.
“It took a lot of questions to learn what I could,” said Georg, “and I wasn't able to learn much.”
At the Public House, I was glad the other two knives were in use, as the three of us received less attention – or, rather, Hans and Anna received less attention. I was growing uncomfortable with the volume of people looking our way.
“Have they been asking about those knives at the shop?” asked Anna.
“I am not certain,” I said. “I have enough to keep me more than busy with what comes into my hands, so much so that I'll most likely need to work later than I do now.”
“Georg has had a lot of people ask about those,” said Hans, “but he wants to use better iron, then patterns for the other parts so as to cast them to size.”
“I didn't know that,” I said.
“I am not surprised,” said Hans, “as you tend to ask questions about what you are doing, or going to do. Then, you work a lot harder than most, so you do not have time to ask questions much, and finally, a lot of what you do in that place is beyond those people, so asking them for advice isn't likely to meet with success.”
“Hieronymus?” I asked.
“He was not like you are,” said Hans. “I know that much, if not much more.”
“Uh, how?” I asked.
“That wretch worked by himself, even when he worked in the shop during regular hours,” said Hans, “and learning much about him or his work was very difficult, even for me. About all I could learn was what he was like to be around.”
“What was he like?” I asked.
“Bad,” said Hans. “He acted like a witch.”
“Silver?” I asked. I was glad I suddenly recalled the matter.
“Anna spoke about that,” said Hans. “There is a woodlot over that way, and I know of a jeweler in a town that is close by. If we go early, we might well be able to find them easy.”
Hans and I went in the buggy just after dawn. In the rear area, in addition to the usual things, I saw what looked like an unusually short 'ax' of some kind. I thought to ask about it.
“I got that hatchet a long time ago,” said Hans, “and it seems inclined to travel a lot. So, when I go looking for some of these roots I need to make this medicine for fever, I find not only the roots, but also the hatchet. I needed to clean it up some, as it had started to go bad.”
“Clean it up?” I asked. I recalled the attitude of the shop's people to nearly everything they didn't make themselves.
“Yes, with a piece of leather and some tallow, with a little of this black sand I got from Georg,” said Hans. “If you just have a little rust, it gets the stuff off good.”
“They thought those tools were ruined when we unwrapped them,” I choked, “and when I cleaned up one of the stakes, they...”
“Yes, I heard about that,” said Hans.
“J-Johannes said that only those that made them could work on them,” I moaned. “Did I do wrong by trying?”
“I think he did not know those could be cleaned,” said Hans. “Was the rust bad?”
“Mostly surface rust,” I said. “It didn't take me that long to clean the stake and both hammers. It looked worse than it actually was. Besides, I had cleaned one up before, and the way those things are, they need attention regularly. They get dents and dings from use.”
“I think he didn't know much about those things,” said Hans, “as I have seen them used in the fourth kingdom, and those people keep their files and straps handy.”
“Yes, those leather things with the black sand and tallow,” said Hans, “though I think they might use something else down there at least some of the time, as distillate and things like it are cheaper than here, and tallow more expensive.”
“Handy?” I asked.
“They have to work on those stake things now and then,” said Hans. “Most of the time, they just use the straps for a bit, but if the smith misses the work and hits the stake, then it is time for the files.”
Hans had turned left about a mile out of town, and was following a meandering rutted road that was barely wide enough to pass two buggies in the narrower places. The wider places were perhaps two feet wider, and as we passed by a wide meadow, I asked, “was Anna expecting someone?”
“A new mother, most likely,” said Hans. “Some are very timid, and more are busy with babies and things, so this is when they can come.”
“And what we are doing?” I asked.
“This is when we can do this,” said Hans. “Medical work, preaching, and a few other lines of work don't have the usual for weeks.”
After what seemed half an hour of travel, a large woodlot showed to the right. I suspected Hans was interested in this particular location, so much so that when he spoke, I was surprised.
“That place there has a lot of sticks,” he said. “If you look careful, you might find some good for tool handles.”
“Tools?” I asked.
“I heard tell some of that better iron might be for axes,” said Hans. “Talk has it they are hard to forge.”
As the woodlot drew closer, I saw that the road encroached upon it, with the road following the boundaries of the trees. I then heard what sounded like a quieter species of avalanche.
“What is making that noise?” I thought. “It isn't a deer.”
The crashing clumsy noise stopped, then resumed.
“I doubt they have elephants here,” I thought, “but whatever is making that noise can pass for one.”
“Hans, what is making that noise?” I whispered.
“What noise?” said Hans. “I hear the horses, the buggy axles telling me it is time for some tallow, and the dirt of the road.”
I pointed as this thing moved, then said, my arm following it, “that noise. Whatever is making it isn't an animal, or at least a normal one.” I revised the 'elephant' status to include profound drunkenness. I suspected excessive consumption of Geneva.
“I think we had best load up the musket, or finish loading it,” said Hans. I saw you working on it this morning. Did you?”
“All save the priming powder,” I said, “and with a patched ball. I have some plans...”
I stopped in mid-sentence, for an animal wobbled out of the forest, and upon looking at it, I knew it wasn't a deer – at least, it wasn't a deer for size. This stub-horned monster was easily twice as big as any deer I had ever seen.
There was a pronounced aspect of immaturity that seemed to gird this animal with clumsiness, and as it shambled out into the road, it nearly tripped over its own feet. As it was, its nose hit the road before it recovered from its bout of stumbling. It then turned broadside to us, all the while wobbling as if far beyond 'drunk' and into a region of intoxication that I had no previous knowledge of.
“Hans,” I whispered, as the animal again tried to fall down. “What is that thing?”
“That is a half-grown elk,” said Hans, as he picked up the musket and primed it. “Let's see what this musket does.”
Hans aimed, then fired. The elk flinched, hunched up as blood began showing where its neck joined its body, and then bellowed out a shrill and echoing call:
The elk then turned and began to clumsily move down the road. I reached in the rear of the buggy, found the hatchet, and then jumped to the road. I began running after the elk.
My running speed seemed uncanny, so much so that I wondered as to how I could run so fast. The distance between myself and the shambling elk was decreasing quickly. I could see the growing blood-trail in the wake of the animal, and it was growing steadily more obvious amid the road's dust.
When the elk tried to trot, I sprinted, and my speed seemed to double. The elk was becoming steadily more wobbly with each ungainly lunge. As I came within fifty feet of it, it slowed, and began turning.
I then knew it was going to charge.
There was no time to think, and I threw the hatchet as hard as I could. Time had become slower, so much so that as the hatchet flew end-over-end in a shallow arc, I seemed to be chasing it – until with a meaty-sounding 'thunk' it embedded itself in the head of the elk just behind the eye.
The dazed animal now seemed to waver with a rivulet of blood drizzling down its neck, and as I closed, I leaped as if to tackle it. I hit the animal near the forelegs, and the jarring collision was such I nearly flew over its head-high back. I grabbed onto its neck and my arms were nearly jerked from their sockets as I flew past it with my legs flailing in the air, then the animal thrashed madly as I pulled it from its feet onto the ground with me on top of it.
Somehow, however, the hatchet was in my hand, and in an insane fury, I leaped at the animal as the elk tried to get to its feet. It turned toward me and tried to gore me with its stubby velvet-covered horns. I swung on its head and sent the nearest horn flying, then smacked it directly in the nearest eye with the hatchet. The blaring cry came twice more from its tortured throat as I hit it again and again, until finally, the animal no longer moved.
“You can stop now, as it is dead,” said Hans. “I cut its throat.”
Dazed and confused wasn't half of how I felt, and I dumbly looked at the bloodied hatchet. For a moment, I wondered what had happened, then looked at Hans.
“I have never seen someone do that before,” he said.
“What have you never seen before?”
“Someone going after an elk that way, then tossing a hatchet, then knocking it down like that and holding it down while thumping it,” said Hans. “You might be large enough to knock down an elk, but that one has to be twice your weight, and that hatchet isn't very good. It will need sharpening today.”
I looked at the hatchet and saw its mushed and battered edge as I got up, then asked, “soft metal?”
“Those things have hard heads,” said Hans.
I was glad Hans could manage dealing with the elk, but as he worked, I knew another answer: the animal's size demanded sectioning – and, also, skinning. I wondered if I could help at all.
“This one will take time,” said Hans, “so you might want to get what wood you can and trim it up to fit in the buggy.”
“Will it need sectioning?” I asked.
“Yes, in four pieces, so we can load it,” said Hans. “This knife is working good, so that will be easy enough.”
I found that my wood-gathering skills, while poor, were sufficient to put five armloads of wood in the buggy between helping Hans with first the gutting, then the skinning portion. I was more than a little surprised to see Hans but partly skin the animal at this time; he needed exposure and the hatchet to section the thing.
“That thing is huge, Hans,” I said, as I helped him with one of the portions. “I hope I don't get in trouble.”
“These are hard to stop,” said Hans. “I doubt we would have been just three hours chasing it had you done otherwise.”
Recalling the 'chase' – my hearing seemed sharper than ever, and my behavior more 'animalistic' than the time prior – made for further questioning once underway, even if the cooler days had an obvious answer. It was closer to 'fall' now than when I came.
“What will we do with this thing?” I asked, as Hans drove.
“A lot of meals at the Public House,” said Hans, “and a new apron for you, if what Anna tells me is right about what you are using. These have as good leather as can be had, almost, and we don't have a farm...”
Hans stopped in mid-sentence as he looked first at his shoes, then at what I was wearing.
“Farm or no, we both need shoes,” he said. “Mine need work, and you need at least two pair for the winter. Most need that many then, as the snow wets them and they need time to dry.”
“Will we come back this way?” I asked. I had begun cleaning the musket.
“Yes, most likely we will,” said Hans. “Did you get sticks that might work for handles?”
I nodded, then said, “I hope they will work out. I had forgotten about them until the last minute.”
“I was thinking about those,” said Hans. “You might want your sticks to be looked over by the carpenters so as to make certain they do not have worms starting.”
“Worms?” I asked.
“Yes, they eat holes in the wood,” said Hans. “Furniture needs treating so they do not eat the stuff up.”
The road passed through more broad green meadows for what seemed a mile or two, then cornfields began to show minutes prior to entering a town. Hans stopped in front of the town's Public House, and I followed him inside. The cleaned and part-loaded musket stayed in the buggy.
The interior was sufficiently similar to the one at home that I felt on familiar territory, even as to the rear 'bar' where Hans spoke briefly with someone who pointed out one of the half-dozen patrons as being the jeweler. A few minutes later – he was finishing his breakfast – the three of us went to his shop. He promptly vanished behind a tall 'drape' of a faded rust-red color once we were inside.
While I had been in perhaps a handful of jeweler's shops before coming here, I was far more familiar with shops that sold jewelry supplies – as the files, saw-blades, and other tools worked well for much of what I usually did as well as conventional jewelry-making.
The small 'showroom' had a few old-looking chairs, a long planked 'counter' coated with 'varnish', a wall behind the counter with small coils of wire hanging on pegs, and a few tools dangling from leather thongs in addition to the 'drape'. The odor of 'wax', of 'labor' – an odd odor, with little sweat and much thinking and care – and of what might have been food seemed to faintly tickle my nose. The jeweler then showed abruptly from behind the 'curtain', and I noticed for the first time his actual appearance. I had been overwhelmed by the interior of the Public House when we first saw him.
“Why does he look like Willem?” I thought. “Except for the apron, the baggy pants, and his being about two inches shorter, they could pass for twins.”
“Do you have silver sheet and wire?” asked Hans.
“Yes, and if I do not have it, I can make it to size,” said the jeweler. “What is it for?”
“He wants to make combs,” said Hans.
Here, the jeweler turned to me and asked, “have you worked with silver before?”
I felt terrified, so much so that my voice sounded more than a little like a rat under a wheel when I squeaked, “yes, some. These combs are for gifts, not to sell. The common brass ones...”
“I know about those,” muttered the jeweler. “They are hard to get, they charge as if they were three times their weight in silver, and...”
The jeweler's abrupt halt in speaking was only surpassed by his near-shouted question, which he directed to Hans.
“Where did you get that knife?”
I wanted to hide, even as Hans drew it out and laid it on the counter. The jeweler appeared to 'bate' his breath, for as he looked at it, I inwardly cringed. I could almost hear the cries of 'death to the witch'.
“He made that one, and two more like it,” said Hans.
“That is the best one I have ever seen,” said the jeweler.
“Yes, and most think the same way,” said Hans. “People want them bad.”
“That list has grown by one,” said the jeweler. “I wish the carving tools we had made recently were nearly as good, but they're as bad as anything I've seen.”
I had a feeling I could not place seem to wash over me, much as if in some fashion this was an important matter, and I said softly, “could I see one of those tools?”
The jeweler's eyes seemed to bore into an uncharted realm, one that I had no prior knowledge of. I could not read his expression, even if when he spoke, I could guess as to what was on his mind.
“She complains of those tools constantly, and I don't blame her much, as they fit the hands badly. I can make do with them as they are, but they are soft, crude, and terrible for working.”
He turned without a word to vanish behind the cloth, while Hans put away his knife. I could hear soft speech and some scrabbling and floor-scraping squalls of wood against stone, then he returned with a long-handled blackened tool, which he laid on the counter. I bent my eyes down to look, and cringed inwardly before blurting:
“Where did you get that thing?”
“Down the road a while back,” he said, “and it was part of a set of seven just as bad. That place wanted a lot for them, and I don't like either the price nor what I got for it.”
Here, he paused as I picked up the congealed nightmare-horror in wood and metal, and as I held it close to my face, he said, his tone wistful, “now if I had some smaller knives with the right shapes, I'd be most interested.”
“Do you have, uh, wax?” I asked. “Perhaps if I had a mold of your hand I might have a better idea...”
His abrupt vanishing behind the curtain caused me to cease speaking, and as I again looked closely at the tool, I could hear more speech, rustling, chair-rubbing, and then some clattering of what might have been tins.
“Hans, what did I say?” I asked.
“I think you got a live one now,” said Hans. “This fellow sounds like he wants some good carving tools.”
Quick steps told of the jeweler's return, and as the curtain leaped aside, I noted not merely himself with a brownish-yellow lump in one of his hands, but also a short plump blond woman in his wake. She was holding both of her hands, each hand one in the other, and a grimace of pain had pounded deep frowning lines in her face. When she spoke, her tone of voice seemed to amplify what I was seeing.
“Those tools fit my hands badly, and they are dull, too,” she said. “Georg had this one person who was said to be good, but he disappeared and they must have had some apprentices make these things.”
“May I please look at one of the tools in question?” I asked.
I then saw she was wearing an apron similar to what I wore at work – for intent, if not size or cleanliness, as this one was smaller and much cleaner, with a pair of pockets. She reached into the left pocket – it seemed impossibly deep – and brought out another tool. She laid it upon the counter with slow movements and a thickly embarrassed aura of profound distaste, as if she were confessing a species of evil too horrible for words.
I could not hide the cringing this time, as it was the ugly twin of the first: blackened crude-forged metal, rough misshapen wood for a handle, mangled fittings, and an overall aura of crudity that was beyond the descriptive power of language.
“Do you have any fine files?” I asked.
She looked at me with an expression I could not decipher for an instant, then retreated behind the doorway and its cloth covering to return minutes later with a small leather pouch, which she untied and unrolled. Therein were a number of smaller files. I picked one that looked workable, and took the second carving tool in my left hand and a file in my right.
The first portion was that of draw-filing the shank, and as I did so, the slithering rasp of the file seemed to act as a metronome for my now-racing thoughts. I paused now and then to file on the crude-forged rings holding on the handle when my fingers touched roughness there, and once I had clean bright metal for the shank of the tool, I addressed myself to the business portion.
“What I would not give for a small vise right now,” I thought, as I began cleaning up the gouge and its profile.
The silence around me was palpable, so much so that when I began to carefully true the cutting edge of the gouge – I was wanting a die-grinder, and missed the one I had where I came from – I could hear faint speech in the back of my mind, then muffled-sounding steps going away and returning.
“Here is a stone,” said the woman.
I seemed to barely hear her as I put down the file and carefully put the edge on the tool. I noted the soft metal – harder than the usual for knives, but still far too soft for anything needing a real edge – and as I finished with my stoning, I asked for Hans' knife. I then looked at her hand, and began carving.
The handle seemed about twice as long as was needed – it was easily ten inches long – and as I carefully trimmed away the rough bulbous aspect of the tool to make a trim and graceful shape, I glanced at her hands. Wax didn't need pounding, nor did it need a handle of this massive size. I felt constrained by the rings used to hold it in place, so much so that I asked, “do you have some smaller rings?”
The woman vanished without a word, and fetched two by the time I had pried one of the existing ones off. Once I had removed the other, I needed to spend more time with the files to clean up the tool's shank. It was beginning to show traces of rust, and its previously hidden crudity was even worse than that which had been present before.
The wood pieces now went more rapidly, for I could trim them to size, and the rag that appeared under my hands as shavings all but boiled off of the wooden pieces seemed to change shape and color with some frequency. The partial shank aspect of the tool permitted shortening the handle to no small degree.
As I slipped both rings on the handle – they needed care and more than a little force – I noted the change in both the tool and the expressions of those around me. I tested the balance of the tool, now finding it well-balanced in the hand, and as I resumed trimming the handle, Hans said, “now I know why you wanted a smaller knife. That looks as close as anything I have seen Anna do.”
I handed the woman her tool but a minute later, saying, “please, try it now. I hope it fits better.”
She took the tool from my hand gingerly, with an expression that I could not hope to read, and silently went behind the curtain. I heard a stool being moved across the stones of the floor, then near-silence – for a few seconds, at least. The shriek I then heard was of a nerve-rending temper, and the rapid steps that followed it augmented my fear, at least until she showed with the tool in her hands and a still-unreadable expression on her face – unreadable as to expression, if not for intensity. What she said frightened me more than anything.
“Where are you located?” she shrieked. “This is the best carving tool I have ever used!”
“He lives with us,” said Hans, “but I am not sure you are going to wish to talk to who he works for.”
“Who cares!” shrieked the woman. Her voice was not merely loud, but frightening. “This tool works as well as any I have ever used, and it is as if my dreams had become real enough to hold.”
“I doubt he will leave like that wretch did,” said Hans. “He might have done fair work, but he was greedy, and he acted too much like a witch for me to like it.”
Hans paused, then said, “I would bet he knew of that black book witches are said to be fond of.”
“You don't say?” said the jeweler. “Perhaps that is why those tools are so bad.”
The expression of both jeweler and his wife were beyond my comprehension, but as he held the tool, he muttered, “it's common for witches to speak largely and deliver small, unless they speak of evil. That is not so bad, then.”
“W-why?” I asked quietly. “I am new around here, and do not know.”
“No one wants evil dumped on their heads,” he said.
The unplaceable feeling renewed itself in my mind, and while I could not describe it, I wondered as to its meaning. I did not wonder as to what was right, and what I needed to say and do.
“I feel badly that you were cheated,” I said quietly, “and if we didn't have meat outside that might spoil, I'd go over the other tools like that one right now.”
“That will get you talked about,” said Hans. “Most might look after what they themselves do, at least those that think to do as the book speaks of.”
“Like standing in the gap,” I thought. I wondered as to the recollection, and more, what Hans meant. I still understood but the one thing, and I tried to speak of what I was feeling.
“Hans, these people paid in good faith and were treated badly, and that is wrong. I feel somehow responsible for what happened, even though it happened before I came to the area.”
The jeweler looked at me with an unreadable expression, then said, “that kind of thing is mentioned in old tales, and it is unheard of outside them.”
Somewhere in the distance I could hear faint speech of a steady pounding rhythm, and as I strained to hear it, it seemed to call for fire. The meaning of the words was unclear, even if I knew they were not phrases used by those who burned witches. The questions regarding 'tales' seemed to be the most obvious ones to me, and when the jeweler resumed, he supplied the rest of the answer.
“Those who did as I spoke of were so different that they were hated,” said the jeweler, “and many hunted them as if they were vermin. That continued until the truth got out.”
“The truth?” I murmured, even as I recalled the talk of witches and hunting.
“Without them, we all would have died,” said the jeweler. “Such people were never common, neither for numbers or otherwise.”
The tools and wire proved passable distractions while Hans made arrangement for the silver wire, and when he paid – three sizable silver coins that reminded me of thick and uneven half-dollars – I suspected we would have the silver in a while. Hans then spent several minutes talking – I did not seem to hear his words clearly, for some reason – and when he turned to go, I followed after him.
The chill of sunrise had now fled, and as Hans drove home, I began looking over his musket with an eye to repair and replacement of parts.
“I think that is why Georg got all of those files and things,” said Hans. “Are you thinking of making parts for that one?”
“Y-yes,” I said. “Why?”
“You might want your own tools, then,” said Hans. “That way, you can get the best to be had.”
I knew there were no Snap-On trucks in the area. I asked, “where does one get those?”
“That was what I was asking about after I paid him,” said Hans. “He knows two instrument-makers, and those people tend to use the best they can get. One cannot do close work with bad tools, and sextants are as close as anything made.”
After passing through the region where we had encountered the elk, I thought to ask a question:
“Do you know where I might find an old musket?”
“There is one in the basement,” said Hans. “It is decent in the barrel, but the lock is rusted solid. Why is it you want one?”
“For practice,” I said. “I have made gun parts before, but not for these.”
Once home and the elk disposed of – they hung the pieces in the Public House and finished skinning them quickly – we unloaded the wood. Hans took charge of the two pieces of wood I had picked out, then led me down into the basement near his junkboxes. I was amazed at how much he had hidden in the place, so much so that when he reached behind a thick 'bookcase' and pulled out a leather-wrapped bundle, I was astonished, both at how he managed to get it out and the age of what he removed.
I was less astonished when I unwrapped the thing, for this example easily had a good deal more rust than what he normally used. I wrapped it back up, with the goal of stripping and cleaning it once back at work.
Between sharpening tools – the hatchet being one of them – finishing chisels and screwdrivers, making more copperware, cleaning stakes, and making saw-blades, I didn't have nearly as much time as I had hoped during the usual business hours. Still, I dismantled the gun completely, and began to think about its parts. I already had some few ideas about improving the lock.
Such thinking proved less distracting than I thought, even as I forged out and welded the first batch of saw-blades. My goal was to have three for each saw-frame, such that I could have freshly touched-up examples available if one went dull in the middle of the day.
As I forged the blanks out for welding, I learned that 'batch-mode' made for greater efficiencies, and sheet-iron made for better 'cookware' when it came to cooking the blanks in charcoal. I found a likely-looking piece of sheet-iron and thought to make a box suitable for cooking parts. Hot-bending the sheet on the anvil was much easier than I thought it would be.
“What gives with that box?” asked Gelbhaar, as I pounded its corners shut. I was beginning to wonder about rivets, but the previous talk had scared me off of their use.
“This is for cooking things like saw-blades,” I said. “This way, I can pack them with powdered charcoal and seal them with clay, and just put them in a forge all night long when we leave for the day.”
I put it to use that very afternoon, where I had packed the billets inside thickly with powdered charcoal. I 'luted' the thing with clay, and placed it on a bed of coals with a fresh load of charcoal on top. The next morning, the coals in the forge had burned to ashes.
When I brought out the pieces of iron, however, the bluish-gray color and blistered exterior of the blanks made for wonderment – until I welded the stuff and found that it welded more readily than before. Each blank received two foldings, and then went back in the container with a fresh load of powdered charcoal.
The second instance of cooking and folding had the blades ready to forge to size, and here I found that I was able to forge closer to size than before. That proved a good thing, as these blanks were not inclined to smooth readily with the files we had.
For breaks, I had copperware. My bathing dipper had become well-known and a matter of talk, or so it seemed by the number of requests for ones like it. I found it needful to both clean up the other stakes and speak to Georg about the stand; it seemed poorly constructed, and with use, I found that the seeming lied. It was worse than it looked, and seemed inclined to fall apart with serious use. I drew what ideas I had regarding 'improvements' just the same.
After the fifth such pot – it was a bit larger than the first four, which were more or less long-handled copies of my dipper – I also had in mind a buffing wheel. I recalled foot-treadled grinding wheels from history – there were no nearby watercourses, otherwise I would have thought to use them – and I wondered enough about 'buffing wheels' to actually draw a frame on one of the slates that now hung in 'my' area. Three of them had mysteriously 'appeared' sometime Monday.
Unfortunately, the 'mystery' of raising metal seemed astonishingly difficult to teach, for the apprentices, while greatly interested, seemed slow to learn and more than a little clumsy. I tried showing them again and again, and the information did not seem to 'take'.
After lunch Friday, an unusually large buggy came with a cargo of rough-sawn wooden boxes. All of these boxes were heavy, with one being sufficiently so that it needed both Johannes and Gelbhaar on one end and myself on the other to carry it into the shop. It proved to be full with long scaly lengths of iron bar, and the packing slip – rough-looking coarse paper printed crudely – showed 'first-quality common iron, with mirror-metal and added coal'.
“What is this stuff?” I asked.
“I think that is the best non-haunted iron to be had,” said Gelbhaar. “The haunted stuff is said to be better, but I am not certain getting it here would be that easy.”
The driver, however, said, “are you speaking of that stuff from the Shiny Metal Mine? I have a bar of the stuff in the buggy, and if you have a guilder for it, I'll sell it.”
I vaguely recalled being given two or three smaller silver coins earlier in the week, and when I fished one of them out, I looked closely at it. This example was horribly lumpy, with a mark that I guessed to be either a thick number '1', a squat tower, or a lightning-blasted burnt-out ruin of a tree. I could not make up my mind, and came to the man with the thing in my hand.
“Will this do?” I asked.
I was astonished at his reaction – “yes, it will” – and more so when he left with alacrity. I presumed he was going to fetch the bar itself, and when he returned with another scaly metal rod – thumb-thick and nearly a yard long – I was too surprised to do more than hand him the coin.
“I think it came off the bundle,” he said. “I didn't notice it until after I'd done the delivery, and I have little use for it – at least, in its current form. Were it made into a knife like some I have heard of, I would have a use for it then.”
I was handed the rod. Outwardly, it seemed similar to the others, save for a vague silvery cast and less-adherent scale that rubbed off in my hands to show a grainy finish that reminded me of some of the coarser molding sands I had seen.
“This stuff doesn't feel haunted,” I muttered. “Perhaps the spirits are driven off when the stuff is made from the ore.”
“The fumes of the smelter are said to be terrible for stink,” said the driver, as Georg left with him.
“Where are they going?” I asked.
“To the Public House,” said Johannes. “Most with money keep the stuff in that hole they have there.”
The other boxes proved to have several cloth 'tool-rolls' with files, more drill-bits, stones, cloth sacks of various abrasives, coils of thin iron wire, and what might have been copper and brass rods in cloth sacks. I wasn't certain as to the latter beyond the size I'd been using the most had been included.
Our last wood-trip had been interrupted by a half-grown elk, and hence my five loads of wood had been the only wood brought home that time. This time, Anna came, and when the woodlot showed, there were no deer nor elk showing. The same could not be said of their noise, or so I thought until we finished loading the buggy.
“There are deer here,” said Hans, “but they are hiding too good for me to put powder and lead in them.”
“At least we have a good load of wood,” said Anna. “I hope we can get more soon, as we're needing more already.”
The trip home saw first one marmot, then another show. Anna was ready for the second one, and fired at a distance of nearly a hundred yards. The stuck-pig scream was absent this time, and when we came to the immobile lump of woolly fur, Anna muttered something to the effect that she'd never made a shot that far away.
“Yes, and that was a good shot, too,” said Hans. “Let him load that thing up, and you help me with making this animal ready for travel.”
While I watched carefully as the marmot was gutted and 'part-skinned', I cleaned the musket and reloaded. I counted my rags, and noticed that I still dirtied up a fair number in the process of scrubbing soot out of the gun's bore. I had it ready to go about five minutes before we resumed travel – which proved wise, as another marmot showed not ten minutes later.
The screech and death-leap of the animal when it was shot was enough to make me cringe, and the boneless woolly heap was again cause for my watching and cleaning while the two of them gutted the animal. Hans drove a bit faster once we had the second example loaded, and did not stop until we were in the yard of the Public House. Both animals went in the rear, and I went out with Anna once the hides were off.
“Marmot hides?” I asked.
“Those tend to have decent leather, if a bit weaker than deer,” said Anna. “I've been working on a money-pouch for you.”
“Sewing?” I asked.
“I bought two leather needles and thread,” said Anna. “You said you've sewn leather before, and I know you can do the other type of sewing.”
“Stew?” I asked.
“That, and some salt meat later today,” said Anna. “Hans should come home soon with the meat.”
While Hans did indeed come home 'soon', it became obvious that someone had come home sooner once the two of us came inside, for a small cloth bag lay upon the couch. I looked at it closely, and was astonished to find a small coil of silver wire and several thin sheets of obvious silver stock – as well as another pouch behind it. This one had three more of those vile-looking carving tools and a number of small bronze rings.
I was sitting on the couch looking at the three tools when Hans actually came home. I wondered for a moment why he was carrying a small pot until he went into the kitchen, then returned without it while Anna made noises appropriate to peeling potatoes.
“I see he came by with the supplies,” said Hans. “Both of them like that carving tool you did.”
I pointed to the three that had showed, then said, “I wished I had tools like he had.”
“He said someone would be by to talk about that,” said Hans. “He was in the Public House, and I talked to him there.”
Lunch – marmot stew, bread, cheese spread – went well, and a bit after the 'mess' was cleaned up, someone tapped at the door. I was the nearest unencumbered person, and I went to answer the tap.
Our visitor was unlike anyone I had yet seen: long gray cloak, conical hat with a wide brim, knee-high soft leather boots, and what might have been gloves tucked into his cloak. I thought he resembled a 'medieval tinker', but when Hans came up behind me, I suspected his clothing was something of a disguise.
“Ah, he has come,” said Hans, as this 'strange' fellow walked in to sit on the couch. I then saw Hans had brought stools, and the two of us sat on them. I looked at Hans, whose face was unreadable.
“Albrecht is known for his discretion,” said Hans, “and also how many places he knows of, which is something most people that do preaching, medicine, jewelry, or instrument-making know about.”
My jaw dropped. Hans had fetched the local version of a Snap-On representative.
“Yes, and he goes up and down the big road, that one called the High Way,” said Hans, “and the weather doesn't stop him much.”
“Complete with truck, er, buggy,” I thought.
Albrecht doffed his 'fairy-tale' hat – it somehow looked appropriate for a 'wizard' of some kind, - and withdrew a thin wooden board with an odd-looking wooden binder clip, paper, and what looked like a thick wooden dowel cored with 'lead'.
“I've heard you make almost anything,” he said in a slightly gruff voice, “especially cutlery, copperware, and soon more precise things as well. Now, what is your preference as to tools?”