Part eight in the Knack for Powders serial. A table of contents for previous episodes.
Merph lie on the leaves on the edge of the forest where he could see the midden but upwind where he wouldn't have to smell it's stench. He had a good view of the courtyard around the tower and the stables. On the far side of the stables, a small cabin with a chimney pouring out black smoke pinged with the sounds of a blacksmith hammering iron. Merph sighed. Sitting idle in the forest was worse than sitting on a bench pounding mastic into powder.
His cheeks felt warm in the breeze that raced through forest as he watched Katja leave the tower carrying a bucket and clay pot toward the middens. She swung her arm in long arcs. Merph worried that someone from the tower might see what was carried in the bucket and it might give away the transfer that she had planned. Windows in the tower were dark, but nothing moved. The wind caught snippets of the ditty Katja hummed. She dipped into a smooth motion to place one hand beneath the bucket as she lifted the rope handle high to pour out a dark liquid with foam catching the light. _What had happened to the pig bladders that she'd promised to secrete_, wondered Merph. Had she just poured them into the midst of the midden? If so, she probably thought it was a proper revenge.
He had to wait until the light faded and then he worked his way to the midden. Whitey stopped ten paces from the edge. Merph held his nose as he approached. He'd never liked cleaning the barn and this was much worse. Pools of water gleamed against the darker piles of earth. Merph gritted his teeth thinking that he'd have to sift his hands through the refuse. His foot clanked against a clay pot. He remembered the clay pot that Katja had carried to the midden. He'd only noticed it briefly and realized that her exaggerated swinging of the bucket had been to mislead any watchers. He grinned. It had worked on him and he'd known an exchange was going to occur. Inside the pot, he found the pig bladders and one jar of ground mastic powder. His heart stopped pounding quite as fast. She had successfully gotten the items that he needed.
He hurried back towards the forest and Whitey flinched away from Merph keeping a distance between the two of them.
Merph released his nose. "Don't like the smell, do you?"
The dog wagged its tail.
Merph stopped when he was far enough into the forest that a hummock hid the tower. Selecting pebbles from a pile he'd gathered earlier, he dropped them into a pig bladder and then poured a pinch of ash powder in with them and knotted the end. The clearing began to warm with the heat given off by the stuffed pig bladders.
Merph took the last three pig bladders and sprinkled some of the pure mastic powder into the bladders and rubbed it in so that the pig bladder would become inert. He then poured the remaining ash powder into one of the bladders, the mastic powder into the other, and knotted the ends to each others that they made a long necklace that he could wear beneath his shirt. He looked at the third bladder and remembered the blacksmith's cabin.
Whitey inched closer and pushed his head underneath Merph's arm. The dog's tail swept debris back and forth in the clearing.
Merph would feel a lot better if he had an offensive weapon. It was too bad that he didn't have Kluvenstrom with him who could help guide him on some better powders. The iron filings in the smithy would have to be good for something. Merph thought it would be convenient if they would create a powder that when thrown turned into small darts. Whitey growled.
"Don't worry, I'll be careful," said Merph.
He took most of the ash powder and pebble bladders and left them curled up in the clay pot, which he set beside a fence post on the edge of the stables. He grabbed some of the iron filings and placed them in the third bladder he wore around his neck.
The following night Merph waited in the forest and watched the doorway into the tower. He slapped at a mosquito. And then, the door opened. The guard slipped out of his vest and used it to fan his face. Katja's idea to warm the foyer had worked. The guard had left his post.
Merph patted Whitey's haunch and the dog slipped through the edge of the trees to emerge from the opposite side of the courtyard and bark. The guard looked at the dog and took a step forward. Katja had said everyone in the tower was talking about the dog that Merph had with him. Whitey stepped into the forest and the guard followed him.
Merph didn't run, that would make too much noise, but hurried towards the door. Inside, the foyer was empty. He climbed the stairs hoping not to run into anyone before he arrived at Kluvenstrom's workshop. He hoped he could find something in the book that would help him break Kluvenstrom out of the rune-lock.