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The Secret of the Mill

Chapter Text

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Merten was dead and buried, and Krabat had started his first year as the Master's protegé at the mill in the Koselbruch.

It was the night before Twelfth Night, or High New Year's, as the Master called it. Through the power of dreams, Krabat had helped the Master summon a new apprentice. The newcomer was a skinny, filthy little fellow of twelve or thirteen. He had unkempt, blond hair that reached his shoulders and apprehensive eyes. His name was Stani.

Krabat was with them in the Black Chamber as the boy shook the Master's hand, unaware that he was pledging his life to him. He did not say a word to warn Stani.

The next day, they released Lobosch from his apprenticeship. Hanzo and Kito vouched for him.

Another change was that, at the behest of the Master, Witko had almost entirely given up working in the mill. Instead, he turned his hand to assisting Juro in the kitchen, and helping him with many chores in the house and yard. Apparently in two years, which in this case counted for four, even the Master had to recognize that Witko was not cut out for hard labor in the grinding room and the granary. On new moon nights, though, Witko still had to toil with the rest. There was no help for that.

On most days, Krabat worked side by side with the other guys in the mill, and on Fridays he attended their lessons in the Black Arts. Additionally, the Master would often call him to further instruct him in sorcery. They spent whole evenings in the Black Chamber or the Master's living room. The Master had also announced to Krabat that, henceforth, he wanted Krabat to accompany him on some of his travels, to Dresden and other places.

On the first new moon night of the year, the Goodman appeared at the mill, as always. Krabat was half afraid that their dreadful guest would speak to him again, but the only difference was that he felt the Goodman's burning gaze linger on him more often than usual. Once the last heavy sack was loaded up, the Goodman cracked his whip and the cart sped away, across their yard and through the gate. Krabat felt immensely relieved.

Gradually, Krabat thought he was getting an idea of how Lyschko must feel, avoided by everyone. His fellow men didn't trust him anymore. He met with many a bitter glance, and while some were surreptitious, others were undisguised. Even Lobosch was becoming wary around him. This offended Krabat, and he responded by withdrawing from the others.

Krabat tried to explain himself to Hanzo, whose word would carry the most weight with the other men. He spoke with the senior journeyman at the end of the day on Twelfth Night. In most cases, Hanzo was the last to finish work in the grinding room, where he double-checked if the grinding mechanism was in reasonable condition and ready for the next day's work. Krabat remained there with him.

“Hanzo,” said Krabat, “I'd like a word.”

Hanzo turned and looked at him expectantly. As before, his face showed vigilance and quiet mistrust.

“I know,” Krabat continued in a hurry, “that you resent my pact with the Master. But I don't want bad blood between us. I didn't do it to save my hide, rather to prevent the death of the girl I loved. The Master found out her name. You know where that leads … but I'm not your enemy. Please explain this to the others. I never strove to ally myself with the Master. But what's done is done, and now I'm going to try to make the best of it.”

“What's done is done,” agreed Hanzo. “And the Master may have good reason to offer you this. It's not my place to question his decisions. But, Krabat,” he looked him over sharply, “you've been at the mill only three years. Quite a few of us have been here longer. And several, I think, would also have what it takes to become the Master's successor.”

'Ah,' thought Krabat, 'now I'm seeing the shape of it … Hanzo wanted to be the master himself. And no wonder: he's one of the best students in the black school, he's been here twelve years, and for the past two, he's also been the senior journeyman …'

“Hanzo …” Krabat started to say, in a conciliatory tone.

“Let it be, Krabat,” interrupted the senior journeyman. “You've said it yourself: what's done, is done, and now we all have to adapt. I'll tell the other guys what you've told me. But … you can't expect me, or anyone else, to like it.”

With this, he turned and left Krabat alone in the grinding room.

.

Apart from Krabat's efforts to reconcile with the other journeymen, Juro may have also spoken up for him. However, they'd all had a low opinion of Juro for so long that his word carried little weight. Although he'd stopped playing dumb after the Master unmasked him, the others still weren't used to the change. Over the years, he'd accustomed them so thoroughly to his idiocy that now they were amazed when he said something reasonable. Juro would have to develop a new standing among the mill workers, before the others would consider listening to him.

Speaking of Juro … the only ones who met Krabat's gaze without judging him were Juro and Lyschko. Both of them knew what it was like to be despised by the others, albeit for quite different reasons: Juro, because all but Krabat and the Master had long believed him to be dreadfully stupid, and Lyschko, because for many years he'd been the Master's favorite and his informant.

After some time, Juro and Krabat started to meet in the kitchen again on some evenings, though without the wards or the secrecy. They both knew, now, that within the mill the Master could see right through protective spells.

The Master was, naturally, aware that Krabat was associating with Juro again, but he didn't say or do anything to prevent this. Krabat therefore assumed that, while he might not approve of their meeting, he was at least tolerating it.

“I'm sorry, Juro,” Krabat said one evening, “that I made such a mess of things last year. But now I am bound by my word to the Master and the mill, and I have to try to make the best of it.”

“I understand, Krabat,” replied Juro. “I'm glad you're still alive, even if you didn't manage to get us out of here. And at least you'll be the new master when the old one leaves. That's a better prospect than many. Just imagine if he had chosen Lyschko as his successor …”

Krabat looked searchingly at his friend. “Will you try to fight me, when I am the master?”

Juro was silent for a while. Then he said, “that remains to be seen. I don't know yet what sort of master you will be: better or worse.”

“But I will also have to choose one each year, Juro.”

“I know, Krabat. I know …”

.

Then there was Lyschko. He … had changed significantly after realizing that the Master and Krabat had intended to kill him on New Year's Eve, and only Merten's self-sacrifice prevented his death. Lyschko had become quiet and dispirited. His inappropriate, brazen comments about the other journeymen had ceased. He no longer brought the Master his damning observations. One thing that hadn't changed was that he kept to himself. Only Juro sometimes sat down next to him, and treated him more or less the way he would treat anyone else. Hardly a word passed between them, but it still seemed to Krabat that Lyschko was grateful to Juro.

In contrast, the other journeymen were harsher to Lyschko than usual, when they weren't avoiding him altogether. The words they threw at him, lately, were worse than anything Krabat had hitherto known them to use. Andrusch, with his sharp tongue, was the undisputed leader. But it seemed as if he could be sure of the support of the others in everything he said and did to Lyschko. Even Hanzo only intervened infrequently, and it was obvious that he was not doing so for Lyschko's sake, but merely because he felt he had a duty.

One midday's lunch, near the end of January, after freeing the millrace and the wheel from ice in the bitter cold, they sat around the table in the servant's quarters and reached for the stew that Juro had prepared for them.

Krabat ate with Hanzo, Andrusch, and Lyschko from the same dish. On this occasion, Hanzo had assigned Lyschko the unenviable task of climbing under the mill wheel. Now Lyschko tucked hungrily into the thick porridge of lentils, carrots, and parsnips. Krabat noticed that Andrusch was regarding him with an unholy gleam in his eyes.

“Lyschko …” started Andrusch, in a seemingly innocuous tone.

Lyschko was not fooled, and watched him with immediate suspicion.

“No doubt about it: you're always hungry,” Andrusch continued, “ever since the Master stopped letting you lick crumbs from his table …”

Lyschko's eyes narrowed. He made an offensive gesture in Andrusch's direction, before turning morosely back to his stew.

But Andrusch was not finished yet. “How does it feel, my dear Lyschko, to have to shift for yourself at the mill, without the Master's protection and his hand patting your head?”

Lyschko let his spoon fall next to the dish with a clatter. He was halfway to his feet, when, all of a sudden, the Master stood in the doorway. At the very least, he must have heard what Andrusch just said.

Everyone went still.

But the Master did not comment on the beginning of the quarrel that his entrance had interrupted, and he did not rebuke Andrusch for his poisonous words.

“Juro,” said the Master, “come see me when you're finished in the kitchen. I want to send two of the men to Hoyerswerda this week, so that they can get the household things we're out of that can't be purchased in Wittichenau. You'll help me make the list.”

Juro nodded. “We need a barrel of salt, in any case. I can tell you that much already. Also, linen hand towels for the kitchen. And a new stock pot, because the old one definitively broke apart two days ago – and can no longer be mended with sorcery.”

“Good,” replied the Master. “I'll write it down. In this case, at least one of those going to Hoyerswerda must know how to read. Kito, how about you?”

“Gladly, Master.” At the prospect of a whole day away from the mill and a trip to Hoyerswerda, even Kito's normally somber face brightened considerably.

“Who else should we take?” The Master regarded them one by one. Lyschko looked at him hopefully, but the Miller's eyes moved on. “Petar, do you want to go with him?”

Petar nodded eagerly. “I'd be happy to.”

“That's settled, then. The day after tomorrow, you two will harness the brown horses and drive to Hoyerswerda.”

The Master turned on his heel and left the room.

The thought of Hoyerswerda had clearly lifted their spirits, even for those who weren't going. The guys badgered Kito and Petar with requests for things they wanted from the market town. The Master always provided them with a little spending money for this purpose. Only Lyschko kept his sour expression and did not take part in the conversation.

Krabat wondered if the two would get Lyschko something from Hoyerswerda, if Lyschko were to ask. Kito certainly wouldn't. Petar might. He was good-natured, and rarely held grudges. At Krabat's request, he'd already promised to bring Krabat a new neckerchief.

But … where Lyschko was concerned …

Again, Krabat looked over at Lyschko. Suddenly, he couldn't blame him for his bad mood.

.

Lyschko was deliberately avoiding being alone with Krabat, and he would not meet his eyes. When Krabat spoke to him, Lyschko would look to one side and reply slowly, as if he had to choose his words with great care. He approached Krabat like a whipped dog, as he had on the day before New Year's, when Lyschko had crumpled at his feet and cried. Krabat remained torn between compassion and revulsion. Nevertheless, Lyschko answered him more frankly than the other men did – with the exception of Juro – and he did not seem to blame Krabat for his pact with the Master.

“Lyschko,” Krabat asked him once, “do you really think that I want to harm you?”

At that, Lyschko laughed, softly and bitterly. “Juro,” he replied, “is already your friend again. What am I supposed to think, when I picture the end of the year?”