Anaria forgot all about the stream the moment she stepped inside the cottage. It was a little dusty and forlorn but was clearly kept ready to shelter anyone in need, in the same way as the hut on the road all those weeks ago.
That was where the similarities ended. This cottage was a glorious work of solid engineering and pure whimsy. There were gadgets and oddities and thingumibobs tucked neatly into every corner and nook. Even the walls seemed to beckon with treasures to discover.
Liam smiled, “No exploring until you’re warm and dry. There are towels on the shelf by the pump and some clothes to be going on with in the boxes under the bed.”
He turned to the hearth as Anaria followed his directions and retrieved the various items for both of them.
She hadn’t realised just how muddy they both were, in addition to the soaking from the inconsiderate rain. The watery explosion back at the clearing had left its mark. She was fairly sure her skirt was past redemption.
A blanket had been hung up as a screen of sorts in one funny little alcove and Anaria tucked behind it to dry off and change after checking it was free from strange contraptions.
She hung wet clothes and towels on convenient racks by the fire while Liam followed her example. She started examining some of the nearby oddments, not yet ready to risk a finger but subjecting each to very close visual inspection.
Liam joined her near the fire and began digging through his bag.
“I’d not entirely intended our picnic to be here, but I did bring the makings for tea, just in case.”
After a brief search, Anaria found a kettle with a strange cap over the spout. She held it up for inspection.
“Yes that’s it. The cap makes a whistling sound to let you know when the kettle’s boiling. I believe the old man had a habit of forgetting and letting it boil dry.”
Anaria looked at it dubiously, then moved to investigate the indoor pump.
“Is there a well under the house or did he put in pipes from the stream like the bath house?”
“Pipes I think, why?”
“Encouraging water upwards, directly under a building can cause problems. But if it’s coming from the stream, how do the pipes not get clogged? For that matter, how do the bath house pipes stay clear?”
“What problems can a well cause?”
“The house falling down.”
Liam looked intrigued, “How do you know all these things?”
“I know about this one because the old mayor built a fancy new house quite a number of years ago and wanted an inside well to boast about. The water seeped through the stones lining it and slowly began to turn the earth into something like a bog. A few years later, after a particularly rainy week, the kitchen flooded and its main outside wall collapsed. Thankfully no one was hurt but the house had to be abandoned as no one knew what would go next.”
“This place has been pretty solid for about fifty years now, so I’m guessing he’s either managered to keep well water fully contained or he’s piping it in and managing to avoid blocks in the same unknown way he managed it with the bath house.”
Anaria gave the nearest wall a careful pat, ready to jump back. Nothing happened so she turned her attention to the pump and filling the kettle, returning to the fire once done.
“That pump’s much easier to use than the one in the village, why didn’t he replace it?”
“I think he was planning some sort of grand village-wide water supply when he died and no one has been able to understand his notes since.”
“He had notes? Where are they? Can I seen them? What do they say?”
Liam laughed, “They’re up at the castle with the Duke. Better to keep them there until someone can decipher them than to have them grow mould or be eaten by mice out here.”
“His family didn’t keep them?”
“They weren’t that interested. They were quite likely to see them as taking up valuable space and use the pages as fire starters.”
Anaria stared at him in horror.
A sudden, piercing whistle made her jump.
Liam reached for the kettle, “Water’s ready.”
Once her heart had stopped racing and her hands were wrapped round a comforting mug of tea, Anaria asked a question that had been bothering her for a while.
“Why is it that this man had such an impact on the life of the village but I’ve never been told his name? Is there a reason people don’t want him remembered?”
“He was never one for glory or accolades. My mother met him a couple of times and always found him to be most proud of his children and grandchildren. All these things were built for them and being introduced or referred to as a father or grandfather was his greatest delight.”
“But what was his name?”
“I don’t know.”
Anaria humphed and lapsed into thoughtful silence, pottering around the room and subjecting each new item to careful investigation.
They ate the provisions Liam had brought, they’d survived surprisingly well, then tidied up, bundling their drier but still muddy clothes into the used towels and fetching fresh firewood from a store with a door directly into the room.
“I’ll come back with fresh clothes and such in a couple of days. There’s enough to be going on with should someone need anything in the meantime.”
Anaria peered out. The rain had stopped again and the pale afternoon sun was doing its best to nudge aside the slow-moving clouds.
Liam joined her at the door, “I think we’re safe to make for the village without another deluge. Shall we go?”
“Yes, but you need to bring me back another time and explain all the things in here.”
“I’ll bring you back, town girl, but I’m not sure what explaining I’ll manage. These aren’t exactly my area of knowledge.”
Anaria sighed and pouted a little. She needed to find another way to understand them. There were too many possibly useful, and trade-worthy, gadgets and ideas in here to simply let them sit and slowly rot.