Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 122

Claude took a warm bath before plunging face-first into his bed. He'd barely made it this far, and he drifted away nearly immediately. The entire ordeal exhausted him in ways he'd not known he could be exhausted. He was both mentally and physically drained. He'd shot up in the bath several times, catching himself moments before dozing off and slipping under.

He woke up the next morning to a grumbling stomach. He'd not had dinner the night before, he remembered. He'd had just two sandwiches on the way back from the atoll. He'd gone twenty hours without eating, and had only had two sandwiches before that, wholly insufficient for a boy his age. As if to agree with his thoughts, his stomach growled again.

Claude crawled out of bed and downstairs to his kitchen. He didn't have much in the way or ready-to-eat stuff, but he had some black bread. Despite his hunger, Claude merely stared at the lump of bread in his hand. It was harder than the table's wood.

He tapped the bread on the table and it sounded much like banging two pieces of wood together. The sound reminded him of a story he'd heard about a logistics company being surrounded during a battle and arming themselves with black bread loaves for clubs. If memory served, they'd actually won the fight.

He wouldn't be surprised if the story were true, either. Black bread couldn't be eaten as-is. It was just too hard. It was generally used with soups or as a thickener in stews. It had one key virtue, however: it lasted a long time. It had barely any moisture in it which meant the mould and insect eggs that usually ruined bread couldn't grow or hatch in it. This made it an ideal ration for long term storage such as at sea or on the march.

This particular bread had been given to Claude a month earlier, and it had yet to show any signs of mould. He'd tried to eat it several times, but he'd never gotten more than the first bite in. He couldn't bring himself to throw it away, however. It had been given to him by the Sioris who'd learned to bake it when they'd joined their lord, Afess Fen Normanley, when he first came to the estate.

Hunger won out in the end and he decided to have the bread. It still had to be softened up, however, so he cracked a few eggs and mashed them with the bread to make crude noodles after having two raw bites.

He had to fetch wood from the storehouse first, however, as he didn't have enough in the kitchen. He dressed warmly, gathered his courage, and opened the front door. Cold air assaulted him the moment the crack opened, but he braved it and stepped outside, closing the door behind him. His eyes watered immediately, but once they adjusted he found a sack of charcoal waiting for him next to the door. He smiled, grabbed a couple handfuls, and darted back to the safety of the inside of his home.

He had two bowls of his noodles and left with Jemmy and the carriage.

Welikro was waiting for him when he arrived. He sat by Eriksson's side, but the latter had yet to wake. The boy did look in a much better state, however, and Claude's heart unknotted a little more. The same sinister apothecary that had treated Claude stopped by not long after he arrived and treated Eriksson with a crate of concoctions. Eriksson shivered and sweated for the rest of the morning, but regained consciousness that afternoon -- healthy appetite and all.

The apothecary left a bit of praise behind when he departed. Eriksson would have died if not for Claude and Welikro's timely arrival and careful ministrations on the way back.

He'd been discovered relatively quickly, so he should make a full recovery, though he would need to stay in bed for at least a month, and at home for another two.

Eriksson's mother wept when she heard the good news, and swore she'd keep the boy at home even if she had to tie him to his bed. Her gratitude for the two boys knew no bounds either, but she couldn't leave them by Eriksson's side despite her gratitude as the apothecary had instructed Eriksson was to rest alone.

Neither of the boys wanted to interfere with their friend's recovery, so they left without complaint, though they refused his mother's reward.

"Tomorrow's graduation, but Eyke can't go," Welikro moaned when they left the house.

"It's already the 25th?" Claude asked, "Wow, time really flew. I would've forgotten all about it if you hadn't just mentioned it. I have to go remind my parents. Where should I drop you?"

"Drop me off at the pier. I left my fishing stuff there. I want to go fishing this afternoon."

"You still want to fish? You're completely hooked, aren't you? You should get treatment!"

Welikro just sighed.

"I don't have much time left for fishing, Claude. I might not have any chances after today."

"What do you mean?"

Welikro didn't answer. The two just sat in awkward silence until Claude dropped Welikro off at the pier. Pegg opened up for them and the two headed for the room Eriksson had taken as his own in the office building.

The four had long used the place as their secret base, but once the four stopped spending their time together, Eriksson had turned it into his and Welikro's home away from home. The two often stayed there on weekends and breaks.

The two's fishing equipment was naturally stored there as well. Eriksson's musket was there as well, and Claude took it.

"What are you doing?" Welikro asked.

"Too bad that Eriksson's sick. I'd have liked to borrow it for a while. I need a backup for when I'm hunting in the woods."

"You want to borrow it?" Welikro said casually, "Just take it. It's not like Eyke will use it anytime soon. Think of it as looking after the gun for him. He won't mind as long as you look after it well. Just remember to write a note and hand it to Uncle Pegg. It's not really a big deal."

He was right, Claude thought, Eyke had no use for the musket at the moment, and wouldn't for some time yet. As long as he knew what was going on, there was no need to make a big deal of this, and he knew the boy wouldn't mind. Claude immediately wrote the note and prepared to leave.

"Take the rounds as well. They're in the drawer." Welikro said.

Claude handed the note to Peg and the two left. Claude dropped his friend off at his home, then headed for his parents' house.

His father's mood was still the same. The fleet had yet to return, and his stress was getting worse. Claude even noticed a single, solitary grey hair in the middle of his hairline. Much like his father's mood, the house still felt the same. His parents were speaking now, but they said only the barest minimum to one another, and there was none of the usual warmth in their voices.

His father mumbled a quick prayer when he heard about Eriksson over lunch, then lit his pipe. He spent the whole afternoon brooding in his study.

Claude spent the rest of the morning playing with his little brother and sister, and the dog, and left after lunch. He stopped by the bank on his way home to withdraw some money from his salary account. He had to wait nearly an hour before he was finally helped, and left for the market with six thales. He bought spice and food, then headed home.

The afternoon would be spent in the wood, so Claude took care of the carriage, dropped off his supplies, got his own musket, and headed off on patrol. Truthfully, however, the patrol was just an excuse to hunt. He'd thought about taking out all ten crowns while waiting for the receptionist so he could boy more materials for his practice, but he decided against it. He would be a responsible adult and pay for that with hunting.

He'd underestimated how expensive practice was since Landes had talked about frequently continuing his sessions for three days straight. But he'd forgotten to remember that Landes was given all his materials for free, while Claude had to pay for everything.

Claude now had to pay for everything he used in his daily life as well, from clothes to food; everything came out of his own pocket. He couldn't just spend all his money on frivolous things anymore, so he decided to live off of his salary, and hunt for the funds needed for his practice. Besides, he didn't trust his father to not go snooping around his account to check up on his spending habits, and he could do without the man finding out how much he spent on a regular basis.

His usual hunting grounds along the well-trodden trails and outskirts of the wood wouldn't levy enough prey, however. If he really wanted to hunt for his money, he would have to go deeper into the wood. If he could find a turkey or some good boars, he could make the money he needed relatively quickly, too. He'd run into Pjard a few days before he'd set out to save his friend, and he'd told him that if he ever had more of them, he'd buy them. And if he couldn't find what he needed in the wood, there were always the hinterlands beyond it.

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