Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 36
The Perfect Excuse
Welikro was busy butchering two goats by the stream when he heard the shot. The goats were common, even in the fringes of the three prefectures. They fed on the moss and leaves. They preferred to stay in the mountains where they could easily avoid predators. Their amazing climbing ability, however, did not help them at all against guns.
The goats, certain in their safety on the rocks, didn't even make a run for it when the three boys approached. Welikro simply shot the first without ceremony, reloaded, and fired again. The goats didn't run after the first shot, instead freezing where they stood, probably confusing the shot with thunder. They did, however scatter after the second goat collapsed with the second clap of thunder.
The two didn't bother chasing them, however. Two goat carcasses were going to be enough of a handful to get back to camp already. Not to mention that they didn't want to become greedy and still be around when a carnivore came after the scent of blood.
Luckily, they had yet to run into anything threatening. The worst they could run into wasn't incredibly dangerous either. It could kill a man pretty easily, mind you, but three of them armed with ranged weapons could deal with a single panther… if they knew it was coming.
The two carcasses tumbled down the slope, breaking most of their four legs on the way down. One even nearly lost its head against a rock at the bottom. Their hides did little better, and Borkal cursed for several long seconds before he calmed down.
Welikro had sold exactly these kinds of goats' skins to Wakri. Those had been old, but they'd been in far better shape than these.
"We'll get a riyas a piece for these, most likely, two if we're really lucky." Borkal sighed when he took a closer look.
"Stop blabbing and give me a hand," Eriksson said unhappily, "We'll take one and Wero the other. Let's take them to the stream first. We'll skin and gut them there. And don't come and blab about prices. You can't evaluate for squat! Your eyesight's so poor you couldn't even hit a turkey at point-blank range! You even lost the bolts!"
"Don't you complain about me! You missed those two hares!" Borkal snapped.
He dragged one of the carcasses up by the forelegs and the two continued to bicker as they headed for the stream.
"I'm just not used to it, okay? We've only ever handled training bows, hunting bows are a whole other story. If I'd had my short-barrel, We'd be swimming in hares right now!"
"Yeah yeah. Two rabbits? With that gun of yours? You might -- might -- get them if you blast into their burrows..."
They didn't even stop while they started working on their goat by the stream.
Welikro was about to shout at them to shut up when they heard the gunshot.
Welikro shot to his feet. He didn't even bother to pull his knife out of the goat.
"Gunshot," he said simply.
Welikro glanced at their catches.
"Grab what we've cut loose already and let's go."
The three were back at the ruins, panting, forty minutes after the shot was fired. They came out just to the side of where Claude was lying, and his limp form, covered in, by now dry, mud was the first thing they saw.
Everything clattered to the floor, and the three dashed to his side.
Claude's eyes shot open when he heard their shouts.
"You're here... I'm fine... just... a little tired..."
He said before he dropped his head back onto the ground and closed his eyes again. Welikro skidded to a halt on his knees and rolled Claude around as he checked for wounds. He held his breath the whole while, gasping again only once he was certain he couldn't see anything bleeding or misshapen. He dragged Claude to his feet unhappily.
"What the hell did you do? Why are you covered in mud? Ack, you stink like a rotting corpse! Are you sure you're not dead after all?"
Claude just motioned towards the nearby entrance.
"Found a snake inside while I was exploring."
"A snake? Let's go take a look," Welikro half shouted at the other two as he darted off, still panting, towards the entrance.
"Damn, Claude!" Borkal exclaimed as he eventually came back out of the black hole of an entrance, "You actually killed it on your own! Eyke was so surprised when he saw it he grabbed Welikro's gun and nearly shot it again!
"Did he?" Claude asked.
He hadn't heard a shot.
"No. But Wero just as nearly shot him for suddenly grabbing the gun like that. We're still taking a look around. I only came up to get some firewood, the torches are all but dead."
Claude only got up again half an hour later, all his fatigue suddenly gone, and went to the basement floor as well. He found the three boys dragging the snake up the steps laboriously. He finally saw its full length for the first time. He'd only spared it a glance during the fight since he was too concerned with the biting maw. It wasn't just three metres long, like he'd originally thought, it was much closer to four and a ripple of fear ran down his spine when he thought about how he might be stuck in its stomach right now if even the smallest thing had been different.
"We can sell this for three riyas even in its battered condition," Borkal said happily.
"Leather aside, its tendons will make great glue once it's boiled down," Eriksson added.
"Enough! I can only take so much money-talk!" Welikro finally snapped, then turned to Claude, "And why on earth were you in the basement on your own? I told you there was nothing down there. Luck is the only reason you aren't in its stomach right now! What would I tell your mother and father if you died on me, huh?!"
Borkal and Eriksson finally snapped out of their reverie and looked at Claude concernedly.
"I'm sorry," Claude said obediently, "I couldn't not take a look. I threw down a torch or two, then saw something shine in the mud. I got that rope ladder out and went down, but I was attacked the moment I got in the mud."
"So, did you find the shining thing?" Welikro asked, his eyes half doubt and half childlike interest.
"I found this," Claude answered, taking out a few golden coins.
"Sha-Shaliuns!" Borkal shouted, snatching one from Claude's hand, "Oh my gods! I've only seen a few drawings of them! They have a cloaked magus image pressed on one side. The Amsra dynasty abolished the currency when they took over."
"I found five in all," Claude offered, "They were all just beside the steps."
Welikro looked at him for a few more skeptical moments, then his face faded into a wry smile.
Eriksson snatched the other four from Claude's hand.
"Are they valuable?"
"I don't know," Borkal said, "They're rare, though, that's for sure, and they're antiques, but I don't think many people actually collect them. Everything associated with the magi are taboo, after all. We should be able to get something for the gold in them when we trade them in by the money-traders, at least. I think we should be able to get two crowns a piece."
"Hehe, you're rich, Claude," Eriksson smiled with envy, "I didn't think you'd be the one to make the most on this trip. You killed a python, and you got these gold coins."
Claude waved the coins away when Eriksson offered them back to him.
"Boa'll take care of it. We said we'd split everything evenly, right?"
"But... you killed the python, and you found the coins, alone." Borkal half protested with a bitter smile.
Claude only waved him off again.
"We'll split everything equally. I'm sure you'd split with me if I'd not made anything."
"...Fine," Welikro sighed, "As for the rest of the hunts, the one who does most of the work will get the lion's portion of the share."
"Alright then. I'll take two coins and you three can each have one. Let's take care of that snake now," Claude quickly finished.