Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 56

The days passed one after another and the weather gradually warmed. Claude's school uniform changed to a short-sleeved brown linen shirt and a pair of long black pants. The high leather boots he usually wore were also swapped for flat-soled ones. Girl's uniforms in middle schools weren't that much different from the boys'; the top was the same brown linen shirt, but the girls wore long black skirts instead of pants.

Many boys would flood the corridors during the 20-minute class breaks and stare into the girls' classrooms, hoping some of them would come out to show off their figures.

Claude had been in a rather annoyed mood as his father had lectured his mother about the leather shoes. For some reason, Morssen was being far stingier than usual. Claude was only 16 and still growing, so his mother bought him a pair of new shoes recently to replace his by-now-too-small feet. But the weather suddenly warmed a week later and the school had them switch to flat-soled shoes. Claude's were too small for him as well, so his mother bought him a new pair straight of those as well.

Morssen exploded that morning because his wife 'didn't budget their spending properly'. He complained she had neglected to notice a huge problem: she bought Claude a new pair of high-soled boots just ten days before they were scheduled to switch to flat-soled ones. That wasn't his biggest problem, however. Claude was still growing, so when the seasons changed again, the high-soled boots would be too small and they'd have to buy yet another pair.

The man was livid. His son should just have endured it for ten more days!

Claude chose his mother's side in the fight. The shoes only cost four riyas, there was no need to be that stingy. That only sparked his father off in another direction. The man rebuked him for not contributing anything to the house despite having gone on regular hunting trips for a month now with his new musket. He should at least have brought some meat back or sold it and contribute some money to the house purse.

Claude couldn't finish since he was already late for school, but his anger had yet to go away.

Borkal knew what had happened. Their fathers were much closer now since they were working together on their plan for the new trade route. He suspected Claude's father was extra sensitive to money issues since they were busy scraping together the money needed to fund the project.

Claude could do little but lament that he'd transmigrated to be the son of such a miser.

That didn't make him any less upset that his father had chided his hunting ability. He had not yet caught anything substantial, but he had caught a number of hares.

And the man hadn't even asked how his training was going, he should be proud that his son had already moved on to practicing at a hundred metres, not just fifty. That said, he was doing it more out of necessity than skill. He was not going to get flighty hares at fifty metres, they were just too jumpy. His only hope was to hunt them at a full hundred metres. The only, and big, problem, was that hares were all but invisible at that range, and nearly impossible to hit even for a crack shot, using just normal iron sights.

That said, he still had to try. He practiced heavily for three days, and dragged Welikro out of town one afternoon to have an early go at hare hunting.

Eriksson had to stay in town to work on his boat and Borkal was busy peddling Claude's targets. At least things there were going well; they'd already made back their initial four-thale investment and made the same in profit and Borkal had also placed their third batch of orders with his family's carpenter suppliers.

Welikro took Borkal's musket along.

The two skipped skipped their equestrian classes and headed to Claude's home to pick up the muskets before heading out of town.

They headed into the fields. The farmers' dogs caught hares left, right, and centre, but they bred so quickly that there was always more to be hunted, if you could find them. They would have had a far better catch the last time they'd come south of town if they'd gone after the hares, but Borkal had insisted on going after larger animals, of which there were none.

"Didn't you say the watch dogs are expert hunters?" Claude asked.

"They are, but they don't get out of their yards that often. They're used mainly as guard dogs and the owners only take them out to patrol the fields every now and again. They'll always catch a lot of hares, but those things breed so fast that's not enough," Welikro answered.

The two climbed a hill and settled in the cover and shade of a large bush. They had a great line of sight down the slope across a resting field.

"Okay, get your musket in a comfortable position. We'll light the long slow matches now. Also, no talking!--" Welikro wagged his finger seriously. "--Those guys are very jumpy, and they have incredible hearing."

"So we're just going to sit and wait?"

"Yes. You have to be patient when hunting. Most of the game is sitting and waiting."

Welikro cut their conversation there and set about getting into a comfortable position. Claude had heard that the occasional turkey could be found there as well. They didn't come out into the fields as much as the hares did, especially not on resting fields with no dropped grains, so he'd have to train his sights on the very edge of the field where the underbrush started amongst the windbreak trees.

His legs numbed slowly as the minutes came and went but nothing moved, there wasn't even a rustle in the trees' leaves from any breeze.

Claude was on the brink of stretching when Welikro suddenly tapped him on his shoulder and shoved his finger at a point along the edge of the field. Claude strained his eyes, and just barely noticed two thick, hairy blades of tall grass hopping about.

Welikro pointed at both their guns, then at the hairy blades of grass. He wanted them both to shoot at the same time. Claude nodded and attached his smoldering slow match to the musket's cock.

The hairy blades of grass were about 80 metres distant. They hopped a few more times, then settled and started twitching as the hare attached to them nibbled obliviously on the actual grass.

He settled his sights on the hare, made several minute adjustments, and waited for Welikro to signal he was ready as well, then pulled the trigger. The hare twitched before the shot went off, but that was already too late. Claude's view was suddenly obscured by two clouds of puffs of white smoke. When the smoke cleared, the hare was nowhere to be seen.

"I missed," Claude half-snuck.

"I got it. It must've just fell out of sight," came Welikro's confident reply, "Reload, then we'll go get it."

"A shame we didn't bring a dog along," Welikro said out of the blue as the two reloaded.

"A dog?"

Claude knew his friend's family kept three trained hunting dogs at home. Rumour had it they were half-wolf, but he doubted that was true.

"Why would we need a dog?" Claude asked.

"They're trained to fetch your catch for you. If we'd brought one, we could just send it of to go get the hare. Then again, we wouldn't have needed our guns at all if we brought one. Senior, Junior, and Tiny would get them all for us."

"You're bragging…"

"I'm serious!" Welikro exclaimed with a face of the falsely accused, "We trained them to go after big game, hares are barely even worth barking over!"

"Can't the watchdogs do that too? The hares, I mean."

"Yes, but like I said, they aren't let out often. And they can't do it very well in places they're not familiar with. They need proper training to do that. Plus they bark when they're excited or frustrated, which scare the hares and turkeys away. They need to be trained to shut up."

"So what, you usually just use traps or snares?"

"For hares and turkeys, apart from trained hunting dogs, we just shoot them. Most people prefer using the old style hunting bows and arbalests though. They're harder to learn to use, but are more accurate and quieter.

"Traps are only really worth it for bigger animals, unless you're trapping for food to survive. I've not heard of any commercial hunting of small animals like hares with traps. I don't know what you mean by 'snares', but I did hear someone once tried using strong liquor to get turkeys. They'd drink and pass out and he could just slit their throats and carry them off. I've also heard, though I've never tried it, that turkeys freeze when they see light, like lanterns or candles, and you can just catch them with your hands that way."

Welikro was right. They found the hare just into the underbrush. It's spine had about a two-finger gap where the bullet had passed through. Welikro said it had to be Claude's hit since he'd aimed for the head, not the body. Claude didn't think so, though, but he was not going to play modest. He could finally shut his father up.

"Let's go find another spot. The hares won't show up again for an hour or two now."

Claude didn't hear him. He was picking a vine to make a snare.

"What are you doing?"

"Setting a snare."

He knew little of hunting, but he had some experience with trapping and snaring thanks to his younger years in the small village.

"This one should work great on hares and turkeys," he said.

"It can really do that?" Welikro asked, squatting beside him.

"Yup. Just set it in the shrubs. We'll come back tomorrow and see what we have."

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