Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 58

Claude was in a good mood this day -- calm and relaxed, just like how he usually felt after eating ice cream.

He and his friends had sold their daily trappings to Pjard for the last five days, netting them a nifty thale and three riyas, a month's peasant earnings. Eriksson had completely forgotten about his completed ship, he only cared about the snares now.

As Borkal put it, they were picking money off the ground. All they had to do was drop some vine snares in a few shrubs and come back the next day to collect their prey. There was no need to fire their muskets at all and they could even save on the gunpowder and bullets.

They'd sold more than Pjard needed, however, and he had told them it would be a while before he would buy from them again. The four friends were also getting bored of what had become their daily routine. And then there was the fact that their daily catch was getting sparser.

Claude's father had also started grumbling about his shoes again and Claude had slammed the four riyas the shoes had cost on the desk in front of his father.

"Fine, here's the money for the damned shoes. Stop bugging mother over it!"

His father's face switched back and forth between fury at being talked to in such a way by his son, and astonishment that his little boy had just done that, but words failed him so it turned into just an awkward stare.

Claude was gone before he finally thought of something to say, whistling happily as he half trotted to school.

He put his things away after wrestling class and prepared to leave.

"Where are you going?" Borkal asked, tugging on his arm, "Horsemanship ands this week. We only have three days left. We should ride the horses as much as we can."

"Tomorrow," Claude said, "I'm going south of town."

"For what? Didn't Pjard say he won't need anymore for a while?"

"I'm just going to have a look. We put down a bunch of traps there yesterday and it wouldn't do to let the catches rot. And we can just take them home if Pjard doesn't want them. And if we're not going to catch again for a while, we ought to take the snares apart. I don't mind someone else taking a few of the hares or turkeys, but if they figure out how to make the snares, we'll be out of business."

Borkal nodded thoughtfully.

It wouldn't do for others to learn this method, it was too easy. If someone else found out about it, it wouldn't be too long before the whole area around town was hunted dry.

Losing a few catches wasn't a problem, but the snares were so simple anyone but the dumbest vagrant would figure out how it worked while getting the animal out, and then they would never see a good catch, if any catch at all, again.

"Want me to come along?" Welikro asked.

"No--" Claude shook his head. "--I'm going to take a walk as well. It's fine even if we don't get a catch. I'm going mainly to deal with the rest of the snares. It won't take long. Go to the jetty, I'll meet you guys there once I'm done. We haven't helped Uncle Pegg out for a week."

Claude stopped by his home first to fetch his musket. He ran into mother and little brother as he stepped out of the house again. His mother was carrying a basket and Bloweyk was hopping and skipping around her, acting half his age.

Here came trouble, Claude thought as Bloweyk ran to him and nagged him to take the little boy along. It took Claude five minutes to calm him down, and he only managed it because he agreed to several other unfair demands.

He turned to head out of the yard, but was stopped by his mother. She came up to him and stroked his messy hair.

"It's about time you went for a haircut. You can't let your hair be this unkempt when it's this long. D'you want a ponytail like your brother?"

The thought that his mother actually thought his brother looked nice with that sickening ponytail made Claude want to vomit. Arbeit was a spindly young man with pale skin, so his ponytail only made him look like a woman to an unscrupulous eye. He knew it, too, which was why he made sure to stick to the main streets after a late night of drinking where the lights made it easier for other men to recognise his sex before the got too excited.

He complained about the ugly thing for a couple seconds, then shook his head.

"Please no, anything but that. I'll never be able to keep it clean. I'll have it cut in a few days. Nice and short."

"Good, short hair fits you better. Makes you look younger," his mother agreed, "Oh, right, take this," his mother said, stuffing a thale into his hands.

Why was she giving him a thale all of a sudden? Claude asked himself, staring at the small silver coin in the palm of his hand.

"Don't blame your father. He was venting this morning because a lot of stuff's been going on at work, and he was frustrated and needed to vent. We're more than happy to spend money on you guys.

"And you've been spending a lot of money lately yourself, if I'm not mistaken," his mother said probingly, "Father bought you a musket but had you buy its powder and rounds, and then you still bought hares for me to cook. I know you didn't hunt the hares since they didn't have any shot wounds on them. Don't be mad at your father, you're still young and don't know the troubles he has. He asked you to hunt the hares so you will have a goal to practice towards, you don't have to buy them just to prove a point to him."

Claude didn't know whether to laugh or cry. How much money did his mother think he had? If not for his trappings, he would be dead broke. He didn't have the money to buy hares just to shut his father up. Though he did do basically the same thing with the riyas that morning... but that was beside the point! He supposed it was to be expected. No one knew he knew how to trap, especially not his mother, so she would naturally expect anything he hunted to have a shot wound, and since the hares he'd brought back didn't, the only logical conclusion was that he'd sourced them from someone else, whom he'd had to pay.

His mother had thought he'd shoved the money at his father to show off despite actually not having much.

"I really do have money, mother," Claude began, giving the money back to his mother, "Really I do. I didn't hunt them with my musket, though. I trapped them. That's why they don't have any shot wounds. You can ask my friends if you want, they went with me. We caught a lot this last week and sold them all to Pjard. You can ask him, too, if you want. We made a thale this last week. That's why I didn't mind giving the money to father this morning.

"And I don't blame father for asking me to bring back hares. I know he's doing it for my own good, and I also know why he was ranting about the shoes. But I don't care how bad things are at work. I don't want him bringing his issues back home with him and taking it out on us. If he wants to deal with it, then he should find something else to do or someone else to pester. It's not good to take it out on innocent people, especially his family. And he shouldn't sour being at home for us. It's supposed to be the calm place we all come to after a long day to rest and be with the people we love. It wouldn't be right for us to want to stay away from it as much as we can because we don't want to run into him. And yes, that was exactly what he was doing. Didn't you see how scared Blowk and Anna were this morning? They're usually very chatty but they didn't say a single word at breakfast!

"Anyway, keep the money, mother. I have enough already. I'm not old but I'm grown up now. Get Anna new clothes or something instead. Her uniform is a hand-me-down and it won't do for a young woman like her to wear that much longer. I have to go now. See you later!"

He spotted a carriageman driving by, it was the same man who'd taken him south of town two days earlier. He ran up to him and asked him to do it again, and the two were off before his mother could say anything else.

She looked at the silver coin her little boy had stuffed back into her hands as he was talking to the carriageman, then turned around to head inside, only to bump right into her husband's chest. Morssen stared at his son as he got on the carriage, almost absentmindedly.

"Did you hear your son?" his wife said from below him, "Still want to lecture him tonight?"

She found herself rather feisty today.

Morssen smiled bitterly and he fumbled for his pipe. He shook his head as he lit it.

"No. He's making more sense than me. I don't know who'll end up lecturing who if I start something tonight. I'll check with Pjard later to see if the boy's telling the truth. Ugh… His turkey costs three riyas and five sunars. I wonder how much he paid for it..."

Claude headed off on Regan's carriage.

Regan was a peasant. He spent most of his time working on Poplar Ridge Farmstead. He did some usual farmwork and the deliveries as well. When it was time to deliver the harvest, he made several trips a day for a week or more. His humble background and humble situation meant Claude could catch a ride out of town and back with him as he made his trips without having to pay much. Regan only asked for a hare in return.

"Alone today?" Regan asked, his eyes still glued to the old farm horse drawing the carriage.

"Yes. Eriksson, Borkal, and Welikro are busy. Today's the last time I'll be heading out for a while myself as well. We're out of that secret concoction. I'm just making this last trip to check if we got any with the last couple of drops. I'll give you one if we got any."

Regan had taken note of the large number of hares and turkeys the four friends caught, and their pristine state. It went against everything he knew about hunting, and, unable to contain his curiosity, he'd asked how they did it.

Claude claimed he read about a secret formula in a book on medicine that could knock out people in the right doses, and though it could be used to hunt small animals as well. He dipped grains in the mixture and left them in the wilderness, then just came back later and picked up the sleeping hares and turkeys.

Borkal went along without a word, praising the non-existent concoction to the high heavens. The only problem, apparently, was that the ingredients were hard to come buy, and, when one did, they were very expensive. Claude was surprised to hear that the four, including himself, had only barely made back the money the concoction cost them.

Regan believed them whole-heartedly. Why would the sons of two famous rich men in town lie to him? Not to mention the son of town's chief secretary. He lamented the 'loss' of three thales the concoction supposedly cost. Oh how wonderful it would have been if he had that kind of money. It would make a great addition to his saving to get a wife.

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