Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 59

Claude walked dandily on the road with his gun slung behind his back. On the gun hung three hares and five turkeys, catches from the snares they left behind a few days ago. During the past five days, Claude and his three friends set up hundreds of snare traps near the forests and hills, but they were all concentrated in five main areas, which made searching for them much easier. That way, Claude didn't have to spend as much time removing the snares.

They had made sure to switch locations each day. At first, they mainly chose the shrubs and grass growths near the foot of the hills and set up tens to hundreds of snares every time. When a turkey or hare went into them to feed, there was a high chance they would step into the snares and get caught up in them.

As a result, Claude and the rest got humongous hauls over the past few days. Whenever they went back to wherever they set up the snares, they would find some that weren't triggered yet, so Claude would leave them there should some poor animal far prey to them later. Perhaps there would be some surprise in store for Claude whenever he went there to check.

Currently, the prey that hung from his gun were all surprise catches from the untriggered traps he left laying there. As for the 20 or so new traps they laid yesterday, they only caught one hare. It was painfully apparent from the low hit rate that the number of hares and turkeys in the area had dwindled staggeringly.

After circling the hills and forests for two hours and removing the traps he left behind, Claude went home.

The eight animals he carried on his back were rather heavy. He didn't feel that tired during the past few days as his friends were there to split his burden. Today, however, he had to both carry a gun and the animals, making him tire out from walking far more quickly than usual. He decided to go to Poplar Ridge Farmstead to see if Regan was still going to make a trip to town. That way, he could hitch a ride back.

The area covered by the farmstead wasn't big. There was only little more than ten acres of farmland that didn't produce wheat, but rather fruits and vegetables. They also reared chickens to produce eggs. It was said that the owner of the farmstead was a merchant from the prefecture capital who had only come by a few times since he bought it. Usually, he left its management to a relative.

Regan said that there were four families of farmers there who had been hired to tend to the vegetable farms, the blueberry farms, the chicken coop and the tangerine orchard. Regan himself on the other hand was a common farm helper that cared for the dogs, served as a coachman and ran other miscellaneous errands. The farmstead had three large watchdogs, but they didn't seem to be that useful. They only knew to bark when they were hungry and couldn't even catch the hares that entered the farm.

Surrounding Poplar Ridge Farmstead was a small, two-meter-wide waterway that marked the borders between the farms. Most of the farms in the area used such waterways as borders, but small wooden boards would be laid over them for ease of crossing. Claude walked along the waterway to the main entrance of the farmstead. What he didn't expect was to be greeted by the three barking dogs.

These don't really look like watchdogs. They seem far larger and the color of their fur doesn't look quite right either. Whitestag's watchdogs are mostly gray-black, with a fewer number of them being brown. These three large dogs' fur are a mix of white, gray and yellow... Claude thought that they looked quite similar to the huskies from his past life.

Upon hearing the barking, a fat woman from a nearby barn called out to the three dogs before asking Claude what he needed.

Claude told her he was looking for Regan. The woman looked him down before pointing at a long, one-story building nearby, saying that Regan was still working there.

When he entered the main entrance, the three dogs stopped barking. However, they silently followed Claude from the back as if they were escorting him. Claude realized that the dogs were not interested in him, but rather, the animals that were hanging from his gun. They looked more curious than fierce, as if they were wondering how those animals ended up in the hands of the human.

The building appeared to be a stable. The carriage could be seen parked in an empty space in front of the building. Regan was kneeling on the ground beside a large wooden box, seemingly busy with something. When Claude approached, he saw that Regan was playing with a litter of puppies that looked to be two months old. Those little white puppies jumped about actively and rolled around in the wooden box, playing nonstop. Two of them were actively chasing down the hand Regan stretched into the box.

"Why are you here?" asked Regan when he looked up and saw Claude.

Claude tossed him a hare and said, "It's for you, as promised. But this will be the last time we're catching any more."

"Thanks a lot," Regan said as he picked the hare up, "It's rather plump. Guess we'll be having an extra dish tonight. Oh, are you going to head back to town now?"

Claude nodded and laid his gun against the wall.

"Wait here for half an hour then. I still have a rack of eggs and a few baskets of blueberries to send to town later. You can join me when I leave."

"Alright, I'll be waiting here."

"I'll go to the kitchen with this hare first. Humor these little pups for me, will ya? They really love to play." Regan turned around and greeted the three dogs behind Claude, stroked their heads, and pointed at Claude to tell them he was a friend before leaving.

Those three dogs were indeed really fun to play with. They were filled with energy and naive curiosity. Claude put his hand in their midst like Regan did and they tried to bite Claude's finger with their baby tooth all the while trying to pull their plump little bodies up on the back of his hand, seemingly trying to push his hand down lower, before slipping and falling on the straw mat laid inside the box and starting their effort anew all over again.

The six little snowy fluffballs were so cute that nobody could resist their charm.

The three dogs behind Claude sat down quietly and watched as he played with the little puppies.

Claude heard some footsteps coming up from behind him and thought Regan had returned. Without turning back, he asked, "What breed are these puppies? They aren't the pups of those three watchdogs, are they?"

"These three are not watchdogs. They're proper lardor snowhounds, so are these pups, young man," said a voice he didn't recognize.

Claude hurriedly turned back and saw a white-bearded old man standing behind him.

"Sorry, Regan said that there were three watchdogs in the farm. I'm not that educated about dog breeds," said Claude with his head lowered.

"No worries, young man. I'm Mokro, the supervisor of this farmstead," said the old man with a smile. He approached the box and touched the heads of the little puppies.

"Pleasure to meet you, Sir. I'm Claude, Regan's friend. I was just going to hit his carriage back to town."

"I already heard from him," said Mokro as he stood up and looked at the animals by the wall with interest. "Did you catch all of these? They're alive... You didn't use your gun for it?"

"That's right, I used a trap for it," replied Claude.

"Regan said that you used some kind of secret concoction to submerge some wheat grains in?" It appeared that Regan was quite the talker. Fortunately, Claude didn't tell him how he really caught the animals.

"Some nuts and vegetable leaves, beans and dried fruits too. The little critters love those things," replied Claude without the slightest change in expression.

"I heard people using wheat grain marinated in alcohol as bait for turkeys to make them drunk. That way, catching them becomes much easier."

Claude laughed and shook his head. "That won't work. I think I remember reading a novel about a hunter who used that method to catch turkeys. However, that's just something the author of the novel made up. It won't work in reality. First, the turkeys definitely wouldn't eat the alcohol-soaked grain because of the pungent smell. Second, alcohol evaporates too quickly and the grains would be ineffective after a while. Third, turkeys aren't humans, so it's hard to say whether they'll get drunk like we do."

"But isn't that secret concoction of yours not so different from hard liquor?"

Claude smiled in silence. The old man had ulterior motives; he was obviously trying to ask about the concoction.

Mokro wasn't surprised to see Claude remain silent. "Chief Secretary Morssen is your father, right?"

Claude nodded.

"I met him a few times. He's a good bureaucrat. Without him, Whitestag wouldn't develop nearly as fast."

"Thank you for your kind words. I'm sure my father will be happy to hear about them," replied Claude politely.

"Do you like these puppies? I can give you one if you want," said Mokro out of the blue.

"Oh, I appreciate the sentiment. These puppies are cute, but I don't think I want one." Claude began to put up his guard. The way he saw it, when people offered something for free, they usually wanted something in return.

"Actually, lardor snowhounds are the perfect playmates for children," Mokro said as he approached the box and looked at the playful pups. "This breed of dogs come from the snowy wastelands of the north. the northerners see them as members of their own family. They are loyal, reliable, brave, sensitive and incredibly intelligent.

"Lardor snowhounds don't have much of a history in our kingdom. The earliest instances of their arrival was some two centuries ago when some northern merchants gave Stellin III three lardor snowhounds as a birthday gift. However, those dogs mated with some other breeds in the palace and didn't leave behind any pure lines of descent. It was only when Stellin IX ascended to the throne did he send people to the north to procure more dogs of this breed.

"Naturally, these three dogs of mine aren't pureblood lardor snowhounds. However, they are quite close to them as they have a purebreed ancestor three generations up. Lardor snowhounds are the most popular pets in the various cities of the kingdom and people like to let it watch their homes and play with their children. Their loyalty also causes them to never disappoint their owners."

Claude felt rather moved by the notion. He thought about the unreasonable conditions he promised Bloweyk. If he brought a white lardor snowhound pup back for him, then he wouldn't need to buy some other gift. Bloweyk would definitely be in cloud nine. With the snowhound keeping him company, he probably wouldn't clamor for his mother to hold him as often.

"Are you really going to give me this little pup?" Claude licked his lips in anticipation.

"It's a snowhound cub, not just any normal pup." Mokro appeared to be dissatisfied at Claude's conflation of snowhounds and dogs. "Of course. If you like it, I can give you one. Your father made great contributions to the development of Whitestag, so consider it a gift of gratitude from my farmstead to him."

"Then I won't take it. My father forbids me from accepting gifts in his name," Claude said as he looked at the puppies in the wooden box, "But I can trade for one with the animals I caught. Will one turkey and one hare be enough?"

Mokro laughed heartily and gave Claude a high five. "Alright, it's a deal. You may pick one and bring it home."

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