Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 69

Claude headed home after school that Saturday, changed into a fresh set of clothes, and stuffed some extra underwear into his bag. They would be on the lake for a full day and night and he didn't know if they would go swimming at some point. There was no harm in being prepared. He got his musket out from under his bed just as gingerly as the first time, slung it over his shoulder, and headed downstairs.

His little brother stopped him in the living room, and even the pup came to say his hellos. Claude said goodbye to the two, his little sister, and his mother, and left.

He got to the jetty, and nearly fell over when he saw the boat.

"Eriksson... You have so much stuff on the boat! Can we even fit?" he nearly shouted.

"No worries," Eriksson answered with a calm, straight face, "I brought just two nets and one purse seine. They look tall stacked up together, but the boat will be practically empty once we deploy them. We'll have more than enough space."

Claude shook his head with a bitter smile.

"You make it sound so easy. They're the same nets your dad uses on his ship. What are they doing on a small boat? I doubt our catch will be as good as you think. Well, I damn well hope it isn't, otherwise you'll sink the boat!"

"They're not the same nets my dad uses," Eriksson said with a smile, "I borrowed them from our neighbours. They're new. I've been asked to test them out."

Claude finally caught up. The Welinda household lived next to Eriksson's family and specialized in making and fixing nets. Eriksson recently became acquainted with Madam Welinda. There was a tradition among the fishing folk in Whitestag to break in new nets by soaking them in the lake for three days straight. They would only be sold if they came out with a catch and no damage.

Since Eriksson was going to spend a night on the lake, he decided to do Madam Welinda a favor and test out her new nets. They both won that way; she got her nets tested, and Eriksson got to keep anything he caught.

"Where are we going, then?" Claude asked, checking the boat.

Most of it was filled with net. Eriksson had only left enough space for the four boys to huddle together around the steering paddle.

"Just wait. I had Boa tell Uncle Pegg to bring us a tarpaulin from the storehouse. We'll cover the nets and sit on them."

One fast rule among fishermen was that one never walked on an open net. It was very easy to get your foot caught in it, and a fall on a rocking boat easily ended badly. Not to mention that if something caught the net and pulled it off the ship somehow while you were standing on it, it could easily catch your foot and pull you overboard along with it.

And then there was the additional consideration that the nets here were not made of nylon like the ones Claude knew from back on earth. They were easily damaged by footfalls.

He had to give it to Eriksson, in the end. The boy had thought things through at least.

"Fine," Claude gave in, "Only Boa's here? What about Wero?"

"He'll be here soon."

Borkal arrived with the tarpaulin not too long after, and jumped happily when he saw Claude.

"Great! Come take the thing, I'm dying!"

Claude put down his musket and took the tarpaulin, complaining.

"Why not ask Eriksson?"

"He said he's too worn out from the nets. He wouldn't even come off the boat!"

"Are you an idiot?" Claude said as he hauled the tarpaulin on his shoulder, "How could he have brought so many nets on board himself? He obviously got some other schmuck to help him!"

Welikro came around the corner at that moment. Borkal saw him and called out again.

"Go fetch the bucket of worms from Uncle Pegg's house!"

They laboured to put down the cover, and got onboard, bucket of worms and all.

"Let's get going. It's getting late," Borkal told Eriksson, who was undoing the moorings.

Eriksson pointed at the long punt pole.

"Someone get that and push us off. We don't have to row today, the wind's strong enough. Boa, help me with the sails when we leave the jetty. Oh, and remember to hang out the lantern. Claude, light it up and hang it on the pole."

The boat slowly drifted away from the jetty.

"They're really strong tonight," Borkal half-murmured, staring at the bulgin sail from his perch on the cover, "The boat's really rolling, too... It feels like it'll capsize any moment--"

"--Shut up!" Eriksson snapped, "Fatty, don't put it that way! The fuck are you saying? Don't you have anything better to do?"

Claude half expected that reaction. This was Eriksson's love, after all. Borkal should have known better than to insult his love.

"What the heck? I was only telling the truth! It's not like I'm cursing the boat to actually flip! Are you that eager for an argument?" Borkal snapped back.

"Stop bickering! And Boa, don't go insulting Eriksson's woman! Especially not on her maiden voyage." Claude played peacemaker, "And Eyke, where are we going again?"

"Northwest Shore. The swamp there is perfect for a bird hunt. You can practice shooting there tomorrow. There also aren't that many boats there, so we can find a place to deploy the nets easily."

Eriksson took a look at the bulging sails.

"They're strong tonight. We'll get there in just two hours."

Another two hours... Claude wondered if he should give meditating a go.

"I'll take a short nap, then. Move over," Claude said, shoving Borkal aside unceremoniously.

Borkal shifted unwillingly.

"What's with you lately, Claude? I always see you sleeping in class, too. Are you a baby or something?"

He was right, sleeping in class would only make people more suspicious. But what would he do? He couldn't just meditate less...

"The class is too boring," he answered as incidentally as he could, "When do you ever see me sleep during the afternoon classes? And if I sleep now, I can be on night duty instead of you two. You always fall asleep anyway."

"I guess you're right," Welikro agreed from the side, "The instructors always just recite the textbooks. I feel sleepy even though I'm not tired," Welikro agreed.

He was also an avid morning class sleeper. Claude was a newcomer but he was already outdoing the old hands. Welikro only slept from time to time, but Claude slept almost every day.

Borkal and Eriksson never joined them. They usually just played around -- monster chess, usually. They were allowed to do so since the instructors weren't that attentive. The instructors wanted to be there as little as the students did, so they usually left the kids to do what they wanted as long as they didn't disturb the rest of the class.`

Claude had wanted to meditate right away, but things weren't right for that. His senses to the outside world was completely cut off when he meditated. And he couldn't afford it with so many boys around, not to mention he was on a rocking ship with a lot of loose stuff. He couldn't afford to not be aware of what was going on around him.

He kept going back and forth between wanting to meditate and deciding it was too risky for several minutes until he fell asleep for real.

He didn't get to sleep long, but when he opened his eyes, he was greeted with a starscape. Rubbing his face, he sat up and realized Welikro was holding the helm with Eriksson beside him.

"How long was I out?" he asked.

"An hour or so," Wellikro murmured groggily.

"How much longer until we arrive?"

"Soon. See the grassy area by the bank? We have to just a bit further than that," Eriksson said.

The mountains silhouettes loomed in the distance behind the shore, their feet buried beneath the reeds in question.

It didn't look far away, but it was quite far from them. They continued on for half an hour before Eriksson stopped to test the depth.

"We're close enough," he said after a moment, "Wake Boa up. We'll deploy the nets first, then the purse seine."

Borkal, having just been awoken, was quite groggy. If not for Claude holding him, he might've rolled right off the boat. The shock was enough to startle him completely awake. He helped Claude roll the tarpaulin up and followed Eriksson's instructions and deployed the two nets. Each was ten metres long, but just three wide. They could be deployed in water three meters deep and more.

After deploying the nets, they sailed some ten more minutes and deployed the purse seine. This one was around 20 meters long and four wide, and it caused quite a lot of ripples in the water.

The boat was finally empty. Eriksson opened the cabin and took out a few towels.

"Wash your faces, mates."

Borkal submerged the towel into the cold lakewater and squeezed it dry. As he wiped his face, he asked, "Can we start barbecuing now? I'm feeling rather hungry."

"Wait ten more minutes or so. We'll see what we get when we pull the net up first. If we set up the stuff right now, we won't have any place to pull the purse seine up to. I want to see whether we can get some fish for dinner," said Eriksson.

Welikro on the other hand generously took out a paper bag from the cabin. "Let's have some honeyed and buttered bread to fill our stomachs for the time being."

The sack of fist-sized bread was quickly emptied by the four of them in a hurry. As it was about time, Eriksson gave the order to pull up the purse seine.

That effort was quite tiring. They couldn't just pull the seine up from one end only. Two people had to haul it up together so as to let the net come up to the ship in a semicircular shape. After that, they would pull on the string of the purse seine and reel in the whole thing. When the string was tied up securely to the net, the fish within wouldn't be able to escape.

They only managed to bring the net up after thirty minutes or so. They didn't get much fish, only seven to eight of them. But three of them were longtail swordfish about the length of a foot, so they wouldn't lack any fish for the barbecue that night.

After redeploying the net, their barbecue finally began.

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