Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 71
Hunting Water Birds
The sky was red that morning when Claude opened his eyes after completing his final cycle.
Thank goodness the three were still asleep. Welikro was even munching in his sleep and Claude wondered what food he thought he was eating. Borkal, besides his snoring, was dead quiet; he hadn't even moved at all since falling asleep.
Eriksson had turned into a baby, cuddled up under more than his fair share of the blankets. Welikro had taken up the first shift so Claude could rest, and Claude wasn't going to complain. It was a great chance to meditate, anyway.
He'd opened his eyes after completing his first cycle to find Welikro still fishing. They had a pretty decent haul. They probably had about seven or eight riyas worth of fish, depending on what their quality turned out to be.
He washed his face and told Welikro to get his sleep. The boy was asleep even before his head hit the deck.
Claude wasn't as good a fisherman, in fact, he was only barely better than a novice. The bite was pretty good still, though, and he got four before he had to call it quits. He was lucky, and one of his catches was a money fish, one of the most expensive species in the lake, though it wasn't a very big one.
It was about half-past-four when he put away the rods and other equipment. The night was void black, the moon was on the bulging side, but thick clouds hid it from view. Claude couldn't even see the waves lapping against the boat.
The lake should be safe, and all his friends were asleep, so he'd done some more meditating.
He now got up and stretched lazily and washed up. He got out his cooking utensils and got to work on breakfast as well. His friends were very hard sleepers, but none of them could stay asleep when they smelt food.
He carefully took the lid of a can of spring water he'd insisted on bringing. His friends had told him to just use lakewater, they were going to the freshwater part of it, after all, but he'd been stubborn. He was not going to use the same water other people shat in when they went fishing, even if it was purely psychological.
He now made a half-pot of tea and added a bit of milk and honey. A day wasn't complete unless it was started with a pot of tea.
"What's that smell?" he heard Eriksson ask, emerging from his cocoon.
Claude smiled and handed the boy a cup. The two sipped their tea slowly and watched the world slowly become visible.
Spring days usually started with a red carpet drawn over the black world of the night. The warm night breeze that came out onto the lake from the land reversed and now brought the cool lake air to shore. It was the wakeup call for which most of the wetland birds had been waiting, and their calls started ringing out along the shore.
"It's pretty good today," Eriksson murmured.
"What are we having for breakfast?" he asked just as Claude opened his mouth to give a reply.
How did that boy relate everything to food?
"Well... we have some stuff in the cabin," he sighed, "We didn't bring a pan, so I don't know if I can make bacon scramble."
Eriksson was speechless. How could he have forgotten the pan! He'd been put in charge of the utensils department but all he'd thought of was wings.
"I suppose I'll make more soup once those to are awake--" he pointed at the two corpses on the deck.
Borkal woke up a few minutes later, happy to not have a hangover, and poured himself some tea.
Eriksson stared at him furiously.
"What's up with him?" Borkal asked.
"Weren't you the one that wanted us to fish last night? You were asleep for all of it! Not to mention you barely helped even when you were still awake."
"Sorry..." Borkal said, scratching the back of his head awkwardly, "I didn't know I would get drunk. The wine was just too good..."
"Whatever, you can't hold your drink," Welikro's voice said as he returned to the world of the living.
"We still have half a bottle of wine in the cabin, and Eyke and my bottles are untouched. Just take them with you and drink them at home. You can't hold your drink, though, so it might take you a while to finish them off," Welikro mocked.
Borkal sat quietly, red-faced.
"Okay, you've all been dead drunk before as well. Don't rag on the poor drape like that."
The food was ready half an hour later and the four had breakfast. They pulled in the nets, a catch of 20 fish in all, dropped the purse seine again, and headed to the shore near the wetland.
"Who wants to go first?" Claude asked, taking out the two muskets.
"Let Boa start. I'll fish for a while," Welikro answered.
Eriksson brought the boat close to the reeds at half sail and the four waited silently for a poor fowl to make a mistake.
"Over there," Welikro whispered eventually and pointed at a flock of egrets emerging from the reeds.
This was great, Claude thought. Had this been earth, shooting an egret would have seen him in prison, but here they were just another common bird anyone could kill. He rested the barrel on the railing and leaned into the stock, then watched Borkal do the same.
"I'll shoot the one on the left. You hit the one to the right," he whispered, and Borka nodded slowly.
The egret was a perfect hundred metres away, and just a dot half-hidden by Claude's front pip. Claude waited, and just as he was about to pull his trigger, he heard Borkal's shot go off, and instinctively shoved his finger against his trigger. Four puffs of smoke, two big, and two small, drifted off the boat and flocks of birds scattered every which way.
"It didn't hit!" Welikro cried unhappily.
Neither hit anything.
"Why did you fire before aiming properly?!" Claude shouted at Borkal.
He knew the boy hadn't aimed because he'd shot way too fast. He didn't get a chance to aim properly either, as a result.
"I... I already tried to aim..." Borkal said quietly, unconvincingly.
"Whatever, you wait for me to shoot first next time!" Claude said, wagging his finger at the other boy like a teacher scolding a pupil.
"Can we get a bit closer, Eyke?"
The shots rang out periodically for the next couple of hours. Claude fired seven times in all and got two hits, a duck and an egret. Borkal shot ten times, but he was still empty handed. He slammed his musket into the deck in frustration and yanked Welikro's fishing rod out of his hands. He couldn't believe he got nothing while that bastard got ten fish by just sitting there!
The boat humped through the reeds and Eriksson retrieved their catch.
Welikro took the sights off Borkal's musket and reloaded. With the two of them doing the shooting, the birds started dropping rapidly.
They had seven more when they decided to call it quits. Despite that, they buried more rounds in the mud than in birds. Eriksson took a few shots as well, but, like Borkal, he didn't hit anything.
Borkal took the chance to mock Eriksson, but the latter was not known for keeping his mouth, and it turned into a big argument which scared all the birds away again.
"Shut up! Have a shooting contest if you want, but stop this stupid bickering!" Welikro shouted at the two.
It took them a while to find something to shoot at, but they finally came across a piece of driftwood.
"Fine," Eriksson sighed, unhappy Borkal was the one to find their target.
Welikro put the sights back on and recalibrated it. Borkal took his musket back and Claude handed his to Eriksson. The two shot five rounds each, but none of them hit even once, so they were left with arguing over who got the closest.
Borkal stared at the wood while Eriksson let go of a couple of insults, then suddenly asked, "Why is it coming closer? The water is going the other way."
Welikro glanced at the wood and turned pale.
"Up the sails! We need to get out of here! That's not driftwood, it's a niros crocodile!"