Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 73

"Is it really dead?" Claude asked, supporting himself against the railing.

He reloaded the musket fitfully, doing his best to bite away the pain.

"It's dead. I wouldn't believe if it weren't," Borkal answered, some colour slowly returning to his face, and his voice finally dropping below a shrill soprano.

Welikro poked the crocodile with his broken pole and breathed a sigh of relief.

"It's dead. Damn Claude, that was a close call. If you'd been just a little off, we'd all be dead right now," he half whispered.

Claude picked his musket back up and aimed it at the crocodile, only to realise the match had been extinguished.

"Wero, get my bag. I need a dry match."

"Why do you need a match now? It's dead," Borkal asked, his voice a little closer to normal again, as he pointed at the carcass.

Welikro shoved Borkal aside as he charged through with Claude's bag.

"Claude's being careful. Who knows if this will attract more crocodiles? And where's your musket? You're never ready to help at moments like this!"

Borkal's face burned. He had indeed been of no help in solving the problem he and Eriksson had created.

"Eh? Where's my musket? Why's it gone?" he shouted frantically.

The boat was only so big, surely he had to have found it by now!

Claude pointed at the lake.

"It probably went overboard with you."

Welikro handed Claude his bag and helped fix the dry match on the cock.

"How's your leg?" Welikro asked, glancing at the unnaturally large calf. He cut away the pants carefully, but Claude still nearly cried out in pain.

"I must have torn a muscle," Claude said, "I'll be fine; go check on Eyke. He looks far worse off than me."

Eriksson was back on board as well. He clutched the port railing absentmindedly as blood quickly coloured his face again.

Borkal stripped unceremoniously and prepared to go back into the lake to look for his musket.

"What are you doing, you dunce?!" Welikro shouted, "Your musket can wait, it's not going anywhere, help me with Eye!"

Eyke's forehead was gashed open, and the bone showed. His left arm was badly hurt as well, while the bone didn't show, the muscles were clearly torn and could be seen through the tear in his upper arm. His glassy eyes and disorientation told the boys he'd also suffered a bad concussion.

He half collapsed onto the deck with Borkal's help and the latter wiped the blood out of his eyes. Welikro poured some disinfectant and clotting agent on his wounds, which stopped the worst of the bleeding.

"We'll have to sew it up," Welikro said as he looked at Eriksson's forehead, "I'll leave a bad scar, but it'll be even worse if we leave it open until we get back to town."

"Can you... do it?" Eriksson mumbled absentmindedly.

Welikro glanced at Eriksson, worried for his troubled speech, and nodded. They only had a simple sewing kit: a simple needle and some gut thread. The boy did his best, but Welikro was neither a trained healer, nor a seamster. Half of it might have been his concussion, but while Eriksson winced with every stitch, he didn't make a sound or pull away.

Borkal couldn't watch, so he dove into the water to search for his musket. He got back at about the same time Welikro finished his work.

No one was in any mood, or condition, to continue their hunt, so they set a limping sail for town. Claude wanted to drag the crocodile back, but they were in no state to be dragging that thing home.

"It's not going anywhere, and it's too far into the reeds for the current to take it out. We'll come back for it later," Welikro said as they sailed away slowly, "It's not like the ship is in any state to be dragging that, anyway," he added, pointing at the missing railing, and, by extension, at the hole in the side of the boat.

"But if we don't get it back now, it might be eaten by the time we come back. And who says we'll even find it again even if it doesn't go anywhere? And we can't get the money for the repairs without it," Borkal insisted.

"We still have the nets. Should get more fish from them," Eriksson answered laboriously. Even just saying a few words appeared to be an exhausting effort for him.

"Once we have that as well, how are we going to get that thing back?" Welikro asked, pointing at the fading carcass.

"Borkal isn't wrong," Claude said after a moment, "I doubt even with an excellent catch from the nets we'll have enough for repairs. We can't just strip the planks from another ship like we did last time, we'll have to have planks made. But at the same time you're right, we won't have space for the crocodile if we take in the nets. So why not just drag it behind the boat? We go get the nets, then wrap it up in them and drag it back to town."

Welikro opened his mouth to object, then sighed and flung his hands into the air.

"Fine, whatever!" he half cried, "Anyway," he said, staring at Claude's still swelling leg, "How's the leg?"

Claude shook his head... and winced.

"I'm fine. I won't be of much use getting the nets in, though."

Neither Claude nor Eriksson could do much with their injuries, so Welikro and Borkal had to bring the nets in and tie up the crocodile on their own. Borkal had been the one to insist on bringing the crocodile back, but he started whimpering and shaking when it came to actually tying it up. It took the best insults Welikro had to get him to help.

The two injured did the best they could to help from the boat, but it was worth little. Despite that, they had it tied up thoroughly, eventually.

They set sail again and limped back out of the swamp and along the coast. All four's stomachs were growling by the time they put the swamp behind them, and Claude limped around scavenging what he could. He only found a single half-empty basket of blueberries and apples, and the keg of ale.

In spite of their growling stomachs, they each only managed to nibble in an apple and a couple of blueberries, and drink a single cup of ale. They were all nauseous and had no appetite.

The crocodile and nets' drag pulled the boat far enough down that water spilled in through the hole with even the tiniest wave, and they couldn't dare sail any faster than a bare limp for fear that the bow wave would flood the boat and sink it entirely.

They left the swamp at noon and only saw the town on the horizon at sunset. Claude slept most of the way, but the other two kept Eriksson awake, afraid he would fall into a coma from the concussion if he closed his eyes. It was pitch black by the time they finally limped into the dock.

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