Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 75

Claude put Kefnie and her sister out of his mind after he left the pier. He also kept his eyes from them. Half of it was that he was too shy to face them. Kefnie was a pretty girl and was budding into a beautiful young woman, if she ended up with just half the figure her sister had, he would have trouble keeping his hands off her. The other half was that he was shocked by how bold she'd been, despite how shy she was. He didn't think she had it in her to call out to him like that. Eriksson had told him her sister was a barmaid. So he wasn't surprised by how bold she was. Her sister, however, was a different story. Few people were shier than she.

The coachman helped him off and into the building, then darted off back to the pier. The herbalist was an old man with a long goatee. He gave him a thorough once-over, especially his leg, then told him he'd have to do a good bloodletting.

Claude almost wanted to choke the man, but he had little choice but to accept his judgement. He didn't know what the proper treatment for his injury was, but even he knew it wasn't a bloodletting. That said, in this world he didn't have the standing to go against the apothecary's medical decisions.

So bloodletting it would be, he sighed. The man handed him a wooden bit.

"Bite it," he said.

Bite it? Why did he have to bite it?

He found out soon enough.

This world didn't have local anaesthetics, and even a small cut into a vein was excruciating without it. The same effect could be achieved with certain poisons, but, being poisons, they had numerous side effects and had to be administered in very limited and controlled dosages otherwise they would be fatal. That the man shoved a small stick inside the cut to open it up didn't help, either.

Claude's face had never been paler in either of his lives. Cold sweat, half frozen, really, poured down his face and back in rivers. He swore he felt a tooth crack at one point as well. He begged the man to put him out of his misery, and he took out a wooden mallet. He nearly jumped off his seat when he saw the thing coming to the back of his neck and chose the bit instead.

He wasn't proud of the next hour of that day. He spent most of his whimpering like a girl being thoroughly ravaged. He went through two bits in all and was almost as afraid of the toothache he knew he was going to have for the next week as he was of the apothecary himself. He had to admit, however, that the old man was pretty good at his job, that being what it was. He stitched up the incision with small, neat stitches and splinted his leg thoroughly. He covered much of his leg, now bruised asure, with a green-paste healing-potion mixture before bandaging him up thoroughly and applying a different paste to the bandage which quickly hardened. It covered everything from his hips to his calf, turning his whole leg into a pole.

He was going to look damn funny walking for the several weeks between now and when he could get it removed. He didn't like the thought, but it very quickly stopped being a worry when he heard he might have to face another bloodletting if the old man wasn't happy with his progress during their next checkup in three days.

He got home very late that evening. The coachman carried him like a little princess into the house. His mother nearly fainted when she saw him. If his leg wasn't the only injury, he didn't doubt his mother would really have fainted. The grapevine had an incredible ability to turn a molehill into a mountain; by the time news got to his mother, his leg had been torn off by the crocodile, which they'd found in its stomach.

He provided her with a very detailed description of the treatment, making sure to insist his pain was due to the bloodletting. His speech started to slur by the end of his description as his jaw started aching and spasming. His cheeks puffed like he'd gained weight and he found it difficult just to swallow, nevermind eat.

His father didn't say anything, but Claude noticed the overflowing ashtray on the table. His father had seen the crocodile himself on his way home. He'd been furious at his boy for being so reckless, but much of it had dissipated into pride when half the town praised his son's bravery, then turned into worry when he heard he'd been badly injured and been taken to the apothecary. He couldn't decide whether buying the boy a musket had been the right thing to do. Sure, it had saved his life, but he wouldn't have been there in the first place if he hadn't had the musket.

He couldn't say much about it after he asked himself what he would have done in that situation. He concluded, much to his chagrin, that he would have frozen in panic.

He knew of Borkal and Eriksson's penchant for exaggerating their own roles in these kinds of events, so he didn't doubt his son had been primarily responsible for the crocodile's death and their survival. He didn't know how his son had managed it, and for the sake of his self-worth, he didn't want to ask, so he accepted their version of events, though with a carriage of salt.

He realised he knew his son less and less with every passing month. He didn't know what to teach him, much less how to. Arbeit was his eldest, and he'd been deeply involved in his upbringing, but the boy had turned out into quite the disappointment on certain, important fronts, despite impressing on others. And that was when he had been trained to follow his father's footsteps. Claude was walking an entirely different path, one about which his father knew almost nothing. He'd never doubted his choice before, but this afternoon he had found himself wondering if he'd made the right decision. His son was turning out to be even better than his older brother, and not just in the areas where his brother wasn't all that good.

His mind was too occupied with his thoughts to rebuke his son. A small part of him even thought he didn't have the right to rebuke the boy. Besides, reckless or not, it was no small feat to take down a niros crocodile, much less do it with just a broken bone and a torn muscle. He didn't listen to that small part of his mind, however, and steeled himself enough to give his son a stern lecture and forbidding him from going to the swamp again.

Claude nodded obediently, which had become quite rare in the months after his illness. His mother had impeccable timing as always, and brought over his soup and bread just as his father finished his lecture. He was ravenous, but was forced to sip it slowly through clenched jaws.

He finished nearly half an hour later, and his mother asked him about all the fish Welikro had sent over as she cleared the table. They'd all been whitescales, fish only fed to livestock. Welikro had wanted to throw them back in the lake when they'd been caught, but Claude had insisted on keeping them.

"They sent them over already? Did they send anything else?" he asked.

"Some beef, mutton, three longtails and a duck," his mother said when she got back from the kitchen.

"I told them to send over the whitescales," he said, "They're great fried. You can fry them whole. The bones are small enough to not prick you, and the scales don't have to be removed, either. You just have to cut out their guts."

His mother didn't say anything else. She had long given up on trying to find out where her son got his outlandish cooking ideas. They had never disappointed, however, so she was content with just enjoying the fruits of his obscure mind. Instead she put Angelina to work cleaning up the fish while she prepared a pot of oil. The smell of deep-fried fish soon filled the house. Oil was actually a pretty expensive commodity, but his parents had learnt to give Claude the freedom to use what he wanted as he wanted in the kitchen, so there was always enough oil to go around. He had wanted to make youtiao, a kind of Chinese fried dough snack, but they came out completely misshapen. Not that that stopped the little rascals from polishing them all off, anyway.

His father just continued puffing on his pipe while he carefully sourced out the details of the whole affair from him. Claude didn't have the storyteller's talents of his two friends, and much of what had happened was all a blur to him, so his version of events was far plainer than Borkal and Eriksson's.

His father's expression softened slightly when he heard they had tried to just get away, and hadn't gone for a confrontation from the get go. Unfortunately the reeds held them in place and kept them from getting away so they were forced to face the crocodile.

His father recalled the half-sunken fishing boat he'd seen at the pier, and shuddered. He put down his pipe and expanded his prohibition on his son's actions to any excursions onto the lake. He could hunt small game just outside of town, but that was it.

Claude could usually talk a hole into his father's head, but this time his father was resolute. He eventually gave up and nodded, defeated.

His mother and sister brought over the fried fish, and two little rascals gulped them down by the handful.

"Anything Brother makes is delicious," Bloweyk gasped between gulps.

The pup tug at his shirt to get a taste as well, but as much as Bloweyk loved it, sharing food with it was out of the question.

"I was the one who made it," his mother scolded, knocking him on the head in a faux fury, "Your brother just suggested the recipe."

Angelina was more giving than her little brother, and handed a crispy fish head to the pup, who quickly abandoned his little master for his young mistress.

Morssen nibbled on one as well.

"The oil wasn't hot enough, they're soaked. But the taste is good."

Claude turned in for the night soon after.

"Need help?" his father asked as the boy limped to the stairs awkwardly.

"No, I'm okay."

He stopped by the bathroom for a quick wash and limped the rest of the way to his room. He would have collapsed onto his bed if that wouldn't have sent another wave of pain up his leg. Instead, he lay down gingerly, and sighed deeply once he was settled in.

He tried to meditate, but the pain wouldn't let him concentrate, so he went to sleep instead.

He woke up in a cold sweat from the dull, aching pain the next morning, and washed up before he limped downstairs. He sipped another bowl of soup -- his mouth felt even worse than the day before, and he doubted it would get better for the next couple of days -- and prepared to head to school. His father stopped him when he headed for the door, however, and said he'd send him to school. The two stopped by a shop in town on the way to school and his father got him a crutch.

Claude wasn't too happy. He'd secretly been planning to use his injury as an excuse to stay at home for a few days, but his father was several steps ahead of him. He couldn't be too angry at his dad, however; the man was being very thoughtful.

"I won't let you skip school, young man. You won't miss one day of school over this, you hear?"

"...Yes, father..." the boy murmured.

His father's face softened somewhat.

"You can ask leave for your physical classes. It's not like you can do anything in them like that, anyway."

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