Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 92

Claude snuck up the hill. A few boars noticed his approach, but none minded him. He stopped about a hundred meters from the singular. He heard Welikro describe their behaviour again; it was best to not approach them when they were foraging. They were most aggressive then.

A hundred metres was the closest he could get without triggering a response from the boars. It was far enough that, although they were likely to notice him, he would only be worth keeping an eye on; but it was close enough for him to shoot at them. He loaded the musket, lay down behind a dead trunk -- steadying the musket on it like a stand -- and pressed his cheek against the butt, one eye peering down through his sights. His muzzle came to rest on one of the smaller boars' head, which he could just barely make out at this range. The ideal target would have been the largest boar in the singular, with its death there would be no leader to rally the singular, but at this range he couldn't be guaranteed a kill-shot through a skull that thick.

Maria and Rodan observed Claude from the clearing on the hill's crest.

"Can he really hit them from there, Madam? He's only a kid," Rodan asked, worried, "I still think we should hire a couple hunters. I heard from one of the guards that one always had to have an escape route ready before shooting on boars. They almost always charge after being attacked, so one had to be ready to scamper up a tree or a boulder. I didn't see him scout out a hiding place. He's just hidden in a few shrubs. He'll be dead if he doesn't kill the leader before they get to him."

"Give him a chance, Rodan," Maria sighed, somewhat at a loss with her butler, "He's young, but he's killed a niros crocodile. A few boars won't be a problem. Besides, you know he's a rogue. Don't think he's revealed all the tricks he has up his sleeve. He's bound to still have a few we don't know about. I'll bet you money one of them will let him deal with a boar charge."

A white puff of smoke suddenly hid Claude and a small boar in the middle of the singular dropped. The crisp crack washed over the two a moment later.

Gotcha! Claude shouted silently.

He yanked a cartridge out of his pouch, bit open one end, and poured the long distance mix down the barrel. The cartridge followed, then a round from his other pouch, and finally the ramrod. He opened his powder horn and primed the flash pan. He checked the slow match was still smouldering, it was, and he pulled back the cock.

He heard two sets of four hooves charging at him all the while. When he raised his head, his musket ready to fire again, he saw the two. The two largest boars in the singular, the two which had noticed him before he shot, were just about ten metres from him. Had the ground between them been open, they would have long since struck, but Claude had carefully picked a spot that put a lot of uneven ground, broken up by thick underbrush, tree trunks, and boulders between him and the singular. It slowed them down just enough to give him a chance to fire again.

"It's over..." Rodan sighed at the sight.

The boy had surprised him with how fast he reloaded, but it didn't matter. He had one shot, and two boars charging at him. He doubted the boy would hit with the shot in such a frantic situation, but even if he did -- and killed one with it -- he would still be hit by the other, and it wouldn't give him time to reload.

Maria didn't speak. She stared at the boy intently. None of the three noticed how tightly her hands were clasped in front of her chest. The only glimpse of hope she had was that the boy didn't seem anxious at all. He acted like the two weren't charging at him at all.

Claude watched the two charging at him calmly. He didn't even really have to shoot them at all. He could just shout 'bang' twice and the two would suddenly become docile pets. He could shoot them one by one while stroking them even, or hit them with Magic Missile. Maria and Rodan were watching, however. He'd told Maria he only knew alchemical spells. She knew he'd used a spell to calm the horse down in the carriage, but she'd not seen him use it, so she didn't know what spell it was. He could explain it away as Magus' Hands, but that wouldn't work if she saw him using a different spell now.

His impression of her was stellar, she was carefree and straightforward, he hadn't picked up any hidden intents from her, and she'd gone out of her way to treat him with absolute fairness, but the saying 'hold not the intent to harm others, but forget not the need to remain vigilant', didn't exist for no reason. Some secrets had to be kept, even from close friends and family.

The two boars were now just five metres from him. Claude didn't fire, however. He just continued to stare down his barrel. The two closed to about three metres at full charge, then suddenly collapsed. They tumbled head over heels twice and came to a rest in front of him. He placed the gun right between one's eyes, and his musket billowed smoke.

The other boar snapped out of its stupor, scrambled to its feet and started charging in a random direction away from the puff of white smoke. It made it two metres away before it collapsed again, like something had pinned it to the ground. Claude was on his feet, facing the second boar calmly, his arms dangling loosely by his sides.

His spectators watched, mouths agape, as his musket floated into the air, a cartridge tore open in mid air, gunpowder poured down the barrel, followed by the paper of the cartridge, the bullet, and the ramrod. The musket rolled to one side as his horn, also floating in mid air, primed the flash pan, and the cock clicked into firing position. The musket took up its position in front of his face, he closed one eye, and a puff of smoke hid both him and the boar.

The shot cracked, and when the smoke cleared the boar was dead on the ground. The rest of the singular had vanished before the two big boars had even reached Claude, and the entire valley between the hills was now quiet -- dead silent, in fact.

Claude's musket lowered to the ground gently, and his arms moved again, wiping sweat from his forehead. He took a few deep breaths, then waved at his audience.

Maria lifted her skirt and ran down to him, her face positively glowing. Rodan rushed after her, reminding her of her dignity all the way, but she didn't even hear him. Rodan gave up after about twenty metres and turned around to head back to the manor and call someone to come get the boars.

"How... did you... do it?" she half shouted between gasps, "I... was worried... when they... charged..."

Claude wiped sweat off his forehead again, smiling.

"Magus' Hands, Milady. I stopped your horse with it as well."

He'd experimented quite a lot with his spells since learning them, and he knew his manifestations were far stronger than his own arms. How strong, however, he didn't know. He so wished he had a way to measure it. Broadly, however, he had settled on the idea that they were about ten times stronger than his own arms. It wasn't an incredible strength, but it certainly was enough to yank the two boars' feet out from under them and pin them to the ground.

He'd actually thought he was too late when he finally struck them. He'd still been fretting over how to handle with the situation when the two crossed into his five-metre range. Luckily, he'd been struck by inspiration when they were about three and a half metres from him and he'd immediately cast Magus' Hands.

Despite how calm he'd been in the moment, his hands were shaking now he had time to think about what could have, would have, happened if he'd been just a moment slower, or if it hadn't worked.

The myriad of possibilities of how the situation could have played out flashed through his mind, and he scolded himself. He shouldn't have reloaded the gun at all. He shouldn't even have yanked the two boars' feet out from under them. Couldn't he create blades or spears from his manifestations using Fine Control? He should have just stabbed the two in their hearts and have been done with it!

"They're huge..." Maria murmured. "I've never seen one up close."

The baroness stepped on one of the carcasses, rocking it back and forth a few times.

"Don't tell me you've never had wild boar before?"

"I have, but they've always come to the table already cut up. I've never seen an intact one before. I've caught a few glances of them from a distance, but never from up close like this. Is this one sick?--" She pointed at the smaller of the two. "--It's skin is covered in calluses and scars."

Claude smiled, shaking his head.

"No. The scars are probably from fights -- they do that all the time -- but what looks like calluses to you is just dried mud. They love to roll around in the mud after all. The coating keeps flies and mosquitoes off them."

"Oh... I haven't read anything about that..." Maria murmured thoughtfully again, "It should weigh about 300 catties, yet? The other one looks a little smaller, maybe 250? And there's the smallest one, too--" Her eyes glanced further down the slope where the dust of the scattering singular was still clearing. "--What do you want to do with them?"

"Normanley Wood belongs to you, Milady, so anything hunted on it also belongs to you. It's up to you."

Such were the kingdom's laws. Any product gained from the land belonging to a noble belonged to said noble unless otherwise agreed. Anything someone foraged, found, or hunted on a noble's land thus automatically belonged to the noble. If someone found a diamond or gold, that belonged to the noble. If someone killed a bear in self-defence, that belonged to the noble. If someone foraged a rare herb, that belonged to the noble, too.

"I don't need them!" Maria blurted, waving her hands frantically, "Didn't you say you came specifically to hunt boar? Just take them with you."

"Nonsense. I'll take the small one at most," Claude insisted.

It wasn't so much that he didn't want to take all three, but he didn't want another uproar his return with three dead boars, especially the two big ones, would cause in town again.

Rodan returned a with the coachman, and a man and a woman in their fifties.

Maria accepted that Claude would only take one, but insisted it be the biggest in that case. Claude had little choice but to accept. The baroness gave the second largest one to the couple, and had the smallest sent to her pantry.

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