Pegg opened the gate and let Claude in. Before Claude could ask where Eriksson was, however, Pegg told him. Eriksson was out on the lake, maybe even the sea.
"He-he went out alone?" Claude gasped, "Why would he do that?"
Pegg stared at him, flabbergasted, then smiled bitterly.
"You know his father isn't back yet, right? Eyke left to go get his father without telling anyone. We only know that's why he left because he left a note."
Claude's mouth twitched. He had been so immersed in his work he'd forgotten about the whole fleet business. He didn't think he'd have known even if the fleet had returned. The fleet was scheduled to return on the 15th, but it had not yet. It was three days late by now. He also immediately knew that was why his father and his friends had had their argument, and why things had been stale at home since.
He also suddenly remembered what Eriksson had told him about his nightmares. If something had really happened to the fleet, half the town would lose money on the investment, and the other half would lose money from the drop in business from all the missing men and ships. Eriksson, however, would lose his father and idol. Setting out to sea on that little dingy alone, however... that was beyond impulsive and stupid. The winter was already here, and the sea was at its worst.
"When did he leave?" Claude asked, his mood beneath the ground.
"He left yesterday. I thought he was only going to fish, so I didn't do or say anything. I wasn't worried when he didn't come home last night either. You guys tend to do that a lot. When he wasn't back this morning, however, I got worried. When Welikro came to fetch him we checked his room and found the letter."
"Does Madam Eilina know?"
Eriksson's mother had a weak constitution due to complications during his birth so she rarely left the house. She must be strained due to her husband's absence already, if something happened to her son, however, she might not survive it.
"She does. Welikro handed her the note personally. They've been looking for a ship to go after him all day. But no luck."
Claude wasn't surprised. It was a fight to find a ship even at the best of times; they were all always busy with something. Now, however, when winter was here, and the sea was angry? He couldn't think of a single captain that would be willing to sail beyond the lake.
Claude jumped back onto the carriage and wheeled it around.
"I'll go to Eyke's place and check on them. Tell me if they find a ship. I want to go search for him as well."
Eriksson's house was in the south of town, not far away from the central plaza. It was three storeys tall and made of brick. The ground floor was rented by a silverware shop while the family occupied the upper floors.
Claude parked the carriage in the backyard and rushed to the door. The door was opened by Eilina's old chambermaid. She informed him that neither the madam nor Welikro had returned since they'd left that morning. So, having no other choice, he headed back to the pier. Luckily the two arrived about an hour after he got there.
The two came by the family carriage and Welikro helped Eriksson's mother down. They had found a ship, but they could only set sail the next day since it had to prepare for the voyage, restock, get the crew in, etc. since it had already been unloaded for the winter stay in the harbour. It was a pretty small little thing, crewed by just three besides the captain, though he would not be joining them. They'd had to find someone else to man the ship.
Welikro insisted on coming along, as did Claude once he got a word in.
"What about the estate?" Welikro asked.
"It'll be fine. The Sioris have been looking after it for decades. They'll manage without me for a couple of days. Speaking of which, I should head back and pack and let them know I'm going to be absent for a few days. But I'll spend the night here so we can leave as soon as the boat's ready," Claude answered.
Pegg brought Eriksson's mother her things, and she and Welikro set off to buy a couple extra things while Claude set off for the estate.
The Sioris were asleep by the time he arrived, so he shook them awake and told them what was going to happen. They had little trouble agreeing to look after the place without him for a while, and promised to say a prayer for the other boy. Claude couldn't help but feel that they were relieved he would be gone, if only for a few days.
Claude headed to his villa and started going through his clothes. He took out the warmest he had, as well as the sets that were water-proofed. He picked a goat-leather shirt and a pair of black, pigs-leather socks. He didn't take a hat or gloves, though. He now regretted spending his money too quickly. If he still had normal money, he could have just popped over to Wakri's to buy suitable clothes.
He took out his backpack, stuffed everything inside -- alongside five bottles of healing potion -- and headed for his laboratory, where he got a roll of rope. He glanced at the sword and crossbow, but decided against taking either. They wouldn't be of much use. He didn't take his musket either, gunpowder was notoriously useless at sea unless specifically treated and packed for use there. Even then the failure rate was abysmal.
He grabbed some leftover meat from the kitchen to have on the way back to town for dinner, and set off once he'd checked all his doors and windows were closed and locked.
He arrived at the pier an hour later, Welikro waiting for him. He and Eriksson's mother had bought several bags of food and alcohol. Eriksson's mother hadn't spared any expense; she'd even gotten fresh meat for everyone. She'd also gotten them brown bread instead of the usual black bread. Had this been a normal voyage, she'd have been ridiculed as none of the foods would have lasted long enough, but this was supposed to be a trip of only a couple of days, so no one said anything. The sailors especially were too grateful to have decent food on a ship for once.
Welikro sat on the two wooden boxes, which Claude noticed were stamped 'whiskey', and clanked vigorously whenever he shifted.
"Why'd you get so much good alcohol?" Claude asked.
"Eriksson's mom promised the sailors a bottle of whiskey per day each. They're free to drink or keep it. They have these--" Welikro tapped the two black ale barrels beside him, "--for drinking, and these--" He kicked the two whiskey boxes lightly with his ankles. "--for taking home."
"Eriksson's mom really went all out this time... Eyke is too immature. How could he sail out to sea alone?" Claude sighed.
It wasn't wrong for the boy to worry about his father, but he shouldn't have gone sailing alone. Danger aside, he forgot all about his sickly mother.
Welikro was in as bad a mood as Claude. He'd lost his mother with his birth and had just his father, who'd worked himself into alcoholism to raise him and his sister. His sister had taken over his mother's role a little too enthusiastically, which was why he was so deathly afraid of her.
Though Welikro hadn't experienced motherly love, he had his father and sister. He couldn't leave matters be when he saw how distressed Eriksson's mother was. He was going to give the little bastard a good beating on his mother's behalf once they found him. Claude only smiled wryly. There was little else he could do. The two turned in for the night soon after.
The lot were up before sunrise the next morning. Pegg had made sandwiches for everyone, which vanished with precipitous speed, but the boat was still nowhere to be seen. Eriksson's mother's carriage pulled up as they stuffed the last of the sandwiches in their mouths, and she joined them waiting on the boat. The boat came only after sunrise, well after sunrise.
"Captain Masro, didn't you say we would set out early? Why are you so late?" Eriksson's mother, Eilina, charged the large, red-faced man.
The captain simply yawned.
"I was worried you couldn't get all the supplies last night and would need some time this morning. It's not safe to set sail so late in the year, and the time of day isn't good either. We'll be sailing into the sun, and although I know the lake like the back of my hand, you don't sail blind if you can avoid it. We might be leaving later, but we can sail faster now that the sun is out of the way. We'll leave the bay beyond the lake no later than we would have had we left at sunrise. We wouldn't have agreed to go at all if not for Captain Altroni--"
Eilina shoved a finger at the food and drink.
"I had everything ready last night. Get them on the ship as quickly as possible. I don't want to waste a single minute more. I won't hold back if we can find my son."
Captain Masro eyed the supplies and rubbed his hand happily.
"We will, Madam.--" He turned to the three sailors. "--Get these things loaded!--" His eyes returned to Eilina. "--We'll do our best, Madam, don't worry. But, please understand, it is a big ocean, and a small boat. We cannot guarantee we'll find him. Hell, we might miss him even if we had his father's entire fleet looking for him as well. We have to be back in the docks in five days though. The supplies won't last any longer."
"You'll get the payment I promised even if you have to return empty handed. But you'll get triple that if you do find him. The two boys here are going with you."
Masro agreed quickly.
"Very well. There's still space for two boys. But they will be sailors and subject to my command."
Claude and Welikro nodded, then jumped aboard.