Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 29




It was no easy feat to lay a net down properly. And Eriksson's net was designed to be used from a proper fishing ship out to sea, not a small boat on a shallow lake. And then there was the little matter that was in the storeroom for repairs. Nets broke the most of all tools fishermen used. It took only a single outcrop of rock to tear the entire net to bits.  Even big fish could do considerable damage unless the net was specifically designed to handle them.

In an age without acrylics and plastics, most nets were made of hemp or leather. The more expensive ones might be made of animal ligaments. The cheapest ones were made of hair, either horse or human.

The kind of net they had on hand were ten metres across. This one, however, had a massive gash running along its length on one side, which left only a six metre by four metre segment useable. As a result, it could only be used in pretty shallow waters. The depth where they intended to drop the net, however, was just two metres deep.

They were forced to pull the net back and sail closer to the channel where the water was deeper. It was quite uncertain that they would catch anything even with the net correctly deployed however.  This one was meant to catch larger fish. The holes in it were larger than most of the fish that could be found in the lake, which meant most of the fish could just swim through it.

They came back to their place of mooring by the time the sky started darkening, the sun long set. They drew it against the rocks and moored it to a nearby mulberry tree. They quickly unloaded their luggage and headed to a decent camping site.

While Eriksson called the shots on the boat, Welikro was in charge on land.

"Here," he said, finally.  It wasn't far from the water, luckily, and they quickly went about setting up.

"Cut the shrubs and grass down. Clean up the place first then we'll pitch the tent. Hey, Boa, Where are you going?" Welikro roared.

"Didn't you say to cut the grass?" Borkal asked.

"Beat the shrubs down with this," Welikro said, handing Borkal a stick.

"Why. Can't we just cut it right away?"

He did as he was told, however. He'd only struck the nearest shrub twice when a lizard, several scorpions, a dozen or more spiders, and who know how many flies darted out from under it.

"Even a snake…" he muttered several seconds later as the long, brown thing sailed out of a small hole somewhere under the shrub into the distance.

"Let's just burn the place out." Claude suggested.

"The plants are too wet. They won't take easily. We'll have to waste too much of our oil."

Luckily it didn't take too long to clear a space large enough for their tent.

"Sort the shrubs. We'll use them to start the fire tonight. Remember to throw out the green ones--" Welikro told Borkal, "--Eyke, get the lime powder and sulphur. Spread the powder on the ground and the sulphur around the tent. It should keep the insects away. Claude, you get an axe and come with me. We'll look for firewood."

"Hold this." Welikro said as he shoved his stick into Claude's hand and the two set off, Claude carefully beating all the bushes as they passed.

It didn't take them long to find a dead tree.

"This'll do just fine," Welikro said as his axe chopped into the trunk with a satisfying, hollow thunk.

Claude didn't do anything, however. He just stared at the ground, at a huge, grey rock that made up most of the surface on their side of the tree. The tree's dry roots stretched underneath the rock and peeled through a large crack that ran down its centre.

"What's wrong?"

Claude pointed at the rock.

"Why's it so flat?"

"It's nothing rare. It's a road. You should see them quite often around here.

"Can't be. This is a road? Aren't these rocks too big? They're almost three by one. Wouldn't it have been too hard to move them?"

"Hahaha..." Welikro laughed again, "You know about tower ruins on the island, right? The magic tower's ruins? This path goes to it. If you and the others have the guts, we can go camp there instead.

"These rocks were probably made and placed here by magi long ago. They're definitely manmade, but at the same time they definitely couldn't have been made by normal people. Nobody is going to go to all the trouble it takes to make this kind of a path just to take you to a simple tower."

Claude smiled happily to himself. He couldn't be happier at Welikro's dare.

"Fine, let's camp at the ruins. I want to see whether the legends are true."

Welikro shook his head.

"They're just myths. I came here twice with my dad and we camped there both times. Nothing happens there at all."

"How big are the ruins?"

"They're huge." Welikro said as he continued hacking at the tree. He split it into segments and then split the segments lengthwise into strips.

"It should be at least as wide as your mansion. It's completely collapsed though. It's basically just a pile of rubble now."

Claude had to think very carefully to remember how the mansion looked. He never really payed attention to it so he couldn't easily remember how big it was. All in all, however, it should be about forty metres long. But it was a rectangle, the tower was round, so it would be forty metres across in all directions. Each floor ought to be 1600 square metres!

Welikro finally finished his chopping.

"I say these stones were made by magi because they're also the same as the stones the tower is made of. When I asked my dad about it, he said no one could build towers that big today. Only magi could."

Claude stacked the pieces of wood on a nearby rock as he listened and took out his knife to split a few of the pieces into smaller lighting pieces. It wasn't easy, but the dry wood split without too much trouble.

They were done in half an hour and returned to the camp. Borkal and Eriksson were also just finishing up spreading the two compounds around the camp and pitching the tents. They beastskin walls flawed the darkness greyly in the dimming light. Welikro's tent could fit two people, Eriksson's, which came from the boat, could fit just one.

Only three could thus sleep at a time, but it wasn't an issue since one of them had to stay up to keep watch and keep the fire going.

The two boys were waiting for them, fire starters in hand and shrub sticks stacked and ready to be lit. A few strikes later their fuel caught light and the sticks smoked away more than burned.

"Enough, look at how black your faces are!  Go wash yourselves… Not by the shore, go there! There's a small stream there that runs to the shore… Bring two buckets of water with you while you're at it!" Welikro shouted at the pair as they darted off.

Oh, that was right, Claude did hear running water while they were chopping up the tree. But shouldn't it have been frozen further upstream from the cold still?

"I thought about it when we were chopping the wood," Welikro said, as if reading Claude's mind, "The stream runs just next to the road. It apparently doesn't freeze even during the winter. My dad doesn't know why either."

He plopped a few stumps of firewood on the shrubs and give it a couple of good blows. Small flames finally lighted on the semi-damp sticks and started licking at the wood.

The two boys set up a makeshift rack and stacked the wood in it. The other two boys came trotting back, faces shining cleanly again, just as they finished. A pot soon found its way onto the quickly lighting wood and soon bubbled steam happily.

"Watch the fire." Welikro commanded. "Swap the wood out as they blacken. We'll use the charred stumps tonight."

"Why?" Claude asked.

"We'll stack them around the camp. The smell will keep the bigger animals away, and we can light them much easier than unburnt wood if need be."

Claude nodded quietly.

Eriksson and Borkal had left them again and were now returning with the buckets of water. It was finally Claude's time to take the lead. None of his friends knew how to cook, really cook. Borkal had never even set foot in a kitchen, and Eriksson and Welikro only knew enough to turn raw food into something that was safe to eat, though no one in their right mind would call what they made food. Claude was very much a fornicator in his previous life, and he'd picked up kitchen skills and bedroom skills alike along the way.

He'd brought flour, preserved meat, dried fish, salt, and a few apples along. He'd also brought honeyed bread, but that didn't last even an hour between the four on the boring trip from town.

The only starch he could make for their dinner now was gruel. Resigned to his fate, he began stirring the boiling water as he pour a cup or two of flour in. While it simmered away happily, he cut the meat into edible pieces, both the fish and red meat. The fish went into the pot with a little salt. The gruel came out okay, though it lacked good flavour since he didn't have any marrow.

"Don't be anxious. We'll ambush a few animals by the stream when they come to drink early next morning. We'll have decent meat by tomorrow," Welikro consoled him, gun cradled in the fold of his other arm, as Claude stirred at the pot.







Support Ryogawa and his work Black Iron's Glory