Claude bathed in the spring for over an hour before the last of the mud was finally gone. He'd fortunately had enough presence of mind to bring an extra set of clothes with him, underwear and socks included. He had originally intended to use them as replacements after a swim, but they would work just as well for this. It was the 5th month, but the lake's water, being connected to the sea and all, was cold -- not as cold as the sea, but cold all the same.
He rinsed his dirty set several times until the worst of the mud was gone. The rest would have to be dealt with at home.
His three friends were done with the snake as well when he returned. He found the chunks of snake meat, skin, tendons, and whatever-else hanging on a dry-rack they'd hastily built.
They'd left a few pieces for dinner. Welikro stripped a few choice cuts and salted them before he hung them over the fire to smoke. The gallbladder and eyes were also carefully harvested and stored in empty bottles. He said they were valuable medicinal ingredients for which the apothecaries would pay a handsome price.
Borkal and Eriksson did their part as well. They'd helped Welikro defang the head and wash it. Whitestag's old people held the superstition that carrying a snake fang around staved off disease, and the two boys had little mind to ignore their seniors.
The salt-sprinkled night sky hovered over the four as they ate around the bonfire.
"I never imagined snake could taste this good," Borkal exclaimed as he gasped for air after swallowing a particularly large bite, "You really know how to cook!"
"I forgot something," Claude said and suddenly darted off to his bag in the tent. He returned a few moments later with two bottles of blackcurrant wine, "I should've added some of this."
"Huh? Blackcurrant wine?" Borkal asked, smiling, "You brought this? Why isn't this a pleasant surprise?"
"Yup," Claude nodded, "Dad gave me a riyas. I didn't know what to buy with it, so I bought two of this. Don't drink too much, the hangover is pretty bad."
Claude had wanted to pay Borkal with the money his father had given him right away, but he would still owe them even after he'd given them everything his father had given him, so instead he decided to settle the debt from his share of the trip's earning and do something else with the money he had. He bought the two bottles since he remembered they didn't get to buy the wine because he'd used that money to buy his gifts.
They hadn't brought any cups, so they drank from the bottles in turn, passing them around as they drank.
"Oh, Eyke, I forgot to tell you," Claude said as he fetched the short musket, "The snake bit it before I got to shoot it. I'll pay for the repairs if it's needed."
Eriksson eyes were wide even before he saw the gun.
"How did it get to bite it? How on earth did you kill it?"
"I'm only alive thanks to your gun. The thing had me in a grip before I could get a shot at it. It snapped in for a bite, but I had the gun in its way and it bit onto it instead. It half-swallowed the gun in the process, so I blew right through its throat from the inside. I didn't think it would work, but it bit so hard its fangs got stuck in the shoe.
"If not for that I would be dead as well. I tried shooting it as it snapped at me, but I forgot to light the flint before I went down into the basement, so it didn't shoot. I just grabbed a nearby torch and shoved it into the priming pan. The shot you heard was the one I fired later. I made sure the thing was dead, then came topside, reloaded and shot into the sky so you'd hear."
All three in his audience shivered.
"It's all my fault," Welikro said eventually, breaking the dead silence, "I was too careless. I thought I know what was and wasn't down there since I'd been here before. I shouldn't have assumed the place was empty just because it had been when we went down last time. It was winter then, so even if the snake was down there it would have been inert. It's spring now so I should have known if anything was down there it'd be awake this time..."
"You saying that thing made the ruin its territory?" Borkal asked.
"Yes. I suppose the fact that we didn't see any other snake burrows in the area when they're everywhere on the rest of the island should have told us there was a bigger snake in the area. What better place for a burrow than a ready-made one in the ruin's basement? We didn't see any big mouse or rat burrows in the walls either, that should have been another clue..." Welikro moaned.
"It's not your fault," Claude consoled, "Besides, nothing actually happened to me besides getting dirty and running short of breath. And our haul from the ruins and the snake isn't bad either. I'm not so happy with Boa, though. Why on earth did you force that horrible antidote down my throat? It took you guys forty minutes to get here. If I'd been poisoned I'd be dead already! Gods, my tongue nearly fell off!"
"It never hurts to drink it in case," Eriksson came to his friend's defence, then he grinned like a little boy with a new toy. "This is damned cool, Claude. Forget the repairs. This fang is more than enough to make up for it. Just look at how it's stuck in the shoe! No one can argue when I tell them it was made by a snake that bit it and swallowed the muzzle!"
"You and Boa ought to give the fangs a good boiling, just in case," Welikro said, "We can't be sure you got everything out of the tubes in them."
The two quickly dumped their fangs in the pot and watched it simmer.
Claude and Welikro fetched the leaves they'd picked for smoking that afternoon and got to smoking the snake meat.
"I almost forgot to ask you something, Boa," Claude said at one point, "You said it was too bad the shaliuns weren't magic. What did you mean? Is there a difference between magical or normal shaliuns?"
"You know who made the first gold coins?"
"I've heard and read that the first coins were made four thousand years ago by the magi. People used to only barter before then. It was too troublesome for the magi, though, since they didn't produce anything common they could exchange for their special materials, not to mention that some of the stuff was way too expensive to barter for, so they made coins. They started by pressing black-gold into small plates. They used them purely amongst themselves, though, and only to exchange for special materials."
"Black-gold is very expensive, though, and there isn't a lot of it, so they eventually switched to normal gold with just a bit of black-gold mixed in and started pressing designs on their sides. They named the new coins after the magus that first made coins, Shaliun.
"But because black-gold was so rare, and was also an ingredient in a lot of their work, many magi just melted the coins down to get the black-gold in them, which made it a nightmare to keep the coins in circulation. Shiks, the old northern kingdom still has a single one of those original coins, and it's a national treasure.
"Despite that they used very little black-gold in a single coin, they minted countless coins, and the number only grew as the number of coins in circulation grew and their value eventually depreciated. They eventually stopped using black-gold entirely because they were using too much of what little they could mine to mint coins. They still called their new, normal gold coins the shaliun, and the black-gold shaliun became the magic shaliun. The latter traded for a hundred normal shaliuns.
"Normal people also started using shaliuns once the normal gold coins appeared. Originally only the magi's magic methods were used to make the identical coins, but it became too much of a burden. The magi weren't willing to waste their magical energy to make coins for the peasants to use, so they made seven moulds and gave them to seven noble magi families. They would be the only people allowed to make shaliuns, and they would be responsible for supplying all the coins the peasants needed.
"Apparently it's those moulds that inspired the normal people to start minting their own coins. They couldn't get their hands on gold, however, so they made silver and copper coins. The gold coins came in only seven subtle variations, but the normal-person-made coins quickly split into different coins for every kingdom with very different designs, shapes, and engravings.
"I've read that there were as many a 143 different silver coins and over 800 different copper coins at one point. Everyone that owned a silver or copper mine usually made their own coins as well. They weren't all worth the same, though, since some were bigger or thicker than others, and some even had other metals mixed in, so it was a big issue to keep track of all the exchange rates.
"Nobody had the power or influence to standardise the coins, however, not until the Amsra dynasty came to power and the magi and their coins vanished. When the empire collapsed, the kingdoms started fighting over the money again. If one kingdom had to use another kingdom's money, the other kingdom had a lot of power over them, so every kingdom now makes its own version of the same sets of coins, a gold coin, a silver coin, and a copper coin. A couple, like Aueras, have their own special coins as well. Most kingdoms will also only allow their coins to be used in their kingdom.
"Shaliuns are exceedingly rare, and banned from general use in all the kingdoms as far as I know, so best we keep this hush hush and just put them in our family chests."