"Are you certain we put it in here?" Borkal asked doubtfully. They must've gone to the wrong place.
"It should be..." Claude answered, uncertainty tainting his voice.
He only recalled Eriksson saying to leave the net there where the depth was greater than four meters. He didn't really pay attention to where exactly that was.
"I forgot..." Welikro shrugged.
Eriksson looked around carefully.
"Yup, we put it here, I'm certain. We seamen don't forget where we put our nets."
"C-could someone have taken it?" Borkal asked. It would be a real problem if that was the case; the net was worth ten thales.
"It can't be," Eriksson said, uncertain of himself, "The floats are marked. No one from Whitestag would dare to take something clearly marked to belong to us. And no one can sell the net in town without everyone immediately realising it's stolen. The net isn't just marked as ours, it's made using our family's unique weaving method. Not to mention that the town's fishermen are honest. I can't believe anyone would steal our net."
"Didn't you say there were many newcomers to town lately? Maybe it was one of them, they might not know about your family yet, and they could be dishonest enough to steal the net," Borkal suggested.
"They still shouldn't have the guts. The inspectors are very strict and thorough, they'll catch them, and when they do, they'll give them a very hefty fine, if they don't just degrade their social status outright. We have a shortage of serfs at the moment, so I don't think they'll have a qualm with making them villains."
Eriksson was right. The nearby highway needed repaving, and they didn't have the labour necessary to do the job, so the courts had lately been very quick to downgrade someone's social status to villain so they could be indentured to fill up the workforce.
"Let's look harder. Maybe it's just floated off. If so, it's likely got caught on something a bit up or down the shore." Welikro said.
"Impossible. We weighed it down with plummets. It couldn't have floated away. No boat would have dragged it away without noticing either."
They searched for half an hour without any result, but finally discovered it just as they were about to give up.
"How did it get here? We're on the edge of the lake now," Eriksson asked.
The net had moved all the way to the outpost. They'd have missed it entirely if not for its bright red floats.
Welikro gave it a yank, expecting it to come up, but nearly pulled himself off the boat into the water.
"Why's it so heavy? Is it caught on something?"
He steadied his footing and pulled on it again. It gave a little, then started coming up slowly.
"A fish! A huge one!" Welikro suddenly shouted.
There it was, a huge, one and a half metre fish stuck in the net. It had ripped a hole through the net, but gotten itself stuck on its taller midsection. It must have dragged the net all the way here in its struggles before dying of exhaustion.
Eriksson laughed ecstatically when the fish finally plopped onto the deck of the ship.
"It's a blacktiger! Such a huge one, too! Hahahaha! Nobody has ever caught one this big!"
Blacktiger fish were a special breed found only in Lake Balinga. They usually lingered at the bottom of the lake's deepest parts, so they were incredibly hard to catch. Most of the time fishermen only caught younger, smaller ones too, when, once in a blue moon, they did. They had succulent meat worthy of being called a delicacy, so they were very sought after. Several fishermen, including Eriksson's father, had tried to breed them, but it was impossible to catch any alive, they always struggle until they dropped dead.
"Dead or not, we should put it in the livewell. They go bad particularly quickly if they aren't kept in cold water. We'll take it out as soon as reach the docks," said Eriksson with a beaming grin.
Claude didn't really care. He had what he wanted, and even without the fish he would have been able to pay off his debts. He curled up on the deck and dozed off.
He was woken by Borkal when they reached the docks. He got up and peaked over the railing. Just a hundred metres ahead was the Altronis family dock. Old Sunny was already waiting for them.
"We there? That's quick," he yawned as the boat lurched against the peer.
"Quick?" Eriksson laughed, "You slept the whole way, that's all! Welikro said you were up the whole night so we decided not to complain."
"Thanks," Claude yawned again, "Why do I still feel sleepy?"
Welikro answered him as he handed Old Sunny the docking yarns.
"You were in shock yesterday, not to mention all that hard work fighting the snake. You're body's exhausted. You should rest for the rest of the day when you get back home. We'll sort everything out here."
So it was finally leaving the island that let him get some sleep? Turned out he was more affected by it than he'd thought.
Claude nodded, yawning a third time.
"Alright, I'll go back. Hail a carriage for me. I think I'll fall asleep on the way back if I have to walk."
He departed soon after. He had to fight to keep his eyes open until he reached home. He yawned a greeting at his sister. His exhaustion made him miss her red and puffy eyes. He half-stumbled his way to his room in the attic and collapsed face first on the bed, asleep before his head had even hit the pillow.
He woke up several hours later, still tired, but feeling much better. He found his mother and his little brother sitting on the bed, watching him.
Bloweyk was crawling -- more like rolling, really -- all over him.
"What's wrong, Claude? You feeling ill?" his mother asked as he lifted his head.
Shaking his head, he hugged the little piggy, ignoring his protests.
"It's nothing. I was up all night, so I'm just tired."
His mother sighed surreptitiously.
"It's time to eat. Your father wants to talk to you. And why were you on watch all night if all three of you went fishing? Are they bullying you?"
Claude merely shook his head with a smile. He pinched the little piggy's cheeks before getting up and going downstairs.
"Carry me," Bloweyk demanded.
"Alright, come," Claude said, lifting his brother onto his shoulders before he left.
"Watch the door!" his mother yelled as he headed for the stairs.
Claude squatted exaggeratedly as he came to the door, making Bloweyk squeal. He carried the piggy all the way to the ground floor, then put him down.
Morssen and Arbeit sat by the dining table. He heard his sister already washing everyone's dishes in the kitchen.
"What did Father wish to talk about?" Claude asked, taking his seat.
"Our dinner was plentiful today, thanks to you," his father said, putting down his pipe.
He looked around the table, and finally realised all the cuts he'd prepared to bring home were laid out on the table.
"Huh? Where's the blacktiger meat? Did Boa not send any over?"
"Blacktiger?" his father asked, "Pjard's chef bought the whole thing, for a pretty penny, too. He wanted to buy the dear, goat, and snake as well but your friends wouldn't sell him everything."
"H-how do you know..." Claude asked, choking on his bread at the mention of the snake.
"You came right home and fell asleep. I'm not surprised you don't know about the commotion your friends caused today. They put the snake skin on display. You don't see a snake that big every day around here. Not anymore, at least. Not to mention the blacktiger and the deer. I didn't think you would get such a big haul from your little 'fishing trip'. I hear a couple of tailors very nearly started physically fighting over the deer and the snake. Boa really is a merchant's son, though, isn't he? He started a street auction right there, and the two sold for a good price.
"And Welikro made sure to send the meat he said you'd earmarked to bring home. He said it was your catch. I told him you were only going on a fishing trip, so I asked him if you'd fished the snake and the deer out of the lake as well."
Claude finally realised why his father was in a bad mood. He'd told him only that they were going on a fishing trip, not that they were going to camp on Egret. His father was not very impressed that he'd not been told the whole truth.
"Sorry, Father. I didn't tell you we were going to camp out as well because I thought you wouldn't let me go. We took the muskets with us to hunt," Claude confessed.
"Who took the muskets?" his father asked.
"Wero and Eyke. They took their father's weapons. Actually, that reminds me, I've been meaning to ask for a musket for myself..."
His father didn't answer him; he only rapped the table rhythmically with his fingers. Claude was surprised, but also happy, to see his trash older brother not say a word. He would usually be the first to jump at the opportunity to get a hook or two into his little brother.
"Alright, I'll forget about it this time, but I don't want you lying to us about something, anything, again, you understand me?--" Claude nodded obediently. "--Alright, go ahead and eat."
His father wrapped the table one last time, took his pipe, and left.