Claude busied himself with the barbecue while Welikro looked at the three small lanterns as he munched on his beef skewer. Eriksson, who had always loved to fish, put the bait on three rods and cast the lines the moment the barbecue started. He had four fish just half an hour later. No wonder the locals believed fishing at night was better than during the day.
Eriksson helped Claude skewer the meat from the side as he watched the wings roast on the spit -- his mouth watering -- and nearly drove Claude insane with his constant inquisition into their state. Borkal, unlike the other three, just lazed around, a bottle of blueberry wine in hand, fork in the other.
Claude brushed seasoning on the wings again and flipped them before calling his stalker over.
"Don't rush, it'll be done in a bit," he half-shouted as the boy nearly stormed off the boat to get to him.
Claude stole a piece of the mutton as he spoke.
One of the three lanterns suddenly started swaying. Welikro reacted immediately, instinctively yanking on the rod.
"I need some help over here! It's a big'un!"
The fish nearly pulled him off the boat a moment later, but Eriksson caught him just in time. The boy's eyes were glued to the water as his hands searched for the catchnet. The two wrestled the fish for quite a while, but finally got it into the net and onto the boat.
"A redback greenscale," Eriksson announced, hauling it up as high as he could in the net, "About a foot and a half and... probably six catties..." he said through strained lips.
The fish was a specialty of the town, but had a raw and soiled taste if not prepared properly. The fishermen usually dried them into cajuns for winter.
"Into the tank it goes!" Claude shouted, opening the hatch.
With the fish safely inside the ship, Claude served his wings and got to work on one of the longtails Eriksson caught earlier.
Welikro washed his hands with a desperate fervour for a few moments before grabbing a couple of wings from Eriksson's plate before the rest could vanish down the boy's throat.
Claude quite enjoyed roasting longtail. They weren't a difficult fish to handle, and their fillets only took three minutes to finish. It went onto the plate as well with a bit of salt and was ready to be eaten. Some put sauces and other spices on -- such as Welikro -- but Claude preferred to savour the fish's natural flavours.
Welikro got to work on one of the other longtails as well once he finished his wings.
"Aren't you gonna pay attention to the lanterns?" Claude asked as he watched the two remaining lanterns bob softly in the air..
While night sessions usually had richer hauls, it was harder to fish then. The darkness hid normal bobbers, but luckily the fishermen had an answer: small, fist-sized lanterns. They were tied to the line just a metre from the rod. When a fish grabbed the bait, they'd tug on the line, which made the lanterns bob about furiously.
"No need. That one put up a big fuss--" Welikro shoved a greasy thumb at the tank hatch. "-- and probably scared the rest away. I doubt we'll have another bite for at least half an hour."
The boy bathed his fish in spices as he spoke.
Claude shook his head in horror. Welikro might as well just eat the spices. There was no way even a single scale of the fish's flavour was left in that thing. His head stopped shaking only long enough to take a sip of blueberry wine.
"Give me some," Welikro said, violated fish in hand.
Claude shook his head again, more out of resignation than flabbergastment, and poured the ignoramus a cup.
"Nice and sweet," Welikro announced, savouring the aftertaste of the cup he'd just downed, "Too bad it's so weak. They only make them for women these days... Eyke, give us some real alcohol! The barrel of ale is over there," he shoved a spiced finger in the general direction of the front of the boat.
Claude just continued shaking his head. He wondered if the bout of dizziness he now felt was because of his shaking head or some other frustration incidentally called Welikro.
Borkal didn't like strong liquor, but he was addicted to blueberry wine. They were all sixteen, and none of them dared to drink at home. If they were lucky, their fathers might give them a cup of weak ale on a festive occasion. All of them, however, had sampled alcohol long before their fathers had started giving them a cup here and there. They were teenagers, and naturally just had to do anything and everything forbidden to them.
Claude had gone through, and come out the other side of, that phase once before, so he was less impulsive than his three friends. But even he could not completely escape the dictates of his hormone-overdosed teen-boy body. Welikro and Eriksson drank some, but they had yet to find an alcohol they liked.
Ironically, Borkal, despite being the one that drank the most, had the lowest alcohol tolerance of the four. He never stopped before he passed out, but luckily that didn't take much, and that seemed to be exactly where he was headed tonight.
Eriksson polished five wings before a burp signalled his satisfaction. He slammed a hammer into the lid of the barrel, plopping it into the ale beneath and dunked his cup into it after taking the lid out again.
The ale was bitter, but it was great at refreshing the drinker. Welikro polished two cups in a couple of seconds before his pace mellowed. Eriksson, on the other hand, had just half a cup before calling it quits and reaching for a pack.
"I almost forgot about this. Give it a try, Claude."
Claude took a look at the little balls the size of fingertips inside the paper bag.
"What are these?"
"Just try them."
He took one and put it in his mouth.
What the hell, was that malt candy? They even had that? He recalled a hawker dressed like a farmer would show up around his school in his past life with a basket of the stuff. He'd break off small pieces to sell from a single, solid chunk.
"This... this is malt candy..." Claude said hesitantly.
He didn't know whether it was called that here. Eriksson had mentioned it once, but he hadn't been paying attention.
"Yup, it's Hurian's malt candy. The recipe's been passed down for several generations in his family."
Eriksson didn't mind that Claude figured it out so quickly. He handed the bag to Welikro as he spoke.
"Didn't we hear Hurian set up shop in town? I went there after school and saw these--" He pointed at the bag. "--It's one fenny a piece. It's great Hurian's back. We didn't have any malt candy while he was gone."
"What's his caste?"
"Peasant and a limp. He's in his fifties now."
A limp in his fifties... No wonder he could go to the capital. Peasants couldn't normally leave their hometowns. He couldn't do normal work, however, with his injury, and he was also too old to be useful in the kinds of places peasants usually worked, so he was, like others of his kind, afforded more freedom than would otherwise be given peasants.
Peasants living in the southwestern prefectures could travel relatively freely within them, a rarity Claude didn't understand, but they couldn't leave the three prefectures. He'd asked his father why that was once, and he said each region had a draft quota in times of war. The nobles knew peasants would try to move around to go to areas which had already met their quotas, so they restricted their movement to keep that from happening.
Besides the fact that Hurian wouldn't be worth much in the typical jobs peasants did, he would not be drafted if a war broke out since he would be completely useless thanks to his age and injuries, so no one cared if he travelled some.
"Hurian wasn't born with his limp. He had an accident thirty years ago. It happened during the first war with Nasri. He was drafted and, while on the way to his training camp on a donkey, the thing was frightened by something and reared. He kicked in the girdle to steady himself, but just as his leg flung out away from the donkey to keep his balance, a carriage raced by and snapped his leg off. The doctors were able to save his leg, but he can barely use it."
"He avoided the first draft, but he still go pulled into the next war. He wasn't put on the battlefield, luckily for him. Instead he was made a coach driver. He made a lot of connections on his trips from the capital to Berkeley, and used them to kickstart his peddling business after the war.
"He went back to the capital again four years ago saying he wanted to settle down there, but that didn't work out. He couldn't make enough money to cover the more expensive things there, so he came back. His leg, though pretty much useless, didn't bother him for most of his years, but he's getting old now and it doesn't like to travel. He can't just keep going around with that leg, so he decided to come back here and set up shop. He's doing pretty good here. He can get stuff through those contacts of his from the capital you won't find in Whitestag, some of the stuff you'll have trouble getting even in the prefectural capital."
"I'll go take a look sometime," Claude murmured, "Want anything else to eat?" he asked, turning to the other two.
"No... need... burp..." Welikro shook, "I'm bloated... I'll have some later if I'm hungry."
Eriksson picked up Welikro's fishing rod as he spoke.
"I also can't eat anymore. Let's fish."
Borkal was out on the deck already, clasping the empty bottle like it was a baby or some kind of teddy bear. If only he didn't snore that much. Claude just shook his head and cleaned up.
The three still awake each grabbed a rod and got to work. They were in quite a good spot. The fish were all around them and quite plentiful as well. They had 50 fish just two hours later.
The fish weren't completely stupid however, and the waters started to calm. Eriksson got more listless as the water got calmer, however, and eventually called a halt to the fishing, demanding something hot for his stomach.
Claude wasn't going to make good food again, he'd done enough of that for a day, so he just cooked up a few flour cakes and soup.
Welikro didn't join them. He instead fidgeted with the rods for a while and started packing up.
"Let's check the purse seine. It's been out long enough to get something, I think."
Eriksson nodded thoughtfully.
"Alright. I'm done with the rods for today, anyway. I'm going to hit the hay once we have the net in."
Claude cleaned up again. And the three pulled in the seine. It didn't have much, just ten or so medium fish. It was a waste, really, all that work for just ten fish. Eriksson very nearly kicked the lazy bastard Borkal when he saw him snoring as he rubbed his sore arms.