Lake Island Egret
It was currently the 23rd of the 5th month in the 574th year of the sacred light calendar, a Tuesday. Legend had it the calendar was created by the mason brotherhood’s leader. The first year started the day his empire was found, and ran for a full cycle of the seasons. When his empire collapsed and the successor kingdoms formed in its wake, most of them inherited the calendar and it was used ever since.
The celebration of Stellin IX’s victory in the Tricolour War would be celebrated in four days, on Saturday the 27th. His successor, Stellin X declared the day a holiday soon after his father passed away. He called it Restoration Day.
The school was required to join the celebrations, so it only had morning classes that day. Overall, school usually had classes for six days a week, with Sundays being the day off. Claude and the others thus had a rare two consecutive off-ish days.
Unlike in his previous world, schools didn’t have breaks. The whole year was a single, continuous semester. Classes ran from the 2nd to the 11th month without pause, save for Sundays and special holidays. Only the single two-month holiday around winter new-years broke the monotony. It was called the Rest of Winter, or winter’s rest. It spanned the worst of winter when the snowfall made most travel impossible and most people all but hibernated indoors.
Since they would have two and a half days off, Borkal and Eriksson had started planning where they would go. Claude and Welikro didn’t really mind. But Borkal and Eriksson’s ideas were always funny and odd. They eventually settled on camping on Egret.
The island was less than ten kilometers from Whitestag on Lake Balinga, but Claude had never visited it before.
The mountain folk living in the southwest saw a white stag, a symbol of peace and bliss, near Lake Balinga a millennium ago. They quickly settled nearby and the village eventually became Whitestag Town. Egret was named in the same manner, after the masses of egrets that lived on the island.
People later realized the island wasn’t so simple. It was an atoll that separated Lake Balinga from the sea. Its presence was what kept the storms from swamping the town. The only problem was that the water took longer to drain away after a storm because the island also kept it back.
The island was rumoured to have much more than just egrets. Otters, stone foxes, panthers, and other valuable animals were said to also live on the island. A few rumours even claimed there was a lot of medicinal plants. Despite the countless rumours, few went to the island.
It was mostly because it was very dangerous. The atoll had a massive ruin which legend said was the rubble left behind by a collapsed magic tower. It was thus related to the evil magi, which, in the minds of the townsfolk, meant the entire island was cursed.
Borkal and Eriksson hadn’t been to the island before either. Of the four, only Welikro had followed his father there on a hunting trip a couple of times during his school breaks. The first time, they went there to hunt stone foxes. They spent most of their second time picking a certain kind of herb.
Welikro’s suggestion was well-received by the clique’s two daredevils, Eriksson and Borkal. Youth was curiosity… and reckless courage. Claude, being a transmigrator, didn’t really mind the scary tales. He was especially interested in the ruins and intended to go check it out, so he agreed as well.
“We’ll leave through the back wall after lunch and meet up at Mock’s Goods to sell the skins,” Borkal whispered as he pointed at Welikro’s sack.
Claude nodded. The wall behind the school yard had been eroded by the weather and was used as an unofficial exit for students. Almost everyone knew about it, but nobody bothered to report it to the school board to have it fixed.
Even if the administration knew about it, they couldn’t fix it quickly. The money would have to be requisitioned from the town government. Someone would come to survey the damage and guesstimate the repair costs. They would return to the government, who would debate its necessity and how to finance it. It would take months at best to pass this stage. Then the plans would be drafted and the mayor would review and sign it. If the mayor rejected the proposal, then the whole process would have to be started in the following financial year.
As such, even though the school knew about the hole, they turned a blind eye. Perhaps they were waiting for a few more holes to open up so they could make a more concerned request for the whole wall to be rebuilt.
The school lunch was plain and hard to swallow. Today had a scoop of mashed potato and meat gruel, two pieces of black bread, a paper-thin strip of bacon, and a baby-fist-sized baked apple. However, the red vegetable soup served in a large pot in the canteen could be drunk as much as wanted.
It was enough to fill the students’ stomachs, but it was far from a delicious. The school changed the menu from time to time by swapping mashed potatoes for wheat porridge or the thin strip of bacon for some cheese and fresh lettuce.
The school didn’t even serve butter. The canteen only had some salt.
Borkal bit his black bread sufferingly.
“Too dry… I want mutton biscuits… Delicious and crunchy, juicy and oily…”
Eriksson cleared his mashed potato.
“Who asked you to eat the bacon first? How can you stomach the bread alone? It tastes like sawdust! Maybe you should get soup instead.”
“I don’t wanna,” Borkal complained, “You know it makes me throw up. I don’t know why, but I think about how my shoes smell whenever I see it. It’s too disgusting.”
“Eat quickly, stop talking shit. Claude and Wero have already gone back to class. If you don’t mind starving until tonight, feel free to not eat. Maybe we can even buy some mutton biscuits for you later.” Eriksson said, eyeing Borkal.
“Dream on,” Borkal humphed as he stuffed his mouth with bread, “I only get two riyas a month. The mutton biscuit I bought this morning already cost me a tenth of my allowance, and you guys even took most of it.”
“Well, you are the richest of us.” Eriksson shrugged, “You’re not satisfied with two riyas a month? My dad gives me one riyas if he’s in a good mood, a kick otherwise. And he spends most of his time on his boat. I don’t see him every month, much less get a riyas.
“Claude’s situation is more or less the same. His dad won’t give him an allowance. His mother sneaks him a riyas now and again. Wero’s thrifty sister won’t give him anything since she’s saving for her dowry.”
Seeing Borkal unable to talk back, Eriksson laughed.
“Claude is right. We are good friends, brothers, even. Your allowance is our allowance. You can’t be like this with our friendship. Anyway, time to go. Claude and Wero are calling. Let’s go. Even if you don’t get to buy a mutton biscuit, we can get something else.”
“I feel something’s off somewhere,” Borkal muttered as he looked at Eriksson’s back and back to his black bread, “Well, I suppose I should go get a mutton biscuit after all.”
The four left through the hole without issue.
“Why are you going to Mock’s Goods to sell the skins? Chirp Leather is the largest, right?” Claude asked.
“Wero’s skins have been left for quite a while,” Borkal replied, “Not only are they not shiny, they’re a little damaged. They won’t fetch a good price at Chirp Leather, they probably won’t pay more than six riyas. We can negotiate at Mock’s Goods. We’ll get around eight or nine riyas from him.”
“Claude, you really don’t frequent the market often enough. It’s no wonder you don’t understand that shop,” Eriksson added, “It’s one of the oldest in town. It’s currently being run by the family’s third generation. They mainly deal with sailors and peddlers, who come from all over and bring all sorts of weird and uniques things.”
“However, it seems their shop doesn’t collect or deal with those things anymore,” Borkal said, “At the end of last year when the former owner went to fetch some goods from the mountains, his carriage slid off the road and he fell into a ravine. Later, when his eldest son took over, he changed it from a general shop to one specializing in fishing gear and other necessities for boats.
“There are a lot of fishing gear that are made from skin, but Chirp Leathers is the largest buyer of skin in town. So, Mock’s Goods can only count on sporadic sellers like us. I believe he’ll offer us a good price for the skins.”