“Dad is having people over for dinner?” Claude asked.
“Yes. I heard mom telling my dad that when I was leaving. He will be at your home tonight. Your dad invited quite a few people, apparently. Even Boa’s father is going. It seems they’re going to have a discussion about something.”
“Is that so…”
Returning home at that kind of time was indeed inappropriate. If his father saw him, he would definitely be asked to serve the guests. It wasn’t that there wasn’t anybody to help out, his father would want him to make more contacts. Networking, as his father usually put it.
“Why’re you so dazed? Put your bag down. I have to go back home to get some mutton, beef, and seasoning. You did say you would show us your skills tonight,” Eriksson said.
“I said that?”
“Yes, you did. Boa and I talked about how there would be dinner at your house and decided we won’t eat at home. You agreed. When Wero said he was having barbecue with us, he also said he won’t go home. You said Wero’s barbecue last time wasn’t good, and you’d show us what real barbecue is about. Don’t tell me you forgot already?”
“Well…” Claude stroked his head shyly.
To be frank, he didn’t know how he spent the whole afternoon. All his attention was focused on the cookbook. He only superficially responded to his friends. He had forgotten almost everything, even what he promised.
He had to calm down. He had the book now, so he didn’t need to rush. His father was hosting acquaintances for dinner, so he wouldn’t have time for the book even if he went home. He would just be dragged into serving the drunks.
His father frequently went on about how he ought to get to know more important people. Claude had little patience for such ramblings. The ‘upper society’ and their ‘banquets’ couldn’t compare to what he’d seen in his previous life. They dressed in clothing as tasteful as the gods themselves might envy, and worth more than some towns’ entire economy. They drank fine wine and ate delicacies beyond imagining, their culture and poise far outstripped even the royalty of the day. They certainly weren’t a crude bunch of old men gobbling on meat and downing mead, who drowned out their farts in laughter and shouting, who crawled onto the tables in their drunken stupor and snored houses apart when they finally fell asleep.
Whatever. He wouldn’t go back so it wouldn’t be his problem this time. Claude tossed his bag on the bed as he walked in.
“Alright, I’ll show you my skills tonight and let you experience true barbecue. See if you have any wings when you go back for the food. Get us some if you do. They taste great grilled.”
“Chicken wings? Aren’t chickens roasted whole? Why do you want the wings only?” Eriksson asked, puzzled.
“What was up with you today? You were completely out of it,” Borkal asked from the bed, “Worried about owing us for the book?”
Claude hummed agreement, nodding.
“I don’t know why, but I really wanted it no matter what when I was at the shop. I had a bit of buyer’s remorse later. A thale and three riyas isn’t pocket change, and I even promised to return it in three days.”
“Maybe it’s fate. I’ve had an experience like that. When I was out strolling with my dad, I saw a wooden swordfish toy I wanted to buy no matter what. The shop owner saw I wanted it badly and asked for a high price and wouldn’t settle for cheaper. Dad dragged me away angrily.
“But when I got back home, I was so troubled I couldn’t even eat. My head was filled with the swordfish. In the end, Mom had no choice but to ask the servant to buy it for me secretly. I got bored with it a week later and it’s been in the storeroom since.
“Dad warned me doing that is a huge taboo. A qualified merchant has to control his desires. He shouldn’t expose what he wants so easily or he’ll be taken advantage of. I went back to take the toy out and put it on my table as a constant reminder.”
“I understand now. I will remember.”
Claude was quite glad Borkal had come up with a perfect rationalisation for why he had to buy the book. Borkal sat up.
“You don’t have to take what you owe to heart. One thale and three riyas is a lot for you to have to pay back. It’s okay to take your time. I’d rather wait than have you do something stupid to try and meet your deadline. Especially not before we go to the island.”
He waved to stop Claude from speaking.
“I thought about it. We already have what we need. We only still have to pay Old Sunny for the boat.
“We do still need some money for food, since we’ll be staying there for two days. It’ll cost two riyas for some delicious stuff. As for our other expenses, we can save it. We’ll just bring some things from our houses to make up for it. Wero and Eyke have both brought their guns, and I have an arbalest at home. I believe that we’ll definitely get some good catches on the island with those weapons. We can even rely on hunting to fill our stomachs.
“We’ll need some medicine next, namely, disinfectant, potions and antidotes. We prepared three riyas to buy those, but I think we can save that amount because if everything goes well during our trip, we wouldn’t need them. We can just take some medicinal supplies from home and make do. Eyke can also get some from the first aid box on his family’s boat and put them back when we get back.
“The last items on our list are the four bottles of gran wine that cost five sunars each. We were going to get four bottles for two riyas, but I don’t think we really need to spend that much. We’re going on an adventure. We can just leave the wine behind. It might even affect our hunt. Wero said animals have a strong sense of smell and can smell alcohol from far away. We did say we wanted to hunt a few animals.
“All-in-all, we only really need to worry about the boat. We can skimp on the rest. I could get that from home. Eyke can get a bit more from his mom, too. We still have three days left. We’ll make the trip as planned. We’re buddies. We won’t force you to pay up.”
Claude’s eyes reddened slightly. He didn’t really put the money he owed on his mind after getting the book, it was supposed to be used for their trip to the island. He would really struggle to pay it back in time. He would feel terrible if he caused them to have to cancel the trip. His friends had been planning the trip for two weeks and were really looking forward to it, especially the bit of money they could make from selling pelts if they got a few catches.
He was even willing to ask his father for the money if it came to it. He would no doubt get a good hiding, but he would still get the money if he said the cookbook was for his mother. If he had to do that, however, he would have to actually give the book to his mother, which wasn’t what he wanted. His dad would definitely stash it away and only show it to his guests and let his mother cook with it.
The best outcome would be one in which he could keep the existence of the book a secret. No matter what, however, he had to get the money. He was a transmigrator, but he had yet to find a way to make money; it was kind of shameful.
“Thank you, Boa,” Claude said, giving his friend a bear hug, “You really helped me big time. I was thinking about begging my dad for money if I couldn’t get it in time, but I’ll get a hiding if I do. And you know my elder brother. He’ll make a big fuss if he finds out. I don’t want to cause so much trouble in the family just to give my mother a birthday present.”
“I am really thankful. But don’t worry, I’ll pay you back as soon as possible. If we have a good catch, I’ll pay you back with my share of the money.”
“We’re old friends, brothers even! Didn’t you say brothers should stick together through thick and thin?”
The four finished their meal and lay on the jetty. They listened to the lake water’s slosh against the poles under the starry sky.
“That was great! I didn’t know smoked chicken wings could be that delicious. Nobody liked to eat the wings at home.” Eriksson said as he picked his teeth.
Claude didn’t answer. His melancholic gaze was transfixed on the stars. He had learned how to barbecue from his boss, who said he had learned how to do Brazilian barbecue during a trip to the Americas. He put it to good use catching broads.
“You ate two of the four wings we had. I didn’t even get one,” Welikro complained, pretending to be hurt.
Eriksson smiled like a fox.
“Who asked you to grab the drumstick first because it had more meat? We only had two chickens!”
“What do you want to be when you grow up, Eyke?” Claude asked out of the blue.
“When I grow up?” Eriksson asked, “…I want to be a captain like my dad. But the Shark of Red Sea is too small. I want to captain a large ship and sail on the sea.”
“What about you, Boa?”
“Me? I want to take over my dad’s business and become a merchant,” Borkal said after a pause, “I’ll build shops all over the kingdom.”
“My dad said I should hunt with him for a few years after I graduate. I’ll join the army when I turn 18. I want to become a dignitarian.”
“What about you, Claude? You haven’t told us what you want to be.”
“Me? I still don’t know,” Claude said, gazing at the stars longingly, “I want to travel the world though. Maybe an adventurer? I don’t know.”