Shocking the Town
“Are you certain that the net was lain here?” asked Borkal doubtfully. They must’ve come to the wrong place.
“It should be…” Claude wasn’t too sure whether this was the location either. He only recalled Eriksson saying that day to leave the net there where the depth of the water is deeper than four meters. He didn’t really pay attention to the surroundings.
“I forgot…” Welikro shrugged without appearing to care much.
Eriksson gave his surroundings a careful look before he said with certainty, “It’s here alright, I’m sure I remember it right. We who live by the sea will not forget where we place the net. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get this wrong.”
“T-then… could someone have taken the net away?” asked Borkal. If that were really the case, then it would be quite troublesome. That net belonging to Eriksson’s family cost at least ten thales.
“It can’t be,” Eriksson said unassuredly, “The wooden floats of that net has the mark of my family, the Altronis. People from Whitestag will know right away that it belongs to us. The way the net is weaved is also unique. Once the net is brought to shore, the pattern would quickly be discovered, there’s no hiding it. But that aside, the fishermen of Whitestag are rather honest. They couldn’t take someone else’s net…”
“Didn’t you say that there were many newcomers to town during the past half year? There could be some dishonest ones among them,” said Borkal.
“It is true that there are some new fishermen that don’t know the rules, but they shouldn’t have the guts to take my family’s net. The inspectors at the docks of the town are also rather strict and will give heavy punishment to anyone who breaks the rules. Did you know that our town’s serf demand is only half fulfilled? The inspectors can’t wait for someone to break the rules to make up for that lack.”
Eriksson was right. There was going to be a maintenance operation of the town’s eastern highway for the eastward expansion of the town. But due to lack of manpower and funds, the town administration turned their sights to serfs for albor. The moment any commoner in town commits a crime, even the most minor of infractions would net them three month’s time of servitude. All they would be provided with in that time was food and tools in exchange for their labor for free.
Even if someone were to take that net away, there would be no way they could get away with it. They would be discovered by those at the port almost instantly. Even black market shops in town wouldn’t be willing to pay money to buy the Altronis’ net. It was something that would easily reach the ears of Captain Altroni and both the buyer and the seller of the net would definitely be in big trouble.
“Let’s look harder. Maybe it just floated off somewhere else. Maybe it caught onto another passing vessel and accidentally got moved,” said Welikro.
“That’s impossible. The net is weighed down by little plummets. How could it float away with all that weight? It couldn’t have been moved away by another boat either. The crew would immediately find out if the net got caught onto their boat,” muttered Eriksson.
But half an hour of looking around later, they finally discovered the location of the net.
“Weird, how did this net end up here? We’re practically at the edge of the lake now,” said Eriksson, befuddled.
They were practically beside the stone outpost stronghold, some hundred meters away from the location where the net was originally deployed. Had it not been for the bright red color of the floats, they might not have spotted the net so soon.
Upon trying to pull it up, Welikro grimaced. “Why’s it so heavy? It couldn’t have caught onto some aquatic plant, could it?”
As the net was being hauled over the boat, Welikro let out a cry of joy. “There’s a fish! A huge one!”
There really was only one huge fish inside, a dead one at that.
That fish was at least 1.5 meters long and it had bust through one of the holes of the net. However, the widened hole wasn’t big enough to let it slip through or shake off. The fish must’ve struggled quite a lot, bringing the net to where it currently was, before dying of exhaustion.
By the time the fish was pulled on board, Eriksson laughed heartily. “It’s a blacktiger fish! Such a huge blacktiger fish! Hahahaha! Nobody in town has ever caught one so big!”
Blacktiger fishes are a special breed of fish found in Lake Balinga. They usually prefer to linger at the bottom of the lake and are incredibly hard to catch, but given their delicious meat, they are considered a seafood delicacy. Blacktiger fishes are also really hot-tempered and would quickly struggle until their deaths after being caught, so there is no way to breed them.
That was yet another huge gift they picked up on their way back. Not a single one of them thought that simply deploying the net and leaving it there would gain them such a magnificent catch.
“Put it in the livewell. Blacktiger fishes turn bad quick when exposed to sunlight, so we have to submerge it even if it’s dead. We’ll be reaching the docks in another two hours, so we can show it off then,” said Eriksson with a beaming expression. He was gleefully thinking about how he would show off their awesome catch when they reach the docks.
Claude couldn’t be bothered to bother about the fish. After he got the fish into the livewell, he decided to doze off on the deck. The all-nighter he pulled finally caused him to feel sleepy.
After napping groggily for some time, Claude was awakened by Borkal. “Hey, Claude, rise and shine. We’re here.”
He opened his eyes to see that the private dock belonging to the Altronis was not very far ahead. The owner of the boat, Old Sunny, was also waving towards them there.
Eriksson was just turning the boat to dock it while Welikro stood at the bow with an oar in hand. As Claude motioned his hand to wipe his face and freshen up, he finally noticed the blanket that was put on him.
The moment he stood up on the deck, he felt his legs give out, almost falling back to a kneel on deck. He hurriedly clutched the side of the boat to stabilize himself.
After a loud yawn, he asked, “We’re already here? That’s quick.”
Eriksson laughed and said, “Quick? You’ve slept for more than two hours. Welikro said that you also spent the whole night awake and asked us not to wake you. Borkal was the one who gave you the blanket.”
“Thanks, my brothers,” Claude said as he yawned, “But why do I still feel so sleepy?”
Welikro nudged the rock walls of the jetty with his oar to help with the boat’s docking. Putting it down, he handed the dock lines to Old Sunny before turning back to Claude. “You were shocked yesterday. Now, you’re finally reacting normally. I was quite troubled yesterday when you looked completely fine even though you just fought that huge python to the death.
“When I went on the first hunt with my father and personally killed a wolf cub, I was so terrified that I couldn’t sleep well for the whole night. I could even see the bloody cadaver of the cub in my dreams. I only got myself together a few days later. It was probably the same with you. After killing the python, you looked so tensed and focus and only managed to relax when we got on the boat when you felt safe enough to sleep.
“But that was hardly enough. You’d need more sleep than that to properly rest. When I go hunting with my father, I usually need to sleep for some ten hours every time I get back. How about you go back to get some more rest right away? We’ll deal with things here.”
Claude came to understand that he had been lulled to sleep from the sense of security he felt. After killing the python in the ruins yesterday, he had been hung up on the matter for the whole time as Welikro had explained as if he was expecting another ambush that could come at any time. The reason he was so energetic the night before was because he didn’t feel safe enough to fall asleep. It was only after they departed Egret that he could finally relax and start feeling tired when he deemed it safe enough to do so.
After his third yawn, Claude nodded. “Alright, then I’ll go back now. Hail a carriage for me. I think I’ll fall asleep on the way back if I have to walk.”
After he slung his backpack on, Claude got onto the carriage immediately and was barely able to stay awake during his ride home. The coachman dropped Claude off and left immediately; Eriksson had already asked the coachman to bill him for the ride for sending Claude home.
He groggily greeted his sister Angelina when he entered, not noticing the symptoms of crying on her face, before going upstairs to his little attic and diving into his bed face-first. At least, he didn’t forget to take off his backpack before falling soundly asleep.
After some time, Claude was awakened once more. He opened his eyes to see his mother and Bloweyk.
Bloweyk was already on his bed and crawling on Claude’s body. Seeing him wake his mother asked, “Claude, what’s wrong? Are you feeling unwell?”
Shaking his head, he brought Bloweyk into his arms and ignored his struggles. With a smile, he replied, “It’s nothing. I pulled an all-nighter for night watch yesterday without getting an ounce of sleep, so I feel more tired than usual.”
Madam Ferd sighed with relief. “Come down for your meal then. Your father has something he wants to talk to you about. Also, you guys went fishing together. Why did you end up keeping watch the whole night? Are they bullying you?”
Claude merely shook his head with a smile. He didn’t feel like explaining it to his mother and gave Bloweyk two harsh kisses on his cheeks before going downstairs.
“Brother, carry me,” said Bloweyk coquettishly.
“Alright, here I come,” Claude said as he lifted his brother onto his shoulders. “I’ll be going downstairs now.”
“Watch the door, don’t bump into it!” yelled his mother worriedly.
Claude acutely squatted down slightly when he went out the door, causing Bloweyk to chuckle.
He went down the steps quickly and put Bloweyk down when he reached the dining hall.
Morssen and Arbeit sat by the dining table. Hearing the sound of dishes being washed in the kitchen, Claude could tell that he was the only one who hasn’t eaten yet.
“Father, what did you need me for?” asked Claude as he pulled the basket containing the white bread towards him.
“Thanks to you, our dinner was very plentiful today,” said Morssen after he put his pipe down.
It was then when Claude realized that the food on the table seemed familiar. There was deer jerky, goat leg with potatoes and even grilled python meat.”
“Huh?” Claude mused, “Why isn’t there any blacktiger fish? Did Boa and the rest not send any over? It can’t be, it was so huge. I should’ve gotten a large share. Is it eaten up already?”
“Blacktiger fish, huh?” Morssen said, “There’s none of it. The one you caught was purchased by the head chef of the tavern, Pjard, for a high price. He had wanted to buy the deer and python meat, but Boa and the rest refused to sell it.”
“H-how do you know…” Claude almost choked on his bread.
“You came back to sleep right away when you reached home. I bet you don’t know what kind of commotion your friends caused in town. They displayed that huge snake skin on the docks and created a huge crowd of curious onlookers. That kind of python is not something you see every day.
“There was also that deerskin and such a huge blacktiger fish. I didn’t think that you would get such a huge haul from your little ‘fishing trip’. A few of the shop owners in town almost got into a brawl over buying the python and deer skins. Boa was quite capable though. He started an auction on the docks itself and managed to sell it for a high price.
“Oh, also, these deer jerky, goat legs and python meat were all sent over by Wero. He said that it was your catch. That really confused me, so I told him that you said that you were going on a fishing trip. I asked him whether you fished the python and the deer from the water as well.”
It was then when Claude realized why his father didn’t seem to be in a good mood. He had lied about going fishing to hide the fact that he had gone hunting. His father was angry at being lied to.
“Sorry, Father. I thought that you wouldn’t let me go, so I only told you about the fishing part. We brought guns with us and had planned to hunt from the beginning as we fished.” Claude confessed his mistake honestly and sincerely.
“Who brought the guns?” asked Morssen.
“Wero and Eyke. They got their guns from their fathers. Actually, I want a gun of my own too…”
Morssen didn’t say anything else and only tapped on the table lightly, as if he was hard at thought about something. What intrigued Claude was how the pathetic Arbeit didn’t utter a single sound at all, as if he had gone mute. Usually, he would jump at the chance to mock Claude from the side when he was being rebuked by their father.
“Go ahead and finish your food. We’ll put this behind us, just don’t make up stories to lie to your family in the future.” Morssen let Claude off the hook easily and left.