Black Iron's Glory - novelonlinefull.com
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When Myjack was just about to go up the mountains with Claude and Gum, they saw the old woman coming back . He wasn't in a rush, so he whispered to his companions .
"Sir, I saw her go up with a basket . She doesn't have it now, so she must have left it in the wild . "
"Let's go and have a look . I'm curious about what was in the basket," Claude said .
What in the world were the villagers hiding?
The basket was easy to spot . Myjack noticed that it had been placed under a large cherry blossom tree the last time . It was the most obvious spot in the wood . It rested on a moss-covered stone now .
The three snuck closer quietly . The content was covered with a linen cloth . Claude perked his ears, ensured n.o.body was nearby, and pointed at the basket .
"Check what's inside . "
Gum lit his torch and Myjack lifted the linen cover . Inside was nothing but half a loaf of black bread, a small wheat biscuit, a smoked sausage, and a small packet of salt .
"This ought to be food from our canteen . The village chief bought exactly this with a couple coppers," Myjack said .
They'd had a surplus of food lately, so they'd taken to selling some of the harder-to-preserve rations . They were due another shipment in the third month, so they really didn't need that much food . Claude really had wasted food this time . There really was no reason to requisition that much .
Gum looked at the basket .
"Sir, I think someone from the village is hiding in the mountains . I don't see another reason to leave food here . This doesn't look like a shrine to a G.o.d, so it's definitely not an offering . And it's only about enough for one meal . "
It may be just one meal's worth for Gum, it was worth at least two day's food for a normal person . Claude was disappointed . He had guessed a young widow had fled to the mountains when she heard about foreign soldiers coming to the town . No wonder the village elders and the chief had tried so hard to dissuade him from going into the forest and up the mountain .
"Let's go . Put out the torch and follow me . What a waste . I thought they were hiding something interesting . "
He wasn't that interested in young widows, but he stopped after suddenly feeling something was off .
First, the villagers didn't have any strong national sentiments . The only people from outside the village they really knew as Baron Norwelik Wey Frinslan and his men . And then they only knew them as oppressors and exploiters . Claude and his men were considered liberators .
Claude had made sure to tell them there would be no lord lording over them anymore . They were genuinely happy and had embraced Claude's arrival whole-heartedly . His band also treated the villagers fairly and amicably . They'd even found them some odd jobs here and there . Logically, they should be able to share any secret they had .
It was starting to seem more and more like they weren't trying to hide a young widow . The chast.i.ty of widows had fallen on the societal priority list in recent years . As Mazik had said, young widows were generally quite welcoming of soldiers . Not only would they be given an opportunity to make good money, they might even conceive a child on which they could rely later in their life .
"We'll hide nearby and wait to see what happens to the basket," Claude decided .
The three hid behind the trees on a patch of rocky ground some forty metres away from the basket where they could still see the basket clearly .
Not long after, a black shadow darted past the tree and approached the basket .
Myjack clutched Claude's shirt nervously . Claude and Gum's eyes were wide open . They would never have dreamt of seeing something similar .
A black wolf the size of a pony stood beside the stone . Its two quiet, green eyes glowed in the darkness, but it bit onto the handle of another basket . It put its basket down next to the stone, and, just as it was about to bite into the new basket's handle, it lowered its head and started sniffing . After a while, it started growling at Claude and company .
The black wolf approached slowly, then stopped, turned around, and stared at the basket . It paced in circles while growling as if it really wanted to leap at Claude, but couldn't when it thought about the basket .
This continued for several minutes, then it finally took a deep sniff, and took the basket and darted away .
The three snapped out of their daze several moments later . The notion of an animal coming to retrieve the basket hadn't occurred to them at all .
"This . . . is this wolf a spirit? I heard the old folks say some magic beasts can speak the human tongue and are really intelligent," Myjack muttered .
"You're talking about the dragon . In the books, only dragons know how to speak, black wolves don't . This black wolf is obviously trained by someone . That's why it could suppress its natural instincts . A normal black wolf would've pounced us the moment it smelled us . The food inside the basket is for people, not for wolves after all . " Claude gave Myjack's head a knock and told Gum, "Light the torch again . Let's see what's in the basket the wolf brought here . "
There were two small bottles made from green-coloured clay about the size of Claude's fists and capped with loose corks . When they were opened, a sweet odour came out .
"This is wild honey," Claude said after he gave it a taste .
Myjack opened another bottle and said, "Ptooey! This smells real bad . Is it some kind of medicine?"
Claude took a look and thought, isn't this the dark-green paste the villagers use for fevers and colds? The few of the sick soldiers drank a large bowl of the paste mixed with some water and recovered after a night of sweating . It seemed to work better than normal cold medicine .
Claude had attempted to ask the village chief to sell him the recipe for a huge price of five crowns, but the chief wouldn't give it no matter what . Claude thought it might be a precious ancestral recipe, so he didn't force him to do so . Now, he found out that the village chief had traded the paste with someone else .
At the sight of the dark woods, Claude said after some consideration, "Put the things back . We're going back . "
"Sir, don't you want to see who's hiding up there?" Myjack asked .
"It's not someone from the village," Claude replied, "It should be some hermit who doesn't want to show their face . Even though I want to know who they are, I don't want you two to do something so risky . Someone who can tame such a large black wolf is definitely not normal . As long as they don't get in our way, let them be . Someone who would bother to trade with the villagers probably isn't a bad person anyway . "
"Sir, even if they can tame a black wolf like that, they shouldn't be able to take on us with our muskets, right? Why don't we get the rest to search the whole mountains behind the village? I doubt they'd be able to hide from us," Gum said, still rather dissatisfied .
Claude smiled and shook his head . "There's no need . The mountains are vast and there are tons of places to hide . We don't have any qualms with them anyway, so why bother going through all that trouble? Even though we will be staying here for quite a while, the villagers think we're only pa.s.sing by . Let them continue to keep their secret . We'll pretend to not notice anything if they don't get in our way . "
"Yes, Sir . We'll listen to your orders," the two said in unison .
"Go get some rest today . Don't tell the other soldiers about what you saw here lest they get curious and search that person out . Sometimes, even our muskets can't protect us . That black wolf has a sensitive sense of smell and it'll be hard to catch them off guard . I don't want any of our brothers to get hurt because of their curiosity, got it?" Claude warned sternly .
The warning made them consider the consequences and they hurriedly resolved themselves to not tell anyone about what happened .
"Alright, I trust you two . I need you both to go back to base tomorrow and ask Major Lederfanc for some insect repellant for the mountains and some medicine . The weather's getting warm again and the insects are back . We need to insect-proof our campsite soon . I will also give you some money to purchase some good ingredients from town . Get me some good blackwheat ale and fruit wine . I doubt the two bottles in my room will last . Mazik has been trying to rob me of them . "
Myjack and Gum broke out laughing . Mazik's alcoholic cravings had begun to act up recently but there wasn't anything to drink in the camp . All that was left were the two bottles in Claude's room, which he had been begging to be given a sip from . But no matter what he tried, he wasn't able to get any . He even gambled Claude for them only to lose all the money he had on him . Having no other choice, he took two days of leave and went to Blackstone Village where Moriad was to swindle some booze for his addiction .
"Sir, are you buying them for Sergeant-Major Mazik?" Myjack asked .
Claude laughed . "That fellow already lost all his money to me, so he won't have much left for alcohol . I'm only buying some to let him have his fill for now . I already advised him to quit drinking if he wants to get promoted to second lieutenant . Otherwise, it'd be hard for him to climb the ladder . But he said he can't because it's a habit he picked up from the battlefield . He would always get himself dead drunk after surviving every battle or he wouldn't be able to sleep . He's actually rather pitiful in that regard . "
"By the way, Sir, with the mountain path in such a bad state, what do we do if the carriage with the alcohol can't pa.s.s through?" Gum asked .
"We'll just spend a little more money to hire some workhorses to transport them . I can still afford an expense like that . "