The four of them stalked across the forest in silence.
Something suddenly occurred to Claude. “Hey, Wero, I remember reading in the history books that guns have existed since more than five centuries ago. Why are we still using matchlocks even though so much time has passed?”
He seemed to remember that guns didn’t develop nearly as slowly in his past life. The gap between matchlocks and automatic rifles was only about two to three centuries. Before he transmigrated, the military documentaries he watched mentioned that the various nations were taking the first steps in researching even more advanced weaponry, such as laser guns and rail guns. However, the parallel of Faslan’s technological development seemed to have halted during the past five to six centuries. Matchlocks were still matchlocks. The different nations on the continents employed them as the standard weapons of warfare. Even war didn’t seem to push for development of better weaponry.
Borkal laughed and said, “What else would we use but matchlocks? Crossbows, blades or spears? The times of war have already proven that matchlocks are the most reliable and powerful weapons in the hands of soldiers. Without them, our kingdom would’ve collapse.”
“That’s not what I meant, idiot,” Claude rebuked, “I was asking why matchlocks weren’t improved upon to be easier to operate? Or, we could even get rid of the match-lighting system and opt for more efficient and reliable ignition systems, such as the flintlock? And what about opting for loading from the back of the barrel instead of loading from the muzzle?”
“There are improvements. The kingdom has been trying hard to increase the firing range of matchlocks. The newest aubass mark 2 is said to be able to fire more than 350 meters ahead, with an effective killing range of 240 meters. A knife can even be attached to the front of the gun so that the gunmen can charge into close combat, eliminating the need for them to bring another close combat weapon with them,” replied Welikro patiently.
That’s not it… What’s the point of increasing the firing range if you can’t hit accurately?Claude felt like it was no different from trying to talk to chickens and ducks. Their trains of thought were on a completely different lane than his. He decided to change his approach. “I feel that using a slow match for ignition is far too inconvenient and we should change the way a shot is fired. Don’t the gunsmiths ever think about this?”
“My father did mention that before,” Welikro said after some thought, “Our kingdom has four gun-making armories and the one we go to in the prefecture capital is the smallest one of the four. Each one of those can fashion around 200 thousand guns in a year. Apart from private commissions, the guns they distributed according to the national firearms research institute. The designs also come from there as well and they are made strictly according to specification.
“My father said that he used to be a guard soldier at the firearms research institute for two years. He said that there were a lot of madmen inside the institute and he had seen quite a number of oddly designed firearms. the flintlocks and breechloaders you mentioned just now do exist, but their firing range still can’t compare to the earliest matchlocks.
“Additionally, safety is also an issue. Among the guards who went to test the guns, 17 of them got crippled because of explosions from the barrel. My father later requested a transfer to the frontline units so that he didn’t have to end up crippled like his other comrades. However, he was rather unlucky and the war had already ended by the time he reached his frontlines. All he got to do was to stand guard at the rear.”
So the kingdom does have a national firearms research institute for that specific purpose. But other than increasing the firing range and power of the guns, they didn’t take a single step to change the fundamental matchlock design. They couldn’t even develop flintlocks! What a bunch of useless people!
“Then apart from the national firearms research institutes, are there any individuals who invent new firearms? Some hobbyist perhaps?”
Claude recalled reading on the internet that the development of firearms was encouraged by two main factors. The first was driven by military demand for more advanced and quicker-firing weapons to be used in war. The second factor was the hobbyist, who used all sorts of out-of-the-box methods to redesign their own weapons. Their contributions helped propel much of gun development from the matchlock to automatic era. Some of the huge weapons manufacturers in his past life seemed to also have roots in small private gun workshops.
“Perhaps,” Welikro said, “My father can be considered a gun hobbyist. The two hunting rifles he commissioned were design by him. However, private designs must be given form at the national armories. That requires the blueprints to be carefully tested to ensure that there won’t be any safety issues and serial numbers would be given to them too.
“Looking for a blacksmith to privately fashion firearms goes against the kingdom’s regulations. Both the forger and the commissioner will be arrested and punished. So, the blacksmiths are allowed to forge blades and crossbows without any restrictions, but privately making firearms is a felony. Naturally, there are those who order guns from the national armories and modify them back home. As long as the serial number isn’t ruined, that would be fine.”
So there’s a ban on making firearms privately too. That was probably a policy the kingdom employed to regulate and control firearms. But that also indirectly put a restriction on their improvement. At the very least, it seemed like the research institutes had taken the wrong path. Claude didn’t understand why firing range and power was held as the highest priority. Shouldn’t they be focusing on convenience of use, firing rate and bullet storage? Research on range and power is within the field of ballistics, not gunsmithing itself.
Claude kept silent and pondered. The world he was in was a little weird. For instance, he had transmigrated into a body of a student and he realized that they weren’t thought basic subjects like physics and chemistry. He had tried asking his classmates and instructors but they all had no idea what he was talking about.
It’s no wonder they’re still using matchlocks after five to six centuries…
Welikro suddenly waved his hand twice from the front to gesture for the rest to stop. Claude tried to listen and found that they were there. He didn’t notice the sound of flowing water as he was thinking just now.
“Alright, go hide over there,” Welikro said after checking the place out and pointing at a pile of rocks. “Do you see that huge rock? We will be hiding behind it. That place gives us good vision and it’s also downwind. The animals who come to drink water won’t be able to smell our scent. The stream also happens to curve near that rock and this 50-meter stretch of the stream is within the range of our guns. We won’t be able to see well any further. I hope our luck is good tonight.”
Welikro did find a rather decent spot. When the water in the stream was flowing quickly, the pile of rocks would be submerged in water, so it was currently rather clean without any snakes or other critters. The four of them hid behind the rocks and Welikro found a stepped area to climb up. He leveled his gun against the rock’s surface and observed the surroundings from his vantage point.
Eriksson’s short-barreled matchlock wouldn’t be of much use now. Even if there were animals who came to drink some water, it wouldn’t be of much use as his gun wasn’t effective enough nd ten meters. So, he only brought it along just in case.
Borkal’s arbalest and Claude’s hunting bow however had their uses. But the two of them had never undergone training to shoot at night. They could only aim in the general direction of prey, but who knew where their shots would actually end up? As such, the only reliable person during the hunt was Welikro and his matchlock gun.
The night breeze was really refreshing and the moonlight seeped through the foliage of the trees, casting bright little dots on the ground. The stream slushed rhythmically and it seemed to be singing a never-ending lullaby.
The silhouettes of the trees shook with the wind and took on all sorts of forms under the moonlight. The leaves rustled from time to time and odd sounds could be heard coming from within the forest. Some of them were sharp, some rushed, and some were even bone-chilling.
Borkal shirked his head down and unconsciously got closer to Claude.
Claude realized that he was shivering slightly and cracked a smile. “Don’t be afraid. Those sounds are normal. The leaves rustle when the wind blows and the cries in the forest are merely from the animals. It does sound rather creepy though.”
He had watched many documentaries in his past life, and one of them was titled ‘The World of the Night’. It detailed the activities of animals within the forets. He was shocked to see that the forest was so rife with activity during the night. Even though it was dark all over, all sorts of bright sounds could be heard. There was even a scene shot with an infrared camera of a panther hunting its prey. The shrieks of startled monkeys were also featured in the show.
The sounds he heard from the forest nearby paled in comparison to those featured in the documentary, so Claude felt rather calm.
“Aren’t you afraid at all?” asked Eriksson with surprise.
“What’s there to be afraid about? Actually, most of it is just in your head. When you hear the creepy cries, you will imagine some scary creature within. Did you ever wonder why those terrifying creatures don’t just come out of the forest and eat us alive? Why would they bother howling for no reason inside the forest? Also, do you remember the time when you caught a toad, Eyke? Didn’t it croak rather loudly as well? If you dropped a toad in the forest, I’m sure its croaks would sound rather creepy as well.”
“Shut up and don’t speak!” Welikro whispered angrily, “Don’t you know that animals have a good sense of hearing? They won’t come to drink if they hear you!”
The three of them stopped talking and continued to lean behind the rock.
After who knows how long, Claude almost dozed off. But Welikro suddenly said in a hushed voice, “Shhh, don’t make a sound. There’s something out there.”
Welikro had sounded so soft like he was speaking directly into their ears. Claude didn’t dare to be careless and he gingerly peeked out from behind the rock in the direction Welikro was facing.
He heard a series of splashes coming from the shrubs in the distance, but all he could see were a few dark shapes moving about under the shade of a tree and bending down near the stream to drink. A few of them even played around inside the stream.
Welikro sighed slightly and slid down the rock. He tugged on Claude to get him to follow.
“What’s wrong? Aren’t you going to shoot?” asked Claude quietly. Those dark figures were no more than 40 meters away.
Welikro shook his head and replied with a low volume, “It won’t work. Those are wild boars and this gun of mine won’t kill them. If I kill the small ones, the big one will come for revenge. Given that we’re on such a rocky riverbank, we won’t be able to escape if the big one rushes for us.”
So those are wild boars after all… Claude really didn’t manage to get a good look back there.
“But it’s fine. Now that we have boars drinking from the stream, I’m sure that some other animals would come soon. We just have to wait patiently.”
It was at that moment when Claude realized that Eriksson and Borkal had fallen asleep, lying on each other. Fortunately, they didn’t snore and startle the boars.
Welikro’s claim turned out to be right. After another half hour, another group of animals arrived at the stream. There were around eight of them.
“What are those?”
“We’re pretty lucky. These are deers.”
The two of them were speaking into each other’s ear. Welikro slowly and gently snapped the slow match clipped between the handle of the gun into half. “Hold the match and light the match cord when I tell you to.”
Claude nodded nervously.
Welikro aimed for a good while and finally said in a hushed voice, “Ignite.”
With a puff, the flames burned bright and lit the slow match.
Claude felt that time passed really slowly. The slow match burned too slowly and when he took a glance forward, he saw that the deers seemed to have been alerted by the flash of light. However, they didn’t run and only looked in their direction curiously.
After what seemed like an eternity, Claude finally heard the bang he was expecting. A deer in the distance wobbled before it fell straight into the stream with its limbs twitching weakly. The deers beside rushed back into the forest.
Borkal and Eriksson who were leaning against the rock started. “Is it raining? Was that thunder?”
Welikro slid down from the rock and said, “It hit. Light the torch and let’s move.”
Claude saw that his face had been stained half with soot from the smoke of the gun.
The deer that collapsed in the stream looked no bigger than a goat. Its antlers were some ten centimeters in length. It should be a juvenile deer, neither a fawn nor a matured one.
Welikro’s shot was really accurate. The bullet had bored a hole through the side of its head. No wonder it fell into the stream right after the shot.
“The three of you, place the torches on the ground and wield your weapons to stand on guard. We will skin the deer and cut its meat now so that we don’t leave a messy trail of blood by bringing it back to our camp. Otherwise, we won’t be able to get a good night’s sleep,” said Welikro as he took out a short knife from his belt.