The Perfect Excuse
When Welikro heard the gunshot coming from the ruins, he was dealing with two dead goats by the stream. Those wild goats were quite common in the three southwestern prefectures and they liked to feed on the moss and leaves of shrubs that grew on mountainous terrain. At the same time, they could also effectively avoid their natural predators because most carnivorous creatures weren’t good at climbing rocky areas. All they could do was watch as the pockets of delicious food jump through the air near the mountains slopes.
However, it never occurred to those goats that humans could shoot them down from the slopes. Those goats were the perfect targets for Welikro. The goats didn’t even panic when the three of them approached the rocky slope. Perhaps they had been used to being hunted by fierce beasts who always ended up suffering a bloody fall in an attempt to chase the goats up those slopes. The humans in comparison didn’t look any more threatening to those beasts.
Welikro raised his gun slowly, aimed, and fired. One of the goats fell from the slope, but the others still hadn’t realized the danger before them yet. The gunshot had only sounded like thunder to them, and they probably figured that their companion had fallen because its legs slipped. So, all they did was stop eating and bleat, before taking more careful steps on the slope.
Welikro and the others saw that the goats didn’t try to escape and were overjoyed. They hurriedly cleared the barrel, poured in the gunpowder, stuffed the bullet it and lit the slow match before Welikro took aim once more.
Another loud boom saw the next goat fall from the slope. This time around, the last surviving goat finally realized the true threat those three bipedal creatures posed to it. They held an odd-looking stick that let out a loud bang and a puff of smoke that caused its companions to fall. It didn’t take long before the last remaining goat ran up the slope to higher ground and disappear on the other side.
Welikro and the other two reloaded the gun before going to check on the prey they got. There was no saying whether there were other carnivores hiding beside and waiting to feed on the dead goats, so the three had to be watchful for attacks from other animals as they went to pick up their catch. Borkal’s arbalest and Eriksson’s hunting bow weren’t enough to ensure everyone’s safety.
They were rather fortunate and didn’t encounter any other beast. Welikro said that the most dangerous predator on Egret was the panther. It was the king of the jungle. Each panther was about the size of a young bull and had incredibly acute senses. Any experienced hunter wouldn’t dare to challenge a panther unprepared as that was an act of suicide.
The goats that fell of the slope from the shots were easy to locate. They had fallen somewhere on the slope itself, not far away from the three boys. But when Borkal saw their two trophies, he couldn’t help but sigh and complain.
The two goats were really meaty. Borkal was feeling heartache over their hide that had been torn and scratched from the rocky surface of the slope during their harsh fall.
The skins Welikro sold to Wakri before were also from goats like these. Even though they were old, at least they were relatively complete. But the skins on these two goats they just hunted were badly torn.
“This one can only sell for around two riyases at best. This other one looks slightly better, maybe three riyases. Only Wakri’s shop will give us that price. Normal leather shops would refuse to buy these altogether,” appraised Borkal based on his vast experience.
“Give me a hand and stop saying useless things,” Eriksson said with dissatisfaction, “The two of us will carry one and Wero will carry the other. We’ll skin it first by the stream. Don’t care about how much they’ll sell for and skin them like usual. We still don’t know for sure how much these are worth. I don’t think your eyesight is good enough to appraise these. You couldn’t even shoot those turkeys that were so close to you and wasted those bolts!”
“You dare to complain about me? Aren’t you the same for not being able to even graze those two hares?” snapped Borkal back with dissatisfaction as he held the goat by its forelegs and brought it to the stream with Eriksson’s help.
“I’m just not used to it, alright? This is a hunting bow, not the kind of training bow we use at school. I still haven’t gotten the hang of the tension yet. If I could use that short-barreled gun of mine, I would’ve long shot the two hares dead.” Eriksson was still trying to find an excuse for his shortcomings.
“Har har. Two rabbits? With that kind of firing range of your short-barreled gun? Are you trying to shoot the hares when they burrow into their holes? Even I can do that, not to mention you.”
The two bickered all the way until they reached the stream. When they saw Welikro busy working away at the two goats, they continued their argument.
Just when Welikro was done cutting the goats into eight huge chunks, they heard a gunshot coming from the direction of the ruins.
Welikro stood up right away. “Did you two hear the gunshot as well?”
Borkal nodded. “Yes. It was a gunshot, no doubt.”
Eriksson seemed rather worried. “Did something happen to Claude?”
Welikro looked at the messy ground and made his decision. “Bring those two goat skins with us as well as their four thighs. We’ll leave the rest here and go back immediately.”
Forty minutes after the gunshot was heard, the three of them rushed back to the ruins and the first thing they saw was Claude lying on the ground with mud all over him.
Terrified, they dropped everything they were holding and dashed for their friend as they cried out his name frantically.
Claude looked up from the ground and forced a smile. “You’re here… I’m fine… just… a little tired…”
Welikro got to where Claude was and kneeled down to check him out. Seeing that there were no obvious signs of injury, he breathed a sigh of relief and helped him up. Solemnly, he asked, “What happened just now? Why are you all covered in mud? Ack, you’re all dirty and stinky…”
Claude pointed inside the ruins and said, “I went down to the basement for a bit and killed a huge, black python down there. Go check it out and bring its carcass up for me while you’re at it…”
“A huge python?” Welikro mused with a start as he stood up. “Boa, Eyke, let’s go down and check it out.”
“The entrance is the one near the cliffside!” shouted Claude.
He didn’t actually need to tell them that as the trail of mud leading to the entrance told them what they needed to know. After a while, Borkal returned.. “Damn, Claude! You actually killed such a huge python on your own! Did you know how shocked we were to see something that big? We were afraid that it was still alive and Eyke even wanted Wero to give it a shot to make sure it’s dead.”
“Did you shoot it then?” asked Claude. I didn’t hear any gunshot. Even though it’s down in the basement, I should’ve been able to hear something when I’m this close to it.
“Nope,” Borkal said with a shake of his head, “Wero said that the python’s definitely dead. Otherwise, it would’ve moved when the first of us got down. Oh, and I came up here to get some more firewood. The fires down there are going to burn out soon.”
Borkal left and rushed to grab some.
Half an hour later, Claude stood back up. That should’ve been enough acting. Even if I really were worn out, I should’ve required quite a bit after so much rest.
He walked to the entrance of the basement and saw the three of them drag the python out. Even though Claude didn’t really take note of it when he was fighting it in the mud, he only just noticed how huge it really was when he saw it up close. Its near four-meter-long body was truly frightening. Even Claude couldn’t help but feel fear for his close brush just now.
If the python hadn’t bitten on the gun and gotten my face instead… Claude let out cold sweat at that thought. It truly was a close brush with death.
“This python can sell for three thales at least in town.” Borkal was trying to show off his professional appraisal skills once more.
“The skin aside, let’s not forget that the python’s tendons are worth a lot of money,” added Eriksson.
“That’s enough! Don’t just go on about money all day long!” Welikro said with a grim look, “I don’t understand, Claude. Why did you go down to the basement alone? Didn’t I already say that there isn’t anything else of note down there? You were lucky this time around. If anything had happened to you back then, how would the three of us bring it up to your parents?!”
It was only then that Borkal and Eriksson snapped out of their fantasies. The scenario Welikro brought up chilled them. If Claude didn’t kill the python and was instead… The thought was so unbearable that they couldn’t even finish it.
“Sorry,” Claude said, “I only wanted to look down from the stone steps, so I tossed a few torches down there. Then, I discovered that there was something shining bright gold beside the steps. So, I made a rope ladder and threw some shrubs and branches down to check out what was shining so brightly. I didn’t think that I would be attacked by such a huge python…”
“Then did you find out what that golden thing was?” Welikro looked doubtfully at Claude. The way he saw it, Claude was just making something up as an excuse for his little misadventure.
“I found this,” said Claude as he stuck his hand into his pocket and took it back out. He opened it and golden coins dropped onto the ground with clear, audible clinks.
“These… these are shaliuns!” Borkal picked one up and cried, “It really is! These are coins from six centuries ago. I saw this engraving before in a currency encyclopedia I have at home. It is a cloaked magus. When the Amsra dynasty came to power, they abolished these gold coins. It’s too bad that these aren’t magical shaliun gold coins.”
“I searched with all my might and only found five of these,” Claude said, “They were all beside the stone steps. I tried to look further, but the python came after me.”
Welikro’s suspicions had been dispelled. There was no way Claude could’ve took gold coins from six centuries back out of thin air. it seemed to him that it was just as Claude had described. He tossed some torches down and found that something was reflecting the light of the torches. He then dropped a few more branches and shrubs down and made a rope ladder. His preparations should’ve been perfect, save for the huge black python he didn’t expect to be lurking down there. It was an accident that Claude didn’t expect.
Eriksson picked up the other four shaliuns from the ground. He didn’t think too much like Welikro did. “Are these valuable?”
“I don’t really know,” Borkal said, “These can be considered antique coins. After all, they do have a history of 600 years. However, they aren’t really antiques worth collecting either because they have engravings of evil magi on them. That’s why they’re banned from circulation on many nations in Freia. However, we can still bring them to the bank to be traded for normal currency according to the gold content of these. In our kingdom, I believe that each can be traded for two gold krons, around ten silver thales basically.”
“Hehe, Claude, you’re rich,” Eriksson said enviously, “I didn’t think that you’d be the one that made it the biggest on our trip to Egret. Not only did you manage to kill such a huge python, you even picked up five of those gold coins. Take them, they’re yours.”
Claude waved them away and didn’t take the gold coin Eriksson handed him. “Let Boa take care of them. Didn’t we agree that everything we find here will be split evenly among us? That also applies to those gold coins.”
“But… this python was killed by you alone and you found the coins by yourself. We didn’t help out the slightest bit,” said Borkal with a bitter smile.
Claude stood up with a smile. “We came here together, so before we go home, we are in the same boat, figuratively speaking. I’m sure you would split a part of the results of your catch today even though I didn’t come with you. Similarly, if I didn’t manage to kill the python and something happened to me, you would have to bear some of the responsibility as well and end up punished when we get back. So, both the gold coins and the python are ours to share. Wero, what do you say?”
“I suppose so,” Welikro said exasperatedly, “But when we hunt together, there’s a rule we follow. The one who did most of the work will get the larger share while the others will get the smaller share.”
“Then all is well. I’ll take two of these gold coins while each of you can have one. It’s decided. Wero, bring them to cut the python open. We’re having python meat for dinner tonight,” decided Claude without leaving any room for negotiation.