"Well," Kalik said with a bitter smile on his face, "From yesterday till now, all we've had are two pieces of wild fruit. WE filled our stomachs with some stream water last night. In the morning, Viscount Timba could no longer resist his hunger and ordered his slave to catch something for him to eat. But he's been going at it for more than an hour now and hasn't gotten anything for us yet..."
"Why's that viscount barefoot?" asked Tarkel.
"Ugh, well, the Lord Viscount has never experienced a journey this grueling. The walk yesterday caused two blisters to form on his feett, so he's been riding that slave on the way ever since," Kalik said, before he turned to look at the fish-catching man.
"But when he was let down yesterday during the night, he cried out in pain. It seems that the old slave seemed to have solved that temporarily by giving him a massage."
Tarkel said, "Oh no, if the blisters aren't treated quickly, they will take quite a while to heal. Don't you know this?"
"Well, what else can we do? The Lord Viscount is sensitive to pain, and we don't have the tools to pop the blisters. Apart from this sword of mine, I don't have anything sharp. The viscount also left with only two slaves and nothing else, and slaves aren't allowed to carry weapons. As for that gold-ranked knight, he's been behaving rather weirdly for a while now and doesn't really seem to care about us," complained Kalik.
"Well, then perhaps you want to join us on the journey? With a burden like the viscount with you, you won't be able to escape should anything bad happen. It's better if we leave as soon as possible," Tarkel whispered to Kalik.
He felt that Having Kalik by his side would be more than enough to enter Hamidas. There was no need for him to put up with the young noble's antics. One look and he could tell that the noble youth had been spoiled from his birth. All he could worry about was how troublesome this journey to the capital would get, especially with that suspicious gold-ranked knight tagging along.
Kalik shook his head and said, "No, that won't do. When we arrive at the capital, we will need someone to back us up. Without money or influence, the soldiers at the capital won't let us in. If we do manage to send Viscount Timba back to the capital, however, we will have earned quite a good merit. After all, he's the only younger sibling of the king's consort. Their parents passed on quite early and he was raised single-handedly by the consort herself. As long as we can bring him back safely, we no longer have to worry about anything. With Viscount Timba backing you, you'll be able to start the business you talked about without any problems."
Tarkel stoked his bearded chin in thought.
"Do you mean that we have no choice but to bring that viscount back to the capital?"
Standing up, Tarkel said, "Then, let's get to know each other better."
Moving closer to the boulder where the viscount was resting, he bowed and asked, "Lord Viscount, I brought some medicinal supplies with me. Do you need me to help treat the injuries on your foot?"
"Oh, you have medicine that can help my foot heal?!" exclaimed the viscount with joy as he stretched his foot out to Tarkel right away, "Quick, treat me immediately. My foot hurts so much that I'm unable to even step on the ground."
Seeing the left foot whose skin is as smooth as a baby's, Tarkel understood why it pained the viscount so much. It was apparent that he had not worked so hard since the day of his birth. From the looks of the two large blisters, the viscount must have been traveling for more than a few hundred meters.
"Lord Viscount, it will hurt a little when I pop the blisters, but it'll feel cooling and refreshing right after I apply the ointment. However, this is the best medicinal product our guild offers for sale and we only need a little bit to stop the bleeding on your foot. In twelve hours, your wound will scab up properly and you'll be able to walk just fine."
As he said that, Tarkel brought out a small silver box. When it was opened, a fine hooked needle could be seen embedded in the cover. Tarkel used it to pop the two blisters and remove the fluid within before wiping it clean with a white cloth. He used the scoop end of the needle to take out some ointment and gently apply it to the wounds.
The moment Tarkel popped the blisters, the viscount let out groans of pain. But when the ointment was applied, he breathed a relieved sigh.
"Ahh, that feels rather nice. It doesn't hurt anymore."
Using a thin linen strip, Tarkel bandaged up the foot.
"Lord Viscount, even though the treatment is complete, you will still have to avoid stepping hard on the ground in the next six hours to let a scab form. In twelve hours, your foot should be fully-healed."
Viscount Timba gingerly sat down on the floor and looked at his foot as he said, "Um, thank you... I will definitely reward you greatly when I get back to the capital."
"There's no need for that, Lord Viscount. We are partners in this journey now, so we'll have to help each other whenever we can. It's my pleasure to be able to be of service," said Tarkel flawlessly.
His skill with words was one of his characteristics that allowed him to get along with almost anyone.
All of a sudden, Knight Oss appeared before Tarkel, stretched out his hand, and demanded, "Let me see that ointment of yours."
Tarkel on the other hand didn't mind it and handed it to the knight. The knight opened the lid and took a whiff of the smell before saying, "Not bad, this is good stuff," and pocketing the silver box before leaving. Tarkel, Viscount Timba and Kalik were left stunned.
What's going on? Is this daylight robbery?
Lorist stepped forward into the knight's path, with his hand on the hilt of his sword, just like how a real guard would behave.
"Scram!" ordered Knight Oss.
"Knight Oss, what's the meaning of this?" said the viscount, finally.
Turning around, the knight said with a solemn look, "Milord, I am your personal bodyguard and the only gold-ranked knight around. If we encounter an enemy, I'll be the first one to jump into the fight, so I have to take into consideration how I can best be of service to you. With this medicine in my possession, I'll be able to stop bleeding in the middle of the fight so that my performance won't be hindered. It's best for me to be the one carrying it."
The viscount was speechless. While he was spoiled from his birth, he was no idiot. He turned to look and Kalik and saw the later shake his head in helplessness.
"Well, Tarkel, I feel that the knight has a point. Just let him have your ointment. I will definitely make this up to you when we reach the capital," said Viscount Timba a little apologetically.
"It's alright, Lord," said Tarkel with a smile before he waved to Lorist.
Lorist stepped back expressionlessly and cleared the way for the knight. Despite that, Knight Oss still spat in front of Lorist before going back to lie down on the rock.
The atmosphere at the riverbank then was tense and awkward. No one bothered to speak up and break the silence.
"Curses, Hannu, can't you catch any fish at all? I'm already starving over here," mumbled Kalik as he looked at the slave in the river, changing the subject as he did so.
Tarkel sighed as he looked at the fruitless efforts of the huge slave.
Shaking his head, he said, "He's only working a fool's errand. Have him come back up to go pick some firewood. I'll let Locke catch you some delicious fish. We ourselves haven't had anything to eat yet, so it was fortunate for you to be able to join us. Locke, go get us some fish."
Lorist say anything. He simply nodded before he headed to the river and waved for the huge man in it to get on shore.
The slave called Hannu looked back at the viscount, who scolded, "Didn't you hear me call you back up? Go get us some firewood."
Lorist stepped onto the two huge rocks in the river and held his sword in his right hand. He stared at the stream in complete silence.
Kalik asked curiously, "Will he be able to catch anything without getting into the water?"
Tarkel smiled and said, "Don't worry, Locke's great at surviving in the wilderness. With him around, we won't have to worry about having an empty stomach."
The moment Tarkel finished his sentence, the longsword in Lorist's hand pierced the stream like a lightning bolt. After the splashes of water dispersed, a black-patterned fish could be seen dangling on the end of the sword. Lorist flicked his sword. The fish flew in a neat arc before it landed in front of Tarkel.
Laughing out loud, Tarkel shouted, "Get us some more so we can have some nice fish soup!"
Lorist nodded and continued doing his thing.
Kalik recovered from his stupor and said, "Tarkel, it's already enough for us to roast the fish. We don't have any pots to make soup in the first place."
Snickering, Tarkel said, "Kalik, to be honest, I'm a silver rank in name only. My swordsmanship is a total mess. But my silver-ranked battleforce on the other hand is good for this..."
Tarkel took out his dagger and infused it with his battleforce, causing a silver blade glow to manifest. He then took up a large cobblestone, dug the dagger into it and turned it around once or twice, causing the powdered stone to fall out. Before long, a rough approximation of a bowl was left in Tarkel's hand.
"Look, after breaking through to the silver rank, you'll no longer need to worry about not having anything to eat with in the wilderness," said Tarkel.
Kalik and Viscount Timba looked shocked to realize that there was such a benefit to being a silver rank.
Splat! Yet another fish fell in front of the two. Tarkel brought out a small blade and handed it to Kalik
"Clean this fish up while I look for a rock large enough to make into a pot."
Kalik looked at the blade in his hand, then at the fish, before he tossed it to the grey-clad slave.
"Yannu, clean this fish up. I'll set up a cooking station."
The fish in the river was plentiful, but the largest ones were only as big as the palm of one's hand. Lorist managed to catch around 30 of them without much trouble before he headed into the woods and returned with some wild vegetables and mushrooms. Tarkel also finished making a large stone pot. After cleaning those up, they placed the pot on the wooden cooking stand set up by Kalik and began boiling some stream water.
Lorist put ten fish into the pot as well as some of the mushrooms and vegetables he picked before taking out two bamboo containers from his waist, one of them contained salt, and the other, spices. He sprinkled some of each into the pot and waited for the soup to cook.
Tarkel and Kalik, on the other hand, were using a heated stone plate to grill some fish. At that moment, Kalik was flabbergasted by the bottles laid beside Tarkel.
"This one contains some oil, and that contains butter. Look, all you need to do is to apply some of it using the brush over here. Also, hand me that small silver box, there's some salt in there. That silver container over there has a mixture of my favorite spices which will make the fish taste doubly as good," said Tarkel as he introduced Kalik to his seasonings.
"Wait, Tarkel, why do you carry so much things with you? I thought you didn't manage to bring any luggage when I dragged you into the inner city," said Kalik with surprise.
"Hehe, Kalik, you may not know this, but the Peterson Merchant Guild has long made preparations for these situations," Tarkel said as he pulled open his robe, "Look, this belt of mine is called the 'treasure pouch', which I can use to store many useful things. There's medicine over here and some fish hooks over there. Even though we're relying on Locke to catch fish right now, there won't be a problem for me to survive in the wilderness alone even if he were not here given the things I have in the belt."
Kalik praised, "Wow, as expected of one of the big seven guilds of the Union... You're prepared for everything."
Tarkel laughed and said, "Kalik, this treasure pouch belt of mine is specially-made. Locke's own belt is not as good as mine and doesn't have nearly as many things prepared for emergencies. There's also a secret compartment here where more than ten gold Fordes and some gold Forde notes are stored. So, I would have some money to spend by the time I reach the capital, unlike you, not having even a single copper with you."
When he finished, the fish was already cooked. Kalik carefully moved it into a small stone plate and prepared to serve it to Viscount Timba.
The viscount looked incredibly happy when he received the fish. He had spent almost the whole day hungry. The moment he smelled the pleasant fragrance of the fish, his mouth salivated like never before. But before he got his hands on the plate, a large hand stretched over and snatched it away.
"Milord, since I'm your bodyguard right now, I have to taste test the fish for you to make sure it isn't poisoned," said Knight Oss, before he began to wolf down on the fish.
"Not bad, it's rather decent," said the knight when all was left was nothing but bone. Knight Oss then came to Tarkel and took the two other fish that were almost done cooking and began feasting on them.
"You..." growled the viscount with his face flush with anger.
Just as he was about to rebuke the knight's behavior, he saw Kalik shaking his head in discouragement. Having no other choice, he stifled his complaints with a sour look.
After the knight finished his fish, he tossed the stone plate away, pointed at Tarkel, and said, "You, give me that belt of yours."
Tarkel took two steps back and said, "No way..."
Knight Oss then drew his sword and manifested his golden blade glow.
Revealing an insidious smile, he threatened, "Are you sure you want to cross swords with me, a gold-ranked knight? I don't wish for that nice belt of yours to be bloodstained, so hand it to me and I'll spare your life."
Lorist dashed between them, much to the knight's amusement.
Knight Oss laughed and said, "A mere iron rank wishes to resist me? I see that I'll have no choice but to make an example out of you for the rest to see..."
The gold-ranked knight swung his sword horizontally without much care as he thought that the iron rank guard would no doubt be felled by a single strike of his.
Clang! The sword covered in a golden glow was knocked away instead, causing the knight to have a look of astonishment on his face. The figure in front of him blurred and in the very next moment, he saw a fish enlarging before his very eyes. With an audible 'pow', Knight Oss's face caved, His nose bled and his head to rung, even his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.
The fish pounding him again and again, hits struck him in quick succession. All of a sudden, the knight felt his right hand twist. Viscount timba and Kalik could clearly see the guard called Locke pull the knight's right hand down to meet his left kneecap. With a loud snap, the knight's arm was broken and he loosened his grip on his sword, allowing it to fall to the ground.
"Aarrrgh!" cried Knight Oss in pain. But before he could react, he felt a knee digging its way deep into his torso. He stopped screaming and slumped to the ground.
Everyone present looked at the iron-ranked guard, Locke, who had just treated a gold-ranked knight like a sandbag, with fear. They had never imagined that an iron rank could fight such a one-sided battle with a gold-ranked knight. By the time Tarkel snapped out of it to stop Lorist, Knight Oss was already at his last breath.
Lorist raised his leg and stomped down, breaking the knight's left leg. The poor knight was momentarily woken from his slumber by the sudden pain, but fainted shortly afterwards for the very same reason.
Lorist crouched to retrieve the silver box he had stolen and stripped the knight clean, not even leaving behind any undergarment for the knight. In the end, he brought his spoils and placed them in front of Tarkel and proceeded to taste the soup as if nothing had happened at all. He added some more firewood to the pile. The soup could use some more cooking.
Kalik and Timba looked at the naked knight, before turning back to stare at Lorist. Both wore the same expression of disbelief.
"Umm, Ta-ta-ta-tarkel... Don't you think this is weird? Your guard is only an iron rank," said Kalik to the man who was busy rummaging around the spoils on the ground.
Tarkel didn't even bother to turn his head as he replied, "What's weird about that? Even though Locke is only an iron rank, his unarmed combat capabilities is top-notch in our guild. Nobody can beat him on that front. None of the silver-ranked swordsmen in our guild can beat him, and even gold-ranked swordsmen have lost to him for being careless. He's known as Iron Locke, the Silver Undefeated in Morante."
It was then that Viscount Timba and Kalik realized that the first move Lorist had taken was to disarm the knight. Only thereafter did he proceed to 'dismantle' him piece by piece using his two fists. He never bothered to use his own sword.
"Eh? This is weird. Kalik, why were you guys starving in the first place? Knight Oss carried with him quite a lot of stuff. Look, there's salt, jerky, and even a small bag of flour. Can't you make some gruel by cooking it with water? That'll be more than enough to fill you up, no?" asked Tarkel as he stood up with a few bags raised in his hands.
Viscount Timba and Kalik turned to look at the fallen knight and thought back to the time they spent starving, lying against each other's back for support, and hatefully thought, no wonder he knight didn't complain about his hunger yesterday! He was keeping the food for himself all along!
Viscount Timba found himself wanting to give the darned knight a few stabs with a sword.
Lorist's mouth curved slightly as he thought, Not bad, Tarkel, you lured him into our ploy hook, line and sinker, giving me a good excuse to waste him completely. With Knight Oss around, the viscount wouldn't rely on Tarkel enough. But with him gone, the viscount will be forced to rely on Tarkel and will come to have a good impression of him. With Viscount Timba backing us, it'll be far more convenient when we enter the capital...