Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 136

Claude didn't know the trouble he had caused at the den would be interpreted as a contracted assassination. He couldn't explain himself even if he wanted to though. He'd decided to lay low for a while and play his role as the Ferd kid looking after Normanley Wood. He did nothing but patrol the farm and visit his parents' house.

Borik finally returned from the royal capital on the 8th of the 1st month. He wore a set of new clothes and a healthy face when he delivered Maria's reply. The trip had gone smoothly. When he'd arrived at the baroness' manor she called him in herself and asked what happened. He said she appeared genuinely worried for Claude, quite substantially so as well.

She then had him rest in her manor for a couple days while she prepared some things for him to bring back with him and wrote a reply. She even told Rodan to look after him. Borik almost felt like thanking Claude for giving him the mission to deliver his message.

She summoned him again only two days after new year's and handed him the letter and package, along with a new set of clothes and a crown as reward for his efforts, and told him to make for Whitestag with everything he had. He'd done so, and now stood in front of Claude just five days after departing.

Claude regretted not considering his finances and just handing out that thale to the gangsters. He had a couple riyas, mind you, but those wouldn't last him long.

Damnit! He should have robbed that damned den while he was slaughtering those bastards! The chips themselves weren't money, but he didn't doubt he could cash them in somewhere. He really was too honest a pauper. That said, he didn't have any reservations about stealing from Blacksnake. He didn't even think taking the stolen from the stealers could really count as stealing.

He took Borik to the bank and paid him the promised crown. He wished he could count Maria's crown as his payment, but that was a matter separate from his arrangement with the man. He finally realised just how poor he was when he handed the crown to Borik as well.

That said, he did at least still have some money in the bank. He still hated himself for not stealing the money he needed from the den, however. If he'd done that he wouldn't have had to stand in that blocks-long line to withdraw some. He should have thought that everyone was going to need a refill for their wallets after all the new year's partying.

Thank goodness for that bank account, though, or he might just have to go back to the den, better protected or not, to get those chips.

He'd taken three crowns when it finally was his turn, one for Borik, and two for himself. One of them was for his sister, for their expenses since they no longer had their father's income, and now had all those medical expenses to pay.

He only turned to his mistress' letter once he'd settled everything else and gotten rid of his urge to rob Blacksnake out of principle.

When he he'd written his letter to Maria, he'd detailed everything that had happened in town, especially everything related to what had happened to his father, including what he'd been planning and what must have gone wrong to solicit the reaction he now faced.

He knew only absolute honesty could move his mistress to aid him. Besides, there was no longer any point to keeping his father's plans a secret, especially not from Maria. She could only work things properly on her end if she knew the ins and outs of what she was handling anyway.

She hadn't disappointed him, either. Her reply was two full pages of her small, neat writing. Apart from the expected outpouring of sympathy, she'd written most carefully what she'd found out.

The fleet had indeed run into trouble. The trouble was neither a foreign power nor a disaster, however. They'd been hit by pirates.

The Alliance knew they could not take Aueras on on the seas, so they'd turned to privateering and supporting already established pirates. It had pushed the kingdom into a rather difficult position. While it was far from dire, it severely limited what the kingdom could do where naval trade was concerned, since anything and everything above a lone fishing boat had to be escorted or it would not return to port. The colonies had been all but cut off from the mainland for all a bi-annual convoy involving almost all of the kingdom's navy. At least two-thirds of the kingdom's navy had to sail in escort to keep the pirates at bay, and that was for no more than 50 trade vessels at best. And despite all that effort and power, they never returned unscathed.

Given that situation, Captain Altroni's Shark of the Red Sea didn't attract much attention when it sailed alone; it was thought of as at best a lucky smuggler. He did, however, when he docked with an entire fleet the next time. Clearly they had found a route the pirates didn't know yet.

The captain had kept his mouth, and those of his crews thoroughly shut, however, and the people eventually went back to their normal daily lives. Such a juicy cake was not going to get by without every Tom, Dick, and Harry plotting how to get a bite out of it, however.

Claude's father and his friends had been blinded by the possible profits, and forgotten that everyone else would be just as blinded as well, and most of them were not very morally inclined, especially not when they could make a bonus buck from the Alliance just for attacking the fleet.

According to Maria, Claude's father had been given a great hand, but had played it horribly. If he'd not been as greedy, if he'd reported the new trade route the moment he'd heard about it, he would have been awarded a Title at the very least. His desire for profit, however, made him blow his chance at rising to new heights, and had instead made him fall from the hill he had managed to climb.

For his part, Eriksson's father had trusted his gut when it told him he was staying on borrowed time, and sailed in the middle of the night, a day ahead of schedule. Unfortunately he'd not left early enough, for the pirates' spies had already passed word of his convoy on to their masters. And he'd also, unfortunately, not made good enough time after setting sail and had not gotten out of their net before they could close its mouth.

His ships were swarmed five days after they'd set sail. Half the crews had been killed, and the rest were captured. The entire trade route was now under pirate control and the kingdom could have no use of it.

The captured men were forced into piracy aboard their captors' ships, while the captain and a few of his close friends who'd refused to join them had been dropped on an unmapped, deserted island in the middle of nowhere.

With the new route's loss to the pirates, and with the access it provided to the kingdom's waters for their enemies, the kingdom's position had become precarious, hence the charge of crown endangerment brought against Claude's father.

Even if the enemies didn't ever actually use the new route to push into the kingdom's waters, the forces the kingdom would have to divert to guard this new backdoor would fatally weaken its presence on the main front and push it into even direr straits. And that was not counting the damage the pirates did to the kingdom's shipping with their raids through that route before the kingdom managed to react.

As for how the kingdom had come to know of the Morssen connection... The first full clash between the pirates and the diverted navy flotilla saw two pirate ships sunk and a third captured. It just happen to have a couple of the indentured Whitestag sailors aboard, and they were all too happy to talk.

The military and government was in a complete uproar. If cooler heads had not prevailed, everyone involved with the whole disaster would have been summarily executed.

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