Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 138
Claude took the letter to his bedridden mother. Upon hearing there was no need to worry about Morssen's life, she smiled again for the first time in weeks. She hugged Claude for nearly ten minutes before finally letting him leave her to sleep some more.
He went to his father's study and stared out the window at the crowded street in front of the mansion. He still had one major problem with which to deal: whether to tell Eriksson about what had happened to his father. The boy was recovering well, and Claude feared the news would either set him back to square one, or make him try another stupid rescue attempt when what he and his mother needed more than anything was for him to stay at home and rest.
His mother had been especially tender about giving him anything resembling news or rumours regarding his father or the convoy. She knew him better than anyone and if she was averse to telling him anything, Claude didn't think he should tell him anything either. The boy for his part, was insistent and persistent in asking after his father and the convoy, and spent most of his day staring out of the first floor window at the docks and the lake, hoping his father's sails would crest the horizon at any moment.
Claude sometimes wondered if he'd already heard about what had happened to the convoy. At the very least, even if he wasn't even at admitting it to himself yet, he had to know that a delay this long couldn't just be bad weather. He was too smart for that. Nobody actually talked about the convoy that much anymore, I suppose the prospect of a 300 family riot over an impious word was a prospect that shut most mouths quite thoroughly.
The sixteen ships of the convoy totalled a crew compliment of three hundred, each from a different family, and the captains had picked their men only from the town's families to ensure they'd keep their tongues. Claude didn't even want to think what would happen when the official news finally broke. Whitestag, if it survived the storm, would certainly never be the same.
Worst of all, Claude still didn't know how many would return, if any at all. That same thought might have been what had finally brought Eriksson's father to surrender. He could not save the convoy, but at least he might be able to allow a couple of the crew to return to their families. Unfortunately the pirates had no such inclination, and had forced everyone to join them and left anyone who'd refused with the captain on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere.
Now Claude had mulled it over again. He knew that if he told Eriksson about this, he would definitely undo all the progress the boy had made. He would likely never recover from his injuries if he knew what had happened to his father. For his and his mother's sake, Claude had to keep this from him for as long as possible.
Another four days crept by. Claude's mother was halfway recovered now and had enough strength to help out in the kitchen, if only a little. Claude returned to the bank and took out another three crowns, this time for his sister's school fees. He had to pay fourteen thales for her first year of middle school, twelve for tuition and two for books and meals, before the 15th.
Claude was the family's sole breadwinner until his father was released, if he managed to keep his job. He didn't really have the money, but he was not about to break his promises. He had just one crown and two thales left in the bank now, he'd used up a year's salary ahead of schedule, so he would not be earning an income for the whole year.
He kicked himself every day for not taking money from the den now. He'd put himself into a terrible predicament and he was more of a mind to go make trouble for Blacksnake again now than ever before.
The 15th rolled around, and two big things happened. The first was that the prefectural government approved the mayor's plan for the garrison. They approved the version where Bidlir was allowed to be a sponsor in return for a position in the garrison and his pick of his subordinates. He was given control of the fourth band. He was not, however, given permission to handle the garrison's salary. They instead gave the town a thirty percent break on its tax dues to them, which it was to put to use in paying the garrison's salary.
The town hall, despite its chief secretary's absence, was operating at full capacity to handle all the arrangements. The mayor even took time to give an impassioned speech to his worker bees and proposed a toast to the town's new independent defence force.
Bidlir received his notice of employment that very day and he got to work immediately as well. The slums, as much as the mayor's town hall, were in a jolly mood.
Welikro's father had attended the mayor's speech with several other veteran hunters, and kept a cold eye on the proceedings from the sidelines. They were most unhappy with the mayor's move, but could do little to change the decision the prefecture had made. For their part, however, they were resolved to keep a lid on the Bidlir bastard's ambitions.
Kubrik, however, was to be disappointed. Even at the end when all the letters of employment had been handed out, his name had not been called. Even Borik, the limp postman, had been appointed, but he, the town's best hunter, had not. The mayor had obviously decided to keep him out of the garrison. The mayor couldn't keep all the veterans out of the garrison, it would be too obvious, so he'd instead just kept their de facto leader out. Cut off the head of the snake, and all that. Kubrik, for his part, still had his connections, and would do what he could through them, even if he himself would not be leading the charge against the Bidlir bastard.
The veterans, following the ceremony, began recruiting from the town plaza. Welikro might have joined had his father been allowed in, he considered serving to protect his town a great honour, after all, but now he had little interest.
Claude, for his part, had no interest in joining the military or anything like it anytime sooner than was absolutely necessary. He doubted he'd be allowed to even if he'd wanted to sign up. His father was the chief conspirator in what, at least the government thought, was a conspiracy against it, after all. He had a clean record himself, but unfortunately the kingdom saw the acts of the father as the acts of the son, and so, just as the glory of the father was the glory of the son, so too was the sin of the father the sin of the son.
The whole town kept a close eye on Bidlir as he went about his recruitment, few had any intention of letting him bring in any of the thugs they all knew he had working for him. The boss of such a big gang could be no fool, however, and Bidlir Blanche certainly was not one. He set up his booth in the slums, but was careful to pick thugs from the gang who'd yet to make a name for themselves and were thus not likely to be known by anyone outside of the slums themselves.
That same day saw another major event: the arrival of the capital's envoy. He did not waste his time and declared the king's pardon over the charged conspirators and released them, however they were not spared a harsh reprimand for their greed and the losses it had caused the kingdom. Morssen and the three of his friends that served in the local government were all fired, though they were spared being stripped of their dignity and made peasants.
This news overshadowed the garrison's formation and buzzed in every tavern and inn and shop and on every street corner in town. Few of the subjects of these discussions were in the mood to join in, however. Most just headed straight home to lick their wounds and rethink their lives.
Claude barely recognised his father when he returned. Before his arrest, his father, fifty two years old, was an energetic man. He always dressed well and bore himself with an air of dignity and elegance. Now, however, he was bedraggled, greyed, and the elegance and grace trained over so many years had left him. He looked 62 rather than 52.
His mother didn't care however, and flung herself at him like a child seeing finally seeing their parent after a long separation. She orbited him for the rest of the day, tending to his every need and constantly asking how he was and what he wanted to eat. Even the snowhound lingered at his side.
Claude's father finished breakfast with little enthusiasm and went to bathe. He changed into his night robes, then called Claude to his study for a briefing of what had happened while he'd been sequestered in the town jail. Angelina had told him some of what she'd noticed over breakfast, but her narrative had focused on Arbeit's schemes and her aspirations for middle school.
Claude kept nothing from his father, nor exaggerated what Arbeit had done. He made a point of mentioning he had tried to find the bastard, however, though of course he didn't mention his escapades in the gambling den. He also handed his father Maria's letter. Claude thought he saw an extra dozen or so hairs grey when his father came to the portion regarding what had happened to the convoy. His father stopped there for a moment and stared out the study's window to collect himself before reading on, but he sent Claude out of his study at that point.
HIs mother asked Claude to spend more time with his father, hoping it would cheer him up somewhat, but Claude had little worry for his father. He could overcome this, though he didn't know what kind of man he would be afterwards. At the very least, his father had never been too attached to his position in the local government. He'd always seen it as only the first step in his career, and Claude didn't doubt he would find another route to climb back up the ladder.
He returned home late that afternoon to patrol the woods before returning to his parents' house that evening. He was met with quite the unexpected delight when he returned. He'd never thought he'd come home to see his bastard of an older brother kneeling in front of his father, more tears than man, but that is exactly what he found. It took all his effort to keep from pummelling the rat on the spot, and he'd failed, actually, but his mother stopped him, for a reason he doubted he would ever understand.
"Don't blame him. He was really trying to save your father but was tricked by someone else." She'd told him.
"Mother, do you actually believe any of what you just said?" he asked, unable to contain himself.