Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 164





Claude understood the meaning of doing wrong with good intentions from Maria's letter. Given that there was a dividend of 100 thousand crowns, Maria's cut was 70 thousand because of her shares and the joy almost drove her insane. She never imagined she could, much less would, earn so much in just three months. When she'd set out on this endeavour, she'd hoped to make maybe a thousand crowns.

Claude's interference had once again blown something small up into something enormous. It was so unearthly to his mistress, she'd spent at least a week checking every book on law and every friend versed in contract law she had and knew to make sure the deal with the navy was legal. Regardless, Maria still now considered Claude an absolute genius. He had managed to find her a kingdom's riches in a small town nobody had even bothered knowing about before.

Rodan and the other investors of the company had their eyes narrowly focused on the construction of the naval base. But Maria was unlike them. She was already contemplating doing the same thing in the capital, and maybe every other city in the kingdom. If she could do that, House Normanley would, in one step, become the greatest house in the entirety of the kingdom, possible rivalling even several royal houses.

Having noticed Claude's importance, she'd taken every step to deal with every problem he had, namely the debt his family owed Sir Fux. She had every mind to bind the two of them together for the rest of their lives one way or another, and gratitude was a great adhesive.

For his part, Claude owned a tenth of the company, his profit was thus 10 thousand crowns. Five hundred removed for the debt his family owed Sir Fux, he still had a fortune on his hands. He had not been planning to pay that back, however, but unfortunately his mistress had ruined his plans. He could not blame her though; her intentions were nothing but good.

He was quite troubled over the exemption she was trying to get him, however. Only true talents were exempt from such a service, mostly they were the sons of great artisan houses with exceptional talent of their own. All he'd done was some good business, not to mention that she'd already paid him back.

He was not opposed to being exempt from military service, but he wasn't too keen on having a path to social advancement cut off from him. He would be forced to rely on his mistress for the rest of his life, and, good as their relationship was, he was not one to be dependent on others.

On top of that, the kingdom's people worshipped the strong. Even the offspring of nobles had to prove their worth in the military, even though they were dignitarians by birth. The heirs of nobles especially were expected to prove their character on the battlefield, or at least through long years of service in peacetime, before they were accepted by their peers and subjects. Any noble with any political ambition also had to serve his time in the military, as it was a requirement to be eligible to join any of the councils.

Claude didn't think about it too much, however. He doubted his mistress would get an exemption for him that easily. Unusual as making a hundred thousand in profits from a single endeavour in three months was, it was not, at least in his mind, enough to qualify him for such an exemption.

He'd read about an artist in the town newspaper once. Wecks-something-something. He won a regional art competition and the town praised him as the next divine artist. He went on to become one of the 'Ten Sages' in painting, but, despite that, he was still served a draft order during the last war.

He decided he would chalk it up to luck if he got it, and lack of luck if he didn't, and not bother with it any longer.

He went home that night to find his mother beaming. He asked what had happened and she showed him the copies of the proof-of-payment of their debt Rodan had sent her.

"You have to serve Lady Maria loyally from now on. It's no longer just a debt you owe here, but a debt the entire family owes that you have to repay. If only your father could share in this..."
 
The happiness instantly vanished from her face.

Claude sighed.

That was not what he wanted! He was grateful, make no mistake, but he was not about to throw his ambitions away because of a mere 500-crown debt.

Everything changed very quickly in town and for the family. Thomas was both happy and regretful about their fortune. For one, he only just realised how much potential profit was in the market, so he wished they'd gone into it instead of chasing the trade route.

Claude decided not to burst his porous bubble with the reality that, had it not been for their discovery of the trade-route, tragedy included, such profits would never have been possible.

Perhaps a case could be made if they were able to be convinced to drop their greed and acknowledge the risk of pirates and hand information about the new route to the royal navy directly. That way, it probably would've ended nicely for everyone. But did that version of events have the most remote chance of occurring? Before they were made aware of the pirate threat, their eyes were completely blinded from the profits they could make from the new sailing route.

Which one of them would've been able to give up on a secret trade route connecting the two continents that nobody knew of? The profits would be ten times the capital had they succeeded! Instead of saying that the trading fleet ultimately failed as a result of bad luck from falling prey to the pirates, it was more apt to call it the fleet's destiny. Sending out such a large trading fleet when there were still so many unknowns was serving them out on a silver platter.

Consequently, it was precisely the trading fleet's doom and the pirate infestation that drew the attention of the royal navy. The kingdom even amended its policy to invest in Whitestag's development. Only then did Normanley Real Estate have the chance to take an early step and get their hands on the slums to develop it and sell them to the navy for huge profits.

It was an amalgamation of various factors that led to the current developments in Whitestag. If all had remained the same, developing the slums was a fool's errand. Other things aside, who would be the target market for the property? Would the slum folks be able to afford any?

After Felidos cleared up the various municipal departments, he sent out a recruitment order alongside the announcement of the formation of the Whitestag Keepery. They needed to triple the garrison's numbers before they were at full strength.

His order was a strange mix of recruitment and conscription. He ordered that every household had to give up one fit man to the keepery, if they had two male adults, regardless of employment status.

It upset the company's situation quite badly. Of their one thousand contracted labourers, two hundred were suddenly conscripted. They could do nothing about it, however. Claude had no power to influence the new mayor, and he was not keen on trying it when he had no idea how the man might react. The best he could do was send Rodan to butter the man up some and try to convince him to lay off his recruitment for a while, or to look over their workforce.

Rodan turned him down, however. He didn't know the viscount intimately, but he was familiar enough with the man to know there was no reasoning with him on such matters. It didn't help that this was his first true executive action as mayor. He would not let it be undermined or changed by anyone until its completion, otherwise his honour and authority as mayor would be undermined as well.

"Whatever... We'll just recruit other labourers then..." Claude said helplessly, "Hire older ones. Weren't there quite a number of people who wanted to work for our company after the forced conscription at the slums? Let's take in more of them and at least give them some work. Having more people will help us if more of them get conscripted away in the future."

The forced conscription in the slums some time ago greatly benefited Normanley Real Estate. Anyone in the slums that flashed their proof of identity as an employee of Normanley Real Estate would be spared from conscription unconditionally. The company didn't have to take them back themselves, to the envy of the other employees who were waiting for their respective employers to pick them up. Not long after, a huge crowd gathered at Normanley Real Estate's recruitment point.

Back then, Thomas excitedly picked out one out of three to four workers, prioritizing the hardworking, young, strong and obedient. Yet, he didn't think that he would be merely thinning out the crowd for the keepers to select their members from. He lost more than two hundred youths in a flash and that would set their schedule back considerably.

It wasn't even certain whether Felidos would draft Claude. But as much as he didn't want it, it still came to pass.

A few days later, Felidos sent his right-hand man to summon Claude into his office at the city hall. The mayor handed him a document with two words on it: conscription order.

"Claude, this is an opportunity only made possible by my recommendation letter. The Bluefeather corps will be holding an officer training course. Candidates picked for that course are all veterans with more than five years of impressive performance. After the training course ends, they will officially become officers in the military. That is the turning point from turning from a normal soldier to a military officer. In three years' time, you will make a fine second lieutenant. I believe you won't let me down. I have high hopes for you and trust you won't disappoint me. As long as you can contribute to the kingdom, the bowing of my head to plead for you to be given this opportunity wouldn't be wasted! You have to strive hard!"

Felidos used his one remaining right arm to pat on Claude's shoulder heartily. His expression seemed to convey, 'I bet you're surprised, aren't you? What are you waiting for? Thank me for this great opportunity!'





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