Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 174





The breeze was cool and refreshing, like water slipping between fingers. The stars shone brightly in the navy sky -- gemstones on fine velvet.

"You're leaving tomorrow morning. Have anything else to say to me?" Kefnie asked, pouting.

Claude smiled with resignation, internally. He knew exactly what she wanted him to say, but he could not bring himself to do so. Those three words were beyond his power to give her. That did not, however, mean he could not give her the appropriate hint or three.

He slapped his hand around the girl's waist and half-twirled her into his chest. Neither said a word, not that they could even if they wished to, as their mouths and tongues were otherwise occupied. Kefnie thought about struggling for a moment, but then her body took over and forced her to give in. She didn't have the strength to lift her arms and wrap them around Claude's neck. The best she could do was hold onto the bottom of his shirt as she fought against her knees giving way under her.

The two stood like animated statues for nearly a minute while Claude explored her as he wished, then the came back up for breath.

"My lips... are swelling..." the girl gasped.

"Don't talk nonsense. They're just as small as always. Let's sit down, I can feel your knees can't handle me much longer."

He knew of a couple rocks nearby, and half-dragged, half-carried his girl there. He found a patch clean enough for sitting, sprinkled some perfumed water on the ground, and pulled Kefnie into the little nest he'd prepared.

"What's this wonderful smell?" Kefnie asked, sniffing the air like a kitten.

Claude smiled as he stashed his little secret.

"Oh nothing. It's just a little flowery concoction I made one day. I call it Florida Water. It keeps the bugs away."

"You're just showing off now, aren't you, Claude Ferd? I'll be disappointed if you don't become a top apothecary in the near future."

Beauty was always greatest in a lover. He'd all but sealed their fate when he'd cornered her and stolen her first kiss. He didn't doubt she'd compliment a fart if it was his.

"For you," he said, taking another vial out and handing it to her, "If you dab some on your wrists and neck, you'll smell great, and won't be bothered by pesky insects."

"Do you have some for yourself? It must have been very hard to make, so you can't have a lot." his girl asked hesitantly, toying with the small vial.

"I don't need it. I made it specially for you."

That was not entirely the truth, however. He'd been prompted to make the incense when he saw his little brother stung to bits after a day out in the wood. His mother and sister each had a vial as well.

"Thanks."

His girl wrapped him in her arms and planted a wet kiss on his lips.

Perfumes, incense water and oils did exist on Freia, but the incredible difficulty of their production, as well as the ridiculous cost to their ingredients, meant only the richest and most elite could afford it, even Whitestag's elite wouldn't have a bottle of even the cheap stuff unless they were super lucky. Kefnie's status was so low she'd not even heard of perfume, however, so this was a whole new world for her. She positively glowed at the gift.

"It must be expensive, right? I bet you could make a good living off making and selling this," Claude's girl said after another smooch.

It seemed perfume made her quite amorous.

"Well... It should be possible; there are many steps involved though. It's not quite cheap, I'm afraid. The ingredients are quite expensive. It should get a little less expensive if it's made in large enough bulk, but I'm not too sure."

Claude had found a recipe for Florida Water from one of the many books he'd read over the years. The original recipe, however, resulted in a pungent liquid what chased humans away about as much as it did insects. He switched out a couple of the aromatics for fruit reductions and concentrates and the like.

He'd used the alchemical array despite it being quite doable using just good old-fashioned chemistry to demonstrate the array's use to his sister. He wanted her to be proficient in its use and he couldn't take his time to teach her since he was about to leave. He'd also moved away from using normal chemistry evermore as he got better with the array. It was infinitely more convenient than doing things manually. It usually took days to go through the whole process, weeks for the harder scents, but he could make a vial in just an hour.

He hadn't even thought of how to make the incense without the use of magic until Kefnie asked about it. The idea of starting a family business wasn't bad, now that he'd chewed the thought a few times. If his sister could handle the array side of things, it would be yet another revenue source for the family.

"Do you want to learn, Kefnie? If you want, I can teach you," he offered.

"Yes! Please teach me!"

"I only have a month, but I'll write everything down for you. You won't be going home tonight... will your sister come to the wood looking for you?"

"No. She knows I'm with you. I told her I might... might not be back tonight..."

Kefnie's voice had faded to a whisper by the end and her face burned Claude through his shirt.

Claude was more troubled by her initiative than he'd thought he'd be when he'd considered this possibility. He was no longer the successful bachelor he had been. He was also not very enthusiastic about the idea of spoiling her good before leaving for the army and possibly dying.

"Let's fetch Anna. You two should learn it together. If you ever grow tired of Normanley Real Estate, you two can start a factory together."

Far from impossible and easy were not the same thing. While it was entirely possible to make Florida Water without the use of magic, it was a damn pain in the neck. At least one trouble had been taken care of already; the ingredients were all ready and waiting. They'd been drying for several days.

The ingredients were diced finely, then milled into a fine powder which was boiled in quasi-distilled water. The solution was left to sit and settle for several more days, then the sediment was filtered out to leave a clean, clear, gently-coloured liquid which was sealed in small vials. The oils and alcohol were not mixed, however, so the vial had to be shaken for half an hour to incorporate everything.

The three worked together until everything was finished. The only thing left to do was to bottle the liquid and shake it. The trio couldn't do that that night, however, since they didn't have any vials.

"Just leave it sealed in the pot for now. Buy the small vials when you have time and bottle everything then. Put vials in beautiful packaging or wrapping if you can. It'll sell much better if it has an air of luxury about it. Just leave it shut tight inside the pot so that the smell doesn't leak. I suggest that you two try to mass produce them to make a fortune out of it."

Angelina yawned.

"Time to tidy up. We still have to send you off tomorrow. I'll walk Sis Kefnie home after you've left."

Claude stroked her hair.

"Okay. But you get some sleep. I'll clean up. Kefnie is staying over as well."

"Okay. I'll head to bed, then. I don't want to get in the way of you two on your last night here."

Angelina giggled behind the closed door before vanishing into her room.

Kefnie's face was an arousing peach colour when Claude turned his gaze to her and she fumbled about nervously. She'd spent days preparing herself, and she'd thought it'd been enough, but she now realised nothing could be enough to prepare her for this moment.

"Why are you fidgeting like a caffeinated squirrel? Come over here. The sofa's much more comfortable," Claude teased.

The sofa had been a gift from his mistress. It had originally been made to order for her laboratory for evenings when she was too lazy to walk the dozen or so metres to her bed.

It was more of a recliner than a sofa, really. He sprinkled a liberal dose of Florida Water on while Kefnie scooped up her courage and dragged herself closer. Claude swept her off her feet and plunged into the sofa with her still in his arms. He made sure his dive blew out the lamp as well.

Kefnie buried her head in Claude's chest again, and he could feel her heat from his chest down to his legs, where hers intertwined with his.

"What are you doing? Are you an earthworm?" he asked, kissing her cheek sloppily, "Don't worry. Nothing's happening tonight. If it does, it'll be on a grand bed the size of this room. We won't get up for three days!"

"Hah, you're the only one who'd be that lazy!" his girl said, pinching his chest.

"Stop messing around. I want to cuddle tonight."

He said that, but barely a minute later his hands were kneading her buns. His girl gasped at first, then squealed, and wriggled about, but she didn't make an effort to get away from him. Instead her hands dug into the blanket Claude had tossed over the two of them just in case his sister or little brother showed up.

"When is the wedding?" Claude asked as if nothing was happening.

"Wedding?" Kefnie asked, half excited and half apprehensive.

"Between your sister and Jerad. They've been at it for years now, surely it's about time they tied themselves into knots?"

"Oh... I think they said something about six months. Jerad and about 40 of his old subordinates have joined the navy. I heard Pravet, the fleet's flag officer, appreciates his abilities with the sail. He's been pegged for a supply command."

"I see. And what about the venue? They took your house, didn't they? Is it going to be held in Mermaid?"

"No. They've moved out of the tavern. Jerad's been given permission to buy a house in the base thanks to his prospective rank. He's already applied for the loan. The wedding and housewarming will be the same event."

Claude supposed that was the inevitable difference between the army and the navy. In the army you had to start right down in the bottom of the well even with decent skills. Claude was a rare exception. In the navy, show just an ounce of something resembling talent and you were practically an officer already.

Also, Jerad's training would be just a couple months, three at most. Claude's journey to become an officer, on the other hand, would be three years. He was suddenly severely tempted to join the navy. A key part of promotion in the navy, however, was financial contribution to the navy. Claude had only a couple thousand crowns left, and his expenses would not be small given his involvement with magic. He could not afford to pay his way up the ranks.

Not that any of that actually mattered. He was already bound to the army. Even with all the money and will in the world, he could not change his future now, at least not where the army was concerned.

Claude watched as Kefnie drifted away in his arms, breathing slowly, deeply, and gently, and kissed her forehead and cheeks a couple more times before falling asleep himself.





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