Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 200
After finding out Maria was the cause of his good treatment, Claude was rather perplexed. This wasn't a favour easily returned. The land and shares in Normanley Real Estate were all repayments for the spells he'd given her, and the coverage of his brother's debt was her thanks for all the profit he helped her make with the real-estate. If he'd been of no use, she would not have looked after him so well.
She'd since taken an interest in him for his business acumen, however, and was now working actively to tie him to her one way or another. Felidos had interfered, however, and ruined her plans.
Claude had distanced himself from his previous civilian life the moment he set foot on the base. There were some things one couldn't avoid discussing, but he'd never mentioned his benefactor's true identity. He had no intention to tie the leash to his collar himself, so to speak.
He respected his mistress deeply, but he had his pride. He had no intention of being someone else's servant for his whole life. He had far greater ambitions, ambitions that did not include become a sworn, life-long Normanley servant.
For that same reason, he'd been deeply troubled, despite his simultaneous gratitude, by his mistress' decision to try and get him a conscription exemption. It would immediately indebt him to her for life.
Though he was angry at Felidos for doing much the same where his future in the military was concerned, he was not unhappy at being rid of the difficult matter of navigating a refusal to Maria's kindness.
Now, however, despite having no such intention, and despite Maria being oblivious to it, Claude had indeed benefitted from her yet again, and thus incurred yet another debt. Her messages had revealed her true identity, and it had pushed his superiors into gentler treatment.
Claude sighed. Now he had yet another debt to pay off. A bitter smile clung to his lips. He had thought he would be put in solitary confined for five days at least, but now not only was he not going to suffer any punishment, his nemesis had been taken care of for him. On top of that, he was to be given a cushy position well behind the front lines as a medical officer with a keeper and stretcher unit.
Almost everyone who knew him envied him. Bell even said that if getting hurt and having to recover for three months would make him a sergeant-major, he would happily receive a beating. As a normal soldier, Bell wasn't aware of the truth behind the matter. He thought that the corps was just trying to use this chance to enforce stricter discipline to prevent further hazing of cadets and recruits and that Claude had lucked out in his experience.
Now that Claude could sit up, he asked Bell to go to the post office of the base to retrieve his letters for him. He wrote nine letters and received fourteen in response. Apart from the two Maria sent, his mother and sister each sent two. Another one of them was from Welikro, who informed Claude of his new address in the royal capital. Kefnie's brother-in-law, Jerad of the Shark gang, also wrote to him, much to his puzzlement.
He opened Maria's letter first. According to the dates, the first was written when she went to Normanley Wood during her vacation in response to the letter Claude had written her. She informed Claude of two matters in that letter. The first was how his mother had taken over as supervisor of the wood after his departure, and the second was her discovery of Angelina's talent and her becoming her disciple. She even snidely remarked that Angelina's talent in herbalism was far better than her half-assed elder brother's.
She said it was a shame the girl refused to go with her to the capital. Claude's mother was still sickly, and his sister refused to abandon her. At least she still had a couple more years, being a 15-year-old middle-schooler, before she'd have to decide finally about her future regarding Claude's mistress, so the baroness had decided to leave off pressuring her for the time being.
Though Claude had no intention of becoming the baroness' sworn servant, was happy to see his sister getting closer to his mistress. If she combined such a firm backing with the assets and wealth her older brother had procured her, she would never have to worry about anything again for the rest of her life. Even if he died, or was otherwise taken out of the picture, she and her little brother and mother would be fine.
He opened her second letter. This one dealt primarily with official matters. He was informed about the completion of the base and the completion of the transaction with the navy. Maria was glad to inform him that more than half of the profit, after deducting costs, were split to the shareholders, and that she had transferred Claude's share to his mother.
The profit was not as much as Claude thought it should have been. Some of the real estate developers he'd seen in his past life started out with nothing but a loan from a bank and ended up with more than ten times the profit. It was only after his country started regulating the industry that the market returned to its proper path. Despite that, a good profit of around 130 percent could still be made through property development.
Even though there wasn't any precedent of gentrification in this world, why was the profit only half as much as he estimated? Maria wouldn't hide that matter from him. It was possible that the cost of the construction inflated ever since his departure. The project was worth 300 thousand crowns in actuality, but only 280 thousand was paid because of a discount. Claude had estimated the profit to be around 160 to 170 thousand crowns, and that was the reason he gave away 100 thousand crowns to the shareholders out of the initial 200 thousand they received to bolster their confidence in the project.
When work just began, many were still doubtful of borrowing loans from the bank to buy land, which would be mortgaged again for even more loans. Only after the loans ballooned to around 60 thousand crowns did Claude finish purchasing the land in the western part of the slums. By that time, the company only had ten thousand or so crowns remaining.
If they didn't do any renovation and only resold the land to the navy, the profit would only be around 40 thousand crowns. Claude pushed for actual development because he wanted even more profits. By purchasing a piece of land at the price of around 30 crowns, they could erect a couple of buildings there that could accommodate up to a household of five people for the fair price of around 50 crowns. That alone was supposed to be enough to make ten times the profit of their initial capital.
Granted, that was only an oversimplification of the costs. The company couldn't just purchase land to build houses upon. They had to develop other high-class infrastructure like streets, parks, fountains and street lamps. It was those things that attracted the navy to the notion of letting their family members reside there.
Most of the extra cost probably came from the additional amenities and decreased the profit by at least 30 thousand crowns. At least, that was what Claude believed. However, it couldn't be helped. Rodan had always been insistent on maintaining a good image as it was exemplary behaviour for nobles. Had Claude still been there managing things, he would only do what he had to, instead of what he could. The deal with the navy was already struck anyway and there was no need to spend extra money on unnecessary fluff.
As expected, Maria brought up in her letter about her inspection of the site when it was near completion. She requested Rodan to decorate the environment even more lavishly and Viscount Wenisk suggested that they construct another small plaza with a commemorative plaque that credited Maria for her investment and development in that area. She gleefully agreed to that suggestion and gave Rodan the green light for that undertaking.
The poor Maria was probably feeling a little too loose on spending now that she had made so much money. All Wenisk had to do was to flap his lips for the company to spend so much more money and effort. She probably didn't know that her little joy trip cost them to lose tens of thousands of crowns in profit.
Regardless, that wasn't something he wanted to dabble with. It didn't matter that the earnings were lower than expected. It wouldn't make sense to squabble over the little difference. Maria did ask him whether she should purchase some property in Port Neru, given their falling prices, and give them the Whitestag treatment.
Perhaps she was aware that the letters would be inspected by the military, she intentionally phrased her words vaguely. That didn't stop Claude from picking up on the meaning behind them, though. In asking Claude whether they could repeat the Whitestag treatment at Port Neru, Claude could surmise a few things.
The kingdom developed Whitestag into a naval city and split Fearless into two, leaving one flotilla behind to guard the kingdom's eastern coast and moving two-thirds of its forces to Lake Balinga to be formed into a new fleet called Storm to secure the new trade route from Whitestag to Nubissia.
The split of Fearless caused many to lose confidence in Port Neru. They believed that the trade centre for Nubissian goods would move from Port Neru to Whitestag, so many merchants were leaving that place and causing property prices to fall. Maria had insider knowledge from her position in court, however. The splitting of Fearless was a temporary measure. The kingdom would soon replenish their numbers and Port Neru would grow lively once more.
Yet, Claude didn't have high hopes for Port Neru. The war with the anti-Aueran faction was going to start anytime soon. If the kingdom emerged victorious, it stood to reason that they could conquer a few more ports along the eastern coast. That meant that even if Fearless was to be replenished, they might not necessarily continue to operate around Port Neru, which would make it nothing more than a trading port. It would no longer be as prosperous as it was when it was the sole naval port of the kingdom.