Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 322





Manrique's work was completed without a hitch. He returned home early that afternoon to prepare the feast for Claude and Lonkdor. His wife was cooking a modest but scrumptious traditional meal.

Claude had been confined to Normanley Manor for the better part of the day, so he didn't have any time to buy books. Manrique decided to stay another day so he could take Claude and Lonkdor around the city. They returned to Haggler Haven that afternoon for the bookstores, had supper, and departed thereafter. They would arrive at the college the next morning, just in time for classes.

Poor Lonkdor had to switch out with the coachman several times over the evening and looked like a frozen quail when the coach finally halted in front of the campus. Manrique let him have the day off and sent Claude home with another carriage.

The coachman helped him unload his trunk of books before heading back to the college. Claude stepped into the yard again just as Natalie was coming out of the house to start her day of chores and handed her her brother's letter before asking to be left alone for the day.

He and Manrique had slept most of the way back, but sleeping on a coach, on the road, was not restful, so he was still tired. He slept right through until mid-afternoon. He woke up fitfully and boiled some water for a bath.

Doris was alone in the kitchen. Awkwardness assailed Claude again as the memory of that evening came flooding back again. He even blushed when she asked him what he wanted like she'd completely forgotten about it. She quickly offered to help him when he said he was there to boil some water for his bath. She got started on the fire right away, so he went to the well to fetch water. Fifteen minutes later the pot was boiling and he thanked her before hurrying to his room with the water.

His room now only had a showerbucket, however. The tub had been removed. He waited for the water to cool to a usable temperature and had his shower. When he finished and searched his cupboard for something to wear, he realised the clothing he'd had washed had not yet been returned.

He poked his head out the window, careful to hide his bare chest, and called down to Doris for help. He cursed himself for not checking his cupboard before soaking his clothes. Doris knocked on his door a couple minutes later with a basket of his clothes, neatly folded, ironed, and starched where necessary.

Claude handed her a small bag of egg rolls as thanks. She fiddled shyly as she took them from him after several rounds of back-and-forth refusal and insistence. Claude stepped into the hallway for a moment to close the door, and found Zasrak standing next to it, staring at him grimmly.

"What are you doing?"

What did the man mean? He'd not done anything in particular.

Zasrak dragged him back to the kitchen whilst he tried to figure out what the man meant, and charged up to Doris, his eyes scanning her for even a single out-of-place fold or new wrinkle.

"What were the two of you doing?" he demanded when he couldn't find anything out of place.

"He thanked me?" Doris half answered, half asked.

"For what?" the old man demanded.

Claude noticed the egg rolls were nowhere to be scene.

"What are you insinuating? I came in here to boil some water for a bath. She helped me and when I noticed I didn't have my clothes yet when I'd finished, she brought them up to me. Am I not allowed to thank her?" he asked, his tone accusatory.

Doris nodded agreement with his explanation. The old man, with no evidence of any wrongdoing, harrumphed, let Claude go, and marched upstairs.

Damn old man! Claude had gone to the capital to take his precious son a freight of clothes, and this was how he thanked him? By accusing him of wrongdoing with his daughter-in-law? What kind of person was he?

Doris hovered around him, asking if he was alright. She apologised for her father-in-law's behaviour. She said he had always been like that; he was very suspicious of any interaction she had with other men.

Claude sighed, thanked her again and told her not to worry, then left for the college.

He had no transport, his horse still being at the college, so he had to walk. It wasn't that far though, so he arrived in about an hour. On horseback the trip would have taken just fifteen minutes, however.

The road was a little wet, but, thanks to the money brought to the village by the college, the roads had been repaved with cobblestone, so it wasn't the muddy mess most villages roads were after rain.

The village was less a settlement than rough collection of houses, still paced quite a far distance apart, with large vegetable and flower gardens and animal pens between them. As a result, despite the small number of inhabitants, it covered quite a bit of ground.

On his way to the college, Claude passed the plot of empty land where the tavern was to be built eventually. From the size of the plot, Claude surmised the tavern would be a fair bit bigger than the village's size merited, so they were probably hoping to rope in the college's students. It made sense, since they were mostly nobles, so they would have far more money to spend than the villagers.

Someone called out to him. He turned and saw a familiar face. He recognised the man when he heard a wooden plonk every second step as the man walked over. He was Aunt Natalie's eldest son, the village chief, Chenova.

The polite man was dressed in his old navy uniform, though it lacked epaulettes. Veterans who were dignitarians at the time of their retirement were allowed to keep their uniform and wear it as they pleased. Non-officers, however, could not keep their epaulettes.

It turned out he was wondering why Claude wasn't going to college on horseback, and, while he was at it, wanted to know how he was finding his stay at the family home. Claude indulged him with a recounting of a few of the major events, and asked why Zasrak was unenthusiastic about his presence.

Chenova smiled bitterly and apologised on behalf of his father. He said the old man didn't appreciate the army college. He believed it was destroying the village's tranquility. He himself was in favour of it, however. He was happy to see the business and new people it brought to the place.

"Kleibon is far from anywhere important. It's part of the land directly under the royal capital's administration, but they've not done anything to help us out. Not even our flowers sell well there. The road isn't very good most of the way to the city. It takes too long to transport our flowers, and they start to wilt soon after arriving in the stores, so they don't sell well."

Chenova had seen the wider world. He'd enlisted in the navy's marine corps, which had seen extensive service on Nubissia during his time in the navy. Eleven years in, he transferred to the local garrison in one of the kingdom's colonies there and was promoted to an officer. He was shot with a poisoned arrow during a skirmish with the natives and sent back home, discharged due to disability thanks to losing his leg to the poison.

He had learned his letters and numbers in the navy, and could thus read and write, unlike his father. He had had many mistresses during his career, but finally took a wife upon his return. Shortly after his father retired as village chief and he was appointed his replacement, being one of the only people in the village who would read and write and was a dignitarian. He lived with his father for a couple years, but the two had an irreconcilable difference of opinion at one point and he moved out.

His father was an isolationist. He wanted nothing to do with anyone outside the village, and wanted no one from outside to come into the village. He didn't interact much even with people from the village unless it was absolutely necessary, like when he had to collect taxes.

Chenova, having seen the world, wanted to open up the village and draw in outsiders to jumpstart the village's economy. His father naturally vehemently opposed it, and the two were forced to part ways as a result.

Their relationship deteriorated even further when he announced he'd won the bid for the college to be built in the village. It brought him great personal wealth, a reward for winning the bid, and shares in the soon-to-be-built tavern. He still had to find a way to spread the prosperity to the rest of the village. It meant little for the village if only he and a couple outsider merchants were enriched.

A thought brewed in Claude's mind as the conversation wound down, and he decided to share it with the friendly man. He had a solution for the man's quandary. It would require a lot of capital, however, and he was doubtful whether the village chief had the guts to take on such a large project. His worries were unfounded, however. Chenova grabbed him by the arm and begged him to tell him what his thought was, no matter how outrageous.

"Tobacco," Claude answered.

Chenova slapped his forehead.

"Of course!"

Why hadn't he thought about it himself? It was one of Nubissia's biggest exports. It had yet to be grown on the continent on a large scale. It wasn't difficult, but the market was so well established in the colonies, and it could be sold for much more as an 'exotic import' rather than a homegrown crop, that none of the big guilds and companies that monopolised the trade with the colonies, bothered with setting up local production.

The thought had come to Claude because he'd ran into some tobacco seeds in Haggler Haven. The price of tobacco, in the capital at least, would fall dramatically if Chenova could get the village to start producing it on a large scale. The big companies were not going to let that happen without a fight, and Chenova knew this. If he was going to do this, he had to be resolved to see it through to the end, come what may.

Claude smiled as the chief forgot about him entirely and started talking to himself, planning his moves, and went on his way.

At the college, Manrique informed him that the advanced strategy class would begin in two days. Everyone had finally arrived and all the equipment had been procured. General Miselk would be the class' instructor.

"Do I need to prepare anything?" Claude asked.

"No. You were picked on extraordinary grounds, so I don't know what is expected of you. Just go with the flow. You should bring at least a quill and notebook with you though. You'll need at least that. I have to warn you, you're the lowest-ranking officer in the class, so everyone will be scrutinising you."





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