Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 46
Choice for the Future
"Is... is it for me?" Claude asked, reaching for the musket and lifting it out of the straw gingerly.
He would never have expected it. He had told his father he wanted his own musket, but it was only something he'd brought up in passing, he never thought he'd actually get one. His father didn't like weapons, especially firearms. He believed it made people too prone to resort to violence to solve problems they ought to with their wits.
Why, then, would he buy Claude a musket? It wasn't second hand, it was fresh out of the factories, which meant it cost five or six crowns. Why would his stingy father buy him such an expensive thing? What were the strings?
His father would have burnt the gun in the fireplace if he'd know what thoughts were racing through his son's head.
He didn't know about his son's 'reincarnation'. He had decided the paths his children would take in their lives as far as he could. Arbeit was set on the path in the bureaucracy, and Claude was to go into the military. For that he would need to be capable with weapons.
Life in the military was tough, even more so in times of war, and even worse if one ended up on the frontlines. Much of one's survival was down to luck, but his father was determined to make sure his son had to rely on luck as little as he could possibly get away with.
However it may seem, Morssen loved his sons. He wasn't sending his second son into the military to die. He wanted him to survive, and, if possible thrive, away from any wars, which was why he had specifically arranged for the boy to be sent to Tyrrsim, and to place him under his godfather.
He was reminded of his decision when the boy asked for a musket, and decided it was time for him to begin training and familiarising himself with a personal firearm. He was indeed usually a very stingy man -- he preferred to think of it as being thrifty -- but he was not going to stand on money when it could improve his son's chances of survival. He spent without reserve to send his first son to highschool, so he would do the same in buying his second a firearm and making sure he got the training he needed.
He smiled at how 'unlike his usual self' he sounded and added more tobacco to his pipe. He preferred a specific plantation on Nubissia's tobacco. It was the only regular thing on which he was willing to splurge. It helped his conscience that he felt it was expected of someone of his station to understand the refinements of good tobacco. It was also a very handy thing when he was interrogating someone over their financial journals. It made for a great excuse to drag something or a question out, to let people stew a bit as he worked on his pipe.
"Like it?" he asked, very happy with how gingerly his son stroked the gun, inspecting every little thing about it as if examining a fine young lady.
"Yes! Thank you, Father!" Claude's face split in half and a row of white teeth grinned at him, "But, why you would buy me a musket? I thought you hated weapons?"
Morssen's content smile faded.
"I do hate weapons, and so does your older brother. We're bureaucrats. We're used to solving problems with our wits.
"You're different, Claude. You're a physical boy. You're in the physical course in school too. You're also about to graduate in a year. Like it or not, you have to make a choice when you turn 18. You must either find a normal job here in town, and stay a peasant for the rest of your life, or work towards becoming a dignitarian.
"Your grades don't let you join the town hall and train to become a bureaucrat like your brother and I. You'll have to get first place in your entire grade this year and next year if you want to change that.
"Otherwise you have to join the military. You could either join the army or the navy, but I'd suggest you join the army. The navy is very risky.
"You've already shown you're good with weapons, I mean half-dead or not, you hunted a snake at 16! The military is the logical choice, so I want you to be as prepared as you can be, and learning to use a musket properly and getting lots of practice with it is the most important part of that."
Claude stared at his father. The last thing he expected this evening to bring forth was a serious discussion about his future with his father.
He didn't care about the castes one bit. He didn't care about being a dignitarian, it made no difference to him. He could always just leave the country if he didn't like how things were going. He was resolved to live his life the way he wanted, regardless of what the kingdom's laws said.
He, and his three friends, for that matter, wanted to become adventurers and travel the world -- learning all there was to learn about its mysteries. Foremost among them magic.
Now his father was seriously thinking about sending him to the military?
"Umm.. Father... If I don't enlist in the military, can I just stay a peasant and remain in Whitestag?"
Only a fool would leave the town to become cannon fodder for some noble. He could live very comfortably here. Even as a peasant, he would have a decent life since his father occupied one of the top positions in the town's government.
"Sigh… It's not that simple, Claude. All physical course students are considered reserves. Even if you don't actively join the military, you can easily be drafted if a war breaks out. You won't have a choice in the matter. And unlike when you enlist, you will have absolutely no choice in where they send you. Not that you have a terrible amount of choice even when you enlist freely, but still. Plus, if you join now and work hard, you might be an officer by the time any war breaks out, which'll give you much better chances at surviving."
What? He was already a reserve?
No wonder they were basically receiving bootcamp-lite at school! They were being prepared for their inevitable enlistment or draft!
He'd always thought the setup was very strange, eccentric even, but he'd never expected it to be this bad! He had at least been positively inclined towards it before, thought that it was well-suited to the state of the world, and gave people the skills they needed to make informed decisions in their life and make a success of them. Now? He was paying for his own military recruitment!
"The military isn't that terrifying, you know," his father said through a puff of smoke, "You've grown so much since you recovered from your illness. You take care of your little brother and sister, you help your mother diligently, and your grades are really improving. You even like to read now. I am very proud of the son you've become, even though you and your brother still..."
He paused for a moment, his eyes sad.
"Anyway, we're talking about your future. Your mother and I obviously don't want you to leave us, but life doesn't give us much choice. I would love nothing more than have you all stay here, maybe in one of our apartments, even when you start a family. But I'm your father, so I also want you to be successful and climb higher than I've gotten. I don't want you to be just a peasant. I don't want that to be the limit of your ambition. You won't have a hard life as a peasant, but the kingdom is only several stone throws away from war right now, and if you're a peasant when that happens, you will be conscripted and I can do nothing about that. Since this is going to happen one way or another, I want to get you in the military ahead of time so you can set yourself up in as safe a place as possible. I've arranged to have you placed in Tyrrsim with your godfather, Viscount Jerrihausen Van Cruz. It's far away from the way, and if you work hard and stand out, he can keep you from being transferred to the frontlines."
At least his father's made good plans, Claude thought. He agreed that war was just around the corner, and inevitable. He'd never heard about this godfather though. He couldn't see how his father got so close to a viscount. Not only was the man a noble, but his title put him at least four ranks above his father even in the bureaucracy.
"This all happened when I was still young, before I earned the dignity needed for my elevation. I was serving as a peasant scribe in the town hall. I received my fourth commendation after submitting yet another excellent proposal to my superiors, and the viscount was the one tasked with handing it to me.
"You were born on the day he arrived in town. I offered him the chance to name you, and he named you Claude, after a comrade of his who'd died on the battlefield. He came to see you often while he was in the prefectures. We only have occasional contact now, about three letters a year."
So that was how it was. Going to Nubissia might not be such a bad idea, in that case.