Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 572
Back when Claude was created an honorary baron of the kingdom by Stellin X, he chose Han to be his sobriquet to remember his past life by. Naturally, his official excuse was he picked it to honour his benefactor, Prince Hansbach, hence using part of his name as the sobriquet. From that moment onwards, Claude's full address was Baron Claude Han Ferd.
As Claude's family members, his mother, wife, sister and little brother all basked in Claude's limelight, so they could use that sobriquet for themselves too. As Claude's noble Title and status rose, the Han sobriquet became a signature mark of House Ferd. For instance, Claude even made their family insignia a golden shield with the word Han in the middle.
Yet, Arbeit now introduced himself as Arbeit Sen Ferd, much to Claude's surprise. Since when did House Ferd's sobriquet change to Sen? Not to mention, shouldn't his rank only be that of a hereditary baron, seeing that he upgraded from an honorary viscount Title? Why would Arbeit be using the viscount Title then?
"Haha, Claude, this is actually Mother's decision," Arbeit said with a calm smile, "Mother said that House Ferd only managed to rise to such heights thanks to Father's discovery of the new trade route, so she requested His Majesty to change the house sobriquet to Sen to commemorate Father. However, His Majesty said changing the house's sobriquet required your explicit approval, so Mother only asked for hers and my sobriquet to be changed."
Claude smiled, but his expression still seemed cold. "It's understandable. I'm sure Mother has her own plans. Perhaps she sees this as letting the house returning on its right track. After all, you, the eldest son, is back to inherit the family name. I'm sure she must be satisfied. Now, what did you come to see me for?"
Arbeit sincerely lowered his head to apologise. "Claude, due to the folly of youth back then, I didn't fulfil my duties as the elder sibling to you and our brother and sister. After the passing of so many years, I came to regret it deeply. But I am also happy to hear that you all have been doing quite well. Apologising to you was the first reason I came to visit. As for the other... Mother asked me to come to ask for your help."
Claude shook his head with a smile. "Tell me, what is Mother up to again? I know she wouldn't think of us if she didn't want anything. As for your apology, forget it. We don't deserve a brother like you. Arbeit, you may be able to hide it from Mother, but you won't fool the three of us. We know what kind of person you are. Actually, I feel better now that Mother changed your sobriquet. We are no longer family."
Claude's words did indeed hit the mark. Madam Ferd changed the sobriquet with the intention of making House Sen Ferd the main house and House Han Ferd as the branch. With a different sobriquet, the two houses were separate entities. Claude trusted that his brother and sister would follow him and use him without changing. Not to mention, Bloweyk could finally bear the Han Ferd name. He had relinquished it because their mother's actions had killed Adele. But now, he could finally reclaim the name since their mother now belonged to a separate household.
"No, no, no, Claude, people change," Arbeit hurriedly said, "I wronged you all, but it was due to my youth and inexperience. Whitestag was my whole world back then. But as I travelled Freia I experienced a lot and realised I can only truly trust and rely on my family. Even if we have different sobriquets, the same blood still flows in our veins, our father's--"
Claude stretched his finger out and shook it in front of Arbeit's face.
"I'm busy. I don't have time for your platitudes. Just tell me what Mother wants."
As the head of the region's military administration, Claude had more than enough weight to throw around. There was also the fact that he was the kingdom's Lord Militant and a hereditary count, so Arbeit didn't dare to bring up their blood relation once Claude had shot it down. He forced a smile, but felt his body shrivel. He lost his gentlemanly aura entirely.
"W-well... Mother wants you to pay the loan she owes the king and give us fief support. She owes the king a million crowns. She even wrote you a letter."
Arbeit took out the letter his mother had written and put it on the table in front of Claude. Claude's fury overtook him and several burning laughs escaped his mouth.
"I would really like to know why other people's fiefs and elevation cost only 500 thousand crowns while Mother's cost a million."
"That's because Father's honorary Title is that of a viscount, so Mother spent another 500 thousand to get His Majesty's help to elevate me to hereditary viscount. That way, our fief can be larger," Arbeit explained.
Who knew that was even possible? The king and queen really had ways of making money. Claude was almost impressed. For all his effort in mobilising Thundercrash, Typhoon, and the eight homecoming Shiksan folks, not to mention planning the Shiks' invasion, he only got some ten million crowns and he had to put in lots of effort to ship his prize back too.
Yet, the king and queen could devise get-rich-quick schemes that worked just by lazing around on their thrones, managing to get another 500 thousand crowns out of his mother just like that. Should word of that get out, many more nobles might be willing to pay that sum to be made a hereditary viscount, as a viscounty encompassed a town and two villages while a baron's only had a village the size of Squirrel if they were lucky.
"I won't. I'm not even worth a million crowns. Since you're going to inherit the Sen Ferd household and its Title, its debts are your responsibility. It is none of my concern."
Did mothers who screwed their sons like that even exist? Claude was completely speechless. Madam Ferd only thought about him when she wanted to spend money. She didn't even consider the fact that Morssen's achievements wouldn't have been acknowledged if not for Claude. Perhaps he was far too lenient on his mother's actions to the point she became a laughing stock of the kingdom.
Nobody would be happy to be slapped with a debt of a million crowns out of nowhere. Claude suspected that the annual income of the viscounty won't even be enough to pay off the interest of that million-crown loan. As expected, Arbeit panicked.
"Why wouldn't you have that? Mother said you could easily get two or three million crowns if you use your shares of the tobacco factory! Isn't the tobacco factory a household asset? Mother only incurred that debt to pay back our household debts..."
"Hahaha... What does Mother have to do with the factory? Has she done anything to the benefit of the factory? It's House Han Ferd's asset, not Sen Ferd's. She should learn that we are no longer the same family."
Claude gave the goatskin parchment another glance and burst out laughing again.
"What... what does she want three thousand new rifles for?! Robbery? Ten thousand goats, a thousand cows, two thousand luxury carriages, eight sets of premium court cutlery and two carriages' worth of jewellery... and she dares to demand another ten thousand crowns of allowance on top of that? What does she take me for? A bank?"
"T-the nobles that came back from Shiks said you made a killing and hit the jackpot in Saint Cyprean, unlike them. They had to toil hard in the western prefectures... They said you would be richer by ten's of millions of crowns after this. Mother's only asking you for a small bit of it," Arbeit said fearfully at the sight of Claude's rage.
"<i>This</i> is a small bit?--" Claude slammed the parchment on his desk. "--This is the <i>lion's</i> share! Do you think the spoils are mine alone?! Let me tell you... If I dare to agree to give Mother all this, I will be court-martialed tomorrow!"
"B-but aren't you the Lord Militant and commander-in-chief of the region's military?"
The pitiful Arbeit didn't understand the governance of the region at all. The way he saw it, Claude called all the shots since he was commander-in-chief, and his word was all that was needed to get the spoils. Had that been the case, Bolonik wouldn't have had to step down from the military administration for agreeing to the arms deal with the kingdom without the others' approval back then.
"Whatever. There's no point explaining to you since you wouldn't get it. Tell me, for what does she want the rifles?"
The other demands in the parchment could be explained by his mother wanting to show off. However, the three thousand rifles definitely wasn't something his mother would think of asking for. Arbeit definitely played a part in that, so Claude was curious to know his intentions.
"T-this..." Arbeit hesitated for a long moment before he stammered, "I only w-want to form a guard force... That way we can go on the battlefield like other nobles to make some money..."
Claude smirked again. It was pointless to go any further. He might as well send Arbeit off quickly.
"Do you know how much it costs to feed our troops? And are you trying to revolt with three thousand rifles? A viscounty is usually only defended by a clan of 200-odd men. How could you afford to sustain thousands of troops for war when the fief is barely able to support itself? Do you think a simple commoner will become a good soldier just because he has a rifle? Aren't you worried about them shooting you in the back for how you treat them? You're delusional..."
Claude pulled on the bell-rope near his desk. Fachselin entered a second later.
"How may I be of service?"
"Captain, you have all my salary, right? How much do I have?"
"I collected your salary from last year on your behalf. You have 103528 crowns. I have a detailed record of your account," Fachselin replied.
"Get me ten thousand-crown notes."
"Understood." Soon, Fachselin returned with those notes.
"Arbeit, these ten thousand crowns are the last bit of help you'll get from me. Consider it a parting gift from my family to yours. I will have nothing to do with any of you from now on.
"Captain Fachselin, take him to the logistics department to pick one royal Shiksan carriage, two sets of court cutlery, and a thousand Shiksan-made firearms and appropriate ammunition. Take the costs out of my salary. I trust the other three thousand crowns should be enough to cover it."
Arbeit seemed to want to say something, but Claude chased him out before he had the chance.
Borkal came in later and opened a bottle of wine without asking yet again.
"What's wrong? You look exhausted."
"I'm mentally drained--" He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. "--You bastard... you're here to sneak a drink at my wine again, aren't you? Didn't you notice you've been gaining weight lately?"
Borkal poured himself a glass of wine. "Was that fellow just now Arbeit? He looks a little familiar from afar."
As Claude's childhood friend, Borkal was quite familiar with Claude's completely dissimilar elder brother.
Claude nodded and told Borkal what happened.
"Your mother..." Borkal sighed and shook his head. "I really don't know what to say. I suppose it's good that the households are split now. They won't be able to cause you any trouble in the future. However, Claude, I'd like to remind you that Arbeit might still be a thorn in your foot. I recall that the prefecture of Simlock has issued an arrest warrant for him. It still hasn't been cancelled."
Claude's eyes snapped open. "What?! Arbeit's a fugitive?! What in the world did he do?!"
Simlock was one of the three southwestern prefectures of the kingdom that neighbour Whitestag and Balivia. It was a rural place with conservative citizens. Claude recalled that Borkal's aunt was wedded into a rather well-off family in that prefecture.
"Didn't I tell you I served in a keeper tribe in Banjilia? When the First Great War broke out, my unit was in the second batch to be sent to the frontlines. A few days before we were mobilised, a marriage fraud took place in the prefectural capital of Banjilia. A baroness by the name of Audrey widowed for many years had most of her assets swindled away. That incident is pretty well known locally and caused quite a lot of commotion.
"The scammer went by the name of Captain Jerad, a logistics officer of the kingdom's army that came to Banjilia to investigate the quality of supplies to be sent to the frontlines. He met the 34-year-old baroness and they fell deeply in love. They decided to get married a month later. The marriage was only to take place after Jerad's family came to join the ceremony. The supplies came up short before then, so Baroness Audrey took out most of her assets to temporarily make up for the shortage.
"The captain disappeared two days before the ceremony. The baroness thought he had an urgent mission to take care of and contacted the ministry of the army. She was told there was no one by that name and rank on their personnel sheets. An investigation revealed they had all been had. Captain Jerad was a scammer and made off with most of the baroness' assets. So, the wanted poster of the captain was put up. I saw it and noticed that he looked like Arbeit.
"Then, I went to the frontlines. When I returned after the war, I took up a post as a tribesman in Banjilia's keeperage. During one banquet I attended, I heard someone bring up the matter again. It seemed that the baroness took down the wanted notice to not risk any more public embarrassment. However, she's still secretly looking for that scammer," Borkal explained.
"Are you sure Captain Jerad is Arbeit?" Claude asked with a furrowed brow.
"You should know how sharp my eyes are. Be they goods or people, my eyes don't lie to me. Not to mention, how would I not know it's Arbeit after seeing him so often in my childhood? I know the depiction on the wanted poster is slightly off and shows him in military attire, but I could tell right away that it's Arbeit.
"Not to mention, Arbeit should've left Whitestag for some two years already by that time. You wrote to me that he abandoned you lot and your mother was asking around for word of him. However, nobody in Whitestag really paid attention to him, and since he became that Sir Fux's secretary, he only worked in the manor for the most part. Normal merchants don't really remember him either, so nobody in Simlock really knows about him.
"However, Baroness Audrey is still around. If she meets Arbeit, she'll definitely recognise him. I heard the baroness didn't plan to get a fief from the king and has always stayed in her manor in Banjilia. It's likely she'll live out the rest of her life there. As for others who've met 'Captain Jerad' before, they've probably forgotten about the matter already, so Arbeit's probably fine here. But just in case..."
Claude nodded his understanding at what Borkal was hinting at. It would be really humiliating for a Lord Militant's elder brother to be a scammer, even if their households were now separated.
"Let's not talk about this anymore," Claude said, changing the subject. "You didn't just come to drink wine, did you?"
"Oh, I almost forgot. I just received word from the northlands in Shiks. I came to report."