“Do you understand why I did that?” Morssen asked as he watched the busy stall from the study window on the first floor. His wife was currently tending to the auction.
After having lunch, Morssen asked Claude to go upstairs with him. He seemed intent to talk. Perhaps he wanted to know what Claude thought.
As expected, the study was empty. Anything that could be sold was brought downstairs. All that was left within was a thick desk and a cruddy, old chair as well as an old beastskin couch. Claude suspected that had the chair and couch’s furs not been damaged by exposure to sunlight, Morssen would sell them of as well. As for the desk, it was too heavy for Morssen alone to move.
Claude nodded, and shrugged. “I kind of understand what you’re going for, but I think it’s going a little too far.”
Morssen turned around and walked towards the desk. He took out a silver box which he kept his smoke leaves in, took out his ivory pipe from his pocket and filled it up with the slightest pinch of leaves. Those were his favorite possessions which he wasn’t able to bring himself to part with.
“I’m happy that you understand. That shows that you have a far sharper mind than your elder brother and a better foresight.” Morssen nodded and lit the leaves in his pipe before taking a puff. “Arbeit has never understood one thing. Even though I’ve been released without charges and only fired, that doesn’t mean everything is over. The bad luck still hasn’t left our family.
“The incident that happened to the trading fleet means that our investments are all gone. It’s my fault for being too optimistic and blinded by the tempting fortunes I thought I could earn. I ignored all the risk and ended up with nothing from the venture. I even ruined Tomas and the others’ futures. We could’ve advanced further. Discovering an entirely new sailing route will have probably netted us a Title.”
Morssen smoked bitterly. He appeared rather excitable and was wallowing in regret.
Claude didn’t know what he should say, nor did he know how to console his father. However, Morssen soon got hold of his emotions. He smiled bitterly and said, “It’s all too late to talk about that now. There’s no remedy for regret. However, I want you to learn from my mistake. Don’t go too far, and don’t be too greedy!”
Claude nodded to show his understanding.
Morssen sat into the chair. “It’s not that we don’t have any money. But I used most of it to invest in the trading fleet. Each long-distance merchant vessel and its crew require 500 crowns. Back then, I invested 350 crowns and got a loan from the national bank of 150 crowns. i thought the voyage would make me ten times my investment back, yet I didn’t think it would be attacked by the darned pirates.”
Claude gasped. He didn’t think that his father would be able to amass such a huge fortune even though he was a mere local bureaucrat. It looked like his position at the town hall came with a lot of other unofficial benefits.
Knowing what Claude was thinking, Morssen shook his head. “Claude, I didn’t accept a single penny in bribes during my tenure as chief secretary for the past decade or so. The sum comes from the savings I got from the dividends of the shares I own. I won’t deny that I obtained those shares in part due to my position, but that didn’t mean that I forced my way to obtain them. Many people invited me to hold some of their shares to avoid trouble, and I also paid the appropriate price for the shares as well.”
“Father, I wasn’t thinking that at all.” Claude let out cold sweat.
Morssen took another puff and sighed. “Arbeit has always thought that those shares would be something he would one day inherit. Yet, he didn’t think that continuing to hold onto those shares would only invite criticism now that I’ve lost my position. So, to avoid the trouble, I sold out all those shares for around 400 crowns. That will help me pay the bank loan back and also solve some troubles we have coming in the future.”
Claude suddenly found the whole matter to be rather weird. Morssen should’ve discussed these matters with Arbeit. After all, the kingdom’s laws usually let the first son be the default heir. Usually, sons after the first would have to leave the household upon reaching adulthood to form their own households. As long as the first son was still there, other sons would often not have the chance to partake in family discussions, so what was Morssen planning?
His father stood up and took his pipe to the window. “It’s the middle of the 2nd month now, and in one or two weeks, the news of the trading fleet will properly spread to Whitestag. That’s when our family will be embroiled in another storm. Near 300 households will have lost someone precious. That is a complete nightmare to the townsfolk.
“Baroness Maria mentioned this in her letter, which I’m sure you’ve read. She said that the king made a decision to not hide what befell the trading fleet. If we don’t handle this properly, we might not be able to continue living in Whitestag. Nobody will be able to live in peace with three hundred households’ hate focused on them. Even though their relatives were properly hired by us, in their eyes, we can’t be anything but the cause for their loss.”
Claude thought, Father is too focused on the family’s reputation in town… Though, it wasn’t completely unimaginable. The Ferd household had existed in Whitestag for almost a century since the time of Claude’s grandfather.. It had relied on Morssen to reach its current heights. There were few people that would leave town in an era like that, and the kingdom’s laws also forbade their citizens from relocating as they pleased as that would cause much trouble for tax collection and conscription.
Sometimes, Claude found himself admiring the business owners of his past life. Putting aside the hate from some three hundred households, they’re able to ignore even the complaints of tens of thousands of people and live out their lives in luxury. Like certain popular online pundits and personalities, they were able to completely ignore the combined hate of netizens and didn’t think themselves in the wrong at all, thinking of their critics as mere haters and trolls in their arrogance.
In that regard, Claude found himself thinking that his father had quite the moral character in how willing he was to stand up and take responsibility. Even though he had his own agendas, it was not much different from those other people held.
“Sigh, your elder brother doesn’t understand that our family is currently sitting at the edge of a volcano. He thinks that even if news of the trading fleet gets public and our investment fails, the sailors and crew doesn’t have anything to do with us since we already paid them for the job. That’s why he believes we don’t have to pay for the pension and reimbursement to their families and if any one of them troubles us, we can simply report them to the constables and send their family members to labor camps.”
Morssen grimaced and removed the pipe from his mouth. “Arbeit’s train of thought is far too simple. He adamantly refused my decision to sell the shares I own to pay for the pension and reimbursement. Yet, he didn’t even consider whether I would be able to hold on to those shares without my position as chief secretary. Given that Baron Robert calls the shots now in Whitestag and how he has always seen us as a thorn in his eye, there’s no doubt that he will get those trying to find trouble with us into cahoots with him.
“Given the baron’s character, I think it’s impossible for us to be stripped clean if we end up falling in his hands. By then, forget keeping my shares, we might even shoulder a mountain of debt to pay for the pension and reimbursement for the sailors all the same. Since that’s the case, I might as well sell the shares and our property off pay out what is due on my own accord. Not only would I win my reputation back, I would also deprive the mayor of this move. He wouldn’t be able to target this weakness of ours.”
Claude motioned his chin towards his busy mother. “Is selling off our property part of our self preservation tactic?”
“Self preservation…” Morssen contemplated that term and nodded bitterly. “That’s right, self preservation. You don’t know half of it. Without my position, my words no longer hold weight. Even though people still address me politely and respectfully, they’re actually mocking me secretly. If I were still the chief secretary, those shares of mine could be sold for some 700 crowns, but I only got around 400 for them, and that’s thanks to them taking our past relationship into account and not giving me any trouble. Looks like my sweet words to them over the years haven’t been wasted.
“What comes next for our family will be another period of hardship. We’re not just doing this for show. We really have to show that we’ve done all we can to help the ones who lost their family members and ended up living such difficult lives ourselves. That would mean that all we’re left with is this mansion of ours. We’ll have to rely on the rent provided by the house your grandfather left us to survive.
“Leaving a good reputation for ourselves in town will make Baron Robert more wary. And given that our household has fallen so low, he wouldn’t need to trouble himself with us either. Only after the whole matter with the trading fleet passes can we have a chance of rising from the ashes.
“If the king decides to expand on the new sailing route, we will gather funds one more time to buy a merchant vessel to once more sail to Nubissia to trade. Perhaps I might join the voyage and eventually become one of the biggest maritime traders between the two continents.”
Claude smiled. It was fine as long as his father hadn’t given up on fighting. He was most worried that his father would be depressed from losing his position and become a chronic alcoholic like his grandfather. It looked like his worry was for naught. His father was still alert and aware and knew what he should and shouldn’t do. He still had plans and confidence for the future.
“Oh, by the way, I’ve called you here to discuss your future with you.” Morssen finally recalled what he called his son for in the first place.
“I’m sorry, son. It looks like the plan for you to go to the Tyrrsim colony is for naught,” Morssen said after a long moment’s pause.
Claude was relieved and wondered why his father was so hesitant about it. Whether he could go to Nubissia to join the unit of a godfather he hadn’t even met was something he put behind him long ago. The moment the incident that happened with the trading fleet came to light, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to go. The new route was occupied by pirates and before the kingdom cleared them out, there would be no way for Claude to board a ship there.
“It’s fine, Father. I don’t really mind that. For now, I’m quite happy with working at the wood. I’m not looking forward to enlist,” Claude said honestly.
Morssen shook his head. “That’s not what I’m worried about. You’re already an adult and you’re registered as a peasant. While you may be able to avoid forced conscription for the military given your status as supervisor of Normanley Wood, given that you’re the number-one graduate in your school’s physical stream, you’ll end up receiving an order to enlist. You won’t be able to avoid it.”
Physical stream students like Claude were the best candidates for enlistment into the military, not to mention the grades with which he graduated. In a time of line musket formations, students like Claude were the prime candidates for low-ranking officers. They were also the type of officers that suffered the most casualties in a war. Even Maria wouldn’t be able to protect him from enlistment.
“We’ll see when the time comes. We can’t be sure when the order to enlist will come and I’m sure there’s some way we can go about it. And even if I’m enlisted, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be posted to the battlefield. And even if that’s the case, that doesn’t mean my luck will necessarily be bad.” That was the best he could come up with to console his father.
Morssen glared at Claude solemnly and seemed a little angry. “You definitely didn’t read the letter Lady Maria wrote you. Didn’t you notice that His Majesty still hasn’t decided on which proposal to choose? If the original plan is kept, you will be enlisted directly in half a year. I hope that the king chooses to work on the new sailing route instead. That way, the enlistment drive will commence a year later. That means that you’ll only have one year to take the test to become a certified herbalist to avoid becoming cannon fodder on the frontlines!”
It was Claude’s turn to smile awkwardly. Could he really become a low-ranked herbalist in one year’s time? He wasn’t confident in doing so, unless he stopped training in magic and working on his experiments and instead focused all his energy in learning herbalism under intense guidance by someone in the field. Perhaps, then, he would have a decent chance in succeeding.
“I understand, Father. I’ll work hard on my studies when I go back,” Claude said.