Nobody could refuse the olive branch Maria stretched out to them. The former chief constable, Tomas, former treasurer, as well as Borkal’s father, Rublier, all agreed to mortgage their property for shares in the venture. But as the trading fleet had caused them to lose quite a lot, they were only able to get a percent or two of shares. Even Rublier, the largest merchant in Whitestag, only had five percent. He had the most out of the others.
That was all considered by Claude beforehand, however. Nobody was having a great time nowadays. Not only did the trading fleet cause his father’s associates to lose money, they also lost a lot of sway in Whitestag. Losing their administrative positions was one thing. The main issue was that Mayor Robert was the sole person calling the shots in the town hall.
Add to the fact that the fourth band of the garrison had become his fangs and claws and the support he had from Sir Fux from behind the scenes, Mayor Robert announced a new taxation policy during the start of the 4th month. Two new taxes were introduced, one of them being market management tax and the other being town security tax. The taxes were introduced with the official reason being the maintenance of the garrison clan’s expenses.
Those two taxes applied mainly to business, big or small, ranging from large stores to hawker stalls by the roadside. Mayor Robert seemed to be quite level-headed in the sense that he knew that businesses would have more flexibility when it came to payments. He didn’t levy those taxes on the common households in town as that would easily incite rage among the populace.
Even though they weren’t aware of why Maria would mortgage Normanley Woo for the so-called real estate development company they were going to form, everyone was pleased to see Rodan. They were also really thankful to Claude for introducing them. Tomas, for instance, quickly mortgaged all his property away for two percent of the shares.
During the 4th month, the biggest news in Whitestag was that the famed Baroness Maria Fen Normanley from the royal capital mortgaged Normanley Wood to the national bank and invested 20 thousand crowns into Normanley Real Estate. Apart from that, there were eleven other shareholders in her company, most of them being people of repute who also invested in the trading fleet. They started buying out property in the name of creating prosperity for the town.
Though people weren’t aware of Maria’s plans, the real estate prices in Whitestag grew up to three times during that time. Mayor Robert was said to have requested to meet Rodan the butler a number of times to find out the truth of the matter, but all Rodan said was that Maria felt melancholic of the current state of the slums and wanted to invest in her hometown to revitalize it.
With the help of the local shareholders, the purchasing of property at the slums went without a hitch. The slums were divided by the old street into two sectors, east and west. Rodan purchased mostly the real estate of the eastern sector, which occupied up to two-thirds of the slums’ area. However, there were some who didn’t wish to sell their property during the whole process.
“These people aren’t willing to sell because they have no other place to live after doing so. In other words, selling their property off would make them homeless, so they aren’t willing to let their property go no matter how much we offer,” Tomas summarized his detailed report. He seemed to carry out his tasks reliably.
Claude nodded. He had factored in something like that long ago. “Since they aren’t willing to sell their property for that reason, the easiest solution is to provide them with new accommodation. Do you remember the large plot of public land I had Rodan buy in the eastern sector? We can build a few rows of apartments there first and sign a contract with those unwilling to move. When the construction is complete, they can just move there. All we have to do later is to provide them with some compensation. Regardless, we must get all the property in the eastern sector. Only then can we develop the whole place uniformly into an upper-middle class area.”
“Why can’t we just promise to give them one of the rebuilt houses when it’s done? We won’t have to build a whole new apartment that way,” suggested someone.
Claude shook his head. “The apartments we build at the empty spots can be simpler. They only have to be sturdy and lasting. In the eastern sector, we will be developing the area as a whole and we need to couple it with parks, plazas, all kinds of shop lots, all to raise the value of the property here. If we build give houses to the original owners in that sector, we’ll be making quite a bit of loss.”
Nothing was more persuasive than profit. Everyone understood what Claude was talking about instantly.
“Alright, that’s how we’ll go about it. I will seek those people out again.” Tomas turned and prepared to leave.
“Wait, Uncle Tomas,” Claude said, “If those people are still hesitant, you can offer them the single-storey shop lots at the western sector. We’re not going to interfere with those and we’re going to sell them off anyway. As for the shop lots in the eastern sector, they won’t be for sale. We’ll only be renting them out.”
The townsfolk were filled with curiosity and confusion with regards to the development of the slums by Normanley Real Estate. After the eastern sector was purchased, the company also drafted a grand plan of the developed area to be displayed on busy streets. They attracted the eyes of many. What they didn’t understand was who the newly developed areas would be sold to. Most rich people in Whitestag already had their own residences and the poor couldn’t afford new housing either. The baroness couldn’t possibly be that charitable as to give the poor folk houses, right?
Claude was so swept up in work that he couldn’t break away. Fortunately, his mother had mostly recovered and took over the chores. He no longer had to help out at home. The matters of the company were also running themselves. The finances were taken care of by Rodan and Claude got Kefnie to be Rodan’s helper. Rodan was getting rather old, after all, and having someone to help out eased much of the strain on him.
Using twenty thousand crowns, they purchased the whole eastern sector of the slums and erected a few rows of four-storey buildings there. Most of the money had been spent by then. What came next was tearing down the old and run-down houses and flattening the ground, which were taken care of by tomas. Claude already instructed him to recruit as many talented personnel as he could from the slums for construction workers, supervisors and security staff.
Meanwhile, Claude was busy searching for talented building planners that could design the neighborhood to be as profitable as possible so that the shareholders would be satisfied with their profits. As for the cost of construction, Claude wasn’t too worried about that. Rodan and the former treasurer were in talks with the bank to mortgage the eastern area of the slums away for another set of funds for further construction.
Soon, it was the 5th month and Welikro came over to see Claude. When he saw him, he took out his intricate shortsword and placed it in Claude’s hands.
“What’s the meaning of this? Isn’t this your prized possession?” Claude asked.
Welikro loved his shortsword, which he had bought with his share of the spoils from hunting. Claude recalled that he found it in a stall at the open market. Welikro spent the high price of a crown to buy it and wasn’t too keen on lending it to his friends to play with.
“I have to leave…” Welikro said with a sigh.
“The royal capital. As you surely know. my father offended Mayor Robert and during the past month, Butcher Bill and his fourth band had begun to provoke us a number of times. We’re having quite the hard time lately. In a fit of rage, my father wrote to the superior officer of the unit he belonged in and even submitted my middle school results. He just got the reply and it came with a conscription order for me. I’m going to be enlisting in my father’s old unit in the royal army and I’m getting my passport made today. Tomorrow, our whole family will leave for the royal capital. That’s why I’m here to bid you farewell.”
Kubrik had offended Mayor Robert during the formation of the town’s garrison clan, which resulted in his isolation from the garrison. Currently, Butcher Bill, the boss of Blacksnake, patrols the western outskirts of town with his fourth band. Given that Welikro’s house is outside of town at the foot of the hill, he would have to pass through the western entrance to get into town.
Per Mayor Robert’s instructions, the fourth band was to give strict checks to Kubrik when he entered and left town, purportedly to make sure that he didn’t bring forbidden goods in or out the town. Though his carriage was often ransacked and made a mess off, other people’s carriages were allowed to pass without fuss. Kubrik was so angry that he almost flipped out against the fourth band a number of times.
It was no wonder he refused the offer Claude extended to be a shareholder in the real estate company. He was waiting for a reply from the royal capital. As the son of a good retired soldier who had great grades to boot, nobody would refuse a recruit like Welikro.
“I should congratulate you for becoming a proud member of the royal army then.” Claude felt a little melancholic. The first one to leave was Borkal. Then came the incident with Eriksson and the trading fleet, which caused a rift in their friendship. And now, Welikro was going to depart as well.
“So, your whole family is leaving?” Claude patted on his friend’s shoulder. He couldn’t be sure when they would meet next, if ever.
“That’s right. My father’s old superior got him a job as a bodyguard for some noble. The pay sounds rather good. Either way, we won’t be able to live in Whitestag for long. That’s why my father decided to move all of us there. There are lots of people there and we might finally find a man willing to take my sister as his wife.”
Claude found sadly that he didn’t have anything he could give Claude as a memorial. He shrugged and said, “When are you leaving? I’ll send you off–”
“There’s no need, we’re leaving first thing tomorrow morning. Everything we want to bring is already packed up. We won’t be going through town either. Instead, we’ll circle around it to avoid being troubled. You don’t have to see me off. I’ll write to you when I settle down. Just remember to write me a reply.” Welikro cracked a smile and hugged Claude tightly before leaving.
During the afternoon, Claude picked his little sister up and during dinner, his mother brought up how living in the wood made it inconvenient for her to go to the open market for grocery shopping. Claude seemed to agree with it. There were only two carriages in the wood and Claude used one of them. The other one was the old one belonging to Siori.
Nowadays, he was kept really busy in town and Siori wasn’t slacking off either. He drove his carriage around town to pick up anything he could from the purchased property and wasn’t at the wood often. Whenever Claude’s mother wanted to buy things, she had no choice but to walk to town. It seemed that he had no choice but to buy a new carriage for the wood and pick a gentle horse for her mother to use.
As for Rodan, he lived in a house that was in relatively better condition within the slums ever since the founding of the company. The coachman that came with him lived there too. He had to stay there to ensure the large scale project ran well, so he didn’t live at the wood.
“I’ll go to the open market tomorrow to buy you a carriage. The wooden hut is ours now and we can have someone build a stable for us next to it,” Claude decided.
When everyone went to sleep after dinner, Claude entered his study. He had been kept occupied for the most part that he didn’t have time to perform any alchemical experiments. The presence of his family also made it rather inconvenient, so he could only practice meditation after they all slept.
Either way, the matter with the real estate development was more or less settled. He could leave the rest to Rodan, Tomas and the others. Like a boat that was set on Balinga, its course was charted and all it depended on next was the effort of the boat rowers. In that sense, Claude was the one who charted the course.
It should be getting more relaxed soon, thought Claude. Right after that, he heard a knocking from the door behind him.
He opened it and saw the pale face of his sister.
“Why aren’t you asleep yet? Don’t you have school tomorrow?” Claude asked with a friendly smile.
“Tomorrow’s Sunday. There’s no school,” she said.
Claude only just noticed the magical cookbook in her hands.
“Oh, so the cookbook was here… No wonder I wasn’t able to find it…” He recalled that he snatched the cookbook away from the auction stall his father set up back then and left it in Angelina’s hands after he went upstairs to look for them.
However, she clutched the book tightly. “Claude, I have a secret I want to tell you… There are blue words hidden in this cookbook…”