Claude’s life should have returned to normal after the baroness’ departure for the capital, but it didn’t. She charged him with watching over her estate, even putting the Sioris under him. He thought about it for several hours after her departure, and decided to go home first to inform his parents.
He found two horses in the stables. The older one was Tonny, he had a gentle demeanour and a patient temperament. The younger one, Jemmy, the one Claude had kept from running off the road, was more impetuous. He was originally the butler’s horse of choice, he’d been the one to bring the baroness from the capital. Rodan decided to leave him in the countryside for a while this time. He hoped it would cool him down some.
The manor had a carriage and a coach. The coach was for the baroness and Rodan’s exclusive use, but the carriage could be used by the servants for their errand runs; the Sioris used it to go to town when they needed to buy supplies.
The coach was small, only large enough to fit two people on two small seats. It was the one tethered to Jemmy when Claude met the baroness. Rodan preferred it over the carriage for his trips to the old tavern. The baroness also used it occasionally for incognito trips into town. Claude had been added to the short list of people with permission to use it.
He had originally planned to ride Jemmy home, but he had to bring luggage back to the manor with him, so it would be better to take the carriage. He made sure to tell the Sioris he would be using the carriage before leaving.
His mother, little brother, and the snowhound were home. The little piggy nearly choked on his rain-drenched snot when he finally saw Claude again and refused to let go until his mother pried him loose for his afternoon nap. Claude only got to speak to his mother after the little piggy was asleep. The conversion was bittersweet, but short, and he headed to the attic to pack his things.
He didn’t have many possessions; a couple of sets of clothes, a towel, a few personal hygiene products — what little there was of such things in this world — Landes’ diaries and notebook, the stone chest and the shaliuns. Claude had considered leaving the magic related things behind, but after considering the possible dangers, especially of his mother deciding to give his room a thorough clean in his absence, he decided it would be for the best to take everything with him.
He was heading downstairs with his bag when he remembered the three magic items he’d bought from Wakri’s shop. He kicked himself lightly. Damnit, he should have asked Lady Maria what she thought of them! It was too late for regrets now, however, so he put the thought aside, fetched the items, and took everything to the dining room.
He wanted to leave immediately, but his mother insisted he stay for dinner. He had to make a run to town before then, however, so he left his things in the dining room and took the carriage to town. He stopped by the market to buy oats, black-turtle beans, and a few eggs for the horse. He took him to the stream, gave him a good washing and brushing, then took it home where he fed it just before dinner.
Morssen returned just as Claude was cleaning up the table after his dinner. Claude set a place for his father, and opened his mouth to speak, but was stopped by his father’s hand.
“I already know,” his father said.
How could he know when nobody had told him yet?
“Lady Maria sent me a letter this morning. She said she was very happy with your performance so far and has decided to keep you on more permanently. She’ll pay you three thales a month–” His father shook his head bitterly. “–I earn three thales a month for being the town’s chief secretary, but you get it for being a guard. I also had to work nearly a decade for the promotion, while you’re getting it with your first job even before you graduate! I really don’t know…”
His eyes wandered the dining room for a long moment, then settled on the bags behind the door.
“Those yours?” he asked.
“Yes. My clothes, a few personal things, and my textbooks.”
His father took out his pipe and packed it while his son spoke. He lit it and puffed a few times until a satisfying blob of smoke came out with his breath.
“Lady Maria sent me an envelope with the details of one of her local bank accounts. She’s opened it specifically to hold your salary money. She won’t be here for a while to pay your salary herself, so I’m to withdraw the money from the account and pay it to you on her behalf on the 15th of each month. You should get yourself a trunk for your luggage, by the way.”
Claude had to fight to keep his hand from slapping his face. Of course! Why hadn’t he thought of getting a trunk? He’d even been in the market just an hour ago! Ugh, he really ought to sharpen up his common sense. He shook his head and scolded himself again.
Well, at least no one would see him with his little sack tonight. But he really ought to get a trunk as soon as possible. Not before his father gave him his first paycheque though, otherwise he might realise he had other money stashed away somewhere.
“The baroness seems to have quite a bit of interest in you. I wonder what you did to catch her eye… She said you can continue to attend school until you graduate, but you mustn’t neglect her estate, you understand?”
Claude nodded obediently. His mother had to fight back the tears when they said their goodbyes, and she wouldn’t stop reminding him to eat properly and wear warm enough clothes. Arbeit skulked in the corner, unable to hide the jealousy and envy in his eyes.
“Lady Maria has been teaching me herbal medicine. She said I have a talent for it,” Claude added to squash any would-be rumours.
“I see,” Morssen murmured, his eyes glowing, “I regret arranging to send you to the military. If you could stay on with the baroness and earn her favour you might not even need to serve at all. And if you could become an apothecary, then, even if you have to serve, you wouldn’t be put in harm’s way. You started too late, I’m afraid. The tests are in the 11th month already, so I doubt you’ll be ready in time.”
The certification exams took place only once a year. They were very difficult and the markers were very strict. Not to mention one had to study an almost unrealistic amount of material for them.
Many applied for the exams, but usually only a couple qualified each time. Despite the incredible failure rate, people still kept coming, and many took the exams several times. The benefits the crown handed out to apothecaries were just too worth it. One of the big ones was an exemption from the draft in all but the most dire of situations, and a cushy position in the army if one volunteered. Even if they didn’t join the army itself, but worked for it as a private healer, they would still earn quite a tidy income from treatment fees.
It was too late, even for Claude, however. There was no way he would be prepared for the exams in time, even if he did nothing but study and sleep. He might be ready for the next year’s exams, but this year was out of the question.
Claude said another round of quick goodbyes, glaring at his mother to not pester him again, and departed. Arbeit ignored him completely and Claude was all too happy to play along. His younger siblings weren’t as obliging, unfortunately. It took a fair amount of consoling and bribing to quiet them and free him up enough to get going. Even the snowhound made a fuss.
He got back to the manor late that night, and found the Sioris waiting for him by the front gate. Claude felt bad for making them wait there for so long — he’d originally told them he would be back by sundown and asked them to wait for him by the front gate.
Siori took the horse’s reigns from him and started leading it to the stables.
“Hold up, Mister Siori. I want to bring a few things out to the carriage from the guest room,” Claude stopped him.
“Aren’t you going to sleep there?” Siori asked.
“No. No point in staying in such a big house on my own. I’ll stay in the out-building in the back.”
Normanley Manor was one of the premier, if somewhat small, country houses and estates in the kingdom. The main house was built in the high Droman style popular a century earlier. The outside was a complex interplay of white masonry, and black brickwork and tilery. The manor had two master suites, six guest suites, servants’ quarters, a great hall, a large basement kitchen, a separate dining hall, and two in-house storage rooms.
Claude didn’t like the idea of haunting the hallways and servants’ corridors of the — for him — massive abode, so he decided to move into one of the out-buildings behind the main manor.
The main grounds stretched for nearly a hundred metres in every direction from the main manor. The rear portion of which contained several outbuildings, among which were the stables, the laboratory, and the estate servants’ quarters. Only the servants serving in the manor itself were housed in the building, those responsible for tending to other things such as the horses, the grounds, and the farm and wood were housed in the outbuildings. The Sioris were thus domiciled there, as had Wien been, before he’d returned to the capital with his mistress.
Claude chose to stay in a small cottage on the edge of the main ground further up the hill behind the manor proper. It was the original domicile from back when the manor was still just a country villa for a noble who spent most of their time in the prefectural capital. It had fallen into disrepair during the war, but the baroness’ father, though having the manor built for his residence, refurbished it and used it as guest lodging for when the manor was full. It had been maintained since, though it had not been used since the baroness took over since she rarely, if ever, got any guests, and never enough to fill up the manor.
Claude had been told to clean the place up as practice using Magus’ Hands before he’d been put to work on the more delicate parts of the parchment-making procedure, and he’d taken a liking to the place. It was still gaudy, as were all things nobles possessed, it seemed, but far more humble than anything in the main house. Most importantly, it had a small rooftop arbour that gave him unfettered, and unsuspicious access to the moonlight. He’d wanted to move there from the beginning. But the baroness had insisted he keep her permanent company in the main house while she was still there.
“You want to live here, Master Claude?” Siori asked.
“Yes,” Claude nodded, “And please, just call me Claude. I’m a commoner, and a servant to the baroness just like yourself, not to mention I’m so much younger than you. Speaking of which, I must still attend school, so I’ll leave the normal day-to-day care of the estate in your hands, please continue as you always have. You can call for me if something comes up that needs my attention.”
“Very well, Mister Claude,” Siori said, his tone still just as referential.