"Today is the day you step out of school and become a new force to strengthen our kingdom. You are the most accomplished group to graduate from this school yet. It is my honour to have watched you grow as this school's principal, and to have seen you turn into individuals useful to our king. Whether you join the government, start your own business, or march of to the frontlines to guard the peace and protect the rest of us, you must never forget whom you serve."
When the principal finally said, 'We are proud of you graduates!' and ended his speech, the instructors standing behind him started clapping and the parents joined them half a heartbeat later. The students joined in unwillingly in two's and three's.
"He says exactly the same thing every year, word for word. I doubt he's even bothered to change the tone or pauses," Borkal moaned. He'd only clapped twice while his father was staring holes in the back of his head.
"No idea. I didn't listen to a single word he said," Welikro said, "Look, even Claude isn't even bothering to hide his boredom. Where's his mind wandered off to, anyway?"
Claude sat in the row in front of his two friends, but his mind was indeed elsewhere. Locked in his own little world, he was figuring out the details of his money-making scheme. He didn't want to have to rely entirely on hunting. While it was pretty decent at making a profit, it wasn't fast enough to his liking.
Foremost amongst the approach's problems was that he was not catching enough big game. That could be remedied, however, by going to the hinterlands beyond the estate. At least, Claude hoped the remedy was that simple.
He wasn't too happy to have to rely on hunting as a transmigrator. He felt he was letting down the legacy of tranmigrators. He even more didn't like that he was basically just gambling on running into prey. His odds weren't too fantastic, either. It wasn't uncommon for hunters to return home without any kills for weeks on end, even months. It had grown only harder to find prey in recent years. The town's explosion in recent decades drove the wildlife further away, most either into the swamp to the north, or into the mountains to the south. Only the tiny animals remained, those physically incapable of making the journey, or those unwilling to leave someone behind.
Hares and turkeys were easy catches, when one ran into them, but they didn't fetch a good price. Pjard had said he'd buy whatever Claude could catch, but he doubted the man would buy thirty hares. He certainly wouldn't buy them for a brilliant price, and the town market's prices would be even worse.
Cladue, for all his faults, had a good imagination. Unfortunately for all his brilliant ideas, few of them were practicable. This world did not put much stock in a youth's creativity, and his father certainly wouldn't invest a fenny in him. Even if he put all that aside, the kingdom's cast system made it severely unlikely any of his efforts would be successful.
He might be able to put some of his ideas to use in ten years or so when he became a dignitarian, but they were useless to him now. Right now his only hope was a good streak of luck and a steady aim.
The world wasn't fair. Or, more accurately, no world was fair. The niros crocodile episode had taught him that. His father may be a big fish in this pond, but he certainly wasn't the biggest; and the big fish ate the smaller ones without mercy.
The thought had crossed his mind a couple of time that, had his father not had the position he did, and had his friends' fathers not also occupied positions of similar esteem, they might not have gotten a single fenny for the crocodile.
Sir Fux, in turn, may be the biggest fish in Whitestag's usual pond, but Maria was a crocodile from the river. When she demanded he sell the crocodile to her, he had little choice but to nod and smile. He was just lucky she decided to offer him a decent price.
The frog eats the dragonfly, and is eaten by the fish. The perfect description of the world's way. Claude's only consolation was that, as perhaps a shrimp in such world, he could at least do something. As long as he kept his head down, and didn't end up with something too eye-catching, he wouldn't be eaten.
He'd thought of putting some of his knowledge to use and opening a delicatessen. He could make meat buns, fried biscuits, and any number of other snacks. But then he'd have to deal with his strict father, and the realisation made him give up on the idea. His father would not let him start such a business. 'Shame to the family name,' and all that.
To his father, his cooking skills made for good bragging rights when he cooked for the family, but heaven forbid he chose to start a business with them.
He could go the route of becoming a franchisor, but he couldn't trust anyone besides his friends. Borkal was a born and bred merchant. He couldn't let him in on such an endeavour. While his father didn't care about small profits, he would swallow up anything that promised decent profit.
Many businesses were ignored when they were small and attracted much unwanted attention when they started showing potential.
Claude knew he couldn't ride such a wave, being such a little thing. Given all he knew, hunting was still his best option, it had the smallest potential to blow up in his face, at least.
Borkal nudged him and snapped him out of his thoughts.
"What's up?" he asked.
Borkal motioned towards the platform.
"They called you, go! Wero's already there."
Claude snapped up and started for the stage.
Not all graduates were called to the stage. Only the top graduates in each course were called. It was considered an honour, not that Claude really cared.
Most parents beamed happily when their children were called, but Claude's father' smile was as obviously plastered on as their own teacher's moustache.
Eleven students from the physical course had been called to the stage since Claude and Welikro had tied for first place. Well, technically Claude was second, several points behind his friend. But Claude had outdone him in swordsmanship, which counted a little more than the others and made up most of the difference, though he still fell one point short. Claude's father, however, held a higher position in town than Welikro's father, and so the principle decided to tie the two in first place.
Luckily Welikro agreed with the principle. He felt he had an unfair advantage thanks to his physique. Claude had the better technique. If they'd been equally matched physically, Claude would have won hands down.
Claude felt the whole thing was just a big charade. He had no respect for it, but he had to endure for his family's sake. Though he'd transmigrated as a student and gone to school for two years, he hadn't ever seen the principal teach a single lesson. Yet, he was giving away the graduation certificates with the expression of an understanding school counsellor and patting the students on the shoulders. He blabbered encouraging words like he actually knew the children.
Claude had a flat expression, carefully neutral enough to hide his boredom. The principal gave him a pat on the shoulder, some encouraging nothings, Claude bowed, and continued on.
Welikro, on the other hand, was very emotional.
"Thank you, Principal! I won't let your hopes down!" he roared when he took the certificate.
The loud voice gave the old man a start, causing him to drop a few of the certificates. Claude felt like scratching his ears. Damnit Wero! He really didn't know how to keep things low, did he?
Claude picked up the certificates and handed them to the principal.
"Not bad, not bad..." the man murmured, patting him shoulder again.
Welikro wanted to apologise, but wasn't given the chance as the next person came up and the principal was too happy to get on with it.
"Did I do something wrong?" Welikro asked in Claude's ear as the two departed the stage.
Claude just tilted his head, choosing to remain wisely silent.
The principle babbled another speech when the ceremony came to an end, then the ceremony finally ended. All but a few of the graduates were invited to attend the post-graduation celebration. Claude wished he could skip out, but he had to attend for public appearances. He made his attendance as short as possible, however, and slipped out the first chance he got.
Borkal was waiting for him at the gates as they'd arranged earlier. He said he had something important to tell Claude.