Claude drove his carriage through the streets frantically. Fortunately, the keepers didn't stop him. The carriages were only checked when they entered or left town, nobody bothered them once they were in or out of town.
He didn't see a crowd outside his parents' house like he'd half-expected when he arrived. The crowd was there, mind you, just not in front of his house. They congregated outside the shops on the other side of the street. They pretended to not be there to watch what happened at his parents' house, but he saw their eyes sneak glances at the building too often. More obvious was the fact that they stopped talking the moment he showed up and stared at him.
Claude ignored them. His only concern was finding out what had happened to his father.
His mother was seated at the dining table, her eyes drowning in tears as she wept silently. Bloweyk sat opposite her, fighting back tears of his own while he held the snowhound tightly, though the cause of his tears were more physical: a big palm print on his one cheek. Angelina was in the kitchen mopping up what looked to be a red tea spill. Pieces of the old family teapot lay piled in one corner of the room.
The snowhound bounded out of Bloweyk's arms and darted for Claude the moment he entered the room. Bloweyk followed suit, running at Claude, his arms outstretched for a hug and letting his tears finally flow freely. Angelina's cheeks remained dry, though her eyes were swimming in them, for several long seconds after she noticed her older brother's presence, then her tears spilled over and her cheeks drowned quietly.
"What happened?" Claude asked, staring at his mother, "Why was Father arrested?"
His mother shook her head, hear eyes finally returning to the present and turning to her son.
"I don't know... I was making breakfast when several soldiers and two officers came over with a decree. They said your father had put the crown in danger... they dragged him away before he even had a chance to grab a slice of bread!"
How could they do that? And how on earth could his father have done something to put the crown in danger? He was only a small little town chief secretary. What power did he have to endanger the crown? This had to be some intricate practical joke! They were practically accusing him of treason. In fact, he wouldn't be surprised if that was exactly what they did eventually, if they were serious about this. He'd be executed, probably shot or beheaded in the middle of town.
"It has to be a mistake!" Claude shouted.
He might have believed the accusations were at least possible if his father had been arrested for corruption -- though he didn't believe for a second his father had, or would, ever do such a thing -- but endangering the crown? Not to mention the closest he'd come to committing a crime was leveraging his influence to get favourable deals when he bought shares in small local businesses, though he'd not had to play that card in years since he'd built up a good name as both an upstanding man and excellent investor.
"There's no mistake. That was what the military officers announced when they came over this morning. We heard it really clearly." Madam Ferd was also aware of how serious that allegation was. Panic and despair were visible on her face as her tears continued to trickle onto the table.
Angelina nodded furiously.
"Mother was so shocked. When she saw them suddenly grab Father and drag him away she dropped the teapot."
"Did dad say anything when they arrested him?" Claude asked, picking his little brother into a hug to get him to stop yanking at his pants, which were threatening to fall off.
"No. He just gave his pipe a final puff then let them take him. He didn't even put up a fight."
Claude finally noticed the ivory-and-mulberry-wood pipe of his father's clutched nearly to snapping point in his mother's hands.
Why had his father not said anything? He doubted his father would have stayed this quiet if he'd been surprised by the arrest, so he must have known it was coming, or expected it to come at some point, at least. But did this also mean his father was guilty of the charge? He didn't think his father would have stayed quiet if he were innocent either. If he didn't snap at them furiously because of their standing or power, he would at least have calmly, and firmly, explained everything.
"Speaking of people not saying a thing, where is Arbeit?"
"He left to find out right after your father was taken away but he hasn't come back yet."
There were very few things Claude could trust his brother to do, but finding out what had happened to their father, especially when it might affect his inheritance, was one of them.
"He didn't. He took dad's in-house savings from the study and ran away," Angelina answered, destroying his hopes of a reliable Arbeit, at least where his money was concerned.
"He didn't run," their mother said hastily, "He said he was going to find out what had happened to your father, but he'd need some money to get people to talk, so I gave him the household stash."
"He took all the money we had in the house. We can't even buy food anymore," Angelina continued despite a furious glare from her mother.
"Brat!" her mother suddenly shouted, "Do you only think about food like your little brother? Isn't your father more important than a couple meals?!"
"How much money did he take?" Claude asked, ignoring his mother.
If Arbeit was really going to use the money to find their father, Claude would leave it be; but if the bastard was wasting it, Claude might just accidentally trample him beneath Jemmy's hooves if he quite literally ran into him.
"Ten thales, I think," Angelina answered, "I don't know exactly how much. But it's all of it. He emptied the chest."
Their mother stored the household allowance her husband gave her every month, along with all the money she'd saved over the years from spare money from the allowance for unforeseen circumstances, in a small chest she hid somewhere in the main bedroom. Each month's allowance accounted for all of their father's normal monthly salary. He kept the rent money from their converted mansion for his personal use and savings.
Now Arbeit had made off with everything, and the moment Claude heard how much money he had taken, he was absolutely certain they would never see the money again, and not because he'd given everything to the police to buy the soldiers' silence. Claude didn't really care to set him straight, however. His only concern was getting back his father. Claude put the eight thales he got for the cloud leopard on the table.
"I'll give you some money. If anyone asks about dad, just tell them you're not sure what happened," Claude told his little sister, "We have to stay calm. We can't go breaking the family up now. We should be closer together now than ever before."
"Stop crying, Blowk," Claude said, slightly impatiently, as he put his little brother down, "Let's go wash your face."
Claude hadn't noticed the palm print on the boy's face yet, but he did now, and his face darkened.
"Who hit you?"
If one of the soldiers had dared hit his little brother he would blow them up with a Magic Missile or melt their brains with several dozen of his mental attacks. He didn't care deeply about much in this world yet, but no one touched his little siblings, not even when they deserved, or even needed it. The thought that it was somewhat unhealthy occurred to him a couple of times, but he didn't care. He had been an only child in his past life, and he was not about to let anyone do anything, even if it was right and needed, to his little bubbles.
"It was Old Brother. Blowk was crying really badly, when Mother went upstairs to get the money, so Old Brother slapped him to make him shut up. I stayed in the kitchen because I was afraid he would do the same to me if I came out. He even kicked our dog when he tried to bite him. He said he'd kill it himself if it tried it again, so Blowk's been holding it back since then," Angelina explained briefly.
Claude took a deep breath and forced the anger down. If Arbeit had been standing in front of him when he'd heard this, he might have just killed him on the spot. He didn't like how that bastard behaved the moment his father wasn't there to keep him in line. It foretold too much what he would do the moment his father passed and it came time to argue about the money and property he would have, and hopefully still will, leave behind.
I'll make him pay for it a hundred times over when I have time, Claude thought.
"Have you all had breakfast?" he asked, trying to distract them.
His mother shook her head again.
"No, and I don't feel like having anything now. "
Claude nodded, but headed for the kitchen nonetheless.
"You go rest in your bedroom, Mom, I'll finish breakfast," Claude said, "I'll let you know if Arbeit comes back with news."
She nodded and wiped her eyes again.
His mother almost tripped on her way upstairs. As if her pale face and lost eyes didn't show clearly enough how shocked she was. This was her first truly great mental shock of her entire life. It was made even worse by the thought that her husband might be executed and she'd have to look after three children on her own, without a good income, and maybe without anyone at all, if the crown's forces decided to take the mansion from her.
"Anna, finish cleaning the kitchen and I'll finish breakfast."
"I don't want bread. I want to noodles!" Bloweyk shouted in his ear suddenly, making Claude nearly drop him.
He gave the little brat a vicious glare and the boy shied away from him, pale-faced.
"I can't make any noodles now. Have some bread for breakfast. I'll spread a little honey on the bread and make some egg soup, okay?"
"Okay. But I want noodles for lunch!"
Claude sighed at the little piggy that only thought about food and wondered if he was going to become a fat, oily, spoiled young master when he grew older. If he were honest, however, the boy already was.
The three headed for the market with the snowhound after breakfast to do a little shopping. They got food for the next week and Claude got feed for Jemmy. He didn't expect to be returning to the estate for a couple days, a week at most, so Jemmy needed food.
News had already spread across town of their father's arrest and they got interested, skewed, and suspicious gazes everywhere they went. No one was stupid enough to make trouble for them, however, just in case the rumours were false, or if their father got through it undamaged.
Claude fought with Bloweyk over a couple prawns while their sister bought some potatoes.
"Big Brother, the one who sold me the potatoes, Miss Linnie, said the soldiers didn't arrest just dad. They've arrested a lot of the important people in town. Uncle Thomas was taken as well."
Claude stopped wrestling with the little piggy and stared at his little sister. Why had the chief constable been taken as well?
"You sure?" he asked.
"That's what Miss Linnie said. She said her husband saw Uncle Thomas being dragged away by some soldiers. He fought back but they knocked him out."
Claude felt the edge of a realisation gnaw at his mind.
"Let's go home. Take care of Blowk. I'll go check what I can find out."