Benz apologised at the post office's entrance.
"Lil' Claude, it's going to be new year's in five days. The post office will be closed from tomorrow. You can leave your letter here but it'll only be delivered after the 15th next year. That's the earliest we'll be sending mail out again."
Looking at the letter he spent the better part of the night writing, Claude smiled resignedly. The timing was too bad. It happened to be near the new year and the post office was going to close all the way till the 15th. That would be far too late.
"Uncle Benz, my letter is incredibly urgent and it's for Baroness Maria. Can you help me ask around to see whether there'll be anyone who's willing to make that trip for me? I'm paying a crown for the delivery of this letter." Claude could only count on paying a huge reward.
To a postman who earned only one thale and five riyas each month, that single trip to the royal capital would earn them more than three months of salary. There should be someone who would be willing to give up on their break to make that trip.
Benz nodded. "I'll ask around. Claude, I feel very sorry for what happened to your father, but I believe it'll be fine. He's a good man."
Soon, Benz returned with a middle-aged man that had a limp in his left leg. "Claude my boy, this is Borik. He's willing to make this trip."
Borik was a newbie postman who had joined the post office last year because of his retirement from the military following his leg injury. He came from the prefecture of Simlock and was assigned to Whitestag to serve as a postman. Since his family hadn't moved with him to town, he was willing to make the trip for some extra cash.
Benz chose Borik after considering the fact that the various regions in the kingdom would have increased security during the festivities. Borik was a dignitarian and held the official position of postman, so he would face far less trouble on the way to the royal capital. Whether it came to crossing customs points or lodging temporarily somewhere, the keepers in those areas wouldn't be too strict on him.
Claude handed the letter to Borik and paid a thale to him to use for the toll. If he rushed his way there, it would take around eight days for him to make a trip to and back from the royal capital. But as it was currently winter, the snow-covered roads would be harder to traverse. Should there be a snowstorm midway, the journey would be delayed by a few days. So, Claude wrote another slip to prove Borik's identity. That way, he would be able to stay at the royal capital for a few days to wait for Maria to pen a reply and bring it back.
After sending the letter, all Claude could do was to patiently wait. He spent half his time at the wood and the other half at home. His mother seemed to be recovering and could take care of the chores once more. However, she would think about her husband from time to time and sit blankly as tears flowed out her face.
Welikro's father, Kubrik, brought a group of retired veterans together in preparation to accept the donation and expropriation proposals at the town hall for the formation of the garrison clan, only to be refused by Mayor Robert.
The mayor said that he had already sent the results of their meeting along with the three proposals to the council in the prefectural capital for them to make a decision on the matter. So, there was no longer anything to be discussed. No matter what the council decided, all the town would have to do was to follow up on the decision.
The angry Kubrik once more broke into an argument with Robert. He cursed the mayor in the most horrid manner possible before everyone else and forced the defenseless man to duck back pitifully into his office and shut his door tightly, pretending to not hear the insults that were thrown his way.
But even though Kubrik won the argument, that didn't change the matter with the garrison clan in the slightest. Robert had chosen to leave the matter in the council's hands after being unable to gain the retired veterans' cooperation.
That way, even though he lost the initiative to direct the formation of the garrison clan, he could rely on the council to realize his goals, given that the council wasn't privy about the situation at Whitestag. He could also put the burden and blame on the council. In that sense, the retired veterans had lost that fight.
Martial law continued to be upheld in the town. Some people with great access to information said that it would continue until Whitestag finished forming their garrison clan. Regardless, the townsfolks' lives weren't affected by the situation. Apart from some checks that had to be done upon entry or exit of town, the shops and business in town operated as usual and had even more business given the presence of the soldiers there. Even the old street managed to benefit from the increased customer base.
In fact, quite a number of people wanted the martial law to continue indefinitely because that littered their streets with patrolling soldiers and improved the town's security. Even the Blacksnake gang members stopped parading around arrogantly like they owned the place and started to behave themselves.
Claude didn't bother with the things that seemed so inconsequential to him. He was only busy taking care of his mother and thinking of a way to find out more about his father, who was kept within the military encampment. With his unrelenting efforts, he managed to get Pjard to secure him a lead. A clansman of the keepers was invited over.
The man told Claude that Morssen and the other eight arrested people were treated fairly within the camp. They weren't tortured nor interrogated. During the two days they were held there, they were only questioned by some military officers of the navy that came from the royal capital. After that, they were kept in their cells to await their punishment.
The clansman said he didn't really know why they were charged with threatening national security. The orders he received at the prefectural capital was to enact martial law in Whitestag to protect it from a pirate attack and aid the town to form its own garrison. Apart from that, he followed the orders to arrest the nine alleged criminals including Morssen.
That invitation cost Claude six thales. He even had to gift the clansman a carton of blueberry wine worth one crown. He had spent almost all his money for that purpose. Claude had wanted the man to bring his father some things, but the man politely refused. He said that while revealing those things to Claude was only a minor offense, bringing something directly to a prisoner was outright crime. He didn't want to be involved in all that.
Claude could only count on the call for help he sent Maria's way. He prayed that Borik would reach the royal capital as soon as possible so that Maria would have the time to wrap her mind around the matter and hopefully aid his father.
Claude and his family spent the following days anxiously.
During new year's eve, Arbeit went home, something the whole family didn't expect.
Madam Ferd was filled with hope as she asked him what the results of asking about Morssen were. He said with a grave look that it was bad and that Morssen and the others were considered an insurgent group and could be sentenced to death by shooting for treason.
She almost passed out from hearing the news. That was the worst she had ever heard so far.
Claude almost spat the red tea in his mouth out. He was well aware that Arbeit wasn't asking around about his father and definitely took all the money, used it all up, before going home. He didn't think that the fool would actually spin such lies to frighten their mother even more with the obvious intent on squeezing more money from her.
Claude warmed his wrists up and felt his fist begin to itch. He would definitely work his fists well tonight.
"Claude, what do you think we should do?" asked Madam Ferd. She started to count on Claude in recent times.
However, before Claude could speak, Arbeit spat, "Mother, why are you consulting him about this? The only one who can make decisions for the family now is me. I went to the prefectural capital a few days ago and asked some of my friends for news. To save money, I could only stay at the cheap inns there.
"Now that I have a grasp of the situation, I can say that Father isn't the main perpetrator of the treasonous act. He was only forced to involve himself and can only be considered an accomplice at most. The warden whom I got the news from told me that we have to hurry if we want to save Father. If we can provide some... benefactions... to the right people, his charges might be lighter and he probably wouldn't be shot."
Claude felt so light-headed that he thought he might be drunk. What's that fool thinking? Father's kept in the military encampment in Whitestag, yet he said he went all the way to the prefectural capital to ask about this matter? Does he think it'll fly? He doesn't even know where Father is kept! What a shitty and uninspired lie!
"Then... then how much money do we need to save your father?" She began to panic.
Arbeit furrowed his brows and pretended to count with his fingers. "We need at least 15 crowns. That way, I can go to the prefectural capital to bribe the right person to lighten Father's crimes."
"But... but we don't have nearly that much money at home," Madam Ferd said in despair, "You took all my money the last time and Claude has been paying for our expenses lately. Your father's bank account has been frozen and he wouldn't be able to withdraw any, now that he's arrested..."
"Don't you still have some jewelry? Mother, let me exchange them for money first. If they aren't enough, we'll think of other ways. It's crucial that we lighten Father's charges. Time is of essence and I'm worried that we won't be able to make it if we take too long. Wait, what are you doing? Ah, Mother! Save me!"
It's almost like you're asking to be beaten to death! The moment the fool brought up his mother's jewelries, Claude was no longer able to control his rage. He stepped forward and gave Arbeit a huge slap, sending him tumbling to the ground. Just as he was about to pull him up for a good beating, he didn't think that the fool would hastily duck under the table and crawl to the feet of his mother, hugging them as he begged for his life."
"Cl-claude! What are you doing?!" Madam Ferd, who was entrenched in Arbeit's lies, stepped in front to protect him when she saw Claude act up with shock.
"I'm not doing much, Mother. I'm just going to give him a beating. I still haven't settled the time he slapped Lil' Blowk, yet now he's back to lie to us and wants to cheat you of your jewelry! I can't take this anymore! I must teach him a lesson!"
"I'm not lying!" Arbeit protested stubbornly behind his mother.
"Hah, you're not lying? Then tell me, where is Father kept now?" asked Claude with a smirk.
"In... in the jail at the royal capital..." Arbeit tried his best guess, since felons from Whitestag were brought to the royal capital and locked up there after all. He believed Morssen would receive the same treatment.
"Congratulations! You answered wrong!" Claude gave Arbeit a harsh kick in his ribs, causing him to curl up in pain like a river prawn.
Madam Ferd finally snapped out of it. "Wait, Claude, didn't you tell me yesterday that your father was kept at the military encampment in town?"
"That's right." Claude pointed his finger at the fellow on the ground. "That's why he's been lying this whole time. He even claimed that Father and the rest were charged with treason. You can see how much hate he feels for Father, for him to wish so dearly for his early death."
As he said so, Claude gave Arbeit another two kicks, causing him to roll on the ground in pain.
"Stop hitting him, Claude... He's your elder brother..." She was still unable to stomach the sight of Claude beating his brother up, despite how excited the little girl and the puffball were as they watched from the sides.
"F*ck off! If you come here to mess with Mother and our siblings again, I will make sure to beat you up every time I see you! Mark my words, for I fully intend to keep them!" Claude yelled.