Claude woke up early the next morning and got ready to head to the market to buy two boxes of whiteroot powder. He would go to Big Hammer thereafter to buy some metals. Landes' notes had a full set of instructions for the casting of a musket barrel and it used normal metal, so Claude figured it wouldn't cost too much.
He had his excuse ready as well. He would tell them he wanted to make a couple iron jaws for his hunting. If they asked why he didn't just buy a set from a blacksmith, he'd tell them he wanted to have a go at it himself.
It had taken several tries, but he'd finally gotten enough money the previous night to be satisfied. Everyone in Blacksnake was a pauper, but their general, Bowen, was loaded.
He thought back to the drop rates in the online games of earth, and thought they made much more sense now than he had before. He should have listened to their logic from the beginning. He'd have spared himself a lot of effort and frustration if he'd just gone for their bosses from the get-go, rather than mucking about with the small fry.
The story was the same for Shark. While its small fry were better off compared to Blacksnake's, they still couldn't compare to the loot he got from Jerad.
All-in-all, Claude now had 16 crowns. He couldn't make that much from hunting even if he scored every day for a month. That said, while the loot was much greater, he could do this maybe a couple times at best before he'd exhausted the supply of generals and lieutenants.
Claude had a hard time with the apothecary. He haggled with him for an hour but only managed to get the price for the two boxes of whiteroot powder down to seven crowns. In the end he won only a single thale. The man was a shrewd bastard who knew his clientele far too well for his own good. He knew about Claude's hunting escapades and how much money he'd made from it, so he wouldn't fall for any sob stories.
The man, for his part, was a merchant to the core, however, and knew how to console his prey when they needed it. He asked after Claude's efforts in learning herbal medicine, and Claude told him his prepared schtick about all his concoctions failing. It was accompanied by the appropriate selection of dejected expressions.
The man laughed and consoled him with the thought that the study of herbal medicine was not for the faint of heart, or lackers of patience and perseverance. He had to bang his head on the wall before he could break it down, and unfortunately herbal medicine's wall was quite thick. If he kept at it, however, it would eventually crumble.
His face lost its conciliatory air the moment Claude left, however.
"What a failure of a boy. If I were his father I'd have stopped him wasting so much money after this many failures. If he can't make a simple potion after using this much material, he'll never do it."
Claude continued on to Big Hammer, blissfully unaware of the horrid reputation he'd just gained with the apothecary. Mike was his usual polite self, but, like the apothecary, wouldn't budge on his prices. His reason wasn't so much that he knew about Claude's wealth as that he wouldn't budge on the price for such small quantities of metal. Part of it was also that he didn't have to consider Claude's father anymore.
Claude told him about the clamps he was supposedly trying to make, but Mike didn't show any interest. Ever the salesman, however, Mike didn't fail to ask if Claude needed any tools, but Claude didn't bite.
He mounted the carriage again, pointed Jemmy back to the mansion, and started for his parents' house. Along the way, however, he noticed every person that recognised him was murmuring something, just like the day his father had been arrested. He was not going to be ignorant until someone told him this time, so he rushed home and found a large stall outside his parents' house. The family's belongings were piled beside it on the sidewalk and a crowd was bidding on selected items.
When he finally forced his way through the crowd, ready to punch whoever had the gall to sell of his family's things, he found the man running the auction was his father. Claude's fury abated some, until he noticed even Bloweyk's new toys were up for sale.
"What's going on, father?" Claude bellowed from the crowd.
His father glanced in his direction for only a moment, then ignored him and continued to haggle with a potential customer. The man was haggling over one of his favourite statues, a crystal statue of a woman bathing. It was an antique always admired by the family's visitors.
Claude wondered if something had happened to force his father to sell of all the family's belongings. He tried to get an answer out of his father a couple more times, but his father ignored him. He gave up and looked through the things up for sale. Among the books from the study, he found Landes' diary. His heart almost stopped and he snatched it up. That was a bomb waiting to explode out here in the crowd where anyone could look it through, so he took it inside.
The family apartment was completely empty. The paintings, furniture, everything worth something had been removed. The rooms weren't bare, though. The expensive furniture was gone, but in their place stood cheap, weak-wood things.
His mother was cooking lunch as she always did, but her face was not the usual picture of a content housewife. Instead her face was contorted in a perpetual scowl. When Claude looked at the kitchen cupboard where the house silver was, he realised why; it was gone. In their place stood a bowl with simple wooden wares. They didn't even have the cheap glassware anymore.
"What happened? Why's Father auctioning off our stuff? We're not that poor yet, are we?" Claude asked.
His father may no longer be the town secretary, but he was still well-respected in town. And he may no longer have his salary, but he still had a substantial income from the mansion's rent and the shares he owned in at least half the businesses in town. Even without his standing, he was still one of the richest men in town.
"Your father's selling everything to pool his money."
"Pool his money? For what? How much does he need?"
"He needs 300 crowns. Go ask him yourself. He won't listen to me no matter what I say or do."
"Is he going to start a business?"
Claude had thought he might be able to help out a little, but he could not come up with three hundred crowns. His mother shook her head without a word.
"Where's Blowk and Anna?" Claude asked.
Maybe his sister knew a little more.
"Blowk cried when your father took the toys you bought for him, so Anna took him upstairs. They should be in their room."
Her hands never stopped working the pot in front of her, and the smell made Claude's mouth water.
"What are you making? It smells good."
"Cow bone soup. I added some carrots, apples, and potatoes. It'll have to do for lunch, the only other thing we have is bread."
Claude looked at the pan to which his mother pointed, and saw blackwheat bread cooling on on it. He'd not seen his mother make blackwheat bread ever before. In fact, they'd never eaten blackwheat bread in the house in all his life. His mother had also never baked the bread herself. They always had white flour based bread delivered by the local baker, and they usually had mutton or beef, not cow bones.
He'd never thought he'd ever see the day his family would eat a poor man's soup and blackwheat bread.
"I'll go check on Blowk and Anna," he said finally, unwilling to comment on the food.
"Bring them down for dinner in about ten minutes."
Angelina was playing a tangram puzzle with Blowk. The snowhound was perched nearby and would occasionally push the puzzle pieces with its paws. Seeing Claude enter, the two and the snowhound were filled with excitement. They only calmed down only after a while.
"Claude, what are you holding?" his sister asked.
Claude only just realized that he was still holding the cookbook. "This is the cookbook I bought for mom a while back as her birthday present. I saw that Father was going to auction it off, so I took it back."
"Daddy's mean. He didn't want to play with me and even took my toys to sell," Bloweyk complained.
Claude smiled bitterly. His brother was only eight and wouldn't understand that his father was trying to gather funds instead of playing auction downstairs.
"Anna, mom said dad's trying to pool his money by auctioning off our stuff . Do you know why he needs the money?"
Angelina nodded as expected. "Last week during the night on Wednesday, dad's friends came over and discussed something about pensions and reimbursement. I heard they need to gather around two thousand crowns. They talked until late night and I heard dad was told to pay 280 crowns.
"He left early and came home late every day after that. The night before yesterday, he got into a huge argument with Big Brother. Big Brother said the pension had nothing to do with us since the dead were lowly peasants anyway. He also said that since they surrendered to pirates, we don't have to pay the money. If they come to cause trouble, we can just get the constables to catch them by accusing them as the spies of pirates.
"Dad got really mad and slapped him in the face hard. Big Brother left and hasn't come home since. I heard dad tell mom last night he sold off his shares in all the businesses and gathered most of the money. He says if we auction off all our stuff the town will see we're doing our best to pay all the pensions so they won't hate us as much for what happened to the convoy."
The news Angelina told him was too overwhelming. He finally realized that his father was doing all that for the pension for the families who lost people to the convoy's demise. It was something they were owed. After all, the three hundred or so sailors were locals. They had joined for the pay, but they couldn't return and receive it, so the families were due compensation. Claude finally understood why his father was also selling off all their stuff. It wouldn't matter if he had a lot of expensive and luxurious stuff in his house if the families were so angry that they came for him and his family. Living poorly in the mansion that could give them rent, in the town where he had connections and could rebuild his life, was better than having to run to a new place where he would have no foot in the door and start all over.