Shark and Blacksnake's affairs were none of his business, Claude decided. It would be best for everyone if they wiped one another out completely.
His father's plans were also bearing fruit. Much of the damage from the convoy's loss, their arrests, and their dismissals had been undone by their efforts with the compensation and they were about where they'd been before the whole incident, thought without jobs now.
The navy's supply and survey ships arrived in the lake on the 12th of the 3rd month, sent by the king to investigate what was going on in town. The two ships docked near the slums, met by quite the crowd. The officers went straight to town hall, their aids labouring under thick stacks of documents. They were apparently going to stay for a while.
The mayor was relieved when he heard they weren't there to relieve him, and agreed to take care of their needs, though he knew nothing about what they were really there to do. They only told him they weren't there for his head, and that the king was sending more ships after them.
The smaller of the two ships spent most of the following two days sailing back and forth across the lake, dropping measures every now and again to test the lake's depth. Teams also surveyed the shore. The crew of the other ship sent two tents of army men ashore, who set up an outpost near the docks.
The new garrison finished their training a couple days later and were officially commissioned, signifying the handover of town control from the keepers back into local hands and an official end to the state of martial law.
The plaza was decorated in celebratory colours that afternoon while the ceremony took place. The 224 men of the garrison were paraded in dark-blue with a white feather in their caps. Their shirts were dark blue, almost navy, while their pants' blue was broken by white strips. Their boots were the jet black of new, freshly polished footwear, and matched the black inking on their muskets' stocks, all Kemley Mark 3s.
Claude didn't attend. Welikro joined him at the estate as well and the two had a shooting contest. Claude had not lost interest in his old friend, Eriksson, despite the termination of their relations, and Welikro had recently taken up playing messenger and intermediary between the two parties, and today was brief day on Claude's side.
"Eriksson's family no longer owns the pier," Welikro started.
It turned out Captain Altroni had made a loan with the deed to his pier as security to finance some of his expenses for the journey. Without his return, the loan was not repaid, and the holder had finally come to claim either the pier or the loan's repayment. Eriksson and co. definitely couldn't pay the loan, so the pier no longer belonged to them.
Eriksson's mother had nearly burst a vein when the deed was taken since the pier was worth at least 200 crowns, not the meer 150 owed on the loan.
"Couldn't she have made a second loan on the pier with the bank to pay the first?" Claude asked.
"They didn't have enough time. It would have taken at least a fortnight to get a new loan from the bank. The loan Eriksson's father had taken was high interest, and it only got worse if the due date passed without payment. By the time they got the loan, the interest on the old one would have made it more expensive than the loan they would have been able to get on the pier."
The family had thus lost their last lifeline to an income until Eriksson fully recovered and could get a job. They'd been relying on income generated from renting out the dock space around the pier until now, but with it gone, they had no income.
Claude could offer to help, though he didn't know what exactly he could do, but he knew Eriksson would not even let him into the yard. For better and worse, the boy was a stubborn bastard, even more so when it came to who he decided to hate.
"Anything else?" he asked, hoping to move the conversation away from the sensitive topic.
"Nothing else," Welikro answered, "The gang war's over. With the navy having taken control over the docks, there's little left for the two gangs to fight over. Not to mention that with Butcher Bill now free to walk the streets, they can't match Blacksnake in an open fight.--
"--Oh, that reminds me. I ran into Kefnie when I was fishing a couple days ago. She's now Mermaid's cashier. She's been asking after you, you know. She wants you to bring your catches around to Mermaid next time you go to town. She says she'll pay a good price."
"See? This is the benefit of education," Claude said, "If Kefnie didn't go to school, she would just be a barmaid like her sister. Instead, because she's got a proper education, she's practically the inn's manager."
Welikro was speechless. He thought Claude was supposed to like her. Why was all he was going on about education when she was brought up? Was he secretly an invalid? He sighed, downed his last cup of blackwheat ale, and left.
Another week passed quickly, and a letter arrived from Borkal. He'd become a keeper in Banjilia, Simlock's capital. He lamented the training for two whole pages, and Claude was almost at his patience's end by the time he finally finished reading the diatribe.
He'd been spared a combat posting, however, and had instead been put in the armory. He wasn't an outright officer; he might be promoted in two or three years if he played his cards right and take over the armory entirely.
The boy really had a wild imagination. He should learn to do his job properly first before concocting schemes for grand ambitions, Claude thought. The last page in his substantial letter was dedicated to what had happened in Whitestag with the convoy, much to Claude's surprise. He'd not expected news to travel so far so quickly.
Shocked as the boy said he was, he was mostly concerned for his friends. He added a return address and wished they would write him regularly.
Claude smiled bitterly. He didn't know if Eriksson would write to Borkal. His father was one of the masterminds behind the expedition as well, after all. He suspected he'd just tear the letter up and toss it in the fireplace. The four friends were now truly broken up. Their friendship hadn't just fizzled, either, it'd become one of hatred, at least as far as Eriksson was concerned. Claude took the time to write a proper reply, warning Borkal not to expect anything from Eriksson and explaining why, then got back to his isolated life on the estate.
Angelina came around the next day for the first time.
"What's going on?" Claude asked, the traces of tears on his little sister's face striking him long before her red dishevelled hair did.
"C-claude... You have to g-go home quick... People came to the house... They're really angry and are carrying guns... They want dad to pay... Dad was really angry and argued with them and said he didn't owe them anything... They took out a piece of paper and dad's face turned white... He said it shouldn't be possible and wanted to go looking for someone, but they wouldn't let him go... They said he can't leave the house until he's paid them."
Claude was confused. Hadn't his father paid back everything he'd owed? Why were people still demanding money from him?
He wasn't too worried about confronting whoever were making trouble for his family, though he had to be careful about their backgrounds. Not just anyone was allowed to carry a musket in public, after all, especially not in groups and especially not when barging into someone else's house. He didn't think they'd do anything to his father, though; his efforts had repaired most of his reputation, after all, so it would cause a massive uproar if something happened to him.
"How did you come? Did you run here?"
"No, I took a carriage. You have to go quick, they're really scary!" his sister insisted, her mind stuck on getting him to the house in her panic.
"Don't worry, they're not as scary as I can be."
The two took Jemmy and the carriage to his parents' house, but they arrived at an empty house, the people already gone.
"What's going on, Father?" Claude asked, barging into the study.
"I... I think I've been duped..." his father answered, more as a sigh than an actual spoken answer.
He explained that one of the convoy's ships carried stuff belonging to Sir Fux. His father was the one pulling the strings from backstage, but Sir Fux was the one pulling his strings from the atrium.
He'd been the one who'd first suggested keeping the route a secret rather than reporting it to the king immediately, and he'd been the one to push for the convoy. Given his high position in the government, however, he could not openly be a part of the endeavour, so he'd made Claude's father his front man. As part of that he'd given him 500 crowns to purchase materials to be sold on his behalf. Morssen should have issued a formal receipt, but he'd instead written a promissory note for the sum instead, at Sir Fux's insistence.
Claude finally understood why Sir Fux hadn't mustled his way into the endeavour the moment he'd found out about it. So he'd been in on it from the beginning. That promissory note was what had now come back to haunt him. Butcher Bill had come knocking and demanding repayment.