It was an outright scam, but Claude's father couldn't deny it. Sir Fux's intentions were clear. He was a member of the Council of Dignitarians and it wouldn't be appropriate for him to participate in large-scale trade operations, especially something similar to smuggling. So, he had Morssen write him a promissory note for the sum of goods and the ship instead of a formal receipt.
With the promissory of five hundred crowns, Sir Fux only had to mention it from time to time to others so they were aware of the deal. When the convoy returned, Morssen could use the excuse that he didn't have any money to repay Sir Fux and pay in the form of a ship's worth of cargo instead. People then couldn't criticize Sir Fux even if he made a profit.
Morssen would also go unsuspected for transferring cargo worth easily ten times five hundred crowns. His mind was clouded by the potential money he could earn and he believed the convoy would return safely, since they were in control of the new route.
He thus gladly agreed to a promissory note and even had some friends be the witnesses. He also expressed his admiration for Sir Fux for his intelligence. Borkal's father, Rublier, had also been there and he tried to tug on his arm when he saw Morssen was ready to sign the note. If only he'd listened to his friend. There was no medicine for regret, however.
Claude also finally understood what was going on. He'd found it weird that his father had two ships in the convoy despite investing just five hundred crowns, barely enough for one ship. With the convoy gone, every single crown had been flushed down the drain, along with an additional five hundred crown debt his father owed Sir Fux.
He didn't know what to say. His father had truly doomed himself. He should not have thought of Sir Fux as a man who could accept his losses. He might not make anything from the endeavour, but he sure as hell was not going to lose anything.
"They've all gone, right? What did they say?"
"Bidlir's given me two days to get the money..." His father said, clawing at his face as tears filtered through his fingers. He'd seen his hope of rebuilding dashed against the rocks like the convoy's ships the moment the promissory note came out. He couldn't just ignore it, either. The note had been signed in the presence of a number of witnesses, and several had signed it as such. If he just refused to pay, Sir Fux could take him to court and he would lose.
"What'll they do in two days? What'll they do if you don't have the money?" Claude asked.
Maybe he should pay Butcher Bill a visit? He felt, for the first time, true murderous intent sparking in his chest.
"They'll take the mansion if I can't pay..."
"Will that clear the debt?"
"No. I put the mansion down as security on the loan, and they appraised it at just 320 crowns. So if he takes the mansion they'll only get 320. They'd get even less if I hadn't paid off the loan since the money made on the mansion would first have to clear that."
"Can't you borrow the money from someone?"
"Borrow?--" Claude's father's eyes glinted for a moment, then dulled again. "--The money wouldn't have been an issue if I hadn't already liquidated everything I owned to get the money for the compensation. A loan of that size would need equal security, and I don't have anything. The mansion isn't enough to cover that big a loan. I can't borrow from any friends of mine either, they're all in the same boat as me, minus the promissory note, of course -- the lucky bastards..."
"I'll handle it. You know a lot of people, see how much money you can borrow and I'll figure something out about the rest. I can start hunting again when summer comes along. With a bit of luck I should be able to help you pay back your loans."
All he needed to do was rob Blacksnake. Since they were extorting money from his father, they might as well be the ones to foot the bill.
His father rubbed away his tears, and his solemn, but neutral face returned. He even cracked a half-hearted smile.
"I'm sorry for showing you such a miserable face. I'm okay now. I just need some time to clear my head and think. I'm sure I'll come up with something. No matter how much the money I owe, I'll figure out how to cover it. You shouldn't put your time and money on the line for me."
"Enough," his father said exasperatedly when he saw his son staring at him, unconvinced, "I'm really fine. I'll talk to Sir Fux. I didn't think he lacked the backbone to stomach his losses like a proper man, but I'll pay him back if that's what he wants, he just needs to be reasonable about the payback term. We've been close associated for decades now, that should count for something."
"What if he won't budge?"
"He will. I am bound by my word to pay him back if he demands it, but Rublier and Thomas know why the promissory note was a thing at all. If Sir Fux wants to still have a reputation at all, he'd be reasonable."
Claude grimaced. He didn't understand what kind of 'reputation' that man could possibly have that was worth protecting, but to each his own, he supposed.
"Go back home. We'll be fine. I can't offer you a safe haven anymore, you have to rely on yourself and Lady Maria. You can only get somewhere with her support now. If it's at all possible, leave town. There are no worthwhile prospects for you here, especially not now that Robert has actual power. It would be best if you can make it to the royal capital."
"Okay. But you have to let me know the moment something happens. I'll stop by every day for a while as well."
His peace said, Claude took his leave.
He kept his word, too. He stopped by his parents' house every day for the next week. His father usually wasn't home though. He left before sunrise and returned near midnight. When his mother asked about the debt, he would just say things are still on track, so Claude didn't learn much about the situation.
"Speak! Tell me where's your boss!"
Claude pinned a Blacksnake thug to the muddy walls in a corner of the room. The poor sod was bleeding out of every hole in his face and head, including the ones left in his jaw by his broken teeth, which lay strewn over the floor like spilt popcorn.
"I... I don't know.. Please... mercy..."
Claude clamped his throat until he started convulsing, on the edge of death, then released and the poor sod gasped through a hoarse voicebox.
"Talking or not?"
"G-go t-t'the fish p-processing plant... and s-see..."
Claude shovelled a fist into the man's face, who instantly collapsed, and let him slither down the wall to the ground behind him as he left.
"Don't bullshit if you don't know anything! And why don't you have any money on you?" he cursed angrily.
His excursions had been fruitless for days now. He had yet to find Bidlir and the gambling den was empty as usual. He didn't understand why the bastard hadn't reopened his den now his training was finished.
Claude had gone to the fish-processing plant that night. Apart from some fish left out to dry, there wasn't anything else. Claude caught a minor leader who was managing the place and questioned him only to find that Bidlir hadn't come to the plant for at least half a year now. He still owed his men two month's of salary too.
So Claude went to the old street in hopes of barging into Blacksnake's headquarters, but he didn't think that a dozen or so men of the fourth band was guarding it. Faced with all those muskets, Claude had no choice but to retreat. Getting shot by a stray bullet in the dark of night was a pathetic way to go. He observed the place from the shadows and found that the thugs seemed rather lazy. That meant that Butcher Bill probably wasn't there.
In the end, Claude got one of the gang members who was relieving himself with a street harlot and brought him into that small alley. Soon, he found that Bidlir wasn't at the headquarters of the gang, but the thug wasn't sure where he was either.
Tomorrow would be the third day. Bidlir Blanche would bring his garrison thugs to knock on his door for the debt, and Claude didn't know how the situation there was developing. Claude looked at the skies and decided that it would be best to head back. Currently, the old street wasn't a good place to linger around. Many of the visitors of the street were the troops from the navy and people shrouded up like Claude were few and easily spotted.
Blacksnake were also armed with guns now. Claude couldn't mount an attack like he often did before. He would definitely be shot at if he was discovered. Claude was quite fearful of having a gun pointed at him as he was aware of their power. It was one thing if they didn't hit, but if they did, a thumb-sized hole would be bore in him. When shot from a close range, the damage would be far worse.
Bidlir Blanche was quite lucky to have not run into him during the past two nights. Claude decided that he would go home tomorrow to deal with the troublesome matter with his father first.
Meanwhile, Morssen was writing frantically as tears flowed down his face. During the past two days, he had made his way all over town but was given the cold shoulder everywhere he went. Sir Fux refused to meet him and his butler claimed that he had gone to the prefectural capital. Morssen, however, knew that he was actually in his manor.
So, Morssen said he wanted to see his son, Arbeit, only to be told that he had resigned and stole a pair of crystal candle holders which Sir Fux favored the most. Had Sir Fux not taken their old interactions into account, he would've long reported Arbeit to the constables.
Morssen was completely distraught. He had lingered at Sir Fux's manor for the better part of the day, but nobody bothered with him. He returned home thirsty and hungry and Rublier, the only one who could help him, had left for Simlock two days ago.
Morssen put his pen down and looked at the two pages he wrote. He made some corrections and wiped his tears, before signing his name and stamping his thumb on the document. He blew out the candle and remained in his chair for a long time before standing up. He adjusted his clothes with the light of the moon and took out a bottle of gran wine from his cupboard. He then went up to the attic and stumbled out of the window and sat by the ledge of the roof, continuing to gulp down mouthful after mouthful of wine.
During the first moments of daybreak, he finished his wine and gradually stood up. He headed to the ledge, opened his arms wide and jumped off the roof towards the sky like a clumsy bird...