Sir Fux didn't know how he made it to the study on the first floor of the house. He never expected so many people to be in the house. The dining hall on the ground floor was packed as well and most of the people were townsfolk of some repute. Nobody bothered to greet him. Even those chatting didn't want to talk to him. The wordless stares they all gave him instead felt like countless needles burrowing into his skin.
The first floor had a small lounge by the stairs where about a dozen people were gathered in a small group. Sir Fux relaxed some when he saw Bidlir among them. He wore his guard uniform and took the initiative to greet Sir Fux when he noticed his arrival.
"In here, Sir."
The man pointed at the door to the study, still shut.
Sir Fux swept his gaze over the dozen others standing around in the study and recognised a couple. He started a smile of greeting, but they all turned their heads away the moment they noticed his intention.
His smile halted at an awkward grimace and he turned to Bidlir gloomily.
The study was much emptier. Chief Justice Kauff was present with two aides, four of Morssen's closest confidantes, all investors in the failed endeavour that had subsequently claimed the man in question's life. They all also happened to have been present when he'd drawn up the promissory note which had been used to push him to suicide.
The whelp Claude stood by his little brother, now the head of the main Ferd family, holding his hand next to the desk. Their sister, Angelina, if Sir Fux remembered correctly, choked back tears on the whelp's other side, clinging to his other hand like it was all that kept her from falling down a cliff. Sir Fux also caught a glance at a dog's tail from behind the three. The eldest of the four Ferd siblings was absent, and the veins on Sir Fux's temples pulsed when he recalled the brat's betrayal.
Claude, for his part, shared Sir Fux's fury at his older brother's behaviour. He had to fight to keep himself from beating the bastard to a pulp in one of those dark alleys the shit so loved to frequent.
He had to be at his parent's house now, however. He was the only adult male left in the family, at least for the next decade or so until Bloweyk became an adult and could officially take over, so he had to be the one to handle things for now. Much help he would have been, however, he scolded himself. He didn't have a single clue how to deal with anything. Thank goodness Welikro had convinced his father to help him out.
He was still recovering from hearing of his father's death that very same morning. He might not have lived with the man as long as his other siblings, despite their younger age, for he'd transmigrated into this world just two years earlier; and he might have had his differences with his father over those two years, but he'd still loved the man dearly. He also owed the man a comparatively good start in life, compared to all the numerous character's he'd read about in his previous life who'd happened upon a similar fate.
At the very least, his father had had enough clout and reputation in town that most of its upper class gave him, the man's second son, enough face to show up at his mourning ceremony. The thought tenderised his eyes for the umpteenth time today, but he fought back the tears.
He would have loved to lock himself away from the world and live the life of a hermit on his mistress' estate, doing nothing but hunting and learning magic. He'd had his time of shiny-eyed wanderlust back on Earth. Now he just wanted a quiet, sedentary life without anything too exciting happening.
As Li Bai had written in his poem 'leave with a flick of the sleeve; leave not your name and looks'. He'd been well on his way to achieving that as well. But his father had gone and died and robbed him of that life. Now all that lay ahead for him was a life of suffering and hard work to keep his family's heads above water.
His new life had been cracked into his old by his crying sister that morning. He'd not even bothered to wash up. He'd just jumped on a carriage after grabbing some more decent clothes and his pouches and darted to his parents', nay, his mother's, house.
He'd found his mother collapsed in the kitchen, sobbing inconsolably. It took him nearly two hours to finally calm her down, at which point he immediately took off for the apothecary and asked him to come by his house and take a look at his mother. He returned home and went by where his father's life had ended in a sudden, cracking halt.
His father's body still lay there, yet to be removed by the new garrisoneers. They'd at least covered him with a sheet so Claude was spared the full gore of the sight. He could still see the blood, however, which had splattered half the yard and even up to the first floor windows, and which had soaked right through the sheet. The last of the keepers still in town were standing guard and keeping the crowd at a distance.
He'd knelt by his father's body and let the tears flow down his cheeks quietly. His life had been torn from a state of relative calm into shreds in just three days. He'd barely started adjusting to the idea that his father was no longer a man of decent standing in town as far as his job went, and now he had to deal with his father's death. If he'd only had a couple more days. He'd have killed Sir Fux and this wouldn't have happened.
He couldn't care less about the commotion that bastard's death would have caused. He'd gotten more than used to killing humans now, and he actually relished the idea of snapping the man's neck. He'd calmed down at least a little now, though, and realised he would probably not have gotten away with it. People didn't care when a couple slum thugs vanished or turned up dead, but the whole country would take notice if a member of the Council was killed.
He'd knelt in front of his father for probably about three quarters of an hour without realising it. He only came to his senses again when Welikro pulled him to his feet to get him out of the way while the local justiciary took his father's corpse away. His father had written a detailed account of everything that had happened leading up to his death, and spelt out, in as many words, who was behind his death, even if they'd not shoved him off his balcony themselves.
Seeing the aimlessness in Claude's eyes, one of the keepers told him to go to one of the shrines and buy a coffin and arrange the funeral, but Claude didn't even notice him talking. Welikro listened carefully, however, and noticed Claude was still completely lost in his own grief, and headed back to get his father to help.
It took Welikro an hour to get back with his father, and Claude had somehow made his way to the study by then. He'd only gathered up the strength to read his father's will when the two came through the door to the study.
The will was addressed specifically to him. His father knew he could be counted on, and he also knew his older brother would never take on the duty of looking after the family. In fact, he mentioned him only once, to make it clear he knew the brat wouldn't come home once he heard of his death. He declared Bloweyk his heir and asked Claude to not fight him for the inheritance to take on the debt himself.
He laid out his plan for the debt, and Claude was completely blindsided. He had indeed decided to inherit the debt from his father, but this changed everything. Despite all the reading he'd done and all the law classes he'd had in the years since he'd come here, he'd never dealt with inheritance law where debt was concerned, so he didn't know any of the loopholes and securities that could handle such a debt.
The laws made it clear that no minor could be in legal debt, since they could not sign the contracts necessary to take on such a debt. This counted for inherited debt as well, since debt contracts had to be resigned with the inheritor. This didn't mean the debt just vanished if the inheritor was a minor, however. The debt was 'frozen' until the minor became an adult, at which time the related contract had to be resigned.
What this meant for Sir Fux, was that he could not get a penny from any of the Ferds for the next 12-13 years, and the full debt would probably not be paid within the next two decades. He'd been turned into the town's idiot.
The price for this reprieve was his father's life, and Claude wouldn't have exchanged that for all the debt in the world. The will, at least, gave him some positive closure on his father's death. At least he now knew his father hadn't chosen suicide just to escape the responsibility he himself bore. He'd done it instead to spare his family the trouble his inability to repay the debt would have caused them. And who knew what they could do in the 13 or so years they had before the debt could begin to be claimed back. They might just manage to get it annulled.
With Welikro and his family's help, Morssen's funeral was organised without a hitch. Welikro played postman and delivered invitations and stopped by the market to buy everything they needed for the reception. Kubrik and a couple neighbours cleaned up the yard and brought over tables and chairs. The coffin came a couple hours later and Morssen's cleaned corpse was put inside. A local painter, someone of whom Morssen had been a patron, sourcing most of the portraits they'd had in the house before he'd sold everything from him, took most of the day to paint a simple portrait of his face for the funeral as well.
Claude, despite not being his father's principle heir, played host as his little brother's guardian de jure.
Most of the attendees were from the town's upper classes, all dignitarians. Those unable to attend due to their lack of status put mourning flowers, folded from blessed paper, by the entrance and along the wall. They all also wore a black flower brooch, a symbol of mourning.
Claude only realised he hadn't eaten yet that day when Bloweyk started complaining about his own lack of sustenance. Welikro volunteered to pop over the street to get them a few snacks from the stall the four friends had frequented in their school days.
He thanked the gods that, all things going well, none of the following days would be as busy. Funerals were three-day affairs on Freia. He'd forgotten his money pouches, but luckily, given the status of his father and the tragic nature of his death, everyone gave him a tab and said he could pay them back in a couple of days once things had settled down.
The first order of business was the public funeral and mourning service, which usually took up most of the first day. The second day was the burial, which would happen in one of the shrines. That, too, took up most of the day, with many long ceremonies involving priests from all of the major shrines. The third day was mostly a private day for family and close friends to mourn the dead.
Claude returned from his private world to find Sir Fux standing in front of him. His eyes shot with blood immediately, but he managed to keep his face from contorting into a mask of hatred even the devil might fear. He couldn't keep his desire to kill the bastard out of his eyes, however, and stared at Sir Fux and his lackey Bidlir with a frigid fury that made the two shiver.
Sir Fux tried to greet the others in the room with a nod, but they all made obvious efforts to not see him. Only Kauff acknowledged his existence. The man gave him a kurt, yet polite, greeting, then pointed at the new debt contract.
"Sign here. Please be quick. Time is short and I have much to do before the day's out."
Sir Fux smiled apologetically and stepped forward. He took the pen provided firmly, but hesitated when he felt the four contemptuous gazes boring into his back. The pen suddenly became so heavy he nearly dropped it. He knew everyone knew what was going on with the promissory note and why it had driven Morssen to kill himself. They hated him as much for what he'd forced Morssen to do as for that he'd roped them and their consciences into the black affair.
Thomas was the next one to sign, and he spat in Sir Fux's general direction when he put the pen down again.
"If I'd known what you'd do with this thing I would never have signed it in the first place. I should have been more forceful with Morssen when I told him not to sign your damned promissory note!"
None of the four refused to sign the new contract, however.
One copy was given to him and one to Bloweyk -- Claude received it in his place. Two copies would be kept in Town Hall as well.
Sir Fux smiled benevolently when he felt the crisp paper in his hand and turned his gaze to Claude.
"You must be Claude. I'm so sorry to hear about what happened to your father. If I'd known about his situation earlier I'd have rushed back from the capital to meet with him and come up with an arrangement. How about this, I'll call off the debt if you sign over the mansion to me. I'll swallow the rest of the debt."
While he couldn't pressure anyone to pay the debt while Bloweyk was still a minor, nobody could stop his guardian from paying the debt off early if he so chose.
Claude's frigid gaze suddenly lost its anger. What replaced it was even worse for Sir Fux, however. It was a gaze of utter contempt and derision.
"Sir Fux, I do not readily make promises, but I vow to you today, that for as long as either of us breathes, this mansion will belong to the Ferd family."