"By the way, why hasn't Kefnie come over lately? The two of you are adults now. Since you still have some time here, you should tie the knot," Madam Ferd said one evening.
Claude's scalp tingled. His experience with a failed marriage, which had led to his womanizing life, had instilled him with a sense of distrust in women where marriage was concerned. Kefnie may be the ideal daughter-in-law, but he had no interest in marriage. His mother should stop joking around. Even if he didn't have an issue with marriage, he was just 18, not to mention his future with the army.
"Kefnie's helping Rodan check the materials. The 15th is also coming and we have to pay the staff's salaries, not to mention the loans. She's busier than you think. She just doesn't have the time to stop by all the time. As for marriage, I won't think about it until I'm done with the military."
Claude cleaned the table after the meal and his mother took the account book with her upstairs. Angelina and Bloweyk were playing with the snowhound in the field outside. Claude called them in. There were many mosquitos and other insects around and they were most active at night.
Bloweyk didn't come until Claude physically dragged him into the villa. With their baths done, the little rascal headed to bed. Claude went to the study, and found his sister waiting for him again.
"How's your shooting coming?"
As Claude had been doing overtime, his mother had picked her up from school with their new carriage. They also went shopping for some food and seasoning at the open market before coming home.
"I got 14 hits out of 20," she replied proudly.
Claude took a folder out of his backpack.
"I made an account for you. You have three thousand crowns. It's only for magical materials. If there's some emergency at home, you can use the money for that too, but never tell mom about it. Understood?"
His little sister nodded obediently.
"No worries, I made an account for mom too. It has a thousand crowns and the rent from the mansion. It should be enough to keep the family running. I also asked where Arbeit went. I heard he left town on the day father passed. I'm not sure whether he'll suddenly come back after I leave, but you better pay attention. If he's just here for free food, leave him be. But never let him cheat mom out of money, understood?"
Angelina's two large eyes suddenly teared up.
"I don't want you to leave..."
Claude stroked her head with a smile.
"It's impossible. If I don't, I'll be sent to the labour camps. I promise I'll come home safely. You're already fifteen. You'll be a young lady soon. Once I leave, the family will depend on you. Mom's still not in top condition yet, so you have to take care of her."
"Okay. I know how to drive and I can go to school myself. I don't need mom to pick me up." Though she tried to look proud by talking with her nose high, the tears on her face made her look rather comical.
After rubbing her tears away, Claude said, "Good. You can drive the new carriage to school. The mare we just got, Wendie, has a gentle personality. It's also really stable while crossing hilly paths, so you'll be fine."
He handed the account book to her and passed another large sack of money to her. "Don't touch the money in the account for now. You can use that alchemical formation array after you become a one-ring magus and only then would you need to use that money for materials. You remember what I taught you about buying magical materials, right? That's why I wanted you to learn herbalism. A lot of herbs can also be used as magical materials, so if you buy them with herbalism experiments as your excuse, nobody will suspect that you're using them for magic."
She opened the sack and started with shock. "There's so many gold and silver coins..."
"It's your allowance. 30 crowns. Just keep the money with you and treat your friends to some food occasionally. You'll make friends easily and won't be ostracized. Use it sparingly, don't spend it just because you have lots of it, okay?"
"Hmph, I'm not a kid, you know."
"Hide the sack and account book in your room. Don't let Blowk and the snowhound find out--" Claude opened the folder. "--Another thing, I bought a piece of land in your name on Old Street near the military base. I plan to construct a four-storey building there. I spoke with Boa's father about it and he knows what to do.
"I also rented the shop lots on the ground floor to him. He's going to move his family business there when the building's done. The rent will be paid to your account. These documents have already been certified by City Hall, so I'll leave them with you."
"Does mom know about this?"
Claude stroked her head and messed up her hair, causing her to humph and pull her head away.
"She doesn't. Don't forget what I said. I bought the land for you. Mister Rublier and I agreed he would take care of everything until you turn 18 and hand it to you then. Maybe you can leave it in his hands to manage if you want then. If you want to marry someone, the building can be your dowry..."
"I don't want to marry anyone!" she shouted, her ears red.
She clung onto the deed so tightly Claude was afraid she'd tear it. That was her land. For a girl to own a patch of land like that, especially before she was married or even an adult, was beyond rare. Given its prime location and development, she never had to worry about anything, and wouldn't have to marry just to have someone to take care of her financially.
"It must've cost you a lot," she murmured.
It was a lot indeed, almost four thousand crowns. Whitestag was being made a city and there were still lots of development underway. Property prices had almost tripled. The land Claude had bought was public property before, which made it somewhat cheaper, but it still cost him over 1500 crowns. He would have paid even more if not for First Lieutenant Hughs' mediation.
The construction cost two thousand crowns. The designs were all drawn by him. He'd used the Hogg-style, red-bricked mansion as a template. The only difference was that each suite had two balconies. The people in this world loved to dry their sheets and laundry in the sun and Claude was already sick of hearing complaints from the mansion's tenants that they couldn't do so.
The amount roughly totaled up to four thousand crowns. He gave his mother an additional one thousand, and his sister three thousand crowns. That left him with around a thousand plus crowns left, which should be more than enough for his life in the military. Even if he had to treat his comrades to big meals daily, his funds could last quite a while.
"It's fine, Anna. I'm rich and they're all the shares I got from the company. It's getting late. Go sleep. Take everything with you and don't forget to meditate before you sleep."
"Okay," she answered obediently.
Claude scratched his head and listened to the sound of her going up the steps. He then bent down and took a black-colored beastskin sack out from under his desk and took out his black mask and shawl as well as a few bottles and put them on the table.
He took out a large bunch of fat from the bottle of lard and mixed it with some of the other chemical solutions. When it was all even, he pasted some of it on the back of his hand. Soon, he managed to settle on a color he deemed suitable.
He applied the brownish lard on his face, hands, and all exposed parts of his skin. Soon, his skin turned bronze and he looked no different from a weather-beaten sailor.
Next was his hair. He needed some alchemical potions for that. Fortunately, Claude had concocted a bottle based on Landes' notes. What he didn't understand was who would use hair dye during the age of magic? Did the magi care about how they looked too?
He dyed his brown-black hair into dark blonde with the regent and cut off some hair which he fashioned into a fine-looking moustache. He stuck the fake moustache above his lips and looked into the mirror. Even his mother wouldn't recognize him now.
He put on the socks and books he took from the sack and his mask. Slinging the other backpack on with the whiskey bottle inside, Claude left the study quietly and exited the wooden hut. His mother and little brother were probably asleep and Angelina was probably deep in meditation. They didn't notice that Claude had slipped out. The snowhound on the other hand did growl for a few moments and scratched the entrance of the bedroom a few times, but it soon quieted down, probably able to tell that it was Claude.
He left the wood and headed to town with the familiar route. As the naval base encompassed the entire slums, Kefnie and her sister as well as the darned Hurian had to move. Felidos on the other hand got inspiration from the development Normanley Real Estate ushered in and was preparing to build a simple residential area outside the west gate of the town for the residents of the slums to move into. That move did win him quite a bit of approval.
However, that plan hadn't been drafted yet, mainly because of the whimsical Viscount Wenisk, who pushed down a plan he drafted the next day. Before anything was set in stone, the citizens of the slums still had to live there. But it was markedly quiet, unlike before.
Claude wanted to go to Old Street. The brothel was still there and without Blacksnake's control, it grew even more prosperous. After all, no harlot would be willing to split the lion's share of the money they worked so hard for to the gang. Nowadays, the strong and brave sailors of the navy were their regular customers.