Some things couldn't stay hidden, and Angelina understood that. Now that Claude was back, she had to tell him everything. He was, after all, the one she could trust most. After some hesitation, she began her story from the day he had departed.
Maria had come to Whitestag that 9th month. She first inspected Normanley Real Estate, then attended a meeting with the mayor, and finally came to Normanley Wood to see the family. She agreed to take Angelina as her disciple on account of her relationship with Claude.
It took her only a month to realise she had stumbled on a jackpot. She had mentioned in her following letter to Claude that Angelina was more talented in both magic and herbal medicine than him. It reminded her of herself when she was young, so she invested even more effort into nurturing his little sister.
If Angelina hadn't had to care for her recovering mother and her young brother, Maria would've dragged her to the royal capital with her. Angelina remained in the wood, however, but she didn't disappoint Maria and her studies in herbal medicine progressed at a lightning pace. It shocked even the baroness. The two communicated through letters and Maria would answer every question she had. Sometimes, they wrote a few times a month.
This was all in the first year of Claude's absence. By the end of the year, the four-storey building Claude had had Rublier build was finished. Angelina became the richest landlord the city and had been ever since. The former chief constable, Thomas, was also elected to be one of the three Council of Dignitarian's members. Rodan's real estate company also won the other contracts related to the base. Everything was turning for the better.
Maria visited again the following 9th month. She grew fonder and fonder of her new cute and obedient student and began to hope she would become her daughter-in-law so she could serve the Stellin royal family as a court apothecary.
Maria had a son and a daughter and her husband was one of Stellin X's trusted guards, Viscount Kartoff, who happened to be the current vice corpsman of the royal guard. He never came with her on her retreats.
The parents' brilliance had not passed to their children, however. It was probably at least partly because of how comfortable the two had grown up. They'd never had to work for anything. It had turned them into quite unsavoury individuals and their mother was very worried about them. Her son, Hertinger, was about Claude's age, but had already been expelled from the college due to his abysmal grades. He entered Lausett Academy, only to be expelled from there as well a year later for copious absentia. He had been attending the Royal Art Centre at the time. At best his mother could hope for him to eventually graduate and get a job there, where he would languish in mediocrity for the rest of his life. His future, had he just done his part, would have been much the same as his father's. The old man had exchanged a number of major political favours to get his son a spot on the royal guard. Now he was only ever going to be a mediocre instructor in an arts centre.
Her daughter, Christie, was two years her brother's junior and a classic bratty princess. She was arrogant, aggravating, selfish, and vain to those beneath her in social status. She believed herself to be born noble and loved to throw her weight around, to the point that she earned her uncle, the king himself's rebuke.
"Your grandfather was a mere cobbler. What's so great about you? You actually dared to hit and curse at peasants out in the street just because they blocked your carriage and made you fifteen minutes late for your date?! Ridiculous!"
Maria felt very guilty for neglecting the children's upbringing in favour of her research, but her acquiescence to their every whim did nothing to make up for her absence. It took until the two were young adults for them to learn how destructive the habits they'd developed truly were.
The children weren't stupid, not by a long measure. Hertinger had always under achieved everywhere he'd gone, but he was a true socialite... handsome and charismatic, too. He would never have a family through his own efforts, however, though he could smooch off his mother's relationship.
Christie, for her part,was a true opportunist. Rather dominating, too, especially among the little ones. Her lifelong wish was to be the fourth prince's consort because she believed only one with high blood was fit to be her husband.
Maria had considered marrying her daughter off to Claude after he revealed his economic wit to her, but she knew the two would never get along. And if she tried to force it on Claude, he would just pack up and leave, their enemy from then on.
His little sister was not as stubborn, however, or didn't seem so, at least. She adored the girl. Not to mention it would be perfect if her son could wed the girl. She also hoped that Angelina's firm personality -- firm where it counted most, at least -- would help clobber her son back onto the straight and narrow as well. Not to mention that if the two had offspring she wouldn't have to worry about the family's continued existence.
She'd kept the thought to herself, however, given that Angelina had been just 16 at the time.
The naval base's construction was progressing well two years into the war. Viscount Felidos also finally made public the details of his plan to develop Whitestag into a full-fledged city. He hoped to break down the specialisation of each of the old town neighbourhood and turn the current town-occupied land into the city's new centre. It made for excellent business, though the army's constant recruitment had eaten away at their manpower pool.
The major elements of the military's new base were completed in the second half of the war's third year. The books showed the company had made 100 thousand crowns' profit. Rodan went against the other investors' objections and reinvested it all into the city's development, hoping to repeat their success with the naval base.
Maria returned earlier than usual the following year, arriving in the middle of the 8th month, son and daughter in tow. Hertinger had come as his mother's escort. She hoped to use the extra time to tie Angelina and her son up. She told her son that she'd picked Angelina out as his future wife and instructed him to win her heart.
"This is my son. He's quite handsome, isn't he? The perfect kind of face to fall for at first sight, right?" she'd said as she's introduced the boy.
Angelina, despite her maturity, had been just a 17-year-old girl at the time, and had been somewhat moved by the baroness' son's beauty. He had been the spitting image of the knights in shining armour all the novels she'd read growing up described. The baroness' daughter, however, was quite an unpleasant girl. She was arrogant, childish, and very demeaning -- when her mother wasn't around, of course.
Maria was recalled to the capital in the middle of the 9th month because the king had fallen ill. The moment she left, her two children revealed their true colours. Her son disappeared into the fledgling city's red light district that very evening, and didn't return for several days. Her daughter immediately started bossing everyone around. She even tried to do it to Angelina, but the girl just flatly ignored her.
Hertinger returned from his tour de rapports about a week later. He was pale and gaunt, and asked Angelina to concoct him something to boost his stamina. Angelina naturally said no. The fool then threatened her, however, and said he wouldn't take her as his wife if she wasn't obedient.
The girl lost her shit.
Who the hell had the gall, much less the authority, to arbitrarily decide for her who she was to marry? Not to mention that the man that had been chosen for her was this little lecher. That said, she immediately knew it had been her teacher's decision to pair her and her son, and she didn't quite know how to reject the woman.
That evening, however, while she was studying in the baroness' laboratory, Hertinger tried to bed her. He hoped that once she was spoilt, she'd have no choice but to wed him, and would become his obedient little pet.
He got in a couple gropes while Angelina was in shock at his actions, but then she turned around and beat him to within a few centimetres of his life. His shouts and wails drew the entire estate's attention. Both his hands were broken, his head had been cracked, and he had numerous bruises all over his body.
News of the incident quickly made it to the baroness, who couldn't believe what she'd heard. She couldn't not deal with it. On the one hand, it was her son, on the other, the victim was her retainer's little sister, her student.
While the news was still making it to her, however, Christie chased the family off the estate. Angelina argued that part of the wood belonged to them, and she thus had no right to chase them off. Christie reacted by accusing them of theft, saying Claude had only acted to get her mother's trust so he could take her land, and that Angelina had been trying to seduce her brother so she could marry into the family's riches.
Angelina was shaking by the time she finished her recounting. Her mother had fainted at the accusation and Bloweyk had burst into tears. Angelina had been on the edge of blowing the bitch's head off, but didn't on account of the thing's relation to her teacher.
She realised, however, that Christie had only tagged along to figure out how to get back the land her mother had given to Claude. She felt it was a mistake for her mother to give away the family's land, land that belonged to her as much as her mother, especially since she was set to inherit the land personally -- her brother inheriting their father's estates.
She felt it was only right that she demand her land's return and that the thieves bugger off. Though Angelina could not hand over the land, as it belonged to her brother, not her, her mother, or her younger brother, she couldn't stick around, so she left the estate with the rest of the family, and returned to the red-bricked mansion.
"I wrote Lady Maria a long letter to explain what had happened and thanked her for everything she'd done for me. I told her I would always consider her my teacher, but that I would not leave my family behind to go to the capital, even after I graduate from middle school. I would move on the path of herbal medicine on my own."
Claude understood that, though not said in as many words, Angelina had cut all ties with his mistress. He doubted Maria would take action on the matter, either. She couldn't take either side without irreparably damaging her relations with the other, and she couldn't decide between a disciple as promising as Angelina and her son. Angelina understood this, which was why she took the initiative to cut their ties.
She didn't know, however, how important that land and its giving to Claude was to Maria's honour. She had given it to him as payment for his forbidden spells, after all.
"I have no idea what she was thinking, but Rodan came to me at the end of the year and handed me a 1200-crown note. He didn't have a reply from her, however. He just said it was for the land and the villa. I've deposited the money in a bank account. I haven't touched it."
"It's fine. I'll give the money to you. I taught Lady Maria five runic spells, forbidden ones. She didn't have any money at the time, so she gave me the land and the villa instead," Claude explained.