So that was why he'd not received any letters from the baroness for the last two years. He kept sending letters, but she never wrote back. He had thought the army postal service had kept losing the letters, but it appeared she'd simply never written to him. She might simply just not know how to reply to him, especially not since she didn't know if he'd been told about what had happened.
She was not responsible for her son's actions, but it would never have happened had she not tried to push the two together. She didn't know how Claude would react to it, and what he'd think of her as a result. Then there was the matter of Christie stealing of Claude's land.
Outsiders, and even Claude's younger siblings might think that the family's recovery after his father's death was due to her benefaction, but she knew better. At best she and Claude were equals.
The relationship difficulties between her and Claude's sister was no doubt behind her silence since the events. She was not thick skinned enough to keep asking for help with the business from the brother of the woman whom her son had so wronged, and from the man whom her daughter had so wronged. She also knew that her children had destroyed any hope she'd had of tying the young man to her household.
Claude felt nothing about his sister's beating up of his mistress' son. He would not have stopped those few breaths early had he been the one doing the beating. With this, his family's ties to the baroness had been cut, and he had every excuse to cut his ties with them as well. Though he was in the military, he was still House Normanley's servant, and would have had to return to their service once he came out of the military. Now, however, he was justified in cutting ties with the family and ending his service to the baroness.
Maria was a good person, even a friend. She'd taken very good care of his family, and he bore no grudges toward her. But he was certain, now more than ever, that he could not be her family's servants. Her children were nothing like her, and he could not stomach the thought of being their lackey.
"Are you listening? Claude..." Angelina asked, Claude's eyes glassed in thought.
"--Ah, yes, I'm listening. Go on."
Whitestag's promotion to a city hadn't affected it much, apart from the higher conscription requirements. What had changed the city, was the trade route to Nubissia, which Storm paved the way for. It had brought untold riches to the town, which was now ever-faster growing into a settlement worthy of the title 'city'.
Investors from across the kingdom had flocked to the city, hoping to get seeds in the ground early so their investments could snap up more of the sunshine and produce greater harvests. The most businesses that had been started in a single month was thirteen. All thirteen were trade companies operating trade vessels along the trade route to the other continent.
Viscount Felidos had, on that basis, made the ambitious declaration that he would triple the city's size in just a couple years.
One of the large companies from the capital set up shop in the city at the end of the year, however. Fenix's arrival sent shockwaves through the city. Within three months they'd bought up sixty businesses and forced the remaining ten large companies to enter partnerships with them.
In just six months they established an effective monopoly on trade through the city, and started manipulating the prices of everything that came through the docks. They even bought most of the officials operating the customs offices by the docks, and made it so that any ship without a permit from them, couldn't do business in the city. Recently, they'd even started having such ships impounded for 'smuggling'.
"Even Uncle Rublier's company had to sell a third of their shares to Fenix," Angelina said.
"Did the mayor not do anything?" Claude asked.
Angelina clicked her tongue.
"Why would he? I heard Fenix was founded by a number of the capital's most influential nobles. I wouldn't be surprised if he owned several shares in the company as well. The company even has the royal family's support. The second prince and third princess showed their support for the company. They personally announced that the company's permit system was perfectly legal and that no one was to ask any questions.
"I don't know how anyone can be so shameless! It's obvious they came with the worst of intentions. They just want to control the market and suck it dry. Everyone knows the companies that originally refused their offers were forced to sell to them, or partner with them by blackmail, threats, and who knows what else. Uncle Rublier wouldn't have sold shares to them if they hadn't started confiscating his ships for 'smuggling'."
Claude snickered. So those were the merchant nobles Duriaulo had mentioned. They weren't much different from the old nobles. Their idea of 'free trade' was that they were free to trade what- and however they liked, and free to make everyone else do what they wanted in that regard as well.
Fenix didn't initially make trouble for Claude's family since they weren't involved in any businesses related to trade. They had, however, recently taken a liking to the apartment building Claude had built for his little sister. They wanted to make it their city headquarters.
They'd approached Angelina and made an offer of three thousand crowns. She'd turned them down, of course. While she didn't have an issue with selling the place in principle, she was not going to sell it for just three thousand crowns when her brother had spent 4600 building it.
Whilst Fenix's price wasn't bad for the building according to the old prices before the town had been made a city, and before the area had become such a hot place for construction and business, that had changed. The company wouldn't leave her be, however. They'd even threatened her, never in as many words, of course, but the meaning behind their words were clear.
The company didn't know just how deep the family's roots ran in the town, however. No matter their machinations, they just couldn't make life hard for the family. They'd attempted to have their thugs rob the family and rough them up, but their men had come scampering back, broken and bruised. They then turned to the local government, trying to turn them against the family and have them cause trouble for them, but Councillor Thomas stood up for the family alongside the mayor and half of the council. Felidos had recommended Claude to Bluefeather, after all, and had kept an eye on his progress since, though he didn't know what had happened to him since their initial deployment beyond the mountain range. That said, he knew the boy must have achieved much, and he was not going to let his family come into hard times on his watch. His honour rested on it.
The viscount's defence of the family prompted Fenix to look into the family thoroughly, which revealed Claude and Angelina's ties to the baroness. They didn't, however, learn of the fight between Angelina and the baroness, and their subsequent breaking of ties.
They finally sucked it up and made Angelina a proper offer. She would have turned them down again out of spite for their dirty dealings, but her mother couldn't handle the stress anymore and was on the brink of falling ill again. She also knew that it would only be a matter of time before they found out about her falling out with the baroness, at which time her leverage over them would vanish and they'd come at her with no reservations, so she relented.
The building was sold for 8000 crowns.
"So the family only owns the mansion?" Claude asked.
It was laughable. He'd worked so hard to set his family up as a well-rooted family before his departure. They were far from property moguls, and would have been ever further from it once the city had grown into its own, but they would have been amongst the richest in the city regardless. Most other entities that would have owned as much land would have been companies or businesses, not private households. They'd yet again, however, been reduced to just the one red-brick building, though they were far wealthier than they'd been before.
Claude wasn't angry at anyone. His family hadn't lost anything per se, they'd been fairly compensated for both the lands in the Normanley estate, and his sister's apartment complex. But they had lost all their properties.
He was somewhat disappointed in himself, however. He'd built his sister the apartment complex so she would have a stable income and wouldn't be forced to marry some dimwit bastard out of desperation, but he'd forgotten that the town was rapidly growing and that, while no one in the old town would dare mess with his family, a bigger town attracted bigger fish, who would have few qualms in messing with his family if they had something they wanted. If not for all the connections he'd built up in the town's upper society before his departure, things would not have turned out as amicably and well for them as it had.
"I bought some woodland," his sister added, stealing a glance at his expression.
"Woodland?" Claude asked.
Angelina explained that she'd figured out that it was much easier to train magic in the woods. She didn't have to worry as much about being discovered, and she needed land to plant her herbs. Having woodland thus benefitted both her interests. Mainly, however, it saved her money since she didn't have to keep buying all the herbs she needed.
"How much?" Claude asked.
His sister's answer stupefied him.
She'd not wanted to just keep putting all her money in the bank. They didn't offer interest in this world, unlike back on Earth, so money sitting in a bank wasn't working. Angelina already had over ten thousand crowns in the bank, so she bought about 60 hectares of woodland just outside the city, around Normanley Wood.
She'd originally planned to buy 130, 60 from three different farmers, and the remaining 70 from the local government, but she'd been denied purchase of the government's woodland because she was a peasant. She had to be a dignitarian to buy public land not specifically put up for sale.
That said, however, she still owned 60 hectares, now the only person besides the baroness to own any woodland near the city at all. She'd decided to name the three patches of wood Ferd Wood, a little spit at the baroness' bitch of a daughter.
She'd gotten the land at a bargain, too. She'd paid just half market price for the woodland since they'd been stripped bare for building materials for the recent projects in the town. It would take decades for the woods to regrow, so the farmers were willing to sell it to her cheap.
Without the local government's pieces of woodland, however, the land she owned was not connected, and so she couldn't merge them.
Claude burst out laughing.
It was a non-issue now that he was back. He was a quasi-noble, so he could just buy the rest of the woodland in his name, buy the woodland his sister owned, merge the two under his name, then pass it all back to her. Or he could just buy the government's woodland, keep it in his name, and just let her manage his land for him with hers.