Claude was happy about Angelina's growth. The fearful little crybaby had finally grown up. She now weathered the storms of life alone, taking care of her family as she did so. She had matured into an independent woman. She had not just advanced by leaps and bounds in magic, but also handled problems so well she left nearly no flaws.
Even Claude wasn't confident he could deal with Maria's children better than Angelina had. Even though she stumbled a little when it came to the woodland purchases, that could only be attributed to her relative inexperience and ignorance that buying public woodland required dignitarian status. In fact, she had thought through the whole thing rather well. Purchasing the woodland would indeed be a great help to her magic training. At the very least, it was far more convenient than it was in this mansion.
"Also, Anna, have you managed to get certification as a beginner herbalist?" Claude wondered as he saw the rows of apparati lined up on the table by the window.
She nodded. "I did during the test held in Baromiss during the 11th month last year. Only 10 out of 247 test takers managed to pass. Not only was I ranked eighth, I was also the youngest of them all."
Now, he couldn't help but admit that his sister was a genius. As far as herbalism was concerned, she was far superior to him. What he wasn't aware of was the fact that the mansion's gates were almost trampled to the ground by the hordes of suitors asking for her hand in marriage. Even Borkal's father, Rublier, felt like making a move on behalf of his son. It was only after seeing Angelina turn all those offers down that he put that notion to rest.
"Haven't you thought about opening your own apothecary then?"
She shook her head and said, "If I do, I would be tied down there every day. There are enough apothecaries in Whitestag, four in total, so I'm not itching to join the fray. I'm currently making concoctions at home and selling them to those apothecaries at a low price, an arrangement that they're satisfied with. When there's a trade voyage coming up, the merchants would come to me and order a batch of concoctions. I'm able to make lots of money from that alone."
Claude pointed at the small apparati. "Don't tell me you used those to make the concoctions. They're only for use in urgent times. The quality of concoctions made using those aren't that good. If you use alchemy to make potions, on the other hand, you'll be outed as a magus."
Angelina giggled and said, "I'm not stupid enough to sell potions. Actually, I made ten bottles potions and diluted them with three bottles of distilled water and mixed them up with that stirrer to make 13 bottles of good-quality concoctions. That's why my concoctions are greatly received in the city. I also limited the scope of production to make others think I spent lots of care and attention to make concoctions that good."
Claude was speechless and could only shoot her a thumbs-up. She no longer needed him to worry about her and had thought about the matters more deeply than he ever could. His only regret was that he didn't think of the same method in the past. He couldn't sell his perfect-quality concoctions, essentially potions, and had to rely on hunting for materials for his experiments.
"Umm... Claude, there's another bad news which I'm not sure I should tell you about..." she said with some hesitance.
"Tell me. What kind of bad news?"
"Umm... Normanley Real Estate closed down. Your shares in the company only sold for around four hundred crowns in the end."
"Huh?" Claude was flabbergasted. "The company collapsed? Didn't you say there's about 100 thousand crowns in profits after the construction of the base? Didn't Butler Rodan buy up the land east of the city for development? How did he run the whole place down?"
He soon knew why after Angelina explained it to him. Normanley Real Estate's predicament was so bad that its collapse was almost inevitable. Initially, the whole venture worked out because of the advantage offered by Maria's early access to information that the navy would be constructing a base in Whitestag.
So, they went on buying up land in the slums and made them collaterals for even more loans to buy up more land. They then planned out the development of the whole sector and built a few sample buildings to catch the eye of the navy. That caused the navy to book the rest of the land the company was planning to develop and pay them in advance, relieving the financial woes of the company.
They had the luxury of being in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing, and developing just the right product for the right customer, leading to the generation of an unparalleled amount of wealth. Rodan, on the other hand, wanted to replicate that success, but he had forgotten a few key factors.
Back then, Claude convinced Maria to use Normanley Wood's 460 plus hectares of land as collateral for a 20-thousand-crown loan, invest the money in buying up the slums, and use the purchased land as collateral for even more loans. They managed to raise around 50 thousand crowns that way and had more than enough to construct sample buildings.
However, the land Rodan purchased at the east of town belonged to the city administration and was sold at a really high price. After getting the deeds for the land, they also had to be flattened before any construction work could be done, requiring far more work and funds than developing the slums. Back then, Claude managed to save lots of spending on building material by harvesting them for buildings that were torn down, yet Rodan started off on land with nothing on it. All the other things required more and more spending.
So, by the time Rodan had the land flattened and the irrigation set up, the company had practically run out of money. That was when he tried to raise more funds by using the land as collateral, which was his second mistake. Back then, Claude had been targeting the navy as buyers, and Rodan still wasn't aware to whom he would be selling the new area, or whether they'd even buy property in that new area.
If Fenix had not come to monopolise trade there, many other smaller businesses would've continued to flock to the city, leading to more new folk needing places to stay. Had that happened, Rodan might've gotten enough buyers. At the very least, the company wouldn't be making a loss.
Alas, Fenix's meddling in Whitestag kept the smaller businesses out of intercontinental trade and caused Whitestag to lose its allure. By the time the new sector was completed, there was nobody left to buy the high-priced property there, causing that area to become a ghost town.
"During the 5th month last year, Rodan was so disgruntled that he negotiated with Mayor Felidos and sold that area to Whitestag's administration. That would be where the newly transferred bureaucrats would live. It sold for only a third of what it cost to develop the place. After paying out the debt and owed salaries, the company was left with less than five thousand crowns.
"Rodan crestfallenly announced the closing of the company and said he would return to serve his lady as her butler. All the other investors received part of the money that's left, with your share being around 400 crowns. I saved them money i the account you gave me," she explained.
Turning more than 100 thousand crowns into little more than five thousand was no doubt a huge blow for Rodan and Maria. Claude shook his head and thought that this wasn't how real estate should be done in Aueras. Without an opportune moment and a target buyer, trying to replicate Claude's success like Rodan wanted to was only a fool's errand.
"So the builders Uncle Thomas was put in charge of were all disbanded?" That was what Claude was most concerned with. It was fine if the company collapsed, but it would be a real shame if his efficient construction team was disbanded because of that.
"You should address him as Sir Thomas now, you know. Don't forget that he's a member of the lower council." Though she said that, she referred to Thomas as 'uncle' as well. "During the forced conscription two years ago, most of the workers had been enlisted. Only around 300 of them remain, all experienced technicians.
"When the company closed down, the investors formed a new construction company and those technicians became contractors. They formed three engineering teams with the technicians and got quite a lot of jobs through Uncle Thomas. Even though they don't earn that much like before, it's enough to keep the company running.
"Uncle Thomas told me that this was the plan you told him about before you left for the army. As long as he could keep the workforce, he would have a huge influence in town and that would prove useful for his elections. Also, our family also has a stake in this new company. We invested 150 crowns in Bloweyk's name."
Claude nodded. Thomas did well, considering that he remembered what he was told from way back then. Even after the collapse of the company, they could still form a construction firm. If Rodan could've run the company that way, it might not have collapsed and they could've gotten even more job contracts from the administration. It was too bad that he could no longer be satisfied with normal jobs after tasting the sublime feeling of their breakout success, only to fail and leave Whitestag with a heavy heart.
"Oh, and what's with Uncle Pegg watching our door?" Claude only just recalled seeing Uncle Pegg the first thing he returned.
Angelina shook her head and sighed.
"Claude, you don't know how many labour camps there are in Whitestag now... There are more than thirty of them. I suspect almost all labour camps in the kingdom are transferred here. Crime is rampant in the city and it's getting more and more unsafe. Two years ago, two criminals snuck onto the first floor next door and almost scared Madam Wenderson to death. We had no choice but to get Uncle Thomas to help us hire someone to construct that wall around the mansion so that the other tenants feel safe. It's our land anyway.
"As for Uncle Pegg..." Angelina's face grew stern. "Do you still remember your childhood playmate, Eriksson?"
"Of course. He turned against our whole family after his father disappeared, right? I didn't have any contact with him since we graduated. Did something happen to him?"
"It's best you don't tell others you know him." Angelina didn't seem to be joking. "The second year since you joined the army, Eriksson also enlisted, but in the navy instead. During the 4th month last year, he roused others to commit mutiny and commandeered one class-2 warship belonging to Storm and turned to piracy. Currently, his bounty is as high as 850 crowns and there's even a wanted poster of him at the entrance of the naval base."
"How could that happen?!" Claude was stupefied. Eriksson, at his age, had become a pirate! He was no older than Claude! The navy wasn't like the army either. Seniority played a huge role in the navy and with the short time he served, probably scrubbing the decks day in and out, it was hard to imagine he managed to incite a mutiny. It was practically impossible.
"It's true. Everyone in Whitestag knows that. Not only that, he was daring enough to take advantage of the navy's ignorance of his mutiny to return and dock at the base during the night to rob it of its supplies, taking another two long-distance transport ships with him. He also ferried away his mother and the families of the other soldiers who defected with him.
"Even when he left with all three ships, the ones watching the canal leading to the open seas even thought he was on a special mission and allowed him passage. It was only the next day that they found the guards of the warehouses tied up that they found out about the mutiny. Six senior officers of the base were punished for that and it became the greatest mark of shame for Storm fleet."
"What about Uncle Pegg?"
"He refused to join Eriksson and become a pirate. Ever since the pier was sold, he served as their family's servant. During the night Eriksson came back for his mother, he was tied up in his room after he refused to join. After he was detained, investigated, and proven innocent, he was let out and had nowhere to return to. It so happened that our wall just finished construction, so I hired him to guard it."
Claude nodded. "You did well."
"And... and there's one more thing..." she said, seeming really embarrassed and fearful, "Claude... Last year, I... I... killed two people..."