Claude felt something touch his face. In his waking haze, he reached out and felt a smooth palm. He wondered who had desturbed his sleep. After much effort, he opened his eyes a slit and saw a beauty sitting by his bed, looking at him with tear-filled eyes.
What was going on? Was he not home? Who was the gorgeous woman? She look familiar... A long moment of intense confusion passed, and he suddenly remembered he had gone to sleep in the nude. Baring one's body to a stranger, especially one of the opposite sex, was exceedingly rude. He let go of the wrist and grasped at his sheets.
The beauty leapt into his bed the moment he let go, however, and was under the sheets before he could grab them, hugging him tightly.
"I've missed you, Claude!" she sobbed, "The wargod has blessed you! You returned home unharmed!"
Ah, Kefnie, the thought came as his mind started working again. He relaxed and returned the hug.
"I told you I'd be back. Stop crying. Why are you here so early? I was planning to visit later today."
The girl looked at him, tears still staining her cheeks.
"Jerad told Sis last night that One-eyed Lambak's band's was taken out by three soldiers returning from the war. I just knew it had to be you. If I had heard earlier, I would've been here yesterday."
"What time is it?"
"It's not early. I fed my little niece before I came. The sun's already already halfway up into the sky. Auntie said you were still sleeping and she didn't want to wake you so I came up to wake you u--mmhhf!"
Claude planted a kiss on her still-moving lips and shot his tongue into her. It tangled with hers, bending it to his will as he tasted her, deeply, deeper than he had ever before. He shivered as she sighed a moan into his mouth and slumped against him, surrendering to his lust, letting him have his way with her, his hands beginning their ravenous, arousing exploration of the young body he'd not violated in five years.
The end of the 6th month's weather was stuffy. Claude slept naked, covered only by a sparse selection of sheets. Kefnie wore nothing but a loose dress, slight underwear hiding beneath. Her clothes were a mess before his hands had gotten to work, now they were in shambles. His little friend was on morning parade, brought to even stiffer attention by the two bodies that rubbed against it on both sides. The thought of ravaging the girl beyond recognition right then and there flitted across his mind, which had already relinquished more than half its ration of blood and oxygen to his little friend, but the door knocked.
It sent Kefnie flying off the bed, her hands instinctively patting down her ruined dress. She didn't even notice the mixture of their saliva running down her chin and clinging to the bottom of her jaw. It dried quickly on her hot, flushed skin, however.
Claude sighed in frustration. What damn fool was being so bloody inconsiderate? And he'd just found the edge of her dress and was ready to start pulling it out of the way!
"Come in," he said, not trying to keep the irritation from his voice.
"I hope you two weren't in the middle of something. I would hate to have interrupted you," Angelina's voice came ahead of her as she opened the door and poked her head through the gap, "Mom said it's time you got out of bed. You have to visit the mayor and Uncle Thomas. It won't be polite to go any later. I have your uniform. Hey Kefnie. I hope my brother wasn't doing anything indecent... Why's your face so red?"
Claude sighed unhappily. He'd forgotten he had an appointment with the two men today. Whilst they'd not arranged a specific time, such meetings were always done early in the morning if there was a choice, and he'd appear tardy if he went too late. He desperately wanted to shoo his nosy little sister away and get back to a man's business with his woman, but he owed the mayor a timely visit. The man was responsible for his entry into the army in the timely fashion and to the fortunate unit he had.
"Enough. Give it to me. It's just hot in here, that's all," he rattled off the phrases without looking at his sister, trying to keep his own face from turning tomato as well.
Angelina rolled her eyes, but handed over his uniform without protest.
"Don't think I don't know what you were up to!" she chided.
Claude ignored her, putting on his white shirt carelessly. He straightened it once it was on his body, then stepped into his black pants. It slid up his muscular legs without issue and he fastened it over the shirt with a strip of leather with a simple but immaculately polished silver buckle. He slipped his feet, which had finally begun looking like feet again, rather than the mass of blisters they'd been for years while out on campaign, into grey socks and then into black boots, both polished to a sheen equal to his buckle. He swung a hard, heavy coat over his shoulders, fixed his shirt's collar, slapped at his sleeves to make sure no dust was on them, and finally plopped his cap on his head unceremoniously before tidying it into its proper place.
He stood then, a dashing, handsome -- if somewhat weary-eyed -- soldier, in front of the two girls.
"You don't clean up too badly," Angelina said with equal measures of tease and pride.
Kefnie stared at him, her jaw thoroughly embedded in the floor. She couldn't hide the want rampaging in her eyes, her recovering face crimson again, and her chest -- oh that sumptuous chest -- rising and falling lustily beneath her light, thin dress.
He slipped past the two vultures and splashed his face thoroughly, rinsing his mouth twice, before going downstairs.
"Myjack, bring me two bottles of the finest wine we have."
Myjack knew exactly which two Claude meant. They were a part of his share of spoils from their last battle. They'd been earmarked as gifts for the mayor and Thomas from the moment they'd fallen into his superior's hands.
"Shall we go with you, Sir?" he asked.
"Alright. Prepare the carriage. You're driving."
"What about me?" Gum asked.
"You have study work. You have to know at least three new words when I come back. I won't let you make me a laughingstock at the college because you can't read."
"Sorry, Kefnie," he said, turning to the young woman, "I have to make a few visits. I probably won't be able to see you today."
Kefnie smiled at him.
"It's alright. I've waited five years. I can wait a day more. It's much more important that you came back safely."
"Don't forget to bring up the woodland," Angelina chimed as Claude stepped through the door.
He nodded at her over his shoulder, and walked to the carriage. Myjack was busy fixing the horse. It took him another minute to ready everything, then they were off.
Felidos was waiting in the city halls' reception area for Claude when he arrived. He'd been informed of his return, and of his exploits just outside the city on his way in, the day before. He'd not come to his office this early in months, but today he was here, in meticulously starched and straightened dress, too.
Whitestag was under the capital's direct governance, so it had no designated governor's residence, and no home office. All his official meetings thus had to happen in city hall. He would not have made so much effort had Claude come back a sergeant-major. He'd have invited him for a visit a week or so after his arrival, and the two would have shared only a short time in his office during which time he would have asked after his exploits only in passing, out of required courtesy more than actual interest.
But the boy, no, the young man, had returned a commissioned officer, a captain, and a knight, a petty noble. It was several fold greater than his achievements at the young man's age. On top of that, whilst a minor achievement at best compared to everything else he'd done, but of far more direct interest to Felidos as the city's mayor, he'd casually swatted a band of bandits which had been terrorising the city for months on his way into town.
Felidos knew what the young man's rank and knighthood meant. He'd come up through the military himself and had earned his title on the battlefield as well. He had gone through many of the same experiences as the young man himself in his younger days. He may be a bureaucrat now, but his heart still beat to the marching drums of the company drummers. He would still be in the army if not for his blasted injury. It had robbed him of the many more years he could have had in uniform. He'd redirected that obsession onto promising young ones he met in the course of his duties, however. He flung them at his old corps, hoping a couple would stick. A couple had, but he'd never dreamt any of his recommendations would turn into a shooting star.
Claude had gone from a green recruit, beneath even the lowest rank, to captain in just five years. On top of that he'd snapped a knighthood off the golden tree. His future was beyond bright. The bragging rights this gave him alone were reason enough for the grin that split his face from ear to ear when he saw the young man get off the carriage in front of the city hall.
Every achievement the kid racked up was another feather in Felidos' cap. As the kid's original sponsor, he shared in his ward's glory as much as his ward himself. Then there was the chance to call in his favour when he sent his kids into the army. He could have Claude look after them, or even take them under his wing if he proved capable enough.
Claude saluted the mayor and his entourage of officials as he stepped through the door into the reception area. The mayor returned it, then clapped Claude on the shoulder as he would a comrade. The two had their meeting in his office, the door intentionally left open, and the mayor's laughter echoed down the hallways every now and again.
Claude was unaccustomed to such warm treatment, but he kept a friendly face. He thanked the mayor once he got a chance to speak and presented one of his bottles of wine. It was worth three crowns.
Felidos' smile broadened even further, if such a thing was possible, and he stowed it carefully in his liquor cabinet, locking three different locks up and down the door before returning his attention to Claude. Conversation quickly turned to the war. He delighted in hearing another's war stories, and shared several of his own, the memories jogged loose by one of Claude's accounts or another. He was nearly ecstatic when he heard Claude had been nominated to the new war college.
Claude eventually brought up the matter of woodland, and Felidos nearly fell over himself to get the relevant official working on it immediately. Claude got all the woodland for which he'd asked, and at half the price -- just 30 crowns a hectare.
The land was cheap for the same reason the private woodland had been bought for so few crowns. The trees had been felled, and this time they'd not been replanted yet. Lack of manpower and all that.
Thus only the Ferd family and Baroness Normanley were left as private owners of woodland in the city's immediate vicinity. Normanley Wood was 460 hectares, and the Ferd family's 270 in all.
Claude got up to leave once he had the last of the deeds, but Felidos insisted they share lunch. Claude asked they instead meet up for dinner instead, citing more meetings like that one which still had to be made. Reluctantly, the mayor agreed and the two parted.
Next was Thomas. The man had moved during Claude's absence. He now lived in a building more a big house than a manor, in the city's eastern neighbourhoods. It was just down the road from Sir Fux's old abode.
Thomas welcomed him as warmly as the mayor had, but unlike the mayor, he treated Claude as one did a nephew. He had worked with his father on the trade route, and had known Claude right out of his mother's womb. He'd wished to step in on their behalf during their troubles with Sir Fux, and even more so after Claude's father's death, but he had been too slow. By the time he'd gathered up his resources and prepared himself for the long war against the councillor, the man was dead. Not long after, Claude launched the real estate agency with the baroness and there was no reason to help them anymore.
The townsfolk were almost angry when Felidos had sent their resident genius to the wolves in the army, Thomas especially, since he was being left with the business. The kid had left him some excellent advice, however, and, following it, he'd kept things going smoothly, and had even gotten himself elected to the council.
He trusted Claude implicitly, and was overjoyed to hear of his exploits and accolades.
Their talk didn't linger on Claude's battlefield experiences, however. It turned quickly to the business, and Thomas hammered the boy with questions over lunch.