Claude had never imagined he would have to make rounds all over the city for meetings with associates. First there was Felidos' invitation, then Thomas' and Rublier's, not to mention his father's ten-odd associates from his efforts on the trade route.
He attended banquet after banquet every night for the next three weeks, four of them at Felidos' invitation, though he didn't host them all. Claude had become his default second. He was the poster child Felidos paraded in front of everyone he knew and might have met at some point.
The bandits' bounty paid out a week after he arrived in the city. Five hundred crowns. Myjack and Gum each got a hundred, but refused intently, insisting Claude take it all. Coupled with the gifts he received as thanks from the merchants whose merchandise he'd returned, he made back all the money he'd spent in Efenasburg.
The home front was far from quiet. Angelina got to work the moment she had the deeds for the woodland. She dragged Claude's minions along on her daily visits as she drew up a detailed map of her new land.
Claude planned to stay home for the rest of his leave. Perhaps even lock himself in the house once all the banquets were finished. Unfortunately he didn't know when that would be, if it ever happened. He needed peace and quiet, and, most of all, alone time to focus on his magic training. He couldn't fall even further behind his little sister. He had an older brother's pride to keep, after all.
Landes wrote in his diary that it took him seven years to become a four-ring rune magus. Angelina had been studying for just five years and was about to become a three-ring one. Claude, on the other hand, had barely firmed his position with his first ring, and he couldn't put all the blame on his military service. At least a third of his lack of progress was due to his own sloth.
Things never went as planned, however. He was having dinner, the last banquet finally had, when his mother decided it was time for the talk.
"It's time you settled things with Kefnie. Neither of you are young anymore. You have enough time before you have to head off again, so I've spoken to the priests, and your wedding will be on the 12th of the 9th month."
Kefnie didn't speak. She sat, ever the obedient daughter-in-law, her head lowered to hide as much of her blush as she could.
Claude desperately wanted to protest. How could she say he wasn't young anymore? He was only 24! He swallowed the words, however. This was not Earth. Living to forty was an achievement in its own right, getting married only then was to risk being called infirm. Most marriages happened when the pair turned 18, and were arranged long before then. Marriage used to happen much earlier, at around the time puberty hit, but the kingdom had decided those under 18 should focus on being trained and educated until they hit that new arbitrary age.
Kefnie was less than a year Claude's junior. Being unmarried at her age, and not a widow, made her desperately old.
His heart was far from resigned, but he had little choice. He did not want to disappoint his mother, who'd long since already decided that Kefnie was his wife. He could do anything he wanted, but once his mother spoke on the matter of marriage, he had no say in the matter. He had a better chance of becoming a god than getting out of this now. He did also feel some obligation to meet the girl's expectations. She had waited five years for him, after all. He also supposed he couldn't just walk away, leaving her empty handed, after he'd deflowered her. He might not see her much for the coming years, so he could at least leave her with a ring on her finger, and his mother would appreciate the extra set of hands around the house.
His heart belonged to Sheila, of course. He could not think of anything Kefnie could do, beautiful as she might be, and submissive and obedient between the sheets as she might be, to change that. Sheila had stolen his heart and he didn't even want to try to take it back. That said, the two could never be together for the same reasons he loved her so. She was utterly dedicated to magic. As much as her heart belonged to him, her soul belonged to the forest and the magic that dwelt within it.
Claude wanted a family of his own at some point, and Kefnie was both able and willing to give him one. A ring was a worthwhile price to pay. He would give her money, a home, security, and ecstasy like she had never known, and she would give him sexual release, children, and a clean house and a decked table to which to return after his campaigns. A good arrangement; a better one than most people had, at least.
He knew at least half of his mother's sudden determination to see him wedded before he left was that he was no longer a bland country boy. He was a quasi-noble, a young, rising star with a bright future. Not to mention a gorgeous uniform. He had options now he could not have dreamt of before he'd left home. If she didn't chain him down now, he might just come home with some other woman, one his mother had not vetted, and would probably find wanting. She liked Kefnie, and had decided she would be Claude's wife. He would thus be a wedded man before he left, whether he wanted to or not, and he would have no chance to play around with the ladies of the social circles in which he now moved.
There was also the angle of his mother's affection for Kefnie. She was doing this as much for her as for Claude. She was 23 -- would soon be 24 -- she was at the tail end of her marriageable years. She still lived with her sister, who had two children, with a third on the way. The house had no room for her anymore, love her as her sister might. While they would never ask her to move out, Kefnie knew they were beginning to feel most uncomfortable with her in their modest little home in addition to all their children.
The matter was thus settled. They had a month and a half to prepare and Claude's mother was anxious to get to work -- though she'd already gotten started.
Newlyweds usually moved into a house close to the husband's family, on the same piece of land if possible, else into a house on the same block, preferably within eyeshot of the parents'. None of the houses nearby were for sale, however, and all three the brick building's suites were bound in contract for at least the rest of the year.
The woodland had been considered as well, but they'd have to build a house, and that wouldn't be done until probably the same time the following year.
She'd wondered if they should move into an apartment and leave the family suite to the newlyweds, but she knew Claude would not have it. He may be the man in the family, but he was only regent. He was no longer part of the main family; he was only looking after them until Bloweyk came of age and stepped into his rightful position as head of the household. Even now, however, he was patriarch of the household in name only. Angelina was the true ruler under this roof and it would not do to chase her out, even with her wholehearted consent, of their childhood home on Claude, a non-household-member's, count.
Not to mention that he would not be there for much longer, and would then be gone for who knew how long, years at the very least. Claude wanted her to live with his mother and siblings. He was marrying her at least partially to be a set of hands around his mother's house, after all, and she would fit that role best while living in with them. She would already be a great help, and his mother was getting no younger, fast.
The biggest reason behind his sister's purchase of the woodland was his mother, after all. She needed land to grow the herbs needed for her mother's ongoing treatments. The old woman was beginning to suffer more and more from more and more old-age illnesses, and the herb bill was growing. They didn't lack money, of course, but some of the herbs were difficult to come by. The fresh air, and freedom from social worries like gossiping neighbours, would do her good as well. Angelina hated the gossip most of all.
The discussion continued while he was lost in his thoughts. His attention returned to it and he suggested they set up his room like a small apartment, which the two would use until his departure.
His mother and sister threw the book at him. He was about to be married, and that came with certain... essential nightly duties, which neither of them wanted to have to hear when they were trying to sleep. Not to mention that the most important gift a husband gave his bride was their first home, the space for their new life together, for them, and them alone.
Kefnie, though she would never say a negative word, could not hide the disappointment in her eyes. It saddened her that Claude was treating the matters related to their marriage so lightly. That he was so casual about such important things did not bode well for his seriousness about the marriage itself.
The three women kept biting his ear no matter what he suggested for several hours. He'd hoped he could at least count on his little brother's moral support, but it seemed five years of being the youngest in the house, and the only man, had castrated him. He vanished as soon as his two female masters became animated. Even Claude's two minions, who'd fought impossible battle at his side, who'd not flinched at the face of death, disappeared.
If they were going to have to build a house one way or another, they might as well build it right here.
The old shop lots had been turned suites into suites. Any city that grew as rapidly as Whitestag had over the last five years would suffer trouble with public order, and Whitestag was no exception. The neighbourhood had become quite unsafe, which had prompted Angelina to build a tall, thick wall around the plot. It had rendered the shop lots on the ground floor useless, so they were turned into suites.
There was just enough space still open between the converted mansion and the wall for a rough duplicate of it. Angelina was not thinking small, however. If she was going to build on the plot, she might as well do it properly. They would tear down the wall and build two duplicates of the mansion, all filled with suites and apartments. The family would move to one of the suites, leaving the old family home to the newlyweds, and move back in after Claude left.
Nobody objects, so that settled the matter of accommodation. Claude's mother insisted they take her room, the master bedroom. It was both the best soundproofed, and the biggest, which meant more room for nightly endeavours. In fact, until she and her two children could move out, the couple could have the entire second floor, the big bedroom for them, and the small one next to it for the babies, which she was adamant would arrive within the year if Claude knew what was good for him.
Once they moved back, she would take Arbeit's old room, and Bloweyk would take over the study, which they'd have converted into a normal room. Angelina decided she would remain in their apartment in the new building. The extra space would do her research well, too. If she felt too lonely, she might help Kefnie keep her bed warm, and keep the apartment as her workspace.
Claude, for all this had a direct impact on how the rest of his life would be lived, had said barely anything at all while the discussions took place. He clearly had no place in decided household matters; that was the women's job. And they were all too happy to keep him around only to hear what they decided. They were quick to rope him back into the conversation when it came to designing the buildings, however. The task was all but plopped onto his shoulders with all the lack of ceremony the world could handle.
He first had to decide whether to build two large buildings, or four smaller ones. He was also tasked with designing a renovation for the old mansion. The main building, the one in which the owners of the land lived, could not be upstaged by the rental buildings, after all.
Once that was done, Angelina tasked him with developing a new housing complex on one of the smaller forest plots, and drawing up the preliminary plans for the entire woodland's development.
He could smile only bitterly as his new mistresses ordered him around even more than his superiors back in the army. It seemed his vacation would actually be going to the college, rather than staying at home.
And thus it came to pass that Claude and Kefnie were wedded in the moon goddess' shrine on the 12th of the 9th month, 581.