"Why were you crying yesterday? Who slapped you? Tell me..." Claude asked the moment he got home; he'd come directly from school.
The little girl didn't answer him, but her eyes were red immediately.
But she didn't have to tell him, he already knew who it was, he just wanted to find out why.
"Arbeit, right? Why did he hit you?"
The girl stuttered and finally started crying.
"He... he wanted me to give him my hairpin... I... I didn't want to... so he h-h-hit me and t-t-took it..."
Claude's hands snapped into white-knuckled fists. It was even worse than he'd thought. There was no getting around beating the pulp out of him now. He must have given it to that whore. She'd pestered him for jewellery, hadn't she? So instead of saving up and buying her some himself like a good boy, he thought it was okay to just steal it from his sister, and to beat her up while doing it?! Oh he was going to bleed tonight when he came home, oh he was going to bleed real good.
He consoled his sister for most of the afternoon and waited for the shit to return. He wasn't home by dinner, however, and his father said he might not come back for a few days at all since he had to help Sir Fux get back up to speed.
Claude nearly spat out blood when his father said he was happy to see him so concerned about his older brother.
He took his sister to the jeweller the next afternoon and got her three hairpins. They didn't have pure silver hairpins, so he got her silver-plated copper ones instead. They were still very beautiful though.
The shit only got back home three nights later, but this time Claude wasn't home. His friends had dragged him to the peer to fish with them. They'd wanted to barbecue some fish, but they only got two small ones, so they gave up and gave them to the peer guard.
Claude came into the house to find his brother bragging to his father about how hard he and Sif Fux had worked and how much praise the man had given him. His father sat happily in his chair, listening to his son.
Airbeit just kept going, even as Claude came closer, pretending he didn't notice him. He pointed at his empty cup, holding it to Angelina.
"Let me," Claude said, taking the teapot from his sister.
He stamped it down on the table in front of Arbeit, crabbed him by the collar, and lifted him from his chair. He would have lifted him off the ground entirely, but he was too short.
"W-what are you doing?!" the shit cried.
Their father shouted at him as he, too, jumped from his chair.
"What are you doing?!"
Claude ignored him. Or, more accurately, he didn't hear him. His entire vision was crimson, all he saw was Arbeit, and his picturing of how he had hit his sister. Even a god would not dare get in his way at this moment.
Arbeit clutched desperately at his collar. Claude let go with his right hand, pulled it back, and slammed the open palm into Arbeit's face as hard as he could, then brought it back and slapped the other side of his face with the back of his hand just as hard.
The shit spat out blood. He lifted his hands and covered his face. Claude raised his knee and shoved it into the bastard's diaphragm.
The shit heaved, but he had no dinner in his stomach to throw up yet. Claude let go with his other hand and brought another knee up to meet the falling shit's face.
"Aaackkk!" it cried as its nose was struck with a crack.
The shit was on the ground in a bloody puddle even before their father finished his sentence.
"You... You're out of control! Claude! How... how dare you?! How dare you beat up your older brother?! Stop it this instant!" he yelled.
"Shut up!" Claude growled at the man; his bloodshot eyes made him shudder, "Stand there quietly. You'll know why I'm beating him up soon enough!"
He kicked the chair away and stomped on the shit's right leg.
"Speak now. What happened to the silver hairpin?"
Arbeit only mumbled, refusing to speak even as Claude kicked his arms and hands covering his face.
Claude stepped on his leg again, harder this time.
"Not speaking, huh? I don't care if you admit it or not, really. I know why you stole Anna's hairpin. I told you I didn't want to get involved in that, that I didn't want to make an issue of this in front of our parents, but I can't let this stand!" he shouted, pointing at his red-eyed little sister. How dare you steal your little sister's hairpin to give to that whore?! And you even slap her just because she wouldn't just give it to you?!"
"What did you say?!" his father gasped.
"Yes, Father, this shit--" Claude gave it another kick for emphasis, "you're so proud of stole your daughter's hairpin and slapped her for refusing to give it to him to give that whore living in the attic next to mine. He's been between her legs for half a year now. That--" he pointed at the roof in the direction of the neighbouring attic with his finger, "is where your son's salary has been going every month! I hear he bought her two tops and a skirt in just last month alone. He even promised her a suite with a washroom and bathtub! He also said he'd rent one for her elsewhere if he couldn't get her one here in the next month.
"That whore even demanded he buy her jewellery, but he can't afford it so he stole Anna's hairpin! I don't really care about the hairpin, not that I'm not mad about it, but I will not stand for this shit--" he gave it another kick, "--hitting my little sister! How am I supposed to think of him like an older brother when he treats his little sister like that? I should beat him to death! Gods know he deserves no less!"
Claude's voice grew harsher and his eyes redder as he spoke. Angelina was such a sweet and obedient child. She always helped in the house without a single complaint in spite of being only twelve. He loved his little sister dearly. Especially for helping with the dishes at night. He would never do it himself, of course. Men didn't do that stuff. And if he did and anyone found out, he would be the town's laughingstock. Only spineless men did household chores when they had women to do them.
Claude shifted his feet and started kicking the shit's hips, aiming for his third leg.
"AAAGHH!" Arbeit shouted as the third kick landed right where it hurt most. He rolled on the floor clutching what was left of his dignity, his voice quite soprano suddenly.
"You dare roll away from me?!" Claude roared, stomping after the shit.
"Stop right there, Claude!" Morssen cried, finally snapped out of his stupor by that most foul kick.
"I'm not the one rolling away! I'm standing right here!" Claude shouted as he kicked Arbeit's hands.
The shit was now cornered and could do nothing but try and block the abuse as best he could.
"Stop kicking him!" his father shouted.
He never imagined he'd see his middle son beating his eldest up like this. But even less did he imagine the elder would be so shameful. Claude didn't look like he was stopping either, so he had no choice but to get in between the two.
"That's enough, Claude," his father said, leveraging him away.
Strong as Claude was, he was still just sixteen, and couldn't quite fight his father.
Fine, he'd leave the rest to his father then. He'd better deal with this satisfactorily though, or he'd beat the shit up again when they were alone. He didn't mind leaving him with a scar or two.
He walked to his sister, who was fighting back the tears by the kitchen doorway.
"Don't worry, he won't dare touch you again. If he does, just tell me and I'll beat him up even worse than today. I'll beat up anyone that dares hurt my cute little sister," he said, pinching her cheeks.
The girl smiled and nuzzled into her brother's chest. She didn't like seeing her brother angry, even less watching him beat someone up, but she felt very warm that he was doing it for her.
"Stand up, Arbeit," their father said, glaring at his eldest son.
He didn't doubt Claude's allegations. He knew his oldest. He didn't doubt he'd done exactly what Claude had said and he didn't doubt he would try to talk his way out of it the moment he got a chance.
His heart sunk. He wanted to give his second son a stern talking to for beating up his older brother, but now was not the time. First he wanted to hear from the horse's mouth whether he'd really gotten involved with that girl. Wargod above, if word of it got out he would never again get to show his face in public. He'd be the town clown for having his son balls deep in one of his tenants!
"Is it true? Did you really lose your head with that woman?"
Arbeit didn't answer him, he just kept cowering in his little corner.
The damned bastard, Claude thought, he knew his father would never believe him if he denied it so he was instead trying to win sympathy.
His father's spirit drained out of him visibly. He pulled over the chair Claude had kicked out of the way and sat. It was too much for him. He sighed several times, then looked at his second son.
"How long have you known?"
"I only found out recently. I couldn't sleep that night you had the feast, so I opened the window to look at the moon and I heard them arguing next door. I thought it came from downstairs at first, but I knew you hadn't invited any women, and it wasn't Mother's or Anna's voice. It took me a few moments, but I finally recognised it as Christina's voice. When I listened more carefully, I heard they were arguing over him--" he pointed at the shit, "--not getting her an apartment with a bathtub and a kitchenette. He promised to get her one or rent one for her in town. She also demanded he buy her jewellery, but he brought up the tops and the skirt he bought her the last month and promised he'd buy her one when he got his next pay. They got busy right after that and I couldn't sleep the whole night as a result. I didn't want to get involved with that whole business at first, but I can't let him stealing my sister's hairpin and beating her stand."
"Okay, that's enough.." Morssen waved weakly.
"Oh my god! Arbeit, what happened to you?" their mother shouted as she came down stairs and saw him curled up in a bloody corner.
"He's fine. He just slipped and fell," Morssen said and the two middle children stared at him.
"Take your dinner upstairs. Take Blowk with you, too," he continued, unphased, "Help Arbeit wash and tend to the wounds, Pattie. I'll talk to you in the morning, Arbeit."