As the old saying goes, the most troublesome matters were usually family matters.
Claude finally came to understand its true meaning. He couldn't directly blame his mother for it, since the early birth was definitely not her intent. She was getting old and mixed around too much with other ladies in high social circles, so she wanted to get Bloweyk a fitting wife so that she, a Ferd, wouldn't lose face.
Claude believed his mother loved Bloweyk the most. It has always been so since their childhood. Had Bloweyk not grown up during the harshest days the family had to face and not been harshly taught by Angelina, he would've ended up a major spoiled manchild. Thankfully, while Bloweyk was naughty, he was at least reasonable. The training he got in the military also made him an exemplar for many.
Like most people, Bloweyk grew to have his own views. But to Madam Ferd, that was where she failed the most. Her beloved son was no longer obedient like before, and it came to plague her mind. For instance, she wanted Bloweyk to quickly be discharged instead of continuing his career in the military to settle down as the household head and lead house Ferd to being an influential household. Claude had already filled the military quota as far as she was concerned.
But Bloweyk refused to follow her plans for him and left the household in the hands of Kefnie, much to his mother's disappointment. The only card in her hand left to play was to find him a good wife, which could potentially change his mind about not settling down.
However, that didn't work as Bloweyk was completely uninterested in the ladies of good standing to whom his mother introduced him. Instead, he hooked up with a veteran's daughter and moved to a farmstead. When his mother heard of it, she no doubt threw a giant fit. She flat out declared the marriage void. She considered it a slight to the family name. If the head of the household took a lowly farm girl as his wife, House Ferd would be completely humiliated.
Claude had never really dealt with his family. His position always kept him busy enough he didn't have the time. He honestly felt his mother's ego had gotten too big since she started enjoying the good life. She forgot that it was all thanks to Claude that they'd gotten to where they were.
As she mingled with the local socialites, she started to see House Ferd as a renowned family, above the common rabble from whence they'd come. In time, she got used to throwing her weight around. As she aged, her personality regressed to a stubborn child's. She refused her children's advice at almost every turn.
When Bloweyk moved out to the farmstead, she tried to force him to move back in, to no avail. So, she vented her anger on Angelina, thinking she had set a bad example by marrying Myjack.
That had been whilst Angelina was pregnant and close to birth. Naturally, she also fumed from her mother's words, but she was used to being angered and her strong personality allowed her to tough it out after some consolation from Claude. The older Madam Ferd got, the more stubborn she became. Angelina and Bloweyk started to put some distance between themselves and her, so she sought Kefnie to vent her woes.
But in their conversation, she let slip that Kefnie wasn't a good fit for Claude either. She married Claude when their household was still poor and hit the jackpot. The pregnant Kefnie almost flipped. Had it not been her third pregnancy, something bad might've happened. Claude had no choice but to forbid his mother interacting with Angelina and Kefnie just in case.
It only made her persecution complex more severe. She thought none of her children were still filial. When she interacted with her noble lady friends, they all sounded as if their family lives were going well. Only she had problems with her children, it appeared. None of her children or children-in-law listened to her. The family was a joke! The more she agonised over it, the more frustrated she became. Eventually, she blamed it all on the farm girl that had seduced her beloved son and wrote her a chastising letter.
She didn't, not even in her wildest dreams, image it would result in the loss of a human life. She'd only wanted to vent. She thought it would relieve some of her frustration. She wanted her to know she would never be acknowledged as a Ferd even if she birthed Bloweyk's children.
Adele, despite being a hardened orphan, was only tough on the outside. She was sensitive and had an inferiority complex. With her being pregnant and Bloweyk refusing to take her back home and let her stay in the farmstead, she grew suspicious. Her suspicions were confirmed when she received the letter, and she went into early childbirth and lost lots of blood. Even with all the preparations, even a deity might've found it hard to save her, now she had lost all will to live.
She passed in the midst of childbirth. Her death nearly drove Bloweyk insane. When he saw the letter, he finally lost it and beat the messenger into a pulp. The poor soul was saved only by the tiniest grace of a sliver of sanity left in Bloweyk's head.
"Where's the letter?" Claude asked.
"Bloweyk swallowed it."
"He tore the letter into pieces and ate it all. We thought he'd gone mad. He charged at the servant who delivered the letter and beat him up so badly it'll take him a year to recover, and we don't know if he'll actually make a full recovery at all. He returned to Adele's bed when we finally pried him off the poor man and he's been destitute since."
"Where's he now?"
"He should be in the small wooden house out back where Adele lived," she replied exasperatedly, "He's been drinking nonstop. He doesn't care about any attempts at consolation. I worry he will go like grandfather..."
The Ferd household's first head -- and Claude's grandfather -- the lucky Habis, had died drunk in a ditch because he couldn't handle his wife's death.
"I'll go look for him," he said, only to be stopped.
"One more thing... A few days ago, Bloweyk went to Lanu's city administration and deregistered his surname."
"What?! He deregistered?!"
"Ridiculous! Does he not want to be part of this family any longer?! That damned brat... What will happen to his children if he doesn't have a surname?"
Households and families were held proudly in Freia, even for peasants. People who belonged to one were always a step above those who didn't. Surnames represented pedigree and heritage. Without them, families of troops couldn't move to the colonies. One's standing often came from how honourable the family was.
Only those who committed great sins and were exiled, those born into slavery, and released convicts wouldn't have surnames. There were some who intentionally hid theirs out of worry for what their shame would do to their families. While peasants with surnames or not were treated the same according to the Rights of the Four Castes, surnames still held great significance among them. It was more a custom than a legal designation.
Bloweyk had effectively exiled himself from the family. Deregistering meant giving up on his affiliation with the Ferd house. Unable to physically harm his mother, he had chosen this double-edged sword to get back at her.
Claude turned around and saw a teenager about sixteen not far away, glaring at him furiously.
"Adele's younger brother, Krimis..." Angelina sighed.
"Old Zoft's son?"
Claude recalled the veteran who had sacrificed himself to save Bloweyk had two children, a son and a daughter. Now that Adele was gone, Krimis was the last one left. It seemed he blamed the entire house for his sister's death.
Claude's head hurt from his mother's antics. She was making enemies for the whole family. He couldn't do anything against the kid. Other things aside, Zoft had died to save Bloweyk. Now, Adele had given birth to twins and died because of his mother. If he killed Krimis, he would be repaying favour with offence. However, in Krimis' eyes he could see a hatred that burned for everyone with the surname Ferd, even Claude.
He could only hope the child's hatred would wash away with time. Perhaps it was pointless, but he could at least let it drag on. He went to Krimis and knelt down to eye level with the boy.
"I'm really sorry, Krimis. None of us saw this coming. I wouldn't have had any problem with your sister marrying into the family had I known of this at all. If only I'd known what was going on before things went this far... But I didn't, and now your sister is gone. I wanted none of this.
"I can't bring your sister back, no matter how much I want to. I can only say I'm sorry for your loss. I know you hate us. I don't blame you. If I were you, I'd want revenge as well. I doubt you will want to stay on the farm. Your father left you a farmstead in Cromwell. If you like, I can prepare your sister's body and you can take her there to be buried in your family's land."
Krimis' hate didn't give. He stared at Claude silently for at least a full minute before he spoke.
"I want to leave with my sister..."
Claude stood up and patted his shoulder.
"Alright. I'll have her cremated and give you her ashes. I will also make all the arrangements so you can take ownership of the farmstead in Cromwell. It's under some of my servant's care for the time being. I also leave all the funds the place has accrued in the last two years to you.
"As for your sister's two children, I will adopt them. You're still young and can't provide a nurturing home to them yet. You're welcome to visit whenever you want, of course. I'll also let them visit you once they're older."
He hoped it would drain some of the bile that poisoned the boy's heart. Krimis nodded solemnly, probably because he was promised he could visit the two anytime and turned to leave.
"You can't adopt them..." Angelina said.
"Why?" Claude asked grimly, turning to her.
"I asked Kefnie about it already and she won't have it. She says she already had enough on her plate."
Claude nearly exploded.
"What do you mean she has too much on her plate? She doesn't have to do anything! The servants do everything for her! All she does all day long is bark orders!"
His sister shook her head.
"Don't forget Bloweyk just renounced the family name. It's not just about having to take care of them. The family is headless and Tesoray is next in line after you. If those two are adopted, however, they're a threat to his succession."
One bloody problem after another! Claude had sidestepped it before, but there was no one to hand it off to this time. The family had owned just a mansion when he'd last passed on the position, but now the family owned more than a million square metres of land, and then there were still the manor and the factories. Even after that there were still the various shares Claude, and via him the family, owned in the Blackstone Arms Factory, the wild-bull company, and at least a dozen other smaller ventures.
Claude would be patriarch, and that made Tesoray the next in line, followed by Beuergarcy. If the twins were adopted without explicit written limitations, the male of the two would butt in in front of Beuergarcy, and even if they wrote up the limitations, the boy would still have a valid argument to voice in the courts to challenge the succession if it ever became an issue. Then there was also the issue of Claude's own sense of justice and fairness. Kefnie no doubt feared he would see the true legitimate heir as his brother's son and would raise him up as the heir apparent instead of his own children.
His face blackened. His mother was not the only one in the family who'd changed. The pure girl he'd grown to love all those years ago on Freia had become a scheming woman, playing the games of family politics. He hated it, but he could do nothing about it. She was his wife and the mother of his children.
"Don't worry about the children. I've already promised Bloweyk I'll adopt them," Angelina slowly revealed.
"I will have a good talk with Mother and Kefnie--" Claude made up his mind. "--I'll go see Bloweyk first though."
He almost couldn't recognise his brother when he finally saw him; his beard was out of control and his clothes were unkempt, in tatters would be more accurate. His bloodshot eyes were fixed to the ceiling. Empty bottles lay strewn all over the floor. He didn't respond to Claude's entry, as if he couldn't see or hear him.
"Drag him out and toss him into the water!" Claude ordered.
Bloweyk was tossed into the pond by a few guards. He struggled and choked before he rose back up and coughed out several mouthfuls of water.
Claude tugged on his wet collar and spat.
"Snapped out of it yet? I'll give you another dunk if not. Don't forget you're still a major in the autonomous region! You must always keep yourself in order! You have ten minutes to shake yourself right! Come to me once you're done!"
Bloweyk was beyond communication. He could barely speak. Claude could only place his hopes on the discipline the army had drilled into him over the years.
The man's eyes cleared and his mind settled back into his body. Looking at Claude, he suddenly slumped down and hugged his leg, wailing uncontrollably.
Claude stroked his hair quietly, letting him vent his soul. After some ten minutes Bloweyk's voice started to break and he struggled to catch his breath. Claude dragged him to his feet.
"Have you cried enough?! Shut your trap, then! Go take a bath and get some sleep. We're cremating Adele tomorrow. Her brother will take her ashes to Zoft's farmstead in Cromwell. You will go with them! I'll give you three days after her burial to report back at Wolfang Clan!
"Gum, I want you to keep an eye on him. Make sure he bathes, eats, and sleeps. Only come back after he reports to Wolfang. I don't want him touching a single drop of alcohol, understood?!"