"What did you say?!" Claude looked oddly at Kefnie.
Today was the day he returned to Ferd Manor. He would come back to stay for two nights once every five to six days. He had built himself another residence at the western sector of Lanu and word of a beautiful woman called Sheila should've reached Kefnie some time ago.
However, she didn't say anything about it and pretended not to know. When Claude came back for his stay, she attended to him extra well and gentle. That was where she was smart. She wouldn't get jealous, and that frustrated and annoyed Claude even more.
Either way, he didn't expect to hear from her that his mother could now get out of bed and was doing rather well. She would recover in another month. However, she had someone pick Tesoray up and told Kefnie that she would raise him into a fitting heir for House Ferd. From then on, Tesoray would be given noble education. Famous tutors were hired to teach him all the necessary etiquette and knowhow.
Tesoray was already sixteen. Claude hadn't paid that much attention to him as they weren't that close in the first place. In fact, he was much more attached to her grandmother than his own father. In Claude's eyes, he was merely a rowdy brat who always caused trouble. But whenever he or Kefnie wanted to give him a lasting lesson or punishment, his grandmother would always come out to defend him. It went to a point where he didn't really like his son anymore.
"Hasn't Tesoray just graduated from Lanu Elementary? He's going to middle school next, right? Wasn't I told his grades weren't good and there were often complaints about him bullying other students? What is Mother planning? Is she not going to let him go to middle school?"
Claude had wanted to toss his son into the force for a few years to shape him into a man once he graduated middle school. Whether he would succeed in the future would depend on his efforts.
Yet, his mother was now interfering. Tesoray should've gone to elementary school at twelve, but his mother insisted he stay home one more year, causing his playful personality to develop. By the time he entered elementary school, he was a year older and much stronger than the other kids, making him the local bully. Now he was to learn noble etiquette... Was she going to have him skip middle school entirely?
"Mother believes there's no need since the instructors in middle school aren't famous. Apart from complaining, they don't do much. It's a waste of his potential. Tesoray will be properly educated in the nobles' ways at home. He shouldn't be mingled with the common rabble in school. What if he learns a bad habit from them?" Kefnie said.
Claude's fury bubbled over in a couple short, sour laughs. Did they not know why the instructors at school were complaining? If not for his father's position, Tesoray would've been punished very severely for his antics. Claude could remember the punishments his body's former owner had gotten.
Morssen had already been the town's chief administrator, but the instructors didn't care. Actually, he was now all but certain his father had instructed his teachers to be extra harsh on him. He'd also always get a second beating from his father when he returned home. Because of his position, and he had no doubt his mother played on that every chance she got, the instructors didn't dare lay a finger on his brat child. All they could do was lodge complaints.
Kefnie and his mother just brushed everything off as youthful mischief. Because Tesoray was never corrected, he kept getting worse, and now everyone feared him. Everyone blamed Claude for his son's bad behaviour. Discipline was the father's responsibility, after all.
The brat had been tested for magic, but he didn't have a drop of potential, so Angelina could be of little use in shaping the kid up. Bloweyk had managed to be whipped into a fine man despite being quite the naughty child, but with Kefnie and Madam Ferd around, Angelina couldn't do the same for Tesoray, especially not when she had three children of her own.
"Do whatever you want," Claude sighed, all but giving up on his son.
He wanted to see what the so-called education they had in mind could produce. Only his mother treated Tesoray like a misunderstood and talented child whose potential would be squandered in middle school. What kind of talent did he have? Bullying?
Old Earth had a saying: 'one's character manifests at three and one's talents form at seven'. Claude's grandfather often used it to encourage him to adopt good life habits and manners.
It was one of the main reasons he disliked his eldest son. Claude had been away for most of his children's lives. His absenteeism meant he was all but an abstract concept to his children. They cared little for his scoldings when he was home because they knew he'd be gone again soon and everything would go back to normal. At the same time, Claude only realised how badly their upbringing had gone off the rails when it was already too late to do anything with the limited moments he had with them. At best he could hope for the brat to stay out of prison, and unstabbed and unpoisoned for the rest of his life.
Tesoray was barely a fart compared to Claude's bastard, Marcus. Marcus was 18 and a three-ring magus. He had decided to sign on to the army after his birthday to go through the same trials and hardship Claude had.
Unfortunately, he was a Liboyd, not a Ferd, so he could not be a replacement for Claude's failed son. He knew Marcus idolised him because of his military legend. It was why Marcus wanted to become a soldier. He'd fought quite a few fights with his mother over it. Sonia was so set against it she even resented Claude. She'd even taken to pestering Claude to impregnate her again so she could raise a more obedient child.
Claude shook his head and collected his thoughts. He had decided to not lay hands on the matter. No matter how Tesoray's education turned out, he would toss him into the army and let him find his own way. Now, however, it seemed his wife and mother really thought they were above the rest and saw House Ferd as some noble family. At the very least, he hoped Tesoray could pick up on the better aspects of nobility.
"Get some rest first. Also, I need food and drinks in the study. I'm having some guests over and we might talk 'till late," he said.
The guests were Eiblont and Skri. They were coming to discuss the matter of reinforcing the mainland. The royal capital had sent ambassadors to the region yet again a month earlier. However, they were not there to negotiate the restoration of the relationship between the region and the mainland, but rather, to request the region for support in huge amounts of agricultural and mineral resources to lessen the economic blow the war with Nasri would have.
The war started three months ago with the Shiksans launching the first strike. Before Aueras could react, they took three Aueran prefectures at the border. Aueras, having endured a harsh slap on the face, flared like a raging bear that awoke mid-hibernation. For Nasri, their inferior nemesis, to launch an attack first was the greatest humiliation the kingdom had suffered.
Reddragon stole the show at the borders fighting numbers double their own. Not only did they manage to drive two Nasrian standing corps back, they claimed the two border prefectures they lost. A large siege was later fought in the last prefecture, Wustia. Reddragon had to wait for further reinforcements after two more Nasrian corps came to reinforce their own.
The war over the debt was bad news for the still-recovering Aueras. It was a war they were forced to fight. Just when the economy was taking a turn for good, hostilities erupted and their harvests plummeted. The kingdom required all sorts of military equipment and food to alleviate the bad harvests to stop another wave of refugees from developing.
The ambassadors that came this time weren't sent by Fredrey I, but rather, the new prime minister of the kingdom and representative of the old nobility, Marquis Blancarte. He hoped that the region could provide food and agricultural products in bulk to help the suffering prefectures as well as supply mineral resources the kingdom's industrial complexes could use to produce military gear.
Naturally, they also promised a few concessions of their own, such as no longer sending viceroys or high-commissioners to the region and only asking for them to change their name designation back to colonies. They could retain their military rule and council, but would have to pay tributes and taxes. The capital would also send auditors to the colonies, but the administration would have to be handed over to the capital.
Had Skri not stepped in to stop it, Bolonik would've agreed to all those conditions. To Bolonik, the capital had already taken a huge step backwards and more than compromised to the region. Changing the name was inconsequential so long as they could keep their troops and council, which were their guarantees. The conditions were too agreeable for him.
However, Skri was still quite alert. The capital was merely trying to start soft before going in hard by slowly robbing the region of its autonomy. Had Bolonik agreed to it, he would've been demanded to resign by the council.
Even though the council would be kept, the administration being in the capital's hands meant prospective council members would have to get permission from the capital. If any council member wanted to let their descendants inherit their position but the capital didn't agree, they would essentially be removed from the hierarchy of the region. It was something the council members wouldn't tolerate.
Nobody would willingly submit to a bossy superior if they had the choice. If the capital controlled personnel, the region's council members would have to first be vetted by the members of the higher and lower houses in the mainland first. They might even be stripped of their rights as council members.
They were now the top dogs of the region and had a say in all policies and judiciary matters. They held high regard among the seven million citizens of the region. None of them would endure going to the capital like a graduate going for a job interview only to be derided as bumpkins who happened to get rich.
Not to mention, having auditors sent to the region was akin to letting the capital interfere with the region's financial matters, which would have huge negative implications for the region. Other things aside, if the tax amounts of the region was exposed, the hungry wolves at the colonies would no doubt want to demand more and more.
Bolonik let out cold sweat when it properly dawned on him. He almost fell for their trap. He hurriedly summoned the council to properly analyse the kingdom's conditions, leaving the ambassadors hanging for half a month. The war was raging on the kingdom anyway and the region was not in a rush to close the deal.
Two days ago, however, the ambassadors received another letter from the mainland. From then on, they went knocking on the council's office at headquarters daily. They said the first symptoms of the lack of food were beginning to show and asked the region to help out their fellow kin on the mainland by sending them huge shipments of food before the end of the year.
Losing his patience with the ambassadors, Bolonik tossed the problem to Claude, Skri and Eiblont. Had Birkin not been in the distant Loducus, he would've wanted to join the discussion as well.
Birkin was there because the lease agreement between Shiks and Fochs ended that year. Monolith 2nd Folk would return to Loki Mountains after their long stay in Lodocus since the end of the war, putting an end to their occupation there. Birkin had to deal with the proceedings and formalities.
"Did the kingdom really have harvests that bad? Will many prefectures starve in the coming year? Isn't the weather in recent years rather good? Why did it turn out like that?" Skri wasn't inclined to believe the ambassadors' words.
"The informants we sent told us the same," Skri said, "The kingdom lost two-thirds of their previous harvests mainly due to the civil war and the farming infrastructure damaged by the refugees. They've been in disrepair ever since.
"It isn't obvious from the small-scale farming efforts last year. They only noticed these issues when they tried to farm more. Due to manpower and budget limits, however, as well as the tendency of local officials to try to keep bad news under wraps, the issue only came to light during the autumn harvests. Had the debt war not erupted, the kingdom might've been able to hold on.
"A sum of money was all that was needed for the infrastructure to be repaired, such as the irrigation routes. Then, good harvests would return next year. But the war really came too suddenly. Most available funding has been diverted to war efforts. They're helpless against the upcoming famine now and had no choice but to beg us for help."
There was another reason that couldn't be spoken openly about. Back during Stellin X's reign, there had been instances of famines, though the kingdom managed to endure them mainly because of the colonies' aid.
Back then, the colonies were merely places from which the kingdom robbed resources, whether they be agricultural or mineral goods. They were sold to the mainland at prices so cheap they barely made any profit. Such trades had sustained nearly two decades of economic development. The disruption of the balance of power culminated in the Alliance of Five Nations against Aueras.
However, the five-year war pushed all that progress back to the starting point. Though Aueras was the undisputed victor, the colonial conflict with Shiks prevented the kingdom from growing prosperous once more. The civil war and Stellin XI's antics were what drove the kingdom past the point of no return.
By the time the colonies finally won, their relationship with the kingdom was beyond salvation. They started to self-govern and no longer provided any support. Even after the fourth prince, Fredrey, took the throne and pulled the kingdom back on the proper path, it was too little too late before the famine. The kingdom couldn't afford to take another blow like that, so they had to turn to the region for help.