Claude was busy with official matters for ten days before it was all handled. Just as he was about to take a few days off to rest, he bumped into Svenson, the son of the Ferd Manor's supervisor, Alek. The man was waiting for him beside a carriage.
"Why are you here?" Claude asked.
Svenson bowed as he spoke.
"Lord, the old madam heard you were back and wants you to go home to discuss some things."
Claude blushed. He'd stayed with Sheila the whole time since returning. He'd not gone home once. He might feel more at ease with his lover, but Ferd Manor was his home, it was where his wife and children lived. His mother was there as well. Despite that, he'd not been there in over two years. And instead of going back once he'd finally returned to the region, he'd stayed with his lover. He couldn't blame his mother for sending a servant out to fetch him.
"Alright, I'll come," Claude said.
He called Masonhughes over and had him send a guard to Covenbrun Manor to tell Sheila he would be staying in Ferd Manor for the time being.
Though the candles in the dining hall burnt bright, the atmosphere around the dinner table was dark and cold. Claude loved to talk as he ate, a habit from his old life, but at home, Madam Ferd wanted to practice noble etiquette and forbade them from talking. They couldn't even chew or swallow audibly. The only sound they could hear was the clinking of cutlery.
They were having a feast, but Claude had no appetite. He had a few casual bites then wiped his mouth.
He moved to get up, but his mother stopped him.
"Claude, wait. I have something to ask you."
Claude lowered himself back into his seat unwillingly and poured himself half a glass of wine.
"What is it?" he asked after he'd taken a gulp.
His mother put down her silver fork and wiped her mouth.
"I heard you are now a hereditary count with your own county on Freia."
"Well, you have no time to watch over the fief since you are so busy here, so myself, Kefnie and Tesorary are moving to Freia. We'll manage it in your stead. Tesoray is an adult now. It's about time he got some experience with such noble matters. He will eventually inherit the land, so it will be good if he knows how to manage it well when the time comes," his mother's gaze was that of a falcon as she spoke the last sentence.
"Don't bother. I hold the land in name, but I have no right to independently manage the fief. All the new hereditary nobles have agreed to let the council manage all our fiefs jointly."
"What?!" His mother jumped from her chair, her nails digging into the wooden tabletop, "It's House Ferd's land! What business does the council have with it?! Write to the council tomorrow. I will not accept anyone but a Ferd managing Ferd land."
Claude's smile vanished. He leaned forward seriously.
"Mother, remember this well. That fief is mine, not the house's. I will decide who I put in charge of it, and you will not so much as peep about it. It has nothing to do with House Ferd."
"Claude, I know you hate me for letting your brother leave. But you're the house's future. You might not care about your future, but you must think about your son's future. Tesoray cannot continue his lackadaisical existence here in the region. He needs to be amongst peers: the kingdom's nobility. I am thinking only of his best interests."
Claude released a couple mocking cackles. His mother spoke of Tesoray's best interests, but she was sending him to the bear's cave.
"I will not speak unnecessarily," Claude said, shaking his head, "You do not understand what the situation in the kingdom is right now. I will not let Tesoray mix with the kingdom's ilk. He might have received some education in the ways of nobility, but he is not, not, prepared to deal with that scheming lot. They'd tear him to shreds."
His mother's face was crimson before he'd finished.
"How can you say that about your own son?! He's very smart, don't you know? I want him to meet a good noble lady fitting of his status. Someone of good breeding and good blood! We need a good marriage to secure the foundations for House Ferd's growth in the coming generations."
Claude's head shook again.
"Stop it, Mother. This is exactly the thing that pushed Bloweyk away. Do you want your grandson to run from the family as well? I have plans for Tesoray. You might be his grandmother, but I am his father. I have given his future much thought."
"Tesoray," Claude said, turning to his son for the first time since coming home, "Stand up. Tell me, what do you want to do with your life?"
The chubby youth, for his part, had not tried to attract his father's attention since the man had returned. To tell the truth, he was terrified of the man. He was the only person who'd ever laid hands on him, and he showed no mercy when he did, nor was he conservative with the things for which he beat Tesoray. He put hand to buttock for everything he found wrong with him, if he was too self-assured, if he didn't greet him well enough, if he'd been playing around with the girls, or if he'd been throwing his substantial weight around in town... Everything got a hiding. He'd learnt to control himself and behave after a while, but more importantly, he'd learnt to hide away from his father with his grandmother. He'd only made his relationship with his father worse by doing that, however. For a long time, his father had gazed at him with severe disappointment in his eyes, but a couple years ago even that had vanished. Now he just stared at him as if he was staring at someone else's kid.
He'd been doing everything he could to become a non-existence since the man had returned home. Now, however, the man's gaze was firmly set on him. Why did his grandmother have to have a fight with him whilst he was in the room?
There was no running away from his father once he'd set his sights on him, however. He'd learnt that the hard way, so he swallowed his angst and stood up. He gave another gulp, trying to push down his terror.
"I don't have any plans. But if you promise to let me be, I'll do my best not to disappoint you. Mother and Grandmother have done their best to teach me and I'm certain I can do a good job managing your fief."
His grandmother's face cracked in half with a giant smile.
"Look, Claude. He said he would do his best! Trust your son and let him try! He will elevate House Ferd to new heights in Aueras!"
Claude ignored his mother and glared at the pitiful hill of lubber that purported to be his son.
"Tesoray, do you know how I became Lord Militant, how I got my Title, and how I got my own county?"
Tesoray shook his head silently. His father had had a high status when he was born. Sure, he'd heard his father had become even more of a big deal since, but it had not changed much about his daily life, so he had no concept of exactly how important his father was, or how much more important he'd become since Tesoray's birth. He certainly hadn't experienced the rock bottom from which the family had risen. He'd always enjoyed the lap of luxury, as his current physical shape attested. Besides his father, no one had ever touched him; he'd absolutely never known any kind of hardship.
"Our ancestors were but peasant farmers. My grandfather lucked out when he volunteered for Stellin IX's army and earned a little merit. You know what happened to him and his merit? He drank it all away and died in a ditch. Your grandfather started his adult life as a peasant bureaucrat in Whitestag when it was barely a town. He worked himself to the bone for 18 years to become the town's chief administrator and a dignitarian. He had laid the beginning foundations for our family's possible future rise.
"He had greater ambitions than just laying the groundwork, however. He wanted to die a noble, so he conspired with his friends to find a trade route from Whitestag to the colonies here on Nubissia. He found it, a great contribution indeed, but none of them or their families were rewarded. Their discovery led to all the families' ruins.
"Your grandfather made one simple mistake, you see: he let his greed blind him to reason. The contribution wasn't enough for him, even though it would have guaranteed his ascension to the nobility. No, he also wanted to be rich, so he kept his discovery from the kingdom and organised a merchant convoy to head to the colonies and make a giant trade profit. His actions attracted pirate attention, and so they destroyed his convoy and locked down the trade route. They even made use of the passage to raid the kingdom's coasts.
"The kingdom responded with the navy and wiped them out, but discovered the trade route and that your grandfather had hidden it from them. He and all his co-conspirators were arrested, stripped of position and rank, and saddled with massive amounts of debt from the destroyed convoy. The only reason they weren't outright executed was because, despite all their mistakes, the trade route was still a substantial discovery. The shame of it all was too much and he killed himself."
"Stop it, Claude!" Claude's mother shouted.
She could not bear to hear about their sad, pitiful history. She especially didn't want to be reminded of what happened to her husband.
"Why not? What point is there to our suffering if our descendents don't learn from it? And our children should not forget where they come from. They must not think themselves above others. Tesoray, you are not a noble. You are a peasant, you are the descendent of a mere farmer. Your grandparents, me, your mother, we were all peasants."
"You were spared that life because of all my work. I left home to make something of myself when I was younger than you are now. I left for the army when I was just 18. Just six months later the First Great Eastern Freian War broke out. I fought on the frontlines, in the thickest, most bloody parts of that war for five years. Millions died, but I survived. And despite all that, despite all my suffering, despite all the people I watched die, all the friends I lost in that war, I only made it to captain.
"In that entire war, the first time I was not on the battlefield or on campaign was when I came home to marry your mother. My achievements caught Lord Militant Miselk's eye and I was sent off to be trained again for a year before being put in the new Ranger folk. I still remember reading about your birth in one of your mother's letters. I was so happy I went out drinking for the whole night with my comrades."
A proud smile bloomed on Claude's face for half a moment, then vanished.
"But I could not be a father. I was, and have always been, a soldier. Soldiers don't get to be fathers. We get to have children, sure, but we don't get to be fathers. We're always off fighting wars, always off protecting the kingdom. Shiks got antsy on Nubissia and we went to war again. Another three years of war, even further away from home this time. At the end of that I was finally a folksman. Your mother brought you, your grandmother, and your uncle here after the war. Your uncle served with me for some time after that as well.
"I'm not trying to compare life notes with you. I just want you to understand what has brought you to where you are today, what sacrifices gave you the life you have enjoyed. We are not nobles, we have never been nobles. Even if we bear Titles and names now, we are still not nobles. You can act the perfect gentile noble's son, but no noble from the mainland will ever consider you their equal, or worthy of their consideration. You will never be a noble, nor will your son. You grandchildren might, if they're lucky, be considered nobles, but neither I, nor you, nor your children, will ever have that."
"What do you mean? Why will Tesoray not be a noble? You're a hereditary count now! You'll eventually go to the war god's kingdom when you grow old! He's your only legitimate successor! Are you not going to let him inherit your Title?!" his mother burst again.
"Inherit? Hah! Mother, you get the strangest ideas. What makes you think Tesoray will get everything when I kick the bucket?--" Claude turned his frigid gaze back on his son. "--Tell me, Tesoray, what is our house's pillar?""
"--It's... it's..." the youth stammered.
He had no clue what his father was talking about, but he didn't dare not answer. He mouthed like a fish out of water for several seconds whilst his mind creaked into motion.
"It's your hereditary Title and our assets here in the region?"
Claude's eyes dimmed even further, were that possible.
"That's what your grandmother's taught you, isn't it? If you honestly believe that, then our family will be peasants again before your children are grown up. I'm not saying this because I want to shock or scare you. I'm saying this because that's what I'm afraid of. One of the biggest mistakes I've made in my life, one of my greatest regrets, is letting your mother and grandmother have their way with you. I hope, I pray to the gods, that you are still salvageable. Let me teach you properly, probably for the first time in your life. Our family's pillar is not our Title; it's not our lands; it's not our fief; it's the military. We are a house of soldiers, not nobles. I pray you understand this. If I hadn't joined the army, we'd still be peasants today. We might be even less because of that debt your father left us when he offed himself.--"
Claude's mother opened her mouth to protest but Claude didn't give her the chance.
"--I had great plans for you once you turned eighteen. Unfortunately the war back on Freia stole me away before I could make the arrangements. Luckily it only took up 2 years, so it's not too late yet. You're 20 now, still young enough. Tomorrow, you will report to the recruiter and you will volunteer yourself for the army. You must become a soldier as soon as possible. That is the only way for you to have a future, my eldest son. It is the greatest gift I can still give you as your father."
"No! Tesoray can't join the army!" Kefnie shouted.
She'd been quiet the whole time, but she couldn't hold her peace any longer.
"Do you really want to march my son in front of enemy cannons like fodder? I will not allow this!"
"Kefnie's right, Claude. You cannot have Tesoray join the army. He's your heir. I will not allow this either!" Claude's mother chimed, glaring daggers at her son.
"Heir?" Claude smiled nonchalantly, "Like it or not, I am his father. I have every right to decide his future. If he will not volunteer, I, as Lord Militant, can just draft him. He will learn to crawl just like every other brat who joins. I will have the bad habits you've taught him pummeled out of his lubbery head. He will become a proper soldier and a proper man like my brother, Bloweyk. Despite what you did to him, the men still respect Bloweyk to the heavens and back!
"I do not expect anything great from Tesoray. I want him to at least not disgrace the family name. He should at least make it into our elite units on his own merit. If he cannot even do that, then I will never recognise him as my heir. And if he refuses to join the army, he will not be my son."
"You will NOT send him to the army!" Kefnie shrieked.
Claude gulped down the last of his wine.
"It's decided, Tesoray. You will be picked up tomorrow. You will go, or tonight will be your last night as my son. You will be the brave Tesoray Ferd, or you will be no Ferd at all. You will lose your surname, your family, and your freedom as the deserter you would be. You have tonight to make your peace and say goodbye to your mother and grandmother. I pray, for your sake, the next time we meet I can proudly call you my son. I pray you will be a proper man, not this baby-face whale who can only hide behind his mother and grandmother and cling to their skirts.
"Oh, and don't think you'll have it easy as my son. You will join with a different name and surname. From tomorrow morning on, you are a peasant's son. You have nothing to do with me. You will have to make your own way in the world; find your own comrades, and fight for your future by yourself. I'll acknowledge you again as my son when you're promoted to the rank of captain. Understand?"