Claude lay down on the grass in a daze, neither awake, nor asleep. Three children rolled about on top of him. He sometimes arched his back into a hill for them to climb on and at other times he let them stamp all over his face with their bare feet.
When he finally couldn't take it any longer, he rubbed his grizzled beard on their faces, causing them to cry for their mother. Angelina and Sheila came over and took the three, finally allowing him to catch a breath.
Sheila handed him an icy cup of blueberry juice.
"They're so cute..." Sheila said enviously as she watched Angelina and a maid handle the three.
"We can try and give you one as well, if you like," Claude said.
He was hiding at Anna's farmstead. He'd become the devil himself at home after kicking Tesoray to the army. Kefnie didn't even acknowledge his existence. That didn't trouble him much. What broke him was that his two other beloved children, Beuergarcy and Amelisa, had taken their cues from their mother and had been ignoring him as well.
His mother cursed him so hard she exhausted herself and was bedridden. She wished him dead every chance she got.
Claude could only lament that the two women who had once been the most important people in his life, alongside his sister, of course, were braindead. They had let their present go to their head and forgotten their past. His mother cursed death on him. She didn't stop to think that, if he died before he acknowledged Tesoray as his son again, the boy would never become a Ferd again.
Angelina had rushed over from her home to check on their mother. She wasn't in her room for long. When she came out she just shook her head and said the old woman would live another thirty years at least. She had just tired herself out a little. She wasn't actually sick, she was just too humiliated to show her face. She said the humiliation of having her noble son thrown out like old rags was too much to bear.
Kefnie had not said a word, as was normal for her, but her frigid eyes said everything on her mind. He got the hint and was out that evening. He had a couple men fetch Sheila and bring her to his sister's farmstead so they could be together.
One of the kids was Leo, he was Myjack and Angelina's. The other two were twins, Myr and Betty. They were Bloweyk and Adele's kids. Angelina had adopted the two after Adele's death. All three were the same age, three. They were at their most energetic and cutest.
They'd been timid and scared when they first met Claude and Sheila, but they quickly warmed up to them over the two days they'd been together by now. They now often dragged Claude outside to play. Sheila had grown green with envy because of it.
Angelina returned when the three were asleep. She sat down beside Claude and convinced him to write a letter to Maria on her behalf to thank her for her research journal. She said she would not let her down.
"Aren't you going to continue your magic experiments in Blackstone Arms Factory?" Claude asked, puzzled.
She shook her head. She didn't want to work on weapons anymore. She wasn't as skilled as Sonia, and it took too much of her time. She wanted to be home with her children, so she'd work on the herbalism research from the farm.
Claude knew better than to argue with his sister. She'd not been a timid girl since he'd left for the army decades earlier. As much as he knew she was worth at the factory, he was happy she'd chosen to leave that place. He felt bad for dragging her into his world of war and death, even if only second hand. She apparently didn't mind, however, besides the time it stole from her and her children.
Their conversation turned to less important things from there. She told him about what had become of the orphans they'd recruited years earlier. They'd all grown up and were all at least one-ring rune magi. She'd personally made sure they were absolutely loyal to Claude, and it was up to him to decide what their futures would hold.
There were thirteen of them. Apart from Claude's illegitimate son, Marcus, who was now a three-ring magus, the rest were not that talented. They'd trained for three years but were still just one-ring magi. Nine were ready to receive their basic spells.
Marcus wanted to join the army. His grandfather had held him back to be a helper. The old man wanted to pass on all his knowledge to his son and have him become an inventor like himself.
Four of the rest were girls. They'd been split as assistants between Angelina and Sonia. The rest were boys, now young men. They were Claude's to do with as he pleased. Two were talented with experimentation. They'd been put with Sonia for the time being and trained as rune magi. The rest were most suited to become battlemagi.
Sheila was very interested in their conversation, and even volunteered to train the battlemagi. Claude was all too happy to agree. They'd train under her until they were two-ring magi before joining the army to train under Bloweyk. They would be his greatest weapons.
Once they'd run out of topics, Angelina finally broached the matter of Tesoray. Claude smiled resignedly when the topic was brought up. Tradition was that the man took charge of childrearing and other household matters such as finance and the like. There was of course no lack of men who feared their wives and mothers, however.
Claude had been completely absent, however, and as such had never had the chance to be a father or husband. That was compounded with their rapid rise in social status. People constantly came around to curry favour with the family to get on Claude's good side. That had gone straight to his wife and mother's heads and they'd become shallow, prideful, and self-important. They became overly ambitious and decided they were going to make the family into a high noble household. They'd both forgotten that nobody else wanted that, and their blind pursuit of their ambition had driven Bloweyk's wife to death, and him out of the family.
Claude had hoped the shock of his brother's departure would wake his mother up, but she learnt nothing from it. Kefnie, whilst not as ambitious as her mother, was set on making her son inherit Claude's position and wealth. Claude had refused to play along, however. As a result his mother and wife had conspired to force Tesoray through by getting him connections with the mainland's nobility. Surely Claude couldn't refuse his son if he had the backing of Claude's peers.
Claude had always been quite disappointed in his eldest son. His mother and grandmother's coddling and spoiling had turned his child rotten. He was raised into a brat. He'd often wanted to give him more than just a thorough hiding, but his mother always got in the way. He was not home often, either, so what little good he could do during his short stays home, was undone by the time he finally got back again.
He might have been absent, however, but he'd never been out of the loop. He'd made sure he had eyes and ears in the manor, and that they updated him regularly. The manor's head butler, Svenson, the guards, and several of the other servants, were all his agents. The information he got from them was behind his decision to put his son in the army.
He could easily have exempted his son from the draft, and his wife and mother had expected him to do just that. The thought that he might have to serve in the army never even crossed Tesoray's mind. As such he'd never bothered learning the basics he'd need to get somewhere in the army. He had always put on a good show for his mother and grandmother, but he was really a very vile character.
Lust was normal for young men, but most learned to control themselves, at least well enough that it didn't affect their reputation. Tesoray had never learnt that self-restraint. He'd pushed down every maidservant that caught his eye. Claude knew of seven, but he was certain there were at least as many more he hadn't tracked down yet. He'd had to buy their silence with more than minor sums of money.
Tesoray, despite his blubber, was well kempt, but he frequented Lanu's taverns way too often. He'd even taken to reserving barmaids once his playdates with the housemaids were put to an end. Claude's mother only learnt of his escapades once one of the barmaids became pregnant and tried to extort them.
Tesoray knew just what to say to his grandmother, however. He quickly spun a tale of being tricked while he was drunk. He waxed pathetic about not even knowing if the kid was his. His grandmother, ever the fool for her offspring, bought it and bought the maid's silence and made her vanish.
It would have been bad enough had Tesoray only had trouble with controlling his lust, but he didn't even have the spine to take responsibility for his rampages. He'd become an exemplary noble, alright. Claude's mind was made up once he learnt of that particular episode.
What better rescue service was there than the army? If the army couldn't shape Tesoray up, then nothing would and it would be better to toss him out of the family entirely.
He expected his mother to be against the idea, but he didn't expect her to have the arrogance to suggest putting him in charge of Claude's fief. What right did those two have to covet his things?
He couldn't hold back a giggle at the thought that they were scheming to have Tesoray take over 'in the event of his untimely end'. If Tesoray got a hold of the reins as he was now, the family would really be peasants before his children were grown up.
Angelina's mood was sullen when Claude finished his explanation. Their mother wasn't like that when they were young. Claude had taken over the household after their father's suicide, and Angelina when he left for the army.
She saw the same spoiling in Bloweyk had now happened with Tesoray, however, but back then she and Claude had been there to reign the kid in and keep him on the right path. Neither were there for Tesoray, however. She'd thought Kefnie would be a moderating force as they'd been, but she'd instead been poisoned by their mother as well and had become part of the problem.
"Is Tesoray doing well?" Angelina asked, bringing her mind back to the present.
He shook his head.
"He's average, though I suppose for him that's quite the achievement. He got beat up badly on the first day and he's been in the infirmary since. It's his fault though. He was stupid enough to try and bully a smaller soldier. He forgot that he is in the army now, and soldiers know how to fight. He's called Traykli now. He is nothing of us until I acknowledge him again. Remember that."
Angelina rolled her eyes. Clearly he was still something of Claude. Claude didn't bother with normal recruits.
"I didn't interfere," Claude chimed defensively, knowing his sister's thoughts, "I only have a couple people keeping an eye on him so I can stay up to date on what's going on. I have no expectations for him to become like Bloweyk. If he can get rid of his current rot and become a good soldier I'll be happy enough. A loyal guard dog is good enough."
"What about Beuergarcy?"
Beuergarcy was five years Tesoray's junior. He was currently in Lanu Middle School.
"He's different from Tesoray. He's very quiet. He prefers books and studies. I'll have him enter the royal capital's college after he graduates."
Claude, while not disappointed with his second son, was very unhappy that neither of his children were turning into proper military men. He was beginning to suspect a wealthy childhood was not conducive to rearing strong men.
While Bloweyk had been the unbeatable physical stream student in school, Claude's two sons were the silent, civil type. Tesoray had been acting the part, but Beuergarcy was genuine. Perhaps their privileged life had deprived them of the risky misadventures a child born without a silver spoon was granted.
He spent the next ten days at his sister's. On the tenth day he heard from Lanu that Bolonik, Henderman, and most of the representatives had returned. They were accompanied by Myjack and some ten other generals.
Only Skri, Bernard, and 30 councillors were still in Northbay. They had been tasked with managing the new fiefs. Eiblont had also remained as Thundercrash's acting corpsman and Birkin was in Polyvisia with Monolith.
Myjack and the other generals hadn't had much of a choice in their return. The ministry of the army's mass promotion had added 22 major-generals to their ranks, and made the 8 old generals into lieutenant-generals. The sole previous lieutenant-general had been made a general. Thundercrash and Monolith had no need for so many generals. All the positions were already filled.
Fortunately, eight major-generals and three lieutenant-generals wanted to retire. Taking into account the fact that Bolonik would be leaving the military administration for civil government, Claude decided to do another reorganisation, so he'd recalled the majority of the generals.
Myjack returned to deal with the daily duties in headquarters, with the generals he brought back taking up various posts in different departments. Some became Claude's top strategists to work on Operation Wildfire.
Claude had no choice but to leave his relaxing life on the farm behind and head back to Lanu.