Claude knew he was a person of interest to the Stellin royal family. He might even be tagged as someone with questionable loyalties and considered a threat. The kingdom's strategists had run simulations and the results showed it was far from ideal to attack Shiks. Therefore, Claude coming to the mainland to reorganise Thundercrash for an attack on Shiks was merely a front for something else.
Blancarte came all the way to Whitestag to meet him to try to figure out his motives. Even after a whole evening of chatting with Claude and hearing his reasons for wanting to attack Shiks, however, he was yet unconvinced of the man's sincerity. That was not surprising. Nobody believed Claude stood a chance against Shiks with just Thundercrash.
Claude decided to stay in Whitestag for a few days. He wanted to buy a manor, preferably on an estate of at least 500 acres, and a woodland, at least 1600 acres, nearby. He wanted to have a Claude Manor and a Claude Wood. Back in his early days on Freia, the land south of Whitestag had been entirely farms and orchards. He'd often gone there with his friends to trap for pocket money.
The farmlands and orchards were the first to burn when the civil war came knocking, however, and now the land was abandoned and being rapidly reclaimed by nature.
Claude had initially gone there to reminisce on his childhood, but he decided to buy the land once he saw it was all abandoned. He wished to have a place to which to return once his career was over. As for the palace, Claude was merely taking care of it temporarily. He didn't want to have to fight his mother over it.
Blancarte accompanied Claude for two days. When he saw Claude was dealing with private affairs, he left, relieved. He was a busy man, and he noted that Claude wasn't even remotely interested in going to the royal capital to check on his wife and mother, and he appeared even less interested in plots and schemes.
Blancarte began to feel he and the king were paying far too much attention to this Lord Militant. While Claude was the commander-in-chief of the autonomous region, someone which the royal family and court had to be vigilant of, he didn't show any hostility or ambition. Instead, he seemed to be content with the current relationship of the kingdom and the autonomous region. If he wasn't provoked, he wouldn't pose any threat to the kingdom's safety.
Afternoon on the fourth day, Svenson rushed back to Whitestag from the royal capital and made a detailed report to Claude. The latter finally understood the reason behind his mother and wife's fight that became the top gossip topic of the noble ladies. Their fight even made its way to the king himself!
Two years earlier, during the latter half of that year when Kefnie and Madam Ferd had left for the royal capital, the king had kept his promise and given them a manor and mansion belonging to the royal family. They had started their lives in the new mansion in the royal capital. Naturally, they loved the busy atmosphere of the capital and its shopping streets, going to grab a good deal or haggle for a bargain often.
The two rather enjoyed their time there, often thinking how much better than the region the royal capital was. But half a year later, their network grew and they eventually found out about their reputation as country bumpkins among the other nobles. After all, no noblewoman would personally go shopping and haggling. Nobles of the royal capital only bought the most expensive and best goods. Apart from shopping for clothes and jewellery personally, they usually had their servants deal with day-to-day shopping.
Hearing some kind-hearted noblewoman neighbour tell them what most others thought of them was a huge blow to Madam Ferd. She had begun using the Title of viscountess for herself thanks to Morssen's posthumous viscount Title, but now, it seemed her and Kefnie's actions were bringing shame to Morssen and the Ferd household name. So, she decided to change and get the nobles of the royal capital to embrace them as one of their own.
She hired tutors for noble etiquette as well as butlers and servants fit for a proper noble. Old servants that came with them from the region like Svenson were either sent to the manor in the outskirts or retrained by high-class servants hired for a huge sum. They tried their best to achieve the high standards of capital nobles. Svenson and the other servants endured quite a bit of hardship throughout that time.
In time, Madam Ferd held a ball in her mansion and invited the capital nobles with the aim of spreading House Ferd's reputation. However, she had been too optimistic. Her viscountess Title didn't catch any attention among the nobles at all, and nobles of high status wouldn't accept their invitation nor let their children attend either.
The nobles that came were only there for a free meal. These folks were quite incompetent, save for their ability to flatter and make Madam Ferd happy. Eventually, Ferd Mansion became a place for those honorary nobles to eat and party for free. Madam Ferd once more became the laughingstock of the capital and was known as the clueless viscountess.
By then, Kefnie could no longer take it. Claude was a hereditary count of the kingdom, so she bore the countess Title by affiliation. However, she was still in a fight with Claude and refused to use that Title, so she wanted to keep a low profile. She hated the freeloading guests in their mansion with a passion, but she had no choice but to endure it all when she saw how happy it made her mother-in-law.
Meanwhile, all Madam Ferd boasted about to her guests was Morssen's deeds and his eventual unfortunate demise, which caused him to be posthumously created a noble by the current king.
As a result, those nobles had no clue about her and Kefnie's relationship with Claude. A few honorary nobles even tried to court Kefnie for her body and wealth.
However, Kefnie didn't care to pay them any heed, eventually causing a few drunken nobles to try to force themselves on her. For all they knew, there wasn't much a daughter-in-law of a viscount like that could do against honorary nobles like them anyway.
Little did they know they would end up beaten up by guards that popped out of nowhere and escorted at musketpoint to the noble court for harassing a noble of higher status. They had their honorary Titles stripped from them and were sent to the labour camps.
That incident scared the other freeloaders away. It was only then when they found out about someone of such high status hiding behind the clueless viscount. Those that remained finally began acting respectfully when Kefnie was there, causing the mansion to quiet down somewhat.
However, Madam Ferd became rather disappointed. She was unhappy that Kefnie's Title of countess oppressed her viscountess Title. Thus, she scolded Kefnie and told her that she shouldn't have used the Title she got from Claude to oppress the other honorary nobles. Now, most people no longer came to the mansion to talk to her.
Usually, Kefnie would merely endure her mother-in-law's nagging and let it pass. Claude knew that part of her well and found it to be a decent personality trait to have. Not to mention, the years of living together with her mother-in-law did develop their relationship somewhat. However, Madam Ferd's personality grew ever more stubborn along with her age. Nowadays, she insisted on having everything her way and would never stop causing chaos until she got what she wanted.
Even when Kefnie advised her to stop hosting those honorary nobles, Madam Ferd didn't listen and insisted she was doing the household good by spreading its good name. Even if their guests were honorary nobles, they were still folks whom Morssen wouldn't be able to approach back when he was alive. Their patronage was an honour for House Ferd.
Around that time, Madam Ferd ran out of money. Usually, honorary nobles received annuity from the kingdom. For instance, honorary barons received a hundred crowns, honorary viscounts two hundred, and so on until the end of their lifetimes. As Morssen's Title was posthumously given, Madam Ferd could enjoy the benefits that came with it until the end of her lifetime.
If she lived a normal, savvy life, two hundred crowns would be more than enough to sustain her each year. However, her public relations efforts and hiring of high-class noble servants and luxurious purchases of daily necessities fitting of nobles and jewellery piled up to quite a huge amount. The salary of the servants alone cost more than 20 crowns each month, and all other costs had to be paid for from Madam Ferd's own savings.
She had saved the spending money she got from Claude and Angelina when she was in the region, as well as Bloweyk's bonuses before he ran away from home. All in all, she had some two thousand crowns. However, life in the royal capital meant higher standards of living. The prices of goods there were much higher than the region's. Not to mention, her grand banquets and balls to host the freeloading nobles eventually emptied her savings before four months even passed.
That was when she recalled Kefnie had three-tenths of the tobacco company's shares. It was quite a substantial amount of wealth, with each fiscal quarter generating nearly ten thousand crowns of dividends. If she had that wealth, she would no longer have to worry about not having enough to host those honorary nobles. So, she demanded to take ownership of those shares as the current head of the Ferd household.
Naturally, Kefnie was no fool and refused. She knew Claude gave her those dividends for her and her three children. She was Claude's rightful wife, and he had said that money was for her to run the household. During their time in Lanu, she was the female head of the household and paid for the daily costs using the dividends she got.
But in the royal capital, the mansion they lived in was given to Madam Ferd in Morssen's name, so Madam Ferd was now head of the household. As such, Kefnie had no right to stop what she wanted to do, so long as she took care of costs herself.
Even so, she still paid for the servants and guards that came with them from the region. Madam Ferd didn't care about any of that, given how calculative she was about the money. Sometimes, Kefnie would also buy the daily necessities they needed.
The reason she was in strife with Claude was how he tossed their eldest son Tesoray in the forces without any concern at all, foiling her plans to make him the new head of the Ferd household. She was also worried about the fate of her son. It was all too easy to end up as cannon fodder in the army as a soldier nowadays.
Kefnie, on the other hand, turned more selfish since her fight with Claude. For the sake of the position of the head of the household, she didn't even care for her relatives and refused to adopt Bloweyk's twins. With the arrival of Sheila, his first true love, Claude also drifted apart from the old and boring Kefnie.
But no matter what, Kefnie was still his proper wife and officially recognised to be the countess. She loathed her mother-in-law for criticising Claude for being unfilial while demanding her to hand over the shares. It was two completely different matters. Not to mention, those shares came from Claude's efforts alone and he gave them to her for her personal use. What did it have to do with the Ferd household?
Fuming, Madam Ferd got into a huge fight with Kefnie, calling her lowly and unfit to be the wife of a Ferd. Kefnie then stormed off to the manor in the outskirts with her children.
With her gone, Madam Ferd was doomed. She had no money left. Forget hosting the honorary nobles, she couldn't even pay the salaries of the high-class servants. The servants thus left with whatever valuables they could find in the house and left the butler and a poor, homeless kitchen lass in the mansion. Madam Ferd soon fell sick. In her sickbed, she bemoaned her unfilial son and daughter-in-law.
Thankfully, the butler didn't forsake his duty and went to the manor to look for Kefnie. When she heard about her mother-in-law falling sick, she decided to go back to ensure nothing worse happened to her, only to be angered by her incessant nagging. Kefnie immediately turned to leave, not wanting to see her for one moment more. She was Claude's mother, at the end of the day. Kefnie gave the butler some money to make sure he took care of Madam Ferd.
Had it gone on just like that, it would've been fine. Madam Ferd had no more money to waste anyway and all she could do was complain about Kefnie in the mansion. Yet, a month later, Arbeit came to visit. Overjoyed, Madam Ferd jumped out of bed and hugged him, calling him the hope of House Ferd.
It was said that Arbeit left Whitestag and travelled Freia. He experienced much hardship and visited many scholars on his journey, accompanied them, and learned quite a lot. He was now a playwright of certain fame. After two decades of travelling, he began to miss his family and decided to return to the kingdom. Little did he know that he would hear about his mother when he reached the royal capital, so he decided to visit her.
Madam Ferd was all too happy to hear his story, thinking that her eldest son had finally become someone worthy to become House Ferd's new head. She had already set her mind on it. Though she wanted to throw him a celebration, Arbeit was just as broke as she was, having emptied his pockets on his journey back.
In the end, Arbeit decided to borrow money from Kefnie. He went to the manor to ask to borrow a thousand crowns. Kefnie recognised him, given that they had met a few times in Whitestag a long time ago. However, she didn't have a good impression of him. While Arbeit tried his best to convince her, she only gave him ten crowns, refusing to lend him a thousand.
Pissed, Arbeit returned to complain to his mother, accusing Kefnie of monopolising House Ferd's assets. After all, the manor at the outskirts was given in exchange for the land in Whitestag they traded to the royal family. They could earn an income of up to 300 crowns yearly from the manor's yield, and Kefnie's occupation of the manor was an infringement on House Ferd's assets.
In the history of Aueras, no noble family would go to court over an internal fight for assets. Yet, House Ferd would be the first to set the precedent. It was the first time ever a mother-in-law would be suing her daughter-in-law to court, and it was all the more attention grabbing with the both of them being noblewomen. Overnight, the newspapers and tabloids of the kingdom went wild with the court case. Had it not been for Blancarte taking note of the situation, the publications might even drag Claude's name through the mud.
In the end, the king was the one to preside over the case as judge. During the trial, Kefnie provided evidence of the deed of the woodland in Whitestag, which was signed under Claude's name. When Claude and Angelina bought the woodland for the household, the head of the household back then was Bloweyk, who was still not an adult. So, Angelina was the temporary holder of that property. Later, the purchase of public woodland required Claude's status as captain and knighthood holder, so ownership of the woodland was transferred to Claude in full.
When Bloweyk matured, Claude gave him the deed of the land. That way, he could transfer it under his name when he was in Whitestag. However, Bloweyk didn't care much for it and put the deed in Kefnie's care. In the end, no transfer of ownership was made and the land still belonged to Claude, not House Ferd.
Arbeit and his mother were completely stumped and didn't think that would be the outcome. If the woodland had belonged to Claude, the manor they were given in exchange for the woodland would be Claude's as well. So, Kefnie was fully in the right to live there as Claude's wife, and Madam Ferd ended up losing the case.
Kefnie also completely turned against her mother-in-law after that trial. She no longer cared about the matters of the mansion. All House Ferd had now was the two mansions, one in the royal capital and the other in Whitestag. As she had no money, the servants of the Whitestag mansion were still owed their salaries.
Madam Ferd deserved all that had come to her. Had she properly rebuilt the mansion in Whitestag into an apartment complex like it was before, she would at least have ten crowns of income yearly. Yet, she constructed a grand mansion for vain reputation instead, so now she couldn't even pay her servants' salaries. She didn't dare to sell it either, as the king was the one who had commissioned it for them. So, she decided to pretend she didn't receive the notice of the mansion's completion.