Claude's face remained dark and gloomy as he listened to Svenson report on his mother and wife's scandal in the royal capital. Claude didn't know what to say when Svenson finished. His mother was quite old already, nearing her 70th birthday, so she was a senior citizen by this world's standards. Yet, she was being as unreasonable and stubborn as a child. She was the kind of big baby who expected everyone to fulfil her selfish demands.
The problem was his mother's former status as a normal housewife, which made her vulnerable to losing her head in the clouds once she finally got a chance to stand in the spotlight. Even now, she wasn't aware of how she was seen in the noble circles in the capital. Claude really didn't know how he should deal with her. Anyone in the know understood why the king was treating her so well, yet she didn't know. She thought it was only natural.
She had never experienced much hardship. She was the daughter of a local bureaucrat and had stayed home doing housework after just three years of primary education. Later, her father wedded her to Morssen. Her life after her marriage was easygoing and without trouble, as that was when Morssen advanced through his career like a breeze. She was the target of envy of many a neighbour or peddler in town.
While the greatest shock of her life was her husband's suicide, which made her fall ill with grief, Claude dealt with everything. So, she didn't have to do much at home. Even after Claude's enlistment into the military, Angelina was there to hold the fort without letting her mother experience much pressure at all.
Once Claude returned as a successful captain, the household finally seemed like it was faring much better. Her children's magnificence eventually washed the grief of losing her husband away. Her mind and spirit finally recovered along with her body and she once more became a target of envy. Then came Claude and Kefnie's marriage. Kefnie took care of most of the chores at home after the marriage and gave birth to Tesoray, allowing Madam Ferd to enjoy the life of a posh grandmother.
If nothing else had changed, Madam Ferd would definitely remain blissful for the rest of her life. Yet, Claude was sent to the region, and with him, the whole family moved. Thanks to Claude's high status in the region, his family also enjoyed much preferential treatment. Kefnie and his mother were surrounded by local bigwigs and rich merchants who wanted to curry favour with Claude and became the centre of attention.
Madam Ferd was a normal woman who loved to gossip with others in the first place. Her mingling and socialising with the womenfolk in the higher circles of the region caused her to lose herself. She began to think Claude's achievements were thanks to his magnificent upbringing on her part. Soon, she began to act more and more like a snobby noblewoman.
As she slowly came to believe her delusions of grandeur to be real, she turned more and more stubborn. She had forgotten who or what to thank for her current lifestyle, thinking instead that it could all be attributed to Morssen's blessings from the kingdom of the war god. So, she began interfering with her children's futures.
She was, after all, their mother. Claude, Angelina and Bloweyk were also usually rather tolerant of her antics. However, none of them actually bothered to follow her plans for them. Despite often nagging Bloweyk to retire and get an honourable discharge from the military to take over as the head of House Ferd, Bloweyk ignored her. In the end, she decided to use her final trump card: marriage. That was sure to get him to settle down in body and spirit.
Yet, Bloweyk's love life eventually turned into a tragedy thanks to her meddling, causing him to disown the Ferd name in rage and leave the household, once more foiling his mother's plans to use his marriage to prop House Ferd to new heights. Her shame fueled her anger and caused her to blame Claude for being a bad example for Bloweyk and not teaching him well. She then turned her attention to nurturing Tesoray as the next head of House Ferd.
What she didn't know, however, was that a true noble heir wasn't born from excessive care and spoiling without the slightest bit of hardship. She wasn't someone with that much knowledge of such complicated matters, however, and spoiling her grandson was the only way she knew how to care for him. In the end, Tesoray ended up learning all the bad habits of nobles without picking up on any of their good qualities.
Yet, Madam Ferd naively thought Tesoray was the ideal heir for Claude and set her sights on Claude's fief. She had wanted him to let Tesoray run the fief, only for Claude to give her a rude wake-up call. Not only did he refuse, he even insisted on sending his son into the force for him to grow and be reforged despite his wife and mother's objections.
That was the final straw that caused his relationship with them to collapse. They left the autonomous region for Whitestag and immediately caused a scandal for the matter of the woodland. It was ironic, in a way, that Madam Ferd was the one who brought the most shame to the Ferd name despite being the one that cared the most for it. Claude believed that if Morssen somehow heard about what had happened, he would be rolling in his grave.
His wife, Kefnie, was also quite the troublesome character. No matter what, he was still married to her for decades and had two sons and one daughter with her, so he did feel quite strongly for her as her husband. However, Kefnie also got infected by the Ferd-honour virus as his mother had and naively believed her mother-in-law's words about raising a noble descendant. She focused all her efforts on making sure Tesoray got the best noble education, but she knew deep down that her son still didn't catch his father's attention one bit.
Claude didn't understand how the pure and honest Kefnie became so selfish. He was quite angry at her cold demeanour and refusal to adopt Bloweyk's twins after the tragic incident. But now, he finally understood she had been quite scheming from the start.
Other things aside, Claude didn't know about the matter of the deed for the woodland. When he handed it to Bloweyk back then to have him transfer it to become House Ferd's property, Bloweyk didn't care for it and put the deed in Kefnie's care instead.
She should have consulted Claude about what to do with it, but she just kept the deed secretly. Even Claude's mother didn't know the wood hadn't been actually put under the family name. They only found out what had happened when the court case came up and Kefnie slapped her mother-in-law across the face with the deed.
They were all schemers. Claude didn't even know what he should think about the court case between his mother and wife. His mother was sick in the head and there was no cure he could offer her. He knew he would be scolded if he tried to interfere. He knew she would demand money from him if he met her again, and she would never be happy with what she got. And if he dared give her nothing, she'd curse him as an unfilial bastard. Best to just stay away and out of it all.
As for Kefnie, winning the court case meant his mother would lose face, and losing it meant she and her two children would be chased out of the manor and become homeless. Even though there was no need to worry, with Svenson by their side, Claude wasn't willing to see his wife and children evicted.
"How is my mother doing?" Claude asked.
Svenson answered after a healthy dose of hesitation.
"We have nobody at the Old Madam's side. But her current butler told me she is busy trying to transfer the honorary Title to your elder brother and to take out a loan for the Title upgrade and land-picking fee so your elder brother can become a hereditary noble."
"Is she out of her mind? Her honorary viscountess Title is given by her relation to my late father after his posthumous entitlement. How can it be transferred?"
"Yes. The royal court has refused her request. She's the laughing stock of the capital nobility. Some nobles and ministers are questioning the king's decision to give her a Title. A few are even calling for it to be revoked. They think she is a disgrace to all nobles. I heard Prime Minister Blancarte has kept it silent."
Claude sighed in relief. Blancarte was quite sensible. He knew that no matter how foolish his mother could be, she was still his mother. No matter how sour their relationship, their bonds wouldn't change. Claude wasn't the one at fault. His mother was just too much of an ignoramus. Even so, Claude would not stand her being treated as a fool.
"What about the matter of Arbeit's fief?"
"That passed. The one that offered the loan initially said the Old Madam was a little too old and was worried that any loan offered in her name would be void if anything happened to her, with the heir taking all the money without taking the hereditary Title. So he put in a special condition that applies to loan applicants above a certain age.
"For instance, the queen's lenders have a stipulation for some older, unhealthy nobles that the applicant and their appointed heir are jointly responsible for the loan. If anything happens to the applicant, the heir inherits the Title and loan.
"Additionally, the applicant and heir can't get a single crown directly. All the money is paid to the royal treasury in their name. The applicant and heir's signatures are also required for a loan like that."
Darn it, to think the queen had actually streamlined her loans...
"Do you know where the fief is?"
Svenson shook his head.
"I don't. I left the capital immediately after reading your letter. I didn't meet up with the Old Madam's new butler before leaving. I don't know where they are now."
Claude waved it off. If his mother really had a fief for his brother, it wouldn't be hard to find out where it was.
"Have you seen Arbeit?"
"A few times. I think four. The last time I saw him, I was out shopping. He pretended to run into me and insisted on getting me a drink. He then asked me about you and Madam Kefnie as well as life in the region. I felt something was off and brushed him off. I told Madam about it when I got back."
"You did the right thing," Claude said, quite satisfied, "What impression did he give you?"
"I don't know how I should put this... But I can be certain he's lying about being a playwright. There's no way he's a writer. His body and fingers don't look like a studied person's. His behaviour and speech don't seem particularly scholarly either.
"I know a few newspaper editors in the capital. Their hands are all calloused, but Arbeit doesn't have a single blister on his hands. His skin is smooth and he doesn't act like a writer. I suspect he's lying about travelling Freia for the last twenty years and learning from scholars all over the place."
"Of whom does he remind you?"
Svenson agonised over the thought with an intense frown.
"Forgive me... But he reminds me of a scammer or fraud. His behaviour is not too unlike that of merchants who sell fake wares in the market. All his words sound too good to be true and one will only find out about the falsehoods once one goes home with the goods in hand."
Claude cracked a smile. He didn't think Svenson would have that kind of impression of his opportunistic brother. It seemed that Arbeit had had some rather interesting experiences in the past two decades. Claude reckoned he should send someone to investigate him properly. Though, there was no need to rush it. He only hoped Arbeit could put a lid on his mother's antics. He was fine letting Arbeit take over as the head of House Ferd. After all, Bloweyk didn't care about the position anyway.
"How's Kefnie doing, then?" Claude finally turned his concern to his wife.
"She's living with a real low profile and doesn't leave the manor often. She spends most of her time taking care of Miss Amelisa. Thanks to the court case, some noblewomen visit her for tea from time to time."
"Has she never thought of returning to the region?"
Svenson shook his head. "Master, I doubt Madam, the young master and young mistress will be returning in the coming few years. They will be living in the manor near the outskirts of the royal capital. Nowadays, Young Master Beuergarcy just took a scholar from the royal capital to be his teacher."
Claude's gaze narrowed. "Did Kefnie pick the scholar for him or did someone else recommend it?"
Svenson smiled. "Neither. Young Master picked the scholar himself. Master, you should know how much he loves to read in silence and solitude. When they were still living with the Old Madam in the mansion in the capital, he loved to go shopping for books with some servants. Sometimes, he would spend the whole day reading in the book handler's.
"This scholar is a history professor of the royal liberal arts academy. Once, he got into an argument with him over a historic chronicle. Young Master said there are some wrong viewpoints or records in the chronicle the author made up. As the author is a friend of the scholar, he accused Young Master for falsely accusing him.
"Little did he know that Young Master's memory would be that sharp. He immediately named a few books and quoted their contents to make his point. The scholar looked for the quotations he mentioned and found that he was right. His author friend was indeed too lazy to do any real literature review and made up much of the stuff he wrote, only to be discovered by Young Master Beuergarcy.
"Since then, the scholar grew to have a good impression on him and often came to chat with him. Once, he took Young Master home and told Madam that he liked him a lot and wanted to take him as his student. Once Young Master came of age, he would have him study in the academy. Madam was overjoyed to hear it and agreed to the scholar's request. By the way, the scholar's name is Delomenk Lang Falesk. He's quite a famous historian and archaeologist in the royal capital."
Sometimes, a flower cared for would not bloom, whereas a flower left in the wild prospered. Of Claude's two sons, his mother and wife paid the most attention to the elder Tesoray and spoiled him. Beuergarcy, however, had never been much to Madam Ferd and Kefnie's liking. He was a little too cold and didn't like to spend time with adults. He didn't bother to butter up his mother and grandmother like his elder brother did either, choosing often to observe coldly from the side.
When he grew up and learned to read, he fell in love with reading. He would consume all sorts of books regardless of genre. Sometimes, he would hold a book and read nonstop the whole day. Angelina had once tested his affinity for magic, but it was a shame he didn't make the cut. She had told Claude that Beuergarcy would make a great magus had he had enough talent, given his quiet personality and penchant for solitude.
Tesoray was given the most care by his grandmother and mother, only to end up spoiled and almost unsalvageable. His second son, on the other hand, didn't catch their attention and grew into a talented young man without them noticing. It was almost insulting to think about. Claude wondered what Kefnie and his mother would think about it.
He laughed and said, "Svenson, I got a manor and woodland here lately. After helping me find a suitable manager, go back to the royal capital and give Kefnie the deeds to this woodland and manor. Tell her that this is our family's property and ask her to handle them with care. I will be going to Northbay the next day, so I'll leave matters here to you."