"Hey, Claude, are you on the way back?" asked a bearded lieutenant in navy uniform holding a bottle of alcohol.
It was already dark and Claude had only just left the run-down, three-storey office building of Normanley Real Estate. A black-clothed security guard helped him fasten Jemmy to the carriage.
"Nice to see you, First Lieutenant Nuit. I was doing some overtime. You know too that we're far too busy. The lord viscount has lots of ever-changing demands. That gives us lots of trouble when it comes to planning and design." Claude shrugged to show his frustration. "Well, the more things we have on our plate, the more troublesome it'll get. Are you not on duty today? On your way to see your sweetheart Miss Minnieleis, I presume?"
The lieutenant called Nuit was one of the people in charge of the construction of the naval base. His superior was the person Claude was complaining about, the one in charge of the construction of the base, Viscount Wenisk. As Claude often came to survey the site, he had acquainted himself well with Nuit.
In time, he became the lieutenant's good friend. According to what he knew, the 34-year-old navy lieutenant hadn't settled down yet. He had proclaimed himself a bachelor by choice and believed that family was nothing but a burden. However, that didn't mean he was celibate by any means. He loved to 'sample' all sorts of women and during the few short months he was posted in Whitestag, he had become a regular of the brothels in town. He even 'reserved' one young woman called Minnieleis and rented a house in the city to be their love nest.
"Sigh, it really is unlucky of me. I've been on duty for two nights straight. Now, it's finally time for me to rest. That's right, I'm going to find my little stray tonight and spend a stimulating and pleasant night," Nuit said as he approached, "When are you leaving for Kafreizit? If you're willing, you can also join the navy, you know. That way, you won't have to go out to become a target on the battlefield."
The word of Claude receiving is conscription order had long spread. When Kefnie heard about it, she sought him out right away and bawled quite heavily, stating that she wouldn't give up on him even if he came back crippled or disabled. She pledged herself to let Claude spend the latter half of his life comfortably.
Claude was so pissed that he almost chased her out. Couldn't she be more optimistic? Who would want to return crippled? Was she cursing him? Despite that, he was still quite thankful of the feelings she had for him. In a frenzied state, he pushed her against the wall and made out with her, reaching his hands across her body a few times, before letting her leave with her face flushed.
It was only after he snapped out of his dazed state that he realised that his relationship with Kefnie was secured. His womanising habits from his past life had come back to haunt him. Then again, Kefnie was a rather charming girl herself and sported a decent figure. After she revealed her feelings to him, he couldn't endure it and made a move on her, cementing their relationship for good.
"Joining the navy will just make me a target in the ocean. Forget it," Claude refused, "If I get hit by a bullet, I might still be saved. But when it comes to cannonballs... even the war god can do naught but send me off to the next life. And if the ship gets sunk, I will go down along with it. I won't be foolish enough to join the navy."
The navy and army of the kingdom didn't always see eye to eye. They were always competing for new recruits. Now that Claude was recruited into the army, he wouldn't even bother to pay the navy any courtesy. He was mocked often enough by the naval officers who came to supervise the construction.
"Thanks, Paulo," said Claude to the guard who helped him with the horse. He turned back to the lieutenant and said, "It's only the 11th today. I think I'll only be leaving in ten or so days for Kafreizit after I settle matters here first. By that way, what kind of wine is that? Gran wine? There's only half a bottle left. My poor First Lieutenant Nuit, are you going to use that crude wine to spice up your night with your little stray cat tonight?"
"Well... Hehe... I spent a little too much last month and my salary this month hasn't been paid yet, so I'm a little tight. It's already quite decent that I got a bottle of gran wine. Some of my comrades had to go to the infirmary to steal sanitary alcohol for a drink." Nuit didn't really mind Claude's mocking. Instead, he seemed rather proud that he was still able to afford gran wine. The bottle wasn't full though, there was only half inside. The man was swaying about as he walked towards Claude.
"That's why I'm here for your help, you see," the lieutenant said without even blushing, "And my luck happens to be great. You're still here."
"Sheesh, I knew you didn't have any good intentions when you came to greet me. Come with me, I'll only give you one bottle. I won't be able to answer for anything more than that." Claude figured the man's intention out in an instant. He shook his head resignedly and brought the man to his office. "Paulo, watch the carriage for me. I'll come back immediately."
"Understood, Master Claude," replied the guard loudly.
In Claude's office was a carton of good whiskey. Those were primarily used to serve guests of the company. Every time First Lieutenant Nuit came to see Claude, he would come up with an excuse to get a shot or two. It was obvious what he wanted when he eyed Claude's office with a half-finished bottle of gran wine in his hand. 'Friend, you aren't just going to let me leave with half a bottle of cheap wine, right?' was what he seemed to suggest.
"Give me an unopened one, will you?" Nuit said.
Claude shook his head. 'No way. You know how calculative Butler Rodan is. He'll come over to make an inventory every day. I'll give you a bottle that's still quite full. It's just as good as an unopened one. Here. I only poured a little out of this bottle to get a taste. You can barely see the difference."
"Fine, this bottle it is then. Thanks, friend." Nuit turned around with the bottle in his hand, satisfied, but he didn't see the odd gaze that flashed across Claude's eyes.
He put another bottle of whiskey in his rucksack before closing the door and leaving his office. After thanking the guard, he drove his carriage to the wood.
By the time he returned, his mother had already finished cooking dinner. But as it was already rather late, his mother, siblings, and the snowhound had finished their meals and left the food on the dining table for his return.
"You're going to leave home in another ten days..." Madam Ferd muttered as she watched her son wolf his food down with a longing gaze.
"Mom, I'll be fine. I'm only going to train as an officer. I'm not going on the battlefield right away, so don't worry. The war hasn't broken out yet either, and it's still peacetime. Maybe in three years' time, I'll show up here again in the uniform of a second lieutenant. I'd be a commissioned officer of the kingdom by then," Claude consoled after he swallowed his food.
Even though she had mostly recovered from her husband's death, she seemed to be worried about almost everything nowadays. Sometimes, she would cry alone in a corner when she recalled something out of nowhere. Claude felt relieved that he had moved his mother to the wood. If they were still living in the red-bricked mansion, her condition would definitely be far worse.
"By the way, I've made an account at the national bank for you. This is the account book, and I transferred the rent collected from the mansion into it. There's another one thousand crowns in it that came from my dividends at the company. After I leave, you'll have to manage the funds. If you feel ill, ask Anna to look for Uncle Thomas. He promised me that he would help out."
Her attention turned to the account book as expected. She gasped and clutched her mouth in disbelief. "How could the dividends be so much? C-claude... this money... is clean, right?"
Claude really wanted to tell her that he actually got ten thousand crowns, but he wasn't sure whether she'd faint from it. He nodded assuredly and said, "Of course. It's completely lawful. Don't worry, mom, I won't do anything illegal or cause Lady Maria any losses. In fact, she earned far more than I did."
"That's great," she said with relief, "Lady Maria is our huge benefactor. Not only did she help us settle the debt, she even helped you earn so much money. Claude, you must remember the favours she showed you. It's too bad that you'll be leaving soon and won't be able to continue helping her with the company..."
Claude smiled and nodded. He was really thankful to Maria, but not for paying back their debt. Had it not been for her guidance, he would've had to stumble his way along as a magus without the slightest understanding on the state of magic in the kingdom. He appreciated her selfless guidance and sincerity and how she didn't have any ill intentions towards him.
In fact, Maria's gift of the land and the wooden villa was a payment for the four basic spells he gave her. It was only after Claude helped with the real estate development and the sale of the property to the navy did Maria realise how much value Claude was of to her. She took the initiative to pay off Bloweyk's debt and hoped to secure an exemption for him.
If Maria didn't see Claude's true talent and value, she wouldn't have done so much for him just because she was his teacher in magic and herbalism. The most long-lasting relationships were ones that benefited both sides. Helping one another was the surest way to maintain a relationship.
That was the reason Claude was so conflicted after receiving her letter. If he got the exemption, Lady Maria would in effect become Claude's sponsor. He would then be tied down as a peasant under House Normanley. If things were to naturally progress, Claude would become a servant of the house just like Rodan.
Perhaps most people would dream of getting such a treatment. That wasn't just gaining Maria's favour, Claude had practically joined the ranks of House Normanley. However, his pride as a transmigrator caused him to reject that notion. He didn't transmigrate to this world just to run errands for others. Maria was great to him, but who could say for sure whether the other members of the house would be? Claude would feel shamed as a transmigrator if he got bossed around by Maria's children all day long.
But now, Felidos' conscription order saved him the trouble of refusing Maria's exemption. After deciding on joining the military, Claude felt a huge burden lifted from his shoulders. It was probably due time he left the small town to see the world. Joining the military didn't only mean becoming cannon fodder. There was also a chance of gaining military merit with his comrades.
People are all sorts of contradictory. Claude believed that he shouldn't be limited in his freedom by being tied to a large faction like House Normanley, yet he didn't consider that joining the army would also mean losing his individual freedom. He also had to risk his life on the battlefield in front of enemy fire. The only difference was that he would stand a chance of becoming even more than what he could be by yielding to the kingdom.