The Red-bricked Mansion
Morssen’s complaints were meaningless to Claude. Nobody should expect a farmer who spent his entire 26 years within 50 kilometres of Whitestag Town to have any sort of knowledge about the scope of what he could ask for.
A poor farmer who couldn’t even reliable get food and lived in abject poverty his entire life would never think about things like deeds, sobriquets, official positions or other ethereal luxuries. Bread and housing was the extent of the riches that existed in his mind.
The greatest wealth Habis had known before then was a few silver coins he had once glimpsed in the inn’s owner’s hands. The highest official he had ever talked to was the tax collector and the local baron’s butler. The extent of his interactions with the latter was ‘Hello’, ‘How dare you show me disrespect! You should be whipped!’
Just asking the prince for the house had already taken more courage than he ever knew he possessed. He had even prepared to be beaten for daring to be so audacious. To the young Habis, the Hogg-style building was the largest and most beautiful building he had ever seen. He would look at the young masters and ladies enter the mansion in their luxurious carriages, from afar when he was younger.
He believed the red-bricked mansion was the heaven his parents had told him about in his bedtime stories. The place where food rolled off the table like sand through one’s fingers. He dreamt of spending a winter in there without running the risk of losing a finger to frostbite. His dream growing up had been to be a servant in the mansion, but a position was never open.
Karjad’s agreement was the greatest thing that had ever happened to him and he fainted on the spot.
The prince kept his promise. He had his men leave the building alone, taking from it only the weapons and documents. He left even the vault untouched.
When he woke up again and finished being treated, he walked around the house like a ghost. He gawked at everything he saw, he touched every piece of silverware, every glass, every lamp, every gold-plated handle, every painting, every sculpture, every curtain, every rug. He had to make sure every time that the thing he was indeed existed and had not been dreamt up by his short-circuiting mind.
Karjad stayed in the town for just three more days before leaving with his men. Habis didn’t follow him. He was too injured. It was good he had been injured, if he did not have that excuse, he would have had to flat out refuse to join them because he just wasn’t willing to leave the house.
“If that old bastard had better foresight, he would have gone with the prince instead of playing watchdog over this house! He might have earned us a manor, a castle even, had he gone along. Instead we’re just commoners with an above-average house!”
Morssen, of course, never discussed whether his father could have survived the rest of the war had he marched with the prince’s forces. None of the men in the brigade survived the war. The entire brigade was wiped out when the prince was chased out of the capital. Only eleven of the men that left the town with the prince that day survived, but they all became nobles, the lowest rank was a baronet.
They shocked the entire prefecture when they returned to visit their family after the war ended. The people only remembered those eleven’s glory, not the hundreds that had left with them and never returned, who only achieved the rank of fertiliser in some far-off field.
Morssen was just like them. He didn’t experience the war, so he knew nothing about how horrible it had been and could talk about it casually. He acted like it was a simple thing for his father to go to war and that choosing not to made him the ultimate coward.
Claude, instead, thought of his grandfather as an honest farmer and an all-round good person. Almost the entire town came to visit when they heard about his reward. His story quickly morphed into one where he was the town’s first hero, the man who had single-handedly wiped out the oppressive noble and the hundreds of men that guarded his mansion.
He had no family anymore, his parents dead early on in his life, so he welcomed the visits and hosted them graciously. The mansion indeed became his heaven. He didn’t keep track of his expenses, however, and his wealth decreased at a visible pace. His silverware and wine glasses also quickly became less. When he surveyed his house a few months later, he had lost everything, even the rug under his bed. Not even the golden frames around his paintings were left. Even his gold-plated door handles had gone the way of the dodo.
He finally realised how much his guests appreciated his hospitality.
The mansion was way too big for his lonesome self. The attic aside, the first and second floors had four rooms, and each had its own toilet and washroom. The ground floor had a grand hall, a dining hall, two kitchens, three storehouses, four servant rooms, and a toilet.
He couldn’t keep up with maintaining the house, it took him two days just to sweep the place, and it quickly deteriorated. It was already coming apart at the seems just a year after he got it.
Habis learned his lessons and carefully watched over what little he had left. He didn’t want to hire a servant in fear the person would steal his remaining wealth. He eventually decided to get a wife instead. His target came to be the miller’s only daughter, Mollie Miller.
The chubby girl was quick to fall for the town’s first hero. It certainly helped that the 19-year-old was in the midst of a spell of romanticism. Habis was her knight in shining armour.
Her father, Carmendor Miller, however, was one of the few who didn’t think much of Habis. He believed the brat only got lucky and would squander his wealth away in no time. He was looking for a successor to take over his mill and look after his daughter and Habis wasn’t it.
He turned Habis’s request for his daughter’s hand down. He said Habis was neither an honest nor a brave person. He would have joined Karjad were he truly what everyone said he was. It didn’t help that his old friends had turned on him for not hosting the same parties anymore. The miller didn’t want his daughter married to a stinge who was only looking for a servant.
The true love of a father for his daughter. Habis wouldn’t have it, however, and Mollie, being the naïve romantic, went along with him. Carmendor returned home one day to find his Habis and his daughter in then nude beside the grinder. The bread was baked and there was nothing he could do. Unwilling as he was, he had no choice but to let the two marry to avoid a scandal.
Mollie thus became Habis’s wife, wedded by a priest from the moon shrine. The miller, who hated Habis with a passion for literally stealing his daughter, soon found his worries come true. His daughter spent her days in servant attire toiling away in the mansion.
“You can’t go on like this. No matter how much money you have, you’ll run out if you don’t have any income. You don’t have any children yet. Once they come, however, you’ll suddenly find your money worth much less than it is now. You have to find a job and earn your keep,” the father had advised his despised son-in-law.
“Should I cultivate some land?” Habis had asked.
“Do you think you can still raise the hoe at this point?”
Habis was red-faced. His year of debauchery had left him unfit and bursting at the seams. He would probably drop dead before he even reached his fields.
“I suppose I can help you out at your place,” Habis hinted.
“No, I’m still more than able to handle the mill,” the man nearly yelled, “Why not, for the first time in your life, use that hollow, wooden brain?! You have gold, so pick it up! Haven’t you thought about your mansion at all?”
“Mansion? What about it?” Habis asked, alert.
“I don’t have my eyes on it,” the miller snapped, “There are too many rooms, it’s too much for you and Mollie alone. Haven’t you ever thought of using the rooms to make money?”
“Using the rooms? How?”
The old man sighed. He had hoped his son-in-law had at least this much sense. But it seemed he would have to draw pictures for him.
“Turn your mansion into an inn. Think about it. It used to belong to Baron Rodeman. It’s well-known. Its guests were all famous and many are curious about this place.
“If you renovate the rooms and make it into an inn, I’m sure many will be willing to pay a healthy sum to stay here and experience a baron’s daily life for a while. You won’t actually have to work, you’ll earn money just for owning the place! And you can leave the place to your kids once you kick the bucket. It can become a family heirloom in its own right.”
Habis was easily convinced.
“Trust me, Habis. You won’t regret it. I’m sure a century from now your descendants will be proud of you.”
So the red-bricked inn was born.