5.5 – 3
“Oi oi, dad… that’s just insane.”
In the Lörrich mansion in the heart of Blume, Klaus spat those words out in exasperation as he stood in the family head’s room.
Klaus felt an unfamiliar chill run up his spine, more fitting for the dead of winter than the light of spring. The sun had begun to dip below the horizon, the dusk’s light streaming through the windows casting large shadows across the room.
Klaus faced the current head of the Lörrich family, as well as his father; Rudolph. Even though Klaus’ face had lost some colour, Rudolph’s face looked almost ashen as his eyes gazed downwards.
“I was wondering what was going on when you suddenly began arming, but this? Uncle’s ambitions are nothing compared to all this. Do you seriously even understand what you just said yourself?”
As Klaus confronted him, Rudolph shook his head slightly.
“I know. But, it’s something that only the three heads of the families that serve the Montchat and others close to them know about. It’s a secret that has to be kept, no matter what the cost. At least, that’s what sister said…”
“Well, yeah, ain’t that the damn truth. Something like that, do you know just what would happen if it spilled…!?”
Rudolph looked up at Klaus, who held his head with an angry sigh. There was a slight glint of relief in his eyes, as if he could finally unload at least some of this heavy burden that had been hoisted onto his shoulders suddenly onto Klaus’ as well. But, the one suddenly being pressed upon wasn’t so meek about accepting it.
“And, so, why the hell are you telling me this now? Ah, shit, now that I think about it…”
Klaus came to a realization. He’d always been wondering; just what had been the point of Lucas and Gerda’s antagonism over all these years?
Lucas was a passionate and ambitious man, but he was hardly someone that couldn’t be controlled. Someone who always worked so obviously in his own interest would be simple to entice or to trap. So long as Gerda played her cards right, she could have Lucas do whatever she pleased. But despite having the ability to do that, Gerda had instead always chosen to confront him directly.
If it were simply a matter of manageability, then Lucas would have been a much better candidate as the next leader of the family than Klaus. Klaus had no intention to even listen to Gerda’s intentions, much less carry them to fruition. Klaus would do what was best for the town, according to his own principles. Perhaps, he would actually stand opposed to Gerda on most things.
But yet, Gerda had been determined to have Klaus as the heir.
“Because uncle also had designs on the royal family. There’s no way someone like him could’ve been let in on it.”
The reason why Klaus was more suitable was precisely due to the fact he didn’t possess that sort of towering ambition. He wasn’t blindly passionate either. He knew that certain things were important to bring to the light with a sense of justice, whilst others were best left in the dark.
And this secret was something that needed to be kept well in the shadows. For the sake of House Lörrich, for the sake of Blume… and for the sake of himself.
“…Hey, Klaus. What am I supposed to do now?”
As Klaus ground his teeth in frustration, Rudolph looked at him imploringly. When his father called out to him with such those childish words, Klaus’ expression only darkened further.
Rudolph, the man who was supposed to be his father, called out to his son like a child begging for help.
“Because sister is gone, I don’t know what to do anymore. You understand that, don’t you? You’re the one she chose, after all…”
Rudolph’s sister and Klaus’ aunt, Gerda, had been taken into custody around half a month prior. The news that she had allegedly poisoned Duke Alois didn’t take long to reach Blume.
Gerda was the true power behind the Lörrich family. But, despite the loss of their leader, the house wasn’t thrown into chaos. When Rudolph heard about his sister’s arrest, he didn’t panic, but instead immediately began to muster troops. With Lucas’ mercenaries who had been looking for a new employer alongside the levies he recruited from the town, he pledged his newly formed forces alongside the other noble families to rebel against the House of Montchat.
He didn’t heed Klaus’ or anyone else’s opposition to his actions, and achieved all this within less than two weeks. But, suddenly, he was at a loss.
“Sister only had instructions for me up to this far. But, what do I do now? Should we just fight like this? Or do nothing? The Meyerheims say they’re going to launch an all-out attack, but if I joined in, would sister scold me?”
Rudolph was the sort of man that followed orders to the letter. Despite how absurd and difficult Gerda’s order must have been on such short notice, he had managed to do it all the same. He was skilled at moving the levers of localized power, in that there was no doubt. From a bystander’s point of view, he was an excellent family patriarch.
But, he was barely a shadow of that now. Not even Klaus knew just how pathetic a man his father could really be. He was a useful puppet, but once the puppeteer was gone, he was merely a pretty toy, sitting uselessly on a shelf.
There was something in his father made him think of Alois.
Perhaps, Rudolph was the ideal certain people pushed for Alois to be. If he had never met Camilla, perhaps Klaus would have gone on hating what Alois would become. An empty shell, devoid of personality, that danced to the tune of others. An ideal person for someone like Gerda.
“Klaus, please tell me. Surely you know which path to take next? That’s why sister chose you, isn’t it?”
Rudolph reached out, taking Klaus’ hand in his.
“Sister is always right about everything. All I need to do is follow her advice.”
“…The hell do you mean, ‘right’?”
Klaus couldn’t hold it back anymore, a slight tremor in his low voice. He couldn’t even understand his own father anymore.
“You’ve done something you can’t take back, you know!? This is a flat out rebellion! It’s treason, a crime against the peace of the land!!”
“But, sister told me this was the right thing to do! Sister has never made a mistake, she can’t make a mistake!”
“And because of that, you’ve put our entire house at risk! It’s not just the Lörrich family either! Both Blume, and even all of Mohnton, everything could go up in flames!”
“It wasn’t me!”
Klaus could feel Rudolph’s nails dig into the backs of his hand. Even as he felt the blood drip down his wrist, he was so incensed that he didn’t feel the pain.
“It’s what sister told me to do! The Meyerheims sent out their instructions and the Ende family followed suit! All I’m doing is obeying the traditions of this land!!”
“But, you’re the head of the family!”
“The head is all I am!”
Hearing just how strained his voice sounded, Rudolph covered his mouth. He looked around in a panic, but there was no one else in the room. There was only Klaus, his shadow looming ever larger as the sun continued to set.
“There’s no helping it, can’t you see…?”
After exhaling, Rudolph’s voice changed completely, as if he were trying to convince his son with sweeter words.
“Because, if we go against things like this, will end up like the Brandts. We’d all lose our positions, be chased out of town and have to live in the shadows. How could I let that happen? As the head of the family? As a father?”
Klaus was beginning to feel the pain of just how hard his father was grasping his hand now.
“Hey, Klaus… You’re the only one I have now.”
As darkness began to fill the room more and more, Rudolph’s voice grew softer.
“Please, tell me. I’ll listen to whatever you say.”
Klaus’ face twisted as if he was holding back a laugh. It was just as he said, this man would do whatever Klaus wanted him to. Because of that, he didn’t care for right and wrong, so long as he was told what to do.
What a blissful existence that must be.
Rudolph’s eyes looked at him, full of hope and expectations.
No matter what, Klaus was chosen by Gerda. He couldn’t be wrong.
He would transmit Gerda’s intentions perfectly, and Rudolph could go back to being a happy little puppet. That would keep the Lörrich family, as well as Rudolph himself, away from a ruinous end.
That’s what he believed.
“…You think too much of me, dad.”
But, he didn’t understand the man in front of him. Perhaps, Klaus didn’t entirely understand himself, either.
Despite always thinking of his uncle Lucas as someone utterly contemptible, they were similar in at least one key way.
“I cannot just let things go the way my aunt wants them to.”
Klaus was someone more passionate and rash than he himself knew.
Shaking off Rudolph’s hand, Klaus kicked out at a nearby display case. All sorts of things on its shelf tumbled to the ground, and an ornamental vase shattered to pieces on the floor. Taking one of the jagged edges of the vase, Klaus slashed at his own face.
The pain was immediate this time as the blood quickly seeped down into his collar. From his temple down through into his cheek, he was surprised himself at just how much that hurt, having never had a cut like that before.
Rudolph, meanwhile, was utterly stunned. Then, Klaus suddenly threw the bloodied piece of the vase that he had cut himself with at his father. Although he was completely confused, Rudolph caught it almost reflexively.
“Klaus… what are you…”
Rudolph’s words were drowned out by the sudden sound of a number of footsteps in the hall outside. The servants, startled by the sudden unusual noise, burst into the room.
The first thing they noticed when they stepped inside was Klaus, blood streaming down his face, as well as Rudolph, who held the weapon. Before the servants could come to grips with the scene, Klaus shouted at them.
“Restrain him! We were only talking and he suddenly attacked me! He’s lost his mind!”
Rudolph could barely comprehend what Klaus was saying at first. Responding to Klaus’ words, several of the servants seized Rudolph straight away. In the meantime, it was all he could do to stare in pure shock, not offering any resistance.
As Rudolph was held on the floor, Klaus looked down on him, cradling his wound with his hand. Even in a situation like this, he didn’t deny doing anything or plead his case. But, desperate for someone to tell him what to do, his eyes wandered for such a person.
“…I’ll take care of the Lörrich family. So, let me see to the rest.”
Klaus spat that at Rudolph, who didn’t even have the spirit to respond anymore.
“But, don’t think I’m just going to let you retire in comfort. Not until you know just what it is that you’ve done!”
Even if they were father and son, Klaus couldn’t so easily forgive Rudolph.
Perhaps this was his sense of justice talking. Or, perhaps he was just disappointed in Rudolph as a father. Maybe it could well have been his anger at how he dragged his entire family into a crisis.
But, to go even further, perhaps it was for something purer that drove him to do it… such as friendship.
“Brother… you did that to yourself, didn’t you?”
It was a day after the uproar. Franz, who entered his room without permission, said that to Klaus as he packed his things.
“You’ve got a sharp eye, huh?”
Klaus responded without turning around to look at him. The wound had been covered with bandages and the bleeding had stopped, but it still hurt to move his mouth.
“It’s easy to see. That’s not the kind of gash that someone else can give you in a fight.”
“Well, you might be right about that… Was that something you learned when you had one of your little sword dates with uncle? It’s surprisingly useful knowledge.”
“Just why did you do something like that?”
Ignoring Klaus’ joke, Franz kept speaking seriously. But, Klaus didn’t stop packing. Most of his luggage were various medicines and painkillers, as well as some simple food to eat on the road. He didn’t need to bring a change of clothes. He needed to travel as lightly as possible.
“Because that was the kindest way to do things.”
Franz looked at his brother dubiously. From his point of view, what Klaus did was far from kind. After cutting up his own face, he declared his father a madman.
His father had been locked away in a single room of the mansion, under guard. Even though an entire day had passed, he didn’t say a single word, simply staring at the wall as if the light had left his soul.
Thanks to Rudolph’s behaviour, as well as the sudden and near inexplicable armament of the town’s men in a rebellion against the Montchat family, it didn’t take much for the household to believe Klaus and regard Rudolph as having lost his mind.
“It was the kindest way to quickly take over the household. If dad was calm, it’d be hard to convince anyone. Hell, even if dad was babbling his nonsense like before, it might have been hard if someone was suckered by it. I need to keep him under guard as well.”
In the first place, there was no way he could inherit the house normally in time. He needed to take leadership straight away in order to nullify Rudolph’s power and keep him under lock and key. Doing it this way satisfied all the conditions at once.
“Just what are you planning…”
“For now, I’m heading to the capital.”
After finishing packing, Klaus turned back to Franz. Klaus was dressed in a travelling cloak that was easy to move in. He was ready to go straight away.
“Whilst I’m away, I’ll leave you in charge of things. Make sure to keep any eye on dad. I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t have the courage to do it, but make sure he doesn’t hang himself or try and chew off his tongue. That guy is gonna be an important witness.”
“Brother, I don’t know what you’re thinking of doing at all? In the first place, what do you mean by leaving it to me? I’m still under house arrest?”
Franz was still technically being held in custody at home because of everything that happened at the beginning of spring. He was forbidden to leave the house or contact anyone from the outside. At best, the only people who he could talk to were the maids that cleaned his room and clothes, as well as Klaus on occasion.
“I’ll take care of your house arrest. But, as much as you can possibly do, don’t let any harm come to Blume. Don’t fight against the Montchat family either. Think you’re up to it?”
Klaus didn’t clear up Franz’s doubts. As Klaus just kept saying what he wanted to say, Franz’s eyes narrowed with suspicion slightly.
But, Klaus looked right back at him. After a slightly tense moment, Franz sighed.
“Fine, I got it. If you’re going to go this far, I’m sure you have your reasons.”
“Sorry about all this. You’re really the only one I can rely on here.”
With that, Klaus clapped Franz on the shoulder.
Then, he kept walking out of the room, not turning back even once.
On a fast horse, he should be able to reach the capital from Blume after a full day’s ride. With Klaus’ lack of physical stamina, though, it should take longer.
But, he had to hurry. He knew that time was of the essence.
Both for Alois, and for Gerda’s faction.