The territory’s situation grew worse and worse. When people held onto him and asked for his help, at first, he felt responsible for and proud of the duty he was saddled with. It’s as if he had become a true member of the barony now, an important person who’d contribute. Like he had become an adult.
But as people continued to come and see him, he soon realized just how serious things had really become. They all kept begging the teenage greenhorn to coax the baron out.
“The sheep are in bad shape right now. The fief’s residents are saying that there’s a surge of stillborn lambs. I left a report on your bed, Brother. Did you read it?”
The territory’s condition teetered more and more for the worst. It had only been a few months since the people had fallen victim to the plague, but this time the sheep were dying. The adult sheep weren’t showing any symptoms yet, but it was worrying how that newly born lambs were like that.
“I think we need to gather and have a meeting, but Brother, you need to write letters to inquire what condition the other areas are in.”
The baron’s voice growled out. Raymond looked up.
“Can’t you just shut up?”
For a moment, all Raymond could do was gape in surprise. No one had ever talked to him like that before. The baron and Raymond had a large age gap, so they never really had any serious arguments. They only ever had small, teasing scuffles before whenever the baron had been a bit a bit mean, but even then, their parents would stop him.
But what did he say to Raymond just now?
Before Raymond could recover from the shock however, the baron continued.
“So right now, a little punk like you is saying that I’m out of my mind when I’m already disgusting as it is, huh. Hey, so are you the only one who’s sane here, that’s what you’re saying? The sheep, what? The sheep, you say? What kind of situation exactly is going on with the sheep that it’s enough to allow you to speak like that to me?”
Raymond bit his lower lip. The situation was dire right now. There were many more important issues compared to any broken engagement. Should Raymond have comforted his brother first as his family? But from his experience, the baron had only taken any consolation sent his way as mockery.
“Brother, I’m sorry. But—”
“Are you talking back to me? Disgusting punk. You think you’re the Lord now? Huh? Hey, you’re nothing but a kid who’s freeloading in my house. Do you feel good right now? Are you happy to pretend like you’re the Baron? That’s why you keep hounding me with this bullshit, huh?”
“Brother! What are you saying!”
“I’ve seen a lot of disgusting scoundrels like you. Flattering and trying to get someone to be on your side only to take their fortune and peerage title, then after taking it all, you’ll bare your teeth. Disgusting rat… Doesn’t even know how to be thankful to his older brother.”
The baron threw a flowerpot. Raymond watched the glass container get smashed to pieces. The flowers previously inside them were withered. The person who used to care for that flower was Amy, who died along with her mother. No one had replaced her since then.
Raymond had been thinking about that, until the baron grabbed him by the collar.
The baron had changed.
The young man, who had once been cheerful and dashing, had now become a parasitic monster inside this household. People would not come near him anymore. Thuds could be heard inside sometimes, clothes being torn at other times. The sound of things being broken as well.
Tensions rose inside the mansion. Raymond hated this atmosphere. This kind of atmosphere was even more strange and horrifying because he had never experienced this before. The servants now avoided the baron entirely, while they exaggeratedly acted bright and cheerful in front of Raymond.
People’s side-eyed glances.
People’s mocking sneers.
All the eyes that were directed on Baron Saytes were stained with fear and disgust. Raymond did not know it at the time. Because he never saw it personally. And people didn’t look at him like that.
Raymond’s overturned routine was so new to him. All his attention went to enduring his brother’s change, not having any opportunity to grieve their parents’ demise.
The portraits left behind of their parents immortalized their gentle faces, but that sentiment was there only because of how heavy Baron Saytes’ existence was. Raymond’s deceased family lived on in his memories as kind people, while his only living family was cruel. That was the problem.
“Today as well, O Lord, thank you for providing our daily bread.”
And it literally was just bare essential. Raymond stared at the meal in front of him and realized how exceedingly different his home was from before. His meal consisted of oatmeal, bread and chicken. That was all. It was a frugal meal that couldn’t be compared to what he used to have before.
If the territory lord’s household had meals this bad, how much exactly had the situation deteriorated?
When Raymond couldn’t pick up his silverware, the baron snarled out.
“You find it hard to eat with me, is that it?”
“You look like you’re losing your appetite.”
“What are you talking about, Brother. That’s impossible.”
Raymond replied hastily. However, the baron didn’t seem convinced by this. His thick, mottled chin twitched as he spoke.
“That’s exactly it. You look like you’re about to throw up.”
“Brother, please don’t think so drastically. I was just thinking that…”
Raymond trailed off. He was just thinking that… this household was ruined. But was this something that he could say? While contemplating whether he should or should not, the baron’s expression crumpled up as he pushed his plate away.
“What do I even expect from you?”
Brothers must work together to overcome their hardships.
But Raymond’s hardships were from his brother.
Baron Saytes’ attitude got worse and worse, while Raymond had fewer and fewer people to talk to. Just like any other older brother, Raymond’s brother was sometimes mean, but their parents always intervened and stopped things from escalating. However, their parents were no longer here. Raymond’s only guardian was his older brother, Baron Saytes.
* * *
“Are you also going to see His Lordship?”
Xenon bumped into Raymond in the hallway, and he raised a hand.
“What happened to the estate?”
Xenon was a hunter, and he rarely came to the mansion in person. Raymond rarely ever went to the hunting grounds after the previous baron and baroness passed away, so he was very happy to see Xenon.
Xenon had a knack of demonstrating cool things that boys went crazy about. He tended to smile and laugh a lot, but right now, his demeanor wasn’t as bright.
“I have something to tell His Lordship. Are you doing alright?”
“I’m fine. But Brother is…”
Raymond was heartbroken as he thought of the baron.
“Brother is isolating himself more and more inside his room. He needs to come out and move. He needs to talk to people.”
“Who said that?”
“It’s what a smart person says, so it must be right… But I don’t really know much about that.”
“Huh? Then, Xenon, do you think it’s better to leave Brother alone?”
“Sometimes that helps, too.”
“Thanks for the advice. But I don’t think that’s the answer either. If we leave Brother alone, he’d just… continue like that.”
‘Squealing like a pig.’
Raymond started walking as he spoke. Xenon’s advice didn’t sound very helpful. However, even if he felt that, Raymond needed to remain courteous. Unlike the baron. No, don’t think too deeply about it. The baron was the only family he had left.
“Do you have to meet my brother right now?”
“Pardon…? Did something happen?”
Xenon looked down at Raymond in surprise. The baron’s office wasn’t all that far away now. Raymond clasped Xenon’s hand.
“Yesterday, the Evans family’s servants took this month’s budget. They said it’s to pay for the interest.”
“What? Hoh… They’re really taking advantage of the situation, aren’t they.”
“That’s why he might be in an especially bad mood today.”
“Young Master Raymond.”
Xenon spoke grimly.
“Don’t be surprised.”
“Please don’t be surprised. I heard from James. His Lordship isn’t working at all right now. The situation is grave, but all the Baron is doing is to scream and yell inside his room. James is trying to do what he can, but even that has a limit.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You remember Count Landon? The godfather of both you and His Lordship. The Count sent a letter, but the maids said that His Lordship tore it apart… I don’t know what it’s about, but… I heard that the Count sent a letter directly addressed to you, Young Master Raymond. Not to His Lordship.”
In other words, the count considered Raymond to be the actual successor of the household.
So that’s why James, the butler, had such a gloomy look when their eyes met as they passed by each other. Then it wasn’t surprising why his older brother was so sensitive around him.
Raymond felt dizzy. He was only twelve years old. The burden on his shoulders was too heavy.
“I’m too young. And… I don’t want to take what’s my brother’s.”
“Since Brother was declared as the heir, it’s his rightful position. You’re all thinking out of line.”
“I don’t really know much about that, but… Anyway, James will tell you about it soon, Young Master. I’ve told you in advance so that you won’t be surprised, but, ah, gosh.”
Xenon scratched his head.