The Apprentice

“Young man, where did you get such a brooch?”

Adolf was pulled from his prayer for some luck by an older voice. He turned to look at the man who seemed to have appeared from nowhere and gave him his best smile.

“A dear friend gave it to me.”

“Quite a gift,” he said.

“Yes, Percival comes from a very generous family.”

“Well, I had half a mind to attempt to offer to buy it from you, but I don’t believe my sister would condone such behavior.”

Adolf laughed at that, “I cannot say that I would ever sell it.”

“This Percival means that much to you?”

Adolf hummed, “It is… a matter of gratitude.”

Adolf sighed into the cool air and drew his hand over the sleek lines of the dagger hidden in his cloak. Wolfgang and Helena had presented him with the cloak and dagger all of a few days before they were killed. He didn’t think that he would make it out of the Black Forest with anything, yet of all the things that could have survived that trek the cloak and dagger made it through. He’d scraped together enough money in Troyes to buy a suit for proper interviews, but not much more than that. With the strange chill still clinging to Paris, it was a saving grace when he managed to be stable enough to start interviewing for more than simple day labor.

The brooch had felt more like a good luck charm than anything given the note that came with it.

Dear Adolf, it read, I just had a feeling that you could use this. Best, Percival.

He remembered unwrapping it and being overwhelmed with its beauty and the sheer cost it probably took to make it. It was mostly made of different gems artfully set in gold and silver. Had it been from anyone else, he would have sent it back without a second thought, but he’d long since learned from Helena to never doubt the gifts that a Leonhard gave.

We don’t give our wares away without reason, she said as she handed him his very first dagger, It means you’re important to us.

“His mother told me a long time ago that their family did not give things away without a reason.”

The man smiled at him, “Is this Percival of yours a Leonhard?”

Adolf looked at the man in shock, “Yes, actually. How did you know that?”

“Oh, you can never mistake a Leonhard piece,” he shook his head, “My father owned a brooch similar to it. He said he paid a pretty penny for it, but it served him well when making a good impression. It would seem that your Percival wanted you to make a good impression.”

Adolf nodded, “I would guess so. My name is Adolf.”

“Adolf,” he repeated, “Strong name. Old Germany?”

“Yes.”

“Welcome to Paris,” he said, “Call me Raphael. What is a young German man doing in Paris so far from home?”

“Honestly?” Adolf asked, “Looking for a job.”

The man hummed and sat down beside him on the bench as it was clear that the bus would not be arriving any time soon. His scrye book chimed and he pulled it out to read the message.

Thank you for your application, but we have decided to move forward with another candidate.

Adolf groaned as the man hissed, “I know the sound of rejection.”

Adolf nodded, “It’s the third one today. I can’t tell if merchants in Paris simply aren’t hiring or aren’t looking to hire foreign.”

He chuckled and then paused before looking at Adolf, “You’re… a merchant by trade?”

“I was only an apprentice for a private merchant family,” Adolf said with a sigh, “Maybe I should rethink my resume.”

The man hummed, “Well, I’m in trade myself. The Parisian market for trade is as elite as the rest of the city sometimes.”

Adolf groaned, “Your company wouldn’t happen to be hiring for a job I could apply for?”

The man hummed, “Actually, we probably are, but if you’ve only apprenticed for a merchant family instead of a company, it might be a bit much.”

Adolf frowned, “Are you telling me that I can’t apply or that I shouldn’t?”

The man chuckled and stood up as the transport coasted towards them, “I like you. Why not come with me to my company? At least if I bring in an applicant I can tell my sister I was out recruiting.”

Adolf wasn’t sure what to make of it, but he was handy with a dagger if the man tried anything, so he agreed and stepped on the transport with him. When they arrived at Rafael’s stop, Adolf felt his stomach flip and his hands grow clammy in his pockets.

“You’re… a merchant for Encre Bleue?” Adolf asked.

He grinned at Adolf, “So you’ve heard of us.”

Adolf scoffed, “Heard? Who hasn’t heard of Encre Bleue if they know anything about trade.”

Encre Bleue wasn’t Paris’ oldest trading company, but it was well-known and well-connected with ports in Asia. It held some rather lucrative and exclusive contracts for certain imports into the port of Paris and also managed the transport and trade contract with Zephyrine. Highly trusted and highly functioning, it was only one of the trading companies in Paris that he hadn’t applied to.

“Do you really use only blue ink?”

Rafael laughed, “We really do. Come on–”

“Raphael!”

He winced at the woman’s voice and Adolf looked up at the older woman in awe. She was pretty in a very traditionally French way with only a spattering of grey hair. More than that, he’d seen her before, or someone that looked like her.

“Genevieve,” he groaned, “Don’t yell at me. I was out–”

“I got the police report,” she said and came closer, “Are you okay?”

He rolled his eyes, “All this time and I’m still your baby brother?”

“Always,” she said and hugged him close, “I hope you’re actually here to interview and not– Is that a Leonhard piece?”

“Yes,” he said.

Her brow furrowed, “Are you a trader?”

“I’m… actually looking for a job.”

Her eyes widened, and she looked at Raphael who took Adolf by the shoulders, “Nope. He’s mine. I have an interview to conduct, right this way, Adolf.”

She rolled her eyes as Raphael ushered him inside, up the stairs, and to the office at the end of the pathway. He ushered Adolf into a chair and closed the door behind him with a sigh.

“Sorry about that,” Raphael said and walked around Adolf to sit behind the desk, “For formal introductions. My name is Raphael Moreau, co-owner of Encre Bleue. Genevieve is my sister, the other owner.”

“Owner…”

He smiled, “That’s right. Now, let’s see that resume. My sister and I were actually hoping to hire an assistant to help manage things.”

Adolf opened his bag and pulled out his interview folder before handing it to the man.

“References?”

“They’re inside, sir–”

A knock sounded on the door, “Come in.”

The door opened, and someone walked in, “Got those reports for you.”

“Bless you and your whole family,” Raphael said, and Adolf looked at the young man who snorted.

“A little self-serving aren’t you?”

Raphael blew him a kiss as he read through the report, and the young man grimaced before looking at Adolf. Aside from being rather handsome, the man’s eyes were two different colors. One was a rich blue and the other was a dark grey. Adolf wasn’t sure what the strangely nervous feeling in his gut was, but it made him smile and extend his hand.

“Hello, I’m Adolf.”

The man grinned and shook hands with him. The man had a strong grip that was oddly warm as a zap of something passed between them, “A pleasure to meet you, Armond. This man who is interviewing you is my uncle. I assume you’ve met my mother already.”

Raphael signed it, “Tell your mother she’s doing an excellent job raising you.”

He rolled his eyes and took his paperwork back, “See you around, Adolf.”

Armond left the office with a grin and a wink at Adolf that made his stomach jump.

“You worked for Wolfgang Lang of Löffeltal?”

“Yes,” Adolf said turning his attention back to Raphael, “My mother and I lived with him and his family for a number of years. I wasn’t aware that he was well-known outside of Germany.”

“Well, the Lang name is one a great number of merchants know for fair dealings and excellent quality. I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting Wolfgang and his wife once, but he is no doubt a man whose stamp of approval we can believe in,” Raphael offered him a hand to shake, “I am looking forward to seeing you grow, Adolf. When can you start?”

Adolf grasped the man’s hand. His eyes burned, as he shook the man’s hand, “As soon as you need me to, sir.”

“Great! I have quite a few things you can get started on right now, and none of that sir business. We’re a family,” he stood up and poked his head out, “Genevieve, could you get this young man’s paperwork together for hiring effective today?”

“So soon?”

“He worked for Wolfgang Lang, I don’t think we’ll find better… Oh, and he knows a Leonhard. Obviously, he’s good people.”

“Good enough for me,” she said, “Come into my office.”

Adolf thanked the man again and followed her voice into her office next door. She was, as far as he figured, the operations manager of the man’s business and made sure they stayed in the red. The two of them ran a great operation from what he knew of Encre Bleue and from the orderliness of the paperwork she presented to him, he knew he’d made the right decision to follow the man halfway across town.

When the paperwork was all signed, she gave him a stack of orders to record in the books and audit on the floor and showed him where he could put his things during the working day. He met the rest of the Moreau family and their workforce including Armond’s twin sister, Celeste, who was as nerve-wracking as Armond and also had eyes that didn’t match. Where Armond’s eyes were like the sky and storm, hers were like the sky and earth.

Between auditing, logging orders, helping catalog shipments, and learning everyone’s names, he felt as though he was practically floating and so busy that he didn’t notice the time ticking by until it was time to leave for the day. Genevieve gave him a hug, Raphael pat him on the shoulder, and they told him that he did well on his first day.

“We didn’t run you ragged, did we?”

Adolf shook his head, “No way. It’s… like working for Wolfgang and Helena again.”

“Helena, his wife?” Raphael asked, “I thought she was a blacksmith.”

“Helena Leonhard,” Adolf said, “Of the Leonhard family.”

Their eyes widened, and Raphael let out a low whistle, “Well, I’m glad I met you. If you had gotten an interview with someone else in Paris, they’d be asking for all of your Leonhard and Lang contacts.”

Genevieve shook her head, “Best to keep that close to the chest, dear. Only a few people have Leonhard and Lang pieces, and all of Paris is salivating for more.”

“Though I suppose your Percival won’t have any trouble making a living,” Raphael said.

Percival, he thought as he headed back to the little townhome he shared with Juliette.

He remembered once that Percival had said something about going to France and spreading the Leonhard and Lang name as far as he could before coming back to lead Löffeltal. He wondered if that dream had died with his family or if by some chance that Percival was still interested in achieving that dream.

Juliette had apparently returned a few hours prior and sat reading a book in the living area when he arrived. He didn’t recognize the book from the name on the spine, but he gathered that it was some sort of textbook on geopolitics from the name.

“Juliette!”

She looked up and smiled, “So… they hired you?”

“Yes!” he walked across the room to pull out his scrye mirror, “I worked until closing. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much in one day since–”

Adolf choked on the sentiment but shook the stab of grief away. It had been over a year since they’d died, yet their absence was still as painful as the day they were killed. He hadn’t thought about it because he hadn’t had a chance to, but how much had been made possible by those two wonderful people and their gracious hearts?

How is Percival faring?

“That’s good! Congratulations,” Juliette said, “Please tell me you won’t be too busy to give me that crash course in trade?”

Adolf smirked, “Of course not. Let me speak to my mother first, and I’ll–“

“Adolf, what a pleasant surprise!”

He turned and grinned at his mother through the mirror. She seemed well. Color had returned to her cheeks, and her eyes had lost their vacantness.

“Mother, Encre Bleue hired me! I started today!”

She smiled and clapped, “Congratulations, dear! I’m so happy for you. What will you be doing? Do you like the people you’re working with?”

“The owners want to take me on as a formal assistant, mother. They all seem rather nice.

Her eyes widened in shock and then narrowed, “Go on, Adolf. They haven’t asked anything untoward of you, have they?”

Adolf felt his cheeks heat, “No, mother. They knew Wolfgang. The man who hired me at least knew him and Helena.”

Her eyes widened, “How?”

“They did business together. Apparently, the Lang reputation carries even here to Paris, so does the Leonhard name. Wolfgang gave me a letter of recommendation a few days before…”

“Helena,” his mother gasped. “She… she too gave me a letter of recommendation a few days before… She said I should apply at the Royal Forge.”

Adolf worried his lip, “But… why? It’s like… they knew.”

She shook her head, “Magic has run in the Leonhard and Lang family since before recorded history. It’s possible that one of them, if not both of them were seers.”

“And Percival?” he said.

“It’s possible.”

Adolf nodded, “Percival gave me the brooch that started the conversation. I’m not surprised just… awed, I guess.”

She nodded solemnly, “There isn’t a day I don’t think of them and you and Percival in Paris.”

He smiled, “You’ll be here soon enough, mother. I’m sure I can convince Percival to come out and eat with us at least once.”

“That would be nice. I should know soon when I can be moved to Paris.”

They don’t talk long as Adolf has promised to give Juliette a crash course of what he knows. They eat dinner, talk economics, and find themselves asleep long before the usual time they go to bed. In the morning, they head out to their respective places of work.

The week goes on, one long day after another until the tax bills arrived in the mail and Adolf sighed looking at the bills as Juliette opened her mail on the other side of the room and seemed to count out a small satchel of gold.

“The tax bills are here for me and my mother,” he sighed, “There go my savings.”

“What do you mean?”

He turned the bills towards her, and Juliette scoffed, “Tell them to correct it. Isn’t your mother in the hospital and currently your dependent?”

“Yes, but what does that have to do with anything? Don’t taxes generally get higher?”

She frowned, “Adolf, you’re Zephyrinian. Old Germany is a territory under the Grande Duc. “

“Yes, I know that. So?”

“Zephyrinian taxes don’t ever change for citizens unless you hold office.”

Adolf frowned, “They don’t?”

“No, and you certainly don’t pay them when you haven’t worked. Your mother should be getting a sum for her illness. Have you not filed her paperwork?”

Adolf stared dumbfounded at her and sat down to open the rest of his mail, “Hold that thought because I have so many questions.”

Juliette sat beside him as he read the letter from Healer Michael DeLuna. The letter informed him that he had filed Adolf’s mother’s dependency claim and that he should be receiving a letter or some form of contact about following up with the claim from the Zephyrinian embassy in Versailles.

“I am so lost right now.”

“Don’t worry. I’ve had to write to Stuttgart about my incorrect tax bills since the Marquis took over. I’m just hoping that the Zephyrinian Embassy in Versailles accepts tax payments,” Adolf opened his last letter and found it to be from the Zephyrinian Embassy asking him to come in to finish filing the claim. Juliette grinned, “I was going to stop by on my way home Monday. We could meet there if you’d like”

“That would be great.”

Adolf held off on asking questions as he gathered all the documentation the letter asked for as well as his checkbook. On Monday, he met Juliette at the Palace gates after work and together they found the Zephyrinian Embassy’s office on the compound thanks to directions from a few knights. It’s more of a small parlor in the palace, but the man seated at the main desk smiled kindly and greeted them in German.

“How did you know we’re from Germany?” Juliette asked.

The man smiled, “It’s one of my many talents. Welcome Adolf, Juliette. If you’d like to take a seat the officials you’ll need to meet with will be out of their meetings shortly.”

“What the hell is going on?” Adolf asked.

“Not a clue,” Juliette said, “I didn’t know they had Seers in Paris.”

Adolf hummed, “This is all confusing. I feel kind of stupid since I’ve been old enough to pay taxes for years now, but I’ve never heard about any of this.”

“It’s not as though you had to worry about it before,” Juliette pat his shoulder, and Adolf tried to take some comfort from it, “Don’t worry about it. They’ll explain everything.”

He believed that but couldn’t believe that he and his mother hadn’t known about it. but the door down the hall opened and out walked Percival along with two older men and a woman.

“Take care of yourself, Percival. We shall be in touch.”

“Thank you.”

Percival met Adolf’s gaze and nodded, “Hello, how is your job treating you?”

“Fine,” Adolf flinched, “Wait, how did you know l got hired?”

He shrugged, “A feeling. You’re here to file for your mom and back tax returns?”

Adolf nodded slowly, “Yes… How did you know?”

“It’s tax time,” he said, “What else would you be here for? Are you going to change your place of residence?”

Adolf frowned, “Why… would I– Never mind, why should I do that?”

“So you’re billed through the embassy,” he said and looked at Juliette, “And you?”

“I… didn’t even know you could do that. Don’t we have to wait a certain amount of time?”

“Not if you’re on a lease somewhere,” Percival said, “And you are, aren’t you? Here in Paris?”

“Yes.”

“You two have Paris-based jobs.”

“Yes.”

“Then, you can.”

“But… won’t that change our citizenship?” Adolf asked, “I’m already confused about Zephyrine taxes. I’d like to stay out of French taxes if at all possible.”

“Not if you don’t want it to,” Percival said, “Your birth records don’t change just because you move.”

Juliette hummed and then gasped, “Percival, you’re a Lang.”

Percival looked at her as if patiently waiting, but Adolf couldn’t fathom what he was waiting for.

“Was… that a question?”

Adolf snorted a laugh as Juliette flushed, “Yes…?”

“Yes, I am,” he said.

“Where did you meet a Leonhard to give you this clasp and–” she cut herself off and narrowed her eyes at him, “Langs… are usually brunette.”

“My mother was blonde,” he said, “Blue-eyed, too.”

She nodded, “Okay… and this clasp?”

Adolf burst into laughter.

“What’s so funny, Adolf?”

“Percival Leonhard,” Percival said, “My mother was Helena Leonhard.”

Juliette’s eyes bulged, “That’s… just not fair.”

“What?” Adolf asked.

“How could so much talent converge into one person?”

Adolf shook his head, “It is the hand that was dealt.”

“Favorable,” Juliette grumbled, and both Adolf and Percival flinched at the word.

“Some would say so,” he said quietly.

Adolf winced as Juliette opened her mouth to say something.

“Juliette Müller?” someone called.

Juliette stood up, “More on this later. I have so many questions for you. Don’t go running away.”

“You have my address,” Percival said, “How am I supposed to do that?”

Adolf’s eyes widened at the response, but he ended up smiling as the tension eased out of him. He hadn’t been sure how Percival would react to Juliette’s words about the hand he’d been dealt in life, but hearing the immediate quip was promising. Maybe Juliette, in her own special way, was good for Percival. Adolf thought it would just be too painful to see her at all given the resemblance she had to his late sisters and mother. Hel, it was hard for him to look at Juliette sometimes because of the resemblance..

Maybe things are getting better for him?

The question burned in his throat, but he didn’t ask it. They were somewhere in between where they used to be and just acquaintances, he didn’t want to mess that up.

Juliette glowered at him and walked away as Adolf smirked and looked up at Percival, “Wait until she finds out you just turned seventeen.”

Percival shrugged again, “It makes no difference to me.”

“We should go out,” Adolf said, “For your birthday that is.”

Percival tensed, and Adolf raised his hands, “Nothing fancy. Nothing celebratory, just… we haven’t seen each other in a while and…”

Percival turned to him, “I’ll be busy this week, but… how about next week when your mother gets here?”

Adolf smiled and nodded, “Sounds great.”

Percival nodded and walked towards the exit when Adolf called him back, “Wait, how do you know that?”

Percival tilted his head and shrugged, “A feeling.”

He left without further explanation and Adolf was sure that was the only answer he’d ever get from Percival with regards to his feelings.

A few moments later the receptionist called for him. The caseworker was a woman who had the nicest smile Adolf had ever seen. She introduced herself and asked him if he had any questions before they began. It was a strange thing to sit across from someone of the Zephyrine government who seemed so nice. All the things he’d heard about the Marquis of Baden-Württemberg, and everything he knew of the man, was how horrible he was, yet this woman seemed so nice.

“Let’s see what we’ve got here,” she said, “You’re nineteen years old. How long have you been working?”

“Here in Paris or in general?”

“In general, dear,” she chuckled, “Although, we can start with Paris.”

“I suppose since I was twelve or so,” he said a little unsure.

She only took note and asked him more questions, and soon enough they’d worked through his work history until the current day. She looked through the paperwork.

“Do you know your mother’s work history?”

Adolf fumbled for the folder he’d brought with him and passed it over to her. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but she hummed a little as she finished whatever calculation she was making and turned a few sheets of paper his way.

“Alright dear,” she said, “Because you have such fantastic records there’s only one thing left to ask: why have you been overpaying your annual taxes?”

“Overpaying?” Adolf asked.

“Yes,” she said, “You and your mother have been overpaying your taxes for… quite a few months. The penalty and tax that you’ve been paying for you and your mother while you and your mother were out of work as well as the overpayment is very strange. Was there perhaps something you forgot to bring with the paperwork?”

“No,” he said hesitantly looking through his folder and offering up the copies of their tax bills that were all marked paid, “These are all the tax bills I have. I don’t understand what you mean by overpayment.”

She tsked as she looked at them, “Oh, dear, these aren’t right.”

“They… aren’t?”

“Well, some of them are…Most of them actually, this last one isn’t. The Zephyrine tax hasn’t changed since the time of the first Grande Duc. Even if you include any back taxes you may have owed on your earnings as a minor, it still doesn’t add up, and Zephyrine doesn’t tax minors no matter how much they make. A refund will have to be issued along with your mother’s disability benefit and the unemployment compensation due to you and your mother.”

“Unemployment compensation?” Adolf asked, his head swimming, “What for?”

“You were out of work for about nine months from November of 3898 to July of 3899 weren’t you?”

He stomach clenched, but he nodded, “Yes.”

“Your employment record shows that you didn’t pick up work again until late July of 3899, and then, you were moving towards Paris. You are owed the unemployment benefit for the nine months.”

“Okay,” he said as she took the tax bill.

“When did your bills start coming to you in French?”

“Oh… just last year, I think,” he said, “Is that strange?”

“Well, I’m not sure. I would have to check with someone in old Germany to see if the bills came to them in French as well, but they should have come to you in German even if you did change your residence to Paris. I’ll report this to the Marquis and keep an eye on it. It might just be an error.”

She shrugged and directed his attention to the pages in front of him, “In any case, here’s your receipt for your refund and the information for your disability claim. The treasurer up front will gladly cash you out and help you set up the direct delivery to your account. Do you have any questions?”

“Not at the moment, I think I’m just sort of lost in a whirlwind of information right now.”

She smiled as if she would smile at a child. Never mind that Adolf had stopped being a child a long time ago, he certainly felt as lost as a schoolboy sitting across the desk from this woman who was basically telling him that he worked so hard over the months since they arrived in Freiburg due to a mistake.

“Well, if that changes, please feel free to contact me. If you could sign here stating that I’ve walked you through the paperwork and you are comfortable with what is being submitted?”

Adolf signed the paperwork after reading through it, took his receipt and walked to the treasurer, a kind older man, who counted out his satchel of money and called for a Zephyrine knight to escort him to the bank to deposit it. Juliette exited her meeting with a piece of chocolate in her mouth and walked with him to the bank to make the deposit.

He thanked the knight and caught the public transport back to their side of the city with Juliette.

“We have dinner plans with Percival next week when my mother gets here apparently.”

“Oh?” Juliette said, “Fantastic. I have so many questions for both of you, and your mother sounds like an amazing woman.”

“About what?”

She rolled her eyes, “Obviously business. What else?”

Adolf chuckled and paused for a moment, “Juliette.”

“Are you about to ask me how weird it is that Percival got us jobs without even really knowing it and then knew about it before we could tell him?”

He snorted, “Something like that…There’s been magic in the Leonhard and Lang line forever. There’s no point in questioning it now.”

“The legends are true?” Juliette asked.

Adolf shrugged, “I don’t know for sure, but I can guess so.”

“So which line is the line of the traitor then?”

Adolf hummed, “Not sure, but it hardly matters.”

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