Heimarian Odyssey - Chapter 1

Locke, a tender 18-year-old veteran second-rate soldier of the Kingdom of Faustian, was in a good mood today. Today was payday, a preciously rare day which came around only once a month.  On this glorious day, he received three silver thalers. Coupled with the two thalers Baron Cardoj was so kind to give to his personal levies, that made his wallet 4 thalers heavy. The missing thaler went to army headquarters, a custom none of the men on the payroll liked, but not something about which any of them could do anything.

Locke's wallet wasn't 4 thalers heavy just yet, and he couldn't wait to claim his pay.  Well, to be honest, his wallet would be only 1 thaler heavy.  The other three would be sent home with the baron's convoy to his family. He hoped his regular contribution to the family purse would let his sister wear something a little better than the rags which had been her clothing when he'd left home, and for his parents to eat a loaf or two of white bread every now and again, not so much for the indulgence of it, but to stave off their ailing health. His wallet wouldn't be that one thaler heavy for long either. It would soon vanish into the hands of a tavernkeep to pay for the drinks to which he planned to treat his men. He was at least a second-rate, no longer a recruit, so he had command of ten men.

His men's situations were no better than his own, in fact, theirs was likely far worse. The next rank down from him, officially called 'third-rates', only got two thalers a month, and the serfs only one. They counted their coppers on a daily basis, most of them going, as Locke's thalers, to their families. It was a lucky man that had any at all left for himself after paying all his dues. Locke had made a habit of treating his men to a round or two of drinks come payday.  It helped to lubricate their bonds and keep them loyal.

His command was split right down the middle with five third-rates and five serfs. Three were relatively recent additions, replacements for casualties, the rest had been with him for half a year at the shortest. In fact, he and those seven were from the same bootcamp class -- they'd all graduated together. Locke had come from their ranks, been picked from amongst them to be their superior, and they all respected him. And his care since he'd been put in command of them had only further strengthened their respect. Many in command gave their men an occasional treat, especially after a particularly thick fight, but few took utmost care of them during those fights as well. It was thanks to that care that, despite all they'd been through thus far, they'd only needed a couple, and only three in the last six months.

Locke's particular brand of leadership, being what it was at his low rank, had made him rather well-known and equally well-liked amongst all his comrades, even beyond his own command.  Almost everyone in the base called him Brother Locke. His personal combat record did him no shame either. He had slain more than his fair share of barbarians from the Kingdom of Shalore since taking up arms. He was, in fact, due for another promotion, and he looked forward to being a first-rate.

At present Locke was headed to the purser's office, around which a small market always sprang up at this time of the month. It sold alcohol, weapons, steeds, and, of course, women -- everything a young soldier's heart could desire, Baron Cardoj had made sure of that. Of course, one had to have the money to pay for those things, but if one did, the chances of being left wanting were vanishingly minute. Lock stood on the precipice of that category, he just barely earned enough to avail himself of such merchandise, but he had more discipline than most soldiers. He had a family to look after, and he was better than most at keeping a tight hold on his wallet. Many weaker men found their wallets worryingly light at the end of a post-payday stroll through the market.

"Here's your pay, Locke!" a rotund, full-bearded man yelled in a deep voice.

Locke took the small cloth purse from him and opened it.  Inside clinked three shiny silver coins and a hundred smaller coppers.

"Wanna go grab a drink, Uncle Yoshk?" Locke asked as his eyes returned to the grinning bloke.

"How many times have I rapped you across the back of your head to call me platoon jarl, you brat? You think one cup is enough to get me off your tail? I won't be satisfied with anything less than two, at the very least!" he scolded in a jocularly.

Locke didn't treat him to a drink out of mere courtesy. It was related to his promotion to a first-rate. There was a stark divide between the first- and second-rates. The biggest was that first-rates had access to the baron's collection of impetus-training manuals. It was, for any peasant, the only path to knighthood. There was also the little matter of the guaranteed second-in-command position it guaranteed in a platoon. A veteran first-rate like Yoshk even had direct command of an entire platoon.

Yoshk was not in the habit of drinking with just anyone, despite what his demeanour might suggest. He did so with Locke because he saw potential in the young man. That and they both hailed from Quarryton. Most of the company was from there, in fact. In the four years since Locke had enlisted, Yoshk had been his mentor of sorts. He'd guided him up to where he was now all the way from a mere serf. Even Locke's soon-to-come promotion would be thanks to Yoshk's recommendation.

"Got it! I'll come get you!" Locke said as he stowed the pouch, then left unceremoniously.

The exquisite armour, swords, and beauties around him made his eyes turn green with envy. A normal suit of armour cost 100 silver thalers, the equivalent of one gold thaler, whereas a decent longsword cost at least ten silver thalers. Women started out at one silver thaler, and very quickly got a lot more expensive. Locke, being the filial man he was, had no free cash for such indulgences. Even now, as an up-and-coming second-rate, his uniform was a well-worn set of stiff leather armour, a sword which had seen better days, and an iron spear and dagger -- hidden in one of his boots -- in much the same condition.

He returned to his squad's tent and was soon wrapped in the relaxing atmosphere of post-battle gambling and banter. He gave one of the card players, Caen, a kick. The man was their squad's third-rate scout. He was serious and calm on the field, but that all vanished as soon as he stepped off the field. Everywhere else he was a loud, happy-go-lucky bastard. He, Locke, and Hans -- the squad's shieldman --  were the closest in the group. The three had been together for two years.

"The first round is on me this afternoon! Now go get lunch!" Locke bellowed in his most serious commander's voice.

"You didn't have to kick my arse, boss. What if it swells and exposes me when I'm out scouting?" Caen shot back in overblown offence and the tent broke out in laughter.

"Swollen, you say? Maybe I should get the Rickey brothers to patch you up with a herb or two. I'm sure you'll recover in no time!" Jagd, the third-rate spearman, barbed.

The Rickey brothers batted for the other team, so to speak, which made them a popular choice when there was interrogating to be done. Given their batting preferences, they were quite well-versed in herbal treatments for swollen posteriors.

"You asking for a beating?! I'll show you the next time we spar!" Caen snapped.

The merry atmosphere was the usual state of affairs for the group of eleven. The men spoke freely and had little restraint with one another. Locke had worked particularly hard to kindle this special state of affairs and had no doubt was a big part of their success.

"Best not sneak some meat off my plate, Caen, or you won't be drinking today!"

"No way I'd do that, boss! I'll skin anyone who dares try! Hans, let's go!" Caen shouted with aplomb before he charged off.

One of the most appreciated perks of having a higher rating was the food. Serfs only got dried biscuits and gruel, a particularly unappetising potato soup. Third-rates got black bread and potato soup. Second-rates got wheat biscuits, a serving of meat, and potato soup. And first-rates got to join the baron and other officers in the central tent. Rumour had it they got white bread and stew.  Only 15 of the 500 men in the base got to sit in on those meals, eight of them were platoon jarls and their seconds-in-command. Ritter Wael, jarl of the ritter platoon, Baron Cardoj, and his son and their butler were also among the fifteen. Locke drooled at the mere thought of his waiting place amongst them.

The ten returned just a couple minutes after they had left.

Caen dutifully passed Locke's meal to him.

"Look at that juicy piece of meat! Surely you'll need help finishing it!" he said, fighting back his own slobber.

Locke took his lunch and kicked Caen again.

"Buzz off. Come with me and Hans to the purser's tent later. You got your pay, right? Anyone who wants to send money home should give it to Hans. I'll submit it on your behalf."

Home was a distant concept to soldiers, a dusty memory packed away for harsher times. Few could avoid a few moments of absentminded reminiscence when reminded thereof.  The mention of home was, in fact, a taboo for in most units, especially on payday, but Locke's men had little trouble with it.  In no small part because the men, whilst still in relatively poor financial positions, were far better off than most men of their station thanks to Locke's eager assistance whenever they needed it.

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