"Your unit has the strength of a company. The highest-ranking officer is Baron Cardoj and even the position of company jarl is held by the baron's knight. So if you want to climb up the ranks, you have to cling to the baron. Doesn't the baron keep mentioning merits?" asked Suzanne.
"So I have to depend on Young Master Solon? He is likely to be declared the baron's heir in the future. If I rely on him while he doesn't have much influence, I might be able to get on his good side and his backing."
Locke's agile mind immediately understood Suzanne's thinking.
"You're right, I got the sense that the most powerful person in your camp at the moment is the baron, followed by the young master and your company jarl," Suzanne continued, "Since the Baron and the jarl will not participate in the platoon jarl election, you should grab this opportunity to ride Young Master Solon's coattails. I think the goal of the platoon jarl election this time is to build a base of support for Young Master Solon."
Suzanne had grown up in the world of trade and negotiation. She understood people's behaviour and could guess at the intentions behind their actions with only limited information. Locke had heard from Wharna about the possible merging of three or four platoons into one and the establishment of a new one. Locke hadn't taken it seriously. But since Wharna had said so, it seemed it was more than just a wild rumour. Who would become the vice-jarl for this new platoon? Wasn't a new platoon without a jarl perfect for Young Master Solon to gain experience?
Everything finally clicked in Locke's head. He gave Suzanne a passionate kiss and told her about the rumours he'd heard, making her even more certain of her suggestion.
"Why is the baron in a rush to establish a unit for the young master? Especially when his second son is taking care of his barony back home?" Locke asked.
"That's of little concern right now," Suzanne said, rolling her eyes, "Focus on your own promotions. That's the only way our situation will improve."
Suzanne didn't grasp the concerns of nobles, despite her keen eye for the minds of commoners, and she didn't care to try her hand at it either. Nobles were quite literally superior beings beyond the considerations of lowly peasants.
For Locke's part, he didn't have wild ambitions. He only wished to attain a high enough position to be able to look after his family properly, a family a part of which he was rapidly coming to consider Suzanne, and a part of which she was clearly already considering herself.
He spoke again, his arms caressing her.
"We will have better days in the future."
Locke woke up late in the following day. The two had tussled for most of the night and he was still tired. Was it because he'd held it in too long, he wondered. He splashed his face with cool water and made sure all signs of his lack of sleep were gone before he returned to base.
Locke had talked it over with Suzanne the previous night and he'd agreed with her suggestion to suck up to Young Master Solon. To that end, they had decided to get the young master an introductory gift. It didn't have to be too extravagant, but a show of good intentions was essential to get their relationship off to the right start. He was only a squad jarl and nobody expected much from them anyway. He couldn't buy something too lavish for his station because that could create the wrong impression of his intentions. If he went too overboard, he might, in fact, be seen as a braggart on whom the young master couldn't count.
To add to that consideration, Solon was the knight platoon's vice-jarl and known to not be a materialistic person. He went with Suzanne's suggestion to give him a bottle of ale – the same kind he had enjoyed with Yoshk the previous day. Suzanne had told him she no longer had much left, so she'd have to brew another batch. He took two bottles and made to meet with Young Master Solon.
Locke returned to his platoon's tent to find it in a mess. He heard bickering inside from some distance away and found Peter standing guard. He was a sharp-eyed serf and a capable archer. He was Kaen's direct underling.
"You're back, Brother Locke!" Peter shouted, giving Locke a fright.
Locke glimpsed at him and immediately knew his intentions. He left his reprimand unspoken and stepped straight into the tent.
"I'm guessing Brother Locke is still ploughing that woman," Kaen muttered.
He had apparently not heard or not yet had time to process Peter's warning. He sat with his back to the tent's entrance as he shared his unseemly conjectures with the rest of the men.
Locke crept up to him most unscrupulously, which made the rest of the men's surprised expressions twitch into knowing smiles. Kaen caught both expressions, however, as was to be expected of a scout, and leapt forward, avoiding Locke's kick. He dodged to the left with a roll as soon as he hit the ground again, avoiding Locke's usual follow-up stomp. Locke had not held back, and his peak second-rate strength kicked up the loose dust, sending the rest of the men in the tent into coughing fits.
"Whoa, Locke, calm down, I was just messing around!" Kaen shouted, realising Locke wasn't playing around.
He stood no chance in a serious fight with his superior, not least because he was an archer. Archers were not known for their hand-to-hand prowess, and for good reason.
"Hmph! At least you haven't gotten rusty," Locke said, giving up on the chase.
He might beat Kaen in a fight, but if the other man insisted on running away, he could not easily catch him, not in time for the rest of the camp to notice what was going on and start having questions about why they were fighting, and since Kaen was already on his feet, there was no avoiding that if he kept going.
"You're as slimy and slippery as an eel..."
"Okay, stop fooling around. Take the men to the Green Palm once we finish the day's training. You're to stand guard until I give further instructions," Locke said, turning to Ade.
One third-rate and five serfs were enough to deal with a couple thugs, Locke decided. He couldn't really send any more even if they weren't however. He was already running a serious risk by sending them into town in semi-official capacity. It was beyond his authority to do so, and he could be put on charge for it. If that happened before his promotion, especially whilst the deliberation was taking place, he could kiss it goodbye. If he got the promotion, however, he could openly do at least that much.
The fact that he couldn't technically send his men out at the moment, also suggested they were soon to receive new marching orders. No one knew exactly when, nor where they would be going, but everyone knew it had to be coming.
Locke's orders, coupled with his absence the previous evening, made it clear to everyone what had transpired and the shape of things between him and 'that woman'. Whilst some might gnarl at the thought of being used as minions by their superior, Locke's men appreciated the implication that he felt they could be trusted to handle his personal matters.
Locke would have preferred to go himself, but he couldn't be absent from camp along with his men, not when he was being watched and evaluated for promotion. Even more importantly, the camp was inspected routinely, and his absence during inspection would be far more conspicuous, especially given his consideration for promotion, than the absence of a couple of his men. He had faith in his men, however, and knew they could handle whatever the thugs threw at them. And having to deal with them without him was a good chance for them to get some practice in. The serfs especially could do with some practice, they'd only been with Locke the odd year, and they had been mere farmers before they'd been conscripted. They did not have enough battlefield experience. They'd done well the previous day, but it didn't really count when Locke and Kaen were around to deal with most of the serious opponents.
The men had not understood that particular consideration, but Kaen certainly had, and he would no doubt make that point clear to them before he sent them off. Locke's penchant for trusting his men extended to... more sensitive information, and it was a big part of why they were all so close.
Locke waited in-tent until about three before heading to the camp's main tents where the unit's leadership, the baron, the company jarls, and Solon, lived. Two squads stood guard outside the entrances and Locke knew there would be at least another squad of the unit's elites nearby, ready to pounce if anything happened.
Locke expressed his desire to see Solon and waited while one of the guards conferred his desire to the man in question. Much as he and Suzanne had agreed to not get the young master something too extravagant, he wished, after all, he could have gotten the man something better than just ale. That said, he could at least console himself that alcohol was the best option as a gift to strike up a friendly relationship, or at least express his intent to do so.
The guard returned a minute later and patted him down before letting him in. He nodded and straightened his uniform before accepting the invitation.
Locke stepped inside Solon's tent for the first time. He had interacted with the man before, but that was a rare occasion indeed. And most of it had consisted of either receiving orders in battle, or saluting the man when he passed him in the camp. Even so, he had gotten the impression from the man that he was confident and easy-going. He might be a noble, but unlike all too many of his kind, he didn't look down on the common folk, especially not those that served with him. From what Locke had seen of him on the battlefield as well as what Yoshk had shared of their training sessions together, he was also a capable soldier. It would be a lucky day when Locke could fight him to a draw. Which said more about Locke's strength than any lack of it in Solon. Locke had no training in impetus, and Solon obviously had.
Despite his obvious capability, however, the chances for him to be directly involved in actual combat were few and far in between. His father, Baron Cardoj, saw little reason to put him in harms way when it was not necessary, and given his own capable command and the strength of his men, it rarely was. That meant, however, that Locke could at least boast of being superior when it came to actual combat experience, and that was no small consideration.