The tent was green and utterly luxurious. It's ten-foot-square interior stood adorned with exotic memoranda and accoutrement Solon had accumulated in his short time in the military. Amongst them was a small red potted tree, a chain-of-pearls-laced metal rack, a brown-grey bearskin, a wooden-carved soaring eagle, and a number other, less definable items. At the very least, the ones Locke recognised were valuable to say the least -- one or two might even be priceless -- and he had no reason to suspect Solon's taste was any worse for those things Locke couldn't recognise.
A sunrise-red table occupied one corner of the tent. Alongside it stood a folding screen, which hid a portion of the tent from view. Locke presumed that portion held Solon's bed.
A tall young black-haired man stood at the study table, staring curiously at the similarly aged, grey-haired sergeant through the light red irises of his eyes. This iconic feature of Solon's was unique to the Marquis household of De Sandro, from the royal capital.
Solon recognised Locke. The latter stood in front of him holding his two bottles of ale. His hair was dishevelled, despite his best efforts, and coupled with his worn armour, he had a comical appearance to say the least.
He was bewilderingly out of place in such an immaculate tent. Solon knew of the man's background, or lack thereof, rather, and did not judge the poor peasant too harshly.
The ashen-haired squad jarl, much larger than Solon, had been on his heels for the past two days. The unit was to set out soon, but both 1st Platoon and 2nd Platoon had suffered many casualties, while 3rd and 4th Platoons still needed jarls. The new recruits had arrived to make up the numbers, but the platoon jarls had yet to be decided.
The options had been discussed on at least a dozen occasions, but a decision had as yet not been forthcoming. There were only two openings and many potential candidates. The top two figures – Solon's father, Baron Cardoj; and his teacher, Sir Wyr -- had not given any hint as to whom they favoured. No matter how much the others discussed, they would not come to a conclusion until the two of them had said their piece.
Locke was one of the stronger contenders. He had been recommended by two platoon leaders. That said, both nominations were from men within his own platoon, and they were both commoners. None of them, no commoner, for that matter, understood nobility. They didn't understand the importance of birth and pedigree, so their recommendations, which were to be expected to be of their own men, were not to be weighted too heavily in the final considerations.
Their recommendations had not been without merit, however. Locke was certainly qualified for the position as far as skill and experience went. Solon had also come to understand that he was held in high regard amongst most in the battalion. He was too young for the position in Solon's opinion, however.
Solon was 19 years this year and already a vice-jarl of a mounted platoon. He had joined the battalion just last year. The campaign in Felmo had not devolved into outright slaughter, so he had yet to experience a true battle, though he had seen a few skirmishes.
Locke, however, had been in uniform for four years, and he'd fought in everything from local brawls to war-deciding clashes. He had quite the reputation amongst the new guys as well. Solon had heard of 'Brother Locke' on at least a dozen occasions. All things considered, he had about an even chance of getting the promotion. Seeing a grizzled veteran standing in front of him, shaking like a teenager about to ask his crush out, and shaking so badly he might not even be able to speak, Solon felt his heart warm to the man a little.
"I am Locke from 2nd Platoon, Sir," Locke finally got out, "I received two bottles of good ale two days ago. It would be my honour to share them with you."
His usual confidence miraculously flowed back into him once he'd finally opened his mouth.
""Not bad. Leave them over there," Solon said, pointing casually in the general direction of one of the tent's many stands.
Lock obeyed, then returned to the middle of the tent. His eyes had glittered with intense curiosity, but he'd kept any wonder he was feeling from showing on his face. He'd instead maintained, with some effort, Solon was certain, the appropriate appearance of solemnity and respect. The earnest effort of this young man gave him the appearance of a puppy, and Solon smiled internally. He decided he might just like this man.
"From whence are you?" he asked casually.
"Quarryton, Sir," Locke's answer came shortly but respectfully.
"How old are you?"
"Eighteen years this year."
His age surprised Solon some. He could see the man was on the young side, but he'd expected him to be at least into his twenties. In fact, now that he thought about it, he had heard a number of people say Locke was quite young for his rank. He had to admit, however, that he could fool almost anyone with his beard.
"I heard you took part in the business in Gordon Heights," Solon asked aloud.
Gordon Heights had been the deciding battle in the war between Shalor and Faustian. Both sides knew its victor would also win the war well before they'd set foot on the battlefield itself. He found the stories of the bravery of Locke's unit quite outrageous, to be honest.
His mentor, the high-rank Knecht, Sir Wyr, had told him he had endured severe injuries. The fight had to have been quite bad for even Sir Wyr to have taken serious blows. If even a peak Knecht had suffered injuries during the battle, the chances of a common soldier like Locke making it out alive at all must have been slim. Peak-level Knechts were almost always corps jarl, whereas high-rank Knechts were further down the hierarchy, appointed as division jarls. The fact that Baron Cardoj could nurture a high-rank Knecht like him with just one barony was indeed impressive.
"Could you tell me about it? I'd like to hear some of your stories," Solon asked anxiously, inviting Locke to take a seat, "This is a sofa. The Shalorians really know how to enjoy life. The mayor picked it up when we took Figor.
"Thank you, Sir."
Locke sat prudishly on the 'sofa'. Seeing that he had hooked Solon's attention, he knew he had to strike while the iron was hot.
Locke was not the best storyteller, however. Calling his mechanical regurgitation of his post-battle report could hardly be considered 'telling his story'. Solon had a good imagination, however, and saw the entire scene play out in front of him. Solon also actually appreciated the matter-of-fact delivery of the man's recollections as well. He didn't much appreciate the nobility's tendence to play good things up and bad things down for their own benefit.
Locke mentioned that the bloodbath had happened in the late autumn of his third year in the military and he was a pikeman fighting under Yoshk. He described how a huge fireball coursed through the sky, how the frigid, cold icicles pierced the strongest armor, and how an elite fighter clad in heavy armor on horseback slashed through an entire squad with one sword.
The more he heard, the more Solon's interest was stoked. He had never heard anything like that before. Locke's version of events was much more captivating than Sir Wyr's; he could really picture himself in Locke's shoes, as if he was experiencing the thrill of the perilous battle himself.
Solon knew about the supernatural fireball and ice attacks. However, it was still not his place to command such power. Only a baron could be allowed to have them at his disposal. Instead, he was more familiar with fighters like knights that Locke was talking about. He knew that if he wanted to be able to slash through a dozen soldiers in one go, he'd have to cultivate enough impetus to become at least mid-rank Knecht. Although he had been cultivating his household's impetus technique since the age of nine, he was only a beginner Knecht at the moment.
"Are elites like those completely invulnerable?" Solon asked.
Locke shook his head, "That was the only time I'd seen elites of that level in action, so I'm not too sure if they did. What I do know is that after mowing down the whole squad, the soldiers swarmed the knight until his limp body turned into a bloody fountain."
To Solon, this was incredulous. In either of the kingdom's armies, a mid-rank Knecht would, at minimum, hold the position of company jarl. How could an ending like be fit for a person of this stature? It was such an undignified death: to be killed so easily and drowned by a sea of soldiers.