Locke woke up early in the morning and practised his bare-hand techniques. After that, he then went to Hans' house to ask them to depart soon.
"Locke, what's the matter?" asked Aunt Mary enthusiastically as she opened the door.
"We have to gather in town today. I'm here to look for Hans and the others," said Locke as he touched his nose. He had always been scared of this fierce aunt ever since he was a child.
"Okay, I'll call them for you!" Mary opened the door to let him in. She then turned and looked for them.
Hans' courtyard was more than twice as big as Locke's because Hans had a big family. He had three brothers, with him being the second eldest son. His elder brother was already married and had children of his own. They needed a courtyard that was big enough to fit a family of nearly ten people. Since they had a lot of people in their family, it was easy to build such a big house.
Not long after, Hans, Caen and Hank yawned as they walked out of their room. By the look of their tired faces, they had probably been sleeping till now.
"Come on! Let's head to town!" yelled Locke.
There were only two hundred residents in Maple Village, and only eleven or twelve men enlisted in the army.
Locke was worried that some bandits would harass the villagers when they were not around, so he decided to leave half of the soldiers there.
There were around six or seven heavily armed soldiers coupled with some muscular young men in the village now. The gang of approximately ten thieves would never make it out alive if they dared to mess with the villagers.
It was already noon by the time Locke, Hans, Caen, Hank and two other soldiers arrived at Quarryton. They happened to meet the soldiers from another village along the way.
Many soldiers were already gathered at the square when they arrived. Caen and Hank joined the formation, while Locke and Hans went to look for Yoshk at the side of the square.
"Uncle Yoshk! Where's Uncle Karl?" yelled Locke from a distance.
Yoshk was talking to the town's former garrison jarl as he heard Locke call him. He then turned around and said, "He's over there," pointing to the other side of the square as he spoke. The one-armed Karl was lecturing the town's militia.
This group of militiamen had served as the main defensive force of Quarryton when Locke and the other soldiers were fighting in Shalor. The soldiers that the baron had left behind couldn't take care of every village and town, so the townspeople had to arm themselves. However, these militiamen's abilities were questionable, with all of them being either above thirty-five or below thirteen.
As Locke was chatting with Yoshk, Billy arrived during lunchtime with carts full of wheat cakes.
This was their lunch; Locke recalled that this was just like the meals he had when he joined the army and trained in town. At that time, what he looked forward to most was lunch, because he could eat until he was full.
"Boys, come get your food!" yelled Billy to the people who were at the square.
Everyone at the square stayed still. The soldiers had been taught to be disciplined over the years, and they wouldn't move until their superior said so.
The militiamen had been terrified of Karl's frustration. They were really hard to train and work with. Even Karl, who was always good-tempered, was annoyed with by them. He and Yoshk even had to put up a spiel of good cop bad cop to get them in line.
Karl and Yoshk, unlike Locke and the others, lived in Quarryton and were quite familiar with the town's situation.
"Do we have any missions?" asked Locke as he bit the wheat cake in his hand.
"Yeah." Yoshk sighed. "We can't even be at ease after coming back."
The soldiers around them began to collect their food in an orderly manner from the chubby cooks. Karl had also stopped reprimanding the militiamen. They didn't have the discipline of regular soldiers; they just ran like a swarm of bees and snatched the food. Karl didn't stop them as he knew it was pointless.
There was no way the soldiers, who had been in the army for several years and had countless Shalorians' blood on their hands, wouldallow a group of insignificant men snatch their portion of food so easily. They threw some of the militia boys who ran quickly over their shoulders. They winced and howled on the ground, having definitely had a hard fall. Of course, the soldiers didn't go too far and cause substantial harm to the boys.
After witnessing what had happened, the other militiamen quickly went to the back of the queue and lined up. Some older ones even started to talk and make friends with the soldiers.
Locke, Yoshk, Karl and Hans ignored the disturbance caused by the soldiers and went to a corner of the square. Billy was also there with them.
"So, what's our mission?" asked Locke. Although he'd guessed what it was, it was better for Yoshk, who was their leader, to say it.
Since Yoshk didn't say anything, Billy answered, "The baron asked us to dispatch a unit from each town to deal with the thieves and robbers."
Locke understood and nodded. He hated these two-bit bandits and he could kill a group of them by himself if they ever dared to appear in front of him.
This wasn't an exaggeration either. Locke was probably the most powerful person in Quarryton at the moment as he had the physical makeup of a low-rank Knecht and he knew impetus. There wasn't any chance for the ordinary people to even approachr him unless he was exhausted.
Only Yoshk and several platoon jarls knew about Locke's actual strength. Most of the soldiers in the camp thought that the platoon jarls about as powerful as each other.
Meanwhile, Billy pulled a long face. He didn't know about Locke's actual strength and was most troubled over the gangs of thieves in Quarryton.
Sometimes, he had to negotiate with these gangs and satisfy their demands, so that they wouldn't harass Quarryton and the villages.
"Who are our targets?" Yoshk was a straightforward person. All he cared to know was who the targets were.
"The three largest gangs around here are Red Maple, Boulder Brothers and Gilt Bandits," replied Billy.
"Then we'll start with these three!" Yoshk decided.
"Which one among the three do you all want to start with first? Do you need any advice?" the mayor asked, before he briefed them about the gangs.
"Red Maple is a gang of about thirty thieves from the east. They also have a few horses. The leaders of Boulder Brothers are twins. They're both very powerful and have recruited a lot of thugs in their gang. "Gilt Bandits, on the other hand..." Billy paused. "This gang is made up of deserters from Quarryton who didn't want to join the army. You all don't need to have mercy on them. The townsfolk have already turned their backs on them."
It wasn't just Billy; almost all the townsfolk felt that Gilt Bandits was a disgrace to their town.
"We have four platoon jarls in our town. I'm sure we'll suppress the bandits much faster compared to the other towns," said Billy with a chuckle. It was something he could brag about to the mayors of other towns.
There were only four infantry platoons under the baron, whereas Quarryton had four platoon jarls, and one of them was a cavalry platoon jarl. That helped elevate Billy's status over the other mayors'.
"Don't bother," Yoshk waved his hand and interrupted. "Each of us will pick one." He then turned his head towards Locke and the others.
"I'll lead the cavalrymen to deal with Red Maple," said Locke. Since that gang had horses, it was better for Locke to bring the cavalrymen along so that the bandits couldn't escape.
"Leave Boulder Brothers to me." Hans grinned. He wanted to see how powerful the bosses were and whether they could withstand his punches.
"Then I'll take Gilt Bandits," Yoshk said.
"It seems like I can only look after the house," Karl said jokingly. His combat power had been greatly reduced after the loss of an arm, so it was best for Karl to stay and guard Quarryton. Even then, ordinary bandits couldn't hurt him.
"It's settled then!" Yoshk then began to assemble the soldiers. The soldiers were used to getting down to business as soon as possible; he planned to dispatch the soldiers to start suppressing the bandits in the afternoon.
"Will Karl be enough?" Billy was a little hesitant. He knew the capability of the bandits around Quarryton the best, and he felt that Yoshk and the others had been sloppy in making the decision.
"Don't worry, you have my word!" Yoshk reassured.
There were only a dozen cavalrymen in Quarryton, but Locke was confident that they could wipe out Red Maple under his command.
Night arrived early during winter. After Locke and the others finalised their decision, they soon set off with their respective units. A group of around ten cavalrymen travelled through the forest in the evening. They were all covered in blood as if they'd just returned from hell.
If one looked closely, they would find round sacks ball tied to the horses' tails. Those with keen eyes would be able to tell that the sacks were filled with human heads.
The bloody cavalrymen frightened countless birds as they passed through the forest.
Their leader donned bright yellow armour. His indifferent eyes were the only visible part of his face from behind his visor. That was none other than Locke. He had just led the slaughter of Red Maple, and almost every soldier had killed at least one member of the gang.
Speaking of that, Red Maple's base was in the maple forest right outside of Quarryton; a bold move indeed.
If Locke had known two days ago that the bandits were so close to him, he would just ask Hans and the others along to deal with them. It was all too easy for two men with impetus to fight with a group of ordinary folk.
Locke's cavalrymen were very satisfied with this trip. They had never seen such weak mounted opponents. It was a walk in the park for the experienced cavalrymen with good armour, spears and tactics against a mere group of bandits, who could only bully weak civilians.
Due to time constraints, they left the spoils there and decided they would deal with them tomorrow. As far as Locke was concerned, spending time with his family was far more important than anything else right now.