Locke didn't know how he survived that battle. He only remembered waking up atop an eight-metre-tall pile of bodies when a young rookie saved him. He told Solon the man was none other than Caen, the same age as him but had joined the army a year later.
That was his first meeting with Caen. At the time, Caen didn't know if he was still alive. He was only there to gather up the dead to be cremated. Locke was treated as a corpse the whole way.
He had, fortunately, not died but fainted from excessive blood loss. Caen shared half his biscuit rations with him, and they'd been together from that day on.
He recalled how he managed to survive. The final couple dozen survivors were charged by more than a hundred cavalrymen. Those in front were skewered by lances and those in the back were crushed under the horses' hooves. Locke had grabbed onto one of the stunned soldiers and raised him in front of him just in time to absorb the charge. The man's body had taken the brunt of the tramples and it had saved Locke's life. He still broke several ribs, but nothing worse.
His actions were punishable with death. If he was ever found out, his family would suffer as well. They would all be sold into slavery. He had thus never told anyone about it. That battle had forced him to grow up, however. He had lost his care about 'being right', or about 'doing the right thing'. Doing the right thing didn't matter if you died because of it. Your actions were only worth something if you were around to see the outcome of it. He especially didn't care about letting others die to save himself. People were bound to die in battle, what difference did it make if those deaths allowed him to live? If anything, he was making their deaths worth more by letting them be what saved him.
He quite appreciated that he'd not only survived, however, but also won a loyal minion. Caen had been a beggar in Tyr. He chose to join the army because of the famine. His unit had just been disbanded, so if he returned he would be moved to a cannon-fodder regiment to die in the next battle, so he chose to follow Locke instead.
Lock had found his way back to Yoshk's unit. Of the ten original members, only Yoshk, Karl, and Locke were still kicking. Yoshk was later promoted to platoon jarl and Karl to vice platoon jarl. Locke was moved into Yoshk's place as a second-rate. Since Caen had a slender and agile build, Locke had him a scout. The other units had also suffered severe casualties, so the survivors eventually joined Locke's squad with Locke, Hans, and Caen as their cornerstone.
The was quiet when his story finished. He had of course not told them how he'd survived that charge. He simply said he had been lucky to und up beneath a corpse. The truth would accompany him to the grave.
Solon clapped his hands a comment later.
"Not bad. No wonder you have your current reputation. You're powerful and courageous. Wolf's extermination shocked all of Faustian, Shalor, and our neighbours. To think you took part in that grand battle..."
"I only took part under Lion corps. You flatter me too much, My Lord."
It wasn't Locke's first time humouring the brass. Pleasantries were second nature to him. He played the role of a humble subordinate perfectly.
"Good. It's worth lots of praise. Now... tell me why you've come to see me," Solon said with squinted eyes.
Locke bowed deeply.
"I pray for the honour of fighting at your side, Master Solon."
Since the new unit was to be formed for Solon's use, he would have a need for subordinates to whom to delegate certain duties and responsibilities. Locke ought not to ask for a position but for the chance simply to fight at the man's side. A mountain's first rocks will naturally rise to the top of the peak with it.
"I'm belief I understand now. Since you chose to follow me, you will not be mistreated. Cut one redsea flower and take it with you before you leave. It'll give your impetus a boost. You can consume it as is or have it ground and made into a drink, though the former doesn't taste nearly as good. There should be enough for three days' use," Solon said, handing his new capable subordinate a vase off one of his shelves.
"Thank you, Master Solon."
Locke knew at a glance that it was something precious for impetus cultivation, even if he knew no details about the material. He carefully cut of one stalk with the small knife Solon had also offered. While the man had said the flowers had no more use to him, quite a few of the stalks had been cut. It seemed he still consumed them regularly, so Locke resisted the urge to take everything he could and settled for just one stalk.
"Good. I'll accept your wine. I think I'll take a break now," Solon said, seeing Locke off.
For his part, Locke was of no mind to overstay his welcome. It was crucial that this first meeting went well, and with his aim already achieved, every moment longer he spent in the man's presence was only another moment in which he could screw it all up. He left without hesitation and headed for his tent, a broad smile on his face. He would stay in camp this evening. He couldn't very well be absent every night. It would not go down well with his men, like him as they might. It would have been less of a big deal had he been of a more senior office like a platoon jarl, but as a rank so close to the grunts, it was unseemly to be absent from his post.
Sounds of soldiers training echoed between the tents at just after noon the next day. The time to deploy was rapidly approaching, so the grunts were working up and the officers were giving out final orders for preparations and organisation. The training was a good chance for the junior officers like Locke to demonstrate their preparedness and eagerness for their upcoming deployment.
The atmosphere in a dark-green tent at the centre of the camp was heavy. Seated at the head of the table was a middle-aged brown-haired man sporting a thick beard. Baron Cardoj would hit the age of 40 this year, and he carried himself such that everyone felt his pressure bear down on them. Nobody dared speak before he had said his piece.
Ten people stood or sat in the tent in all, solemn Cardoj included. A man in full armour sat to his left. He was Sir Wyr, jarl of the knight cavalry. To the baron's right sat Solon, as stern-faced as ever he had been. Otherwise arounded the table were six platoon jarls, including Yoshk. A butler occupied the space right behind the baron. He looked in his fifties, but nobody showed the civilian any discourtesy.
"We'll attack Farlans in five days," the baron began, "A number of other divisions will be joining the attack. We are to assemble at Entil in two months, so we must take Farlans swiftly. I've written to Baron Cashel to make the necessary preparations."
No voice was raised in objection.
"Corps Command is running out of patience. Gale would be nearly at Ellis by now, and Falcon has yet to finish the conquest," Platoon Jarl Mond said.
Unlike Yoshk and the other platoon jarls who had been promoted thanks to their bravery and experience, Mond had been given his commission in recognition of his strategic mind. The baron valued him immensely. He was the only of the baron's subordinates that dared speak without explicit prompting by the baron, and even more so the only one that would be so indeferent and frank to him.
"True, the two corps have been ruffling each other's feathers for quite some time now. It's no wonder corps command is growing anxious; especially not when their rivals are pulling ahead," Wyr added.
Shalor had been like a sheep waiting on the shears and butchers just a few months earlier just after the Felmo Grand Canyon had fallen to Faustian. The three corps had burst out of the canyon and spread out over the lowlands. Gale had marched north, Lion had marched east, and Falcon south.
Shalor had three provinces. They had formed a rough, very rough, triangle on the map. With Felmo's loss, they had lost their finally hand of cards. It was only a question of time until they finally surrendered, that and under what terms. Which was why Faustian had dared to split its army into three and send them off in different directions.