"Let's find us an inn to stay in first," commanded Cardoj.
Felor was exceptionally large. It could accommodate a total of 300,000 people and Faustian only had a population of just over two million.
There were countless taverns and inns in the city, so it was very easy to find one that could accommodate the dozens of people in their convoy.
At last, they settled on a middle-class one. Cardoj ordered the soldiers to take care of the convoy. He then brought a large number of gifts along with him and accompanied his wife and Solon to visit his father-in-law, De Sandro.
Barton pursed his lips disdainfully as he watched Cardoj and the others left. He then turned to Locke and Sverre and said, "Come on! I'll bring you all around!"
Locke Senior and Tia were exhausted from the long journey, so they went into their room to rest as soon as they got off the carriage. Lia had to take care of her parents and Locke had nothing to do, so he wandered around with Barton and Sverre.
"I should've brought Suzanne, Glace and the others with me," said Locke. They didn't come with him and rented a carriage by themselves instead. They would probably only arrive the next day or the day after tomorrow.
It was July and the wheat in the fields had just been harvested. Most civilians were relatively unoccupied this month. Plus, with the amount of money they'd earned from selling their harvest, Felor was more prosperous than before.
Beating drums could be heard coming from a circus on the main road as they walked towards the city centre. Locke looked at the scene in front of him curiously. He was amazed when he saw the clown in a weird costume, the hall in which their voices lingered long after the performance had ended, and the performance of a muscular brute who broke boulders with his chest. There were also vendors selling all sorts of snacks on both sides of the street. Locke discovered several new eatables that he hadn't seen before, and they smelled good.
"How much is this?" asked Locke to an old farmer wearing a straw hat, grilling some small lizard-like animals nimbly.
"Two copper thalers for one stone lizard!" The farmer flipped the stone lizard on the grill as he looked at Locke in awe. The uniform that Locke was wearing showed that he was at least a small-time officer.
A stone lizard was only as wide as two fingers. Locke roughly counted and said, "I'll have ten!" He then paid twenty copper thalers to the farmer.
"Okay!" There were only a few stone lizards left on the grill. The farmer handed those to Locke first, and then took out a few more from a bamboo basket next to him. He skillfully inserted a bamboo stick into the stone lizard's mouth until it poked out from its tail. The critter struggled as it was put onto the grill mercilessly.
The charcoal and flames made it shriek, before some oil oozed from the surface of the lizard's skin, filling the air with a savoury aroma.
Locke took a bite of the stone lizard skewer and found it pretty good and chewy, much like venison. He asked Sverre and Barton if they wanted to try it, and they took one each.
"I've always wanted to eat this thing, but my mother wouldn't allow me to. She said that it would damage the image of nobles," whispered Barton to Locke.
"The stone lizard tastes like a rock lizard." Sverre's answer wasn't what Locke expected.
"What's a rock lizard?" asked Locke curiously.
"It's a type of low-rank earth major monster. It doesn't taste too bad." Sverre's answer left Locke speechless. That was a sentence only someone whose father was a high-rank Knecht could say.
The three of them wandered aimlessly on the main road of Felor with a few skewers in their hands. The stone lizard had more bones than meat and Locke just liked it because it was something new. To be honest, the taste of it wasn't as good as the roasted guinea pigs in his hometown.
Felor was located at the northern part of Faustian, while Locke and the others were from the southern Dor province, so the things that were typical in Felor were novel to them. He didn't have a refined palette, so he looked at anything that was interesting to him and tried everything that he'd never eaten before.
"Let's go over there and have a look!" said Barton as he pointed at a row of shops.
"Okay!" Locke had no objections to it. He was eating the snails that he'd just bought. He got a handful of it for only one copper thaler, so he found them delicious and cheap.
Sverre agreed to the proposition as well. There were all sorts of valuables to be bought such as jewellery, perfumes and antiques, which were exactly what he liked.
When the three of them walked to the end of the street, Barton's hands were full of packaging boxes and Sverre had sprayed some cologne that he'd just bought on him. Locke, on the other hand, just looked at both of these weirdos coldly.
He realised that he was the odd one out among them. Barton and Sverre enjoyed shopping for trinkets and the like, but he only cared about eating. After walking for a whole round, the only thing Locke did was secretly wipe off his greasy hands on other people's clothes in the crowd.
"Don't you have anything to buy for your family?" asked Barton.
After hearing this, Locke walked into one of the shops and came out with two silver rings and a purple pipe in his pocket. The two rings were for his mother and sister, and the pipe was for his father, along with two packs of rare fine-cut tobacco.
"Let's go," said Locke. The three of them walked into the crowd again.
Felor was huge. They had been strolling around for the whole afternoon in just one area of the city. When they returned to the inn in the evening, the rest had just started eating dinner. They had come back just in time.
Locke returned just as his parents and Lia were eating porridge and wheat cakes. He then handed the two exquisitely crafted rings to his mother and sister. The rings were boxed and wrapped in beautiful blue ribbons.
Tia stopped eating and dragged her daughter along to try on the rings.
"Where's mine? Did you not get anything for me?" Locke Senior stared at his son.
Locke smiled and conjured up the pipe. His father fell in love with it at first sight. The one he used previously was made by himself; it leaked and it was uncomfortable to use. The nozzle of this pipe, however, was wrapped in nephrite jade, so it felt great when smoking it.
After dinner, Locke finally decided to tell his parents about his plans of going to the Aomar Empire.
"Aomar Empire? Where's that?" Locke Senior removed the pipe that he'd just gotten and scratched his back without caring about his image. He didn't even know how many kingdoms there were around Faustian, let alone knowing where Aomar Empire was.
"Somewhere far away." Locke didn't tell exactly how far it was.
Locke Senior and Tia fell silent. They guessed it was probably as far as where he had gone for war.
"When are you coming back?" asked Tia.
It took Locke a long time to reply. "Five years."
Tia sank to the chair as if her body had deflated, dropping the ring that Locke had just gotten her. Locke Senior grabbed his wife's hand and tried to persuade her to be more open-minded, but he didn't know what to say. Lia tilted her head away, blocking her face with her long hair, so no one could tell what she was currently feeling.
Locke knew that his parents needed some time to digest this news, so he walked out of the room slowly. As he closed the door, he heard his mother crying while saying, "My child will be away for another five years..."
He then heard his father comforting her. "Our child is going somewhere else to broaden his horizons... you need to be able to let go..."
Locke laid down on his bed in the middle of the night and thought about whether he should really leave his parents and make a living in Aomar. Should he be like his parents and spend his whole life working hard on farmland? Or should he buy a manor after his knighting and live comfortably for the rest of his life? This used to be his dream. If it wasn't for Angelina, he would have chosen the latter.
Just as Locke was still contemplating, there was a knock on the door. He got up and opened it only to see Locke Senior and Tia there with Lia behind them.
Tia then said, "I won't stop you from going to Aomar, but you must bring Lia along with you!"
Locke's mouth hung open in surprise. His father showed an expression which implied Locke to take care of his sister. Lia merely lowered her head and blushed.
Locke Senior and Tia had been talking for the whole night, but Locke felt dizzy and didn't listen to anything that had been said. He only knew that he had to take good care of his sister in the future; his parents could take care of themselves.
It was also during that night that the relationship between Locke and Lia became a little ambiguous. When Locke found out that Lia wasn't his biological sister, he didn't treat her as his sister anymore. Although Lia wasn't that pretty, she was the most beautiful woman in the world in Locke's eyes.