Locke's turn finally came about. Mond was the first to cast his vote.
"The brat is still too young. He should train at least two more years," Mond said simply, then shut up.
Mond felt a gaze on him, though he thought he might be mistaken. It felt like it came from Solon. The gaze was displeased but Mond didn't pay it much mind.
Next to vote was 1st Platoon's vice-jarl. He was no stranger to Locke. They had met for the first time in the aftermath of the battle of Gordon Heights. Locke had marched into the campsite, bloodsoaked, dripping even. His uniform was only just barely recogniseable, if not he would have been shot. Would that not have been quite the tragedy? To survive such a bloody battle only to be killed by his own side because they had mistaken him for an enemy.
The vice-jarl had been just a squad jarl at the time. He had just so happened to be guarding the entrance. Locke had come over with another youth about his age.
"Sir, would this happen to be Falcon 2nd Division 2nd Company?", he had asked and promptly collapsed after seeing the jarl nod.
The vice-jarl had nearly yelped in surprise and shock when the youth had suddenly turned to jello right in front of him and he'd sent him to the healer's tent immediately. The short exchange had left a deep impression on him which he recalled now in the moments before he cast his vote.
He also remembered the many visits Locke had paid him in the years since, often bringing some of the loot he got from battles. The thought of the ale Locke had gifted him accompanied by a small Shalorian goblet was a particularly positive memory, despite the gifts' lack of monetary value.
"He is quite capable in my opinion, especially given how young he is. I would approve of him as one of our choices."
Despite his clear approval of Locke, the jarl was still careful to not press too firmly lest he step on Mond's honour.
Mond, however, held him in quite high regard and trusted his judgement. His opinion of Locke thus changed quite substantially once he heard him voice his support for the young man. If Locke could get his old friend to voice support for him, then he couldn't be that bad.
Yoshk and Carto came up next in turns. They each voted in Locke's favour. Their support surprised no one, they were all from the same unit, after all. Locke had made a good showing so far, but his fight was not over yet. So far he was only tied with one of the previous two candidates and there were still more to go, specifically, neither Roma nor Jerrson, his strongest opponents, had yet to have their turns on the voting block.
"Locke hasn't had enough experience in a managerial role. He should stay where he is for a couple more years," said the final jarl, from 4th Platoon.
"I think Locke has more than a fair amount of potential. I think now is a good time to move him up in the ranks. I certainly think he can handle the responsibility," Solon suddenly said just as Mond opened his mouth to start the voting on the next candidate.
The air in the tent plummeted several degrees in an instant.
Yoshk saw his chance and jumped in.
"I agree. I've seen Locke grow, practically raised him as far as the army is concerned. I fully agree with Young Master Solon, Locke is more than ready for this."
Those who'd voted in Locke's favour nodded or murmured their agreement. More than one mouth brought up his squad's impressively low casualty rate. Even Mond and the other's who had either positioned themselves in reservation, or outright against him, suddenly had a couple good things to say.
Yoshk immediately thought to himself that Locke couldn't have picked a better tree to which to leash himself. Even the baron shot a surprised glance at his son. Just when and how had this Locke made such a deep impression on his son to make him break his own unspoken rule to not get involved in his father's votes. Another thought came to him a moment later. Perhaps his son had done it less out of a positive impression of Locke, but because he had some designs of his own. The baron decided now was a good time to teach his son a valuable lesson.
The subdued commotion vanished quickly and the voting resumed with Locke in the lead at four votes. His mere one-vote lead was greater than it would at first appear, however, since Solon's support would skew all the following votes. The fact that that one vote was Solon's, and had come with what might as well be a literally glowing citation, made it as good as a letter of appointment even without the two most popular candidates having been voted on. When Solon refrained from making any comments on any of the three following candidates, it only furthered Locke's lead.
The baron had done much to encourage his men to think for themselves and act independently, but they were still ultimately his servants, and thus his son's servants-in-waiting. None of them would think any less than six times before voicing opinions counter to Solon's under such circumstances, at least not now that they knew he favoured Locke. Thus, no matter what they thought about the matter, Solon had decided the candidate the moment he'd spoken, even if he'd technically only cast one of the equi-valued votes as a platoon jarl equal to them.
The final count was Locke, four, Jersson, four, and Roma, three. There was little doubt in anyone's mind that Jersson would have carried the day outright had Solon not spoken out, and with more than just four votes. For that matter, Roma would have done a fair amount better than his mere three as well. Solon had spoken, and no one was going to fight him over a simple appointment.
"It is Jersson and Locke then," the baron declared, his gaze dancing between his men calmly.
Despite his detached tone, his gaze tamed any thoughts of further discussions the more fiery members of the group might have had of voicing further opinions.
"I have, however, made another decision," he said before Solon could smile internally with too much satisfaction, "I've decided we'll fold the current remainders of 4th Platoon into 3rd. We'll then reform 4th from the veteran surplus from the other platoons. Jersson will take command and Locke will serve as his vice-jarl--" he turned his gaze to Solon, "--And you'll take responsibility for oversee the process. Fourth will also be your child from now on. I'm not moving you out of the cavalry platoon, however. Show me you can handle the extra responsibility as well as you believe Locke can handle his."
The other jarls in the tent noticed the combination of slight reprimand and encouragement in the baron's voice. He was both tapping his son on the fingers for getting involved inappropriately and giving him an opportunity to further improve himself and prove himself. Despite the reprimand, it was a rare moment of warmth from the usually cool, even cold, baron.
"Yes, Father," Solon replied with a bow.
"Very well then. The meeting is adjourned. Wyr, I leave the new jarls impetus training to you. And get everything ready, we start preparations for Farlans tomorrow."
"Yes, Lord," said all the jarls, Solon excluded.
The men filed out of the tent quietly and efficiently, leaving only the baron and his butler. They sat and stood quietly whilst the guards came in once the last of the officers had left and cleared the table and chairs. Two maidservants followed them in and brought refreshments for the baron.
One of the few true extravagances the baron allowed himself was fine tea. He had developed the tongue for it whilst he'd spent several years in the capital in his forties. His favourite was a blend famed for its relaxative qualities. His butler brewed a batch in the small porcelain teapot for several minutes, then poured him an apportionment into a delicate teacup from the same set. Teacup finally in hand, the baron let his mind drift. He sat thus for several minutes, taking occasional sips from his cup. He didn't say a word until his cup was empty and he put it down on the table so his butler could fill it for him again.
"Do you regret swearing yourself to my service, Johann?" he asked as he sat back again, refilled cup clinking on the saucer.
"I could not be more honoured, My Lord. It is more than any slave, former or not, could ever dream of. I would be the world's most ungrateful man were I to regret anything."
"Sigh... I cannot believe it's already been twenty years. Some days I can even less believe it when I realise my children are adults now--" Cold and calculating as the baron may be as a noble, he deeply cherished his fatherhood as well, and his love for his children was infinite. "You're a mid-rank Knecht. Since you've humbled yourself to be my butler, I will treat you well."
"You are too kind, My Lord," the butler said, going down on one knee.
"Stand up," the baron said, letting sincere impatience and exasperation colour his voice, "How many times have I told you to stop with that? Mid-rank Knecht or not, you are not a spring onion anymore."
"I may be old, My Lord, but I am still more than fit enough to fight off assassins. A kneel every now and then will do me no harm," the butler said defiantly.
The baron chuckled, levelling his gaze at the butler's eyes.
"Tell, Johann, which of your sons is your favourite? Is it George in the cavalry platoon or Wharna in the supply train? George should be a peak beginner Knecht, yes? If he can make another breakthrough soon, his future will be bright."
"George is talented," Johann admitted, "At this rate he'll be a low-rank Knecht by the time he turns thirty."
"He'll make another fine warrior in my service."
Even low-rank Knechts were far from common. At the moment Cardoj had only Wyr, a high-rank Knecht, Johann, a mid-rank Knecht, and Mond, a low-rank Knecht. The rest of his already small force of impetus users were all mere beginners.
The baron himself was a low-rank Knecht. He had one more he should count, he supposed, if he was to be thorough, but the man never left his domain. His duty was to guard the baron's lands in his absence.
It had taken him his entire life to gather even just this handful. Even so, he stood head and shoulders above his peers. The most powerful of his peers only had one mid-rank Knecht, the next guy in line had just two low-rank Knechts.
One high-rank Knecht would have no trouble fighting and killing even three low-rank Knechts. As such, Wyr alone was enough to decapitate any of the baron's enemies should they choose to reveal themselves.
"Wharna's a sharp young man and he's managed the supply train well," Cardoj commented.
"He is a decent fellow," Johann said, his expression soft and warm.
That was enough to tell the baron which of his sons the butler favoured.
"So it's Wharna even though George has far greater achievements?"
"I am ashamed to admit it, My Lord, but yes, I favour Wharna. The simple answer is that he has far more filial piety."
The baron nodded his silent agreement.