The path of cultivation isn’t easy. Every advance required a substantive improvement to one's skill. A high-rank Knecht was three whole tiers above Locke. No wonder Sir Wyr held him and his peers in disdain; his strength alone was enough to give him an oppressive dominance over them. Locke knew a mid-rank Knecht could face the impact of ten cavalry. Did this mean a high-rank Knecht could take on half a platoon of cavalry? Locke shuddered at the thought.
Yoshk looked around cautiously before he whispered.
“There’s actually one more way to speed up your training… Some of the bigger forests have monsters and Falconim is a wind-attribute impetus. If we can capture these wind-attribute monsters, their blood and flesh would be very useful.”
“Huh?" Locke blurted before he could catch himself.
“A few of us once found a wind-attribute monster in a valley. Its effects appear to be similar to potions. My seed grew noticeably after I ate my portion, at least. But it isn’t as simple as it sounds. The hare was about the size of a hyena and could even shoot blades of wind.”
Locke was determined to exploit any possible ways to hasten his improvement, however, so if hunting hyena-sized hares would do that for him, he would hunt hyena-sized hares. He wasn't completely stupid, however. He was not about to go off hunting an animal the existence of which he had not known a mere five minutes ago on his own. If the other platoon jarls were willing to come along, he would take them with him.
“'Monsters'," Yoshk continued sagely, "generally refer to beasts that have awakened a superficial level of magic. On average, they're about as strong as a beginner-rank Knecht. Low-rank monsters are the equals of low-rank Knechts. Something, no one's sure exactly what, happens to monsters when they break through the low rank and they gain some modicum of human-like intelligence. The power-levels of monsters and their ranks correspond with the Knecht ranks scale all the way up, so mid-rank and high-rank monsters are respectively the equals of mid-rank and high-rank Knechts."
"The battalion encountered a mid-rank monster once. Sir Wyr managed to chase it away without any of the normies finding out, however."
“Why didn’t he kill it? It would have been valuable enough.”
“It isn’t as easy to kill monsters as you seem to think. Mid-rank monsters may be the equal of mid-rank Knechts but they are not human-sized, and their strength and durability scale proportionately to their bulk. The one Sir Wyr chased off was an earth-attribute bear. It's particular set of strengths included strong, almost stone-like skin. Despite a fair amount of effort on Sir Wyr's part, he barely did more than give the thing several nasty scratches. Never underestimate a monster, Locke; especially not while you're still as green as spring grass. Don't take one on by yourself, and even with help, don't take it head-on.”
“Understood,” Locke nodded.
The pair reached the green tent mid-conversation. The equivalent of three squads of guards could be seen either standing guard, marching on patrol, or otherwise loitering about, their eyes on the lookout for any troublemakers. The moment was slightly overwhelming for Locke. He froze for half a moment at the realisation that a years-long dream was about to be fulfilled.
“Stop daydreaming and go in.” Yoshk said, giving his protege a powerful shove between the shoulder blades before he followed the stumbling man into the tent.
The shove was too bad. Locke regained his footing and composure before he burst through the flaps, sparing him from a deeply embarrassing entrance, and he spared Yoshk a couple choice words which he left unspoken as he found eight pairs of eyes gazing at him. The eyes were those of Sir Wyr and the battalion's platoon jarls. They came up to him in pairs and greeted him kindly. Jersson had arrived earlier and was already embedded in conversation with several of the jarls. They quickly broke away from him, politely, of course, and made their way over to join Locke's group. The latter was proving substantially more popular right off the bat.
Baron Cardoj and his son arrived several minutes later and lunch started. The baron's butler clapped his hands and several servants appeared as if by magic, carrying plates of food and vases of wine.
“It's a special wine from Bideslane." Yoshk whispered as he accepted an offer from one of the servants to fill his cup, "It's weak, but the taste is good. We have one class with our meal.”
He had joined Locke at the furthest end of the table to guide him through his first sitting with the battalion's upper command.
“While we always dine with the baron, even more so on campaign, the food won't be this good. Savour it while you can,” he continued.
To his credit, Locke had managed to keep himself from quite literally grabbing everything he saw on the table. He kept himself mildly aloof, behaving almost, almost, like he was used to it. Not that he fooled anyone, they all knew him too well, but the effort at least spared him embarrassment. The baron spent most of the meal learning more about his two new subordinates, even sincerely asking about their personal lives and backgrounds. Of course, neither of the two failed to frequently insert one compliment or another, or one statement of their loyalty or another in at every second answer.
“I hear both your parents still live," the baron was now asking, "You also have a sister, if I'm not mistaken," the baron's tone made the statement a question.
Locke wasn't too surprised. He was a vice platoon jarl now, he held sway over 100 men. It made him one of the baron's senior officers. It was only natural for the baron to want to know someone so high up in his own command. If for no other reason than to know with what kind of missions he could trust the man.
“Yes, Sir,” Locke answered honestly.
“You don't have to worry about them anymore. I will make sure they are well looked after,” the Baron Cardoj said in reply.
Despite himself, Locke's voice was jumpy with excitement. It was understandable, however, this was his first time directly interacting with someone of such noble station.
The conversation lingered on minor matters until the meal was finished, then the baron officiated the two new platoon jarls' promotions. No matter who knew about their promotion, it didn't exist until it was officiated, and thus they only now actually became platoon jarls. The first action either of the two would see in their new positions would be the siege of Farlans.
4th Platoon's jarl, Platoon Jarl Jersson, his second-in-command, Vice-Jarl Locke, and the various squad jarls stood in a tent in the northwestern corner of the camp two days later, discussing their disposition in the coming campaign.
“We will all the fighting together from now on," Jersson said, starting the meeting, "and this is our first meeting, so I believe introductions are in order."
He and Locke had carefully considered which of the two should open their first meetings. It may sound trivial, but the decision would set the tone for their joint-command for the rest of their residency in the command seats. A hands-on jarl would take the lead even in opening the meeting, whilst one more inclined to leave the work of actual order issuing to his second would have left the duty to his vice-jarl.
“I am Gulas, jarl of 1st Squad,” a huge man with a thick beard started.
“Raffles, jarl of 2nd Squad,” A young, gloomy, hawk-nosed man followed.
“Bond, 2nd Squad.”
“Morty, 4th Squad.”
The last of the battalion's vacancies were filled with Jersson and Locke's promotions. The old 3rd and 4th platoons had been merged, with 4th's old jarl taking his best with him. The baron had expected as much, so he'd had replacements, mostly green recruits, marched over from most of the other platoons to replace them.
Locke and Jersson were actually quite happy with a new command staff. It made it far easier for them to assert their authority than if they were the only newcomers to an already well-established dynamic. It had also afforded them the opportunity to make their own picks for the positions. Some had been put up by the baron, moved in from other platoons, most were appointed by merit from amongst the men the two had brought with them from their old commands and the oldies in the platoon itself. A couple had... smoothed their promotion with gifts. The two had been careful not to accept too many such gifts, and to keep the sums moderate, and, of course, they hadn't accept these gifts to smooth promotions into key positions.
That said, Locke still owned 20 silver thalers now. It was more wealth than he had ever seen at once in his entire life. The man who'd contributed the majority of those silvers was the son of a powerful businessman in the baron's demesne. He was the patriarch of a very rich and profitable trading guild, it even had the baron's personal backing.
Locke had, of course, brought his entire squad with him. From amongst them, however, he could only promote Hans and Caen to squad jarls. Hans was the more powerful of the two, so he had been given 7th Squad.
Locke and Jersson each commanded five of the platoon's ten ten-man squads. It was not a common arrangement. Most vice-jarls acted more as megaphones for the platoon jarls and were given command of forces on the field only as their platoon jarl needed to delegate objectives to them. Jersson, however, having learnt of Locke's special relationship with the baron's son, had decided it would be a good idea to share as much of his command with the young man as was reasonably feasible without undermining is primacy in the command hierarchy. He had also decided to take Locke in as his confidante, as a close advisor, not just a tool with which to execute his commands.
“I trust you all know of our upcoming campaign,” Jerrson continued once the last of the introductions had finished, “We are in the third wave for now since we're still green as a platoon…”
Field battles were generally an equal load on both sides but sieges very much put more strain on the attacker. The baron had decided to split his forces into four waves. The first would have to face the worst of the enemy's fire and was expected to suffer the worst casualties. Each subsequent wave would suffer less as they faced an enemy weakened by each previous wave's attacks. The expectation was that the fourth wave would suffer only very few casualties. The plan was to have the city's gates down by the time they came into play. They'd clean out any remaining defenders around the gate and clean out the street so the cavalry could charge into the city's interior, making for the city's government hall.
Locke's platoon, in the third wave, would face barely any stronger resistance than the fourth, but they were responsible for opening that gate. The enemy understood perfectly how important the gate was, so it was entirely possible they'd station far more men there than elsewhere, and that 4th Platoon would thus face far stronger resistance than the current plan expected. Stronger resistance or not, they had to take the gate, and Locke and Jersson had every intention of making a good showing in their first battle in platoon command.