Four years of warring had beaten the habit of rapid dining into Locke's bones. He ravaged his meal, then wiped his hands and turned to Hans.
They returned to the purser's office. Afternoon was rapidly maturing and the majority of the base's people had retired for rest or naps. Locke marched straight for the relay and took the swollen purse from Hans.
"Hey, easy on the yelling, I hear you! Darn you, Locke. WIll you not even let me have an afternoon nap?!" Wharna complained as he stepped out of the relay building, "You're sending money back again, right? Hand it over!"
"Here. This is mine, and this belongs to my men. Don't mix them up!" Locke snapped.
"I know. This isn't the first time I've done this, you know. You've been way more trouble than anyone else for far too long!" Wharna reposted with equal irritation.
"You'll suffer if you mix it up," Locke said, driving onwards.
Come to think of it, Wharna was quite fortunate. As the one in charge of the relay, not only did he enjoy the treatment of a third-rate, he also had one of the cushiest position in the force. Few places could even dream if claiming to be as safe as that. The rearward supply lines were usually the most heavily guarded as everything in front of them depended on them. Not to mention Wharna didn't have to be watchful of other people's moods. Normal squad jarls didn't dare piss him off. Promotions were scant without the chances for glory in battle an actual field posting offered. Wharna had occupied the same position since Locke had become a third-rate.t. However, word was that Wharna was a relative of the baron's butler, so it wasn't like his future was bleak.
"Alright. Have any other requests? Like sending messages?"
Wharna had dealt with Locke so often that expecting the subsequent request was almost second nature to him.
"Yeah. Tell my parents to watch their health. Also, ell my sister to not hoard the money like a dragon but instead to buy herself something she likes. I'm not in any dire need of money right now."
He already knew what she was going to say, and he believed his sister would know what he was encouraging her to get: the aforementioned ribbon. It was the one thing he thus far regretted not being able to get for her.
"Alright, got it. Baron Cardoj's trading convoy will depart tomorrow for Tyr province in the east, before going to Felor, the royal capital, and finally Dor province in the east. It'll take at most twenty days for them to arrive."
After a short conversation with Wharna, Locke took his leave. He would need it to handle the swarm of requests that was to come past the calm afternoon.
Leaving the relay point, Locke went back to his squad tent with Hans.
"Hans, how do you think our village is doing now?"
The two of them had come from the same village and were even neighbours.
"I doubt much has changed. The maple tree at the entrance has probably grown bigger. My elder brother will get another son this year, so I should have three nephews in the village by now. We don't have to worry about the family land anymore. The harvest this year was also pretty decent. Us military families in the village were also given a portion of freshly slaughtered pig. Not to mention..." Hans was usually quite the quiet character, but he could really ramble whenever he got started.
"We've been fighting this war for four years and it's going to end soon. I really want to go back quickly," Locke said with exasperation.
Everyone back at the tent was resting, apart from the serf soldier Ferr who stood guard. Throughout their battles, they've learned to conserve their energy for the battlefield to increase their chances of survival.
Locke went to his bed, removed his outerwear and lied down, but didn't fall asleep. He was considering what he could do to get promoted as soon as possible. The Faustian military had their own unique rank system. The serfs served as cannon fodder on the battlefield and could be deployed after just two months of training. Third-rate soldiers comprised the main force of the military and had to serve for two or more years, though that time was often cut short to one during wartime. To qualify for that rating, they would have to be able to hold off three serf soldiers. Second-rate soldiers were usually appointed to be leaders of ten-man squads and had to have served up to three years or more, or two years during wartime, and be able to match three third-rate soldiers in strength. First-rate soldiers were the ace fighters of the military and served as leaders of 100-man platoons. They had to serve four years at least, or three during wartime, and be able to not just hold off, but defeat three second-rate soldiers, as they were afforded the privileges of training in an impetus technique. As for the conditions to be promoted to a knight, they weren't made public.
Locke knew his abilities well enough. He could take on three second-rate soldiers for a sufficient amount of time, and he had also served the required time. However, he couldn't be certain of his chances, as there were quite a number of people about as capable as he was. During the past two months of battles, their battalion had suffered a third of their numbers in casualties, with the leader of 3rd Platoon and vice leader of 4th Platoon dying in battle. There were only two vacant positions, but many who were vying to fill them.
The thought of the battles in the past two months caused Locke to shudder. It was among the bloodiest battles he had participated in. To take Felmo Grand Canyon, that led into the enemy nation's heartland, the three corps of the kingdom had taken turns to besiege the canyon without regard for casualties. There were rumours going about that the canyon had been defended by only one corps, yet they had held out on for so long. It was an uphill battle in both figurative and literal senses. The enemy had given it their all to hold the line. Locke had often found himself surrounded by injured enemy soldiers that charged at him like rabid dogs. Would he have done the same if it was his nation instead? The thought of the pillaging and plunder that took place after his side conquered the Bideslane domain of Shalor, the enslavement of the local folk, the capture of young women to serve in the force as comfort women, and the thought of his parents, and kind sister suffering the same fate, he could empathise with his opponents. In fact, he might even go further than they had.
While he respected the enemy soldiers for being willing to go so far, he didn't hold back. It was far, and his comrades were getting hurt and dying as well.
It took those three corps up to a month to conquer Felmo Grand Canyon. His battalion was part of the Falcon corps, specifically, 2nd Infantry Division 5th Company. The 2nd Infantry Division was the vanguard of that battle and they fielded 3rd Platoon and 4th Platoon at the forefront. Those two platoons were the first to charge into battle. Even Locke could hear the cries of pain and frenzy, not to mention the clash of blades, from all the way back. From time to time, balls of fire or bolts of lightning streaked across the skies -- undoubtedly the work of spells -- and stained the skies red.
By the time it was Locke's platoon, 1st Platoon's turn to attack, 3rd Platoon and 4th Platoon retreated with only half their numbers, causing much panic among the rest. Locke, with years of battlefield experience under his belt, forced himself to qualm that fear. Tensed muscles from fear could prove fatal on the battlefield. The more fearful one was, the faster one would die. During that battle, Locke's squad evaded many waves of magical bombardment thanks to his commands. He didn't force his men too hard either. One had to be all the more careful when dealing with desperate enemies. He chose to join Yoshk and fight at the flank near the sides of the canyon lining the cliffs, which made evading magical bombardment and arrows easier. The enemies didn't have many defending troops, so taking a spot with higher elevation wasn't too hard.
War, being what it is, saw two dead from Locke's squad. One was third-rate Grik, a powerful sword-and-shield trooper, and a serf soldier named Karr, being a boy of only 16 years of age. Locke himself managed to kill a second-rate soldier who suffered light injuries, one third-rate soldier and five to six serf soldiers in the battle itself, suffering a cut to his right chest and many smaller nicks in the process. The total contribution his squad made was killing one second-rate soldier, five third-rate soldiers and more than ten serf soldiers. The achievement wasn't just due to their superior numbers, but more so the strength of the squad.
The enemy tags could be exchanged in the supply camp for military merit. One point was rewarded for serf soldiers, five for third rates and ten for second rates. The merit could be exchanged for promotions. For instance, 100 merit points could be traded for a first-rate title. The points were also used as currency in the camps for all sorts of goods. They were far more versatile than thalers and had more purchasing power. Lastly, they could also be exchanged for money. One merit point could be exchanged for a silver thaler. What the troops did with their points was the soldiers' own choice. Faustian had suffered draughts over the past two years, so the prices of food were rather unstable. Most of the troops exchanged their merit for money to sustain their families, and the nobles and officers didn't dare embezzle that money.
Locke had been using many of his points for currency exchanges, but he changed his mind after experiencing the aforementioned bloody battle. If he couldn't survive, he wouldn't be able to take care of his family any longer. Battlefield deaths were all too common among the serf soldiers. Back then, Locke was only a third-rate soldier and despite his above-average abilities, he only barely managed to crawl to the top of the pile of corpses, completely exhausted. His abilities improved substantially after that battle, and thanks to the merit he got from collecting enemy tags and the favour shown to him by Yoshk, he finally became a squad leader and left the ranks of expendable troops.
He believed himself to be of average capability among the other troops. While his merit wasn't the highest, it was well above the majority of other soldiers. He would still stand a chance for promotion, and Yoshk would probably give him a huge hand in that matter.