"Do you need anything?" Solon asked after a rather substantial yawn.
Locke was surprised, and quite happy, to notice the marked absence of effrontery at the disturbance in the young master's tone.
"I've come to report on tomorrow's deployment and name the squad jarls," said Locke.
"No need. You and Jersson can handle it on your own. We start the campaign tomorrow morning, and I do not expect to see combat until at least lat in the afternoon. The cavalry will stay close just in case, however. You two will be in charge tomorrow. Come to me if you need anything."
"Anything else?" Solon ask to give Locke the chance to say what they both knew he was going to eventually.
"The redsea flower you gave me has been very useful," Locke said eventually.
"You want more redsea flowers? They are only useful for entry-level Knechts since they only improve impetus circulation. Consuming it raw can help increase your amount of impetus but it only works for beginner-rank Knechts. Once one reaches the peak of the beginner rank, it becomes useless. Although I don't use it anymore, it's still rather valuable." This was an obvious rejection. Then again, Solon, despite being the son of a baron, only had this one item to boost his training. He would obviously save it for his descendants rather than handing them out like candies.
"If you get great results, I might give you more. The redsea flowers may be precious, but there are still ways to find more. I don't mind giving you more but you have to earn it."
"What do I need to do to earn further rewards?" Locke asked, shuttling his wait back and forth between his two feet like a schoolchild desperately waiting for a chance to ask to be excused so he could relieve an exploding bladder in the appropriate locale.
Locke departed with a respectful bow several minutes later. He appeared in the yard at about mid-morning. He found several others already training.
Clarion, the vice jarl of 1st Platoon, Yoshk of 2nd Platoon, Dale, vice jarl of 3rd Platoon, and Jersson and Locke frequently trained in the yard. They were almost daily regulars by now. In contrast, Mond and Wyr made only occasional appearances when the fancy took them.
The rest of the platoon jarls absent weren't too concerned with power.
Karl, for example, didn't too irregularly say he was old and no longer had the spare energy to waste on anything but battles.
Those that were there, however, dedicated their attention entirely to training when they were. Locke knew it all to well and didn't disturb them even to extend the courtesy of a polite greeting. He simply marched to his usual spot and got down to training. He was careful not to lose himself in impetus training but to also spend ample time on good old weaponry. His promotion had come with a new half-set of armour and a new sword. He had left his old sword to Hans in return.
The gift of armour was no small one. Even the cheapest iron half-set cost at least 20 silvers, and his was anything but cheap. His was made of black marble and other rare metals. Even a laymen would know immediately he was dealing in illegal good if he found a set like Locke's in a street market -- sets, even half-sets, made of black marble never appeared on the public market. Locke had no doubt it was worth at least 80 silvers. That was four times his current annual salary, about two years if he counted some of his other revenue sources.
He was not ambitious, but he was always looking to earn more money. It made life easier, for both him and his family. A key to any further increases in his income was getting stronger, and so, in the short term, that was his sole goal. He clasped his sword tightly in his hands, and started working towards that goal.
The men in the yard started standing to the mess as noon came around. The camp didn't have entertainment facilities, so the officers had nothing but training and patrolling on their schedule. Those sessions were good excuses for socialising, so officers were careful to time their sessions to coincide with those of the people they liked.
Locke went along with the jovial atmosphere and the casual cursing which accompanied it.. Being a junior, he humbled himself, and with Yoshk's help, all of the platoon jarls had accepted in just a couple days.
"Don't assume the world stands still. Always think ahead. Clarion might be a civilian, but he has a distant relative in the nobility. Dale is younger than me but he is better at impetus, because his family owns a large business merchant in the barony. As for Chris, he is said to be joining the baron's household. They are not as simple as they seem.
"But of course, that doesn't mean you should look down on yourself. We may be ordinary people, but platoon jarls will usually become mayors at least once they return home. It's by no means a lowly position. There will be times when others curry favour with you. It's never a bad idea to have a good relationship with them."
As they would be going into battle tomorrow, the baron discussed the deployment with them during the meal. As for logistics and other issues, those would be handled by him personally; the soldiers only had to focus on combat. Locke found out something interesting about their battalion, that was, almost all meetings were held at the dining table, subtly enhancing the cohesion of their unit. Locke admired Baron Cardoj with all his heart.
In the evening, Locke came to Giza once again. "I've made the arrangements. Someone will pick you tomorrow. Stay in the supply camp and wait for me. I'll come to you when I have time," Locke said softly and caressed Suzanne's head.
Suzanne looked at Locke affectionately and hummed in his embrace.
The ale in the tavern had long run out and there was no point for Suzanne to remain. So, Locke brought her along with him. Suzanne was still rather reluctant to leave the place she had lived for so many years. But Locke was more important to her now. Although they only spent around ten days with each other, she could feel that he would treat her well.
"Then, my brother..." Suzanne whispered.
Locke had met Suzanne's brother before. He was an honest man, but hardships made the man in his twenties look thin and frail. "Ask your brother to come over tomorrow and settle down with the people whom I have an arrangement with. I will find him a job after the battle ends."
After staying with Suzanne for a while, Locke left the tavern. The baron might inspect the unit before mobilisation. He had to go back early, lest he gave the baron a bad impression.
It was dawn the next day. To the Shalorians, the Faustian battalion seemed like a waking giant. After a quick breakfast, all soldiers assembled with their own units. The four hundred men from the four platoons gathered into five long rows marched out of camp, flying the Faustian banner depicting a crown of thorns at the centre. The elite cavalry platoon of the battalion also departed. This unit was the baron's treasure and trump card. The majestic war horse wore sharp horse spikes and chain armour with hints of blood on them. Coupled with the lances the troops held high, the cavalry platoon seemed all the more bloodthirsty.
After an hour, the troops from the battalion departed one after another and marched into the distance in the direction of Farlans.
The gate of the camp gradually closed after the troops left. Only a small number of soldiers and logistic units remained, but even then, the remaining Shalorians couldn't defeat them.
The Shalorians who were watching nearby shrank in awe, relieved at the beast's departure. These mighty forces Faustian seemed to have left a deep impression on them.
Suzanne was also one of those watching from afar. Unlike others, she was worried. She saw Locke in the crowd clad in armour and mounted. Though the helmet blocked his face, she recognised his bright eyes with just a glance. Please be safe, she prayed.
"Ma'am, I am Henry from logistics. Sir Locke sent me here to pick you up," said a chubby man. He had a pair of long, narrow eyes that darted around sharply like those of a witty merchant.
In order to show his sincerity, Henry came in person for the task. Shalor was going to be doomed, and whether his family could make a big fortune depended on his efforts. The transportation convoy in Baron Cardoj's unit was divided into six partitions. Aside for the baron owning the largest share, the remaining five were left to compete among themselves. The partition he was in was only average and he had originally planned to get into the good graces of the newly appointed platoon jarl. However, Locke came out of nowhere all of a sudden.. However, who the jarl was never really mattered to him.
Suzanne knew that this was the person arranged by Locke, so she followed Henry to the camp. The Shalorians who were watching cowered and made way for them. Henry did not come alone; he brought a few family bodyguards who were just a little stronger than average people, only dressed in the Faustian uniform, leading the ignorant Shalorians to believe they were all Faustian soldiers. The head honcho being protected by these soldiers seemed so nice to Suzanne, so she probably managed to hitch on an impressive person.
"What are you all looking at? Get lost!" Henry yelled, annoyed. The onlookers ran away immediately.
"I still have a brother who will be tagging along..." Suzanne whispered, seemingly surprised by Henry's roar.
"Brother? Jarl Locke didn't mention anything about it, but oh well. Where is he then? Bring him along."