The small courtyard consisted of two buildings overlooked by a porter. After being admitted, the two quickly entered the building at the centre of the courtyard.
Upon entering, the woman removed her cloak to reveal a young, almond-shaped face. She was in her mid twenties, with delicate skin and supple hair; there was a rather morbid beauty in her gaunt state. The little girl in her arms had an equally pale look. Her tiny body seemed almost weightless in the woman’s arms. She seemed to be sick based on the unnatural red flush on her cheeks.
"My lady, the young master still refused us," said the cloaked man. He seemed to be in his fifties or sixties; the marks of time were etched deeply as wrinkles on his face. He appeared to be the woman’s servant.
"Sigh, if he can’t even protect himself now, how is he supposed to send his men to escort us?" The beautiful woman lamented. "Laffey, get a bowl of soup for Kristin," she instructed the maid that just entered as she touched the little girl’s head gently and placed her on the chair next to her.
"My Lady, there’s almost no food left," the little maid said with a bow. Shocked, the woman asked, "Didn’t I just pawn my earrings and bracelet? Shouldn’t that money be enough for two meals?"
"Madam, food’s getting more expensive in the city. Even then, it’s hard to buy anything even if we do have the money," Laffey explained in a meek voice.
"It’s alright. We’ll do our best to hold on as long as we can, and if worst comes to worst..." The woman touched her sapphire necklace around her neck; it was her last and most precious piece of jewelry.
As instructed, the maid got the little girl a bowl of soup; it was all they had left. The woman and the two servants didn’t have anything to eat. They would be able to hold out for some time, but the sick girl needed the nourishment. Despite skipping a meal, the two highly disciplined servants showed no signs of dissatisfaction. The old servant went outside to stand guard overnight. On the other hand, the maid retreated to her room for some rest after getting permission from her mistress.
The woman carefully fed the little girl with the spoon. The girl obediently sat up and drank the soup quietly. Her eyes squinted in bliss as she drank. "Auntie, you should have some too," she said in a frail, tender voice as she blushed adorably.
"I’ve already had my share. Little Kristin, drink more soup so you’ll get well soon, okay?"
"Yes, yes!!" The little girl nodded eagerly.
"But Auntie, you should drink too..." she mumbled once more.
This woman was no ordinary person. Her name was Glace, and she was a famous beauty in the Kingdom of Shalor. Not only that, her father was Marquis Felippe, one of the three marquises of Shalor. As the beloved daughter of the marquis, she was the pearl of the imperial capital and the flower of the kingdom.
But in this moment, she was nothing more than a regular woman, one approaching the edges desperation.
Glace lulled Kristin to sleep after feeding her. She had no money left to bring the little girl to the apothecary, not that it was going to be easy to find one now even with the money. In times of war, all apothecaries would be conscripted to serve in the military. As a matter of fact, Shalor was facing a critical period right now. Most apothecaries would probably be serving alongside soldiers under the lords, like her brother, Willis, the mayor of Farlans.
Glace sat silently beside the bed after tucking the little girl in. It was a cloudy night. No moonlight could be seen and darkness was everywhere, much like her shrouded heart. She couldn't help but to think about her father.
Shalor had three provinces, each with its own Marquess: Marquis Felippe, Marquis Campbell and Marquis Clark. The three marquises each ruled over one province to defend the kingdom. However, only two marquises were left after Clark died in the bloody battle at Gordon Heights. Felippe and Campbell were now stationed at Entil and Eilis by the order of the king.
During the night one month ago, her father summoned her. He told her to pack up and bring her elder brother’s daughter to her younger brother, Willis. "The kingdom is on the edge of life and death," said Felippe. There was a time when he used to be a brilliant mastermind; now he was just a washed up, old man in frail health. "Quickly, bring Kristin to your brother Willis. His territory is near the Morphey Forest. You can borrow some of his troops to protect you when crossing the forest to get to the Kingdom of Karaman. Over there, I have a few manors for you to stay in. Everything will be taken care of there," said Felippe, with an almost nagging tone. "Remember: do not return. The royal family is monitoring our family to prevent anyone escaping. Only you and Kristin are allowed to leave. The men don’t stand a chance! You both must live on for the sake of preserving the Felippe bloodline!"
With an escort of ten guards, Glace and Kristin sought refuge from her previously underappreciated brother. Perhaps due to being held in contempt in his childhood, being an illegitimate child of her father and a maid, he refused to show any sign of compassion for her or Kristin. He even reassigned most of her guards to protect the city, leaving them to fare for themselves with barely any guards for protection.
"Willis plans to sweep through Morphey Forest and the Kingdom of Karaman." Having been an adept socialite in the royal capital, Glace could easily see through her brother’s intentions. On the surface, it seemed like there were no issues in making their departure together. However, his attitude hinted that he was keen on leaving them behind.
Fortunately, she was well known as the daughter of the head of the household among the troops in the city. Willis would certainly not dare to go mistreat her blatantly, having no choice but to confine her at home.
Kristin slept on. Glace covered herself with her blanket and laid beside her, but she was having trouble falling asleep. She, Laffey, and the butler had not eaten anything for a whole day. Her last meal was when she managed to sneak away two pieces of pastries when she met her brother at the city main house. Willis was really pushing them to their breaking point.
While Glace was trying hard to forget her hunger by falling asleep, a cacophony of loud cries and shouts outside interrupted her. With every passing second, the noise intensified, as if the whole city was breaking down into chaos. "What’s wrong?" Glace opened the door and looked around.
"My Lady, bad news. The Faustian troops are surrounding the city! Let’s move fast before they surround the city completely!" urged the old butler..
Glace immediately went back inside and scooped up Kristin, who was still fast asleep. Together with the old butler and her maid, they followed the crowd. The residents of this sector were all wealthy, so following their escape route was at least going to be safer. With little time to spare, they had to make one last gamble. Both the butler and maid had impetus, and they hoped that that would be enough to bring Glace and Kristin out of Morphey Forest.
Outside the city, Cardoj and Cashel sat around the campfire where a pheasant was being grilled. "This was caught by my guard. Baron Cardoj, you’re really lucky tonight," Cashel joked.
"It’s my pleasure to taste your cooking," Cardoj said humbly.
The soldiers around them marched fast. Along the way, they had agreed to attack with their agreed upon strategy. Cardoj would block one gate, while Cashel would block two. The last gate would be left open as one avenue of escape from the city.
The rationale behind this was to prevent Farlans from fighting with desperation. If they had some hope of escape, they wouldn’t be so willing to fight to their deaths. Besides, the unoccupied gate was not going to be totally left open; some of Cardoj’s platoons would be waiting to intercept the wealthy businessmen and nobles making their escape. These people, if captured, would be highly valuable. The two barons were confident that everything would go to plan, especially with the high-rank Knecht, Wyr, stationed there.
By the time the pheasant was cooked, the encirclement was complete. Nearly a thousand soldiers surrounded the small city twice over, and one of Cashel’s platoon was stationed near the unblocked northern gate.
Under the orders of their respective officers, the soldiers filled up their stomachs and kept their spirits high. They would not be attacking tonight, mainly to let the Shalorians’ fighting spirit drain out as they waited anxiously for the attack to start. In addition, the troops had been marching for a day and needed some time to rest. The siege would start first thing the next morning.
Locke was stationed at the west gate where his unit would mount their attack. No one really knew about the fine details of the deal made between the two barons, but the gist of it was whichever platoon infiltrated the city first would receive a generous reward.
3rd Platoon would first try to attack the city tomorrow to test the gate’s defence. Then, the 1st Platoon and 2nd Platoon would follow suit. After this, the city’s fate would be sealed. This was just one small city, and their usual strategy had worked time and time again. Locke’s platoon would be the third one to enter, mostly to clean up the mess.
His task tomorrow was one of the easier ones. Locke breathed a sigh of relief. Although he was no stranger to bloodshed and flames of war, having been a soldier for four years, Locke still had a great reverence for death. Despite being assigned the least dangerous task with the least rewards, Locke was still satisfied. Nothing else mattered to a dead man anyway.