All was silent in the rear courtyard of the city's main palace -- save for a few stomach rumbles.
Locke was sat at a stone table in the courtyard, enjoying the breakfast his men had delivered earlier. It was a simple meal: meatloaf and porridge. The men had probably got it from a tavern or some rich family's kitchen. Despite not informing anyone about his current residence, his subordinates had found him. Being powerful certainly did come with its perks: people tripped over themselves left, right, and centre to flatter him.
Locke was more than happy to be on the receiving end, having been in those soldier's shoes at one point as well. And then there was the little fact that he was famished. The baron had given permission for the men to loo the city for one day. They weren't supposed to be looting again today, but it was impossible to pick a city clean in just one afternoon and evening, and even more impossible to stop the men from getting a few extra pickings when nobody was looking even when they weren't supposed to. The baron had not issued any further orders to Locke or the other platoon jarls, so he could only close one eye to the ongoing enrichment, not that he minded when he benefitted from it as well. This breakfast was a case in point.
His three guests stared at him while he ate. One of their stomachs growled. It wasn't singing a solo for long. A few minutes later it was a trio, and the faces mounted on them were beet red.
"Uncle, I'm very hungry." the little girl, Kristin Locke knew now, whispered through the gap of the door.
Uncle? Locke didn't know how to handle such an address. He was just 18. How could he possibly be considered an uncle? He stroked his beard, looked at his calloused hands, and plucked two strands of grey hair. Was he really only 18 years old?
"Come here. I can't finish it all by myself," he said kindly.
It wasn't completely a lie. He had been served liberally, were he a normal human he would indeed have been quite stuffed by the end, but since he trained impetus, his appetite could modestly be described as ravenous. He had come to believe impetus refined food into some kind of energy other than the kind his body needed for normal functioning. He had certainly not found his new food consumption limit yet. Or at least, it seemed to increase every time he felt like he had found it. That said, the little girl was quite cute, so he didn't mind giving her a couple bites.
Kristin staggered into the room. She hadn't fully recovered. He watched her wobble unsteadily towards him and felt sorry for the little thing. He stepped to her and swept her into his arms. The little girl squealed and a beet red face, even redder than it had been before, stared back at him.
Locke, however, merely thought she was feeling worse.
"Eat up. If it's not enough, I'll get you more."
The little girl nodded tenderly and started eating, seated in Locke's lap.
The previous night, Kristin had called out for her aunt after a nightmare woke her up. Despite her pain, the woman returned to the bed to comfort her. Locke had little concern for them, but at least a little consideration had crept into his heart at the site. He had given them the room and slept next door. He had not been afraid they'd run; the city was crawling with soldiers, and the land beyond the walls was nowhere for two women and a girl to be walking around in alone.
He had expected the girl to be absolutely terrified of him, but, surprisingly, she'd warmed to him quite quickly. A man changed once he killed someone, once he'd seen the horrors of war and battle. They carried with them an aura of death, of steely determination which frightened normal people. Even grown men, civilian men, did not dare look him in the eye. Kirstin clearly didn't know about this law of the world, however. Her eyes had been glued to him since he had stepped out for training the next morning.
The girl stopped eating before she had finished the last of the food. She finished off her meal with a sip from the soup bowl. Her ears, which had returned to a more human colour, was suddenly bright red again, and Locke realised she'd sipped from the same bowl he had. The middle and upper classes tended to consider such things very inappropriate, so she had no doubt been lectured extensively on the impropriety she had just committed. She steeled herself, however, willing her face to cool down, and had a slice of meatloaf as dessert. There were still four meatloaves, some of the other food, and a good half of the bowl of soup left, and she stared at Locke pleadingly whilst two stomachs behind the door growled again.
Locke sighed. Little as he cared for the other women, despite their obvious substantial social standing, it would be a little too cruel to continue ignoring them. It would certainly not do to starve his newest bit of furniture. He nodded to the girl as much the martyred noble as he could be.
"Yes!" the girl yeeped.
She nabbed the meatloaves and vanished through the door, leaving a somewhat slobbered kiss on Locke's cheek as she departed.
"Call me Brother!" he shouted after her after he recovered from his momentary astonishment, feeling the meatloaf-smelling wetness on his cheek.
"You are a noble. How can you do such a... shameless thing..." Glace scolded her niece.
"Brother is a good person," Kirstin insisted.
She did not admit, nor was she even really fully aware, that she was actually happy to have a strong man in her presence. She and her aunt and the maid had been vulnerable for too long. She wanted to feel safe, to have someone to depend on, someone who could protect her.
Glace didn't know what to do with Kirstin when she got that glint in her eye. She had more than earned her title as the royal capital's 'little demon'. She only listened to three people: herself, her father, and her grandfather -- and only one of the three was present at the moment. She had been controllable in the only because of childhood ignorance. Now she had a working head, not even her aunt could control her.
Laffey didn't comment. She liked Kirstin, but she had suffered under the sword the girl called a tongue once too often to dare open her mouth if she could avoid it. For her part, she'd been almost in tears when she had woken up. She had not only failed to protect her mistress, she had lost her bracelet! It was the only keepsake she had left of her mother. It was supposed to be her dowry. She planned to scan the room in which they'd fought thoroughly once she had the chance. She just had to find it.
Locke could not be less interested in the three's thoughts or hopes. He simply told them to stay where they were and left.
While the resistance forces had all been swept clean after the assault, the refugees still caused quite some trouble. They were certainly not easy to deal with, and if they were to break out into a riot, things would go south very quickly. The men were walking on eggshells. They only went after the more profitable middle and upper class families who had not abandoned the city. They wanted to make as much money as possible from pissing off as few people as possible.
Locke found his men in the midst of one of their lootings. Gulas slammed a giant trunk into a yellow-wood door. It shattered and a scream echoed in the house beyond. The men rushed in as one and shouts and shrieks burst through the windows. The men re-emerged a few minutes later with a clay pot or duck in hand. The neighbours descended on the house as soon as the men had turned the corner. They swarmed the place like flees a carcass. And unlike the soldier, they were not picky about what they took.
They acted like a quail in front of the Faustian soldiers. One of the saucebox refugees accidentally ran into a soldier who holding a pot. The man had been snacking on whatever pickles the pot contained. After having black bread for days on end, pickles were a luxury. He hadn't noticed the refugee and the jar slipped out of his hands at the impact. He unsheathed his sword and bisected the man's back in one motion, then walked away cursing. Some bystanders watched him leave in fear. It was to be expected, really. The army was badly outnumbered in the city. If they didn't stamp out any resistance with brutal force, immediately, they could easily be overrun, especially spread out through the city as they were.
Gulas, who was giving instructions, saw Locke and ran over.
"Do you need anything, Boss?"
The young man's attitude had completely reversed after the assault. Locke, for his part, had taken a liking to Gulas as well. In fact, the two were about as close these days as Locke was with his other two shadows: Hans and Caen.
"Nothing much, just taking a look," Locke answered casually.
They had not been given any specific orders beyond the looting time limit, so he had nothing to do. He spent his time walking around and talking with his men. He knew many of them liked getting close with their superiors.
"I found something interesting."
"Well, show me, then," Locke said and followed his subordinate.
Gulas led him through the city ruins to a wooden door. Two soldiers stood guard, both his subordinates.
The two passed through it, walked down the corridor covered in soot and smog, and found a couple people squatting and trembling in a room at the end of the short corridor. A couple boxes were stacked in one corner of the room as well.
Gulas furrowed his brows at Locke and looked at them intently. At a glance, Locke read that pig's mind and immediately rewarded him with a huge kick. He thought the man had grabbed a civilian woman in the city to fool around with. He had been in the army for many years and had done many bad things, but there were some lines he wouldn't cross. Locke could proudly say that he had never taken advantage of a civilian woman before.
Somehow, Gulas understood his confusion and didn't retaliate.
"They're not women, Boss."