The more Locke thought about having a noblewoman as his wife, the more excited he got. He was thinking of Glace, of course.
She was currently sitting somewhere inside the house. She heard him enter. Although she was not sure about his plans, she had a decent guess. Her acute eyes had not missed his glances, and she knew those eyes all too well.
She didn't have much of a choice, however. Laffey had told her he was at least as strong as her deceased butler.
Unlike Kristin, Glace had not misread his age. She was certain he was no older than his early twenties.
Locke's lunch arrived hot on his heels. He'd asked for a double portion of the good meal of the day.
Laffey good talented at cooking. She could make a pot of delicious chicken soup without using much. Locke had thought she would make roast chicken, but he was not about to complain.
He sat again at the same table in the courtyard as the previous evening, chewing on a meatloaf and sipping soup.
"Let's eat," he told Kirsten as he waved her over.
"Hooray!" she shouted and skipped over, sitting in his lap without reservation.
Looking at her demeanour, one would have sworn it was the most normal thing in the world for a young girl to sit in a strange man's lap. Locke gave her full access to his lap and inhaled the scent of her as she hopped on. If this was one of the perks of power, then he was now even more determined to become even more powerful.
Laffey was still uncomfortable dining with him, but she did not fight him when he insisted.
Glace joined them awkwardly not long after. The four ate in silence like they were a normal family.
"You've practiced impetus, yes?" Locke asked Laffey between bites.
She did not answer.
"Yes," Glace said, stepping in, "Laffey practices one of the family's techniques."
Locke caught the plural. What powerhouse was Glace's family for them to have multiple impetus techniques? He knew only Baron Cardoj, and he had only one technique.
"I will see to your reward as long as you get us out of here safely."
Locke waved her into silence.
"You are my captives. Everything of yours is mine, so you have no 'generosity' to give me," he interrupted.
Laffey was indeed an impetus user, but Locke was certain she was at best the same rank as him. She was far from his equal in actual combat experience and skill, however. She stood no chance of beating him.
Kristin rebuked him for making her aunt feel uncomfortable, however, and it shut him up. Kirstin knew he was an enemy, but she didn't care about it much when he had treated her this well. She didn't bother with politics, especially not when it came to deciding whether people who made her feel safe were good people or not.
Laffey cleaned up when everyone was finished and vanished back into the house, leaving Glace and Kirstin with Locke. The two women watched as Locke took out his redsea flower, crushed it and ate. He chewed it until it was a smooth pulp, swallowed, and sat down to start circulating his impetus.
He could feel the flower going to work, though he didn't have the faintest inclink as to how it worked or what exactly it did. He only knew it made his training more effective. His body heated up and soon it felt like he was burning from the inside out. He recognised the feeling, and despite the severe pain, he did not panic.
He sat thusly for two hours. He had turned into a statue. What felt like his first breath in hours he finally took with great effort and broke out of his trance. He could tell his impetus vortex had enlarged a further third and was now half a soybean. He was now Yoshk's half-equal.
The first Knecht rank had no bottlenecks and the training couldn't be simpler. One just had to meditate and increase one's impetus capacity. He would break through to the next rank once his vortex was about as big as his thumb. Just because the road didn't have bumps, didn't mean it was an easy one, however. Many people never get out of the first rank.
The redsea flower had done an immense amount for him, but he could already sense it was slowly losing its efficacy. The decrease was minimal at the moment, but it would quickly accelerate and leave Locke on his own soon. Since it had yet to become ineffective, however, Locke decided to find an opportunity to get some more from Solon.\
He felt somewhat bloated from all the impetus, so he decided to do some physical training. His capacity was still too small, so he could not rely on it alone to win his battles. He needed to use his physical strength as well, which meant he had to keep as fit as possible.
He wiped the sweat off his face an hour later. From the side, Kristin stared at his pectorals unblinkingly. No one knew what she was thinking, but her cheeks were slightly flushed. Laffey, who had rejoined them at some point, seemed just as aloof as always.
Locke finished drying himself off and retrieved the golden bracelet he'd taken from Laffey and handed it back to her. She grabbed it and stared at him, holding it to her in the clutch of a mother who'd just found a lost child.
"Where did you find it?"
"I picked it up," he said with a straight face.
"Thank you. Thank you!" Laffey half cried, "This is all I have left of my mother."
"Then don't lose it again," he said as if he actually thought she had 'lost' it.
"I won't," she answered, clutching the bracelet even deeper in her bossom.
Glace watched the exchange from the sidelines, then blinked.
"I can see you're not a horrible person, so why won't you let us go?" she asked finally.
"Do you think you will last a week on your own?" Locke shot back.
Glace knew better than to argue that particular point. Even if they somehow made it out of the city and the region on their own, there was no safe place for them in the entire kingdom now.
"If you can send us abroad, to another country--"
"Impossible. I'm just a platoon jarl. I couldn't even send a letter abroad. Besides, you're Shalorian and I'm Faustian. You're my spoils. I have absolutely no obligation to do anything for you," he said, intending to shut down any further discussion, and turned away from her.
Glace teared up slightly, but Kirstin quickly chirped in.
"Don't cry, Auntie. It won't be too bad to stay with Big Brother."
Despite his suspicions, Locke didn't have the faintest idea exactly what their background was beyond that they had to be nobles, or the family of one. This was a prime chance for him to climb up in the world regardless of exactly what kind of noble they were, so he was not going to let them slip between his fingers.
The city was now firmly under Faustian thumbs and the baron was preparing to move on. He was busy organising the caravan and its escort responsible for taking the spoils back to the kingdom.
Suzanne arrived a few days later and moved into the house as well. She took the main bedroom where Locke had been staying without a word. The three women were relegated to the guest rooms. Suzanne was initially hostile to the three women but relaxed once Locke assured her he had touched none of them.
Henry, the battalion's main merchant, visited the next day. One of Locke's men had delivered the portion he'd told them to give to Henry to deal with. He had come today to present the sum he'd made thus far. He had dragged Suzanne's ex-husband with him.
Locke was rich to the tune of 200 silvers after the battle. He was finally beginning to grasp, to truly understand, that one got more the higher one's station. His next order of business, he decided, was to get a proper shield.
His current armour and sword had been bestowed by the baron. They were adequate, but he would feel better if he had a sturdy shield. The shields he could scavenge from the battle were not strong enough, and he did not want to rely on scavenging for a shield when he needed one in the heat of battle.
"A shield? No problem!" Henry half-shouted, slapping his stomach, "Leave it to me."
"Something like a buckler would be fine," Locke requested, "It doesn't have to be big, I just need it to be strong."
"No problem. I know a good blacksmith in Bideslane. Just let me know what your specification are and I'll have it made."
Henry took the goods and left with the caravan. The men were usually given a short break after a battle, some time to recoup and recover. That was the time of the merchant's battle. Henry had already done good business, however, so he didn't stick around for long. He promised to have Locke's shield in his hands in a fortnight.