The afternoon sun made for four. Most of the others were awake, and Locke got out of the bed to gather them together.
"Come. Let's go get a drink! This afternoon's been so hot I couldn't get a wink of sleep!" he complained.
"You're the best, Boss!" His men half-shouted.
No man in his right mind said no to free drinks, and even a crazy soldier knew better than to turn down such an opportunity. And on days like today, only alcohol could cool men down better than ice-cold water.
"Caen, take everyone to Green Palm. Buy each a cup of ale and put it on my tab. Hans, you'll come with me to fetch Platoon Jarl Yoshk," Locke continued.
"By your command!" the two shouted in exaggerate military discipline.
Locke stepped into Yoshk's tent a few minutes later.
"Time to drink!" he shouted at his superior officer, who was only half out of bed.
"Pipe down, kid! My head's ringing already and I haven't had a single swig of alcohol yet!" Yoshk barked through half-asleep lips.
"Don't take too long. We're meeting at the Green Palm. My men have gone ahead."
"Then let's get going," Yoshk said as he jostled the last piece of his casual outfit into place.
"You're Hans, right?" he asked as the three departed. "You've improved quite substantially."
"Yes, Uncle. I have, if I do say so myself. I can take on three barbarians by myself now," Hans replied.
"It's his appetite," Locke put in, "He eats twice my portion on days he's not particularly hungry."
"Every good soldier has an appetite," Yoshk shot back, "You have potential, but you're basically a reed."
Locke stood at 176 centimetres, a fair hand's width taller than the average soldier, and tipped 75 kilos on the scale, but Yoshk stood at 190 and tipped 150 on the scale. Hans was just about in the middle between the two on both counts; he just about reached 180 and just about broke into triple digits on the scale.
Despite the not insignificant difference in rank, the three chattered easily as they departed the base and entered the town.
Giza, the town in which the three were stationed, had once been a Shalorian town. It was part of Faustian's most recent conquests of Shalorian territory. Two months earlier, the kingdom had taken the Felmo Grand Canyon, the last of the natural barriers that stood in the kingdom's way into the heartland of Shalore. Faustian's three corps had marched into Shalorian heartland shortly thereafter and not stopped until could make out the banners fluttering on the tops of walls of the kingdom's walls. Falcon had come up from the south. They'd encountered mostly guerillas, and had split up into four divisions, each some 20 thousand strong, then split those four divisions into 500-strong detachments which had been tasked with sweeping the landscape clean, especially any settlements. Five hundred men were more than enough to handle anything small enough to be unwalled, and when they had encountered larger settlements, they'd gather up 5000 men and lay siege. Most of those forces were infantry, the five thousand cavalry had stayed with the baggage train.
Giza was one of the smaller towns in Shalore's south. It had suffered a particularly brutal siege and most of it lay in charred ruins, the buildings' occupants not crowding the streets. The three men were met with no small number of fear- and hate-filled gazes. They stood out like sore thumbs in their uniforms. Locke did not allow himself to be burdened with sympathies, however. War was war, and war brought death and destruction. The fight for Giza at the end of the siege had been tough, if not as brutal as the pounding stages of the siege. And the image of Faustian soldiers soaked in blood had put the fear of the gods thoroughly into the surviving townsfolk.
Green Palm's owner did not share his neighbours' fears, however. In fact, there were more than a few rumours floating about the town that he'd all but openly betrayed Shalore even before the first Faustian scout had poked his head above the horizon. He'd apparently sold crucial information about the settlement's defences, and during the final fighting, had taken the mayor's son hostage to force his surrender. He'd also been quick to offer substantial tribute to the settlement's new de facto ruler, Baron Cardoj. It had worked, and now the tavern was the only place left in the town still operating.
It's customers were almost exclusively from the occupier's common ranks, however. Officers didn't sully their shoes' soles dirt from with Shalorian floors, after all. Squad jarls were just about the most senior rank you'd ever see in the tavern, and the absence of the strictures and protocol that accompanied them wherever they went, was a welcome addition to the warm heat of the jovial atmosphere. Of course, the fact that, despite being the only drinking place in town, they were also quite reasonable with their prices, contributed its fair share to the Palm's popularity. As such, thalers flowed just about as freely as the ale. A pitcher of the beloved liquid ran a man out of only a single copper. That same pitcher would rob a man of two coppers in the base. Whilst the Palm was the only establishment operating at the moment, drinks were not the only thing for which the thalers were paying. The town's women, about as desperate for money as anyone during a famine, were selling themselves for just about any price they could get. They were proving quite popular as well because they were far less used than those who'd long made it their profession and as such had tagged along with the army to this town. Whilst it was technically forbidden to fornicate with unsanctioned females, enforcing that rule was just as impossible as one might imagine, and the officers saddled with that particular responsibility generally just so happen to consistently forget about that particular set of orders. The top brass usually just shut one eye with regards to things that happened in the tavern.
Locke and company arrived as a-chatter as they'd been when they'd set off from the senior' officer's quarters. The thick stench of sweat and several raised, but jovial, voices spilled out of the building and assaulted the three as they opened the front door. After seeing a few familiar faces, they nodded and greeted politely. Yoshk was most enthused by the sight of more of his men. Yoshk was one of the few more senior officers generally liked by the grunts that filled the tavern, and a number of them immediately came over to butter him up as was habit, but he spared them only abbreviated nods.
"Boss! Boss!" a voice called out.
Locke followed it and found Caen and his other men seated at a couple long tables pushed together in the tavern's furthest corner. Each held a cup of ale, as yet untouched.
Locke and Hans made their way over whilst Yoshk was giving his abbreviated nods to the unwelcome guests.
"You should start drinking. I still have a few things to discuss with the jarl. Get Hans a cup," Locke added the last sentence as he split a gaze off at Caen.
"Alright," Caen answered, promptly handing Locke a silver key.
"Enjoy yourselves," Locke said as he headed back to his superior officer, key in hand.
Hans broke into a smile when he saw Caen coming back with a cup.
"Alright boys, enjoy your drinks. I'll be back down in a bit."
"We'll be waiting, Boss!"
"Uncle, let's go," Locke said. Yoshk nodded when he heard Locke and told the others around him, "I have some matters to attend to, so enjoy your drinks."
"Alright, Sir. Make sure to come drink with us when you're done!"
The soldiers nodded obediently at Locke's rather lofty tone. Conflicts within the battalion were common, and even something as insignificant as Locke calling Yoshk his 'uncle' was enough to set them apart. Those who heard it subconsciously elevated Locke's status in their mind. Not to mention quite a few could rightly guess what Locke was going to discuss with the platoon jarl.
Locke waited quietly for another minute or so whilst Yoshk finished up his neck-breaking nodding, then the two headed upstairs. They nodded at the owner's wife as they passed her -- she was a curly-haired red-headed, and mysterious woman that went by the name Suzanne -- and she shot Locke a seductive gaze in return.
You dreamy vixen, Locke thought.
The tavern's first floor had six rooms up for reservation. Locke had the key to one of them, which he used to unlock it now. It wasn't very big, though it did have a good 20 square metres between its four walls, the outward-facing one of which was broken by a large window through which the distant mountains in their green coats could be seen. The room's only table stood below the window. Besides it there were only two stools, both of which accompanied the table, and a small bench. The curtains near the door were well-maintained but had clearly not been expensive. A small clothing rack stood in one of the room's corners. The table was topped with two classes and two corked bottles of ale. It was comfortable, if not luxurious, and Locke knew his way around it. He'd used it once before during one of his sucking up sessions. Lock had been quite impressed with the room when he'd first seen it, which had brought a lovely smile from Suzanne, and he'd heaped praise on her for her good taste.