Because the troops were going to the Bering Mountains and being in this old forest of the deep mountains would present a great challenge to the logistics, the caravans of the supply camp could only choose to stay put. They couldn’t be expected to trade with the creatures and beasts if they followed along, could they?
As a last resort, Locke hunted down Henry the merchant for his assistance. Suzanne needed Henry’s help to find a place to settle down.
Henry patted his chest and promised that he would ensure the safety of the women. As a caravan manager, Henry also had several daredevils serving him. Locke knew that most of them had the strength of third-rate soldiers, so he was rather relieved. Just a few days ago, Henry had brought him a black shield about the length of an arm. It was crafted by a blacksmith he knew from Bideslane. Although it was made from a common metal, it was likely made by an expert. Locke tested the shield and found that it was more than twice as strong as his armour on top of being lightweight. His left arm was fully able to bear its weight.
So far, Locke owed Henry a lot. Thus, the last time he got 1,000-odd silver coins, Locke let Henry handle them. Henry didn’t scam him either. The exchange rate in the supply camp was 2:1, while Henry offered him a ratio of 3:2. Locke managed to land 800 silver thalers, but he did not bother with Yoshk’s coins. He believed that Yoshk surely had some channels of his own as well, perhaps an even better one too. It was a known fact that each person must form their very own network -- Locke could not rely on Yoshk for everything, for this would make him seem incapable.
This was a one-time deal, since Yoshk warmed him against frequently doing so. He packaged it along with the gains from their visit to the black market in Wallier and let Henry profit off it as repayment for the favour he owed. Henry had always known about the Shalorian black market, but he lacked the perfect opportunity. The location that Locke informed was of tremendous help. Because of the particularity of the city’s location, the Faustian army should not be able to bulldoze through the Shalorians’ sanctuary spot for the time being. He believed that this black market would exist for quite some time, and there was even likelihood of it growing in size.
Unlike Locke, who could only deal with currency exchanges, Henry had more supplies that the Shalorians urgently needed. It was no joking matter. This could fall under espionage charges. Wallier was under occupation by Faustian troops, and this district was only temporarily neglected because of the rush to meet the needs of the war. Once the frontlines calmed down, this small city could be overthrown at any time. Though, Wallier posed no threat as there were nobody else but a group of poor civilians and refugees there.
After catching wind of this, Henry was shocked that Locke dared lead a trip alone to the black market. What a brave and wise fellow, Henry thought.
The night crept near. This was destined to be an unforgettable night, as it wouldn’t be a restful one for the battalion for sure. The baron, who had just returned to the unit, ordered the soldiers to march towards the Bering Mountains to the west at full speed, and they were to arrive before dawn.
The soldiers were no stranger to marching through the night. There had not been any battles lately, so they were in tip-top condition. Locke said goodbye to Suzanne not long ago before she joined the others as they travelled to the nearest Faustian-occupied territory with the help of Henry. After the caravan was reorganised, they would head directly to the military headquarters at the Als Valley. By that time, however, the military headquarters would have relocated to Bimore.
Laffey gradually put down her guard around Locke, possibly because of their similar age, or that she hadn’t interacted much with others at all the entire year. This silly girl would always end up revealing a lot once Locke initiated a conversation. If it wasn’t for the progressively grim looks Glace shot her, there was no doubt that Laffey yap on nonstop.
Kristin was still the closest to Locke. The girl recently got a penchant for bear hugs, often popping up when Locke and Suzanne were alone and leaping up to hug Locke’s waist, interrupting their time alone. Not only did Suzanne remain calm, she also developed some sort of maternal affection for Kristin and was evidently more protective of her. This allowed the two women who were more than ten years apart to form a friendship stretching beyond their age gap.
Glace still behaved as if nothing had happened. At first, she still had the intention to flee or find another way out, but now it was mostly gone, though not a single trace of her thoughts was written on her face. At times, Locke found his actions peculiar. He could obviously coerce this woman with force, but he never did. Instead, he sensed in himself a desire to protect her. This woman, who often appeared very calm, reminded Locke of Cardoj. It was very likely that the two of them were the same kind of person -- the manipulative kind. Locke comforted his brawny self that burly men like himself tend to easily succumb to people of this category.
Needless to say, Suzanne expressed her disapproval about Locke’s temporary departure, but this was the army and Locke was obliged to go. Before they parted, Suzanne could only melt him with her emotional eyes, apart from expressing her desolation with a hug. Locke gave most of his silver thalers to Suzanne, instructing her to take care of it. This woman was good with finances and had previously worked as a tavern owner, so she would definitely be able to deal with this wealth properly. She hadn’t been idling around in the past few days, having actively observed and learned about common transactions and deals from Henry. He did not hide anything about these regular transactions, so she managed to learn a lot. After Locke told Suzanne that the gangsters who bullied her in Giza had been taken care of, she got some business ideas. The baron’s caravan often came to the frontlines and Bideslane, passing by Giza as well. Suzanne was keen to make herself useful, not wanting to be a mere incompetent decoration.
Kristin was the most reluctant to let Locke leave. She dreaded the possibility that Locke, like her relatives, would never again appear in front of her, just like her grandfather. The child had no way to leave Locke behind and could only cry. Locke was immensely moved and felt that his efforts to pamper her had not gone to waste.
Glace glanced Locke up and down with scrutiny. “You won’t die, right?” This one sentence was almost able to throw Locke off his horse from shock. Quickly pulling his horse to a halt, Locke reshuffled his thoughts. Though he had once developed feelings for Glace, he was still a bit dazed at heart, even though he did not need to fear her at all. Laffey tossed an incredulous look at Locke.
There were more than five hundred people in a battalion, but there were only around four hundred combatants, who hastened their trip as the baron issued yet another order. Once they arrived at Bering Mountains, they would pause to get two hours of rest.
The gloomy, majestic palace was located within the mountains. Its city walls remained upright, with the embrasures still intact, and the grey, solemn marble columns at the gate showcased the glory it used to possess. But now, there was not much sound in the castle. Even the houses with oil lamps lit within didn’t disturb the fragile silence of the night.
This was the city of Audis, the royal capital of Shalor. This city was located high up in the mountains, representing the glorious reign of the Shalorian kings over the ages, and it would soon be put to its grave.
Inside the palace, soldiers, heralds, generals, servants, court ladies, and nobles alike scurried around fulfilling their tasks, which was utterly unlike the quietness that blanketed the rest of the capital. Although Shalor could be said to have been defeated, the nobility was still persisting.
In the centre of the main hall, late at night, the 50-year-old Shalorian king was still settling issues on combat with the ministers. This Shalorian ruler was only a few years older than the Faustian king, but he looked way older. His grey hair tumbled disorderly onto his shoulders, and the heavy crown pressed against the old man’s head. Only wearing a bright-yellow silk robe, the Shalorian king listened to an official in silence.
“In other words, Princess Angelina of the Kingdom of Faustian is now within our borders?” probed the king.
“Yes,” said the official. This official should be engaged in an undercover mission. His dark black robe was different from the other ministers and generals around him.
“I think we should utilise the news provided by Viscount Moch and capture the Faustian princess who dares go deep into the hinterlands of our country,” chimed a general.
Such nonsense. There was not a single Faustian soldier that was not already knee-deep in Shalorian land.
“According to information, this Princess Angelina is the most precious daughter of the Faustian king and the only sister of Prince Kenzir,” said a middle-aged finance minister with an aquiline nose as he stood up.
Although the finance minister did not say so, everyone around him knew that as long as they seized the princess, they could use her to threaten Faustian.
This elicited another argument amongst the rest in the palace. Everyone shared the same idea of capturing Princess Angelina, the ticket to save their lives.
“Have you dispatched your troops?” Though the king’s voice was not exceptionally loud, it was sonorous enough to suppress the other discussions in the hall.
Although this information had just been passed into the ears of the Shalorian king, those well-informed ministers all knew long before this.
“The subordinates have already sent their scout troops to their respective divisions,” reported a general. Although scouts were the eyes on the battlefield, with most of them being good at bows and arrows, every one of them were elites with a good mastery of assassinations and extractions.
“Margraves Felippe and Campbell of Entil and Eilis have also received word and have sent some of their men,” said a minister from the ministry of war.
“It’s not enough!” grumbled the king. “Send Blood Red too.” Just like Faustian’s shadow guards, Shalor also had their own secret force. Blood Red often popped up in the conversations of the elites of Shalor. This unit served only the royal family and was responsible for supervising the nobility and punishing the rebellious, earning them lots of infamy. But in a time of crisis for the kingdom, this unit operated on the surface, and many other units had also started to cooperate with them.
“Send Blood Squads 1 and 3 out!” demanded the king, much to the ministers’ shock. Still, they were soon overcome with relief. The Blood Squads were the most elite troops of Blood Red. Only three squads were left since the war started. Now that most of them were sent out, the king was no doubt going all out.