The conversation slowly turned to Locke and Yoshk's hometown as the alcohol set in. Locke could tell Yoshk missed his two sons dearly. The man had practically adopted him, after all. He was not about to complain, however, not since that adoption included a thorough lecture on how to run his promotion campaign. All Locke had to do to keep the advice coming was keep his superior's cup full. He had met the man's two sons once. His eldest had inherited his smithy and his youngest was acting as a helping hand. They'd been the crafters of his final purchase as a civilian before he'd enlisted.
The dagger didn't have a wooden handle. The handle end only had a rough linen wrap. It was closer to a large bodkin than a bladed weapon, really. Which meant it could fit snugly into his boot without causing much discomfort, or revealing itself, and in the years since he'd enlisted, the dagger had built up quite a few tales of its own.
He'd taken only the dagger with him when he'd snuck away from home to enlist at the tender age of 14. He'd become the joke of the week before the day was out. It was exceedingly rare, and technically impossible, for a welp to join the army, especially if he had absolutely no recommendations. Yoshk had vaguely recognised him as a face from Quarryton. Yoshk had been a mere squad jarl at the time, in command of the 2nd. He remembered seeing the boy's much younger face around the smithy some years earlier. The town had only a thousand people, so it wasn't that difficult to know at least the faces of most of them. After women and infants were discounted, the male population of the settlement came to just over three hundred, a little less if things were narrowed further to those fit enough to enlist. Yoshk also immediately recognised his son's handiwork.
Yoshk had been able to keep his departure a secret from his parents, but his sister had found out. He didn't know whether he'd woken her with the little noise he couldn't avoid making when he'd gotten dressed, or if she'd been waiting for him to make his move because she'd figured out his intentions, but she'd come running after him.
She couldn't argue against his leaving, however, she couldn't even bring herself to try. She knew he was leaving to become an additional source of income for his family. If they didn't start making more money than they were, or drastically reduced their expenses, which was not a big possibility for a family already living on barely anything, they would either starve or be sold to the slavers. He'd been absolutely determined to enlist, even after his careful soundings of his parents had proven they were completely opposed to something like that. It wasn't helped by the fact that once his name was put on the register, he could only leave as a corpse or a deserter. That had been a major reason for his parent's opposition, but it counted in his favour as a runaway. It meant his parents would have no choice but to accept it if he could stay out of their clutches long enough to get his name on the register.
His sister, Lia, had wept once she had caught up to him. Her tears had very nearly made him turn around, too. He could handle much, but his sister's cries cut him where nothing else could. He powered through it however, and eventually got her to calm down. The little undernourished girl's tear-streaked face was even more beautiful than her normal one. She had turned out her tiny purse and fumbled twenty copper coins into Locke's hand, demanding a promise of safe return from him in exchange.
He had taken the money... and given his promise.
It took him the rest of the night to make it to town and he could make out the houses' windows just as dawn began to break. He had gone to Yoshk Junior to buy a dagger with the coppers his sister had given him, only to be told he couldn't even buy a handle for twenty coppers. He'd turned to leave when the younger brother had rushed out.
"I'll make a dagger for you for 20 coppers," the boy had said.
Even now Locke couldn't decide whether the boy had done it out of pity for him, or because he'd seen a chance to make some pocket money. Regardless, he had accepted the offer, reluctantly. He had known nothing about the army beyond that it paid, quite well once one got a decent rank, not even whether he would be given any weapons or had to provide his own and it was better to be prepared unnecessarily than be caught empty-handed when a weapon was desperately needed. Thusly the bodkin-dagger had become his first weapon.
It had turned out that he had been just barely old enough to enlist, and had passed initial screening. His family arrived in town hot on his heels the next day to drag him back home but his name was already in the register, so they had little choice but to give up and accept it. His parents had given him three biscuits, which, Locke knew, had constituted an uncomfortably large portion of their entire wealth at the time.
His sister had given him the cloth with which she bound her hair. Locke still had that cloth, it now wrapped one end of his dagger.
His training had continued for the next two months. He worked as hard as he could. His youth was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it meant he had a far more robust stamina than most, but it also meant he had a fair amount less strength. During his training, he had also run into his childhood friend, Hans. He had joined for the food.
The pair had been sent off to war on the very day they finished training.
His dagger had been as he had, fresh and sharp, filled with the vigour of youth. It had accompanied him on every outing and been wielded in every one of those early battles. The army had given him a sword, but he had still had to turn to his little bodkin more than just once or twice. His first kill had been with his bodkin. His sword had broken in the fight and Locke had been forced to rely on his dagger. He had still managed the kill, though he'd spent the better part of the rest of the day vomiting.
He had continued using scavanged weaponry thereafter, and it had eventually brought him to where he was. The only thing he had not exchanged along the way, was his dagger. The linen wrapping was red with the blood of his enemies and himself. He often took the cloth out to smell it, as if he could still pick up his sister's warm scent from it.
The ale got Yoshk thinking about his sons, while Locke's thoughts wandered to his family. It didn't take long before the second bottle was finished. The taste of the ale of Green Palm was good, but it wasn't enough to get them drunk. That didn't stop them from feeling melancholic.
After finishing his last cup, Yoshk suggested that they leave. It was about time for dinner and the tavern didn't provide that. They would have to go back to camp, and Yoshk in particular had to dine in the baron's tent. Locke also had night watch duty later. "Let's go then, Uncle," Locke said as he handed Yoshk his casual wear.
Yoshk, being the veteran he was, quickly suppressed his longing for home after leaving. He even seemed to be in a joking mood. "Kid, you're already 18. You can't possibly still be a virgin, can you? The female owner here seems like the decent sort."
"Uncle, stop joking around. Who would fall for someone like me? Isn't her husband far more capable? He even managed to get in the baron's good graces." Yoshk really knew how to cheer him up. He didn't know much about the tavern's owner, but he knew someone who jumped at an opportunity like that definitely isn't simple.
"Heh, nothing but an opportunistic clown. You think the baron really cares about him?" Yoshk knew far more about the owner and didn't hold him in good regard. That opinion didn't seem to be Yoshk's alone either. The brass didn't seem to particularly like collaborators like them. At the thought of his wife, Locke felt another rush, probably due to the influence of the ale.
He was definitely no cherry boy, however. Two years into his military career, he was promoted to third rate after surviving a huge battle. It was then when some of his comrades pestered him to go to the supply camp to get rid of his innocence. It might be due to his age back then, but he seemed to like women older than him. Naturally, he wouldn't actually admit to it. It could be that he saw a hint of his beautiful sister in those women, and every time that thought occurred to him, he slapped himself to calm down.