Now that the sky was clear, Locke and Angelina really needed to figure out their food supplies. Yesterday, they'd finished off the last of it.
"Are there many animals around here?" Locke might as well have said nothing. The snow had blanketed the mountains for days, so what animal would still be out and about?
"No," Angelina answered. Locke began to think of a plan. Wanting to maintain his manly dignity, he wasn't going to rely on her to gather food, now that he was awake.
Angelina patiently waited in silence for Locke to hit a stroke of genius. To be honest, getting food was not going to be a big deal for her. She would've gone out, set a trap and waited for an unlucky animal to fall prey. They still had a lot of firecloud fruits left. However, it might take a miracle for a beast to show up in this snow nearly half a metre deep.
After the battles, Locke usually spent his time in the winter playing cards in the tent. Shalor's winter was not much colder than Faustian's, but there definitely was much more snow over here. The snowfall was easily piling up to waist height.
Under such conditions, survival was already a challenge. Having fun was unimaginable.
Locke looked around. The cave they lived in was halfway up the mountain, and they had a relatively good view of their surroundings. At that moment, there was a white canvas as far as the eye could see. All of the trails in the jungle were hidden from sight, and everything was covered in snow, save for a century-old tree that still had a small portion exposed.
Turning his glance over to the area where he had fought the moonlight wolf, he saw a few little saplings standing upright, as if no amount of snow could weigh them down. Locke seemed to have thought of something, his eyes lit up as he asked Angelina, "Do you remember where the moonlight wolf's body is?"
"What?" Angelina took a moment to process what Locke said. "It should be somewhere over there," pointed Angelina dazedly.
"Alright! Come on, let's find the wolf's corpse!" Locke immediately walked off. The only major injuries he had right now were the fractures in his chests. He wasn't able to do hard labour, but walking was not a problem.
"Huh? Please tell me you're not thinking what I'm thinking..." said a concerned Angelina. "Are you going to eat the corpse?"
"Duh!" Locke was limping. Before he could take his third step, he clutched his chest and clenched his teeth, Angelina hurried forward to support him. He had no problem walking, but if he moved too much, the broken ribs in the chest would scratch against his stomach and cause him agony.
When he arrived at the location of the battle that day, he roughly guessed the location of the moonlight wolf from the surrounding trees.
"Alright, let's dig!"
Without the right tools, they had to resort with digging with their hands. Fortunately, the snow was still fluffy, making it much easier to push apart. Despite the clear weather, the snow hadn't melted thanks to the temperatures still being very cold.
It had been over 20 days since the battle. During the period, there had been several snowfalls, large and small, accumulating the snow to a depth of about two meters. It took Locke and Angelina an eternity to reach the bottom without tools. If Locke had a shovel, he would've been able to finish this within an hour, despite his injured self.
As they dug and reached the bottom, a stiff wolf carcass appeared. The greyish-white fur stood frozen upright, so sharp it even felt sharp to the touch.
Locke and Angelina worked together to pull the moonlight wolf's body out of the snow pit.
Although the two-metre-long and 1.5-metre-tall moonlight wolf had died long ago, it was relatively well preserved under the snow. It seemed almost alive, with its hideous head and creepy blind eyes. It made Angelina very uneasy.
Locke stepped forward nonchalantly. After all, he had seen far more dead bodies than Angelina, many of which were much more terrifying than this. Why would he be afraid of a carcass that he already killed? He sent a little bit of impetus in the palm of his hand, then slapped the tough wolf corpse. After facing the brunt of Locke's palm, the body collapsed unexpectedly. The moonlight wolf was now nothing more than torn, bloody flesh encased in a wolf's skin.
Angelina was taken aback by the sudden change. But recent events had made her a little numb to shocking events, so she didn't scream.
"Knew it." Locke muttered under his breath. In the winter of his first year in the army, he had been a serf soldier. Once, his superiors had barked at him, ordering him to pull corpses back after a battle. There were heaps of Faustian casualties, and their bodies had to be cremated and brought back to their families in Faustian. With a few exceptions like Caen, who joined the army as an orphan, most of those soldiers had living relatives. Bringing back the ashes of those who died in war was a ritual that symbolised bringing back one last memory of the dead to the family.
In that same year, Locke had experienced war for the first time. Many of his fellow comrades were unlucky; they died before they could get a taste of true battle. That year, the casualty rate was higher than usual. He recalled cleaning the battlefield and dragging out corpses after a heavy snowfall, so thick that it often took ages to dig through before the corpses could be retrieved.
Being fresh-faced in the army, Locke was quite impressed, if not mortified, that with just a slight bump, a corpse could disintegrate into several pieces. Yoshk, with years of wisdom under his belt, had explained to him, "It's all frozen. Look at the broken parts. The blood and flesh are fresh." Locke had spent a lot of time retrieving bodies. Under ordinary temperatures, corpses would stink and turn black after a while, unlike these bodies, frozen in the cold.
The body of the moonlight wolf at this time was not much different from the frozen corpses he had seen a few years ago. "Hopefully it's still edible," Locke said.
The bloody flesh that had been broken into pieces was easy to carry. Locke and Angelina dragged the carcass back to the cave where they lived without much effort.
After the two carried the wolf body back, Locke took his short dagger and skilfully began skinning the wolf. He used to hunt a lot so he was familiar with this process. The wolf's fur was smooth and luscious. Most importantly, it was a jaw-dropping pearly white. She would look drop-dead gorgeous in this, thought Locke.
With a loud creak, the moonlight wolf's fur was torn apart, revealing several pieces of bloody flesh inside. They were still glowing red, and smelled a little fishy. Fortunately, it wasn't rotten, much to his relief.
Dinner that night was roasted wolf meat. They sprinkled firecloud fruit powder and salt on top of their barbecue, and the two ate with relish. Although they had been eating roast meat for almost a month, it mattered not to desperately hungry people. They ate sparingly to reserve some food for the next two days.
"By the way, this wolf has been dead for several days before the snow came. Why is the meat still so fresh?" Locke asked curiously. After waking from his coma, Angelina had filled him in on what he'd missed out on.
"Major monsters have mana in their meat. Even when they die, so long as their flesh still contains mana, their bodies will maintain those attributes," explained Angelina. "Ice-element major monsters are preserved very well, unlike fire or dark element monsters. One will rot quickly, while the other would last longer as opposed to fire or the dark elements, the former of which accelerated the rot and the latter actively corroding the flesh."
"It's a good thing this wolf possesses light essence then," Locke said. Angelina's explanation enlightened him a little about magic. Light elements have regenerative properties. The meat was probably still fresh thanks to the light mana repairing the muscles, even after death.
Locke bit the meat in his mouth. He hadn't had a taste of minor monsters before, yet here he was, eating a major monster instead. Of course he was going to savour it. Moreover, Yoshk told him about all the benefits major monster meat had for knights like them.
While Angelina was only a 16-year-old girl, she was already almost as fit as third-rate soldiers who had been training hard with the battalion for years. This was attributed to the food she was fed. In this world, in most cases, birth determined status.
Locke hated two types of meat the most: wolf and horse. One smelled pungent while the other tasted sour. If he had a choice, he would never eat them. He would rather have black bread.
But the flesh of the moonlight wolf was not like ordinary wolves'. Locke couldn't taste a hint of pungency in it. Instead there was a tenderness in his mouth, similar to venison. Venison and chicken were his favourite. When he was a squad jarl, he often took his brothers to occupied Shalorian villages for such feasts.
It's so good! I want more! Locke had devoured two days' worth of food within this one meal. Perhaps he was starving, or he needed it for the sake of recovery.
Fortunately, the corpse of the moonlight wolf was huge, and there was still enough snow to keep it fresh, so it should be enough to last the two of them for a week.
After the meal, Angelina patted her bloated belly and laid against Locke's chest. Never had she thought that she would be able to eat so much meat in one go. Fortunately, she lost weight drastically recently, so she wasn't worried about getting fat.
Unlike before, there was no gulf between Angelina and Locke. The princess and the commoner boy no longer cared about the difference in their status, like when he first saved her. In this moment, they were nothing but people in the same boat.
In the evening, when the two were ready to go to bed after training, Locke said to Angelina, "Let's leave in three days!"
She nodded and they cuddled to sleep.
Although they had already seen more sides of each other than most other people had of them, they had never crossed the final line. For one, he was really afraid to do anything with her now. They both still had to face their friends, subordinates, superiors. If the nobles knew that Locke, a commoner, had an affair with their princess, he would no doubt be hanged.
Secondly, Angelina was not ready. She was only 16 years old. Although Locke did have experience with women before, and most Faustians were married with children at this age, Angelina was a royal. Royals were only allowed to marry at the age of 18. This was alleged to ensure the purity of the royal bloodline.
As for why Locke already had his taste of the forbidden fruit... Having been standing on the thin line between life and death every single day for two years, who could blame him for wanting to find a way to relieve stress? Thus, he had been a frequent visitor of the brothel in the supply camp.