Faustian's terrain was mainly mountains, rivers and forests. Out of the four provinces, Tyr, where the capital Felor was, was the only one province with a small plain. The rest of the Faustians that dwelled in mountains and forests had a reputation amongst the surrounding countries as tough, rugged and hardy.
So, putting the Faustians in charge of reigning in the Shalorians was a bad idea. The vast majority of the army had no qualm in treating the Shalorians brutally. Fortunately, Kenzir was a sensible man who allowed no such massacre or other untoward incidents to happen.
The Faustian soldiers saw the Shalorians as barbaric, when in reality, the opposite was the case.
Suzanne was handling herself pretty well. The group of thugs who had previously troubled her in Giza was under her supervision. Thanks to her wit, and the help of Hans and Caen, Suzanne was handling the Shalorian refugees who sided with her well.
Glace and the rest hadn't left in the past month either, instead helping Suzanne from time to time. Occasionally, Glace would demonstrate moments of shrewdness that only worsened Suzanne's inferiority complex, sending chills down her spine. It was clear to Suzanne that she was only as good as an educated house servant, while Glace was more like a noble from a reputable background.
Locke hadn't told Suzanne anything about these three women, and Suzanne hadn't thought to pry. In a patriarchal society, women generally didn't question a man's actions, even though this could mean she would be sharing her man with a few 'sisters'.
Glace was quite indifferent to Locke's death. She was merely someone who had been held captive by him, from the beginning to the end. At most, she felt a hint of gratitude to him for protecting them.
On the other hand, Kristin bawled her eyes out for a few days after receiving the news till her eyes were raw for the rest of the week. Everyone thought that the little girl treated him as her own brother, but only she knew what he truly meant to her.
Laffey proved her attitude with her actions. As a maid who practiced impetus, her strength was on par with a veteran who had several years of service in the army. However, she did lack the practical experience they had. She was instrumental in helping Suzanne tame the thorns among the Shalorian refugees. All she needed to do was to deal with some thuggish fools.
It was noon, and Auberdine on guard duty at the camp entrance yawned. Although it was winter, the weather had been strange recently. The sun had risen high, and there were no clouds at all, let alone a breeze. Had it not been for some white snow on the mountains in the distance, he would have mistaken it for summer time.
The warm sun shone on his face and he seemed to be hallucinating: he was seeing two strange, long-haired creatures? How could there be beasts moving about in this season? Half of the brothers had left a month ago, while they were here resting the entire time. I'm probably just too sleepy, Auberdine thought. He then rubbed his face and took a closer look.
He nearly scared the living daylights out of himself. He saw none other than Locke! Locke, who was supposed to be dead! Auberdine was one year older than Locke, and they had both been in the same platoon before Locke was promoted to squad jarl. Auberdine remained an ordinary soldier, and despite a little jealousy, he looked up to Locke even more.
Although the two savages in front of him were still some distance away from him, the calmer one was instantly recognisable as Locke.
With his face almost swollen, he continued watching the savage walk towards him, supporting the other. Did his ghost return? he couldn't help but wonder. Having spent several years on the battlefield, he had seen magic several times, and he believed in gods and demons and all things supernatural.
"Aah!" After a scream, he scrambled back into camp, thinking he'd met a ghost.
Locke, holding Angelina's hand, looked at the funny guy in front of him speechlessly. He recognised Auberdine. He was from Quarryton too, and was one year older than him, but wasn't very bright. Even after being a soldier for four years, he had only just been promoted from the rank of a servant soldier. In the past, Locke had always given him the benefit of the doubt, but now it was very clear that he was one problematic fellow.
Why did he run after seeing me? Locke rubbed his face awkwardly. Was he that excited? Angelina, who was beside him, couldn't help but laugh. She was beginning to understand what happened. Auberdine thought that Locke had died long ago. Since the two of them were clad in animal hide, it was no wonder he'd be terrified!
"Come on! Let's enter the camp!" Locke took Angelina's hand and led the way with a confident stride.
Locke wasn't expecting the first Faustian unit he'd meet after leaving the Bering Mountains to be his own. He and Angelina had travelled northeast, passed through several villages, and the city of Entil to get here. Did Falcon really come all the way here within a month?
Having come across his own comrades, Locke was now no longer in a hurry to get Angelina to Kenzir. With strong men like Wyr and the rest of Cardoj's troops to provide protection, he was confident that they would be able to take on anything that came their way, even the previous group of vicious Blood Red soldiers.
Angelina was eager to learn about Locke's unit too, so she happily accepted his suggestion to visit camp.
Fortunately, Auberdine wasn't the only one on duty at the entrance of the battalion. When the soldiers stationed in the arrow tower saw Auberdine fleeing from his outpost, they were alarmed. The soldiers stationed on the outpost saw him flee in shock, thinking that the enemy might have attacked them. They were just about to blow the whistle and sound the alarm, but when they finally got a good view of the two approaching the camp's gates, the soldiers' mouths were frozen agape. They were so shocked that the whistles in their mouths fell out and off the outpost without them noticing.
Arrow outposts only had two types of soldiers on duty: scouts and archers. What both these roles required was good eyesight. While they weren't able to shoot an arrow accurately over a hundred metres, they were able to identify faces well enough. Locke's hair had been cleaned and tidied up several times before descending the mountain, so his face was clearly visible and recognisable.
Seeing was one thing, but actually processing what they saw and reacting to this event was another. The same thoughts rushed through the soldiers minds.
Fortunately, most weren't nearly as reckless as Auberdine was. Although the soldiers on the outpost couldn't believe their eyes, they hadn't done anything either. At most, they fixated their eyes on Locke, who was holding Angelina's hand.
Noticing the piercing stare of the soldiers in the outpost, Locke was starting to get self-conscious about his garish outfit. After all, it was pieced together from a messy patchwork of animal fur. How he wished he could still have the handsome armour he'd worn before. Despite losing his armour, there was one thing that he'd never lose: the air he'd cultivated as a platoon jarl. He nodded calmly to the group of stunned soldiers, silently suggesting they stick to their posts.
Auberdine had caused quite a scene after running back to camp. After all, the good weather was an opportune moment for the soldiers to kick back and relax. Even this month, the people in camp lived their lives the same way every day: eat, sleep and repeat.
The soldiers who were rudely awakened by Auberdine ran out of their tents with a rather impatient look on their face, preparing to teach this fellow a lesson. There was a reason they sent him out to guard the entrance: Auberdine had horrible social skills.
Every one of them was about to swear and raise hell at the guy who interrupted their sweet dreams. However, as they saw Locke enter, they swallowed what they wanted to say. Those who had raised their hands stopped their fists and shook them mid-air for a while without falling.
Instead, everyone had their eyes and mouths widened, staring at the person behind Auberdine.
"What's up? Is everyone so excited to see me?" Perhaps the circumstances were too weird. Even Locke was starting to feel a cold sweat because of this inexplicable awkwardness. Trying to lighten the mood, he turned to a bad joke as a last resort.
A wave of silence continued to fill the air. Then, all of a sudden, an abrupt groan of understanding erupted throughout the camp.
Cardoj was sitting in his tent deep in introspection. He looked back on the family's history and their rise to fame. All of his ancestors had served in the army. His grandfather had spent the first half of his life as a farmer so poor that he was worse off than most commoners. When a war with a neighboring country suddenly broke out, his grandfather was forced to join the army. Although he had studied the land for half his life, and had no prior military training, he did have good strength. As he survived fight after fight, he racked up more combat experience. In the end, Faustian emerged victorious. After annexing neighboring countries, this humble duchy with only two provinces eventually became the Kingdom of Faustian with four provinces. When the first king of the kingdom acquired a large tract of unowned land, he rewarded the war heroes by making them nobles.
Cardoj's grandfather, who was the company jarl of the 2nd Company of Falcon, was awarded the noble title of baron and given the surname Cardoj. However, he had been blissfully unaware of other nobles' scheming thanks to his humble background. When it came time to allocate land, he'd been bestowed with the territory in the southwest area of Tyr, in the south of the kingdom. It was a desolate area, with no fertile farmland or rivers, only barren land and rolling mountains. The only good thing about the domain was the large area, being almost as large as a good viscounty or a poor county.
Following that, the next generation was much better off than the founding ancestor. As they were a military family, the Cardoj domain was lacking in everything aside from powerful soldiers and commanders. To solve this, they led the expeditions to wipe out the infestation of monsters and beasts that were disturbing commoners and established rule of law, which attracted many people to settle there. Moreover, thanks to the frequent extermination of monsters and beasts, the domain began to export crystals cores and furs. Merchants moved in to take advantage of the trade, further adding to the place's prosperity.
Cardoj was the fourth baron in the line and the most outstanding of his ancestors. By virtue of his family background, he became in laws with De Sandro, the deputy corps jarl of Falcon. Using his maturity and humorous personality, he won one of the ladies over from the De Sandro family. Thanks to his wife's status and his own efforts, he stood a slight chance of being promoted to viscount. Thanks to the time-honoured tradition of battle between the two countries, the title was bound to be his sooner or later. How could he have ended up in such a situation now?
Now, he'd been greatly weakened. He was at least considered fortunate enough not to be robbed of the fruits of labour he thus far achieved by the other greedy nobles, but any further progress was unlikely.
The most he could do now was to think of a solution for their economic situation. Engrossed in his thoughts about the future of the family, he was suddenly disturbed by the commotion. Although he was in a bad mood, he still held his calm. He wanted to know what had happened to his soldiers. He had trained his soldiers very well to be disciplined. Under normal circumstances, such violations of military discipline would not occur in camp.