An Orc for All Seasons

The term “goblinoid” is used broadly by many people to describe monstrous nonhumans. However, it properly refers to goblins, xvarts, orcs, jors, hobgoblins, bugbears, orogs, and ogres. Lizardmen, troglodytes, urds, and kobolds are reptilian, and therefore not considered proper goblinoids. There are other races common to Slothjemia, including humans and all manner of demihumans, and while it is hardly fair to call the place a goblinoid haven, it is a moniker that has nonetheless stuck.

 

Chapter 1

It had been a bad week to be old. From the tallest tower in Vorkelburg, the aging orc warrior watched the sun set behind the jagged, forested mountains. The constant din of activity in the sprawling fortress faded in the back of his mind as Grundoon stood leaning with one shoulder against the rampart. He let out a heavy sigh and looked almost without thought at the valley far below.

The cold of winter still hung heavily in the river valley. The fortress sat atop a peak overlooking the small, triangular valley of Vorkelvale. Grundoon was the baron of this tiny area. His lands were not vast, but they had been hard earned. The vale boasted some of the finest apple orchards anywhere in Slothjemia, and it was Grundoon who had led the army that had conquered this patch of real estate for Empress Reichsha. As a reward for successfully storming Vorkelburg, and wresting control of it from the dread lich Frenklar the Brazen, Grundoon had been awarded the barony and the position of commandant over Vorkelburg. The ancient and decaying fortress had, under his rule been refurbished and expanded as a defense against any other members of the Diosian Lodge that dared to consider crossing the mighty Dolonau River just a few miles to the south. Grundoon enjoyed watching the river roll past his valley. Sometimes small ships or barges would glide by on their way up river to the cities of Geldenreich, or down the river to the Sea of Shadows. There was no river traffic this evening.

There had once upon a time been a bridge across the Dolonau connecting Vorkelvale to the lands of Craiovia in the south. Long ago the Craiovians has pushed the undead kings of the Diosian Lodge back out of their lands, and into the Sikilian Confederation to the north. Although they never gained control of the bridge or the valley, and it was difficult for the Craiovians to keep control over their own side of the river, the undead of Vorkelvale had pretty much been cut off from direct connection to the other liches. When the Slothjemian 6th Army under Grundoon’s command arrived twenty years ago, the retreating forces of Frenklar the Brazen destroyed the bridge after they crossed it and fled on the other side of the river up to Sikilia. Nobody had ever sought to rebuild the bridge. Craiovia was glad to have the Slothjemians on the other side of the river. Building a bridge between the two countries just seemed like a bad idea all the way around. Occasionally the undead would make raiding sorties across the river and harass the good citizens of the area around Vorkelburg, and once or twice a year intrepid southerners, be they Craiovian or not, would venture across the river to strike against the Slothjemians for one reason or another. For the most part though, Grundoon was a commandant of a castle that guarded not much at all.

He was reminded every year of this, when the annual tour of the inspector general’s office took place. They invariably sent a lieutenant or captain to come and poke around for a week, and say things like “is this item necessary?” or “how can we save some gold on expenses here?” not so much as valid inquiries but, Grundoon felt, as a way of suggesting that Vorkelburg wasn’t all that useful and its’ garrison would be of better use elsewhere in the realm. Grundoon hated the inspector general’s office. While he understood the need to prioritize the assets of the empire, he had no time to waste on people beating around the bush. Close the citadel, move the garrison to another post, and reassign him to another command. Almost the entire time he had served as commandant Grundoon had wanted to just grab the inspector’s representative, shake him violently, and roar “JUST MAKE A DECISION, DAMN IT!” He of course had never acted on this desire. But he had wanted to so badly.

So, this past week had been the inspection of Vorkelburg. The officer had been a major this time, the highest ranking officer to be sent after the first two right after Grundoon had taken command. He had introduced himself as Major Hossler. He was human and had smiled a lot. He took copious notes. He asked questions about what more could be done, not how to cut corners. He had laughed and caroused with the other officers of the garrison in the evenings after dinner, and seemed to truly enjoy his job. Not only did Grundoon instinctively hate Hossler, but he didn’t trust him. All week he had waited for Hossler to get around to what he was there for, and on the major’s last night, he finally did.

Grundoon had been at this very spot, the watchtower at the peak of the fortress. From here every bit of the land controlled by Vorkelburg’s garrison could be seen. The tower was right on the wall of the central keep along the southern side of the castle. The view was dizzying. Hossler had stood there for a while with Grundoon as the old general watched the sun set. It had been a favorite way to unwind after a long day for many years. Hossler had already had a festive round of drinks with the officers and had sought out Grundoon to speak with him on a private matter. Grundoon’s squire, a kobold named Jandle, had taken the major up the almost endless stairs to where Grundoon stood enjoying the sunset and the smell of the orchards so far away down in the valley, their aroma wafting on the winds that came bustling up the craggy rock walls of the cliffs beneath Vorkelburg that gave the vultures and eagles drafts upon which to soar. Jandle had just motioned to the general, and retreated back down the stairs. Hossler stood for quite some time, neither being acknowledged by the orc general nor outright ignored. He eventually cleared his throat and stepped closer to Grundoon.

Baron General Shr Grundoon von Vorkel turned slightly and eyed the major suspiciously. “Yes, Major Hossler?” Most soldiers under Grundoon’s command would have been hesitant to approach him about anything, and yet here was this human upstart that had summoned up the courage to speak to him when he most wanted not to be spoken to.

“Sir, I wanted to say what a delight it has been to tour your command and see how well you have done here with what meager resources you have been allotted.” Hossler was visibly uncomfortable. Grundoon took notice of this and turned to face the major. “I just feel,” the major continued, “that perhaps you are being asked to do too much.”

Grundoon just stood there looking at the major. The orc stood a good seven or eight inches taller than Hossler, and had a couple hundred pounds of muscle and good living over on the much younger officer. His gaze narrowed. “Explain that to me, major.”

Hossler shifted his weight, coughed a bit, and tried his best to smile. “Well sir, you are well over sixty years old. Your last big campaign was twenty-some years ago when you and your army took this fortress and killed the lich that dwelled here.” He gave a half-hearted laugh. “Maybe now would be a good time to step aside, and let another commandant take over here.”

The orc let out a heavy sigh, more of anger than surprise although he was taken aback by this statement. He turned away from the major and looked back at the sunset.

Major Hossler wasn’t sure what to do next. The general had heard him, that much was sure. He was also not responding to the major’s suggestion. He tried to brighten up his tone as he cheerfully continued “Even after you retire, you would still be the lord of these lands. The barony is yours to pass on to your heirs, and your influence in the future of this command would still be substantial.” He halfheartedly laughed, and added “You just wouldn’t have to do the dreary day-to-day governing of this military installation anymore.”

Turning slowly back towards Hossler, Grundoon said in a low voice with just a hint of menace “And I suppose my fighting days are over?”

“Well no, I don’t think that would be true.” Hossler nervously said, trying his best to sound as though he thought the notion was humorous.

“No.” Said Grundoon. “That wouldn’t be true at all.” The orc’s right arm shot out at Hossler, grabbed his throat, and in one swift motion he swung the hapless major up and over the parapet. So shocked was Major Hossler that he never managed to make a sound as he plummeted several hundred feet, his body smashing on the rocks far below with a sickening crunch barely audible to Grundoon’s ears.

“I do not plan to go quietly into the dark night of old age” said Grundoon aloud to himself. “As long as I draw breath I will fight.”

And now Grundoon stood looking over the valley, the river, the fortress, and the broken remains of Major Hossler. He took a long deep breath and enjoyed the smell of the orchards once more. He smiled as he thought to himself, “What a horrible week to grow old.”

 

 

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