An Orc for All Seasons; Chapter 3

The Slothjemian military is broken into two parts, the largest of which is the army. This professional fighting force is garrisoned all across the country, usually no more than one per Grafdom, strategically placed so that in case of war there would always be a response. The incredible expense of maintaining this military is offset tremendously by the otherwise frugal expenditures of the realm. But having a permanent, professional military is not the only thing unique to Slothjemia’s armed forces; fully a quarter of all armed personnel are female.

 

Chapter 3

 

Deckler’s troops managed to scoop up what was left of Major Hossler from the rocks around the base of the fortress. His personal effects were gathered up from the room he had been assigned, and the notes he took for his inspection tour were safely locked away in Grundoon’s office. He and Deckler had gone over the notes together, giving each other a chance to verify, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that whatever unpleasantness had befallen Hossler had nothing to do with the contents of the report. It was a glowing review of all that the 6th Army had done and continued to do, noting their ability to drill effectively and maintain excellent order throughout the ranks and making mention of the startlingly low amounts of magic smoke powder used to fire the bombards overlooking the river. Indications were made to increase the rations of food and ale, as well as general improvements such as cloth for new flags and banners. All in all, the best report either Grundoon or Deckler had ever seen regarding their beloved garrison.

Word had spread overnight about the demise of Major Hossler. Not many of the troops had really given it much thought. Things happened. This was just another thing that had happened. Goblinoids and their ilk were not renowned for their deep introspection. By noon the next day, the squad commissioned to dispose of the body had built an impressive pyre on the eastern bombard tower. That evening they would set it alight and the smoke would, according to the lore of most Slothjemian races, bear the soul of the departed to the great battlefields of the beyond.

Most Slothjemians were goblinoid, but there were also demihumans, humans, and of course a wide selection of other humanoids. Almost everyone had come to Slothjemia to escape the wretchedness of life in any one of the surrounding nations. The amalgamation of people in the cities meant that the same thing would be seen in the military. No country in the region had a military as strong as Slothjemia. This was a frequent source of friction with other states and occasionally a war would break out over some little issue that was exacerbated by the fact that races were cooperating here, whereas anywhere else on the continent they would be at each other’s throats. This was terribly threatening to places like Craiovia (a mostly human state to the south), Romillia (a dwarven and human state to the east), the Sikilian Confederation (a human state governed by the liches of the Diosian Lodge, and festering with undead to the west), and Geldenreich (the most powerful human state on the continent that lay to the north). These countries had initially been thrilled when their resident monsters had up and left to relocate in the fetid swamp of the Slothjemian coreland. But eventually they became alarmed at how the monsters, criminals, and miscreants created a camaraderie and thrived.

But the collective gathering of peoples meant that there was no specific tradition for things like funerals, births, and weddings. It was all a hodge-podge of ideas that generally meant whatever tradition was the loudest, most drunken, and overwhelmingly emotional would be the one aspect that would stick and be repeated. In this case it was the pyre that was favored by the jors (swamp orcs), along with a healthy dash of drunken singing that is most often associated with the mourning rites of wild elves and humans from the east.

Barrels of ale were brought out and mugs were readied for whatever revelry the night would bring. Hossler’s remains were wrapped in his uniform and set atop the pyre, which would be set alight after the sun had set. His medals and insignia had been removed and boxed up with his other personal effects to be sent to his next of kin. A rider had been dispatched to deliver the announcement of Hossler’s death to military headquarters in the capital, Jordrakenschloss. It would be several days before the rider returned, and by then the ashes of the major would be ready to ship.

After going over the report with Deckler, Grundoon decided to leave the citadel and go down into the valley to see his wife at their home. Aggrylia was pregnant and while it was her first pregnancy, it would not be Grundoon’s first child. He had many children, ranging in age from just ten years old to their early forties. He had been married five times. Each of his first four wives had died, three in childbirth and one in a particularly violent raid by Sikilian mercenaries at the behest of those damnable lich lords. Aggrylia had been herself a widow, her first husband had been killed fighting in the Craiovian campaign. She had never had children, and as an orc that was something of a stigma in her family. Grundoon had met her at a dance in the nearby city of Borostat and had instantly been smitten by her laughter and infectiously good-natured attitude. Her family’s concerns about her being barren vanished when the Baron of Vorkel commenced to courting the middle-aged woman. He felt as though his days of fathering children were over and he was as happy as he could be to have found a woman he could just be with as he got older. She adored his children, and they in turn loved her, if only partly because she was not expected to provide more children to compete for their father’s affection. For four years they had lived in blissful delight with nary a care in the world.

Then Aggrylia began to get sick. Grundoon knew before the local midwife could make the pronouncement that his wife was, in fact, pregnant. Her age would be a concern, as well as her having never borne a child. Her good mood never flagged, however, even as concerned as Grundoon was for his beloved bride’s well-being. Grundoon had arranged for his adult daughters to all be on hand throughout the pregnancy. Orcs gestate for ten months, and they were turning into the longest ten months of Grundoon’s life. He had ordered one of the chaplains to be on hand at all times and the clerics assigned to the 6th Army took turns staying at Grundoon’s manor house just in case the general’s wife needed healing beyond herbs and salves.

Grundoon rode his horse down the cobbled road to the village and along the way thought about the last several days. Jandle rode on a pony following the general. The squire spent his time whistling softly, knowing what annoyed his lord, and being careful to not cross that threshold. It was not a long trip to and from the citadel and both would be able to return in the evening for the funeral. The baron had permitted his wife to live in the manor house because that was where she was most comfortable but had long harbored doubts that it was where she would be safest. He had lost one wife to raiders when they had attacked his barony seeking to kill any Slothjemian they could get ahold of. If there were to be repercussions for Grundoon’s killing of Major Hossler, the general thought that he would like to have her closer to him. She would be safer in Vorkelburg than here amid the apple trees.

The servant that opened the door quickly ushered Grundoon into the house while Jandle tended to the mounts. Grundoon tossed his overcoat onto a chair in the living room and headed straight to the master bedroom. His grown daughters, called from all over the countryside to tend to their stepmother, all clambered about their father for hugs and kisses on his cheek. He was impatient but greeted them all warmly. The smaller children kept their distance. Orcish whelps knew better than to swarm their father. It was akin to running up to and hugging a grizzly bear because they are just so warm and fuzzy.

Lieutenant Progellia was sitting in a comfortable chair next to Aggrylia’s bed. Progellia was the only female chaplain in Grundoon’s garrison, and a fine woman she was. She had a stern face but smiled readily. She was an orog, half orc and half ogre, and as such was a rather large woman who was not to be trifled with. She rose from the chair and saluted as the general entered. “Allo general. She’s doing well. Having a little rest is all.” She smiled at Aggrylia who smiled broadly at her husband.

“My love! Why are you away from your post?” She always asked him this. It was their way. Grundoon smiled and took her hand as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“My post is here, my sweet.” He squeezed her hand, raised it up and bent to kiss it. “My duty is always to serve you.” He felt his emotions welling up.

Aggrylia knew something was amiss. “What troubles you my love?” Her voice could not hide her concern.

Grundoon waved at Progellia to leave the room. “Take everyone out with you.” He ordered.

Progellia cleared the room as she was told and pushed everyone well down the hall so that her commander could talk to his wife in private.

Grundoon took a few silent minutes to gather his thoughts. “I killed a man last night. An officer with the inspector general’s office. I threw him off of the watchtower. We are having his funeral tonight.”

His wife just held his hand and looked at him. “Oh Grundy. Why? Why would you do that?” Her concern for her beloved’s career and safety blotted out her own discomfort. She struggled and wriggled to be more upright.

He told her exactly why. He told her about how his easy, charismatic demeanor had made him suspicious. He told her how well everyone had liked Hossler, how genial he was with the troops. And he told her about how it made him feel to be asked about retiring. He had been enraged at the mere thought of being put out to pasture. He had lost his temper. He told her that he wasn’t sure what to do next and that he had no idea what to do going forward any more than he knew what to do about getting old. Orcs didn’t get old. Orcs were killed in battle, wandered off and died while hunting, or were eaten by larger monsters. Old age was a strange and unfamiliar affliction. Grundoon didn’t know how to proceed, now that he had been diagnosed.

She listened attentively throughout. When he was done she pulled him close for a long hug and whispered in his ear. “It will be fine Grundy. We will find a way through this, one way or another. We’re in it together. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Wait and see. Wait and see.”

For about an hour Grundoon and his wife cuddled on the bed. She was not well, and he knew that she didn’t need or warrant this additional burden. And Aggrylia knew that although she was not in the ideal condition to help her husband face a court martial, or whatever consequences might come their way, she loved him and would dig to find that extra strength she needed to give him courage. The time they spent together did much to soothe their souls and when the time came to part once more Grundoon and Aggrylia both felt recharged and at peace. As he got up to leave, he once more took her hand and kissed it.

“My darling, please consider moving up to the citadel. We’ll have everything moved for you. Everything. Even the bed.” They both laughed. “I have ogres. They will carry you, bed and all, right up the mountain.” They laughed again.

“Oh, my dear Grundy.” She said softly. “Let me think about it. I do want to go up to the castle, I do. But it hurts so much to move.”

“I know.” The baron kissed her on the forehead and squeezed her hand one last time. “Think on it. If you want to come up the mountain, I’ll make it happen.”

She smiled as he slowly left the room. He opened the door and Progellia let the flood of daughters loose down the hallway. Grundoon kissed each of them and took the youngest of the adult girls by the arm as he headed out to the living room to retrieve his overcoat. “Oleysa, I need you to do something for me” he told her as they moved out of earshot of the rest. “I don’t want to explain it to you in great detail. Aggrylia is to be moved to the citadel as soon as she feels up to the trip. I’ll have everything arranged and ready, you just let me know when she can be moved with the least pain being inflicted on her.”

“Yes papa.” Oleysa adored her father and he knew she could be counted on. “I’ll keep you informed.” She gave her father a big hug and said, “I love you, papa.”

With that, Grundoon left his home. Jandle was right out front with his horse and the general swung easily into the saddle. They rode up to the citadel, Jandle once more whistling quietly, his pony plodding along behind the general. The lights of the houses scattered around the vale looked like fireflies as the sun began to set. It had just slinked behind the mountains when they reached the gates to Vorkelburg. It was time to send Major Hossler to his home in the great beyond.

 

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