An Orc for All Seasons

The Slothjemian national anthem is a decidedly upbeat and happy sort of song that covers a lot of historical and political material. It gives a brief glimpse at the origin of the country, the sort of people that live there, an encouragement to outsiders to move there and seek a better life, and various threats aimed at anyone seeking to disturb the peace that Slothjemians enjoy. It is probably the only song of its kind that the citizenry is more inclined to dance to, than stand reverently while it plays, although it can be sung softly and reverently on rare occasions.

 

Chapter 4

 

The garrison had already begun to gather for the funeral when Grundoon and Jandle rode in to the central courtyard of the fortress. Major Hossler’s remains were wrapped in his bloodied uniform, and rested on top of the unlit pyre. Several of the kegs had been tapped and there was a feeling of celebration in the air, rather than that of mourning. It helped that nobody in the ranks had known Hossler more than a few days, and only those he had spent time carousing with after dinner could claim to have known him at all.

Jandle took his pony and the general’s horse to the stable, while some of the senior officers in the garrison came over to visit with Grundoon. There was Brigadier General Argus Blackcowl, the gnoll who was the commander of the 59th Pike Brigade. As the second in command for the 6th Army, Blackcowl was a very important man. As a gnoll standing seven feet tall with a voice like thunder, he was a very imposing man. Grundoon had always liked him and he had been one of the baron’s closest friends the last twenty or so years. With him this evening were the other unit commanders. Colonel Shar Sarla Grimstag, the ogre commander of the 58th Axe Regiment, and the highest-ranking woman in the 6th Army. Colonel Liad Yazkoor, the hobgoblin that commanded the 61st Crossbow Regiment, a fearless man that had lost an eye in the assault on Vorkelburg. Colonel Count Vilhelm Rachtenbort III, the half-orc commander of the 60th Cavalry Regiment, the only officer of the 6th Army who was born into a Slothjemian noble family. Colonel Shr Pilger Oosterbrig, the goblin commander of the 62nd Skirmish Regiment, a highly strung and volatile man who had the perfect job as rabble-rouser for the soldiers charged with unconventional combat. Major Temlar, known as Temlar the Tough, the orog commander of the 63rd Artillery. His charge was to maintain and operate the cantankerous bombards of the citadel. And lastly was Major Deckler of the 64th Judicial Command, also known as the “coppers in grey.” The cadre of officers approached Grundoon with a mixture joviality and trepidation. All wondered how his wife was doing and had been discussing her health at great length. All of them were also concerned about how Major Hossler had died, but not one of them had mentioned it to anyone else.

Grundoon and his officers made idle conversation for several minutes, covering everything from his wife’s condition and his desire to have her moved to the citadel, to what plans might be made to remedy the handful of deficiencies that Hossler had identified in his report. Mostly they just stood there drinking ale and pondering what was being discussed. Around them their junior officers loitered just within earshot to try and discern what topics of interest to them might pop up. The enlisted personnel for the most part ignored all of the intrigue and commenced to drinking and sharing stories not just of Hossler, a man they hardly knew, but of all the soldiers who had fallen in battle, passed away at a ripe old age, or had suffered some sort of grievous mishap. Between the discussions of the senior officers and the stories being told by the enlisted men, it was the lowly foot soldiers that had by far the most interesting time.

Eventually the time came to set the funerary torch on fire. One of the chaplains, a distinguished human cleric named Major Rastagor, gave a few words typical of these functions and said a brief but uninspiring prayer for the dead man. Upon finishing, he gave something of a waving salute and the fellows charged with disposing of bodies ceremoniously touched their torches to the pyre. Almost instantly it was engulfed in flames.

The garrison, from private to general, stood by solemnly. Other than the occasional drink of ale, hardly any movement could be discerned. After about twenty minutes the flames began to die down, and somebody began softly singing the Slothjemian national anthem. Very quickly the entire host joined in. Some had removed their caps throughout, others had not. It was a motley affair. Well intentioned, but really not very well carried out. Some of those present could remember when old Gofrey had died, and what a rousing, emotional, and inspirational event the funeral for him had been. Gofrey was an ox. He had pulled one of the supply wagons between Vorkelburg and Borostat. So adored was he that nobody had made mention of turning him into stew. Not even in jest. His pyre had smelled delicious, though. Gofrey had gotten a much finer send off than Major Hossler.

Several facts about Hossler were shared by those that had spent time drinking with him. First of all, he left behind a widow and a young son. Seems as though he had just started a family. Secondly, he had attended the Royal Slothjemian Military College and was considered to be an up-and-comer before he transferred to the Office of the Inspector General. Third, and most distressing to Grundoon, he was the sole support for his mother who had been widowed when Hossler’s father had been killed while serving in the army during the last Craiovian war. His father had died defending an honor that Grundoon had so bloodily sullied. As the night wore on, the general’s mood continued to spiral downwards. After a few hours he couldn’t handle any more, and decided to call it a night.

Grundoon waved at Blackcowl in a gesture that let the gnoll know that the orc was done for the night. The other general nodded, and waved back. Jandle followed his master as he made his way to his quarters. Clearly the general was not in a fit state of mind, his brow furrowed and his gaze distractedly angry. A path cleared itself through the troops to let him pass without having to ask somebody to get out of the way. Although orcs are not known for asking, but rather shoving to get by, the general had in the past been basically gentlemanly in such matters. But his dark demeanor tonight had most bystanders on edge. Better not to take a chance.

Once in his private chambers, Grundoon felt like punching something, but settled for just letting out a low, guttural roar. His voice was deep to begin with, even for an orc, and age had made it gravelly. He was unaware of it but the effect of listening to him talk made other people want to clear their own throats. He did not often raise his voice except to be heard in combat or during drills but tonight he just let the roar out. Jandle heard him plainly from his little room adjoining the baron’s. Jandle wasn’t sure what to do, so he sat quietly on his bed and prayed for his master to be at peace.

The roaring helped. The prayer did too. Grundoon undressed and looked at himself in the mirror at the foot of his bed. He was clearly old. His hair was white not grey. His stomach had expanded even though his chest, arms, and legs were as muscular as they had ever been. He never had trouble wearing his armor and moving freely in it. He could wield his beloved axe with great ease, despite the tremendous weight of the weapon. He could march just as far as most every other soldier under his command, and had no trouble riding great distances on a horse. Had it not been for the almost annual adjustments to his armor to reflect his growing girth, Grundoon could probably have convinced himself that he was thirty years younger.

Climbing into bed the general thought about his behavior the last few days. He knew that if he dwelled on his mistakes he would never get to sleep, so instead he forced himself to think about his darling wife and her needs. By focusing on Aggrylia he was able to fall into a restless slumber. The ale had helped lend wings to the slumber, but it was thoughts of his wife that put his mind at ease.

One of the things that Aggrylia had brought up when they had their long chat was that all it would take to keep the army high command from focusing on the details of Major Hossler’s death would be something more important. Some event that would occupy their collective attention. Something big enough and maybe they would forget it altogether. Grundoon had no way of knowing it, but that something was taking place right now.

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