An Orc for All Seasons

There are two types of “investigators” in Slothjemia; Internal Investigators that serve as the eyes and ears of the Throne for all domestic matters, and External Investigators who roam far and wide in foreign lands keeping track of potential threats, and if necessary, eliminating them. The former type answers to the Lord High Inquisitor, the top official for law enforcement. The latter type answers to the Lord High Ambassador, making this less a diplomatic function than one of subterfuge and espionage.

 

Chapter 16

 

Blackcowl stepped into what had become more of a bunker than a farmhouse overnight. Rubble from the farmhouses on either side of the ruined hut had been piled up to make it more secure should the Romillian artillery dry out enough to be put into use again. “Caught us a spy.” Blackcowl snarled. “Dunno whose, but he’s a spy alright.” He chuckled. “Claims to be a bard. Shadow elf. Shifty fellow.” He laughed. “He’s wearing what my daughter would call ‘fun pants.’”

Grundoon looked at him and chuckled. “Which daughter?”

“Chucki.” Said the gnoll.

Grundoon laughed. “Ah well of course. That pup has an eye for fashion, doesn’t she?” The two men laughed. “Bring him in. Let’s see what he has to say.”

Two of Blackcowl’s men escorted into the bunker a wet, but cheerful looking shadow elf. Being an elf it was impossible to determine his age, but from his appearance he did look as though he might be a bard, or at least a minstrel. He wore a short bow on his back, along with a mandolin on a very fancy braided cord. His shirt was that of an entertainer, with billowy sleeves and ruffled cuffs that were now soaking wet, and neither billowy, nor particularly ruffled. He had a satchel thrown over one shoulder, and a soaked hat that did little to keep anything dry. The feathers in the hat hung down in defeat, powerless against the storm to do anything other than drip water down the elf’s back. True to Blackcowl’s word, the elf was indeed wearing ‘fun pants.’ They were multi-colored with red, white, and black in broad vertical stripes. The national colors of Slothjemia. Grundoon found that vaguely reassuring.

The shadow elf boldly thrust his hand out and in the most upbeat of tones said “Ah, Lord von Vorkel! So very glad to see you again!” The smile on the elf’s face was almost unnerving to the orcish general.

Grundoon gathered his composure and shook the elf’s hand. “Um…. Have we met?” the orc looked hard into the elf’s eyes. He knew of the tendency of true bards to have unnaturally high charisma, but this fellow was outdoing any man Grundoon had ever met. “You don’t seem familiar to me.”

The elf laughed. “Twitch, milord. My name is Twitch. We met in passing some years ago, at a festive gathering in Borostat.” He laughed again. “No doubt it was hardly enough to have made an impression on you, General. As I recall there was a lovely lady who had captivated your attentions most thoroughly.”

Grundoon knew what party was being referenced, but still had no inkling who this elf was. He hadn’t any memory of a shadow elf named Twitch. But then, thinking back, Grundoon had very little of the evening to remember except Aggrylia. He smiled at Twitch. “Forgive me, then. I still think mostly of her. Please, have a seat.” Grundoon motioned for the elf to sit and himself leaned against the table.

Twitch sat eagerly enough and set his satchel down on the floor next to him. “I do imagine that seeing a bard here under these conditions has thrown you for a bit of a loop, yes?” Grundoon nodded and smiled. “I must admit that finding myself here has been a bit of an eye opener. Here, let’s begin with this.” He produced a small wallet in his hand, and where it had come from was a matter of mystery to Grundoon. It simply seemed to appear. Grundoon took it from the elf’s outstretched hand and opened it.

Inside was the unmistakable badge of the Exterior Investigators, that secretive branch of the Office of Diplomacy responsible for keeping track of what foreign powers were up to. This was an even bigger surprise to Grundoon than Twitch knowing his name. He closed the wallet and gave it back to the elf. “You are a spy, then?”

“Quite so, sir. Happened to have been in western Romillia when all of the excitement broke out.” He set down his bow and mandolin, and leaned back in his chair. “I was taking note of the military build-up when I heard war had broken out. So, I made my way here as quickly as possible.” He produced a number of hand-written notes that were suspiciously dry. “I guessed that the Romillians would move down the road to Garvin’s Gap, and sure enough, here they are.” He gave the notes to Grundoon.

Grundoon looked over the notes, keeping an eye on the elf as he did so. They were remarkably detailed and contained information about how many Romillian soldiers Twitch had seen on the road, and what their current strengths were just the other side of the valley. Also noted was how badly the Slothjemians had mauled their enemies in the previous day’s battle. While the Slothjemian 1st Army had been all but annihilated, they had in return delivered horrific casualties to some of the best troops Romillia had to offer. Grundoon could not help but smile. This was very good news indeed.

Twitch continued. “As you can see from my notes, the Hussars and Grenadiers have taken heavy losses. And while both are still capable of delivering a solid attack, the wet conditions have rendered their firearms and other explosive devices useless.” He smiled warmly at Grundoon. “Of course, they still have axes and swords, but on that matter, we are on a more equal footing.”

Grundoon looked again at the elf, trying his best to discern any sign of deception. “May I keep these notes?”

“Yes, of course, General.” The elf continued to smile broadly. “I would also like to volunteer whatever services I can to assist you in the forthcoming fight.” He reached down and lightly touched the bowstring. “I play the most lovely string music.”

Grundoon could not help but laugh. The elf was certainly disarming. “Very well said, bard. Very well said.” He motioned for one of the guards to come into the room. “This man will take you back to General Blackcowl. Do what you can to help him out with his part of the battle.”

The elf rose gracefully, almost fluidly. “Thank you, sir. Until we meet again, I bid you luck and valor when the battle is commenced.” With that Twitch snapped up his satchel, weapon, and mandolin and followed the guard out into the rain once more. Grundoon turned his attention back to the notes the elf had brought. He spoke to Jandle but did not stop reading.

“Go fetch me the executive staff. We have to determine tomorrow’s plan.” The kobold scampered off into the rain. Tired and somewhat hungry, Grundoon dug some dried meat out of his own pack and chewed on it while he read. This battle was shaping up rather well, he thought. Rather well indeed.

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