An Orc for All Seasons; Chapter 20

Contrary to the maxim that “Good conquers Evil”, Slothjemia has created its own method for keeping wickedness in check; paperwork. The large and mostly efficient bureaucracy that keeps things moving in the empire does so because every desk clerk is, in their own way, a sort of tyrant. Ruthlessly dedicated to whatever job they are entrusted, these otherwise malevolent beings harness their ambitions and direct their energies to maintaining and enforcing the will of the Empress. The diabolical plots of other power-seekers are lost in an avalanche of forms and procedures, and many an attempt at treason has been headed off by the clever machinations of bureau directors and their bosses.

 Chapter 20

Grundoon stepped onto the road and looked to the east. Blackcowl had formed up the men exactly as he had wanted him to. Rachtenbort and his cavalry were just now coming back into the valley, their lances adorned with the severed heads of enemy troops, their long hair tied in knots around the tips. The men were in extremely good spirits. They had slain many retreating enemy soldiers, and the thrill of the chase had pumped up their adrenalin to the point of near intoxication.

Major Deckler and his soldiers had secured the Romillian baggage train. The enemy had gone to great lengths to pack up their camp, and it was obvious that they had planned on being out the south side of Garvin’s Gap by this time, headed for Summit Village. The carts that had been damaged by the fighting the previous day had been stripped clean, their cargo shifted into new drayage that had been brought up afterwards. All of it had been tied down and readied for travel, and if the horses and oxen hadn’t been killed by the sustained crossbow attack, the Slothjemians could have just walked up and taken the cargo for their own. Now the 6th Army had to decide how best to divide the spoils.

There were soldiers roaming about finishing off wounded Romillians. There were hundreds of them that had been trapped in the stone road or had been crippled when their horses had been caught in the spell and thrown their riders into the mud on either side of the road. Now, small groups of Slothjemians were just methodically going from one to the next, beheading or impaling their hapless foes. Over at the new defensive line, the impaled men were being lined up on either side of the eastern road. As many Romillian pikes as they could find, were being put to good use.

Grundoon walked up to the new defensive line and gave it a thorough inspecting. He had his senior officers gathered, and held an impromptu staff meeting right then and there.

“Ok, let’s get a good count of our losses thus far. Tally up the men we lost, or who are too injured to fight. Minor injuries I don’t care about, a good number of us got scratched up this morning.” Grundoon held up his left arm to show his own injury, and then lowered it. “We need to gather up the loot here too, and account for it all.” He pointed with his axe down the road towards the ruined settlement. “I want all loose coinage gathered up for distribution to the people that lost their property in this battle.” He looked at his officers and made sure they were listening. “We have tons, literally tons, of loot. Armor, weapons, and whatever they have packed away in these wagons. We will keep all of that. Fair is fair, so whoever is left of our 1st Army cousins are getting a share, too.” Grundoon waited for each of his officers to nod or in some other way to acknowledge their approval. “I want the long spear troops, and the crossbows, all up here and ready for any form of attack from down that road.” Grundoon pointed towards the east with his axe. “Cavalry I want to standby in case I want you here. Rachtenbort, send a squad up the road to the north and let the Jaggerholmschloss militia know the valley is ours again. I want them to get down here and help us secure this spot.” Rachtenbort nodded. Before he could mount his horse though, Grundoon added, “Do not let them plunder anything from these dead, Count. They stayed up there blocking the road to the north and didn’t do a damn thing to save the 1st Army. These are not their spoils. Deckler, you make double sure they keep their sticky hands to themselves.” The head of the judicial unit grinned and nodded his head.

“Everyone else I want to bring our camp up to this spot, here. Our baggage train, the damaged artillery, everything that we can use. This will be our new headquarters.” Grundoon thought for a moment. “Rachtenbort, send a squad south towards Summit Village to tell the Red Guard that Garvin’s Gap has been secured. We’re just awaiting replacements, so we can resume our patrol. Also, tell any of the refugees from this valley that they can come back now, the fighting is over.” The orc stood for a minute, trying to think what he might have left out. “I think that’s all. Get to work, boys. I am going to check on a friend.”

The officers hurried to gather up their units and put the general’s orders into action. Grundoon went to find Major Hemlock. Jandle padded along behind him, digging in his satchel to find bandages while they walked. The squire was beginning to be concerned that his lord was still losing blood. They found Hemlock near the juggernaut that Prince Holburt was in.

The orcish general sat down on a couple of dead enemy soldiers. He was so tired. Having marched all day yesterday, not sleeping but a couple of hours the night before, and then the active battle today had caught up to him. Jandle began to bandage Grundoon’s injured arm. The general yelled for Hemlock to come over and set his axe down across his lap.

The lizardman waddled over to the general and saluted. Then he burped. “Yes sir, what can I do for you?”

“First of all, you and the other wizards did a fine job today. In fact, it was positively brilliant.” Grundoon grimaced as Jandle applied a healing salve to his wounds. “Secondly, I want to know if you can solve another problem for me.” Grundoon nodded towards the juggernaut behind Hemlock. “Have you been inside that thing yet?”

The lizardman shook his head and settled down on his haunches. “No sir, the guards you posted seemed well determined to keep anyone out. I know you had your reasons.”

“Yes, I do, major. Inside that wreck are the remains of the dwarven warmonger that is responsible for all of this. He is melted inside his armor, and that is melded to the iron floor of that war machine.” Grundoon winced again as Jandle wrapped the bandage around his arm. “I made a promise to that charbroiled dwarf. Can you separate him, in his armor, from the floor of that thing?”

Hemlock spun around and looked at the juggernaut. He was silent for a bit. “I don’t know. I will have to go inside and check it out.” He turned back to the general. “By your leave, my lord?”

Grundoon waved his uninjured arm. “Yes, go see for yourself. I need him out of there.” Grundoon paused. “He might still be alive, Hemlock. I want him kept that way as long as possible. But not healed. Just don’t kill him.”

The lizardman looked at Grundoon. A dark, evil grin made its way across his scaly face. “Don’t worry, milord. I’m full.” He patted his belly. “Feeling somewhat gorged, actually. These hussars make a fine feast.”

All three of them laughed. Jandle finished wrapping up Grundoon’s injuries, but the orc just stayed sitting on the corpses. He felt as though he could sleep for days. He watched as Hemlock made his way over to the juggernaut and spoke to the dwarven guards. They were laughing and let him go through the hole and into the machine.

Grundoon looked around at the battlefield. Deckler’s men were gathering up all of the enemy weapons, armor, and whatever loot could be found. There were piles being made of all of the treasure over near where the camp was going to be relocated. Guards had been set up to protect the coins being dumped out on a tarp for the townsfolk fund. Other mounds were growing for armor and weapons. Everyone seemed to want a hussar helm as a souvenir. The armor of the grenadiers and hussars was worth a lot of money. The equipment of the lesser Romillian soldiers would not bring as much of a price on any market. It was just average run-of-the mill gear such as any army of conscripted soldiers might be issued. Most of the men that died here today were not professional warriors. They were peasants, farmers, workmen, and perhaps tradesmen. Only the hussars and grenadiers were dedicated soldiers. Grundoon felt a tinge of gratitude that few, if any, of the Romillian professionals survived. All of those that fled down the road back to Romillia were from the ranks of the lower classes, men forced by their allegiance to human and dwarven lords to serve in a capacity they were ill-prepared to fulfill. Grundoon did not feel very badly that some of these poor wretches had escaped death in Garvin’s Gap. And he was extremely glad that the elite were killed, probably to the last man, right here in Slothjemia. It was their impaled corpses and severed heads that he wanted lining the road in the valley to the east. Send us your best, and they shall die. Send us your least, and they shall flee and spread the word. Grundoon made a mental note of that. It would make a wonderful inscription.

Hemlock climbed out of the juggernaut and sat down on the ground next to Grundoon. The lizardman was laughing, a sinister laugh, filled with evil intent. “I can’t imagine how I would be able to extricate that pitiful creature from that metal tomb.” He looked at Grundoon. “It is still alive. Dwarven constitutions are amazing, but he must have an enchanted item, or something, to have kept him alive after all of this.”

Grundoon chuckled and nodded his head. “Yes, I had thought of that too.” The orc winked at Jandle, who only smiled a little, and Grundoon and Hemlock laughed. “Put your mind to the issue, Hemlock. We can’t leave here without fulfilling my promise to him.” They laughed again.

The soldiers not actively guarding the new defensive position, set about to move everything up from the bunker farmhouse area to the eastern corner of Garvin’s Gap. The squad of cavalry that had gone up to the northern entrance to the vale, returned with the militia volunteers from Jaggerholmschloss marching right behind them. They stopped where Grundoon was resting atop the corpses. Their leader, still seated in his saddle astride his horse, saluted.

“Colonel Baron Shr Alrecht von Loskern, sir. At your service.” The man was a rather large frog jor, so called because of their peculiar physical characteristics. Frog jors were not common, and in the more rural areas of the country, jors that had children suffering from this birth defect frequently euthanized them. Frog jors had huge mouths, no discernible neck, long muscular arms and extremely broad shoulders. Their legs tended to be small, and underdeveloped. The colonel of the volunteer force was undoubtedly riding a horse because marching while wearing his armor would have been difficult. Grundoon looked him over and looked at his men.

Grundoon pointed down the road to the original line of defense. “Down there, colonel. My men are weary from marching and fighting. Gather up our dead, and take them with dignity to that area there, next to the ruins of the inn. Keep the dead from the 1st Army separate from my men. Their senior officer will have to decide what to do with their dead, but mine I want laid out on cloaks, or blankets, or whatever you can find. I’ll have some officers come by and take note of them in turn to inform their next of kin.”

The colonel saluted and smiled. “Of course, sir. I should remind you that we are volunteers. My men are eager to return home if the crisis is abated.” He shifted in his saddle.

Grundoon just stared at the baron on his horse, his armor clean, and weaponry sharp, and unused. “You marched one day just to sit blocking a road the enemy had no intention of using, let an entire army get ambushed, and offered no support, and now you want to march home again?”

The frog jor smiled weakly and shifted his gaze away from Grundoon nervously.

“My men marched for five days. We raced to set up defenses and faced the enemy head on. You can see from this throne, that we did not shirk from our duty.” Grundoon punched his right hand onto the corpses he was sitting on. “We don’t go home until this valley has been fully secured. And that means you don’t go home, until I want you to. And if you or any of your men deviate one bit from my orders, I will be sitting on your corpses, as well.” Grundoon shook his head. “Now get your sorry selves to work tending our noble dead, and do not make me regret trusting you with defending our homeland’s honor.”

The frog jor flushed with anger and embarrassment but said nothing. He just held up his hand and pointed towards where the inn had stood and led his troops back down the road to commence their funerary detail.

The day drew on, and the weather continued to improve. The storm was headed south over the mountains, and the rain had stopped completely. It was early afternoon when the clouds began to break up, and the sun started to warm the battlefield. Grundoon just stayed sitting on the bodies, watching his men work and rest. Jandle unfastened his lord’s armor to let him relax some.

The two jorish huntsmen who had joined them just outside of Four Corners came by. Grundoon smiled and waved to them. They waved back and came over to talk with the general.

“Allo, milordship.” Said the older of the two. He was the only one Grundoon had ever heard speak. “This was a perfectly delightful adventure. We had a smashing time.” Both of the jors snickered.

Grundoon laughed. “You fellows were a very welcome addition to our force. I surely owe you a debt for this service.” He did in fact admire the huntsmen and their fighting prowess. Just having huntsmen fighting on your side was enough to inspire the rest of the soldiers.

“Oh no, sir. It was our honor to fight alongside you, and your valiant men.” The older jor slapped the younger on the back. “besides, me cousin here needed the experience. Malek here is going to be a fine warrior someday!” He laughed in his raspy way and the other jor looked sheepish.

“And what is your name, huntsman? I don’t believe I ever heard it.” Grundoon queried.

“Moak, me lord.” The older jor saluted. “If I ever find myself in your home, I’ll bring fresh meat.” This was a very old jorish farewell. The two jors laughed and waved at the orc general. Moak said, “We’ll be off now. That elven bard in the stripy pants asked us to go with him to the east to reconnoiter what all might be happening in Romillia. Sounds like a fine adventure, don’t it?”

Grundoon nodded. “My friend, that does sound enticing. Spill plenty of blood for Slothjemia.” Grundoon waved at them. He watched the two jors head back to the defensive line, and saw Twitch coming to meet them. Grundoon wished he was a good forty years younger. He would love to join that party. He looked over at Jandle.

“I know this was an adventure. But imagine being with those three!” said Grundoon. The kobold grinned and laughed. “We’d need a healer though. Better than you, old comrade. We’d be torn up, and quick.” Both men laughed.

The individual units each assigned one of their lieutenants to monitoring the gathering of their dead and taking note of the men too wounded for further combat duties. Each of the lieutenants wandered about the valley, following after the militia who were picking up and carrying the slain Slothjemians to where they were being laid out for final identification. Grundoon decided to get off of the grisly chair he was on and made his way stiffly to the juggernaut across the road. He had one of the passing soldiers leave some crates and a barrel here, part of the stock that was being brought up from the old camp to the new. Grundoon sat on one of the crates and set his axe on the upright barrel. “My field office.” He said aloud. Jandle nodded. “I am going to lean against this metal beast and get some rest. If anyone needs anything, wake me. Otherwise, use your discretion.” The orc pulled his helmet down over his eyes, clasped his hands across his chest, and almost instantly slipped into a glorious sleep. The dwarves guarding the juggernaut smiled and nodded to each other. They were honored to have in some small way served this man in war. This had been a conflict worthy of dwarven song.

While the general napped the camp was moved from the fortified farmhouse ruins across the valley, to the new position. The 1st Army had brought tents with them, including a huge pavilion tent for use as a field headquarters. These were all set up for use by the combined forces gathered in Garvin’s Gap. The dead of the 1st Army had been laid out in rows, and their officers were going through them all looking for their identification tags and other personal affects that their families might want. Their weapons and armor, if intact, were stacked neatly to one side for use someday by new recruits. They might even be told of how they came to possess this equipment, of the sacrifices made, and the battle they helped to win.

The 6th Army dead were laid out in a different area, away from the others. There were far fewer of them. But those that survived the fighting would never speak ill of the 1st Army leadership. They had done very well against difficult odds, and if one took into consideration how they were unable to form up in battle formation before the attack began, it was a miracle they had held the Romillians at bay until Grundoon’s reinforcements arrived. Silently everyone wondered what would have happened had the 6th Army not been present. What would have happened? The men and women of the 1st Army would always be grateful for the unexpected gift of an entire army from the other side of the country.

Major Deckler was the one who woke up Grundoon. “General, sir.” He was careful to wake the orc from arm’s length in case Grundoon awoke in a fighting spirit.

Grundoon pushed his helmet back on his head and blinked at Deckler, trying to focus his sleepy eyes. “Yes? What do you want?” His groggy mind raced to try and determine what the major might need before he said it.

“What do you want done with the enemy dead? Not the ones impaled along the road up there, but the rest? We’ve got a lot of corpses here.” He stood patiently awaiting a reply.

“Have we run out of Romillian polearms? Have they all been put to good use?” Grundoon ran his bandaged arm across his mouth. His arm ached.

“Yes, sir. All of them have been put to work in our ‘no trespassing’ display.” Both men chuckled.

“All right then. Strip the remaining dead, save anything that might be of value. You know what to do with the coins. We’ll distribute everything else among the men. Burn the clothing. I don’t care where.” The orc peered out at the valley. The clouds were breaking up and the sun was close to setting. “Scatter the bodies out in the field. Have Rachtenbort and his cavalry trample them into the soil. They deserve no better.” Then as an afterthought he added “If anyone wants the meat, have at it.”

Captain Grokwan saw that Grundoon was awake and jogged over to speak to him too. Grundoon returned his salute. “Yes, captain?”

“Sir, if it is alright with you my command would like to join the 6th Army. We talked about it. They want to serve under you again.” The orog looked directly at Grundoon. “We would like you to be our lord, baron.”

Grundoon looked at Grokwan. He took a deep breath. “And that would make me very happy, Grokwan. You and your soldiers did a damned fine job here the last couple of days. But that isn’t up to me. That decision has to come from higher up the food chain.” Grundoon could see how disappointed the captain was. “I can only command you for the duration of this battle, and it looks as though this battle has come to a grinding halt.”

Grokwan was very let down by this, and he made no attempt to disguise his feelings. His eyes fell to the ground. “Was afraid of that. But maybe the Lord High Marshal will give us leave to join you.” He looked again at Grundoon.

“Or not. But you did a fine job here. And as your temporary commander, I still have a goodly amount of authority. For instance, I can give you a field promotion. You are now a major. Go rustle up some insignia. I’m sure there are plenty of majors laying over yonder among your men that will no longer need them.” Grundoon smiled at the orog. “Aside from whatever we might like to have happen, Major Grokwan, remember that the Herzgraf and the Lord High Marshal are going to have to rebuild the 1st Army, and they need some veterans to help guide the recruits that will be assigned to it.” He chuckled. “You have a lot of work to do, regardless.” He saluted the newly minted major. “Go tend to your troops, major.”

Grokwan saluted back and turned away to return to his soldiers busily tending to their dead. He hurried away from Grundoon. He didn’t want the orc to see him become emotional. He was torn between frustration, anger, disappointment, and immense pride. He steeled himself, and by the time he reached his command he was under control. He did as Grundoon had told him and found his former superior officer among the deceased. Carefully, respectfully, he removed the man’s collar insignia and replaced his own. He held his old insignia in his hand for a minute, and then slid them into his belt pouch.

As the sun began to set the various lieutenants that had been assigned to identify and catalog the dead from among the 6th Army came over to give their reports. One by one, they read off how many of their men had been killed, and how many were unable to fight in the immediate future. The numbers were, in Grundoon’s estimation, excellent. There were little more than two hundred dead. Most of them had been felled by the Romillian crossbows, but some were victims of the lightning strikes. Only a couple had been taken down by the brutal hand-to-hand combat. It had turned into a very one-sided fight. Grundoon told each of the lieutenants to ask what their unit commanders wanted done with their dead. If they wanted pyres, then they would have to gather up wood from wherever they could. If they wanted to take the dead back to Vorkelburg, then the bodies would have to be wrapped in tarps and carefully placed on wagons or other transport back home.

Lieutenant Drungaar was the designated funerary officer for the skirmishers. Grundoon now knew what unit he was with. But Drungaar did not come with good news. Among the dead from the skirmishers was Lieutenant Kozzurd. Grundoon reread the list of names. He looked up at Drungaar.

“How did it happen?” He pointed at Kozzurd’s name on the list but just looked at Drungaar.

“The Romillians were shooting their crossbows blindly into the sky after Kozzurd cast his faerie fire spell. They were panicked about the nonexistent dragons. They managed to hit Kozzurd several times. Blind luck.” Drungaar pointed at where the Romillians had had their baggage train. “We found him on top of one of those wagons.”

The two men just looked at each other. Finally, Grundoon said “That is disappointing. He was the most annoying man I have ever known. And without his spells and cunning, we would have not destroyed this juggernaut,” he pointed with his thumb to the metal monstrosity he was leaning against, “and we wouldn’t have been able to so easily scatter the Romillians from the rear echelon on up.” Grundoon was quiet again, and Drungaar just waited for him to speak. “Kozzurd was the undisputed master of fire and panic. Wrap his body carefully. I’ll carry it home myself.”

Drungaar saluted and turned to leave. “Wait, lieutenant. Are the other urds alright? Did we just lose Kozzurd?”

The half-orc turned around and shook his head. “One other was killed, I don’t know how. One of the ones assigned to your axes. I saw him earlier being carried over towards the settlement.” He motioned up towards the defensive line. “The rest are up there.”

Grundoon nodded in acknowledgement. “Be a sport and run up there, send the urds down here. I have a job for them.”

“You got it, milord.” Drungaar set off at a brisk pace.

The orc general sat back and looked down towards the settlement. He could see a lot of commotion going on. It looked like the refugees had come back and were getting their first good look at the destruction of their homes and businesses. There were plenty of his own men down there, and they all knew where he was. If anybody needed anything from him they would be sent up here. He looked over at the Kernschloss dwarves guarding the war machine. “If you fellows want to go eat or something go ahead. Just find some of your comrades and have them take over your watch.”

The dwarves murmured, and a couple of them headed off to find replacements. One of those staying behind started a fire near the gaping hole in the juggernaut. Grundoon looked down the road again and saw that the population of Garvin’s Gap were making their way en masse up to where Grundoon was sitting. “Oh good.” He muttered to himself. “I’ve been looking forward to this.” He sighed heavily. War was easy. Dealing with restoring peace was what gave him a pain.

The urds from the front line arrived before the civilians did from the devastated settlement. Grundoon wasted no time. He pointed at the still smoking ruins of the watchtower overlooking the road, and right above where the Slothjemians had established their new defenses. “Get up there, check for any signs of life. The tower hasn’t been in use for decades, but make sure nobody is up there. If they are hostile, report back to me immediately. If nobody is there, I want you to stay up there and watch down the road until dawn. Take turns and just keep any eye on the road. If you see any enemy troops coming down the road report back to Blackcowl there at the mouth of the valley.” He saluted. “Get.”

The urds all chattered the way urds do and took wing up towards the tower. They vanished quickly in the waning daylight and soon Grundoon had lost sight of them altogether.

He turned his attention back to the civilians. They were being led by the drow elven woman that had owned the inn. Warleeza LeProttcik looked angry, and Grundoon had a feeling this was completely normal. He had never been very impressed with how emotional the so-called dark elves tended to be. And while it was true that she had just lost her inn, Grundoon was relatively certain that she would have been in a foul mood regardless.

With the rest of the inhabitants of Garvin’s Gap right behind her, Warleeza strode right up to where the orc general was sitting. He leaned forward and folded his hands on his makeshift desk. He just looked at her. He was unaware that he was smirking, but she certainly knew it.

“So the enemy is gone now, eh?” She held her hands on her hips and glared at Grundoon. “And who is going to reimburse us for our losses here? Look at this place!” She waved a hand around in the air and put it back on her hip.

Grundoon stared at her. He fought the urge to laugh. “You should petition your liege for recompense. I’m sure he will do the right thing.”

“Are you a crazy man? Our lord is absentee! He lives full time in Jaggerholmschloss! He doesn’t even know what happened here!” Warleeza had a shrill and annoying voice. She also yelled like a person who was important, if only in her own mind. The other settlers were just nodding their heads in agreement and murmuring. They seemed quite happy to have somebody else do their yelling for them.

Looking up at her quizzically Grundoon asked “And then what do you propose I do about it?” They were unaware of the pile of coins that had been collected just a few hundred yards away.

“Make this right! You need to see to it that the army rebuilds our town! And not just some slap-dash job, with old lumber and mud. We want every bit as good as we lost to your battle!” The others clapped and cheered. Grundoon glanced at them, and they stopped.

The orc general stood up, quickly and with a fair amount of force. He snatched the axe with his right hand and slammed his left fist on to the barrel desk in front of him. Somebody in the group of settlers yelped.

“HOW DARE YOU!” He bellowed, his face only a couple of feet away from the face of a startled Warleeza. “WE DEFENDED YOUR ABYSMAL LITTLE CRAP-HOLE OF A VALLEY FROM THE ROMILLIANS, AND YOU MAKE DEMANDS OF ME?” With one strong motion, he grabbed the side of the barrel with his left hand and threw it to the side. His arm hurt, but the reaction from the now terrified civilians was well worth it. He stepped right up to Warleeza and pointed his finger right at her face. “You do not tell me what to do, lady. I am a baron, a knight, and a general. You are a glorified barmaid, with no tavern to stick her broom in, so SHUT YOUR ELVEN TRAP!”

Most of the settlers went ahead and fled at this point. They skittered back down the road towards the ruins of their village. A handful remained just to see if the orc was going to disembowel the drow elf. Grundoon took advantage of his fearful persona and continued to move closer to the elf. She began to step back, her eyes growing larger, like a cornered cat.

“I’ll tell you what I am prepared to do, elf. And this is all I am prepared to do, so listen well.” Grundoon dropped his voice but kept the snarling sound alive and well. “If you sign an affidavit making me a full partner in your inn and tavern, I will surrender to you all of the coinage we garner as loot from this battle.” He smiled wickedly. “But you have to sign first.” Jandle stepped up and pulled some papers out of his satchel.

Warleeza was stunned. She looked at Jandle, and back at Grundoon. Weakly she said “But I built that inn! It was mine! I invested everything to make it what it was!”

“All in the past tense, lady.” Said Grundoon. “It is gone now. If you want it back, rebuild it. If you want money to speed that process up, sign the paper.” Jandle pulled out a sheet of Grundoon’s official non-military stationery and handed it up where Warleeza could reach it.

She took the paper with a trembling hand and looked at it. She turned it over, and then back again. “It’s blank.” She said. “All that is here, is your letterhead.”

“Sign the bottom. I’ll fill in the details.” Grundoon leered at her. “You have no bargaining position. I have the coins, and an army to assert my demands. Sign it.” Jandle handed her a pen and held up a piece of wood for her to write upon.

Warleeza signed her name to the bottom of the paper and handed it back to Jandle. He rolled it up and slid it into the satchel.

“Good.” Said Grundoon. He pointed up to where the judicial guards were posted around the loot piles. “Your coins are up there. Jandle, go make sure they are given over to this woman and her neighbors.” Grundoon returned to his seat next to the juggernaut and sat down. One of the dwarven guards stood the barrel back up in front of the general. Grundoon placed the axe back across his lap. “You have a blacksmith, yes?”

Warleeza nodded her head, still flummoxed.

“Excellent. Then send him to me. I have a job for him.” He waved her off with his right hand. “Follow the kobold, and he’ll take you to the coins.”

The civilians that had run off made their way back, warily moving past Grundoon, who just sat there smiling at them. Once up at the loot piles, there was quite a bit of joyous commotion. The old orc guessed there was probably more than enough money there to rebuild Garvin’s Gap, and then some.

The soldiers began to light lanterns and placed them on poles at various locations throughout the valley. They put some over by the makeshift morgues, the loot piles, and of course near the new defensive line. The new encampment was also lighted, and guards posted to make sure nobody pilfered anything that wasn’t theirs to pilfer. The men had found hundreds of tents in the Romillian baggage train and had set them up to provide some luxury for the victors of the day’s battle. The men also found bedrolls, food, and several wagons filled with barrels of excellent dwarven beer. There were more lanterns, tons of miscellaneous equipment, tools, and provisions. Everything an army might need to settle into and defend a fortified town. There were also some maps and official documents, but Grundoon thought that most of the good information to be gleaned had been burned inside the juggernaut. The Kernschloss militia had rotated their men on duty around the battered war machine and had set up their own camp right next to it. Storg Hammerclaw came over to chat with Grundoon.

The dwarf had taken off most of his armor and had a large tankard of beer in his hand. He smiled broadly and raised his tankard as he approached Grundoon. “Good evening, General von Vorkel. Congratulations on your magnificent victory today.” He took a quick drink. “An amazing display of discipline and force of arms.”

Grundoon was exhausted but smiled at the dwarf. He laughed. “We had ourselves a good fight, we did.” He motioned for the dwarf to sit on a crate next to him. “Your men did well, as I expected they would. I always prefer to fight alongside a dwarf, than against him.” The two men laughed.

Jandle came back from the loot piles carrying a tankard and followed by a soldier carrying a keg. Behind them were Warleeza, and a fairly large burly man who was either half goblinoid, or just painfully ugly. Jandle told the soldier to set the keg down and handed the full tankard to Grundoon. He then motioned for Warleeza to approach.

She did so and was clearly very happy with the treasure trove that the 6th Army had secured for her and the rest of the town. She put her hand on the ugly brutish man’s arm and introduced him to Grundoon. “This is Kurt.” She smiled broadly at the general. “He is our blacksmith. I told him you had a job for him.”

The brutish man bowed slightly and stood there awkwardly. Grundoon took a drink of beer, and then said to him, “Can you find a way to cut through this metal?” He thumped the side of the juggernaut with his fist. “I need a good-sized circle cut out of the floor of this thing, and then have the cutout hauled over to the junction down there.” Grundoon pointed at where the roads met in the center of what used to be the settlement. He took another drink of beer.

The blacksmith stepped up to the juggernaut and felt it with his hand. He could see about how thick the metal was from the jagged hole in the side. He looked thoughtful. Finally, he turned to Grundoon and said, “I can cut it sure enough, but it will take hours to do, depending on how big the circle is.”

Grundoon stood up and told Kurt “Come on inside, I’ll show you what I need done.” The two men scrambled in through the hole. Jandle followed with a lantern, and Storg, unable to resist his curiosity, climbed in too. Warleeza was also curious, but she waited a moment trying to decide what to do before climbing in through the hole as well.

The candle had long since expired, but in the dark, everyone could hear the heavily labored rasping of the unfortunate Romillian prince. Jandle lit a lantern and held it up as high as he could. Everyone but Grundoon and Jandle let out a gasp. Their reactions were guided by how they had individually made their way through their own lives up to this point. Storg was initially horrified, but then laughed as the realization that a dwarven warlord had been melded directly to his war machine, and both had been rendered useless by his kin in defense of their nation. Kurt was struck completely by the ghastly realization that this had been a dwarf, but now it was something quite unnerving, and the blacksmith came very close to passing out. Warleeza had been startled at the gruesome appearance of the melted dwarf and his darting, fear-filled eyes, but that soon gave way to wicked delight. Drow were an emotional, and almost indescribably cruel people, and this was simply too delicious not to enjoy. Here was the man responsible for destroying her inn, and he was in a state of existence that she could never have imagined in her wildest fantasies. Had anyone been looking at her they would have found the expression of sheer unbridled delight on her face to be most inappropriate.

“So how long to cut Prince Holburt out of here, this part of the floor, and get him outside?” Grundoon was gesturing with his axe in a circle around the dwarf’s remains.

The blacksmith struggled to retain consciousness as his mind raced to make sense of what he was seeing. “I….. maybe…. I will have to….. I need tools.” Kurt closed his eyes briefly and tried to focus on breathing. He had not been cut out for this sort of thing. He made horseshoes, and repaired wagons. Once he had made a warhammer for one of the rural constables in Garvin’s Gap. But he had never thought about anything like this. “I will need help to get…. to move this….. “He pointed with a shaking finger at the felled prince. He was unable to speak further.

Grundoon sighed. “Jandle, go find a blanket to throw over our friend here so the blacksmith can work.” He looked at Kurt with a mix of scorn and pity. This man wasn’t weak, and he knew it. He just wasn’t bred to handle the terrible realities of war. Or conflict in general. Or for that matter being Slothjemian. As brutish as the man was Grundoon was grateful that he hadn’t been a soldier in his army.

Storg reached up and clapped a hand on Kurt’s shoulder. “I have some men who can help with this. Unlike Baron von Vorkel’s army my men are volunteers and possess valuable trade skills. A goodly number have experience with metal working. I’ll get them together and see if we can scrounge up any tools.”

The Kernschloss dwarf and the blacksmith left the juggernaut and set out to find the implements needed to do the task at hand. Jandle and the orc general stood awkwardly with Warleeza in the flickering light of the lantern. Grundoon glanced at the dark elf, and realized she was staring at him. He didn’t look long enough to identify the motivation behind her gaze. Jandle saw it immediately though and bristled at the notion of his lord being pursued by this woman. While Grundoon might be unaware of her designs, his squire was very much on alert to his lord’s well-being.

Finally, Jandle began to leave, and since he was holding the lantern, Grundoon and Warleeza followed him. Grundoon let the woman go first, and then slipped from the juggernaut. He grunted at Jandle who set off to find a blanket to cover Prince Holburt. Grundoon then waved awkwardly to the drow elf and said, “Good evening.” He then headed off to where his men had pitched a great Romillian tent for him to sleep in.

Warleeza watched the old orc walk off and found herself intrigued but confused. Here was a man of power and wicked disposition, and yet he seemed not at all interested in her wiles. She had never been treated so harshly or with such disdain. As the baron walked away into the night towards his camp, she smiled.

Previous Chapter  –  Next Chapter