An Orc for All Seasons; Chapter 22

Religion in Slothjemia is viewed by outsiders as borderline heretical, if not outright blasphemous. The head of the Church is the Archbishop of Slothenburg, and while his connection to the hierarchy of the Church is tenuous at best, there are those within the ministry that view pastoral work in Slothjemia as something of a mission in and of itself. There is no doubt that the teachings of the Church are misused, often wildly, but the overall effect of the Church’s teachings have been crucial in transforming the pagan nonhuman culture of the realm into something that outsiders find far less objectionable.

 Chapter 22

The men were still very excited from yesterday’s victory. All around the camp and the line were men in rambunctious, jovial moods. Although they had suffered their share of injuries, they had overwhelmingly dealt more damage than they had taken. The cavalry spent a good portion of the morning stomping in formation across the fields around Garvin’s Gap. At the temporary morgue, the men of the 6th Army that had been killed were being sewn up in canvas sacks by some of the volunteers from Jaggerholmschloss that Grundoon had put to duty tending the Slothjemian dead. The unit commanders had all decided to take their dead home and dispose of them at Vorkelburg.

Rachtenbort had volunteered to have some of his horses put to use pulling home the loot. His men would take turns. The group normally committed to riding in the middle of the column, would instead be put to work in drayage instead. The wagons had been searched, and the contents sorted. Not everything would be of use to the 6th Army, but all of it was going anyway. Grundoon had told his senior officers to treat the remnants of the 1st Army as an equal partner for distribution of loot. Today would be the day for the dividing up of the captured weapons and armor, and anything of value that wasn’t coinage.

Blackcowl came up and greeted the orc almost as soon as he stepped from his tent. The gnoll was doing that disturbing grin that he did. “Good morning, general.” He saluted and handed him a scrawled note on a torn bit of parchment. “The tally for all of the loot we have. I included the coinage, so you had an idea how much was given to the folks here.” He laughed. “All in all, this has proven to be a most profitable adventure!”

Grundoon read the list and was pleasantly surprised at the haul. Prince Holburt had brought all sorts of valuable goods to this war. The Hussar and Grenadier arms and armor alone were worth several fortunes. All of the unit commanders had seen the amounts and agreed to the plan to divide up the spoils. That would take most of the morning, as well.

There was a shout from some of the soldiers, and the two generals looked over to see some of the men on the defensive line pointing towards the southwestern sky. Soaring high were a squad of dragonriders heading towards Garvin’s Gap. Usually this would have been a welcome sight, but the men all knew that they really shouldn’t be here. The two generals watched as the dragons circled the valley high in the sky. They didn’t seem inclined to land, and that was a good thing. It was impossible to tell from this distance what guard unit they were with, but if they had come from the southwest, Grundoon was betting they were Red Guards. That meant the rest of the Red Guards were probably headed this way, no doubt having been alerted by the cavalry squad Grundoon had sent there the day before, to tell them what had happened here. The dragons circled a couple of times, and then reformed in a “V” formation and headed to the east right over the road towards Romillia. The men let out a loud cheer, grateful for the fact they didn’t stop to meddle, and were heading towards the enemy’s territory.

Grundoon handed the parchment back to Blackcowl and went down the road to the juggernaut to see how the work crew was doing with getting Holburt out and into the sunshine again. The hammering had stopped, but Grundoon didn’t notice that until he was almost to the war machine. He was distracted by the roadway. In the light of day, it was unsettlingly gruesome. Mangled corpses of men and horses, trapped in the stone the entire distance, in places right on top of each other, or only inches apart. This would have to be broken up, somehow. As pleasant as he found it to see his enemies torn to shreds, and bludgeoned into pulp, he knew that people like the blacksmith and other peaceful citizens would have a hard time travelling this road. He would have to see if Hemlock or one of the clerics might have a solution that wasn’t labor intensive.

Peering into the hole in the side of the war machine Grundoon called out, “Hello? How goes the work?” His eyes adjusted to the shadowy darkness.

“Allo milord!” Called back Kurt. “Come on in, sir. We just finished cutting out the floor. Just taking a break and trying to think of a way to haul out this piece.”

Grundoon laughed. “I have a fix for that.” He could see the blacksmith, and a dozen or so of the Kernschloss dwarves sitting inside. “You fellows come on out and call it a day. I’ll go fetch the heavy lifters.” Grundoon went back towards the front line.

When he got there, he found the first three ogres he ran across, and told them to follow him. At the juggernaut, the dwarves were lounging about. They all knew what they were really guarding now, and they were all keen to see their enemy cousin brought out, in his personalized prison of melted armor. Kurt had gone back to where the settlers were trying to salvage what they could of their village. Grundoon pointed into the juggernaut. “Bring out the big round piece they cut out of the floor.” The ogres grunted and clambered awkwardly through the opening. The three of them filled the main room of the war machine. They grabbed a hold of the cut out, and with a mighty heave they pulled it up and muscled it out through the gigantic rupture in the wall. Grundoon motioned for them to follow him, and he walked down to the crossroad. The dwarves all followed along behind the ogres, singing the Slothjemian national anthem with as much volume as they could muster. Outside of the juggernaut, the raspy breathing of the prince was barely audible. He was still covered in the blanket. Now he was being borne down the road like the main dish in a fancy restaurant, on the shoulders of three snickering ogres.

At the crossroad Grundoon stopped. He pointed to the side of the road and told the ogres, “Just set it there for now.” He smiled broadly at them, and the retinue of patriotic dwarves. “We need to build some sort of stone platform here, right in the middle of this crossroad. Something big enough to hold this entire cut out. We’ll be well on our way to having a proper monument here soon.” They all applauded.

“You fellows stay here and keep an eye on our friend.” Grundoon said to the dwarves. “I will send a work crew down here after lunch to build the platform.” With that Grundoon and his ogres walked back up the road to the defensive position. All along the way, the ogres kicked at or slammed their fists into the entrapped enemy corpses. Grundoon reminded himself that he would have to have that taken care of.

The general had Jandle ask around to see if any of the spellcasters could turn the stone back into mud. While he did that, Grundoon set about taking volunteers to build the stone platform. It wouldn’t be fair to take stones from the ruins of Garvin’s Gap; the settlers might need those for their rebuilding. So, part of the problem of the ghastly road could be fixed by busting up the rock closest to the crossroad and using that. Quite a number of the axemen opted to bust out the stone needed using hammers and maces captured from the Romillians. There were a couple of gnomes assigned as crossbowmen who knew enough about stonework to build a stable and long-lasting platform.

Two of the chaplains knew how to manipulate the elements enough to transmute the stone back to mud. They would work their way down the road from the camp to the settlement. The skirmish unit would pull out the enemy bodies, and strip them of their undamaged valuables. More loot for everyone. The treasure would be taken to be divided up again by the judicial troops, and the volunteer militia under the command of Colonel von Loskern would drag the corpses out to the adjoining fields to be trampled like the rest of the enemy casualties.

After lunch, everyone got back to work. Grundoon had a couple of soldiers carry a chair and his table down to the crossroad, so he could watch everything happening. The work went extraordinarily well, and quickly the jobs were completed. The roadway was cleared, and in a horrible state, but once the mud dried it would be usable. Not ideal, but tolerable. The platform being built by the gnomes was perfect. Using brute labor from unskilled soldiers, the two gnomes had the stone brought up, and they carefully took control of each piece and tamped it into place. Once finished, the ogres picked up the cut out, and gingerly placed it on top. Grundoon reached up, grabbed the corner of the blanket, and pulled it off with a shout of “Huzzah!” to the thunderous applause of everyone present.

Grundoon picked Jandle up and set him on the platform next to Prince Holburt. The general then held up his hands for silence. The assembled crowd hushed. Grundoon turned to face them and said “This memorial to our dead and the victory they helped to seal in this valley is nearly complete. It still needs a couple of touches. The first will be made by my loyal squire, Jandle.” He turned around and looked at his faithful minion. “Jandle, old friend. Will you please do the honor of finishing off our enemy?” Jandle smiled and bowed to his lord. With a quick movement, he drew his short sword. The crowd remained quiet. Sizing up the best place to strike, Jandle took one last look at the melted remains of the man that had started this war. And then with a swift stab, he drove his blade deep into what remained of Prince Holburt. The dwarf let out a muted scream, drew a last raspy breath, and finally died. Jandle withdrew his blade, turned to face the crowd, and held up the blade for all to see. A mighty cheer went up. While they cheered, Jandle squatted, and had anyone been watching very closely, they might have thought he took something from the corpse. Grundoon reached up and hoisted down his squire.

“The final touch will be a metal statue of our own Kozzurd, in flight over the fallen Romillian prince.” The crowd applauded again. “We’ll find somebody that can do that among our friends at Kernschloss.” More applause and cheers. “It is appropriate for Slothjemian dwarves to finish off the memorial to where Romillian dwarves failed.”

Right about then another shout was heard, and everyone turned to see that there were more dragonriders in the sky. This time they were coming from the northwest. Like the flight that had gone overhead earlier, this group also circled above Garvin’s Gap a few times. But unlike the previous formation, this one turned back and flew slowly, almost lazily towards the northwest from whence they had come. Grundoon called out to his men “All right everyone. Let’s get busy straightening up this place. Looks as though we will be having company tonight, or in the morning.” Everyone set about to do whatever they could to make the battle site, at least where the buildings had been, look less like a total wreck.

The men kept up their work all afternoon, clearing away the rubble of the damaged and destroyed buildings. The settlers were given a large number of tents to use as temporary housing, and a considerable amount of food and ale from what the Romillians had brought for themselves. Grundoon had already determined what he needed to get home. The rest of the perishable goods would be given to the remains of the 1st Army, and the people of Garvin’s Gap.

As night approached, the soldiers all gathered to eat. The defensive line ate in rotation, but nobody much worried about the Romillians sneaking up from the east. The urds took turns flying up and down the road and reported nothing but the bodies of the men killed by Rachtenbort’s cavalry. Vultures and crows were gathering in huge numbers, now that the weather had cleared up. Pyres had been built for the 1st Army’s dead. Grundoon and his men had, of course, agreed to attend, and Major Grokwan had gathered his soldiers for one glorious funerary event. There wasn’t a lot of wood left in the valley, so they poured some of the Romillian liquor on to the dead to help them burn better.

The pyres were lit all at once, and the assembled soldiers sang a couple of hymns in solemn tribute to the heroes that had held off the foe against overwhelming odds. It had been their horrific losses that had filled Prince Holburt with false impressions that the Slothjemians were incapable of mounting a significant defense. They were so sure that only a few hundred soldiers opposed them, that they pursued a reckless and ultimately self-destructive strategy that saw virtually all of their own forces slain. Grundoon and his men all knew that their victory was built on the sacrifice made by the 1st Army.

After the second hymn, the assembled men became aware that they were not alone in the valley. Torches in the north and the south alerted them to advancing military units. Even in the waning light of the setting sun, it was clear that these were Slothjemian soldiers. The reinforcements for the 1st Army had just arrived.

 

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