Slothjemia takes tremendous pride in its black dragon riders. These are the descendants of the first dragon tamers that were drawn to the first king of the realm before he ever ascended the throne. The dragons that are used by the various guard units of Slothjemia are bred in captivity, and undergo magical and surgical means to domesticate them. This robs them of their innate magical abilities, but makes them much more manageable.
Morning arrived to find Garvin’s Gap filled with Slothjemian soldiers. The Herzgraf had effectively taken command of the situation and had moved other units in to take the place of the 6th Army and remnants of the 1st Army along the defensive line. But they were not going to stay in place long. It was clear that the Empress’ husband intended to launch a counter-attack into Romillia. It was swiftly discovered though that the men and women who had fought defending Garvin’s Gap, were not going along on that adventure.
During the night, the Herzgraf had gone on a tour of the valley, and spent time talking to all of the officers ranked major and above. He did not, however, chat with Grokwan or Grundoon. Instead, he asked seemingly random questions, and listened intently as those queried did their best to answer and struggled to discern what it was that he was after. More supply wagons crowded into the little valley, and torchlights gave the entire vale an eerie glow. Dragonriders kept watch from the skies, and powerful sorcery was put to use to scry for enemy activity or intent.
Grundoon had written out his report with a decidedly uncharacteristic display of forthright honesty. He did his best not to volunteer too much information regarding his initial motive for bringing the bulk of his army all the way from Vorkelburg. He did, however, admit to not following orders, and the various charades he employed to hide his army’s identity, and justify in the most tenuous terms showing up for battle where he didn’t belong. No mention was made of anybody being thrown off of a tower.
The orc general finished his writing and fell into his bed. Almost instantly, he was asleep. Jandle took the report off of the little table and made sure it was organized properly and ready for the Herzgraf. Then he, too, crawled into his bedroll at the foot of Grundoon’s bed and fell fast asleep.
When reveille sounded in the camp, Grundoon and Jandle exited their tent to find a camp much larger than when they had fallen asleep. For the first time since arriving in Garvin’s Gap, the entire 6th Army had gotten close to a full night’s sleep, and everyone felt just a little more tired as a result. Blackcowl and Rachtenbort were right on hand to salute the general and begin his day with quick reports on the status of the new defensive line. By all accounts the Herzgraf had plans to invade Romillia and inflict some damage of his own on the dwarf and human nation, to punish them for their attack on Slothjemia.
Word had spread throughout the 6th Army that the Red Guards had taken back control of Summit Village and had captured or killed all of the Romillian commandos involved. The small numbers of spelljammers that Slothjemia had at their disposal were now running a very successful blockade of further aerial assaults from the Romillian skycruisers. That had freed up all dragonriders for action against whatever ground forces that might be encountered. Everything was falling into place for the Slothjemians. The men and women of the 1st Army had been unfortunate enough to have fallen victim to a surprise encounter with the enemy. From here on out, the enemy would be on the defensive as the goblinoids and their allies had begun their mobilization and were swinging into all-out attack mode.
Grundoon listened to the others talk, but his eyes scanned the camp for any sign of the Herzgraf. He spotted the paladin’s tent and took note of the dragons that had bedded down all over the valley. There were several overhead now. The orc wondered if there had ever been an occasion when this many of the great, black monsters had been assembled all in one place. This was fully two-thirds of all of the dragonriders that Slothjemia possessed. He could not think of a time when this many armies had been encamped together either. This was a lot of military force. But he could not spot the Herzgraf.
“Where is the Herzgraf?” Grundoon asked of nobody in particular. He had wanted to ask, “where is the Empress’ husband” but he knew better. This was the most derogatory way to refer to the Herzgraf, and everyone in the country knew he hated it. Empress Reichsha had gone to great measures to insure that her beloved was treated almost as an equal to her in every way. One of the ways she had done this was to give him complete control over all military matters. The Lord High Marshal oversaw the army, the Lord Admiral oversaw the fledgling naval forces and the spelljammers, and a handful of military governors were assigned to oversee captured territories and insure their integration into Slothjemia. The Herzgraf was in charge of all of these, and more. To refer to him as “the Empress’ husband” was to say he didn’t really earn or deserve his position. With so much hanging in the balance, Grundoon was going to be very careful about what he said.
The others around him all shrugged and looked around too. Grundoon called over a passing soldier and asked him the same thing. The soldier saluted and pointed back down the road towards the settlement crossroads. Grundoon returned the salute and motioned for him to be on his way. The soldier resumed whatever he was doing and walked off.
“Rachtenbort, go get the rest of the senior staff. Have them meet here in my tent. I’ll be right back.” He looked at Blackcowl. “You, my friend, send out a couple men and make sure our men are ready to deploy if needed. Meet back here. I am going to see what the boss wants us to do.” With that he and Jandle walked down the drying mud road to find the Herzgraf.
All the way down the road, they passed row after row of tents and soldiers getting ready for the day. They were eating, talking, and packing. It looked to Grundoon as though they were getting ready to strike camp and move out.
Down at the crossroad Grundoon could see the Herzgraf surrounded by his own senior staff, and the senior officers of the military units he had brought here. All of them were clustered around the new memorial in the middle of the crossroad. The Herzgraf saw Grundoon approaching and nodded to him. Grundoon returned the nod with a lazy sort of salute common among men on the battlefield who were just acknowledging each other. Grundoon stopped a discrete distance from where the officers were conferring and waited until they were dismissed by the Herzgraf.
While they were talking Grundoon looked around at what was going on around them. The settlers were already beginning to assess the damage to their homes and businesses. Warleeza, and what must have been her family and inn employees, were chattering excitedly and pointing at the stone foundation of the former tavern. Grundoon looked down at Jandle and motioned for him to go eavesdrop. Jandle smiled and skittered off to learn what was happening.
When the Herzgraf finally dismissed the officers, Grundoon approached and bowed. He handed the report to him and said, “Good morning, majesty.”
The paladin took the report, and without looking at it, he handed it to his squire who was standing beside and behind him. The paladin looked at Grundoon. “I have relieved your men from their defensive duties here. I order you to strike camp and return to Vorkelburg. I will contact you at a later date.” The Herzgraf continued to look at Grundoon. The orc thought he detected a hint of a smile when the paladin added, “And make sure you take all of your baggage with you.”
“At once sir.” Said Grundoon. He saluted and the Herzgraf returned the salute. Grundoon turned and began to walk down the road towards the camp. Jandle came running up and fell in behind the orc. About halfway down the road to the camp Grundoon paused and turned to look back at the Herzgraf. He saw the old paladin standing in front of the memorial in the crossroad. Grundoon tried to gauge what the man might be thinking, but it was impossible.
“What were the drow and her kin talking about?” Grundoon looked briefly at them, and then back to the paladin.
Jandle replied in his high-pitched voice “They are deciding how best to rebuild the inn, master. They have more than enough coins to make changes she has always wanted.”
Grundoon nodded. “Good. We’ll leave this place better than the Romillians found it. Eventually.” The orc turned again and headed for his tent.
The senior officers of the 6th Army had gathered, and Major Grokwan was with them. Grundoon returned their salutes and waved them into his tent. Once all were inside, he had Jandle stand guard outside with a handful of other soldiers.
“All right boys, our adventure has come to a close here. The boss wants us back at the ol’ homestead. Pack everything up as fast as you can, and let’s hit the road. We’ll camp at the top of the cliffs again.” The assembled officers stood there, somewhat surprised. They had been hoping to be included in the great counter-attack.
Grundoon looked at each of his men. “The Herzgraf said he would contact us later. For now, we just need to get back to Vorkelburg.” Grundoon clapped his hands together with a powerful smack. “So, get cracking! Hitch up whatever horses we need to the wagons and carts, and let’s get this circus back on the road.”
The officers scattered, and for an hour there was a flurry of activity. The army was a little let down that they were not going to continue as active participants in this war, but also a little relieved to be heading home. The ferocity of the battle had been physically draining, and the emotional high of victory had dissipated with the arrival of the Herzgraf and his reinforcements. The order of march had been set, but instead of three cavalry segments there would only be two. Everyone got in order, and Grundoon rode down the line to review the troops. He rode down to the memorial, to the head of the column.
The Herzgraf and his senior officers were there as well. Standing off the road near the farmhouse bunker, the paladin saluted the commandant of the 6th Army. Grundoon smiled and saluted back. And then, with a mighty roar, Grundoon bellowed out “COLUMN! FORWARD!”
With an epic lurch forward, the patrol headed out again. All along the sides of the road, the other soldiers held up their banners in tribute to the 6th Army. A great feeling of pride and accomplishment flowed through the column as they made their way out of the valley to the south towards Summit Village. The troops of the Black Guard, Red Guard, 8th Army and 2nd Army cheered and applauded as the garrison of Vorkelburg began their homeward trek.