An Orc for All Seasons

The military gets all of the glory in Slothjemia, but it is the varied branches of law enforcement that keep things calm day-to-day. In the early days of the kingdom, the swamps of the realm were treated as a sort of banishment point for foreign powers, and it was realized quickly that without strong laws, and even stronger enforcement, things could get out of control very quickly. Slothjemia doesn’t suffer any more or less from criminal activity as anyplace else, but considering how many Slothjemians started out as career criminals in other countries, that is a remarkable achievement.

 

Chapter 26

 

The 6th Army roused slowly, and reveille pierced the dawn to little avail. Armor was not even put on, and the soldiers only armed themselves lightly. Leaving a battlefield was almost more tiring than approaching it. The wagons, and any horses not being ridden, were piled with equipment. It would be considerable work getting all of the cargo to the bottom of the cliffs safely. The men wondered if the troglodyte shaman was going to be on hand again to lend magical assistance.

As it turned out, he wasn’t. The column got underway, and began the descent into the swamps below. A lovely low fog hid the fen almost completely. Here and there, tall trees could be seen reaching up from the hidden depths. Overhead, the sky was clear and crisp with just faint traces of clouds. It was unexpectedly warm on the cliffs, but as they descended the cooler air invigorated the men. Ogres and trolls used ropes and chains to try and slow the wagons as they went down through the curves. There were a couple of near disasters, but the sheer amount of physical strength being harnessed prevented any damage or injury.

The column made its way through the fog, and across the swamp towards Four Corners. The fog did not last very long, and before midday it had burned off to reveal the 6th Army marching under the harsh unyielding sun. This is what goblinoids hated the most. Much had changed for the traditions of these races here in Slothjemia, but the hatred that direct sunlight inspired still lingered. It made it hard to see, gave them headaches, and generally caused them to be even more unruly and aggressive than normal. The troops pulled their caps down as far as they could over their eyes, and kept their heads down. The non-goblinoid races had it noticeably better. Even the half-orcs were in a better mood.

One of the half-orcs who was feeling particularly good was Drungaar. He managed to find Grundoon, who was walking on foot to let his own horse rest, and with a hearty “Greetings, my lord!” opened up a conversation with the general.

Grundoon was not wildly looking forward to speaking with the lieutenant, but he took a deep breath, adjusted his cap so he could see a little better, and replied, “Hello lieutenant. What brings you up the column?” The general knew full well what had brought him up from the ranks to chat with him. But he was hopeful it was something else.

Drungaar laughed uneasily. “I do not wish to be a pest, sir. Just wondered if you had decided on that matter we had discussed, when last we passed through this swamp.” He cleared his throat. “I know you have a lot on your mind. But I wanted you to know also that my heart has set a course, and I beg you to not take it lightly.”

Grundoon started to say something, but then he looked over at Drungaar, and stopped himself. He knew what it was like to be young, and focused on just one thing. He was old now, and still focused on one thing. He smiled despite himself, and said, “When we stop tonight in Four Corners, come find me. We’ll talk then.”

The half-orc could not contain his happiness. “Thank you, sir! I will see you tonight then.” With that, he saluted, and slowed his pace so that eventually he would be rejoined to the skirmishers. Jandle was snickering, and even though Grundoon had a splitting headache from the bright sun, he couldn’t help but snicker too. Before long both of them were giggling like little kids. For a sunny day, this certainly was a good day.

The column stopped for a meal break on one of the islands so that they weren’t blocking the causeway. This ended up being a very wise move, as a large supply caravan made their way past the 6th Army, heading presumably towards Garvin’s Gap. There were close to a hundred large wagons, pulled by donkeys and mules, and heavily guarded by some extremely tough looking jorish mercenaries. They waved to the troops, and shouted their salutations. Some of the soldiers called out asking where the supplies were headed, but the caravan guards just pointed east, and kept moving.

Grundoon’s men resumed their march, and paused only twice more before they arrived in Four Corners to make camp. They were greeted by the entire village’s population, who were cheering and waving flags. Amid the adulations, the one phrase that spread through the column like wildfire was, “We stocked up on ale.” When the first squad of cavalry had entered Four Corners, the townsfolk had all turned out to ready the tavern’s kegs and quickly set up a line of volunteers to hand mugs, tankards, tin cups, and even wooden bowls full of ale to the thirsty soldiers. Jubilation was the overriding theme. The 6th Army felt like they were conquering heroes.

As the evening progressed, they drank and partied like conquering heroes. Musicians, both military and civilian, created such a ruckus that it was late at night before everyone was able to finally settle in and get some sleep. Grundoon inquired about the cost of the ale, and the good people of Four Corners offered to pay for a quarter of it themselves as a way to thank the soldiers for their service. The bill was still huge, but Grundoon had more than enough, which he happily paid and went to sit next to a tree by the tavern.

Drungaar came up to Grundoon and asked, “May I join you, sir?” Grundoon looked up at him, and motioned for him to have a seat. The half-orc sat on the ground facing the general. He had what looked like a cooked chicken in one hand, and a tankard of ale in the other.

“Tell me how you met Oleysa.” Grundoon said. He stared patiently at the lieutenant and waited. If he was anything like Grundoon, the half-orc would need some time to put his fondness, his emotions, and his memories into useable words.

Drungaar didn’t need any time. He already knew how to answer the father of his beloved. “We met four months ago, at a festival in the village. She was setting up a display of cheeses and I was awestruck. By her, not the cheeses.” He smiled at the orc. “They were delicious though. She did a fine job, and I thought what a wonderful spirit she had, to work so hard to help somebody else at the fair. They weren’t her cheeses, you see. She was just helping one of the villagers.” The half-orc took a big bite and chewed thoughtfully. “That made quite an impression on me. We walked about the festival and chatted with each other and the folks we met, she introduced me to her friends. I liked how she laughed.” Drungaar laughed thinking about it. “Not mockingly, but musically. I had never encountered an orcish girl with such a love for life.” He took a drink of ale. “We talked after the festival was over for several hours there in the village square. She spoke in glowing terms of her father and her step-mother. I decided that I wanted to spend my life knowing her.”

Grundoon sat there in awe of this young man. He was just now at a place in his life to delight in the adoration of his beloved wife. He felt about Aggrylia the same way that this fellow felt about Oleysa. Grundoon wasn’t sure what to say next, so he took a drink of ale and sat there for a moment, saying nothing.

Jandle came over and handed a bottle to his master. It was the half-full Romillian vodka that Grundoon had entrusted him with. The orc’s face lit up with joy. “Ah ha! Look what Jandle found. Loot we can use!”

The three men all laughed heartily. Grundoon pulled the cork out with his teeth and poured the contents equally into Jandle’s mug, Drungaar’s tankard, and his own. He still had a bit of ale in his tankard, but he had never minded mixing beverages or food. He was an orc. Theirs was not a particularly discriminating palate.

Holding his drink up Grundoon declared “To Oleysa!” Jandle and Drungaar clunked their drinks to the general’s, and both declared, “Here, here!” and all three took a long slow guzzle of the potent liquor.

After finishing the contents of his tankard, Grundoon tried to focus his eyes on Drungaar. He wasn’t entirely successful. “You has my blessing, lieutenant. If Oleysa will have you, then I welcome you most heavily.” Oh, the vodka was screaming into his skull. He put a hand up to steady his face, and the world began to circle about in a hazy kaleidoscope.

“And you, my lord, are a wonderful man. A kind, and strong, and tough, wonderful man.” Drungaar set down his empty tankard and smiled at Grundoon. Then, almost in slow motion, he fell backwards; his legs and feet straight out in front of him.

Jandle just tipped over. His mug rolled off, and stopped when it hit Grundoon’s leg. Grundoon looked down at his unconscious squire. “Then, night time it is.” He sat back against the tree, and closed his eyes. Sleep hit him hard, and it took two soldiers to shake him awake when he slept through the morning bugles.

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