There are not as many towns and cities in the Coreland as there are elsewhere in Slothjemia, but the size of the largest city, Slothenburg, more than makes up for it. It is truly vast, rivaled only by the city-state of Kugahloo in the size of its population. It has no walls, and few fortifications, but the nearby fortified capital, Jordrakenschloss, provides plenty of protection should an enemy ever threaten. But seeing as Slothenburg lies in the very heart of the swamp, threats from foreign powers are infrequent, to put it mildly.
With terrible reluctance, Grundoon managed to get on to his horse. He very much wanted to sleep another couple of days. That foreign vodka was doing more damage to his head than the crossbow bolts had done to his arm. There was a fog in the marsh, and everyone was grateful for that. The column headed out and the still slightly drunken citizens of Four Corners turned out to wave good bye and shout encouragement. They even waved a captured Romillian flag that some Slothjemian soldier had given the owner of the pub. Several of the officers had signed it, and across the middle was written, “the Gong of Garvin’s Gap.”
Early in the day Major Deckler rode up alongside Grundoon. The general had been riding with his eyes closed, but he heard Deckler talking softly to his horse, and could feel his presence next to him. The orc looked over at the major, squinting through the headache. The human had no trouble with the daylight, but he also had been drinking the night before, and wasn’t feeling altogether well. They just sat on their horses and said nothing.
As they rode along, listening to the marching of the soldiers and their rhythmic cadence, Deckler looked at Grundoon. “Milord, why?”
The orc shifted the reins to the hand on his injured arm and tuned so that he could see the major. “Be more specific, Deckler. Why what?” He still had to squint, but he was focusing better.
“Why did you kill Hossler?” asked Deckler. Almost in anticipation of the general’s objection he continued “As the commanding officer of the judicial corps for this army, I feel it is something I should know. I’d appreciate your candor.”
Grundoon just nodded and looked back to the front of the line. He had been so proud of his troops in the last week and a half, and now he was even more proud of Deckler for confronting him about Hossler’s death. As a leader, he had been blessed with warriors far better and stronger in character than he could ever claim.
“He asked me to consider retirement. Said I should step aside, and let another officer come up through the ranks and take command of the garrison.” He looked at Deckler. “He made me angry by suggesting I was past my prime and could not do my duty.” He turned his gaze back to the front of the line again. “But he did say that I wasn’t done fighting. He was right about that.”
“True enough, milord.” Deckler nodded in agreement. “He was true enough in that.” Deckler waited several minutes of painful yet cathartic silence before asking, “And how does milordship plan on making this right with Hossler’s heir? Surely his son deserves something for his father having been murdered for the sin of being correct.”
Grundoon did not reply. He was overwhelmed with disappointment in himself. He was glad for Deckler showing, as a mirror does, the blemishes that he sought to hide. There was more to be done than just sending the ashes home. The general owed a debt. He had no reply, and Deckler seemed to know it. The major had made his point and let the matter drop.
The column made its way across the causeways and islands towards Kernschloss, pausing only briefly to let the men rest, and the horses graze on the patches of solid ground. The soldiers were still in high spirits and would be for a good long time. They talked about the battle and told stories of heroism. One name frequently mentioned all through the ranks was Kozzurd. Great tales were beginning to be woven around the urdish sorcerer, and the best ones started on this portion of the march. The men were all aware that Kozzurd’s body was wrapped up in a fine blanket and was being carried by the general himself. The annoying little urd was quickly rising in status to become a legend of the 6th Army.
Kernschloss was a welcome sight to the troops. There was a mighty horn blast from the top of the road tower before Grundoon’s men even came within sight of the city. By the time the first cavalry units reached the lower gates, thousands of cheering dwarves had spilled out from the city and were cheering from every window, balcony, and parapet. The same dour guards that had greeted the 6th Army were now cheering and waving banners. The jubilation was infectious, and soon the column was shouting and waving their own unit banners and the imperial flags.
The soldiers made their way into the road tower and began the ascent up the coiling roadway. The sides of the interior highway were crowded with gleeful citizens. Although late in the day, the troops felt revitalized, and the upward hike went smoothly and quickly.
Hothror, the Archduke of Kernschloss, was waiting to greet the victorious warriors as they began to fill up the massive central courtyard of the city. Greeting each one, “Brother!” he shook the hand of every soldier he could. Grundoon not only shook his hand, but embraced the dwarven lord, and slapped him hard on the back. Hothror whispered “Welcome home, dear brother.” The elders of the city moved through the crowd of weary, happy troops and told the officers where they could bunk their men and store their cargo. The news of the victory had only reached Kernschloss the day before. Everyone was in a festive mood.
The soldiers though, were too tired to party. They still had a solid two days of marching ahead of them, and the excesses of the night before had caught up to them. The officers accepted the gifts of dwarven ale and food, but only the food was handed out to the men. The consensus was to get everyone bedded down so that the next day would go smoothly.
Nobody had to bunk in the patrol dormitory this time. Every family in the city offered to house one or two soldiers, and even the horses were catered to with great care. Grundoon had given permission for the merchants of the city to go over the Romillian loot, if they wished, and settle on what they would pay for the captured weapons and armor. The individual unit commanders would have to sign off on any monetary amount, but that could wait for the morning.
The city was excited, and didn’t want to calm down, but the soldiers themselves found themselves asleep almost before the sun set. Scattered all over the city, the heroes of Garvin’s Gap slept blissfully, while every citizen lucky enough to have one or two as a guest wondered aloud what great deeds their slumbering visitors had done.
Grundoon was exhausted, but he had something he had to do before he could consider sleeping. He dragged Hemlock along, and with Hothror’s permission, the two men went to where the communication crystal was monitored. Hemlock initiated contact with Vorkelburg, and after some perfunctory inquiries about how things were going at the citadel and letting them know that the patrol was heading back, Grundoon was able to get to the heart of the matter. His wife was doing just fine and had not yet given birth. After asking again, and being told the same thing, Grundoon called it a night, and made his way to the room the archduke had provided him and Jandle. The squire was already asleep on a small sofa. Grundoon fell on to the bed, and within minutes he was dead asleep.