Bombards, the huge firearms used to assault or defend fortifications, are expensive to build and maintain, and as a result, they are closely guarded and highly valued. The bombards of Vorkelburg are a mix of weapons that the previous owner had installed, and ones put in place by the Slothjemians. They are not good at pin-point marksmanship, but they can spread damage over a very large area due to their exploding munitions. Firing a bombard is an expensive endeavor, though, so training with them generally means drilling the operators on loading and cleaning the weapons quickly rather than target practice.
Grundoon and Jandle woke up in the guest room of the lord mayor’s home. Jandle had even been given a kobold-sized bed all his own. Both were slightly disoriented, but the smell of breakfast cooking did wonders to bring their senses around.
After eating, they finished dressing, and gathered up their belongings. They, along with the mayor and his family, then went out to the town square to where the column was starting to assemble. The town’s band quickly fell into place around the fountain in the center of the square and played the national anthem. The soldiers were not as quick to turn out as they had been yesterday in Kernschloss, but they were nonetheless eager to get back on the road.
The unit buglers sounded the command to move forward, and with a great shout, the 6th Army began the final days march to Vorkelburg. Arrangements had been made for the wagons to be returned in a few days, after everything had been delivered to the garrison. Under patchy clouds, and an impatiently rising sun, the column headed out of Borostat, and across the farmlands to the south.
The army rested at the edge of the valley, just before the road began to make its twisting way through the craggy peaks, and intertwined gullies of the Kragalian Alps. The passing storms of late had dropped significant amounts of springtime snow, which was now melting as warmer temperatures prevailed. The peaks were still snowclad, but the creeks along the roadway were swollen with snowmelt waters. So cold were the creeks and rivulets, that the water was more bluish-green than clear. At every crossing, the column slowed to allow the men and horses to drink their fill, before moving on.
While the army made its way through the ups and downs of the mountain road, they did more singing. The various units ran through a bewildering repertoire of songs, that ran the gamut from tavern tunes, to patriotic hymns, and back to the childish “Bop Ba Dop Ah Dop” song. The latter tune kept coming back, because it was just so much fun, and there were no lyrics to worry about getting wrong. All you had to do was be loud. Other than marching long distances and fighting, being loud was one of the things the 6th Army really excelled at.
There were a few brief pauses for rest, but otherwise the day went by very quickly. The troops were very energized, and glad to be in the final stretch of their outing. The horses all knew they were close to their home stables, too; and were impatient with the pace of travel. It was well before sundown when the advance units reached Vorkelburg. A cheer went up, and rippled all the way down the line, signaling that the garrison had at last arrived.
The drawbridge dropped, and the portcullis went up. The massive gates swung open, and the eager soldiers of the column poured into the fortress. Their wives, children, and sweethearts were all there waiting, and a great reunion flooded the entire castle. The pace quickened all down the column, and soon the men were practically racing to get inside the walls of Vorkelburg, to hug their loved ones and tell everyone who had been stuck at the fortress, all about their adventure.
Colonel Sarla Grimstag came running out from the central keep to greet Grundoon as he dismounted his horse. She saluted smartly, and then embraced the general. Grundoon was taken quite by surprise. “Colonel, it is good to see you as well!” He stammered. He hugged her, and then had to forcibly push her away. “I see the towers are all standing right where I left them.”
Sarla wiped a tear from her eye. “Just so very glad you made it back safely.” She looked at the carts bearing the bodies of the fallen soldiers. “We didn’t escape unscathed though.” She regained her composure. “I return command of Vorkelburg’s garrison to you, sir.”
She saluted again, and Grundoon returned it. Turning to face the inflowing soldiers, he bellowed out commands to store the captured gunpowder, take the dead to the infirmary, stable the horses, and stash the arms and equipment. To Deckler and his command, he had them take the coinage, and other treasures, and see that they were all stashed safely in the vaults. The happy homecoming would have to be placed on hold for the time being. There was still much to be done.
The artillerists, all of whom had to stay behind, were overjoyed at the amount of gunpowder that the column had brought back. They grabbed the barrels of explosive powder and started taking them off to the various holding rooms near the bombard emplacements.
Grundoon motioned for Sarla to follow him, and he headed for his wife’s room. Sarla fell in right behind him and Jandle had to jog to keep up with her. Grundoon didn’t bother turning to see if she was there, but instead just talked loudly enough that he figured she could hear him. “Everything go ok while we were gone?”
Sarla nodded her head, then realized he couldn’t hear that. “Yes, milord. I sent some raiders across the river in small boats on two occasions to do a little reconnaissance. They reported nothing out of the ordinary but indicated that the undead lords might be up to something. There was a suspicious lack of anything of note for several miles across the river. We didn’t probe very deeply, so I can’t say for certain that everything is calm in Sikilia.”
“And anything else stirring in our jurisdiction?” Grundoon asked as they walked through the corridors, and up the stairs. “Did the other patrols pick anything up that seemed out of place?”
Sarla was quick to reply “Not a thing, milord. We covered the road to Borostat, and ran some boats up and down the Dolonau, and sent urds to scour the peaks for quite a ways in all directions. Other than evidence of some bandit encampments, there wasn’t much to report.”
“Make sure those camps are noted on the map, colonel. We’ll turn our attention to them after this current crisis calms further.” Grundoon said.
“You mean the Romillian war, sir?” asked Sarla. She didn’t think there was much crisis to be concerned with at this point.
Grundoon shook his head. “No, no, no. There is no Romillian war, as far as this garrison is concerned.” He paused in the hallway, and Sarla and Jandle almost ran into him. His voice lowered. “Truthfully, there never was. But I made a choice and went with it. Now I have two hundred and fourteen letters of condolence to write.” He resumed walking towards his wife’s room. “No, the crisis is this pregnancy. After Aggrylia gives birth, and regains her strength, I can focus on the bandits.”
Sarla and Jandle weren’t sure what to make of that information and were both processing it when they arrived at Aggrylia’s room. Grundoon knocked, and Lieutenant Progellia opened the door. The room was filled with Grundoon’s daughters tending his wife. Progellia said in a hushed voice “She knew you were coming home and got a little over stimulated. Try to not be too rambunctious.”
Grundoon wasn’t very subtle, or gentle, as he pushed his way through the sea of young women. His daughters were thrilled to see their father again, but also very concerned with Aggrylia’s condition. Her heart rate had sped up, and she was perspiring something fierce. Her face lit up upon seeing her husband, but her features betrayed the pain she was in. Grundoon took her hand, and she squeezed it hard.
“Oh Grundy. You’re safe!” She groaned and squeezed his hand again. “I think the baby is coming now!” She groaned louder and closed her eyes.
Progellia told the daughters to clear out, giving specific instructions to each about fetching water, hot water, and blankets. The ones that had children of their own were allowed to stay, but the younger sisters were essentially tossed from the room. “Alright, milady. We’ve been over this. We knew the baby would be popping anytime, so don’t panic.” She said to Aggrylia in as soothing a voice as she could manage. “Milord, hold her hand and give her encouragement. I know I won’t be able to get you out of here, so make yourself useful.”
Grundoon had been present for some of the births of his children, but not all of them. He really had no idea what he was supposed to say. He ran his free hand over her wet hair and let her squeeze his other hand as hard as she wanted. Getting as close to her ear as he could he whispered, “I love you Aggrylia. It’s going to be ok, darling. Everything is going to be just fine.”
Sarla wasn’t sure what to do, and Jandle ran off to get his own healing reagents. While the colonel stood uncertain in the open doorway, she thought she heard something other than Aggrylia’s pained groans. She cocked her head. She did hear something else. That was an alarm bell being rung. She then heard yelling from down the corridor.
A breathless soldier appeared in the hallway running for all he was worth towards where Grundoon’s wife was beginning her labor. “UNDEAD! UNDEAD ARE AT THE RIVER!” Sarla looked at the general. He had heard the soldier. He hung his head and seemed to be clenching his teeth.
“Really? This is when they choose to attack?” He looked up at Sarla. “Come here, colonel. Take over here. I have to see if that dwarven gunpowder is any good.” Grundoon took Aggrylia’s hand, and removing a ring from his left pinky finger, he slid it carefully on to her middle finger. “This will give you strength, my pet.” He patted her hand. “It did wonders for a friend of mine.”
Sarla took over holding Aggrylia’s hand and did her best to comfort the general’s wife. Grundoon headed for the door and turning to see his wife once more he said, “Don’t worry, my dear. I’ll be back soon.” He looked at Progellia and she looked at him. They exchanged a knowing, wordless communication. Then the general turned, left the room, and headed quickly to where the alarm was coming from.
The sun had set, but the moonlight illuminated the river rather well. Grundoon looked over the parapet on top of the bombard tower that had sounded the alarm. All along the river, on the other side was a mass of moving beings. It wasn’t clear if they were actually undead or not, but their movements were not fluid as living beings. The assumption was natural. It was difficult to ascertain how many there were, but it was not an insignificant number. They were swarming and looked prepared to cross the river along the old stone pilings of the ancient fallen bridge.
Grundoon knew the big bombards in this tower were already trained on the old bridge. Most every target that could be hit from here was set, and while the bombards were not incredibly accurate, the explosive charges in each shot were powerful enough to make “close enough” more than enough. Grundoon turned to see an artillery corporal standing right behind him.
“Your orders, general?” The young man asked.
Grundoon looked back over the rampart. “When they reach the second support, open fire with all guns. Cover everything all the way back to the far bank.” The corporal saluted and ran down the stairs to the gunnery hall beneath. The orc tried to make out what was happening down at, and in, the river. Whatever was down there had some long wooden poles lashed together, and it looked as though they were intent on using them to reach from one broken stone column, to the next. It looked as though they were going to place a prefabricated wooden bridge.
The general was trying to identify if there was a necromancer or two down in the crowd along the far river bank, but just as he thought he might be able to make out who it could be, the swarm of undead had reached the first stone piling and were dropping the wooden poles down to the second. As they moved quickly, looking more as spiders running on a twig, the huge cannon opened fire. From the other side of the river, they probably sounded like corks popping. From where Grundoon stood, it was like being in the center of a thunderstorm. The missiles whistled in the night air, and small sparks flew off in the darkness illustrating the arc of trajectory for the great iron spheres.
One of the bombards scored a direct hit on the second support. The resulting explosion all but obliterated the stonework above the water line. Shredded bodies were sent into the river in all directions. More explosions followed, some wildly off target and exploding in the air or as they hit the river. A few detonated right over the heads of the swarm on the riverbank, and a couple more blew up on contact with the ground in the center of the mob. Bright flashes made the carnage briefly visible. Grundoon couldn’t resist clapping his hands with glee. The Romillian gunpowder was proving its worth, and then some.
The result was dramatic on the Sikilian side of the river. Most everybody hit the ground, so the necromancer that had control over them must have been killed, but a few of the creatures scampered off into the darkness away from the river. They had either been free-willed undead or living minions of the lich lords. Either way, they were not going to be a threat to Vorkelburg, the little valley below, or any other part of Slothjemia. Not any time soon. With one volley, the garrison had wiped out what could have been a formidable enemy attack.
“Now that was fun.” Said Grundoon to nobody in particular. He clapped a few more times. He then turned and headed back to make sure his wife was doing alright. There was a shout from the artillerists down below. They hadn’t had anything to shoot at in so long, it was extremely satisfying to blow somebody up.
There was a lot of activity in Aggrylia’s room. She was whimpering; there was a fair amount of pandemonium as Grundoon’s daughters tended to her, and Progellia was calmly intoning healing prayers as Jandle passed her curative poultices he had whipped up quickly to ease the new mother’s pains. To one side were Grundoon’s new children, his oldest daughters wrapping them up and cleaning them off. Aggrylia looked at her husband. She smiled.
“A boy first, and then a girl.” She said weakly. “You have to name them, Grundy.” She settled into the bed. She kept smiling at her husband.
He bent down and kissed her forehead. “I love you so very much, Aggrylia.” He looked up at Progellia. “The boy’s name is Viktor. The girl’s name is Leala.” He looked back at his wife and knelt down, so he could hold her hand and caress her head.
Jandle and the others eventually left the room, leaving the two orcish newborn whelps in the care of their parents. Grundoon crawled up on the bed next to his wife, and they lay through the night with Viktor and Leala between them. Grundoon helped the new mother with feedings and did the cleaning up. He marveled at how small the whelps were, and the potential they had to one day shape the world. He prayed silently that they would have greater wisdom than he and take care to funnel their strengths in ways that would build up, and not cause ruin for those that loved them. He wanted them to thrive. He knew that they would need guidance to succeed, and he was ready for that role. He had not been the best at providing his children with the type of leadership they needed, and perhaps these two would be no different, but it was worth his efforts to do better.
Grundoon nuzzled his wife’s face. She was falling asleep. He whispered to her softly. “So I’ve been thinking about retiring…..” and he too drifted off into slumber. All four of them slept peacefully, and nobody bothered to disturb them.