The war in Romillia had proceeded without further interference from Baron General Shr Grundoon von Vorkel and his devilishly clever, victorious troops. Regular updates made their way through official channels, and unofficially via the supply carriers about developments in the conflict. Everywhere, it seemed, the Slothjemians were winning battles and bringing ruin to the dwarves and humans who had foolishly initiated the fight. Spring turned to summer, and before autumn began to lay claim to the world, Romillia surrendered. They pressed Slothjemia to end their side of the war, and offered a portion of their domain, and treasury, to see the goblinoids and their allies cease the campaign that had thus far delivered only ruin to Romillia.
During the four-month war, there had been many changes in Vorkelburg. Grundoon had dispatched skirmishers to hunt down and slaughter the brigands that had been taking root in the mountainous terrain of the Grafdom. Lieutenant Drungaar had been placed in command of these operations, and his success only more firmly established Grundoon’s admiration for the half-orc. He was promoted to captain, and just before the end of the Romillian war, he was married to Oleysa in the citadel’s chapel. It was an emotional time for Grundoon, to be sure.
Things had just begun to settle down in the citadel when the general received word that the Herzgraf was coming to pay him a visit. The war was over, so everyone guessed that his visit had something to do with their role in the Battle of Garvin’s Gap. Oddly, no one was worried. The 6th Army had suffered virtually no casualties in the battle, and in the aftermath of that adventure they had deterred an attack from the Diosian Lich-kings on the other side of the river, and all but wiped out the bandit activity in the region. Grundoon suspected he was going to be relieved of duty, but he had spent the last four months coming to terms with retirement. He had two wee, tiny orcish welps now that he doted on, and without stopping to consider he had never had much of a hand in the upbringing of his other children, was enjoying fatherhood enormously now. He didn’t mind being set aside now by the army.
The Herzgraf arrived with all of the grandeur one might expect from the man who was married to the Empress of Slothjemia, and controlled the military in every corner of the realm. Grundoon had made preparations for the Herzgraf and his retinue, even clearing out one of the stables so their black dragon mounts could be boarded safely. The paladin arrived just before sunset, and brought along several military and clerical personnel with him. The entire group rode on three dragons, and the effect was stunning. This is how the Slothjemians preferred their leaders to act. Make a big entrance, fill it with reminders that everyone else is insignificant, and smile. The Herzgraf was well-skilled in all three elements.
Archibald Speedblade II looked exactly as he did when last Grundoon had seen him, girded in the most fantastic plate armor, and with his impeccable head of perfectly groomed hair. This time, however, the Herzgraf was smiling broadly as he approached Grundoon. “How it pleases me to find you here!” he said with a touch of laughter in his voice. “I almost expected to find the place empty, and your army halfway across Sikilia in a victorious campaign.”
Grundoon couldn’t help but laugh as he saluted his commander. “Fair enough, your majesty. We prefer to fight them from here with bombards. Makes clean-up easier.”
The paladin laughed and held out his hand. The two men clasped each other’s hands in a warm handshake, and Grundoon’s voice boomed loud and clear as he said, “Welcome to Vorkelburg, sir. We have made room for your dragons, and prepared a dinner for you and your entourage.” He motioned to his officers, lined up behind him with a small color guard to greet the Herzgraf. “You remember my officers. This is Colonel Sarla,” he directed the Herzgraf’s attention to the only woman in his senior staff. “She held down the fort during our patrol to Garvin’s Gap.”
The Herzgraf returned the officer’s salutes, and smiled at them in obvious delight. “Well met, all of you. The Empire is proud of you, and commends you for your devotion.”
The dragons were unloaded and led to the stables, and the members of the Herzgraf’s staff were taken to their guest quarters so that they could stow their baggage and get cleaned up before dinner. The big boss himself was given lodging in the largest, most elegant living area available in the fortress. Usually it was where the spellcasters hung out during their time off. It boasted a big bed, plenty of windows with amazing views of the valley and river, and the most ornate furniture in the citadel. It had been carefully cleared out in preparation for this visit, and even the bed linens had been changed. Usually the bed was just a place to throw cloaks and papers, to have it used for its intended purpose was something of a novel idea.
Grundoon cleaned himself up as well, with Aggrylia and Jandle going over his best uniform to insure it was in pristine condition. Jandle had polished each of the general’s medals until they gleamed, and there wasn’t a loose thread anywhere to be found. After dressing and doing another check of every detail, Grundoon decided it was going to have to do. Aggrylia wore her finest dress, a startlingly blue gown with flowing sleeves and a matching turban sort of hat with a couple of long, poufy white feathers in it that dangled up and over the back of her head. Jandle wore his best uniform as well, but he was aware that being a minor character in all of this afforded him a certain degree of relief from heavy scrutiny.
The other officers of the senior staff were all busy doing much the same thing as Grundoon. When the supreme commander of the military dropped in for dinner, everything had to be just right. They wouldn’t have tried harder to make a good impression had it been the Empress herself spending the evening with them. One by one they began to enter the grand dining hall where all of the soldiers of the 6th Army took turns having their meals. The garrison was broken into four groups, and the enlisted troops each had thirty minutes to eat. Officers had a full hour, and often sat together. The senior officers often spent the evening meal at Grundoon’s table, situated near the far side of the hall. They would spend the full two hours comparing notes and going over the day’s activities, as well as just chatting. Tonight, things would be different.
The tables were normally left bare, but tonight they were covered in linen tablecloths. They didn’t all match, but every table was covered. The enlisted men were still only given half an hour to eat, but officers were encouraged to stay the full two hours to make sure everything went smoothly. Instructions had been given to everyone to keep conversation muted, and not to say or do anything that could offend the most politically well-connected paladin in the realm. It wasn’t as if the 6th Army was expected to be silent and docile, but just dial back the goblinoid tendencies to a more moderate level. It was understood, without it being said, that anyone who ruined this evening would face very serious repercussions.
Kitchen staff had done a smashing job of setting up the tables, complete with candles. The custodians had hung brand-new unit banners from the rafters of the hall, along with the various victory pennants earned by the garrison since taking up residence in Vorkelburg. An honor guard of axemen had been selected, and had gotten into their assigned places around the hall just as the officers began to make their way in for dinner. All was ready.
The Herzgraf and his staff, dressed in their finest uniforms, were led into the dining hall by one of Grundoon’s lieutenants. They were escorted to the table where Grundoon and his senior staff usually ate. Grundoon was already there, and rose to greet his commander. “Good evening, majesty. Please, have a seat.”
Archibald smiled, and sat across the table from Grundoon. The orcish general always sat in the middle of the table, and facing the wall. He found it easier to concentrate on conversation when he didn’t have an entire room of people to watch. This placed the Herzgraf in the middle of the table facing the room full of soldiers, the most honored place for him to be, other than at the head of the table. But nobody wanted to sit at the head of the table, at least not at this table, because it would be difficult to hear what was being said by the powerful men in the middle. There was a bit of a shoving match as Grundoon’s staff jockeyed for position closest to him, and while the Herzgraf’s staff were far better mannered it would have been obvious to an astute observer that much the same thing was happening on that side of the table, as well.
The food was brought out on large wooden platters, and distributed along the length of the table. It wasn’t elegant, but everyone got a chance to grab something to eat. Tonight’s dinner was more disciplined than usual. The soldiers throughout the hall kept the chaos to a dull roar, and soon all were feasting.
Light conversation began to spring up at Grundoon’s table. Topics such as the good quality of the food were batted about, of course, as well as observations regarding the various campaign banners that were hung from the ceiling. Grundoon and the Herzgraf contributed little to these musings, but it was not an awkward or embarrassing meal by any stretch of the imagination. The orc was completely at ease around the Herzgraf, very unlike his first meeting with the man over four months ago. For his part, the paladin was smiling a good deal more today than he was back in Garvin’s Gap. The Herzgraf wasn’t thinking about his military commanders going rogue with entire armies at their disposal, and Grundoon wasn’t worried about losing his command for disobeying orders. The war was over, and what was done, was done.
The meal concluded with nobody bringing up anything more serious in tone than that the chairs were deceptively comfortable. The Herzgraf was the first to rise, and his staff for the most part dispersed to attend to whatever it was they did, while the old paladin and his squire slowly made their way through the hall. The Herzgraf relished these times, a chance to rub elbows with the soldiers under his charge. His charisma was all but intoxicating, his reputation on the battlefield and his skill in combat only making his mystique more enticing to the average warrior. He spent a lot of time shaking hands, complementing the troops on how excellently their citadel was maintained, and how proud he was of their devotion to the empire. He had an almost eerie recollection of the men he had spoken to in the aftermath of the battle at Garvin’s Gap, and he spent a little more time with those fellows than he did anyone else. He made them feel appreciated.
Grundoon’s method of leadership was the same. His men were not devoted to the empire, so much as they were devoted to him. For the vast majority of the 6th Army, Slothjemia was Grundoon. To have the supreme military commander now treating them the same as their own beloved general treated them, that was an enormous honor for all. And it was this leadership that created the most fearsome force in this region. The drawback, of course, was that such commitment to Grundoon allowed the old orc to get away with actual murder, and while what had happened to Major Hossler over four months ago had begun to slip from Grundoon’s consideration, it did weigh upon his conscience from time to time. Especially when he was trying to fall asleep, and couldn’t. But not once did he think that this is why the Herzgraf was here now, seeking justice for a fallen officer.
Grundoon followed the Herzgraf as he zig-zagged through the mess hall, greeting the soldiers and shaking their hands. Eventually the paladin made it to the main doors, and in the hallway outside of the dining room, Grundoon shook the Herzgraf’s hand as well. “Thank you, sir, for gracing us with your presence.” The old orc general motioned down the hall. “Was there something you wished to discuss, my lord? Perhaps we should go to my office.”
The Herzgraf grinned and began walking alongside the general. “I like you, General von Vorkel. I like your style. I like the way you get right to the point.” The human looked at the orc as they walked. “I do have something to discuss with you.”
Grundoon looked at his commander, and the two men smiled. Behind them their squires trotted along to keep up with their masters. All along their route, soldiers on their way to the mess hall saluted and got out of their way. Grundoon and Archibald returned the salutes, and made their way to the general’s office. It was quite a journey, as it was fairly high up in the main keep.
The orc opened his office door, and said to the Herzgraf, “Seat yourself wherever you please, your majesty.” Jandle, the general’s squire, lit the lamps while the Herzgraf’s squire, a goblin of relatively advanced age, stood uneasily in the doorway.
The Herzgraf took a seat, and it wasn’t the big leather chair behind the desk that he chose, either. “Fuller, bring me my briefcase. Quickly, please.” The goblin saluted, and trotted down the hallway.
Grundoon elected to keep the door open for the time being, and pondered his options. He didn’t want to sit across from the Herzgraf. To do so suggested that the Herzgraf wasn’t the superior of the two of them. That left one other option, and so Grundoon settled into the other chair on this side of the desk. He leaned against the desk and set his right elbow upon it. He set his left hand on his thigh, and looked at the Herzgraf. “You have my full attention, my lord.”
“The details are in my briefcase; which Fuller will be bringing up shortly.” The Herzgraf unbuttoned the top of his tunic and rubbed his hand under the collar with a sigh of relief. “But I can begin to paint the picture for you.” He looked at Grundoon. “It is not all good news, you understand.”
The orc nodded his head. “I figured as much, sir. But I have had four months to get used to the idea.”
Laughing, the Herzgraf continued. “I was impressed by your military skill at Garvin’s Gap. Your victory was, and is, and in all likelihood, will be for quite some time, an inspiration for all of Slothjemia.” He paused. “But I cannot overlook the blatant disregard for the orders you were issued. You knew that. You even put into effect a very inventive ruse, so that you could march the bulk of your army all the way across the country to fight the enemy. And while I admire your patriotism very much, and your mastery of the battlefield, I must have generals that I can count on to do as I command.”
None of this was particularly surprising to Grundoon. He had been expecting this reprimand since the Herzgraf first appeared on the scene at Garvin’s Gap after the battle. His gaze never faltered, though. He met the paladin’s eyes throughout, unwavering.
The Herzgraf paused, and looked at Grundoon with a sad kind of smile. “I am going to have to ask for your resignation as the leader of the 6th Army. I will, however, allow you to select your successor.”
The two men sat in silence for some time. Grundoon’s gaze fell to the floor. He had expected this. But it still stung. He looked up, and their eyes met once more. “So that is the bad news. What else do you have?”
The paladin laughed, quietly but with genuine delight. “You are a tough man to keep down, von Vorkel. I need you to select one of your senior officers to take over rebuilding the 1st Army. As you are well aware, there wasn’t much left of that force, and most of them are now new recruits. It is a considerable task, but I trust your judgement.”
Grundoon nodded his head. He had people in mind for both jobs. “I would suggest Colonel Shar Sarla Grimstag to take command of the 6th Army. She isn’t the most senior officer here, but she is the most capable for that undertaking.”
The Herzgraf narrowed his gaze. “Why not your most senior officer to take your place?”
“That would be Brigadier General Argus Blackcowl, milord. And I would suggest him to take command of the 1st Army. He has the drive, the discipline, and the brute strength needed for such a massive task.” Grundoon leaned his head into his right hand, his elbow still on the desk. “They are both fine officers. You would be hard-pressed to find better, even in the 6th Army.”
Sitting back in his chair, the Herzgraf smiled. “Interesting. You didn’t have to think about that at all, did you?”
“No.” replied Grundoon. “You asked for the best, and I happen to know them.”
The paladin laughed, long and loud. As he did so, Grundoon chuckled as well. It was a fine jest, funny because it was true. Just then, Fuller, the Herzgraf’s goblin squire, came trotting back into the room. The Herzgraf motioned for him to shut the door, and took the briefcase that his squire had brought him.
The supreme commander of the Slothjemian military opened the briefcase, and withdrew a small box made of cedar. He placed it on the edge of the desk, and pushed it gently towards the orc. “This is for you, von Vorkel. And it is my very great pleasure to bestow it upon you, sir.”
Grundoon picked up the little box, and gingerly opened the lid. Inside was a medal sitting on black velvet. The medal itself was enameled in black, and had silver trim and inlay. Grundoon looked in awe at it. He had never imagined that this award would be his. This was the Vanquish medal, given to military commanders who distinguished themselves and their commands far and above the call of duty. Normally only one of these would be given for a campaign, if it was given at all. The honor of the medal weighed heavily on Grundoon, and he was unable to hide his dumbfounded shock as he looked at the Herzgraf.
“Thank you, your majesty. This is very much unexpected, and I am deeply humbled.” He looked back at the medal, and softly closed the box.
The paladin pulled a bound leather pouch out of the briefcase, and set it on the desk as well. “You earned the award, you and your army. I couldn’t have asked for a finer defense of Garvin’s Gap. I know that the 1st Army sacrificed a great deal in order to allow your victory, but that in no way diminishes the contribution of you and your men. It was, all in all, a brilliant, if somewhat reckless, campaign.” The Herzgraf smiled. “And this is to be your new assignment.” He tapped the pouch.
Grundoon pushed the little box across the desk, and took hold of the pouch. On the front was imprinted the name “Romilmark” in gold letters. He quickly undid the leather straps, and opened up the pouch. There were several hundred pages of parchment documents inside. He looked at the Herzgraf quizzically. “Romilmark?” he asked.
“Our newest acquisition. The province ceded to us by Romillia. It is a large tract of land that runs from our holdings in Barokovia to the northeast all the way down to New Craiovia in the southeast. It is our bulwark in the east, and will serve as a buffer should Romillia ever decide to attack us again.” The Herzgraf chuckled. “And you are my choice to be the Governor-General of this new region.”
Grundoon’s eyebrows shot up with such force that they threatened to take flight, right off of the old orc’s head. He was genuinely without words.
“I have to have somebody on the ground in Romilmark to make sure the transition is made swiftly and efficiently to becoming a full Grafdom. Before we can get civilian power in place, we must secure the area with military might. It is vital that security be in place, the local population absorbed into our culture or relocated out of Romilmark altogether. How that is done is entirely up to you.” The Herzgraf laughed again. “This, I believe, will be a most effective punishment for my errant general.”
The Herzgraf smacked the pile of papers with his hand. “Most everything we have is in this file. You’ll need to get more information once you arrive in Romilmark and get settled in.”
Grundoon looked at the papers, and then at the Herzgraf. “What military resources will I have to work with?”
Archibald sat back in his chair again. “Right now, you have the Red Guard, and most of the 8th Army and 2nd Army. We had to withdraw some elements of all three, but the lion’s share of those formations are available to you.” He looked at Grundoon. “Don’t get too attached, however. Part of your job as Governor-General is to begin building a new army to take over as a permanent defensive force in Romilmark. You’ll have to assess what resources you will need to make that happen, of course.”
The two men sat in silence for quite a few moments, their squires watching quietly behind them. Finally, Grundoon asked “Why did you give this task to me? There are better men for this job, men who have experience with this sort of service.”
“Because it seemed to me a good punishment.” The Herzgraf smiled. “I wasn’t joking. You are a warrior. And this is virtually all desk work. You are a man of action, able to move an army swiftly and secretively. Now you will reconstruct a war-torn region and lay the groundwork for something grand. You are used to having things done your way. Let’s see how an entire region of former enemies does under your thumb.” He began to chuckle again. “I know you will do this, and do it well. I have complete trust in you. Your willpower made the defeat of Romillia possible, and so I think it should be your willpower to turn our conquered lands into a thriving part of Slothjemia.”
“Punishment.” Grundoon chuckled, too. “And I had feared a prison cell. This,” he began, and paused before continuing, “this, is much worse.”
“You’re welcome.” Said the paladin laughingly. “Set about to closing up shop here, von Vorkel. I will expect you in the capital in one month’s time. Pack for an extended stay. You might want to leave options open for your official staff. Some of them are already in place in Romilmark in the care of the 2nd Army. Clerical types, scribes and the like. Once we transfer the office to you in the capital you can begin to make more concrete plans.”
Grundoon nodded. He and the Herzgraf both stood up, and the paladin extended his hand. Grundoon took it in his own, and they firmly shook their hands in agreement.
“In the morning, I will leave with my staff. It would be a good idea to present the Vanquish award to you this evening. How about in an hour?” asked the Herzgraf.
“Thank you, sir. That will be fine.” Grundoon said. He was still somewhat in shock.
“Come on, Fuller. Let’s be on our way.” The paladin said, and his goblin squire jumped up and opened the office door for his master. The two of them disappeared down the hallway, and Jandle closed the office door. The kobold looked at his orcish master.
“So whatcha wanna do for an hour, milord?” the squire asked.
Grundoon sighed as he sat down in his big leather chair behind his desk. “Cry.” He said.