The next several days were a flurry of activity in Vorkelvale. Zindel and Hilde rode to Borostat to purchase a carriage for the baron to take to Romilmark. They got a pretty good-sized carriage too, an older coach with plenty of room for Grundoon, Aggrylia, the two babies, and Hilde, along with at least one trunk per person. Jandle would ride along behind, with Grundoon’s horse in tow, and Porger and Cloe would ride their own horses. The carriage needed a fresh coat of paint, but the livery master promised to have that taken care of straight away. He would personally deliver the carriage to Vorkelvale in the next week or so.
Aggrylia kept the rest of the family busy with choosing what clothes to take. Grundoon was satisfied with a couple of uniforms, and maybe one or two miscellaneous items. He joked that as long as he had boots and his axe, he was ready for work. He also kept repeating the fact that they could all buy new clothes when they got there, or at least find a seamstress and tailor. It wasn’t as if they were going to the end of the earth and starting over completely from scratch.
Jandle puzzled over the uniforms for his master. He kept one of them, the nicest one, on top in the trunk. From the others he removed the rank insignia, placing them in a strongbox for safe keeping. When they got to the capital, Grundoon was going to receive his new commission, and he would be elevated in rank. This would mean new rank insignia of course, but also additional trim would have to be added to his uniform to indicate Grundoon’s heightened importance. The baron was soon to become one of the highest-ranking officers in the military. Jandle was proud enough to burst.
The residents of Vorkelvale prepared two kegs of cider for their lord, and painted “crafted in Vorkelvale” with a flourish on the sides of them. Zindel’s wife, Vivanna, readied an apple tree sapling for them to take, too. “A little bit of home” she had said. Aggrylia had teared up at the sentiment, and Grundoon had been deeply touched by the gift as well. She was a sweet woman, for a human.
A letter arrived for Grundoon, hand-delivered by military courier from the capital. In it was detailed what he would need to bring, and what was scheduled to take place. He would receive his new rank, be assigned staff to aide in his new job, and an escort to make sure he made it safely to Romilmark. Grundoon showed the letter to his family, and all of them got a good laugh from that last part. As if he would need protection. Hilde elicited laughter by suggesting the guards weren’t for his benefit, but everyone else’s.
Grundoon sent a few letters off on his own, but not by the army courier. He hired one of the residents of Vorkelvale to deliver the messages to the stagecoach line in Borostat. From there, they would be delivered anyplace the line ran coaches. It wasn’t fast, but it did the trick. Mostly he wrote to his children that lived outside of the vale, but some of the other letters were to folks on the way to Romilmark. Grundoon wanted to visit, briefly, with friends along the route.
The carriage was delivered, and as promised it looked pretty good for being a secondhand coach. It had been painted a dark brown, and a freshly painted coat of arms adorned the doors, marking it as belonging to Baron von Vorkel. It had also been fitted with mounting brackets for pennants or flags, should the coach be used for official business. Being as big as it was, it would not be a very fast means of travel. But it had plenty of room, and was exceptionally sturdy. It had been fitted to be pulled by a four-horse team, so Jandle began sorting through the baron’s stable to find the best horses for the job.
It was another week before Grundoon and his family were finally ready to head out for Jordrakenschloss, the capital of Slothjemia. The residents of the vale turned out yet again, and just as the sun broke over the horizon to bring the dawn, the heavily loaded carriage began its journey through the apple orchards, past the scattered village buildings, and up the zig-zag road that climbed the steep, rocky slopes that led out of the quiet, little valley.
The family passed by the entry to Vorkelburg, where a small gathering of soldiers awaited to wave and cheer as they went by. Grundoon waved back excitedly, happy to see Sarla among those present, and cheering the loudest. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw tears running down the face of the new commandant. Porger and Cloe were especially excited to be greeted by the soldiers as they rode past. They had always known their father was an important man, and having the garrison salute as they travelled just proved it to them.
“Papa is a great man!” declared Cloe. “Someday I will be as great a warrior as he is.”
“Me too!” shouted Porger. “I will have an army just like he has!”
From his vantage point just ahead of the twins, Jandle laughed. Children had such terrific imaginations, such innocent ideals about life. They didn’t realize, yet, how difficult it was to reach the heights that their father had, or how tough it was to remain there.
The trip through the mountains towards Borostat was like a walk down memory lane for Grundoon, and he told everyone in the carriage about making the trip with the 6th Army. They even sang some of the same songs. The coach stopped a couple of times to allow the horses a chance to eat and drink, but otherwise they made very good time. They reached Borostat midafternoon, and the family piled into the Banshee’s Bane inn to enjoy a delicious dinner. Aggrylia and Grundoon went for a walk after dinner while Hilde watched the babies. They didn’t talk much, but just enjoyed some quiet time together. He walked with his arm around her shoulders, and she stayed close, savoring his scent. The autumn air was crisp, hinting at a cold winter. The weather would be just like this in Romilmark. Both of them were glad that some things would not be changing.
They did reminisce about their first meeting, right here in Borostat. The town wasn’t that large, so retracing some of their early walks together was a simple deed. It hadn’t been that long ago, and yet they both felt as though they had been together for decades, having shared so much in such a brief time. If ever two orcs had been destined for one another, it was Grundoon and Aggrylia.
When they at last returned to the inn, they found the children already asleep. Hilde was choosing what she wanted to wear for tomorrow, and narrowed it down to what she had worn today. She hadn’t really done anything, so these clothes were clean enough. Jandle had been out looking for a crate or two of liquor for the trip but hadn’t found anything worth buying. Everyone turned in about the same time, and fell immediately into a deep, restful slumber.
The next morning, they ate a hurried breakfast and piled back into the carriage. They would make much better time today, as it was not as much climbing over mountain passes or twisting through canyons. The road was almost a straight, level shot to Kernschloss. Aggrylia had never met the dwarves of that city, the kindred spirits that her husband spoke of so fondly. She did know about the history of his cherished axe, but had yet to associate that history with the living, breathing, souls that turned the cold rock into magnificent structures and mined the precious metals that kept the city and its’ people powerful.
Everyone was excited because for most of them this was further than they had ever travelled before. Hilde had been to the Coreland on a few occasions, but the younger children had not. Aggrylia had, of course, but it had been many years. She was looking forward to seeing the swamps again, and spent much of the day telling the babies all about life in the fen. They gurgled a lot but otherwise gave no indication that they were excited.
Porger and Cloe spent the day racing ahead of the carriage, and then racing back. They alternated that with just riding alongside the carriage, talking to their stepmother excitedly about what they might find in the swamps. Unlike the welps, the older twins were terribly excited about the journey. Hilde found it all very amusing, and her laugh could be heard echoing out from the coach almost constantly.
Grundoon told about his first trip through here, so long ago, when he led the 6th Army to defeat the lich king of Vorkelburg. His memory of that time was so crisp, so vivid. His aching body told him it had all happened long ago, but his mind had still kept the images, feelings, and sensations alive and well.
Jandle told the coachman, one of the family servants and a former soldier who had been committed to moving to Romilmark by virtue of the fact that he had no choice, to keep an eye out for the big lumber camp along the road. They would stop there for a break about midday. The coachman’s name was Kreg, and he was half-hobgoblin, half something else, probably human but it wasn’t easy to tell. He tended to grin a lot, didn’t speak Slothjemian very well, and sent human women skittering for cover with his creepy and disturbing leer. Jandle had always gotten along fine with him, but it would be disingenuous to suggest there hadn’t been a sigh of relief from the fine folks of Vorkelvale when it was discovered that Kreg was going to Romilmark with the baron. Kreg grinned at the kobold, and nodded in agreement, and when the carriage reached the lumber camp he steered it in through the great gates.
The master of the lumber camp, Lorgon, son of the Duke of Y’Gorkosh, came boldly out of his office’s front door with his arms outstretched. “Welcome again, my friend!” bellowed the huge, heavily bearded man. As Grundoon struggled to get out of the carriage and stretch his legs, the lumberman clasped his hands enthusiastically. “I got your letter! Please, come and have a drink! You must be hungry!”
Camp workers came racing out with food and drink for the travelers. Grundoon proudly introduced his wife to Lorgon and the camp’s resident priest, Manoc, a person of heritage not unlike Kreg. There was plenty of happy conversation, and Grundoon told Lorgon that there might be an opportunity for the Y’Gorkosh family in the new lands of Romilmark. There was, after all, a good amount of forest that needed to be managed. Lorgon was thrilled at this possibility, and promised the orc that he would take the prospect to his father as soon as possible. The men shook hands again, and after a good meal the family clambered back into the coach to continue their trip.
It was early afternoon when they reached the dwarven city of Kernschloss. They made their way through the city to a fine inn near the eastern wall, the Gryphon’s Aerie, where Grundoon had made arrangements for them to stay for a day or more. He had to spend a little more time here, partly to show his wife and children around the great city, but also to get some information out of his dear old friend, Hothror, the dwarven Archduke of Kernschloss. After getting settled into their lodgings, he sent Jandle off to inform the lord of the city that the von Vorkel family had arrived.
Hothror sent back an engraved invitation for them to join him for dinner in the palace. It wasn’t so much a palace as a heavily fortified keep, but by dwarven standards it was needlessly opulent. Grundoon warned everyone to put on their finest clothes, and maybe even bathe, and to be on their best behavior. This was more than just a social call, and the old orc spelled out as carefully as he could that there was an important issue hanging in the balance that Hothror could probably be influential in sorting out. He gave Kreg a handful of coins and told him to enjoy an evening in the city. But don’t enjoy himself too much, he was warned. If he found himself in prison, he was on his own. This was only a half-jest, but Kreg grinned and nodded emphatically.
Once they were clean and presentable, Grundoon took his wife’s hand and led the family on a leisurely stroll through the city to where Hothror’s palace was. Aggrylia held one of the babies, and Hilde the other, and they took turns passing them back and forth to keep the welps from getting too fussy. Cloe and Porger stared in awe at the massive walls and stone buildings of the dwarven metropolis, and Jandle explained to them how the dwarves had managed it all through brute, manual labor and elemental spellcraft. Nobody did stonework better than the dwarves. Nobody.
The family reached the palace, and were ushered in with a small honor guard of heavily armed halberdiers wearing plate armor that positively glowed from having been polished to perfection. The dining hall was decked out in the colors of the Slothjemian tricolor flag; red, white, and black. As they entered in to the room, the guests broke out into applause. Hothror’s entire family was here, at least the ones that lived in Kernschloss, as well as the lord mayor of the city and his family, several important dignitaries of Kernschloss, and the top-ranking officers of the town militia. Only a handful of these assembled were not dwarves. Porger and Cloe were wide eyed with wonder, having never seen so many dwarves all in one place before. They had seen the occasional dwarf in their father’s army, but here were so many! Grundoon waved to his host, and the applause quieted down.
“Thank you, dear brothers! Your welcome is as warm as your hearth in winter.” A traditional dwarven saying, delivered in the curiously goblinoid Slothjemian language. The occupants of the room murmured in admiration, and everyone, except Hothror, took their seats.
The archduke took his goblet and raised it in the air. “To my brother, Grundoon von Vorkel. May his reign of terror be just beginning.” Everyone laughed, and drank to the tongue-in-cheek toast. Grundoon laughed, and of course Hilde laughed louder. “If there is anything you need of us; you have but to ask.” Hothror said, and then sat down.
Grundoon smiled, nodded, and with a wink indicated that there was, in fact, something that Hothror could do for him. The dwarven lord caught the unspoken cue, and nodded back. They would speak more after dinner.
The meal itself was amazing. There were meats of every kind, fresh breads, mushrooms, beer and cheese. Gravy by the bucket, a tradition with dwarves that Grundoon had taken to with great zeal. He poured the gravy on everything, until it threatened to overflow his plate and run like a river across the table. He loved gravy. If they had declared war solely for the sake of acquiring more gravy, he could not have jumped to battle sooner than if the empress’ life was on the line. The entire family ate their fill, and then a measure more, just to be sure. Animated discussions filled the table, and everyone was fully engaged. Even the children, who marveled at men and women no taller than they, found themselves engrossed in conversation on topics varied and wondrous. But mostly, there was a lot of eating.
At the conclusion of the meal, the assorted guests took their conversations into a vast parlor of sorts, not what the von Vorkels would have called “homey” but to the dwarves it was perfection defined. Low leather sofas and chairs were placed throughout the room, and on the walls were displayed weapons, shields, and armor. There was a massive fireplace on each of the four walls, and banners hung from the ceiling to improve the acoustics. There were four great columns in the room, forming a square in the middle, rising upwards to great sweeping arches that gave the parlor a multi-domed appearance. These pillars were particularly intriguing to the new guests, as they were clearly made of one solid piece of stone each, rather than cut in segments. An excellent sample of dwarven engineering.
Hothror waited until he was more-or-less alone with Grundoon before he asked in a low, whispery voice if they needed more privacy to discuss matters. Grundoon nodded, and the dwarven lord motioned with a sideways nod for the orc to follow him. Hothror’s wife saw the two men heading off into the inner study, and so she took over as a good hostess would so that they would not be missed.
The archduke’s personal office looked more like the office Grundoon had once had in Vorkelburg. He motioned for the orc to have a seat, and he himself sat down on the low, black leather couch near the door. Grundoon chose a large wingback chair, also in black leather, and settled in, his legs awkwardly crossed in the only way he could in the short-legged chair.
“What is it that you need, my brother?” asked the dwarf, leaning forward earnestly towards his guest.
Grundoon thought for a moment, then replied “Mostly I need information, Hothror. I wrote to you about my new post. What am I getting in to? What can I expect in Romillia?”
The dwarf chuckled quietly. “It has been a long time since our dwarven clans were closely tied to the dwarves of Romillia. I can only speak in broad generalizations, and would be guessing at details.”
The orc nodded. Grundoon understood, but he valued the dwarf’s input.
“I suspect that most of the dwarves would have fled the area, either before or after Romillia ceded the lands to Slothjemia. It is not in their nature to live under the authority of a former enemy.” He looked squarely into Grundoon’s eyes. “They are not like us, nor our Grey Alpine cousins. We were never at war with the Slothjemians. Ours was an alliance against a common foe that developed into a political merger of sorts. They will never feel the same familiarity that we do.”
Grundoon nodded his head. He knew the dwarf was right. He had hoped, however, that the dwarf would have been more reassuring.
Hothror continued. “Unless a dwarf is killed in battle, or by some accident, they will live for many centuries. Their memories are long, and they pass down their feuds as they do their traditions. This is the nature of dwarves. You must view any dwarven noble that supported the most recent conflict with suspicion. But in the same tenor, any that opposed the war can be viewed more openly and favorably. If they were against the war, then they may very well have had good reason to have gone against their own king. Such a noble could be useful, even loyal, to the Slothjemian cause. Determining who supported what should also be an easy task, as my people are not adept at hiding their loyalties nor using subterfuge to disguise their passions.”
Grundoon laughed quietly. “Tis true, brother. I have never asked a dwarf a question, and not been given a direct, honest answer. They are no more diplomatic than they are sneaky.”
The two men laughed, and Grundoon asked “Is the Romillian dialect very different than the dwarven tongue?”
Hothror shook his head. “Actually, no. There is a common connection between the language of Romillia and other parts of the continent once ruled by the last Imperium. Their dialect is a mix of the Imperium common language from centuries ago, and the language commonly spoken among all dwarves, just as Slothjemian is a mix of the common human language of Geldenreich and goblinoid elements from further south. Any dwarf should be able to read, write, and converse with little difficulty in Romillia.”
Grundoon stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I will need an interpreter then. My own linguistic skills are abominable. I barely have a mastery of my native tongue, much less trying to learn dwarven.” Both men laughed again. “Can you suggest somebody, perhaps a recommendation from within your own circle of influence?”
The dwarf sat thoughtfully for a bit, and seemed to be giving the matter a great deal of thought. “Yes.” He finally announced. “I have a nephew, he is careful in tone and slow to anger. He might do very well in this capacity.” He smiled broadly. “I had hoped he would be a warrior, but he has shown more of a talent for more, shall we say, bookish endeavors. He has studied law and has a fine grasp of accounting, and has done some travelling, including to Romillia, so he should be a good aide for languages.”
“Excellent.” Said Grundoon. “I have Hilde, so I don’t need more fighters.”
The two men laughed again. Hilde had given quite an impression at dinner, and Hothror could tell that she was a spitfire.
“What else do you need?” asked the dwarf.
Grundoon thought for a moment, then shook his head. “There might possibly be opportunities for those interested in mining and construction.” He said. “If you are open to investments of that type, I will gladly keep you apprised should such doors be found open.”
The dwarf smiled broadly, and clapped his hands together. “That would be splendid!” he cried. “I would gladly accept any such business.” He laughed. “At any rate, we would be proud to export dwarves back to our homeland!”
Again, the two men laughed. It was nice to enjoy the peace after a war. And it was looking as though Grundoon was going to make sure that his friends and allies got as big a piece of that peace as was possible to take.