The next morning, after breakfast, Hilde took Cloe and Porger out to see the sights in Jordrakenschloss. Aggrylia and Grundoon went for a walk in the city, and did a little window shopping, with Jandle tagging along at a discreet distance. The whelps stayed behind with two goblin nannies that Galwin brought by about midmorning. Kreg was out and about doing who knows what, and Trangdor settled in to the sitting room to do some reading. Everyone was in agreement that he was a curious kind of dwarf, but nobody had said it out loud.
When Grundoon and his wife returned from their stroll through town, they found a pair of gold rimmed reading glasses on the little table in their lounge, along with a note from Ivor. Grundoon smiled, put on the glasses, and found it remarkably easy to read the note.
Most honored general, I trust these will be to your satisfaction. They contain a minor dweomer to adjust to whatever lighting is at hand, and can be used to read foreign writing with a relative amount of ease. They are a gift to you from his majesty the Herzgraf. He very much looks forward to visiting with you this evening at dinner. Sincerely, Ivor
Grundoon removed the glasses, and slipped them into the red velvet bag they were set upon. Aggrylia could sense her husband’s delight, and she smiled. “A remarkable gift, perfect for a gentleman embarking on a new career of some leisure.” She giggled.
“Or a more sensible prize than a new helmet or a fancy saddle, when my days on the battlefield are likely complete.” Grundoon growled with a chuckle. He looked at his wife. “This is a transition that will take some getting used to.”
Aggrylia giggled, and went into their room to devote her attention to the whelps and check on the nannies. Grundoon loosened his collar, and went to sit with Trangdor, who was engrossed in a book. Grundoon had brought in his packet of papers, which he spread out on the table in front of the semi-circular couch. Sitting at opposite ends of the couch, which was shaped something like a horseshoe, the two men briefly looked at each other, smiled, and then returned to their respective materials.
After a while Grundoon had to stop and put on his glasses. They were wonderful. He looked over the top of them at Trangdor, and asked “What are you reading, Goldenhelm?”
The dwarf looked up briefly, and replied “A history of Romillia, and the dwarves of the Kragalian Alps.” He held the book up for Grundoon to see the cover. “Written by a gnome. Well written, I might add. Gnomes are terrific writers. Very precise.” The dwarf went back to his reading.
Grundoon grunted, and nodded. He didn’t actually know the statement to be true, since he wasn’t sure if he had ever read anything written by a gnome. Mostly he had read reports and missives from army headquarters. He tried to think of the last thing he had read just for pleasure. Nothing came to mind. He resumed looking over the papers in front of him on the low table.
“Anything in that book about how the dwarves and humans of Romillia got along?” asked the orc.
Trangdor made an affirmative grunting sound, and said “Yes, a fair deal actually. What would you like to know?”
Grundoon sighed, and shuffled some of the papers around. “How is their power structure set up? What is the hierarchy? How do they meld the two races into effective governance?” There wasn’t much in the packet about this, and if Grundoon was being tasked with replacing the current system, he felt he needed to understand what the system was that he was replacing.
Trangdor cleared his throat, and closed the book, holding it in his lap. “The country is ruled by a dwarven king, and much of the power of the nobility is held by dwarven counts and dukes that control the mountainous portions of Romillia. The human nobility controls the valleys and plains of Romillia. The humans are intrinsically linked to the dwarves, very much the way Slothjemia has joined goblinoids and humans. But there is a difference. Most of the cities are governed by humans, and they, in essence, lobby for power that the king ultimately controls. The power of the nobility is unevenly split between the dwarves and the humans, as the dwarves are considerably outnumbered by the humans, and yet control far more of the national resources.” Trangdor paused, looking for the right words. “They don’t so much meld, as coexist.”
Grundoon thought about this. “So, let me get this straight. The humans have their own structure of nobility, sanctioned by the dwarven king, to govern their interests. The dwarves, likewise, have a hierarchy that governs theirs. Then, who ultimately makes the decisions for both groups? The dwarven king? And by what power are the humans held to obey these edicts?”
Trangdor smiled. “That is the heart of the problem recently, milord. A dwarven archduke devised a plan to unite Summit Village, a partially dwarven enclave in Slothjemia, with the rest of Romillia. He went to the king with his plan, and was given a charter allowing him to raise an army and undertake this plan.” The dwarf laughed sadly. “But it failed. Many dwarves were killed, and many more humans, including the nobility of what we now call Romilmark, and their heirs and children. The human nobility had not been given a voice in this decision, but they paid handsomely for the folly of the dwarves. Bound by their ancient oaths of allegiance, they went to war, and were slaughtered. They must now be very angry, having lost four of their counties to Slothjemia.”
Grundoon nodded his head and thought about this for a while. “It might make it easier to convince them to swear an oath to Reichsha, given those circumstances. Would also make it easy for them to fake such an oath. We can already see how a landed gentry would be disillusioned. We must proceed carefully.”
The dwarf nodded in agreement, and the two men went back to their reading. “How long has the current king been ruling Romillia?” asked Grundoon off-handedly.
“Boris VII has been the king for almost two hundred years, milord.” Replied the dwarf.
Grundoon whistled. “That’s a long time, Goldenhelm. In your estimation, might that make the human nobles restless?”
Trangdor looked up from his book. “Very possibly, sir. The longevity of dwarves, and elves for that matter, have often played a hand in making relations with human neighbors difficult.” He went back to his reading. “It wouldn’t be unthinkable to use that in our favor.”
Aggrylia came in to kiss her husband on the forehead, and stroked his cheek. “You’ll need a good shave, Grundy. I’ll see what Galwin can come up with.” She turned to leave, then stopped and turned. “I think I should like having a nanny for the whelps. Do you think we can have a nanny?”
Grundoon looked at her and smiled. “Of course. I’ll add it to the list of necessary staff.” They both laughed.
Galwin did a terrific job of getting the general trimmed up for the ceremony and dinner ahead. Hilde got her hair done, too, and after going back and forth a great deal, she opted to wear her armor this evening, albeit with a flowing skirt instead of her plate leggings. Judging from the reactions of Kreg, Jandle, and Trangdor, she made the right choice. Aggrylia had Galwin find her a better gown than she had on hand, and he delivered perfectly on that as well. It was a soft lavender, with a deep purple lace. Trangdor was the only one that had an appropriate outfit that wasn’t a dress uniform; a black doublet with gold trim and a black cape. Kreg was apparently sitting this one out, and left to find a tavern in the city before the festivities commenced.
A team of tailors arrived as well, and after Grundoon had been groomed, they set about taking his measurements for his new uniforms. The old one would no longer be utilized. Instead he would have a much fancier uniform, complete with a bold red stripe down each trouser leg, elaborate silver and red embroidered epaulets, and a kepi that had red, silver, and black ornamentation. Grundoon wasn’t so sure about the kepi. He wasn’t a big fan of headgear, unless it was a good solid helmet for battle. It was suggested by the tailors, and they were all very much in agreement on this, that the general should have a suit of armor commissioned. Something in an elegant plate, or field plate, to replace his well-worn banded mail. He muttered that he would give it some thought, and they quietly let the matter rest. It would take months for a custom suit to be completed, and the old orc had no desire to spend the money on such a luxury when his banded mail had held up so well. Sensing his lack of enthusiasm for this line of thought, the tailors concentrated on doing their job. They promised to have the uniforms ready by morning.
Aggrylia found this very amusing, and after they left she quipped that he looked every bit the blushing bride being fitted for her gown. Grundoon chuckled. “I feel about as prepared, I’ll tell you that much.” He laughed.
Everyone went over everybody else’s outfit, making sure that everything was tucked in that needed to be tucked in and was clean, polished, or otherwise perfect. Porger and Cloe were the most nervous, probably because at any time they could be told to wait here in the suite instead of meeting the empress. They had on matching green outfits that their sisters Lizza and Grizza had made for them. Porger was sure that he looked like a noble huntsman, and the fact that such a thing was an oxymoron didn’t dissuade him one bit. Cloe thought she looked like a princess, or at least a duchess. Grundoon smiled, and thought to himself that she did, too. When everyone was satisfied that they didn’t look like provincial ragamuffins, Ivor opened the door and led them down the halls and up the stairs to the throne room. This was a part of the capital complex that none in the party, except for Galwin and Ivor, of course, had ever seen before. Galwin pointed out the great doors that led to the royal dining hall, where they would be eating later; the grand imperial hall, where massive banquets were held; and the Herzgraf’s receiving hall. There were guards everywhere, standing like ornamental suits of armor, watching their every move. Milling about here and there were groups of bureaucrats and government officials, other guests and visitors to the ceremony, and capital staff carrying out the work of the realm.
They arrived at the throne room, and Ivor motioned for them to wait outside while he checked to make sure everything was going according to plan. He ducked into a smaller door to the left of the great double doors, and Galwin stood happily by.
“Are there any questions before you go in?” he asked cheerfully.
“What exactly do we do?” asked Aggrylia.
“Ah. Excellent question.” Replied the valet. “You’ll go in with your husband, holding his right arm. However you feel the most comfortable.” He motioned with his hands as he spoke. “You two will walk right up to the foot of the throne, you’ll see a golden rod laying across the carpet. Stop there. Lady von Vorkel, you will step to your right, just off the carpet. Everyone else, follow her.” He said. Everyone nodded. “Baron von Vorkel, that leaves you alone. Bow to her majesty, and follow her cues. I will be right there to your left, sir. If you feel flummoxed, look to me.” He smiled reassuringly. “This isn’t my first circus, you know.” With that Galwin winked, and everyone laughed a bit nervously.
“It will be fine.” The valet said. “Everyone take deep breaths, and relax.”
They did, and it helped, somewhat. It seemed to be a very long time before Ivor popped out from that side door, though. When he did he had in hand a long silver walking staff. It was a chamberlain’s mace; the ceremonial means by which people were introduced to the Empress. Ivor said softly “Now remember, you can’t hardly screw this up, any of you. Her majesty is gracious to the extreme, and responds equally to the title of empress, queen, or countess. She is our sovereign, our ruler, but also very much one of us. She too adventured in her youth, travelled about seeking knowledge and wealth. She wielded a sword long before she ever wore the crown.” Ivor smiled, and everyone was at peace. It was reassuring to know that Reichsha was not the typical feudal lord.
“Places, everyone!” said Ivor. The other guests had begun to gather in the hall, awaiting the doors to be opened. There must have been over a hundred people here, all smiling and waving at Grundoon and his family.
“Are we all going in together….?” Grundoon began to ask, when suddenly the huge doors swung open, and Ivor stepped forward into the room. Galwin held out a small rod to indicate that nobody else should go in yet, and Ivor thunked the long handle of the mace on the floor, the sound echoing thunderously throughout the throne room.
“HEAR YE, HEAR YE!” he roared. “PRESENTING BARON GENERAL SHR GRUNDOON VON VORKEL, HERO OF GARVIN’S GAP, AND DEFENDER OF THE REALM!” Galwin dropped the rod, and Grundoon stepped forward with his wife into a room filled, wall to wall, with nobles, dignitaries, and guests of lofty stature. A red carpet stretched forward for what seemed like a mile to a handful of steps, at the top of which sat the empress. All eyes turned to Grundoon.
Galwin was right behind him, but it was his wife’s arm linked in his that gave him courage. “Great heavens, has everyone in the kingdom shown up for this?” he whispered to Aggrylia. She squeezed his arm, and they began the long walk to the foot of the throne.
Somewhere a blare of horns sounded a fanfare, but where the musicians were hiding was a mystery to the old orc. He had a difficult time focusing on the faces looking at him, they all seemed like strangers. Most everyone was bowing, though, or at least bowing their heads as they passed. Ivor was following the group as they walked in, but Grundoon couldn’t tell. He was only fully aware of Aggrylia.
When they reached the golden rod on the floor, Grundoon stopped, and his wife gave him one last squeeze on his arm before stepping aside with the rest of the group. Ivor stood behind him, and beside him to the left he sensed Galwin. Grundoon looked up at Reichsha, saw the Herzgraf standing behind her and to her right, and bowed to them both. He then stood at attention as the Empress stood up from her throne.
Reichsha was a stunning woman, even at her age, which was close to Grundoon’s. She was lithe, her features not as jorish as he had thought they might be. Her lower tusks were carefully and intricately carved, and she wore a stunning black dress with silver thread and embroidery. On her left hand, she wore the spiked gauntlet that was the symbol of power in Slothjemia, which every ruler of the country had worn instead of a crown. Her greying hair was braided into a long, flowing cascade of hair that went down to below her waist. She smiled as she stepped down towards Grundoon. Behind her, the Herzgraf took her sword from its place beside her throne, and followed her down the steps.
Reichsha paused on the last step, and held out her hands away from her body. “Welcome, Lord Von Vorkel. You are a true hero to Slothjemia, and it is our honor to bestow upon you the Knighthood of the Iron Gauntlet.”
Grundoon was surprised by this, and looked quickly at Galwin, who mouthed the word “kneel.” Grundoon grunted as he got down on to one knee, his head bowed. He was very aware that this was painful, honor or not.
The Herzgraf handed the sword to Reichsha, who took it in her right hand and raised it high over her head. It was a bastard sword, useable with one or two hands, a magnificent blade that had also been passed down from her ancestors. “I hereby dub thee as Grundoon, Defender of the Coreland.” She dropped the sword swiftly, and gently tapped his left shoulder, and then his right. She then handed the sword back to her husband, and placed the knighthood medallion on a black and silver ribbon around Grundoon’s neck, where he was already wearing his knighthood of the County Brotherhood. “Arise, my good baron.”
Grundoon put his fists on the ground, and pushed himself up. He was glad to have remained strong, even if his joints were giving up on him.
Reichsha turned to her husband, and took from him an ornate little box shaped like a chest. She opened it, and presented it to Grundoon. Inside were two sets of Governor-General’s insignia. Grundoon closed the box, and bowed again.
The empress stepped down to be on the same level as the old orc. A barely audible gasp rippled through the assembled audience. She held out her gauntleted hand, and Grundoon grasped her forearm as a dwarf would. “We expect great things from you, Governor-General.” She said softly with a smile.
“As you command, Countess.” He replied with a low growl.
She released his arm, and stepped back up the stairs. Grundoon could hear Galwin whispering “bow, and stand with your wife” and so he did exactly that. Across the aisle, Galwin nodded and grinned.
Reichsha sat back upon her throne, and said in a bold voice “We thank you for joining us to honor our beloved Governor-General of Romilmark. Let us wish him the greatest of success as he brings this new territory into the empire!”
There was thunderous applause, and Ivor stepped forward to cue Grundoon that it was time to exit. This time they all filed out following the chamberlain, and Aggrylia waved to the people as if she was the empress herself. They loved it. Once safely out of the throne room, Ivor gathered them together.
“Dinner is next. If you will follow me, we’ll make our way to the royal dining hall.” With a wave of his arm, the group was off and walking again.
Along the way, they each had their own ideas of what to expect. Given how luxurious the military dining hall was, they were certain that the royal dining hall would be opulent beyond measure. When they arrived, though, they discovered just how different Slothjemia was from other kingdoms. There was a large table, but nowhere as large as they expected. It looked to seat ten people comfortably. The room itself was no larger than the dining room back at the Vorkelvale manor house. There were windows along one wall, and the view of Slothenburg far, far below in the swamp was spectacular. There were some hunting trophies on the walls, and two wrought-iron chandeliers hung over the table, but instead of candles there were magical orbs that never went out. Servants were bringing out food, and while the size of the dining room might not have been exactly regal, the quality of the fare certainly was.
The Empress and the Herzgraf walked into the dining hall arm in arm, and both were smiling broadly. “The only two seats that are claimed are at the ends of the table. Otherwise, sit wherever you like!” said the Herzgraf. He escorted his wife to the head of the table, and then took his seat at the other end. Grundoon and the other guests just took seats here and there. Servants removed the covers from dishes, and poured wine, beer, and cider into the goblets on the table. The Empress raised her goblet, and said “To the Governor-General of Romilmark!”
The Herzgraf exclaimed “Here, here!” and everyone drank.
The surprisingly intimate setting allowed the Empress to ask questions of her new Governor-General, and she took full advantage of this opportunity. She didn’t wait very long before starting to ask questions, either.
“Tell me, von Vorkel, what will be the first things you tackle in the new domain?” she asked, only moments after having everyone at the table introduce themselves.
“First of all, I need to find out what condition the place is in.” replied Grundoon. “I will tackle as many things as possible, but getting a clear picture of the situation is my number one concern. We have to make sure the natives realize the war is over, and that the rules have changed for them. But I want to make the transition as easy as possible. For the peasantry, the change will be hardly noticeable.” The orc smiled slyly at his monarch. “It isn’t the peasantry that bothers me, though.”
Everyone found that an excellent joke. It wouldn’t be the bottom rung of society in Romilmark that would be worrisome. It was whether or not the nobility that remained in the land of their birth would switch allegiance that would be an issue.
The Herzgraf said “You will have a difficult time crossing into Romilmark from Garvin’s Gap, I’m afraid. When the dwarven citadel of Stormburg was destroyed, the tunnel over which it sat collapsed, effectively closing off the route. We’ve had some success clearing a route around it, but I don’t know if your carriage will be able to make the trip.”
Grundoon nodded thoughtfully. “Then that will be our first job, hefting Big Bertie into Romilmark. That pass must be cleared, and soon. Most of our traffic will need to go through there.” He took a bite of food, and smiled at the Herzgraf. Swallowing, he said “I appreciate the warning, milord.”
“There is an engineering unit in the 8th Army, and they are the ones working on that pass. They have been at it since day one, and although they have made progress, in over four months they haven’t yet got a roadway that is fully functional.” Said the Herzgraf.
“We should very much like to insure, as far as possible, to keep things peaceful in Romilmark.” Said the Empress, a note of wary caution in her tone.
“I concur, your majesty.” Said Grundoon. “But if skulls need to be knocked about in order to get results, then you better believe bones will crack. You don’t send a soldier to do a milkmaid’s job.” The old orc tore off a piece of meat, and sat chewing it, watching the expression on Reichsha’s face.
She sat back, and finished chewing the food in her mouth, staring at Grundoon. Swallowing, she began to smile. “Do not rely on your axe to do the job, when a prod can get better results.”
“How about a hammer?” asked Grundoon somewhat sarcastically.
The Empress laughed. “Fair enough, von Vorkel. Fair enough.”
Conversation from this point was more easygoing, but it covered a lot of topics. Suggestions were made for staff members that Grundoon might wish to take along, opportunities for Hilde, and discussions about what sort of place the crown wanted Romilmark to become. During the meal Grundoon did a lot of listening. He realized just how excited he was to be taking part in this endeavor. After the meal, he would have Jandle remove his old insignia, and stash the uniform. He would be given all new uniforms in the morning, and he was looking forward to that, too. Except the kepi.