The next couple of days saw a lot of work get done. Ivor had delivered a communication crystal in a small, iron lockbox, and all Grundoon had to do was find somebody with a little bit of magical training to operate it. That fell to Jandle, who, as a squire, had mastered the beginning of mystical practice and was a fluent user of cantrip spells. That was really all the sorcery he would need to operate the crystal. Ivor gave him a list of contacts that he would need, including the Herzgraf, the Office of the Chancellor, the Red Guard command, field operations for the 8th and 2nd Army, and Army High Command. Jandle tested the crystal out by alerting the three armies still operating in Romilmark of Grundoon’s appointment, and setting up a system for weekly reports.
An assignment of soldiers from the White Guard arrived to declare that they would escort Grundoon and his party into Romilmark. They were an exquisite group, highly trained and disciplined. Their commander was a Major Vehgmann, a jorish officer with the scars of a veteran and a voice like distant cannon fire. His cavalry would ride with von Vorkel all the way into Brakoff, where they would hand over security for the Governor-General to the military forces under his command.
They would also provide security for the heavily armored wagon that was carrying a hefty fortune in coins and jewels to help finance the Governor-General until such time as normal taxes could be established. A more important treasure, at least to Grundoon, were his infant children, and Aggrylia and Galwin had found the perfect nanny for them. She was a gnome, and fairly young, but she had an adventurous spirit and knew the Romillian language inside and out, having been born to parents that came from there originally. Her name was Sasha, and she showed no disdain at all for the goblinoid babies. She cooed over them and fussed just as though she had been there the entire time.
Hilde was given her orders by the Army High Command, along with her promotion. She got herself a new uniform, and showed off her new rank to everyone she could find. If nothing else, she certainly had all the volume she needed to be a Sergeant-Major. Hilde took delight in having an excuse to wear her sword everywhere she went again, and she kept the hand-and-a-half weapon strapped to her back, and within easy reach. She also kept her ceremonial stiletto on her upper right thigh, and a short sword in each of her high leather boots that had been made with scabbards in them for this very purpose. Watching her get ready in the morning was akin to watching a nation gird itself for war.
With the growing party, arrangements were made for a second carriage to be hired to get everyone into Romilmark. Jandle made sure everything was readied for the trip, and finally, three days after Grundoon being given his second knighthood, everyone was on the road to Garvin’s Gap. The first day they made the journey to Four Corners, and stayed the night at the inn there. Porger and Cloe spent the trip watching through the swamps for signs of the golemotive pulling its train of carriages through the fen on the rickety wooden tracks that ran from Slothenburg down and then up through a narrow pass towards Jaggerholmschloss in the east. They did see it once, and it gave them quite a start, the huge black, metal beast belching fire and roaring with magical fury through the dense, swampy forest.
The White Guard kept a close watch on the treasure cart once they had stopped for the day in Four Corners, and everyone else had a pleasant time in the tavern. Grundoon told Major Vehgmann that it was his intention to stay the next night in Summit Village, and that he had business there for the crown. The officer didn’t ask any questions, just saluted and informed his men of the itinerary. Grundoon had no desire to stay very long in Summit Village, but he had to make a request there. After that is was on to Garvin’s Gap, and then, hopefully, through the pass and down into the valleys of Romilmark. Vehgmann was in the know, and was being given ample notice of what the Governor-General was planning, and this was good enough for the major. He knew of Grundoon’s reputation, and had taken a liking to the man almost immediately.
At dinner in the tavern, Grundoon got everyone’s attention by telling them of the exploits of the late Colonel Scarmace, the most highly decorated soldier to have ever served in the army. He had lived in the swamps near here, and Grundoon had heard tales of Scarmace’s adventures when he had been a child. Scarmace was the ideal of swamp orcs who had dreams of making a name for themselves in more civilized, respectable society. Grundoon had never met the great man, but everyone in Four Corners knew the stories and loved hearing them. For hours, the entire tavern listened to Grundoon telling stories. An evening well spent, and thoroughly enjoyed.
As Aggrylia and Grundoon were getting ready for bed after the storytelling, Porger and Cloe couldn’t contain their curiosity. “Did Scarmace have the Vanquish Medal, father?” they asked at the same time.
Grundoon chuckled. “No, he didn’t. He was only a colonel. But he had many more awards than I have.” He tussled their hair. “That is one of the best things about not being a general. You get to fight more.”
In the morning, the party gathered to eat in the tavern and then began to climb into the carriages to continue their journey. Jandle rode his pony, and kept the pack animals and Grundoon’s horse in tow under the ever-watchful eye of the White Guards. Grundoon, Aggrylia, Sasha the nanny, and the welps rode in the big coach, while Hilde, Trangdor, Porger and Cloe rode in the smaller coach. When they started this part of the trip, the children were convinced that they would be bored to tears. However, they soon discovered that while Trangdor had no great battle stories of his own to tell, he had a seemingly unlimited cache of adventure tales to share that he had read about. Not just fanciful tales from faraway places, either, but stories of their own father when he was a young officer, the quests that the Empress had gone on to prove herself worthy of ruling Slothjemia, and the stories about the Herzgraf and his famous deeds of his father, who had adventured with King Manfriedreich IV, one of the most dashing of all of Slothjemia’s monarchs. Cloe and Porger were completely entranced throughout the journey. So was Hilde, for that matter, although she did her best to seem politely disinterested.
For his part, Grundoon pointed out where he had first met Drungaar, when the half-orc had ridden up and introduced himself, asking if he could court Oleysa. When they reached the switchback trail that led up the steep cliffs, Grundoon told his wife about the mysterious troglodyte shaman that had chanted from atop the rocky outcropping, giving everyone in the patrol strength to make the hike without feeling tired. Had the horses today known about that trick, they would have rather liked having that option available. As it was, they strained to get the carriages and the heavily armored treasury cart up the trail to the top of the cliffs. They were given a well-deserved rest at the apex, and everyone else took advantage of the opportunity to get out of the coaches and stretch. It was an amazing day, the sky was filled with huge, puffy clouds that seemed to hang motionless in the air. It was cool out, which helped to take the edge off of the sunshine.
After a short picnic, the party was back on the road towards Summit Village. It was nice to see the seasonal change beginning to work its way into full swing, as the leaves in the trees turned away from green. Many of the trees were evergreens, but for many goblinoids it was the deciduous variety that drew their attention. They almost universally liked the browns, yellows, oranges, and reds that autumn brought. Rarely did any creature of these races ever collect books, but when they did you could be sure that pressed inside the pages of the heavier tomes were autumn leaves, collected and cherished, to be passed down to their children.
It was early afternoon when they arrived at the intersection in the road where it branched southward ever so slightly the short distance to Summit Village. The road to the town was rather steep, and while it didn’t resort much to switchbacks in order to climb up to the town, it did run around the peak a few times upon which it sat. At regular intervals, there were elaborate gatehouses of dwarven design to make passage difficult for invaders. Grundoon mentioned to his wife, almost off-handedly, that this is why the Romillians had utilized their skycruisers to drop in commandos. Getting beyond these gatehouses would have been very difficult, even though the town did not have a very strong militia garrison to defend it.
As they went around the peak, Jandle got the attention of Porger and Cloe, and pointed out where one of the Romillian vessels had been beaten out of the sky by the dragon riders of the Red Guard. The area in which it crashed was clearly visible still, the trees and surrounding terrain badly burned. How the dwarves had built these craft was a mystery, but it was one very much worth investigating. Dragons were expensive to dominate and raise, and spelljammers were costly to build or acquire. If Slothjemia could figure out how to keep a warship aloft, and more cheaply than to build a spelljammer or train a squadron of dragonriders, then it would be a very valuable weapon in her majesty’s military. During the war, the Slothjemians had been unable to capture one of the ships intact. Perhaps, however, there was somebody in Romilmark that might know the secrets.
This was what Grundoon and Jandle were both thinking, and if they were honest it was something everyone in the high command was pondering. Grundoon put the idea aside for the time being, though. He had to recruit somebody for a tough job, and so he put his mind to perfecting his sales pitch.
The town of Summit Village wasn’t very large at all, but resembled a small-scale version of Kernschloss. The walls and towers of the city were taller and looked more fragile than those in the great city of Slothjemia’s dwarves. The place had an almost fairy-tale quality to it. There hadn’t been very much damage to the town during the war, which was fortunate. Since the war there had been a renewed interest in the city, and this had brought money to the town as well as influence. Often considered too far away from the swamps, it was now enjoying a reputation as being just the right distance away from the capital. Grundoon looked at it as being something like Vorkelburg. Summit Village was at the end of a road, and had been neglected for a long time by the elite. Now both were suddenly very much in vogue, and whether that was good or bad had yet to be seen.
The town didn’t have much of a central square. In fact, it had two small squares, one in the north side of the town where visitors first came inside the walls, and another on the south side of the town where the citizens held their markets and fairs. The inn at which the party would be staying was on the northern square. Grundoon hadn’t planned on staying long here, so he thought it best to stay close to the only exit.
There was a small gathering of folk, curious as to who might be bringing carriages and White Guards to their little city. As soon as the realized it was the family von Vorkel, there was mild pandemonium as the word was spread throughout Summit Village that the hero of Garvin’s Gap was actually here. The baggage hadn’t been fully offloaded from the coaches when people began to show up in large numbers, cheering and chanting and carrying on. Taken aback, Grundoon smiled and waved, hoping they would get bored and wander off. They did not, and buoyed by his approving wave, they began singing the national anthem.
Fortunately for all involved, this was as awkward as things got that evening. The townsfolk helped carry the luggage into the inn, and the dining room was absolutely packed with well-wishers, but things stayed pretty calm. It helped to have the White Guards and their menacing demeanor handy, but this was not a town renowned for wild parties. Most of the population was a mixture of races, but there were more dwarves here than anyplace in the coreland except for Kernschloss. The mayor was a gnome, in fact, and his wife was some sort of elf. A jovial town that enjoyed an early evening in. The party lasted until shortly after sundown, when the well-wishers and festive elements headed back to their homes to talk about having actually shaken hands with the orc that routed the Romillians up in the valley.
Storg Hammerclaw was in the mob of greeters, but he had not departed when the others did. He grinned as he sat down with Grundoon and his group, his black dwarven beard meticulously braided. He didn’t wear a helm or hat tonight, and his long hair had been combed within an inch of its life. He shook Trangdor’s hand. “Well met, Trangdor! Never thought I would see you here!” he laughed, and ordered a tankard of ale.
After some pleasantries had been exchanged between the dark-haired dwarf and the others at the table, Grundoon got right to the point. “Did you get my letter, Hammerclaw?” he asked.
“Aye, milord. I did. Could hardly believe it! Congratulations on your new command!” Storg took a big drink of ale.
Grundoon smiled, and took a drink himself. “And have you considered my offer?” he asked, looking as hopeful as any orc had a right to.
The veteran dwarf nodded his head. “I have, milord. It would be an honor to join you on this mission. I told my men that our work here is done, and they were free to go home, or they could join me in Romilmark to help engineer the rebuilding of the region. I reckon they will decide what they want to do in the next few days, if they haven’t already.” He took another drink. “As for me, I am all packed and ready to go. Have been since the day your letter arrived.” He chuckled. Then, to everyone at the table, he said with a smile “I fought with this man, and it was one of the greatest days of my life. I wish to see if he can top it.”
Everyone laughed, and the pleasant conversations began anew. Storg would go with them tomorrow morning, and if any of his men opted to go as well, they could go along or catch up later. Hammerclaw wasn’t going to miss a single minute, though. Going home paled in comparison to following an orc into a newly claimed region to construct a brand-new Grafdom.
In the morning, it was revealed that of the hundred dwarves that had marched with Hammerclaw to join the 6th Army, and ended up in Summit Village to help rebuild, twenty of them were going to go along into Romilmark. They still had their wagons, so they threw their bags on and piled aboard. There were three wagons full of excited dwarven militiamen, each one a tradesman or skilled laborer, an invaluable asset to the work Grundoon was seeking to accomplish. They brought along tools as well as weapons and armor, and not a small amount of money that they had made selling off the loot they got from the Romillian dead in Garvin’s Gap. They fell into line behind the treasury cart and the White Guards. This was turning into quite the caravan.
The long train of vehicles made their way out of Summit Village and wound around the peak on the road to Garvin’s Gap. This was where Grundoon’s life had taken a turn just a few months ago. He was curious to see how the place looked now.