It was a perfectly wonderful day for travel, and the road to Garvin’s Gap was busy with people making the trip towards Jaggerholmschloss and Romilmark. There were army supply wagons, merchant carts, and just everyday folks making their way someplace else. It was odd to see so much traffic. Grundoon hadn’t seen anywhere near this much activity when he had marched his army here four months ago, and there was a full-blown invasion underway at the time.
The party made it to Garvin’s Gap well before midday, and they were delighted at what they found. Most of the little village had been rebuilt, brand new houses right where they had once stood. The inn was spectacular, three stories tall and painted in vivid shades of red, blue, and green trim over the white plaster walls. The sign above the door had a picture of an urd casting a lightning bolt spell, and over it was written, The Avenging Urd. Grundoon grinned. The drow elven woman had been true to her contract. Out in front of the inn, right in the middle of the traffic circle, stood the melted metalwork of the late dwarven Prince Holburt, Archduke of Linkristle, Supreme Marshal of Romillia. His bones were still trapped inside the morbid artwork, visible yet irretrievable. Above it was a curved metal pole, with a big ring at the end. Someday the sculpture of an urd in flight would be hung from that ring, a tribute to the brave little sorcerer, Kozzurd, who died on the field of battle.
The grain silo here in town, close to the inn, was almost finished. The rural constabulary waystation was also nearly complete, and the blacksmith had reopened a few weeks ago. The stagecoach stable and office were the only structures that were still in the early stages of construction. Clearly the villagers had been working hard to get their homes and businesses up and running.
Coming to a halt alongside the inn, the party disembarked to stretch, have lunch, and do a bit of sightseeing. One of the most interesting features of the hamlet was the stretch of stone road that ran from next to the inn all the way to where the Romillians had begun their attack on the eastern side of the valley. All along the way were bones imbedded in the stone, some smashed down and looking like rounded rocks, others sticking up along the edges of the road like grisly broken off flower stems. Grundoon’s family knew what these were, and they were happy to tell Trangdor and Kreg, and everyone else who wanted to know, that these were what was left of the Romillian army who had floundered in their attack on Slothjemia.
Once word got around the village that General von Vorkel was back, most everyone made their way to the inn to say hello, and thank him for giving them the financial resources to rebuild. He hadn’t really sacrificed much, all he had done was gather up the enemy coinage and disperse it among the people that lived here. It had been a tidy sum, and obviously enough to more than just replace what was lost. The buildings that stood here now, or were being built, were of much finer quality. The inn was well over a third larger than it ever had been, and rather than being a poorly cobbled, ramshackle series of buildings thrown together over decades, it was now a stunning example of sundered drow architecture. Now the old orc stood out in front of the place, of which he was a silent partner, a very silent partner, shaking hands and telling the village folk that they were extremely welcome, and that he was proud to have been able to help. One by one they came and thanked the baron for his gold, but most of all for his army. The blacksmith, the rural constables, the stagecoach agent and his stable hands, the farmers and their families, and the staff of the inn. The drow elven woman that ran the inn, Warleeza, smiled broadly as she introduced herself to Aggrylia. She cooed over the orc whelps, and invited everyone inside to eat.
The party spent a while longer here than Grundoon had anticipated, but it was time well spent. Warleeza stayed behind the bar, and while it was notoriously tough to read drow elven expressions, her staff knew the look from experience. It was jealousy. They didn’t understand from where this emotion was drawn, but they knew well enough to leave her alone. The other townsfolk who stayed long enough to drink to Grundoon’s health did so out of sincere and deeply held respect for the general. They were genuinely fonder of the baron than they were their own lord, who had done nowhere near as much for the people of this village that had the orc from the other side of the country. And now he was on his way to take command of Romilmark. They were right proud of him, and could well boast of knowing him to everyone that passed through Garvin’s Gap.
After their meal, the party climbed back onto coach and wagon, horse and pony, and headed east across and out of Garvin’s Gap. At the pass out of the valley they could see the pikes still stuck in the ground, the broken skulls of the enemy either on the tips or sitting about in the grass at the base of them. The ground was littered with bones. The vultures and vermin had long vanished with the meat and sinew. And these had just been the skulls. The rest of the corpses had been trampled by the cavalry into the fields of the valley.
From the pass it was almost all downhill into Romilmark on a narrow, winding road. The views were fantastic. On one side were the sheer, steep walls of the craggy, heavily forested mountains, and on the other side was a sharp drop off to oblivion. The road wandered every inch as much as did the road from Vorkelburg to Borostat, and except for the fact the creeks were all in the wrong places, and rather than fords there were nice and tidy low stone bridges, one could be forgiven for thinking they were all the way in New Vilhelmia. Slothjemia, even now that it had gained a substantial new province, was still a remarkably small country. Romillia had every bit as much land as did Slothjemia, and that was after surrendering these four counties. Brendelasia, the country that lay south of the border of Slothjemia, was a bit larger than Romillia. None of these were particularly vast domains. But to an orc that had never travelled more than a week, and still been inside his own country, this was a bold expanse. He felt it remarkable that the terrain should be so similar to what he was used to, even though, as the crow flew, it wasn’t all that distant a place.
The ruins of Stormburg were eye-catching to be sure, and everyone gasped just a little when the caravan rounded one of the turns and the crumpled towers and demolished keep fell into view. The walls were left as jagged teeth from a broken, protruding jaw. The entire mountain upon which the citadel had stood had been dropped when the Red Guards had detonated explosives in the tunnel that ran under the fortifications. As a result of this man-made earthquake, the road had been effectively destroyed. The intention was to halt the Romillians from pushing more armies into Slothjemia via this route, but the lingering after-effect was that a new road had to be carved around the collapsed peak. It was difficult to look away from the shattered ruins of the castle, but for those that could divert their eyes down the slope they could see the army engineers working away at the task of building a new road.
As the party inched closer to the place the engineers were working, the army guards came to attention when they saw the crest painted on the side of Big Bertie, and the imperial flag that was flying from the haft of a halberd in the holder next to Kreg. These were soldiers of the 8th Army, assigned to protect their brethren who labored to open up the new route around the mountain. They saluted the flag, and Kreg brought the coach to a halt. The rest of the caravan came to a gradual stop as well, and Major Vehgmann rode forward to see if Grundoon needed anything. Everyone took advantage of the break, climbing down from their mounts or wagons, to stretch and move around a bit. Grundoon stepped from his coach, and after stretching his arms, he walked over to one of the 8th Army guards.
“Who is in charge of this project?” he asked, his deep, gravelly voice rumbling.
The soldier had never seen the insignia for a Governor-General before, but he could tell it was notable, and with all of the other medals on the old orc’s uniform, he was certain that answering this man’s question was in his best interest. “Colonel Meldrich, sir. He is around the bend there, down the path to the main encampment.” The soldier gestured with his free hand down the new road. In his other hand he held a bardiche, and Grundoon noticed the young private was nervous.
“HILDE!” bellowed Grundoon. The soldiers around him jumped just a little.
Hilde came bounding up to him, smiling. “Yes, milord?” she asked.
Grundoon pointed down the road. “Go fetch me a Colonel Meldrich, Sergeant-Major.” He said, winking at her. She saluted smartly, and headed off down the road.
Having the members of the White Guard on hand added a bit of panache to the entry of the Governor-General to Romilmark. There was almost as much whispering going on about them, as there was the orc in the fancy officer’s uniform. It was quite a wait, but eventually Hilde came marching back up the road, and with her was a middle-aged human colonel and three of his officers; a dwarf, an orc, and a hobgoblin.
The colonel stopped in front of Grundoon, and saluted. It was evident that he was a career officer, and that he knew who was in charge. “Colonel Meldrich, sir. At your service.”
Grundoon returned the salute. “Your staff, colonel?” he asked, looking at the men behind the colonel.
“Yes, sir. Majors Trendle, Shortrok, and Greddel. They are in charge of construction, clearing, and surveying, respectively.”
Grundoon nodded, and smiled approvingly. “Well met, gentlemen.” He motioned at the caravan of carriages and wagons behind him. “Is the road passable for all of this?” he asked. “I had heard that the road may not be complete enough to allow large vehicles to make the trip. I was hoping to find those reports wrong. I would really rather not add a couple of weeks more to our journey.”
The colonel smiled nervously. “Well, the cart there will make the trip just fine, as will anyone on horseback. But those larger coaches and the wagons…” his voice trailed off ever so slightly before veering back on course, “the road isn’t wide enough, but I believe we can get you up the road to where the road widens again at our camp.”
With that he turned to the orc major and said “Shortrok, go round up every troll, ogre, and orog you can find. All projects are on hold until we get these good folks around the mountain and on their way.”
The orc saluted, and hustled off up the road, barking orders to every worker along the way. The work was now at a full stop on this project, and the workers set down their tools and began heading quickly to the caravan.
The colonel turned back to Grundoon. “Welcome to Romilmark, Governor-General. If your party unloads their baggage, we’ll carry it around to the camp by hand. You can see the work up close this way, and save yourself wondering how we’re doing.” Meldrich smiled. “If you would like, that cart and the horses can be led away now. We’ll catch up with the wagons.”
There was a flurry of activity as the horses and ponies were unhitched from the drayage, and taken by the workers single file up the road. The armored cart that carried the money was then escorted up the road, the White Guards staying close by. Grundoon and his party walked along afterwards, and the colonel pointed out the work that had been done and was being undertaken. Behind them, the largest of the workers teamed up and hoisted the coaches into the air so that they could get underneath, and holding them by the axels, they began shuffling along with a snappy little cadence. More workers swarmed up and took all of the unloaded luggage, and like a line of ants, marched up the road.
Meldrich gave Grundoon the grand tour, or at least as grand as could be expected from where the roadbed was. He showed his new commander where the detour began, before where the tunnel used to be. And rather than going through the mountain, the road had to curve up and around, through a narrow saddle, and then down the other side. They had begun work at both ends, and the camp was above the saddle pass. Most of the work was in trying to stabilize the mountain to keep it from sliding down on top of the road or sliding away from beneath it. The construction team had done a terrific job of setting heavy bulwarks at regular intervals, sunk deep into the earth and hewn out of raw stone from the mountain. But the bulwarks were not complete, and the trail used by the workers was hardly wide enough for the armored cart to pass. The road would eventually be filled in with connecting arches and more stonework, with a double thick wooden causeway serving as the actual roadway. A good plan, and it was being carried out with expertise. Grundoon was pleased.
It took a while to get everything moved around the mountain, but there wasn’t a single slip-up. Once in the saddle of the mountain range, the horses were hitched back up and the luggage reloaded. Grundoon thanked everyone for their labor, and complimented them on the excellent road. The unfinished portion was about two-thirds of the overall length of the detour, but the portion on the other side was almost complete. There was still work being done laying the roadway timbers, but it was wide enough for the party to make the trip safely. The detour then connected to the original road, and meandered just as it had before, descending gracefully into the vast valleys that made up the bulk of Romilmark. To the left of the party were the mountains, to the right and far below were the pastures and fields of the new domain. It was beautiful. And now, it was all Slothjemia.