Evening was approaching rapidly by the time the Governor-General’s little wagon train made it to the engineer’s encampment. They had not been expecting to host the new commandant of the region, but they made the best of it. There was plenty of good, if not particularly appealing, food to be shared and the officers scrambled to make sure that the visitors all had someplace to sleep. Grundoon made sure that everyone of any importance was introduced to his Sergeant-Major, and Jandle traded some of the Slothjemian liquor he had brought in exchange for some information on what was going on in Romilmark, especially among the peasantry.
What Jandle found out wasn’t surprising, but it did give him cause to be alarmed. There were bandits about, like there had been in New Vilhelmia. Common folk that, in a power vacuum formed by the nobility fleeing the region, turned to lives as brigands and highwaymen. They had to take care of their families somehow, and with few other viable options to fall back upon, they had fallen upon whomever got in their way. On the good side of this, though, the vagabonds had never attacked an army patrol or military caravan. Jandle was convinced from these reports that there was a big job to be done in securing Romilmark.
There was the normal sort of conversation around the fires that night, and Grundoon picked up straight away the same sort of information that Jandle had gotten, although not in the same detail and not as quickly. The city of Brakoff was a full day’s journey from here, and about midway they would go through a destroyed town at the crossroad where a route from Dreicounty met this road. There were mounted patrols, but not in tremendously significant numbers. If peace was to be had in Romilmark, there was going to have to be a scouring of the land to flush out and eliminate the rogue elements.
The party got back on the road again very shortly after sunrise. The first portion of the trip was a gradual descent into the series of high, interconnected valleys that comprised the bulk of Romilmark. If a person was to consider the Kragalian Alps as a beast, say a dragon or something like that, then it’s spine ran along the southern border of Romilmark, curving northward to become the eastern border, and running all the way to the “top” of Romilmark and beyond. That is to say, there was every bit as much mountain to be found to the east of the border as there was here, on the west side. The valleys of the region were still well up in elevation, just like the great valley surrounding Borostat in New Vilhelmia. Dreicounty was an example of a lower valley, nestled in among the tall mountain ranges that all but surrounded it. Here, however, it was the peaks themselves that created the valleys, high up in the mountain range. Crops grew well here, but not as well as the vast river plains at lower elevations. The smaller rivers and creeks here all ran down towards the pass to Dreicounty, where they flowed together and coursed over rocky rapids to join the River Jorillon, that then slowly meandered into and formed the great swamp of the Coreland. All rain that fell in Romilmark would eventually end up in the heart of Slothjemia.
The road was well cared for, and travel was easy and quick. It was before noon when the party reached the destroyed town, and where the road branched off to the northwest to the Grafdom of Dreicounty. Debris had been pushed off of the highway, allowing traffic to continue unimpeded, but there remained a desolate and haunting place that needed to be properly cleaned up, and eventually rebuilt. Whatever town this was, it had been a fairly good-sized settlement, larger than Four Corners and Garvin’s Gap.
The party paused briefly at the crossroad to allow everyone to stretch and have a bite to eat. Trangdor did a bit of poking around, and came upon some shattered signs. He returned to the group and announced that this town had been called Dregladorf. Jandle made a note of that, and the party resumed their journey.
For the rest of the day there were ever more obvious signs of civilization on the route. Small and midsize estates dotted the countryside, and every so often the group would pass by a village. There didn’t seem to be many people around, though. Now and then there were humans visible, working to secure what harvests they had managed in this late stage of the season. Some of the buildings nearer the roadway had been damaged, by fire, axe, or other means, indicating that the Slothjemian army had been through here in hot pursuit of fleeing Romillians. It was difficult to tell exactly what the circumstances were, but evidence of destruction was sufficient to explain why there were now very few people to be seen. This is precisely what Grundoon had not wanted to see on his first full day in Romilmark.
Grundoon was mulling this over for the remaining portion of the day’s journey. He had known all along that the rebuilding of Romilmark was going to be a battle, but if he had to tend to a hostile native populace it was going to be an uphill battle. Grundoon wasn’t good at winning people over to his side unless it was through brute force and violence, or at least the threat of such action.
The city of Brakoff was an ancient place, sited on a low hill near to the mountains that formed the southern border. It had been built by humans, and they had been the primary occupants ever since. There were traces of dwarven influence in some of the architecture, but this was indisputably a human city. The inner city was walled, and the rest of the city had built up around it. The road into the city offered a good view of where the Slothjemian army had punched a hole in the defenses, a massive breach in the wall right at where there had been a gatehouse in the western side. There was not much of the city that could be called ruined, and Grundoon viewed that favorably. It was also clear that people still lived here. In fact, the wall was in the process of being rebuilt.
There was a small cluster of Slothjemian soldiers guarding the approach to the city, but they were well away from where the buildings of Brakoff began. They did not challenge the caravan, and stepped aside to let the group pass. They saluted the flag, and waved cheerily at the White Guards as they went by.
Grundoon shouted out the window to Kreg, “Head for the town hall!” and Kreg grunted in acknowledgement. The Governor-General turned his attention to the city as they passed through.
The buildings outside of the walls were not as tightly clustered as were the structures inside the wall, but they were laid out carefully and with an eye for making sure the main roads were allowed to flow in a straight line. There were three roads that converged on Brakoff, the one that Grundoon’s party was on, that ran to the west, one that ran to the east to a high alpine pass into Romillia, and a third road that went north to the two other cities of note in the region.
There were people out and about, but not in large numbers. It was obvious that some of the houses in the outer portion of the city were vacant. Grundoon chose to focus his attention on the houses that weren’t, though. Blacksmiths were still hard at work, workers repairing the wall, and thatchers at their craft to make sure the roofs of inhabited structures were ready for the winter storms. The streets were quite clean, but then again there probably weren’t that many people in the city to make much of a mess.
A small river ran down from the mountains in the south and around the hill upon which sat the walled city. At some point there had probably been a moat as well, but now the river meandered quietly on its way to the northwest. The road they were on went right through the breach in the wall, and the workers on the wall stopped their toil to look at the caravan as it rolled past. These were not military personnel, at least not Slothjemian. They were townsfolk. Some smiled and waved, but most watched stoically as the group made its way inside the inner city.
Life almost appeared to be normal in the city square. There was a beautiful church here, across from the city hall. Businesses here were functioning, but if only because the city had to continue moving forward. Whomever was left in Brakoff must not be opposed to Slothjemia’s taking over of the region, or if they were, they had decided to stay here regardless.
The Slothjemian flag flew from the flagpole atop the city hall, a thick, ugly building that sported a light blue colored dome that didn’t seem to fit the rest of the halls design. There were soldiers milling about here in the square, probably off duty and having nowhere else to hang out. Grundoon took a good look around as he got out of the carriage. There were some curious onlookers, but mostly folks seemed to be minding their own business. One of the sentries posted at the top of the stairs into the town hall had ducked inside to alert the occupants that there was a visitor. He returned shortly, a Slothjemian general right behind him. The general, a human, adjusted his kepi and walked down the stairs to greet the newcomers.
He saluted Grundoon, smiled and said in a bold voice “General Viscount Shr Obsalam von Draeger, commander of the 2nd Army, milord.” The middle-aged man waited until Grundoon returned his salute, and then bowed reverently. “The Herzgraf had told me you were on your way.” He said as he stood back up. “Welcome to Romilmark, Governor-General. What is your command?”
Grundoon smiled, and shook the general’s hand. “We need someplace to call home for a while, until I can figure out where I want to set up shop. Then we need to assess the situation here and begin planning a way to move ahead.”
As the rest of the party began to wander about, curious to their new surroundings, von Draeger said “The first part is easy. The lord mayor of this city has graciously offered his own home for your use, right here on the square.” The general pointed to a large, stately home on one of the corners of the square. There were several nice homes here, with small shops in between them. “We can begin assessing the situation first thing in the morning, milord. Your staff is ready to begin work as soon as you like.”
Grundoon looked at the lord mayor’s mansion. It wasn’t huge, but it was quite large for a city dwelling. His eyes narrowed. “You say the mayor offered the home?” he looked back at von Draeger, and for a moment the human thought he detected a note of cynicism in the orc’s voice.
“He may have been persuaded.” The general said in a somewhat quieter voice.
Grundoon smiled. He looked around to insure nobody else was within easy earshot before he spoke quietly, his voice growling and ominous. “I’m not against persuasion, general. I have found it a most useful tool. But let’s not make more enemies than we need to. I want to see this mayor, tonight. In the meantime, leave the baggage on the coaches. We’ll settle in after dinner.”
Von Draeger nodded, and smiled. He motioned to the soldiers that had gathered to unload the caravan to stop, and standby. Grundoon continued. “The treasury cart can be offloaded. If you have a vault in the city hall, store it there and take all precautions to keep it secure.”
“We have ample room in the city vault, milord. Much of the contents had been spirited away into Romillia as soon as our forces demolished Stormburg and entered this region.” Replied the general.
Turning to Major Vehgmann, Grundoon motioned for him to begin the process of handing off the contents of the treasury cart to the vault in the city hall. “This is Major Vehgmann of the White Guard, general. He will insure that every coin is accounted for.”
As the coffers were taken in and stashed deep in the heart of the city hall, Grundoon and the general took a little walk around the square. The general explained that most of the people that stayed had simply not had time to flee. The assault on Brakoff was so sudden, and so furious, that the denizens of the city were overwhelmed in a matter of hours. Those that had fled had done so as soon as word of von Vorkel’s victory in Garvin’s Gap had made its way here. It was far too early to determine how the people of the city felt about their new rulers, but von Draeger had seen to it that they were not unduly encumbered by the occupiers. The soldiers paid for every bit of food they took, and there had been few incidents of violence.
“You should know, milord, that these people are not friendly to goblinoids of any persuasion.” Von Draeger had told Grundoon. This was what had stuck with Grundoon the most. “They hate you, milord. Orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, jors, ogres, all of you.” It was strange to hear a Slothjemian speaking this way. “It is easier for the human and demihumans to get by here. You have a lot of work to get the natives to view you as anything other than a savage monster. And that is aside from the fact that you, personally, led the army that smashed their armies in battle.” Grundoon could tell from the man’s tone that von Draeger was deadly serious, and very concerned. “It would be a good idea to keep the White Guard on hand for as long as you can.”
At this point in the conversation Grundoon stopped walking. He looked at the general, looked into his eyes. “Do you think that I am in jeopardy here?” he asked, his voice belying an incredulous tone.
The general took a deep breath, and returned the Governor-General’s gaze. “No, milord. But if they provoke you to anger, they will have placed themselves in jeopardy, and that could have disastrous consequences further down the road.”
“Your candor is appreciated, general. I will keep that in mind.” Grundoon had a gut instinct that this was a truthful man. It was doubtful that he had any reason to lead Grundoon astray.
“If you would like to speak to the lord mayor, I believe I know where we can find him. At this time of day, he holds court, after a fashion, at the nicest tavern in the city. Fine place, called the Black Boar. I’ll be honored to take you there myself.” Said von Draeger.
“Let me just fetch my staff, general.” Grundoon turned and whistled through his tusks. Hilde, Jandle, and Trangdor came running over. “Von Draeger, this is my Sergeant-Major, squire, and translator. We could all use a drink after the ride today.”
The human smiled, and shrugged his shoulders. “This way, then.” He said. Grundoon fell in next to him, and the others followed along behind.
They didn’t have far to go. The Black Boar was just a couple of streets over from the square, and was right along the main road out of town to the north. It was a large place, and the pride of the city from all outward appearances. The general took a deep breath, and opened the front door. There was a lot of noise inside, mostly from the little band that was playing along the back wall. People had to shout to be heard over the din, but as soon as the old orc stepped into the tavern all sound suddenly ceased. Every eye was on Grundoon and the motley group that followed him in.
The lord mayor stood up from his table, and all in attendance did likewise as a sign of respect. The mayor was younger than Grundoon had expected, probably not more than thirty years of age.
“Lord Mayor Alderschon, may I introduce his honor, Governor-General Baron Shr Grundoon von Vorkel. Your honor, this is Lord Mayor Brandt Alderschon of Brakoff.” Said von Draeger.
Grundoon motioned for the men to sit, and they did. Except Alderschon, who smiled meekly and almost whispered “Well met, my lordship. Won’t you join us?”
The old orc pulled up a chair, and sat down with a grunt. He looked at the humans around him. They were terrified. “What are we drinking?” he asked with a smile. The gathered assembly laughed nervously.
“Whatever you wish, my lord.” Replied Alderschon as he sat back down. His Slothjemian was quite good. He had an accent, of course, but Trangdor wouldn’t be needed to carry on a conversation. All the same, Trangdor pulled up a chair as well. The table was getting crowded.
“Jukrassler Original Vodka, then. If it is available.” Said Grundoon. Trangdor said something in Romillian, and the waiter clicked his heels and quickly fetched a bottle and a couple of shot glasses.
There was quite a bit of murmuring in the room, and Trangdor leaned forward; “They are surprised that you know of this drink.” He whispered.
Grundoon chuckled, and Jandle pushed in next to him, standing on a chair to reach the bottle. He poured some into the glasses for Trangdor and his lord. Grundoon took his glass, and held it up. “To the Lord Mayor, and the city of Brakoff!” he toasted. Trangdor repeated it in Romillian, and took a drink himself. Somewhat to his surprise, everyone at the table drank, as well.
“Your offer of your home for myself and my family was far too generous, Lord Alderschon. I thank you, but must decline. If you would be so good as to recommend a vacant house that I could rent, that will be more than enough to meet our needs.” Trangdor was going to translate, but Grundoon tapped his hand on the table, and the dwarf closed his mouth.
Alderschon smiled, and laughed. It was the kind of laugh you make when somebody tells a joke and you worry about the punchline being horribly inappropriate, but then it turns out to be the funniest thing you have ever heard and you feel relief more than anything. “Thank you, my lord. I know of several empty homes that you can choose from.”
“I’ll let my wife make the choice. I may be the Governor-General, but I’m no idiot.” Quipped Grundoon.
The lord mayor looked puzzled. Trangdor said something in Romillian, and then Alderschon burst out laughing, as did everyone in the bar. As they were laughing, the dwarf leaned in and told Grundoon “He didn’t know the word idiot. Now he does.” And snickered.
Hilde meanwhile elbowed her way through the room to find a place at the bar. She didn’t need a translator. She pointed to the pint of ale that a bewildered patron held in his hand, and then back at herself. The bartender, unaccustomed to serving women of any type, seemed to be weighing his options. Hilde again pointed to the pint, this time rather more insistently, and the bartender decided to just go ahead and break all of the taboos, all at once. He poured a full pint of the dark ale and gave it to Hilde. She pulled out some coins from a pocket in her tunic, and put a copper piece down with a smile. She drank the pint straight down, and put down another copper coin along with her mug. Her grin indicated she liked the ale, so the bartender smiled back and poured another round.
While Hilde was getting used to the city ale, her father was getting a good feel for the type of men that ran this city. Most were older men, and from the whisperings Trangdor kept delivering in his ear, they were what passed as a ruling elite in Brakoff. Businessmen mostly, guild leaders and the like. Brakoff had been spared the fate of other towns in Romilmark. Most of the population had not left, and had begun to adapt to life under a new regime. But these people were hesitant to just pick up where life had left off before the war. Uncertainty was the reigning emotion around this table, and it was probably indicative of how the rest of the populace felt.
In any event, Grundoon wanted to tackle this uncertainty head on. He waited for a chance to speak on the topic, and finally the opportunity was opened to him by one of the city leaders, who asked through Trangdor, “What changes are you going to make?” There was some concern among those at the table that this might be crossing some sort of line, but the old orc held up his hand, and smiled.
He turned to face the elderly gentleman who had posed the question. “What is your profession, sir?” he asked. Trangdor asked him a question in Romillian.
The man replied, and Trangdor said to Grundoon “He is a butcher, milord. He buys livestock for slaughter.”
Grundoon nodded his head, and sat back in his chair. Looking right at the old man, he asked “What is more valuable, an empty pasture, or a pasture filled with livestock?” Trangdor asked the question in Romillian.
The old man quickly replied, and Trangdor told Grundoon “The pasture with the livestock is more valuable, my lord.”
“Then it would be foolish to take away the livestock, and leave the pasture empty. The revenue generated by the animals, in dairy products, meats, wool and so forth continue to generate income. The only changes to be made are where the pastures are found empty. If there are no local sources to fill these pastures, then I must import from elsewhere.” Grundoon said, giving frequent pauses to allow Trangdor to translate.
The men in the tavern, not just around the table but all through out, nodded in understanding. The meaning was clear. Slothjemia did not seek to upset the lives of those that lived here, but they wanted to keep everyone busy, productive, and creating wealth. If the locals couldn’t do it, then outsiders would be brought in to take over. It wasn’t really a threat, and yet it was understood that if the people of Romilmark could not rise to the occasion, then life here would change quite dramatically.
Grundoon and Trangdor bid the gentlemen good evening, and the orc took the partially consumed vodka bottle with him as they left. Von Draeger bowed, and also wished the Lord Mayor and his friends a good night. Hilde and Jandle smiled and waved as they left, and as they shut the front door, the little band began to play again. Grundoon asked von Draeger “How do you think that went?” as they walked back towards the town square.
“Better than I thought it might, milord.” Replied the general.
“My thoughts exactly.” Said Grundoon.