The night passed uneventfully, much to Grundoon’s relief. The dawn revealed a cold morning, and Kreg hitched up the horses to the sleigh for the return trip to Brakoff. The group had some food, and after they finished, Dornald came up to Grundoon. Looking up at the orc, the one-eyed dwarf sighed, and motioned for the Governor-General to come with him.
Jandle followed his master as Dornald led Grundoon to the main keep. He took him up the grand stairs, down a long hallway, and into the archduke’s private office. The room was bare, but underneath where there had been some sort of regal desk, the dwarf pointed at the floor. Jandle got down on all fours, and felt with his tiny lizard-like hands.
“There is a secret door here.” Said Jandle. “Amazing craftsmanship. Even exposed it is hard to make out.” He looked up at the caretaker, and did a sideways nod toward the floor panel.
Dornald knelt down, and pressed around the floor with his hands. There was a muffled mechanical click, and the hidden panel dropped down, revealing a two-foot wide square hole. Grundoon got down on to one knee, and peered into the darkness.
“See anything, Jandle?” he asked. The kobold shook his head, and reached into the hole. He felt around, and looked up at Grundoon.
“I think there is something inside, but I can’t get a hold of it.” The kobold swung his legs around, and dropped into the hole. “Aha!” he exclaimed, and began to pull out a series of scroll cases. He set them on the floor, and Grundoon picked one up.
It was very delicately carved, and had a motif of a Romillian skycruiser surrounded by clouds and mountain peaks. Grundoon picked up another, and on it was carved a likeness of a juggernaut, the curious slow-moving metal towers that the Romillians used to break through enemy defenses. Without opening them, Grundoon knew what was in these cases. He turned to Dornald, and smiled.
Jandle put the last of the cases on the floor, then scrambled out of the hole. Dornald tapped his foot around the opening, and the hidden panel slid back into place. Grundoon held out his hand to the dwarf, who hesitated, but then clasped the orc’s hand in his own. No words were exchanged. None were needed. The three men left the room, and Grundoon carried the scroll cases under his arm and out to the sleigh.
Handing the cases to Trangdor, Grundoon climbed into the sleigh. “Tell our host that a squad of men will be here by nightfall to help him protect the castle. I’ll dispatch more as soon as they are available.” Trangdor relayed the message, and Dornald smiled, and waved. Kreg snapped the reins, and the party was on their way. Dornald closed the great door behind them, and the last sound they heard were the bolts locking the entry.
Trangdor wasted no time in getting into the first of the cases, and confirmed Grundoon’s guess that these were the plans for building the wondrous weapons that Romillia had tried to use in their invasion of Slothjemia. But that was only two of the canisters. There were seven altogether, and the other five detailed defenses, listed armories in the region, and caches for hidden munitions and emergency supplies. There were also in-depth accounts for taxes that had been levied, and general maps for dwarven tunnels throughout the area’s mountains. This would have taken months, if not years to uncover without these aids.
Grundoon was so excited by this find, that he had Jandle take out the communication crystal and send a message to the Herzgraf and the Office of the Chancellor to tell them the good news. It would be of the greatest importance to get these scrolls back to Brakoff for further study. Grundoon then had Jandle send a message to General von Unster-Kol and ordered him to send a contingent of the Red Guard to secure Linkristle Castle. Grundoon suggested that the bulk of the contingent be human and dwarven, but it was only a suggestion. The important thing was to secure the site, and to protect the caretaker.
After these orders had been sent, Grundoon sat back and enjoyed the scenery. The snow was beginning to soften, and clumps of it fell from the piney trees as the sun warmed the air. It was bright out, and cold, but the Governor-General felt warm inside. Hilde at some point asked her father “What are you thinking about?” and his response had been “Just planning a party.” She had been perplexed, and that was about all that anyone said until they reached Brakoff.
The party arrived at the von Vorkel family home just about midday, and Grundoon took the scrolls inside with him. He didn’t have a safe, but he had quite a few soldiers milling about, and that tended to dissuade trespassers. He checked on the progress of the workmen, after he had kissed his wife, and made sure his children were properly glad to have their father home. The family was most comfortable in the cellar of the house, as it was not at all drafty and was easier to keep warm. The whelps were starting to become far more mobile, and had gone from crawling to trying to stand up. Sasha, the nanny, had her work cut out for her.
Grundoon shared the contents of the scroll cases with his wife, and wearing his spectacles enabled him to read the Romillian writing. Nothing had been inscribed in code, nor had the document cases been trapped or magically secured. This led Grundoon to suspect that the archduke had not just been cocky and reckless in his invasion of Slothjemia. He may very well have been mad, out of his mind to the degree that normal precautions were ignored even in matters of safety and security. While it was true that defeating a crazed leader on the field of battle might lessen the victory, Grundoon considered only how dangerous this man had been to his own people. How many lives had been lost due the madness of one dwarven prince?
That evening, Jandle got a message on the communication crystal, which he delivered to his master. Dornald was alive and well, and grateful for the Red Guards that had arrived to secure Linkristle Castle. It was not a large force, but substantial enough to give passing brigands pause before they considered an attack. The flag of the Slothjemian army flew over the castle now, and right below it, on orders from the Governor-General himself, flew the banner of the Velferin family. Until they could be reached and a settlement agreed upon, this was still the property of the late archduke’s family. The soldiers didn’t understand the reasoning, but they carried out their orders all the same. The captain in command was given a handwritten list of things to purchase for the castle, and given a deadline to carry it out. Money would be provided by the Governor-General, and nothing that was not already on the list could be acquired. It was a very specific list, and it puzzled the captain. But the officer set about looking for the items on the list and didn’t ask any questions.
The snow had melted from the first storm, and much of the mud had returned to road between Brakoff and Kederlenn, when Grundoon announced that he was going to check on the good folks in the smallest of Romilmark’s cities. He took with him the scroll cases containing the plans for the skycruiser and juggernaut, and along with Hilde, Jandle, and Trangdor, with Kreg to do the driving, Grundoon set off in his big brown carriage to see what Kederlenn looked like up close. Cloe and Porger were going along for the experience of seeing more of this region, and had brought along their weapons just in case they had to fight off highwaymen or assassins, a bit of childish behavior that Grundoon decided to allow to further their interest in seeking out adventure. It wasn’t far, and after seeing things for himself there he would go ahead up north to Karpaburg before returning home. Hilde had gotten a few dozen recruits already, and after this trip she would be able to start training them. She would be putting up posters along the way on this trip to try and get even more recruits.
The day was cloudy, and there was a chill in the air, but the road was dry for the most part. The party made very good time, and Porger spent much of the time asking if he could shoot his bow at something. Cloe had her shortsword, and managed to slip the phrase “I wonder if they have an armorer in Kederlenn” no fewer than three times. Grundoon just smiled at each of them, and like any proud father imagined them both joining the army in a few years to follow in his footsteps.
They stopped several times during the day to visit briefly at estates along the route. Most had been left unattended, and of those it was apparent that they had been robbed since being abandoned. A couple had been set fire to, and only ruins remained. There was one small church that had also been ransacked, its doors left open and the roof burned months ago. But not all of the estates were in such disarray, and of those that were occupied, the owners showed remarkable hospitality to the Governor-General. When presented with the oaths of allegiance, not one of them hesitated before signing. And Hilde made a point to give each one a small poster, written in Romillian by Trangdor, of course, to invite whoever lived on the estate to consider joining the army. You had to be at least the human equivalent of fifteen years old to enlist, and you would be taught the Slothjemian language, as well as room and board in addition to your salary. After ten years of service, you might be eligible for a small land grant. For people trying to get back on their feet after a short but devastating war, this wasn’t a bad offer. The rules had changed for these folks. No longer were all males between the ages of fourteen and forty forced to serve as warriors to their feudal lords in times of conflict. Men and women could choose to join a professional military, become highly skilled soldiers, and earn a steady income.
Hilde had good reason to believe that she would find plenty of recruits among the more rural estates, where it was tough finding legitimate work when the lords of the land were gone and not running things as they should. Still, the party made decent time, and even with plenty of stops they reached Kederlenn before nightfall.
Kreg steered the carriage to the town hall, which while smaller than the one on Brakoff, looked very much the same. Lots of stone in the architecture here. A jorish colonel in the Red Guard greeted them in front of the town hall with a crisp salute.
“Colonel Shr Tomas Gundliedner, milord. An honor to meet you, sir. Is there anything I can do for you while you are here?” His voice was strong, and his appearance was more tribal than civilized. Grundoon smiled.
“All we need is a place to sleep while I go over a few things here.” Said the Governor-General. “And is General von Unster-Kol around? I need him to take care of something for me.”
“Yes, milord. He is due back anytime now. He went on one of the dragon flights today, said he wanted to clear something up before your arrival.” Said the colonel.
“Excellent. Thank you, colonel. If you would be so good as to show our driver where to park this damn thing, I’d like to see the mayor of this town.” He called to the rest of the party. “Trangdor, I’ll need your help. Hilde, go ahead and put up some posters. Jandle, find us a tavern. Porger and Cloe, stay with Hilde.”
The party thusly scattered to take care of business, and Grundoon and Trangdor headed up the stairs and in to the town hall. The day was winding down, and the leaders of the small city were startled to see the old orc in his uniform striding purposely down the corridor. Trangdor asked a passerby where the mayor’s office was, and the surprised man told him in Romillian. Trangdor motioned down the hallway. “You are on the right path, milord. End of the hall.”
Outside of the mayor’s office, Grundoon knocked on the door before opening it. A very tired looking old man stood up from his desk, and bowed. In his native tongue he said something, and Trangdor said to Grundoon “Welcome, your majesty, to the city of Kederlenn. I am Fetters, the mayor.”
Grundoon boldly walked into the room, and shook the man’s hand. The older man was surprised, and smiled despite himself. Grundoon spoke to him, and Trangdor translated. “I will not keep you, as I know you must have had a long day, Mayor Fetters. I just wanted to let you know that I was here in town, and if you needed anything to let me know. I brought you a copy of our laws, something for you to go over with your magistrates, and I will be inspecting your police force in the morning. I will try to stay out of your way, sir.”
The mayor stammered for a bit, but finally was able to say something with an uncertain smile. Trangdor told Grundoon, “I am humbled by your presence, my lord. There is much I wish to discuss, but if you will be here for some time perhaps you can fit me into your busy schedule.”
Grundoon laughed, and through Trangdor said “No, no. I am here to serve you. The soldiers know where I will be, and all you need do is ask, and I will come. It has been a pleasure to meet you, however briefly.”
With that, the Governor-General and his dwarven translator left the bewildered mayor and walked through the town hall towards the exit. Grundoon liked this place, it was smaller and less overwhelming than Brakoff. There was a wall around the city, but it wasn’t much of a defense. The place felt more in tune to industry than did Brakoff. Fewer of the buildings appeared to be vacant, and there was a feeling throughout that there was life here. At the top of the front steps, Grundoon stopped and took a deep breath. “So this is Kederlenn.” He said under his breath. He glanced at Trangdor. “I like it.”
There wasn’t a single building in town more than two stories tall, but there was quite a number of large, warehouse like structures that had tall smokestacks sticking out of them. They weren’t evidently active, but Grundoon was curious about what they were. Plenty of people were out and about, and none of them seemed shy of the goblinoids, just inquisitive. The sun was beginning to set, and Grundoon looked around for a soldier to ask directions from. He spotted a Red Guard with a halberd standing at the base of the stairs, and headed down to talk with her.
The corporal saluted as he approached, and he returned it. “Corporal, which way to General von Unster-Kol’s headquarters?” he asked.
She pointed across the square, and said “Down that street, sir. You can’t miss it. Lots of us there, sir.”
He thanked her, and Trangdor went with him across the square. They saw the carriage parked in front of a hotel in the square, and Kreg waved at them as he was carrying in the luggage. Grundoon nodded at him, and saw Jandle running up from the direction they were headed. Hilde and the kids were no place to be seen.
Jandle pointed back down the street, and said “The Red Guard say the best tavern in town is right down there, milord.”
Grundoon smiled, and grunted. “We need to see if von Unster-Kol is in yet. These scroll cases are getting heavier with each passing day.”
The Red Guard headquarters was easy to spot, alright. There was a huge Slothjemian army flag draped down the front of the building, and plenty of soldiers on duty or milling about in the street. As Grundoon got closer, the soldiers began to scatter or at least look as though they weren’t loitering. The Governor-General called to one of them, “Hey there! Is the general in yet?”
The soldier saluted. “Yes, my lord. He has just gotten back from patrol a few moments ago.”
Grundoon smiled at him. “Carry on, then. Just someplace other than the middle of the street, eh?”
Walking into the headquarters, Grundoon looked around. This had at one time been a hotel, apparently. There was a sergeant behind what used to be the front desk. “Good evening, Governor.” He said. “Up the stairs, second floor. Front of the building.” The sergeant returned to his work.
Grundoon grunted in approval, and headed upstairs. He motioned for Trangdor to wait, but Jandle continued with his master.
At the top of the stairs was another guard, who pointed to an oak door in front of Grundoon. The Red Guard was nothing if not efficient.
Knocking twice, Grundoon then opened the door and walked in to the suite of rooms. The outer room had been made into something of an office, and the rest of the suite was presumably the general’s living quarters. The general’s voice called out from the next room. “I’ll be right there. Have a seat.”
Grundoon didn’t choose to sit, but stood patiently. Jandle looked about the room, but stayed right behind his lord.
Argrowl came in, wiping his face with a towel. “Oh, Governor-General!” he said with surprise. “I had just sent somebody to look for you.” He set the towel down and buttoned his tunic back up. “My apologies, sir.”
“No reason to apologize, general. Tell me what you went out to see today.” Grundoon sat down, and Argrowl did as well.
“That orc settlement you were asking about. It is about midway between the Keder and Karpa passes. Very rough terrain, easier to get to from here than Karpaburg, if travelling on the ground. I sent out a cavalry patrol as you suggested, and they reported back that the civilians living in the area around those mountains are wary of orcs, but have not seen any activity lately.” Argrowl smiled. “Just wanted to verify the findings so far once more before you got here.”
Grundoon smiled. “Very much appreciated. And thank you for securing Linkristle Castle. I have one more request to make of you. And only because you have dragons at your disposal.” The old orc set down the two scroll cases on the desk.
“You have dragons at your disposal, milord. All of the Red Guard is here to serve your office.” Said von Unster-Kol, looking quizzically at the cases. “What are these, sir?” he asked.
“Those need to get to the Herzgraf immediately. Send a dragon rider to the capital at once, and have them report back to you once they return. Don’t give those cases to anyone other than the Herzgraf. Is that understood?” asked Grundoon, a sense of urgency in his voice.
Argrowl picked up the scrolls. “I’ll see to this personally, milord. I will return as soon as possible.”
“That isn’t necessary, general.” Began Grundoon, but the general held up his hand.
“With all respect sir, it seems to be. I will take care of this.” Said the jor resolutely.
Grundoon stood back up. “Well, then. That takes care of that. Thank you, General.”
“My pleasure, sir.” The jor smiled. “Any excuse to be airborne. It is intoxicating, you know.”
Grundoon laughed. “I will be here for a few days, just long enough to take care of some business before moving on north. I’ll see you when you get back, Argrowl.”
The two men shook hands, and Grundoon and Jandle took their leave. Trangdor joined them near the front door, and heading out of the building, Grundoon said to them “Now, let’s go visit that tavern.”