As the group gathered in the morning to head out, Jandle found a gunny sack to put the severed orc head in and slung it from Grundoon’s saddle. The people that were heading to their homes were riding in a cart that Shr Gelbrand had provided, along with one of his servants. Although still quite weak from their ordeal, the former captives were jubilant at the prospect of being home today. Grundoon’s little party mounted up, and the parade got underway.
It was a crisp morning, cold but not wet. It felt as though winter was right around the corner. At every farm along the way, curious people gathered to see who was returning home, and to hear about who wasn’t, from the rescued people. Trangdor did a lot of talking at each stop, and everyone wanted to see the orc chieftain’s head in the sack. It was a strange day, to be sure. All throughout, the good people of this area exclaimed their adoration for the army, and thankfulness to Slothjemia.
The last two captives had been taken from the manor of the late Sir Kelbrucht, and it was here that the group arrived late in the afternoon. Belmer, the new lord of the estate, came out to greet the Governor-General’s party as they approached. Unlike the last time, nearly everyone from the estate turned out, and nobody seemed to be hidden or locked away. The young man waved as Grundoon got near, and he called out in Slothjemian “Greetings, friends!”
Grundoon couldn’t disguise his shock and smiled despite himself. He dismounted and approached the young man on foot. The lad held out his hand, and Grundoon shook it, noting how strong the boy’s grip was. Trangdor jumped down from his pony and hurried over. Belmer said something, and Trangdor translated for Grundoon.
“He welcomes you to his estate, my lord. He thanks you for returning his retainers safely and welcomes you to stay for the night.” Trangdor smiled as he spoke. The lad’s transformation was remarkable, he even seemed to stand taller now, and was more self-assured. Everyone in the group dismounted and bowed respectfully to the young master of this property.
Grundoon said, “Ask him if he has need of anything.”
Trangdor asked Belmer a question, and the lad shook his head. He then pulled the oath from inside of his jacket and handed it to Grundoon. The old orc opened the document and saw that the boy had signed it. Grundoon smiled again, and handed the document to Jandle.
Grundoon then asked, “Did he or anyone here want to see the head of the dead orc chief?”
Trangdor and Belmer spoke for a while, and then Trangdor replied to Grundoon, “No. He chooses to view the goblin folk not as enemies, but as neighbors. He does not wish to live in his father’s world.”
Awestruck by this, Grundoon was at a momentary loss for words. Finally, he was able to say “An amazing insight for a youthful soul. Make sure he understands that if he has need for anything at all, to let my office know. Make our apologies, I wish to press on further before we stop for the night.”
Trangdor did just that, and everyone waved and shouted their thanks as the party climbed back upon their mounts, and made their way southward. As they left the estate, they noticed the fresh grave near the pathway. It was a simple affair, with only a white-washed wooden cross to mark it. There were no flowers, at least not yet. Grundoon wondered if anyone here truly missed Sir Kelbrucht. He suspected that they were going to be much happier living under the governance of Shr Belmer.
The sun was just beginning to set as the party reached the Idyllwild Inn, and nobody was quite sure what to expect. There was a sizeable number of people here and considering how they had left this establishment on their prior visit, a bit of uncertainty was reasonable. They tied up their mounts out front and stretched a little. Hilde pointed at the poster she had tacked to the door. It was still there, and in pristine condition. Grundoon smirked. Well, that was a good omen at any rate.
The party stood for a few moments out front, and finally Grundoon said, “Alright, let’s get something to drink. We aren’t staying here, just want to quench my thirst.” He thought about leaving his axe, but he couldn’t imagine leaving it outside and out of his sight after everything that had happened in the last few days. He opened the door to the roadhouse, and stepped in.
The greeting he got was considerably warmer than the previous treatment he had been given. People looked up to see who was entering, but they didn’t look nonplussed or anxious. Most people just went back to their drinks, dinner, or conversation. The bartender smiled, somewhat hesitantly, and motioned for them to come in. Grundoon took a good look around and saw two people that wouldn’t have been seen here a week ago. He grinned at Jandle and motioned with his head at the two jors sitting at a table along the wall near the door. Jandle looked to see who it was, and laughed, briefly, before catching himself. He tried to stifle further outbursts and followed his master to the bar.
Trangdor greeted the bartender, and the two men spoke for a few minutes. “I told him we just wanted something to drink, and then would be on our way.” Said Trangdor. “He has offered us rooms for the night, but I’ve told him we must move along.”
Grundoon grunted and nodded his head. “Thank him for his hospitality. Also, ask if it is usually this busy. Seems as though everyone is here.” As he spoke, he looked again at the two swamp orcs. The older of the two nodded knowingly at the Governor-General and took a drink from his tankard.
Trangdor and the bartender chatted some more, while the bartender poured warm beer into tankards for the old orc and his companions. He even poured two smaller mugs for Cloe and Porger, who were quite caught up in feeling terribly mature. They were pointing at the stained floor where Sir Kelbrucht had died. “They’ll never get the blood out of there.” Whispered Cloe.
The dwarf told Grundoon “There is great interest in seeing the orc chief’s head. Most everyone has been gathering here ever since you freed the enslaved people from the orcs. They all know folks that were affected.” Trangdor took a drink of his beer. “I would like to say that they are grateful, but the reality is, they are curious. Orcs killing orcs, and that sort of thing.”
Grundoon chuckled. “Jandle, go get the sack from my saddle.” The kobold finished his beer and jogged out to fetch the gruesome souvenir. “Tell them that we are going to leave the head here. Our gift to the Idyllwild Inn, and a reminder that no enemies of the people will go unpunished.”
Jandle returned, and handed the sack to Grundoon, who then set it on the bar. The patrons of the tavern got up and gathered around to get a better look. The bartender didn’t seem to want to touch it, so Grundoon opened the bag, and let it drop, revealing the horrifying visage of Balthor, chief of the Rock Spine clan. The women in the room gasped, and after a few awkward moments of silence, there was a shout of “Hurrah!” that was echoed throughout the room. Then, everyone set to talking all at once, and Trangdor was completely occupied with answering questions as best he could. Grundoon left the bar, holding his beer, and made his way over to the two jors that were still sitting at their table.
While everyone else was talking excitedly, Grundoon lowered his voice to an almost inaudible whisper. “Hello, Moak.” He said to the older jor. “Nice to see you again, Malek.” He said, addressing the younger swamp orc. “Glad that you fellows got my letter.”
“Sorry about the delay, Governor.” Said Moak, his voice dripping with sinister overtones. He spoke slowly and deliberately, and the effect was that everything he said sounded threatening. “We were otherwise occupied and didn’t receive your note until a couple of weeks ago. But we’re here now, and very interested in your idea.”
Grundoon smiled and allowed himself to be swept up in the jor’s diabolical tone. “I still have some things to get in order, but I am glad you are here. Have you seen the location?”
Moak nodded his head. “Aye, me lord. How thoroughly do you want this job done?”
“How much can you accomplish if we set our sights on three months out?” asked the Governor-General.
Moak chuckled evilly. “With that much time to plan, we’ll reduce it to ash and gravel.”
Malek mimicked Moak’s laugh, and Grundoon could barely resist laughing along, too. As capable a warrior as Grundoon was, he had tremendous respect for huntsmen. And he had seen these two in combat, fought alongside them, and knew how cunningly they carried themselves. He didn’t know for certain what they were capable of, but he had high hopes for them.
With a wicked gleam in his eye, Moak said “We’ll be close to you, me lord. We’ve got some arrangements to make, but we’ll never be far away. One of us will be on hand most anytime you want us.”
Grundoon just nodded his head and smiled. He made his way back to the bar, where the bartender had placed the severed head inside a huge glass jar. Trangdor told Grundoon “They are going to pickle it, sir. Should be an interesting draw for visitors.” Grundoon shook his head and laughed. He looked over at the table along the wall, just as the two jors were slipping out of the tavern into the night.
“People do take joy from the most unusual things.” Said Grundoon. “Horror seems to bring life to the senses.”