Grundoon and his entourage said their good-byes to the patrons of the roadhouse, a process that took considerably longer than he thought it might. The bartender, who they now know was named Hektor, had paid for their first round himself, and Grundoon had paid for their second round as well as a round for everyone in the Idyllwild Inn. It was getting late, and the Governor-General wanted to get back to Kederlenn.
It was a quiet evening, cold, and with plenty of clouds drifting overhead, obscuring the stars from time to time. The group rode in silence to the town, and it was Trangdor who was the most fatigued. Carrying on multiple conversations with loud and excited people, and then trying to translate for local celebrities, had taken a toll on the dwarf. He had a splitting headache, and just wanted to sleep. Fortunately, it wasn’t far to the town from where the roadhouse sat at the tee in the road. The gates were open, and the local constables saluted Grundoon and waved at the rest as they rode in.
They stumbled in to the Golden Oak and dragged themselves up the stairs to their rooms. Kreg had to take the horses back to the Red Guard garrison, but everyone else dropped their luggage, climbed out of their armor, and dropped into bed. As he drifted swiftly to sleep, Grundoon thought to himself, “I am far, far, FAR too old for this.”
Surprisingly, however, Grundoon was wide awake before the sun rose. He felt pretty good, and as tired as he had been the night before, he didn’t show any signs of it now. He dressed and went downstairs to write some letters.
He had finished a lengthy letter to Aggrylia, when a courier from the Brakoff garrison arrived. The tavern wasn’t really open for business, but the landlord had been gracious enough to allow the Governor-General and his staff free rein. Jandle showed the courier in to the otherwise empty dining area, and the soldier saluted smartly before setting down a leather satchel in front of Grundoon.
The old orc took the satchel and pulled out the contents. He then tucked the letter to his wife into the bag, before handing it back to the courier. “Nothing in there is that urgent. Get yourself a meal over at the Red Guard headquarters before heading back to Brakoff.” The courier saluted again and left the tavern.
Grundoon went over the documents in front of him. A lot had happened since he had left for this inspection tour. The office of the Lord Ambassador had finally gotten around to dispatching an emissary, Count Jerdoch Krownheim, to deal with correspondence between Romillia and Romilmark. He was settling in at Brakoff and wanted to know what the Governor-General wanted him to do first. Grundoon smiled and began to write a response. It wouldn’t need to go with this courier, though. He didn’t want to rush it. Already his plans had taken months to even get this far, and it had gone well enough that he didn’t want to ruin it by acting hastily. The letter to the emissary was going to be quite long, but Grundoon needed to be sure that the diplomat understood what he needed done.
The second document that Grundoon opened was from the army, letting him know that the Inspector General’s office had sent their own representative from the Judicial Corps to begin cracking down on the brigands in Romilmark, and to oversee the establishment of the military courts in preparation for transition to civilian governance. Grundoon recognized the name of the officer in command, Colonel Ulthar von Gheistler, and he laughed aloud. He had never met the man, but he knew his reputation. In fact, calling him a man was a generous gesture. He had once been a man, but he had been sent to the distant land of Forkanza as a young officer, to serve as the Judicial Corps commander in the small Slothjemian colony of Manfredonia. Somehow, and Grundoon was hazy on the details, the officer had become a free-willed undead; what some folks referred to as a “death knight.” Now he was committed, wholly and tirelessly, to the pursuit of military justice. There were not many undead in Slothjemia, and this fellow was the only one in the army. And now he was coming here.
Grundoon wrote yet another letter, this time detailing what he wanted to see happen once the Inspector General’s representative got settled in at Brakoff. This letter also had to be carefully thought out. After finishing it, Grundoon sat back in his chair, took a deep breath, and cursed the Herzgraf for this assignment. He had been correct, this was a punishment quite unlike any other. Grundoon was comfortable with war. But peace? He didn’t care for that at all.
The next document in the pile was from the mayor of Brakoff. The constables who were responsible for training the urban and rural law enforcement had completed training the police force of Brakoff. Constables were now headed to Kederlenn and Karpaburg, and the rural constables were going to be working with the Judicial Corps to track down the brigands in the countryside before setting up training for law enforcers outside of the urban boundaries. This was very good news but didn’t warrant a reply from Grundoon.
The last document announced that officials from the treasury in Brakoff had begun the process of assessing who would pay taxes in Romilmark, and how much. Most of the estates had been surveyed in the region, now it was time to calculate how much these properties were worth to the crown. Thankfully, this didn’t require any reply from Grundoon, either.
It had taken a couple of hours to go through all of this bureaucratic maneuvering, and by the time he was done, Grundoon wanted to get back into action. He sent Hilde to the printer to pay the final costs, and to collect her posters. He had sent Kreg to ready the carriage, and Jandle to prepare the baggage. It was time to head up to Karpaburg. He had spent enough time in and around Kederlenn and felt as though he understood the town well enough. The sooner he did the same with Karpaburg, the sooner he could go home and be with his wife.
Thankfully, it didn’t take very long to get everyone in order and out the door. It wasn’t even midmorning yet, and Karpaburg was only thirty miles or so away. Cloe and Porger opted to wear their armor for the trip, just in case there was trouble. The group headed out in the big brown carriage, and they enjoyed being inside, because it rained a good part of the day. Kreg was the only one outside, but he didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, Grundoon wasn’t even certain that Kreg knew it was raining, the expression on his face never changed from that weird, leering grin.
Things looked a little different in this part of Romilmark. For one, there was evidence of life more abundantly present in the farms and estates along the road. There were churches and chapels aplenty, and none of them seemed to have been ransacked or disturbed. In fact, there were clergymen visible at almost every place of worship they went by, and like the rest of the people that happened to be out on this dreary rainy day, they waved at the coach as it went by. There were more trees here, and more rolling, rocky foothills than fertile farmland. The coach only stopped once, at a small wayside inn. It was called the Blackberry Inn and had a few homes around it suggesting a hamlet more than just a random roadhouse.
The landlord was gracious, and for a small fee provided the horses with some grain, and had the stable boy brush them down. Everyone had a satisfactory meal of cold meat and warm beer, and Hilde put up one of her posters. After stretching their legs a little, the group piled back into the carriage and were back on the road. Trangdor told Grundoon that the landlord had boasted a bit about how many people had stayed in this part of Romilmark, signing the oath of allegiance, and had given the garrison in Karpaburg no reason to be concerned with public safety. Grundoon smirked, and said in a low voice, “These are the people we need to keep an eye on. I worry nothing about those that flee, but those that stay, they might pose a problem. That could be why they stayed behind.” Everyone remembered the trouble they had encountered at the Idyllwild Inn. People that were known rabble-rousers weren’t a threat, but the ones you didn’t know about? The better at hiding their intent they were, the more dangerous they could be.
Rain kept the carriage on the go, because nobody wanted to get out in the mud if there wasn’t a pressing need for it. As a result, they made pretty good time. The poor weather didn’t hold up their travel significantly, and they arrived at the city of Karpaburg before sunset.
There was no wall around Karpaburg, at least not in the traditional sense. This was a place built and occupied primarily by humans, and unlike the stonework so prevalent in Kederlenn and Brakoff, here the primary construction material was lumber. There was some rockwork, but mostly in chimneys and foundations. The buildings were closely gathered together, and the buildings on the very outside of the town were connected to each other to form a barricade of sorts. Not really a wall so much as a two-story building that ran all the way around the town, with a few gates built in to it to allow traffic entry to the inner part of the town. From the air, the city would have looked egg-shaped, something of a sloppy oval that was wider west to east than it was north to south. The mountains were very close to the northwest side of the town, and the Karpa Pass wasn’t very far away to the east. All around the town the thick, pine forest seemed to be trying to close in on it, but there was a clear-cut area, perhaps a mile or so wide, all around the city, and it looked as though people had taken to tilling this area for basic crops. With the heavy cloud cover and rain, the tall trees made it seem darker than it was, and while nobody was out farming during this time of year, Grundoon could see a number of people using oxen to remove stumps from the muddy fields.
The southern gate was wide open, and the soldiers on duty saluted as the carriage approached. Kreg stopped the horses just inside the gate, and the carriage sat dripping in a large tunnel that ran through the barrier formed by the buildings that surrounded the town proper. One of the soldiers came up, and Grundoon leaned out of the carriage to ask, “Where is the headquarters for the 8th Army?”
The soldier replied loudly enough for Kreg to hear as well. “Keep to your left when you get through this portal. At the first tee, turn right. That will take you right to the center of town. The headquarters is right next to the town hall; you can’t miss it.”
Grundoon saluted the soldier, and Kreg snapped the reins. The coach lurched out of the tunnel and made a hard turn. These streets were ridiculously narrow for a human settlement. These were more like gnome or halfling dimensions. For the first time, Grundoon regretted having such a massive carriage. It was convenient to cram everyone inside comfortably, and still carry their baggage, but in Karpaburg this thing would be almost too big to be of any use.
The turn off of this road and towards the center of town was indeed an exciting one. There was a scraping sound as the carriage ran up on the little sidewalk, and the horses balked at trying to get around the corner. A few cracks of his whip, though, and Kreg had the animals back in motion, the top of the carriage tapping every business sign along the route, setting them swinging. The wheels caught several rain barrels, and sent them dancing, water splashing out as they spun heavily away from their downspouts. Grundoon was grateful for the rainy weather and hoped nobody would step out their front door while the huge vehicle lumbered by with a rattle and roar.
Nearer to the center of the city, the road opened up ever so slightly, and the carriage stopped scraping the buildings and knocking against wooden lampposts. The circular area in front of the town hall was hardly generous, but the coach could be turned about with a minimum of jostling. There was, however, no obvious place to store the carriage here. It might have to remain right on the great circle for the time being.
Soldiers came out from their headquarters to have a look at the newcomers, and when they realized who it was, a couple of them ran inside to alert their commander. Colonel Irena Ornsha, a middle-aged woman with blonde hair that was turning white, was throwing on her overcoat and coming to greet the Governor-General as Grundoon got out of the carriage. They saluted each other, and she led him in to the headquarters. “Welcome, my lord.” She said, her voice somewhat deeper than Grundoon had been expecting. “We have two rooms for you upstairs. I’ll have your bags brought in.” There was a flurry of activity as the soldiers from the garrison set to bringing in the personal belongings of the Governor-General’s party, and Grundoon noticed with dismay that the hallways and staircases in this building were as narrow as the streets had been.
“Was this town built by stick-figures?” he asked with a growl. “I hardly have room anywhere here to change my mind, much less take off this coat.”
Irena laughed, and motioned for him to follow her. “This way to the main hall, my lord. There is room enough to stretch out there, and we already have a fire going.”
The party went with her down a narrow hallway that ended in a sunken room that was, in fact, wonderfully spacious. Everyone took off their coats and settled in to easy conversation with the off-duty troops that had come here to enjoy some leisure time after dinner. Food was brought in for the visitors, and Grundoon sat down with Irena on a long, leather-bound sofa.
“How late does the mayor stay?” he asked her, while he ate his food.
“Normally he doesn’t stay very late, my lord.” She said. “He tends to get everything done in the morning, has a long lunch, and then spends the afternoon either in his office or at his mill. He owns a lumber mill up on the northern side of the city.”
Grundoon looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “He is a businessman and a mayor?” he asked.
“No, he is a businessman who took over the city during the war.” Replied Irena. She grinned, an evil expression to be sure, and continued; “He led an uprising when the former mayor decreed the city should stand firm and not surrender to Slothjemia. Paul Graffendorn, that is the current mayor, and a majority of the people in Karpaburg, rose up and violently overthrew the former mayor and his cronies. When our forces arrived, we were greeted with an open town, and a clamoring of the new leadership to swear allegiance to us.”
Grundoon looked at her, his face betraying his disbelief. “How is it that this part of Romillia would be willing to switch their fealty so willingly?” he asked.
Irena laughed. “Geography, my lord. The road that runs north goes over a high pass and into Barokovia. That part of Slothjemia, and this part of Romillia, have been close trade partners for centuries, even before the duchy of Barokovia was annexed into Slothjemia. Most of the people in this part of Romilmark speak Slothjemian, at least enough to get by for business and the like. The people here tend to be more human in their outlook, and less dwarven.”
The Governor-General nodded and smiled as he said “Then it looks as though the easiest part of my tour has been saved for last. Excellent, because I am eager to return to Brakoff before more winter arrives.”
The colonel made sure that her guests were tended to, and then told Jandle some of the likely places they could find the mayor in the evenings. Everyone enjoyed the evening meal, which was filling, if not extravagant. Hilde chatted with the soldiers and seemed pleased by their observations that Karpaburg would be an excellent place to recruit new cadets. The only downside to the town’s willingness to embrace being part of Slothjemia was that there were not many people unemployed, or not otherwise engaged in service.
Nevertheless, everyone in the group was in agreement that Karpaburg was a delightful place. Narrow, and tough to navigate through streets and hallways, but pleasing all the same.