The orcs that had come down the mountain had all been allowed to watch the fight, and the outcome upset their world more than the death of their old chief. The women were split into two factions, those that thought any woman should be happy to have Targul as a husband, and those that were cheering for Hilde to kick his high and mighty butt. The men were likewise equally divided; some of them feeling humiliated that their leader had lost to a girl, and quite decisively at that, and those that were drawn to Hilde as an example of the kind of fighters they themselves wanted to be. If Slothjemian women could fight like that, imagine how their men must engage in war!
Many days were spent with the orcs discussing these matters, not with the entire group, because they were segregated and held in different locations. In every place the orcs were at, they were talking. Colonel von Gheistler had every one of his soldiers that were nearby or present listening in, too. In his report to the Governor-General on the overall attitude of the captive orcs, he made sure to include a detailed analysis of their disposition following the duel. While generally intolerant of such means to settle an argument, von Gheistler had to admit that in this case it had worked out far better than he could have imagined.
Happiest of all was Hilde, the Sergeant-Major that now, finally, had the beginnings of an army. Enough people had signed up for military duty that she would be able to begin training in the spring, and the vast majority of those that signed up did so in the days following her fight. She had her hands full now, answering questions about Slothjemian army life. Her father had outlined what kind of units the 10th Army would have, now she was busy determining who to assign to what task, and planning how to train them to do their jobs. Trangdor served as her assistant, as a translator and as a scribe. There was no denying that his penmanship was far better than hers. There was some solace in the fact few people knew how to read and write, but when even the simplest note was indecipherable, and even Hilde couldn’t read what she had written, the two of them would just sit and giggle helplessly.
The formula for the 10th Army made it right around 4500 soldiers strong, about the same size as the “patrol” that Baron von Vorkel commanded in the battle of Garvin’s Gap. That made it significantly smaller than the 6th Army, but Grundoon didn’t feel it had to be that big. Romillia was the only neighbor that Romilmark had, and they had been soundly defeated in the war last year. Even building an army from scratch, the Slothjemians would have a tremendous advantage over their former enemies, who relied on peasant conscription to serve as their soldiers. A smaller, professional force would always come out ahead against such a foe. As it stood now, Hilde had enough to occupy two-thirds of that quota. The remaining troops were going to be transferred from the training center in the Coreland, and would arrive ready for duty in the spring, just in time to help her get the native recruits up to speed.
The next few weeks saw a lot of activity in Romilmark. There were a couple of snowstorms, and the temperature remained low enough that the old snow never really melted. Sleighs and sledges became the primary means of transportation, with strong horses to do the pulling. Dragonriders flew whenever the weather was clear enough, and after the fourth major storm they were able to locate a large band of brigands close to the western edge of the region, in the rocky foothills midway between the Dreicounty pass and the town of Karpaburg. Baron von Vorkel had long suspected that this was the area the highwaymen were operating from. There really was no place else they could be and not have been spotted. It was also the last section of Romilmark to be surveyed, and Grundoon had his suspicions that the remaining nobility in that area might not be the most loyal citizens.
The Governor-General called a meeting with Colonel von Gheistler and General von Unster-Kol to discuss their next move. While waiting for the commander of the Red Guards to arrive, Grundoon made sure he understood the geography involved. He studied all available maps, and told the three dragonriders assigned to help the Judicial Corps to take turns watching the brigands from as high an altitude as they could manage. They were ordered to operate from the partially abandoned Linkristle Castle to keep them close to where the brigands were operating. As long as the weather cooperated, the rogues would be under constant surveillance.
Luckily, General von Unster-Kol could make the trip to Brakoff quickly, thanks to his own dragon. It was early evening, and the three officers gathered in Grundoon’s home. The Governor-General set up a large map of the region, and pointed to the area where the bandits had holed up.
He looked at the jor and death knight sitting before him. “Ok, gentlemen. Here they are. We have eyes on them, but need to get these renegades in chains as quickly as possible. They probably think we won’t make a move on them during the winter, and while they would be correct that it won’t be easy, it is far from unthinkable.” He pointed again at the map. “There are anywhere from five hundred to a thousand potentially heavily-armed men, ranging from petty criminals taking advantage of the chaos in the land following the war to former knights and men-at-arms that have decided to carry on some sort of war by themselves. Unlike the orcs that came down the mountains to the east, these fellows have been very active in their nefarious activities since we have taken charge of Romilmark. That makes them all criminals, and subject to punishment.”
Both the jor and the death knight nodded their heads in agreement. Neither had a chance to ask what they were expected to do, before Grundoon continued his presentation. “Argrowl, I need you to get your soldiers in motion quickly. Leave everyone behind in Kederlenn who can’t handle the cold, meaning all the reptilians, and whoever else can’t make the cross-country hike through the fields to where the brigands are camped. It is enough of a strain on the dragons to have them out, so divert all of your dragons to keep one in the air at all times over the enemy. Rotate them frequently, and give them a chance to be properly warmed in between flights. There is plenty of room in Kederlenn for this, plenty of empty warehouses. Linkristle Castle isn’t large enough, otherwise we would fly from there. We’ll have to keep up the pressure. As soon as you can begin providing relief to the three dragons already in the area, the easier those riders and their mounts will have it.”
Grundoon turned his attention to the death knight. “Ulthar, can I call you Ulthar?” the undead colonel nodded his head. Grundoon continued. “Ulthar, you need to get your command moving immediately. Same as the Red Guard, leave anyone behind that is ill suited to the cold. You will come around the mountains here.” Grundoon pointed to the little cluster of peaks in which sat Linkristle Castle. “Head to the north, and cut off any avenue of escape in that direction. If the brigands go over the peaks to the west in to the Coreland, then they become somebody else’s problem. I’d like to keep them in Romilmark.”
Motioning back to the map, he gestured at General von Unster-Kol. “Your angle of attack, Argrowl, is to go north on the road as far as here.” He tapped the map just south of Karpaburg. “Then, turn west and move to keep the enemy from moving up into this valley here.” He pointed to the map where the mountains formed a horseshoe shaped valley. “That would make a better defensive position for them, so keep them from going north. You need to form a line down to the south, to meet up with Ulthar’s soldiers and complete a crescent-shaped formation.”
Grundoon sat down at his little desk. “Only after we have formed up are we going to make our move. I want as many of these ruffians taken alive as possible.”
Von Gheistler raised a gauntleted hand, and Grundoon nodded to him. The undead officer’s voice, like a haunting howl pressed into normal speech, was unsettling in the upmost as he spoke. “Are we not justified in slaying these vermin without further ado?”
Grundoon sat back in his chair. “Yes, Colonel. We are. But I need them alive. Not all of them, of course. But an attempt must be made to get as many alive as possible.”
Von Unster-Kol now raised his hand, and after Grundoon had acknowledged him he asked, “You have a plan then for these captives? They don’t need a trial to be executed, do they?”
Grundoon was quiet for a few moments, choosing his words carefully. “I have other designs for these renegades.” He said quietly. “I would like to keep it at that.”
The jor looked at the death knight, and back at Grundoon. “As you command, my lord.” Said the Red Guard commander.
The death knight added, “I exist to serve, my lord.”
Grundoon stood up, and saluted his officers. “Very well. Get on the move, gentlemen. I expect in three days’ time for you to have your troops in place. I will be there, too. I have to make a stop on the way, and nobody is to make an offensive move until I arrive. If anyone tries to break through your line, kill them. Do not drive them back, do not allow them to escape, but kill them. The enemy must be taken by surprise if at all possible.”
The officers stood up, and returned Grundoon’s salute, and then quickly left the house to get their commands moving.
As soon as they left, Grundoon put on a heavy coat, and went upstairs to get Hilde. He found her oiling her swords, and she looked up with a big smile as her father stepped into her room. “Allo, papa!” she said in a sing song tone.
“Bundle up, Hilde. We have to go pay a visit to the orc you nearly killed a few weeks ago.” Grundoon smiled, and Hilde looked mildly put out to have to go along. But she put on her uniform and also grabbed a heavy coat, and followed her father out into the cold night.
Targul had recovered from his duel, but would always walk with a slight limp. He had been placed in one of the four temporary houses with the other male orc warriors, and rumor had it that he would be joining the army in the spring. Grundoon and Hilde walked there in silence, and the streets were pretty empty due to the hour and the cold. When they arrived at the house, Grundoon saluted to the guards in front, and opened the door.
Stepping in to the main room, Grundoon looked around at the orcs. They had a fire going in the fireplace, but it wasn’t that much warmer inside than it was outside. The orcs were mostly just lounging, but some were working on repairing their boots, or trying to sew up tears in their clothing. Given that their women did most of that work, these men weren’t doing all that badly. They had free run of the town during the day, so it wasn’t as if they were imprisoned. They just didn’t have a lot to do.
Targul was one of the ones that was lounging. Grundoon walked up to him, and in a loud voice asked, “How would you like to go on an adventure tomorrow?”
The orc looked up at him in surprise, then sprang to his feet. “Of course! How long will we be gone?” he looked at Hilde standing behind the Governor-General, and smiled.
Grundoon replied, “I expect at least five days. Perhaps longer. I have a place in mind that you and your comrades can call home, but we need to check it out and see if you approve.” He looked back at Hilde, then at Targul. “You two are safe to have together, yes?”
The orc warrior nodded his head. “Yes, my lord. I will cause no trouble to you, or your daughter.”
Hilde just shrugged her shoulders. Muttering under her breath, she said “I can’t promise everyone makes it back alive.”
Grundoon laughed, and shook Targul’s hand. “I’ll be by in the morning to get you. Bring along anyone you think needs to have a say in where you settle, if anyone else has a say. Oh, and dress warm.”
Targul chuckled, and said “I’ll be ready, my lord.”
Grundoon and Hilde made their way home, and it was nearly as quiet a stroll as it was on the way to the orc house. The only interruption was Hilde asking her father, “Where are we going, papa?”
Her father just replied, “Have to get things ready for the big party, Hilde.”