Jandle got out the deck of cards again, and the party spent the evening playing games. It was lighthearted, and no scores were kept, at least not officially. The primary topic of conversation was how difficult it was to get used to not being nocturnal any more. Targul and his friends still hated the daylight, and having the light reflected off of the snow was nearly agony. Everyone agreed that snow was troublesome, but Grundoon and Jandle assured the orcs that the sun was not that difficult to get used to.
Grundoon at one point told the orcs, “If you really want to live in a city and enjoy the darkness all day long, then move to Slothenburg. You can live there and never see the sun! There is an entire city beneath the city, under the causeways and gangplanks over the swamp. Stay below during the daylight hours and emerge into the upper city when darkness descends. The best of all possible worlds, if you like a city.”
Targul and the other orcs asked a lot of questions about life in the daylight, the cities of the realm, and how they would be allowed to make their livelihoods. Few of the orcs had any notable skills other than fighting prowess. There were some that had minor talents in woodworking and the like, but they knew nothing of farming. They had kept small livestock, chickens and goats and that kind of thing, but they had no knowledge of raising cattle or horses.
Grundoon addressed this, as well. “Tomorrow morning we will head to a place I think you might favor. It will keep you away from the towns and cities of Romilmark, so you and your new neighbors can adjust to each other without being forced into close proximity. It is also closer to the Coreland of Slothjemia, and you won’t have far to go if you wish to trade, or just be with other goblinoids. Over time, more of us will come through the passes and settle in here. Once the nobility is properly seated in their estates, and my time as Governor-General comes to a close, I suspect a good many more nonhumans will claim this magnificent land as their home.”
The idea of other orcs, goblins, and others like them being nearby and friendly was a very novel concept to Targul. The other orcs were equally baffled. How was this possible? They had never known harmony with others, it was always a fight for resources and honor.
It took a long time, but the orcs were eager to learn. Grundoon and Trangdor both explained how Slothjemia functioned, using examples of how tribes dealt with day-to-day activities. Slothjemia was simply a huge tribe. Instead of the constant bickering and warring that most tribes dealt with, the roles of every leader and subleader were clearly stated and defined. Everyone had their job to do, and when everyone did what they were expected, the entire tribe benefitted. It wasn’t a perfect illustration, but it did the trick. The orcs began to grasp what Slothjemia was, and how it worked, and they grew excited to have a hand in it all.
Werdel and Trangdor seemed to hit it off surprisingly well. The young orc and equivalently young dwarf felt quite at ease with one another, and while they didn’t have much in common on the surface, they had strikingly similar personalities. Zerxen seemed to enjoy Grundoon, and while he was probably older than the Governor-General, his age really couldn’t be pinpointed with any accuracy. It was just as likely that Grundoon was the older of the two and was in far better shape merely be virtue of having not lived as a savage his entire life.
Reskinn was the most uncomfortable of the orcs around these new people. He didn’t care for Jandle watching him all the time, he didn’t like having two children hanging about, and he was terrified of Hilde. For the most part he kept quiet, preferring to listen to the others talk. He grudgingly admitted to himself, but only to himself, that this Baron von Vorkel was a great and admirable man, but he felt as though everything he had known and loved in life was being thrown out from under him. Reskinn was frightfully uncertain about the future. He didn’t know enough about being a witchdoctor to ease his own heart, and he doubted that he could be a good leader for his people as a result.
If anyone else sensed Reskinn’s discomfort, none of them made mention of it. The evening flew by, and soon the party began to break up and go to sleep. A lot had happened today, and there was much to be considered. Reskinn would have even more to contemplate in the next few days, and while he didn’t know it yet, he was going to play an important part in a pivotal event.
In the morning the party was greeted with a very sunny, yet starkly cold, dawn. It was well below freezing outside, and there was a crisp little breeze from the north that cut like an icy sword through the group’s thick coats. Grundoon and his entourage had brought along their armor too, except for Trangdor, of course. Targul and his companions had no armor, nor weapons, and they were somewhat alarmed by the appearance of the heavily equipped Governor-General.
Hilde grinned as she came out of the tower to the sleighs, her sword strapped to her back, and her other blades tucked safely away. She sneered at Targul and said “Don’t worry. You’ll be safe with us. We won’t let anyone savage you. Today.” She laughed with her customary howl. Her little sister, Cloe, was right behind her, and laughed as well as she fastened her own sword around her waist.
Cloe giggled as she said, “Just stay behind us. We’ll protect you guys.” She giggled again, and Hilde whooped with raucous delight.
Targul was beginning to feel annoyed when Porger came out, clutching his bow and with a quiver over his shoulder. The young orc smiled at the four uneasy men, and said “Nah, don’t let them bug you. This is a business trip. And this is how the von Vorkel’s do business.” The orcs smiled at the kid and started to chuckle.
Everyone climbed into the sleighs and set out before the sun fully rose over the eastern mountains. The guards held the gates open, and Captain Daorbel and Dornald were both there to wave goodbye. The captain saluted, and Grundoon returned the salute with a wink and a nod. The two sleighs headed down the mountain road, with everyone bundled up under layers of blankets and animal hides.
Not much was said by anyone until they reached the valley floor, and the cold wind began to let up enough to thaw everyone’s spirits. Targul looked over at Grundoon, who was sitting on the other side of the sleigh. “Where are we headed today…?” he asked, his question trailing off as he realized he didn’t know how to address the Governor-General.
Porger perked up and said cheerfully “Baron. You can just call him that.”
Cloe added, with equal happiness, “Or my lord. Also acceptable.”
Targul just looked at Grundoon, uncertain what to say next, if he was supposed to say anything at all.
Grundoon glanced at the orc and couldn’t help but laugh. Targul looked so confused, as if he had walked into a strange room to find something and forgotten what it was he was looking for.
“Today we are going to see if the place I have in mind for you and your people meets with your approval.” He laughed again. “We will be there by midafternoon.”
The snow in the valley was deep, but the road was still readily discernable. There had been a good amount of traffic since the Governor-General had arrived in Romilmark, and except for the days when the storms had been the fiercest, wagons, carts, and even people walking from the Coreland and Dreicounty had been a continual presence on this road. Today they passed a stagecoach that was making remarkable time through the slushy, half-melted snow on the roadway on its way to Brakoff. The sleighs were having a much easier time of it, but wheeled vehicles were doing just fine, as long as they stuck to the designated highway. Any attempt to leave the road would prove disastrous.
There were a lot of vacant buildings along this road, same as when Grundoon had first come this route. No more signs of life existed in the farms and houses now as there had been weeks ago. This caused the Governor-General to brood somewhat. He had felt as though he had done a lot to prove to the people here that Slothjemia wasn’t going to be a heavy-handed, tyrannical presence. But the truth was, while he might have done a fine job of keeping people from fleeing once he arrived, there was nothing he could do about those that had fled before he took the job.
The sleighs pulled off the road about midday to rest the horses and give everyone a chance to walk about and stretch their legs. Hilde had chosen a manor that appeared to be deserted; the snow in the common yard undisturbed between the barns and the house. There was a low rock wall around the buildings, against which snow had drifted and piled up in a haphazard way. The house itself was two stories tall, made of grey field stones, with a slate roof indicating somebody of substantial means had built the place. It was eerily calm and quiet.
Porger and Cloe set out immediately to explore, first in the barns and then the house. Grundoon motioned for Jandle to go with them, and the kobold hopped through the deep snow to keep up with the excited orclings. Hilde tended to her horses, and Kreg to his, so Trangdor and Grundoon took a walk around the yard and compared notes.
“The three orcs in my sleigh are looking forward to seeing their new homeland.” Said Trangdor. “They are successful to varying degrees in hiding that enthusiasm, but it is there all the same. They ask about everything.” The dwarf laughed.
Grundoon chuckled. “Targul has been quiet for the most part. I think he is uncertain whether or not he wants to live in the valley after spending his entire life living in the peaks of the alpine range. Everything about this is new to him. I don’t know if he is comfortable with how this choice of his to become one of us is playing out.”
Almost on cue, the four orcs, standing by the sleighs, waved to the Governor-General and his dwarven translator. The two men waved back. Grundoon continued talking. “Do what you can to answer their questions and keep things in a positive light.” He stopped walking and pointed at the manor house with a nonchalant gesture. “Look at this place. These orcs won’t have any close neighbors that I won’t have a hand in selecting. These farms and estates are almost all abandoned since the war. If they are even remotely concerned about having hostile enemies around them, they can be reassured this will not be the case.” He looked at Trangdor and lowered his voice. “Of course, if they start a war with whatever new neighbors move in next to them, that is another issue. One I will deal with very swiftly. The land that the Empress cedes to these orcs is theirs by whatever terms she chooses. But the peace is everyone’s to enjoy.”
Trangdor smiled and nodded his head. They continued walking, and when they got back to the sleighs they chatted with the orcs. All they wanted to talk about was how ungodly bright it was outside.
Cloe and Porger returned, reporting that they had found nothing of interest, but the house had been lived in recently, probably by squatters or people passing through. Grundoon had Jandle make a note of that for further investigation at a later date, and the party clambered back into their seats and burrowed under the blankets for warmth. The party started off again, and soon everyone was lost in thought, watching the landscape go by, and cursing the sun and the reflection of light off of the snow.
It only took a couple of hours to reach the ruins of Dregladorf, the town that had stood where the Dreicounty road joined the road from the Coreland that ran to Brakoff. The ruins were covered in snow now, or at least mostly so, but there had been a considerable amount of bricks and other building materials that had been removed in the last couple of months by people looking for free stuff. The roads, of course, were unobstructed, and most of the low garden and farmyard walls were still intact. The sleighs parked just off of the road at the intersection, and Grundoon jumped down with a grunt. The rest of the party followed, and stood in the road, looking every which way.
Grundoon said loudly, “This was the town of Dregladorf. It was destroyed by our armies when we counter-attacked into Romillia. Since it has remained an abandoned domain, it is available for your families, if you wish to settle here and rebuild.”
Targul and his companions murmured, looking around at the crushed houses and demolished buildings.
Grundoon continued speaking, not giving the orcs a chance to rebuff the offer this early into his presentation. “You are many miles away from any hostile neighbors, and you are free to build whatever houses and businesses you deem necessary. There is plenty of room for livestock, and this junction will always be a key part of commerce and travel to and from Romilmark into the rest of Slothjemia. There is need for an inn here, as well as at least one coach depot for travelers and mail. If any of you or your kin have skills in blacksmithing, that would do very well here. Most any business will do well here.”
The orcs didn’t know much about running any sort of commercial enterprise, but they continued talking amongst themselves while watching Grundoon and listening to what he had to say.
The Governor-General let them talk to each other for a bit, and then picked up where he left off. “The mountains to the north and the west should afford good hunting if you want venison, and there is plenty of trees there for harvesting to rebuild this settlement. If you choose to settle here, there will be a permanent detachment of Rural Constabulary assigned to this place. They will keep the peace here in town, and also patrol the roads. And if you choose to take up agriculture, you ought to be able to grow everything you need for high quality beer.” Grundoon chuckled.
The orcs laughed, too. They seemed very excited and took to talking animatedly with each other. Grundoon let them chatter and walked around the town ruins with Jandle and Hilde. Porger and Cloe set about exploring again, but it was just a series of rubble piles covered in snow, so it didn’t hold the same attraction as an abandoned manor house.
Targul and the three orcs approached Grundoon, and he noticed they were smiling. He smiled too, and felt a sense of relief that perhaps this was a problem solved. Targul said in a boisterous voice, “This is perfect! We couldn’t have hoped for better!” he held out his hand, and Grundoon shook it with enough exuberance to match the warrior’s mood.
Grundoon laughed and said “You may begin moving your people here whenever you like, Targul. I will also allow you to arm yourselves to defend this town as it is being rebuilt. But mark my words, Targul. I will not suffer any foolishness. If you or your people revert to your old ways of doing things, I will crush you. The Empress has extended her hospitality, and welcomes you to her family, but we are a nation of laws.”
The orcs nodded their heads solemnly, and Grundoon took a breath before continuing. “We are on our way now to hunt down those that have violated our laws. They refuse to accept our rule over this land and must be dealt with. Whether it is one man or ten thousand, Slothjemia will round them up and bring them to heel. Human, dwarf, orc, or elf, it doesn’t matter. If you stand against us, you will die.”
Zerxen, the oldest of the orcs, spoke up, his voice showing no hint of fear. “We understand, my lord. We have seen firsthand your strength. We have felt your wrath, seen you kill our leaders, and respect your authority. We would not have journeyed here with you now, if we were reluctant to do as you command.”
Reskinn seemed uneasy and put his hand on the old orc’s shoulder. Zerxen brushed it off, and his voice got stronger. “Your generosity is well established, my lord. You need not remind us of your hospitality or your protection. But we were happy on our mountain. Life was difficult, and we did just fine. You demanded we submit, and we did. You will either trust us or not, but that is your burden. Orcs are not well known for their honesty or their integrity, we all know this. But we have given you our word. We will not seek out trouble, and we will adapt as far as we are able to life under these curious and bewildering conditions. At our pace, my lord. We are being asked to make many more concessions than you realize. We will do our part to keep this covenant. But you don’t push us. We can only go so fast, and so far. You must let us find our way forward.”
Grundoon was truly taken off guard, and while his first instinct was anger, he knew that as he listened to the old man talk, that this savage was correct. Grundoon could not assume that these orcs would, or even could, acclimate to life in a civilized setting in a seamless and fluid fashion. It might take a while, perhaps even a generation. He took a deep breath and waited for a few moments to let his own unease subside before he spoke.
When he did, his voice was calm and even. “Understood, Zerxen. I perhaps did not fully appreciate the predicament that you and your families find themselves in. I will see to it that your town, your homes, and your endeavors are not weighed in ignorance of these facts.”
The old orc smiled, and in the custom of one orc submitting to the authority of another, he bowed to Grundoon, and stepped back a pace. Targul cleared his throat and said quietly “We are very grateful for what Slothjemia has done for us already. We will build our homes here and find our place in this culture.”
Grundoon smirked. “I can recommend a couple of fine carpenters out of Brakoff. We’ll arrange for some sort of payment in advance of any military service your people choose to do. If, of course, you choose that route.”
Werdel laughed. “The opinion of most of our people is to do just that already!” the others laughed as well. There was a ripple of discontent that could be felt, however. Even the children could sense it. Jandle was the most attuned to the unhappiness that had slipped in to the party, but he didn’t feel any reason to suspect the Governor-General was in danger. Hilde wasn’t so sure and had made up her mind to keep a close eye on the four former barbarians in their midst.
Grundoon finally broke up the talking amongst everyone when he announced it was time to go. “We have an engagement to the north. I don’t want to be late. Everyone into the sleighs, and let’s get to the main event.”
The party did exactly that, and although not all of them knew what the Governor-General was talking about, they didn’t want to keep Grundoon waiting. Once they got underway, Grundoon looked over at Targul. “There is going to be a battle. I don’t know how big, or how long. But there will be carnage.”
Targul looked at him in surprise. “What do you want us to do? We have no weapons, and no armor.”
Grundoon smiled, and said “Don’t get in the way, and don’t get killed.”
Targul grunted and smiled too. He began to think that this might be a chance to redeem himself with the Governor-General. He watched the scenery as the sleighs made their way northwest on the road towards Dreicounty. From what he understood in the directions Grundoon was giving to Hilde, the driver of the sleigh, there was a smaller road just around the peaks of this tiny bundle of mountains that went northward through the countryside. Cloe and Porger checked their weapons and kept their eyes open around them. Once they were off of the main road, they felt certain that they were in enemy territory.
The road they were looking for was marked, but what really gave it away were the four soldiers from the Judicial Corp that were camped out there. It looked as though there might have been a building of some sort at this intersection, but it had been mostly destroyed decades ago. There was an oak tree growing in the middle of what used to be the main room of the structure, and the soldiers had rigged up a heavy canvas tent around the trunk. The corporal in charge recognized the Governor-General and held up his hand to indicate that they should stop.
The corporal saluted Grundoon, and said “Evening, my lord. Colonel von Gheistler has instructed me to let you know where they are if you come by this route. It is another four hours up this road.” The corporal pointed up the slushy trail. “You can’t miss them. They have set up camp on the outskirts of an estate that has a fortified structure of some sort. We were sent here to let you know about this and were ordered to go with you the rest of the way.”
Grundoon nodded approvingly. “Very good, corporal. Mount up, and lead on. We’ll stretch a bit while you strike camp.” The Governor-General got out of his sleigh, and the rest of the party followed suit. Grundoon gazed up the road and tried to imagine what might be ahead. The alpine mountain range was close by, the natural border with the Coreland and Dreicounty. So close to home, thought Grundoon, and yet this felt so far away. Combat didn’t seem like something one engaged in at home, only in foreign places. He had felt this way at Garvin’s Gap. And now a new fight was just up another road.