Grundoon was exhausted. The climb up that ladder had taken more out of him than he had wanted to admit. He was glad that he hadn’t been in the thick of the fighting inside the keep, or for that matter anywhere in the castle. These things were better left to the next generation.
There were a number of Judicial Corp soldiers that were heading to strike their camp and collect their horses. Grundoon and Trangdor trudged through the snow to the forest, and the old orc sat heavily in one of his sleighs. Jandle had stayed behind to keep an eye on Porger and Cloe, and Grundoon wasn’t sure where Hilde and Kreg were. There had been some horses, donkeys, and mules inside the fortified mine entrance, and Targul and his companions had taken four mounts as their own. The orcs very happily rode through the snowy open ground to where the sleighs were, talking very excitedly about how strong Slothjemia was. Here they were with shiny new armor, sharpened and cleaned weapons, and now each had found a horse. They had already scored better loot than they ever had as barbaric marauders.
The rest of the party eventually showed up, and Kreg hitched up the horses to the sleighs. Hilde had a bandage around her head, but she had at least found her helmet. Porger had lost a number of his good arrows, but he had grabbed a couple of quivers full that had been in the enemy armory, so he felt as though he had come out ahead. Cloe had gotten herself a grenadier’s helm and was happier than a kitten with a bucket of warm milk. Jandle smiled and jumped into the sleigh next to his lord.
“Everyone is accounted for, sir.” He said cheerily. Grundoon just grunted. He settled back into the seat, and just let himself rest.
As Hilde climbed into the driver’s seat, she turned and asked her father, “Where are we going, papa?”
Grundoon sighed and said wearily, “Castle Linkristle. We need to be there to greet the prisoners. Wake me when we arrive.”
Jandle unfastened his lord’s armor enough to allow him to sleep more comfortably, and within minutes, Grundoon was fast asleep.
Targul and his group tied their horses to the back of their sleigh, and rode in comfort with Trangdor, who asked all about the assault. They cheerfully filled him in on every last detail, with Reskinn taking the most satisfaction in telling about his contribution to the attack. Everyone agreed that he had played a most spectacular role, and for the first time in a long while the aspiring witchdoctor felt as though he was on track with his life. Nobody even asked to play cards, they were so excited to talk about the battle and discuss their newfound loot.
The sleighs made great time and reached their destination just before sunset. Jandle was surprised that his lord slept the entire distance; he didn’t sleep that hard after the battle at Garvin’s Gap. The squire carefully woke his master as the sleighs got within sight of the great Castle Linkristle. Grundoon was slow to fully awaken, and spent some time looking at Porger and Cloe sitting across from and facing him. He finally cleared his throat, sat upright, and motioned for Jandle to fasten his armor back in place.
He smiled as his children. “I want you to know how awfully proud I am of you today.” He said, his voice a sort of upbeat growl. “You did a good job, killed your share of enemies, and got out alive. No orc could ask for more from their offspring.”
They grinned at their father, and then at each other. Cloe looked at her father again, and asked, “When can we join the army, papa?”
He laughed. “Another three years at least. You still have childhood to enjoy. I’ll gladly take you along on any quest I have, but my adventures are nearing a close. I’m old, you know. I may not think I am old, but I am.”
Hilde glanced at him over her shoulder but said nothing.
After the sleighs pulled into the courtyard, the Governor-General climbed out and looked about for Captain Daorbel, who was coming to greet them from the main keep. The captain saluted smartly, and Grundoon returned it. He didn’t engage in pleasantries but leapt right to what was foremost in his mind. “Captain, has everything been arranged for our guests? They will be here late tonight or sometime tomorrow.” Grundoon studied the human’s face carefully as he awaited an answer.
The captain grinned, and said cheerfully “Yes, your majesty. Your dwarven friend finished just this afternoon, the bars are in place, and we have plenty of shackles to keep the prisoners from posing any problems.”
Grundoon smiled. “Fantastic work, captain. The Judicial Corp will assume all duties guarding the prisoners. You will continue to ensure the security of this property from any outside threats.”
The captain continued smiling. “I understand, sir. We’ll keep the place safe, no doubt about that.” He saluted the Governor-General again and went to make sure his soldiers knew what was going on and to expect visitors in the next few hours.
Grundoon and his party packed what belongings they had into the tower they had stayed in before and began to settle in for dinner. Dornald had cooked a stew and brought them a small beer keg as well. He was delighted to see Trangdor again, and the two dwarves chatted very animatedly while the food was being dished out. Afterwards, Trangdor whispered to Grundoon, “Are we telling him about the prisoners?”
Grundoon whispered back; “Why are you whispering? He can’t understand us anyway.”
Trangdor flushed, and Grundoon laughed. Then he said, in a normal tone of voice, “Yes. Might as well. Explain that these are renegades, the brigands that robbed this place. They are being held here for trial.”
Trangdor looked at Grundoon with a raised eyebrow.
Grundoon said calmly, “Just tell him that.”
After some more discussion, Trangdor indicated that this was just fine with Dornald. The old caretaker didn’t much care what happened to the miscreants that had blinded one of his eyes. He seemed to think it was quite delightful that any of them had been caught at all.
During the meal the party concentrated on eating. But afterwards, talk turned to the aftermath of the Battle for the Peklender Mine. Targul and his friends wanted to know how Grundoon knew where and how to strike, and his answers always boiled down to “I am a general, that is what I am paid to do.” Truthfully, Grundoon was not altogether pleased with how the battle had gone. It was a quick fight, and that was always a beneficial thing, but the Red Guard had lost too many soldiers for Grundoon’s taste. Hilde could detect her father’s displeasure with how the assault had gone, and so could Jandle, but everyone else was so caught up in the fact that the Slothjemians had won, they didn’t much care about anything else.
While the others played over the day’s events with vivid, lively discussion, Baron von Vorkel retreated to an upstairs room in the tower to work on his report for the Empress and the Herzgraf. Jandle brought him paper, and dutifully kept the inkwell filled from a small bottle he kept with his lord’s executive supplies. The kobold also set up a lantern and turned the wick high enough to allow his master to read with as much ease as possible. There was a lot to put down, and Grundoon spent several hours writing and pondering carefully his choice of words. His calligraphy was exquisite, but the report still seemed to him to be an admission of near failure. He had ended what could have become a serious problem in Romilmark, but the cost had been rather high, especially considering the losses among the Herzgraf’s favorite military organization, the Red Guard. He did his best to put a happy face on the events of the day, but he would have to take a chance on how the report would be received.
After he finished his paperwork, Grundoon climbed the stairs to the top of the tower. It offered little in the way of a view, for what he really wanted was to watch for the prisoners arriving. This tower was on the wrong side of the castle, though. What he could mainly see was the courtyard, and the mountains in this tight little group of peaks smack in the center of Romilmark. There were several lower summits around the mountaintop upon which this palace sat, ranging from ten to twenty miles away. It was an exquisite site for a lord to live and manage these lands.
Grundoon spent another hour or so watching the stillness of the night, the stars and the moon, and the occasional sentry on duty along the walls or in the central courtyard. It didn’t feel cold to the old orc. If he hadn’t just slogged his way through a snow-covered meadow, he might be fooled into thinking spring was right around the corner. He thought about his old post in Vorkelburg. When winter settled in, the garrison simply stopped most activities, and weathered it out. He had been out in the snow and rain more this winter than he had in the last four winters combined. This wasn’t the clerical job he had been threatened with as a punishment. This was ridiculous. He absentmindedly played with the ring on his left pinky finger, the ring Jandle had removed from the dwarven prince’s dead hand after the Battle of Garvin’s Gap. Grundoon missed his wife, and cursed under his breath, before heading down inside the tower to prepare for bed.
Jandle had fallen asleep but awoke when his master entered their shared room. He helped his lord get out of his armor, and after the old orc had pulled a blanket over himself and fallen asleep, the kobold curled back up under his furry hide wrap and drifted away again into slumber.