The sun crept up with smooth sneakiness and was in the sky a full hour before Grundoon awakened. The Judicial Corp had marched their prisoners into Linkristle Castle sometime during the night, and the courtyard was filled with Red Guards milling about. The Governor-General put on his uniform and headed down to find out what was going on, with Jandle close on his heels.
It took quite a bit of questioning for Grundoon to figure out what all was happening. Colonel von Gheistler had made sure the prisoners were securely locked up in the designated dungeons and was busily interrogating them one by one. The death knight didn’t require sleep, and his fear-inducing aura was instrumental in coaxing answers out of his captives. Several of his staff understood the Romillian language, so they took turns interpreting the dread officer’s questions, and the replies he was given from the terrified, exhausted men that found themselves at the mercy of the Slothjemians.
Much to his delight, the colonel had discovered that among his detainees was the dwarven Count of Pek-Shtandern, an old man who had been grievously wounded in the battle. He had insisted on being called by his title, but the colonel ignored these requests, and simply called him Rudolf. As annoyed as the master of the Halindeen family was, this was as good as it was going to get. Ulthar was not above resorting to torture to get the information he wanted, but for now he relied on his sinister, skeletal visage, and his unblinking pinpoints of purple light, to unnerve the fallen dwarven lord. If it took days to do, he would learn everything the old noble had ever known.
Grundoon was the only person in Romilmark that had the authority to interrupt this in-depth investigation, and even he was not keen to cross the death knight. He stood in the corner of the room and watched for a long while, listening to the questions the colonel asked. The inquiries covered a gamut of topics, seemingly at random, but in such a way that Grundoon could detect common threads tying it all together. Von Gheistler was looking for weapon caches, other groups of rebellious brigands and where they might be found, and any information about what the count and his followers had wanted to accomplish. Exactly the sort of things Grundoon wanted to know, too. He caught von Gheistler’s attention long enough to give him a knowing nod, and then went back up the maze of staircases to the courtyard. The death knight had his job well in hand, there was nothing for Grundoon to do in the dungeons.
Once back in the sunlight, the Governor-General began to seek out the ranking officer among the Red Guards. It turned out to be the brigadier general that commanded the dragonriders, a bugbear with a flowing mane of black hair. He introduced himself as Shr Fermann Dwanzler, and while his life consisted of flying high in the sky on the empire’s most terrible weaponized mounts, he was also a huge fan of Baron von Vorkel, the hero of Garvin’s Gap. He told Grundoon that his commander, General von Unster-Kol, had remained with the bulk of his army at what was becoming known as the “Bloody Adit.” The leader of the Red Guard had wanted to secure the massive stash of arms and armor at the site and explore as far as possible the mine itself to make sure nobody had escaped the assault. Dwanzler reassured the Governor-General that the report from von Unster-Kol would be delivered to him as soon as it was available.
Thanking the senior-most dragon rider for the information, and for leading his brigade so flawlessly in the previous day’s battle, Grundoon then wandered off to find his own Sergeant-Major and think about his next move. It seemed to him that his work here was all but complete. He paused in the middle of the large central area and looked around at the soldiers going about their duties. The old orc wanted to just go home. He smiled. Good thing he was the supreme authority here.
It took quite a while to find Hilde, but when he did he made sure she understood that he wanted to leave for Brakoff, and the sooner the better. She saluted sharply and set about making sure everyone in the party knew it was time to head out. Grundoon took a deep breath, tightened his grip on his axe, and set off to give von Gheistler his final instructions before leaving this castle.
When he entered the interrogation room, he found the death knight standing behind the seated dwarven count, the pitiful, broken man sobbing quietly. He had lost both of his hands in the acid attacks of the black dragons, and his clothing was caked with dried blood. Grundoon drank the scene in, savoring the defeat of an enemy. He motioned for the undead colonel to step aside and speak privately with him, and the ghastly officer agreed silently. He moved out of earshot of the prisoner and stared intently at Grundoon.
Grundoon growled his words quietly so that Ulthar had a proper sense that this was a confidential discussion. “These prisoners are guilty of treason against her Imperial Majesty, Reichsha, Countess of the Midnight Skull. Glean what useful information you can from them. Spare none of them your inquisition. Execute all of them, except for the twenty you deem as being the most seriously injured. I need twenty of them alive, Ulthar. The rest are to be finished off once they have provided you with everything the realm needs to know of them.” He returned the gaze of the undead man’s piercing pinpoints of light. “Do you understand your orders?”
With a baleful whisper, akin to a distant banshee wail, the colonel replied, “I do, my liege. It shall be done as you have willed it to be.” Without a further word, the death knight turned back to his prisoner, and in total silence stepped back to within inches of the disfigured dwarf.
“Now, where did we leave off?” he asked the mangled man, who cringed in fear of this relentless persecution.
Grundoon backed out of the room, nearly overcome with the horror emanating from the Judicial Corp colonel. The Governor-General was delighted to be going home. He wasn’t sure, however, that he would be able to sleep when he got there.
Hilde and Kreg had the sleighs ready to go when Grundoon made it back to the tower they had been staying in. They grabbed some food from the mess hall that had been set up temporarily in the main hall of the castle, and then piled in and headed down the mountains towards Brakoff. The three orcs and Trangdor played cards in the second sleigh, while in the lead vehicle Targul found himself engaged in conversation with Porger and Cloe. Grundoon enjoyed their banter, quietly smiling and occasionally watching the scenery. Porger tended to ask a lot of questions about what life is like for an orc living what he termed a “barbarian lifestyle.” Targul wasn’t sure he liked the designation, but over the course of their discussion, he realized it wasn’t an insult. Cloe, however, wasn’t interested in finding out anything about life as a barbarian. Her entire contribution to the ride was to interject biting sarcasm and a razor-sharp criticism of both her brother, and the huge warrior orc. Targul was completely taken off guard by her demeanor and remained so for the duration of the trip. He was unaccustomed to little girls speaking their minds freely; ridiculing their elders, especially their male elders, and refusing to be quiet, subservient creatures. He rather enjoyed when her target was her own brother, but when Targul fell into her crosshairs, that was another matter entirely. He did his best to laugh it off, because he knew that this was life as a Slothjemian. He could not just silence somebody else’s child, especially when their father was the most powerful man in the region. Targul was beginning to learn politics, and a preteen orcish girl was his teacher.
It was a quick trip to Brakoff, and it was none too soon. Storm clouds had begun to gather, bunched up against the peaks surrounding Romilmark. With nowhere to go, the building winter tempest looked to become more severe than the previous storms this year. Grundoon was looking forward to the weather putting the brakes on the duties he was expected to perform. He wasn’t going to mind being snowbound at home one bit.
The sleighs stopped in front of the house that Targul and his friends were calling home for the time being, and the four orcs said their goodbyes. They had started out this trip in an atmosphere of uncertainty, perhaps even apprehension, and had ended it with having found a place their families could call home, and a new appreciation for what it was to be Slothjemian. There was a lot to tell their kin, about their experiences and their insights.
Grundoon and his party piled into one sled for the journey through the city to the von Vorkel home, and Kreg took the second sleigh over to the 2nd Army Headquarters, to return it to their service. Grundoon was happier than he had been in a while to finally be back in Brakoff, and he realized that he had developed a fondness for the city that extended beyond it being the place his wife and their toddler children were. He liked how the city sprawled, a bit chaotic, but hemmed in for the most part by walls and run throughout by wide, clean streets. He enjoyed the place as it continued to change; ever so slightly, but inevitably, from a Romillian to a Slothjemian municipality. As the storm approached, people here still engaged in their work, for it was an industrious place once more, now that security and certainty had settled in under the rule of the Clan of the Midnight Skull.
Aggrylia was the first out the door to greet her husband as the sleigh pulled up in front of the big house. A new fence had been built, a plain picket fence to keep the toddlers from crawling out of the snowy yard and into the roadway. Grundoon burst through the gate with a roar and hugged his beloved wife with all of his strength. The nanny came out next, holding Viktor and Leala’s hands as they walked haphazardly, as they were barely more than six months old, in their warm winter garb, squealing with glee that their father was back. Porger and Cloe grabbed what they could of the luggage and hauled it into the house. Hilde unhitched the horses and led them to the stable. Grundoon just stood there in the front yard holding his wife. Jandle made his way past them, dragging the last of the gear. Only the squawking, gibbering toddlers pulling on their parent’s clothing broke up Aggrylia and Grundoon’s reunion. Laughing, the parents bent down, scooped up their children, and headed into their home.