It was midafternoon when the storm began, and the snow fell almost nonstop for nearly a week. Soldiers assisted the civilian authorities in keeping the main streets and roads as clear as they could, but the winter was going to have its way regardless. Urds were put to work flying messages to and from the various locations in Romilmark, because very little ground traffic was taking place. Food was being shipped in via the spelljammer fleet from elsewhere in the realm, a necessity because Romilmark had been left without normal supplies due to the brief but destructive war with Slothjemia. Crops had not been planted, and those that had, were not tended to sufficiently because so many field hands had been conscripted to fight and the nobles that were the landlords had seen their own ranks drastically diminished in combat. Once a week for the next two months, great vessels with their cargo holds stuffed full of victuals, landed in the central squares of the three cities in Romilmark to sell their wares at discounted prices. The Empress didn’t want her new vassals to starve, and her generosity was heralded by everyone in the region.
There was a lot going on during the long, deepening winter in Romilmark. General von Unster-Kol had secured enough weapons and armor from the Peklender mine to equip close to eleven thousand troops. Not all of it was mundane armaments, either. A goodly portion were exquisite examples of dwarven smith craft, and while the best was sized for dwarven dimensions, these could be modified to fit other races. The Red Guard used the dragonriders to fly the seized equipment to its headquarters in Kederlenn. From there the weapons and armor were divided up and sent to be stored in the other cities as well, for use by reserve military units, and to fully equip the brand new 10th Army. Hilde, in her role as Sergeant-Major, gave the Red Guard a detailed list of what she needed for her recruits, and well over ninety percent of what she wanted was in that massive cache of captured goods.
Hilde had been very busy during the winter following the Battle of the Peklender Mine. One of the officers that had followed her lead as she assaulted the keep in that ill-fated castle was a baron, and as a Slothjemian noble he exercised his ability to petition the court of the Empress to have Hilde knighted into the Order of the County Brotherhood. This was along with General von Unster-Kol’s recommendation that she be given an award for valor. The Sergeant-Major may have gotten her job through nepotism, but there was no doubt in the minds of anyone in Romilmark that she was the best person for the job. She had collected enough recruits, on paper at least, to fill the 10th Army with a couple hundred to spare, should anyone not make it through the training. The actual training would begin in the spring; and in the meantime, she spent her time making arrangements for where her soldiers would bivouac until they took over the quarters currently held by the 2nd Army. Grundoon didn’t interfere at all and watched from a discrete distance with immense pride as his daughter made her own way in Brakoff.
One person that was unaffected by the cold and snowy conditions was Colonel von Gheistler. He hiked everywhere through the most miserable of conditions, his status of undead allowing him to endure whatever nature had to throw in his way. Horses shied away from him instinctively, and even hitched to a carriage or sleigh, the horses would panic if he was a passenger, so walking everywhere was his best option. He reported early on that the Judicial Corp had gotten all of the information they could from the prisoners and brought Grundoon a thorough report detailing everything they had gleaned. The Governor-General sent that report along to the Empress with his own report of the assault on the fortified mine entrance. The soldiers under the command of von Gheistler took advantage of breaks in the weather to round up anyone that the prisoners had implicated as being disloyal to the realm. There were not many of these people to investigate, most of the aspiring rebels had been slaughtered in battle or in the dungeons of Castle Linkristle. The death knight had kept the crippled Count of Pek-Shtandern alive, with about two dozen other notable men as Grundoon had commanded. In the two months of winter, these unfortunate men were provided with ridiculously secure prison cells; custom built and closely guarded.
The people named as potential conspirators against Slothjemia were hauled before Grundoon for judgement. The Governor-General held court in the Brakoff city hall for these occasions, and the public was invited to watch the proceedings. Aware of the potential for these proceedings to be used for positive propaganda, the old orc made sure that the accused were given as fair a trial as was possible under Slothjemian law. Seventy-nine people were brought to court in those two months, and Grundoon ruled that twenty-seven of them were innocent. Those that were found guilty were taken to the central square in front of the city hall and beheaded. The executioner was Kreg, and while the black hood he wore covered the upper portion of his face, there was no mistaking his horribly disturbing grin. Law and order had been restored in Romilmark, and there was a sense of security that settled in over the land that only a strong leader can bestow.
When he wasn’t holding court, Grundoon spent hours going over papers and making plans with one or another of the two jorish huntsmen that came to his home, held quiet counsel, and then left like shadows in the night. Aggrylia never asked about what her husband was up to, and Jandle simply carried out the orders that his master gave him. Hilde was too busy with her own job to know what her father was doing, and while Porger and Cloe were curious about the huntsmen, they dared not speak of them. They were as afraid of them as they were of the undead colonel, perhaps more so. The only other person that spoke to Grundoon about his unspoken plans was the ambassador, Count Jerdoch Krownheim, a dwarf whose countenance became ever dourer with each passing week. He would visit at the end of every week, bringing the Governor-General a packet of letters each time. Grundoon greeted these packages with great joy, and while he spoke of them to no one else, the dwarven diplomat seemed to be unhappy with their arrival. The source of the dwarf’s dissatisfaction was unknown, for he was a consummate professional, and would never speak out of turn in his official capacity. He never spent much time at the home of the Governor-General and would return as quickly as he could to his own modest house in Brakoff or go to Romillia to conduct his work as a mediator between the two nations.
Work had progressed with training the rural and urban constabulary in Romilmark, and Grundoon was pleased to release Colonel Ulthar von Gheistler and his Judicial Corp from their policing duties as the snow began to melt in the region, and the first signs of spring began to show. The undead officer was honor bound to obey these orders, and so he turned over the remaining prisoners deep below Castle Linkristle to the care of wardens appointed by Grundoon for this very job. The head of the wardens was Kreg and assisting him were the two huntsmen that were probably never seen entering or leaving the von Vorkel home in Brakoff; Moak and his younger cousin, Malek. Once the roads were clear enough to allow free travel, von Gheistler and his troops left Romilmark to resume their duties elsewhere in the empire. Once they had crossed the border, Grundoon began to breathe more easily; Hossler’s death was still very much in the back of his mind, and he was contemplating an even more audacious act. Grundoon didn’t need any further complications.
The Governor-General was even more delighted to order the Red Guard to move out of Castle Linkristle. It was no longer necessary for them to guard the estate now that the brigands had been killed in battle, executed by the Judicial Corp, or imprisoned in the dungeons below the palace. Dornald was excused from his duties as caretaker, and happily took a job in the same capacity with the dwarven knight, Shr Gelbrand. Servants were hired to put the finishing touches on the nearly abandoned palace and make it ready for visitors. Not just any visitors, but the same family that had once called this their ancestral home. Grundoon didn’t want any obvious signs of Slothjemian domination over this castle when the guests arrived. And judging from the letters brought to him by the ambassador, very nearly all of the family would be here in the next few weeks to settle affairs and finalize the transfer of their lands to the Slothjemians.
The small army of household workers that was brought in to complete preparations was led by a tall, gaunt human named Lendler Giftmördun, his sunken ashen grey features and white pony-tailed hair giving him an air of noble service. He had been recommended by Moak as a man that could do what he was told, and keep his mouth shut. Grundoon had taken the recommendation, and now Giftmördun had set to work with his maids, butlers, cooks, and footmen to recreate Castle Linkristle as an opulent, aristocratic domain. Grundoon met with them before they moved into the castle, as they had all dropped by his home on their way to their assignment. They all looked to be human, unnaturally pale, and eerily quiet unless spoken to. Hopefully the dwarves found them acceptable, but Grundoon was himself a little creeped out by them being in his home.
Everything was going the way Grundoon wanted it too, though. He received a messenger from Giftmördun that the palace was ready for guests, and the next day Count Krownheim arrived at Grundoon’s home to tell him that the first group of the Velferin family would be arriving in Brakoff at the beginning of the next week. Spring had begun to warm the alpine region, the roads were clear, and everything was on track. Grundoon had taken an oath and was ready to finally carry it out.