The snow had melted throughout Romilmark, except for the peaks surrounding what would become Slothjemia’s newest Grafdom. There was plenty of water in the creeks and rivers, and the startling green of the grass, new leaves on the trees, and budding wildflowers. There were occasional rain showers, but the icy winds had ceased for the time being. The buildings that had been empty in the cities were being filled with new settlers from elsewhere in the country, and they were reestablishing the estates in the rural areas, too. There was a different dynamic in the region now, and the native-born people had adapted relatively quickly to having nonhumans as their neighbors. It wasn’t harmony, precisely, but there weren’t any open hostilities, either.
There wasn’t a lot of traffic between Romilmark and Romillia, and the guards monitoring the Brakoff Pass had been alerted by the Governor-General himself to keep an eye out for specific guests. Right on schedule, they began to arrive, rolling up the mountain road in a caravan of expensive, beautifully decorated carriages. They had permission from Baron von Vorkel to bring their own security forces if they so desired, and there were some mercenaries and other hirelings that accompanied the carriages. After a bit of examination of coaches, cargo, weapons, and verifying of the paperwork, the caravan proceeded west down the road to Brakoff. There were thirteen carriages in all, carrying forty-three members of the Velferin family, the bulk of what had been a very influential dwarven family. When this region had been part of Romillia, their patriarch had been one of the kingdom’s most powerful princes. Now they lived in virtual exile, the vast bulk of their properties having been handed over to the Slothjemians in exchange for peace.
It was the allure of a final settlement that had lured them back to what was now called Romilmark. Grundoon had promised them that if all claimants, heirs, and potential inheritors returned to Castle Linkristle, and agreed to give consideration to the offer the Governor-General was willing to make, then there was no telling how much the family name could be restored. Greed was a potent motivator.
Grundoon had been counting on that. When the communication crystal crackled to life on his desk at home, and Jandle relayed to him the news from the pass that the Velferin caravan was well on their way to Brakoff. Grundoon clapped his hands with glee and told Jandle to run down and make sure that the rooms were ready at the three finest inns in the city. The last act in this production to be played by Ambassador Krownheim went without a hitch. The proud dwarf met the caravan in the city square and gave them all instructions as to where they would be staying for the night. He would not be joining them on the trip to Castle Linkristle, nor be a part of the settlement discussions. His role was complete, and he was glad for it. There was a deep-seated suspicion that things were not what they seemed to be. He did not entirely trust the Governor-General, and he certainly didn’t trust the Velferins. This was the life of every diplomat, to be thrust in the middle to keep two powers from smashing into each other. It was not a good place to be when one of those powers was Baron Shr Grundoon von Vorkel.
That evening, while the dwarves of the Velferin family were enjoying their dinner and settling in for a good night’s sleep, two figures hurried out of Brakoff. Grundoon on his horse, and close behind him was Jandle on a pony. They sped up the mountain road to the castle and were met by Moak at the front gate. Grundoon quickly told the huntsman that their guests would be here the following day. Moak in turn told Malek, who made sure that Giftmördun and his crew would be ready. They had been planning for months, and now at last everything was coming together.
Grundoon went downstairs to the dungeon to check on Kreg and his prisoners. He found the jailed men secure, and Kreg sharpening his halberd. Clearing his throat, the Governor-General said, “They will be here tomorrow.”
Kreg looked up, wordlessly as usual, and grinned at the old orc.
Grundoon smirked. “You ready?”
Kreg nodded his head slowly.
Grundoon shook his head and went back up to the main keep.
With only the ghostly pale household staff, the two jorish huntsmen, Kreg, Jandle, and himself roaming freely about the palace, Grundoon was very aware how big this place was. He walked throughout the castle, making sure that everything looked to be in order. After giving each room a good looking over, he made sure the doors were securely closed. He carried a lantern with him, humming a happy tune as he meandered through the seemingly endless hallways, staircases, and rooms. The Red Guard had done an amazing job finding everything that Grundoon had put on the decorating list. They had replaced the carpets, tables, chairs, crockery, drapes and all that was needed to make the castle appear to be lived in. There hadn’t been enough time or resources to refit the entire complex, but the main areas of the keep looked as though the Velferin family had never left.
There had been plenty of bedrooms prepared for the visitors, and the maids spent all night ensuring everything was perfect. The kitchen staff spent the time preparing for the magnificent feast to be served when the dwarves arrived. Footmen and butlers made sure the dining hall was in flawless order. Malek and Moak, meanwhile, made certain that their security measures were in place. There were two main entrances to the dining hall, one at the north end of the great oval room, that led to the kitchen and staging areas for the food, and a great double door in the south side of the room, that led to the grand receiving hall of the keep. Along the west side of the oval, a long curving wall was filled with windows and balconies overlooking the sweeping valley on that side of the castle. Eight small balconies were there, along with one larger balcony in the middle, where guests could stand and admire the view. It was a stunning panorama, day or night.
The east side of the dining hall had no doors, and no windows. It was up against the center support beams that held the inner portion of the keep in place. Having only two entries into the dining hall was perfect for insuring the occupants would not be disturbed. Access to the balconies was naturally restricted but could be monitored by the hired guards that the dwarves were bringing with them.
The sun rose to find Grundoon still making his rounds to inspect the castle, but he was well pleased with how everything had been set up. There was still a lot of cooking to be done, but the rest of the staff under Giftmördun’s watchful eyes were able to take a break and get some rest. Malek and Moak both retreated to the small room they had been living in near the top of the keep to get some sleep, and Jandle and Grundoon went to their customary tower quarters to do the same. Tonight was going to be a big night here in Romilmark, an historic occasion, the meeting of the dwarven family that used to rule this region, and the orc that ruled it now. Normally this would have been a great party with dignitaries from all over invited to attend. Other than his squire, Grundoon had nobody from his family here. No other nobles had been requested at this dinner. An outside observer might have thought this unusual.
Perhaps the Governor-General wanted to get the business out of the way before celebrating. That would be a sensible, dwarven thing to do. Maybe there would be a grander affair at a later date to conclude this great moment in relations between Slothjemia and Romillia.
Or maybe the old orc had a different scheme in mind.