The morning went by quickly, and the communication crystal finally alerted Jandle, thanks to the 2nd Army garrison in Brakoff, that the dwarven caravan had left the city and was on its way to Castle Linkristle. He awoke his master, and Grundoon laid there on his cot, blinking in the sunshine that was streaming into the little tower room.
He asked his squire, “How long until they get here, do you guess?”
Jandle replied, “I would think six hours, sir. They don’t seem to move very fast.”
Grundoon yawned. “Ok, let me sleep another four hours. Prepare my best uniform. And make sure the documents are all in order.” With that, the old orc rolled over on his side, away from the window, and with a loud snort allowed himself to return to slumber.
Jandle did as he had asked, and when the time came to finally awaken, Grundoon was able to get dressed quickly, grab the leather document case, and head for the main keep. He wasn’t entirely awake, but he laid out the papers on a long, beautifully craved oaken table in the grand receiving hall of the keep. It took up almost the entire table, and he used dome-shaped, polished silver paperweights to hold everything in place. This would be what the dwarves saw before they headed in to their feast. While he finished up laying out all of the paperwork for this transaction, Lendler Giftmördun came out of the dining hall, standing near to the Governor-General without speaking.
Grundoon looked up at him and made eye contact over the frames of his glasses. The documents were written in both Slothjemian and Romillian, and the glasses allowed him to read the Romillian portion as if it was his native tongue. “Can I help you, Lendler?” he asked, a bit perturbed that the pale, deathly looking man was so close to him and so unexpectedly.
“I wanted to know if I could get you anything to eat, my lord. It will be some time before dinner is served.” Lendler’s voice was so calm, almost monotone. But it didn’t have a calming effect on Grundoon.
The orc stood up straight and looked at Giftmördun. Grundoon opened his mouth to speak, then changed his mind about his reply. He smiled, and said “No, thank you. I brought food.”
The pale human bowed, and then turned and went back to the dining hall, closing the doors behind him.
Grundoon shook his head and chuckled as he returned to his work. He had spent weeks coming up with this settlement, and Trangdor had helped him with the translations. Trangdor would be travelling with the Velferin family as they made the trip from Brakoff to the castle, and Grundoon was glad to have the noble scribe on hand to help answer any questions that the dwarves might have. Going over the papers now, Grundoon was pleased that everything had been covered so thoroughly. He couldn’t see anything that the dwarves might object to.
Jandle had made a pot of stew and brought the Governor-General a large mug of it. Content that everything looked well here, Grundoon took his soup outside and drank it in the cool early afternoon. The sun was high in the sky, but large puffy clouds kept the rays at bay and made the castle courtyard seem very inviting. Roses that had been growing for decades along the inside base of the walls were beginning to show signs of budding. The fullness of spring would be here before long, and Grundoon was that much closer to completing his assigned job here. He thought about his own manor house in Vorkelvale. If he missed that estate this much, how much more would the Velferins be missing this amazing palace?
He had just finished drinking his stew when the dwarven caravan was spotted coming up the mountain road. Malek, the younger of the two huntsmen, spotted them and opened the gate. He then retreated to his designated position to await instructions. Giftmördun calmly walked into the courtyard and stood behind Grundoon and Jandle. The old orc looked at his squire, wordlessly asking if he was ready, and the kobold nodded with a smile. They looked at the pale human behind them, and he just nodded his head. The three of them stood there in the courtyard, waiting for the dwarves.
The first of the thirteen coaches came into the courtyard, leading a long line of painfully impressive carriages. Grundoon pointed in an arc around him, and the coaches dutifully made a large semi-circle along the outside of the courtyard. Their doors were opened by servants brought along for this trip, and as the hired guards got off of their horses, the occupants of the carriages began to step down to the finely cobbled ground. Grundoon forced a smile and held his arms out in greeting. He and Jandle were unarmed, to give a more welcoming air, to assuage any doubts that the dwarven family might have.
Trangdor was the first to direct attention to the orcish baron and strode up to him with his arms similarly outstretched. They clasped hands together, and Trangdor whispered to Grundoon, “They are a humorless bunch, even for dwarves. Petty, greedy, and in every way soundly fitting every negative stereotype of our people.”
Grundoon chuckled. “Extend to them our warmest welcome and bid them a gracious return to their home.”
The dwarf turned, motioning with his hands for the forty-three dwarves to gather. He spoke to them in Romillian, but they didn’t say much in response. One of the dwarves, who seemed to be middle-aged by the standards of his long-lived people, stepped forward to be properly introduced. Trangdor turned to Grundoon, and declared that this was Prince Alchoner Velferin, the primary heir to the title and estates of the late archduke.
Grundoon knew from his own research that this fellow was prince over nothing; his holdings were handed over to Slothjemia after the war. All he had was a title, and a modest apartment in the Romillian capital. The orc bowed low, however, and offered the dwarf his hand to shake. The dwarf paused, but awkwardly offered his own hand the way one might pass along a dead fish. “You make this occasion even easier for me, oh Prince.” Said Grundoon. Jandle stifled a snicker.
Trangdor translated, and Prince Alchoner smiled weakly. Trangdor then introduced the other dwarves to Grundoon, who made every outward appearance of learning their names and memorizing their titles. Truthfully, he heard nothing. His thoughts were on other matters, and he couldn’t have cared less about these names and niceties if he had to. After they were all introduced, dwarves of all ages from children to the elderly, Grundoon asked them to step into the keep. Their servants could carry in the baggage, but the guests would probably like to see the settlement without another wasted moment.
He was right. No sooner had Trangdor finished the translation than the dwarves began to all but stampede to the keep seeing what they were going to get. Taking the lead, Grundoon took them to the grand receiving hall where the papers were all carefully laid out for them to study. The dwarves loudly and brashly clamored for the best views, grabbing at papers and demanding everything be read aloud to their satisfaction. Grundoon could feel a headache coming on as he stepped aside. Pecking orders existed within the Velferin family, the clear heirs verses the older members of the family who would have been heirs if these damned kids had never been born. They were, all in all, a miserable lot of people. What they lacked in love and compassion they more than made up for in avarice and cruelty.
It took a lot longer than it should have for the dwarves to debate the settlement. Their servants were guided to where the guest rooms were by Giftmördun’s maids and footmen. The hired guards were just milling about in the hall, wondering why they had been brought here when the only potential enemy was an aged orc and a kobold, and neither of them were armed. The more seasoned mercenaries seemed to be looking for a trap, but there wasn’t any sign of it. Just bickering dwarves and an old orc with a headache.
The most commonly translated phrase for Trangdor to repeat was “This is the settlement being offered to your family. How you divide it up is entirely up to you.” Over the next two hours he said this at least three dozen times. Slothjemia was prepared to offer a considerable monetary sum as payment for the estates that had been surrendered by the Romillians, an unnecessary gesture by any measure except the Velferin family, who felt as though they were robbed. Grundoon never voiced his own beliefs, that the Velferin family had single-handedly started a war and lost, therefore they forfeited their lands with no recompense. He kept that to himself. Instead he stood by and watched them argue.
Prince Alchoner was not the strongest voice in the hall, nor was he the most obstinate Velferin. He was the rightful heir only because his older brother had died in the war, and this was a fact being used against him at every turn. Others in the group had claims to make, and they seemed determined to make those claims here and now. But at last it boiled down to them accepting the offer made by the Slothjemians, and when they got home to Romillia they could open old wounds and argue about who got precisely what. It was this process that interested Grundoon. He had Trangdor make inquiries during the bickering to see who else might stand to inherit but wasn’t present for this evening’s feast. He ended up with a list of six people. They couldn’t be here today, but they were to be included in the final settling of the archduke’s estate. Grundoon tucked the list into the inner pocket of his tunic, and when the clamoring died down, he asked the dwarves to sign the documents. Quills were brought by the butlers and placed all around the bottom edge of the table. One by one each dwarf initialed the individual pages, and then signed the last page. Forty-three names, and all but six of the family responsible for the war. Grundoon was very pleased.
After the last one had signed, Giftmördun opened the huge doors to the dining hall, and loudly proclaimed that dinner was ready. Grundoon allowed the guests to swing from their bickering over money to fighting over who got to sit where. The table was filled with every describable food from this region. Freshly slain, roasted boar, steaks from the native cattle herds, leg of lamb, cheeses, breads, fish from the local rivers, venison from the forests nearby, wine from the vineyards in the foothills of the alps, and beer from breweries all across the region. This was handily the most food Grundoon had ever seen in one place here in Romilmark, and he had been here quite a while.
The dwarves found seats, but there was some violence in doing so. After elbowing for the best spots, they finally sat down, and Grundoon stood by the open doors. He had Trangdor translate for him and said “I will go take care of our agreement while you good people eat. Relax, enjoy the fare, and when you are ready for musical entertainment, we have a surprise for you.”
Trangdor finished his translation, and most of the dwarves raised their glasses to toast Grundoon. He bowed deeply again, and left the dining hall, motioning for Trangdor to follow him. He closed the door and looked at the guards milling about. Motioning down the hallway, he said “The kitchen is down there. The staff have food for you and the servants as well.”
The guards nodded and smiled as they headed down to fetch themselves some food. Some stayed here in the hall and watched as Grundoon went about collecting the papers that had been left strewn about. He put the papers in the document satchel, along with the silver paperweights. He hummed a tune while he worked, and Jandle left the hall to return to their quarters. Smiling at the guards, Grundoon turned and left the hall as well, handing the leather bag full of papers to Trangdor. The dwarf followed him from the keep and into the courtyard.
Grundoon led the dwarf to the center of the courtyard, then stopped and faced him. “I want you to take those papers to my home in Brakoff. Jandle is getting his pony ready, you can ride it down to the city.”
Trangdor was confused and made no attempt to disguise his shock at being asked to do this. “Right now, my lord? But the dinner has just begun, you will need me for any conversations following the meal. I can’t make it to Brakoff and back before they are finished eating.”
Grundoon didn’t smile, but replied, “I won’t need a translator for anything this evening, Trangdor. And yes, I do need you to leave right now.”
Jandle came out of the stable, leading his pony by its reins. He smiled at Trangdor and nodded at his lord.
Trangdor was still confused and clutched the parcel of documents to his chest. He had a strong feeling of foreboding that he found inexplicable. Something wasn’t right, and he didn’t know what it was. Jandle handed him the reins to the pony, and the dwarf climbed clumsily upon the creature. Jandle strapped the leather bag to the back of the saddle and gave the pony a little pat on its head.
“Make good time, brother dwarf.” Said Grundoon. “When you get to my house, remain there. Do not leave for any reason, just stay put.”
Trangdor nudged the pony with his heels, and the little horse walked out through the gate and headed down the mountain trail. The sun was beginning to set, and long shadows were thrown all over the castle. Jandle waved, and Trangdor turned back to watch the road.
Grundoon took a deep breath and said to Jandle in a low, growly voice, “Go tell Kreg to get started. I am going to get ready myself.” With that, the kobold sprinted across the courtyard to deliver his lord’s message, and the old orc headed for his tower quarters. Nobody was around to hear it, but he was humming a lively little tune.