It took less than an hour for two dragonriders to show up, but it was another three hours before actual cavalry from the 2nd Army arrived from Brakoff. When the dragons showed up, Grundoon, Jandle, and Kreg were standing under the arch of the gatehouse, the only structure in which they could take any sort of cover. The dragons landed on the debris that used to be the castle, and the riders climbed down on rope ladders. The highest-ranking rider introduced himself as Captain Shr Ferdinand Woltzer. He was a jor, and a dashing one at that. On his mount he brought along two archers, a mage, and two heavily armored infantrymen. They fanned out to assess any current threats, while the riders on the second dragon did the same. Captain Woltzer took off his massive helmet, and stood, visibly stunned by the obliterated palace. “What in God’s green earth happened here?” he asked, his voice full of incredulity.
Grundoon shrugged his shoulders. “Your guess is as good as mine, captain. We were fighting these guys here, and all of a sudden the earth shook, and everything came crashing down.” The Governor-General poked his axe at the body of one of the prisoners that Kreg had killed and dragged here before the final slaughter in the dining hall. Kreg had placed four of the corpses here for effect, and the captain, seemingly oblivious to any deception, just kept looking around at the rubble.
The captain asked off-handedly, “Did anyone else survive…?” but his voice trailed off into nothing. The mage from his dragon was working with some sort of spellcaster that had been on the other dragon, and the two of them were trying to determine if anyone could be alive under this mountain of crushed rock. There was still dust in the air from the explosion, and most everyone was sneezing or wheezing, or both.
Grundoon helpfully suggested that “My translator left before the dinner started, to take the documents to Brakoff. I didn’t want them to be here in case the dwarves had a change of heart and wished to go back on the deal. He survived all of this, I’m certain.” Grundoon coughed, and then added “But nobody who was here when this bloodshed started survived. I’ve no idea honestly how we even survived.”
The captain was certainly not going to argue that point and rummaged around in his knapsack for some paper and a small pencil. He took quite a few notes and wrote down a vivid description of how the site looked when he had first arrived. He was just finishing up when the cavalry from the 2nd Army arrived. Their commander, another captain, ordered them to spread out and look for any signs that an enemy had escaped. They did so, using lanterns and magical illumination to scour the area around the castle. This search would have to be completed in the daylight, though, because nothing was revealed that could be of any use to the searchers.
Grundoon sat down on some rocks and felt tired again. He couldn’t remember the last time he had enjoyed a good night’s sleep. He continued to answer questions, and then announced he was going to return to Brakoff to file a proper report with the Empress and the ambassador that worked with him as a middleman in regard to Romillia. The soldiers promised to do their part and find out what happened here, and with a wave the Governor-General got back on his horse, with Jandle right behind him on the saddlebags, and down the mountain he went towards home. Kreg had already left, and they passed him on the trail. He waved jauntily as they passed, his halberd covered in dried blood, dust, and bits of flesh.
Baron von Vorkel reached home well ahead of the stories and rumors that began to circulate regarding the obliteration of Castle Linkristle. Trangdor was in his own room when the Governor-General arrived and came out to see what was going on. Grundoon and Jandle were both filthy, from head to toe, dust from the collapsed castle caked on to the blood and gore of their victims. Aggrylia gasped and ordered the staff to prepare a bath for the lord of the house. Grundoon didn’t wait to begin ridding himself of the soiled armor, and even his uniform was a mess. He left a pile of armor near the front door, and his uniform in a pile in his room. He settled into the hot bath and just soaked for a while. In fact, he even dozed off.
When he got out of the bath, he wrote down a detailed explanation for what had happened. He didn’t embellish. He flat out lied. His version of events was so wildly removed from reality that anyone who had been there would have been scandalized by his falsehoods. Hilde knew something was amiss, but she only had her suspicions. Trangdor was also very apprehensive, but he kept his thoughts to himself. The report was sent to the Empress, the ambassador was fully informed as well, and Grundoon spent the rest of the week going about business as if nothing at all had happened.
But the rumors began, all the same. Whispers circulated that the wise, kindly old orc that had stabilized the region and calmed the nerves of the natives was in reality capable of unimaginable cruelty to ensure that peace was kept. Folks spoke of the virtual extinction of the family that had started the war with Slothjemia, and while the people living in Romilmark had lost all fondness for the former archduke and his greedy, power-hungry kin, there was an unsettling taste left in their mouths for such a heavy-handed crushing of an opponent. Nobody seemed sure that there even existed members of the Velferin clan anymore. If there were, people would say conspiratorially, they had better change their names, flee the continent, or both. This orcish baron was not sent just to make sure Romilmark was efficiently adopted into the Slothjemian Empire, but to make very certain that nobody would ever again threaten the peace here. That message was very firmly established.
It was also firmly established in Romillia, too. When word reached the dwarven king that almost the entire family of one of his princes had been wiped out, his reaction was first anger, and then relief. He was understandably upset about his citizens being allegedly lured into a foreign country and then massacred, but after pondering it, and discussing it at length with his advisors, he began to see it another way, as well. If this was a sacrifice that had to be made to appease Slothjemia, that the family line of his errant archduke be extinguished, then it was worth the cost. He fired off a letter to the Empress of Slothjemia expressing his displeasure, but he didn’t go any further. He knew that her Governor-General was no mere orc to be trifled with. That man had led the force that had wiped out Romillia’s finest troops and driven the realm almost to total ruin. King Boris VII of Romillia dared not to speak his heart to anyone, but if he did, he would tell them that the death of forty-three people was worth it to prevent the orcish warlord from descending on his kingdom again with all of the hell that he brought along with him.
So it was, that peace settled uneasily on Romilmark. It was another year and a half before everything was in place for military rule to be lifted, and Grundoon could step down as the Governor-General. When he did, he was given a small bit of land, and as luck would have it the estate included the ruins of the old Peklender mine. There wasn’t much left of the place, and Grundoon went to see his property only once before leaving for his home in Vorkelvale. He had spoken to Aggrylia already, and the two of them had agreed. He signed over the deed to the property to the young son of Major Hossler, a small token but it would give the lad an income, and a title, as a baron here in Romilmark. He sent the deed and the title, as well as some gold coins, by special courier to the Hossler home in the Coreland.
There was some fanfare as the von Vorkel family said goodbye to their house in Brakoff, a place they had grown fond of during their time there. The orcish whelps that had been infants upon their arrival were now boisterous toddlers, running about and screaming with the unfettered glee of childhood. Hilde was staying here, and her father gave her the house in Brakoff now that she had found her own place in the world. Since the wrecking of Castle Linkristle, Hilde had found it more and more difficult to trust her father. She followed the rumors and stories that grew around the episode but kept her mind on her work as the Sergeant-Major of the 10th Army. By the time her father left for Vorkelvale, the 10th Army was in full command of guarding the passes into Romillia, the Red Guards and all other army units having been withdrawn months earlier. She would stay in Romilmark. She had her own oath to uphold.
For Grundoon, his oath had been completed. He got six letters during the final year of his Governor-Generalship, all of them from Romillia. After the last one, he knew in his heart that his job was finished. His oath had been fulfilled, even though he had yet to hand over the reins of power to the new Graf. That was just a formality. His real obligation had been met.
After all the papers had been signed, and the contents of the Brakoff house crated up to be moved to Vorkelvale, Grundoon and most of his family set off for the Coreland and beyond. The apple tree was doing just fine, and someday would bear fruit, but not for Grundoon. He wouldn’t return to Romilmark, but this place would always sit in his heart and soul. His uniform was packed away, never to be worn again. Jandle remained his squire and never left his side, but the days of adventure and battle had come to an end. He had felt Trangdor drifting away from him, and never heard from him again once he had left Romilmark. Cloe and Porger became fluent in Romillian and lobbied unsuccessfully to remain in Brakoff with Hilde. Kreg was going back to Vorkelvale, though, and was of course the coach driver as the great brown carriage made the trip home to the west. They would be home just in time for cider-making season.
Quietly, Romilmark adjusted to life without a Governor-General. The people adapted to having goblinoids as close neighbors, and the rebuilt town of Dregladorf thrived as the once-savage orcs from the eastern alps took to the good life of farming and trading. Folks avoided the haunted peaks in the heart of the region, though, where the once mighty palace of the Velferin family had stood. Nobody ventured there, and tales of terror surrounding the place seemed to grow with each passing generation. There was a legacy to Baron von Vorkel, and it was not all roses and wine. But this is how it is in Romilmark, and how it had always been. Strong men bending history to suit their desires. Castles built, palaces destroyed. The mountains remain eternal, their wild flowers a reminder of the folly of dwarves, men, and orcs.