Fight, Swear, Loathe; Chapter 1

Life had not gone exactly as Hilde had envisioned it. It had not been an unmitigated disaster, to be sure, but it had not been the sort of fairy-tale princess story that she had dreamt of as a child, either. The more she had thought about it, and the direction it had gone, the more Hilde realized that her life hadn’t been entirely hers. It had belonged to her father, her extended family, and to the army, and pretty much in that order. She had made no grand plans of her own. All she did was what she was told to do. That just wasn’t enough anymore.

Hilde stood just a hair over five feet tall, and had the wide hips and ample breasts that was the envy of every orcish woman. Her belly was bigger than it should be, but it wasn’t just her penchant for beer and good food that had created it. She was also fearsomely muscular, and she could lift more than people might guess, throw it further than they imagined, and do it quicker than anyone would have thought possible. She could be easily summed up as “stocky” but that term failed to embrace her wonderful curves, and the almost fluid way she moved. Her lower tusks were typical of all orcish women, not as prominent as a man’s, but her jaw was certainly not feminine. Likewise, her voice was anything but petite and wispy, and she enjoyed her reputation as a loud and irresistible improvement to any gathering. Her hair had gotten quite long, and hung straight like a jet-black waterfall, except when she woke up when it was a mighty tangled disaster of epic proportions. Her skin was lovely shade of pistachio green, but she had quite a few olive drab freckles from being almost constantly in the sun. And while Hilde might not be the woman you fell for at first sight, she was certainly the woman you would always remember, no matter how brief the encounter.

She had originally gotten the job of Sergeant-Major of the 10th Army because her father had been the Governor-General of Romilmark, and he wanted her to help build an army from scratch to protect the Grafdom from attack. She had done that, and far above what anyone had expected of her. Hilde led by example, and in a little over a year she had taken over four thousand raw recruits and turned them into a perfectly functioning military machine. The officers all came from other army units, and had been gathered from almost every corner of the realm. But the non-commissioned officers were all put in place by her, and they were a formidable lot. Almost every last one of them had been born Romillians, and now they were proud Slothjemians, ready to fend off any attack upon their native land, especially if it was from their old king, Boris VII of Romillia. Their allegiance was firmly tied to Reichsha, Empress of Slothjemia. They might have found the idea of being governed by goblinoids repulsive two years ago, but now they knew firsthand that there are worse things than working side by side with orcs. For instance, fighting against them.

Her father had knighted Hilde into the Order of the County Brotherhood for her heroic actions at the Battle of the Peklender Mine, but at the time she had trouble looking him in the eye. She had heard the stories and rumors about his role in the incident at Castle Linkristle, and it was either as a man of valor or as a murderous monster, and frankly she knew both of those possibilities were not mutually exclusive. Her father could be a very violent man, and vengeful, but he was also an orc dedicated to his country. She would not speak to her father about her suspicions, nor would she confide in anyone else while he remained the Governor-General, but it created an awkwardness between them. She chose as her knightly surname something other than von Vorkel, and that surprised her father a good bit, but he had nevertheless declared her as Shar Hilde Eigenblade, of the County Brotherhood.

Her title came without any allowance for an estate, but Hilde didn’t lack a place to call home. When her father was away, she often stayed at the family home in Brakoff. When he was in the city, she stayed at the barracks with her army. And sometimes, just to get away from the hectic lifestyle of the Grafdom’s capital, she would travel to the remote Trelderian Hall, castle of her friend, the dwarven knight Shr Gelbrand. Her favorite dwarf in the whole wide world had also taken up quasi-permanent residence here, Trangdor Goldenhelm, who was her father’s official translator. As more and more people began to learn Slothjemian, and the Governor-General began to hand more control to civilian authorities, Trangdor had less and less to do. So, he was frequently at Trelderian Hall working on his writing, or catching up on reading. He too had felt a difference in Hilde’s father, an invisible wedge being driven between Baron von Vorkel and himself. And while Trangdor had never spoken of his feelings with Hilde, they seemed to wordlessly understand how the other felt.

As part of the training for the 10th Army, Hilde had on multiple occasions marched them out to the abandoned fortifications that had guarded the entrance to the Peklender Mine. While there, they practiced all sorts of assaults and defenses. Nobody officially owned this property at the time, so Hilde had been given free rein to do whatever she liked with the place. After repeated training sessions, and when she was sure that her soldiers had gotten every possible amount of worthwhile use from the place, she then used it as target practice for the brand new 85th Artillery Regiment. Just hauling the medium-sized field bombards around was an exercise in and of itself, but the actual aiming, loading, firing and reloading drills took days to complete. By the time the practice was over, the regiment felt very comfortable with their weaponry. And the walls, towers, and keep of the fortification were a pile of dark grey rubble.

Any place in Romilmark that had a building to be torn down, or an old bulwark to be demolished, the authorities would send word to Hilde and her army of trainees. They would march to the location, practice their drills for a bit, and then commence to savagely wrecking whatever it is that needed to be removed. It was terrific fun, and the soldiers all enjoyed it far more than they should have. Afterwards, Hilde would make them clean the debris up and stack the rocks, bricks, and other obstacles wherever it would be out of the way for whatever was being built next, or hauled off to get rid of it altogether. She developed a reputation for efficiency and thoroughness throughout Romilmark. All the while her army learned to work together as a team, and depend on each other as a professional army should.

By the time the army had taken its position as the defenders of the three highway passes through the alps into Romillia, Hilde had grown weary of her assignment. After the training was complete, there just wasn’t much for the Sergeant-Major to do. She would make the suggestions of what enlisted personnel deserved to be promoted, and advocate for them in dealings with the commander of the 10th Army, but other than that it was just desk duty. Hilde spent her time riding along the base of the alps, through the foothills, spending a few days at each pass before starting over. The smoother things ran, the more bored she was. It just wasn’t full time work anymore.

The general in charge of the 10th Army, a bugbear named Viscount Shr Trolker Wolstheimer of Stessen, who had been transferred to this job after serving as a brigadier in the 4th Army based in New Craiovia, knew something was troubling his Sergeant-Major, but had no luck finding out what exactly it was. As a bugbear, he was accustomed to forcing information out of people just by threat of his size and strength. But Hilde wasn’t to be trifled with. He knew how tough, and how skilled of a warrior she was. She was no more afraid of him than she was of her own shadow. General Wolstheimer had made some not very subtle inquiries about Hilde but nobody had any information, at least none that they cared to share.

Everyone, though, noted that her mood improved noticeably during the final days of her father’s tenure as Governor-General. Hilde even agreed to lead the honor guard at the “passing of power” ceremony when the new civilian ruler of this region became officially recognized as the Graf of Romilmark, and the Governor-General, after shaking the Graf’s hand, slid into permanent retirement. This was the last occasion upon which Hilde’s father ever wore his military uniform. She had wanted to see that. A tear rolled down her cheek as he left the podium in the great central square of Brakoff, and Maximillian Trendt, one of the magistrates who had helped his people transition to life as Slothjemians, was now the Graf of Romilmark. He would serve in that capacity until he died, or was replaced by the Empress. He was a good man, and everyone knew that of the many options Empress Reichsha had, choosing Trendt to fill the post was the very best way to go.

Hilde’s father and stepmother left Romilmark not long after this event. Her father had called upon her, and urged her to attend one last family meal at the house in Brakoff before he left for Vorkelvale. She had declined, citing a non-existent need for her to be in the field on a troop inspection during that time. He had not argued with her, but gave her a hug and the keys to the house. “It is all yours, my beloved daughter. Thank you for joining me and serving so well in every task entrusted to you.”

Grundoon had kissed her on the forehead and then left. A few days later, the family carriage had made its way out of Brakoff, and was headed for the far southwestern corner of Slothjemia. Her father didn’t understand what had happened between he and his daughter, but he trusted her, and loved her. Whatever it was, he was certain it would work out.

Hilde waited a few weeks before moving any of her things into the huge, rambling house. It was remarkably vast. For nearly two years the von Vorkels had lived here, and never felt cramped or hemmed in. This was a lot of house for one woman. Twenty people could live here in comfort. Hilde wasn’t sure what to do with it all. She started by assigning one room for each of her interests. Very quickly she discovered that she didn’t have enough interests to fill a thimble, much less a mansion.

A couple of days later, she sat down and wrote a letter to her commanding officer, General Wolstheimer. In it, she requested a leave of absence to take care of some personal business, and maybe do some travelling. She gave no details, and left no hints as to what her future plans were. For now, though, the 10th Army wasn’t in dire need of her presence, and she was aware that the general knew that. She hadn’t asked for reassignment, and she hadn’t just up and quit, so Wolstheimer quietly approved her request and didn’t pursue the matter.

Freed from her military obligations for the time being, Hilde took this opportunity to go over the many letters that had piled up over the last few months. Most of them were from the Royal Squire Academy, a training and finishing school for aspiring assistants to those that had been awarded knighthoods. Hilde took a few days to read through the various candidates. The academy knew all about her; they knew all about every knight and dame in the realm, and now they wanted to match her up with a suitable aide. Hilde poured over each of the recommendations, scouring them for exactly the right sort of person. This was somebody that would be by her side constantly. She would have to be particular. Luckily, she could afford to. It was time to start living her life.

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