Fight, Swear, Loathe; Chapter 2

Hilde wasn’t sure what she was looking for in a squire, but she knew what she didn’t want. She wasn’t looking for a man, and she wasn’t wild about having a kobold either. There weren’t as many female squires as male, but that helped her to narrow her focus significantly. Most squires could hold their own in combat, but Hilde wasn’t searching for a warrior. Her own combat skills were impressive by any standard, so she was going to pick through the candidates to find one that would complement her skills, rather than simply reinforcing them. Perhaps a squire that had a background in sorcery. That would certainly come in handy.

After a few days of going through the pile of portfolios, interspersed with naps and the occasional trek to the nearest pub, Hilde settled on what she thought might be the perfect candidate. A female xvart, the almost hairless humanoids with blue skin that were a close cousin to goblins. This one was named Belynda, and had grown up in Slothenburg, the largest city in Slothjemia. Belynda had attended the College of Arcane Sciences in the sleepy town of Lost Fen, and had changed her mind about a life dedicated to magic in order to become a squire. According to the notes provided by the Royal Squire Academy, Belynda was an adventurous girl, quick of mind and extraordinarily cunning. She had tested very highly in the fields of engineering and mathematics, two areas that Hilde herself wasn’t very good at. While Belynda wasn’t very good at physical combat, Hilde was very excited at the prospect of having an aide that could cast spells and figure out difficult solutions to problems.

Hilde sent a letter that evening on the stagecoach leaving Brakoff for the Coreland. She wanted the Royal Squire Academy to send Belynda as soon as possible to Romilmark, so that Hilde could meet her and make a final decision. Hilde was looking forward to it, and she just had to tell her closest friend about this latest development. That night, after seeing the letter off, Hilde began packing a few things for a quick trip to Trelderian Hall. Trangdor would simply have to come to Brakoff to help determine if Belynda was the right choice for a squire. This was a long-term commitment, and having a second opinion was of the utmost necessity.

It was a long trip from the capital of the Grafdom to Shr Gelbrand’s castle, and usually Hilde took two days to make the journey. She got an early start, though, and depending on how energetic she felt, she might just ride until she got there. Her horse was a very good animal, strong and well-accustomed to long treks across Romilmark. She had named the mare Tinza, and even though it officially belonged to the 10th Army, nobody had ever told her she couldn’t ride the grey speckled beast whenever and wherever she liked. So, she threw a bedroll over the back of the saddle just in case, and her well-worn saddlebags, and she was off to visit her dwarven buddies.

The first part of her journey went just as easily as could be. There was a lot of traffic nowadays between the cities of Romilmark, as commerce and industry had been rejuvenated to even higher levels than before the war. There was also a thriving stagecoach trade, with three different companies each competing for cargo and travelers. A fourth company was started by an intrepid businessman in Kederlenn to serve the smaller outlying communities that lay off of the main roads. All of this meant that the bridges over the creeks and the roadways themselves needed constant repairs and improvements, and when work gangs of petty criminals weren’t available to do the labor as part of their punishment, then contracts were awarded to various nobles or craftsmen to do the jobs. Everywhere business was booming.

This was especially true of the city of Kederlenn, and the little roadhouse just north of there called the Idyllwild Inn. Kederlenn had been a place of heavy industry before the war, and virtually all of it had come to a grinding halt by the time the region was handed over to Slothjemia. But now the factories were in full swing, building everything from small consumer goods to wagons, and even the hulls and inflatable balloon-type parts of the flying vessels that Romillians called “skycruisers.” Slothjemia had captured the plans for these wonderful ships, and were now working on building their own fleet. Typical of the goblinoids, though, they had a different name for their version: luftkreuzer. It meant the same exact thing, but sounded better to orcish ears.

The Idyllwild Inn was busier than it had ever been. Partly because there had never before been this much traffic at the crossroad where it was located, but also because people, and not just the locals, came here to see the pickled head of the orc chief that Hilde’s father had killed to end the scourge of the barbarian orcs of the mountain peaks to the east. Those same orcs were now the mostly-civilized citizens of Dregladorf, and although it was difficult to believe, even some of them had made the trip to this roadhouse to see the severed remains of their one-time leader. Nobody seemed to think it an outrage. If anything, they all reveled in it. The bad orc was defeated by a good orc, stronger, smarter, wiser, and more powerful all the way around. The orcs took it in stride, and their allegiance to Slothjemia was cemented. The former Romillians rallied around this newfound hero, and their loyalty, too, was secured.

Hilde remembered the dread she had first felt when their group had first walked into this place almost two years ago. Her father, of course, had been fearless. There had been a fight. It ended predictably. Hilde was sure that this building was going to end up as a pile of sodden ashes. But to look at it now, you would never have known it, except for the bloodstained wooden floor in front of the bar. The walls of the roadhouse had been painted, a bright sort of purplish-blue trim around shockingly white walls. The poster she had hung on the door to serve as a recruitment tool was now proudly displayed behind the bar. She had been asked to autograph it, about a year ago. The landlord told her that the poster was one of his most cherished possessions, even more than the pickled orc head in the big jar at the end of the bar. He always made sure that Hilde was well taken care of, after all, he had a son that had joined the army because of her, and she had looked after his boy. Hilde never dreaded the Idyllwild Inn now. They took good care of her and her horse, and there was nothing more she could ask for.

Hektor, the fat little man that owned the roadhouse, shouted with delight when Hilde walked through the door. “HILDE!” he bellowed, and every patron in the tavern turned to see who it was. Some of the locals knew her, certainly by reputation, and they raised their glasses in a cheer. The stable boy was summoned, and he quickly tended to Hilde’s horse as if she was the Queen herself. The sun was beginning to set, and Hilde thought about just staying here overnight, but after sitting for a while at the bar, and having a couple of tankards of beer, she felt like pressing on. She livened up the place with her raucous laughter, told a few ribald stories of her own, and left the place merrier for when she walked in. With a turkey leg in her hand, she waved to the howling crowd and weaved her way to the stable to fetch her horse.

The stable boy had fed, watered, and brushed Tinza, and he saddled the mare whileRomilmark3 Hilde waited. She gave him a silver coin as a tip, and even though the beer did its best to prevent her from getting back into the saddle, she managed to swing herself up and with a “Whoop!” she rode out of the stable and down the trail that went behind the roadhouse up into the foothills to the northeast. From here, the horse knew the way to go. The trail wasn’t very wide or well-maintained, but it was reliable and constant. Wide enough that carts had worn ruts over the decades, and better traveled now that the economy was flourishing in these little farms and estates.

It was a crisp evening, mostly clear, and the sky was filled with twinkling stars and the moon was just beginning to come up as a burnt orange color. There was a hint of a breeze blowing across the path, and she could smell the smoke from nearby houses as people did their best to warm their homes before going to sleep.

The cart trail ran right through the middle of a small estate owned by a young human knight, Shr Belmer. The lord was barely sixteen years old, and had inherited his land and title after his father had been killed by Hilde’s father in the Idyllwild Inn. In the aftermath of this violent event, it developed that Shr Belmer’s father had not been a particularly well-liked man, and in the absence of his overbearing and close-minded bullying, the other landowners in this bucolic corner of Romilmark were much happier. Hilde had spoken a number of times with the young knight as she traveled to and from Trelderian Hall.

Tonight, however, the property was in full sleeping mode by the time Hilde rode through. To the left of the path was the small tower in which the family lived, along with their servants and a number of the farmhands. On the right side of the road were a couple of barns and the livestock yard. During the day, there was a tremendous amount of activity here. In the deep of night, however, only the dogs stirred, with a growl and a low bark at first. Hilde spoke to them calmly as her horse continued through the estate. Recognizing her voice, the dogs wagged their tails, and they returned to their drowsy guard duty.

Hilde was enjoying the journey so much that she was quite unaware of the time when Tinza picked up the pace and finished the last mile to Shr Gelbrand’s little castle. Hilde called up to the gate keeper, and after the dwarf had poked his head out and saw who it was, he hurriedly began to lift the portcullis. Hilde slid down off of her horse, the gate being too low to be able to ride through, and steadied herself. The beer had taken its toll on her, and she felt weak, tired, and terribly cheerful. The gates were opened, and she staggered into the courtyard. Tinza made a beeline to the stable, and Hilde weaved her way towards the keep. She wanted to sing, but opted to focus on getting her legs to cooperate.

The gate keeper closed the castle up again, and abandoning her horse altogether to its own devices, Hilde stumbled up the stairs and into the keep, past the surprised and bemused chamberlain, a one-eyed dwarf named Dornald, who was coming to identify the visitor, and with an unceremonial crash Hilde collapsed onto one of the low couches in the main hall. She struggled with her armor, and got enough of it off that she could get comfortable. The chamberlain fetched a heavy fur cover, and draped it over her. Hilde burrowed into it and almost instantly she was asleep.

A few servants who had been awakened took care of her horse and brought in her luggage. The chamberlain woke up Shr Gelbrand to let him know that Shar Hilde had claimed one of his couches, and after a few minutes the castle was back to restful slumber. This is how it went with Hilde. She didn’t make a lot of plans. She just showed up.

And everyone loved her for it.

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