The delicious odor of breakfast cooking woke up Hilde, and she sat bolt upright, blinking in the daylight that poured through the windows of the hall. Her hair was a wild tangled mess, and she was knotted up with the heavy fur that the chamberlain had dropped on her last night. One of the servants was passing through the hall on their way to the dining room, and Hilde asked her “Is the food ready?”
Smiling, the dwarven woman replied “Yes, milady. Shall I bring you something?”
Hilde rubbed her eye, and tried to focus her other eye on the person to whom she was speaking. “Is everyone else awake?”
The servant laughed, and said “Yes, milady. They are already having their breakfast.”
Hilde yawned. “Ok. I will just go and get something to eat. Thank you.”
The servant curtsied, and continued on her way.
Hilde noticed her armor was laying on the ground, and looked inside the fur blanket to make sure she had clothes on. It was enough, and she gathered the wrap around her and padded off to get some breakfast, her bare feet on the cold stone floor causing her to make the trip as quickly as possible.
Gelbrand and Trangdor were chatting with each other and savoring their morning meal when Hilde burst through the dining room door, her blanket catching the edge of the table and sending a bowl of porridge flying. She laughed, her voice loud and happy. “Good morning, fellas!” With a great grin and her eyes still adjusting to the light, Hilde dropped herself into a chair at the table and took a deep breath. “Breakfast smells amazing!”
Trangdor and Gelbrand both started laughing, and while they tried to rein it in, it only got worse. Hilde giggled too, patting at her unkempt hair and occasionally snorting as she laughed. The same servant woman who had chatted with Hilde earlier brought out a plate for the barely awake guest, and Hilde started grabbing food from the platters in the center of the table. She dug into the delicious fare, and all three of them continued to snicker.
Shr Gelbrand was the first to actually stifle his amusement enough to get a sentence out. “I am pleased to see you alive and well! There was some concern when you arrived that you might not survive the night. Were you well received at the Idyllwild Inn?” The snickering started all over again.
Hilde could only eat with one hand, the other was making sure the wrap didn’t come off and release the precious warmth that was her protection against the ever-present drafts in the castle. “I am well received everywhere I go. I am a delight.” She said, giggling. Trangdor and Gelbrand both burst with laughter, howling almost as gustily as Hilde was known to do.
The three of them continued eating, and in between bites, they discussed why Hilde had decided to visit. She grinned as she told them “I have asked for a squire, and have one coming to see if she is a good fit for me. I wanted you guys to let me know what you thought about her.”
Gelbrand snickered even more. “So, you came all the way out here to tell us that you are having company sometime this month? This does sound urgent.” Trangdor guffawed, and the two dwarves both began to turn red trying to breathe through their laughter.
Hilde almost collapsed in mirth as well, and only managed to sputter out “You guys are a couple of jackasses.” All three of them continued to laugh and eat, but mostly it was about the laughter. They were an unlikely trio. Gelbrand, a battle-hardened warrior, kept his head clean shaven, and braided his black mustache but not his beard. Trangdor, a dedicated scholar, kept his bright blonde hair long, and while his dark blonde mustache was untamed, he did keep his beard braided. And their closest mutual friend was Hilde. In the time that they had known each other they had never had a serious disagreement, and they always knew that the other two would be right there if they were needed. They had a little joke that they shared; Trangdor with the cloudy green eyes, Gelbrand with the bright green eyes, and Hilde with the soft green skin. Every one of them agreed that if they were going to form a guild, they would have to have a lot of green in the heraldry.
The servants had taken care of Hilde’s horse, and moved her meager baggage into a small bedroom in the keep. This is where she went after breakfast, to dress and attempt to tame her hair. Shr Gelbrand and Trangdor had suggested that the three of them hike up into the mountains, and see the old orc settlement. Trangdor had never been up there, and Hilde wanted to see what the view from the camp looked like during the day. With enough food in their rucksacks to last more than a day, the three happy hikers set out. Hilde brought one of her short swords, and Gelbrand took along his sword as well. There was no telling what they might encounter along the way, and Trangdor decided to take a staff, at least to fend off any rogue squirrels.
The day was perfect in every way for this little trek. The sky was cloudy, and the air was cool, autumn was just getting started and all around could be seen the stunning grandeur of the Kragalian Alps. When they had come through the first time, there was no chance to enjoy the views offered at every turn in the trail. The topmost peaks never lost their snowcaps. Shr Gelbrand showed them where the border was with Romillia, tracing it from peak to peak along the spine of the mountain range. This trail led to one of the lower peaks along the border, where the orcs had made a ramshackle sort of settlement in the natural rock outcroppings of the peak. It was above them the entire way, and while it wasn’t tall enough to be covered in snow this time of year, during the winter it would have been buried. How the orcs had lived here as long as they had was a source of interest for many people, including Hilde and the two dwarves.
It only took until midday to reach the rocky ruins on the peak. The traps had all been tripped, and there weren’t any defenders now. The three hikers walked right through the crude doorway, and carefully made their way past the moldering remains of the doors. They had been made of rough-hewn boards, and held together with twine made from long grass. There were some tattered shreds of animal hides that had been used in the orcish tent houses blowing about inside the eye-shaped rock enclosure. All three of them let out a whistle. In the light of day, this was a very pretty place, aside from the debris that was scattered about.
In the center of the settlement was a cairn of sorts, made from small and midsized rocks. It was flat on the top, and stood about six feet tall. It had been made to support the remains of the huge orc that had ruled this tribe. His bones were mostly on the cairn, but not entirely. Vultures and other raptors had made a mess of the remains, and there were a number of bones dispersed around the area. There had been other bodies laid out as well around the base of the rock platform, presumably the other orcs that had been killed when Hilde’s father had stormed the settlement with Gelbrand in order to free the people that the orcs had taken as slaves. Hilde had drawn her share of blood that night, too.
Trangdor did some sketches of the bones, the stone walls formed by forces of nature, and the view of the higher peaks to the north and south. And, of course, he drew the magnificent vistas to the east and west, capturing the glory of this remote yet enchanting locale. He took some notes as well, describing the colors and textures. The only sound was the wind, and occasionally the conversations of the intrepid explorers.
The trio had lunch here, and mused about someday pooling their resources to build a proper castle here. Nothing too ornate, of course. But a place to retreat from the world, do some hunting, and perhaps write the great Slothjemian novel. The only downside was how far they would have to go just to visit a tavern.
Hilde and Gelbrand pointed out where the fighting had taken place during the short but violent confrontation in this now deserted place. On the way down the mountain, they talked about how the orcs that had lived here were doing now that they had their own town, Dregladorf, to call home. Gelbrand had been the most skeptical about their ability to adjust, but he had to admit now that they had succeeded. The progress that they had made was astounding. There was still a lot to accomplish, but they had set aside their days of wanton pillaging and rampage, and created a thriving and productive town. The only thing they ever could have done on these desolate mountain peaks was eke out a survival, the barest of existences. Now, however, they were proud members of the army, fledgling craftsmen, and entrepreneurs, that despite their novice abilities were making a name for themselves as quite ruthless and innovative.
The rebuilding of Dregladorf had been one of the greatest achievements attributed to Hilde’s father, the former Governor-General. People throughout Romilmark revered him, admired his strong, guiding hand in reconstructing this region. There of course were things about him that were unabashedly horrifying, but nobody seemed to know a lot about those aspects of the old orc, just rumors and idle speculation. A surprising number of the people native to this land were prone to shrugging their shoulders and saying with resignation and respect that “He got results, he made things happen, he made us great once more.” How he went about doing this was of little consequence to them. They just weighed the results against the deprivation that preceded his arrival, and found it abundantly satisfactory.
Hilde did not find it satisfactory. She loved her father, but she was keenly aware that he had done things that were cruel and atrocious, and she was having a difficult time of it reconciling her admiration of a great man that she had loved her entire life, and the reality that he could be, at times, a secretive, manipulative, and murderous monster. She loathed her father’s tainted reputation, and at times she hated him as well, because he had chosen to do things. He had made meticulous plans for mayhem and carnage. These were not hapless, bumbling blunders. He had set out, with malice aforethought, to do evil. Ironically, he had raised Hilde to be better than that.
Trangdor also had strong, contradictory feelings about Baron von Vorkel. He had seen firsthand how amazingly the aged orc had taken control of this war-torn region, and forged from it an entirely new state, powerful and industrious. But he had also seen up close how violent the man could be when crossed. He had killed a man with his bare hands in a bar fight. He used the threat of violence to keep even high-ranking army officers in line, and had ordered the torture and execution of hundreds of people who had not sworn allegiance to Slothjemia. And Trangdor knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there had been foul play involved in the destruction of Linkristle Castle, and the massacre of the Velferin clan of dwarves. The fact that the Governor-General had gone out of his way to make sure Trangdor didn’t witness this final outrage, and spared the dwarven sage from having this evil of it forever on his conscience, was not lost on Trangdor. He felt as though he were strangely indebted to Baron von Vorkel for having done this for him. Trangdor was a sensitive man by any measure, and especially so for a dwarf. While he had had a difficult time overlooking the wickedness of the Governor-General he was so very thankful that he didn’t have to witness it all, to remember the savagery, and to try to find peace in his heart in the aftermath of malevolence.
Shr Gelbrand had known the Governor-General the least of the three of them, but it would be wrong to suggest that he wasn’t also conflicted in his feelings. Gelbrand had embraced being a Slothjemian long before the old orc had shown up at his door with a loyalty oath to sign. Not once had the dwarven knight been made to feel bullied or unwanted. In fact, Baron von Vorkel had gone to tremendous lengths to insure Gelbrand was fully informed about how the changes being made in Romilmark would affect him. He had fought at the Governor-General’s side right on this very mountain against renegade orcs. He had seen his dearest friends and neighbors reunited with their loved ones that had been captured by those same orcs. And the Governor-General had rewarded Shr Gelbrand for his devotion, giving him access to make suggestions about who would make good leaders in the communities of Romilmark. All of these things had made Gelbrand an important fellow. But he wasn’t keen on how the Governor-General went about getting results. Gelbrand couldn’t argue that the results weren’t effective, nobody could, but the means by which they were achieved disturbed the veteran knight. By the time the civilian leadership took control of the region from the army, Gelbrand knew he could not trust Hilde’s father. He had grown very fond of Hilde, and had spent many days just conversing and hunting with the orcish dame. Gelbrand knew that she too was gifted at getting the results she wanted. But she did so with a pure heart.
The hikers arrived back at Trelderian Hall just in time for dinner. They were pleasantly tired from the day, and after eating the three of them made themselves comfortable in the main hall of the keep. A fire roared in the fireplace, and they enjoyed the warmth of it for a good while before anyone spoke. Hilde finally broke the silence.
“Are you going to settle in Romilmark permanently, Trangdor?” she asked, her voice more subdued than normal. This was partly due to her being tired, but also because she was feeling more somber than usual.
The young dwarf took a deep breath, and sighed. “I’m not sure, Hilde. I’ve thought about returning to Kernschloss, but I’ve grown very fond of this area. I didn’t leave much behind, and have made some very good friends here. I just don’t know.” He sipped at his cider, and just looked at Hilde quietly.
Hilde sat for a while, thinking. “Storg Hammerclaw has decided to stay. He is moving his family from the Coreland to resettle in Brakoff.” She spoke of the dwarven craftsman who, with a number of his closest friends, had come to Romilmark on the invitation of Hilde’s father to help rebuild the infrastructure, and in the process, had become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.
“Storg has skills that are valued here.” Replied Trangdor with another sigh. “A dwarf that can build things from iron and stone can find a niche anyplace.”
Gelbrand set down his beer, and scoffed. “There is every bit as much demand for a dwarf that can read and research. You could go into law, become a barrister, or even a magistrate. There are a multitude of influential people that can kick these doors open for you.”
Trangdor chuckled. “I know, and I just have to decide what direction I wish to go in. I would like to be closer to the city, it makes obtaining books and resources for writing a lot easier. And I need to start bringing in some money. I can’t live here the rest of my life on the charity of Gelbrand.”
The older dwarf laughed. “Oh of course you can! But you wouldn’t be happy. Dwarves need a task. We’ve got to find you a task.”
Hilde smiled. “You can live at my house. It is huge. You can have your old room, or take whatever space you like. There is plenty of house to choose from, and if you do decide to go into some sort of brainy enterprise, you can conduct business right there. So professional!”
The three of them laughed. The fun was returning to them after a day of heavy pondering. Gelbrand said, “You are always welcome here, both of you. I adore having you around. And you know how difficult it is for a dwarf to express that kind of kinship.” He winked at Hilde, and she howled with delight.
Trangdor sipped at his cider. “Maybe I should just settle in Brakoff. Now that your father is gone, I will feel more at ease there.” His voice fell to a little more than a whisper. “It is just tough, after all that happened.”
Hilde smiled. “I know. We are all of us starting over. Might as well use the bits of ladder that were left behind, though. No sense in starting at rock bottom.” The two dwarves murmured their agreement, and nodded their heads. The truth was that any of these three could do whatever they liked, they just had to settle on a course of action. All of them had clout in Romilmark because of their connection to the very popular former Governor-General. The man they admired. And loathed.