Hilde arrived at the Idyllwild Inn and tied her horse up out front. She dashed inside, was there just long enough to shout “HELLO!” at everyone, and purchase a small keg of hard cider. Then she was back on Tinza and heading the last few miles to Kederlenn. She didn’t want to spend the night at the roadhouse this time. She was looking forward to a night of sleep in a more luxurious setting, perhaps the Golden Oak. The sun was heading for the western alps when she rode through the gate.
There was one room left when Hilde arrived at the best inn here in Kederlenn. She paid for the night, and hauled her stuff upstairs. The landlord sent a servant out to stable Tinza, and then Hilde settled in the dining hall for dinner. She hadn’t had much to eat since breakfast, and she dove into the food like a semi-crazed animal. People didn’t know her here, and probably didn’t remember when she had stayed here before, and so she wasn’t concerned about making a bad impression. She ate, and enjoyed every last bite.
After dinner, Hilde decided to take a brisk walk. She wasn’t going for an idle stroll, but had an objective in mind. She walked with purpose, and with a certain amount of determination. It was just beginning to get dark in the city, and lamp keepers were doing their rounds, unshuttering the magical orbs that were mounted on every other street corner atop ten-foot poles. It wasn’t a very big town, but it seemed to take forever to get to where she was going.
A smile leapt across her face as Hilde spotted her destination. It was the printer’s shop, the only one in the entire Grafdom. There was a new sign over the door, and it read “B. Fessler, Printmaster.” Hilde looked for any indication that the proprietor was still inside. She held her hands up to the glass window, and squinted her eyes. She could see a light on in the back room, but the glass wasn’t of very high quality, so she couldn’t make out anyone. Hilde decided to check the door. It was locked. Deciding she had nothing to lose, she pounded on the front door. Hilde looked around at the neighborhood, suddenly aware that she was the only person out here at the moment.
There were footsteps inside, and the door opened just a crack. A man’s voice spoke from behind the door. “Who is it? I am working right now; you’ll have to come back in the morning for new business.” The man’s Slothjemian was broken, but showed improvement.
Hilde spoke softly, but not too softly. “Brandt, its Sergeant-Major Hilde. I don’t have any business to discuss. Just wanted to speak to you.”
The door opened fully, and the dwarf standing there in the dark main room seemed concerned, bordering on afraid. He motioned awkwardly for her to enter, and Hilde slipped inside. The dwarf closed the door behind her, and bolted it shut. “Come in the back.” He muttered, shuffling in the half-light that spilled from the work area behind the large counter. “I am working on a set of posters for the autumn festival. I can use a break, come on back.”
Hilde followed him, and he led her into the impressive printing room. The dominating feature was the press itself, a great mechanical behemoth filled with gears, levers, and adjustment wheels. Along the walls were stacks of paper, bottles of ink, and all sorts of things that must be essential to the printing trade but were completely alien to Hilde.
Brandt wiped his hands on a rag, getting some of the fresh ink off but his hands were still permanently stained with a splattering mix of colors. “What can I do for you, Miss von Vorkel?” The dwarf looked at the buxom orc standing awkwardly in his shop. He looked the same as the last time she had seen him, a dark as night black beard and mustache, perfectly braided and trimmed short due to the work he did.
Hilde shook her head. “My name isn’t von Vorkel anymore. I changed it to Eigenblade when I was given my knighthood. I wanted to…” her voice got very soft. “… I wanted to distance myself from my father.” She locked eyes with the dwarf.
Brandt arched his back ever so slightly, and a smile crept onto his visage. “It seems we have much in common there, then.” A silence settled in, the two of them watching each other.
Hilde cleared her throat. “I wanted to make sure you were still well. I am glad you chose to change your surname after what happened, you know.” She didn’t want to say it. She didn’t want to come right out and speak ill of her own father, but wanted to relay her compassion to the dwarven print master. She had to break the dwarf’s gaze, and stared down at the floor.
Brandt spoke softly to her, as if he felt they might be a part of an eavesdropped conversation. “I think I understand what you are getting at, good lady. I am safe. Your father himself approved of my request for a new identity, and he made sure to let me know that I would in no way be held accountable for the legacy of my father’s family.” He tried to smile warmly, to ease the heart of the orcish woman he was speaking to. “Do not fear for me, good lady. I thank you for your concern.”
Hilde looked back up, and met his eyes again. “If you ever need my help, or ever feel threatened, by anyone, let me know. I have a home in Brakoff. I can be here very quickly.” Hilde knew it wasn’t much, but it was better than not doing anything at all. She had been concerned for this hard-working fellow, and wanted no ill to befall him.
Brandt bowed. “Thank you, Sergeant-Major. It means very much, your support.”
They stood awkwardly for a moment, and then Hilde rushed to him, and gave him a tremendous hug. The poor man was taken quite by surprise, but laughed and returned the hug. It wasn’t dwarven in the slightest, but Hilde wasn’t one to be deterred. She released him from her embrace, and made her way back to the front door. He let her out, thanked her again, and with a wave she was on her way back to the inn.
Settling into her bed, Hilde was thrilled that she had chosen to stay here instead of at the roadhouse. This bed was enormous, and softer than clouds must be. There were three quilted blankets on it, and Hilde could burrow into it so deeply that she couldn’t even hear the people in the tavern downstairs. This had to be what Heaven was like, thought Hilde, as she coasted peacefully into slumber.
Hilde woke up very early the next morning, and hurriedly dressed and made sure she had everything in her saddlebags. The kitchen was in full swing, but the dining room wasn’t open yet. The landlord was very hospitable though, and saw to it that she was given some food before she set out for Brakoff. Hilde ate in a fury, thanked the landlord, and then headed out to the stable.
The stable hands weren’t around yet, so Hilde took it upon herself to get Tinza ready. She didn’t mind doing the work, and in fairly quick order she had her horse ready for the ride. She swung up into the saddle, and just like that, Hilde was on her way.
She beat the dawn by a couple of hours and was well down the road before the sun’s rays began to creep over the eastern alps. Hilde watched in awestruck admiration the colors that danced across the wafts of cloud that hung over the peaks and deeper in the valleys. It was deliciously cool out, not cold, but chilly enough to make a person feel awake and alive. Hilde adored this time of year, the leaves changing colors, the lengthening periods of darkness, and no snow except on the tops of the mountains. Hilde was not a great lover of snow. She liked an excuse to stay inside by the fire, but the snowfall in Romilmark was borderline ridiculous.
Traffic picked up as soon as the sun was up, and farmers all along the highway were headed for the nearest towns to do their weekly business and attend church the following day. Hilde chatted with folks along the way, and between her dodgy command of the Romillian language, and their fledgling attempts at Slothjemian, they managed to do quite well. She was out of uniform, wearing just a light blue peasant blouse, and baggy grey pants that were tucked into her boots. Hilde had on her plain brown leather jacket, and a large-brimmed straw hat that was comically floppy. A casual observer would never have known who she was, other than an orcish woman with a boisterous laugh and a ready smile.
Hilde did a bit of on-the-road shopping, exchanging a few coins for some fresh produce. She got herself a pumpkin, which she was going to enjoy carving up just like she did every autumn since she was old enough to hold a knife. She bought some apples too, very ripe and exploding with flavor. Another farmer had some squash, and while they weren’t her favorite, she wasn’t going to make a stew without them. A small bag of potatoes, and some blackberries for a pie. Hilde cackled with delight at this suggestion. She was going to eat those berries right now, and if she had any of them left by the time she reached Brakoff, she told the delighted old farmer that sold them to her, “Then I will have failed at being me.” He laughed, his wife laughed, and Hilde started in on eating the berries.
Despite riding a little slower than she had on the trip up to Trelderian Hall, Hilde made good time on the road. There were some rural constabulary out on patrol too, and they waved in recognition when they saw the somewhat famous Sergeant-Major. These intrepid law enforcers usually worked in teams of two, one that was native to this region, and one that had been assigned here from elsewhere in the realm. In more sparsely populated parts of the empire, there would be a small fortified outpost where these constables would operate from. But here in Romilmark, there were ample places for them to maintain facilities. Sometimes they worked out of the estates of the more powerful nobles, other times they might have a small presence in a little hamlet or village. The main roads in Romilmark were so busy, though, that they were rarely needed there. Instead they patrolled the estates, looking for poachers and roving bandits. Today the ones assigned to this road were just making sure that everyone got to town safely.
Brakoff was a bustling place when Hilde arrived, people everywhere and the streets were almost entirely clogged with wagons, livestock, and folks conducting business. Never in her life had Hilde been so glad not to be looking for a place to sleep. The inns and rental houses would be booked solid on a weekend like this, so close to the final harvest and with so many visitors eager to sell their crops before the season really kicked in. Hilde rode through the crowds in bemusement, avoiding the inner parts of the city altogether. If it was this bad on the outskirts, she had zero desire to see how crammed it was in the city center. Her house was outside of the main wall, and this made her extremely happy on a day like this.
Tinza also seemed glad to be home. The stable behind Hilde’s house was not a very large affair, but there was room for a couple of horses and maybe some small livestock. Hilde took her things inside the house and dropped them unceremoniously on the floor in the main room, and then went back out to brush and care for Tinza. She hummed while she did her work, and talked softly to the mare. Hilde rather liked this creature. It was mostly grey, with mottled dark grey spots hither and thither. Tinza’s tail and mane were mostly black, but with the occasional white hair to give it kind of a salt and pepper look. Hilde looked at the state of the horse’s shoes, too, and noted that she was about due for a new set. She would go see if Storg could take a look at them sometime next week.
Once Tinza was fed, watered, and bedded down, Hilde went inside and took proper care of her stuff. She set the fresh produce in the kitchen, and hauled her luggage upstairs. She was set on making a stew tonight, using the food she had bought along the way today. Hilde was not a great cook, but she did well enough. Some of Hilde’s sisters were culinary wizards, able to make delicious meals from anything available. Hilde was not so gifted. She was, however, able to make practically anything into something edible. It didn’t hurt that she wasn’t what an outside observer would categorize as a “picky eater,” but left to her own devices, Hilde wouldn’t starve to death.
The stew ended up being mostly vegetables, and it came out better than she expected. This was a theme that ran as a constant in her gastronomic endeavors. The most often heard phrase that she would mutter to herself was “Hmm. That isn’t horrible.” Tonight’s meal was right on point with this theme. She took a great bowl of the stew and settled in front of the fire.
The main room of the house was huge. There was enough room for twenty people to sleep in here by the fireplace, the best way to deal with the cold winter nights of Romilmark. Everyone in the house might gather here, tell stories, and snuggle under the heavy furs and quilted blankets to utilize body warmth as well as the heat from the fire. Hilde didn’t like this house. It had been built for a large family, run by a small army of servants, and to be filled with jovial, good times. Right now, it was just Hilde in the house and her horse in the stable. This wasn’t ideal. Hilde hadn’t been raised to be a solitary soul.
She ate her dinner, and tried to remain positive. If she kept after him, she might convince Trangdor sooner rather than later to move in. Hilde had also toyed with the idea of converting the big house into a small inn. It would generate income to pay for the taxes, and she would always have people around. She liked both of those things. When Trangdor got here, she’d ask him what he thought.
Tomorrow was a holy day, and Hilde planned on being in church, as she did every week that she wasn’t in the field training her army. She enjoyed the services, and liked the singing and responsive prayers. It was a time for being joyful, and Hilde loved to be joyful. Hilde set her empty bowl on the floor, and curled up on one of the couches in her heavy fur wrap. Soon she was snoring blissfully, dreaming about having a house filled with friends.