Fight, Swear, Loathe; Chapter 6

There was only one dress that Hilde ever wore to church. It was the least garish thing she owned, an off-white silky fabric that had a burnt orange color in the trim and on the torso. It had a long lavender ribbon that laced up the bodice. The ribbon didn’t match anything, but it was long enough to do the job, and Hilde liked the color. Her eyes were orange and she always got compliments that the dress brought out the color in her eyes. She never knew what to do with her hair, though, and usually just wore braids. Just as her sisters knew more about cooking, they also knew more about dressing up and doing their hair so that it appealed to others. Hilde could claim hardly more than not looking like an overturned cabbage cart on fire, but that was good enough for her. She wasn’t trying to impress anyone, she just wanted to look presentable for church.

She set out for the cathedral in the heart of the city just as she did every week. This week she had a dark, olive green hooded cloak to hold off the morning chill. Again, this matched nothing she was wearing, but it served a purpose. Hilde cared less for fashion than she did function. A common misconception existed among the natives of Romilmark that this was a Slothjemian trait. It was true that Slothjemians tended to not be very aware of how their clothes looked. But Hilde’s inability to pay attention to such things had nothing to do with being Slothjemian. She was very aware about how nice her uniform looked, and how her armor could be paired with flowing skirts, but she simply had no interest in clothing the way most every other young woman did. They used their clothes to show themselves off, either to interest young men or to infuriate other young women. Hilde wasn’t a part of that game. She didn’t know how to play, was ignorant of the rules, and couldn’t care less about the goals if her life depended on it.

There were a lot of people making their way to the cathedral, thanks in part to the number of visitors from the surrounding countryside. Hilde saw a few people that she knew, but for the most part she focused on getting a seat for herself, not on socializing in the square. She made her way inside, removing her hood in respect, and went about finding a spot in the already crowded pews. Hilde pushed her way as gently as she could into the middle of one of the pews near the front of the sanctuary, on the right side. She liked the right side of the cathedral. The sun didn’t hit here until the afternoon, so she could enjoy not having the glare right in her face during the morning service. She had a small prayer book, and kept it clutched in her left hand.

Glancing about her, Hilde took note of the folks around her. She didn’t know them, but they were all humans. She smiled, and in return, they smiled back. There was some apprehension in their faces, but by now the appearance of goblinoids throughout Brakoff was less and less of a surprise, regardless of the setting. There was a family of hobgoblins right behind Hilde, and two rows up was a lizardman and two shadow elves. Two years ago, this holy place was where humans and dwarves gathered. Now, it was a place where all races came to worship.

The Archbishop of Brakoff, who had served as just the bishop until a few months before Hilde’s father had left office, was an old human named Blatzen. His hair was silver, and he was very fit for a man of his years. He had proven to have a fine sense of humor, and on several occasions Hilde had discovered him at parties, dressed in his clerical attire, and exchanging jocular tales with the other attendees. A learned man, and quietly powerful, but never pretentious. He had never asked Hilde about her status as an unmarried woman, and Hilde adored him for it. She always greeted him with a handshake, and it always made him laugh, as this was not the custom for a woman to do. Hilde had told him on their first meeting that she didn’t curtsy worth a damn, and he had laughed heartily. Today he was delivering the homily, and Hilde listened with rapt attention.

How it was that Hilde had developed such an interest in things theological was a bit of a mystery to the rest of her family. The most her father had ever done was to sporadically attend the weekly services of his army chaplains. He had never been very interested in any of the ceremony or ritual. That indifference had been passed on to his children. All except Hilde. She loved going to church. She loved the prayers, she loved to sing in a big group, and she loved to have her thoughts dwell on an almighty God that adored her, and that she should do as much good in this life as she possibly could.

The main allure of singing in a large group was that nobody, save those closest to her, had any idea just how horrible her singing was. She could produce great volume, and her pitch wasn’t horrible, but she knew that her talent wasn’t musical in nature. Hilde just liked to make noise. Being quiet wasn’t her strong suit. And even though she had to sit quietly for most of the church service, she relished the times to belt out a few hymns. This week was typical in that regard. But what wasn’t typical was the message that the Archbishop delivered.

The good reverend had decided to read from the sacred writings a passage that spoke of the sins of fathers, and the consequences of those transgressions being delivered upon their children and their grandchildren, down to the third and fourth generation. Hilde was paying very close attention to what the Archbishop was saying, as this was especially close to her heart.

The priest spoke with his usual mix of passion and sobriety, driving home the message with calm reason and intelligent articulation. He had never been one to harangue his audience, preferring instead to approach his listeners from a place of divinely ordained authority. Blatzen was resoundingly wise, and in the time Hilde had known him, he had shown remarkable skill at wielding the sacred writings as a tool to instruct as well as a weapon to chastise. This week’s sermon could have gone either way, and truthfully, to most ears it was likely received as instruction. Hilde, though, heard a strong tone of rebuke, and could not help but feel that her own father was the subject of this lecture. She had never felt in church the way she did today, as if every eye was watching her, every parishioner thinking “the priest is talking about our old Governor-General. His daughter is right over there. Look at her thinking that she will escape God’s wrath for her father’s wickedness. She isn’t fooling anyone.”

Hilde knew that she was embarrassed, and by the time the choir began singing the closing hymn, she also knew that her shame was self-induced. Nobody had been glaring at her during the service. As she herself looked around, she had noticed a good many of the worshipers looking just as uncomfortable as she had been. Everyone had their burdens to bear, and the Archbishop had tapped into a wealthy vein of hidden and unspoken spiritual violations within his congregation. There would be a lot of introspection among these folks in the hours following the sacred rituals of the church service.

Exiting the cathedral, Hilde said hello to some of her closest acquaintances, and shook hands with some of the more aggressively friendly people. She put up the hood of her cloak to ward off the midmorning sun, and made her way to her favorite tavern. It was called the Wretched Elf, and was owned by a gruff dwarf named Lorcaster Dormen, a retired Slothjemian army veteran that had moved here after the war and bought the tavern as an investment. This had paid off handsomely already, as the place had become a magnet for every nonhuman in the city, and a goodly number of humans, too. There was a spacious area out front that had tables and chairs for patrons, because there simply wasn’t room inside the building for all of the people that enjoyed the food and drink. It wasn’t exquisite fare by any standard, but the camaraderie was what the regular customers were there for. And today was the same as every other, lots of people and lots of joviality.

 Hilde got a tankard of hot cider, and took a seat outside at one of the small, mismatched tables. She liked to sit here after church services and watch people as they went by. It was very soothing to her, to observe random strangers as she sipped her cider. There wasn’t a lot of commerce taking place during the weekly holy day, but there was still a lot of folks out and about. Plenty of off-duty soldiers, families visiting with each other, out of towners taking a break from making business deals and taking in the sights of Brakoff. Hilde watched them all for a couple of hours, only getting up to buy another tankard of cider. She didn’t think about much, she just sat and watched the comings and goings.

She wasn’t sure how long she had sat there, watching the city meander by, but right about the time she felt like calling it a day and heading home, along came one of the lieutenants from the 10th Army, a very blonde and enviously gorgeous young human female named Saliza. The lieutenant had gained her rank by transferring from the Red Guard, where she was a corporal, and taking the officer’s exam. Transferring from any guard unit was a guaranteed bump in rank in and of itself, and Saliza took full advantage anytime there was a shortcut. Hilde respected the vivacious blonde, partly because of her war record but also because she didn’t allow any man to claim her as a wife. Unlike Hilde, though, Saliza was well acquainted with matters of romance. Saliza always kept the upper hand, though, and for that Hilde held the lieutenant in relatively high esteem.

Saliza was with her aide, a half-orc corporal named Horst. Waving at Hilde, Saliza sent the corporal in to get their drinks, and sat down at Hilde’s little table.

“Hello, Sergeant-Major!” the lieutenant said, her voice cheerful and buoyant. She smiled and tossed her hair back. When off duty, Saliza wore it down, but when on duty she kept them in braids. Today her hair was down. “How are you doing? I haven’t seen you around headquarters lately. You been ok?”

Hilde set down her empty cider mug, and smiled at the pretty little human. “I am doing quite well, thank you, lieutenant. I have just taking care of some personal business. I will be back to work for a couple of days a week for a while.” Hilde shrugged, and then continued. “There hasn’t been all that much to do, other than sign paperwork.”

Saliza laughed, and nodded her head. “I can understand that. That is precisely why I transferred to the tenth. I would like to be bored for a while.” She cocked her head to one side, and looked at Hilde. “So, what is your plan? Are you thinking of going on a quest?”

Hilde mulled the question over for a moment. She would love to go on a quest. But where? How does a person even start that sort of thing?

She looked at Saliza, and said “That sounds like a good idea. But I’ve no idea how to go about getting the ball rolling.”

The lieutenant smiled, and straightened herself up to look Hilde squarely in the eyes. “Try the town of Dregladorf. It is a vibrant place, full of new people and I hear that it is where people are posting job offers. All sorts of opportunities. Rumor has it that a small mercenary group is trying to get organized there as a part of our grafdom’s reserve army.”

The corporal returned, and handed Saliza her tankard of ale. He stood there, drinking his beer, and didn’t even crack a smile. He waved a pathetic little wave at Hilde, and then diverted his attention to watching the people going by. He knew his place, and that his place did not in any way involve the conversation taking place between the two women at the table next to where he stood.

Hilde thought about what Saliza had said. “Dregladorf.” She said softly. Then, she looked at Saliza, and said “I believe I will do that. An excellent suggestion, lieutenant. If nothing else, it is a fine excuse for a little outing.”

Saliza laughed. “There you go! Have a little wander!”

Hilde stood up, and with a smile to Saliza she said “Thank you so much for your company, Saliza. I’ll see you around, and I appreciate your advice.”

Saliza held up her ale in salute, and giggled. “Anytime I can be of service, Sergeant-Major.” Her corporal just waved again, and Hilde wasn’t sure what to do other than flash a weak smile in his direction. As she headed home, she began to snicker. There was something wrong with Horst, and being Saliza’s aide wasn’t going to help him in the least.

Hilde snuggled into her hood, and made her way home with a quickened pace. She wasted no time when she arrived, and quickly got a fire started in her bedroom fireplace. Changing out of her fancy clothes, Hilde hung them in her wardrobe with care, and slipped into her heavy nightgown. She brushed her hair, and while doing so, studied her tusks in the mirror. Occasionally she thought about having them carved, in the fashion of the goblinoids who leaned more towards tribal culture than feudal. She thought about it again today, but not with any seriousness. Hilde often debated shifting her identity, but she never did. There was a comfort in being neither one or the other, and she never felt ill at ease when around either element. She finished brushing her hair, and bared her teeth in the mirror with a grimacing snarl. She smiled. It had been a very good day.

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