Belynda was thrilled to find almost everything she needed in Brakoff to fill her reagent bag. Trangdor served as her guide, and the two of them had a surprisingly good time. They also visited the only book seller in the city, and she found a couple of tomes that caught her eye. She made a mental note to return for them once she had some money.
Hilde spent the day packing for a trip of undetermined length. She had a number of things to consider taking along, but without any clear idea of what the adventure might require, if in fact there was any adventure to be had at all, it was difficult to clearly decide. She settled on warm clothing due to the weather, but that hardly narrowed down what else she might need. Ultimately it was irrelevant, because her weapons and armor were absolutely necessary, and anything else that she might need could probably be found for purchase in Dregladorf. She did choose a hairbrush and a handful of ribbons for her hair, and a soft woolen hat that could be pulled down over her ears. Hilde didn’t care for scarves, but she adored her heavy, hooded fur-lined cloak. She would be taking the cloak for sure.
Hilde’s armor was set up into two parts, the portion that she would always be wearing, and the extra bits that she would take along for added protection. Many years ago, she had commissioned a special trunk just for this reason. There were customized holders for each item, and cloth straps to hold them securely in place. It all fit snuggly together, and allowed for easy transport of the parts vital for full protection.
As the women finished up their packing, Trangdor headed out to acquire a donkey to pull the small, two-wheeled cart that sat unused in the back of the stable. The cart had been used for trips to the local markets when the house had been fully occupied by the Governor-General and his family. Belynda would be using it now, to haul the baggage as they went looking for a proper quest. Hilde would ride her own horse, Tinza, and the cart freed her from having to haul any cumbersome saddlebags. Trangdor managed to find a donkey, and for a very fair price, and Belynda was delighted by the small yet robust beast. She cast an enchantment on the donkey, and from that moment on he viewed the xvart as his beloved owner, and would gladly follow any command she gave. It wasn’t a very powerful bit of magic, but it was ideal for this purpose.
After a large breakfast the next morning, Trangdor bade the women farewell as they loaded up and headed out. The house would be much quieter, but the dwarven scribe was looking forward to a little peace and calm. He was going to be getting some writing done for the first time in a long while.
Hilde and Belynda had an uneventful trip to Dregladorf. Most of the trees had already lost their leaves, and those that hadn’t, clung desperately to a handful of red and golden bits of foliage. Over the last two years the countryside between Brakoff and the crossroads of Dregladorf had been transformed. There were no longer any empty estates to be seen, and no run-down, dilapidated houses and barns. New life and been breathed into the region by hard-working men and women of every conceivable race, moving here from all across Slothjemia to start new lives and carve a niche for themselves in this redeveloped area. At various intervals, Hilde would point out places that had been in ruins or severely damaged by the war, but now were rebuilt and thriving. Belynda would follow up with questions regarding the nobles that had taken over these old estates, the reception that they had received from the natives, and how things had worked out. The questions gave Hilde a chance to ponder these changes, too, and she chose her responses carefully.
“Many of the estates in this corner of the grafdom were abandoned by their lords, who had taken their families and retainers and gone northward to join the rebellious Count of Pek-Shtandern, Lord Halindeen.” Hilde said thoughtfully. “Most of the men of age to serve in the army had been killed in the Battle of Garvin’s Gap and the immediate aftermath. But they still had a lot of fight in them, and they were determined to resist the annexation of Romilmark into the Slothjemian Empire.” Hilde pointed off the road to the right, and continued talking. “Up there, towards the north, in the central western edge of Romilmark, that is where they holed up in a heavily fortified position. They carried out raids like common brigands, avoiding our troops at all costs, until they were discovered and destroyed by all of the force my father could bring to bear.”
Belynda helpfully chimed in with “I read about that battle, too. And those lands were granted to your father when he stepped down as Governor-General, right?”
Hilde sighed. “Yes. But he gave them to the son of a fallen soldier, or so I understand. I am not real clear on how all of that transpired.” There was an abundance of uneasiness with the topic of her father for Hilde, and she almost resented having to reference him as much as she did when discussing the history of the province.
Belynda sensed the disquiet, and opted to stay clear of any further talk about Hilde’s father. “So, all new nobles have been assigned these estates, then?”
Hilde nodded her head. “Precisely. Some of the nobles that held title in the Coreland were given property here, as were some of the more prominent businessmen that were natives to this area, bumping them up to nobility as a reward for their support of the annexation. And some of the smaller allotments were given to Slothjemian soldiers that had been knighted for heroism during the war. Oh, and there are some new nobles that were given titles here as a thankful gesture for their longstanding support of the Empire, either through commercial endeavor or some other devotion.” Hilde laughed. “Adding real estate to the realm is the best way to allow the Empress to give her loyal subjects even more wealth.”
The ladies chatted amiably throughout the day, and were greeted with smiles by everyone they encountered. Cinder spent most of the time curled up on the baggage, fitfully snoozing. The Rural Constabulary had built a number of waystations along the route, places that were akin to hamlets on the road to the Coreland where large estates had their borders corner up against each other and a small settlement would naturally develop. These are where the landholders would erect granaries and other storehouses for the goods harvested on their respective properties. From these, they could easily be shipped down the road to Brakoff for further distribution. An efficient and profitable means to feed the Grafdom, as well as provide for export to other parts of the realm. Every waystation had a small garrison of constables that were responsible for keeping the peace in the countryside. Most were new recruits, men and women that had grown up on and around these estates before the war, but their commanders were almost always veteran law enforcement officers that had moved here from other parts of Slothjemia for a chance at promotion and to teach the newcomers how to enforce Slothjemian laws.
The small donkey cart was not the fastest mode of transportation in the world, but Belynda was fine with not taking very long breaks so the two women made reasonably good time. They arrived at Dregladorf in the early evening, just as the sun was beginning to drift behind the tall ridges of the Kragalian Alps that sat just to the west. Where the town sat was right at the base of an off-shoot from this mountain range that spurred outwards in an east-to-west direction. If a traveler stayed to the southern side of this ridge, the road took them up into the mountains to the Coreland. If they were on the northern side of it, the road there would take them gradually down through rolling hills to a pass in the alpine range that led to Dreicounty. It was a natural fork around which the roads had to go, and it was the perfect place to have a town to capitalize on the commercial traffic through the Grafdom. Nearby was the only real river in the Grafdom, winding its way towards the pass to Dreicounty, the lowest elevation in Romilmark. Every creek and rivulet wound up passing through the pass, and where the river came close to Dregladorf was where it was the widest. It was in no sense navigable, there were too many rapids along the route and the river was far too shallow, but it was enough volume to operate water mills and provide irrigation for the nearby farms. The Romillians had called the river the Seltzern, probably because of its churning, bubbling nature for most of its course, and the Slothjemians hadn’t seen any reason to change the name.
The river was close enough to the town that it was audible on a clear, calm day, but by evening there was too much activity in Dregladorf for anyone to hear the water. The orcs that had settled here and started rebuilding the place after the war had been slow to give up their nocturnal lifestyle. Other people had moved in too, and while they had several successful business ventures that catered to the diurnal travelers and commercial freight haulers, Dregladorf was a town that came alive when the sun set. Normally a town this size would have one tavern, probably as an extension of an inn. But Dregladorf had four taverns, and three inns with their own public houses. Lanterns hung on ropes that ran along the sides of the streets, suspended on hooked poles that were mounted on the buildings and jutted straight out from the walls. It illuminated the town with a very pleasant glow all around, and made it feel as if every night was some kind of festival.
Near the center of town there was a blacksmith shop, and it was operated at all hours by a family of dwarves. A proper dwarven forge was something novel to find in a town primarily comprised of goblinoid exiles, but even a cursory observation revealed that orcs were working in the forge as well. This was clearly a gathering place for the leaders of the area, to drink ale, bask in the glow of industry, and of course stay warm as winter approached. The assemblage raised their glasses in salute to Hilde and Belynda, and the ladies nodded their heads in reply.
Hilde dismounted her horse in front of what appeared to be a three-story building of rental flats. She stretched, and tied up her own horse and the donkey. Belynda climbed down from the cart, and Hilde told her “Your first assignment, my dear squire, is to find us a room. It looks as though we won’t have any trouble finding people to talk to tonight to get a lead of something adventurous that needs doing.”
Belynda laughed, and clapped her hands happily. “I’m on it!” and scampered off to find lodging for herself and her mistress. Cinder sat atop the baggage in the cart, her whiskers actively twitching to take in the new sensory input that this town provided.
Hilde looked around at the people milling about in the street. There was a triangular patch of open road right in the center of town, and each corner was the beginning, or end, of a road. There was the road to Brakoff, the road to the Coreland, and the road to Dreicounty. This was probably the busiest intersection in Romilmark. Mostly the folks out and about tonight were goblinoids, but there were some humans and demihumans as well. Dwarves, possibly natives, but just as likely not, were in and around the blacksmithy. A pair of somewhat nervous-looking elves stepped into one of the taverns. There was a jorish Rural Constable standing in the center of the triangle directing traffic and keeping an eye on things. Orcs were everywhere, of course. They did virtually all of the menial jobs in the town, and did most of the malingering, too. An orc in an army uniform was sitting on a crate outside of one of the taverns, holding a bottle of something noxious on his knee. Hilde smirked, and crossed the street to where he was at.
“Excuse me, soldier. Which of these is the best tavern to find intrigue in?” she asked. She unconsciously struck a pose, her hands on her hips right at the edge of her armor. She let her hair just fall about her face rather than pulling it back as she normally did when she spoke to people.
The soldier looked up slowly, his bleary eyes taking in the curvaceous creature that stood before him. He was slow to speak, his senses dulled by liquor, but his brain was pushing him to say something to this woman wearing mixed plate armor and with a huge sword on her back.
“Intrigue?” he asked, his voice slightly louder than he intended.
Hilde smiled. “I am looking for an adventure. I am Shar Hilde Eigenblade, and I have come here seeking a bit of mischief.”
Again, the soldier struggled to form a coherent sentence, but all he got out was “Mischief?” He felt deeply embarrassed with himself, but the alcohol was more in control now than he was.
This wasn’t getting her anyplace quickly, but Hilde laughed, and said “Perhaps a quest of some sort? Something requiring a hero?” the soldier blinked a couple of times, and just as Hilde was about to seek out somebody else to ask for suggestions, the orc suddenly spoke.
“There is a baroness staying over at the Dark Cowl Inn. She showed up about a week ago, and has been trying to find adventurers to go and investigate some property she has here in Romilmark. Maybe there is mischief to be had.” The orc blinked a couple more times, and took a swig from his bottle.
Hilde pondered this, and her smile grew a bit thoughtful. “That was a surprisingly useful bit of information. Thank you, soldier.”
The orc waved as Hilde walked back across the street to her horse and the little donkey cart. She arrived just in time to see Belynda trotting down the street towards her.
“I’ve found us lodging, m’lady.” Said the xvart. “There is a very nice place called the Dark Cowl Inn. Supposed to be the best in town.” She said, a little breathless from her jog.
Hilde grinned. “How serendipitous.” She said, almost in a whisper. Untying the horse and donkey from the hitching post, she said to Belynda “And our adventure begins to take shape!”