Belynda wanted to ask a slew of questions, but she opted to keep her inquisitiveness to herself. The following morning, Hilde had sent her out to find a young lady willing to go with them to the mine and bring back their horse and donkey to stable in Dregladorf. It was a fair commitment to make, not overly arduous but a duty nonetheless, and the serving girl from the inn said that she would do it. That task taken care of, the three women headed out to the Peklender Mine.
The orcish serving girl was named Nathalie, and she already knew Hilde. In fact, she had been right there when Hilde and the group she was with had killed Nathalie’s old chief at their mountaintop settlement. That was the end of their tribe’s independence, when all the orcs came down and resettled here in Dregladorf. She had even been there in the city square of Brakoff when Hilde had bested their new leader, Targul, in a duel for her affections. Nathalie was a huge fan of Hilde. Seeing her beat down one of the best warriors she knew of personally had given Nathalie the courage she needed to tell her father that she wasn’t going to go through with her own arranged marriage. Nobody would tell Nathalie who she was or wasn’t going to marry. She was a Slothjemian now, and that wasn’t how they did things. Of course, she was still being courted by the man she had been told she had to marry, but this time the courtship was according to the favor of Nathalie. When she got older, Nathalie wanted to join the army, and doing the Sergeant-Major a favor by looking after her horse and donkey seemed an easy way to curry favor towards that goal.
Nathalie had been studying the Slothjemian language in earnest, and had made great progress in losing her strong orcish accent. She didn’t ask a lot of questions, and wasn’t afraid of the mine being haunted. But she did think that there was maybe something to the stories that had been told about what might be lurking deep in the mine’s many shafts and branches. The dwarves that ran the forge in Dregladorf had once worked in the Peklender vein, and while they spoke of a great fortune worth of gold therein to be dug out and hauled up, they also spoke of terrifying monsters. The mine was of dwarven construction, but it connected to and depended on natural rock caverns at the lower depths to facilitate the mineral extraction process. And wherever there were natural underground hideaways, there were sure to be unnatural dangers.
Cinder found the smells very intriguing in this part of Romilmark. Her nose twitched at every turn in the road, and her eyes drank in every detail. Belynda could sense the rat’s excitement, and smiled to herself. The rat was able to communicate rudimentary feelings and impressions to the sorceress, and she was likewise able to telepathically send very simple communications to the rodent. Belynda was just as excited, and she suspected that Hilde might be as well, but the Sergeant-Major didn’t give off much of an enthusiastic vibe.
Truthfully, Hilde was very excited. But this wasn’t her first adventure. It was going to be her first adventure where she was completely in charge, and fully responsible for the outcome. Right now, she was focusing on the road ahead. It had been a while since she had been along this route, and the last time was in the company of an army. She was thinking about what kind of potential hazards she might have to face in the mines. She also wondered about how wide the tunnels might be, and if it would be difficult to swing her bastard sword. Hilde might have to rely on her smaller blades, and while that didn’t render her defenseless, it wasn’t an ideal way to go into combat. She played various scenarios over in her mind as she rode. It would be a good thing to have a sorceress as back-up to a full melee assault.
It was nearly a full day of travel from Dregladorf to where a smaller farming road branched off and ran northward to the mine. The ladies would have to find a place to spend the night, with another full day ahead of them in the morning. There were a number of estates here, and plenty of places to put up a camp. None of the party had any inkling who the lords and ladies might be in this corner of Romilmark. It wouldn’t be far to go off of the pathway to reach one of the manors, so they decided to just keep an eye out for something promising.
Just before the sun began to move behind the western peaks, Hilde spotted a manor house not far off of the pathway they were on. It was built in the style of a fortified castle, but this was merely for appearance. Even from here, Hilde knew that the place had been extensively reconstructed. When she had first ridden by this place, it was almost entirely in ruins. Hilde pointed to the manor, and steered her horse up the little trail that branched off of their current course. Belynda steered her donkey to follow, and the little cart creaked as the uneven trail caused it to rock from side to side.
There was a lot of activity around the manor, with people racing about trying to finish up their daily chores before nightfall. Few took notice of the guests that were making their way to the great house, as they were more concerned with getting the cows milked and the other livestock bedded down. But the ones that did notice, came to meet the women, and although only one had a noticeable weapon, it was apparent that they were not expecting company.
The half-orc man with a glaive spoke up, keeping his polearm in such a position that it could be put to use quickly if necessary. “Here now, who are you?” he called out in Slothjemian. Hilde opted to not make assumptions about this fellow, or who, or what, his lord might be, but the fact he was partially goblinoid she found very comforting.
The Sergeant-Major swung out of her saddle, a much less imposing position for her to be in, and replied “I am Shar Hilde Eigenblade, and I am looking for accommodations for the evening. My companions and I are on our way to the ruins of the Peklender mine to assist the baron that now controls that estate.” She didn’t even pause before continuing on and asking, “Would your lord agree to letting us bed down for the night on his lands, or perhaps deign to let us bunk in one of his barns?” She stood there, as unthreateningly as she could, and awaited the guard’s response.
Stepping forward boldly, and with less intimidation in his stance than he had a few moments ago, the half-orc said “This is the estate of Shr Vulthar Wrunler, and he would be honored to give you haven for the night. Come, you may board your beasts in the stable, and sup with us tonight.” With a growing smile, he added “There is plenty of room in the house for you. No reason to rough it more than needed.”
He shifted the polearm to his left hand, and with his right hand he beckoned the trio of adventurers to head up towards the stable and house. He spoke to one of the other men with him, and told him “Take care of these ladies’ animals, Gurag.” To one of the other men he said “Lorkin, show these ladies to the house. Make sure the staff know to give them a room, and add places for dinner.”
Hilde handed over the reins to her horse to Gurag, and turned her attention back to the fellow with the glaive. All of these people seemed to be either half-orcs or just fairly unattractive humans. “And what is your name, good sir?” she asked.
He laughed, and said “Vulthar. I’m the lord here.” He continued laughing. “I might not have made that properly clear. Come, dear lady. Enjoy a restful stay at Wrunler Hall.” He walked alongside Hilde towards the house, and Belynda and Nathalie trotted to catch up as Gurag led Hilde’s horse and the donkey with its cart to the stable.
Lorkin wasn’t exactly needed as a guide to the house, so he jogged ahead and alerted the household staff to the presence of overnight company. When the lord of the house entered the main hall, the servants had already begun to add place settings at the table, while upstairs a single room with a very large bed was being readied for the guests. The dinner being prepared was simple, and the accoutrements were nothing fancy; wooden plates and bowls, and tankards rather than glasses. The house was magnificent, but the lord of the manor was a simple man, and his retainers were treated more as family than staff. For all Hilde could tell, they really were family.
Dinner was a raucous, lively affair. From the bits of conversation tossed about, Hilde could tell that Vulthar was a transplanted knight from the Coreland. Belynda, however, learned that Vulthar was a Knight of the Iron Gauntlet, a second-tier ranking that meant his heirs could inherit his landed holdings. Belynda also learned that Vulthar had earned this award for his valor in the Craiovian War, wherein he had served in the army during the siege of Reichstanta, and as a lowly corporal had spearheaded an assault that had broken the impasse and resulted in a major victory for Slothjemia. Belynda also learned that every single one of the staff and retainers on this estate were in fact related to Vulthar, either directly or by marriage, that he had three adult children, all of whom were living here and working to turn the land into a profitable endeavor. By the time the meal was over, Belynda knew everyone’s name, how they were connected to Vulthar, and what they did on the estate. Hilde, on her own, had only picked up on the fact that Vulthar wasn’t a native to Romilmark. This is why she needed a squire. How Belynda managed to take in all of that information while casually slipping food to Cinder beneath the table would be a mystery to Hilde.
There was a general gathering in the great hall, and the people of the manor took turns sharing what had happened during the day. It was fairly mundane, but everyone had a chance to tell the lord how things were going. Hilde tried to pay attention, but this wasn’t exactly her forte. She did appreciate the respect that Vulthar showed each and every one of the persons he was sworn to protect and care for, and how much they in turn respected him. After a couple of hours of discussion, they began to disperse, and get ready for bed.
Hilde, Belynda, and Nathalie got into the huge bed and drifted off to sleep. Belynda managed to wedge herself in between the two orcs, and slept better than she ever had before, holding Cinder who was also fast asleep. Nathalie had the most trouble getting to sleep because she was so excited to be a small part of this adventure. Hilde, however, was well and truly tired from the day of riding, and the evening meal that had made her stomach happy and content. She didn’t even mind the softly snoring xvart pressed into her lower back.