The stagecoach from Karpaburg to Dregladorf arrived midmorning, and the little boy that had been tasked with stopping it did so with tremendous vigor. The coach ground to a halt in a mighty cloud of dust, and Polk took up his baggage and headed down to get aboard. Hilde had gotten dressed by then, and Belynda had managed to get her hair straightened out and braided. The orcish dame ran to catch up to the orog, and before he could get on the carriage, she grasped him by the hand.
“Thank you, Polk. For everything.” She said, a sad smile creeping across her face.
He squeezed her hand, and said, “You are most welcome, milady. If you need anything, contact me through Rackerby at his Jaggerholmschloss office, or the one he keeps in Jordrakenschloss. Anything at all.”
Hilde stepped away from the coach, and waved as it rumbled off down the road. Polk stuck his beefy arm out of an open window, and waved until the stage was out of sight. Belynda had jogged down the little trail from the manor house, and now stood beside her mistress.
“What do we do now?” she asked Hilde. As the stagecoach faded from view, they could see a horseman riding past it, headed towards them.
Hilde took a deep breath, and leaned on the rock wall that ran alongside the road. “If this is that fellow Lorkin, we see what news he brings. Then we get in touch with widow Hossler, and see what she has to say about her newfound goldmine.”
Belynda laughed. “Goldmine! Oh, that’s clever. One within the other, and probably more valuable.”
Hilde snickered. She had missed her own unintentional pun. They both watched as the rider approached. Belynda climbed up on the rock wall and sat down, dangling her little legs like a child.
It was Lorkin, sure enough. On the back of his horse was Nathalie, clinging to him tightly. Lorkin didn’t seem to mind that in the least bit. When they drew up at the spot Hilde and Belynda were at, Lorkin waved and smiled. Nathalie slid off of the horse, and ran to hug Hilde, taking the orc quite by surprise.
“I am so glad you are safe!” the barmaid exclaimed, and then hugged Belynda tight enough to make the xvart squeak.
Lorkin laughed, and got off of his horse. He wiped his brow, and said to Hilde, “The Baroness Hossler has been alerted to your return. She is expecting you in town, whenever you are ready. She also sends her sincere expression of relief that you are well. I guess this all took longer than she thought it might.”
Hilde chuckled. “Yeah, that seems to be the way of things for me.”
Everyone headed back to the manor house. They were already mostly packed, so it wouldn’t take long to get on the road. Hilde got the cart ready, and one of Vulthar’s men saddled her horse. Belynda sought out the lord of the manor himself, and gave him twenty of the platinum coins in thanks for his hospitality. He accepted them graciously, and along with most of his household, turned out to bid the ladies farewell.
Nathalie took the reins of the donkey cart, and followed Hilde as she rode on her horse down to the road. Belynda stood next to the barmaid, and waved at everyone, shouting thank you and blowing kisses. Afterwards, she set to digging in her baggage until she found a pottery jar of the pickled mushrooms, which she opened and shared with Nathalie. The two of them talked unceasingly all of the way to Dregladorf. Nathalie asked what seemed to be an endless stream of questions, and Belynda must have told every bit of the story of their trip four times. Hilde was tempted to correct aspects of the tale, as they were even now being exaggerated, and this was before the trip was even over. Instead, she just listened to them prattle excitedly. The road was easy, and sloped ever so gently downward. Tinza was glad to be out and going again, and the donkey seemed to be similarly inclined to enjoy the freedom of the great outdoors. They arrived in Dregladorf late in the evening, but the town was still alive and humming.
Nathalie took the animals to the stable at the Dark Cowl Inn, and Hilde wrestled the baggage inside. Belynda went looking for the widow Hossler, and everyone agreed to meet in the dining room. Hilde paid for their room with a platinum coin, and there was quite a festive reaction among the staff. Nathalie had been telling them all about her friend the lady knight, the Sergeant-Major that had defeated their old chief in combat, and who had headed off to explore a haunted mine. Hilde realized, amid their excited welcome, that she was dreadfully tired. She did her best to smile and acknowledge their admiration for her as-yet undisclosed heroics. This was not an aspect of being a questing dame that she was adequately prepared for.
A couple of orcs that worked for the inn lent a hand in getting Hilde and Belynda’s gear hauled to their room, and Hilde set to getting some of her things unpacked and organized. She tipped the helpful orcs a copper piece each, and they were very happy with the gesture. Hilde had just finished changing her clothes when Belynda came in to the room, a big smile on her face.
“Ronnella Hossler is keen to meet with you tonight, if you feel up to it. Her son and mother-in-law are asleep, but she will come down to the dining room if you wish.” The xvart busied herself getting cleaned up, too. She poured water into the basin on the small table, and after washing, she set about changing her clothes, too. She put back on the same ensemble that she had worn the last time they had met with the widow Hossler; an orange dress with white lace trim and her fur-topped suede boots. Hilde wore the same clothes as well, but added the drow elven robe that she had obtained in Kaht-Medinhk.
Hilde asked her squire, “What all did you tell her about our expedition?”
Belynda shrugged, and said, “Not much. Just that we were back, and brought news from the mine.” She smiled at Hilde, and continued, “I wanted to let you tell the story at least once.”
The two women giggled, and Hilde sent her squire to go ask their employer to meet them in the dining room. Hilde brought along her stiletto, and the leather pouch with the legal papers in it. She did feel hungry now, more than she felt tired. She hoped that the kitchen was still open, and then remembered that this place was run by orcs, so of course there would be food available late at night.
Nathalie was already there, and had food set down just for Hilde and her squire. The young orc maiden was off duty, but was busy making sure that there was plenty of hot food and warm beer for her idol. Hilde smiled at the enthusiasm of the girl, and sat down to the most delightful feast she could have imagined. She made a snap decision to forgo waiting for anyone else, and began dining with gusto.
Belynda showed up a few minutes later with Ronnella Hossler, the woman showing no signs have having retired for the evening and being awakened. Even with help getting her hair ready, Hilde couldn’t imagine looking that immaculate having just woken up. The widow sat down opposite of Hilde, and when Nathalie asked her if she wanted anything, she smiled and said, “Just a cognac, thank you.”
The woman then turned her attention to Hilde, and she smiled as she spoke. Hilde could sense the relief in her mannerisms, as though just having these adventurous folk return, was somehow satisfying.
“How was your inspection of the mine? Did you find anything unusual?” asked the widow, her gnome-like features giving her face an even more cheerful appearance.
Belynda, holding Cinder in the crook of her arm, sat next to Hilde, and ate happily while her mistress chuckled over the question. Hilde grinned at Ronnella, and said, “Yes, we found several unusual things. Let me start by saying, and you must understand this, that we only explored one of the three mine shafts. But what we found necessitated our return, so that you could make decisions of a, shall we say, profitable nature.”
The woman in black raised her eyebrows, and replied, “What decisions need be made?”
Hilde took a drink of her beer, and then said, “First things first. You wanted to know if the mine was haunted. Yes, it was. There was some sort of undead dwarven things down below the mine shaft, where the miners had broken through into a cavern complex.”
“Oh, my goodness!” exclaimed Ronnella. “What do we need to do?”
“Nothing.” Replied Hilde. “We dealt with them. They are no longer a threat.” Hilde sipped at her beer again, then continued, “You also wanted to verify that there was something horrible lurking in the depths below the mines. The answer to that is also yes. We found a beholder floating further down in the caverns.”
The widow clasped her hand over her mouth to stifle another exclamation, and then asked, “What should we do about that?”
Hilde and Belynda giggled, and then Hilde said, “Nothing. We took care of that, too. What you need to make a decision about, is what we found even deeper in the underdark. Because, Baroness Hossler, your goldmine is in fact more of a treasure trove than you could have thought.” Hilde set the bundle of papers down in front of the woman. “There is a viable trade route to the dark elven city of Kaht-Medinhk directly linked to your property. The House of Vaanmer Kaht would like to secure exclusive trading rights to the surface via this route, and this packet explains their initial offer.”
Ronnella opened the parcel, and read through the papers with her mouth hanging open. She seemed to scarcely believe what she was seeing.
Hilde continued talking. “Their primary agent is a woman named LeCreana Deathtree, and her lawyer for all things Slothjemian is a fellow named Rackerby something-or-other von Slothjem, who has an office in Jaggerholmschloss. I suppose you should have some sort of attorney look over this, and help in negotiations, but they are keen to expand their clan’s power and influence in the underdark.”
Ronnella just stared at Hilde, dumbfounded.
Hilde took another drink of her beer, and belched. Wiping her mouth on her arm, she asked Ronnella, “So, when do you want us to check out those other two mine shafts?”