As it turned out, the widow Hossler didn’t care about the other two mine shafts, at least not urgently. She promised to have the gold in the morning for services rendered, and she would be dispatching the gnomes she had hired to do the mineral survey as quickly as possible to begin their work. The Baroness had two other concerns, and Hilde provided quick solutions for both.
First was the issue of security at the newly discovered trade route, to which Hilde suggested that she hire the services of Shr Vulthar Wrunler, who had enough armed people on his estate to serve as a perfectly functional mercenary unit. Secondly, there was a question as to who might be able to provide legal services to review the trade proposal. Hilde told the widow to contact her dear friend Trangdor Goldenhelm, a very learned fellow who could probably do the job just fine.
Before the widow could call it a night, though, Hilde made it clear that she had something to discuss. The Sergeant-Major lowered her voice, and motioned for her noble employer to lean in. When she complied, Hilde said, quietly but not exactly in a whisper, “Now I think that I have delivered well on our arrangement. You went from owning a hole in the ground that might have some gold in it, to owning a highway through which all manner of treasure will flow until the end of time. Are we agreed on that?”
The widow nodded her head, but said nothing.
Hilde continued. “You have agreed to pay the monetary fee for services delivered, now I ask you, are you ready to entertain the second part of my fee?”
The woman opposite her averted her eyes down to her cognac, and said in a small voice, “Very well. You have excelled in the quest that I asked you to undertake. I’ll tell you whatever you need to know.”
Hilde thought for a minute, and then asked, “How did your son come into possession of the Peklender Mine and the associated estate?”
Ronnella met her gaze, and replied, “As one of his last official functions, the Governor-General of Romilmark bequeathed the estate to my son. I do not know why. He never said, or made any indication as to why my little boy should suddenly be thrust into the nobility. But the documentation was oddly specific; Lorenz Hossler, son of Major Hossler.” The woman paused, and then said, “It never mentioned my husband’s first name, though.”
Hilde furrowed her brow, and said, “Tell me about your husband. Where was he assigned? How did he die?”
Ronnella finished her cognac. She took a deep breath, and answered slowly. “He was a member of the Inspector General’s office, tasked with routine inspections of army garrisons. He died while touring the garrison at Vorkelburg.”
Hilde lowered her head. “Well, that answers that. I can’t say it does my heart any good to know, but now I do.” Hilde finished her beer, and motioned for another. “There was never any explanation, huh? Just the deed and the title?”
Ronnella nodded her head. Speaking of her husband had no doubt opened a wound in her soul, but Hilde was also hurting. Neither woman could have understood the other’s pain, but only because their own was so fresh. Hilde just stood up, and said quietly, “Thank you, Baroness. I’ll see you in the morning.” And then the orc and her squire headed for their room.
Belynda knew her mistress was upset, and respected her enough to remain quiet, and leave Hilde to her thoughts. Hilde prepared for bed, and without a word, she slipped into a restless sleep. In her soul, she knew what must have happened, but she scarcely dared to believe it. She wasn’t sure what to do next, but she knew that she had to do something.
In the morning, Belynda braided Hilde’s hair, and the two of them went down to the dining room. Ronnella Hossler was waiting for them, her son sitting at her side. On the table in front of them was a small chest, and the widow placed her hand on the top of it when the Sergeant-Major and her squire walked in to the room.
“Your gold, Shar Eigenblade. Well earned, indeed. My son and I owe you much for what you have done for us. We will see to it that you are fully repaid for your courage and, I should say, profitable curiosity.” Ronnella smiled as she spoke, a mix of sorrow and gratitude.
Hilde took the chest off of the table, the weight of the gold coins inside giving no comfort to her thoughts. She forced herself to look into Ronnella’s eyes, and then she looked at the little boy. He smiled at her, filled with innocence and unaware of the cruelty that had brought him to this place in his life. She turned her attention back to the widow.
Hilde’s voice was firm, and subdued. “I have much that needs to be said to you, and someday, to your son. But know this, Baroness; I am equally indebted to you. I only hope that as we learn about one another, that our gratitude does not wane.” Hilde bowed slightly, and turned to leave the room.
Ronnella stood up, and called to her. “Shar Eigenblade!”
Hilde stopped, and turned slightly to half-face the woman wearing black.
A tear ran down Ronnella’s cheek as she said, “Hilde. Whenever you are ready, I am ready to listen.”
Hilde could feel herself beginning to tear up, as she replied softly, “I pray you will be ready to forgive as well, my lady.” With that, she turned and left the room, Belynda right on her heels.
It took a while to get everything loaded on to the little donkey cart, but before too long Hilde and her squire were on their way home. The Hossler family had everything they needed should they have to seek out Hilde for more help, but with the contacts Hilde had given the Baroness, there wasn’t likely to be a need for her assistance any time soon. It was getting colder in Romilmark, and Hilde wanted to be at home in front of the fireplace instead of galivanting about in the underdark. She didn’t especially want to return to her job, either. The lovely orc with the Rubenesque figure had some decisions to make, and the options swirled in her mind as they made their way home to Brakoff.