It didn’t take long for word to spread about the new route from Romilmark to the Underdark, and before long, the negotiations had been concluded between the Hossler family and the House of Vaanmer Kaht. The entire realm seemed to be talking about this discovery, and while it would mean a drop in business for the merchants in the city of Jaggerholmschloss, it was not a very big loss. The new route, dubbed the Hossler-Eigenblade passageway, would require some alterations to allow goods to flow freely, but the arrangements were soon made to begin hauling foodstuffs into the Underdark. This was the one thing that would benefit the most from the shorter travel time.
Before the route was even opened for business, the Office of the Lord Miner had sent a representative from their Bureau of Underdark Affairs to serve as a diplomat in the passageway, as well as a tax collector for goods being imported from below. They brought with them a small delegation to handle the gathering of tariffs, and to monitor security on behalf of the Empire. It was decided that the Slothjemian portion of the passageway should extend all the way down to and include the Grotto of the Shar. The dwarven enclave that had been infested with undead would become the central trading post, and became known as Hosslerhohle. It was large enough to store plenty of goods, as well as provide housing for a sizeable number of soldiers. A detachment of the 10th Army would be stationed here in rotation to keep the passageway secure, just as if it was a regular border crossing.
Not long after the delegation from the Office of the Lord Miner sent its report to the Empress, word arrived that Her Majesty, Queen Reichsha, wished to visit with Shar Hilde Eigenblade. The summons arrived at Hilde’s home in Brakoff right in the middle of a glorious Romilmark winter storm, and the frustration of not being able to leave the house in a timely fashion had everyone on edge. Trangdor was especially anxious, not least because he had been eager to go to the capitol to see if he could find a buyer for his comprehensive history of the beginning of Romilmark. Belynda was excited to find a collector of Underdark art to appraise the rest of their acquired loot. Hilde was the only one not gnawing at the chance to go, but she wasn’t entirely sure that she was ready yet.
Hilde split the difference, and sent a letter to the Queen to let her know that she would be honored to visit with the monarch, and that she would hasten to the capital as soon as the weather cleared up enough to allow travel. Belynda was then tasked with packing for the trip, one trunk apiece and no more. A strongbox was to be taken as well, to haul the gems and artwork to a better place to find buyers. Trangdor was going along with, and he promised to take only one trunk, as well. Half of it would be the book he had finished, but it was just one trunk.
Hilde also arranged to meet Baroness Hossler in Dregladorf on their way through to the Coreland, and the now-wealthy widow was going to bring along the final agreement for the Hossler-Eigenblade Passageway for Hilde to read and sign off on. The jolly orcish woman who was rediscovering her bellowing laugh wasn’t sure why she had to sign anything, but she just shrugged and figured she’d deal with it when they got to Dregladorf. The only coach that had room for all of them and their luggage was the Royal Slothjemian Coach Line, and it was in a roomy, yet bumpy, six-horse carriage that Hilde, her squire Belynda, and Hilde’s best friend in the world, Trangdor Goldenhelm, found themselves being carted off from snowy Brakoff to meet the Queen. Cinder had her own little pillow and spent her time curled up beneath the bench seat under Belynda.
They had the carriage to themselves most of the way to Dregladorf, and talked about how lively the countryside was, even in winter. Every chimney in every house was billowing out smoke, and there were plenty of tracks to be seen indicating a healthy amount of traffic to and from each farm and estate. Proof of how alive the area was, became evident when a very old human man, bundled up against the elements, flagged down the coach and bought passage for he and his great-granddaughter to go to Dregladorf. The man had a very heavy accent, but he smiled a lot. The child had probably never seen an orc this close before, but she wasn’t the slightest bit shy.
“Your skin is a lovely green.” She said to Hilde.
Hilde laughed, and replied, “Thank you! Your Slothjemian language skills are very good. My name is Hilde. What is your name?”
The little girl smiled broadly, and said, “My name is Brendee. Our names almost rhyme!” She giggled, and waved to Belynda. “Why is your daughter blue?” she asked happily.
Everyone laughed at this, even the old man, although it was doubtful that he had understood the situation, and why it was funny. Belynda said to Brendee, “I am not a little girl, I am a grown-up xvart! We are little people, even smaller than dwarves.”
Trangdor waved at Brendee, and she waved back. Her real interest, though, was Belynda. The little blonde girl asked seemingly endless questions about xvarts all the way to Dregladorf, even though her hands were busy petting and playing with Cinder. Where were her eyes looking, why did she just have a ponytail and no other hair, and could she change her color to match her mood? It kept everyone entertained. Trangdor had to shout across everyone in order to converse with the old man in Romillian, but nobody minded. It turned out that the old fellow was going to Karpaburg to stay with his son’s family. He was no longer able to work his farm, so he was going to live the rest of his years in the lumberman’s town. Trangdor felt sadder about this than the old man did.
When the coach arrived in Dregladorf, everybody piled out and went their respective ways. The old man and Brendee went off towards one of the less expensive inns, and Hilde and her party made their way to the Dark Cowl Inn to see if Baroness Hossler had arrived yet. She had, and was expecting them. A statuesque hobgoblin introduced himself to Hilde as she was signing in at the inn’s front desk, and helped them take their luggage to their room. He then led them down the hall to the Baroness’ room, and escorted them inside.
The hobgoblin’s name was Alagarn, and he had been hired to serve as the Hossler family’s chamberlain. In a chair just off to the side was a very old woman wrapped in a blanket like a baby, with only her face showing, resembling a dried-apple doll. The papers had all been laid out to sign already on the table in the center of the room, and Ronnella greeted them all with warm embraces. This took everyone by surprise, and while the widow was still clad entirely in black, her face was aglow with happiness.
“Shar Eigenblade, Hilde, how wonderful to see you again!” She hugged the orcish woman as if she were her oldest and dearest friend. “Come, sit and relax! Are you hungry?” she asked, and without waiting for anyone to answer, she turned to Alagarn and said, “Go, and bring back food and drink for our dear friends. They must be near starved by now.”
Hilde was quite unaccustomed to this woman, and wondered what had become of the Ronnella Hossler she had known before. She nearly stammered over her words as she said, “My goodness, Baroness! You certainly are in a chipper mood! Has the first good snowfall of winter given you this exuberance?”
The woman covered her mouth with her hand as she snickered, and replied, “No, my dear. But the money we’re going to make on our passageway played a part in my mood!”
Hilde looked at her, the shock and confusion written boldly from tusk to tusk and up to her eyebrows. “The what from the where, now?” she stammered.
Ronnella stared back at the orc, her own face now a mix of surprise and incredulity. “You didn’t think that I would only pay you a thousand gold for such an amazing discovery, did you? That merely covered the cost of you checking out the mine!” the widow laughed again, and covered her mouth as she did so.
Belynda stood with her jaw hanging open, but managed to say quietly, “But we only did a third of that job. We still have more to do, right?”
Ronnella grinned, and said with laughter in her voice, “Oh, yes. You are still obligated to finish the exploring in the other two mineshafts. But I hope you will also take on the challenge of further exploring any other side routes off of the Hossler-Eigenblade Passageway. There may yet be other denizens of the underdark we can open up trade with!”
Hilde looked at the papers on the table. “So, what is this then?” she asked in a bewildered tone.
“Why, that is your share of the profits going ahead! Any trade deals from the Hossler-Eigenblade Passageway will be split between us. Not equally, I am afraid. But you will get a third of everything we bring in. And if you return to the underdark, and find more routes that we can capitalize on, then you’ll get a third of those, too. Isn’t that wonderful?” The widow pointed to provisions in the agreement. “Trangdor here wrote this up on your behalf. I didn’t realize it was going to be a surprise, though!”
Hilde looked at Trangdor. “How much money are we talking, here?” she whispered.
The dwarf grinned at her, his mustache and beard hiding his mouth, but his eyes betraying his joy. “I’m guessing at least fifteen hundred gold a month. Minimum.” He whispered back.
Hilde looked at the baroness. “I need a pen.” She said hoarsely. “And where is that hobgoblin with the vodka?”