An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 1

Lieutenant Colonel Oskar von Vorkel had just finished up his work for the day, when a valet from the Royal Palace entered the room filled with desks that sat in the heart of the Army High Command. With the valet was one of Oskar’s younger sisters, Hilde, and a dwarf and a xvart that Oskar didn’t recognize. He smiled upon seeing his sister and stood up from his desk. He held out his arms wide for a hug, and Hilde raced into his embrace.

Oskar was a large orc, with every indication that he should have been obese. However, he stayed in remarkable shape; the only sign that he wasn’t born to be skinny was around his jowls and neck. His head was large, like Hilde’s, and he kept his hair closely shorn the same as his father did. Oskar was a professional soldier, but he wasn’t a warrior as much as he was an administrator. Hilde had made a name for herself by being both, and she admired her brother for being as dedicated as he was to his chosen career.

“My dear little sister! I got your letter but didn’t realize that you were coming to the capital so soon!” He squeezed her again. “What are you doing here?” Oskar’s voice was deep, like his father’s, but not gravelly. Without looking at him, somebody overhearing him might mistake him for being an orog.

Belynda whispered something to the valet, and he bowed before taking his leave of them. Hilde said to her brother, “I need your advice, Oskar. Father did something horrible, and then he did something even worse. I’m not sure what to do.” Her voice trembled as she spoke, her emotions beginning to break down now.

Oskar hugged her again, and said calmly, “Let’s go to my house. We can talk there. I’m just glad to have you here.” With his arm around her shoulder, he looked at her companions. “And who might you be?” he asked with a slight smile.

The dwarf answered, “I am her friend, Trangdor Goldenhelm. I served as your father’s translator in Romilmark. This is Belynda, your sister’s squire. We were all summoned to an audience with the Queen, and your sister was awarded the Knighthood of the Royal Society for Exploration.” Trangdor paused, and then asked, “And who are you?”

Oskar laughed, and Hilde howled with laughter. When Hilde was able to speak, she said, “This is my brother, Oskar. He and I are the black sheep of the family.” Oskar laughed again.

“What makes you two black sheep?” asked Belynda.

Hilde and Oskar just laughed, and the Lieutenant Colonel motioned for them to follow him back to his house. On the way, the two siblings chattered ceaselessly on topics ranging from the weather in Romilmark to life in the army, and the fact that neither of them owned a horse. One conspicuously absent topic was their father, but that was going to have to wait until they reached Oskar’s home.

Leaving the massive building that house the Army High Command, a castle in and of itself that sat on the northeast corner of the capital, the quartet walked through the city as night began to deepen. The air was bitingly cold, and the clouds had blotted out the stars. It felt as though it was going to storm. The walk to where Oskar lived was not far, but then the capital was not a terribly huge municipality. He was fortunate to live in this heavily fortified citadel city; most people that worked here had to commute from the sprawling city of Slothenburg that sat at the foot of the mountains in the swamp. But Oskar did not have a family to support, and he could therefore afford the rent in the small apartment in which he dwelled. It was on the third floor of a five-story building close to the heart of Jordrakenschloss. The ground level of his apartment building was occupied by a number of high-end businesses. Surrounded by luxurious enterprises, and in the very lap of the nation’s wealth and power, Oskar von Vorkel could be expected to have the most fabulous of home furnishings.

His guests were not let down when he opened the door of his apartment, and ushered them in. The furniture was luxurious in the extreme, the baroque style suggesting extravagance far and above his rank and station in life. The main room had a balcony with a pleasant view of the main street in front of the building, but he only had a small area for food preparation and a small attached bedroom. One novelty to the place was the inclusion of a tiny bathroom, complete with running water and an actual toilet. He didn’t have room for a bathtub but had mentioned on their way to his home that there was a fine bathhouse just down the way.

Oskar hung up his greatcoat and unbuttoned the top few buttons of his army tunic. “Make yourselves comfortable, sit anyplace you like. Would anyone like some wine?” he asked nonchalantly.

Hilde plopped down on a couch and kicked off her boots. “Sure, why not. Unless you have some apple brandy, or a vodka.”

Oskar laughed, and produced a small round bottle. “I do have apple brandy. No vodka, sorry. It doesn’t agree with me.” He got some small snifters and poured everyone a glass. He then set them on a golden tray and served his guests with a grin.

Trangdor took the glass offered to him, and asked, “Does your wife mind that we have taken your attention for the evening?”

Hilde stifled a laugh, and Oskar chuckled as he replied, “I am not married, master Goldenhelm. I do have a cat, but he is out for the night.”

Belynda’s eyes widened, “Oh. I see.” She took the glass of brandy with both hands because it was nearly as large as her head. “Have you any wool?” She asked with a sly smile.

Hilde laughed so hard she almost hurt herself. Oskar took the fourth glass off of his tray, and let the tray fall next to him as he threw his head back and roared with delight.

Oskar sat down next to his sister, and once the levity died down enough to allow him to speak, he said to her, “Tell me what is on your mind, Hilde.”

Hilde set her glass down on the end table and turned to her brother. She took a deep breath, and said, “I suspect that papa killed an officer back in Vorkelburg. A member of the Inspector General’s office, a Major Hossler. It would have been before he was asked to serve as the Governor-General of Romilmark.”

Oskar nodded his head thoughtfully, and said, “That is a bold accusation. No officer, General or not, can be excused from killing a subordinate in cold blood.” He took a sip of brandy. “Do you know any details?”

His sister shook her head sadly. “I don’t even know for a fact that he did anything wrong, not about Hossler anyway. It is just a hunch. He gave the major’s young son a barony in Romilmark just before he left for retirement. It was the barony he had been given as a reward for service to that Grafdom.”

Her brother raised an eyebrow. “That isn’t very suspicious. Father can be a very generous man when he wants to be. Perhaps they were old friends.”

Hilde shook her head, this time emphatically. “No, Oskar. He didn’t even know the major’s first name. He addressed the deed to the barony to the son of Major Hossler.” She stared into her brother’s eyes. “He knew the little boy’s name, but not the name of his father. Doesn’t that seem strange?”

Oskar’s gaze narrowed. “Do you suppose that the lad is our kin, and that is why he was given the estate?”

Hilde looked repulsed by this suggestion, and grimaced. “Good heavens, no. I’ve met the family. That little boy doesn’t have a drop of orcish blood in his veins, much less our father’s. As near as I can tell, this Major Hossler has never served under papa, or interacted with him in any way until he was sent to do the routine inspection of Vorkelburg.”

Oskar simply made a “Hmm” sound and sat thinking.

Hilde continued with her line of thought. “So, whatever is in the records about the inspection might give us a clue to whether or not papa killed this man. And, there has to be a report about the death of Hossler, homicide or not. Whoever filed that might know more about what really happened.”

“That would probably have been filed by whoever was in charge of his Judicial Corp detachment at the time. Perhaps they helped cover up a murder, but maybe they didn’t know anything about it at all.” Oskar went and refilled his glass and sat back down. “Somebody would have to find that out for certain.”

Hilde cocked her head and smiled at her brother. “Yes, somebody would have to investigate.”

Oskar shook his head, chuckling. “Not me, little sister. You haven’t given me anything to go off of other than wild speculation. You will have to find somebody willing to say they knew something before I will commit to digging this up.” He held his hand up to stop her from talking, and continued, “This isn’t about father, either. I need more information regardless of who it is.”

“Fair enough.” Hilde muttered. “I’ll go see what I can find, then.” She smirked at her brother, and said with a snap, “But if I find something, something that packs a punch, you better do something.”

Oskar chuckled again. “Oh, I will. If father crossed the line and did anything to violate his oath as an officer, I will make sure he is made to answer for it.”

Hilde laughed, a sinister sort of laugh that made everyone in the room feel uneasy. “Brace for it, then. Because killing Major Hossler is not the worst thing papa has done recently.” Noting her brother’s unease, she laughed again, and said, “Let me tell you about the destruction of Linkristle Castle, and why you won’t find any Romillian dwarves with the surname of Velferin.”

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