An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 8

Hilde and her crew had very little to do today, while Oskar was taking care of his arrangements and Polk was doing whatever it is that Polk was doing today. Belynda tended to her mistress’ hair, and then they all decided to go out and do some shopping. Trangdor was keen to go along as well, but his interest was purely to find amusement in the discomfort of his friend as she tried on various clothes. After taking a pile of coins for the day’s expenditures, Belynda cast a dweomer on the rest of the money, still stacked on the table in the hotel room, and the pile became instantly invisible. Cinder would stay and keep an eye on everything, just in case. Belynda could sense the rat’s emotions, and if her familiar felt threatened, they could hurry back. Hilde locked up the room, and the three of them made their way through the fog of the morning to find a suitable clothier.

There were several on this street alone, and after being driven out by an unpleasant perfumed odor in the first store, and not liking the appearance of the sales staff in the second, Hilde felt comfortable enough in the third one to spend a couple of hours there. It was run by a group of goblinoid women; a goblin, a jor, and a hobgoblin. All were accomplished seamstresses, and they were able to make all manner of clothes for goblinoid women of any build. It was called Dementia’s Dreamstress, and while the name caused Trangdor to laugh nearly uncontrollably for much longer than it should have, he found it a most enjoyable experience. There were chairs in all manner of sizes for menfolk to wait, and he set himself down to play critic to the events as they unfolded. He wasn’t shy to the fact that this was hands down the most fun he had ever had in his life, and the delight he had at Hilde fussing over what would and wouldn’t fit, look good, or hang off of her frame properly, made him happy in ways he could have never imagined.

The jorish seamstress, who was named Monisha, took the lead on finding the fabric and designs Hilde would approve of. This was not an easy task, but after several hours of intense trial and error, she and her cohorts had settled on a complete wardrobe for Shar Eigenblade. Belynda was instrumental in this success, her knack for coordinated colors playing well to her hard-to-please orc mistress. Much of what was purchased would need to be fitted, but it would be ready in a few days. Monisha promised to send a messenger to the hotel when all was finished. There were a dozen flowing skirts, suitable for wearing over armor if so desired. There was also a dozen or more blouses, all of colors that matched pleasingly with the skirts, and a half-dozen bodices that went with everything. Hilde could quite literally reach into her wardrobe, grab any of these items, and they would go just fine together. A grander victory had never been had in any women’s clothier anywhere in the realm.

After this exhaustive experience, as Hilde was up to her neck in impatience, and Trangdor’s stomach ached from laughing, the three of them headed back to their hotel to enjoy a hefty lunch. Belynda was thrilled with their shopping, though, and chattered ceaselessly about how splendid everything was going to look. After eating, they returned to their room, and a happy Cinder greeted them with a cheerful chorus of squeaks. Hilde decided to take a nap and proceeded to crash into her bed. Trangdor had another laugh at her expense, and then went out with his manuscript to see if he could finalize a deal to get it published. Belynda tidied up the room a little, and then she and Cinder went out to see the city. She left a note for Hilde and locked the door on her way out.

Hilde awoke sometime later, and after finding the note her squire had left for her, she set about brushing out her hair. Even what felt like a short nap seemed to leave her hair looking as though rats were nesting in it. And not the good kind, like Cinder, but rambunctious rodents that suffered from uncontrollable muscle spasms when they slept. She could tell from the wetness on the windows that it was cold outside, so she bundled up. Sooner or later she would have to venture forth from the room, but she was in no hurry.

She probably wouldn’t have left until time to go to Polk’s office, but Hilde got thirsty. Taking a few silver coins from her personal stash, she wandered down to the tavern on the ground floor and got herself a large tankard of warm cider. Following the human custom, there was some sort of spice in it that made her nose tingle. Hilde loved this more than she could ever satisfactorily describe. She gave the bartender a healthy tip and asked that they bring another tankard up to her room in about an hour. Clutching the tankard with both hands, Hilde sipped on it while she slowly made her way back up to her room.

Once back in her temporary home-away-from-home, she settled down on her bed, and pulled the bedding up around her like a fort. Hilde drank her cider as slowly as she could and tried to think about everything she needed to do in the coming days. It was tough, because both her brother and Polk had been doing stuff, and she wasn’t sure what all needed to be done now. Her mind turned to her father. She was going to have to go see him at some point. It felt wrong to be looking for answers about what her father may or may not have done, without having asked him to begin with. But Hilde wanted to know the answers before she asked. Part of her hoped that all of this turmoil would amount to nothing, and she could just go visit her father with a clear conscience and her old wide-eyed optimism. It probably wasn’t likely, though. Maybe it was just how she had felt when all of this started, but the rumors about Linkristle Castle made her think that there was probably more to her father’s list of sins than she wanted to believe.

Trangdor returned from his wanderings to find Hilde snuggled firmly in her bedding and clutching her second tankard of hot cider. She grinned happily at him and giggled at his ruddy cheeks and the coldness he seemed to be shaking off when he closed the door. He set his satchel on his own bed and chuckled at Hilde’s mildly inebriated delight. He took off his hat, and set it down, too. “I didn’t have much luck today, I’m afraid. But word is beginning to spread that I’ve written this thing, so we’ll see if something presents itself in the next couple of weeks.” He shrugged his shoulders but seemed to be smiling behind all of that facial hair.

Hilde pouted, her tusks jutting out at the corners of her mouth, making her look like a petulant little girl. “Aw, that’s ok, Trangdor. You’ll be famous someday for that book. This just isn’t a very literary savvy kind of place, you know? Not a lot of readers in Slothjemia. But the ones that are out there will find out soon enough that you have something wonderful.” She smiled again.

Trangdor sat down on his bed and kicked off his boots. The room felt warm to him, so he wasn’t sure why Hilde was all bundled up. “What have you been up to?” he asked.

Hilde took another drink, and said, “Just thinking about father. I hope I am doing the right thing.” She looked down into her tankard. “He always said that I was sure to do the right thing. He better have been right.”

Trangdor nodded his head. They sat in silence for quite a while, and the quiet was only disrupted by Belynda and Cinder’s return. Far more inclined to a dramatic entrance, Belynda set Cinder down, and began to tell everyone what she had done during the day without anyone having a chance to ask. The xvart had walked a great deal, covering most of Jordrakenschloss while she had been out. She described all of the smaller castles that she had seen and listed them all off. There had been paladin houses, the cathedral, the army headquarters where Oskar worked, a couple of guild lodges devoted to various professional organizations, and she had even wandered about outside of the Royal Palace, and the sprawling castle that housed the actual workings of the government, the Royal Bureaucratic Council. She had stopped a couple of times to watch the dragonriders flying overhead, but mainly she and Cinder had stayed on the move.

How those little blue legs had held up was going to stay a mystery, but Belynda hadn’t seemed to have lost any steam during her day. She did jump on to her bed and kicked off her shoes to rub her feet. “Only a couple of hours before we need to be at Polk’s office. Shall we eat first?” she asked in her little sing-song voice.

Trangdor gave a little yawn, and said, “That sounds good. I don’t know how long the meeting will be, so we should probably do that. I am hungry.” He emphasized the point to drive home the idea that going to get food should be a top priority.

Hilde finished off her tankard, and reluctantly crawled out of her bedding fort. “I am all set. Let’s go get this done.” She wobbled ever so slightly as she looked for her boots.

Belynda cast her dweomer over the coin pile again, and left Cinder to keep an eye on things. Everyone worked at getting their shoes back on, and then headed down to the hotel’s dining room. Hilde gave the bartender the empty tankard, and through hand gestures indicated that she would like that filled up again and brought to her table. The three friends settled in to a table, and after Hilde’s tankard was brought over, freshly filled, the servers began to bring out dinner.

It was a delicious little feast, and afterwards, the three of them fetched their heavy coats from the room and set out for another night of conspiring. The fog was gone, but low clouds were settling in over Jordrakenschloss, and a light drizzle was reminding them that Slothjemian weather was rarely kind. It was excellent mood weather for sinister plots, and while some might not have thought that all of this qualified as such, Hilde certainly did. The sun was out of sight, and seemed to set quickly, and the heavy clouds made it feel even later than it was.

The trio entered Polk’s office, and were greeted by the same smiling, middle-aged woman Hilde had met here on her first visit. “Ah, good. Glad you could make it. Please follow me.” She said, as she got up from her desk, and walked through a doorway and down a short hall. She stopped at an open door and motioned for them to enter.

“Make yourself comfortable.” She said, still smiling. “Polk will be in shortly. Would you like anything to eat or drink? I was just about to send a page out to bring back some refreshments.”

“Something warm to drink would be nice.” Said Hilde softly, rubbing her hands together. Watching her you would think that she had just come in from a four-mile hike in blizzard conditions.

Trangdor and Belynda both voiced their support for a warm beverage, and the smiling woman left them and headed back down the hall. The trio looked around at their surroundings. It was a large room, and along one wall were windows that looked out over the rooftops of the building next door. Heavy, dark yellow curtains hung open, a contrast to the soft blue painted walls. In the center of the room was a huge table, and how it had gotten into this room was a mystery that would perplex Trangdor every time he looked at it. High-backed wooden chairs surrounded the table, and a dark yellow runner that matched the curtains ran the entire length of the table.

“Odd place for a dining room.” Murmured Hilde.

Belynda giggled. “I’d guess that it is a meeting room.”

Hilde said, “Oh. That makes more sense.”

Trangdor sat down in one of the chairs, and mused thoughtfully, “How do you suppose they got this table in here? This is a solid surface.” His voice trailed off as he thought about this little puzzle.

Belynda and Hilde sat down, too. Belynda liked the runner but didn’t have a chance to comment on it before the smiling matron returned with Oskar. The Lieutenant Colonel smiled at his sister and her friends and removed his greatcoat. The matronly woman took it from him, and asked the rest of them, “Would you like me to take your coats, too?”

Trangdor stood, and took off his coat, but the ladies shook their heads. After taking the dwarf’s coat, the woman said, “Polk will be with you shortly. I have a bit of a blaze going down the hall in the sitting room fireplace, and I have sent one of our office boys to bring back some cider. I’ll warm it up and bring it in straight away.”

She took her leave, and Oskar sat down across from his sister. “I’ve had a very productive day. You?” he asked, running his hand over his head in much the same fashion as they had seen their father do a thousand times.

Hilde looked at her brother as though he had just pulled a lizard out of his ear. Belynda giggled, and said, “She went shopping for a new wardrobe, and had a nap. For the way the last few days have gone, that’s quite productive.”

Trangdor chuckled and ran his hands across the top of the table in front of him. “Oskar, does this look like a single plank to you? This must have come from a huge tree.” He said admiringly of the craftsmanship.

Oskar looked at the table top, too, and made a “Hmm” sound. It was a magnificent example of woodcraft. Hilde and Belynda looked at each other and were about to start laughing at this bizarre obsession with a piece of furniture when Polk walked into the room, along with Rackerby von Slothjem and his secretary, Dellila. Everyone was greeting each other, and finding a place to sit, when the receptionist returned with an office boy carrying tankards of warm cider. Hilde clapped her hands in delight, and as the tankards were passed around, interest in the construction of the table dwindled to nothing.

The receptionist left the room with the office boy and closed the door behind her. Polk clapped his huge hands together softly, and said, “I am not sure who knows who, but this dashing jor is Rackerby, my very good friend and an attorney of some note.”

The handsome jor with the meticulously carved tusks and a suit of clothes worth more than a stable of fine horses smiled at everyone, and said to Hilde, “I got your letter. I find this situation most extraordinary, and of course if there is anything to do to help, I am at your disposal, Shar Eigenblade.”

Hilde felt herself blushing again, and mumbled “Thank you, Rackerby.” She wasn’t sure what all to say next, but thankfully her brother stepped into the conversation.

“I’m Oskar von Vorkel, Hilde’s brother. I’ve heard of you, Master von Slothjem. Are you going to be helping us with our undertaking?” Oskar wasn’t sure how he felt about this development, and adding more people to the equation, even those of a standing equal to Rackerby’s, made him a little nervous.

Rackerby chuckled. “Not exactly. Your sister asked me to help guide things along for your father in the event that all of this goes badly. She thinks that he will need a good attorney, and I agree. I am honored to have been asked to help, but to adequately counsel your father, I need to know what is going on.”

Hilde cleared her throat, and asked, “We are trying to find out if he did in fact kill somebody. We want to know the truth.”

“And I want to find the truth, as well.” Replied Rackerby. “I am not going to do anything to prevent justice from being served. But you asked me to help your father. If he killed that officer, then I might be able help temper whatever punishment is coming his way, but only if I know what he did.” Rackerby was deadly serious, his smile having vanished. “I won’t cover anything up, and if I am asked to hold back information, I’ll walk away from this whole sordid mess. My only interest is justice.”

Oskar nodded his head in understanding, and Rackerby looked him in the eye as he said, “If a crime was committed against Major Hossler, then let’s get to the bottom of it.”

Polk took advantage of the natural break in conversation to say, “I spoke to a friend and former colleague last night, and they are willing to help us. They have the ability to probe deep into a person’s mind, and there isn’t anything the targeted individual can do about it. Anything that Deckler has tucked away in his soul will be revealed.”

Belynda couldn’t hide her surprise, and she asked incredulously, “How is that possible? Divination of some sort?”

Polk chuckled, and replied, “No, they are trained in psionics. Vir works for the Interior Investigators and is willing to help us in the interest of justice, no strings attached.”

“Doctor Vir?” asked Rackerby. “The illithid?”

Polk nodded his head. “We just need to settle on a place where we can hold our interrogation without drawing too much attention, or alerting Deckler to our intentions.”

Oskar raised his hand, and Polk nodded at him. The Lieutenant Colonel leaned forward and folded his hands on the table in front of him. “I know just the spot. Close to army headquarters, and Vir will blend right in. Selkirk’s Cellar, small enough for everyone here to hear what Deckler has to say, but large enough that we won’t be bumping into each other.”

Polk smiled. “That’s perfect. We just need to know when.”

Oskar looked at Polk, and said, “Deckler is on his way here now from Vorkelburg. Should be here in a couple of days.”

Polk nodded his head. “I’ll see if I can find a way to track his movements. That will help us coordinate better.” Looking at Oskar, Polk asked, “Good work getting him here.”

Oskar smiled weakly, and said, “I also made arrangements for an investigator from the Judicial Corps to listen in on our interrogation, so that if there is anything that needs to be followed up on, they can take over this whole thing.”

An awkward silence settled around the table, and Oskar began to think he had screwed up. Rackerby looked at Oskar, and asked, “Who did you get to handle the case?”

“A lieutenant named Kinchler.” Oskar said cautiously.

“Cairn?” asked Rackerby.

Surprised that he would have known the shadow elf’s name, Oskar answered, “Yes. The Inspector General recommended her.”

Rackerby nodded his head and smiled at Dellila. Looking back to Oskar, he said, “An excellent choice. I know her by reputation. Fair, ruthless, and unflinching. I couldn’t have wished for better.” Rackerby smiled, and Oskar felt a wave of relief wash over him.

Hilde, however, still had doubts. “What if the Judicial Corps just takes over everything?” she asked softly.

Polk chuckled, and Trangdor patted Hilde’s arm to get her attention.

“That’s the goal, Hilde. If your father broke the law, then law enforcement has to take over. We’re not vigilantes, nor are we just curious busybodies. We are seeking justice. And that is what the Judicial Corps is trained to do.”

Hilde knew this was true, she had pondered the reality of it before, and on numerous occasions. Somehow, she had never been able to embrace it, though. She was preoccupied with just getting to this point. Hilde hadn’t really thought that even getting this far was feasible. She looked around the table and thought briefly about the people gathered around this table. Her closest friend, her squire, her brother, a semi-retired priest, and a lawyer. This wasn’t the sort of adventuring band she was accustomed to, nor was this her kind of adventure.

Polk’s features softened. “What is on your mind, Hilde?” he said, his voice surprisingly gentle for a man so physically imposing.

With a furrowed brow, she sighed. “What am I supposed to do in all of this?” Hilde asked hesitantly.

Belynda set her hand on her mistress’ arm, and whispered, “You began this quest for Major Hossler, and you’ll have to be the one to explain that to your father.”

Hilde frowned. “That’s more than I wanted, thanks.” She muttered.

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