An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 11

Rackerby von Slothjem’s carriage made splendid time, thanks partly to the crest prominently displayed, and partly to the coordination that Polk had fostered to have fresh horses available at regular intervals. The occupants of the coach spilled out at equally regular intervals; for relief, stretching, and eating. The longest stops were to change the horses, and the passengers enjoyed actual meals during those times. Between sleeping, albeit fitfully, and conversing amongst themselves, the time went by quickly. Through Four Corners, Kernschloss, and Borostat, the carriage rolled on. How the footmen managed to stay alert throughout the journey was a mystery, one that Trangdor would have pondered for hours had he been along for the trip.

The final leg of the journey was tense for Hilde. She fidgeted, not something she was normally prone to. Belynda noticed and did her best to engage her in conversation and keep her distracted. The xvart might not have been entirely successful, but her efforts were appreciated. The carriage rolled through the cold, narrow valleys towards Vorkelburg, and upon reaching the intersection right in front of the citadel, they turned and headed down the road to Vorkelvale. They had made the trip in less than three days, and it was midday when they pulled up in front of Baron von Vorkel’s manor house.

Everywhere this particular coach went, it drew attention. And here, at the end of the road in a far corner of the kingdom, it was especially noticeable. The manor staff all turned out to see who these unexpected guests were. The footmen opened the doors, and the people inside spilled out, thankful that the trip was at an end. Everyone was trying to get the blood flowing back to their legs, when Grundoon came out of the house to see what all of the excitement was about.

His face lit up when he realized two of his children had shown up, and he gave them both a hug as his other family began to gather around to greet the visitors. There was quite a bit of animated discussion about what this visit was all about, and when the furor finally died down, Hilde braced herself, and tried to look her father in the eye as she spoke.

“This is Rackerby von Slothjem, papa. He is a friend of ours, and I think he can help you.”

Rackerby bowed slightly, his hands clasped behind his back.

Grundoon looked confused but didn’t stop smiling. “Help me with what?” he asked.

Hilde tried to smile, but it didn’t come easily even though her father was happy. “Rackerby is an attorney, papa.”

Grundoon scratched his head and looked at his daughter. “We have an attorney, Hilde. Limmerlin and Sons, in Borostat.”

Hilde took a deep breath, and said, “Limmerlin is an old man, papa.”

“But his sons aren’t!” replied Grundoon, still smiling.

Hilde tried to keep her cool, and said, “They aren’t up to the task, papa. You need Rackerby.”

Grundoon’s smile started to flag, and he said, “Need him for what?”

Oskar stepped in to the conversation, and said firmly, “Let’s go talk inside. Hilde and I have something to tell you, and it is urgent that you hear it from us before…” his voice trailed off, before he could find the right words, and added quietly, “Before it is too late.”

Grundoon’s wife, Aggrylia, organized the servants and family to welcome their esteemed guests properly, and Belynda, Rackerby, and Dellila were ushered into the great hall of the manor house. Meanwhile Grundoon led Oskar and Hilde into his private study. Jandle, Grundoon’s squire, closed the study door and stood watch outside in the hall.

Sitting down in his overstuffed chair, Grundoon let out a sigh, and asked, “What is this all about?” he searched the faces of his son and daughter for some clue, but all he came away with was disturbing to him. Hilde looked tired and like she had been crying. Oskar looked deadly serious, more somber than Grundoon had ever seen him.

Hilde looked at Oskar, and he nodded at her silently. Looking into her father’s eyes, Hilde said, “The murder of Major Karl Hossler.”

The color drained from Grundoon’s face, and he felt light-headed.

“What did you do, papa?” Hilde asked as she sat down across from his desk. Oskar remained standing, waiting for his father to respond, and when he didn’t do so right away, Oskar sat down in a chair next to his sister.

Grundoon seemed to be looking through his children, his eyes unfocused and his jaw twitching slightly.

Oskar’s voice was commanding, but softly so, as he said, “Answer her, father. Tell her what you did.”

Grundoon seemed to drift back into reality, and he stared at Hilde as he asked, “How did you know?” His voice was deep and gravelly, and wavered as he spoke.

Hilde took a deep breath, and said quietly, “Major Deckler told us.”

Grundoon shook his head slowly. “Deckler would have never said anything of the sort.” He said in disbelief.

Oskar smirked as he replied, “He didn’t want to tell us. But he had no choice.”

The old orc looked at his son, his furrowed brow a telling sign of his rising anger, and then he looked back at Hilde. “Why would he have been in a position to be telling anyone anything?” he asked, his voice strengthening as his ire began to boil.

“Because you trusted me to do the right thing, papa.” Hilde said, making no attempt to hide the bitterness in her voice.

“Who knows?” Grundoon asked, his fists clenched on the desk in front of him.

Hilde leaned forward, and her voice practically hissed the words as she spoke, “Everyone. The Judicial Corps will be moving to take you into custody at any time, and if you want to avoid the butcher’s block, you need to tell Rackerby everything that happened with Hossler. Everything.”

Grundoon was beginning to cool down, but the gravity of the current situation was tugging him in several different directions at once. “What are my options, Sergeant-Major?” he asked.

Hilde sat up straight, and said very matter-of-factly, “Tell Rackerby what you did, and let him navigate this journey from here.”

Grundoon’s orcish eyes flashed from his daughter to his son, and he asked Oskar, “Do you trust this fellow, Colonel? Is he really royalty?”

Oskar nodded his head. “Yes, I do, sir. He is a von Slothjem. His reputation is beyond reproach.”

Grundoon was quiet and lowered his head as he sat back in his chair. Hilde and Oskar watched him in silence.

Finally, and without looking up, the aging orc asked, “How did anyone ever guess that I had murdered Hossler?”

Hilde smirked, and said, “You brought us up to respect the rules, and ask questions when things didn’t feel right. Hossler’s widow hired me to investigate the old goldmine you gave to her son. And I started to have questions. So, I went looking for answers, and here we are.”

“I should have told you when it happened.” Grundoon muttered.

Oskar sneered, but reigned in his sarcasm. He did allow himself the pleasure of telling his father, “No, you shouldn’t have killed an innocent man. If the fates send you back in time to redo any aspect of your life, father, start with that.”

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