An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 12

A long, awkward silence followed, and finally Grundoon took a deep breath, and said, “Alright, let’s get this going. Hilde, bring in this attorney. Oskar, do me a favor and go get my wife. Tell her to join us, please.”

As Hilde got up from her chair, she made a mental note of how far away her father was from his beloved axe that he kept on the mantel behind his office chair. She looked at Oskar, and he seemed to be doing the same thing. Oskar hadn’t come into the study armed, but Hilde had, and while Oskar might not be half of the warrior his sister was, he felt sure that he could at least grapple with his father enough to keep the old orc off balance and unable to get in a good swing. Grundoon just sat at his desk, though. All of this had begun when it had been suggested that he should retire, but that his fighting days were not over. Perhaps now, they finally were.

Oskar went to the grand hall to find his stepmother, who wasn’t much older than he was, and as he did he whispered to Hilde, “Stay here, I’ll send Rackerby.” Hilde remained in the hallway where she could keep an eye on her father, but the old orc just sat there at his desk. Jandle stared inquisitively at Hilde, and she glanced at him a couple of times while she waited for Rackerby.

Jandle’s voice was somewhat grating, as were most kobold’s, and he hoarsely whispered, “Can I help?”

Hilde shrugged her shoulders. “That is up to papa. I don’t know what he might need you to do.”

The kobold wanted to ask what was going on, but that would be a tremendous breach of etiquette. Hilde could tell from his body language that he was dying of curiosity, but she had no intention of telling anyone anything anymore. She looked back at her father, and he had gotten out a pen, and was writing something on a sheet of paper. His glasses were perched on his nose, the spectacles that had been given to him when he took over as the Governor-General of Romilmark. Now it was Hilde’s turn to be curious.

Rackerby and Dellila came down the hall, and Hilde motioned for them to enter and sit down. Rackerby settled into the chair Hilde had been in, and his drow elven secretary sat in the chair previously occupied by Oskar. Dellila pulled out a notebook and a pen and prepared to take notes on everything that the former military commander said. Rackerby gave a little smile to Grundoon when he looked up from his writing but said nothing. Grundoon continued to write while he waited for his wife to arrive.

When Oskar returned to the study with Aggrylia, he asked his father, “Do you want your squire present for this, father, or not?”

Grundoon set down his pen and removed his spectacles. Setting them on the desk, he said wearily, “Yes, have Jandle come in.”

The kobold slipped in and closed the door behind him, and all eyes fell on Grundoon.

The tired, aged orc looked at Rackerby and asked, “What is it that you need to know?”

“Everything that happened regarding the death of Major Hossler. The more I know, and the less you hide, the better able I will be to defend you legally from any prosecution that the Crown sees fit to target you with.” Rackerby replied. He seemed completely at ease, and his confidence did a great deal to ease the concerns of Hilde and Oskar.

Aggrylia began to weep softly, because she had feared this day would come ever since her husband first told her of his crime. She had enjoyed their time together, but now, thanks to his inability to control his temper, it seemed to be on the verge of unraveling.

Grundoon straightened up in his chair and clasped his hands across his belly. He looked only at Rackerby while he talked, and his tone was measured and disciplined. He knew that he had blundered, and badly. Now he was cornered, and he would not make it worse for himself or his loved ones by trying to bluff or lie his way out of it.

“It had been a perfectly routine inspection, and if anything, Hossler had been very accommodating, even gracious. If you have seen his report, you know that we came out looking pretty good. Nothing he did while he was here was out of the ordinary or unexpected.” Grundoon paused and gathered his thoughts before continuing. “On the evening of his last day here, he came to see me while I was alone in my customary spot. I liked to watch the river at night from the central watchtower, it affords the best view of anyplace in Vorkelburg. It gave me time to just be alone, and especially when I was annoyed, I liked to be left alone. I found the whole inspection annoying, I always did. I guess I never took well to the idea that somebody was nosing around in my business. Oh sure, we always had annual inspections in the army, but ever since they created a job for an Inspector General, those routine procedures have just gotten more and more irksome. Used to be a half-day affair, and some junior officer made sure you hadn’t torched the place and wrote a note to that effect. But now, they look at everything. Are you wasting food? How many crossbow bolts do you use in training? Why do you need more powder for the bombards? On and on with the questions. It just gets tedious. Hossler wasn’t a bad guy, he was just doing his job. I know that. But somebody at the Inspector General’s office got the bright idea that maybe I needed to retire, and Hossler was the poor bastard that had to relay the news to me. And I didn’t take it well. We were all alone up on that watchtower, and so help me God, I grabbed that poor man by the throat, and tossed him right over the parapet. He landed at the base of the wall on the outside, and I sent Deckler to get a squad together and gather up his remains. We burned his body on top of one of the bombard towers following a funeral, and then that very night, war was declared with Romillia. Everything else got pushed aside, and here we are.”

Dellila was writing everything down, and Rackerby folded his hands in front of his chin with his elbows on the arms of the chair. “Did you instruct anyone under your command to falsify the death notice?”

“No.” answered Grundoon. “Deckler filled out the death notice, and I signed it.” Grundoon sighed, and added, “I remember what he wrote, don’t think that I don’t. But I made no attempt to correct it, and yes, I hoped to get away with it. The war with Romillia was a gift from heaven, and without it, there would have undoubtedly been an inquiry before this time. So, I got a reprieve. Whether or not I did anything in the meantime to atone for my evil is a matter of debate, but I did try. Not enough to turn myself in, obviously, because I didn’t want to be punished. But I did give Hossler’s son an estate in Romilmark that had been awarded to me for my service as Governor-General, and that isn’t the same as bringing a man back to life, but it isn’t a moldy sack of beads, either.”

Rackerby, and everyone else, could tell that Grundoon was agitated, but there wasn’t anything that could be done about that. The jor smiled slyly, and said, “You are not in a position to be thinking that you are being treated unfairly, sir. Nor are you poised to play the role of victim going forward. You killed a man. You murdered a fellow officer who was in the service of Her Majesty, and now you have to face up to the consequences. I’ll do what I can to alleviate those penalties, but your best course of action is to handle yourself with humility and an air of repentance.” He could see that Grundoon was listening to him, and Rackerby added, “What other steps did you take to make it right with the family of the slain officer?”

Grundoon sighed again and took a deep breath. “Once I had given his heir the estate in Romilmark, I added a request for that bequest to include a one-time payment of ten-thousand gold coins, because otherwise they could never have afforded to take possession of the property.”

Rackerby nodded his head, and asked, “Was the property valuable?”

Grundoon shrugged, and answered, “I reckon it was. There was a gold mine on the estate, and the lands involved were reasonably large as well. There was plenty of room for agriculture, and while there was not a livable structure on the estate, one could be easily built out of materials available there. The estate ran up the mountains to the west, and borders with the coreland along the alpine ridge.”

Rackerby looked at Hilde, who was standing near the door next to Jandle. She was watching her father and took no notice of the lawyer’s glance. Turning his attention back to Grundoon, Rackerby asked, “Is there anything else?”

Grundoon shook his head and looked down at his hands.

“All right, then.” Said Rackerby. “I can’t make the choice for you, but as a noble you have the right to request that the Queen sit in judgement of you, rather than a military court. You will probably fair better under her gavel, but then again, she may be even harder on you than a tribunal of potentially sympathetic peers. Whichever way you decide to go, I will do my best to defend you.”

Grundoon nodded his head and looked at his wife. Tears were streaming down her face, and he knew that he had broken her heart.

Rackerby stood up, and his secretary did likewise. “I will take you up on your hospitality, Lady von Vorkel. I’ll give you some time to talk with each other, I’m sure you have much to go over in the time remaining.”

After they left the study, Grundoon got up from his desk, and went over to his wife, seated on a small couch under the window. He knelt at her feet, and taking her hands, just whispered repeatedly, “I am so sorry, my love. So sorry.”

Hilde and Oskar left the study and stood in the hallway. Jandle placed himself in the doorway with his back to his master, to give them some measure of privacy. Belynda had been waiting in the hallway, and with Cinder on her shoulder, whispered, “Is everything ok?”

Hilde whispered back, “Yes.”

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