An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 15

Aggrylia had time to calm down over the next few days, and while nobody could have expected her to bounce back to her jovial self that everyone knew prior to Hilde and Oskar’s arrival at the manor, she was at least able to rally herself to be actively engaged in what needed to be done. Grundoon was locked away in the dungeons of Vorkelburg, and various family members took turns riding to and from Borostat to take care of family business. Grundoon’s squire, Jandle, had been the first to make the trip, under orders from Grundoon before he was taken into custody. The next day, one of the family’s trusted footmen, a half-hobgoblin named Kreg, was dispatched to the city, with a list of things to follow up on provided by Zindel. Aggrylia then stepped in to supervise the process and feeling much more capable than she had felt in a long while, she told the family that nobody else was to make the trip until Jandle returned, and they knew what had already been done.

The chaos surrounding Grundoon’s arrest had given the citizens of Vorkelvale something to talk about, and to be sure, it was all they were talking about. Similarly, in the citadel perched high on the cliffs overlooking the small vale, conversations among the soldiers were almost exclusively about their former commandant. One by one, Grundoon was visited by the people that had been a part of his senior staff. Notably absent from this guest list were Major Deckler, himself under arrest and imprisoned in the capital, and General Blackcowl, who had a command of his own, and as far as anyone knew, was oblivious to Grundoon’s current predicament. All of those able to visit with Grundoon expressed their concern for his future, surprise at him being arrested, and astonishingly comfortable attitude about him having murdered somebody in the first place. Their only real dismay was that he had killed a junior officer, and not a drunken tavern patron with a sword. Most offered to bring him food, and none of them did anything to suggest breaking him out of his cell and spiriting him to freedom. Other than General Grimstag, his most frequent visitor was Lieutenant Colonel Hemlock, the lizardman that was the ranking spellcaster in the 6th Army. He had been promoted due to his actions at the Battle of Garvin’s Gap, and while he was thankful for the boost to his career that Grundoon had given him, he was quick to remind his former commander that Grundoon’s quandary was entirely of his own design.

“We are a nation of laws.” The lizardman would tell Grundoon with a reptilian sneer, whenever the old orc had started to wallow in self-pity. This always made Grundoon chuckle, hearing his own words used sarcastically against him, but only because he knew how ridiculous he must have sounded, in light of what he himself had done.

“You never get tired of reminding me, do you?” laughed Grundoon. “In my defense, I wasn’t supposed to be found out.”

Hemlock would laugh, offer to bring some fresh bread, and then take his leave after making some more conversation on superficial topics. Like every other of Grundoon’s prior senior staff, Hemlock was torn. He had always liked Grundoon and would have done anything for him when he had been in charge, but this was something altogether different. His closest friend had always been General Blackcowl, and not having him around for what felt like Grundoon’s final chapter made everything feel even stranger. Newer members of the 6th Army weren’t sure what to make of all of the drama that was filling every corner of Vorkelburg, but the veterans made sure that they understood what was at stake. The hero of Garvin’s Gap was under arrest and locked deep beneath the castle he had overseen for two decades. This was huge. And it had to be talked about.

Back down in the vale, Jandle returned after a couple of days riding to and from Borostat. He was accosted by a number of the von Vorkel family seeking information, but he kept his kobold mouth shut until he had a chance to speak with the lady of the house. Behind closed doors, he told Aggrylia all about what his master had sent him to do. In addition to amending his last will and testament, Grundoon had written a letter to each of his children and had given them to his squire to deliver. He was to start with those of Grundoon’s offspring that had left home, sending the letters via coach to their respective recipients. Then, he was to hand deliver the remaining notes to those still living in the family home or that had taken up residence in Vorkelvale, as well as Oskar and Hilde. The letters for the two youngest children were to be given to Aggrylia to hold, until such a time as she felt they were mature enough to handle the contents. Aggrylia took the letters and tucked them away in her jewelry box.

Aggrylia had never been a shrinking violet, but there were things that she had deemed as off limits to her. One of those things was the sanctity of the relationship and confidentiality between her husband and his squire. Now, however, she felt that her desire to know what was going on outweighed those concerns. “What changes did my husband make to his will, Jandle?” she asked him pointblank.

Jandle hesitated briefly, but he had already considered that things like this were going to come up from time to time. His duty was still to his lordship, but the lady of the manor had every right to expect to be fully informed of what was going on. “He leaves the distribution of his earthly possessions mostly unchanged but altered the heirship of the von Vorkel title. He wants the estate to go to Zindel.”

Aggrylia thought about this development and nodded her head slowly in agreement. Zindel wasn’t the eldest child, but he had taken good care of the estate while Grundoon had been in Romilmark. Aggrylia suspected that there was more to this bequest than what lay on the surface, but she would wait and ask her husband in person.

“What changes did he make in how his possessions were to be inherited?” Aggrylia asked.

The kobold wasn’t as comfortable with this question, and he considered briefly not answering, but instead chose to be honest. “The axe, and the ring he got from the melted dwarf.” Jandle looked at Aggrylia. “Oskar is to return the one to the Archduke of Kernschloss, and he gave the other to Hilde.”

Aggrylia smiled, an almost sinister smile, as she said, “He always boasted that she was the one among all of his children that could be counted upon to do the right thing. And she is. I love her as though she were my own daughter, Jandle. If her father had half as much virtue as she, we would all be spared this terrible ordeal.” She sat down in her husband’s chair, and said, “Zindel deserves the estate. Hilde, though, has earned her own titles. Mark my words, Jandle, she isn’t yet finished with her legacy. I would like to see her flourish further.”

Jandle smiled as well, and said, “I should also enjoy seeing her succeed in life, milady.”

Aggrylia stared at the kobold and pointed her finger at him. “Then you will do whatever you can to help her along in life, for as long as you are able and willing. Your master has gotten himself into a lot of trouble, Jandle. Soon enough you may be a squire without a lord. So, as the lady of this estate, I am giving you a new mandate. You make sure Hilde excels. You dedicate yourself to her success.”

Jandle swallowed hard and realized he had fallen into the baroness’s trap. Aggrylia was correct, soon he might be out of a job. Squires didn’t do well without a calling. Aggrylia had given him another task, and a new dedication to tackle.

“I’m not the kind of help she needs, milady.” The kobold said with a quiet hiss.

Aggrylia laughed. “Of course, you are. You just aren’t the kind of help she would seek out voluntarily.” She looked sternly at the kobold in front of her. “She will appreciate you more, when she doesn’t know you are there.”

Jandle understood and nodded his head slowly. “When my commission has ended with Baron von Vorkel, if it ends, I will do as you have asked, milady.” He said in an almost whisper.

“To that end, get yourself up to Vorkelburg, and make sure Grundoon has everything he needs while we wait for the next boot to drop.” Aggrylia stood up, and added, “Take Porger and Cloe with you. If Grundoon needs anything, send one of them to run down here and tell me.”

The kobold nodded his head and smiled. “As you command, milady.” He then skittered out the door and stopping only to tell Porger and Cloe to follow him, and handing them each an envelope, Jandle made his way back to the stable. His legs were too short, and his age too advanced, to be walking up and down this cursed road to the citadel. Porger and Cloe got their own horses ready, and the three of them made their way up to where Grundoon was imprisoned. Vorkelburg had never seemed quite this large, or this imposing, as it did now.

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