It took some time, even using the communication crystal in Vorkelburg, to convey to the Inspector General Grundoon’s petition for his case to be judged by Empress Reichsha, and for the answer to be sent back from the capital. It took a week for everything to work out, but at last Rackerby had an answer he could give to the baron. The Queen agreed to hear Rackerby’s petition for leniency. When Rackerby asked when he needed to be in the capital to address the court, the reply was simply “Await further directions at Vorkelburg”, and then the crystal fell silent. Rackerby had Dellila wait in the communication hall while he went down to tell Grundoon what the latest information was.
Grundoon was awake, wrapped in a quilt that his wife had sent up for him, sitting on his creaky little cot, when Rackerby came into the room. The guards eyed him warily, but never broke their silence. He smiled somewhat weakly at Grundoon, and said, “Her Majesty has agreed to hear our petition. We’re waiting for further instruction.”
The old orc smiled in reply, and slowly nodded his head. “That is a very good thing, I should think. Thank you.”
Rackerby raised an eyebrow, and asked with some surprise, “Thank you? For what?”
Grundoon grinned, and chuckled as he said, “For steering me in the right direction. I’ve done a lot of thinking here these last several days, Master von Slothjem. How much are your services going to cost me? It is worth the price, I assure you. But I don’t recall ever discussing a fee.”
Rackerby laughed and looked down at his hands before looking back at Grundoon. “I haven’t decided yet, to be honest. Part of me wants to chalk it up as returning a favor to your daughter. And part of me wants to do what I can to save the life of a national hero.”
“And the rest of you?” said Grundoon, his smile fading a little.
Rackerby chuckled, and then his smile began to vanish, too. “The rest of me wants to punish you for what you have done. Done to your family, to your Queen, and to the army you served for so long. Whichever part of me wins out, will decide your fee.”
“And when do you figure to find out?” asked Grundoon, still smiling.
With a sly smile, Rackerby replied, “I am waiting for further instruction.”
Oskar was torn. He hadn’t done much to prepare for being away this long, and he was trying to do his regular job from Vorkelburg. His superiors didn’t seem to mind, and in all honesty, they probably didn’t care one way or another as long as the work was completed. But Oskar began to obsess about not being at work, so he would do all of his paperwork at the manor house, and then take it up to Vorkelburg to make use of their communication crystal. General Grimstag didn’t really mind all that much, she found the Lieutenant Colonel to be a very handsome and fascinating man, but she was amused at the sheer volume of traffic going on in her communication hall. Vorkelburg had never been this busy, even when the garrison had been gearing up for war.
Dellila and Oskar spent a lot of time together, but none of it was planned. Both of them had been granted permission to use the crystal, but it had to be at off hours in case there was any need for regular Army business to be conducted. This meant they did a fair amount of waiting, either in the dining hall, walking the corridors of the castle, or strolling the ramparts in the snow. Casual observers might have guessed that the orc and dark elf were beginning a romance, but they both knew that they had a shared love of wine and complaining about their work conditions. They were both compulsive perfectionists when it came to their work, and they missed their neat and tidy desks back in Jordrakenschloss.
Hilde and Belynda didn’t have anything more pressing to do, at least not that they were aware of, so hanging around Vorkelburg during the day, and trying to be helpful at the manor house in the evenings, was enough to keep them occupied. Aggrylia talked a lot to Hilde, about everything under the sun; Viktor and Leala, the future of the estate, recipes for every dish Aggrylia knew how to make, and unsolicited advice on courtship and marriage. Belynda spent hours writing down recipes as they were explained to Hilde, and the xvart compiled them in a nice little stack of parchment suitable for binding at a later date. The other denizens of the house kept off to the sidelines as much as possible. None of Grundoon’s children were as close to Aggrylia as Hilde was, nor had they had the benefit of many months of introspection to come to terms with what was happening to their father. The unexpected delight of having Oskar and Hilde return to the vale had quickly turned sour when the closed-door conferences had begun, and the arrival of the Judicial Corps had meant the incarceration of their patriarch. A lot had changed in Vorkelvale, and nobody was enjoying it.
Porger and Chloe had been active in their duties as the family gofers, going for this, and going for that. Mostly they carried the mail from the castle to the manor, and vice versa. Dellila took down letters for the rapidly aging orc and included her own notes as to his general health and well-being. Aggrylia was concerned about the deterioration of his physical strength, and Dellila confirmed that Grundoon was having trouble standing up and had lost a good deal of his appetite. Those in the know attributed this largely to the stress he was under, but Aggrylia knew that some of it had to do with him no longer wearing the ring that he had given to Hilde. The mystical powers that emanated from the pretty little piece of enchanted jewelry had maintained Grundoon’s corporeal abilities for the last few years, and now that it was removed, his body seemed to be racing to make up for lost time in deteriorating. Chloe and Porger had little else to transport other than these missives, because General Grimstag was making sure that her infamous guest was being tended to as well as the Judicial Corps would allow.
The days dragged on, and the falling snow only amplified the depressed mood of everyone in Vorkelvale. A week passed since the day Lieutenant Kinchler had arrived, and finally there was a development. Three black dragons and their riders arrived unannounced from the capital, and as their riders dismounted in the huge courtyard of the citadel, it was apparent to all that the Herzgraf was now a part of this sordid little saga. The riders barked orders to the soldiers of the 6th Army that had turned out to see what was going on, and in short order the Queen’s husband was making his way determinably to the commandant’s office. Brushing aside anyone that dared to slow him down or waylay him in any way, his demeanor betrayed his emotions. The Herzgraf was angry. Not yelling or throwing stuff, but the man was upset. Grimstag was halfway to her office door, having just received the news of the Herzgraf’s arrival, when the paladin in his shiny armor and massive fur coat came billowing into view.
“We need to talk.” The Herzgraf said, pointing to Sarla. “Have a seat.”
The ogre sat down, and even sitting she was as tall as the Herzgraf was standing up. She clasped her hands on her desk and waited for her boss to speak.
“Did you know that Grundoon had killed this officer on the final day of the annual inspection?” the paladin asked, his jaw tense and tone even more so.
“I did not.” Answered Sarla. She was being completely honest, and her questioner would have known if she was lying, but she was unaware of that fact. She simply had no reason to deceive.
The Herzgraf nodded his head and relaxed ever so slightly. “When did you find out?” he asked.
“When the command was sent via the crystal that I was to dispatch a squad of Judicial Corps soldiers to take the baron into custody at once. The Inspector General’s office said that another group of investigators was underway, and would arrive to take possession of the prisoner, but until then, the 6th Army was in charge.” General Grimstag didn’t look away from the Herzgraf when she spoke, instead meeting his gaze as he seemed to be looking into her mind, and digging into what was real, and what wasn’t.
The dashing, older man relaxed even further, and dared a grim smile. “Who else in the 6th Army knew, aside from Major Deckler?” he asked.
Sarla shrugged her shoulders, and held her hands out, palms upward, as she said, “I didn’t even know that he knew!” Clasping her hands in front of her again, Sarla said, “As surprising as this may sound, and it may be a ludicrous notion, but not everyone who commits a crime in Vorkelburg comes running to confess it to me. Shocking, I know.”
Taken aback by her sarcasm, the Herzgraf felt his hackles rise. “This is a deadly serious issue, General.” He growled.
Standing up suddenly, the ogre towered over him, even with the desk in between them. “No kidding, your majesty. You don’t say. But no amount of seriousness to this horrible mess will change the fact that the baron kept his secrets to himself, and if he ever said anything to anyone, it surely wasn’t me. And if it had been me, you would have known it by now.” The woman’s voice was close to a roar, and for a moment she felt like bellowing, but she kept her cool. “I don’t keep secrets from my superiors. I do my job, and I do it well. Which is why I am behind this desk now, and someday, I might be a Marshal. But to get there, do you really think for one confounded moment that I would jeopardize it by lying for a murderer?”
Humbled somewhat, the Herzgraf slowly shook his head. “No, I don’t suppose you would.” He said, his voice barely audible.
Sitting back down, Sarla said, “These are difficult times, sir. We do what we can to make it through. My command is, as always, at your beck and call.”
The Herzgraf nodded his head, and without a further word, he turned and strode out of Sarla’s office. The ogre smiled as he exited and gave her adjunct a wink. “Have somebody keep an eye on what’s going on.” She said quietly. “I dislike surprises.” The corporal saluted smartly, and quickly scampered off to carry out the order.