An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 19

Empress Reichsha’s arrival at Vorkelburg was preceded by five more black dragon riders, two of which landed in the courtyard of the citadel while the other three circled in the sky. The riders from the first two dragons quickly ran to the gates of the castle and took up positions to welcome their Queen. This was the first time that Reichsha had ever visited the home of the 6th Army, and to say this was a very big deal was a grand understatement. Her husband, the Herzgraf, strolled regally to his own spot in this carefully orchestrated affair, and beside him stood General Grimstag in her finest uniform.

The Queen’s Imperial carriage rolled smoothly, almost silently in through the gates of Vorkelburg, led by a company of the Black Guards, and followed by two companies of the White Guards. Behind them were two more carriages, and as the guards fell into formation inside the courtyard, the three coaches lined up in front of where the Herzgraf and General Grimstag stood.

A footman jumped down from the Queen’s coach and opened it with a flourish. Steps dropped down automatically, and the Queen exited the carriage in a graceful, elegant motion. Her husband bowed low before her, and said, “Welcome to Vorkelburg, your Majesty, your sixth army is honored by your presence here today.”

He stood back up, and the Queen held out her gloved hand for him to take. She was wrapped up against the elements, and even though her carriage was surely the most comfortable in all of the country, she was doubtless glad to be free of its confines. “Thank you, my darling.” Reichsha said, a light smile on her lips. Her tusks were finely polished, and practically shone in the light of the waning sun of the day. Her black fur coat was massive, enough to smuggle a horse under, and two hand-maidens exited the coach to help gather it up so that it did not drag in the fresh snow. The Herzgraf led his wife to where General Grimstag stood, wearing her greatcoat and doing her best to not look as big as an ogre.

“I proudly present the Queen of Slothjemia, Reichsha von Slothjem.” Said the Herzgraf, introducing the two women to each other. “This is General Shar Sarla Grimstag, commandant of the 6th Army, and governess of Vorkelburg.”

Sarla saluted her monarch, and said in her most delicate tone, “Welcome to Vorkelburg, my Queen.” For an ogre, it was delicate enough. The Queen smiled at Sarla, and with a wave of her hand that was nothing like a salute, she indicated that the ogre could stand at ease.

While the other carriages disgorged their passengers, Reichsha looked up at the woman that commanded this garrison, and asked, “How is our prisoner doing, General?”

Sarla wasn’t aware that she was to have any lines in this production beyond what she had just delivered, so she didn’t answer immediately. “I understand he is doing well, my Queen. He has not left his cell since his arrest.” Suddenly, Sarla began to wonder if maybe he should have left his cell, but then she wasn’t sure how any of this was supposed to work.

“Wonderful!” said Reichsha, a bit more enthusiastically than the General and the Herzgraf expected. “I will be commandeering your dining hall for my court. These folks know what to do.” She again waved her hand towards the people stretching next to the coaches. “Just let them do what they do, and if they ask for anything, make sure they get it. Now, where is my bed to be? I wish to lay down for a while before dinner.”

The Herzgraf, still holding her hand, said in a quiet voice, “This way, my liege.” And led her off towards the main keep. Some of the guards followed, and the carriage crews began to unload the baggage. Grimstag watched the Queen and her husband enter the keep, and then began to shout orders to her own soldiers. The baggage was hefted inside to wherever it needed to go, and all of the guests were directed to their accommodations. The other three dragons landed in the now crowded courtyard, and although it took a while, soon the dragons, horses, dignitaries, and guards were dispersed to where they needed to be. The action now moved to the dining hall.

Led by a human with thick black hair and a well-trimmed black beard and mustache, who didn’t seem to hold any military rank whatsoever and yet spoke with authority such as nobody in Vorkelburg had ever seen, the retainers that had accompanied the Queen in the other two carriages began turning the dining hall into a functional Royal Court. General Grimstag managed to get herself a good long look at this mysterious man, and she made mental notes about everything she could. He was wearing a studded leather jacket, but instead of little spikes poking out in all directions, they were tiny silver skulls. Sarla managed to get close enough to see that each tiny skull was hand crafted, too. Beneath this jacket the man had on a loose red shirt, but not blood red, more of a bright red, like on the Slothjemian flag. His trousers seemed to be the sort of heavy work pants worn by day laborers, but of far better quality, and dyed a dark grey. He wore black leather boots, the kind that didn’t polish, and were floppy near the top. He had on his right hand a huge silver ring with a large ruby set into it, and his teeth were disturbingly perfect. Everyone that had come with the Queen jumped when he spoke, and he quickly turned the citadels biggest room into an extremely serviceable facsimile of a throne room. General Grimstag was impressed, to say the least.

“Who is that man?” Sarla asked one of the footmen who was moving the tables around to make room for the Queen to hold court.

Looking towards where the general was staring, the footman laughed and said, “That is Shr Drendolm Bardishe, the Lord Executioner.” The footman continued his work, but he continued chuckling.

Sarla looked wide-eyed at the man in the black leather jacket covered in little bitty skulls. The Queen had brought along her axe-man. That was an ominous portent. A dark omen of things to come, indeed.

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