An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 20

While the Queen and her handmaidens settled into the room vacated for them by the Herzgraf, the dashing elder paladin had taken up temporary residence with a half-dozen captains of the 60th Cavalry Regiment in the room they shared along the eastern wall of the citadel above the stables. Nobody thought this especially curious, although one might have been given to ponder why a husband and wife weren’t together, especially with the nights being as cold as they were this time of year. General Grimstag let everyone involved with the case against Grundoon know that, from what she could tell, the dining hall was ready for the Queen to open court at any time.

Under Lord Bardishe’s watchful eye, the Queen’s entourage had even pressed a tall-backed wooden chair into service to stand in for the actual throne, and had it set on a four-tiered stack of bricks. The tables of the dining hall had been stacked atop each other on the long sides of the dining hall, giving the illusion of a much skinnier, and longer, room. Two tables had been left down, facing the makeshift throne, and both set at an angle so that they somewhat faced each other, as well. Benches had been left on the far side of these tables, away from the throne, so that those taking part in the proceedings would have someplace to sit. More benches had been left in rows to the right and left of an aisleway that ran down the center of the room.

With all of this going on, dinner was served out of the delivery doors to the kitchen. The soldiers of the 6th Army grumbled a little, because standing in line for food in the snow is not anyone’s idea of a good time, but given the circumstances, they could hardly begrudge their monarch the brief use of their facilities. Taking into account that Vorkelburg was never meant for this sort of a visit, or these kinds of official proceedings, all of this was going quite well. Nevertheless, the soldiers would be glad to see it all ended, so that they could get back to their routines.

The Queen ate in her room, and she had her handmaidens bring her everything she needed. There was perhaps a good dozen or so individuals that wanted to ask her what the plan was, and when things would be getting started, but not a one of them was fool enough to actually make that inquiry. Rackerby stayed close to Grundoon and had Dellila monitoring the area of the main keep, where the Queen was, for any sign of things progressing. Oskar kept an eye there as well, having already sent Porger down to the manor house to alert Aggrylia and the rest of the family to what was going on. Hilde had perched herself in the stable, right where she could see the main outer doors to the dining hall itself, and Belynda had found a group of xvarts that were stationed in Vorkelburg that had shown her a place along the south wall where she could see if Grundoon was being brought out of the dungeon. Belynda had toyed with the notion of sending Cinder down to look and see what was going on in the cell but decided against it.

Aggrylia and her two small orcish children were allowed to see Grundoon, but Lieutenant Kinchler had remained in the room with them, and Grundoon was not allowed to exit his cell. There was a warm family embrace, separated by the bars, of course, and it could not be described as anything other than emotional. Cairn had watched these sorts of scenes before and had never been moved by them. This, though, was different. She had more of a connection to this odd, horrible case than she had ever experienced with another. She was baffled by Hilde, intrigued by Oskar, and nearly in awe of Grundoon. This did not feel like a randomly assigned job to her. This felt more personal. It felt as though she had been drawn into a family drama, more than she was investigating a crime. Even though two of his children had been responsible for uncovering his wickedness, Cairn had seen not one flicker of animosity towards them in his eyes. Instead, it was as if he was proud of them. Deeply proud, more so than if they had done anything else of note with their lives. It was difficult for the shadow elf to comprehend, but she realized as she watched Grundoon and his wife holding their two small children in this twisted rendition of a family reunion, that the aged orc was ashamed of how he had behaved. Not just when he had killed Major Hossler, but at other times in his life, as well. Cairn was watching a guilty man setting his own heart free, in grief, in acceptance of fate, and in the unfettered pride of his children being better than he was, stronger, and more noble.

The lieutenant wiped a tear from her eye.

The Queen finally let it be known through one of her handmaidens that she would convene her court following breakfast. There was no grand announcement, just this hapless jorish girl in the service of her monarch, going from place to place in the citadel with the announcement. First to General Grimstag’s office, then to the room Rackerby von Slothjem was staying in, and from there to the dungeon, to tell the prisoner. Hilde and Oskar found out from the grapevine as the word began to spread all through Vorkelburg. The big day was tomorrow.

Rackerby went to see Grundoon in order to make sure the old orcish warrior was ready for what lay ahead. When the attorney got to the cell, the baron was just saying goodnight to his family. Once they left, the guards and Cairn remained. Grundoon stood with his hands on the bars, and asked the lieutenant, “Can I please speak to my lawyer in private?” his voice sounded tired and drawn out, as if he had been delivering speeches all day.

Cairn looked at her guards and glanced around the room. There was only the one door out, and Rackerby didn’t seem the sort of man that would smuggle in a weapon or key, so Cairn said, “We’ll be right outside, counselor.” Motioning to the guards to follow her out, the Judicial Corps troops clattered into the next room, and closed the heavy wooden door behind them.

“What is on your mind, Baron von Vorkel?” asked Rackerby.

“You had told me back when this all started that if I kept anything hidden, it could compromise your defense of me in this matter.” The orc looked at the jor carefully. “You meant anything sinister in nature, anything violent, or reprehensible. Is that correct?”

Rackerby slowly nodded his head. “Yes, that is what I had in mind. Anything that might run contrary to how I am trying to portray you, in order to lighten your sentence.”

Grundoon stared at Rackerby and tightened his grip on the cell bars. “Then there is something you need to know.”

Rackerby frowned a little, and asked, “Should I sit down?”

“I think that you probably better.” Replied Grundoon.

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