An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 21

Grundoon took a deep breath and sat down on his cot. Wrapping his quilts around him, he began to talk. “After the Battle of Garvin’s Gap, we found the almost-dead remains of the fellow that started the war. He was miraculously alive, thanks to magical ring he had. His armor had melted, and he was trapped, unable to speak or get away. I told him that I would hunt down his family and kill them all, wiping out anyone that had a claim to his title and name. At the time it seemed a mostly harmless threat, I had no idea how I would ever get to do that. But I wanted to him to know fear when he died, to fear for his offspring. We had bested him in combat, and crushed his army, but I wanted him to believe that he had placed everyone he loved into jeopardy.”

Grundoon sat quietly for a moment before continuing. “So, I pretty much left it as that. Once his ring was removed, he died from his wounds, and his bones still rattle around inside of his melted armor there at the crossroads of Garvin’s Gap. Makes for a damned fine memorial to our troops. Anyway, I figured that was that. I waited out the rest of the war here, and only after it was all over did the Herzgraf show up and relieve me of my command. But he had a twist to this plot development. He sent me to Romilmark to be the Governor-General of the captured territory. Now, all of a sudden, not only was I in a position to carry out my threat, but geographically and politically speaking, I was nicely poised to act with relative impunity.”

Rackerby could sense where this was headed, but he said nothing as Grundoon continued talking. The old orc knew that Rackerby was a sensible man, and could probably guess the ending to this tale, but he kept going. “I summoned two huntsmen that I knew from the Battle of Garvin’s Gap, not army fellows, mind you, just a couple of tough thugs that I knew I could trust. I put to them my plan, to lure the family of this dwarven archduke to their ancestral home, and once there, slaughter the lot of them, all at once. They designed a means of destroying the entire place to bury it all and enlisted the help of some craven poisoner and his clan to help subdue the dwarves so that we could administer the final blows. Not every member of the family attended, though, so I had the two huntsmen track them down in Romillia to finish off any stragglers.” Grundoon smiled grimly at his lawyer. “I killed them all, you know. I killed every last member of the Velferin family. I premeditated the crime, carried it out, and used my authority as Governor-General as a protective cover should anyone question my involvement.”

Standing up, and leaning forward until his tusks nearly scraped the bars of his cell, Grundoon asked, “Do you think that any of that will hurt my defense?”

Rackerby chuckled. “You are a vile, wicked man, Baron von Vorkel. I will be careful how I word your defense, you can be sure of that. But let me make one thing perfectly clear to you, right here, and right now. Anything I can do to help you in the matter of the murder of Major Hossler, I will do to my utmost. But as to the murder of an entire family of Romillians, in that matter, you are entirely on your own.” It was a somewhat sly smile that Rackerby had when he added, “Had I known this was the kind of man you are, and that this is the sort of vile behavior you are capable of, I would have declined to help you at all, with anything.”

“What about Hilde?” the aged goblinoid asked, his mood suddenly changed to one of concern and sadness.

“She chose a good surname for herself.” Said Rackerby tersely, as he stood and walked to the door. Opening it, he added, “I’m glad that apple fell far from the tree, and it would appear, rolled down a mountainside.”

Grundoon was silent as the guards filed back in and resumed their muted watch over their prisoner.

<<<—>>>

Rackerby spent a good deal of that night fine-tuning his defense of a man he found to be indefensible. It wasn’t going to be easy, and he had to be exceedingly careful as he chose his words. Whatever he said in the court of the Queen could be used later to incriminate him, not just his client, so he took his time to phrase things as perfectly as he could. He had no room for error, because the man he sought to keep from being executed well and truly deserved to be so condemned. Although Rackerby was deeply intrigued by this entire episode, there was a slice of his soul that even now yearned to have never been involved with any of it. When he did fall asleep, it was a fitful, restless sleep. A more unpleasant night had never visited upon the noble jor, and he prayed that such would never return.

It was not just the attorney that was having trouble sleeping. Across the citadel, and down in the valley below, just about everyone was on edge. Tomorrow would decide the fate of the lord of this little barony, the former commandant of this castle, and a hero both locally and nationally. While the width and breadth of his deeds were unknown to most, the murder of Major Hossler was a shock enough. How the people that knew and loved Grundoon von Vorkel would react to whatever sentence was levied against him was a matter of wild speculation, and at least one or two of them would have gladly stepped in and taken the beating on his behalf. But such was not to be. The aging former soldier would have to take his own penalty, and do so with what was left of his dignity, and some semblance of honor. For that, Grundoon was blessed abundantly. Having freed himself from any and all secret villainy, the prisoner slept soundly in his cell.

The only other person that slept as though they hadn’t a care in the world was the Lord Executioner. And like Grundoon, his conscience was also crystal clear. Not because he had unburdened himself and confessed his sins, but rather because he swung his blade only on the orders of Her Majesty, and in that, he had been faithful. Whether or not his axe would be used tomorrow had yet to be revealed, but he was ready for that eventuality. Truthfully, only he and Grundoon could be said to be ready for this. Everyone else had yet to make up their mind.

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