An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 22

The morning reveille sounded, and for the bulk of the people in Vorkelburg, it was business as usual. The only thing that was different was that they had to stand in line outside the delivery doors of the main kitchen for their breakfast. The snow had stopped falling for the time being, but the men and women huddled against the cold still griped and complained about these circumstances. Their only hope was that all of this would be concluded before lunch was served, so they could escape the cold.

The Herzgraf was in line with the soldiers too, but his mood was markedly better. He had enjoyed a fine evening with the officers he had bivouacked with, playing cards and just talking about army life. While he hadn’t slept all that well, it wasn’t evident in his demeanor as he stood in his regal uniform, snow halfway up his spotless cavalry boots, laughing about whether the smell from the kitchen was eggs or not.

The Queen was still in her room, and her handmaidens brought her breakfast to her. The meal had been prepared elsewhere in the castle, in a smaller kitchen. Everyone that had travelled to Vorkelburg was treated to this special culinary indulgence. Reichsha had brought with her one of her own cooks, and he was given great latitude in what ingredients he could commandeer from the main kitchen. The food was unarguably far superior to that which was served to the garrison, but the real bonus to the arrangement was not having to stand in line in the cold to get it.

Hilde had breakfast with her family, including Oskar, at the manor house. They all ate hurriedly, and this was not as substantial a meal as might be normal for an average morning. Everyone wanted to get up to the castle and be ready for the court proceedings to begin. Belynda pocketed a few biscuits, partly for Cinder, and also for herself. The family, and the servants of the estate, then piled into the huge brown carriage, onto horses, or just started walking up the road to the citadel. It was a sad little parade, and the addition of a mournful sort of hymn, played by those in the vale that owned musical instruments and had decided to follow along, did nothing to brighten the mood. Hilde had opted to walk, and with Belynda jogging to keep up, the orcish dame had made it to the citadel before the family coach was even halfway up the road.

The White Guards had posted themselves at the entrance to Vorkelburg, and they searched everyone that came through that morning. No outside weapons were to be allowed, and Hilde reluctantly, and somewhat bitterly, handed over her shortswords, dagger, and stiletto to the guards. She had never felt more vulnerable in her life. Posted outside of the dining hall were Black Guards, and in charge of them were members of the Phantom Legion, the most elite of the Queen’s personal protectors. They did not search the people that entered the temporary court of her Imperial Majesty, but they were most certainly scrutinizing those that passed their way. Belynda could sense that they were employing magical scrying, but it was being done at a level far beyond her comprehension.

Oskar had to surrender his officer’s dirk, but it troubled him far less than it did his sister. He was allowed entry to the court, but the soldiers of the garrison were forbidden entry, with the sole exception of the senior staff, the officers that had served with Grundoon in years past as the former general’s advisors. Excluded from the senior officers allowed entry to the court was Colonel Baron Englar von Borros, because he had just been a major under the command of Baron von Vorkel and was now a member of the senior staff because he had taken General Grimstag’s old job. He was more than a little put out about the slight to his position, but he wasn’t about to demand that the Phantom Legion allow him entry. Instead, he hung around with the rest of the officers in the hallway outside of the dining hall, and quietly complained like a proper soldier.

In the dungeon, Cairn had gone above and beyond the call of her duties and had prepared a basin of warm water. Taking it to the prisoner, the lieutenant asked Grundoon, “Would you like a shave, sir?”

Grundoon had already eaten and nodded his head. Still wrapped up in his quilts, he looked remarkably well rested, albeit tired. One of the guards unlocked the cell, and Cairn stepped in with the basin of water. She pulled a small straight razor from her tunic pocket.

“Don’t make any sudden moves.” The shadow elf said. “Any attempt to escape, or to kill yourself, will not end well. We have more than enough means to keep you alive for as long as her Majesty needs you to breathe.”

The old orc nodded his head and smiled. “I have no doubts about that, Lieutenant. I am at your mercy.”

Cairn took a small piece of soap out of another pocket and began to lather up the orc’s whiskers. She could have let the gentleman’s squire do this with magic, and it would have been nothing for Jandle to have used a simple cantrip spell to have accomplished the same effect as the razor. But Cairn didn’t fully trust the squire and having him polish the old orc’s boots and preparing his clothing was one thing. Being able to touch the baron was another matter. The shadow elf was more trustful of her own motives, and more certain of her hand.

With extraordinary calm, the lieutenant shaved the stubble from Grundoon’s face. He had been unshaven since arriving in this cell, and while he couldn’t grow a real beard or mustache, as such things were terribly rare among full-blooded goblinoids. But he did have a very stubborn “five-o’clock shadow”, and Cairn had to hold the orc’s head to get a good pull against his cheeks and jowls. The orc was very compliant with Cairn, and whichever way she placed his head, he held it there. Wiping the debris off of Grundoon’s face, the lieutenant finished up her task, and placed the razor back in her pocket.

“Much better.” She said. “You’re now presentable to the Queen.”

She left the cell, and one of the guards locked it behind her. As she left, Grundoon watched her go. Whispering aloud to himself, he said, “No, I really am not. Not by a long shot.”

Once the lieutenant had left the room, Grundoon asked the guards to fetch his squire for him, and one of them relayed the message by bellowing it down the dungeon hallway to where the next station of Judicial Troops was. Jandle was on his way back to his master, having gone up to get himself some food, when he was told by a soldier that Grundoon needed his help. Jandle picked up the pace and padded along the stone floors of the citadel as quickly as he could.

The baron wanted help to make sure that his suit was perfect when he put it on, and Jandle complied with his trusty lint brush. The creases in the trousers were as sharp as the kobold could get them, and the open robe that matched them was completely wrinkle-free. The deep red tunic had a sort of satiny shine to it, and even though Grundoon had none of his medals or awards to wear, he still made for an impressive man. Jandle gave him a black fur hat to wear, and Grundoon put it on with a sort of mocking coronation motion.

“I am ready to go.” He said firmly. Throwing his shoulders back, he placed his hands on his belly, and took several deep breaths.

The guards sent word, again through bellowing, that the prisoner was prepared for court, and shortly two of the White Guards came down the hall to escort the baron up to the dining hall. They had no shields, and had their longswords sheathed. The Judicial Corps guards opened the cell, and two of them led the way up to the temporary Royal court. Grundoon followed them, and the White Guards were right behind him. Jandle fell in behind the rest of the Judicial Corps guards, and the little procession headed up from the dungeon. The cell was left open, and as the procession made their way to the dining hall, whatever guards had been assigned fell in and marched along. It was finally time.

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