An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 25

After escorting Baron von Vorkel back to his home in Vorkelvale, the guards fell into formation and marched back up the road. They had to catch up to the Imperial convoy, and there was no reason for them to loiter about this barony. As they started up the road, they passed the Judicial Corps soldiers that had only minutes earlier been assigned to make sure that Grundoon didn’t leave the vale. The folks that lived in Vorkelvale now hung about here, wondering what life was going to be like with a squad of soldiers encamped at the foot of the cliffs.

The family and servants of the manor began to try and get back to business as usual, but there was no denying that all of this was strange new territory. Grundoon spent quite a while just standing outside, looking around, his hands stuffed in his coat pockets. He looked like he was trying to decide on where to plant a rosebush. Oskar stood at a distance from his father, unsure as to what he should say or do. Aggrylia had her littlest children bundled up, and they were playing happily in the snow, oblivious to anything that was happening among their elders. Giggling at their antics, Aggrylia made her way cautiously to her husband’s side.

“It will be nice to have you here, unable to wander off.” She joked, hoping that Grundoon would find it humorous, too.

He did. Grundoon laughed and grinned at his wife. “For a while, it will be nice. All wives think that, until their husband keeps waking up in the morning.”

They laughed together, and she hugged him tightly. He returned the affection, and they stood there for a long while in silence, watching Viktor and Leala playing. Grundoon finally broke the calm by saying, “This can’t last for long, you know.”

Aggrylia nodded her head, nestled in his chest. “I know, Grundy. But I can enjoy it while I can, and when it ends, it ends. I am ready. I am the wife of a warrior, and I am acquainted with what that entails.”

“I’m in no rush.” Said Grundoon quietly.

“But it is going to happen.” Responded Aggrylia.

“Yes, it is.” Said Grundoon sadly.

Oskar stood awkwardly for a while, watching this interaction between his father and stepmother, and then headed back into the house. He might as well get packed. He wasn’t going to be needed here much longer, and he had work to do back in Jordrakenschloss.

Rackerby von Slothjem’s carriage clattered down the road into the vale, and the guards stepped aside to let it pass. The coach came to a stop outside of the manor house, and Dellila stepped out, followed by Rackerby. The lawyer spotted Grundoon and Aggrylia embracing among the apple trees, and he braced his coat against the cold as he walked towards them. Dellila went into the manor house to warm up.

Rackerby came up upon his client respectfully, clearing his throat to get the Grundoon’s attention. The old orc looked over at him and smiled briefly. “Forgive the intrusion, sir.” Said Rackerby, his hands clasped behind his back. “Unless you have something else that requires my attention, it looks as though our work here is concluded. My secretary and I will be leaving in the morning.”

“What do I owe you?” asked Grundoon, still hugging Aggrylia.

Rackerby chuckled. “Nothing. Nothing at all. I would prefer to part ways with a clear conscience, rather than gold.”

Grundoon chuckled, too. “I understand. I made a lot of astonishingly poor choices in recent years, and that has made it difficult for those around me. I appreciate all that you have done for my family, Lord von Slothjem. You have been immeasurably supportive of Hilde. It is what she needed.”

Rackerby put his hands in the pockets of his robe. “It is what she needed, because she didn’t have what she wanted. She wanted her father to be innocent. She wanted to look up to her father and be able to hold him in as high esteem as she felt he deserved. But you already know that. You can’t undo what was done, but going forward, you have a chance to make amends. Don’t squander it.”

Grundoon extended his right hand towards Rackerby, and the jor took hold of it in a handshake. Upon concluding this gesture, Grundoon resumed hugging his wife, and Rackerby turned and walked to the manor house without a further word.

Jandle came out of the manor and padded through the snow towards his master. Drawing close enough to speak, he gave a little wave to Grundoon. The old orc returned the wave, and asked, “What is it, Jandle?”

The kobold stood silent for a moment, and then asked, “What is next, my lord?”

The crisp, cold air accentuated the unease. Grundoon looked thoughtful for a minute or two, and finally said, “I have nothing, Jandle. I release you from your obligations as my squire. I am afraid I no longer require your services. As well as you have served me, I’m afraid that a commendation from me would mean nothing in seeking other employment as a squire. Not many would clamor for a squire that loyally served a murderous scoundrel.” The aged orc chuckled, and Jandle laughed, too.

“By your leave, then, I would like to stay on as a servant in your home. Perhaps I can still be of help.” The kobold suggested hopefully.

Aggrylia said, “I think that is a fine idea, Jandle. You can always help Zindel with what needs doing, until a better opportunity comes along.” The lady of the estate winked at the kobold, and he nodded knowingly.

“Thank you, my lady.” Jandle said and bowed deeply. “I’m going back inside, though. My lizard blood runs too cold to be out in this misery.” With another little wave, he jogged back to the manor house, and Grundoon and Aggrylia laughed at his scampering in the icy mush.

“Let’s go inside, Grundy.” Aggrylia said and took her husband’s hand in hers.

Grundoon nodded his head, and together they headed in to the warmth of the house. Snow began to fall again, and Hilde watched them go inside as she approached the house from the road to the citadel. She stopped and looked back at the squad of guards milling about at the road and wondered what sort of life this was for her father. Once upon a time, he had bristled at the notion of having to retire. Now, he was imprisoned in an apple orchard.

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