After getting back to Jordrakenschloss, the party went their separate ways. Rackerby thanked everyone involved for their help, and just like that, everything went back to some semblance of normal. Oskar returned to work, Hilde and her friends returned to Brakoff, and winter fell on the realm in earnest. Hilde, Trangdor, and Belynda made it back to the huge house they shared, but it took a lot longer than it should of because of the foul weather. They were so glad to be home, though, that they were just fine with being snowed in for a while.
Trangdor had found a patron to buy his book, and it was no less a persona than the dowager countess, Tiffan Barwick von Slothjem. The elderly half-elven mother of the Queen had heard of Trangdor’s book through the network of literary gossips that permeated the capital, and she made it known that she would finance the printing of the book for a limited run in exchange for a copy, and a small portion of future profits. Trangdor was going to have the manuscript printed right in Kederlenn by Brandt Fessler, but that would have to wait until the snow began to melt. Nothing was going to happen in Romilmark until then.
As the season dwindled to a close, and the first signs of spring were beginning to be hinted at, Hilde received a notice from Queen Reichsha, hand delivered by a member of the White Guard. It was a notice that she had been awarded the title of Viscountess, and with the award came a rather large estate. Curiously, the land that came with the title was a long, narrow strip, beginning at the Karpa Pass and running right along the peaks of the mountains south to the Keder Pass. It included the entire range down to the timberline on the Slothjemian side of the border, and everything east of this estate was Romillian territory. And smack in the middle of this was Balthor’s Peak, the very place Hilde, Trangdor, and Shr Gelbrand had playfully discussed building a retreat for themselves. Hilde had hoped just to get the peak itself as her estate for the knighthood she had been given for her discovery of the Hossler-Eigenblade Passageway to the underdark. This far exceeded that. She had never imagined that this would ever happen to her. She had gone from a daughter of a self-made baron, to being a self-made Viscountess.
Belynda was ecstatic with this news, and of course, so was Trangdor. Shr Gelbrand was going to have brand new neighbors on the mountains above his little castle, and Hilde could hardly wait to tell him. Hilde began to plan on selling the big house in Brakoff to help cut down on her responsibilities, but Trangdor talked her out of it. This place was a small bit of her father’s legacy, and it had become something of a landmark in the city. Hilde didn’t need the money, and there would be occasions that would require her to be in Brakoff for extended periods of time. Hilde saw the wisdom in this line of thinking, so she resolved to keep the place after all. Right as the snows began to melt, the happy band of friends in the huge house in Brakoff was given yet another gift of good news; due to the nature of Trangdor’s work in preserving a bit of history in written form, the dwarf was to be given a knighthood, the Legion of Seekers, to be bestowed by the Graf of Romilmark. It would not come with an estate, but so overwhelmed by her friend’s success was Hilde that she went ahead and gave him the deed to the Brakoff house. Shr Trangdor Goldenhelm wept with joy at this generous gift, and everyone that knew him said it was well-deserved.
Back in Jordrakenschloss, Oskar greeted the changing of seasons with a bottle of wine every weekend, shared with his new closest friend, Cairn Kinchler. She had been given a promotion to Captain about a month after the trial was over, and shortly after the flowers began to bud in the Coreland, Oskar was promoted as well, to the rank of Colonel. They both had increased responsibilities, but they made time each week to enjoy some wine and talk about the noteworthy happenings in their lives. He found her cold, calculating logical mind an excellent reprieve from the hot-blooded emotions of most people surrounding him, and she enjoyed his sharp wit and scathingly sarcastic view of the world. Rarely did they speak of Oskar’s father, but when they did, it was generally speculation as to how he was doing. Once in a great while, Oskar and Cairn would have dinner with Rackerby, Dellila, and Polk at the Oaken Gnoll Steakhouse. At the beginning of each dinner somebody would ask Oskar if he had heard anything from his father, and he would shake his head and tell them he had not. From there, the conversations would leap to a more engaging topic, and never look back.
By and large, this was how Grundoon von Vorkel shifted in the national eye from being a man of intense interest, to being a person mentioned only briefly, and rarely. During the long, cold winter, most everyone of any importance had heard about the trial, and that this once lauded hero of a not so long ago was just another murderer who couldn’t control his temper. People closest to the Queen let it be known that mention of the von Vorkel name was a risky move around Her Majesty, and when the Lord Executioner is whispering to you “Don’t mention Grundoon, whatever you do.”, you had best take heed. A campaign had been started, shortly after Grundoon had given up his post as Governor-General, to place a statue of the orcish officer in Brakoff. Now, however, all talk of that idea was squashed. There would be no memorial to the former Baron of Vorkelvale, not in Romilmark, or anywhere else if the Queen had any say about it. And did she ever. The Herzgraf suggested an obelisk instead, not just to the former Governor-General, but as a tribute to the victorious Slothjemian armed forces that had fought against the Romillian invaders. This idea, too, was crushed. There was a perfectly good statue in Garvin’s Gap, gruesome and effective, and that was all the memorial anyone was going to get. With that, the discussions slowed to a trickle, and finally died out altogether.
Springtime was warmly welcomed in Vorkelvale, though. In this distant corner of the Empire, the apple blossoms signaled an end to winter’s oppressive grip on the people who worked the orchards of Baron Zindel von Vorkel. There was a festival to celebrate the beauty and serenity of the valley, and the new lord of the estate did a smashing job of entertaining his tenants, servants, and guests. Optimism flowed through the barony like freshly pressed cider. Most everyone was happy.
Aggrylia was not among those in a celebratory mood. She had become more serious, more withdrawn of late. She still had a smile for everyone she met, but there was a sense of sorrow lurking just behind it. She had been spending more and more time with her husband, and their two young children. She seemed intent to cram as much time with them as she could. Grundoon’s health had been faltering, and while it wasn’t anything serious, it seemed to her that time was growing short.
It was a lovely, crisp morning when Grundoon meandered out of the manor house before most people had awakened. He went to the barn behind the house, and with his faithful friend Jandle, puttered around amongst the tools and equipment. He was looking for something in particular, and once he found it, he let out a delighted “Aha!” Jandle then followed Grundoon into the orchards, where the former general took a long, careful look at the trees in full bloom.
“I’ve always loved the smell of these blossoms.” Grundoon said to Jandle in an off-hand sort of way. “They were in full bloom when we took control of Vorkelburg from the undead. The trees had been neglected, and the fruit took years to become any good, but the scent from the flowers was always intoxicating to me. I’m blessed to have lived long enough to smell them again.”
Grundoon set the ladder he had been carrying up against one of the taller trees. He held out his hand, and Jandle gave him the rope that Grundoon had found in the barn. Tying off one end below the lower-most limb, Grundoon tossed the rope up and over one of the higher branches. As he dangled back towards him, Grundoon climbed up the ladder and began working on a knot.
“I never wanted to get old, you know.” The orc said to the kobold. “Always thought I would die on the battlefield. Certainly never figured on being cast out. I should have made wiser choices, Jandle. I should have been more thoughtful of others, and my lot in life.” He looked down at the kobold, standing at the base of the ladder. “I’ve had a good life, though. Just mucked it up there at the end.”
Slipping the noose around his own neck, Grundoon took a long, last breath in, savoring the aroma of the orchard. “Be a good fellow, Jandle. Make sure I am here awhile before telling anyone, right?”
Jandle nodded his head. “Yes, sir. I’ll wait.” The kobold stepped away from the ladder, and removed his cap.
There was a clatter as the wooden ladder fell alongside the tree, and the rope made a weird, stretching sound as it swung in the light breeze. The sun had only just come up, and Jandle settled down against another tree, holding his hat in his little lizard-like hand. True to his word, he waited.