Slinker, Slayer, Kobold, Squire; Chapter 1

There was a time of grieving that descended upon the little vale in the aftermath of Grundoon’s suicide. The citadel that sat above it in the alps was in shock at the passing of the old orc general who had once been the commandant. Common folk in the valley were equally distressed by the unexpected death of their baron. And of course, the family to whom Grundoon had been a dutiful patriarch were left stunned by the news of his demise. Just a little while after rocking the realm by being uncovered as a murderer, Grundoon von Vorkel was found dead in his apple orchard, having hanged himself. There had been a lot of unpleasant surprises for those close to the once great orcish hero of numerous battles and all involved welcomed a return to calm.

Grundoon’s widow, Aggrylia, had been well aware of what her husband had intended to do. They had never spoken openly of it, but she understood how her husband thought and where his sense of honor would lead him. Grundoon had not been any more forthright with his squire, Jandle, and yet the little kobold had also known of his lord’s plans. It was a punch in the gut to everyone else to be sure, but the widow and squire had foreseen it and had been preparing themselves as best they could for the loss of the orc to whom they both owed so much.

It was fair to say that the rest of the realm was left to their own devices to mourn the late and former Baron von Vorkel. News of his death spread with great vigor almost from the moment that Jandle had cut the aged orc down from the apple tree in which he had hanged himself. Notices were dispatched to Grundoon’s children, scattered as they were all over the empire. There had been a gathering of those that lived in the vale and in the citadel that had known and admired the retired general. The new baron of Vorkelvale, Zindel von Vorkel, the fifth child of Grundoon, had officiated at the customary funerary pyre. There would be another ceremony at a later date to bury the ashes when the rest of the family could gather.

In between the cremation of Grundoon and the burying of his ashes there was a bit of time for Jandle to take stock of what he needed to do next. He hadn’t been in any hurry to do anything as long as his lord had been alive but now that he was dead the fastidious little squire needed to get things squared away. Aggrylia had already given him a mission for just this occasion and while he had no idea what it might actually entail, Jandle set about to prepare for as many eventualities as he could. He sorted through his belongings to find what must go in his small backpack and what must remain here in storage. He had a number of notebooks that he could not decide what to do with before going ahead and wrapping them in a tight-fitting leather pouch and stuffing them into the rucksack. Jandle also tucked in the pair of gold-rimmed eyeglasses in a red velvet bag that his former lord had given him before his death; on Grundoon they had been a little on the small side and on Jandle they were comically large. He would not need a lot of clothing because wherever he went he could find something to make work. He would wear his neat suit of soft, black leather armor with the brilliantly shiny brass studs, and over it his old army greatcoat. He had removed all of the insignia and patches and it had made the coat look oddly weathered. He dutifully packed away his military awards and pins in the trunks to stay here for the time being but paused every now and then to hold them and remember what each one had meant. He had a large amount of currency and thanks to a bit of luck he also had a small leather bag that thanks to an enchantment could hold a nearly unlimited amount of coins without weighing more than a couple of pounds. It couldn’t hold anything else but that was plenty to make Jandle’s potential travels less of a hassle. His little buckler shield would attach to the outside of his rucksack, and the kobold hoped he wouldn’t have use for it.

The kobold took greater care as he took stock of his weaponry. He had collected a number of fine weapons during his time as Grundoon’s squire and it had always been a source of pride to possess such high-quality implements of war. There was the light crossbow that he had gotten as a gift when he first signed on with the baron. Jandle had twenty bolts for this weapon and they were as excellent a collection as could be found anywhere west of the Coreland. He had a grand little short sword that Grundoon had given him as a birthday present a couple of years before the outbreak of the Romillian war. As a fun fact it was a twin blade to the one possessed by Hilde because the same jorish weaponsmith had made them both. Hilde had gotten hers as a gift from her father when she had joined the army. Lastly, Jandle had a wicked dagger that was just a hair wider than what might be considered a stiletto and just a touch shorter than what could be defined as a short sword. Jandle had found it to be a perfect blade for getting right up in the vulnerable places in enemy armor. All of these weapons would of course go along with him.

Jandle had spent his entire career as a squire assigned to Grundoon, and even though it hadn’t been that long. The orc had at the time been the commandant of the 6th Army stationed in the castle of Vorkelburg, and his previous squire, another kobold named Rastler, had been killed during a foray against Sikilian raiders that were operating in the easternmost portion of the grafdom. For ten years Jandle had been Grundoon’s faithful manservant, tending to the orc’s every need as a warrior and a powerful officer in Her Majesty’s army. Jandle had learned quickly what his lord did and did not approve of, and high on the list of priorities was Grundoon’s desire for privacy. The old orc had never aired his dirty laundry in front of anyone and while his squire saw and heard more than most folks it would have been an overstatement to suggest that Jandle had been routinely included in the dark secret ponderings of his lord. Theirs was more of an understanding between master and servant that whatever happened in the life of the former, the latter would do their utmost to sort out. For the most part it had worked out well. Right up until it didn’t work at all.

Squires are delightful additions to any knightly or noble entourage. They have some magical abilities to make life easier, and they are useful for serving as everything from a private secretary to a welcome ally in close combat to running errands or delivering messages. But one thing they cannot do, and Grundoon new this all too well, was get you loose from a murder conviction handed down by the Queen. No matter how good of a squire they are, if you are found guilty and placed in exile in your remote estate and forbidden to leave no matter what under pain of death, you are going to have to suffer those consequences. A squire can ease the sting of the punishment by being on hand to continue as a glorified butler, but you are still going to have to settle in until you die. The one job a squire has, in the sense that they are there to help an adventurous noble in their undertakings, is to keep their lord alive and well. An adventurer that is forbidden from going out and seeking glory has little need for a squire, but Jandle had decided to stick by the estate just in case Grundoon needed him for anything. Jandle was not however successful in keeping Grundoon alive. Following his dutiful nature, Jandle instead did what he could to facilitate Grundoon’s suicide, even going so far as to keep watch and insure that the old orc was truly dead before alerting anyone to what had happened. It had not been his finest moment in the service of his lord, but it had been his job to make sure that his master’s wishes were followed to the letter. To this he could not be faulted. It was, surprisingly to those not in the service as a squire themselves, a comfort, albeit one that Jandle could have done quite well without needing.

Now that Jandle had gathered up a few necessities in his rucksack and was ready to move at a moment’s notice, he tried his best to stay out of the way of the mourners that came to the old manor house in Vorkelvale, preferring to watch from a distance what was going on and listening to what was being said. Like any squire worth his salt, what he saw and heard was extremely useful. He wouldn’t need to keep notes because the information was on interest solely to him, but Jandle felt as though he understood a little more about why two of Grundoon’s adult children, Oskar and Hilde, had done what they did to bring their father to justice. It wasn’t out of spite or anger or anything as instinctive as that; it was out of a sense of honor that ironically, they had learned from their own father. The paradox would have been amusing had it not been tragic. Someday further down the road it might be a source of bemusement to those involved, but that was a long distance off. While mourning the loss of their patriarch, the family did what all families do at times such as these. They tried to assign blame. On the surface it was an easy enough exercise. Hilde had begun to uncover the fact that her father had killed a fellow officer, and she enlisted the aid of one of her brothers, Oskar, to discover the rest of the truth. Murder investigations do not occur in a vacuum so of course other forces were pulled in and soon enough the whole ugly thing snowballed into an arrest, a brief trial, and an exile. It would have been a natural conclusion for anyone to reach that Hilde and Oskar were why their father was dead.

Naturally that wasn’t going to be so simple. There were a large number of the family that had entered the military, and for them they saw that who uncovered the murder wasn’t to blame for the outcome; it was the fault of the killer. Grundoon himself had seen it this way and had gone to extraordinary lengths to make his feelings known on this subject. He alone had lost his temper and committed the inexcusable act. If anything he had admired his children for holding him accountable. Grundoon, and his trusty squire, had seen the sense of honor that drove Hilde and Oskar to do the difficult thing. They had done the right thing. Not everyone would have agreed and there was a number of the family that never would see it that way, but Hilde and Oskar had shown tremendous bravery in making sure that a cowardly act had not been swept under the rug.

Hilde didn’t pay much attention to her late father’s squire, but the same could not be said of her own squire. Hilde had as her adventuring companion a lady xvart named Belynda, a pretty and inquisitive woman about the same size as Jandle. She caught on immediately that Jandle was a source of great information for her to learn more about being a successful squire, and for nearly the entire time that the family was gathered Jandle found himself telling Belynda all of the tricks he knew and answering her almost limitless questions. Despite his better instincts Jandle found the xvart to be profoundly delightful. She dressed almost elegantly and yet Jandle was keenly aware that she was a scrapper. She might not have had the weapons training that many squires got, but Belynda had already been in battle and from her stories he could tell that she was going to be a formidable opponent someday. But one of a squire’s greatest abilities is their skill at drawing out information that isn’t directly solicited. Jandle put this to use and found out everything he needed to know about Hilde and her dealings in Romilmark. Jandle also learned that Hilde did not trust the kobold, and probably resented him for his complicity in her father’s evil deeds. This wasn’t unexpected, but it did make Jandle’s life more complicated.

Before Grundoon’s death Aggrylia and Jandle had had a little chat. They both knew that Grundoon was planning on taking his own life but neither of them knew for sure when or how. Aggrylia had made her intentions known to the little squire that in the event of the old orc’s passing that she would expect Jandle to do whatever he could to make Hilde’s life easier. Nothing specific had been gone over nor had either of them any notion as to what kind of help Hilde might need. But Jandle had committed to doing what he could to keep his former master’s daughter safe. The idea was almost comical because if any woman could fend for herself it was Hilde. Jandle wasn’t about to back out of his agreement with Hilde’s stepmother though. He would do as he had been asked. For as much as Hilde did not care for her father’s squire, Jandle held Hilde in the highest of esteem. Not merely for the character she displayed during Grundoon’s trial but for the moxie she had always bubbled over with. Jandle had a working knowledge of all of his lord’s children and Hilde was hands down the most adventurous, the most cunning, and the most capable to do whatever was asked of her. Jandle couldn’t think of a single thing she would ever need from him. He would have to find something she needed. Something she might not even know she needed.

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