For her own adventures Hilde had been awarded a prestigious knighthood and been given the title of Viscountess, along with a sizeable estate in Romilmark. Just as her father had earned his own noble title and lands, Hilde had proven herself more than capable of earning her own way in the world. This had been a source of great pride to her father, and he had boasted of her prowess to Jandle on multiple occasions. Grundoon would always say something along the lines of “that’s my girl, Jandle. Unstoppable. She is somebody to be reckoned with. She is the one that holds the keys to the future of this family. That’s my girl.” The old orc had nothing but praise for his brawling little girl. Jandle had marveled at this, because for years his favorite daughter had been one of his younger offspring, a lovely girl named Oleysa who had married one of the citadel’s captains before Grundoon was assigned to take over Romilmark as Governor-General. But the old orc had seen the perfect sense of duty that Hilde had firmly entrenched in her psyche, and her determination to carry out the right and just thing had captivated her father. He was as enamored by her virtue every bit as much as he lacked it himself.
Finding out what Hilde might need help with was difficult to ascertain for Jandle. He applied all of his powers of intuition to try and divine what weakness she might have that he could compensate for but to no avail. She had completed a task to explore a gold mine in Romilmark, and that had earned her some fame and a steady income due to the wholly unexpected results of her findings in the underdark. Her estate in the peaks of the mountains along the far eastern border of Romilmark wasn’t much in terms of being arable land, but she might be able to harvest timber or set up rock quarries. She hadn’t even given that much thought. Mostly she was a whirlwind of laughter and good cheer, subdued during her visit for the funeral but nonetheless present. She had a few powerful friends in Romilmark and Jandle just didn’t see what on earth he could ever do for her to fulfill Aggrylia’s request. He would have to find something. And that meant going to Romilmark himself.
Getting there wasn’t the difficult part. The war had been over for a long time now, and Jandle was adept at finding ways to get himself from one place to another with ease. The problem was what he might encounter once he arrived. Jandle wasn’t clear how Romilmark and its people might view somebody that had worked so closely with the Governor-General. With any luck at all he would escape recognition altogether. That introduced a somewhat larger problem. In times past, he could rely on the reputation of his lord to grease the wheels whenever he needed anything. Now he was on his own. A squire without a lord was a shield without a sword. He would need to be prepared for any contingency and there would be no reinforcements. Unfamiliar territory to be sure.
Jandle waited a few days before speaking to Aggrylia. The family was beginning to get restless, and plans were being made by Grundoon’s children to return to their respective homes. There would be ample chances to catch a ride to the Coreland with any number of them, and from there make his way east to Romilmark. Jandle just had to wait and see who was headed that direction first, and approach them with his request to tag along. But first he needed to let Aggrylia know of his designs. He patiently watched and listened for the perfect chance to catch her alone and away from the rest of the family, finally getting his chance when she was getting ready to retire for the evening on a particularly stressful day for the entire gathering.
“My lady, if you have a moment.” Jandle said quietly. His voice could be somewhat high-pitched, especially when he was excited. Kobolds sounded like yapping little dogs when they really got going, so he had struggled for years to keep that particular aspect of his speech under control.
Aggrylia nodded wearily and motioned for him to close the door behind him. The master suite of the manor house was to remain hers for the time being, her stepson and his family content to live in their own home here in the vale instead of the manor house. “What is on your mind, Jandle?” she asked as she set to brushing out her long orcish hair.
Jandle cleared his throat and said, “If it pleases madam, and according to our understanding some months ago, I think it is time I set about doing what I can for our Hilde.” He kept his eyes on the floor, glancing up only occasionally to catch her gaze in the mirror. “I’ve little to do here as you know. I think it would be best for me to move along.”
Aggrylia nodded her head and replied “I think you are right. Have you a particular course in mind?”
The kobold frowned and shook his head. “No, she has most everything under control as near as I can tell.” he answered, adding, “But I might think of something once I get there or even discover something she overlooked.”
The orcish woman smiled at him in the mirror and said softly, “You’ll do well, Jandle. Your only flaw has ever been loyalty to a man with a wicked temper. We loved him, but he didn’t know when he had gone too far until it was much too late. Hilde isn’t like that. Caring for her, even from a discrete distance, is a lot easier and much less hazardous to one’s own soul.” Aggrylia sighed, a tear rolling down her cheek.
Jandle swallowed his own urge to shed a tear, and said in his calmest, quietest voice, “I’ve no regrets, ma’am. He was a good man despite it all. A moment of anger should not erase the good that he did.”
Aggrylia smirked, and said somewhat snippily, “It was more than a moment that got him in trouble, but I appreciate your continued loyalty to his memory. You’ve my permission to go and do what you must to honor our agreement. Thank you, Jandle.”
The kobold bowed respectfully, and without another word left the room, closing it behind him. Now to secure a ride to the Coreland. He returned to the large main hall of the manor and resumed his eavesdropping to see who was leaving and when. Most everyone had come by carriage or coach, so they would be able to accommodate the small squire without even noticing his presence. All he would be taking was his rucksack, and even fully packed it didn’t take up much room. In fact, Jandle and his bag would both fit in a standard-sized travel trunk. The bigger issue was who among the family wouldn’t mind doing him the favor.
Jandle was lucky in one regard in this matter, and that was the fact that only one of Grundoon’s kin didn’t like him much at all, and that was Hilde. There was some debate in the kobold’s mind as to how Oskar felt, and from all outward clues this particular son of Grundoon wasn’t too keen on the former squire, either. But everyone else treated the kobold with a semblance of respect for the years of service he had given to Grundoon. The eldest sons were a good bet, but Grunkler was headed back to Dreicounty via the northern route instead of through the Coreland. Fronkler was going to Slothenburg but was in no hurry to leave, choosing to linger in order to help Zindel get the accounts in order. Natasha and her family had come up the river by boat from New Craiovia, so that wasn’t going to be a viable option. Trunder had also come by boat, using his rank in the navy to simply order his patrol ship to drop him off during their patrol and come back for him later. Hilde wasn’t a viable option, so that left only one other; Oskar. Jandle was about to find out how the unmarried colonel felt about him more quickly than he wanted to.
Approaching Oskar in much the same way he would an unsuspecting battle opponent, Jandle ran the words through his mind carefully before he even opened his mouth. The calculation was poised on a number of variables. The colonel had travelled alone, so he might appreciate some company. He was also close to Hilde, closer than any of the other siblings, so he might have information on her that the kobold could glean. And, he was a career soldier, a man that understood how things worked between a lord and their squire. Jandle was counting on a bit of empathy, but he didn’t know Oskar, nor did he fully grasp the man’s outlook on a number of key concerns. He was about to find out though.
“Excuse me, sir. Am I to understand that you are leaving in the morning to return to Jordrakenschloss?” the kobold asked in his most timid voice.
Oskar took a drink of wine from the glass he held precariously in his hand and surveyed the short little fellow speaking to him. Jandle was no more than three feet tall, and like all kobolds had a distinctly reptilian appearance, like a wee lizardman with tiny ivory horns on his head. His scales were a rusty black color, giving him a natural camouflage if he were to be found lurking in a cave or dungeon. He had a fairly long rat-like tail that he frequently carried draped over his left arm like a scarf. He didn’t wear shoes or boots but had tough feet with sharp claws that made a sort of clickety-clack sound on hard surfaces. Most goblinoids didn’t take kobolds very seriously, either as people or as threats, and in the grand scheme of things nobody else really did either. They were as low in the pecking order as you could get and still be on the chart. Oskar purposefully swilled the wine in his mouth and swallowed it before answering.
“Yes, that is correct.” Oskar said, carefully eyeing the kobold.
Jandle smiled as nicely as he could, and asked, “May I trouble you for a ride, sir? I wish to go to Slothenburg. If you could get me as far as Borostat, I can catch a coach from there.” He continued smiling and added, “I would be most appreciative, sir.”
Oskar smiled thinly and refilled his wine glass from the bottle on the table. Returning his attention to the kobold, he asked, “What happened to your pony? I recall seeing you ride a pony whenever father went out and about.”
The kobold shifted his weight and awkwardly said, “It belonged to the army. I returned it to the citadel’s stable when your father was sentenced to exile.” His smile dropped ever so slightly. “I am not afraid to walk the distance to Borostat, but I’d really prefer not to.”
Oskar nodded his head knowingly and took a sip of his wine. He smiled a little broader, and said, “I understand completely, but I am afraid I have forgotten your name. I know you know my name, because you know a great many things. But I am at a loss for yours.”
Jandle snickered, and in a somewhat embarrassed tone said, “Jandle, sir.”
Oskar set down his glass, and asked, “Are you already packed, Jandle? I do not wish to delay once I have gotten up enough energy to actually hit the road.”
The kobold nodded his head vigorously. “Yes, sir. I just have my rucksack, all ready to go.”
Oskar smiled again and held out his hand to the kobold. “Very well, then. You have a ride to Borostat first thing in the morning. I trust you to not make me wait.”
Jandle shook Oskar’s hand, and said with a grin, “I won’t, sir. Thank you again for this courtesy.” With a little bow, the kobold then raced up to his room to double-check his packing. Oskar resumed his drinking, and everyone eventually headed for bed. The dawn brought the promise of calm and tranquility in the vale as the family began to leave for their own homesteads, and the grieving of the valley would begin to ease. Jandle looked forward to the new day and a new life filled with dreaded uncertainty. He did not relish the change. But he would tackle it head-on.