The sun crept in the sky the following morning to find the vale in its usual state of disarray. As was the case every early summer and late spring morning, it was cold and a little blustery as the winds whistled up the river and careened off of the high mountain cliffs. Oskar stepped from the manor house, bundled up against the onslaught of cool breezes to find his coach waiting for him. The footman opened the door, and the hulking orc climbed in to find Jandle sitting on the opposite seat with his rucksack. The kobold waved and smiled and handed Oskar a large capped tankard full of warm cider.
“This will help take some of the sting out of the air, sir.” Jandle said merrily.
Oskar smiled, and took the tankard. “Will it take the sting out of waking up this early?” he growled good naturedly.
Jandle sat back and pulled a small blanket around himself. “Not likely, sir.” He replied.
The coach started up the road out of the vale and rumbled past the citadel and through the pass towards Borostat. The road meandered a lot following the creeks and streams as it twisted and made its way up and down through the many saddlebacks that ran the length of the alpine range. The coach stopped a couple of times to allow the horses to drink and eat some grain. Oskar kept quiet for a majority of the trip, occasionally commenting on the scenery. As the coach began to enter the broad valley that housed Borostat high in the mountains of New Vilhelmia, the orc finally broke his silence.
Oskar’s voice startled the kobold as he said, “Hilde warned me about keeping company with you. She doesn’t care much for you.” The orc studied the kobold’s face for a reaction.
Jandle looked at him, and said matter-of-factly, “I know. She has not been given any reason to view me in a good light.” The kobold returned the orc’s gaze, and the two men sat quietly for a moment.
Oskar finally spoke again to ask, “What is it you are up to now, Jandle? What scheme does the late baron’s widow have you working on?”
Jandle did his best to hide his surprise as he answered with his own question. “Whatever do you mean, sir? I am just going to Slothenburg to find myself a new patron. A squire without a purpose isn’t much good.”
Oskar nodded his head and narrowed his gaze. “You are no more a man without a purpose than I am a man without a thirst for fine wine.” The orc’s voice was low and deep, a mirror of how his father had sounded when he was a much younger man.
Jandle tried to not look away but the desire was nearly overpowering. “I do not understand your meaning, sir.” The kobold said quietly.
“Yes you do.” Snapped Oskar. “You most decidedly do understand my meaning. My father didn’t suffer fools, Jandle. You are no idiot. You are not a harmless simpleton wanting a ride to town to catch a stagecoach. You have a mission, and I mean to know what that mission is before I let you out of this coach.”
There was a sinister sort of anger that simmered just below the surface of Oskar’s face, and Jandle knew that he was doing himself no favors in trying to deceive the orc any further. He took a deep breath and said as bravely as he could, “Aggrylia asked me to look after Hilde. She knows that Hilde doesn’t want my help, but she might also need it and not know it. So I aim to do what I can.”
Oskar looked as surprised as if the kobold had turned into a miniature unicorn and had broken into a festive little dance. His jaw dropped noticeably, and he sat for a few awkward moments before saying anything. When he did speak his voice seemed poised to break into laughter instead of the direction he had been headed. “You’re right, she doesn’t want your help. But you are also correct that she may need it regardless.” Oskar laughed. “What is it you plan on doing to assist Hilde, anyway?” he asked somewhat incredulously.
Jandle smiled and shifted uneasily in his seat. “I haven’t got that figured out yet, sir. I don’t know what it is she might need.”
The two men sat quietly for a few minutes before Jandle asked, “What were you prepared to do if I hadn’t told you?”
Oskar laughed and said, “I hadn’t planned on you not telling me. I reckon I would have left you in the coach.”
The two of them laughed and both were much relieved. As the coach rolled into Borostat, Oskar told Jandle, “You are welcome to continue with me to Four Corners. Take a coach from there to Romilmark, it will save you a couple days of travel needing to backtrack out of Slothenburg.” Jandle tried to say something, but Oskar held up his hand for him to remain quiet. “Once in Romilmark, stay in Dregladorf as much as you can. You will blend in there better than anywhere else in the Grafdom.”
Jandle nodded his understanding and said, “Thank you, sir. You are very kind.”
Oskar smiled, and he replied, “She is my sister and I mean to have her looked after same as our stepmother does. If you cross me in any way or cause her harm in the slightest, I will set the whole of Slothjemia’s military to finding you and putting your head on a pike. Let’s assume you understand and speak of this no more.”
Jandle nodded his head and took hold of his rucksack as the coach came to a stop outside of an inn. “I’ll be here in the morning, ready to go sir. Thank you.”
The footman opened the door and Jandle climbed out. Oskar followed, and stretched his arms out. “Sleep well, Jandle. Two more days to go.”
Jandle headed into the inn and fished out five silver coins from his lucky coin bag. He had to stand on his toes to reach the top of the counter and placed the coins in front of the clerk. “One bed for the night, sir.” Jandle said.
The clerk smiled and nodded his head. Taking the coins, he handed Jandle a key and said, “Room three zero four little sir. Dinner is served at your convenience for the next three hours.”
Jandle smiled at the clerk and said, “Thank you.” Turning to the bellhop Jandle then said, “I can get my bag, thank you.” He gave the young man a copper coin for having offered assistance and taking his rucksack Jandle made his way up the stairs.
The room was small by any standard, but it was perfect for a kobold. Two or three of them might have fit in here comfortably but one of them might end up sleeping on the floor. The bed was dwarven sized at best, or even fitted for a gnome. Jandle tossed his rucksack on the bed and then locked the door as he left to go back downstairs to eat. He was glad that he wouldn’t have to jog up and down these stairs too many more times. It was the curse of little folk that inns and roadhouses usually had smaller rooms up near or in the attic where nobody else could comfortably fit. And that meant stairs. Wee peoples hated stairs because they were almost never sized for their shorter legs. A curse tripled, Jandle was fond of saying.
The descent was well worth it. The dining hall was filled with delicious food and while it wasn’t the finest that Jandle had ever had it was certainly a welcome sight. The aromas alone set a grin on his face. He took a healthy plateful and had downed virtually all of it before Oskar came sauntering into the dining room. The orc had even changed clothes for the meal and combed his hair as though he was hosting a soirée. Oskar took nearly as much food as did the kobold, but he seemed more interested in the wine than the meat. This was about what Jandle had figured. He had noted that Oskar had brought a number of cases of wine with him to his ancestral home and when others were drinking the local cider Oskar preferred wine. His wine. Jandle hadn’t seen him drink any other wine until now. Other than a nod in his direction Oskar didn’t acknowledge the kobold. He sat with a group of well-groomed humans that from their conversation were headed from the Coreland to the capital of the grafdom. Oskar settled right in and recommended the wine.
Jandle finished his dinner and bought a bottle of apricot palinka. He wasn’t as fastidious as Oskar about what he drank and had cultivated a taste for a wide array of food and beverage. He carried the palinka up to his room, and shuffled things around in his rucksack to fit the bottle in. After making sure the bottle would travel well in its current position Jandle turned in for the night and burrowed into the bedding. Like all reptilians he was prone to being cold. On the upside he was perfectly happy when the weather turned hot but in the cooler seasons Jandle tended to layer on the clothing and he was more than thrilled with the heavy blanket that the inn had provided.
Jandle drifted off to sleep in utter peace buried deep in the blanket and the random noises of the inn and its occupants could not penetrate the soft woolen fortress. He dreamed of better times when his life had been normal. Having a lord to serve had given him a purpose that Jandle now craved more than anything. Yes he was on a mission. It wasn’t the same thing though. Jandle needed more. His dreams betrayed this longing and when he awoke Jandle would be even more determined to find a purpose for himself.