Mornings in Borostat this time of year were cool and prone to being foggy. By the time the sun climbed a couple of hours into the sky it would have warmed up enough to melt away the low clouds and the day would feel more like a body felt it should. By then the carriage carrying Jandle and Oskar was well on its way out of the great alpine valley and heading to the mountainous forests on the way to Kernschloss.
Oskar was more talkative this morning and Jandle was glad for the conversation. One of the topics of interest to the kobold was the coach they were riding in. “Is this your own carriage, sir?” he had asked early into their days journey.
Oskar chuckled and replied, “No, it is a loaner. I borrowed it from a friend of mine in the capital.” He ran his hand across the seat next to him. “It is a remarkably comfortable ride, isn’t it?”
Jandle nodded his head. “Smooth. Almost luxurious. Nothing like the coaches one takes that are operated by the stage companies.” Jandle had noted the previous day how well built the vehicle was. It wasn’t ornate or heavily decorated, but the quality was indisputable.
The orc smiled. “My friend has exquisite taste and a passion for comfort. I promised to bring him a case of our cider in exchange for letting me use this coach for my trip. I got the better end of the deal.”
Jandle smiled and asked, “Do you not care for cider?”
Oskar looked out of the window at nothing in particular and responded, “I have to be in the mood for it. I find it more pleasing when the weather is colder. Hilde drinks it year-round. I have a greater fondness for wine.” He looked back at Jandle. “What do you prefer to drink, Jandle?”
Jandle thought about it for a few moments before answering, “I think I prefer stronger spirits. We had a lot of dwarven-style vodka in Romilmark. A little of that goes a long way.”
Oskar chuckled again. “You are certainly right about that, little squire. On festive occasions I’ll imbibe but you are correct that it doesn’t take much to get the job done.”
The occasional quiet parts of the day were also well received by both men. For his part Jandle was somewhat surprised at how comfortable he was around Oskar. The orc was a career soldier and while he hadn’t any combat experience he had worked hard to climb through the ranks of the army on the foundation of his intellect and cunning. Oskar had gained nothing from his father’s reputation and rank but nor had he lost anything when his father had fallen from grace. Oskar had the bearing of an officer, tall and proud. He was also fairly well muscled for being what some would call a “desk jockey.” Oskar credited this to good genetics more than any exercise regimen he could lay claim. Oskar was surprisingly comfortable with Jandle as well. The orc had been wary of his late father’s squire due to how his sister Hilde viewed Jandle. Oskar wasn’t about to second guess his sister’s judgement because he considered Hilde’s judgement to be impeccable, but he wasn’t as wary towards the kobold as he had been.
Jandle dug in his rucksack and found the well-worn deck of cards he had been carrying around for the last several years. His former master had not been overly fond of card games but Jandle had found it was a terrific way to break the ice with new people and to pass the time when travelling, or when camped with fellow adventurers. He had garnered quite the reputation among his peers in the army for being an honest player and for his attention to detail when keeping score. Jandle knew quite a few card games and while he was loath to play for money, he could hold his own whether or not the game required bluffing.
“Would you like to play a game, sir? We don’t have to keep points. Just to pass the time.” Jandle offered as he began to shuffle the deck. “If you don’t wish to play, I believe I shall indulge in a few rounds of solitaire.”
Oskar smiled, and said, “What game do you suggest, my little friend?”
Jandle grinned back and asked, “Do you know how to play crazy bones?”
Oskar laughed, his voice booming in the confines of the carriage. Jandle recognized the sound of a younger version of his late master, and he chuckled to see some of the man Grundoon von Vorkel was mirrored in his son. The orc was still laughing as he said, “Of course I know the game. Anyone that grew up in the shadow of the liches knows how to play crazy bones. Go ahead and deal.”
Jandle and Oskar spent several hours going back and forth with the game, and while no scores were being kept Oskar was doing better than Jandle by a good share. In all of the scenarios that outsiders have of Slothjemia none of them are likely to include a middle-aged orcish colonel playing a children’s card game with a kobold while barreling down the road in a borrowed carriage packed with cider. Yet here they were giggling like little kids calling out “dig for bones!” and enjoying their journey together.
When the coach rolled into the dwarven city of Kernschloss it wouldn’t have been fair to say that either man was ready to call it a day. The trip had gone exceedingly quick and Oskar was surprised at how much he had enjoyed the time spent with his father’s squire. Perhaps the kobold was exercising some mysterious ability he possessed to make himself seem more charismatic than he was. Oskar had never known Jandle to use any sort of magic in any capacity beyond that which all squires could do in the furtherance of their roles or else the orc would have thought that there was an enchantment or charm spell in play. The inevitable conclusion was that Jandle was a terribly likeable person.
“Join me for dinner tonight, Jandle.” Oskar said as he got out of the coach in front of their inn. “My treat, and I’ll pay for your room as well.”
Jandle bowed slightly before he too hopped out of the carriage. “A generous offer, my lord. Thank you. I will gladly accept.” he said, his voice reverent and respectful.
Oskar smiled, and after telling the footmen what to do with his baggage, turned to Jandle and said, “Two hours, then. Tomorrow we’ll go our separate ways so let us feast tonight as men that served their Queen.”
Jandle gave a jaunty little salute, and then jogged in to get himself registered at the desk. The dwarf manning the main counter smiled graciously at the kobold, and Jandle stepped up on to the step stool provided so that he could sign the registry.
“Good day to you, sir.” the dwarf said. “Welcome to the Lord’s Tower Inn. How long will you be staying?”
Jandle signed the book, and replied, “Just the night, sir. The man I am travelling with is paying my fare.”
The dwarf looked at Oskar, and the orc nodded his head knowingly. The dwarf returned his attention to Jandle and he said, “Very good, sir. Do you want comfortably sized accommodations?”
Jandle nodded his head and answered, “Yes, please. Is it in the attic?”
The dwarf chuckled softly. “No, sir. This is a dwarven city. Every floor has comfortably sized accommodations for the smaller folk.” Jandle pondered the term that the dwarf kept using and thought that perhaps this man had coined the term himself and was determined to make it catch on through repetition.
“I’ll take whatever is easiest, then, sir.” Jandle said.
The dwarf handed him a key. “Room 112a, sir. Down this hall and on the right. Do you need any help with your luggage?”
Jandle shook his head. “No, thank you. I am travelling light.” With a smile Jandle hopped off of the step stool and headed quickly down to his designated room. He was looking forward to getting cleaned up and having a little rest on a comfortable bed. He found his room and was thrilled with the appointments therein.
This room was sized to please gnomes and those about gnome sized. The door handle was lower, and while the ceiling was high, the bed and chairs were all low. There was even a small bathtub in one corner. The chamber pot was just normal sized, but it still slid nicely under the bed. There was a pitcher of water and a wash basin so Jandle set down his pack and washed his face and hands. He took special care to wipe his tiny ivory horns with the towel that the inn provided and took the small metal file out of his bag to sharpen and spruce up his claws. He sat on the bed and whistled as he worked on his cuticles. He had to admire how shiny they were after a good filing. If he was bigger and stronger his claws would have been considered downright dangerous. As it was, they could be very useful in a fight if he was caught unarmed but unless his opponent was his size or smaller and not wearing any protective gear all they would get for their trouble would be some nasty scratches.
This was why people rarely took kobolds seriously. They are a small people and tend to rely on overwhelming numbers to take down their opponents. A solitary kobold was never viewed as a threat. One good kick would send a kobold into the afterlife. That was how things worked. But not so much here in Slothjemia. Maybe out in the wilderness of other countries kobolds were just the lowliest of pests. But here in Slothjemia a kobold had the same chance as anyone else to be a bigger problem than they appeared. Jandle for instance had considerable military training and had been in battle on a number of occasions. He knew his way around weaponry and had developed a fighting style that suited him and whoever he was protecting. While most of his combat experience had revolved around keeping his former lord safe, Jandle was no slouch. If called upon he could fight on his own and he was confident that even if he didn’t win his opponent would never approach another kobold with arrogance again.
Jandle considered having a bath before dinner but instead opted to have one afterward. He unpacked his good suit of clothes, a red satin and orange doublet with a tiny pair of black trousers. He hadn’t had much occasion to dress up as of late and wasn’t likely to have any reason in the near future, so he might as well take advantage of it now. He worried somewhat about having anything to talk about with Oskar but then he reminded himself that up to this point there hadn’t been much awkwardness. He would just go with the flow. The kobold left his room, and after locking the door slipped the key into the pocket of his doublet. He headed to where the smell of food beckoned and found the dining hall filling up with other guests.
Oskar was already there and waved to Jandle with a smile. The kobold made his way quickly to the table to avoid being trod upon by the myriad of larger people milling about in the busy room and climbed swiftly into his chair. Oskar must have said something to the host because the chair was noticeably higher than Oskar’s to allow Jandle to sit easily at the table.
Oskar said, “I took the liberty of ordering wine and they have already brought the bread.” the orc nodded to the basket in the middle of the table that had a loaf of dark bread in it and a knife sticking out of the top. “I asked for red wine because this establishment has an excellent reputation for roast beef. If you would prefer another beverage, I am happy to oblige.”
Jandle sliced up the bread into manageable slices and replied, “No, I trust your instincts. I know very little about wine, but I do love roast beef.”
The two men sat quietly munching on bread and watching the people in the room. Oskar had a knack for guessing what people might be talking about based on their body language and demeanor, and while he might have been wildly inaccurate it was amusing to listen to his impressions. Jandle snickered a lot at this bit of tomfoolery. Oskar’s father would never have engaged in this sort of light-hearted mockery. Grundoon had been a serious man with loftier concerns seeming to press upon him at all times. But Oskar could feel at ease in most any social setting. Perhaps it was due to him not being a regular soldier, trained to draw blood and lead warriors into battle. Oskar was a bureaucrat and by virtue of this had to be more comfortable with socialization.
When the roast beef arrived, it was with silent agreement that the two men had made an excellent choice. They did not talk much but focused on devouring the feast before them. The wine was good, and Oskar savored every sip. But Jandle was more into the meat of the dinner and slathering it in the rich, dark gravy. They both had a fine time and lingered in the dining room for a while after the other guests had left.
Oskar ordered another bottle of wine, and asked Jandle, “What will you do after you figure out how to help my sister? Surely you don’t plan on making helping her your lifetime goal. She already has a squire of her own.”
Jandle thought about it for a few moments, and thoughtfully responded with, “I don’t know. I guess I will have to eventually find another lord to serve. If my reputation isn’t too sullied that ought not to be too difficult.”
The orc nodded his head and took another drink of wine. “I don’t think anything you did in the service of your master will speak against you, Jandle. There are many fine knights and nobles that would pay dearly for a man of your skills and loyalty.” Oskar wasn’t merely being kind in his assessment. He knew of several men in his own circle of influence that would leap at the chance to claim they had in their employ the former squire of the infamous Baron von Vorkel. Not all of these men were souls that Oskar would be proud to vouch for, unfortunately. The kind of person that followed his father’s advice to surround themselves with violent men of unflinching loyalty were the same kinds of people that Oskar did not particularly enjoy being around for long periods of time. His statement stood on its own merits, though. Jandle was not necessarily an undesirable asset to the right lord.
Jandle shrugged his shoulders. “I would not want to follow the lead of many who would have me.” he said quietly, almost inaudibly. “I was there you know. I saw what your father’s choices did to him. They devoured his soul. I’ve seen it and helped it blossom into horrible fruition. I’d like to not do that again.”
Oskar nodded his head slowly. He set down his glass and took a long look at Jandle. Quietly he said, “I didn’t expect you to be introspective to this degree.”
The kobold took another piece of bread and chewed on it before responding. “Mind you, it isn’t that I would have done anything different for your father. I am just keen on not repeating any mistakes.”
“I’ll drink to that.” said Oskar wryly as he refilled his glass.
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