Little more was said that evening. Indeed, there was little left to be said. The two men went their separate ways for the night. Jandle had the innkeeper assign a staff member to filling his bath for him and the kobold enjoyed a long soothing soak. There was even a scrubbing brush provided so that he could work at getting the dirt and grime off of and out from under the fine scales that covered his body. Being a reptile had certain advantages and one of them was that filth seemed to have a harder time clinging to you. Mammals were at a distinct disadvantage in this regard because everything seemed to cling to skin, hair, and fur. Like other reptiles, kobolds do not have sweat glands, so they do not produce any body odor that has to be washed away. This isn’t to suggest that they are any less in need of proper grooming. Their routines are just rather different.
After his bath Jandle made sure everything was ready for the morning and his luggage was properly prepared. He relied heavily on his own internal clock to wake him up and it hadn’t once let him down when he had gone to sleep more or less sober. He had indulged in drinking some of the wine Oskar had chosen for their meal but even in relation to his size Jandle had not imbibed a great deal. He burrowed into the bedding and in short order he was fast asleep.
As was his custom, Jandle awoke in the morning precisely when he meant to. He dressed quickly, grabbed his rucksack, and headed to the dining hall to grab a quick bite of breakfast before heading out to wait for Oskar. It was early still and Jandle sat on the steps to the inn and watched the city’s denizens going about their morning business. Dwarves were a famously industrious people even here in the Coreland of Slothjemia but everyone in Kernschloss seemed to be busy with something. Freight wagons were being loaded up to take goods down the roads to the east and west while laborers of every description jogged this way and that carrying tools and materials to whatever job sites they were engaged at in the city. There was a hum to it all and it rolled along with an almost military precision. Jandle appreciated the work ethic of the dwarven folk and was pleased to see that it had rubbed off on the non-dwarven citizens of the place as well.
Oskar’s borrowed coachman and a couple of stable hands had hitched up the carriage and it rolled sleepily to a stop outside of the inn. Jandle climbed in and got himself situated as he continued to wait for his host. There was a slight coldness in the morning air but when Oskar came out of the inn he had his greatcoat slung over his arm. He paused to take a deep breath, said something to the footman with a laugh, and then climbed into the coach. Sitting himself across from Jandle, and handed the kobold a bottle and said, “A gift for you, Jandle. Drink it and think fondly of good things.”
Jandle took the bottle and read the artfully drawn and handwritten label aloud. “Jukrassler Original Vodka. Finest Blend.” Echoes of a distant memory that wasn’t entirely his washed lightly over his soul as he held the bottle. He looked up at Oskar, and said, “Thank you, sir. This must have set you back a good bit.”
Oskar held up his hand, and said in a low voice, “There, there. None of that. It is the least I can do for the pleasure of fine company on this trip.”
Jandle smiled and set the bottle down carefully between himself and his rucksack. “No sir. The least you could do is to allow me to journey with you. This is much more than I could have asked for.”
The carriage began to lurch forward and began the descent down through the spiraling road tower that dropped from the eastern side of the city down to the swamps below the craggy cliffs upon which Kernschloss sat. Oskar smiled at Jandle and in a soft voice said, “Tell me about my father. What was the Romillian campaign like, and what did he do as Governor-General?” He settled himself in and continued smiling. “I know the worst of it. Tell me the good bits. Give me something to remember him for.”
Jandle cleared his throat and began to talk. He related the entire saga of how the 6th Army put on an elaborate façade in order to sneak into a fight they weren’t supposed to be in. He told about the battle in the rain for the tiny, otherwise insignificant corner of the realm called Garvin’s Gap in which Oskar’s father had rallied his soldiers to defeat a numerically superior Romillian force with a gruesome decisiveness. Jandle told how the Herzgraf had punished the old orc with an unwanted promotion and sent him to oversee the rebuilding of Romilmark. Lastly the kobold told about the attack on the savage orcs in the alps and then the all-out assault of the rebellious Romillians that had taken refuge in a fortified mining complex. Jandle took care to emphasize how his former master had been a man of war and in that arena he had been without equal. As per Oskar’s request Jandle left out everything else.
The relating of these events accomplished a number of goals. The first thing it did was reinforce to Jandle the belief that not everything his former master had done had been out of selfish desire or vile anger. The second thing it did was remind Oskar that no matter how high of a rank he attained in the army he would never be the warrior that his father was. The third thing that was done was that Oskar developed an appreciation for the kind of risks his father took to advance the designs of the Empire and how little credit he ultimately claimed for himself. Lastly the recounting of these things helped to pass the time spent on the road to the drowsy village of Four Corners. By the time Jandle had finished, the coach was nearly to their destination.
Oskar looked absent-mindedly out of one of the windows and said off-handedly, “I believe I appreciate the last few hours more than any time I actually spent with my father. Hearing his stories told with a careful ear towards editing has made much of what I know of him to be more palatable.” The orc looked at Jandle and continued, “I thank you for this. I feel indebted to you. If ever you need anything do not hesitate to seek me out and ask.”
Jandle nodded his head solemnly. “I am honored to have served.” he said simply.
The coach clattered to a stop in front of the inn, and Jandle climbed out with his rucksack. He waved to Oskar, and the orc saluted. Oskar then called out to the driver with, “ONWARD TO THE CAPITAL!” and the carriage turned to the north, its wheels clattering on the wooden causeway. Jandle watched it fade into the distance of the jungle-like swamp, and then made his way to the stagecoach office across the street from the inn.
Standing on his tiptoes Jandle asked the ticket clerk, “How much for a ticket to Dregladorf, and when does the coach leave?” he asked the large lizardman on the other side of the ticket window.
The lizardman replied with a slight hiss in his voice, “One gold piece to Dregladorf with stops at the Summit Village crossroad and Garvin’s Gap. Only brief pauses mind you. Not enough time for dilly-dallying.” The lizardman looked at Jandle as though he thought the kobold might wish to change his mind and walk the distance rather than risk running afoul of the stage company’s no dilly-dallying policy.
Jandle fished a gold coin out of his coin pouch and handed it up to the lizardman. “And when does it leave, please?” he asked.
The lizardman put the coin away and handed Jandle a small leather ticket with the designation “D17” stamped into it. “It will arrive in about three hours, and they are going to change the horses. Much of the journey will be made overnight. If you prefer to travel during the day there is another coach just after dawn tomorrow morning.”
Jandle pocketed the leather ticket and replied, “Tonight is just fine, thank you.” The kobold padded over to the benches on the outside of the coach line building and took a seat. The benches were too high for his little legs, so he just dangled his feet over the edge and watched life go by in Four Corners.
True to fashion there was a lot going on here. There was a constant stream of traffic going to all parts of the realm and it seemed as though most all of it had to trek through this hamlet. The livery stable must make a killing here just in feeding and boarding the horses for all of the freight haulers. There was a station just to the east of town where the golemotives stopped to allow cargo and passengers to be loaded and offloaded. These magically enchanted mechanical monsters didn’t have the ability to travel off of their wooden tracks so smaller horse-drawn wagons or boats were used to distribute who or whatever needed to be taken to destinations not right along the main line of transit. Other stagecoaches came into town while Jandle waited but they were headed due north towards the capital or south towards The Gate at the bottom end of the swamp in the mountains, beyond which were the fertile plains of Craiovia. Jandle listened to people chattering and noticed a number of different dialects, including some he already knew. He had long ago mastered the language of the Sikilians and more recently had taken up Romillian. He also knew Geldenspeak and had always wanted to expand his knowledge of languages to include more exotic ones such as Brendel and Fanolanian. He might never get to use them, but one never knew. It might come in very handy someday.
There were also a few soldiers milling about Four Corners. They were probably on leave from their posts elsewhere in the realm as they had neither arms nor armor. Seeing them in their uniforms made Jandle feel a bit wistful. He had been in the army purely because he had been a general’s squire. As such he had been given the rank of corporal. After his lord had been promoted to Governor-General Jandle had been made a sergeant. But he hadn’t ever acted like a real sergeant. He wasn’t even a real soldier except that he knew how to carry out orders and wasn’t afraid to spill blood or die if needed. He wondered if these troops had any idea the kinds of decisions their senior officers had to make on their behalf. Jandle took the bottle of vodka out of his rucksack and opened it. He sniffed at it and took a small drink. It was incredibly good and just as strong.
As quickly as the time had gone while he was talking to Oskar it now dragged almost to a dead stop with nobody else to talk to. The sun began to set, and the cool evening air descended into the swampy Coreland to give everything a decidedly creepy feeling. Jandle loved it. Slothjemians never feared for what might go bump in the night because in all likelihood it was just themselves. The horrors of the world were not what terrified Jandle. He had seen them all. What worried him was the uncertainty of tomorrow. Not knowing was what kept him alert and slightly on edge. He did a fine job of not dwelling on how small and alone he was at this moment in time but the thought of it was there, nonetheless. Alone and waiting for a coach to take him deeper into the unknown. Jandle took another small sip of vodka and then slipped the bottle back into his rucksack. He might be a little scared, but he was also a little tipsy. He smiled as he tried to convince himself it was going to be alright. He could always find more vodka.