The stagecoach that Jandle was waiting for came into the village from Slothenburg and Jandle had no idea if it was on schedule or not. It wasn’t readily apparent if anybody else knew, either. The horses were swapped out by the stable hands of the coach company and Jandle waited for the passengers to disembark before venturing up to see what the seating arrangements were going to be. Two people were not continuing on so that freed up some space. Jandle was relieved to hear from the coachman that there would be room inside and the kobold didn’t have to ride on the roof or with the baggage on the back of the coach.
After handing his ticket to the coachman Jandle climbed into the carriage and tucked his rucksack in the corner next to him. His companions had taken advantage of the short break and were now wandering back to the coach having stretched their legs and gotten something to eat or drink at the inn. Jandle sat quietly and smiled at each of them as they returned to their seats. There were two benches on either end of the carriage and a bench in the middle that had no backrest. Jandle had opted for the backwards facing bench at the front of the coach. A portly human man with a thick beard and skullcap climbed in and sat next to him, smiling as he gathered his flowing blue robe around him. He had a thick book bound with some smaller books that he kept tightly in his grip so Jandle surmised the gentleman must be a mage of some sort.
A very attractive jorish woman climbed into the coach next along with an equally beautiful human woman. They were travelling together and judging from their easy exchanges Jandle guessed that they had known each other for a long while. The human had braided blonde hair, while the jor had her locks unbraided and hanging down to the middle of her back. Jandle smiled at both but they gave little acknowledgement of the kobold and continued their conversation as they settled in on the back bench of the carriage.
Last to join the group was a dark elven woman of indeterminate age and exquisite features. She smiled graciously at the mage and Jandle as she climbed into the carriage, and both men scooted to make room for her on their bench if she saw fit. She glanced at the other two women in the coach, and with a look of some disdain decided to sit with the men. Jandle pushed his rucksack over further to the corner and while doing so adjusted his coin purse to be entirely out of reach. The only way anyone would get at it was if the carriage flipped over entirely and then they would have far bigger problems to contend with.
The coachman climbed up and took the reins while two footmen climbed on to the back and top of the carriage respectively to serve as guards. The roads in Slothjemia were extraordinarily safe but there was always the possibility that one or another of the passengers might be the target for a cunning thief or skilled assassin. Having a guard or two might not prevent that passenger from being robbed or killed but it might keep the other passengers safe. A parcel of mail was secured with the rest of the cargo and after a quick check of the passengers the ticket agent gave the all clear and the coachman called out to his horses to move out. With a crack of his whip the steeds responded, and the coach began trundling down the road to the eastern causeway.
Jandle put his skills as squire to use and by the time the carriage had reached the foot of the eastern cliffs, he knew enormous amounts of detail about the other passengers. The gentleman in the flowing robe was in fact a mage. More precisely he was an enchanter. He was on his way to Romilmark in answer to a summons to do some work for one of the nobles there. The wizard was not originally from Slothjemia but had emigrated here from Geldenreich as a youth to pursue the abundant opportunities offered in this country. He was jovial and pleasant, a stark contrast to what Jandle knew of most sorcerers. The wizard was named Pandergriff and he would have spent more time talking to Jandle except for the woman seated between them.
The dark elven woman, who went by the name of Eleyna, was headed to Garvin’s Gap to take a job in the growing hospitality industry there. It took a while for Jandle to discover that she was going to help run the only inn in the village and that she was a distant cousin to the woman that managed the place, a temperamental drow named Warleeza that Jandle knew all too well.
The other two women were the easiest to learn about because they literally did not cease their talking for even a minute. The swamp orc was named Unthra and was a childhood friend of the human, Calinna, who was herself the daughter of a baron in Romilmark. The two ladies had travelled to Slothenburg for the spring holidays and only after spending their allowance had decided to return home. The human woman’s father, Baron Sheckelstein, had been granted land in the new Grafdom and his daughter resented it tremendously because it had taken her away from all of her old companions. Jandle picked up that what she really missed were her suitors. Somehow this had given the young lady a loathing for dwarves and all things dwarven which was itself not a healthy attitude to have in a place like Romilmark. Jandle was amused by the thought that if Hilde was the kind of person that Calinna was then he wouldn’t be on his way to help her out. Regardless of what went wrong in Calinna’s life, Jandle would be content to let it.
Everything and everyone in the stagecoach swayed and rocked side to side as the horses hauled the massive vehicle up the switchback road to scale the cliffs along the eastern edge of the swamps. Snowmelt has caused a great many of the otherwise small or even dry streambeds to run wild with coursing, nearly ice-cold water. Here and there along the cliffs were small waterfalls spilling into the swampy fen below. The loudness of the falling water silenced much of the conversation within the stagecoach as the occupants peered out of the windows to marvel at the scenery. Even though this was a well-travelled highway there was an inescapable aura of this being a virtually unexplored wilderness. This has always been one of Slothjemia’s biggest assets. It feels wild and untamed but all the while it lies controlled and largely docile. It was a very different story three hundred years ago to be sure but now it was at least in theory under control.
The coach rested at the top of the cliffs for the horses to be watered and fed some grain. The occupants of the coach took the opportunity to stretch and relieve themselves before clambering back in to continue the relatively short distance to the Summit Village turn-off. This part of the journey was one of Jandle’s favorites because it was wholly contained to a road that stayed at or near the bank of the river that flowed through this valley. The river flowed quickly when it was filled with ice and snowmelt waters. There were plenty of boulders that had tumbled into the gorge, so the waters churned and crashed around them. It was pleasing to the ear and the eye, a rough and rugged beauty indicative of the wilderness that refused taming no matter the men or the time involved. Although the night was as dark as could be the moonlight reflected off of the rapids and the kobold’s superior night vision permitted him to enjoy it more than if it had been during the day.
Not everyone was as entranced by the grandeur of the valley as was Jandle, but the roar of the rushing river helped drown out the inane banter of the two young women. The sorcerer seemed to doze off a little and for the first time the drow elven woman made idle chit-chat with the kobold crammed in the corner of the coach next to her. She was shocked by the little fellow’s intellect and ability to converse knowledgably on a number of topics. He surprised her even further by filling her in on what exactly to expect from Warleeza, the dark elven woman that ran The Avenging Urd inn. With a certain smug pride that came from having been at the battle for Garvin’s Gap and having known personally the urd for whom the inn was named, Jandle filled Eleyna in on everything there was to know about the hamlet and its people. Not once did Jandle volunteer how he knew all of this information, but it pleased him to no end that he could surprise somebody with his wealth of trivial knowledge.
At the crossroad where the road to Summit Village connected to this highway there was a family of dwarves waiting for the carriage. The sun had just begun to peer up and over the alpine mountains and the air was cold. At first glance it seemed as though there would be no way to accommodate them all inside the coach, but it turned out that only the patriarch was going to be getting on board. He wished his wife and children well, and they bid him goodbye in the typically stoic dwarven fashion. He climbed into the coach with a slight smile, and without a word crammed himself in the seat next to Calinna. Her displeasure was savored by everyone else except her friend Unthra who shared her disgust and the dwarf himself who made no secret of the fact that he didn’t care. With a booming voice he introduced himself as Brureac Metalborn. He was a blacksmith heading to Romilmark to assist with a project at one of the dwarven forges in Brakoff.
Jandle smiled and asked, “Would that be the Hammerclaw Iron and Millworks?”
The dwarf was noticeably startled, and to Jandle’s delight so was Eleyna. “Why yes it is.” Said Brureac with a laugh. “However did you guess that?” he asked with a gleam in his eye.
Jandle just shrugged and said with a laugh, “They do good work and have a fine reputation. Knowing that Hammerclaw did some work in Summit Village to help rebuild after the war it seemed likely he would reach out to his comrades there should he need any help in Romilmark.”
Eleyna turned so that she could fully view the kobold next to her. “You are just full of information, aren’t you?” she asked with a giggle.
Jandle just looked up at her and grinned. The carriage jolted back into motion and rumbled up the valley as it turned towards the north to Garvin’s Gap. Calinna and Unthra resumed their conversation but with the goal of intimating their displeasure at having to share their bench seat with a dwarf. Purposefully or not Brureac responded to the spoiled ladies veiled insults with the occasional fart. Each time he made a point of making eye contact with one of the three people opposite him, and the effect was to cause them to either break into laughter or stifle it with pained efforts. Dwarves were a notably proud people, but they weren’t above doing hilariously disgusting things if they knew it would rile up somebody that was prone to prejudice against them.
When the coach rolled into Garvin’s Gap the sun was well into the sky and Eleyna and Jandle were both squinting when they stepped out in front of the stagecoach office across the road from the inn. There were a couple of other dark elves here to greet Eleyna and they helped carry her luggage into the inn. Jandle went to the coach driver and asked, “How long are we stopped for?”
The driver pointed to the horses and replied, “About half an hour or so until we can get fresh horses. If you’re going to do anything here don’t tarry. We’ll wait a few minutes, but we aren’t stopping here for hours.”
Jandle nodded in agreement and scurried into the inn. He jogged up to the bar, and asked the dark elven man washing out a mug, “Excuse me, but is Lady Warleeza in? I have come from Vorkelvale with some business to attend to.”
The dark elf’s eyebrow shot up, and he smiled half-heartedly. “I’ll let her know, sir.” Setting down the mug, he went through a doorway into the back area behind the bar. A few minutes later he returned with Warleeza right behind him.
“Master Jandle.” She said coldly, her smile as icy as the waters in the river down in the valley. “What can I do for you?”
Jandle reached into his rucksack and pulled out a folded and sealed parchment. He handed it to the dark elven woman and said, “My lord wanted you to have this. He passed away and had left this to you in his will.”
Caught off guard entirely, Warleeza broke the seal and opened the parchment. Her lips moved soundlessly as she read. Looking at Jandle who was perched on a barstool and peering over the top of the bar like a child she asked, “Have you read this?”
Jandle shook his head. “No, I wrote it.” He answered flatly. “I was given authority to do as I saw fit and so I did.”
Warleeza refolded the parchment and held it in her hand on the top of the bar. “You and your master were always a puzzlement to me. I do not know what to make of you.”
Jandle smiled a little and replied, “I would like three bottles of dark elven… wine? Brandy? What do you have that is suitably ethnic?”
Warleeza smiled, a genuine smile indicating that the parchment and the kobold has disarmed her to a degree. “We have a bit of bloodwine if you like. I might be able to dig up three bottles.”
Jandle chuckled. “No, too salty for a gift. Anything else?”
Warleeza motioned to the bartender with her head. “Arlik, go down in the cellar and bring up some of the plum brandy. Three bottles for our friend. Compliments of the management.”
The bartender disappeared again through the doorway to the back. Warleeza didn’t take her eyes off of Jandle. Waiting until Arlik was safely out of earshot, Warleeza asked Jandle, “How did the tough old orc die? I never thought he’d meet anyone bold enough to kill him or catch a sickness strong enough to lay him flat.”
Jandle smiled sadly at the dark elven woman. “Nobody got him. He got himself.” He said simply.
Warleeza looked down at the bar and was quiet for a few moments. She looked back at Jandle and said quietly, “Stubborn son of a hog, wasn’t he? Live on his own terms and die on his own terms.”
“He didn’t like being told what to do.” Replied Jandle.
Warleeza laughed. “I love that about him.”
The bartender returned and handed the three bottles to Jandle. The kobold cradled them close to his body as he slid off of the barstool. “Many thanks, Lady Warleeza.” He said with a nod of his head. “May your coffers overflow with the bounty of your sweat and passion.”
Warleeza watched him leave, and with a smirk she said, “That’s an odd blessing to bestow.”
Jandle said back over his shoulder, “I’m an odd little man. It’s what I do.” With that he left the inn and returned to the coach. The day was wasting away.
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