Jandle stood at the steps leading up into the carriage and turned to one of the footmen. “A little help, please?” he asked indicating the bottles in his arms.
The footman was quicker than he looked and with a smooth motion snatched two of the bottles out of Jandle’s arms to allow him to climb up into the coach. After Jandle had gotten himself seated, the footman handed the bottles back to him. The kobold tucked them in the seat next to him where the dark elf had been sitting and waited for everyone else to rejoin the trip.
Pandergriff and Brureac were the next to return to the coach. The dwarf had purchased a sausage from somebody here in the hamlet and the sorcerer had eaten a full meal in the inn and was now burping contentedly. Jandle could see from his little window that the two other travelers, Calinna and Unthra, were at the ticket window locked in a heated discussion with the agent. Jandle laughed and surmised that they were trying to arrange for another coach so that they would not be subjected to the farting dwarf any further. It was difficult to ascertain how successful the young women were in this endeavor, but it seemed from their increasing agitation that they were not making much headway.
The footmen did end up taking off the young ladies’ baggage from the coach soon after the fresh horses had been hitched up. The driver let everyone know that it was going to be just the three of them for the trip to Dregladorf and then he climbed up into his seat. There was a sharp crack of the whip and the carriage jolted forward and down the road to Romilmark.
Brureac laughed and said, “Suppose we have all of this room due to my indigestion. I can’t guarantee I won’t still be a touch bombastic today.”
Pandergriff and Jandle laughed. The wizard leaned forward as if in confidence to reveal some secret and then said in his normal voice, “It is of no matter to me good sir. I would rather hear your gas emitting that the constant idle prattling of those two ill-mannered maidens. Lovely to look upon and yet as dull as soap.”
The three men roared with laughter. Jandle handed each of the men a bottle of the plum brandy and said, “To celebrate our arrival in Romilmark.” He then procured his deck of cards from his rucksack and asked the other two fellows, “Fancy a game of cards?”
They agreed happily and settled in for a calm morning of burps, flatulence, and friendly gaming. No money was spent but a lovely time was had by all. It was just after noon when the coach finished descending the alpine switchbacks to the edge of the great valley that occupied most of Romilmark. They hardly took notice of anything outside of the carriage until it rumbled into the thriving town of Dregladorf. By then they had downed the majority of their brandy and were in a finely pickled state of mind. The three men were almost giddy when the coach clattered to a halt right in the center of the town. The place was alive with orcs and other goblinoids. The racket was startling in contrast to the quiet that they had enjoyed during the journey from Garvin’s Gap. But this was a place of industry and trade, a new town rebuilt from ashes and transformed into a bustling commercial hub.
The travelers stepped from the coach and stretched their legs while they took note of the comings and goings around them. Their driver was stopping here, and another fellow would continue the trip to Brakoff. The footmen were also changing and there would be an additional guard joining the crew. He was a brutish looking orc with a massive metal crossbow. What kind of trouble the stagecoach company was expecting wasn’t immediately known but if this chap was any indicator it was a threat worth taking seriously. There were three more people joining the travelers, a pair of older human women and a young man that was their valet. They were all quite sociable and introduced themselves as Marta and Nans, two sisters that were setting up shop as seamstresses in Brakoff. They apparently had had some money to engage in this venture because their valet, a fine fellow named Caspar, would not have been an inexpensive retainer to have kept employed.
Everyone settled into the carriage and for the first time the carriage was filled with polite and intelligent conversation. Pandergriff fell asleep almost immediately as the stagecoach made its way through the softly rolling farmland towards the grafdom’s capital. Jandle was exceptionally tired as well and the brandy had done nothing to wake him up. The ladies this time around were charming beyond all expectations and they engaged the dwarf and the kobold in inquiries about the city of Brakoff, fashion trends in Romilmark, and news from the Coreland. Jandle handled the information on Brakoff while the dwarf addressed the newsworthy bits from the Coreland. Neither of them could speak with any authority about fashion despite the ability Jandle possessed as a tailor. His sole use of the skill had been in keeping his clothes mended and the clothes of his former lord. The sisters laughed upon realizing how silly the entire thing must have seemed to be asking two such rugged men about fashion, but Nans said with a wink, “Men might not know what is in fashion, but they surely know what they like seeing a woman wear.”
Brureac had to give the dear woman credit for this insight and was tempted to add a saucy observation of his own but thought better of it. Instead he just nudged Jandle, and the two of them laughed like schoolboys. The trip to Brakoff proceeded nicely in this manner and all of the travelers exchanged information before they arrived should any of them seek the services of the others. Jandle hedged his bet somewhat, though. He wasn’t sure where he would be staying for certain and said as much. He had been careful not to reveal much of himself or his goals just as he had been trained to do as a squire. It was only ever the business of his lord and as of this moment no such entity qualified.
The coach rolled into the great old walled city of Brakoff and the occupants spilled out with eager glee. After bidding each other farewell the group headed off to their respective destinations. Jandle wasn’t sure where to go because he had never had to navigate this place as an unemployed civilian. In the service of his master Jandle had never had to wonder where they were going to sleep. If push came to shove they would have simply presented themselves to the local barracks and requested room and board. Had it been a barracks under the command of Jandle’s lord then the request would have been a demand. Either way there wasn’t much planning to do.
As tired as Jandle was he managed to make his way down the street to find a suitable inn. By his estimation Jandle had to have beaten Hilde here from the family manor in Vorkelvale. That left him some time to get himself rested and to get an idea for what needed to be done next. His brain felt foggy from lack of sleep and the weight of the brandy sat on him like a pile of warm blankets. Not too far from where the late Baron von Vorkel had a house, Jandle found a mid-range inn that looked promising. Had he not been thoroughly exhausted it might not have seemed as promising but for now the Copper Dragon seemed to be just what he wanted.
It took a bit more work than it should have for the kobold to arrange lodging but at last the deed was done. He made his way up the stairs to a small room with scaled-down proportions on the second floor over the dining hall. It was a noisy placement for sleeping but Jandle paid it no mind. He locked his door, threw the rucksack on the other side of the bed, and wearily changed out of his armor. He left his attire on the foot of the bed and crawled in under the blankets. It wasn’t even dark out yet but Jandle had been awake for nearly three days and he was asleep all but immediately. Blissfully unaware of anything else going on the little reptile slept in utter tranquility through the night and then right through the next day.
When Jandle did awaken he could see that it was nighttime out. He rubbed his eyes and did a quick inventory of his surroundings. His infravision came in handy in these situations as it allowed kobolds to quickly discern if there was anyone skulking nearby in the darkness. Jandle got out of bed and got dressed without lighting the candles that were scattered around the room on most every surface. He found the key to his room and secured his money bag behind his belt. Jandle unlocked the door to his room and peered out into the corridor while blinking in the light of the sconces hanging on the wall. Finding it empty he closed the door and relocked it, slipping the key back into his pocket.
Heading down the stairs Jandle found the dining room filled with happy diners. His appetite got the better of him and in short order he found himself squished between other guests and devouring his fill of the food that was scattered haphazardly about the table. It wasn’t entirely good-natured but the people around the table did their share of elbowing each other to get at the platters and dinnerware. Jandle stopped just short of overdoing it before he waddled his way to the front desk.
Jandle handed the desk clerk a gold piece and asked, “Would you mind running a tally for me? I am not certain how long I am staying for. Could you keep this and let me know what else I might owe when I do check out?”
The somewhat sleepy looking human man took the gold coin and examined it carefully. He then gazed down at Jandle and said, “Yeah, we can do that. I’ll make a note of it for the manager. If you stay longer than the gold coin then we’ll let you know.”
Jandle smiled and put on his old army kepi as he turned and headed out into the night. He needed to scope out the situation with Hilde here in Brakoff. He was going to have to learn as much as he could about what Hilde might be doing, where she might go, and who she had dealings with. Only then would Jandle be able to ascertain what he could do to be of use to her. After having slept so well and eaten so heartily Jandle was beginning to feel that perhaps this wasn’t such an oddball quest. He just had to determine what needed doing.
The little kobold knew this city better than he knew any other similarly sized town anywhere in the realm. He had spent untold hours here running errands for his lord when Grundoon had been posted as the Governor-General. He had helped his lordship survey every empty building in the city both inside and outside of the walls that encircled the older downtown area. Jandle had even done much of the note taking vis-à-vis the day-to-day management of the place as it transitioned from military to civilian governance. And during the nearly two full years that they spent here Jandle had mastered the language of the natives. The feeling he had now as he padded through the magically lamplit streets was like that of a student returning to their alma mater a year or more after their graduation. Jandle knew this place well and it held for him many fine memories. This would never be to him a dour and threatening metropolis but rather a familiar and delightful venue that he could handily call home.
The big house that the old Governor-General had given to his daughter sat with its back yard right up against the outside of the protective wall that ran around the more ancient sections of the city. When Jandle had first seen this house it had been a crumbling wreck. His lord had secured it not only because the price was right but because it had sent an immediate message that the Governor-General was here to fix things up and not just plunder that which was left intact. In short order Aggrylia had hired laborers to fix the house up and by the time they left the home was structurally restored to its former grandeur. While they had never gotten around to decorating it in the same magnificent style as it exhibited architecturally, there was a calm and elegant beauty about the place that marked it as being the domicile of a powerful and important man. Here in the dark it was even more impressive. There were only a handful of lights on inside the house and there was evidence that somebody was living here. The light on the corner of the street across from the property cast a reassuring glow over the front yard and prevented Jandle or anyone else for that matter from sneaking up on the house.
For now it was enough for Jandle to pass by the house while doing his best to look nonchalant. There was a constable on patrol at the end of the street and Jandle had no intention of spending any amount of his life behind bars for being the suspicious little monster that kobolds had a tendency to be labelled. Looking around him Jandle could see that the entire neighborhood was not the partially abandoned wreck that it was when Jandle’s lord first acquired this home. It was vibrant and alive. There were nearly as many people out in the evening as there would be in the early morning and while it wasn’t the round-the-clock activity cycle famous in Slothenburg and Jordrakenschloss it was not a simple thing to find a time when the city would be shuttered up and sleeping. Jandle smiled and waved at the constable as he padded down the street. The kobold rounded the corner and with a quick look over his shoulder made his way back through a large arched gateway in the city wall.
The walls of Brakoff were no longer meant for functional defense of the interior of the city. While it could be used to deter an assault or prevent a riot from getting out of control, it was more of a nostalgic piece of oversized artwork. There were towers every now and then that permitted access to the walkway along the top of the wall and these towers were not particularly well guarded. Occasionally one would see a constable walking along the top of the wall because it offered a terrific view of the city on either side. When the Governor-General had lived in Brakoff there was almost always a soldier or two positioned on the wall that rose right out of his backyard to insure the security of the man responsible for basically everything in the grafdom. But now there was just the random constable peering over the top of the wall every now and then to see if anything was on fire.
As Jandle made his way up the stairs inside the gatehouse he pondered the benefits of living in a heavily policed country like Slothjemia. One of the misconceptions of a well-run police state is that the police were out on patrol everywhere at all times watching everything that was going on. Yes, there were constables out and about as the public face of the government’s protection and authority. But the real strength of law enforcement was in the shadowy world of the Interior Investigators and their knack for using informants to alert the government of any foul plots and schemes. While a constable on patrol would deter or catch a cutpurse on the prowl it was the deeper knowledge gained through informants and diligent observation that would capture the person fencing the stolen property and the criminal enterprise that smuggled it out of the country. Jandle was not a part of any grand illegal operation so he had nothing to fear from such revelations. He did need to be wary of the constables, though. Slothjemia rightly viewed everyone with a certain amount of suspicion because it was a place filled to the gills with questionable people. Jandle began to whistle as he padded along the rampart.
Whistling was one of Jandle’s favorite things to do. He had discovered years ago that whistling was a wonderful way to accomplish a variety of undertakings. First it worked to soothe his mind and put him at ease in times of difficulty. Second it was a lovely way to pass the time when travelling either by riding or in this case walking. Third it served nicely to dispel anyone’s belief that Jandle was up to something sneaky or distasteful. People of ill repute simply did not go about whistling as if to advertise their presence. Lastly it was a perfect means by which to put people at ease. Kobolds were not generally taken seriously as it was but to have one go trotting past you while whistling was enough to make you do little more than smile.
This was precisely what happened as Jandle went padding past the constable walking slowly in patrol along the wall. Jandle was moving at his customary half-jogging speed and whistling his all-time most beloved tune. It required no thought whatsoever as it was a goofy lopsided and repetitious little ditty. Jandle also gave a little wave to the constable as he trotted past and the policeman smiled and saluted by touching the tip of his truncheon to the bill of his kepi. The constable appeared to be human or mostly so and that meant that he wouldn’t have had infravision. This was of no consequence to Jandle at the moment, but he found the tidbit informative all the same. He continued trotting along the wall and edged closer to the outer parapet. He looked around as casually as he could to insure the constable had indeed moved on without giving the kobold any more regard and having satisfied himself that he wasn’t being observed, slowed and looked carefully through the crenellations. Here he could see down on the back of the house that Hilde called home. There was only the hint of light visible in the windows on this side so Jandle was guessing that whoever was living there right now must have their quarters on the street side. Regardless there wasn’t much to be seen from here at this hour. Jandle was going to have to check in during the day to see who was coming and going.
Jandle made his way along the wall again and resumed his whistling. At the next opportunity he took the stairs down and made his way through the interior of the city towards his inn. Other than the pubs and a few crafters there wasn’t a lot going on even in this part of town. Jandle smiled to everyone he met, though, wishing them a good evening with a little wave. As he made his way through town a fellow caught his attention, and Jandle’s instincts as a squire began to kick in that something was amiss. The man was a dwarf, dark of skin and with a black beard and long, black braided hair. He carried himself as a warrior well trained in battle. He was just outside of a weaponsmith chatting with another dwarf that ran the shop. The second dwarf was one that Jandle had seen before and while the kobold didn’t know the dwarf’s name he knew that he had been among the dwarves that had been born Romillian and had accepted citizenship as Slothjemian. The two men spoke almost in a whisper and used only their native tongue. Jandle paused nearby and did a plausible job of blending into the woodwork near enough to them to overhear what they were saying.
The darker dwarf had a sinister hue all about him that had set off Jandle’s intuition. His voice dripped with the same kind of thinly veiled violence that Jandle had heard from Baron von Vorkel when he got his hackles up. The dwarven warrior was in the middle of a conversation when Jandle had happened by but he managed to hear him tell the weaponsmith, “When me axe is done send word at once to my brother. We are keen to start this and grow restless with inaction.” Jandle found this choice of words to be quite provocative and it only served to make Jandle even more curious about this fellow so randomly encountered.
The second dwarf nodded his head vigorously and everything about the man’s body language suggested that he was ill at ease. It almost seemed as if the craftsman was hesitant to be seen doing business with this dark dwarf and while that seemed suspicious to Jandle it struck the kobold as being more ludicrous than anything. There was nothing Jandle could imagine that a well-respected weaponsmith could be doing that could be considered illegal right here in the veritable center of Brakoff. As the darker dwarf took his leave and walked past the kobold without even seeming to have noticed the small reptilian Jandle thought about the possibilities. If it wasn’t illegal then it must be something the weaponsmith found unsavory for some other reason.
That was an intriguing notion to Jandle. He watched the dark dwarf as he strolled down the street. He walked purposefully and with an air of unmistakable arrogance. There was no doubt that this dwarf carried himself as a man accustomed to wearing armor. He was definitely a professional and his chosen career was engaging in battle. Jandle slowly followed the dark dwarf at a discrete distance. This man had captivated the kobold’s interest.