Slinker, Slayer, Kobold, Squire; Chapter 10

Jandle really wanted names to put on the two dwarves so that he could get away from labelling them as just gaunt and dark. He was mulling over how these two might be related because there was a resemblance beyond the stereotypical “all dwarves look alike” attitude that non-dwarves found amusingly frustrating. Jandle remembered that the dark dwarf had mentioned something about his brother to the weaponsmith so perhaps this was the aforementioned sibling. But no sooner had he begun to debate whether or not they really looked like brothers Jandle spotted a third dwarf with a similarly dour and threatening demeanor approaching. Sure enough he took a seat with the other two and the three of them huddled closely and made Jandle even more desirous of being able to hear what was being said. This new addition was not as dark as the first nor as gaunt as the second. Together they formed a nefarious trifecta of unknowns.

There wasn’t much risk of being spotted or suspected since Jandle was sure that none of these dwarves knew him any more than he knew them. He quickly weighed the risk and then trotted out from behind the safety of the barrels to get a better look. He strained his ears to make out any incriminating words or phrases as he passed next to the three dwarves at their table. To make it seem more realistic he paused near them as if considering his options at this establishment before heading in to see what might be on the menu. This of course was a ruse as he was neither hungry nor genuinely interested in the available fare. It took every ounce of his being not to look at the three dwarves as he passed near enough to them to pick their pockets had he been a thief. The gaunt dwarf noticed this proximity, confirming in Jandle’s mind that he was in fact a well-trained rogue. But none of the dwarves took any action and only the one of them even looked at him as he passed by.

Unsettlingly enough he did pick up one whispered phrase as he trotted past their table. The gaunt one had just finished saying, “She isn’t back yet” and stopped abruptly as the kobold went by. Whether or not Jandle had been recognized from just a little while ago on the street in front of Hilde’s had yet to be seen but Jandle had a ruse to maintain. He went up to the barkeeper and bought a small earthenware jar of cooked beans. Not normally a breakfast food but the barkeep was obliging. He handed over the beans and Jandle gave him a copper coin. Turning to leave, he noticed that the three dwarves had left and apparently in a hurry. Jandle cursed under his breath and realized that the gaunt one had taken note of the squire and informed his comrades that they had been followed. This was not what Jandle had wanted at all. He had given up the game and he wasn’t even sure what game was being played.

The kobold thought about his options. The café was crowded enough that a small critter such as himself could slip out without anybody else noticing. But Jandle knew that at least one of the dwarves was going to follow him when he left to ascertain how much of their scheme was known to outsiders. Jandle couldn’t allow that to happen because he was the only one that knew anything at all and that was virtually nothing. These dwarves were obviously waiting for Hilde to return home and Jandle suspected they were up to no good but beyond that he was lost.

Right now though Jandle had to lose the dwarves. He was sure that going out the front was ill advised so he took a look around to see what other options he had. There was a kitchen and that meant there had to be a back entrance. Taking a deep breath and clutching his beans, the kobold trotted right through to the kitchen as though he belonged there. A startled young woman who appeared to be a scullery maid gave out a startled shriek as he zipped by, and he called out in Romillian, “Love the beans! Thank you!” and as quickly as he had appeared he was through the back door into a maze of alleys behind the café. Looking to the sides quickly, he saw the unmistakable figure of a dwarf to his right at one corner of the cafe and a shadow that could be dwarven down to his left at the other corner. Moving quickly Jandle raced straight ahead down another alley and dodged between the clutter of broken boxes and litter. He fervently hoped this wasn’t a dead end and heard distinctly one of the dwarves shouting behind him.

“The little bugger ran down this way!” hollered a dwarf, and to Jandle’s dismay it was said in Romillian. This was no comfort to him at all as it only served to feed his fear that he might be dealing with foreign agents. But what Jandle lacked in size and ferocity he more than made up for in pluck and tenacity. He redoubled his pace and was comforted that the dwarves were no faster than he was and not operating on the same level of adrenaline as he currently had coursing through his veins.

Spurred on not so much by fear of harm as he was fear of having come all this way to uncover a possible plot and then have it cut short without being able to thwart it, Jandle tore down the alleys of Brakoff like a wee demon. He wasn’t sure where exactly he was headed nor which direction he needed to be going in when it occurred to him that if they were chasing him to find out where he was going then they didn’t know any more than he did. Just then a door on the back of a building opened up and large fellow, probably an orog, stepped out carrying a massive wooden crate. With his vision obscured by the crate, the orog didn’t notice the kobold race in through the door and into the unknown. Jandle just knew he needed to get out of these alleys and to someplace safer. He slowed his pace a bit, still holding his jar of beans tightly, and ran out of what appeared to be a stockroom into the front of the business.

It turned out to be a saddle shop. As much as Jandle appreciated the smell of leather, he didn’t pause and instead trotted right through to the front door. He peered cautiously to each side, and while the proprietor tried in vain to shout for his attention, the kobold trotted out and across the street and down another avenue. He knew where he was now and wasn’t about to be deterred. With a chuckle Jandle realized the safest place for him to be wasn’t even in Brakoff proper. If the dwarves were looking for him here then they weren’t likely to be at the nearly abandoned hog farm on the outskirts of the city. Casually checking over his shoulder every so often, Jandle headed for the old dilapidated place he had followed the dark dwarf to last night.

When he had reached the rundown pig farm Jandle paused to catch his breath and gobble down a mouthful of beans. They had gotten cold with all of the running about, and Jandle was winded from the unwanted exercise. He could see the two large dogs waiting right outside the front door to the hovel and they in turn were watching him. Jandle strolled calmly and relatively slowly down the road in front of the property. Every so often he would turn to see what the hounds were doing. One of them had laid its head back down but the other kept a wary watch out for what the kobold eating beans out of a little clay pot might be doing. Jandle continued walking to the edge of the property and looked around. The farm next to this was in full swing and chickens were wandering about the fenced-in yard while a handful of human children scattered feed. Jandle waved to one of the children, and they smiled and waved back. A large woman who was likely the children’s mother was returning from the chicken coops behind the house with a basket filled with fresh eggs. Jandle wiped his bean-covered hand on his pants and he went through the gate in the front of the farm.

Chickens scattered as the kobold made his way carefully towards the woman. He did his best to smile disarmingly, but the woman was already beaming. Her Slothjemian wasn’t terrific but Jandle understood her just fine. “Good morning, little sir. Are you looking for eggs?” she paused and lowered the basket for his inspection.

Jandle dutifully looked the eggs over and replied, “It does sound wonderful. I have room in my pot for two.” He pointed to his bean pot that was now over half empty. “I will gladly pay you a copper coin, though, if that isn’t too presumptuous.”

The woman gasped at the sheer generosity of this and took the coin that Jandle handed her. “Absolutely, sir! Thank you!”

Jandle bowed a little and maintained his smile. “You don’t mind if I hop your fence, do you? I am supposed to meet the three sulky dwarves, and they aren’t about. I’m afraid I don’t get along well with their dogs.” Jandle stood there looking quite like a ragamuffin with beans smeared on his pants and the muck of Brakoff’s alleys all over his feet.

The woman laughed and said, “Oh, by all means little sir. I don’t like those accursed dogs myself. They chase and bark at my chickens when they get hungry.” She pointed to the fence with her unsavory neighbors. “You go right ahead and be careful not to get any splinters. They haven’t done any upkeep on anything including that fence since before the war.”

Jandle grinned and looked at the fence. It was not in great shape and it was only because of the bracing added by the neighbors on this side of the thing that it even remained standing. He looked back at the woman and asked, “Have they always lived here?”

The woman shrugged and answered, “Brunder has been here for ten years or more. His brothers are just visiting. Not sure why anyone wants to live on a hog far and not have any hogs. Pointless.” The woman seemed to be somewhat exasperated with her neighbor and Jandle found that reassuring.

The kobold took a deep breath and said, “Thank you my lady for the eggs and the way around the hounds. Both are very much appreciated.” With that he took his leave and jogged over to the fence.

Setting the bean pot carefully on a fencepost, Jandle scrambled up and over the wooden slats and landed softly on the other side. Taking the pot off of the post he ran as fast as he could for the backdoor of the little house. His heart was pounding from the renewed exertion. The door was as ramshackle as the rest of the place and there wasn’t a lock. The mechanism was a simple wooden lever that raised a small block inside the door to allow entry. Jandle quickly stepped inside and closed the door behind him. He could hear the dogs stirring outside but they didn’t start barking.

Looking around the simply appointed room, Jandle was struck by what an utter dump it was. There was only one room with a loft and the whole place reeked of body odor. There was a ladder up to the loft and Jandle guessed that is where the dwarves had been sleeping. The kobold set down his bean pot and began scouring through the mess to see if he could find anything worthwhile. He found a set of lockpicks which he left in place as well as a number of weapons in astonishingly good condition. These dwarves were expecting trouble of some sort.

Climbing up into the loft Jandle found the smell even worse at higher altitude. He gagged a little and decided he might as well go through the bedding. There was only one small bed, but two bedrolls had been laid out up here as well. Jandle found some clothing and dug through that for clues just in case. The only interesting thing he found was a tunic that he recognized as part of a Romillian grenadier’s uniform and that was interesting indeed. Underneath one of the bedrolls he also found a grenadier’s blunderbuss. The squire’s heart skipped a beat. He didn’t know how to use one of these explosively dangerous weapons, but he did know how to disable them.

Jandle rooted around until he found an old nail. He carefully placed the tip into the ignition hole where the spark from the flint went into the barrel and ignited the main charge. Tapping it into the hole with one of the dwarf’s shoes, he made good and sure it was lodged in there before he twisted the nail until it broke off in the hole. Satisfied with this bit of sabotage Jandle placed the weapon back under the bedroll and hoped that the owner didn’t notice his handiwork.

Skittering back down the ladder Jandle decided to take one last look around for anything that might help him understand what he was up against. Just as he was about to give up he found what he was looking for. A tattered and worn letter addressed to Korinth Velferin. Jandle realized with dawning horror that this letter had been written in Romillian and was unmistakably in Trangdor’s handwriting. The signature at the bottom was that of Governor-General Baron Shr Grundoon von Vorkel of the County Brotherhood. Jandle dropped the letter and grabbed his bean pot with the two eggs in it. Jandle knew why these dwarves were here. They were out for revenge. They meant to kill his master’s daughter.

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