Slinker, Slayer, Kobold, Squire; Chapter 18

Shr Gelbrand came sweeping out of his keep to greet his guest and it was as if Jandle was watching an instant replay from the first time he had met the dwarf with the clean-shaven head and pale green eyes. Jandle had never seen this man when he wasn’t bursting with hospitality. Trelderian Hall was something of a throwback to the way dwarves used to be in the days before they grew disenchanted with the rest of the world and withdrew under the ground and into the mountain realms where they still held sway. Castles like this were the norm in lands that boasted dwarven populations, brightly lit and welcoming to weary travelers with the promise of a hearty meal and a warm hearth.

Most everyone that lived and worked in this castle was dwarven but there were a few humans milling about. Shr Gelbrand was a rather enlightened man when it came to such things as race relations, however the same could not be true about all that were in his employ. In order to keep the peace within his estate he had opted to be friendly with other races personally but to not hire them on as retainers. For all of his staffing positions he utilized the dwarves that had found themselves unemployed after the Romillian War when many of the nobles in this area had fled back across the mountain passes into the heart of Romillia. No one had begrudged the man this quirk of personal choice. It was to many a sign that he really was interested in fostering goodwill betwixt the new rulers and the native population. There were no perfect bridges in this relationship but the one forged by Shr Gelbrand had more strength to it than weakness.

With his free hand Jandle clasped the dwarf’s outstretched palm and in proper form shook it vigorously. Gelbrand seemed almost giddy at seeing Jandle again and declared, “How good to see you again, Master Jandle! It has been far too long, and this is a most delightfully unexpected surprise!” Before the kobold could reply, Gelbrand was pushing him into the open door of the keep while continuing to talk. “You must be famished from your hike! There is plenty of food still on the table, go right in and help yourself! Do you need help with your things? Here, come give Master Jandle a hand with his belongings. Take them straightaway to one of the rooms upstairs, I’m sure he is tired.” Looking at Jandle and not giving him a second to reply to this either the dwarf asked, “Are you tired, good sir? Of course, you are. Tis no small stroll all the way up from the roadhouse. Did you stay there overnight? How long will you be with us? You can stay as long as you like, you know. Long as you like.”

Jandle just let the servants take his stuff and haul it all up the stairs to some as-yet undeclared living space. He grinned at the cartoonish friendliness of his host and allowed himself to be pushed right into the dining hall. As nicely as he could have pleased the squire found himself plopped down before a half-eaten feast. Most of the participants had finished and gone on about their business but a handful lingered to see what all this guest had to offer in the way of news and chit-chat. Being at the end of the road, quite literally, there were few guests in the castle and the ones of a more, as they say, exotic nature was an especially enticing draw to the residents here.

Gelbrand wasn’t the kind of fellow to let the kobold ever get a word in sideways right at the beginning but finally Jandle was able to say, “I have a favor to ask of you. It involves Hilde. And I need you to consider it carefully.”

The dwarf was taken aback by this and displayed as much in his facial expression. “How do you mean?” he asked as he sat down at the table opposite the kobold, pushing empty plates out of the way to give him room to set his hairy forearms.

Jandle decided to go ahead and eat while he talked, and between mouthfuls he said, “As you probably know, Hilde’s father is dead. That leaves me without a lord to serve, and a squire without a lord is an axe without a handle. So, Hilde’s stepmother asked me to do what I could to make sure Hilde was looked after. That was easier said than done as it turns out. I stumbled into a hornet’s nest of tomfoolery and bloodshed in Brakoff and nearly got myself killed. Managed to stagger out alive after a fashion but that is it for me. I am not suited to being a hired thug. First, I am too small. And second, this is not what I trained for. I am going to go north and find myself another master to serve.” pointing his greasy food-covered finger at Gelbrand Jandle continued, “And this is where you come in. I am asking you to step in and take up the goal of keeping Hilde from getting blindsided by whatever enemies she makes as she goes about her business. I’m offering you a terrific great axe just for considering this proposal. After that, I guess it will be just your sense of duty and honor that propels you forward towards this goal.”

Gelbrand scoffed, and with a sort of snarling smile he said, “I’d lay my life on the line for that woman any day of the week and twice on a holy day. She is one of the finest people I have ever known. I don’t need to be paid to defend her.”

Jandle shrugged. “As you wish, my lord. The axe is my gift to you in any event. You are a man that I admire very nearly as much as you admire Hilde. You showed devotion to my master and served him well as an advisor at a time when there were schemes afoot to rebel against the empire. I do not expect you to demand payment to protect Hilde, I merely meant to convey that there would be no payment forthcoming.”

The dwarf’s features softened, and he laughed. “Oh, well that is something altogether different, then. I would gladly accept your gift, Master Jandle. I know you to be a man of devotion and your kind words speak well to my heart. Thank you for that.”

Jandle waved at nothing in particular and said, “Wherever they took that axe it is wrapped in velvet. I’d go get it but I’ve no idea where they carried it off to.” The kobold smiled and added, “Plus I am still eating.”

Gelbrand called for a servant to go and fetch the axe wrapped in velvet, and when the servant returned and presented it to his lordship the dwarven knight gingerly unwrapped the axe on the table in front of him. He gasped as he saw it, and reverently ran his fingers along the finely carved metal. “It is the most beautiful axe I’ve ever laid eyes on, Master Jandle. Make no mistake. This is almost more than I can accept.” He smiled at Jandle and added, “Almost.”

The kobold grinned at his host and said, “I knew you would appreciate it. I hope it serves your house well.”

Still admiring the axe before him, Gelbrand asked, “How did you come to possess this glorious axe?” his voice was solemn and filled with respect.

Motioning towards the axe and then waving once again at nothing in particular Jandle replied, “All a part of the aforementioned tomfoolery and bloodshed in Brakoff. Spoils of war I would say.”

Gelbrand just shook his head as he said softly, “I’ve never seen anything like it. Amazing craftmanship.” He looked at the kobold who was still devouring the food in front of him.

Jandle met his gaze and said, “It loses some of its allure after you have to carry it all the way from the Idyllwild Inn.”

The other dwarves at the table snickered at the jest, but Gelbrand was smitten. He spent quite a while just admiring the weapon before finally tearing himself away from it and telling Jandle, “There must be something I can give you in return for this gift.” The dwarf stroked his beard while he thought. With a grin and a sudden gasp, he said enthusiastically, “I have something for you. Wait here.” The dwarf then dashed off out of the dining hall.

In his absence the other dwarves started to cautiously gather around to get a look at the axe the kobold had brought to their lord. None dared to touch it, but their glowing admiration was evident from the shocked looks on their faces. When Gelbrand returned to the dining hall his staff and retainers parted enough to let him through but not enough that they had to stop viewing the bewitching axe. Jandle wasn’t sure what spell this axe was weaving that affected dwarves to this degree, but it was hilariously absurd as far as the little reptile was concerned.

Gelbrand set a somewhat worn little book on the table and pushed it over to Jandle. With a smile he said to the kobold, “When I adventured in western Geldenreich I bought this, thinking that I might need it someday. I never did but held on to it. You know how valuable a book is.”

Jandle looked at the book and saw that it was written in Geldenspeak. He read the title aloud; “The Stammler and Reischach Phrasebook and Guide to the Fanolanian Language.” Looking up at Gelbrand, Jandle asked, “Why didn’t you ever need this?”

Gelbrand laughed and said, “Geldenreichers only use Geldenspeak, even if they know another language. I never did get to travel in Fanolania or much of the Wenigzustand, so this book never came in helpful to me. Maybe it will serve you better than it did I.”

Jandle slipped the book into his rucksack and said, “Thank you, Gelbrand. I appreciate the sentiment. I might just see how far I can get, and this book could come in very useful.”

Gelbrand wrapped the axe back up in the velvet and asked Jandle, “How long will you be staying with us?”

Jandle pushed the now empty plate away from himself and replied, “I will be leaving in the morning. Going to head north and I might as well get going. My work here is done.” He smiled at Gelbrand and the dwarf thought the look denoted a hint of sorrow. The kobold continued, “I haven’t a proper master, so I guess my job is done when I say it is done.”

The dwarf nodded his head and reverently picked up the axe wrapped in velvet. He carried it into the main hall and everyone, including Jandle, went to see what he was going to do with it. The lord of the house set the axe down on the low table in front of the grand fireplace and said to one of his servants, “Tomorrow morning begin tapping in hooks over the mantle to hold this fine weapon. Make it a priority.” The dwarf he was talking to bowed and seemed to take it as an honor to have been asked.

It was not that late but Jandle was wiped out from his hike. He excused himself, and another of the servants showed him to his room upstairs. Jandle took off his clothes and crawled under the furs that were piled on the bed. “This must surely be the best part of being a dwarf” he mused to himself as he drifted quickly into slumber.

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