The morning brought with it the promise of a painfully bright new day, and it also brought back Jandle’s searing headache. He had full day of walking ahead of him, so the squire managed to get himself attired and equipped before he went downstairs to see about food. He took his rucksack and weapons with him, so he didn’t have to traipse all the way upstairs to get them afterward. If nothing else Jandle was glad that the book in his rucksack weighed a lot less than that great axe did.
Jandle didn’t want to tarry here more than necessary because it was about a twenty-mile hike to Karpaburg as the crow flies. There were plenty of people milling about in the dining room and plenty of food to be had, so the squire didn’t waste any time in digging in and making himself a grand little breakfast feast. When he had finished Shr Gelbrand came in from outside and said with a smile, “There you are! Come along, Master Jandle. We have a pony for you to ride and an escort all the way to Karpaburg.”
Jandle’s eyes widened as he asked, “An escort? Whatever for?”
Gelbrand laughed and said, “To bring back my pony, of course. Come along, Werggend is all set to go. He is that sour looking fellow carrying the war axe on the other pony.”
The kobold could see that this dwarf was indeed a sour looking man, but then dwarves were seldom giddy at the prospect of riding around the countryside for no good reason. Jandle tipped his helmet at the dwarf and said, “Good day, Werggend. I am sorry if this trip is a wasted day for you.”
The other dwarf’s face suddenly burst into a toothless grin as the clearly much older dwarf exclaimed in broken Slothjemian, “It is a good day for riding! My family lives in Karpaburg. Good excuse to visit. All is good. Pleasure is mine, Master Jandle.”
With that, Jandle secured his rucksack to the back of the saddle and swung up on to the pony himself. His head still hurt, but he hoped that he could shake it by not having to walk the entire way to Karpaburg. Half of the household turned out to say good-bye and led by their lord the servants and staff of Trelderian Hall waved farewell to the little kobold.
Werggend led the way because there was no trail this direction. Their path would take them across multiple estates as they descended the foothills and entered into the fertile valley that comprised most of the Grafdom. Every now and then the toothless dwarf would point to some notable landmark and chuckle, stating what it was and why it was important to know that. Jandle had a hard time seeing himself backtracking this same route at any time in the future but he paid attention with as much diligence as he could muster. There was a large granite boulder that looked like a gigantic frog when viewed from certain angles. A small rundown keep that had a cluster of oak trees growing up through it. An old water mill on a creek that had been abandoned decades ago but was now in perfect working order and being operated by a family of gnolls that used it to grind the wheat harvests of surrounding farms into flour. Several times the kobold and dwarf had to dismount and take apart fences in order to pass through and then put the fences back together. Gates were evidently considered a frivolous novelty in this part of the realm.
The cross-country trip took all day to complete. Jandle now had a much better idea of just how active the estates were in this part of the Grafdom, and a much better appreciation for the hard work being done at every level of society. It was a gorgeous part of the world by any measurement. The towering alps, forested, rolling foothills, and lush valleys filled with all manner of livestock. Romilmark had come a long way since Slothjemia first took over this region. There wouldn’t have to be any more emergency food shipments from anyplace else when winter set in, and the army no longer had to patrol for rebellious elements seeking to overthrow the Queen.
When the two trekkers reached Karpaburg they were both well and truly sick of riding. Jandle said farewell to Werggend and handed him the reins to the pony. The dwarf gave a friendly little salute, and said, “Good travels to you, Master Jandle. May the road flow easily wherever you aim to wander.” With that the dwarf rode off to see his kinsmen.
Jandle knew he shouldn’t have ridden as much as he did without stretching more, and now he was feeling the pain of it. He shouldered his rucksack, and with his crossbow in hand walked into the heart of the city. He passed by a number of promising inns and lodges as he went in search of the Crooked Pine hotel and tavern. Jandle remembered it from the first night he had been in this city with the Governor-General and his lord and their entire party had gone from one public house to another trying to locate the mayor. They had been pickled by the time they had found the mayor, but early in the bar crawl the group had staggered into the Crooked Pine. Jandle remembered the drink being especially good and the accommodations appeared to be of top-notch quality.
Although his memory was a tad blurry from that night of excess, Jandle was able to find the correct place. It was almost exactly as he remembered it, except that everything was in better focus this time around. Walking into the entry hall Jandle was greeted with the smell of roast beef and potatoes mingled with the smell of fresh pine needles. There was some greenery on and around the front desk that explained the latter and the doorway to the left led to the dining hall and bar which explained the former. Both were welcome scents to the kobold.
The middle-aged human behind the desk smiled broadly at Jandle, and waved his hand as he called out, “Welcome to the Crooked Pine, sir. Are you looking for a room, or just a meal?”
Jandle set down his crossbow and rucksack, and replied, “A room for the night and a couple of meals, please.” Looking around Jandle didn’t see anyone else handily nearby so he asked the clerk, “Might you know when the stagecoach leaves for Barokovia in the morning?”
The clerk checked a sheet of parchment tacked on the desk in front of him and answered, “The Royal Slothjemian Coach Line runs to Barokovia just after six in the morning, the Central Imperial Coach Line leaves about an hour after that. Closer to the noon hour the Regal Grünhausser Stage Line leaves, with a second about an hour after that.”
Jandle was amused by the detailed information provided in the clerk’s response. He dug around in his coin bag until he found a silver piece, which he handed to the clerk. “An excellent range of options, sir. Thank you for that.” Jandle said with a smile. “How much for the room and board?”
The clerk, happily surprised with the silver coin right off the start, replied with a smile, “One gold coin, sir.”
Jandle produced the requisite money from his bag and handed it to the clerk. The clerk turned the guestbook so that the kobold could sign, and the squire stepped up on the stepstool provided by the management for this very sort of occasion. Signing his name with a suitable flourish, Jandle took his key and proceeded to his room. He waved off the bellhop, a younger man who looked to be related to the clerk. Jandle could find his way just fine. He had a slight headache, but it was just something he was going to have to live with. Right now he wanted to stash his stuff, eat his fill, and think about life in the north of wherever.
Jandle was quite looking forward to this.
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