Lersha made her way through the cold autumn day as would any woman with a clear and well-defined purpose in mind. The journey from her husband’s estate to the mining town of Fer de Grenat was only a few hours by foot. She could have chosen a faster means of travel, but she opted to take her time in order to more adequately prepare her thoughts and to choose her words. The conversation she had in mind to have was not one that she ever wanted to be a part of. Yet here she was. Alone on a road well-traveled to try and convince her husband’s squire to not abandon his lord.
A week ago nobody would ever have thought any of this would be necessary. The Archduke of Maelonbourg had been a scathingly popular man, utterly beloved by all within his realm. The closer people got to him the more they instinctively wished to serve and protect him. But that was a week ago. Since then the Archduke had drawn a sword and struck down an unarmed man. Not just any man, mind you, but the ambassador from Lotharingia. And nor was this action done in private away from prying eyes. Oh no. This was in the wide-open public spaces of the capital’s only hospital. Within an hour everyone in the city knew what had happened. By the end of the day the entire realm knew. And word was spreading quickly beyond the borders as well. An unhinged violent act had doubtlessly brought war, and this was no time for a fight. Winter would be here soon enough and the land was ill-equipped to handle a full-blown conflict against the most powerful army in northern Partum.
Many people had reacted quickly to the action of the Archduke. The nuns that operated the hospital hastily abandoned the sick and injured and in short order had vacated their convent as well, fleeing to some as yet undisclosed safe haven. The ambassadors of other lands left too, either called back by their own lords or fearful of their lives taking the initiative to get home as quickly as possible.
Some of the Archduke’s own friends had recoiled in horror at what he had done. His squire, Jandle, was one of them. Jandle was a baron in his own right and had been entrusted with governing Normand. It was here that Jandle had built the town of Fer de Grenat from the ground up to serve as an industrial hub for the fledgling realm of Maelonbourg. This town had been a magnet for dwarves, gnomes, kobolds, and various goblinoids that worked in the iron and garnet mines of Normand and brought their wares here to be smelted or cut and polished. It was a gigantic workhouse centered on a great smelting forge and it operated almost all day, every day. Jandle had a small burrow on one of the hills overlooking Fer de Grenat. Lersha paused in the roadway and gazed up at the hillock.
Jandle’s burrow resembled the sort of home a halfling might possess. Granted, it would have been a wealthy halfling. The front door was of the finest oak and had been varnished to give it a glossy glow. Above the door on the hillock itself was a magnificent oak tree, restored to life by the druid Selena. On one of the branches sat what looked to be a child’s treehouse, painted brightly in shades of blue and with a bright orange door. Lersha turned her gaze back to the front door of the burrow. She took a deep breath, and walked up the small low steps that led upwards to the front door. She stooped slightly, and rapped lightly upon the door with her fist. She waited a moment, and then knocked again.
Jandle the kobold, Baron of Normand, opened the door himself and looked out to see who was visiting him. To say he was surprised to see the Archduchess on his front patio would have been a gross understatement. “Your majesty.” Jandle said in a quiet voice. “To what do I owe this honor?”
“May I come in?” Lersha asked, shifting the conversation from Fanolanian to Slothjemian, the native tongue of both her and the kobold to whom she was speaking.
Jandle paused, and then said “I reckon so, if you wish. Mind your head.” The kobold opened the door wider and stepped back to allow his surprise guest to enter the burrow. Lersha had to stoop to enter but inside the burrow she could stand almost completely upright and not bash into the ceiling.
The kobold closed the door and as was his custom sort of half-jogged down the hallway that led deeper into the burrow. Small wall sconces held softly glowing orbs that warmly illuminated the passageways and Jandle led his guest to a well appointed sitting room. He gestured for her to take a seat in one of the low leather chairs, and asked her “Can I fetch you a beverage? Are you hungry? Would you like a quilt for your lap?” The kobold knew that his lord’s wife was pregnant and while hers had not been a long or strenuous journey it certainly was more than a mere stroll in a park.
Lersha smiled and replied, “Yes, thank you. A quilt would be welcome. If you have anything warm to drink I’ll gladly have some.” As Jandle went to get the requested items Lersha looked around at the room. There were a number of interesting keepsakes on dark oak shelves, doubtless reminders of the kobold’s past journeys and adventures. There was a clock someplace in the burrow and Lersha could hear its soft rhythmic ticking. The entire place was calm and Lersha could feel herself relaxing moment by moment.
When Jandle returned he had a soft and almost luxurious quilt that he carefully placed over Lersha’s legs. He then left again and shortly came back with a tankard of hot cider. “Here you are, my lady.” he said as he handed it to her. “I know what must have brought you here. I will not assume too much, though. I’ll let you say whatever it is that has burdened you enough to walk all this way.” The kobold settled into a low leather chair across the room from where Lersha sat.
The Archduchess took a long drink of cider and then took a deep breath. She looked at Jandle with her inky black eyes and said softly, “You have been witness to much violence in your life. Violence committed by your lords, the men you swore to protect and serve. This has not done you any good. You have been pulled into conflict by men unable to control their basest instincts. I feel compelled to say from the depths of my heart how sorry I am that Xan did this again to you.”
Jandle didn’t say a word, but instead just sat and met the gaze of his guest. Lersha took another drink of her cider and continued. “I ask you not to abandon him now. The choice he made in anger is going to have far-reaching consequences, and sooner than I should like. He needs the support of those that know him best.”
Jandle snorted and said in a somewhat mocking tone, “I do not think I know him that well, my lady. Nor do I think that knowing him well is reason enough to support him going forward. Murder is murder regardless of what one might say in justification. And I speak from experience, you know. I helped my previous lord conduct one of the greatest atrocities Slothjemia ever had a hand in. I am no saint. But I am resolved to not sacrifice what is left of my soul in the service of a man who cannot and will not give consideration to the implications of his actions. I fear that Xan has doomed us all. Lotharingia is not the sort of place that overlooks the murder of its’ emissary.” Jandle stared at Lersha as he fairly hissed, “They will see us all dead before they are sated.”
Lersha squirmed uncomfortably in her chair. She hated to admit that Jandle was right, but finally she said “I know this as well as you do. I never suggested this was going to be easy. And I would never ask you to compromise your principles. I just ask you to help us to make this right.”
The kobold cocked his head and asked in a somewhat bewildered tone, “And how exactly do we do that, your majesty? What conceivable course of action do you see that will sort this out in a way that any of us will see an outcome not drowned in blood and burning with the curses of the Viceroy?”
“I don’t know, Lord Jandle.” Lersha said as she took another drink of cider. “That’s why I need your help.”
The two sat in silence for several minutes before Jandle finally said, “I’ll help you, my lady. Not for his sake. But for the sake of your unborn children and mine. In return for this you will deliver to him notice that I resign my position as his squire. I’ve done enough to bolster evil men. I’ll not be dragged again into the company of fiends.”
“Fair enough.” said Lersha as she sat her empty tankard down on the small table next to her chair. “You are a nobleman to the core. Thank you.” And with that the Archduchess cast a spell and vanished from the room, her quilt settling into the leather chair in her absence. Jandle sighed heavily and let himself settle deeper into his own chair.
“Bastiges.” he muttered.