A Scheme Develops

The encampment of the Red Guard along the western frontier of New Sikilia had become quite the formidable little city. Centered on a towering fortress that had once belonged to one of the more prominent minions of the Ash King, this was the center of military affairs for the Slothjemian Empire’s interests in these conquered lands. It was close to potential trouble spots in the west where the remaining liches of the Diosian Lodge still held power and had been steadily increasing their own armies. Whether these forces would be thrown against the Slothjemians as some sort of retribution for their vanquishing of the Ash King or be sent elsewhere to act on behalf of the Fourth Imperium was unknown. Slothjemia had always held the belief that in matters of military preparedness it was better to prepare for trouble and be disappointed than to not have a plan in place and be caught by surprise. This was why the Empress’ most formidable army, the Red Guard, was all the way over here in this corner of the realm preparing for a fight.

There was an expectation that at any time this garrison might be visited by the Herzgraf who would be checking up on the outfit or doing a personal reconnaissance of the area as a whole. Since taking control over this region Slothjemia’s foremost military commander had visited a number of times. As the husband of the Empress, the Herzgraf had complete control over all martial matters and liked to be able to bring all possible options to bear if a problem presented itself. This meant that in order to make the best decisions the Herzgraf would invariably insist on showing up in person to see what precisely the issues were. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the Herzgraf’s black dragon, Grizzilla, came into view from the east and set down with its passengers in the parade ground of the Red Guard camp.

The Herzgraf dismounted and was followed into the commandant’s quarters by his goblin squire, an aged fellow named Fuller. He was also accompanied by a middle-aged man who wore a Slothjemian naval uniform and had greying hair and an elegant little beard, and a dour looking dwarven woman who had on a uniform that indicated she was an officer in the army reserves. The group followed the lead of the Herzgraf and it was evident that there was an air of determination about them.

After meeting privately with the commandant of the Red Guard, General Shr Argrowl von Unster-Kol, the Herzgraf had one of the aides-de-camp fetch one of the noncommissioned officers in the unit. This turned out to be one of the older orcs, a gruff and thoroughly professional soldier known throughout the Red Guard as Sergeant Grudge. Unable to read or write, this was the highest rank that Grudge would be able to attain in the Slothjemian military. However, Sergeant Grudge had one skill that was exceedingly rare among goblinoids of any type, and that was his memory. Grudge had the eerie ability to relate and describe with perfect detail anything he saw. This made him invaluable as a scout and he was considered to be among the finest espionage experts in the entire realm. Given the chance to look around and wander about, Sergeant Grudge could tell his commanders exactly what the enemy had in terms of troops, supplies, fortifications, and other resources. More than once Sergeant Grudge had been sent to seek out the weak points in a position and he had been able to pinpoint it with absolute precision.

Upon reporting to the commandant’s tent Sergeant Grudge saluted his commander as well as the Herzgraf. General von Unster-Kol, a fine example of a noble jor if ever one could be found, returned the salute and said in his no-nonsense manner, “At ease, sergeant.” Turning to the Herzgraf with a salute the general then said, “I’ll leave you to it, sir.” Neither the general nor the Herzgraf especially enjoyed each other’s company. The Herzgraf viewed the commandant of the Red Guard to be an evil, almost diabolical sort of man while the general saw the Herzgraf as being a sanctimonious goody two-shoes.

The Herzgraf returned the salute and waited until the swamp orc had left the premises before lowering his voice and motioning for the sergeant to have a seat before sitting down himself. Fuller stood nearby sipping a mug of something, presumably cider. The naval officer and the reserve army officer were already seated near a large table. Sergeant Grudge hesitated before taking a seat in one of the chairs that seemed to have been set haphazardly around the room after sliding it closer to where the Hergraf was seated.

Leaning forward with his customary warm and hospitable smile the Herzgraf asked Sergeant Grudge, “Would you like a refreshment? An ale? Maybe something stronger?”

The sergeant shook his head. “No sir, thank you.”

Sitting back in his chair the Herzgraf chuckled and said, “You are something of an anomaly, Sergeant Grudge. One does not find many old orcs in Her Majesty’s army. It is said, is it not, that an orc would rather die in battle than of old age?”

With a slight sneer Grudge replied, “Aye, your majesty. But dying in the Red Guard isn’t easy. We typically win our fights.”

Fuller raised his mug to this and chuckled. The other two officers also laughed, and the Herzgraf nodded his head knowingly. “You are getting close to retirement, aren’t you? Or do you wish to sign up yet again and serve until you drop?”

Sergeant Grudge was a hardened veteran of many fights and as an orcish warrior was used to being spoken to in this kind of a direct manner. The Herzgraf was a man beyond reproach, a paladin who was famous all across the continent of Partum for being truthful if not tactful. He understood perfectly well the way orcs and men thought about their roles in the service of the Empress. Troops like Sergeant Drudge were the backbone of the imperial military machine and their ferociousness and tenacity in a fight had spelled victory time and time again for Slothjemia. Even facing long odds and the possibility of defeat they would stand their ground and even push back against their enemies until blade, arrow, or magic ended their courage in death.

Grudge said to the Herzgraf, “I intend to do my service, your majesty. I have nothing else to do but carry out the orders of my Queen.”

The Herzgraf nodded his head slowly and said quietly, “I have a proposal for you, sergeant. A chance at something more challenging than sitting here counting undead soldiers across the border. Might you be interested?”

The orcish soldier took a deep breath and asked, “What do you want done, sir?”

Chuckling, the Herzgraf leaned forward a bit and said, “Something to do with travel. And a chance to help lead an army. I understand you did a tremendous job with Maelonbourg’s conquest of Oublier a couple of years ago. I have been thinking of a scheme to help them and our own beloved Empress in the process. Being in Maelonbourg is only a part of it, though. Eventually you’ll be traveling a little further.”

The sergeant smirked, his tusks gleaming in the light streaming through the window. “Where am I taking this army, sir?”

The Herzgraf smiled and asked warmly, “Have you ever heard of Ybaria?”