An Orc for All Seasons

Slothjemia’s naval force is small, and is itself divided into three parts; the Navy that patrols the Dolonau River and forms a defensive force in the Sea of Shadows from its home port of Reichstanta, the Spelljammers that operate from the city of Jaggerholmschloss on the banks of Jagger Lake, and the Marines that serve as the soldiers for both the Navy and the Spelljammers. Without a strong nautical tradition, Slothjemia finds itself at a distinct disadvantage on the water, but this is more than compensated for should the enemy ever venture onto land.

 

Chapter 9

 

The patchy clouds kept it rather cold, and there was still plenty of snow on the mountain peaks. The sunlight was not terribly welcome to the goblinoids at any rate, so any cloud cover was welcome. Throughout the journey the patrol would be in and out of shadowed vales still heavy with snow, slow to melt even though spring was in full force. The alpine mountains that sliced through Slothjemia clung to the seasonal snowfall like a toddler to its mama. Wildflowers were starting to bloom in meadows, but along the peaks and in the hidden hollows there were still signs of winter. After the column got well away from Vorkelburg, Grundoon passed the order down the line for the drummers to begin keeping a marching beat. It would take all day to make it through the little valleys and over a couple of small passes to reach the city of Borostat that sat in the middle of a long, moderately wide valley. Having a cadence going was important not just for keeping the men in a rhythm to make the best time, but also for the sake of morale.

“How about a song?” Roared Grundoon. “Somebody pick up the drumbeat and start us a song!” It was only a few moments later when somebody in the axe unit started up with a rousing rendition of “Slothjemian Girl.” He only got out the first line before the rest of the unit began to join in. By the chorus the entire column was jumping in on the song. Of course the further back the song went, it had to be started anew. It was like a mile-long version of the song sung in a round. The patrol had such a good time with it that they did the song three times.

Map001

There were numerous creeks and meadows to cross as the road twisted northeast. There was no way this road could have been made to run straight. Grundoon wondered if it could have been made to run any more crooked. The road was in extremely good condition though, so they were making very good time. The road was ancient by any standard. Whoever had built the now ruined bridge had also constructed Vorkelburg and this very road. Over the centuries there had been wear and tear, but of course this was not a heavily travelled road. With the bridge gone, Vorkelburg was at the end of a road that only went to Borostat. If you were not wanting to travel between those two places then you would never see this road. Some in Borostat called it the road to nowhere. Grundoon had been told by his superiors more than once that he was “at the end of the line.” He had found the concept comforting most of the time, but at other times he found it angering.

Grundoon took turns riding his horse and marching with his men. He found it easier to be lost in thought while riding. It was while in the saddle that he had begun pondering anew what it meant commanding a garrison at the end of the line. It occurred to him that he wasn’t at the end of the road. He was at the beginning. His road started right at Vorkelburg. Where it went was up to him. Him and a few thousand of his closest, heavily armed friends. While on the road to Borostat the general was feeling quite good. Almost exuberant. His mood was starting to approach the jovial mood of his soldiers. All of them were in very good spirits. Grundoon believed that not one of them had any doubts about their future. They were headed for a war, and that had them happier than a kitten in front of a fireplace with a ball of yarn.

Every three hours or so the column halted, and the men took advantage of collapsing and snacking on dried meat and drinking ale from their waterskins. The horses grazed a little on the tall grass and everyone drew water from the various creeks, whether the column was moving or not. The heavy packs were taking their toll but since it was the first day of the march everyone seemed to have plenty of energy.

As the patrol entered Borostat’s valley, they were met by the three riders who had left the day before to arrange for wagons and carts. Never had anyone been happier to see a random assortment of drayage vehicles. Grundoon made sure that the carts were utilized first by the smallest members of the column. Goblins and kobolds, gnomes and other wee folk who it was felt were enduring a lot more stress during the march than were the larger troops. They gleefully threw their packs onto the wagons. The last couple of hours flew by as the column crossed the only straight portion of the road as it ran from the edge of the valley east to Borostat. The newly acquired transports fell into the column somewhat willy-nilly, depending on what soldiers had thrown their packs aboard them.

The sun was beginning to set as the first elements of the column reached the western gate of the city. Borostat was an old town, that under the control of the Sikilians had languished in disease and dreary oppression. The undead lords of the Diosian Lodge had treated the town as just a source of fresh meat, and the humans that lived there had welcomed the Slothjemians as liberators. Grundoon had in fact been the officer in charge of the first force to ride into the town. The Sikilians had fled the city to fortify their hold on Vorkelburg, leaving it wide open for the goblinoids. In the last couple of decades a lot of other races had moved in to Borostat, but the place was still mostly human. The pallor of the city had been lifted but the dozens of gibbets remained hanging from the guard towers. And along the tops of the walls. Now instead of the bodies and bones of the dead they contained hanging flowers. So many colors and fragrances and from such a macabre container.

The walls around Borostat had never been very effective, and over the centuries there were more gaps in the defenses than there were defenses. After the orcs and other goblinoids began to move in, though, this changed dramatically. They built their own towers everywhere they found a hole in the wall, and moved their families in. The fertile valley in which the town sat had been restored to its’ former glory as an agricultural center, and now produced food in abundance for export to the coreland. One by one, the older buildings in the city succumbed to vibrancy with their owners throwing on bright, almost wild colors of paint. When Grundoon had first seen the town it looked like a barren gray ruin inhabited by scared, wretched half-souls who had naught to look forward to other than a speedy demise. Now it was as colorful as a gypsy camp with laughter and song to be heard in every corner.

There were three gates into the city. The one in the west of course was the road to Vorkelburg. The road to the east went to the coreland, and to the north the road went towards the Grey Alps and Dreicounty. Even though it felt remote, Borostat was in a strategic location and Grundoon was always pleased to see life in this valley where all had been decay and death when first he arrived.

The mayor of the town, a fat little human named Poryt Hagilyn, was involved in a spirited discussion with the first cavalry riders to reach the city when Grundoon rode up. Clearly the mayor was agitated. He had learned of the column only hours earlier after folks in town told him about the orcish baron of Vorkel hiring up all available wagons and carts in the great valley.

Grundoon nodded at the mayor, and swung down off of his horse. “Hello Lord Mayor.” The orc said. He took off his helmet and set it on the horn of his saddle. “And how are you this fine evening?”

Poryt looked at him and his facial expression shifted ever so slightly from agitation to mild fear. Everyone in town knew of Grundoon. The mayor had been but a young man when the city had been liberated by this muscular dark green goblinoid with the crewcut and the most fearsome axe anyone had ever seen. Grundoon was holding his axe even now. He had been holding it all day in one hand or the other. It comforted him. Interestingly enough, his holding an axe never seemed to comfort others.

“Lord von Vorkel,” replied the mayor, “General, please forgive me. But we do not have room for your army to all stay here. Nor have we the stores and supplies you need to feed so many at one time.” The man looked acutely nervous as Grundoon approached him. The orc was several inches taller and had far better posture. Poryt fought the urge to back away. “Had I known you were coming dear baron I would have taken care to prepare.”

Grundoon tossed the axe from his right hand to his left. “There, there Poryt. No need for concern. We are not seeking your shelter, or your bread.” The general thrust out his right hand. “We are just passing through. We have supplies enough for the night and only need streets to sleep in.” He did his best to deliver a warm smile.

Poryt was taken off guard but eagerly took the orcs’ hand and shook it vigorously. “Thank you, general. Thank you for understanding. What can I do?” The mayor’s smile was a genuine expression of relief.

“Just let us be. And make sure not to spread the word that we came through.” Grundoon continued shaking the mayor’s hand until the mayor decided it was time to let go. “Our land is at war and I am taking these fine volunteers to go and fight the Romillians.”

The mayor was even more disturbed by this than he was by the sudden arrival of an army into his city. Grundoon agreed to follow him to his office after the column had finished entering the town. The general gave orders to his officers to have all companies find someplace to sleep and to stay on the streets and alleys. Anyone pestering citizens for a roof to seek shelter under was to be punished. As the column entered the town their officers directed them to areas they could sack out in. The central square of the city was reserved for Grundoon and the soldiers of his axe unit. To insure they were going to be rested, the officers made sure that the men ate their dinner, and went straight to the bedroll. It only took a couple of hours before everyone was out and the snoring made it sound as if the entire city was trying to pull itself up by the roots to move across the valley.

Grundoon eventually got around to the mayor’s office with Jandle following right behind. They found the mayor surrounded by concerned citizens but not concerned enough to stick around when an orcish general burst into the room, tired from a day on the road and in no apparent mood for nonsense. Jandle was almost trampled as they stampeded from the room.

“Lord General!” declared Poryt. “Welcome, please, sit, tell me about the war. What has happened?” The portly little man waited for Grundoon to collapse exhaustedly into a chair near the window before taking his own seat behind his desk. “You say we are fighting Romillia?”

The orc just nodded his head and tiredly ran his hand over his scalp as was his custom. “They attacked Summit Village. We are in the process of responding.” He looked at the mayor who was shaking his head in disbelief.

“I just can’t believe it! They have been such fine neighbors to Slothjemia.” Poryt leaned forward in his chair. “And you are taking the 6th Army to fight them?”

Grundoon looked at Poryt for a full minute before answering. The mayor was starting to sweat. “No” the orc lied, “the garrison has been ordered to stay put. This is a volunteer force.” Now it was the mayor’s turn to stare at Grundoon. His mouth opened a couple of times to talk but no words came out.

“Vorkelvale is a tiny hamlet. Where on earth did you find nearly five thousand volunteers to march all the way across the country?” Poryt was right on the border of incredulous admiration for the charisma of the baron and creeping suspicion that the orc was lying.

Grundoon smiled broadly and laughed a little, trying to be reassuring. “Some are mercenaries. They fight for coin, not country. The rest were just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time for me find them and persuade them to fight for Slothjemia.”

The mayor was still on the border but opted not to push the issue. “Can I offer you a drink, Baron von Vorkel?” He reached for the bottle of spirits on a shelf behind him.

Grundoon waved his hand. “No, no. Thank you Lord Mayor.” Grundoon stood and motioned for Jandle to open the door. “I need to rest. Tomorrow is another long day on the march.” The mayor stood quickly and shook Grundoon’s hand.

“Thank you general. Perhaps another time then.” He smiled broadly. He had met the baron on a number of social occasions here in town, including the party at which Grundoon had met Aggrylia. He had always liked him. Feared him as well, but more respect than terror. “If you require anything at all please let me know. You know, one of my sons-in-law is an orc.”

“What a coincidence. All of mine are too.” Grundoon replied with just a hint of exasperation. “We’ll leave around sunrise. Thank you for your hospitality.” Grundoon took his leave and, followed by Jandle, walked out into the central courtyard of the city and found his bedroll. Jandle had laid it out near the fountain. The horses had all watered for the night and now members of the axe infantry were slumbering all around the fountain and throughout the square. Grundoon fell asleep quickly.

Down every street in town there were sleeping soldiers. There was enough room for a horse and cart to roll down the main avenues but the alleys and side streets were clogged with snoring, snorting troops. The local constabulary weren’t sure what to do so they did their best to tiptoe around the sleeping army to do their nightly patrols. With that many heavily armed individuals scattered around it was not a good night for criminal activity and the constables had an uneventful if slightly nerve-wracking night of trying not to step on anyone.

With no need for a picket or sentry duty the entire army awoke rested and ready for another day on the road. Just as the sun was rising the individual unit buglers each sounded reveille. This had the effect of waking up the entire city and soon everyone had turned out to see the column off on its’ journey. The patrol didn’t have to worry about being quiet or stealthy so they formed up properly amid the shouts of officers and commands of the sergeants. The only difference was that the three portions of cavalry switched up their roles. The second was now first, the third was now second, and the first was now bringing up the rear. They had a good march ahead. Tonight they should arrive at Kernschloss, the first dwarven enclave to have joined Slothjemia almost three hundred years ago. The question Grundoon had mulling about in his mind was “how would these dwarves react to this army coming through on their way to fight dwarves?” It was something he would think about at great length during the day.

 

 

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