Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Story of Otto Kleinhund, Part the Third

Otto stood in his Master's study, his bounty scattered around. The wardrobe had been bound shut, he noticed, and a cabinet moved in front of it. Dorothy, the huge servant, was no-where to be seen.

"Master Wilhelm, there are incredible things here. You were right about the work of the Two Reikhardts... I found some of it. Look, Reikhardt of Heiligwelle... Reikhardt of Prustlaage... this is amazing! There is something titled in Tilean as 'The Day-Book of the Little Fortress' and another as the 'Bringing Together of the Little Fortress'... and look! More than 40 early volumes from the 'Book of the White Dwarf'! It's unbelievable!" Kleinhund was shaking with excitement as he held up scrolls of parchment and vellum, dusty, mildewed, but fundamentally undamaged.

The old scholar peered at the trembling offerings as Kleinhund went on. “This scroll contains many details from the lost Life of Bugman the Brewer! And here is a completely different account of the War of Grom the Paunch! Look, this scroll here lists various commanders and their forces, including two Orcish warlords who fought alongside Grom... did you know it was not Grom who sacked Nuln, but a warlord called Mudat Brokenbone, whom Grom himself slew at the Battle of Gonnear? I didn't know there was a battle at Gonnear. Or that a Goblin warlord called Bogdan Legbreak, a king with many chariots, is credited with the slaying of Bugman? Or that there is no mention of Grom's expidition to the Elflands? In fact, it says here-" and Otto waved a roll of parchment at Master Wilhelm "- that Grom was killed leading an attack against Middenheim... a Dwarf city. Why does it say Middenheim is a Dwarf city?"

Master Wilhelm frowned. "Well, it was a Dwarf city. Not ninety years ago, but certainly hundreds. And Dwarfs have always lived there. The city we call Middenheim is really Middenheim-opper-Bergen; I assume the reference is to Middenheim-onder-Bergen, which was still inhabited. Perhaps the population fled into the Dwarf tunnels when the greenskin forces besieged the city? I shall have to look into that. It's all a bit before my time you know."

The old man waved his hand vaguely. "I knew men who had fought in Grom's War, of course, but I was only a child at the time of the Middenheim siege. Not even born when Nuln fell. It's very difficult to say exactly what happened... Every man's story was different. Some swore that Grom was not a normal orc, but his father was an ogre so he was tougher than other greeenskin breeds. Others claimed he had eaten troll-meat to gain powers of healing himself. They all agreed he was very difficult to kill. And then he was killed, either at Middenheim, or in Ulthuan, who now knows? Did he go to Ulthuan, then return, to die at Middenheim? Did he survive the attack on Middenheim, go to Ulthuan, and die there? Who is left to ask?"

"But Master Wilhelm, these records stop just after the Battle of Mad Dog Pass... they say that is the end of Grom's War, even though Grom was dead by then. That is when his Guard and the chariots of Bogdan the Warlord were destroyed. They were written at the time of the events they describe... but they're not like any account I have heard."

"But they may be true. Perhaps some of the greenskins who had marched with Grom still lived until then, and kept the memory of the warband and its old warlord alive. We have regimental traditions do we not? The Reiksguard is still the Reiksguard though its first commander died centuries ago, and an old soldier who died 25 years ago would have been a young man, I think, when Grom was alive."

Kleinhund laughed. "Surely, master, you're not comparing the Reiksguard to an orc-band? You don't mean that they're actually intelligent enough to... to... oh," faltered Kleinhund as Master Wilhelm frowned from under eyebrows so bushy that, in moments of extreme disapproval, the old scholar's eyes almost disappeared under a bushy grey avalanche.

"Whatever you were going to say, young man, I think I would not like to hear it. Now; look at it this way. Have you so little respect for our Empire that you think a rabble of mindless beasts could nearly have overthrown it? Do you think oxen or wolves or swans could have done this thing? Grom was a great warlord. He would be a great warlord whatever race he came from. Even if others helped him or commanded other armies, he sacked several Dwarf cities, his armies rampaged across the Empire and, we think, invaded Ulthuan. They then returned, and carried on raiding the Empire for another 30 years. Are these the actions of unthinking brutes?"

"I'm sorry Master Wilhelm, you're right. Grom was an extraordinary general, these documents show that.” Otto stared at the scrolls around him. His fame as a bold adventurer, premier historian of the age, and upholder of the shining truth in the darkness of ignorance, seemed assured.

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