With a wave of one hand, Geralhd dismissed the town’s mayor, while he took a sip of wine from a crystal chalice in his other hand. The wine wasn’t bad considering its origins, but the mayor was annoyingly submissive and there was little point in talking to him. The town had already surrendered completely after all. Really, Geralhd could do whatever he wanted. He was already sitting in the lounge of a large house that had used to belong to the mayor, but the man hadn’t even complained when he’d seized it. He’d simply handed over the keys.
He supposed that was a normal reaction to a conqueror with an army of hobgoblins at his back, but the complete lack of spine in the mayor still bothered Geralhd. He was supposed to have a duty to the townsfolk he represented, which meant putting up at least a little resistance. Well, the man had probably been mayor in name only. Until Geralhd’s arrival, this town had long been occupied by Werrick’s forces. It had served as one of his most important bases, so the leader of Werrick’s force here had probably been the one calling all the shots. He was dead now and his head decorated a spike outside the town’s gates. Thus, it was currently Geralhd’s turn to control this town and the fate of the several thousand people that lived within it.
Of course, he hadn’t been in charge of the attack itself. Gob had done that, but it was Geralhd’s job to manage the surrender of the town and to negotiate with other humans. Blacknail had left them with orders to conquer Werrick’s territory while he was away, not to slaughter everyone and then burn the place to the ground, and that was Geralhd’s preference anyway. Looting was fine in the short term, but eventually the spoils dried up and a good cup of wine became extremely hard to find.
Geralhd sighed as his thoughts turned to the future. There was very little of Werrick’s once vast empire left. After he’d vanished into the Green with the paladin, his troops had been left without their supreme leader and rallying figure. They’d been dug in and ready to fight, but ultimately unprepared for the horde of hobgoblins that immediately launched a full out war on them.
Hobgoblins had spilled out of the Green to seize supply shipments and take out every group of bandits that had sworn fealty to the Wolf. Squads of hobgoblin hunters had stalked and slain every enemy they could get their hands on, cutting off communication and isolating all of Werrick’s forces. Without their leader to inspire them and lead a counterattack, they were forced to cower behind their walls.
That was when Gob had brought down the hammer, in the form of Blacknail’s main army. One-by-one he’d swarmed over every isolated town and fort, killing every bandit that served Werrick. War boars had smashed through wooden gates and trampled the terrified defenders while mobs of hobgoblins swooped in for the kill. Magic had been brought to bear against magic.
Werrick’s men had a few highly fortified bases left, including an actual castle, but they were surrounded and cut off. Starvation would eventually bring them down.
Thus, Geralhd spent his time here in this town, which sat in center of what had once been Werrick’s territory. Most of what he dealt with now was problems caused by hobgoblins. Just yesterday, some hobgoblins had somehow gotten the idea in their heads to start racing pigs through the city streets. Several homes had gotten completely gutted before Geralhd put a stop to it. Not to mention, several hobgoblins had a weird and dangerous obsession with burning things. He had to watch them like a hawk…
Suddenly, there was bang from out of sight as the house’s front door was thrown open. Geralhd glanced toward the hallway just as a hobgoblin messenger stepped into sight. “Those hobs haven’t started stealing people’s hair again, have they? They can’t just go around grabbing and shaving townsfolk. They almost started a riot last time. They’re lucky no one was seriously hurt!”
“Er, no. There’s word from the chief! He’s back and he’s delivering the silver to the southern humans.”
Smiling now, Geralhd rose to his feet. “Good news at last! What of Werrick and the others?”
“The plan worked. Wolf face is dead.”
“And the others?”
“Khita is still alive and bothering everyone, but it seems the fancy leader knight guy died.”
“A shame,” Geralhd replied with a sigh. Sir Masnin had seemed like an honorable man, which was an oddity in these times.
The hobgoblin nodded in agreement. “Ya, she’s really annoying.”
Taking another sip of wine, Geralhd felt a heavy burden vanish from off his shoulders. Underneath his calm, but somewhat drunk exterior, he’d been worried about Blacknail. However, it seemed like things were actually going according to plan for once. Myagnoir must have actually left the ruins of Coroulis, leaving the silver up for grabs.
Regardless, the North was now almost completely under Blacknail’s control. Even Daggerpoint was still obeying the orders of Blacknail’s representative, although Geralhd knew that was mostly an illusion. That temptress Luphera was undoubtedly leading the representative around by his nose.
Word of Werrick’s death would spread quickly, destroying the moral of his remaining troops. Yes, Geralhd would bet that they’d begin deserting and surrendering soon. That was good, because everyone could little afford any distractions in this dark time. There were other, bigger threats.
Despite his exile, Geralhd still had contacts amongst the southern merchants, and he’d been paying close attention to the struggle against the plague and the boggarts in the south. It had been going quite badly, to say the least, and several cities had been completely lost. Thinking about it, Geralhd grimaced in distaste and more than a little horror. The army had been forced to burn those cities down to the ground, dooming any remining citizens within to the merciless flames.
The silver from Coroulis would be a welcome boon to humanity’s struggle to survive on this continent, a gift from the gods, really. With the serum they could make from it, the army would be able to protect themselves from the plague. Thus, they could redeploy to seize control of the cities and purge them of boggarts and ghouls. Without protection from the plague, the army had been forced to keep their distance from ghoul infested urban warrens, which had allowed the plague to spread uncontrollably.
Off course, the boggarts still had to be dealt with. Larger and larger hosts of the terrible creatures were being encountered, and scouts were still reporting new hives popping up above ground. With the kingdom so weakened, it would take years of hard warfare to destroy those now.
Geralhd chuckled darkly. He hoped Blacknail was ready for several incredibly frantic years. He was in charge of a vast territory now, hobgoblins made for rowdy subjects, and the world had never been more chaotic or dangerous. In normal times, the rise of the hobgoblins and their embrace of civilization would have been an earth-shattering development – one which Geralhd took some proud credit for – but it was a barely a side note to most people.
They probably didn’t realize the implications that were so obvious to Geralhd. The hobgoblins’ rise was still just starting, and their transformation of the North was far from complete. From now on, their growth in numbers and power would actually speed up. There was no shortage of wild goblins for them to recruit or forest land for them claim and build villages on. Having displayed a new ability to work together – if only under duress – and mimic human innovation, Blacknail’s hobgoblins had everything they needed to build kingdoms of their own.
There was also the matter of all the refugees fleeing to the North. Apparently, these days hobgoblins weren’t considered all that scary in comparison to plague, boggarts, and the cruel whims of kings. Geralhd chuckled. Oh, how the world had changed!
After some pressing, Blacknail had agreed to welcome the refugees and even grant them land under his protection. Their expertise would be extremely useful, even if most of them were penniless farmers. They’d still be able to teach hobgoblins a lot and they were far more reliable laborers and farmers. Soon, fortified towns such Ironbreak would be rising all over the North. Blacknail’s power would match that of any southern king, and they were in no position to confront him. They’d have to negotiate with him and his representatives, like Geralhd himself.
Yes, it was a good thing the hobgoblins had him here to guide them away from the more unsavory paths and prevent unnecessary conflict. Even hobgoblins could act civilized if trained properly. Geralhd smiled as he thought about the power and prestige that would be soon be his thanks to his position as one of Blacknail’s most trusted subordinates. It turned out that being exiled for murdering human scum in a duel hadn’t been such a huge mistake after all. He’d soon be richer than any of the merchants in his family.
There was a probably a moral lesson in there somewhere, but Geralhd had no idea what it was. Really, Blacknail and all his companions should have learned a lot from the incredible chain of events that had befallen them, or something at the very least, but he was quite sure that none of them had.
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