When the meeting with his lieutenants was over, and Blacknail had finished dumping all the work on them, he wandered off to bother the lazy workers finishing off his house. Glaring and yelling at them kept him busy and amused for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to make them work faster. What a bunch of lazy runts.
The next morning, a large mob of hobgoblins and goblins headed out of Ironbreak. Obeying the commands that Blacknail had given out yesterday, they followed the road into the Green on their way to the forward base. To make sure that enough goblins went, every hobgoblin was ordered to bring three goblins with him. This caused some grumbling, but it worked. Blacknail watched them go, and then he went to make sure none of his minions were slacking off. There was another group of getting ready to head for Herstcrest.
When he was sure Gob had everything under control, Blacknail took some guards and went to Shelter. He needed Geralhd to write a letter for him, since he didn’t know how to read or write.
Blacknail had spent some time mentally debating whether or not he should go to Herstcrest personally, but in the end, he’d decided against it. Although going to Herstcrest would become extremely difficult once it began snowing, there was little point in going there now. Blacknail didn’t have any use for Ilisiti or his men over the winter, and they’d parted on uncertain terms. It would be better to send him a letter and then meet up with him after the snows had receded.
The letter Blacknail got from Geralhd was short and simple. First, it informed Ilisti of Blacknail’s recovery, without going into too much detail. Second, it reassured Ilisti that their alliance still stood and that he could expect some support from Blacknail, such as a delivery of supplies from the south and meat over the winter. That should keep the vympir satisfied and on Blacknail’s side for a while. Ilisti was a valuable but unpredictable ally. Blacknail didn’t like depending on allies he couldn’t easily assassinate.
The group of hobgoblins and goblins headed to the settlement near Herstcrest wasn’t that large because there were only a few crude lodges there. The settlement had started out as the lair of a small feral goblin tribe, but after conquering it, Blacknail had ordered it expanded and a wooden wall built around it. The goblins there had grown some tasty herbal tea plants that he’d wanted to keep cultivating. Now, it would serve as a good place to garrison troops over the winter. It was amazing how smart Blacknail was.
As the expedition was leaving, Blacknail handed his letter to a hobgoblin messenger and ordered him to deliver it directly to Ilsiti.
The departure of so many hobgoblins and goblins had a noticeable effect on the atmosphere of Ironbreak. Without so many chittering goblins running around, it grew quieter and it became easier to move through the streets. Still, Blacknail wasn’t quite satisfied. He wanted to build at least a few hunting lodges along the edge of his territory, if only as an experiment. Thus, he had Ferrar and Gob assemble a few parties and send them out. Three hobgoblins and three times that many goblins was the size they decided on. That would provide them with enough skills and manpower to survive, while still allowing them all to live in one large lodge. However, if the lodge fell apart but they were still alive, they could always return to Ironbreak. The building of the hunting lodges would probably displace some feral goblins, but that wasn’t Blacknail’s problem.
After the last party was sent out, Ironbreak was still fairly crowded. Over the last few months, countless goblins had been flooding out of the Green and into the safety of the settlement, until it was stuffed full of the green pests. Many of them had then grown fat on Blacknail’s food and transformed into hobgoblins. There were still too many goblins in Ironbreak to fit into proper buildings, but now you could at least walk around without tripping over them.
Over the next week and a bit, Blacknail went about organizing Ironbreak. This mostly involved bringing in as much food as possible and getting it stored properly. There was also the matter of clothes and shelter. It was too late to build more buildings, but hunters were still bringing in more hides that could be used to make warm clothing and boots. Thankfully, they had more than enough firewood, so that was one thing they didn’t need to worry about. Not that Blacknail was doing any of the physical work. He was the leader and that was what minions were for. He liked to watch though.
Blacknail was supervising such a group of hide tanners that were working at the smoking pits when a messenger from Gob showed up with a scout report. Blacknail was too busy to personally listen to every scouting report, so he had Gob handle it and send him all the important stuff. At first the report was nothing but the standard information on supplies and merchant movements down south that Blacknail had come to expect, but then the messenger mentioned some sightings the hunters had made out in the Green.
“Boggarts, Gob called them that. They look like huge black bugs,” the messenger told Blacknail. “Three different hunters saw them moving out in the forest. One hob even came back with a black claw as a trophy. He said he shot and killed it, but it didn’t smell like good eating.”
Blacknail had been lounging on a spare timber, but upon hearing the mention of boggarts, he grimaced and sat up. Boggarts were bad news. He’d run into them out in the Green before and fought several of them. They were also new. According to the humans, they’d only recently begun appearing. The creatures popped up from underground and dragged whatever food they could find back down there, and they were tough enough to consider both humans and hobgoblins food sources.
“Make sure Gob keeps me informed of all boggart sightings. I want to know if any large groups are sighted,” Blacknail told the scout before dismissing him.
Boggarts unnerved Blacknail. His instincts screamed that they were a threat, even if he wasn’t sure why. There was just something off about the person-sized bug-things. They were too mysterious and unlike anything else he’d encountered. He also suspected that they were much smarter than they appeared. Blacknail didn’t like having smart enemies that he didn’t understand. Humans were easy to predict. At heart, they were prey.
The next day, another hobgoblin messenger found Blacknail while he was eating lunch and informed him that the work on his mansion was complete. Smiling, Blacknail immediately hurried over to check on his new home. He’d been waiting months for it to be finished, and he couldn’t wait to tour it and move in. Only then could he brag about it properly to everyone like a real leader.
It didn’t take long for Blacknail to reach his destination. He’d seen the mansion while it was under construction of course, but now that it was complete, he still stopped and took a moment to study it from afar. Over to one side, he saw two of the human workmen who’d been supervising the construction. They noticed him as well and began walking over to greet him.
The building before Blacknail was made up from two adjunct wings. Both of them were rectangular, but one was longer and almost twice as tall as the other. Both wings were built atop a short stone and mortar foundation and held up triangular roofs. The roofs were covered in rows of tiles that had been made by Ferrar and his craftsman in their furnaces. The front of the building around the entrance was made from more stone and mortar, but the other walls Blacknail could see were smoother. From a previous visit, he knew those walls were made from stacked logs that had been slathered in lime to seal them. It was an impressive sight. The large wing had two floors! There were even some shuttered windows, which were very rare in Ironbreak.
“What do you think? As requested, it’s bigger and better than anything in Shelter,” one of the workmen said as he reached Blacknail’s side. There was a big smile on his face.
“It looks alright. Let’s go inside,” Blacknail replied coolly as he began walking toward the door. It was a real wooden door, and not a hanging hide. Amazing!
The workman nodded. “Sure thing. We’ll give you the tour.”
The main wing had two floors and a cellar. The ground floor was one big hall, while the upstairs was divided into six rooms and a long hall. The second wing was the location of the kitchen and other side rooms. Below that was the basement, which was mostly for storage.
“I’m going to need a lot more furniture,” Blacknail remarked after his tour was over. He only had a bed, a shelf, and a chest in his cave.
The workman chuckled. “I’d start with a table. I know a carpenter in Shelter who could make one for you, and he can work over the winter.”
Blacknail gave the man a polite nod, and then begin walking around the main hall of his mansion again. This was a home fit for a real leader. There was a fireplace on the far wall, and he was really looking forward to spending most the winter laying in front of it. He’d get a mug of tea and a fur blanket. It would be incredibly relaxing. Best of all, there would be very little for him to do all winter. The snow meant that everyone would be hunkering down and most work and travel would be next to impossible. Yes, he could just sit in front of the fire and nap for day after day. His minions would bring him food, so he wouldn’t even need to get up!
Unfortunately, there was still a lot of work to be done before Blacknail could do enjoy some well-deserved rest. Life was difficult for great leaders. The bare physical structure of his mansion might be complete, but it was almost empty. Now he needed to get the place stocked, furnished, and organized. He was also going to need guards and servants he could trust not to stab him in his sleep or poison his food. That was going to be a problem. Was there a lock on his bedroom door? If not, he needed to get one. How did you make a lock? He should ask Imp. They were magic, right?
Blacknail spent the next two weeks trying to get his new mansion up and running smoothly. He bought some spare furniture from Shelter – yellow rocks sure were convenient – and he had Ferrar’s craftsmen build him some more. None of them were great carpenters, but they could make functional but crude chairs and tables. Blacknail had a fair number of pretty items stashed away in his cave that he could use as decorations but not enough to fill his entire new mansion. Thus, he assembled a squad of hobgoblin warriors and sent them out to gather useable tribute from his other minions. Later, he learned from Geralhd that this was called taxation, and human rulers did it all the time. It was a shame that Blacknail couldn’t cover his walls with animal hides. With winter coming, every warm animal skin would be needed for blankets and clothes. Blacknail should have just taken them anyway, since it was his minions’ own fault for being so lazy and not making more, but he decided against it since he didn’t want goblin corpses everywhere. Blacknail’s minions sure were spoiled.
Gathering up trustworthy servants for his mansion and organizing them properly turned out to be more difficult than finding furntiure. Badly chosen furniture didn’t normally kill you in your sleep. Blacknail’s mansion needed cleaners, cooks, and guards to keep all the filthy goblins out of his stuff. Goblins didn’t understand boundaries and they’d pee on everything given half a chance. Only Blacknail was allowed to pee on his property.
The mansion was quite large and got dusty rather quickly, so Blacknail knew he needed cleaners. Goblins could do the work, but they came with a lot of downsides. Not only were they thieves and liars, but they were scatter-brained and dirty. Thus, Blacknail figured that cleaning his home was probably a job better suited to a hobgoblin, and maybe a goblin or two that reported directly that hobgoblin. After thinking the problem over, Blacknail decided to simply have an audition for the job. Cleaning wasn’t that hard. Finding guards didn’t take long. Lacking a better idea, Blacknail simply asked Gob to find him some trustworthy guards. He was getting far too reliant on Gob lately.
One of the first people to apply for the housekeeping position was Crow. His obvious intentions were amusing, but Blacknail quickly sent him packing and then ordered the guards to deny him entry into the mansion if he came back. After that, Blacknail eventually settled on a quiet female hobgoblin that seemed to like to keep to herself. She wanted the job because it allowed her to avoid other people without having to go off into the Green. At first, Blacknail thought she was secretly attracted to his magnificent body, but she avoided him like she avoided everyone else. He almost never saw her, and when he did, she quickly bowed and scurried away. Whatever, she kept the place clean and the kitchen stocked.
With some basic furniture in place and the staff finally hired, Blacknail invited all his most important minions and allies over for a dinner feast. All and all, there were about three dozen of them, but he was able to sit them around several long tables in his new dining hall. One of the tables was actually a door laid out on some logs, but you could barely tell since it had a sheet over it.
“Welcome, to my new home. I bet you’re all super impressed!” Blacknail announced when everyone was seated.
Across the table, Gerahld smiled politely. “It’s quite an striking piece of work. I can’t believe you got such a solid looking structure completed so quickly.”
“It’s a lot bigger than your house,” Blacknail pointed out with a smirk.
Most the former bandits – including Ralphi – mumbled quick replies and then begin eating the food set before them, but Tannin chuckled so Blacknail turned to face him.
“It’s also bigger than your house, even though you’re the boss of Shelter.”
“Very true,” Tannin replied as he grinned in amusement. “I’m rather comfortable in my old place, but yours is certainly larger. It suits you.”
Blacknail frowned thoughtfully. “Maybe, it could be bigger though.”
Several of the human guests full out laughed now, but Blacknail ignored them. How big of a home would be too big? It was hard to even imagine.
“You’ve certainly got some nice big bedrooms upstairs,” Khita remarked. “Which one of them is mine?”
Blacknail immediately turned to glare at her. “You don’t get one. They’re all mine.”
“Don’t be silly. Why do you need more than one bedroom? I used to have a bed in your cave, and I visit Ironbreak all the time.”
“You can have the cave. It’s a gift from me,” Blacknail told her.
They argued for a few minutes, and Blacknail tried to stubbornly resist her demands, but she was just too whiny. He eventually conceded simply to shut her up. Maybe he could install a lock on her door so that it locked from the outside…
When they were done arguing, Ralphi spoke up and raised a cup. “Your foods great and all, but what’s with the water? Seriously, where’s your real drink?”
Blacknail looked at him like he was an idiot. “Water is a drink.”
Ralphi glared back. “Alcohol. Where’s your alcohol?”
“We don’t have any. It’s poison, and not the useful kind.”
Ralphi gave him an incredulous stare. “You’ve got swarms of fidgety hobs and gobs running around doing and building every crazy thing imaginable, but you don’t have a single brewery or still?”
“Huh, I could help some of your hobs build one. I’d be interested to see what kind of fire water they come up with.”
“Try it and I will hang your body from the gates as a warning to others,” Blacknail told him. He’d had a very bad experience with alcohol in the past, and he didn’t see the point. It tasted terrible and gave you a pounding headache. Also, his minions were dumb enough without imitating humans and getting drunk.
“You can’t have a real feast without alcohol. It’s the grease on the axel wheel of society!”
“Have some tea. I have a new type and it’s very nice,” Blacknail told him.
Ralphi snorted. “Tea is for the elderly and the sick, and I’m neither. Besides, I’ve seen what happens to people who eat or drink anything strange they get from you, so that’s not going to happen.”
The lack of alcohol caused a few more humans to moan or mutter, but everyone still had a good time at the feast. Many of them complimented Blacknail on his great new home, which was nice to hear. After feeding them all such great food, Blacknail felt he deserved at least a little praise back in return.
Eventually, after all the attendees had eaten their fill and conversed, it became time for the guests to depart. All the humans left together since the way back to Shelter wasn’t safe even with the road completed.
However, before leaving, Tannin turned and gave Blacknail a friendly grin. “Thank you for the food and hospitality. It’s good to see that you and your tribe can be good neighbors. I think your people and mine can look forward to many years of friendship and mutually beneficial trading.”
“Yes, I think so too. Be sure to make a lot of cheese for me,” Blacknail replied as he sent the man on his way.
Book 3 is Out!
The third novel in The Iron Teeth series is now out on Amazon. Please support the author and help promote the book by purchasing and reviewing A Bloody Road. Every review and purchase helps a lot!