“Alright that’s enough, fall in you two,” Vorscha shouted to Blacknail and Khita.
The two of them were going through a simple two person sword form. When they heard Vorscha ‘s command they immediately stopped, sheathed their practice blades, and started walking towards her. Both of them were sweating and panting after almost an hour of hard practice under the large woman’s supervision.
“Alright, it’s time for something a little different. If you two keep repeating the same stuff you’ll both develop bad habits,” Vorscha explained.
“Great, I’m ready for the real stuff. No more babying around,” Khita exclaimed excitedly.
Vorscha threw her a quick skeptical glance before continuing.
“Alright Geralhd, get up here,” Vorscha called.
The smaller man was sitting off to the side of the patch of trampled grass that Vorscha had claimed as a training arena. At the sound of his lover’s voice he looked up from the book he was reading with a startled expression.
“Who me?” he asked in surprise.
“Ya you, loverboy. Come over here,” Vorscha told him with a bemused roll of her eyes.
Geralhd got up, and put his book down on the crate he had been using as a seat. Then he reluctantly dragged himself over to join Vorscha and her students. Vorscha gave him quick smile of greeting, and then looked over both Blacknail and Khita with a thoughtful expression.
“Right so Blacknail, you’ll be sparring with Geralhd. Don’t let him fool you, he’s not as useless as he looks,” she told the hobgoblin as she held out her practice blade for Geralhd to take.
“I will watch him carefully, and he will not fool me,” Blacknail replied as he smiled in anticipation.
He had wanted to spar with Geralhd ever since he had first challenged the man months ago. His opponent though looked more than a little unsure. Geralhd stared at the sword blankly for a few seconds before he reached out and took it.
“Are you sure this is a good idea? It might be too much of a challenge for beginners like the pair of them,” he asked Vorscha confidently.
“Go easy on him then,” she replied as she smirked in amusement
“Hey, what about me?” Khita interjected irately.
The young redhead had an annoyed look on her face, and her arms were crossed in front of her. She was clearly annoyed at being ignored.
“You can go sit over there, and wait your turn,” Vorsha replied dismissively.
She then gave the much smaller woman a shove in the direction of the crate Gerahld had been sitting on. Khita scowled but did as she was told. She grumbled to herself the entire way over though.
“Now the rules will the same as when you spar with Khita. I’ll give points for knocking the opponent off balance, or touches. I expect Geralhd will be more of a challenge for you though, Blacknail. He has a somewhat different style,” Vorscha explained.
“Hey now, not everyone is a former mercenary. I learned swordplay from a proper dueling master, even if I wasn’t a very good student,” Geralhd remarked, as he swished his sword playfully through the air with one hand.
“I understand, mistress Vorscha,” Blacknail replied as he observed his opponent.
With a quick smile Geralhd took a few steps back, and brought his blade up to assume a stance. Blacknail took a stance as well, but there was a frown on his face. He didn’t recognize the stance Geralhd was using. It was very different from any he had seen before. He wasn’t even holding onto his sword with both hands.
“Are you ready, Blacknail?” Geralhd asked the hobgoblin.
“Yes-ss, I’m ready,” Blacknail answered lazily.
Then without warning the hobgoblin attacked. Blacknail lunged forward in an attack designed to take full advantage of his hobgoblin speed, but Geralhd was already slipping to the side. The hobgoblin’s attack passed him harmlessly by, and Geralhd’s own blade sliced into Blacknail’s way.
Blacknail’s eyes widened in surprise, and had to immediately duck under the unexpected counterattack in order to avoid walking right into it. The startled hobgoblin then quickly took a step back, so that he would have time to figure out what had just happened. He had never seen a move like that before.
“Hmmm, you’re very fast,” Geralhd remarked thoughtfully.
“You’re sneakier than you look,” Blacknail replied.
“Umm, thanks?” his amused opponent replied, as he carefully circled around the hobgoblin.
When Khita fought she was energetic and daring, and when Vorscha fought she was graceful yet unstoppable. Geralhd was like neither of them. He was constantly moving but always watching as well.
Blacknail took a small step forward, and his opponent stepped to the side and slightly adjusted his stance. The hobgoblin took a step back, and Geralhd moved again as well.
Blacknail frowned as he realized his opponent was preparing to counter his moves before he even made them. He didn’t know what to do about that, so he decided to just rush in.
Blacknail started another lightning fast attack, but this time when Gelalhd moved to deflect his blow he was ready and shifted. His first attack had been a feint to set up his second.
Gelalhd grimaced but managed to block the second blow. Blacknail launched a series of rapid fire slashes, in an attempt to knock his opponent off balance. However, a frantic looking Gerhald managed to avoid or deflect all his blows.
Growing impatient Blacknail felt a spike of anger and stepped in to try another attack, only to have Geralhd meet him half way and bat his blade down. The man then delivered a solid, but controlled, blow to Blacknail’s shoulder while he was off balance.
“Point for Geralhd,” Vorscha announced.
“Damnations-ss!” the hobgoblin hissed, as he let his blade drop.
As he hissed his anger subsided slightly, and he began to focus on his breathing. He found that swearing like his master and the other bandits helped him quench his anger, and right now it needed quenching.
He had allowed his rage to take control and paid the price. Just thinking about it almost made him angry again.
It had been awhile since he had made that mistake. What really annoyed him though was that unlike when he was fighting Saeter or Vorscha the fight with Geralhd had actually been a close fight. If he hadn’t lost control he might have actually won.
“That’s one point for me and zero for you,” Geralhd bragged as he smirked at the hobgoblin.
“Enough talking, start round two,” Vorscha interjected loudly.
“I’ll get-ss you back, little man,” Blacknail told Geralhd as he raised his blade again and took a stance.
The unconventional bandit and the hobgoblin fought a several more rounds. Blacknail lost the first few, but then he managed to adjust to Gelalhd’s style and win two bouts. He simply overwhelmed Geralhd’s ability to predict him by constantly changing the direction of his attacks.
Eventually after both combatants grew exhausted and sweaty Vorscha called a halt to the sparring. Seeing that the other two were done Khita got up and walked over.
“Huh, I thought you’d be even worse than that,” she told Geralhd.
Geralhd however wasn’t insulted. He just gave her a smug smirk.
“If I was actually a terrible duelist I wouldn’t be here, or a wanted man. I would be dead at that bastard Byron’s hands. Instead, I did the world a great service and put that thrice damned son of a whore in an early grave,” Geralhd replied cheerfully.
“You shouldn’t brag about not being terrible at something, aim for excellence instead. You need to practice as much as Blacknail, and I don’t know how can you think your petty vengeance was worth exile.” Vorscha told him.
“It wasn’t petty. Byron hurt my family, and ruined my sister’s reputation. Beating him in a fair duel, and running my blade through his heart as I looked him in eye, was the best moment of my life,” he replied.
“And having a murderer for a son didn’t hurt your family?” Vorscha replied dryly.
“Dueling may be illegal in Eloria, but it’s still considered an honorable way to end a dispute. So I might be a criminal, but I’m not a common criminal. Besides, if I hadn’t done it I never would have met you,” he replied with a suggestive grin.
“Oh, I make it all worth it do I? Stop trying to deflect you silver tongued demon. Sometimes I swear you’re pig headed enough to be a noble, instead of just a merchant’s son,” Vorscha remarked with a smile.
“Ha, I bet your bounty is really tiny though. Only the real dangerous criminals get good bounties,” Khita told Geralhd in a condescending tone.
“It’s three silver, but don’t worry I have a plan to increase it. I’m going to murder a whole bunch of innocent villagers and dump their bodies in front of the nearest bounty office,” Geralhd remarked sarcastically as he glared at Khita.
“Huh, I was right that’s almost nothing,” the young woman bragged.
“It’s enough to get me hanged by total strangers if I don’t watch my back. It’s also more than you have, since you’re the only one here completely without one,” Geralhd replied.
Khita looked around for a second and frowned, but she smiled when she saw Blacknail.
“Blacknail doesn’t have one either,” she countered.
“You are once again ignorant. He has one; all hobgoblins have a bounty of five silvers on their heads. For some reason people dislike having them as neighbors. Their bounty can even get higher if the local peasants find something to blame them for. I figure that if he keeps hanging around with us his bounty will rise quite a bit. He might even become famous, or infamous anyway,” Geralhd explained.
“A high bounty isn’t a good thing,” Vorscha added with a frown.
“Oh what’s yours then?” Khita asked with obvious interest.
“Doesn’t matter,” Vorscha replied stiffly.
“I can answer this question. She got a price on her head when the count that was employing her refused to pay her mercenary company its due. Instead, he decided it would be cheaper to just trump up some charges and put a bounty on her head. A quite spectacular five gold bounty at that,” Geralhd explained with an amused glance towards Vorscha.
“It wasn’t even a tenth of what he actually owed me,” Vorscha replied in disgust.
“I could buy a mansion for that much!” Khita exclaimed in surprise.
“Well a half decent house anyway, as long as it was fairly small,” Geralhd corrected her.
“One day I’m going to get an even bigger bounty than that. Everyone will be terrified of me,” Khita announced proudly.
Geralhd gave her a doubtful look and Vorscha frowned in concern.
“That’s enough talking, Khita. It’s your turn to spar with me,” she told the younger woman.
Vorscha and Khita then started sparring, and the larger woman dominated the other inexperienced fighter. After they had finished training Blacknail went to rest at his tent for a few minutes. Now that he was done being trained, it was time for him to do some training.
The hobgoblin walked over to an area beside his tent where Scamp was sulking. He knew the goblin would be there because that was where Blacknail had tied him up. He had slapped a leather collar on him and attached a rope to it. Then he had looped the rope around a nail on a post that was too high for Scamp to reach.
Of course the goblin could have gotten loose by chewing through the rope, or several other ways, but Blacknail had made it very clear he would rip the little fellow’s eyes out and eat them if he did any such thing. The rope simply reminded the forgetful goblin that he wasn’t supposed to move.
Scamp whined pitifully as Blacknail approached, but the hobgoblin didn’t care. He ignored the goblin and instead focused on the rabbit pelts. Today he had given Scamp the job of scrapping them clean, and getting them ready for drying.
Blacknail hissed angrily as he noted the goblin’s poor progress, and Scamp flinched at his reaction. The hobgoblin knew the lazy little runt was just trying to get out of work by acting pathetic though. Varhs may have let him get away with that but there was no way Blacknail would.
“No food-ss for you until you’re done!” he reminded the goblin before turning and walking away.
Days passed without anything exciting happening. However, Blacknail was able to get Scamp to act at least sort of disciplined. He even began letting Varhs take him for walks, as long as the scout promised to be stern with the goblin. The man was probably lying but Blacknail didn’t care that much.
Eventually, it was almost time for Herad and her chosen escorts’ departure. She called a meeting in the farmhouse she used as a headquarters to go over the final preparations. Her usual lieutenants were there including: Saeter, Red Dog, Vorscha, and a few others.
Blacknail hadn’t technically been invited, but no one had said he wasn’t either. Thus he had followed his master most the way over, and then took up position outside one of the windows. From there his sensitive ears could hear everything being said inside perfectly, although a human would have had problems.
“Tomorrow I’ll be leaving with several dozen men. As I told you before Red Dog will be staying here to command in my stead while I’m gone, and Vorscha will serve as his second,” Herad told her minions.
She was seated in a simple wooden chair and a matching table had been placed in front of her. Everyone else was standing in a loose group before her.
“I can’t say I like the idea of you leaving with so few men. We have powerful enemies in Daggerpoint,” Red Dog replied with a concerned frown.
“I agree. Werick has sworn to kill you, and his men will easily outnumber yours if he’s in town,” Vorscha added with a nod.
“So what? That’s always been the case. Four dozen is about what I’ve taken every time before this. It’s only recently I’ve even had more, and when we arrive the first thing I’ll be doing is recruiting. I know somewhere I can get some trustworthy men,” Herad replied.
“The rookies will need supervision to make it through the winter, and won’t be up to the march north either,” Saeter remarked to Red Dog.
“True, I guess that does limit how many men you can take,” Red Dog admitted with a frown.
“Everything in life is a gamble of one sort or another, but enough of this. I didn’t call you here to question my decisions,” Herad told them coldly, as she stared up at them from her seat.
“Yes, mistress,” Red Dog immediately replied as he snapped to attention.
“On top of my personal guard I’ll be taking you and Mahedium with me,” Herad told Saeter.
“Why me and the mage? He’s gonna be slow, and I’m not much use in a place like Daggerpoint,” the old scout replied with a frown.
“Oh, you’re wrong as usual old man. I’ll have a use for you there. Your name still carries weight in certain circles, if only the gods know why, and that will help me drum up some muscle,” she replied smugly. “As for the mage, he asked to come and promised it would be worth my trouble. He wants to try digging up some fellow black spell-slingers to trade notes with.”
“Well, Daggerpoint is probably his best bet for that. There’s usually one or two mages around, but anyone he finds in that pit is likely to be just smart enough to know which end of a staff to point at the enemy. You don’t need too much in the way of brains to be a combat mage,” Vorscha commented.
“He thinks it will be worth his while, and who knows maybe he’s right.” Herad said with a dismissive shrug.
There was then a squealing sound as she pushed her chair back and got to her feet. After a brief look at her lieutenants she walked over to the nearby window. The hobgoblin hiding outside heard her coming. He quickly scampered over to a bush off to one side, and then went very still.
“I’ll leave early tomorrow morning with the dawn, so make sure you’re all ready. When I return no one will be able to challenge my claim on this territory, and that’s just the beginning!” Herad announced to the air outside the window.
She then turned back around and looked at Red Dog.
“When I get back I expect this place to be fit for a queen, so no slacking off,” she told him as she smiled wickedly. “Now off with you lot. I have stuff to do, and I’m sure you have your own concerns.”
After her dismissal everyone quickly left, lest they annoy their boss. Red Dog threw Herad an uncertain look before walking out through the door. He was unsure how serious her command about fixing the place up had been, but if she noticed his concern she didn’t bother to enlighten him.
Blacknail continued to sit in the bush outside the window for a few seconds until everyone was out of sight. Just as he was about to get up he heard something from inside the house.
“Soon, it will all be mine!” Herad whispered lovingly to herself, before chuckling hungrily in anticipation.
Soon the chuckle died down, and there was only the sound of breathing from inside. Very carefully Blacknail got up and crept away.
He was reassured that Herad was confident in her plan, despite the other’s doubts. The more powerful the tribe got the higher his own position could grow, so Blacknail approved of her ambition.
She was obviously looking forward to victory a lot too. Blacknail got like that sometimes, standing over the corpses of your enemies just felt so great. It felt like someone was tickling your brain, and you just wanted to keep on smiling…
The hobgoblin got up and sped around the building. He had to get back to the campsite before Saeter started to question what he had been up to. As he moved he watched the camp for people who looked to be paying him too much attention, and he thought about what he had just heard.
Mistress Herad had mentioned that Saeter would be going with her, but no one had mentioned him. Blacknail found himself wishing he could go with Saeter to this human place called Daggerpoint.
Things had begun to grow boring around the camp, and he kind of wanted to see a human city again. He had lived in one for years as a goblin and roamed the streets at night after all.
With the clothes Saeter had given him Blacknail didn’t think he would have too much trouble doing similar things again. Only now he could think of much more exciting things to do after dark, and he knew he could find tastier things to eat than garbage.
The city would also be full of targets that weren’t part of his tribe, and thus he would have no reason to hold himself back. It would be nice to finally let loose. Discipline was important, but that didn’t mean he could never have fun.
Blacknail shivered in eagerness as he pictured it. He could almost already taste the blood.
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!