“Well, that’s all over,” Saeter remarked. “I’m going to go sit down.”
“You didn’t do anything,” Geralhd pointed out. “We just stood here and watched the battle.”
“Wrong, I was out scouting before the fight. That’s my job,” the old scout replied. “You are the only one here that didn’t do anything.”
“I fought one enemy,” Blacknail added proudly. “He won’t be climbing the wall again without-ss the fingers I cut off.”
Geralhd didn’t have anything to say to that. He sighed in dissatisfaction before turning away and looking at the retreating enemy. Blacknail thought he should have been used to being useless by now.
The hobgoblin also took a second to look over the battlefield. This hadn’t been the first human battle he’d ever seen, but he had been impressed by it nonetheless. Not only had there been more fighters than he could count but the way they fought all together was overwhelming. Also, the magic was scary. What could a normal hobgoblin do against that sort of power?
Goblins would be climbing all over each other if they had been packed that tightly, and that was only if they didn’t start fighting among themselves. Even if they did stay loyal they would most likely forget which side they were supposed to be on.
Below them, Mahedium was still moving away from the wall, in case the enemy retaliated against him for his earlier magic, but he had slowed his pace. The mage noticed Saeter and the others atop the hill and headed their way.
“Can you see what’s going on from there?” Mahedium asked as he approached.
“Most of it,” Saeter grunted in reply. “The enemy is retreating.”
The old scout looked annoyed at this new interruption. He had been about to leave before Mahedium called out to him.
“That was some spectacular magic and a great improvement over your earlier works,” Geralhd congratulated the mage. “You certainly put some fear into the enemy.”
“Thank you, that means something coming from an educated man such as yourself,” Mahedium replied. “I am always striving to advance my craft.”
“I’ve seen both better and much worse,” Saeter noted objectively.
“I imagine you have, and I’ll take that as a compliment,” Mahedium replied graciously as he glanced at the old scout.
Blacknail was fairly sure his master’s words hadn’t been a compliment. Saeter didn’t give a lot of those out.
“I liked the explosions,” he commented. “You should blow people up more often; it’s hilarious. I wish I could do that!”
The hobgoblin waved one hand dramatically in the direction of the enemy and made a fake sounding explosion noise.
Everyone took a second to consider what would happen if Blacknail ever gained such an ability. Judging by the pained look on his face, Mahedium in particular found the idea unsettling.
“Anyway… do you think you got that enemy mage?” Geralhd asked Mahedium.
“I don’t know,” the mage admitted. “Things were very chaotic there at the end. He was too far away for me to see clearly.”
“Hopefully you got him. You certainly blasted everything around him beyond dust and death,” Geralhd replied happily.
“Herad’s plan was effective. I’m simply grateful that she knew what she was doing and that she obviously values me,” Mahedium commented. “If she had been less worried about my safety and had ordered me to attack first I might not have survived that fight.”
“Oh, she won’t throw away someone so useful,” Saeter agreed as he grinned unkindly at the mage.
“Ah, yes. I heard that battles where both sides have mages can be complicated and dangerous,” Geralhd interjected carefully.
“Indeed, the key to hostile exchanges between mages is twofold,” Mahedium explained. “Firstly, you have to hit hard and fast. It is easier to attack than defend. Secondly, if that fails, you need to analyze your opponent’s defenses and find a way around them. Having a multitude of attack spells is important.”
All of Mahedium’s long winded chatting didn’t interest Blacknail. He glanced away and observed the activity going on all around him. Maybe there was something interesting going on, or free food around.
There were certainly a lot of human corpses littering the ground. It was a shame that humans didn’t approve of their dead being made into snacks. Well, they didn’t taste all that good, anyway.
On the other side of the barrier that blocked the way into camp from the road, Werrick’s troops had come to stop. They were well out of bow range and had returned to their own encampment. Their camp, most of which was out of sight beyond a twist in the road and a barrier of trees, was swarming with activity. The fight might be over for now but wounds had to be tended and order had to be restored.
That was certainly what Herad was doing. The bandit chieftain was yelling orders as she stomped up and down the length of the wall.
“Let’s move, it’s windy here,” Blacknail suggested to the others as he watched her.
Standing up on the hill made them very visible, and the hobgoblin didn’t want to catch Herad’s attention. She might give him work.
“Good idea,” Saeter replied as he started down the hill.
Geralhd and Blacknail immediately followed the scout towards his campsite, but Mahedium hesitated. He remained where he was and glanced towards his cabin.
“I should really talk to Herad and then get back to my lab,” the mage announced.
“Good, you do that,” Saeter grunted as Blacknail waved goodbye.
Without further interruption, the two men and the hobgoblin walked the short distance to where Blacknail and Saeter’s tents were set up. The camp was oddly empty. No one was near the cabins or tents at the back of the clearing. Almost everyone was still over by the wall.
“Why did you follow us? I didn’t actually invite you,” Saeter asked Geralhd as he took a seat on a chair by the fire pit.
“I don’t really have anywhere else to go,” Geralhd replied as he shrugged. “Vorscha is probably busy off doing something important and I don’t want to get in the way.”
Blacknail smiled to himself. It was obvious the thin human had grown used to Saeter’s grumpiness and was ignoring it. That was fine with Blacknail; he enjoyed having Geralhd around, it usually meant more food for him.
The hobgoblin and Geralhd took seats near Saeter. The old scout ignored them. He reached over to grab a large sack and began going through its contents.
“I don’t suppose you want to play some dice to help spend our time more quickly?” Geralhd asked Saeter.
“No,” Saeter grunted without turning away from the bag he was rummaging in.
“I suppose I could teach Blacknail to play…” the young man mused to himself thoughtfully as Blacknail’s ears perked up.
Before the hobgoblin could reply though, someone yelled in their direction. They all turned to see who it was and saw Varhs approaching.
The other scout was dressed in his leather armor and was wearing his forester cloak. Behind him, Scamp plodded along happily. The goblin was wearing a pair of brown human sized trousers that had been cut short and secured with rope.
“It’s good to see you all intact,” Varhs greeted them as he grinned and waved cheerfully in their direction. “Although, I never doubted for moment that you were fine, Saeter. If mere mortal blades could pierce your old hide it would have happened years ago.”
Geralhd smiled at the joke. Blacknail glared at Scamp. The little goblin had disappeared for a while during a fight with some of Werrick’s men out in the forest. Since then, the hobgoblin had been sure that he had smelled traces of him around, but he had never laid eyes on Scamp until now. Obviously, the goblin had been avoiding him.
Saeter saw the other scout, frowned, and then did a quick double-take. He glanced behind the man and seemed relieved that there was no one behind him except Scamp.
“You’re alone, right?” he asked. “That red-haired pest isn’t following you?”
“What? No, Khita had some stuff to wrap up,” Varhs remarked in surprise. “She seems to go wherever she wants.”
The younger scout looked a little troubled when he talked about Khita. He winced and pouted slightly. Maybe they had gotten into a fight, or maybe he had finally realized being around her was making him stupid.
Blacknail hoped she was dead. Khita was useless and annoying.
“As long as she isn’t here,” Saeter replied. “I see your goblin came back,”
This new comment seemed to cheer Varhs up. His frown quickly became a self-satisfied smile.
“Scamp came back the very next day,” Varhs answered. “He’s a great companion and very well trained. He just got lost in the forest for a bit after that chase.”
“Trained by me, not you,” Blacknail muttered in disgust.
Scamp was an undisciplined nuisance! Blacknail had no idea why the scout had gone out of his way to find and train a goblin. Varhs let Scamp do whatever he wanted and he had never taught the goblin how to behave.
When Scamp had caused a huge mess a while ago he had almost been executed by Herad. He had only survived because Blacknail had promised to help train him.
The hobgoblin had selflessly tried to beat some sense into Scamp in exchange for the occasional snack. However, the hobgoblin had eventually grown too busy to continue the training. The snacks hadn’t been very good either.
Blacknail had more important things to do now, like keep an eye on Elyias, his new minion. Wait… he had forgotten about Elyias.
“Oops,” Blacknail muttered to himself.
He hoped his minion hadn’t managed to get himself killed. That would be inconvenient. The man was amusing.
“So are you here for a reason, or are you just trying make a nuisance out of yourself?” Saeter asked as he scowled at the younger scout.
“I just got back from watching the forest paths,” Varhs replied. “Herad told me to check in on you and make sure you were going back out soon.”
“There are plenty of other scouts that can do that job. Why do I need to go out?” Saeter asked sourly.
“I’m not the one you need to convince. Go argue with Herad and see how that works,” Varhs replied brusquely. “I can only guess that the boss values your skills and Blacknail’s nose.”
“It is very nice looking.” Blacknail bragged happily as he wiggled his nose.
There was a chuckle from Varhs and Geralhd. Even Saeter grinned. Blacknail took this to mean that they agreed with him and that the very idea of someone disagreeing was hilarious. He was an undeniably handsome hobgoblin.
“I have some chores to finish before I head back out. I’m not leaving right away,” Saeter told Varhs as he scowled in annoyance.
“Again, it’s not me you have to worry about. I’m just the messenger,” the other scout replied with a shrug.
“Then, she should be here telling me herself,” Saeter muttered angrily.
Blacknail frowned. He was fairly certain that wasn’t how the chieftain and subordinate relationship worked. His master was getting dangerously grumpy again.
“Let’s just go out. It’s quieter out there anyway. You like the forest,” Blacknail interjected.
The hobgoblin took it upon himself to prevent any conflict between Herad and his master. Saeter was usually very wise but when it came to the chieftain he was stupider than Scamp after he had been kicked in the head a few times.
“Fine. I have some stuff to do first, though. I need a few minutes,” Saeter replied reluctantly.
While everyone else had been talking, Scamp had wandered over to Geralhd. The bandit noticed the goblin and reached into one of his pockets. A second later, he pulled out bit of dried meat.
“There you go,” Geralhd said as he handed the morsel to the little goblin.
“Traitor!” Blacknail involuntarily gasped as his mouth fell upon in shock.
Geralhd was supposed to give treats to him! Scamp didn’t deserve tasty things! Even if Scamp was behaving himself it was only because Blacknail kept him in line.
The hobgoblin was so going to give Scamp a good kicking, and the next time Geralhd needed help he was on his own! They had betrayed his trust!
“Hm, what was that, Blacknail? I bet you want a treat too,” Geralhd commented as he turned towards him.
The man then pulled something out of his pocket and tossed it to the hobgoblin. Blacknail quickly snatched the gift out of the air and studied it. Was it… candied fruit! Joy!
“Yummy, thank you!” Blacknail exclaimed happily as he shoved the treat into his mouth and began chewing.
“Of course I have something for you, my favourite hobgoblin,” Gerahld told him.
As he scoffed the treat down, the hobgoblin smirked smugly and eyed Scamp.
The goblin was staring at Blacknail, with obvious jealousy, as he chewed on his pathetic piece of meat. That cheered the hobgoblin up completely. Fine, he would forgive Geralhd and Scamp.
Scamp could keep his tiny morsel. Blacknail knew how to make dried meat himself anyway and could do it anytime. He was practically throwing the stuff out. Candied fruit was so much better than meat, just like he was superior to Scamp!
“I need to go get back a dagger I leant someone. You can wait here, Blacknail,” Saeter announced as he got to his feet.
Blacknail was too busy chewing to do more than nod as his master walked away. Geralhd invited Varhs to play a round of dice, and the scout agreed. Varhs took a seat and the pair started a game. Apparently, Geralhd had been carrying the dice in his pocket throughout the entire battle.
Instead of watching, Blacknail took advantage of the humans’ preoccupation to sneak up behind Scamp and place a hand on his shoulder. When the goblin turned around, Blacknail smiled toothily down at him.
“Hey, boss,” Scamp nervously addressed the hobgoblin.
He had flinched at Blacknail’s touch and didn’t seem happy to have his attention. That was fine with Blacknail.
“So, you’ve been getting tasty treats from Geralhd,” the hobgoblin mused aloud.
He wasn’t upset at the goblin anymore, not really, but there was a certain pecking order that had to be enforced. Blacknail was at the top.
“Have you been avoiding me?” the hobgoblin inquired with false cheer. “Maybe, because you did something bad?”
“No, boss!” Scamp whined. “I um… was looking for stuff to give you!”
“Really?” the hobgoblin replied skeptically.
“Ya, look,” the goblin said as he rummaged through the pockets of his pants.
After a few seconds of searching, the goblin withdrew a collection of small items and held them up to Blacknail. The hobgoblin studied them. He saw a few coins, some shiny rocks, a mouse skull, and a twisted bit of metal.
“Alright, fine. I believe you,” Blacknail told Scamp reluctantly, even though he knew the goblin was lying through his crooked pointy teeth.
It was just useless junk and no good to Blacknail at all, but it was the act of giving that was important. It showed who was in charge, even if the hobgoblin already had much shinier rocks than these.
“Is this everything?” Blacknail asked Scamp.
The goblin froze before looking off to the side thoughtfully and scratching his head. He seemed to remember something after a moment, because he reached back into his pockets.
“I did meet that goblin in the mage’s house,” Scamp admitted.
As he listened, Blacknail’s eyes grew wide from shock. They were organizing against him! The goblins were conspiring behind his back to overthrow him! He had to do something. The hobgoblin’s claws inched towards Scamp’s neck.
However, his murderous intent was delayed when Scamp withdrew a thin shard of black crystal. Its murky surface looked oily and seemed to shift as Blacknail stared at it in fascination.
“You haven’t been stealing from Mahedium again, have you?” the hobgoblin asked in surprise.
Stealing a crystal was what had gotten Scamp into so much trouble before. The goblin could apparently set them off, because he had been born without a limit to how annoying he could be.
“No, boss! This was given to me, to give to you, from the goblin in the mage’s house. It’s tribute from him. He said no one would be missing it,” Scamp explained in an excited burst as he hurried to clear his name.
“Or at least I think so. He doesn’t speak good; I think he’s stupid,” Scamp added as he anxiously watched the hobgoblin.
Blacknail took a second to mull this new development over. Maybe he had misjudged the goblin that Mahedium had captured. If he was willing to pay Blacknail his respects in such a way then he might not be so bad after all, even if he was a creepy little thing.
It was a rather nice looking piece of crystal, and it didn’t look like the kind that exploded. Yes, if the goblin was offering tribute then he would be allowed to stay. Organizing the goblins in Herad’s tribe would be useful…
“Fine, I accept his gift. He is now one of my minions, like-ss you,” the hobgoblin announced as he took the crystal from Scamp. “You both have to keep paying tribute, though. Just don’t steal from the mage.”
“Sure thing, boss,” the goblin replied enthusiastically. “Finding good stuff is easy. The humans forget things everywhere, and if you beg they give you stuff!”
After cursing a bad roll of the dice, Geralhd looked over at Blacknail and Scamp. Varhs was laughing in delight.
“Hmm, what are you two up too?” Geralhd asked.
“Nothing,” Blacknail hurriedly replied. “We were just… talking about candy.”
“Yum, candy!” Scamp added as he forced an awkward smile.
With a distracted frown, Geralhd turned back to his game. Blacknail uncurled his claws and let Scamp go. Good, the humans suspected nothing.
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