The entire room went silent. Herad’s mouth went slightly slack and her eyes widened the tiniest bit. She stared in surprise at the severed head for several seconds. Blacknail really hoped it was a good type of surprise. The suspense was actually painful.
“By all that is holy and all that is profane, it is him,” she whispered.
Nope, that didn’t help. The hobgoblin still couldn’t tell if Herad was pleased or not. Maybe she just needed a reminder of why she had wanted Fang dead in the first place.
“I killed him; he was fat, and you didn’t like him,” Blacknail clarified hopefully.
As the anxious hobgoblin watched a savage grin suddenly sprung into existence on Herad’s lips. Her eyes began to gleam with excitement.
Blacknail let out a breath of relief. He couldn’t keep a happy smile from appearing on his lips, and he felt like dancing with joy. The chief was pleased by his gift. Truly, he was a genius. His plan was working perfectly!
“Why don’t any of you bring me gifts like this,” Herad said with a laugh and an amused glance towards Saeter and the others around the table.
From under his hood the happy hobgoblin grinned smugly at all the seated people. He was the chief’s favorite! Blacknail threw the cloth onto the table and then put his trophy down on top of it. He’d carried the thing far enough already, and it was Herad’s now anyway. He hoped she was going to put it somewhere it would look nice.
In the light of the chandelier hanging overhead, Blacknail could clearly see the other people around the table throwing disbelieving looks at him and the severed head. A few of them had even gone pale, and one looked like he was about to be sick. They began chatting and whispering amongst themselves again, and the sound of their hushed voices echoed around the dark corners of the room. Saeter stood up to address his boss.
“I should go have a talk with Blacknail, and get a report from him somewhere more private,” he told her.
A thoughtful look appeared on Herad’s face, and she glanced at the other men at the table. She then took another look at Blacknail and nodded.
“Agreed, take him to see Mahedium. He looks more than a little worse for wear,” she told Saeter quietly.
“As you wish,” he replied emotionlessly.
Saeter then grabbed the hobgoblin’s shoulder and began dragging him from the room. Blacknail was surprised at his master’s sudden action. He wanted to stay and gloat some more. Everyone had been so surprised when he’d unwrapped Herad’s gift! No one was going to look down on him now, and he wanted to make sure all the new recruits at the table knew his new status.
The sound of Herad’s raised voice could be heard from behind them as she resumed her previous conversation with the other people at the table. The voices were quieter though, and unlike when he’d first entered Herad now seemed to have control of the conversation.
Once they were out of the room and down the hallway where there was no one else around Saeter turned to Blacknail. The hobgoblin grinned at his master proudly, but Saeter scowled back at him.
“Fool,” the old scout said as he smacked the hobgoblin across the side of the head.
“Ow!” Blacknail exclaimed in surprise, before rubbing the sore spot and cringing.
“What do you think you’re doing? Look at you, you’re half dead! If you were just going to wander around and pick fights then you should have stayed at the camp,” Saeter told him.
“I won!” Blacknail whined.
“This time! What about the next time though? I have no idea how, or why, you pulled this stupid trick off. You wouldn’t have if you’d stopped to think for a second though! Now that you’ve acted as Herad’s personal assassin once she’s going to expect you to do it again!” Saeter told Blacknail angrily.
“Oh, that’s not-ss good,” Blacknail remarked hesitantly as he thought it through.
“Of course it’s not! I hope you had fun getting the crap kicked out of you, because Daggerpoint is stuffed full of killers and Sloshers who hate Herad. So congratulations, you’ve just volunteered to fight every single one of them,” Saeter explained scornfully.
The hobgoblin licked his lips nervously. This sounded like it was going to be a serious problem. He’d definitely not enjoyed fighting the man named Fang. Well, actually he’d had lots of fun sneaking around and cutting Fang up, but that didn’t make up for beating the bandit chief had given him. He still hurt in places he hadn’t even known existed before.
“I’m too injured?” Blacknail tentatively offered as an excuse.
“Ha, as if she’ll care. Herad has her own problems to deal with, and now she has a solution in you. How much do you think she’ll care about your injuries?” Saeter responded.
“Not-ss at all…” the hobgoblin said with a sigh.
“Exactly, you idiot. Let’s hope we can get you patched up quickly, although judging by the way your limping I doubt that will happen. Here lean on me; you shouldn’t be putting weight on that ankle,” his master told Blacknail .
“I’m fine-ss; I can walk,” Blacknail replied with a stubborn tone.
“Don’t make me smack you again, boy,” Saeter threatened as he raised a hand.
Blacknail winced and hissed in annoyance, but when his master extended an arm he took it. As they continued walking down the hallway Blacknail leaned on Saeter’s shoulder. Soon, they arrived outside a heavy wooden door.
Without bothering to knock Saeter pushed the door open and strode inside. Immediately, after entering the hobgoblin knew he was in Mahedium’s new workshop. Everything about this room strongly reminded Blacknail of the mage’s room back at the camp.
Glass beakers of colorful liquids were scattered around an otherwise sparse chamber. More than a few crystals could be seen as well. They were either floating in some of the glasses or placed on shelves beside piles of books and delicate looking pieces of equipment.
Mahedium was seated at a desk across the room and scribbling something on some papers. He looked up at them as they entered the chamber. A scowl appeared on his face when he saw Saeter but it disappeared when he saw Blacknail. He’s eyes shone with interest as he looked the hobgoblin over.
“Blacknail? I didn’t know you’d joined us,” he remarked cheerfully.
“I got an injured hobgoblin here, mage. You think you can patch him up? He looks like someone thrashed him until he was black and blue… and green,” Saeter asked the mage.
Mahedium got up from the desk and met them in the center of the room. He didn’t even look at Saeter, and instead focused completely on Blacknail.
“I’ll have to examine him first, and then hope hobgoblins react to drugs in a similar way to humans,” the mage answered.
“You don’t have healing magic?” Saeter asked.
“No, I don’t; for a lot of reasons. The Fiery Eye is not a guild that worries about healing too much, and even if they were there’s no way I would have gotten my hands on any healing spells. Healers are highly trained specialists, and they’re treated much better than combat mages,” Mahedium replied with a frown, as he leaned over and examined Blacknail bruised neck.
“I should have figured,” Saeter responded grumpily.
“Let’s get him into the light where I can get a better look at him. Over there on that chair should serve our purpose,” Mahedium remarked.
Saeter guided Blacknail towards the seat Medium had indicated and then placed him gently down, while Mahedium wandered the room and gathered a few things from the shelves. A few minutes later the mage returned and stared thoughtfully at Blacknail. He then touched a crystal on a nearby desk and it flared to life. This new light made it much easier to see.
“Hmmm, how do you feel, Blacknail? You definitely looked unsteady earlier. Are you suffering from nausea or a headache as well?” he asked the hobgoblin.
“My head-ss hurts, but what’s nausea?” Blacknail replied in confusion.
“Er, does your stomach hurt?” the mage clarified.
“My everything hurts,” the hobgoblin whined in response.
“Fine… but does it feel like you’re going to vomit?” Mahedium asked him.
Why couldn’t the man have just asked that in the first place? All these annoying questions were making Blacknail think, and thinking was making his headache worse.
“No, I’m hungry though,” Blacknail remarked hopefully.
“You’re always hungry. Sometimes I think you’re half pig,” Saeter told the hobgoblin with a smile.
“That’s probably a good sign; an appetite is a sign of health” Mahedium mused aloud before turning to Saeter.
“Please hold his left, and then right, eye open for me while I check something,” he asked the scout in a businesslike manner, as he reached into one of his pockets and withdrew something.
Blacknail tried to squirm away as his master grabbed his head and then proceeded to pry his one eye open. He was still feeling weak though, so even raising his arms took an effort. Ouch, what the hells were they trying to do to him?
“Hold still you silly runt, that’s an order,” Saeter barked as he tried to keep his hold on the hobgoblin.
Reluctantly, Blacknail relaxed and stopped struggling. It hadn’t really been doing him much good anyway. Saeter was also unusually strong right now for some reason. He must have been eating well recently.
Mahedium reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny crystal that was barely bigger than his finger tip, and held it up to Blacknail’s face. The hobgoblin tried to blink, but couldn’t because Saeter was still holding his eyelid up.
“I thought you weren’t going to use magic,” Saeter remarked suspiciously.
“This is just a light crystal,” the mage replied.
As Blacknail stared at the mana stone it suddenly burst to life. He instinctively tried to flinch away, but Saeter was still gripping him tightly. He relaxed a second later when he realized the light wasn’t really all that bright and didn’t actually hurt his eyes.
In fact the crystal was more than a little interesting to look at. He had never stared right at one while it was lit before. There was a tiny speck in the very middle that seemed brighter than the other parts.
“His reaction seems fine as well, so I don’t think he’s suffered a dangerous head injury,” Mahedium observed as he pocketed the crystal again.
After seeing that the mage was finished Saeter let go of Blacknail. The hobgoblin shook himself, and started blinking frantically to moisten his dry eyes. Meanwhile, the mage stood up and frowned down at Blacknail with concern.
“What’s the matter now?” Saeter grumbled impatiently.
“He’s a hobgoblin,” Mahedium answered as he looked off to the side with a distracted manner.
“I noticed that, since awhile back actually,” the old scout replied scornfully.
“Hmm yes, most people would. He also has obvious external injuries, but trying to figure out which herbs to apply is… an interesting challenge. He might not react the same way a human would, so I’ve chosen one of my more innoxious mixtures,” the mage explained carefully.
“So apply it. Standing around and scowling isn’t going to change anything,” Saeter replied.
Mahedium gave the older man an irritated look, but then got to work. Together, he and Saeter stripped Blacknail of most of his clothes. They then examined his wounds. The hobgoblin had only a few shallow cuts, but several rather impressive purple bruises decorated his skin.
“Huh, some of these are obviously at least a few days old,” Mahedium remarked.
The mage then began applying a sweet smelling paste to Blacknail’s wounds which numbed and cooled his skin. It was rather nice feeling, and soon the tension leaked from his body as he leaned back into the chair.
“What’s in that stuff, it doesn’t smell like anything I would use,” Saeter remarked.
“It’s White Duff, Clegorvein, and ground Scalewood bark,” Mahedium responded.
“Why are you using that crap? None of that has any real strength to it,” Saeter asked him.
“I’ve been a master apothecary for almost a decade. I think I know which compounds to use,” the mage replied, as he scowled with indignation.
“Apparently not, because I might not have a fancy title, but I’ve been treating wounds since before you were born. So I know…” Saeter countered as the two men fell into an argument.
The argument went on for several minutes, and both of them grew louder and more belligerent as time went on. It continued even after they had finished bandaging his wounds. Blacknail wasn’t paying attention though. Despite the increasing noise levels, he was starting to fall asleep.
Blacknail was still drifting back and forth across the black borders of consciousness when the argument ended. Thus, he didn’t even notice when Mahedium collected a small sample of his blood from one of his wounds. Saeter noticed though and quickly turned towards the mage with an angry expression his face.
“What do you think you’re doing with that? What possible use could you have for his blood?” he loudly demanded of the mage.
The harsh sound of his voice woke Blacknail. The hobgoblin opened his eyes to see his master and Mahedium glaring hostilely at each other. So, nothing much had changed.
“I simply want to run some tests on it. Hopefully, I can use it to discover whether goblin blood will react differently than human blood to several chemicals. That way I can be reasonably sure they’ll be safe to use on Blacknail. Why do you care?” Mahedium answered confrontationally.
“Even a complete fool knows better than to let a mage take their blood! You could use it to place him under your power,” Saeter responded.
“Then you definitely know as much as a complete fool. Even if those peasant superstitions are true, and I have no idea if they are, then do you really think that’s that sort of thing the guilds would teach combat mages? No, of course it isn’t! So why don’t you just be quiet and let me work,” Mahedium said as he glared at the old scout.
Saeter opened his mouth as if to respond, but then stopped and seemed to think better of it. He appeared to think something over for second before he next spoke.
“Fine, do as you will. I’m watching you though,” Saeter warned him.
Mahedium just snorted dismissively and walked away to the other side of the room. Once there he started going through his equipment and picking stuff out. Saeter turned back to Blacknail.
“How are you feeling?” his master asked as he waved his hand in front of the hobgoblin’s face.
“Sleepy. I want-ss to nap,” Blacknail replied before yawning.
As he drowsily watched Saeter’s hand move in front of his face, he felt a strange urge to snap at it. It kind of looked like a bird or something. He didn’t actually try and bite it though; that would have involved getting up out of the chair.
“You can stay awake for a few minute, you lazy runt. I have some questions that need answering. It’s important,” Saeter told him
Blacknail failed to respond and his eyes lipped shut again. Saeter got his attention with a smack to the side of his head. The hobgoblin sprang awake as a new source of pain flared into existence above his ear.
“Ow! I’m injured,” Blacknail whined.
“You’re too tough for your own good, so you’ll survive. Now are you going to answer my questions, or do you need another smack?” Saeter said.
“I’ll answer,” Blacknail replied as he rubbed the side of his head.
“Good, so I’m guessing you slipped away from camp and followed us here. What took you so long though?” Saeter asked him.
The hobgoblin considered the question for a second; it was a long story. Where to even start, and how could he tell it so that it would make him look the best? An impatient look appeared on Saeter’s face.
“I got attacked by a Hobgoblin, and had to rest,” he blurted out, as Saeter raised a hand to hit him again.
“Explain,” Saeter said as his eyes narrowed with interest.
“I was following-ss you when you went past the bushy place. A nasty huge hobgoblin with impressive horns then jumped out and attacked me! He had lots and lots-ss of goblins with him, and they all tried to kill me. I kicked and bit them all though, and managed to fight them off by myself. I then killed the hobgoblin, and became the new chief. Since I was injured by the cheating no good hobgoblin’s lucky hit, I decided to stay there a while and rest,” Blacknail explained.
“Sounds like quite the adventure… if any of it’s true. How did you get to the city?” the old scout asked doubtfully.
His master didn’t seem to believe that Blacknail was telling the truth for some reason. It was kind of insulting. He was just leaving some stuff out… and maybe exaggerating a little.
“I asked for directions, twice,” Blacknail replied as he shrugged. It hadn’t been a big deal or anything.
“What, how? Never mind, I’ll probably sleep better at night if I don’t know the details,” Seater remarked.
“How did you end up killing Fang though? He was a blowhard, but still a Slosher. How did you even know he was Herad’s enemy or where to find him?”
“I listened to Herad yell at some people, she was very loud,” Blacknail explained.
“Ha, yes she is at that. It probably wasn’t all that hard to find us since all you had to do was follow the sound of her constant screaming,” Saeter said with a chuckle.
Blacknail’s eyelids were heavy and he didn’t feel up to correcting Saeter, so he gave his master a brief nod. He also didn’t want any part of insulting Herad. It was probably a good idea to change the topic of their conversation.
“I found Fang by playing a guessing game with a weird naked lady,” Blacknail then told Saeter.
There was silence. The smile on Saeter’s face grew strained and his one eye twitched. Across the room Mahedium broke out into a fit of coughing. Had he said something wrong?
“You didn’t um… murder this woman, did you?” Saeter asked apprehensively.
“Nope, we just traded answers to questions. Do you usually kill people during guessing games?” Blacknail asked with interest.
“No, I don’t usually play them. Just in general it’s a bad idea to kill people, okay?” Saeter replied.
“Why? You do it all the time, and so does Herad,” the hobgoblin pointed out.
There was another amused snort from Mahedium. Saeter closed his eyes and messaged his forehead with his fingertips. Blacknail thought he looked a little upset.
“Ugh, I just realized Red Dog may have had a point after all. This is my fault as much as yours, though. I should have taught you about morals and civilized behavior. I guess I just never expected you to leave the woods,” Saeter remarked.
“The round things you put stuff in?” Blacknail asked in confusion.
“No, those are barrels. Morals are very different,” Saeter explained with a sigh.
The sound of steps echoed from the doorway so Blacknail twisted around to see who was approaching. The doorway was soon darkened by the redheaded form of Khita.
The hobgoblin groaned when he saw her. Why did it have to be her? She was incredibly annoying, and he was stuck in this chair so he couldn’t even escape! He already regretted saving her.
“Blacknail, I heard that you’d shown up! Everyone was talking about the small creepy cloaked guy who killed that bastard Fang, and then presented his bloody head to Herad. How sharp is that! When they mentioned that the assassin had disappeared with Saeter I knew for sure it must have been you,” she exclaimed happily with a cheerful grin on her face.
“Blacknail is injured so don’t get too close and you can’t stay long,” Saeter told the young woman.
The hobgoblin threw his master a grateful look, and Saeter gave him a knowing smile. Mahedium also responded from across the room.
“Oh, quite right. Keep at least a few feet away please, and no touching the patient,” the mage told Khita distractedly. He seemed engrossed in studying something at his desk.
“Sure thing, I got stuff to do anyway. I’m super useful so Herad keeps me pretty busy,” Khita responded with undaunted cheer.
“You deliver messages,” Saeter replied dryly.
“That’s important. What if someone tried to steal the message? I would have to fight them off. In fact I got into a fight earlier today, so ha!” Khita told him as she stabbed the air with a make believe knife.
“That had nothing to do with a message, they attacked you because… You know what? Never mind,” Saeter said with obvious frustration.
“Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that you killing Fang was the sharpest thing I’ve ever heard of by far. I mean come on, you brought his bleeding head to Herad in the middle of a meeting! How awesome is that!” she told the hobgoblin.
“Does she know what morals are?” Blacknail asked curiously while glancing at the still smiling Khita.
“I seriously doubt it,” Saeter responded as he grimaced.
“Who does then?” Blacknail inquired.
Saeter sighed and rubbed his forehead again. He suddenly seemed more than a little tired, and his forehead had become creased by wrinkles.
“You know what? Forget I said anything. Just try to kill as few people as possible, okay?” Saeter told him dryly.
“Advice to live by, unless you’re an assassin of course,” Khita interjected.
“Sure,” Blacknail replied happily.
He never killed anyone he didn’t have to anyway. Why would he? That would be a lot of work, and more than a little silly.
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!