As Imp and Scamp slumbered and grew, Blacknail was hard at work. As the leader of the goblin tribe he had many important duties that he couldn’t ignore, like yelling at random goblins and glaring at everyone that tried to talk to him. Usually, when someone approached him they wanted him to do something annoying or answer a question he didn’t actually know anything about. Making up answers that satisfied his minions was a pain so Blacknail went out of his way to discourage such behavior. The goblins could figure out how to make tools and build stuff on their own now, or they could ask Gob. It wasn’t his job to help others; he was the leader.
There were also more important things that Blacknail had to concentrate on, like eating, and preparing for the hobgoblins’ awakening. Someone had to focus on the big picture, someone intelligent and resourceful. Hobgoblins were dangerous and Blacknail wasn’t going to let them wander off or sleep unattended. Under his orders, the two sleeping goblins were moved into secure cages made from lashed together stakes. The cages would remain sealed until Blacknail could appraise the new hobgoblins and make sure they could be trained to obey orders. He had no use for them if they were unruly.
Hobgoblins made Blacknail uneasy. They were untrustworthy, and Blacknail was an expert on the subject because he was one. He knew exactly how twisted and dark their minds were. Gob wasn’t so bad and he had proven his loyalty, but Blacknail’s gut told him that Gob was a weirdo and that other hobgoblins would be much more difficult to deal with. As a young goblin, Gob must have fallen and hit his head against a rock or something.
Two days passed while Scamp and Imp slept and changed, and the goblin lair continued to develop. As more and more hides were tanned, the previously naked goblins began to wear fur and hide clothes which they decorated with feathers and trinkets. They also began carrying more stone tools such as spears and axes. Most significantly of all, Gob completed his longhouse. Dozens of goblins now slept inside the long dark building. It was far more comfortable than a cave and all the body heat warmed it at night. It didn’t smell great, though.
Ferrar had become obsessed with making clay bowls. He had a group of overseers forcing goblins to constantly bring him materials and refine it for him, and that suited Blacknail just fine. The goblin himself spent all day building and experimenting with different types of firing pits and shapes of bowls. His eyebrows grew singed from constantly standing next to the flames, but his efforts weren’t wasted. Dozens of crude clay bowls were now stacked up in the larder, where they wouldn’t be stolen or broken by curious goblins. There were even a few large pots meant for cooking. Blacknail wasn’t sure whose idea those had been, but it had been a good one. He would have to take credit for it.
The sun was just reaching its noonday peak on the third day, as Blacknail was sitting down by the cooking fire to make himself some lunch. Most of the camp ran fine without him now anyway. He was just about to start cooking the mix of meat and veggies he had cut up, when Elyias ran up next to him.
“Scamp is awake,” the man explained breathlessly.
Blacknail eyed his uncooked meal carefully for a few seconds before responding. It was tempting to let Scamp wait, but he decided he didn’t want to deal with this situation on a full stomach. That could get unpleasant.
“Fine, let’s go,” Blacknail muttered as he put his frying pan down on a rock. It was unlikely any goblin would be brave or suicidal enough to steal it.
The pair quickly walked over to the cages, which were right beside each other. Inside the one on the left there was movement. A tall shape slowly withdrew from the bars, as if it was trying to pretend hadn’t just been chewing on them. Blacknail wasn’t fooled, though. He was very observant and there were teeth marks clearly visible on the bars.
“Go get Gob,” Blacknail told Elyias.
Without another word, the human went off to do as he had been told. Blacknail focused on the cage’s occupant. The new hobgoblin inside was thin and gangly. His ribs were exposed by his thin flesh that lacked any sort of fat. Although, Blacknail could still recognize him, Scamp’s face had changed a lot. It had grown longer and less chubby looking. However, Scamp still had soft round eyes that made him seem almost friendly instead of vicious. It made Blacknail want to punch his dumb face.
Also, Scamp had always had a bit of messy black hair on his head, but now it looked like both the length of his hair and the area covered by it had grown out quite a bit over the past few days. The result was a mess of hair with patches of different lengths. Blacknail was glad he was naturally bald. Having hair seemed like a pointless inconvenience.
Pulling out his knife, Blacknail cut the cord holding one of the cage’s vertical bars in place. It fell away and opened up a space wide enough for a hobgoblin to step through. Blacknail took a step back out of the way, so Scamp cautiously stepped out of the cage.
The two hobgoblins faced each other. Blacknail kept his face neutral, but Scamp was clearly dealing with a confusing mix of emotions. He fidgeted and had difficulty meeting Blacknail’s eyes, like he was uncomfortable in his own skin. Neither of them said anything for a few moments, until Scamp broke the silence.
“Hey there, Blacknail. How’s it going?” he asked as he shifted his weight awkwardly.
That was when Blacknail punched him right in the face. Scamp squeaked as his nose was flattened against his face, and he fell over backward. The blow had taken him completely by surprise.
“That’s not what you should call me,” Blacknail hissed as he leaned over to stare menacingly into Scamp’s eyes. There hadn’t been nearly enough fear there before, but that could be fixed easily enough by gratuitous violence.
“Sorry, boss!” Scamp whined as he cowered on the ground in front of Blacknail.
“Who is your boss?”
“Are you going to do everything I tell you? And obey my every order?”
“Good!” Blacknail growled as he lunged forward, grabbed Scamp by the throat, and pinned him against the ground.
“If you don’t then I will rip your neck open!” Blacknail growled as he squeezed. “Remember this, you puny wimp. If you try and run away I will hunt you like prey and gut you while you scream. Fleeing through the forest won’t save you from me.”
Blacknail wasn’t messing around and his tone of voice made that clear. He sounded more like an enraged beast than a thinking being. Hobgoblin minions were an important part of Blacknail’s plan, but that didn’t mean he had to like them. If there were going to be other hobgoblins around then they were going to have two choices: submit completely or be torn apart. Blacknail wasn’t going to take as much as a single insubordinate look from another hobgoblin. He was the leader and it was going to stay that way. Challengers would be put down.
“Up, stand up,” Blacknail ordered Scamp after letting him go and stepping back.
The new hobgoblin rushed to obey and hurriedly climbed to his feet. Even standing, Scamp kept cowering in fear. Before Blacknail could give him another command someone else spoke up.
“Can you let me out too, great leader?” a familiar yet odd voice asked.
A twinge of irritation went through Blacknail. He turned towards the source of the voice and saw a figure stand up in the other cell. It was Imp. He was awake, and he had changed a lot. The goblin’s form had been stretched out into that of a hobgoblin. His long nose was pointier than Scamp’s but it was his eyes that stood out the most. They were narrower with red irises that shone with intelligence. He looked very different from Scamp.
“I promise to obey,” Imp remarked as he waited by the bars. He seemed perfectly respectful and in control of himself.
Blacknail considered his options. He didn’t feel like letting Imp out, but it was actually convenient for him to deal with both the hobgoblins at the same time. Blacknail got his knife out and opened up the cage. When Imp stepped out, Blacknail punched him in the face. There was a loud crack.
“Ow, why did you do that?” Imp asked as he held his bleeding nose. He had fallen onto his ass from the impact.
“Because I could. Now get up,” Blacknail hissed in answer. He hadn’t believed Imp was actually planning on being obedient for even a second. Even as a goblin he had been creepily good at hiding his thoughts, so Blacknail was just going to assume he was untrustworthy and keep hitting him.
Imp climbed to his feet and walked up next to Scamp. There was now a rebellious spark in his eyes that hadn’t been there before, and that cheered Blacknail up greatly. Now he could look forward to beating it out of him. Both Scamp and Imp glared at Blacknail as Gob and Elyias arrived.
Like Blacknail, Gob was taller and more heavily built than Scamp and Imp. However, both the newly transformed hobgoblins would quickly put on weight and grow a bit once they started eating.
“Our numbers grow,” Gob exclaimed happily. He eyed both the new hobgoblins with a mix of excitement and suspicion.
“Don’t kill either of them without permission,” Blacknail replied absently. That would be inconvenient.
“Yes, boss,” Gob said as he sheathed the dagger he had just drawn a second ago.
“You can hit them a lot, though. Discipline must be beaten into them,” Blacknail added.
He remembered how he had felt after becoming a hobgoblin. His paranoia and blood thirst had been difficult to suppress. He never would have managed it without his lost master. Even now, Blacknail could sense resentment and rebelliousness from Imp and Scamp.
“Both of you must do as Gob says. His words are mine,” Blacknail told Scamp and Imp. He glared at them until they reluctantly nodded back.
“I shall teach them proper respect, mighty leader,” Gob responded eagerly. “They won’t dare question you.”
“That’s all I ask,” Blacknail said as he nodded happily. Gob really understood him.
Just then, Scamp’s stomach grumbled loudly. Blacknail turned and gave the hobgoblin an appraising look. He should probably let the new hobgoblins eat something now. They looked really hungry, and they hadn’t eaten in days.
“You have my permission to go get some food. When you are done you will be given chores. If you try and run away I will hunt you down and carve out your hearts,” Blacknail told the two hobgoblins. It was important they knew the consequences of misbehavior.
“What if we both run in opposite directions?” Scamp asked.
Blacknail scowled at him and considered the question. Imp took a step away from Scamp.
“Why are you asking?” Blacknail inquired. He was surprised by the question. It was a stupid thing to ask, even for Scamp.
“I’m just curious.”
“If you both run then I will send Gob after one of you,” Blacknail answered.
Scamp glanced at Gob out of the corner of his eyes, as if he was weighing his chances. Gob sighed, stepped forward, and punched Scamp in the gut. The new hobgoblin gasped and fell to his knees. Blacknail watched and nodded approvingly. This was a successful learning moment.
“You are weak and I am strong. Do as our great master commands or suffer and die,” Gob hissed as he glared down at Scamp.
“Alright, fine. I will do everything you say.” Scamp replied after a few moments of painful sounding wheezing.
“Yes, me too. I live to obey,” Imp quickly added as Gob turned his way.
It seemed like they were under control for now, so Blacknail dismissed them. Imp and Scamp quickly retreated towards the larder.
“That went well,” Blacknail told Gob. The other mature hobgoblin nodded in agreement, not because he agreed, but so he didn’t get punched in the face by his chieftain.
Yep, everything looked in order. Now Blacknail just had to wait for Scamp and Imp’s inevitable attempt to kill him. There was no way both of them wouldn’t try it at least once. Scamp’s attempt would probably be pathetic and easily thwarted, but it was a good thing Blacknail had confiscated Imp’s bag. Magic explosive rocks would really have messed up Blacknail’s plan to survive with all his limbs intact. Killing Werrick would be difficult with only one leg.
Gob and Blacknail took a few minutes to discuss their plans as they waited for the new hobgoblins to finish eating. They could see the larder entrance from where they were standing and Blacknail kept an eye on it in case one of the hobgoblins tried to slip away. You couldn’t be too careful around the untrustworthy freaks.
Saeter had beaten discipline into Blacknail by teaching him swordsmanship. Only when it became very clear to Blacknail that his attempts to fight back were utterly futile and that his rage was weakening him had Blacknail began to learn to control himself. There was no reason to change a system that worked.
Blacknail was planning on personally training the other hobgoblins the same way. In preparation, he had already gone back to Shelter and acquired some wooden training blades. He had also taken the time to teach Gob the basics of sword fighting so that he had a head start on the other hobgoblins.
Imp and Scamp walked back out of the larder cave with a pile of food. They didn’t bother cooking any of it but instead immediately sat down and began eating. They shoved smoked meat and roots in their mouth as they sat on a pair of large grey rocks. When they were done Blacknail walked over. It was time to get them to work. They had to get used to following his orders.
Scamp was sent to help Gob build tools. Blacknail decided to oversee Imp himself. Imp was definitely the more dangerous of the two and Blacknail wanted to keep an eye on him. He led the hobgoblin over to where a mob of goblins was working on firing some clay. Ferrar was there leading the effort with the special enthusiasm he always showed when things near him were on fire. The goblin gibbered and pranced around the flames with his arms above his head.
The goblins stirred uneasily as Imp approached them. They threw careful glances between him and Blacknail. Some of the goblins seemed to expect a fight to break out at any second, and they weren’t wrong in thinking that. However, Ferrar immediately left the firing pits and approached the hobgoblins.
“Show Imp how to make pots,” Blacknail told the goblin. He was too lazy to do it himself.
Ferrar nodded at Blacknail and then exchanged a few squeaks and grunts with Imp. The goblin then led the hobgoblin over to the big flat rock where the clay was being strained. Imp followed him and studied everything with obvious interest. The pair quickly got to work.
That was exactly what Blacknail had wanted them to do, but he was still very annoyed. What kind of hobgoblin meekly took orders from a mere goblin! Why wasn’t Imp being more aggressive? This was no fun. He had been expecting to have to scream at Imp repeatedly to get anything done, but it was looking like he wasn’t going to have to do anything. With a sigh, Blacknail walked over to a nearby rock and laid down on top of it. At least it was a nice sunny day and the light was warm on his skin.
With Ferrar’s help, Imp began building a series of large pots. He seemed rather excited about it actually. From atop the rock he was resting on, Blacknail occasionally yelled things at them, but his heart wasn’t in it.
Eventually, it began to get dark and Blacknail got bored. It didn’t seem like the hobgoblin was going to misbehave so Blacknail had something much more important that he needed to do. He was going to throw a feast and finally cook up some stew. It would be a huge event in celebration of the two hobgoblins waking up, but mostly it would be about how amazing Blacknail was. They also finally had enough bowls to serve most of the goblins. Blacknail couldn’t wait. He was going to make the best stew ever, and everyone would know how great he was at everything. He had been the one to teach the tribe to hunt, fire clay, and to cook. He was also a really nice person.
The food for the feast had already been gathered by the goblins and was sitting in the larder. Blacknail sent out minions to gather the ingredients he needed and to drag the big iron pot over. It had gone unused until now. Once the pot was propped up above the fire, Blacknail threw the ingredients in and started the fire below it.
Soon, the stew was bubbling away and steam was rising up into the air. The smell attracted curious goblins who wandered over to see what was going on. Blacknail smiled to himself. His creation was almost done. Now, he just had to start handing out the bowls and then he would finally get to show everyone how great his stew was. Everything he cooked was tasty, especially his stew, and this batch in particular was turning out great. It had a nice spicy taste, which was probably from the purple leaves he had thrown in. He had never seen leaves like that before, but they had certainly looked tasty.
Suddenly, an eerie howl echoed out across the hills. It had come from out in the forest. Blacknail kept on stirring. It was probably nothing. Another louder howl rose up into the air. The goblins near Blacknail began to look nervous and started mumbling among themselves. Blacknail thought they were being jumpy cowards. It was probably nothing.
A terrified shriek suddenly erupted from somewhere near the edge of the hills. It was quickly followed by dozens of shrill goblin screams and beastly growls. That was probably something. Blacknail looked up and scanned the hills. It sounded like a mob of panicked goblins was headed his way, and judging from the growling, something hungry was chasing them.
Blacknail let out a deep breath. Of course, this was going to happen now, just as he was finishing up his cooking.
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!