Although Blacknail stopped every time he heard a twig break and studied every bush for signs of slavering monsters, he and the others made it back to the goblin lair without an incident. None of them were picked off by giant wolves, not even Khita. Blacknail didn’t understand how she had survived so long.
The base was much the same as they had left it, which was unsurprising since less than a day had passed. After doing a quick patrol to make sure nothing suspicious was going on, Blacknail retired for the night. He was feeling lazy after so much walking.
When he woke up the next morning and went to grab some breakfast, there were signs of new construction going on. Over by the clay-works the hobgoblin Imp was busy constructing a building of his own. It looked like a smaller version of the longhouse Gob had built, except round. Out in front of it, Ferrar was busy digging a small pit, while goblins piled clay up beside him into a huge heap. As was normal for a project involving goblins, it was chaotic mess as goblins ran about in every direction. Half of them were so dirty they looked like mobile piles of mud. Only around Imp was there any sense of order. The hobgoblin’s presence cowed the nearby goblins.
“What are you doing? Why do you need so much clay?” Blacknail asked Ferrar as he wandered over to take a look. Was the goblin going to fill the hole with clay and bathe in it? Blacknail knew Ferrar really liked clay, but that seemed silly and impractical.
“Building a furnace,” Ferrar answered as he continued to dig energetically.
“Out of clay?”
“Yes, fire hardens it. Fire is great! You use clay and fire to make more clay and more fire. You can never have enough! I need more fire!” Ferrar explained as he gestured energetically at the empty hole in the ground and the pile of clay beside it.
This seemed dumb to Blacknail, but what did he know? He was only the smartest hobgoblin ever to live.
“And you can use it to make food?” Blacknail enquired in a firm tone. It was important to keep everyone’s priorities straight. He was the leader.
“Yep, that too,” the goblin replied absent-mindedly without looking up.
Blacknail rolled his eyes and looked over at Imp for a few moments. The hobgoblin was still busy building the hut and ordering goblins around. Feeling assured that none of his nearby minions were slacking off, going crazy, going crazier, or planning to kill him, Blacknail yawned and went to find some that were. He wanted some excitement.
Eventually, he gave up and decided to head back to Shelter. He had promised to deliver some goblins to them, and that sounded like it would be pretty amusing. After rounding up Khita and a pack of goblins, he headed out back into the forest. Khita was basically part of his disguise. Most of the people in the village seemed to like her, for some reason. However, they also planned to solve their goblin problem by importing more goblins, so they obviously weren’t that smart.
After the walk through the woods, Blacknail and Khita met up with Tannin inside the gates. As promised, they brought a pair of leashed goblins with them. Blacknail had chosen them because they both looked big and lazy. Thus they were large enough to fight off other goblins and not energetic enough to get into trouble. They had both volunteered – after being grabbed and leashed – when they had learned that they would be getting free food without having to do anything to earn it.
“So these are the critters, eh?” Tannin mused as he studied the goblins. He looked and sounded skeptical.
“Yes, I trained them myself,” Blacknail replied. He had smacked them aside the head and told them to behave. That counted as training.
“Do they obey commands?”
“A few simple ones, like sit and come.”
“And having them around will keep other goblins out?”
“Yes, goblins are very territorial.”
These new guards were probably some of the same goblins that had been causing the problems in the first place, but Blacknail wasn’t going to mention that. In his experience, there were a lot of things humans were better off not knowing. It would only bother them.
After explaining a few things and promising to deliver more goblins if the current pair worked out, Blacknail and Khita headed back. As they emerged from the trees around the goblin lair they were presented with a great view of the clearing. Work was being done on building a second longhouse, Imp was building his own small hut, and there were almost a dozen fire-pits scattered around the camp. However, the biggest change was the wall. The barrier of wooden stakes now stretched around almost half the exterior. The clearing had changed drastically since Blacknail had shown up. It used to look like an empty cluster of rocky hills. Now it was beginning to look like a proper base.
Feeling proud of himself, Blacknail decided to stroll around. It wasn’t like he was busy, anyway. Imp’s hut was the most novel change so he decided to check it out again. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to make sure Imp wasn’t plotting anything dangerous. Blacknail was still expecting an attempt on his life.
As he walked over, Blacknail spotted a heap of stuff piled outside the door of Imp’s home. None of it looked like it had been made by goblin’s hands. There was a pair of iron pots, some glass jars containing random powders or creams, a small pile of silverware, and a live chicken in cage. The terrified bird stared at the hobgoblin with mad eyes. What did Imp want with a live chicken? Was it just a snack or something else entirely? Blacknail had no idea, but he doubted it was part of an assassination attempt, unless Imp planned on poisoning it…
The hobgoblin chieftain looked around for a few seconds, before creeping up to the door and peering inside. He didn’t want to interrupt Imp’s work, or walk into a trap. At first glance, there didn’t appear to be anything suspicious going on inside. Imp was busy hanging things from the ceiling and storing things on crudely made shelves. However, after looking closer Blacknail recognized some of the items. He saw a metal scale and a glass jar from Mahedium’s lab! Imp had been carrying that stuff in his bag, but Blacknail had taken that bag away from him and hidden it after Imp had become a hobgoblin!
“Hey, where did you find that? I hid that bag!” Blacknail asked as he stepped inside and frowned.
Imp jumped slightly in surprise and then spun around. He then studied Blacknail for a quick second before answering. “My bag? I found it in a hollow tree. I just followed my nose. It has a strong smell.”
There was a friendly expression on Imp’s face as Blacknail glowered at him. Damned hobgoblins, Blacknail didn’t like it when they used his own tricks against him. He wished he could outlaw it. It wasn’t fair.
“Did you want it back?” Imp asked respectfully.
“No, you can keep it. I’m a generous leader, so you can consider it a gift,” Blacknail replied. Imp would have already taken out and hidden all the important things anyway.
Since there was nothing else to do here, Blacknail decided to leave. He was a little disappointed. Neither Scamp nor Imp had tried to overthrow him, and didn’t seem to even want to. What a bunch of layabouts! What kind of hobgoblins were they?
On his way out, Blacknail spotted Ferrar’s latest project. The pit he had dug had been filled in by a mound of clay that rose several feet into the air. There was a big hole in one side and another at the top. Ash was spilling out of the bottom hole. It looked like Ferrar had been burning things in the mound to harden the clay. Blacknail quickly lost interest in the mound and wandered off. It was just clay.
Since Blacknail had no idea where Scamp was, he went to talk to Gob instead. There was no need to even look for him, since Blacknail could hear him yelling orders every once in a while. Gob’s voice led Blacknail over to the newest section of the wall. The other hobgoblin was busy supervising the construction, as he had been ordered. Gob was very obedient. Blacknail needed more hobgoblins just like him.
“Good job keeping the goblins in line. You’re doing great work,” Blacknail congratulated the other hobgoblin.
“Thank you, supreme leader. I live to obey,” Gob replied as he turned and bowed ever so slightly. The gesture caused the hobgoblin to lower his eyes submissively. He had just been watching the goblins working on the wall.
“Good to know,” Blacknail replied happily. “I’m looking for Scamp. Have you seen him around?”
“He’s over by that hill. He’s sleeping, because I punched him out and tied him up.”
“Oh, did you get tired of his stupidity?” One of Blacknail’s eyebrows rose in surprise. He could understand if that was the case.
“No, he tried to bash my head in with log. He was helping me build the wall and I turned my back on him, but I kept my ears open,” Gob explained as he wiggled his long green ears. “I let him live as you commanded.”
“Good job,” Blacknail replied with even more cheer. Maybe there was hope for Scamp yet!
Both of the hobgoblins had earned a reward. He would take them hunting for big game. That was a fun activity that they could all do together! There was nothing like killing things to help hobgoblins bond. It was also one of the few jobs left that only Blacknail could do, so if he trained some replacements then he could slack off more.
After getting directions, Blacknail went to fetch Scamp. He found the other hobgoblin at the base of a nearby hill. Just as Gob had said, he was tied up by ropes. One of them even ran around his head and through his mouth so that he couldn’t talk. Scamp was lying on his back and staring at the sky, but he looked over and started fidgeting when he heard Blacknail approach.
“You tried to kill Gob, he’s my second-in-command,” Blacknail accused Scamp as he leaned over him. “You’re not good enough to replace him. Try it again and I’ll boil you alive.”
There was a muffled whimpering sound as Scamp nodded desperately in agreement, so Blacknail sighed and began untying him. A few minutes later, he led the two other hobgoblins over to his cave and had them wait outside while he grabbed some things. When he returned he was carrying three bow staves.
“These are for you,” Blacknail told them as he held two of the weapons out. “We’re going to go hunting.”
He then taught them how to string and maintain the bows. One of the bows was for Blacknail himself. It was the one his master had given to him in Daggerpoint and it was made from a weird type of wood that was very hard and flexible. The other two bows had been taken from enemies, or enemies that had used to be friends until they weren’t.
Once they had fired off a few practice arrows at a log, the hobgoblins headed off into the forest. They were mostly there to learn from Blacknail’s amazing skills, so they could practice accuracy later.
“If you shoot anyone in the back it won’t stop me from tearing your limbs off,” Blacknail warned Scamp.
“I would never do that, boss! I’m loyal and obedient,” Scamp replied nervously. He had been eyeing Gob and playing with his bow when the other hobgoblin’s back was turned.
With a disdainful huff, Blacknail led them past the creek. They jumped across its muddy banks and went deeper into the Green. Most animals worth hunting avoided the area around the goblin’s camp.
The trio trudged through the greenery before stumbling upon a fresh set of tracks. Blacknail took the time to point them out and give the other hobgoblins some tips on tracking. He then told them to be quiet and started following the trail.
A few minutes later, Blacknail spotted a flicker of movement. Most of the trees here were huge things with smooth grey bark and trunks wide enough for several people to hide behind. They were fairly widely spaced apart, but row upon row of the trees stretched out in front of the group, and clusters of thick roots grew around the trees’ bases. Around a hundred feet ahead, a herd of deer were walking between the trees.
There were about a dozen of the graceful beasts. Their brown spotted coats camouflaged in with the dark ground and bushes. They would have been hard to make out if they had been holding still and hadn’t been walking. At the head of the herd was a large stag with magnificent antlers that were over a foot long. The stag looked warily around in every direction as he led his herd through the woods.
Blacknail raised a hand and motioned for the others to be silent, and then started to creep through the trees. He wanted to slip around the herd and cut them off so he could get a better shot. It was a maneuver that humans would have had difficulty doing, but hobgoblins were naturally stealthy and this was their element. They simply had to follow their primal instincts. Hunting and creeping up on unexpecting prey was what they did best.
Scamp and Gob fell in behind Blacknail as he hunched down and scampered quietly around the deer. Occasionally, one of the beasts would glance over in their direction, but none of them noticed the approaching predators. The hobgoblins moved with an eerie precision and quiet that surprised even Blacknail. Sometimes he forgot that Scamp and Gob had been born in the wild. Even if they hadn’t been taught by the greatest ranger ever to live like he had, they had survived on their own in these very forests for years.
There was a thick tree positioned ahead of the herd and a bit to the side. Blacknail snuck up to the tree’s trunk and hid himself behind it. The other two hobgoblins joined him a second later. The grey behemoth easily concealed all of them, and Blacknail quickly peeked around it. The deer were still headed towards them. If they didn’t change course they would pass within easy bowshot of the hobgoblin’s hiding place.
As they waited, Blacknail prepped his bow and drew an arrow. Scamp and Gob copied him. Once ready, Blacknail relaxed and waited for the right time to strike. The stag wandered within a hundred feet and started to walk past the tree. The herd was moving parallel to Blacknail’s group now. Every step now carried the lead deer further away.
From behind the tree, Blacknail chose a target and drew his bow back. He would leave the stag alone and aim for one of the closer does. The hobgoblin could already taste the sweet deer flesh. He grinned wickedly as he let his arrow fly. The projectile zoomed through the air. It closed in on the doe’s flank, and then passed under it. There was a thud as the quivering arrow sunk into the ground. Blacknail had missed.
“Turtle shit,” he cursed to himself. There must have been wind or something.
The noise and flash of movement from the arrow alerted the deer. The herd all perked up and then began to run off into the trees, away from the hobgoblins. That was when another arrow whirred past Blacknail and hit the flank of one of the fleeing deer. The animal crumpled onto the ground, and the other deer left it behind as they dashed out of sight.
Blacknail turned around and saw Scamp holding an empty bow. There was a big happy grin on his face.
“I set that up for you,” Blacknail told him flatly. It had probably been beginner’s luck.
“Thanks boss,” Scamp replied. He was still smiling, and that annoyed Blacknail.
“Since you shot it, you’re carrying the carcass back,” he told Scamp.
Gob helped tie the deer to a long pole and then he and Scamp began carrying it back to base. As they walked, Blacknail told them stories about Saeter and taught them little tracking tricks. If it looked like the other hobgoblins weren’t paying enough attention then he kicked them in the ass, hard. He would tolerate no disrespect towards his old master.
It hadn’t been so long ago that Blacknail had been the one learning this way. A feeling of sad nostalgia came over the hobgoblin. He missed his master.
It was starting to get dark by the time they returned to the goblin camp. The main cooking campfire was burning and so were a few of the smaller ones, like where Ferrar was busy firing clay. The little goblin never seemed to stop burning things. Sure fire looked pretty and all, but there were other things to life.
The hobgoblins dropped the deer carcass over by the drying rack. The nearby goblins watched with interest and a hungry gleam in their eyes. The smell of blood was strong. Just as Blacknail was ordering Gob and Scamp to prepare the meat, Elyias marched over. The goblins scattered out of his way as he walked up to Blacknail’s side.
“What is it?” Blacknail asked. Something must have happened. Elyias almost never sought him
“I was doing my rounds and I found four sleeping goblins with signs of growing horns. That’s what you told me to watch out for,” the young man answered anxiously.
Elyias had been placed in charge of watching the goblins for signs of transformation. He had been a natural choice for the job, since he wasn’t a goblin himself, he was already paranoid about hobgoblins, and it didn’t take much in the way of intelligence.
Blacknail arched his back and laughed. The shrill sound rang out above the camp. Goblins fell silent and looked his way with both curiosity and fear. Even Elyias looked uncomfortable as the loud inhuman sound filled the air. Blacknail ignored them and shared his joy with world. Behind him, the campfire crackled and threw light up against the hills.
Finally! He had waited so long. Things had been going infuriatingly slowly, but now his scheme was starting to pay off! He needed hobgoblins and now he was getting them. They were the entire reason he had bothered building up this grimy little base. He needed the goblins to be well fed and feel secure so they would transform.
Still laughing, Blacknail contemplated the future. It was time to move on to the next part of his plan. Vengeance against Werrick would be his. He needed to rip the man apart with his own two hands. No one took what was his.
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!