“Oh, hello,” Scamp said as everyone in the shed turned to look his way. The goblin gave the humans a friendly wave and smiled at them. He looked like he was enjoying all the attention.
The three young villagers didn’t return the goblin’s grin. Joan went stiff from fear and Aris stepped in front of her protectively. Hassiol just looked really confused and more than a little disbelieving. His eyes were wide with surprise.
“A goblin!” Aris yelled dramatically, as if he was doing something more than stating the incredibly obvious.
Blacknail wondered if it was too late to kill Scamp and pretend he knew nothing about him. It wasn’t impossible that a goblin could randomly wander in here.
“Yep, I’m a goblin. You’re smart for a human.” Scamp replied cheerfully.
This forced Blacknail to acknowledge that it was too late to kill him. Random feral goblins didn’t talk like that.
“You can’t be here!” Blacknail hissed. “You’re supposed to stay out in the forest. The villagers aren’t supposed to see you!”
“Staying behind is boring, and you didn’t say I couldn’t come,” Scamp whined back. “I miss the others. I want to see Geralhd.”
“It talks! How can it talk?” Aris asked. He sounded like he was in shock. A good punch to the side of the head would probably clear his mind, or wipe his memories. Either would work for Blacknail.
“Scamp isn’t dangerous,” Khita hurriedly explained as she stepped over and placed a hand on top of the goblin’s head. “He’s a pet that was trained by a member of our band.”
“Goblins can talk?” Hassiol asked in a great display of human ingenuity in the face of the unexpected.
“They can if you teach them,” Blacknail grumbled. “There is no point though, if they are too stupid to follow orders.”
“Don’t be so mean to him,” Khita told Blacknail as she patted Scamp on the head. The little goblin looked smug.
“How did it get in here? We have walls and the gate is watched,” Avis asked.
“I snuck through a hole under the wall, it wasn’t very hard,” Scamp explained helpfully.
“Goblins can talk?” Hassiol asked again. He didn’t seem to realize that that question had already been answered, and his obnoxious repetition was really starting to grate on Blacknail.
“I’ve never seen a goblin this close before,” Joan remarked as her shock gave way to curiosity. Scamp wasn’t all that intimidating for a goblin, unless you counted his smell.
“I have. A few years ago, one got its hand stuck in a hole in the side of a barrel, while it was reaching for the apples inside,” Avis said. “The beasty caused quite the commotion right outside our window that night, so my mother grabbed a broom and went out to deal with it. She got a few good smacks in before the critter gave up on the apples, pulled its hand out, and ran off.”
“We should report this to Mr. Tannin,” Hassiol told his friends. This earned him a place on Blacknail’s most annoying human list. It wasn’t a long list, because people kept dropping off of it, usually in spectacularly fatal ways. Life was funny that way.
“There’s no need to tell anyone. Goblins probably sneak inside this village all the time, like in Avis’ story. What is Tannin going to do about it?” Khita replied before chuckling dismissively.
“He should still know.”
“What, are you afraid of the little goblin? He’s just a pet,” Khita teased him.
“Of course not,” the blonde boy quickly replied as he blushed a bright red. He tried to stand tall and look confident but since he couldn’t meet Khita’s eyes he just looked insecure.
“Then a tough guy like you doesn’t need to tell anyone about a harmless goblin like Scamp. This can be a small secret just between us,” Khita told him as she smiled suggestively. Her words actually caused Hassiol to smile back and nod, although Blacknail had no idea why. It was more than a little weird.
“I’m not harmless…” Scamp muttered before Blacknail placed a gloved hand on top of his head and gave it a firm squeeze. To the others it looked like a friendly pat, but Scamp flinched and quickly shut his mouth.
“I can understand why you kept the trained goblin a secret,” Joan observed. “A lot of people don’t like the little pests and wouldn’t want it wandering around.”
“They’re just being stupid,” Avis added. “I’ve never seen a goblin attack anything bigger than a chicken. They’re not nearly as dangerous as the adults like to pretend.”
“Yes, completely harmless,” Blacknail pretended to agree as he nodded. Since the whole Scamp issue seemed settled, he turned to Joan.
“Thank you for the lesson,” he told her.
“It was nothing. We’re all supposed to be getting along now,” she replied as she gave him a bright cheery smile.
“Even with the creepy faceless ranger who hangs out in the forest,” Avis muttered to himself. Blacknail heard him but chose to pretend he hadn’t. The kid wasn’t worth his time.
Since the demonstration was complete and he had learned what he wanted to know, Blacknail spun around and left. The human settlement unnerved him. It was full of hostile humans, and unlike a larger city there weren’t any abandoned places he could hide. The cloaked hobgoblin sent Scamp back to sneak out the way he had come in and then headed to the village gate. Khita said her own goodbyes and then followed him. They left the settlement and crossed the fields until they reached the forest. As soon as the greenery shielded them from any watchers at the village, Blacknail called for them to stop.
“We will wait for Scamp,” he announced.
“Huh, that’s unlike you. Why are we waiting for him instead of going on ahead?” Khita asked.
“I saw wolf tracks on the way here. There is a pack around, so no one should go out alone,” Blacknail replied as he scanned the forest around them. Nothing seemed out of place.
“You’re afraid of some wolves?”
Blacknail turned and snarled at Khita. “I’m not afraid. I’m just smarter than a dumb girl like you. One of the wolves smells wrong. It might be a threat.”
“They’re just some dumb dogs,” the redhead replied defensively.
Her response infuriated Blacknail. He didn’t need to hear such nonsense from a weakling like Khita. She had no idea what she was talking about. The hobgoblin spun around and smacked her across the side of the head.
“Ow,” Khita cursed as she reeled away from him in surprise. One of her hands came up to rub her sore head. It hadn’t been a strong blow but it had still hurt.
“Enough; listen instead of talking!” Blacknail hissed “You will not enter the forest alone until I say so. I am the leader and you are the minion. The Green is dangerous. You do not question, and you will do as I say!”
“Fine, sorry. I won’t underestimate the danger again,” Khita answered.
Her response didn’t fool Blacknail. He saw a defiant gleam in her eyes and noticed that she hadn’t really promised to obey his orders. Normally, he would just hit a few more times, but as tempting as that was, his hands were tied due to his promise to Gerlahd. A more delicate solution was required. Blacknail sighed and grimaced at Khita. This wasn’t going to be fun.
“You did good job back in the village,” he admitted. It was true; somehow the redhead had actually managed to help out and not screw anything up.
Just saying those words gave Blacknail a nasty headache, though. However, they caused Khita’s eyes to shine with surprise. The young redhead straightened up and threw Blacknail a questioning glance as if she couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing.
“But, you need to listen to me. If you die all the stupid people will blame me,” Blacknail quickly added. He didn’t want Khita to misunderstand the reasons for his concern. He just didn’t want her to mess anything up.
Instead of immediately replying, Khita lunged forward and wrapped her arms around the hobgoblins waist. He tried to jerk away from her but her hug was too tight. A giigle could be heard from Khita, and a shiver of disgust went down Blacknail’s spine. This was uncalled for. What did the annoying girl think she was doing?
“Thanks for caring,” Khita exclaimed.
“Let go of me,” Blacknail told her. If he had known this was going to happen he would have just left her to die.
After one more friendly squeeze, Khita stepped back away from the cringing hobgoblin. Blacknail was spared having to tell her anything by the timely arrival of Scamp. The goblin scampered out of the bushes and headed their way.
“Why are you standing around?” he asked as he walked over.
It took a few moments for Blacknail to warn Scamp about the wolves, but then they all headed back to the goblin lair together. Blacknail led the way along the now familiar trail. As the hobgoblin hopped on top of a tree that had fallen across the path, he caught the scent of something that put him on guard. He stiffened and quickly turned to survey his surroundings. The scent of blood was on the wind, goblin blood.
Immediately, Blacknail snarled and drew himself up defensively. Practically anything could be watching from nearby. There were plenty of places to hide among the trees and branches overhead. The back of Blacknail’s neck itched. Looking carefully, he spotted a patch of wet ground up ahead by the base of a tree. He jumped down from the log and stalked over to it. He moved cautiously, but once there he crouched down and sniffed it. It was definitely goblin blood.
Scamp had detected the same smell. His expression was alert and he kept right behind Blacknail, where it was safest. Even Khita had realized something was wrong. She kept her mouth shut and looked slightly nervous as she followed the hobgoblin.
Blacknail ignored them and began to sniff around the tree. A trail of blood spatters led away from the roots and towards a bush. He pushed the branches aside and found another patch of wet ground. There was also a tuff of reddish fur stuck to one of the branches, and it smelled of wolves.
“A goblin was killed here, one of mine,” Blacknail growled angrily as he stepped back from the bush with the fur in hand.
He vaguely recognized the scent of the goblin. It had been from his tribe even if they hadn’t interacted much. Still, a pack of wolves had entered the territory Blacknail had claimed and attacked his tribe. This could not stand. He wouldn’t let it.
“Poor little thing. Was it killed by the wolves you warned me about?” Khita asked.
“Yes,” Blacknail hissed as he threw the fur aside and began walking down the trail again.
“Where are you going? And what are planning to do?”
“Back to camp. I can do nothing now. The wolf scent is from hours ago,” Blacknail explained as his companions began following him again.
It wasn’t unusual for a goblin to be eaten by something like a wolf; in fact it happened all the time. However, Blacknail knew that there was more to this. He could feel it in his bones. This pack of wolves wasn’t normal, and it was going to strike again, so he had to be ready for them. The hobgoblin began to think this new unwanted problem over as he headed back to his lair.
By the time he stepped out of the forest, he realized that there wasn’t much he could do. He wanted to hunt the beasts down and rip them apart with his bare claws, but that wouldn’t work. He didn’t have the time to try and hunt down a pack of wolves, and he could afford to lose a few goblins anyway. As the leader, his time was more valuable than their lives.
Gob had to be informed though, so some basic precautions could be put in place. Khita and Scamp went off to do their own thing, as Blacknail walked into the clearing and passed the rocky hills until he found Gob working away at building the longhouse. The other hobgoblin had several goblins helping him out, and they had accomplished quite a lot. All the poles were up to create the building’s frame, and now they were working on weaving the bark walls. Blacknail interrupted the work long enough to explain the new threat to Gob.
“If you send goblins out make sure they move in groups and have spears. I don’t want to lose any useful minions,” Blacknail told him.
“Yes, great chieftain. I shall be careful as a clam and if I see these wolves I will kill them myself, for your glory!” Gob replied. The hobgoblin then bowed reverently.
“That’s not what I said. Don’t try to kill the wolves yourself. You’ll die,” Blacknail told his minion.
“As you wish, great master. I will let you have the honor of killing the beasts. They will fall before you.”
“Sure…” Blacknail replied uncertainly. Now that Gob was getting better at speaking he was saying some weird things. Blacknail no longer questioned the hobgoblin’s loyalty, just his grasp on reality. Still, it was nice to finally be appreciated by someone.
After dampening Gobs excitement a bit, Blacknail went right back to work on his main project, making some gods-damned bowls, so he could cook up some bloody stew. He now knew how to use clay and where to find it, so it was time to go get it.
Blacknail quickly rounded up a few of the nearest overseers and then had them gather up a several other goblins. Blacknail led the way over to the stream at the edge of the camp, and followed it until they found a deposit of grey clay. Behind him came the goblin workers that would do the actual digging and carrying, and behind them came the overseers who watched the other goblins and used their spears to poke any of them that tried to run away or get out of work. It was an inefficient system but it worked, and best of all Blacknail could stand back give the orders without having to dirty his own hands. He didn’t have to worry about all the workers and could just punish the overseers if anyone messed up.
Soon, the work party was heading back to base. Every worker was covered from top to toes in mud and was carrying a big lump of clay. Once at the lair, the spoils were piled atop a large flat rock where they could dry in the sun. Blacknail admired the grey blobs for few minutes before getting bored and wandering off. He had been hoping it would be more exciting.
Since it was starting to get late, Blacknail had his overseers round up a new group of cleaner goblins and put Elyias in charge of making supper. Blackail then took it easy and went back to building himself a bed. After taking a break to eat he managed to finish and get the construct made of strapped together poles moved into his cave. With some stuffing made of dried plants under his blanket it was even sort of comfy. When she came in to sleep for the night, Khita saw it and decided to make her own eventually.
“It’s too bad there isn’t anyone nearby I can steal a bed from,” she muttered as she went to sleep on the ground.
The next morning, when Blacknail woke up he decided his next personal project would be some sort of door for his cave. There had been a bit of a draft last night. However, since he didn’t have the materials for that right now he put it on hold. There were lots of other things that needed done anyway.
The early morning sun was just peeking above the trees as Blacknail stepped outside. From his vantage point at the cave entrance he could see the various projects underway in the middle of the rocky clearing. Where empty rock had once been several drying racks stood, and the frame of the longhouse Gob was building was off to the side. In the center of everything was a pit ringed by a circle of stones where most of the cooking was done, and off by itself was another pit used to smoke meat. Two goblin guards were holding spears and watching the cave that Blacknail had made into a larder.
The hobgoblin yawned and decided to head to the larder so he could make sure the food wasn’t being stolen, and he could grab something to eat while he was there. Of course, there was some food missing but that was to be expected. The guards would keep other people out but there was no one to prevent them from stealing the food themselves. As long as they only took enough to fill their own stomachs that was fine, though.
Once in the cave, Blacknail chowed down on some smoked rabbit meat and a large white root. It was going to be a busy day so he wanted a full stomach. Things were finally falling in place. He had gathered minions, materials, and knowledge. Now it was time to start building up the base for real. It would be hard work but Blacknail intended on creating a goblin village. The hobgoblin growled as he walked back outside, and the guards stepped back away from him. Patience was difficult but it was necessary if he ever wanted his sweet bloody vengeance. One day, Blacknail would avenge his master, no matter what it took.
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!