When Blacknail awoke again, it was the morning and he felt much better. Getting into another fight anytime soon would be a bad idea, but he could walk around. The first thing he did was carefully push Herah’s sleeping form out of the way and leave the makeshift shack. The female hobgoblin had cuddled up to him in the middle of the night. Blacknail shuddered at the thought of her getting so close to him while he was helpless. She was a hobgoblin so she couldn’t be trusted. The second thing he did was track down Gob. It wasn’t very hard. He was standing right outside the shelter, and it looked like he was standing guard. Obviously, he hadn’t done a very good job since Herah had managed to get in.
After a few minutes of praising everything about Blacknail, it didn’t take long for Gob to fill his chieftain in on everything that had happened. The raiders had packed up and left. There were scouts following their tracks and keeping an eye on them. Blacknail decided that they could wait, so he rounded up an honor guard of hobgoblins and headed for Shelter. He had them pick out some new – or at least sort of clean – clothes. Most the hobgoblins already had some that they had looted, which annoyed Blacknail. He had missed his chance to claim some trophies for himself. Blacknail was willing to bet that all the good loot had already been taken and squirreled away. Stupid useless minions, as the leader he was supposed to get the best pickings. He had done most the work!
Once the hobgoblins were dressed up in mismatched but mostly whole clothes, Blacknail led the way to Shelter. He wanted to impress his new friends there and get them used to seeing hobgoblins. The gates didn’t immediately open upon their arrival. Blacknail could hear an argument from the other side of the wall. It went on for several minutes before the gates swung open and Tannin stepped out.
Blacknail greeted him with a cheerful smile and a wave. “Hello there!”
Tannin stared at them unsurely for several seconds before responding. His gaze lingered over the hobgoblins standing beside Blacknail. “Greetings. I see you’ve done as you said you would, and have gotten rid of Orvit and his mob of scum.”
“Who?” Blacknail asked in confusion as he titled his head to the side and squinted.
“The leader of the bandits you just fought.”
“Oh, ya. That guy. He’s dead.” Blacknail had no idea if that was true, but it wasn’t important. He had forgotten the stupid human-face had existed until now.
“So, what are you here for?” Tannin asked.
“I came to see that you’re all right. You’re my friends, right? That’s a normal thing for someone to do for their friend.”
It took Tannin a few moments to come up with a reply to this. He stroked his grey beard thoughtfully. “Hmm, yes. Geralhd assures me that you make a much better friend than enemy.”
“I’m great as both! It’s just that my enemies don’t last long.”
“Right… so anyway, none of your companions from before have any wounds they won’t be able to walk off, except for young Khita. That lass should pull through, though. She’s a fighter.”
“Good then I can go talk to them.”
“Um, I can send someone to bring Geralhd here…”
Blacknail could see where this was headed, so he quickly cut the man off. “I feel like going inside Shelter to see them.”
“Why? What difference does it make to you? This is as good a place as any for a brief talk,” Tannin replied as he grimaced. He was obviously reluctant to let the hobgoblins inside his village.
“You said I could. I just fought a battle for you,” Blacknail hissed as he stared into Tannin’s eyes. “Now, I want to sit down and have some tea, but not the bitter kind. The sweet stuff is better. Snacks would also be nice. I’m kind of a hero.”
“I want tea too,” one of hobgoblin guards muttered. He shut up when Blacknail threw him a angry look. Guards weren’t supposed to talk.
Tannin sighed in defeat. “You will get your tea and snacks.”
“Thanks, friend!” Blacknail exclaimed happily as he stepped forward and put his hand on the man’s shoulder in a friendly gesture. Tannin managed not to flinch, which impressed Blacknail.
Since he didn’t have much of choice, the village elder led the hobgoblins through the gate and inside Shelter. The guards there were all armed and nervous looking, but after a nod from Tannin, they let Blacknail’s group inside without comment.
“My people are a bit jumpy right at the moment, because of the fighting and such. Just try to behave yourselves,” Tannin explained as they walked onto the main street.
At first there was no one in sight, but then two dozen armed militia stormed out of side street and cut them off. There was a bald man with a large gut leading the group. He threw Blacknail a horrified look and then turned to Tannin. “What are you doing? Have you lost your mind, old man! How could you bring those monsters here?
Tannin groaned and moved to confront the newcomers, but Blacknail acted first. He quickly hopped forward and addressed the leader of the group. “I’m here because I saved your village from the bad men, with my horde of murderous monsters, because I’m a nice guy who doesn’t have any reason to dislike you, yet.”
“Was that a threat? I’m not an idiot. I know a threat when I hear it!”
“Then why did you ask?” Humans could be very confusing.
“Shut up. Your little pack isn’t here, though. Is it? We could deal with you right now!” the fat man shot back. He was probably trying to sound tough, but Blacknail wasn’t impressed. He had met scarier spine toads.
“Silly human. Killing me won’t get rid of my minions. You want to be friends with me because I keep the others in line, Laytin.”
“Uh, how do you know my name?” the man asked as Blacknail’s remark caught him off guard.
Blacknail wiggled his fingers dramatically. “The wind and the shadows tell me many things. There are ears everywhere!” The truth was he’d heard someone say the man’s name a second ago when they had been marching over. It had been quiet, but Blacknail had very good hearing.”
Laytin stuttered for a moment, but Blacknail ignored him. The hobgoblin turned to Tannin instead. “Let’s go. I’m done talking to this person. If he gets in my way I will just kill him and all the people stupid enough to follow him.”
The village elder nodded and quickly led the hobgoblins away from the irate militia. There were no more interruptions – probably because all the villagers went out of their way to steer clear of the hobgoblins – so they soon reached their destination, Tannin’s home. Blacknail was ushered inside, sat down at the table, and given a cup of tea. It was even the sweet stuff.
Geralhd arrived soon after that. “Blacknail, it’s great to see you! I was dreading the thought of you disappearing into the forest again for who knows how long.”
After a happy greeting, the pair talked about the battle and what had happened. Tannin chimed in a few time as well. Blacknail spent quite a while going over everything he had done, and proudly describing the dozens of raiders he had personally slain. Unfortunately, he got the impression that they didn’t quite believe him, especially about dodging the magic fire and taking down the mage. Humans could be so silly.
“Well, I’m sure you came here to do more than brag about your heroic exploits,” Geralhd guessed when Blacknail finished his story.
“Yes…” Blacknail replied as he began trying to remember what he had wanted to talk about. Oh, right.
“I didn’t see any goblins around. Are you still using them to dig in the ground?”
“Yes, we are. The fighting scared the critters, that’s all. I’ve heard some muttering about them being spies for you, but no one with the common sense the gods gave simpletons thinks the goblins are smart enough for that, and they have been so useful for our planting that no one is seriously considering getting rid of them. They can be a handful and hard to keep on track, but no one wants to go back to doing all the planting and weeding ourselves.
“Good, do you want more? I have too many of the pests sitting around and not working.”
“We’re good for now. I swear that there are more goblins every time I look.”
He was probably right. Blacknail had noticed that the prospect of food and a safe place to sleep tended to attract wild goblins. The pests seemed to have their own ways of spreading information.
“Is there anything else you want from us?” Tannin asked the hobgoblin.
“Some of my minions will be coming to trade. You need to let them in.”
“What do you have that you think we want?”
“We can trade food. We hunt a lot and you grow things. We also have the tools we claimed from the raiders. I know you need steel.”
“You have a good point there. I can’t deny it. Our stock of good metal has been diminishing these last few years, and we could always use more venison. What would you want in return for this?”
Blacknail sat up and met Tannin’s gaze. “I want good human food, especially cheese. I get upset if I go without cheese for too long, and you wouldn’t like me when I’m upset.”
“Huh, well I’m sure we can work something out there.”
“I also will need some humans to teach my minions things, like how to make cheese or cooking. You have a lot of things that make life easier and I want those. Work sucks.”
“Again, that seems reasonable, and you’re not really giving us much of a choice, are you? You seem to have a small army out there in the Green.”
Blacknail shrugged. “I’m not making you do anything. We’re friends, and it’s up to you if we stay that way.” He had a feeling that Tannin would do as he was asked.
“That’s a two way street. I’ll make sure everyone in the village knows to treat you and yours respectfully, but you have to make sure your people don’t start anything. Hobgoblins aren’t exactly known for their good behavior.”
“I promise. None of my minions would dare to hurt a friend of mine. I wouldn’t like it.”
‘Then I think this will be a productive relationship,” Tannin said as he extended a hand.
Blacknail grabbed it and they shook hands. Tannin had large hands and a powerful grip that kind of hurt. After that, Blacknail said goodbye and he and Geralhd walked back out into the street.
As soon as they were out of range of anyone trying to overhear them, Geralhd leaned close and whispered to Blacknail. “You were talking like you were planning on sticking around this area for a while. I could have sworn that we had all agreed to leave at the first opportunity.”
Oh, ya… Blacknail had forgotten about that. He had told Geralhd and the others that he would guide them south.
“And we will leave soon, but we can’t go right now,” Blacknail quickly explained. “I need to rest, and we have wounded, like Khita. We can’t go anywhere without her – she is one of us! – and she might take a while to heal.”
It was almost a shame that Blacknail couldn’t just leave with Geralhd right now. The thought of leaving Khita behind greatly amused him. She would be stranded in the village with all the people that annoyed her and have no way of ever catching up with them. Tempting, but Blacknail wasn’t going to ruin all his plans just for that.
“I guess that’s true. We do need a bit of time to rest and recuperate from the cost of the fighting.”
“Yes, we do! But don’t worry. We will be going back south soon enough. I want to stay out here even less than you.”
“Ha, I doubt that! Gods,” Geralhd replied mirthfully. “I can’t wait to get back to the comfortable joys of civilization. It has been so long since I tasted good wine or took a nice perfumed bath. I wasn’t made for this rough and tumble life.”
“Ya, and the food out here is terrible. I want spicy meat pies and candied fruit,” Blacknail agreed. That was certainly one of the reasons he wanted to get back, but not the main one.
“Roast pork in honey sauce is what I crave,” Geralhd whispered passionately as he closed in his eyes for a second.
Now that Geralhd had been reassured that his group’s guide wasn’t going rogue, Blacknail was able to say his goodbyes and leave. His hobgoblin minions followed him as he left the village of Shelter and headed back to the goblin encampment within the woods. Instead of walking through the gates though, Blacknail veered off the path and climbed a hill at the edge of the settlement. When he reached the top, Blacknail looked down over the valley.
“Go get Gob and bring him here,” he instructed one of his minions. The hobgoblin immediately nodded and did as he was told.
The bushes behind Blacknail rustled as he looked down at the settlement he had created. It had been nothing more than a pile or rock before his conquest. Now it was so much more than that. The long wooden wall surrounded a dozen buildings. Half of those were longhouses that held almost fifty goblins each. Most the buildings were made of woven bark and bent saplings but there was a new one under construction that was being made from bricks. Below, smoke was rising into the air from several fires. Most were for smoking meat or cooking, but the largest column of smoke was coming from the source of the bricks. It was a huge furnace that that Ferar had built. The lumpy clay structure dwarfed even the last furnace that the goblin had made. It was taller than a hobgoblin and quite impressive looking.
Blacknail scowled. Everything was going well, so he should be happy. However, the strange power that had overtaken him during the battle had left a mark after all. He couldn’t deny it. Most of the time he felt completely normal and he could forget all about that annoying incident, but sometimes strange thoughts slipped into his head. All of a sudden it would be like he was seeing something from a completely new point of view. The sudden shift was disorienting, like seeing movement out of the corner of his eye, and it broke his usual focus with useless thoughts of what could be.
With new eyes, Blacknail studied his creation. Before his fight with the raiders, he had simply seen the encampment as a collection of tools for his use. Everything had a simple purpose. To fight Werrick, he needed an army, which meant he needed humans. However, humans were scatter-brained and reluctant to work for him, so he needed other hobgoblins to help him keep control. The settlement below him had simply been a place for him to gather up hobgoblin minions and train them in pursuit of his vengeance against the Wolf, but now he saw more of its… looming potential.
The goblin encampment was more than a sum of its parts and it had taken on a life of its own. What happened here would ripple out and affect all of the North. Blacknail snarled and scratched his nose. It was a bother, but he was going to have to make sure his actions here didn’t end up causing too much destruction and chaos. Normally, he wouldn’t care, but he knew that Saeter wouldn’t have approved of such things. Blacknail’s master had loved the North and the people that lived there, in his own way. He hadn’t shied away from violence but he’d greatly disapproved of the destruction of cities and unnecessary killing. Blacknail even understood why, kind of. Too much killing made people too afraid to make nice and tasty things. Blacknail liked having other people make him tasty things.
The hobgoblin chieftain’s thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Gob. He stepped out of the bushes and walked over to Blacknail’s side. “What do you command, great warchief?”
Blacknail’s eyes narrowed and he turned to stare at the forest behind him. “Now we deal with what is left of the intruders. They cannot be allowed to return to the lands of men.”
Gob smiled and licked his lips. “We will hunt them through the trees?”
“Yes, gather up all the hobgoblins you can. It will take many days for the humans to escape the Green. We will stalk them until they grow weary and break. Not a single man will live to tell others of us.”
“Your words shall be done,” Gob replied with obvious excitement before bowing and hurrying back down to fulfill his orders.
When he was gone, Blacknail snorted and shook his head to clear all the clutter. He was doing way too much thinking. It was annoying and actually a bit painful, so he was going to stop and have fun instead.
The hobgoblin chieftain smiled and turned to address the hobgoblin guards that were standing behind him. “Let’s go hunt and kill a bunch of people. They might have things we want.”
The simple life was the best. Soon, Blacknail would make his move South, and the minor scuffle at Shelter would be nothing compared to the terror he would unleash upon the Wolf and his unsuspecting servants. They had no idea what was coming for them, no one did. Soon, blood would pay for blood, and Saeter would be avenged. He would make Herad proud.
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