Blacknail jumped backwards as the mounted knight’s blade sliced towards him. It cut through the edge of his hood but didn’t draw blood. A second later, he landed lightly on another timber atop the now depleted pile.
His landing wasn’t perfect, though. The hobgoblin let out a surprised grunt as his back hit that of another bandit. The man shrieked in alarm as he was sent sprawling down to the ground. The unlucky bandit was then promptly trampled to death by the attacking knights’ horses.
Blacknail winced at the sight. Oops, it was getting kind of crowded up here…
More and more of Herad’s men were retreating up what was left of the stack of logs. They were being pushed ever closer together by the circling ring of riders, and there wasn’t room for all of them.
As Blacknail watched, the bandits around the edges of the pile were cut down one by one. Meanwhile, the knights worked their way inwards. Their bloody blades flashed in the sun.
The hobgoblin struggled to keep his balance and his guard up, but someone knocked into him from the side. He hissed in frustration as he barely managed to duck under another swing of a knight’s sword.
The man behind him wasn’t fast enough. The blade tore into his chest and he toppled from the lumber pile.
Beneath his feet, Blacknail spotted a gap between a pair of logs. He let the people around him worry about the knights for a second as he kept his head down and examined it.
It was too small for most humans, but they were all fat anyway. Blacknail on the other hand was healthy and thin. If he squeezed through there it looked like he could work his way deeper into the pile and hide.
Blood splattered down on the hobgoblin so he glanced up. A knight had eviscerated the man standing to his left.
“Time-ss to hide!” Blacknail exclaimed as he turned back to the gap.
Yep, going down there seemed like the best idea. It would even free up some room at the top of the pile for his tribemates, so it would be doing them a favor. For his fellow bandits, the hobgoblin dropped down and hurriedly started squeezing into the gap below him.
Halfway down, the sound of familiar mad laughter caused him to hesitate. Through the press of bodies around him, Blacknail looked up to see Herad leap off a charging horse and land behind a startled knight.
As the knight’s horse bucked and the man flailed in surprise, the grinning chieftain grabbed him around the waist with one hand and stabbed a long knife into his neck with the other. The blade slipped through a gap in his armor and sunk deep into his flesh.
Still laughing, Herad tossed the rider’s corpse aside and seized the horse’s reins. As she steadied herself, her mounted bodyguards slammed into the knights’ rear. Behind them came the rest of the forces Herad had been keeping in reserve.
“Charge the bastards and pin them down, follow me!” Herad roared as she led the counter attack.
The knights were now badly outnumbered. Several of them fell or were pulled from their horses by the attacking throng. They quickly rallied though, and began to cut their way free from the bandits. They had been caught off guard but they were still masters of the battlefield.
The hobgoblin found himself with his hip awkwardly jammed in between two logs as the bandits around him surged downwards to rejoin the fight. Several of them almost kicked him in the head.
One of the bandits was a tall woman. She noticed the hobgoblin and gave him an irritated look.
“What-ss? I slipped,” Blacknail told her defensively as he pulled himself free.
“Bloody hobgoblins,” the obviously unconvinced woman muttered as shook her head and jumped down the pile.
Bah, who cared what she thought anyway! Once free, Blacknail looked around for something to do. For some reason he felt the need to prove himself now. Besides, he kind of wanted to kill a knight. Herad had made it look so fun.
The enemy were no longer scattered around the wood pile. They had quickly formed up into a wedge and were managing to keep most of Herad’s men away.
There were a lot of bandits and pointy weapons between the hobgoblin and the knights now, too many. It would take too much time to push his way through and it would also be stupidly dangerous.
What were his other options, though? Ah, he could copy Herad! Blacknail leaped off the timber pile and into the crowd below him.
He landed on a startled man’s back. Before the bandit could even react the hobgoblin jumped again. This time he reached out and grabbed the back of a nearby knight’s saddle.
His claws sunk into the leather and Blacknail pulled himself up and onto the horse. The hobgoblin’s light body and long strong arms allowed him to move nimbly through the air. The stupid beast bucked and neighed in alarm, which threw its rider off balance.
“What the hells?” the surprised knight exclaimed fearfully as Blacknail took a seat behind him.
Just like Herad, the hobgoblin grabbed the man around the waist and then stabbed him in the neck. He then pushed the human’s heavy but limp body off the mount.
With that done the smiling hobgoblin reached for the reins of the horse. When he got the stinking beast safely away from the fight he was going to slit its throat as well. The knights’ horses counted as enemy combatants as far as he was concerned. He’d seen the evil look in their eyes.
Before he could grab the reins though, the mount beneath the hobgoblin neighed in terror and began to buck madly. Blacknail tried to keep his seat but this was his first time ever riding a horse.
The humans had made it look so easy! Blacknail struggled but was swiftly knocked loose and catapulted off the beast’s back. Damn all horses!
For what seemed like several seconds, the air rushed past the free flying hobgoblin. Then he hit the ground. His back slammed into the earth and the breath was knocked painfully from his lungs.
“Ughh, what?” Blacknail groaned as he sat up.
A wheezing gasp escaped his lungs and tiny bright stars whirled around his vision. Ow, that had really hurt. He should never have trusted a horse, even for a second. They were vicious treacherous beasts. Undoubtedly, they would soon turn on their human masters…
A scream woke Blacknail from his head trauma induced thoughts. Right, he was still in the middle of battle. That was important. The fighting had moved away from him but that didn’t mean he was safe.
The hobgoblin cast a nervous look around as he picked himself off the ground. His clothes had gotten very dusty when he’d fallen so he brushed himself off. Oh well, there would be time after the battle to pick out some new clothes.
What was he supposed to do now? He didn’t really feel like charging back into the fight. He’d already shown all his tribesmen how awesome he was by taking down that knight! He really hoped Herad had been watching, except for during that last bit. He wished no one had seen that part.
Movement flashed in the corner of the hobgoblin’s eye. He quickly looked over to see what it was. He stared at the scene before him for several long confused seconds. Hmmm…
Then he stared for several more. Well, this wasn’t good. A squad of bandits ran in front of him and blocked his view for a second. They didn’t slow or seem to notice anything odd.
Blacknail shook his head to clear it. The vision in front of him didn’t change. He looked around. No one else was paying any attention to what he saw. That was weird and more than little worrying…
Maybe it was a stupid human thing? Perhaps this happened all the time to humans and they didn’t find it weird. No, that was stupid. This thing was far too dangerous to ignore.
Carefully, Blacknail backed up and went to find someone to ask. He heard Red Dog’s voice screaming orders over the other noises of the battlefield, so he headed that way. He found the man at the back of a mob of outlaws that were regrouping.
The hobgoblin walked up behind him and politely tapped him on the shoulder. Red Dog flinched and jumped at the unexpected contact before whirling around.
“Ah, what the bloody hells do you want? Shouldn’t you be busy stabbing people in the back and then eating them or something?” the man asked with obvious aggravation.
“I’m not-ss hungry, and I saw something weird-ss. It could-ss be important,” the hobgoblin explained.
“This is a bloody battlefield! I’m damned busy right now so you’d better not be wasting my time,” Red Dog replied angrily.
“It’s right over-ss there,” Blacknail told him as he pointed towards the oddity.
“Where? I don’t see anything,” Red Dog replied with obvious frustration.
“It’s right-ss there; the giant snake eating that-ss guy!” Blacknail hissed back. Now he was annoyed too. Had Red Dog gone blind?
“What?” Red Dog exclaimed in surprise as he stared in the direction Blacknail had pointed. “There’s no damned giant snake there!”
“Yes, there is! Are you blind?” Blacknail spat back as he waved his hands towards the monster.
The commotion drew the attention of the green scaled creature. It had been leisurely lying next to an empty wagon while it swallowed the remains of a slain bandit whole. Its forked tongue flickered in and out of its mouth as it drew itself up and turned to gaze towards Blacknail and Red Dog. It had noticed them looking in its direction.
Red Dog froze and stared back at it with a confused expression on his face. His mouth kept opening and closing and he was blinking rapidly.
“There’s something there,” he muttered to himself. “Ugh, I’m getting a headache.”
So was Blacknail. He didn’t know what was going on. Even Red Dog didn’t usually act quite this stupid. Also, no one else nearby had noticed the snake either. This called for desperate measures. Something was obviously very wrong here.
The hobgoblin stepped over to the right where it would be easier for him to take cover behind a group of nearby bandits. He then drew his sling and did that which came naturally to him: violence.
He snapped the sling around and sent a stone whirring towards snake’s head.
The projectile slammed into the beast’s forehead with a muted thud and then dropped to the ground. The snake turned towards Blacknail. The scales where it had been hit were undamaged. It narrowed its red slit eyes as it regarded the tiny hobgoblin that had dared to throw a rock at it.
“Ssissiruss” the gigantic snake hissed loudly as it drew itself up until it towered over a dozen feet off the ground. It looked mad.
Blacknail moved to place some meat shields between himself and the monster, but all of a sudden there was a change. He winced as his head began to throb painfully. Ow, it felt like his brain was slowly trying to vibrate out of his ears. Had the snake done something?
He wasn’t the only one affected either. All around the battlefield, the sounds of combat slowed as the wave of mental pressure washed over everyone.
The knights quickly pulled their mounts away from combat and disengaged as they tottered in their saddles. Herad’s men didn’t give chase. They could only grit their teeth and fight to keep standing.
“Well, fuck me. There’s a giant snake right there,” Red Dog groaned as he held his head and stared.
People had begun looking around for the cause of the mental shriek that had come out of nowhere and they quickly found it. The massive emerald serpent looming over the battlefield wasn’t subtle.
“Ssissiruss” the beast hissed again. The sound of its voice was clearly audible to everyone in the now almost silent camp.
One of bandits closest to the beast panicked. He turned to try and run. He didn’t get far.
Like emerald lightning the snake lunged and its maw seized the man. A second later, it tossed him into the air. The man screamed as he tumbled almost straight upwards, but only for a brief moment. The beast twisted around, caught the bandit in its mouth, and then swallowed him whole in one gulp.
The other nearby humans didn’t learn from his mistake. They panicked and began to run as well. As they fled, the monster in their midst began to flail and lash out. Its tail smashed into one particular loud group and scattered them like broken twigs. Its fanged jaws closed on another bandit and then tossed his mutilated body aside.
Blacknail kept absolutely still. He turned to Red Dog and gave him a level gaze.
“Can you see the snake now?” he asked.
“I can see it, you green ass,” the man groaned as he messaged his furrowed brow.
“Then do something,” the hobgoblin told him.
“What, why me? You bloody do something!” Red Dog growled back.
All through the camp, Herad’s minions and the attacking knights had ceased fighting. Everyone was either fleeing from the creature or regrouping. Both sides occasionally threw each other hateful glances but they made no move to resume combat.
“I did-ss do something, I’m helpful like that,” Blacknail told Red Dog matter of factly. “I hit-ss it with a rock and now you can see it. You can thank-ss me later. Now it’s your turn to do something.”
“Ugh damnation, my head feels like a smith’s anvil,” Red Dog complained. “Helpful my ass, this is probably all somehow your fault. You bring this company nothing but trouble!”
Blacknail watched the beast crush a pair of men under its bulk. He thought back to the creepy feeling that had bugged him as he’d walked back from finding the cave. Oh, the cave…
“This isn’t-ss my fault. It’s probably yours,” the hobgoblin replied defensively.
Both he and Red Dog kept a watchful eye on the rampaging monster. For now it seemed to be heading away from them.
“Why would it by my fault?” Red Dog remarked as his face grew flush with anger.
“Because you-ss smell funny all the time, that’s why,” Blacknail accused him.
“I don’t smell funny!” the bandit exclaimed furiously.
“How would you even know? You have a useless human nose!” the hobgoblin countered.
Before either of them could say anything else they were startled by shouting from off to one side. Blacknail looked over to see that most of the knights had regrouped into one large formation well away from any of the bandits.
“Now you face your doom, you base born scum,” sir Devos yelled from the front of the group of knights. “You have abandoned your loyalty to your good lords and turned against your fellow men. The gods have seen your evil ways and sent this terror to aid us in our quest to wipe you from the face of the earth. Once it is done feasting on your corpses we will ride the last of you down like dogs.”
“What an asshole, I hope someone guts him like a fish” Red Dog remarked as he studied the knight.
Blacknail nodded in agreement. That sounded like fun.
Suddenly, another voice rose to challenge the young knight commander’s. It was sir Masnin. His steel war helm once again concealed his face and he had somehow reacquired his sword. It hung from the scabbard at his side.
“Cease this foolishness, sir Devos,” the paladin roared. “This battle is nothing but an extension of your arrogance and all the lives lost here shall weigh down your soul. Now you even speak of turning the rampage of a foul mutant to your own advantage! Where is your honor?”
“You are the fool here, sir Masnin,” the other knight replied “Why do you turn your blade from these criminals? They are honourless thieves and killers who prey upon the weak. The lands of men will be a better place once I have killed them all. Certainly, there will be fewer widows weeping for honest men.”
“Be that as it may, it is not my duty to slay men and women. I am charged by holy writ to pursue the forces of darkness wherever they may be found and to take no side in the struggles of men while I work. You were seconded to me and that means you swore to do the same while at my side” the paladin countered.
“This is not politics and these are not some foreigners with which we are in dispute. They are nothing but rabble to be crushed!” sir Devos exclaimed angrily.
“That is not your decision to make, it is mine. Now my duty is clear. Darkness has once again risen before me and I must test my blade against its serpent. You should remember your oaths and aid me,” the paladin announced as he let his gaze slide over the knights.
His stare was harsh enough that several of the riders flinched but none broke rank and came to his side. With a regretful sigh the paladin turned from his former companions and faced the rampaging serpent.
That was when Mahedium and Herad stepped out from a nearby crowd. The mage aimed his staff, and before any of the knights could react a furious explosion tore through their formation.
It incinerated sir Devos first, he died instantly, and then its flames reached out and tore into the men around him. A dozen knights staggered and fell as their mounts screamed inhumanly high. Blacknail smiled as the scent of roasted horse flesh reached his nostrils.
“It was nice of him to line them all up like that,” Herad remarked as she walked forward with a small group of spearmen at her side.
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!