Now that all of her minions were solidly behind her, Herad started organizing them. Her short black hair fell over her forehead, as she leaned forward over the table in front of her sofa and gave out her orders.
“Corveyn, you’re in charge of defenses. I want work parties organized and this place fortified as much as possible. If you need funds then you’ll have them,” she said.
“Not a problem. I already have a few surprises in mind for our guests when they arrive,” a man who Blacknail assumed was Corveyn replied.
He was one of the men who had joined the tribe after they’d arrived in Daggerpoint. All these new hires were beneath Blacknail’s notice, unless they had something he wanted, so he hadn’t bothered to learn their names. He was Herad’s favorite after all, and they were just rookies.
“Saeter, I want you to get in touch with some of your old contacts. See if you can recruit a few more good men, or at least convince as many as possible not to join up with Zelena when she starts spreading that coin of hers around. They can’t spend it if they’re dead,” the chieftain told Blacknail’s master.
Saeter nodded calmly in acknowledgment, and Blacknail stepped out from where he’d been hiding behind him. The hobgoblin then smiled hopefully at his mistress. He wanted a job too!
However, Herad didn’t even glance his way as she issued orders to the other bandits. Blacknail pouted sulkily as he gazed Herad’s way. Why hadn’t she given him a job? He was far more useful than most of these lazy humans. Surely, there was someone who needed killing, or maybe some pies that needed stealing?
Herad happened to glance back his way, and she noticed his demeanor. The bandit chieftain rolled her eyes disdainfully, but then gave him a wicked grin. The hobgoblin returned her smile hopefully.
“Don’t worry, Blacknail. I’m sure an opportunity will present itself and I’ll find someone for you to hunt. It might even be someone in this room if they disappoint me enough,” she chuckled darkly and loudly enough that everyone in the room undoubtedly heard her.
Muted muttering broke out between the bandits as several people looked Blacknail’s way, and the hobgoblin heard his master grunt in disapproval. He wasn’t sure why Saeter wasn’t pleased, though. Blacknail was glad that Herad trusted him to hunt her enemies for her, and he enjoyed the fearful looks he was getting.
The new members were barely part of the tribe anyway. None of them had been around nearly as long as him! He’d joined the tribe a whole um… lots of months ago! That was practically forever.
In a tribe it was natural for the weak to fear the strong, and for them to be kept in their place. Everyone was certainly very afraid of Herad!
The fact that the chieftain had mentioned Blacknail personally obviously meant she considered him to be only one step below herself in position and toughness. Maybe his master was jealous?
“Alright, that’s enough gabbing from you lot; it’s time to get to work. Get on out of here,” Herad announced loudly.
Her voice cut through the commotion around her, and everyone else instantly grew silent and jumped to obey her. Soon, all of the bandits were walking through the doors and exiting the room. .
Saeter let most of the other bandits leave, and get out of the way, before heading out himself. Blacknail followed him closely, and as soon as they were alone in the hallway Saeter turned to him.
“Listen Blacknail, you shouldn’t be happy about being picked out like that by Herad,” the old scout told the hobgoblin seriously.
Blacknail frowned at his master’s comment. He didn’t understand why Saeter was upset.
“It means she trusts me, and that I’m dangerous!” the hobgoblin bragged cheerfully.
“Maybe, but it will also make your own comrades afraid of you,” the grey haired scout replied.
“They should be afraid of me; I’m much faster and smarter-ss than them. None of them could challenge me,” Blacknail pointed out arrogantly.
“That’s not the point, Blacknail. Herad’s words were meant to set you against the rest of the tribe. If they’re too afraid of you then they will see you as a threat, and then they won’t have your back later, or they might even try to take you out,” Saeter explained.
The hobgoblin gave his master a confused look. Wouldn’t most of them do that anyway?
“Obviously, I’m stronger than them so I don’t-ss need their help, and they won’t dare attack if they’re afraid of me,” he replied as if he was stating the obvious.
“And if they gang up against you, or simply leave you to die somewhere?” Saeter asked.
Blacknail squinted and scratched his long green nose, as he considered that idea. He didn’t like it. Humans sure were a sneaky race. How was a poor hobgoblin supposed to keep himself safe?
“What do you think I should do?” he asked his master reluctantly.
“You need to show them you’re more than just a killer, and that they’re your comrades and friends,” the old scout replied.
“So I need to outsmart and trick-ss them…” Blacknail mused aloud. “That should be easy; I’m a great actor!”
Saeter sighed in resignation, and gave the hobgoblin an annoyed look.
“Sure, whatever works,” he told Blacknail as he shook his head.
“You sure are tricky, master!” Blacknail replied happily.
“Go get your mask and gear, Blacknail. I may as well get started on recruiting for Herad right away, and that means you’ll be coming with me,” Saeter told him irritably, as they moved.
“Where are we going?” the hobgoblin asked curiously.
“We’re going to a bar. There’s some people there I should talk to,” Saeter replied.
“Why?” the hobgoblin asked.
“I need a drink; talking to you has given me a headache. Also, I used to move between the smaller bands a bit before I joined up with Herad, so I know some of the people. The kind of coin Zelena has will seem awfully tempting to them, but most should listen to reason,” Saeter explained.
“Bah, why is Herad worried about a few tribeless humans? She should just kill them all, if they’re going to become our enemies,” Blacknail suggested.
“That’s a bloody stupid idea! Try to actually use that skinny green head of yours, Blacknail. Fighting them would just hurt us, and we’re trying to recruit some of them, remember?” Saeter replied heatedly.
“Oh, you’re right-ss, sorry master,” Blacknail responded. “So first we recruit, and then-ss we make the new members fight the others for-ss us. If they die we don’t even have to give them shinnies!”
Saeter turned around and swatted the hobgoblin atop his head. Blacknail hadn’t been expecting it, so he didn’t manage to dodge the blow in time.
“Ouch,” he whined, as he took a step back and rubbed his now sore ear.
Saeter glared at him furiously, and Blacknail wilted under his gaze. What had he said wrong? He’d thought that was a great idea…
“We’re trying to avoid making more enemies, Blacknail. Daggerpoint is a pretty immoral place, but even here bloody killing sprees in the streets are frowned upon,” Saeter explained.
“Why would anyone-ss care what we do to our enemies?” the hobgoblin asked with honest curiosity.
Saeter sighed in frustration and gave the hobgoblin a brooding look. Blacknail met his gaze with a confused expression. It seemed like his master was thinking deeply about something unpleasant. He hoped he wasn’t about to be smacked again…
“You can’t just go around killing everyone, even in the North” Saeter explained a few seconds later. “This piss poor excuse for a city is still a city, and it needs to stay at least somewhat civilized. If everyone just started killing everyone else then Daggerpoint would fall apart. No one would be able to buy food, clothes, or build shelter. Soon after that almost everyone would be dead or have left.”
“But the strongest would-ss hold the territory; it would all be his,” Blacknail countered.
“So what? It’s the people that make the city valuable,” Saeter replied. “It’s not like the wilds, were you can make most things for yourself. In a city you need lots of people to buy, sell, and make things. An empty city is worth less than a mud pit.”
The hobgoblin tried to wrap his head around that. It sort of made sense to him, maybe.
“So, if I were to kill-ss the maker of tasty pastries then he couldn’t make any more-ss of them, and if I were to start killing too many people he might-ss run away,” the hobgoblin muttered thoughtfully.
Saeter rolled his eyes.
“Kind of; it’s a bit more complicated than that, though. If you scare away or kill too many other people then who will buy his goods? If there’s no one to sell pastries to then he’ll leave. The city is sort of like… an animal. It can take a few cuts and scrapes, but if you wound it too deeply or hit the wrong spot then it will die,” Saeter told him.
Blacknail nodded at his master’s words. He could picture that. All the people in a city were kind of like the different squishy bits inside a rabbit, they were even the right color.
The hobgoblin frowned as another thought occurred to him. Were there green bits inside animals? He then shook his head to clear his thoughts. He should probably concentrate on Saeter’s words; he could always search through the insides of a rabbit later.
“I think-ss I understand, master, but I still think there must be a less boring way-ss to do this,” Blacknail told the old scout.
“If you can come up with one then knock yourself out,” Saeter replied condescendingly.
Blacknail was a smart hobgoblin, so he knew his master didn’t want him to actually bash himself across the head. His words were just a weird way humans gave people permission, or so Khita had explained when Blacknail had woken up after the first time Saeter had used that expression.
“So, we can’t do anything too scary… I know! They’re weak and alone without a tribe, so I’ll come back at night and kill them from the shadow where no one can see,” Blacknail announced proudly.
Saeter eyed him critically.
“I’m not sure you understand how many of them there are. We’re talking about a good part of the people in the city. Even you couldn’t pull that off, and some of them are very skilled. I used to be one, remember,” he told the hobgoblin.
“How about just their leaders then, so the others will flee in terror?” Blacknail mused thoughtfully.
“Sure, that sounds fine,” Saeter replied.
“Really?” Blacknail asked hopefully.
“No, that’s a bloody stupid idea! There’s still far too many of them for that to work,” Saeter answered scathingly.
“Fine whatever, you said they all live in their own part of the city?” Blacknail asked sulkily.
There had to be some way to solve this problem that wasn’t as boring as talking. It wasn’t like humans were usually all that hard to murder.
“Well, they can hardly live in an area controlled by a gang leader, and the Governor’s territory is too expensive for them,” Saeter replied.
“Ha, it’s simple then. We’ll just burn all their homes down in the middle of the night, and kill them as they flee before us,” Blacknail suggested gleefully.
“Creepily enough, that might actually work. We’re not going to do it, though. That would definitely count as too much damage to the city, and every time you kill someone you might be making someone else your enemy.” Saeter told him.
“…but the flames would be so pretty,” Blacknail muttered to himself.
This was very complicated. He supposed his master had a point though. Killing that one woman who had been with Galive had made Luphera angry. There were just so many humans shoved into Daggerpoint that he supposed they all knew each other or something.
“So if we can’t kill people then what do we do?” he whined.
“I already told you. I’m going to go talk to some people, and you’re going to follow me,” his master replied.
“That doesn’t sound very fun,” Blacknail commented darkly.
In fact, it sounded very boring, and over the last few days the hobgoblin had slowly come to realize that talking wasn’t one of his strong points.
“Not everything is supposed to be fun; think of this as a chore if you want. Personally, I think sharing a few drinks with some old acquaintances sounds bloody great right now, so get moving, and stop asking me these damned annoying questions,” Saeter crankily replied.
Blacknail grumbled to himself but quickly headed over to his room to get dressed. A few minutes later he rejoined his master and together they left their band’s base and headed out into the city.
Saeter led Blacknail towards their destination. It was only just after noon, so Daggerpoint was busy and the streets were full of its myriad colorful inhabitants.
Merchants hawked their wares from stalls or store fronts. The more successful ones had bodyguards at their sides, to prevent theft or other problems. The others simply glared suspiciously at everyone that approached, and kept one hand on a weapon.
Small groups of thugs, and what passed for normal citizens, were also walking around. It could have been a scene from any other city, except everyone’s clothes were rough and practical looking, and almost everyone was visibly armed. Knives and swords appeared to be the weapons of choice, but several people had clubs, and one man was even walking around with a spiked mace in his hand.
The hobgoblin and Saeter weaved their way through the crowds while keeping their distance from most of the other people. The only interruption was when Saeter had to stop and drag an errant Blacknail away from where he was attempting to purchase an unidentifiable piece of meat on a stick, using money he had somehow acquired from another man’s pocket after bumping into him.
Saeter then took them off the main roads and through the less travelled alleys and narrower residential streets. They were about to walk around a tight corner when Blacknail realized they were surrounded, and about to be ambushed. They’d walked right into a trap.
The hobgoblin’s ears went flat against his head, as he hissed a loud warning to his master. Saeter flinched and dropped his hand towards his sword hilt. Before he could draw his weapon though, several figures burst out hiding and rushed towards the pair, several very small figures.
The street children ran over and quickly surrounded the two bandits. They kept their distance though, and stayed out of attack range. Their clothes were ragged and filthy. Blacknail could see their ugly pink skin through the holes in it.
“Please sir, do you have any coins to spare? My sister is sick and I can’t afford food for us both,” a taller male begged with wide desperate eyes.
“My parents beat me unless I bring home enough coins, please help me,” a smaller girl whined.
“I don’t have any parents, they were killed by a gang of thieves,” a third said, in a clear attempt to upstage the others.
Saeter sighed and began to pull out his coin pouch, but he wasn’t as fast as Blacknail. The hobgoblin had also reached into a pouch, but he pulled out a handful of small stones, and then hurled them towards several of the children.
The youngsters saw the projectiles coming and quickly scrambled out of the way. The stones bounced off their turned backs and raised arms, or flew harmlessly past. Blacknail then hissed and charged them. He reached for the closest annoying little thing’s neck, but was stopped by a swift tug on the back of his cloak.
The children took this opportunity to make a break for it. They gasped, shrieked, and fled from Blacknail’s masked form as fast as their little legs could take them.
“What in all the hells do you think you’re doing?” Saeter swore angrily at Blacknail, as he held his cloak.
“Chasing away-ss the little thieves! If you let the small ones close they’ll take-ss your stuff,” Blacknail replied wearily. His master seemed really angry.
“They’re street children, you shouldn’t attack them! They might be annoying, but if you give them a few coins they’ll leave,” Saeter explained scathingly, as he glared furiously at Blacknail.
“But-ss, if I just chase them away then I don’t need-ss to give them any of my shiny coins,” Blacknail pointed out reproachfully. That was just common sense.
“Listen carefully, Blacknail. I know you don’t understand morality, but by the gods you’re going to understand this. You don’t need your coins as much as those children do. You don’t even spend most of them; you just hoard them!” Saeter growled angrily.
“I don’t understand,” a startled hobgoblin replied with wide eyed confusion.
“It’s called charity, Blacknail. You give some coins to others who need them more than you. Those children will starve or freeze in the winter without the money they get from begging, if they aren’t murdered by a random thug,” the old scout explained.
“They look fat-ss and healthy to me,” Blacknail countered defensively.
“That’s because you’re a stupid hobgoblin. Humans aren’t supposed to be dressed in rags and that thin” Saeter told him.
“But, there’s food everywhere-ss here. You humans pile it in the street. Look right-ss over there, there’s a cat! A morsel-ss like that is a tasty feast for a little goblin or person, and they’re not that hard to catch,” Blacknail pointed out.
“Humans don’t eat that stuff,” Saeter explained irritably.
“Why wouldn’t they, if they’re hungry? They’re just spoiled by human food,” the hobgoblin replied dismissively, as he glanced in the direction most of the children had run.
“They’d get sick, Blacknail! Human children aren’t goblins. They can’t eat garbage and hunt cats through the streets!” Saeter exclaimed.
“They could if you gave them slings, they’re not that slow and weak,” Blacknail replied.
Saeter sighed in defeat, and then gave Blacknail a hard intense look.
“Forget it, Blacknail. Just don’t hit any more children, ever. If you do then I’ll give you the worst beating of your life, and then get Khita to nurse you back to health,” Saeter told the hobgoblin.
“Fine, but I’m not giving them shinnies… I mean coins,” Blacknail replied darkly, before shuddering at the thought of being stuck defenseless with Khita for days. His master was a very scary human.
Saeter just grunted and continued walking down the now empty alley. Blacknail cast another suspicious glance back towards the way most of the small humans had fled, before hurrying after his master.
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