There was ragged cheering from Herad’s band as Zelena’s forces fled for their lives. The shouts of dozens of tired but joyful men and women rose into the air as they celebrated their victory. Everyone still standing was glad just to have survived the long day of fighting.
With the battle now over, the anger and the energy that had come with it quickly started to drain from Blacknail’s body. Suddenly, he could feel all his injuries again and if anything they hurt more than before!
The hobgoblin couldn’t rest just yet, though. He immediately began limping around in search of his master. Blacknail needed to know if he was okay, and not dead or anything.
What was he going to do if Saeter was hurt? His chest felt unpleasantly hollow just thinking about it, and so did his stomach. His master was the one that fed him most the time!
It didn’t take long for Blacknail to find Saeter. The hobgoblin winced when he saw his master lying up against the side of a building.
Immediately, Blacknail ran over to his side and poked him in the arm.
“Are you-ss alive? It’s not-ss my fault if you died,” he asked as he crouched over his master.
Saeter coughed, opened his eyes, and glared angrily at the hobgoblin.
“I’m fine, stop poking me you overgrown goblin!” the old scout growled weakly.
“You don’t look or sound fine,” Blacknail replied in an unconvinced tone as he tilted his head to the side.
Now that he was closer the hobgoblin noticed that someone had wrapped some bandages around his master’s chest and left arm.
“Bah, I’m just taking a brief rest. I’m not so weak that a blow like that could do me in. I’m just out of shape is all. Now leave me alone,” Saeter said as he closed his eyes again.
Blacknail sighed in relief as he stood back up. Well, his master was apparently going to live, so that was good.
The curious hobgoblin decided to ask around and find out what exactly had happened while he’d been fighting. A few minutes later he got his answer.
Apparently, the blow from the now very dead thug had merely stunned Saeter, and when Blacknail had charged in one of his nearby tribesmen had taken the opportunity to drag the old scout back away from the front lines.
The rescuer was a young blonde man. He was one of the new recruits that Herad had hired in Daggerpoint.
Blacknail walked over to him. The young man paled slightly as he warily watched the bloodstained hobgoblin approach. Blacknail smiled reassuringly but that didn’t seem to help for some reason.
“What’s your name-ss?”Blacknail asked him.
“Eylias,” the man stuttered in reply.
Obviously, he was awestruck being around an amazing bandit such as Blacknail. The hobgoblin wasn’t surprised, he was really amazing.
The hobgoblin stepped up in front of Eylias and looked him over carefully. The blonde bandit froze and his eyes widened in utter amazement. Blacknail thought he looked smarter than the average human, although that wasn’t saying much.
With snake-like speed Blacknail leaned forward and wrapped the man in a huge hug. Elyais’ panicked attempts to escape were futile.
“Thank you for saving Saeter! I like you,” the hobgoblin exclaimed happily.
“You’re very welcome!” the man squeaked in alarm as Blacknail squeezed his ribs together.
“You can be my minion. I’ll show you how to make rope and kill people you don’t like,” the hobgoblin announced cheerfully.
All the important bandits had subordinates, so why shouldn’t Blacknail? He was pretty much the second or third most important bandit in the entire band!
“I don’t think…” Eylias gasped.
“Most humans-ss don’t. It doesn’t matter; you just have-ss to do what I say,” Blacknail explained as he let the man go.
Eylias stumbled unsteadily as the hobgoblin stepped back.
“I mean… I’m already part of Richter’s crew so I can’t be in yours,” the man quickly said after sucking down a long breath.
“I’ll just ask-ss Herad to fix that. Then we can go out-ss into the woods!” Blacknail replied.
“The woods?” the man asked with dawning horror.
“Sure, you need-ss to learn to hunt, and knowing how-ss not to get eaten or torn apart is important too,” the hobgoblin told him.
“No thanks, I don’t really want to learn that stuff,” Eylias quickly blurted out.
Blacknail just shook his head and sighed; he had expected this reaction. Humans were really lazy after all, so they needed motivation.
“Don’t worry! You just have-ss to do as I say, and then nothing bad will happen to you,” Blacknail said with a dark look and a meaningful nudge.
For added emphasis he then made a few stabbing motions with his hand. You could never explain things to clearly too humans.
“I see,” the young bandit replied a few seconds later.
He sounded more than a little shocked and overwhelmed. The right side of his face also seemed to be twitching slightly. Well, it wasn’t every day that a nameless disposable grunt like him managed to get such a great new position in the tribe!
Off in the distance, the sound of Herad yelling could still be heard. Even though the battle was over there was still tons of work to be done. Men were rushing around to help the wounded, load all the corpses and body parts on wagons, loot the fallen, and finish off wounded enemies.
The hobgoblin wanted to join in the fun but he was too tired and sore. He didn’t have the energy left to wander around the battlefield and look for loot to take home.
Oh well, most of his tribesmen would undoubtedly grow tired of their prizes and leave them lying around somewhere Blacknail could pick them up anyway. Most the things the hobgoblin wanted ended up in his possession one way or another. He just had to keep an eye open for all the despicable thieves…
Just then a pair of men arrived with a stretcher. Blacknail watched with interest as they loaded his master up and began to carry him back to base. That stretcher sure looked comfy and Blacknail was really sore from all the fighting.
A few dozen feet away another man was carrying a stretcher and looking for wounded to carry. Blacknail decided to help him. With a cheerful smile on his face he grabbed Eylias and dragged him over to the porter.
“I want to ride-ss on this. Carry me back to base,” he told the man with the stretcher.
“It’s um… only for wounded people,” the porter replied uncertainly.
“I’m very wounded. I can barely walk-ss and I feel like I’m going to fall over. Now carry me-ss back to base or my new minion Eylais will show you-ss how wounded I am, by hurting you the same way,” the hobgoblin replied threateningly with narrowed eyes.
The porter gave Elyais a confused look. The young blond just stared back with a bewildered look on his face.
Blacknail drew his knife and started to pick his nails clean with it in a very conspicuous manner while he stared intently at Eylias. He got the message.
“Right, you’d better do as he says,” the young bandit reluctantly said.
The porter looked between Eylias and Blacknail before shrugging and setting stretcher down on the ground. The hobgoblin then cheerfully jumped on and the two men started carrying him down the road. It was just as comfy as Blacknail thought it would be. He laid back and enjoyed the ride. He should travel everywhere like this.
However, they didn’t get very far before their trek was interrupted. Blacknail heard the sound of familiar light footsteps approaching and he opened his eyes to see Herad headed his way.
At first she gazed towards Saeter’s prone form and scowled in dissatisfaction, but then she turned towards Blacknail. Her eyebrows rose slightly in surprised amusement as she took in the sight the hobgoblin sprawled over the stretcher being carried by the two men.
“Ah, there’s my favorite hobgoblin. I heard that you’d walked back here on your own without any obvious injuries, but the sentries clearly must have not been paying enough attention. You’re obviously wounded so I’ll have to punish them later,” she told him.
Blacknail grinned uncertainly as he stifled a lazy yawn. The two men carrying him froze at their boss’ attention. The hobgoblin noticed that his chieftain looked unusually… happy. It made him uncomfortable, like being in the calm center of a storm. Apparently, all it took to put her in a good mood was the deaths of hundreds of her enemies.
“Yes, I’m very wounded; it hurts-ss everywhere. Bad sentries, they’re terrible at their jobs. Ow, the pain-ss,” he whined dramatically as he collapsed back onto the stretcher.
“I see. Well, since you’re obviously not too wounded to talk I need a report on what you’ve been up to. I gave a mission,” she told him with a trace of her usual sternness.
The hobgoblin quickly began telling his boss all about his plan to take out the assassins and how it had worked perfectly! He grinned and made suggestive hand gestures as he recounted the daring escapes and close fights that had taken place as he’d dealt with Malthus and the other two dozen assassins with him.
“…but now I’m so wounded. Ow, the pain-ss is everywhere inside of me,” Blacknail finished melodramatically.
The bandit chieftain rolled her eyes and a small grin appeared on her lips as the hobgoblin spoke. When he was finished she shook her head in disbelief.
“Since you’re so wounded I guess you won’t be able to get you reward for a while,” Herad remarked.
Visions of blue cheese and meat pies flashed through Blacknail’s head, and his stomach grumbled loudly in response.
“I can still eat!” Blacknail exclaimed quickly as he sat back up.
“Somehow I thought that might be the case,” Herad remarked dryly as she started to walk away.
After a second she seemed to hesitate and then spoke up again without looking back.
“Oh, and Blacknail… good job pulling Saeter’s ass out of the fire,” she told him before leaving.
When she was gone Blacknail relaxed and collapsed back down onto the stretcher in relief.
“What-ss are you two waiting for? Get moving!” he growled at the porters.
After returning to base and getting his own injuries patched up Blacknail curled up on his big comfy bed and took a nap. When he heard the sound of someone trying to wake him up he did his best to ignore it. Unfortunately, that proved difficult and he soon had to roll over and open his eyes so that he could glare at Khita.
“Wake up, Blacknail. You’ve already slept for over a day and Herad wants you,” the young woman said as she reached over to shake the hobgoblin.
“Touch me and I’ll bite you,” Blacknail hissed as he rolled away from her.
“She wants you to follow her to a meeting with the other chiefs in Daggerpoint,” Khita explained.
Blacknail grunted vaguely in reply but didn’t move. That sounded really boring. He was in no hurry to get off his wonderful bed and out from under his soft sheets.
“She wants you there to scare everyone and intimidate them,” Khita added.
The hobgoblin’s eyes opened again as he thought her words over. That actually did sound like fun. He could practice making scary faces. With a deep sigh, Blacknail sat up and looked back at Khita.
“Fine, I’m getting up. Go away,” he grunted.
“Hurry up; you don’t want to keep Herad waiting,” Khita replied as she walked out the door.
A few minutes later Blacknail was dressed in his usual clothes but without his mask. He was fairly sure he wouldn’t need it and it was still in the bush where he’d thrown it anyway.
He then dragged himself out of his room and joined Herad and her hulking bodyguards at the main entrance to the base. Herad was dressed in a fancier version of her usual black leathers and the shadows under her eyes seemed darker as well, but she smirked when the hobgoblin arrived.
Either the effects of winning the battle had yet to wear off or she was really looking forward to this meeting because she was still looking unusually cheerful. She wasn’t even glowering at anyone and it didn’t look like she was about to kill anyone at all!
With Blacknail in tow the two dozen bandits headed out towards the central district. They passed by the guards that stood watch over the border without incident and entered the better part of the city. After a brief walk past increasingly better maintained and larger homes they arrived at the mansion at the center of the city.
More sentries like those that guarded the central district stood outside of it, but Herad ignored them. She strolled right past them and they quickly shuffled out of her way without comment. A few of them noticed Blacknail and scowled, but the hobgoblin just threw them a toothy smile and they didn’t say anything.
As they approached, the doors to the mansion were thrown open and they marched inside. The room on the other side impressed Blacknail. It was the fanciest room he had ever seen. It was much fancier than even Luphera’s or Avorlus’ homes.
The walls were smooth pearly white plaster and long wispy white curtains framed the large glass windows. Intricate silver chandeliers hang from the roof to provide lighting. Even the tables and chairs looked like pieces of delicately crafted art.
“Greetings, mistress Herad. If you would please follow me I will take you to the conference room,” a sharply dressed servant explained with a bow.
Herad nodded in reply and the man immediately led them through a side door and into a short hallway. He then pulled open another door and motioned them inside.
The room on the other side of the door was dominated by a large round table. A dozen men and women were seated around it while a few dozen more stood around the edges of the room. Herad motioned for her minions to take up position along the wall behind her as she swaggered over to a chair and sat down at the table.
Once again, Blacknail drew a lot of attention and no one seemed happy to see him. The hobgoblin ignored them. He was busy trying to find somewhere to sit down.
Whoever had set up this room had been very inconsiderate in not including chairs for everyone, so Blacknail had to do a bit of problem solving. There was a small stand up against the wall and the hobgoblin simply took all the junk on top of it and placed it on the floor before sitting down. During the process a few of the decorations, including a silver candleholder, may have somehow inexplicably ended up in his pockets.
“Ahem, now that everyone is here let’s get this meeting started. As you all know several important and unusual events have recently taken place in this city,” a well dressed older man with a grey goatee announced.
“That’s a bloody understatement, Governor,” one of the rougher looking men at the table replied as he threw Herad an annoyed look.
“It’s a small miracle that most the city’s still standing. Some people have a lot to answer for,” someone else added.
“Ha, who are you referring to, Raelan?” Herad replied with a scornful chuckle. “I was simply defending myself, and I wasn’t the one that brought a mercenary company into the city with the intention of conquering it. Also, anytime you want me to answer for something you can feel free to challenge me to a duel. I’ll gladly accept that or a larger fight. With Zelena gone and Fang dead I have the largest force in the city.”
“Indeed, we are not here to reprimand anyone. While I have no say in what you do amongst yourselves in the outer parts of the city I myself don’t consider Herad to have broken any of the rules we agreed to when I invited all of you into the city. However, Zelena’s actions require some… discussion,” the Governor interjected.
“What do you mean by discussion?” another chieftain asked.
“I mean that I’m hoping we can agree to some clarifications about the rules. In particular, I’m talking about Zelena’s use of mercenaries. There is presently no rule against hiring such forces but I think we can all agree that in light of recent developments it’s unacceptable,” the older man explained.
“I have no problem with that. While everyone is here I’d also like to remind them that most of my band is operating down south right now, and that anyone else who enters my territory will be handled without mercy,” Herad added.
“And what about Herad’s new pet there? That thing should be put down. It certainly shouldn’t be roaming the city, let alone allowed in this room!” a large ugly looking female chieftain exclaimed.
Blacknail turned and glared at the speaker. He was pretty sure she was talking about him. He wasn’t a pet, though. The woman was obviously not that smart but Blacknail still didn’t like being insulted. Well, Herad had brought him here to be scary so he doubted she would care if he spoke up.
“Like-ss that weak fool Malthus, you insult-ss me. I’ll be seeing you-ss later,” he growled in his most sinister voice as he glared at the woman.
She flinched away from him as he spoke and she wasn’t the only one. Several other people in the room appeared more unnerved by his ability to speak than his looks. Herad just laughed.
“I’d like to see you forbid Blacknail from anywhere or anything. Several people who used to sit around this table learned the hard way that he goes where he wants. Even running would be futile. If you think he’s dangerous in this city you haven’t seen anything yet. He was trained to hunt and track by Saeter himself and he’s a bloody hobgoblin! There’s nothing he enjoys more than hunting people through the forest. I’m sure that if you apologize he’ll forgive you though,” she remarked cruelly.
Blacknail did his best to look threatening. He scowled at the men and women at the table and around the edges of the room. If that didn’t get a reaction he smiled at them and licked his pointy needle–like teeth with his long agile tongue. That seemed to be what disturbed them the most.
The chieftains soon started to argue amongst themselves and eventually even acting scary started to grow boring. The humans just kept talking and talking! Blacknail was just about to get up and wander around the room when the meeting finally came to a close.
After what seemed like hours of arguing the only thing the bandit chieftains had agreed upon was the Governor’s proposal to ban mercenaries. If Herad had to deal with people like this all the time it was no wonder she wanted to kill everyone.
After a brief walk back to their base, Herad was greeted at the entrance by Saeter. Blacknail was glad to see his master up and about. The bandit chieftain dismissed her guards and turned to the old scout as they walked deeper into the building.
“What do you want, Saeter?” she asked him.
“I thought I should inform you of a discovery I made while looking over the loot Zelena left behind when she fled the city,” Saeter explained forebodingly.
Herad frowned at his words and tone of voice.
“I take it that this isn’t the kind of discovery that can be converted to cash?” she remarked wryly.
“Depends on what you mean. One of the things in the storeroom was an oak chest,” he told her.
“I remember it,” Herad replied impatiently.
“Well, I thought it looked familiar so I tried to open it. The good news is that there were several small bags of silver inside. The bad news is that I opened it with this. Blacknail took it from Persus when the man’s caravan visited our camp.” Saeter told her as he held up a familiar golden key.
There was an ominous silence as Herad absorbed the old scout’s words and then her lips tightened into a scowl.
“Maybe they just buy chests from the same locksmith,” Herad replied a second later as she stared menacingly at the key.
Blacknail’s master opened his mouth to say something but Herad cut him off.
“Shut up, I was being sarcastic, Saeter,” she hissed at him.
Saeter closed his mouth and looked grim.
“Demons and damnation, that fucking weasel! Well, at least this explains why Werrick seems to have unlimited funds,” the bandit chieftain exclaimed darkly as she glowered.
Blacknail had no idea what they were talking about or why they were upset. It was just a key. He kind of wanted to ask for his cheese now, but it seemed like a bad time…
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!