The small captive awoke to the rattling of his cage. The sudden noise banished all memory of any dreams he may have been having. Sometime during his sleep, the ropes tying down his cage had become loose and the cage had started bouncing around in the wagon.
The noise hurt his ears. They twitched as he brought up his fingers to try and plug them. It didn’t help much. He wasn’t used to such sounds, especially almost constantly for days.
He really wished he had never awoken. He wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep now.
A hiss of annoyance slipped past his lips as he peered out from under the ragged tarp that failed to properly cover his wooden cage. The tarp was brown and worm-eaten so it didn’t shield him from the harsh light outside. It also smelled terrible, but he was used to worse.
He blinked to try and see past the bright light that blinded him and get a look at the scenery. There were lots of trees.
More trees than he had thought could possibly exist in all the world. He hadn’t seen a lot of trees when he had lived in the city, only a few when he had left the shelter of the tunnels and headed out under the night sky.
His earliest memories were of being taught obedience by his masters and of them sending him down into the dark below places. There, he and his tribe had hunted the depths for rats and been sent to unclog tunnels and pipes. He had gone into tight places too small for men and then come back out for the promise of tasty rewards. Rat meat got old after a while.
Under the cover of darkness, while the masters slept, his tribe had squeezed through old broken bricks and rusted grates to creep around the city. There they had scrounged for food among the refuse, only to slink back as dawn turned night to day.
Excitement came from fighting with his tribesman, dogs, or the occasional unusually large rat. The bigger the rat the better it tasted, but the largest ones were mean fighters with nasty teeth.
Sometimes, they even formed packs so his tribe would have to form a war party! He still remembered the Great War of the One Eyed Rat and the feast that had followed his tribe’s victory! He’d been young then but had played a crucial part; he’d distracted several particularly dangerous rats by running away.
However, one day everything had changed. The masters had summoned his tribe and once he’d arrived they had singled him out. Then, he had been placed into a cage and given water that made him feel drowsy. A second later, he’d fallen on his face and everything had gone black.
A great fiery hand had pulled him from darkness. Shadows had danced around him as he burned and promised him new treats and pleasures beyond anything he had ever known. He hadn’t had a dream like that since he’d eaten that one purple mushroom.
As he slept he had been hauled out into the daylight and placed in a cage on a wagon. Much to his dismay he had groggily woken up just as the cart had rolled through the streets and out the city gates.
Still drowsy from his dream, he had whimpered in fright. He had blinked and tried to shield his stinging eyes from the light as he had cowered in the corner of his cage.
He had remained quiet and obedient though. He knew better than to complain or draw attention to himself, for the masters would silence him swiftly.
Soon, his wagon had joined many others and a horde of men. Together, they had set out from the city and into the never ending green sea of trees.
Were the men moving to a different city, or perhaps they were starting a new one? Would they need him to hunt and clean the dark places below? He didn’t know; he could only sit in his cage and wait.
He’d ended up waiting a really long time! The wagons had rolled over the dirt road sending dusty clouds into the air for what seemed like days beyond count.
Not that he could count very high, of course. Still, it was more days than he had fingers and toes. He supposed he could have simply started the count over again but he had forgotten the number anyway. The point was that he was very bored.
It wouldn’t have been so bad but the wagons were pulled by horses. Their smell and the smell of their shit, which they simply dropped on the road as they walked, was foul and annoying. His shit smelled much better.
Anyway, he hated horses and from his brief experience with them he was pretty sure they hated him right back. They probably tasted horrible as well, so what good were they? He cursed them under his breath when he grew particularly bored, which was practically all the time.
“Ugly horses. Stupid horses. Smelly horses,” he muttered.
For so many days he had simply sat in his cage, slept, and gazed out at the never ending stands of green trees. For awhile he pretended the tarp was a solid stone roof that protected him from the bright emptiness above.
This retreat into denial was only broken when he was fed, or when he excreted over the side of the wagon and he was forced to take in the blinding light of the sun. Well, sometimes he excreted with his eyes closed but most the time he was blinded by the sun.
He wanted to go home; he yearned for the freedom of the dark sewers and tunnels! His sore body needed to move and stretch more than his small cage allowed. He itched from inactivity. Well, he itched pretty much constantly but he was pretty sure it was worse now. He blamed the horses.
“Ugly horses. Stupid horses. Smelly horses,” he muttered.
The sound of footsteps approaching reached his ear and he instinctively withdrew into what little shadows his wooden cage contained. However, much to his relief the man walked by without stopping. Still huddled in his corner, he tried once again to get back to sleep.
Occasionally, he heard the low deep voices of the men as they spoke in their language but try as he might he couldn’t really understand them. He knew more than a few of their words because the trainers had taught him them but the men here spoke very quickly and used many words he didn’t know.
His people’s own language seemed much simpler. The tongue of these men seemed to contain endless sounds. It seemed pointlessly complex to him. The men must spend much of their lives naming things and that seemed like a weird way to spend time.
They would be much happier if they spent more of their time hunting for tasty things instead, and happier men would probably hit him less. That would be better for everyone, so it was too bad they were too stupid to think of it. Not everyone could be as smart as him.
As he tried to relax and ignore the cage’s irritating moving and creaking, he heard the sound of two men talking. Their tone of voice piqued his interest so he peered out and tried to spot them.
One of the men was tall and thin while the other was fat. As they argued they grew louder and the agitation in their voices that had snagged his attention grew more pronounced. They seemed very worried to him.
Their voices were unnecessarily loud for two people so close together and they held themselves very stiffly, like prey ready to flee at any moment. Also, they kept looking over their shoulders off into the distance like they expected something to appear. It was very prey-like indeed.
He wondered what they were so worried about. Not that it really mattered to him; he was stuck in this cage until they let him out. Like everything else in the wagons, they were taking him somewhere and he was unlikely to get out until they got there.
He had no idea where they were going but it would undoubtedly have less trees, or so he hoped anyway. It would also hopefully have less horses, as in none what so ever.
“Ugly horses. Stupid horses. Smelly horses,” he muttered to himself.
Maybe the thing the men were so worried about would be exciting! Anything would be better than endless days of sitting in this cage, except beatings, or no tasty things, or being bitten by dogs, being bitten by horses, or… lots of stuff. Still the cage was very very bad.
Suddenly the wagon jolted to a stop. At first he thought nothing of it; the wagons stopped every night and several other times as well. However, now he heard many more agitated human voices and the sound of people rushing around. That wasn’t normal.
A large man in bulky shiny clothing that marked him as a warrior ran by while frantically pulling his helmet on. Oh, the warriors among the men were getting ready for a fight! He wished he had a metal hat like that. It was so shiny!
He wondered what the men were going to fight. What sort of beasts preyed on humans out here among the endless trees and dusty roads? He hoped whatever it was would be too busy chasing down all the men running around to get to him. Maybe it would even eat the horses!
Suddenly, his train of thought was broken by a loud buzzing. It was swiftly followed by a chorus of human screams and war cries, and then loud thumping noises exploded all around him.
Startled, he jumped into the air and promptly smashed his head against the top of the cage. He yelped in pain, fell over, and curled up into a defensive ball.
Another wave of sound washed over him and he tensed in surprise. He got up and strained to see what was going on but he couldn’t get a good view. He shook and rocked the cage but he couldn’t get the right angle. Either the other cargo in the wagon or the horse pulling it always blocked his view. Stupid horse, it was probably doing it on purpose.
Several minutes went by as he listened to the crash of struggling and the roar of human screaming. Metal met metal and metal met flesh.
Soon, he realized that some of the noises were cries of triumph and others were cries of pain and despair. This confused him for a moment before he realized the obvious conclusion. The men were fighting other men.
He was more than a little disappointed he wouldn’t get to see a giant man-eating green cat or something. The animals of the forest were all green right? Anyway, it would have been very exciting to see it chase all the men around like mice.
An explosion ripped through the besieged caravan, quickly followed by a gust of hot wind. The wagon shuddered and the tarp on his cage above him whipped around wildly. He flinched in shock. He had no idea what had just happened, but whatever it was had seemed super important and exciting. He smiled happily to himself; maybe it would happen again!
That was when he noticed he could now see what was happening. The shaking of the cart had cleared his field of view.
Just as he had guessed, men were fighting each other up ahead. Small groups of warriors from the caravan in their shiny mail were fighting men in mismatched rough looking clothes. The guards fought back to back as they tried to protect themselves from the swarms of men attacking them.
In the middle of the fighting the burning bodies of several of the attackers were littered around a crater. In front of the crater stood a tall man in purple robes who held a long staff in his hands. As the captive watched, a flight of arrows shot towards the purple man from across the battlefield.
Calmly, the man raised a jeweled amulet and a wave of rippling air sprung into existence. The invisible force knocked the arrows harmlessly aside. The unharmed man then let the amulet fall back against his chest and aimed the end of his staff towards the nearest clump of attackers.
“Somebody kill that mage now!” a furious voice yelled as several men tried to rush him.
Just as several of the men closed on him, the mage raised another amulet. This time there was no flashy display. All the men around the mage simply collapsed and lay unmoving on the ground. Then, the mage aimed his staff again, and an arrow took him in the back.
Now it was the mage’s turn to stagger and fall. As he struggled to pull himself back to his feet one of the attackers ran up and bashed him in the back of the head with a heavy club.
Another cheer broke out across the battlefield, but this time it was the attackers who were rejoicing. The clumps of caravan guards began to be overwhelmed by their more numerous opponents.
Then, with the sound of pounding hooves on hard packed dirt the fat man from earlier rode by the captive’s cage. The watcher only got a brief look at him, but the man was trembling and red faced as he yelled and kicked his horse in order to urge it to ever faster speeds.
The watcher greatly approved of kicking horses. His estimate of the fat man’s intelligence went up slightly.
The horse carried its rider down the road at a mad speed, kicking up a dust cloud as it went. Soon, they disappeared from sight.
Briefly, the observer wondered if the man would get away. However, it seemed somehow wrong to him that the only one to escape would be fat. Shouldn’t he be the slowest?
Well, maybe the horse would get tired of the man’s fat ass and throw him to his death. You couldn’t trust horses after all. Yes, that was what would probably happen.
There was the sound heavy footsteps and then two more humans from the wagons ran by. There was a tall one and a shorter one with long hair. He thought the shorter one was a woman.
As he watched, several lightning fast objects buzzed by and slammed into them. They collapsed and cried out in pain as a dirty looking human in rough clothes he hadn’t seen before ran over to them.
“Mercy please, I beg you,” the taller one implored the new arrival.
The shorter human just cried and cradled her shoulder where she had been shot with an arrow. The dirty man just laughed as he stabbed the tall one in the back with his sword. The swordsman twisted the blade and his victim gasped before going limp. A pool of blood began expanding around the downed man.
The watcher sniffed and smelled the fear and blood in the air. It was such delicious blood and delightful fear. It was so weird that it came from men who had been his masters. In the back of his mind he had considered them invincible.
Without warning the horses whinnied in fright and shook the wagon, sending him bowling over into the side of the cage where he smacked his nose against the bars. He hissed in pain and his eyes started to water.
From where he had been thrown, he saw the dirty man quickly begin going through his victim’s’ clothing. He seemed to be looking for things to take as trophies.
The caged watcher wished he could do the same. He would never harm a master, that was unthinkable, but now that they were dead they wouldn’t be needing their stuff! They probably had many shiny and tasty things on them. Maybe he could get a shiny hat. That would make this the best day ever!
The short woman gave a cry of despair and sobbed. The swordsman then turned to her. He grabbed her hair and pulled her to her feet. She screamed in pain but managed to stand. Blood from her wound dripped down her long plain dress.
“Stop your moaning woman. A little wound like that won’t kill you any time soon. Now come with me. The boss may want all the women and children rounded up, but it’s up to me what happens to you in the meantime,” he told her as he dragged her back the way he had come.
The woman sobbed in pain but stopped when the dirty man slapped her across the face. The woman then cringed and trembled but stopped screaming. Soon, the swordsman had marched her out of sight.
The watcher had never seen men act so much like his people. It surprised him a little. They usually behaved so differently from his tribe. They were much more cooperative and controlled, with far less random outbreaks of violence. Also, they had a lot more clothes.
Maybe they weren’t so different after all, though. The thought intrigued the watcher.
By this time the screams and sounds of battle had mostly ended. He had grown bored again but he couldn’t help but be worried about what was going to happen to him now. The combination of boredom and anxiety was uncomfortable, and the smell of blood didn’t help.
He began to sweat and itch so he started to scratch himself. After a few moments of pointless self-harm he stopped as he heard more footsteps and voices.
He peeked out but they were approaching from a blind angle he couldn’t see again. Stupid horse, why couldn’t the dirty man have killed the horse? The world was greatly improved by every dead horse.
Suddenly, the tarp was ripped off his cage. The wide eyed watcher looked up to see two rough looking men staring down at him in surprise.
One was tall and older looking with grey hair and a long green cloak. His brown eyes had more than a few lines under them. The second man was shorter, had no hair on his head, and wore a dirty brown shirt.
“Shit, it’s a goblin,” the bald man said as his pale human face scrunched up into a look of disbelief. “Why the fuck did they have a goblin?”