“Why in all the hells would we do that?” Ralphi asked as he scowled at Blacknail furiously.
Geralhd and Khita also looked unconvinced that attacking Daggerpoint would be a good idea. Obviously, Blacknail needed to better educate the humans about why they were so wrong.
“We need to attack something, and it’s there. He won’t be defending it,” the hobgoblin explained, as if it wasn’t obvious.
“There is a good reason for that. He doesn’t technically own it,” Geralhd pointed out.
“He has more troops there than anyone else and everyone else has to do what he says. He owns it,” Blacknail countered.
“That’s not really true, and attacking people who technically don’t work for Werrick will make you enemies. You’re supposed to be trying to separate them from Werrick.”
“They all work for him, even if they pretend they don’t, like little cowards. They think that makes them safe, but I’ll show them it doesn’t.”
Ralphi grimaced. “We wouldn’t be able to seize the city, let alone hold it. We don’t have enough men to deal with so many civilians and so many buildings where hostiles could hide. Your hobs also would make a terrible garrison. That wouldn’t work at all. We’d have revolts before the first day was over.”
“So, we raid them and leave before Werrick even hears about it. Lots of loot there we could win.”
“But it’s all hidden away or in the hands of organized cutthroats. We’d lose a lot of troops if we let them loose to loot.”
“I’m the boss here, and I think it’s a good idea. It would be impressive,” Blacknail told them defensively.
“It would make everyone reconsider how much of a threat you were, and thus their own loyalty to Werrick,” Geralhd admitted.
Ralphi shook his head. “That’s not really enough payoff for something so risky.”
“I have a lot of hobs sitting around not doing anything. I can’t just wait here for Werrick to move next year. That would be more boring than watching food get moldy.”
Blacknail’s human followers raised a few more objections, but he’d already stopped listening and quickly dismissed them. He was the leader, so they had to do what he said. If they didn’t agree, they were wrong.
Of course, his decision had a cost, more work. Ugh. All his troops now had to be marshalled and made ready to move. Blacknail decided put that off until tomorrow. It was already starting to get late and he was getting hungry again. His first supper of the night ought to settle his stomach, so he headed over to the kitchen to see what was left in the pantry. He hoped there was pie.
However, just as he’d found some morsels that smelled tempting, a hobgoblin messenger burst through his front door and began yelling for him.
Sighing, Blacknail put down the food and yelled for the hobgoblin to shut up. He then went to see what the hob wanted. This had better not delay his plan to attack Daggerpoint.
When he saw Blacknail, the hob immediately began blabbering and waving his arms around. “Boss, the enemy is coming! There’s an army. A human army is almost here!”
Blacknail eyed the hysterical hobgoblin. Was it possible he’d eaten some bad food, gotten delirious, and was seeing things that weren’t there? That happened sometimes. None of the other scouts he had watching Werrick’s territory had seen any sign of movement and a human army would be hard to miss. They weren’t all that stealthy.
“Where is it and how do you know about it?” Blacknail asked his minion skeptically.
That was when another pair of hobgoblins ran up to the door and began shouting about a human army that had been sighted by the scouts. It was still possible some bad food was going around, but unfortunately, the army was probably real.
A little worried now, Blacknail grilled his minions for details, and soon a picture emerged. The army was coming from the south, and although it was small, it didn’t sound like Werrick’s normal troops. The force comprised about hundred men, all of which were mounted. They were also carrying banners and wore a lot of shiny armor, but the hobgoblin scouts hadn’t recognized the banners. That wasn’t a surprise, since most the hobgoblins had transformed less than a year ago and had never been outside Blacknail’s territory.
Of course, Blacknail had no idea what to make of it either. Did Werrick have so much money that he was able to hire a host of well-equipped mercenaries? However, if that was the case, why not move to support them?
Confused, Blacknail quickly sent his minions to assemble his lieutenants. Despite its small size, this approaching force was still dangerous, and Blacknail didn’t like it when humans began acting oddly. Usually, they were very predictable creatures and lovely prey.
Ralphi and Geralhd arrived quickly and joined him outside the home’s door. Khita came a moment later, but Blacknail ignored her.
“No, it doesn’t sound like a mercenary force,” Ralphi remarked as he scratched his hairy chin. “They field mostly infantry, since proper military horses cost so much to feed and care for. Sometimes they’ll have some mounted knights in charge, but it’s never most the company.”
Geralhd nodded in agreement. “Judging by those banners and the description of those riders, I’d say it’s a noble’s levy of household knights.”
“What does that mean?” Blacknail asked them.
Khita grinned snidely. “It means you won’t be heading to Daggerpoint anytime soon.”
Blacknail ignored the obnoxious redhead. She wasn’t funny and her opinion didn’t matter.
“I have no idea what brought this on,” Geralhd admitted. “It’s more than little strange to tell you the truth. We’re far from the lands of any noble, and they have no reason to be interested in us. Undoubtedly, they have no shortage of problems to distract them back closer to home. You know, peasants to draft and send to the king for slaughter and such.”
“Could they be Werrick’s allies?” Ralphi asked.
“They’re a little outnumbered. Why wouldn’t Werrick come along and help them?” Khita pointed out.
Ralphi scrunched his face up so he looked confused. “Then maybe they are just here to fight Blacknail, since he’s a hobgoblin and a menace? Nobles get all… noble sometimes.”
Unsure, Blacknail turned to look at Geralhd. He had nothing to add. He was a menace, a great one. The best.
Gerlahd looked uncertain. “So, they are looking for us, but don’t know how outnumbered they are? That’s a weirdly benevolent motivation for a country noble in these hard times. Not to mention, it’s highly risky with no reward even if he wins. If whoever this is had the troops to claim these lands, they would have done it a long time ago.”
Khita scowled and nodded enthusiastically. “Ya, those blue bloods stick to their fancy towers and mansions except when they want blood or coin from their folk.”
It seemed like none of his humans had answers for Blacknail. He needed better humans, or at least more of them. The problem with that was that humans needed a lot of care, so having too many was a chore. They were always wandering off and getting themselves in trouble, like being eaten by forest beasts.
“We’ll assume they are coming to fight us. So, we’ll have to be smart and prepare instead of going to Daggerpoint right away,” the hobgoblin chieftain said as he ignored Khita’s chuckle. “We’ll fortify the town, but we’ll also make some plans to retreat into the Green and regroup if they take the gate. There are some animal trails there that are too small for those big horses, and I don’t want to fight knights head on.”
Blacknail had fought the shiny human riders before, when he’d been one of Herad’s minions. He wasn’t eager to repeat the experience, and he didn’t have any illusions about how his hobs would fare against a charge. Stupid foul horses. Someone should poison them all.
Ralphi quickly agreed that Blacknail’s plan sounded like the best thing to do, and the others bowed to his greater experience with such matters. He was the only one of them that had been an actual solider.
Since the enemy was mounted and Blacknail’s forces were occupying a walled town, holding the gate was the priority. Work crews had already repaired it, mostly, but Blacknail quickly dispatched more minions to reinforce it. Wagons and junk could be piled behind the gates to prevent them from being easily opened. Blacknail also had archers and a group of spearmen hide out in the forest near the road. If the enemy became bogged down or managed to get through the gates, they could assault them from behind. If nothing else, they would be a great distraction.
Soon, the town of Aldhara thrummed with activity as hobgoblins ran around in every direction. Blacknail had taken up position in the town square and was yelling at everyone to move faster. They were all a bunch of slow slackers and there was a lot to do before the enemy arrived.
Several hours passed this way, and Blacknail’s minions got their tasks accomplished, mostly because of Blacknail’s wonderful ability to give great motivational speeches while chasing them around with his sword. Only one hobgoblin was seriously injured this way, and that had been an accident.
Despite that small set back, when the enemy arrived, Blacknail was ready for them. He had plenty of warning from his scouts and was able to observe from the watchtower near the gate. Herah and Geralhd were with him, while Gob and Ralphi were down below with the troops. Two of the supply wagons, piles of crates, and more than a few barrels had been pilled behind the gate, sealing it shut. Most of Blacknail’s troops were lined up behind the walls, where the enemy cavalry couldn’t charge them. He had a few troops out in the forest and there were a few back ways into the town that would be very hard for massed cavalry to use.
As Blacknail peered out over the wall, the forefront of the enemy came into sight. They rode around a bend in the road off in the distance and appeared from out behind the green expanse of trees. A column of riders moving at a quick pace, with dust billowing out behind them. Even from so far away, Blacknai’s eyes caught glimpses of the armor they were wearing. The metal gleamed when it caught the sun. A few seconds later, as the stream of horsemen grew larger, the first of their banners came into sight. The flapping length of cloth was mounted on a tall spear and pictured a golden crown on a blue field.
“Huh, that’s the royal heraldry,” Geralhd remarked in surprise. “That means this group of riders is acting under the authority of the king himself. It’s missing the red rose though, so none of the royal family are actually present.”
“So, these are the big human boss’ guys,” Blacknail mused thoughtfully as if he was deep in thought. He had no idea what that meant. He’d never really understood how the whole human king thing worked. All the humans seemed to do what they wanted regardless. Like with hobgoblins, the person giving the orders was usually the one who had the most fighters available to back him. Fancy metal hats were nice, but gave very little in the way of actual authority.
Geralhd sighed. “Er, perhaps. There are several groups that can act with the authority of the king. It’s complicated. All it really tells us is that this group doesn’t belong to an ambitious border noble, it’s been organized by someone in the capital and thus has far more authority than a backwoods lord could ever hope for.
“But we’re not in the southern king’s territory; we’re in mine. I took it, nice and fair, by conquest,” Blacknail reminded his human minion as he glared at the flag.
The entire force of horsemen had emerged from behind the trees now, and their vanguard was much closer than before. Behind the royal banner, Blacknail saw another one bearing a stag that he recognized as belonging to a local noble. Why didn’t Blacknail have a flag? What would he put on it? Hmm…
As the enemy approached the thunder-like sound of hundreds of horse hooves hitting the ground filled the air. It was intimidating, and Blacknail felt himself began to grow nervous and sweaty. It looked like there were just over a hundred enemies, which wasn’t all that many, but their mounts were rather large, so at first glance they looked quite numerous and dangerous. They certainly filled up a lot of space.
The sound of bugles rang out, and a moment later, the riders slowed. Blacknail watched as they slowly came to stop just out of bow range of the town’s walls. It seemed like they weren’t going to attack right away, and since they were human, that meant they probably wanted to talk. If nothing else, they’d want to brag and yell a lot before getting down to the fighting. Blacknail could understand that.
Several of the horsemen near the front of the line broke ranks and gathered together. They were too far away for Blacknail to hear, but they were obviously talking about something, and it took them a while. It wasn’t until almost a quarter of an hour later that they stopped. Then, two of the riders advanced to the front and dismounted. Blacknail studied them as they began walking toward the gate. One was a tall knight in very shiny armor, while the other was wearing a long brown robe. The knight’s face was concealed by his helm, but the man in the robe was bald and clean shaven. He had the look of a priest, who were a type of human Blacknail usually found quite annoying. They talked a lot even for humans, and they were always going on about things you shouldn’t do. Blacknail did whatever he wanted.
After walking about halfway to the gate, the pair stopped and conversed for a moment. The tall knight then turned to the town’s walls and began yelling in an oddly familiar voice. “Hail the town. We come in peace to parley. We seek the one named Blacknail, and we’ve been told he occupies this town.”
This was unexpected. If they weren’t here to fight, why were they here? Maybe this was just part of the usual bragging and yelling? Blacknail turned to look at Geralhd, but the man just shrugged unhelpfully.
“Go out and talk to them,” Blacknail ordered the man. That’s what he got for being so useless.
“Why me? They want you!”
“Exactly, so let’s not give them what they want yet, in case it’s bad. Besides, you’re smart about human stuff. You’ll be able to tell me more if you meet them,” Blacknail explained. Humans were generally better behaved with other humans, since they were pack animals.
Sighing, Geralhd did as he was told and began climbing down the ladder that led up to the watchtower. He then hustled over the gate, which could still be opened enough for him to squeeze through after some of the junk around it had been shifted.
Blacknail watched as Geralhd headed out to meet the two human spokesmen. He really hoped he wasn’t about to be killed horribly. That would make Blacknail sad.
Once he’d reached the intruders, Geralhd began waving his hands around and yelling. The priest-like fellow immediately began waving his hands and yelling right back, but the knight remained calm and no one attacked each other. Several minutes passed this way, and then Geralhd turned around and headed back through the gate, while the two visitors stayed behind. Blacknail climbed down to talk to him.
“What did they say?” Blacknail asked him once they met.
“They said they had been sent by the king’s council to meet with you and make a judgement in the king’s name. Other than that, not much. I tried getting more out of them, but they remained tight lipped. They said they’d only talk to you, and that it was of the utmost important. I also noticed something. Judging by the knight’s armor, I’m certain he is a paladin of a religious order.”
“They fight monsters, don’t they? Instead of other people, like everyone else,” Blacknail remarked. He’d run into a paladin before, way back.
“Broadly, yes. The paladins are supported by not only the southern kings and the cults, but the mage guilds as well. They’re all sworn to seek out and destroy inhuman evil and to withhold themselves from the disputes of men. All full members are also Vessels and warriors of some renown.”
“Alright, let’s see what they have to say. It should be interesting,” Blacknail said before nodding and beginning to walk over to the gate.
Geralhd hurried over to his side. “What? You’re just going to go out there?”
“Yes,” Blacknail replied as he squeezed through the gate. He was curious now, and he had some idea of who he was dealing with.
As Geralhd followed him like a good minion, Blacknail calmly walked out of the town and over to the waiting humans. The armored knight was about the same height as him and would be a difficult opponent to fight since he was a Vessel, but Blacknail wasn’t too worried.
The paladin raised a hand in greeting as the hobgoblin mutant approached. It was an oddly polite greeting, considering the armored war host behind the tough looking man. The knight then pulled his helmet off, revealing a face Blacknail recognized and been expecting. “Greeting. The gods have brought us together again, Blacknail the hobgoblin.”
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