The room was silent as Edic watched his boss read the message that he’d just delivered. Werrick was standing behind a desk, and there was a scowl on his face that revealed carefully contained fury. It only got worse as he continued to read.
Edic glanced off to the side where Zelena was sitting in a chair. The beautiful but cold blonde woman looked relaxed as she patiently waited for her master to finish. Edic was less sanguine about the present situation. He didn’t like being put on the spot when his boss was angry. Although Werrick had a reputation for fairness, he could be very intimidating. He was a huge man and famed for his martial prowess. You didn’t keep several small armies of outlaws in line by being non-violent. Edic was used to being around dangerous people, but Werrick was different. He wasn’t a noble and he didn’t follow the chivalric code. Edic was the last son of a now deceased knight from lands near the border. He was a knight himself, even if his lands were worth almost nothing but the title they granted. He had seen which way the winds of fortune were blowing and decided to forswear the king who had never done anything for his family and offer his services to the rising power.
“This is an unwelcome development,” Werrick observed in a frosty tone as he finally looked up from the piece of paper.
“Yes, sir” Edic replied neutrally. He wanted to draw as little attention to himself as possible. He was just the messenger.
“Have you read this?”
Edic flinched and tried to hide it. “Yes, sir. I have. That’s why I brought the report to your attention right away.”
Werrick’s scowl grew deeper. “My subordinates have been slaughtered, and worse, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. The perpetrators are long gone and have escaped into the forest. Sending men out into the deep Green to follow a hobgoblin sounds like a great way to never see those men ever again. This entire mess makes me look weak and foolish. Cedric’s position was an important one. Having him in Daggerpoint reminded all the local bandits of my power and control. I need them to fear me. There are too many for me to fight all at once.”
“We can send out orders for everyone to be on their guard, and Cedric can be replaced with ease,” Edic quickly responded. “The hobgoblin will have a much harder time getting into a properly fortified building full of men that are waiting for him. We can adapt to this tactic with ease. It won’t work again. Cedric was lazy and arrogant.”
Werrick huffed. “That’s what I like about you, Edic. You’re constructive. That’s one of the better traits to have in lieutenants, I believe.”
“I’m simply trying to do my best to serve,” Edic replied stiffly as he stood straight.
“And you do a good job of it,” Werrick admitted with sour grin. “Send out the order, and make sure everyone is on the lookout for hobgoblins. If he isn’t afraid to strike at the center of a city then anyone out on the road should be extra vigilant.”
“Of course, that only helps us reduce the damage of any further attacks. It doesn’t deal with the actual heart of the problem.”
“As you said, going after the hobgoblin would be difficult. He could be anywhere out in the Green, and he undoubtedly knows it far better than we do,” Edic agreed.
Werrick sighed regretfully. “Mahedium warned me about this hobgoblin, and it appears he was right. I thought he was being paranoid, but I was wrong. I admit it. I will have to summon him so we can discuss what he knows about this Blacknail.”
“You want to meet with him directly instead of just communicating via letter?”
“I don’t trust that mage to be completely forthcoming unless it’s in person. I’ve rarely met anyone as secretive as him.”
From off to the side, Zelena finally joined the conversation. “I agree, lord. It is important you question the mage face to face. He has no allegiance to you beyond convenience. He also won’t want to leave his work. The Broken Wheel has supplied him with a lab and all the toys he could ever want.”
Werrick scowled again. “I don’t care what he wants. This comes first. Having magic support is nice, but I can do without any new mana stones. The hobgoblin is much more of a concern. If we can’t hunt him down, my first instinct is to set a trap for him, but I know too little about him right now. What does he want?”
“He’s a hobgoblin. They are little more than beasts. He probably just struck out at random,” Edic said.
Werrick shook his head. “I don’t think so. Mahedium said that the hobgoblin’s inhuman intelligence was a threat. The death of Cedric might be only a minor blow against me, but considering the strength of our opponent, it’s one of the best opening moves he could have made.”
“Surely that was just luck? I have a hard time seeing a savage like him coming up with a grand strategy.”
“Underestimating him again would be a mistake. Don’t forget that after my victory over Herad most the troops sent after the group he was with didn’t come back, and we’ve lost several other groups of bandits in that area that pledged themselves to me. No, we can’t underestimate him. I sense a pattern unfolding. This hobgoblin is going to be a dangerous opponent, maybe my most dangerous.”
“I’m sure you’re right, sir,” Edic replied. He didn’t necessarily agree, but knew better than to challenge his boss when he’d already made up his mind.
“I usually am,” Werrick agreed with a grin. “Was there anything else you wanted to bring to my attention?”
Edic took a second to think and coughed to clear his throat. “There has still been no progress in opening communication with anyone to the west, and we lost another scout. Neither the lords nor the outlaws out there care much about what goes on here in the eastern lands.”
“No one even wants to talk?” Werrick asked. He sounded slightly surprised.
“They just want to keep to themselves. As per your orders, we’re trying to find someone powerful there to negotiate and ally with, but usually they just kill the messenger for trespassing or speaking with the wrong accent.”
Zelena spoke up again. “That’s not surprising. Since this continent was settled, the West has always been a dark and wild place. They’ve never had kings or any central authority out there on the edge. Every hill is ruled by its own paranoid little lord, and they are always fighting each other, with the occasional break to oppress the peasants. Not that the common folk are any better. They’re just as vicious and insular.”
“We can’t even find any half decent maps of the place,” Edic agreed. “It’s all just hamlets and tiny forts out in the forest. Half of them are probably abandoned by now. Hells, they may all be. There might only be a few villages left west of Eloria. It’s impossible to tell because they bloody keep to themselves and there are no real roads. Look at what is happened here in the North, everything is collapsing, and they’ve been dealing with this sort of chaos for over a century.”
“You have a good point, but the difference is that they’ve always been like this,” Zelena told him. “I think they never would have settled out there in the first place if they couldn’t survive, or they would have died off long ago anyway. Don’t forget, the far West was settled all in one big wave from the Homelands, and there have always been dark rumors about the nobles that rule them.”
“I don’t know much about that. I’m not a scholar, but I don’t put much faith in old monster stories,” Edic replied respectfully.
Zelena chuckled. “And yet our current problems center around a monster from times long past.”
“Regardless, it might be best to just leave the West alone,” Werrick admitted. “We have problems enough already it seems. Inviting more would be foolhardy. Outside of the occasional raid or trading caravan, the people of the West haven’t had anything to do with East for a century, so I doubt we need to worry about them.”
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!