After making plans with Gob, Blacknail began gathering up all the tools he would need to begin building a road through the Green. After that, he spent the rest of the day selecting hobgoblins to lead work crews and threatening to gut them like fish if they didn’t have their crews assembled tomorrow at dawn. Then, he went to bed. Screaming and growling menacingly at people was hard work.
The next morning, when the yellow orb of the sun began to peek above the horizon, Blacknail had breakfast while all the work crews hurriedly assembled themselves outside his home. It was a great display of how amazing and inspiring his leadership skills were. Had there ever been a better leader than him? Undoubtedly not. He was unprecedented.
When Blacknail finished eating and headed out to begin working on the road to Shelter, he brought along a large mob that was a mix of hobgoblins, goblins, and boars. They crossed the cleared fields and swiftly reached the trees. There, the goblins cleared bushes and moved debris, while the hobgoblins used steel-headed axes from Herstcrest to chop down trees. The boars were mostly used to drag or move the trees once they had fallen. It was slow going and very loud. The repetitive sound of axes splintering wood filled the air while goblins screamed at each other.
The idea was to create a road that a wagon could travel across easily. Blacknail also wanted to clear the area around the road of all the brush and cover that could be used by predators to ambush travellers. That meant the ground had to be flattened and the trees to either side of it had to be cut down.
As Blacknail watched from a safe distance, there was an ear-splitting crash as a tree hit the ground. As soon as the ground stopped shaking, a swarm of goblins and hobgoblins ran over and began to disassemble it. Branches were hacked off and boars were tied in place so they could begin dragging the tree out of the way. Teams of goblins began digging up the stump, while goblin overseers with spears kept watch to make sure none of their kin tried to leave or slack off. Moving the fallen trees took a lot of muscle power, but Blacknail had a lot of goblins. With some rope, and a lot of pointed encouragement and supervision, it was entirely possible for them to pull the logs.
All this activity made Blacknail feel proud. Miraculously, it was happening with very little intervention from him. He simply pointed the lead hobgoblins in the right direction, and they kept the others in line. There was a pyramid of authority and Blacknail only had to worry about punishing the people at the top of it if there were any screw ups. That meant he didn’t personally have to deal with all the stupid and disorderly goblins at the bottom of the pyramid.
As Blacknail was congratulating himself, Ferrar walked over to his side. He wasn’t one of the crew leaders, but Blacknail had invited him along to get his input on the construction, since he was the closest thing the tribe had to an expert on building stuff. He was almost as good at building as he was at destroying.
“Hmmm, that’s a lot of wood, boss,” Ferrar remarked as he watched another tree fall. “I could use these logs for charcoal. All my furnaces are going to need to burn a lot of fuel.”
“Take what you need,” Blacknail replied as he supervised the workers. “We can use the rest to build log cabins. The new axes will make it easy to chop the logs. I helped make cabins for Herad, and they were very warm during the winter.”
The work crews didn’t manage to accomplish all that much during the first day, but that was fine with Blacknail. They were still experimenting and learning how to do the job. The next day, Blacknail led them all out into the Green again, and their productivity increased noticeably. While they were working, they got some visitors from Shelter. Three older male villagers Blacknail hadn’t talked to before came to see the work and give advice.
“If you plan on building a road that a wagon can roll across and one that won’t wash away in the spring you’re going to have to put some foundations in place to hold the dirt in place,” one of them pointed out. “Also, you might want to think about how you’re going to bridge the creeks and gulley’s in your way.”
“Can’t we just use some of these logs?” Blacknail asked.
“Those will be fine as temporary fixes, but green wood will rot quickly and constantly need replaced. I don’t suppose you have mortar?” the villager replied. Blacknail didn’t know what that was, but Ferrar apparently did.
“I’ve been using clay to stick bricks together,” the hobgoblin answered.
“That might work, but lime would be better. Do you have that?”
As Blacknail listened, the pair began talking about how to create lime mortar by putting limestone into a kiln and firing it. Blacknail was quite amazed that Ferrar had somehow managed to find another reason to build some new kilns to burn a completely new material in. It seemed like half of human civilization was finding the right way to set things on fire. Maybe Ferrar’s fire-centric worldview was less crazy than Blacknail had thought, if only a little.
“All in all, it looks like you’ve got what you need to build yourself a road, though,” the human villager told Blacknail. “The idea of a road to Herstcrest has quite a few people in town excited, even if they understand the place isn’t what it used to be. We’ve been cooped up inside Shelter for too long. Still water goes bad, and a lot of folk feel like we’ve been under constant siege these last few years.”
“It might take a while to build that road,” Blacknail replied.
The man just nodded sagely. “We’ve been cut off for over a decade. We don’t lack patience.”
After inspecting everything, the villagers went back home. Under his careful supervision, Blacknail’s minions continued working until it began to get dark, and then they headed back home for supper. All the hobgoblins and goblins were tired and hungry after working so hard, but none of them complained, since that would have just got them smacked.
The following days passed in a similar manner. Slowly but surely, the work crews cut their way through the forest. Tree after tree fell to hobgoblin axes, until at last, they reached their destination. After two weeks, Blacknail’s minions arrived at the fields outside Shelter. There was a crash as they cut down the very last tree in their way.
A small crowd of people from Shelter were watching, and they immediately began clapping once the tree had fallen. Blacknail waved at them, before yelling at some hobgoblins to get back to work. It was important to keep up good relations with the humans, even if they were doing silly human things that seemed like a stupid waste of time.
Anyway, there was still a lot of work that needed to be done before the road was truly finished. They may have cleared the last tree, but the path wasn’t fit for a wagon. The muddy ground needed to be flattened and hardened, bridges needed built over creeks, and weak spots needed to be drained and reinforced. However, Blacknail didn’t need all his work crews for that. Most of goblins could be let go now, and getting to Shelter was now noticeably faster and safer. No more stumbling into unseen mimics or bears.
After the last tree had been dragged aside and work had begun on digging up its stump, Blacknail paid closer attention to the gathered humans and listened in on what they were saying.
“Never thought I’d see the like, goblin roads,” one man remarked with a judgemental huff.
The woman in a homespun dress beside him nodded in agreement. “Things are changing, that’s for sure. Probably for the better, I think. The gods know there are few ways they could get worse.”
“Maybe, but I sure wish I knew what was going to happen next. This is a strange wind that is blowing over us and who knows what rides upon it,” an frail-looking older man with a bald head replied as he stroked his long white beard.
Blacknail huffed indignantly in response and turned away. Of course, things were changing. He was here now. How could they not change when the greatest leader ever born was here? He made everything better by his mere presence.
Tannin came over to talk for a few minutes about Blacknail’s schedule. After they were done chatting, the village headman led the other humans back to the village. Blacknail let his minions rest for a few minutes before taking them back to the goblin settlement.
Just as the walls of their home came into sight through the trees, they passed by a group of Ferrar’s minions who were working around a cluster of newly-constructed charcoal mounds. The smoking piles of earth had been built to burn the trees felled by the work crews. Even from this far back, Blacknail could see the thick trails of smoke that were now constantly streaming up into the air over the settlement. Ferrar’s many ovens, kilns, and furnaces were all constantly burning wood and charcoal to produce the endless stream of materials Blacknail’s plans required, and because Ferrar just liked burning things.
When the work crews reached the settlement’s gate, Blacknail disbanded his minions. Instantly, the ranks of goblins and hobgoblins dissolved into chaos as they all fled in every direction as quickly as their feet could carry them. They didn’t want to stay anywhere near Blacknail, in case he changed his mind or found something else for them to do. Blacknail just grinned in amusement as he watched them flee. Their efforts were futile. There was nowhere they could hide from him.
It didn’t take long for Gob to show up. He walked up to Blacknail’s side and gave his chieftain a quick respectful salute.
“How are the preparations for tonight going?” Blacknail asked him.
“Everything shall be as you wish, your amazingness. There have been no problems with your incredible plan. I made sure of it, personally,” Gob replied.
Blacknail stretched out his arms and yawned. “Good, I’m going to take a nap until the feast is ready. Make sure all the hobgoblins are there when I show up. I don’t plan on doing this twice.”
Gob gave him another salute in acknowledgement, and Blacknail headed over to his cave to waste some time until supper. It was so nice to finally have some halfway competent minions he could delegate things to.
Some time later, the low rumble of drums awakened Blacknail from his slumber. He grumbled to himself, but climbed to his feet and walked outside of his cave. It sounded like the feast was starting and he didn’t want to miss it. It was important that he give his speech. Tonight, he was going to be making some important changes. Just thinking about it made Blacknail excited and he grinned in anticipation. The sluggishness of sleep sloughed away as the sound of drums grew louder in his ears. It pulsed in tune with his beating heart.
All the noise was coming from the center of camp. It was just starting to get dark, so Blacknail could make out the light of several fires up ahead. The soft glow cast flickering shadows on the walls of the buildings around Blacknail as he walked closer to the light, and the succulent smell of cooking meat grew stronger. Without a doubt, the combination of sound and smell was drawing every hobgoblin and goblin to the training field. They wouldn’t be able to resist.
Walking out from among the longhouses, Blacknail stepped out onto the training ground. As expected, it was full of hobgoblins and goblins. They loitered around and watched the bonfires, where Gob and a small formation of hobgoblins with swords and spears were overseeing the cooks and drummers as they worked.
The drums were primitive things, but they made more than enough noise and they were fun to use. The instruments were made from a tanned animal skin that was stretched over a hollow cylinder of wood and tied in place using sinew. To play it, a goblin or hobgoblin simply slapped the top repeatedly. Blacknail wasn’t sure where the design had come from. One of the hobgoblins had just started making them, and since they weren’t completely useless, he’d allowed them to continue.
Walking through the crowd, Blacknail approached Gob. “Is everyone here?”
“Yes, I sent some hobs to look all throughout the settlement, and they didn’t find anyone. Besides, who would want to – or dare to – miss a speech from our great chieftain?” Gob hurriedly answered as Blacknail nodded and turned away.
Under the darkening sky, Blacknail studied the ranks of his hungry minions as the firelight played across their angled faces and sharp inhuman features. Most of them were grinning from excitement or hunger, revealing a sea of sharp pointy teeth, and their beady eyes were almost all looking his way now. Yes, he definitely had their attention. It was time. Grinning confidently to himself, Blacknail stepped up onto a wooden platform several goblins hurriedly brought over and cleared his throat.
“I am Blacknail, the mighty chieftain of this mighty tribe. Before I gift you all with lots of delicious hot food, listen to my wise words!”
All the gathered hobgoblins grew silent, and the rhythm of the drummers behind Blacknail grew quieter and more subdued.
“Some of you may be wondering why you are here and why you listen to me. Let me tell you why you obey,” Blacknail told the gathered goblinoids with steely confidence. “There are those among you that do not know what it is like to be a feral hobgoblin. Because of me, many of you have grown up without knowing that savage life. Ferals have no clothes or tasty meals. They have no allies and no shelter. If you were a feral you could not sleep without fear of harpies’ claws and trolls’ jaws. Without the restraint I have beaten into you all, you would turn against each other and become ferals. You would need to flee before the steel and skill of humans. They would surround you and cut you down, no matter how sly and tricky you are.”
Amidst the sound of the drums, there was a crack as a branch in the fire snapped in two, and a shower of sparks shot up into the air next to Blacknail as he continued speaking.
“I have changed all that. I tamed the rage that would destroy you. Now, we cut down the Green itself to make our homes and trample the ground beneath our feet. Our power rises every day. Under me, you have more than you could ever dream of, and this is just the beginning. When you eat the feast I offer to you, remember that it is yours because you obey me and contribute to the tribe. Loyalty and skill are rewarded here.”
Several hobgoblins shouted in agreement, but Blacknail silenced them with a wave of his hand. “We are more than just some goblins and hobgoblins gathered together, and we are more than a mere feral tribe that has grown larger than normal. There has never been anything like us before. The world shudders as we take our place upon it. The sound of our drums echo unchallenged through the Green. Thus, I now give us a true name. We are the Blackmark clan and this fortress that we have made our own is Ironbreak!”
As Blacknail’s voice fell silent, his gathered minions began whispering and talking among themselves. A heady blend of emotions could be heard in their voices. Fear, excitement, and surprise were all mixed together. Blacknail gave them a second before continuing.
“However, tonight, I offer you more than names. I offer a new reward to the skilled and loyal among you, a mark to show everyone your abilities. To show the world what you have made of yourself.”
Blacknail gestured and one of the hobgoblins standing beside Gob stepped up onto the platform next to Blacknail. In the light of the bonfires, it was easy to see that there was something different about him. He had a tattoo under his left eye.
It had taken quite a bit of experimentation to get the tattooing process down, but the third group of goblin test subjects had all survived, so Beardy and Blacknail had moved on to discussing design and placement. Blacknail had wanted it to be somewhere in plain sight, so he’d decided to put the tattoos on hobgoblins’ faces. The entire point of the tattoo was to be a constant and unescapable reminder of membership in the tribe. The design they had settled on was a simple series of black lines around the eye. This hobgoblin was a warrior and that was what his tattoo indicated. The black dye stood out from the green skin and it was easy to make from certain smashed rocks.
“From now on, all hobgoblins will be given a mark after their transformation to signify their membership in the tribe, and after they have completed their trial of initiation, they can ask to be tested for further marks,” Blacknail explained before pointing at the hobgoblin beside him. “This hob has the warrior mark. He was tested by the tribe’s leaders and found to have enough skill and courage to be one of our best fighters.”
When he was done describing all the benefits of getting a mark, including not having to do menial work, Blacknail explained that the warrior test wasn’t the only one a hobgoblin could take. There was also a crafting mark for skilled workers and one for mages, although neither had been designed yet. Ferrar and Imp would be in charge of testing for them.
The gathered goblins and hobgoblins reacted with excitement to the news, although they swiftly began to grow bored and hungry as Blacknail kept talking. Noticing this, the hobgoblin chieftain quickly wrapped up his speech and announced the start of the feast.
Instantly, the mob of goblins rushed forward and began to fight over the best pieces of food. Blacknail smiled as he watched them from atop his platform. As they ate, the hobgoblins talked amongst themselves. They seemed excited about getting their own tattoos. Blacknail chuckled as he listened in. The Blackmark tribe had been born, and soon the entire world would know that name, along with his own, and they would tremble in fear.
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!