Hearts and Homes 1

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Getting What You Want

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Aris grunted as he lifted the bucket of slop up over the side of the enclosure and dumped its smelly contents into the tray below. It splashed upwards when it hit the bottom of the wooden container but none of the muck landed near Aris or his clothes. He was quite practiced at this. The pigs that had been idling about the mud filled pen immediately began trotting over to grab some food.

Aris smiled as he pulled the now empty bucket back over the fence. His heart lifted at the animals’ happy snorts and hurried waddling. They seemed so happy to receive the village’s kitchen castoffs. If only his own needs were so simple.

A sigh escaped Aris’ lips as he looked at his surroundings and his own problems came to mind. Around him were the crude wooden buildings that lay at the center of his village. Everything looked run down and dirty, although Aris had never seen them any other way. In fact, he had never seen any other buildings. Behind the buildings the settlement wall could be seen, and beyond that the tall trees of the forest loomed. It was a despairingly familiar scene that made him want to scream. The sight of the trees tormented him. They were a constant reminder of the outside world but also of all the barriers that shackled him here.

He had been born in the isolated village of Shelter over fifteen winters ago, and it was likely that he would die here. There had to be more to life than this! Aris grimaced as he carried the bucket back over to his house. Like every other home in the village, it was a squat structure with a thatch roof. There was only enough space inside for three cramped rooms. He dropped the slop bucket outside the front door before walking inside. His mother was working in the kitchen. There was a table in the middle of the room and she was chopping something up on top of it.

“I’m done with the morning chores, mother,” Aris told her as he stepped through the door.

“Ah, thank you,” his mother replied without looking up from her work. Although she wasn’t young anymore, the brunette was still attractive. She wasn’t slim but she moved gracefully and there was almost always a welcoming smile on her face.

“Is there something else you wanted me to do now?” he asked her as he came to stop in the doorway. There were always more chores to do.

“No, not right now. We can do some cleaning together later, but right now I need to focus on this. You can take a break for an hour or so.”

“Alright, I’m going to go for a walk or something then.”

“Oh, a walk? Are you planning to take it with anyone in particular?” his mother said as she finally looked up and grinned at him. Aris’ cheeks flushed slightly in response.

“Nah, no one in particular,” he replied unconvincingly as he quickly looked to the side.

“Sure, sweetie, whatever you say. Have fun with your walk,” his mother responded smugly. Aris quickly muttered something incomprehensible and then made a break for his room. He loved his mother but she could be so very embarrassing. Why couldn’t she just stay out of his business?

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Into the Green 10

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The forest was just beginning to darken as dusk fell when Blacknail’s band of misfits found themselves making their way up an unremarkable hill. A canopy of broad leaves towered above them and was supported by scattered broad tree trunks that rose out of the earth. Dark soil was visible underneath the thin covering of plants that covered the ground.

They had been walking through the trees without stopping since they had decided to head Northeast in search of some sign of human civilization. Blacknail was just about to admit defeat and start looking for somewhere to set up camp for the night when he stumbled across a nearly invisible game trail, where the earth had been flattened and no plants grew. It went almost straight North, so at first Blacknail didn’t give it more than a brief glance. However, it was an unusually wide path and that drew his interest because a lot of animals were obviously using it. It would be useful to know what sort of creatures were nearby, in case any of them liked eating people. Blacknail only had so many spares.

A brief sniff around revealed nothing more dangerous than some old wolf piss, but his eyes spotted something interesting. Saeter had taught the hobgoblin not to rely too much on smell and how to track by following physical signs. It wasn’t usually that useful but sometimes rain or time would wash a weak scent away.

Blacknail came to a stop and looked down at his find. “Your great leader has found something, because he is the best scout ever,” he announced to his followers.

“It’s not another weird mushroom you want one of us to eat, is it? Elyias still looks a little out of it, but at least he’s stopped mumbling to himself now,” Beardy replied. He was third in line and he didn’t sound too enthusiastic about Blacknail’s discovery.

Elyias was holding up the rear of the bandits and he looked more than a little green. Every once in a while one of the feral goblins would poke him and giggle before running away but the young man barely reacted. He just plodded forward and stared ahead with unfocused eyes.

“No, it’s a foot print, and Elyias will be fine. My minion’s just feeling… relaxed now that his stomach is full and he’s not so hungry. His skin color has never looked so good!” 

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Into the Green 9

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Blacknail ignored Khita and everyone else as he went to work on things that were actually important. The early morning sunshine shone down on him as he got breakfast going. Sleeping, like everything else, made him hungry.

More meat was brought over by goblins and roasted over the fire. There was enough that all the humans got to eat their fill, and there were still lots for the goblins. During Blacknail’s absence, the goblins had gotten skilled at hunting small game. Blacknail had shown them how to make slings and snares before he had left. The tribe had certainly grown larger, and none of them looked hungry.

“I never thought I’d be so happy to eat a squirrel, or that they’d taste so good,” Geralhd said after chewing and swallowing a bit of meat.

“They’re pretty nice eating, really. Much better than rats,” Khita replied from where she was sitting on the ground by the fire.

Geralhd blinked in surprise and he gave her a disbelieving frown. Khita noticed his reaction and shrugged indifferently. “It’s not like I’ve eaten a lot rats, but when you’re living on the streets and you’re hungry you eat whatever you can get.”

Her explanation just made Geralhd look more uncomfortable. He fidgeted and looked away.

“I used to live off rats and bugs, but now I prefer human food. It tastes less like dirt and it doesn’t fight back,” Blacknail added cheerfully.

Khita threw Blacknail a friendly grin, which Blacknail returned, but there was silence as Geralhd and the other nearby humans considered this piece of hobgoblin wisdom.

“Er, that stew from yesterday… What was in it?” Elyias asked as put down the rabbit on stick he had been eating. A few of the others grimaced and looked queasy as well.

“Lots of stuff. Saeter taught me how to cook it,” Blacknail replied. The last part of his explanation seemed to reassure the humans a little. Most of them resumed eating.

Blacknail smiled proudly to himself. He was a great cook, and he was glad they had enjoyed his cooking, even if it hadn’t been his best recipe. There had barely been any bugs in it at all! The next time he cooked he was going to make sure he had the ingredients necessary to give the stew a proper crunch. That was the best part. 

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Into the Green 8

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After the goblin’s ambush, the trek through the forest was uneventful. The feral hobgoblin led the way for around half an hour, and they soon emerged from out of the trees into an overgrown clearing full of thick bushes that were too tall to see over.

Blacknail instantly recognized the area. The main road wasn’t too far from here. Last year, during his trip to Daggerpoint he had been attacked by the hobgoblin that had ruled this territory. After a long brutal fight to the death where Blacknail had been forced to use all his impressive cunning and skill, he’d then had to stop and rest with the local tribe for a while before moving on.

Gob hadn’t been around then. Blacknail eyed the hobgoblin suspiciously out of the corner of his eye. Gob must have been a mere goblin during Blacknail’s last visit, and only transformed into a hobgoblin after Blacknail had left to catch up with Herad and Saeter.

Well, the important thing was that the tribe should have plenty of food. Blacknail had spent a fair amount of time teaching the goblins here how to trap animals and smoke meat. If the stupid little critters had already forgotten his lessons then Blacknail was going to be very mad. One way or another, they were going to be providing him with as much food as he wanted to eat.

A breeze swept through the trees as Blacknail began to push his way through the bushes in front of him. His new goblin followers were right behind him, but a sudden low growl which was followed by a fearful yelp stopped his advance. He turned around to see what was happening and sighed. It was probably something dumb and annoying. His minions had problems with even the simplest instructions.

The people behind Blacknail had stopped moving. Gob was growling menacingly at Geralhd while standing in his way. The humans had backed away from the suddenly hostile hobgoblin and were looking nervous. Their posture was tense and a few of them had started to reach for their weapons. Scamp and Imp stood off to the side and watched.

“What now?” Blacknail mumbled to himself as he walked back to see what all the commotion was about. It didn’t look like Gob was going to attack anyone but he was obviously upset about something.

“What did you do?” Blacknail called out to Geralhd. 

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