Honor Among Thieves 2.6

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Blacknail traced their path back to the bandit camp by following their old scent trail. It was easy because he had an amazing nose and was the greatest goblin tracker ever!

The goblin kept a sharp look out for signs of danger and unknown smells as he trudged along through the forest. His master was depending on him to get them home safely.

A sudden breeze blew through the trees causing some of them to sway and creak ominously. Blacknail froze in alarm. He stopped and stared at a tree up ahead of him. Had its movement just been the wind or had it been something more sinister?

The tree definitely didn’t seem to look right to Blacknail, not nearly tree-like enough. Was it another mimic? He got out his sling and started to spin it.

He unleashed the stone and it whistled through the air and bounced off the tree with a dull thud, before falling down onto the dirt. Blacknail held his breath.

Nothing else happened. The tree didn’t split open, move around, try to eat him, or anything else threatening. He was still suspicious.

“It’s not a mimic, Blacknail,” Saeter remarked dryly from behind him. “Just like the last three trees you checked.”

Blacknail sighed and walked under the tree. It didn’t move or transform into a horrible abomination. Sometimes his master was just no fun. They continued on.

The sunlight moved westward through the branches overhead as they reached the halfway point back. Blacknail was climbing over a large fallen tree trunk that was starting to rot into mulch when the barest traces of a scent suddenly caught his attention. He titled his head back and sniffed the air.

At first he smelled nothing out of the ordinary, but after a moment a scent he knew well filled his nose. Excitedly, he stopped atop the log and stood up to get a good view of the woods.

He scanned the ground and brush around him for the source of the smell. His heart started pounding as he searched. He saw a lot of roots, fallen logs, and small bushes, but no obvious threats.

“What is it?” Saeter asked with alarm.

He was in no shape for another fight and he knew it. Both his arms were heavily bandaged and he was walking with a limp.

“Goblins, many,” Blacknail answered quietly.

Several different complex emotions rose within him and mixed together chaotically. Part of him suddenly wanted to challenge the goblins for the territory. Another part of him knew that was dumb. He was outnumbered with only a wounded Saeter for backup and that they needed to get to camp. He hesitated.

“Do you smell a hobgoblin, Blacknail?” Saeter asked him nervously.

What? Blacknail turned to his master and gave him a questioning look.

“Dunno?” he answered doubtfully. “What’s a hobgoblin?”

The old grey haired scout gave him a surprised look back.

“You don’t know what a hobgoblin is?” he asked the goblin.

Blacknail nodded in confirmation. He did not know this thing.

“Huh, do you smell a large strange goblin?” Saeter asked carefully after a second of thought.

Blacknail frowned. How was he supposed smell how large a goblin was? Sometimes his master said some stupid things.

“No, master. None like that,” Blacknail replied after taking another sniff. All the goblins he could smell seemed normal enough.

His master looked relieved at the goblin’s answer. Now, Blacknail really wanted to know what a hobgoblin was. It sounded interesting.

“Keep moving but be ready for a fight. We should be able to scare them away though, they’re just… um goblins,” Saeter said with an awkward finish.

Blacknail ignored the unplanned insult. He nodded to his master and jumped down from the log as he forged ahead through the woods.

With an expectant smile, he drew his knife and held it ready in front of himself. Back in the humid darkness of the sewers when he had fought other goblins he had never had a weapon like this. It was so sharp, shiny, and dangerous! Saeter had drawn his own knife with his unbound arm as well.

Blacknail could smell the goblins better now. There seemed to be at least four of them and they were definitely moving closer. They were probably investigating his scent and looking to kill the strange trespasser. The smell of his master’s blood could had also have convinced them an easy meal was nearby.

They would get no easy meal from him. Blacknail closed his eyes and concentrated on his hearing. From within the darkness behind his own eyelids, he heard the scrunch of dead leaves being crushed and the sound of soft footsteps on dry dirt. He spun around and opened his eyes but didn’t see anything.

Blacknail narrowed his eyes warily as he scanned the surrounding bushes and trees for any signs of the goblins stalking them. He could feel them watching him. Every instinct he had was telling him there were hostile goblins around.

Out the corner of his eye, a green blur suddenly shot out from below some tangled roots and raced towards him. Blacknail reacted quickly and jumped away, just as the attacking goblin smashed its large wooden club down onto the ground by his feet. The club was made from a large twisted branch and looked like it would have really hurt had it hit.

The feral goblin’s long green ears went flat and it snarled viciously at Blacknail. He was unfazed though, and hissed a challenge right back. It was time to show this ugly wimp who was the toughest goblin around.

Blacknail wasted no time and eagerly launched himself at his opponent. He intended to counterattack before the other goblin could recover from missing with his club.

As he charged, Blacknail got a good look at his first forest goblin. The goblin was a slightly greener shade than him, completely naked, and ugly as mashed worms. Blacknail’s face had the same long nose, thick brow, and squinty eyes but they looked much better on him.

Blacknail’s smile grew wider and he bared his teeth as he took in his opponent. He was bigger than this naked little runt. It should be an easy fight, and that was his favourite kind.

As Blacknail moved to complete his counterattack and stab his attacker, something hit him from behind. He snarled and turned to see that another goblin had tackled him from behind. Hey, that was cheating!

“Cowards!” Blacknail hissed as this new goblin and he got tangled together and went flying off to the side.

They rolled across the ground. His new opponent tried to smash his head in with a sharp pointy rock, but Blacknail grabbed his arm and stopped the blow. This fight was his!

He and his opponent then fought and clawed at each other as their momentum carried them through a prickly bush. The feral was too wary of Blacknail’s blade to let himself get stabbed. Together, they then tumbled and smashed into the bottom of a thick standing tree.

Blacknail was stunned and lost his grip on the other goblin for a second. Luckily, his opponent wasn’t any better off. The two goblins fell apart, took a few seconds to recover, and got to their feet again. The feral goblin still had his pointy rock clenched tightly in one of his fists and Blacknail had his knife.

“Raargh!” the naked green pipsqueak yelled as he raised it above his head and charged.

“No quarter!” Blacknail shouted back as he ducked under the rock. It was something he had heard the bandits yell during fights.

He then tackled his opponent to the ground and bit him. His teeth sank into the flesh under the other goblin’s arm, where he couldn’t be hit by his opponent’s rock. The taste of iron filled Blacknail’s mouth as he drew blood. It excited him. He was winning!

The other goblin yelped loudly in pain and tried to pull away. Without mercy, Blacknail withdrew his teeth and stabbed his opponent in the shoulder with his blade. He had been aiming for the other goblin’s neck.

Regardless, the rock wielding goblin fell wailing to the ground. Blood dribbled from his side where he’d been bitten and the shoulder where he’d been stabbed. Blacknail spat blood onto the ground and wiped his mouth clean as he looked triumphantly down on his defeated opponent. Victory was his!

Blacknail was now breathing hard and had several new scratches that burned painfully. The other goblin’s nails had been very sharp. As he sucked down air he was alarmed to hear the crackle of leaves behind him.

He spun around just in time to duck out of the way of a surprise attack. The branch wielding goblin had rejoined the fight. Blacknail felt the club whoosh by his head as he ducked under it. Right, he had almost forgotten about that guy. How silly of him.

As he scrambled away from the club, he saw his master Saeter attempting to fight three other goblins. They circled around the man wielding long wooden spears.

“Damnation, you bloody little bastards,” Saeter swore in frustration.

He was obviously having trouble defending himself from all three of them. The old scout only had one useable arm which held a long dagger. He looked exhausted as he hopped around avoiding the goblins’ clumsy spear thrusts.

Blacknail had to focus on his own fight, though. The club wielder rushed him again. Instead of dodging again, Blacknail leaped forward before the other goblin was ready and tackled him.

They both fell over but Blacknail landed on top. He then easily managed to block the other goblin’s clumsy swings, as they were too close together for the club to be swung properly.

Blacknail put all his weight on the other goblin’s chest. Spittle flew from the feral’s mouth as he screeched and tried to bite Blacknail with his broken yellow teeth but Blacknail held him down. He had a strong one handed grip around the feral goblin’s throat.

The fight ended as Blacknail brought up his free hand and stabbed his opponent savagely up and under the ribs as Saeter had taught him. Then he did it again several times just to be sure.

Blood poured out of the wound onto the ground. The club wielder twitched and choked before going still and limp. Blacknail chuckled happily. Truly, he was a strong goblin. He’d defeated two other goblins by himself!

As Blacknail rose to his feet he turned to face the three goblins attacking his master. However, they took one look at him standing over their two defeated pack mates and fled. They scampered off into the woods with a quick series of fearful yelps.

The wounded goblin also managed to get to his feet and dive back under the roots the first goblin had hidden in. Blacknail watched him go and saw that there was a burrow under there. He felt no desire what so ever to try and chase the wounded goblin underground. That would be too much work.

“Well, this hasn’t been a good day for me,” Saeter remarked tiredly.

The old scout was swaying unsteadily but he was still standing. The goblins’ crude spears hadn’t pierced his leather armor but they’d still hurt when they had jabbed him, and they had jabbed him a lot.

Blacknail smiled up at his master as excitement overcame him.

“We win. I win! I stab, bite, and stab, and win.” Blacknail exclaimed joyfully with a little hop. He had shown those other goblins who owned this territory. Him, he did!

Saeter just gave Blacknail a tired look.

“Well, we’re still alive anyway. Let’s hurry back. I need a drink… and medical attention,” Saeter grunted.

With a shrug, Blacknail did as he was told and headed towards the camp. He had his own cuts and scrapes but none of them were too serious. They were just proof of his strength and toughness!

Saeter moved even slower now as he hobbled after Blacknail. Both exhaustion and pain from his new wounds slowed him, minor though they seemed. The old scout muttered and grumbled as he walked.

Blacknail thought his master should be happier that they had won, but he had come to realize his master was kind of grumpy for a human.

Blacknail strutted confidently through the woods now. His earlier victory had intoxicated him. He was the strongest goblin around! The toughest in the entire forest! He still kept his eyes open but his usual fear of the forest had subsided for now.

An unexpected glimmer of color among the green to his left caught his eye. Shiny! He wandered over to get a better look. The thing was small, about the size of his fist, and many different sparkling colors. It seemed to reflect the light in a rainbow hue. As he moved Blacknail heard a grunt behind him.

“Bad, Blacknail. Come back. Stay on the trail,” Saeter shouted before a fit of coughing overtook him.

Blacknail looked back with concern. He really should turn around. With regret he turned back away from the shiny thing. Knowing this forest, it was probably some sort of horrific murder trap anyway.

As he walked back to Saeter, he heard a whirring sound from behind him. With a panicked twitch Blacknail threw himself off to the side. He rolled and scrambled through the dirt before getting to his feet and turning to see what was attacking him.

The shiny object he had seen flew past him. As he watched the small colorful thing buzzed over to a tree and landed on it. It was a bug. Oh, he recognized it now. Blacknail felt really embarrassed. He threw a quick glance back towards his master. Saeter was glowering impatiently at him.

The bug on the tree was large and its wings shone with different colors as the light hit it. It looked like a cross between a beetle and an ant, and it had huge sharp looking mandibles.

Blacknail had seen plenty of them underground in the sewers. One of his main jobs had been to exterminate them. They tended to build large nests that blocked pipes, and drill holes through other pipes. His old masters hadn’t liked them much. They were also poisonous so you couldn’t even eat them. Out of habit the goblin drew his sling to kill it.

“Stop, Blacknail!” Saeter shouted suddenly as Blacknail was in mid swing. The goblin stopped and looked over to his master with a confused expression on his face.

“It’s bad luck to kill a harvester. They’re sacred to the gods,” Saeter explained to the befuddled goblin.

Blacknail considered that. If killing bugs made spirits angry it would explain all his bad luck, and how he had ended up in the forest. That made sense, no more shiny bug smashing for him. He lowered his sling.

Meanwhile, the harvester crawled up the tree bark until it reached a small green shoot. Using its pincers it snipped off the shoot and then took flight. Blacknail watched it zoom away off into the bushes with the bit of plant in its mouth.

“It will be taking that to its underground hive where it will rot and be used to grow mushrooms. That’s why it’s sacred to both Tera-Nan of growing things, and Cor-Dius of darkness,” Saeter explained reverently.

Blacknail gave Saeter a confused look. So this Tera-Nan and Cor-Dius were spirits? It figured that humans named spirits, they certainly named everything else. Saeter met his gaze and gave a pained chuckle.

“I’m not going to try and explain the gods to a goblin. No offence Blacknail. Now let’s get going,” Saeter told him sternly.

With a shrug, Blacknail moved back onto the path and began to guide Saeter back to camp again. He didn’t really feel the need to learn the names of spirits anyway. It seemed kind of pointless to him. Spirits watched you and did what they wanted whether you knew their names or not.

As they moved Saeter began to limp more and more. He was also noticeably slowing down. Blacknail began to grow concerned that his master wouldn’t make it back to camp. Dragging him would be a lot of work.

Luckily, Blacknail soon heard the sound of human voices through the underbrush. His long pointy ears detected the noise before Saeter did. He scampered off into the bushes to check it out.

“Hey, where are going? Come back Blacknail.” Saeter shouted after him.

“Hear voices. Be right back,” Blacknail responded.

He peered out from behind a tree and saw a group of rough looking humans moving around the forest. It took him a second but he recognized several of them, mostly by their strong smell. Smiling in relief, Blacknail turned and ran back to his master.

“This way! Band this way,” Blacknail told Saeter happily as he ran up to him.

Saeter gave him an annoyed look but began to walk in the direction Blacknail indicated. They soon ran into the other bandits, who were obviously searchers out looking for the cave.

There were a dozen of them spread over a small area checking under bushes and behind rocks for crevices or caves. As Saeter and Blacknail approached, one of them looked up and gave them an amused look.

“What in all creation happened to you, and should I be worried? There isn’t a pissed off drake chasing you I hope?” the man asked Saeter as he took in their exhausted and ragged state.

Saeter’s clothes were cut and covered in blood. His one arm was also in a sling. Blacknail had his own share of bloodstains and scratches as well. Saeter scowled back at the man.

“We’ll be fine, thanks for asking; and there is no drake. We just walked into a mimic and then a bunch of feral goblins decided we looked like a free meal,” Saeter replied dryly.

Blacknail nodded in agreement as his master spoke. He would have noticed a drake. He had heard they were pretty big.

“Well, I hope that mimic isn’t around here. Also, don’t look now but I think one of those goblins is still following you,” the man told Saeter with a smile as he pointed to Blacknail.

Saeter gave the man an entirely unamused look back.

“I’m not in the mood for jokes,” the old scout replied. “The mimic is two hours walk away, so don’t worry. This area should be fairly clear for several miles, but I’m heading back to camp to get myself fixed up so you’re on your own out here. I would appreciate you sending someone back with us just in case, though.”

The other man shrugged and agreed to send someone back with them. He called a lanky bandit over and the three of them then headed back to camp together.

“Try not to trip into anymore monsters, Saeter,” the bandit joked as they walked away.

Saeter turned and scowled at the man.

“Good luck out here without a guide. I have some advice for you. When you inevitably find a troll in the next bush you search you should scream really loudly. Then everyone will know what direction to run away from,” Saeter shot back before stomping off.

They soon made it back to camp without any more surprises or encounters. Once there Saeter had his wounds cleaned and stitched up.  After that they both had diner and took the rest of the day off.

It eventually grew dark and Saeter fell asleep beside the remains of their fire. He had been too tired to even make it into his tent. Blacknail grinned happily as he curled up beside his master. This had been one of his favorite days ever. He was Blacknail, the strongest goblin of them all!

Honor Among Thieves 2.5

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Herad had done as she said and organized the search that evening. By early the next morning practically everyone in the band was up and about looking for the cave where the slime had come from. Only a few of the bandits were left to guard the camp and watch the roads.

The entire operation was well planned and organized by both Saeter and Herad. The scouts went out first to make sure the area was safe. They knew the forest and its many dangers so they could locate them before the less skilled bandits stumbled into them unaware. They were also much less likely to get lost among the green maze of trees.

The rest of the men then followed behind the scouts and made up for their lack of skill with numbers. They worked together to thoroughly search the bush for caves. They had been carefully instructed to move in small groups and not wander around alone.

They had also been warned to look out for danger signs because it was more than likely that the scouts would miss something. It was a deep forest, and Herad’s rangers were skilled but still far from perfect.

After a few hours of searching the scouts were ordered to start doubling back to make sure the less skilled woodsmen hadn’t got themselves stuck in mud or fallen down a hole.

Saeter still thought there would be a few casualties. It was just to be expected with so many untrained men blindly wandering the woods. Thus, it would also be the scouts’ job to collect the lost and the bodies.

Saeter himself served as a scout and Blacknail went with his master. This was no trip to empty the snares; they would be ranging far outside the somewhat safe areas they normally frequented.

The old ranger had been assigned the area North of where Blacknail had fought the slime. It was not a direction Blacknail, or many other people, had travelled. As they walked North the terrain became rough. Hills and ravines sprung up out of nowhere to block their view.

Blacknail found the constant changes in elevation exhausting. Now he knew why humans stuck so close to their roads all the time. Having to scramble up muddy hills and rocky inclines was a lot of work for a goblin with stubby little legs!

“Don’t worry about being too quiet,” Saeter told Blacknail as they started their search. “Since we’re not hunting game today I’m more worried about running into a bear or something than attracting predators.”

“Yes, master,” the goblin replied automatically.

He knew what his master meant. Certain dangerous animals were likely to attack you if you surprised them but would normally avoid people if they heard them coming. Thus, moving stealthy wasn’t always the best idea.

The forest canopy that Blacknail was walking below blocked out most of the sun, but it wasn’t nearly as dark here as in the spider infested woods. Blacknail was very glad that they weren’t headed in that direction. He shuddered at just the memory of the creepy webs that blanketed those shadowy woods and their nasty residents.

The trees here were tall and thick. The ground was covered by short leafy plants where it wasn’t blanketed in dead leaves. Here and there, small white and blue flowers peeked out from behind other plants. Blacknail actually found it all very calm and nice looking.

The goblin had tried to eat a few of the flowers earlier but Saeter had pulled them out of his hand before he could taste them. Apparently, they were poisonous. Oh well, they had smelled a little off anyway.

As Blacknail followed his master he sniffed and examined the ground for signs of the slime’s trail. He hadn’t found anything yet though.

He darted around to check under bushes and around rocks for crevices or hollows. He wanted to be the one to find the cave and its treasures! He was sure that would earn him a reward.

Plus, he wanted to see the cave slimes came from. It sounded very interesting. He was a very brave and loyal goblin when Saeter was standing right behind him.

As they followed the ravine, a low area appeared in front of them and they  walked cautiously down into it. Soon, the ground begun to get muddy and they had to watch where they stepped.

Blacknail’s short legs meant he had to hop from dry spot to dry spot to keep up with Saeter, who could simply step over the wet muddy areas. The goblin almost fell into the mud several times but managed to catch himself after some skillful wild flailing.

After a bit more walking, the pair stepped through a gap in the foliage and into a wide open area. There was a large break in the canopy above that let in light.

The leafy shrubs on the ground grew thick under the open sky. The few trees Blacknail saw were thin and seemed quite young. The drone of insects and cries of birds were louder here as well.

Saeter stepped forward into the sun, but stopped to survey the clearing before going any further in. Blacknail stepped up behind his master and looked around as well.

The goblin couldn’t see much, though. He was too short to see over a lot of the plants and bushes. He tried hopping as high as he could but that didn’t really help. He did however manage to spot several patches of tasty dew berries.

Blacknail licked his lips. Dew berries were so tasty! He was very tempted to go grab some but he knew his master would smack him if he ran ahead like that, also something might kill him.

“Hmm, something feels off”, the old grey haired scout muttered to himself as he looked around.

He apparently didn’t see anything though, because he tentatively started walking forward again into the clearing. Saeter trampled the long grass and shoved bushes aside as he moved inwards.

Saeter’s careful stride carried him towards a group of small trees that were surrounded by a large berry patch. He stared at it for a few seconds before turning and glowering at the rest of the clearing suspiciously.

The scout took another step forward. Suddenly, a sharp cracking sound assaulted Blacknail’s ears. The goblin whipped around in time to see a large branch break loose from a tree and slam into Saeter.

Saeter raised his arms in an attempt to shield himself. The branch knocked them aside as it smacked into him with a loud thud. Blood spattered across the ground as Saeter was battered.

Blacknail gasped in shock, but was relieved to see that his master had managed to stay on his feet. He was just tangled up in the fallen tree limb.

The goblin rushed forward to help his master disentangle himself. He really hoped his wonderful master wasn’t injured. He wouldn’t be able to get back to camp without him!

As he ran, Blacknail was abruptly struck by a strong sense of wrongness. Something wasn’t right here; something was bad. The goblin scrutinized the scene in front of himself carefully.

The branch was wrong he realized. It hadn’t come loose from the tree at all, it was still attached to it. In fact, it had stopped falling and had even risen a bit as Saeter began to struggle to free himself from its clutches.

Much to the goblins confusion Saeter seemed to be having a lot of trouble untangling himself. His eyes were also wide and showed a hint of fear. That was wrong, his master shouldn’t be afraid of a tree branch.

Blacknail had a sudden unwelcome thought. Was this a trap? Had someone or something made the branch break on purpose?

Blacknail had no clue what was going on but he knew what he was going to do. He drew his knife. It was time to find something to stab, until it was time to start running away.

Saeter began flailing and yelling in earnest as he tried to pull himself free from the tree branch. The old scout also pulled out his own knife and stabbed at the branch with his free hand.

Then, the entire tree quivered as Saeter was abruptly yanked towards it by something unseen. Blacknail had used this time to reach his master. Sprinting, he scurried around to get at the branch and then sprang atop it with a quick leap.

The goblin had thought he would find some rope or something to cut but he didn’t see anything like that. So, as soon as he landed, he stabbed the branch wildly with his knife. The blade hit the bark and skidded across it without penetrating. What, that wasn’t right! This was very weird wood…

Saeter was also hacking at the branch with his knife. However, his longer blade didn’t seem to penetrate the wood any better than Blacknail’s did.

In fact, the wood seemed very strange in general to Blacknail. It was warm and weirdly segmented.

Looking at where his master was stuck to the branch, it almost seemed like it had grabbed him, as if it had claws. Trees didn’t have claws. Blacknail was pretty sure Saeter would have mentioned it if they did.

“Behind you, Blacknail. Down!” Saeter yelled at the goblin suddenly.

Instantly, Blacknail obeyed and rolled off the branch. He was just in time. With a loud whooshing sound like leaves in the wind another branch swept through the space he had been occupying a moment ago.

The tree quivered again and then tilted wildly towards them, knocking leaves free and sending them spiraling down to earth in a green storm.

Blacknail yelped in surprise as the tree-like creature rose up and twisted around to rearrange itself into a horrible new shape. Uh oh, it was time to run!

As the alarmed goblin watched, the tough looking tree trunk cracked and split to become two long segmented legs. Branches then shifted to become a pair of armored arms. The top of the tree also divided itself to reveal two more long twisted arms and a monstrous insect like head that was crowned by two short stalks that ended in small black eyes.

The twisted thing’s vicious mandible adorned maw opened as it screeched hungrily down at them. Blacknail winced as the disturbingly high sound drilled painfully into his ears.

As the terrible armored monstrosity rose, it pulled the struggling Saeter under itself and pinned him there against the ground with one long arm.

The strange creature was taller than a man even though it was hunched over and balancing on four long legs. One free claw had Saeter firmly in its grasp and the other was swinging around again to grab at Blacknail. It most resembled a giant predatory stick insect or some sort of horribly stretched out leafy crab.

What the goblin had taken to be bark was actually camouflaged carapace with lichen and moss growing on it. The weirdest part however was the smaller branches and leaves. They poked out randomly up from its back and limbs, and as far as Blacknail could tell they seemed to be real plants that had sprouted from the creature’s carapace.

The terrified goblin rolled out of the way again as one of the creature’s limbs descended down at him. The claw missed him, hitting the ground instead and scarring the forest floor.

“Eep, run away! We’ve angered the trees!” Blacknail shrieked as sprang back to his feet and started running around in little circles through the grass.

 

The goblin didn’t know where to go and wailed fearfully. There were trees in every direction. He was doomed!

Just then Saeter stabbed the arm holding him again. This time he seemed to have found a weak spot because the creature hissed and shook in pain. The leafy claw that had been going after Blacknail pinned Saeter’s other arm instead.

“Damnation and misery, that wasn’t the plan,” Saeter screamed in anger and pain as he struggled to escape from beneath the claws that held him firm against the ground.

Blacknail knew he needed to come up with a plan of his own very quickly or his master was going to die, leaving him all alone and very far from the camp. There was no way he was heading back by himself now that he knew the trees would try to eat him! He wouldn’t last a second.

He had to think! He had somehow beaten the slime. With the right plan he could beat this thing to. So again, what tools did he have? Right!

Blacknail drew his sling and slipped a stone into it. He twirled it to build momentum and sighted on the target his master had told him to aim for first, the eyes.

He flung the stone towards one of the small black targets but the projectile missed and whooshed past the creature. The creature flinched away and hissed in alarm, though. It apparently didn’t like having rocks thrown at it, which meant Blacknail should do it again.

Blacknail launched another stone, this time it hit the creature on the head just under the a eye stalk. The tree thing didn’t seem hurt but it flinched again and brought an arm up to protect its fragile looking eye stalks. However, in order to do that it had to let go of Saeter with one hand.

“Let go, you bloody overgrown bush bug!” Saeter shouted as he wasted no time and immediately started stabbing again with his newly freed hand.

Blacknail continued to throw stones at the twisted creature until it turned away from him in an attempt to shield its head from the small projectiles. Ha, his plan was working! He was a genius.

Then, with a cry of victory Saeter rolled free from under his captor. He had managed to stab the knife almost all the way into the limb holding him by aiming for a joint.

The pain had caused the creature to hiss and let go of its prey for a second. However, it quickly recovered and immediately tried to grab Saeter again.

Saeter obviously had other ideas. He sprung up onto his feet with a grunt of pain and dashed towards the goblin as Blacknail covered him by slinging more stones at the now advancing monstrosity.

The thing skittered towards its escaping prey on all six of its legs now. Its body and leaves shaking as it gave chase through the long grass of the clearing.

“Run,” yelled Saeter as he grimaced painfully and dashed past the goblin.

Blacknail did. As fast as he could he spun around and scrambled away from the thing trying to eat him. His master sure liked stating the obvious sometimes.

They both ran through the woods at full sprint, with fear and pure survival instinct driving them forward. Blacknail had no illusions about what would happen if the creature managed to get a hold of him with its long branch like claws.

Soon, the sound of pursuit and shaking leaves stopped. Blacknail risked a glance backwards and saw the creature turn and begin to wander away back to the clearing it had come from. Thankfully, it hadn’t been a very fast runner.

Ahead of him, Saeter came to a stop and leaned against a tree. He was clearly in pain and exhausted. Blood leaked through gashes on both his arms where the creature had grabbed him.

In their haste to escape the man and the goblin had run into the deeper part of the bush away from the sunlight.

“Unbegotten mimics,” Saeter growled between two heavy breaths as he rested.

Blacknail remembered his master mentioning forest mimics once. He had told the goblin that they hid among trees and grabbed prey that wandered too close. He had also said to run from them if he saw one because they were slow.

Blacknail was pretty sure his master had missed some important information in there somewhere. He had certainly not been expecting something like the thing that had attacked them!

“Are we safe now? There are trees everywhere!” the goblin sobbed in terror as he spun around in circles.  No matter how fast he turned he couldn’t look in every direction at once.

“We’re good. I should have seen it. I knew something was off. That was a perfect mimic hunting ground. They can only mimic smaller trees and they like lots of sun,” Saeter groaned regretfully.

He then turned to the goblin beside him who was swaying unsteadily on his feet from too much spinning.

“I’m getting you a bigger and sharper knife,” Saeter told him.

“Yes, please,” Blacknail replied with an exuberant nod of agreement.

He liked that idea. This was the second time his knife had failed him. Just think of all the things he could stab with a bigger knife!

After taking a few minutes to suck down air and recover as much as possible, Saeter pushed himself up off the tree with a wince and turned to the goblin.

“We need to head back. I’m wounded and the blood will attract predators,” he explained.

The old scout then hesitated for a second before grumbling and adding, “Thanks Blacknail. You’re a good goblin.”

Caught by surprise, Blacknail broke out into a huge smile. His master had never complimented him other then the occasional ‘good job’ before. He felt fierce pride rise in his chest. He had been very brave!

“Thank you, master. I so happy you no dead,” he gushed as he strode forward and hugged his master around the waist.

This caused Saeter to blanch, look uncomfortable, and then try to squirm away.

“We need to head back. Let go and help me with my arms, Blacknail,” he told the goblin awkwardly.

He clearly wanted to push the goblin away but couldn’t manage it with his wounds. Blacknail waited a few second before letting go. He enjoyed the hug and had to put back the pouch his naughty fingers had instinctively borrowed by mistake when they had first hugged.

“Yes, master,” he acknowledged when he was done and had let go.

Saeter crouched down and had Blacknail go through his pouches until he found one that contained some strong herbal smelling paste and another that contained some clean rags.

Saeter then had him take out a rag and apply the paste to his wounds using the cloth. Finally he had the goblin tie one rag tightly around the largest cut to stop the bleeding, and then use another one to tie his arm up to his chest to support it and prevent it from moving.

“That will do. Let’s go,” Saeter grunted as Blacknail finished.

The goblin stepped away and Saeter rose to his feet. The two of them then began the long walk back to the camp. Saeter was wounded but could still walk without too much difficulty. Much to Blacknail’s surprise, Saeter signaled that he should take the lead.

Excitedly, the goblin took point and began to lead his master home. If they both survived he was sure to have earned a huge treat! Hopefully, it would be better than the berries the stupid mimic had chased them away from.

Honor Among Thieves 2.4

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After an uneventful night, Blacknail was woken up early the next morning and sent out to check the rabbit snares. He had done it plenty of times now and was no longer afraid of going out into the woods alone. His fear and been replaced by familiarity, at least as long as he was only making the short trip to the snares and back.

Blacknail yawned as he wandered through the bushes at the edge of the forest. His memories of his old life in the sewers had begun to fade. As dangerous as it was here, the camp had become his new home.

It wasn’t like there was any possible way to get back there anyway. The sewers were many days away through the forest, and that wasn’t a journey he ever planned on making.

His new life did have perks. For one thing, the forest smelled much better than the sewers.

He missed being around other goblins sometimes, especially the females, but in the sewers he’d mostly just fought the other goblins anyway. They’d fought over hierarchy, food, shiny things, mates, and of course just because they’d been bored.

Besides, even though humans were so big and scary they sometimes gave him treats and praised him. No goblin had ever given Blacknail tasty things, unless he’d beaten them up first.

The morning sun was shining sedately through the loose roof of leaves above him. It was a warm clear day without a single cloud visible in the sky. The morning birds sang joyfully in the trees either ignoring or ignorant of the goblin strolling along beneath them.

Blacknail stopped for a second to listen to the bird song and scan the grass and tall plants around him. As he stood motionless his green skin and hide clothes blended into the surrounding, camouflaging him.

After listening attentively for a while, Blacknail heard and saw nothing unusual so he continued his stroll. There didn’t seem to be anything dangerous around.

He moved casually but kept an eye and ear open for anything out of place. If there was one lesson Saeter made sure he never forgot it was that no one was ever truly safe out in the forest. He would hate to let his master down by dying some horrific death.

The wary little goblin soon reached the snares, but just as he was about to get to work he heard an unexpected noise. What was that? Blacknail twitched in surprise and spun around. Was it a terrible monster about to leap out and eat him?

It probably wasn’t; the grass under one of the triggered snares was just rustling. The goblin didn’t think anything really dangerous could hide in so small a patch of grass. It was probably a bird or something.

Blacknail narrowed his eyes and quietly drew his sling anyway. Something might be trying to steal his rabbit! He couldn’t see what was making the noise from his position so he circled around a tree to get a better angle.

As Blacknail watched, something started to try and climb the sapling a rabbit hung from. The goblin’s eyes widened as he looked on in surprise. He had no idea what the freakish thing was.

How could it even move? It was just a blob of liquidy stuff! It was like a see though pile of snot with a bunch of weird shapes floating in it. Yet, it was moving and actually managing to slowly work its way up the sapling. It looked really wrong, like water flowing uphill but uglier.

Blacknail hit it with a stone from his sling just on general principles. The blob of slime quivered and froze for a second before falling to the ground with a weird muted splashing noise.

Had he killed it? He hoped so. Well, apparently he hadn’t because as the goblin watched it reformed itself into a round blob and started oozing towards him with surprising speed.

Uh oh, it was headed his way! How could such a weird thing move? He hit it with another stone in the hopes that would stop it.

The slime quivered on impact and the stone sank into the blob but a second later it popped out again with wet slurping noise and fell to the ground. It also kept closing the distance between them so Blacknail swiftly took a nervous step back.

He didn’t know how dangerous the freaky booger ball was. He was pretty sure Saeter had never mentioned anything like it to him, or at least not when he’d been paying attention.

Blacknail circled around his mysterious opponent warily. Every once and a while it would put on a burst of speed and ooze towards him over the forest floor but the goblin deftly dodged it every time.

Ha, he was faster than the stupid thing! Now, he just had to find a way to hurt it before it found a way to hurt him.

Suddenly, the blob burst towards him again and he moved to dodge. Or at least he tried.

As he went to jump away something tugged on his neck sharply and choked him. His inconvenient momentum caused his feet to fly out from under him and he landed hard on his tailbone. Ow, his poor ass!

He then watched in wide eyed horror as the large blob of slime descended on him. With a wet smack it crossed the ground and enveloped his arm.

“Eeek, off off,” Blacknail yelled as he flailed and tried to get free but the transparent blob was stuck fast.

The terrified goblin tried to climb to his feet but the slime had a grip on his arm and wouldn’t let go, no matter how hard he pulled. He yelped in fear as the thing began to climb up his arm towards his head.

This was not good! Desperately, Blacknail tried to claw at it with his free hand but it just reformed around the cuts. No, that wasn’t fair! He began kicking at it with his feet but stopped when one foot sunk into the thing and became stuck as well.

Not his best plan ever… At least it seemed to confuse the thing because it stopped climbing his arm, for the moment anyway.

Blacknail whimpered and frantically tried to think. He wasn’t just any stupid goblin. He was Blacknail! What would Saeter or another human do? Come on think! A human would… use a tool. Blacknail felt a flash of hope. That’s right, he had a tool.

The goblin reached with his free hand and drew the knife Saeter had given him. Desperately, he stabbed the slime several time but it still didn’t do any permanent damage. The ooze just flowed back after he cut it.

What next? He looked his opponent over as the slime begun sucking him in again, this time by both his caught limbs. With a chill, Blacknail realized he was going to die unless he thought of something.

Think! Maybe he should attack the weird things floating in the slime. Frantically, he tried to stab the ones closest to him but they were too deep and the knife couldn’t reach them.

To his horror he felt the wet edge of the slime begun to climb his neck. He shivered with dread as he squirmed trapped upon the ground by the slime’s weight and sticky hold.

He had a sudden idea, but it was desperate and stupid. He didn’t want to do it but he was running out of time. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to breathe whatever this thing was made of. The very thought of the slime encasing his head and flowing down his nose and mouth was horrible.

Taking a deep breath Blacknail steeled his resolve and pulled back his arm back. He then stabbed the thing as hard as he could. His arm sank deep into the slime and was caught. He wouldn’t be able to get it out or attack the slime again and now he only had a single foot left, which didn’t do him a lot of good.

However, much to his relief he saw that the blade of the knife in his hand had managed to reach its target. The blackish sac like thing floating in the slime was impaled on the knife and dark fluid begun to spill out and mix with the transparent slime. Blacknail watched wide eyed and desperately hoped that he had actually done something and that he wouldn’t soon be eaten alive.

The blob rippled with small waves then convulsed crazily. To his horror Blacknail was sucked further in and his face was enveloped. Then just as suddenly the goblin was spat out in a splash of slime. He gasped for breath and sucked down air joyously. He was free, and not dead!

As the black liquid spread throughout the rest of the blob it started to dissolve. Blacknail lay on the ground covered in icky weird smelling ooze and watched as the creature expired with a loud gurgling noise. Eventually, only a smelly stain and several weird twisted organs remained.

Blacknail picked himself off the ground and tried to wipe the slime off his skin and clothes. He grinned in excitement. Wow, was he ever glad to be alive. That had been extremely close!

After the goblin gave up cleaning himself off, he turned to look at the remains of the creature. It was mostly just smelly gunk, which he had more than enough of, but he spotted something shiny in among the remains. It was a small crystal!

Blacknail stashed the crystal in one of his pouches and headed back to camp. A few minutes later he remembered he was supposed to be checking the snares and swiftly turned around again.

He collected the rabbit carcasses and hurried back to Saeter. He was already very late. His master would be wondering where he’d gone. He scurried down the path as fast as he could and still maintain a bit of stealth and awareness.

He made it close to the camp without any more trouble. Although he startled one of the bandit scouts as he ran past him on the trail. The man gave him a very surprised look as he passed. Blacknail ignored him and hurried home.

He exited the forest and immediately headed through the camp towards Saeter’s tent. He really wanted to brag about his victory!

Several people gave him odd glances as he passed because he was still covered in quite a bit of slime. It dribbled down his as he ran. They didn’t stop him however and he soon arrived at the tent.

Luckily for him, Saeter was seated out front on a stump oiling some of his tools. As Blacknail ran over and threw the rabbit carcasses unceremoniously on the ground Saeter looked up. He examined the goblin with an exasperated expression.

“In the name of all that is holy what have you been up to now?” he asked with troubled tone.

Blacknail was excited to show off so he reached down and pulled the orb from the pouch at his belt and shoved it into Saeter’s face.

“I take from bad puddle,” he exclaimed with pride.

Saeter leaned back away from the orb that had been shoved in his face and eyed it carefully. A very confused look came over his features.

“A bad puddle?” he repeated without understanding.

The old scout gave Blacknail a questioning look and took the crystal from him. He rotated in his hands as he examined it.

“Slimy smelly thing,” Blacknail explained excitedly.

He wanted his master to realize how great a hunter and fighter he was.

“Slimy… a slime? You fought a slime, and this is its crystal,” Saeter said with surprise as his brow tightened with concern.

“Where exactly did you fight the slime,” he asked in a serious tone.

Blacknail was more than happy to answer.

“At rabbit traps. Tried to steal but I stop. It grab but I stab good,” Blacknail answered as his backs straightened with pride.

While the goblin talked his master started to look vaguely impressed, this caused Blacknail to grow even happier with himself. Truly, he was great and mighty goblin.

“You beat a slime yourself eh? Must have been a small dud, but good work,” Saeter replied as he stood up.

“Not small, huge. Bigger than me,” Blacknail exaggerated as he extended his arms to show how big it had been.

He still wanted more praise but Saeter just gave him an amused but doubtful look before examining the crystal again.

“What’s that?” Blacknail asked his master.

“It’s the slime’s crystal. They all have one. Slimes only grow in crystal caves. Let’s hope there isn’t one nearby. They’re very dangerous, the only place more dangerous than the forest in the Iron Teeth,” he explained.

“Badder than spiders?” Blacknail asked doubtfully.

“Yes,” Seater replied with a grumble of irritation. “I’m going to have to inform Herad.”

With a command to Blacknail to follow, Saeter marched off towards the old farmhouse that Herad had taken over as her command post. Blacknail usually avoided it because Herad was a scary lady.

The thatch on the roof had been replaced and the door had been reattached. The repairs were crude looking but serviceable. Of course the crudest thing about it was the pair of thugs standing guard out front.

They were two big ugly human brutes who really seemed to be not so much standing guard as hanging out there with bored expressions on their face because they had nowhere better to be. As Saeter approached he addressed one of them.

“Is Herad in?” he asked gruffly.

“Ya, she’s in there,” the guard answered him casually.

Neither guard bothered to block them as they approached.

“I’d like to talk to her,” Saeter told them.

The two guards looked at each other and with a sigh the further one turned to the door of the house and knocked.

“Boss, Saeter’s here to see you,” he announced to the closed door.

After a minute he stepped out of the way and the door opened to reveal Herad glaring down at them.

She wore her usual leather but her cloak and most her knives were missing. Candlelight flickered behind her illuminating the interior of the dark house. At his master’s side Blacknail instinctively slouched down to make himself less noticeable.

“Normally I’d ask if this was important but since it’s you Saeter I know you wouldn’t show your face without a good reason,” she commented irritably as she stepped out to talk with him.

Saeter watched her as she descended the short steps in front of the door. She met his eyes and gave him an amused smile.

“My goblin Blacknail was out checking the snares this morning,” he told her with a gesture in the goblin’s direction.

“Fascinating, but as much as I love hearing a man brag about his pet please get to the point,” she replied with a roll of her eyes.

“When he came back he was covered in slime and had a crystal core. He told me he fought a small slime that was trying to get at the snares. I thought you would want to know,” Saeter told her. Blacknail huffed in displeasure. It had been a giant monster slime, not a small one! Saeter hadn’t even seen it.

Herad frowned and scowled in annoyance when Saeter had finished speaking. However Saeter was clearly not the target of her displeasure.

“You think it’s a sign there might be a crystal cave around?” she asked him.

“Yes, there has to be one around somewhere. The question is how close. The slime could have wandered a fair distance. It probably did since we haven’t already seen more crystal beasts or mutants,” Saeter told her.

“So then you don’t think we have a problem?” she enquired. Saeter shook his head in response and brandished the crystal core he had gotten from Blacknail.

“We could just have gotten lucky. The cave could also be mostly sealed so only things like slimes can slip through. Larger slimes can be very dangerous though. Some even have active cores and magical abilities like mutants. Those can rival Drakes in strength,” he explained as Herad gave him a frustrated look.

“This is obviously your area of expertise, Saeter. Why don’t you just explain what you want done so I can approve it?” she asked him with an annoyed tone.

“It’s too dangerous to ignore. Tomorrow I’d like to send all the scouts to search the perimeter. Then I’d like for as many men as possible to go after them once it’s safer and do a more thorough search. A small crevice will be hard to find but easy enough to seal,” he told her.

“Well, at least you don’t want to abandon the camp,” Herad mused aloud as she took a second to think his request over.

“Very well it’s not like most the men are doing anything more than lazing around. This will just help keep them out of trouble. I’ll inform them tonight,” she added and Saeter nodded in acceptance.

“Then I’ll take my leave,” the old scout told her.

Herad just eyed him as she leisurely drew a dagger and lightly pressed her finger against the tip as if testing the sharpness. She continued stroking it for a few seconds before replying.

“What if it’s more than a crevice? New types of mana crystals are worth a fortune to the mage guilds, enough to set someone up for life,” she commented dryly.

“Dangerous, you could stir up a monster capable of killing half the band. Maybe even something on the level of the City Killer and then Riverdown would join Coroulis in ruin,” he answered with concern.

Herad gave him a doubtful look.

“To the first I can always get more men, and as for the second it’s not only horribly unlikely but also simply not my problem,” she answered him.

“It is if the beast kills us all first, which is pretty damn likely. You also need somewhere to trade your stolen goods,” he replied.

“We can move,” Herad said as she shrugged in response. “Besides, you’re the one who is constantly reminding everyone that no one is ever safe out here. A mutant could attack us at any time and it wouldn’t be a surprise to either of us. This is the Iron Teeth and we’re bloody bandits. Every day we survive is a lucky one. A large payoff is worth a large risk.”

“As you wish,” Saeter replied with a sigh. “I guess we’ll see what we find tomorrow.”

“Indeed we will, and if we find the cave I will be one making the call. You can go now,” she told him dismissively in a cold commanding tone.

Saeter simply nodded and quickly withdrew. Blacknail followed his master and thought over what he had just heard. It sounded like tomorrow would be exciting.

Honor Among Thieves 2.3

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The next two weeks went by in a blur of chores but ended in a bang when the wagons and Herad finally arrived.

It was a cool overcast day and it had rained lightly on and off that morning. Blacknail was glad he had his cape. He didn’t mind being cold or wet, but he hated being cold and wet at the same time. He shivered and snuggled into the thick fur on the inside of his clothes for warmth.

“Finally! They sure are late,” one of the men who had stayed at the camp with Saeter and Blacknail said.

Several of the camp’s occupants had come out to see the wagons arrive, including Saeter.

“I’m not surprised they’re behind schedule. It’s still too early in the year for the road to be completely dry. Getting those wagons along must have been tough. We’re lucky it just started raining this morning,” another replied.

“Maybe we will get paid before winter now,” the first one joked, which caused a few of the other men to chuckle humorously.

After a few minutes, when nothing more exciting than a bunch of wet and dirty men trudging across a muddy road with some rickety wagons appeared the watchers started wandering off.

Saeter however headed over to the wagons and as usual Blacknail followed him.

They passed dozens of miserable looking outlaws in soaked leather and furs as they trudged down the muddy road. A few of them gave Saeter and his goblin hostile or curious glances but most of them seemed far too tired to care about what was going on around them.

Saeter headed for the back of the train of wagons. There, Herad was supervising the removal of goods from a broken wagon.

The wooden wagon lay on an angle at the side of the road. One of the front wheels had popped completely off leaving a broken wooden axle exposed.

Under their leader’s watchful eyes several men were removing goods from the damaged wagon and either tying them to the horse that had been untied from the wagon or carrying them down the road by hand.

Herad looked furious and only a few moments away from violence, but then again she almost always did. Saeter stopped several feet from Herad but within her sight and waited patiently. Blacknail hid behind him, trying not to attract Herad’s attention.

After a few moments Herad turned her scowl their way. She was dressed in her usual dark leather armor which was decorated with an assortment of blades. Her cloak’s hood was pulled up to protect her from the rain and water dripped down it.

“You’d better have a nice bonfire going and my shelter ready when I get to camp. I didn’t send you ahead so you could slack off,” she told Saeter as she turned to face him.

“I do, as well as some hot deer stew,” Saeter replied seemingly unconcerned.

“You’ll make someone a wonderful wife someday,” Herad remarked bitingly.

“I fear I’m well past the marriageable age,” he answered deadpan.

Herad smiled darkly at him in response. She was clearly amused.

“That’s what I like about you Saeter. You walk the fine line between never arguing with me and not always agreeing with me either,” she told him.

“How’s our status?” she continued seriously after a brief pause.

“Camp is set up. We have food, fire, and some lean-to set up for the men. The old farmhouse has been patched up for you,” Saeter reported.

“The roads?” she asked.

“Scouts haven’t seen anything on the road ahead. I’ve had riders down onto the main road to Riverdown and they haven’t seen anything unusual either. No sign of any patrols or traps. Not that the patrols ever leave the main roads anyway. I’m more worried about some other band of brigands getting wind of our haul. I haven’t seen any sign of that though. The messengers you sent to the city to meet your contacts are away and have probably gotten there by now,” he reported.

“Good,” Herad grunted simply in response.

“We haven’t even lost anyone in the forest yet. Bad luck that,” Saeter added after a second of thought. Herad gave him a skeptical look.

“It’s bad luck that we haven’t lost anyone to the woods?” she asked him dryly.

“The forest always gets someone eventually. That it hasn’t yet only means it could still be me this time,” he replied.

“Bushman superstition,” she huffed in annoyance. “If you’re that worried about it then you could always throw your little pet goblin there to the wolves.”

The goblin shied away from her. He wasn’t sure how serious to take any of her comments. She didn’t seem to like him much.

“He’s still pretty scrawny. They’d probably just come back for seconds,” Saeter told her with a brief glance at the goblin and the barest hint of humor in his voice.

“Well, since you’ve lasted this long without being eaten by something I think you’ll be fine for a while yet Saeter. That said, I want you and the other scouts out there making sure nothing dangerous from the deep woods surprises us. If you see signs of something, I want to know right away. Also, the more food you can scrounge up the less we have to buy,” she told him before pausing for a second to think.

“We’re going to be here a while as we wait for the buyers from Riverdown to get here, and take this stuff off our hands. I don’t want any nasty surprises while we wait,” she finished.

“You know that neither I nor anyone else can make any promises when it comes to the forest Herad, but I will do my job,” he told her gravely.

“How professional, your best had just better be good enough. I’ll talk with you later when I get things in order here. Find something useful to do with yourself in the mean time,” she replied dismissively.

Saeter nodded and she turned away. Then Blacknail and his master headed back down the road to camp. The goblin threw one last nervous look backwards at Herad. Saeter noticed his nervous demeanor.

“You don’t need to be so scared of her, Blacknail,” he told the goblin.

“She’s mean and scary, master,” he whimpered in response.

“Dangerous too, or she wouldn’t still be the boss. There isn’t any such thing as a nice bandit but Herad has her own twisted sense of fairness and she sticks to it. Which is more than most the scum out here have,” Saeter explained as they walked down the muddy forest road.

Blacknail nodded when his master stopped talking. Not in agreement though, but because he should always be seen to agree with his master. He was still going to avoid Herad as much as possible. She looked at him like he was a bug and she was still deciding whether or not to squish him.

As they approached the encampment someone called out to them.

“Well if it isn’t old man Saeter and his ever faithful companion, Blacknail the goblin. I haven’t had the pleasure of your company in awhile. I guess it’s because you’ve been here living it up, sleeping in one place, resting all day, and eating all the good food while I’ve been out on the road walking endlessly and staring at the back of a bloody wagon,” Geralhd yelled with decidedly fake cheer.

The skinny man was seated on the ground underneath a canvas that had been set up to block the rain and was massaging one of his feet with both hands. He had unstrapped and taken off his socks and boots and they were sitting on the ground beside him.

“Yes, that’s exactly how we spent our time,” Saeter responded sarcastically.

“Ah Saeter, never lose that sunny disposition and glib tongue of yours. The world would be a darker place without it, and then I would have no one to engage in philosophical discourse with.” Garalhd responded back with his own sarcasm.

A second later he winced as he touched a sore spot on his foot.

“What are you doing here?” Saeter asked him pointedly.

“Well, if you mean why am I here on this lovely earth and for what purpose do I exist then I guess we will be having that philosophical debate after all,” Geralhd responded as he smiled. “However, if you are asking how it is I found myself wanted by the crown and squatting in a mud pit among such illustrious company then I shall have to respond that it is because I killed the right person.”

“Why are you bothering me?” Saeter clarified as Geralhd shrugged.

“A man must amuse himself somehow if he is to stay sane and, just between us, I have to admit that somehow against all odds you’re actually one of the more pleasant people to be around in our little pack of villains,” he answered with a theatrical sigh.

“Go bug Vorscha,” Saeter suggested.

“Alas, the lady is busy with a task from our inexorable commander…” Geralhd began but Saeter cut him off with a loud snort.

“Ah, yes well since we’re being so discerning here I must admit that while she is a wonderful woman, Vorscha is alas not very ladylike. I have certainly never seen a lady eat a meat pie quite like Vorscha does,” Geralhd admitted with wide eyes and a fake shudder.

Blacknail thought he saw the faint traces of a smile appear on Saeter’s lips as Geralhd spoke.  The younger man then turned to the goblin and gave him an appraising look.

“Hello, Blacknail. I must apologize for ignoring you while Saeter and I engaged in our usual longwinded banter. You seem taller. Oh, and I must compliment you on your new clothes! Your own work I presume?” Geralhd asked.

“Yes, I made,” Blacknail answered proudly as he looked down at his rabbit skin pants and cape. Their ragged patchwork surfaces were soaked by the rain.

“So I had guessed. They are certainly… unique looking,” Geralhd remarked. Before he could say any more Saeter cut him off again.

“If you’re done insulting Blacknail’s clothes I’ll be leaving. Also, I notice you’re not wearing those fancy clothes you first showed up in. Perhaps, unlike the goblin you’re incapable of making or even repairing your own clothes,” he huffed.

Geralhd had been insulting his clothes? Blacknail felt his pride wilt. He thought his cape was nice and cozy. Geralhd saw the goblin’s face fall.

“Tsk, your master is being dramatic Blacknail. I was just having fun; I like your clothes. They’re very… practical,” he added.

Geralhd then got up and patted Blacknail on the head. Saeter scowled at them and rolled his eyes.

“Come on Blacknail. We have work to do,” Saeter commanded. He then stomped off to his campsite. Blacknail turned to follow but Geralhd called out to him.

“Come see me at supper time tonight Blacknail and I’ll have a treat for you,” Geralhd told him with a friendly goodbye wave.

The man then sat back down and started massaging his now dirty feet again.

After Blacknail caught up to his master they grabbed their gear and headed out into the woods. The result was a rather unproductive slog through the rain drenched forest. The only animals they ran into were spine toads, and you couldn’t eat those.

The large green frogs came out in the rain and camouflaged in with the grass and leafy plants that littered the ground. Their backs were covered in poisonous spines so the goblin and his master had to watch where they stepped.

Eventually, Saeter was forced to admit defeat and return to the encampment empty handed and very wet. It had stopped raining but everything was still covered in water and muddy.

If he had been miserable before, then Saeter was truly and deeply unhappy now. Blacknail heard him muttering to himself as they headed over to their campfire to dry.

After a few minutes of work they got the campfire going and its crackling flames started to warm them up. Saeter hung his clothes up to dry and Blacknail cheerfully added his cape to the drying rack as well. The old scout then turned to the goblin.

“I’m going to take a break. You can practice something or other,” he muttered to Blacknail irritably.

The old scout then ducked into his tent and closed the flap. Blacknail heard him lay down and his breathing deepen as he fell asleep.

As his master had instructed, Blacknail started practicing. The first thing he practiced was how to curl up next to the fire and take a nap. You could never be good enough at that.

Blacknail awoke with a tired yawn. As he sleepily opened his eye he noticed it was quite a bit darker out. The sun had begun to set and the shadows had lengthened. Most the campfires around him had been lit and they had people sitting around them.

Saeters’s fire was running low so the goblin threw some more wood on it. He liked watching things burn; it was pretty. As he was working a cool breeze blew through the trees and into the camp. The hungry flames flared up and Blacknail jumped nervously backwards for a moment.

The scent of various cooking foods also reached Blacknail’s nose. Most the bandits seemed to be settling down to eat.

Blacknail’s own stomach grumbled. He hadn’t eaten supper yet. He threw a glance at Saeter’s tent and listened. He heard the deep breathing of sleep from within the tent and sighed. He wouldn’t be getting any food from there.

Then with a flash of excitement the goblin remembered Geralhd’s promise. It was supper time! If he found Geralhd then the man would have a treat for him. Where was he, though?

Blacknail wandered around until he found himself at the southern edge of the camp. Several men were seated at a campfire off to his right, one of whom was glaring at him angrily.

Blacknail ignored him and looked around for Geralhd or Vorscha. They would probably be together. The skinny man was obviously the woman’s subordinate.

After a quick scan, he saw Geralhd up ahead at another camp fire. Blacknail smiled in glee and sprang excitedly towards him. It was time for a snack! He hoped it would be a tasty one.

Suddenly, he heard a loud twang followed by the sound of something impacting the ground behind him hard. The startled goblin yelped in surprise and jumped off to the side, landing on all fours. His heart was beating loudly in his chest and there was an arrow quivering in the ground right beside where he had just been standing.

What was this? Blacknail nervously looked up to see that the glaring man was now standing up and had an empty bow in his hands. The man’s thick face was contorted by an expression of anger and sadistic glee.

He was a large human with broad shoulder, short greasy black hair, and a grin that revealed a few missing teeth. His chin was covered in dark stubble and as he looked at the goblin he burst out laughing.

“Look at that ugly critter jump! You go back to your senile keeper now and don’t wander around stinking up the place, or next time I’m gonna put an arrow through your eye,” the man viciously told the goblin.

The other two men at the campfire grinned and started laughing as well. Blacknail felt a wave of panic and got ready to flee at the first opportunity.

He hissed in alarm and started to back away. Apparently, this offended the big man because he scowled and took a step towards the goblin. As he moved he drew a large knife and an angry grimace appeared on his face.

“I’m gonna cut your little green ears off and make myself a necklace,” the man said with eyes narrowed in anger as he advanced upon the small figure of the goblin.

There was no way Blacknail could fight such a huge human so he was going to have to run away. The trick would be to make it back to Saeter’s camp alive…

“What in all the hells are you doing?” an angry voice interjected all of a sudden.

Everyone glanced over towards the voice and saw Geralhd approaching with a furious looking scowl on his face. Seeing him approach the other two men got up and stood behind their big friend. Clearly, they were his lackeys.

“None of your damn business, pansy,” the big man growled back at Geralhd.

“I think it is, Dafur,” Geralhd responded. “See, I was the one that invited that goblin over and here you are getting in his way. I have a problem with that. Not to mention Saeter is going to be furious when he hears about your latest bit of stupidity here.”

The big man named Dafur narrowed his eyes. He looked to be almost twice Geralhd’s size.

“I ain’t afraid of that old fool Saeter and I ain’t afraid of your bitch Vorscha. She’s not here to protect you anyways, pansy. So you scuttle along because for damn sure I ain’t afraid of a skinny wimp like you,” Dafur bragged.

“I can take care of myself,” Geralhd responded heatedly as his hand moved to the dagger at his hip.

Dafur must have sensed fear though, because he smiled down at the smaller man and stalked towards him. However, Geralhd held his ground and drew his dagger.

Dafur suddenly lunged, moving faster than his large size suggested. His dagger arced around and slashed at Geralhd’s face. The smaller man’s eyes widened in surprise but he managed to tuck his chin in and dodge below the attack. However, the dagger grazed his shoulder and bit deep enough to draw blood.

Instead of retreating though, Geralhd leaned under Dafur’s extended arm and stabbed towards his chest. Dafur twisted out of the way but received a shallow cut of his own.

However, Geralhd attack left him overextended. He stumbled and Dafur’s big meaty fist swung around and impacted his face.

With a loud smacking sound Geralhd was sent spinning onto the ground. He quickly tried to stand up but couldn’t quite manage it. The blow had left him stunned.

All he could do was hold his nose as blood leaked from it and groan as Dafur moved closer. The larger man towered over him with a cruel smile on his lips. He held the cut on his chest with one hand and his dagger in the other.

“I’m going to kill you now, you damned pansy,” Dafur growled.

Blacknail froze in panic. His mind raced as he tried to think of a way to save Gerahld but he couldn’t think of anything. Fighting wouldn’t work. A goblin would be killed if he hurt a human, and death was even worse than losing a good source of treats. Besides, how could a little goblin like him fight such a giant man?

Suddenly, a new voice spoke up.

“How about me Dafur, are you afraid of me?” Herad asked as she detached herself from the shadows and strode over.

Dafur’s lackeys jumped in surprise but the man himself just scowled. He threw Geralhd an angry look and fingered the knife in his hand before turning back to Herad.

“This goblin attacked me, and when I tried to catch it Geralhd here tried to stab me while I was distracted. I was just defending myself. These two saw it,” he told her as he indicated his lackeys.

Herad simply tilted her head slightly to show her skepticism. Her eyes grew colder and her smile tighter as she looked the big man over.

“I have only a few simple rules, as you should all know well. First, you do as I say. Second, you don’t lie to me. The third and last is you don’t fight or run without permission. You have now broken two of those rules,” she explained.

Dafur hesitated again but then a defiant look appeared on his face. He gazed down at Herad as if comparing their sizes. The large man was many times Herad’s weight. He raised his knife.

“Now look here b…” he started to say.

However, his speech stopped as Herad pushed the tip of one of her daggers up through the bottom of his jaw and into his brain.

He hadn’t even seen the blade coming. He just blinked in pained confusion as she pulled it back out of his skull.

Herad had moved almost too quickly for Blacknail to see. Her hand and the dagger seemed to just instantly move from one point to another without going through the space between.

Dafur’s eyes rolled up into his head and he made several brief choking noises as he collapsed into a pile of rapidly spreading blood on the ground. Herad  calmly wiped her blade clean with a rag and re-sheathed it.

“So very stupid,” she said to no one in particular as she turned to the lackeys.

“Dispose of the body, now,” she told them.

With terrified expressions they nodded and jumped to obey.

After throwing Dafur’s corpse one last disgusted look, Herad started walking alone towards the center of the camp. The dark aura she exuded discouraged anyone from following her, not that anyone wanted to.

Geralhd got unsteadily to his feet while still holding his bloody noise. He looked worse for wear. His clothes were dirty and ruffled.

“I think I could have won that fight myself but a gentleman never turns down timely aid,” he asserted proudly while staring off into the direction Herad had gone.

Blacknail gave him a dubious look. He had a very different opinion on the man’s chances of victory. The small man had been seconds away from death.

“I really need another drink. You still want that treat?” Geralhd asked the goblin as he wiped some of the blood from his face.

Honor Among Thieves 2.2

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Blacknail didn’t get a lot of sleep that night. Instead, he anxiously gazed out into the woods for any sign of the creature’s return. Eventually though, exhaustion overcame his fear and he lost his hold on consciousness.

He dreamed of dark waters and pale worms with toothy maws swimming beneath him in strange patterns. It was far from the best dream he’d ever had.

The following morning he woke with a start but had only the faintest recollection of the visions that had disturbed his sleep. Blacknail was more than happy to let the memories slip from his mind as they once again got up and began walking.

The group of bandits reached their destination around noon that day. The goblin was more than a little disappointed when he saw it. It was just a clearing along the abandoned road they’d been traveling on. Why had they walked so far just to move from one empty spot to another? Humans were stupid!

The meadow was much larger than the one they had been camped in before and it contained a small derelict building. Those were the only real differences Blacknail could see.

It was a solid looking wooden building but it had clearly degraded over the years since it had been abandoned. The wooden door had fallen off and the thatch roof had long since rotted away. Blacknail stood off to the side of Saeter and listened in as he started talking to the other bandits.

“This used to be a farmhouse, and this overgrown meadow used to be farmland. When I was young homesteads like this dotted these lands. Now look at it,” Saeter mused sorrowfully.

“Times are tough everywhere, Saeter. All the bloody kings and nobles have been at their damned pointless wars for decades now. At least up here in the North there are no press gangs and taxmen,” one of the other scouts replied before spitting onto the ground.

Saeter snorted disdainfully in response.

“No, there are only monsters, mutants, the City Killer, and a thousand other ways to die out here. Let’s also not forget about all the merciless bandits and depraved outlaws,” he countered with dark humor.

“Like I said, times are tough everywhere,” the other replied simply with a shrug. “Years of war will do that.”

“The North would have toughed it out if not for the thrice damned City Killer,” Saeter said with sudden heat that caused his face to flush with barely contained hatred.

Blacknail almost took a step back from him in alarm. His master never showed his anger like that! He was usually so in control. It scared the goblin more than a little. He could too easily imagine that wild rage being turned against him.

“Well, I wasn’t there so I wouldn’t know but I suspect you’re wrong about that. Things would have been better here were Coroulis still standing but the rest of the world would have still dragged the North down with it,” the other bandit replied carefully as he watched Saeter out of the corner of his eye.

“We would have had a chance, though,” Saeter said as his anger gave way to resignation. “Ha, I really must be becoming an old man because I’m starting to rant and grumble just like one.”

The other man just grunted in response and they both stared at the ruins in front of them for a while. Blacknail joined them but he didn’t see anything interesting. Were they looking for something?

After a few minutes they had to stop and help the other scouts work. Their group had a lot of work to do to get the new camp site ready for everyone else’s arrival.

First, they had to fix up the building up and clear the land. The tall grass and plants that grew in the clearing had to be cut and set out to dry in order to make thatch for the building’s roof and to clear an area for camping. They also went to work cutting down some of the nearby trees and stockpiling the wood and branches for both fuel and construction materials.

As they worked one of the scouts stumbled upon an old well by the house. So they added repairing that to the list of things they needed to do. Luckily, they had over a dozen good workers and one over-enthusiastic goblin.

As they worked and waited for Herad and the wagons, Saeter sent scouts out to watch the road. He wanted to keep in contact with Herad and make sure no one could sneak up on them unaware.

Even once they had finished most of the original jobs Blacknail was still kept busy helping his master with his usual duties once again. He ran about helping with hunting in the morning and chores in the afternoon.

After several days of exploring the woods with Saeter the goblin began to feel more comfortable out there. Being under the forest canopy wasn’t so bad, as long as he stayed within three feet of his master at all times and didn’t go anywhere too dark. The spiders lived in the gloom.

He quickly picked up a lot of useful skills from doing so many chores every day. He was even rewarded with a small knife of his own. That was great because it showed that his master trusted him to be loyal, useful, and not to stab people.

The first thing the goblin learned was how to set fires. Saeter showed him how to arrange the wood and tinder and set it alight with steel and flint, or by rubbing two pieces of wood together.

A few impromptu fire starting practice sessions later Saeter snatched the flint and steel back. He then ordered the disappointed goblin not to practice anymore without permission. Blacknail didn’t know what the big deal was. It had only been a small section of grass that had caught fire and together all the scouts had managed to stamp it out easily enough.

Next he was put to work skinning rabbits again. When he ran out of carcasses to practice on Saeter took him out into the woods and showed him how to set the snares himself.

He did this by bending a sapling down and tying it to a piece of cord with a noose on the end. A twig was tied to the cord right before the noose, and was held on the ground by a stake or another sapling. When the rabbit hit the noose it tightened and the movement caused the twig to come loose and the sapling to snap up. The rabbit was then pulled into the air and ended up hanging from the sapling.

Blacknail learned exactly how the trap worked when he stepped on it and the noose snagged his foot. He was almost instantly sent sprawling as the trap yanked his feet out from under him. Luckily, he was too heavy to be pulled into the air so he just ended up falling on his ass. At least now he knew it worked.

The hardest part of snaring rabbits was finding a rabbit trail or hole to place the snare on. Saeter had to look for signs such as droppings, but Blacknail could simply smell rabbit trails and follow them.

“Rabbits can’t hide from me. Me too great!” Blacknail bragged smugly as he set up a trap.

“Good job, you’ve got the hang of this. Now you can empty and set the traps yourself each morning,” Saeter replied as he watched the goblin work.

Wow, he’d just been given a job all of his own! The goblin couldn’t believe his master trusted him to go out into the forest alone…

“It danger. Me die,” Blacknail replied in wide eyed shock.

There was no way he could go out into the forest by himself! He was just a tiny little goblin. There were harpies, wolves, spiders, and other more dangerous things out there. Blacknail was fairly sure the forest existed solely to give all the things that ate goblins a place to live.

“You know enough to keep yourself out of trouble, goblin,” Saeter replied sternly with a hardened look in his eyes that showed he wasn’t asking, he was commanding.

Seeing that look Blacknail cringed, but he didn’t move from where he was standing. Saeter took a step towards the goblin and raised a hand as if to strike him. Blacknail eyes went wide in alarm. Yet after only a few steps Saeter stopped and scowled at the goblin.

“Herad isn’t going to believe you’re useful enough to keep around if you can’t even walk into the woods by yourself,” Saeter grimly explained to Blacknail.

The goblin groaned. Ugh, he had been trying to forget about the dark eyed glowering chieftain. He didn’t really have a choice so he gave his master a reluctant nod of acceptance. This appeased Saeter somewhat, and he began preparing Blacknail for his first solo excursion.

First, Saeter taught Blacknail how to use his knife against various other animals. The goblin was told to stab them in the eye or under their ribs into their heart or lungs. He was also told to watch out for teeth and claws. Blacknail didn’t really need to be told that last part; he had already figured that out.

Saeter then taught him how to throw a rock faster and more accurately using a strip of cloth called a sling. This amazing invention deeply impressed the goblin.  He’d always wanted to be able to throw rocks harder; it was the answer to almost every problem he’d ever faced!

Blacknail was also given a belt and some leather pouches to put things like ammo or food in. Thus armed and equipped Blacknail was ready to start making trips out into the woods alone. He was very proud of himself. Proud but overcome by terrified panic.

Under his master’s watchful eye the goblin walked over to the edge of the woods and hesitantly took the first step through the bushes and into the forest.

He then cast a look back over his shoulder to see Saeter walking back to camp. Blacknail gulped and his eyes widened in fear. He was all alone! Any second now a hideous monster was going to show up and eat him.

For weeks he had either been right beside his master or surrounded by at least a dozen somewhat friendly humans. Now he was all alone out in the woods, or a few feet from the edge of it anyway.

The snap of a twig somewhere off in the distance broke his concentration and caused him to twitch in fear. Something was coming! He yelped and scrambled over to the large exposed roots of a nearby tree.

Quickly digging, the goblin widened the gap beneath some of the roots and dove down there to hide. From his vantage point at the entrance of his impromptu burrow the goblin warily eyed the green foliage and tree trunks around him.

Nothing moved or made any more noise. Blacknail waited there in his hiding spot for several minutes overcome by terror.

He wanted to dash back to the safety of the camp. The only thing stopping him was fear of what his master would do if he returned without the rabbits from the snares.

Several more minutes passed as the goblin tried to think of some way to escape from his current predicament. If he tried to get the rabbits he would most likely be torn apart and eaten, if he stayed here under the roots he would slowly starve to death, and if he returned to camp his master would punish him. He didn’t like any of those options.

Blacknail had never directly disobeyed his master and didn’t know what Saeter would do if he did. It would probably be very bad but would it be worse than being eaten by harpies? He could always say the snares had been empty, Saeter might even believe it.

Having made up his mind and decided that cowardice and begging for mercy were his best options the goblin slowly rose out from under the roots. He scanned his surroundings for any threats but the bushes around him and the branches overhead seemed empty.

The clearing was also only a little more than a dozen feet away. Then he heard another crackling sound from somewhere behind him. Blacknail dashed frantically towards the clearing and safety. He didn’t want to be eaten!

With an imaginary host of monsters chasing him the goblin burst from the shrubs into the clearing as fast as his little legs would carry him, and almost ran right into Saeter.

Much to Blacknail’s surprise his master stood only a few feet away and was calmly watching the goblin. Blacknail froze, or at least he tried.

He was moving so fast that he tripped over his own feet and was sent cart-wheeling painfully across the ground. His head bounced painfully off a rock but luckily he didn’t get hurt anywhere important.

Saeter was still standing there silently as Blacknail tentatively got to his feet. The goblin brushed himself off and threw his master a nervous glance.

All thoughts of lying to his master were banished by a wave of shame and fear, plus Saeter had probably been standing there the entire time watching.

“There was noise!” Blacknail whined piteously as he gave his master a pleading look.

Saeter frowned at him and shook his head disdainfully. Blacknail cringed again. Why had he used such a stupid excuse, he could have come up with a much better one.

“Take all the time you want Blacknail but you won’t be getting any food until you bring back the rabbits, and I wouldn’t be going out there after dark if I were you,” Saeter told Blacknail calmly but harshly.

The goblin shivered at the very thought of being out in the forest at night. Everything was worse at night! Blacknail stood there for a few seconds and gathered his thoughts. Saeter just stood there and observed the goblin.

With a sigh of resignation Blacknail realized he had no choice but to go out and empty the snares, unless several rabbits suddenly decided to run up and let him choke them to death one at a time. That seemed unlikely though.

Trying to banish his fear Blacknail stood tall, turned around, and walked back over to the edge of the trees and out into the forest again.

This time he forced himself forward more successfully. When he next heard a noise he merely threw himself violently to the ground and froze there for a few frantic heart beats instead of running back. He was making progress!

When nothing happened he rose to his feet and continued on. Every time he heard a noise he twitched in panic but didn’t run.

Blacknail crept slowly forward towards the snares by moving slowly from hiding spot to hiding spot. He concealed himself up against tree trunks, under fallen logs, in thick bushes, and behind tall grass.

Eventually, he made his way to the snares and got the rabbits. Then after looking around to make sure nothing dangerous was about to eat him he threw caution to the wind and dashed back to Saeter as fast as he could.

When he returned the sun had moved a fair distance in the sky, but Saeter made no comment. He simply took the rabbits from the goblin and set him to work on another chore. However, much to Blacknail’s surprise he was fed an extra large meal that night.

He was also forced out into the bush the next morning, and every day after that as well. Obviously, Blacknail’s master didn’t really understand how rewards were supposed to work.

Soon, the goblin got used to being out in the forest alone, even if he really didn’t like it.

Then one day it occurred to Blacknail only he knew how many rabbits he actually caught every day. The goblin tried to fight the temptation, briefly, but he secretly began to eat the occasional rabbit himself out in the bush. He just couldn’t help himself!

Saeter never let him eat the rabbits raw, and Blacknail loved them that way. They were so juicy and warm, even if the fur was icky and sometimes got caught in his throat.

Why did humans feel the need to burn everything? Anyway, it’s not like he was doing anyone any harm, he caught so many rabbits that Saeter was giving them away!

Of course, he wasn’t always doing chores. Every night Saeter would throw some of the rabbits into a pot of boiling water. Then he added a bunch of plants to create something called stew.

The other bandits who were out scouting or doing other work during the day would then come over and they would all feast. The stew was an all right mix of tastes but Blacknail loved it because it was the only meal he was allowed to eat as much as he wanted.

His master usually only gave him small meals so he was almost always hungry. He had to forage for the rest when he had time, and Saeter kept him constantly busy.

The other humans that joined them for supper tended to be the quiet sort, like Blacknail’s master. That was probably they were all men who spent a lot of time in the forest where making too much noise was dangerous.

None of them talked to him nearly as much as Vorscha or Geralhd but they weren’t hostile either. They mostly ignored him although one or two would throw him scraps when Saeter wasn’t looking, mostly to annoy his master.

None the less, it was the first time Blacknail felt he really belonged with a group of humans and not just his master Saeter.

After he begun bringing back more rabbits then they could reasonably use Saeter had him start digging smoking pits. First he dug a hole up to his waist, a little bit more than 2 feet deep. Saeter had wanted him to use a shovel but he found it faster to just use his hands. He was a great digger!

A fire was then lit at the bottom of the pit and allowed to burn down to coals, than it was fed green hardwood to produce smoke. A grill of small crisscrossing branches was placed three fourths of the way up. Meat was then cut into small thin strips and placed on the grill. Finally, the pit was covered with branches and leaves to keep the smoke in. When the meat became brittle and dry it was done.

Apparently, this made the meat last longer and easier to carry around with you, but Blacknail mostly just liked the meat’s smoky taste. It also gave him a chance to set fires; he liked fire.

Of course, all these activities required constant use of his knife so Saeter had to show him how to sharpen it using a whetstone and care for it using oil. It also resulted in a lot of bloody rabbit pelts lying around everywhere so next Saeter showed him how to tan them.

To tan an animal skin it was scraped to remove the flesh, washed thoroughly in water, and then stretched out to dry for several days. To Blacknail’s delight next he was told to break open the rabbit’s skull, boil the brains in a bucket of water, and then smear the resulting gunk onto the hide by hand. It was so much fun! Saeter had to smack him several times to stop him from licking his fingers while he worked but he still enjoyed himself.

The hide was then left overnight where it wouldn’t dry out. Next, the pelt was repetitively stretched and softened until dry, which was fun for the first while anyway but got old fast. Finally, it was placed over a smoky fire for several hours to dry.

Saeter gave several of the finished pelts to Blacknail, since he had no real use for them. The goblin had used them to make pants! Pants were apparently very important, and they certainly made sitting down more comfortable. No more accidently sitting on pine cones for him!

He’d also managed to stitch together a mismatched rabbit skin cape. Saeter had been the one to teach him how.

Saeter wasn’t happy with Blacknail having only one pair of shorts; he made the goblin make a second one. The goblin was supposed to wear one and wash the other. How stupid was that?

Stinky clothes just made it harder for animals to smell you! Saeter of course disagreed and made him change into clean, or at least sort of cleanish clothes every few days.

“Well, I’ve certainly turned you into a productive little helper,” Saeter told Blacknail proudly one afternoon after the goblin had finished his chores.

Blacknail smiled and nodded cheerfully in response to the praise. He was happy to be useful but he thought maybe he deserved more of the credit for his own work.

“You’ll sure startle everyone,” Saeter mused as he smiled wickedly in anticipation.

As they waited for the wagons to catch up Blacknail was kept very busy. He was perhaps a little too useful for his own good. It got to the point where every time Blacknail saw a rabbit in a snare the first thing that came to mind was how much work preparing it was going to be.

So of course, he started eating more of them raw and throwing away the remains. He thought it was the perfect plan, but Saeter wasn’t fooled. After a painful whack on his behind the goblin’s meals were reduced for a few days as punishment. In hindsight, he really should have spent a little more time wiping all the blood from his mouth before making his way back to camp.