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.

Honor Among Thieves 2.1

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Blacknail woke up the next morning to the feeling of someone beating him savagely. He twitched and gasped as waves of pain exploded through his head and stomach.

The stabbing agony in his skull hurt so much he could barely think and his stomach felt like it was trying to explode messily out of both ends of his body at the same time. He had no idea what he’d done to deserve this torture.

The goblin tried to remember if he had done anything wrong, but he couldn’t recall anything bad. In fact, he couldn’t remember much of anything. He fought through the pain and slowly opened his eyes.

At first the light blinded his eyes and it took awhile for them to adjust. Why was it so bright out? Was he outside the sewer? He never left the sewer during the day!

He hoped he hadn’t been attacked by a goblin, or group of goblins, looking to take his position in the tribe again. He was one of the older goblins and had managed to fight his way up to a fairly high rank, although he had been too lazy to go all the way to the top and become the tribe chief.

Blacknail knew he was much tougher than the big nasty goblin that was the current chieftain. He just didn’t want to fight him…

Some of the younger goblins had been getting uppity lately though, and food had been running a bit low. The sewer could only support so many goblins. Through the fingers shielding his face Blacknail took a quick look around for his assailants.

He was outside and there was nobody around! Had his attackers left? Just then he had to double over and gag as his guts writhed like they were full of snakes.

Oh, there they were! His assailants were apparently inside of him and beating him from the inside out.  The goblin groaned and tried desperately to fade back into unconsciousness, where the pain couldn’t follow.

His futile attempt at slumber was interrupted as he felt a hand grab his neck and pull him into the air. He was too weak to try and fight it. All he could do was moan and flail weakly before giving up and going limp. What the heck was going on? He couldn’t remember where he was. He hoped his death would at least be quick.

The hand suddenly let go of him and Blacknail landed painfully on something flat and solid made of rough wood. The impact shook him and cleared his head for a second. His name was Blacknail; he had a name. He remembered where he was.

Surely, the forest had to have been a bad dream. The part with the spiders was just too horrible to have been real!

Blacknail sat up unsteadily and looked around. He was sitting on the edge of one of the wagons the bandits had taken from the caravan. His master Saeter towered over him, casting his shadow over the goblin.

“Good morning Blacknail!” Saeter smugly greeted him as the goblin looked up.

“Ow,” Blacknail then moaned as he tried to curl up into a ball again.

Saeter chuckled and pulled him back into a sitting position. Once he knew he had the goblin’s attention he started talking.

“That should teach you that alcohol isn’t for goblins,” Saeter told the goblin.

“Ow,” Blacknail grunted.

“Stay here in the wagon, Blacknail. I left some food and water out for you. I’ll be back in a while to see if you’re feeling better,” Saeter told the disoriented goblin.

His master then went through his bags before leaving the goblin and walking away.

With a groan Blacknail collapsed back onto the wagon’s deck. After a few minutes of suffering he heard the whinny of horses and the cart shook and started moving. So, Blacknail once again found himself riding on a bumpy wagon along the forest road. At least this time he wasn’t stuck in a cage.

It was still the worst day in his entire life, though. He felt sicker and more uncomfortable than he had ever been before, which was saying something considering he used to live in a sewer and eat garbage.

He lay beside Saeter’s possessions feeling like his stomach was full of live rats and someone was pounding on his head with a club. The wagon creaked and bumped beneath him and every once and awhile he would groan in pain. Actually, he had much preferred it when he’d been in the cage.

Why did humans drink something that was so obviously poisonous? He had eaten rotten fish heads that agreed with him more, and they had tasted better as well! Maybe it was some sort of weird human test of toughness? He guessed that meant he would have passed? Well if it was a test of intelligence he’d definitely failed.

At least his master had left him plenty of water and food. Not that he felt like eating. All he could do was lay there moaning and hoping he would recover before he died, or before death started to look good compared to this endless suffering.

The humans had taken most the boxes and goods they had stolen from the caravan and put them back on the wagons. The outlaws had then broken camp and packed up their own stuff. Before the sun had truly risen into the sky they were on their way, headed down the road the way the caravan had been going.

Most of the humans walked beside the wagons piled high with boxes. All the wagons had drivers and several humans rode in the back like Blacknail.

Most of the passengers seemed to have been wounded because they wore bandages or were missing some of their less important human bits. Humans probably didn’t need all their fingers and it wasn’t like their tiny ears did much anyway.

It took several hours of rough traveling for Blacknail to finally start feeling better. He managed to sit up and eat some of the gruel his master had left him. It felt good to put something in his stomach and he soon regained some energy.

The goblin actually started to enjoy sitting on the back of the wagon with his feet dangling off the edge as he watched all the trees go by.

Being on the road was certainly a lot better than being in the forest. Now that his head was clear he definitely remembered that the harpies and timber spiders were very real. He hoped he was leaving them behind forever but he kind of doubted it. Life didn’t work that way in his experience.

Blacknail managed to find another way to spend his time. He enjoyed standing at the side of the wagon and looking down, barely, on all the foolish humans who were walking behind the wagons. He bet they all wished they could ride the wagon like him!

He giggled to himself in amusement. Look there was Geralhd! He already looked exhausted, sweaty, and miserable. He waved to the man cheerfully but Geralhd didn’t see him.

Blacknail’s fun was interrupted when Saeter returned. The goblin didn’t hear his master approach. He was too preoccupied hanging off the side of the wagon and snickering at people when he heard a loud cough behind him.

The goblin turned around to see an amused Saeter looking back. Blacknail froze in surprise. He tried to remember if he had done anything wrong lately. Nope, he was pretty sure he had always done exactly as his master commanded. He was a good goblin after all.

“Well, you’re looking much better, right full of energy too. That’s good, you’re gonna need it,” Saeter told the goblin.

Uh oh, Blacknail didn’t like the sound of that.

“Since you’re feeling better now you can continue practicing your rope making. You’ll find the stuff in that bag there,” Saeter explained as he pointed out a canvas bag.

Blacknail gave the bag a wary look. That sounded very boring but at least he didn’t have to go out into the forest.

“I expect to see some results when I get back,” Saeter told him.

He then jumped onto the wagon beside the goblin and rummaged through the bags for some things before jumping down and wandering off again.

Blacknail watched him go with a sigh of resignation. Ughhh, rope making! He didn’t even want to hear about something so boring, let alone actually do it. After pulling the necessary materials from the bag his master had pointed out the goblin got to work.

Blacknail cast a gloomy gaze over to the humans walking behind the wagon. He wished he was free to just walk around like them and not have to work!

The goblin started at it but after an hour or so he started to grow weary of the incredibly repetitive task. With a snort of disgust Blacknail dropped the cord he was working on onto the deck of the wagon.

He was so bored! It was time to take a break. There had to be something around that would amuse him, at least for a little bit.

He got to his feet and looked around, while being careful that the shaking of the wagon under him didn’t trip him up. Blacknail was surrounded by bags and crates.

With a quick glance to make sure no one was looking the goblin scooted over and began to examine them. He opened one canvas bag and riffled through it but found nothing but human sized clothes inside. Why did humans need so many clothes? What possible use could they have for more than one or two sets each?

He closed that bag and hurriedly moved on to the next. He found nothing but some sweet smelling ground up plant leaves in it. Blacknail was beginning to think that the bandits had to be a little off in the head to have attacked a caravan for this crap. None of it was even shiny!

With a sigh, Blacknail got back to work on making cord until the wagons stopped and the bandits made camp for the night.

It was then that he finally managed to weave a thin cord together! The goblin then amused himself by tying it to various things and pulling on it. It didn’t even break! He felt so proud to have made it.

Saeter then reappeared and Blacknail excitedly helped him set up his tent. The goblin just had to untangle himself from all the rope he’d tied to the wagon first. Not his best idea… but at least the cord worked!

After they had a fire going and supper was cooking Saeter presented Blacknail with several rabbits he had caught earlier. Disappointingly, Blacknail didn’t get to eat them.

His master had him learn to skin and prepare them. He was taught how to drain the blood by cutting their throats, peel the skin off, cut out the groin area, and slice open the bellies of rabbits to remove the organs.

The cheerful goblin picked up this skill quickly and he soon ran out of carcasses to work on. He enjoyed the work but it seemed like a lot of effort when you could just eat the rabbit raw.

As the evening gave way to night he slept beside his master’s tent again with his dirty blanket wrapped around himself and the stars shining in the dark sky overhead. Owls and other creatures he couldn’t identify called throughout the night but eventually Blacknail managed to slip asleep despite his nervousness.

The next morning Saeter took Blacknail with him when he was sent out to prepare a forward base well ahead of the main group. Saeter, Blacknail, and several other bandits who were familiar with the forest spent numerous days quickly getting ahead of the rest of the band.

They walked almost constantly during the day with only a few stops to collect water or eat. They didn’t have time to hunt so they had to make do with the rations they carried.

At night they set up camp in the middle of the road and took turns keeping watch. Blacknail was not given a shift.

The sound of howling woke Blacknail on the second day. It echoed loudly through the trees around him and down the road.

The eerie howling reverberated through the forest. It would suddenly come from one direction only for the noise to die down and then pick up from another direction. Blacknail was just glad that the howlers sounded too far away to be a real threat.

Soon the noise drew Saeter out from his tent. After a second of listening the old scout turned to the goblin.

“Wolves, I showed you their tracks earlier. Don’t worry they’re just gossiping,” Saeter told Blacknail with an uncharacteristic peaceful smile.

He then stretched, closed his eyes, and took a few more seconds to listen.

“Beautiful, the sound of the North,” he whispered to himself.

The goblin didn’t understand. Wolves were the dog things right? He closed his eyes and listened as well, focusing on the sound of wolves over the forest.

All the noise did however was fill him with wariness. Soon the noise begun to fade away, and Blacknail felt an unexpected twinge of regret. For a quick second the howling had seemed oddly familiar. It made no sense but for some reason it had reminded him of home…

After a quick tasty breakfast the bandits hit the road again. They turned off the main road and moved on to what could charitably be called a forest route.

It was really a dirt path barely wide enough for a single wagon and it was very bumpy. Blacknail didn’t like this new path much; the trees loomed much closer along its narrower confines.

As usual, that night they set up camp and posted a watch. Feeling somewhat excluded since he wasn’t given a turn Blacknail decided to stay up and help his master during his turn.

After a brief supper and conversation around the fire everyone turned in for bed. This time however Blacknail forced himself to stay awake and wait.

It was a dark moonless night. Clouds covered most of the sky. Outside the light of the fire everything was pitch black. Only the dark outlines of trees could be seen shifting at the furthest reaches of the firelight.

By the time it was Saeter’s watch the fire was dying down and Blacknail amused himself for a few minutes by throwing some more wood on it and watching the sparks fly up into the dark sky.

The heat from the fire soon made him drowsy though, so he curled up beside it. The last thing he saw before nodding off was Saeter’s back as his master stood at the edge of the light and gazed calmly out into the darkness.

He tried again each night but Blacknail never managed to stay awake for any of Saeter’s watches. The closest the goblin ever came was when he awoke suddenly one night several days later with an uneasy feeling eating at his guts.

One second he was asleep and the next he was awake and on guard. He didn’t know why but he knew something had disturbed him, something dangerous.

The goblin’s ears twitched as he listened and he automatically sniffed the air quietly. He sensed nothing. Slowly, he opened his eyes and looked around. Somehow he knew something was there even if he couldn’t see or smell it.

The fire was very low, only a few slow burning coals were left smoldering. Most the humans were asleep around it with their bags and equipment beside them.

Only one of the bandits was on watch and he was seated on a rock beside the fire drinking a cup of tea. He was obviously only barely paying attention to the area around himself.

There was only a small sliver of moon in the sky but no clouds concealed it. Thus, there was enough light for Blacknail to see his surroundings fairly well. His amazing goblin night vision was much better than that of a mere human.

The pale moonlit road stretched off into the shadowy trees to one side of him. Their group was camped on a hill beside it where the wind helped keep the mosquitoes away.

To Blacknail’s eyes, the hill floated like an island atop a dark pool of trees that shook and creaked in the wind like waves on black water. He knew something lurked down there in the depths of the forest, watching him.

Other than the wind and the rustling of leaves it was a quiet night though, too quiet. Alarmed, Blacknail realized he didn’t hear the usual sounds of night birds and prowling animals.

That was a bad sign, very bad. The goblin peered out into the darkness drenched forest for the danger he could somehow sense but not identify.

He heard leaves crunch off to one side and he quickly whirled around. However, the noise stopped as suddenly as it had begun. Blacknail froze and eyed the trees and bushes in that direction carefully but the forest concealed what lay within it too well for him to see anything.

The sound of the goblin’s heartbeat grew louder in his ears. He knew something terrible was about to happen, but all he could do was stare into the impenetrable shadows before him. His anxiety began to wear him down as he grew twitchier and he started to get a pounding headache.

The nearby leaves shook as something large moved within them. The shadows convulsed around it and Blacknail hissed loudly in alarm.

Out from the darkness an answering low predatory growl erupted. Its force sent leaves and other debris fluttering forth into the camp from the forest.

Blacknail’s hackles rose and his body tensed as the smell of the creature’s breath washed over him. He had never smelled anything like it.

With an alarmed look, the man by the fire shot to his feet and drew his sword. He hurried over to Blacknail’s side.

“Do you see anything, goblin?” the swordsman asked Blacknail as he scanned the edge of the firelight.

The man’s voice quivered with unease and his face looked white in moonlight.

Clearly, he had been spooked by the noise, and Blacknail didn’t blame him. The goblin shook his head in answer to the man’s question.

The commotion woke some of the other men including Saeter who sat up and automatically reached for his bow and quiver. Slowly, Blacknail’s master got to his feet and drew his bow.

Nothing happened for a few stagnant seconds. Blacknail heard more of the men get to their feet and arm themselves. He really wished they would hurry up.

Blacknail twitched again as the sound of leaves and twigs being crunched by something heavy out in the darkness reached his ears. Whatever the thing in the woods was it had started moving again.

Blacknail’s skin crawled and he felt a spike of terror tear through his heart. He heard the sounds of blades being drawn and deep steady breaths as the men behind him readied themselves for combat with whatever horror was about to burst from the darkness upon them. The goblin got ready to run and hide behind them.

Then, he realized the sound wasn’t moving closer. It was moving further away. Slowly, the rhythmic noise got quieter until it was completely muffled by the forest. Only then did Blacknail relax and let out a deep breath.

No one spoke for a few seconds. Most of the bandits had been awakened by the commotion. They threw each other nervous looks and held their weapons close. Then, Saeter broke the silence as he relaxed his bow.

“It’s gone. Make sure the man on watch stays alert and keeps the fire high. Scream loudly if something attacks you,” Saeter said with a yawn as he settled back down to sleep.

The man on watch gave Saeter an annoyed look and Blacknail gave his master a disbelieving one. How could he just go back to sleep?

“What was it?” one of the bandits asked Saeter.

Blacknail’s master turned to them from where he lay on his blanket.

“Dunno. Could have been an ogre taking a night stroll or a hungry drake that decided we weren’t worth the trouble. Let’s hope we never find out,” Saeter replied crankily before then turning away and going back to sleep.

Several of the other bandits whispered fearfully to each other for a few minutes before settling back down themselves. Blacknail lay back down by the remains of the fire but was too nervous to sleep.

He couldn’t shake the feeling that the creature was still out there and just waiting for them all to relax their guard. If it attacked them while they were asleep they wouldn’t stand a chance. The terrible hungry beast would rip them apart and chew on their bones…

Coins and Whispers 0.2

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Zeckus Hurale was working late. He was at the small office off the side of his warehouse in Anstabul. It had gotten dark outside but he continued to work by the light of a steady oil lamp on his desk. The merchant was a pudgy blonde man. He was dressed in high quality clothes that he knew were quite out of fashion. He had much more important things to worry about.

One of his ships had just come into port with a cargo of fine wine from the Homelands. That was normally a lucrative trade but this time his agents had not been able to acquire nearly as much as usual, and what they had gotten had been far too expensive. Apparently, some sort of pest from the eastern continent had made it across the ocean to the Homelands, and was ravaging the grape fields there.

Zeckus sighed in exasperation. It was a small thing really, but lately there had been a lot of small things.

Everyone knew the best wine came from the Homelands. Human civilization had developed there for over two thousand years before they had expanded across the ocean in Imperial times after all. The wildlife here outside the Homelands was almost as hostile to grapes as it was to humans, and now some of it had invaded humanity’s ancestral home.

There was nothing he could do about that, but perhaps he could turn this setback into an opportunity. With advanced warning of the wine shortage he might be able to buy up some of the local vineyards while they were still cheap.

They might be of poor quality but the shortage would still drive their prices up. He might even be able to figure out a way to improve the quality of the local wine! That would earn him a pleasant profit indeed.

With a smile, he went to work writing up a series of new orders for his agents. He had almost finished when he was interrupted.

“Your sister Kleia is here to see you, sir,” his secretary announced from the doorway.

Zeckus frowned. He hadn’t heard the door open. What was his sister doing here so late? It must be important, and that meant bad news.

“Thank you Gregory. See her in please,” Zeckus told his clerk as he finished writing a line on the parchment in front of him.

He then put his quill down neatly next to his ink pot and looked up just in time to see his sister enter.

Kleia was a short woman who, like Zeckus, had their family’s blonde hair . However, she wore it long all the way down to her back. Her somewhat pudgy figure and plain face gave her a matronly quality, but that had not always been the case. When she had been younger she had been considered quite pretty, but ever since her husband’s death she had started to put on a little weight and had changed the way she dressed.

Zeckus supposed that with two kids and her husband’s businesses to run she simply didn’t have the time, or need, to care about her appearance.

He hadn’t ever bothered with such things, which is why he was more than a little overweight himself. If either of them wanted the intimate sort of company then he knew they could both afford to just pay for it.

“Greetings Zeck, how is my little brother?” Kleia asked with a smile as she entered the room.

Zeckus gave her a polite smile back.

“I’m fine, thank you for asking, sister. What brings you to my office at this time of night?” he asked her back.

“Oh Zeck, must you always be so to the point. It is a rather unattractive quality in a man you know. No wonder you haven’t been able to find yourself a good wife,” she replied as she sat down across the desk from him.

“I’m thirsty, why don’t you have your man there bring me a cup of tea,” she added after she had made herself comfortable.

“As you wish,” Zeckus answered.

He picked up and rang a small bell with a wooden handle that had been sitting on the corner of his desk next to a stack of papers. His secretary immediately stepped into the room in answer to his summons.

“My sister would like a cup of tea, Gregory. Why don’t you bring both of us one,” Zeckus told the man.

Gregory nodded in acknowledgement and left to fulfill his master’s command.

“Now what is this about dear Kleia,” he asked his sister again.

She pouted at being rushed but answered all the same.

“I have just received reliable word that Alfesso and almost his entire caravan were robbed and put to the sword on the road from Eastpoint last week,” she told him.

Zeckus blinked in surprise. That was not what he had been expecting to hear.

“That’s horrible news. I will have to remember to get Gregory to send his poor widow some flowers,” Zeckus remarked.

Kleia rolled her eyes.

“Of course brother, but I’m not here to talk to you about such trivialities. This tragedy will have a huge impact on our businesses. I thought you deserved a heads up. It’s not as if we both didn’t have enough problems already. What are we paying such high taxes for if bandits are being allowed to roam the countryside and slaughter honest merchants freely,” she said with indignation.

Zeckus snorted.

“It’s for the wars, sister. That’s where all the coin is going. The wars are a bottomless money pit, and they’re slowly strangling this country to death. You’re right about the effect of this on our businesses though,” he said with a sigh.

“Of course I’m right. I have more experience in these matters than you. You learned book keeping from me after all. Father was always terrible at that sort of thing, even though he was a great negotiator,” she reminded him.

Zeckus didn’t need the reminder. He knew the cheery and somewhat empty headed act his sister put on was just that, an act. Having people underestimate her had served her well over the years.

He decided to ignore her attempt to sidetrack the conversation. He didn’t want to get drawn into another conversation about their deceased father. It was too late in the evening for that.

“I wouldn’t have thought that bandits would strike so far south. To overcome Alfesso’s guards it must have been one of the larger northern bands down from the Iron Teeth. They’ve been a problem since the fall of Coroulis, and the accursed conscription just keeps making it worse. After over a decade with next to no troops returning home even the most backwards peasants will realize something is up,” he complained.

“King Namirius can’t afford to let any veterans go home. He needs every soldier he can get to keep the borders secure,” Kleia remarked. “His father may have won the war against Deveshur but that whole country has descended into bloody chaos. Every month it seems a new noble joins the fight to claim the throne and take back the land we annexed from them. Not to mention we still have to worry about Hulgaron to the south.”

“Yes, but that means he just keeps throwing men into battle after battle until they’re all dead. No wonder there are so many deserters heading north to join these bands. They know if they stay in the army it’s practically a death sentence. As a policy that one leaves something to be desired, especially since we’re the ones being raided,” Zeckus replied sarcastically.

“So what are we going to do about it? I think influencing military policy is a little beyond us,” she remarked.

“If they’ve set up in the area we may have to completely stop sending goods north. With the high taxes the king demands and what it would cost to pay for the amount of guards needed to protect a caravan I don’t think we could squeeze out a profit,” he reluctantly explained.

“There must be something we can do? Maybe we could pay the bandits off. If they simply rob every caravan that crosses their path they will soon run out of targets. Merchants will just start avoiding the entire area and that won’t profit them. ” she mused aloud.

“Do you know whose band it was? You mentioned that almost everyone had been killed. That means there were at least some survivors,” he asked with interest.

“No sorry, all I have are statements from the survivors. They were woman and children the bandits released. The bandits didn’t apparently announce who they were and the survivors don’t remember anything I could use to identify them beyond how large the band was,” she replied.

“Werick the Wolf supposedly has the largest band, but he usually operates in northeast Deveshur. From the rumors I hear he’s busy setting himself up as some sort of warlord there. He’s also supposed to have the morals of a hobgoblin, so I doubt he would let any prisoners go. They’re worth more than a few coins to the right, or wrong, sort of people,” he guessed.

“True, outlaws with any sense of morality are in short supply these days. None of them are anything at all like the White Raven. Now there was a dashing outlaw. They still tell stories about him you know. They’re especially popular with the young ladies,” Kleia reminisced wistfully.

Zeckus smiled at his sister’s tone. He remembered hearing more than a few tales about the White Raven himself when he had been younger.

He imagined the stories the young men had recounted were quite different from those that had been shared amongst the women. Both were undoubtedly equally fictional though. Zeckus forced himself back to the matter at hand.

“There are a few bands that might let non-combatants go though. The question is how many of these are large enough and could be that far down below Riverbend. My guess would be the Black Snake. She’s always been a hard one to figure out. Something unpredictable and daring like this suits her, and she has a fairly large band,” Zeckus speculated.

“I hope you’re right. From what I know of her she is the type that would keep to her end of a bargain if we fill her pockets with enough gold,” his sister replied.

“Maybe, but in order to strike a deal with her we would probably have to work through the Broken Wheel Company. Those scum are basically nothing but bandits themselves and would charge us a painful fee just to connect us with her, if they would help us at all,” he told her.

Kleia tilted her head to the side and she appeared to fall deep into thought. However, Zeckus only had to wait a few seconds before she smiled and turned back to him.

“Leave that to me. I might have some contacts there I could use. It’s not a sure thing but some people owe me a few favors,” she replied.

Zeckus frowned at his sister’s response. He didn’t like the idea of her having anything at all to do with the Broken Wheel Company. They pretended to be just another merchant consortium but they were rumored to be involved in every sort of unsavory practice. Everything from forced prostitution to the buying of stolen goods and assassination was attributed to them.

Zeckus had a lifetime of experience as a successful merchant to draw on, and he had good reasons to believe that most of those rumors were true. No one knew who ran the company, but the most credible rumor Zeckus had heard was that it was secretly owned by a conglomerate of the oldest merchant families on the continent. Whoever they were, they had connections, resources, and ruthlessness that put his to shame.

“What are you thinking about little brother? You’ve gone silent on me. It’s rather rude you know,” Kleia asked him with a chuckle. Her question interrupted his thinking.

“I’m thinking I would rather not deal with the Broken Wheel. I want no part of the things they do. They’re killers and much worse,” he replied gravely.

“So you’re fine with dealing with the Black Snake but not the Broken Wheel?” she asked him with amusement plain in her voice.

The question surprised Zeckus. He thought it over for a second or two and realized it was true, but before he could answer her there was a polite knock on his door.

“Come in Gregory,” Zeckus yelled in the direction of the doorway.

His secretary then stepped into the room with two large steaming cups of tea in his hands. He swiftly walked over and placed them before Zeckus and his sister.

Kleia gave the man a smile and thanked him while Zeckus simply gave him a nod of approval. His job done the man left the room and closed the door quietly behind him.

“Now where were we?” his sister asked before she took a sip of tea.

“I was just about to tell you that yes I do find the Broken Wheel more repugnant than run of the mill bandits. I understand outlaws such as those that serve the Black Snake and the Wolf. I wish the army would go in and hang the lot of them, but I must admit that to some degree life has forced them down their path. Not so the Broken Wheel. The bandits that plague our roads are a symptom of the times. I suspect the Broken Wheel is part of the disease,” Zeckus told his sister seriously.

“Little brother, have you been reading those dreadful pre-Imperial philosophers again. That was unusually deep for you,” his sister joked.

“As a wise man said so many years ago, ‘Only when a man has turned his gaze inwards can he truly begin to see the world’. However, I don’t need the wisdom of ancient philosophers to know that I want nothing to do with the Broken Wheel Company,” he told her.

“You make it sound like I was talking about buying into it, or forming a partnership with them. I was just suggesting I might know someone who could broker a deal between us and Herad the Black Snake. It would simply be a favor paid for a favor owed,” she replied with a roll of her eyes.

Zeckus scowled and drank a few more sips of tea while he thought it through. He couldn’t stop his sister from doing whatever she wanted. After her husband’s death she had acquired control of his family’s rather extensive business holdings. If he was being honest with himself those holdings were probably larger than the one’s he had inherited from their father.

If they did manage to strike a deal with Herad that allowed them safe passage then that would give them a near monopoly on the trade from Anstabul all the way north to Riverbend. That was not an inconsiderable market. Riverbend may not be what it once was but it was still a medium sized city that supplied the south of Eloria with a fair amount of timber, fur, and ore.

Zeckus mumbled quietly as he quickly ran some rough numbers through his head. Even after having to pay the king’s taxes and Herad’s bribe he should still be able to earn a profit. Riverbend and the smaller cities and towns on the way there would badly need the supplies they shipped as well.

“Fine Kleia, I can’t stop you so I might as well join you and keep an eye out. Let’s see if you can get in contact with our new local bandit captain, if indeed it is the Black Snake,” he told her with a sigh of displeasure.

Zeckus and his sister spoke for a few more minutes as they finished their tea. Soon though, Kleia excused herself and returned home, leaving Zeckus alone in his office.

The merchant got up from his desk and walked over to his window. He felt a feeling of weariness come over him as he gazed outside.

Outside the darkness of night had settled over the city. A few lights shone out from homes across the city but Zeckus remembered a time when the lights had been far more numerous. Every year it seemed like the city grew darker.

His sister’s visit had distracted him from his business but he still had things to finish tonight. He had many responsibilities and it was getting harder and harder to fulfill them.

Zeckus was a good merchant. He knew this to be true. He was able to make deals and put ventures together that earned him substantial profits, or they would have if the times had been different. He didn’t know how much his sister knew but the truth was that Zeckus had to fight hard to keep his company afloat. He managed to stay out of debt only by selling assets.

At the current rate it would take many years for his business to go under but inevitably it would. Taxes were just too high and the war was causing all non-essential markets to shrink. People just weren’t buying, and he didn’t blame them.

Farms everywhere were being abandoned and the desperate were turning to banditry, which just made everything worse. Several of his less canny peers had already gone bankrupt. He suspected poor Alfesso’s lost caravan had been a dangerous gambit meant to keep his business financially afloat. That gamble had obviously failed and cost the merchant more than simple gold.

The truth was Zeckus badly needed something like the deal his sister had just proposed. He had interest payments on debts that needed to be paid soon and he didn’t have the gold on hand to pay them.

The real question though was whether his sister had known all this, and whether her visit had been a carefully staged act, whose sole purpose was to manipulate him into accepting her offer. He wouldn’t put past her. She was both remarkably loyal and upsettingly ruthless.

After one last long look out into the night Zeckus turned away from the window and his idle thoughts. He sat back down at his desk and picked up his quill.

After dipping the tip into the inkwell he went back to writing out his agent’s new orders. It wasn’t like he had any real choice but to accept his sister’s deal anyway. He could only hope that somewhere out there something was happening that would halt the world’s slow slide into ruin.

The Road North 1.7

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What had just happened? Had he been attacked by something? Ow, it hurt to think.

Instinctively, Blacknail tried to get to his feet but he was far too unsteady and quickly fell over again. That’s when he heard the laughter.

“Ha, that’s what green shits like you get! That’ll teach you to walk around like a man,” he heard a deep male voice say.

Blacknail had been attacked by a human. Apparently, the camp wasn’t so safe after all.

Blacknail felt his insides twist with regret but he didn’t quite know why. Things like this hadn’t been uncommon in the sewers; Blacknail just hadn’t thought it would happen here for some reason. How stupid of him.

Blacknail painfully turned his head to get a look at his assailant. It was an average sized man with brown hair and ugly red spots all over his face where they weren’t hidden by a ratty beard.

His clothes were even dirtier and rougher looking than most of the other bandits, and that was saying something. Blacknail could practically smell rotten food and vomit from where he lay.

With a vicious smile on his face the man walked over towards the goblin and raised a foot as if to stomp on him. Blacknail feebly curled up in an attempt to shield himself as the man leered down on him. This was going to hurt.

The man stopped suddenly as someone spoke up. The voice’s freezing cold tone seethed with anger and startled Blacknail’s assailant.

“You, what do you think you’re doing? No matter how fucking stupid you are you must know who that goblin belongs to,” Saeter said as he stepped out of the bushes and dropped the sled’s rope.

His eyes were narrowed with barely contained rage. The other man backed away a bit and paled.

“I ah… was just foolin round. No harm done now,” the man stuttered fearfully.

“You must know what happens to people who touch what’s mine,”  the old scout growled angrily.

“Er no, I’m a new man. I just joined up, see?” the other man explained fearfully as he continued to back away.

“Then let me tell you. They go out into the forest and never come out. The deep green is always looking to claim a few more souls. No one questions it and no one cares about human refuse like you. Look around, where are you right now?” Saeter explained coldly as he stared the other man down.

Blacknail’s attacker paled even more until he was ghost white. He seemed to try and speak but he choked and the words wouldn’t come out. Then with a whimper he turned and fled towards the camp.

He didn’t make it. With a practiced motion Saeter drew his bow and shot the other man in the back. With nothing but a gurgle and a few quick twitches the man collapsed onto the exposed roots of a tree and lay still.

Blacknail found the strength to slowly get to his feet. He pushed himself up and hesitantly felt his head. His probing fingers found a small bleeding gash but he seemed otherwise fine. Goblins had very thick skulls. They got hit in the head all the time.

“Good, you seem all right. Take a seat while I dispose of this trash,” Saeter told him with a motion towards the corpse of the man he had just killed.

Blacknail stared at Saeter uncomprehendingly for a second before collapsing into a sitting position. As the goblin watched, Saeter dragged the corpse off into the trees.

By the time his master got back Blacknail had began to feel better. His headache had faded and the bleeding had stopped. As they broke out of the borders of the forest and into the sun they were met by a multitude of stares.

This was, of course, because Blacknail was dragging a sled with a deer larger than himself on it. When they had reached the very edge of the forest Saeter had given him the sled back for some reason.

Some of the people looking seemed impressed at the goblin’s strength. Most of them just looked hungry. They looked at the deer carcass with obvious anticipation and barely noticed the goblin pulling it. Only a very few gave him hostile looks.

Blacknail was in no mood for cowering; it hadn’t done him any good earlier. He returned the dirty looks he got. He stuck out his tongue or gave them the evil eye. Stupid humans, what did they have against him? He was a strong and cunning goblin!

He hated the fact that they would probably get to eat the deer he’d helped catch. He wasn’t even sure if he would be getting any, even after he had dragged it through the dangerous woods and was almost eaten by spiders. Scary dreadful spiders with long poisonous fangs that dropped down on you from places you couldn’t see!

Blacknail shivered at the memory then sighed. He knew he had the lowest position in the entire tribe. As the newcomer it was only natural he got the least and worst food. That was just the way tribes worked.

How though was he supposed to work his way up to a higher position when everyone else was human, and thus huge? He didn’t want to be the weakest in the tribe and be picked on anymore.

He knew hurting humans was a very bad idea but fights were how goblins usually rose in rank. Maybe he could use some sort of large snare tied to an even larger tree, or maybe he could dig a big hole and…

Wait, if no one knew he was the one who made the trap then he wouldn’t get in trouble but he wouldn’t rise higher in the tribe either. Blacknail sighed and kept walking. He wished he was back home in the sewers. Things were so much simpler there.

By the time they returned to camp the sun had started to set behind the trees. Its red light shone out from gaps in the foliage and dyed the clouds above crimson. The camp was now full of dozens of bandits. They lounged about in various sized groups and around newly lit campfires.

At the edge of the clearing all the horses from the caravan had been brought over and tied up. Blacknail gave them a dirty look when he saw them. The smelly things should have just been killed.

“Stupid horses,” he muttered.

One of the horses returned his gaze and gave an aggressive snort. Blacknail stuck his tongue out at it. The stupid thing was tied up and couldn’t do anything to him. At least his position in this tribe was higher than that of the horses. It hadn’t been in the caravan.

After they had walked away from the edge of the clearing Saeter turned to Blacknail.

“Leave the deer carcass here,” he told the goblin as he sighed in fatigue and stretched.

Blacknail had dropped the sled almost before his master had finished speaking. He then immediately plopped down onto the ground and begun to massage his aching feet. Ouch they hurt. He had surprised even himself by dragging that deer.

Back in his old life he had never had many chances to test out his strength but obviously he was an even stronger and smarter goblin than he had thought! Truly, his master was lucky to have him as a servant.

“Must really be getting old, I never used to get this tired after just being out in the bush for a few hours,” Saeter mused to himself as he sighed and did a few more stretches.

Blacknail gave him an unamused look out of the corner of his eye. He was the one who had been doing the hard work! He couldn’t complain though as Saeter had saved his life several times today. Of course, he was also the person who had put him into danger in the first place.

“You’re finally back, Saeter; about time,” Blacknail heard a familiar harsh voice say.

It was the dangerous looking chieftain named Herad. She detached herself from a group of her rough looking minions and leisurely strolled over to them. She gave their catch an appraising glace but didn’t seem impressed with it at all.

“A deer, eh? It looks a bit skinny but I suppose it will have to do. I’ll have some the lazy bastards behind me skin it up since you went and fetched it for me. You and your pet there seem a little roughed up. I wouldn’t want to overwork an old man,” she remarked with her usual crooked smile.

“Then I am no longer needed here,” Saeter replied with a nod.

“I guess not,” she agreed before calling several other bandits over to take the deer.

Saeter began to walk away over to his camp, and after a quick nervous glance back at Herad the goblin followed him.

“Oh and Saeter, I’m glad you’re getting some use out of that goblin. You know the rules. Everyone pulls their own weight or they’re gone,” Herad said coldly to their backs as they walked away.

Blacknail shivered from a chill that hadn’t been caused by the cooling afternoon air. He was fairly certain he knew what gone meant, and it wasn’t to be let loose in the forest. Praise his master for giving him so much hard work, and making him useful. To think that he had thought his master was mean and unfair because he was working him too hard!

Once they reached Saeter’s campsite his master took a few minutes to unpack and put his stuff away. Blacknail watched him for awhile but then curled up and lay down to rest.

After only a few minutes though he was nudged awake by a familiar light kick and he opened his eyes to see his master standing over him. Maybe his master would give him some food now, he thought as he yawned.

Instead, Saeter had a cup of hot water and a rag in his hand. He motioned for Blacknail to stand and then cleaned the goblin’s head wound. He finished up by tying the long rag around Blacknail’s forehead and telling him to leave it there.

“Stay here and practice,” Saeter told him and dropped the cord he had been making earlier at his feet. Blacknail eyed it wearily but got up.

“Food time?” Blacknail asked his master hopefully.

“Not yet. Time to practice,” Saeter responded. Blacknail sighed in irritation.

He really didn’t want to try making rope again. It was hard and tricky and he just couldn’t get it right. He frowned in displeasure. He remembered Herad’s threat though and sighed.

He picked up the cord and walked over to a large rock and sat down. He then got back to work. Seater gave him an approving look and then turned and walked off. Blacknail was thus left all alone to work. Well alone, if you didn’t count all the other humans wandering around.

Blacknail waited there and worked for awhile but his heart wasn’t in it. Wrapping and twisting the plant fibres soon grew unbearably dull. As he worked it began to get dark and the goblin nodded off.

The sound of a large group of humans yelling in unison roared through the clearing and echoed off the surrounding trees. It was followed by the sound of birds taking flight and horses’ startled whinnying.

Blacknail shot to his feet and was instantly awake. Was the tribe under attack?

The goblin quickly scanned his surroundings. In the center of the clearing a giant pile of wood burned. Waves of red flame rose up from it and crackled as they leapt high into the cloudy evening sky. Dozens of human figures cast a multitude of long shifting shadows over the grass and onto the trees as they moved around the fire.

The sound voices was now very loud. They laughed, yelled, and hooted as they celebrated. It was very goblin like. Blacknail almost felt like joining in, but suspected he wouldn’t be completely welcome.

The smell of roast deer blanketed the clearing. There was next to no wind to clear the air so the smell simply built up and filled the area. The meat’s delicious and smoky smell caused Blacknail to begun to drool. He licked his lips clean.

“To victory and plunder. Are we not the greatest thieves and cutthroats in all the world? Drink to that,” Herad yelled in a voice that was unusually cheerful for her, and which sounded a little forced to the goblin.

Her speech easily drowned out all the other voices and a ragged cheer followed her words as most of the bandits raised their cups high into the air. Blacknail thought he saw the chieftain’s figure posing right beside the fire where the gathered bandits were thickest.

The goblin looked away from the spectacle and saw that he was alone. Not even Saeter was around. He knew that there was some food tucked away in his master’s bags. For a second he was tempted but he knew it would be a bad idea. Saeter would know if something went missing and he didn’t want to steal from his master anyway.

There were other options though, options that were more suited to a goblin as cunning as Blacknail. Saeter had shown him how to find various edible plants such as wild carrot but what he really wanted was meat. He deserved delicious deer meat.

The goblin smirked gleefully as he watched the bandits and their actions. A plan soon formed in his head. He turned and closed his eyes, letting his night vision come back.

With that done he examined the edges of the clearing. He quickly spotted the locations of the guards that were posted for the celebration. He smiled and giggled to himself. It was time for him to be a sneaky cunning goblin.

Blacknail moved away from his campfire and slipped into the shadows. He crouched down and began prowling about on his hands and feet. As a goblin, this type of movement was natural to him.

Low to the ground, he moved slowly over and around the trampled grass towards the bonfire. On the way he crawled over to a pile of wooden crates and disappeared out of sight behind them.

After a few seconds he peeked around the crates and glanced at his target. None of the bandits were looking his way. He quickly broke from his cover and scurried forward until he stopped behind a patch of grass and weeds that was still standing tall.

He was close enough now that the shadows the bandits cast shifted around him.

After another hurried look to make sure no one could see him lurking in the dark, he crept slowly over to a tent and hid behind it. A quick sniff and a rummage through an open sack revealed a small bit of cheese. He took a second to scoff it down before continuing on. He wanted more than a bit of cheese.

Most of the humans were milling about as they talked to each other, ate, and did some weird ritual that involved hitting their cups together. Blacknail didn’t see his master Saeter anywhere but he saw Vorscha and Herad. They were standing next to the fire and talking to each other.

Then an opportunity presented itself; a nearby man at the edge of the group placed his plate of food and cup on a crate and then walked off into the dark. He was probably going to mark his territory.

Blacknail waited patiently until no one was looking in that direction and then dashed forward. By exploiting the nearby humans’ blind spots he reached the target unseen.

He quickly grabbed the meat on the plate and the cup beside it. Then as fast as his little legs would take him he dashed away from the fire and back into the safety of the concealing darkness.

Blacknail hurried back to the pile of crates he had passed earlier, and glanced back to make sure no one had noticed him. To his relief no one had. He was such a sneaky cunning goblin, so much more cunning than all the ugly giant humans!

The goblin giggled in delight. He was breathing heavy and nervous but also feeling exhilarated.

Safely hidden among the crates, Blacknail licked his prize meat. It was so good and tasty! He begun to chew and gnaw it as the delicious fat melted in his mouth. However, much to his disappointment he was soon finished.

Thus, he turned and examined the cup of liquid he had stolen. He had assumed it would be water but it wasn’t. He didn’t know what it was.

He hadn’t had time to smell it before he grabbed it and Blacknail had never really had anything but water to drink. He wondered what this would taste like. Well it wasn’t urine. He knew what that smelled like.

He took a sip and then stifled a choking gasp. Ugh, it burned all the way down! Why did humans drink this? He was about to throw it away when a nice complex aftertaste developed.

He took another sip and then another. He smiled to himself happily. It wasn’t so bad once you got used to it. Nice really, he felt nice. He felt really nice. He drank the rest of the liquid down. Actually, this stuff was amazing. He wanted some more.

He was such an amazing goblin, and he had such a great master. “Hiccup”. Why even Herad wasn’t that bad. She was just very fond of knives and dressed all dark and stared at you like she wanted to kill you and all your littermates… ok, Herad was pretty bad.

“Hiccup”. Everyone else was great though… except everyone who wasn’t! Also, this drink was great. What was it? He tried to get to his feet to find someone to ask but stumbled and couldn’t quite get up for some reason.

Never mind then, he would just stay here for now. “Hiccup”.

He licked his fingers to get another taste of deer meat. Then he started giggling uncontrollably. All those stupid humans prancing around that fire hadn’t seen him steal their meat and drink.

They were so blind and stupid. It was funny. It was hilarious. He was the sneakiest goblin ever!

His laughter apparently attracted someone’s attention because through a break in his sniggering he heard the sound of footsteps approaching. Uh oh! He tried to stop giggling but he found his situation too hilarious.

“Blacknail?” a deep voice asked.

The crate he was behind was suddenly moved, revealing a concerned Saeter looking down at him. Blacknail smiled up at his great master.

“Master, hello,” he giggled.

Saeter examined him for a second before taking in the empty cup in his hand. He sniffed the air.

Saeter sighed and roughly messaged his temples with his fingers. Intense exasperation was plainly written in his body language. Blacknail thought it was hilarious.

“This is just what I need, a drunk goblin. I didn’t even know goblins could get drunk,” Saeter remarked with another sigh.

“Me drink stuff every day,” Blacknail responded groggily as he raised his cup unsteadily into the air.

Why was he doing that? Things were getting kind of blurry.

“How in all the hells did you even get that?” Saeter remarked with disbelief.

“You great!” Blacknail replied cheerfully.

“Well, at least you’re a happy drunk,” Saeter sighed.

He then grabbed the goblin by the scruff of his neck and dragged him over to his campsite, which didn’t hurt much for some reason.

Once they reached Saeter’s fire the man sat Blacknail down. He then pulled out a flask of water and refilled the cup Blacknail was still holding.

“Drink,” he commanded.

Blacknail did, and managed to only spill a little over himself. He was disappointed it was just water but he was still thirsty so it was fine. Saeter gave Blacknail a troubled expression.

“I was going feed you but you were gone. I was afraid you had run off, but I see you decided to get your own supper somehow,” Saeter explained.

“I hungry. So I sneak, no one see,” Blacknail whispered confidentially to Saeter as he wiggled his fingers in front of his face. Saeter gave him an amused look.

“I guess that’s a type of foraging and I did tell you to find your own food. Maybe I should watch my tongue.” Saeter said with a chuckle.

“Yes, master,” Blacknail responded enthusiastically and totally without any sort of understanding. He tried to raise his hands above his head but he wobbled and had to stop.

“I should knock some sense into that skull of yours but you’re drunk and already have a head wound,” Saeter told the goblin.

“Come morning though, you’ll have a serious hangover coming down on you, goblin. That ought to be punishment enough,” Saeter remarked as he gave Blacknail a deeper less sympathetic smile.

“Nap time,” mumbled a suddenly tired goblin as he let out a deep yawn.

Saeter threw a ragged piece of cloth over the drowsy goblin and entered his tent for the night. The goblin curled up around his makeshift blanket and fell asleep under the open sky, while feeling the most comfortable he had ever been. Maybe, it wasn’t so bad here after all…

The Road North 1.6

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Soon, they were walking through the trees again. It wasn’t Blacknail’s favorite place to be. It also quickly became obvious to him that Saeter had headed in a different direction than they had gone during their last trip. The type of trees and bushes were the same but none of them looked or smelled familiar.

This probably meant less chance of running into harpies, but on the other hand probably increased their chances of running into something worse.

Saeter trampled a path through the tall plants that grew under the trees and Blacknail followed in his wake. The sun shone practically all around them through the sparse canopy.

After a few minutes, Saeter found an animal trail where the dirt and plants had been beaten down and began to follow it.

Every once in a while Blacknail would hear rustling noises off in the bush. Most of the time he saw nothing but sometimes it would turn out to be birds taking flight or a small furry tailed rat like animal that would scurry up a tree.

As they progressed through the woods the brown and grey trunks of the trees grew closer together and the overhead canopy grew thicker. The grass and tall plants gave way to shorter broad leaved plants and more bare ground became visible.

Every once and awhile Saeter would stop and examine tracks or droppings on the ground. Sometimes he would have Blacknail examine them as he explained what they were. At one such time he called Blacknail over.

“Blacknail, these are bear tracks. They’re large and dangerous but not usually aggressive unless they smell a free meal or are surprised. Avoid them,” he explained to the goblin as he pointed to the animal signs.

Blacknail’s eyes widened in surprise as he examined the tracks, they were huge! Absently Blacknail wondered what his master thought was truly dangerous if these bear creatures were still considered only a minor threat.

They began to head deeper into the woods then they had before. The atmosphere slowly changed, becoming darker as the air became moister. The scent of earth that had filled the forest gained an undertone of rot.

Blacknail noticed that the trees that grew here were different from the ones he had seen earlier. Most of them had smooth bark that was pale grey and sickly looking. They also had wider leaves that blocked out more of the sun and cast the forest into deep shadow. The trees here had no lower branches and the ones that did were dead and leafless. It gave everything a dark stagnant feeling.

Even the broad leaved plants started to grow sparse and disappear until most of the ground became dark naked soil with a scattering of old decayed leaves and the occasional fern. The lack of obstacles meant Blacknail could see rows and rows of tall leafless trunks stretch out before him.

As they moved forward Saeter took a second to pull his hood up. He then pulled a torch from his backpack and lit it with some flint and steel.

The flame lit the dark woods and scattered tall shifting shadows all around them as Saeter lifted the torch high. It also momentarily hurt Blacknail’s eyes, and he covered them with his hands as they adjusted.

He didn’t know why his master needed the torch. True, it was dark here but he had seen humans walk through darker places without light.

“Come take the torch, Blacknail,” Saeter commanded.

Obediently, the goblin moved over and took the torch from his master. With his hands now free Saeter pulled out his bow and nocked an arrow.

“Now walk ahead of me,” he told Blacknail.

The goblin gave his master a wary look but tentatively started walking forward as he had been commanded. Saeter trailed him from a dozen feet back. Why did Saeter need his bow? Blacknail didn’t like where this was going.

Blacknail shuddered and brushed his face as he walked through a spider web. He spat in disgust. He hadn’t seen the web because of the darkness.

Looking around he noticed that there were quite a few webs around, even high up in the trees. In fact, some of the threads were weirdly thick and stretched from tree to tree. As they walked the webs became thicker and thicker.

Blacknail glanced backwards towards his master and saw Saeter scanning the branches above them as he moved carefully forward. He seemed to Blacknail to be moving cautiously and looking for something, or looking out for something.

In this part of the woods there were no bushes or leaves near the ground to hide behind though, so surely nothing here could be large enough to challenge his mighty master. He was a stupid goblin for being so afraid.

Blacknail noticed a large lump a ways off to his right. He eyed it suspiciously but it seemed to be nothing more than a pile of pale bones, dirty webs, and brown dried up leaves.

“There,” Saeter suddenly mumbled to himself.

The old scout then drew his bow and nocked an arrow. He swiftly loosed the arrow up at the trunk of a tree ahead of them. However, instead of embedding itself into the trunk there was a shrill hiss as the arrow fell back to the ground with something stuck to the end of it.

To Blacknail’s surprise whatever the arrow had hit squirmed and hissed as it lay on the ground. To his horror he realized that it was a spider, a huge brown spider with a body larger than a rat’s. It was cat sized almost, and had long legs that thrashed and clawed the air as it died. Its eight bright red eyes seemed to stare at Blacknail hungrily even as it stiffened in death.

Saeter turned and gave Blacknail a serious look.

“We’re lucky I saw the light in the timber spider’s eyes before it jumped. Otherwise, I would have had to shoot it out of the air,” he told the stunned goblin.

“Or shot it off of you once it had bitten you,” Saeter added as an afterthought.

Blacknail’s eyes widened as he realized that he had been bait for the spider. Saeter saw the goblin’s look and chuckled grimly.

“You would have been fine. Their venom just paralyses. Then they wrap you up for later. I would have killed it before anything lasting happened,” he explained.

“Thank you master for saving me,” Blacknail whimpered. Saeter looked off into the distance before replying.

“Don’t thank me yet goblin. This is the wild North; no one here is safe, not you and certainly not me,” he explained.

“Let’s leave this dark place master. Blacknail no want to die!” the goblin whined to his master.

Surely, his master could see that it was too dangerous to stay here. He would rather be chased by a whole pack of hungry dogs than go near a spider like that. Blacknail was never entering these dark woods ever again! No giant spider thing was going to bite him.

Master had a thick hooded cloak to protect him but what did Blacknail have? Nothing! The goblin realized that the pile of bones he had seen were the remains of some large animal that had been paralysed and wrapped up by a spider. He shuddered again and squeaked in alarm.

He could almost feel the touch of spider legs against his back and the ghost of its fangs against his neck. One bite and then he would be wrapped up in silk to join the bones here forever.

“Only fools are done in by timber spiders. There are much more dangerous places to be but we’ll be gone soon, so no worries,” Saeter told Blacknail.

Saeter retrieved his arrow and cleaned it, first with dirt and then a rag. Then he took out a knife and cut the spider open. He reached in and carefully removed a small sac from the incision. He then placed the sac on the ground and pierced it with three of his arrows. Blacknail saw something stain the arrows as Saeter removed them from the gland. That done Saeter wrapped the arrows in the rag and tucked them away

“We’re done here. Let’s get out of here,” Saeter grunted as he stood up.

Blacknail thought that was a great idea.

“Okay we go,” Blacknail agreed as he nodded enthusiastically.

This caused the torch he was still carrying to bob about and cast a swarm of shadows around them. He stood there and waited for his master to start moving. Saeter just gave him an annoyed look.

“You’re still going first. Head back the way we came. It should be safe,” Saeter told him as he nocked another arrow.

Blacknail gave his master a pitiful look but Saeter ignored it and pointed out the way with an outstretched hand.

With a bitter sigh Blacknail started nervously walking back the way they had come. He hugged the torch tight as he scanned the dark torch lit trees around him for glimpses of long legs or red eyes. He saw nothing though. Giant spiders were now Blacknail’s least favourite animal, even worse than horses, or harpies.

Blacknail trudged on through the dark woods. Several times he circled around areas with lots of cobwebs or where he thought he saw something above. He really didn’t want to be bitten by a spider, fatal or not.

At one point Blacknail saw what he was fairly sure was a goblin skull resting against a tree. Its empty eye sockets stared out at him. Now he knew where goblins sat in the local food chain. He could hear Saeter’s footsteps behind him but he glanced backwards to make sure he was there anyway. Surely he was safe so close to his master.

While it was true Saeter was much nicer and beat him much less than his old masters Blacknail was very disturbed at the seemingly endless amount of things that ate goblins in the forest. It wasn’t like goblins had never been killed in sewers but there at least he knew the dangers. In the forest he had no idea what would come after him next. Anything could happen and that terrified him.

Much to Blacknail’s relief the spider webs soon grew thinner and disappeared. The woods began to grow brighter and the underbrush thicker as well. Blacknail felt relief wash over him when they were obviously out of spider territory. He hoped his master would never make him go back to that dark terrible place ever again.

“Stop, Blacknail,” Saeter called out as soon as they were completely out of the darkest part of the woods. Blacknail stopped walking and turned back to his master. Saeter walked up and took the torch from the goblin and then snuffed it out. After letting it cool for awhile he placed it back in his sack.

“Follow,” he commanded as he once again took the lead. Blacknail thought they might be headed back to camp but Saeter then veered off in a new direction.

Soon their way was blocked by a wide creek that meandered through the woods. Tall reeds and other aquatic plants grew alongside it. Birds called out to each other joyfully from the nearby tree tops. Blacknail had never seen or smelled such clean water. He wanted to run over and get himself a drink.

He approached the creek to get a better look but was stopped by a sudden painful tug on one of his ears. The goblin jumped back and yelped in surprise. Saeter had grabbed the point of his ear and was scowling down at him.

“Stop,” Saeter commanded quietly but sternly. Blacknail instantly froze. “Bad Goblin. I told you to follow, not lead. Don’t wander off and get yourself killed,” Saeter hissed.

He turned away from the goblin and eyed the creek suspiciously. He then picked a stone off the ground and threw it at the water. It bounced off of a rock larger than Blacknail in the water near the bank. Much to Blacknail’s surprise the rock then sunk below the water with a splash and disappeared.

“Tyrant snapping turtle,” Saeter whispered menacingly into his ear. “Go near that thing little goblin and it will drag you under water and chew you up”.

The goblin’s eyes widened in horror. He hated deep water and he definitely hated being chewed on.

“Blacknail is sorry master. He stupid goblin but he thanks you for saving him,” Blacknail moaned.

Saeter gave him an irritated look and pulled the goblin by the ear again. Blacknail stumbled and stifled another yelp as he was pulled behind Saeter. His poor ear hurt so much! Why did his master keep pulling on it?

“Follow,” Saeter commanded sternly before heading downstream. He stayed a fair distance from the water. Blacknail followed him while rubbing his sore ear.

Soon they came across a part of the creek where the water became very shallow and bubbled over a rocky bed. Saeter jumped down to the water and crossed the creek without a problem. The water barely submerged the toe of his boots.

Blacknail also jumped down to the water, and grabbed a quick drink as well. He cupped the water in his hands and brought it to his mouth. The water was cool and tasted refreshing. It also felt nice and relaxing as it flowed between his bare toes.

After crossing the stream and moving through the brush for a while Saeter stopped and examined the ground. Blacknail smelled some type of scat. He didn’t know the animal but it seemed fresh. Saeter got up and inspected some small branches on a bush. He then began to move forward slower and more cautiously.

As soon as they moved through the brush a green wall of branches and bushes rose up in front of them. They approached the bushes and then broke through them into the edge of the clearing.

Short grass and sun loving flowers filled the meadow. The occasional small tree or bush grew up from the ground creating small blind spots. Most of the area was open grass and plainly visible though.

A large pond also sat in the middle of it. Reeds and lily pads grew around the pond. The sound of frogs croaking could be heard. Blacknail licked his lips. Frogs were a tasty treat. He had caught a few back in his old home. You simply had to sit next to the water and wait long enough for one to come close enough to grab. They were slimy, soft, and sweet. The best part was the legs, he loved to chew them.

Without a word Saeter scanned the clearing and then cautiously moved over to a cluster of green bushes surrounding a large stone on a hill at the edge of the woods.

Once there Saeter set his bag down and began to prepare. He crouched down and unwrapped the arrows he had covered in the rag and placed them on ground. Then, he sat down and made himself comfortable with his bow in his lap. Blacknail sat down beside him.

Saeter didn’t move for several minutes and nothing happened. The frogs continued to croak unmolested and the occasional bird swooped down to grab an insect.

They waited for several more minutes. Saeter barely moved beyond the rising and falling of his chest as he breathed. He silently watched the clearing from his concealed spot. The wind blew through the long grass causing it to wave and rustle.

Then they waited for what seemed like an hour. Blacknail began to lose patience. His instincts wanted to find a scent trail and follow it back to a burrow. He didn’t want to sit around all day and wait for nothing to happen! What kind of hunting was this?

Then he saw movement in the grass. After a moment the brown head of a rabbit peaked through the grass as it stood up on its hind legs. Surely they hadn’t come here for a rabbit, had they?

Blacknail threw a look Saeter’s way but his master hadn’t reacted. The rabbit soon disappeared back into the grass. Blacknail sighed with disappointment and shifted into a more comfortable position. He then grew dozy as the afternoon sun warmed his skin.

After several more minutes of staring at the grass sway in the wind Blacknail soon wondered if there was a way to get back asleep without his master catching on. He wasn’t doing anything but sitting there anyway, and it was very boring.

Then the bushes across the clearing shook. Instantly, they became the focus of Blacknail’s undivided attention. Was it just the wind? The bushes moved again and a tall animal moved out slowly into the clearing.

It was shaped like a horse but smaller and much thinner with white spots on its brown fur. It trotted over to the pond and after a brief look around it began to drink. Blacknail half expected one of the massive turtles he had seen earlier to burst from the water and drag the beast under, but that didn’t happen.

Suddenly in one fluid motion Saeter rose to his feet, nocked an arrow to his bow, pulled the bow back, and let the arrow loose. It flashed towards the animal and struck it in the side of its chest under its neck.

The beast cried out in surprise and pain and turned to flee, but it lost its footing in the wet mud around the pond and stumbled. Blood dribbled from its wound as it staggered away. It only managed to go several dozen feet before it collapsed limply onto the grass. It twitched feebly a few times and lay still.

After another quick look around the clearing Saeter ran over to the deer and pulled out a knife, which he used to slash the deer’s throat. Dark red blood pooled onto the ground beneath the deer and the light faded from its frightened eyes, leaving only emptiness.

The blood smelled delicious to Blacknail. The goblin licked his lips as he looked down at the beast.

Saeter got up and walked to the edge of the forest. Once there he selected four long sturdy sticks and tied them together with rope to create a crude sled. He lifted the deer up and tied it to the sled.

Next he took out his long knife and cut a hole through the deer’s muzzle right behind the nose. He then took one of the short sticks he had collected, shoved it through the hole and tied the rope to it.

“Time to head back,” he told Blacknail as he loaded the rope over his shoulder and began to drag the sled and deer back towards the camp.

Around halfway back they heard a rustling in some bushes a few dozen feet from them. Saeter dropped his bow and readied an arrow. With his eyes locked on the source of the sound he handed the sled’s rope to Blacknail.

“Pull it, go,” he commanded the goblin.

Blacknail eyed the sled doubtfully. His master did realize how large the beast was right? Blacknail was only a normal sized goblin, not a giant human. Saeter threw Blacknail an impatient look and the goblin hurriedly began to pull.

With a grunt of effort Blacknail copied his master and tugged the rope. At first he couldn’t manage it and the sled refused to move, then he felt something give way in his chest. A cool energy rushed through his body and the sled started to slide forward.

It was tiring but he managed to drag the sled. Luckily for him goblins were stronger than their small size made them appear. Every time he thought he had reached his limit he felt another rush and managed to keep going.

After awhile when he didn’t hear any more noises Saeter relaxed. Much to Blacknail’s disappointment Saeter didn’t ask for the sled’s rope back. His master seemed content to let the goblin continue to drag the sled. Blacknail wanted to ask Saeter to take the rope back but didn’t dare.

So instead he threw his master a pitiful begging expression. Saeter ignored him and Blacknail had to keep pulling. Alright then how about this? Blacknail began to shake and slow down as he pretended to be more tired than he was

Something hard impacted his behind and Blacknail surged forward again with a small yelp. Saeter had kicked him in the butt! Ow, that had hurt.

Blacknail reluctantly kept pulling but now he was annoyed. It was unfair of the large human to make him do all the work, not to mention he had been used as spider bait earlier!

“Ugly Saeter. Stupid Saeter. Smelly Saeter,” Blacknail muttered under his breath quietly enough that he knew his master couldn’t possibly hear it.

“You’re kind of strong for something your size,” Saeter remarked a few minutes later.

The unexpected compliment caught the goblin off guard and he felt a flush of pride at his master’s words. This newfound pride warred with the annoyance within him and won.

He had started to slow again but with a surge of energy he put a little more effort into pulling and sped back up. He would show his master how strong a goblin he really was!

As they walked through the forest it grew darker as the sun began to set. Blacknail had grown very tired and his legs burned painfully. He huffed and puffed as he strained to drag the sled. His face started to turn purple from the effort. He really hoped master would give him a treat for this.

Thankfully, they saw no spiders or other creatures, except a startled rabbit and the occasional bird, before they arrived back at the camp.

As they got close to base Saeter finally stopped and took the sled back. Blacknail suspected he was trying to hog all the credit for the work. That seemed unfair but the goblin didn’t really care; he was just excited to be so close to safety.

In his eagerness, Blacknail ran up ahead of his master. A big grin was plastered across his face as the camp came into sight beyond the last stretch of trees.

The joy was lost however when something hard and heavy smashed into his skull and sent him sprawling limply across the ground and into the dirt. As he blinked in hazy confusion and lay on the ground with a painful headache a large shadow fell over him.