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.

The Road North 1.5

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“Up Blacknail, come on,” Saeter called to the goblin as he made his way back to his tent.

Blacknail climbed to his feet with a sigh and followed his master. He had wanted to enjoy lying on the soft grass under the sun some more.

As they crossed the bandit camp Blacknail felt his earlier fear and joy start to fade as he calmed down. The sky above was clear and blue so there was no place for those dreadful harpies or the worse things that filled his imagination to perch.

However, he soon noticed that the camp had changed since he left. While the camp had been almost empty when he had left earlier it now contained over two dozen loitering bandits.

Several of them looked over as Saeter and Blacknail approached. Some of them immediately lost interest and looked away but others threw Blacknail disbelieving or even out right hostile looks.

This made Blacknail feel uncomfortable. He remembered the things some of the meaner men had said about how they had wanted to kill him. Did a lot of these humans feel the same way?

He was almost sure that his master would protect him until he figured out how to get home, but just to be sure he would have to try extra hard to be a good helper. He just hoped he could work in the camp instead of out in the woods. He would rather deal with the glares and rope weaving than the ravening beasts.

“Is that a goblin?” Blacknail heard one disbelieving voice say.

“I think it is. Look at it. It must be some sort of pet,” another human replied.

Other voices murmured and debated amongst themselves, but Saeter completely ignored the voices and walked over to his tent.

Off to the side of his fire pit there was a simple three or four foot high rack made of sticks that was tied together with twine. After Saeter had put down his bag he pulled out a knife and slit the rabbits’ throats. He then looped a piece of cord around their feet so he could hang them up on the rack.

Blood dripped from the rabbits’ open wounds onto the trampled grass below. It smelled so delicious to Blacknail that he licked his lips. However, he knew better than to eat something without his master’s permission, especially while he was still looking.

He couldn’t prevent his stomach from growling though. It had been awhile since he had last been fed. His last full meal had been early that morning when he had still been caged on the wagon. That seemed like so long ago to Blacknail, much longer than a day. Saeter noticed the rumbling sounds and turned to the goblin.

“I suppose you’ve earned a bite to eat,” he said as he rummaged through his bag.

He pulled out a small piece of dried meat and tossed it to Blacknail. He also fetched a small wooden bowl and filled it with water from his water pouch.

The goblin hurriedly ate the meat. It tasted salty but very good, much better than what he had been fed on the wagon, but not as nice as a freshly caught rat. He washed it down with water from the bowl.

After he had finished eating Blacknail turned to his master and assumed a sad begging expression. He wanted more food, like one of the juicy rabbits. Surely, his master didn’t need all of them!

“No begging. If you’re still hungry you’re gonna need to find your own food. There’s plenty of wild carrot and other stuff around,” Saeter told him with a scowl.

Saeter then looked around and pointed out a tall white flower. Blacknail sighed and reluctantly trudged over to the plants. He sniffed them carefully and looked them over. How was he supposed to eat these?

Before he could figure out what to do he was interrupted by unexpected voices. The goblin looked up to see a human female with short black hair approach his master.

“Saeter, what in all the hells are you up to now?” someone said with a feminine but hard commanding voice.

This new woman was athletic looking without being muscled like a man or Vorscha. Various dangerous looking blades were strapped to her dark leather armor. The armor itself seemed to be more complete and better maintained than that of most the other humans around.

Yet, it was her glacial blue eyes that stood out the most. They were as hard and cold as ice and seemed to pierce through whoever she was looking at.

Blacknail involuntarily ducked into the grass as her eyes passed him over but Seater just casually looked up from what he was doing and met her stare.

“Ah, what can I do for you, Herad?” the old scout replied nonchalantly as the woman narrowed her eyes slightly in annoyance at his response.

“Vorscha told me you had found yourself a goblin pet. I don’t want vermin like that wandering the camp,” she told him as she threw Blacknail a hostile look.

“Really? I think he’ll be very useful,” Saeter replied.

“I don’t care what you think. Get rid of it or I will,” Herad told him coldly.

Blacknail froze and felt goose bumps rise on his skin. The woman seemed to be the chief of this tribe and she didn’t appear to like him much! He didn’t think any simple tricks would win her over either.

However, Seater seemed to be calmly thinking something over.

“If that’s what you want then that’s what I’ll do, but I was just thinking about how useful he would be in helping me hunt. Not to mention if we have a tame goblin around it will drive the wild ones away; they’re quite territorial,” Saeter told her.

It was subtle but Blacknail thought he saw Herad’s eyes narrow. She scowled and glanced at Saeter suspiciously.

“How exactly will that thing be of any use?” she asked him.

Blacknail could see that she had begun to think things over though. He felt a speck of hope that he would survive this.

“Many ways, it can track like a hound but it’s stealthier and smarter. With him I’ll be able sniff out the trails of both animals and men. Also, like I said before his scent will scare away all the wild goblins and end our theft problems,” Saeter explained.

Herad thought about it for a few seconds before answering.

“Fine, since you seem to believe it will be useful you can keep it, but it had better not cause any trouble or inconvenience me,” Herad told him.

“Don’t worry, he’s well trained and I’m planning on keeping him too busy to get into any trouble,” Saeter replied.

“See that you do, old man,” she responded as she threw another look towards Blacknail.

The goblin instantly crouched down again and tried to disappear into the grass as she looked his way. He knew she could still see him and that all he was doing was making himself look silly, but he couldn’t help himself. That woman’s eyes were really scary. She looked like she would kill him as soon as look at him.

Blacknail was very glad that the chieftain Herad had decided not to kill him and allowed him to join her tribe. He just really wished he hadn’t been volunteered into hunting in the forest. That sounded dangerous!

When he had lived in the sewer he had never had to deal with things like this. He needed to find a way back there soon.

Much to the goblin’s relief Herad soon turned back to Saeter. She scowled at the rabbits hanging on the rack beside him in disapproval. This upset Backnail. He had almost died getting those rabbits!

“I do hope you’re planning on bringing more than a few scrawny rabbits to tonight’s celebration, Saeter. We need to celebrate today’s victory. It’s not every day that a fat caravan of goods falls into our laps. Those pathetic excuses for rabbits in front of you will hardly make up for skipping out on helping reload the wagons,” Herad told him coldly.

“I plan on going back out in a minute,” Saeter replied simply without any apparent concern.

“Good, but don’t stay out too late. The band will be heading out early tomorrow morning after the men have had a chance to rest and patch their wounds. I want you out scouting a path first thing tomorrow. We will be heading north to escape any unwanted attention we have brought down on ourselves, just in case one of what passes for the local lords around here decides to actually care…. for once. We’ll use the roads for the first few days but head off track when it turns eastward. I don’t want to run into any surprises,” Herad explained.

“A good plan,” Saeter replied with a nod. For some reason his response annoyed Herad.

“I wasn’t asking your opinion Saeter. Just do your job with your usual competence and we won’t have a problem,” she reprimanded him.

She then threw Blacknail a disgusted look before turning around and walking off. Saeter turned to the cowering goblin when she was gone.

“She has that effect on a lot of people,” he remarked.

Sighing, he got up and stretched out before picking up his pack and bow again. Then he turned back to Blacknail.

“Well, it seems like I’m going to have to get you trained quickly now,” Saeter told him. “So, there’s no point in waiting around. Come here.”

Blacknail shoved a still dirty wild carrot he had managed to dig up into his mouth and headed back over to his master. He was glad the scary lady had left.

Saeter got up and started walking across the camp towards to another group of bandits, and Blacknail followed him. As the goblin moved he glanced past his master at the humans they were heading towards.

They were a group of five who were talking and sitting in the shade cast by a tall pile of crates. Blacknail recognized two of them, the muscular woman Vorscha and the thin weak looking man named Geralhd.

“Geralhd, I have a job for you!” Saeter yelled out as he approached. With an annoyed grimace Geralhd turned to look at Saeter.

“Since I don’t actually work for you Saeter, I think I will have to pass on whatever it is you’re talking about,” the thin man replied.

Saeter ignored his response and kept talking.

“I got some rabbits I don’t have time to skin and cut up since Herad wants me out hunting. Seems like a job for you, unless you don’t know how?” Saeter explained with a hint of taunting in his voice as he spoke the last part.

“I know how to skin a rabbit Saeter, and no I’m not going to try and prove it to you. It’s going to take quite a bit more than a simple taunt from you to get me to do your work for you,” Geralhd replied with an annoyed tone.

The other three bandits that were sitting in the shade shuffled away and began to talk amongst themselves.

“I’m thinking my idea of skinning a rabbit right is different than yours. Besides didn’t you say you wanted to learn how to survive out here? Well here’s an opportunity to learn, boy. I’m sure Vorscha can help you figure out the hard parts,” Saeter told him.

As he talked Geralhd seemed to grow angrier, until it looked like he was either going to start yelling at the other man or punch him. However, before he could do anything Vorscha extended a hand and cut him off. She gave both the men disapproving looks and shook her head.

“Calm down both of you. That’s no way to ask a favour Saeter, and you know it. We’ll help you out old man but only if you ask nicely,” Vorscha interjected as Saeter gave her an annoyed glare and Garalhd to smiled in triumph.

“Fine, please help with the work…” Saeter asked grumpily. “…for once.”

Geralhd gave Saeter a smug smile. Blacknail was sure Geralhd hadn’t heard his master grumble the last part, which didn’t surprise the goblin since the man had tiny pink human ears.

“I graciously accept your request for help, Saeter. Think nothing of it,” Geralhd replied smugly.

“Oh, I do. Don’t worry,” Saeter grumbled in reply.

There was no way the other man hadn’t heard that; however, he apparently chose to ignore it since his only reaction was to keep smiling smugly at Saeter.

“Good, then that’s settled. Honestly, I don’t know how two men can act so childish sometimes. To think you’re both supposed to be bloodthirsty northern bandits,” Vorscha said with a chuckle.

Blacknail also found himself smiling at the funny faces both men were making.

Geralhd noticed Blacknail smiling at him and turned towards the goblin. He returned the goblin’s grin and gave a friendly wave. Blacknail thought he was an idiot and planned on avoiding him as much as possible in the future.

“Hey there Blacknail, it’s nice to see you again little fellow. I hope Saeter’s not treating you too badly,” he cheerfully told the goblin.

The goblin gave Geralhd a suspicious glance. No one had ever talked to Blacknail like that before, ever. What was with the super friendly voice? It was weird and unnerving.

“Master good. He feed me and he scare bad harpies away,” Blacknail replied. He knew which human he needed to stay on the good side of and it wasn’t the skinny weak one. He looked out of the corner of his eye and saw Saeter smile approvingly at him.

“Harpies eh? That sounds like a tale,” Vorscha commented after the goblin finished speaking. Saeter turned to her.

“We ran into two of them on our way back from the snares. They thought they could steal some of our rabbits. One of them dove at Blacknail but I scared them off,” Saeter replied with a shrug.

Blacknail remembered it slightly different than that. There were a lot more screams, cowering, and near death experiences in his version. Surprisingly, Gerald’s eyes widened in excitement as Saeter spoke.

“Oh harpies! I’ve always wanted to see a harpy. I’ve heard they’re quite exotic and beautiful creatures. I wish I could have been there,” Geralhd said with a regretful sigh.

Saeter looked at Geralhd like he was an idiot. Well, more of an idiot than usual any way. Blacknail agreed wholeheartedly. He copied his master’s facial expression exactly.

Anyone who wanted to run into harpies deserved their fate. He still remembered their terrible claws and horrible voices. Vorscha saw him mimic his master and chuckled at them.

“Next time I think I’m going to run into harpies I’ll be sure to bring you,” Saeter told Geralhd sarcastically.

Blacknail thought that was a great idea. The fool would make a great human shield, the goblin thought with a smile.

“Harpies are dangerous, Geralhd. They’re likely to attack you if they think they can get away with it. You don’t want to run into them without someone at your back. I’m surprised Saeter and his goblin got away as easily as they did,” Vorscha explained.

“I know what I’m doing,” Saeter said with a shrug. Vorscha gave him a sceptical look.

“I don’t doubt you know the forest better than anyone but there’s a good reason most scouts travel in pairs and not alone, Saeter. It’s important to have someone at your back, and before you say anything that goblin of yours doesn’t count,” the tall woman told him with a hint of concern.

“I don’t have time to retrain one of the other scouts to get rid of their bad habits, and if I don’t they’re more likely to draw a Drake down on me than be any real help,” Saeter huffed as Vorscha eyed him critically.

“You could always take Geralhd with you,” Vorscha joked.

Both Saeter and Geralhd blanched at that idea.

“I’ll have to humbly decline that suggestion,” Geralhd interjected hurriedly. “When I said I wanted to learn to survive I didn’t mean to suggest I wanted to become a scout and go out into the forest. I like it fine here in camp, thank you.”

Blacknail thought that was the first smart thing Geralhd had ever said. Blacknail frowned and wished he had that option. Geralhd saw the goblin’s frown and misinterpreted it.

“You’re such a good goblin sitting there so patiently. You must be getting bored. I think you deserve a treat for putting up with your master,” Geralhd said as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a bit of dried meat and threw it to Blacknail.

The goblin quickly snatched it from the air and scoffed it down. His opinion of Geralhd changed completely. He was no longer just an idiot. He was an idiotic food source.

“Blacknail thanks Geralhd,” Blacknail said as he chewed and smacked. Vorscha gave him a disgusted look, but Blacknail ignored her as he was deep in thought. Geralhd seemed pleased at the goblin’s response.

The man Geralhd had revealed himself to not only have tasty treats but also to be willing to give them to Blacknail. If he sucked up to Geralhd he should be able to get even more treats, and the weak man seemed to be the type of human that could be easily impressed. The trick would be not angering Saeter while doing it.

“Don’t spoil him, Geralhd. He needs to learn to fend for himself,” Saeter told the other man with a scowl.

Geralhd just rolled his eyes.

“How about you train him not to eat and speak at the same time, or at least chew quieter?” Vorscha interjected dryly.

“Maybe when I have time,” Saeter replied in the same dry tone.

“Speaking of time, don’t let us keep you from your hunting, Saeter. Since you’re so busy and all,” Geralhd said with a wave of his hands in the direction of the forest.

“Indeed,” Saeter replied with a farewell nod to Vorscha.

He then abruptly started walking off with Blacknail in tow. Geralhd gave Blacknail a wave goodbye and the goblin happily waved back. He was already planning how to get another treat out of the thin man.

Without stopping Saeter headed straight out into the forest again. Blacknail followed him reluctantly. They left the rest of the bandit camp behind them as they exited the sunny clearing and stepped out under the shadowy forest canopy again.

Blacknail sighed in resignation. He really didn’t want to go back out there, he wanted to go home! He hoped they didn’t see any more harpies…

The Road North 1.4

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After a few minutes of walking through the woods Saeter turned to Blacknail and gave him an appraising look. The goblin was nervously scanning the woods around him for threats. He couldn’t see any, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there…

“Well it’s obvious you’re no forest creature; you’re shaking like a leaf. I’ll have to start your training out slow then. Just follow me and be quiet unless you want a smack. You’ll get used to being out in the deep green, you’re a goblin after all,” Saeter explained to Blacknail.

“I follow master quiet like,” whispered the goblin in response. He could do that; he snuck around places all the time. Saeter grunted in affirmation before moving out. His long strides carried him quickly over the ground as he headed deeper into the emerald forest.

Blacknail hurried after him. He made his best effort to keep up and make as little noise as possible. He stepped gently, avoided twigs and leaves, crept over logs, and kept low to the ground. Just as he was about to congratulate himself on being so quiet he realized he had a problem.

His legs were too small and short! His master with his long strides was quickly leaving him behind. While Saeter could walk casually Blacknail had to jog. Where Saeter stepped over logs and mud he had to jump. He couldn’t do that and be sneaky at the same time! There was no way he was going to be left behind though so he pushed his pace.

Blacknail managed to keep up, but as they moved deeper into the woods a cloud of insects begun to gather. Soon a black buzzing swarm had formed around them. Well mostly around Blacknail. His master was protected by his thick long clothes. Meanwhile Blacknail’s loincloth did pretty much nothing. The flies and mosquitoes seemed to prefer the goblin for some reason as well. Probably because Saeter was kind of old and skinny so he probably didn’t taste very good.

Blacknail tried to swat the flying pests but there were far too many of them. As a goblin he had thick skin but the bites were still painful and annoying. His frantic motions failed to deter the swarm but they slowed him down and caused him to start to fall behind again. He had never seen, or felt, so many mosquitoes. He hissed angrily at the swarm but it apparently wasn’t very impressed because it just continued biting him.

“My blood, go away!” Blacknail barked angrily at them. Luckily he knew a way to protect himself. Looking around he spotted a muddy puddle.

The goblin then gleefully jumped in and started to roll around. The wet sludge was so cool and soothing as it enveloped his skin that he squealed in happiness. The stupid bugs wouldn’t be able to bite him through all the mud! After coating himself fully he got to his feet… and found his master staring down at him.

“By all the hells, what are you doing?” Saeter asked him sounding dumbfounded. A look of surprise and disgust was plastered on his face. Blacknail was pretty sure he was in trouble. He gave his master a begging look and his best puppy eyes.

“There were biting bugs…” he told his master in his most pitiful sounding voice. Saeter gave him a light smack on his head and pulled him out of the mud by his ear.

Blacknail had to lean into his master and hop rapidly to lessen the pain in his ear as Saeter pulled him. When he had been dragged well out of the mud Saeter looked him over angrily, but then sighed in resignation and let him go a second later.

The goblin winced at the pain in his ear and began to rub it carefully. It hadn’t really hurt him that much though and he expected further punishment. However his master didn’t seem that angry with him anymore. Instead of hitting him again Saeter reached into a pouch at his side and withdrew some plant leaves.

“This is Flybane,” he told Blacknail as he handed several leaves to the goblin. Blacknail sniffed them and sneezed as their strong bitter smell invaded his nostrils.

Luckily he managed to turn away before he had covered his master in green goblin snot, and it shot out onto the ground instead. He had once seen a goblin be beaten to death for doing that to a master. He wasn’t going to make that mistake!

“The smell chases bugs away. Get some of that mud off and then rub this on yourself instead.” Seter continued to explain.

Immediately Blacknail dropped to the ground and begun rolling on a patch of grass to remove the mud. As Saeter watched him the edges of his mouth twitched again. Why did his new master keep doing that?

When the goblin had removed most of the mud he sat up and begun to wipe the leaves against his skin. Soon he begun to smell like the plant and the swarm of bugs around him thinned out. The scent almost made him sneeze again but he stifled it and gave Saeter a big toothy smile.

“Thank you master,” he said gratefully in his high voice. Saeter shook his head in vexation as he regarded the grinning but still very dirty goblin.

“I’d throw you in a bath but I expect you’d just get dirty again right after,” he told the goblin as he started to walk away. Blacknail didn’t know what a bath was but he hoped it was a treat for being so smart. Maybe he could earn one later.

As they trudged on the unfamiliar environment continued to make Blacknail anxious that something would sneak up or drop down on him from an overhead branch. He could just picture some monstrosity like a giant cat sitting up there hidden among the leaves ready to pounce. He didn’t think such a thing would be repelled by Flybane no matter how bad he smelled.

Peering up above he almost ran into Saeter before he realized his master had stopped moving. Saeter had crouched low to the ground and was examining something.

“Come here Blacknail and look,” Saeter called quietly. The goblin scampered over a fallen log and moved up beside his master to see what he was looking at. Several animal tracks decorated the patch of bare ground in front of them. They looked somewhat familiar to Blacknail, and smelled familiar as well.

“Wolves, avoid them they’re dangerous. These tracks are old though,” Saeter told Blacknail.

“Smells like doggies, master,” Blacknail replied.

“Yes, good goblin. Almost the same. Good nose,” Saeter told him with a pleased tone. He smiled at Blacknail before getting back up and continuing on. Blacknail felt a flash happiness at the praise. He had been called good again! He followed Saeter and felt a little less afraid of the forest.

If dog like things lived here than it couldn’t be so different from the sewers and alleys. Blacknail could deal with doggies. They couldn’t climb or squeeze into tight places like goblins could. His tribe had many good times luring doggies next to high places and then throwing stuff at them. Vicious biting doggies didn’t like bricks to their faces much.

They walked on for awhile when suddenly a whiff of scent drew Blacknail’s attention. It was a very familiar smell, the scent of a goblin. He took a deeper breath and realized it was a young male, a strange young male.

Blacknail felt the urge to track it down and show it who was dominant. This was his territory now! Then just like that the scent vanished. Saeter must have noticed something because he turned and regarded the goblin.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Smell goblin. Young,” Blacknail responded with a growl.

“Just one youngling? Then it’s nothing to worry about. Come on,” Saeter said as he started walking again. Blacknail waited a second and took another deep breath but he could smell only leaves, dirt, and his master. With a touch of regret he took off after Seater.

After awhile Saetar stopped moving and moved over into the bushes. There he reached over and pulled a dead rabbit from where it was hanging from a sapling by something wrapped around its neck.

Blacknail eyed the small tree suspiciously. He didn’t know the forest very well but he was pretty sure rabbits didn’t grow on trees.

“After you learn rope making I will teach you how to set and check these snares. It’s a lot easier to catch rabbits this way than by hand like feral goblins do,” Saeter explained as he hung the rabbit over his shoulder. Oh, it was a trap set by Saeter. He felt a little dumb.

Saeter then disassembled the trap and packed it into his bag. After he finished he turned and headed off in a new direction. After a brief walk he stopped to check another trap, but it was empty. He dissembled it as well before moving on to the next. This one did have a rabbit caught in it. Saeter handed it to Blacknail to carry.

“No eating,” he warned the goblin. Blacknail felt disappointment. For a second he had thought his master was giving him a treat. Maybe if he was very good he could taste the rabbit later, or maybe he could take some when Saeter was done with it.

All in all they checked over a dozen traps, and got seven rabbits, before heading back to camp. Blacknail ended up carrying four. Being given so many meant that his master thought he was strong! He hoped he could earn a treat this way, he was getting kind of hungry.

As they were on their way Saeter suddenly froze and drew his bow. Blacknail froze as well and scanned the woods for what his master had sensed. He had a sinking feeling that it would be dangerous. Pretty much everything was to a goblin.

The trees around them were a little thicker and let less light through than in the area they had just left. There were also fewer bushes and instead of grass short leafy plants grew.

Blacknail nervously looked up into the dense overhead tree branches, since there was little cover on the ground to hide anything approaching. Suddenly a flash of movement drew his attention up to a spot in the canopy.

His eyes widened in fright as he saw the creature. Perched on a branch up ahead of them was a… something. Blacknail had never seen anything like it.

It was hard to tell at this distance but it seemed to be slightly larger than a goblin but smaller than a human. It was however more than big enough to be dangerous to both goblins and humans though as it had knife sized talons jutting from the ends of its feet.

Large brown and tan feathers covered its body and the long wings that jutted from its shoulders. Unlike a bird though another set of dangerous looking claws grew from the tips of its wings. Its head was crowned by a black feathery crest that stretched down its back and almost looked like a woman’s long hair.

The creatures chilling visage was completed by intense intelligent eyes that stared down at them from a disturbingly human-like face instead of a bird-like beak. It noticed Blacknail’s attention and smiled down at him to reveal a mouth stuffed full of long sharp teeth obviously designed for tearing through flesh.

Blacknail shivered violently as fear momentarily overcame him. Startled he instinctively looked around for a nice big bush or deep hole to hide in nearby. Much to his dismay the area around him was mostly full of tree trunks, roots, and tiny plants that only came up to his knees. There was no nearby shelter, so the goblin glanced back at the grinning creature.

The thing had obviously seen them and knew that they could see it. That was way more intelligence than the goblin was comfortable seeing in something that clearly wanted to eat him.

Their eyes met and the creature locked gazes with him. It tilted its head to the side with an almost delicate motion and begun to make soft cooing noises, as if it was inviting him closer. Blacknail felt a horrible urge to run screaming, whether he wanted to run towards or away from the thing he didn’t know. Before his fear overwhelmed him completely though Saeter interrupted and drew his attention.

“Come Blacknail. Come close to me,” Saeter commanded steadily and calmly as he took a step forward and interposed himself between the goblin and the creature.

Blacknail thought that was a great idea! With a flash of panic the goblin ducked down and scrambled up to his master’s feet, barely remembering to pull the rabbits he had been carrying behind him. They were dragged through the leaf litter as he moved.

Once he reached safety behind his master the goblin’s heartbeat begun to settle down a bit. True the terrible winged creature was terrifying but his master’s calm voice reassured him somewhat. After all Saeter was a giant and mighty warrior even among humans!

Blacknail peeked out from behind his master’s rough dark brown cloak. The winged thing’s eyes narrowed in annoyance as it regarded the now sheltered goblin. Blacknail stuck his tongue out at it and made a face. Ha, it was obviously too weak and afraid to come anywhere near Saeter!

Suddenly the thing tilted its head up and whistled sharply. The sound echoed around them as it bounced through the forest. Saeter went still.

“Look around Blacknail. Do you see any more?” Saeter suddenly asked.

The goblin’s heart beat sped up again. There was more than one of these freaks? He turned and furtively scanned the branches behind them for signs of another beast. He couldn’t see any more of the creatures anywhere though.

“You see any more? See any more?” cried the creature in shrill mocking version of Saeter’s voice. Blacknail shuddered again at the creepy mimicry. Could the thing actually talk?

“Nothing master,” he whispered to Saeter. Fear made his voice unsteady. Saeter nodded calmly in response.

“Off you go harpy. You’ll get no meat here, only arrows,” Saeter yelled in a roar like tone that echoed through the forest.

The creature tilted his head to the side as if in contemplation and regarded him for a few moments. Then it hissed angrily as it puffed itself up by fluffing its feathers and spreading its wings wide. It looked much bigger than a goblin now.

Saeter responded to the challenge quickly. He drew his bow back and let loose an arrow. The creature however was ready for it and hopped sideways along the branch to dodge the arrow and landed on all four limbs. The harpy was too far away for a good shot. The arrow flew off into the woods after it missed its target.

Suddenly a fluttering noise and the cracking of twigs was heard behind them and Blacknail twisted around just in time to see another harpy land on a branch on the opposite side of them. Saeter swore colourfully. The goblin gulped in fear and his stomach twisted. He definitely wasn’t feeling safe now.

“Only Arrows. Only Arrows,” the first harpy laughed in apparent amusement as it watched them with new anger in its eyes. It seemed quite happy to have reinforcements.

“Another harpy,” Blacknail whispered to his master. Saeter just grunted in response. He had already cast a quick glance over his shoulder and seen it.

The second harpy’s long claws dug into the branch it had landed on and shredded the bark. It eyed them then hissed hatefully at them as its feathers puffed up.

Both harpies begun to move with coordinated predatory grace. The first hopped along its branch then with a quick flap of its wings it flew to another tree.

The second dove down to a lower branch on a tree in the opposite direction. Its flight brought it slightly closer to Saeter and Blacknail. Like this they begun to circle the goblin and his master by hopping and gliding from branch to branch. Both of the harpies’ eyes never left Saeter’s bow.

Blacknail knew what they were doing and he really didn’t like it. No matter how he turned his head or shifted his body he couldn’t keep an eye on both harpies at the same time. One of them was always lurking out of sight behind him. He shook uncontrollably; not knowing what the beast behind him was doing caused him to fill with a suffocating cold dread. The harpies slowly circled closer.

“Fuck this,” Saeter suddenly exclaimed loudly in anger. He spun around and shot an arrow towards the harpy behind him just as it rose into the air to move again.

The harpy twisted in the air but shrieked in pain as the arrow grazed it anyway. Wounded it careened off into the woods.

The first harpy instantly took flight and dove down at Blacknail, who was now cowering at his master’s feet. Saeter however was ready for it and spun around again even as he drew another arrow.

Seeing this the harpy quickly aborted its attack, shifted its flight, and swiftly glided down behind a tree out of sight

From its cover behind the tree the harpy let loose another shrill bird like cry that echoed through the woods. The wounded harpy quickly joined in from wherever it was hiding off in the bush.

Both Blacknail and his master winced at the loud grating sound. The goblin’s large ears began to twitch as the sound wore on them.

“Damn,” Saeter swore as he nocked another arrow and got ready to shoot again.

Suddenly an answering harpy call echoed from off to the side. It sounded fairly far away but it was hard to tell through the thick bush.

Upon hearing the reply the first harpy peeked out from behind the tree and gave them a hateful look. It looked like it was preparing to attack them again. Saeter grimaced and began to line up another shot with his bow.

With an angry sounding cry the winged beast suddenly hopped onto the tree trunk, using both sets of claws to climb, and scrambled up the tree and out of sight.

Blacknail gazed up into the dark green foliage above them but couldn’t see anything. Saeter sighed in frustrated relief and let his bow go loose.

“If it was going to attack again it would have called more of its ilk. It was just looking to snatch a rabbit or two from us when its friend showed up and they decided to mess with our heads. Bloody harpies,” Saeter explained half to himself and half to Blacknail.

Blacknail just stared at his master. He was still more than a little stunned but he was glad his master had prevented the harpies from ‘messing with his head’. That sounded bad. He needed his head. Saeter met Blacknail’s trembling gaze.

“Harpies rarely attack men or even goblins but sometimes they will if a flock gets hungry enough. They can be dangerous though. The clever ones use their voices to lure prey into traps or falls. Don’t believe everything you hear out in the forest” Saeter explained to a still shaking Blacknail. He then gave the goblin an appraising look.

“Calm down Blacknail. Fear will only get you killed out here,” Saeter told the goblin. Blacknail blinked in confusion and concern. His master obviously wasn’t very good at calming people down.

Saeter then shrugged and resumed walking while keeping an eye on the trees above them. Blacknail shadowed him very closely.

The green maze of the forest around him suddenly seemed far more sinister after their encounter with the harpies. Even the joyful birdsong sounded hollow and sinister to the goblin. Maybe what he thought was birdsong was actually harpies calling to each other as they gathered. Blacknail could imagine their vicious toothy smiles as they took dark joy in fooling his master and him with such a simple trick.

“We need to get going before something actually dangerous decides to investigate all the noise,” Saeter remarked casually to Blacknail as they moved.

Blacknail’s eyes widened in alarm at his master’s comment; there were things more dangerous than harpies and wolf dogs? Blacknail didn’t even want to think about it. Why did the humans live out here if the forest was stuffed full of murder beasts? More importantly why did he have to serve humans who lived in a forest stuffed full of murder beasts? Blacknail really wanted to go home.

As they made the journey back to camp through the forest Blacknail’s imagination begun to run wild and fill his head with an endless stream of images of menacing creatures. Every shadow cast by a bush or tree they passed contained a worse monster than the last.

What was worse than giant clawed birds and dogs? Was he right about the giant tree cats? No that was stupid; cats wouldn’t be more dangerous than dogs.

“Doggies chase cats who eat birdies,” mumbled Blacknail as he gave a nervous giggle.

Saeter turned around for a second and gave him an odd look before raising his finger to his mouth and hushing him. Blacknail shut up. He wasn’t sure what the finger gesture meant but it seemed like a painful threat.

They soon arrived in an area that Blacknail remembered passing through before on their way out. That meant they were close to the camp, and Blacknail had come to the conclusion that he was far less likely to die in the camp than in the forest.

A few minute later Blacknail followed Saeter as they passed through the bushes at the forest’s edge and stepped out into the clearing which they had started from.

With a squeal of joy Blacknail dashed out into the camp and ecstatically ran a few circles around an amused looking Saeter before collapsing happily onto the grass.

Safety at last! He had never been so happy to see so many hostile looking heavily armed human giants! He almost felt like hugging some of them but he was sure they wouldn’t like it, and might even kill him for it.

With a content sigh the goblin relaxed among the tall trampled grass and let the warm sun shine down on him. He was happy to be back.

The Road North 1.3

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Blacknail spent almost the next hour working on twisting plant fibres into rope, and rapidly came to the conclusion that it was hopeless and he was a stupid stupid goblin. Much to his despair, no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t make a single piece of cord.

Saeter had made it look so easy, but every time he tried he ruined the fibres or tied them into a useless knot. One time he had even somehow managed to get his hand entangled in the fibres and he had been forced to chew it free. Everything he touched was destroyed! He whimpered in self-pity and fear of punishment.

After instructing him his master had moved over to the other side of his camp and for some reason was repeatedly stabbing and slicing a small block of wood with a knife. Clearly he was very mad. Saeter would look up every once and awhile to check on the goblin, and every time he did Blacknail cringed in shame.

He had been doing so well earlier! He had completed every task his new master had given him, but now all that was ruined because he couldn’t twist a bunch of plants together. His new master would surely throw him out into the forest now or kill him himself!

“That’s enough,” Saeter said suddenly as he put down the piece of wood and walked over to the goblin with an exasperated look on his face.

Blacknail looked up from the rope he was desperately trying to weave and cringed at his master’s approach.

“You’ll have plenty of time to practice later. Eventually you’ll get it. Right now you’re trying too hard,” Saeter told Blacknail.

The goblin was overcome by surprise and relief. He wasn’t going to be punished? But he had failed his master…

Saeter strode over to his campsite and rummaged through a bag. This left Blacknail confused as to what was going on. After a few seconds Saeter pulled out some cord and leather.

He then took out a needle and pulled the cord through the two leather pieces several times to create a crude loincloth, which he tied around Blacknail’s waist. Blacknail was now very confused and gave his master an uncomprehending look. What was going on? Saeter was a very strange master.

“You’ll wear this at all times or you’’ll be punished. You’d better learn to make these yourself or you’ll be punished. If you want warmer or better clothes then you will have to make them yourself,” Saeter told Blacknail sternly as the confused goblin adjusted the loincloth around his waist.

“Yes Master. I wear this always. I learn to work so I not be punished,” he replied submissively.

For good effect he also fell to his knees and groveled on the ground a bit. Well, a lot more than a bit actually. Grovelling was his go to response in almost every situation. That and running away as fast as his little legs would carry him.

The loincloth was useless and annoying to wear but it was obviously a sign of his master’s ownership and protection. Hopefully once the other humans saw he belonged to Saeter it would prevent them from hitting or killing him.

The tall human frowned in irritation at the goblin’s groveling but nodded in satisfaction at Blacknail’s verbal response. The goblin took this as a sign to climb back to his feet. Just then another voice rang out through the clearing.

“Saeter, you old recluse, I can’t imagine what’s going through your head. To just skip out on helping load up all the loot, without so much as a word, and to do what? Muck around with a bloody goblin!” a deep female voice yelled.

Blacknail looked over to see a tall muscular woman with short brown hair approaching. She was taller than most the men in the camp except for Saeter, but she looked stronger than him. However, her body was obviously that of a female and she still had a feminine figure, just a large one.

The woman wore a heavy cloth shirt that was partly unlaced at the top to reveal her ample cleavage. She wore long practical leather pants and carried a rather large sword at her hip.

Most importantly, she didn’t look like a threat. The big grin on her face, her cheerful green eyes, and the relaxed way she held herself made Blacknail think she wasn’t dangerous to him.

“Hello, Vorscha. I’m busy,” Saeter responded with barely a glance her way.

Following Vorscha was another male bandit. He was shorter and thinner than the woman and his long brown hair was tied back in a ponytail.

Saeter was a somewhat skinny man but he made up for it by being tall. This man however was just of average height. His clothing looked to be of good quality but it had plainly seen better days and was now somewhat worn. His eyes however were intelligent and energetic.

The woman beside him who had yelled earlier ignored Saeter’s rude reply to her and continued speaking as if he hadn’t said anything.

“If I was gonna take something from the wagons and run off with it I wouldn’t pick a frigging goblin, that’s for sure. Only you could ever be that weird. In this entire pack of violent outcasts you are the weirdest by far Saeter, and Aerac makes little dolls out of radishes. That’s the kind of people you’re competing against,” she continued without pause as she approached.

“I’m the band’s best tracker and hunter. I’m busy here doing my job and it’s not to load wagons,” he replied calmly.

Vorscha snorted in response but her eyes were shinning. She didn’t seem to be angry.

“Arrogant prick aren’t you. We’ll you’re by far the most experienced tracker around anyway. How is playing around with a bloody goblin have anything to do with anything though? You should just get rid of it. We have enough problems with goblins stealing stuff without actually inviting them into camp,” she told Saeter.

Blacknail’s opinion of the woman dropped as she spoke. He never stole anything from anybody! People just left stuff lying around everywhere for some reason. How was he supposed to know it was theirs?

“In about an hour I’ve got this little fellow to do more work and show more smarts than most the people around here. Once I get him properly trained up he’s going to be a valuable tool. Unlike that skinny boy toy you’ve got following you around,” Saeter replied as he threw a disdainful look at Vorscha and the man behind her.

Vorscha just laughed in response but the man behind her scowled at Saeter. Blacknail smiled in pride at his master’s compliment. He was useful!

“Oh, Geralhd isn’t so bad Saeter. He’s just a helpless city boy and new to the glamorous outlaw lifestyle. We were all stupid little shits once. I’ll have him broken in soon enough,” she said with a laugh.

Geralhd winced. He was clearly embarrassed but he decided to speak up anyway.

“Thank you Vorscha, but I am more than capable of speaking for myself. I may not have been born out in the woods with a sword in my hand, Saeter, but I plan on surviving so I’m learning to do what I must,” Geralhd interjected earnestly as Saeter eyed him and grunted doubtfully in response.

“Why do you keep taking fools like this under your wing, Vorscha? He’s gonna get himself killed one way or another, just like the last one,” Saeter asked her gravely.

Geralhd looked startled for a second before giving Saeter a dark glare. Vorscha however just shrugged her muscular shoulders before replying.

“Why are you still out here, Saeter? You’ve been roaming the North longer than most the men here have been alive. Anyone else would have retired long ago. This isn’t a place or a profession for men who have seen as many winters as you have. You know better than anyone that sooner or later something is going to kill you out here. Hells, even the bounty on your head expired years ago,” Vorscha asked him in return.

Saeter didn’t answer right away. Instead he sighed and turned away from them and looked out into the green expanse of forest off to his side for a second. Then his gaze swept back over the camp behind himself. Blacknail didn’t know exactly what he was looking at but he seemed to be deep in thought.

“There ain’t no fool like an old fool,” Saeter finally responded with a tired sigh. Vorscha nodded and sighed as well.

“It’s just who we are,” she commented solemnly. Geralhd looked a little taken aback by the unexpected serious turn in the conversation.

Blacknail was having a lot of problems trying to understand what the humans were saying. They were using a lot of words and concepts he didn’t know. They suddenly seemed kind of sad though. It made him uncomfortable for some reason.

“Well, let’s see this goblin of yours, then,” Vorscha said with sudden cheer in an obvious attempt to lighten the conversation.

She moved to stand over Blacknail. The goblin smiled up at her. He tried to look harmless and to absolutely not think about picking things up that didn’t belong to him. Geralhd moved up beside her hesitantly to look over the goblin as well.

“Doesn’t seem like much to me. Looks pretty much the same as every other goblin around these parts,” Vorscha commented casually.

Blacknail felt deeply insulted, which was weird because he had no idea what goblins around here were like at all. They could be purple and twice the size of humans for all he knew, but if they went around stealing things they were nothing like him.

“It’s a little bigger and darker in colour, though; murkier. A lot of goblins here have some hair on their heads and this one doesn’t. Huh, I’ve never been this close to live goblin before,” Geralhd observed with interest.

Blacknail found the man’s intense scrutiny uncomfortable. He also thought he sensed fear from the thin man. That made no sense to the goblin. He was the one at the mercy of a group of gigantic killers! Humans were weird.

“You can move closer. He’s not gonna bite you Geralhd. Are you Blacknail?” Saeter asked Blacknail snidely.

“No, master; I never bite humans, never,” Blacknail replied vigorously with a look of affronted horror on his face. Goblins who bit or hit humans didn’t last very long in the sewers.

“By the gods, it talks. That’s unnatural,” Vorscha exclaimed and took a surprised step back. This time it was Geralhd that chuckled.

“All goblins can talk. Most just don’t speak Elorian. They have their own primitive languages. Goblins can develop fairly sophisticated societies after all. Or at least they did before the ancient Goblin Wars. I’ve never heard of a goblin that could speak Elorian this well though. How interesting,” Geralhd mused aloud.

Saeter rolled his eyes in annoyance at the other man’s tone.

“Hey pretty boy. Don’t you know you’re always supposed to agree with me. You’re just lucky you’re cute or you never would have lasted this long out here,” Vorscha said with fake outrage as she punched Geralhd lightly in the arm.

The smaller man blushed a little and turned away with a cough to hide it, which only made Vorscha laugh.

“If you two are done inspecting my goblin, why don’t you get back to work. I’m sure you have very important things to do, I know I do,” Saeter told them dismissively.

Vorscha met his rudeness with a smile, though. She seemed to be immune to Saeter’s grumpiness.

“I’m one of the band’s best fighters and thieves. I’m busy here doing my job and it’s not to load wagons,” she replied snidely with laughing eyes.

Geralhd chuckled and Saeter gave them both an annoyed frown. The goblin had to stifle a smile of his own. The woman’s grin and mood were infectious.

“Very funny, but I’m actually training Blacknail here to help me hunt. You’re just standing around being as useful as tits on a boar,” Saeter countered.

“Master is yes,” Blacknail added with a serious nod in order to back up Saeter.

Geralhd and Vorscha threw him amused looks.

“Well, if the young goblin here says it’s so then it must be true,” Geralhd commented sarcastically.

Blacknail didn’t like his tone of voice. He suspected he was being made fun of.

“Anyway, sorry to disappoint you Saeter but Geralhd and I finished our jobs a while ago so relaxing here in camp is where we’re supposed to be,” Vorscha explained.

“Then why don’t you go tell Herad that I’ll be out hunting for a bit. Tell her I’ll bring back something for the victory celebration tonight,” Saeter told them sternly.

He clearly wasn’t looking for any more conversation, which was fine with Blacknail. He didn’t want to be around the offensive lady named Vorscha either. He was so not a thief.

“Ah, avoiding Herad are you? Good idea, she’s still fuming. This was supposed to be an easy bloodless job but that thrice damned mage killed several of our guys before a lucky arrow took him out. Who knows what the hells he was even doing out here. Mages with the crystals like he had have better things to do than guard little caravans out to the frontier,” Vorscha wondered aloud.

“Who knows why mages do bloody anything? The guilds seem to spend more time being mysterious than they do doing anything useful,” Saeter replied with a disdainful sneer.

“You’re wrong about that, Saeter. The illustrious mage guilds spend most their valuable time fighting and killing each other over secrets and politics. Every once and a while they also manage to actually get some research on magic crystals or elixirs done,” Geralhd jokingly added.

“Well, whatever he was doing here it certainly cost us some comrades,” Vorscha added soberly.

Blacknail begun to grow tired of standing around listening to the humans talk about things he didn’t understand. He sat back down and absently scratched an itch on his neck.

“Just means more loot for us,” Saeter commented with ill-humour.

“Ha, you mean more loot for our fearsome leader Herad. I doubt any of us will see much in the way of extra coin,” Geralhd replied.

“Both of you should be more respectful to the fallen. Next time it could be one of us who dies with some caravan guard’s blade through our guts,” Vorscha told them.

“Or be set aflame and burned alive by a combat mage like poor Guts. I can still smell bacon,” Geralhd said with a shudder.

“Poor Guts? The man was a wanted murderer, deserter, and a rapist,” Saeter remarked.

“Aren’t we all? I assume that’s why we’re all out here in the freezing north, hiding in these accursed woods, and robbing passing travelers,” Geralhd countered.

“Some crimes are worse than others and your reasons for doing them matter. Even Herad had the women and children from the caravan released with a horse and wagon,” Saeter muttered darkly.

“Well, I don’t know about you two but I’m not a rapist. Although I do have the occasional dark fantasy,” Vorscha joked cheerfully as she threw Geralhd a meaningful glance.

The thin man looked uncomfortable and had to turn away. He coughed lightly to cover himself and then tried to divert the conversation.

“Speaking of Herad, did you see her fight that elixir user? He came out of nowhere and almost pushed us back on the left flank. Herad had to go out and fight him herself. That was quite the show. I’ve seen Vessels duel before but this was quite different. It was brutal, bloody, and lightning fast. Almost makes me want to try and get my hands on some elixir,” he told them.

“Not me. I’ve seen what elixir does to people who take it and aren’t lucky enough to become vessels. Also sometimes even proper vessels get addicted to the stuff. Neither of those is an easy way to die. Herad’s welcome to it but I’m sticking to good old fashioned muscle power,” Vorscha told him as she flexed her arms.

“Also it’s a little expensive and hard to get if you’re an outlaw out on the frontier. The lords tend to discourage the guilds from selling to the likes of us,” Saeter added sarcastically.

By this point Blacknail had completely lost interest in the conversation and was barely paying attention. He gave a quiet yawn and rested his head on his knees.

“Herad must have used up a fair bit of her elixir in that fight then,” Geralhd mused aloud. Saeter gave him a disproving look.

“Word of warning, boy. It’s not a good idea to go around talking about how much elixir Herad has left. She might believe you’re thinking of challenging her and she can be touchy about that,” Saeter warned him quietly.

Vorscha nodded to show her agreement and Geralhd looked chastened.

“Anyway, I need to be on my way. I can’t waste all morning talking to you two,” Saeter abruptly announced.

He then turned away from them without saying another word and grabbed a bag from his camp before walking off towards the woods.

“Come on, Blacknail,” he called without turning around or even slowing.

Instantly the goblin got up from where he had been slowly drifting off to sleep in the grass and sauntered after his master, leaving the other two bandits standing alone by themselves.

Finally something to do other than sit around and listen to humans blab on and on about stupid things, Blacknail thought to himself as he walked.

“He’s a miserable old bastard isn’t he,” Geralhd commented to Vorscha.

“You should see him around people he actually doesn’t like. I’m practically his best friend around here,” Blacknail heard Vorscha respond cheerfully.

As Blacknail approached the woods he began to regret his earlier enthusiasm for doing something more exciting. The trees loomed before him as Saeter waited for him at their edge. He had really been hoping that now that he had reached the camp his master wouldn’t make him go out into the forest anymore.

Saeter gave the goblin an impatient look and took an angry step towards him. Blacknail swallowed nervously but scurried into the shadows of the trees. He didn’t want to make his master angry and get a beating.

As he moved through the bushes at the edge of the clearing, the goblin’s heart started pounding and he went slightly pale. Blacknail didn’t know what was out there waiting for him in the forest but every instinct he had was screaming that he was about to enter somewhere very dangerous.

The Road North 1.2

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“That’s a good question,” the older one replied.

“Ah, who cares let’s just kill it,” the shorter one said as he drew his dagger.

The goblin felt a flash of panic, and his small eyes went wide in fear. Immediately he whimpered and started to grovel to show his submission to the giants before him. This always worked on humans, well almost always…

“Wait a second. This is interesting,” the other said with a raised hand.

He peered into the cage and looked the goblin over. “I wonder…” he mused to himself before looking it directly in the eyes.

“Sit,” he commanded.

The goblin sat down instantly then smiled up at the men hopefully. Orders were good; they meant the men might consider sparing him.

He really didn’t want to be stabbed by the ugly one. The taller man looked friendlier but the hairless one was still giving him an evil look. Clearly, he had to put more effort into his groveling.

“Yes master, I obey,” he exclaimed in his best weak and harmless voice. From experience he knew it was impossible to suck up to his masters too much.

“What the hells, it talks?” the bald man responded.

The taller grey haired one shook his head. It was obvious he wasn’t impressed by the other man’s intelligence.

“It’s not wild, Buck. It’s trained, like a dog. They use them in some places to do dirty work in mines and workshops,” the older man explained condescendingly.

“Well, we don’t have any use for it and there are more than enough goblins around here. We don’t need freakish talking ones too. So, let’s just kill it already, Saeter,” the shorter one suggested.

The goblin felt a stab of fear as the bald man Buck once again voiced his intention to kill him. He didn’t want to die! There were so many tasty things he hadn’t had a chance to try yet.

Luckily, the taller man named Saeter frowned at Buck in disagreement after he spoke.

“No, I might have a use for it. These things are supposed to have a good sense of smell and good dogs are hard to keep out here. They get eaten,” Saeter told the other man.

“Me good smeller! Me no be eaten!” the goblin interjected helpfully.

He could do anything better than a stupid dog, and he had a lifetime full of experience in not being eaten. He had gotten pretty good at it.

Buck gave the goblin a doubtful look but the goblin thought he saw Saeter smile slightly. The older man was obviously the one he needed to suck up to.

“What if the little freak runs off?” Buck asked skeptically.

“Then like you just said this area has more than enough goblins already. One more won’t make any difference. Unless you think it’s going to talk us to death,” Saeter answered with a hint of authority in his voice and body language.

Buck frowned a bit in response, but much to the goblin’s relief he was clearly backing down. Obviously, Saeter was the more dominant male, and much smarter as well since he saw the goblin’s worth.

“Whatever, if you want the bloody little thing I doubt anyone will care. Just keep it out of my way. I’ll fill the boss in on the actual useful stuff we found,” Buck huffed before walking away.

When he was gone Saeter turned to the goblin and got a large toothy smile of gratitude from the green midget in return.

“So do you have a name then, goblin?” Saeter asked.

It took the creature a few seconds to figure out what the man’s words meant, and then the question itself surprised him. Among the sewer goblins he was addressed by his position in the pack and the humans hadn’t ever felt the need to name their slaves.

“No, master,” he answered after a second of hesitation.

He didn’t know where this was going. Saeter looked thoughtful for a second.

“Alright, from now on your name is… Blacknail, because your one toenail is darker than the rest. Do you understand?” he asked.

“Me Blacknail,” the goblin replied excitedly.

It felt weird to have a name; something to call himself that was his own. He liked the feeling, though. He also liked that his new name described something that set him apart from other goblins, his dark nail. Not just any goblin could have his name. They couldn’t even beat him up and steal it!

“Now, if I let you out are you going to stay close to me and do as I say?” Saeter asked the goblin sternly.

Blacknail once again detected a hint of threat in his voice. Well that was normal in the masters. They were always angry at goblins for something. They should really stop leaving all their shiny and tasty things lying around if they didn’t want goblins to rescue them.

“You master,” Blacknail gravelly replied to Saeter.

He didn’t understand everything Saeter had just said but he understood enough. Besides calling humans master was always the right answer. Saeter grinned gruffly in response.

“You certainly get right to the point. Alright then,” he said with a bit of humour as he moved over and begun to unlatch the cage.

When it was open Blacknail took a few careful steps out before slowly stretching and then turning back to face his new master expectantly. It felt so good to get out of the cage. He just wished he was home and not in this strange place.

His first instinct was to make a run for it as soon as the man’s back was turned. However, now Blacknail was stuck out here among all the unsettling trees and nasty looking men. Home was very far away and the goblin had no idea what sort of dangers lay in wait for him among the trees, but he was sure there were lots!

Thus, he planned on staying very close to this new non-hostile human named Saeter. He was big even for a human so it should be fairly safe close to him, and that was worth a few beatings.

The top of the goblin’s head only reached slightly more than halfway up Saeter’s body. His green skinned body was shaped like that of a small stumpy person.

He also had a bald head, two long pointy ears, and sharp nails on his hands and feet. His nose was large, long, and beak like. His eyes were small and squinty while his teeth were sharp and needle like.

Blacknail thought of himself as quite the handsome creature but was pretty sure his masters thought otherwise. Saeter however did not seem surprised or repulsed by his appearance.

“Alright, let’s see how well trained you are. Go, Blacknail,” Sater said forcefully while pointing to a spot on the ground a dozen feet from him.

The goblin quickly rushed over to stand on that spot and then turned to smile proudly at his master. Too easy, this was a command he had mastered long ago!

“Stay,” Saeter commanded next as he placed a piece of dried meat on the ground in front of himself.

The scent of the meat reminded Blacknail that he hadn’t eaten since that morning and that the men of the wagons hadn’t been feeding him all that much anyway. He liked gruel as much as the next goblin but it got old after the first few weeks. Now he wanted something different.

However, he ignored the rumble in his tummy and didn’t move. He was far too clever for that. He knew this was a trick. He had figured it out in the city after only five beatings! Truly, he was a genius among goblins.

“Good goblin, now come,” Saeter told him next.

Blacknail moved to stand in front of Saeter. He had been called a good goblin! His old masters had never done that.

Saeter then reached down to pick up the meat and to Blacknail’s surprise handed it to him. The goblin shoved the delicious smelling meat into his mouth before his master could change his mind. He managed to get it down with only a tiny bit of choking and gagging. The men of the city had never given him anything so tasty.

“Hungry were you?” Saeter asked while giving Blacknail an odd look. “Well, good. You’ve got discipline, I can work with that,” Saeter said with just a bit of satisfaction in his otherwise rough voice.

Blacknail suddenly belched loudly as the food he had eaten too quickly tried to come up again. His new master’s smile faded a little and he hesitated for a second before pressing on.

“Anyway, follow me. Back at camp we’ll see what you can really do,” Saeter told the goblin before beginning to walk off.

The goblin knew the follow command, but he mostly knew he didn’t want to be left alone there without his nice new safe master. He was unused to being above ground in the day and the bright blinding sunlight and strange fresh air unnerved him. Bleh, he dearly wished for the safe darkness and comforting smell of the sewers.

Blacknail followed Saeter through the remains of the caravan. It was much more interesting looking, and smelling, now with all the bandits scattered around looting corpses and wagons.

Blacknail stuck close to his new master for safety as the men around them looked huge and dangerous. They were all obviously armed with various weapons, some of them still slick with red human blood.

A few of the attackers stared at Blacknail as he passed and called out to Saeter. Blacknail was relieved that after a brief response from Saeter all of the men quickly lost interest in him and went back to looting and carrying stuff.

After walking down the road a bit Saeter led the goblin over to the woods. After so many days of seeing the trees from a distance Blacknail was surprised at how intimidating they looked close up.

In front of him a wall of greenery stretched. Trees many times his own height with light bark towered overhead and their long branches stretched out in every direction. Thick bushes sat underneath them and blocked most the ways forward. Only a few areas were thin enough for people to pass through.

Blacknail gulped nervously as he approached the twisted mass of twigs and leaves before him. He much preferred trees when they weren’t all so close together and hard to see through.

However, the goblin’s new master calmly strode through a gap in the bushes and into the strange overgrown domain beyond. Blacknail hesitated a second before following. Briefly, he considered trying to find another master who was still out on the road, but then he gathered up his courage and stepped into the woods.

Branches towered above him cloaked in greenery as he passed through the threshold. The canopy wasn’t thick enough to block most of the sunlight but it still concealed way too much from the goblin’s sight for him to be comfortable.

His earlier thoughts of human eating forest monsters didn’t seem so exciting now. They were actually quite terrifying. As he nervously followed the man named Saeter under the tree branches, Blacknail couldn’t help but imagine legions of fearful beasts with bad intentions laying in wait above him.

With a start, Blackanil realized his new master was beginning to pull ahead. That would be bad! He really didn’t want to be left alone where there was no huge tough human to scare everything hungry for goblin away.

All the trees and bushes looked exactly the same to Blacknail. If he lost sight of his master he would quickly become hopelessly lost.

The goblin quickly plunged through the bushes in front of him in pursuit of his new master. He immediately regretted his actions, though. The branches poked and scratched him painfully so he had to slow down.

Ack, why were the bushes so pointy? He hissed in frustration and annoyance. Moving slower he carefully sulked after Saeter, while trying to make as little noise as possible and keep an eye on everything around him.

A few minutes later heard what he thought was his master’s voice but couldn’t see him or make out his words. The concerned goblin quickly pushed through the bushes again, and after a brief prickly resistance he found himself stepping through the last barrier at the edge of the woods and into a small clearing.

Blacknail shuddered. The scrub had been filled with bushes that poked and scratched him. There were also so many new confusing smells and he itched terribly now. As he scratched himself vigorously he heard a sound off to his side.

He turned to look and jumped in alarm at what he saw there. Only a few feet away a strange tall human with a drawn sword was scowling at him.

“Now what do we have here? Looks like a scrawny little goblin,” the big ugly pink human drawled as Blacknail took a frightened step back from him.

“Maybe I should save us all some trouble and kill you. I doubt Saeter would really care too much,” the dirty rough shaven man said with a sneer as he towered over the goblin.

The human’s foul breath washed over the goblin as he talked. Blacknail froze in terror. The huge human man was so close!

“Enough, Ferret. Stop scaring my goblin,” Saeter shouted irritably at the other man.

Blacknail’s new master had stopped walking away and turned back towards them. There was a dangerous look in his eye as he stared towards the other man.

“I’m just having a little fun, Saeter. Don’t you worry,” the foul smelling man said with a laugh. His eyes however were still hostile when he turned away from the goblin.

Sighing in relief, the goblin scurried after his master. Blacknail was pretty sure Saeter didn’t want to kill him but he wasn’t so sure about this new human.

The meadow the goblin found himself hastily scrambling through seemed to have been filled with long grass in the recent past but most the plants had been trampled down. Only a few patches of standing plants remained.

Several crude tents of various sizes were scattered around along with the remains of a fair number of burnt out fire pits. Heaps of various types of equipment were piled around in seemingly random places making the camp seem haphazard.

Saeter was headed towards one of the fire pits that was off to the side of the clearing. Blacknail trailed him. His master reached the camp site and began to rummage through a bag. After taking out a few items Saeter straightened up and turned to the goblin.

“All right, time for some real tests,” he told Blacknail sternly.

The goblin felt a hint of alarm, but only a hint. Surely, he was a clever goblin that wouldn’t fail any tests. He grinned eagerly at the thought of showing off his intelligence.

The more his new master trusted him the safer he would be. It would also make it easier for him to eventually escape back to his old home.

Saeter began to drill Blacknail through various commands. They worked through some very simple ones to some more complex ones. If Blacknail didn’t know a command then Saeter showed him, which was a system the goblin liked much more than being smacked with stick every time he did something wrong. That was what his old masters had done.

Blacknail learned every new command after seeing it once, and in the process learned quite a few new human words as well. Saeter was pleased at his quick progress and showed it with comments such as “Good,” and “Well done”.

Saeter was constantly giving him new things to do. Blacknail was careful to try and remember all the new commands so that he would not be punished when his master demanded he perform them. He was really not sure why Saeter had taught him to shake his hand or play dead though. Maybe it was to lure prey closer? He hoped he wouldn’t be used as bait…

“Hmm, that will do. You learn quickly enough. Now for a real test. You can’t run around bare ass every day so let’s see if you can make your own clothes,” Saeter announced.

The grey haired man then headed over to the side of the clearing that the bandits hadn’t trampled where some tall plants were still growing. After a quick inspection he chose one and pulled it out of the ground.

“Here, see this is Wolf Mane. This is Wolf’s mane,” he told Blacknail slowly and clearly as he held the dead plant up for him to see. “I want you to pull these plants up like I just did. Get to it.”

“Yes, master,” Blacknail said and nodded vigorously in confirmation. He scanned the vegetation in front of him until he found a dead plant like the one his master had pulled out then moved to stand beside it. He grabbed it low close to the ground and pulled. It didn’t budge.

Afraid of taking too long and incurring a punishment he tried again and this time put all his strength into it. The plant came loose with sudden jerk and Blacknail was sent spiralling over backward. His momentum carried him until a rough impact with Saeter’s boots stopped his roll.

Blacknail cringed in horror. He hadn’t meant to touch his master and incur his terrible wrath. He shielded his face with his hands and peeked up. Much to the goblin’s confusion though Saeter was just scowling down at him, and made no move to hit him. The edges of his mouth were twitching upwards for some reason though.

“Try again,” Saeter said as he suppressed a smile.

Blacknail rushed to his feet and found another stalk. This time he pulled it out correctly. After a few minutes he pulled several more out with no further problems.

“That should be enough. Follow me,” Saeter said as he gathered all the plants and carried them back to his camp. Once there he sat down and begun to pull the plants apart.

“Watch and do this. You need the fibres, the stringy bits,” he said as he held them up for Blacknail to look at.

Saeter pulled the stalk apart and extracted the long stringy fibres. Then he rubbed them gently between his fingers till they came loose. When he was done he handed Blacknail a plant.

The goblin took it and gave it a doubtful look. This was nothing like anything his old masters had made him do. With a shrug the goblin copied the actions of Saeter and stripped out the fibres and cleaned them by rubbing them.

“Good, now the hard part,” Saeter continued.

He then straightened the fibres out and begun to weave them together carefully with his fingers. “Watch carefully,” he told Blacknail.

The goblin peered at the cord forming in Saeter’s hand as he twisted the fibres together. It seemed sort of complicated but how hard could twisting pieces of plant be for a genius goblin like him? He eagerly went to work.